Wes Baker

The Re-Review: Nomadic Lifestyles, Making Wine, Building Castles, and Saving the World

April 27, 2015

Arcadia Quest

Arcadia Quest

  • 1 play with 3 players this week
  • Played before

Arcadia Quest is a game that the middle schooler in me wants to play. You find a few friends, lay out a map, select your heroes, load em up with some weapons, and start killing each other while taking out a monster or two. Chuck some dice, find some weapons, and take each other out. Then respawn. That’s right, death is not permanent in this game, though it can be a big setback.

That’s because Arcadia Quest is supposed to be played as a campaign. In each scenario as your solving quests and killing each other and the monsters, you earn gold. That gold is then used to buy weapons, armor, trinkets, and spells at the end of the scenario. So while you start out a rusty blade, a sling shot, and a few token spells, you end up with much more.

The basics of the game amounts to a lot of other games you’ve played: your character can move three spaces and can make one attack. You have three characters and, at the beginning of a campaign, five attack cards. Each time you use your attack card it’s exhausted and can’t be used until you rest. That’s right, you have to do nothing for your turn in order to refresh your weapons and respawn your dead characters. Normally, I hate these mechanics, but in a game where everyone else’s turn takes well under a minute, it’s not a big deal.

Now, let’s talk about death. Yeah, your characters respawn, so you’re just going to come back with full health and weapons fully refreshed, but there is a penalty. Each time you die you earn a death token. At the end of the scenario you draw a certain number of death curse cards and have to take the worst one (the have numbers on them to determine that). They range from doing absolutely nothing, to nullifying your hero’s power, to taking up a weapon slot. They tend not to be horrible, but they’re going to put a wrinkle into things.

There are lots of great things about this game, mostly that it’s quick playing game where you get to bash on your friends in an almost gleeful way while staying friendly. The quests are pretty simple and light, but that’s about what I want from a game like this, just a tiny bit of structure to keep things moving forward.

The biggest weakness this game has is it’s weak rulebook with numerous ambiguities, but given the nature of the game, it’s pretty easy to agree on what seems best. Additionally, the game takes quite a bit of time to setup so you’ll want to play a few games in a row to get the most bang for your buck in terms of time.

I’m happy I own this game and I have the first expansion, but I’ll probably stop paying in until it sees more play.

Viticulture

Viticulture

  • 2 plays with 1 player this week
  • Played before

I was a backer of the first edition of Viticulture when it was originally on Kickstarter. I loved the idea of a worker placement game with the approachable theme of a vineyard, something I thought would appeal to my wife. However, I didn’t even make it that far, I was so disappointed with all of the changes that Stonemaier games seemed to make after releasing Viticulture to the public. It wasn’t finished. In addition, the game was selling for far more than I bought it for, so away it went.

Then came along the Tuscany Kickstarter and I considered backing that one too, but I avoided it remembering how much I disliked the weird rule changes from the first edition.

So, how did I end up playing this game? Well, Miniature Market was having a sale on Tuscany: Prima Edition and I had just seen Tom and Zee’s review of both Viticutlure and Tuscany, so I decided I’d give it another shot.

I’ve only played the solo variant---Automata---so far, but I really enjoyed it. The grande worker change works far better than I ever thought it would back with the first edition changes. I love the tension of only being able to use some of the actions, yet being able to override that with the grande worker when absolutely necessary. I enjoy planting the grapes in the field, harvesting them, and turning them into while, all the while watching them age between rounds.

There’s a lot of interesting decisions to be made, yet I think the structure is simple enough to be a next-step game, something for people who have played a few gateway games. In addition, the amount of game you get in Tuscany seems crazy to me. I love the idea of having multiple modules for the expansion. That being said, I haven’t played with anything but the Automata variant and the shiny metal coins.

