Tag Archives: two player

Metal Guru – Bronze preview


Finding a decent game that is strictly for two players can be a tricky task indeed. I swear blind that Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small is a sure thing, but sometimes you want to do something on a grander scale than simply constructing a farm. Perhaps you fancy taking the reigns of a civilisation and seeing if you can destroy those who rise before you, all in twenty minutes? Now you’ll get to do precisely that in a new game called Bronze from Spiral Galaxy.

Originally based on a PC game designed to be played solitaire, it’s now been transferred to the tabletop where you’ll vie against a single human opponent to see if you can dominate the map. With each player randomly allocated a civilisation from a selection of six, Bronze is a quick playing engine building affair with a fair dash of tile placement and area control – you start off with no money so will need to get resources to hand as quickly as you can; thankfully as you expand across the field of play you’ll gain access to more and more. As your access to resources expands, so do the opportunities to build bigger and better creations; however, you can get stuck quite quickly as each of the seven building types are limited. Leave it too long and your opponent could well steal the lot, leaving you high and dry.

Of course, you may not have to worry about this too much – with each player in control of a different civilisation, they could also have access to other buildings or even be able to pay less for those you can purchase. This asymmetric play adds some extra value to the package as a whole – after all, there are plenty of combinations to experiment with, and with four base maps included the options open up even further. Rules are also included to design your own maps, so the variety is almost infinite.

Mid game - things are going well for the

Mid game – things are going well for the Egyptians!

Actual gameplay is very straightforward – even newbie gamers will be able to grasp the whole thing within a game or so. With only three options to choose from on each turn, Bronze is simplicity itself. You can either expand your territory with a Farm, expand with a Building, or convert a Farm into a Building, but the trick to winning is all down to timing; get the right building on the board at the right time and you could steal the win. The game ends when one player can perform one of these actions, victory points are totalled up and your winner is declared.

In the games I’ve played I have found that there’s often a tipping point, a moment you can see precisely where the game turned in one player’s favour; some may consider this a bad thing, but in a game that plays so quickly, it’s hard to be entirely down on it. In fact, it’s actually suggested in the rules that you set aside enough time to play twice, switching civilisations after the first game and combining the points after both plays to see who wins.

It’s been interesting spending time with Bronze. Early plays didn’t really grab me; it wasn’t until I got a few games under my belt that I realised the depth that was in there. Of course, as it plays so speedily we’re not exactly talking Twilight Imperium here, but it offers a higher level of complexity than you may initially expect, and while it may not entirely take the place of Agricola: ACBAS as my two-player game of choice, it’ll certainly be hitting the table regularly when I’m looking for a head-to-head blast.

Thanks to the folks at Spiral Galaxy Games for letting me have some time with the only prototype that’s out there! If you’re interested in Bronze, you can get involved with the current Kickstarter campaign where a copy will set you back £30 – it ends on February 28th 2013 though, so be quick! 


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History Repeating – Button Up! review

Sometimes a great game is huge, a sprawling extravaganza of a thing with countless wooden bits, huge amounts of depth and a playtime up in the multiple hours. Sometimes it’s the flipside of that, an idea so simple and straightforward that makes you wonder why the hell you didn’t get it first. Button Up!, a Bruno Cathala design from Jactalea, falls firmly in the second category – a tiny box, a handful of simple components and a wonderfully easy to grasp concept.

Three beermats, a set of instructions and a bunch of buttons. That’s all you get in the box. It’s not a lot, but then there’s not a huge amount of stuff you get to do in the game – however, in order to come out victorious in this lovely little two player release, you’ll need something that can be hard to come by that isn’t packed in – a bucketful of forward planning. Taking on the role of either Napoleon Buttonaparte or his nemesis General Ludwig Yorck von Buttonburg, you’re literally trying to end up on top…

Prepare for battle!

Nine large buttons, three each in three colours – red, black and white – are dropped and randomly arranged around the central beermat. It’s here where battle will commence and your points will be scored. The aim is to move said buttons in a clockwise manner around the mat, forming stacks that will quickly grow into a single tower. However, only the white buttons (or stacks containing one) can be moved by the players.

If you’ve ever played Mancala, you’ll have a head start on the way it all works. Pick up a single white button and you’ll place it on top of the next button. Pick up a stack of two and you’ll be adding to the next two piles. Each pile may only be added to once, meaning that it’s perfectly possible that you could create a massive one quite early on. The trick to the game, of course, is to engineer it so that your coloured buttons – red for Buttonaparte, black for von Buttonburg – end up as high in the final tower as possible.

