Category Archives: Reviews

Episode 81 – Skyway Jabbery!

A mini-episode of sorts this time around (mainly as it’s a little time sensitive!). I’m joined once again by Philip duBarry, this time to go indepth on his new game of steampunk heists and immense airships, Skyway Robbery. Currently on Kickstarter (for another two weeks at the time of writing) it’s a truly engaging title that sees you travelling around the world, visiting exotic locations and attempting to get through some truly tricky traps in order to steal valuable items and build your reputation as the finest thief around. We talk about developing a veritable beast of a game, the perils of putting such a major endeavour out for crowdfunding and much more!

This episode’s links:

Skyway Robbery on Kickstarter – https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/phantasio/skyway-robbery?ref=nav_search

Direct Download for Episode 81 – http://littlemetaldog.podbean.com/mf/web/bfrpu7/LMDS_Episode81.mp3

Follow Philip on Twitter – https://twitter.com/pdubarry

Short and sweet! Thanks for listening and see you after Essen for the next episode!

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We Are The Royal – King Down review

KD Pieces

I have never been a huge fan of Chess. I dabbled a little at school, occasionally swapped my usual haunt of the library for the Chess Club when I wanted a change of scenery (I was never one to go outside – imagine!). Once I was convinced to attend a local competition where I was knocked out in the first round by a 6-year-old… I was 14. While I’m well aware of the rules and a couple of openings are stuck inside my head to this day, Chess has never really been a go to game for me. My eye, however, has occasionally been caught by some of the variants that make their way into the nerdy world of games – not to say that Chess players aren’t nerds; they’re just an entirely different class of them – as they sometimes offer something more than just the pure game so beloved by many that drives me to tears.

And so when Saar Shai, the mind behind Kickstarter darling The Agents, gave me a shout to see if I’d be interested in checking out King Down… well, who am I to say no? I thought his first big hit had some great ideas and I was intrigued to see how he’d change a centuries-old classic to appeal to the modern gaming audience. If you take a look at the crowdfunding campaign that’s running now and surpassed its $50,000 goal on the first day, you’ll see one of the reasons: a metric crapton of minis. Thankfully, he’s thought that it may be an idea to actually include a game in there as well as a LOT of plastic, and it’s really not bad at all. In fact, I’d say it’s downright entertaining.

King Down is actually being pitched as ‘The Prequel To Chess’ – a rather bold statement considering its creator is a relatively new designer – and while it certainly feels very familiar when playing, there’s enough of a difference to consider it something that can stand on its own. The first major switch is that the game is planned to play with up to four people, though at the moment only the rules for two are available. Rather than use just the board and pieces, each player also has to handle a deck of cards that bestow special abilities upon your side, and there’s no taking the King to win; instead, this is a race to score eight victory points. These can be gained by taking (and keeping) opponents’ pieces and occupying the four central squares of the board, called The Capitol in a very Hunger Games style.

All pieces bar the King have been renamed (though I’ll use the standard names here) and there are also five extra piece types that have been introduced;  Beast only moves around the board when it can Take, while Bow attacks enemy pieces from a distance. Bash is sacrificed when it Takes, Block is invincible and Cog… well… that’s not been revealed yet. The pieces look very lovely indeed, just like the standard ones that can be used for a regular game of Chess.

KD 3D Prints

Players begin with a smaller amount of pieces, none of which are actually on the board. To bring them into play – or indeed do anything in the game – you’ll need to spend Action Points, and each turn sees you start with four. There’s a range of basic actions that you’ll be using most of the time: Call (4AP) brings a piece of your choice into play on your home row, and Move (2AP) allows you to move your piece like you would in a normal game of Chess; Bishops on the diagonals, Pawns one forward, that kind of thing. You can’t take anything using that Action though – that requires a Take action costing 3AP, basically an amped up Move. Finally, you can Draw a card from your deck for 1AP.

Those cards, as mentioned before, give you special powers and abilities that also require the spending of Action Points. They’re split into two types, Calling Cards and Spells. Calling Cards are specifically targeted at certain pieces to either bring them onto the board cheaper than a standard Call or boost their abilities if they’re in play. Spells allow you to do all manner of oddities, from stealing back already taken pieces, moving to any position on the board or even saving a piece from danger and returning it to your stock. No matter they type, each card has a cost printed on it and remains in play until the beginning of your next turn as some have lasting effects.

