Go Go Go Tokyo – Rolling Japan review

Hisashi Hayashi, you magnificent bastard.

Trains. Edo Yashiki. String Railway. Sail to India. Four great games, all designed by the same guy, Hisashi Hiyashi, that I’ve played plenty this past year or so, and will continue to do so for a good long time. Now I can add a fifth game into the rotation, Rolling Japan, that at first appearance seems to be the lightest of the bunch. In reality, this one might end up being the most brain-melting of the five, despite being little more than some paper maps and a bunch of dice.

Any number between one and eight can play, though that eight is only down to the fact that’s how many little pens are included in the box. In reality, Rolling Japan is a single player game at heart where each time you play, you’re looking to score as low as possible. Of course, that extrapolates to a larger game with more people where you’re ALL trying to do that, but yes – this is essentially solitaire dressed up as multiplayer. Not that it’s a bad thing in any way, not at all.

To play, everyone is given a small sheet with an abstract map of Japan on it, split into six different coloured zones, themselves segmented into sets of smaller boxes. Rather than go into ludicrously in-depth description, here’s a picture. Much easier.

And so it begins. Once more into the breach, my friends.

And so it begins. Once more into the breach, my friends.

Also included in the package is a bag of seven dice, six of which correspond to the colours of the areas on the map; so, white, black, green, yellow, red and blue. Played out over the course of eight rounds, three pairs of dice will be pulled from the bag and rolled; the numbers that appear must be written down in the boxes of the same colour on the map – so far, so simple. Oh, if the purple one comes out, it’s treated as a wild, so you get to put that number in any coloured area you like.

Once the six dice have been drawn, they’re thrown back in the bag. There’s a helpful Round Marker to strike off, then you move on to do the same thing again… but there are a couple of things to consider. First of all, no more than one number can be put in a single box. Second, if you’re looking to put a number in a box next to one that’s already been filled in, it has to be either the same or one above or below. And, immediately after realising quite how awful those restrictions are, you swiftly get quite how great this little puzzle is.

Halfway through and things are going OK! Only had to use a single Colour Change and there's only one X so far... This could be a good shot!

Halfway through and things are going OK! Only had to use a single Colour Change and there’s only one X so far… This could be a good shot!

If you’re unable to place the rolled number(s) onto the map, you have to choose a spot to fill with an X – Rolling Japan‘s mark of shame. It’s these Xs that are tallied as your score at the end of the game – remember, the lower the amount, the better – but there are thankfully three lifelines in the form of Color Changes available to you. Instead of being forced to throw down an X, filling up a space and potentially screwing yourself over later in the game, you can take the number and drop it into another colour region. Sure, you still have to follow the rules of placement as detailed previously, but it’s way better than having to scribble down a dreaded and terrible X…

Pretty soon, things start getting very busy on your map. At around the halfway mark you’ll realise that you’ve probably made a mistake in at least one region that has messed up things royally. Numbers start squashing up against each other quickly and you’ll be letting out a few curses when, yet again, you’ll be drawing in another pair of Xs because you simply don’t have any legal placements anywhere. Sure, there’s probably a perfect game out there in probability-land, but with the numbers being provided by those damned dice, perfection simply isn’t going to happen. This is a game, not a jigsaw puzzle, and a truly challenging game at that. While you may be feeling pretty confident in early rounds that everything is going fine, just you wait until the end when all you see is a parade of Xs dotted about your map. Oh, did we not mention that every empty space is filled up with an X at the end of the game? Thought you were cocky holding off on marking those spaces weren’t you? Yeah – here’s what happens:

And here's my completed game. Thirteen as a final score isn't too awful. Still bad, but not too awful.

And here’s my completed game. Thirteen as a final score isn’t too awful. Still bad, but not too awful.

Now, I know that the usual complaints will begin – because the game revolves around dice, the whole thing is too chaotic for players to have any control over. Really, I’ve found it better to consider the chaos as an intrinsic part of playing Rolling Japan; the main meat of the game is reacting to what’s been rolled and just desperately trying to not screw up too badly. If I had any gripes, there’d be my usual one that the included pad of maps will run out pretty quickly especially if you’re playing with a larger group on a regular basis. Oh, and why the hell isn’t this on my iPad? Of all the games that I’ve played recently from Essen 2014, this one feels ripe for a conversion to tablets and phones. It’s a highly entertaining way to kill fifteen minutes, either with friends or by yourself, and I can only think that Rolling Japan‘s popularity would increase if transferred to a digital platform. Plus, with future maps planned to appear in the near future – there was talk of Rolling America amongst others – you’ve got instant and easy to introduce DLC expansions! OKAZU Brand take note! Oh, and print more copies ASAP.

