Ring Side Report-Board Game Review of Game of Crowns

Product– Game of Crowns

Producer-AEG

Price– $ 25 here http://www.amazon.com/Game-of-Crowns-Board/dp/B00V8Y2P78/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1439267414&sr=8-2&keywords=game+of+crowns

Set-up/Play/Clean-up– 30-45 minutes (4-9(!) players)

Type-Euro

Depth-Light

TL; DR-Love Letter Evolved. 94%

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Basics-In the Game of Crowns, you manipulate, scheme, triumph or you die! Game of Crowns is the next step in the evolution of Love Letter.  Players take the role of one of several different noble houses trying to take the top spot in the kingdom.  This is done over the course of three turns.  Each turn, a player will play one card or attempt to trade cards.  Trading is simple.  The active player offers one card.  Then, all other players have to offer a card in response.  The active player can add a second card to his/her offer, and all players have to follow suit.  Any player can sweeten their deal by offering crows (the main currency in the game).  Finally, the active player chooses one other player, and they exchange cards.  Playing cards is equally as simple.  On a player’s turn, that player selects one card from his or her hand, and plays it for its action.  You start with coinage and knights.  Coinage is just choose a player, steal a random card, and then give them coinage.  Knights are the main combat power of the game.  When you use a knight you choose a player.  Then, all players choose secretly if the defender or the attacker is the winner.  After all players reveal their chosen side, all players can then spend crows to increase the power of their chosen side.  Whoever wins gets to look at the other player’s hand, choose one card, and steal that card or to take a card from a random deck of cards that provides new ways to score points.  The knight that started the fight is then discarded, and the losing side gets all the spent crows.  After three rounds, players score points based on the cards in their hands.  Some cards only give you points such as the trader (coinage), princess (knights), and castilian (crows).  Another card, feud, gives you points if you have the most of it compared to all the other players.  Who ever has outmaneuvered their opponents the best and has the most points at the end is the winner and the new king!

Mechanics-This game is simple and quick.  It’s the the speed of Love Letter’s draw one, play one, and the added depth of microgame Dominion.  I like the variety of different ways that players can play this game by focusing on the different paths to victory.  It’s not perfect; if your group of friends just won’t see how you losing to your other friend makes them all lose, you won’t enjoy the combat much.  Pick your battles well, but keep in mind that the people shape this game to a high degree.  4.5/5

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Theme-AEG is a great company for theme.  Sure, you could play this game and ignore the theme completely, and some players will.  However, AEG builds on this game by having a few pages that must describe the families in the game. They didn’t need to do that, but those touches help draw me in that much more.  It’s not perfect as you’re still only do some minor story things in game terms, but I do feel like a noble family maneuvering through intrigue in this game.  4.5/5

Instructions-The game has great instructions with only one fault.  I wrote the instructions out in one paragraph above, and that right there is all you really need.  The rule book does that well, and give you a bit more.  The only real problem is the Feud cards.  There is some debate if Feud provides exponential points or just increases as you gain more cards.  If you check Boardgamegeek, you find that those cards are just scored according to the most cards, but other sites say the opposite.  I’d like a bit of clarification, but overall, if you decide among your friends how that is played, you will easily be able to pick up the game and play this out of the box no problem in under 10 minutes.   4.75/5

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Execution-I’m going to complain about something I thought I would never say-the game box is too big!  That’s pretty weird to hear me say, but this game almost fits in a Love Letter bag no problem.  That said, that’s an awesome problem to have.  Too many games don’t fit in the box they came in.  This game has great card art, good card stock, and crow meeples!  Top notch work, AEG!  In fact, if you want I’ve made an unboxing video here (http://youtu.be/5B7hC3svWng) if you want to see all the components of the game.  5/5

Summary– I love AEG.  They constantly put out top notch games that don’t require hours to play.  Sure I love my 4 hour Euros, but this one is a simple game that plays quick, and can even include non-gamers without spooking them away like a round of some other games.  And the player count is amazing!  Up to nine people can play this game.  That’s a true blessing.  I’ve had way too many game days at the local store where they couldn’t handle the fifth player.  Now you can run that fifth player and his friends.  Good rules, great mechanics, and some well-written, if slightly flawed, rules all make this game a pleasure to play.  This game isn’t that expensive and if you want a bit more meat on the bones then Love Letter gives you, Game of Crowns is an excellent addition to your library.  94%

Dual Review!  Ring Side Report-Board Game Review of The Duke AND Jarl!

