Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Warriors of God

Warriors of God was the second game that Han and I played on 26 Jul 2009. This is a game about the Hundred Years War between the French and the English. Again, Han played the French and I played the English.

Warriors of God uses the same victory point system as Twilight Struggle. Every round (there are 12) both sides score victory points, but you only take note of the accumulated difference, and mark that accordingly, as opposed to tracking the actual score. If the point difference reaches 30, the leading player wins an instant victory. There are a few ways of scoring victory points, like controlling provinces, killing enemy leaders in battle, and capturing and holding enemy leaders.

The game is all about the leaders. You need leaders to lead troops and to fight battles. In fact, you need leaders to prevent troops from disappearing (or you can call it "being disbanded") and from being snatched away by enemy leaders. You also need leaders to establish control over provinces. Leaders are the most crucial aspect of the game. And they die all the time. In a way, it's funny. Every round new leaders will appear, and all old leaders (some may be just 1-round-old) will need to do a medical check-up thingy (a die roll) to see whether their "time is up". Leaders will live for at most 6 rounds. Because all your actions and planning pivot around your leaders, sometimes untimely deaths can really spoil your plans. Some complain that this is bad, but I like this. In the grand scheme of things, historical leaders do come and go frequently. I like how this more-or-less constant change in your leader portfolio forces you to be flexible and to not get too attached to any one leader. It makes the game quite dynamic. It creates an ebb and flow in the fortunes of the two nations at war. It is also funny to see how some big shot general die young before being able to do anything for his country (I imagine some stupid hunting accident). Even funnier when some old fart keeps going and going and going when you expect him to croak any minute.

Movement and battles are quite straight-forward. Most information that you need are on the leaders. Their rank determines how many troops they can lead. Their bravery determines the effectiveness of their troops - normally you need to roll a 6 to kill, but with a leader with higher bravery, you hit on a lower number. Their leadership (not sure whether this is the right term) determines the efficiency of their armies, i.e. how many units can fight at the same time, which translates to how many dice you can roll at any one time. There are some rules about special unit types, like knights, mercenaries, archers and gunners (canons) but they are quite simple. There are rules for sieges, which are also relatively straight-forward.

Sometimes leaders are captured when they lose a battle. You can decide whether to pay a ransom for their release. If you don't, your opponent will score victory points for holding your leaders. You can hope they'll die in prison (not that it's something you'd do in real life, I presume), because when they're dead, they don't give your opponent any more victory points.

The game board is made of paper and not mounted, which is a pity. But otherwise it is nice and functional.

Some of the reminder markers (top row) and special units (middle and bottom rows).

The top row are the generic units. The middle and bottom rows are mercenaries. Five provinces produce mercenaries.

England, with its starting forces, lead by King Edward III. The "0" on the top left means these are the starting leaders. The stars are their rank. They can lead three times the number of units as the number of stars they have. The number on the left side of their flag/shield is the bravery rating (roll a hit at a smaller number when fighting), and the number on the right is their leadership (I think) rating (can roll more dice at the same time). The round marker is a control marker.

When the game started, we didn't have much idea what to do. There weren't many leaders on the board, and there was little that could be done with so few leaders. We fought here and there. Then Han saw the importance of establishing control, before I did. He started working towards this. Establishing control is important because it gives you victory points every round, it allows you to hide in a castle if attacked (i.e. you can decide to have a siege), and any leaderless army in the province cannot be "stolen" away by your opponent. This was one of the three reasons that I lost the game eventually. I was never able to catch up in victory points per round.

The second reason was sieges. Both of us forgot about sieges in the first few rounds. We fought every battle on the field. The English did quite well in the early game, and I had brought a huge army to Paris to try to take the French capitol. Halfway through the battle, we realised that we had forgotten completely about the option to siege. The first round of fighting didn't go well for the French. We decided to bend the rules and allow the French to start a siege then (normally the defender must declare a siege before fighting starts). The English failed to storm the castle, and had to retreat. Paris was safe. Unfortunately London wasn't. This was the third reason of my loss. I had intentionally vacated my home base to tempt one big French army to attack it instead of moving to defend Paris. Since I had control over England, the French army wouldn't have been able to gain control over England quickly. I had expected to be able to fight it off soon. Unfortunately my plan only half worked. The part about luring the enemy worked. The part about kicking the enemy away didn't. Oops. The French squatted on London and later even gained control.

Sieges are an interesting decision. It can be tempting to hide in your castle, because it is hard to storm a castle. The attacker needs a strong commander (with high bravery) and gunners (cannons) to have a decent chance. However, hiding in your castle can be risky. If the attacker gets lucky, you will lose all your troops. It is probably worthwhile for an attacker to attack even if he thinks the defender will avoid battle and start a siege, because if he gets lucky, he will eliminate the whole defending army without losing any troops. There was one turn when I made three seperate attempts at different locations to storm castles defended by Han. Unfortunately, no success.

Controlling the enemy capitol gives an extra victory point. Combined with the earlier control that Han had already achieved over other provinces, I was unable to catch up or turn the tide. We didn't manage to complete the game because I had another appointment. We only played 6 (out of 12) rounds, but it was clear the English was in a rut, and I conceded defeat.

One funny thing that happened in our game was our first kings both lived very long. They both lived until Round 5. They outlived many other younger leaders, even Joan of Arc, who died young (but maybe not as young as in real life). We had some leaders who died pretty young. I had one young Irish joker who died on me when I was expecting to have him establish control over Ireland for me. Leaders can help you establish control over their home province easily.

