Product-Ruins: Death Binder
Producer– Heavy Punch Games
Set-up/Play/Clean-up– 90 minutes per player (1-2 players)
TL; DR– the real card based Darksouls. 81.3%
Basics- Can you find out why they want to kill you? In Ruins: Death Binder you wake in a cave next to a body. Monsters instantly hunt you and the people you find want you dead. Can you find out the mystery of the cave?
Base mechanics-This game is a reverse deck builder. You start with a MASSIVE deck of cards. The campaign has you move from room to room and encounter monsters, events, rest areas, or a crazy combination. When you fight monsters you are allowed to play melee attacks or spells up to an amount determined by your current value, starting with three. Monsters take different amounts of damage depending on their vulnerability. More vulnerability means more damage from that type. If they are not dead, you take damage. Events are decisions or fighting obstacles. After you play a round of cards, you are allowed to save a few of those cards, but not all. Just like a deckbuilder when your draw pile is done, you shuffle your saved cards, and draw again. Monsters and events both give you experience. At fires you can spend cards to heal and experience to level up. You will then move through the dungeon to find bosses and solve scenario cards to discover the mystery of why you are in the cave.
Mechanics– This game is very simple, but engaging. You quickly play cards and move through the dungeon. It’s a fast game that isn’t overcomplicated. The idea of a reverse deck builder is a new one for me, and I am honestly excited at the idea it provides. 5/5
Theme-Honestly, this is a great game for the emergent story as you work your way through your adventure. It’s simple, but compared to other games, this does feel like the most Darksouls game I have seen in a long time. It’s even more Darksouls than the Darksouls card game. 4.5/5
Instructions– These rules are not good. The mechanics are simple, but turn write-ups are way in the back of the book, rule explanations are spread out all over, level up explanations are put in a diagram explaining the pieces, and many other things just don’t read well. Once you understand it, it’s not bad, but it’s just a jarring start to the game. 2/5
Execution– This is a well executed game! Check out the pieces in this video: https://youtu.be/bJk_HbNg3Y4 The box is well made. The cards are good quality and look nice and read well. The tableaux are well done and it feels nice to move cubes. I love how well this is made. One thing I think is a pain is small cards. I always hate small cards. That said, this is a solidly executed game. 4.75/5
Summary– This is a great game with one major flaw. I love the mechanics. I have NEVER had a game where losing cards hurts as much as this one. The theme is amazing. It’s got great environmental storytelling. The pieces and parts are solid and well done. The major flaw is the rules. It’s a ROUGH start, but once you get past that, you will enjoy it. Solid game with a fun theme and great mechanics overshadow bad rules in this fun game. 81.3%
Producer– Cat Dragon Games
Set-up/Play/Clean-up– 30 minutes to 1 hour (3-6 players)
TL; DR-Three way monster mash! 92%
Basics- There can only be one! In Bitten, players take the roles of Zombies, Vampires, and Werewolves as they attempt to take over a city by working together and against each other. Each player is handed a lair card. This is a secret role that indicates if you are a vampire, zombie, or werewolf. From here, players are given five cards, and then in turn order, each player will either choose to play a card from their lair or from their hand. If they choose a card from their lair, the randomly discard a card from the hand of cards they were given. Then, a player chooses to play that card either to a location or to another player’s lair. This leads to the two ways players can win. Each card has one to three symbols indicating zombie, vampire, werewolf. Locations have a card number on them as well as a possible power. When the number of cards on a location equals the number written on the location, then you count the number of symbols on each card, and the most symbols wins the location (ties are possible). If at the end of any turn, a player has control of three of the five locations, they win! For lairs, a player may never look at the cards in their lair unless they spend their turn getting a card from their lair. But, after a player plays a card and they have at least three cards in their lair and they have the most symbols of their type in the lair, they alone win! If no one won the round, then players pass their hand to the left, and players continue to draft cards until they pass one card. If a player only has one card to draft from, then they draw four more, and play continues until one creature has control of the city and the night!
