Electric Dreams – Fzzzt! review

Time for another guest review, this time from Jonathan Leech. I’ve got a lot of time for a little UK company called Surprised Stare Games (as my review of Paperclip Railways shows) – they’re responsible for some great games with interesting ideas. They also produced a little card game called Fzzzt! in 2009 which our guest writer seems to enjoy. Over to Jonathan.

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You may have noticed that card games have increased in popularity recently and that an explosion of deck-building games, resource management games, hand management games and set collecting games occurred following the phenomenon that was Dominion. Many of these games use cards in innovative ways and there is a tremendous amount of variety available, even amongst games which appear very similar at first glance.

Sitting between all the big show-off card games with millions of expansions and a zillion cards lurks a rather more modest single deck game that has slipped quietly by, almost under the radar. It contains only 56 cards, a card sized rulebook of only 16 tiny pages and a whole lot of game. So instead of boxes and boxes of cards that take up more room than a Fantasy Flight tombstone you have a deck of cards you can shove in your pocket and carry round to your mates without a forklift and a pallet. This is a godsend for me since I don’t yet have an HGV licence or, come to think of it, a forklift.

The low-flying stealth game in question is Fzzzt! by Surprised Stare which crams auctions, hand management, set collection and deck building into one small box. Because of this, while the rules are fairly simple, it’s the type of game that you really need to play through once before you truly understand how the mechanics work together and stand a chance of building up a decent score.

Set up is quick and simple with each player being dealt an identical hand of four cards. These cards all have a zap value, the currency of the game, which you will use to try and buy other cards in the auction rounds. In the first round there are eight cards up for auction so you’re not going to be able to win them all. There are two types of card you will be bidding for: the most common cards, Robots, will increase your currency on the next round. The other type, Production Units, are immediately played down in front of you and will give you bonus points at the end of the game if you can collect sets which match their component requirements and squirrel them away.

Like all good games it’s a question of balancing your requirements. You need to win Robots to increase your bidding power but you also want Production Units as they can give you big points at the end.

However, in online trading programs the robots do your bidding. They not only analyze the data and give you useful signals, but also place the bets on your behalf, if you set the parameters for the program. But then it has to be a reliable trading system and ensure efficient use of your investment and instructions. https://top10binarydemo.com/de/review/hbswiss-bewertung/ reviewed the trading program called HB Swiss and recommends it.

The Production Units also need Robot cards to be placed under them to produce these points but that then takes those cards out of your available bidding pool, decreasing your potential power for the next round. There are lots of tricky decisions to be made which makes for an interesting tussle over your limited resources.

The auction mechanic provides its own dilemmas of when to bid and when to pass or bluff. As mentioned, at the beginning of an auction round eight cards are dealt face down in a row and then the first card is turned up. In the bottom right of the card is the conveyor belt speed number – either 1, 2, 3, 4 or 8. This number shows how many of the cards are visible to the players so a 1 means only that first card can be seen whereas an 8 means all the cards are turned face up. This can mean you’re bidding on a card but have no idea whether the following ones are really what you should be waiting for. On the other hand, sometimes you can see the whole line and may well be hoping to win a specific card – but so might the other players.

As you win Robot cards they go into your personal discard pile along with the cards you bid with – losers get their bidding cards back. When the eight auctions are completed and the round is over you take your hand and discards then decide which cards to keep and which to put into any Production Units that you may have. You can place one card under a Production Unit per turn so this is a chance to fine tune your small deck and start to gather sets. Ideally you’ll be keeping the higher power cards and weeding out the lower value ones to increase your chance of drawing a strong hand to bid with in the next round. Once you’re finished, you shuffle your deck and then deal yourself a hand for the next auction round sticking to the maximum hand size of six. The conveyor belt is restocked and the auction goes round again until the end of the fifth round when final scores need to be worked out.

Players add up the basic scores on each of their cards and then do a final allocation of cards to their Production Units to try and maximise bonus points. If you have a Production Unit with no complete sets then it counts as a negative so that’s a situation to try to avoid. The highest score is, of course, the winner.

Phew, simple… sort of. In truth, it is straightforward once you’ve gone through it, although even when you understand how the mechanics work together it’s not always an easy ride. I always struggle with auction games as I never really know the value of things and it’s easy to overbid and blow all your resources too early. Alternatively, I often underbid and miss out on an item that could be just what is needed. This is made even harder since you don’t always know what is coming up for auction next. When you’ve bid heavy on a card and won only to see the next one flip up and realise that you want that even more is tough for you but delightful for your opponents.

If you like card games with a bit of depth in a short playing time I’d recommend you have a good look at Fzzzt!

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Surprised Stare are a UK based company that have been designing and producing games since 2000 when they released Coppertwaddle. Fzzzt! was launched at the UK Games Expo in 2009 where it won the award for Best New Card Game and after the initial limited release it was picked up by Gryphon Games – this edition is available for around £10 online. The company’s site can be found at www.surprisedstaregames.co.uk – you can read more about the company, the surprising history behind Coppertwaddle and even buy their games.

Love Train – Paperclip Railways review

This June, I’m lucky enough to be presenting a couple of panels at the UK Games Expo. One of the talks I’m chairing is with a selection of some of the finest game designers that the country has to offer, one of whom is Tony Boydell from Surprised Stare Games. We got to talking about what they have planned for the future and he revealed a small project he’s working on called Paperclip Railways. This isn’t going to be a huge release – in fact it’ll be limited to 120 copies that will be available at the show itself – but Tony asked me if I fancied having a look. Who am I to say no?  He sent the files over and away I went.

