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Codenames Review

I love me some Vlaada Chvatil. I delight in his imagination and skill in welding together unlikely elements to create brilliant games. He likes pushing dexterity into unlikely place. Or adding depth of strategy to genres and mechanics that have not, traditionally, had much. So it came as something of a surprise to find that his latest game, Codenames, is a simple party game.

Except, of course, this is Vlaada Chvatil. And that means appearances can be deceptive.

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Cracked LCD- Space Cadets: Away Missions in Review

Dan Raspler and Al Rose want you to know that they love classic, golden age science fiction and Space Cadets: Away Mission is their statement of intent to rescue the genre (at least as far as games are concerned) from decades of dreary, dour, wartorn atmospheres and barely human space marine killing machines. SC:AM takes us back to a more optimistic era of rayguns and fishbowl helmets, of Saucermen and stern-jawed, crew-cut heroes. It is a very modern, very well designed dungeoncrawler with tons of miniatures, scenarios, AI opposition, dice combat, loot, et cetera, et cetera. There are 20 scenarios out of the box, and in each you’ll generally do pretty much what you expect to do in these kinds of games- shoot stuff, move/explore, pick up some new gear, flip a switch or two, exit to the shuttle before it all goes pear shaped. (more…)

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Fury of Dracula 3rd Edition Review

The original Fury of Dracula was a seminal game of my childhood. Whisked off the shelf as a curio on a trip to get some gaming miniatures, it quickly became a staple. Van Helsing and his pupils spent hours sweeping Europe, seeking for the Count. Instead they often found feral wolves and savage gypsies as the vampire secretly spun his wicked web of intrigue across the continent.

That copy is tattered now, worn down by love. The chits are soft at the edges, the box battered and the figure of Dr. Seward snapped off at the knees. He still struggled manfully after his quarry, those paired feet creeping into my adult years like the memory of childhood sins. Yet a little of the magic had gone. The game could be frustratingly random, and it needed an aggressive Dracula player to make it work.

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Cracked LCD- Cthulhu Wars in Review

I was very, very skeptical of Cthulhu Wars to say the least. I’m not a big supporter of the current trend toward crowdfunding in the hobby games market and I’m not entirely on board with the concept of these “Cadillac” games with astronomical presale prices. But there were three things that drove me to ask the publishers if they would send me a press copy. One is that I had heard great things about it from folks whose opinions I trust. The second is that I wanted to see what one of these luxury class games- in this case one retailing for $199- had to offer in comparison with more traditionally priced designs on the marketplace. The third is that Mr. Petersen is certainly not some upstart, armchair game designer selling their product with a flashy video and lots of promises. This is the guy that created Call of Cthulhu, still my favorite RPG of all time. And he also had a hand in designing games like Doom, Quake and other seminal, hugely influential computer games.

So “the Great Old One” himself responded, issuing a command to one of his Servitors to send a copy to me. A few days later I got this 11 pound box in the mail and opened it up to find a big, black box with good illustrations and luxurious embossing. It looked deluxe, sure. Opening it up, I was a little underwhelmed at first. It’s hard to not expect to be completely blown away, but the reality of it is that Cthulhu Wars is still a physical product, not a life-changing experience. But then I dug through the layer of punchboards and the map and saw IT. It wasn’t Cthulhu that caught my eye, it was Hastur. A huge, bright yellow monstrosity that put me in mind more of old fashioned plastic dinosaur figures more than gaming miniatures. I picked it up and just kind of laughed at it. Was it the taint of madness? (more…)

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Dungeon Saga Review

If you know your dungeon crawl games, I can give you the shortest review ever of Dungeon Saga. It’s a cross between Descent and HeroQuest. It has the aesthetics and design philosophy of the latter, but incorporates the overlord versus players setup of the former. Job done.

Still here? Okay then. Dungeon Saga has one standout hallmark. It’s full of smart design decisions which offer a little extra depth, a little extra theme, while keeping things as approachable as it can. That’s impressive. The question is whether it’s enough to make this title stand out in one of the most crowded genres in board gaming.

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Cracked LCD- Champions of Midgard in Review

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Champions of Midgard is a really good game. It’s new from Grey Fox Games and designer Ole Steiness (Police Precinct). It’s also one of the best looking games released this year, all done up in a heavy metal Viking motif with rockin’ fonts and illustrations that will make you want to throw up horns and lick the blood off a battleaxe as you ride a flaming longship into Valhalla. There is dice rolling, monster fighting and a brilliant mechanic that allows you to shame your peers that have proven too cowardly to do battle with the local trolls. It’s easy to get folks interested in it, it’s easy to teach and it’s easy to play. And it’s a single purchase title, not a product line with 25 expansions available out of the gate.

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Commands & Colors: Ancients Expansions 2 & 3 Review

cca23Britain is pockmarked with standing stones. On a recent holiday we passed them in a dozen different sites. High on windy hillsides or perched above rocky bays, the waves seething over jagged rocks beneath. I love to touch them, to touch my history. They feel like the bones of the country, smooth yet pitted.

Traces of their makers cover the landscape like a swirling tattoo. Hill forts, barrows, buried hoards of gold. Yet they do not speak to me. Their brash Roman conquerors do. Julius Caeser wrote books. His legionaries wrote letters, pleading for thick socks and underthings against the bitter British climate. I had long hoped I might find the voices of the Britons in some forgotten thing. A squashed coin perhaps, or a rusted sword hilt.

I have found them now, in a most unexpected place. In a box, fashioned from green wood and decorated with gaudy stickers.

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Cracked LCD- Argent: The Consortium (and expansion) in Review

argent

I should be writing a negative review of Argent: The Consortium because it completely flies in the face of everything I want out of board gaming in 2015. The title of the game is terrible; it speaks nothing to the Harry Potter-like “wizard’s school” setting or the themes expressed in the game. It’s a worker placement game, a tired and overplayed genre if ever there were one and it’s one of those really complicated ones at that. The game is way long and overstuffed with multiple resource types, piles of cards everywhere and built-in redundancies. The rulebook overcomplicates the mechanics and there are Euroglyphics everywhere It’s all topped off with an anime-influenced illustration style that I don’t particularly favor. The whole thing teeters on the brink of bloated inaccessibility, and you might – like I did – question if it’s worth the effort.

But it turns out that Argent: The Consortium is also one of the best worker placement games published to date. It’s a brilliant, sometimes brutal but always magical game full of dynamic interaction, thoughtful gameplay and wonderful narrative beats. There isn’t really anything else quite as bold on the market, especially in this particular genre. (more…)

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Temple of Elemental Evil Review

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Innovation in game design seems to be in short supply nowadays. Yet you can find it in unexpected places. Take all those wargames that use the same basic rules but have new units, maps and mechanical tweaks for different battles. Playing through these franchises can reveal an ocean of wonder inside those tiny details, making history come to life.

So, just because Temple of Elemental Evil is the fourth game in a series doesn’t mean it’s not going to feel fresh and clever. However, in honesty, it’s going to need to pull out all the stops to impress. A sense of staleness was already present in the last Adventure System game, Legend of Drizzt, back in 2011.

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Skull Review

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It’s often not the rules or the components that make a game. With Skull, it’s the little noises. The tut of tongue against teeth. A soft sigh. A full-throated chuckle. Ambigous sounds uttered before a card gets flipped over and all hell breaks loose.

Skull is a bluffing game. Everyone starts with four cards , three showing flowers and one a skull. You place one face down, maybe more. Then you start wagering with other players to see how many flowers you think you can flip.

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