Roux Dat #4 — Gumbo Game Night
Hey board gamers, BJ from Board Game Gumbo here, back with more Louisiana flavor and tales of board gaming. It’s time for more post-game QB-ing after our recent Gumbo Game Night this week.
I Fell On To An Island Of Fire
How smart would it be to pull out a new game for the first time, and throw in every single expansion that is made for the game?
That’s not a rhetorical questions, that was the agenda for Gumbo Game Night. The Krewe finally received the all-in copy of Fireball Island: Curse of Vul-Kar from Restoration Games, designed by Rob Daviau, JR Honeycutt, and Justin D. Jacobsen, with art from Matijos Gebreselassie, Chad Hoverter, and Jason Taylor. We were not content to take a leisurely stroll around the island — no, instead, we put Fireball Island to the full test, and decided to throw Everything Including The Kitchen Sink onto the table.
That’s right, for our first game, we had:
- The base game of Fireball Island;
- The Last Adventurer, which expands the game to five players, includes awesome new player powers and souvenirs, snake marbles and a giant boulder;
- The Treasure Trove, which added in more souvenir cards, some legendary artifact cards, and the controversial injury cards which can negate the loss of a treasure if hit by a fireball;
- Crouching Tiger, Hidden Bees, which added two new threats — a crouching tiger that you can use to pounce on opponents, and a whole hive full of yellow bee marbles to pour through Vul-Kar;
- Wreck of the Crimson Cutlass, which added a whole new area to explore, plus new treasures and new threats
Five new players who had never laid eyes on Fireball Island versus four sets of new rules. Who would win? (Note: this review is based on my own Kickstarter pledge, not the retail base game.)
For those of you who have been living under a pirogue for the last year, Fireball Island is the hot new game restored back to life from Restoration Games. It plays 2-4 players (five with the above mentioned expansion) in about an hour, and is billed as the ultimate in beer & pretzels games. For one hour, players will explore a giant, dangerous volcanic island, grabbing treasures along the way. When the hello-copter returns to take them to safety, there is a two turn race to get on the chopper, grab some additional loot and escape. Of course, no volcanic island would be complete without an angry presence, here named Vul-Kar, who spits out fireballs from atop his lofty perch trying to knock down anxious adventurers.
Restoration Games turned an old classic 80s roll-and-move game into a family-style, just-enough-strategy game (using a hand of two movement cards instead of random rolls) that has some amazing visual presence. The board itself is made up of three separate plastic pieces that fit together perfectly to make up the island. (Less perfect were the dimples on the island for the tiny green snake marbles, which for some reason would not hold all the snakes in place.)
Players will take turns playing one of their cards, doing the movement on the top, and then wreaking havoc with the bottom action on their cards (like stealing treasure, or pushing boulders and fireballs, or dumping bees, or changing Vul-Kar’s head’s direction — all in the name of good, clean fun of course.)
The goal? Grab as many treasures on the island (think set collection plus bigger point items like the heart of Vul-Kar honey pots, gems, and golden idol), and take “snapshots” of the island along the way (again, just collecting big point cards from scenic spots on the board). Once the end game conditions are met, the hello-copter returns and there is a race to get back in, which is the only way to score the snapshot bonus points.
How was the production? While there have been some legitimate complaints about the choice of box materials and the construction of the additional set pieces (the chopper and the “maw” cart), except for the snakes, the rest of the production is top notch and the same quality you would expect from Restoration Games. The cover art on all of the boxes is flat out stunning, and the cards are top quality. I upgraded to the painted figures, which might be the weakest part of the upgraded components but still is a nice touch to bling out the game.
Enough about the components and game play, was the game any fun? Yep, I can verify that the game does exactly what the box advertises. For one hour, we took turns (rapidly!) playing our cards, chasing down the treasures and snapshots, and trying sometimes with great success to send bees and fireballs and snakes and even a giant boulder after the other players.
My strategy was to zig while others zagged. I ran straight to a cave, and then moved to the pirate ship. This is a separate area with its own unique gems that give you extra turns. Safe from any players (for the moment), I moved toward the captain’s wheel to grab the high point snap shots. By that time, other players had wandered over to the pirate ship, and the ones still on the island used every card to unleash the cannon balls in the crow’s nest. After getting run over by them, I headed back to the main part of the island, looking to snag the heart of Vul-Kar. I spied one of the players running through the jungle on the east side, and made a dash with one of the pirate themed cards I had in my hand. I grabbed the treasure and ran, only to get run over again by a fireball, dumping the heart.
A turn later, the hello-copter came back, and so I sprinted for one or two last treasures in order to complete the secret objectives that I had been given. That was probably too risky, as Melissa and two other players were able to sneak onto the chopper before I could get there. Without the heart and not being first to the copter to grab the lucky penny, I ended up in the middle of the pack but very glad to be back on American soil again.
