Tag Archives: Queen Games

Hunting High And Low – Amerigo guest review

The Judge returns from his training for his upcoming bout, takes to his gaming table and cracks open the latest Stefan Feld offering from Queen Games. Is it any good? Well, you’ll find out in a moment…

Amerigo COVER

Following Rialto, Bora Bora & Strassbourg, the most successful and prolific designer of his generation, Stefan Feld, is at it again. But first, a personal message…

Dear Mr. Feld,

How do I love thee’s games, let me count the ways! Oh look at your innovative mechanisms that allow me to score a veritable salad of points. Your love of quirky, randomisation devices is so cute! So, you may be unburdened by the concerns of theme? It matters not! None of that flouncy periphery! Just cold, hard, raw game! Yay!

Lots of love! Your favourite fanboy…

(Apology to the editor – I shall use less ‘!’ from now on. I promise!)

[I’m pretty sure you won’t but we’ll let it slide. Amerigo is worth it! – Michael] 

That said, Stephan Feld’s fourth and last game of 2013 (probably: who knows what magic may escape from his mysterious German laboratory before the year’s end?) is certainly more thematically slanted than much of his oeuvre. It is also perhaps both the heaviest and best entry of the 2013 ‘Feld Four’ (TM: The Judge). The game casts players as assistants to famous Italian explorer Amerigo Vespucci, discovering and colonising the islands of South America. Players compete by taking actions to move your ships around the large, modular map, placing settlements and expanding to take over the new world. Points are gained by planning and constructing Tetris-esque building tiles, scooping up natural resources to trade – such as coconuts, tobacco and cotton – all in the interest of scoring the most points.

The ‘hook’ that separates Amerigo from its fellow Feld Point Salads is apparent from anyone who opens the box – the presence of a large cube tower pinched from Queen Games’ successful euro-war games, Shogun and Wallenstein. In those games this tower was used to decide the outcome of battles by throwing in the troops represented by cubes and seeing who was victorious by what fell out the bottom and didn’t getting snagged up on the many shelves and compartments inside. In Amerigo, however, coloured cubes are poured inside each round, with the pool of cubes that escape revealing what actions are available for the players. Owing to the nature of the tower, cubes from the current round may be trapped away, and others from previous rounds are nudged free making offering unpredictable actions on each round.

Ludicrous dice tower is ludicrous. It's exactly the same inside as Shogun, by the way!

Ludicrous dice tower is ludicrous. It’s exactly the same inside as Shogun, by the way!

This random element can lead to amazing situations where you pour 3 white cubes in, only to have them disappear (presumably through some kinds of portal to Narnia) and a red, a green and two blues appear… Much like the dice rolling in Bora Bora or Castles of Burgundy, these results are random, though somewhat predictable. Geoff Englestein described this as ‘Pink Noise’ on a recent episode of his excellent Ludology podcast, but put simply the opportunities created will force players to adapt.

What do I really like about Amerigo? Well, the game has a certain narrative. Sailing and claiming ports around the various islands is really important at the start of the game – but less so as the areas are colonised. Building multiple settlements on an island is an obvious winning tactic – as it multiplies the available points for covering the whole settlement with buildings. The thing is, the larger islands can be really big and a heavy drain on time / resources to complete. This forces players to co-operate to complete the islands and share the points. Alternatively, you could always highjack a single port and block the filling of an island to cost a player a ton of points.

This says NOTHING about the game, but it's certainly nice to look at.

This says NOTHING about the game, but it’s certainly nice to look at.

Simply colonising the islands with buildings is fun too, offering a spatial, tetris-like puzzle where the challenge comes from making best use of your available building tiles whilst scooping up the natural resources scattered around. More so than Bora Bora and Burgundy for that matter, Amerigo is remarkably simple to learn. The mechanisms get out of the way and the actions you can select are fairly straight forward. This is not a difficult game to teach and players are able to make short, medium and long term strategies right from the start. So yes, this is more of the same point grabbing from Feld, but with a distinctly different flavour. The clever, innovative inclusion of the cube tower is an interesting and fun way of adding some light randomisation into the game’s design. The spatial elements offered by the map offers fresh challenges, and even the end-game scoring is relatively painless and obvious.

