Episode 76 – Mice, Lemmings, Aliens and Gamblers

It’s another Triple Threat episode! This time I’m joined by Scott Almes, whose Tiny Epic Kingdoms recently took Kickstarter by storm and surpassed his expectations by miles. He also happens to be doing a brand new game for Sprocket Games in the near future, Of Mice and Lemmings, so of course there’s a bit of chat about that! Justin Blaske’s up next, a first time designer who is currently crowdfunding Area 1851. This is a neat game of drafting, collecting the right cards and building some utterly ludicrous inventions and truly deserves your attention! Finally, I sit down with the one and only James Ernest, designer of legendary games like Kill Doctor Lucky, Lords of Vegas and… The American Idol Collectible Card Game? We discuss a wide range of stuff including his latest design, Pairs. It’s a big episode but well worth the time!

Links for you!

Direct Download for this episode - http://littlemetaldog.podbean.com/mf/web/tup8f4/Episode76COMPLETE.mp3

See all the cool stuff that happened with Tiny Epic Kingdomshttps://www.kickstarter.com/projects/coe/tiny-epic-kingdoms?ref=live

The somewhat sparse (for now!) Of Mice and Lemmings BGG page - http://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/148509/of-mice-and-lemmings

Area 1851 on Kickstarter! - https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/gamesalute/area-1851

Cheapass Games - http://www.cheapass.com/

James Ernest’s ludicrously huge BGG designer page - http://boardgamegeek.com/boardgamedesigner/61/james-ernest

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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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Northern Lights – Troll Hunt review

Troll Hunt Cover

One of the best movies I’ve seen in a long time in the past year was Troll Hunter, a Norwegian effort which plays on the country’s slightly curious historical obsession regarding these mythical monsters. In it a bunch of film students plot to catch some footage of real life trolls up in the wilds of Norway and stumble across a guy from the Wildlife Ministry who naturally winds up being a lot more than he initially seems. It’s full of ludicrous and wonderful scenes that balance out the more horrific moments in the movie (Catholics in particular could end up being quite offended), but despite its’ gory nature – seriously, an exploding troll is not to be witnessed more than you have to – I found that it kind of plays out as a love letter to Norway’s favourite monster.

And now, sat before me on my gaming table, is a copy of a game called Troll Hunt from a company called Roll D6 Games who are based in… Finland. Ah well, can’t win them all. Thankfully, like their Scandinavian brethren, the Finns also have strong attachment to trolls and many of the myths discussed in the movie are repeated in the game – the most important (in game terms at least) being their aversion to sunlight.

You see, should a troll catch even a glimpse of sunlight it will immediately turn to stone. You may think that’s something of a design flaw on a monster that can grow to immense heights, but I suppose every beast requires a weakness of some sort. Regardless, it works perfectly in the film where the hunters use an overpowered UV flash gun to blind and petrify the monsters, and a similar set up is used in Troll Hunt. It’s just a little less hi-tech. You and your opponents use… lanterns.

Either two or three players enter the fray, with play beginning with the creation of the arena in which the hunt takes place. Made up of hex pieces that form an immense hexagon when all are put together, the first thing you’ll notice are the large towers that dominate each corner of the board and are numbered from 1 to 6. Letters are also dotted across the playing field which represent the troll dens, and the board is split into four different land types: ground, sand, impassable mountain and troll-only water.

Before play starts, a handful of trolls are needed to populate the board – every hunter needs their prey, after all. Their locations are generated randomly by drawing a card from the stack that matches one of the letters, then a player rolls the dice to determine which way the troll will be facing. Each troll marker is marked with a line that makes it clear which way this is; all the better to turn them to stone.

Each player places their two lanterns on the outermost ring, depicted as being entirely made up of sand hexes. Once a place is chosen, the lanterns can’t be moved, so ensuring that their beam of light will reach a decent distance is a necessity. You’re also armed with seven mirror tiles that are two sided: one showing a beam of light reflected 120º, the other side 240º – in other words, your beam bounces either one or two clicks around. Armed with these, you should be able to manipulate a beam of light in any direction, but you also have a very useful prism at hand that splits the beam into all six directions.


