Friday 21 June 2019

Pandemic: Rising Tide

Plays: 5Px1, 2Px4.

The Game

Yes, yet another version of Pandemic, this time set in the Netherlands, at the start of the industrial age. Much of the Netherlands is below sea level, and the dikes protecting the land are starting to fail. Your objective is to build four modern hydraulic structures to help keep the country safe. Instead of four deadly diseases, your enemy is now just one thing - water. If you are unable to contain the flooding, you lose. If time runs out (you exhaust the draw deck), you lose.

The map is divided into four areas - purple, orange, yellow and green. There is one specific spot in each area where you must build a specific hydraulic structure. The wooden sticks are the dikes. They block water flow between regions. The four cylinders at the bottom are the markers representing the four hydraulic structures. Whenever you build one such structure, the marker is moved to the corresponding region, and you also gain some benefit.

The card on the right is a character card. Every player gets one, and gains a special ability as stated on the card. In Rising Tide, the character abilities are very strong. Some even feel overpowered to me. I wonder whether it's because one of the designers is Jeroen Doumen, one of the key designers from Splotter Games. I find there is a boldness in Rising Tide. The character abilities are strong. The flooding can be devastating. The designers do not shy away from being brutal or giving you great power.

The two cards on the left are region cards (player cards). The names are, of course, in Dutch, and I struggle with that. I don't know how to pronounce them. They are long. Some region names are similar, so I can't just abbreviate them by only reading the first few or last few syllables. I need to carefully read the whole thing. There are a few regions called Land van something. The card at the bottom is a player reference card (double sided) listing the possible actions.

The procedure of a turn is very similar to basic Pandemic. You perform 4 actions, then you draw player cards, and finally you draw dike failure cards. Your actions usually either help you in containing the flooding (a short term goal), or they help you in building the four hydraulic structures (the long term goal). Dike failure cards cause dikes to be removed, and regions to flood. There is a water flow procedure to be done at the end of your turn. Let's talk about this. There are two seas on the map, the North Sea, and that bay in the photo above. The seas start with 2 water cubes, representing a water level of 2. This can increase up to 4 during the course of the game. The general principle of water flow is water in a region causes all unprotected neighbouring regions to have at least one fewer water. If a region (or sea) has 3 water, all adjacent regions not protected by any dike will have at least 2 water. If a region or sea has 2 water, then all adjacent unprotected regions will have at least 1 water. In the photo above, the Zuiderzee bay has 2 water. When doing the water flow, Wieringemeer will get 1 water, because it is next to the bay and it is not protected by a dike.

To build a hydraulic structure, you need one player to have collected five cards of the colour matching the structure, and he needs to go to the specific construction site to build it. This is similar to basic Pandemic, just that the construction sites are fixed.

Some Storm cards are seeded into the player deck, and they work in a similar way as the Epidemic cards in Pandemic. Whenever you draw a Storm card, the marker on the sea level track advances. After certain thresholds, the number of water cubes in the seas increase, which can cause much water to spread inland if the shoreline is not fully protected. Also the number of dike failure cards to draw every turn increases. After a Storm is resolved, the dike failure discard pile is shuffled and placed back on top of the draw deck. This means regions which had failures will get failures again. This is one of the core mechanisms in the Pandemic series.

The orange windmill is a pumping station. Building a pumping station is one of the things you get to do in the game. You need to spend a region card matching the location you're in to do so. There are only five pumping stations, and if you need to build a new one after they are all on the board, you will need to dismantle an old one. Every turn the active player may use each pumping station to remove one water. As long as there is water at the station, the station can remove one water from any region connected to it by water. Regions with dikes between them are not connected by water, even if they both have water. Just imagine how the pumping station can remove water from the puddle which it is in and which is spread across multiple regions. Pumping stations cannot remove water from the sea though.

Some regions are high ground, and water cannot enter. When doing water flow, they are ignored. I realise I have made a mistake when playing. I had treated such high ground as inaccessible to players too. In the five games I have played, no player has ever stepped foot into high ground. I have inadvertently made life harder for myself and my fellow players.

The red dots are where dikes are placed during game setup. All dikes will be on the board at setup, but they will fail. Dike failure cards are drawn during game setup and at the end of every player turn. They specify which regions to degrade. Degrade means removing a dike if there is any left, else add one water. It is possible that water sprouts from an inland region because all its dikes have broken down. The sea is not the only source of water.

This is an event card. Some are shuffled into the player deck during setup. They are useful. You keep them and may play them any time.

