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.
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…
The base set of Armada looked to have the makings of an outstanding game. But it was kind of hard to tell for sure. With just three ships and a handful of fighter squadrons to divide between two sides, all you could do was sense the potential rather than experience it for yourself.
A generous first wave of expansions has now arrived. Each contains a variety of upgrades, many of which can, of course, be used on a variety of ships. And all that extra variety does the job. Armada finally plays like the game that it was shaping up to be.
Jim 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.
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.
The deckbuilding mechanic of Dominion was the most revolutionary thing in the last decade of tabletop gaming. Many other games have build on that creativity. Yet after all that time and all those titles, deckbuilding still feels like a mechanic struggling to find its place in the world.
It’s an inherently insular thing. Demanding significant setup time and forcing players to obsess over their own constructions while ignoring everyone else. Nightfall and Star Realms added more interaction, but it wasn’t enough. A Few Acres of Snow briefly looked like a miraculous saviour but got crushed under the Halifax Hammer.
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.
It takes about a New York minute between seeing a copy of the X-Wing base game and wondering what a Star Destroyer model might look like at that scale. In that minuscule time frame, Star Wars: Armada became an inevitability.
In truth, the Star Destroyer in any scale is almost bound to ruin the look of the game. Even here it looks enormous, and dwarfs the spindly Rebel ships that oppose it. The quality of the paint jobs seems to have gone down a notch, too. Armada just doesn’t have the same visual appeal as its illustrious predecessor.
So it’s a good job that it’s a much better game.
My first impressions of Assault on Doomrock, a new co-op adventure game all the way from Poland courtesy designer Tom Stasiak, were “wow, this game is a mess” and after getting completely mauled by the Beasts of Doom in the first battle, “wow, this game is really freakin’ hard.” It took a couple of tentative games worth of head-scratching and rules-checking before the two halves of this stunningly original design coalesced and my reaction shifted to “wow, this game is really interesting.” And then back to “wow, this game is really freakin’ hard”. Continue Reading…