The Tao of Gaming

Boardgames and lesser pursuits

Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

First Impressions of the L5R LCG (based on rules only)

OK, I just read the learn to play book and glanced at the reference book (which does seem exceedingly well organized). Off hand three things jump out at me:

First — There seems no provision or even possibility of multi-player. Now, I played a lot of tournament L5R, and the game was perfectly fine that way, but the ability to play multiplayer was a huge draw. Shadowfist and L5R were the big mutliplayer CCGs (IMO).

Second — L5R had a lot of positive feedback. Take out a province, and you are closer to victory, maybe killed your opponents characters, and reduced their cardflow by 25% (or more). But now — people don’t die in battle (automatically, presumably there are still battle effects that kill people). But people do die/retire. When you buy a character, their base cost only gives you one turn of usage. You have to pay an extra fate (the currency instead of gold) for each extra turn you want them. Decide when you buy.

That change intrigues me. Losing a tightly fought, everyone goes battle and you probably haven’t lost the game. Honestly, unforgiving has a certain charm, (maybe more than one). But they also have some nice positive fixes — mulligans for both decks.

Finally, Simultaneous play¬† — Each player does upkeep, buys characters (dynasty phase), plays cards, and then each player may attack twice. (But one attack must be political, and one military. Political attacks are the same but each character has two skills). Each attack must also declare a ring type (which can’t be duplicated during the turn) and if the attacker wins he gets the ring effect. This¬†seems like an interesting system.

Also — There’s no ring victory in the rules, but presumably that may be a card effect.

Look, I still have more L5R cards than I could safely lift from the ground (I could deadlift them if they were free weights, but paper takes up so much damn space), so I was always going to try this and reading the rules hasn’t changed my opinion. I’m cautiously optimistic, but in practice I think I’d be better off catching up on my netrunner collection and playing that. But we’ll see.

The differences in more detail (I may have mentioned this above, this was my list of notes as I read the rules).

  • 25 Honor wins, 0 honor is a loss. (This is a narrower range, presumably gaining/losing honor is harder)
  • Each province has a special power from the get go. One of the provinces is the stronghold, which cannot be attacked until 3 non-strongholds are destroyed.
  • When you buy a character, they cost some # fate tokens. You only get them for one turn, but can put additional fate on them when you buy them to increase their duration.
  • Fate tokens are also spent to play cards.
  • Starting player is random. None-starting player gets one bonus fate.
  • You get to mulligan some or all of your starting dynasty cards and fate deck (now called conflict deck).
  • You can reshuffle either deck when needed (must, in fact) but it costs you five honor.
  • Turns are simultaneous:
    1. Reveal Dynasty Cards. I did not see rules for event cards, its mostly characters. Holdings may modify the province, like regions.
    2. Gain Fate (determined by stronghold)
    3. Alternate buying dynasty cards or pass. First passer gains one fate), but is done.
    4. Each player secretly and simultaneously decides on how many cards they want to draw 1-5. The catch is that the low bidder gets the difference in honor from the high bidder.
    5. Next is the conflict phase. A conflict has one of the five (ring) elements and is either military or political. Each player player can only declare two conflicts each turn, and only one of each type. If the attacker wins the conflict, they win the ring effect.
    6. Conflicts (even political ones) work like battles, but you can attach cards as a battle action. Apparently there are also character cards in the conflict deck, as you can play a character from hand into a battle!
    7. Attacker wins ties in conflicts (unless tied at zero). The player who wins the conflict wins the ring of it. Each ring element can only be named once/turn (so 4 out of the 5 elements can appear in conflict each turn).
    8. Losing characters do not automatically die!
    9. A lost province looses its ability and cannot be attacked again, but still can be used to buy cards from!
    10. If the attacker wins a conflict, in addition to the ring token, they get the matching ring effect:
      • Air — Steal one honor from your opponent or gain 2.
      • Earth — Draw a card, opp randomly discards one card.
      • Fire — Dishonor a character.
      • Water — Ready a character or bow a character with no fate.
      • Void — Remove a fate from a character.
    11. You get the favor by comparing the glory (a stat) of your unbowed characters after the conflict phase. The favor is just a +1 political or military bonus (the player getting it must choose) during each conflict in the next turn.
    12. You then remove fate from each character and discard (as above) and add fate to each ring token that was not selected or claimed in the last turn, which goes to the next player to initiate a conflict with that Ring. (Ala Puerto Rico, and others). Ah, then you return all rings to the pool, so I guess there’s only one of each ring.
    13. Dueling works using the 1-5 honor dial. You add your bid to the skill, but the low bidder gets the difference in honor (as with card buying).

