Lost Cities card game review

Lost Cities
Lost Cities is probably my number one two-player game to introduce to new gamers. It’s fast, easy to learn but complex enough that every game is a challenge. A friend has described it as advanced gin rummy and I concur. Certainly, a player has to understand both his own hand as well as his opponents and as importantly, the scoring system. Two minor quibbles are that the graphics can be, in the beginning, slightly confusing as a couple of the colours for expeditions are relatively similar and the necessity for heavy maths at the end of each game.

Appearance: Lost Cities box comes in a flat, square shaped box that fits the oversized cards and game board. Overall, the artwork is mediocre – there’s little to shout about (unlike Blue Moon for example) but they do the job. The cards are over-sized, which makes handling easier but does seem slightly excessive. Also, the colours chosen for the various expeditions are in some cases very similar and can cause initial confusion.

Rules / Ease of Learning: Rules for Lost Cities can be taught in 5 minutes flat. The most complex part of the game is the scoring but also the most important (no jumping into the game without learning scoring rules here).

Players start with 8 cards each which depict 5 different expeditions that can be started. Cards for each expedition can either be numbered from 2 to 10 or be one of three investment cards which increase the value (or lost) of the expedition. Investment cards can only be played at the start of an expedition before numbered cards are played. Numbered cards can only be played in increasing strength (depicting deeper levels of the expedition) but must be played in order (i.e. you could play a 2, 7 and 10 but not a 2, 10 and 7).

Each turn, players must either place a card on an expedition or discard a card. They may then draw a card, either from the discard pile or the remaining deck. The game is over when the last card is drawn from the deck.

Scoring occurs at the end of the game. Each expedition that has been started (i.e. has a card played on it, including investment cards) is totaled and then 20 points is subtracted to indicate the cost of the expedition. The resulting points are then multiplied by the total number of investment cards + 1. Additionally, any expedition that has 8 or more cards is provided an additional 20 points (after the points total has been calculated).

The designers suggest playing at least 3 games to even out the luck distribution.

Actual Gameplay: Fast and amusing. Lost Cities is a highly tactical game with a healthy dose of luck involved in the drawing of cards. However, because of the various options available (which cards to hold, discard and draw) the game does have high tactical considerations.

Areas if import that have been found including building runs, holding cards to destroy your opponents chances at points, selective drawing and discarding and understanding what runs you can actually lose points on.

While luck does play a role, we find that it is overall moderated over multiple rounds and still fun. Actual play time varies but is generally around 10-15 minutes per round.

Conclusion: Lost Cities is a card game that works for everyone, including women. I have personally introduced it to quite a few people and comments have been all positive. I’d only wish it was built smaller so you could carry it around like a pack of cards. Buy it if you’re looking for a good, fast 2-player game.

Bang! the card game review

Bang! is the card game of the Sphagetti Western. You’ll take on the role of either Sheriff, Deputy, Renegade or Outlaw in this fast moving, large party card game. It’s a ton of fun, though the descriptions on the card hold something to be desired (fixed in the Bang! the Bullet full edition release). As the Sheriff or Deputy, your job is to keep the Sheriff alive. As an Outlaw, you’ll need to finish the Sheriff off and the Renegade has to ensure he’s the last one left alive. True to the spirit of the Spaghetti Westerns, Bang is a mainstay for large groups.

Appearance: Bang! comes in a small box that fits all the necessary cards together. Graphcics on the card reflect the comic and Western motif with individual character pictures leaning towards the often seen ‘Wanted’ pictures. The Bang! original card versions are minimalistic with only symbols depicting what each card does. Overall, graphically there’s nothing to complain about.

Rules / Ease of Learning: This is probably the most problematical part of Bang! The rules have obviously been translated from another language, badly in some cases. While the game itself is simple, the rules take too long to explain these simple rules and worst, are at times confusing in their explanations. Definitely not the best part of the game.

Worst, the cards for Bang! all use symbols to depict their actions, which means in the beginning you’ll need to constantly reference the rule-sheet to understand what the various cards mean. It would have been easier and better to just put the rules on the card, making the game run much smoother with new players. I understand that the Bang! the Bullet release has solved this problem thankfully.

