Little Metal Dog Show – Episode 2.3 – Battlestations!

In this new run of the podcast, I am going to be VERY selective about the games that I choose to talk about that are currently on Kickstarter. In all honesty, towards the end of the first series, I felt like the focus was very heavily skewed towards crowdfunding, and while it was great speaking to people about their games, it could sometimes feel like a bit of a shill. This time around though you’ll be hearing a lot less from the KS-sphere, and if someone does happen to have a game currently seeking funding, having them appear on the show will be a pretty bloody good sign that you should probably go ahead and check it out.

Enter the bold Jeff Siadek! His magnum opus, Battlestations, was originally released back in 2004 and certainly has a unique and special place in the hearts and minds of many gamers and designers in our community. Part role playing game, part board game, it puts players not just in a spaceship hurtling through the galaxy, but makes that galaxy a living, breathing thing that actively wants to ruin your day by killing you (or at least forcing you to respawn your consciousness in the body of a new clone). In a game where literally anything can happen at the discretion of a lone player acting as the enemy, how long can you and your teammates survive the inky blackness of space? And what happens when a much loved game gets a much-deserved reboot over a decade down the line?

Find out for yourself in this interview with Jeff Siadek – which you can get on iTunes or directly from this here link: http://traffic.libsyn.com/littlemetaldogshow/LMD_Episode_2_3_Jeff_Siadek.mp3 – and check out the game on Kickstarter! It runs through until Thursday, March 3rd, and can be found at https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/search?utf8=&term=battlestations

As ever, thanks for listening!

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Little Metal Dog Show – Episode 2.2 – An Hour With Richard Borg!

The podcast returns once again, this time with an interview I’ve wanted to get recorded for a very long time! This time around, I got to speak with legendary designer Richard Borg, the man behind such renowned games as Memoir ’44, BattleLore and Battle Cry. He’s been a major part of the industry for several decades, even managing to count a much-coveted Spiel des Jahres amongst his many awards, and I got to chat away with him recently. We cover all manner of subjects and Richard regales us with plenty of anecdotes from his life as a game designer (as well as plenty from before too). It was great to finally catch up with Richard, and I really hope you enjoy listening to the episode.

If you’d like to grab it directly, you can do so by right clicking this link here: http://traffic.libsyn.com/littlemetaldogshow/LMD_Episode_2_2_Richard_Borg.mp3

The show is also up on iTunes, where you can simply search for Little Metal Dog Show and it should pop up. You’ve got the right feed if you see this beautiful image when you hit play – or something akin to it, at least…

  
 As ever, I’m incredibly grateful that you guys choose to spend your time listening to me jabber away, and I’m equally thankful to those who let me speak with them for the show. There’ll be another episode along soon where I speak to someone a little newer to the industry. See you again soon!

Much love,

Michael

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Sick Sick Sick – Pandemic Legacy review (spoiler free!)

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Putting together a review of a game that I’ve already declared one of my favourites of 2015 is… a bit weird. It’s especially strange when said game is wrapped in secrecy and I’m still only about halfway through the tale me and my game group are collectively telling. However much criticism it draws, Matt Leacock and Rob Daviau’s Pandemic Legacy never fails to bring a smile to my face, and there is still so much stuff to experience…

I am, by nature, a person who doesn’t really care about spoilers. When a series starts up that I have a passing interest in, I’ll invariably read up on the end of it before deciding to watch the whole thing. For me, it’s not the conclusion of the journey but the path I was taken on to get there that is important. The ability to binge watch a whole season of episodes of something like House of Cards on Netflix is perfect for folks like me; we skip to the end and see if we want to experience the ride. Star Wars Episode VII? Eh, I read the spoilers the day it came out. Might see it, might not. By the time I do get to watch it, again probably online somewhere, I’ll invariably have forgotten the story anyway. It’s one of the good things about having a bad memory.

