The Dork Den Blog

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The Quacks of Quedlinburg

The Quacks of Quedlinburg

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

But I still wanted the “doctors” to be ducks.

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

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

And thus, the problem.

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

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

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

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

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)
Detective Comics #1000

Detective Comics #1000

It’s somewhat crazy to see this issue finally hit shelves. Every month around the time we order comics I’ve been mentioning the slow approach of this landmark issue and just like Action Comics with Superman there’s a lot of anticipation around this comic. Similar again to Action Comics, Detective #1000 went the tribute route by making a near 100 page collection of multiple short stories by well known writers and artists throughout Batman’s long comic book life. While that basically means you’re sitting down to read three comic books worth of material, the names floating around in this comic are well worth the time to check out. With Snyder and Capullo headlining the comic, they’re already putting themselves in a winning position.

Detective 1000 clearly focuses around telling stories of all shapes and sizes within the Bat universe. Snyder’s story is emotional and meaningful with character driven elements as they always seem to be. Paul Dini’s story revolves around Harley Quinn and much of the silliness around Batman’s rogues gallery. Further stories focus on the Bat’s combat prowess or his unbeaten detective skills. Darker story elements appear in some while lighter appear in others. The entirety of the comic really displays Batman’s potential in storytelling diversity. It’s also why so many different writers have succeeded with the title throughout the years writing in very different ways. The Patrick Gleason comic book of Batman & Robin for example, was an extremely different story in both theme and style than Snyder’s Batman which ran parallel. The multiple ways writers can succeed with Batman and the world around him is really displayed here, even more so than Superman’s #1000 issue was, who often gets criticism for his lack of good storytelling.

Though none of the stories directly relate back to the current continuity with Tom King’s run with Batman or the Detective Comic’s team, fans of Batman’s history and the character itself will find stories worth reading here. This is really just a celebration of Batman over anything else, and thus #1000 becomes a trophy issue. If you’re not interested in that, it’s probably not worth the extra $ you’ll have to spend to pick this up. That being said, this comic is by no means half-assed, and those that have put their time and effort into both this single comic book and Batman as a whole in the past 80 years truly love this character, and that show’s here, which is important in and of itself.

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

New Frontiers

New Frontiers

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

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

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

  • Explore: Pull seven planets from the bag, pick one, pass them around. (Bonus: pick a second planet after everyone has made a selection.)
  • Settle: Use colonists to settle a planet, or take two colonists to use later. (Bonus: take a colonist first, which can be used to settle a planet.)
  • Develop: Buy a technology. (Bonus: costs $1 less.)
  • Produce: Planets without goods make a good. If it goes unused for a round, $1 is put on it, taken by the next person who chooses this action. (Bonus: Put stuff on a windfall planet without a good. Windfall planets make a good when colonized, but don’t normally during production.)
  • Trade/Consume: Sell a good. Also, use any Consume keywords you control. (Bonus: 1 VP.)
  • Take first spot in line and 1 VP.
  • Go into isolation; take $2

The entire game is about combining these actions with the abilities you gain from developed technologies and colonized planets. Making sure that as many actions as possible will have their maximum effect, no matter when they happen (ie. having the money/military and colonists to settle one of your planets when someone takes the Settle action) is the key to winning.

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

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

3.9 out of 5 stars (3.9 / 5)

Vader: Dark Visions #1

Vader: Dark Visions #1

Finding the next proper comic book for Vader this past year or two has been a controversial task. With multiple series cancellations and ideas shifting around all over the place at Marvel, I questioned the validity of any Star Wars comic announcement until it finally arrived on shelves. Dark Visions promises to be a unique look into Vader and the people his mercilessness crosses paths with. The primary aspect that made the most recent run of Vader so good (in addition to great writing and art), was the time period it took place. Young Vader between episode 3 and 4 was untouched territory in the current canon, and it really shined, especially with the other comic’s focus on the period between 4 and 5. Dark Visions however seems to jump back to a much more familiar time with Vader, and that means writers can’t rely on the freshness of its setting and its mood. Dark Visions is going to have to be impressive all on its lonesome, and as always I’m a little skeptical, but ready to see it succeed.

Dark Visions #1 is narrated through the eyes of a young citizen of a fairly low-tech civilization. Their people have obviously been affected by the raging war between the Empire and the Rebellion, but they know little of it. Wars wage above them in the upper atmosphere of the planet. Dog fights and blockades ensue. Our narrator watches intently, despite being called to evacuate by the rest of his village and it isn’t until Darth Vader makes an emergency landing planetside that the young observer begins to regret his decision to stick around. As the menacing dark lord of the Sith steps out of the cockpit of his Tie Fighter, the boy knows he’s way in over his head.

Like many characters, specifically villains, Vader works best as a mysterious figure. You can’t write a Darth Vader comic from the perspective of Vader. It simply doesn’t work. He’s a quiet, dangerous, and unpredictable killing machine. To dive into the mind of Darth Vader would be unfitting for the aura of unsettling mystery that Vader gives off. To see that this comic book was indeed written from a completely outside perspective, through the eyes of a completely new and disposable character is a clever choice. We’re not dedicated to this new person, and through their insignificance, we begin to understand the sheer power that Vader’s presence demands, and that’s really cool. Considering Dark Visions is a 5 issue series, I have to gripe on this comic’s lack of actually getting anywhere. I do love seeing Vader well drawn, which he is in this comic, but Dark Visions has yet to provide something about the Sith Lord that I haven’t seen before. Hopefully issues going forward can get the ball rolling, because if they can’t, it’s going to be a slow 5 issues.

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)
Ganz Schon Clever

Ganz Schon Clever

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

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

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

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

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

It gets a little bonkers.

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

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

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

4.3 out of 5 stars (4.3 / 5)

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