Category Archives: Board Games

Pandemic Survival- Tournament Report

Pandemic Survival Banner

On Sunday 15th May, 2016 I took part in a Pandemic Survival Regional Tournament at LvL Up Games in Bournemouth, hosted by Bag of Holding. Pandemic Survival is a 2 player variant of the game designed for tournament play with a goal of being the first team to either cure all 4 diseases or to be the last team alive.

Changes to the common rules are-

  • No choice of Roles, every team has the same two roles.
  • Constructed city and infection decks (don’t shuffle you city deck, or even joke about it, apparently that’s not funny….)
  • Single infection deck shared by all players and read out by the TO.
  • Timed rounds.
  • No events that allow manipulation of the infection deck.

The format is pretty simple. Ahead of time the TO sets up the infection deck and city decks according to the scenario format, as supplied by Z-Man Games in the tournament kit. In 2016 my understanding that there were 6 different scenarios to choose from. Players, in teams of two decide which of the two roles they will play, the roles in the scenario I played were the Medic and Archivist but I strongly suspect that the roles vary based on the scenario chosen. All the tables are set up next to one another and each board is separated from the others by a screen (similar to an RPG DM screen) and has a little Outbreak/Cure counter visible so that everyone can see how close others are to winning or losing.

From there the game follows the format of standard Pandemic using rules only from the Pandemic base set with the only nod towards the expansions being, in my case, the use of the Archivist role. All teams start with the same cards for their hands so that the only variation between all teams is the skill level of the players which means that it is skill, and a little luck, that will decide the winners.

Disease Cakes
Tasty Disease Cakes provided by Bag Of Holding to keep us going!

Play starts with the same role for each team, in my case with the Archivist who was played by my teammate, and each turn is timed to 90 seconds, which means teams have a maximum of 90 seconds to decide a players actions and complete the moves on the board before city cards are drawn and the TO reads out the infection cards. As each city deck is identical it means that every team will draw epidemic cards on the same round but whether those epidemics outbreak is mostly down to how the players have managed their individual board, I say mostly because, as happened at my event, bad luck can cause outbreaks with no way of stopping them.

My teammate and I have played a fair amount of Pandemic, he owns all the versions, aside from The Cure dice game, and we are currently playing through Pandemic Legacy (which is awesome, play it if you haven’t already) and so we had a fairly straight forward plan for trying to win. I, as the Medic would discard city cards to fly around controlling the diseases as they reached 3 cubes on a city and so threatened a breakout while the Archivist picked up my discarded cards and working towards cures.

We managed to get the first two cures pretty quickly and with only a couple of outbreaks, both caused by the TO immediately drawing the exact same card the was drawn from the Epidemic card as he drew for infection. Nothing can be done to prevent this, players have no action between the Epidemic card and infection. This was the ongoing problem for us as there was only one Epidemic that didn’t have this happen and as we’d failed to control a single other infection that caused an outbreak we were running a little behind.

In the end we did well, having cured 3 diseases we finally went out. For us it was two epidemics in very quick succession which infected a city with 3 cubes and we chose to leave it for a single turn because we would have won on the very next turn and we couldn’t figure out a way to reach it (we did later but hindsight and all that). Unfortunately when the next epidemic was drawn there was a 75% chance that the 3 cube city would outbreak and that would have ended our game, which it did. A fun little addition is that when you go out of the game you have a little Bio-Hazard sheet to place over your board which adds nicely to the theme of the game.

Pandemic Survival, BioHazard Sheet

All in all the tournament took exactly an hour start to finish and the top team won by curing all the diseases winning a Pandemic Survival National’s round 1 Bye and a copy of Pandemic ‘The Cure’ each. It was a really fun session and something I’d be keen to try again.

Tiny Epic Defenders, Kickstarter Deluxe Set- A Review

Name: Tiny Epic Defenders
Type: Tile Based Boardgame
Publisher: 
Gamelyn Games
Players: 
1-4
Age:
 13+
Size:
27.8cm x 11.9cm x 4cm
Weight:
 261g
Time: 30 mins approx
Price: £15.99 (Standard Edition)
Rating: 4.0 Stars (4.0 / 5)

Tiny Epic Defenders, front of box

Tiny Epic Defenders is the second in the Tiny Epic series of games by Gamelyn Games. It is a co-operative game for 1-4 players and in the style of all Tiny Epic games it plays out in under an hour. It is set after the events of Tiny Epic Kingdoms and involves the various races working together to protect their capital city from attack by a variety of monsters.

 Much like Tiny Epic Kingdoms before it and Tiny Epic Galaxies after Tiny Epic Defenders was funded by Kickstarter and raised $162,372 in July 2014. Production took a few months and Tiny Epic Defenders started delivering to backers in January 2015 and hit stores shortly after.  I personally missed out of the Kickstarter, having only found out about Tiny Epic games during the Tiny Epic Galaxies Kickstarter, but I’ve since managed to source a Kickstarter deluxe edition.

Tiny Epic Defenders, Kickstarter Deluxe contents

You don’t get quite as much in the box as with Tiny Epic Kingdoms or, I suspect, Tiny Epic Galaxies but the box is still satisfyingly full, albeit with a card insert taking up around a quarter of the space to make sure that the components don’t rattle around too much during transit. Inside the standard box you get-

  • 4 x Meeple Tokens (Blue, Green, Yellow and Red)
  • 5 x Health Tokens (Blue, Green, Yellow, Red and Black)
  • 7 x Threat Tokens
  • 6 x Territory Cards (all double sided, covering Plains, Ruins, Coast, Forest, Desert and Mountains)
  • 1 x City Card
  • 6 x Epic Foe Cards
  • 10 x Hero Cards
  • 10 x Artefact Cards
  • 9 x Enemy Cards
  • 6 x Dire Enemy Cards
  • 6 x Action Cards
  • The Rules

The box is what is now the standard size for the Tiny Epic line of games at 7”x 5”. The box is made of thick durable card and is in full colour. The inside lid has a full colour image of a few of the heroes, planning the defence of the city and the sides of the bottom of the box provide some information about the artists and designer.