For Pandemic Legacy though, it’s been a very different thing. I have actively stopped myself from looking at spoilers. I’ve avoided any and all reviews for fear that the tiniest nugget of information could leak through and screw up the sheer fun I’m having with the game. The problem though? Having fun doing something means you want to talk to people about it. And talking leads to spoilers – either you revealing something that’s happened to your game, or someone else talking about what they’ve gone through. You see the issue.

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NO SPOILERS.

Regardless, I’m having a blast with Pandemic Legacy. At it’s core it’s still the same old Pandemic that we’ve all been playing for the past few years, albeit on hard bastard mode and with shiny pretty components, but the introduction of the Legacy element has turned a great, accessible game into something more. Players still have four actions to move around the world map, clearing up disease cubes and attempting to stop potential outbreaks. Cards are still drawn to your hand, and spent to find a cure for the four diseases or to give you a quick boost to the other side of the planet. Infection Cards are still flipped, adding cubes to cities and causing worried looks around the table. But now there is so much more…

…and I’m not going to talk about any of it. Instead, I’d like to focus on why the game is so entertaining.

For experienced gamers like (most of) us, Pandemic Legacy is just what we need. In what’s actually an incredible boom period for the world of games, where the cult of the new is rife and there’s a raft of new stuff to play every week which we’re all delightfully, voraciously consuming, here’s one that actively encourages us to sit down with the same people each time and play the same thing again and again – kind of. This isn’t a static effort, the game doesn’t reset each time you start anew. The decisions you make in one play have a major effect on the next. As you progress through the in-game year, the whole board evolves and grows into something unique to you and your friends. Each defeat feels like a kick to the stomach, whether it’s a last minute one snatched from the jaws of victory or an unstoppable avalanche of cubes storming across the board in the course of a couple of turns. Every victory feels hard fought, a battle well won through planning and the occasional dash of luck. For the group I sit with every two weeks, it’s become more than a game – it’s a story with countless interwoven threads that we’re getting to tell together. And that’s an amazing experience.

I still find regular Pandemic a lot of fun. It’s simple to get your head around, and I’ve often suggested that it should be added to the pantheon of games that people new to the hobby all generally try out. Catan gives you the heads up on economics and trading, Carcassonne is worker placement and tile-laying 101, and Ticket to Ride gets you understanding set collection and networks. All great games to form the cornerstone of a fine collection, and Pandemic adds the concept of co-op play – and they’re all perfect for newcomers to the hobby. Legacy though? I wouldn’t even consider putting this down in front of a new player. They’d run screaming before the first round of January had finished, their head swimming with questions and fears. Why is the rulebook half empty? What are all those boxes for? What do you mean, we might lose four games in a row and need the game to help us?<

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SERIOUSLY, NO SPOILERS.

It’s a glorious, terrifying prospect. And the fact that I get to sit down every couple of weeks with my friends to try and save the world again and again is just wonderful. We’re only in June at the moment and still have half of our adventure to play through, but as I mentioned at the top of this piece, it’s cemented itself as one of my two favourite games from last year. It takes that base Pandemic and creates something totally different – not just from any other game out there, but also from every other game group’s playthrough. And it’s the fact that this single game manages to create so many individual experiences that makes it special.

Even now, with so much to go, I’m still sitting here wondering how they can top things for Season Two, because you know that somewhere in the deepest vaults of Z-Man Games, in a clean room staffed only by Rob and Matt, plans are afoot for an even more destructive and terrible tale.

I can’t wait.

Pandemic Legacy was designed by Matt Leacock and Rob Daviau, and was originally released in two flavours (Red and Blue) by Z-Man Games in 2015. Between two and four people can play (though really, it should be four people – the same four! – all the way through). Games should take around an hour, though you may have your arse handed to you after fifteen minutes if you don’t keep an eye on things. It’ll set you back $70, though if you want to get it for a lot less ($55!) you can grab yourself a copy from FunAgain Games by clicking this here link!

