Friday 28 September 2018


Plays: 4Px1.

The Game

ROOT has the cute, kawaii looks, but is actually hardcore inside, kind of like a heavy metal band with K-pop faces (no offense to fans of either genre). Players are major animal factions in a forest teeming with life, fighting for supremacy. The factions are very different, far more different than in other games with factions and different faction abilities. Here in ROOT the factions are so different that it feels like you have multiple sets of rules, one for each faction. Adding to that is another set of basic rules which apply to all factions, e.g. basic combat, card usage. In ROOT you fight, you take control of villages, you construct buildings, and you manufacture tools. These actions are just the basic layer, and they only contribute to part of your score. Your faction has unique abilities and ways of scoring, and you must make use of these to win. You compete with other factions to be first to reach 30 victory points to win the game.

There are 12 villages on the board (well, technically they are called clearings) connected by a road network. Some are connected by a river too. The square boxes in the villages are locations for buildings. Each village has a species majority. E.g. the red village on the left is a fox majority village, while the orange village on the right is a mouse majority village. You can see the fox and mouse icons next to the villages. When you perform an action at a village, usually you need to play a card matching the majority specie.

This is the bird faction player board. The section at the lower left specifies what the faction must do and may do on a turn. The most important feature of the bird faction is the Decree along the top of the board. There are four positions where you can tuck cards, and they correspond to four actions you can take - recruit, move, battle and build. Every turn you must tuck at least one new card, increasing your number of actions per turn. This sounds great, but there's a catch. If at any time you are unable to perform an action, your faction goes into turmoil. You will lose points, you will change leadership (that character at the bottom right), and the Decree will be reset. E.g. you need to recruit but you've run out of game pieces to add to the board; or you need to battle but you've already killed all opponent soldiers at your locations. The Decree of the bird faction is an accelerating train. It keeps building momentum and becomes more and more powerful, but once it crashes, it will be painful.

The most important way for the bird faction to score points is to build roosts (a type of building) - those dark blue square markers. Every turn you score points based on how many roosts you have on the board. You can earn up to 5VP per turn! However the roosts are also a time bomb. When you run out of roosts to build, you will fail your build action, and you will fall into turmoil. The Decree is powerful, but it is a double-edged sword.

The bird faction has four potential leaders. You pick one at the start of the game. Each leader gives a different bonus, and dictates the starting actions on the Decree.

These are the cards in the game. One unique way the bird faction uses cards is to tuck them under the Decree. Cards have their own abilities, which can be used by all factions. Some cards are played during battle, e.g. the Ambush card immediately kills two attackers. Cards come in four suits - the coloured bar at the top. The suit limits where you can use the card. Red (fox) cards can only be used in fox villages. Yellow (rabbit) cards can only be used in rabbit villages. The blue (bird) cards are jokers though, and can be use in any village.

The card back is beautiful. The four suits are represented here - fox, mouse, rabbit and bird.

This is the raccoon faction player board. This faction is called the Vagabond. It's not even really a faction. It's just one lone ranger roaming the forest. The raccoon collects tools, and the actions it can perform depend on the tools it has. One generic action that all factions can take is to craft tools. Normal factions do this for the victory points. After a tool is crafted, it is of no use to the factions. However the raccoon may come to trade these tools with the factions. The raccoon can provide various forms of help to the factions to earn VP's. It can even establish alliances. The raccoon can become enemies with factions too, killing their soldiers and burning their buildings. These give victory points too. Yet another source of VP's is secret personal missions. Similar to the bird faction, at the start of the game you get to pick a character to play (bottom right). This determines your starting tools, your special abilities and eventually your gameplay.

One unique ability of the raccoon is to hide in the forest, out of reach of the other factions.

This is the cat faction, and their style is to build, build, build. They score points by building. They need wood for buildings, and they build sawmills to cut down wood. The more buildings they have, the more wood will be needed for the next ones they build, so they need to keep up in wood production. According to the backstory, the cats are the current rulers of the forest, while the birds are the previous rulers. When we played, we joked that the bird faction was Barisan Nasional, trying to win back the country. Their colour is dark blue too!

Birds and cats - natural born enemies.

The otter faction is from the Riverfolks expansion. These are merchants and mercenaries, and they flourish by trading with other factions. They may recruit at any village along the river. They may move along the river. Their cards are public information, because they may sell their cards to other factions. To be precise, they may not refuse if another faction wants to buy their cards. They can at most set a high price. The ability to move along the river can be bought too, but only for one turn. If you want it next turn, you need to pay again. You may recruit otter mercenaries. They will fight alongside your soldiers, but also for one turn only. When you buy (or rent) stuff from the otter faction, you pay using your unused pawns. They go to the otter faction board. The otter faction uses these pawns to perform actions, and some actions will consume your pawns, thus returning them to your pool. One important source of VP's for the otters is the trading posts (bottom right of photo).