When you build this orange hydraulic structure, you get to build dikes (for free) along the coast of the orange area. In this photo you can see some regions with double layered dikes. There is no limit to how many dikes you can to build on a border. The more you build, the longer it will last, because whenever degrading is done, dike pieces are removed one by one.

One other action you get to do is to build ports - those black buildings. Similar to the pumping stations, you have to discard a region card matching your location. Ports can be built anywhere, not just coastal regions. On any player's turn, he can move directly to any port on the board. So ports are to ease movement. You can't move from a port to anywhere, it's only from anywhere to a port.

The purple hydraulic structure is different from others. It seals off the bay Zuiderzee, converting it to land. It also serves as a permanent dike that never degrades. Once Zuiderzee becomes land, you may enter it and you may also pump water out of it.

The Play

My first game was played with Benz, Ruby, Xiaozhu and Edwin. It felt different from other games in the series, but nothing too difficult. Containing the flooding kept us busy, and we were a little slow in organising ourselves to build the hydraulic structures. The character powers felt strong. They were helpful. And then disaster struck, and we lost rather abruptly. I was a little shocked how quickly things went downhill. It was sudden and brutal. Water can spread very quickly. Whenever a region gets its second or third water, all adjacent unprotected regions may be affected. In the case of a 3 water region, you can imagine it being the centre of an explosion, the central spot having 3 water, an immediate ring around it with 2 water per region, and then an outer ring with 1 water per region. That can be a lot of water.

After that first game, I played a series of 2-player games with my wife Michelle. We had some losses due to such flash floods too. I think at least part of the problem is we did not build enough dikes. The dikes are not just for stopping water flow, they are also for simply taking hits from the dike failure cards. When there are dikes you can dismantle, you don't need to place water.

We discovered the importance and urgency of building pumping stations. They are a very efficient way to keep flooding under control. With all five stations working, every turn (not round) you can remove 5 water. That's equivalent to 5 player actions, when you have only 4 per turn. In one of our games, the setup was horrible and we already had severe flooding even before our first turn. We had almost exhausted the water cubes. We would lose when they ran out. It felt like we were doomed to fail even before the game started. However we worked hard to get the pumping stations up and running, and we managed to bring the flooding under control from the brink of disaster. It was crazy how far things could swing.

The Storm cards are nerve-wracking. When resolving a Storm card, one of the steps is to draw a dike failure card from the bottom of the deck, and degrade the indicated region three times. Since this card has never appeared in the game, there's not much you can do to prepare for it. Degrading a region three times may mean adding 3 water, if that region has run out of dikes. This sudden explosion of water will spread far and wide. The only thing I can think of which can mitigate the risk of Storm cards is to not let any region completely run out of dikes. This is not easy to do though, because you already have so many other things you need to do.

One important difference between Rising Tide and basic Pandemic is every region appears twice in both the player deck and the dike failure deck. Having double the cards in the player deck makes things a bit easier for the players. You have more time before the deck runs out, and you can better afford to spend or waste some cards. When you spend a region card to, say build a port, you know there's another copy still in the deck. On the other hand, having double the cards in the dike failure deck makes things more difficult for the players. If you have drawn a region card to degrade, you cannot be sure that region will be safe until the next Storm, because there is a second copy of that region still in the deck. If both cards of a region happen to be close to the top of the deck, that region will be degraded very frequently, which is dangerous.

During game setup, the bay area is a hotspot. In the initial setup, there are few dikes, and quite a few of the regions are already flooded. See the blue squares preprinted on the board. In this photo above we had removed most of the water and we had built new dikes to protect the bay area.

One difficulty I have with the map is some regions are in long, weird shapes. It is not always easy to tell which regions are adjacent and which regions are not.

This was one game we lost due to running out of water cubes to place. We still needed to place 2 water in Land van Altena, because that region in the centre with the pumping station had 3 water.

In this game we built all five pumping stations, and we removed water very efficiently. The flooded regions were almost all connected. We could pump water from as far away as that green region at the bottom left. You need to put some thought into where to apply the power of the pumping stations. Usually you want to remove water from regions with more water, or from regions which are far away. You try not to break up the flooded regions, because if you do, your pumping stations won't work for those isolated areas.

You can only build a dike when the region has no water. Sometimes when you remove water, you know that by the end of your turn, water will flow in again from an adjacent region, but you still have to do it because you need to build a dike.

Some of the pumping stations have removed even the last bit of water in the regions where they are standing, so they are idle now.

