Tag Archives: Donald X. Vaccarino

I’m With Stupid – Gauntlet of Fools review

You know, it must be a bit weird being Donald X. Vaccarino. The guy’s first published game was the stuff that designers can only dream of: basically starting an entirely new genre, winning the Spiel des Jahres and having one of the most successful games of all time under his belt. However, while Dominion is still massive, it casts something of a shadow over pretty much everything else he’s put out since. I can’t help but think something like Nefarious would’ve been more successful if it’d been by someone else, you know?

His latest release, this time from Indie Boards and Cards, is called Gauntlet of Fools. Again, while it’s nothing groundbreaking it’s certainly disposable fun, especially when you have a larger group sitting around your table. Gameplay is split into two separate sections and can be best described as quick and dirty, with players vying for the best hero in the first instance, then sending them to their doom against a never ending series of monsters in a dungeon. The characters will die, that’s assured, but whichever of them has the most gold at the end of the game is the winner.

A hero laden with a bunch of boasts. Taking on a dungeon full of monsters while juggling with one hand behind their back, AND without breakfast? This’ll go well…

The first part of the game is the bit I find the most entertaining. A combination of Class and Weapon cards are put out on the table, one for each player, and what follows can only be described as an anti-auction. You take a character you like the look of and may add ‘boasts’ to it if you wish. These boasts will knock down your hero’s abilities; stuff like Not Having Breakfast will mean you begin the round with a wound, while others will see you throwing less combat dice or having a lowered defence stat. You’re allowed to steal a character from another player, but in that case you must add a boast. Once every player has a character before them, it’s time to move onto part two of the game – adventuring!

This part is basically a dicefest. An encounter card is drawn, most of which are monsters that you will face. Players attack simultaneously, rolling the amount of dice shown on their weapon card. If this total is equal to or higher than the monster’s defence stat, it’s ‘beaten’ and you collect your gold as a reward; fail to beat the number and… well, nothing happens, really. The monster then fights back – or in other words, you compare its attack stat to your defence and possibly lose a wound. Get to four wounds and you’re out of the game (maybe – there are certain cards that may extend your life). And it’s here where it kind of falls down a bit.

Well, this one will be fun… It’s certainly possible with five dice but it’ll be a tall order.

The first section where you’re all clamouring to get the character you want is great gaming – lots of interaction between players, plenty of stitching up other people when you try and work out which one they’re really after then loading them up with negatives… then realising they didn’t actually want it after all and you’re stuck with utter crap. That bit’s fun! Then the adventuring bit begins and everything turns solitaire; it’s still entertaining enough as you’re chucking loads of dice around, but there’s not really that much meat to this second section of the game. Sure, there’s a bit of decision in there where you need to decide when it’s the optimal time to use your ability tokens that you start with, but really there’s not much else to do.

Gauntlet of Fools might feel a bit schizophrenic, but it’s perfect filler material. Doesn’t require much in the way of thought, plays quickly, good for up to six people… but I can’t help but feel that it’s not going to do as well as it could. I’m sure that many will pick it up on the strength of Vaccarino’s name alone but then they’ll realise that it’s essentially a piece of disposable fluff. Not that it’s necessarily a bad thing, but there are plenty of folks already whining over on BGG that it’s not what they expected.

Go into it dreaming of the huge amount of possibilities you get from a decent Dominion collection and you’ll be sorely disappointed. However, if you’re looking for a game that will pass a short while between heavier efforts, Gauntlet of Fools will see you right.

Gauntlet of Fools by Donald X. Vaccarino is available now through Indie Boards and Cards. Between two and six can play, and games will take half an hour at the very most. If you fancy your own copy, get in touch with the folks at Gameslore and they’ll do their best to order one up for you!


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Episode 45 – Hordes and Awards

While every episode of The Little Metal Dog Show is special, this one has an extra sprinkling of diamonds on top of an already tasty serving. First of all, Jonny Roberts joins me to talk about Organised Play in the World of Warcraft Trading Card Game as well as the forthcoming Nationals tournament. Following on from that, I’m honoured to welcome the Daddy of Deckbuilding, Donald X Vaccarino. Probably best known as the creator of Dominion (amongst so many more games), he’s a two time winner of the coveted Spiel des Jahres, including this year for the rather charming Kingdom Builder. We cover his better known titles – of course – as well as other games like Nefarious and the upcoming Gauntlet of Fools.

