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Keep The Faith – Fidelitas review

Fidelitas Box

Collaborations can be great. Two incredible minds coming together, working alongside each other to create something truly wonderful… it’s a thing of beauty to behold. Of course, some team-ups can be utterly wretched (Paula Abdul and MC Scat Kat, take a bow) but generally two heads are better than one. Oddly, multiple designers on a single game isn’t something that happens that often, but some great titles have been borne of teamwork; Wolfgang Kramer and Michael Kiesling have been an award winning pair several times with games like Tikal and Asara, for example.

A fresh new collaboration now seeks your support, with two great current designers now coming together to create something that is both small and special. Jason Kotarski (creator of The Great Heartland Hauling Company and FrogFlip) and Philip duBarry (the man behind Revolution and some of AEG’s Tempest series) have joined forces to make the card game Fidelitas, and a lovely little thing it is too.

In a town, far, far away, the citizens live an unhappy life of being downtrodden by the local elite. There is only one thing to do – rise against them! However, it would seem that all of those capable of doing so got too drunk and can’t remember quite what they’re supposed to do… and this is where you and your fellow players step in. Ladies and gents, it’s time to incite some good old-fashioned revolution. Grab your pitchforks and flaming torch!

Actually, that’s not a good idea – the nobility’s guards would have you chopped into pieces in moments. What you need to be is sneaky. Whisper a few words into the ears of the right people. Get your most powerful allies into the right places and, once the word is given, a concerted attack can begin! Unfortunately, there can only be one leader (a bit like in Highlander) so everyone is trying to manipulate the same people in this terrified town; you’ve just got to make sure that it’s you.

On the table at the start of play sits a line of cards representing the town itself, four of which have two locations that are particularly prized by a certain guild. The Tavern, sat in the middle of the line, is a special place that’s beloved by all (surprise!) and  has its own ability which we’ll cover shortly. Meanwhile, the two end cards also point to other locations, the harbour and the castle. It’s these places where we’ll make our stand!

Cards are divided into two types: Missio and Virtus. Missio are your secret missions, the cards that tell you what type of people you need to be moving and where they need to end up. Meet the necessary requirements and you’ll score the points shown at the bottom of the card. Score a set amount of points (6 with four players, though you can aim for more for a longer game) and you are seen as the voice of the rebellion and win the game! Truly, you are the Mockingjay.

Or you will be if the people actually listen to you. The Virtus cards are where they are all to be found, and each person will have their own ability that needs to be taken into consideration. Each turn, you can play someone to one of the two locations of their own guild, then follow the instructions written on their card to start moving other people around the town. The previously mentioned Tavern has no guild affiliation, so instead a player must discard a Missio card when someone is sent there. Also, instead of having two differently named locations, the Tavern is just one big place – however, you must consider which side of the bar to sit, as it were. Where you are in this wicked little town is VERY important.

When you’ve played your Virtus card and done the ability upon it, you may turn in a Missio card for points (assuming that the requirements have been met. This may be gathering a certain amount of characters at a named location, or get guild pairs (ie: two people from the game guild) into a number of places. If the target has been met, you flip the card up and declare your total score, draw back up to two Missios and pass play to the person on your left. And the game is as simple as that – play a card, follow the instructions, score points (hopefully) and move on!

If there’s one word I can use to describe Fidelitas, it’s clean. Having played a fair few rounds of it now, I’ve noticed just how well put together the game is and also seen the influence of both Jason and Philip in there too. Fidelitas is a beautifully balanced game where any mistake that’s made is down to you – the position of certain characters may open up the opportunity for other players to complete their own missions, but through multiple games you’ll learn how to not get yourself into that kind of tangle. I’ve had several incredibly satisfying moments playing a Baker card allowing me to move any two cards to new locations, doing so, then swiftly scoring a Missio while simultaneously ruining the best laid plans of the other players. You’ll hear a lot of muttering under breath when a copy of Fidelitas hits your table.