The components are high quality. All of the tokens are made from laser cut wood and have been painted in bright and vibrant colours. Each of the Meeples has a heart shaped health token in matching colours and there is a 5th,  Health token for the  Epic Foe, when it is revealed. My favourite token, by far is the little Threat token, which is cut to look like a fire and painted bright orange, in fact this might be my favourite token, in any game, ever, as it looks so cool-

Tiny Epic Defenders, Threat Token

Tiny Epic Defenders, City and Territory Card

The cards come in 2 sizes. The City, Territory, Hero and  Epic Foe cards are all oversized, roughly 5”x 3”. The Territory cards are all double sided with the same territory on each side but each side has a different Action or Passive ability. The City card is also double sided but both sides are the same.  Each Territory and the City has a Threat track along the top that shows how much danger that area is in. If the threat rating of a Territory ever reaches maximum that Territory is destroyed and if the City is destroyed the game is over and the players lose.

Tiny Epic Defenders, Hero Card

The Hero cards are all double sided with an image of the Hero on the back and the health track and actions on the front. Each of the Heroes have different actions that can be used on your turn and most are thematic to the Hero, for instance a Paladin can take damage instead of another Hero, and all have 4 Hit Points, aside from the Paladin that has 5.

Tiny Epic Defenders, Epic Foe Card

The  Epic Foe Cards are one sided with the back of all the cards being the same with a picture of a battlefield and with space marked out for the Horde deck. The front of the  Epic Foe cards have a health track and the Ultimate Enemies action.  For all intents and purposes the  Epic Foe is a Hero, albeit one with significantly more hit points than a player Hero.

The art on the cards is nice with the Territories and City cards having a more serious feel to them and the Heroes and Epic Foe cards having a more cartoony feel to the art style. The cards are fairly thick but are not laminated and the corners are not rounded so they are quite susceptible to damage. Damage to the City and Territory cards wouldn’t overly effect the game (aside from an aesthetic point of view), but damage to the  Epic Foe cards could be a problem because you are not supposed to know which  Epic Foe you are facing until it is revealed.

The other cards, being the 2 types of Enemy cards, the Artefact cards and the Action cards are all standard playing card size.

Tiny Epic Defenders, small cards

Looking at the Enemy cards, there are two types. The first is the 9 card deck of the standard Enemies. Each of these cards is divided down the middle and depicts 2 monsters, with different Territory Icons to show where they attack then they are drawn. The second depicts the Dire Enemies and each of these represents a single monster that also has a power that takes effect when they are drawn. These cards also have a Territory Icon to show which location they attack.

There are 6 Action Cards in total, made up of 5 different cards with 1 duplicated. Each of the Meeple colours is represented once, (Blue, Green, Yellow and Red) and there duplicated card is multi-coloured. When these are drawn the player whose Meeple matches the colour of the card takes their action and when the multi-coloured card is drawn all players get to split a certain number of actions.

The backs of the preceding 3 types of card are all the same as they all help to make up the deck that drives the turn sequence of the game. The backs of these cards matches the back of the  Epic Foe card as some of them rest on the back of the  Epic Foe card until they are added to the turn deck as the game progresses.

The Artefact deck looks different, it’s very light and bright. It’s made up of 10 cards that all provide one of actions or passive effects that the owning player can invoke during the game. These cards are obtained by successfully defending against a Dire Enemy, at which point one is dealt out randomly.

The art on all of these cards is good. Some, like the Artefact deck, are a little more cartoony that others but overall the quality is consistent and nice. These cards are made of a good, thick, cardstock and are all laminated which helps them be a little more durable than the larger cards in the set.

I’ll go into a little bit of detail at the end as to what you get in the Deluxe upgrade, if you manage to get your hands on a copy.

Tiny Epic Defenders, example of play

The gameplay is very simple. Each player selects or is randomly dealt a Hero card (I deal 2 to each player and let them pick 1) and the Territories are arranged, randomly or by selection, around the outside of the City with the threat rating of each Territory being set at 1 (so the Threat token is placed on 1 on the Threat track) and the threat rating of the City is set at 0. An  Epic Foe is randomly selected and placed next to the play area and the appropriate number of Dire Enemies are randomly selected from the deck and placed on top of the Epic Foe.

Three normal Enemies are randomly selected and shuffled together with the correct player Action cards, as determined by the rules and this is the Action Deck. Once this is done the players place their Meeples on the City card and their Health tokens on maximum on the health track on their Hero card and the game is good to start.

Play is simple, draw a card from the Action Deck and resolve it. If it’s a monster then the Territories with corresponding Icons take damage, which mean that it moves up the Threat track by one space, unless a player defends that area, and if it’s an Action card then the appropriate player takes 3 actions. If, at any point a Territory reaches maximum threat it is destroyed and any further damage to that area increases the Threat rating on the City card.

Once the Action Deck is depleted then one of the Dire Enemies on the Epic Foe card is added to the stack, it is shuffled and the process begins again. This repeats until all of the Dire Enemies are in the Action Deck, at which point the Epic Foe card is flipped and the end game begins.

The goal of the players is to defeat (so cause 10 points of damage) the Epic Foe before the City reaches maximum Threat and is destroyed. On their turn players can use action points to invoke the actions on the Hero Card or a Territory, Move, Reduce a Territories Threat or Attack the Epic Foe (once it is out). Players need to work together to anticipate the cards in the Action Deck and make sure that the appropriate Territories are defended while trying to reduce the Threat in damaged Territories.

Tiny Epic Defenders comes with 4 difficulty levels and each simply adds more Dire Enemies to the stack on the Epic Foe card, which therefore increases the length of the game and affords the monsters more time and attacks with which to try and destroy the city. By doing this the game can be nicely modified to suit the skill level of different groups and so while you might set it at Easy when playing with younger children, experienced groups may prefer the challenge of Hard or Epic.

One of the things I really like about Tiny Epic Defenders is that it can be played solo. This surprised me, more often than not I prefer games to allow 5+ players because I play with a large group, but I found the solo mode very useful to use when learning the game. I generally tend to play a turn or two of any new game alone, so I can better understand turn order and what the cards/actions do. Unfortunately, with most games it doesn’t work all that well because your actions are determined by what other players do but Tiny Epic Defenders allows you to play solo against the Action Deck and I think that’s a nice touch.

