Tag Archives: Kickstarter

Smoke on the Water – Brave the Elements review

BtE Cover

If you’re unaware of games design wunderkind Miles Ratcliffe, you should probably rectify that pretty quickly. After first coming across him and his game Medieval Mastery at the UK Games Expo a couple of years back, I was equally impressed and jealous at how well he’d put together his first design (which he also self published through his own company, Chaos Publishing). We bumped into each other at this year’s Nuremberg Toy Fair where he was toting around his follow-up release, a game that happens to be hitting Kickstarter now.

Brave the Elements, first of all, feels a lot more well rounded that his first game. He’s taken his time in getting this new one out and it feels like that’s been well spent. The prototype copy I was sent over had no art to speak of and the rulebook had none of the story and fluff that generally give games their settings, so that gave me the chance to really get into the game, but the basic theme is that the players act as powerful priests, looking to control elemental forces to take down their opponents’ buildings. Alternatively, spies can be sent in order to infiltrate and score points by settling into those same buildings, and after a set amount of rounds (dependent on the number of players), highest scorer wins.

The whole game is card driven (though there is a little dice rolling, which we’ll cover shortly), with each player beginning with four location cards that are specific to their chosen starting element. With each location granting special abilities, you’ll find that you’ll be dealing with advantages and problems from the very start of play, but you’ll generally find that things become quite evenly balanced within a round or so.

On the subject of rounds, each one is split into sections, with all players doing the first part before moving onto the second and so on, until everyone has completed the sixth and final part of the turn. Initially, everyone will draw up to six cards and then play locations out before them, one by one, until everyone’s got at least five set out – of course, if you have five or more, you won’t be able to add anything to your tableau, but that’s one of the ways the game keeps balance between everyone.

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Certain locations have special elemental biases and abilities, but it often doesn’t bode well if you focus on a single one! Everything’s got a weakness…

Next up, it’s time to perform actions – just one per player – then a series of infiltrations take place. This section of the round is where you’re looking to steal other players’ locations from under their nose; check the defence value on the card you have your eye on then roll the dice, and if you’re equal to or higher you claim the location as your own and take the card. Followers can add to your roll, making this theft easier, but they’re only added if you attempt to infiltrate and fail – so, basically, perseverance pays off. You also score points for followers that you bring home, so failed rolls aren’t necessarily a bad thing!

Step five of each round is one of the more entertaining parts, where it’s time to conjure up some disasters. If you’ve got the cards in hand, you can attempt to destroy a couple of enemy locations, but doing so will use up your cards. “But I get six at the start of each round?!” I hear you say. Well, yes, but with that option to carry cards over from round to round, you don’t want to be wasting them on a relatively weak location – forward planning and holding onto certain cards can really swing things your way as the game progresses. You also can use them defensively against the attacks of other players, so holding on to them can often be a good call. The final part of each round brings in the points for locations that you control, then you swing back on to the start again unless it’s game end; in that case, it’s a matter of totally up various tokens that you’ve received and the values of locations.

Bte Disasters

Ahhh, disasters! Hurl one at someone, boost it with some extra cards just filling up your hand and blow the opposition away!

Now, where do the elements come into play? Well, each building is designated one of the four – Fire, Earth, Wind or Water, as are the various destructive Disasters that you can hurl at everyone else. These can also stack up – choose a card, then flip others in your hand sideways so they act as bonuses, adding yet more power to your attacks.  The defender can attempt to save their location by rolling a pair of custom dice, using the icons that appear to cancel out those on the attacker’s initial card. If you don’t roll the right icons, you can get rid of cards from your hand to make up the missing elements – but again, ending up with no cards in your hand can leave you open to even more attacks.

After playing through Brave the Elements a few times, I was really impressed with how well balanced the game was. Sure, it’s a pre-press version but even without the art, I really enjoyed the experience and loved the nastiness that quickly exploded on our gaming table. This is not a game for those who just like to turtle up and look after their own stuff – aggression is necessary if you’re going to get anywhere in this one, but at least if you fail when attacking someone else you get to put one of your followers on a building. Not only does this make things easier to steal the location, you also pull points in for the action, so get up in everyone’s face from the very beginning!

With only a small amount of rounds per game, the action can get pretty fast and furious with locations moving around the table and getting wiped out as disasters take hold. Players who take offense at being picked on need not check this one out – you will hate it – but for those who enjoy strategic light to middleweight games, Brave the Elements deserves some time on your table.

