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Zinc or Swim – Rockwell review

Rockwell COVER

Guest writer Emma has returned from underground, covered in coal dust like she’s in some Rammstein video, clutching a box tightly in her hands. Seems like she’s hit a Rockwell seam…

A couple of days ago, I spent an entirely enjoyable evening ritualistically casting my employees into the fiery depths of the Earth, and if that’s the kind of thing you’ve always wanted to do…you should probably call the police or something, cos that’s kind of worrying. While you’re waiting for them to turn up, however, consider passing the time by cracking out Rockwell, the new competitive/grudgingly-cooperative mining game from Belgian publishers Sit Down!. (The exclamation mark is part of the name, so that’s totally how you punctuate that. I r good writer.)

Rockwell came out on Kickstarter last December, and it pretty much suckered me in the moment I saw it, due only partly to my poor impulse control, but also a good concept (rival mining companies competing to exploit the maximum amount of non-renewable resources and/or drill to the centre of the Earth), solid-looking mechanics and lovely lovely art. As with all the previous games by Sit Down!, the art’s by Yuio, probably more widely known for illustrating Takenoko and making our hearts all melt with the most adorable panda, and the art in Rockwell is easily up to the same standard. The prettiness of the game continues when you open the box (despite the eight sheets of punchboard – this is very much a million-tiny-tokens game) thanks to both the player privacy screens, each with different colour-coded illustrations showing your new persona as a drilling magnate and occasional Bond villain, and the board. Now, I’m kind of a sucker for modular boards, but even so, this one is lovely. It’s very satisfying to start every game by assembling the planet out of concentric circle tiles, and while the modularity doesn’t really add that much, since the relative positions of certain tiles doesn’t matter in any way I can see, it just looks fantastic. (Also, thanks to my misreading the setup instructions, one game included me stopping play to say, “Sorry, but can we just rotate the Earth about thirty degrees?” At which point we felt like wizards.)

Another Journey to the Centre of the Earth begins... What will be found this time?

Another Journey to the Centre of the Earth begins… What will be discovered this time?

So far so pretty, but if the gameplay makes you think longingly of that summer you earned pocket money by working in a Siberian salt mine (hey, we’ve all been there), all the delicious art and innovative boards in the world aren’t going to make you buy it. Luckily, Rockwell succeeds handily in that department too, with a number of mechanics that I haven’t seen in nearly enough games and that really make this one stand out. First up is the aforementioned aspect of grudging cooperation, brought about through a lovely balance of effort and investment. When you start the game, your drill crews are on the planet’s surface, and have the choice between two tiles of strength 3 and 4. However, all of your drill crews have a strength of 1, meaning they have no hope of shifting that much dirt on their own. Sure, you could send all your crews to the same tile, but then you’ve wasted two rounds while the rest of the players romp ahead, and it’ll probably be an explosion anyway, just to mock your weird fixation on that one patch of dirt.

So instead, you start moving your crews onto tiles with your opponents’ crews, but when you cooperate, you have to split all the loot between everybody involved. However, there’s an edge to this that makes it more complex than it sounds at first – when the resources are divvied up, any remaining cubes are given to the player with the most drills present, and failing that, to the player who triggered the extraction. Suddenly, the game turns into a contest of strategic movement, both of your own crews and the crews you’ve bribed away from the other teams, and putting the least effort into getting the greatest reward. And trust me, there are few better feelings than sneaking one tiny drill crew into a deadlocked tile, triggering it, and walking away with that crew’s weight in little wooden cubes.

So many pretty pieces! And the game's damn good too. (Thanks to Ray Reviews Games for the image: http://www.rayreviewsgames.com )

So many pretty pieces! And the game’s damn good too. (Thanks to Ray Reviews Games for the image: http://www.rayreviewsgames.com )

Also, Rockwell does one thing better than maybe any board game I’ve seen, and that thing is achievements. Now, I’m a console gamer as well as a board gamer, and I love me some meaningless pictures and numbers to stave off my encroaching ennui at the boundless, all-consuming abyss of Time. And don’t lie, so do you. But in Rockwell, they aren’t just pointless – in fact, by the end of the game, they will probably constitute the majority of points. Doing various tasks like collecting enough of the various resources, levelling up your drill crews, and, yes, hurling your faithful miners into the roiling mass of molten metal at the heart of the world will all earn you a related little clipboard token, which is worth a certain number of points at game end depending on how early you got it compared to everyone else – sure, collecting ten silver cubes is impressive, but doing it by the time the game economy has evolved to the point that people are trading wheelbarrows of silver for a loaf of bread, it’s slightly less so.

It’s kind of fitting that I should come to achievements this late in the review, since that was the trap I fell into when playing the game too. Sure, it’s fun to excavate and level up your drills and make obscene stacks of cash, but the main endgame condition is one player getting at least six achievements (including the three hardest) so if you aren’t consciously shooting for these, the game will never end. And I’m fairly sure that’s why my first game of what is meant to be a 90-minute game took nearly four hours, so make sure you read the rules properly first and get a feel for what you’re aiming for, or it’ll drag.

