Tag Archives: Japon Brand

Spellbound – Cheaty Mages! review

Cheaty Mages COVER

Seiji Kanai is one talented guy. Not content with being responsible for the breakout hit of last Essen – Love Letter – he’s now returned with what I hope will be seen as the next step for gamers looking for something accessible but a little meatier to play. Released at Spiel this year through AEG, Cheaty Mages! promises to be another quality release from this partnership, despite the very silly name.

Now, while the name might be silly, it’s actually a perfect description of what the game’s about. You and your fellow players are mages, betting on which of five mythical creatures are going to win in a free-for-all battle. However, with magic comes great responsibility – or in your case, the ability to try and skew things how you want, turning the tide in favour of your selected fighters and making things difficult for the others. In other words, being cheaty, which is the best non-word of 2013. Forget selfies, it’s all about being cheaty, folks.

Before the battle begins – and you’ll play through three during the game – you must do a few things. First of all, see which of the fighters takes your fancy; each one has a Power number, essentially showing their strength, and whoever has the highest at the end of the round will be declared the winner. Second, look at the cards in your hand and see what abilities you have. Generally, you’ll be playing spell cards on the fighters that will have a positive or negative effect on their Power, but each card also comes with a Mana Cost – more on that in a moment. Finally, take your Betting Cards and decide who will receive your support.


The more powerful the fighter is at the start of the round, the less money they’ll earn you if they end up as a winner.

Now, this is a big decision and you can either play it safe or go all in. You’re not actually betting any money in Cheaty Mages!, just putting yourself behind who you think will win. Your selected Betting Card (or cards) will go face down in front of you, and should you have made the right decision you’ll receive a certain amount of cash that is shown on each fighter. You can bet on more than one fighter, but doing so reduces the amount of money you’ll potentially get. Should you only select one and they end up victorious, you get double their prize value. Choosing two gets you the amount stated, and three cards brings in half the stated amount – basically, spreading your bets around brings in a lot less money, and in a game where there are only three rounds it’s tough to make your way back if you take an early bath.

So you’re looking to balance your chosen fighters against the spells you have in your hand. When your turn rolls around, you get the chance to add a card to the line next to any fighter you like, play an instant that may do anything from ruin the chances of a player to knocking one of the fighters out of play, or pass (in which case you’ll take no further part in that round). Oh, and there’s also the judges who need to be taken care of.


Only one Judge presides over each round but they have a major effect on the way the game is played.

Did I not mention them? At the start of the round, a single Judge card is flipped that will have a major effect on how the Mages will play. Some outright ban the use of some spell types, meaning that you could potentially be boned for a round unless you do some clever manipulation of what you have in your hand. Others are a bit more relaxed, allowing for some crazy plays which can result in some excellent battles. Many of them also decree a Mana Limit, meaning that if any of the fighters have spells by them that equal or exceed this amount, they’ll either have the spells removed, returning them to their base number, or be exiled from the fight totally.

The mana limit is a brilliant idea as many of the spells you and the other players add to the table will be placed face down. You may discard a card on your turn to check out all face down cards next to one of the fighters, but you’ll find that keeping track of everything that’s going on can be something of a challenge. For what on first look seems to be a simple card game, there’s actually a lot of moving parts to take care of, so winning is far from easy.


That number in the top right, the Mana value, is vital. Keep track of the totals or you’ll find your bets quickly become worthless!

The huge amount of configurations offers much replayability; combinations of different fighters and Judges along with what you hold in your hand brings to mind the cliche that no two games will be same, but in the case of Cheaty Mages! this actually rings true. Add in the fact that a full game, even with a maximum of six people, takes half an hour at most and you’ll find yourself setting up for another game the moment one comes to a close.

As you’d expect from an AEG game, the production quality is high – they’ve really made an effort in recent years to ensure their products are well made, and this is one that shines. Sure, it’s difficult to screw up a card game, but there are plenty of companies out there who have done so. Mercifully, Cheaty Mages! comes on a decent cardstock and the money tokens are on a sturdy punchboard. The art of the original Kanai Factory release has been largely kept, lending the game a really unique look and style that brings out plenty of discussion. The groups I’ve played it with have been largely positive about how the game looks, and I’m sure that it’ll win over plenty of fans when it becomes more widely available.

In short, this is another winner from AEG. Yes, it’s a small box card game that many people may overlook but seriously, if you see someone playing a copy, ask them for a quick demo. Sit in for a round and you’ll be hooked immediately. I’ve found that many people work their way through that first round, then have a moment of revelation where they discover there’s so many options at their disposal that their brain has a bit of a shudder. Then, once round two starts, everything gets cut-throat in the very best way, and everyone will want a copy of their own.

Cheaty Mages, designed by Seiji Kanai, was originally released through Kanai Factory back in 2008. Japon Brand brought it to Essen in 2012 and the AEG version was released there this year. Between three and six players can get involved, with games taking thirty minutes at most. If you’re in the market for a quick, nasty and charming little game that can go anywhere with you, I can’t recommend this one highly enough!


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Undercover of the Night – One Night Ultimate Werewolf review

ONUW Cover

If there’s one person out there who knows about Werewolfaside from the originator, Dimma Davidoff – it’s Ted Alspach. He’s managed to build an empire on the game that has culminated in the recently released Ultimate Werewolf set that plays with up to sixty-eight people. Chuck in the expansions and you’ve got one of the deepest, most involved party games around. However, it’s also a game where no matter what version you may play, people will be determined to point out what they deem as problems. Arguments abound, of course, and players may feel like they’re being picked on or targeted. Larger game groups can take an absolute age, and then there’s the elephant in the room – player elimination. When people are either run out of town through group votes or eaten by the werewolves at night, they’re out of the game – any many hate that. However, the positives (in my view) outweigh the negatives; the accusations and finger-pointing are what make the game.

If only there were a way you could get rid of those perceived bad points. A version of the game where you get all of the discussion and pleasure of people bellowing “YOU’RE THE WEREWOLF YOU BLOODY LIAR” but none of the folks hanging around for an hour because they’ve been knocked out of the game. And, as of Essen this year, it just so happens that such a game now exists: One Night Ultimate Werewolf.

It’s not actually an Alspach design – the vast majority of the work was actually done by Japanese designer Akihisa Okui back in 2012 when the original One Night Werewolf was released. A limited English language run was produced by Japon Brand for this year’s Essen Spiel (which are now changing hands for ludicrous sums, though that’s not surprising as the 8-bit retro styled artwork is crazy pretty) but Ted, enterprising chap that he is, thought it would be a good idea to bring the game into the Ultimate Werewolf universe – and so One Night Ultimate Werewolf was born.

The premise is simple. Rather than days and nights running endlessly until one side wins, play takes place over one single night and day period. Players are randomly assigned roles that are recognisable to anyone who has tried out the game before, and a further three role cards are placed in the centre of the table. The moderator will then run through the different roles and ask them to perform their special abilities which could be anything from sneaking a look at another player’s card to switching roles around. While all this chicanery is going on, players who have their eyes closed will be listening out for the slightest noise or attempting to discern any movement – anything that could potentially give them a little extra ammunition once the discussion begins.

Certainly one of the prettier Werewolf versions out there.

ONUW is certainly one of the prettier Werewolf versions out there.

When everything is done, all players are asked to open their eyes and the clock begins. The accusations fly fast and furious, questions are answered with denials, lies and the occasional actual fact, but once the time runs out only one action remains. A countdown ends with every player pointing at someone they believe is a werewolf, and if one is correctly determined the villagers win the game. If the werewolves escape, they are declared victorious. It’s very simple, plays out in minutes, and is very much the perfect “let’s have another go” game. As the Moderator decides how long the discussion part lasts, games can take as long (or as little time) as you like, so you can also decide what kind of play style you want. Considered discussion and time to work out things? Give the players ten minutes or more. Haphazard roaring and baseless accusations? Give them two. It really is a brilliantly adaptable little game.

A final issue with standard Werewolf is also fixed thanks to ONUW – that of the Moderator themselves essentially being left out of the game. Now, while many don’t mind the responsibility of running a game, Bezier Games have fixed it so everyone can play thanks to an iOS / Android app that does everything for you. Easy as pie to sort out, you simply tap the various villagers that will be in your game, shuffle the cards (well, I say cards but actually mean lovely thick punchboard tiles that will stand up to the most hardcore of game groups), set the amount of discussion time you’d like, push start and away you go! Even better, the whole thing has been narrated by The Dice Tower’s own Eric Summerer who uses his finest spooky voice to add some gravitas to the game. Throw in a bit of background noise to cover up any shuffling about that may give you away and you’ll never want to have a Moderator again!

Now, there’s already been some criticism about the game, mainly along the lines of “I already own Werewolf – why do I need this is my collection?”. Well, when do you ever truly “need” a game? They are luxury items, after all, and are not exactly necessary to live… however, while this version of the game is entirely playable using any regular Werewolf set (with a couple of very minor alterations, of course), having a copy of ONUW to hand is a rather lovely thing. As mentioned, it’s well produced, using thick punchboard in place of cards, and the art is cute as anything. Think of the style as a more Disney-fied take on classic Werewolf roles – the Insomniac looks particularly heartbreaking, as if she hasn’t slept in weeks.

If you spot a copy of this for a decent price, grab it too!

If you spot a copy of the original version for a decent price, grab it too!

In all honesty, ONUW and the standard Werewolf are very different experiences despite them sharing the same world. There’s room for both in your collection – the regular game is still great, sure, but if you’re looking for a quick fix that gives you the same kind of feel, I can’t recommend One Night enough. Throw in the Moderator app (which is free, by the way) and it swiftly becomes the ideal filler or game to round out your evening. No-one’s left out, everyone gets a chance to voice their opinions and they all go home happy. All you have to do now is wait for the game to actually come out…

One Night Ultimate Werewolf will be released through Bezier Games in January 2014. A co-design by Ted Alspach and Akihisa Okui, the art (which really does deserve a special mention) is by Gus Batts. Anywhere from three to ten people can play with games lasting… well, as long as you want them to go on for. Copies will be available through the usual retail outlets, but for the most up to date news on release, check out BezierGames.com – and thanks to Ted for the advance copy!

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Rare Breed – Machi Koro review


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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Episode 68 – Essen 2013 Day Zero – The Show Before The Show!

In something of a turn against what I’m used to when attending events in the UK, security at the Messe for Spiel 2013 were utterly delightful and allowed me access to the show floor before it opened to the public. This first episode of the Essen 2013 Specials is a compilation of interviews from the world’s biggest games show on the final set-up day. A quick apology – my mic was playing up throughout the day so the sound is somewhat fuzzy but I hope that the quality shines through!


Direct Download – http://littlemetaldog.podbean.com/mf/web/wxzh7/LMD_Episode68.mp3 (also available through iTunes, of course)

Dennis and Rainier from TF-22 – http://www.tf22.de/

From Japon Brand we have Simon Lundstrom and Seiji Kanai (Seiji Kanai!) – http://japonbrand.gamers-jp.com/

Ludicreations’ own Iraklis – http://ludicreations.com/

Konstaninos Kokkonis from Artipia Games – http://www.artipiagames.com/

The Z-Man himself, Zev Shlasinger – http://zmangames.com/home.php

Designer of CV from Granna, Filip Mulinski – http://www.granna.pl

Owner of MAGE Company, Alexander Agrypolous – http://www.magecompany.com/

R&R Games owner Frank talks about their new games – http://www.rnrgames.com/

The Portal Legend! Ignacy Trzewik – http://portalgames.pl/en/

One episode down, three (possibly four!) to go…



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Triumph of a Heart – Love Letter (Kanai Factory Edition) review

Well, what can be said about Love Letter that hasn’t already been plastered across websites and uttered over tables around the world? The title that started the microgame revolution, Love Letter offers players an incredible amount of game in a very tiny package. Sixteen cards and a few cubes came together in a tiny little red bag and gave AEG something of a surprise hit. You can read my full review of the original version of the game here, but now we have a new build on our hands based upon the original Japanese release by Seiji Kanai. The game was first picked up by Japon Brand and produced in limited numbers, and now AEG has created an amalgam of the two in the Love Letter Kanai Factory Edition. Original Japanese art combined with English language cards and instructions – what more could you want?

image (3)

The game remains essentially the same, the main difference of course being cosmetic. The bag that contained the Tempest-based version of the game is gone, replaced with a stylish and small box that holds the whole thing. Opening it up reveals the cards and cubes within, the ‘tokens of affection’ that you and your fellow players will be fighting over as you attempt to woo the Princess. Or Prince! Yes, this version of the game is equal opportunity as can be, containing not one but three royals for you to court; two princesses and a prince.



All three are exactly the same when it comes down to the rules, and while only one will be used during any game, it’s nice to see the options opened up a little. Plus, of course, they look beautiful – the art style throughout is really striking, Noboru Sugiura’s work really making the game stand out.

image (1)


This is the full range of cards in the Kanai Factory version. Many are named differently but the actions they trigger are the same – the only big difference is the card at the seventh rank, the Minister. This replaces the Countess from the AEG edition and I’ve found it to be a fantastic switch, truly cruel! Have a closer look:

image (2)


Rather than simply being forced to discard the Countess when you’re holding the King or Prince cards, the Minister is far nastier. Should the total ranks of your two cards equal twelve or more, you’re immediately kicked out of the round – sure, there’s the added issue of being kicked out because you’ve randomly picked up something that bumps you over the level, but in a game as quick playing as this there’s little to complain about.

So, is the Kanai version of the game worth picking up? In all honesty, I’d say yes – the addition of the Minister adds a whole new character to consider and makes the game play in a slightly different way. People seem to get more nervous when the round is drawing to a close and he hasn’t made an appearance, and if you happen to be holding him you have major decisions to make on whether to get rid of him or not. Tracking the cards that are in play, working out what’s left over in the deck… it’s a devious little swine. Even now, nearly a year on since the English language release, Love Letter remains my go-to filler game, and this new edition will certainly get plenty of play around my table. Add in the glorious art and the inexpensive price point, and there’s no reason why your collection couldn’t house both.

The Kanai Factory Edition of Love Letter will be officially available worldwide in a few weeks, and copies can be ordered for under £7 at Gameslore. Between two and four players can court royalty in around fifteen minutes.



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