What Makes a Game Great?

26 03 2014

Gold DiceWe spend a lot of time here on TOG critiquing games. Every day brings a new batch of games to this great hobby, and we get to analyze what’s good and what’s not. We’ve spent the last nearly two years telling you what we like about games–well, at least Jeremiah has, anyway… Now we want to hear from you.

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Choose One!–A Double-Take Review

18 02 2014

chooseonecoverDONOVAN: What… is… happening…?

(His skin turns brown and leathery and stretches across his bones until it splits. His skeletal hands reach for Elsa’s throat, choking her. Indy rushes forward and pushes Donovan away. As he falls the BODY BREAKS INTO FLAMES, then SHATTERS AGAINST THE WALL.)

KNIGHT: He chose… poorly.

 – Indiana Jones, The Last Crusade

Today we take a look at Looney Labs’ latest party game, Choose One! The decisions you make during this game will stir up conversation at your game night, party, or other social gathering.

Let’s take a look!

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Podcast #3 and a New Contest—We’re Giving Away Pixel Lincoln!

22 10 2013

pixelcoverHey everyone!

We’re super excited about everything that’s moving and shaking here at Theology of Games. We’re happy to announce that our third episode of the Theology of Games Podcast is up and running and available for download on iTunes!

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Chicken Caesar! A Mini-Review

25 09 2013

chicken Caesar box– by Jeremiah

A few weeks ago I wrote about my inability to get Chicken Caesar on the table. Well, we had a breakthrough a few nights ago and managed to fumble our way through a first playthrough. So my opinions aren’t yet complete, nor is my full understanding of the rules. (There’s a lot going on here!) I thought since it has been so long since receiving the review copy I would at least update everyone on the status, and give some initial thoughts. So, here goes…

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FrogFlip—A Double-Take Review

5 06 2013

FrogcoverJason Kotarski is a busy guy. He’s a husband, and a dad, and a church planter, and a musician, and a game designer. His first published game—The Great Heartland Hauling Company—is a cool pick-up-and-deliver game. He was kind enough to let us interview him, too. He’s got a new little 2-player card game in the works, and we’re going to give you our impressions of FrogFlip.

Components

14 Cards, which include two cards with instructions, four Lily Pad cards, and eight Bug Score cards.

1 Frog Disc, which is a plastic disc with a frog sticker on one side.

Setup

Take the four Lily Pad cards and place them equally spaced between the two players. Then shuffle Bug Score cards and place them flower-side-down on the side. Then the youngest player grabs the frog disc and starts.

Gameplay

photo (13)Each of the Bug Score cards has a number of bugs on it—either one, two, three, or four of them. On their turn, each player will attempt to flip the frog to the Lily Pad card that corresponds to the number of bugs on the top card of the Bug Score stack. So if there are two bugs on the top card, I’m trying to flip the frog onto the Lily Pad card that’s two away from me. If I miss, my opponent is trying to flip the frog onto the Lily Pad card that’s two away from her.

You flip the frog just as you would with flip a coin.

Your hand can’t pass the first Lily Pad card, and if the frog falls off the table, your opponent gets two turns in a row!

The frog only has to touch the Lily Pad card in order to count; you get to take the Bug Score card, and the number of bugs on it is your score. If you manage to get any part of the frog disc to rest on the correct Lily card, you get to take the Bug Score card and flip it onto the flower side—the score is the same, but flowers are tie-breakers.

You continue back and forth until either the deck runs out, or someone claims five of the eight Score cards. Whichever player has the most bugs on their score cards wins, and flowers break ties.

photo (16)Recommendations

Family? Definitely! It’s just the right depth for a quick game with the kids. The only downside is that it’s only for two players—though there are rules for a 4-player variant that requires two sets of the game.

Youth group/party game? Probably not! It looks like a kids game, so I don’t think teenagers would like this much. And since it’s two-players-only, I’m unlikely to even try this at a party.

Gamers game? Mmmmaybe! If your group likes Flowerfall, and other quick-playing, small fillers, this might be a good one to throw into the bin. But I’d probably still just pull out Flowerfall, though…

The Verdict

Firestone—This is yet another example of someone creating a “micro-game”—one that’s fully contained in a very small package. I like that trend, as it keeps the price down and the portability high.