The white pawn is the sanitation engineer. Michelle played this character. His ability was he could take a player card from the discard pile matching his location. This didn't seem like much. I wasn't optimistic when we drew this character, but we decided to just go with it. To our surprise, this character ability turned out to be very powerful. Michelle could play the card to jump directly to a region, then pick that card back from the discard pile, then play it again to build a pumping station. She could even pick the same card up again to then build a port. The sanitation engineer was very well suited for collecting cards. I could intentionally play some cards simply for the sake of putting them into the discard pile, so that Michelle could then pick them up and use them for building the hydraulic structures. We eventually won the game without too much trouble.

In this particular game Michelle and I drew the green and black characters. Rising Tide comes with 7 different characters. We have played 4 games and we have tried them all now.

The sea-facing dike at Georee-Overflakkee is broken and seawater is rushing in.

The Thoughts

Rising Tide is a variant of Pandemic. This statement probably already helps you decide whether you are interested to try it. It's a cooperative game of medium complexity, and shares many similarities with the original. Despite no longer having four different diseases to deal with, the game does not become less interesting. The water and dikes mechanism is something different and keeps you busy enough. Compared to the other regional variants, Pandemic: Iberia is the closest to the original, because you still have four diseases to manage. Pandemic: Rising Tide and Pandemic: Fall of Rome are both more different. I like the Pandemic system so it is fun for me to experience the various variants.

The main thing I like about Rising Tide is how extreme it can be - in the character abilities, in the severity of Storms, and in how sudden disaster can strike. I like the boldness in the design.

This is not a difficult game to learn. You can teach it to people who have never played the original. It works well as a family game.

Friday 14 June 2019


Plays: 2Px1, 3Px2, 4Px1.

The Game

Illusion is yet another game from Wolfgang Warsch which I tried recently. He designed The Quacks of Quedlinburg, The Mind and Fiji. He has been on a roll. Most of his games have some interesting twist. When Jeff recommended I check out Illusion, I was happy to give it a go.

The kind of judgement you need to make in a game of Illusion is how big the area is of a particular colour in a particular drawing, compared to that of another drawing. When setting up a new round, two cards are placed at the centre of the table, a score card and a drawing card. The score card determines the colour to be compared this round. The first drawing will be the start of a series. When you take your turn, you have only two options. The first is to add a drawing to the series. The series needs to be in ascending order of area of the particular colour for the round. In the photo above, the series (from left to right) should have an increasing area of yellow from every drawing to the next. On your turn you can see the next drawing, and you may decide to insert it somewhere in the series which you judge to be the correct position. You don't change the order of the other existing drawings.

The other option when you take your turn is to issue a challenge. If you think the series is wrong, you raise an objection. If you are right, you will claim the score card and thus score one point. If you are wrong, the previous player claims the score card instead. Either way, the round ends, the drawings are discarded, and you start a new round with a new score card and a new drawing.

When a challenge is issued, all drawings are turned over like this. The back of a card tells you the percentage of each of the four colours in that drawing. This round is a yellow round, so the percentages for yellow need to be in ascending order. It is not the case here, since the second drawing is 8%, and the third is 6%. The person issuing the challenge claims the score card. The game ends when a player claims his third score card. He wins.

The structure of the game reminds me of Liar's Dice / Bluff / a drinking game often played at pubs. The stakes keep increasing, and the showdown of a round is always between two adjacent players - the player issuing the challenge, and the player before him. So there's some rivalry between adjacent players. Illusion can be turned into a drinking game if you so desire.

This was a game I played with Michelle. The colour for this round was blue. She was now painstakingly counting all the blue triangles. I am not sure whether that would be helpful. The drawings were designed to be misleading and to create optical illusions. Some make you underestimate the area, some make you overestimate. You can't really trust your eyes.

Let do a simple exercise. The colour for this round is red. Do you think the series is correct? Spend some time to examine these drawings and decide whether they are in the correct order, before you look at the answer in the next photo.

The series above is incorrect. The order of the second and third drawings is wrong. It's not exactly easy to tell, is it?

The Play

12 May 2019. I played with Shee Yun and Chen Rui. Illusion is very easy to teach and to learn.

The colour was blue now. How would you insert this new drawing?

It was eventually inserted at the second position, but unfortunately I don't remember whether it turned out to be correct.

As more and more drawings are added to the series, it becomes more and more likely that an error has creeped in. It is not always the most recently added drawing that's wrong. Sometimes it turns out to be right, but another drawing is wrong instead. It is just that when that wrong drawing was added, the subsequent player did not dare to, or want to issue a challenge. If you see the series getting big, it might not be a bad idea to challenge.

Chen Rui wanted to take a very close look before deciding.

The Thoughts

Illusion is a simple filler. It is a mostly visual game, which makes it a rare one. We don't often see such games. The game comes with many drawings, and since each one has four colours, even if you play the game heavily, you likely won't remember the percentages, even if the drawings start to look familiar.