TWO reviews in one!  First The Duke, then Jarl!

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Product– The Duke

Producer-Catalyst Game Labs

Price– $ 40 here http://www.amazon.com/catalyst-games-CAT13000-The-Duke/dp/B000BU6F5I/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1437752656&sr=8-2&keywords=the+Duke

Set-up/Play/Clean-up– 30-45 minutes (2 players)

Type-Euro

Depth-medium

TL; DR-Chess, now with a touch of random.  94%

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Basics- Two meet on the battlefield, but only one can rule!  The Duke is a miniature war between two dukes.  The main goal of the game is to capture the enemy’s duke.  If this sounds like Chess, then you’re on the right track.  Two new mechanics separate this from Chess: 1) random piece draw and 2) variable piece movement.  On a turn, you can do one of two things: draw a new piece or move/activate a piece.  The pieces themselves have a miniature board on them indicating how they move, what squares they move to, and any special powers in each square.  Some actions are moving across spaces,  some are hopping over spaces, some moves are not moves as they just attack spaces at a distance.  What is interesting is after a player does use a tile, that tile flips to another side, thus providing two different tactics for each piece.  The other option is to spawn new pieces.  Each player has a bag of tiles, and when they spawn a piece, the player randomly draws a new tile and places it adjacent to his/her duke.  Play goes back and forth between the players as they capture tiles, move across the the board, and try to outwit one another to capture the opponent’s duke.  Last duke standing is the winner.

Mechanics-I’m not a Chess player.  Sure, it’s fun, but it’s never been my go to game.  The Duke, though, is fresh enough to draw me in.  The constant flipping tiles and random tile draw makes this an innovative game as pieces can change from a knight/bishop hybrid to some new version of a jumping rook.  However the best part of this whole thing is the new moves are all balanced, as well as easy to use.  No one peice will completely break the game, and no piece will leave you scratching your head as to how to play them. 5/5

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Theme-Theme is hard to do in a Chess game.  This game has some nice wooden pieces as well as some decent board art.  The tiles all do actions that their names would imply.  Overall, its a well done version of a war between two flat kingdoms.  4/5

Instructions-The rules to this game are a bit long.  The Duke has a lot of ground to cover, but does it well.  I’d like them to trim down the rules a bit, but they do have some excellent game aids to get you playing quickly.  Those extra cardboard sheets will be the thing you most often reference as you plan out your attack.  I’d rather have less than more, but sometimes more is not exactly more.  4.75/5

Execution-Chess is a classic game, but this not only improves on that, it adds new game modes.  You can fight a dragon, you can add new terrain to the map to challenge both players, and the game is expandable by adding heroes from classic literature.  I love what comes in this box.  See all the parts in our unboxing here! http://youtu.be/QvLnLKnO360  5/5

Summary–  I’m not a Chess player, nor is my wife, but we both liked this game.  The simple nature of each tile really makes this game approachable.  The random nature of the tiles also means that veteran players will have to adjust strategies on the fly, while new players won’t instantly be squashed.  It’s got great components.  I’d like to place the rules on a diet, and possibly give it a tad more theme, but overall, this is a game I can play.  The true test is that this is a two player, head-to-head game and my wife will ask to bring this one to the table.  That right there tell you that this is an excellently balanced, fun, fast game. 94%

The Duke was the base game.  Now let’s look at the stand alone expansion-Jarl!
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Product– Jarl

Producer-Catalyst Game Labs

Price– $ 40 here http://www.coolstuffinc.com/p/214869?gclid=CjwKEAjwxMetBRDJx6Sz2p7DsQ0SJADJHAqNSkh_fdZr_-s-PcavakfffwNNRmfdKrrIvPH6X2q4lRoC0ejw_wcB

