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Cracked LCD- Thunder Alley in Review

thunder alley 2

Thunder Alley is the new NASCAR-style stock car racing game from GMT and in the blink of an eye this 250 MPH masterpiece has become one of the best racing games that I’ve ever played. It’s a brilliant piece of design that nails down the most important elements drivers at Talledega or Daytona experience while also creating compelling spaces for tactical movement decisions and coordinated, team-focused gameplay. It is a design clearly descended from Wolfgang Kramer’s card-driven race designs, wherein cardplay often demands that players weigh the decision to move cars that are not their own in order to gain ground themselves.

This kind of gameplay based around mutual movement also creates an important sense of pace and forward velocity that sometimes feels like you’re right on the edge of losing control. It’s exhilarating, as far as board games can possibly be, to pull off that perfect play where you pull out of the pack with a couple of drafting teammates and put your cars into the lead with tires burning and transmissions screaming in denial. But then on the next turn someone else nudges you out of the way and you fall back. Indeed, rubbin’ is racing in Thunder Alley.

Continue Reading…

Cracked LCD- Relic Expedition in Review

relic-expedition-spread1

Foxtrot Games’ first release, Relic Expedition, is a great looking game. The graphic design is striking, modern and everything from the color palette to the layouts to the font choices shows good taste. Along with a basic rulebook, it also includes a sort of diegetic, pocket-sized “field guide” for the game’s more granular rules and it features some really nice naturalist-style illustrations of the various animals that menace or harass the jungle-jaunting adventurers. The equipment tokens all look like embroidered merit badges. I even love the company’s logo- a stylized, geometric fox head. But looks aren’t everything, and I can’t very well give Relic Expedition the nod if the quality of the gameplay doesn’t match up with its pulchritude. Continue Reading…

Cracked LCD- The Eurogames Reclamation Project #1- Adel Verpflichtet

adel 1

Kickstarter’s sewage flow of dungeon crawling steampunk space marine versus Nazi Cthulhu zombies continues to beg money out of the hobby, Ameritrash is dead and El Grande- one of the best games ever published- is out of print. If you’re not on the mill for one of the expansion-based product lines, you’re behind the curve. Sure, there might be a new Uwe Rosenberg game, but how many times do you need to make cubes of one color turn into cubes of another? Welcome to board gaming circa 2014, where the Cult of the New rat race is at a fever pitch and more and more, the grand history of hobby games is slipping into the past as the scramble is on for next week’s game night sensation. There has never been a better time to drop out, to give the middle finger to the endless streams of detritus flooding the market today, and to get back to playing great vintage games- including those great German family games and Eurogame designs that got unfairly tossed out when everybody got excited about anything with plastic gumball machine figures in the box back during the mid-2000s.

So here is your introduction to my new ongoing series, the Eurogames Reclamation Project. Over the past several months, I’ve been trading and buying my way into some games that I played, enjoyed and passed on before boardgamegeek.com was even a twinkle in Scott Alden’s eye. I’ve been discovering that classic Eurogames- I’m not talking about the funless, post-Princes of Florence style of game that favors following the rules correctly over player interaction and competition- are disappearing from print and are really kind of regarded as past their prime. It’s the exact same situation that classic Ameritrash games were in ten years ago. And just like games that had been shunted off as “old” back then, titles like Fury of Dracula and Dungeonquest, these games are well worth rediscovering in a contemporary context. For my part, I’ve been finding that I actually appreciate some of these games more than I did when I originally played them as far back as almost 20 years ago. Continue Reading…

Cracked LCD- Ars Victor in Review

arsvictor box

Making a claim that it is “the one hour wargame”, Ars Victor doesn’t make a very convincing case for itself with its tagline. It’s almost like advertising a title as “the wargame with chits” at this point in the genre’s evolution. There are tons of one hour tactical wargames ranging from any of the Commands and Colours titles to Jeff Horger’s Manoeuvre to Conflict of Heroes to the Pocket Battles series and on through to lesser lights like the Mythic Battles line. This class of game has been very popular over the past ten years and, for many game players, it’s also a class that has become redundant. So Ars Victor, designed by the very enthusiastic Stephen DeBaun, has its work cut out for itself. It needs to prove that it can stand next to some of the one-hour titans, it has to evidence differentiators that set it apart from the pack and if it’s going to be eligible to be considered THE one hour wargame- it’s got to be awesome. Continue Reading…

Cracked LCD- My First Carcassonne in Review

my first carc

My First Carcassonne is Z-Man Games’ new reprint of Kids of Carcassonne and as either title would suggest, this game is a junior-sized version of Klaus Jurgen-Wrede’s classic tile-layer. When the game was first released back in 2009, I didn’t have children. But in 2014 I have a four-and-a-half year old boy and an almost three year old girl. River and Scarlett are already playing lots of different games (as long as they’re not too “domplicated”) ranging from the usual Haba and Ravensburger suspects up through titles as complex as Rampage and Zooloretto with a little help from dad, of course. But of the games I’ve played with them, I don’t think any of them have been as big a hit as My First Carcassonne. It’s rare that I get to play a game over 20 times before committing to a review. Continue Reading…

