Hey board gamers, BJ from Board Game Gumbo here back with more tales of gaming down on the bayou. This has been a tough time for getting in person multiplayer games in, but luckily, I have a few gamers at home, and some steady friends who will get together online frequently.
Hit us up on Twitter or on Facebook and let us know what games you’ve been playing during this crisis and what games you think we should play!
But that’s enough blather, let’s get to the games! It is a huge week for Kickstarter projects from some of my favorite companies. Here are three games we have played this month, maybe not enough for a full review, but enough to give a solid first impression of our experience:
Formal Ferret Games successfully kickstarted High Rise, a beautiful city building game, after its second attempt. The first one introduced the game plus plastic miniatures representing the city buildings, but the cost seemed a bit high for a new game. Gil Hova, the designer and owner, went back to the Kickstarter drawing board, and came up with Kwanchai Moriya art for cardboard standees that is amazing to look at in person. Now, the game is out, and has been reviewed so warmly that Gil is heading back this week with more content for the game and a chance to get plastic pieces to make the city look even more impressive.
We were lucky enough to visit with Gil during GEN CON online as well as the Punchboard Media event, and he provided us with a review copy of the game. We have been able to play a few times since then, and wow, this is right up our alley.
High Rise is a one to four person game about building up a shared city, but with a twist. Players can take regular actions as they move their “mogul” piece around the board, but at certain locations, they can take stronger actions if they are willing to move up the “corruption” track on the board. That’s right — players are simulating the graft, greed, and corruption that allegedly goes on in big city building projects. Get too far down the corruption track during each of three “decades” (or seasons), and you could lose a lot of points, especially at the end of the game. But you need those bigger actions to score points quickly or place your buildings in the right districts to out-muscle your opponents for the tallest building bonus points, too. It makes for very tough decisions especially at the end of each round / season.
The other twist is the clever use of the Takaido mechanic, used in a few other games, too, where players can leap out ahead to grab spaces for their mogul with the action that they really want. The problem is that they will not play again until they are last on the board, meaning that other players can take multiple actions until they catch up to your mogul. That’s a fun mechanic in Heaven & Ale, and it works very well here.
And of course, there is the production. From the big beautiful box with a gorgeous cover, to the fun Kwanchai Moriya art on the slender but striking buildings, this is a game that is photogenic on the table. I have thoroughly enjoyed my few plays this week, and I cannot wait to play it more.
BJ says: I know it has only been a handful of plays, but this is Gil’s best game yet. Tight, decisive, thinky, and gorgeous to boot, it is a feast for the eyes and just enough of a brain melt to really tickle that part of me. The Kickstarter is going live on October 6.
The decade of the Roll and Write continues! 2020 is off to a roaring start, with tons of great randowriters rewriting what the genre can do (even if rewriting is usually outlawed in most of the games.) One of the surprise hits from 2019 was Cartographers, from Thunderworks Games. Designed by Jordy Adan with gorgeous art from Luis Francisco and Lucas Ribeiro, it was a big hit among the Southern Board Game Fest staff.
Now, Thunderworks is also back this week with a Kickstarter project to add more pages and more cards to the Cartorgraphers milieu (itself a part of the Roll Player universe.)
Cartographers: Heroes has a simple premise, which will be very familiar to fans of the base game. Players are royal mapmakers all charting out new lands. Cards will be flipped out one at a time, and players are free to place the polynomial shapes on the cards onto their blank map, taking care to fit it into the boundaries. The hook is that each of the cards will reveal one or two different shapes corresponding to one or two different terrains — forests, mountains, lakes, etc. The second hook is that in each of the four seasons of the game (rounds), different terrains will score points for you according to the Queen’s decrees. It is not a surprise, as players will know what terrains will be matched up during each season, so there is some long term planning involved. But, the fun is in how each player will come up with a unique strategy to address the Queen’s demands.
Plus, it would not be a fantasy roll and write set in the Roll Player universe without the requisite monsters and heroes showing up. Let’s talk about the monsters first. Monsters randomly come out as cards drawn, forcing players to give their maps to other players to block out large swaths of the countryside, which could negatively affect the mapmaker’s plans.
Not only do the blank spaces adjacent to monsters create negative points for you, but they each have special powers that you have to contend. For instance, one of my favorites in the Heroes expansion is the Zombie monster card, where players will have to be careful to block the Zombie in with other terrain or else it will keep growing and take over portions of the map! That takes precious turns and precious resources, but you have to defeat the zombies quickly or they will start knocking on the office building asking Dave to let them in.
