Sunday 28 April 2019


Plays: 3Px1.

The Game

After playing Mysthea, I did a quick search on the net, and found that Mysthea is a rich world with many characters and stories. In addition to the Mysthea boardgame, there is also a role-playing game, and other boardgames.

The Mysthea boardgame is an area majority game with some engine-building. You play a character in the Mysthea universe. You summon fighters to vie for control of the regions. The game is played over three eras. There is area majority scoring at the end of each era. There are many other ways of scoring. After the third era, the player with the highest score wins.

Everyone plays one unique character (in my case, this guy in the middle, looking like a band leader of a hip hop group). You have only two troop types. The small ones are minions, and the big ones golems.

This is a player board. The track at the top is for keeping track of two currencies. I call the basic one juice (officially it is probably blood or elixir), and the rare one stars. Of the 9 spaces on this board, the bottom right is your discard pile. The other eight are for placing improvement cards. This is the chassis of your engine. Each slot has an icon and you must place specific types of improvements in the matching spaces.

This was the character I drew. I received 4 juice at the start of every era. Free money, basically.

The main board has five round islands, and each island consists of three regions of different terrain types. One unusual mechanism in this game is you can shift the islands around. When you perform such a tectonic shift, you first move the island you are on to the centre. You then force the island in between two other islands, pushing them apart. All the islands will shift and eventually settle into a new configuration, forming a circle again. When you do such a tectonic shift, you get to claim one of those tectonic shift cards on the right (not real name). These cards let you score points based on various criteria. Another important effect of tectonic shifts is monster movement. Monsters on the board sometimes moves one step clockwise to the next island at the end of an era. Sometimes you want to meet the monsters to fight them, sometimes you want to avoid them. With the possibility of tectonic shifts, sometimes it is hard to predict which island the monsters will be on at the end of the era.

At the bottom right you can see the card market. In this game many actions require playing cards. Everyone starts the game with a different set of basic cards. During the game you get to buy cards to improve your abilities and develop new abilities.

This is one of the monsters. You have one monster on the board in the first era. A second one is added in Era 2, and a third in Era 3. By late game it's hard to avoid monsters since there are three of them. At the end of each era, monsters may move and they may attack. Players fight monsters together. If you are unable to defeat the monster, you will lose troops. If you succeed in defeating a monster, you get a reward based on your contribution ranking. Whoever contributed the most manpower gets the highest reward.

The 2nd and 3rd monsters are already picked during game setup and placed on the side board. So you know what's coming.

This is the side board. There is a thin deck of cards on the left. These are the round cards - you draw a card at the start of every round. There are 9 spaces, which means an era can last up to 9 rounds. In the round card deck there are 5 terrain cards, representing the 5 terrain types in the game. There is one monster movement card, which makes monsters move one step clockwise. At the start of each era, one monster attack card matching the monster placed onto the board is added. For Era 1 you will have 7 cards in total, and in Era 3 you'll have 9. In each era you keep playing until you draw the 5th terrain card. The 5th terrain card tells you this is the final round for the era.

When a terrain card is drawn and placed, the number above it will indicate the victory point value for controlling this particular terrain type at the end of the era. At the end of an era, you process these round cards one by one. This photo above shows a situation in Era 3. When resolving the end of era, you will first score the misty regions, each being worth 2VP. Next you score the crystal regions (3VP). After that the monster Caerulas attacks. Then all monsters move one step clockwise. This fourth card is the monster movement card. After that the forest regions score (6VP). And so on and so forth. The last card is not yet drawn. It is the fifth and last terrain card, and it will be worth 10VP. Very lucrative.

As terrain cards are revealed, players gradually gather information about which terrains have low values, and which may have high values. Competition will naturally shift towards the higher value regions.

At the fifth position (lower left) you see an icon which means resetting your artifact. Everyone has an artifact which can be used twice per era. You need to use the artifact if you want to start a battle or if you want to do that tectonic shift thing. Once used, the artifact is turned face-down. It is refreshed at the start of round 5, and at the start of an era. Ideally you want to use yours before round 5, so that you will get to use it twice per era.

Most of the time you need to play a card to perform actions. You gain juice as indicated by the number on the card. You may then spend juice to perform actions like raising troops, deploying troops, moving troops. You can also spend juice to perform the action depicted at the bottom of the card. You may choose to place the card on your player board. This converts the card into a permanent improvement. Cards come in four colours, and the colours have meaning. Yellow cards score points. Green cards are accessories which will help you get more stuff done per turn. Blue cards are mostly upgrades to your various units. When you battle another player, you may commit a card to augment your abilities. In such cases, yellow lets your troops avoid battle, blue scores points, red increases your strength, and green produces juice.

This reference card lists all the things you may do on a turn. You get to perform one normal action and one special action. Of the three normal actions, I have described the card play above. The second normal action is buying cards from the card market. The third is gathering resources. You get at least 3 juice, and you reap resources from the regions where you have people present.

There are four types of special actions. Battling another player and tectonic shifts require the use of your artifact. The 3rd special action is likely the most frequently used - activating an accessory. Of course, you need to have played an accessory card to be able to use it. It is beneficial to play an accessory card early, so that you utilise your special actions as much as possible. Other special actions are not easy to do. The 4th special action is the Encounter. Every player has an Encounter token on the board, and it starts on a different island from your character. To perform an Encounter, you (your character) need to travel to the island with your Encounter token, then spend stars (the rare currency). You will earn points, and trigger an event (usually good). Each time you perform an Encounter, the star cost for the next one increases. It becomes harder and harder to do. The Encounter also gets moved somewhere else.

Each era has its own deck of action cards, and later eras generally have stronger cards. The cards have no text, so you need a (rather large and double sided) reference card like this.

The yellow disc at the bottom right is the yellow player's Encounter token. The yellow player's leader is here, so he can perform the Encounter action if he has the required number of stars. Once you perform an Encounter, the Encounter token is sent to another island. If you want to do the Encounter again, you need to hunt it down again, in addition to collecting enough stars again.

This is an Encounter card. The point value is shown on the card back, so everyone knows the value of the next Encounter. The two icons are your options. Do you want to trigger a treasure event or a chat event? You must pick before turning the card over.

This is the card face of an Encounter card. The upper half is what you get if you have chosen the chat event. You train a minion or deploy a minion for free. You also move your Encounter token 2 steps clockwise.

The number in the top right corner of an action card tells you which era it is from. These cards here are from Eras 1 and 2. There is a serial number at the bottom right. You can use this to look up the reference card or the rulebook.

This tiny envelope is for player-vs-player battles. You have the option of secretly committing an action card.

I have explained how regions score points at the end of an era. Defeating monsters gets you points too, and sometimes resources as well. You get points from tectonic shifts, from fighting other players, from playing yellow cards (insert football / soccer joke), and from chasing Encounters. So there are many ways to score points. You want to do so efficiently, and effectively. Every era you are positioning for the end of era scoring. Some eras are longer, some shorter, and you need to be nimble in reacting to the many possibilities.

The Play

I did a 3-player game with Ivan and Tim. Mysthea does have many mechanisms, but the big picture is not all that complex, and the individual mechanisms aren't either. The challenge for a new player is the many different action cards in the game. There's a lot to digest and you'll need to look up the reference sheet or rulebook often. It gets a bit better after you get familiar with the icons used.

Engine-building is a big part of the game. You want to build a decent engine so that you can be more efficient. Do more with less. Your engine is your permanent advantage. Due to the variety in the action cards, players will be building different engines, and their strengths and priorities will differ. E.g. I developed an advantage in gaining stars, so I decided to invest effort in Encounters.

There isn't much fighting between players. It is not only because of the limitation imposed by the artifact usage. Fighting is not always lucrative. Sometimes you'd rather spend your energy somewhere else, where you can earn more points. You don't need to fight a lot, but you will need to compete a lot. This is an area majority game, so there's simply no escape from competing. You lose out if you don't actively try to compete. You can't win everywhere. You don't need to win any region by a lot. Ideally you win many regions by just a little bit. You want to have the most gains using the least effort.

Your character is important. When you deploy troops, they must go to where your character is. So his location is effectively a restriction you need to work with. Troops can move after deployment, but since actions are precious, you want to save as much as possible.

