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Battleflag – Mage Tower review

Mage Tower COVER

Tower defense games, hey? They’ve been about for bloomin’ ages in the world of videogames, but seeing them in an analogue space is something of a rarity. If you’ve not heard of them, they have a simple premise: protect your stuff from an oncoming horde of enemies for longer than your opponent is able to. Some can be asymmetrical in a ‘good guys vs bad guys’ style, others are more about players facing a single common enemy, often controlled by the computer.

Now we’ve got a card based version of this rather popular game format that attempts to capture the spirit (and near constant panic) of the genre – Mage Tower from the unassumingly named Super Mega Games. Ostensibly for two players, it also has rules for up to four as well as co-op play and a solo mode – we’ll mainly be focusing on the game for two today.

Despite being a card game that initially looks like Magic: The Gathering‘s first cousin, there’s no need to fork out for boosters or anything – everything you need to play the full game is in the box. Opening it up will reveal a bunch of plastic gold, a very healthy pile of six-sided dice (fear not, those who despise randomness in their games, they’re merely in there to track damage) and over three hundred cards of various types.

The main two that you’ll be dealing with are the green and red ones, representing ways in which you can defend yourself and the monsters you’ll be facing. Before you start, each player is given deck of thirteen cards that can either be randomly generated or set up through a quick draft. They also receive a deck filled with twenty four monsters, comprising of four each of six types. Piles of Prizes, Demonspawn and Confusion cards are stacked to the side of the play area. Players then grab dice representing twenty life points and couple of cards from their draw deck, and you’re ready to roll.

M-m-m-m-monster! Demons are pretty hefty, so be sure to take them down as quickly as possible.

M-m-m-m-monster! Demons are pretty hefty, so be sure to take them down as quickly as possible.

As mentioned before, you’re trying to survive longer than the opposition by defeating monsters. Any that have been flipped (denoting that they’re angry) will attack you and then get discarded. Any calm (right way up) monsters will rotate, hyping themselves up to attack on the next turn – assuming they live that long. The final part of this phase is the drawing of new monsters, each of whom is given a numeric value – you’ll draw between ten and twelve points worth, then finally get the chance to fight back.

This bit is called the Casting Phase; you’re allowed to play cards from your hand that will attack the oncoming forces or buy and play Prizes that you may have picked up, spending the gold that you gain every turn. Again, cards have a numerical value and you’re limited to a maximum total of seven energy you can spend. Some cards will only attack the monster closest to you, while others (marked with an arrow) carries leftover damage on the the next victim in the queue. Very polite, these beasts, lining up perfectly to get battered…

You also get to put Defenders and Permanents in play. Rather than just getting to use them as a one-off for your current turn, these are a bit more hardcore and get to stay in play until they get wiped out by the hordes. Like monsters, Defenders also have values showing their life and the amount of damage they can do while Permanents are more about giving the rules a bit of a tweak in your favour. The order you decide to use them is entirely up to you, so you’ll be looking to build up strategies and chains so you can make the most of what you’ve got at the time.

Not sure I'd trust a skeleton to protect me, but it seems to work in Mage Tower.

Not sure I’d trust a skeleton to protect me, but it seems to work in Mage Tower.

If you fancy being a bit of an arse, you can also start chucking some monsters across the way an into your opponent’s path. Of course, all the while they’ll be planning on doing the exact same thing to you, so be sure that you’ve got enough to cover yourself on that next turn. Once your Casting Phase is complete, play passes over – there’s no holding over of energy or anything, you’ll simply start with a fresh slate on your next go. Get them down to zero health or have the most life when one player’s been through their monster deck twice and you’ll win!

Mage Tower came to me from out of nowhere and I’m delighted to say I’ve had some great fun with it. When I cracked open the box my first though was that I was dealing with another MTG clone, but thankfully it’s got a bit more about it than just copying another game wholesale. Yes, it looks very similar to the daddy of all CCGs but Mage Tower plays in a totally different way – it’s fast and furious, probably closer to something like Dominion than Magic. Interaction between players can be somewhat limited but that all comes down to the cards that come into play; some games will be all about smashing each other into pieces, others will be more focused on just surviving. This makes for a decent level of replayability, bolstered by the fact that you can get a full game under your belt in less than thirty minutes.

Negatives? Perhaps there are a couple. As previously stated, it all comes across a bit generic, but beneath the lookalike nature of the cards there’s a very interesting game. The rulebook isn’t the easiest thing to deal with either, but there’s an excellent tutorial video available that runs you through how turns work, as long as you can deal with the shakycam-induced nausea… I’m not entirely blown away by the single player variant, much preferring the conflict you get when facing a second player, and I’m yet to try out the co-op rules or face off against three or four players, but as an experience for two, Mage Tower gets the Little Metal Dog Seal of Approval. Or it would do if we had such a thing… Maybe we should get one?

