Sunday, April 22, 2018

Dave Reviews: Charlemagne Rolling In His Grave

The Castles of Burgundy

Burgundy is hexagonally-shaped district in northern France, laced with farms that grow six-sided dice and dye factories whose sole purpose is to add differentiation to the dice they buy from the farms. From there, those dice are packaged and shipped in large boxes to little boys and girls, who then give those boxes to their mothers and fathers because the games inside are way too fucking complicated for them to figure out, and they want to catch more Pokemon anyway.


The Castles of Burgundy is a game that can be viewed as an opposite to Rising Sun—one where the game clearly came first and, even if they had planned to use this medieval theme, they could have changed that theme if it didn't really fit the game. It's also a classic, despite being less than ten years old; sitting at the edge of BGG's top ten games of all time after this long means you've done something right. (Of course, doing something right means expanding on it ad nauseum; this review will only cover the base game, but there are nine expansions.)

Castles is representative of its time in board gaming's evolution: it does not have any reliance on pure dice rolling, a la Settlers of Catan, but neither does it eschew randomness altogether like many present-day strategic games. It's of that moment where risk management was popular, handing players dice but offering methods of manipulating those dice that could take almost all of the pure chance out of the game. \

Each of the game's five phases consists of five turns, so you have twenty-five turns to play with. Each turn, you roll two dice, with which you can do a handful of things: pick up a tile from the common board, play a tile to your estate, sell goods, or throw a die away in exchange for two workers. The first three all require your action to match the roll of the die; you can only take a tile from a space matching one of your dice, play to a space matching one of your dice, or sell the goods that match one of your dice. Likewise, workers allow you to nudge a die up or down by one, so if you have a die that's can't get you anything you need, you can use it to pick up the resources that let you manipulate dice later. It's not a great turn, but it ensures no die is ever completely wasted.

That's all you need to know to play, but playing well is an entirely different matter. There are a dozen different tiles that can hit the board, and that doesn't include the one-off rulebreaker (knowledge) tiles. All of them have a different effect; although their strengths are pretty well balanced, what gives you the most opportunity to score is tiles that let you trigger bonus actions you would normally need to use a die on.

For example, if you place a church on your board, you can take a mine, castle, or knowledge tile from the common board. That's one die saved, plus you can get it from any location without needing to roll the right number. Likewise, a city hall lets you add any tile you're holding to your estate without needing to roll the number for the space you're putting it in. Castles let you take any action for free, as though you had a third die with the result of your choice. Banks, meanwhile, give you two silverlings; buying tiles from the center area of the common board can only be done by paying two silverlings, and that's a bonus action on your turn, so banks effectively give you a free action as well.

Tiles that don't give you bonus actions tend to offer more points or other utility bonuses. Animals, for example, can be very lucrative if you get a good-sized pasture filled with as many of the same type as you can; watchtowers are a simple 4 VP per, but if you also get the knowledge tile that offers an extra four per at the end of the game, they're fantastic. Ships grab market goods, which are useful, but also move you ahead in the turn order; this sometimes has to be done carefully, though, as the person who reaches the same number of ships as you goes ahead of you in turn order. Boarding houses give you four workers, which don't spam actions but make sure you can do what you want on later turns. And knowledge tiles offer all sorts of effects; dice manipulation tiles are ones you want to grab early, point bonuses later when you know what will be most efficient (or what you most want to keep away from your opponents).

Of course, there are bonus points for being the first or second person to finish all of your tiles of a certain type, so that's a consideration above and beyond simply doing the most efficient thing every turn. Choices!

The reason this game is so classic is that it's so balanced. I've sat and annoyed the hell out of my opponents, who were very nice about it all the same, by going deep into the tank on some turns after somebody grabs the one thing I need and I don't have a backup plan. Advantageous moves are not obvious; they have to be built on top of what you've done previously. If your most advantageous move goes away, everything looks the same, because everything is the same. It can be paralyzing, but in the best way: the options are all things you want to do, rather than all things you want to avoid, leaving you to choose the least bad option.

There's definitely a learning curve; veteran gamers will probably feel comfortable partway through the game, since there are so many turns, but it's not something to introduce to casual or new board gamers unless you know they're ok with a game that has a lot of knowledge to sift through. Giving yourself the ability to take almost anything you need because your dice manipulation is strong creates an easier path forward, but unlike many games, there's a real opportunity cost involved—getting related tiles, or workers, takes turns you might otherwise have been able to spend on building your estate, and this is a game where you could always use another turn to get something done.

