Board Games


I jumped on the Kickstarter for Rayguns and Rocketships in the spring. It’s a board game produced by IDW for 2-4 players. As the title suggests, this is old school pulp sci-fi. The players take the role of one of four factions fighting for galactic supremacy: the Galactic Astro-Rangers, the Blaarg Collective, the Grand Zardian Navy, and the Space Mercenaries of Samadi. Created by a veteran video game designer, Scott Rogers, the game hit their stretch goals, so I also received a pack of mercenary captains and their captain cards (which can be used with any of the factions.) I’m not certain these will be standard on later editions or not. Delivery for the backers started this month, but Amazon is already showing a listing, so I suspect there will be general availability in the next month or two.

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Set up is fairly quick. The players get a rocketship board for their character pieces to be placed on. Each faction has a rocketship piece that is placed on the star map board. They each get a deck of cards with maneuvers from which they can choose three maneuvers per round or play. Each turns over their card and performs the maneuver in turn, with some modifications for if they’ve placed crew on engine or bridge spaces in their ships. Next, they take turns shooting at each other’s ships, if in range. The vessel or the rayguns, specifically, can be targeted. The players with ships hit can sacrifice a crew member rather than take blast points, if they are in the area targeted. Lastly, in turn, they can move their crew, including exiting the craft to fly around on their jetpacks, or to raid the other vessels.

Each of the three card reveals is a “turn”, with three turns a round. The rules were a bit unclear on this the first read through. At the end of the turn, any action points accrued but not used for damage control, extra moves, etc. are lost and the whole process starts again. There are points given for crew killed, rayguns destroyed, ships destroyed, and the like, and the length of games can depend on the target points. There are scenarios that can set other victory conditions, as well.

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My daughter an I played through a round the first day we had the game, and finally got a chance to play a full game this afternoon. A standard game took about 45 minutes for two of use, and would most likely hit the 90 minutes suggested on the box. Age recommendation is 14, but my kiddo is six and had no problems with the rules or the time. Play was fast and fun, and “programming” your moves proved tricky. We both used special maneuvers (or “star”) cards at inopportune times. In the end the Astro-Rangers barely squeaked out a point victory before the obvious victory that the Star Pirates were headed for.

Style: It’s a nice looking game with quality boards and cards, and good plastic pieces —  4/5 stars. Substance: the game plays well and quickly, and was enjoyable — 4 out of 5 stars.

So is it worth it? For the $70 I pledged and at the price point of most games like this: a qualified yes — mostly because I suspect it will be closer to $50-60 if and when it hits Amazon and other game outlets, then it will be a more solid yes.

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It’s a tie. The folks at Evil Hat did a multi-book Kickstarter that included the Atomic Robo RPG. It was well-run, successful, got the books out on time, and kept the backers informed every step of the way. Similarly, the Transhuman Kickstarter by Posthuman Studios for the Eclipse Phase game was excellent on communication, delivered slightly ahead of time, and had been continuing to pump out their stretch goals on time.

I would also throw in a big shout out for Dr. Dante Lauretta and the people at Xtronaut Games for their superb Kickstarters for Xtronaut and the soon-to-ship Constellations board games. Lauretta is a project manager, I believe with the OSIRIS-Rex mission, and both campaigns were absolute exemplars of how to do Kickstarter. The games are also superb and I highly recommend them.

This was one I stumbled onto on Kickstarter — Dante Lauretta, an planetary scientist at University of Arizona and the head of the OSIRIS-REx mission, while doing the massive amounts of waiting that come with the space program, and some of the members of his team decided to build a game based on their experiences in rocketry. The game hit its goal with little issue, and arrived today, only a few months behind the initial expected date (which is pretty good for most Kickstarters.)

Xtronaut: The Game of Solar System Exploration is a board game for 2-4 players. Each player attempts to build a launch vehicle, choose a good payload for the mission they’ve drawn — be it a lander, orbiter, or rover — and attempt to get the necessary delta-v to reach their goal. Each mission gives you “data points”. Reach 10 data points first, and you win.

It’s a simple concept and execution, and has a nice educational aspect to it, which is why a bunch of education and space science-related groups have gone gaga for the game. But how is it as the game? Turns out, pretty good.

