Tag Archives: Eurogame

Tower of Strength – Asara review

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So, I play a lot of board games, of course, but I also spend probably more time that can be considered healthy with a PS3 or 360 controller in my hand. And you know what? I’ve noticed that there’s a curious difference between the two – where in the vast majority of the games on my screen I am destroying stuff, the opposite is true when it comes to the tabletop. There I prefer to build and create stuff, starting with little and improving my lot. Whether it’s the wonderful Suburbia or Trains, Alhambra or Manhattan, I do enjoy a game where you get to make things. Asara, the 2010 game from the previous Spiel des Jahres winning dream team of Wolfgang Kramer and Michael Kiesling, is another splendid example of a great title where creation is king.

Over the space of four rounds, each representing a year in game time, you and your opponents become builders who are looking to cement their place in society by constructing the biggest, best and beautiful-est towers in the city of Asara – no mean feat considering that this is “The City of A Thousand Towers”. As the game progresses, you’ll be getting your hands on more and more tower pieces and putting them together in order to score points. Score the highest and – as you’d expect – you win.

So, how do you get these towers made? Well, each player has a hand of cards that they’ll get to use on their turn, where one card will be placed on an action space. These are dotted around the board and will let you take those much needed tower sections, grab money and – probably most vital – actually build those monuments to your greatness. The twist (for this is a Kramer and Kiesling design, so there’s always something to deal with) is that whatever card is first placed in a section has to be followed up by cards of the same colour, meaning that its entirely possible to screw over other players in no time at all should they have a particularly shoddy set of cards at their disposal.

Thankfully, this doesn’t mean that you’re boned for the entire round; in fact, you’ll be able to play most (if not all) cards, but you’ll have to really prioritise when considering early plays. Do you run the risk of potentially being locked out of a much needed action because you need to grab something equally as important? As with many games by the team of K&K, a lot of the pleasure comes from working out what other people will need and go for first. Doublethink abounds in Asara, and it’s an analytical dream – or an Analysis Paralysis nightmare, depending on which side of the fence you prefer…

Once players are out of cards, the end comes to a close and it’s time for scoring. Depending on the number of towers you’ve created (and how ornately you’ve managed to make them look), you’ll pull in points for everything you’ve made at the end of each round. There are also additional bonuses handed out for players who have the largest towers of each colour as well as the most towers overall at the end of the game.

And that, in a nutshell, is that. With only four rounds to contend with, Asara really is a game where less is more. Only a limited amount of actions are available to you, so using them in the most optimal fashion is paramount. While it’s far from the most difficult game in the world to learn (the instruction booklet is super straightforward), the decisions that you make require a lot of thought if you’re going to leave behind the biggest legacy. As a caveat, I probably wouldn’t go back to it again and again, especially with a more experienced gaming group, but as a way to introduce newbies that isn’t one of the holy trinity of Gateway Games I’d say that Asara is pretty much ideal.

It’s also – once everything is done and dusted – a very lovely looking game. Ravensburger’s production quality continues at the high level you’d expect from one of the biggest companies out there, their reputation for decent games with lovely bits remaining intact. Another plus: As it’s been around for a couple of years, you should be able to pick it up for a very good price. The Kramer and Kiesling partnership has come up with another winner, particularly if you’re looking for something accessible and approachable.

Asara was designed by Wolfgang Kramer and Michael Kiesling, and was originally released rough Ravensburger back in 2010. Nominated for the 2011 Spiel des Jahres, this two to four player game can normally be played in around an hour. Copies should set you back around £25 to £30.

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On an Island With You – Bora Bora review

BoraBora COVER

It honestly seems like Stefan Feld, the golden boy of gaming, can do no wrong at the moment. Every game he’s involved in is quickly declared as the Next Big Thing, and even the slightest mention of his name attached to an upcoming release looks to be both a guarantee of quality as well as decent sales. Like many other gamers, I’ve become increasingly fanatical about his work and with a copy of Bora Bora hitting my table, I felt it was time to put down my thoughts in words.

