Gears of Whoa!—A Tzolk’in Review

5 02 2013

Mayancover

By Firestone

One of the most buzzed-about games of the last year was a little game called Tzolk’in. But it seemed like the interest might be simply because of the cool gears that cover most of the board. Well I’ve played it now, and I can assure you, there’s a solid game to go with those cool gears.

The game is set in Central America during the time of the Mayans, and you’re trying to earn the most VPs through careful placement of your workers. There’s a large, ornate gear in the middle, and five smaller gears around that one. The large one acts as the game’s “timer” It will turn once around, and then the game ends, while the smaller ones will turn many times over the course of that large gear’s one turn. Science! There are also a few tracks—including a tech tree and three temple tracks. And there are spaces for buildings and monuments, which you’ll buy with resources. The game crams a remarkable amount of information onto one board without becoming Gearsoverwhelming.

Turns are “simple”: You will either place one or more workers onto the board, or you will take one or more workers off the board.

Each of the gears has spaces for the workers to sit on, and each gear has different actions around them. You have to place your worker on the lowest available space on each wheel, and possibly pay to do that. The spaces start at zero corn (the game’s currency), and go up from there. So you have to pay corn to place your worker (unless it’s on the lowest space, which is free), but you also have to pay for each worker you place beyond the first one each turn. And the prices ramp up for each worker, so you always have to carefully consider whether you can afford to place workers.

At the end of each turn, you turn the big gear, which turns the little gears, which move the workers on those gears. So each turn a worker will move ahead and be in front of a new action space. The spaces get better the further along the gear you go, but because you have to either place workers or take them off, it can be a tricky thing to get workers to ride that gear for a while.

board

Image from BGG user salgi

When you decide to take a worker off a gear, he gets to do the action that’s in front of him when you take him off. (If you decide you actually want to do an action further back on the gear—because something on the board changed, or you timed the taking off/putting on poorly, or whatever—you can, but you have to pay one corn for each space behind you that action happens to be.) One of the gears has actions that let you take corn or wood. One lets you get building resources, such as wood, gold, stone, or crystal skulls. The third gear has actions that let you advance the tech tree, build Buildings, and build Monuments. The fourth gear lets you do things such as pay corn to advance on the Temple track, get another worker to use in the game, and build a Building using corn rather than resources. The last couple of spaces on every gear allow you to take a earlier action on the gear, but without having to play the extra corn. The fifth gear is a little different, in that those spaces give you straight VPs and let you advance on the Temple track. The further on the wheel, the more VPs, but each space costs one crystal skull, so once someone has claimed a space with their skull, no one else can use that one.

skullgear

Image from BGG user LiteBulb88

As if all of that weren’t enough, I still have way more stuff to explain!

There’s a space where you can put a worker down to claim the first player marker. Each turn where no one does that, you put corn on the wheel. So as the corn adds up turn over turn, there’s incentive for other people to grab that first player space.

So there are three Temple tracks. Since you’re Mayans, and Mayans believed in many gods, you’ll be trying to win the favor of the gods and advance on these tracks. It’s not like there’s a Sacrifice A Villager space—it’s completely abstracted. You take an action on one of the wheels, and move your marker up the ziggurat. That gets you more VPs during scoring, and a couple of spaces give you resources, too. There is a mechanism in the game where you can beg for corn if you can’t pay for something, but this “angers the gods”—which simply means you have to move down one of the tracks. It’s not the focus of the game, and there’s nothing that made me feel I was being asked to worship anything—it’s just one of the game’s mechanisms given a thematic coat of paint.

The tech trees let you do things such as gather extra corn when you take the Gather Corn action; get extra wood, stone, or gold when you gather that resource, or get resources when you build a Building—plus a few others. The tech trees are cool, but as with so many great games, you can’t do everything, so you have to choose wisely, and hope your choices are better than your opponents’ choices.