Were there any complaints? Yes, we realized pretty quickly that throwing every single rule and expansion into the mix on our first play was not the smoothest decision. Fireball Island should play quickly, and really be about the adventure rather than the points. But, there were so many areas to look at, so many threats, and so many interactive cards in play. The distractions disturbed the smooth play, unfortunately. When we play it again, my plan will be to streamline the experience somewhat. I loved the bees, hidden objectives, and the special player powers. I’d like to try the game without all of the other extras, and see if it plays as quickly as we need it to play.
Roux Dat says: I give my first play a thumbs up. Caveat: there is definitely a target audience that will enjoy this game and I fit right into that bullseye. Fireball Island is an oversized fun house, with all of the charm and warts that slap-dash take-that race games have, so season your meal accordingly.
Bradly says: This game suffers a bit from too much “stuff.” I think the base game, perhaps with the 5th player expansion, is the ideal setup. The bees are okay and fun, but I really dislike the pirate ship and the snakes, as well as the injury cards. Also, while I love the tiger itself as it harkens back to games of my childhood, it’s really hard to actually hit someone with him.
Deception: Murder In Duson
My absolute favorite social deduction games has not seen the table in a few months. Luckily, Kent brought his blinged out Kickstarter copy of Deception: Murder in Hong Kong. With Carlos, the king of Deception, back from the frozen tundra of Iowa, we knew we would be in for some hilarious games.
Deception is a 2014 release from Grey Fox Games (here in the States) designed by Tobey Ho, with art from Marcin Adamski, Ben Carre, Tommy Ng, and Ari Wong. The game plays as many as twelve people. It has a playing time of 20 minutes, and our four games each lasted about 15 minutes or so.
Players play as detectives trying to solve a murder. Each player has a set of clue cards, some from the scene and some potentially being the weapon used. One player is secretly chosen as the murderer (and another as the accomplice, if you add that role), who point to the scene card and murder weapon in front of them as the real targets. Everyone else has to take turns accusing each other of being the felon.
Sounds like typical social deduction, right? What sets Deception apart is the mechanism of ferreting out the murderer. One player is chosen as the Forensic Scientist, who reveals clue boards each round. The Scientist must pick one of the clues on each board (think boards like “location” or “injuries”) even if the clue does not exactly fit. Players will try to figure out what the Scientist is *silently* telling them through the clues, because no other hints are allowed. Each player gets only one chance to guess the murder weapon and the last evidence car correctly. If no one does, the murderer wins.
And that’s what I like about Deception. The game generally does not devolve into “you’re the werewolf; no, you’re the werewolf” arguments based just solely on reactions to accusations. Of course, there is still some of that, but it is mitigated by the fact that a good Scientist is giving the players clues on which to base the murderer’s identity. The Scientist hears the debate raging between the players, and can change out the clues accordingly. So, as players start to zero in on the bad guys, the bad guys inevitably will try to throw smoke screens and diversions to throw the players off the scent or to point the fingers at some innocent bystander.
We played four times back-to-back-to-back-to-back. Deception is just that addicting of a game! I had a good run until the last game, when I was the Scientist for the second time and could not get the players to focus on the one card that they were missing. Oh well, the meta game is strong in this one, and one can always learn from the past experiences to play a little better next time.
Roux Dat Says: Hands down my favorite social deduction game, and I have fun whether I win or lose. The journey we take collectively toward the end of the game is more fun than scoring a win. It is one of those rare games that always ends with a post-game analysis of what happened. How bad were the clues? Who was steering us wrong? Did the Scientist get an event card that flips the person into a traitor?. Why did BJ forget he was the murderer again? The experience of playing Deception is the tasso and sausage, and winning the game is just the sauce piquante.
Bradly says: If you enjoy games like Werewolf, Dixit or Mysterium and have yet to play Deception: Murder in Hong Kong, you should really find the time to give it a try. Battlestar Galactica is still the king of deception games to me, but committing the time to play it keeps it from the table most of the time. Of the deception games that remain, Deception: Murder in Hong Kong is definitely my top pick. If you can get enough people to play with the additional roles (specifically the Witness and Accomplice) that’s where the game really shines.
Space: The Final Racketeers
My favorite all time space themed TV show is Firefly, and anytime I see a game themed around “honest” businessmen on the edge of the universe, I am intrigued. That’s the conceit of Scorpius Freighter from Alderac Entertainment Group (AEG). The game was designed by Matthew Dunstan (of Elysium fame) and David Short, with art from victor Perez Corbella, Jay Epperson, and Matt Paquette. AEG was gracious enough to provide us with a review copy.
Scorpius Freighter plays two to four players, with an advertised play time of about 75 minutes. Our game lasted about an hour, after a five minute teach or so. Players each have a board representing their small freighters, who will graft onto the “mother ships” run by the Government. The mother ships hover around three planets on the big board, and each planet is basically a rondel with various actions. One planet focuses on the production of the contraband we will carry (for a fee of course), one focuses on upgrading the ships, and the last focuses on contracts we can sign to deliver honest goods or do secret deals with the underworld.
The game play is simple. Players have four crew members, and can “exhaust” up to two of them to move one of the motherships that many spaces around each of the rondels. Whatever part of the planet they land on is the action they can take that round. It could be something as simple as refilling a cargo area with medicine cubes, or upgrading a crew member from “amateur” to “professional”, with attendant special powers or end game bonuses. Once a certain number of crew member is exhausted, the crew is refreshed for the next turn.
I cannot lie; the game looks busy and complicated, but after a turn or two, something clicks. This game boils down to a unique premise: we are not playing a pick up and delivery game even though it sounds like that is what we are doing. Instead, we are playing a pick up and not deliver game. The difference here from other games of this genre is that our ships do not “go anywhere”. We pick up goods, load them on our freighter, and deliver them later without having to move anywhere.
There is another cool mechanism we need to mention. The timer of the game is the number of times players go around each rondel. This is marked easily by adding one of the contraband cubes to the mothership that passes by the “tax” area of the rondel. Once the ship has enough cubes (the number depends on the player count; in our game, six cubes was the limit), that triggers the end phase of the game which allows each player to take a final turn. This creates a delicious decision — do I go around the planet once more, to get that sweet spot I need to fulfill a contract for big points? I could but it will add one more cube to the mother ship which could trigger the end game sooner than I wanted it to come.
What I also liked is how each of the four players that played used a different strategy, and for the most part, our scores were pretty similar. (Yes, Bradly maxed out on the side deals for almost double our points, but that’s to be expected). Kent worked on upgrading his ship, John was definitely into fulfilling big contracts, and I tried to combo my way to multiple side deals and bonus points from my upgraded crew.
Pick-up-and-deliver is not my favorite mechanism, but here, I love the implementation. The Governmental tax spaces are prominent displayed on the board, and every player knows exactly where they are and how far the motherships have to go to reach them. I love the tension that arises in deciding how close to get to that space. And, I love the fact that there appears to be multiple paths to victory.
I wish the rules were more intuitive. New players seem to get hung up on the difference in the rules between exhausting a crew member to move the ship, yet players still receive skill points from the remaining crew members to play actions. And, for some reason, the different icons on the refilling planet gave our players fits trying to tell the difference between upgrading your ship, using its abilities, refilling the cargo, or adding more cargo space. This is a tiny complaint, as by the end of the game we were making less mistakes, but it happened.
Roux Dat says: I heard Tom Vasel early on speak highly of Scorpius Freighter, and I can see why. The teach is relatively painless, there are enough varied options to score points that even new players should not feel boxed in, and the theme while not as heavily invested in the game as others still shines through the cards and artwork and the mechanisms. I have played this twice now already, and I can’t wait to play it again.
Bradly says: I enjoy pick up and deliver games because they’re essentially efficiency games, and Scorpius Freighter definitely fits that genre even though you aren’t going anywhere. The three rondels being the main mechanic is really interesting and I think, ultimately, really clever. However, I wouldn’t pick this game over Oracle of Delphi or Wasteland Express Delivery Service. One of its weakest points is the art, which I really just do not enjoy.
John says: Scorpius Freighter is a pick up and deliver game that doesn’t feel like a pick up and deliver game. It focuses on the mechanic of action selection that utilizes three distinct action rondels, instead of moving your freighter between specific locations. It’s a pick up and deliver game designed to be enjoyed by both people who don’t like pick up and deliver games (like BJ) and those who do enjoy them (like me).
So, that’s it for Gumbo Game Night and our post-game quarterbacking session. Roux Dat will be back with more commentary and reviews about the games we are playing. Is there a game that you would like to suggest for the next Roux Dat? Send me a tweet @boardgamegumbo and let’s chat about it.
Until next time, laissez les bon temps rouler!
Your Fireball ladder is backwards in pic! Box to small and flimsy. Game has to much chrome (flashy unnecessary trappings) marbles roll poorly, helichopper is a hard to assemble joke. Did not improve on the original. Wish I had not bought the full package.
Hey Gary, thanks for reading! I guess it is one of those “your mileage may vary” games — to me, Fireball Island does exactly what it is intended to do, and beer & pretzels games should have a little flash and chrome and look awesome on the table.
As for the components, our marbles rolled great — the only real problem is that our snake marbles WILL NOT stay on the perches, so we stopped using them. The only element that didn’t roll great was the big boulder, but it is an expansion piece, not the base game. The “hello-copter” was pretty easy to assemble, but our “maw” was not, so maybe those are just individual instances.
I’m sorry you didn’t like the full package — this game for us was a definite improvement on the original (based on what I saw in the Board To Life show) and I would not go back to a simple roll and move. Is it a home run 10 out of 10? Of course not, but it is a solid beer night game or a family weight game that I know my kids and grandkids will enjoy playing.