Friday 19 July 2024

Siege Storm

The Game

Siege Storm is a 2-player head-to-head battle card game with a fantasy setting. You each have your own deck of 34 cards. Every card is a fighter. Cards are also your basic currency - gems, which you need to spend to play cards. Your deck is your life points. Your goal is to make your opponent exhaust their deck before you do yours. It's a fight to the death. 

The game box has two compartments for the two decks that come with the game - a good guy deck and a bad guy deck. Seraphia and Styxia. The game has expansion decks so you can play with other factions. 

The factions have different card backs. 

There is only one card type in the game. They are all fighters. The number at the top left corner is the cost to play a card. You pay in gems. Your cards are gems. That means to play a card, you will have to discard other cards from your hand. The number at the bottom left is the attack strength, and at the bottom right corner the defense strength. There are two powers in the centre. The action is what you can perform immediately by playing the card as an action. If you play the card as a fighter, the action can also be triggered after three rounds. The passive ability takes effect as long as the card is in play and face-up. 

This game lets you to do deck-building. A playable deck requires 34 cards. You get more than that number of cards for both the factions. Some cards are marked and they are the recommended deck for beginners. Once you get familiar with the game you can customise your deck. Duplicate cards are allowed. 

A game is set up like this. The three cards at the centre represent the front line. You can send fighters here to hold ground. The purpose of holding ground is simply to allow a fighter's passive ability to remain in effect. The three stacks on the right are your draw deck, just that it is split into three. This is for the sake of providing a visual cue for how many life points you still have. You always draw cards from the top deck. When one deck runs out, you move on to the next one. 

The space between the front line column and your health bar column is the marching column. This is where you deploy fighters and where they advance. You always deploy a fighter at the bottom position. Every turn, your fighters move forward one position. When they advance from the top position, you must decide what to ask them to do. You have three options. You can get your fighter to storm the opponent. The action of the card is triggered. Your fighter also attacks your opponent or one of their fighters. Or you can position your fighter to hold ground, i.e. to camp at a front line position. Or you can convert your fighter to play a support role. From that point onwards, it gives you a discount when you play cards. 

These are the core mechanisms of the game. Not very complicated. The cards have various abilities, and that's where things get more interesting. The various card abilities define the characteristics of the factions. 

The Play

When playing a game of this nature, I can't avoid comparing it against Magic: The Gathering. I'm a newbie in Magic. I have only tried it a few times. Siege Storm has a different core system, but I consider it a similar kind of game. Every turn you will draw cards and thus deplete your life points. You can look at this as a benchmark. You need to play your cards well to deplete your opponent's life points efficiently. Much more efficiently than 2 cards per turn. 

One difficult decision you have to make in the game is which cards to play and which cards to sacrifice as payment for the card you play. This is similar to Race for the Galaxy. This is sometimes quite painful. Another decision which can sometimes be tricky is whether to play a card as a fighter or as an action. The action would be immediate and impactful, but if you play the card as a fighter and wait three turns, you will have more options. You can storm, i.e. launch an attack. You can have the fighter hold ground, i.e. extend its passive power. You can create a supporter, i.e. long term discount. If you play a fighter, your card is exposed and you are giving your opponent time to prepare to respond. If you see a powerful attack coming, you probably want to deploy a high defense fighter as a shield. 

You won't be able to play all cards. Some will be spent as payment. 

Now my opponent has two fighters on his marching path and one of them is about to strike. I only have one fighter on my marching path, newly deployed. This is in preparation for the impending attack. 

The face-down card at the bottom left is a support minion. This was a fighter which had completed its march and I had chosen to turn it into support. Horizontal placement means I have used its discount power this turn. I will reset it to vertical orientation at the start of my next turn. 

To play well you need to be familiar with your deck, and your opponent's as well. It will help you plan and strategise. The luck of the draw will affect how you play. You need to be flexible. You do know what cards you have in your deck, so you can anticipate what will eventually come. It seems to me in the early game you should send fighters to hold ground (so that you enjoy the long term passive abilities) and also to play support (so that you get discounts for the rest of the game). These seem to be simply sound preparation and build up. There are some cards which let you launch early and effective attacks, which is contrary to this general strategy. Probably there will be more different tactics with other decks. I am only scratching the surface now. 

