Guest Review : Savage Worlds Deluxe

Savage Worlds Deluxe Core Rulebook front cover
Savage Worlds Deluxe is the latest core rulebook for the Savage Worlds Roleplaying Game System by Pinnacle Entertainment Group. Savage Worlds is a generic game system that provides a framework for telling stories in a wide variety of genres and settings. The expressed goal of Savage Worlds is to be “Fast! Furious! Fun!” and it has been designed to minimize the amount of accounting needed to play.

Getting Started

To start playing Savage Worlds Deluxe, you’ll need this book and some dice. As a generic game system, Savage Worlds Deluxe does a decent job of providing enough information for a wide variety of settings and genres. There are races, weapons, armour, opponents, and gear enough to run a bare-bones Fantasy, Modern, or Sci-Fi game. With a bevy of free resources on the Pinnacle website and fan-sites around the web, you certainly can create a rich world with just the core book.

However, maybe you just want to have a book with all the information you need at your fingertips. Thanks to a number of third party licensors, there are a wide variety of Savage Worlds Setting books that expand on the core rules through the addition of additional player options, gear, and rules to get the ‘feel’ of the setting just right. There are also currently three genre Companion books (Fantasy, Super Powers, and Horror), which provide genre-specific game support.

Gameplay

The Savage Worlds Deluxe edition of the rules is the easiest to understand to date. There are a number of quality examples of the applications of the rules and designers notes to help clarify the intent of rules. Character creation is laid out in a very straightforward manner and, while simple, provides a significant amount of choice for players to create unique and memorable characters. Players create characters by spending points to increase die levels on Attributes and Skills. Attributes are reflections of general areas of ability, like Smarts, Vigor, and Agility; whereas Skills are defined knowledge areas such as Fighting, Scientific Knowledge, and Swimming. Skills are purposely broad, in order to keep things simple. For instance, if you want to hit someone with a bat, sword, or your fist, you only need to look at your Fighting skill.

Players may also select Hindrances and Edges to help define their character. Hindrances are the flaws that make the character human; for example, they may be Lame, Bloodthirsty, or Greedy. Edges are the truly exceptional things the character can do, such as casting spells, or particularly impressive character types such as Noble or Brawny. After this point, there are a few statistics to derive based on the character’s skills, some gear to select, a little background to give, and the character is ready to play!

At its core, conflict resolution is very simple in Savage Worlds. When faced with a task, a player will roll two dice, their skill die and the Wild die and take the highest roll of the two as their score, which is compared against a target number to determine success. If you meet or beat that target, you’re successful. If you manage to beat the target number by a multiple of 4, you score a raise. Raises often improve the results of the roll, for example, additional damage in combat, or discovering additional clues.

Probably the most exciting part of this game is the initiative system. Each Character (and group of enemies) is dealt a card. The GM resolves the order Ace to Deuce. Each round a new card is dealt. What does this mean? The attack order changes, so your tactics will change much more compared to a fixed-initiative order style game. Also, if you are dealt a Joker, you gain the ability to go whenever you want and you get bonuses to your rolls in a round.

When the fists fly and the guns are drawn, players can engage in several combat manoeuvres that help gain the upper hand. It provides a level of tactical thinking that gives characters additional ways to help their group out, especially in situations where, perhaps, making an attack is a futile gesture. Damage in combat is pretty exciting. Damage rolls are compared to the Toughness of the opponent. If the roll is better than their Toughness, this
results in a Shaken status. This means all they can do is try to run away and try to recover. If you hit with a raise, you deal a wound. Each raise deals an additional wound. Once you receive your fourth wound, you’re toast. The rules for the minions are slightly different, as they only have one wound.

Savage Worlds is a generic game system and, because of this, it may not work for every genre and every tone of game. However, because the game has been developed more as a framework, with the expectation of adding setting-specific rules, Savage Worlds is successful at implementing a number of genres. One thing to expect from most Savage Worlds games is a two-fisted pulp style, which one could expect from the motto, “Fast! Furious! Fun!”