It's a classic for a reason. Play it.

Score: Nine castles, leaving the tenth to the filthy English.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Dave Reviews: The Land of the SERIOUSLY JAPAN AGAIN I WANT TO CONQUER MONGOLIA

Rising Sun

Listen. Games industry. We need to talk about your Japan fetish. I'm not saying the feudal states period isn't compelling, but FFS, there are already multiple games specifically titled "Shogun". Legend of the Five Rings is in a fantasy Japan. If as much of the board game industry was based in Japan as video games, that would make sense, but that's not at all the case.

Why are so many historical avenues related to that region of the world ignored? Just focusing on eastern Asia, I could only find one game about Genghis Khan and a small handful about the Three Kingdoms period in China. How is that possible? Tecmo is up to Romance of the Three Kingdoms 13, and that's one video game company approaching the period in one way. Another ROTK-based series is Dynasty Warriors, which has nine installations, while Samurai Warriors, the Japan-based spinoff, only has one.

Basically, Japan is better at making video games about places in Asia outside Japan than America and Europe are at making board games about places in Asia outside Japan. HOW IS THAT POSSIBLE.

Alright, Rising Sun. Impress me.


Rising Sun is the brand-spanking-new, miniature-happy Kickstarter release from CMON. The map of Japan is simplified relative to most games in this setting; rather than being broken down into numerous small provinces, with clever lines of attack and defense the key to victory, Rising Sun's Japan only has eight. Armies are small in number—a maximum of ten figures plus any monsters you might bring along, oh yeah, there are monsters, don't let me forget about that—but they fit the board well enough.

To get it out of the way, the minis are fantastic. The monsters are big and ferocious, which is becoming a regular thing for CMON to pull off. For the player armies, you get six bushi, three shinto, and one daimyo. Since your army is all similarly sized, and there are two separate types of bushi figures, they include white bases for the shinto and black ones for the daimyos. It's a smart way of differentiating the pieces from each other. 

(Picky bastard incoming)

Their naming could have been a little better; damiyos are the provincial leaders, so that's fine, and 'bushi' is effectively another name for samurai. People are not 'shinto', however, and even if you think of it as 'shinto warrior', that's like calling a Dark Ages European knight a 'Christian warrior'. The description is correct, because their religion is part of the deal, but the people themselves have different titles. If they're supposed to be some type of monk it would have been better to name them Ikko-ikki. It's more accurate and a way better name in general.

Whatever. Small things. That's what happens when there are too many goddamned games about 16th century Japan.

(Picky bastard exiting)

The game is played over four seasons, the last of which doesn't have any action (because it's winter), only bonus points. Quite a bit happens on each of the other three turns, though. 

First, players form alliances. These can come with whatever stipulations the players choose, but 'official' alliances can only be between two players, and each player can only be in one alliance. Having allies gives you bonuses when they play political mandates and lets your armies share territory without murdering each other, but betraying an ally costs you honor.

Next comes the deck of ten political mandate tiles, seven of which are used each season. There are two each of five types: Recruit, Marshal, Harvest, Train, and Betray. Starting the game, the player with the highest honor draws four tiles, chooses one, and places the rest back on the deck. Recruit lets you put new figures on the board (or shinto warriors from reserve on to temples), Marshal lets you move them, and Harvest brings in resources. All of these get you more stuff if you or an ally play it. Train lets you buy a card from the seasonal deck, which can have a number of different effects; it's one coin cheaper if you or an ally plays the Train tile. Betray is the only one that helps nobody except the current player. That player removes one unit each from two different opponents and replaces them with units of the same type (a monster can be replaced by another monster—I'm getting to the monsters, I promise). If a player is not in an alliance when they choose Betray, they lose no honor. If a player in an alliance does not remove a piece from their ally, the alliance is still broken and they still lose honor.

Three times during the political phase—after the third, fifth, and seventh mandates are played—there's a Kami turn. Whoever has the most shinto warriors on a temple earns the bonus (ties here, as everywhere else in the game, are broken by honor standing). These bonuses aren't enormous, but if you hold the same one for all three Kami turns, you get a pretty nice buff out of it.

