Monday, 26 October 2015

Legendary Encounters: An Alien Deck Building Game

Plays: 2Px2.

The Game

Legendary is a game series, which includes a Marvel heroes themed version. This Alien version uses the Alien movie series as its setting. This is a deck-building game, like Dominion and Ascension, but it's a cooperative game too, which is something I had not tried before among deck-building games. There is a non-cooperative variant, but I have not played that yet.

Gameplay is scenario-based. There are four scenarios for each of the four Alien movies. Each scenario contains 3 missions, and you must complete all three to win. In the four standard scenarios, the missions are all based on the corresponding movies. Each mission comes with a deck of mission cards, which are mostly alien cards or event cards that you need to fight or survive. When you set up a game, you shuffle the mission decks separately, and stack them with mission 1 on top and mission 3 at the bottom. Within each mission deck you shuffle in some unknown extra cards, which create uncertainty. Even if you have played a mission before, there will still be an element of surprise.

Aside from the mission cards, a scenario is also defined by the character cards. These are the cards you will be able to buy during the course of the game, to build up your player deck. The deck-building mechanism is more like Ascension and less like Dominion. You don't get to buy any card you want. There is a card row with 5 cards and you have to pick from there. Only after a card is bought a new card will be drawn to take its place. Cards in the game give you two kinds of basic values - money which you use to buy more cards, and strength which you use to kill aliens or scan unknown objects. Many cards have other powers, but these are the two basic currencies.

In the top row there is a deck of face-down cards. That's the mission deck, full of aliens and events. Most are bad, but some are good. Every turn one card will leave this deck and march towards the players, along that row at the top (which is now full). This row of mission cards is like a queue of ants marching steadily towards you. Any card that reaches you will be flipped over (it not already revealed), and it will need to be resolved. If it is an alien, it attacks every turn until it is killed. This means you are under constant pressure of kill or resolve these mission cards before they reach you. While they are marching towards you, you can expose them by spending strength points to scan them. You can only attack an alien after it is revealed. If you kill an alien in the top row, you create a hole in the queue. This slows down the march, because that hole needs to be filled (i.e. the cards behind it need to catch up) before the whole queue starts moving again. It buys you a little time, but just a little.

The middle row is where you place mission cards which have reached you. They are all face-up. The bottom row is the card row of cards you can buy.

One special type of alien card in the mission decks is the facehugger. If you reveal one, you are in trouble. You must try to kill it immediately within your current turn, or you must ask a teammate to kill it for you before the start of your next turn. Else this facehugger (a parasite) enters your body (gets added to your discard pile), and after your next shuffle, when you draw it, you die a gruesome death. This is a well-known scene in the movies. When playing the game, you need to think twice before revealing any mission card, in case it is a facehugger.

Every player gets a role, which determines your starting health. You also get one unique starting card, but it's not particularly strong. It's just a small advantage and a little flavour.

The rightmost card is a bought card. The rest are weak starting cards.

The overall feel of the game is a steady stream of aliens and events marching towards you, while you hurriedly equip and brace yourself to face it. It is a race against time. You must upgrade yourself efficiently or you will not be able to handle the build-up of attacks. Yet you cannot just hunker down and buy buy buy because the march of the aliens is relentless.

The Play

Han and I did the second standard scenario, which is based on the 2nd movie in the Alien franchise - Aliens. I have watched this movie before and still remember parts of it. Our first game went rather badly. Our purchase decisions were not very well thought out, and the cards we bought didn't jive very well. We couldn't push them to their highest potential. We were overwhelmed by events and aliens, because our abilities never quite grew enough. Not satisfied with such a loss, we decided to give it another go.

The second game went much better. We shopped more responsibly. He tried to focus on one icon, and I another. If you get to play cards with the same icons within the same turn, you often get some extra benefits or abilities. In addition to that we also made good use of a type of card which can be played on your teammates' turns. When you play such a card for your teammate, you get to draw a new card, so you are not really sacrificing much. Unless we saw that the card was crucial for our next turn, we always played the card to give each other a little boost. We won our second game quite comfortably. Neither of us were injured much by the aliens. We killed the alien mother with time to spare.