I mentioned the influence that the designers had on the game and honestly see their fingerprints all over it. The compact game set-up and lean card count says Jason to me – his love of smaller, shorter games shines through in Fidelitas – while I feel that the theme and relative complexity come from Philip’s side. I think that his sterling work on his Tempest games have rubbed off a little on him (seriously, go play Canalis, it’s incredibly underrated) and I’m honestly surprised that this effort wasn’t made part of the series – it certainly would’ve fit incredibly well. Regardless, the two have come together and made a very enjoyable game indeed.

Of course, the game is only in prototype stage at the moment and – at the time of writing – seeking funds on Kickstarter. However, the copy provided to me showed off the beautiful comic art very well indeed and the game cards are well laid out, so a hat-tip goes to both artist Jaqui Davis and graphics chap Darrell Louder for their sterling work. It can be hard getting the message across on a relatively simple card game, but they’ve done admirably.

Also of note is that this is the first release from Jason Kotarski’s brand new publishing company, Green Couch Games. We at The Little Metal Dog Show wish him the very best for Green Couch and hope that all future releases match up to the splendidness of Fidelitas! This is truly a great filler, the ideal candidate for your table when you’ve got twenty minutes or so to spare and feel like playing something that will tax your brain a little. Not too heavy, but not feather light either, Fidelitas will be making it into the Best of the Year lists of a fair few gamers when the time comes around.

You can back Fidelitas today on Kickstarter, with the campaign running until September 1, 2014. $19 will get you a copy of it delivered in the US, with international pledges running a little higher (UK gamers, you’re looking at $28 which isn’t bad at all). Designed by Jason Kotarski and Philip duBarry, it will be released in early 2015. Between two and four can play (though I’ve found it better with four) and games will take you around 15-20 minutes. 

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Shine On – Splendor review

Splendor COVER

Well, we’ve had a little time off after the exhausting extravaganza of the Nuremberg Toy Fair over in That Germany, but now it’s time to get the nose back to the grindstone, get the games on the table and get some reviews up on the site. I managed to pick up a fair few new titles while over there, including games that will be available in stores over the next few months as well as a bunch of prototypes that may be making their way through to full production by Essen 2014. As you’d expect, Asmodee had a whole bunch of interesting new stuff on their sizeable stand at the fair, some of which are already available – but you’ll have to wait a short while for Splendor, designed by Marc Andre.

Falling firmly into the “easy to pick up” category, Splendor certainly looks pretty unassuming when sat on the shelf. The ubiquitous mysterious chap, shrouded in shadows, that seems to appear on most eurogame covers is well in effect, and cracking open the box doesn’t really prepare you for a life changing experience. Inside you’ll find a deck of cards, separated into three separate coloured piles, a stack of tiles depicting various royals and dignitaries from history, and six different piles of coloured chips. Components are actually really quite nice, the chips in particular, so your interest is piqued a little as you get yourself ready and set up to play.

Here’s the deal – the three card piles are shuffled and four of each type are flipped face up. Depending on how many people are playing – between two and four can get involved – a random amount of dignitary tiles are revealed as well and placed at the top of this field of cards. Finally, the different coloured chips – representing five different precious stone types and one final stack of gold – are put within reach of everyone. The aim of the game is to be the first to reach fifteen prestige points by grabbing cards and attracting the attention of the nobles. Hitting that target triggers the endgame, but you’ll still have to make sure that no-one else scores higher than you… Just because you’re finishing the game, it doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed to win!

Each turn will see players allowed to perform one of four actions. You’re either allowed to take one each of three different gem chips, or two of the same from one pile. Alternatively, you can shift your focus to the cards, either ‘reserving’ one by taking it from the field into your hand (and taking one of the valuable gold chips), or spending your chips to buy one that you like the look of. The cost that’s printed on the bottom left of each card is what you’ll need to pay before taking and laying it down in front of you, which is what you’ll be aiming to do most of the time. You see, each card also has one of the five gems printed at the top of it which you can put towards the cost of subsequent cards. If you’re lucky, you may be able to get your hands on one that also brings in those valuable prestige points. Any time a card is removed, whether reserved or played straight down, it’s immediately replaced with another from the same level’s deck. Oh, and as you’d expect, the three different card levels get increasingly expensive and lucrative.

