Second Look - Boardgame reviews in depth. Check out that cat.Back in November I had posted about the release of Asmodee’s Mysterium in the digital realm. I’ve had some time to play the game, and I’m more than impressed!

Let me start off by saying that I had never played Mysterium until recently, so I wasn’t familiar with how great of a game it already way. Asmodee Digital made sure that even complete novices can jump right into the game with a story mode that introduces the elements of play a bit at a time. That, combined with an excellent interface, really makes playing Mysterium a pleasure. Another note here is that I’m playing the PC version through Steam. I haven’t tried the iOS or Android versions of the game.

For those who aren’t familiar with Mysterium is has players taking the role of psychics trying to figure out the person, place, and weapon used to kill the ghost player, who also player controlled. The ghost player can give hints through abstract artwork and the other players have to make their best guesses. Once all the psychics have guessed correctly (each has a different set of “correct” answers) then all the players try to figure out which combination is the correct one with a final round and paintings. It’s a clever game that feels like a mixture of Clue and Dixit.

The digital version of Mysterium let’s you play on either side, though the Story mode dictates what side you play on as it progresses. As with many other table-to-digital games, there’s the usual multiplayer options available to play locally or online, and leader boards to compare yourself to other players.

The Steam version of the game is $9.99 and I highly recommend it. I’ve become a bit addicted to the game, which is part of the reason my review of it is going up later than it should have. If you’d rather carry around the game in your pocket you can snag the iOS and Android versions for $6.99. As of this time you can also grab the Potions expansion for the mobile versions, but not the Steam version.

A Steam copy of Mysterium was provided free for review by Asmodee Digital

Second Look - Boardgame reviews in depth. Check out that cat.Back in November, I had posted about the digital release of Colt Express for Steam, Android, and iOS. I finally got a chance to sit down and give the Steam version a try and put it through its paces.

What hit me right off the bat was how thematic the digital port is. Just like the tabletop version, the digital version is just oozing with that western train robbery theme. Initially, you’re brought into the tutorial which pretty much covers anything you need to know about playing the game, all while getting you familiarized with the interface and how things work. Everything is extremely streamlined and easy-to-follow.

Colt Express gives you pretty much what you’d expect in a digital tabletop port. You can play the game against other people, play online, and play against the computer in Classic Mode. What really makes the game shine is its Story Mode, a single player campaign with 6 playable characters and over 30 different missions. It’s a bit more rewarding that just playing the game over and over with bots.

It seems that digital tabletop adaptations are getting better and better, and Colt Express really shines. It’s certainly not a hastily thrown together port, but a finely crafted, polished game that’s worth every cent. If you’re a fan of Colt Express, there’s no reason for you not to snag this now. If you’ve never played Colt Express, I can’t think of any better way to give the game a shot and familiarize yourself with it.

Colt Express can be purchased on Steam for $9.99, Google Play for $6.99, and iTunes for $6.99.

If you’d like to see how the game actually played, I recently streamed myself through the tutorial.

A Steam copy of Colt Express was provided free for review by Asmodee Digital.

 

Second Look—Storyline: Scary Tales

Second Look - Boardgame reviews in depth. Check out that cat.This Second Look is going to be a bit shorter than normal. That’s because I’ve already reviewed Storyline: Fairy Tales and Storyline: Scary Tales is the same game, just with a spooky theme. Scary Tales comes with 30 new narrator cards, 100 new story cards, and 21 spooky tokens. Just like the original the box contains two storylines.

“It was a dark and [Feature] night.”

So the first story begins.

I’m actually a bigger fan of Scary Tales than I was of Fairy Tales. The gloomy setting and spooky art are right up my alley. There’s nothing overly scary here, it is a family game after all, but there’s plenty of haunted manors, vampires, horsemen, curses, and slimy cards to satisfy the Halloween season. The new token set, shaped like coffins, contain icons like gravestones, a witch’s hat, and skulls.

Scary TalesScary Tales can also be combined with Fairy Tales to create even more fantastic stories, and it really works well. We’ve actually had a great time using narrator cards from one game with the story cards from another. Mixing them all together is really the best way to play, though

Storyline: Scary Tales is available now, and I highly recommend picking it up. Pick both Storyline games up. They’re perfect for family game night and work well down to around age 5 or 6. If you’re only going to pick up one, Scary Tales would be my first choice.

A copy of Storyline: Scary Tales was provided free for review by Asmodee.

 

Second Look - Boardgame reviews in depth. Check out that cat.People have been trying to kill Doctor Lucky for 20 years now, so what better way to celebrate than with Cheapass Games’ Kill Doctor Lucky 19.5 Anniversary Edition. The game has been out of print since 2006, so I’m sure people are going to be happy it’s back on the market. It’s packed full of all the Lucky killing action that players have come to know and love and adds just a bit more polish to the game.

