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Supersonic Rocket Ship – Space Cadets: Dice Duel guest review

 

SCDD Cover

The Judge is back! From Outer Space! We just walked in to find him here with that glad look upon his face! He’s been playing Space Cadets: Dice Duel and seems very happy indeed…

I love games. All sorts of games! From meaty, “variations on a theme” Euros to dense, thematic Ameritrash, I enjoy most of what I play – though increasingly I am no longer surprised or unexpectedly thrilled by a new game. It either meets my expectations, or it doesn’t. *Sigh* So let’s face it – as an experienced and battle weary gamer, is there anything left to truly excite and astound like in those early days of discovery? *Knock Knock* Oh, it’s the Engelsteins… do come in!

Space Cadets: Dice Duel has rocked my world. Taking the frantic real-time dice rolling seen in last year’s fun, co-operative romp Escape: Curse of the Temple, and the theme of designers Geoff, Brian and Sydney Engelstein’s own Space Cadets, Dice Duel is a small revolution in game design and, perhaps even more impressively, some of the most fun you’ll have at the gaming table this year.

Players team up in two’s, three’s or four’s and face off against each other in a starship dogfight to the death. Each player is given a distinct role within the battle – be that taking control of sensors, loading the missile tubes, manning the tractor beam and shields, or just trying to guide this unwieldy toaster through space whilst avoiding meteor showers and sensor-blocking nebulas!

Now this isn’t an X-Wing and a Tie Fighter zig zagging through space. Like the original Space Cadets, this feels more like Enterprise-esque starships cruising into position to unleash an unstoppable barrage of missile fire. This may suggest a leisurely pace, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. The best way to describe play is a quick sample of what the game feels like.

With a name like Dice Duel you'd expect a bunch of lovely custom dice... and here they are.

With a name like Dice Duel you’d expect a bunch of lovely custom dice… and here they are. Shiny, tempting and totally inedible.

So, we have 3 players on Team Little Metal Dog – let’s call them Michael, Steph and Judge just for arguments sake. Judge is the engineer, so he is responsible for rolling normal 6 sided dice and allocating the rolls to the various departments. So we start… he rolls three ‘5’s (which relate to the Helm station) and passes them to Michael who is in charge of steering the ship. Judge wanted to send power to shields, but rolled no ‘4’s so he picks up the remaining dice and rolls, and rolls again until he gets a ‘4’ – which he passes to shields – and now a ‘2’ which goes to Steph who is on Sensors.

At the same time Michael – having received three 5’s for Helm, remember? – picks up the three helm dice and rolls (and rerolls) until the arrows on the dice point to where he wants the ship to go. Locking in the dice to his display allows the power dice (the normal D6’s) to be returned to Judge in engineering who can roll them immediately and re-allocate. Steph takes her Sensor dice and rolls some target locks – necessary to make sure your missiles have the range to hit their targets – and uses three ‘1’s from engineering to roll and load up a missile in tube 1. The enemy ship is fast approaching. Judge checks the range, and the missile, and shouts ‘FIRE 1!’

For the first time in several minutes, the game stops. The players catch their collective breath, and the launched missile crashes headlong into the enemy hull! That’s a direct hit! Let’s hope they can’t return fire. And the chaos begins again…

So what is amazing about this play experience? Well, the simple “keep rolling dice until you get what you need” mechanic that was so much fun in Escape is even more so because of the ever changing board situation. This requires players to change plans on the fly and react to the position and offensive / defensive set-up that the opponent is using at any particular moment. And it is moments that matter. Several times have I seen the command to “Fire” be issued, only for the target ship to have completely moved out of range, or dropped additional dice into shields to repel the attack literal moments before the order was issued.

In addition, the sense of camaraderie evident in the best co-operative games is here in abundance, particularly as the opposing threat isn’t the game itself, or a fear of being overrun by small red cubes. It is your friends (now enemies) sat opposite with a glint in their eye and a sense that somehow they’re more organised and better equipped to win this duel than you and your teammates.