Buy the lower value cards to build up your permanent resources, get your hands on the more expensive ones, score point - simple as that!

Buy the lower value cards to build up your permanent resources, get your hands on the more expensive ones, score point – simple as that!

As the game progresses, you’ll notice a tipping point where the focus moves away from taking chips from the stacks and looking solely at the cards laid out before you. Sure, you may occasionally need the odd chip here or there to top up the resources that you have at your disposal in order to pick up newly revealed cards, but most of the time you should have enough from what you’ve built up while playing. These huge lines of cards are also important for another reason – taking the tiles featuring the game’s noble personages, each of which will get you another three points closer to your goal. Every tile has a set of requirements on it that need to be reached before you can claim it, but rather than needing chips, you have to get sets of cards that will catch the eye of the dignitary. Manage to get a couple of them and you’re well on your way to winning.

And really, that’s pretty much the game. Get chips, spend chips, get cards, use cards, get tiles, get to fifteen points before anyone else. It feels like I’m damning the game with the faintest of praise, because it’s actually really rather decent. Splendor is not going to rock anyone’s world, but it’s certainly a great example of a game that happens to function really well. When playing with a friend, he echoed the sentiment – while everything in the game is certainly good, you’re not exactly excited about the prospect of playing it again and again. He described it as feeling like a really solid part of a much larger game, an central engine around which something more fulfilling could be be created – and then I got annoyed because there was no way I could put that into better words.

Splendor is the very definition of a Try Before You Buy game – I’m sure that there are many people who will enjoy it more than I, reckoning it to be the ideal filler or some such accolade, but for me… well, it’ll be getting a place in my collection and will be sitting on my shelf, and I’ll be happy to play it if anyone else asks to bring it to the table, but I don’t think I’ll be the one making the suggestion. Splendor, while not being Fool’s Gold, just doesn’t have the lustre needed to get me excited.

Splendor was designed by Marc Andre and will be released through Space Cowboys (an Asmodee imprint) later in 2014. Between two and four people can play with games taking between twenty and forty minutes. And yes, not having a ‘u’ in the name bugs the hell out of me.

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Three Little Words – Love Letter review

LoveLetterCOVER

Let us join the thronging crowds and talk about the small but perfectly formed New Hotness that is Love Letter! Originally released through Japon Brand, it was picked up quickly by AEG and added to their Tempest game-world (the fourth release under the banner, in fact), and now this tiny game has captured the hearts of nigh on everyone who has had the chance to try it out. Considering the fact that there’s only twenty cards and a bunch of cubes in this package, you may initially wonder what all the fuss is about – then you get to play and swiftly realise that there is an awful lot of gameplay inside the red velvet(ish) bag…

The story behind Love Letter is that the Princess of the city state of Tempest, distraught at the arrest of her mother (at the end of the first game in the series, Courtier) has locked herself away and refuses to see anyone. Players act as potential suitors, attempting to cheer her a little by using members of the household to pass messages of love to her; successfully winning a round nets you a ‘token of affection’ that looks remarkably like a red cube. Manage to get a certain amount before anyone else and victory – as well as the Princess’ heart – is yours.

Gameplay is incredibly quick and rounds take, even at their longest, only minutes. Sixteen cards are used in play (the remaining four being very helpful crib sheets), one of which is dealt to each player. Another is removed from play, adding an element of randomness that could well put a spanner in your deductions. Each turn will see a player take a card from the deck, meaning they have two in hand; at this point, they must discard one face up and follow the instructions written upon it. The eight different character types have abilities specific to themselves and can be found in differing amounts; there are five Guards, for example, who can allow you to knock an opponent out if you manage to guess what card they’re holding. As you go up the ranks through the Priest and Baron all the way up to the Princess herself, you’ll need to be sneaky and cunning to be the last one standing in order to catch Her Majesty’s eye.