There was one round when many of our leaders died (maybe there was a plague?), leaving few leaders and many leaderless armies. The board dynamics changed significantly. That's one thing about the game that I find very interesting and exciting. You really need to have a strategic plan, and not rely too heavily on individual leaders or tactical victories. Leaders are short lived. Province control is more lasting. Usually.

Turn 4, and the map was a little crowded at this time. It doesn't seem like much, but this was probably the peak period in our game when we had the most number of leaders. Later on a whole bunch of them died (of the plague probably) and Han and I each had about 4 leaders remaining.

The battle of Paris, with the English being the aggressor, of course. The English have longbowmen, which let them roll more dice. Many English leaders themselves lead longbowmen (the leader chit itself is considered a military unit and not just an individual).

The end of the game. The French control 4 out of 5 red-bordered Level III provinces, the most lucrative ones, because they provide the most new troops, are hardest to control or siege, and provide the most victory points.

I really like Warriors of God. It is a very interesting recreation of the Hundred Years War. There can be a lot of drama and surprises and unexpected twists of fate. It gives you a high-level, sweep-of-history feel. As a wargame this is not complex. I don't have the stomach yet for "real" wargames, but Warriors of God is accessible enough for me.

The game comes with two scenarios. The one we played had Joan of Arc. The other one has Robin Hood. Interesting? Just remember not to get too attached to your leaders.


On 26 Jul 2009 Han came over for a 2-player wargame session. Not that it was what we had intentionally planned. The few potential players all couldn't make it, so it was just the two of us. Coincidentally he had two new 2-player-only wargames, so the timing was perfect. We played Waterloo and Warriors of God, both wargames involving the French and the English, from different eras.

Waterloo is a new game from Martin Wallace, designer of Automobile which I had just played the previous weekend, but this is a completely different animal. It is, of course, about the famous battle where Napoleon suffered a defeat. One player plays the French, and the other plays the Allied forces (English, Dutch, Germans, and a separate army of Prussians). The game plays over 9 turns, each representing an hour, from 12noon to 8pm. The French wins by conquering a town on the Allied side of the board, or by killing 13 Allied units (excluding cavalry and Prussians). The Allies win by conquering a town on the French side of the board, or by killing 16 French units (excluding cavalry), or by simply surviving until the end of the 9 turns.

You have 4 types of units in the game - infantry, cavalry, artillery and leaders. They all behave very differently, and there are many different rules that make them very unique. The game flow is quite unique and interesting. Every turn, each player has some discs in 3 colours, that are used to execute different types of actions. You don't take turns to use these discs, instead you get to use 2 to 5 discs, before passing the initiative to your opponent. The tricky thing is you don't know how many discs you get to spend at any one stretch, but your opponent does. He will tell you only when you have used up your discs allowed for that stretch. Consecutive actions are important for setting up positions and then executing a big assault, but you can't be sure how many consecutive actions you'll get. So do you gamble that you will have enough actions to execute a master stroke, or should you be conservative and plan for a surer but less spectacular move?

Another interesting thing that you can do is deliberate time wasting. You probably want to do this only if you are the Allied player though (who wins by surviving until game end). A turn ends if initiative passes to a player who no longer has green action discs. So you can deliberately use up your green discs quickly, to force an earlier end of turn. I did this on turn 1.

The actions allowed in the game are what you would expect - different types of movement, artillery fire, formation changes, assaults etc. Assaults are a key part of the game. This is when infantry and cavalry rush in to an enemy occupied space to fight, and this is where most people get killed. There is a very specific combat resolution procedure you need to follow to resolve an assault. Formations are mostly applicable to infantry. Normal formation allows movement. Defensive formation prevents movement but allows your infantry to switch to square formation if attacked by cavalry, which is important. However square formation is bad when you are being shot at, because you are standing very close to your fellow countrymen like bowling pins.

The game feels quite realistic. You do feel like you are in the shoes of the commanders of that famous battle. The game is also a bit complex, especially in the different behaviours of the different troop types and the procedures for combat resolution. There are so many reference tables to look up, and so many modifiers for die roll results. It is daunting. All these modifiers are realistic, no doubt about it, but there is a lot to remember. So it will take some time to get used to and to remember. The reference sheets provided are handy. You will keep needing to refer to them.

The game starts with the French outnumbering the Allies, and the Allied infantry all in defensive positions. The French has better artillery, and also has more leaders, who improve the effectiveness of their army. Leaders allow troops in the same area to be activated twice, or allow troops from two adjacent areas to be activated at the same time. On Turn 4 (i.e. 3pm), Prussians start appearing at one side of the board. They would be a much needed reinforcement. They bring two more leaders onto the board, so that both sides will have the same number of leaders (if none are killed yet). The Allies get fewer action discs for the first 4 turns, and only get the same number of action discs after the Prussians arrive.

The starting setup. The French (various shades of blue) initially outnumber the Allies (red, orange, green). The three strong points between the two armies were held by the Allies, and all Allied infantry were in defensive positions (represented by being lying down). The Prussians (black and grey) line up at one edge of the board. They don't come on board until Turn 4.

The Allies. The pink horseman is a leader.

The French army. The light blue horsemen are the leaders. Dark blue units are the elite French Imperial Guards.

The Prussians.

The indisposable reference sheet (two-sided).

Our game started with Han (as the French) aggressively attacking the strong points at the centre of the board which started off being held by the Allies. The initial assaults were not very effective though. I brought my troops from the back up to the front, to hold up the front and to counter-attack. The battle quickly turned rather bloody. Unfortunately it was mostly the blood of my soldiers. It didn't help that I drew quite a number of "5" tiles during Han's initiatives, which meant he could spend 5 consecutive actions to mobilise and attack. I think it was only the end of Turn 3 when I conceded defeat. Han was already positioned to destroy one more of my artillery units at the start of the next turn, which was the 13th and last kill that he needed to win. So my Prussian units never had the chance to turn up for the party!

