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Cracked LCD- Sun Tzu in Review

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Almost ten years ago, I got a little game published by Jolly Roger in stock at my brick and mortar store, Atlanta Game Factory. It was called Dynasties, designed by Al Newman, and it was a crackerjack little two player Dudes on a Map game that played in less than 30 minutes plus whatever overage that the inevitable rematches incurred. Among my employees and a few of our regulars, it was very much a go-to game, a pick-up-and-play title that was damn easy to teach and with ample depth- and drama- to maintain interest. It is also possessed of a critical quality that defines a great two player design- the parallel curves of game knowledge and skill. Once players know the cards and understand the importance of bluffing against that knowledge, it becomes very much a tense game of nerves, daring and the occasional surprise round that sweeps the board and makes for an exciting finish.

But I had this game figured as one of those more obscure minor releases that would have its time, fade out and be remembered fondly despite a European release in 2010. I never expected to see a new US edition of it, let alone a very nice new issue out by Matagot (the folks that do Kemet and Cyclades) and published in the US by Asmodee. The new edition is called Sun Tzu, and it maintains the original game’s Imperial China setting. Sun Tzu and King Chu are the rivals in a blue versus red struggle for five provinces in the Chinese empire. Everything about this edition is bigger and bolder. It now feels like a natural fit for the Matagot line and fans of modern, innovative Dudes on a Map games will find much to enjoy here. Continue Reading…

Cracked LCD- Claustrophobia in Retro-View (including Furor Sanguinis!)

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Over the past decade of writing regular columns and reviews about board games, there are a few games that in retrospect I likely over-rated, games that in time have lost luster or simply receded from my attention. But there are even fewer games that I’ve felt that I under-rated at release and have come to appreciate more over time. Claustrophobia, a dungeon-crawler from the French designer Croc, was released way back in 2009 and it is quite possibly the single game that I have most dramatically missed the mark on as a critic. And with a rather unexpected new expansion, Furor Sanguinus, out from Asmodee it’s a great time to revisit this stunning, singular title while also taking a look at the new addition.

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The Vanishing of Ethan Carter Review

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I’ve never been to rural Wisconsin. But now I feel like I have, thanks to The Vanishing of Ethan Carter.

I’ve walked through gently shaded autumnal woods, watching rags of mist gathering on distant peaks. Wandered across a dam, marvelling at the sun reflected on the lake beneath and pools of recent rainwater on the pavement. Climbed a hill amongst ancient, mossy boulders with grass waving around me, just to see the view at the top.

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Wiz-War: Bestial Forces expansion review

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I noticed long ago that when people who tend to run role-playing games choose to play instead, they always pick wizard characters. Why? It’s all about power. If you’re used to having the ability to dictate reality on a whim, you want a character that can do it too. Power is a key part of wizarding’s appeal.

And there’s no greater demonstration of power than being able to summon fantastic creatures and bend them to your whim. It’s what’s always been missing from Wiz-War, and now it’s here with the Bestial Forces expansion. And while there’s no extra player figure and board in the box, there are an awful lot of other interesting spells and variants too.

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Cracked LCD- Galaxy Defenders in Review

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Imagine if you will a rock band. Let’s postulate that this rock band- who are pretty good but not particularly groundbreaking- got signed on to be the closing act for a festival where the penultimate acts scheduled before their set time were Elvis, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. Galaxy Defenders, from Italian publishing house Ares Games, would be analogous to this band.

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Cracked LCD- Deus in Review

 

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Let’s get the ugly part of this review out of the way up front. Deus, the new game from Troyes designer Sebastien DuJardin, is the least attractive game I have seen in quite some time- at least since the original edition of Glory to Rome insulted aesthetic sensibilities and assaulted good taste some years ago. The game, coming to the US courtesy Asmodee, is packaged in a box mostly the color of tapioca pudding with badly chosen fonts (dropshadows and lensflare, really?) and drab, muted artwork of stern figures from mythology, who really don’t have much to do with the game. Nothing about it says “fun”. Especially not the title, which isn’t very descriptive of the action at all.

Once you’ve gotten it open, you find these awful-looking blobby terrain tiles with irregular spaces. Which would be fine, but someone thought that putting red, blue and yellow terrain on them was a good idea. Beyond that clash of colors, there are inconsistencies in the color scheme throughout. Wood is produced by green tiles and is indicated by a green icon but the tokens for the resource are brown. Speaking of brown, you’ll find references to brown buildings throughout the rules and cards, but there aren’t any. They’re orange. Even the coins are mis-colored, coming in denominations of gold, silver and…green. The victory point chips look like wrestling belts with a crappy, plain black system font slapped on them. Other than the badly executed custom bits, this title is stocked with stock pieces- you’ve seen all of these bits before in other games. It almost looks like a prototype someone put together with generic bits, apart from the cards and tiles.

The good news, despite a failure in the visuals department, is that Deus is actually a very good game.

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Cracked LCD- Battle at Kemble’s Cascade in Review

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The Battle at Kemble’s Cascade- despite its unwieldy title-stuns at the box level. Z-Man games pulled out all of the stops, graphically. Featuring an illustration straight off of an arcade cabinet circa 1987 with fine detail such as simulated wear, stripes and a just-right font choice, the epic “shoot the core” battle scene twixt spaceship and giant boss tells you right up front that this game is inspired by and pays tribute to classic scrolling shooters like Gradius, R-Type and Raiden If that elevator pitch is enough to get you into the cockpit, ready to dodge a million bullets, then you might be in for a surprise.

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Five Tribes Review

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There are lots of heavy strategy games that make me feel like a bad player. There are even a few that make me feel like a bad person for decieving and manipulating my way to victory. Five Tribes is the first game that made me feel like a bad reviewer. Because, even after many games, I can’t quite make up my mind how I feel about it.

The design itself doesn’t help. It feels like designer Bruno Cathala poured a random assortment of mechanics into a pestle, ground it up, and put the fragments into a box. There’s still identifiable chunks of games like Mancala, Carcassonne and even Cyclades in there. But there’s also a lot of dust that feels familiar, yet annoyingly elusive.

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Cracked LCD- Hyperborea in Review

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The first time I played Hyperborea, the new big box release from Asmodee designed by Andrea Chiarvesio and Pierluca Zizzi, I thought about a couple of other games. Those games were Eclipse, Runewars, Cyclades, Kemet and Nexus Ops. Over the course of the 90 minutes or so that it took to play, I went from furrowing my brow at it, wondering if the rulebook was making the game seem much more complicated than it actually was, to absolutely loving it. By the end, my knee-jerk one-game opinion was that it was better than the first game I had in mind, tighter than the second, as good as the Matagot titles, but obviously not a time-honored classic like the last. After a few more games logged with it, I think it’s one of 2014’s best releases and I’m still anxious to get this streamlined, cunningly designed fantasy 4x game to the table again. Continue Reading…

D&D 5e Player’s Handbook Review

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It’s rare that the first thing to strike you about a book is a noise. But here, it was. After being so excited by the Starter Set, I couldn’t wait to get into this. So I ignored the cover and opened the book to a loud crack as the spine flexed for the first time. It was like the sound of the lock falling away from my teenage memories.

Back then, no-one ever read the Player’s Handbook from cover to cover, and I doubt anyone does now. It’s skimmed, flipped, relished. So first impressions count.

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