Conclusion

Savage Worlds Deluxe is the best edition of the Savage Worlds ruleset. It provides enough material to craft a game in a variety of settings, and also includes 5 exclusive adventures for you and your friends to play through. The rules are relatively easy to learn and offer tense combat and high adventure.

If you’re interested in a roleplaying game that can offer you dungeon crawling, investigating the Cthulhu Mythos, or fighting in World War II in one system, then Savage Worlds Deluxe is the game you should consider.

Guest Review : Carcassonne Hunters & Gatherers

Carcassonne is probably the most popular introductory German-style game released in the last decade. Because of its popularity and its winning of the Spiel des Jahres (Game of the Year) award, expansions and stand-alone spin-offs were inevitable. But these have muddied the waters for people new to the series. Is a different standalone Carcassonne game the way to go, and if so, which one is best?

Carcassonne : Hunters & GatherersCarcassonne: Hunters and Gatherers is a standalone re-invention of Carcassonne, released just a year or two later from the same designer. It stays true to all of the core features of the base game, but streamlines some of the unintuitive parts and introduces some additional decisions to consider.

Like in the original game, each player receives a number of wooden pawns, here called “tribe members”, that will be placed on the modular tile board as it is built. A player on his turn will add a randomly-drawn tile to the board, then optionally place one of his wooden pawns on one of the landscapes on that tile. Generally, tribe members must remain on the board until their respective areas are completely surrounded, at which time they score points and are returned to the player’s personal supply to use again on a later turn.

Tiles will feature one or more landscapes, which have direct equivalents in the original game:

● Rivers are analogous to Carcassonne’s roads. Tribe members placed on a river will score one point per tile segment, plus one point for every fish in the lakes at the ends of the river.
● Forests are analogous to Carcassonne’s cities. Tribe members placed there score two points per tile segment. Most larger forests will also feature a gold nugget, and the player who completes such a forest (regardless of who scores the points for it) gets an extra play, drawing from a special set of bonus tiles.
● Meadows are analogous to Carcassonne’s farms. Tribe members placed there will remain for the duration of the game. At the end of the game, they will score two points for each herbivore printed on tiles in their meadow (though some will not score if there are tigers present as well).

There are other differences from the original. For one thing, incomplete landscapes score zero points at the end of the game instead of partial points. For another, while each player still receives seven pieces to place, two of them are not normal tribe members, but huts. These can only be placed on water, and once placed, remain for the duration of the game; at endgame scoring, each hut will score one point for every fish that it can reach by water.

The same strategies used in the original game will meet with the same success here. An important part of the game is maximizing your scoring opportunities, balancing your tribe members among different landscapes to increase the likelihood a tile drawn will be helpful, while still ensuring you keep a few in reserve to take advantage of any opportunities that may arise. Tribe members cannot directly be added to extended landscapes that already have pawns present there, so it is on its face a “friendly”, non-confrontational race for points. But, in the hands of strategy game hobbyists, this game can be played very competitively, with tile placement blocking opportunities and the manoeuvring of pawns into already-claimed spaces to share or even steal a big score.

Mechanically, all the changes introduced in Hunters and Gatherers can be considered improvements over the base game. Meadows are much easier to score, and the ability to add tigers to another player’s meadow adds a level of direct interaction missing from Carcassonne’s farms. There is more motivation to help complete large forests than for Carcassonne’s cities, given the reward of an extra turn and special tiles. Rivers tend to score faster and provide more points than Carcassonne’s roads, improving balance, and the huts are an additional strategic aspect to consider.

Despite all of its gameplay improvements, this game still retains the same feel as the original, which cannot be fully said for its brothers. Unlike Carcassonne: The Discovery, tribe members once placed cannot be claimed back until their features are complete. Unlike in The Castle or The City, tiles cannot be placed practically anywhere but must match the sides of adjacent sides; this creates a fun jigsaw-puzzle aspect and gives the board a unified, organic look. Of all the spin-offs I’ve played, Hunters and Gatherers is by far the closest in gameplay to the base game.