The Thoughts

If one-on-one battle card games is your thing, Siege Storm is worth checking out. It's short and sweet. It's pretty. I'm not really into this genre, so at the moment I have only taken a quick taste. There is certainly more of it I have not seen or appreciated. I think you'll need many more plays and also you need to fiddle with the deck-building aspect to fully enjoy the game. The two factions in this base game are quite different and have their unique styles of play. The good guys can heal themselves by moving cards from the discard pile back to the draw deck. They also have some expensive but powerful angels. If you get rich enough, deploying an angel can deal a killer blow to your opponent. The bad guys have some disposable but quick and strong units which can be sent on early suicide missions, messing with the opponent's tempo. I checked BGG and there are four other faction decks which have been released. 

Wednesday 17 July 2024

Asian Board Games Festival Malaysia 2024 in Penang


Just three more days to go! It's happening this weekend! This is the first time the Asian Board Games Festival is happening in Malaysia, and it will be in Penang as part of the George Town Festival. ABGF will be 20-21 July 2024, at 1st Avenue Mall. If you are in Penang this weekend, come visit me! My stall is on the Ground Floor.

My bags are packed. I realise after taking this photo that I look like a drug dealer or counterfeit currency dealer, with my goods packed like this in a suitcase. But then maybe selling games is not all that different from selling drugs. I've been an addict for 20 years.

Come play with me this weekend! In addition to Snow White and the Eleven Dwarfs and Dancing Queen, I will also be showcasing other new games in development. See you in Penang!

Friday 12 July 2024

The Secret Flower

The Game

The Secret Flower is a microgame from Singapore, by Daryl Chow and Daniel Lee. It is a cooperative deduction game. There are only 16 cards, numbered from 1 to 16. One of them is randomly removed face-down. The others are distributed to the players. Your goal is to find out the missing number. That is the secret flower. Every card features a different flower. The challenge in this game is you may not freely communicate information you have. You can only communicate through card play. After a fixed number of actions, everyone must be able to guess the secret flower correctly for you to win. 

During game setup, other than the secret flower, the rest of the cards are dealt out to players based on the player count. Some of a player's cards are to be placed face-down in a row before them, in order from small to large number. The other cards are held in the player's hand. During the game these cards will be played as actions. 

In addition to the number, a card has two other properties - whether it is herbaceous or woody, and what colour it is. The card also has a question. You pose the question to a specific face-down card belonging to a player in order to obtain and share information. 

During the game, players take turn playing cards. When a card is played on one of your face-down cards, you answer the question. This is how you share information with your teammates. When a card is played, the card itself also contributes to public information, because it is now exposed. You know what number it is, so you can rule it out as the secret flower. Once all cards are played, the players must immediately and simultaneously declare what they think the secret flower is. You win together only if everyone gets it right. 

This is a 2-player game in progress. The secret flower is in the middle. Cards which have been played as questions are face-up and tucked under the cards they are posed to. You can pose a question to your own card. This is for you to share information about your card to others. Also, a card can have more than one question posed to it. 

This is the card back. It is designed this way so that it also serves as a reference card. All 16 cards are listed here, showing their colours and also whether they are herbaceous or woody. 

The Play

So far I have only played this with 2 players. Jon likes this a lot and recommended it to me. The moment I started playing, I decided I needed to take notes. I used Jon's smartphone which has a stylus to take notes. I wrote down all 16 numbers and crossed out those I had seen. I also took notes when I managed to narrow down the possibilities of some of the face-down cards. It's possible to keep all this in your head, but I am too lazy to do so. 

The game is a process of elimination. You are not really meant to guess the secret flower. You go through a logical process to calculate what it is. If you play well, you should be able to work out what it is without needing to resort to guessing. One challenge though, is everyone must be able to work it out, not just one person. This is a game of logical reasoning. 

The icon in the top left corner indicates whether the card is herbaceous or woody. Along the edges of the card are the possible answers to the question on the card. 