Now I have to admit that I’ve never actually played Kill Doctor Lucky before this, so I can’t compare editions. What I can do is tell you how much I enjoyed the game with two of my boys. Killing Doctor Lucky, as it turns out, is a pretty fun thing to do. All the flavor text on the character cards, weapons cards, and pretty much anywhere else they can fit flavor text, it hilarious to read. That, and ruining someone’s chance to kill the good doctor both bring a very satisfying element to the game.

kill-doctor-lucky-anniversary-editionI should mention there’s a bunch of variations of the game included in the box, but so far we’ve just played the standard version where you’re trying to kill the old man. In one variation there’s a cat that is placed on the board and moved instead of your player pawn. If the cat is in a room with any player, they can’t see out of that room. There’s also rules for a variation of the game where Doctor Lucky comes back as a ghost and tries to kill all the players.

I really can’t believe I’ve never played this game before today. It’s a fun and humorous game with simple rules, a bit of bluffing, and a lot of attempted murder. The 19.5 Anniversary Edition is available now for $40, which is about $10 too high in my opinion. Nevertheless, this feels like one of those games that should be in every gamer’s collection.

A copy of Kill Doctor Lucky 19.5 Anniversary Edition was provided free for review by Cheapass Games.

 

Second Look – Storm King’s Thunder

Second Look - Boardgame reviews in depth. Check out that cat.When I reviewed Princes of the Apocalypse, I commented that the first half of the book “can almost be used as just a setting book for the Dessarin Valley”. But that didn’t prepare me for what I’d find when opening up Storm King’s Thunder: over a fifth of this 256-page book is devoted to quick looks at an area that makes up the Dessarin Valley, and areas north of Mirabar, south past Daggerford, and as far east as Anauroch. Those “quick looks” are anywhere from a paragraph of few lines to a full page, several with suggested encounters (most centered around the giant activities that drive this book’s campaign). In the section before that, two major locations in the Dessarin Valley are detailed (and one location far to the north). Combine this with Princes of the Apocalypse, and you’ve got a fantastic gazetteer for your campaign. A section of Mike Schley’s Forgotten Realms map is used in that 50+ page setting section.

Your players will be at one of the three locations very early in the campaign, defending the location from attack. However, you’re not just playing your heroes, each player at the table is given an NPC they’re in control of. While the battle rages on, your heroes and these others aren’t necessarily in the same location. The NPC survives? They’ve got some storylines your players can follow up on, things that require your heroes to travel quite some distance to complete – one has your heroes escorting the character to the next town over to meet their boss who then tasks them to safeguard a wagon to a town way the heck far away after which they get an anonymous bundle that directs them to a town even further away in the opposite direction where they’ll get their final reward which is pretty cool indeed.

Storm King’s Thunder seems to have a lot of travelling involved.

stormkingsthunder_darklogo
It feels natural to compare Storm King’s Thunder to Princes of the Apocalypse. Both take place in the same general area (although this giant adventure can take heroes far afield from the valley). Both have a preferred story progression while including some free-form events. Both have a large section dedicated to the overall setting, tempting the Dungeon Master to make it her own. However, while Princes is set up assuming the heroes would tackle the elemental cults and temples in a level-appropriate manner, there’s nothing stopping a group of 4th level heroes from stumbling into an area designed for 7th level adventurers, complete with a staircase leading down to a place for 10th level heroes, Storm King’s Thunder has an adventure flowchart designed to avoid just that issue. This isn’t to say there’s a lack of choices for the players.

storm-kings-thunderThe adventure proper begins with a choice of the three locations mentioned earlier. If your heroes head to the major location far to the north, they don’t have the adventuring goodness that’s at the two different major locations in the Dessarin Valley. Likewise, the middle part of the campaign offers to take the heroes to multiple locations, but they only need to go to one to progress to the conclusion. This final act has some branching options as well. In other words, my group playing Storm King’s Thunder will most likely have a wildly different story to tell than your group playing the same campaign.

Storm King’s Thunder forgoes standard XP and leveling, opting to reward the players by completing goals. Each section of the book has a character advancement sidebar, giving direction for when the heroes gain levels. Thus, that middle part of the campaign where the players have multiple paths but only need one to advance the storyline, they all hit 9th level when completing that mission. Less bookkeeping, more adventure, if you ask me.

The cartography is all over the place within this product. However, unlike earlier storyline campaign books, none of the maps are signed, so it’s difficult to tell who did what. You’ve got some things that look more like general fantasy maps instead of something worthy of the word “cartography”. You’ve got small maps that incorporate hand-drawn imagery to stuff that looks like it’s built using basic shapes in Illustrator or thrown together using different terrain packages in Roll20. Then you’ve got the map of Triboar, which looks completely hand-drawn. There are six different cartographers listed in the credits, all with differing styles. This probably won’t bother you, but in my day job as a graphic artist working with book layouts similar to this, it bugs the heck out of me.

