Thursday, 22 April 2010

God Dice

God Dice is a dice game, but there's not much about gods. Each player controls a team of fighters, and they fight until there is only one team standing. Maybe there is some backstory about gods, but it isn't apparent from playing the game.

The Game

The game starts with players taking turns picking fighters from an common pool. There are 2 fighters in each type, and each type of fighter has different characteristics. Some have more life points. Some have powerful attacks but it can be hard to make such attacks successfully. Some can easily make a successful strike, but deal little damage. The characteristics of the fighters are all on their cards. It is easy if you want to create your own custom character.

Once everyone has chosen their team, the fighting starts. Players take turns to attack the team on their left. Sometimes the direction can change to counter-clockwise. An attack consists of the attacker choosing an attacking fighter and the defender choosing a defending fighter. The attacking fighter will either make a successful attack, or not. In the former case, the defending fighter takes injury, and dies if his/her life points drop to 0.

The attacker first rolls two alphabet dice. These dice may have some special effect on the fight, e.g. defender may ask the attacker to reroll all dice once, or on the game, e.g. switching the direction of play. Then the actual fight starts, with the 9 attack dice. There are 5 different values, red, blue, yellow, 0 and 5 (two sides have this value). The attacker tries to roll his dice such that he can achieve one of the combinations on his fighter's sheet, after which he can deal damage according to the description on the sheet and the number of 5's he has rolled. There are 5 round tokens, and each allow you to reroll all dice of that value. You can decide to stop rolling at any time.

The dice in the game. The round tokens on the right are for reminding yourself which dice you have already rerolled (and thus are not allowed to reroll anymore).

The Assassin

For example, using the Assassin to attack, I roll 3x blue, 3x red, 1x yellow, 2x 5. Since the Assassin's Backstab attack is very powerful and requires 4x blue + 1x yellow, I'll try to gain another blue. I reroll 3x red, and get 1x red, 1x 5, 1x yellow. Not ideal. I have not achieved Backstab yet, and now that red die is locked, because I can't reroll red anymore. Now I have 3x blue, 1x red, 2x yellow, 3x 5 on the table. I don't want to risk rerolling yellow because I would have to reroll both of them, and I may lose the one yellow that I need for Backstab. I decide to reroll the three 5's. I get 1x 5, 1x blue, 1x 0. Now I have 4x blue, 1x red, 2x yellow, 1x 5, 1x 0. I have achieved Backstab. But the base damage I have is only 5, because the total number on the table is 5. I have rerolled red and 5, so I can't touch those dice anymore. I will of course try to reroll the 0, and hope to get a 5. I do so, and fail, getting a yellow. Now I can still reroll blue or yellow. I have 4x blue, 3x yellow, 1x 5 (locked), 1x red (locked), 0x 0 (locked). I have three choices. I can stop rolling the dice, and go for Backstab (4x blue + 1x yellow), dealing 20 damage (5 base damage x4) to any character (normally damage is dealt to the defending fighter only). I can reroll the yellow dice, and hope to still retain one yellow die, while converting one or both the other yellow dice to 5's. That would increase the damage significantly. I can of course also reroll the blue, but that would be silly, because even if I achieve the Knife Twist (5x yellow), it only gives base damage + 10. Not worth the risk.

That's basically the game. You keep rolling dice, setting some aside, and rerolling.

The Play

Allen, Han and I played a 3 player game. Each of us had 4 fighters. I took both the Assassins. They are pretty cool, because they can cause a big damage. Unfortunately they are not very robust. Sometimes one strike is enough to kill them. I was first to get my team eliminated. Allen and Han fought on, and Allen emerged the final winner.

The sage has quite powerful attacks, but not many life points.

The monk fighting the hero.

The Thoughts

There aren't many real decisions to be made in the game. Quite often after you roll the dice, the best choice is quite obvious. So I felt the game became repetitive quite quickly, and I felt it dragged. The roll-dice-freeze-some-then-reroll mechanism is nothing new nor interesting. I feel Pickomino has tougher decisions, and more cheers and groans.

Monday, 19 April 2010


Cyclades is a Euro-ish conflict and development game with a Greek mythology setting. I would say it is more of a conflict game than a development game, but battles are but a means to an end, because to win the game you need to control a certain number of metropolises. This can be achieved through conquest of course, but it can also be done by building them yourself.