The full set up will allow for a huge amount of different game maps – ideal for when you want to go back and hunt those trolls again and again.

The objective is simple: guide your beam of light using the mirrors in play – not just yours, by the way – into the eyes of any troll on the board. Doing so turns them to stone and you get to claim them as a trophy. First person to collect a set number is declared the King of the Hunters and gets a rather curious story to tell at the dinner table (“Let me tell you of the time I petrified a group of trolls in deepest, darkest Scandinavia…”).

Turns follow a set pattern with a player first placing a mirror then ‘triggering’ their lantern of choice. The imaginary beam of light is traced out across the hexes and should a troll be hit in the eyes it is removed, only to be replaced by another randomly generated family member next to another den.  Through clever use of the mirrors and prisms – remember, not just your own, anything that’s on the board is usable – it’s entirely possible to take down two or more trolls on a single turn, and when you only need eight or nine to win the game some decent planning can really give you a big advantage.

It’s not just as easy as chucking out a bunch of mirrors and hoping for the best though. Those previously mentioned mountains block all light beams, as to the backs of mirrors and the trolls themselves. Players are also given movement points in lieu of placing new mirrors on the board (two if you still have some mirror tiles, four if they’re all in play) which can be used to shift from one hex to another, rotate or even flip to their opposite side to use the other available angle. Even in a two player game things get busy very quickly and keeping track of the possibilities on the board can be somewhat mind-boggling – Troll Hunt is certainly not a game for those with a tendency towards Analysis Paralysis.

As you’ve probably worked out for yourself, this is really more of a competitive puzzle than board game but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I like the idea of being able to use other people’s mirror tiles – after all it makes sense, light doesn’t decide it likes one mirror type over another – but it can leave you open to other players muscling in on your complex set ups and blinding a troll you might have had your eye on.  There are a couple rules that warn against breaking possible light beam routes, but there’s always a way around it – even if that means literally rerouting your way around a mountain range. The need to win will always find a way!

The copy of the game I have is a prototype but the art is already complete prior to the launch of their forthcoming Kickstarter campaign and I must say I rather like the look of it. There’s a real storybook feeling throughout and it brings to my mind the story of Fungus the Bogeyman. True, there may not be many similarities but in my head, this is the link I make. Gameplay wise, Troll Hunt is probably closest to those two pathfinding siblings, Ricochet Robots and Mutant Meeples – however, when you’re trying to negotiate your way around a hex-based map rather than squares, your range of options is going to be even greater. With plenty of opportunity for brain burning, Troll Hunt certainly comes recommended; just make sure that you’re playing with the right audience. Of course, with the game only playing either two or three, that audience doesn’t have to be huge, it just has to be patient when the other players are planning their moves…

Troll Hunt, designed by Veli-Matti Saarinen and published through Roll D6 Games, will hit Kickstarter sometime this week. Keep an eye out for this fun little game, especially if you’re looking for a family friendly title that lends itself well to team play!

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Can You Dig It? – Pay Dirt review

Pay Dirt cover

That Tory Niemann is a talented guy. While he only has a couple of games under his belt, when one of them happens to be Alien Frontiers you really should sit up and take a look when it’s announced that he’s got something new up his sleeve. Having moved away from Clever Mojo Games and set up with Crash Games, he’s preparing to unleash something that I’ve been lucky enough to get my hands on before it’s even appeared on Kickstarter. Prepare yourself for some hard work and low temperatures – Pay Dirt is coming!

Thematically, we’re dealing with present day gold mining in the wilds of Alaska and there’s only one way to win – simply get more nuggets that your opponents before the ground freezes and the game ends. Starting with a small team of five workers, a little spending money and a bunch of really rather crappy equipment, you slowly get yourself up to speed and work your way through the poor quality claim that you begin the game with. Thankfully, there’s a few nuggets in that patch of land that you should be able to process with some hard graft.

Each game round is split into four phases – Auction, Workers, Hardship and Income. This seems like the ideal time for a quick rundown…

The Auction Phase is where you get to bring useful things and hard-working hardy types into your operation. Three different options are open to you; new equipment will speed up your processing, new claims could bring in a lot more gold, while new personnel allow you to skew the rules a little (and potentially grant you extra workers, giving you more options in the next round). Whatever you choose, everything on offer has a minimum bid that must be covered but with no upper limit it’s very easy to find yourself short on cash! A nice twist in this phase means that the chosen item type isn’t available to the next player, so it’s highly likely that someone will screw over their opposition.