Image from BGG user henk.rolleman

Image from BGG user henk.rolleman

Finally, there are two tracks on the bottom of the board. One holds Buildings; at any time there will be six of them on the board. They let you do things, such as move up on a tech tree, or move up on Temple tracks, or spend less to feed your workers at the end of each turn. There are two batches of Buildings; you use the first ones in the first half, and switch to the second batch for the second half—and the second batch has better Buildings. Another reason to build Buildings is that some of the Monuments will give you VPs for having certain-colored Buildings.

The game comes with a number of Monuments, and each game you’ll use exactly six of them. Those—unlike Buildings—won’t be refilled. They give you bonuses and VPs at the end of the game, but you have to build them using resources, just like a Building.

The game is divided into four quarters, and at each quarter you’ll have to feed your workers—two corn each unless you’ve built a farm Building. Unlike Stone Age, starving your people here is a BAD IDEA. Also depending on the quarter, you might score some of the Temples, or get some resources. After the last quarter, you count up VPs, add in bonuses from the board or from Monuments, do a couple of other fiddly things, and whoever has the most VPs, wins!

Whew! Well that’s it. As you can see, there is a LOT going on. Your first game will probably take you a while, because even though you can only take off or put on workers, there is a lot to think about. This game is all about timing. You’ll constantly be trying to figure out whether putting these guys down this turn will allow you to take that action later to get this resource to later turn into that Building provided your dude on that gear can ride far enough along to get to the Building action. This is NOT a light game…

Image from BGG user Goodsound

Image from BGG user Goodsound

One the great things about the game is that there are many things that change the experience from game to game. The Monuments are different each game, for one. Another thing is the starting resources. The game comes with tiles that have various bonuses on them, such as a free movement up one of the tech tracks, or another worker to start the game with, or a free skull, or moving up the Temple tracks. You get four tiles, and you choose two of them to start the game with. That will often determine what route you take (at least at the start). Your experience from game to game should be quite different. And because there are so many viable routes to victory, you’ll feel complete freedom to explore a different strategy from game to game.

You’ll need to determine if the Temple tracks are enough to keep you away from the game. Again, it’s completely abstracted, but there is talk of “pleasing the gods” to move up, or “displeasing the gods” and having to move down. You’re not sacrificing people to these gods, or worshiping them in any way. But we’d understand if that makes you uncomfortable.

This is one of the best games I’ve played in the past year. I can’t wait to try out some new tactics and strategies—and I REALLY can’t wait to get my grubby hands on a copy of the game, and paint those sweet gears. If you like deep games, and/or worker-placement games, check out Tzolk’in. It’s way more that a gimmick.

Advertisements




Review: Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game

20 11 2012

By Firestone

I love Star Wars. I really, really love Star Wars. Of course there are problems, and plot holes, and inconsistencies, and those awful, terrible Episodes I, II, and III. But no film/franchise/toy line is so firmly entrenched in my memories of childhood.

So, of course, I was giddy when I heard they were making a miniatures game based on my beloved franchise.

I played a friend’s copy—he’d picked up two copies of everything. At this point that includes the base game, which includes two tie fighters and one x-wing, and the Wave 1 expansions, which include another tie fighter and x-wing fighter (with new pilots and powers), a tie advanced, and a y-wing. The minis are terrific hand-painted plastic. They are awfully fragile, and at the prices these fetch, I admit I’m hesitant for my 4-year-old to be anywhere near this thing.

The gameplay is superficially similar to the Wings of War game—but with some significant differences that ensure this is no knockoff. First, each person build a squad using points. 100 points seems to be the norm, and you get there by choosing various ships, and then adding pilots (such as Wedge Antilles and Darth Vader), and then adding upgrades (such as proton torpedoes). Each one of these things costs a different number of points; you add them all up to get to your squad total. Here’s where I come up against my first problem with the game: You’ll need more than the base game to make a decent game—either more base games or a bunch of expansion pieces. I get that this is Fantasy Flight’s business model, but someone opening up just the base game on Christmas morning might be disappointed with how small their game will be.

Game play is straightforward: Each type of ship has a unique set of maneuvers it can make, and has a unique movement dial that lets you set its next move and then set it facedown until everyone has made their movement selection. Then in turn order people reveal their dial and move. There are templates that you place in front of the mini’s base, and then you simply move the ship to the end of the template. It’s easy and unambiguous.