Mechanics-Overall, the mechanics of this game are really smooth! It’s a mix of a hidden roll and drafting game that almost always give you something to do. Have cards of your symbol? Play to locations! Don’t have cards of your symbol? Screw with players’ lairs, but be careful! There are also other action cards that remove cards and destroy locations, so that is a good mix for the game as the start locations are not what the game boils down to. That said, this game slightly suffers from a player balance issue as play is really great at 3 and 6, but 4 and 5 can get a bit lopsided for the person without a partner. Actions cards are maybe a bit overpowered as several turns can be blown away by one action card. It’s not horrible as this is a lighter game, but something to keep in mind. That said, this is a great game to get to the table, teaches quickly (honestly the quick run down above is 90% of the rules), and is a blast to play. 4.75/5
Theme- I feel like I’m gathering territory in this game! Do I sent my werewolf agents to take over the dance club or the park? Should the Vampires fight in the sewers? I do feel like an underworld fight for dominance is emerging. Zombies are a bit of a tougher sell as I’m wondering how hordes of zombies are not noticed in a city? But, that is me being pedantic. I do like the three sided nature of this fight. Locations where the undead would be get things that help undead like free symbols, and each race gets a place where two would do well alongside other locations where the race does well by sites. The lairs all have fun names for the different people using the monster from voodoo master to mad scientist for zombie and others for the other two sides of this midnight beatdown. There is not combat between the monsters, so that takes away a bit as the zombies basically wave at werewolves who move in next door. But that doesn’t break the game. The art also fills the theme as this feels like Sin City with a black and white noir style that feels like midnight. It’s a grim and dirty monster mash. 4.5/5
Instructions-The instructions to this game are short and easy to read. However, the instructions need a few more examples. In my first game, we ended up with a three way tie for our first location. You can tie, but can you triple tie? The rules did not cover that. We said yes and rolled with it. That said, the rules work. If you have an especially punctilious player, then you may end up going to board game geek to fight over rules clarifications, but honestly for about 90% of the players and games, the rules are fine. They could use a few more pages to describe things, but as written, you can play this game in about 5 minutes. 4.25/5
Execution-First things first, I HATE SMALL ¼ CARDS! This game has them, so that always makes me mad. But, once I learn to deal with my own, internal, mental issues, the rest of the game is really well put together. Nice sturdy box that fits the cards. The little cards are there to help players see who controls each area, and I’ll admit, even grudgingly, they work well. The art on the cards is really well done even for just being two tones. I can tell who is what from far away. The card stock feels great. It’s also a small game that you can play on a bar table with friends, and I think this is the place for it as this might not be a weekend killer. But, Bitten is a great game that is a fun fill between your four hours games or at the end of the night when you don’t want the fun to end. Finally, this game is less than 15 bucks! You can’t go wrong at this price. 4.9/5
Summary-I usually don’t like hidden role games. I’ve never gotten into bang, and Battlestar Galactica is still on my shelf in the shrink. But, this game is fun. You can manipulate the others or you can just get work done. I don’t feel bored by this game. I always have something to do, the cards feel great, and the art makes me happy. It’s just dark enough even though it’s mostly just black and white. The mechanics flow well, and the theme fits, even if you dig too deep into this one. I also like the portable nature of this game. This isn’t a perfect game as randomness can absolutely screw you and the hidden roles might not be fair, but if you need a game that goes up to six, plays quick, and is fun, then Bitten is a great game to get to the table. 92%
Product-Mansions of Madness, 2nd ed.
Producer– Fantasy Flight Games
Set-up/Play/Clean-up– 60-360 minutes (1-5 players)
TL; DR-Great, but the price is a bit too steep! 89%
Basics- Can you survive the Mansions of Madness? Step into this fully co-op board game as different investigators trying to uncover secrets best forgotten and lore never found! The game is very easy to learn and basically teaches you how to play as you go. First, the players choose a scenario that they want to play from a computer, iPad, or android device. That is the first thing to note here- you MUST have a device to play this game. These scenarios range in difficulty from one to five with the intro scenario being a two. After scenario selection, players then choose different character to be with different powers. With that done, the game will then give the players different starting items and the players divide these up as they see fit. Then the computer will layout the story and world telling the players where to put icons on the map, what map to build, and what other actions they can take.
Turns are fast and easy to do. Each investigator takes their turn in whatever order they choose. On a player’s turn, they do two actions. These action range from moving two spaces, interaction with different icons on the map/computer, interacting with puzzles, casting spells, and attacking creatures. Interaction with some icons expands the map and story. Sometimes when you interact with an icon on the map, you have to roll a number of dice equal to one of your skills to discover something. The dice are eight sided with blanks, clue icons (magnifying glasses), and elder signs. Elder signs are always successes, but clue icons indicate you could succeed if you spend a clue token. You only get clue tokens when you explore or uncover something which makes the clue economy extremely important! Also, some skill checks will require multiple successes to to succeed.