The only weaknesses come from the nature of the game. It’s a simple game with a few choices and there’s some randomness to the cards. Those cards provide you with your grapes, your wine orders, and any visitors that might help you out, so if someone finds a great synergy and you don’t, you’re going to have to work that much harder to get over it. They’re not deal breakers for a game of this weight.

I’m happy I bought both Viticulture and Tuscany, but I’m not sure I would have if Tuscany hadn’t been on sale. On one hand that makes me a little sad, it’s a great game. On the other hand, I’m not sure what this game does that others don’t. Right now I recommend this game if you like games like Stone Age and want variety and something close to the same weight.

Innovation

Innovation

  • 3 plays with 3 players this week
  • Played before

I have a love/hate relationship with Innovation. It’s a game that rewards repeated play and an understanding of the cards that come out with each age of play. At the same time, it’s a game about controlled chaos, dealing with what is dealt to you and trying to make the best of the situation. In other words, it’s very tactical. Oddly enough, those are the things I love about it.

What I hate about it is it’s swingy nature. Almost every time I’ve played the game---12 times now---the winner has won by a landslide, often with the other players scoring nothing. Once the winner gets going, there’s not much that can be done to stop them and that feeling is what kills this game for me.

I want to love the game for all of it’s strengths: the great card combinations, the unique mechanics (splaying and melding anyone?), the portability, and the flavor of the cards. Yet, it’s depressing to be one of the players that’s losing and can’t do a thing about it.

I recommend trying this game, probably online, but I’d steer clear of buying it unless you know what you’re getting yourself into.

Five Tribes

Five Tribes

This play of Five Tribes made me realize that I typically lose a game when I’m teaching it (unless there’s a huge skill-gap between me and the other players). However, it also made me realize that I usually enjoy myself while playing Five Tribes no matter how poorly I’m doing.

This game rewards paying close attention to the board and reaping the different setups and situations. In this particular game, I was so dead set on getting the Utuk djinn (the one that lets you place your camel on a tile that has only meeples on it) that I completely missed the cluster of builder meeples and blue tiles that earned another player 18 points in one swift move. I completely missed it as I was (and usually am) so focused on the djinns, and while I earned a ton of points off of that djinn, it ended up losing me the game by 10 points or so.

This is a fantastic game and I’m very happy to own it.

Marvel Legendary

Marvel Legendary

  • 1 play with 5 players this week
  • Played before

I previously played Marvel Legendary at a point where I was really jaded about deckbuilders. I had bought Dominion and was enamored with the concept and bought every other available deckbuilder at the time. I would buy a new one as soon as it came out and was just fascinated with the subgenre.

As I started to play more and more games, I realized that this subgenre isn’t my favorite and sold most of them. It was at that time that I first played Marvel Legendary and dismissed it as an Ascension clone that wasn’t nearly as good. I think that still stands too.

Don’t get me wrong, I had a good time playing the game, and I enjoy the game as part of a group, but I think Ascension does exactly the same things in a simpler setup without all of the additional cards and decks, and the contrived semi-cooperative nature where you’re all working together and win together, but there’s a more winning winner.

That being said, I’d love to try out the Guardians of the Galaxy expansion, but that’s because I love that movie and the heroes in it more than the other characters in the Marvel universe.

Neuroshima Hex

Neuroshima Hex

  • 1 play with 2 players this week
  • Not played before

This is totally a cheat. I’ve played this before, but this is the first time I’ve ever played against someone. Also, we played using the iOS version of this game, mostly because my opponent lives all the way across the continent. Still, I think it qualifies as “not played before” and I log all of my online and iOS games when I’m playing against someone I know.

Now, about the game. It’s a thematic abstract game where you place tiles and try to destroy your opponent’s base. The tiles you place (I’ll call them army tiles since they look like soldiers) typically have damage on them that either damages tiles that are right next to it or in the same row depending on the attack type. The army tiles sometimes have other abilities like shields (to prevent ranged damage), nets (to prevent other tiles from attacking), extra life, the ability to move later, or other abilities (depending on the army). There are also tiles that let you move your tiles, your opponents tiles, attack a specific unit, a few few units, and start battles.