This was the first era, so there was only one monster (in the middle of that island at the bottom). This was still early game, so there weren't many soldiers on the board yet. Movement within the same island is just one step to either of the other regions. Movement from island to adjacent island also requires only one step, but you may only move between the same terrain type. My character (green) is on the island on the right, standing in a misty region (white). To move to the island at the top right, it only takes one step because I can move directly to the misty region on that island. However if I want to move to the island at the bottom, I will first need to move one step to the forest region (dark green) on my island, and only then move one step to the forest region of that island at the bottom.

Notice the two black discs, on the island on the left, and the island at the top right. These are fortresses. They are Ivan's (black). Fortresses have a combat value of 2. However they can't move (of course), and they are dismantled at the end of an era. You need to build again next era.

This is my player board, and I have some upgrades now. The blue card at the top left gives me a star (valuable resource!) whenever I train a minion (small soldier). Stars are required to perform Encounters. Due to this advantage I had, during the game I spent much effort on Encounters, managing to do it six times (the max). The card at the bottom left lets me build accessories for free. I made sure I played this card before I started building accessories. That second card in the bottom row is an accessory. A big part of Mysthea is working out how to synergise your cards, and playing to the strengths of your cards.

The six Encounter cards I collected.

This was Era 2, so there were two monsters, on the island on the right, and the island at the top right.

This monster (centre) was going to get a good beating. Tim (yellow) had invested much manpower on this island. I (green) only had one lone soldier, but I was going to earn the rewards for 2nd place in beating the monster. This was a good deal, so little commitment for such a good reward. Ivan (black) could consider coming here to compete with me, since I only had strength 1. Tim could initiate a battle to kill my lone soldier, just to deny me the rewards, but it might not be worth the trouble. Initiating battle with another player requires using the artifact.

That guy at the top left is Ivan's character (black), and he was the Ip Man of our game ("1 guy fights 10"). Player characters have a default strength of 3, compared to 2 of golems and 1 of minions. Ivan's special ability was an additional strength of 2, so his character started the game with strength 5. Later, he played an improvement card to give his character a further strength increase of 3. That made his character strength 8!

This is Ivan's player board. His character card is at the top left. The second card on his board is the one giving him a strength boost of 3.

This was the side board situation in Era 2. The first two round cards drawn were monsters, so we knew early that yes, they would attack, and we knew where they would attack, because they wouldn't be moving before attacking. This made planning much easier. The two monsters having taken up the first two low value slots meant the terrain cards would occupy higher value slots - more points for everyone. All five terrain cards had been drawn, so the era was coming to a close. That last card still in the draw deck was the monster movement card. The monsters would not be moving at the end of this era.

This was a tectonic shift in progress. The island being moved was first thrust into the centre. The active player then had to decide which gap between the other islands to stick this moving island into. For each of the three options, who would benefit and who would lose out? How would this affect monster movement? How would this affect people who were chasing Encounter tokens?

This was Era 3, and all three monsters were on the board - on the islands on the left, right and top right.

Tim's (yellow) special ability was he earned double the rewards whenever he defeated a monster, so he had incentive to fight monsters. In Era 3, Ivan quickly grabbed the tectonic shift card which gave points based on number of monsters defeated (regardless of who defeated them). This was a smart move because all of us had more soldiers by Era 3, and we were strong. Also with three monsters on the board, the potential was high. When we did the end game scoring, I got all excited because I was able to keep up to and then overtake Ivan (it had been a tough competition throughout the game). However I had forgotten about that tectonic shift card. Once Ivan added the points from that card, he easily reclaimed the lead and won the game.

The Thoughts

Mysthea, underneath the fantastic art and amazing sculptures, is very much a Eurogame, with multiple ways of scoring points. The area majority is the core platform on which you compete. It's a part you can't avoid competing in. You can't allow others to run away with it. Outside of this area majority scoring, there are many other ways you can score points, and different players may emphasise different areas. You want to build your engine, because it gives you permanent advantages. You don't want to fall behind in efficiency. Fighting other players doesn't happen much, because it is not always in your best interest to do so. However few direct attacks does not mean low player interaction. Area majority is all about player interaction. The tectonic shifts can also mess up your opponents' plans in a major way.

Fighting monsters is an interesting proposition because of the conflicting motivations. It requires significant commitment from the parties involved. Sometimes you want to contribute more so that you get the biggest reward. Sometimes you want to contribute just a little bit, so that you get some reward without spending much effort. Sometimes you pull out at the last minute, causing your compatriots to fail. Sometimes you join a winning fight at the last minute to snipe a reward from the then smallest contributor.

