Tag Archives: CGE

Short People – Goblins Inc. review

Darkness falls across the gaming arena. Through the curtains at the back strides a giant… a behemoth… a games monster. He is The Judge, and his word is final. Especially when it comes to goblins…

Goblins COVER

Goblins Inc. has taken its inspiration from a number of sources and, in both theme and mechanisms, sounds like it should be a great time. But it isn’t. Not quite. Lets explore why.

Firstly, if you play Goblins Inc. make sure you do with four. The game is functional with two, but has obviously been honed to be most interesting with the partnership system – more of which later. Created by those fine folks at Czech Edition Games (the home of the mighty Vlaada Chvatil) this is the debut game from Filip Neduk and has a very original and fun sounding theme. Players adopt the role of a clan of goblins who are partnered with another player’s clan to construct giant goblin-killing-robots that then duel to the death! Told you it sounded cool!

Gameplay goes something like this: Clans will draw individual special objective cards prior to the start of a round so they know what they personally want to achieve – be that destroying opponents weapons, killing their crew, being the most armoured robot etc. Importantly these MAY be at odds with your partners’ objectives – but shhhh… remember they’re secret. Teams will then draft tiles back and forth, whilst constructing their death robots (using armour / weapons etc. to prepare your monstrosity for battle) – and this feels very much like Vlaada’s own Galaxy Trucker.

Having seen their completed behemoth, players choose the objectives they want to keep – probably the ones which are more achievable based on the mess you’ve just constructed – them take turns to either steer (choose the facing for the robot and the weapons that will launch) or draft a ‘special tactic’ card which does cool stuff like adding extra armour and making your weapons more powerful.

Depending on how well the steering went, players roll dice against each other – doing damage and removing tiles as applicable (again think Galaxy Trucker) and after two attempts each of steering (or a robot is incapacitated) the round ends and players’ objectives are scored.

Players now team up with a different partner for the next round of mechanical construction and destruction – rinse and repeat for 3 rounds.

Hang on… I just read that back and it sounds AWESOMEZ! Being a consummate professional, can you all just wait whilst I go and play it again… Why did I not feel more excited about this game???

(Pause)

Ahh Yes! Got it now… It’s just a bit dull and random.

Actually, disconnected is the best way I can think of describing the game. The amount of fun promised by the premise isn’t delivered. I’d compare it with Last Will, actually, (coincidently another Czech Games product) where the ‘Brewsters Millions’ storyline sounds hilarious – and taking your Horse to the Theatre sounds amazing fun – but mechanically it cannot convey that fun. Like this, it ‘sounds’ great but is disconnected.

Don’t get me wrong, Goblins has its moments and is an original and somewhat enjoyable game. I particularly like the idea of bluff and double bluff of the objectives where co-builders of the same robot have different agendas – but this interactivity can’t compensate for the lack of engagement from the rest of the game. The puzzle you’re trying to solve doesn’t have enough variety or choice to make it satisfying. The decisions you make are so vulnerable to chance, if the dice go against you and your robot collapses you find yourself saying ‘what’s the point?’ Now this is equally true in Galaxy Trucker – but the ‘Joie de vivre’ of that design allows most players to shrug and laugh it off. That simply isn’t present in Goblins Inc.

Ultimately, Goblins Inc. has to go down as a disappointment. Maybe that’s partly my fault. My expectation was raised by the theme that promised more than the mechanisms delivered. Like Sam from Quantum Leap, my endless search for an excellent giant robot construction and combat game goes on…

(Disappears in 1980’s special effect…)

Goblins Inc. was designed by Filip Neduk and was published by CGE in 2012. Between two and four can play and a copy will set you back £32.99 from those charming folks at Gameslore!

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Bring The Noise – Space Alert review

Space Alert COVER

Another guest review! This time Ben Douglas steps up to tackle Vlaada Chvatil’s co-operative festival of insanity, Space Alert. So what does he reckon…?

And so it begins. 10 minutes of chaos, panic, running around, pushing buttons, shooting baddies, activating force fields, failing to activate force fields because your dumbass shipmate forgot to re fuel the nuclear reactor, shouting at each other, chaos, panic, failing to shoot baddies because your dumbass shipmate [that’s me! – Michael] forgot to wiggle the mouse on the main computer which had locked up due to the screen saver, chaos, shouting, panic, watching your inevitable demise unfold before your very eyes, weeping, death. Space Alert is a brilliantly fun and completely unforgettable experience.

