Ring Side Report- RPG Review of Alien Evolution: Cosmic Race Guide

 

Product– Alien Evolution: Cosmic Race Guide

System-Starfinder

Producer– Fat Goblin Games

Price– $3.95 here  http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/223749/Alien-Evolution-Cosmic-Race-Guidebook?affiliate_id=658618

TL; DR-Jack Kirby does Starfinder! 96%

Basics-Tired of just the core races already?  Need some more classic 70’s ancient aliens artwork?  Then I’ve got a book for you!  The Cosmic Race Guide has an impressive amount of new species to plop into any Starfinder game.

Mechanics or Crunch-Starfinder, when it launched, didn’t have a lot of races.  None of what was there was bad, but it was a limited picking.  This book opens up the floodgates.  Nothing here is all that crazy.  The races do follow a pretty predictable formula, but its not a bad formula as everything is balanced.  I would have liked a few racial feats for each race.  But, there are over 10 new races here, so It’s a great place to look for an impressive assortment of new races for any space game.  4.75/5

Theme or Fluff– Here is where the book shines.  Every page of this book feels like Jack Kirby wrote it as the art is completely New Gods or crazy space Thor 3 on every page.  Everything feels right.  You get a full color art picture of each race and its homeworld.  The art mixed with the flavor of the races just belongs.  Starfinder is already a mix of magic, machine, and the future, so adding the proper amount of crazy Kirby makes me extremely happy.  5/5

Execution– I am really pleased with this book.  First and foremost, it’s a hyperlinked PDF.  Next, the art is great.  I would have liked more, but it’s enough to break up any monotony.  The layout isn’t cluttered.  My one grip is the price.  It’s a tad high, but if you want a ton of new races, this is the book you need.  It’s a well put together book that’s fun to thumb through till you find your favorite race and dig in. 4.5/5

Summary-I really like this product.  I read this book the week after seeing Thor 3 in theaters, and it feels like an honest extension of the movie.  You get Kirby, you get aliens, and you get your magic.  Starfinder feels like the 70’s comic vibe will fit better than any serious game play as you have the elements of more space opera than space drama built right in, and this book takes that banner and runs hard with that idea.  I wouldn’t consider this the most serious book.  This isn’t Lord of the Rings, but it is an amazing romp in the galaxy showing you all the crazy kids at the cantina while giving you the rules to play each of them in turn.  Get this book, crank your Flash Gordon soundtrack, and find your next favorite character to play in the galaxy.  96%

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Ring Side Report-Board Game Review of Mansions of Madness, 2nd ed.

Product-Mansions of Madness, 2nd ed.

Producer– Fantasy Flight Games

Price– $100 here https://www.amazon.com/Mansions-Madness-2nd-Board-Game/dp/B01J4NB6CO/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1477872904&sr=8-1&keywords=mansions+of+madness

Set-up/Play/Clean-up– 60-360 minutes (1-5 players)

Type- American

Depth-Medium

TL; DR-Great, but the price is a bit too steep! 89%

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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!

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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

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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%

Ring Side Report- RPG Review of Torment: Tides of Numenera-The Explorer’s Guide

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ProductTorment: Tides of Numenera-The Explorer’s Guide

System-Numenera

Producer-Monte Cook Games

Price– $40.00 here https://www.amazon.com/Torment-Tides-Numenera-Explorer/dp/193997951X/ref=sr_1_fkmr0_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473811918&sr=8-1-fkmr0&keywords=Torment%3A+Tides+of+Numenera+-+The+Explorer%27s+Guide

TL; DR-What I want in a video game tie in book. 97%

Basics– Are you excited about Torment, the computer game?  Do you want to run your Torment Numenera tabletop game?  Torment:Tides of Numenera-The Explorer’s Guide would best be described as the “companion” book based on the video game for the Numenera tabletop RPG.  It’s  DEFINITELY NOT a strategy guide, but it does have new mechanics and world building so you can play the compute game at your table.

Mechanics or Crunch-This might be the weakest part of the book, but that’s like finding a single spelling error in a classic book.  What’s here is good.  It’s new, it’s fun, and it’s well done.  There are the expected things to help build out the blanking blank who blanks as well as cyphers and artifacts, but there is also a whole new social interaction system built on how the characters act.  It’s a small thing as it doesn’t need to be added, but it’s something GMs can make as big or as small as they like.  My one complaint is there isn’t more blanking blank who blanks options.  It’s minor though. The system doesn’t need a book of feats as much as it needs flavor. 4.5/5

 