Brave the Elements is currently on Kickstarter, with the campaign running through to June 18. Designed by Miles Ratcliffe, it’ll be released through Chaos Publishing next February. I’ve checked out some of art on the KS page and it looks great, really pushing the whole ancient mythical empires theme. Between two and four players can get to the table with games taking around an hour. Get yourself a copy for £18 and support this truly talented designer!

 

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The Wave of The Future – Zpocalypse review

Zpoc COVER

I have a curious relationship with anything that deals with an apocalypse of any type, which I suppose comes from being brought up in the United Kingdom in the 80s. With the United States to our west and the Soviet bloc to the east, the dangers that the cold war could suddenly break out into something rather warmer seemed to be a staple of society back then. TV shows like the terrifying Threads didn’t help (seriously, watch it on YouTube, it’s the definition of bleak) as kids who watched it and similar broadcasts very sure that we were going to end up the victims of some nuclear conflict or other. But then we grew up, Russia broke up, and the threats now come from other parts of the world – and for some reason we now all seem to think that we’re all going to be eaten by a horde of zombies. Our relationship with how the world may end has shifted and we’re now reasonably alright with it being part of light entertainment. Life, nowadays, is generally much improved – unless you’re the poor bastards in the world of Zpocalypse.

Nuclear holocaust isn’t the only thing they have to contend with, oh no, for designer Jeff Gracia has decided to throw hordes upon hordes of zombies into the mix as well. Everything has gone to crap, but just as you and your fellow survivors think that all hope is lost, a chink of light appears as a message comes through. Survive a few days more and you’ll be plucked to relative safety by the army. All you need to do is live! And while it would be easy enough to stay inside your fallout shelter, hiding away from the awfulness without, well… that wouldn’t make for much fun in a game, would it?

Scavenging and survival are your two main objectives in Zpocalypse, as you aim to save a group of people under your guidance until the cavalry arrives. This is not, however, a co-operative game. Plenty of opportunities exist to make life even harder for your opposition, as if living day-to-day in an atomic zompocalypse wasn’t tricky enough. Anything you can do to make your life easier is encouraged, even at the cost of the lives of others. Survival of the fittest is the order of the day, pulling in victory points at every possible opportunity, but even the strongest isn’t guaranteed to make it through this game.

Saying that, you’re going to have to be strong if you’re to get through the initial challenge of the frankly abysmal rulebook. I know that a second edition of the rules are currently in the works and will be made available to players soon (I plan to add an extra part to this write-up when I get my hands on them) but for those of us who own this first edition? Well, I’d be surprised if one in ten people who have a copy of Zpocalypse have managed to navigate through the rules and played out a full game correctly. Efforts to get this to the table have swiftly become a festival of house rules where “that sounds OK, let’s do that” is an often heard phrase. Early impressions where that the contents of the box were more like a playset with which you could do whatever you please, with the rulebook acting as a set of general guidelines rather than a ‘this is how you play’ affair. You know, like a rulebook should be. This one, though well written, can easily see you having to skip from page to page and back again in order to work out something that should prove simple.

Anyway, as time wore on and research was done with various groups of players, something good came out of the awfulness. Underneath the mess of instructions, we found something that actually worked. Piecing together a rule change here, an errata there, we somehow managed to come out with the semblance of a working set of rules and ended up having fun with Zpocalypse – which is great, because this is a game that really does deserve a bit of attention.

That's a LOT of stuff. And there's even more available if your pockets are deep enough.

That’s a LOT of stuff. And there’s even more available if your pockets are deep enough.

Beginning with a couple of people, your squad will look to grab as much useful stuff as possible that will not only keep you alive but also help fortify the safehouses in which you’ve made your bases. Exploration of the randomly generated map (something which I love in any game – it adds to replayability) will reward you with new items and people who can be brought on to your team. Of course, more people in the team requires more food to keep them going, but managing to keep their bellies full will mean that more stuff can be done. Things that you find can be kept and used in the way they were meant to be, traded to other players or even broken down into elements that can strengthen the walls and barricades. Some of it will be more useful to others and can prove useful as bargaining chips when you’re over a barrel and in need of assistance, so while I said that this isn’t co-operative, there are chances to work with opponents.