Set-up/Play/Clean-up– 30-45 minutes (2 players)

Type-Euro

Depth-medium

TL; DR-The Duke, now with a touch of Vikings.  93%

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Basics- It’s time to go to war!  Jarl is a stand alone expansion for The Duke.  Just like The Duke, players start with a few pieces on the board, and on a turn can either move a piece which causes the piece to flip at the end of its movement, or randomly draw a new piece and place it on the board.  Aside from that simple introduction, this game plays like Chess.  Players attempt to maneuver their opponent into a situation where their king or Jarl will be captured.  Last man or women standing is the winner

Mechanics-This is chess, but fun.  The Duke has awesome, simple mechanics.  Instead of remembering how each piece moves, the simple diagrams provide all the explanation a player needs to make smart choices.  The flipping of each piece is just amazing as the quick transition is easily pulled off and creates a dynamic play experience.  I even love the randomness that comes out of this game.  Master players will always have to adapt to new pieces, while novice players won’t get steamrolled like most new chess players might.  5/5

Theme-This game is chess, so there is only so much you can do for theme.  I do like the nice touches to the pieces like the lettering and the rune like carving and imperfections on the tiles.  those are great additions, but as a standard game, you don’t have much motivation beyond kill the other player.  That’s fine as this is alternative chess, not a session of DnD or Shadowrun.  4/5

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Instructions– My only significant problem with The Duke was the rules.  I felt the rules were a bit too long.  Jarl trims down the rules to a few simple pages while still keeping the awesome cheat sheets for moves.  That’s what I asked for, and it’s exactly what I got.  5/5

Execution– Here is where I sound like a hypocrite.  I love theme in games, but there is a bit here that hurts the game.  I can’t read some of the tiles as the runic alphabet is a bit hard to make out.  I can still easily play the game, but I can’t read the pieces out loud.  Not the worst thing I’ve seen in a game, but it’s a bit of a problem.  Also, this game comes with fewer pieces.  That’s not horrible, but you don’t get the raw variety of game modes as you do with the Duke.  This game doesn’t even come with a mountain tile to make some terrain on the battle field.  None of these are game ending or even game changing changes, but it is a slight step back from the awesome parts in The Duke box.  See all the pieces here: http://youtu.be/QvLnLKnO360  4.5/5

Summary– Jarl feels like The Duke with Viking Additions.  That’s exactly what it should be, so this is a homerun from that standpoint.  It does have improvement such as trimmed up rules.  It also has some back steps like the smaller tile count.  Overall, if you like Vikings more than medieval kings, Jarl is an excellent addition to any two-player gamer collection.  93%

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Jarl vs. The Duke!

Let’s say you only have $40 and you step up the the Catalyst booth at GenCon-What are you going to buy?  Jarl and The Duke play extremely similarly.  Jarl and The Duke both have the exact same mechanic of either activate/move a piece or draw a new piece.  And, both do that well.  Jarl pieces tend to interact more with shield maidens protecting other pieces and so on.  The Duke pieces tend to be much more straightforward, not simpler, actions.

The major difference between the two is execution.  Jarl has less in the box but better theme.  The Duke comes with more pieces, options to make your own pieces, and even a dragon expansion in the box.  Jarl has more theme as the pieces are runes carved from almost bone and a runic alphabet.
So, you have your 40 bucks, what do you buy?  Well, I’m more of a fantasy guy, so I vote The Duke. I do like a bit more complexity in my games, but The Duke give me extra pieces, and more game options.  But, it’s a tough choice.  If you can’t get The Duke, and a copy of Jarl is nearby, that is an excellent alternative.

Blurbs from the Booth-How I review Games

I love gaming, and spend way too much time and money doing it, but not all games are created equal. Some of my more popular blog posts have been my game reviews.  Let’s go through what I look for in a game, and what I want in each area.

 

Board Games

When I examine a board game, I look at four areas: mechanics, theme, instructions, and execution.