Might not look much in photos, but once SCDD kicks into action things get VERY frenetic.

Might not look much in photos, but once SCDD kicks into action things get VERY frenetic. Prepare for shouting! Lots of shouting!

Ah, your teammates. They’ll not let you down. Except for that time when Steph loaded the missiles in the wrong end of the ship. Or Michael completely ignored me and put our shields on the port instead of the starboard! And those mistakes – which are completely unavoidable in the stress and bluster of Dice Duel – can be the difference between success and failure.
And yes – each missile that penetrates your shields feels like a punch to the kidneys. Yes – the glory of imploding your opponent and scattering their atomised corpses across the galaxy is a genuine stand up and high-five moment. Ultimately though, anyone who gets a group together to play Dice Duel is a winner – because they get to enjoy one of the highlights of the year, and a truly unique gaming experience.

Space Cadets: Dice Duel was released by Stronghold Games at Essen 2013. Designed by Geoff and Sydney Engelstein, four, six or eight players can get involved in this true battle for the ages. Games take around thirty minutes, so somewhat shorter than the original Space Cadets. If you would like a copy, head on over to Gameslore where one will set you back £33. A total bargain for such enjoyable, raucous entertainment!

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Rare Breed – Machi Koro review

maticoro_box_omote

As the dust settles on another Essen and the packages that people had to send out by mail because they’d be boned on Excess Baggage fees finally start arriving, we’re now in that beautiful post-event comedown. Sure, we have rough voices and con-crud, but we also have the joy of unboxing and punching out stacks of new things to play with. Of course, the best thing – admit it! – is getting to show off the fact that you managed to get your hands on one of those hard to get titles that other people are now desperate to get their hands on. Games like Patchistory from Deinko that sold out within fifteen minutes of the show’s first day or pretty much anything from the teeny Japon Brand booth. Something like… oh, I dunno… Machi Koro?

Designed by Masao Suganuma and published through Grounding in Japan, a handful of English language copies made their way across the ocean to Germany. Now, I admit that there is a little showing off in this write up – I was surprised that I managed to get my hands on a copy – but I really wanted to put forward how bloody good the game actually is. Players are creating little cities represented by cards, of which there are fifteen different stacks that can be bought and added to your area. Beginning with a couple of buildings and a small amount of cash, each turn sees the active player rolling dice and hopefully gaining income from what has been built. Get more money and larger, more valuable buildings can be bought, hopefully continuing the cycle. A player wins once they manage to flip the last of four cards that represent construction sites in their city – each player has the same four – but these can be done in any order and will each grant you a permanent ability once they are paid for. The Station, for example, lets you roll two dice if you choose to, hopefully triggering some of those much more valuable abilities that exist on the higher numbered cards.

Players will initially only roll a single dice though with the result determining where the money goes each time. The cards are split into different colours, with green ones bringing in the cash just for you, but blue cards generating income no matter who was responsible for rolling. Most cruel are the red cards, often forcing huge payouts and depleting your hard earned cash in a stroke. The final colour cards, purple, are a little different though; where you can have multiple copies of all other building types, you may only have one each of these special, more powerful constructions. Once the effects of the roll have been dealt with (and it can trigger a few different buildings), the active player gets the chance to buy one of the cards that are available or flip one of the previously mentioned construction sites. Play then moves on to the next person.

Early on in the game, the Station is built and you've now got the option to roll two dice for big buildings!

Early on in the game, the Station is built and you’ve now got the option to roll two dice for big buildings! Of course, that means your smaller buildings may not trigger at all.