Cracked LCD- Inside AEG’s Summer Releases Box (Doomtown, Sail to India, Mai-Star, Valley of the Kings, etc.)

aeg box

Here’s a little  “inside baseball” about the games review racket. Most publishers, especially the smaller guys, you need to email or call and ask for press copies. It’s somewhat humiliating in a way, going out with hat in hand to ask for a free game but the game makers benefit from the press more than a reviewer benefits from a free game.  But some of the companies have bona fide press lists, and they send out press packages and unsolicited promos. Sometimes, this is a great thing because you get to see games ahead of release and it gives you lots of material for the next several articles. But sometimes, it feels like this huge obligation- particularly if you’re being sent games that you don’t want to cover.

Fortunately, AEG does good press packages and even though I’m pledged to impartiality and I’m not swayed by swag I appreciate their generosity. It shows that they respect reviewers and understand their part in the marketing process. There’s a new AEG box with their summer releases packed in it that I got a couple of weeks ago so I thought I’d just review the whole damn thing in one swing. Continue Reading…

Cracked LCD- Firefly: Pirates and Bounty Hunters in Review

pirates

Gale Force Nine’s Firefly board game was last year’s surprise hit- for me, at least, because I wasn’t much of a Firefly fan before playing the game. I’m still not exactly what you’d call a “Browncoat”, but I loved the game’s rigorously fan-pleasing attention to bringing forward the show’s space cowboy/pirate concept to the table. I also especially liked that it was very much a game about commerce and crew. “Find a crew, get a job, keep flying” is what it says right on the box and that’s exactly what you do for more or less all of the games two or three hour duration. The Breakin’ Atmo expansion, which was a small box that added some new jobs and supply cards, was a nice low-cost but slight addition. I definitely recommend it for fans, but for those looking for something that substantially changes the game, look no further than the new Pirates and Bounty Hunters expansion. It’s out in stores now for $30 or less and it is money well spent if you find yourself wishing that Firefly had more, well, disagreeable behavior in it. Continue Reading…

Cracked LCD- Pocket Battles in Review

 pocket battles

I missed out on Z-Man Games’ Pocket Battles series the first go around. This set of small box, low complexity wargames saw print from 2009-2012 but then they blinked out of print, with at least one of them (Macedonians vs. Persians) appreciating substantially in the aftermarket. The three original games- all designed by Paolo Mori and Francesco Sirrochi- are filtering their way to retailers along with a new title, Confederacy vs. Union.  Z-Man was kind enough to send me a review copy of the Civil War set, so after some time with itI can issue forth on what has become something of a cult classic. Continue Reading…

Cracked LCD- Galactic Strike Force in Review

GSF-CORE-crop

Galactic Strike Fore comes in hot, all guns blazing, with a great-looking science fiction style and a cool concept. The bad guys seeking galactic dominion in this one aren’t up against some benevolent planetary federation or other official Organization of Good Guys United for the Common Good. They are fighting for control of a galaxy defended chiefly by a ragtag bunch of anti-heroic scoundrels, pirates, freelancers and other spacefaring riff-raff. Han Solo types, if Han Solo were a Neo-Elf or a Techno Dwarf. While you’re at it, maybe imagine that the Millennium Falcon is a giant cellular mass with tentacles that fights a Laser Dragon. Continue Reading…

Cracked LCD- Star Realms in Review

star realms

When talk of Star Realms, a new deckbuilding game from a Magic Hall of Famer (Darwin Kastle) and one of the guys behind Ascension (Robert Doughtery) started making the internet rounds, I can’t say that I was profoundly interested. We’re now in Year 6 A.D.- that’s After Dominion- and it takes a lot to get me interested enough in a deckbuilder to pursue it. Ascension is pretty much my go-to deckbuilder, but I strictly play it on IOS. I like Dominion and I just traded my way into a pretty large set, but it’s never requested by my gang these days. I had a torrid fling with Legendary, but it was ultimately just too flawed (and ugly) to hold my interest. Most of the others on the market have momentarily held my attention at some point, but these games always tend to leave me wanting more- and not just another expansion.

But the word on the street was that Star Realms was good and the price on the street was even better- this is a game you can pick up for $15 at a FLGS or for about $10 from an online discounter. I’ve been very interested lately in games that deliver big bang for the buck and that come in small packages, especially now that it is quite clear that the “Coffin box” era has passed and some publishers and designers are smartly looking at ways to do more with less. I didn’t feel like $15 was a big enough risk to keep me away from trying a potentially good new card game, so I picked up a copy. Continue Reading…

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