This episode’s links:

Direct Download – http://littlemetaldog.podbean.com/mf/web/4m2i2b/LMD_Episode45.mp3

Story Realms on Kickstarter – http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/springboard/story-realms

WoWTCG Official Site – http://wowtcg.cryptozoic.com/

Zapped Giants (UK Community site for WoWTCG) – http://www.zappedgiants.com

Donald X Vaccarino’s BGG page (complete with his Secret Histories of Dominion) – http://boardgamegeek.com/boardgamedesigner/10525/donald-x-vaccarino

Gauntlet of Fools on Kickstarter (get in quick, it ends on September 13th!) – http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/2012515236/gauntlet-of-fools

Continue Magazine (complete with articles by me! A bargain at £1.99 / $2.99) – http://www.continuemag.com/


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King of my Castle – Kingdom Builder review

Let’s kick off with the obvious – Kingdom Builder is a bloody awful name. Actually, that’s a bit harsh. It explains exactly what you’ll be doing in the course of the playing the game, sure, but it’s far from inspiring. Look at Donald X. Vaccarino’s other games; Dominion brings about thoughts of grasping for power, for example, while Nefarious makes me think of cruel and unusual scientists desperate to take over the world. Kingdom Builder though? Ummmm… yeah.

Anyway – to the game itself. Between two and four players are set the task of… well… building up kingdoms. Set-up is nice and quick; the play area is constructed of four separate large tiles, each of which made of hexes depicting different types of land as well as lots of castles. Each of the randomly chosen tiles also has areas that bestow special abilities on a player who manages to build in a hex adjacent to it.

Three cards are flipped up before play starts that state how gold (the points in Kingdom Builder) will be allocated at the end of the game. These could require that you build in each of the four sectors of the board or you’ll score your longest straight line of buildings, for example. In all, there are ten different ways that you’ll be scoring, and with only three chosen in each game (along with eight separate large tiles you’ll build the board with), there’s plenty of opportunity for replays.

Kingdom Builder in action (photo by Gary James on BGG)

How do you earn these points then? At the start of each player’s turn, they’ll flip a card off the deck that shows one of the five terrain types that you can place your houses on: Grassland, Flower Fields, Forest, Desert and Canyons. When you’ve shown your card, you must place three of the houses from your supply on the corresponding terrain wherever you please. However, if you’ve already got something on the board that’s either adjacent to or already built on that type, you must extend what’s already there. Your choices will be somewhat impaired by the Mountain and Water spaces which can’t be built upon but there are Castles dotted about the place that give you bonus gold when scoring comes around.

And in reality, that’s essentially all there is to Kingdom Builder – flip your card, place your houses, aim to meet the three objectives. So why did the Spiel des Jahres committee choose to add it to the pantheon of excellent games that have been celebrated in previous years? I’d say it’s down to that simplicity. Early games will leave you saying “Is this it? That’s all I have to do?” but there’ll come a moment when you realise that it’s a bit more than just putting stuff on the board. You’ll work out ways in which you can cut opponents off, discover how to use the areas that no-one can move into to maximise your placement, and learn which bonus powers you should race for.

Four player set up… let’s BUILD SOME KINGDOMS.

That isn’t to say that it’s a complex game that will require players to devote hours of play and study to get into it – KB is really about a deep as a puddle, albeit one after a decent shower – but it’s a splendid way to pass the time. A perfect game for people new to the hobby as well as those families that the SdJ winner’s status appeals to, it’s got just enough need for strategy in there for more experienced gamers who are after something that won’t tax their brains too much. Of course, the haters will say that the Spiel des Jahres is being watered down again with such an accessible title taking the prize, but ignore their whining. It’s well worth playing even if it’s far from the most complex release that Queen have ever put out.

What you’ll get when you pick up a copy is a (very) lightweight Euro that you’ll enjoy more when you sit down with people who are looking to play something for fun. If you’ve got someone who’s ridiculously over-competitive in your group, leave it on the shelf and try something else. Kingdom Builder strikes me as the very epitome of a ‘new’ SdJ winner; easy to get your head around, family friendly, nicely produced… it will do very well, of course. Yes, the relative simplicity may put off some more experienced gamers, but they’ll be the ones missing out on this fun little experience.

Kingdom Builder was designed by Donald X. Vaccarino and was released by Queen Games in 2011. Two to four players can sit around the table for this one and games should take around 30-45 minutes. If you’re looking for a copy, you can pick one up for around £33 from the good folks at Gameslore, Spiel des Jahres award not included.


