Thursday 28 July 2011

boardgaming in photos

10 Jul 2011. Han examining his card powers in Innovation. This was a particularly low-scoring game. Most of us were slow in accumulating scores, so the scoring achievements were claimed rather slowly. In the early game I did better in scoring, and claimed some scoring achievements. However I did very poorly in overall development of my civilisation. You can see how few cards I had compared to the others. Allen's approach in this game was to keep jumping ahead in technology. He had some cards which let him draw cards from higher numbered stacks, so he advanced quickly, and indirectly that also helped us to advance quickly. Eventually the advanced technologies let Allen catch up and win.

I always enjoy Innovation because there is a lot of variety and a lot of possibilities. I always feel there are many opportunities present and I need to try to make the most of what I get. There is luck in the game, but because I am so absorbed in trying to find something that works out of the many possibilities, I barely notice the luck element.

An expansion has come out, but I'm in no hurry to get it, because I feel there are still many plays I can get out of the base game.

Merchants and Marauders. It has been a while since Han, Allen and I last played this game, which we all like. This time we decided to play to 13 Glory points instead of 10, and to have a limit of converting 50 Gold to Glory points (10 Gold per Glory). We added a variant of drawing two captain cards and then picking one, because I was desperate to be a pirate and wanted to have a better chance of drawing a suitable pirate captain. It turned out that the captains that we picked were all French! There are only 3 French captains in the game. What a coincidence. In this photo you can see all three ships starting at French ports.

My captain had excellent seamanship (of 4). I finally fulfilled my dream of becoming a pirate. Here you can see I have two Spanish bounties, and one each of Dutch and English bounties. Pirating was a lot of fun. I got to attack merchant ships, which gave me both gold and goods, and I could sell the goods for more gold. I did have to repair my ship frequently because of all that fighting, and being wanted by so many nations could be a little inconvenient - their ports didn't welcome me, and all navies hunted me.

Near game end Allen and I suddenly realised a huge rule mistake. We had been treating the enter port action as one and the same as the port action. Entering port should be a move action and the port action is a separate action. No wonder the two of us had been so effective in accumulating points, while Han wondered what he did wrong to lag so far behind.

Playing to 13 Glory points felt about right. There was enough time to develop some narrative and overall it felt more satisfying.

Two-player Pandemic with Michelle, using the expansion (virulent strain variant on hard difficulty). We lost the first game but won the second. It has been some time since I last played Pandemic, but it's always good to bring it out again. It's like catching up with an old friend.

24 Jul 2011. I finally had the chance to teach Allen to play Gheos. This was a game he was planning to sell, because he never had a chance to play it since buying it. Hmm... not sure whether he's planning to keep it now that he has played it.

In this particular game, the Epoch tiles came out very quickly, and the game ended very early. It was a low-scoring game. I won at 55pts. I remember in my previous games (also 2-player), the scores were close to 100pts.

I also taught Allen Omen: A Reign of War, and we played two games. In one of the games I ended the game by completing 5 feats, which I had not done before. This seems a good way to quickly end the game if you are leading. In this photo I had oracles and soldiers in all 3 cities, which meant 2 feats completed. In these two games that we played, the oracles were not very lucky and we didn't get much bonus from flipping cards. Thankfully they still gave some benefits every turn that didn't require flipping the right cards.

Allen playing one of his favourite games, Innovation. This was one very lopsided game in which I won 6-0. This is not common, but is entirely possible in Innovation. Every card in the game has a different ability, so there is a lot of variability in the game - what cards you draw, what cards your opponents draw, as well as what cards you and your opponents decide to use. Everyone tries to make the most of opportunities that present themselves amid the chaos.

Wednesday 27 July 2011

Commands and Colors Napoleonics

Plays: 2Px1.

The Game

I've played Memoir '44 and Battlelore before, but have never been a big fan of the commands and colours (C&C) system. Commands and Colors Napoleonics is one of the latest games in the series. Allen bought it when GMT Games had a special offer, so I offered to teach him to play.

First, some basics about the system. Each C&C game comes with multiple scenarios depicting battles fought between two sides. The scenario needs to be set up before you can play - different types of units and their positioning, terrains, and other scenario specific rules. Each player has a hand of cards. On your turn you play a card and usually use it to order troops to move and attack. The board is divided into 3 sections - left, centre and right. Cards usually specify a number of units in a specific section that you can activate. Some special cards have special abilities, e.g. mirroring the card just played by your opponent. Each unit has a number of blocks or figures. Whenever a unit suffers casualties (determined by die rolls), blocks are removed. If you completely eliminate an enemy unit, you earn one victory point. Sometimes some objective hexes also give victory points. First to achieve a certain number of points, depending on the scenario, wins.

The command cards. Most of them are of the type on the left, specifying which sections you can use them on and how many units can be ordered. Special command cards have text descriptions explaining what they do, like the one on the right.

The dice. If you are attacking an infantry unit, then each blue (infantry) side rolled is a hit. Crossed sabers are hits if it is a melee attack (as opposed to a ranged fire attack). If you roll a flag, the targeted unit has to retreat.