Once the mandates are done, it's time to fight. Important note: War only happens in a certain number of provinces each turn, equal to the number of players plus two. If you have all the Kickstarter extras and are playing a six player game, every province will have a fight (which thins the board and keeps it, usually, from becoming choked with figurines). On the other hand, a three-player game is only going to see fighting in five provinces each turn. As these are chosen randomly at the start of each round, you can decide where to concentrate your forces, and calculate whether you can effectively control a battleground or if you need to find more peaceful quarters.

War is straightforward. All pieces, unless otherwise noted by season card abilities you've purchased, are worth one power. You both spend money on different war tactics; whoever spends more is able to perform the tactic. Seppuku kills all of your people in the province, but earns you honor. Taking a hostage pulls one unit off the battlefield and earns you one gold at the start of the next round in ransom. Hiring ronin doesn't get you ronin based on how much you spend; rather, winning this lets you use your ronin and prevents your opponent from using any of hers. (Critically, ronin can be used in any and all fights you have that round—if you have the money to get them on the field.) Each ronin also counts as one power. Since highest power wins, a small pile of ronin can very easily swing a battle.

As can... MONSTERS!

Each season has a deck of cards that gets splayed out, purchasable when a Train mandate is played. Some of these cards are monsters. Certain monsters have useful special abilities, but most of them are simply stronger than the average unit. Some of those powerful monsters are oni, which become even stronger if you're a low-honor type of daimyo (e.g. two power normally, four power if you have less honor than your opponent). Like all other season cards, these stay with you for the whole game. Since the loser of a battle takes all their pieces in that province off the board, it's quite possible for a monster to be killed, but you can play it again with a Recruit mandate just like any other part of your army. 

I guess that description might not warrant the build-up I gave it, if you haven't seen the game. But look at this river dragon!


It is going to eat that guy!

So what's the upshot? Does it impress?

Mm... mostly. CMON keeps killing it with the figurines, but I'd like to play one CMON game that's good on a level where the figurines aren't the most impressive part. Rising Sun comes a lot closer to that level than, say, Massive Darkness. There's nothing wrong with the game, really. The way mandates and alliances work is really cool, the ability to use Betray both as a strategic alliance breaker and as a way to stick it to people who leave you out of alliances is good, and the subtle power of worshipping at the temples is quite nice. Using seppuku to get out of an unwinnable fight with something to show for it is a really thoughtful workaround to the frustration of getting swarmed, while the ability to win Imperial Poets (VP per unit killed) can let the loser really max out their gains, or let the winner get another victory on top of their win in the province. And while war reparations is only particularly relevant in larger games, it creates another scale to balance when deciding what to spend where.

There are two things that I don't find particularly compelling about Rising Sun. First, although I don't think the alliance bonuses are seriously overpowered (ie. I wouldn't suggest house ruling them in some way to be weaker), they're best suited to a game where all players are angling for a win. If someone wishes to do so, they can be seriously abused in a kingmaker capacity. Given that much of this game revolves around politics, kingmaking can be reasonably viewed as a suitable potential outcome, but some people hate that shit. 

Second—and I fully admit this is my own history as a gamer talking—it's very strange to play for the fate of feudal Japan on a board that never has any safe territory. Most games of this type give you a chance to build up a base that will be difficult for opponents to attack unless you leave it open, and your strategy revolves around the balance between maintaining your foundation and expanding. Every territory except Nagato has multiple points of entry, and you can't prevent anyone's movement; if there are two Marshal tiles played, anyone can move their troops into and then out of your turf.

In fairness, the game's scoring is based around this. A potentially large percentage of your points can come from collecting sets of different provinces that you've held through at least one war phase, so you want your army to be mobile while also being victorious. But it makes the feudal Japan aesthetic a strange choice, except from a marketing perspective. Ancient Japanese culture is popular among gamers, so if you're going to go big with a game like this, it's not particularly surprising to see that be the choice of setting. It just doesn't fit.

Last thing: The box is atrocious. Not only do you not get baggies for the punch-out pieces, if you do grab some baggies, you have to cram them into the box with the minis. Somehow they took the problem of 'where do things go' from Massive Darkness and made it noticeably worse. There will be people who have this on their shelves, want to play it, and decide on something else because they don't want to deal with the mess. That's not acceptable for a game this size from a company this experienced.

TLDR: most of the issues with the game are smaller or aesthetic in nature. I don't think I'll be the only person who thinks this game doesn't 'feel' quite right, without having much in the gameplay to seriously complain about. It probably needs several plays to decide if it's really for you or not, or how you should review it.

But, you know. Deadlines.