The card on the right is a Dominance card. This is a special card and there are only four such cards in the deck. It gives you an alternate path to victory. If you play a Dominance card, you can win by fulfilling the stated condition and then maintaining it for one full round, i.e. from your current turn to the start of your next turn. The tradeoff is your victory points are forfeit. You are switching to a different route. This particular Dominance card requires controlling three mouse villages. Controlling means having more soldiers and buildings than others.

Combat is simple. The attacker rolls two dice (which have numbers ranging from 0 to 3). The bigger number will be kills dealt by the attacker, and the smaller number the kills dealt by the defender. To deal a certain number of kills, you need to have at least that many soldiers. If the attacker has only two soldiers but rolls a 3 for himself, then he only gets to kill two defending soldiers. This combat mechanism favours the attacker, since the attacker always gets the bigger number.

The Play

We did a four player game. Ivan played the raccoon (white), Tim the cats (orange), Dith the otters (light blue) and I the birds (dark blue). This photo was taken in the early game. Cats were everywhere, but were spread thinly. The birds started with a large force at the bottom right corner.

Playing the bird faction, my plan was to expand aggressively and steadily. The leader I picked doubled my recruits. I wanted to push outwards from the southeast corner. Playing the bird faction required much computing power. I had to think ahead a few turns, to make sure my Decree did not break down and reset. Every time I tucked a new card, I needed to assess whether I would be able to perform this specific action at specific villages for the next few turns. I needed to build roosts to score points. I only tucked one card for the build action. Tucking two would be too risky. Even having just one was not easy. I had to make sure I gained control of at least one more village every turn, so that I could build one more roost. I tucked two cards for the recruit action, which meant four new recruits every turn. Having a healthy stream of new soldiers sounded great, but this came with great risk too. I was frequently at risk of running short of pawns. In addition to having already deployed pawns onto the board, I also bought stuff from Dith, thus placing pawns on his player board. Thankfully Dith and I came to a form of mutual agreement. I bought stuff from him to help him get more actions, while he tried to use my pawns quickly so that he could return them to my pool. We kept our words and did not backstab each other.

Dith struggled from the early game, due to a lack of customers. I was his only more-or-less regular customer. Ivan's raccoon could not spare pawns for him, since Ivan only had one pawn. Tim's cat faction had the most pawns, but Tim never found anything on sale particularly attractive. He just focused on building sawmills, chopping wood and constructing more and more buildings. Dith didn't have many actions, and could not deploy many soldiers onto the board. Those which were deployed did not last long either. Sometimes I was the one killing his soldiers. Not that I did so to hurt his position or to improve mine. I simply needed to fulfill my destiny - the Decree. When the Decree said battle, I had to plan to do battle. Sometimes I went into battle hoping more of my soldiers would die, because I needed those pawns for my recruit actions next turn. There aren't many games where you tell your soldiers please just die.

Tim (cat faction) made steady progress with woodcutting and building. Tim and I started with our HQ's at opposite ends of the board, so it would take some time for us to build up to any major conflict. In the early game I did kill off many of his small garrisons. It was almost impossible for him to defend them and he didn't even bother. He just concentrated on building up his infrastructure and gaining VP's. In a way, we were cooperating. I did what I did because that was how my faction worked and how I scored points. My expansion did not really prevent him from scoring points. He didn't try to stop me and just focused on his own way of scoring. We both prospered.

Ivan's raccoon kept busy with its own scoring too. He started with exploring ruins and digging for relics. Once done with all the exploration, he came trading with us for tools. He amassed an impressive set of tools. His score, Tim's and mine grew steadily and we were not far from one another. Only Dith gradually fell behind due to the lack of actions.

My bird faction (dark blue) now dominated about half the forest. Dith's otters (light blue) had an expedition force on the left which broke through into Tim's cat kingdom (orange), but it seemed a little pointless. It didn't seem to help with Dith's scoring much, and eventually Dith did not follow up with any reinforcements. Tim later recaptured that village.

I made one critical mistake with that unprotected village on the right. I was expecting the eventual clash with Tim along the river, which was my front line. I positioned my soldiers such that he couldn't break through to harass my villages behind the front line. What I forgot to consider was Ivan's raccoon. He easily slipped by and set fire to my unguarded roost. I didn't even have any eyewitness to prove his guilt and I couldn't declare him public enemy and arsonist. This was a major blow to me. When my turn came again, I could not do recruitment at any fox village. The roost which was destroyed was the only roost I had in a fox village. The Decree failed, and my bird faction fell into turmoil.

At the top left I had a red fox card, which meant I must perform recruitment at a fox village every turn. At this point I had 8 cards in my Decree, which meant 8 actions every turn. This was very powerful. In contrast, the cat faction had a fixed number of actions every turn - three.

I had a feeling that a turmoil was coming soon, but this still caught me off guard. I knew turmoil was coming because I already had 6 roosts built, and thus only one left on my player board. Once the last one was built, I was going to head for turmoil. At that time I had a Dominance card in hand, and two Ambush cards. That Dominance card required controlling three mouse villages, and I happened to have strong forces in three such villages (photo above, orange villages with blue birds). Ambush cards can be used when being attacked. I had a mouse Ambush card and a bird Ambush card, which meant both could be used to defend my mouse villages. It felt like the stars were aligned for me to play this Dominance card. However I knew I was making a gamble. By playing the Dominance card, I was forgoing my victory points. Despite the turmoil and the VP penalty, I wasn't doing too badly. If I failed to maintain control over the three mouse villages, I knew it would be difficult to regain control. The rest of the players would gang up on me. Eventually I could not resist the temptation and decided to go for broke.

Aaaaand broke I went. Despite all geared up to defend my mouse villages, in the end it wasn't any attack from Tim that stopped me. It was Dith's recruitment drive which stopped me. Tim didn't even bother to attack me, and left the job of stopping me to Dith. I forgot that Dith could recruit at any village next to the river. He only needed to recruit a bunch of otters, and they would overcrowd the village and become the controlling faction. They didn't even need to fight me. They just stood about and shook hands with my soldiers. I could not play my Ambush cards on these freshies! Everything went downhill from there for me. I even had yet another turmoil. In hindsight, after the turmoil I should have just regrouped and continued to work on VP. My situation was not that dire to call for such a gamble. I was impetuous.

The remaining contenders were Tim and Ivan. Dith and I had been messing with Tim a little here and there, since he was everywhere and we couldn't resist taking some jabs. Ivan looked harmless enough, and nobody bothered to attack him. He was the last thing we associated with a threat. By the time we realised he was getting stronger and stronger, it was too late. He had built a massive repertoire of tools. Even if we robbed him of some, he still had plenty, and he still had many ways to score points. The raccoon has many small ways of scoring points, none of which looked particularly threatening in itself, but they all add up. Eventually Ivan charged ahead and hit 30VP to win the game. Lesson learnt - everyone needs to watch and rein in everyone else. You cannot afford to ignore anyone.

The Thoughts

ROOT is a rare game which after playing I wanted to know who designed it. Cole Wehrle did not ring a bell, and I had to do some research to find out that he designed Pax Pamir and John Company, both heavy games. ROOT is certainly a complex game. Some of the rules, e.g. the generic ones applicable to all factions, are simple and succinct, but the whole package is an intricate network of interlocking mechanisms and rich player interactions. It is a complex ecosystem. Many games have multiple factions and unique faction powers, but not many have factions as wildly different as those in ROOT. We are not talking about having a generic faction template from which you apply advantages and weaknesses to create different factions. We are talking about factions built almost from the ground up. It is an impressive feat to get these different factions to work as a coherent game.

I have read a comment that playing ROOT is multiplayer solitaire, because of how each faction just focuses on its own way of scoring. You don't want to get distracted with spending effort slowing others down. In my opinion this is a player problem. It is true that you do need to make good use of your faction abilities and keep up with the scoring to stay in contention. However messing with others is an effective tool you should not neglect. You may not have the luxury to attack every other opponent, but at least make sure everybody is being reined in by somebody. In ROOT you have a delicate balance of power. Players can easily gang up on an apparent leading player. The board situation is fluid due to how effective attacks are, and how alliances can shift.

The game mechanisms in ROOT can easily be applied to a much more serious setting, or a historical setting. The forest can be a nation undergoing revolution, with many factions vying for power and plotting against one another. By choosing a Disney-like setting and such cute artwork, the publisher tones down the seriousness and the tension. This may be a good thing. I certainly like the artwork and the components. Just make no mistake, this is a complex multiplayer strategy game.

Friday 21 September 2018

Century: Eastern Wonders - Sand to Sea

Plays: 3Px1.

Century: Eastern Wonders is the second game in the Century series, after Century: Spice Road. They are independent games, but can also be combined into a different game, called Sand to Sea. Later when the third game in the series Century: New World is released, it too can be combined with the earlier games to create new games. I have only played Sand to Sea and not Century: Eastern Wonders by itself. So this post will just be about the combo game and not the individual one.

The Game

When setting up the map for Sand to Sea, tiles are drawn randomly. Some spaces will have no island.

The full setup looks like this. Sand to Sea does not use all the components from Spice Road and Eastern Wonders. It uses a subset from both. On the right are the merchant cards from Spice Road. You have a row of four for players to pick from. The map tiles in the middle are from Eastern Wonders. The spices (cubes) on the left can be from either game. Spices are your resources. The game is about collecting spices and upgrading them, and eventually trading specific sets of them to fulfill contracts, which have point values. Once a player fulfills his fourth contract, the game ends. Highest scorer wins.

Taking a merchant card from the card row is one of the four actions you can do on your turn. The second one is simply playing a merchant card. When you play a card, you put it on the left side of your player board. Cards have 3 types of abilities. Some let you collect spices. Some let you upgrade spices to other more valuable types. Some let you convert specific sets of spices to other specific sets. The rightmost section of your player board is your storage area, and it holds up to 10 spices. In this photo you see some facedown cards on the right side of the player board. This is related to the third action type - sailing. Every player has a ship on the board. Your third action type is to sail. You get to perform the action allowed by your destination. For each step you sail, you must either move a card from the left side of your player board to the right, or play a card directly from your hand to the right side of your player board. Ideally you want to use your cards twice - firstly for the ability of the card itself, and secondly for sailing. Once a card is on the right side of your player board, it is of no use to you temporarily. You need to take the fourth action - the reset. When you reset (it's called "rest" in the game), you bring all cards back into your hand. You won't do anything else that turn. You'll start all over again next turn.

Everyone has a ship on the board. They don't block movement, but if you do sail to a spot where others are present, you need to pay them a fee (of one spice). So ships do hinder movement somewhat. Islands simply let you convert a set of spices to another, just like merchant cards. You need to have built a trading post on an island in order to use its power. If you are first to build, it's free. Otherwise it'll cost spices. In this photo, the pink and white players have built trading posts.

On the player board, the trading posts are arranged in a 4x4 grid. 4 rows and 4 columns. When you build a trading post on the map and need to take one piece from your player board, you need to check the island type, which is in one of the four spice colours matching the four rows on your board. Also you always take the leftmost piece from the row. The first trading post you build from a row is only worth 1VP, but subsequent ones are worth more. This entices you to build trading posts on islands of the same type. Now if you look at the icons along the top, these are bonuses you get when you complete columns. If you build all four trading posts in the first column, i.e. at four different island types, you gain a merchant card. For columns 2 to 4, you get to choose between a bonus tile and a merchant card. So you are torn in two directions - do you go for rows or columns? Or neither? You also need to consider whether the islands are useful to you in the first place. Sometimes it may not be worthwhile to build only for the sake of completing a row or a column.

There are three types of bonus tiles. From left: (1) Storage expansion, increasing your capacity by 3. (2) Victory points. (3) One free move when sailing. In the game we played, none of us managed to get any bonus tile. I think it's very difficult to do because you need to complete your second column to get a bonus tile. Also in the game we played, I went for speed, forcing the game to end quickly. This made it even more difficult for anyone to complete the second column.

Let me shift one row of trading posts out of the way, so that you can see the point values for each position within the same row. A total of 8VP is attractive.

On the right, the tile with the big 15 on it is a contract. If you sail here and you have 3 brown spice and 1 green spice, you may trade the spice for this contract worth 15VP. Contracts are the biggest source of VP. They appear at the harbours in the four corners of the map. When a contract is fulfilled, another will be drawn to take its place.

One contract shuffled near the top of the draw deck is this out-of-service tile with a big red cross. If you draw this tile, the harbour where a contract has just been fulfilled is now temporarily closed. You need to go elsewhere to fulfill contracts. The next time a contract is fulfilled, that other harbour will close, while this one will reopen for business. Once this out-of-service tile appears, there will only be 3 active harbours at any one time.

The Play

I played with Ivan and Tim, and we were all new to Sand to Sea, although not new to the Century series. Sand to Sea has the same style as Spice Road. On your turn you only do one simple thing. You have only four options. The flow is straightforward. You collect spices, you upgrade them, you turn them into other spices, and eventually you trade them in for contracts which are worth VP. Merchant cards and trading posts on islands are your tools. You need to build up your tool repertoire as you go, but they are mostly a means to an end. You need to decide how much effort to spend on improving your toolset and how much to spend on actually scoring points. The row and column consideration when building trading posts is a side quest. If the scores from contracts are close, then this aspect may become the game decider. Player interaction is in the form of grabbing merchant cards, racing to fulfill contracts, grabbing spots for trading posts, and hindering ship movement.

I went for speed. I just wanted to get the right spices quickly and then go grab the contracts. I didn't bother much with completing rows or columns on my player board. In the area where my ship started, there were a few islands which synergised well, so I only built a few trading posts in this area. I did need to take some merchant cards. They synergised well with my trading posts too. I operated with very few trading posts, and not that many merchant cards either.

