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Cracked LCD- Eurogames Reclamation Project #4: El Grande

el grande

“The Big”.

That’s what my friend said, translating the title, when we sat down to play El Grande at a convention back in the late 1990s. I really had no idea what we were in for based on the scowling Spanish aristocrats on the board, the wooden tower, the piles of wooden cubes, secret selection discs, mobile scoreboards and of course the rather phallic titular pawn. I played that first game in utter confusion, the lack of clarity afforded by a couple of $12 hotel bar Long Island Iced Teas notwithstanding. I distinctly recall feeling like the game was somehow important and austere, but with a nasty edge when somebody’s caballeros suddenly turned up in your area and took the place over. The next day, I found a copy in the dealer’s room. It was in German and I paid too much for it. Continue Reading…

Cracked LCD- Spurs: A Tale in the Old West in Review

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Spurs: A Tale in the Old West, new from Mr. B Games, is a fairly light adventure game with an all-too-rare American West setting and a structure that is pulled straight from Red Dead Redemption and other open-world video games. Each player takes on the role of a western archetype (Lawman, Gunslinger, Bandit and so forth) and travels around a small map to reach quest markers. You might find yourself hunting animals to sell their pelts back in town, tracking down gangs of desperadoes or bringing fellow players to justice that have done bad things like robbing the bank or victimizing local ranchers. Mine for gold, and you’ll be drawing plastic nuggets out of a bag. Try to corral cattle or break a horse and you’ll do so in a die-rolling minigame. You might get bit by a rattlesnake, involved in a brawl with a drunk down at the saloon or get hired to escort a stagecoach from one town to another.

All of the above has likely set many gamers’ mouths to “salivate” because there simply aren’t enough games with this kind of setting, and it’s quite fitting that the game is designed by Ole Steinness (with Mr. B. Games’ Sean Brown). Mr. Steinness was responsible for one of last year’s big surprises, the modern cop co-op Police Precinct. The two designs don’t really have much in common except in one key aspect. They are both fun, unique games with under-represented settings that unfortunately fall short of pushing into “must-play” territory due to some bland design choices and a lack of polish. Continue Reading…

Hold Fast: Russia 1941-1942 Review

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I’d wager that the Eastern Front of World War 2 is the most common setting for board games, ever. More so than the far future, or a Tolkienesque fantasy or even satisfying the whims of Renaissance nobles. So why do Worthington Games think we need another?

The answer is that there isn’t another Eastern Front game quite like this, at least not in the modern canon. It’s a block game, like Eastfront, but that’s a far less approachable title. It’s low unit density like No Retreat, but that’s a far more complex title. It’s easy for any gamer to pick up like Conflict of Heroes, but that’s a far less realistic title.

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Pathfinder: Adventure Card Game Review

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There have been many, many attempts at blending role-playing games and strategy games. Until recently, almost all fell foul of the fundamental mismatch between playing co-operatively in the imagination and competing on a board.

The latest iteration is Pathfinder: the Adventure Card Game. Based on the famous role-playing game of the same name it may be the purest distillation of the adventure game concept yet. It’s smart, simple and packed with potential variety. But for all the benefits it boasts it trips on perhaps the most basic hurdle in game design: it just isn’t terribly interesting to play.

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Cracked LCD- Sons of Anarchy: Men of Mayhem in Review

sons of anarchy

Gale Force Nine’s crack in-house team of Dill, Kovaleski and Sweigart turned out Spartacus in 2012, Firefly in 2013 and now in 2014 they’ve hit paydirt again with yet another TV show-based title. Sons of Anarchy: Men of Mayhem is going to cement this publisher and these designers among the absolute best working in the business today. The GF9 gang has turned in what is quite likely the best crime-themed board game published to date. It doesn’t matter if your experience with Sons of Anarchy is that you’ve followed it since its debut in 2008, if you binge-watched the entire series on Netflix last week, or if you have no idea what SAMCRO stands for. The universal themes of intimidation, exploitation, gang rivalry, illegal enterprise and explosive violence should appeal to anyone interested in the entertainment value of bad people doing bad things.

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Cracked LCD- Korean Dexterity Games (Click Clack Lumberjack, Coconuts) in Review

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One of the things that having small children makes you realize is that simple games where the fun is easy to get to without a bunch of hobby-work. You start to value games that don’t require a significant investment of time or effort beyond the reach of your young ones. My children are four and a half and two weeks shy of three so they are not exactly anywhere in age range of playing Robinson Crusoe or Mage Knight with dad. I try to find them games that I think will immediately grab them, entertain them for 15 to 20 minutes, and leave us all smiling. But I also want games that I can appreciate as an adult game player. Dexterity games- at least some of the simpler, action-oriented ones are often a good common ground. Recently I picked up a couple of Korean action titles published in the US by Mayday Games, best known for producing card sleeves in non-standard sizes, questionable Kickstarters and Crokinole boards of reportedly table-damaging low quality. Continue Reading…

Cracked LCD- Eurogames Reclamation Project #2: Modern Art

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Inevitably, the player new to Reiner Knizia’s 1992 masterpiece Modern Art will look at the card on the auction block depicting an intentionally ugly painting and ask “how much should I bid?” I love this moment because it is an opportunity for the theme in one of the most strongly themed games ever designed to come through. This is a game- almost a satire, in fact- about speculative markets, phony hype and artificially inflating the value of worthless things. True, there are a couple of data points on which to hang an estimated possible return on investment, but ultimately the genius of Modern Art is that the players, representing gallery owners, determine what initially valueless bad art is actually worth.

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X-Wing Huge Ships Review

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We’re used to seeing massively overblown adjectives in game marketing, so much that we probably tune them out automatically. But when Fantasy Flight decided to describe the new big ships for X-Wing as “Huge Ships”, and the play formats that include them “Epic” and “Cinematic”, they weren’t kidding. These things are colossal.

Indeed the Tantive is so enormous that I actually felt embarassed getting it out and putting it on the table, as though I were some rich kid with a box of ridiculously overpriced toys flaunting it in front of his friends.

Which I was, of course, but that just made it worse.

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Cracked LCD- Thunder Alley in Review

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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.

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Cracked LCD- Relic Expedition in Review

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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…

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