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Wrapped Up In Books – Paperback review

Paperback

While there are many word games on the market, and more and more deck builders appearing with each passing year, it’s a surprise that the two genres have been combined so infrequently. In fact, as far as I’m aware, there’s only one game that has done so – or at least has managed to bring the two together successfully. I’m talking, of course, about Paperback, designed by Tim Fowers and published through his own imprint, Fowers Games. For someone whose word games collection numbered precisely one title before a copy landed on my table (Scrabble, naturally), I’m delighted to see something new that has challenged by little grey cells.

Where most word games rely on you simply spelling our words and scoring points from what you create, Paperback takes a very different turn. Sure, players all begin with the same small deck of cards, each of which represent some of the more regularly used letters in the alphabet, and the premise is still to spell out words with the cards you draw from your personal pile each turn, but the focus is on expanding your options by making money.

Paperback‘s conceit is that players are writers, desperately hammering away at their keyboards as they bid to make the next great novel. As your turn comes around, you draw from your card pile and see what the letters you have before you can make. After playing it down before you and saying the word out loud, you total up the amount of money it has earned for you, which is worked out using the numbers shown on each card in cents – we never said that a career as a writer was going to rake in a fortune…

That amount of money can then be used to purchase cards from piles that are found in the middle of the table, ranging in price from two cents to ten. On buying a card, it is immediately added to your discard pile and will soon cycle into your hand as the game progresses. The more exotic a letter – rarely used is a better description, I suppose – the more expensive it generally is to pick up from the central tableau. Each price level has a couple of options available to the budding creator, and even with a limited budget you’ll still be able to purchase something, assuming you’ve been able to make a legitimate word.

Some cards show a pair of letters rather than a single one, while others allow you to manipulate the rules a little on your next turn – drawing extra cards or using any one as a blank are particularly valuable. Most cards also have a small points value, and with the final aim of Paperback being to score the highest total, you’ll be looking to add the most useful and valuable cards to your deck in equal measure. It’s an interesting balancing act that keeps the game fresh and interesting.

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Two other card types are also available – completed novels are the most coveted, and while they’re expensive, they will not only pull in big points, they’re also usable as wild letters. Sure, they may not be very valuable when purchasing new letters, but you’ll be glad of them when you need something, anything, to make something better than CAT or BOW. The other type act as objectives, allowing for the use of a space in what you play, or permanently bestowing another special ability upon you. While most people who are new to the game will concentrate mainly on just making words from their hands, experienced writers know that the game can turn on capturing these very powerful cards. Learn that lesson early!

Of course, any good word game lives and dies by the people who are playing it. The players’ vocabulary determines the level of skill in Paperback, so if you have one person who has a particularly expansive lexicon available to them, there is a good chance that they could run away with the victory. Playing with a reasonably equal group is where the game shines, but don’t shy away from trying the game out if you haven’t swallowed a copy of Webster’s Dictionary recently. It’s still a very fun experience where thinking fast is vital if you’re to maximise your hands of cards.

Production wise, the game is great. The letter cards are simple but clear, and the various books written by Paperback‘s mascot (Paige Turner – yes, it’s a rotten pun!) are beautifully illustrated by Ryan Goldsberry. The whole thing comes in a sturdy box that, admittedly, has a fair bit of air inside, but the game is so charming it deserves to take up that little extra shelf space. Word games aren’t beloved by many hardcore gamers – if anything, they’re a niche product in an already limited market – but Paperback shows how the genre can be woven into something fresh, different, and above all, fun. Fans of more mainstream titles may find the idea of deck building a little hard to get their head around initially, but a little tenacity and good teaching could well show them that there’s a whole new world of games out there.

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Drinking in NH – Biergarten Review

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Right! Time to get back on the regular reviewing horse! And there’s no better way to start off the new year of games reviews with something small, lovely and independent. Yes, surprise surprise, it’s a write up of a game that’s currently on Kickstarter but stop! Wait! Don’t run away! It’s about making people happy through the medium of beer! At least read the first few paragraphs, yeah?

