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Ballroom Blitz – Pong Tactics preview

Despite being in my mid-30s and having had a rather splendid career at university, I had never played the legendary party game that is Beer Pong. Hell, most people on this side of the Atlantic are barely aware of the thing, their only experience of it being in terrible movies and TV shows where college kids get too drunk and end up getting sliced into pieces by masked killers. If you’re one of those unaware folks, here’s the quick rundown…

First, get a bunch of plastic cups, generally ten per side. Set them up into a formation of your choosing – there are many, the most traditional being the triangle – and find yourself some ping pong balls. Pour an inch or two of beer into each cup and you’re good to go. The rules are simple, bounce the ball into the opponent’s cup and they drink the beer, putting the cup aside. Get rid of all the opposition cups and you’re a slightly drunken winner!

So far, so good, though I’m at a slight disadvantage. First off, as previously mentioned, I’ve never played this before (plus I suck at most dexterity games). Second, I don’t drink, meaning that I don’t get the advantage of booze-induced hubris. Now, with the arrival of Pong Tactics, I’m wondering if this could be the playing field leveller I’d require to become a champion in the field?

Being an evolution of the original game, Pong Tactics takes the basics and remixes them into something slightly more strategic. The rules encourage you to face off in teams of two, and rather than setting up your cups in a standard formation you’re allocated one at random from a deck of cards depicting many different possibilities. Once that is done, both teams take a hand of cards from the game deck and things are ready to begin.

Play runs as you would normally go, but this feels like a very different game thanks to those cards. At the beginning of your team’s turn, one is drawn from the deck and added to your hand. These can be played throughout your turn, either giving you an advantage or screwing things up for your opponents. Whether it’s bowling your ball and removing any cups it touches or getting extra attempts until you miss, mastery of these bonuses is essential. Of course, you’ll need to hone the ability to bounce that ping pong ball into a cup if you’re going to even get close to winning, but with the right cards you may not have to do that even once…

Pong Tactics is a curious little thing. While it’s not the kind of game that we normally cover here on The Little Metal Dog Show, it takes something that has been around for ages and brings it into our world. Sure, Beer Pong is a game played by countless frat boys and party girls, but with the elements added by designer Ben Mentzer it’s now become something a little more. While it’s far from the most complex enhancement – I mean, it’s a bunch of cards when all is said and done – it adds strategy and silliness into the mix. Dropping a bunch of stupid rules onto your opponents that forces them to close their eyes and throw their next shot over their shoulder is pretty damn funny. Yes, it’ll work much better in a party environment as opposed to the hushed rooms at your local games night, but perhaps Pong Tactics will bring this long-historied game to a much wider audience. I know we’ll be playing it next time there’s a bunch of folks round ours who are looking for something light and fun – and we don’t even need booze!

Designed by Benjamin Mentzer and published through Whiskey Jack Games, Pong Tactics is currently on Kickstarter with a campaign running through until September 22nd. A minimum of two people are needed to play, but I’ve found it best when you’ve got two pairs facing off against each other. A copy of the game can be yours for $25 (though there’s also an Early Bird deal for $22). Thanks to Ben for sorting out a preview copy!

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Little Star – Council of Verona preview

Verona LOGO

Regular readers of the site will know that I’m far from adverse to writing about Kickstarter games. However, it’s rare that I’ll put down my opinions on something that hasn’t even had its campaign announced yet. But now there’s something new from Crash Games called Council of Verona and I’m getting a little bit excited. If AEG’s Love Letter was the game that ushered in the Year of the Microgame, I honestly believe that Council of Verona is going to be the release that takes it to the next level.

Cliches aside, Verona is a bloody good game. Between two and four players can get involved in a bid to exercise some level of control between the warring Montague and Capulet families. The story goes that Prince Escalus has grown tired of their quarrels and has formed the titular council. Over the course of each game players will attempt to secretly influence certain characters, with whoever has the most control taking the win.

The whole game is made up of only thirteen cards (split into Montagues, Capulets and Neutrals) and four influence tokens (marked 0,3,4 and 5) in four colours. That is IT. That’s even less than Love Letter, and yet it’s as solid and entertaining a game as its Japanese cousin. Each player is dealt one card at the start of the game, then a draft takes place where you take another card and pass the rest to the left. Once only two cards are left to choose from, the player takes one and the other is discarded, never to be involved.