Buy yourself some good stuff in the Auction - your starting Claim won't offer up much gold...

Buy yourself some good stuff in the Auction – your starting Claim won’t offer up much gold…

Once the Auctions are done with, the Worker Placement phase begins. As mentioned earlier, each player begins with five meeples but more can be added to your crew by picking up personnel cards in the Auction each round. Depending on where they’re placed, they’ll either help move Pay Dirt tiles through your processing system (or deal with the wear and tear brought about through regular use), or head to the central board where special Camp and Claim Gear can be bought and those precious nuggets can be sold to bring in some much needed cash.

A quick word about the processing. At the beginning of the game, your setup is… well, dilapidated to say the least. Each player starts with a low quality Excavator, Loader and Wash Plant, and these three pieces of equipment are split into three sections. Placing a worker on one of the three heavy machinery spaces drags a Pay Dirt tile across one single space, and they only turn to gold nuggets when they hit the spot that it furthest to the right hand side. At the same time, you’re also somewhat in the dark as the tiles you’re investing your workers in to move are secret and random, bringing in anywhere between two and six nuggets depending on the ground type. Better gear will cut down on these spaces with the best equipment only showing one space – less workers will be needed and everything feels so much more efficient! The only problem… you’ll have to pay a high price for the finest machines.

Two spaces instead of three may not seem a big leap, but if it saves you a worker it can prove invaluable!

Two spaces instead of three may not seem a big leap, but if it saves you a worker it can prove invaluable!

All equipment is prone to breaking down – must be that harsh Alaskan weather – so you’ll need to regularly devote some your meeples to fixing things up. Every time a new Pay Dirt tile is moved onto it a bright red ‘wear’ cube is added to a machine’s space, and should the amount of cubes equal the amount of symbols shown there it seizes up and refuses to work. Some of the equipment provided by the cheap and cheerful ‘Flimco’ will actually break down totally if not fixed immediately, so it’s a very fine balancing act that keeps things moving on! At least your workers are efficient; using one of them for repairs removes two cubes, and they can be used on both your processing equipment as well as the Camp and Claim Gear that you might purchase up in town that bestow small but vital bonuses on you and your operation.

Once workers are dealt with (and placed on their handy “Unused Labor Force” space on your playmat) we move to the Hardship phase. Whoever has the lowest amount of gold draws cards from the Hardship Deck equal to the amount of players around the table. They then choose a card for themselves and pass the remaining ones to the next lowest scoring player, until eventually the leader is handed a single card that will undoubtedly screw them over. Perhaps it’ll cause extra damage to their equipment or they’ll be forced to hand over a load of their money to someone else? Whatever happens, this (for me anyway) is the best and worst part of each round: best because it’s really rather entertaining, worst due to the fact that there’s not a single good card in the Hardship Deck. Well, there is actually one; the only problem is that it’s in there with twenty-nine other cards that are utterly bloody awful.

Hardships are generally awful - hence the name. Some (like this) last a round, others are a one off effect. Also note the temperature drop in the top right...

Hardships are generally awful – hence the name. Some (like this) last a round, others are a one off effect. Also note the temperature drop in the top right hand corner…

Another thing to think about is that the card in front of the leading miner is the one that triggers the fall in temperature. A drop can be anywhere from one to three degrees, and when that meter hits zero or below there’s only one more round left in the game. Everything wraps up with Income, where each player receives $2 from the bank regardless of their position in the game. As long as it’s still warm enough, play continues and the cut throat action continues apace.

While the version of Pay Dirt I’ve got at the moment is a prototype, it’s pretty much a finished product that’s ready to go to the printers. The art is done, the pieces are pretty much there (though I was sent some actual American coinage instead of plastic money – oddly, it seems to be cheaper!) and though the rules concise, they’re well written and cover all potential questions. Sure, it’s not the final version of the game, but knowing how well produced previous releases from Crash Games have turned out, I can only hope that Pay Dirt continues the streak of high quality products.

