Friday 28 July 2023

HackGuard from Japan


HackGuard is an upcoming game from Kakumaru Games from Tokyo, Japan. It is a minimalistic, 15-minute, 2-player abstract game about hacking into your opponent's private network. Follow their Kickstarter page to be notified when they launch. 

More information here:

Friday 21 July 2023

BoardGameSet upgraded game components - Dungeon Petz

BoardGameSet from Hungary contacted me to introduce their boardgame components upgrade kits. They produce upgraded game components for many games, and they use 3D printing. I normally don't buy such upgrade kits for my games, because I find the standard, basic game components good enough. For example for Agricola, I prefer the cubes in the first edition which represent the various farm animals. In later versions when you get the animeeples in the shapes of sheep, boars and cattle, it feels a little tedious to me to manage them all. I like the simplicity and practicality of the wooden cubes, even if they are not as pretty. BoardGameSet was willing to send me review copies all the way from Europe, and I was about to politely decline, until I saw... the poops!  

I'm referring to the poops at the bottom right. Dungeon Petz is a game about managing a monster pet shop. It is designed by Vlaada Chvatil, and it is a sequel to Dungeon Lords. Poops is a very real and practical aspect of managing pets, and it is well represented in this game. This photo above shows all the upgraded game components that come with the BoardGameSet Dungeon Petz set. From the top left, they are: mutation markers, the start player marker, stress markers, meat-type food, vegetable-type food, gold and of course, poop! 

I like the detail on the components. 

This is a comparison against the original components. The only one in the upgrade set which I don't like is the start player marker, because it's too ugly. I know monsters are supposed to be ugly, but this one is too much for me. 

The components come in a pack like this. 

I had not played Dungeon Petz for quite a long time. Asking for a review copy of the upgraded components gave me a reason to bring it to the table again. I asked younger daughter Chen Rui to play with me. It was her first time. She said it was super stressful. Taking care of pets was a lot of work. We have three cats at home, so my wife and I know well the work that comes with owning pets. Our children mostly just know how to play with them. The last time I played Dungeon Petz was before we had cats.

We did a two player game, so we needed to use neutral player pieces. We used the yellow player pieces - those yellow imps blocking some locations on the board. My reluctance about upgraded components is due to whether they are going to be troublesome to handle. Are they going to be harder to pick up or  stack together? Will they roll all over the table and annoy the hell out of me? Now that I've tried this Dungeon Petz set, I found that I did not have such difficulties. The components certainly looked prettier and enhanced the play experience. 

In Dungeon Petz everyone starts with a free cage which is a little dirty, and this is represented by having one piece of poop in it during game setup. This was my first monster pet in the game we played. By this point it had pooped twice and thus added more "fertilizer" to my pet shop. 

The cards represent the needs of the monster pets. They need to eat, they need to poop, they need to vent their anger, they need to release their magical powers, and sometimes they fall sick. 

This is the player board. In this photo the upgraded component you can see is the gold. Imps and gold are grouped together to form teams of various sizes. These teams go to the main board to perform actions. In the original game gold is represented by wooden coins. The upgraded gold is gold bars. 

Gold bars stacked together look impressive.

Baby monsters on the main board that you can buy. 

I sold the monster which I used to keep in the cage on the left. There was a lot of poop left behind and I could only get my staff to do the cleaning now that the cage was vacated. 

I divided my imps and gold into 6 team, hoping I might be able to perform 6 actions at the main board. This is a worker placement game. These teams are your workers. Each team has the opportunity to do one thing. 

Chen Rui had this monster for a short while only. It got overly stressed and died. The amount of stress a pet can take depends on its size. The larger it is, the more stress it can endure. This one above was still a baby, so two points of stress was enough to get it killed. Stress comes from being sick, going hungry or feeling lonely when nobody is around to play with you.  

These are artifacts. That whip on the right was the best performing artifact in our game. I was the one who bought it, and I benefited greatly from it. The power of the whip is it gives you half a point at pet shows. From the second round onwards there will be pet shows every round, and if your pets do well you will earn points. In a 2-player game, 1st place gets 6pts and 2nd place gets 2pts. 4pts is significant, even more so when this is happening round after round. I did not expect my pets to do well. The judging criteria did not match well with their temperaments. However Chen Rui's pets were not all that great either. Many rounds we fared equally poorly. The half point which the whip gave me pushed me into first place. This happened for many rounds, and I scored many more points that I otherwise would have without the whip. 

These are minions and they are used for pet show scoring. 

After the game ended, we placed all pet buyers in a row, together with the pets they had purchased. It was nice to see our monsters find suitable owners. 

This was Chen Rui's favourite monster. She wanted to take a photo of it with the heart-shaped poop arrangement. 

If you are interested in boardgame upgrade kits like this, go check out BoardGameSet. There are many other games they have created upgrade kits for. They sell some commonly used game components too. 