The very lovely designer has done it again. Yes, it’s not a cheap game, but it comes in a giant box that is filled with game that will last you for months – or at least until another masterwork escapes from Castle Feld.

Amerigo, designed by Stefan Feld, was released by Queen Games at Essen 2013. Between two and four people can play with games taking around an hour and a half. Expansions are also available that add even more into the game experience through the Queenies range. Should you want to grab a copy – and why wouldn’t you? You have taste! – you’ll be looking at around £50 for a copy once they become available through retail next week. Thanks as always to Stuart for his review – follow him on Twitter via @Judge1979

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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!

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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.

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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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In My P(a)lace – Alhambra review

I never had much opportunity to build things when I was young. Sure, I had plenty of Lego which was generally used to build the tallest tower I could possibly construct before it tumbled over, but I wasn’t ever happy with the houses I made. Limited resources meant that they were never grand enough, never as opulent and sprawling as I wanted them to be. My small amount of bricks meant I was stuck with putting together bog standard bungalows with barely enough room to swing the slightly freakish looking cat that was included in the set.

Thankfully, now I’m older and have disposable income, I can go out and buy all the Lego I want. Or I could do if I didn’t blow the majority of it on games, anyway. Thankfully, there are plenty out there can can scratch the itch to build stuff, and one of my favourite ones is the 2003 Spiel des Jahres winner – Dirk Henn’s Alhambra. Players compete with each other to build the finest palace by collecting and laying tiles portraying different types of building. These tiles are bought by spending money (split into four currencies – one of the actions you can take on your turn is drawing from a set of upturned cards – I also play a house rule that you can draw from the top of the currency deck) that players have in their hand – each building is worth a set amount, printed on the tile. Only four buildings are ever on offer at one time, chosen randomly from a bag and put up for purchase on a builders yard board – another of the actions you may take. These buildings will not change until they’re bought and added to a player’s own collection.

As more and more currency cards are drawn, the three scoring phases of the game draw ever closer. The first two are triggered by the turning of scoring cards that have been placed into the money deck, the final one occuring at the game’s end. Players gain points by having the most (and later in the game the second and third highest amounts) of the building types – whoever has the most at the end is declared the winner. Simple! Well, not necessarily.

Those four tiles on the builder’s yard board can often scupper you – for example, if a tile you really need to get a majority of that set is available but you haven’t got enough of that currency, you’ll need to wait until you have enough of it, all the while waiting to see if someone else will pick it up. They may not, but the more expensive / rarer buildings score highly – even having one or two of a certain type could be enough to net you some points at the end of the game. There’s also the issue of walls; some tiles have a black border on one, two or three sides. Every aspect of your palace must be accessible from your starting tile (everyone gets a fountain to begin with) so walls must be strategically placed – they also net you one bonus point per scoring round for every section, particularly useful at the games end, so watch out for your opponents! You can, of course, have more than one wall, but only the longest counts towards your score. Any tiles that would be blocked off from the rest of your palace can be put on your reserve board and used later, but that’ll take up your turn – making the correct decisions at the right time in Alhambra is everything.

So, three actions – get money, buy a tile or swap. That is the basis for the whole game, and while it may come across as a simple one, there are actually many layers of depth to be found in Alhambra. Do you buy an expensive tile to hamper an opponent, even though it might be of no use to you? Do you spend a turn swapping a pair of tiles to open up an area of your palace while others grab high scoring buildings? Do you hold on to money towards the end of the game hoping you’ll get lucky, because whoever has the highest amount of each currency gets to take the tile from the yard for free?

Queen Games have put a lot of effort into the game’s production – all elements are high quality, and you get a lot in the box for your money. I’ve owned my copy for nearly five years and despite regularly visiting the table, it’s in excellent condition. I kind of think they’ve overmilked the cash-cow a little with the release of five expansions, a dice game variation, a forthcoming card game and spin-off title (The Gardens of Alhambra), but would heartily recommend you get a copy of the original. If the theme irks you, you can always wait for the reskinned version that’s due later this year, seeing players building in New York instead! While it perhaps involves a little more thought than your average gateway game, Alhambra is still one I’d happily introduce newer players to. A little more of a challenge, I’d see it more as a bridging step between something like Carcassonne and a more complex Eurogame.

