Friday, December 30, 2011

Belfort Board Game Review

This past week has been hell. Trapped in partial quarantine coughing louder than a back firing car and expelling what could be described as Slurm I was tired of being sick. It's difficult to get a doctor's appointment during holidays and especially between Christmas and New Year's. I avoided urgent care because the last time four hours were wasted only to have a doctor charge my insurance and not to write me a script for an antitussive.  Black tea, whiskey, and lemon were more helpful than that doctor.  

My current health has reminded of an episode of Red Dwarf where a smug Rimmer has placed the crew in quarantine.  Kryten points out, "You are obliged to provide us with minimum leisure facilities. Games, literature, hobby activities, motion pictures." The smeghead Rimmer rattles, "And in accordance with Space Corps directive 312, you'll find in the storage cupboard over there a chess set with thirty-one missing pieces, a knitting magazine with a pull-out special on crocheted hats, a puzzle magazine with all the crosswords completed and a video of the excellent cinematic treat, "Wall-papering, Painting, and Stippling - a DIY guide".  No crossword for me this past weekend, but I have been watching DVD's (Lost in Translation, Alfred Hitchcock's Frenzy, and The Help) and trying to write game reviews. Luckily, I was able to reach my primary care doctor after hours and get something better than a True Dungeon Horn of Plenty Ultra Rare Token, a script for cough syrup containing codeine.

After four days on the script I am feeling better and was actually permitted out of quarantine to see A Girl with a Dragon Tattoo. The medicine is so efficacious I would be willing to let an Afghan farmer plant an opium field in my backyard!

Today, I will be reviewing Belfort by Tasty Minstrel Games. This game is one of my favorite games of the past year. After two rounds of playing this Euro-style game, which mashes together worker placement, resource management and area control mechanics I was anticipating playing this again just as much I want to see the forthcoming The Hobbit Movie; this game is precious! The game art is staggering and simply looks great.

Belfort is a two to five player game.  So far I have only played five player games. Players utilize dwarf and elf workers for resource extraction and actions while gnomes are used for special tasks. Players have seven months (rounds) to build the town of Belfort.  At the end of the game the player with the most victory points is the winner.

The elves, dwarves, and gnomes serve main functions:
1. Resource board actions: Elves and Dwarves help players to receive goods (wood, stone, metal or gold), establish new turn order, and recruit additional elves or dwarves for more actions and during scoring rounds (rounds 3, 5, and 7) the number of elves and dwarves contribute toward victory points.
2. Game board:  Guild Actions. The guilds are a unique feature to this game. Each game five different guilds are dealt and have powerful actions attached to them. Or players may use elves or dwarves to activate property actions or gnomes to upgrade property actions.
3. Players leading in number of elves, dwarves, and gnomes gain victory points during scoring rounds.

Belfort is deceptively complex looking because there are three game boards (Calendar board, Resource board and the main Game Board), but is quite intuitive to learn. I will briefly detail the rules; but with most games the best way to learn to is play.

The game setup begins with five guilds placed on the board. The different guilds increase game play variability and make new game different. Some guilds provide additional resources other guilds increase the amount of player interaction. Years ago when Stone Age came out we played the hell out of it for maybe 6 months. The leather dice cup is now heavily worn. However, Stone Age eventually felt more predictable and we felt we were on autopilot when we played. Belfort has more choices: what and where to build. After the guilds are placed turn order is determined and each player starts with 1 wood, 1 stone, 1 metal and 5 Gold along with 5 property cards and 2 are discarded. Gold is extremely important in Belfort because you will need it to pay for the following during the game: recruiting new workers, hiring a gnome, guild actions, purchasing more property cards and paying taxes. Advice: Don't run out of gold.