King Down has proven an interesting little game to play. I think that a lot of the focus in the campaign is going to be on the admittedly lovely miniatures, but the game does deserve time in the spotlight as well. Chess has been boiled in a pan with a shot of Eurogame Sauce and has turned into something that even I can enjoy. Rather than a stilted affair that is dependent on knowing countless openings and how to react to them, learning the rundowns of thousands, perhaps millions, of previously played games, King Down presents the basic rules that pretty much everyone is aware of and puts the choices in your hands. Do you start with your King in the far left corner, then aim to surround it with other, more powerful pieces? Perhaps you’d think it better to race to the Capitol and take over the spaces you’ll find there? Or should you take a super aggressive tack and attempt to steal as many opposition pieces as you can? King Down has given Chess something I’ve always found sorely lacking – choice.

KD Kings

Now, instead of reacting to your enemies’ moves, you have options on your side. Yes, in Chess you may have an optimal move that you should pretty much always do, but with King Down there’s an awful lot of things to do, all of which can be seen as viable. Where many variants have been rather dry, this one is far more appealing to someone like me who has a love of modern board games. Yes, there’s a danger of Analysis Paralysis creeping in with King Down, especially with players who may have forgotten the basics, but this is definitely something that I’d have a part of my collection, whereas I’d happily never have played Chess again for the rest of my days.

King Down was designed by Saar Shai and plays between two and four people, with games taking around 30-60 minutes. Currently on Kickstarter, you can pledge for a set for $80 (which will come with ALL the minis). The campaign ends on october 13 with the game scheduled for delivery in March 2015. Thanks to Saar for the advance look at the cards!

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Episode 80 – Trust in the Realm!

Another Episode of the show rolls off the audio production line, and this time it’s a doozy! First of all, Darwin Kastle from White Wizard Games steps up to chat. Who? Well, just one of the guys behind one of the hottest games around at the moment: Star Realms. After pretty much taking over every square inch of space at Origins, he’s gearing up to do pretty much the same at Gen Con 2014; we talk design, Darwin and co.’s background (which is hardcore) and all the usual rambling you expect from one of my interviews. After that, I’m joined by friends of the show Jason Kotarski and Philip duBarry to discuss their latest game Fidelitas. Currently going down a storm on Kickstarter, it’s the first release from Jason’s new company Green Couch Games, and I heartily recommend it. Check out the review here!

Links:

Direct Download – http://littlemetaldog.podbean.com/mf/web/du4yt5/LMD_Episode80.mp3

Star Realms site – http://starrealms.com/

Fidelitas on Kickstarter- https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/2005228768/fidelitas-a-card-game-of-medieval-meddling-for-2-4

Jason’s Site – http://thegreencouch.wordpress.com/my-board-games/

Philip’s Site – http://www.phantasiogames.net/

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Keep The Faith – Fidelitas review

Fidelitas Box

Collaborations can be great. Two incredible minds coming together, working alongside each other to create something truly wonderful… it’s a thing of beauty to behold. Of course, some team-ups can be utterly wretched (Paula Abdul and MC Scat Kat, take a bow) but generally two heads are better than one. Oddly, multiple designers on a single game isn’t something that happens that often, but some great titles have been borne of teamwork; Wolfgang Kramer and Michael Kiesling have been an award winning pair several times with games like Tikal and Asara, for example.

A fresh new collaboration now seeks your support, with two great current designers now coming together to create something that is both small and special. Jason Kotarski (creator of The Great Heartland Hauling Company and FrogFlip) and Philip duBarry (the man behind Revolution and some of AEG’s Tempest series) have joined forces to make the card game Fidelitas, and a lovely little thing it is too.

In a town, far, far away, the citizens live an unhappy life of being downtrodden by the local elite. There is only one thing to do – rise against them! However, it would seem that all of those capable of doing so got too drunk and can’t remember quite what they’re supposed to do… and this is where you and your fellow players step in. Ladies and gents, it’s time to incite some good old-fashioned revolution. Grab your pitchforks and flaming torch!

Actually, that’s not a good idea – the nobility’s guards would have you chopped into pieces in moments. What you need to be is sneaky. Whisper a few words into the ears of the right people. Get your most powerful allies into the right places and, once the word is given, a concerted attack can begin! Unfortunately, there can only be one leader (a bit like in Highlander) so everyone is trying to manipulate the same people in this terrified town; you’ve just got to make sure that it’s you.

