Tag Archives: Z-Man Games

Episode 79 – UKGE 2014 Part Two!

A brand new episode of the show from the UK Games Expo brings another two big names from the industry to your ears! This time around it’s the Z-Man himself, Zev Shlasinger, the head of Z-Man Games. While I normally get to grab a few scant minutes with Zev every year over at Essen, this is the first opportunity that I’ve had to sit down with him and catch up with him properly, talking not just about his company’s latest releases but also the story behind Z-Man Games itself. Following that, I got to speak to Justin Ziran, the president of WizKids Games. Makers of this summer’s hottest and hardest-to-find release (Marvel Dice Masters) they’ve come under some heavy fire regarding the shortages. Find out why and more besides in this interview! And special thanks to Dani from Esdevium for sorting out the interviews!

Links:

Z-Man Games – http://zmangames.com/home.php

Zev’s BGG Page – http://boardgamegeek.com/boardgamedesigner/5610/zev-shlasinger

WizKids Games – http://wizkidsgames.com/

UK Games Expo – https://www.ukgamesexpo.co.uk/

 

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Rock the Boat – Le Havre: The Inland Port review

LHIPCover

If you’ve read the site regularly or listened to the show, you’ll probably know that Agricola is one of my all time favourites. I’ll play it anywhere, with anyone, anytime; seriously, if you fancy a game on boiteajeux.com, let me know – I’m LittleMetalDog over there. I honestly reckon that designer Uwe Rosenberg is some kind of savant genius when it comes to design. Just look at his track record. Bohnanza, Ora et Labora, All Creatures Big and Small… the guy knows what he’s doing.

Of course, one of his most famous games is Le Havre. In all honestly, I’ve tried my very best but I can’t get my head around it. I can see that it’s a great game and I understand why it’s popular, but frankly it leaves me a bit cold. Hell, even the tutorial on the iOS version of the game confuses the bejesus out of me and I’m really not that dumb. Honest. Thankfully, there’s now a stripped down two-player version of the game that (a) I actually understand and (b) is pretty damn good.

Le Havre: The Inland Port focuses on building the perfect engine in a race to score the most points after twelve rounds of play. Starting off with a handful of resources and a few Francs to your name, you’ll need to invest in buying buildings, each of which will boost what’s available to you to use in later rounds and contribute to your final score. As the game progresses the buildings on offer get more expensive but also more powerful and valuable. It’s a lot more straightforward than its big brother.

You also have two boards – one that keeps track of the amount of resources you have called the Warehouse, and one that you stash your purchased buildings on. Split into six sections, there’s also a rotating arm that’s numbered at its centre. When you pick up a new building, it’s placed into the sector marked with a zero; once a turn has been completed, the arm moves around. The numbers around the centre of the arm signify the amount of times a building in that space can be used but be sure to not leave it too long…

The wheel in question. The letters around the outside show the current round, while the numbers show how many turns there will be.

The wheel! The letters around the outside show the current round, while the numbers show how many turns there will be this time around.

You see, each time the arm moves, the number increases; you’ll get two, three, four or four actions and an extra Franc. Normally this means that you get to move the cube representing a resource type on your board that amount of spaces, though you’ve got to be careful as the area you’re moving around in is somewhat limited and in a game where exact management is everything, waste cannot be tolerated. This may be a simplified(ish) version of Le Havre but it’s still quite a hardcore experience.

Also pretty hardcore: the final sector. Should you allow any of your buildings to slip into that area you’ll have to sell it for half the price. You will feel like an ass, even though you could potentially pick it up again. Again, it feels like a spectacular waste when you should be attempting to control everything as best you can. DO NOT LET THIS HAPPEN.

Anyway, at the beginning of each round, a new selection of buildings are added to the stack of what’s available to buy. You’re either going to buy one of these brand new options (paying the cost in coins or resources) or use something you’ve already purchased – either way, it’s immediately moved to the zero section of the wheel. You also have the option of using any buildings your opponent has bought; all you have to do is hand over one Franc and the ability is yours. This can’t be refused and is a perfectly viable option if they’ve got what you need – after all, there’s no way you’re going to get absolutely everything you require to win the game.