In hindsight, as the Allies I probably should have played defensively or even retreated, giving up the three strong points. I should be employing every delay tactic to wait for the Prussians to turn up. I win automatically after Turn 9, so there no urgency at all. If I keep moving injured soldiers from front to back, and sending fresh ones from back to front, I could probably last much longer. I suspect this is the "right" way to play. Otherwise 13 kills (or 16 kills) would be rather easy. I think Han and I have been playing Waterloo with an Axis & Allies mentality, where units often fight to the death.

We also seldom did artillery bombardment. We mostly went straight into deadly assaults, like bloodthirsty barbarians. Napoleon probably would be turning in his grave watching us play. But at least Han changed history and the French army won the day decisively.

I made one very expensive mistake in the game. I made one assault with overwhelming force, but underestimated how devastating cavalry could be to infantry. Halfway through that particular assault, I had 5 infantry remaining, and Han had 1 cavalry remaining. However, because my infantry couldn't hit that lone cavalry, they suffered tremendous losses, due to morale checks. It was a painful lesson on how different cavalry is and on how they can and should be used. Martin Wallace was successful in capturing the different characteristics of the different troop types. I think Waterloo captures the feel of Napoleonic warfare quite well, although the designer himself stated that he took liberty with some details of that battle.

At this stage two of the three strong points have been conquered by the French. The fighting on my right flank inflicted much injury to the French (represented by blue cubes), but I also lost units, and lost ground.

Some of the dead soldiers idling and chatting about old times.

The end of the game. My right flank had collapsed.

My main gripe with the game is the many look-ups I need to do, and the rather complex turn sequence and combat resolution procedures. Seasoned wargamers may find this simple though. Other than this, I find the game to be very thematic. I'd gladly play this again, and I'd want to play the Allies again, at least to see whether I can survive longer. I'll definitely be employing a different (and hopefully better) strategy next time!

Thursday, 23 July 2009


On 18 Jul 2009, two new players joined a game session at my home for the first time, Keith and Simon, both my colleagues. I have played games with them before separately on different occasions, but this was the first time they came for a game session. Han was also in town and came to play. I recently received Automobile, the new Martin Wallace game about the early car industry in America, a complex Euro game. This was the first time I have ever pre-ordered a game by myself. I was keen to play, but struggled about whether I should be introducing such a complex game to new players. Eventually I couldn't resist the urge to play it. But I did start with a medium complexity game - Traumfabrik (a.k.a. Hollywood Blockbuster / Dream Factory), as warm-up.

I have not played Traumfabrik for a long time. I have a home-made copy, which I made (with much effort) a few years ago before the game was reprinted. I quite enjoyed the game. I should play this more often. Keith and Simon enjoyed the game too. I think the movie-making theme helps draw them in. Han won the game decisively. He had one very good movie that won lots of awards. He had 90pts and the rest of us had 69pts, 68pts, 68pts.

One pleasant surprise was a few days later Simon asked to borrow Traumfabrik so that he could try it with his wife, whom he described as having a fear of boardgames. Simon likes trivia / word / party games, so maybe Grace dislikes boardgames only because she doesn't like trivia / word games, which rely on your knowledge in certain fields and your language skills. Eurogames tend to be quite knowledge- and language-independent, so maybe this will be an entry point to recruit a new gaming partner.

An old photo of my home-made Traumfabrik.

On to Automobile. We started Automobile at 10pm. Explaining the game probably took 20-30 minutes, and the actual game (first time for all of us) took slightly less than 2 hours. We ended at 12:20am. Automobile is an economic game about producing and selling cars, and, of course, making money. There are only 4 rounds in the game, and you don't get many actions each round, but every decision that you make has implications. Even turn order can have big implications. So you need to plan ahead and think about what you want to achieve.

There are three types of cars - high price range cars, mid range and low range. They have different demands throughout the 4 rounds, and you have to decide which range(s) you want to compete in. There are three ways to sell cars - (a) via Howard, a super salesman, one of the characters in the game, (b) via your network of distributors, and (c) to the general public. Each round there is a fixed number of cars in each price range that can be sold via distributors. So using distributors is a more predictable approach. However, because the number of cars that can be sold this way is limited, if the players employ too many distributors, some of the distributors will fail to sell, and will get fired (which is a bad thing, of course). There is also an interesting mechanism which slightly restricts the types of cars a distributor can sell. If a distributor is experienced in selling luxury cars, he will be able to sell mid range cars too, but not the el cheapo cars. Similarly if a distributor is experienced in selling el cheapo cars, he can sell mid range cars, but not posh cars. If a distributor is experienced is selling mid-range cars, he can sell cars of all price ranges.

As for selling to the public, at the start of every round, each player secretly draws some tiles with numbers on them ranging from 2 to 5. These numbers together determine the demand of the general public. This means you have partial information only. So you have to think carefully how many cars to produce. You can observe how optimistic or pessimistic your competitors are, to guess what kind of tiles they have in their hands. If you produce too few cars, less than what you would have been able to sell, you miss the opportunity to make money. If you produce too many cars, more than what you can sell, you lose the money that you have spent producing the cars. Cars in this game are like bread. By the end of the round, any that are unsold go bad and you have to remove them from the board.