The Game

The game board is made up of various islands very close to each other. The islands are of different sizes (meaning they could accomodate different numbers of buildings and metropolises), and have different income values. They are all very close, and typically an island is one step away from 3 or 4 other islands. This means most of the time every island is vulnerable to invasion. The starting positions of players are pre-set, and players start with islands of different charateristics. There is quite a significant spatial element to this game.

The actions in the game are all centred around the auctions to "win" a god (Zeus, Ares, Apollo etc). The god that you "win" determines turn order, the actions you can take, and the creatures you have the opportunity to "hire". There are 5 gods in the game whom you try to win the favours of. The number of gods available for bidding each round is the same as the number of players. This means when playing with less than 5 players, not all types of actions will be available every round. There are four "proper" gods whose tiles will get shuffled and laid on the board. Players who win the favour of these gods will take actions according to the order of the tiles. There is one "consolation prize" god, Apollo, who is always last in turn order. He doesn't give you any fancy action. He only gives some money, but sometimes he may give you a fruit basket (sorry I don't know the proper name for that thing), which you can place on any island to increase its income value.

The four "proper" gods allow you the better actions. E.g. Ares lets you raise troops, and/or make one island invasion, and/or build a fort. The basic benefit (one free army in the case of Ares) is free, but you can pay to gain more (in the case of Ares, you can buy more troops). There are 4 types of buildings in the game, and most give some benefit. When you have a set of all four types, you can convert them into one metropolis, which has the benefit of all building types. You can also gain philosophers and priests. 4 philosophers get you a metropolis (assuming you have space for it). Priests give you discounts when you try to win favour from the gods.

This is a game of building and conquest. You need islands to have income (four special sea locations also give income). You need islands to have space for constructing buildings and metropolises. You can go the peaceful path of collecting philosophers, but beware of your neighbours.

One element of the game which adds a lot of spice is the creatures. Every round there will be some creatures available for hire. The system is a bit like Through the Ages. The creatures get cheaper and cheaper, and once they hit rock bottom price but are still not sold, they are discarded. There are many different creatures giving many different abilities, some defensive, some offensive, some monetary, some quite whacky. They are quite fun, and throw in some chaos.

The Play

I played a 3-player game with Han and Allen. I suspect the game is better with more, but even with 3 it is quite fun, despite some rules mistakes we had. Actually the rules mistakes made our session a funny one. Here's what happened.

Early in the game. Every player starts with 2 islands. By now Allen (red) had a 3rd island. Some buildings have been built.

The sculpts look quite good. The fruit basket thing in the foreground represents income level.

In the early game I was rather careless, and was first to lose an island. Allen was first to build up militarily, and quickly conquered my large 4-space island, on which I had built 2 temples (discounts when recruiting creatures). Ouch. So I only had one 1-space island left. Not a good sign. Allen continued to be the military leader. Han was in the middle ground. Han and I knew that Allen was the one to watch out for, so we didn't really bother much attacking each other. I eventually managed to break out of my lone island, taking one of Allen's islands.

I was down to one island. I had to build up my navy so that I could get off this rich but tiny island.

Things started going crazy when creatures came into play more and more. Polyphemus is a cyclop carrying a big round stone. When he is played on an island, all adjacent ships are pushed away, those unable to move being sunk. Also no ships are allowed to approach the island. After I conquered Allen's island, round stone guy was played on this island, which meant my 3 dudes were stuck on the island. I couldn't build ships to carry them to invade the next island. Thankfully later I managed to move him to another island. I moved him to my own island, that small one which I had left undefended. He would keep it safe for me until someone else moved him. Unfortunately Medusa was then played on my 3 dudes. Medusa prevents armies from moving. So my 3 dudes continued to be stuck.

Some of the creatures that will come onto the board because they have a lasting effect. Most other creatures have a one-time effect, e.g. giving extra income, killing one enemy unit. They don't have any sculpt.

Round stone guy (Polyphemus) visited my island and pushed all ships away. There are no ships anywhere on the coast of that island.

Polyphemus later sent to protect my vacant home island. That green marker is used for marking island ownership when there are no troops.