I played white, and you can see my board presence was minimal. Ivan was pink, and Tim black. Tim was most aggressive and systematic in building trading posts. He had trading posts on all four yellow islands. He also had a full set of islands in four colours. So he had both a complete row and a complete column.

You do need to race for the contracts. At one point I forgot to watch what spices others were collecting, and one contract which I was working towards was fulfilled by Ivan ahead of me. Luckily for me the next contract matched the spices I had pretty well. I only needed a little effort to get to the right combination. I was quite lucky in that my merchant cards and trading posts synergised well. That meant good efficiency. I was the only one who managed four contracts when the game ended. My trading posts did not score me many points, but my contracts were high valued and that secured the win for me.

The Thoughts

Sand to Sea is a medium (or low-medium) complexity strategy game. It is brisk. The key is putting together an effective set of merchant cards and trading posts. They are your engine to help you gain spices and upgrade spices. Compared to Spice Road, now you have a spatial aspect. You need to think about which islands you want to use, and you need to think about movement on the map. The game naturally becomes more complex. There are more moving parts. However the pace is still quick. Your actions are simple.

One thing which Sand to Sea and Spice Road have in common is the game ends quicker than you expect. It is easy to think you have time to build your perfect little engine. You don't. While building your engine, you are also racing and grabbing points. I find this tantalising. You feel you want just a bit more time to refine your engine. You need to remind yourself you don't have that kind of luxury. The other feeling I have when playing the game is many things I want to achieve require many small steps to complete. I need to think a few step ahead, and I need to wait round after round for my turn to come to execute the next small step to realise my plan. That feeling of anticipation is wonderful. I can't wait to get to my next turn. This may be why the game moves so briskly.

Saturday 15 September 2018

Dungeon Petz: Dark Alleys

Plays: 3Px1.

Time flies. That was my first thought when I realised Dungeon Petz is already a 7-year-old game. Recently did a Czech Games Edition theme night, and Ivan brought Dungeon Petz. He had bought the Dark Alleys expansion but had never played it before. So this was the perfect opportunity.

Dungeon Petz has an unusual setting. You are pet shop owners, but instead of cats and dogs, you are selling monsters, to dungeon masters. Rearing monsters is certainly not easy. You need to attend to their various needs. Rear them well, and you will win fame at exhibitions and when you sell them to the right customers. The core game mechanism is worker placement.

These are some of the monsters in the game. The one on the left is from the expansion, while the other two are from the base game. The one on the left is slightly more complicated than the others. If its magical powers are not contained properly, insteading of mutating, it causes other monsters at your shop to mutate.

The Game

The biggest change in the Dark Alleys expansion is this additional game board. Dungeon Petz is a worker placement game, and this new board gives you four more spots to place your workers. At the bottom left there is a white square. Right at the centre there is a black square. At the bottom right there is an orange square. Along the bottom edge near the middle there is a four-coloured square.

The black square is the black market. During game setup, 6 items are placed in the top half of this board - an extra worker (bodyguard), a monsterling, a cage, a food tile, a cage improvement and an artifact. When you visit the black market, you get to buy one of these. They don't get replenished throughout the game. Only one person may visit the black market every round.

The orange square is where you buy accessories for your monsters. When you put an accessory on a monster, it results in an additional need to fulfill, i.e. this will require more effort on your part. However being able to fulfill an extra need can also mean doing better at exhibitions and pleasing your customer even more. So this can be quite important.

The four-coloured square allows you to peek ahead at upcoming exhibitions and customers, so that you can start planning earlier. It also allows you to draw four more Needs cards in the current round. This gives you more flexibility in fulfilling your monsters' needs. When monsters grow big (their needs become harder and harder to fulfill), and when you serve important customers, additional flexibility can be very handy.

The white square is the industrial zone, where facilities with various benefits open for business. Whoever visits gets to use these facilities.

This row of large tiles are the facilities in the industrial zone. When you visit, you get to use one facility immediately, and if at the end of the round you have surplus workers, money or relevant resources, you get to use a facility again. A new facility opens every round, so you will get more and more choices. That facility in the middle is a cleaner service. Pay money to remove two poops from your shop.

In addition to the new board and corresponding components, you also get more of the component types already in the base game. More monsters, more cages, more customers, more exhibitions. The game structure doesn't change, and neither does the general strategy. There is only a slight change in the game-end scoring.

The Play

I played with Ivan and Sinbad, while Jeff and two others played another set, also with the Dark Alleys expansion. I had forgotten most of the rules details, and must listen to the rules explanation all over again. However I did remember that this game is very much about orchestrating high profile transactions - selling the right pets to the right owners at the right time. You can see what exhibitions and customers are coming up. Your job is to collect all the items you need to do well at the exhibitions and to serve the customers well. It is a lot of planning, coordination, timing and of course, fighting for the things you need.

This is the player board. The top section is a reference chart and also a screen when you need to do the blind bidding. The blind bidding in this game is grouping your workers (imps) and coins. Each group qualifies you for one action, and actions are executed in the order of group size. Large groups mean you get to go first, but they also mean you have fewer groups and thus fewer actions.

These were the monsters I bought in the early game. That cage at the top right automatically provides vegetables every round (leaf icon with tick), but unfortunately the monster there is carnivorous (meat icon on monster), so this special ability is wasted. The cage automatically cleans one poop every round too (poop icon with tick).

What we remember most about this particular game we played is Sinbad's huge magical monster. He raised a violent magical monster from young until it reached its full size. This was one tough pet to handle. Due to how angry it was, Sinbad had to assign his imps to rein it in and prevent it from breaking out of its cage. This resulted in his imps getting injured. This meant he had two fewer imps next round. Also he would need to assign another imp to retrieve those two injured imps from the hospital. To make things worse, in the next round, the hospital space was blocked by a neutral imp, and he couldn't collect his imps even if he wanted to. The neutral imps come into play in games with fewer than four players.

What was most painful was at late game, when the monster was at full size, Sinbad could not contain it, and it broke out of its cage and ran away. That was a heavy blow. So much effort wasted. This monster would likely have helped win exhibitions and close a lucrative sale.

My two monsters were growing up, revealing more and more Needs icons (coloured rectangles). The monster on the left was a playful one (yellow Needs icons). There was once I didn't have enough imps to play with it and didn't have enough toys for it to entertain itself, and it became depressed, taking one grey suffering cube. Monsters take suffering cubes when they are sad and when they are hungry. If they take too many, they die.

My playful monster was later sold to this grandma. Grandma loves pets which like to eat and get sick easily, because she enjoys giving care.

The two monsters at bottom left and top right were my newer batch of purchase. The one at the bottom left was an unusual one. If it got angry and broke out of its cage, it wouldn't run away. Instead it would break other cages or cage improvements. This might cause other monsters to escape instead.

The two brown cubes are poop.

This section of the player board is the food storage area. Vegetables last three rounds, meat only last two. Meat spoils at the end of the next round after it is bought.

As we played, we recorded all pet sales in this manner. These are all the customers in our game and what they bought.

The Thoughts

I think you need the Dark Alleys expansion only if you play Dungeon Petz a lot, because it will give you some variety. The additional game elements are just nice-to-have and don't make the game significantly better. They give you more things to do, at the cost of increased complexity and play time. I don't recommend the expansion for players new to the game. I actually see more value in the additional monsters, customers, exhibitions, i.e. the component types already existing in the base game.

Monday 10 September 2018

beebo beebo

This one is probably relatable ony to Malaysians, with some bits specifically to Malaysian Chinese. And I apologise to Spanish and Portuguese readers for butchering their city names. I have a specific group of friends who are into the Pandemic series of games. I taught them to play the original Pandemic. We played the bio-terrorist variant. We completed both Pandemic: Legacy seasons together. When we come across unfamiliar city names, we often create our own local-flavoured nicknames. In the past, we renamed Saint Petersburg, calling it Sri Petaling instead. Montreal became Monorail. Essen transformed to become Eason.

Eason Chan, Hong Kong singer.

This year, we played Pandemic: Iberia. Since none of us were familiar with the geography of Spain and Portugal, most of the cities were alien to us. We knew only Madrid, Barcelona and Lisbon. The rest of the cities were challenging, and naturally nicknames was one technique to help us cope.

Palma de Mallorca became Racecourse Melaka (Malacca). "Palma de" sounds like the Cantonese word for racecourse (跑马地 - pao ma dei). This Chinese word 跑马地 is also a suburb in Hong Kong (which has a racecourse). The name of the suburb in English is Happy Valley.

Bilbao-Bilbo became "beebo beebo", i.e. ambulance sirens.

Leon was still called Leon, but we associated it with this Leon below.

Hong Kong singer and actor, Leon Lai.

We did not create a new name for Gijon, but we pronounced it like a Hakka name. Hakka is a Chinese dialect spoken in southern China. It is also spoken in Malaysia, especially in Sabah. Some Kuala Lumpur Chinese speak Hakka too. "Gi" sounds like the Hakka word (杞) for goji berry or wolfberry. "Jon" sounds like the Hakka word for return. So the imaginary Hakka town of Gijon would be the place where the wolfberries return.