I read an article in Spielbox which suggested a variant. One drawback of the game is when a challenge happens, only the challenger and the previous player are involved. The others have no control and are left out of the opportunity to score a point. The suggested variant is instead of scoring points, you take a penalty. So if the challenger is correct, the previous player takes a penalty. If the challenger is wrong, he takes the penalty. Take three penalties, and you are eliminated. The rest continue to play until there is one last man standing. This feels a little fairer to me. There is player elimination though. Maybe that's why the scoring was not designed this way.

Tuesday 11 June 2019

New Frontiers (Race for the Galaxy: The Boardgame)

Plays: 5Px1.

The Game

I was a big fan of Race for the Galaxy back in the day. 800+ plays. The only game I have played more of is Ascension, at 1200+. I played Race for the Galaxy heavily throughout the first expansion arc, only slowing down around the third and last expansion in that arc. I bought the second expansion, but didn't play much. I didn't buy the third expansion arc. I bought and played the dice version - Roll for the Galaxy, and enjoyed it well enough, but I haven't tried the expansions. I skipped the simplified version, Jump Drive. That's not for me. And now, New Frontiers is the boardgame version of Race for the Galaxy. I hadn't planned to buy it, but when I had the chance to try it, I jumped in.

The setting is the same as the series. You are aggressively expanding intergalactic empires, developing new technologies, colonising new planets and producing goods. You score points in many ways, and when game end is triggered, the highest scorer wins.

Race for the Galaxy, a card game, was inspired by Puerto Rico, a boardgame. Puerto Rico had its own card game, San Juan. The two card games have similarities, the most important of which is spending cards in hand as money to play a card. Race for the Galaxy is more complex and richer. The setting is completely different - interstellar expansion vs the age of colonialism. New Frontiers has many elements from Race for the Galaxy, and shares many with Puerto Rico too. It feels like a combination of both games, a true descendant of both.

Everyone starts with his own player board with a unique start world with some abilities. This one in the photo gives one blue resource and +1 military strength. That stack of white rectangular tokens is money. Your starting money depends on the initial player order.

The small board at the bottom with 5 player discs is the player order board. Some actions let you modify the player order, e.g. moving your disc to the first position, or swapping your disc with the one before you. The new player order takes effect next round. The seven rectangular tiles in the middle are the action tiles. When you take your turn, you pick one of them which hasn't yet been picked this round to perform an action. Everyone else gets to perform the same action. However you will enjoy some extra benefit. There are seven action tiles, so every round some will not be picked, even when there are 5 players. Not all action types will happen in a round.

The chevron-shaped tiles at the top are developments, or technologies, that you can buy during the game. Quantities are limited so you often need to race to buy them, especially the large developments - there is only one copy each. Developments are double-sided. Before a game starts you decide which side to use. So there is some variety in setup.

The number in the diamond shape is the cost. The number in the hexagon is the point value.

Large developments are double the size of regular developments. If you plan to buy a large development (which you should), you need to leave enough space on your board for it.

The central area of your player board is for your developments. The recesses along the edges are for your planets. Planets which you have discovered but not yet settled are put on the right. In this state they give you no benefit and have no point value.

Two of the development spaces are red. At the planet slots you can also see a line marking a threshold. Whenever any player uses a red development space, or controls more than 7 planets (including the home planet printed on the player board), the game ends after that round.

Whether you settle a planet peacefully or capture it by conquest, you need colonists - the little blue men. You need to collect them, and you use them whenever you settle a planet.

The actions in New Frontiers are similar to those in Race for the Galaxy. You Explore to discover new planets. You Settle to colonise planets. You Produce to create resources on production planets. You Trade/Consume to convert resources to money and victory points. You Develop to buy new techs, which improve your abilities. There's an action which lets you activate a goal tile. Goal tiles affect all players. When the game ends, anyone who fulfills the conditions stated gets to score points. When you pick the action related to goals, you get to draw three goals and pick one to activate. Naturally you want to pick one that works well for you but not for others. The goal is temporarily kept face-down, so that only you know what it is and can prepare for it. Others can only guess based on what you do. Only when the next time someone activates a new goal then your older goal will be revealed.

Developments and planets are worth points. Goals give you points. There are two common strategies - military and consumption. Going military means building up your military strength and conquering high-value military worlds. Going the consumption path means producing many resources and consuming them to gain points. Race for the Galaxy players will be familiar with these.

