Humans of the Tabletop: June 4, 2018

Inspired by Brandon Stanton’s Humans of New York, I present Humans of the Tabletop, an ongoing series about the people I’ve played games with.

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“Now that we’re both basically retired, it’s good to get out of the house to meet people and play games. It’s nice to keep your mind active and enjoy the puzzly nature of games. Gaming has always excited us with its friendly competition. Win or lose, you still have friends.”

Humans of the Tabletop: April 23, 2018

Inspired by Brandon Stanton’s Humans of New York, I present Humans of the Tabletop, an ongoing series about the people I’ve played games with.


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“During elementary school sometimes when it rained we’d have indoor recess and play board games or draw, but I would read books. One rainy season I got into reading series of books like The Woodlanders. And once I got into Harry Potter, my love of reading exploded.”

On the Tabletop: Cobra Paw

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From the makers of Bananagrams comes Cobra Paw, a light family game of pattern recognition and real-time action. Two to six players (“ninjas”) attempt to be the first to collect six stones and win the game.

There are 21 stones that have different symbols and colors on them. The active player rolls two dice and whoever can match the symbols on the dice to its corresponding stone must grab it to add to their collection.

If the symbols match a stone in someone’s collection, they can be stolen from them. First one to have six stones (or eight stones in a two-player game) wins.

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This is a simple and fast game. The components are top-notch, featuring big, chunky dice and solid domino-like stones. The rule book is whimsical and offers a few variants to the basic game.

Cobra Paw is great if you have young ones looking to participate in game night. For more experienced gamers, this might work as a filler between heavier, more involved games.

Thanks to Bananagrams for providing a copy of Cobra Paw for review.

Now on Kickstarter: Mystery of the Temples

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In the world of modern board gaming, bigger does not mean better. From Gryphon Games’ Bookshelf games to the small-box brilliance of the Tiny Epic series, games no longer need to be in Days of Wonder-sized boxes to provide a satisfying tabletop experience.

Mystery of the Temples from Deep Water Games is the latest game to outplay its humble size. Players are adventurers exploring wilderness, gathering crystals, and trying to break the curses placed on various temples.

The game features excellent components with linen-finished mini-Euro-sized cards and tarot-sized cards, 60 crystals in five colors, four meeples, and 24 broken curse marker cubes. I was surprised by how many things were packed into the box; it was easy to find and set up everything.

The object of the game is to score the most points by breaking curses, collecting runes, and gaining end-game bonuses via area majority and set collection.

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On your turn you’ll move your meeple one to three spaces, either on the large temple cards or the smaller wilderness cards. Temple cards give you one specific crystal or you can opt to break a curse for points. Wilderness cards give you more options for gaining or exchanging crystals.

For the most part, you’ll move on the wilderness cards to collect crystals before moving onto the temple cards to break curses.

As you gather crystals, you’ll store them on your crystal grid. You’ll want to pay attention as you do this since the order in which you place them matters. Why? Because to break a temple’s curse, you must play the crystals in the exact order shown on the card. So if you want to break the yellow-yellow-blue curse for three points, those crystals must be connected to each other on your crystal grid.

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Once you break a curse you’ll score victory points and gain a rune card. These cards offer special abilities and additional crystals whenever you land on a card that has the matching rune. As the game progresses, multiple rune cards may be trigger simultaneously.

After a player breaks five curses, then the rest of the round is played. Players then check for end game bonuses. First, three of the five temples offer bonuses points based on who has the most broken curse markers on them. Next, players check their rune cards and gain points based on the number of unique runes they’ve acquired. The player with the most points wins.

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I was impressed upon seeing the quality of components inside Mystery of the Temples and was equally impressed by its game play. The turns are simple (move your meeple and either collect crystals or break a temple’s curse), but there are decisions to be made throughout the game.

Since players can’t share spaces (they leapfrog any player on a card), not everything you attempt will go according to plan. You can even block an opponent from a temple by landing on it before they do and it’s not uncommon to find another player beating you to a temple.

The crystal grid makes things interesting by forcing you to be aware of how you store your crystals. I like that you can’t just hoard crystals; you can only keep a dozen and if they’re not in the right order to break a curse, then you’ll have to spend clear crystals to re-arrange them.

I also liked the asymmetry built into the game; each player has a special ability they may use on their turn. These abilities may shape your early strategy and it’s a nice way to ensure everybody isn’t trying to land on the same cards in the opening rounds.

Don’t let the size of Mystery of the Temples fool you: the box may scream “filler,” but the game has enough meat on its bones to satisfy hobby gamers.

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Colorblind-friendly cards and crystal tokens (prototypes)

A note on color blind accessibility: if you follow me on Twitter, you know I’m an advocate for making games more accessible for color blind players. When Deep Water Games contacted me, they said they were updating the original game to be color-blind friendly, which was an absolute godsend.

The temple cards and wilderness cards have been replaced by cards with unique icons for each color. And instead of using different-colored crystals, you can use the included tokens with those same icons on them.

Kudos to Deep Water Games for making Mystery of the Temples color-blind friendly. I hope more publishers follow their lead in thinking about accessibility.

Thanks to Deep Water Games for providing a copy of Mystery of the Temples for review. Mystery of the Temples is currently funding on Kickstarter. The campaign runs until April 17th.

Now on Kickstarter: Highways & Byways

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Highways & Byways prototype

In Highways & Byways, you and your opponents have scored your first used cars and take to the road to explore America. You each start at a home base and have a set of routes you’re trying to complete and return home. Whoever does this first, wins.

The highlight of the game is the Driving Phase, where players are allowed to move up to six times on their turn. This is more than enough to complete your routes, but thanks to the random Construction and Event cards played before each turn, you may have to do some maneuvering around blocked paths or take a different route altogether.

Along with the point-to-point movement mechanism, there’s also the hand management aspect of Event cards. Each player has a hand of five Events and one is chosen randomly before their turn. A bad Event hinders movement while a good Event can help you overcome obstacles on your route. If you’re ever short on movement, you can discard one Event card to gain one movement action; it’s also a good way to get rid of those bad Events from your hand.

Each player also has their own special ability, which can make their travels go a lot smoother by ignoring some events, drawing extra Event cards, and so forth.

Special Abilities prototypes

Special Abilities prototypes

The game bills itself as a gateway-style game and if it was merely the Driving Stage, then I’d tend to agree. Unfortunately, the Planning Stage was entirely too long for my tastes. This is done before the Driving Stage and consists of a card draft that determines your routes for the Driving Stage.

The first player draws two cards from the deck, keeps one, then passes one to the next player. That player then draws one from the deck, chooses which one to keep, then passes the other to the following player, etc. This is done a total of 12 times and while I understand that players work on their Driving Stage strategy during this stage, it felt like an interminable wait before you could select your card.

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Highways & Byways prototype

(Note: Since I was given an early prototype of the game, I shared my thoughts regarding the Driving Stage. Developer and publisher Brandon Rollins said that he may be adding a Planning Stage variant that would consist of each player drawing 14 route cards and simply discarding two of them. This is a welcome change and I hope he makes it an official variant during the Kickstarter campaign. Speaking of Rollins, he shares a lot of his game design process and thoughts on his website. If you’re an aspiring game designer, you should check out his site or follow one of his social media accounts.)

Overall, Highways & Byways offers a gateway-style experience during the Driving Stage and I’d like to see what, if any, tweaks are made to the Planning Stage to smooth out the game.

Thanks to Brandon Rollins for providing a copy of Highways & Byways for review. Highways & Byways is currently funding on Kickstarter. The campaign runs until Friday, April 20th.

 

Now on Kickstarter: Cat Rescue

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Ta-Te Wu seems to be designing games all the time. Just a few months after his Kung Pao Chicken was published, he’s back with Cat Rescue, his latest micro game seeking funding on Kickstarter.

Cat Rescue is a cooperative game about saving and adopting cats. The game consists of 26 cat cards, 1 double-sided delivery card, and four shelter tokens. The tokens are used to mark the corners of the shelter, which is a 4×4 playing field.

By maneuvering the cats on their turn, players will get them ready for adoption and ultimately get them out of the shelter to score points. The more points scored, the better your final ranking.

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After four random cats are dealt to the center of the playing field, two cats are dealt to each player. These represent the player’s foster home. The delivery card is placed on a cat and indicates the direction that cats cannot be moved in the shelter.