I tried two games with just myself and my five-year old daughter (the minimum suggested age is 7.) She was able to grasp the basic concept — pull a mission card that give you the necessary delta-v, and the number of data points received for the size of the spacecraft for the mission; build a launch vehicle with a first stage booster (and possibly extra boosters), a second stage lifter, the payload spacecraft, the fairings to protect the same, and using gravity assist. These elements are drawn from a player hand of five cards, drawn from a deck of cards that include other “action cards” that allow you to salvage parts (dig through the discard pile), draw extra cards, or financial audit another player to steal their cards. There are also cards where you lose pieces for “national security” (the result of the Air Force commandeering one of OSIRIS-REx’s boosters) and Government Shutdown. These add a nice sense of the bureaucracy surrounding trying to get your robot into space. The rocket you build and its mission go on a simple gameboard — one per player — where you track your build, your data points, and the delta-v you have. Once you have enough to go, you discard all the cards, draw a new mission, and start over (unless you have SpaceX’s Falcon booster…that’s reusable.)

The two-person game was fun, but adding another player really brings it to life. With the kiddo and wife, we had a very competitive game  that lasted about 45 minutes. We all really enjoyed the game and I’m hoping some of the stretch goals expansions hit the market soon.

Is it worth it? Oh, yeah.

Style: 3 out of 5. While the cards and boards look nice, and are purposefully simple in their graphics, the cards could have been of better stock. They’re a bit flimsy after the cards for the Thunderbirds game, but that’s hardly fair…Modiphius does superb production value on their stuff.

Substance: 5 out of 5 — the game is deceptively easy, but there’s a lot of strategy to it. Have a high energy mission? You really want NASA’s SLS booster system, but there are many cards for it, as it is still a rare launch platform. Want to get ahead for your next launch? SpaceX’s Falcon is the way to go. Maybe auditing that guy next to you to hopefully nab that Atlas second stage is a good idea. Maybe a trade for that right fairing is the way to go. the rules are simple; the game play can be hard.

It’s worth it.

Here’s the Xtronaut website highlighting space outreach and the OSIRIS-REx probe, and here’s the just-posted link to buy the game through Amazon.

The excellent folks at Mödiphiüs did a Kickstart for this game a while back. My daughter has stumbled onto the new CGI version of the show, and I remember the original Gerry Anderson Supermarionation version — even had all the Dinky toys when I was a boy — so buying the game was a no-brainer. Everyone starts their review the same way, so I’ll not break with convention…

5…4…3…2…1…Thunderbirds are go!

Designed by Matt Leacock, Thunderbirds is a cooperative board where the players work together as members of the International Rescue, stopping disasters in space, and around the globe, as well as stopping the evil machinations of the Hood, with their cool-ass Jet Age craft, the signature of any Gerry Anderson show (Fireball XL-5, Supercar, UFO, Space: 1999, and others.) I’m told it’s similar to his famed Pandemic, which I’ve yet to play.

Each player has a character from the show and their signature vehicle under their command, and during your turn you can take three actions: move to a location, stage a rescue, plan by pulling F.A.B. cards, or scan for issues using Thunderbird 5, in geo-synchronous orbit. there are other operations which don’t cost one of your actions. Each disaster has certain requirements, or gear/vehicle/character benefits if you have those units present. You roll dice, and if you get a Hood silhouette, his piece moves along a track toward victory (unless you thwart the three “schemes” he has going.) The other way to lose is if you get overwhelmed by disasters and they reach the end of their track, which they progress along on each player’s turn.

The disasters stack up pretty quickly, and the trick is to plan out how you’ll get what gear where so that you can knock out the disasters as fast as possible, while ending the Hood’s machinations. It’s tough. I played this solo and did pretty well, then with the family (including said five year-old girl) and we won with a half-full disaster track.

Substance: 5 out of 5. There’s a lot of meat to the game — you have to work together, plan carefully, and decide how to use the various bonuses you get from tokens. I suspect this is a game that will be a lot of fun to play repeatedly.