But, the designer of the expansion didn’t leave us empty handed. Dealing with the monsters is really where the Heroes came in handy. These are added to the deck at the start of each season, and are also randomly drawn. As you can see, they give you the chance to defeat monsters if placed in the right areas, and are also good for protecting your areas before a monster is drawn.
But that’s not all. Thunderworks is not only putting out new cards but also new maps, too. We played the Nebblis: Plane of Flame bonus maps. They came in the same style pad of maps as you find in the base game, but with unique challenges of their own. This time, the challenge was to avoid the devastating effects of a volcano in the center of the map that had the ability each time a lava card was drawn to get bigger and bigger and bigger.
I love the volcanoes! On the version we played, the volcano is smack dab in the middle of the map, and right in the tempting area where you know you can score some points. But I was really flirting with disaster by doing so, because if we pulled those lava cards, it can really mess you up quickly. Jay and I were pretty lucky in our game, though, and for the most part were able to mitigate most of the damage. I had a little trouble on my eastern side, where the volcano’s lava flow really messed with my handiwork.
I love the addition of the new maps, and rumor has it that there are more on the way in the Kickstarter depending on the success of the project. According to the BGG page, there are a few more map packs on the way in the Kickstarter!
BJ says: If you are a fan of roll and writes, this is one you need to put on your list to check out. As someone who had a tepid reaction to the original game, I think the expansion content makes the game so much more tense and thematic. I have really enjoyed my plays of Heroes with other people, and had a great time playing it solo, too.
STUDIES IN SORCERY
I’ve long admired Weird Giraffe Games’ ability to find quirky themes, match them up with unique artwork, and stuff them all into relatively small boxes that seem to give a much bigger experience than meets the eye. In Studies in Sorcery, the new one out on Kickstarter this week, I think Carla Kopp is publishing her best game yet.
Studies in Sorcery, designed by Chris Glein (who also did the artwork), has a theme that many players fond of a certain set of books and movies will easily recognize. Players are competing wizards at a wizarding graduate level school, trying to score more points thant the other wizards by completing their studies in earnest. The trick is that the projects that they are completing require ingredients that are familiar to any fantasy fans, things like bones and skulls and creepy worms and the like.
In other people’s hands, that could be a pretty heavy theme. But, the art and the game theme in Studies in Sorcery are both “light and dark” (as my buddy, Steve O’Rourke told me) at the same time. The artwork suggests the dark theme of wizards scrounging around the worst places to find these horrible parts and pieces, yet at the same time, the art is fun and a little frivolous, which helps to tone down the gory nature of the theme.
But don’t play this game just for the cute artwork. The game play itself is solid. The game only takes about an hour, and combines engine building and card drafting in a very satisfying manner.
Players will play over four semesters, and during the semesters, will have actions (plus a bonus action or two) thematically tied to their graduate studies. They will dig for ingredients in classic push your luck fashion, diving into piles of cards knowing that the next pile may have that exact ingredient they need. We had fun with this little push your luck mechanic, because each time we passed up a pile, we knew we were leaving even more ingredients behind in the previous piles and making them a lot more attractive to the next player.
Players will also purchase new project cards, from each of three levels of difficulty (but also different levels of bonuses or special powers.) Rounding out the actions will be purchasing rare ingredients, or even “cramming” for their studies by putting extra ingredients. The actions are pretty straightforward, and although we were working with the prototype rulebook, we pretty much figured it all out pretty quickly.
I am partial to the game because I love playing engine builders that spin up quickly, and I also love the card drafting combination. Throw in the unique theme and the distinctive artwork, even though the caveat is that we were not playing the finished product, and it made for some very enjoyable experiences.
BJ says: Quick game turns, a cool theme, quirky but fun art for a serious theme, and combolicious play — that’s Studies in Sorcery in a nutshell, all in a relatively small package that only takes about an hour to play. Ca c’est bon!
THE WRAP UP:
So that’s it for our recent plays. Roux Dat will be back for more early looks at recent plays, especially in this uncertain time when it is tough to get a group of gamers together for a more proper review. Is there a game out there that you or your friends are curious about? Hit us up with a tweet @boardgamegumbo and we will see if we can get our hands on the game!
Until next time, laissez les bon temps rouler!
— BJ @boardgamegumbo
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