Wednesday, July 31, 2013

W.O.T.C. Makes A Different Kind of Magic!

To be honest with you, when I first heard that the folks at Wizards of the Coast were planning to release a new board game set in the D&D universe, well, I wasn't too excited.  Don't get me wrong -- I'm a long time Magic player and I have nothing but respect for the design and publishing skills that the folks at WotC have; but, historically, these kinds of 'cross-over' projects have tended to be nothing more than marketing ploys that often prove to be triumphs of form over content.  You can imagine my surprise then, when I played Lords of Waterdeep and discovered that it wasn't just an ok game, it was a fantastic game.  The true surprise, however, was the realization that, beneath the D&D facade, beat the heart of a true euro game!  Now that I didn't see coming.  That's right dear reader -- inside the box you'll discover a worker placing, cube pushing, resource managing, VP generating game that's so euro it might as well be called Hans!  And you know what?  It's good -- really good!

So how does it all work?  Well, at the start of the game you'll be given a lord card (the identity of which will be kept secret from the other players) and this card not only represents your fictional identity in the game, but also indicates how you can earn VP over the course of the game.  You see, each lord will provide rewards for completing certain kinds of quests during the game.  Quests, you say?  Now, we're taking!  Each player will collect quest cards of various types (Warfare, Skullduggery, Commerce and Arcane to be precise) and you can complete these quests by gathering together a band of adventures who'll undertake said quests and, in so doing earn you VP.  And this is where the worker placement portion of the game kicks in.

You see, the main game board represents the city of Waterdeep and in that city there are various locations and buildings that can be visited by your trusty agents.  That's right: you'll begin the game with a certain number of agents (workers/meeples) and you'll be able to send those agents out into the city to collect fighters, clerics, mages and money (wonderfully represented by the classically beautiful wooden cubes of many colours) and you'll be able to pool those resources in your tavern (read player board) in an effort to gather the necessary resources to complete the quest cards you've aquired.  Of course, all of those other lords (your fellow gamers / opponents) are equally keen to amass resources and complete quests -- and it's going to be a battle of timing and decisions to see if you can beat them to the key resources your need -- because once a location is filled by a agent it can't be occupied by anyone else until the next round!  As an aside, the different buildings that can be built by the various players will be different from game to game and that means that the city of Waterdeep will always be different with every game -- a definite plus in terms of replayability and bang-for-your-buck.

So what makes LoWD a game worth taking note of?  Well, first of all, I think it's the simple elegance of the game play.  I have rarely played a game that plays so smoothly in terms of it's mechanics and rules -- every thing just clicks together so well.  It's also a title that has very simple rules, yet requires making tough decisions -- especially about timing.  When you combine the simplicity of the rules and the elegance of the mechanics with the challenging decisions what you get is that very rare breed of game that can serve as both a 'gateway' style game and a title that proves satisfying even for more seasoned gamers.  In my experience, LoWD has proven accessible to and well received by: families, new gamers, as well as hardcore eurogamers.  Further the game plays well with any number of players and, somewhat surprisingly, it's even enjoyable with two!  In addition, the niftiest part of the game are the Intrigue Cards.  These cards require the placement of a worker on the board in order to activate and while they always help you, they sometimes help and/or hinder other players.  This introduces a degree of player interaction into the game that's both interesting and challenging, without being excessively aggressive or confrontational.  With the exception of the box itself (which really is something of an atrocity) the components are both beautiful and durable.  And, while the box may be disappointing, LoWD redeems itself with, arguably, one of the best box inserts of all time.  Most of all, the game is just plain fun!

So, is LoWD a game for you?  Well, it just might be if:

* You are a fan of euro games.
* You enjoy the worker placement mechanic.
* You're looking for a good title to introduce either your family or new gamers to the hobby.
* You enjoy games with a moderate degree of player interaction -- but without significant 'screwage'.
* You enjoy a game where you won't know who won until the final points have been tallied.
* You're a fan of the fantasy genre and the D&D universe.
* You like well produced games that look good on the table.

Overall, this is one of my personal favourites from the last year and I am eargerly awaiting the expansion that is scheduled to be released in mid-August.  That's right: I said expansion!  It's called The Scoundrels of Skullport and it offers more buildings, more lords and more sections of the city to explore!  Ultimately, I loved by the base game, can't wait for the expansion, and I heartily recommend checking out Lords of Waterdeep the next time you're down at the store.

Friday, July 26, 2013

From the Vaults

LA Moods is selling From the Vault 20 in the following way. Starting now until August 23, whenever you play in a sanctioned Magic event here at LA Moods you will receive a ballot. On Aug 23 the first 15 people to redeem 4 event ballots will receive the From the Vaults for $50. If you want it you from the vaults you will have to come out and play.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Cozy Up With Your Sweetie And Game!

Friends and Neighbours, I have a confession to make: I love eurogames.  Oh to be sure, I appreciate all the pretty plastic and shiny bits that come with your average Ameritrash game.  And, yeah I like games that emphasize theme as much as the next guy.  But, at the end of the day, when it's all said and done, I love me a good, old-fashioned, victory point getting, engine building, theme pasted on euro.  So for the next couple of posts I hope to introduce you to a number of my favourite euros -- starting with Castles of Burgundy.

Castles of Burgundy was released in 2011 from Alea/Ravensberger and was designed by Stephen Feld.  It's worth noting that, so far as designers are concerned, Feld is generally recognized as the king of euros -- to be honest, pretty much every game he's ever designed could be called Sven!  For those of you keeping count, Feld has designed such notable titles as: Roma, In the Year of the Dragon, Macao and Trajan.  So why single out Castles of Burgundy as being worthy of particular note?

Well, Castles is a two to four player game and the key here, is that it plays exceptionally well with any number on that spectrum.  In fact, my specific reason for writing about Castles it that it has repeatedly proven its worth as one of the best two player games in my collection.  Indeed, Castles has been widely received as one of the best "couples'" games produced in the last several years.  Here's the thing, while learning the game requires a little bit of effort in terms familiarizing yourself with  iconography that's used used on the player board and the tiles, once you've got that down pat, you'll discover that this is a smooth, elegant, satisfying euro that is, perhaps, at it's best with two players.  Indeed, with two players, you can knock out a very satisfying game filled with tough choices in under an hour. 

So how does Castles play out?  Well, each player will receive their own (possibly unique) player board.  The player board represents land that you control in Burgundy (in France) during the time of the High Middle Ages and your task is to develop that land as fully and productively as possible.  Your territory is divided up into different hexagonal territories representing various kinds of terrain -- for instance there are city, river, field, 'knowledge' and castle spaces.  You'll fill those terrain spaces by acquiring tiles from a central game board and placing those tiles on your player board.  How will I  acquire the tiles you ask?  Well, here's where things get interesting -- you'll be rolling dice!  That's right: on your turn you will roll two dice and you'll be able to spend those dice to carry out different actions.  Those actions include the ability to: take a tile from the main board into your personal supply; to place a tile from the supply onto your player board; to take modifier chits that will enable you to adjust the value of your die; or to sell various good that you've collected.  You will earn VP by filling up the various colour coded terrain types in your territory -- with additional VP being awarded to the player who fills up a given section of their land the quickest.  The player with the most VP at the end of the game is the winner.

So, what works about this game and why do I like it so much?  First of all, as I noted above, this is a true euro.  It's all about the efficient use of actions in an effort to create a VP generating engine -- which is something I love.  As such, to say that the the theme is pasted on is being generous -- but hey, if this is your kind of game you weren't looking for theme anyways.  Secondly, this game is just so polished and elegant in terms of its rules and mechanics.  The rules are really so simple and straightforward -- afterall, you only have two dice and there are only four possible uses for each one of those dice.  And yet, those choices can be so agonizingly tough to make!  (As an aside, if there is a negative about this game, it's that it can be frustrating to play if one of your opponents happens to suffer from a bad case of analysis paralysis.)  Further, while there is a degree of player interaction in the game, about the worst you can do is to take a tile that someone else wanted before they have a chance to snap it up.  And that means that there's a relatively low 'screwage' factor here, another plus if you happen to be playing with your partner.  Castles plays with two, three or four players and with very few rules changes related to the number of players.  As noted above, the game is proably at its best with two or three players, but it plays relatively quickly even with the full compliment of four players.  Finally, while there is most certainly an element of luck involved (you are rolling dice afterall), the luck is never back-breaking in its effect and, often, there are ways to mitigate the luck through careful play and decisions. 

Ultimately, if you like euros that emphasize resource management, efficiency, offer a neat twist on the set-collection mechanic and building a VP generating engine, well then Castles is title well worth checking out.  And, in particular, if you're looking for a fantastic, satisfying two player game -- well look no further.  By way of comparison, if you have enjoyed other titles like Kingsburg, Endeavour, Village or Stone Age then there's good reason to think that Castles might find a welcome place on your shelf.  And the good news -- when last I checked there were several copies on the shelf at the store just waiting to go home and sit on that shelf.

Thanks for reading and Game On!

L.A. Mood's August Heroclix Schedule

All events Begin at 6:00pm unless posted otherwise

August 1 Heroclix League Season 3 Opening Ranking Event
Build a 300pt team and compete to earn the place in which you choose your keyword for the third season of our Heroclix League
Prize: Rankings for the Third Heroclix League

August 8 Pacific Rim Special Event
Can you cancel the Apocalypse!?! Find a Partner that’s Drift Compatible and together Pilot one of the Jaegers against the Kaiju!
Prizes: TBA

August 15 Super Crazy Fan Favorite
Build a 2000 pt and battle with only 5 actions!!
Prizes: TBA

August 22 Fear itself Month 3 Event
400 point, Sealed event utilizing two (2) HeroClix Boosters per player: one (1) Marvel HeroClix: Fear Itself Booster pack, and one (1) other HeroClix booster  or Five (5) single figure boosters (or another Fear itself, IF turn out allows) of your choosing.
Prior to the event, players will “declare their allegiance” to one of the two Fear Itself Factions: “The Worthy” or “The Mighty.” They are now fighting for victory on behalf of their chosen Faction. They will utilize the appropriate Additional Team Ability for their faction (provided in the Month One Fear Itself kit) on their force.
Resources and Relics from the Fear Itself Scenario Packs or any previous month’s Marvel HeroClix: Fear Itself events are allowed for use
Prizes:  : Thor Limited Edition figures for 1st place, 2nd place and Fellowship
Skirn’s Hammer 3D Objects for participation prizes

August 29 Mutants Return!
Build a 600 pt team, 300pts must be from Wolverine and the X-Men
Prize: TBA

L.A. Mood House Rules
1. Purple Rings are legal, and no figures are retired
2. No Battlefield Conditions
3. Feats can only being used on older figures from before the Avengers set
4. Player are expected to bring a map that will be used, players may use either side if the map is double sided.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

2013 Spiels des Jahres Winner -- Hanabi!

Some weeks ago, I made a post in which I introduced this year's 2013 Spiels des Jahres nominees.  As you  may remember, this award given out every year in Germany is considered to be one of the most influential (if not the most influential) awards that a game can receive.  As you may remember, the aim of the Spiels des Jahres awards is to recognize excellence in game design and to promote gaming as a hobby.  As such, the Spiels has traditionally been awarded to a lighter euro game, or, more specifically to what you might call a "gateway" game.  This year, the Spiels des Jahres has been awarded to Hanabi.

Hanabi is a two to five player game, designed by Antoine Bauza and published by ABACUSPIELE Games.  It's worth noting at this juncture, that this is actually the second time Mr. Bauza has been awarded the coveted Spiels des Jahres.  In addition to this year's award, Bauza also won the 2011 Kenner Spiels des Jahres for the very popular 7 Wonders.  But what, besides its pedigree, made this year's jury take notice of Hanabi -- so much so that they awarded it their top honour?

Well to begin with, Hanabi is part of new design trend that has been taking the board game world by storm as of late -- and that new trend is to design what are called 'micro-deck' games.  As an example of this genre, AEG's Love Letter (about which I wrote in a previous post) has proven to be both a triumph of design (combing simplicity, satisfaction and speed in a game with only sixteen cards) and a phenominal best seller.  Hanabi is a game comprised of single deck of fifty cards (well, sixty if you want to amp up the difficulty) and a handful of cardboard tokens.

Hanabi is a game about putting together the perfect fireworks display and the cards represent those fireworks.  The fifty cards that comprise the base game are divided into five suits/colours of ten cards each.  Those cards are numbered as follows: 1,1,1,2,2,3,3,4,4,5.  The goal of the game is to play cards to the table so that you have one stack for each suit/colour and to stack those cards numerically from one to five.  Sounds simple right?  Draw cards play them out numerically in the correct pile -- sounds like a bad version of Skip-Bo doesn't it!  But here is the rub -- in Hanabi, when you draw your cards, you aren't allowed to look at them!  Instead, you'll need to hold your cards in such a fashion that you can only see the back of the card and so that your fellow players can see your hand.

So how are you going to play these cards out and stack them into piles?  Well, one possible action that you can take on your turn is to give one of your fellow players a clue about the cards in their hand.  The trick is that you have to give them clues that provides complete information about a colour or number of the cards in their hand.  As an example, if a player has three ones, one four and one five in their hand, I could point to the three cards that are ones and say: 'These three cards are ones'.  Or, if a player had three red cards, two blue cards and one white card, I could point to the two blue cards and say: 'These two cards are blue'.  As the game progresses, players will gain more information about the cards in their hand and, when they are confident they know the colour and number of a particular card, they can use their turn to play that card out on the board.

No problem, you say: eventually I'll know what cards I've got and we'll make this happen.  Ahh, but it's not so easy!  You see, at the beginning of the game, you'll set a number of clue tokens out on the table.  Each time you give a clue, you need to pay a clue token -- and when they're gone, they're gone.  No more clue tokens means no more clues.  The only way to get the clue tokens back is to discard a card from your hand -- but be careful, you don't want to discard critical cards that will keep you from completing a particular run of cards.  Discard a five, for instance, and that's a run you'll never finish!  On top of it all, every time that you incorrectly play a card, you'll lose one of the four fuse counters -- when they're gone the game's over and you'll score up your points and see how you did.

So, what are my thoughts on Hanabi?  Well, first of all this is a game with simple and accessible rules -- indeed, you can teach the game in about five minutes.  Despite its simple rules, however, this is a challenging game.  Giving effective clues, remembering those clues, managing the clue tokens -- there are definitely tough choices to be made.  Another positive characteristic is the quick play time -- you can easily knock out a game in twenty minutes which makes it the perfect game to open or close your regular gaming session.  I also appreciated the fact that this is co-operative game.  I would note in particular, that knowing how your fellow players think is critical -- you need to be able to interpret the clues that they give effectively and that's a really interesting social component of the game.  In terms of quality, though the components may be few, they are attractive and made from quality materials.  Finally, and most importantly, Hanabi is just fun to play -- not to mention addictive.  I found myself wanting to play it over and over in an effort to improve our score.  All this at an affordable price point -- well that's a winner in my books.  I'd highly recommend checking out Hanabi.

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Battling For Energy At Edge of the Universe

In today's post we'll take a look at the newest release from IELLO (pronounced 'yellow') Games entitled Titanium Wars.  Titanium Wars is the first offering from French designer Frederic Guerard and it plays with three or four players in 45-60 minutes.  From a thematic perspective, Titanium Wars is set in the distant future, one in which a new source of energy has been found at the edge of the galaxy.  That new energy source is known as Titanium and the competition to control this powerful and profitable resource has been fast and furious.  In Titanium Wars, you'll take on the role of a leader of one of the many factions vying to control of these titanium deposits.  In order to do so, you'll need to harness the resources of your home planet (and any other planets you conquer) in order to raise a fleet of star ships that you'll send out in your bid for profit and power!

So how does this all work?  Well, Titanium Wars is a game that's is all about economic engine building and combat.  Each round begins by flipping over the top card of the planet deck.  This accomplishes two things.  In the first place, the card you reveal will determines the planet that's available for conquest during the current round.  Additionally, it also reveals a 'global' event card which indicates a set of environmental conditions that will apply to all players during that round.  From here, you'll move into the income phase of the round -- during which you'll receive the income produced by your starting planet, in addition to any monies generated by any planets you've conquered and/or refineries you've constructed.

Following this, you'll move into the 'acquisition phase of the round. during which you will be able to purchase new ships, weapons and buildings from a central market place.  What's unique and quite fascinating about this phase is that it's conducted simultaneously!  That's right, everybody purchases their items at the same time -- and that leaves lots of room for bluffing and misdirection on your part.  Maybe you picked up a space fighter -- but when no one is looking you put it back and grab a battle cruiser instead!  Ultimately, no one will know what you've purchased until the end of the round when you reveal and place all of your purchases in your play area.

Finally, we move into the conquest phase of the round where you'll battle your opponents in massive galactic wars waged in the hope of gaining control of the planet that was revealed at the beginning of the round.  Combat is carried out via the play of tactics cards that are dealt out at the beginning of the round and which are refreshed at the end of this phase.  These tactic cards dictate when you'll be able to launch your attack, what type of ships you can commit to your attack and which kind of ships you can target as part of your attack.  This is a last man standing combat system and here too there is lots of room for gambling, bluffing and misdirection.  When there's only one player left, that player is awarded control of the planet -- and more importantly of its titanium deposits.  Play continues until one player has achieved controls a designated number of titanium deposists -- a number which varies with the number of players and the desired length of the game.

So then, what are my thoughts on Titanium Wars?  Well, somewhat surprisingly, I liked it!  Why do I say surprisingly?  Because this is a game with a great deal  of player interaction, lots of direct conflict, all mixed together with a healthy does of luck -- all characteristics which I don't generally find endearing in a game.  However, somehow Titanium Wars turns out to be more than the sum of its parts.  First of all, the components and artwork for the game are all top-notch -- this really is an attractive game.  I was particularly pleased with the quality of the card stock they used.  Additionally, the game really benefits from the the fact that much of the game-play is simultaneous -- as this really helps to move the game along in terms of play time.  Once you know what you're doing you can knock a game out in an hour -- even with the full complement of four.  Further, from a design perspective, the way in which the tactic cards really shape and direct the purchases you make ensures that there is lot's of replayability even with the base game.  I also appreciated the 'cannonball' run aspect of the game.  You build your fleet hoping that it will prove effective against whatever force your opponents' are building up and you send them out into a battle hoping that they survive long enough to take out your enemies before getting reduced to space dust!  Finally, I also love the negotiations that take place as players begin to form and, inevitably, break alliances with one another.

Ultimately, this is fun, fast game with great components that's sure to be hit if you're looking for a three to four player game that offers lots of opportunity for conflict and backstabbery.  Overall, a hearty thumbs up! 

Friday, July 05, 2013

Two Great Games Reprinted and Back In Stock!

Greetings Fellow Gamers!

Well, it was a happy day at the store on Thursday!  Why, you ask?  Because, on Thursday, two very fine games arrived in our shipment from Lion Rampant -- two games which have been much in demand and very difficult to acquire over the past several months.  What games were they you ask?  Why, the two games in question were: King of Tokyo and Love Letter!  For those of you that haven't already stopped reading and headed down to the store to grab a copy, let me introduce you to both of these titles.

We'll start with King of Tokyo.  King of Tokyo is a two to six player game designed by Richard Garfield (designer of such notable games as Magic the Gathering and RoboRally) and published by IELLO Games.  When I introduce people to the game, I usually begin by saying this: "It's like Yahtzee, but with monsters -- and, unlike Yahtzee, it's fun!"  Yup, in King of Tokyo you'll get to take on the role of a fearsome monster (my favourite is Cyber Bunny -- doesn't sound fearsome I know, but you haven't seen him when he's angry) who is battling it out with several other monsters to see who can do the most damage to the city of Tokyo.

Each player will begin by selecting a monster and placing it in front of them.  Then, in player order, you'll role the six special dice that come with the game.  If you roll one's, two's, or three's you'll be have the possibility of scoring victory points -- which is good because one way to win the game is to be the first player to reach 20VP.  If you roll the claw symbol you'll be able to attack the other monsters at the table -- which is good, because the other way to win is be the last monster standing!  If you roll the heart symbol you can use that to heal your monster.  And, if you roll the lightning bolt symbol you'll collect energy cubes that can be used to buy cards that will give your monster special abilities and powers -- such as an extra head, or a spiked tail, or the ability to spit acid!  The purchasing of cards is really the best part of the game because they not only make your monster unique, but the cards also reflect the humour found in many of the 'B-Movies' of the monster genre.

In my opinion, this is one of the best family games to come along in good while.  The rules are straightforward and accessible, to the point that I would say that children age six and up could comfortably play the game -- but it's still fun and humourous for adults as well.  It has great components -- especially the chunky dice and the wonderfully illustrated cards.  Additionally, each player has their own monster token and a cool player board that has dials which track both your health and victory point totals.  Ultimately King of Tokyo is a fun, accessible game that plays quickly and should sastifying family gamers and the experienced gamers alike!  Oh and did I mention that you can play the Cyberbunny?

The other title to grace our shelves again is Love Letter.  Love Letter is a two to four player game, designed by Seiji Kanai and published by AEG.  I can honestly say that few games in the last year have proven to be as universally popular as Love Letter -- as evidenced by the fact that the game is already in it's fourth (or fifth?) printing since its release last year!  So why is this game so popular?

The answer I think is that the game represents a near perfect fusion of: ease of play, satisfaction of play and price point.  Let's start with ease of play.  The game consists of a single deck of sixteen cards -- yup, that's all, sixteen cards!  And the rules are about as simple as you can get.  On your turn, you'll begin with a card in your hand, you will draw a card from the deck, and you'll play one of the two cards in your hand, carrying out the instructions written on said card.  That's it, that's all.  One sentance and you already know how to play the game!  Yet, here's the thing, for such a simple game with so few components, when it's all over you still feel that you've had a satisfying gaming experience.  Why?  Because there are still decisions to be made on your turn, decisions which can often involve a level of both deduction and bluffing.  The goal of the game is to be either the last person with a card in hand at the end of the round, or, the person with the highest value card in hand at the end of the round.  You knock others out of the game by forcing them to discard their cards or by leaving them with lower valued cards through careful card play.  Thus, even though the game is simple, you still need to think and play carefully -- hence it's satisfying nature.  Finally, you get all of this for the remarkable price of $9.95!  Simply put, there are few titles that offer you better bang for your gaming buck!  Finally, the game plays quickly and (like King of Tokyo) proves to be a really fantastic family game.  Overall, this is a fantastic title, one that has proven to be a hit every time that I've pulled it out.

Friends and neighbours, here's the deal:  both of these games have a tendancy to vanish quickly once they've hit store shelves.  The high demand for both of these titles, coupled with the lag time between reprintings means that they often sell out quickly and then can't be acquired for the next several months.  So, if you've played these titles and you know how good they are, or, if you've not played them but are interested in expanding your cardboard horizons, I'd suggest that you head down to the store prompty and grab a copy while they're still available.  They won't be there long and believe me when I say you won't regret purchasing either one of them.

Thanks for reading and: Game On!