There is an interesting concept of obsolescence. There are many different models of cars, and it is always better to be producing newer models. They usually sell quicker, and they give you less loss cubes (an abstract concept in the game, which I'll talk about soon). However the cost of building factories for producing newer models get more and more expensive, but the profit margins for selling newer models are no larger than those for older models. So when to spend R&D (research and development) on developing new models, and when to close down old factories, are interesting decisions. Are you willing to spend the money and (limited) actions just so that you can be producing the new and shiny models? Sometimes this is needed to gain a competitive edge. Sometimes this may even be necessary for survival.

One abstract concept presented in the game is the loss cubes. You gain loss cubes if you are forced to fire your distributors, if you are unable to sell all your cars, and if you own factories of older car models. At the end of every round, you lose some money per loss cube, and this loss rate increases from turn to turn. The only ways you can discard some loss cubes are closing factories and making use of some of the character powers. During the game I was probably overly worried about the loss cubes, which affected my decisions. I probably should have worried less about them. However, one mustn't completely ignore them. In Round 4, the amount you have to pay for loss cubes may be the difference between winning and losing.

The game allows you to take up to two loans. At first it didn't seem necessary. You start with $2000. But by mid game we gradually realised that you do need to borrow money to make more money. The automobile business is an expensive business. So much money is tied up in your assets - your factories. You need money to fully utilise the production capacity of your factories. Soon all of us had to take loans at some point in the game. Money is quite tight. For whatever amount that you earn in one round, you use most if not all of it to buy factories and produce cars in the next. Cash flow is very important. Be prepared to beg from the banks.

Competition among the players happens in many aspects of the game. Your distributors fight over limited slots to sell cars. Turn order is a constant consideration. Sometimes you want to go early, sometimes you want to go late, and sometimes you want to do both! E.g. going early gives you first choice for Executive Decisions (an aspect of the game that helps you sell more cars or allows you to close a factory), but going late allows you to build factories later which means you will likely be able to build newer models. There are six characters in the game who give you various benefits, and your choice of character determines turn order. So sometimes you are torn between getting the turn order you want and getting the character you want.

You have the chance to cut your price, which can help you sell cars faster, but at a smaller profit margin. Sometimes it can be painful to have to make that decision. You do not have full information about the market demand. If you cut your price and manage to sell all your cars while others fail to do so because demand turns out to be low, you'll be laughing at your competitors. But if you cut your price, and later find that there is sufficient demand for everyone to sell all cars anyway, you'll be kicking yourself. If you decide not to cut your price, you have to worry about losing sales to an opponent who cuts his price. It can be a game of chicken.

There is a lot to think about in this game, and yet you have very few actions. So it's quite an intense game. However, at the same time the actions that you do are intuitive and logical, so Automobile is easier to grasp than Brass, another recent Martin Wallace game which I like a lot. That one can be a little tough to grasp at first.

Simon, Keith and Han.

Small white cube - R&D cube. Reddish rown cylinder - Chrysler's special ability reminder marker. Green rectangle - my car factory. Brown rectangle - parts factory. Black square tiles - demand tiles. Green cars - cars (what else?). Green head-and-shoulder - distributors.

The gameboard looks a little busy, but every single thing on it serves a purpose, and it is very practical and functional. The outer track are the car models that you can build in the game. You build your factories and produce your cars on these spaces.

The drawings of the cars are very nice.

The view from where I sat. At the centre are the distributor pieces. Han (yellow) and I (green) competed fiercely in the mid-range (orange) and low-range (black) markets. Keith (blue) focused on the high-end (silvery blue) market.

At the start of our game, most of us had not much idea what we were supposed to be doing, probably except for Han. At least he started with a strategy of trying to go last in turn order, so that he would be building a factory later, and thus would be building a factory for a newer model. My first factory, which I had built on the 3rd space, suddenly seemed so obsolete. I had 3 car factories and 1 parts factory on that space. Then during the Executive Decisions stage of the round, I closed down my factory, which surprised everyone. In hindsight, that was probably a bad move and not a bold move (well, maybe a bold bad move). I was overly afraid of loss cubes and obsolescence. From Round 1 to Round 2, I earned a total of $100 (when you close a factory you don't recover the full cost). That's 5% (start money is $2000). Baaaaad investment.

Han and I competed in both mid-range and low-range cars. Keith was the first to go into the luxury car market. I think he sold either very expensive or very cheap cars. Simon joined the competition in the high-end market, and also had an interest in the mid-range market. The mid-range market was a killer. I produced too much and was burned in Round 3. We kept underestimating (or maybe underproducing for) the low-range market. There was a slight overproduction in the high-range market only in Round 4.

Han was first to build a distributor network, and soon we all started to see the benefits of a reliable sales channel. Competition was fierce in Round 3, and distributors started losing jobs. Things stabilised in Round 4, since no one wanted to escalate the distributor war.

The final scores were close and were mostly around $3000, which I suspect is not very good. Hopefully we'll do better in the next game, when we have a better idea what to do.

I think Automobile is a good buy and I am glad that I had pre-ordered it. I hope to get this played more often, which can be a challenge since I usually only have 2 players. There is a 2P variant, which I hope to try soon. If it works well enough like the Brass 2P variant, then I'd be quite happy.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Rabbit Hunt

Rabbit Hunt was an unexpected discovery. I have read about this game at Bruno Faidutti's website, but it didn't trigger enough interest for me to want to try it. Then on 5 Jul after playing Minion Hunter at Carcasean, I asked Chong Sean to suggest a quick game, and he brought out Rabbit Hunt.

