Tag Archives: tile laying

Good Morning Sunshine – Carcassonne: South Seas review

CarcSS Cover

The Judge checks out a new version of one of the pillars of modern gaming… but does it sink or swim?

Ah, Carcassonne! Like an old friend, we welcome you back to the table. Yes, you have a few flaws, and some of your mechanisms seem a little clunky now, and your vast array of expansions makes you bloated and difficult… Ummmm… Tell me again why we still like you?

Carcassonne is often cited as a gateway game, in so much as its simple tile-laying mechanisms and jolly looking artwork provide a low barrier to entry for newer players into the hobby. There will be no overview of the base game here, as I would imagine most readers of this are at least familiar with the concept and if not – stop reading this, play a game of basic Carc and come back.

[Please take this time to go and have a quick game of Carcassonne should the mood take you. You’ll enjoy it! – Michael]

Right, we’re all on the same page now. Hopefully you enjoyed placing your tiles to make long winding roads and sprawling cities. Hopefully you took pleasure from judicially playing your Meeples to capture points. And you almost certainly were disappointed when the game inevitably came down to the player who best understood and exploited the rather obtuse and unintuitive Farmer rules.

You see, Carc is great, but the points that the Farmers generate is almost always SUCH a big deal in the final scoring that it can make much of the game seem redundant. The expansions tweak this, and add more options, and many, many more ways to score – but in doing so, it adds extra complexity and cost to the base game which takes it away from being that gateway experience.

Put the lime in the coconut and break out South Seas!

Put the lime in the coconut and break out South Seas!

Enter Carcassonne: South Seas. Firstly, though the visual style is completely different (and the attractive tile art does capture that feeling of building a tropical paradise) we are comfortably in familiar territory here – though not in medieval France. Roads and pathways are built. Islands are constructed. Areas of water (instead of farms) feature Meeples happily backstroking along. The key difference – and massive improvement in my eye – is the scoring method.

So firstly, we’re gathering resources. Each finished road generates a number of shells indicated by iconography on the tiles. Finished islands offer bananas and there are fish in the water (obviously). Enclosed sea areas provide fish for the Meeple in that area. Also, any boat icon that is placed in the same water space instantly scores fish, and returns the Meeple as well.

At the end of your turn, you can ship those resources out by claiming a boat token (four of which are always face up on the table) for the points they offer. Churches (or cloisters) are replaced by market tiles which, when surrounded by other tiles, allow you to score a boat token of your choice. At the end of the game, you get 1 extra point per 3 resources that you are yet to spend.

And that’s it! Simple as that. No convoluted maths. No complex farmer scoring. Just total up the points on your boats and the highest score wins.

The pieces in South Seas are lovely. Beyond the aforementioned tiles, there are nice, tactile wooden shells, fish and bananas to grab when you claim the appropriate resources. Iconography is clear, simple and visible from the other side of the table. Everything is crafted to make it a pleasurable experience to play – and it is.

South Seas – part of the ongoing ‘Carcassonne Around The World’ series – reboots the original base game and would now be my ‘go-to’ perhaps even before Ticket to Ride, to introduce non or newer gamers to our lovely hobby, and for the grizzled veterans amongst us, this provides the best type of nostalgia. In fixing the scoring and diffusing Carc down to its purest elements, South Seas is a great time, in less than 40 minutes, that plays really well for between three and five players.

Designed by Klaus Jurgen Wrede and based on the multiple award winning original, Carcassonne: South Seas is available now! Get yourself a copy from Gameslore for £23, then be sure to follow Stuart “The Judge” Platt on Twitter as well!

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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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Bright Lights Big City – Suburbia review

Who doesn’t love city building games? All the fun of creating a place for imaginary citizens to live with none of the mess that comes from messing about with cement, and no danger of stepping on Lego bricks (unless, of course, you’re playing Town Center by Alban Viard). At this year’s Essen there were a few new games to add to the category, and of the lot my favourite is most definitely Ted Alspach’s new design, Suburbia, released through his own Bezier Games imprint in association with Lookout Games.