On the table at the start of play sits a line of cards representing the town itself, four of which have two locations that are particularly prized by a certain guild. The Tavern, sat in the middle of the line, is a special place that’s beloved by all (surprise!) and  has its own ability which we’ll cover shortly. Meanwhile, the two end cards also point to other locations, the harbour and the castle. It’s these places where we’ll make our stand!

Cards are divided into two types: Missio and Virtus. Missio are your secret missions, the cards that tell you what type of people you need to be moving and where they need to end up. Meet the necessary requirements and you’ll score the points shown at the bottom of the card. Score a set amount of points (6 with four players, though you can aim for more for a longer game) and you are seen as the voice of the rebellion and win the game! Truly, you are the Mockingjay.

Or you will be if the people actually listen to you. The Virtus cards are where they are all to be found, and each person will have their own ability that needs to be taken into consideration. Each turn, you can play someone to one of the two locations of their own guild, then follow the instructions written on their card to start moving other people around the town. The previously mentioned Tavern has no guild affiliation, so instead a player must discard a Missio card when someone is sent there. Also, instead of having two differently named locations, the Tavern is just one big place – however, you must consider which side of the bar to sit, as it were. Where you are in this wicked little town is VERY important.

When you’ve played your Virtus card and done the ability upon it, you may turn in a Missio card for points (assuming that the requirements have been met. This may be gathering a certain amount of characters at a named location, or get guild pairs (ie: two people from the game guild) into a number of places. If the target has been met, you flip the card up and declare your total score, draw back up to two Missios and pass play to the person on your left. And the game is as simple as that – play a card, follow the instructions, score points (hopefully) and move on!

If there’s one word I can use to describe Fidelitas, it’s clean. Having played a fair few rounds of it now, I’ve noticed just how well put together the game is and also seen the influence of both Jason and Philip in there too. Fidelitas is a beautifully balanced game where any mistake that’s made is down to you – the position of certain characters may open up the opportunity for other players to complete their own missions, but through multiple games you’ll learn how to not get yourself into that kind of tangle. I’ve had several incredibly satisfying moments playing a Baker card allowing me to move any two cards to new locations, doing so, then swiftly scoring a Missio while simultaneously ruining the best laid plans of the other players. You’ll hear a lot of muttering under breath when a copy of Fidelitas hits your table.

I mentioned the influence that the designers had on the game and honestly see their fingerprints all over it. The compact game set-up and lean card count says Jason to me – his love of smaller, shorter games shines through in Fidelitas – while I feel that the theme and relative complexity come from Philip’s side. I think that his sterling work on his Tempest games have rubbed off a little on him (seriously, go play Canalis, it’s incredibly underrated) and I’m honestly surprised that this effort wasn’t made part of the series – it certainly would’ve fit incredibly well. Regardless, the two have come together and made a very enjoyable game indeed.

Of course, the game is only in prototype stage at the moment and – at the time of writing – seeking funds on Kickstarter. However, the copy provided to me showed off the beautiful comic art very well indeed and the game cards are well laid out, so a hat-tip goes to both artist Jaqui Davis and graphics chap Darrell Louder for their sterling work. It can be hard getting the message across on a relatively simple card game, but they’ve done admirably.

Also of note is that this is the first release from Jason Kotarski’s brand new publishing company, Green Couch Games. We at The Little Metal Dog Show wish him the very best for Green Couch and hope that all future releases match up to the splendidness of Fidelitas! This is truly a great filler, the ideal candidate for your table when you’ve got twenty minutes or so to spare and feel like playing something that will tax your brain a little. Not too heavy, but not feather light either, Fidelitas will be making it into the Best of the Year lists of a fair few gamers when the time comes around.

You can back Fidelitas today on Kickstarter, with the campaign running until September 1, 2014. $19 will get you a copy of it delivered in the US, with international pledges running a little higher (UK gamers, you’re looking at $28 which isn’t bad at all). Designed by Jason Kotarski and Philip duBarry, it will be released in early 2015. Between two and four can play (though I’ve found it better with four) and games will take you around 15-20 minutes. 