This game is designed by Taiwanese designer Pan Shen-Yang, who also designed Fuzzy Tiger. Players are farmers, each having 3 rabbits. You try to hide your 3 rabbits from the other farmers, while trying to hunt down theirs. If all three of your rabbits are caught, you are out of the game. When time runs out (i.e. the card draw deck runs out), if you have any rabbits remaining in your hand, you lose. If a winner hasn't been determined yet by this point, then you check who has caught the most rabbits. Tied? Then check who has the fewer of his/her own rabbits caught. Tied again? Then check who has a remaining rabbit closest to the barn.

This all sounds rather complicated, but the game is actually quite simple. Just remember your goal is to hunt down the others' rabbits, and to keep yours from being found.

The game starts with the barn set up at the centre of the table, and 6 cards placed surrounding it, representing the field around the barn. You have 3 rabbit cards in your hand, and 5 more cards. On your turn, you place one card face-down, growing the field area, and then you do two actions. You can do any combination of the following:

  1. Collect 1 carrot.
  2. Draw 1 card.
  3. Move your farmer by paying carrot(s). If your farmer lands on a face-down card, turn it face-up and do what it shows (sometimes good, sometimes bad).
  4. Pay 3 carrots to look at an opponent's hand.

You need to think of when to place your rabbit card. Place it too early, and it may be caught by your opponents easily. Play it too late, you may lose the game, or you may be penalised. There are some event cards that cause you to lose all your carrots if you have not yet placed all your rabbits. There are some event cards that force all players to show their hands. If you happen to have placed one or more rabbits between two such events, your opponents will know that the cards you have placed during that time contain rabbits. So there is a bit of psychology in the game. You need to guess where your opponents have placed their rabbits, and when you place yours, you have to pretend to be not nervous at all. It's fun and exciting. There is also a memory element to it, not just in remembering the positions of the cards placed by your opponents, but also the cards you placed yourself. It's rather difficult to try to remember every move, so you'll probably have to settle for just a rough idea.

My green rabbit is trying to disguise itself as a tree.

In our 3-player game, Han, Chong Sean and I were rather conservative and held the rabbit cards in our hands for quite long. Only when the draw deck started to dwindle (and the field started to grow rather big) we reluctantly started placing our rabbits. Chong Sean and I found each other's rabbits first. Later Han also caught another one of mine. I was only one rabbit away from losing instantly. Then I made a lucky guess and caught Chong Sean's 2nd rabbit. I'm not sure why. I just had a gut feel it was that card, and I was right. I was leading 2 vs 1 vs 1, so the best strategy would be to quickly end the game by exhausting the draw deck. There weren't many cards left.

Han and Chong Sean saw it coming, but thankfully they couldn't stop me or find my third and last rabbit. Then in a surprise last move, instead of exhausting the draw deck, I took an irrational move, and moved by farmer to a new space instead. And I caught one of Han's rabbits! I must be possessed by some hunter spirit that day. I looked at my hand in awe and muttered, "Hand of God" ("神手!"). I just had this gut feel, and it turned out to be right. So I won decisively at 3 vs 1 vs 1. Still, it wasn't a rational thing to do. If my 3rd rabbit were caught, I would have lost.

Towards game end.

Rabbit Hunt is a light fun game. If played with 4 players, it must be played as a team game. With the psychology / bluffing and memory element, if a player decides to think too much / remember too hard, the game can certainly drag. But hey, this is a game about catching Bugs Bunny, not defending Earth from space invaders, why ssso ssseriousss? The winning conditions and the various card events can take a little while to remember, but once you get past that, you'll realise the key to the game is just as the title suggests - go catch bunnies.

I bought this game. It's something different. Now I really doubt I will meet my quota of 20 (maximum, of course) game purchases in 2009. I'm already at 17, and Essen is not even here yet.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Minion Hunter

I played Minion Hunter with Han and Chong Sean on 5 Jul 2009. At first sight, I thought this was a game from the 80's, but it was actually published in 1992. The Monopoly-like outer track made me a little suspiscious at first, but the game turned out to be more innovative (for a 1992 game) than I had expected. For one thing, this is a cooperative game.

America is being invaded by 4 factions of enemies. The players need to work together to fight these enemies. Every time an enemy faction makes a successful attack, its marker advances on a damage track (I forget the name). If any of the four enemy faction markers reaches 20, the players lose (a little like Sauron in Lord of the Rings!). Attacks (and other events) appear from the plot deck. At the end of every player's turn, a plot card will move from the plot deck towards a discard space. Once it reaches the discard space, it will take effect, usually causing one of the enemy faction markers to advance. Each plot card is specific to a city. To defeat the plot card, the players need to visit that city, and use their abilities to defeat it. If you win, you keep the card. If you lose, you go to the hospital. It will take at least 3 turns to recover from your injuries. To win the game, the players need to last until the last event from the plot deck takes effect or is defeated.

Minion Hunter is also a role-playing game. Each player character has 4 traits - combat, empathy, contacts and stalking. In the early game, every character is at skill level 1. You need to train your character up before you try to defeat any enemy. That's where that outer track come into play. The outer track represents a kind of training centre. You start in one corner, and you roll a die to move along the track in either direction. Some spaces increase you skills. Some spaces give you equipment. Some spaces throw challenges at you, and give you a reward or a penalty depending on whether you succeed at the challenges. Some spaces allow you to move to a city on the map.

In our game, we tried to specialise in different skills. Han and Chong Sean got rich very quickly. When you draw an equipment card, you can either spend money to buy it, or you discard the card and gain some money. They both drew some very expensive equipment (one of them was a jet plane) early, and thus were swimming in cash. Other than buying equipment, money can also be used for traveling quickly on the map - bus tickets or plane tickets. If you're poor, you walk.

We did quite well in fighting the enemies, despite ending up in hospital many times. I joked about pretty nurses, and then to my delight, found that there actually is a hospital recovery die roll result about a good nurse who helps you to recover quicker. We eventually won the game. The Fey faction did come close to defeating us. It's marker was at 19. Another successful attack would have caused us to lose, but if I remember correctly, by the time that marker reached 19, there were no more Fey events remaining in the plot deck (but we didn't know at the time). So the game probably wasn't as close as it seemed.

The game supports up to 6 players. The back row are the four enemy factions.

The gameboard. You start with a thick stack of plot cards. There will always be two plot cards showing. The back of the cards tell you the location. The city names are fictitious but are based on real American city names.

Some equipment cards.

More equipment cards. That jet is a joke. How are you ever going to be able to have $3,250,000 in cash?! But it's good to draw this card, because you'd discard it to earn $65,000, which would last you a long time. I find that equipment usually don't last long, because whenever you lose a fight and go to the hospital, you are forced to lose one equipment. I wonder whether that's just because of how we played, or it's normal.

The three-box track on the upper right (where the yellow and blue pawns are) is the hospital. You usually enter the hospital after losing a fight, and go to the red intensive care unit. Then on your next turn you roll a die and hope to recover to the next space, until you fully recover and can be discharged.

Some of the enemies that I have defeated. You can try to escape from fighting, and sometimes you want to do that. E.g. when the plot card is one of those "fame" cards (like on the lower left) which don't do any damage, or when you are too weak in the skill required for the actual fight.

The Fey faction was only one step away from destroying America.

Minion Hunter is definitely full of flavour. There is a lot of die rolling, and looking up die roll result tables. There are decisions to be made. However overall I think it is quite tactical. You can't really plan very far ahead. The plot cards move very quickly. They move face down, so you won't know what they are or what skills are required to defeat them until a player encounters them. So there is a fair bit of luck. The game can get a little repetitive, because you are always responding to urgent threats. To have a longer term or more strategic view, I guess it is possible to count how many plot cards for each enemy faction have appeared, which can help you assess how big a threat the remaining plot cards for each faction are.

This game is probably out of print. But if you get a chance to play it, just immerse yourself in the theme and enjoy the ride! And say hi to the nurse.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Cosmic Encounter

Cosmic Encounter is an old game that has gone through many versions and publishers. The latest version is published by Fantasy Flight Games, and I think they did a good job.

The game is quite simple. Every player has 5 home planets and some spaceships. You win by establishing 5 foreign colonies on other players' home planets. On your turn, you make one or two attacks (called encounters). You don't choose your target. It is determined by a fate deck. Attacker and defender get to invite allies. If you join an encounter as an ally, you gain some benefits if your side wins. Spaceships that are lost go to the warp - a play mat at the centre of the table. Every time your turn comes around, you can retrieve one ship back from the warp (that's not much though).

What makes the game interesting is the various unique powers of each alien race. These powers vary greatly and will likely greatly impact how you play the game. They also have interesting interactions. In the game I played, I had the kamikaze power. Whenever I lose ships to the warp, I can drag along ships of other players. Han had a powerful ability - the strength of his race increases every time he has an encounter, win or lose. Chong Sean's ability was instead of adding his card strength to his number of ships in the encounter, he multiplied. That could make his fleet very powerful, but it also meant he needed at least two ships in an encounter to benefit from this unique ability.

Another aspect of the game is managing your hand of cards. There are encounter cards which you need for resolving encounters (battles). Some encounter cards are negotiate cards, which means you will lose no matter what, but you get to take cards from the main attacker's hand. It can be painful when you are doing well, but you suddenly realise the only encounter cards you have left are all negotiate cards. There are some flare cards, or special power cards. These are very handy, and you can keep using them, until you need to refresh your hand (when you run out of encounter cards). Then you have to discard them.

The start of the game.

Using the card holder from 10 Days in Europe to hold my cards. The red ones on the left are the normal encounter cards. The green one is the negotiate card, a special type of encounter card. The two on the right are flare cards - multi-use special power cards.

Han (yellow) and I (green) attacking one of Chong Sean's planets. Cards are played face-down and then revealed simultaneously.

As the game progressed, our forces dwindled. I had lost presence on 3 of my home planets, which caused me to lose my unique alien power.

The warp. It also doubles as a victory point track.

We played a 3-player game, which is probably the least interesting number of players. I suspect the game is best with 5. But at least I got to try the game, which I have been wanting to do for a while. With 3 players, there is very little diplomacy in the game. It lacks the fun of shifting alliances.

We were very aggressive in the early attacks, which caused our ships to dwindle quickly. Combined with poor cards towards the later part of the game, it became more like a game of pitiful survival than glorious space conquest. I think we played rather mindlessly. Well, at least I did. I just had too much fun dragging others into the warp with me. Then when I was left with very few ships not in the warp, it didn't seem so funny anymore. I think I have not been making good use of my special power.

I'd like to play Cosmic Encounter again, with 5 players. Or maybe with at least 4. I think there's much more to explore than what I've seen in my first game.

Monday, 13 July 2009

The World Cup Game

The World Cup Game is about the football (UK English speakers) / soccer (US English speakers and Melbournians) world cup. I shall just call it football, since I am a UK English speaker. If you are a football fan, you'll probably like this game. It is very thematic, and it is quite simple. Some knowledge of how football works and how the world cup works will be very helpful in both immersing yourself in the theme and in understanding the rules.

At the start of the game, all players randomly draw a number of teams. Throughout the game, your teams compete and try to advance through each stage of the world cup competition, and try to eventually win the world cup. Just like the real world cup, except you do this in about 35-45 mins, while the real world cup takes about a month.

