Category Archives: Reviews

Long Train Running – Yardmaster video review

Yardmaster COVER

We’re aiming to do a bit more video stuff here on Little Metal Dog, so here’s one right now – a look at Steven Aramini’s Yardmaster which will be hitting Kickstarter soon through Crash Games. A quick playing card game where players are looking to build one of the huge trains that travel across the US transporting carfuls of goods, here’s a runthrough of the rules and some thoughts on the game.

Thanks for watching!

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This Is Hardcore – Craftsmen review

Craftsmen COVER

We’ve had a couple of weeks sabbatical here on the site but are back with a vengance. First review this week, Emma checks out Krzysztof Matusik’s Craftsmen.

When a copy of Craftsmen, this season’s newest Polish cubefest, hit my proverbial desk (Michael, can I have a desk yet? [No Desk For You! - Michael] ), I’ll admit I was worried. I’m not usually huge on Euros, especially the more hardcore ones, and even those I do enjoy I’m usually terrible at, so I was foreseeing hours trying to grasp all the intricacies of some arcane system and coming out at the end of the evening with like three points (an experience anyone who’s played Caverna with me will recognise). Then I spent a while trying to get a preliminary idea of what the game was like by reading the rulebook and checking it out online, and I was orders of magnitude more worried. Everything I could find advertised it as incredibly long and complicated and horrendously counterintuitive, with first games taking upwards of four hours if even playable, and the rulebook didn’t do much to dispel this feeling of dread. I’ve read a lot of rulebooks of varying levels of dodginess, but the awful translation from Polish puts Craftsmen’s firmly among the worst.  Between examples that make things more complicated without actually explaining anything, dizzying levels of confusing nomenclature (the game is divided into three turns, which are divided into four rounds, which are divided into three phases (except every fourth round only has two phases) of which the second is divided into six stages, and if you understood that you deserve a medal) and joyously incomprehensible sentences like “NOTE: Meat is a special kind of half-product.”, I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say that, if you go into it armed only with the words inside the box, Craftsmen is more or less unplayable.

While it was tempting to give up there and go and do something less taxing (like a graduate degree), a little bird told me I was meant to be reviewing games, rather than rulebooks, so I decided to persevere. Armed with a new understanding of the game courtesy of Rahdo’s remarkably informative run-through of it, I sat down with my brother/part-time guinea pig to try it out. And six hours later, we emerged from the game, brains leaking from our ears and only able to speak in monosyllables, even…

What? Two and a half hours, including learning it? Alright then.

Seriously, coming out of my first game of Craftsmen, my main thought (alongside my usual one of “Wait, I need to play that again and do fewer stupid things”) was “Was that it?”. I don’t know if I’m just peculiarly suited to the challenges of administrating the economy of a small Central European town, but the whole thing really didn’t seem that challenging. Sure, there’s a learning curve, but that’s to be expected from any game where half the weight is made up of multi-coloured wooden cubes.

“But Em,” I hear you cry (and you’re talking to your computer again, I’ve warned you about that) “You’re 500 words into this review and you haven’t actually told us anything about the game yet!” You’re right, of course, but that was kind of the point – as I’ve been describing thus far, there’s a good game here, but there’s a lot of words to get through before you get there. So that was what I was doing there. Parallel structure. Literature degree. Nailed it.

Craftsmen is a fairly hefty Euro for 2-5 administrators, in which you try to revitalise the economy of a small nondescriptly-European town by convincing its six guilds to actually work together and make things. These are:

-The bankers, where you can collect money cards (a neat little set-collection mechanic where sets of money of the same colour are worth more than they would be otherwise)

-The builders, where you can add buildings to your part of the town (everybody starts with a lumber mill, and can expand from there depending on a surprisingly punishing colour-matching mechanic)

-The notaries, where you can buy building plans (provided your money is the same colour as the plans you want – I’ve had far too many turns where my plans were dashed by my apparent inability to simultaneously count to six and recognise the colour green)