There are many C&C games depicting battles in different eras. Each has unique rules bringing out the flavour of warfare in its period. In Commands and Colors Napoleonics the three basic troop types are infantry, cavalry and artillery. Only cavalry cannot shoot. All can fight in melee, although the "melee" of artillery is actually firing at point blank range. There are leaders, who bolster morale and can make the units they are attached to stand their ground firmly when normally they would be forced to retreat.

Some other aspects of the game:

  • There is a Battle Back mechanism - if a unit being attacked does not retreat, it strikes back at its attacker. Leaders prevent retreats. Being adjacent to two friendly units too, so keeping formation is useful.
  • When infantry is attacked by cavalry, they can switch to a Square formation, which make them harder to hit (by cavalry), but their effectiveness in battle also reduces.
  • Cavalry can do Breakthroughs. When an attacking cavalry unit is able to force its target to retreat, it can move and attack again, punching a hole in the enemy line.

Similar to other C&C games, terrain matters a lot, so it's good to grab defensive terrain (which forces your attacker to roll fewer dice when attacking your entrenched units). Some terrain hinder movement. Some are impassable.

The Play

It was Allen's first time playing a C&C system game, so I let him play the French, which had the best land army during the age of Napoleon. I didn't realise that specifically in the first scenario, the Allies (English and Portugese) had a much bigger army than the French, so it was probably harder to play the French. The French were mostly camped on hills, while the Allies were to try to outflank them on both flanks to reach two objective locations (each would be worth 1VP if held by the Allies). So in this particular scenario the French needed to play defensively, to try to hold on to the hills while at the same time not letting the Allies easily outflank them. The Allies needed to make use of its superior numbers to either eliminate enough French units, or try to capture one or both of the objective locations to reach the required number of VP's (5).

One costly mistake that Allen made in the early game was advancing off the hills and coming close to my firing range. I quickly advanced my units into firing range and opened fire. I advanced them into some forests, which protected them from gunfire. I had Portugese troops on my right flank, and advanced them carefully. Allen left his positions to attack my advancing troops, and I counter-attacked and whittled down his units. I had some amazingly lucky die rolls in the early game, and also some rules mistakes we made benefited me. Oops. Given these many factors, the battle should have been a piece of cake for me, but it took longer than expected to end the game. It took quite some time to eliminate enough units, because weakened units were sent to the back and it was hard to catch them.

I played the Allies (English and Portugese). The English have red blocks (foreground), and the French played by Allen have dark blue blocks (background). Normally players are supposed to play with the blocks standing upright, but we preferred to have them lying down. I guess we prefer the bird's eye view.

Early in the game (1st scenario). Allen had just advanced two of his infantry units in the centre off the hills.

One special command card allowed me to quickly advance many units, and I did so hoping to quickly catch Allen's retreating weakened units. One of my advancing units marched up right next to one of his artillery units, and was shot to pieces at point blank range. I had a leader with that unit, who almost got killed. Thankfully he wasn't, else it would have been one more point for Allen. My leader had to scurry backwards to seek protection from another unit. My other advancing units were more successful, managing to catch and eliminate some of Allen's weakened units, so finally I reached 5VP's, four by eliminated units and one by the objective location on the right flank.

On the right half of the board my units had advanced far forward. In the top right corner some were now cornering Allen's lone cavalry block guarding the objective location which was worth 1VP to me. In the centre, four of my units had advanced onto the hills, trying to chase Allen's weakened units which had retreated from the hills. I had one infantry unit lead by a leader standing right next to Allen's artillery unit.

My infantry unit which was right next to Allen's artillery unit had been completely wiped out. The leader had now retreated to join another infantry unit hiding in a forest. My cavalry unit on the left flank had now advanced towards the town.

The last French unit I had to eliminate to win the game. Hiding in a town meant it was very hard to kill (attacker rolls 2 fewer dice than normal). I had to completely surround it before I could kill it.

The Thoughts

Winning the game certainly left a better impression (for me). I just hope I didn't "pull a Twilight Struggle" on Allen again. I had taught him Twilight Struggle, and in his first game defeated him soundly (I swear I didn't intend to go hard on a new player, I simply drew the right cards and had lucky die rolls); and soon after that he traded away his copy of the game. In hindsight we should have restarted the game and swapped sides when I discovered something was not right. Allen, we should do a rematch, switching sides, OK?

Overall Commands and Colors Napoleonics feels very similar to other C&C games that I have played before. Maybe I don't play C&C games much, their differences don't stand out very much for me. And it has been a long time since I last played a C&C game. C&C games are on the lighter side of the war game spectrum, but among these C&C games there are differences in complexity. I tend to like the more complex ones, like Commands and Colors Napoleonics, because the luck factor is smaller. There are things you can do to mitigate luck and to help you survive unlucky streaks with card draws. Coming back to a C&C game after such a long time gave me some new appreciation of the system. I now appreciate more the need to plan and manage your hand of command cards. It's often good to save up a few cards that work well with one another and then play them one after another. E.g. by playing a few left flank cards in succession, you will be able to launch an effective left-flank attack. If you are short on cards on a particular flank, you may want to consider rearranging your units into defensive positions and/or formations with whatever cards of that flank that you have left. In the past I used to think that you are heavily restricted by the luck of the card draw. Now I'm starting to see ways of mitigating luck.

