Tag Archives: Asmodee

Shine On – Splendor review

Splendor COVER

Well, we’ve had a little time off after the exhausting extravaganza of the Nuremberg Toy Fair over in That Germany, but now it’s time to get the nose back to the grindstone, get the games on the table and get some reviews up on the site. I managed to pick up a fair few new titles while over there, including games that will be available in stores over the next few months as well as a bunch of prototypes that may be making their way through to full production by Essen 2014. As you’d expect, Asmodee had a whole bunch of interesting new stuff on their sizeable stand at the fair, some of which are already available – but you’ll have to wait a short while for Splendor, designed by Marc Andre.

Falling firmly into the “easy to pick up” category, Splendor certainly looks pretty unassuming when sat on the shelf. The ubiquitous mysterious chap, shrouded in shadows, that seems to appear on most eurogame covers is well in effect, and cracking open the box doesn’t really prepare you for a life changing experience. Inside you’ll find a deck of cards, separated into three separate coloured piles, a stack of tiles depicting various royals and dignitaries from history, and six different piles of coloured chips. Components are actually really quite nice, the chips in particular, so your interest is piqued a little as you get yourself ready and set up to play.

Here’s the deal – the three card piles are shuffled and four of each type are flipped face up. Depending on how many people are playing – between two and four can get involved – a random amount of dignitary tiles are revealed as well and placed at the top of this field of cards. Finally, the different coloured chips – representing five different precious stone types and one final stack of gold – are put within reach of everyone. The aim of the game is to be the first to reach fifteen prestige points by grabbing cards and attracting the attention of the nobles. Hitting that target triggers the endgame, but you’ll still have to make sure that no-one else scores higher than you… Just because you’re finishing the game, it doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed to win!

Each turn will see players allowed to perform one of four actions. You’re either allowed to take one each of three different gem chips, or two of the same from one pile. Alternatively, you can shift your focus to the cards, either ‘reserving’ one by taking it from the field into your hand (and taking one of the valuable gold chips), or spending your chips to buy one that you like the look of. The cost that’s printed on the bottom left of each card is what you’ll need to pay before taking and laying it down in front of you, which is what you’ll be aiming to do most of the time. You see, each card also has one of the five gems printed at the top of it which you can put towards the cost of subsequent cards. If you’re lucky, you may be able to get your hands on one that also brings in those valuable prestige points. Any time a card is removed, whether reserved or played straight down, it’s immediately replaced with another from the same level’s deck. Oh, and as you’d expect, the three different card levels get increasingly expensive and lucrative.

Buy the lower value cards to build up your permanent resources, get your hands on the more expensive ones, score point - simple as that!

Buy the lower value cards to build up your permanent resources, get your hands on the more expensive ones, score point – simple as that!

As the game progresses, you’ll notice a tipping point where the focus moves away from taking chips from the stacks and looking solely at the cards laid out before you. Sure, you may occasionally need the odd chip here or there to top up the resources that you have at your disposal in order to pick up newly revealed cards, but most of the time you should have enough from what you’ve built up while playing. These huge lines of cards are also important for another reason – taking the tiles featuring the game’s noble personages, each of which will get you another three points closer to your goal. Every tile has a set of requirements on it that need to be reached before you can claim it, but rather than needing chips, you have to get sets of cards that will catch the eye of the dignitary. Manage to get a couple of them and you’re well on your way to winning.

And really, that’s pretty much the game. Get chips, spend chips, get cards, use cards, get tiles, get to fifteen points before anyone else. It feels like I’m damning the game with the faintest of praise, because it’s actually really rather decent. Splendor is not going to rock anyone’s world, but it’s certainly a great example of a game that happens to function really well. When playing with a friend, he echoed the sentiment – while everything in the game is certainly good, you’re not exactly excited about the prospect of playing it again and again. He described it as feeling like a really solid part of a much larger game, an central engine around which something more fulfilling could be be created – and then I got annoyed because there was no way I could put that into better words.

Splendor is the very definition of a Try Before You Buy game – I’m sure that there are many people who will enjoy it more than I, reckoning it to be the ideal filler or some such accolade, but for me… well, it’ll be getting a place in my collection and will be sitting on my shelf, and I’ll be happy to play it if anyone else asks to bring it to the table, but I don’t think I’ll be the one making the suggestion. Splendor, while not being Fool’s Gold, just doesn’t have the lustre needed to get me excited.

Splendor was designed by Marc Andre and will be released through Space Cowboys (an Asmodee imprint) later in 2014. Between two and four people can play with games taking between twenty and forty minutes. And yes, not having a ‘u’ in the name bugs the hell out of me.