Score: Eight honor out of ten (dumb ninja got caught).

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Dave Reviews: Scaly Treasure Throwdown

Greedy Dragons

Dragons want treasure! These dragons want each other's treasure. Or can't find more treasure? I thought dragons could smell treasure. Are they trapped in this cave? Isn't there enough to go around? Did I just ask dragons to share?


Greedy Dragons is a new take-that style card game from Evil Hat, and if the phrase 'take-that' made you want to click away from this review and forget the game exists, you may be right to do so. It's built for simplicity above deep strategy, and your only two goals in the game are to build your stash while reducing your opponents'.

Each player starts with five treasure chests and the beginning of a lair, with a supply of extra treasure in the middle of the table. Lair cards have two spaces each, and each lair can consist of four spaces. It's not as simple as having two cards next to each other, though. Lair cards can cover each other up in any way, as long as the lair itself never exceeds four spaces in width.

Spaces in the lair always have an icon consisting of an arrow or arrows, or treasure chests with plus or minus symbols. Every player holds two lair cards at a time and plays one each round. After each round, the directions on each lair are followed to add or subtract loot from each player. Arrows determine who is affected; they can be one or two spaces to the left or right, or a down arrow, which indicates the player who owns the lair. Treasure chest spaces come in plus or minus one or two varieties. If there are multiple players targeted by the arrows on a given lair, all of them are fully affected by the treasure chest symbols (e.g. if arrows indicate both the players seated one and two spots to the left of a lair, along with plus two chests, each player takes two chests from the supply). If there are pluses and minuses in the same lair, the total is calculated before any chests move.

Player order becomes very important later in the game, especially if a lot of plus-chest cards are on the board, because if the supply is empty, you can't take anything, but you can definitely be forced to give some back. One thing about the game that takes the edge off its take-that nature is that there are quite a few plus-chest cards; even with maximum players, not the entire lair deck is used, so it's entirely possible that players will need to work around giving their opponents as few chests as possible rather than try to take them away because the cards that would let them do so aren't coming up.

There's one decision the designers made that I don't want to second-guess too much, since I have no idea what their playtesting was like, but which I question all the same: the rule that you can't look at your treasure chests. If this was some kind of a time-based game, working within the concept that these dragons are rushing to collect as many chests as they can and don't have time to see what's in them, that would make more sense, but it's strategic and slower (though the game doesn't take long to play). More importantly, there's one chest with a magic ring worth ten, and if two people have similar stacks, whoever has the ring is going to win. That's the kind of thing you want to know and plan around. Maybe it would feel weird alongside the rule that you can't re-order your chests—they're last in, first out—but it seems less strange than not knowing at all what you have, and that knowledge could add a bit of a bluffing element to the game as well.

It's... fine. The designers had an idea, they made it function. Some people are going to love this, some are going to think it's trash, most will probably be fine with playing it here and there or using it as somewhat more mindful entertainment than television on a family trip.

Score: Seven dragon hoards out of twelve (I am the best dragon).

Monday, March 26, 2018

Dave Reviews: The Other, Other Scrabble

Hardback

Hardback is a game like Paperback, made by the same people as Paperback, and described on BGG as a prequel to Paperback.

Cool, cool, and... what?


Hardback is a close thematic sequel—prequel—some damn -quel to Paperback, so if you've played that game you'll understand the basics of this one. Players begin with a deck of ten cards possessing one letter each, draw five per turn, and spell whatever words they can with those cards. Those cards earn you money, with which you buy other cards that can earn more money and have special abilities. Where Paperback had decks specifically set up for each value of card you could buy, Hardback uses the more usual random tableau drawn from the deck, with the ability to wipe the whole board if there are four of a single type (more on that later) or four which cost six cents and up (to avoid a high-cost glut slowing the game to a crawl). Otherwise the play cards -> buy cards -> reshuffle discards deckbuilder style is the same.

What's different is pretty much everything else. Paperback was a great game for people who liked having a word game with the flexibility of deckbuilding gameplay and wild cards over the stolidness of classic Scrabble. Although the biggest pain in the ass about the game was cleaning everything up into their separate piles, the relatively small decks of each value created a certain sameness to the game after numerous plays. In addition, the books you bought for points double as wild cards potentially created an extra quirk of strategy, in general people would just grab books when money allowed and there wasn't a particularly good card on the board to buy. Then the expansion space bar, which allowed two words on a turn, made getting nine and ten letter bonuses a little too easy, but it probably exists because it was pretty hard to reach those lengths without it.