Why? In short, it scratches that Sim City itch that has plagued me since I first slotted that cartridge into my Super Nintendo all those years ago and started messing about with zoning laws and shaping the lives of countless digital citzens. Distilled to its purest essence, Suburbia is a game requiring that you build the best engine with what’s on offer to you at the time but once you get into the meat of it, there’s so much more to it…

Between two and four can play – there are also two different sets of rules for a single player game – and the objective is to get the highest population out of all involved. Everyone starts off with the same set-up of three hexagonal tiles; Suburbs, a CommunityPark and a Heavy Factory, and these represent the beginning of your own corner of paradise. Maybe. After all, you may choose to turn the whole thing into a wasteland that’s slightly less appealing than a two-week trip to sunny Pripyat – Suburbia gives you that freedom.

As the game progresses, you buy industrial, civic, residential and business tiles and develop your tiny borough into something more substantial. Of course, as your playing area grows, so will your population (hopefully), and it’s these little folks that will potentially win you the game. However, it’s not just down to what you build that will affect your borough; your opponents will also have a little sway over what happens to you, just as you will with their boroughs, and it’s this interaction that is just one part of what turns Suburbia from yet another multiplayer solitaire experience into something a little more special.

Midway through a game and things are looking pretty good so far. Could do with a bit more money, but isn’t that true of everyone?

In order to get your population as high as possible, you’ll be managing two elements: income and reputation. More money coming in will, obviously, allow you to buy those more expensive tiles. Reputation adds to your population at the end of every turn, but you don’t want to race this up as high as possible at the start of the game as there’s a little mechanism that will keep you in check. Looking at the scoretrack will reveal lots of little red bars, and every time you cross one you must knock your Reputation and Income down by one point each. It’s a logical way of stopping a runaway leader; just think about it. As more and more people move to your part of the world, it will become just that little bit less appealing – it makes perfect sense.

To win the game, you’ll need to encourage decent growth of both your Income and Reputation without speeding ahead. Sadly, impetuous fool that I am, I’ve already messed this up a few times thanks to the desire to build everything immediately – it still hasn’t been suppressed since my Sim City days. But despite the fact that I regularly perform pretty poorly in Suburbia, I still find it an incredibly fun game to play. Eventually I’ll learn to curb my need to build the most expensive stuff early and actually manage to create a decent engine…

Even if you firmly believe that you’re out of the running, you still have the chance to claw back some dignity thanks to the bonuses that are handed out at the end of the game. Some are public targets that need to be met; depending on how many people are playing, these will be placed face-up and if you manage to achieve it, you’ll get a substantial population boost at the game’s end. You will also be given two targets of your own at the start of play; discard one secretly and you’ll have something to aim for that is just for you. Should someone else manage to hit your target (which can be anything from having the most green spaces in your borough to having the fewest lakes) they don’t get the points, but then again, neither do you…

A selection of the tiles available in the three phases of the game. As things progress, the buildings get bigger and better.

Once you’ve punched out and bagged up everything in the box (and there is a LOT of cardboard in there), you’ll see that Suburbia has been really well produced. The art is lovely throughout, and Lookout’s Klemenz Franz has done a sterling job on the graphic design. Everything is gloriously clear and straightforward, essential in a game where you need to handle more and more information as play progresses. You also get some of the most useful player aids I’ve seen in a very long time – after a couple of plays you’ll barely need the rulebook to hand (although it’s very useful as it has detailed information on every single tile that’s in the box).

So, it’s a great city building game with just the right amount of player interaction but are there any downsides? If there are, I’m yet to spot anything major. Some have declared a problem with how the game looks, but I personally enjoy the functional style displayed in Suburbia. Things can get a little analytical at times, but that’s to be expected in a game which has a large focus on numbers – deciding precisely where to place a tile that could maybe get you a couple of new residents at the expense of a few dollars can be an agonising decision…

If I were to compare this to any other game, I’d put it up there with my perennial favourite, Power Grid. Lots of planning, sure, but there’s also plenty of opportunities to mess about with the other players by stealing stuff they want from right under their noses. And if you know what a fan of Power Grid I am, you’ll immediately see that it’s high praise to rank Suburbia on an equal footing. It’s an excellent euro that I hope will find its audience quickly and give Ted Alspach the attention he richly deserves.

Suburbia, by Ted Alspach, is a co-production between Bezier Games and Lookout Games and was released at Essen 2012. Between one and four people can play and games will generally take around 60-90 minutes. Copies are available from Gameslore now for £39.99 and – if you’re quick enough – come with the exclusive Essen promo featuring the Messe, U-Bahn Station and Gruga Park tiles. Very nice!

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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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