Written by taogaming

October 5, 2017 at 9:20 pm

Posted in Reviews

Tagged with

Do you even optimize, bro?

I’ve been whittling my best Factorio time down, and got a launch just over the nine hour mark (on peaceful). I think with more play I can make the eight hour achievement. I’ve also kept a factory going longer just to tinker … sometimes you want to play the big game. I’ll probably start a game on hard setting just to get more into the military side, and I haven’t even touched trains (except in the scenario and my first game). Then there are mega-factories. Launching one rocket per minute (RPM) is an impressive feat (I’m going for a second rocket in one game and thinking about just building a rocket factory).

Then there’s the guy who built a factory that averaged one RPM over its lifetime (granted, that was a few hundred hours so he could spend time launching multiple RPM to balance out the first).

And then there’s this guy. His factorio is called Grey Goo Mark I, which is an insanely descriptive name in computing.

And I haven’t yet even taught trains to dance.

So, factorio has that elusive “Just one more,” bit. “Oh, I’ll just balance my belt lines.” “Oh, I’ll just expand my belt factory.” “Oh, here I go murdering again.” And suddenly its 1.30 am.

Update — It also has styles of play. Speedrun (I’m speedrunned out, right now). I just finished every research achievement, and built up a base that has launched 7 rockets. Now I’m trying to figure out advanced trains and started a new game with actual enemies and a goal of a decent (non-spaghetti) design. I may be going too slow. And playing Multi-player with the TaoLing ….

Written by taogaming

February 18, 2017 at 11:17 am

Posted in Reviews

Tagged with



In the game’s defense, my first play took way too long and had the wrong crowd. (I suggest against a five player game with multiple new players). Obviously this game appeals to people — it’s popular.

I guess its capitalizing on the War-euro. (Wareuro? Weuro? I never know how to spell that contraction). It has combinatorics (you combine faction with resource chart). It felt like a point salad game with some clever warish designs to score bombs (win a combat? Get a star! And maybe steal some resources). Fine …. but it didn’t grip me.

If it took 1.5 hours instead of 2.5, that would have helped, but mainly because I could have played something else afterwards. I suspect if I think hard I could better describe my problems with the game, but for now I just say:

Rating — Indifferent, I may try it again and see if I missed something.

Written by taogaming

February 13, 2017 at 10:48 pm

Posted in Reviews

Tiny Malevolent Lifeforms

Got my copy of Jump Drive (note to local game stores. I’m willing to wait a week or two after I see “I got my copy at my FLGS” to buy it, but when you aren’t even willing to admit the game is out, that’s when I go online and buy it).

Anyway, it’s good, but not great. Then again, is the game really meant for me? I’m reminded of the time I told Frank that Fugger, Welser, & Medici’s basic game seemed simple and solvable.

“Yes, by people like us. We play the advanced game.”

It has a lot of depth … for a 10-15 minute game. But now I feel what others did when they said Race was over before it began.

Rating — Suggest, but not as good as Race. Then again, few are.

Edit — “Suggest, but not as good as Race” is probably true. My (80 hours later) thought is that it’s closer than I originally thought. I played the City (which isn’t as good as Race, or Jump Drive, IMO) nearly 100 times and that had a language barrier I had to sell.

