Wes Baker

The Re-Review: Aliens, Trading, The Love Hut, and more

April 19, 2015

The general idea behind these posts is to constantly re-review my games and talk about the things I like and dislike in individual games and maybe particular plays. One thing I’d like to accommodate for is that I play Netrunner weekly and there’s going to be a good number of folks who don’t care for it, so I’d like to break that out separately. I’d like to list the game and the number of plays for each game and the player counts along with a picture or two and explain whether I’ve played the game before or not.

For this first post, I’ll start with TableTop Day, but normally it’ll be a weekly report. That might change if my posts end up being too frequent for my game consumption. Essentially I’d like this to be a “text podcast”.

I wanted to write about games for a while now. I read a lot of board game reviews and prefer the written reviews to video reviews. I routinely read reviews from people like Michael Barnes, Robert Florence, Charlie Theel, Jason Myers (The Purge Reviews), GeekInsight (of Giant Fire Breathing Dragon), Hockey Mask (20 Questions About…), Dan Thurot, and more. Needless to say there’s a lot of good reviewers out there worth paying attention to, so why bother reading what I have to say?

Well, part of my schtick is I’m going to be re-reviewing games as I play them. You’ll get my first impressions, what I think after a few plays, and, rarely, what I think after 200 plays and more. This too is not original and I’m merely following in the footsteps of nāt’s “Wrong At Least Once: Wherein I Play Games & Profess Hyperbolic Opinions” blog which is excellent and something you should already be subscribed to.

My aim at the moment is to write these posts on a weekly basis, I think I’ll have enough material for that. If, however, it turns out I don’t play games as often as I wish, this will turn into a bimonthly or monthly post. I am aiming for consistency though.

Also, you should expect negative reviews and comments. I don’t love every game I play, nor should you. I only have so much time between a wife, a kid, two dogs, two cats, and a job; I have to spend what time I have wisely and I’m not going to waste my time on a game I don’t enjoy.

One Night Ultimate Werewolf

One Night Ultimate Werewolf

  • 3 plays with 6 players
  • Played before

One Night Ultimate Werewolf is a perennial favorite with my group. We cut our teeth on social deduction games with The Resistance, but a few of us soured on it, including myself. I missed the original Kickstarter for One Night Ultimate Werewolf, but managed to get in on the Ultimate Werewolf Deluxe Edition Kickstarter and the Daybreak Kickstarter and since then it’s replaced The Resistance and every other social deduction game we have.

This game never fails to make my group laugh and think all within about 10 minutes with setup and explanation. I’m pretty sure I’ve always had fun and there are so few games that I can say that about. It’s all due to roles like the Troublemaker and Village Idiot shaking things up, the Masons confirming that at least two people aren’t werewolves, the Paranormal Investigator possibly becoming a werewolf, the Seer telling you who someone is or possibly what two roles aren’t in use, or the Drunk just grabbing a random role from the center without knowing what it is. It’s easy to teach, quick to play, and great to open or close a game night.

But it’s not a perfect game and there are some weird flaws that can come up with certain player counts or important, missing roles. For instance, a lone werewolf is going to have a hard time if there are no villagers in the role cards. Yes, I’d say it’s more fun for the villagers if everyone has a role, but you need at least one villager to be a scapegoat for the werewolf. I can imagine that lower player count games wouldn’t be much fun either, I’ve only ever played with six or more people.

Yet, this is a game that keeps coming out and is fantastic without the expansion. In fact, if you don’t own it, I’d recommend picking up the base set and playing with that for a while before buying Daybreak.

Concordia

Concordia

  • 1 play with 5 players
  • Not played before

The guys on The Secret Cabal had a lot of great things to say about Concordia. A lot. Jumping out of their pants a lot. I love their podcast, but I also know that they can get really excited about new games and they all have a lot of “favorites”. Yet, their review of Concordia drew me buying it, closing out yet another CoolStuffInc order.

Cut forward to TableTop Day and a lot of my friends were requesting this one which I had described as “literally trading in the Mediterranean”. Somehow I managed to wrangle up four other players who thought that sounded good. Well, I have to agree with The Secret Cabal that it is a good game. Like other Mac Gerdts games it has short turns with simple actions which should decrease the amount of analysis paralysis. It has a variable setup and a double sided board (along with another double-sided expansion board) to give you some variability.

Then there’s what makes the game different from Mac Gerdts’s other games: the card play. Instead of using a rondel for action selection like Mac’s other games, you have a hand of cards all with different actions on them: move and build, produce resources in a province, buy new cards, trade goods with the bank, and a reset that allows you to pick up all of your cards. Moving from a rondel to the cards does slow things down a bit, especially when you have a hand full of juicy cards. Yet, as you play you start to understand exactly what it is you’re trying to do and there’s not going to be much that other players can do to stop you from your plans (with the exception of producing goods in the province you were about to use or buying that card you wanted).

I overall really liked this game, the trading works well, the building of a network is fun to watch as it expands across the map, more colonists mean you can expand faster and further, and specialization and diversification are both valid strategies.