Machi Koro is simplicity itself – initially at least. It’s only once you have a couple of games under your belt that you realise there’s a bit more to consider when playing. Each of the building types is given a symbol that effects or reacts to others that you have laid out before you. Coming up with combinations is key to maintaining a healthy income, but it’s not entirely reliant on just what you happen to have in front of you. Those cards that pay out on other peoples’ rolls are incredibly useful, so even when it’s not your turn you’re always looking out for what your opponents are doing. Thanks to this sweet little mechanism, Machi Koro has pretty much no downtime. Add in the fact that it plays in around thirty minutes, even with a maximum of four players, and you’re just adding more and more to the positives column.

Of course, there are criticisms, but they are very minor – with only fifteen building types available, you could grow weary of the combinations that can be built. Some people have even claimed that the game is ‘solvable’, but frankly I reckon you’d have to play Machi Koro into the ground to get to that level. Grounding Inc have actually produced an expansion deck for the game that was available as Essen in even more limited numbers, but was Japanese language only – however, the existence of such a deck of cards shows that adding more to the experience is a simple(ish) matter. I’m still kicking myself that I didn’t pick it up…

Japon Brand's Tak posted up this image of all the Machi Koro cards. And they are all lovely.

Japon Brand’s Tak posted up this image of all the Machi Koro cards. And they are all lovely.

No matter. The base set will give me plenty of pleasure – it’s been played a fair few times over the last couple of weeks and every time has been a joy. Yes, there’s a bit of luck involved thanks to the rolling of the dice but when you’re also able to pull in cash on other peoples’ turns that’s not too much of an issue. Also, the game doesn’t sell itself as this hardcore simulation – it’s light, fun and cute as all get out. This beautiful blue box shines out like a beacon on your table, drawing people in to get involved in a game. With explanations taking mere minutes, you can throw yourself into playing in no time at all. Yes, it’s going to be a nightmare to actually find a copy at this moment in time that you can play, but rest assured, there are plenty of companies who expressed interest in publishing the game in a larger print run. Have patience. It will come. And when it does, you will want to add a copy to your collection.

Machi Koro is published by Grounding Inc / Japon Brand, and was released (in its English language edition anyway) at Essen 2013. Designed by Masao Suganuma and with art from Noburu Hotta, copies are currently changing hands for a lot more than the 28 Euro it sold for at the show…

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Out In The Fields – The Castles of Burgundy review

CoBCOVER

So it seems that at the moment, golden boy of boardgaming Stefan Feld can do no wrong. We’ve extolled the merits of a few of his games over the last couple of months here on littlemetaldog.com and – surprise surprise – here’s another glowing write up. This time we’re journeying into medieval era France as we take on the tricksy and delightful The Castles of Burgundy, a game that combines a little bit of chance with more options than a high-end car showroom.

From the start, I’ll say that Castles is not for everybody – if you’re the kind of person who complains that Dominion is nothing more than multiplayer solitaire, I’d avoid even picking up the box. What little interaction there is in the game is limited to someone snatching away a tile that you had your eye on before play managed to get around to you. It’s an exercise in brain burning where you’re constantly having to change your plans depending on what kind of things are available for do.

So, how does it work? Despite the multitude of choices, the way the game is played is simple. Each player has a board comprising of thirty seven hexagonal spaces, themselves formed into a large hexagon that represents the land you’re trying to build on. A central board is filled with tiles that are split into six groups and refreshed at the beginning at each of the game’s five phases. By rolling two dice at the beginning of your turn, you’re given the chance to spend whatever you roll and pick up a tile from that area – so, roll a 5 and you get to choose something from the space marked with the same number.

The Central Board where

The Central Board where the options open to you can be dazzling. Goods everywhere, hexagonal tiles that’ll form your own settlement, bonus points… how did he come up with such an intricate game?

Taking one of those tiles doesn’t mean that you get to add it to your board immediately, though. Three spaces are found at the bottom left of your playmat where you must put a tile first – sort of holding it in transit for a while – before it gets to become a part of your settlement. Again, a dice must be used to ‘build’ the tile, as each space is also numbered. You may think this is limiting in the extreme, and you’d be right in thinking that. Thankfully, players have worker tiles that can be spent to add or subtract from whatever you rolled, allowing for a bit of manipulation.