Our characters, each of whom will do their best to get your billet-doux to its destination...

Our characters, each of whom will do their best to get your billet-doux to its destination… Pretty cards, aren’t they?

I often hear games described as ‘elegant’, a word I find somewhat curious when it comes to stuff we play – however, having spent plenty of time with Love Letter I now have something where I reckon that it’s an ideal definition. This is gaming stripped down to its simplest, a bare minimum, and it’s a wonderful experience. There’s so much room for analysis, such a vast array of configurations that can happen, and yet you will only ever have two options in front of you. Each card you play provides your fellow suitors with that little bit more information, but there’s always plenty that you can do in order to trip them up. The Countess, for example, must be played if you also hold the King or one of the Princes, but having one of them isn’t necessary to put her on the table. Deception and deviousness is the order of the day in Love Letter, and getting caught out when another exposes you is gutting. Mercifully you’ll be back in play in mere moments…

Of course, sometimes you can paint yourself into a corner – it’s entirely possible that a situation can arise where the cards in play will see you having to knock yourself out of a round (I’ll leave it to you do discover precisely how that can happen!) but it’s a rarity and never feels cruel. Of course it helps that rounds speed by, so being eliminated is never a major issue. In fact, I’ve generally found that once one player is knocked out the round draws to a conclusion quite quickly. It’s a perfect filler that doesn’t outstay its welcome, accessible to players of all levels. The only people I can’t recommend it wholeheartedly to are those who only ever play games for two – there’s just a little bit too much randomness in there if only a couple are involved – but with three or four Love Letter is absolutely golden. The fact that you should be able to pick up a copy for under seven quid (or $10 for our American cousins) says to me that every collection should be able to boast a copy of this little gem of a game.

Love Letter was designed by Seiji Kanai and originally released by Japon Brand in 2012 – the AEG edition was also a 2012 release having first seen the light at Essen. Between two and four can play and games will normally take about twenty minutes to half an hour. Should you want a copy – and why wouldn’t you? – head to Gameslore where you’ll be able to get one for a bargainous £5.99! Lovely.

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Let’s Stick Together – Rumble in the House review

Fighting, eh? Everyone loves a bit of fighting! Well, apart from the the broken bones, the bruising, blood everywhere, the pain… Hmmm. Perhaps fighting’s not so great, but we do love beating other people, don’t we? We wouldn’t play games otherwise. People play because they like to win! So how good would it be if we could combine a bit of rough and tumble with a game?

Very good, in fact – especially if you’ve bring Flatlined Games‘ latest release into the mix. Rumble In The House is a quick playing game that’s all about beating people up and staying on your feet as long as possible. When I say quick playing, I mean it – you can play a round of this in a couple of minutes, making it an ideal filler or party game.

Before you begin, players must use twelve room tiles to build a house – however you please is fine. Some like to bunch all the rooms together, others prefer big sprawling things. Each room has four doors so there’s plenty of ways to set the house up and each layout will give you a different game. The twelve characters are then put into the rooms, one in each, and each player is handed two discs face down. These discs have characters on their opposite sites corresponding to the folks in the house and you’ve got to keep your two secret. Only then can the game begin…

Going around the table, each player is allowed to do one of two actions. You may either move someone (anyone!) into an adjacent room or – if a room has two or more characters in it – decide who’ll win in the fight, removing them from the board for the rest of the game. These are lined up next to the house and eventually all but one will be kicked out, leaving a single champion behind.

Players then flip their two discs to show who they were given at the start of the round and points are given out. If someone managed to keep their character in the house until the bitter end they recieve ten points, then going down the line you’ll get nine, eight and so on – however, only the character that lasted the longest is scored.

custom t-shirts

An average game set-up. Gaudy background not included.

