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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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Shoot You Down – Wings of Glory WWII Starter Set review

The whole story of how Wings of Glory came to be is a bit all over the place. Originally released as Wings of War back in 2004 by Italian company Nexus, Fantasy Flight Games picked up the English language license. Cue loads of editions and expansions based around the fighter planes of World War I and II, lapped up by a loyal fanbase who were more than a little shocked when FFG announced they were dropping the game last year. A killer blow then fell with Nexus closing down, only to see the whole thing relaunched like a phoenix under a new name from a new company. Ares Games are now responsible for the game worldwide… so how does the new Starter Set measure up?

Pretty well actually. If you’ve had any experience of Wings of War you’ll find everything pretty familiar – in fact there’s very little apparent difference between this new version and the old stuff. It’s still the same card-based air combat game that everyone knows and loves; there’s a fair bit in the box and with three sets of rules (plus extra optional ones!) it’s accessible enough to both experienced fliers as well as those new to the game – think of it like beginners playing arcade mode, but you’re also allowed to head all the way up to tactical simulation.

No matter whether you’re playing by basic, standard or advanced rules, the objective is normally the same – destroy the enemy through dogfights! Players take a fighter plane (or sometimes more!) and a deck of movement cards then prepare for battle in the skies. Each turn will see you use a card from your hand that shows a manoeuvre: place it in front of your plane and follow the line, showing where you will end up. Should you be within range of an enemy, you attempt to shoot them out of the sky – they’ll be trying to doing the same to you, of course – and try not to crash and burn.

A very exciting movement card. The blue arrow is for it you're going at full pelt, the white for a more sedate pace.

The simple version of the game can easily be picked up within a couple of minutes – the rules only take up a few pages – and they lead you into the more complex levels beautifully. With the introductory instructions you’ll only be dealing with movement, firing and damage, but when you take the step up there is a lot to keep an eye on. However, it never feels like you’re being swamped with too much information; the way the game holds your hands through the levels is incredibly well thought through, but you’d expect that from a game system that’s been around this long. It’s had the time to be refined over the years and all those potential kinks have been ironed out.

One of the big pulls of Wings of Glory are the frankly awesome little 1/200 scale planes (the WWI planes are 1/144)  that give the game that extra something special. Back in the day, starter sets just came with cards to represent your planes – perfectly fine, the game played in exactly the same way – but having these wee things zipping around your tabletop is brilliant. Again, all the old WoW planes are cross compatible, so if the four fighters that come with the base set don’t get you excited there are plenty of others out there. The level of detail on them is incredible and they really add to play experience. A minor downside – they’re a bloody nightmare to get out of the packaging. One of my planes came a cropper trying to take it out of the box, but that’s nothing a little superglue can’t fix.

Little planes! How could you not think these are AWESOME?

I was always interesting in checking out WoW, but there was something that made me not want to pull the trigger on it. Now that I’ve got to try out Wings of Glory I’m kind of kicking myself that I didn’t take the leap earlier – it’s a fun little game that can be played on so many levels. I’m still feeling my way through the advanced rules, but the great thing about the game is that you can go as complex as you like. Experienced gamers will be overjoyed at the fact they can get into the most intricate details – everything from fuel, different types of damage, various altitudes – but newbies will still find a satisfying game when playing by the basic rules. It’s perfect for a quick blast but also very tempting to throw yourself into the deep end and should you choose to go there, you’ll be rewarded with something surprising.

Why surprising? Well, when I first opened the box and saw the planes, I thought it’d be quite light and fluffy. Then I looked through the instructions and saw that there was so much more to deal with. Rules for two-seater planes. Acrobatics. Hell, there’s even missions to complete that can all be tied together to make a campaign! All in one box! Throw in the fact there’s a thriving community over at wingsofwar.org and you’ll never be short of new material to keep the game fresh. One word of warning: it’s not exactly cheap, but you do get everything you need for up to four players in this one set. Should you choose to go in for expansions, fine, but you don’t have to – however, knowing what most gamers are like it won’t be too long before there’s lots of tiny planes taking up shelf space all through your home. Not that I’ve ordered any. No. Not at all. Ahem.

Wings of Glory was originally released as Wings of War by Nexus back in 2004, but this latest version comes from Ares Games. Designed by Andrea Angiolino and Pier Giorgio Paglia, the new WWII Starter Set plays with between two and four players (though the game does cope with up to eight fliers). An iOS port is also planned for release before the end of 2012. A copy of Wings of Glory will set you back around £45 – now take to the skies!