Von Buttonburg dominates the stack – for this round anyway…

Once the stack is complete, points are scored. The highest gets nine, then you work all the way to the bottom with its value of one. White buttons, the spies of the game, score nothing. Both players determine their scores and whoever has the highest total is awarded the difference between the two – for example, say I scored 17 and you totalled 11, I would be awarded 6 points. The first to 15 points or more is declared the winner of the battle and claims bragging rights aplenty.

And that’s all there is to it. I could see Button Up! included in a larger scale game as a way of settling combat, but Jactalea have seen enough potential in it to release the whole thing on its own – and why shouldn’t they? It’s a lovely little two player filler (remember, that shouldn’t be a dirty word in the gaming world) that plays out in ten minutes. If you’re looking for a quick playing little game that, it’s an ideal way to kill a wee while. The fact that Bruno Cathala’s name is on the front of the box should help with getting Button Up! out there a bit more than your average small scale new release, but in all honesty I’d heartily recommend picking this one up.

Button Up! by Bruno Cathala was launched at Essen 2012 by Jactalea. Only two people can play, and games take around ten minutes. Copies outside of France are few and far between, but you can order it directly from the company site for only 10 Euro by clicking on this link!

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Crawling – Dungeon Heroes (p)review

It’s hard finding decent games that cater specifically for two players in a quick timeframe. There’s Agricola: All Creatures Big And Small, of course, as well as the splendid but currently out-of-print Balloon Cup. Lost Cities is pretty good, and there’s also Summoner Wars (even though you can officially play that with more than two people). Now, if you’re looking for another one to add to the list, may I suggest the upcoming release from Crash Games, Dungeon Heroes?

It’s the traditional dungeon crawl turned into a half hour game of strategy, memory and tile placing. One player is handles the glorious heroes, all of whom have a different ability that should help them in their quest to grab three treasures from the dungeon. The Warrior is the only hero allowed to take on monsters, killing them by moving into their space on the board. The Wizard, though squishy, is very useful, allowing you to flip and reveal tiles. The Cleric has healing powers (which you’ll definitely need) and the Rogue may disarm traps. Meanwhile, their opponent is the Dungeon Lord, owner of our arena, who has only one thing on their mind; the destruction of the heroes. So far, so normal.

The game is split into two phases – Passive and Aggressive. Passive play sees the heroes take their first tentative steps into the dungeon while tiles are placed face down all around them by the bad guy.  The heroes, represented by dice that show their current health level, are very much at an advantage during this part of the game – with less stuff on the board, they can move about relatively freely. However, moving onto a tile reveals it immediately, so they must be careful not to unleash a monster or trigger a trap.

The Dungeon Lord is allowed to place four tiles per turn, and it’s here where it becomes evident that a good memory is required. Sadly, mine is filled with holes and so when I’m on the side of evil it doesn’t often go well… Thankfully, once all 36 tiles are placed, things take a turn for the nasty.

It’s now that the Aggressive Phase kicks in and the tide turns in favour of evil! Any monster tiles that have been revealed previously are now replaced by tokens that are allowed to wander the dungeon looking for a dinner of tasty hero. Here the power is definitely with the Lord as the heroes are now desperately trying to get the three treasures they need before they get wiped out by the wandering hordes. That is, of course, assuming that the evil player can remember where they’ve placed their monster tiles…

Other stuff they can use include slide tiles – very useful when a hero steps onto them as they force a sideways movement, hopefully into the jaws of a particularly strong beastie or a nasty cloud of poison gas. The previously mentioned traps can also be incredibly useful to destroy the good guys, assuming you can force the characters into them – easier said than done.

Swiftly enough, a winner will be declared and you’ll probably have enough time for a reverse match-up before your lunch hour is finished. Early plays of Dungeon Heroes will see you fumbling about a bit no matter what side you choose to use, but it quickly becomes clear that there’s a deeper game beneath what initially appears to be a light surface. If you’re the Dungeon Lord, huddling all your monsters around the heroes early in the game may well see you with not enough forces to successfully take them down later on. With the Heroes, leaving it too late could see you swamped with monsters and no chance of victory. I like the fact that the two different phases give specific advantages to one of the players – there’s a palpable switch once all the tiles have been played, a slight element of desperation for the heroes and a growing feeling of power for the Dungeon Lord. More impressively, it doesn’t feel unbalanced (which could well happen in a game such as this) – unless you play spectacularly poorly, both sides will be in with a chance until the very end.