Soldier A: "Round stone guy just left, and now you?!!" Soldier B: "Hey we're supposed to be frozen, stop talking." Soldier C: "She's cute".

I collected many priests, eventually reaching 6! That meant a discount of $6 when bidding for gods. My armies on the board were a non-factor, and I was so much into discounts, it was like I was playing a different game, some Tesco discount supermarket on Hawaii game. Very isolated.

6 priests and 2 philosophers.

Allen's armies were going strong. He had built buildings of 4 types, i.e. they could be converted to one metropolis. He only needed one more to win, and his armies were poised to attack Han's island containing a metropolis. However Han also had two philosophers, which meant if he gained another two, he would convert them into his second metropolis and win the game. He had been quietly amassing money to bid for the god which gave philosophers, and then suddenly pulled out a $17 bid, which was unheard of up to that point in the game. Allen and I realised we couldn't do anything about it. We didn't have that much money.

Allen's amassed troops (red, near centre of board) preparing to invade Han's (yellow) island with a metropolis, on the right. My 3 green dudes were still admiring Medusa's beauty.

But wait... one of the available creatures allowed us to use another creature which was in the discard pile, and we remembered there was one such discarded creature which stole philosophers. Han came later in turn order, and one of his philosophers was stolen right under his nose. Talk about the best laid plans being wrecked at the last possible moment. It was hilarious (but maybe not that much so for Han).

Han continued to save money, and managed to execute his plan on the next attempt. Allen still wasn't able to invade Han's island with the metropolis. This time we couldn't stop Han. So the game was won by building and not by conquest.

Later on, we realised our mistake. Creatures which come onto the board should not have stayed that long. They should have left by the next time the player who played them took another "proper" god action. So my 3 dudes should not have been stuck on Hawaii for so long by round stone guy and snake hair lady. It was a funny game, but funny only because it was so distorted. We'll play with the proper rules next time.

The Thoughts

The first thing that Cyclades reminds me of is The Settlers of Catan. They are very very different games, but they are similar in complexity level. There are multiple aspects you need to think about, but each of them are not very complex. Go for the discount (gods and creatures) strategy? Go military? Focus on getting a good income quickly? All these are strategies you can plan for. Then the creatures throw in some chaos and some tactical opportunities, spicing things up.

I like the Amun-Re style auction. If you are outbid, you are not allowed to bid on the same god immediately. This means when you bid on a god that you really really want, you better bid a high price, else you may not get him. There are some tough decisions in the auctions. Turn order is sometimes quite important too, especially when there is a creature that you want to use.

When I first read about Cyclades and saw the game board, the game didn't appeal to me much. "Just another Euroish conflict game", I thought. Now that I have played it, I find the board very well designed. Everyone is very near everyone else, so the game is quite tense. It is still just another Euroish conflict game, but I think it is well designed. Streamlined but not bland. I normally don't comment on production qualities of games, but Cyclades impressed me. The sculpts are quite good, and are unique for each player. It isn't necessary but it is a nice touch. Graphics are quite good too.

I'm sure I'll play this again. And I won't be playing like Hawaii next time.

Friday, 16 April 2010


Catacombs is a game with a very typical fantasy / dungeon crawl theme, but with a very unusual execution. It's a flicking game! Like Carrom (more common in Malaysia), Crokinole and Pitch Car. That's a combination of theme and mechanics I've never seen before.

The Game

There are two sides in the game, one side plays the 4 heroes (barbarian, wizard, elf and thief), the other plays the dungeon master. The heroes need to go through a number of rooms, defeating all monsters along the way, to eventually reach the final dungeon to face the boss. Defeat the boss, and you win the game. Get all your heroes killed, and the dungeon master wins. There are two stops along the way, one allows the heroes to buy equipment, the other allows the heroes to heal injuries. Each hero has different characteristics and abilities, e.g. the barbarian has the most life points, the elf can shoot arrows, the thief can move twice. All this is basically your stereotype dungeon crawl game. However the game mechanism is something completely unexpected.