Style: 5 out of 5. The entire set is high quality, from the linen finish on the cards, and the box, to the board map, to the wee plastic Thunderbirds pieces. The pictures on the cards are screencaps from the old show, and the characters stick very well to the functions they played in the show. For instance, I got stuck with Alan, Thunderbird 3‘s pilot, and this turned out a great thing, as it allowed me to nab the various space-rescues that came up. It really evokes that Space Age flavor that sci-fi had at the time, where we were going to be in space; rich people weren’t the devil, but millionaire inventor philanthropists saving the world with their unique inventions; and gear looked fab!

Is it worth it? The set runs about $70 most places you look, (I found it for much cheaper online…) but the quality of the manufacture and the good game mechanics lead me to say yes. If you are a Thunderbirds fan, abso-friggin’-lutely!

Another game that came in from Noble Knight yesterday was Castle Panic by Fireside Games. It’s a cooperative game where players try to defend their castle from rampaging monsters. You have a six-walled tower, with six protective walls, and six zones to defend. You draw five cards, which allow you to hit the monsters at different ranges — archer, knight, swordsman, or castle (where you need a barbarian to take out the monsters before they knock the whole she-bang down and you lose.

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It’s a deceptively simple game. The cards give you zones you can defend at the respective distances, and you can trade between players to try and strategize to stop the creatures. The actual doing is a lot harder. The few times I’ve played it, it takes between 45 minutes and an hour and a half. It’s great fun, there are a few expansions available, and at $30 is a steal. Definite buy.

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I decided the fam has been playing enough board games i needed to get a few that weren’t quite as complex as, say, Supremacy or Firefly even. We’ve got a four year old that’s pretty bright for her age, and was really engaged by Munchkin, so I looked for games with easier base games in subjects she might like.

She loves cars and motorcycles, and racing, so enter Formula D — a later edition of the French Formula Dé board game by Asmodee. It’s supposedly for 10 and older, but we found the simple rules were easy enough for Sofia to grasp, and she quickly started to understand the ideas behind “slow in, fast out” and how to shift appropriately.

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The game has two boards for the race — Monaco and a street race we haven’t tried yet. Wee toy cars are placed on the board, and each player gets a marker box with a shifter from 1-6th gear. Each gear has a corresponding die that is rolled for your speed per round: a d2 for first, d6 with 2-4 for second, d8 for third, d12 for fourth, d20 for fifth, and d30 for sixth. Your car can take a certain number of wear points. Downshift to hard, brake to hard, overshoot a turn too hard and you lose these. Take a turn far too fast, you wreck and are done. It requires some canny reading of the distances to start working the shifter to your advantage.

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The advanced game breaks the wear across tires, engine, etc. and there look to be characters you can play. There’s even weather rules. When the kiddo is old enough, I suspect we can start tacking on the harder stuff.

Would it be more “realistic” to play each other on a gaming console? Sure, but there’s a certain fun to sitting at the kitchen table, throwing different types of dice and chatting while playing a game. It’s tactile, it’s teaching her (subtly) probabilities and how to judge distances, etc.

I found a copy with no troubles at Noble Knight for $35. There’s four different expansion packs, each with two new and different tracks at $30. It’s a great example of how simple rules can still lead to complex strategizing. If you see a copy, and you’re into board games and racing games, it’s a buy.

I picked up a copy of Gale Force Nine’s Firefly: The Game board game a week ago. I’ve yet to play it with others, but there is a “solo” option that I tried out. The game is nicely made, with high production values. There’s a board loosely based on the Quantum Mechanix Map of the Verse, five Firefly-class miniature pieces, a Reaver vessel, and an Alliance Cruiser; there’s a collection of different game card decks — this seems to be a new trend in board games, having a dozen decks of cards for things.

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Play is simple you take jobs from various contacts, try to do said assignments, and meet the requirements on a “story card” to win. Doing a quick trial as a solo, I found that the difficulty for some of the jobs require you not to just leap into misbehavin’ — but you want to get together a crew with the widest variety of skills you might need. There are some “short cuts” you can take — gear you need to pull off the job with ease (two words — “hacking rig”) or specific crew members. Resolving jobs has you roll a d6 — if you get Serenity, that counts as a six and you can roll again and add the amount.

It looks like it could be a lot of fun and the learning curve looks to be relatively low. The flavor of the show comes through very well in the game materials and play — Browncoats should love it. The game runs about $40 and I think it’s worth it, especially for Firefly fans. There are also a pair of card expansions for the game already available.

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