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Dead Star – City of Horror review

CityofHorrorCOVER

I’ve said it pretty often that the reason I love to play games is the social interaction you get from them. Whether you’re working co-operatively trying to save the world or striving to screw over your opposition, there’s little better than sitting around the table and playing something, anything. There are, of course, a selection of games where the cruelty is as important as the interaction, games where the main focus is on being mean, striking out for yourself and screw the consequences for everyone else. Diplomacy is probably the finest example of this genre, a game where friendships are crushed in the pursuit of victory, and now we can add the newest release from Repos Production to the fold. City of Horror is here, and it’s not pulling any punches.

The only way to win? Survive.

Actually, that’s slightly overdramatic. In reality you need to survive in a better fashion than everyone else. Played out over the course of four rounds, you and your fellow humans seem to be the only ones left in a city that is rapidly getting overrun with zombies. A rescue helicopter is on its way and will pick up everyone left at the end of the final round – perhaps. As the game opens, you’re given a selection of these characters ranging from abandoned children to business types… even a heavily pregnant woman is thrown into the mix. Each character card is double sided and must be flipped over showing that you have used their special ability – doing so means that they’ll be worth significantly less points should they manage to escape the city, however.

Now, we say city, but really it’s a section that has descended into chaos. It’s always built at random, but there will always be an Armoury, Church, Hospital, Bank and Water Tower along with a crossroads in the middle of the board. The survivors are randomly given a starting location, but before you even begin there’ll be problems. There are only a limited amount of spaces in each place which means some folks could well end up out in the open, stuck at the crossroads where the danger is even greater.

Someone's going to get eaten. Someone is ALWAYS going to get eaten!

Someone’s going to get eaten. Someone is ALWAYS going to get eaten!

At the beginning of each round a card is flipped showing where the zombies will spawn or shamble to, along with supply drops of extra Action cards and syringes of antivirus. These syringes (also available from the hospital by trading in cards) are vital; if you don’t have at least one for each of your survivors by the time the helicopter comes, they’ll be left behind to join the ranks of the undead.

The actual play of the game is very straightforward. Once the zombies are spawned, players will (hopefully) move a single character to a new location, ending up in the Crossroads if there’s no room at their chosen destination. You then work your way around the six areas, working out if there’s going to be a zombie attack in each one. If conditions are met, all players (not just those at the location) are allowed to contribute to killing off enough undead to stop the attack. If this happens, great; move on to the next place and start again. Unfortunately, most of the time – and especially when those Action cards start running low – the attack will happen, and this is where the magic starts…

You see, not a huge amount of stuff actually happens in City of Horror. Over the course of play you’ll only actually make a small amount of decisions; the emphasis is on doing everything you can to save your own hide, and this is why the game is so good. If an attack is going to happen, someone will die; you need to do whatever you can to stop it from being one of your characters. At this point, the game comes into its own as you try your damnedest to prevent the zombies from claiming your character as dinner. Anything goes. Any deals that you can cut are valid and there’s no penalty if you back out on them, aside from the fact that you may well end up being hated by your friends. When that vote happens and someone is thrown to the baying horde, alliances and vendettas are created and shattered in moments. There’s little more entertaining than pulling a fast one, promising you’ll side with one person then stitching them up. Don’t worry about offending them; they’ll be planning to do exactly the same thing to you as well.

A metric ton of cardboard! Everything is double sided adding plenty of replayability.

A metric ton of cardboard! Everything is double sided adding plenty of replayability.

Repos have put together a great package in City of Horror. The city tiles are thick and sturdy, and although the first print run did have a minor issue with warping (nothing that couldn’t be sorted with the assistance of a heavy book) the latest print run has had no reported problems. All components are of good quality and the artwork is suitably horrifying and comedic in equal measures. Also, this is the only game I can think of that comes with a pre- and post-birth character; yes, the Pregnant Woman can have her baby mid game. Good job too, it gives her two votes…

And that is why this is such a great game to play. Between the amount of though that has been put into realising the theme to the simplicity of the rules, from the sheer cruelty of how you know that not everyone will make it out alive… it’s a brilliant and entertaining romp of a thing, filled with arguments, broken promises and more “I can’t believe you did that” moments that you’ll be able to stand. The prequel, Mall of Horror, was entertaining enough but had some limitations. City of Horror expands the experience, offering a much wider range of options and giving players the chance to truly do everything they can to survive. The team at Repos Production have come up with a gem that will play out differently every time and is well worth picking up. Just don’t expect to be friends with everyone when everything is over…

City of Horror was released in 2012 by Repos Production and Asmodee. Designed by Nicolas Normandon with art by the fantastic Miguel Coimbra, you can pick up a copy from the guys at Gameslore for £32.99. Between three and six can attempt to survive the zombie onslaught and the whole thing will take you between 60 and 120 minutes. Well, it should do if you last that long and that’s far from guaranteed…

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Could It Be Magic – Seasons review (again!)