The game board shows all the matches of the world cup event. Each team in each match has 2 to 5 slots, depending on whether the team is a strong team. Strong teams get more slots. During the game, you have a hand of 3 cards, and you play cards to place round tokens onto the slots on the board. The tokens can represent goals, attacks, defenses, and penalty kicks. Some cards allow you to nullify effects of other tokens played by flipping them over. Teams with more slots have a higher chance of winning, because there are more slots to place goals and attack tokens. Each stage of the competition ends when the draw deck is exhausted. However, the results of the matches are not deterministic. You still need to roll some special dice. For each match, goals count as goals, and attacks count as half a goal (round down). When the dice are rolled for the just-completed stage, every occurrence of your team's colour in the die roll result gives your team an additional half-goal, which can be added to the attack tokens your team has. The colours of the dice are not distributed evenly. Stronger teams have a higher chance of their colours appearing. This is another way the game tries to push towards the historical, or at least a realistic ending.

This may sound like a bad thing, because if you only draw lousy teams, then your hopes of winning the game are dashed. But then I find that I don't really mind it that much. Somehow when playing this game I prefer it to feel real.

My four teams. Yellow and grey teams are weaker teams. Green and blue teams are average teams. Red and black teams are strong teams.

The game board. It looks like a boring scoreboard, but the game turned out to be quite fun.

Some of the cards in the game. Some cards have different effects depending on the colour of the team it is played on.

Nearing the end of the Round 1 matches. The tokens that have been flipped over are those that have had their effects negated by other cards.

Close-up of the matches.

I quite enjoyed this game. It was a pleasant surprise. I also learned a few things about the world cup. The world cup rules in 1930 (the year that we played) were actually rather different from the rules in 2002. E.g. in the first round, winning a match earns your team 2pts instead of 3pts. The game comes with two "scenarios", 1930 and 2002. There are many expansions, which are basically the other years the world cup was held. The game doesn't really change all that much, but for a football fan, it would be fun to collect all these expansions, and to re-live so many different world cup finals.

Sunday, 12 July 2009

misc games played

I return to my hometown, Kota Kinabalu, 2-3 times every year, and every time I will visit Carcasean boardgame cafe to play new games. Sometimes even to play old games. Every time I return to KK, this boardgame blog will have a flurry of activities, because of the many new games played. In fact, I have a backlog of games to write about. Here are some games played which I have written about in the past.

I played New York Chase recently, and wanted to try Scotland Yard too, which is the older original version. This time I requested to play Mr. X, the fugitive being hunted by the detective team. Chong Sean and Michelle played two detectives each. Playing Mr. X is very different, and very interesting. But I got caught on Round 5. Pfff... (sound of balloon losing air...)

That was rather anti-climatic, like watching The Fugitive (a movie starring Harrison Ford) and having the hero caught in the first 10 minutes and then sent to jail and then that was the end of the story. In hindsight, I was too big a risk taker. I wanted to make some unexpected moves to throw the detectives off my scent. But they were conservative and they closed the web slowly and did not rush in (which was what I was trying to tempt them into doing). It wonder whether Mr. X should always try to take the safe way and not the risky way, hoping to bluff the detectives. Should Mr. X always try to run away as far as possible, since the longer you survive, the harder it will be for the detectives to calculate you position? Your possible locations will grow. But then wouldn't you become too predictable? I need to play this more to learn how to best play Mr. X.

I have played That's Life before. It is quick and fun, and the decisions are interesting, despite lots of die rolling. I quite like it. However, lately I am starting to feel that I should not buy any more fillers, i.e. short and simple games, no matter how good they are. As a hardcore gamer, I simply do not plan game sessions around fillers. Fillers are not filling. I need a medium or a heavy game to feel satisfied. If I only have a little time for playing a game, I should probably just not play and choose to do something else. So fillers would mostly only come in handy at odd moments like when you are waiting for guests to arrive, or when there is still a little time left before your guests have to leave.

Still, I think That's Life is a rather good game, just unfortunately one I likely won't buy.

I finally got to play a non-2-player game of A Game of Thrones LCG, which means the titles come into play. Titles give you special benefits, e.g. increase in strength in a particular aspect. There are also some restrictions and incentives introduced. Some titles prevent you from attacking another player holding another particular title. Some titles award you extra Power if you succeed in attacking another player holding another particular title. In our game, the most handy aspect turned out to be the attack prevention bit.

This was my fourth time playing this game, and I still felt rather clueless. There were a lot of details to keep track of during the game, and because I was struggling with that, I wasn't able to maintain a grasp of the strategic level of the game. I ended the game dead last, at 0 Power.

We later found out that we made some mistakes. We determined turn order in a wrong way. The player with the highest initiative decides who will start. It does not necessarily have to be himself. Turns are then taken in a clockwise order. We had thought that turn order is simply determined by the initiative on your Plot card, with highest initiative going first, and lowest initiative going last. I think I suffered for this, because I tended to go first. We found that going last gives the most flexibility, and it is easiest to plan what to do, because the other players have already issued any challenges they can issue.

I still have difficulties learning and appreciating A Game of Thrones LCG. I probably will give it a few more attempts. I think this is a game in which you need to invest much effort in order to fully enjoy. I'm not sure I have the patience and endurance to do so. I'll keep on trying.

The titles in A Game of Thrones LCG are nice looking sculpts.

This time I played the Targaryen, who has dragons.

Han and Chong Sean, who played Baratheon and Stark respectively.

See how much the number of cards have grown later in the game.