Jeremiah – Agreed, the brevity of the game is a highlight too; we can play best of 3, 5, 7, and so on, depending on how close it is to bedtime when we start playing. And my boys can teach it to others (friends, grandparents, etc) without my help. They really like it when that happens!

Firestone—The 5-year-old loves it, and the fact that the frog only has to touch the card means he has a chance. My 8-year-old likes it, but he’s sadly getting to the age where he’d rather play deeper stuff. But he does love playing with his younger brother, so we’ll see how long that lasts.

Getting that frog where you want it isn’t as easy as it sounds! There were plenty of times it would go off in some crazy direction—and I’ve had years of coin-flipping experience! I think this adds to the fun, though, as it keeps kids competitive with grown-ups, who have obviously inflated opinions of their frog-flipping abilities.

Jeremiah – I feel like we’re in the same boat. Frog Flip is definitely going to hit closer to home for the 4 or 5-year-old range; the novelty of the coin flip is still a draw to the older kids. The flipping mechanic seems to level the playing nicely, and the theme ties in perfectly with the game play.

picstitchFirestone’s Final Verdict—This is an adorable little family game. I fear it has a very short window where it will continue to interest my boys, but I’ll happily play it until that window closes.

Jeremiah’s Final Verdict— This is a fun little game, and it did give me the opportunity to teach my boys how to properly flip a coin. (I guess that’s a skill I’ve neglected to teach them in my parenting.) The boys had fun with it, and like I said, it’s a great length for the times we don’t have time to play a lengthy game before bedtime. My oldest is advancing into games like Heroclix and Pokemon so I, like Scott, don’t know how long this will hold his attention, but it’s still right in my youngest’s wheelhouse and he loves it!

Jason just announced this week that the game’s been picked up by Michael Fox’s Sprocket Games. Watch for a Kickstarter campaign in July—and we’ll try to get Jason to sit down for another interview. Thanks for reading!

Theology Of Games would like to thank Jason for providing us with review copies of FrogFlip; this in no way affected our opinions of the game.





Princes of the Dragon Throne—A Review

4 06 2013

photo (10)– By Jeremiah

Clever Mojo Games has, along with designer Fred MacKenzie, put together a large-scale board gaming experience that is truly unique…while somehow familiar.

In Princes of the Dragon Throne players assume the role of one of the overlooked princes of the recently deceased Dragon King in the land of Lo’en. Beginning with a small amount of loyal followers you’ll attempt to gather resources, persuade prospects to join your forces, and earn favor of the guilds throughout the kingdoms. Which prince among you and your siblings will rise to power and take the throne? Only time will tell.

The Components

The game comes with oodles of game bits, cards, and a huge game board. To be more specific there are:

216 custom miniatures
– 80 Supporters
– 60 Dragon Lords
– 4 Dragon Princes
– 72 King’s Guards

179 Punchboard Chips
– 84 Guild and Score Markers
– 95 Resource Chips

157 Cards
– 36 Dragon Prospects
– 36 Citizen Prospects
– 40 Starter Deck cards (4 decks of 10)
– 36 Guild Favors
– 6 Clan Favors
– 2 Deck Title Cards
– 1 Bargain With the Giant card

4 Player Aid Sheets

2 Custom Sorcery Dice

1- 22″ x 33″ Game Board

And of course the Rule Book

There is no apparent sign of either a partridge or a pear tree.

Setup and Overview

photo (9)The board is separated into 6 kingdoms (Humans, Elves, Sorcerers, etc.); each kingdom is made up of 6 guilds (Merchants, Shepherds, Warriors, etc.). There is also a space for a prospect card (either dragon or citizen) in each kingdom. Surrounding each guild in every kingdom are 5 slots for Supporters or King’s Guards.
To setup the game:
– Place 2 King’s Guards in every guild (this will use all of them).
– Give each player their starting deck of 10 cards.
– Take 3 Dragon and 3 Citizen prospect cards, shuffle them, and place one in each kingdom.
– Give each player three of each resource type (Gold, Sheep and Influence).
– Each player then takes 5 of their Supporters (placing the rest to the side for now),all of their Dragon Lords, and their Dragon Prince.

Players shuffle their starting deck, draw five cards, and the game begins.