Theme or Fluff-There might be more in this book about one small section of the world than there was in the core book.  I am absolutely serious.  I love the depth put in this book.  The small piece of the world that the game covers get’s a massive world building.  Here is the rub-as a GM for the game, you will have all the information you need.  As a players, there might be almost too much as it could spoil the game or even the video game.  That…is the proper amount of information for me to run an RPG.  I kickstarted the video game, but my wife and I are more excited to get this to the table with our Cypher group.  5/5

Execution-Cypher system has the best use of space of any RPG I’ve read.  You describe a fearsome adversary in the text, and the stats are less than a tweet in a sidebar.  Describe the use of a little used rule in the text, and a sidebar lists where the rule is in the core book.  MORE COMPANIES NEED TO DO THIS!  As for the layout, its great.  Few pages have too much text, but there is enough art, either hand drawn or game images, to balance out the reading.  I loved reading this book. 5/5

Summary– I was asked to review this book, but give the direct warning that “this is not a strategy guide.”  that is absolutely true, but what this book is amazing.  It’s full of crunch, fluff, and is well made.  I get new mechanics to play in a new part of the world.  I love everything about this book.  My one problem is I want more.  If there were a bit more character options, I’d be in heaven.  If you’re getting the video game, if you love the cypher system, or if you just want a well done splat book for Numenera, don’t pass this up.   97%

Ring Side Report- RPG Review of The Served Brandolyn Red

Product-They Served Brandolyn Red

System– DCC

Producer– Goodman Games

Price– $7  here http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/159410/Dungeon-Crawl-Classics-2015-Halloween-Module-They-Served-Brandolyn-Red&affiliate_id=658618

TL; DR– An awesome starter adventure! 95%

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Basics-It’s a good day for a white wedding!  Until the groom’s head is chopped off and the bride is poisoned.  Then, players and the guests of the wedding have to find out all the twists and turns in this adventure and recover the groom’s head to properly bury the man.  Why did this happen?  Only you can find out!

Mechanics or Crunch-Ah, the DCC RPG funnel!  Hit the players hard and see what falls down.  It’s a time honored tradition.  This adventure has all the great pieces of one, and the mechanics match enough to challenge first and zero level players as well as bringing enough weird to the party.  5/5

Theme or Fluff-This adventure is one that you as a GM have to bring to life.  There is a lot going on here, and it kind of goes in two directions.  Only one direction gets the PC’s paid, so they won’t care about family struggles as longs gold happens.  If you can bring that part to life, it’s a fun side of the adventure.  But, most parties and games won’t even care about some below the surface details that the adventure has due to the second part being a bit off base.  It’s fun, but a bit too unwieldy with the second story not bringing as much to the party as the first. 4.25/5

Execution– This is a DCC RPG book put out by Goodman Games themselves, so it’s going to be good!  The art is great, the pictures are phenomenal, and the layout is simple enough to help every GM run a fun adventure.  The book even has detailed family trees that you can use to enhance  the substory that I complained about in the theme section.  Even the hex crawl simple map is a great addition to the game!  This simple adventure has the tools and talent needed to really help you make a great time for the players.  Also, it’s out in time for Halloween, so get this now! 5/5

Summary-I love this one so much it might become my new favorite funnel.  My players get a place to explore.  I get some story to build off with a subplot that is fun, if a bit of a strange addition.  The mechanics of the adventure are built well enough that it’s got enough challenge to keep things interesting, but not a killer curve to destroy a party.  From the art to the layout, this is a phenomenal adventure and an excellent introduction to DCCRPG, and if a group was looking for a  place to start, this is probably the best adventure to throw your friends and yourself as the GM into. 95%

Ring Side Report- RPG Review of Pathfinder Player Companion: Melee Tactics Toolbox

Product-Pathfinder Player Companion: Melee Tactics Toolbox

System– Pathfinder

Producer– Paizo

Price– $12  here http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1601257325?keywords=melee%20tactics%20toolbox&qid=1444860587&ref_=sr_1_1&sr=8-1

TL; DR– a one-feat-book 77%

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Basics-Why do it from afar when you can hurt them up close!  Melee Tactics Toolbox provides every up close and personal character with several new options ranging from spells, items, feats, class options, and even new archetypes much live every other player companion product.