Mage Tower is a 2013 release from Super Mega Games. Designed by Brett Brimmer, between two and four can play; rules are also included for co-operative and solo games too. Copies are available from the Game Salute store right now for the princely sum of US$35. Enjoy!

 

 

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It’s the (second) most wonderful time of the year…

Oh yes indeed – GenCon is nearly here! The USA’s best board games show is approaching once again, kicking off this Thursday for four days of gaming in Indianapolis, Indiana. Once again it’ll be stacked with the usual pile of new releases and exclusive previews as pretty much every major American publisher will be present along with plenty of the larger European names – but what are the big titles people are looking forward to?

Libertalia from Marabunta / Asmodee is one that I think will probably be under many people’s radars but I have a feeling it’s going to end up being one of the year’s best releases. A role selection game at heart with up to six players acting as pirate captains on their way to retirement and looking for a final hurrah, it’s a sneaky extravaganza of treasure hunting and back stabbing with a great level of player interaction. I’ve already managed to get my hands on a copy so expect a review in the very near future. Also, if you get a copy early enough, you’ll get metal doubloons! Who wouldn’t want it?!

Tzolkin: The Mayan Calendar by CGE was available to play in early prototype form at the UK Games Expo, but it looks like a near finished version should be at GenCon. It’s a worker placement extravaganza with a really interesting mechanism where cogs turn and interact with each other on the board. Stay on the board too long and your guys could well end up a wasted placing as they move past the resources that you’re aiming for. CGE’s games are always beautifully produced so you know this will be incredible to behold – there’s no other company out there who I’d trust to make such an involved and creative board concept.

Fantasy Flight will be there with wheelbarrows filled with stuff, of course, but the new versions of Merchant of Venus and Netrunner are both due for release at the show. Early reports say that these two remakes are amazing, managing to capture the brilliance of the original games while giving them a shiny makeover, though MoV will include the rules to play both the old and new versions. Netrunner’s asymmetric gameplay has long been a favourite of mine and I can’t wait to get my hands on this modernised version to see how it compares to Richard Garfield’s classic. Also, there’s the small matter of a little game called X-Wing finally seeing the light of day…

Village, the Kennerspiel des Jahres winner for 2012, has been picked up by Tasty Minstrel Games and looks like it’ll be this year’s go to game for those who want to scratch their Euro itch. Players need to find fame and fortune for their family members in order to keep their name immortalised in the village’s chronicles – make the right moves and your legacy will live on. Screw it up and your future generations will fade into obscurity. It’s a very clever worker placement game and probably the only one I know where death is used to limit a character’s time. This will only be available in very limited amounts – apparently there’ll only be fifty at the show – so if you want a copy, head to TMG’s booth early.

AEG’s Tempest line is also due for its first public viewing at the show with the initial three games in the series getting a release. Courtier, Dominare and Mercante all promise very different playing experiences but the interesting element will be seeing how the public react to the storybuilding aspects of the world. As characters change, further games in the series will reflect these developments – for example, should the story necessitate that a major role needs to be wiped out, later games will reference back to whatever happened. We’re not looking at a Risk Legacy effort here where every person’s game will be different as time goes on; AEG will run the story along the lines of their Legend of the Five Rings property, controlling it from their end with input from players and designers. This could prove a very interesting experiment…

AEG also have the light-as-a-feather but very entertaining Smash Up ready for release at GenCon. The world’s first shufflebuilding game sees players combine two twenty card decks (ninjas with robots, pirates with aliens, that kind of thing) and utilise their joint powers to take over bases in order to score points. It’s a very quick little game but has a surprising level of depth to it as you try and work out which sets work particularly well against your opponents’ selections. I think this one will do pretty well at the show, especially as it clocks in well under that magical 45 minute mark for playtime.

Of course, one of the best things about any gaming convention is the discovery of those releases from smaller companies. 5th Street Games will be showing off their rather splendid Farmageddon while Asmadi should have copies of their very limited Origins hit FlowerFall available too. The new Enhanced Edition of Sentinels of the Multiverse will be selling at the Greater Than Games booth, while Leviathans, the steampunky miniatures air-combat game that I’ve been waiting since the beginning of time for, is finally due – albeit in very limited numbers. Last of all, Morels from Two Lanterns Games will definitely be available and it looks utterly lovely.

Oh yeah. One final thing.

I’m very excited about is the fact that my new game, Pocket Universe, will be on show at the Game Salute booth. I’m finding it very nerve-wracking that it’s being shown at all but it’s even worse when you consider that I’m not actually going to be there. You may well have tried it out yourself by downloading the files from the site (there’s been a few, honest!) but that version is light years away from the one you’ll be able to check out at GenCon. While it’s still in prototype format, the gameplay is 99.99% finished – I’m considering tweaking maybe one or two very tiny elements – so why not have a look at it yourself? Just ask one of the GS team at the Sneak Peeks booth (#2035) and tell them I sent you.

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Episode 43 – Salutempest

Yes, it’s a terrible title. They can’t all be magically awesome.

Anyway! Episode 43 is here, where I get to (virtually) meet up with a couple of the industry’s good guys. First, Todd Rowland (who has been on before) comes along to discuss the new Tempest project from AEG. Tempest, a world in which designers are invited to make whatever game they like using provided assets and stuff, launches in October at Essen with three games – Dominare, Mercante and Courtier – with many more to hopefully follow. Imagine having the ability to create a prototype where the art and templates have already been built for you, then letting your imagination go wild: that’s Tempest. After that, I’m joined by Game Salute’s very own Dan Yarrington. In a pretty candid discussion, we talk about Kickstarter (of course) and what GS are attempting to do with their Springboard Seal of Quality, as well as get into the meat of what’s happening in the industry today.

Et maintenant, les links du jour:

Direct download: http://littlemetaldog.podbean.com/mf/web/7s9a3j/LMD_Episode43.mp3

Serpent Stones on Kickstarter: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/springboard/serpent-stones?ref=live

Alien Frontiers iPad: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/clevermojogames/alien-frontiers-for-ipad?ref=live (Be quick, it ends on July 15!)

AEG’s Tempest Designer Resource site: http://www.alderac.com/tempest/designer-resource/ (VERY cool indeed)

Game Salute: http://gamesalute.com/home/

And last but not least… the Little Metal Dog Show’s 2012 pledge drive! Help get the show to Essen and keep us online for another year! http://www.indiegogo.com/LMDS2012?a=703837

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The Only Rhyme That Bites – Goblins Drool, Fairies Rule! review

Not every game has to be a complex beast. Not everything requires a 96 page rulebook and a box of miniatures that weighs twenty pounds. Sometimes it’s nice to just play something that is simple to get your head around and a bit of fun. A light little game, something that doesn’t take too much time but still scratches that itch of competition. Considering that, I’d like to present the rather charming Goblins Drool, Fairies Rule! by David Luis Sanhueza.

It’s a spectacularly simple premise. Twenty double sided cards are all you need, a sweet and sparkly fairy on one side and a mean and nasty goblin on the other. There’s one of four symbols on each image as well, either a mushroom, sun, moon or frog
out of water, and each character is individually named. You have to filter these names out into five different groups built around rhymes and it’s these names around which the majority of the game revolves.

refrigerator water filter

Mike Maihack’s artwork is beautiful – well worth the entry price alone!

Set-up is gloriously simple. Four cards are dealt out to each player showing the goblins,
while a further four are placed in the middle displaying their fairy side (the picture above with the fairie holding an ice cream cone makes me want to run to the refrigerator for a snack!) – any that aren’t used are discarded and take no further place in the game. Victory is determined by either having no goblins in front of you or by managing to collect six fairies. At the start of each turn, you choose one of your cards and add it to the collection in the middle… and then the fun starts.

Here’s where things become as tricky as it gets (which is to say, not spectacularly so). Any cards that rhyme with the one you’ve just played are flipped over, then you take back any cards that match symbols with what you’ve just played. And really, that’s about it. Playing Goblins Drool, Fairies Rule! is far from the hardest game in the world, but it’s certainly got a level of puzzling in there that warrants at least giving it a try. All information in the game is open; you can see exactly what cards everyone has so can make educated guesses on what you think your opponents may play, then base your own plays around that – and herein lies the game.

Ewwwwww. Goblins.

For such a simple game made up of only twenty cards, you may be surprised at the potential for Analysis Paralysis. Oddly, playing with grown-ups isn’t as much fun as with smaller people – like many games it can get tired quickly if you take ages pondering your move. Putting too much thought into your actions takes the fun out of play, so try not to get this to the table if you know there are folks who really love their forward planning!

I’ve been playing with a prototype copy of Goblins Drool, Fairies Rule! so can’t pass comment on what the final production quality will be, but now that the Kickstarter campaign has concluded it’s been promised that the cards will in printed on super-durable stock and the game will ship in a tin. What I can say about the game is that the artwork is utterly gorgeous – the fairies look as if they’ve leapt from the pages of a child’s storybook, while the goblins are gloriously disgusting just as you’d expect.

Having met – and exceeded – their target spectacularly, the game will be going into full production shortly. Advance pre-orders can be made over on the Game Salute site and are expected to ship sometime late this year. There’s also a very lovely looking art book available if that’s your thing, but at $12 for a copy, this is a game that shouldn’t be dismissed simply because it looks cutesy. Sure, it’s far from the most hardcore game in the world, but it’s fun, entertaining, and kids will adore it.

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