And here's your warehouse. It's pretty ingenious as to how it all works, moving around the squares to track your resources.

And here’s your warehouse. It’s pretty ingenious as to how it all works, moving around the squares to track your resources.

As the game goes on you’ll get more to do, allowing you to maximise your resources and get the biggest and best buildings. Some offer no resources at all but can bring in some massive points, so be sure to keep an eye out on what’s due to appear in upcoming rounds on the handy chart that’s included in the box. The moment the twelfth round is done, you total up the value of everything you’ve bought, add in the Francs you have left over and whoever has the highest amount is declared victorious.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that The Inland Port isn’t going to be for everyone. It’s far from the prettiest game in the world (‘functional’ is probably the best description for how it looks) and is dry as all get out, but if you’ve got the kind of gaming brain that enjoys developing a perfect routine you’ll get a lot out of this one. It’s all about getting the perfect amount of resources for what you need, maximising your play and – when necessary – screwing over your opponent by using what they’ve got available. Personally, I have to be in the right frame of mind for it but should the mood take me (and there’s a suitable opponent at hand) this is well worth a play. Rather than spending two hours attempting to decipher Le Havre and all its machinations, thirty minutes with The Inland Port is a comparative delight. Give it a shot!

Le Havre: The Inland Port was released by Lookout Games and Z-Man Games in 2012. Designed by Uwe Rosenberg , it caters for two players only with games taking about thirty to forty minutes. Pick up a copy for yourself by visiting Gameslore – you’ll be able to get one for £20.49

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The Rock Show – Alcatraz: The Scapegoat review

Once again The Judge reveals his verdict on a tabletop game, this time one that’s rather fitting given his love of justice… However, it would seem that this time he’s ended up on the wrong side of the law.

Well, well, well… Who’s been a naughty boy then?  All of us evidently!  Alcatraz: The Scapegoat is a three to four player, semi-cooperative game from Z-Man Games where players adopt the roles of criminals – locked up in the famous prison facility for undefined reasons.  Could it be assault? Murder? Genocide? Let’s go for the more palatable – “we’re all innocent and have been wrongly accused.”  The aim is to escape, but will we ALL make it off ‘The Rock’ across San Francisco Bay to freedom?  Well, maybe not all of us…

This is an action point game, in the mould of Pandemic or Flash Point: Fire Rescue, as players spend their turns moving about the facility, avoiding an ever increasing number of guards and collecting special Blackmail cards and items (clothing, tools, weapons, drugs etc.) to solve elements of the larger escape plan.  Thematically these include digging tunnels, drugging the warden and stealing the prison map.  Mechanically, these are listed as plots A-F.  Once the players have, between them, captured all of these plots then the escape is on!  Hands up who’s escaping to freedom!  Not so fast, you…

You see, the twist in Alcatraz is that there always has to be a scapegoat – the one poor bugger left on the island to carry the can for the escape.  So everyone wins, except one.  The scapegoat card is allocated via a blind vote at the start of each round – and this will change throughout the game.  This unfortunate victim will take the first turn of the round and is also awarded with additional Action Points.  The powerful Blackmail cards that can hinder your colleagues’ plans (or at least delay them) can also only be played when you are the scapegoat.  Of course, there are negatives – not only are you unable to solve any plots yourself whilst you hold the card, but you will also receive no benefits for any plots solved by others.

The flow of play is best described as a three or four way tug of war.  You want to get the elements to the plot card locations, but also want to make sure you’re not going to get screwed over and miss out on the spoils.  The increasing number of guards, added each round, act as a timer.  If they are ever all of the board, then Alcatraz wins – and this creates a desire to be helpful to the cause, lest you all lose the game.

The Blackmail cards, which are always open and face up once collected, will act as a deterrent to the group should they think about picking on you. That said, sometimes being “The Scapegoat” for a round is beneficial.  Acting first and the extra action points can help to set up a future turn where someone else will take the bullet.

There’s a lot going on in Alcatraz, and yet the mechanical simplicity allows the social aspect to come to the fore.  This is unlike Battlestar Galactica or Shadows over Camelot with a defined Bad Guy hidden amongst you.  These guys won’t stab you in the back, they’ll stab you in the front.  Twice.  And steal your lunch money to boot.

This is an interesting and unique game all about social interaction.  I enjoy the interplay between the prisoners – with a unified goal but a strong sense of mistrust – as we all know that one of us isn’t going to make it.  Like Diplomacy on speed, and playable in 30-45 minutes, here alliances are formed and broken on a turn by turn basis and you trust your villainous neighbour at your peril.

After a couple of unsatisfying plays, I have now found the fun in Alcatraz : The Scapegoat.  It needs the right group: the type who can invest in the theme, enjoy the interaction and not worry about the lack of deep mechanics.  Crosses and double crosses are commonplace.  Non-binding promises will be exchanged.  And good fun should be had by all.  Well, all but one…

Originally released by Polish company Kuznia Gier, the English language version of Alcatraz: The Scapegoat is available now from Z-Man Games. The first expansion, Maximum Security, is also out now. You can follow Stuart “The Judge” Platt on Twitter – you’ll find him @Judge1979.

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Episode 46 – Essen 2012, Day One!

The immense Spiel event takes place every year in October in the German city of Essen and sees the release of hundreds of new board and card games (as well as so  much more). The Little Metal Dog Show was in attendance for the second year running as the fair celebrated its thirtieth anniversary. Bigger than ever, the halls were filled with booths featuring games from around the world, and this first episode of four will take you straight to the show floor. In this one you’ll find interviews with the following people and companies…

Direct Download – http://littlemetaldog.podbean.com/mf/web/wa788t/LMD_Episode46.mp3

TF22 – LOAD! designer Dennis Kirps along with TF Verlag’s Rainer – http://www.tf22.de/

Ted Alspach of Bezier Games, designer of Suburbia (which ended up selling out!) – http://www.beziergames.com/

Soda Pop Miniatures presented Tentacle Bento and new expansions for Super Dungeon Explore – http://www.sodapopminiatures.com/

Max Michael from Stratamax games discussed Sheepdogs of Pendleton Hill – http://www.stratamaxgames.com/

Z-Man Games’ own Zev Shlasinger took time out from his very busy booth to talk about a lot of stuff – http://www.zmangames.com/

R’n’R Games were in attendance with a pile of new titles – http://www.rnrgames.com/

Michael Kranzle from Pegasus Spiele joined me to talk about their huge range of titles, including Kennerspiel des Jahre winner Village – http://www.pegasus.de/

Jactalea’s Timothee Leroy comes on and discusses Button Up!, The Blue Lion and more – http://www.jactalea.com/

That’s the Thursday dealt with… three days to go!

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Best of You – Agricola review

 

There’s a reason that Agricola has sat high in the BGG rankings since its release back in 2007 – the reason being that it is pretty bloody awesome. I initially avoided Uwe Rosenberg’s game of farming in the Middle Ages like the plague (ho ho) – what would I, a modern gamer with a love of plastic and dice, want to do with this… this… Euro?

Man, what I fool I was. Because, like I mentioned above, Agricola is pretty bloody awesome.

Essentially a point scoring affair, players start off with a limited amount of actions available to them and only a couple of discs (representing the farmer and his wife) to use in each round. As the game progresses, more and more options are opened up in a kind of random order – you’ll know roughly when certain things will happen, but can never guarantee exactly when in the game they’ll occur.

By collecting up plenty of resources (wood, clay, reed and stone), you’ll be able to increase your little farm in size and status. Building extra rooms on your house will allow you to increase the size of your family. Fields can be either ploughed and sown or fenced off to hold livestock. Everything you do in Agricola will require actions, and only by pulling off that magical balance of doing the right stuff at the right time will you manage a win.

Even though this is a pretty poor example, this is what you’re aiming to do – fill your farm board to capacity and score yourself plenty of points.

While that simple paragraph essentially sums up what’s in the heart of Agricola, it only takes a couple of rounds of your first play to realise two things. Number one is that you will never have enough time or resources to do exactly what you want to do. Even with only two players (and it handles up to five) there’s a constant scrabble for resources, an endless tirade of “Dammit, I wanted that space” – and it’s marvellous. Sure, you can try and nab the First Player token and hopefully get on with your plans for a short while, but sooner or later you’ll have to give that spot up and rethink everything all over again.

Number two is that the game actively hates you. Initial plays will see you confused by the sheer wealth of options that there are, and then you’ll spot the bit on the board that says ‘Harvest’. “What’s that?” you’ll ask. “Oh,” will come the reply, “that’s when you have to feed your family.”

Yes, every once in a while you’ll have to ensure that you’ve got enough food stashed away to keep your little family discs nourished. Food can be collected straight from the board or you could even buy an oven to bake bread and cook your animals. Either way, you need to stock up – no food means you have to take begging cards which lose you points, and in a game where every single point counts, that’s not something you want to do…

Oh yes. Cards. Agricola comes with a LOT of cards. The most basic game uses only a few of them, listed as Major Improvements. These include the aforementioned ovens, but there’s also stuff like a Well and the ability to indulge in Basket Making (thrilling, I know, but come on, it’s the Middle Ages). These will generally give you little boosts to your points and can actually be pretty hard to come by while you’re focusing on building up those resources to expand your holding. However, they’re well worth going for if you can afford to do so.

The base game also includes special decks, each consisting of Minor Improvements and Occupations. These are little tweaks that could potentially swing the game in your favour while also hopefully scoring you a few more precious points, split into three separate piles that can be mixed and matched however you please. For newbies, it’s suggested you play without them for a while to get a feel for the mechanisms of the game, then move on to the (Basic) E-Deck as an introduction to the slightly trickier elements of how Agricola works. There’s also the Interactive I-Deck and Complex K-Deck in the box which add further complexity, as well as loads of other ones available either separately or in expansions – Agricola is the perfect game for those who like to set things up just so…

Despite the fact that there’s a lot to keep track of throughout the game, once you’ve got a couple of plays under your belt you’ll never feel out of your depth. Focus only on what’s available to you at that moment in time and you shouldn’t go too far wrong – you’ll start building strategies before you know it. Of course, then you’ll start throwing in the extra decks, drafting cards and all, and it’ll feel like you’re learning from scratch again. And it will feel brilliant.

The depth of play in Agricola will see you return again and again, always trying out new plans to see if they’ll come off. When everything falls into place and you manage to pull off a perfect couple of rounds, it’s one of the best feelings you can get in gaming. Of course this is balanced by the desperation you feel when everything tumbles around your head, leaving your family starved in a crappy house with only a pig for company that you’ll probably have to eat at the end of the next round. Yet you’ll never feel that you’ve been cheated out of victory by the game – any mistakes are entirely down to the decisions you yourself have made, and you’ll have learned for next time. Because there will always be a next time.

Cool extra bits are cool. You will crave them like nothing else, then succumb like a fool.

The production throughout is excellent – boards and tokens are thick, the cardstock is easy to shuffle, and the resource cubes and discs are satisfyingly chunky. Things get even nicer when you decide to splash out on upgrading your animals and resources with the veggiemeeple and animeeple kits that are currently available that really add to the charm of the game. It just looks so damn pretty when you’ve got pastures filled with wee wooden cattle and sheep and stacks of stone and wood to play with…

Agricola is a game that just keeps giving. You can even play it solo in a score attack mode (which is a great way of learning how to play as well as hone your skills). Sure, what with all the bits and bobs involved, setup and breakdown can take a little while, but you’ll soon see that it’s worth the effort. For a game based on farming, there’s a lot of humour in there – check out some of the house tiles and you’ll see a game of Bohnanza in progress, for example – and it’s this, combined with some of the most solid gameplay I have ever experienced that makes Agricola a worthy contender for one of The Best Games I’ve Ever Played.

Agricola is published by many companies around the world, but English language copies are produced by Z-Man. If you’re after a copy, you can get one for £42.99 from the fine folks at Gameslore. Between 1 and 5 players can get involved, games take around 60-90 minutes and if you don’t own a copy you don’t know what you’re missing. GO AND BUY IT NOW.

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