[Sirens Blare – A cold emotionless robot voice crackles over your speakers]

“Enemy activity detected…Please begin 1st phase…”

Ok, ok, ok. Let’s make sense of this game quickly. The four of us sat around the table don’t want to die in the next 10 minutes. The spaceship we are trying to save is in the middle of the table. Our spaceman figurines are in the bridge and there are various green cubes around to represent energy. The spaceship is split into three sections; red on the left, white in the middle and blue on the right. Thank Zorg I don’t have to remember which way is port and which way is starboard. I would be frakked otherwise. Each section has an upstairs and a down stairs so with only six rooms overall, navigating myself round the ship should be easy enough…

In front of me I have my own board and a hand of cards. The board has the numbers 1-12 on them. These numbers represent the 12 actions I will choose during the next 10 minutes. The cards represent these actions. They allow me to move towards the blue side, towards the red side, use the lifts between floors or press a button (A/B/C). Throughout the game I will place them face down on the numbered board in front of me to build a sequence of where I will be running and the buttons I will be bashing.

“Time T+1. Threat. Zone Blue. Repeat. Time T+1. Threat. Zone Blue.”

That robot voice has announced a threat in zone blue. My friend flips over the top card and places it next to the blue zone. It looks nasty. So I place 2 cards down in order so that first I move to blue side and then press the “A” button, which is the button for “suck on this big fat laser you alien scum”. Good. I feel I have been productive.

When I announce my accomplishments the captain sighs. Jimbo has already done that and said so out loud and if I had listened I wouldn’t have just wasted the last 30 seconds so how about I keep my ears open and do something useful next time. Why am I even playing with this douchebag?

“Time T+2. Threat. Zone White. Repeat. Time T+2. Threat. Zone White.”

Now there is another threat to deal with. Again someone has already shotgunned shooting it out of the sky. So I pick up the cards I had laid down and replace them with actions that move me downstairs and press the “B” button, which adds a plutonium rod to the reactor so that the guns don’t run out of juice. After I say I have done this I get a warm “good thinking” from everyone. Awww, how nice. It would be useful to have some more of those “B” action cards just in case I need to do that again.

In space, no-one can hear you shout at your mate for him to click the mouse button that stops the ship's computer going into screensaver mode...

In space, no-one can hear you shout at your mate for him to click the mouse button that stops the ship’s computer going into screensaver mode…

“Data transfer. Data transfer in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1.”

I need a “B”! Has anyone got a “B”? Please? When the robot comes out with “Data Transfer” we can swap a card with each other. I manage to bag some more “B” cards. I decide I will run around the bottom keeping our energy supply solid. Let’s hope everyone else does his or her job properly so we survive this ordeal…

“Time T+4. Threat. Zone Red. Repeat. Time T+4. Threat. Zone Red.“

And so it continues. And if you are wondering, everyone else probably didn’t do his or her job properly and you probably didn’t survive the ordeal.

Vlaada Chvatil’s co-operative survival game that was first published in 2008. It comes with a CD of soundtracks of the robot voice dictating various scenarios in a lovely monotone, announcing the threats coming your way and keeping the games rattling along whilst adding a touch of HAL 9000 creepiness to the experience. The scenarios are built randomly so there is plenty of replayability, and Vlaada has successfully used a timed mechanic before in Galaxy Trucker. The series of decisions you make throughout Space Alert are actually simple – move, push button, move again, push different button – and it is not too difficult a game to get your head around (although super-lite gamers may feel a bit of information overload). But as soon as the timer starts, your heart moves up a gear and suddenly the pressure makes everything seem far more complicated.

On top of that, the co-operative element makes these seemingly simple decisions a nightmare. There is no point pulling the trigger on that gun or activating that shield unless your friend has kept the energy supply going. And your friend can’t do that unless someone else has put another rod in the nuclear reactor. And none of you can do any of that if someone hasn’t wiggled the mouse in the bridge to prevent the main computer freezing up on a screensaver. Don’t even bother trying to use the lifts at the same time as your pal, either. One of you will be forced to use the ladder, which knocks all your carefully planned actions out of sequence. Which of course then means EVERYONE’S plans are scuppered.

Overall this game is a rollercoaster. Your plans are not supposed to come to fruition. And that is the fun of it. If they do you’ve been incredibly lucky. Or your team is full of super intelligent humans-robots with nerves of steel. But you will play this game and almost be disappointed if you win with ease.

So the questions are always: do you need to try this game? And do you need to buy this game? A definite Yes! to the former question. The steep price tag may put you off buying it but it is a co-operative game, so if you have a gaming group and no one owns it yet, do yourself a favour and take one for the team. Buy it so you can all panic and stress and have fun together.

Space Alert was first released back in 2008 and is a Vlaada Chvatil design produced by CGE. Between one and five can attempt to save your ship (and believe me, most of the time you won’t!) – should you want a copy, check out Gameslore. They can sort you out a copy for a bargain £40.99 with the New Frontier expansion coming in at £20.49. To infinity… and your tabletop!