Those tiles come in many different types, each one offering a little boost or way to skew the rules in your favour. Grey tiles represent mines, giving you an extra silverling (the game’s currency) at the start of each phase that you can spend on a selection of more randomly selected tiles found in the centre of the communal board. Yellows are all about bonuses, screwing with the rules and generally boosting your powers. Greens are farm animals and can prove an immense boost as each time you add one of the same type – sheep next to another sheep for example – the points stack.

The Blue tiles add to your rivers, meaning that you take goods from the central board for you to sell; the more you sell of the same type, the higher the points return. Dark Green tiles are the Castles that give the game its name, and these allow an extra play of… well, whatever you like. They’re incredibly powerful and should be used wisely. Finally, the Brown Building tiles offer the widest variety of options as each type gives you a different ability.

Some bestow money or extra workers on you, while others allow for the immediate grab of another tile from the board or the placement of extra ones to your play area. A true master of Castles of Burgundy will be able to put together a truly impressive chain of these, transforming the two standard actions that you normally get in a turn into a parade of hexes being taken from here and added to there, all of which sending that final score into the stratosphere.

One of the Advanced player boards

One of the Advanced player boards. These are filled with randomised set-ups and everyone will have a different one, but there are Starter boards where each player works with the same spaces. Also, see how everything is language independent!

It can feel that pretty much everything gives you points in Castles; selling goods, finishing off areas of land, getting animals… keeping track of everything that’s going on with your board as well as what’s available (and what’s been taken!) from the central area requires a sharp mind and plenty of focus. Managing to do so is a valuable skill, and it’s that skill that will raise you above other players of this game. As with all of Stefan Feld’s creations, Castles is a game that rewards multiple plays and the investment of your time. While you learn and develop your strategies, you’ll also have to cope with the luck of the dice rolls and the random element of what tiles will actually get pulled out at the start of the phases. Adaptability is key – if something isn’t working for you, a change of plan can often be a better choice than sticking desperately to course.

If I were to have any criticism, it’d be the downtime you get with three or four player games. It’s far from a dealbreaker, of course, but I much prefer to break out Castles of Burgundy as a two-player effort. Not only does it mean that you’re almost always engaged, it gets the play time down to a very manageable thirty to forty minutes – ideal if you’re filling time while waiting for others to arrive. That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy playing with more than two though – it’s still an excellent game with three or four around the table, but for a speedy yet deep experience, Castles of Burgundy is hard to beat.

The Castles of Burgundy was originally released in 2011 by Ravensburger / Alea and is designed by Stefan Feld. Between two and four can play with games taking between 30 – 60 minutes.  Copies from Gameslore are a bargainous £24.99, so head on over and grab yourself a truly great game.

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Big In Japan – King of Tokyo and Power Up! review

KoTCOVER

Where most people associate this festive time of year with the usual combination of socks, jocks and chocolates (cheers to Tim Minchin for that one), I have a slightly curious Christmas connection: Japanese monster movies. I put this down to the British TV network Channel 4 showing a whole bunch of them one year around this time when I was a kid, and after soon I had a childhood obsession with Godzilla and his rubber-suited ilk. Giant monsters (known in Japan as Kaiju) terrorising the world are always an entertaining thing to watch and now you get become one yourself (kind of) to take on other mutant beasts or take down the city in Richard Garfield’s dicefest, King of Tokyo!

It’s a gloriously silly game where you get to win in one of two ways; either be the first to score twenty victory points or smash each of your opponents into the ground so much that they can’t get up again. In the box you get enough for six players to get involved and even with the maximum amount of people around the table you’ll be done in thirty minutes, meaning that it’s an ideal way to fill some time between bigger efforts or round off your games night… but how does it work?