And yet, Hunters and Gatherers features as standard some of the extras that in the original game required the purchase of an expansion. For example, the ability to complete a forest (née city) and receive an extra turn can also be found in the Carcassonne: Traders and Builders expansion. And including 50- and 100-point score tiles in the base game, while not critical, is a nice touch.

These aspects, without a doubt, make Hunters and Gatherers the best alternative to the base game. It cleans up some of the rough edges, introduces new twists, and yet still retains a similar feel to the original — and all in a set that feels more complete. Hunters and Gatherers can replace the original whereas other spin-offs can only complement it. If you’re looking for a genuine Carcassonne experience in a single, complete, inexpensive package, this is the best bet for your money.

There are very few potential downsides to this edition, and they may not apply to many potential buyers, but they are worth noting. First, the game does not really offer expansion opportunities. While the game by its nature is very open-ended and easily expandable, there has only been one small five-tile expansion produced. Some people like the variety and additional complexity that expansions can offer — if you are one of these people, I recommend staying with the base game or, if you don’t have the base game already, purchasing the Carcassonne Big Box that contains multiple expansions. However, some people see the lack of expansions as a positive, as it implies the game is complete as-is and does not need expansions to address perceived shortcomings, and for these people Hunters and Gatherers is a fantastic choice.

The second potential downside is the artwork. When looking at individual tiles, it is hard not to be impressed with the amazing details drawn onto each one. But this gives them a “busy” look and, when taken as a whole during gameplay, the art style is not as clear or usable as in the original game. Forests have trees that point in many different directions; animals come in different shapes and sizes that you must differentiate during play; and the board develops into a sea of multi-shaded green that makes it a little more difficult than it should be to absorb the overall situation. For many people, this may not be a problem, but when making a side-by-side comparison, it’s hard to deny the original’s accessibility and clarity.

If you are looking for a complete, engaging Carcassonne experience in a single box, and don’t wish to be tempted by add-ons, Hunters and Gatherers is perhaps the best choice out there. If you are new to the Carcassonne series and perhaps to German-style games in general, I can also alternatively recommend Carcassonne: The Discovery as an excellent entry point to the series. If you have some familiarity with German games and are interested in getting one of the series, but perhaps have avoided it because of the many choices of add-ons and spin-offs, you owe it to yourself to consider Hunters and Gatherers. If the art style doesn’t bother you, it might well be the only Carcassonne you ever need.

Guest Review : Glory to Rome

Glory to Rome - CoverIn Glory to Rome, you play the role of a Roman aristocrat overseeing the rebuilding of Rome after it is destroyed in the Great Fire. You will do so by directing the reconstruction, gaining influence by completing buildings – or by unscrupulously selling building materials on the side, like any successful businessman. You may notice a warning on the package that classifies Glory to Rome as a “seriously strategic card game.” This caveat is best taken seriously, as someone looking for a quick, light card game would be completely swamped by the complexity of this fairly unique game.

Glory to Rome is a seriously strategic game for 2-5 players that can take anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours to play, depending on the number of players and the distribution of cards.

Appearance: At first glance, Glory to Rome seems to be a silly card game with childish art and strange packaging. The game’s appearance is a subject of some debate in the board game community – some bemoan the art and colour palette, while others are willing to overlook it.  The card art is somewhat childish, using mostly primary colours and a cartoony drawing style. Possibly in response to the criticism of the art, the designer of Glory to Rome is releasing a “Black Box” edition that completely revamps the card design to make it more aesthetically-pleasing. This new edition will also replace the plastic clamshell packaging with a proper box.

