Villainous

Villainous

Oh god. Disney IP at work. This can’t possibly be good.

Right?

Villainous is a game where up to six players take on the roles of some of Disney’s most nefarious villains: Maleficent, Jafar, Captain Hook, The Queen of Hearts, Ursula, or Prince John (animal version). Each player has a board with four sections full of actions they can take on their turns, a deck of cards, and a second deck of Fate cards to throw them off track, but that’s largely where the similarities between the characters end.

In keeping with the small but growing trend towards asymmetrical gaming, Villainous offers a different win condition for each character, a different deck of cards with different items and abilities, different Fate cards (which reflect that character’s nemeses—Captain Hook has all the children from Peter Pan, for example)—and different sets of actions on each of their four board sections. In fact, not all characters have access to all four sections on their boards at the start of the game, or at any point—Ursula constantly has one end of the board or the other locked off.

Each turn, the player takes their very well-made pawn and moves it to a board section other than the one they were just on (think Scythe). They then perform all the actions on that section. This can be partially thwarted by their enemies; one action is to play a Fate card off someone else’s deck, which can be used to cover the top two actions on one section of that player’s board. These heroes can’t be defeated unless the player puts minions on, or moves them to, the same space with power equal to or greater than the hero’s. Items can be attached to minions to make them stronger, but the same goes for the heroes. It’s a take-that mechanic without the rage inducement; rarely does a player not have any board options without all of the actions on it available unless they’re winning handily and everyone is coming after them, in which case, hey, be a better villain.

For a deck-based game, the balance between when people reach their win conditions is pretty remarkable. This isn’t to say that everyone gets there at about the same time, but rather that everyone has a win condition other players can see coming. Whoever’s closest to winning can get slowed down, but not to a degree that effectively stops them from being able to win unless they get dogpiled hard (which is itself just a strategy that hands the game to someone else). It could have been successful with any theme; the game is strong.

But beyond that, Villainous has more flavor than atomic wings. All the minions, heroes, items, abilities, and everything else associated with each villain is spot on. The game even allows for some seriously messed up situations; for example, Jafar can hypnotize Aladdin and make him kill Jasmine. If you don’t think that’s great—not the domestic violence aspect, but the sheer evil in the act of making it happen and the fact you can get so dark—this game might not appeal to you as much as others.

It’s a really good game, though. Play it. You want to be bad. You do. You doooooo.

(4.2 / 5)
Tea Dragon Society

Tea Dragon Society

For some time, Renegade Games has been held up as an example of a company that consistently puts out quality products. I’m starting to wonder if it’s more a matter of them very consistently putting out products, and some of them are quality.

 

The art on the box is exactly like the art in the game: flipping adorable. If you want a game you can hug because it’s so KAWAII, this is definitely your thing.

 

For everyone else, it’s Fisher-Price: My First Deckbuilder. Everyone gets a character and a starter deck (differences are aesthetic only). You don’t have a hand of cards; all cards are face up in your ‘hold’. However, you draw cards and add them to your hold, which is functionally the same as adding them to your hand in a more normal card game. It’s like the entire point is to keep the information open so you can teach kids how to play, as if you couldn’t figure out playing with hands on the table if the kid’s problem was struggling with what to do without advice.

 

Cards can have up to four parts to them. Growth is effectively mana, the resource you use to buy cards. You can find growth in the upper left (that’s what she said…?). The cost of a card is in the upper right. If there’s an effect, that’s in the lower middle. Points are at the bottom/middle. And some icons are also in the bottom middle, while others are on the pictures, which is confusing but not a huge deal.

 

Your entire turn is drawing a card and, if you want to, buying a card. This at least has the effect of keeping the game moving. Your hand is sitting in front of you (that’s probably what she said), and you don’t throw it out every turn, so you already know how much growth you’re working with (she definitely said that) minus the card you draw next. The market and memory cards are all sitting there for you to peruse, so you’re considering your next play on other people’s turns, which don’t take long, and the game stays fairly active.

 

Market cards get added to your deck by using sufficient growth (do you think she said that? I do) and putting it in your discard pile. Memory cards also get added to your deck, but tend to be worth more points, have different effects, and are related to specific seasons—the game is played in four rounds, representing the seasons, and once one memory card is left you move on to the next season. When one memory card remains in winter, the game’s over. Count up your points.

 

It’s… fine. There’s not much here for adults to enjoy in terms of rich strategy. Anyone who comprehends deck builders will talk more about how cute the artwork is than the game. Bump it up in priority if you have kids in the mid-single digits to whom you’d like to teach very basic game ideas. Other than that, this isn’t going to entertain most people for too many playthroughs.

 

(3.1 / 5)

Bloodborne: The Card Game

Bloodborne: The Card Game

From Software is known for basically one thing: the Dark Souls phenomenon. In addition to the three Dark Souls games, this includes Bloodborne, a faster-paced affair still predicated on knowledge of enemy patterns, a high degree of skill, and grinding out some levels and items if your skill isn’t quite there.

The Dark Souls board game, for better or worse, stayed fairly true to these ideas, especially grinding through the same level to get stronger if you ran into a roadblock. Does Bloodborne in card form manage the same feat?

The Bloodborne card game looks like a psuedo-coop affair, where players work together to defeat monsters but try to end up with more blood echoes than their fellow hunters by the end of the game. ‘Pseudo-coop’, however, is overstating the cooperative nature. In reality, the monsters are something of a filter through which you fight each other. Non-boss monsters are either killed in one round or run away; boss monsters, including the final boss, stay and accumulate wounds until they die. If you damage a monster during the round in which it dies, you earn blood echoes and trophies in accordance with what’s printed on the card. Trophies lead to bonus blood echoes at the end of the game. If you can work it so you help kill a monster and someone else doesn’t, you gain an advantage over them.

Bloodborne is a hand-building game—you don’t have a deck you draw from, you just hold all your cards in your hand and discard them after use. One of those cards is the Hunter’s Dream; when you play it, you take half damage for the round, stash all your blood echoes, collect your discards, and choose an item from the three on display. Usually you go to the dream when you’re concerned about dying, because death makes you lose all your unstashed blood echoes, but it can also be beneficial to go when a strong item is available, especially if your absence will make it difficult or impossible for the other hunters to kill the current enemy.

Battling the monsters is pretty straightforward. Every card has an amount of damage that it does, an ability, or both. If the damage done amongst all hunters is enough to kill the monster, it dies. Of course, some items screw with other hunters if they use a certain type of weapon (ranged or melee), does damage to all other hunters or all hunters including yourself, or otherwise goofs with the math everyone is doing to figure out if they’ll survive the fight. After all, the monster swings first, and you only have eight health at most; you need to not just survive, but survive with enough health to make it back to the Dream on a following turn, unless you have a way to not lose your blood echoes if you die.

And this is where the game starts to collapse. Bloodborne is predicated on walking the line between life and death and being good enough not to cross over, or at least not too often. Damage is done via dice rolls, which is the polar opposite of this.

Now, a bit of unpredictability is ok. Calculating the odds may not be exactly how the video game works, but it’s a skill. How safely can I play this without letting my opponents back into the game? How poor are my odds if I make this risky play? Do I have to take that risk anyway because I can’t win if I don’t?

Bloodborne, however, amplifies this by putting faces on the dice with plus symbols. If you roll one of these faces, it does that much damage and you roll again. If a die has two faces with plus symbols, you have a one in three chance on any roll that you’ll roll again. One in nine times, you’ll roll three damage dice. That’s potentially once per game, depending on the dice of the monsters in the deck.

In addition, each die has a zero. So if you roll a red die for a monster, you have a one in six chance of it doing no damage, and a one in nine chance of it doing almost certainly half your life in damage. Yellows are slightly less bad in terms of top end damage, but you can still take a major hit, or no hit at all. But you have no way to plan for the damage any given monster will do. That’s part of what Bloodborne is about, knowing your margin for error and using it to the greatest possible extent. This game gives you none. It’s very unlikely you’ll take eight damage in a round, but that doesn’t really matter; if you get knocked down to two from full or high health, the next round you could easily die while trying to get into the dream. And taking four to six damage is liable to happen at some point, so you either play ultra safe or get lucky, neither of which are satisfying methods of play.

There’s an expansion out called The Hunter’s Nightmare. It adds many more monsters and end bosses, which are fine. You get two special abilities at the start of the game and choose one to keep; these are pretty fun. And it adds death tokens, so when you die your maximum number of each trophy type gets capped lower and lower depending on what killed you. I’m sure there are maniacs who think the game is too easy, but it’s neither too easy nor too hard—you might play better than your opponents, but how much you die is highly luck dependent, so being punished for death is the worst idea possible. You can leave it out, but holy hell, what was this guy thinking?

Maybe with a more lighthearted, screw-your-neighbor theme, this game would have come off better. As Bloodborne… it doesn’t give the sense of being Bloodborne at all.

Score: Two out of four umbilical cords.

Dixit

Dixit

The game that spawned Mysterium. Or the idea for Mysterium. Basically, Mysterium exists because of this game.

To the point!

Dixit is a family-friendly game that is ostensibly for up to six people. In reality, if you come up with more pieces for scoring and voting, and you have enough cards (there are numerous expansions), you can expand it as much as you want. So, in theory, it can be a real party game. It’s definitely better when you’re drunk.

The game’s premise is simple: everyone has a hand of six cards. The active player chooses a card and creates a clue around it. Then every other player chooses the card they think will best match that clue, and all the cards go in a pile. They’re shuffled, laid out, and everyone secretly votes on which card belonged to the active player.

Unlike a game like Codenames, the clue you give isn’t particularly restricted; you can use one or more words, sounds that aren’t words, references to familiar things, etc. Pretty much anything goes. The reason is that you don’t actually want everyone to guess your card. However, you want somebody to guess your card—you only score if some, but not all, of the opponents figure out which card is yours.

So how the bloody hell does that work? Pretty easily, once you’ve gone through a few rounds.

One of three things can happen: Everyone guesses correctly, some people guess correctly, or no one guesses correctly.

  • Everyone’s right: Everyone except the active player gets two points. The active player gets zero.

  • Nobody’s right: Everyone except the active player gets two points. The active player gets zero. In addition, each player gets a bonus point for each person who guessed their card.

  • Some people are right: Everyone who guessed right gets three points. The active player gets three points. Everyone also earns a point for each person who guessed their card.

It’s not a complex scoring system, but it’s awkward relative to how most game scoring works (do thing -> get points), so mistakes can happen. Reading the directions again for purposes of this review, I realize we may have never done the scoring exactly right. Professionalism!

In terms of fun, I must reiterate a previous point: Bring alcohol.

Wait, are you twenty-one? If you’re not twenty-one, disregard that last paragraph.

If you are twenty-one, bring alcohol. Drunk people make the best clues. BUTTERFLIIIIIIIES

Is this a good game? It is.. a… simple game. It’s very easy to play (keep one person semi-sober for scoring). That’s good for some people! It’s quite good for people who don’t play many board games, the ones who would see the cards, pieces, and scoring track come out and wonder what kind of over-complicated insanity they’ve gotten themselves into, so you can show them it’s really simple and fun.

But just for a normal sober game night? Eh. It’s strange in that the game is totally in control of the players—everyone picks their cards, the active player makes the clue, there is almost no randomness involved, and skill will win out most often—and yet it frequently feels as though you’re not really in control of your outcome. You have a game where every time it’s your turn, nobody can play anything even close and everyone guesses your card, so you’re getting zeroes while everyone else is getting threes, and you just can’t win enough guesses for your cards on other people’s turns to catch up. Or all the guesses seem to work your way points-wise, even though you don’t feel like you’ve done a great job and maybe even think someone else had really done a better job playing.

Really, just drink. (The Dork Den cannot suggest partaking of illegal substances for the purpose of enjoying a board game. That’s on you.)

Metropolys

Metropolys

Metropolys brings an old-school, semi-steampunk look to a tower placement game, which is like worker placement except with towers.

This is high-level analysis, folks. Feel the rush.

The city board is split up into several districts, each of which has a various number of smaller sections. Each player has a set of towers numbered one through fifteen. Players can hide the numbers of their remaining towers, but they’re in three sizes according to value (1-5, 6-10, 11-15), so opponents can always get at least a rough idea of what you have remaining. This is probably the most interesting aspect of the game, the way they’ve made what is effectively card-counting something you can use to get an edge but also a manageable task.

The first player chooses one of the small sections of the city and places a tower on it. From there, play continues with players either placing a higher number tower on an adjacent spot or passing, until all but one player has passed or no one else can make a legal play (this includes not having a space on which to play another tower because all adjacent ones have been taken). On all subsequent turns, the player who chooses the section is the one who won the previous auction.

Different tokens are placed on the city sections as bonuses or, in the case of one token type, penalties. Forcing players away from (or towards) these tokens is useful, although the secret objective each player gets may make them perfectly willing to absorb a small penalty in order to win a bigger bonus at the end of the game.

The main strategy of the game is figuring out which sections you want to target and how to ensure you get them. If you need to chain sections along a lake for your secret objective, there’s a section in the middle of the board where it might be worth dropping your biggest towers early because there are two lakes touching the same areas, so you’ll get double the bonuses. If you wait and try to finagle your way into them without committing as many resources, there’s an excellent chance you’ll lose them; should it work, however, you could end up with a major advantage. Likewise, cornering areas so you can take them with your smallest tower (by making sure there are no free adjacent areas) is a big part of winning.

As a game, it’s… fine. It’s adequate. You’ll probably play, finish, and say, “Yeah, that was alright.” It’s the type of game more likely to sway you after your first run based on how you finished, because it’s not so bad that you’ll feel like it was a waste of time even if you win, and it’s not so good that you’ll be dying to try again even if you get smashed.

Of course, it’s not my place to say how you’ll feel. That’s rude. I’m running on probabilities. This is an older game, so telling you to find a friend with it isn’t a suggestion to save your money; it may be the only way to see it. It used to be playable online, but that’s apparently no longer the case. It’s worth one playthrough, at the very least. You might adore the game. Just don’t set your expectations excessively high.

Score: The most mundane 7/10.

Chicago Express

Chicago Express

Chicago Express is kind of the anti-Ticket to Ride. There are no cards, no pre-determined track lines where your trains can go, and you don’t even have your own set of trains. Instead, you buy stock in train companies and receive dividends at various points so you can turn around and buy more stock, or just sit on your cash like Scrooge McDuck. And the train companies pay for everything!

The way it works is thus: Each player can do one of three actions per turn. You can start an auction for one stock certificate of your choice, build up to three trains along the line of a company in which you own stock, or build a house in an area to increase the value of any train lines running through there. Running lines and building houses comes out of the money put into a company via stock purchases, so at the start you can only auction stock. This gives ownership stakes to players so they can use the other actions, and money to the companies so they can afford the other actions. However, only so many of each action can be used per turn (different number per action type), and they don’t reset until two action types are maxed out.

Once those two action types are maxed, the round resets, and dividends are paid. Dividends are equal to the value of the company, and you receive a percentage of those dividends equal to the percentage of the purchased stock you have in that company. If you have the only stock that anyone’s bought, you get it all; if you have one and another person has one, you get half; if you have two and another person has one, you get two-thirds. Early stock ends up being the most valuable, since it’s purchased when players don’t have much money, but gauging what something’s going to be worth at that point is harder. In other words, you need to buy something early, but it’s hard to know what to buy.

Chicago is, for the most part, the most valuable city on the map. (A couple others can become worth slightly more, but they require either time or spending on upgrades; see below.) Not only does it add a ton more value to your company than any random town, mountain, or forest, but when a company gets there, its shareholders get an extra dividend paid to them right away. Every train company wants to reach Chicago, but the game doesn’t usually last long enough for that to happen. However, roaming a bit with your line to increase its value can be helpful, as long as you make it to Chicago eventually.

There are a few quirks thrown into the game. Detroit acts like a round counter; it slowly increases in value, and once it’s worth eight money, the game is in its final round. It can be a good boost to swing one of the northern lines to Detroit before taking it to Chicago. Reaching that final round is unusual, however, and you have to get to Chicago before the game ends.

Pittsburgh and Wheeling can be repeatedly increased through building houses, unlike other areas. Pittsburgh is sometimes worth it; there are usually better options than pumping Wheeling up one dollar at a time, which largely plays to how West Virginia is treated in the real world. And, once a company reaches Chicago, the Wabash company opens up. It only has two shares, but it starts in Fort Wayne and can reach Chicago pretty quickly.

The quirks don’t overtake the main concept, though: everything is balanced around how well you judge the value of a company’s stock, and how well you improve that value once you have a stake in it. Wabash is special because it comes into the game late and has a short path to Chicago, but that doesn’t make it more valuable than the other companies; bidding wars can easily happen because there are only two shares, and that’s often a mistake. Getting half of fourteen is not as good as getting one-quarter of thirty-six. (The answers are seven and nine.) It’s a nice change from the automatic, whatever opens up last is best idea that games tend to have. And it’s not really a secret from new players; the logic may not be immediately obvious, but if you’re cognizant of how value works and can see what’s possible or probable before the game ending conditions are met, you can take advantage.

I’m not a huge fan of this game because I’m bad at it. If it turns out you’re not bad at it, you’ll probably have a swell time.

Score: Six broken-down mining towns out of seven.

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