Simply put, you chuck six dice and see what happens. Rolling three of the same number will score you points (either 1,2 or 3) while each additional digit gets you an extra point – in other words, rolling three 3s gets you three points and rolling 5 gets you five. Claws showing on your dice initially allow you to take control of Tokyo, but then they become even more vital as you use them to attack your opponents.

Now, here’s the only vaguely tricky thing to consider about the game, the concept of being In Tokyo or Not In Tokyo. If you’re In, all attacks effect ALL of the players who are Not In. If you’re Not In, the poor mutant who is In Tokyo takes the hits. In the case of a five/six player game, there’ll be two players maximum in Tokyo, balancing things out a little. And that’s the most convoluted thing about King of Tokyo; understand that and you’ve got the whole gist of the game.

Multiple Monster Mayhem

Multiple Monster Mayhem!

There are two other symbols on the dice as well; Hearts allow you to heal your Kaiju and Bolts bestow little green energy cubes upon you which can be spent on cards that will boost your monstrous abilities. Some are permanent (marked with a ‘Keep’ symbol) while others must be discarded to give you a one-off boost that is often very powerful. Everything from getting extra points through to bonus rerolls can be gained from your cards, so spend those glowing cubes wisely!

As the dice rolling continues, the game gets more and more raucous. King of Tokyo is not a game to take seriously, especially if you play with folks who may take offence at being attacked. With a lot of the focus on player elimination, some people may feel a little sore when they get ganged up on while they’re in Tokyo. You see, while you control the city, you can’t heal your Kaiju – any hearts that you happen to roll are useless, meaning that you have to push your luck and stay in as long as you can without getting wiped out. Once you decide to yield, you hand over Tokyo to the last monster that attacked (still taking the damage, mind you), try to patch yourself up and have your revenge.

Being dice based, there is of course a huge element of luck to the game, but that’s not to say that there’s no strategy in King of Tokyo. Deciding whether you should attack the beast in the city is as important as knowing when you should stop trying to defend it. Getting the right combination of cards can give you an edge, but should you rely on rolling as much energy as possible? This could leave you well behind the other players or allow you to construct a devastating last-place-to-first move… in Tokyo, you always have plenty of options available to you!

Small Box - Big Pandakai

Small Box – Big Pandakai

Now, having been out for a while and being that it’s a very popular game, the first expansion has recently hit the stores for you to add a little more to your battles. Power Up comes complete with a brand new monster – Pandakai – and a whole new game mechanism: Evolutions. These are different to the cards you get in the regular game in that each monster has eight powers specific to themselves that are shuffled and placed face down in front of the player before the game starts. Should you manage to roll three hearts (whether you’re In Tokyo or not) you may take the top Evolution card from your stack. When you reveal this new power is entirely down to you; some will give you a bonus from the moment you draw them, while others act more along the lines of an instant reaction.

The addition of Power Up has left me feeling a little muddled, and it’s all down to how many people I happen to be playing with. If there are three or four of us sitting around the table, it’s a welcome extra that adds another layer of strategy to the game. However, with five or six people involved things take a turn for the negative; it really begins to drag. As you get to heal as well as draw an Evolution when you roll those hearts (assuming you’re Not In Tokyo), it adds a LOT of time to the game. The basic King of Tokyo is a speedy, silly experience, but if you’re still playing the same game after an hour when a few players are still just slogging it out, slowly trudging towards a conclusion… it just doesn’t feel right.

King of Tokyo should be like the epic battles at the end of every Kaiju movie; quick, brutal and daft, and 99% of the time it’ll be exactly like that. Just be a bit wary of adding the expansion in when a lot of people want to play. By keeping it simple, the game will move along at speed and will never overstay its welcome. The old films never worried too much about overcomplicating things, so why should you?

Designed by Richard Garfield and with art by Benjamin Raynal, King of Tokyo was originally released by IELLO in 2011. The Power Up! expansion came out in 2012. The game plays in around half an hour and between two and six can get involved. If you’d like a copy, Gameslore does the base set for £23.99 and the additional set for a tenner

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