With any Feld game, the keyword is options. You are given a huge variety of ways in which you can win, all of them balanced and as equally viable as the next. Concentrate on maximising a few of them and you should be on the way to a satisfying victory, but spread yourself too thin and you’ll be left well behind when final scoring comes round. Bora Bora, released through Ravensburger’s Alea line, follows this style but still feels fresh and new. Yes, there’s an awful lot to keep track of and it may initially come across as daunting to a less experienced player, but if there was ever a designer who deserved you spending the time to get a proper feel for their games, it’s Stefan Feld. The investment will pay off, I guarantee.

Bora Bora sees players taking control of tribes on the island of the same name as they attempt to spread their people as far as they can, taking control of the best fishing areas, collecting resources to build temples, placing offerings to their gods… the list is pretty long. Played out over the course of six rounds, planning your moves from the very beginning is vital if you’re going to end up the winner – a single mistake can cost you dearly when it comes to handing out bonuses at the end of the game, as only perfection is enough to claim those game-changing points.

Each player rolls their three dice at a time, placing them one by one on the various action tiles available. The rule here is that you may only add a dice to that tile if it is lower than one already placed, so putting a high value on down leaves the action open to others. Of course, plumping a 1 down locks it out for everyone – including yourself – so it’s here that the first difficult decisions have to be made. As all dice are open information, it’s possible to work out what others might end up doing and plan accordingly but the Gods could well have a say in that. Actions available include expanding your tribe across land or sea routes, adding a new male or female member to your tribe,  building, visiting the temple or – last and most versatile – the Helper Action. The Helper allows you to perform mini-actions, the amount of which are dependent on how high you roll, all of which help in some way. Immediately after a dice has been placed, the action is resolved and play moves onto the next person in the turn order until there are no dice left.

Oh my, so many options... what to do, what to doooo?

Oh my, so many options… what to do, what to doooo?

At different periods in the game, certain actions will become more important to you but there’s a certain “build the engine” element to Bora Bora – at least at the game’s beginning. Moving into new areas on the island not only gets you into those precious fishing holes, it also frees up space on your player board that will allow you to take more people for your tribe. Those people can then be used to collect shells that can be traded in for jewellery or tattoos that will build up an influence track during each round, scoring you points and deciding future turn order. Of course, you could decide to ignore that whole aspect of the game completely, building and focusing on the temple instead – this will also bring in plenty of points, but it less useful at the end of the game when the bonus points are doled out.

Once the actions have all been completed, it’s time to put your tribe to work. The special abilities of one male and one female can be triggered to give your side a small boost, increasing your tribe’s reach yet further or their numbers even more. Points can be scored, more shells, more influence… basically, these are little extra rewards that will hopefully put you in a stronger position and help you get closer to completing tasks. We’ll cover those in a moment…

The final part of each of the six rounds sees a bit of a clean up occur. The entire right side of the board is run through, beginning with the influence track getting scored and a new turn order decided. Points are awarded for those who are in the temple, then players may spend shells to take jewellery. Finally, a task can be completed. You begin with three at the start of the game and are looking to complete at least one every turn – this might be something like “have three female tribe members” or “get two different types of jewellery”. Whether you manage to complete one or not, a new one is taken from those available then everything that was up for grabs during the round is wiped off the board to be replaced with a host of entirely new options.

Now, if the game was just this, I reckon it’d be great but… well, hard to do as much as you may want. Thankfully Feld has given you a little wiggle room with the introduction of God Cards that allow you to skew the rules temporarily, opening up your range of options further and making your life a little easier. Only usable if you’ve got an offering to pay for them, they’re also limited to certain phases of the round – and on top of that you might also need them to complete tasks if you happen to grab those tiles. One scores you extra points for a certain fishing area, while another doubles the ability of one of your tribespeople. A couple change rules regarding the dice you play, but you’ll regularly be hoping that a yellow card ends up in your hand as it lowers the requirements for those all-important tasks. Sure, you’ll get two points less, but in a game where you’re clawing for every single one they’re vital.