And that’s all there is to the game! Normally it’s played over three rounds, though as it’s so quick you could play as many or as few as you like. Of course you can always make up your own custom rules and special changes, like t-shirts versus skins or what
have you. Rumble in the House is far from a difficult game to play – you can explain the rules in seconds – but it’s a pile of fun trying to work out which characters are under whose control. It doesn’t pay to be too obvious; moving enemies away from your little guy may well give the game away! However, you could go for the strategy of sacrificing one for the good of the other but that could well backfire.

Flatlined Games have done a grand job with the production of this little game – and it is little, the box could easily fit in a jacket pocket. Everything comes printed on good quality cardstock, so is able to put up with being handled a lot. That’s good, because those fractious little housemates will get thrown around a fair bit!

The artwork’s cute, with ninja otters taking on Cthulhu and a housekeeper robot facing off against a cousin of the Swamp Thing. It’s definitely a game that doesn’t take itself too seriously. As you’d expect from something that comes with an angry wizard and a kitty with a machine gun, this is something that is all about having a laugh.

Presenting The Ape, KPOW-1337 and The Thing!

I’ve found that Rumble in the House plays better with more players – it can handle up to six officially, but in all honesty it could go up to twelve with each player getting a single disc in the beginning. It’s silly, quick, raucous fun that – despite coming in a teeny tiny box – is well worth a look.

Rumble in the House was published in 2011 by Flatlined Games. Designed by Olivier “Ken Rush” Saffre with artwork by Kwanchai Moriya, it’s available now for around £12 / $15. Grab a copy and get ready to rumble! (Sorry.)

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Tales from the Fireside – It’s Filler Time

Campfire is back! This time he fills us in on… well, fillers.

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There are days when you’re exhausted from dungeon crawling, embittered by building civilizations, and just plain tuckered out from moving armies across battlefields. Your gaming group has slumped so far beneath the table they’re practically horizontal – you look like a bunch of em-dashes who’ve been served cards for dinner. Glutted on ponderous gaming ‘experiences’ the last thing you need is another behemoth devouring four more hours of your life.

“Come on, guys!” says your host, heaving Through the Ages onto the table. “One more game, eh?”

I’m not saying you ought to do it – and if anyone from the gaming constabulary asks me I’ll deny all knowledge of it – but if your gracious host were to vanish and appear days later with, say, a copy of Bananagrams crammed painfully up his jacksy, that mightn’t be the worst thing in the world.

Board games can be exhausting. The human brain can only contain so many rules at once and after four or more hours playing Twilight Imperium it’s only to be expected that you start looking at the coffin box it came in and wishing it was an actual coffin. Like Johnny Mnemonic ejecting memories of his childhood, more important rules are pushed out of your head: social niceties, the importance of cleanliness, how to drink alcoholic beverages in moderation. In extreme circumstances the home-owner’s kicked from his house and the gaming group refuses to let him back in until he’s solved all the Mansions of Madness puzzles while blindfolded – no mean feat considering he’s three sails to the wind on Weston’s Organic and is having difficulties finding his hands.

At times like these, rather than playing something that will test your wits and home insurance to their limit, it’s best to reach for a filler game.

Filler – such an ignominious title. Filler games are by reputation frothy and light, but like a Mr. Whippy they can be frothy and light while still being delicious. Take Coloretto, for example. In Coloretto players compete to collect sets of coloured cards. Each turn a player either draws and places a card in one of a number of rows on the table, or collects one of those rows to add to his collection. It’s terribly simple – so simple in fact that someone I once played against scoffed and said it was practically Snap.

There’s a lot more to Coloretto than simply matching colours. It’s a game about doing what’s advantageous for you while disrupting other players’ plans – which is no mean feat considering you can only do one of two things on any given turn. Once you take a row, that’s it, your turn is over. Other players can continue placing cards to their heart’s content while you look on, regretting taking the row so early. Maybe you should have risked seeing what the other players would do next. Maybe you should have risked seeing what the deck dealt you.