There are lots of stacks of cards, and resources, and so forth, so the bigger the table the better!

photo (8)

Game Play
On a player’s turn he or she can perform one of a possible four main actions, and a number of additional “King’s Guard Actions,” provided they have a King’s Guard to use.

The four main actions are as follows:

Gather Resources—All the cards have two main functions, and gathering resources is one of those. On their turn players can play up to three cards from their hand and gather the amount of resources listed on them from the pool. If there are none left in the pool, you start pillaging them from other players, taking one at a time from each player moving counter-clockwise.

Recruit a Prospect—Once you’ve gathered enough resources, you can then begin to recruit prospects from the game board, by paying the value listed at the very bottom of the cards available. When you recruit that card, you snag another Supporter from your reserve pile; you also potentially score points (if there is a claw icon next to the cost). And if that wasn’t enough, you get to remove a card from your hand or discard pile from the game!

Deploy Supporters—You can deploy up to 2 Supporters a turn, using two different cards from your hand. A Citizen card will give you two icons, which offers more flexibility; you can play a Supporter either in the matching Kingdom, on any guild, or on any matching guild in any Kingdom. Dragon supporters are locked into one Kingdom, on any guild, but they remove a King’s Guard from the guild they are placed in (which goes into your reserve for later). Dragons also require you to feed them a number of sheep from your resources when you deploy them. You also can’t deploy them where there are no King’s Guards…

Maneuver Supporters—Finally if you choose to maneuver Supporters, you can move up to two of your Supporters from anywhere on the board to anywhere else on the board. This is great for taking over guilds, but also leaves guilds open for being taken over by other players… Speaking of taking over guilds…

If at any time you have more Supporters than any other player (or King’s Guard) in a guild, you gain control of that guild. You get to place a spiffy token on it, score two points, and gain a guild favor card into your deck to use one time (and then it goes back into the general supply of guild favor cards). And you get to place one of your Dragon Lords into one of the houses around the Dragon Throne (either matching the color of the kingdom or guild that you just took control of).

After (or before) you’ve done one of those four main actions you can also use a King’s Guard action (as many times as you like… provided you have a King’s Guard to use).

The King’s Guards that you gain by deploying Dragon Supporters allow you to do a few things.
– Place 2 new prospects (if you don’t like any that are out there).
– Place 1 prospect card back on the top of a stack (if someone covered up one that you like).
– Discard any number of cards (you still don’t get to draw back up until the end of your turn, but it gets you through your deck faster).

You may also play one, and only one, Guild Favor card during your turn.

When your turn is over, draw back up to five cards (if you’ve played any) and the next player begins their turn by placing new prospects from either the Dragon deck, or the Citizen deck (their choice) if there are any empty slots, and then they proceed to take their turn.

Parliament—One last feature of the game is Parliament. Whenever a player’s scorekeeper passes a red spot on the score track (at 6, 13, 21 etc.) parliament is held and players take turns placing their Dragon Prince in a house (starting with the player in last place). Each house has its own house bonus, which will give the player a special edge, or action, on their turn. When the next number is reached you do it all again.

The Goal and Game End—The goal is simply to score more points than everyone else; the game ends when all the spots in the Houses around the Dragon Throne are filled.

photo (11)Thoughts and Recommendations –

Family/Party Game? Uhmmm about that. No. The game isn’t hard to learn, but there are tons of aspects to grasp before even beginning to strategize. This one is not for the kids.

Youth Group Game? Not really. The setup is lengthy, the gameplay is lengthier (about 2 hours, once you’ve learned the game), and it doesn’t lend itself to a big group setting.

Gamer’s Game? Absolutely! This may be the very definition of a Gamer’s Game! Intricately woven mechanics, rich back-story, and tons of pieces-parts—the more I learned about the game the more I loved it!

Components—I can’t really speak to the final quality of the components; I was sent a prototype of the game with good ol’ fashioned wooden meeples. But I will say this: Even the “rough draft” style of the meeples was pretty fantastic, and the renderings of the finished minis look splendid! Clever Mojo is going all out for this one, folks!

Gameplay—There’s a lot to take in. I’ve played with 2 players and with 4 players, and if you’re in a 4-player game it can get a little sluggish if folks don’t plan ahead. That being said, there are a ton of different decisions to make on each turn; just choosing which of the four main actions you’re going to take can be a painstaking process! “Do I buy up that card before someone else does, or do I deploy Supporters while I’ve got this dragon in my hand, or do I save up resources so I can get that awesome dragon??” There’s a ton of planning and a ton of decisions to make on each turn, so be ready to make threats of bodily harm to those who are lagging behind.