Rolling Japan was designed by Hisashi Hayashi and released at Essen 2014 through Japon Brand / OKAZU Brand. Between one and eight can play though, as mentioned, it’s essentially a single player affair. Copies are somewhat hard to find (as with most Japon Brand releases) but some have popped up on BGG and eBay. Here’s hoping for a wider release from another company in 2015!

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Episode 85 – Paranoia and Producers

Hey there, dearest listener! Ready for another Little Metal Dog Show? Yes? Good! This time around it’s two interviews with two people each, so essentially you’re getting double the content for the same low, low price of free! First up, Dean Donofrio and ErinRose Widner from The Great Indoors join me to talk all about the joy and pain of putting together their brand new (potential) webseries. The story of a game night group who open their doors to a couple of new people and the mayhem that ensues, you can support their efforts on Kickstarter today! After that, James Wallis and Paul Dean come along to discuss Paranoia. Not the mental condition, no, but their reboot of the classic 1980s RPG involving clones, stupid rules and Friend Computer. Love The Computer, for The Computer loves you. Sometimes a little TOO much… Also, James lets slip some information about Other Things but you’ll have to listen to find out what.

The Computer is also a fan of links.

Direct Download of the Episode – http://littlemetaldog.podbean.com/mf/web/jfkdrt/LMDS_Episode_85.mp3

The Great Indoors’ page on Kickstarter – https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/719584582/the-great-indoors-web-series-tv-pilot?ref=nav_search

Paranoia on Kickstarter – https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1990654819/paranoia-rpg?ref=nav_search

Shut Up and Sit Down (it’s very good) – http://www.shutupandsitdown.com/

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The Big Sky – Tiny Epic Galaxies preview

TEGCover

I’m delighted when I see new designers start to truly make a name for themselves in our little world of gaming, and even moreso when their creations really fit in my wheelhouse. Scott Almes’ Tiny Epic Kingdoms went insane on Kickstarter and is now gracing tables around the world, offering a fantastic gameplay experience that I’ve returned to again and again since getting my copy. Tiny Epic Defenders is currently on the conveyer belt over at Gamelyn Games, but the latest in the series was shown to me while at Essen this year – it’s called Tiny Epic Galaxies and great as they are, this one is easily better than its two predecessors.

Offering a comprehensive but pocket-sized 4X experience in around half an hour, I think that TEG (as it will become known) is going to break the records set by the earlier games in the series. Quick playing yet satisying, TEG will never see you looking to chuck out your copy of Twilight Imperium 3rd Edition – but you won’t have to schedule a visit to IKEA to buy a second table next time you want to play around a mate’s house either.

The game sees players attempting to reach a certain score, racing to utilise and colonise a series of planets that appear on cards in the middle of the table. Each card is laid out in a similar fashion, a numbered ladder on the left hand side, a symbol in the top right corner showing whether it’ll yield you Energy or Culture when you land a ship there, its points value in the bottom right and – probably most vital – the planet’s Colony Action. Players also have a larger Home World card in front of them that acts as a base as well as a way to track your stats and resources (the previously mentioned Energy and Culture).

grhseateth

The grid basically shows how you’ll (hopefully) progress through the game – start at the lowest level with four dice, two ships and zero bonus points. You’ll have to spend either Energy or Culture to upgrade to the next level (only once per turn) and pull in new stuff to use.

Your selections are dice driven with everyone kicking off the game rolling only four dice, but depending on how things turn out you could well be hurling seven of them across the table – and this is one thing you should be aiming to do as more ships mean more options AND more points. At the beginning of a turn you roll your allotted amount then, depending on what’s landed face-up, take actions. A single re-roll is allowed in case what you want doesn’t quite come up (which you will use a lot) and you’ll then, one-by-one, resolve the dice you’ve got. One lovely little element to TEG now shows its face – when you trigger an action, a player may spend one of their Culture Points to trigger that same action themselves, even through it’s not their turn. You might think you’ve got some excellent plan up your sleeve, but a Culture rich heavy player could potentially screw you over over the course of someone’s turn – even your own.