Attacking is interesting as when you attack a creature, you must tell the game how you attack. Then the computer randomly assigns you an attack method that depends on a skill roll. Sometimes the skill is obvious like strength for a punch, but other times you might end up doing agility when you swing a hammer. Again, sometimes you only need one success and other times you might need multiple. If you succeed, the computer tells you how much damage you do to the target.
Spells vary from attacks and player buffs. Each spell is a deck of cards where you draw one card and keep it face up in front of you. When you cast the spell, the computer or the spell will tell you how to cast it, what skills to roll, and then it tells you to check the reverse side. Some spells cause you to have to make another skill check to avoid damage or insanity and some just go off without a hitch. After you cast your spell, you then shuffle the spell back into its deck and draw a new, random version of the spell.
Puzzles are one of the most intriguing additions to this game. Unlike other games where players have to just roll a die to uncover the family mystery, in this game, the players have to do sliding tile puzzles, math puzzles, and even picture puzzles to uncover secrets. All are done on the computer, so there’s no fuss or muss on setup and clean up.
After all players have taken their turns, you tell the app or computer you are done, and the computer takes control, possibly spawning monsters, doing horrible events against some of the players, and advancing the story. Monsters are the biggest threat as they move around the map directed by the app. The app will tell you to move monsters and then attack players in their spaces. Monsters’ attacks are resolved like player attacks. The target of the attack rolls a skill. Unlike player attacks, each success on this roll only removes one damage, not ALL damage. After attacks are done, the app directs the players to make horror checks against the monster with the highest horror stat within three spaces. This is another skill roll that only removes one insanity for each success the player achieves.
Damage is interesting in this game. This game builds on Fantasy Flight’s other games with damage cards being both normal damage and special damage. When you take damage or insanity, you get a card face down of the type. Some cards and events will direct you to randomly flip one or more cards face up. Now, you get special effects like being lame or agoraphobic. When your damage equals your health, you discard all face down cards and gain a wounded condition card. You can’t do the move action twice in a turn, and if you gain the wounded condition again, you are dead and out of the game! If you gain insanity equal to your mental stat, you go crazy and gain a secret goal. Now, you might not win by helping the other players but might only win if you start enough fires! It’s a fun, fresh twist on the game.
Once all the monsters are done, then the players take over again the the cycle continues until the players win or horror descends across the land!
Mechanics-Overall, I like what I see here, but the computer part is a bit of a pain sometimes. The hardest part is that the app is slow and there’s limited options on it. If I attack with a 2×4, odds are I will see the same attack roll five times in a game. That wasn’t bad in the first edition when I as the bag guy shuffled four cards for an attack, but now with the computer app, I’d like more options and descriptions. The computer tends to slow down game play a bit. However, I do like the general speed of human play. A turn is quick as a human, and it is not overly complicated. All the fun different things I want to do are easy to do, and I enjoy that immensely. 4.5/5
Theme-My wife and I can’t stop playing this. It’s fun, and I feel like I’m in a Lovecraft story. It’s even got a modified version of my favorite short story “The Shadow Over Innsmouth”! Things feel right, the toys are nice, and the look is great. 5/5
Instructions-Fantasy Flight Games has been doing this new version of game instructions where the simple instructions get a short book with pictures and the nitty gritty get their own book with an index. That’s ok, but I end up needing to cross reference things, and it feels clunky. Also, I feel some things were not explained as well as they could be, like how horror and monster attacks are not blocked with one success, but they need multiple. Those details are pretty important, and I think it wasn’t emphasized enough. I got the feeling of missing key instructions until later a few times playing this game. 4.25/5
Execution-Ok, here is the bitter pill to swallow-this game is not worth $100. I like what’s here, but I feel I got more from the first edition than the second. Sure the app is nice, but I got more cards in the first edition, more books, and just more stuff. Now, I get more generic cardboard, monsters, and the app. What makes me give this a “4” is the backwards compatibility of the starter box. Fantasy Flight was a class act by giving me a conversion kit to get my old stuff into the new. I think what I get here is fair for $80, but for the $100 it went for, maybe that’s a bit much. Everything is great, but maybe not that good. If you want to to make that choice for yourselves, check out our unboxing here https://youtu.be/HK3Mb369xoA 4/5
Summary-I like this game, but it’s a game that you have to invest in. What’s here is good, but too expensive. If you NEED your Cthulhu fix, then this is a great continuation of the Arkham Horror games from Fantasy Flight Games. It’s a solid set with nice monsters, good cardboard, great stories, and easy mechanics. But, if you can’t drop the equivalent of a small car payment on this box, you might want to wait till this thing goes on sale. It’s a great game, but at this price, I’d like a bit more in the app, the box, and the game overall. That said, I’m still glad bought it, and I plan to buy the expansions. So, it’s gotta be good. 89%
Game– Machina Arcana
Producer- Machina Arcana
Price– $80 here http://machinaarcana.com/store/
Set-up/Play/Clean-up– 45 min per player (1-4 players)
TL; DR– Style over substance. 65%
Basics– Can you stop the end? Machina Arcana takes place in the Cthulhu mythos/steam punk world as brave heroes battle the forces of darkness. Each turn, each player gets a number of stamina points to spend on different actions that range from one point for moving to three points to activate places on the map. Players can act in any order each turn. Then, each player rolls to see if monsters spawn on the map with each player who doesn’t spawn a monster making it easier for monsters to spawn. Then, one player rolls a horror check. If the party doesn’t have a horror event, then it becomes easier for a horror check to happen next round. If the party does have a horror event, then another track that monitors how difficult the monsters are moves forward and a bad event occurs. Finally, the monsters move around the map attacking players if able. Play continues like this until players activate map points advancing the plot. Players continue moving about the map, activating different map points for items/events/plot until the final plot card is resolved and the players win or the last available hero is killed and the players lose (and the world ends).
