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SpaceCorp review

I have now played a dozen games of SpaceCorp (one with four, four of them two-player with the TaoLing, the rest solitaire). In so doing, I have corrected a few rules mistakes I was making.

Any game I play that often isn’t a dog.

Game length isn’t as horrific as I’d thought. Multiplayer sets up & plays faster than the solitaire (if everyone knows it, assuming every is the same speed). You also go through the deck faster, that helps.

Another excellent point in SpaceCorp’s favor is that each number plays truly different. With four players you will be fighting to get six upgrade cards. With two players, getting ten is easy (a function of only seeing half as much of the deck). The contracts do scale based on number of players, but not as much. So again with a single player (or two) you often see five or six contracts finished each era, with four maybe only two or three get done.

The main downside? I stand behind my earlier criticism — the powerful ‘edge’ card feel too good. You make some easy decisions and some tough ones, certainly enough to keep my interest for 20 hours, but after that it’s basically “Oh, he played Great Card X and Great Card Y and got it.” I mean, you have a deck where ~60 cards are “Big points for one action” or “OK points for either of two actions” and some can be played once or you can take a turn to put them into your headquarters to re-use them again and again.  One action a turn. All good so far.

And then ~10 cards are “Points for one action OR Do this good thing and it doesn’t cost an action!

Some examples:

  1. Take an extra turn
  2. When someone else takes the first breakthrough (a card that lets you modify the rules or get a bonus), grab the other one of that name. (Earning a breakthrough requires three revelation points … cards with revelation points typically give one, but you can also earn a few on the board).
  3. Take all the cards a player used on his turn. In the late game, that can be a few great cards (like revelation) or 5+ cards to make a major build/move.
  4. When someone produces, just earn half of what they did, for free. (A big produce can be ~$10. I pulled off $18 in a solitaire game.  Players can earn $200 total, give or take. Much depends on how many contracts are awarded in the final era and how effectively the “produce” action is used).
  5. Name an action, nobody else can take it until your next turn.

In our last two-player game, I used the extra turn and the “Stop an action” to swing a $9 contract. I got into a position to claim the “sixteen points wroth of colonies” contract for $9, then blocked the TaoLing’s colony action, which would have put him over. I won $75-$74(ish). If I don’t have that card I’m losing $83-64. If the TaoLing draws it and can swing even $3 his way, that’s $86-$61. I also need the extra turn card, so I got pretty luck to draw them both. (Our three prior games were all runaways).

To be sure, there’s strategy on maximizing card flow and when to research (to draw cards), all of which may mitigate my criticism. And if you play poorly no card luck will save you. It’s in the nature of games with cards that among even-ish players luck decides. Some breakthroughs that help control card and tile luck. If a group thinks card/tile luck dominates, they’ll value those higher.  I just wish there were small granules of card luck. (To be fair, there are. You may random draw a “build” card right when you need it). Let’s just say the edges are a grain of sand that are irritating me.

The multiplayer game does contain the “claim-jumping” angles I had hoped for (in my last article). You may send a team to an opponents (unexplored) site, hoping that if they explore you build. This is a high-risk strategy (if they can take two turns in a row or block your build, you’ve wasted your time and will likely have to let them earn an additional card when you leave the site), but even in a two player game it’s an interesting choice. In a 3 and 4 player game I think it may be symbiotic. (I explore, get rewards, you claim jump me, I earn $2 compensation. I use your site to leave, you earn a card compensation).

And — of course — the multiplayer game is more interesting because (even assuming you card count) you don’t know what exactly your opponent can do. Do you need to jump to the Oort cloud this turn to get the “1st Beyond” marker, or do you have time to complete a contract first? You can also use your opponent’s headquarters (infrastructure cards) to give them a card draw, but if you save actions not building up your infrastructure, that can be a good deal. Time is valuable. Final scores seem to average around $100 (our last game was low scoring compared to early games), but you can spend money (in the second two eras) to boost effects, or for radiation shielding. Knowing when to spend $1-5 is a valuable skill.

There’s enough to hold interest; I’m disappointed because I hoped for more. I’m left with a decent game that I feel has too much luck for what it is. I think you need the “extra turn” or “block some actions” because otherwise you can plot out the timing due to an Igo-Ugo lockstep. The multiplayer game does help with the Time Card. You can either double the values of your move/explore/build, or you can use the value twice (for two different teams). It would have been nice if there were more ways to explode with extra actions that were another resource you built up, instead of just a few cards that give the action. Deciding when (and how) to spend your time card is a critical decision. In the three or four player game there are also some “time” cards (a mechanism I enjoy) shuffled into the deck, whereas with two players you only get the one you start with each era.

I’ll take it, overall. Our games are under 2 hours (instead of three) which helps greatly. There are enough edge cards that with a “fair-ish” distribution there’s room for skill to matter.  I am looking forward to more three and four player games. I’ll get another dozen games or so out of this, at least (probably not at the breakneck pace).

Rating — Suggest

Solitaire Rating — Suggest

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Written by taogaming

December 18, 2018 at 7:31 pm

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Very rough thoughts on SpaceCorp

This is based on two solo plays (with some rules wrong, tainting my victories) and one two player game vs the TaoLing.

This is a race game. You do build an engine, but you are racing for contracts (“First to do X get $y”), and upgrades (“Adaptations and Breakthroughs”), which let you break rules (and earn some $ if you get them first). The board is just the focus. I must admit I was hoping for a more interesting free form game (ala … well, I’m not sure what … ) but you just spend cards for values (move, build, explore, rarely produce, genetics, etc) and sometimes you put the card on your HQ to re-use it (and — in multiplayer — let others use it, with you getting a reward). The mechanics are dead simple, but there is a fair chunk of variety. For example, when you build, do you want a spaceport to make movement cheaper, a refinery to maybe earn some money, a research to grab a card, etc.

There’s always a tendency to be emotionally attached in a new game. It’s new, and I spent money (and P500’ed it). And I want to play it a few more times right away, but my suspicion is indifferent (maybe Indifferent-plus) as a multiplayer game, but playable solitaire (once I fix rules). It’s too long. 2.5h solo and 3-ish 2 player. I suspect each player adds 30minutes. And fixed fun applies.

Worse, after all that you may find “Oh, hey, he drew three great planets that provide a discount for a big VP colony and I drew three mediocre ones.” Worse yet, one tile (an alien race) kicks you out, after you spent one turn going to a system and 3 turns waiting to get there. (Adaptations and Breakthroughs can mitigate, but one of the mitigating ones is arguably the best multi-player adaptation in the game, so if you get shut out of that, you are extra boned if you get them). And to be fair, there’s a stack of aliens and only 2(?) tiles that say “Draw an alien.”

None of which is a deal breaker, but at the 3 hour mark … it’s annoying. This gets back to my “I’m not sure what this wants to be.”

SpaceCorp is long enough to be an experience game, but its not, really. It’s a race game, but for the most part there’s no fluidity to the initiative. I go, you go, (he goes, she goes). Actually, in thinking about it, I suspect there’s some fluidity because if you go to X adn then I go to X, if you explore I can claim jump. (You get $2 for your troubles). So I’m hoping to be proven wrong on this. But if we’re not in a position to claim jump, if you are one step ahead in the base building process, there’s nothing I can do to catch up.

Except for — you know — the “Take an extra turn card,” or the “Name an action, nobody can take that until the start of your next turn.” And again, do I want a 3h game decided on a few take that cards?

  • I generally like the components, but the colony’s “# of players” markers are small enough even the TaoLing had trouble reading them. There is a key on the back of the rule book, but it’s annoying. There are two rule books, one for solitaire and one for MP, so if you only play one way, that’s great.
  • The rules are mostly there, but not as clear in some edge cases and vague wordings abound. Some of the rules I missed are fairly subtle, and having two distinct rulebooks threw me (since I was worried they varied more between MP and solitaire).
  • At least in the 1-2 player game, some of the contracts (“First person to do this gets $x”) seem nigh impossible. Like “Hey, get 4 asteroids” in the Planeteer (2nd) era.
  • It’s always rough to talk “broken” after a single play, but I was shocked at how good one adaptation was (that wasn’t used in solo game). But we’ll see.
  • This game cries out for an app that handles the AI card deck. That would shave 20 minutes off the solitaire game (not flipping the cards, but having to build the deck for each phase and then tear it down is 5+ minutes an era).
  • The solitaire AI is reasonable. Most cards list a place and the AI moves a team there. If it hits again they grab it, but they also cycle your deck and earn points for what you leave lying around in the draw offer. And there are a few variants (using the backs of the cards that you pull from the game).
  • Even in the solitaire game, there are a few key cards. If the AI gets a “Two turns in a row card” or you do. The “Leak” card in solo basically steals a breakthrough from the AI. Getting that early (versus late) is huge.
  • Once people know the game, I think player the 2nd and 3rd era only will be fairly popular.

I suspect I’ll still play this 5+ times over the holidays. Plenty of time for that, after all, so I’ll get my value. And hopefully the game will reveal more depths.

Written by taogaming

December 13, 2018 at 11:09 pm

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Root

I’m selective-ish when purchasing games now. It’s not the money, simply a matter of taste. In some ways I’m railing against the cult of the new. But I kept hearing good things about Root. And …. Cole Wehrle designed John Company (which I love, but haven’t gotten to play since the Gathering). While I haven’t played Pax Pamir, it certainly sounds good.

Root started making waves. I noticed.

I noticed some geekbuddies recommending. I noticed Sumo’s review.

I noticed that the rules included a “Birdsong” phase, and thought “Huh, the only game — practically the only non-Birding item ever — to use that word is Magic Realm” (something I’ve written a few words about). Reading Cole’s designer diaries, he referenced Magic Realm (in much the same way I did) and kept name-dropping other favorites of Tao — Netrunner, Titan, Eklund’s work, others. But he’d also drop in references to Foucaltian Biopolitics, The Whig Interpretation of History, the COIN system, and others. Some I knew; others were rabbit holes I’d disappear into. As I said, interesting.

And at that point, I decided that if there was any single idea capable of making me take up podcasting, it would be interviewing Cole Wehrle. (I’m not saying that’s enough, just that it currently laps the field).

While reading this TaoLing glanced over my shoulder, saw I was reading about a game (in theory) and said we should buy it. So — I sent out a little birdy to his friend’s doghouse and got a copy.

It did not disappoint.

Most of my plays of Root have been two player, which is … odd. After all, this is a multi-faction asymmetric game that relies on some amount of “balance via player.” The two player game is an excellent learning tool, but suffers from snowballing due to positive feedback. And does not help that I am apparently very bad at this. But even the 2 player game had hints that reminded me of Labyrinth (which is the closest I’ve come to GMT’s COIN system). The woods of Root could be Viet Nam or Afghanistan. The factions are birds, cats, woodfolk, but could also be monarchists, narcotraficantes, or what have you.

The woods feel alive.

I stilll haven’t played enough multiplayer (3+) to really get a feel of the game. At two players it feels like a runaway often. But I’m hoping to get to know this more.

Written by taogaming

December 8, 2018 at 11:41 am

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Shards of Infinity 3 Player

Played a few 3er games, using the rule that all damage (and destruction effects) hit both opponents (you assign for each) to make no kingmaking. Just a few games, but some thoughts.

  • If I thought early beat down was effective then … vhojha moi!
  • Therefore shields are much better. Cryptofist monks were in high demand.
  • Going last feels much worse, for two reasons:
    • There are often 2-3 good cards in the initial offering, so getting second pick is reasonable. But you will get a worse card much more often.
    • You are always a turn behind on getting beat down.
  • I’d suggest start player rotates each round, except…..that would do weird things to shields (at some times, a shield would protect you for two turns). As a practical matter perhaps the last player should get three mastery instead of two (which gives them a shot of getting to five on T2, prior to playing their shard reactor), or 2 mastery but starting at fifty three life (unable to go above fifty once you drop to it).

I would definitely suggest that 4 player with teams of two that Players 1 and 4 should be teammates.

Despite the early beat down propensity, one game ended with the TaoLing knocked down to 1 Life, at 13 Mastery facing an opponent with 20+ life and the ability to do at least one damage next turn …. The TaoLing played a few cards, then dropped Omnius the All Knowing to draw two cards and earned five mastery for Dominion. He bought  master and earned one from a card, then played Ojas to copy Omnius twice, which put him at 30 mastery with his entire hand in his deck, save one card … his Infinity Shard.

So he bought the cheapest cards available and luckily (for him, not so much me) a Data Heretic showed up and he burned it to draw the Shard and win one of the best comebacks I’ve seen in any game in a while.

Written by taogaming

October 22, 2018 at 7:00 pm

Posted in Reviews, Session Reports

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Hands in the Sea

I finally played Hands in the Sea (which I’ve owned for going on two years).  Most of that time it was the only un-played game in my collection (barring  brief moments when I had a new game for a few days). For those who don’t know, HitS uses a similar system to A Few Acres of Snow, but has many more options. I feel like there were 20 some player actions in a few broad categories (expand, income, draft cards, fight, card management). Honestly, I haven’t played AFAoS in nearly seven (!) years but this felt much more complicated.

We got many rules wrong, but I think the feel worked pretty well. Basically each time Carthage shuffles is one round, and twelve rounds ends the game, with a few other ways to end early . There are also random events, strategy cards (each player can only have one at a time, and each provides some rule break or bonus). That randomness may be too much for a game that’s this long. As Rome, I definitely felt like I got lucky because many of the events just roll for victim, and I never suffered much. (All those that hit me were basically nothing, sheer chance).

It took a while to get going, I think it was about three hours with 1/2 an hour just reading the rules. Several pauses to re-read a section.

Given that I’m several years late to the party, I suspect there is no “Halifax Hammer” strategy, but I haven’t read any strategy. I’ll try to get a few more plays of this before an opinion beyond “I’d like to try again a few more times.”