-The titular craftsmen, where you can use your buildings to make products (as suggested, this is where the meat of the game is, as your basic buildings make products that go to other buildings to make more advanced products, which go to other buildings to make finished products, which get loaded onto the ships – an extra area-control game which generates most of the points)

-The merchants, where you can buy advanced products from the storehouse to fill any gaps in your production chains

-The town hall, where you can change turn order or buy tokens that do various things (seriously, this is pretty much just the ‘everything else’ space)

This sounds simple enough – get money, buy buildings, build buildings, make things, export things, profit – but the important thing to remember here is that, after you’ve done your worker placement for the round, the actions are always carried out in that exact order, so you’re always buying building plans the turn before you can build them, necessitating a bit more forward planning.

And that’s pretty much it. Sure, there are a few more little rules – some worker spaces are worth extra benefits, there’s a market so you can trade your basic products for other ones, you get bonus points for completing production trees – but I just summed up the overall flow and idea of the overcomplicated game that everybody’s been freaking out about in like half a page. And that’s including sarcastic asides.

So I guess what I’m getting at is that Craftsmen really isn’t as scary as you might think. Sure, there’s a decent amount of stuff to think about, but if you’ve played Agricola or Caverna (and statistics suggest that applies to literally everybody in the world) it’s really no more complicated than that. And the board is lovely and elegant (my usual gripes about insufficiently-long victory point tracks notwithstanding) and efficiently manufacturing candles for export has never been this satisfying.

So sure, if you don’t like big Euros or anything that’ll stay on your table longer than an hour and a half (I could see games of this with more players lasting at least four hours), this probably won’t change your mind, but if anything in this review sounded interesting, don’t let Craftsmen’s intimidating reputation and horrendous rules put you off giving it a go.

Craftsmen was designed by Krzysztof Matusik and published by G3 in 2013. Between two and five people can play with games taking around two to three hours. This review is of the multilingual first printing which was provided by the folks at G3. Thanks for reading, and be sure to follow Emma on Twitter for more of her desk-less writings.

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Here, There and Everywhere – Quantum review

The Judge is a man of taste and style, and though we know he loves his games, he can sometimes be quite reticent in handing out the praise. Someone must have slipped a little something in his daily Earl Grey though… he’s become rather effusive about Quantum…

Quantum COVER

Stardate: The Future.  Location: Space.  Mission:  To colonise this planet in the name of florescent green cubes everywhere.  Mission Log:  Things were going well, we had parked our ships around the target planet in the slightly abstract pattern insisted upon by the Grand Intergalactic Senate that tells us what to do.  Then it happened, zooming in from behind a meteor storm – A Giant Red Die! And even worse – it was a ONE!

Quantum arrived in my office last week from Funforge Games, located in the wilds of France.   This is arguably the greatest thing to come from that fine country since the guillotine and Eric Cantona.  This review isn’t, however, intended to compare board games with dramatically constructed execution devices and Gallic footballers / faux philosophers (despite my lobbying Mr. Fox)  Instead, I’m here to tell you what exactly makes Quantum the best new game I have played in 2014 thus far.

Quantum is a space colonisation and combat game.  Some have described this as a 4X (meaning Explore, Expand, Exploit, Exterminate) but whilst this game has plenty of expansion and extermination, there is none of the others – so I’m going with the slightly less catchy Colonisation and Combat (or C2© The Judge 2014)

The game is a straight race to get all of your Quantum Cubes onto the various planets that make up the solar system.  The flexibility offered by the modular game board allows almost unlimited variety – and there are dozens of suggested layouts in the manual. Players control a fleet of three spaceships, represented by large, brightly coloured dice.  The number of top of each die illustrates the type of ship that is represented and also its movement speed and (inversely) its ability in combat.  So, the Scout ship is a 6.  This is fast moving (6 spaces per activation) and very poor in combat – whereas the slow moving but deadly Battlestation is a 1.

