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Cracked LCD- Tigris & Euphrates in Review

tigris

Oddly, I have never reviewed one of my favorite games of all time – Reiner Knizia’s seminal Tigris & Euphrates. I bought the game back when it was only available as an import, and I have only just last week let go of my original copy. And that was made possible by Fantasy Flight Games’ latest edition, which is I dare say the definitive edition of the game despite the lack of the classic Doris Matthaus illustrations. This is a superlative reprint and it bodes well for FFG’s “Euro Classics” line, which I insist must be at least partly inspired by my Eurogames Reclamation Project.

If you haven’t played T&E, now is the time to do so. It is a tremendous game. It isn’t hard to see the influence of Sackson’s Acquire (another all time favorite) on the design, but where this game really comes alive is in is theme. Sure, you’re just playing tiles to a grid and there isn’t a lick of flavor text but the narrative is bold and the subtext rich. It’s one of the key games that I think really illustrates the difference between theme and setting, the latter of which most people mistake for theme. Pictures, card text, nomenclature are not theme. The meaning of actions and their resonance in our minds, emotions and hearts are theme. Just like in film or novels. The five star review is over at The Review Corner this week. And yes, the Editor-in-Chief’s name  is still misspelled on the header.

Barnes. Weeks. Knizia. The Interview.

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This interview with Reiner Knizia was Steve Weeks’ idea so credit where credit is due. If you don’t know who Steve is, he is likely one of the most divisive and controversial figures in the bizarro world of online board games discussion. He is also a damn fine podcaster and a genuinely funny guy. I’ve known Steve for years and he asked if I wanted to jump in on this talk with the premier game designer quite possibly of all time. How could I resist?

This is one of the high points of my games writing and commentating career. This is a man who has done some tremendously profound work (Tigris and Euphrates, Ra, Modern Art and something like 600 other titles over 30 years) and who has deeply influenced my own views on the games medium. Particularly in terms of theme (as opposed to setting) and reducing subtextual elements and narrative to essential player actions. And he best games are just really damn fun to play too.

I was completely starstruck at first, but once the ice was broken (the “antichrist” moment), I found Dr. Knizia to be very open, very amicable, very assured and very wise. I could listen to this guy talk about making games all day because I think he is one of the very, very few artists or authors working in this field. What he has to say about games is something everyone interested in the hobby or the medium should be listening to, even 30 years into his career and with a churning flood of games on the market sometimes drowning out his finest achievements- games that are still better than anything else out there decades after release.

But of course, the highlight as you’ll here (other than Steve’s hilarious “Dr. Reiner” song) is when he told me that he had read my “Reiner Knizia: Master of Theme” article right here at No High Scores and that he felt like I had completely put into words how he feels when he’s designing games. I was totally blown away to hear someone I deeply respect and admire say, essentially, “you got it right”.

So have a listen right here.

 

 

Cracked LCD- Lift-Off in Review

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I went into Pencil First Games’ Lift-Off: Get Me Off of this Planet expecting – and wanting – a Survive! style family game with some mildly cutthroat action to spice up situational cooperation . Featuring a roughly similar high-level concept wherein each player is tasked with evacuating an imminent disaster site, this title delivers all of the above but it is a somewhat more complicated design. The box suggests that it is for ages 13 and up, which puts it more squarely in the hobby zone rather than the family zone, and as such the design comes across as something like an “advanced” casual game that may be especially appealing for those wanting Parker Brothers accessibility with more gamer-facing elements.

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Cracked LCD- Soulfall in Review

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It’s been quite some time since I’ve covered a John Clowdus game. For those uninformed, Mr. Clowdus runs a small, DIY-level company called Small Box Games. His best known, most widely played and critically successful game was Omen: A Reign of War. It’s an exceptional Schotten-Totten/Battline descended two player card game with a sort of classical fantasy setting.  Testament to that game’s ongoing popularity, there’s a new “Omega” edition of it, coming along after a few expansions and enhanced editions but this is a smaller box, somewhat scaled back release- which kind of gets the game back to its roots with just a couple of optional additions. But there’s also a new Small Box Game out and if you’re a fan of Mr. Clowdus’ past work then Soulfall is going to be one you’ll want to check out. Continue Reading…

Cracked LCD- D&DAS: Temple of Elemental Evil in Review

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I love the Dungeons & Dragons Adventure System games, so I was very excited to see that they would continue on after a couple of years’ hiatus. Wizkids is doing them in partnership with Wizards of the Coast and there are some new additions to the simple, accessible and fun hack n’ slasher. By and large, it’s the same game as the past three releases but with a MUCH improved campaign system, an iconic (though somewhat underused) D&D module setting, and some “town” adventures that are really kind of dumb. I love this game, I love this system but this release feels like something of a disappointment overall. It’s too easy, the monsters aren’t that great and it just isn’t the D&DAS 2.0 it could have been. But with that said, any fan of this system should check it out. If you’re new to these games, they are not trying to simulate playing Warhammer Quest circa 1995. They’re really closer to Dungeon! in spirit. Review is at Miniaturemarket.com this week.