 

Mechanics-Board games are applying logic and people skills to better handling a situation compared to your competitors.  The way that logic works is the mechanics- mechanics covers how a game works.  Be it a deck building game, area control, dice rolls, randomocracy, or something mixed between everything, this can really make or break a game.  I like when I see several dimensions of mechanics at play.  Games like Tiny Epic Kingdoms or Trains take two  or more simple mechanics and mix them into something better like flour and eggs making a cake.  Some games do this amazingly well like Rococo.  Some games fail at doing something as basic as rummy….LOOKING RIGHT AT YOU TENTICAL BENTO!  If a game feels like it runs smoothly, then that game will most likely get a five.  If the game runs like a car on its last legs about to die on a bumpy road, that game will most likely be a one or less.

 

Theme-Theme is the story of a game.  Chess is a war between two kingdoms.  Rococo is different dressmakers vying for the most prestige at a ball.  Besides beating your friends at a game, this is the thing that will keep you playing.  If you lose the Lord of the Rings card game, you’ve not only lost, but the world will be plunged into darkness!  But, theme is hard to make happen.  It might just be a simple intro story like in Lost Legends, or it might be an ever pervasive thing that winds through the whole game like Arkham Horror.  Weaving a story into the theme is the height of game design for me.  Games that have tons of story like Eldritch Horror are great games that deserve a five for theme, while some games like euchre don’t even score a one as there is no story to the game.  As the amount of story you want is a game varies from person to person, this is consequently one of the most subject portions of my scoring.

 

Instructions-I’m a pretty smart guy.  I got me a PhD and everything!  (cue people pointing out all the grammar and spelling mistakes….)  But, if you can’t tell me how to play your magnum opus of a game, then that game is crap to me.  Getting your point across is important, but also how you do it is really key.  If you hit me with a wall of text in size 4 fonts on a plain white sheet of paper, then I’m going to hate you.  What you write has to be entertaining and informative while still being easy and fun to read.  Top marks go to games like Dungeon Petz where not only are the rules taught with lots of pictures, but there are lots of small jokes for the players.  Games like CO2 are horrible.  It is only a few pictures with several pages of just black text in three columns on white pages.  Also, if your rules are flat out wrong like pointing to a card that says weapon and discussing how armor works, you are going to make me very mad!  The original rules for The Lord of the Rings Dice Game had massive misprints that completely broke the game.  Needless to say the online rules were much better.  Pictures say a thousand words, as well as, breaking up the text.  Even if I can play your game after reading your rules, your rules still have to serve as a quick reference.  If I can’t find the rules I need even after a few plays, then those rules are still bad.  Layout, text size, text type, word choice, easy of readability, and pictures really define this section.

 

Execution-Here is my kind of catch all.  This encompasses some of the instruction that you might see on cards, the art on all the components, component quality, and even the box.  Execution is easy to mess up.  If the game is about shuffling cards, and you buy the cheapest cards you can find, then the cards will break/fold/tear and the game is crap.  Fantasy Flight games is the king of game execution.  Their games have lots of nice tokens with good quality cards.  Some games fall apart in the box like my copy of Machina Arcana which had a few warped ties and the cardboard standees for the monsters that broke or bent.  This won’t kill a game, but it will make the game more or less fun to play depending on the quality of what you get to play with.

 

Role Playing Games

RPG’s cover paradoxically more and less ground than a board game.  This category covers both a completely new game that is its own thing while also covering a short adventure for an established game.  I tend to cover both roughly the same, but some reviews are much longer because of what I have to cover.  Let’s look at the pieces that are out there.  I roughly divide my reviews on games into: mechanics or crunch, theme or fluff, and execution.

 

Mechanics or Crunch-The real solids of an RPG is its mechanics.  This is the part you will argue over with your GM.  I judge an RPG based on how well the mechanics work by themselves or work with the existing rules.  I also tend to judge the mechanics of how well the work with the story.  RPGs have to have much more focus on the story than a board game does.  Players are much more ok with just rolling dice in a Shoots in Ladders to decide how their characters move, but no role playing game person wants to play a game where all their actions are completely out of their hands without some story behind it.  Some mechanics are amazing like the simplicity of Dungeons and Dragons 5e, and those systems earn the fives I give them.  Some systems are just way to much crap like Fatal (DON’T, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, LOOK THAT UP!).