So, let’s talk about Seasons. Again.

The Judge has already had his say right here, but as this is a game that’s garnering a fair bit of buzz, I thought I’d put down my thoughts as well. Following its release a few weeks ago at GenCon, this new release from Libellud (the folks who brought us Dixit) is being more generally distributed by Asmodee, and copies are already in short supply. However, does it live up to the hype? You’ll see soon enough; first though, a quick run through on how it works…

It’s a relatively straightforward thing – one player rolls a bunch of dice and everyone at the table chooses one in turn, leaving one remaining. You follow the instructions on the dice you selected, taking elements (made up of earth, air, wind and fire), scoring points and possibly ‘transmuting’, which is pretty much selling your elements back for points. Should there be a star on the dice you choose, you also get to move a space up your summoning track, meaning you’re allowed to play cards from your hand.

The cards are where the meat of the game lies. Each player begins with nine but must split them into three sets of three. As the game continues through three years, each of which is divided into four seasons using differently balanced dice, you’ll get your hands on more and more cards. These can get you points, more elements to use, mess about with the rules in your favour and – of course – screw over your opponents. Once the third ‘year’ is completed, the points that you’ve scored throughout the game are added to those shown on all your cards in front of you, the whoever has the highest score is victorious. Just like you’d expect.

Getting near the end of this one… it’s going to be close.

Except the whole game feels like a lot more than just the sum of its parts. Seasons is an incredibly enjoyable game that, despite looking rather cutesy and light, is actually very deep and requires a surprising amount of brainpower. This isn’t one to break out with a bunch of newbies – experienced gamers shouldn’t have too much an issue but if you’re not used to This Kind Of Game it can melt the brain. As more and more cards come out in front of you, there’s a need to perform a fair bit of administration all the way through your turns – keeping track of the changing seasons, scoring bonuses, getting free elements… there’s a LOT to maintain.

The trick to victory is two fold – picking the right dice at the right time will help, of course, but learning the combinations of cards will be the true path to glory. It’s suggested that you use set lists of cards (as outlined in the instructions) for early games that really work well together, but once you’ve got to grips with how everything works, you can bring in more hardcore cards as well as drafting your selections at the start of play. It really adds an extra element of strategy to your game once you begin doing this – will you horde all the cards that will boost your points or summon as many as you can that will tie your opposition up in knots?

Production throughout is excellent. The art is fantastical and beautiful in equal measures, really capturing the dreamlike atmosphere that you’d associate from the company that is famed for the Spiel des Jahres winning Dixit. Thick punch tokens and playmats, sturdy cards and some of the most gloriously chunky dice I’ve seen in any game mean that Seasons will happily stand up to lots and lots of plays… the question is what will wear out first; your game or your friends?

You see, Seasons is definitely going to divide gamers. If you’ve read Stuart’s review, you’ll already know that he thinks it’s a great game – as long as you’re only playing with two. Personally I don’t mind all the extra admin required in a game involving three or four people, but I can see that the additional time involved would annoy a lot of people. The side of the box says you should be able to get a game done in 60 minutes, but after nearly twenty plays I’ve not come close to that – even with only a single opponent.

Learning to play Seasons takes only a short while – actually getting good at it requires a much longer time investment. If you’ve had any prior experience with something like Magic: The Gathering or the Pokemon CCG you’ll be at a slight advantage early on, sure – in fact, any game that encourages learning combos and prioritising the cards you’re working with will be useful. With the extra levels of gameplay involving the dice and dealing with managing your collection of element, you’ll have to pay more attention than if you were playing a more basic card game, but if you’re looking for an entertaining yet challenging way to spend your time, Seasons comes highly recommended. Just don’t expect it to be a speedy experience, especially if you’ve got more than two players – settle in for at least ninety minutes and just enjoy the thing.

Seasons is available now for around £40, though Gameslore currently stock it for £32.99. Designed by Regis Bonnessee with art from Naiade, it’s published by Asmodee and Libellud. Between two and four people can play, but remember, you’ll be there for at least an hour…!

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A Kind of Magic – Seasons review

Stuart Platt, the only games reviewer out there who’s as at home with a figure four leglock as he is with a d20, returns to pass judgement on the new hotness from Libellud and Asmodee, Seasons… is it up to his most exacting of standards?