However, one should not let the garish colours of the original Glory to Rome get in the way. The player board, while it is perhaps a bit too big, is very helpful as a reference card. The appearance of the cards themselves is well-designed in terms of mechanics and playability, which is what really matters. The cards are multi-purpose, which each card serving as a role, a building, and a resource. The cards will often be tucked under different sides of the board as they are played, revealing only the pertinent side.

Glory to Rome - Full game setupRules/Ease of Learning: The rules of Glory to Rome are not very complex in and of themselves. If you read each individual role card and read the building abilities, you’ll understand most of them pretty quickly. The card interactions – and trying to keep track of everything that you have done, are doing, and want to do – are another matter entirely. The rulebook contains instructions for a “Beginner’s Game” that excludes buildings from the game entirely, in case new players need a practice game to get the hang of the turn order.

The order of play is as follows. Players are dealt a hand of five cards which will serve as “role” cards for the initial phase of each round. The starting player chooses a role to play (or “lead”), which dictates what actions may be taken that round. Other players may play a matching role card or wild card to “follow” that action. Alternately, any player may “think” when required to lead or follow, which allows them to draw up to their hand limit, draw one card if they are already at their limit, or to take a wild card.

All gameplay in Glory to Rome stems from this first round, which is simply a modified role-selection mechanic. In a nutshell, you potentially have six roles to choose from which allow you to gather resources, begin the construction of new buildings or add materials to existing construction projects, attack your opponents to steal their cards, sell building materials for end-game points, or attract clients to work for you. One must be careful, though – wherever you lead, others may follow.

As the game progresses, players will require buildings, which do a wide variety of things that may modify the execution of roles. When you decide to start construction on a building, you play the card from your hand during an Architect or Craftsman role. However, there must also be an available building site. If there are no available on-site locations, you must use an off-site location (which costs two actions instead of one). Buildings also give you influence, which governs how many clients you can hire and how many pilfered goods you can hide in your vault.

This is where the real chaos and complexity of the game comes in. In addition to keeping track of your own buildings’ abilities, you must also keep an eye on the buildings your opponents have completed, as they may have a huge impact on the round. Noticing that playing a certain role might allow your opponent to gather every resource on the board or steal one of your clients might change your mind about playing that role.

The game ends when all of the on-site building sites have been used, or when the deck runs out. In either of those cases, the player with the most influence wins. There are also two cards that can trigger an early end to the game – one allows players to score as normal, while the other grants victory to the player who satisfies a certain condition.

Glory to Rome - Mid-game player board 2Gameplay: At the beginning of the game, things seem fairly simple. You play roles, get some small benefits, move on. Then you start to think about combinations of card powers and the order in which you’ll have to play your roles, and things get tricky. Then you mix in several other players who are all competing for the same resources and building sites while trying to steal cards from your hand, and things get chaotic.

I’ll be completely honest with you – your first few games of Glory to Rome will probably be frustrating. Mine certainly were. The game requires a level of multitasking and attention to detail that is rarely seen in most European-style board or card games, primarily due to the high level of player interaction. During your first few games, you probably won’t pay any attention to other players’ playing areas. Don’t worry about this. It’s absolutely normal. Assuming they are also beginners, they’ll be too busy with their own play areas to worry about what your buildings do. After a few games, you get a better idea of what the buildings do, which will make the game more complicated – because you’re always going to agonize over the added benefits your opponents receive when they follow your roles – and less surprising – because you won’t wonder why your opponents are suddenly drawing up to nine cards per turn, or why they stole your clients and turned them into resources.

I would strongly recommend that your Glory to Rome learning experience be a two-player game. The two-player game is much less complex than any other number, and allows players to really get to know the way the cards work. Once you have a handle on the mechanics and gameplay, try it with three or four players.

While I do appreciate a chaotic game, I personally feel that Glory to Rome is best played with three players, though I do recommend it as a two-player game as well, even for veteran players. Popular opinion, on the other hand, seems to point to four as the optimal number. Five is much too chaotic , even for my tastes.