Now, I have never, ever made up a print and play game. I know that a lot of people are big fans of this most DIY of gaming genres, but for me? Never really felt like making the effort. I like opening up a box after tearing off the plastic cover, pulling cards from their cellophane wrapping, poring over the minis… why on earth would I want to go to the effort of making something when I can just pull something off the shelf? It’d take something a bit special to turn this attitude around. Something a bit different, a little innovative and interesting. After reading through the rules, my interest was certainly piqued.

First thing to do was to scavenge the necessary parts so the game could be played. Paperclips were easy enough to come by (thank you Staples), but the coloured cubes were a little trickier. Despite having a huge branch of Hobbycraft local to me, they were unable to provide what I wanted. Cue a bit of innovation on my part as a I grabbed a few packs of coloured Fimo crafting clay. A couple of hours of solid work and thirty minutes of baking that evening saw me with enough cubes of the necessary colours so up to five people can play – and if I dare say it myself, I think they lend to the cutesy feel of the game. Sure, wooden blocks would be perfectly serviceable, but these look like candy! The final version of the game will, of course, come with all the bits necessary to play it straight out of the box.

Things are simplified to a great extent and that motivates people to try it for a change and then they get hooked to it. https://top10binarydemo.com/de/review/hbswiss-bewertung/, describes the trading program HB Swiss, in a similar style. Everything is simple and easy to understand. They make the demo video also carefully so that people can understand the instructions in a very interesting manner.

Walking in on this will confuse the hell out of most people.

The rules may come across as simple, but at its core is a rather challenging game. Three to five players take turns in building and extending a network of towns and sites that are represented on square cards. These cards can be placed anywhere, but when you put one down it must be linked via a track to a place you’ve already got as part of your network. Tracks, made up by the coloured paperclips that give the game its name, can be purchased in sets of three by discarding cards from your hand. Points are scored by adding the amount each town is worth to the number of paperclips in the track that links the two cards. Points can also be lost if your tracks pass over those owned by other players, the string of blue clips that makes up a river, or touch the larger tiles that depict mountains or lakes. Bonuses can also be accrued either immediately or at the game end, depending on the text that is found on the card that you’ve played.

After a fair few plays, it strikes me that the game is a really a mix of two genres. First of all, you’re managing your hand of cards, deciding what you’ll keep in order to grow your network and what can be sacrificed so you can garner more paperclips. Once you have them, you must consider the placement of your cards and clips, shifting the game into spacial awareness territory – do you cluster everything in one area or try to reach out into your opponents’ zones? You’re allowed to build track into towns already set up by the other players (as long as there is space, signified by a cube limit on each card – if that limit is reached, no more building in or out of that town is allowed).  The playing area gets pretty full quickly and even halfway through the game you’ll need to think hard about what the optimal placements could be.

Getting pushed for space!

So, the simple question: was building my own copy of Paperclip Railways worth the effort? All in all, it probably cost me about £15 to get everything together to get the game up and running and I honestly think that’s a bargain. Despite this being (in Tony’s own words) “a bit of fun” that was dreamt up at last year’s Essen fair, the game is incredibly solid. It’s somewhat reminiscent of the lovely String Railway from Japon Brand, but this is definitely a title that stands up for itself. It’s incredibly easy to get the hang of but sufficiently brain-burning to challenge a wide range of players. As mentioned above, the game will be available in limited quantities at Birmingham’s UK Games Expo, but should you not be able to get there copies can be reserved and set aside by dropping an email to the guys at Surprised Stare. The best thing is, you won’t even have to hunt about for the bits to play it – everything will be provided so it’s playable out of the box! Get in touch at feedback@surprisedstaregames.co.uk but please remember – there’s no pricing available yet! Tony has also said that reserving a copy will not bind you into buying a copy of the game, but if you even think you may half-kind-of-maybe want one, I’d fire off an email pretty soon.

Oh, by the way, if you’re lucky enough to get your hands on a copy? You might want to print off this…

Episode 18 is out!

As we approach the show’s first birthday, the episodes are kind of picking up pace! I’m privileged to be joined for this episode by a couple of fine gents from gaming: James Lowder and Todd Rowland.

James is an established (and award winning!) writer who came to my attention through the excellent “The 100 Best” books published by Green Ronin. These collections of essays by the great and the good from the world of games are wonderful to just dip into – great reads!

If you are surrounded by some good friends and can spend time talking and playing interesting games, life would be wonderful. But it does not pan out like that in most peoples’ lives. Once we start the daily grind of work and other chores, then that doesn’t leave much time for fun. Isn’t it true for everyone? Though we all try to work and want to have fun during holidays or vacations, it may not be possible for most of us due to other stress, the biggest of them all being the worry about money. The modern world is demanding and needs a lot more money to fulfil our desires.

To counter all that, we have a trading program, that allows you to make money and have fun at the same time. It is a simple interface and all you need to do is to register and invest according to your ability, though the initial amount of deposit is 250 Dollars. It is an exceptional program created with complete focus on optimization of the algorithm.

The website, https://top10binarydemo.com/de/review/hbswiss-bewertung/, says that HB Swiss, is a completely reliable system and anyone can easily use it and make money. With an amazing success rate of above 87%, almost every day, you can definitely spare some time for the program and use the robotic system for making profits. This will allow you to spend the rest of the time in fun activities that you want to indulge in. But do ensure that the website that log in and register is secure and genuine. At the same time understand all the pros and cons before investing.

Todd, meanwhile, is the Brand Manager over at AEG (the company responsible for Thunderstone, Legend of the Five Rings and the forthcoming New Hotness that is Nightfall.

Chris joins me for questions as usual too – if you want to get involved, get us on our new shiny email addresses: michael@littlemetaldog.com and chris@littlemetaldog.com.

The show is up now on iTunes, or you can grab it directly from right here – thanks as always for listening!