Then each person can choose an Action from the choices on their various pilot and upgrade cards; these might include focusing on fighting, or evading a shot that comes at you. Then each ship determines whether there’s a target in their firing arc and attacks if possible. Attacks are resolved using dice, with various abilities affecting the attack or defense dice. The various ships have different defenses: Tie fighters have great maneuverability, but have no shields, while X-wings have shields but have fewer maneuvers available to them.

That’s a basic overview of the game.

The components are great. The minis are cool, the cards are nice and clear, and the numerous tokens are thick. I’m concerned about the movement dials rubbing away over time, but we’ll see.

The complexity is low. My 8-year-old might need a little help with the smaller details and fine strategy, but I think he’d hold his own…

There’s a fair amount of luck in this—in fact, more than I’m generally comfortable with. It gets some grace because of the theme, and because I know my kids will love this game, regardless of luck. The playing time is short—games should take no more than 30-45 minutes. And while the game says it’s for 2 players, we’ve played team games of 4 people (two on each side), and it worked great. Of course, for that size game you’ll need some expansions.

Speaking of expansions, Wave 2 is scheduled for February. And it includes two larger models, one of Boba Fett’s Slave 1, and one of the Millenium Falcon. I can’t wait!

My biggest complaint is how much money this will cost me over time. I understand that I can choose to not buy the expansions, but if you think that’s an option, you obviously don’t know me very well! 🙂

Bottom line: If you have kids who love Star Wars—or if you love Star Wars and can get over the randomness and the price—then this is a great game to consider. It’ll tide me over until Star Wars The Card Game comes out!

Thanks for reading!





4 Score and 8 Bits Ago – A Pixel Lincoln Review

6 11 2012

– by Jeremiah

A few weeks ago we interviewed Jason Tagmire, the mastermind behind the eagerly awaited Pixel Lincoln, the sidescrolling, deck-builder of presidential proportions. Shortly after the interview we were sent a prototype copy of the game to review, so here it is, our review of Pixel Lincoln.

The Setup – The setup of the game is unlike most deckbuilders. Instead of simply creating a pool of cards that you’ll choose from, you’re also deciding which baddies you’ll face. The game consists of two levels, each level consists of a deck of cards that includes items, secret items, enemies, characters, checkpoints, a mini boss, and a boss. Once you’ve compiled your two levels the decks are set to the right and the first five cards are revealed making a row from left to right. Players then choose which level they will start on by placing their Lincoln meeple to the left of the first card of the level. Players are then given a starting deck of 10 cards (five starting movements, and five starting weapons), and a player # card with 2 life cards that are placed underneath it; then each person shuffles their decks, draw 5 cards from it, and the game begins.

Game Play – On a turn players decide whether to use their cards in one of two ways: by equipping them, or using them for money. If the card is equipped, the player gains the attack power, the action/movement, or special ability of the card. If they choose to spend money, they gain the money value of the card. By spending money you can collect a card in your level that is a movement or item/weapon and add it to your deck. By equipping weapons or movements you can defeat or jump over enemies as you move through the level. Defeating an enemy places that card in a score pile, and usually triggers a favorable action for the player who defeated it… Usually. Players move along the level, and as soon as one player’s Lincoln makes it to the level’s draw deck, any cards that are behind all of the players in that level are discarded. The leftover cards are moved back, and more cards are then revealed. This accurately and nostalgically represents the side-scrolling of those great video games we grew up with.

End Game – As you hit the three checkpoints in each level, they trigger certain game effects. Each checkpoint allows players a few options, such as drawing an extra card, exiting the level, or culling a card to their score pile. When the second checkpoint is reached, it’s replaced with a mini boss, and when the third checkpoint is reached it’s replaced by a boss. Defeating the boss on each level ends the game. Players then count their scores.

Winning the Game – Each card has a point value in the lower right-hand corner, as well as a suit along the bottom left. At the end of the game players count up their score from the score pile, as well as their player deck. If they’ve collected characters along the way, and if they have cards that match the required suits, those characters will also award additional points. This works well because players who don’t beat the bosses still have a good fighting chance to win the game!