Bora Bora, put simply, is bloody wonderful. Keeping tabs on everything is a challenge, but you don’t even have to do that – it’s entirely possible to put in a good showing without claiming any tribespeople, for example, or not grabbing any jewellery. It’s a question of balancing out your actions, reacting to what your opponents are doing and attempting to squeeze them out of doing certain things while not blocking your own progress; precisely what you want in a quality Eurogame. Sitting down for a couple of hours with Bora Bora feels like a glorious combination of work and pleasure – every decision you make is filled with weight and worry. Have you done the right thing? Should you have done something else instead? And you’ll wonder that after Every Single Decision You Make, constantly second guessing what moves you make (especially during the first few rounds when you’re trying to work out your plans while figuring out your opposition).

The production is up to the usual good quality you’d expect from Ravenburger and the Alea Big Box series in general – the (many) tiles are nice and thick and there’s a metric ton of wood in there too. One particular nice touch is that the whole game is icon-based and language independent. Sometimes this can prove to be a game’s downfall, but thankfully in Bora Bora it works exceedingly well. Sure, there’s always going to be the odd referral to the rulebook to get the details down, but it all becomes second nature quite quickly. For anyone with even a passing interest in Eurogames at all, any release by Stefan Feld should be amongst the first on your shopping list  - and Bora Bora has to be well up there.

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Out In The Fields – The Castles of Burgundy review

CoBCOVER

So it seems that at the moment, golden boy of boardgaming Stefan Feld can do no wrong. We’ve extolled the merits of a few of his games over the last couple of months here on littlemetaldog.com and – surprise surprise – here’s another glowing write up. This time we’re journeying into medieval era France as we take on the tricksy and delightful The Castles of Burgundy, a game that combines a little bit of chance with more options than a high-end car showroom.

From the start, I’ll say that Castles is not for everybody – if you’re the kind of person who complains that Dominion is nothing more than multiplayer solitaire, I’d avoid even picking up the box. What little interaction there is in the game is limited to someone snatching away a tile that you had your eye on before play managed to get around to you. It’s an exercise in brain burning where you’re constantly having to change your plans depending on what kind of things are available for do.

So, how does it work? Despite the multitude of choices, the way the game is played is simple. Each player has a board comprising of thirty seven hexagonal spaces, themselves formed into a large hexagon that represents the land you’re trying to build on. A central board is filled with tiles that are split into six groups and refreshed at the beginning at each of the game’s five phases. By rolling two dice at the beginning of your turn, you’re given the chance to spend whatever you roll and pick up a tile from that area – so, roll a 5 and you get to choose something from the space marked with the same number.

The Central Board where

The Central Board where the options open to you can be dazzling. Goods everywhere, hexagonal tiles that’ll form your own settlement, bonus points… how did he come up with such an intricate game?

Taking one of those tiles doesn’t mean that you get to add it to your board immediately, though. Three spaces are found at the bottom left of your playmat where you must put a tile first – sort of holding it in transit for a while – before it gets to become a part of your settlement. Again, a dice must be used to ‘build’ the tile, as each space is also numbered. You may think this is limiting in the extreme, and you’d be right in thinking that. Thankfully, players have worker tiles that can be spent to add or subtract from whatever you rolled, allowing for a bit of manipulation.

Those tiles come in many different types, each one offering a little boost or way to skew the rules in your favour. Grey tiles represent mines, giving you an extra silverling (the game’s currency) at the start of each phase that you can spend on a selection of more randomly selected tiles found in the centre of the communal board. Yellows are all about bonuses, screwing with the rules and generally boosting your powers. Greens are farm animals and can prove an immense boost as each time you add one of the same type – sheep next to another sheep for example – the points stack.