Now, I like Seasons.  I have played it extensively at BoardGameArena.com  (an excellent portal for online boardgaming by the way) and was thrilled when my shiny new copy landed on the doorstep.  This intro sounds like a massive BUT is forthcoming (which it is); first though, let’s focus on the good stuff.

The game is glossy and shiny to the n’th degree.  The art and excellent iconography of the cards, dice and central play board capture a sense of light fun – wizards and spells, summoning familiars and artefacts.  It’s all thoroughly lovely! This would, of course, be for nought if the game mechanisms weren’t up to scratch.  Thankfully, there’s a load of interesting stuff going on.  Firstly, players draft a set of nine cards – a la 7 Wonders for instance, and then separate those into three sets of three.  These will be released to players’ hands as the game clock ticks through the seasons into years one, two and three.

Seriously, it’s a beautiful game to look at, as you’d expect from the folks who originally brought you Dixit.

The cards are the meat of the game – providing victory points (referred to as crystals throughout), special abilities and some ‘take that’ powers which hurt your opponents.  From the selections you draft, the aim is to create an array of cards that combo together and empower each other. How do we cast these spells and summon these familiars? Well, each turn players select a resource die from a pool rolled each turn. It would be remiss of me not to shower these beautiful creatures with special praise.   Large, chunky, satisfying beasts – despite the pretty colours, these are MEN’s dice! There is no squinting at miniscule icons like you have to with Quarriors.  Here, everyone at the table can easily read what each dice provides – be that resources (Wind, Water, Earth and Fire), Crystal VPs or a Summoning point that increases the number of cards you can have in play at any time.  Some dice even offer an ability to directly trade in resources for Crystals – very useful as there are strict limits on the number of resources you can store at any one time.

Each round, the seasons clock ticks onwards (with some resources scarcer and more valuable at various times) as players make the best of what is available – including the hands of cards they set up at the beginning of the game.  At the end of year 3, points are totalled – any cards NOT played are worth negative points – and the winner is the person with the most crystals.

Close up on one of the player boards. That is one terrifying looking rabbit.

Sounds great right? Well it is…BUT! [I was waiting for that – Michael] it all falls apart with more than 2 players – but why?

First of all, the game length extends greatly. Players have some control as to the pace of the game – an icon on the remaining die indicates how far the seasonal clock ticks round – but with three and certainly with four, this medium weight game goes that little bit too long.  I like the flow.  I like how the cards are released over the three years.  However, that final year REALLY drags with the full contingent of players sat around the table.

Secondly, there’s a lot of admin to deal with. “Each new season I get a resource… OK…  and I get a crystal… Ok… and so do I… but then I take 4 crystals off all of you.  Ok…  oh, but it’s also the end of the year, so I need 3 more resources… I’ll just work out what I need… [LOUD SNORING NOISE]…”  The cube shuffling and admin that the online implementation handles so well is such a ball-ache on the tabletop.  With two it’s tolerable.  With four it’s thoroughly unpleasant.

Finally, there’s the “take that” element.  The pendulum effect of cards that directly hurt your opponent and help you work well in a 2 player environment – like Magic the Gathering, it works very well as a duelling card game.  With four, not only is the admin a pain, but the swing it causes almost makes the rest of the game seem redundant.  Taking ‘4 crystals’ from every opponent every turn, for instance, just grinds things to a halt.

So, I am both very enthusiastic and bitterly disappointed by Seasons.  It does so many things well.  If I was the cynical sort, I’d suggest that this was designed as a two player game but converted to become more commercially attractive. So do yourself a favour – get yourself a copy and play it with two.  If you must play with more, do it online.  The bits are great though…

Seasons is available now and was designed by Regis Bonnessee, with art by Naiade. Published by Libellud and Asmodee, between two and four can play (though you’ve read Stuart’s views on games with more than two). If you’d like a copy, Gameslore have it in stock for £32.99 – a bargain!

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Going for Gold – Libertalia review

For me, a great game is one that that has moments to get the heart pumping. This can be anything from the tension of a particularly tricky placement in Bausack, feeling your heart race as you try to steady your hand, to the nerves of a big dice roll in Lords of Vegas that could well turn the game in your favour. There’s now a new game to add to the list that will amp up your adrenaline production, if only because you’re hoping that your meticulously crafted plan will pay off. Libertalia is here, and it will fill you with rage in the most delightful way.