I am guessing the 2-player game is easier than the 3- to 5-player games, because at the start of the game you'll have seen almost half the cards in the game. With more players, you initially have access to fewer cards. There will be more you need to figure out. 

The Thoughts

This game is a clever idea. It's short and sweet, and it gives your brain some exercise. This is a deduction game, so you do have to do some work. It is a group puzzle solving activity. You start with limited information. You need to work out how best to use the questions you have to uncover as much information as possible, so that everyone can work out the secret flower. 

I realise there is some similarity to Snow White and the Eleven Dwarfs

Ticket to Ride Legacy - The Finale

I started the 12-game Ticket to Ride Legacy campaign in November 2023. When I was about halfway through, I wrote about it. That was up to Game 7, or Year 1865 to 1883 in game terms. Now that I have completed the campaign, I'll make some addendums. Not a lot to add. My impression is generally the same. This is a fun legacy game. The new mechanisms added from Year 1886 to 1898 are interesting. I will mention a little about the post-campaign game. After you are done with the 12-game campaign, you will still have a playable game. There will be no more changes to the game components. Many of the campaign game elements will no longer be in play, but some do remain. Some remain and work slightly differently. Now you play with a map which you have highly customised throughout your campaign. This is effectively having your own personalised Ticket to Ride map with its own history. 

I personally am not too enthusiastic about the post-campaign game. If I were to play a Ticket to Ride game, I'd probably pick another variant. The post-campaign game has a larger map than the original Ticket to Ride. There are more cities and more tickets. You can think of it as an advanced version. It keeps some elements from the legacy campaign which don't exist in the original game. Most of these additional elements are not very interesting to me. So my copy of the game is more a souvenir than a game. I do think the enjoyment I gained throughout the campaign is well worth the price. Ticket to Ride Legacy is now a finalist for the 2024 Spiel des Jahres. It would be great if it eventually wins. It will introduce the legacy game concept to many more people. 


SPOILER ALERT: If you have not played the game and you think you might play it, proceed no further. If you have completed the campaign, or if you are sure you won't be playing, read on. 

We had a big gap between our 7th and 8th game. We went back to my hometown in Sabah for a family holiday. I brought the game so that we could resume our campaign then. We managed to complete the campaign over the holidays. 

The dining table at my parents' home in Kota Kinabalu is a traditional round Chinese table with a Lazy Susan. That doesn't work quite well for playing boardgames. So we used mahjong tables. They are not big enough so we had to use two. 

These are the treasure map cards which help when hunting for treasure. When building routes in the Sierra Madre region, you can choose to buy a map, or attempt to find a treasure. When you use maps to help find treasure, you must use maps with different alphabets. Duplicate maps don't help. 

This is one of the long distance tickets. 

We were halfway through the campaign when I realised we had missed an important rule. Whenever you build a route which connects to a major city, you get to draw a train card from the top of the deck. This is a great rule! And I missed it! This makes connecting to major cities attractive, and thus also competitive. I love that this makes players feel they are getting a good deal. I imagine the reason for this is to speed up the pace. With a bigger map, the game may become draggy. This little bonus helps mitigate this. 

I enjoyed converting towns to my company towns. When doing this, I got to stick my company sticker onto the towns. From then on, anyone who connected to my town had to pay me $1. It wasn't a lot, but it felt good. Claiming towns isn't something you can do any time you want. You only get to do this at certain events or when an employee allows you to. I kept employing the Vice President game after game because he was the one who would let me claim towns. In the campaign every player gets a little sticker sheet with town stickers. I managed to use up all my town stickers just before the campaign ended. That was highly satisfying. 

After the campaign ends, the company towns still remain in play in the post-campaign game. However they now work differently. You don't get to make money from other players. Instead the company towns become third party towns. Anyone who connects to any company town must pay $1 to the bank. I had built many company towns throughout our campaign, which meant in our post-campaign game we would be paying $1 to the bank more often. Michelle and the girls told me I was making life difficult for everyone. Hey you can't fault me like that. How would I know this would happen? If I did, well, I probably would have done it anyway. Because stickering is fun. 