Each turn players spend three action points to move their ships into position, change them into other ships (by rerolling) and potentially attack each other through the medium of crashing into their part of space.  Combat is quick, dirty and painless (as long as you win) – and encourages attacking at every turn.  Simply, both attacker and defender roll an additional dice and add it to that of their ship in the fight.  Lowest number wins and attacker wins ties.  That’s it!  If the attacker wins, the loser is destroyed.  If the defender wins, they survive – but there are no other negative consequences for the attacker – so get out there and fire first and fire often.

Quantum is a very pretty thing to see. (Image from Daniel Thurot - BGG)

Quantum is a very pretty thing to see. (Image from Daniel Thurot – BGG)

So you win by colonising, but how do you add your Quantum Cubes to a planet?  Well, by spending two of your three actions, you can drop a cube into a sector where the pips on your orbiting ships add up to a requisite number on that sector.  So a 3 and a 5 ship orbiting an 8 sector will allow you to dispense one of these precious cubes and move yourself one step towards victory.  Each turn in which you play a cube also triggers the claiming of a special power which break ALL of the rules of the game (e.g  more movement / more ships / bonuses in combat etc.) offering an increasing array of options and possibilities to get in position to drop more cubes.  Play continues until one player puts down their last cube and is immediately declared the winner.

The rulebook is very well illustrated and works as both a teaching guide and a reference guide.  The rules themselves are very simple, straightforward, and easily taught to anyone in just 10 minutes.  This is a massive plus for me.  The wide variety of groups I have played this game with have all been up to speed and enjoyed this game on the first play – quite a feat.

Components are largely another positive.  The box insert is one of the best I have ever used.  The board tiles and player mats are thick, sturdy card.  The dice are brightly coloured, fit in with the other graphic design choices, but are a little warped in some cases.  Now, I’m told this is a small issue with a percentage of the first edition copies, but the dice aren’t quite completely cubed – and a couple of the pips are not coloured in.  Funforge have been very good about sending replacements though.  That said, I’m looking to pimp out my copy with some awesome dice… maybe the Rocket Dice from Alien Frontiers would be good… hmmmmm…

So why did this hit me so hard?  Well, the game plays very quickly (almost never longer than an hour) and scales perfectly well for 2, 3 and 4 players.  The rules and play experience is very streamlined and straightforward – but the game is as deep / thinky (almost puzzley) as a euro that has triple the play time. The elements of ‘take-that’ (something I usually dislike and avoid) are well integrated, feel very fair and with enough luck mitigation to make your choices really matter.  As you get cubes onto the board, you will inevitably garner more attention from opponents who try to stop your progress.  To counter this, players collect powers throughout the game which opens up additional opportunities for sneaking in to a sector and scoring.  These powers also pretty much guarantee a fantastic ending to your game – which usually goes down pretty much like this.

Sarah, Neil, Hamish and Judge are all down to their final Quantum cube.

Judge inner monologue:  “Well, I’ve stopped Hamish and Neil from being able to win this turn.  Sarah only has one dice left on the board and I’m in position to get that last cube down on my next go – It’s mine! I can taste it! Mwahahahahahaha!”

Sarah outer monologue: So… this card lets me bring this space ship on for free.  Now I can move this for one action.  This card lets me turn it to a six for free.  Two actions to drop a cube and…… I WIN!”

Judge inner monologue: “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!”

Judge outer monologue: “Oh, well done Sarah… well played! I knew you were going to do that!”

Quantum is an exceptionally well designed game.  It is also a great deal of fun, crammed into a tight play time.   This game will be in the argument for Game of the Year come December, and I can’t wait to see if anything else comes close.

Quantum was released by Funforge in 2013. Designed by Eric Zimmerman, between two and four people can play with games taking (as The Judge said) around an hour or less. You can follow The Judge on Twitter where he’s @Judge1979 – engage in discourse with him now! 