Now that everyone has their cards, it’s time to get into the meat of the game. The play area consists of two “places” – the Council and the Exiled, and each turn begins with you playing a single card to one of these (Council are laid out portrait style, Exiled cards are placed landscape). Cards will either be Influential or Action, and mastering when and how to play both kinds is vital if you’re to be victorious.

Actions first. These are simple enough – you lay the card down and follow the instructions, but you don’t have to trigger the ability if you don’t want to. Sometimes just adding a character to an area is more than enough, but consider the fact that some allow for the movement of other cards, some switch Influence tokens or let you take a peek at what’s already been placed. They should never be underestimated!

The cards that can be Influenced have two important elements – Influence Spaces and Winning Conditions. The three spaces can be filled with your Influence tokens, but beware! The different cards have a selection of modifiers on them, so you may not have as much sway over the characters as you think. Having power over as many as you can is often a good idea, though don’t spread yourself too thinly; until the final card is played, there are plenty of opportunities for the balance of power to shift and screw over your finely crafted plans.

The concept art for Lord Montague's card. Nice!

The concept art for Lord Montague’s card. Nice!

The various goals that the characters are looking to achieve fit well into the story of Romeo and Juliet, giving Council of Verona just enough theme to make it stand out as not just another microgame. The young lovers will score points if they’re together at the end of play, no matter where they are. The Lords want their own families to dominate the Council, while Mercutio’s desire to ruin both the Montagues and Capulets power is reflected in wanting as many characters banished as possible. Escalus desires peace and balance, so he seeks neutrality on the Council. Of course, not all of these can happen, but you can be sure that multiple Winning Conditions will occur. Just hope that you’ve got the highest combined total of Influence at the end.

Having had a fair few games of Council of Verona now, I’m beginning to see how the various cards can affect each other. Unfortunately there’s no accounting for what your opponents will do, so even if you’ve somehow managed to put together a decent hand of cards during the drafting phase of the game, you’re still going to have to pay attention to who is getting added to the Council, who has been exiled, and what Influence tokens are you think are being secretly placed. Like the Montagues and Capulets that are represented within, you’ll need to plan and plot and manipulate your opposition so that your devious machinations bear fruit… and it’s excellent. You’re constantly trying to out-think and out-bluff everyone else while still covering as many bases as possible. For such a tiny package, it packs a lot of challenge and I honestly can’t wait to see the final version.

Council of Verona was designed by Michael Eskue, plays with between two and four, and Crash Games will be running a Kickstarter very soon. That’s all you need to know. Apart from  the fact that it’s fantastic.

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Metal Guru – Bronze preview

BronzeCOVER

Finding a decent game that is strictly for two players can be a tricky task indeed. I swear blind that Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small is a sure thing, but sometimes you want to do something on a grander scale than simply constructing a farm. Perhaps you fancy taking the reigns of a civilisation and seeing if you can destroy those who rise before you, all in twenty minutes? Now you’ll get to do precisely that in a new game called Bronze from Spiral Galaxy.

Originally based on a PC game designed to be played solitaire, it’s now been transferred to the tabletop where you’ll vie against a single human opponent to see if you can dominate the map. With each player randomly allocated a civilisation from a selection of six, Bronze is a quick playing engine building affair with a fair dash of tile placement and area control – you start off with no money so will need to get resources to hand as quickly as you can; thankfully as you expand across the field of play you’ll gain access to more and more. As your access to resources expands, so do the opportunities to build bigger and better creations; however, you can get stuck quite quickly as each of the seven building types are limited. Leave it too long and your opponent could well steal the lot, leaving you high and dry.

Of course, you may not have to worry about this too much – with each player in control of a different civilisation, they could also have access to other buildings or even be able to pay less for those you can purchase. This asymmetric play adds some extra value to the package as a whole – after all, there are plenty of combinations to experiment with, and with four base maps included the options open up even further. Rules are also included to design your own maps, so the variety is almost infinite.

Mid game - things are going well for the

Mid game – things are going well for the Egyptians!

Actual gameplay is very straightforward – even newbie gamers will be able to grasp the whole thing within a game or so. With only three options to choose from on each turn, Bronze is simplicity itself. You can either expand your territory with a Farm, expand with a Building, or convert a Farm into a Building, but the trick to winning is all down to timing; get the right building on the board at the right time and you could steal the win. The game ends when one player can perform one of these actions, victory points are totalled up and your winner is declared.