Mechanics or Crunch-This is a major crunch book for players, but I wasn’t amazed.  There are several new options, but nothing here immediately made me want to build a character based around that theme.  Some of the new options seem like new expectations just for expansion sake as the archetypes underwhelmed me like the rogue archetype that strips out all the rogue powers that make a rogue a rogue.  Nothing here is objectively bad, but it’s not as amazing as I expected. 4/5

Theme or Fluff-This book has a bit of theme, but not as much as I wanted.  You get a few bits and pieces but not near as much as the world books the Paizo puts out.  It feels light. 3.5/5

Execution– This book has a ton it it, but it feels a bit overstuffed.  There are many things in the book, but it feels a bit like things were thrown in because of the melee thing and that was the sole reason that they made the cut.  So, things didn’t flow as well as other books.  Also, much of the execution was a bit off as there were a few too many walls of text to really draw me into and through the book.  But, as a counterpoint, the book does have a nice font, decent layout aside from a few too many text walls, and some nice art.  However, as a counterpoint to that, the book still has the standard Paizo price for its splatbooks which is a little high anyway. 4/5

Summary-This is my least favorite Paizo Pathfinder book to date.  Overall, it’s not a horrible book, but compared to Paizo’s other products, I wouldn’t suggest you start with this one.  Honestly, this is a one-feat-book meaning that you will find exactly one thing from this book that might, sometimes, help you PFS character.  And, you will buy it so you can show your PFS GM the feat/spell/item, so you can legally use it in your game.  But, truth be told, you can pass this book by and be ok even if you are a greatsword only fighter.  Too many options that are not worth the price, little world and character story, and a less than stellar execution make this a book that won’t find its way into many Pathfinder collections.  77%

Ring Side Report- RPG Review of Data Trails

Product-Data Trails

System– Shadowrun 5e

Producer– Catalyst Game Labs

Price– $25  here http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/150001/Shadowrun-Data-Trails?affiliate_id=658618

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TL; DR– Great flavor, but almost no crunch! 82%

Basics-Want to ride the matrix?  Want to be a digital cowboy?  This is the new book for you covering how the matrix of 2076 works and the new toys to play on this matrix. It also provides a brief history of AI.  The book adds new cyberdecks, add-ons to all the matrix toys out there, new qualities, and even has a section on how to play an AI character.

Theme or Fluff-Let’s start things a bit different than most of the reviews I write.  Let’s focus on the theme first.  Of all the things Catalyst does, covering the story of their world is the absolute best thing they do.  This book has tons of world building elements: all the fiddly bits of the 6th World’s wide web, covering how the matrix works, how it’s made, how to interact with it, its history, and providing me with extra story bits for any games I run.  Every aspect of the world gets a bit built on it.  For the SR vets out there, this book might be a little overkill.  However, for anyone who hopped on in Shadowrun 5th edition, this is an absolute essential to provide some much needed history and context to how people use the internet of the future. 4.75/5

Mechanics or Crunch-I started with theme, but theme shows how much this book is missing from its crunch.  The book adds an impressive amount of story but doesn’t really have the mechanics to back it up.  For your average decker, what’s here is good.  You get new toys and add-ons to all the old toys to keep you fairly happy.  However, even there you don’t get near as much as the other gear books.  Technomancers get even less.  For the rest of the 6th world, it’s not entirely worth it aside from a good reference on how the basics of the matrix work.  But the best example of how mechanics don’t back up fluff is in how different matrix hosts work and defend themselves.  A good chunk of one chapter is spent on how different companies defend their hosts.  But, no real mechanics are given either identifying what type of ICE is used or how they attack.  Furthermore, I’m glad I got a good briefing on how AI altered the matrix, but including a section on how to play them is pretty much useless for the majority of GM and players.  If they included that as its own small book, I’d buy it in an instant.  As a section in a core book, it’s just not a  great use of space. 4/5

Execution– The thing Catalyst doesn’t do well is format their books.  First and foremost, a book by Catalyst is only useful if you’ve completely read the book before and memorized the general locations of things in the book.  As a quick reference to thumb through, you will be lost.  The chapters are not named in a way that helps the reader, the book doesn’t have an index, and none of the new additions have a quick reference area to speed use later on.  Catalyst knows how to write fiction, but their fiction bleeds a bit too much into their mechanics.  In sections discussing how to create an AI or a host, the first part of the chapter will be the world story of it, and the second part will be the mechanics of it.  But, nowhere in the middle will it give the firm shift of when one section ends and the other begins.  All of those things are hard negatives, but what is here does read quickly and is enjoyable.  The back and forth of the characters is fun while drawing the reader in deeper.  This isn’t the best book I’ve read, but it’s a decent overall book. 3.5/5

Summary-Here is the quick question to help you decide if you need this book: do you spend most of your Shadowrun time in the matrix?  If yes, then you buy this book.  If no, maybe you’re good with what’s in the base book.  As someone who’s deeply invested in the 6th world, I loved learning about the new wireless net.  I just wasn’t overwhelmed by some significant parts of the book.  I’m glad I know how to run an AI now, but odds are good I never will, especially as someone who almost exclusively focuses on Shadowrun Missions.  I’d also like Catalyst Game Labs to overhaul their books a bit and really change some aspects of production to help the readers find what they need more quickly.  Making those changes will really make me love their books. With that said, as someone who loves Shadowrun and the matrix in particular, I’m glad I got this book, even if I can’t use chunks of it. 82%