Alhambra is produced by Queen Games, designed by Dirk Henn and was first released in 2003. It also claimed that year’s Spiel des Jahres prize. It is available here in the UK through all your friendly local game stores and online for around £20.

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Paint It Black – Fresco review

Despite the fact that I’ve been playing games since I was tiny, I have no idea what to class myself as. This is probably a good thing – putting yourself in a box, saying you’re a Eurogamer or a fan of Ameritrash cuts out a huge amount of quality games from your potential plays. Friends who see you as someone who will only touch German games involving cubes won’t offer you the chance to play stuff like Memoir ’44, for example. On the flipside, if you’re known as the kind of person who demands huge amounts of immaculately sculpted minis in their game, titles like Fresco may pass you by and that would be a pity because Fresco is a cracking game.

Based in Rennaisance times, players take the role of artists who have been commisioned to paint (shockingly enough) a fresco in a cathedral. While it basically comes down to collecting different types of paint – yes, represented by cubes, this is a German game after all – and trading them in for tiles bearing differing amounts of victory points, there’s an awful lot more to Fresco than that.

The first time I saw the board, which covered in what seemed like several thousand cubes, tiles and meeples, I honestly thought I was in over my head. I’m not the best at managing several different tasks at the best of times (see several disasterous games of Colonia – a game that I am truly awful at) and was sure that this was going to be more of the same. However, beneath the piles and piles of bits lies an actually quite simple game – keep on top of what you should be doing and everything will be fine.

Not actually as confusing as it first appears!

You start by – randomly enough – choosing what time you’ll be getting up. This effects your mood, which can prove very important. Drop into too much of a foul mood and you will lose an apprentice, and you need them for the next stage of the game where you secretly select what actions you will take. You may choose to visit the market to buy paint – tiles are places on four different stalls, but you may only buy from one – the price is set by the time you chose to get up, getting cheaper the longer you choose to sleep in. Other options include hawking your sevices as a portrait painter (which builds up your cash reserves), visiting the cathedral to paint part of the fresco itself (trading in paint cubes to claim a tile, thus scoring points), mixing up paint (higher value points tiles need mixed colours) or even visiting the theatre to cheer yourself up and improve your mood!

No cathedral is complete without a bishop, and Fresco‘s one is very useful indeed – should he be on your tile (or adjacent to it) when you pick it up, you are awarded bonus points. Paying one coin allows you to move the bishop, so his strategic use can really help you build up points. Each action can be taken up to three times, depending on how many apprentices you chose to send to each area in the initial secret selection. A bonus apprentice can also be picked up if your mood is sufficiently good, gaining you a very useful advantage.

Fresco is a game of spreading out your limited resources and keeping ahead of your opponents while constantly making sure you’re building up your supplies. I found that people who failed to buy good quantities of paint then neglected the mixing aspect as well – and if you ignore that part of the game, you are going to fall way behind on the points track very quickly.

Now, a small admission: I have only played the simplest version of the game. Players can choose before starting what level they wish to play at (higher levels have a second level of mixes leading to greater points scores, for example) but I believe that I’m still able to comment on Fresco. Once you grow to understand the range of different actions – and their consequences both good and bad – you will discover an entertaining game that is rich in theme. You really can get into character, sending your minions out to the paint stalls, mixing up their purchases and revealing the fresco piece by piece. A special mention for the artwork must be made as well – Fresco is a game well worthy of it’s name. It’s a beautifully put together effort from the elaborately decorated (double sided) board to the brilliant rule book – well worth a purchase and definitely worth playing.

Fresco was published in 2010 by Queen Games, and was designed by Marcel Süßelbeck, Marco Ruskowski and Wolfgang Panning. It handles between two and four players and will cost you around £40 here in the UK (though IGUK are doing it for a bit less).

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