Each time during play when we passed by Madrid, we had to suppress the urge to break into song - this song by Jolin Tsai (Taiwanese singer) titled Amazing Madrid.

Friendship. Sometimes you need to do silly stuff together.

Sunday 2 September 2018

Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle

Plays: 4Px2, 2Px3. Played up to Game 3 (of 7).

I have read all the Harry Potter books, and watched all the movies. I'm not a diehard fan, but I do enjoy the stories and the characters. Older daughter Shee Yun is a fan and she is much more familiar with the Harry Potter universe than I am. When I first heard about this game, my first thought was it would be nice to buy a copy to play with her. Unfortunately my regular suppliers didn't stock them. I didn't want to go through the trouble of buying directly from overseas. So, no Harry Potter for me. Recently I discovered that my colleague Zee Zun has a copy of the game. He bought it at It was cheap too. I wondered whether it was a pirated version. I examined his copy and found the quality to be good. It looked legitimate. So I soon bought a copy myself. When my copy arrived, I found it to differ slightly from Zee Zun's. Our dice are different. His are in solid colours while mine are semi-transparent. The icons on mine look faded and blurry. My green die is so dark it is almost black. The dice are still functional I guess. Other components are fine. So I guess I have no complaints. I wonder whether I have bought from a different seller on Shopee.

I had thought Shee Yun would be quite excited to play, but I was disappointed. Being a fan of Harry Potter doesn't necessarily mean being a fan of the boardgame. I had to ask her a few times before I was able to convince her to play with me. She did have fun when we played. She is familiar with the characters and spells. She reminded me who did what in which episode.

The Game

Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle is a cooperative deck-building game. You play one of the four Heroes - Harry, Ron, Hermione or Neville. There are villains and bad events in the game. Your job is to defeat all villains. The bad guys want to control the wizarding world, and they do so by capturing a few key locations. If all locations are captured by evil forces before you defeat all villains, you lose.

The board is there only to help you organise where to place your cards. It is not strictly necessary. This is a card game, with some markers to help you keep track of things. The stack at the top left is your locations. Only one is exposed at any one time. Only when it is captured by the evil forces a new one (if any is left) will take its place. The stack to the right of the location cards is the Dark Arts cards - event cards which trigger bad things. Usually you need to draw at least one Dark Arts card every turn. At the lower left you see the villain card. In this game we played, there is only one active villain at any one time. In more advanced games, there will be two and eventually three villains. The six cards on the right are Hogwarts cards - player cards available to be purchased. These are randomly drawn from the draw deck. Whenever a card is purchased from this pool, a new card will be drawn to replenish the pool.

This is a deck-building game and uses the common deck-building rules. When you buy a card, it goes to your discard pile. You don't get to use it yet. The next time your draw deck runs out, you reshuffle your discard pile to form a new draw deck. Only then any recently purchased cards will enter play, becoming part of your draw deck.

On your turn, you must resolve the Dark Arts cards first (i.e. the bad events), and then the villain cards. Only after these are done you get to execute your actions, by playing cards. The two most basic things you get to do are making money and attacking. When you make money, you get to spend it to buy new cards. When you attack, and gain attack tokens and may choose to place them on any active villain. Every villain has a health value. He is defeated when you place enough attack tokens to match his health value. Cards have various other powers, like healing, drawing more cards, giving money or attack tokens to your teammates, and reducing the evil control markers at locations.

The game is divided into 7 levels, called Game 1 to Game 7. This matches the number of books (and movies). Game 1 is simple. Some elements are added or changed in each subsequent game. It is a little like playing a legacy game. However there is no destructive element and no irreversible change. You can reorganise the components into any specific Game number you want. Naturally, Game 7 is the most complete version of the game, and probably also the longest. When you play from Game 1 to Game 7, it is a little like watching the movies all over again. Each game has its own set of locations. Dark Arts cards, villains and Hogwarts cards are added at each game, matching characters and story elements that are introduced in each movie. The player characters also get new abilities as you progress to higher levels.

This is the player board. The main function is to track your health. When your health falls to zero, don't worry, you won't get killed. You are just Stunned. The most severe part of being Stunned is (usually) discarding half your hand. So it is not too bad. Still, you don't want to get Stunned too often. It will make you very inefficient. The two cards on top are the Hero card (character card) and the reference card. This is a Game 1 Hero with no special ability. The Hero card you get in Game 3 onwards has special abilities. That pile on the right is your discard pile. Your draw deck is meant to be on the left.

This is one of the villains. The tiny text at the top right corner specifies this is a Game 1 villain. The villain card tells you the villain's ability and the reward for defeating him. The number at the bottom right is the health value of the villain. The lightning token is an attack token. You need six of them to defeat Professor Quirrell.