In the games I’ve played I have found that there’s often a tipping point, a moment you can see precisely where the game turned in one player’s favour; some may consider this a bad thing, but in a game that plays so quickly, it’s hard to be entirely down on it. In fact, it’s actually suggested in the rules that you set aside enough time to play twice, switching civilisations after the first game and combining the points after both plays to see who wins.

It’s been interesting spending time with Bronze. Early plays didn’t really grab me; it wasn’t until I got a few games under my belt that I realised the depth that was in there. Of course, as it plays so speedily we’re not exactly talking Twilight Imperium here, but it offers a higher level of complexity than you may initially expect, and while it may not entirely take the place of Agricola: ACBAS as my two-player game of choice, it’ll certainly be hitting the table regularly when I’m looking for a head-to-head blast.

Thanks to the folks at Spiral Galaxy Games for letting me have some time with the only prototype that’s out there! If you’re interested in Bronze, you can get involved with the current Kickstarter campaign where a copy will set you back £30 – it ends on February 28th 2013 though, so be quick! 

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It’s the (second) most wonderful time of the year…

Oh yes indeed – GenCon is nearly here! The USA’s best board games show is approaching once again, kicking off this Thursday for four days of gaming in Indianapolis, Indiana. Once again it’ll be stacked with the usual pile of new releases and exclusive previews as pretty much every major American publisher will be present along with plenty of the larger European names – but what are the big titles people are looking forward to?

Libertalia from Marabunta / Asmodee is one that I think will probably be under many people’s radars but I have a feeling it’s going to end up being one of the year’s best releases. A role selection game at heart with up to six players acting as pirate captains on their way to retirement and looking for a final hurrah, it’s a sneaky extravaganza of treasure hunting and back stabbing with a great level of player interaction. I’ve already managed to get my hands on a copy so expect a review in the very near future. Also, if you get a copy early enough, you’ll get metal doubloons! Who wouldn’t want it?!

Tzolkin: The Mayan Calendar by CGE was available to play in early prototype form at the UK Games Expo, but it looks like a near finished version should be at GenCon. It’s a worker placement extravaganza with a really interesting mechanism where cogs turn and interact with each other on the board. Stay on the board too long and your guys could well end up a wasted placing as they move past the resources that you’re aiming for. CGE’s games are always beautifully produced so you know this will be incredible to behold – there’s no other company out there who I’d trust to make such an involved and creative board concept.

Fantasy Flight will be there with wheelbarrows filled with stuff, of course, but the new versions of Merchant of Venus and Netrunner are both due for release at the show. Early reports say that these two remakes are amazing, managing to capture the brilliance of the original games while giving them a shiny makeover, though MoV will include the rules to play both the old and new versions. Netrunner’s asymmetric gameplay has long been a favourite of mine and I can’t wait to get my hands on this modernised version to see how it compares to Richard Garfield’s classic. Also, there’s the small matter of a little game called X-Wing finally seeing the light of day…

Village, the Kennerspiel des Jahres winner for 2012, has been picked up by Tasty Minstrel Games and looks like it’ll be this year’s go to game for those who want to scratch their Euro itch. Players need to find fame and fortune for their family members in order to keep their name immortalised in the village’s chronicles – make the right moves and your legacy will live on. Screw it up and your future generations will fade into obscurity. It’s a very clever worker placement game and probably the only one I know where death is used to limit a character’s time. This will only be available in very limited amounts – apparently there’ll only be fifty at the show – so if you want a copy, head to TMG’s booth early.

AEG’s Tempest line is also due for its first public viewing at the show with the initial three games in the series getting a release. Courtier, Dominare and Mercante all promise very different playing experiences but the interesting element will be seeing how the public react to the storybuilding aspects of the world. As characters change, further games in the series will reflect these developments – for example, should the story necessitate that a major role needs to be wiped out, later games will reference back to whatever happened. We’re not looking at a Risk Legacy effort here where every person’s game will be different as time goes on; AEG will run the story along the lines of their Legend of the Five Rings property, controlling it from their end with input from players and designers. This could prove a very interesting experiment…

AEG also have the light-as-a-feather but very entertaining Smash Up ready for release at GenCon. The world’s first shufflebuilding game sees players combine two twenty card decks (ninjas with robots, pirates with aliens, that kind of thing) and utilise their joint powers to take over bases in order to score points. It’s a very quick little game but has a surprising level of depth to it as you try and work out which sets work particularly well against your opponents’ selections. I think this one will do pretty well at the show, especially as it clocks in well under that magical 45 minute mark for playtime.