 

Theme or Fluff-If something is the crunch, then the other side has to be the fluffy bits.  Theme and story are the story you play in.  You can play a simple game where you just go around and kill monsters by rolling a die and adding a number, but you won’t play that for weeks on end with your friends.  A great story is what draws players back to the table.  I judge this aspect of the story by how well the story is written and how involved I get in that story.  I love when a story draws you in and won’t let you go.  I really enjoy the theme of the second part of the Skull and Shackles adventure path.  The whole adventure path is about being a pirate, and this whole module is about having a ship, raiding other ships and being a pirate.  Weak stories just turn your players away and bore them to tears.  If you can’t keep me, the GM, in your story, then how can I be expected to keep my players in your story?

 

Execution-As with board games, this tends to be a catch all for a lot of little things.  Text size, art, layout, spacing, font, tables of information, and even the paper quality all factor into this score.  I really like how the Dungeons and Dragons 5e players hand book is laid out.  For a lot of RPG’s, I know I’m basically reading a text book about a place that doesn’t exist.  Here is where you keep me reading.  Giving me a boring list of places with little regard to art or spacing will drive me away in a flash.

 

 

This is how I judge the games I play.  I’d also like to make an aside.  I tend to give higher scores than most reviewers.  There are multiple reasons for that.  For one, I tend to like most of the games I play.  I don’t often read bad RPGs or play horrible board games.  I tend to see the best out there, but some games are bad, and I know it.  And another major factor is I don’t have time to tell my readers about the bad stuff out there.  I review one RPG and one board game a week.  Reading through 300+ pages of a horrible RPG is not only a poor investment of time; it robs me of time to read and do the things I like.  I have way too many stacks of good games and RPGs to read and play that I can’t waste the time to tell you about any bad ones.  Oh, I do play them, and sometimes I do talk about them.  But, for the most part, I just don’t have the time to spend 3-4 hours playing a bad game/10+ hours to read and play a bad RPG, and hour to write about it, an hour to (poorly) edit my writing about it, and an hour to post that around the internet.  If I’m talking about your product, then most likely I like what I see.  If I don’t, and you know I’ve seen your stuff, then maybe there is a problem we should discuss.

 

How about you?  How do you evaluate the games that come across your desk?

Ring Side Report- Board Game Review of Tricked-Out Hero

Board Game– Tricked-Out Hero

Producer– Prolific Games

Price-$45 here http://www.amazon.com/Board-Card-Games-Prolific-IMPPLF300/dp/0615975836/ref=sr_1_9?ie=UTF8&qid=1405909346&sr=8-9&keywords=tricked-out+hero

Set-Up/Play/Clean-Up-45-30 Minutes (2-6 players)

TL; DR-Classic Hearts meets DnD-84%

 

Basics– Get ready for “Juke-Box Hero” to be stuck in your head.  You take the role of a fantasy hero fighting to defeat monsters across the countryside.  At the start of the game, each player selects a character ranging from dwarf to pirate and takes the character’s player board.  Each player board gives all the base stats for that character and their powers.  With your character, you then attempt to kill more points of monsters than your opponents.  Tricked-Out Hero is a game played across two different phases each round.  At the start of each round, you receive a monster to fight and a stack of playing cards.  You don’t reveal this monster, but can look at it.  The playing cards are the standard 52 card deck with some changes to the suits.  There is a suit for health, melee attack, magic attack, and bonus to monster difficulty.  From a four card deck, a card is revealed to show what suit is “trump” this round.  At this point the game is played pretty much like any other trick-taking card game with trump (e.g. Euchre, Hearts).  For players who are unfamiliar with this kind of game, the instructions for the process are included.  After all the hands have been played, players get their rewards based on the cards they won each had with.  For each suit that players have for each winning hand, they gain tokens of that suit gaining melee attack, magic attack, health, or tokens to help the monster they’re fighting.  Next, players reveal their monsters.  Each monster has a melee attack value, a magic attack value, damage, and reward points.  Players get to spend magic or melee tokens and roll an eight sided die.  If their die roll and the spent tokens equal or beat the monster’s value, that player wins and gets the monster (and its points) as a bounty.  If not, the player takes damage (loses health tokens), and the monster is discarded.  After combat is resolved, then the next player gets to deal the cards and new monsters are handed out.  Each player gets a chance to deal the cards.  After each player deals, then players move on to fighting the next level of monsters.  After each player deals again, then players move to the most difficult monsters.  After each player get to deal a total of three times, the player with the highest number of points from defeated monsters wins.