In other words, a number of small things that chipped away at an otherwise excellent game. Hardback fixes them all.

Well, changes. It feels like fixes if you didn't like those things. Let's go down the line.

  • Any card can be used as a wild.
This is enormous, and it makes the entire game. When playing early turns with your starting deck, it's mostly a question of what five-letter word you can make, and how many wilds will you need to do it. Cards are made wild by flipping them face down when you spell the word. You don't get the money or points on it, but if it lets you score more on your other cards, you can just go ahead and do it. Paperback took some out of the letter-pull luck that can make people crazy playing Scrabble; Hardback removes it completely. You can, with the resources available, play twelve letters in all wilds and just dare someone to take it from you.

Which brings up critical change number two.
  • The ink system.
Do you remember the cubes from Paperback? You could be forgiven if not. Throw out your hand to get a cube worth one cent on a future turn? What levels of desperation would be required to do that? What would have had to go wrong? They weren't even bad, per se, just pointless. Hardback's ink system does two things: it lets players strategize beyond simply looking at the most expensive cards they can afford, and it makes sure nobody ever wastes money on a turn. 

Black ink costs one cent, and you can buy as many per turn as you can afford. Using one black ink lets you draw an extra card. This is the only way to draw more than five per turn, which means if you're going for a twelve, you have to have seven black ink. However, it's not simply seven free draws; you place the card face up and have to use its letter—no turning it into a wild. There's a major press-your-luck aspect to these draws, because you can end up with extremely difficult-to-use combinations.

And thus, white ink. White ink (or remover) is only earned by playing cards which allow you to take one from the supply. If you draw a card with black ink, white ink allows you to pick it up into your hand and use it as a normal card. So, if you just want to draw an extra card, that requires one black ink and one white ink. Cards that grant remover aren't extremely common, and you rarely are able to trash cards out of your deck, so it can take most of a game to pile up enough remover to ensure you'll be able to make a 10+ letter word.

Personal experience suggests that playing a twelve-letter word with five wild cards after blowing seven black ink and four white on a single turn doesn't feel like you snuck around the point of a word game. It feels awesome.

Smaller changes: 
  • Starting decks contain eight standard cards and two randoms, rather than the same ten for everyone. Verdict: Reasonable.
  • Purchased cards only have one letter. Verdict: Fine. Works in the context of the game.
  • Cards can be worth points rather than money. Verdict: Probably better if you're looking for smooth mechanics in a game, since scoring is much smoother and everyone moves along a track rather than having points hidden in their decks.
  • There are different types of cards, many of which have synergy bonuses if you play another card of that type in your word (not as a wild). The synergy bonuses aren't insanely strong, more along the lines of receiving something similar to the base reward for playing the card, but if you get two or three on a turn, that's a huge turn. Verdict: Neutral. Feels like something they added because the game wasn't interesting enough without it, and it makes you think a little differently about what words to spell, but it's more useful to grab an R or an E that doesn't match most of your bought cards than to buy a Q that does.
  • Certain cards can be played in front of you and left there for future turns. However, other players can use that card as well. They don't get the card's reward, but you have to put it in your discard pile. Verdict: Meh. For the most part you're just giving your opponents a free letter to use. Probably much stronger in a two-player game.
  • Word length bonus (7+) goes to whoever gets that size word first, then keeps moving around to whoever does it most recently. Scoring a larger word than the bonus in action discards the current bonus and puts the new one in your hand. Caps out at twelve letters. Verdict: From the most objective perspective I can maintain, I think it's good because it's being the one with the long-word bonus is not at all guaranteed to win you the game. But I admit that I also like it because it works to my advantages as a player.
Oddly, Hardback didn't excite me the way Paperback did. I think that's because the concept of Paperback was new, whereas Hardback had to earn its respect completely on its merits. There's a certain sense that, because anything is potentially wild, the people with the largest vocabulary have a monstrous advantage; it helps, but if you struggle to think up words above seven letters, you can still compete by taking valuable cards and trying to abuse synergy bonuses to the best of your ability. I will acknowledge that someone with a large vocabulary and enough knowledge about how the game works probably does have a sizable advantage if they're liable to be the only ones who build up enough remover to definitely spell a twelve-letter word.