Tiny Epic Defenders, Mini-Expansion

The Deluxe Kickstarter comes with 11 extra cards. At the time of writing this content is only available via the Deluxe Kickstarter version, although it may appear on the BGG at some point as the Tiny Epic Kingdoms mini-expansion has. In the Deluxe edition you get-

  • Giant Snake (Dire Enemy)
  • Basilisk (Dire Enemy)
  • Fire Elemental (Epic Foe)
  • Overlord (Epic Foe)
  • Baal’s Bait (Artefact)
  • Gavel of Gamelyn (Artefact)
  • Necromancer (Hero)
  • Assassin (Hero)
  • Avenger (Legendary Hero #1)
  • Revenant (Legendary Hero #2)
  • Guardian (Legendary Hero #3)

Unlike Tiny Epic Kingdoms, the mini-expansion for Tiny Epic Defenders doesn’t offer any alternative modes of play but rather expands your options for the normal game. I particularly like the inclusion of the Overlord Epic Foe because it strongly resembles a classic D&D monster that I love, the Beholder. The Legendary Heroes are much the same as the normal Heroes but with slightly more powerful abilities and this makes them useful for when you first try to tackle the higher difficulties of the game.

This mini-expansion also includes the another Hero that doesn’t have the standard 4 health, the Revenant. In this case this Legendary Hero has just 3 health but heals back to full every time  Territory is destroyed so, as the game nears it’s conclusion this Hero is very likely to not need to return to the city to be healed, which is a very useful ability indeed.

On the whole I like Tiny Epic Defenders. It’s not quite as good as its predecessor but it fills a rare spot in that it’s a co-operative game that can be set up and played within 30 minutes and that’s something that I appreciate. I really like the fact that it’s also it’s own distinct game, being completely different from the other two games in the Tiny Epic line because it would be very easy to fall into the trap of just reskinning what came before and selling it as a new product. You can see that Gamelyn and Scott Ames have gone out of their way to ensure that Tiny Epic Defenders plays and feels differently to what came before.

Tiny Epic Defenders gives you exactly what you would expect from a game with that title, it’s small, great fun and involves defending the kingdom from marauding monsters and Epic Foes. It’s a good quality product with an original design from a company that I’ve come to expect great things from. It’s the weakest of the line overall, but that’s not a criticism or me saying that it’s poor, rather a shining endorsement of just how good I think Tiny Epic games are. There is no shame in being the weakest in a line of games that are this much fun and such good value for money and, after all, a 4 out of 5 is still an excellent score.

I play a lot of micro-games, usually while we wait for a player to arrive or to round out the last half hour of a games night and Tiny Epic Defenders is a game that’s going hit the table to fill that spot a lot over the next few years.

Tiny Epic Kingdoms Kickstarter Deluxe Set- A Review

Name: Tiny Epic Kingdoms
Type: Tile Based Boardgame
Publisher: Gamelyn Games
Players: 2-5
Age: 13+
Size: 27.8cm x 11.9cm x 4cm
Weight: 330g
Playtime: 40 mins approx
Price: £15.99 (Standard Edition)
Rating: 5.0 Stars (5.0 / 5)

Tiny Epic Kingdoms, front of box

I came late to the Tiny Epic party, having only bought into the line with the latest (at time of writing) Kickstarter, Tiny Epic Galaxies. I played the Print and Play version of Tiny Epic Galaxies a couple of times and saw comments on the Kickstarter board mentioning how good the other Tiny Epic games are and so decided to get them for myself and see what all the fuss was about.

I managed to source an unpunched Tiny Epic Kingdoms Deluxe Kickstarter set, much to my amazement, and so my review will be based on that. As and when appropriate I’ll differentiate between what you get in the general retail copy and what comes in the Deluxe set and you can buy the mini-expansion on the BGG store, should you want to pick that up yourself.

A little bit of History. Tiny Epic Kingdoms is the first game in the Tiny Epic line of games by Gamelyn Games and was designed by Scot Almes. It was Kickstarted to the tune of $286,982.00 in February 2014 and has since spawned 2 other Tiny Epic Games (Defenders, which has just delivered on its Kickstarter and Galaxies which was Funded at the end of January 2015). A huge amount of the quality of the content is owed to that initial Kickstarter as the project smashed through stretch goals and so added extra races, dice, improved tokens, extra regions and more.

So, first of all, the box.  One of the key things you’d expect with a Tiny Epic game is that it is fairly small in size  and this fits the bill, measuring just a few inches to a side. The box is nice and sturdy, being made of thick card and it’s lavishly illustrated front and back with full colour art.

Tiny Epic Kingdoms, front of box

Once you take the lid off you can see that the sides of the bottom half of the box have some information about the artists and games designer, which is a nice little touch, and the inside of the lid has another full colour image that looks like a group photo of all the races in the game.

Tiny Epic Kingdoms, inside lidTiny Epic Kingdoms, Illustrator

 

 

Tiny Epic Kingdoms, Designer

 

 

 

 

 

The other criteria for a Tiny Epic game is that it needs to be something pretty special to be counted as Epic. One way of fulfilling that criteria is with contents and in this the game doesn’t disappoint. The box is jam packed with contents, so much so that you actually have to arrange it all correctly just to be able to close the lid! Inside the standard edition you get-

 

  • 13 Races
  • 8 Double Sided Region CardsTiny Epic Kingdoms, contents
  • 1 Tower Card
  • 1 Action Card
  • 2 Custom 12 sided War Dice
  • 35 Meeples (7 each in 5 different colours)
  • 15 Custom Cut Resource Tokens (5 Each for Mana, Corn and Ore)
  • 5 Spellbook Tokens (1 each in 5 colours)
  • 5 Tower Tokens (1 each in 5 colours)
  • 5 Shield Tokens
  • 1 First Player Token (Large Tower)
  • The Rulebook

 

Tiny Epic Kingdoms, contents

In addition, in the Deluxe version you also get-

  • 3 more dice (allowing for 1 for each player)
  • 3 more races
  • 1 Mini-Expansion cardboard token sheet
  • 1 Mini Expansion rule sheet with varied game modes

 

Tiny Epic Kingdoms, Resource Tokens

The production value of all of the components is exceptionally high. Each of the tokens is made of laser cut wood and all are custom shapes (Towers, Shields, Stars, Spellbooks, Meeples). Each is then painted brightly and evenly so that they each stand out from one another. The cards are all sturdy and full colour with each of the races having a full colour illustration on the back of them. Each card is completely different and each is double sided giving a total of 16 different regions in total. My only criticism here is that the cards aren’t laminated and so would suffer if any liquids were spilt on them.

 

Tiny Epic Kingdoms, war dice

 

 

The dice are all coloured to match the 5 colours of tokens so that each player can have access to their own war die. They are basically standard D12’s in respects aside from the fact that the 12th face has a flag on for trying to declare an alliance, as opposed to the number 12.

 

 

 

The rules of the game are very simple but have a deceiving amount of depth to them allowing for a plethora of strategies to be used in order to win the game. Victory is simply decided by who has the most victory points at the end of the game and this is worked out by how many meeples you have out, how much magic you have, how high your tower is and how many cities you control, plus any race specific victory conditions.

Tiny Epic Kingdoms, Action Card

On your turn you place a Shield Token on the Action Card to denote the action you want to take and then every player has the option of following that action, or harvesting resources. The trick here is that no action can be repeated by another player (aside from using some racial abilities), until all 5 Shield Tokens have been placed and the round is over, so you can tactically take actions to block other players.

The actions you can take allow you to move your meeples, either around your region or to another, increase your magic, build your tower, gain extra meeples or trade one type of resource for another. In general the actions are very quick to resolve and so turns should pass quickly, helping the game fit into its 40 minute play time.

Tiny Epic Kingdoms, region cards

Building, be it meeples, the tower or increasing your magic, costs resources, which are harvested from the locations you control on the various regions.  Control is determine by whether or not you have a meeple on the location and each type of location gives a specific type of resource, Food for Plaines, Mana from Forests and Ore from Mountains. You track you resources on your race card and spend it when performing certain actions, such as spending Mana when you want to increase your magic rating.  Aside from specific racial abilities, the only way to obtain resources is to harvest when another player chooses an action, rather than replicating that action yourself, making it a difficult balancing act between taking the action you want while they are available and ensuring you have sufficient resource to complete actions and defend yourself during war.

Resources are also spent when you wage war, which is when you move into a location controlled by another player (so it has one of their meeples on it). At that point you dedicate resources to your war effort, with various resources being worth various amounts, and secretly total up what you’ll spend before setting your War Die to that number. Players involved in the war reveal simultaneously and the player with the higher total wins, defeating the other player’s meeple and sending it back to their pile of unallocated meeples (effectively killing it).  If both players, secretly, choose the ‘Flag’ option on their War Dice, then an alliance is formed and both players can stay in the location and harvest from it at the same time, at least until one declares war on the other somewhere else.

Tiny Epic Kingdoms, Tower Card

While increasing the height of your tower only provides victory points (albeit potentially the most in the game), increasing your magic rating provides secondary benefits as dictated by your race card. Each level, from 1-5, provides an additional, cumulative bonus that gets increasingly powerful the higher your magic rating becomes. Humans, for instance, get bonuses to gathering resources and get  additional victory points at the end of the game if they have resources stockpiled.

Once all of the Shield Tokens have been allocated to the Action Card the round is over and the first player token is passed to the left and the process repeats until one of the end game conditions is met. The game ends when a single player, purchases their last meeple (number 7), builds the final level of the tower or increases their magic to level 5. At this point actions are still allocated until the round is over, but nothing can stop the game ending at the end of the round and victory points being totalled up to determine a winner.

Tiny Epic Kingdoms, human card

Each of the 16 races is different and have different thematic magic powers so while the Elves excel at using Mana, the Orcs excel at waging war and the Centaurs excel at moving around.  In addition each of the 8 double sided region cards has a different layout and distribution of locations, which, since they are randomly allocated, mean you have to adapt to the terrain you have. While in one game you may have a comparatively open region with several mountainous areas, in another you may have a sprawling forest broken up by impassable rivers and crags, which restrict your movement.

All in all it’s a very simple game to play with mechanics that are easy to teach inside a turn or two while still allowing for significant tactical scope. The random nature of the regions, combined with the restricted use of actions means that you have to carefully balance which resources you harvest, when and then how they are used to improve the standing of your Kingdom. Additionally the different magical abilities of each race means that each plays differently and requires a different style of play to win. The game itself allows you to pick your race but I prefer the method of randomly assigning each player 2 races to pick from, rather than letting them browse the entire stack, this not only speeds up set up time but it stretches the tactical abilities of each player a little more.

Tiny Epic Kingdoms, contents

The Deluxe Edition Mini-Expansion provides 2 extra game variants and 16 tokens for use in those games. Both are essentially a variant of the same theme but they add a little something extra to the game and promote players exploring and invading one anothers regions. In short, players randomly take these tokens and place them on locations in their home regions, by placing them face down without looking at what they are. Then, when a meeple enters the area for the first time, the token is revealed (flipped) and its effect resolved. These effects can be something positive as finding the Crown (which gives you extra Victory Points, if you have it at the end of the game) to something as negative as being attacked by Bandits, or finding a Dragons lair…. If you enjoy the base game then the Mini-Expansion is well worth picking up as well.

I think Tiny Epic Kingdoms is an amazing game. It’s fast, simple, has tactical depth, it’s production values are high, it’s comparatively cheap and above all else it’s a huge amount of fun to play. As it plays out in just over half an hour making it a great game to start games night with or to pull out at lunch while at work.  It’s size means that it can be easily thrown in a bag or even a large pocket and transported but it has the feel of a game that generally comes in a large box, with a lavish board, thousands of tokens and a 50 page rule book. It plays like Risk mixed with Settlers of Catan but without the complexity of games like Age of Conan or some of the Risk variants.

I think naming the game line Tiny Epic is the most honest way of summing the game up, it is Tiny, it is quick to play but it’s Epic amounts of fun and has endless playability. I came late to the Tiny Epic party but I’m pleased I turned up because it’s a Tiny Epic Extravaganza that I’m glad I didn’t miss.

Lords of Waterdeep Review

Name: Lords of Waterdeep
Type: Board Game
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
Players: 2-5
Age: 10+
Playtime: 60 mins

Size: 28.4cm x 7.6cm x 39cm
Weight: 1700g
Price:  £33.00
Rating: 5.0 Stars (5.0 / 5)

Lords of Waterdeep, Front of Box

Lords of Waterdeep is a competitive resource acquisition and management board game published by Wizards of the Coast. It is set within the city of Waterdeep, City of Splendour, in the Forgotten Realms Campaign setting and revolves around the game of one-upmanship played by the hidden Lords of Waterdeep, the secretive hidden leaders of the City of Splendour.