If I had any small complaint about the way the game plays, I’d have to say I don’t know how well I like the Maneuver Supporters action. It seemed a little too free, with being able to (in a Risk-like fashion) move your Supporters around and conquer guilds. Yes, there was a risk (pun intended) to getting that reward, but I felt it could have used a little tweaking.

Artwork—Again, what I had my hands on was a prototype, and I don’t know how close to final everything was. But the cards already looked fantastic—lots of great detailed illustrations, and not one was like the other. Each Dragon and Citizen featured a name and a bit of flavor text; a lot of work went into the thematic realm the game is placed in. Beautifully done.

Overall—With elements of deck-building, worker-placement, and area-control—and finding a great balance and synergy between the three, while throwing in a pinch of resource management—Princes of the Dragon Throne combines the best of your favorite game genres into a large-scale board game. Simply put: It’s epic!

We’d like to thank Clever Mojo Games and Game Salute for loaning Jeremiah a prototype of the game; this had no effect on the content of this review.

If you’d like to back Princes of the Dragon Throne on Kickstarter, you can do so here.

Have you backed it already? Let us know!

We get ever-so-excited when folks sign up to get our posts via email, right over there, on the right!

Also you can find all kinds of Theology of Games goodness on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram! Check back soon as we interview Fred Mackenzie and his brother David Mackenzie, the brains behind Clever Mojo, Game Salute, and Princes of the Dragon Throne! Coming tomorrow! (June 5, 2013!)





I’m The Boss: The Card Game—A Double-Take Review

10 04 2013

bosscoverUsually, we here at TOG agree on games. There are some games, after all, that are just good, solid games and there is nothing to disagree about—and things are nice and civil here on the blog and it’s all “Hey, you’re right, I love that about this game!” and “Oh yeah, I totally agree with you about that!” Well…not today, folks.

We received copies of I’m the Boss: The Card Game from Gryphon Games to review. And let’s just say, there’s a bit of a difference of opinion.

Before we go any further here’s the run down of the game:

Components

  • 96 deal cards in three colors
  • 3 “X” cards
  • 6 multi-colored “wild” Piece Of The Action (POTA) cards
  • 1 Boss and 2 Cousin tokens
  • 12 double-sided “I’m In/Pass” disks
  • 1 “2X” disk
  • 90 money cards
  • Rulebook

Gameplay

The game length is a set amount of rounds, depending on the number of players. Each player takes turns being the boss; they will either be the boss once, or twice—again, depending on the number of players.

The Deal—Once players have been dealt their cards (8-10 depending on the number of players), and been given two “I’m In/Pass” tokens, the boss starts the deal by playing a card. The color (1 of 3) of that card played is now the color of the deal, and all cards played during this deal must be of that same color. Once the deal is started play continues around the table.

Player turn—On their turn a player may choose two different actions: 1) play a card, or 2) pass. If they choose to pass they do so by turning over one of their “I’m In” tokens to the “Pass” side; once they have turned over both of their tokens to the Pass side, they are out of the deal, and can no longer play cards, or have cards played on them. Here are their options should they choose to play a card.

  • Dollar value cards—Playing these cards will affect the value of the deal; there are both positive and negative values on these cards. If you’re not in the deal, you may want to throw negative cards in to the mix to stop folks from making a ton of money while you’re left with nothing.
  • Piece of the Action cards—This card gives you just that: a piece of the action. This is how you get in the deal if you are not the Boss or a Cousin (we’ll explain Cousins in a minute). One thing to clarify though: It does not divide the deal further; it is actually a multiplier. For each Piece Of the Action card in front of a player they either receive or pay the final value of the deal multiplied by the number of Piece Of the Action cards AND add another for being the Boss or a Cousin. These cards do not have to be played in front of you; you can play them on any player at the table (as long as they haven’t passed twice this deal). It’s the perfect way to help out an ally, or destroy an enemy when the deal is in the negative!
  • Reverse cards—These cards reverse the value of the deal for the player who has it played front of them. Say it’s a huge deal; well maybe you’ll toss a reverse value on the person next to you—or if the deal is way in the red, you can salvage it for yourself and leave the rest of the players holding the bag. You can also save yourself from a reverse card with another reverse. Having an odd number of these cards in front of a player means the value is opposite of the deal as it stands; having an even number means you’re in at face value.
  • Move cards—These cards have a value printed on them from 1-3. They allow you to move cards either a) from the deal to the discard pile, b) from in front of you to another player or the discard pile, or c) from another player to in front of you or to the discard pile. They’re a great way to steal someone’s Piece Of the Action, or get rid of a negative card in the deal, etc.

bosscomponentsThe Boss has one more power each round: He or she gets to select who their cousins are by handing them a Cousin token. (The selection of cousins is negotiable; you can bribe, coax, and lie your way into getting that cousin token!) Players who are either the Boss or a Cousin will be getting a piece of the action. The Boss doesn’t have to give it to anyone, but won’t get anything extra for not handing it out. And the same person can’t get both Cousin tokens.

Once all the players have passed twice (these passes don’t have to be both in a row, you can pass on one turn and jump back in and play a card on the next), the deal ends and players get cash according to their Boss/Cousin status and how many pieces of the action they’re getting.

One important thing to note is that as the game progresses, the payout will scale from 2x to 5x. After all the rounds have been played players count up their cash and the richest one wins!

Jeremiah—I’ve probably played this games at least a half a dozen times over the past month. The game is sometimes luck (depending on your hand, and the color of the current deal), but at all times it is about outsmarting, and outbluffing the other players at the table.

Firestone—I’ve only played this with gamers. At first I thought it might be a light negotiation game I could bring out with nongamers/casual gamers, but it’s just too clunky for that, I think.

Jeremiah—It is true that there may be deals you can’t impact very well, or much at all due to lack of cards. I always look at those times as opportunities to bluff my way into a cousin token, pass twice to get out, and make a new enemy. That’s what I enjoy about this game: Sometimes it has everything to do with how you play the cards in your hand. Others it has everything to do with how you play the cards that aren’t in your hand.

Firestone—The luck of the draw is what ultimately killed this for me. We played with 5, so there were only five rounds. The way the payouts scale (from a start of 2x up to 5x), you’d better hope you’re in a good later round, because if it’s a positive payout x5, and you’re not involved, welcome to to not-first-place. Unfortunately, with three suits there will likely be rounds you’re completely out of because you don’t have any of that suit. (This happened multiple times to multiple people.) Sure, you can try to bluff your way into a Cousin token. But with nothing to contribute, that’s tough. Plus, what if it’s a negative payout? You have no way to change your circumstance. Just sitting there with nothing to do for one (or more) of the only five rounds was lame.

Jeremiah—The components are well made, definitely no complaints there. Of course I always would prefer room in the box to sleeve the cards though.

Firestone—I agree on this point! The components are high quality—the tokens and disks are chunky and the cards have a nice linen finish on them.

Jeremiah—There’s just a warm spot in my heart for games like this, that cause good friends to have overly suspicious staring matches, and make idle threats. I’ve literally caught myself, in full out good fellas mode saying things like “If you make me your cousin, I won’t be your enemy,” to a very good friend of mine—and I meant it!

Firestone—That threat only works if I can back it up. Depending on the cards, I might not be able to…

Firestone Final Thoughts—This game was just too swingy for me. Also, the Move 3 card just shouldn’t exist: that thing is way, WAY too powerful. I wanted to like this; I’ve liked all of the other games in Gryphon’s Bookshelf series that I’ve played. This one just fell completely flat for me. But I’m glad Jeremiah likes it so much!

Jeremiah Final Thoughts—I’ve played this game with my veteran gamer friends, and the casual gamers alike, and we’ve all had a great time, many laughs, and more than a few icy stares thrown in one direction or another. While card management can be tedious from time to time, the over-arching mechanic is to be devious and outsmart the other players, not the game. And that I appreciate. I’ve won the game a few times, and I’ve lost a few (mostly because I was wrapped up in trying to tank other players and forgot to take care of myself) but every time I’ve had fun.

Well there you have it, folks. PROOF that we don’t have identical taste in games. Which one of us do you agree with? Let us know in the comments. Thanks for reading!








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