Rules are simple – survive and kill the others. At the beginning each person is dealt a random character, each of whom have different abilities. After that, you will be dealt a ‘role’ card and the equipment/Bang cards. Everyone but the Sheriff keeps theirs hidden with players using the remainder character cards to help keep track of their lives (which vary depending on the characters).

Cards come in three main varieties – Bang! cards that allow you to hurt/kill other characters, equipment cards that let you more easily hurt/kill other characters or heal yourself (Beer!) and a few special action cards (marketplaces, force discard cards, etc.).

The biggest rule that players will need to understand is range – which is how many players from you that you can shoot. This is particularly important when you need to kill that Sheriff but all those other pesky Outlaws are in the way!

Actual Gameplay: Bang! is a fun card game, especially once you get over the learning hump of the various symbols. The hidden roles make it interesting in large player games as players will be scratching their heads on whether anyone is a Renegade. There’s also some good reasons to ‘kill’ others on your side if you’re an Outlaw so that can always keep things interesting. Gameplay can go pretty fast, ranging from 10 to 30 minutes per game we’ve found.

Our major issues as a gaming group, beyond the bad design on the cards, is the issue of game balance. Specifically, there are some characters who are much more useful than others and due to the random provision of the roles can seriously distort the game. Also, to a lesser degree, bad luck on the draw of cards can cause major issues for players. I have seen games where the Sheriff has no Bang! cards and is just torn apart from multiple ‘Duels’.

Conclusion: Bang! is a fun party game for a large group, especially those who are into Western’s. Minor changes to the way the game is played (removing all the ‘horrendous’ characters) make the game much more balanced and fun to play especially after the initial learning curve is over.

Edit: The new 4th Edition of Bang! comes with additional information on the card, removing the complaint about the lack of information (other than symbols) in this review.

Order of the Stick Review

Order of the Stick is probably one of my favourite web comics. It’s such a great mixture of storytelling and humour that checking for a new strip each morning is part of my routine. So I’m not an entirely impartial judge. The Order of the Stick Adventure Game is basically a card game where players take on the characters of the comic strip. Your goal is to make your way through the dungeon, killing monsters and collecting loot to eventually reach Xykon to kill him. At that point, you’ll need to escape the collapsing dungeon. Final victor is the player with the most bragging points which is calculated from a mixture of loot, shticks , who got out of the dungeon first and who killed Xykon. Overall while it’s a fun game, the general consensus of the group was that it just took too long to play.

Appearance: Very good. The artwork is drawn directly from the comic with a lot of personal touches such as different pictures on loot cards, and a variety of images from the strip or new strips for the various cards. While the artwork isn’t Boris Vallejov, it is entirely in keeping with the comic and that has it’s own charm. Definitely a major plus for me.

Rules / Ease of Learning: Okay, first off – the ‘quick start comic strip guide’ isn’t. It is really, really long to read (8 pages) and doesn’t cover all the necessary important aspects – such as NPCs aka ‘what if you don’t have 6 players?’. While it’s entirely humorous and all, the quick start guide just didn’t do it. The rulebook itself, for what is in fact a very simple game is entirely too large and unorganised. While I liked the various tips about how to play each PC to win, I feel the rules itself could have been streamlined and the rulebook clarified. It didn’t help that the game came with an entirely new sheet of Eratta.

Players choose (randomly by default) the characters they will be. Each of the PCs is very much a D&D clone (the warrior, mage, rogue, ranger, bard and cleric to be exact) which is of course the point. One thing that was done very well was the balancing of powers of each character with no one PC being overly powerful. They are all also very different, both because of their abilities and the respective characters personalities so their routes to winning are quite different. Very well done here.

Once chosen, players choose their starting shticks – the special abilities. As the game progresses and you earn experience (from killing monsters generally or trading in loot), you’ll gain more shticks, increasing your power and ability. You also gain loot cards at the beginning and loot is dropped every time monster are killed. Loot cards have ‘faces’ on them, indicating which character drools over them. Loot with your face on them are valuable to you, otherwise, you’ll need to trade them away for help.

Battling monsters in Order of the Stick is very simple – compare your attack or defense against their attack or defense and then roll a d12. If you beat their attack/defense number, you win. You can also get help at any time from anyone on the same level as you by giving them loot that they drool over ( i.e. have faces for).