This is the Explore action in progress. The active player draws planet tiles from a bag, and then everyone takes turns to pick one. The planets are double-sided, one side mostly in black and white and the other in full colour. The black and white side is for before you colonise it, and the colour side is for after.

The gold coloured ship at the bottom left is just a storage ship. Some of the goals in the game require that you store some items here. At game end you score points based on how many you have stored.

The Play

We did a 5-player game. This is the max player count. When discussing New Frontiers, it is hard for me to resist comparing it against Race for the Galaxy and Puerto Rico. This wouldn't be useful for those who have played neither. Taking New Frontiers as an independent game, I would say it is a development game. You start with one humble planet and some rudimentary abilities. You grow your space empire by developing techs and settling new worlds. The developments are all laid out for you to pick. You can decide up front what strategy to pursue. There are quite a few broad strategies you can adopt. Military, consumption, a specific resource type or world type, or development. It is usually good to focus. Not that it is absolutely necessary for winning, but I think it does help. You waste less. You create a snowball effect. You need to watch what others are doing, so that you can try to make use of the actions you know they will pick, and you can minimise helping them with actions you pick. Every turn everyone has the chance to do the same thing. If the active player picks Settle, everyone gets to Settle. The difference is in the small benefits of the active player. That's one way to see New Frontiers - you need to make these small benefits count. As you augment your abilities, small benefits can be amplified. You want to build an efficient empire. You want abilities which synergise well.

You want to make good use of your opponents' choices. If one guy is regularly performing Produce and Consume, it would be good if you have one or two production worlds where you can produce goods, and then sell them for money. Since the guy will be picking those actions, you need not spend your picks. You may be focusing on a completely different area, e.g. developing weapons to conquer military worlds.

You want to catch your opponents unprepared. If you are the Consume guy, you want to perform the Consume action when only you have goods to consume and nobody else. They would be completely wasting that Consume action you pick. Or Produce. If your opponents have no production capability, or their storage is full and they can't produce more, you want to pick Produce so that only you get to enjoy the effect. This is one of the tactics in this game.

The game is mostly open information. Everybody gets to watch what everybody else is doing. You can do a lot of analysing. There certainly can be analysis paralysis. There is no direct aggression. Your attacks are mostly just grabbing something your opponent would want.

When I played New Frontiers, it kept reminding me of Puerto Rico. It looks very much like Race for the Galaxy. Some developments and worlds use the same artwork and have the same name and powers. However the colonist mechanism is from Puerto Rico. The action selection mechanism too. There is no simultaneous action selection like in Race for the Galaxy. The simultaneous action selection is the core identity of Race for the Galaxy. You need to guess the intentions of your opponent. Buying developments in New Frontiers is more like Puerto Rico, because you get to pick what you want. You are not at the mercy of card draws. When I played New Frontiers, everything felt familiar. I felt like I had played the game before. There weren't new surprises, instead it felt comfortable and soothing. It was like catching up with an old friend sporting a new bold hairdo.

I had settled the four planets on the left (they are showing the full colour side), but not the four on the right (showing black and white side). If I did Explore now, I would need to discard one of the planets not yet settled. I could discard one of the settled planets, but that might not be a good idea.

I was mostly going for a military strategy. My homeworld had some military strength, and I developed two military techs. The first world I settled gave me military strength too. In addition to the military path, I also wanted to do Alien (yellow) worlds. My second world helped in that. By using it I managed to settle my third world, the 9-value Alien world. Overall I wasn't very focused. My techs and worlds were a little messy.

This is what a 5-player game looks like. The game takes up quite a bit of space. There is a lot to digest.

The Thoughts

I used to play Race for the Galaxy heavily, and I really like Puerto Rico. However now that I have played New Frontiers, which inherited a lot from both ancestors, I don't have a strong urge to buy it or to play more of it. Not that I dislike it. It's just that I don't find anything particularly new and exciting about it. What New Frontiers did was make me feel I should revisit its ancestors. Had I not played either of them, and played New Frontiers with no relevant previous experience, I would probably feel differently about it.

One thing that I am uncomfortable with is how easily you get to pick the developments to buy. In Race for the Galaxy, you only get to develop what you draw, and it's not easy to develop a particular family of techs you want. In New Frontiers, the moment the game starts you can already look at what's available and plan which developments to aim for. It felt too easy to me. To be fair, Puerto Rico works the same way as New Frontiers, and I don't have a problem with it. So I must admit I am biased. My problem is I am playing the game with the baggage of knowledge of its ancestors. It is so similar to both that it felt unnecessary to me. Compared with Roll for the Galaxy, I find Roll for the Galaxy more different from Race for the Galaxy, and thus it kept me interested for a longer time.