The second mission in our scenario was a good thing. We had to set up attack robots to help us fight the aliens. So this mission was a preparation step to help us with the third mission, which was the boss fight.

Whenever you need to take injury from an alien attack, an injury card is drawn from the injury deck. So you never quite know how badly you'll get hurt. There may be other effects too, other than losing health points. Some cards let you heal. However some injury cards explicitly forbid healing. This injury deck creates some uncertainty and excitement. It makes good story-telling.

The Thoughts

It is refreshing to play a deck-building game with a story element. It is an immersive experience. One worry that comes to mind is how replayable the game is after completing all four of the movie-based scenarios. You can mix and match missions to create your own scenarios, but I suspect such scenarios would feel weird. After all you can't just string together sections from different Alien movies and call it a new movie. However, as I think further, I realise that if I can play all the scenarios that come with a game just once each, then it is already good value for money. Tragedy Looper has 10 scenarios out of the box, and I'm not even halfway done yet. The recently released T.I.M.E. Stories has created much heated discussion around replayability, since the base game comes with only one (1) scenario. The idea sounds interesting, and I hope to be able to play it some day, but I haven't decided whether to buy a copy myself.

Monday, 19 October 2015


Plays: 6Px1.

After playing The Princes of Machu Picchu at, I mentioned that I had not tried Mac Gerdts' Imperial. That was almost like blasphemy. Everyone said it is his best game. Thus I soon had an opportunity to play this game, tutored by a legion of sharks.

The Game

There are six major countries on the board - UK is red, France is blue, Germany is grey, Italy is green, Austria-Hungary is yellow and Russia is purple. Any land territory or sea zone beyond the borders of these six countries are up for grabs. Players do not directly control the six major countries. Instead, they invest in them. Each country sells bonds, and players buy bonds. Whoever has invested the most in a country controls the country. If another player surpasses the current controller in amount invested, he becomes the new controller. We had 6 players. Our game started with every player holding bonds of two different countries, and every player being the controller of one country. The board is quite empty at the start of the game. The major countries only have a few factories each. The brown ones produce armies, and the light blue ones naval fleets. In this photo only France (at the time controlled by Jeff) had recruited some mercenaries, getting ready for some early game conquests. Most other nations went for factory construction first.

Those two thick cards on the left are the Italian and German bonds. The numbers in the middle of the cards (4M and 9M) are the prices of the bonds. The numbers at the bottom (2M and 4M) are the dividends you get paid when the country decides to give dividends. The big numbers at the top are victory point multipliers used at game-end. Every country will have a base victory point value at game-end depending on how well it does. The more you have invested in the country, the higher your multiplier. That German flag on the right means I am currently the controller of Germany.

Every round, every major country gets to perform one action, and this is of course decided by the controlling player. The action mechanism is the well-known Mac Gerdts rondel mechanism. Actions are listed on a rondel and every country has a pawn on the rondel. To execute the action you want, you need to advance the pawn to the corresponding action space. If it is within 3 spaces away, advancing is free. Any further than that, you (the player, not the country) need to pay. So there is a form of restriction, and this mechanism also creates a cyclical nature in country actions.

The actions are: build one factory, build armies and fleets, recruit mercenaries, move armies and fleets, tax, and pay dividends. Combat is very straight-forward. No cards, no dice. It's just a one-for-one trade. You kill one of mine, I kill one of yours. Sea battles are optional. If both parties agree, fleets can coexist. That's mainly because fleets also act as transports. Capturing a sea zones or minor country allows you to place a control marker. These markers give you income when you do taxing. You can never place control markers in the homeland of another major country. When you occupy the homeland of another major country, you will temporarily disable any factory you occupy. If you want to, you can spend three units to permanently destroy a factory, but that's rather expensive.