All the heroes and monsters are discs of different sizes. Flick your hero disc to hit one or more monster discs, and you inflict melee damage to them. For ranged combat, arrows, or the wizard's fireballs, are represented by smaller discs, which you flick from a position within an inch of the hero. In a nutshell, you flick your discs to hit your opponent's discs. For the different types of rooms, there are different layouts of pillars, which are basically big immovable discs which block both heroes and monsters. These add some tactical consideration. You can hide behind pillars so that your enemy cannot take a direct shot at you. You can bounce yourself off pillars to hit an unsuspecting victim.

This is how a room looks like. Sorry for the blurry photo. The game was too fast-paced for me to take proper photos. The black discs are the pillars, and are fixed. Hero discs are white. You can see four of them on the board. Monster discs are in various colours. You can see one green and two greys on the board.

There are other details, e.g. the different characteristics of monsters, of the bosses, the magic spells of the wizard, the equipment. These are all quite thematic. The game comes with a few different bosses with different difficulties.

The Play

In the game that Han and I played, I played the heroes and him the dungeon master. I was quite conservative with my heroes and tried to save up the wizard's magic spells for the later rooms, and also the barbarian's rage ability (make 4 moves instead of 1). I think I played a bit too conservatively, which allowed Han to wear down my heroes slightly. I probably should have been more aggressive. What's most funny in our game was my elf, pretty lady though she was, was a hopeless with her bow. She (OK, I) probably missed 80% of her shots. What a waste. Give me ladykiller Legolas any time.

The elf is a hot chick. Her basic skill: in lieu of moving/melee-attacking, she can shoot an arrow. She has two shots per room. I bought an additional Magic Quiver for her, which was a 3rd arrow. Too bad she was a lousy shot.

My wizard was rather stingy with his spells. He got a full set of spell cards at game start, and every time a spell was cast, the card was discarded. In the later game I realised he had more spells than he could use, because some spells could only be used once per room. It took some injury for me to realise he wasn't going to last long enough to fully utilise his spells. I probably should have used his spells more generously, to help reduce injury to the party.

The wizard is the only male in the party, and the envy of all fantasy genre nerds, and Gandalf.

My thief bought one cool invisible cloak during the shopping stage. She could "disappear" instead of making a move, and then "reappear" anywhere on the next turn and then make a move. That was pretty handy.

The thief. Another hot chick. This game really looks like it's targeting teenage boys.

When my party reached the final dungeon, I realised the monsters there were much much tougher than in the previous rooms. The boss himself was tough to beat too, and this was supposed to be the easiest boss. I didn't need to kill all the monsters, unlike in earlier rooms. I just needed to kill the boss. However that's easier said than done, because the other monsters would of course protect the boss. Also they could inflict a lot of damage, so I couldn't just ignore them.

I did manage to kill off three of the 5 monsters, and even dealt some damage to the boss, but I couldn't complete my mission. My heroes were killed off one after another. It was quite a massacre.

The Thoughts

The fantasy and dungeon crawl setting sometimes does get old, but the idea of merging this with a dexterity mechanism is refreshing. The game is pretty simple and you can get started quite quickly. The various fantasy elements and rules add some thought to the flicking game - you will need to think a little about where to position your heroes / monsters, how to make use of the pillars in the room, how to make two (or even more) hits with a single flick. They all give some additional context to the flicking, making it more interesting.

The game is not very deep, but it is entertaining. The theme is applied quite well. In fact it feels more like a dungeon crawl game than a dexterity game to me. This should be played as a light-hearted game. If the players are too serious or too competitive, I imagine there can be many disputes about whether the arrow actually touched the targeted monster, or where exactly the hero went off the board (if not yet killed, the hero returns to the board at the same point where he/she left it). You'd almost need a referee, or a video replay.

Monday, 12 April 2010

stop buying games

I have a sudden urge to stop buying games.

I know it won't happen. But I am considering significantly lowering my self-imposed annual game acquiring quota. I have bought / self-made / been given 11 games this year. My quota is 20. I had vowed no new games until 2nd half of the year, which I think I will achieve, since it's already mid April now. My only must-buy game now is the Brink of War expansion of Race for the Galaxy. Two other close to must-buys are Axis & Allies Pacific 1940 Edition and Axis & Allies Europe 1940 Edition, the latter not released yet.

When I look at my collection (close to 200 now), I see many games that I like and have not been playing as much as I'd like to. So I really should be spending more time playing them. Most games get better and better as you play more and become good at it. I have so many games which I have not achieved this with.