The components of New Frontiers are excellent. Classy. Probably a little overproduced, especially the resources. The box is bigger and heftier than standard boardgames.

I see New Frontiers as less of a boardgame version of Race for the Galaxy, but more of a Puerto Rico in space.

Friday 7 June 2019


Plays: 4Px1.

The Game

Fuji is designed by Wolfgang Warsch, the hot new designer who also designed The Mind, The Quacks of Quedlinburg and Ganz Schon Clever / That's Pretty Clever. Fuji is a cooperative game. You are tourists in Japan, visiting Mount Fuji, only to have it erupt on you. You need to run for shelter. To win the game everyone must make it to a nearby village. If anyone is caught by lava, or dies due to injury during the flight, everybody loses.

This is a scenario card. The game comes with many. You set up a game using the scenario card. The grey spaces are where the volcano (i.e. Mount Fuji) is. The yellow spaces are the village. The spaces with the grey and white pawns are where your characters start. You need to make your way to the village at the other end. Two spaces have volcano icons. The first time anyone enters or passes by such spaces, lava will flow twice at the end of that round. Some spaces have tool icons. You get to pick up tools at these spots.

This is how a game looks like once set up. At the top you can see a small board which records the health situation of every player. As you run away from the lava and head towards the village, you will suffer injury. When you cross certain injury thresholds, you suffer a permanent disability. You may die from your injuries, in which case everyone loses.

Everyone has his own screen, some dice, and a special ability (card on the right). The base colour of the dice is the player's colour, however each die face has another colour, either yellow, purple or light blue.

Every round, what you do is you try to move. You may move at most three steps. Sometimes you succeed, sometimes you fail. Either way, you may get injured. Eventually, lava flows, and if everyone is still alive, you do the next round.

Everyone rolls his dice behind his screen. You cannot tell your teammates what colours or numbers you have rolled. This is key. Based on what you have rolled, you collectively decide who will try to move to which space. To move to a certain space, you need to fulfill the requirements of that space better than your left and right neighbours. Let's take the green player in the photo above as an example. The green pawn is where the green player is. The green disc is where he wants to go. The intended destination has a yellow icon and a 4 icon. This means die rolls with yellow faces and 4's count towards the green player's strength. This strength must be higher than those of both his neighbours. If one of his neighbours has rolled many yellows and 4's, the neighbour will need to warn him it's risky for him to try to move to this particular space. Based on how your teammates propose to move, you can get a rough idea of what they have rolled. Once the discussion is done and everyone has committed to a target destination, those players who are aiming to move fewer than 3 steps get to reroll some or all of their dice. After that the screens are removed, and you check who gets to move and who doesn't.

You take injury if you fail to move. You take injury too if your strength is close to your neighbours, even if you do manage to move. When you injury reaches certain thresholds, you become disabled. E.g. you lose the ability to reroll, you can't use tools anymore, or you lose a die.

Rerolls are important. Often you need to depend on them to make movement successful. When picking dice to reroll, you hope to strengthen yourself for the destination you are aiming at, and weaken yourself for the destinations your neighbours are aiming at. There is risk. Sometimes rerolls make things worse. Normally you don't want to reroll too many dice. Rerolls mean uncertainty. The less the better.

In the middle there is a space with three colours and a straight line. That means dice of any colour with even numbers. Straight line means even numbers. To the left of that card, there's a purple plus wavy line. That means purple dice with odd numbers. Wavy = odd.

This is the difficulty card we used. Level 1 is the lowest difficulty. The first row means if you fail to move, you lose 3 health. The second row means if your strength is only 1 or 2 higher than your neighbours, you lose 2 health. Despite being successful in moving to where you had intended to, you still take injury because the gap is not big enough. Your strength needs to be at least 5 more than both neighbours if you want to avoid injury.

The Play

Playing Fuji is a very different experience. To some extent, it is a little like The Mind, because it is a cooperative game, and there is information which you can't tell your teammates. What is intriguing is having to solve a complicated problem with only fuzzy information. What is exciting is sometimes you need to depend on die rolls to succeed in movement. It is not easy to assess the risk accurately. The game is engaging because you need to discuss a lot with your teammates. You want to make sure you can get to your destination, and you also need to make sure you are not hindering your neighbours from reaching their destinations. Everyone is trying to fulfill three needs at the same time - your own move, and those of both your neighbours. This game presents a very unusual problem.

You have tools and special abilities which help you. You need to decide wisely when best to use them.