The Blue tiles add to your rivers, meaning that you take goods from the central board for you to sell; the more you sell of the same type, the higher the points return. Dark Green tiles are the Castles that give the game its name, and these allow an extra play of… well, whatever you like. They’re incredibly powerful and should be used wisely. Finally, the Brown Building tiles offer the widest variety of options as each type gives you a different ability.

Some bestow money or extra workers on you, while others allow for the immediate grab of another tile from the board or the placement of extra ones to your play area. A true master of Castles of Burgundy will be able to put together a truly impressive chain of these, transforming the two standard actions that you normally get in a turn into a parade of hexes being taken from here and added to there, all of which sending that final score into the stratosphere.

One of the Advanced player boards

One of the Advanced player boards. These are filled with randomised set-ups and everyone will have a different one, but there are Starter boards where each player works with the same spaces. Also, see how everything is language independent!

It can feel that pretty much everything gives you points in Castles; selling goods, finishing off areas of land, getting animals… keeping track of everything that’s going on with your board as well as what’s available (and what’s been taken!) from the central area requires a sharp mind and plenty of focus. Managing to do so is a valuable skill, and it’s that skill that will raise you above other players of this game. As with all of Stefan Feld’s creations, Castles is a game that rewards multiple plays and the investment of your time. While you learn and develop your strategies, you’ll also have to cope with the luck of the dice rolls and the random element of what tiles will actually get pulled out at the start of the phases. Adaptability is key – if something isn’t working for you, a change of plan can often be a better choice than sticking desperately to course.

If I were to have any criticism, it’d be the downtime you get with three or four player games. It’s far from a dealbreaker, of course, but I much prefer to break out Castles of Burgundy as a two-player effort. Not only does it mean that you’re almost always engaged, it gets the play time down to a very manageable thirty to forty minutes – ideal if you’re filling time while waiting for others to arrive. That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy playing with more than two though – it’s still an excellent game with three or four around the table, but for a speedy yet deep experience, Castles of Burgundy is hard to beat.

The Castles of Burgundy was originally released in 2011 by Ravensburger / Alea and is designed by Stefan Feld. Between two and four can play with games taking between 30 – 60 minutes.  Copies from Gameslore are a bargainous £24.99, so head on over and grab yourself a truly great game.

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Island in the Sun – Bora Bora review

Bora COVER

Stefan Feld is currently on an insane run of producing excellent games. Today, The Judge steps up to check out his latest release, Bora Bora. Will the streak continue?

In Feld we trust…

Specifically, I am talking about Stefan Feld, the current wunderkind of Eurogames who has quickly developed a reputation for combining established mechanisms and innovative ideas into deep and satisfying ‘Euro’ style board games – with the lightest smattering of theme dusted on top. Now, these games aren’t for everyone – but from Notre Dame, through Macao to Castles of Burgundy and Trajan, Feld has demonstrated a unique talent for creating interesting, memorable and replayable games that stand out in an increasingly dense sea of mediocrity. Even Luna, which I don’t love, is a curious misstep but never less than memorable and worthy of discussion.

That brings us to 2013 and his new opus – Bora Bora! And it’s fantastic.

Let’s kick the elephant out of the room to begin with – yes, this game is set on the island of Bora Bora. Yes, you are building huts on the board and utilising the skills of tribes folk to expand your influence. Yes, you could even say that the priests you send to the temples are providing you with the glory of the gods. All this is, obviously, poppycock (which, as an editorial aside, is the first time I have ever written that word. It is fun and I recommend you all do that same).

Bora Bora is, at its heart, a mechanical exercise in point scoring. Unlike numerous other soulless Euros, though, the game’s tight 6 round structure features clear short, medium and long term goals that force you to tactically adapt to turn-by-turn pressures whilst maintaining a resolute long term strategy for end game scoring.