The dungeon is created by placing new dungeon cards on the table as you explore, so better have a big and clear table free. You’ll need to search for stairs to go down a level, the number of levels dependent on the number of players and difficulty level chosen. And that really is the basis of the game – explore the dungeon by moving, enter the room, fight the monster (you’re always defending when entering a room), kill it and pick up loot. Rinse and repeat. You can always fight other PCs too. In that case, you get to steal their loot! And slow them down. Not necessarily a bad thing, especially if you’re Belkar.

Lastly, there are Screw This cards that basically allow you to break the rules of the game. Evil little cards generally that need to be played as fast as you can, because once you run out of monster cards, you discard your entire hand.

Actual GameplayOrder of the Stick amuses me because of its wry humour. All the characters are really true to the comic and their interactions are geared to the way you’ll see in the comic. As noted above, the actual gameplay isn’t very complicated. There’s an interesting level of competitiveness and co-operation in the game, as players can play Screw This, monster cards and attack other players but also, quite often, need the help of other players to win battles. So you can’t push your luck too far or else you’ll never get any help and watch the other players pull far, far ahead of you.

The rules are messy, and in the interest of making monsters interesting, the monsters have special abilities. These can, unfortunately, take some time to learn so it does slow the game down somewhat. Also, as the game is based around collecting loot and shticks, players are continually exploring the dungeon searching for more monsters to kill. It does create quite a level of repetition, even if the monsters are amusing.

Probably the biggest problem in the entire game is its length. What is supposed to be a 2-3 hour game according to the rules takes nearly 4 hours in reality. While there’s always something to do, there just isn’t enough variety for a 4 hour game.

Conclusion: Order of the Stick is entirely fun and has a definite novelty factor for fans of the comic. It’s also got a level of strategic depth to it beyond ‘bash monster’. I like the balance of cooperative and competitive play and there’s definite tactical considerations (when to rest, when to fight, what monsters to play, etc.) but the length of the game is a major killer. I’m definitely going to have to adjust the base game since holding the interest of a gaming group for 4 hours at a time is not possible. I’m still happy I have the game, but I feel the need to adjust the base game to make it shorter.

Descent : Journeys in the Dark Board Game Review

Descent : Journeys into the DarkDescent : Journeys in the Dark is a board game of dungeon delving adventure. If you’ve played HeroQuest, you’ll know what we mean. The basic idea is that players take on the role of adventurers, journeying through a dungeon to fight monsters to complete their quest – most commonly to kill something. One player, the Overlord will attempt to thwart them. You could almost call it a game of Dungeons and Dragons without all the roleplaying but all the combat.

In that sense, Descent definitely does well. It’s certainly more complicated than HeroQuest, yet it keeps things relatively simple without making things too hard to get into. Overall, I find it a good balance of monster bashing and strategy.

Appearance: Graphics and art and the miniature models are all of good quality. The models, especially of the monsters, are well done and if not individualized, at least distinctive. The adventurers, since they are unpainted, are a bit more difficult to tell apart. Definitely would be improved with a lick of paint (by someone other than me. My last painting attempt turned gray to brown).

The box itself is just that a big box filled with the contents. No plastic inserts at all. With so many punch-outs and different types of tiles, you need a LOT of ziplock bags. I definitely would have thought putting a plastic insert in there to keep the items inside, especially for the cost of the game, would be minimal.

Also, did I mention there are a ton of punch-outs and tiles? There are tiles for rockfalls, for water, for pits, for potions, for poison markers, for stun markers, for actions, for the different familiars, for gold, for chests, for… you get the idea.

Rules / Ease of Learning: Rules for Descent are well laid out in a well written book. The only problem is that they can get a tad pedantic in there, but then again, I would rather have a rulebook written for the lowest common denominator than for experienced gamers. It leaves less to questions later on.

The gameplay is actually easy enough to learn, with rules split into two sections for the players and the overseer in the beginning. Interesting things that jump out of the rules:

  • Adventurers take their turn by decision, not in a pre-set manner
  • players can move, take and action, and continue moving
  • conquest tokens (a.k.a. ‘why won’t you just die’ tokens)
  • coloured dice that dictate damage, range and additional options via ‘power surges’
  • threat tokens that power the Overlord

Actual Gameplay: First thing that comes to mind about Descent – setup can take a long, long time. Putting the board together, setting the various tile that are needed aside, getting player to purchase all their items and get ready, etc. Without proper plastic bags for all the tiles, it can take at least 10-20 minutes to set up the game.

Gameplay itself actually flows well. Each turn, the adventurers go first, taking up to two actions (which can be any combination of move, attack or guard) each. After they are all done, it’s the Overlord who gets threat tokens and new cards and then plays 1 monster spawn card before unleashing his legions. It’s easy enough for one hero to kill a monster, so players go through monsters pretty fast with each action in larger games.

In a 2 hero game though, it almost seems as though the Overlord has the option of too many monsters with the ability to continually spawn them. If he spawns 3 monsters a turn, and there are 3 monsters already present in the room, the heroes can at most kill 4 monsters leaving 2 behind. That is 5 monsters the next turn… and so on, so forth.

Players die. A lot. One of the major comments about the game is that the penalty for dying (for the individual player) is very little. So players almost do not care about dying and it can be beneficial (removing fatigue counters, allowing players to shop straight away, etc.).

Another point that comes to mind is the fact that the Overlord really needs to be merciless in the beginning. By the end of the game, the players are steam-rollering over even the really tough monsters.

Lastly, gameplay balance seems slightly off. Certain characters seem to be much more useful than others, with the balance of power definitely leaning towards pure specialists (melee, ranged or magic). In fact, the range/magic specialists at the end game with the right skills and equipment can be greatly overpowered.

Conclusion: Descent is definitely my favourite dungeon crawl board game at the moment. There’s a lot of variation and tactical decision making, both on the Overlord perspective and the adventurers. While there are issues with game balance and looks, they are not major and the game can definitely be tense and interesting, even towards the end. You do definitely need an Overlord that is mean though, and it certainly lacks a campaign option which would make it interesting. Still, definitely the best dungeon crawl game thus far.

Board game review for Blokus

Blokus is certainly the most popular abstract game on the market. By abstract I mean it has no definitive theme, only mechanics. The concept of the game is much like Tetris – the careful placement of oddly shaped pieces. In comparison with a game like Tetris however, Blokus is much more challenging and provides the dynamic of attempting to outmanoeuvre your opponent.

Appearance:

There isn’t much visually attractive about Blokus, being as stated above an abstract game with no theme to work from artistically. That being said, the pieces look good for what they are, with nice colours and interesting shapes. The quality of the pieces is also high – I have yet to hear of anyone breaking any of the pieces.

Score – 5/10 in comparison with other games, 9/10 comparing to other abstract games

Rules/Gameplay:

The rules are very simple in Blokus. You have a certain number of pieces, which you are trying to place on the board. You must begin by placing any piece you wish to in your respective corner. From there, the next piece you place has to be touching corner to corner with another one of your pieces. At no point can any two of your pieces be touching side to side. While placing corner to corner with your own pieces you may however place side to side with your opponents’ pieces – thus you are attempting to efficiently weave your pieces through the spaces left over by your opponents. You continue branching out with your pieces until one player is out of pieces or neither player is able to place any further pieces. The challenge comes from both trying to make efficient use of space and also attempting to block your opponent from large sections of the board.

Score – 8/10 For a well designed game which challenges the mind

Overall:

The greatest downside to Blokus is that it may only be played by two or four players, not three – so it requires a very specific sized group. However, for the groups that are the appropriate size this game is an excellent test of planning and puzzle skills.

Score – 7/10 A must have for all puzzle and Tetris enthusiasts.

Heath

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.

Once Upon A Time Card Game Review

Once Upon A Time is a storytelling card game. The aim of the game is to use all the story element cards provided to you and finish with the Happy Ending as described in your Happy Ending card. This is a favorite of my gaming group because of the potential for hilarity, the quick game play (normally) and lack of competitiveness.

Appearance: Good. The card stock is fine, the packaging is nice and sturdy and the actual images fit the theme well. Most seem to be drawn from classic children’s story tales, with the same look and feel. Nothing spectacular but nothing that draws away from the theme either.

Rules / Ease of Learning: 5-10 minutes for the basic rules. The rules are relatively simple to learn – you have story element cards that are dealt to you (varies per number of players) and a Happy Ending card that is your goal. Story elements come in 6 forms – characters, aspects, items, places, events and interrupts. You then tell your story, trying to weave the story elements into your story while not allowing other players to play their story element cards into your story. Your goal is to finish your story with your ‘Happy Ending’ but cannot introduce any new elements to the story when you have played your last card.

Two major rules dominate the game – significance of an element and pauses. Each story element you introduce via a card must be significant. If a story began with a Prince walking pass a forest, the Prince would be an important story element. The forest would not since he is not interacting with it. The game calls for the story to be passed to the next player if the storyteller pauses for more than 5 seconds. As will be discussed below, this is really a flexible rule.

Actual GameplayOnce Upon A Time is a lot of fun to play. The rules are relatively simple and straightforward, though it has taken us a few rounds to really get the ‘feel’ for it. Probably the most common question is – is this specific card playable now as an interrupt? It seems simple enough, but there are cards in the deck that are quite close to one another in meaning – Spell, Curse, Enchantment. If someone says that the Princess has been Enchanted, is your ‘Spell’ element card playable? What if they had said cursed?

All in all, our view is that the rules here are based more on consensus than anything hard and fast. Thus far, we’ve never had any major complaints and as a friend pointed out – this is really not a competitive game.

Game balance is relatively good. The main element of luck is the initial draw of cards which can seriously affect a player’s turn. Some cards like Poison, Giant, Fairy, Sea just aren’t going to be mentioned that often or at all unless you are in control. So their worth as ‘interrupt’ cards are limited. Also, some Happy Endings are really hard to get to, though this can obviously change depending on the kind of story being told.

One problem that we found is that players who are interrupted when they have played most of their cards can be in a real bind to get into the game. If a ‘bad’ story element card is drawn after the interrupt, it can often be a case of the player waiting in vain for his chance to interrupt.

Lastly, strategic depth. There are obvious elements of strategy (when to interrupt, when to go with a story) but it is in the end a very tactical game. You need to base your decisions on where the story is going at any one moment, more ‘going with the flow’ than long term planning. After all, it’s hard to plan for a gay Prince or cursed sheep that transform into swords.

Actual game-play can vary between 5 minutes to 15 minutes. Generally we find it takes between 7-10 minutes for each hand, though some games can just go around forever as players find themselves unable to get to their ‘Happy Endings’.

Conclusion: As we mentioned earlier, Once Upon A Time is a mainstay. It’s a fun, quick game that involves everyone – if nothing more than in the hilarity. We’ve found ourselves, more than once, just listening to a story being told and forgetting to play our cards. It’s also highly non-competitive (at least, the way we’ve played it). A great game for the family and any mildly creative group.

Gloom card game review

Gloom is a card game of morbid humor. Your goal is simple – to make all five members of your family die; after living the most miserable lives possible, utterly dejected. And how do you do that? Well, by playing a variety of unfortunate situations on them while making sure to play a variety of happy situations on your competitors.

Appearance: To start with, Gloom’s comes in a little 2 player card case that contains the two decks of cards and the rule sheet. Nothing to comment on here, it’s the usual light cardboard packaging for any deck of cards.

The cards themselves on the other hand are a different matter entirely. Gloom cards are plastic and transparent. It’s an innovation that allows players to place cards on top of one another, hiding bonuses and other card effects. I like it, it actually made the count up of points very simple – one glance and you knew how many positive and negative pathos points a character had.

There are two minor issues with this – because they are printed on plastic, the print quality is only average with some blurring occasionally. The other problem is that at times, you’re requested to have cards randomly discarded from your hands by other players. Since the cards are transparent – and bonuses come in three levels of rarity, each shown by a different dot on the left side, someone who wanted to cheat could easily pick cards that had the most number of bonuses from your hand. Not a huge issue, but still something to keep in mind.

Rules / Ease of Learning: Rules for Gloom are relatively simple, though I would have preferred a clearer write-up. They try to explain and show how each card is different in the rules, which can be difficult to pick out since differences are all in the margins of the card. We also found that the game itself played a lot simpler than what the rules made it out to be. Kudos however for the strategy tips – those were a great primer.
We took about 5 minutes to go through the rules with one another, a few minutes more to set-up properly and then started playing straight away. There was, as mentioned, very little confusion once we got the hang of the different types of cards in Gloom. There really are 3 – modifiers that add or subtract pathos points from a character, event cards that could have immediate or continuing effects (like the Untimely Death cards) and character cards.