The Round Order is as follows:
1. Calendar Update: Move Turn Marker forward. Rounds 3, 5 and 7 (the final round) are the scoring rounds.
2. Placement: Starting with player 1, place workers (elves and dwarves) on the "planks." Planks are locations in the game with specific actions and include: guilds actions, property cards with actions, turn order location, and recruitment of additional workers. Initially, the property card actions are unavailable and become available after building properties. If no guild actions are available and a player does not want to take other plank actions, the player passes and places remaining workers to collect resources on the resource board.
3. Collection Part 1: wood, stone, metal, gold are collected from the resource board. These resources are used to pay the costs associated with building properties. Additionally, if players choose to recruit new workers or get a new turn order marker. These collection actions are always resolved in the same particular order. Part 2: Collect income generated from properties built. This is denoted by gold at the top of cards and pay taxes. Taxes are determined by player's status of the victory point track and increase with the amount of victory points. This method of taxation reduces the run-away winner issue.
4. Actions: Resolve Guild/Property Actions (this actions are usually used first to get additional resources to build properties), Visit Crazy Ord's Trading Post (once per turn exchange resources to get resource flexibility), Build Properties (by trading in resources and place property marker on corresponding building in a district of your choice), Build walls (a way to put property marker on the game board to establish dominance in a district), Build guilds (instead of players playing gold to the bank they pay it to the guild owner; so far no one in our group has bought a guild), Hire a Gnome (cost three gold) They are important! Gnomes are important for two reasons there are a finite number in the game and it’s a race to purchase them. Also, they contribute toward victory points and upgrade action/worker productivity. It's also nice when the gnome guild is on the board. When the gnome guild is on the board gnomes become cheaper to purchase. This is a strong guild. Buy a Property Card (this must be your last action if taken. Buy a property card from one of the three face up cards or take your chances by taking one off the top of the deck.
5. Scoring: Two ways to score establish District Majority by having most number of properties in a district. Points are scored in a (5/3/1 pattern) or Elf/Dwarf/Gnome Majority by having most amount of these workers and points are scored in a (3/1 pattern). While smaller in point value the worker scoring is very important; several of the games I've played with my group the scoring has been very close due to workers!
Belfort is fantastic fun because of the hate play potential. When placing properties on the game board in the districts it is possible to both score points and piss off players by reducing their majority in a district. Also fun is the strategy of placing workers on the resource board. Will you maintain the most workers in an area to receive the extra resource or will the next player place one more worker and negate the bonus resource?
Finally, I want to mention those elusive gnomes. Besides infesting gardens in the Harry Potter movies, the gnomes are important for scoring rounds and because they upgrade the property cards or serve to upgrade your elves or dwarves. Within the game there is a finite amount of them determined by number of players. The upgrades elves or dwarves are akin to Cities in Settlers of Catan. The upgraded workers produce twice as many resources when collecting them. Instead of collecting 1 wood an upgraded elf may collect 2 wood and etc. The resources are vital because they are needed for building costs.

Thumbs Up:
Plays 5 players

Choices: Multiple Pathways to Victory and opportunities to hate play

Game of the Year and more fun than tossing a dwarf (but don't tell the elf)

Thumbs Down:
In most worker placement games, game play is clockwise fashion. However, in Belfort turn order is assigned. If not paying attention the next clockwise player sometimes jumps the gun and takes their turn only to be reminded, “It’s not your turn. Look at your turn marker”

If you like flipping poker chips, flipping the circular dwarves or elves tokens can be a mistake. The upgraded dwarf and elf tokens are on reverse sides of the normal elf and dwarf tokens. Flipping a token accidentally or unconsciously to the upgraded side could be construed as cheating

Belfort English Rules

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Undermining Board Game Review

"Shut up Ricky, just shut up right now! Unless the next words out of your mouth are directions back to the fish skeleton I'm gonna punch you right in the stomach!"-Peter Griffith of Family Guy. Undermining designed by Matt Tolman may not be as fun as a ride of the Great Space Coaster, but it has one of my favorite game themes: space. Space game almost always hits my wish list. Today I feel as if I was hit by a space coaster or George Bailey walking home without a coat in the  snow. Last night while watching It's A Wonderful Life I started coming down with a cold again! My second cold in a month.