Like Alien Frontiers before it, Tory’s newest game hits that sweet spot of demanding that you think about everything you’re doing in the game while still remaining wonderfully accessible. Each action you perform, every decision you make, the worker meeples you place… they all need to be deeply considered. It’s quite easy to dig yourself into a hole (pun not intended), though thankfully it’s possible to get yourself back into the game with a couple of well constructed rounds. Pay Dirt is beautifully balanced and players will find themselves involved in tight games after only a few plays to get used to how things works. Once you’ve got the processing system down and understand moving your tiles from left to right, you’ll be grand.

The usual warnings apply for those of you who suffer from Analysis Paralysis. With each turn requiring a finely executed plan that could potentially contain up to ten different actions (assuming you somehow maximise your workers, which is admittedly rare), things could get tricky and time consuming. However, most people will simply get on with the dirty business of digging for all that gold and treat Pay Dirt as it should be treated – as a thoroughly enjoyable game that you’ll want to come back to again and again. It deserves to be as successful as Alien Frontiers and I can’t wait to see how well it performs when it hits Kickstarter shortly.

Pay Dirt was designed by Tory Niemann and will be published by Crash Games later in 2014. Between two and four people can play with games taking around an hour. The game is now on Kickstarter – https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/crashgames/pay-dirt-designed-by-tory-niemann-of-alien-frontie – head on over there and get your money behind this excellent game!

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Kickstarter Catch Up!

There’s a few interesting things going around on Kickstarter at the moment, so I figured it’d be a good thing to point you in the right direction of them!

Character Meeples

Character Meeples

The awesome team over at Meeple Source are currently in the middle of their first campaign, attempting to bring a whole new range of meeple designs to their range with the assistance of backers from around the world. Having been lucky enough to get my hands on a bunch of them recently, I can attest that they are Very Lovely Indeed – and it’s not just standard sized meeples that they do. There are special mini ones for use in Lords of Waterdeep (as well as special tokens for use in the Scoundrels of Skullport expansion), Tzolkin corn cobs, Tiny Epic Kingdoms sets and more random wooden bits than you can shake a stick at. The main focus though is on their lovely meeples and the campaign has been a tremendous success already. Loads of new designs have been unlocked and backers can get their hands on a single set of eight meeples for as little as $10. For those looking to splash out, you can even pledge for a set of four hundred meeples which will invariably pimp out your entire games collection!

Dice & Slice

One of my dear friends, Paco Jean from G*M*S Magazine, is looking to do a gaming web series with a difference. Combining cooking with games, Slice & Dice is unlike any games show you’ve seen before, and I can also guarantee that Paco is a bloody good cook. Have a watch of the pilot video up there and you’ll see that he’s a natural on camera – not surprising considering how much video output he does over at G*M*S. The project has already funded, but if you know of any games companies out there who are looking for an interesting way to plug upcoming games, send them over to the Slice & Dice Kickstarter page.

Town Center – Fourth Edition

Town Center 4E

You will take my copy of the First Edition of Alban Viard’s Town Center from my cold, dead hands – that cardboard box with its hand-stuck cover filled with LEGO bricks is going nowhere – but it’s true to say that the game is hard to get hold of. That’s a pity because it’s a really good game – building up stacks of blocks that interact with each other as the rounds continue, stealing the ones that you know your opponents really need, it’s a very satisfying and challenging gaming experience. Now being published through Ludicreations, a copy will set you back a reasonably priced $50 which includes shipping.

Tokaido Collector’s Edition

Tokaido Collectors


Tokaido, Antoine Bauza’s game depicting a journey across Japan, is a beautiful thing to begin with but the new Collector’s Edition is set to push the boundaries yet further. Adding a whole bunch of extra things into the box including minifigures, a fistful of metal coins, extra wooden components and even a soundtrack to accompany your playing of the game, this is truly the ultimate Tokaido experience. A copy will cost $115 if you want the level that comes with all stretch goals, though there are cheaper options available. The question is, following the beautiful Takenoko remake, does this make Antoine Bauza the first designer to have two special edition versions available of his games?


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