Pursuit of Happiness Review

sg8023_lThe Pursuit of Happiness is a game about life, specifically, living your life to generate the greatest long-term happiness.  At it’s heart, this is a worker placement game with an interesting theme which it carries out well.  It’s not ground-breaking, but there’s potentially a very good conversation to be had during and after the game about goals in life and even the structure of the game.

Appearance: This is a cute game.  The artwork is cartoony without being distracting, symbols and information are easy to read and understand and tokens are differently shaped to make things simple to locate.  Perhaps the coolest thing they have are the hourglass tokens which are used as ‘workers’.  This is a decent looking game but it won’t blow the socks off anyone. I should also point out that both the jobs and partner cards are double-sided, allowing  you to pick your job / partner in a way that suits you.

Rules / Ease of Learning: The Pursuit of Happiness is a relatively easy game to learn.  You have hour glasses for your ‘workers’ and can take actions on the board to purchase items / activities, get a job, date someone, pursue a project or spend your free time being creative, studying or making social connections or just working for money.  Spending time taking up projects or taking part in activities can generate creativity / knowledge / social connection points which can then be used to complete further projects or complete your upkeep for your jobs.  There’s nothing particularly innovative about the way the game works and any experienced gamer will grasp the basic mechanics very fast.

Perhaps the most interesting thing that the game brings to play is the ‘stress’ track.  The stress track dictates the amount of time (i.e. workers) your receive each round and at the higher ends, can lead to your death.  With ‘Old Age’ rounds adding to your stress track automatically at the start of the round, players who have managed to lower their stress in previous rounds will be able to gain an additional round (or two).

Gameplay: This game can play fast if taken lightly.  However, if you  have players who are prone to analysis paralysis or who need to get the most out of each round, this can drag as this is a pure information game.  All the cards, all the options for each round are laid out so it’s easy to spend a while analysing the best route to get the most out of your turn.  This can cause the game to drag a bit.  In addition, the uneven ending times can also cause a bit of frustration for those not playing the last round(s), so this is definitely not a game for people looking to finish at the same time.

Other than that, the game plays quite well. There’s ample opportunity for ‘role-playing’ your characters and even more fun making up stories about who and what you want to be.  My last game, I was the fitness fanatic, zen-master ex-President who found love late in life after spending the first half of his life ‘finding himself’.  Another player was the true geek of the group, building up his gaming collection, taking part in and running gaming groups who in the end found his time sucked up by a high-paying job and a demanding wife.

And that’s where the game shines.  The Pursuit of Happiness lets you make decisions that make sense.  Want a job that gives good money? They often require significant amounts of time to upkeep each turn.  Want a relationship or a family? That’s going to require upkeep each turn, how much depends on how involved you are.  Each relationship and job will have different per-requisites  and often different benefits, so best pick wisely.

One criticism I will level at the game is the lack of opportunities to reduce stress.  There are very few cards that allow you to ‘jump’ between stress bands, which means that players are often deadly afraid of getting any forms of stress.  It certainly feels more forced especially since the opportunities to improve your health are entirely luck-based and almost purely project based, ensuring that a player who manages to get a couple of those projects has a distinct advantage over his opponents.

Final ThoughtsThe Pursuit of Happiness begs to be discussed in a meta context.  Does having a relationship really generate that much long-term happiness? Is it always that stressful to date multiple partners (especially if it’s ‘casual’)? Is it better to have items or take part in activities to be truly happy? Should they both contribute the same amount to your long-term happiness? Don’t / can’t a career make you just as happy as raising a family? Those are all questions that can be raised and discussed, both with your friends and family after this playing game.  Unless you have very specific objections to it, it also allows you to discuss the options that people decide to make to ‘win’.

The Pursuit of Happiness is a decent, mechanical game, but it’s the theme and conversations that rise from playing it that raises it above the generic slush of worker placement games out there.

 

 

Steam Donkey Review

Steam Donkey
Steam Donkey

Steam Donkey‘s my new portable light strategy game for multiple players.  Previous games that have been in that category includes San Juan and Lost Cities.  It’s a pure card game that focuses on hand management and tableau building and will play up to 4 players in a 30 – 60 minute game.

Appearance

Steam Donkey’s a nice looking game with very 19th century, steampunk elements.  Now, Steampunk isn’t for everyone but the art is cute and the design well thought out in the cards.  It’s easy to tell what cards are placed where and what each card is, so that gameplay is fast and smooth.

That’s the thing of good design – when it works, it works and you barely even notice it unless you are thinking about it.  That’s what Steam Donkey has, and I’ve got to give them kudos for it.  Card stock is nice and thick too so there’s no issue at all with the card peeling – at least for a while.

Rules

The rules in Steam Donkey are simple.  Players are resort owners who must build attractions in their resort to attract the most tourists.  They have 3 sections to build resorts in – the Park, Beach or Town area and four different types of attractions they can build – amusements, lodgings, monuments and transportation attractions.

To build an attraction, players must discard cards from their hand of the same attraction type and place it in the appropriate area.  Only one attraction in each area can be built though, so you’ll have to decide on which attraction works best for you.  To get more cards in your hand, players can decide to instead draw from the discard pile or begin attracting visitors.  Visitors are colour coded (on the back of the cards) to indicate the area they are interested in, and players can transport all visitors who would are going to the same area to their attractions at the same time.  In subsequent turns, they may then draw the players from the attractions into their hands.

Gameplay

For those who have played San Juan, the game sounds and is very similar, but is much simpler as there are fewer ‘special’ cards that break the rules.  At the same time, the game has a decent amount of complexity as players must decide between building attractions immediately to begin attracting visitors with saving cards to build the right kind of attractions.  With the addition of secret goal cards and the fact that all built attractions score, there are a few viable strategies to winning.

In addition, Steam Donkey is easy to teach.  The (basic) rules are relatively simple like all good Euros and this keeps each turn passing quickly.  Of course, the advanced rules (not explained) add more complexity to the game along with more tactical options which greatly enhance the gameplay for those who have mastered the basic rules.

A word of caution  – shuffle well.  Due to the way visitor cards ‘clump’ together when played, if you don’t shuffle well you will find that you will be drawing visitors of the same type constantly, which might cause issues with how fast the game plays.   Also, at times you’ll just be drawing cards because you are waiting for a specific card, which if you don’t shuffle the cards together properly can make for a long time of just drawing.

Lastly, something to note, while the game itself is easy to transport when playing it can take up a lot of space because of the tableau. This isn’t a game that plays in a very small space well, so be careful.

Conclusion

Overall, it’s a good accessible game that is easy to transport.  If you  need a basic filler, Steam Donkey is definitely something you should consider getting especially since San Juan is currently out of print at this moment.

 

 

 

 

Waggle Dance Review

Waggle DanceWaggle Dance is a worker placement game that has players act as Queen Bees, using their bees to grow their hive, collect pollen and of course, produce honey.  Waggle Dance is an interesting development of a worker placement game, with an interesting resource development engine in place that has to be carefully balanced.  Overall, with nice artwork and cute dice, it’s a decent addition to the worker placement genre.

Rules

In Waggle Dance, each bee is represented as a die.  At the start of each turn, players roll their dice and take turns placing them on the available cards, taking up spots in the cards (which at times can be limited) which represent actions that the bees are taking.  Actions for the bees during that turn include increasing the size of the hive, plantin an egg, hatching an egg (for more workers/dice), collecting pollen of a colour type, changing eggs or pollen to pollen of another type, collecting special cards, moving collected pollen around the hive and turning pollen into honey.

4 pollen of the same kind must be collected and stored on a cell to make honey, and during a turn a player can only collect at most 2 pieces of a single colour of pollen.  As such, making honey is a multi-turn process.  As the winner of the game is the player who first reaches 5 pollen, this makes the collection of pollen a race.

Appearance

Waggle Dance is a well designed and developed game.  The dice are small and custom made, but perfect for their use and not hard to read.  The colours are all bright and easy to pick out and the game uses a lot of symbols to indicate actions, but for the most part the symbols are quite easy to discern.  Overall, I have to give Waggle Dance great marks for the overall design.

Gameplay

Gameplay for Waggle Dance would probably place it in the medium-light ‘weight’ as a strategy game.  The ruleset like most Euros is pretty easy to learn and if you’ve played a game like Castles of Burgundy or Kingsburg before, you’ll understand the entire worker placement as dice aspect really quickly.  That leaves the game balance, which is achieved by pitting competing needs against one another.

Specifically, players have to have sufficient space in their hive to collect and store pollen (and honey eventually) while providing space to plant eggs to hatch for new workers.  Spend too much time growing your hive and collecting pollen and you won’t have enough workers to compete against other players, however, because of the limit of the number of pollen available in a round; you can’t neglect pollen collection to just grow your workers.

This makes Waggle Dance ‘feel’ more like a traditional euro with a full resource engine behind it, but one that is extremely tightly developed as it is a race to 5 honey instead of victory points.  As such, you’ll always be watching what other players are doing while potentially attempting to block their actions. I definitely like that competitive aspect of the gameplay, especially the competition around pollen collection.