A little history: it’s said that way back in the 1600s the colony of Libertalia was founded on the island of Madagascar, a place where pirates could live out their days safe in the knowledge that they were essentially untouchable. A utopian but warlike state that was more than happy to protect its own, Libertalia supposedly only lasted around twenty-five years until it collapsed in on itself, but for that short period of time it was a paradise for rogues and pirates. In the new game from Vasco de Gama designer Paolo Mori, between two and six players have the chance to enjoy one final voyage and pull in as much booty as possible.

If you’ve ever played the classic Citadels, you’ll already have a heads up on how to handle this one. All players begin with the same nine randomly selected characters (as chosen by one player) and the game takes place over three rounds, each one consisting of six turns. Players will select roles from their hands in secret, laying them out in order of seniority when they’re revealed. From the lowly Parrot all the way up to the Spanish Governor, the chosen characters each have special abilities; moving along the line from left to right, these are triggered if they show a Daytime icon and can be anything from gaining extra doubloons (the game’s currency and points) to removing opposition cards from the board. This is where the heart rate starts to rise as you hope that you’ll end up in just the right position (and that no-one else’s pick has a major effect on yours).

Lots of lovely pirate-y goodness including doubloons aplenty!

Step Two: Dusk is where you divide the booty up with the most senior character going first. Before each of the three rounds, tiles are drawn from the bag and laid face up in six spaces. Treasure chests, jewels or goods are all worth points while treasure maps are worthless unless you manage to get a set of three. Not everything is good, however; cursed treasures deduct points and Spanish Prisoners will destroy your character should you be unlucky enough to be forced to pick one up. Sabres are a little more useful, allowing you to kill an opponent’s character that is sitting in their den.

Their den? Ah yes. Once the booty is shared out, we move to Step Three: Night. All character cards return to the players to be placed face up in front of them in the Den. If the card has a moon symbol on it, this action is triggered now and can potentially pull in some decent revenue – after all, a decent pirate will take the opportunity to get their cash no matter what the time…

Keeping characters alive in your den is key to winning the game, especially if they happen to have the Day of Rest icons that can truly swing a game in your favour. At the end of the round, any of these special one-off actions are worked out, your total for the week is worked out and the game is essentially reset – all used characters are removed completely from the game, you start with ten doubloons all over again… Six new character cards are selected at random that all players will use, then the action starts all over again for another two rounds. Once the third is over, the winner is whoever has the most points – simple.

The four icons that will help you plan your game. And don’t try to tell me that the Waitress isn’t Elisha Cuthbert.

And that’s where the real pleasure in Libertalia comes from – the sheer simplicity of it means that the game is explainable in minutes; then you get to focus on how you’re actually going to try and win. With only nine cards available to you at the start of the round (and even less as the turns progress), your options are actually pretty limited but it’s easy enough to form a plan of what you want to do. Unfortunately, as everyone knows what cards you’re holding and also see the limited booty available for that day, it could be that they have the same ideas as you. The true path to victory lies in being tricky, in taking the path less obvious and hopefully getting away with the loot – you know, just like a pirate might do.

Initial plays may seem somewhat overwhelming as you try and work out the optimal combinations to get exactly what you want. Sometimes you may have to take a hit (or a cursed treasure) in order to make sure your longer term plans work out, but you can never be certain that everything will end up perfect. The more players in the game – remember, it handles up to six – the more chaotic things get and the less likely things will go your way. However, as you learn the workings of Libertalia you’ll soon realise the little tricks you can pull off to turn the tide in your favour. It’s certainly a game that warrants multiple plays, and with games taking under an hour even with the maximum amount of folks sitting round the table, you’ll have it out again and again.

Production is of a high quality throughout; the rulebook is well written and laid out with all the information presented in a straightforward manner. The various bits and chits are on thick punchboard and cards are on great stock. Everyone gets a little playmat that explains precisely how the game works and what they should be looking out for. A special nod must be given to the artwork which is excellent – each of the thirty characters in the game are beautifully realised. You’ll be able to see a few inspirations here and there; the Captain himself could well be Geoffrey Rush’s brother, and I’m sure that the Waitress was Jack Bauer’s daughter Kim in the first few seasons of 24…

Libertalia is a game that is slowly building a great reputation which is well deserved. Simple to pick up yet filled with options, it’s taking the Role Selection genre and adding something a little bit special to the mix. I’ve got a feeling that it’s going to be in a fair few Top Ten lists when the year comes to a close.

Libertalia was released by Asmodee in 2012. Designed by Paolo Mori and playable with between two and six people, you’ll be looking to pick up a copy (and believe me, you’ll want one) for £33 from the fine folks at Gameslore

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