One final point to remember: the game isn’t actually out yet. This is all based on a prototype provided by the folks at Crash Games, so if you want a copy you’ll have to head on down to Kickstarter. Be sure to check it out from October 16th!

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Ship of Fools – Castaways of Deadman’s Bay review

When it comes to the eternal debate that rages around the internet – what’s better, Pirates or Ninjas? – I’m often found happily sitting the whole thing out playing in the corner with robots. The salty seadogs seem to have the edge at the moment, riding the waves of popularity that have been no doubt heavily inspired by the Pirates of the Carribean movies and the fact that kids love shouting ARRRRRR while brandishing swords. The world of gaming has its fair share of releases that focus on a life on the ocean wave – Pirate’s Cove and Merchants and Marauders spring to mind immediately – but what if you want something a little speedier?

Haul up the chest from the briny deep! Kick it open with a swift kick of your wooden leg and see what you find. What’s that, glistening beneath the dubloons? Why, it’s a copy of Castaways of Deadman’s Bay from Ponder Zombie games!

Strictly for two players, Castaways is a quick battle of bluff and strategy where working out what your opponent’s next step could be is the diference between glory and ignominy. Taking control of a potential captain, you battle your opponent to win the game (and control of a fine ship) in one of three ways. We’ll cover those in a moment, but first a brief explanation of how the game runs.

Yo ho ho and a box full o

Setup for Castaways is super-quick. There’s a “plank” in the middle of the two players made up of ten cards, the centre two depicting the player characters. Each player also gets six crew cards (two each of three different types which can be stolen back and forth) and eight little glass health tokens. You also start with three Attack/Defend cards (labelled as ‘Strike’, ‘Charge’ and ‘Insult’) and three Base Power-Up cards (marked with the same). Once those are handed out, you’re good to go.

In a turn, you draw two cards from your pile and place one of them on top of the Power-Up card of the same type (so if you choose to keep an ‘Insult’ one, it sits on top of your Base Insult card). At the top of each card is a type of move – either Damage, Push or Crew – each one causing a different type of misery to your opposite number. They’re not triggered quite yet though; first you must Attack!

This is done by secretly choosing either your Strike, Charge or Insult card. At the same time, the other potential captain must try and work out which card you’ve selected. The choices are revealed at the same and if the enemy shows the same as you chose, there’s no effect. If you outwit them, however, then every attack in that stack is unleashed upon them. For example have a look below:

If you selected Insult (and the other player guessed incorrectly), according to this stack you’ll do three Crew, two Push and one Damage attacks – and these are the three ways in which you can win the game. For every Crew attack, you steal one Crew card of your choice from your opponent (gaining bonuses if you manage to get all four cards of a certain type), winning the game if you get hold of all twelve Crew. Push Attacks involve the Plank, nudging the opposing character slowly towards the edge, one space per card. Think of a daring duel in those classic Errol Flynn movies, albeit with slightly less movement – just push the enemy off the edge and you win! Finally, Damage simply involves taking a Health token away for each card, and getting down to zero means that you lose. So, the above attack would see you take three Crew cards from the other player, push them two spaces along the plank and make them discard one Health token. Not bad…

There’s also a whole bunch of blue cards as well which – while not adding to your attack piles – do grant you boons. These could be anything from forcing the enemy to remove a Power-Up card to getting rid a piece of the Plank, meaning that the journey to the bottom of the briny deep is a little bit closer for them… You won’t win just by using these cards, but they’ll certainly grant you some much needed advantages – don’t underestimate them!

One really nice thing about Castaways is this different paths to victory idea. By spreading out the different type of attack cards that you get from your draw pile, you’re able to either mix things up meaning that you get a good range of different attacks, or you can try to focus on a certain type. Obviously, a lot of the game is luck based (the cards you get to play with, the fact that you have to outwit your opponent to actually get an attack in), but what’s wrong with a little chance now and then?

Castaways of Deadman’s Bay is a good little game. It’s well produced, easy to explain (seriously, you’ll be up and playing within a couple of minutes) and just what I want from a two-player game; lots of confrontation, quick to play and good chaotic fun. I really don’t want to refer to it as a filler – it feels a little derogatory to do that – so I’ll just say that it’s quick and dirty pirate-y goodness. Nothing earth-shaking. It’s not going to change your view of the universe, but you’ll have a few laughs as you bid to become captain. Just don’t expect to stay in that role for too long.