Setup consists of shuffling of the contract deck, stacking of the victory points next to the open contracts, and random placement of the tiles on the board, Afterwards the game board resembles a space themed version of Bejeweled. Before continuing I have only played one five player game of Undermining; thus, I may not know every nuance the game has to offer. Due to the vast number of new game releases, my group plays a game says, "That was fun," the game is placed in the trunk of a car for months. This issue has really taught me what games I like to play. Ten years ago we used to play new games for months. Now, great games are played for weeks. This rant does not need to continue in this forum and I will leave for another day.

Players win the game by fulfill contracts to gain victory points ( trading in resources: Uranium, Titanium, Diamond, Niobium, and X-ium) or by UMV upgrades. The upgrades are vital because they increase the effectiveness of the UMV making it easier to fulfill contracts. The early available contracts have higher point values and as each one is bought the victory point value descends. The game ends in a fashion similar to Stone Age when a victory point stack is depleted the game ends after players complete one last turn.

Game Play consists of several basic actions costing (1AP):
1. Drill:  allows players to either break up impassible rock or to take aboard resources
2. Drive: move up two spaces
3. Unload: when at the refinery (above ground) unload resources to your warehouse
4. Build: spend resources to upgrade UMV
5. Contract:: when at refinery trade resources to fulfill contracts
6: Charge: gain one energy cube. Spending two energy cubes grants one additional action/pass through another player on the board.
7: Portal: move from one open one open portal to another. Move quickly on the board.

8. Alien Tech: Powerful and kick-ass game changers. Acquired by drilling through the tiles with special symbols and do not consume action points. One card benefit is to gain 8 energy cubes amounting up to four additional actions on a player's turn.

Each player starts with three available action points and the UMV upgrades buff the available actions by increasing the amount of actions available each turn, drill or drive actions, and finally adding cargo space. The additional cargo space is helpful by reducing return trips to the surface where the refinery is located. Three actions Unload, Build, and Contract may be performed on your turn, but must be done at the refinery.
To elaborate on the previously mentioned portals. A player may travel from the above ground portal to the other portals on the board when they are uncovered. A tactic is leave you UMV on a portal at the end of your turn so others players are blocked from using it.

As expected Z-Mans puts out some nice game components, however, I did have some gripes with Undermining. The short rule book did not describe the alien tech cards well. My group was able to deduce the amount of foreign symbol tiles equaled the amount of alien tech cards. The player mat has ample space on the left for your warehouse or storage space for resources. It would have be better to reduce the warehouse size and print the available actions on the mat. The game includes player aids, but the print is too small. 

Matt Tolman followed up by posted a rules supplement titled the "The Lost Pages" resolving some of the ambiguity of the rule book. The supplement addressed my groups questions about the alien tech cards and also included a variant play scenario in which players receive alien tech cards by unloading a matching symbol instead of a random alien tech card. 

Overall, Undermining is a fun game to play between longer games or while waiting for your other friends to arrive. It might not receive regular play with my gaming group, but it has a solid design.

Thumbs Up:
Space Themed; More fun than watching George Clooney in Solaris
Fast Turns
Family Game or Filler game

P.S. I forgot to add this game has one of the best tie breakers ever. Tied players are given a shovel. The first to dig a ten foot deep hole in the backyard wins!

Thumbs Down:
Lack of exciting game play
Not as fun as watching the new Star Trek movie, but mining is necessary to raise funds for an ionic tractor disruptor because Sally Struthers has trapped the CBC ship in a positronic tractor beam

Undermining English Rules Plus The Lost Pages

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Paris Connection Board Game Review

Many thanks to John Bohrer of Winsome Games for this review. He was instrumental in helping me acquire a copy Paris Connection from Queen Games, a reprint of a 2010 Essen Winsome Games release of Paris Connection. Winsome Games games puts out some bitchin fun train games, Baltimore and Ohio is one that comes to mind.

 Last Friday the physiology department hosted the annual holiday party. The burnout of classes made refreshments and the assortment of salty Chinese Food was a nice respite. Even better was the after-party at the local brewery with flowing pints of oatmeal stout. Oatmeal good for breakfast and dinner. Johnny Cash was right, "And the beer I had for breakfast wasn't bad, So I had one more for dessert." Every year at the party I try to bring a light new game to introduce to my non-gamer colleagues. This year I broke out Paris Connection and by the end of a three player game, my friends were shocked about how fun this new game was.

When I ordered the game I told my girlfriend I was expecting a new game to come in the mail and to keep a look out for a box. "What's this one about?" "Paris Connection is a resource management game involving the pimping out of Paris Hookers. You have to keep a strong pimp hand and have the most money at the end of the game."  "Really?" she asked. "Laughingly, Nooooo, it's another train game." "The first choice sounded like more fun."

Paris Connection is a light train game involving a business management/stock trading game mechanism. The wooden trains included in the game serve dual purposes: they represent built track and when in hand they represent shares in each color company. The game plays three to six players.

At startup, trains of each color are placed around the Eiffel Tower and on the valuation track. The rest of the trains are placed in the bag, depending of the number of players, a varying amount of trains are secretly drawn and placed beyond player's shield. This starting hand represents the shares you have an interest in. It has officially been determined that any game with player shields and secret planning instantly rules! The remaining game in the bag are placed in appropriate piles around the board.

The game is simple, but strategic and consists of only two actions:
A. Build Track: Take up five trains of one color and build track
B. Exchange/Purchase Stock: Take one share from beyond your shield and exchange it for up to two shares of another color.

The rules of building track are stream lined. Two trains can occupy the rural hexes (green) and only one train can be placed into a city. Trains are built adjacent to the starting spots surrounding the Eiffel Tower. Building track has two effects on gameplay: its dimishes the stock piles and when a train is built into a city it raises the stock price by a corresponding color amount. Smart placement can quickly raise the price of a stock. The tension begins when prices of stock start increasing when does a player begin to start purchasing shares and dump underperforming companies. Will enough stock still be available to purchase on your turn.

The game ends under two conditions: there is only one color of train in the stock piles (5 of 6 colors have been exhausted) or a player has built a train in Marseille. Of all the cities,  building in Marseille, has the greatest benefit because it is worth the most, four points. At game end, shares are totaled at the current stock valuation multiplier. Dependent on the number of players there is a varying share holding limit. For every share above the limit there is a twenty point penalty. This has not been a factor yet in my game play sessions. I imagine Paris Connection with larger groups, there might be an opportunity to benefit from going over the share limit if the price was right.

The board is sharp looking, but it must be said, the six accompanying little boards to place the trains onto are completely pointless. The intent to the show players available trains that can be used to build or purchase. Why spend time organizing the little trains onto the boards? Making small piles near the board is sufficient and reduces the setup time by a few minutes. Honestly, the six pieces of cardboard could be used as firestarter and not change gameplay. Also, the trains are a bit thin and can be sometimes difficult to pick up. When building track usually players pick up five trains and slide them on the board to the planned hexes they intend to build.

Overall, Paris Connection is a fast light game with some strategy.

Thumbs Up
Quick and Plays up to Six.
Board Looks Great
Great to Introduce to Non-Gamers or Physiologists.

Thumbs Down
Not as satisfying as Chicago Express, 2038 or Baltimore and Ohio, but those Trains Games are a Horse of a Different Color.
Not as fun as Paris Prostitutes.

Paris Connection Rules:

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Dice Town Expansion Review

“I'm shakin' the dust of this crummy little town off my feet and I'm gonna see the world. Italy, Greece, the Parthenon, the Colosseum. Then, I'm comin' back here to go to college and see what they know. And then I'm gonna build things. I'm gonna build airfields, I'm gonna build skyscrapers a hundred stories high, I'm gonna build bridges a mile long...”

Too bad George Bailey did not build an old movie theatre where inconsiderate parents would leave crying children at home or exit to the lobby. I invoke Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan wisdom, “logic clearly dictates that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few”. Why should the entertainment of crying kid family outweigh the rest of the theatre audience?  I must have since It’s a Wonderful Life twenty times before this weekend, but it was a treat to watch it at the Redford Theater. Luckily, I was there I gambled with the purchase of a 50/50 raffle and won two prizes: A Three Stooges T-Shirt and It's a Wonderful Life Christmas bell!

With a segway secured I transition into this week’s review of a gambling related game: Dice Town Expansion or as the box says “Extension.” The Asmodee website, semi-fluent in Engrish, “See the Exploded” allows web users to switch between box cover and the contents pics.

First, a recap of Dice Town. It is a two to five player poker dice game. In each round five dice are rolled and with each roll one dice can be kept for free and additional dice cost one dollar a piece. My favorite style of game play is slamming the dice cup down hard on a wood table. With each roll players can decide to conserve cash keeping only one die or when a good hand is rolled pay the cost to keep more dice potentially forcing other players to keep bad hands. After the first player has kept five dice one more round of rolling happens and everyone is stuck with the results of the final roll. The rolled poker hands correspond to action locations on the board. The person with the most 9's receives the action on the first location, the Gold Mine and this continues for 10's, Jacks, Queens, Kings, and overall best poker hand.

The Gold Mine gives a player gold nuggets which is victory points, the Bank earns a player additional cash, the General Store grants players card which bend the rules, screws other players or victory points, the Saloon allows players to steal cards from other players, the Sheriff decides ties on dice rolls (and like the Mexican policia can be bribed) and is worth five victory points at the end of game, the Town Hall gives players property claims or victory point card(s), and finally for players who were busy combing the desert (We ain't rolled shit) instead of rolling a good hand receive a small fringe benefit from Doc Bad Luck. The game ends which either the gold nuggets are  or property claim cards are exhausted players add up gold nuggets, victory points from property claims and/or general store, and money derived victory points. 

The Dice Town Expansion adds an additional cup and game dice, money, and gold nuggets for inclusion of a sixth player, but adds a whole new level of strategy to the game by adding one additional action to each game board location previously mentioned. The second best player get an action at each location. This expansion results increased depth of game strategy and reduces the likelihood of Doc Bad Luck. In fact, the Doc Bad Luck actions are added as a new choice of possible actions at General Store location.

The action highlights include: panning for gold at the Gold Mine. This is more rewarding choice if few gold nuggets at going to be retrieved at the Gold Mine. Instead of robbing the bank players can now rob the stagecoach. Players can recruits outlaws at the Saloon to change dice rolls and after used the Sheriff can capture the outlaws for monetary rewards. A new type of card, Ranch cards are added to the property claim deck and score progressively. The extra action at the Town Hall is the ability to draw a card from the top of the property claim deck.

Some claim the additional player and extra actions lengthens game play. I call shenanigans. The first time playing with the new rules adds some time to the game, but once learned the game is still quick. 

This expansion also includes the Indian expansions only available at the 2009 Gencon and Essen. The player who won one or more property claims can discard one gamble by rolling the Indian die. There are some fun effects such as forcing another player to reroll a die or negate a location effect. 

Thumbs Up
Adds a sixth player
New location options adds additional level of strategy
Excellent Party game
Dice Rolling

Thumbs Down
Cosmetic. My base game has misprinted dice instead of Aces denoted by spades my dice have clubs.
Inescapable mentions of Yahtzee are made when describing game to new players.

Dice Town and Dice Town Expansion are available on the market.

Friday, December 16, 2011

My Blog Soft Launch

I am working on setting up my own board game blog. My first review will soon follow. It will cover the Asmodee Dice Town Expansion in part because the title of the blog. Often while playing Dice Town I eagerly slam the dice cup too hard. There are reports or complaints I have started to crack a die.

Below are rules to the base game. Still tracking down a pdf of the expansion rules.

Dice Town English Rules