Of course, one of the best things about any gaming convention is the discovery of those releases from smaller companies. 5th Street Games will be showing off their rather splendid Farmageddon while Asmadi should have copies of their very limited Origins hit FlowerFall available too. The new Enhanced Edition of Sentinels of the Multiverse will be selling at the Greater Than Games booth, while Leviathans, the steampunky miniatures air-combat game that I’ve been waiting since the beginning of time for, is finally due – albeit in very limited numbers. Last of all, Morels from Two Lanterns Games will definitely be available and it looks utterly lovely.

Oh yeah. One final thing.

I’m very excited about is the fact that my new game, Pocket Universe, will be on show at the Game Salute booth. I’m finding it very nerve-wracking that it’s being shown at all but it’s even worse when you consider that I’m not actually going to be there. You may well have tried it out yourself by downloading the files from the site (there’s been a few, honest!) but that version is light years away from the one you’ll be able to check out at GenCon. While it’s still in prototype format, the gameplay is 99.99% finished – I’m considering tweaking maybe one or two very tiny elements – so why not have a look at it yourself? Just ask one of the GS team at the Sneak Peeks booth (#2035) and tell them I sent you.

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Glory Days – For The Win preview

So, let’s talk about For The Win. It’s a new project launched on Kickstarter by the folks over at Tasty Minstrel Games that seems to have come from nowhere that caught the imagination of the pledging public when TMG’s owner Michael Mindes announced that the game would be initially funded under a Pay What You Want deal. With seven hundred people signing up for that within a couple of days, the game is nearly two thirds of the way to funding with just under three weeks to go on the campaign. The question is should you chuck your money behind this project?

Well, to decide that you’ll want to know what the game’s about – and if it’s any good… Ostensibly it’s a simple abstract for two players that – from the outside at least – feels very much like John Yianni’s classic Hive. Players each get ten double sided tiles split into five pairs, each represented by a different icon. Some of the internet’s favourite things are the stars of this game with Ninjas, Monkeys, Pirates, Aliens and Zombies coming together in a battle for the ages – and you’ve got two of each of them on your side. The objective is straightforward enough: get the five different icons face up and adjacent to each other (orthogonally, diagonally or a mix of both) before the other person does by adding tiles to the grid, moving them around and flipping them.

There's plenty of actions available to a player, but do you use just one or go for two?

At the start of each round, players are given five actions that can be used in ones and twos before passing over to your opponent. These actions are your standard move a tile / shove a line affairs, but that flipping aspect is a whole new thing. By turning a tile face down you activate that creature’s power, each one allowing you to do something a little different to the playing grid. The Ninja, for example, can be moved to any location on the play space, showing how stealthy and sneaky it can be, while the Zombie infects pieces around it turning them undead. The Pirate’s power allows you to move any other piece (firing them out of a cannon), the Alien attracts pieces towards it (tractor beam) and the Monkey flips over all adjacent tiles thanks to its banana skin power.

It’s a quick playing game that – thanks to its portability – can be pretty much set up anywhere as long as you’ve got a flat surface. Despite the simple ruleset it’s got quite a lot of think to it. You’ve really got to pay attention to what the other player is doing while trying not to screw up your own plans. A game can switch from victory within your grasp to utter defeat in a couple of turns if you don’t focus, so don’t take the cutesy icons for granted! Also, with clever play you can actually turn the game round so you can get a stack of actions to play through while your opposition sadly shakes their head, frustrated that you’re wiping the floor with them… and there’s nothing they can do.

Player Two For The Win! Set-up for the next game will take about five seconds...

The addition of powers and the decisions you need to make regarding spending your actions mean that For The Win is no Hive rip-off. It’s a whole new deal from designer Michael Eskue that feels fresh and fun – and this isn’t even the finished version of the game. I’m trying out the print and play demo; all I have is a few bits of paper stuck on card and I can still see the game shining through. I’m looking forward to getting my hands on the final version which will come with big chunky plasticised tiles, adding a level of tactile appeal that’s always nice to have.

If you’re interested in getting a copy yourself, there’s only one way: get yourself over to Kickstarter (here’s a link to make your life easy) and put your money where your mouth is. The game will eventually be available through regular retail channels, but to keep ahead of the pack you’ll want to back the campaign. This is a quality little game that deserves your attention – even if you’re not totally into abstracts, For The Win has that combination of quick playtime and straight-up enjoyment that could be enough to change your mind for good!

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