Ring Side Report-Board Game Review of Nefarious

Product-Nefarious

Producer-USAopoly

Price– $ 30 here 

Set-up/Play/Clean-up– 20-40 minutes (2-6 players)

Type-Euro

Depth-Light

TL; DR-Production issues hurt a decent game. 86%

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Basics-What are we going to do tonight?  TRY TO TAKE OVER THE WORLD!  In Nefarious, players each take the roles of different mad scientists trying to each take over the world.  The game starts simply enough with each player getting  some starting gold and invention cards.  Each turn, players secretly selected one of four actions, reveal them at the same time, and all actions of the same type happen simultaneously.  The actions are: espionage, invent, research, and work.  Work simply earns you more money.  Research earns you a bit less money, and you get to draw a new invention card.  Invent is the meat of the game.  When you invent, you pay money and reveal one of your invention cards.  These cards have a cost that you pay, a victory point total, and possibly some effects like gain money, cost your opponents money, or gain more invention cards.  Espionage is an investing mechanic.  When you do espionage, you select an action and place a meeple on that action on the main board.  When a player on your right or left takes that action, you gain money equal to the number of meeples you have on that action.  Once all four actions are resolved, players then select new actions, and play continues the same way.  What makes this game a little deeper than it seems are the twist cards.  Each game two twist cards are secretly drawn from a deck of cards.  These cards provide new twists on the game like giving you strange new abilities, taking away some actions, or just removing some money from some of the actions.  When a round ends, a player has at least 20 points, and that player has more points than any other player, the game is over and that player wins and conquerors the word!

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Mechanics– This is not a complicated Euro, and that works for and against this game.  The simplicity of the mechanics works as a great introduction to the gaming hobby.  You will know the rules of the game in under five minutes.  The simplicity works against the mechanics as I didn’t feel as challenged as I could be if this game had multiple resources to track.  However, the multiple resources would have made this game that much harder to teach, learn and play.   Overall, it’s a good, simple Euro.  Think of this as an excellent sushi appetizer to the gaming industry-it tastes great, but you might want something a little more filling as you learn to love this acquired taste more. 4.5/5

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Theme– This game has some good theme, but something gets lost along the way.  The theme of inventing new items to conquer the world comes through.  And the fact that most items have some side effects also keep going with this theme as you’re battling it out with other mad scientists.  However, some of the theme get’s lost along the way.  I’m fine with most of the actions but some things don’t translate well.  The work actions seems like a misplaced opportunity in that vain.  All of my other actions are downright nefarious, but work feels like I clock in at Amazon to fill packages; even the work action looks like a shipping company.  Why not something like Extort with the action picture being a man/woman in profile with some sort of atomic raygun getting money from a generic civil leader.  It’s those little touches that cause this game to lose some of its theme.  You will still feel like a mad scientist inventing crazy machines, but maybe one who moonlights as a DHL driver.  4.25/5

Instructions– The rules a simple, sleek, and short-all great descriptors for a board game’s rules.  This game isn’t as hard as Twilight Imperium, but the rule book does explain the game in simple terms that gets the point across quickly and well.   5/5

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Execution– Here is where I think things need a bit of work.  Overall, everything is serviceable.  That said, there are some issues.  The cards for the game are printed on very thin cardstock.  It’s not bad, but it will tear easily.  The art in the game is awesome and has that retro-science feel to it.  The worst part of the game is the coins.  The coins are printed on sheets of several cardboard pieces pressed together, but the cardboard didn’t adhere to itself properly, so the cardboard is spongy and bows.  The coloring of the cardboard is a single sheet of sticker.  That’s not horrible, but the cutter for the cardboard didn’t cut the cardboard and stickers well, so when you punch out your money it will have all these random bits of extra sticker attacked like flaking paint.  USAopoly has acknowledged the problem, and future print runs will be better.  But, for right now my copy gets a C overall.  If you want to see the components, I’ve made an unboxing video where you can see all the components here http://youtu.be/Qdtz9YQDKHA  3.5/5

Summary-This is a good quick Euro.  It’s a great game with lots of replay.  I like the mechanics as I can teach random people how to play quickly, and they get autonomy in a short game.  Also, this game has some meat on its bones as it’s a Euro with some decent thinking power behind it.  You can’t go into this game hoping for Kanban or another four hour Euro though.  This is excellent at what it wants to be, and you have to know that going in.  I think the rules are great, but I’d like some minor, cosmetic changes to help the theme a bit.  The production quality is ok.  It will be better, but if you get a first print run, expect a few, minor problems.  But, if you’d like a good game that will have you thinking for 20 minutes with your friends, then this a great game of world domination to pick up!  86%