My Thoughts – What a fun romp! The feeling of actually playing an Old School side-scroller is seamlessly fused with the deck-building mechanics of some of today’s great games. Pixel Lincoln manages to bring together some of the best elements of my present day pasttime and my youthful social awkwardness!

The art and universe of the game are unique, original, and full of quirks. It seems completely normal that President Lincoln would be battling puking turtles, luchadors, plague doctors, and laser sharks, with weapons like chicken cannons, sausage link whips, and beardarangs. I mean…why not? The full version of the game includes a level editor, which should be very, very handy. One playthrough we noticed that the two levels weren’t very balanced, and if you were stuck in level two, all the good cards were going to the players in level one. I also see a lot of room for expansion in this game; I would love to see more, and different types of, abilities and triggered effects on the enemy cards as they are defeated. At the end of the day, Pixel Lincoln is not the most strategic of card games, which levels the playing field in a way—players are at the mercy of the levels and the cards they have at hand. But it’s still fun to play! Here’s to hoping you’ve got enough fire power, because don’t look now, that luchador is throwing a hot dog with the works at you!

You can now pre-order your very own copy of Pixel Lincoln right here.

Thanks for reading!





Ruse — Kickstarter Weekly

1 11 2012

If you read our interview with Ruse’s designer’s yesterday, you know they had a desire “to design a murder mystery game that went beyond deducing what was in an envelope.” Ruse is that game.

It plays from 3 to 5 players—ages 12 and up—in 30 to 45 minutes. They designed it using a standard 54-card deck (but with cool steampunky pictures), so they’re seeing it as a gateway game, too. Many people don’t have a desire or the patience to learn a whole new batch of cards, but since this game uses a “standard” deck, they might be more willing to jump in and try it. In fact, they’re even including the rules for the Victorian-era card game Whist.

The Kickstarter page says: Players take turns making Accusations of Method, Motive, or Opportunity against each other or providing Alibis to counter those Accusations. You must remember what has been played and craft your Accusations well to pin the murder on another player.

Sounds like it’ll be a fun storytelling, whodunit game. Jeremiah and I should be getting our pre-production, review copies any day now. We’re going to give this a whirl once we do, and we’ll have our reviews up ASAP. In the meantime, you can go check out the Kickstarter campaign—they’re already close to being funded!





Encino Man Liveth – A Stone Age Review

23 10 2012

– by Jeremiah

I went to game night to find Stone Age was set up and ready to play. I was informed that I “probably wasn’t going to like it…” Thankfully for all of us at the table that prognostication was incorrect.

Stone Age at its core is a resource-management/workforce-allocation game set in…well, the Stone Age.

The Setup – Players are given a player board and 5 of 10 meeples of their selected color, and 12 food tokens. The board is set slightly differently depending on the number of players with a certain number of structures and civilization cards. And then resource pieces are placed in their respective areas—lumber, brick, stone, gold and food.

The Players Turn – Gameplay consists of rounds more so than turns; there are three phases to a round: placement, production, and nutrition. A player is handed the first player/caveman/king looking thing token and gets to decide where he will allocate his first meeples. Aside from the resource areas players can stake a claim at 3 special areas: the field, the hut, and what I like to call the tool shed. These are highly sought after spots and very limited, only allowing 1-2 meeples (the hut require 2 meeples from the same player) to be placed there, as opposed to the other resource areas allowing for multiple meeples. The field allows you to accumulate 1 food each round, moving your counter up the food track—you’ll see why this is valuable shortly. While going to the hut, also known as “The Love Hut,” allows players to bring in an extra meeple from their supply. (Now you see why you have to put 2 meeples there.) Going to the tool shed yields one tool; tools help add to your rolls during the production phase. You can also place a meeple on a civilization card (which allows you to purchase it during the production phase) or a structure chip (which you also can purchase during the production phase). Cards give you special abilities during the game and can score points at the end of the game. Structures score you points immediately but give no special powers.