So, this time around we’re looking at Biergarten by the folks at Steam Boat Gothic, an indie board game development team formed by Lauren and Andrew Sallwasser. Biergarten launched a few days ago on Kickstarter and hit its $10,000 target after a few steady days of funding, and at the time of posting there are well over three weeks to go, so you can support the game with confidence – and you should, for Biergarten is that joyous combination of being accessible enough to explain to a new player in a few minutes while still offering meaty-ish gameplay that you can knock out in about a quarter of an hour.

For those of you out there who aren’t aware of the German tradition of hanging out in the Biergarten, you’re missing out on one of life’s most splendid experiences. A beautiful day sat outside a German pub having a delicious beer with good friends is a rare treat, and even though I don’t really drink that much any more, should the opportunity arise next time I’m in Essen, you can be sure I’ll be partaking, and what will we be playing? Well, this game is pretty much the perfect option.

Players are looking to create their own personal beer gardens (for those who haven’t quite grasped the translation yet) through the medium of tile placement. In the advance version of the game I received, we’re using large format cards which I believe the designers are planning on carrying through to the final edition. Everyone starts off with a central Home Card around which their creations will be built using their hands of Common Cards.

Each turn, you may either draw from the central supply of three face-up cards, take from the face-down deck, or (if you’re feeling like someone else has something you’ll find useful) steal from another player. You must then add one card to your Biergarten – they all must be oriented the same way, as shown by the arrows on them – then have the option to manipulate things. This is done by either swapping two cards that you currently have in play, or by shifting one either horizontally or vertically.

If you check out the card examples dbelow, you’ll see most of them depict huge umbrellas of different colours to protect the visitors from the harshness of the sun. There are also half-shields on some edges of the cards which show that you are allowed to place another card next to it – any edge that doesn’t have this half-shield will instead represent a wall, closing off one part of your Biergarten. We, of course, will be using all of these in a much more gamerly fashion, as you’ll need to pay close attention to your layout if you’re to maximise your score at the end of the game. Cards don’t have to match, but doing so will guarantee that you score high.

 

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The design team have developed this excellent example showing all the ways cards can score. The middle card in the bottom row is one of the Home Cards.

Points are collected in a variety of ways: laying a card next to another, making sure that one of the colours match, scores you one point. Doing the same and matching two colours gets you two points. Bonuses can also be claimed by connecting groups of umbrellas of the same colour, as well as by making sure you get at least one Green, Red, Yellow and Blue parasol into your ever-growing tableau. Should you manage to actually completely enclose your Biergarten with walls, a hefty six point bonus will be bestowed upon you when play comes to a conclusion.

As scoring is fluid, in that it is possible that is will change from turn to turn, it can be a little tricky to keep track of things. However, with a couple of games under your belt, you’ll soon be able to work out the optimal play with the cards you have in hand. Most importantly, the moment one player hits fifteen points or higher, the game is done – all other players get one more bite at the cherry to try and surpass the leader (or at least catch up a bit and feel less ashamed), then whoever has the highest total is deemed the winner.

When playing Biergarten, it reminded me mostly of a slightly more chunky version of the tile-laying mechanism from Alhambra. In both games the positioning of walls is important as all cards/tiles that are played must be accessible from a central hub. Biergarten, being the lighter game, gives you a much gentler ride and allows you to alter the cards you have played much more easily, but the trade-off is that Alhambra has much more going on after the tiles are added to your play area. After playing a few times, I found myself being able to spot the best move for the options available, and the game rewards players who are able to plan ahead a few turns. We’re not talking about crazy levels of working out the options available to you that you may see in a game like Chess, but just looking a few steps ahead certainly pays off.

Biergarten is a charming little game, ideal for throwing into your bag for an evening with friends, and even non-gamers will be able to get their heads around the central concepts in next to no time. It’s certainly one that I thoroughly enjoyed, and I can see the final version looking beautiful once Panda Manufacturing have woven their magic upon it. If you’re seeking a simpler experience that you could easily get your head around even after a couple of high-quality weissbiers, it certainly comes highly recommended. Check out the Kickstarter and throw your dollars at the Steam Boat Gothic folks today!

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