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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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Episode 75 – The Dice Guild

No, no, it’s not an offshoot of Tom and Eric’s show, but a brand new episode of Little Metal Dog!

After a little while away (hooray for medical issues, ie: my spine is a mess) we have returned with another pair of splendid interviews for your listening pleasure. First up, I’m joined by Mat Hart and Rich Loxam, the guys behind tabletop skirmish sports game Guild Ball which is currently destroying it on Kickstarter. After hitting their £30,000 funding goal in under twelve hours, you can expect some pretty big things for this interesting take on the medieval ‘sport’ of Mob Football. I also got the chance to spend some time (while in Germany at the Nuremberg Toy Fair) with the man at the top of Chessex Dice, Don Reents – we talk about the history of the company and how he plans to keep Chessex ahead of the pack in future.

YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE LINKS:

Direct Download of the new episode - http://littlemetaldog.podbean.com/mf/web/pz9hn7/LMD_Episode75.mp3

Our new Patreon Page! Chuck us a dollar, why dontcha? - http://www.patreon.com/littlemetaldog

Guild Ball’s Kickstarter page - https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1248312770/guild-ball-a-tabletop-medieval-football-game?ref=live

Guild Ball site - http://www.guildball.com/

Chessex site - http://www.chessex.com/

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Another Chance – Las Vegas review

Las Vegas COVER

Regular readers (and there is such a thing) will know that one of my favourite games is the criminally underrated Lords of Vegas. It’s a great game, really capturing the birth of the City of Sin as you and your fellow players attempt to create your own casinos while merging into and taking over others. Of course, the entire thing is driven by dice, precisely the engine you would expect in a game built around the home of gambling, as someone who loves the randomness that they bring to a game, I’ll happily sit down and play most things where they’re in the box.

Last week a copy of Rudiger Dorn’s 2012 release Las Vegas dropped onto my doorstep, and again it’s a box that’s full to the brim with six-siders. Now, while it may not be as thematically impressive as Lords, it still hits the required areas of seeing plenty of dice rolling and getting yourself lots of money, and has hit our tabletop pretty regularly thanks to a combination of push your luck and important decision making. I actually first played it at last year’s Spiel with two Germans and a French guy, none of whom spoke a word of English, but thanks to some basic language skills and some high quality gesturing, I got that hang of it pretty quickly.

Over the course of four rounds, players are looking to accrue the most money, with the highest total at the end of play declared the winner. Six tiles, each one representing a non-copyright infringing but rather familiar looking casino and numbered from one to six, are laid out between the players. Cards are then laid out by these tiles, each with a monetary value from $10,000 all the way up to $90,000, with a minimum of $50K required for each casino. In other words, if the first card you dealt out for a tile was worth $40,000, you add a second card immediately.

It’s then time for dice rolling, with the players initially taking eight of their own colour and two neutral white dice in hand, then hurling them with wreckless abandon on the table. They’re then grouped by value – all the ones together, the twos, etc. – and a decision must then be made. All of the dice of a single value, whether they’re in your own colour or white, must be placed on the corresponding casino tile. Your final aim, after everyone’s dice have been put into play, is to have the single highest amount of dice on a tile, as doing so allows you to take the money card for that round.

It’s here where the decision making part of the game comes in. Sure, there may be a middling card on one casino, but do you want to throw away half of your dice so early on in the round to almost guaranteeing that you’ll get it? What happens if later on another player ends up bettering your total, leaving you with nothing to show for your early investment? As dice have to be added to tiles every single time you roll, there’s always a danger that they could end up utterly useless. Such are the vagaries of chance!

So, this a

So, this actually happened in a recent game. Final round, two players fighting over a very important $70,000. Back and forth it went, one six here, another there, until they both ended up with eight dice each and walked away with nothing. That final, spiteful roll of a single six was utterly incredible.

As in the city itself, the underdog is always in with a chance, even if they’re down to their final dice. You see, it’s all about having the single highest amount of dice, meaning that if a situation arises where a couple of players both have three or four dice on a tile, you can sneak in and steal the cash with only one sat there. It’s even funnier when you manage to take the card by adding white dice – they almost act as a virtual fifth player, screwing up the plans of the real people sat at the table, so never underestimate their strength until they’ve all been placed.