If that last paragraph left you cold – then move along because this isn’t for you. If there is a glint in your eye like the sun catching the crest of a wave as it lashes the beautiful island shore then please read on… Oh, and seek help. Each round of Bora Bora begins with players rolling three dice which are their ‘workers’. In turn order these are then allocated to action selection spaces – the twist being that you can only take an action if the number on your worker die is LESS than every other die on the space. This allows potential for some blocking and screwage – especially in the last rounds where players need ONE MORE of something to score big bonus points. The flip side is that the HIGHER the number placed, then the better or at least more varied your options are when taking that action.

Feld himself has included dice as a key feature in his games before (think of Burgundy and Macao) but I think Bora Bora perfectly finds the balance between forcing you to adjust your short term strategy mid-stream and having prepared for the possibility of being stuck with a bad roll with the various “Luck Mitigation Mechanisms” (or “God Cards” as the game calls them). Actually, their term is catchier.

With so much going on, you might think that keeping an eye on everything is a struggle...

With so much going on, you might think that keeping an eye on everything is a struggle…

The other genius of Bora Bora is the mission tiles. Each turn you have the opportunity to ‘solve’ one of three personal tiles for points. You then select a new mission from the tableau (which has been open information since the start of the previous round) that you can score in future rounds. Missing an opportunity to complete a mission can be a big deal – no end game bonus for you! – so you have to juggle completing one mission per turn with setting yourself up to be able to meet all of the demands by the end of the game. Very interesting, very cool and very satisfying when it all comes off.

The missions are just part of it though – You need to get all the expensive jewellery don’t you? Each round you can buy ONE victory-point-awarding trinket for Shells (an in-game resource.) This is resolved in turn order – so you need to keep an eye on what other people have got, what they can generate and make sure you are high enough on the turn order track (modified each round) to get what you need.

Oh, and you need priests in the temple! These give you free points every round. And you need to construct your buildings! They score huge if built at the start of the game and progressively less from each round you wait. Not to mention erecting huts… getting resources… recruiting tribesmen…

So, there’s a great deal going on – and you cannot possibly hit ALL of the end game scoring, and that is the beauty of the game. Even though there are a huge amount of different elements to consider, the missions provide a focus and a guide to your strategy (customisable beyond the first three tiles as you are selecting them each round.) The game is very tightly designed. Despite the diversity of strategies, final scores are often only a few points apart and in a game where final four player totals are around 160 points – this is no mean feat.

Any negatives? Well the lack of anything resembling a thematic connection will disappoint some, though not me. The art style is fresh and bright, but unapologetically busy. To someone trying to learn straight from the rulebook, the graphic design and iconography could baffle as much as it delights – though this is 200 times better than Burgundy which really needed a reference sheet just to make it playable. I was generally impressed with the straightforward nature of the rulebook and the summary text in a side-column makes reference much easier. The decision to include an idiot board as the left hand side of the thick cardboard player mats is also a good call – making what could be a dense rules teach far more straightforward.

Bora Bora is my favourite game of 2013 thus far. Having played several times, I am still really excited about the next opportunity to get it to the table and the many new strategies to explore and exploit. So get hold of a copy (perhaps from those excellent folks at Gameslore where I bought mine) and enjoy my prediction for this year’s Kennerspiel des Jahres.

So, pretty positive then…! Bora Bora is indeed available from Gameslore and will set you back £32.99. Released in 2013 by Ravensburger, between two and four can play, with games taking around 90 to 120 minutes. Don’t forget to follow Stuart on Twitter – you can find him there as @Judge1979!

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Angel Interceptor – Ragami review

I find the idea of a guardian angel a bit odd, it must be said. The concept of some ethereal being constantly watching over you to stop you from being hit by a bus weirds me out a bit – if I screw up, I screw up. It happens a lot, mostly when I’m playing Agricola online. Where was that bloody angel when I played all those occupations instead of focusing on building a decent food engine, huh?

Ragami, a new release from Mesaboardgames (the folks who brought you the rather splendid Vintage last year) sees between two and four players take control of these winged protectors who – after a couple of plays – really aren’t as virtuous as you might expect. The story of the game is simple; these angels (known in the game as Ragami, surprisingly enough) patrol a city where dissent is rife on every street and trouble can explode at any moment. Ably assisted by saints, they travel about, quashing conflicts and smushing demons that spring up on a regular basis.