I picked up this game on a bit of a whim actually, I was originally going to buy X-Com until one of my regular group mentioned that they were picking that up regardless and so I needed an alternative. My criteria was pretty simple, I wanted a good game that easily accommodated 5 or more players without breaking and Lords of Waterdeep seemed to meet those criteria while, as a bonus, being fairly cheap.

Lords of Waterdeep, side of box

Let’s start with the box, since it’s actually pretty unique. The box splits in two around the middle but the two halves are actually kept separate by an insert in the bottom half. This insert is gold coloured and decorated with swirling patterns and the overall effect is that the box looks like the kind of curiosity you might find in the home of one of the Lords of Waterdeep.

Inside the box is a customer made plastic insert that actually holds all of the components neatly and tightly to the extent that carrying the box vertically in a bag doesn’t cause the components to become dislodged. There is a guide in the rulebook as to the proper place for everything and the insert holds the board snugly to provide a lid of sorts to the rest of the contents. It’s a weird thing to dwell on but it’s very rare that this amount of thought goes into how the components will be stored and transported.

Lords of Waterdeep, components

Inside the box you get-

  • 27 x Wooden Meeple Agents (5 each of Blue, Green, Yellow, Black and Red to match the factions and
  • 1 each of Cream and Pale Green)
  • 1 x Wooden First Player Token
  • 5 x Wooden Victory Point Counter Tokens
  • 100 x Wooden Adventured Cubes (25 each of Black, White, Orange and Purple for Rogues, Clerics, Fighters and Mages respectively)
  • 5 x Player Boards (1 each for the 5 factions)
  • 5 x 100 Victory Point Markers (1 for each faction in Blue, Green, Yellow, Black and Red)
  • 12 x Lords of Waterdeep Cards
  • 50 x Intrigue Cards
  • 60 x Quest Cards
  • 24 x Building Tokens
  • 60 x Gold Tokens (split as 50 x 1 and 10 x 5 denominations)
  • 36 x Victory Point Tokens
  • 40 x Building Ownership Tokens (8 each of Blue, Green, Yellow, Black and Red to match each faction)
  • The Board
  • The Rulebook

The production values seem pretty high on everything included, the tokens are full colour, thick, card, the cards are full colour, thick, laminated, cardstock and the wooden tokens are all clean cut and brightly painted. I tend to find that the inclusion of wooden tokens makes a game feel like it has been designed with more care and attention to detail and that is very much the case here.

The art on the cards and relevant tokens is good and all in full colour with each of the more iconic people and places bearing a strong resemblance to the relevant characters. Choosing Waterdeep as the setting, rather than going with a generic customer made city, was a strong choice as the inclusion of iconic places and characters helps people feel more connected to the setting. I’m not really a Forgotten Realms fan, Dragonlance, Eberron and Planescape have always been my thing, but even I know the name Khelban Blackstaff and know of some of the legends of the City of Wonders.

The Board is A2 sixed and folds into A4 sized. It is a full colour representation of the city of Waterdeep with various buildings highlighted as being locations you can assign Agents to in the game and what the result of that action is. There is space for all of the various decks and discard piles and there are spaces marked around the outside to denote where buildings can be built.

The rules are short at 24 pages but the rules booklet still comes with a sewn binding, which I found surprising and just another sign of the high production values put into this game. All things said I was able to learn the game fairly quickly by reading the rules and playing a couple of turns and was able to teach 4 other people to play it inside of 10 minutes, despite having never properly played it. The rules tend to be intuitive and simple and the rulebook includes a nice section clarifying specifics from the cards, although I would argue that they should have simply made the cards clearer rather than adding the clarification to the rulebook.

Playing the game is pretty straight forward. Set up involves deciding on a faction and taking the board, checking how many Agents (the wooden Meeples) each player gets, based on the number of players, and handing them out, randomly assigning a Lord of Waterdeep and randomly assigning 2 quests and 2 intrigue cards to each player. Four Quests are placed face up on the board and the rest of the deck next to them, the intrigue cards are placed in the indicated space, three buildings are placed in Builders Square and the rest are stacked nearby. The player going first (decided by whoever most recently visited another city) takes the First Player Token and 4 Gold and then every other player clockwise takes 1 more gold than the last (so player 2 takes 5, 3 takes 6 etc.) Finally 3 Victory Point Tokens are placed on Turn spaces 2-8 on the board and 1 is placed on each of the buildings in Builders Square.

The game always lasts 8 phases and each phase is broken down into a number of turns. At the start of each phase the 3 Victory Point Tokens are taken off the relevant turn space on the board and 1 is placed on each of the 3 buildings in Builders Square and each building that has a restock is restocked.

Play continues until each player has assigned all of their Agents at which point the phase ends, Agents are cleared from the board and the next Phase starts, with the person in control of the First Player Token taking the first turn and assigning an Agent. After the last player assigns their last Agent on Phase 8 and they complete the action from that building, the game ends. Bonus Victory Points are awarded based on remaining Gold or Adventurers and according to the details on individual Lords of Waterdeep cards. The player with the most Victory Points after all bonuses have been added is the winner.

On their turn a player can-

Assign an Agent
Complete a Quest

Assigning an Agent involves a player taking 1 from their supply and placing it on a building on the map. Once the Agent is assigned the player takes the action detailed on the building, either collecting Adventurers, collecting gold, playing an Intrigue card, collecting a new Quest or some combination of all of the above.

Lords of Waterdeep, Quest Card

Each Quest card has a number of prerequisites that need to be met for a player to complete it. These are generally a number of adventurers of one or more types (shown by a number of coloured cubes on the card) but may also include an amount of Gold that needs to be spent (shown by a number of Gold Tokens on the card). If a player meets the prerequisites on any of the Quests they have, after assigning an Agent and taking the building action, they can complete a single quest and collect the reward.

Quest rewards are varied but generally involve a Victory Point amount and it is these that dictate the winner at the end of the game.  Each Quest is of a certain type, such as Piety or Skullduggery and this tends indicate the type of adventurers (so Clerics of Piety Quests) that you need to complete the Quest but also may be aligned with one or more players lord of Waterdeep.

That’s more or less it for how to play the game. The various buildings allow for different activities such as playing or acquiring Intrigue Cards (more on these in a minute)  but in principal the idea of the game is to hire Adventurers and acquire gold in order to complete quests and therefore earn Victory Points. The player with the most Victory Points at the end of the game wins.