I played a 2-player game of Notre Dame against Chong Sean, who likes the game a lot and is definitely a veteran. I have played this before and quite liked it then. I still find it pretty good. Less urge to buy it than before, but I still find it interesting. Definitely worth more plays.

Saturday, 11 July 2009

Chaos Isle: Zombie Deck

Chaos Isle: Zombie Deck is a card game about zombies. The players are stuck on an island infested with zombies and all sorts of monsters. Each player plays a different character, with different abilities. Each player is also given a secret mission, and in order to win the game, you need to be the first to complete your mission. You are also given some equipment (e.g. weapons) at the start of the game, which can be helpful. You may collect more equipment during the game.

On your turn, you turn up 3 cards from the discard deck or draw deck, and decide what you want to do with them. Most of them are zombies / monsters, and if you run faster than them, you can decide whether to fight them. If you are slower, you are forced to fight. Killing a monster provides some reward, however you may not always decide to fight, since the reward may not be what you are looking for to achieve your goal. Sometimes you get special events from the deck. Sometimes you get small missions too.

Fighting is done by rolling dice, and is quite straight-forward. In case you get killed, you become a zombie and join the bad guys. Instead of sitting around looking ugly (death by zombie is never pretty), you get to attack one human player every time your turn comes around. You can even win the game, if all the humans (the living ones) lose.

My character on the left. I start with 9 life tokens.

Han, Chong Sean and Michelle.

My mission was to collect 10 viruses.

Some of the zombies / monsters that I had killed. The texts under the names of the monsters describe your reward for killing them.

This is a simple game with some role-playing. Not very interactive, as you don't really interact much with the other players. Rolling dice for the monsters attacking your right neighbour doesn't really count as interaction. If you are looking for a simple zombie-themed game, this is one. It isn't very interesting to me though. Not many interesting decisions, and it seems luck plays quite a significant role.

Friday, 10 July 2009

Fuzzy Tiger

I played Fuzzy Tiger with Chong Sean and Michelle at Carcasean boardgame cafe on 30 Jun 2009. This is a game designed and published by a Taiwanese gamer, and I am guessing that he caught the German game bug at Witch House, Taipei, just like Chong Sean and I.

Players are monkeys trying to collect tiger whiskers. Now that's an unusual theme. The monkeys approach the sleeping tiger, and need to be very close before they can pull one or two whiskers from the tiger. The tiger gets closer and closer to waking up whenever a monkey succeeds in pulling a whisker. When the tiger wakes up, it attacks the monkey closest to it, and that monkey takes two points of damage. At that time, the monkey standing furthest away is jeered at by his friends for being a coward, and takes one damage point. I guess he is so ashamed of himself that he bangs himself againt a rock face. When the game ends, the monkey with the most damage automatically loses. From among the remaining monkeys, the one with the most whiskers win. This reminds me of High Society and Cleopatra and the Society of Architects, although I have played neither.

Each player has 9 action cards, and every round everyone secretly selects one to be played. The selected cards are revealed at the same time, and are then executed in the order of the card number. One tricky thing is many cards lose their effect or have a different effect if more than one player play it. So you need to guess what cards others will play, and you need to remember what cards others have played, so that you can avoid wasting your cards. There a psychology element and a memory element. Most action cards allow your monkey to advance a number of steps. Some have special effects like making the tiger more (or less) sleepy, or making your monkey crouch down, so that in case the tiger wakes up, it can't see your monkey even if it is closest, and will attack the next monkey behind yours. Most spaces along the track leading up to the tiger only accomodate one monkey, so if someone else's monkey lands on the same spot as yours, your monkey gets pushed one step closer to the tiger.

The game board. Sorry this is upside down. From left to right, the tracks are: (1) Tiger sleepiness track. When it reaches zero, the tiger wakes up. (2) Monkey advancement track. If your monkey reaches spaces 1 or 2, it plucks 2 or 1 whiskers respectively, and then immediately jumps back to spaces 6 or 5 respectively. (3) Damage/injury track. (4) Whisker collected track, and also game end countdown. The black marker moves downwards each time the tiger wakes up, and when it reaches the top scoring marker, the game ends.

Two of the cards. On the left, your monkey throws a stone at the tiger. The "3" on the top right is the order for resolving card actions. The three monkey heads icon below the "3" means if more than 1 player play this card, it still takes effect. The icons at the bottom mean that if only 1 player plays this card, he advances 2 steps, but if more than 1 player play this card, noone advance. Regardless of how many players play this card, the tiger's sleepiness reduces by two. On the right, your monkey pounces ahead. That no-multi-monkey icon on the top right means if more than 1 player play this card, it loses its effect. The icons at the bottom mean you advance your monkey by four spaces, and the tiger sleepiness reduces by one.


Fuzzy Tiger is all about the psychology of choosing your action cards. It may appear to be a simple game, but the action cards are actually a little tricky and it'll take some time to get a grasp of the strategy. Non-gamers may find the game too complex. I'd describe the game as quite condensed. There are quite a few things to consider when you play. Making sure you don't take too much damage is one, positioning your monkey for when the tiger wakes up is another, guessing whether the tiger will wake up is yet another. To do all these, you need to guess your opponents' intentions. When you get it right, it's a lot of fun, e.g. in one round, I guessed correctly that Chong Sean and Michelle would pick the card that allows their monkeys to pounce ahead quickly. This is one of the cards that loses its effect if more than one player play it, so basically they both wasted this very powerful card, while I chose a less powerful card, and managed to make some progress approaching the tiger. After that, I knew I could safely use that pounce card, because both of them had already used it. This is how the game feels.