Theme-This game has a lot of theme, but it’s pretty random. The game makes some great strides in telling a cool story as the different scenarios all have different plots. I liked to move through the cards and read aloud the story as well as the horror cards, events, and even the characters backgrounds. What takes away from all that is the randomness of the game. The best comparison for this game is Arkham Horror, Decent 2nd ed., and Castle Ravenloft. The monsters that spawn are all random in both Arkham Horror and Castle Ravenloft, with Decent only having on theme monsters for each scenario. But, those games fix the story problem in several ways with Arkham Horror stating that more than just the big bad guy is moving around, doing stuff and Castle Ravenloft has all the monsters on theme to begin with. This game has random monsters spawn from all over the Cthulhu rogues gallery, but the theme is off as some of these monsters really wouldn’t work together. Some even have eaten one another in the mythos! The boards are random too, but again this is fixed in comparison games as well. Arkham horror has gates to different lands with random mythos encounters in the gates, Castle Ravenloft stacking the tile deck to make sure a desired tile occurs, and Decent custom building each map. All of the problems in this game don’t completely make it jarringly difficult to get into the world, but it’s a noticeable problem. As for a steam punk, the theme of that comes across only on the art. Again, not bad, but I was expecting more. 3/5
Mechanics– Again I’m going to compare to Castle Ravenloft, Decent, and Arkham Horror. The basics thoughts of all those games combine decently in this game. You get the exploration of Ravenloft, the movement and attack of Decent, and the mythos/story/events of Arkham Horror. What I got here was fairly well done. What are new about this one are the items. Some items have marks on the sides and bottom. If you combine these items with other cards with the same marks on the opposite side or top, you can upgrade your equipment. That’s pretty cool! The only real big problem is the monsters mechanics. Monsters all follow some basics rules. Castle Ravenloft has much better mechanics for giving the monsters autonomy when they attack, move, or do anything else. 4.5/5
Instructions-These instructions are not well done. Arkham Horror, Decent, and Castle Ravenloft all have better instructions in them to get the same points across. This game attempts to do a semi-quick start, but the quick start doesn’t end quickly and will leave you fairly confused. There is way too much going on on any page. The rules are convoluted, and you will end up rereading a passage several times as you try to understand the game. I barely made it through because I bought the game and I wanted to see how it worked. 2.5/5
Execution– Here is another problem area. Lots of the boards came warped. My box was dented on the inside. That’s a pretty petty complaint, but I paid $60 via kickstarter, I expect more. The art is somewhat detracting as it interferes with readability. The cardboard is also strange as its thick but too malleable. The monsters come as cardboard tokens with standees, but to get them in the standees, you have to force them, and they more often than not bend too much and warp. I now have a wappiejaw Mi-Go and shoggoth standing at strange, sadly Euclidian angles! 3/5
Summary-This isn’t a bad game, but it’s not a good game either. If you want a well-done co-op Cthulhu mythos game, play Arkham Horror or Eldritch Horror. If you want a well-done co-op dungeon crawl, then play Decent or Castle Ravenloft. If you have to have both of those together, then this game will do. It does have steam punk, but it’s not the main push. Its got faults, but it’s not unplayable by any means. But odds are, I won’t be playing this one any time soon. 65%