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Turn! Turn! Turn! – Tzolk’in: The Mayan Calendar review

TzolkinBOX There’s little doubt that Tzolk’in: The Mayan Calendar was one of the hottest games to come out of Essen this year, and with good reason. It takes a much loved mechanic (worker placement) and does something entirely new with it, adding in the element of movement thanks to a series of cogs that dominate the board. However, now that the fuss has died down a bit – seriously, you couldn’t get a copy for love or money by the time the weekend rolled around at Spiel – we can take a more reasoned look at this one.

And, all told, it’s pretty positive – however, the game is not without its faults. Nothing major, granted, but Tzolk’in is far from perfect. Did the shiny newness of those massive plastic gears hypnotize us a little? Perhaps, but it’s still a very entertaining experience…

Put simply, between two and four players are attempting to score as many points as possible over the course of four rounds. By placing their workers on the ever rotating cogs, they’ll move further round as the turns progress, hopefully getting progressively more useful and lucrative. As each turn is completed, the huge central gear is twisted around one step, moving the five outer wheels around too. Once one of your workers is in a place that you like the look of, you may remove it in order to take the reward for that space. Leave them on the wheel for too long, however, and you’ll have wasted that particular worker. Knowing how hard it can be to get your hands on more workers, you really don’t want to be chucking these chances away.

The different gears will offer you a wide variety of different things to collect as well as plenty of opportunities to spend your resources. Working your way around the board from the top left, you can either grab wood or corn. This one’s important as corn is the game’s currency – it’s very important to have plenty coming in, but you will find during play that you will NEVER have enough. Wheel two offers a wider selection of resources including gold, stone and crystal skulls. The third wheel lets you start spending what you’ve collected on buildings and monuments, necessary if you want to have any chance of winning. It’s here where you can also start moving up the three temples that will get you a decent haul of points if you play skilfully, as well as progress along technology tracks that will reap plenty of rewards.

So much happening! How will you keep track of it all?

So much happening! How will you keep track of it all?

Wheel four is a bit of a mishmash of everything and is very useful for trading your resources for corn (and vice versa). It’s also the only place where you can start getting new workers, so it shouldn’t be ignored. Finally, the larger fifth wheel is where you get rid of those incredibly valuable crystal skulls; on this one, it’s all about big points and further progression up the temples. Play it right and you could wrap the whole thing up on this wheel alone.

As you can probably tell, there is an awful lot going on in your average game of Tzolk’in. Between working out the best placements for your workers and trying to discern when and where they’re going to end up, forward thinking is the order of the day – any loss of concentration will see you slip behind pretty swiftly. You must also consider the fact that at the end of each of the four rounds you need to feed your workers using the same corn that you need to buy better positions on the wheels with. Playing this game is like juggling cats and a lapse will see you cut to ribbons.

Like any good Euro, this is a game of balance where you will never be able to do everything you want to achieve. In fact, most of the time you may well end up taking actions that you didn’t really want to do in order to protect a single worker that could help trigger a long term plan. Constant reconsideration of your objectives is necessary; there’s no way of winning if you don’t adapt as the game evolves.

And it’s here where I find an issue with Tzolk’in – I like planning out how I’m going to tackle a game but managing to pull off anything major in this game feels often more like luck than judgement. In order to do well you’re looking at setting yourself a series of smaller, hopefully manageable goals, the re-evaluate your targets. This gives the game a bitty feel, as if it were a set of linked short stories rather than a glorious and sprawling novel. Not that this is a bad thing, of course, but I love games where you progress to a final achievement and with so many different ways to collect points, the endgame doesn’t feel like a worthy climax. It’s more like you’re hoovering up as many little bits and pieces as possible.

Not that I’m saying it’s a bad game! Not by any measure! However, unlike something like Agricola where you have this story developing before your eyes, the scattered nature of Tzolk’in means that I don’t get that same feeling of an arc under my control. It may be a small complaint but to me that’s an important aspect of any game where I’m investing a major amount of time, and with this you’re looking at least at a couple of hours of pretty solid thinking and strategising. Sure, you could allow yourself to be distracted by the very lovely board and high quality components (those gears are frankly awesome), but you mustn’t allow yourself to be sucked in by beauty…

While I’m not sure that Tzolk’in will be hitting my table on a regular basis, I can happily say that I’ve enjoyed my times playing it and I’ll be returning plenty of times in the future. Yes, it’s true that it can feel like a lot of hard work at times and it does feel like a near-constant struggle to complete any of your plans, but there’s definitely a large part of the gaming market that will praise it higher than I. To me, though? It’s solid. It’s a great way to spend your games evening but it’s not going to take the place of Agricola.

Tzolk’in: The Mayan Calendar is a 2012 release from Czech Games Edition, with other publishers handling other versions around the world. Designed by Simone Luciani and Daniele Tascini, between two and four can play and games will take you around two hours or so. Copies are still a bit hard to come by, but should you be able to find one expect to pay around £40-45 (though Gameslore sell it for £34.99).

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