Every Hero starts with a unique deck of 10 cards. E.g. Harry has Hedwig. Many of the starting cards are the spell Alohomora, which gives you $1. Technically it's giving you 1 Influence, but I always think of Influence as money because you buy cards with it. Spells are one type of cards. There are also Allies and Items.

The game is like a race, between you defeating all villains and the game system capturing all locations. You need to balance between offense and defense. It's mostly about offense, since not many cards help you defend the locations. You are constantly improving your deck. You need to do this efficiently.

The Play

The first time I played was with Xiaozhu, Edwin and Zee Zun. Xiaozhu and Edwin are Harry Potter fans. Having made plans to play, we brought along our Harry Potter memorabilia. We also played the movie soundtracks during our games.

I brought this chocolate box. This was a gift from Xiaozhu. I have eaten the chocolate and I kept the box as a souvenir. I was delighted to find that there is an Item card in the game called Chocolate Frog, and it looks exactly like this.

I played Game 1 and Game 2 with Xiaozhu, Edwin and Zee Zun. Xiaozhu and Edwin were new to deckbuilding games, and the new mechanism confused Edwin a few times. He placed a newly bought card in the wrong place a few times, sometimes in his hand, sometimes on top of his draw deck. As hobbyists we can easily forget that many game mechanisms we take for granted are actually alien to non-gamers.

The rulebook suggested that players who are already familiar with deck-building games jump straight to Game 3, so I assumed Games 1 and 2 were just tutorials and were easy to beat. To my surprise, we struggled with Game 2, and eventually lost. We lost control of the first two locations quickly, and the third location was a tough one, triggering two Dark Arts events every turn. We suffered badly at the hands of Lucius Malfoy. Whenever a control marker was placed on a location, he healed. We were stuck with him for a long time. He kept healing himself. This was not a training game at all!

Later when I played with Shee Yun, we found Game 2 to be rather easy. We proceeded to Game 3, and beat it easily too. Our defense of the locations was almost perfect. We almost managed to keep them completely free of control markers. I suspected the difference in difficulty was due to the different number of players. So I checked online, and found that indeed many others had the same experience. In two player games, you improve your deck at twice the speed of four player games. You wait for only one other player before your turn comes again, instead of three other players.

Compared to other deck-building games, this one is simple. At least that's what I see so far up to Game 3. I have read the rules up to Game 7 and there aren't many additional rules coming. It is only the cards I have not seen. This level of complexity makes the game workable for non-gamers. From Game 3 onwards, the game starts to get long. I think it took about an hour to finish my Game 3. As you progress, more and more villains are added, so naturally it takes more effort to defeat them all. However the Heroes become stronger too and should be more effective at defeating villains.

A big part of the game is the shopping experience. You need to make purchases wisely. Some cards create synergy, so you should make use of that. Sometimes you want to assign certain players to focus on buying certain types of cards. That helps you increase the likelihood of having synergy. From Game 3 onwards, Heroes get special abilities, and that's even more reason to specialise and to buy cards purposefully. Most cards either help you make more money or fight better. Money helps you further improve your deck, but fighting is what you ultimately need to do to win. This is similar to Dominion. You want to make good money to improve yourself, but ultimately you need to score points. You need to know when to switch. Sometimes there is a clear turning point, but not always. In Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle, what cards are available in the pool is random, so you need to react to the situation as well.

Compared to buying cards, using cards is often straightforward. Many cards can be used only in one way anyway. Some do give you options, but often the right choice is obvious. Similar to Dominion, this game is not so much about what to do with cards you draw. It is more about how to improve the odds of drawing good hands in the first place. Thus the importance of your shopping strategy.

Mr. and Mrs. Weasley came up at the same time in one of our games, so of course that was a photo moment. They cost $6, which is not cheap. Normally you won't be able to afford them in the early game. Their card type is Ally - notice the blue bar and keyword Ally.

The Malfoy father and son came up together too. This is a scary combo because both of them are triggered by a control marker being added to a location. Thankfully when Shee Yun and I were fighting them, there weren't many control markers added. We were lucky.

The Thoughts

Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle is a simple deck-building game. Play it for the Harry Potter theme, and not for it being a deck-builder. I'm sure that's the intention of the publisher. They are selling the Harry Potter world and not the deck-building game. The underlying game mechanism just needs to work. It doesn't need to be very good. To me it is good enough. I also think it is appropriate because this game targets the mainstream market. It wouldn't be wise to have too complex a game mechanism. In fact the deck-building mechanism already presents some challenge to non-gamers.

Just beware that the 2-player game can be too easy. I think it is best to apply the variant rules suggested by the rulebook to make it more challenging. There are also variants suggested by players at BGG.