Some competition is of the first come first served nature. Good action cards turn up in the market. Do you quickly buy them, or do you want get your Encounter done first in case someone does a tectonic shift and royally screws up your plan? Often there are a few things you want to do, but you know when you pick one, someone else might beat you to another. Sometimes you want to do things in a certain order, e.g. collect resources, then perform an Encounter with those resources, then play a scoring card to score points. However due to the competition and the changing board situation, sometimes you are forced to make less efficient moves, lest you lose an opportunity completely. There are difficult choices to make. There are trade-offs.

Friday 19 April 2019

Pandemic: Fall of Rome

Plays: 4Px1.

The Game

When I first played the original Pandemic, I never expected I would be playing so much of this game series. It was an OK game for me, decent but not earth-shattering. It was very popular when it was first released. It was a refreshing setting. It was easy to teach. People understood it instinctively. The Intensify mechanism was clever and effective. The main reason I have played this much of the Pandemic series is this group of friends - Benz, Ruby, Xiaozhu and Edwin. When they first heard of the game, they were keen to try it. After I taught them the game, they fell in love with it. Since then, we had journeyed through Legacy Season 1 together, we did Legacy Season 2 too. The original Pandemic had a number of expansions. There was a dice game, and then the versions featuring specific countries or regions or periods of history. I have played Iberia several times. I have bought Rising Tide (set in the Netherlands) but have not played it yet. I recently played Ivan's copy of Pandemic: Fall of Rome at

In this Rome version, you play generals of the Roman Empire. Your job is to fight the barbarians threatening to bring down the empire. You need to create alliances with them, thus bringing them into civilised society. You can also wallop them back to where they came from. You need to save Rome from falling to the barbarians.

Let's look at the game board. It shows Europe and the Mediterranean Sea region during the time of the Roman Empire. There are five barbarian tribes (as opposed to the four diseases in the original Pandemic). The tribes have preset migration paths, and most of these eventually lead to Rome. To win, you need to neutralise all five tribes. You do that by either allying with them, or exterminating them. To form an alliance with a tribe, you need one person to collect a certain number of cards of the tribe's colour, then go to a city with that tribe's tribesmen (cubes), then perform the alliance action. So this is similar to discovering cures in the original, just that you don't need a lab. You need to talk to the tribesmen.

There are several ways to lose. Whenever a city is to get the 4th tribesman of a colour, the city is sacked instead, causing tribesmen to pop up in all neighbouring cities. You lose the game on the 8th sacking, and if Rome itself is ever sacked. The 8th sacking is similar to Outbreaks in the original Pandemic. If you need to place a new tribesman on the board but the supply has run out, you lose too. Rome has failed to contain the spread of this tribe. If the player deck runs out, it means you have run out of time to complete your mission, and you lose.

Every player draws a character card. You get some special abilities and one combat ability (eagle icon). There are battles in this game, and dice are rolled. If you roll the eagle icon, you get to use your combat ability. My character's combat ability is she gets to convert a barbarian directly into a Roman legion. The two cards on the right are player cards. Those tiny numbers at the bottom right indicate how many cards of that colour are in the deck.

One big difference between this Rome version and the original is the need to roll dice. In the original, treating diseases is deterministic. One action to remove one disease cube. In Rome, one action can be spent to battle once. In one battle, you get to roll as many dice as the number of legions you have, up to three dice. The die rolls determine whether you get to kill barbarians, or your legions get killed, or both. You need to have legions to fight the barbarians, so one of the actions in this game is recruiting armies. Armies can only be recruited at forts, so there's another action which let you build forts.

When barbarians invade, they follow certain migration paths. This is quite different from the original. When a barbarian card is drawn and a city is specified as the target, the new barbarian may not necessarily appear at this city. He only does so if the previous city in the migration path already has a barbarian of the same tribe. Else, you trace backwards along the migration path until you reach a city with a barbarian next to it. Because of this rule, barbarians progress step by step towards Rome, and you have a bit more predictability.

This section tells you how many cards you need to collect to form an alliance with each of the five tribes. The black and the white tribes need five, because there are many black and white cards in the deck, more so than the other colours. The blue tribe only needs three cards.