 

Mechanics-This game is a combination of two different games: classic Hearts and Dungeons and Dragons.  The two different phases of the game work well together.  I get a phase where I try to read my opponents, and then I get a phase where I have to bet how lucky I am.  The powers also add a new dimension to a these two different game parts.  Deciding when to play a power really does make this much more than a simple roll to win game.  This game is more than just the sum of two different gaming parts!  The two games might not be directly intertwined, but they do work well together and are a lot of quick, easy fun. 5/5

 

Theme-Here is where I have some major problems.  The player boards are amazing.  The characters all look great and have nice quotes to help you learn a bit more about your character, and the powers fit who that person is.  But, I mentioned in the mechanics section that the game is two different parts.  I really want some sort of story glue to weld those two parts together.  I have a trick-taking game merged with some hack and slash.  That’s great, but why am I playing the card game?  I completely understand the monster killing, but why do I need to compete with the players to get the different tokens?  Are resources limited in town in defending?  Are people selling information to the monsters?  Is this a Tarot card reading to foresee how my fight will go? A little more set/world building would give me the immersion I need to really get into this game. 3/5

 

Instructions– The instructions to this game are good, but there are some problems.  I’d like the rules to be two pages longer and have more pictures.  There are pictures, but not enough to really break up the text and make this easier to read and understand.  The rules do a good job explaining the game, but more detail would really help to make this clearer, like directly explaining what each suit is with pictures.  Moreover, some of the wording in the rules and powers is a bit off.  The wording is not so far off you can’t play the game, but you will find a few sections you must read a few times to really understand.  A few more editorial passes and a page or two more of space would have moved these rules from good to great. 4/5

 

Execution– I like this.  First, the problems.  My copy of the 52 card deck is good, but a few of the cards have spots where the printing wasn’t great (some color spots/white spots among the nice backgrounds).  It’s nothing major (it’s only on two cards), but I have a semi-marked deck.  Also, I would have liked the tokens for melee, health, etc to have been double sided.  Again, that’s not a big thing, but a little touch that would have made this a little better.  Otherwise, I was happy with what I got.  The cards are on good quality cardstock.  The box is hardy.  The tokens are good quality and plentiful.  The art is great.  I like what I see and feel with this game.  4.75/5

 

Summary-I like this game and my wife LOVES this game.  She and her family play trick-taking games whenever they get together.  She also loves DnD.  Her parents don’t play anything beyond computer solitaire and Euchre (which is mandatory since we live in Michigan).  This could be a nice bridge to get them into the hobby.  This is a great stepping stone game to get people into deeper gaming waters if they are familiar with trick-taking games.  I do have a few problems with this game, but those are because I play way too many board games and role-playing games like DnD so I NEED some story as to why I’m doing anything in a game.  If you don’t need that, then pick this one up.  If you NEED five hours of Eurogame level complexity and thinking to have a good evening, then this one isn’t for you.  If you want a low to mid complex game with card playing and some monster slaying, then this is a great game for you. If you want to get one more game in for the night, but don’t want to spend forever setting it up or cleaning up afterwards, then this is the game you should buy.  I know I’ll be brining this to my family gatherings to convert some people from the simple trick-taking games to something a bit more complex.  84%