If you like Paperback, the only reason you might not like Hardback is if you particularly enjoy the aesthetic of Paperback (buying books for points, for example). Hardback is much more in line with traditional deckbuilding game mechanics, and in general it is a functionally superior game. It's definitely worth trying, and for most word game fans, worth buying.

Score: Thirteen books read out of fourteen in this particular series.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Of Theoretically Lifelong Commitments

I was at a wedding rehearsal yesterday. The wedding is tonight. I won't comment on the value of marriage--I'll leave that for ol' Doug Stanhope, below--but weddings are a scam and a fucking half.

I'm not talking about having some kind of ceremonial commitment; you want to gather some people and have a party, go ahead. People need more reasons to have fun. The big expensive wedding, though... why? What do you need other than a DJ? Everything's so formalized and set up movement by movement. Fuck that. Do some goddamned cartwheels to the altar. Really, what shows your joy more than doing cartwheels up to your beloved?

Plus--and this might sound like the 'real' reason I'm all fuck weddings, but no, fuck weddings in general--wearing a tux vest is like wearing a guy corset. If you're not already the absolute correct shape, it will mold you into the correct shape. And this is basically the state of all formal wear for women.

If you're going to have a celebratory event, make the formal wear sweatpants. On an occasion of happiness, let people wear their comfy happy clothes. The expense of a 'normal' wedding is bonkers, and at least half the people there are dressing in shit that isn't even enjoyable to wear.

The Dothraki were on to something. Maybe not with the dead people. Or maybe we need to add gladiator fights. Something.

Anyway, Stanhope.


Thursday, March 8, 2018

Dave Reviews: Clues On Clues On Clues

13 Clues

Obvious crack: 13 Clues is thirteen times better than Clue!

The twist: It's true.


13 Clues has a similar theme to Clue: There's been a murder in oldey-timey England, and you need to figure out the murderer, location, and weapon. There's a variety of options in each category, and each player gets a sheet they write on to eliminate options until they've determined the correct combination. Everything else is different. There are no dice, no board, and there are actually several murders--each detective has their own to solve, and the winner is who solves theirs first, rather than who solves the single available mystery.

Players each receive a screen, one card from each category, and two extra cards from any category. You choose one person, location, and weapon, and put it in the front of the screen of the player to your left; also unlike Clue, mysteries are determined purposefully. The other two cards go into slots on the back of your screen, hidden from everyone else. In a six player game, this accounts for all available cards; with fewer players, some number wind up face down in the middle as secret information players can use actions to look at.

Each player starts with one magnifying glass. Magnifying glasses represents actions you can take on their turn, and you take as many actions as you have magnifying glasses. The main available action is to interrogate a witness, which means handing another player your magnifying glass and asking how many cards of a given color or type (male or female suspect; indoor or outdoor location; melee or ranged weapon) they see. They must answer honestly, but this answer includes cards behind their screen, which makes collecting clues a bit more complicated than just counting the cards of that type you can see and comparing it to the number the other player says.

The second common action is to look at secret information (if applicable). To do this, give your magnifying glass to the first player going clockwise who has none, then look at one of the cards in the middle. If all other players have a magnifying glass, discard yours into a general supply; should a player's turn come where they have no actions, they take that magnifying glass from the supply so they can do something.

The final possible action is to guess your mystery. Give your magnifying glass to someone else, same as looking at secret information. If you're right, you win. If you're wrong, the game continues. You lose any other actions you have if you make a wrong guess, so you always want to save your guess for last, no matter how sure you are you're right.

There's a short review on Board Game Geek that says a six-player game that ends before people at the end of the line get a turn is a bad game. That person is correct, but how they managed to do that in 13 Clues is itself a mystery. Here's how the game plays out: With six people, there are five screens with three cards each you can see, plus the two cards behind your screen. That's seventeen known pieces of information out of thirty. You fill in more information as other people ask questions; if you're very lucky, there might be a color or category where someone sees zero of it, and you'll get to cross off two or three of that type. If there are thirteen pieces of info left over and you need to cross out ten to be guaranteed of the right answer, or at least eight with some estimation to make a reasonable guess, and you go fifth (the latest a player can go and still deny the last player their first turn), you need that luck to hit on at least three of the turns before yours and get something useful out of the fourth. The odds of that are not zero, but they are so slight that if it happens, you can chalk it up to a crazy set of circumstances rather than a potentially recurring weakness in the game.