Since it is new my de-facto Jump Drive rating is Enthusiastic (but I assume that’s temporary). There are more subtleties than I expected in it (even knowing who designed it). I’m playing it a lot right now. I mention this because the idea of my ratings is objectivity (actions speak louder than words) and my actions rate this higher.

BUT — It was typical for me (time and opponents willing) to play a game 4+ times in a weekend if it was hot, and those were long (Euro or Longer) times. In the same amount of time, you can really crank up Jump Drive’s play count. Given the TaoLing I can come home, play a game, start some soup, play a game while it cooks, take it off the stove to let it cool, play a game, etc.

I’m averaging a game every three hours since I got the game.

Written by taogaming

January 25, 2017 at 8:50 pm

Posted in Race for the Galaxy, Reviews

Tagged with

Robinson Crusoe

Traded for this as yet another solitaire (and co-op, I suppose), based on its reviews. These are initial thoughts based on a single game (controlling 3 players, not using the solo rules, but since its an open info co-op, that’s fine).

Like most coops, you have a bad (ish) event, then some good events. In the case of Robinson Crusoe, you get a bad event, gather your (automatic) resources, then players can take their actions. Each player gets 2 actions, but for most actions if you only spend a single action you have a chance for failure. You roll three dice. One of which shows success or failure (but if you fail, you get ‘determination’ tokens, which you can spend for re-rolls and other advantages). One shows if you get wounded or not, and one shows if you get an adventure — another random event which isn’t necessarily bad, but I think averages more bad than good.

There’s no order to taking actions, players just negotiate their setup until everyone is happy and then you resolve everything. Then there’s some end of turn checks (Do you have enough food? Shelter? Etc) and you do it again until you’ve completed the scenario, run of time, or had a player die.

Theme — Good, with several clever ideas. As I mentioned in my recent thoughts on Magic Realm,

Some scenario games [mix core events and rare events] by having generic cards in the game and having the scenario define the meaning

Robinson Crusoe does this. The event deck has ‘book’ icons which are scenario defined (in the first scenario — no effect). In addition to the “one typically bad effect per turn” random event, you have adventure cards which do random things but sometimes they set up an effect then go into the event deck and when they resolve the effect you’ve set up triggers. Call them foreshadowing or foreboding. “Oh, you just ate some wild berries? I’m sure you won’t be plagued with stomach issues in the near future.” Or “Oh, you think you saw something moving through the forest? I’m sure a tiger won’t randomly attack in a while.”

This is straight out of Hitchcock’s playbook. As the master said, if you have an explosion the audience jumps, but if you show them the explosives underneath the table, a five minute dinner conversation will be amazingly tense. Robinson Crusoe shows you (the player) the explosives, then shuffles them into the deck. You may be able to win before they show up. You may not. And these cards don’t make the event deck thicker: they do not count when drawn. This increases variability, as you could have a bunch of foreshadowed bad events hit at once.

I’m OK with that, I think.

There are six or seven scenarios (not counting expansions/online ones) and you start with different inventions you can build each time, and of course the event decks are much bigger than you’ll use in a given game, so I think replayability will be fine, although I’m not sure how much luck there is. You could get a bunch of “Good” adventures or “easy” hunts, or really hard ones. Again, as an experience I think I’m ok with that. It would be annoying in a competitive game.

Nice components. The rules are a bit spotty (IMO) and took a while to figure out all the components.

Would I play this co-op? Perhaps. I think this would be very prone to a single driver, so for now this will probably just stay at home unless I get a group that really wants to play a co-op.

A note on difficulty — I was surprised that I won my first game as this has a fierce reputation. After checking a few rules I realized I’d earned the dreaded commissioner’s asterisk on my achievement. It’s two wounds per missing food. (I realized this while playing Scenario 2, which I lost even without my rules screw up). This is apparently quite difficult. Going to go with 3 players plus the dog attempt at scenario 1 again.

Very early rating — Enthusiastic (as a solo).

Written by taogaming

December 23, 2016 at 5:24 pm

Posted in Reviews

Tagged with

30 Rails

A clever little filler that just takes a printout, some pencil and a few dice. Solitaire or multi-player. Worth checking out.

Written by taogaming

November 25, 2016 at 8:30 pm

Posted in Reviews

Tagged with

Puzzlement and Wonder, Comparing Mage Knight and Magic Realm, Pt 2

(If this were a book I’d throw a colon in there. ‘Tis all the rage in publishing).

As I mentioned, Mage Knight & Magic Realm have little in common except theme. Thematically they aren’t even close, Tolkeinesque fantasy versus a high power-gaming bash fest.. While exploring the Realm I pondered the differences between them.

I call the first the Combinatorics of World-Building.

Enter a Dungeon in Mage Knight and what will you face? A brown monster. No exceptions.

You can analyze how many you can defeat and weigh that risk versus the 2/3rds shot at an artifact and 1/3rd shot at a spell. A simple enumeration will do. Can you defeat the Gargoyle? the Shadow? the Hydra? Medusa? Crypt Worm? Etc? You can’t? Check again. Have you missed some trick?

A puzzle, to be sure, but a well defined puzzle. One monster, one reward — each have a parameter. You may get the one monster you can’t beat. You may get the easy monster. You may get the Horn of Wrath, or your choice of two dud artifacts to choose from (I’m looking at you, Banner of Fortitude and Banner of Courage), but there you go. You knew the risk/reward ratio.

There are 8 brown monsters, 30-ish artifacts and 30-ish spells, but the numbers don’t multiply. You can assign an approximate value to the artifacts and calculate what percentage of the monsters you can defeat, and solve.

Now Imagine that each artifact had a small box on the bottom that modified the rules in the combat when you gained them. Most of them don’t do much, but you may go down and face a Whatever and draw your artifact and peer at the bottom and it says “The narrow walls prevent ranged attacks….” and your plans are out the door.

What if every card did that? If you face a Crypt Worm, you weren’t going range attack anyway, but if you faced a Medusa, you most definitely planned on it. If you’ve played two dozen games of Mage Knight, you’ve likely faced every brown creature in a dungeon setting. But with combined effects — No way I’d have encountered all the combinations in my 300+ games.

I’m a fan of combinatorics.

I’ve already seen several interactions messing with people in Magic Realm, and that’s before you even get into players deliberately messing with you. You search for a treasure and get it, but boom! Curse. You start to buy something and boom — there’s a modifier that makes a combat likely to break out right away! These aren’t even interactions, just single cards, but the systems do interact. In my current game, I searched and found the black book, which provided black mana. The sudden influx of mana turned on a spell I had inert and — boom, I’m suddenly a giant octopus.

Now, I’d planned on being a giant octopus later that day, so no big deal. But if I’d been planning to try to hire some helpers it would have seriously cramped my style.

The book of learning has an example of the Elf controlling all six bats with magic, a feat the author says he’s never seen in 200+ games but happened in a solo game he set up to demonstrate, with no cheating. Amusingly, I did it in my first game with the elf. But it does take some lucky chit interactions and some lucky rolls, as well as having the Control Bats spell.

I like my puzzles, but have I been surprised in the last hundred games of Mage Knight? Not that I recall. Nor possibly the hundred before that.

Can I be surprised by Chess? Yes. The unexpected move. The deep brilliance. These are usually based — again — on some combination (Chess even uses that phrase). Mage Knight has that; the core of the game is manipulating your hand of card to get the most oomph. So I’m not sure why it doesn’t surprise me that much. Then again hundreds of games is a lot. It may be that you always (always!) control your hand of cards. No monster shows up that says “Oh, discard one card before combat.”

To be fair to Mage Knight, The Realm extracts a high price for surprise. Gameplay suffers under randomness. You see ‘unfair’ results. Nobody would say that Mage Knight is less fair, I think.