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Hit The Road Jack – Oss review

Oss Box

Emma steps up to throw, flip and flick stuff in Oss, an update of a playground classic that is decades old. Will it make the grade or fail to impress? Discover for yourself…

I like dexterity games, I like quirky components, and I like terrible bilingual puns, so Oss, the new release from Spiel-ou-Face (seriously, I love that name) seemed like a sure-fire hit. It’s simple enough to get your head around – on opening the box, you’re faced with a deck of cards and a bag containing six moulded plastic sheep knuckles of varying colours. As you do. The game plays in three rounds, and each one sees you bidding on your ability to do various tricks using the bones, as listed on the cards. Most of these consist of you throwing one of them in the air and performing some action before catching it again, and range from the simple (picking another bone up off the table) to the tricky (putting a bone down without dropping any of the others in your hand) to the rage-inducing (like the first one, but with your hand in a bag). Depending on how the bidding goes, some players might face off in an extra duel, which is basically like doing one of the tricks but with the added obstacle of your friend doing it at the same time, and then everybody does a simultaneous challenge to determine the new first player, which could be anything from counting how many of the bones are a certain way up to knucklebone Jenga. After that, whoever has the most points (gained by winning tricks and challenges) wins.

If you think that sounds pretty simple, you’re right. If you also think that sounds pretty much exactly like the game of jacks you might have played in the 1890s, then you’re also right, as well as kind of impressively old. Oss is, at its core, a modern reinvention of the classic game of jacks, with a little tabletop veneer added to market it to boardgamers. In its defence, however, it never really pretends to be anything else – even the tagline on the box is “The Jacks are back!” Now, I’m all up for classic games, and as you might have guessed by now, I’m something of a fan of modern board games, so Oss should be my new Reese’s Pieces game, no? (Dear Michael – you’re not the only one who can drop advertising references in their reviews) Well, no – if we continue the peanut butter/chocolate allergy, Oss is more along the lines of chocolate butter: weird, not quite what it wants to be in either direction, and likely to thoroughly confuse your friends if you bring it out at parties.

What's in the box? Well, lots of cards and some ceramic sheep knuckles. Thanks for asking!

What’s in the box? Well, lots of cards and some ceramic sheep knuckles. Thanks for asking!

See, if you like jacks, you probably already have a set lying around and won’t want to shell out the retail price for what is basically the same game with a few new elements, and if you’re a tabletop gaming fan, you’ll probably be put off by the crazy skill threshold. Now, I can hear people moaning at me through my amazing Internet precognition, saying that that’s true of any dexterity game. While I guess so, to a certain extent, most modern dexterity games revolve around the mechanics of “balance thing on other thing” or “hit thing with other thing”, as opposed to “throw thing in the air and keep an eye on its trajectory while doing something else on the table in the same half-second before catching thing A again”. And there’s no room for error, either – you’ll only be doing three tricks in the whole game, and if you mess it up once, your try is immediately over.

Not only is this really hard to get into, it’s also strangely at odds with the slower, more mathsy bidding section of the game – you spend ages working out which trick you want to bid for, and for how much, and then fail within seconds of attempting it. Also, that planning section is usually at least half taken up by trying to work out exactly what the cards ask you to do – the rulebook was originally written in French, and it shows, with most of the poorly-translated descriptions doing nothing to elucidate the imprecise diagrams on the trick cards. The developers have tried to sidestep this issue by including QR codes on the backs of all the cards that link to an ‘instructional’ video on how to do the trick, but in reality these just consist of the developers performing the trick once, with no real explanation about what’s going on.

Also, it took me a while to get round to the other reason why I didn’t really enjoy playing Oss, which is that it’s…kind of racist? The tricks all have completely arbitrary foreign-sounding names like ‘Aslik’ or ‘Cumi-Cumi’, and the art is a weird mishmash of Native American/African/Mesoamerican/Australian tribal designs. All of this combined with the fact that the rulebook proclaims the winner as “Big Chief” lends the whole thing an air of generically-foreignness, as though it was designed by a Victorian imperialist, and (for me at least) makes the whole experience kind of uncomfortable as well as crazy hard.

Overall, then, I think Oss has a lot of good ideas, and I think there is a game to be made using jacks mechanics. But this isn’t it. It’s taken the worst aspects of all the things it imitates, and it has no clue who it’s for. If you want to enjoy this one, I’d recommend finding an old jacks set in your attic, then playing with them for a couple of decades – then, if you still want to, you’ll be able to get over the ridiculous skill threshold and maybe enjoy Oss for the game it wants to be deep down. But I’m still not sure you would.

Oss was published in 2013 by Spiel-ou-Face and was designed by Vincent Lemaire, Jean-Michel Maman and Charles Amir Perret. Between two and six players can get involved, but this is obviously one of those ‘more people is better’ scenarios. Games should take you around half an hour, unless you lose one of the jacks under the sofa. Oh, and follow Emma on Twitter! She’s @Waruce!

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