So, overall, this is an extremely pretty game, but, appropriately for such an industrial game, it lives and dies on its mechanics. Normally, this is where I’d write one of those wussy conclusions where you should play it if you’re interested in this kind of thing but otherwise you shouldn’t. But I won’t. Honestly, Rockwell’s a fantastically solid game, and when it gets a general release, I would unconditionally recommend it to pretty much any gamer. So give it a go if you get a chance – you might find out you like rocks a lot more than you thought.

Rockwell was designed by Bruno Crépeault and published by Sit Down! in 2013. Art is by the enigmatically named Yuio, and is rather lovely throughout! Between two and four people can play with games taking around 90-120 minutes. Finding copies of the game can be a bit tricky at the minute, but they are popping up here and there – hunt well, my friends!

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Episode 74 – 2013/2014

This episode we look back and look forward. It’s something of a tradition for gamers to look at the past year, especially if you’re in the podcast world – so who are we to buck the trend? First of all, I have a long and rambling (though hopefully entertaining!) talk with Snowdonia dude Tony Boydell where we cover… well, pretty much everything ever. It’s mildly terrifying. I also brought together the two excellent writers who contribute to littlemetaldog.com, Emma Laslett and Stuart Platt, to run down our favourite games of 2013 (as well as a few of the duffers) and what we’re looking forward to in the new year!

Links – Keeping it simple:

Direct Download for Episode 74 – http://littlemetaldog.podbean.com/mf/web/gp76a6/LMD_Episode74.mp3

Tony’s Excellent Blog on BGG – http://boardgamegeek.com/blog/344/every-man-needs-a-shed

Emma on Twitter – http://twitter.com/Waruce

Stuart on Twitter – http://twitter.com/Judge1979

Michael on Twitter – http://twitter.com/idlemichael

Told you it was simple! Enjoy the episode!

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Speeed King – Eight Minute Empire review

EME Cover

While there’s plenty of games in my collection that allow players sat around the table to indulge in the noble art of conquest, there’s not that many that let you take over continents in a few minutes. In fact, I wasn’t even aware that there was a gap for such a thing on my shelves, but having now played Ryan Laukat’s Eight Minute Empire I’ve come to my senses. Where microgames up until now have been card based, this could well be the first in the genre that plays out on a board. After being successfully Kickstarted in late 2012, the game has won plenty of fans but also drawn a bit of criticism for its light nature.

Of course, a game called Eight Minute Empire (which even states in the metrics that it’ll play out in around that time) is never going to be the deepest of affairs – it does exactly what it says on the box. However, if you go in expecting something speedy that just about scratches the itch of taking over nations, you’ll be grand. Think of EME as the board gaming equivalent of an arcade game that you don’t have to keep throwing quarters at.

Between two and five players begin the game with a bunch of cubes that represent their armies as well as three discs that will act as cities. They also get a fistful of coins that will be spent during the course of the game. Three cubes are placed into the large starting area by each potential world leader, and six cards are dealt face up just above the board. These cards are what drive the game, and they serve two different functions – allowing you to perform an immediate action for that turn, and gathering sets of goods that will give you points at the end of the game.

This is your oyster! It's yours to conquer!

This is yours to conquer! And it”ll all be done in less time than it takes to drink a mug of tea!

When a player’s turn comes around, they choose one of the cards that are laid out, paying the cost that is determined by its position. The card furthest to the left is free, the second and third cost a coin, fourth and fifth are two coins, while the sixth card has a massive cost of three – quite hefty when you only start with eight or nine. On taking the card, you perform the action shown at the bottom.

These are pretty simple: you can establish a city in an area where you have a presence, add armies to the start area or a city that you’ve placed in a previous round, or move armies about from region to region. There are actually two types of movement, one that allows for travelling anywhere including over the sea, another that is strictly land only. Players will aim to spread their influence through the regions and eventually dominate continents, gathering points after a set amount of turns that depends on how many are sat around your table.

Once everyone has that set amount of cards sat in front of them, it’s time to tally the points. Sets of the rarer items like crystals are worth a lot more than something like vegetables or wood, and these are added to the points scored for the regions you control on the map as well as dominance of the various land masses. Variant rules and components are also in the box adding goods tokens to certain areas that increase your sets at the end of the game, bringing in a shade more strategy to the whole EME experience.

Wild cards are particularly useful - add them to whatever set of goods you please at the end of the game. Very useful if you've got a bunch of crystals!

Wild cards are particularly useful – add them to whatever set of goods you please at the end of the game. Very useful if you’ve got a bunch of crystals!

All in all though? This is a light little thing, a wisp of a game time-wise, but with a surprising amount of thought required too. That’s not to say that it has the depth of even something like Risk, but as a quick playing palate cleanser, Eight Minute Empire works incredibly well. If you go in expecting a heavy wargaming experience you’ll be sorely disappointed – there’s no direct combat aside from the occasional card that lets you remove an opponent’s cube from the board, and you’re not barred from moving into new areas even if they’re already occupied.

