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Happy Hour – Legacy: Gears of Time review

LegacyCOVER

The concept of causality can be hard enough to get your head around at the best of times; combine it with the notion of time travel and it may well make your eyes bleed. The idea of being able to travel back through the ages, tinkering about with things then returning to present day to see the reactions you have caused is a central tenet of many a science fiction author’s work, but attempts to transfer it into the medium of gaming have struggled somewhat. The best example to date is probably Chrononauts (and its recent remixed re-release, Back to the Future) but now there’s a new box on the block: Legacy – Gears of Time.

I think we can cut to the quick here. You may now chuck your copies of Chrononauts in the bin because Legacy wipes the floor with it. Rather than interminable games where players can get caught in nigh-on endless loops of flipping over cards, this new contender gives players four rounds to do as much as they can – after that, the game is done and if there’s some bases you’ve forgotten to cover…? Well, tough. This is a game of crossed t’s and dotted i’s, where you’ll need to make sure you’ve considered all the details if you’re going to have a chance of winning.

As Antiquitects (great name, that) you travel back through an ever extending timeline, placing technology cards in the timeframes you find yourself in. Many of these are fundamentals, stuff like Fire and The Wheel, the kinds of things you’d expect our ancestors from millennia ago to have developed. Of course, just like In Real Life, these basic technologies will lead to more complex developments that you’ll need to play later on in the timeline but – as you’d expect in a game where futzing about with time is a major part of play – nothing is that simple.

Each time a card is added to the timeline (and space is limited, though it does increase each time a round ends), you discard the cost in cards from your hand then place that same number of cubes on top of it from your Supply. This development is YOURS and no-one can take it from you! Actually, that’s a filthy lie – when it’s been added to the board everything is up for grabs as all players can add cubes of their own colour from their Influence Pool to cards you have placed, and whoever has the most there at the end of a round is considered to be in control of that technology.

The first round at least affords you a little protection as no-one has anything in their Pool to begin with; it’s only at the end of each round that some cubes are removed from cards to give you the power to influence other player’s creations or bolster your own. But why would you want to do so? Well, each card has a certain points value, and points mean winning. If you’re in control of a technology at the end of a round you score the points for it but there’s a twist (of course)!

You see, remember where I said that fundamentals can lead to further developments? Getting your head around this is vital, as you’ll score every time you’ve contributed to something further down the timeline. Manage to have the most influence on a decent variety of these basic technologies and you could well be scoring multiple times for each of them. However, you’ll need to make sure you’re in control of the (much) higher scoring later technologies if you’re going to come out on top.

You’ll get points at the end of each round, assuming that the cards you control are actually allowed to remain on the table. If they don’t have the necessary prior cards they could well end up being removed, meaning that precious actions have been wasted in a game where each decision needs to be considered and measured.

Click to embiggenify, revealing the tech tree needed for The Internet!

Click to embiggenify, revealing the tech tree needed for The Internet!

As an example, the card representing The Internet is one of the high scoring technologies. In order for you to be able to score the ten points it will give you, many other cards need to be in place before it in the timeline, a bit like this:

–          Analytical Engine and Radio cards have to be in play. These will also give the players who control them bonus points.

–          For Analytical Engine to work, Electricity, Logic and the Printing Press need to be on the board too. Printing Press can’t exist without Writing, by the way.

–          Radio requires the Electricity card too, but just one on the table is enough,

Sound confusing? Well, it is a little – but it does all end up making sense pretty quickly. Everything in Legacy is quite obvious; after all, why would the Printing Press exist if no-one had developed writing skills before? Technologies only need to be on the board once so duplicates are removed at the end of each round, as are any that have no influence cubes on them at all. Again, why would they exist if there was no-one there to invent them? It’s a clever but straightforward system that works really well, giving you and your fellow Antiquitects a real feeling of tinkering with history.

There are other elements; a handful of Fate Cards allow for some further manipulation of the rules while characters handed out at the start of play grant the chance for some bonus point action. However, the main meat of the game is in the time travel, laying out the technologies, gazumping those developed by your opponents and grabbing as many points as possible – especially from supporting later cards. I think that the rulebook could’ve done with a little bit of further tweaking to clarify some points (the difference between the Influence Pool and Supply, for example, as well as a little bit more detail on the Fate Cards) but these are small issues that have been dealt with on Legacy’s boardgamegeek page.