Thursday 13 July 2023

Die Siedler von Nurnberg

The Game

Die Siedler von Nurnberg (1999) is designed by Klaus Teuber, creator of The Settlers of Catan. It is a special Catan series game commemorating the founding of the city of Nuremberg. Although many refer to it by the name The Settlers of Nuremberg, there is actually no English version of the game. The game has only been released in German. It is a standalone game and not an expansion in the Catan game series.  

One big difference compared to the original The Settlers of Catan is the game board is fixed and not modular. There are no tiles to randomly arrange, and no numbers to randomly set up. The game board has two halves. The right half is similar to the original. You have land plots which produce resources. These are lands surrounding Nuremberg the city. You build settlements and roads here. The left half zooms in to the city itself. You build workshops here, which help you sell goods at higher prices. You also get to build the city wall. 

You objective is to be the first to reach 13 points. The first person to do so wins. However the game has a timing mechanism too. If time runs out before anyone reaches 13pts, the highest scorer wins instead. Your settlements and workshops are worth points. Controlling trade routes and contributions to the wall-building too. 

These are the white player pieces. Roads in the foreground, workshops on the left, and settlements on the right. 

The robbers make an appearance too, similar to The Settlers of Catan. When they occupy a plot of land, it doesn't produce resources until they leave, infuriating settlement owners who have an interest. You also use the robbers to steal a resource card from any one other player. Sometimes the robbers are dispersed by the authorities, and they go back to their lair. 

On the main map, Nuremberg is represented by one hex. There are five trade routes which start in Nuremberg and extend in different directions. In this game, building roads actually means fighting for control of the trade routes. When you place roads, you must start from Nuremberg and extend from there. The colours can be mixed. Whoever has the most road pieces on a trade route controls it. Some events specify that tolls are to be paid. Trade route owners get to collect money from settlement owners who have settlements on their routes. The more settlements you have, the more you pay. When players sell goods, they are delivered via specific trade routes depending on the goods type. The trade route owners take a cut of the profit. Controlling trade routes can be highly lucrative. 

This reference chart here lists the five things you can build in the game - settlements, workshops, roads, walls and towers. In addition to the four resources in Catan, there is a fifth resource - gold. 

Within the city of Nuremberg, the locations where you can build workshops are marked with big red dots. The pictures in ovals are the various goods you can produce and sell to make money (earn gold). When you have a workshop next to a goods icon, it means you can sell this goods type at double the price. Everyone can produce every goods type. The difference the workshops make is just in doubling the selling price. 

There are two central hexes in Nuremberg. The one on the right (Hauptmarkt) is the market. If you build a workshop next to the market, you can trade resources at a better rate. Normally you can trade four of the same resource to one different resource you want. With presence at the market, you can trade 2 for 1. This is equivalent to the ports in Catan

The other central hex (Bauhof) allows you to build towers along the walls of the city. Towers are worth 2 contribution points, compared to 1 contribution point of one piece of wall. If you want to compete to be biggest contributor, towers are a more efficient way. 

Walls and towers are cardboard pieces placed along the edges of the city. Halfway playing we discovered a mistake. Towers are supposed to be placed at the peaks, not the valleys. 

The five awards on the right are for the controllers of the five trade routes. Each is worth 1pt. The three on the left are awards for the three biggest contributors to wall-building, i.e. those who have the most contribution points. These are worth 2pt to 4pt. Awards are not permanent. The competition is always active. Whenever a laggard surpasses the leader, he wrests the award from the leader. 

This is the time schedule in the game. Die Siedler von Nurnberg is a Catan game without dice. Instead of rolling dice, you draw cards from a deck. The decks are numbered between 2 and 12, and the distribution follows that of two dice. The cards also trigger some events. Some cards specify that you advance the time marker, and this can lead to all cards being reshuffled and the deck being reset. You likely won't get to the bottom of the deck, and you won't know exactly when the reshuffle will happen. Game length is not deterministic. The third time the deck needs to be reshuffled, the game ends instead, because the marker would reach Year 1400, the final year. If by that time no one has reached 13pts, whoever has the most points wins. 

Armour is one of the goods you can produce. You need three ore and one wood. You sell it for 6 gold. Armour is sold to Prague, so you have to pay the corresponding trade route owner 3 gold. This is quite steep. 50% going to the trade route controller. If you have a workshop specialising in armour, you will be able to sell at 12 gold instead. Then the 3 gold to be paid to the trade route controller does not sound that bad. Of course if you yourself control the trade route, that would be best. You don't need to pay anyone. 

The rulebook has a recommended setup for first time players. Since some of us were new, we used this setup. In this photo you will notice the roads consist of a mx of colours. They are not actually roads. They represent the strengths of players at each of the trade routes, which determine who control the trade routes. 

The Play

Having played Catan, Die Siedler von Nurnberg is familiar and fresh at the same time. It is a slightly more complex variant. This is a game from the 90's, so it doesn't have the kind of complexity that many recent heavy Eurogames have. This is a plus in my book. I'm getting a little tired of some of the contemporary Eurogames, because I think they are complex for the sake of complexity. They are creating work for the players. But then some do find fun in this kind of work and this kind of complexity. 