In summary, this is a 2-player-only battle level game, with an easy-to-learn system, and some luck and uncertainties (just like real battles). Be prepared to spend some effort learning the unit and terrain characteristics, but once you get a decent grasp of these, this becomes a brisk and rewarding game.

Thursday 21 July 2011

Omen: A Reign of War

Plays: 2Px1.

The Game

Omen: A Reign of War is a card game by a small publisher Small Box Games, and I think currently the only way to buy it is to order it directly from their website. This is a strictly two player game, with Greek mythology and warring city states as the backdrop. Players fight over three cities by playing cards next to them. Each city has 4 rewards, and every time a fight breaks out, the winner gains one reward. Each reward is worth 2pts. They have special abilities which, if used, reduce the reward value to 1pt. Players can also gain points by completing feats, which are special conditions like having an oracle at every city, or causing your opponent to discard 3 cards within the same turn. Each feat is worth 2pts. The game ends when 2 cities are exhausted of rewards, or when one player completes 5 (of 6) feats.

The game box seems to be a video tape box. I wonder whether the publisher got hold of a lot of old stock to turn them into game boxes. That's an environmentally-friendly thing to do - re-use.

At the start of your turn, you gain coins and/or cards. You can then play cards, paying the costs stated on the cards. If certain conditions are met, battles are triggered and resolved. At the end of your turn, you can discard cards to earn coins and/or cards. There are two conditions that trigger battles: (a) when a city has 5 units in total, (b) when a city has 3 of your opponent's units. Condition (b) means that if you quickly deploy 3 units to a city while your opponent is unprepared for battle, you can't fight yet on your turn. You need to wait for his turn, i.e. he still has a chance to make preparations to fight. This is quite clever. Battle resolution is a simple comparison of the total strength of your cards. The winner claims a reward from the city, and must discard all but one unit. The loser discards all but two units. This means the winner is left weaker now and the loser has a better chance next time.

Yellow number is cost to play the card. Blue number is coins or cards (or any combination) earned when selling the card. Red number is fighting strength. The card power is written at the bottom.

Each player has his own set of 6 feat cards. Once a feat is accomplished, it is turned face-down to indicate 2pts.

There are three types of unit cards. Soldiers are the most common, oracles and beasts less so. Oracles are usually weak in strength, but they provide benefits every turn, e.g. a free card or a free coin, making them quite attractive (okay, I admit, being beautiful women also makes them quite attractive in another way). Beasts are strong fighters, and also have powerful special abilities. However, they can be used for fighting or for their special ability, not both; and when used for fighting, they count as two units. Every card has a special ability, so for first-timers some time need to be spent reading the card text. The special abilities are not complex, and despite the variety, are easy to understand. There are 3 exact copies of every card in the game, so after the first game you'll have some idea what special abilities to watch out for.

The Play

So far I have only played one game against Han, both of us being new to the game. Cards moved quite quickly. We could always draw new cards on our turns, and if we didn't like them we sold them off for coins or to draw other cards. So cards were never really useless. In fact I found that I was often torn between which cards to sell, because all seemed nice. However I had to force myself to make a choice, because without coins I could not play my cards.

Game play was very smooth. The game structure is very simple. In fact I think the rule book makes it sound harder than it is in practice. Despite having to read so much text, the card powers were easy to understand and to use. I think it's partly because most powers apply only when a card is played, so you don't need to bother to remember the power after a card is played. Only the powers of the oracles are activated every turn, so you only need to check the oracles on your turn.

Han started off better than I. However I was later able to get three oracles into play, and the benefits I gained from them turn after turn gradually tipped the scales to my side. Whenever I won a reward, I used its special ability soon afterwards, despite knowing I'd lose 1pt. The special abilities were quite strong and often helped greatly towards winning my next reward or completing my next feat. I quickly ended the game by exhausting two cities while I had the lead, thus winning the game.

The artwork is good. Oracles, like the one on the right, are all young pretty ladies. In the background you can see the three stacks of reward cards, representing the 3 cities.

Game end. Two cities, leftmost and rightmost, are depleted of rewards. I still have lots of cards on my side of the table.

The Thoughts

After the game Han and I both agreed immediately that it was a good one. I like the fact that I always feel I have many options. Every card has its uses, and it's up to you how to make the most of it. In the worst case, you sell it for coins or to draw more cards. The many card powers are not hard to learn because they are mostly quite straight-forward. You do need to watch out for some of those powers, e.g. there's a card that forces you to discard all cards, and another one that forces you to discard all coins. Both Han and I have been victims of such cards, so we know it's not safe to hoard too much.