    1. On their turn, players will draw a card from the deck or choose a cat from their foster home. They place that cat next to a cat in the shelter and push the cat in any direction except the one shown on the delivery card. For example, if the direction card is pointed up, then a player can push cats left, right, or down.
    2. If three or four cats of the same color are connected in a row or column, then the middle cat(s) are flipped face down. This means they are ready to be adopted.
    3. Whenever a cat is pushed outside of the shelter (the 4×4 playing field), they are either adopted (if face down) and taken out of the game or placed in the player’s foster home.
    4. The game ends when any player has three cats in their foster home or the draw deck is empty.

    At the end of the game, score two points for every adopted cat and one point for every ready-to-adopt cat (that is, those cats flipped facedown but still in the shelter). A scoring chart will rank your effort from “Cat Got Your Tongue?” to “You’re the Cat’s Meow!”

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    Cat Rescue is a fun puzzle game highlighted by its super cute art done by artist Kaiami. The game features a simple turn (take a cat from the deck or from your foster home and place it in the shelter) and the trick is figuring out where to place your cat. You’re trying to get similar cats together so you can flip the middle one(s) over for adoption, so playing a wild cat early can help you out as you get later cats next to them. As you build up facedown cats ready for adoption, you’ll start pushing them out of the shelter to score points.

    Like other cooperative games, there can be an Alpha Gamer problem where one person takes over the game and tells others what they should do on their turn. The game works best when players can work together to find solutions, but quarterbacking can happen. It’s probably why I prefer playing Cat Rescue as a quick and quiet 15-minute solo puzzle.

    One final observation: while marking the 4×4 grid with the included shelter tokens (cubes) is fine, this game screams for a playmat. It’d be easier to keep track of the shelter’s borders this way; hopefully, a BGGer with spare time will make a playmat or Kaiami herself will offer a playmat featuring her artwork (fingers crossed).

    Thanks to Ta-Te Wu for providing a copy of Cat Rescue for review. Cat Rescue is currently funding on Kickstarter. The campaign runs until Thursday, April 19th.

    On the Tabletop: Daemon Trilogy: Subrosa

    On the Tabletop is an ongoing series of board game overviews featuring my thoughts on the latest tabletop products. 

    In Daemon Trilogy: Subrosa players are leaders of the five noble houses trying to recruit mercenaries to complete various contracts. The game is card drafting and set collection game at its heart, with a fair amount of player interaction based on the cards being played, and players score points based on their completed contracts.

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    Players begin with a hand of 15 cards and 1-3 contracts.  Each round of play consists of five phases.

    1. Recruitment Phase: each player places two cards facedown in front of them. This is their “crew.”
    2. Action Phase: players may select one crew member to to activate by pushing it forward. Optionally, a player may instead take two contracts, discarding any one contract.
    3. Resolution Phase: players resolve their activated characters in turn order. Even if a character is wounded, their ability will resolve before they’re removed from the game.
    4. Scoring Phase: players may complete any contracts by revealing the required crew members (cards in hand do not count towards contracts). Completed contracts and the cards used to complete them are removed from the game.
    5. Passing Phase: all players pass their hand of cards to the left.

    The game ends immediately when at least one player has zero or one cards in their hand at the end of a round. Players add the total of their completed contracts, then subtract half the value of their incomplete contracts. For example, if a player has one incomplete contract worth 400 points, then they would subtract 200 points. The player with the most points wins.

    Daemon Trilogy: Subrosa

    Daemon Trilogy: Subrosa

    Daemon Trilogy: Subrosa is a top-notch production, from the terrific artwork to the linen-finish cards. It’s a good filler game, with tactical decisions made every round. Since you’re passing your hand each round, you can’t just hoard the cards you need for your contracts. You’ll have to be flexible in your strategy and will need to adapt as you activate your cards and react to your opponents’ activations. Do you try to complete a smaller contract as soon as possible or do you go for the big points while possibly passing cards that your opponents need?

    There’s a backstory to the game as given in the rulebook, but it doesn’t affect gameplay at all. I am curious, though, to see what the next games are in the Daemon Trilogy and see if/how it expands on Subrosa.

    Final note: there’s an app for the game that’s supposed to enhance game play, but it was buggy when I gave it a test run and I didn’t bother to include it when actually playing the game. Hopefully, they’ll update it soon for a smoother experience.

    Thanks to IDW Games for providing this copy of Daemon Trilogy: Subrosa.