The white building is a fort. You need to be at a fort to recruit armies. If a barbarian attempts to invade a city containing legions, the barbarian cube is not placed. The legions prevent the barbarian invasion. However all legions will be sacrificed. If you happen to have a fort in the city, or a player pawn is present, then only one legion needs to die per invasion thwarted. Legions don't automatically remove barbarians (cubes) already present in a city. You need to perform the battle action to try to remove them.

Since the setting is the classical age, you don't have airplanes, and your pawns don't get to fly to any city you choose. However you do get the sailing action. You can move from one port city to another in one step, if you expend a card of the same colour as the destination.

There are event cards in the player deck, similar to the original. However there is a new mechanism. Event cards give you two options - normal event and super event. The super event is usually much more powerful, but to use it, you need to move your sacking marker one step. That is a big deal. You get closer to losing the game. In the game we played, we did not use the super version of any of our events, but the option to do so was tempting. One more thing to think about, one more option to help you save Rome.

After forging an alliance with a barbarian tribe, you become able to convert their tribesmen to legions. So doing the alliance thing is not just an arbitrary goal to allow the game to have a victory condition. There are practical implications which help you defend Rome and push back the onslaught.

The Play

I played with Ivan, William and Irvin. One difference between Rome and the original is the game setup. The initial cubes (barbarians) will always be placed in 9 predetermined cities near the homelands of the tribes. The setup varies only in the number of barbarians being placed. This is logical and thematic.

There were five tribes we needed to "settle", and there were two ways of "settling" them. It was either we befriended them, or we kicked them back to where they came from. Both were valid and realistic. Since there were five tribes as opposed to four diseases in the original Pandemic, having the same person collect cards of the same colour felt more difficult. Thankfully not all colours required five cards, some needed fewer. Due to the difficulty in collecting cards, exterminating tribesmen was sometimes tempting. The invasion of barbarians followed predictable paths, so extermination felt like a manageable option. If we could clean the table of a particular tribe, and quickly wallop any new invaders, we would not need to bother with the card collection effort. As the game drew on, we found it harder and harder to contain the tribes. Barbarians were everywhere and it was too late to push them back. Eventually we went the alliance path for all five of the tribes, and we brought peace to the Roman Empire.

It is difficult for one person to collect many cards of the same colour. You need to get your friends to pass you the right cards. Going solo is high impossible.

You can see the port icons (anchors) at the port cities. Moving from port to port takes one action only if you spend a card of the destination colour. That city at the lower left is black, blue and white. To travel there by sea from any other port city, you can spend a black, blue or white card. Rome is a port city and has all five colours, so it's easy to rush back to Rome by sea if there's an emergency.

At one point we had only three green barbarian cubes in the supply, which was dangerous. We needed to quickly convert some barbarians to legions, or kill some of them, to prevent the cubes from running out.

Lutetia was the reason for almost running out of green cubes. It was sacked multiple times, causing green cubes to pop up in all neighbouring cities.

In this Rome version of Pandemic, you need to lead legions into battle to get rid of barbarian cubes. There is some randomness now and things are no longer deterministic. You can sometimes get an unlucky streak, losing legions without beating back the barbarians. You lead legions in offensives, and you also shift them around as defensive measures to slow down the advance of the barbarians. Although there is some randomness, I feel it is not too much. You do generally expect to lose troops, and you also expect to be able to kill barbarians. So you will plan to replenish your troops. Best to recruit early in the game, when the recruit action is more effective.

The alliance token of the white tribe was still in the supply, which meant we hadn't established an alliance with them yet. This was the last tribe we needed to ally with before we could win the game.

The Thoughts

Fall of Rome looks very different from the original Pandemic. If you count the rule differences, you will find many. However it somehow manages to feel very familiar. This is despite the different problems you have to solve, and new options you have to help you win. If you like the Pandemic series you will enjoy this game. Very different, yet familiar. Kind of like Johnny Depp in a different role.

Saturday 6 April 2019

Hammer of the Scots on Kickstarter

Hammer of the Scots is a game I enjoy a lot. A new deluxe edition is on Kickstarter now. I want to do my part to recommend this excellent game to people. Here are some of my older blog posts where I wrote about the game: link to posts.