Sometimes you want to hold on to cards to wait for the right moment to play them. Often you want to coordinate your card play to help towards both completing feats and battling effectively at the cities. There is a bit of psychological warfare when deciding which cities to commit forces to. Committing early gives you a foothold, but your units are revealed and your opponent may try to find other units that can counter the committed units.

The fact that points come from both feats and rewards make Omen feel less like a pure fighting game. If your cards have weak fighting abilities, you can focus more on the feats.

This is one delicious, beautiful game. Highly recommended.

Wednesday 20 July 2011

Fast Flowing Forest Fellers

Plays: 5Px1, 2Px2.

The Game

Fast Flowing Forest Fellers is a race game where woodcutters race along a river with currents, rocks and logs. A player controls a team of 2 or 3 woodcutters, and must get the whole team to cross the finish line to win. Movement is done through card play. Every woodcutter has a set of cards, and each player constructs his deck by shuffling all his woodcutters' cards. A player has a hand of 3 cards, and to move a woodcutter a matching card for that specific woodcutter must be played.

The cards in the game. The one on the left can only be used to move the green male woodcutter, the one in the middle can only be used to move the green female woodcutter, the one on the right is a joker. The number means you can move up to that number of spaces. You may not stay stationary.

Let's talk about what makes this race game different. A woodcutter can push other woodcutters and logs, unless there are three or more of them (or obstacles) in the direction he or she is trying to push. This means your woodcutters can help one another by pushing them forward. You can also force others to help you by standing in their way.

And then there are currents. Woodcutters and logs on current spaces get carried away (literally). Some currents help you by carrying you forward, but some can carry you backward. You need to beware not to let others push you into bad currents.

The rules are quite simple and intuitive.

The first half of the introductory race track. Nothing very fancy, just winding paths and a few logs. In a 5-player game, black and white belong to the same team. At the moment not all woodcutters have entered the race track (green, yellow, red).

The Play

So far I have played three games, the first one with five gamers, and the next two with my 6-year-old daughter (she was the one who asked me to teach her the game).

The first game with five players, the max player count, was a little slow, and there was higher risk of other players pushing you into inconvenient locations. We also had frequent traffic jams because of the many woodcutters in play. We had many occasions of players getting shoved into a back-flowing current and being pushed far back. I think the introductory race track was intentionally designed this way so that players can learn the hard way.

Han was first to get his first woodcutter across the finish line. I thought he would surely win the game, because once one woodcutter crosses the finish line, its cards become jokers. However it was Shan who was first to get both woodcutters across the finish line. Maybe the rest of us had been trying too hard to harm one another instead of focusing on racing forward.

My "little green man" has a broken arm.

Some racers are approaching the second half of the race track. A bunch of them are stuck in a traffic jam in the rear.

Han (yellow) had an early lead. I was green, Allen was blue, Shan was red, Wan was black and white.

That long chain of current spaces is a dangerous place. I have been pushed into it and was dragged but the currents all the way to the lower right corner.

When I played with my young daughter, I gave her suggestions and helped her when she couldn't make up her mind. She actually beat me in the first game we played.

When I played the second game with her using the non introductory race track, I realised the different setup can make very different games. And this is without any additional rules. In the race track that we used, there are a few shortcuts that are initially blocked by logs. If one of your racers can race ahead, taking the long way, and push aside these logs, your other racers will be able to take the shortcut. Naturally you want to avoid helping your opponents, and if they happen to open a shortcut you want to try to exploit it.

The Thoughts

I'm generally not a race game fan, so race games don't do much for me. Fast Flowing Forest Fellers has simple rules, and the race track designs are creative and provide replayability. There is a bit of hand management you need to do. You need to constantly look out for opportunities and dangers. The cards you draw limit you somewhat, but everyone has a same personal deck, so luck is reduced to just timing of card draw (not to say it can't be significant).

It is fun to do nasty stuff in the game. Rules being simple means this game can be taught to non-gamers and children easily.

Tuesday 19 July 2011


Plays: 2Px1.5.

I have never been a big fan of traditional card games or card games that can be played with a standard deck of cards. I'm not a particular fan of trick-taking games like Bridge, Wizard, or climbing games like Big 2, Fight the Landlord (Dou Di Zhu / 斗地主), or set collection games like Gin Rummy. I think it's because of their inherent abstract nature. They definitely don't lack in strategy, but they are games which I tend to play when I am with non-gamers, when it's Chinese New Year holidays (sometimes involving some gambling), when going on trips with friends etc. When I'm in a boardgamer mode, I tend to prefer boardgames with boards, or card games which have more theme and are, well, not so traditional, e.g. Race for the Galaxy. Haggis is a climbing game by a small publisher, designed for 2 or 3 players. Popular climbing games like Tichu and Big 2 are 4-player games. Fight the Landlord is a 3-player game. Haggis seems to be quite well received. When I found out that the 2-player version can be played using a standard deck of cards, I decided to give it a try.