When a country taxes, it receives income based on the number of factories and control markers it has on the board. However during tax time, the country also needs to pay the wages of all soldiers, both the army and the navy. When a country taxes, its reputation improves. When one country hits 25 reputation points, the game ends. The bonds of each country held by players will be worth some victory points at game-end, depending on the country reputation. Cash in hand is also worth victory points. Highest scorer wins.

That track at the bottom is the reputation track. Austria-Hungary (yellow) is now leading.

One other important country action is paying dividends. This is when money flows from country to player. Dividend payouts are done from smallest to largest shareholder. If a country doesn't have enough cash to fully pay its investors, some investors won't get the full amount they are entitled to. In fact the largest shareholder needs to pay the shortage. So if you are controlling a country it doesn't mean you can easily milk it dry disregarding the smaller investors. If you are a majority shareholder, you need to balance between transferring money to your personal coffers and leaving enough money for the country to compete effectively. If the country does poorly, the bonds you hold will be worth fewer VP's at game end.

In the game we played, I started off controlling Germany (grey). My investments were focused on Germany and Italy (green). I invested a little in Austria-Hungary (yellow) and Russia (purple). There was once when I inadvertently became controller of Italy (this photo). I didn't mean to take over. I just thought Heng ran the country quite well and it was good investment.

The Play

There were six of us: Jeff, Heng, Kareem, Ivan, Vence and I. I think only Vence and I were new to the game. The rest were veterans. Throughout most of the game I kept muttering: I still have no idea what I'm doing. I understood the rules. It was the strategy that eluded me. I think the genre of shareholding games is my Achilles' heel. I can appreciate the strategic depth. It is just that when I play, I struggle to separate the welfare of the player and that of the company (or the country). I feel like I have multiple personality disorder. In Imperial you need to remember that victory belongs to the investor and not the country. You are a businessman and not a patriot. As I observed how we played, I found that Vence and I (the newbies) had a hard time putting down our patriotism. She backed UK while I rooted for Germany. Old dogs like Jeff and Ivan toyed France like a golden goose and made a handsome fortune from it. They didn't ruin France. Not at all. Jeff just manipulated France's fortunes deftly so that his profits was maximised. France was his tool. He was not a servant of France. France became quite rich, and both Ivan and Jeff, being the largest shareholders, were laughing all the way to the bank.

You do want "your" country to do well. When you are a majority shareholder, the country's reputation level will significantly affect your end-game score. It is just that you must never forget your ultimate objective is your own wealth, and not the country's standing. I find this quite a challenge (because I suck at these games!). The strategies are subtle and indirect. This is what makes Imperial so delicious.

The game mechanisms are mostly simple. However I was quite amazed at how much the veterans could make out of these basic rules. At first I thought it was rather pointless to invade another major country's homeland, since you couldn't place any control marker and you couldn't make money from it. However, this happened anyway in our game. You can see in this photo that Italy (green) has invaded Austria-Hungary (yellow) and has disabled a naval factory (light blue). Austria-Hungary is now temporarily unable to produce fleets, and because of this Italy has a free rein in the Mediterranean Sea.

There is another example. I had thought it was too expensive to destroy another country's factory. It costs 3 armies. And then this happened in our game too. It turned out to be worthwhile because it set back the victim's expansion significantly. Yet another interesting observation was how some country controllers sent their troops to die just before payday, i.e. the tax action. Dead troops mean you save money. You don't need to pay dead soldiers in this game. Mutual destruction is actually a win-win situation for the shareholders of both the warring countries. This is such a mean game! Send the soldiers to die, and the politicians and businessmen shake hands and congratulate one another.

The round markers are the control markers.

Italy (green) is almost at 25 reputation points. The others are scrambling to catch up as much as possible before the game ends.