 

 

 

 

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After Hours – Time Barons review

Time Barons COVER

I think it’s pretty clear that I have a rather large passion for games, no matter whether they’re on my table or on my screen. One of my great favourites – and currently just about the only thing that I’m playing on my Vita – is a game called Spelunky. I have put countless hours into both that version and the one available on the 360, constantly pushing further and further into the game’s four randomly generated worlds. Thousands of games have been played, the vast – and I mean VAST – majority of them ending in abject failure. I’ve completed Spelunky only four times, and that’s doing it the comparatively easy way. There are a huge amount of secrets hidden inside that bloody game, and I still find myself going back again and again. It is awful, brutal and wonderful, and it all came from the mind of a guy called Derek Yu.

Now Derek is back with his first foray into the world of tabletop games, a co-design with another first timer, Jon Perry. It’s called Time Barons and it’s currently available over on The Game Crafter. Oh, and it happens to be one of the greatest two-player games that I’ve ever made.

There are many good games that are brilliant for two: Agricola ACBAS, Le Havre: The Inland Port and Balloon Cup all spring to mind immediately, but Time Barons has swiftly raced to the top of my list of games to play when there’s just two of us at the table. It too is awful, brutal and wonderful, and I bloody love it.

The story is that you and your opponent are the titular Time Barons, shady folks who manipulate the world to turn things their way and gather followers – after all, even secretive Illuminati types like to be recognised for their deeds. Those followers are pretty disposable though, and you can be sure that you’ll be wiping plenty of them out before the game is done. Each player begins with ten followers and a single Homeland card sat down in front of them, with four numbered decks (Roman numerals, we’re being classy here) in the middle which contain a selection of card types – we’ll cover those in a moment. To vanquish your opponent, you’ve got to do one of two things: either entirely wipe out their followers, or have more followers than them when the I, II and III decks have been depleted. As you may expect, this is one of those “simple objectives with deep gameplay” affairs that I hold so dear to my heart…

Each turn, you have three actions to spend on getting the upper hand over the enemy. Cards each have a cost in their top right corner, using up those valuable points quite quickly, but you’ll need to get them out if you’re to build your empire and gain more and more followers. Most of the time you’ll be playing Sites down in front of you, many of which have abilities that can be used if you have a set amount of followers sat on that specific card. With more Sites come more options, so it’s often a good idea to spend an action and Relocate your followers to build up powerful attacks that will take down your fellow Time Baron’s own Sites. Each one has a defensive Integrity that, when met or exceeded, destroys the site and anyone sat there, so there are plenty of opportunities for aggressive back-and-forths – after all, this is a game where ruination is key and any damage that is done also results in lost followers.

Oh, Plague. You're such a great card. Attach it to a busy Site and watch the followers die one by one...

Oh, Plague. You’re such a great card. Attach it to a busy Site and watch the followers die one by one…

The other card types are relatively straightforward. Events are one-offs that aid you or harm the other player, while Reactions protect you from something nasty happening during your opponent’s turn. The final type, Attachments, are a great addition to the game that bolster the powers and abilities of the Sites that are currently in play – and not just your own. Some drain an enemy Site of followers through a plague or sabotage the usage of a Site’s ability, and it gives you a warm and fuzzy feeling when you throw one of these out onto the table to screw over your opponent.

I’ll admit that the Time element of the game is somewhat tenuous, but it sort of makes sense to the story. Each of the four decks represents a different era, the first being solidly Medieval, working up through the ages to the tiny but spectacularly overpowered Futuristic deck IV. Three of the decks are actually unavailable to you at the start of play – actions must be spent to level you up and unlock the decks for use, the action point cost being the level you’re moving up to, so two actions to get to II and three to III. Of course, with only three actions per turn, you’ll need to build an engine that gives you extra actions if you’re ever going to hit the dizzy heights of drawing cards from that heady Level IV stack. One thing to recall though; you may draw from any deck that’s your level or below, so your play area is always gong to be a glorious mish-mash of followers dotted about buildings from various eras. Sure, you might have a load of hi-tech gear at your disposal, but there’s nothing wrong with battering down your opponent’s shiny Robotics Lab with some well placed old-school Catapult action.

