Tag Archives: card game

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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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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You Otter Know – Otters review

Otters cover
Rules in life to follow: First of all, never apologise for the use of a terrible pun in the opening of a review. It shows panache! Style! Grace! Second, never turn down the chance to play a game for kids. In both instances, always try such things when the opportunity makes itself available – after all, there’s not that many games out there that are built around the theme of otters aimed at small people. Or any, in fact. New market, yay!
Michael Iachini’s last release, Chaos and Alchemy, was a comparatively heavy affair when lined up to his latest design, a quick to play (and quicker to learn!) card game called Otters. It’s about – surprisingly enough – otters who are looking for new places to play and gambol. Otters, apparently, love to play (seriously, the do, look it up). In Otters, there are nine playgrounds (each represented by a coloured card, so you have three sets of three) that you and your opponent will fight over, three of which will be in play at any one time. Each time play comes round to you, you’ll get to place two cards by the playground (or playgrounds) of your choice. Manage to be the person whose card is the one that helps equal or exceed the total for that playground and you claim it immediately, scoring that amount of points. A new one comes out, and once the last one is taken the game ends. Highest score, as you’d expect, is the winner.
Dawwww! Otters!

Dawwww! Otters!

The cards you’ll be using to get your hands on these much desired playgrounds, decorated with otters aplenty, are numbered. There are plenty of ones and twos, plus a smattering of threes, but also a fair few special ability cards that will help you get closer to those target numbers. These will let you throw down an extra card, flip another off the top of the deck or move one otter from one playground to another, but my favourite is undoubtedly the zero-valued Alligator.
Now, while Otters is a simple game, this card brings in a little bit of screwing your opponent over – someone that I encourage in anybody over the age of a couple of months. You see, the Alligator prevents the other player from playing any cards to that spot, so it’s the perfect card to reveal if you’re going get your hands on some of the higher value playground cards. Also, collecting the same colour sets doesn’t just bring you in the points marked on them – getting all three of a kind scores a bonus.
No swings? What kind of playgrounds are these?

No swings? What kind of playgrounds are these?

Rounds take a matter of minutes and you’ll have a whole game done in under ten, so it really is a perfect game for children (or grown ups with horrifyingly short attention spans). The whole thing comes in a mere fifty-six cards so it’s super portable, and copies are available for a $12 pledge on Kickstarter. Get yourself a couple of decks and you open up the possibility for a three or four player version of the game which is pretty nice – again, while it’s far from The Campaign for North Africa, it’s an enjoyable way to  in extra people for some Otter related larks. And while this may not be the highest game on your wish list, I’d still say go an have a look at the Kickstarter page. Who knows? It could be the game that you get to play with that person who never ever plays anything. Doesn’t matter if they’re a few years old or grumpy grown-up who thinks games are dumb – after all, who doesn’t love Otters?

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The Takeover – Mob Town review

Mob Town COVER

You know when you get a song stuck in your head and it goes on and on, round and round, until you’re driven half cracked by it? Normally referred to as an earworm, it’s one of the most awful things your brain can do – it’s like having all of the RAM inside your head devoted to one single process and you can do NOTHING else until the cycle wears itself out. I’ve noticed recently that the same thing happens to me with games. I play something, then replay certain sections of the game over in my mind. Whether it’s a satisfying round of Amerigo or something dumb I’ve done in an online game of Carcassonne, it can get annoying. Sometimes, though, I find myself going back because I’ve simply enjoyed a game and want to play again: Hello Mob Town, you splendid little bugger!

A while ago, Phil from 5th Street Games sent me a prototype copy of his currently running Kickstarter campaign which – as of earlier on today – managed to hit its funding goal. I hereby guarantee that every single person who receives a copy of Mob Town is going to have a bloody good time because I honestly reckon that this is going to be in my end of year best-of list for 2014. Quite the statement for a game that’s not even been properly published yet, but I stand by it; Mob Town is dirty, low down, sneaky and straight-up awesome fun. You WILL want a copy when you play it, if only because it pretty much gives you a license to freely hurl abuse at your fellow players.

Between two and four people can play, each one taking control of their own gang. Over the course of three rounds, you’ll look to score points by taking over properties in randomly generated towns, with whoever has the highest total at the end of the game crowned the best mobster. There are five different property types, each of which have four cards numbered from 1 to 4 – so, twenty cards in total – but not all of them are used in each round; it’ll be between twelve and fourteen, depending on how many are playing. There’s also a draw deck that is filled with the animal hench-beasts that you’ll use to exert your influence over the towns, each of whom are also given a numeric value, as well as a set of Agenda cards for each player. We’ll cover those shortly.

ResourceDeck_0002_Fox_0000_Fox1.jpg

Five separate animal factions will help you take over Mob Town – but the Fox is easily the best!

On your turn, you have a whole bunch of options available to you – however, you can only do one action when play comes round so the game moves at a pretty decent pace. Most of the time you’ll be drawing cards from the deck or trading one in to grab a bunch from a face up selection in order to boost your options. Should you see a property in the town that you like, you pay its cost by discarding from your hand, but you can’t just put down anything. You see, each of the property types can only be “bought” by two different animals: Hotels can only be taken over by Snakes and Foxes, for example, while Weasels and Rats are used to grab Factories. When taking over a property, you can use any combination of the necessary cards to pay the cost, then you put one of your tokens on the card to show your influence over the property. Unfortunately, just because you’re in control of a place, that doesn’t mean it’s going to stay that way… Your opponents can wrest a property from you by paying its value plus however many tokens are on it. This can lead to plenty of back and forth battles for certain cards in the town, especially if a couple of players need it to meet an Agenda.

Spend the cards, take over the properties, win the round. Simple, no?

Spend the cards, take over the properties, win the round. Simple, no? Actually… no.

Oh yeah, Agendas! This is where they come in. At the start of each round, you’ll need to choose two of them then work towards fulfilling them by seizing control of the right places. Some of the Agendas demand you control the majority of a certain building type, while others are all about focusing on having the most connected properties or simply more than anyone else. Manage to meet the requirements of your Agendas and you’ll score a bonus at the end of each round – sure, it may only be three points for each one met, but that can be the difference between first place and last. Thankfully, should your plans go awry, you also have the option to switch an agenda out from your hand for something that could potentially bring in points. Should you get trapped in one section of the town, you can also pay other players to pass through areas they own in the form of cards from your hand – you always have options!

Finally, players each have three Briefcase tokens at the start of the game that can be traded in to introduce a new building from the remaining town cards – very useful in to bring in even more extra points and get those valuable Agendas met, but there’s a catch; each unused token is worth a further two points at the game’s conclusion, so spending them is a big decision. Rounds finish when “The Law” card appears, whether it’s drawn from the deck by a player or added to the line of those available to pick up. Each owned property earns the controlling player the amount of points printed on it, Agendas are checked and scored, then a whole new randomly generated town is made.

(A quick aside about how each town is created – it may be the most ingenious way I’ve seen to make a randomised playing area. Each of the town cards has an arrow pointing either north, south, east or west, and once the first card is put down, it’s simply a matter of following the arrow and placing the next one. If there’s no space right next to the card, just keep going in the signified direction until there is space! This simple process creates all manner of town layouts, from long and spindly to all bunched together, and though it’s an often heard cliche, you’ll never see the same town twice!)

ResourceDeck_0014_TheLawCard.jpg

The Law stops EVERYTHING – even games of Mob Town!

And that’s it – but why is Mob Town stuck so firmly in my brain? Well, it’s undoubtedly down to the devious tactics that come into play during the game’s three rounds. Even with two players, the limited amount of space on the board combined with the Agendas that have been secretly chosen mean that they have no choice but to confront each other; get four people around the table everything gets very busy very quickly! Looking back at the games I’ve played, I keep thinking about whether it would’ve been better to switch out Agendas mid-round, or introduce new buildings at the expense of those valuable Briefcases. Any game where I find myself second-guessing my actions well after it’s been packed away has got to be worth anyone’s attention.

There are a couple of issues that I think need addressing before 5th Street Games go into production, the main one being the scoreboard. Stopping at 25 points when you can easily score 50 or more over the three rounds is annoying, though far from gamebreaking. Also – and this might sound really dumb – it’d be nice to have a little clarification on what animal gangs each player are in control of. I mean, each of the colours come with a symbol (bones, paw prints, that kind of thing), but the rulebook doesn’t specify what beasts they represent. These are tiny, nitpicking issues that can be sorted out with a couple of sentences in the rulebook and a differently set out score track, and if those are the worst things about a game when it’s in prototype form, you should definitely be at least looking at the Kickstarter page right now.

Mob Town is a wonderful way to pass a half hour, scaling well no matter how many people are sat at your games table. Even though it’s light on rules, there’s a lot of player interaction and plenty of potential for screwing over your opponents. The card art is very cute indeed (also done by the game’s designer, the talented swine) and the information you need to access is clear, so thumbs up on that score. All in all, this isn’t just one of the best Kickstarter games at the moment – this could easily be one of my favourites of all time. I can’t wait to see what the final version ends up looking like, especially now that there’s also a bunch of extras available via the City Limits expansion that change the game up even further. Go check it out – it’s running until March 10, 2014, and it’s pretty bloody excellent.

Designed by Danny Devine and published later this year by 5th Street Games, Mob Town plays with between two and four people with games taking around 30-40 minutes. A copy on Kickstarter will set you back $25 ($35 with the City Limits expansion), and there’s even a Print and Play version of the game to try out for free. Give it a shot – you could have yourself a new favourite filler!

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Plans – Pixel Tactics review

I fear, dear readers, that our Emma has gone slightly mental. I gave her copies of Pixel Tactics and Pixel Tactics 2 and it seem’s she’s lost her mind. Ah well!

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Pixel Tactics COVER

PIXEL TACTICS approaches!

~deedleeedleeeeeee…bumbumbumbumbumbumbumbumbumbumbumbumbumbumbumbumbababaaaaabababababababaaabababababaaaaaababababaaaaaaa~

>FIGHT

>REVIEW

>ITEM

>ESCAPE

Right, that’s that over with. As you might have guessed if you speak the universal language of tortuous references and badly-transcribed video game music (and if so, good job – I can barely understand what I just wrote), Pixel Tactics, Level 99 Games’ semi-recent two-player card game, borrows a lot from classic Final Fantasy games and their ilk. (That’s the FF1 battle theme up there. Honestly.) But as a lifelong old-school RPG fan and devotee of the series (and if you think FFX wasn’t the best game ever, I will fight you*), how does Pixel Tactics stack up?

Pretty well, actually. In the game, you and your new archnemesis each get a deck of thirty cards, each representing a typical JRPG character class, all the way from Knight to Dragon Mage, and the first thing you’ll probably notice, even before the great retro pixel art, is HOLY CRAP WORDS. See, each card has five different sets of abilities depending on how and where you play them, so they’re naturally kind of packed with text, which is probably the game’s biggest issue, since I’ve seen people look at a single card and immediately abandon the game in search of something that doesn’t involve quite so much reading. Which’d be a disservice to a good game, since Pixel Tactics has a lot of good features, chief among which is this proliferation of abilities depending on a card’s context. For example, take the aforementioned Knight:

Knight CARD

Played in your unit’s vanguard, he’ll block ranged attacks and automatically damage anyone who hurts him, but in the flank he’ll constantly protect your leader from being shot at, and in the rear he’ll happily take hits to stop your other heroes getting damaged. Alternatively, you could play him as an order instead, and while you won’t get a shiny new knight in your unit, you’ll get to drop four damage on everybody that isn’t hiding behind another hero (easily a winning move in the right circumstance). Eagle-eyed readers will have noticed another set of abilities at the bottom, and this is a really neat piece of multifunctionality: at the start of the game, you’ll draw five heroes, and play one of them upside-down at the centre of your unit as your Leader. Leaders come with an impressive special ability as well as increased attack and defence stats, but these come at a price – if your Leader goes down, you lose. For example, play the same card as your Leader and this humble Knight becomes Cadenza, commander of the Clockwork Infantry Division, with twice as much health and an ability that means all your heroes take 1 less damage from attacks. And if you think that sounds really powerful, you’re basically right.

The genius of Pixel Tactics, however, lies in the fact that every single Leader’s ability is ludicrously powerful and totally broken, creating a weird kind of balance – it’s kind of like Cosmic Encounter, just with more magic and (presumably) terribly-translated dialogue, and playing in a third of the time. The playtime really works in its favour, too – any complaints about Leaders being unbalanced against each other tend to just turn into playing the game again with different ones, which you can totally do without getting tired of it. In fact, the game seems to acknowledge this, with the ludicrously huge rulesheet (it’s printed on the back of the playmat, which is a good way to save space but massively impractical when you need a ruling in the middle of a game) recommending you should play to the best of either three or five games before embarking on a 20-minute cutscene speech about your inevitable superiority. The only issue I really have is that, with only thirty cards each, you’ve seen them all after a few matches. If only there was some kind of…

What? There’s a sequel? Well okay then.

The unimaginatively-yet-thematically-appropriately-named Pixel Tactics 2 is essentially more of the same, but with a couple of new ability mechanics and an FFVII style science-fantasy theme as opposed to the original’s traditional fantasy. The game plays out much the same as its predecessor, with some differences in flow caused by the change in available abilities, although the game can slow down a bit when people start using some of the new complex abilities, especially with Leaders (NB: if I’m playing against you and you put up the Druid Leader, I will just flip the table and leave).

It really gets interesting when you succumb to the inevitable temptation and shuffle the decks together. Pixel Tactics International (as I irritatingly refer to it) is a prime example of combining two similar things together to make something very different – with more choice of heroes and Leaders, and some really strange combos being created by the interaction of cards from the two sets, PTI is a much longer, slower affair, with the focus shifted more to long-term strategy and defence than quick offensive tactics (although maybe that’s just how I play it) and games taking significantly longer. I don’t see this as that much of a problem, though, since the game’s balance issues are actually mostly ironed out by combining the decks, so a single game is much more satisfying.

Now, if we can just sneak out of this review without my references coming b-

~BABABABAAAAABABABABABAAAAAAAA~

PIXEL TACTICS defeated!

Emma grew to Lv. 6!

Gained PAGEVIEWS!

…dammit.

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Pixel Tactics and Pixel Tactics 2 were both designed by D. Brad Talton, Jr. and published through the lovely Level 99 Games (who were kind enough to pass us a couple of copies for review). The beautiful pixel art is by Fabio Fontes who REALLY should be congratulated on his work – I think it’s very lovely indeed. Strictly for two players, games will take around 30-40 minutes, and should you want copies of either, they’re available through Gameslore for under £12 each! Oh, and don’t forget, you can follow Emma on Twitter where she’s @Waruce!

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