What this really means is that you’re pushing pieces around a board in what’s a pretty solid Euro. At the beginning of each round, a set of black Conflict dice are randomly positioned while those already on the table have their values increased by one. The player who is last in turn order then rolls three Action dice, potentially having the chance to add demons to the situation should they roll a 1. They then allocate the three dice to the available actions – a nice idea which means you get to have an element of control over what your opponents can do, as every time an action is chosen the appropriate dice value is decreased. If that runs down to zero, tough… time for Plan B.

Arty shot is arty.

The actions are as follows:

- move any player’s saint up to four spaces around the board, then move or add a demon into the mix

- take three power cards off the draw deck, keeping only one (up to a maximum hand limit of three) and discard the other two

- have your Ragami deal with a conflict, potentially scoring you some victory points

Each of the action selections can also be used to move your Ragami about, hopefully getting them into position sort out trouble next time play comes round to you. This is done primarily by spending Power Cubes that you collect throughout the game (mostly by pushing saints into conflict zones or having your Ragami in a space when someone tries to sort out some trouble) – match the amount shown on the conflict die and it’s removed from the board, gaining you that amount of Victory Points. The amount of cubes you need to spend can be altered however; another player’s Ragami removes two from the target, while any saint gets rid of a further one. Virtue Dice also help get the number down, but only affect certain areas depending on where you choose to position them. Demons in that space add one to the number, so the game can become something of a masterclass in the manipulation of pieces around the board when you’re trying to stop an opponent from getting a big points haul.

The arena in which we make our scene. Roam the streets looking for bad stuff!

At its heart Ragami is a race for Victory Points, with the game end triggered when some reaches 30 VPs or the location tokens (used to say where conflicts flare up) run out. Bonuses are handed out depending on how many conflicts have been solved, so the tension does actually run all the way to the end of play, and barring disaster I’ve found it to generally be a pretty close run thing as to who takes the crown. Or halo, I suppose.

A four player game takes about 90 minutes, even with a rules explanation, and I reckon it sits firmly in the light to middleweight division. It’s not until you get a few plays under your belt that you realise the possibilities for stomping all over your opponents’ plans (the fact that the same coloured saint and Ragami can’t end up in the same space gives plenty of opportunity for messing up other people’s ideas, for example). It’s definitely a game that rewards multiple plays, and infinitely more accessible than the mildly terrifying Vintage

I’ve got a couple of gripes with the game but nothing major, both centred around the Ragami pieces themselves: while everything else is lovely and wooden, these bits are cardboard standees that look a bit incongruous. It would have been great to have had some slightly larger meeples to represent the Ragami instead of these out-of-place bits. Something like the megameeples you find in Carcassonne: Inns and Cathedrals, perhaps? The art for the Ragami themselves is also pretty strange, curious besuited, sunglasses-wearing enforcer types with massive wings sprouting out of their backs – it just feels a bit odd, strangely dated, like something out of a heavenly version of The Matrix.

Aside from that, production throughout is of a pretty high standard, with everything from the cards to the board having that built to last feeling. Aside from the Ragami issue, the art is grand with clear iconography and a well laid out map where you will battle against the dark forces. Or wee red meeples and black dice, anyway.

As you can tell, the theme didn’t grab be that much, but looking beyond that I honestly reckon Ragami is a solidly entertaining game that is worth checking out. Saints and angels do nothing for me, but then again, that allowed me to look past the theme and see the game itself in a much clearer fashion. It’s well worth giving it a try, so why not give it a got?

Ragami is published by Mesaboardgames and will be officially released at GenCon in August this year. Designed by Gil d’Orey with art by Pedro Soto and Gil d’Orey. The game plays with between two and four people and will take ninety minutes at most. For more information, check out the Mesaboardgames site.

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