Catapult vs Doomsday Laser though? Hmmm. Maybe it's time to reconsider your options...

Catapult vs Doomsday Laser though? Hmmm. Maybe it’s time to reconsider your options…

I can’t quite put my finger on why I enjoy Time Barons so much, but I think it’s mainly down to the range of options that are available to players each game. Every time you play it feels like a tiny little war, and it’s incredibly well balanced considering that this is coming from a pair of first timers. While the cards through the ages do get progressively stronger, you don’t necessarily have to engage in an arms race for the more powerful items – it’s entirely possible to win the game using only cards from the first deck, laying into your opponent with brute force. All told, it’s a very impressive example of quality game design.

It’s also a nicely put together package. The Game Crafter has had some issues in the past with quality, but in the last couple of years they’ve really pushed to improve their products and Time Barons is an excellent example of this desire to make better stuff. Derek’s art style exactly the same as seen in his much-loved Spelunky, and the cards are laid out clearly with easy to follow instructions and symbols that mean you’ll rarely have to refer to the rulebook for clarification. I believe that it’s still up in the air as to what’s going to happen with Time Barons, whether the guys are going to look for a publisher or go down the self-publishing route via Kickstarter, but whatever happens with the game I firmly believe that it should remain pretty much untouched. I’d probably change the art on back of the cards but aside from that it’s a beautifully constructed game that looks good and plays brilliantly.

Simply put: But This Game Now. You honestly won’t regret it.

Time Barons was designed by Jon Perry and Derek Yu and was released through their own label, Quibble Games, in 2014. It’s only for two players with games taking around thirty minutes, and is only available from The Game Crafter. The game will set you back $20, though the cards-only version is also available for $10 – just remember that shipping from TGC can be horrifying. Any publishers out there looking for a truly excellent two-player game – you need look no further.

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Zinc or Swim – Rockwell review

Rockwell COVER

Guest writer Emma has returned from underground, covered in coal dust like she’s in some Rammstein video, clutching a box tightly in her hands. Seems like she’s hit a Rockwell seam…

A couple of days ago, I spent an entirely enjoyable evening ritualistically casting my employees into the fiery depths of the Earth, and if that’s the kind of thing you’ve always wanted to do…you should probably call the police or something, cos that’s kind of worrying. While you’re waiting for them to turn up, however, consider passing the time by cracking out Rockwell, the new competitive/grudgingly-cooperative mining game from Belgian publishers Sit Down!. (The exclamation mark is part of the name, so that’s totally how you punctuate that. I r good writer.)

Rockwell came out on Kickstarter last December, and it pretty much suckered me in the moment I saw it, due only partly to my poor impulse control, but also a good concept (rival mining companies competing to exploit the maximum amount of non-renewable resources and/or drill to the centre of the Earth), solid-looking mechanics and lovely lovely art. As with all the previous games by Sit Down!, the art’s by Yuio, probably more widely known for illustrating Takenoko and making our hearts all melt with the most adorable panda, and the art in Rockwell is easily up to the same standard. The prettiness of the game continues when you open the box (despite the eight sheets of punchboard – this is very much a million-tiny-tokens game) thanks to both the player privacy screens, each with different colour-coded illustrations showing your new persona as a drilling magnate and occasional Bond villain, and the board. Now, I’m kind of a sucker for modular boards, but even so, this one is lovely. It’s very satisfying to start every game by assembling the planet out of concentric circle tiles, and while the modularity doesn’t really add that much, since the relative positions of certain tiles doesn’t matter in any way I can see, it just looks fantastic. (Also, thanks to my misreading the setup instructions, one game included me stopping play to say, “Sorry, but can we just rotate the Earth about thirty degrees?” At which point we felt like wizards.)