This board section is the Haunted Wastes. It is mountainous, so many routes are tunnel routes. To build tracks here for the first time, all the cards you use must have the pickaxe icon. Not all train cards in the game have the pickaxe. All locomotives (jokers) have the pickaxe. Often when building tunnel routes locomotives will be needed. It is difficult to collect many colour train cards with pickaxes. Tunnels are tough, but you gain a reward the moment you build a tunnel route. How much money you earn is written on the route. This is a one-time bonus. Once you apply your colour stickers over the route, this becomes a normal colour route. You won't need pickaxes for it anymore from the next game onwards. 

This is the ghost train. When a game starts, you place it at a specific spot. Whenever anyone builds a white route, roll the ghost die to move the ghost train. If the ghost train stops next to a route you have claimed, you are cursed by it. You draw a curse card and it takes effect indefinitely until you disable it. It even carries over to the next game. Thankfully it is not too difficult to remove the curse. You only need to sacrifice some train cards. The curses are not all severe. Most seem to be inconveniences rather than disasters. 

This particular curse disables your employee. Ungrateful fella...

When the tunnels came into play, I finally understood why there were pickaxe icons on some cards. There are pickaxe icons in the card corners - such a considerate graphic design. If you hold your cards fanned, you can easily see the pickaxe icons. 

My green train pieces are sometimes a little confusing because each train piece looks like two pieces. Each piece is two small carriages linked together. 

I was trying to build a black tunnel, and it was not easy to collect enough black train cards with pickaxes. I had to use locomotives. 

Building tracks here is risky, because you may be visited by the ghost train. That little space next to the track with a bone icon is a parking spot for the ghost train. 

The first time I successfully found lost treasure, I earned $36. Later we found out that the treasure value would keep diminishing. 

This was when the fifth and last treasure was found. 

Advancing to California!

The mechanism introduced in California was the bridges. You earn $2 for building a track with bridges. However this comes with some risk. Earthquakes happen and may damage the bridges. Routes with damaged bridges don't help you complete tickets. In order to repair bridges, you have to keep unused locomotives in hand when the game ends. 

One of the earthquake events

If you build a tunnel route here you will earn $10. 

All five face-up train cards were blue! Younger daughter Chen Rui was the blue player, but at this point she wasn't collecting blue train cards. 

This is how treasure hunting works. To succeed you need to draw 10 cards from the deck without revealing any skulls. Treasure maps help you by cancelling skulls you draw. Each map cancels one skull. Of the 10 cards drawn above, only three have skulls. There are enough treasure maps to cancel these skulls, so the treasure is found! 

Finally we had a complete map. This was at the end of the Game 10. So Game 11 and 12 were played on the complete map. 

When the Cascadia region was revealed (north western region), it triggered a gold rush. In the following game, we were all kept busy bringing people there to look for gold. 

This is a claim card used during the gold rush game. Every player gets one such claim card. A destination is specified, together with five starting cities. Your goal is to connect as many of these starting cities as possible to the destination city. Each time a starting city is connected, you scratch off one of the gold nuggets on the right to claim a reward. 

I played the gold rush successfully and managed to connect all five of the starting cities. During a gold rush, it is not the gold diggers who make money, it is the clever shovel sellers who make money. 

In one particular game I earned this much cash. Indecent! This included cash from the gold rush and also from finding lost treasure. I was filthy rich. 

This was a new mechanism introduced in the last two games of the campaign - the train timetable. 

The timetable is a grid showing all the cities on the completed map. This is a bingo game. You have two games to try to cross off as many cities as possible. You cross off a city when you connect to it. For every completed row or column, you earn $10 at the end of the second game. 

I did poorly in this. I didn't make any money from it. Not a single row or column was completed. Elder daughter Shee Yun was most successful in this, making $70. She had completed her tickets early, and had the luxury of taking time to deliberately complete rows and columns. My tickets were challenging and kept me occupied. I only managed to get them completed near game end. 

This particular employee is the psychic. Every turn you may take a look at the top card of the draw deck. This seems powerful, but I'm not sure in practice whether it is as useful as it sounds. I didn't employ her. Chen Rui did, and she did seem to enjoy using the psychic. 

Game 12 was the finale, and the story needed to come to a conclusion. The major thread was Mama O'Connell, notorious gangster. It was time she was hunted down to face the law. In Game 12, after you complete a ticket, you can reveal it to use it to look at clue cards, or to attempt to arrest Mama O'Connell. In our game, only Shee Yun and Michelle made an effort to look for Mama O'Connell. They were able to complete some tickets early. My tickets took a long time to complete, so I could not compete at all in this. Although Shee Yun was first to embark on the hunt, Michelle beat her to locate Mama O'Connell. Every player only has one chance to attempt to locate Mama O'Connell. You have to declare where you think she is. If you are right, you claim a big reward. If you are wrong, others will know which city to rule out, and you are not allowed to make a second attempt. Michelle's attempt was the first one in the whole game, and she got it right. 

After the campaign ended, the story cards directed us to look under the box insert. This was where we found more components, including the rulebook for the post-campaign game. This rulebook lists the components to be retained for the post-campaign game, and those to be retired permanently. 

These grey route stickers were provided for us to stick on track beds which were still unclaimed by the end of the campaign. These tracks would become normal generic grey routes. You can use any colour on them. 

The post-campaign game is called Ticket To Ride 1901. These are the game mechanisms which remain:  
  • Shares: It works in the same way as the campaign game. If the route you claim is in the colour of one of the face-up shares, you claim that share. When the game ends, you compare share ownership to see how much extra money (i.e. points) you earn. 
  • Employees: During game setup, players each claim an employee in reverse player order. Some employees used during the campaign game are retired. 
  • Events: Similarly, some are retired. 
  • All tickets: During the campaign, tickets which were fully punched were retired. Now all tickets come back into play. The 1901 game has a very thick tickets deck. During game setup, you draw 5 tickets instead of 4, and you must keep at least 3. 
  • Piggyback: This mechanism stays. You have one emergency parachute in case you get completely blocked off. 
  • California bridges and earthquakes: They are still there, but I don't find them particularly interesting. 
  • The big cities: Whenever you connect to a big city, you draw one train card from the deck. I like this one. 
These game mechanisms no longer exist in 1901: 
  • Circus: The stickers have all been used, so naturally this doesn't come back. 
  • Tunnels: Unclaimed tunnels have been converted to normal grey routes by now. 
  • Ghost train and curses: The unhappy ghost has found peace now. 
  • Robber: Not that he was caught. He got tired of people stealing his stash so he decided to retire. 
  • Train schedule: This was done only across two specific campaign games. 
  • Gold rush: This was done only in one specific campaign game. 
  • Lost treasures: We've found them all. 
  • Hole puncher: This was my favourite thing. In the post-campaign game, components no longer change, so of course we are not going to punch any more holes. 
I have not actually played the 1901 game, so maybe I should not already decide I'm not going to enjoy it as much as other Ticket to Ride variants. The reason I think I won't like is as much is I don't find those mechanism which are retained very interesting - the bridges, earthquakes and shares. I have not yet tried how the game feels with all those tickets though. 

This was the scoring process at the end of the campaign game. We scored our share holding first (left). Then we added all the other elements. The biggest component of the final campaign scores was still our game end scores of those 12 campaign games. 

The final game looked pretty epic.

These eight employees were retired at the end of the campaign. I am going to miss the Vice President the most. He was the one who helped me add so many company town stickers to the board. The gambler was an interesting employee. During game setup, you place one of your tickets under her. This ticket scores double at game end. That's a great deal. There is some risk though. If you fail to complete that ticket, the penalty is doubled too. 

At the start of the campaign, these two pages in the campaign game rulebook were 90% blank. As we played through the campaign, we kept adding stickers. These two pages are all about what you need to do when you build tracks. This looks intimidating, but it isn't really that complicated. The various sections are related to different mechanisms introduced during the game, and not all are in play at all times. Mechanisms come and go during the campaign. 

This particular story card is read when the famous robber retires. When our campaign game ended, the story deck was used up, leaving an empty space. We decided to put this particular card here, with the legendary bandit riding off into the sunset. This was apt. A fitting ending to a fun journey.