Cracked LCD- Seekers of a Hidden Light (Shadows of Malice Expansion) In Review

seekers

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seekers 2Jim Felli’s Shadows of Malice, which I reviewed just a couple of months ago, is one of the best games of 2015. It’s a fresh, almost “outsider” design that pretty much throws away the handful of fantasy board game design templates and does a couple of very unique things. With its random creature generation, a paradoxically vague but concrete sense of narrative worldbuilding and mechanics that support a tangible sense of actual cooperation beyond the usual whack-a-amole style of gameplay, Shadows of Malice is a maverick and even experimental design. If that’s all we ever got from Mr. Felli, we’d already have something of a treasure – even if it is, like fine art, not exactly for all audiences.

But there is more, and Mr. Felli is preparing to release Seekers of a Hidden Light, an expansion to Shadows of Malice. He was kind enough to forward me an early copy of it and I’m glad he did. I would regard Seekers as a must-have expansion for those already converted, but those new to the game may want to come to grips with the base game first.

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Cracked LCD- Evolution in Review

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Dominic Crapuchettes is best known for his popular party game Wits and Wagers, but that ought to change with the 2nd edition release of Evolution, a design co-credited to two Russians- another game designer and a biologist. This is a two to six player title that ranks among the most thematically resonant card game designs that I’ve ever played. I’ve become quite fascinated with how each session results in the creation of a unique biosphere in which animals defined by one to three characteristics as well as their size and population struggle to adapt and survive. It’s a game clearly in the same lineage as Evo and Dominant Species, maybe even going back to Karl Heinz-Schmiel’s Tyranno Ex while glancing sidelong at American Megafauna. But Evolution is considerably quicker and simpler – and therefore more accessible. Its concepts are clear and logical, the gameplay immediately challenging and competitive.

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Cracked LCD- Fallen in Review

Fallen-Logo

Fallen-Logo

Fallen-LogoFallen, a new title from Watchtower Games designed by Tom W. Green III and Stephen C. Smith is a very, very interesting piece of work. I don’t think it quite gets to where it needs to be going, but it is definitely headed in the right direction. And that destination is something that has really kind of eluded game designers for decades- using the contained structure of board or card games to tell an RPG-style story. But usually, what happens is that you wind up with either something that is too mechanical (Magic Realm), too simplified (Talisman), more of a tactical miniatures game (Descent) or are quite far removed from the concept of telling a story and rolling dice against some statistics to see what happens (Mage Knight). More specifically, they tend to miss that having a sort of referee that also engages in crafting a collusive, living narrative with you is kind of the point of an RPG.

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Cracked LCD- Imperial Assault Villain/Ally Packs in Review

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Well, I didn’t like Imperial Assault that much but here I am still playing it. Thanks, friends! Since I’m forced into servitude, running this game for them, I thought I’d take a look at the villain and ally packs. I think they’re a pretty crap way to expand the game, basically just serving like day one DLC to complete your purchase of an already expensive base set. The value is negligible, but at least some new options for skirmish are available now. The review this week is at the Review Corner over on Miniaturemarket.com.

Cracked LCD- Hearthstone in Review (again)

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OK, so for most folks this is a way, way late review since Hearthstone has been out now for over a year, not including time in Beta. It’s also a review that might stir up an obnoxious debate as to whether the digital CCG should be regarded as a video game instead of a tabletop game. And almost certainly, lamentations about it being free-to-play and supported by IAPs – let alone that it is a collectible card game that requires that you actually pay for it if you want to be competitive- will certainly follow. And this is also the second time I’ve reviewed Hearthstone. Last time was just over a year ago here on No High Scores.

But here’s the deal. Hearthstone recently released its long-awaited iPhone-friendly update and I’ve been playing it almost non-stop since. I had played the IOS edition briefly when it first came out as an iPad-only release, but because that device is almost always covered in the sticky remnants of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and clogged up with countless Lego, Disney and Angry Birds apps for the kids I didn’t really dig in for the long haul. Now that it’s in my pocket, I can play it all day long. So now it’s time for me to issue forth (again) on what I think is one of the most significant games to date that has married the strands of tabletop and video game design.

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