Battles are where everything goes down. Each of those army tiles has an initiative between 3 and 0. Starting at initiative 3 and all the way down to 0 (usually just the bases), every tile will attack. Any tiles destroyed are removed from the game. Those battles are started either with a battle tile or when the board is completely full.

In addition, there are multiple armies that all work roughly the same but have different wrinkles. One army might be more mobile, or have more armor, or use more nets than the other.

So we have a thematic game that functions a lot like an abstract game. There are lots of interesting mechanics and asymmetric factions. It can play anywhere from two to four, but most call it a two player game. There are additional factions available for purchase and the game is on it’s 3rd (or 4th) incarnation. You can play it cheaply on iOS or Android. That’s a lot of strengths.

Yet, I’m a little lukewarm on all of the factions. Some of them are just downright confusing and while the interface has a way to look up the different powers of each tile, it’s not as slick as other games. That being said, you can ignore most of the factions and happily stick to the four the game comes with, buying the additional ones later. That would be my recommendation.

This game is at least worth a purchase if you own an iPad, iPhone, or Android device. It’s a quick game that has some pretty interesting decisions to be made. I’m considering buying the physical edition because I like this one so much.

Castles of Mad King Ludwig

Castles of Mad King Ludwig

  • 2 plays with 1 player, and 1 play with 2 players this week
  • Not played before

For the longest time, I wrote off Castles of Mad King Ludwig as an also-ran of Suburbia. It looked more fiddly with the cards and multiple tiles, and I knew my anal retentiveness would flare up with the various little rooms being disturbed from their perfect right angles. However, I’ve been doing a lot of trading lately and decided to get rid of a game I realized I wasn’t going to play and traded for this one and one other.

When it showed up, I did my normal “new” game routine of breaking everything out and organizing it as best I can given the tackle boxes I own and the plastic baggies I have on hand. After that, I brought it downstairs and it sat for a few days until my toddler was cooperative enough for me to try a solo game of it.

I was blown away. Castles is not an also-ran of Suburbia, though it’s clearly an iteration of it. The real differences come in the form of only worrying about points (and not income, reputation, and population) and paying money to the other players (when that player is the first player) instead of the bank.

Additionally, at the end of Suburbia you would have quite the city…of hexagons. It was impressive to look at from a mechanical level, but it was pretty bland looking. With Castles you have this unique castle built to your specifications with odd bits and bobs here and there. I mean, who knew you needed four gardens and no bedrooms?

Money is very interesting in Castles. In Suburbia, you always paid the bank when you bought a tile, but in Castles you only pay the bank when you’re the master builder (first player). The other players end up paying the master builder the cost of the room and it’s up to the master builder to correctly price the buildings in order to get the most money from the other players. This is done in a I-cut-you-choose mechanism where the master builder places the buildings and the other players buy and when everyone else has taken their turn, the master builder gets to buy something. I absolutely love this mechanic.

The last trace of Suburbia in Castles would be the King’s Favors. Instead of having goals where only the person who had the most gets points, now everyone gets some amount of points, just decreasing with your rank. In addition, the secret goals in Suburbia have been replaced with bonus cards which only affect you and not the other players and are typically more of a bonus for each of something or for having a certain condition, not for having the most or least of something.

All of that aside, I think Castles has some disadvantages to it. First, there’s a good deal of shuffling at the beginning, though since you’re shuffling fewer tiles, I think it’s better than Suburbia. Second, the castle rooms move around and you find yourself reorganizing more often then you like and it takes a bit more time than it did in Suburbia.

However, I just spent several paragraphs telling you that I really liked Castles and only one telling you about it’s disadvantages. I quite like this game and I’m happy I finally picked it up because this is one that’ll be in my collection for a while.


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.