Friday, 1 February 2019

boardgaming in photos: Exit, Star Realms

Late last year I bought three Exit games at one go. My wife Michelle was interested to play more, and suggested we play with the children during their school holidays. The children were happy to play, so I gladly bought the next batch. We seem to be doing worse than before though. For all three we spent more than 1.5 hours, and we had to use quite a few clue cards too. The riddles were still new and interesting. No overlap with previous ones we had seen. There were some with similar elements, but they were still fundamentally different. I am not specifically enthusiastic about Exit and wouldn't have actively sought to play more myself, but if my wife and kids are interested to play, I'm more than happy to have some family time.

The Forgotten Island is about being stranded on a deserted island and trying to escape from it.

The dial uses icons related to pirates and tropical islands.

The booklet looks like a sailing journal.

The Polar Station is set in a lab at the north pole. You are scientists trapped in a locked lab, and this lab has been doing some shady experiments.

The booklet looks like a lab report. This time the dial uses numbers instead of icons, so you don't need to worry about converting numbers to icons and then looking for the icons on the dial.

We played The Polar Station when we were in Kota Kinabalu, during the Christmas period. Michelle and I were back on holidays, and it was school holidays for the children. We spent 1 hour and 47 minutes to complete this game, and we had to use 3 clue cards.

The Forbidden Castle has a higher complexity rating than the other two. It is rated 4 (of 5), compared to the rating of 3 of the other two. Indeed we found some of the riddles here quite cunning. The story here is written like a sequel to a previous game, but it is not necessary to have played the previous game. The two games are independent. It's just flavour.

The booklet looks like an old tome. The dial is interesting this time. By rotating the segments, you construct keys of different designs. It still works the same way as other Exit games, just that visually it's beautiful.

Most of the game components are standard - the red riddle cards, the blue answer cards, the green clue cards, the booklet and the dial. The unique game component this time is a suit of armour, which is fitting for this old castle setting.

We took 1 hour and 44 minutes to solve this game. We used 6 clue cards. This might be a new record. However for scoring purposes, we only counted 5 clue cards. There was something we did during the game which allowed us to discount one clue card. Our final score was 5 points. The scoring is based on number of clue cards used and time taken.

By now I have played 6 Exit games. They are riddle solving exercises. Generally I'm neutral about the series, but if the family is still interested to play, I'd gladly get the next set.

I play Star Realms on my mobile phone a lot, but I rarely mention it. I mention it once a year when I review my year in gaming, because it has been among my most played games every year for the past few years. I have bought many of the Star Realms expansions. The most recent one is the Missions expansion, and it is why I want to talk a little about the game. I quite enjoy this particular expansion.

When you use the Mission expansion, you draw three Missions at the start of the game. Whenever you complete a Mission, you gain some benefit. If you manage to complete all three, you win immediately. Examples of Missions include playing cards from three different factions on the same turn, having two outposts in play, playing a Trade Federation ship when having a Trade Federation base in play, and triggering Ally Abilities of two factions on the same turn. With the Missions expansion, you get an alternative victory condition. So far, the frequencies of these two victory conditions seem balanced. If you are falling behind in military strength, you can still try to steal a win by completing your Missions. Sometimes when you see your opponent threatening to win by Missions, you will feel under time pressure to beat him down before it's too late. The game feels more exciting - new opportunities, new threats.

The luck factor increases somewhat. Sometimes you draw Missions which pull you in different directions, e.g. one that requires you to play three cards of the same faction, and another that requires you to play cards of different factions. On the other hand, sometimes you get Missions which are aligned. Some Missions require you play cards of a specific faction, sometimes even specifying whether it's a ship or a base you need to play. If such cards don't show up in the market, you won't be able to buy them to try to complete the Missions. Sometimes your opponent keeps buying them whenever they appear. Still, I find Missions fun and don't mind the additional luck.

It is possible to guess your opponent's Missions by watching how he buys cards. If you guess correctly, you can adjust your play to deny him what he needs, e.g. buying cards he needs, destroying bases he needs to have in play. I must admit I'm too lazy to do such close monitoring. I try to guess more by gut feel.

Leaders become more valuable now that there are Missions. When you buy a Leader, you can keep him on standby as long as you want. They don't get kicked to the discard pile by your opponent. Leaders are useful when your Mission requires activating Ally Abilities. You can keep your Leaders until you need to activate Ally Abilities.


Paul Owen said...

My family is very fond of Star Realms. When we play Missions, though, we only use the bonuses; our house rule is that you don't win automatically if you complete all three. We found that way of winning to be too abrupt and unsatisfying.

Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

I can kind of understand that sentiment. Sometimes it can feel a little too easy to win using the missions. I personally prefer having 3 missions being a win condition, because it makes things more exciting. Without it, the rewards from the missions don't feel attractive enough to me. They are nice to have, but I would be much less motivated to try to complete the missions. I would probably just do them if they happen to align to my strategy, i.e. as convenient side quests. I wouldn't cultivate them as a potential winning condition.

loofish said...

I was OK with the Gambits mostly but the Missions took it too far in my opinion. It was too easy to 'dumb luck' into completing one then find you are stuck on another. Star Realms has enough randomness already.

Even the Gambits, we usually play without them. It is not needed for a good game and sometimes actually detracts from it.

Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

I didn't like the Gambits and now play without them. I guess to me the difference is in Gambits you get these free powers without earning them, while with Missions you still need to spend some effort to earn them.