Each round represents 24 hours in the Zpocalypse world and is split into a series of phases. Games normally play out over the course of four rounds, but you’re encouraged to just do a few two-round plays at first in order to get to grips with what’s going on. This is definitely a good call, because although you’ll come to realise the game isn’t particularly complex, there’s a lot of working parts that need to be understood before you can just get on with things and devote yourself to a full-scale play. Players are given their own individual board that allows them to keep track of their squad’s health, armour and weapon skills, all of which are totalled up from your squad members. With every character in the game having their own abilities, it’s a good job that the maximum size is four – it can be easy to pass through a certain phase of the game and miss the opportunity to use them.

You will also have a daily mission that can be attempted while also just staying alive – managing to do so will often provide a very useful boost but are also dangerous things to go for. Getting one of your characters trapped behind a wall of the undead just so you could potentially score a few extra points isn’t worth the loss of their contribution to the group in the end, but sometimes the risk is well worth it! As in most situations, safe is better than sorry, so there’s no harm in focusing on building barricades and holding back the tide of zombies that want to sink their teeth into you. Combat is dice based and happily straightforward; work out whether it’s ranged or melee, add a few numbers and hopefully wipe a bunch of nasties off the board – and that’s it. I like that the focus of the game isn’t just on killing as much as possible, though you’ll certainly have to get your hands dirty if you’re to make it through the nights.

Zpocalypse was originally funded via Kickstarter and did rather well, as evidenced by the huge amount of extras that are available already for a game that’s only been officially out for under a year. Greenbrier Games have since made expansions both large and small available, and throughout you’ll find a very well put together product. You get plenty of good quality zombies in the base box as well as minis representing your survivors (though can get even more of both should you want them), the map tiles are nice and thick, the cards are decent and the custom dice are lovely. The extra elements that are available really add to the game, and I particularly like the accessories pack that turn your barricades from small bits of card into massive lumps of moulded plastic that look like they could hold back a real zombie horde. Or at least cause them to stub their toe quite badly.

All told, this is a decent game that is somewhat crippled by that wretched rulebook. Once you get your head around it, perhaps by using some of the fine resources made by fans of the game to help their fellow players, you’ll find a solidly entertaining experience that’s enhanced if you throw yourself into the storytelling side. I’m delighted that Greenbrier have listened to the owners and are releasing a follow-up rulebook and hope that it’ll streamline play, and with that due to be released soon I think that Zpocalypse will gain a bunch of new converts. Until that is done and made widely available, I can only really give Zpocalypse a cautious recommendation. Put your trust (and your copy of the game) in the hands of someone with patience who is willing to decipher the rules, then devote your playgroup to a couple of shorter games so you can get your head around the flow of things. If you’re looking for something you can just leap straight into, I’d suggest an Xbox 360 and a copy of Left 4 Dead, but if you’re up for putting the time into Zpocalypse, you’ll be rewarded.

Zpocalypse was designed by Jeff Gracia and released through Greenbrier Games in 2013. Between one and four can play with games taking around two hours. Copies of the game are now available through retail, but are available direct from the company in the US for $60. Meanwhile, UK and European folks can get theirs from Gameslore for a splendid £37 – not bad at all!

 

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Episode 77 – Accessing The Agents!

Two new interviews on your favourite Little Metal Dog Show this time around! First of all I get to speak to Richard and Emily Gibbs from 64oz. Games, the team behind a new Kickstarter project that aims to make the games we love accessible to blind and partially sighted players through the use of Braille. It’s an excellent project and I definitely recommend checking it out – we’ll also be working with them in the future to make our own releases from Sprocket Games accessible too! I also get to speak to the man behind The Agents which blew up last year into something of a phenomenon. Saar Shai joins me to discuss the game, the campaign, and his plans for the future…

Links? We got your links right here, buddy.

Download the show from iTunes or get it direct - http://littlemetaldog.podbean.com/mf/web/dpr4x3/LMD_Episode77.mp3

Visit the Sprocket Games Of Mice And Lemmings page (seriously, it’s a really good game!) - https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/108292040/of-mice-and-lemmings-from-scott-almes-and-sprocket

Visit 64oz Games’ Kickstarter, making games Blind Accessible! - https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/64ouncegames/board-games-now-blind-accessible?ref=live

Saar Shai’s The Agents site - http://www.playtheagents.com/

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Can You Dig It? – Pay Dirt review

Pay Dirt cover

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Kickstarter Catch Up!

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

Character Meeples

Character Meeples

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

Dice & Slice

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

Town Center – Fourth Edition

Town Center 4E

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

Tokaido Collector’s Edition

Tokaido Collectors

 

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

 

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