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First Play Friday: Ora et Labora and Kingdom Builder

New year, new feature! First Play Friday is new to LMDS and is pretty straightforward. While it won’t pop up on the site every week, I plan on regularly giving a few opinions on games that I’ve managed to try out for the first time that week. Of course, these aren’t going to be full reviews – they’re more like early impressions after getting to experience a game for the first time. Complete reviews may well follow soon after, mind you, so keep an eye out!


First up, Ora et Labora, the brand new Euro hotness from Uwe Rosenberg with the English language edition coming from the fine folks at Z-Man Games. I may well have my gamer’s licence revoked for admitting this, but I’ve never played Rosenberg’s much loved Agricola. I know that it’s meant to be an incredible game (if only because Tony from Surprised Stare Games keeps saying so) but the chance to get a game has never arisen. I plan on changing that in future (and quickly) because Ora et Labora is brilliant. There’s an awful lot going on for a game about clergy building stuff, but not enough to totally destroy your brain.

We played the France variant of the game with four people – two variants come in the box that apparently have slight differences, the other one being based in Ireland. The game starts slowly with players collecting basic resources to create low level buildings, developing engines to make bigger and better things, eventually getting some big point items. With some resources also usable as energy or food, the amount of options that you have can initially appear quite daunting, but I have the feeling that after a few plays strategies will make themselves more evident. Thankfully if your opponents pick up buildings that you’ve had your eye on you can still use them by paying out your hard earned cash (or wine, I later discovered), meaning that your long-term plans can’t be ruined by someone else grabbing what you hoped would soon be yours.

There’s a great mechanism with doling out resources too, a wheel that moves on one step every turn that incrementally increases the amount of stuff that’s available of each type. If a resource is chosen, it’s moved to the zero space and begins slowly growing again. The wheel also marks the passage of time in the game so you know exactly how long you’ve got left to get your ideas into action – something that I pretty much screwed up, but the fact that even though I did that *and* lost by a good sixty points but still want to play again is surely a very good sign. With so many ways of getting points, I’ve already got a few ideas for next time I get to give it a shot.

I also tried out Kingdom Builder from Dominion designer Donald X. Vaccarino, a game I saw a lot of people picking up at Essen 2011 but didn’t get to play myself. It’s very light indeed but that’s not a bad thing (especially after two hours in medieval France). With a quick set-up and even speedier run-through of the rules, the four of us set about placing our little houses on the board. You play a single card each turn and put your buildings on the matching area type, occasionally grabbing bonus tokens that can be used once every go and bend the rules ever so slightly.

Scoring happens at the end of the game and is dependent on three cards that are drawn from a wide selection – in this instance it was all about making long lines of buildings, dominating one of the four quadrants that make the board, and then getting bonus points for the lowest amount of buildings in one section. You also get points for having a building near city spaces marked on the board, something which I failed to do quite spectacularly. Still, an interesting little game that while I probably wouldn’t fork out hard cash for I’d certainly keep an eye out for it in a trade.


Watch out for the latest episode of The Little Metal Dog Show which will be available next week. There’s a look back at some gaming highlights for 2011 as well as what’s on the radar for 2012, plus an interview with celebrity gamer Rich Sommer from the mighty award-winning TV show Mad Men! Next week should also see the release of The Dice Tower’s Best Of 2011 show which has contributions from pretty much everyone from the Dice Tower Network including me. Keep an eye on Twitter (where I’m @idlemichael – do add me!) for more updates as and when. Have a great weekend!

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Cards for sorrow, cards for pain – Dominion review

For the balance of deep strategy against sheer portability, there’s little better than getting into a trading card game. You may choose to throw your lot in with the daddy of them all – Magic The Gathering, while not the first, is certainly the most popular. A worldwide phenomena, it has been running since 1993; however, even it’s most ardent fans will admit that it has issues. Perhaps you could choose something newer – I personally favour the World of Warcraft TCG, a tight game that draws inspiration from the MMORPG of the same name. Recently relaunched after shenanigans at original developers Upper Deck, it has now been taken (unofficially) in-house to Cryptozoic, a part of the Blizzard empire. Whatever you choose, though, you’re going to have one problem – updates.