For a first time at publishing, Floodgate Games have done a great job on Legacy: Gears of Time. There are always bumps in the road with the production of any game but designer Ben Harkins has done his very best to smooth the vast majority of them out – anything remaining will be dealt with in an eventual second printing, I’d hope, but in all honesty this is a fantastic package that offers a challenging experience every time you play. Best of all, you could end up with a society that is capable of Space Flight but has no concept of Sanitation – what more could you ask for?

Legacy: Gears of Time was first released by Floodgate Games in 2012. Designed by Ben Harkins, between two and four people can play (though I’ve found that more is better) and games normally take around an hour. Copies are available in the UK exclusively from Gameslore (complete with limited edition card sleeves!) for £39.99. Grab one before time runs out!

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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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Paint It Black – Fresco review

Despite the fact that I’ve been playing games since I was tiny, I have no idea what to class myself as. This is probably a good thing – putting yourself in a box, saying you’re a Eurogamer or a fan of Ameritrash cuts out a huge amount of quality games from your potential plays. Friends who see you as someone who will only touch German games involving cubes won’t offer you the chance to play stuff like Memoir ’44, for example. On the flipside, if you’re known as the kind of person who demands huge amounts of immaculately sculpted minis in their game, titles like Fresco may pass you by and that would be a pity because Fresco is a cracking game.

Based in Rennaisance times, players take the role of artists who have been commisioned to paint (shockingly enough) a fresco in a cathedral. While it basically comes down to collecting different types of paint – yes, represented by cubes, this is a German game after all – and trading them in for tiles bearing differing amounts of victory points, there’s an awful lot more to Fresco than that.

The first time I saw the board, which covered in what seemed like several thousand cubes, tiles and meeples, I honestly thought I was in over my head. I’m not the best at managing several different tasks at the best of times (see several disasterous games of Colonia – a game that I am truly awful at) and was sure that this was going to be more of the same. However, beneath the piles and piles of bits lies an actually quite simple game – keep on top of what you should be doing and everything will be fine.

Not actually as confusing as it first appears!

You start by – randomly enough – choosing what time you’ll be getting up. This effects your mood, which can prove very important. Drop into too much of a foul mood and you will lose an apprentice, and you need them for the next stage of the game where you secretly select what actions you will take. You may choose to visit the market to buy paint – tiles are places on four different stalls, but you may only buy from one – the price is set by the time you chose to get up, getting cheaper the longer you choose to sleep in. Other options include hawking your sevices as a portrait painter (which builds up your cash reserves), visiting the cathedral to paint part of the fresco itself (trading in paint cubes to claim a tile, thus scoring points), mixing up paint (higher value points tiles need mixed colours) or even visiting the theatre to cheer yourself up and improve your mood!

No cathedral is complete without a bishop, and Fresco‘s one is very useful indeed – should he be on your tile (or adjacent to it) when you pick it up, you are awarded bonus points. Paying one coin allows you to move the bishop, so his strategic use can really help you build up points. Each action can be taken up to three times, depending on how many apprentices you chose to send to each area in the initial secret selection. A bonus apprentice can also be picked up if your mood is sufficiently good, gaining you a very useful advantage.

Fresco is a game of spreading out your limited resources and keeping ahead of your opponents while constantly making sure you’re building up your supplies. I found that people who failed to buy good quantities of paint then neglected the mixing aspect as well – and if you ignore that part of the game, you are going to fall way behind on the points track very quickly.

Now, a small admission: I have only played the simplest version of the game. Players can choose before starting what level they wish to play at (higher levels have a second level of mixes leading to greater points scores, for example) but I believe that I’m still able to comment on Fresco. Once you grow to understand the range of different actions – and their consequences both good and bad – you will discover an entertaining game that is rich in theme. You really can get into character, sending your minions out to the paint stalls, mixing up their purchases and revealing the fresco piece by piece. A special mention for the artwork must be made as well – Fresco is a game well worthy of it’s name. It’s a beautifully put together effort from the elaborately decorated (double sided) board to the brilliant rule book – well worth a purchase and definitely worth playing.

Fresco was published in 2010 by Queen Games, and was designed by Marcel Süßelbeck, Marco Ruskowski and Wolfgang Panning. It handles between two and four players and will cost you around £40 here in the UK (though IGUK are doing it for a bit less).

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