Conclusion

I would definitely put Waggle Dance as an extremely solid addition to the worker placement genre.  It should definitely be part of the consideration for a collection if you don’t have a solid worker placement game as yet.  Or you know, you like bees.

 

 

The Outcast Heroes Review

The Outcast Heroes
The Outcast Heroes

So we picked up copies of The Outcast Heroes in Essen and because of the pitch and my recent trip to Poland, I was rather interested in playing it. The game centers around the Polish resistance to the German occupying forces and players must together or against one another over the years to win. However, instead of playing to a final ‘win / lose’ proposition, players are attempting to score Glory Points.

Rules

I am not going to go too deeply into the rules-set but need to explain some of the rules to explain the game.

Each game is played across 3 stages with 4 rounds in each stage.  Players at the beginning of a stage are given secret mission cards which indicate if the player is a traitor or not.  Successfully completing a secret mission gives bonus victory points.

During the first 3 rounds of each stage, a new mission is revealed.  In addition, at all times a 4th mission (Free the prisoners) is available for players to run.  Players during each round only have 2 actions – they can recruit soldiers from the headquarters, play a soldier to a mission, take over a spot in a mission to receive the spots benefits or if they are the leader, begin the mission.  As such, each round goes pretty quickly and with only 12 rounds a game only takes about an hour or so.

When you run a mission, the leader draws and distributes the glory points that are available for the mission before government cards (bad cards that increase the difficulty of the mission) are drawn and then orders are given to the soldiers.  Orders to soldiers running the mission can range from ‘running away’ to getting injured or dying or being thrown into jail (potentially adding strength to the mission though).

Any missions not started by the end of round 4 automatically start too and if 2 out of 3 of the missions succeed, the rebels win.  If not, they lose and the traitors stand a chance to win additional points.

Appearance

At first glance, the artwork is very, very good.  There’s a lot of good artwork for the wolves and the design and it looks like the art is actually done in period style. However, the biggest problem with the artwork is that it is all in shades of black and grey, with mostly washed out tones.  Cards and card backs aren’t done in a manner that is significantly different (which wolf feature was it that was the Government card?) that can slow down the game itself as you try to remember which card goes where.  Block text on the back of the cards would have helped a lot instead of relying purely on graphical design.  Once you start learning the bits though, it’s not bad.  Still, those with colour blindness and who aren’t that good at quickly memorising the backs of the cards should be warned.

Gameplay

Overall, I have to say the game play quite well but it feels a bit clunky with the number of moving pieces / rules involved.  There are a lot of cards that need to be dealt each time a mission is played – glory points, government action cards, order cards, order cards have to be played and then finally, all cards resolved.  Compared to say the Resistance, the game definitely feels much more involved – though the cards themselves add a little bit more uncertainty and strategic options to the game.

I definitely like how managing your soldiers and the additional ‘free the prisoners’ mission added to the game.  You have to decide who to send, where to send them and what kind of cards you are willing to sacrific for the greater good.  One player had the majority of their characters thrown into jail by the third stage while I had only 1 character in jail (and 4 dead!) which meant I was more inclined to focus my efforts on the main mission.  It also meant that I could get to the leadership positions first, ensuring I had the best victory points if the mission succeeded.

I should also note that I have only played one game so far and I did it with non-gamers.  The non-gamers definitely had fun, but thinking back to the game, I think we missed a lot of the strategic / meta-gaming possibilities involved.  It’s easy to tell who is a traitor or not during the game, so one potential option a leader has is to bribe potential traitors with glory points to successfully allow a mission to succeed.  Since a traitor only gets 2 glory points if 2 / 3 mission fails (and 1 more if all 3 fail); it might make sense for a traitor to help at least 1 mission succeed (and potentially both if he gets 3 glory points a mission).   It’s something I think a ‘gamer’ crowd, or one that has been introduced to something like the Resistance or Werewolf would catch much faster earlier on, rather than ‘after the fact’ with non-gamers.

Which  I guess indicates that this game has definite replay possibilities – you want to try at least a few more games to see how it plays out, with both different number of players and with the same group as you learn the intricacies of the game.

Conclusion

So, would I consider this game a definite buy? I’m not sure.  The Resistance is a much tighter game, and the betrayal mechanic is done in a much shorter format in One Night.  On the other hand, the Outcast Heroes hits on a unique historical theme (or at least one that isn’t as explored) and seems to have a decent amount of replay value with a higher amount of complexity than either of the above two.