Card sets for all notable TCGs appear with regular abandon, usually on a three- to six-month rotation. Certain older cards are phased out, replaced by newer versions or even scrapped entirely from tournament play. What could well be an all powerful deck that has taken you ages to build (and cost you a small fortune in trying to accumulate rarer cards) can be worth little more than the paper it’s printed on by the time a few updates have rolled around. The only solution is to spend more, update your deck and wait until the next set comes out, where the whole process happens again. Alternatively, you could invest in a dead TCG like the brilliant but expensive Netrunner, but finding decent opponents may prove difficult. For sheer numbers, you need to be playing something current, and you need a good deck or you will be destroyed.

But what about those of us who can’t afford a whole stack of glimmering rares? Where can we go for our regular card-gaming fix? Well, a few companies have realised the value of a decent card game, releasing new offerings that are entirely self-contained (or supposed to be, anyway). Some games have come out that require you to buy multiple copies in order to build decks you may want, thus defeating the purpose of getting it in the first place. If you’re looking for recommendations for a game that you only need to buy once, there is one word that you will hear again and again: Dominion.

Now, I can already hear the moaners. “Dominion has expansions,” they cry. ” There’s Intrigue and Seaside and Alchemy and promo sets and there’s that new Prosperity one coming out before the end of the year!” – and this is true. But you don’t need them. For the outlay of the original set, you’ve got a game that will serve you well for ages – no need to get the other boxes at all. You can, of course, choose to splurge on the extra versions, but there is absolutely no need whatsoever. Everything you require is in the box. Everything and more besides.

What you get are cards… lots of them. There are several different types. Treasure is split into Copper, Silver and Gold – you’ll need these to purchase others cards, or indeed more treasure. Twenty-five sets of Kingdom cards are included, of which ten are used in each game – already, you’ll see that there is a huge amount of variety in Dominion. In fact, there are thousands of possible combinations of Kingdom cards – more than enough to last a lifetime, in fact (see now why you don’t need the expansions?). These allow you to take actions, all of which are detailed on the cards, perhaps allowing you to buy extra things, grant you bonus money or even attack an opponent. Finally, you have the different Victory and Curse cards – these are the important ones, because they’re worth various amounts of Victory Points (or can deplete your score) at the end of the game. Quite simply, whoever has the most points at the end is declared the winner.

Every player starts with 10 cards – 7 copper which you use to buy things and 3 Estates, worth one point each. Shuffle your deck, draw five cards and away you go. Turn order is easy to remember: just follow the ABCD rule. A stands for Action – play one action card, do what it says, and keep going until you can do no more. B is Buy, where you use money to buy whatever you please from the available piles of cards. C means Clean Up, where every single card you have touched in your turn is placed face up on your discard pile. Finally, D is for Draw, where you take 5 new cards. If there aren’t enough in your stack, shuffle your discards and start a new draw pile. Basically, that’s it – build up your money by using actions, buying new things, upgrading treasure and Victory points cards. The game ends when either three supply piles (any of them, not just Kingdom cards) are exhausted, or all the Province cards (the ones worth six points) have been bought. As soon as that happens, the game is over and players tally up all their Victory points to discover who is on top.

Reading that back, Dominion sounds dull as ditchwater. Thankfully, when you’ve got the cards in your hand the game is way more compelling. There’s little downtime, and any spare moments are spent working out how on earth you can build up your own deck while scuppering your opponents’ progress. While it isn’t exactly the same as a regular TCG, it shares so many different traits with the genre it would be churlish not to include it with the likes of Magic – it just handles it in a slightly different way and actually makes deck building an aspect of the game. The selection of Kingdom cards at the start of the game can be selected at random and every different set-up will change the way the game plays. There are plenty of sites out there that suggest combinations, but the best I’ve found is Zack Hiwiller’s fantastic randomizer – set the parameters of the game you want and it’ll choose a set of ten for you.

Dominion is, undoubtedly, one of my favourite games around at the moment. I have to admit that I was late to the party having only got my copy of the base game a couple of months ago, but man – I have fallen for it fast. The simplicity and purity of the design, the various levels of strategy and approaches you can take  to win, the insane replayability… it all adds up to a brilliant game. If you’ve not played it, I heartily recommend giving it a go – you won’t be disappointed.

Dominion was designed by Donald X. Vaccarino, is published by Rio Grande Games (among others) and was a worthy winner of the 2009 Spiel des Jahres – along with many other awards worldwide. Between two and four people can play – it works well with however many – and it’s available here in the UK for around £30. Seriously, go play it. It’s aces.


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