When the round is done and the cards are doled out, you’ll generally find that each casino will only have one to be claimed. However, in the case of those that have multiple cards, there can actually be more than one winner, as long as their total amount of dice doesn’t equal anyone else’s. A recent game I played had three cards up for grabs, where two $20,000s were followed up with a very appealing $80,000, ending up in a frenzy of dice being thrown to the claim pile – six, four and three in the end. Still, at least everyone left that casino with some money in their pocket. It’s quite easy to be stitched up by the white player and end up penniless.

Despite its initial simplicity, I’ve grown to really quite like Las Vegas. With the opportunity to make decisions in the game being somewhat limited by what you roll, it’s a perfect game to fill a half hour gap or to round out an evening. You don’t have to put a huge amount of thought into the game because most of the options are taken out of your hands – just roll the dice, see what will bring in the most potential money while reacting to what others have done, then allow play to move on. While there’s pretty much zero interaction in the actual game, you’ll find yourself willing others to roll badly, or curse them openly when a particularly valuable casino falls straight into their laps – the metagame in this one is great.

From a production standpoint… well, it’s hard to screw up dice and cards, and Ravensburger have done their usual job of providing solid components throughout. The casino tiles are of a decent thickness, the cards are grand, the dice are pretty standard – but really, Las Vegas isn’t about the bits and pieces. Your focus should be on that next turn and hoping, praying, that you roll just enough to claim the big money. After all, too many dice on a tile is wasteful, and a good gambler never wants to overpay.

Las Vegas was designed by Rudiger Dorn and released through Ravensburger in 2012. Nominated for the 2012 Spiel des Jahres, between two and five can play (though I think it’s better at the higher end, four or five is best) with games taking about 20-30 minutes. Copies can be grabbed for around £18 from Gameslore, so go pay them a visit! Oh, and if you fancy checking out the first Little Metal Television video that looks at Las Vegas, behold!

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Episode 66 – Codes and Keys

In this, the final episode before Essen (because they take a bit of time to organise and I have a lot of writing to catch up on!), I talk to returning guests Leonard Boyd and David Brashaw from Backspindle Games. It’s been some time since they last appeared (episode 20, in fact) with their previous game, the Discworld based Guards! Guards! Now they’re back, a little older and wiser, and armed with two brand new titles: the abstract strategy of Codinca and the glorious dice-rolling mayhem of Luchador! Mexican Wrestling Dice! The guys will be heading to Spiel, so be sure to swing by their booth and check out their fine work. I’m also joined by the splendid Mike Elliot, the mind behind such big names as Thunderstone, Quarriors and (a personal favourite) the Harry Potter TCG. Seriously, it’s really very good. His new game is called Sangoku, an interesting card game based in the Hells and Heavens of Japanese Mythology, and it’s on Kickstarter now!

Links! You want ‘em, we got ‘em!

Direct Download for this episode - http://littlemetaldog.podbean.com/mf/web/n79ck7/LMD_Episode66.mp3

Codinca on Kickstarter - http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/backspindle/codinca?ref=search

Backspindle Games site (with pre-orders for Luchador!) - http://backspindlegames.com/

Mike Elliot on Twitter - https://twitter.com/Elliott_Games

Sangoku on Kickstarter - http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/gamesalute/sangoku-by-mike-elliott

 

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Circle Square Triangle – Castle Dice and Dungeon Roll reviews

The Judge returns and delves into one of his passions – the humble dice – in a two for one review of Castle Dice and Dungeon Roll! Which will come out supreme? Read on and discover for yourself…

Castle Dice COVER

I love dice. There is something inherently satisfying about the tactile crash of tumbling cubes and your fate, perhaps your very (game) existence being decided by these tiny, pipped objects. From the ‘bucket of dice’ approach of the Warhammer’s of this world, to the more cultured Feldian approach of clever action selection, dice are very much a part of our gaming landscape – now making something of a comeback after having been very unfashionable during early part of the Euro revolution.

Today I look at two new, kickstarted games that take well-worn gaming tropes – building a castle and delving a dungeon – and simulate the process through the rolling of lovely cubes of plastic. How successful are they? Well…..

Castle Dice is off to a good start simply because it is one of those very rare kickstarter funded projects that shipped to backers on time and without any production errors! It also came in what can only be described as a ridiculously large box. Promises from the designer that the game now has space for all the expansions will certainly hold true – along with most of a copy of Twilight Imperium! Inside this huge, cavernous space are 63 well made, weighty, custom dice. Unlike Quarriors, say, where identifying the icons from across the table can be challenging even in good light, the component quality and suitable, light, cartoony art on offer here means that the pieces add to the experience, rather than getting in the way.

I won’t do a rules overview (there are plenty of online resources that do that) suffice to say that the game utilises a dice-drafting system to collect resources which are then used to build parts of your castle and recruit workers who make your castle building more efficient. Mechanically, you are selecting dice, rolling them into a central pool then taking it in turn to select the ones you need to match icons on the cards you have drawn.

Wow! Reading that back sounds really dull… and this is Castle Dice’s biggest problem. Everything works, but the choices seem really obvious. If you need wood, then you have to take the wood. If your opponent takes it before you then tough! Now, there are several ways to mitigate the luck – by recruiting workers who offer the ability to change one resource into another for instance – but to have enough of these to be truly useful requires a large investment of time and effort in a game with only 7 rounds.

The other hugely random element (besides the powerful take that cards that can be gathered through collecting cute livestock resources) are the barbarian icons that appear on one side of all the dice. Each barbarian you personally roll will steal one of EACH resource from you at the end of the turn. This makes hoarding resources difficult if you are unlucky enough to roll a few of them. I understand this is their purpose, but if you roll a handful each turn and your opponents don’t, then you are going to struggle no matter what you do.
Now again, all of these mechanisms work. The art is lovely. The theme is…tacked on – and for a game that takes around an hour to play (too long for a lucky, dicey filler) the decisions aren’t interesting enough, and the lucky is too swingy.

Castle Dice is a masterpiece, however, in comparison to our second selection – Dungeon Roll. Launching via kickstarter in February of this year, and thanks to a low entry price and the promise of fast, dungeoneering fun, the game generated a stupidly large $250,000 and almost eleven thousand backers! Well, those people are going to be mighty disappointed.
For a detailed play through, I recommend Rodney Smith’s excellent Watch it Played videos. It’s really a very simple game. Sorry, I said ‘game’ and I’m not sure if Dungeon Roll qualifies.

Dungeon Roll Mimic COVER

So, the basics are – the player chooses or is dealt a character with a special ability. On a turn, they roll seven party dice to generate a number of warriors, clerics, rogues etc. Then, one dungeon dice is rolled – and the player ‘spends’ those dice to destroy the bad guys spawned or deal with the obstacle. Then they move to level two with two dungeon dice – or run away with any experience they have gathered. Rinse and repeat – so they continue “pushing their luck” until they can’t go any further.

Sounds alright? Yeah, I thought so. So did eleven thousand others. There are virtually NO decisions in this game. “Push your luck” games depend on your ability to make a quick, intelligent decision about how likely you are to succeed if you ‘go for it’. However, that decision can’t be so cut and dry where it is obvious what to do eight out of ten times. Can’t Stop or even Zombie Dice  are examples of how to do this well. Dungeon Roll is not. The decision, if you can even call it that, is obvious. Do I still have my “once-per-delve” special ability? Do I have some dice? Right, let’s carry on then…

Now, as a solo gaming experience, I must admit that I enjoyed my first half dozen games of Dungeon Roll. It’s cute. The box (a small, portable chest that contains the whole game) is lovely. The dice are high quality. The card art is excellent. The game is fast and disposable, but leaves you feeling empty afterwards. Just like popcorn.

However, playing with a group is a whole new level of awful: Player One rolls his party dice and starts playing. Player Two is rolling the dungeon dice for him. Time passes. The increasing look of tedium, frustration and depression on player Four, sat watching and waiting for an eternity – doing NOTHING and not engaging in the solitary play experience – to play this disappointment of a game tells you everything you need to know. Imagine queuing for two hours to do a mystery ride at Disneyland and it turns out to be “It’s a Small World.”
So, if you must – play this solo. Then put it on your shelf and look at the lovely box. It’s the best thing for it.

Wow! I’m a grumpy bear today… I do love dice though. Honest.

Follow The Judge on Twitter! You’ll find him there as @Judge1979, and never will you find a more eloquent boardgamer / wrestler combo…

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