The artwork, also with some varying styles, is much more in sync. Those NPCs your heroes could control? There’s eighteen of them with a large range of body sizes, skin color, and ethnicity (if you translate all the fantasy races over to “human”). The collage of images on the cover is impressive – you can see the standalone King Hekaton on the first page of the book and the combined illustration collage before graphic elements were added to it on the second page.

Several tie-ins to this storyline are available and planned, including an Assault of the Giants boardgame from WizKids, Roll20 and Fantasy Grounds ready-made adventures, and more.

A copy of Storm King’s Thunder was provided free for review by Wizards of the Coast.

 

 

Second Look - Boardgame reviews in depth. Check out that cat.Shadows Over Innistrad is the latest set in Magic’s Arena of the Planeswalker line. It’s a full, base set, so you don’t need the first set to play like you did with Battle for Zendikar. Since I’ve already reviewed Arena of the Planeswalkers, I’ll cut to the chase with this new set.

If you were to only buy one Arena of the Planeswalker products, Shadows Over Innistrad would be the one to get. The box is packed full of great stuff, and even though you only get 4 Planeswalkers (the fifth figure is the werewolf form of another) you get more bang for your buck than with the original base set.

For starters, three of the four Planeswalkers are multicolored: Sorin (black/white), Nahiri (red/white), and Arlinn (red/green). You also get more miniatures overall in the box, including new Hero units. These are basically an in-between. More powerful than regular minions, but not as powerful as Planeswalkers. The Cryptoliths (plastic tree-like things) can be destroyed, unlike terrain in the original set.

MTG AOP Shadows Over Innistrad GameOverall Shadows Over Innistrad comes across as more polished that the original base set. It’s also the same price, $30.

So like I said earlier: if you were to only to get one Arena of the Planeswalkers sets, this is the one to get. Realistically? Get one of each. Having all the extra figures, spells, and Planeswalkers only makes the game that much better. While the release schedule of items isn’t as aggressive as Heroscape’s was, that may be the saving grace in the end of Arena of the Planeswalkers. It would be really nice to see them do a base set, small expansion, then repeat the pattern each year.

A copy of Magic: The Gathering – Arena of the Planeswalkers: Shadows Over Innistrad was provided free for review by Hasbro.

Second Look—ZIPANG -Portable-

Second Look - Boardgame reviews in depth. Check out that cat.ZIPANG -Portable- is a quick little card game by Engine ID that’ll be hitting Kickstarter soon. It’s a precursor to a larger board game currently being developed by the company. It’s actually available now via The Game Crafter for those who want an early look at the game, similar to the experience I had with it.

ZIPANG plays a bit like Love Letter. There’s only a few cards, each of which has a special power. Unlike Love Letter, you can attack your fellow players to knock them out of a round. Of course there’s ways for them to defend themselves. The goal in the end is to have the most Mangoku Coins at the end of the game, which ends when one player is completely out of the coins.

e2e4c5e3c362f0dcae08d1eede05358e840371cfYou can see the full rules of the game here. These are the latest rules sent to me by the designer, but they are still a work in progress.

Gameplay is clever, the artwork is colorful and enthralling. There’s plenty of great card combos here, and lots of tough choices to make during play. Do you attack with a high powered card, or save that card in your hand to work as your defense? Do you play a great special power, or keep that card because it’s high Honor value might win you the round if the Emperor is played?

You can snag the early-release version of ZIPANG from The Game Crafter for $24. If you want to wait for the Kickstarter, a pledge of $19 will get you a copy of the game if the project is funded. If you want to go the print-and-play route there will also be a $5 pledge-level for that.

The kids and I really enjoyed this one. It’s quick, easy to learn, and has enough strategy to keep us coming back from more. I initially didn’t know what to expect from this one, and was pleasantly surprised with how good it really is.

A copy of ZIPANG -Portable- was provided free for review by Engine ID.

Second Look—Hanna Honeybee

Second Look - Boardgame reviews in depth. Check out that cat.Hanna Honeybee is part of HABA’s My Very First Games line, a line aimed at kids 2+ years old. Having a 2-year-old in the house,  I jumped at the opportunity to give the game a try. The game is very simple, with colorful components and a great little gimmick that had my little guy squealing with delight.

Let’s start with that. Hanna Honeybee’s box is also an important part of the game. There’s a cardboard insert that fits into the box with a slot on the top and a ramp on the bottom. In each game flower tiles are inserted in the top slot and flipped over to their honey side before being sent out the bottom. Every time we play my son exclaims “Honey!” whenever a tile comes sliding out. Laughter follows for a while and we can continue play.