Actual Gameplay: There are 4 families available in the base game, each of them with their own horrid, morbid descriptions. Gameplay wise, there are no actual bonuses for choosing one family over another in Gloom.

Each turn, players may play or discard up to two cards and then draw back to their hand maximum (normally 5). They can only play an Untimely Death card as their first card normally (unless otherwise stated on the card) and characters may only have an Untimely Death if they have a negative number of pathos points.

Modifier cards are the meat of the game – each turn you play negative modifier cards on your character to make their lives more gloomy and if you wish, positive modifiers on other players characters to make their lives better. Event cards provide well, events and shake things up a bit, from bringing dead characters back to life to killing new characters or just stopping other event cards.

When all of one family are dead and the points are tallied. Whoever has the least number (since you are making their lives miserable) of pathos points on their dead family members wins’.

That’s really the sum of Gloom mechanics wise. Theme wise, it carries it through very well since each card is generally morbid (e.g. Shamed at the Dance – with a quote about glass shoes or Suffering from Consumption) or seriously silly happy (Found Love on tthe Lake or Saw Ducks). The added bonus is the ability to storytell or make horrible excuses for why each card is played on each character.

Conclusion: Gloom is a fun, if morbid game. Not side-splitting laughter we found, but more black humour with a snigger or two. All the families are so horrid in their description anyway that you can’t fault the bad things happening to them. While the gameplay is light, the cards have enough variation to make the game replayable and some advanced strategies can arise. I certainly wouldn’t buy this game for children, but it’d be perfect for any Goth (or ex-Goth) or those with black humor.

Best part? There are two expansions – Unhappy Homes and Unwelcome Guests

Red Dragon Inn board game review

Red Dragon Inn is a newly released board game from SlugFest that takes place after the adventuring party has returned after a hard day’s questing. We broke out the game earlier today and this is obviously an initial review.

Appearance: Great. The pieces are good, the cards made of decent material and the illustrations are cartoonish and hilarious. The obvious winner was Pooky, who looks oh-so-innocent on the box cover and oh-so-deranged on the cards. Since the game is literally made up of 5 decks and 50 or so gold pieces, I’m not sure the playing mats were at all necessary as you could keep track of your fortitude and alcohol content with a pair of 20 sided dice. My only other complaint was the size of packaging, for very little content, it was bigger than necessary. Otherwise, it looked great.

Rules / Ease of Learning: Literally – 5 minutes. This is not a complicated game, and it was really easy to get into. The Rules were pretty clear and all the cards have the important information written on them, so there was little debate. Cards are named quite simply and clearly from ‘Sometimes’ to ‘Anytimes’ to ‘Action’ cards which are almost self-explanatory. Definitely well designed.

Actual Gameplay – fun, fun, fun. Since we are all role-players and either have played, or at least have passing familiarity with D&D roleplaying, we got the references easily. As a friend pointed out, it might not be the best game for those who aren’t into the genre as they’ll miss some jokes, but many are so wide open, it isn’t a huge minus.

Gameplay is simple – each turn you have a discard & draw phase, you play an Action card, you buy someone a drink from the drink pile and you drink from your drink pile. At each point a card is played, you follow the rules on the card, from drinking additional ‘chaser’ shots to loosing a ravening bunny on the party. A minor twist is added in the addition of ‘gambling’, but the rules here too are very simple.

Winning conditions are last person standing – either because everyone else has fallen unconscious from too much alcohol or have been thrown out of the bar because of lack of gold.

Gameplay seemed very balanced with each character having different strategies to win. Fiona the Vicious focus is knocking her other party members unconcious, through physical violence and drinking them under the table. Deidre the Priest’s goal is really to ignore all the damage and drinks coming at her, making others lose their fortitude and falling over drunk. Gerki the Thief – well, he’s all about the money. And Zot’s just a little about everything, with probably the most balanced deck, but not being really good at anything.

Overall, we found the comments and titles on the cards hilarious and the game-play well balanced in the Red Dragon Inn. It was certainly more of a ‘filler’ game with very little in long-term strategy since your goal was to run your cards down as much as possible each turn as you always refilled to maximum. Definitely a game to play if you enjoy things like Munchkin but want something slightly lighter or with a different feel.

Edit: An expansion, the Red Dragon Inn 2 has been released that plays a stand-alone and combined card game.