In a brilliant piece of design, the more cards you have in a set the more points you win from them – except this is only true of the first three colours you collect. If you have more than three colours in your collection, the extra colours start costing you points. Clever players force their opponents to take colours they don’t want along with the colours they need. Sometimes there are colours on the table none of the players need. Everyone boos when they appear, and desperately tries to foist them off onto everyone else.

In another brilliant piece of design having one card in a colour you don’t need only costs you one point, but having two cards costs you three points, and three cards costs you six. Having the odd unwanted colour spoiling your palette isn’t a problem, and can be easily off-set with cards award two bonus points for every one you have in your collection. But find yourself with a fourth burgeoning colour set in front of you and you’d better do something about it quick, before it bites you in the Bananagrams.

If Coloretto is a Mr. Whippy ice cream then Fairy Tale is a ‘99 cornet: sweet and rich with a dark, core running hardened through it.

Fairy Tale is another filler card game. Like Coloretto, it’s cheap and small and would fit neatly into your game nights between bouts of meatier titles. It even has an an innocuous title: Fairy Tale. Like something you’d tell children at bedtime, with magical castles and princesses and unicorns . . . and wolves and witchy cannibals and cursed brier thorns that stab out your eyes. It’s quick and sharp and devilishly good fun. Here’s how it plays.

There are three stages in Fairy Tale. In the first you draft cards. You pick the card you want from your hand and pass the rest on to another player. They pick the card they want and in turn pass the rest of the hand onto the next player. Each player has their own hand of five cards they select from before passing it on, and all the hands circulate until you each have five cards you’ve specifically chosen.

In the second stage you play three of these cards from your hand. You play them face down, one at a time, and once all the players have placed a card you turn them face up. You then play the second card in the same way, and then the third. Once you’ve placed all three of your cards you discard the remaining two in your hand and start the first stage again.

Once you’ve repeated these stages four times you move onto the final stage, in which you count the points your cards are worth and see who’s won.

Like Coloretto there are card sets you can collect. Some of these give more points depending on how many you have in your collection – again, just like Coloretto. Others score depending on how many cards you have from a different set – Bards, for example, are worthless unless you have an Elven Warrior in your collection; the more Elven Warriors you have, the more points Bards are worth. As in trading card games, it pays to see all the ways the cards interact with each other.

But you don’t play Fairy Tale to score points. You play Fairy Tale to stop everyone else from scoring points.

You start with good intentions. In that first drafting stage you’re still trying to determine which sets you’ll collect. “I’ll be good this time,” you promise yourself.

But you’re lying.

Because come the second drafting stage, when you see the sets your opponents are collecting you start taking cards they need out of spite. You’re not going to keep them – heavens, no! You’re going to throw them away. You steal away their cards just to throw them on the discard pile.

You screw them over in other ways. You play cards that flip their cards over, making them useless, and steal other cards they could use to unflip them and return them to the game. There are ultra-powerful cards that can only be scored under rare circumstances – like when you draw a card of which there’s only a single copy of in the entire deck – and you hoard them, not because you’re feeling lucky but because you’re not willing to risk anyone else having them. You’re so intent on disrupting everyone else’s game you neglect your own, and end the third stage with a meager, pathetic score – but maybe, if you were enough of a villain, it’s just enough to win.

I won’t say you and your friends won’t end up holding butter knives against one another’s throats after playing these games – I can’t guarantee there won’t be Bananagrams related tragedies – because these little games can be every bit as a cut-throat as their bigger siblings. What I will say, however, is that with playing times of around half-an-hour, you won’t be exhausted playing them. They’re easy to teach, easy to play, and proof if proof need be that ‘filler’ isn’t always such a bad thing to be.

Now, who’s up for a game of Bananagrams?

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Read Campfire Burning’s splendid blog over at http://campfireburning.wordpress.com and email the blighter at campfire@littlemetaldog.com

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