Unfairness has its charm, in a way.

I like puzzles, but I also like puzzles where you can’t enumerate the possible outcomes. (Even with full knowledge). Approximation and intuition are skills like any other. I don’t care for Tales of the Arabian Knights and I’m not sure it’s a game, but its a hell of Story-telling engine. Combine that potential with something that gives me some actual decisions — even if the results could just be “lose a turn” — and I’m intrigued.

Magic Realm drips with combinations — Each map hex has a few chits that define what’s there. While you build the map in MK, once a tile is up its fully known. Until you know the chits on a tile in Magic Realm, it might contain treasures, or dragons, or spiders, or an Octopus Garden. (Also, the tiles can be flipped over, so its not as static as you think).

You play your twelve chits, but only two points of effort per combat round. Your items can combine. You may have one thing you can’t use at all, but if you get that second (rare) thing you’ll wield a powerful combination. Any Mage Knight can cast any spell. Any Mage Knight can get use any other’s skill, although Goldyx will get Goldyx’s skills the most often.

In Magic Realm, the White Knight will have a tough time learning spells the Witch can learn. (I’d say never, but …)

Jay Richardson has a review comparing Magic Realm to RPGs that’s worth checking out. One interesting (to me) point he makes is: Because the characters don’t level up, this makes the game less grindy and more interesting. That’s a novel point. You get better be looting good stuff, or working together with others. An interesting dynamic.

OK, so combinatorics. What else?

Magic Realm contains more hidden information (and randomness).

Part of that was discussed before — you have face down chits and monsters that can appear and disappear, and the treasures are put into piles but that’s really not that different than randomly drawing them (like in MK). But the hidden information causes a novel effect.

In Magic Realm, you make (some) decisions with incomplete or even wrong information. You plan your turn and then roll for monsters. This gives you — in effect — a huge fog of war effect. Do you hide before you move? Well, there may have been no monsters prowling the Deep Woods this turn. Was your hide wasted?

There aren’t any monsters on your path, but other players may move and monsters may follow.

You have to decide on much less information. But each sub system you base your decision on is understandable. Most characters fail to hide 11/36th of the time. The monsters appear on a known system (if you know the chits). Knowledgeable players can quickly determine if a monster is safe or deadly or risky (I can do this for simple battles, now). You can guess the price range an item will cost you, based on your relationship with the seller. You go first 1/n times (n= number of players, ignoring hired helpers) at which point the game state will match.

Each of these systems are calculable, but the overall impact provides remarkable breadth. From a game play perspective there’s a lot of “Why this” but it has a certain logic. The rules read weird, but feel right. In the real world if you were hiding from monsters, could you ever be certain you were successfully hidden?

Only in the negative and only too late.

I was trying to think of an example. Consider a game of chess where you wrote down your move and only then did your opponent reveal his prior move. (You’d have to cover White’s first turn advantage, perhaps they wrote down two moves and the opponent got to pick after he wrote his first move, and you’d have to deal with issues of failed pawn captures, etc).

This game would most definitely not be chess, even though it used a lot of the mechanisms of chess. You could make theoretically horrible chess moves that could work quite well.

Chess feels like chess, not because knights move two in one direction then one in an orthogonal one, or because of castling or en passant. To be sure, Chess has all that but if you switched how the pieces move you’d be a smilar game (like Chinese Chess). Chess feels like chess because it is a complete information game with alternating moves. Chinese Chess and Shogi feel closer to chess than my invented game which uses the exact same rules, but doesn’t reveal the moves right away.

Magic Realm feels like my chess analogy, a little. You don’t see your opponents move until after you’ve declared yours. In order to simulate this, MR uses lots of charts and randomness. At it’s heart, Mage Knight feels like a ruthless rush to exploit a world, and Magic Realm feels like avoiding the onrushing of a ruthless world.

Written by taogaming

November 25, 2016 at 8:28 pm