My only concern with this game is play time and I’ve only played the game at it’s fullest player count. With five people I think it took us two and a half hours which is about an hour longer than I want it to be. I’ll have to try the game with fewer people and see if I like it nearly as much at the lower player counts.

Cosmic Encounter

Cosmic Encounter

  • 1 play with 5 players
  • Played before

Alright, you’re starting fresh with me, so I’ll let you in on a little secret: Cosmic Encounter is my favorite game ever. If my house was on fire and I could only save one game, I’d save Cosmic Encounter. It does so many things so right. There’s a simple game of numbers and math at the core, then add in temporary alliances that allow everyone at the table to be engaged for everybody’s turn, bring in some chaos with alien flares that no one is expecting, and top it all of with variable alien powers that are unique and many (over 120 now).

Last, but certainly not least, the game is self-balancing. This is where I typically lose people, and that’s okay. This game is not perfectly balanced: your alien power could really suck compared to mine. I could numerically wipe the floor with your puny alien guts. However, I’m now a huge target. No one wants to help me and everyone wants to attack me. I’m one point away from winning and everyone is doing everything in their power to stop me from getting that fifth and final point. In most games, I hate this kind of mechanic, yet in Cosmic Encounter it works astoundingly well. This game was way before its time and I’m so happy that we have a recent reprint done by a company that clearly loves the game.

During this play through we had some fun alien powers that made for some great combinations. I was the Wormhole and could pull my ships from the warp whenever I was allying or attacking. If you haven’t played before this power essentially means my ships are only really stuck in the warp if I’m defending, which is a huge advantage. Unless one of the players is the Fungus, which of course happened. The Fungus allows that player, when winning, to take all ships destroyed and place them under their ships and use the total number of ships when attacking or defending. She was holding my ships hostage! My power was neutered! Then there was my other friend who had Guerrilla: when losing, the winning side loses all but one ship. This lead to most of us trying to win an attack by sending one ship and only one ship against him.

This game gets better and better every time I play it and I love the different decks that are available to play with and I wish I had tried out the Hazard deck sooner. This isn’t a game for everyone, but it’s a game worth trying and probably buying for most.

XCOM: The Board Game

XCOM: The Board Game

  • 1 play with 4 players
  • Played before

Cooperative games are not my favorite. There was a point when I had a good number of them because I was not what you might call a gracious loser. Over time I’ve largely gotten over that (I hope) and prefer competitive games because I realized that I can be an alpha gamer in cooperative games I don’t like that. However, XCOM: The Board Game seems to have found a great way around that: time pressure.

You sit down to play a game of XCOM with three of your other friends and you find yourself sitting in the position of the Squad Leader. You get to move the troops around and attack the bad guys. Sweet job, right? Alright, well go ahead and pick a mission, you have 30 seconds. Okay, we’ve got some aliens in the base, add a card there. Oh, another alien, go ahead and add that. Okay, time to pick your troops for the mission, you’ve got 30 seconds. Oh and add the troops to the base, 15 seconds. How much are you spending? Do we have the budget for that Commander? 5 seconds left!

What I’m getting at here is you don’t have the time for an alpha gamer. Everyone has to make good decisions given their knowledge of the position and while cooperating with everyone else. You have to do the best job possible and get on with it, otherwise you’re out of time. This alone makes it one of the best cooperative games I’ve played, but that doesn’t even account for the fantastic theme, the push your luck dice rolling, the variability in setup, and the simplicity of having an iPad manage the game state for you.

Let’s take a break to talk about the app and spout my stance on it. I love it, but I was always going to, I’m a programmer and I think technology can have a place in everything. Yet, a cooperative board game really seems like the perfect place for it. First, you only need one device since there’s someone who’s in charge of managing it. Second, updating the “rules” of the game is incredibly easy since it’s all managed by the app. Third, think of the possibility for expanding this game with in-app purchases! All of this sounds great to me and I look forward to seeing more of this.

Getting back to the game, let’s talk about what I didn’t like. Well, you’re rolling dice and these are cursed Fantasy Flight dice that never quite roll enough successes. In addition you’re rolling a d8 that was clearly made in the same factory and it must have more 1s and 2s on it than any other number. I also didn’t like that the owner of the game is most likely to be the Communications Officer, though that’s my own fault.

Ultimately, XCOM is a game of luck and luck mitigation (mostly thanks to the Science Officer), and there are going to be people who just won’t like the dice and should avoid it. However, if you’re up for a challenge and don’t mind some dice, grab three of your friends, someone’s iPad, and try this out.

Stone Age

Stone Age

  • 1 play with 4 players
  • Played before

I gave Stone Age the short shrift. I played it years ago when I started playing board games and quickly dismissed it as not good, earning a 5/10 rating. Yet, it came out for iOS and I bought it, you know, just in case. Or something. Don’t judge me.

Anyways, I had been playing it a bunch on my iPad and iPhone lately and really enjoying the dice and worker placement options. Well, when it came time to pick a game to play with my co-workers online it was one of my many suggestions, and in our indecision I just started up a game on Yucata and invited everyone in.

There’s far more to this game than I remembered. There are dice and I suspect that’s what caused me to ignore this game after my first play. However, there’s always something you can do that plays into your strategy and it’s a matter of finding that and doing it, even with four players. I think my favorite part of the game is how simple it is. There’s nothing convoluted about it: send workers, get supplies, build huts and/or buy civilization cards. You can pretty easily teach this to folks that are new to the hobby.

Everything has downsides and this one has a few. There are the dice. Now, my name is Wes and I’m a reformed dice hater, but if you have friends who really don’t like dice, you should probably skip this. Other than that, I wish there was a bit more too the huts. Turning one wood, one stone, and one gold into a hut that’s worth slightly more points than that hut made of wood and clay feels a little lazy. The civilization cards feel similarly lazy.

That being said, it’s still a great game and one I’m looking to buy when Z-Man reprints it.

Battle Line

Battle Line

  • 3 plays with 2 players
  • Played before (on iOS)

The caveat with this one is I have played it before, but it was against the AI in the iOS version. I had a $15 coupon from the Twilight Struggle Kickstarter and decided I’d like a copy of Battle Line as I suspected my wife would love a game like this.

Here are the basics if you haven’t played before: you have nine flags that represent lanes or columns of troops. You have a hand of seven cards. There are sixty cards of six colors/suits that are numbered 1 to 10. You’re attempting to build three card combinations that resemble poker hands: suited straights, three-of-a-kinds, straights, flushes, then “hosts” which is just a sum. At the end of your turn (or beginning if you’re playing the advanced rules) you can claim one flag. The first person to claim three adjacent flags or five non-adjacent flags wins.

This feels like a superior version of Lost Cities, a game my wife and I used to play a good bit, but I’m not sure why that is. It’s still a game of numbers, but Battle Line feels like it somewhat mimics the feel of a battle. You need to be careful about overcommitting and misinterpreting your opponent’s actions.

If there’s any cons about the game is that it is ultimately a deck of cards and some pawns. There’s not much here, but frankly the rules get out of the way of the game and it’s just more portable for being what it is. If this was Kickstarted today you could expect plastic molded flags, a playmat, and foil cards with full-bleed art.

Definitely worth the purchase.

XenoShyft Onslaught

XenoShyft Onslaught

  • 2 plays, one solo and one with 2 players
  • Not played before

I was a late Kickstarter backer for XenoShyft and had been following it along from time to time eagerly awaiting its arrival, but Cool Mini or Not doesn’t quite have the kinks worked out of the late backer system yet. While everyone who backed on Kickstarter is getting email updates you’re mostly in the dark. Imagine my surprise when I went to look at the page randomly one day and see it has shipped for a good number of people. I take a look at the pledge manager and see that I need to pay for shipping. I don’t care too much about the cost, but let a guy know, right?

Well, it shows up and I sleeve all of the cards because it’s a deckbuilder and these cards don’t look great, and I’m already thinking of selling it. I setup my first play and start in on it. I draw my six cards and look eagerly at my currency cards and my troops. I buy some more troops and a gun and lay it all down and manage to get through the first wave with no base damage. Then the second wave with no base damage either. Then the third, the fourth, the fifth, etc. The only time the base took damage was the ninth round and it just felt too easy. I posted on the BoardGameGeek forums asking if it was always this easy and everyone said no, it’s typically not. Then I wrangle my wife into trying it out, she looks at the cards and gives it the old college try while trying to suppress her I’d-rather-not look as best as she can (thanks hon!). We lost in the 7th round. Okay, that’s good my first game was a fluke.

However, sitting there after playing it neither of us were all that interested in giving it another shot. There weren’t a ton of decisions and lot of the game is just comparing numbers on your soldiers to the enemies and then deciding when to use your abilities and remaining cards. Admittedly there is a game here and for some folks, they’ll really love it. For us though, it’s mostly an experience of just comparing numbers and removing cards when the number is big enough or too small.

There are some strengths here: a lot of the stuff you want in other deckbuilders is here! You get one more currency card every single round and they get better as you move on. In later rounds you can scrap the cheaper currencies and upgrade to the better currencies at an even trade (e.g. three 1s turn into one 3, and two 3s turn into one 6). You can turn in weak soldiers to get a discount on later soldiers. If you run out of an item card in the offer, just draw a new one! All of these things feel better and they’re things you wanted, but ultimately it’s not what I needed. What I needed was a game that was more than just comparing numbers and hoping the draw didn’t screw me over.

Thankfully there are other folks who want to play and buy this game, I’ve already sold my copy!


That’s all for this week. I have it in my head to occasionally write some opinion pieces as well, so watch out for those, but my plan is to keep these posts consistent so I can see how my opinion on games changes over time. Hopefully, that’s of some use to everyone here as well.


Wes Baker

I’m a programmer who lives in Fredericksburg, VA. I enjoy board games, puzzles, and making things work. When I’m not in front of a screen of some sort, I’m probably spending time with my wife, my son, my animals, my board games, or my books. Check out what I'm up to now or see what tools I'm currently using.