Lords of Waterdeep, Lord of Waterdeep Card

Each Lord is a specific character and these are dealt randomly at the start of the game and are not revealed to the other players. Each Lord provides bonus Victory Points to either certain Quest types or based on the number of buildings you own, at the end of the game. It is therefore within your interest to try and acquire and complete quests that are aligned with your Lord’s bonus.

Lords of Waterdeep, Intrigue Cards

Players gets 2 Intrigue cards at the start of the game and can draw more by assigning Agents to certain Buildings. These are always kept facedown until played so only the owning player knows that they have. Intrigue cards represent the political manoeuvrings of your Lord to try and improve their position and allow you to do a variety of different things such as forcing a Mandatory Quest on an opponent, to reassigning an Agent to recruiting Adventurers.

If a player assigns an Agent to Builders Hall then they can buy one of the face up buildings immediately by paying the indicated Gold cost. When they do this they place it in one of the places indicated on the board and add a Building Ownership Token to the corner to reminds everyone who the owner is. These bought buildings are called Advanced Buildings and tend to have better rewards for assigning Agents to them than the Basic Buildings on the board. Each Advanced Building indicates what a player gets when they assign and Agent to it, such as Gold, Intrigue or Quest cards or Adventurers but they also indicate a bonus that the owner gets when someone else assigns an Agent to the Building, which is usually Gold or Adventurers.

I found Lords of Waterdeep a very simple game to learn and teach and a fun game to play. I’m a big fan of Euro style games that are competitive but have very few ways of directly attacking another player, making tactical use of your own resources and abilities all the more important. The specific number of turns means that the game will always last around an hour, unless players are particularly slow in taking their actions, and that’s also a good thing as most games that support more than 4 players tend to have playtimes of 2-3 hours.

The game has a surprising amount of tactical depth as your intentions vary based on who your Lord is and which buildings are available. The game can have interesting decision points when you have to decide whether to utilise a building owned by another player and therefore allow them to collect the owner bonus or whether to limit yourself. Likewise tactical use of Agents to deny other players from obtaining certain types of Adventurers, therefore limiting their ability to complete Quests is a valid choice and adds another element into your decision making process.

For a game I bought on a whim I’m pretty pleased with Lords of Waterdeep and it’s certainly a game I will continue to take to games nights.

At the time of writing there is one expansion available for Lords of Waterdeep.

Arkham Horror Official Dice

Name: Arkham Horror Dice sets
Type: Board Game Accessory
Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games
Players: 1-8
Size: 15.3cm x 10.9cm x2cm
Price:  £8.99 Each
Rating: 3.0 Stars (3.0 / 5)

Arkham Horror Dice

The Arkham Horror game comes with a set of 5 normal six sided dice, more specifically it comes with a rather bland set of generic white D6 with black dots.

Arkham Horror Dice, Standard Set

The game required you to roll dice almost constantly to fight mythos creatures, make sanity checks, read books, cats spells, close gates or just to as a pure luck roll. As standard you need a 5+ for a given die to be considered a success but even this can be modified by becoming either blessed or cursed. A blessed player only needs his dice to show a 4+ for them to be counted as successes while a cursed character only gets successes on the roll of a 6.

While the dice that come in the base set are perfectly serviceable for all of these situations, Fantasy Flight Games have released 3 sets of dice that make reading your successes a little easier. Each pack comes as a set of 5 dice that have been designed by Q-Workshop. All of the sets have the same designs for the faces with a central bold number surrounded by corner designs and a tentacle on the normal faces and a smaller off center number with a central Elder Sign on the success faces. Each dice set comes packaged in a little box with a card insert that holds the dice snugly in place.

Standard Replacement Dice

The standard replacement dice come in two colour variations, the Black and Green set that I own and will be featured here and a rather nice Bone set. In the style of many of the dice produced by Q-Workshop these dice have a good amount of fine detail on the faces while ensuring that the numbers are clear and easy to read. The faces on the numbers 5 and 6 are decorated differently to the other sides and display Elder Sign runes which makes it much easier to ascertain which dice are successes, as explained above.

 

Arkham Dice, Standard Dice 1

 

 Arkham Horror Dice, Elder Signs

 

Blessed Dice

These dice are coloured blue, the colour that represents being Blessed in the game, and the designs are painted in silver. The blessed dice are for use in the game when your character becomes Blessed. Being Blessed means that you can get successes a little easier because you only need a 4+ to  succeed. As with the other sets these dice have the Elder Sign design on the faces that are successes.

 

Arkham Horror, Blessed Dice

 

Cursed Dice

These dice are coloured red, which is the colour that represents being Cursed in the game. Like the Blessed dice the designs are painted in silver. Unsurprisingly cursed dice are used when you are Cursed in the game which means that getting successes is harder than normal, requiring you to role a 6 to succeed. Elder Signs also decorate the 6 face, which is the only success on these dice.

Arkham Horror, Cursed Dice

 Final Thoughts

The Dice Accessories for Arkham Horror are pretty cool. The dice are nice with beautiful designs, bold numbers and make it easy to ascertain the number of successes rolled with just a glance. The Standard Replacement dice set is, to my mind, the nicest of the 3 sets because I think the bold green on black looks really good and it’s by far the best contrast of the sets. Having not seen the bone set in person I can’t comment on whether that set is as good a replacement as the green and black but from the images I’ve seen they do look good. The Blessed and Cursed dice are nice and it’s kind of fun to have specific dice in game that make you feel a little special, for better or worse, for being Blessed or Cursed. I also find having the specific Blessed and Cursed dice helps remind me that I need to roll something other than the standard 5+ to succeed.

Are these dice a necessity? No. What they are are nice sets of dice that add a little something extra to the game. In general you can find them cheaper than RRP and they make great little presents for other gamers. I like dice, I like dice a lot and I especially like nice dice and these are some of the nicer dice I’ve seen available as a game accessory.

I’d like to offer a special thanks to @StormFey and @LunchMoney_Al for the loan of the Cursed and Blessed dice for the purpose of this review.

Firefly the Boardgame Review.

Name: Firefly the Board game
Type: Board game
Publisher: Gale Force Nine
Players: 1-4
Age: 13+
Size: 39cm x 26.5cm x 8cm
Playtime: varies by mission but around 2 hours on average.
Price:  £44.99
Rating: 4.0 Stars (4.0 / 5)

Firefly Box cover

This review is for the UK edition of Firefly which includes the first expansion ship The Artful Dodger.

Find a crew. Find a Job. Keep flying“. I think Gale Force Nine (GF9) have nailed the tagline for this game as it perfectly encapsulates everything you need to do to succeed when playing Firefly. As soon as I opened the box the first thing that hit me was the quality of the contents. The back of the various decks of cards, the style of the money, even the sides of the box itself are lavishly decorated with custom artwork, mostly in an art deco style that reminds me of Bioshock and the front of the cards have high quality images from the film and tv series.

Firefly Money

Firefly Cards

The game takes a little while to set up due to the number of decks that need to be shuffled and the selection process of Ship, Captain and Starting position. The game also takes up a substantial amount of space and so a large table is required or, at the least, adequate extra space for the cards etc to be placed so that each player has access to every single deck whenever they need it. Ideally you will want at least 5 foot by 3 foot table to play this on and probably more if you want space for the all important snacks, this is a game that likes to make it’s present known and would certainly appeal to the hardcore gamer.

The premise is simple and, as I said above, is perfectly described by the games tagline. During set up the players pick a ship, all of which are Firefly class vessels and have the same ‘stats’ (cargo and stash space plus your starting engine, maximum number of ship upgrades and maximum number of crew members) except the Artful Dodger ship which is a little different. Players also pick a Captain all of whom have special abilities and skills along with selecting a starting location on the board. Then the Mission is chosen and there are a number of missions that come with the game, these describe the victory conditions such as get X amount of Money, become ‘solid’ with x amount of contacts etc.

Firefly Board

The board is a space map of the majority of the Firefly universe up to the borderworlds on the edge of Reaver space but not going as far as Miranda (I understand that the Blue Sun expansion includes an extra board that does include Miranda, a world from the movie). The board is split into sectors, one for each star system and within each star system are planets that can be visited by the players as they fly around the board. Each board space can either be empty space or a visitable location but regardless, unless players move very slowly, there is always the chance that something might happen in any given space which is something I’ll get into in a moment.  Each planet can be either basic and so just be worked or used to start/hand in a mission or it can have a contact or shop on it or both in some cases.

Players can take 2 actions on their turn and the actions are ‘Move at hard burn’ which is full speed, ‘Mosey’ which is move one space, ‘Deal’ which allows them to obtain missions from or sell to a contact if they are on the correct space, ‘Buy’ which allows them to buy from the shop on that pace, ‘Start a mission’, try to ‘Hand in a mission’ or ‘Work’.

Moving at full speed requires a player to spend fuel and allows them to move a number of spaces dictated by their ships drive. Doing so means a player must draw a card for each space they move from either the Alliance Space deck or the Border Space deck, dictated by where the player is moving to on the board. These cards can either allow the player to just carry on or can reveal events for the player to interact with which can be anything as simple as finding a derelict ship to salvage or as horrific as being set upon by Reavers who may eat all your passengers, destroy your cargo and kill your crew! By contrast taking a Mosey action only moves you a single space but doesn’t trigger a draw from the decks and so is significantly safer. In firefly it’s all about risk vs reward.

The other actions allow you to interact with certain locations which in turn lets you get more jobs, find more crew and upgrade your ship. It’s fairly straightforward to perform each action, although I think calling the deck that you primarily search for jobs/crew/equipment the discard deck is a little misleading. I also feel that the system of ‘consideration’ is a little clunky. All of the shop and mission decks are split into 2, a draw pile and a discard pile and players are always able to look through the discard pile at any time to see what’s there. When you want to buy something the system states that you can ‘consider’ 3 cards and buy 2 or accept 2 in the case of missions. To initiate this you can search the discard pile and take up to 3 cards to consider and then you can draw the remainder, up to 3 from the draw deck before finally deciding which to buy/accept. It’s simple enough in practice but it just feels a little convoluted within the confines of the game.

Missions are the bread and butter of the game, they are the way you get cash, which lets you hire more crew, upgrade your ship and ultimately keep flying and they are also the way that you can win the game. Missions are the jobs obtained from contacts and they tend to follow a couple of basic themes either ferry people or goods from one place to another or go to a place and complete a task, which generally involved ‘misbehaving’ a given number of times and then succeeding on a check of some kind. If you succeed at the mission you get to hand it in for the amount listed and you become ‘solid’ with that contact if you aren’t already.

When completing missions the task of ‘misbehaving’ is pretty important as it forms the obstacles that you must overcome. Each mission tells you how many times you must misbehave and that is basically the number of cards you must draw from the Aim to Misbehave deck-

Aim to Misbehave deck

Each card has a task that must be overcome and is titled to give you a bit of narrative as to what has happened to you and your crew. When you get to the point of Misbehaving you have to decide which crew are going along and what equipment they are taking as it is the skills of these crew members that will be used to pass the challenges posed by the Aim to Misbehave deck. This part of the game reminds me a lot of the old Shadowrun CCG as skills are denoted by little symbols on the crew members and each Aim to Misbehave card feels like the challenges that you put on the runs in that game. This is no bad thing however, as borrowing mechanics from good games shouldn’t be frowned upon, after all it’s very difficult to come up with 100% unique mechanics.

Most of the Misbehave cards have 3 ways to pass the challenge, either the ability to walk straight through if you meet certain criteria or a dice roll, augmented by either your combat or social skills, depending on whether you want to fight or talk your way through. This allows you to customise your crew depending on how you like to play and depending on the captain you have picked.

Overall this is a good game. I’ve covered the basics of the mechanics here but there is significantly more to the game right out of the box as every captain plays differently, the Artful Dodger ship runs differently, the different missions pose different challenges and have different success criteria.  All of this is before you even consider the morals of the crew members or just how bad it can get if you suddenly run out of fuel in the middle of Reaver space.

There is little else to dislike about this game, it’s not particularly original but as I’ve said, that’s no bad thing if it’s done right. My main criticism is that the miniatures provided are very poor by comparison to the rest of the contents-

Firefly Miniatures

It should also be noted that despite the great artwork, the actual quality of the cardstock used for the cards isn’t exceptionally high and so while they will certainly stand up to normal play, caution should be exercised is you have drinks near the play area as I have a feeling that spilling liquids on the cards might damage them.

This is a great game for hardcore gamers and one that should definitely be checked out but I think that the multitude of cards and actions might make it inaccessible to casual players unless they are really devoted to the source material and prepared to put in the time to learn the game. It’s not a complex game by any means but there is quite a lot to take in initially and that might make it seem more involved than it actually is.

As my group mentioned while we were setting up the game, it’s so surprising that a show with such a limited run and just a single movie have managed to spawn such a loyal cult following that continues to produce high quality merchandise, be it props, cloths or in our case gaming material,  but I for one am really happy that they do, not only do I love the setting but this is a fantastic game.

As a final note, if you have looked closely at the picture of the board above you may have noticed the stegosaurus at the top.  This is Wash’s stegosaurus and is used in the game to denote who’s turn it is. One of the very best things about the game, to me at least, is that the game recommends that you buy a proper plastic one to replace it although it’s a shame that they didn’t just provide a plastic one in the box….

At the time of writing there are 3 expansions available for the game.

Pandemic Review

Name: Pandemic
Type: Co-Operative Board game
Publisher: Z-Man Games
Players: 2-4
Age: 8+
Size: 35cm x 22.5cm
Playtime: 45mins
Price:  £29.99
Rating: 3.5 Stars (3.5 / 5)

 

Pandemic Box

This review is for the 2013 edition of the game which comes with 2 extra playable roles, the Contingency Planner and the Quarantine Specialist.

Pandemic is a simple game of the Euro style (despite being developed by a North American company). That means that it only has a small variety of components and simple mechanics. What makes this definitely American is that it requires a heavy dose of luck to succeed when played at it’s hardest. For it’s price it comes with a surprising amount in the box, being the board, 2 decks of cards which are the player deck (59 cards) and the infection deck (48 cards for a total of 107 cards), 96 plastic cubes in 4 colours (24 per disease), 6 wooden tokens (1 for each disease, 1 for the infection rate counter and 1 for the outbreak counter), 7 role cards, 6 plastic research stations, 4 cards listing the actions a player can take and, of course, the rules.

The board is split into 4 coloured zones, which match the 4 colours of disease cubes and has space for the player deck and discard, the infection deck and discard, all 4 disease counters with space to define them as cured, plus both the infection rate counter and the epidemic outbreak counter. Each zone on the board has a number of associated cities which the players can move between and in which the diseases outbreak. Cities are linked to adjacent cities by lines which define where a player can move and where a disease spreads if it outbreaks.  The player deck comprises of 48 city cards (matching those on the board by name and colour), 6 epidemics cards and 5 special cards.

For any experienced gamer Pandemic will be very quick and easy to pick up. Within a couple of turns I fully understood the mechanics and could play the game with minimum reference to the rulebook and that’s great because it means that it’s easy to teach and inexperienced gamers can pick it up very quickly. The goal of the game, as summed up by the tagline “Can you save Humanity?” is to cure the world of the 4 diseases, represented by the little plastic cubes and this is achieved by the players taking turns and playing Pandemic against the Infection Deck which determines where the diseases spread to. Each player plays a role, such as Contingency Planner, Medic or Researcher and each roll has a special ability that allows that player to defy the rules in a specific way and, on their turn, they can take 4 actions to work towards countering the diseases. Actions allow players to move, cure outbreaks, cure diseases if specific goals are met, build research stations or take other actions as defined by their role.

The board at the start of the game-

Pandemic starting board

After each individual player takes a turn they draw cards from the player deck and if the player draws an epidemic card from the player deck then the process on the card is followed causing a large outbreak in one city and infecting all adjacent cities. Drawing an epidemic card also causes the infection discard to be shuffled back into the top of the deck which dramatically increases the chance of infection growing in already infected cities, which can cause further outbreaks. After drawing from the player deck the active player draws a number from the infection deck designated by the infection counter and infects the chosen cities accordingly.

The board mid-game-

Pandemic mid-game board

Diseases can be cured and eradicated. Cured diseases still spread but are easier to clear, eradicated diseases don’t appear any more after they are eradicated. The players win if all 4 diseases are cured (not necessarily eradicated). The players lose if there are a certain number of outbreaks, if the player deck runs out of cards, or if all of the cubes for a single disease are on the board.

Pandemic is not an easy game to win. It can be made easier by playing with less epidemic cards in the deck and I would suggest playing with no more than 4 for beginners. The more epidemic cards you play with the more luck becomes a factor as the random order of the decks decides when and where outbreaks happen and if you get a couple of successive epidemics in an already heavily infected region then it’s game over. My regular gaming group, made up of experienced somewhat hardcore gamers, is on a 40% win rate and we’ve yet to win a game with more than 4 epidemics in the deck, although we have been close with 5 a couple of times.

The board after being defeated by the yellow disease-

Pandemic end of game board

I have a couple of criticisms of Pandemic.

First is the aforementioned luck element. While I’m sure that it gets easier with a few more games under your belt, the random element means that the game could, hypothetically, be over within a couple of players turns with some bad luck and there is very little that the players can do to influence this. While luck is an element in a great many games there is normally an element of player skill that can be used to counter or avoid potentially bad situations but this isn’t the case in Pandemic. It can be argued that this mechanic represents the very real threat of a global disease outbreak but I find it to be a little heavy-handed in a game.

Second is, rather weirdly, the co-operative aspect of the game. This is a little weird as I am a great lover of co-operative games but it seems to me that every action made by every player is a matter of group discussion and consensus which can mean that quiet or shy players can have their turns dominated by the will of forceful or more vocal ones. It also reduces the feeling of influence or personal interaction that each player has because the individual doesn’t get to decide what actions they take. You could play with a stipulation that players can’t ask another to take actions but I can’t help but think that that would make the game substantially harder.

These are personal criticisms that I have with the game, both actually highlight and almost simulate an epidemic outbreak and that is a good thing but it also reduces the enjoyment I got out of the game.

The game has many positives, it is a true co-operative game and no-one can die making it ‘all for one and one for all’. It’s simple enough that a family could play it on a games night but it has enough variation that hardcore gamers can find enough to enjoy because of the tactical nature of play. It is also remarkable value for money as the production values are high with the tokens and cards all being high quality, especially given that you can often find it for around £20.00 online.

If you enjoy the idea of forward planning, consensus decision-making and challenging play then Pandemic is a game for you. I would certainly suggest that any hardcore gamer try it out if they are offered the opportunity, even if you don’t plan on buying it yourself as it is good fun and certainly gets hectic as the deck dwindles and outbreaks surge.

At the time of writing there are 2 expansions available for Pandemic.