Also Played Today — Wild Blue Yonder, Roll through the Ages (25th play!), Galaxy Trucker (with 5!), Magic Maze, One Night Ultimate Alien (more random and the app has some jokes, but you know what you are getting with these), Magic Maze and some Taboo-esque “edgy” game whose name I forget. (Meh).

Written by taogaming

September 2, 2018 at 12:51 am

Shards of Infinity

On my fifty-by-fifty geeklist entry for Star Realms, several readers suggested Shards of Infinity.

I picked up a copy about a week ago. Shards of Infinity approximates Star Realms rules and feel, but improves the experience in several ways (my review of Star Realms):

First — “Mastery”. Players start with no mastery (the 2nd player gets a bonus as a balancing mechanism), and can buy one/turn. Naturally cards can give Mastery, but more importantly some cards provide bonuses if you have a certain level of Mastery. The most important of these is the Shard of Infinity (which is a starting card) which does two damage base. If you have ten Mastery, it does three damage instead. At twenty Mastery it does five damage and at thirty, it does …. infinite damage.

While there are a few cards that reduce your opponents Mastery (slightly), it tends to ratchet inexorably upward, and is a big ‘bomb,’ that adds a few flavors to the game:

  • Since you don’t need a card to appear to buy Mastery, you’ll have some turns where your choice is great card costing X, or a lesser card(s) costing X-1 and another Mastery
  • Without cards, you only purchase one Mastery a turn (max), but your starting deck averages three damage every other turn. That goes up with Mastery and many, many of the cards you can buy do damage. So there’s a tension between getting thirty Mastery while avoiding losing. If one player is obviously winning the Mastery race they may stop trying to damage their opponent and just buy healing cards, and a loser may stop buying mastery and just try to build up an attack deck. Ditching mastery frees up money, and often its not clear who is winning.

Second — Mercenaries. These cards can be purchased normally, in which case they are put in your discard pile. But you can just use them once (and then they are replaced in the “available cards” deck). There is a little less trashing in SoI than Star Realms (I think), but the ability to use an effect once (right now!) without bloating your deck provides options. A card that may not be worth taking up a slot in your deck (like, just ‘heal four’ if you are trying to beat your opponent down quickly) may be worth using once, while also denying it to your opponent.

Also, many cards have a kicker ability if you have already played a card of that faction (or the three other factions), so a timely mercenary may give some oomph. (You can also mix your card play and purchase order, as in Star Realms).

Some minor improvements:

  • There are still bases (called champions) but almost none force your opponent to attack them before targeting you. They may still be worth killing, of course (to get their ability off the board, since many do damage, or provide mastery, or money), but its up to you. That, coupled with the fact that you cannot go above your starting health means that it is tough for either player to build up a massive defense. (And infinite damage is always lurking in the future).
  • There are some cards that you can reveal from hand to shield against an attack (they have a shield icon), which also makes the choice to kill champions (and let a weak attack that may be fully shielded) or just send all damage at your opponent another tough choice.
  • The card quality is much nicer, both in terms of thickness and art.
  • There are player tokens that track health and mastery. They look nice, but I have trouble reading my own, much less the TaoLings, so we just use poker chips.

Theoretically, this plays 2-4, but multiplayer would be weird. You can attack whoever you want, so I suspect that whoever jumps out to a perceived lead will get beat down, and its a diplomacy and perception game. That may be fine, but I think the two player game is likely purer.

This will likely be appearing on my fifty-by-fifty list in the next month or so.

Rating — Enthusiastic. and has also dropped my rating of Star Realms to Indifferent (as this has strictly improved on it).

Also, I think I have under one hundred hours of targeted gaming to finish my fifty-by-fifty list, and I’m trying to dedicate at least a few hours a week towards it, so it appears doable.

Written by taogaming

August 23, 2018 at 6:00 pm

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Dragoon

I’m honestly not sure what Dragoon’s target audience is … it’s a bowb-ing game with a kaiju-load of luck. Humans pop up randomly. Take that cards. When humans fill the board the thief takes some of their gold and he pops up randomly, maybe close to you, you steal it. Maybe close to me, I steal it. Every turn each player rolls a die 3-5 you get normal money, 2 you get none, 6 you get double and 1 you get no money and lose some stuff. So I get 10 gold (50 wins) and you get none and lose a village for the insult.

If other Dragon’s get too far from their base you may be able to sneak in there and steal some gold. For mechanisms its listed as “Action Points” and “Area control.”  That …. doesn’t mesh with anything I just said.

Honestly, if this game really was 30 minutes, who cares. But ours wasn’t … even accounting for a rule’s change that slowed the game down, it was still an hour after we fixed it.

Rating — Avoid. It does look nice, though. And it has an inexplicable high rating, so somebody is in the target audience.

Written by taogaming

July 30, 2018 at 8:40 pm

Posted in Reviews