Now on Kickstarter: Mystery of the Temples

Maker:0x4c,Date:2017-9-21,Ver:4,Lens:Kan03,Act:Lar01,E-Y

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

Maker:0x4c,Date:2017-9-21,Ver:4,Lens:Kan03,Act:Lar01,E-Y

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.

Maker:0x4c,Date:2017-9-21,Ver:4,Lens:Kan03,Act:Lar01,E-Y

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.

    Now on Kickstarter: Kung Pao Chicken

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    Last year I met Ta-Te Wu at my buddy Rick’s birthday 24-hour gaming fest, played a few light games with him (my first time playing Ka-Boom, which was a blast, haha), and became Facebook friends shortly thereafter. I’ve liked reading his FB posts about creating games and painting; they’re inspiring and much more pleasing than most of what people share on social media.

    Through mutual friend E.R. Burgess I acquired an early copy of Wu’s latest game, Kung Pao Chicken. It’s a micro social deduction game that’s currently on Kickstarter.

    I immediately loved the artwork: it’s spare and minimalist, yet conveys the theme perfectly.

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    Three to five players take on the roles of foxes or chickens and score points based on who’s remaining at the end of each round. For every chicken that shares a location with a fox, the fox players score 1 VP. For every chicken all by itself in a location, the chicken players score 1 VP.

    There’s one clever twist: each player doesn’t know whether they’re a fox or chicken. At the start of each round, players randomly choose a role card and, without looking at it, place it on their forehead so other players can see it. Players then set their roles face down under their barn card and play begins.

    Each player gets a predetermined number of cards and on their turn plays one card face down to any location (either another player’s barn or the community grasslands). They may choose to reveal a card at that location.

    After all cards have been played, all players close their eyes, count to three and reveal who they think they are: fox or chicken. Check where all of the chickens and foxes were played and score each player according to their revealed role. Highest score after three rounds wins.

    Confession: I’m not the biggest social deduction fan. Werewolf, Spyfall, Coup, and even Secret Hitler haven’t thrilled me. Deception: Murder in Hong Kong is the one exception; I think it’s brilliant and I like its theme the best.

    Kung Pao Chicken, though, is my type of social deduction game since it only takes about 15 minutes to play and the way you try to figure out what role you are is a clever twist. I liked watching others play their cards to certain locations and deducing who were my fellow foxes or chickens for that round. It’s a nice, light game that travels well (takes up the same amount of space as a standard Love Letter game).

    UPDATE: Kung Pao Chicken has been fully funded and you have until Thursday, January 18th, to back it on Kickstarter.