Conclusion: All in all, Glory to Rome is an enjoyable and surprisingly strategic card game. If you enjoy heavily strategic card games such as Race for the Galaxy, you might enjoy Glory to Rome and its interesting take on a classic role-selection mechanic. As I said at the beginning of the review, though – don’t let the appearance fool you. Heed the warning on the cover. This is truly a “seriously strategic” card game.

Guest Review : Pandemic

Pandemic box coverPandemic is a cooperative game for 1-4 players taking on different roles in the fight against four diseases that are ravaging the population of the world. Players must work together to prevent catastrophic outbreaks and find the cures for four regional diseases.

 

Appearance
Pandemic is played on a board with a large world-map with major cities marked and joined by routes of travel. The board is quite nice to look at, however, some of the cities can be a little difficult to identify, due to the close proximity of some locations. Player role and reference are simple and easy to understand, with abilities and actions clearly identified and understandable. Infection cards are a little plain, but the information on them is clear. The player city cards are clear and have population and population density information listed for each city, which is pretty neat (especially when you compare them). Pawns, Research Stations and Disease Cubes are made of painted wood and are easy to distinguish from each other. The main complaint is that the board gets scuffed through the course of regular play from the components.

Rules/Ease of Learning
Pandemic is very easy to learn, but is not easy to win. The rulebook is well laid out and provides clear step-by-step instructions for game setup and how a player turn works. There is also a sample turn played out step-by-step, which makes for very clear and easy understanding of the game mechanics. The real trick with Pandemic is figuring out how to best make use of your role’s abilities and the best way to spend each turn’s actions to mitigate the growing threat of outbreaks.
You need to discover all 4 cures to win. Conversely, you lose the game if you run out of any color of disease cubes, after 8 outbreaks, or there are no cards left to draw from the Player city card draw pile.
A game turn is broken down as follows:

  1. Take 4 actions
  2. Draw 2 city cards to add to hand
  3.  Take on the role of the Infector

There are two types of actions, basic and special. Basic actions govern how players can move around the board. Special actions allow players to build research stations, discover cures, treat disease, and share knowledge.

City cards are drawn into your hand and are used for fast-travelling to locations, building research stations, and most importantly, discovering cures. Cures are discovered by playing 5 city cards of the same color (disease) at a research station. Within the player deck, there are Epidemic cards that will eventually arise. When one of these cards are drawn, the number of infection cards drawn on a turn may increase and all previously drawn infection cards are shuffled and returned to the top of the draw pile. This creates a lot of tension within the game. Cities can only sustain 3 cubes of disease. If additional cubes are added, an outbreak occurs. Outbreaks result in a cube being added to each city attached to the city that caused the outbreak. This may lead to further outbreaks.

When you take on the role of the Infector, you turn over several cards and spread the infection as indicated, which may lead to a new instance of a disease, or intensify the infection of an already infected location, or possibly an outbreak!

Gameplay
Pandemic shines in the aspect of gameplay. Each turn, you manoeuvre your expert into the area that does the most good. For instance, as the Medic, you’ll want to move to the area most concentrated with disease. Or, as the Dispatcher, you want to move people to where they can do the most good.

The theme comes out quickly. You start the game at the Research Station (or, Center for Disease Control) in Atlanta, which for many, really punches home the feeling of being a top-tier specialist at combating deadly microbes.

Each turn when the player draws cards, the emergence of the Epidemic card creates incredible tension, especially if it creates several potential outbreak hubs.

Pandemic is about managing threat levels, resource allocation, and teamwork. If you don’t utilize the strengths of each role, you will not be successful.

The box indicates that it is for 2-4 players, however, one can easily play this game solo, taking on multiple roles, if so desired.

 

Conclusion
If you’re a fan of cooperative games, Pandemic belongs in your library. A great theme and simple mechanics make Pandemic easy to play with gamers of all experience levels. The On The Brink expansion adds several new role cards and a few new ways to play and support for a 5th player, it’s well worth adding to your collection.