Your end goal - the village - has yellow borders. You are safe as soon as your enter the village. You don't need to reach the deepest space. However even after you reach the village, you still need to resolve movement every round, and you may continue to take injury. You need everyone to be in the village before you win. Needless to say, it is usually not a good idea to step back out of the village.

If the blue player succeeds in moving this way, he will cross the volcano marker, and lava will flow twice at the end of the round instead of once.

The second row of dice are light blue (not green). Having rolled these - all being light blue and purple, and most being high numbers - means I can most likely get to this space below...

... which requires both purple and light blue dice. The tool marker means I will get to draw a tool card when I get here. The tool marker will then be discarded.

Those two red cards on the right are lava. The cards have been flipped over to show the card backs. The green player must move now. Else he will be caught by the lava and die, and everyone will lose.

Blue and purple have entered the village. Green and black must get in this round. If they fail to do so, the lava will seal off the entrance of the village, and everyone will lose. We won the game this narrowly. We played the lowest difficulty. I tremble at the thought of playing a higher difficulty.

The Thoughts

The movement mechanism in Fuji is creative and clever. I find the game a refreshing experience. I have never played anything quite like it. You need to discuss and strategise without precise information. It is exciting to see whether your plan pans out. It is sometimes nerve-wracking when you need to reroll. Solving a complicated problem is satisfying. Sometimes you feel exhilarated because you get lucky. Sometimes you feel helpless because your luck sucks. Both cases are equally funny.

Tuesday 4 June 2019

Western Legends

Plays: 4Px1.

The Game

Western Legends is an open world game set in the wild wild west. You are cowboys (in the loose sense of the word and not specifically cow herders). You freely roam the map and you get to do lots of different things, interacting with many different locations and people. You goal is to score victory points, here called legendary points (LP). Whoever reaches 20VP triggers game end, and whoever scores the most points wins. One big decision in the game is whether you want to be a marshal or an outlaw. Depending on the path you choose, you'd be doing different things. Either way, you can become a legend.

At the start of the game you randomly draw two character cards and you pick one to play. In the game I played, I happened to draw one good guy and one bad guy. I decided to be conservative and I picked the good guy (Wyatt Earp).

This is the back of the character card. Different characters have different starting resources and starting locations.

This is your player board. Your character card is placed on the left. There is a blood marker below the character card. That's for tracking injury. When you are injured your hand limit is reduced. You can visit the clinic to get healed. If you end the game with injury, you will be penalised. The three spaces at the top right are for equipment. You can buy equipment at the general store. Space is limited and once you've bought three items, you can't buy more. You have a separate single space for weapons and another single space for mounts. However there is no restriction on the number of weapons and mounts you can buy. The restriction is only that you may use just one weapon and one mount at a time. The three cards at the bottom left are missions. They specify what you need to do, and where. You get to score points when you complete a mission. These missions drive the story when you play. They are something you can plan for, they drive the behaviour of your character.

On each half of the map there is one town, and within each town multiple buildings which you can interact with, like the general store, the saloon, the bank and the clinic. In the northeast and northwest corners there are two ranches. In the southeast and southwest directions there are two gold mines. A train station is in the south. There are bandit hideouts in the four corners and in a valley in the centre. All locations with icons are locations you may interact with. On the left side of the board are two decks of story cards. The text on the card back describes what you need to do to place one of your markers here. Once a card has a certain number of markers (which depends on player count), it is revealed and resolved, usually giving some benefit to those who have contributed markers. These story cards drive player behaviour and create stories.

The important strategic decision you need to make in Western Legends is whether to be a marshal or an outlaw. This here is the Wanted track. When you become an outlaw, you earn Wanted points and you progress on this track. When you reach certain levels, you gain some benefit. Also, every turn you score victory points. This is very attractive. However if you ever get caught and jailed, you lose all your Wanted points, i.e. your status. On the bright side, you may now choose to turn over a new leaf. You may also choose to continue being a criminal. To earn Wanted points, you simply break the law. E.g. robbing other players, robbing the bank, and herding cows from a ranch owner to his competitor instead of to the train station.

This is the Marshal track. If you choose to be a cop, this is your career path. You gain benefits too when leveling up. However you don't score points every turn. You only do it at game end. The 9th level is a lucrative 6VP (blocked by the cubes in this photo). So if you're going to be a cop, you've got to aim to be the best.

These are all the things you get to buy at the general store. The card holder is superfluous. The only true use is saving a little bit of space. However it does look fine. I like it. There are four weapon types, and three mount types. The plus sign under the price tags means these can be upgraded. You need to be at a general store, and you pay the same price again to upgrade an item.