A lot of the game hinges on when the perfect time is to spend your limited funds on those more expensive cards, but I actually really like this mechanism – do you immediately pick up a 3-coin card that could help you for that turn but leave you poor later in the game, or wait and hope that no-one else touches it and you can pick it up cheaply next turn? In all honesty, my advice would be go for it – after all, the game only takes minutes to play, and if you screw it up you can always just set up for another round.You may not get on with it, but for me… well, I like it. I’m never going to build an entire games night around EME, but as a game to open an evening or fill a few empty moments with mates who are waiting for something more meaty to be set up, it’s ideal. It’s the Milky Way of games – the one you can play between heavier meals without ruining your playing appetite!

Eight Minute Empire was designed by Ryan Laukat and published by through Red Raven Games (amongst others). Between two and five can play with games taking fifteen minutes at most – you can actually get it down to eight if you’ve got a bunch of people who know the rules. You can pick up a copy for around £16 from the folks at Gameslore – go pay them a visit!

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Little Metal Television looks at e-raptor’s catalogue!

Another day, and another venture into the world of Little Metal Television! This time around I take a look at some of the rather splendid stuff being made by a Polish company called e-raptor. These guys don’t actually publish games – instead, they look to enhance your playing experience with their laser cut wooden and plastic items of loveliness. Whether you’re on the lookout for a box to hold counters and tokens, card deck holders or specially designed player aids for games such as Agricola, Merchants and Marauders, Talisman and Game of Thrones, I heartily suggest paying a visit to their site: e-raptor.pl

Oh, and it’s not in the video, but have a look at the player board for Game of Thrones – it’s very lovely indeed!GoT2

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I Am Not A Robot – 404: Law Not Found preview

It’s pretty obvious that the worlds of board gaming and science fiction cross over a fair old amount, after all, they’re two sides of the same nerdy coin. The amount of tables across the world strewn with copies of Twilight Imperium, Eclipse, Phantom League and more can only prove that there’s a link. There can’t be many gamers out there who haven’t dreamed of travelling through space at least once, or wondered precisely when we’ll be getting our robot servants who’ll do the dishes on our behalf.

Of course, when it comes to robots, things don’t always go entirely smoothly. There are countless stories and movies out there where our automaton friends go a little off plan, and a new game called 404: Law Not Found plans to add to the number. However, where in most games you’re acting as humans (or aliens, we’re equal opportunities here on LMDS), 404 puts you into the soulless bodies of the robots themselves. This, as you’d expect, is not going to go well…

You see, everything was going so well in the world of Law Not Found before the new microchips arrived for the robots. Their usual, well functioning Laws were replaced with slightly less sensible Directives, and in combination with the fact that the humans on board the good ship Lucky Break are quite inept at their roles… Yeah. Not good at all. And if you’re going to win, the little metal version of you will need to successfully complete three missions before anyone else does. Three very odd missions, that don’t pay any attention to Asimov’s Laws of Robotics. In fact, most of them plain fly in their face.

Over the space of ten rounds, you’ll face anything from meteors to evil enemy alien vessels. A card is flipped to reveal what the humans on board will be dealing with, and they’ll react via a simple but effective flow chart. The monkey (for what is a spaceship without something to test stuff on?) will hunt down and eat bananas, and then the players get to do their thing by playing three action cards per round that will hopefully get them closer to completing their missions. Pies will be placed into missile tubes and blasted into space. Scientists will end up in the vacuum of space without a protective suit. Out of date navigation files will bugger up all manner of events, and all the while you’re still looking to make your three objectives.

On the surface, 404: Law Not Found is a very silly game. However, a couple of rounds into your first play and you realise that it’s not to be taken lightly – with up to six different robots attempting to complete three missions each, pushing and shoving each other around the ship, there’s a lot of planning required. You’ll also need to be quite the opportunist, reacting to whatever your opponents are up to and taking advantage wherever possible.

Of course, with this being a prototype, I can’t comment on the quality of final components, but as a game it’s very solid indeed. There’s a nice drafting mechanism when it comes to doling out the objectives, so you’re kind of aware of what the others are trying to do, but you’ll be spending most of the time trying not to screw yourself over. You can sort of work out what the various people on board will be doing by playing the game’s AI system, so it’s certainly possible to push things in your favour – you’ve just got to try and not make things better for everyone else.

Chuck in a fair bit of humour – this is definitely more on the Red Dwarf end of the scale – and 404: Law Not Found is certainly one of the more interesting games being crowdfunded at the moment. Playing it feels a little like FTL mixed up with RoboRally, finished off with a bit of its own Ingredient X. No, it’s not the easiest game in the world to get to grips with, but with a bit of time investment I reckon many gamers will find 404 pretty rewarding.

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