The Production Phase – Once each player has placed all of their meeples, players go in order making all of their production checks and purchasing anything they may have dibs on. This is where the game gets dicey, literally. For each meeple you’ve placed in a certain area, you get to roll one d6, add the total, optionally modify that total with your tools, and then divide by a certain number depending on the resource you’re going for. (Food/2, Lumber/3, Brick/4, etc.) The three special locations don’t require rolls; they produce just by having placed a meeple there. You gather resources, because they allow you to buy your civilization cards and structures and in turn score victory points. And that’s how you win the game.

The Nutrition Phase – After everyone has gathered resources, bought things, etc., you gather all of your meeples back to your player board, and then pay 1 food token for each of them, minus the number your counter is at on the food track—the higher you get your counter, the less hunting you need to do!

The Game Ends – When all of the civilization cards are depleted, or when one pile of structure cards are depleted. You then add up any final points awarded by the civilization cards and whoever has the most points wins.

The Cup O’Stink – About 25 minutes into game play there was an awkward exchange of sideways glances at one another. We discovered that the foul smell at the table was not due to any of us lacking in personal hygienic aptitude. But it was in fact due to the the cup which was included for rolling the dice. It was made, apparently, out of real rawhide, or some form of leather. Thematically it was cool. But in essence it just stank. Otherwise the packaging was great; Rio Grande included lots of baggies, and perfect compartments for all of the pieces and components to fit into nicely!

The Bottom Line – Stone Age, was really enjoyable. There are some timing questions that took a little digging to resolve and in fact do have a pretty substantial impact on the game itself. But once you get the nuances hammered out, it plays smoothly and is a lot of fun. If you hate games that rely heavily on dice roles, you may be in for a rough ride, as gathering resources + bad rolls can = a bitter experience. But if you think out your turns a little in advance you can hedge some of the randomness. Thematically, the game is fun. If I’m riding a hard-line Christian view of it, yes, the “Stone Age” really wasn’t what games like this, and TV/cartoons make it out to be, neanderthal men living in caves, grunting, and beating each other with large clubs. I view it as a historical fiction game, just as I would look at Battlestar Galactica as a science fiction game. By the way, there is no beating of each other with large clubs in this game; that was pure hyperbole. The “Love Hut,” as it were, will cause some Jr. High-ish giggling, but there is nothing lewd about it at all.

Thanks for reading! And as always we love to hear your thoughts on the games we review!





Alien Frontiers Hits the iPad

22 10 2012

If you haven’t played Alien Frontiers yet, it’s one of the slew of dice-Euros that have come out in the last couple of years. It’s got a science fiction theme, and is a sort of worker placement/area-control. It uses dice, but in a pretty neat way—you use them to get resources, build ships, build settlements, and so forth. My biggest problem is that the end-game is swingy and prone to bang-on-the-leader. There’s an expansion out, and it may have fixed my concerns (I haven’t played it yet).
But the point of this post is that it’s available on the iPad now for $4.99—which is WAY cheaper that the actual board game.





What You Missed…

19 10 2012

Well, we’re not sure why it happened, but it was a record-breaking week here at Theology Of Games! And we couldn’t have done it without you. (No, seriously. That’s how it works.) Thanks for reading. Here’s the week’s wrap-up.

First we told you about the 2nd Netrunner pack that’s coming (we haven’t even seen the first one!).

We reviewed that great, cheap, fun, and easily-found-at-Target game Spot It!

We gave you a bonus interview, with the folks behind the Extra Life benefit.

Then we interviewed the folks behind the upcoming deck-builder Pixel Lincoln—both Jason Tagmire and President Lincoln himself!

We gave you the news that Looney Labs is launching an iPhone version of their popular card game Fluxx.

This week’s Kickstarter spotlight was We are Dead, a zombie game—from the zombies’ perspective…

And finally, we revealed that the GenCon exclusive adventure in the Lord of the Rings: The Card Game is now available as a print-and-play deck.

Again, thanks so much for giving us a chance. We’re doing everything we can to bring you fun, interesting, thoughtful, and useful posts regarding this crazy hobby of ours. Have a great weekend.








%d bloggers like this: