Saturday, March 30, 2019

Dave Reviews: Likelihoods Among Friends

Drunk, Stoned, or Stupid

Drunk, Stoned, or Stupid is a re-title of Who's More Likely To? and still a rip-off of Cards Against Humanity. One player draws a card and reads the trait, things such as "Gets Convinced Strangers Are Celebrities" and "Would Survive In The Woods With A Hatchet". The judge decides which of the other players best matches the description, "aided" by other players convincing them of who it should be. If you get seven cards, you lose.

Which... what? This is designed to be a party game, nothing serious, certainly not serious enough for judges to throw the game by giving people cards when they don't have many. But that's still a trash design. Weirder still, they suggest that if you have new people in the game, play so that seven cards is a win, and that seems like a much better game. Everyone has to argue for themselves as the person who does the ridiculous shit on these cards. I suppose it depends on the group, really.

Either way, the judge can make choices based on who's winning and not on any real game skill, which can be a fun experience but is by design a bad game.

Score: Six beers in the twelve pack (add two for fun if you finished the first six yourself).

Dave Reviews: Quacks That Don't Duck

The Quacks of Quedlinburg

Quacks, historically, are pseudo-scientists often pretending to be medical professionals (some so thoroughly they even fool themselves). They sell snake oil treatments, false cures to any and every ailment in existence. This game fits that theme.

But I still wanted the "doctors" to be ducks.

Every good quack has a cauldron to brew their mixtures in, and this game is no different. You start with a pouch of ingredients and pick them out, one at a time, and throw them in. What could go wrong? Well, in Quedlinburg, there are so many of you fucking lunatics that it's not enough to brew a potion and make a claim unrelated to its efficacy. It has to have bubbles, which means cherry bombs go in the mix as well. Too many cherry bombs, though, and your mixture explodes.

Each round, you pick ingredients one at a time and put pieces down farther up the points path in the cauldron equivalent to how many of the ingredient are on the token (ie. if you pick a 2 cherry bomb, it's placed two spaces ahead of the last piece). If you get more than seven cherry bombs in the pot, it explodes, and you have to choose between the ability to buy more ingredients or take victory points. The highest number of cherry bombs on a token is three, so you're safe until you have at least five cherry bombs in the cauldron. From there out, it's a question of risk management—how much farther do you need to go to stay up with your opponents? How many more turns will you take, risking that you'll pull the piece that ends your round early?

And thus, the problem.

If you get a bad set of ingredients in a round and quickly build up your cherry bombs, you're generally incentivized to keep going. After all, most of the bombs are out of your bag, and you have a better chance of pulling normal ingredients. But if your luck stays poor, and you bomb out early, now your opponents are immediately pulling ahead. They'll have the ability to buy more regular ingredients, which improves their odds of a successful run next round, meaning you'll have to take a bigger risk to keep up. And if that doesn't pan out, you fall further behind, and so on.

Basically, this is a game about risk management which is nonetheless substantially based on luck. If you fall behind, you have to play carefully and get lucky or hope your opponents screw up in order to catch them. You don't really have a way to actively make up ground. The catch-up mechanic—moving you farther ahead in the cauldron if you're far enough behind the leader—only makes it so you stay within range if your opponents screw up. And if you fall behind, it's just not fun.

That's the real killer. A game can be difficult, it can be a little unbalanced, it can be somewhat frustrating, and none of that is good, but it can remain entertaining as an experience. This does not. If you fall behind, none of your options are good, and all you can do is wish ill on your opponents (most likely your friends). The game's fine when you're winning, but it feels quite bad if you're losing, and that means in most games someone is not having a good time.

Combined with the wonky theme—are these people really so stupid that they risk blowing up their concoctions for bubbles?—and even though it's pretty popular on Board Game Geek, I can't get on board.

Score: 3 busted cauldrons out of five.



I try to keep my reviews relatively apolitical, but it's hard to read a comic about legal, crowdfunded murder and not immediately think of all the bullseyes lighting up across the world.

In Crowded, a crowdfunding platform called Reapr allows groups of people to pool money in an effort to get someone whacked, legally. Most campaigns don't accrue enough to take off, but Charlie Ellison is an unlucky exception. From an old lady's pistol to an army of devoted murder fans trying to run her into an ambush, Charlie's million-dollar-plus bounty has her squarely in the crosshairs of every bounty hunter, psychopath, and desperate housewife for the next thirty days.

The one thing she does right is hire Vita, the worst-rated bodyguard on Dfend. It looks hopeless, but as it turns out, Vita's poor ratings are because she doesn't like to kill anyone. They want to see her spill blood, and she's focused on keeping them alive. That's what Charlie needs, especially when she continuously undercuts Vita's efforts by finding ways to get them tracked. Of course, Vita's question is what Charlie did to earn such a massive bounty, to which she never quite receives an answer no matter how many times she asks...

Crowded toes a line of being perhaps too direct in its satire of the modern day, but never quite crosses it. Christopher Sebela does a good job of creating a world where everything that's going on is explained, and even that's done with a nice bit of self-aware expository dialogue. The end is reminiscent of Death and Glory, and not just because they're now the two most recent comics I've reviewed; both are designed with a story that blasts through the first six issues, then ends with the world opening up to the main characters and many more things becoming possible compared to what we've already seen.

The question, then, is where does the comic go from here? Almost all stories have to open up as they continue, especially if they're serialized like comics, but Image uses the expanding universe concept fairly consistently, and not always to the best effect. Even great comics like Saga and Low can struggle to maintain their energy as the characters roam into new parts of their worlds (or galaxies) and need time to see what's going on. Whether Crowded avoids this in part depends on how much we'll need explained going forward; presumably Charlie and Vita will at least be in the United States, and maybe the story remains strong throughout. For a first volume, though, it's good, definitely worth picking up, and especially so if you prefer a lot of women or queer characters in leading roles.

Score: 16 dead murder hobos out of 18 sitting outside your house.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Dave Reviews: When Chickens Became Oxen

Spirits of the Rice Paddy

In preparation for this review, I learned that the conical hat worn by rice farmers in China is called a douli. Of course, those hats exist in many other Asian countries, and have different names in each. There are also English names, but we're going to leave certain ones aside for very good reasons.

Spirits of the Rice Paddy is like Farming Simulator, played with cardboard and set in old-school China. Your board is your field; you start with one of ten fields planted and fenced off, with five others ready for planting and the last four full of rocks you need to clear in order to use them. Planted rice grows the next season, when it can be harvested and sold at market for the money you need to keep the place running. Of course, if your crops are diseased or loaded with bugs, they won't sell for nearly as much.

Most of the farming is done by workers you hire. You start with ten and can hire ten more at increasingly absurd rates; the last couple must be proper supervisors, considering they don't actually add more than the other workers but cost several times as much. You also buy livestock which can do work (oxen clear fields, for example, while geese eat bugs that can infest your crops). It's important to note that you're buying livestock, not certain types of livestock. These come on flippable tokens, with an ox on one side and a goose on the other. You can only have six livestock max, but they transform into whichever one you need, which sounds like the way to push back against factory farming in America. (That's a joke, of course. If you buy/hire more than one thing at the end of each round, you get charged a tax that no corporate farm will ever have to pay!)

There are also spirits you can call upon to help. They're not hard to find or use; apparently they need something to do as much as the workers you hire. These spirits are not designed to have approximately equivalent power levels. The higher the number on the spirit card, the stronger it is, but the later it might make you go in turn order (which is determined by the highest number spirit card each player has). Even so, the higher-number ones are sometimes so good you just want to get them on the table ASAP and deal with going last or second-last. That's saying something because a farm only works if it has water, and turn order decides who gets it.

At the start of each round, a rain card is flipped up which determines how much water is available for the season. All of it goes to the first player. That player releases whatever water he or she needs to get rid of (can't plant or harvest a soaked field), which filters down to players in turn order. Once the planting/harvesting is done, the new water comes through. Players near the top of the turn order get basically whatever they need; those near the bottom might have very nice spirits helping them, but they'll need to manage their water much more carefully to avoid rotting fields.

The theme of this game is great if you need to relax while thinking very hard during your entertainment hours. There's no reason to cuss out your workers or your oxen; they all do their jobs perfectly well, so if things go wrong, it's because you bollixed it up. (Not that bollixing things up is relaxing, but it's easier to improve yourself than the performance of your cardboard.) The way you have every decision under your control—the shape and size of your fields, your work force, your livestock count, how to ration your water—gives a sense of having total control over the outcome, which makes it that much more of a wrench in the works (in a good way) when someone plays a spirit that brings the locusts upon your lands or convinces your workers to run away from home.

That said, the theme is really what carries the game. If you're 'meh' about rice farmers or pretending to hire a bunch of them, there may be a lot of equally good games that will better suit your tastes. It is, as is so often said in this space, a well-crafted game that entertains but does not rise above the crowd in a design sense. But if you like this aesthetic, you should have a good time.

Score: Ten happy workers out of thirteen workers on-site.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Dave Reviews: Why Isn't It "Rumble for the Galaxy"?

New Frontiers

Seriously, the move from "Race" to "Roll" was aesthetically pleasing. Who cares if you don't fight the other players directly? You drop space marines on rebels and aliens. That's rumbling. It counts. "New Frontiers" my ass.

Rumble for the New Frontiers (that's my name for it now) is another game about getting your feet on some planets, developing handy inventions, and turning that sweet, sweet cash into sweet, sweet VPs. Some aspects will seem more familiar to Race fans than others. You have a board representing your galaxy-traveling people, with a home planet on the front and slots for eight more around the board. You fill those by exploring planets (pulling them out of a bag) and then colonizing. The middle of your board has twelve slots for development upgrades, along with small marks for your money, colonists, and VPs.

A round consists of each player taking one of seven possible actions, each of which allows everyone to act but offers a bonus to the player who picked it.

  • Explore: Pull seven planets from the bag, pick one, pass them around. (Bonus: pick a second planet after everyone has made a selection.)
  • Settle: Use colonists to settle a planet, or take two colonists to use later. (Bonus: take a colonist first, which can be used to settle a planet.)
  • Develop: Buy a technology. (Bonus: costs $1 less.)
  • Produce: Planets without goods make a good. If it goes unused for a round, $1 is put on it, taken by the next person who chooses this action. (Bonus: Put stuff on a windfall planet without a good. Windfall planets make a good when colonized, but don't normally during production.)
  • Trade/Consume: Sell a good. Also, use any Consume keywords you control. (Bonus: 1 VP.)
  • Take first spot in line and 1 VP.
  • Go into isolation; take $2
The entire game is about combining these actions with the abilities you gain from developed technologies and colonized planets. Making sure that as many actions as possible will have their maximum effect, no matter when they happen (ie. having the money/military and colonists to settle one of your planets when someone takes the Settle action) is the key to winning. 

Of course, there's no single way to win. Build a military and take over a bunch of military-required planets? Sure. Military's relatively easy to build up and those planets tend to be worth a lot of points. Get a high-money economy rolling? Hey, those planets tend to have good abilities you can combine for points, and there's even a tech that lets you buy military planets. There aren't a lot of different combos—your only options for points are planets, techs, and things which give you VP chips, so you have to get those things one way or another—but the ability combinations are almost endless.

I'm not a huge Race fan, but I like this. Does that mean Race fans will adore it? Mmm... maybe. It has a Race feel, but it really depends on what you like about Race vs. what you'll enjoy in this. It has complexity without feeling overwhelming; your second game will almost certainly go better than the first, but the first shouldn't feel hopeless unless you're in with a bunch of experts. It's basically good and playable, in that vein of games with the quality to sell like mad in a less crowded market, but not quite on the level that it should be held aloft above all comers in this day and age.

Score: Seven settled planets out of nine.

Friday, March 1, 2019

Dave Reviews: German German Clever!

Ganz Schon Clever

Did you know the word for "clever" in German is klug? Google Translate told me, so it must be true. Would we be looking at this game if it was called "Ganz Schon Klug"?

...probably. It has an English translation right underneath. Hell, we'd probably have fun shouting it at each other, with both arms firmly at our sides.

Ganz Schon Clever is the version of Yahtzee you would make if you were twelve, bored, and not challenged enough in school. It's a game of efficiency in the name of randomness, of synergy and cascading points with a pool of resources unknown until they're rolled, that is likely to let you feel very smart and die a little inside when you don't get that last roll you need in the same game.

Each turn has one person as the active player. That person rolls the dice and picks one to fill a square of the matching slot on their scoresheet. (White has no spot; it's wild and can be used as any color.) Any dice lower in number than the chosen die goes on the Silver Platter (a picture of a dish inside the box they included because organization is EVERYTHING) and can't be used by the active player again that turn. All remaining dice are rerolled, a second die is picked, then the dice left over after that are rolled again so a third can be picked. After that, the remaining dice (usually three of them) are open for the other, passive players to choose from and put on their own scoresheets. All passive players choose at the same time, and can pick the same die. A round consists of each person getting a turn as the active player, and the game length is in number of rounds, determined by player count.

The first round is generally straightforward. You're just getting started filling in the sections, and each section requires at least a few entries before they start offering bonuses. This goes on for part of the second round, but soon enough you fill in a box that lets you fill in a different box. Later, you fill in a box that lets you fill in a box that lets you get an extra reroll that you use later to make sure you get just the right die to fill in another box that lets you fill in yet another box. In addition, some of the bonuses let you use an extra die at the end of someone's turn, which lets you fill in a box which can let you fill in a box that lets you fill in a box which lets you fill in yet another box.

It gets a little bonkers.

For as much as we might look at the title and say, "Yeah, good job Hans, call yourself clever, you arrogant prick," it... really is clever. Here's why: the game is based around understanding the odds of various outcomes, but none of it is complicated. If you realize it's harder to get high numbers than low ones (because of the dice choosing rules), and that for the blue section (which adds two dice) it's harder to get 2, 3, 11, and 12 than the ones in the middle, you can form a basic strategy for choosing dice and picking which boxes to fill in with your bonuses. From there, everything depends on how efficiently you can get from bonus to bonus, and how much you can limit your reliance on very specific die rolls in order to make your strategy pan out. You can easily play without wasting dice or feeling like you've horribly screwed up, but you will also never fill out the whole sheet, so it always seems as though you might be capable of just a little... bit... more.

I think I have a German chip in my brain, because I adore these types of efficiency-based games. Even taking that bias into account as best I can, I think this is really well done. Basic gameplay that keeps people from getting too frustrated, and the sense that there's always a better way to proceed, both matter in the replayability of a game like this. Just like with 13 Clues, I can see the scorepad running out of paper at some point (albeit probably with a different group of players).

The only question mark is, why is there room on the back of the scoresheet to score all four players? It's probably to make overall scoring easier, keep it on one sheet, etc., and it doesn't affect gameplay, but everyone who's played looks at it funny. The fact you have to flip it from vertical for play to horizontal for scoring is awkward. But as problems go, that's a small one. Get this game.

Score: 243 out of 280 points needed to be a "genius" (fuck you, Hans).