Castaways of Deadmans Bay is published by Ponder Zombie Games. Designed by Ian Volkwein with art from Brandon Bittner, it’s available from Amazon for $25 – maybe a little expensive, but support your local indie developer! They’ve done a very good job putting the game together, producing a high quality product that you really should check out. Aye aye!

Update: Ian got in touch with me after the review was posted to let me know that you can actually pick up Castaways even cheaper… put the code pzgames2 in the checkout on Amazon and you’ll get 20% off. Not bad!

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Summer in the City – Lost Cities Review

I’m off on holiday soon. Six weeks of time to do stuff I like, catch up on writing and record episodes of the podcast. Steph and I are also going away on an actual break for a couple of weeks, flying off to the USA – there’ll be plenty of exciting stuff for us to do, but there’s also going to be a considerable amount of downtime, especially travelling. Flying across the Atlantic (and then all the way over to the west coast!) takes a while, and there’s also a couple of days we’ll be spending on trains going up to northern California and back from San Diego. Naturally, you can read, play your DS, that kind of thing, but my mind is – as always – wondering if there’s anything I can bring for the pair of us to play.

Two factors are important – portability and playability. There’s not exactly the room for a bunch of tiles on one of those tray tables you get on a plane, and I don’t want us to hit some turbulence that sends cubes and meeples all over the place. Games with lots of bits are out, then, as are games that require space. It looks like the best bet will be a couple of card games to tide us over, and at a push, I can stuff the necessary cards for a game of Dominion or Thunderstone into a deckbox or two. One game that is definitely coming along for the ride though? Lost Cities.

Gone adventuring, brb.

A two-player affair which involves an admitted bit of luck (as with any card game), Lost Cities sees them compete to collect and place expedition cards aiming to get a higher score than their opponent. The game comes with a board (which you don’t have to really use), sixty oversized cards, split into five coloured sets of twelve – each set is numbered from 2 to 10, with the remaining ones designated as “investment cards”. To start, the deck is shuffled and both players receive eight cards – in turn, you then choose to either place a card on an expedition, start a brand new one, or discard. No matter where you drop your card, you then replace it from the deck, and that’s about it. As with many Reiner Knizia games, the process is deceptively simple but it’s very easy to bite off more than you can chew.

Every time you choose to start a new expedition, you’re already 20 points in the hole. However, you start working back towards a positive points total by playing the numbered cards on top of each other. You’re allowed to skip over numbers (for example, you could start with a 2, then play a 4, 5, 6, 8 and finish with a 9) but you can’t go back and insert a number you’ve already jumped. No playing a 3 after a 4 has been placed on that colour for your side, for instance – your cards must always have an increasingly higher number. You can, as mentioned, choose to discard, but that uses up your turn.

A couple of investment cards at the top. This is going to hurt.

If you’re feeling lucky (or you reckon you’re going to be able to get your hands on lots of a certain colour), before you start playing numbers you can put down one of the aformentioned investment cards. Doing this will double anything you score at the end of the game, even if this is a negative amount. If you only managed to put a single investment card down on your side, you’re now 40 points down. Feeling super confident? You can use two or even three investment cards if you wish, but these increase the multiplier yet further – you’d better hope that the cards fall into your lap pretty quickly or you’re going to lose – and lose badly! You can also get yourself another 20 points per expedition if you manage to use eight or more cards in that group, but that happening is something of a rarity…

Lost Cities is a quick game that (to me, anyway) is very much all about the maths with a tacked-on theme. This could be about anything – venturing further into space than your opponent, building increasingly tall towers… hell, it’d even work as a basic abstract, but whatever the concept, if doesn’t matter. It’s a great little two-player filler, playable in 15-20 minutes (and that includes working out the maths at the end). There’s a four-player variant mentioned in the rules that requires two sets, but I’ve never tried that one out – however, if there’s a pair of you looking for a swift but fun game, I’d heartily recommend picking up a copy.

Lost Cities is published by many companies – mine is part of the Kosmos two-player line, co-released through Rio Grande. It was released in 1999 and was – as mentioned – designed by the legendary Reiner Knizia. It’s currently in print and is available in your FLGS or online. IGUK have it right now for £18 -go check it out!


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