This metal box in the bottom right corner of the player board is for storing gold nuggets. You can store at most four. When you deliver gold to the bank, you earn money and points. The two round tokens are cattle from one of the two ranches. To gain the benefit written on the cattle token, you need to deliver the cattle to either the train station, or the competing ranch. Doing the former is legal, the latter is not.

The icon with two masks is a cabaret. You visit the cabaret simply to spend money and earn victory points. $30 for 1VP. Your wallet has a cap of $120, so you can earn at most 4VP per visit.

When you mine for gold, you roll dice. The cross means you get nothing. The nugget means you get gold. The dollar sign means you get $10. Dollar sign and arrow means earn $10 then reroll.

A few things in Western Legends require the use of poker cards. You use them when fighting. Winning a fight is simply playing a higher card. You can fight one another. You can fight bandits. You need to fight the guard when you rob a bank. You also use poker cards when gambling at the saloon. Whenever the active player wants to gamble at a saloon, other players in town may choose to join. If they do, all participating human players compete among themselves; if they don't, the active player competes against the saloon. Gambling is done in a similar format as Texas Poker. Three cards (called the Flop) are revealed from the deck and become shared cards. Every player then secretly selects two cards from his hand to be played. These are revealed simultaneously, and the player with the best hand type wins. Only hand types matter and not the individual cards. A pair of Aces and a pair of 2's are considered the same rank. In the case of ties, the active player has the advantage. So if the active player has a pair of 2's while another player has a pair of Aces, the active player wins.

On your turn you get to perform 3 actions. Often you'll spend some of those on simply moving from place to place. You will often be interacting with the locations you visit. Another type of action you can take is playing a card for its effect. This card on the right can be played this way. You'll be drawing 3 cards, so effectively you are spending one action to swap one card for three, and hopefully they are useful for your current situation.

The Play

You can think of Western Legends as a race game, because you are racing towards 20VP. Reaching this threshold triggers game end. There are many ways to earn points, and you want to be as efficient as possible. That means making the most of the unique abilities of your character. The story cards inject short term, tactical considerations. You should not ignore them. If you do you are letting your opponents easily gain extra benefits. The marshal vs outlaw relationship is an interesting one. The marshals cannot allow any outlaw to become too notorious, because outlaws score points every turn and can become runaway leaders. Unfortunately in our game everyone decided to be marshals, so we didn't get to experience this tension. We were all good boys and we seldom fought. There are a few broad strategies in gaining VP's, and you need to focus in order to be efficient. If you want to be a true cowboy (as in cattle herder), you should get a workhouse which helps you herd more cattle. Get yourself the right weapons, mounts and items that match your strategy, and they will help you greatly. It is not a good idea to diversity too much because you don't have the luxury to improve your abilities in too many areas. You need to stay focused and play to your strengths, while grabbing opportunities that come your way.

In our game Ivan was the most efficient in scoring points and soon sprinted ahead of the rest of us on the score track. He was first to hit 20VP to trigger game end. When the game ended, we still had to do some score calculation due to hidden VP's and VP's which were only scored at game end. We had expected Ivan to beat us comfortably, but to our surprise the scores were close and he won by only 1VP. The end game scoring and hidden VP's cannot be underestimated.

Component design and artwork are evocative.

Figures with grey bases are non player characters (NPC's), while those with other colours are player characters.

The map design is cleverly done. Related locations are set just far enough apart for things to be interesting. E.g. the distances between the ranches and the station, the distances between the gold mines and the bank. They are far enough that it takes considerable effort to complete one cycle of work, e.g. collecting cattle and herding them to the station, or mining gold then depositing it at the bank. However once you buy the right mounts, which speed up your movement, this work cycle becomes shorter, making the whole enterprise much more efficient.

The sculpts do not match the drawings on the character cards. You can pick any sculpt you like to play. You only use the base colour to determine who's who.

Sculpts not picked by players are used as NPC's (grey bases).

Wyatt Earp's special ability is he gains an extra action after defeating a bandit. This makes him gravitate towards fighting bandits. However this ability only takes effect after he reaches 5VP. He doesn't have this at the start of the game.

With these three common cards coming up during gambling, it is possible for players to make a straight.

Having three 6's in hand looks strong, but actually isn't. When gambling, you can only add 2 cards from your hand.

I had completed all three of my missions, so I had claimed three tokens (the black ones at the top left). The tokens contain hidden VP's.

The Thoughts

Westen Legends is a very immersive game. It is an open world, and you get much freedom. It reminds me a little of Merchants & Marauders. Despite the free hand given, you should not flail about with no sense of purpose. This is a game of racing to become most legendary in the wild wild west. Be good, or be bad, just don't be undecided.