What I struggle with is how to tell whether a country is doing well, and whether things are looking up for a country. When you evaluate a country, it should not be based on whether the country will be growing stronger. It should be based on the Return On Investment. An already strong country may not give you much opportunity to make money. A humble country may have plenty of space for growth. Another thing to think about is the intentions of the current controller. If he is mostly done with milking the country, he may not be putting in much more effort to grow the country. Heng's mantra for Imperial is: invest wisely. A country's bonds can be held by multiple players. This creates interesting dynamics and complex relationships between players due to vested interests. Sometimes you collaborate, sometimes you compete.

The Thoughts

Imperial is a game with much strategic depth. It is complex not because of heavy rules or meticulous planning required. It is complex because of the intricate network of vested interests among players. The relationships between players are constantly changing as they grow their investment portfolios. If you are into this kind of shareholding games (e.g. 18XX games), you should try this. I'm rather weak at this type of games, so I still don't fully grasp Imperial. I think it is best with the full complement of players. This is when the network of vested interests is most complex and thus most intriguing. We played using some variants, which injected a little more money, and allowed more flexibility in buying bonds. This made the game more dynamic. Countries changed hands slightly more easily.

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

boardgaming in photos

18 Sep 2015. I've played Carcassonne hundreds of times, and yet I still came last in this game of vanilla Carcassonne against Vence, who was completely new to the game, and Jeff, who was very rusty. I must have been an excellent teacher! It had been a while since I last taught Carcassonne, and it reminded me of the good old days when I started to get into German boardgames. It had been a long while too since I last played vanilla Carcassonne, without any of the expansions. My copy of Carcassonne is greatly expanded with many expansions. When I opened Jeff's copy, I thought it was missing some tiles.

24 Sep 2015. The children still enjoy Machi Koro very much. I still can't win when playing with them. This is their beat-daddy-up game. The copy sitting on my shelf is borrowed from Allen. Since the children like it so much, maybe I should buy a copy of Machi Koro Deluxe. It contains two major expansions, Harbour and Millionaire's Row. I have not tried the latter.

It's usually a bad thing when you get two 3's in Love Letter. You are forced to play a 3, so you are forced to compare cards with another player; and 3 is not exactly a high number.

Chen Rui is thinking what number to guess. She has just played a 1.

Shee Yun is at 2 points now (the two green glass beads). When I teach Love Letter I usually just play to 3 points regardless of the number of players.

Chen Rui likes Pickomino, and she is good at it. She wins often. This time I played aggressively. In the early game I had an opportunity to steal her tile, and I didn't shy away from making such an attack. She didn't get overly upset. We taunted and teased each other. In the past she sometimes became upset when playing games. She is a better sport now. Somehow, despite my excellent start and strong lead, she still managed to catch up and win. I have no idea how that happened.

In this photo you can see my stack in the foreground is much higher than hers in the background. Chen Rui said her hands were too small so she used the box cover to roll the dice.

3 Oct 2015. This was after Shee Yun and I completed a game of Escape: The Curse of the Temple. There was a period of time when we played this heavily. We have tried all the modules in the base game and the two main expansions. Recently she suggested this game again, and we played three games back-to-back. It's easy to do since a game lasts at most 10 minutes. We started with just the basic game (photo above), since we were a little rusty with the rules of the expansion modules. For the next two games we added some of the expansion modules. We won twice and lost once.

Sunday, 11 October 2015


Plays: 4Px1.

The Game

The makers of Abyss made a bold decision with their packaging design. The box front has no text, no icons and no company logo. It only has a monster face. And there are five different box covers, each with a different intimidating face. If you want to collect all, you need to buy five copies of the game. How's that for different? The main game mechanism is set collection. You collect ally cards in order to buy lord cards, and sometimes combinations of lord cards let you claim location cards. Lords and locations are worth victory points, and there are a few other smaller ways to score points. The game ends after one player recruits his 7th lord.

On your turn, you have only 3 options. First, you may auction off ally cards. To do this you draw ally cards from the draw deck one by one. See the top section of the game board. Every time you draw a new ally, everyone else gets a chance to buy it. The proceeds to go you. Each player only gets to buy one ally, and the cost increases each time an ally is bought. If nobody else wants to buy the ally, you get to decide whether you want to take it for free and end your turn. If you don't want this ally, draw the next one, and repeat the process. When the fifth ally comes up, i.e. there are already four others which nobody wants, you must take it and end your turn. Unwanted allies are all moved to the Council, which is the middle part of the game board. They are grouped according to colour, and they are flipped face-down.

The second option on your turn is to simply claim one group of ally cards from the Council area. Usually you want to do this only when the group has more than one card.

The third option is to spend ally cards to buy a lord from that line-up of lords at the bottom section of the board.

The bottom left corner tells you the cost of recruiting a lord. Let's take the leftmost lord as an example. Two circles mean you need ally cards of two different colours. The big circle is red, which means one of the colours must be red. The number 7 means the ally cards must add up to at least 7. The text on the lord card describes his special ability. Some are single-use upon recruitment, some last longer. The number in the top left corner is the victory point value. Some lords show one or more keys in the top right corner. Keys are used to capture location cards. For every third key you gain, you must immediately capture a location.

These are the allies. The values range from 1 to 5.

These are the location cards. Each location specifies how you can score additional points. When you qualify to claim a location, you may pick one of the face-up locations, or you may reveal some more before deciding. Revealing more is good for you because you get more choices, but it also means anyone else who comes after you will also get more choices.

When you auction off ally cards, sometimes you will draw a monster card instead of an ally. You may decide to fight the monster and end your turn. You claim a reward for killing the monster, according to this table above. The red marker is the monster level. Each time anyone declines to fight the monster, it levels up, making the reward more and more attractive. The reward can be pearls (i.e. money), victory point chips or keys.

When you claim a location, you must tuck the lords who help you claim it underneath the location card this way, hiding the text on the lords. This means the lords have now lost their special abilities. Whenever you reach 3 keys, it is mandatory to claim a location card immediately. So you have to time your 3rd key carefully, especially when you have an active lord whom you do not want to retire yet.

Each time you pay ally cards to recruit a lord, all these ally cards go to the discard pile, except for one. You get to keep one of the lowest cards, and these ally cards that you collect will be worth points at game end. Only one ally card per colour will score. This is another aspect you have to plan for.

The Play

From reading a summary of the rules, this game may sound rather bland - you're collecting stuff to exchange for better stuff which are worth victory points. I hadn't expected much when I played, although the game has a decent reputation. It turned out to be more fun than I had thought. The available lords set the stage for competition between the players. Everyone is racing to get the right allies to recruit the lords they want. The auctioning off of allies and the claiming of ally groups are the tactical aspects. They inject surprise and anticipation into the game. When you have a choice to buy or to claim a decent ally, do you do it? Or do you pass and hope for an even better one? The game presents many small interesting choices, not only on your turns but on others' turns too. You hardly notice it, because the game flow is smooth.

The game mechanisms are mostly abstract, but the excellent artwork creates a convincing setting. The five factions do have their own unique character.

Lords come in five different colours. The green lords are the wealthy merchants. The red ones are militaristic and aggressive. The yellow ones have high VP value but no special ability.

The currency in the game is pearls. They certainly look classy, but I find them not very practical. They easily roll off the table. Although you get these beautiful containers, which do help, they are rather deep so it's not easy to quickly see how many pearls your opponent across the table has.

The Thoughts

Although there is little direct aggression in Abyss, player interaction is high. You need to pay attention all the time because the most common action is the auction. You are involved in other players' turns most of the time. You need to take note of which coloured allies your opponents are collecting, how many they have collected, and which lords they are likely targeting.

Some of the lords are quite powerful, and you want to maximise such powers. These powers add much colour to the game. Although you only have 3 basic options every turn, there are some additional decisions and actions leading out from them. This is actually a medium-weight game, but the design leads you to think it's a light-weight game. I think this is ingenious. The game will work with newcomers to the hobby and also with families.

Wednesday, 7 October 2015


Plays: 3Px1.

The Game

Mottainai, by Carl Chudyk, is the spiritual successor of Glory To Rome. The overall system certainly feels familiar, but there are quite a number of changes too. It's taking the core concept of Glory To Rome and reimplementing it using some new tricks and techniques. I struggle whether to try to explain how to play Mottainai. It's not an easy game to teach or to learn, because the ideas are unusual. One single card can mean many different things. It is not easy to digest and to grasp how the many different aspects fit together as a whole. I shall try to briefly describe the game, leaving out some details.

Mottainai is a card game. Players are monks, and these monks produce handicraft. Each piece of handicraft produced is worth victory points, and the bulk of your victory points will likely come from handicraft. Each handicraft completed also gives the maker a special ability. There are only 54 cards in the game, and every card is unique. On your turn, the first thing you need to decide is whether to play a card as an action card. If you decide to do so, you tuck the card under the top edge of your player board (in the Task area in the photo above). Then you start executing actions. You start with the action cards on all other players' boards, and you execute your own action card last. This means when you select a card to play as an action card, you have to consider that your opponents will be using it on their turns. This is a mechanism also found in Impulse. There will be at most one action card at a player board. When you turn comes around again, you discard the old action card to the central pool (called the "floor") before you play a new action card. You can decide not to play an action card. Instead of executing your desired action, you draw a card for your next round. You still get to execute others' action cards, but since you don't have one yourself, when their turns come, they can't leech an action off you.

Every card in the game has five possible uses. Depending on how it is used, you play it at a different location. If a card is turned into handicraft, it is played on the left or right side of your player board. The text at the centre of the card takes effect. If a card is played as an action card, it is tucked under the top edge of your player board, as described earlier. If a card is played as a helper, it is tucked under the left edge. A helper allows you to perform additional actions. Whenever you execute an action card, whether on your own player board or on an opponent's player board, every helper of the same type as that action card gives you an extra action. If you have matching completed handicraft on the left side of your board, each helper gives you two extra actions instead of one.

If a card is claimed as raw material, it is tucked under the bottom edge of your player board. If you use the Craft action to make a piece of handicraft, you need to have the appropriate materials at your craft bench (bottom edge). These materials at the craft bench can be moved to your sales area - the right edge. Materials here are worth victory points, if you have handicraft on the right side of your board of the corresponding types.

The floor, i.e. the centre of the table, is a common card pool. It starts with some cards, and more cards are added to it whenever an old action card is discarded. You can claim a card from the floor using the Monk action or the Potter action. The Monk action turns a card into a helper. The Potter action turns a card into raw material.

To produce handicraft, there are two action types - Craft and Smith. In both cases the handicraft to be produced must be a card in your hand. When Crafting, you need to have the required raw materials at your craft bench (bottom edge of player board). When Smithing, you need to have the required raw materials in your hand. One twist here is the raw materials are not consumed when you complete the handicraft. The raw materials stay where they are, be it your hand or your craft bench.

Where you place your completed handicraft (left or right) matters. Place it on the left, and you can boost the strength of your helpers. Place it on the right, and raw materials that you move to your sales area will be worth victory points. Another consideration is the game end condition. Once a player has 5 completed pieces handicraft on one side of his player board, the game ends. If you have a strong lead and you want to end the game quickly, you should focus on one side. If you want to delay the game end, you need to diversify. The game also ends when the draw deck runs out. I've only played one game, so I don't have a feel of how frequently this happens.

The Play

I own, and I have played quite a few games of Glory To Rome. Mottainai has many similarities, but also differs in some aspects. Despite my familiarity with the predecessor, I still felt clumsy when learning Mottainai. I think this is a Carl Chudyk trademark. He is a mad scientist of a game designer and his games are quirky. It might be my familiarity with Glory To Rome that made me feel caught off guard when learning Mottainai. I needed to unlearn and then relearn. The rulebook does say that the game is tricky to pick up, so I'm sure I'm not the odd one out. To appreciate this game you need to put in some effort.

It was fun to explore how Mottainai revamped the Glory To Rome system. It has fewer cards, and many aspects are condensed. When creating handicraft, the raw materials are not consumed. There is a hand limit checked at the start of every turn. There are only 5 types of materials, not 6. The amount of materials needed to create a piece of handicraft is reduced. The whole action system is refitted. In Glory To Rome if you want to leech an opponent's action, you have to play a card. In Mottainai you don't need to play a card. One new thing in Mottainai is where you place your completed handicraft has meaning. It's another aspect you need to consider.

The Thoughts

In the end, I am not quite able to describe what I feel when I play Mottainai. It's a little weird. It's not easy to digest. However once everything clicks, it is interesting and satisfying. I can't say whether Glory To Rome or Mottainai is definitely better than the other. Mottainai is leaner and more compact. Some mechanisms are simply different so you can't compare apples to oranges. I own Glory To Rome, so I don't feel a strong urge to get a copy of Mottainai. If I owned neither, I might tilt towards Mottainai, because it plays in a shorter time without sacrificing any strategic depth.

Saturday, 3 October 2015


Plays: 5Px1.

The Game

Infiltration is designed by Donald X Vaccarino of Dominion fame. Players are hackers who have successfully hacked into the computer system of a mega corp. They compete to steal as much information as possible. Their entry into the system does not immediately trigger an alarm. However they do leave traces, and the security system picks these up and analyses them. Sooner or later the system will realise it has been infiltrated, the alarm will sound, the gateway will be sealed, and any hacker who has not jacked out by then will be locked on by the tracking program and captured. Only those who have escaped in time can win the game, and the winner is, of course, the one who has stolen the most secrets.

The mega corp's data storage is divided into many layers, arranged in a V shape here. You enter the system at the first room in the top right corner. Each room contains some information. Each room also has different features, e.g. triggering events, making tools available, even bringing in non-player characters. Room cards are randomly drawn so they are different from game to game. Their order will also be different. This introduces variety. There is one secret room on the right, by itself. This is a special vault, and only under special circumstances a player can enter it. There is no guarantee for any particular game that it will be accessed.

That game component at the centre is the proximity counter. It shows the alert level of the security system. It is at 00 now. When it hits 99, the game ends. Hackers who have not yet escaped the complex automatically lose, regardless of how much data they have managed to steal. The proximity counter is basically a countdown mechanism.

These are your cards. The four on the right (without pictures) are the action cards. Everyone has the same set. Those on the left are the item cards. You start with some specific items based on your character, and some randomly drawn items. At the start of a round, everyone secretly picks a card to play. Once everyone has committed, the players take turns revealing their cards and executing them. The four action cards are Advance, Retreat, Extract and Interface. Advance and Retreat are simply moving deeper into the complex or backing out. Extract means downloading data. Every room contains some data files, and players need to race to download them. This is done in cut-and-paste mode and not copy-and-paste, so once a file is downloaded by one hacker, it is no longer available to others. Interface means making use of the unique ability of a room. It is usually a one-time thing, so it is also first-come-first-served. As you can see, hacking is a race. However being first to enter a room entails some risk too. Most rooms trigger an event upon first entry, and the event can be bad for your health.

In lieu of an action card, you can play an item card. These are usually more powerful, but they are single-use. Some are quite situational so you need to pick the right time. Some items let you advance quickly through the system, some items let you download more data than usual, some items let you manipulate the proximity counter, some items let you steal data from others.

This is one of the characters. Characters don't have unique abilities. The only gameplay difference they make is the two specific item cards each character starts with. All that text on the character card is flavour text. A character can get injured during play - you flip the character card to the other side. When injured, you can only move (Advance or Retreat) in alternate rounds, i.e. you are moving at half speed. Some rooms and some items allow you to heal yourself.

How much the proximity counter increases every round depends on a die roll. So you are never exactly sure how quickly this countdown timer will tick. There is a modifier though, so that you have a rough idea. The die roll modifier is negative at the start of the game, which means the proximity level usually increases slowly in the beginning. However the modifier tends to increase during the game, so the countdown speed will accelerate, building up to a climax.

The Play

We did a 5-player game. Most of us were new to the game. I had one item which propelled me to the front. It gave me an advantage over the others. I also had quite a few good items, and the right conditions for using them came up. I managed to make very good use of them, and I amassed quite many data files.

That black guy in front (left) is my character. When you are alone in a room with many data files, it's a windfall. You will be able to download many files at one go. When multiple hackers do downloading at the same time, they each get fewer files. Sometimes when too many hackers download at the same time, some will leave empty-handed. Who gets files and who doesn't depends on turn order of the current round.

Seeing that I had a good lead, I decided I should play safe and retreat early. I paid close attention to the proximity counter. I knew it would accelerate, so I knew I should start retreating around the time it reached halfway. Some of my fellow hackers were injured early in the game. This is painful and can really mess your tempo up. Sometimes when you can't move, and you don't have anything else to do at your current location, you will be wasting an entire turn.

I became a runaway leader. In Infiltration there aren't many cards that let you directly attack another player, so the other hackers could not gang up to rob me of my data files. The situation was awkward for them. They could sense the danger of staying too long, but they didn't have many files, so they had to bite the bullet and go deeper to hunt for more. The decision was much easier for me. It was time to run, Forrest, run.

Ivan had now advanced to the second floor (the other half of the V formation). Rooms on the second floor have better goodies. The room Ivan is in has 6 data files. The first floor rooms in our game mostly had two data files only. Only one had four.

Ivan had one item which was a shortcut. If he was caught still in the system when the alarm sounded, he could sacrifice some data files to take a shortcut to exit the system. This meant he had a get-out-of-jail-free card, and he could gamble and dive deeper. Still, I was quite confident I would win, because I had quite a large pile of data files, and I had played conservatively, allowing enough time to exit. What I hadn't thought of though, was the group psychology. I was a clear leader by mid game, which meant I was also a big red target. For the trailing players who had little hope of leaving safely, the mentality was "I'm gonna die anyway so let's drag everyone else down with me". Just as I was about to step out of the (virtual) gate, it slammed shut on me - someone had played an item card that jacked up the proximity counter. My estimation of how much time I needed to escape was quite accurate, but I hadn't anticipated this. Ivan became the only one who was not tracked down by the police, and he was the automatic winner. My wealth of data amounted to naught. I should have tried to convince my fellow hackers that once I made it out there I would make good use of the stolen data and expose all the corruption and wrongdoings we discovered. It was a noble cause and their sacrifices in helping me would be all worthwhile, right?! Guys?!! Y U do dis?!!!

The Thoughts

When Ivan taught us the game, he described it as Incan Gold on steroids, which I think is a very concise summary. You need to steal the most data to win, but if you fail to escape with the data, it all amounts to nothing. So it's about how far you push your luck. The main differences are (1) Infiltration is richer in mechanisms and setting (it's a Fantasy Flight Games game afterall), and (2) you only get one run in Infiltration compared to five expeditions in Incan Gold. The game mechanisms in Infiltration fits the setting well, so it is immersive. Player interaction is the race type and not the direct type. There is a sense of adventure because you never know what will come up in the next room. This game can be rethemed to fantasy adventurers exploring a dungeon hunting for treasure (don't get eaten by the dragon!), but that's not my type. Cyberpunk is more attractive to me.

The countdown timer (i.e. proximity counter) creates excitement and a building sense of urgency. You need to be on your toes. You need to judge the right time to start running. The variety in data rooms and items creates surprises and variability from game to game. These make the game colourful. The game concept is straight-forward and the premise is interesting. It may look a little complicated, but I think this can be a good introductory game.