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Letter from America – 1960: The Making of The President review

As you may well have worked out if you’ve read a few reviews on the site or listened to the show (Episode 12 now available, don’t forget!), I am of the opinion that you should try playing everything at least once. You never know, you may well come across a game or genre that blows you away, sparking a section of your brain never before awakened. The subject of a game is often enough to turn potential players away, but keeping an open mind can sometimes turn up a treasure.

Politics may not be the first thing you think of when considering what to bring to your gaming table, but there’s a fair few games out there deserving of your time. They’re often pretty deep and time consuming, but well worth a look – from the intense Die Macher to the relatively lightweight Campaign Manager 2008, it’s a genre many players don’t have a lot of experience with. I recently got my hands on Z-Man Games’ 1960: The Making of The President which is pitched halfway between the two, an entertaining but thought-provoking journey through the election that is often referred to as ‘the beginning of modern politics’ by those a little more knowledgeable than I.

A strictly two-player affair, it sees you play out the story of the 1960 American Presidential Election between Richard Nixon and John F Kennedy. Of course, history shows that Nixon’s campaign was beset with issues and Kennedy cruised to a comfortable victory, only to be assassinated in Dallas in 1963. Playing 1960 can only end in one of two ways: history either changes with a Nixon victory or remains the same with Kennedy winning – however, the important thing is the journey…

Everything in this game has a historical basis, from the amount of votes that each state gives to its winning candidate to the events detailed on the cards that drive the game. You begin by seeding the board with red and blue cubes (representing the levels of Republican and Democratic support at the time) and deal six action cards to each player. These cards can be used in two ways. Firstly, they can give you Campaign Points to be spent on electioneering, gaining media influence or showing support for issues. You may also gain Rest Cubes which are flung into a drawing bag at the end of each round to help you in various ways, such as gaining initiative or checking your support in a state. Each card also has an event that will have a positive or negative effect on one of the campaigns, all of which are based on actual occurrences. Should you be lucky enough to have momentum – represented by tokens to spend – you can actually do both, gaining Campaign Cubes and triggering the card’s event for a potentially devastating one-two!

Three Campaign Cubes plus one Rest Cube or trigger the event? The choice is yours...

It’s a game of back and forth with a huge amount of interaction between the two players. You play your cards one after the other, travelling around the country trying to gain support while attempting to trip up your opponent. If a state holds even a single cube of your colour, they’re on your side but there is always a danger that public opinion can change! You’ve also got to consider where you focus your energies – not every state has the same amount of influence. Areas like New York and California hold a large amount of sway while Ohio and Alaska aren’t exactly power players on the electoral scene. However, you underestimate their value at your peril as every vote counts at the end of the game.

New York has a lot of influence - 45 votes and the Democrats are well in control...

The whole campaign process is represented, including the Presidential Debate. 1960 saw the first official debate take place between potential Presidents and what took place has since fallen into legend. Kennedy was a rising star, confident and full of swagger, while Nixon was ill, sweating and didn’t even bother to shave. Public opinion swung hugely to the Democratic candidate, with Kennedy eventually taking the White House by 303 votes to 219. Things often run a little closer in this version, though…

After working your way through the various rounds, the game concludes with the final count. The winner is the person who has the largest amount of votes, shown on the reverse of the Seals that you collect by having at least one of your cubes in that State at the end of the game. It may come across as a fiddly and difficult game, but I thought that after a couple of rounds I’d picked up everything pretty well. There’s a very helpful page on the back of the (incredibly detailed) rule book that will get you out of a hole when you’re stuck, but you’ll find your feet quickly.

As is usual with Z-Man games, 1960 is well produced. From the stylistic yet functional artwork on the massive board to the flavour text on the cards (each one illustrated with a black and white photo), a huge amount of thought has been put into the making of the game – just what you’d expect from designers with a CV of games like Twilight Struggle and Founding Fathers. Not content with coming up with a game that entertains, Leonhard and Matthews have given us something that has piqued my interest in the events that took place. Here in the UK we cover little in the way of American history at school, especially that of recent times, and playing The Making of The President has sparked that desire to find out more – surely a great thing.

As with any card game there’s an element of randomness, but I don’t think it detracted from the experience. If you get a hand filled with events that will hurt you, simply spend those cards on campaigning – you’ll still have as good a chance of victory. It’s an incredibly balanced game that rewards paying attention and the exploitation of your opponent’s mistakes… just like real politics! Highly recommended, more so if you have even a passing interest in the subject matter – I’m looking forward to getting this played again soon.

1960: The Making of The President was published by Z-Man Games in 2007. Designed by Christian Leonhard and Jason Matthews, it’s for two players only and will take you a couple of hours (maybe even three) to play through. At turns intense and entertaining, it’s quickly become one of my favourite head-to-head games. Check it out!

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