Another Journey to the Centre of the Earth begins... What will be found this time?

Another Journey to the Centre of the Earth begins… What will be discovered this time?

So far so pretty, but if the gameplay makes you think longingly of that summer you earned pocket money by working in a Siberian salt mine (hey, we’ve all been there), all the delicious art and innovative boards in the world aren’t going to make you buy it. Luckily, Rockwell succeeds handily in that department too, with a number of mechanics that I haven’t seen in nearly enough games and that really make this one stand out. First up is the aforementioned aspect of grudging cooperation, brought about through a lovely balance of effort and investment. When you start the game, your drill crews are on the planet’s surface, and have the choice between two tiles of strength 3 and 4. However, all of your drill crews have a strength of 1, meaning they have no hope of shifting that much dirt on their own. Sure, you could send all your crews to the same tile, but then you’ve wasted two rounds while the rest of the players romp ahead, and it’ll probably be an explosion anyway, just to mock your weird fixation on that one patch of dirt.

So instead, you start moving your crews onto tiles with your opponents’ crews, but when you cooperate, you have to split all the loot between everybody involved. However, there’s an edge to this that makes it more complex than it sounds at first – when the resources are divvied up, any remaining cubes are given to the player with the most drills present, and failing that, to the player who triggered the extraction. Suddenly, the game turns into a contest of strategic movement, both of your own crews and the crews you’ve bribed away from the other teams, and putting the least effort into getting the greatest reward. And trust me, there are few better feelings than sneaking one tiny drill crew into a deadlocked tile, triggering it, and walking away with that crew’s weight in little wooden cubes.

So many pretty pieces! And the game's damn good too. (Thanks to Ray Reviews Games for the image: http://www.rayreviewsgames.com )

So many pretty pieces! And the game’s damn good too. (Thanks to Ray Reviews Games for the image: http://www.rayreviewsgames.com )

Also, Rockwell does one thing better than maybe any board game I’ve seen, and that thing is achievements. Now, I’m a console gamer as well as a board gamer, and I love me some meaningless pictures and numbers to stave off my encroaching ennui at the boundless, all-consuming abyss of Time. And don’t lie, so do you. But in Rockwell, they aren’t just pointless – in fact, by the end of the game, they will probably constitute the majority of points. Doing various tasks like collecting enough of the various resources, levelling up your drill crews, and, yes, hurling your faithful miners into the roiling mass of molten metal at the heart of the world will all earn you a related little clipboard token, which is worth a certain number of points at game end depending on how early you got it compared to everyone else – sure, collecting ten silver cubes is impressive, but doing it by the time the game economy has evolved to the point that people are trading wheelbarrows of silver for a loaf of bread, it’s slightly less so.

It’s kind of fitting that I should come to achievements this late in the review, since that was the trap I fell into when playing the game too. Sure, it’s fun to excavate and level up your drills and make obscene stacks of cash, but the main endgame condition is one player getting at least six achievements (including the three hardest) so if you aren’t consciously shooting for these, the game will never end. And I’m fairly sure that’s why my first game of what is meant to be a 90-minute game took nearly four hours, so make sure you read the rules properly first and get a feel for what you’re aiming for, or it’ll drag.

So, overall, this is an extremely pretty game, but, appropriately for such an industrial game, it lives and dies on its mechanics. Normally, this is where I’d write one of those wussy conclusions where you should play it if you’re interested in this kind of thing but otherwise you shouldn’t. But I won’t. Honestly, Rockwell’s a fantastically solid game, and when it gets a general release, I would unconditionally recommend it to pretty much any gamer. So give it a go if you get a chance – you might find out you like rocks a lot more than you thought.

Rockwell was designed by Bruno Crépeault and published by Sit Down! in 2013. Art is by the enigmatically named Yuio, and is rather lovely throughout! Between two and four people can play with games taking around 90-120 minutes. Finding copies of the game can be a bit tricky at the minute, but they are popping up here and there – hunt well, my friends!

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