One tip that I found most useful in controlling the game buying urge is this - procrastinate. In Oct 2009 (Essen time) there were so many new releases that I was interested in. Eventually I did buy some - Agricola: Farmers of the Moor, At the Gates of Loyang, Factory Manager - but for many others by now I don't feel much urge to buy anymore. Well, I am still interested to at least try Hansa Teutonica, but that feeling may wane too, the longer I wait.

Die Macher

I now have a stronger urge to play again many of the games already in my collection. When am I going to get a 4-player game of Indonesia? I should play Die Macher and Automobile again. How about doing a 5-player game of Samurai Swords? I should play Space Alert again before I forget all the skills. A marathon / campaign series made up of Axis & Allies games? Complete the Blue Moon tournament with Han (playing all combinations of all 8 races)?

Axis & Allies Guadalcanal

I have written a little program using Excel macros to check for games that I like and have not played for a long time. I should put it to good use.

And let's see whether I can hit 15 games acquired in 2010.

Saturday, 10 April 2010

gaming in photos

28 Mar 2010. Han, Afif and Reza, playing Princes of Florence. This is a classic Euro game by Wolfgang Kramer and Richard Ulrich, published in 2000. It is also a poster boy for Ameritrash fans who want to show how low interaction Euro games are. I myself like the game a lot, and I really should play this more. It has been a long time since I last played, and I am glad that I managed to bring it out again.

My city at game end. I had completed 5 works, which is nothing impressive, but I managed to win the game at 61pts. Experience counts. Only Han had played this game before, and only once, and with incorrect rules (my fault).

4 Apr 2010. Race for the Galaxy (with first two expansions). The combination of Contact Specialist and Rebel Pact meant I could settle Military worlds up to 3-defense for free. That was how I managed to settle Rebel Base (6-defense, but I only needed to pay 3 cards). I went with a consume strategy. Galactic Salon was handy for such a strategy - it is basically two powers or two cards in one, because you normally need a card to produce a good, and a card to convert that good to a victory point. Galactic Renaissance jived well with my strategy, giving bonus points based on the victory point chips I had collected. Too bad this was not good enough to beat Michelle's tableau below...

Michelle went for an Alien strategy. Her tableau developed to be a strong military one too. She won many objective tiles, and the 8pt Alien Monolith and 7pt Rebel Homeworld pushed her score to 56pts, comfortably beating my 51pts.

My 3-year-old daughter played with my camera when Michelle and I were playing Agricola with the Farmers of the Moor expansion. These are the fuel tokens from the expansion.

My farm at game end. I had one sick family member because I forgot to get enough fuel to warm the house. Sick family members only score 1pt instead of 3pts. I still had one moor tile on my land.

My Occupations and Improvements. We played the Level 3 complexity game, i.e. with Minor Improvements from both the base game and the expansion, and with Occupations too. I was obviously going with a baker strategy, with Field Watchman and Corn Scoop coming out early, and then Baker, Clay Oven and Stone Oven.

Michelle's farm. She fully utilised her land. She had wanted to build stables, but wasn't able to do so in time.

Michelle had many Occupations.

Friday, 2 April 2010

Factory Manager

I think Factory Manager's reviews suffered from it being actually titled Power Grid - Factory Manager, because of wrong expectations. The game has nothing much to do with Power Grid, other than also being an economic / efficiency game. But I suspect the name helped it in terms of sales. So it probably is a wise move by the publishers. But I'll always think of it as just Factory Manager.

The Game

In this game, you, of course, play the role of a factory manager. Well, probably a factory owner is more accurate, because you decide what equipment to buy, whether to recruit temporary workers etc. Every player starts the game with the same factory (in terms of production capacity and storage space) and the same number of workers. Throughout the game you compete to upgrade your factory. You buy new equipment to improve production capacity, increase storage space, reduce the need for workers, and reduce energy consumption. Every round you earn money, and then use it to upgrade your factory in order to earn even more money the next round. At game end, whoever is richest wins.