So, what can you do? Well, arrows allow you to move one of your ships around, either to the planet’s surface (which will pull in Energy or Culture if those symbols are rolled) or to the card’s Diplomacy track. Roll those symbols (a $ and ! in the current prototype) and you’ll move up the ladder, claiming the planet for yourself and tucking it in underneath your Home World. The final symbol shows the Colony Action, a potentially gamechanging thing that’s entirely dependent on the planets you’ve added to your collection. Everyone begins with the same ability – spend a set amount of one resource to upgrade your Galaxy (meaning more dice and Victory Points, as mentioned), but with each planet offering some kind of rule bending power, you’ll be seeking out the best ways to turn things in your favour.

A few of the planets you'll hopefully collect. Top right tells you what resource you'll grab, Diplomacy Track is on the left side, bonus and VPs on the bottom!

A few of the planets you’ll hopefully collect. Top right tells you what resource you’ll grab, Diplomacy Track is on the left side, bonus and VPs on the bottom!

As the game progresses, players’ tableaux eventually hopefully grow into a splendid collection of planets, pulling in all manner of useful resources and looking grand, tucked underneath your Home World – but all the while there’s that sneaking suspicion that everything will crumble beneath you, that all your plans will come to nothing thanks to that bloody rule of other people copying your Actions. Got your eye on picking up another planet? Tough, someone else has stolen it from under you, AND ON YOUR OWN BLOODY TURN AT THAT. Notice that someone seems to be running low on a resource? They won’t be for long, pushing their trackers up on your go. And this is wonderful as it means there’s pretty much no downtime in TEG – you’re constantly paying attention to what’s being rolled and when the dice are triggered. Manage to do this well and by the time your turn comes around to you again, you’ll be able to pull off some incredible stuff.

And that, for me, is what makes the game so damn good. Sure, it plays out in about half an hour, but for that whole time you’re watching, waiting, ready to jump while also planning your own strategy out. It’s a glorious, exhausting thirty minutes, fun as all hell, and when it launches in January on Kickstarter, you’d best get in on it. Tiny Epic Galaxies is showing that Scott Almes is growing into a truly talented designer, and it’s so exciting to thing that if he’s turning out games like this now, what kind of stuff will we see from him in a few years? If the game is this good with no graphic design and relatively plain iconography in a PNP, imagine what the end product is going to be like.

Tiny Epic Galaxies will be on Kickstarter in January 2015. You will want a copy of it. Cheers to Michael Coe at Gamelyn Games for handing over a copy for us to check out!

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Build – Tier auf Tier: Das Große Abenteuer review

DGA

There’s a saying that goes through the community that regularly pick their way through the games shelves of thrift shops – Gotta Grab A HABA. Where most of the time the selection is a mix of Trivial Pursuits, various Scene Its and busted looking copies of Monopoly, occasionally a diamond will shine through (or in the case of HABA titles, a bright yellow box) that needs to be picked up. Basically, whatever the game actually is, it’ll be worth buying for the great components and fantastic production. The only slightdownside: their games are aimed at players aged zero to four. Doesn’t stop me playing the crap out of them though.

A few of the titles in HABA’s range are properly accessible to older gamers – after all, everyone loves stacking things and even some grown ups can struggle to do it well. The whole series of Tier auf Tier games have legions of fans of all ages – we’ve mentioned that previously on LMDS – but it wasn’t until I had a brief run around the company’s stand at Essen that I realised quite how many games were in the series. Sure, we have a copy of the base game in our Back Room Of Doom, as well as the tiny version, but man… there’s loads of them.

One of my last purchases at this year’s Spiel was the biggest box with the name slapped across the front: Tier auf Tier – Das Große Abentuer. Admittedly, this was mainly down to my wife going HEY DID YOU SEE THAT GET ME THAT NOW – she’s the definite Tier auf Tier fan in this house – but how can you say no to something that looks so bloody fun? Look at the box again:

Fun!

See? Fun!

Where the original game was simply focused on stacking your animals to get rid of them all, DGA has a bit more complexity which does make it feel like something of a step up. Yes, there are still beautiful, chunky, wooden animals. Yes, there’s still a massive die that will start your turn. However, that’s pretty much where the similarities end – this one can’t be won by simply getting rid of your animals. In fact, you don’t actually have any of your own, and those that you do get will need to be put in very specific places.

Some explanation is probably needed: before the game begins, a bit of set-up is required. First, the box isn’t just a container for bits – it’s actually an integral part of the game, split into four separate sections with a large wooden (well, cardboard) bridge in the middle. The different areas represent four valleys and all of the animals start the game lined up at random around the box, aside from the crocodile who, as usual, kicks things off by being the first to stand on the bridge. Players then take turns at rolling the die and placing all future animals in a stack that must touch either the crocodile or another wooden beast.

The die is different to the original game’s one. Four sides are dedicated to the four valleys, and rolling one means you take an animal from one of those locations, while getting a question mark gives you the option to take an animal from anywhere. The final side, showing the bridge, is probably the nastiest thing to roll – you must then take an animal from somewhere on the bridge and put it back somewhere else.

DGA2

Why would you do this? Well, if you’ve played the original Tier auf Tier, you’ll be thinking so far, so similar. But this is a step up, remember, so you and your fellow stackers are going to be aiming towards completing objectives as well. Before the game begins, each player also receives three cards that show combinations of animals, and should you manage to build a pile there those animals are touching you flip the card to show that it’s been completed. Flip all your cards and hooray, you’re the winner! However, if you manage to screw up and knock a few of the animals into the box, you’ll be punished with another Objective card to complete. Thankfully, you’re allowed to flip a card when someone else manages to hit one of your combinations so it does make things a little easier but believe me – DGA is WAY more challenging than than any other game in the series.

That doesn’t mean that Tier auf Tier has suddenly become the kids equivalent of Twilight Struggle though – it’s still a relatively straightforward game, just made a little more complex with the introduction of the Objectives. However, in a game that’s just plain fun which manages to put children and grown ups on a level playing field, there’s not much else out there that offers such entertainment. Admittedly it’s not as immediate as the basic version of game, but the trade off is a much more engaging experience which is entirely worth getting. It’s still cute as anything, but just because Das Große Abenteuer is pretty don’t think it isn’t a challenge. This one bites back!

Tier auf Tier – Das Große Abenteuer (apparently out as Balancing Bridge in English) was designed by Klaus Miltenberger with art by Michael Bayer. Released originally in 2010, I don’t think I’ve ever seen this in stores in the UK or US – if you want a copy, I’d suggest heading to Amazon where it’s available for about $35 – money well spent!

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Episode 84 – Essen 2014, Part One!

Welcome to Essen! The first of three special episodes taken directly from the show floor at the world’s biggest gaming event has six interviews with some of the industry’s finest (including one bona fide design legend!). This time around:

– Eric Reasoner from StuntKite Publishing, discussing the new release of Patchistory

– eggertspiel’s Wolf talks about Camel Up (it’s definitely Camel Up, we checked!) and more

– SdJ winner Michael Schacht joins me to talk about his new design, Hellweg Westfalicus

– Pay Dirt, Yardmaster and Yardmaster Express are shown off by Patrick Nickell from Crash Games

– Pierre-Gilles from Mushroom Games unveils their new title, Time Masters

– Matagot’s own Fabien talks Korrigans and the new Cyclades expansion, Titans

There’ll be another special episode with more from the floor coming up soon – as always, thank you for listening!

Grab the episode from your favourite podcast listening thing or grab it directly from here: http://littlemetaldog.podbean.com/mf/web/uj3d6i/LMDS_Episode_84.mp3

Thanks to all the folks for coming on the show – you can find them online in the following various places:

StuntKite Publishing – http://www.stuntkitepublishing.com/

StuntKite on Twitter – https://twitter.com/StuntKitePub

eggertspiele – http://www.eggertspiele.de/

eggertspiele on Twitter – https://twitter.com/eggertspiele

Michael Schacht’s own site – http://michaelschacht.net/

Crash Games – http://crashgamesaz.com/

Patrick on Twitter – https://twitter.com/Crash_Games

Mushroom Games – http://mushroom-games.be/

Matagot Games – http://www.matagot.com/spip.php?page=sommaire&lang=en

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