The Game

Haggis is played over a number of hands, in which you try to score as many points as possible. First player to reach 350pts wins. At the start of a hand, everyone is dealt 14 cards, and you try to get rid of all cards in your hand. When only one player has cards left, a hand ends and scoring is done. You score points for cards won (but only some cards have point values), for undealt cards, and for number of cards remaining in your opponent's hand (5pts each). You also score (or lose) points based on a bet you have placed at the start of the hand, after looking at the cards you have been dealt. Betting is optional.

Haggis is a climbing game, which means whenever someone starts a trick by playing a card or a combination of cards into the centre, he determines the combo type, and everyone else must play cards in this combo type. Players take turns playing higher combos, until all but one passes, and this player wins the trick and claims the cards. He then gains the right to start the next trick. There are only two types of combos, but each have some variations: (a) sets are cards with the same number value, (b) sequences are basically straight flushes - i.e. running numbers of the same suit. You can play sets of sequences, e.g. 7 and 8 of one suit together with 7 and 8 of another suit.

Then there are bombs, which break the rules about following the same combo type when playing cards into a trick. Playing bombs let you ignore the combo type. There are different ways to make bombs - 3, 5, 7, 9 all of different suits, 3, 5, 7, 9 of the same suit, and various combinations of J, Q, K. Although bombs are powerful, if you win a trick with a bomb, you win the rights to start the next trick, but the cards go to your opponent. So this is a little dilemma to consider.

One thing unique about Haggis is everyone starts with a J, Q, and K, the 3 highest cards. They can be used to make bombs. They can also be used as wild cards. This reduces the element of luck. You always have J, Q and K, and it's up to you how to best make use of them.

The Play

I managed to convince my wife Michelle to try this out with me. I was surprised that it turned out to be a very funny session. It was funny mainly because this game was new to both of us, and there were very many discoveries made on how to play our cards. There were many interesting ways to use the J, Q and K. There wery many interesting tactics that we discovered as we played. We had many unexpected twists of fate, when a hopeless hand suddenly became hopeful, as well as when a leading hand suddenly stalled and got overtaken. The laughs were mostly because of our inexperience, and not because of the nature of the game itself; but I can say the game does allow you to be quite creative. Also since you are guaranteed the J, Q and K, you have much freedom to plan how to play your hand. The game is quite strategic too because you know your opponents have their own J, Q and K. It's tricky to plan when and how to use them, to use them as wild cards, or to save them to be used as bombs. You always need to take into account how many of these three cards your opponents still hold.

Similar to Fight the Landlord, it is important to plan for how to go out (use up your cards), and it is also important to adapt to how your opponents are playing their cards. Sometimes you need to switch plans halfway, breaking up powerful combinations that you have been planning to play. Going out seems to be usually better, since you will score 5pts per card that your opponent is holding, but there will be times when in-game scoring (i.e. capturing cards) is more important.

Card counting definitely helps, but in each hand there are a few cards left undealt, so you can never be 100% sure what cards your opponents have.

Despite the laughter, Michelle wasn't very interested in the game, so we aborted our second game halfway.

The Thoughts

Although no expert and no big fan of traditional card games, I enjoyed Haggis. When I first played Fight the Landlord, it felt refreshing because the only climbing game I had been familiar with at the time was Big 2. Fight the Landlord introduced some new concepts, and I felt it also introduced more freedom to be creative with your card play. Haggis gave me the same feeling. Bombs were not a new-to-me concept this time, but the availability of jokers was, and the fixed J, Q and K was. The game feels very strategic to me and it seems skill plays a big part (I'm not saying this just because I won). The pre-dealt J, Q, K being very powerful cards put every player on close footing. Even if you get many low cards, the JQK give you much flexibility to make good combos. Fans of traditional card games definitely should give Haggis a try.

Sunday 17 July 2011

Animal Upon Animal

Plays: 4Px1.

The Game

This is a dexterity game. Everyone starts the game with the same set of animals. To win the game you need to get rid of all your animals. On your turn, you roll a die and then try to add one or two of your animals to the stack of animals at the centre of the table (which starts with a crocodile). If you cause the stack to topple, you pick two of the fallen animals to add to your pool, setting you back. The die roll determines how the animal is added, whether to add one or two, whether somebody else picks the animal for you, whether you get to force another player to add the animal for you (if the stack crashes he gets penalised), etc.

The Play

Aaron, Chee Wee, Chong Sean and I played. This is yet another quick game that we pulled off the shelf at Carcasean, Kota Kinabalu. We had few crashes. Once a crash happened, especially a big one, the tension was suddenly diffused, because it became much easier to add pieces to the stack, now that the stack was smaller. So it became easier for the leading player to cruise to a win. I think the main tension is in the first build-up towards the first crash.

Everyone played the sheep first, the biggest piece.

Other animals.

One of the die roll results allow you to place an animal on the table next to the crocodile, as opposed to being stacked upwards. See those two small penguins.

The Thoughts

I wouldn't call this a children's game, because Jenga is not considered a children's game. It's a very simple game, not something hardcore gamers can play repeatedly, but it is something non-gamers (and children) can easily pick up. I guess there can be some strategy in how you place your animal, so that the next player will have fewer options. Overall it's a light game.

Saturday 16 July 2011

Dancing Eggs

Plays: 4Px1.

The Game

The game comes with 10 toy eggs. On your turn, you roll two dice, and everyone competes to win one egg. One die determines how the egg is to be won, e.g. first to make a rooster sound, first to make a hen sound, first to walk around the table, bounce an egg and be the first to catch it. There is one special icon which will make you lose an egg if you make any sound because you mistake it for the hen or the rooster. The other die determines how the egg winner must hold the egg, e.g. below the chin, between the knees, under the armpit, between face and shoulder. The more eggs you have, the harder it is to hold on to them. The game ends when one player drops an egg. That player loses, and the remaining player with the most eggs wins.

The game box for Dancing Eggs is an actual egg holder, but this is not it. This is an egg holder for real eggs. Chong Sean's game box is so worn out that he needed to replace it.

The red die says bounce one egg on the table and see who catches it first. The plain die says whoever wins this egg must hold it between his knees.

The Play

Chong Sean, Aaron, Chee Wee and I played this around a small square table. It was a fast and furious and also very funny game. It was particularly hilarious to see others struggling in convoluted postures. Since we were racing against one another when fighting over eggs, everyone must focus and is thus fully involved. Aaron was the one with the most eggs, and also the one who struggled the most to hold them. Eventually he dropped one, and Chong Sean who had the second most eggs won.

The Thoughts

Dancing Eggs is an unusual and funny dexterity game. Good for parties, for children, for an energising break between complex sit-down-and-brood games, and definitely good for slightly tipsy people.

Wednesday 13 July 2011


Plays: 3Px1, 2Px1.

The Game

Stronghold tells the story of a siege, where a human castle is being attacked by a giant horde of monsters - goblins, orcs and trolls. You play attacker or defender, and you have all sorts of weapons, equipment, magical powers and special abilities at your disposal. The humans have a limited number of fighters. If they get killed, there are no reinforcements. If they get injured, the small hospital is understaffed and can only heal a limited number of them. The monsters have a constant supply of fighters. However, this being a siege battle, it is easier for the defenders to kill the attackers than otherwise. So despite the superior numbers, the attacker needs to manage his troops well.

The attacker gains wood every round. Wood and fighters can be spent to build all sorts of weapons and equipment, e.g. catapults which damage walls, ballistae which kill defenders, siege towers which help to send fighters to the walls. There is much to be done to prepare for the fighting. Much equipment need to be built to help your fighters. Eventually you will need to march your fighters to the walls and scale them to fight the defenders. To breach the castle, you need to overcome the attackers at only one wall section. The game then ends. However, you may not necessarily win. There are a number of ways for both attacker and defender to gain or lose points. Both sides start with some points, and throughout the game whenever certain deeds are achieved, both gain or lose points. So the game ending just means it is time for the final tally. Naturally, the earlier the castle is breached, the more points the attacker will have. The other ways of gaining or losing points are also much related to how well the attacker and defender have done. E.g. bonus score for attacker when breaching more than one wall, bonus score for defender for keeping the honour guards at their post (i.e. not using them to fight at the walls).

Game setup for a 3 player game. Two attackers, one for the left side and one for the right. Fighters and weapons can only be assigned to your own side, except for the battering ram at the castle gate, where both attackers can send fighters.

These phase cards show what can be done by the attackers at each phase, and the costs. Some phases have multiple cards, and you randomly pick one to play as part of game setup. This introduces some variety from game to game. Not all of the attacker's weapons / actions / magical spells are available in every game.

The victory points board. Black books are VPs for the attacker, white books for the defender. The attacker starts with 10 black books, and at the end of each round if the castle has not been breached one of them is flipped over to the white book side and given to the defender. This puts pressure on the attacker to breach the castle as soon as possible. The pictures along the edges show the various deeds that can be done to gain / lose victory points.

The defender's actions are all paid for by time - the defender's only currency. The defender gains this currency whenever the attacker does something - building siege engines, casting magic spells, marching troops etc. This is an interesting mechanism. It means the more effort the attacker spends on preparing for battle, the more time the defender also gains to prepare counter-measures. So the attacker needs to make sure he fully utilises his resources and not give the defender more time unnecessarily. The defender needs to be careful to preserve his fighters, because unlike the attacker, he has a limited number of fighters. Only one wall breach will cause the castle to fall, so the defender needs to address every single threat at the walls. After each attacker phase, any time collected by the defender must be spent immediately, so the defender needs to be careful how they are spent. The various equipment / activities that time can be spent on can only be used once per round, so where to use it is an important decision for the defender too. Once used, it will only be available next round.

The game starts with a build-up / preparation stage, where the attacker decides what weapons to build, where to deploy them, where to mount attacks, and the defender needs to prepare counter-measures accordingly. Eventually attackers and defenders will clash at the walls. The attackers are under time pressure to breach the walls (the game lasts at most 10 rounds), while the defenders have to manage their limited resources to try to hold on for dear life as long as possible.

My catapult (round yellow token), with its deck of cards. When a catapult is built, the deck is constructed with 5 miss cards and 2 hit cards. When attacking, you draw a card to see whether you hit. If it is a miss, it is discarded. If it is a hit, it is shuffled back in. This means catapults will become more and more accurate as the game progresses.

Allen's side of the board. He had ballistae, which killed defenders, as opposed to my catapults which damaged walls. In the foreground, that square yellow token with five white skulls was played by Han the defender. This was a trap which would kill all (white) goblins that marched along this path.

The Play

I have played two games so far. The first game had Han being the defender, and Allen and I being the attackers. We made some big rule mistakes, which distorted the game significantly, so although Allen and I won, it was a hollow victory. Throughout the game we didn't even expect to win at all, because we were doing so poorly. We couldn't get our monsters onto the walls quickly enough and were eventually penalised for overcrowding our camp. We later realised we had played the movement rules wrong, causing a traffic jam. Quite a number of times Allen and I told each other that we felt like we were the pitiful defenders, as any fighters that we managed to send up kept getting wiped out by Han. What allowed us to win was the other big rule mistake regarding the battering ram. We breached the castle by ramming through the three layers of gates. The rule mistake was we we assigned more monsters to the battering ram than was allowed. So despite Han's marksmen shooting at the battering ram pushers, whenever one pusher died, another was immediately available to take his place. This made the battering ram unstoppable.

This being our first game, we the attackers learned quite a number of things the hard way. There is much variety in the weapons, magic powers and other special abilities. None of them are complex by themselves, but since there are many, a new player can easily forget about some of them. I had forgotten about the cauldron of goblin poison, and had a bunch of my goblins killed when I foolishly sent them to a wall which still had a vacant spot for goblin poison. The traps that Han placed on the various paths on my side of the board also greatly restricted the movements of my goblins, more or less neutralising them.

Our (attackers) effort felt rather futile. It seemed that whatever we do, Han would then apply the appropriate counter-measure to stop us. I guess this was partly due to how we had misplayed the movement rules, and also because we were not making the most of our actions. I think we needed to coordinate our attacks better. Every action done should have a purpose and not be an attack for the sake of attacking. Well, it was our first game so we were still experimenting.

Our overmanned battering ram in our first game. We should not have been allowed to deploy that red troll here as a backup pusher. Han had 4 white marksmen in the two towers shooting at our fighters.

Red cubes are strength 3, green 2, white 1. Walls (grey sticks) count as strength 1 for the defender. I had played that big red token with a white square in the middle. This boosted my (white) goblins to strength 3 but would kill them. However Han played the goblin poison cauldron (white cylinder) which killed all my goblins before they could fight. Epic fail...

Wooden walls (brown sticks) could be added to increase the wall strength.

My second game was a 2-player game against Han. I still wanted to play attacker, this time with the correct rules. I was probably a bit too conservative. I hesitated to send fighters up to attack, because I knew that if I didn't have the numbers, the fighters that I sent up would get wiped out easily. So I preferred to hold back and build up more before launching the attacks. It was only Round 7 or 8 that we had a proper fight at the walls. The delay was also partly due to me sending fighters to man the battering ram. I did have good strong attacks at quite a number of walls. However Han managed to hold on by using the Unearthly Glare special ability to freeze fighting at one wall section where I had the best attackers, and then assigning his men to defend the other walls under attack.

I only managed to breach the castle using the battering ram in Round 10, the last round. I guess that is a small consolation for me. I least I did breach the castle. Han won 17:10. We did a rough calculation. For the attacker to win, he probably needs to breach the castle around Round 7 or 8. I still don't have a good, coherent attack strategy. I need to play this more to do better.

This was my second game. No fighting at the walls yet. I was amassing my fighters before ordering them to rush to the walls at the same time. The blue round token with a golden bow and arrow allowed my (white) goblins to shoot Han's (white) marksmen, so by now he had transferred his marksmen elsewhere and assigned (green) soldiers instead to guard these two walls.

I only manned my battering ram after fully building it. I manned it with four orcs (2 hit points) and two trolls (3 hit points). Han's four (white) marksmen could only cause 4 points of damage per round, so I could let two orcs take the hits, and still have the remaining fighters inflict 4 points of damage to the castle gate, because I would still have 4 manned battering ram sections.

The two red round tokens with a skull and a green arrow in the foreground are my no-traps tokens. They prevented Han from placing traps along these two paths. I only had 3 such tokens, so it was impossible to protect all paths.

Fighting finally broke out. I had lots of (green) orcs storming the walls. Han had (red) veterans and (green) soldiers defending the walls, plus also the Warrior (green cylinder) who added to the strength of the fighters at that wall section. Han had two cannons here (yellow round tokens), but cannons could not target fighters already at the walls. They could only shoot at fighters further away.

All four wall sections were under attack. The big red round tokens with white question marks are special ability tokens. They are placed face-down so the defender won't know which is which. There is one token each which give special abilities to the attacker's goblins, orcs and trolls respectively, and two dummy tokens which are used for misleading the attacker.