There’s two ways to play Hanna Honeybee. The first involves rolling a die and moving the wooden Hanna token over to a flower of that color. Then the tile is inserted into the box and the honey that comes out is placed in the honey pot. Players work together to fill the honey pot with 6 honey tiles. Be careful, though! If you roll a wilted flower then one of the flowers is removed from the game. The goal here is color recognition, taking turns, and following mutli-step directions.

302199_4c_f_mes_hanni_honigbiene_usa_01The second way to play adds a little memory into the game. All the flower tiles are flipped to the honey side, and the players must try and find the color flower that they rolled. Didn’t find the right color? That’s OK! You can take another turn if you can successfully name the color of the flower you did turn over. Once you find the right color Hanna can take the flower, turn it into honey, and place it in the honey pot. Once again, 6 honey tiles in the honey pot wins the game, and a wilted flower roll removes a tile.

Like I said before, the games are very simple. However, they’re great for a 2-year-old. My toddler asks to play all the time, and always multiple times in a row. He loves moving Hanna to the flowers, and loves placing them in the hive to be flipped even more.

You can snag Hanna Honeybee for $27.99 from HABA’s site. I highly recommend you do if you’ve got children in the age range. I know we’re happy with the game, and will be gifting copies to family members this holiday season.

A copy of Hanna Honeybee was provided free for review by HABA.

 

Second Look—Mystic Vale

Second Look - Boardgame reviews in depth. Check out that cat.Mystic Vale, a game I’ve been eagerly awaiting since I first saw the initial thoughts on the system during Toy Fair 2015, is AEG’s new deck building game. The gimmick here? AEG’s Card Crafting System. Instead of buying cards each turn, you’re buying advancements that can be sleeved into your base cards. Through various card combinations you’ll get more mana to spend, icons to purchase Vale Cards that give you even more power, and victory points. VP can either be active, earned every time the card is drawn,  or inactive, awarded at the end of the game. The game ends when the VP pool is emptied, then all VP are calculated. Highest VP wins the game. The video below lays out everything fairly well:

How does it play? I’ve played with my kids, and we all really enjoyed it. My 6-year-old really took to the game well, and pulled a win during our first game! The push-your-luck element initially seemed to be a pain, but with clever card crafting really comes into it’s own and can be a powerful tool to getting many cards out on the table. The card crafting system has some cool combos that can be made, and feels like it can really be expanded on in the future.

My only real complaints are that the game takes a bit to ramp up. Initial turns seem a bit slow and unproductive only to have the pace of the game rapidly increase for a shorter endgame once you’ve crafted some powerful cards. There’s also no real player interaction. It’s very much a solo game of trying to ramp up and empty the VP pool.

Mystic Vale is a fun deck builder, and the card crafting mechanic is pretty cool. Ramp up is a bit slow, but that’s something that could probably be fixed by seeding some already crafted cards into the base decks. I highly recommend playing it first before purchase, if possible. It may not be for everyone, but I can tell it’s a game that’ll get a lot of play in my house.

A copy of Mystic Vale was provided free for review by AEG.

Second Look—Aurora

Second Look - Boardgame reviews in depth. Check out that cat.“Who are we? Where are We from?”

I first saw Aurora at CT FIG 2016 while playing Elements at the Rampage Games booth. Not having time to play that day, Rampage sent me a copy of my own to checkout. I finally had a chance to sit down and play with my kids, and was surprised what a competent little set collection game it is.

Aurora is a game about creating star systems that can support sentient life. It was a submission to The Game Crafter’s Learning Game Challenge, and made it to the finals.

Each round you’re creating or expanding star systems trying to meet all the requirements for intelligence. Every card in your star system also provides a certain amount of either Water, Carbon, or Oxygen. Building your levels of these resources earn you bonuses throughout the game. There’s also event cards that can be played to help yourself or hinder other players. Once a round is over you can save up to three cards, pass the rest to the player on the left, then draw up to 6 cards for a max hand size of 8. Play continues until either one person develops intelligence, has life in three star systems, or maxes out their resource tracks. It plays in about 30 minutes, and the kids and I had a blast while playing.

A546EA2A-DE5C-11E5-99B2-01E05D26D2FFThere are a few pitfalls, though. The rules aren’t as clear as they could be, and make the game seem a bit more complicated than it really is. Also, the colors on some of the components, especially the reference guide and rule book, blend a bit and make the text hard to read in some areas. Overall these aren’t really deal breakers, but are items that can be fixed to make Aurora a much more solid package.

Aurora packs a lot of game into a deck of cards. Between the multiple paths to victory and drafting mechanics, it provides a good amount of depth is a short period of time. It’s also easy enough to play with kids. My 6-year-old was able to grasp the game well enough to play on his own after a few rounds, and my 9-year-old pulled out a surprise victory by developing intelligence on our first play of the game.

A copy of Aurora was provided free for review by Rampage Games.

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