Tag Archives: Microgame

Speeed King – Eight Minute Empire review

EME Cover

While there’s plenty of games in my collection that allow players sat around the table to indulge in the noble art of conquest, there’s not that many that let you take over continents in a few minutes. In fact, I wasn’t even aware that there was a gap for such a thing on my shelves, but having now played Ryan Laukat’s Eight Minute Empire I’ve come to my senses. Where microgames up until now have been card based, this could well be the first in the genre that plays out on a board. After being successfully Kickstarted in late 2012, the game has won plenty of fans but also drawn a bit of criticism for its light nature.

Of course, a game called Eight Minute Empire (which even states in the metrics that it’ll play out in around that time) is never going to be the deepest of affairs – it does exactly what it says on the box. However, if you go in expecting something speedy that just about scratches the itch of taking over nations, you’ll be grand. Think of EME as the board gaming equivalent of an arcade game that you don’t have to keep throwing quarters at.

Between two and five players begin the game with a bunch of cubes that represent their armies as well as three discs that will act as cities. They also get a fistful of coins that will be spent during the course of the game. Three cubes are placed into the large starting area by each potential world leader, and six cards are dealt face up just above the board. These cards are what drive the game, and they serve two different functions – allowing you to perform an immediate action for that turn, and gathering sets of goods that will give you points at the end of the game.

This is your oyster! It's yours to conquer!

This is yours to conquer! And it”ll all be done in less time than it takes to drink a mug of tea!

When a player’s turn comes around, they choose one of the cards that are laid out, paying the cost that is determined by its position. The card furthest to the left is free, the second and third cost a coin, fourth and fifth are two coins, while the sixth card has a massive cost of three – quite hefty when you only start with eight or nine. On taking the card, you perform the action shown at the bottom.

These are pretty simple: you can establish a city in an area where you have a presence, add armies to the start area or a city that you’ve placed in a previous round, or move armies about from region to region. There are actually two types of movement, one that allows for travelling anywhere including over the sea, another that is strictly land only. Players will aim to spread their influence through the regions and eventually dominate continents, gathering points after a set amount of turns that depends on how many are sat around your table.

Once everyone has that set amount of cards sat in front of them, it’s time to tally the points. Sets of the rarer items like crystals are worth a lot more than something like vegetables or wood, and these are added to the points scored for the regions you control on the map as well as dominance of the various land masses. Variant rules and components are also in the box adding goods tokens to certain areas that increase your sets at the end of the game, bringing in a shade more strategy to the whole EME experience.

Wild cards are particularly useful - add them to whatever set of goods you please at the end of the game. Very useful if you've got a bunch of crystals!

Wild cards are particularly useful – add them to whatever set of goods you please at the end of the game. Very useful if you’ve got a bunch of crystals!

All in all though? This is a light little thing, a wisp of a game time-wise, but with a surprising amount of thought required too. That’s not to say that it has the depth of even something like Risk, but as a quick playing palate cleanser, Eight Minute Empire works incredibly well. If you go in expecting a heavy wargaming experience you’ll be sorely disappointed – there’s no direct combat aside from the occasional card that lets you remove an opponent’s cube from the board, and you’re not barred from moving into new areas even if they’re already occupied.

A lot of the game hinges on when the perfect time is to spend your limited funds on those more expensive cards, but I actually really like this mechanism – do you immediately pick up a 3-coin card that could help you for that turn but leave you poor later in the game, or wait and hope that no-one else touches it and you can pick it up cheaply next turn? In all honesty, my advice would be go for it – after all, the game only takes minutes to play, and if you screw it up you can always just set up for another round.You may not get on with it, but for me… well, I like it. I’m never going to build an entire games night around EME, but as a game to open an evening or fill a few empty moments with mates who are waiting for something more meaty to be set up, it’s ideal. It’s the Milky Way of games – the one you can play between heavier meals without ruining your playing appetite!

Eight Minute Empire was designed by Ryan Laukat and published by through Red Raven Games (amongst others). Between two and five can play with games taking fifteen minutes at most – you can actually get it down to eight if you’ve got a bunch of people who know the rules. You can pick up a copy for around £16 from the folks at Gameslore – go pay them a visit!

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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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Little Star – Council of Verona preview

Verona LOGO

Regular readers of the site will know that I’m far from adverse to writing about Kickstarter games. However, it’s rare that I’ll put down my opinions on something that hasn’t even had its campaign announced yet. But now there’s something new from Crash Games called Council of Verona and I’m getting a little bit excited. If AEG’s Love Letter was the game that ushered in the Year of the Microgame, I honestly believe that Council of Verona is going to be the release that takes it to the next level.

Cliches aside, Verona is a bloody good game. Between two and four players can get involved in a bid to exercise some level of control between the warring Montague and Capulet families. The story goes that Prince Escalus has grown tired of their quarrels and has formed the titular council. Over the course of each game players will attempt to secretly influence certain characters, with whoever has the most control taking the win.

The whole game is made up of only thirteen cards (split into Montagues, Capulets and Neutrals) and four influence tokens (marked 0,3,4 and 5) in four colours. That is IT. That’s even less than Love Letter, and yet it’s as solid and entertaining a game as its Japanese cousin. Each player is dealt one card at the start of the game, then a draft takes place where you take another card and pass the rest to the left. Once only two cards are left to choose from, the player takes one and the other is discarded, never to be involved.

Now that everyone has their cards, it’s time to get into the meat of the game. The play area consists of two “places” – the Council and the Exiled, and each turn begins with you playing a single card to one of these (Council are laid out portrait style, Exiled cards are placed landscape). Cards will either be Influential or Action, and mastering when and how to play both kinds is vital if you’re to be victorious.

Actions first. These are simple enough – you lay the card down and follow the instructions, but you don’t have to trigger the ability if you don’t want to. Sometimes just adding a character to an area is more than enough, but consider the fact that some allow for the movement of other cards, some switch Influence tokens or let you take a peek at what’s already been placed. They should never be underestimated!

The cards that can be Influenced have two important elements – Influence Spaces and Winning Conditions. The three spaces can be filled with your Influence tokens, but beware! The different cards have a selection of modifiers on them, so you may not have as much sway over the characters as you think. Having power over as many as you can is often a good idea, though don’t spread yourself too thinly; until the final card is played, there are plenty of opportunities for the balance of power to shift and screw over your finely crafted plans.

The concept art for Lord Montague's card. Nice!

The concept art for Lord Montague’s card. Nice!

The various goals that the characters are looking to achieve fit well into the story of Romeo and Juliet, giving Council of Verona just enough theme to make it stand out as not just another microgame. The young lovers will score points if they’re together at the end of play, no matter where they are. The Lords want their own families to dominate the Council, while Mercutio’s desire to ruin both the Montagues and Capulets power is reflected in wanting as many characters banished as possible. Escalus desires peace and balance, so he seeks neutrality on the Council. Of course, not all of these can happen, but you can be sure that multiple Winning Conditions will occur. Just hope that you’ve got the highest combined total of Influence at the end.

Having had a fair few games of Council of Verona now, I’m beginning to see how the various cards can affect each other. Unfortunately there’s no accounting for what your opponents will do, so even if you’ve somehow managed to put together a decent hand of cards during the drafting phase of the game, you’re still going to have to pay attention to who is getting added to the Council, who has been exiled, and what Influence tokens are you think are being secretly placed. Like the Montagues and Capulets that are represented within, you’ll need to plan and plot and manipulate your opposition so that your devious machinations bear fruit… and it’s excellent. You’re constantly trying to out-think and out-bluff everyone else while still covering as many bases as possible. For such a tiny package, it packs a lot of challenge and I honestly can’t wait to see the final version.

Council of Verona was designed by Michael Eskue, plays with between two and four, and Crash Games will be running a Kickstarter very soon. That’s all you need to know. Apart from  the fact that it’s fantastic.

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