Die Siedler von Nurnberg is not simple. It is still a medium weight strategy game. It takes some effort to understand how the various moving parts work and how they relate to one another. You need to build settlements to collect resources. You then use the resources to build more settlements, compete at the trade routes, and build walls and towers. You build all these to gain points, and that's how you win. 

There is some randomness in resource production. You may not always get what you want at the time you want them, so you try to make do and use your resources as efficiently as possible. Sometimes you trade with your opponents to mitigate luck. By trading for the resources you need, you will be able to make use of your resources more effectively. You often need to prioritise between multiple options. There is spatial competition on both maps. The trade routes and wall-building are long-term, ongoing contests. If you don't keep up, you will be overtaken. There is much player interaction in this game. 

In the game we played, I fell behind in wall-building from the get go, because I was short on money. When I decided to deprioritise wall-building in the early game, it became harder and harder to catch up later on as the other players built more and more stretches of walls. I had even less incentive to compete because it would take a lot of effort and I wasn't even sure I would be able to catch up. Why not focus my resources in other areas, and let the rest fight and expend their resources? The three awards for biggest contributors changed hands frequently between Rachel, Wai Yan and Julian, while I played spectator. 

As the game went on, I found myself stuck in a difficult situation. Even if I built all my settlements and workshops, that would only give me 9 points. To win, I would need to control 4 of the 5 trade routes to reach 13 points. That was close to impossible. Giving up on wall-building was not exactly a good idea. Unfortunately I couldn't see through to the end of the game. I had to leave before the game ended, and I asked Jeff to take over my not-exactly-enviable position. What was surprising later on was that I (well, Jeff) did not come dead last. Julian reached 13pts, and the scores were close. 

The number icons indicate how frequently we can expect those numbers to turn up. 8 is one of the most common numbers, so it is in red. The background is fully coloured beige. 10 can be expected often, but not as much as 8. The background is about two thirds beige. 12 is quite rare. You will notice the text size is much smaller, and only a fraction of the background is beige. I like this visual cue. 

The settlement rules are different from Catan. In Catan, settlements must be at least 2 steps away from one another. Here, this minimum distance only applies to settlements on the same trade route. Between settlements on different trade routes, you don't need to worry about this distance. 

The more settlements you have, the higher the odds of harvesting resources. However it also means you may be paying more toll fees. If you have many settlements on a particular trade route, it probably makes sense to invest effort into controlling that trade route, so that you won't need to keep paying toll to someone else. Another way to think of this is if you control a particular trade route, you may prefer to build settlements along this route. 

We made a mistake when playing. We forgot that we needed a workshop touching Bauhof before we could build towers. All of us fought for slots at the market for the better trading rates. 

Towards late game, there were fewer and fewer spots for settlements. What were left were not very enticing. Every player could build at most five settlements. 

If you look at the trade routes above, you will notice there are a few instances of players building two or three roads at one go. This usually means they are overtaking the previous controller of the trade route. You don't wrest control if you only catch up to the controller. You need to overtake. 

The Thoughts

Jeff says this is his favourite game in the Catan series. After playing it Julian agrees. Indeed this is a slightly more complex game, so it appeals to gamers. The whole Nuremberg setting is nice and thematic. In contrast, the original feels generic and bland. In Die Siedler von Nurnberg, there is no modular board, which means less variability from game to game, but the player setup stage does still create some variability. I prefer the original Catan, mainly because I prefer more variability. 

In Die Siedler von Nurnberg, dice are removed, and this reduces the luck factor a little. One more luck element removed is the 1 point cards in the development card deck. The original Catan has such cards, and these 1 point cards are highly valuable. They can't be stolen from you. I can certainly appreciate why Die Siedler von Nurnberg is attractive to seasoned gamers. Less luck, more strategy. 

Negotiation and trading are an important aspect. This is what makes player interaction fun. You can have temporary alliances to try to catch up to the leader. No one likes trading with the leader because you'd be helping him get even further ahead. 

Our particular game felt a little long to me. I had thought 2 hours should be more than enough, but it took longer than that. That was why I had to leave before the game ended. I had another commitment. Our end game was a draggy stalemate because of the constant back-and-forth fighting over wall contribution. The awards kept changing hands. By then most of us had built most of our settlements and workshops. It was the competition over wall-building which would give us the edge to hit 13 points. Another reason the game went long was we drew the reshuffle cards very late. It was almost at the bottom of the deck. Be prepared that a 4-player game will be more brutal and may take longer. 

Klaus Teuber passed away on 1 Apr 2023. BoardGameCafe organised an event to celebrate his life and his contributions to the board game hobby. All games at the event were his designs. Catan is a modern classic and it was one of the earliest games I played when I entered the hobby. I'm grateful that Klaus Teuber has made so many great games for us gamers.