Another review complains that one person can get seven or eight actions while someone else only receives two. This is more plausible. Actions are passed around as the players want to pass them around, and if several people consider one individual the person they need to get information from. If this happens, though, they're asking that player questions, and the people not getting all those magnifying glasses can draw information from those questions as well. It's not perfect--the longer the game goes, the less likely it is that someone else's question is relevant to what you need--but there are more magnifying glasses than players (leaving some in the supply to start), and in the unusual circumstance that the supply has been emptied, a player with no actions takes one magnifying glass from the player of their choice. That review may have been based on an incorrect play (skipping people without actions); if not, it means the game lasted two or so rounds, and if players are handing one person seven actions in two rounds, they're not playing intelligently. Spreading the actions around is promoted by the fact that it keeps any one person from repeatedly targeting the information they need. Maybe a limit (three?) on how many actions someone can have would have been better, but it also seems fine to let people make that mistake if they want.

I'm cherry-picking these reviews to comment on for this reason: 13 Clues is a game best experienced over several playthroughs. Like many bluffing/deduction games, knowing your opponents can be as valuable as the pure logic involved, and that requires seeing people's strategies over time. Additionally, the balance of the game is not just good, but very natural.

  • While grabbing all the secret information available with your first few turns may seem like an obvious move, it doesn't necessarily offer an advantage. Looking at secret info lets you cross out one piece of information, and occasionally none (if a question asked already eliminated it). Asking a question might offer your opponents info, but if you have a good one ready, you can often knock out multiple pieces of info for yourself. 
  • You have to decide who to ask for information based not just on who you think can see what, but how much you're helping them by giving them another action. 
  • More often than not, people creep up on solutions around the same time, so you're forced to decide between a 50/50 guess and making sure you 100% know the answer at the risk of not getting another turn.
As any poker player will tell you about their game of choice, occasionally a bizarre outcome occurs. That's the nature of a game with an open-ended set of rules. That doesn't mean there's a problem. 13 Clues plays quickly enough that it's easy to play several times in a row; unless people are playing like absolute morons and throwing the game over and over, you should see what this game actually is the vast majority of the time. In fact, if there's a weakness, it may be that it's best experienced by running multiple games in a row, and thus it may not be for people who are attached to the idea of playing something once, putting it away for the day, and playing something else.

If that's not your habit, though, and you have 3-6 friends who like logic puzzles, it's a good buy.

Score: Twenty-seven known pieces of data out of thirty.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Today in Gaming!

Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3 was released. Thus began the great war between fans of THPS 2 and 3: which had the better soundtrack?

Tony Hawk 2
  • Rage Against the Machine - Guerrilla Radio 
  • Bad Religion - You 
  • Anthrax/Public Enemy - Bring the Noise 
  • Powerman 5000 - When Worlds Collide 
  • Naughty by Nature - Pin the Tail on the Donkey 
  • Papa Roach - Blood Brothers 
  • The High & Mighty - B-Boy Document 
  • Consumed - Heavy Metal Winner 
  • Dub Pistols - Cyclone 
  • Swingin' Utters - Five Lessons Learned 
  • Styles of Beyond - Subculture 
  • Millencolin - No Cigar 
  • Alley Life featuring Black Planet - Out With the Old 
  • Lagwagon - May 16 
  • Fu Manchu - Evil Eye
Tony Hawk 3
  • The Ramones - Blitzkrieg Bop 
  • Red Hot Chili Peppers - Fight Like A Brave 
  • KRS One - Hush 
  • Motorhead - Ace of Spades 
  • Rollins Band - What's The Matter Man 
  • House of Pain - I'm A Swing It 
  • Xzibit - Paparazzi 
  • Ozomatli - Cut Chemist Suite 
  • Alien Ant Farm - Wish 
  • Redman - Let's Get Dirty 
  • Del Tha Funky Homosapien - If You Must 
  • AFI - The Boy Who Destroyed The World 
  • Reverend Horton Heat - I Can't Surf 
  • Adolescents - Amoeba 
  • CKY - 96 Quite Bitter Beings 
  • Zebrahead - Check 
  • Guttermouth - I'm Destroying The World 
  • Nextmen - Amongst Madness 
  • Bodyjar - Not The Same 
  • Mad Capsule Markets - Pulse

Thus was it shown that fans of Tony Hawk 3's soundtrack are wrong. "Ace of Spades" is a surprisingly good song for THPS, but Rage, Bad Religion, and Public Enemy can take on the whole rest of the THPS 3 list.

This moment in pointlessly esoteric bullshit brought to you by: