Fireworks

Fireworks

Remember, fireworks are scary for pets! Keep your doors and windows well shut and locked so they don’t run away.

Fireworks is a game about—wait for it—building the most aesthetically pleasing set of fireworks. It’s Japanese, which should explain why it’s called Fireworks and not “Glowy Sky Booms” or “Sparkly Wonder Stars” or “Boom Goes the Glittery Dynamite”. You take tiles with multiple partial fireworks on them and play them to set up certain artistic combinations (big fireworks, kaleidoscopes, saturns, and small flowers), along with special extra-artsy tiles, to score points and win the game. It’s about as simple a concept as you can find.

But the game gets complicated by a few aspects. One is the types of fireworks. You start with the core of two big fireworks. The game suggests these start with at least two spaces between them, and it’s a good idea; if they’re any closer, you won’t have space to pop off all the extra fireworks you need around them to finish them. Because the board has twenty-five spaces on it, and the big fireworks will fill seven when completed, it does an effective job of making you think about where you’re going to put everything.

Furthermore, although the kaleidoscopes and saturns are each made from putting two firework halves together, you have to pay attention; some have tails and some don’t, which are used for kaleidoscopes and saturns, respectively. The two also score differently—kaleidoscopes are better if you have different colors on each side, while saturns are better if they match. (Given the number of colors, this generally makes kaleidoscopes easier to finish.)

However, balancing out the difficulty in putting good fireworks together is the fact you can rearrange your board every time you place new tiles. You’re not just mashing in each piece the best you can, having to plan for any number of possibilities (which would be impossible). If you can find a way to use your tiles more effectively, you can move them to take advantage of that. But it’s harder than it sounds. Envisioning the best way to move twenty-plus tiles around at the end of the game is very hard, at least at first.

So, they give you a basic concept, complicate how you work with that concept to make it harder, introduce another aspect to make it easier, but then add a challenge to that aspect. On top of that, you don’t just roll a die to decide how many tiles you take; you dump that die out of a fireworks tube from a couple feet over the board, only choosing from the tiles that are face up, which is awesome. And if you don’t flip any, you roll again with an action card, which usually makes you do some contortions with a friend to get the die out of the tube (and the friend gets to take tiles as well). It’s a mix of small party game, visual acuity tester, and strategic thinking.

Sounds great! And it is good. The problem is… that I can’t tell you what the problem is. It doesn’t feel like they’re trying to do too many things, because each aspect of the game is pretty cool. It may be that the mix of things don’t necessarily create something more than the sum of its parts. But for whatever reason, we finish playing, shrug, and say, “Yeah, that was pretty good.” And we’re not dying to play again.

The issues with Fireworks are small, and what you like or dislike may easily not be what I like or dislike. It just doesn’t quite get over that hump of being a game that entrances you.

(3.8 / 5)
When in Rome

When in Rome

If there’s a potential issue with any trivia game, it’s the possibility of seeing a question twice. The Internet is full of trivia. So running a trivia game through Amazon’s Alexa service has to be perfect, right?

Quoth the Internet: LOL

When In Rome is, if nothing else, a clever little idea. Once computer/phone apps started becoming integrated with board games, it was only a matter of time until online services were used to expand the possibility even further. When In Rome lays a map of the world in front of you; you pick a city in which to start, then answer a trivia question about that city to make a friend. If you make a friend, the other player can’t (two players or teams max), because apparently there are only twenty people in Alexa’s world. You can normally only travel to a city connected to the one you’re in, but having friends lets you chain moves together, because the world is a mosh pit and we’re all just crowd surfing on it.

In every city, you have a choice between an easier, three-point question of a random category, or a harder, five-point question in a different category. All questions are about the city you’re in. Between the points for answering questions correctly and for picking up special souvenirs that pop up from time to time for bonuses, you play through either nine rounds or when three souvenirs total are collected (the latter is much more likely). Highest score wins.

I’m not going to say you can’t have fun playing When In Rome. It’s possible. But that sentence alone should tell you where this review is going.

The tricky thing about a review is that I’m not sure if it’s trying to do too much or not enough. That shouldn’t generally be a point of confusion about anything. But this is a game where they hired twenty different voice actors to play the friends in each city and ask the questions related to that city. Considering this is the first real Alexa-based board game, nobody would have expected them to go so far in their efforts, so it was really an above-and-beyond decision. However, using voice actors dramatically limits the number of different questions that can be asked. This thing is connected to the Internet, but in the first two games I played, I got the same question both times I ended up in San Francisco. That’s beyond unacceptable for a trivia game, and the way the voice acting is used isn’t even that good (between the actors and Alexa, there’s often too much of a gap between questions).

Worse yet—and that first problem is pretty bad—they put all this time into the aesthetics but couldn’t even figure out a good way to make the souvenir system work. First, when a souvenir pops up, it’s in a randomly generated location. Fine. These locations seem to always be relatively equidistant between the two players. That’s reasonable; it would be pretty jacked up if one player could move one space to the souvenir city while the other had to move five, giving the first one several chances before their opponent had one. But the souvenir can pop IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ROUND.

Here’s how a round works: a challenge for both players is put forth. Sometimes they need to come the closest to a percentage-based statistic (ie. guess what percentage out of 100, closest wins); sometimes the players alternate answering different questions until one of them gets one right. The winner of the challenge makes the first move that round. If there’s no souvenir and no reason to go any particular direction, then going first doesn’t matter.

The only real advantage to going first is if it gets you to a city with a souvenir sooner. Therefore, giving a potential disadvantage to someone for winning the right to go first (you don’t get a choice) is completely bonkers. The fact they didn’t realize this tells me we’re talking about a bunch of programmers who never made a game and thought they could do something cool with Alexa. They apparently nailed it with a game called Beasts of Balance a couple years ago; the ball got dropped in every conceivable way here.

It shows. Play this game if someone else has it or you find it in a thrift shop for a buck, just so you can see the problems and dream about what could have been if they hired anybody who knew what the hell they were doing with this, or even just some competent game testers. They’re in London, they should have asked Shut Up and Sit Down to do it.

(1.5 / 5)

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.)

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