Things were very quiet on the other side of the castle. Han had many marksmen here, and I didn't have enough fighters to assign here. If I only sent a few fighters, they would all be shot dead before they reached the walls. So, I didn't bother sending any.

The whole castle.

The battering ram was now at the 3rd and last gate.

That long white bar is the Unearthly Glare token, which Han used to freeze fighting at this wall section. I had 4 trolls (strength 3) and an orc (strength 2), and they all just stood around stupidly, confused by the spotlights from the heavens. What a waste!

The Thoughts

Stronghold is very thematic, rich and detailed, despite using mostly Eurogame mechanisms. There are no dice; battles are deterministic. So it is very much about how to outsmart and outmanoeuvre your opponent. The luck element is low. There is luck in the card draw in some weapons firing. There is luck in what fighter type the attacker gains at the start of a round, but the number of fighters is fixed. And that's it. Because of how battles are deterministic, over-analysis may bog down the game.

To play well it is important to be able to plan ahead and to anticipate what your opponent may do. It is important to make good use of your resources, and to have a coherent and efficient approach. When taking an action, you need to consider whether you are creating a weakness that your opponent can exploit, and whether the action can be easily countered by your opponent. There is a bit of a game of chicken when you prepare for the battle. When you commit, e.g. building a catapult at a particular wall section, your opponent will know where to apply counter-measures. However if you don't commit, you may be wasting your resources and wasting time. Both sides hope to get the other side to commit first, so that it will be easier to plan counter-measures or workarounds.

I have a feeling that playing the attacker will be more interesting, because there is more freedom to plan and strategise. The defender seems to mostly need to react to what the attacker is doing, and there are less opportunities to take initiative.

Don't be intimidated by the many components. They add much to the thematic feel of the game. The game flow is quite simple. Although there are many small rules, they are all thematic and none of them are complex by themselves. I think you need to play the game 3 or 4 times to fully appreciate it. You need to be able to digest the various small rules first, before you can strategise well and use your actions efficiently.

Friday 8 July 2011

in the media again?

Does this count? :-)

See the following two pictures. The first one is a photo of my game collection as of Sep 2010. The second one is a snapshot of an online video show called Totally Rad Show when they reviewed Formula D. They also reviewed The Resistance.

On one hand, I'm a little unhappy that I have not been asked before my photo was used. There was no small-print acknowledgement (at least I couldn't find it; not that I tried hard). This was not the first time this happened. The other time it was a Malaysian website. My photos might have been simply Googled from Google Images, but Google Images does indicate the source of the photos. Generally I'm just amused to see my collection appearing in the video. I guess I have taken a nice, backdrop-worthy photo. The black massage chair had to be edited out though.

Thursday 7 July 2011

concise reference sheets updated

I have uploaded a newer version of my concise reference sheets. I now have ref sheets for 187 games in my compilation. New games in this batch are:

  1. 7 Ages
  2. A la Carte
  3. Aladdin’s Dragons Card Game
  4. Chaos in the Old World
  5. Dominant Species
  6. Endeavor
  7. Fast Flowing Forest Fellers
  8. First Train to Nuremberg
  9. Ikusa / Samurai Swords / Shogun
  10. Labyrinth: the War on Terror
  11. Liberte
  12. Navegador
  13. Tinners’ Trail
  14. Wars of the Roses

Sunday 3 July 2011

Dragon Diego Dart

Plays: 4Px1.

The Game

The game board is a slope, with a number of slots at the bottom of the slope, each marked with an icon. Three small red balls are positioned at the top of the slope. On your turn, you draw a tile and secretly look at the icon on that tile. You then roll the three balls one by one down the slope. Each ball that goes into the slot which matches the tile you have drawn scores you one point. After that every other player secretly and simultaneously guesses which icon your target is. They score one point for each correct guess.

Each slot at the bottom of the hill has an icon just above its opening, except for the two slots at the two extremes.

The premise of the game is that it is difficult to hit your target. If you hit some and miss some, it becomes a challenge for the others to guess. If you hit every time, it's easy to guess, because your opponents will just choose the slot where all the red balls are. You do have incentive to aim properly, and not intentionally mislead others, because getting all hits means 3 points for you.

The Play

When Chong Sean, Aaron, Chee Wee and I played, we tried to mislead one another by pretending to cheer when we missed and pretending to be disappointed when we hit. We also tried looking at some other icon when we aimed, which was tricky. The observers all watched the eyes of the active player closely. Overall we still tried our best to hit our target. Aaron did best at aiming, and won. We did have a number of occurrences of the guessers not guessing consistently, which means either the active player was a good actor, or the guessers were lousy.

Master marksman taking a shot.

These wooden dragon markers are score markers, using the edge of the game board (which is also the game box) as a score track.

Aaron (red) beat us soundly.

The Thoughts

This is a children's game, the important premise being that players cannot be too good at shooting. If they are, the game becomes a much less interesting game of simply trying to shoot well. The guessing part becomes meaningless. So if you get too good at shooting, I suggest handicapping yourself by shooting with your other hand, or with only your thumb (or any single finger), or even by blowing on the ball. Shooting with your foot maybe?