There are quite a few types of improvements you can buy for your factory. For each type there is a wide range of models, cheaper ones being available at the start of the game but they are less efficient. Better models become available only after the poorer models have been bought. They are more expensive, but are more efficient. You can buy machines to improve increase production. You can buy storage equipment to increase storage capacity. You can buy robots, some of which increase production, and some of which reduce the need for workers, but you can only have as many robots as your have production machines. There are also specialised equipment that reduce manpower or electricity consumption, but you are limited to one unit per type, and you have to spend a worker to remove the older unit if you want to install a newer unit.

The two most crucial parts of the game are the turn order auction, and the market preparation. At the start of every round, each player has a number of available workers, which they use for bidding for turn order. The number of workers in the game is small, so this auction will not go for many rounds. Turn order is important, and so is the number of workers you have left after the auction, because this is the maximum number of improvements you can install for your factory this round.

The market preparation phase is basically each player choosing which improvements to be made available for purchase in the current round. You must always choose the lowest (i.e. poorest in each category), and the number of improvements you must choose is how many workers you have remaining after the turn order auction. Players who are later in turn order will be choosing the better improvements to be made available, but since they are also later in turn order when it comes to buying, they may not get to buy the better improvements. This part of the game is the most interesting. If you go early, you may want to pick improvement of the types you want, hoping that players who go after you will pick the even better improvements and make them available to you. Or maybe you'll intentionally pick categories that others don't need, so that you will prevent them from making available the improvements that they want. If you go late, you have to be wary about picking improvements that others who go before you want, because these improvements may be gone by the time you get to do your shopping. Should you make available many machines of the type you want, so that even if others do buy machines of that type, at least there will be some less-than-ideal leftover models for you?

The market, where machines and other improvements are placed at the start of the game. The number and types of improvements depend on the number of players. The top right chart is for tracking the energy cost. I like how this board is designed to look like a writing pad. The three tiles at the bottom are 3 randomly drawn starting improvements.

The Play

Michelle and I have only played one game of Factory Manager. The game was quite quick. You don't do many things in a round, and there are only 5 rounds. The market preparation part of the game does require some thinking, but it clicked pretty quickly for us. I guess with fewer players it is more straight-forward to analyse the game situation.

We had one lousy machine in the market that noone wanted to buy. So every round it kept returning to the board, and annoyingly occupying one spot. If we wanted to buy a good machine, we had to waste one worker to make it available for purchase, before we could use other workers to make other better machines available.

Money felt tight. Quite often there were enough good improvements available that we wanted, and we also had enough workers to be able to install them, but we didn't have enough money to buy all that we wanted. We had to prioritise. Every round we seemed to spend most of our money improving our factories.

Michelle suffered from the increase in energy cost more than me, because she was slower in controllng energy usage.

The restriction that you can only have as many robots supporting your production machines was an important consideration. It impacts gameplay more than I had expected.

I thought I did much better than Michelle, but when the game ended, although I still won, our scores were quite close.

My factory at mid game. The icons on the improvements tell you what they do. The box icon means production capacity. The crate icon means storage capacity. You produce (and earn money) based on the lower value of production or storage capacity. The man icon means how many workers are needed to operate the machine, or how many workers the machine can reduce. The yellow triangle with a lightning bolt means energy consumption / savings. The numbers on the lower right of the tiles are the base costs.

The two tracks at the top are for your production and storage capacities, and the one on the left is your energy consumption.

My factory at game end. I use plastic poker chips instead of the paper money that comes with the game.

The Thoughts

The game reminds me a little of Agricola and Le Havre, because of the fixed number of rounds. You try to make the most out of the 5 rounds. This is unlike Power Grid, and Puerto Rico, where you can manipulate when the game ends. I enjoyed Factory Manager. I am definitely biased by the artwork and the theme, which is very Power Grid like. It is not a very complex game. There is some thought you need to give to the market preparation. You need to evaluate your opponents' needs. The game has a tight economy, and sometimes you really need to be rather calculative. I like that the game gives me a sense of progress as I improve my factory. This is an "engine" game.

This box has Swan Panasia's logo! Swan Panasia is a boardgame company in Taiwan which sells boardgames and runs a boardgame cafe. I got into Eurogames through the owner Yoyo, a German guy who has been living in Taiwan for a long time. Swan Panasia recently got into publishing Chinese versions of Eurogames. The Chinese words 电力公司 to the left of the Swan Panasia logo is the Chinese name of Power Grid.