Sunday, October 31, 2010

Alien Frontiers - Kicking Eurogames Hard In The Dice Bag

Anyone who is familiar with the Superfly Circus knows that I love small publishers because they have the vast quantity of chutzpah it takes to come up with a game idea and publish it yourself. The game industry is as cut-throat as Wall Street ever was, and to make it in this world, especially for someone not established in the market, is tough as a bag of nails. That being said, if you make a crappy game, I'm going to crucify it, regardless of the production value or the license ( ). Luckily for the newly-founded Clever Mojo Games, their latest game, Alien Frontiers, is an epic win with ridiculously good quality and a fistful of dice loaded with European flavored fun.

I should let you know that for the first time ever, my readers recommended to a publisher that I get a review copy, and a copy showed up at my door, so my heartfelt thanks goes out to Jim "The Man" McMahon for that. I knew virtually nothing about the game, so I went into the fray, machete in hand, wondering how this would work out. On Friday my wife and I played several games, and then I had friends over to play games on Saturday night. We played all kinds of games, as we normally do, but once Alien Frontiers hit the table, that was it. We played the piss out of it. In less than 48 hours, we played 5 games of Alien Frontiers, and I'm here to tell you that if there was ever a one-size-fits-all game, this may be it, because I liked it, my wife liked it even more, and my friends liked it even more than that. In fact, it was better liked than the 1985 version of Dungeon Quest and, in a shocking revelation, more than my beloved El Grande, which in my house is akin to blasphemy. It's a sublime mix of pure luck and European mechanics that had me wondering why more game companies can't figure out that there's room for blind luck in Eurotrash just as there's room for resource management in Amerigames.

The premise of Alien Frontiers is that two to four players are all vying to colonize a planet for their own evil designs, using resources and orbital stations to produce the colonies to be built in eight geographical regions of varying strategic value. Using a fleet of ships, which are represented by D6 dice, you can claim docking ports on each orbital station to use the stations' abilities to both further your cause as well as deny your opponents the opportunity to use the station that you've chosen. The game comes to an immediate end when anyone places their seventh colony on the planet, and because you keep track of the scores all during the game, you know who the leader is at all times in order to potentially hose them over and avoid a loss. It's a very clever game that balances luck and skill very well, and with a playtime, in my experience, of about an hour, it's a very attractive game to table with just about anyone. I can see someone with a little Shrine of Knizia in their closet and an Anti-Dice poster on their wall being a bit salty, but this really is one of the few games that I know of which can be tabled and played by pretty much anyone, even the kids.

The artwork in the game is beautiful and highly engrossing, which is a key ingredient to the success of this game. The box has really nice artwork, and is one of the sturdiest game boxes I've ever seen. Once you crack the box open, you're met with a petite deck of cards, and I don't mean that the cards are Liliputian, I mean that there's only maybe 20 of them. Then there's a big ziplock bag of wooden domes in four colors that represent the colonies, a ton of little yellow discs which represent fuel, and a bunch of grey cubes that represent ore. Within the bag also lies 24 D6 dice in the same four colors that represent the players' ships, and one transparent die which is used for a special territory power. Next, we have the board, which is about the size of a Monopoly board, but far nicer looking, with icons all over it to help you navigate the game. Additionally, there's eight little "power cards" which are placed on the board initially, but taken by a player when they take control of a territory. Getting near the bottom of the box, there's a bunch of empty, smaller ziplock bags and a scoring track to keep track of who is winning, as well as three circular chits that act as markers, defining territories that have special abilities assigned to them. Finally, there's one of the best-written rulebooks I've ever read; it's simple to read, easy to understand, and loaded with examples. All of the components are high-quality, painted wooden bits and very nice Chessex-quality dice, with the cardboard being thick and sturdy, and the cards being the nice linen-stock cards that you'd see in a good quality contemporary hobby boardgame. Very impressive, indeed, for a little guy.

The rules are incredibly simple, and I'm going to let you know how to play based on a four-player game, although I think that three players is ideal. First, to set the game up, you turn three Alien Tech cards up on the table near the Alien Artifact space, and then put the deck nearby. Then, you place three of each color of dice on the Maintenance Bay space, and the rest go in a pile near the board for later use. Next, you place one colony marker of each color on the scoring track, retaining the rest for placement on the board later on down the road. Near the board should be the Fuel and Ore reserves, but each player but the first player gets an increasingly large bonus supply to compensate for not being the first player, which at first appears to be a huge advantage, but in reality, isn't as hot as you'd initially expect it to be. Finally, each player gets a single Alien Tech card.That's it for the game setup, and we're talking about maybe 3 minutes, tops, to get ready to play, and that's after a bottle of San Marcos Creek's lovely 2008 White Merlot.

Gameplay is really slick, yet simple. At the beginning of your turn, you take the dice of your color from the Maintenance Bay and roll them. The outcome of this roll determines what value your ships are. The essence is that the dice, which act as your fleet of ships, can be placed into the orbital stations, but only if you meet that station's requirements. For example, to use the Raiders, which allow you to steal cards or resources from your opponents, you have to have ships of sequential value, such as 3, 4, 5 or 1, 2, 3. You place the dice of the correct value on the board in the spaces provided, then immediately resolve the ability of the station. The stations are limited in the number of docking ports the possess, so players that use any given station also block them from use by other players during the turn. Finally, sure you have no more than eight total resource tokens, lest you have to dump some back in the reserve. At the beginning of the next turn, you simply round up your dice from the board, place them on the Maintenance Bay along with any other ships you bought last turn that reside there, then start the sequence again. 

Now that you know the gameplay sequence, let's talk about what the stations actually do, since they're really where the action happens. First there's the Shipyard, which allows you to buy more ships for increasingly more resources. To dock, you need to place two ships of equal value. Next is the Solar Convertor, the source of Fuel. To take this, you can place any of your dice here, and the amount of Fuel you get is based on the value of the ships you place. Next, you have the Orbital Market, which allows you to trade Fuel for Ore, but you have to place two dice of the same value there and the exchange rate is based upon the value of the dice you place. Moving on, the next station is the Alien Artifact, where you have a couple of options; you may place any die there to swap the three Alien Tech cards for three new ones, or you can place ships whose value adds up to eight or more, which allows you to take one of the visible Alien Tech cards for use later. Next up is the Raiders station, and as I mentioned before, you need to place three ships of sequential value there, allowing you to steal either one card from a single opponent or up to four of any resources from any combination of opponents. The next station is the Lunar Mine, and placing ships here buys you one Ore per ship, but you can only place ships with an equal or greater value to the highest valued ship currently docked there. The last three stations revolve around placing new colonies, and the next paragraph will explain.

The first of the colony building stations is the Terraforming Station. By placing a ship with a value of six here and subsequently spending a Fuel and an Ore, you may place a colony, but at the end of the turn, your ship is destroyed and goes back to the ship stock. The next of this class of station is the Colony Builder, which you can only utilize if you have three ships of equal value, and when you place them and spend three Ore you may place a new colony. The last of these stations is arguably the most important, as it's the one you'll likely use the most for the purposes of placing colonies, the Colony Hub. There are four tracks here with seven spaces per track, and the first time you place a die here, you may place a colony on the first position of the track. Any subsequent ships you allocate to this station moves your colony toward the seventh space, and once the colony gets there, you may immediately place it on the planet. The only downside of this station is that once you've placed a colony in the queue, it cannot be removed from the queue unless it is your last colony, at which point you may yank it out of the track to place on the planet if you're lucky enough to be able to utilize the Terraforming Station or the Colony Builder.

Now that you know about the mechanics involved, let's talk about the planet's territories. Each one has a unique power that you are granted by having the dominant number of colonies within that territory, and each grants you interesting benefits. For instance, one of the territories provides you an extra, persistent ship, provided you pay one Ore and one Fuel to buy it. Another reduces the cost to buy future ships, yet another provides you an extra Fuel when you use the Solar Convertor, and another allows you to break the rules of the Lunar Mine, letting you to place your first ship there regardless of the value of existing ships docked there. All in all, the powers are all varied and useful, although some are more useful than others and generally end up as the most hotly contested locales on the planet.

Now, going back a step, the Alien Tech cards allow you powers that can bend the core rules of the game, provide you free victory points, allow you to place the special circular chits on the board to provide a bonus victory point or defend your colony from further colony placement in that territory, and other cards allow you to annihilate an enemy ship. The cards may be activated during your turn, and most have two powers to use on your turn; one power is generally bought for a set amount of Fuel and the other is activated by discarding the card entirely. At first, we ignored the cards thinking they were a sidebar or afterthought, but once we had a couple of plays in, the cards were getting flipped and manipulated like we were all little David Blaines, working our own evil brand of cut-throat magic upon one another.

The end of the game comes the moment that any player places their last colony on the planet, and since the score is kept during the game, you always know who is the leader, so there's no real math at the end of the game to worry about and detract from the winner's moment of glory. Victory points are a simple matter as well, with each colony placed earning the owner one point, and having dominance in a territory buying you an additional point. Further, there are two types of Alien Tech cards that grant you one point for having them in your hand, and there is a circular chit, the Positron Field, that you can place in your territory, granting the dominant player in that territory an additional point. Other cards allow you to manipulate your dice, changing the value either up or down to help you complete a set when you need it. My wife called it "Space Rummy", and it's a very good analogy based on the dice-rolling aspect, but I think this is more like Puerto Rican Space Yachtzee at Tom Jolly's house. There's fistfuls of dice that are played in a similar fashion to Rummy, there's resource control and denial of actions as you'd find in Puerto Rico, and there's a huge overall component of area control and dominance such as in Cave Troll. It's a brilliant design, and I am incredibly glad I got the chance to not only play this game, but to be able to play it anytime I want. In short, this is definitely a winner, and I'd highly recommend it to virtually anyone.

What Makes Alien Frontiers' Mojo So Clever:
- Fast, simple gameplay makes this a fun little romp into the colonial future
- Simple design and a minimal part count make this easy to quickly learn and enjoy
- Lovely art and a consistent theme make this fun to look at and get you into the game
- While not immediately apparent, this can be a very, very cut-throat game

Unacceptable Behavior, Even On The Alien Frontier:
- The last player in a 4-player game has very few options, so I wouldn't recommend this for 4 players
- You cannot effectively mitigate bad luck by smart play because of the resource limitation
- Saying this game is better than El Grande nearly got my best friend ejected from my home
- The design of this game invites Chronic Analysis Paralysis for those predisposed to the mental disorder

This is a brilliantly designed, fun and engaging game that does a good job of balancing pure, dumb luck with Euro-style area control and resource management mechanics, without bogging players down with buckets of chits and cards. This game is great with two players, exceptional with three players, but we've found that with four players, the last player just seems to get screwed out of many option, so let your wife go first if you're looking for some after-action action. While we had initially thought that the first player would have a huge advantage, in practice we found that only the last player gets hosed by the order of play. In fact, each time we've played, the first player has never won, which surprised the hell out of us. The next time you get an opportunity, I'd wholeheartedly recommend that you buy this as is a ton of fun and, with an hour from start to finish, you can play this any time. Very clever mojo, indeed.

4.25/5 Stars

Explore the Alien Frontiers here:

As an aside, it appears that a Vassal module has been created for Alien Frontiers, so check that out as well!

Friday, October 29, 2010

News: Proof Of Time Travel?

I'm no conspiracy theorist, not by a long shot.  I'm also not a skeptic, though, and I am open to things that aren't necessarily in our realm of understanding.  Like how Knizia games keep getting printed, for instance.

Anyhow, this is the single most compelling thing I've ever seen regarding time travel, which is theoretical (but only moving FORWARD in time) under Einstein's special theory of relativity.  But what about BACK in time? Here's some info on the reality of the possibility of time travel from a reasonably credible source:

So, it looks like our CURRENT UNDERSTANDING indicates that no, you can't go back.  But, that being said, we used to think that the earth was flat and that people got sick from the Devil's work, rather than by the little microbial bastards that actually make you sick. 

Here's the rub: This guy in the UK, who is a big Charlie Chaplin fan, got a bunch of videos with "deleted scenes" and whatnot, and he found something that is amazing. He found what appears to be a terribly unfortunate-looking woman talking on a cellphone or other communications device, but in 1928.  Yes, I said 1928.

Let's examine that, though.  Maybe it was a radio and she was singing along! No, the transistor radio wasn't invented until 1954, the Texas Instruments TR-1.  Not even the basic TENETS of this technology existed in 1928, so there's no argument that this could've been a 'prototype' being 'field tested.  Further, who the tell talks into a radio?

What about a walkie talkie? A very basic version wasn't invented until 1937, with real, workable versions not coming out until 3 years later.

So, looks like the lady in the ugly shoes is clearly talking into something. Take a look at the news story and decide for yourself, and make sure to watch the video at the bottom of the page as that's the meat of this story.

And a counterargument..which I don't tend to believe...

...because of the Siemens page for that product:
Maybe a hoax, maybe not, but either way, it's fun to dream.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Sad Case Of American Mass-Market Beers

It's come to me, like a flash of light in a dark room,  that American mass-market beers like Miller and Budweiser have finally admitted that their goal in life is to make cheap, shitty beer with the sole objective of delivering nasty taste and a moderate alcohol content to broke-dick alcoholics worldwide.  It's despicable, and at least Natural Light has the good sense to not act as if they don't know it's shitty beer...they're right there, out front, saying, "Hey, we know you're broke and really need to get drunk...try some Natty Light! We'll get you all kinds of plowed!"

I think it's time all the American beer companies take a step back and revisit the sage words of my personal hero, the one, the only, Billy Dee Williams.  He is the king of big pimpin', and the proof is that only a pure, unadultered pimp can get away with speaking the words, "Colt 45, it works every time" on TV, all the while holding a forty in one hand and a babe in the other.  It's almost like you can read his thoughts: "That's right.  The shortest line between me and this vagina right here is Colt 45."

That's what cheap beer is all about, isn't it? Getting drunk and potentially catching a date rape charge? Well, Budweiser and Miller have finally come out and admitted it to those of us keen enough to see the forest for the trees. Well, that's what their marketing says to me, and I'm clearly not the brightest bulb in the drawer.

How, you ask, did I finally come to this realization? It's simple, really. You don't see Guinness, Samuel Adams, or other real beers that aren't nasty and horrible in every conceivable way going out and putting exit velocity enhancing vortex funnels on their bottles do you? Well, Miller has finally admitted, by their new bottle design, that the only way to truly enjoy thier product is to not taste it.  They want you to pound as many of them as possible in the shortest amount of time, and since flavor is expensive, they added the patented "Vortex Bottle" to their product, which it tantamount to saying, "That's right. We cater to the alcoholics. We know you don't care what it tastes like, and we know our beer tastes a bit like a cross between one of Butterbean's old Chuck Taylors and the sweat from Sally Struthers' ass crack.  Let's just cut to the chase and make a bottle that launches the beer down your gullet faster than ever, so you can get drunk, party, and kill a mother of three on the way home." 

Why else would you put a fucking funnel on a bottle? If it was delicious, don't you think you'd want people to drink it slowly, enjoy the palate, and smell the wonderful brew? No, our friends at Miller are freely admitting (in a roundabout way) that their product is pure shite, and that their sole objective is to intoxicate people as quickly as possible. Way to go, Miller!

Let's talk about Budweiser for a minute, because the self-proclaimed "King of Beers" isn't off the hook with their marketing either. I was looking through a magazine and I saw the telltale sign of a shitty marketing guy: an amorphous catchphrase.  Emblazoned on the side of the can in the picture was the phrase, "Superior Drinkability."  What the fuck is that about? I mean, you don't tell people that your very beautiful wife has "Superior Fuckability" do you? No, you'd call her amazingly beautiful. You don't go to the butcher for some center-cut filet mignon, asking him for the piece with "Superior Eatability" do you? No, you ask for a wonderful, tender piece of meat. I mean, what the hell does that mean, anyhow? Superior to what? Are they saying its drinkability is superior to the fluid at the bottom of a Porta-Potty? Embalming Fluid? Bile?  They don't really specify what it's superior to, and after having some, I'd say that it may be false advertising, because I cannot imagine very many fluids that have less drinkability than cheap American beer.

My thought is that the reason they say that Bud Light has "Superior Drinkability" is that they know they're bottom feeders who make absolutely terrible beer, and that their only saving grace is that it's barely more drinkable than Miller Light, which requires the afore-mentioned funnel to be able to tolerate it. I find it to be the height of stupidity to hire a marketing guy who thinks that labeling a beer can with "Superior Drinkability" is somehow going to attract new customers.  Give me a break. These cockweasels are absolutely in the business of creating young alcoholics and they, Miller, and Natural Light are all in the same market: broke high school students, broke college students, and trailer-home alcoholics. 

Just admit it, already.  Just say, right on the label, "Cheap and Barely Palatable, But Effective".  Be real, cheap beer guys.  No fucking way on earth does Guinness have to state that it has "Superior Drinkability", because everyone knows it's smooth and creamy to the last.  No way does Sam Adams have to put a funnel on their bottle because people want to ENJOY IT.

I guess the good news is that PBR is making a comeback...or so I hear.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Cyclades - Create Your Own Iliad In Two Hours Or Less!

There are a few themes which I love much more than most, and one of them is Greek mythology. When I was a youth, watching Jason and the Argonauts, Clash of the Titans, and reading the Odyssey made a huge, ongoing impact on my tastes and when I was told by a buddy, Matt Drake ( about a Greek-themed light wargame, I was thrilled. Although it took me a solid three months to get it, I finally traded a guy on the 'Geek for it. Out with "Fury of Dracula", in with Cyclades. I always here this being pronounced as "cycle-aids", but the actual pronunciation is "sigh-clod-ease", for those who care to sound educated on the next game night. Anyhow, I cracked the amazingly well illustrated game box open to find an amazing little light wargame, loaded with bad ass components and brilliant art. I used to think Return of the Heroes was one of the best-illustrated games ever, but this is leaps and bounds better than that game. It's simply a beauty to behold.

The premise of the game is that you are one of the principal powers of the Aegean Sea, hoping to reign supreme by either building, or stealing, two metropolis cities on the string of islands that make up the Cyclades. While attempting this, you'll be pleading to, as well as patronizing, the Greek gods for help during your campaign. You'll utilize land forces led by Ares, seaborne forces led by Poseidon, and establishing Philosophers and Priests led by Athena and Zeus, respectively. All the while, you'll enlist aid from other Greek sidekicks such as the mighty Kraken, Poseidon's one-eyed son Polyphemus, and a host of other supernatural creatures. All in all, it feels like a war in Greece might have felt back in 400 BC, when people still thought lightning bolts were tossed down by some bearded guy in the sky. It's also a tremendously fun little romp through ancient times and includes a cut-throat bidding system as well as battles whose outcomes are determined by the age old "units-plus-roll wins" mechanic.

Before you even open up the box, you'll find yourself mystified with the amazing artwork on the box; it is of the highest quality and is more of a beautiful mural than box art. Once you crack it open, though, you will see the real beauty of the game: it's loaded with incredibly detailed illustration and high-quality bits, and the attention to detail that went into the design of this game is absolutely spectacular. For instance, there are four player shields that are used to hide the amount of gold each player has to aid in the bidding portion of the game, and each has its own unique, amazing mural on the side facing other players. There are triremes and soldiers, all made of soft plastic, and in five colors; they could've been the exact same models since they represent the same thing, but no, they went the extra mile and each players unit models are of a unique design. Even the gold coin pieces were die cut out of round to add to the overall excellence of the game's components. Of the plastics, the only bits that are the same design but different colors are the offering markers, which look like little pillars. There are two nicely illustrated boards within the box as well, and they can be individually flipped and lined up together to facilitate scaling the game from two to five players so the game time and strategic options are in line with the player amounts.

Looking deeper, there's a sideboard and four "god" tiles, all wonderfully illustrated and easily understandable, that are the subjects of the bidding portion of the game. There's also a big stack of cards which are the mythological creatures you can enlist to further your cause, all of which are beautifully hand drawn illustrations. The last thing I'll mention is the rulebook, which is well laid out and easy to read, and a small booklet that details what each creature you can enlist does to help you. All in all, the game is hands-down one of the prettiest games I've seen.

Now that you know you're getting your money's worth regarding the look and components, let's talk about if the game is worth the money based on gameplay. I'll save you a minute of reading by telling you, without reservation, that it absolutely is, but let me tell you why I believe this to be the case, from setup to endgame.

To set the game up, and I'm going to assume a three player game, you simply choose colors for the players, and in the back of the rulebook there is an illustration on how to set the board up for the amount of players chosen. To set the board up, simply place the correct board segments face up, line them up, give each player 5 gold coins and a player shield, and then place your troops and ships in the places indicated in the rulebook illustration. Next, place the "gods" sideboard on the table, mix up the four god tiles, and place the appropriate amount of god tiles face-up as indicated in the rulebook; the amount of gods available to choose from during any given turn is based upon the amount of players, and there's always one fewer god tile to choose from than the number of players. Finally, place the deck of mythological creatures on the top of the sideboard in their listed location, flip the top card up, and place the revealed critter in the first available space on the creature track. That's all there is to setting the game up, and if you took more than 5 minutes to do it, you did it wrong.

Gameplay is very simple, really, but is surprisingly deep. On each turn, players perform their actions in a specific sequence. First, you check your owned territories and occupied sea spaces to determine how many prosperity markers you have, then you take that amount of gold from the bank. Next, you bid on the bid on the favor of the gods by placing, in turn, their offering marker on the god they wish to enlist. If you are outbid, you immediately bid again, but you cannot bid on the god you were just outbid on, forcing you to really analyze the best method for winning the god you really want, and for the lowest price. Once all the bidding is complete, everyone pays the piper and then, again in turn, performs the actions prescribed by the gods they've chosen. Once all players have performed actions, you reset the available gods and update the mythological creature track, providing new creatures to choose from and removing the unused one off of the bottom of the track.

Regarding the gods, allow me to illustrate just how different and strategic the concepts of the gods are. Ares, for instance, allows you to take a free troop and deploy it to any of your territories, and in addition, he allows you to buy up to three additional troops as well as fortresses which help defend your islands. Additionally, you can move your troops across strings of ships to nearby islands in order to invade them. Finally, you may at any time buy the use of any mythological creatures that are available. Poseidon allows you to buy and move ships in a similar manner and allows the construction of ports, which give adjacent ships a bonus in battle. Zeus and Athena are similar, but instead of allowing movement of ships and troops, they allow you to buy Priests and Philosophers, respectively as well as temples and universities. Priests allow you to pay less during the offering phase and Philosophers are useless but for the fact that when you have four of them you must immediately construct a Metropolis on one of your islands. The last god, Apollo, is the "booby prize" god, who gives you a little bit of gold, but more importantly, allows you to place a prosperity marker. Of all the gods, only Apollo does not allow you to enlist mythological creatures, and thus while you pay nothing in offering to him, you are severely limited in your options during your turn. As you take your turn, you place your offering marker on a track indicating the order you took your turn in, and thus the person who took the first turn will be at a tremendous disadvantage on the following turn's bidding because they are forced to bid first.

Allow me to get into the creatures now, as they have a tremendous impact on the game. First, allow me to explore the creature track; it has 3 open spaces with each space having its own cost, starting at a cost of four for a newly-introduced creature and a cost of two for the creature that is going to be dropped off the track at the end of the turn. When the game begins, you have only one to choose from, and it is expensive. As the game progresses, you can buy Temples of Zeus for your islands which reduce the cost for creatures, making them very attractive. The creatures themselves vary greatly in what they actually do, and some even have their own miniature figures which can be placed onto the map. For instance, the Kraken, when activated, may be placed on any water space and immediately eats any ships therein; for an additional gold piece per space, you can move them from that initial position and pull a Pac-

The Minotaur, for another example, bolsters your defensive capability by allowing you a large bonus in combat. Some creatures allow you to steal your enemies' priests or philosophers, and others allow you to destroy their buildings, while others allow you to change one of your buildings to another type, such as changing from a port to a fortress and so on. The powers are quite varied, and there's a ton of cards, so there is some fortuitous situations that can allow you to strike a death blow to your opponents or make a smart move and win the game.

Combat, I should mention, is very simple. You simply add your troops or ships up, roll a die and add the result, and finally, add any creature bonuses or building bonuses that apply, and the loser simply removes one unit from the board. After each round of combat, both players are afforded the opportunity to withdraw their forces from combat to an adjacent location, if possible. In short, combat is very slick, simple, and effective. There's luck involved, but mitigating luck can be done simply by attacking with more troops or playing an opportune creature to bolster your attacks by destroying enemy fortifications with creatures or destroying enemy ships. The one key ingredient to attacking is that you must win Ares' favor to move troops, and you must have a continuous line of ships from the attacking isle to the defending isle to initiate the attack. The one caveat is that the Pegasus creature can allow you to attack any island from any island without use of ships, which is a beautiful thing when you wish to initiate a sneak attack.

The endgame comes when any player has either built or occupied two metropolises, and although on paper it seems quite anticlimactic, it's not. The endgame, in my experience, is far more of a chesslike, orchestrated symphony of strategy than one would think, and has rarely been a simple matter of brute force. These metropolises may only be built under two circumstances: the first is when you have one each of the four building types, and you simply remove the four buildings and place a metropolis on one of the islands that had any of the constituent buildings, or if you use 4 philosophers, at which point you simply place a new metropolis on any island of your choice. Consider that the metropolis buildings have all of the powers associated with the four constituent buildings, and thus are not simply for show; they indeed have teeth.

At the end of the day, I wholeheartedly enjoy Cyclades for the art, the component quality, and most importantly, because it is a tremendously fun light wargame with European flavor and American death dealing. This may be the best game of 2010, in my opinion, that I have played. Pick it up, trade for it, but any way you can manage it, acquire a copy. I do not really recommend the two player game, although the rulebook allows for it, but any player amount from three to five is excellent. An expansion has been announced of late, and I anticipate it to be just as excellent as the original game if all that I've read about it rings true. In short: this is a must-have game for anyone who likes light wargames or appreciates fine artwork with an ancient Greek theme.

What Makes Cyclades The Coolest "Cy-" Thing Since Cylons:
- Smart gameplay with fast-playing turns makes this the anti-snore
- This is definitely in the top 5 most beautifully illustrated games I've ever seen
- The bidding is absolutely cut-throat and the best schemer generally prevails
- The bits are top-notch, with the Kraken being my personal favorite model, ever

What Makes You Want To Inhale Greek Fire:
- Apollo is a complete douchebag, and not being able to recruit creatures when stuck with him is total bullshit
- Athena is pretty much useless too, even with the ability to help build metropolises

There's not many wargames that I despise, but there's even fewer that I fall immediately in love with, and Cyclades is the latter. Since acquiring it about a month ago, I've played it seven times and I have yet to get even remotely sick of it. It's a great game when you have a couple of hours and three or four friends looking to conquer one another, and the art helps it feel like you're really commanding triremes and Spartans in battle. Go out and pick this bad boy up or put it on your Rama-Hana-Kwanz-Mas list, because it rocks.

4.5/5 Stars

Want to know more about Cyclades? Check out the site here at Asmodee US:

Monday, October 18, 2010

Don't Buy Green Bananas

I'm sure you're wondering why I've not posted a review in over a week, especially if you regularly read my column.  Well, it's because of a terribly tragic event in my life: my father, at the far too young age of 65, died on October 8th.  He had a sudden, fatal heart attack and was no more.

My father was the kindest, most generous man I have ever known.  He was not just generous monetarily, he was generous with his time and his spirit.  He was loved by everyone who had ever met him, and his passing marks the end of an age, at least in my mind.  He will be sorely missed by a great many people.

When things like this happen, people tend to look introspectively, to try to make sense of it all, to do what they can to come to terms. All I can say is that I'll never buy green bananas again, because at the end of the day, you may not be around to eat them when they're ripe.  This tenet may, and likely should, be applied to every facet of your life in order to remove such things as regret and remorse for what was unsaid in life.  If you tell your kid you're going to take her to a movie, "someday", do it now.  Call a loved one and tell her what you've been putting off saying for years. Call your more distant relatives such as aunts and uncles.  Take pictures like hard disk space is limitless. Go skydiving. 

In short, don't put off until tomorrow what you should do today, and don't let cowardice,  fear, or the illusion that you'll have time at a later date temper what you'd wish to do.  There will come a time that you'll regret not doing whatever it is because it will eventually come to pass that you're too late, and that's a terrible, profoundly saddening feeling. Me, I just wish I'd have seen him more recently and been able to tell him how very much he meant to me, and although I spoke to him very often, it's different seeing someone in person.  To see the lighting up of one's eyes when you share your expression of love, admiration, or thanks may be the single most incredibly joyful gift that God ever passed to man.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Summoner Wars Update - I Feel Like Beyonce...Plaid Hat Upgraded Me!

You all know that I love Summoner Wars from Plaid Hat games, so when the opportunity arose to pimp out my game by getting the Vanguards, Fallen Kingdom, and Premium Board, I was all over it. The day I got them back home from Gencon, my daughter and I were laying out the board and ready to wage war upon one another, summoning not just new units on a fresh, new  game board, but also summoning such smack-talk as "oh, man...that had to hurt! Not only did I waste your Common, I transformed him into a zombie!"  There's a whole lot new to the game now that the new factions are out, and I, for one, welcome our new Summoner masters. The new stuff is friggin' awesome, and that's that. I can also share that I finally beat my daughter at the game, using my new love, the Fallen Kingdom against her Tundra Orcs! w00t! 

Let's talk about the premium board first.  It is magnificent to play on, especially after playing on the paper mat for so long.  There's no more humps to navigate from the folds in the paper, and the cards glide across the board like an olympic ice skater.  I wouldn't have thought it would've been such a game-changer, but for me, it really was.  I hated that paper mat with at passion, and I always thought that although it's really nitpicking, it was the weakest part of the game, if any weakness could be found.  No longer.  This premium board puts Summoner Wars up there with every other large-press publisher, and I am absolutely pleased as punch.  In my mind, this is an absolute must-buy to get Summoner Wars to the next level.  Tom Vasel was of the best games of 2009.

Now let's talk about the new factions, because they rock, and one is so awesome that I suspect Ret-Talus, the Fallen Kingdom Summoner, will be considered a fan favorite for years to come.  The Fallen Kingdom is the Undead faction within Summoner Wars, and it comes with all manner of dark creatures such as Skeletal Archers, Zombie Warriors, Reapers, and a slew of new Champions.  All of their powers work very well together, and this is without a doubt my new favorite faction. Besides having what I believe to be the best art Summoner Wars has produced to date, the total change in gameplay abilities really sets these guys apart. They're not overpowered or broken, but they play so much differently than the other factions that it truly is a new way to play, which is what expansions should do. Even the Event cards are totally tuned to the Fallen Kingdom, making it a great, well balanced, well designed new deck.  I may be forced to go out and buy two or three copied of this deck just to fill my ranks with Zombie Warriors...they're just that good.

The focus of the Fallen Kingdom is a nuanced gaining and retaining of units from the opposing force rather than a strong forward assault like you might do with the Dwarves.  The Skeletal Archers do not always give up their magic to the opponent when killed, the Reaper kills enemies and takes their magic to buff their attack score, and the big kicker is that some of the Champions and the Summoner himself are all about reducing the cost to deploy units as well as pulling units from the discard pile, making it more attractive to sacrifice cheap units, knowing you may be getting them back. See the cards below to get an idea of what kind of horror you can unleash upon your opponents:

Next, let's take a look at the goodie-goodie Vanguards, the "Paladinesque" faction that was clearly created as a counter to the vile forces of Ret-Talus. Led by Sara Eldwin, the Vanguards have a lot of very useful powers such as the Priests' healing ability, the lock-down ability of the Guardian Knights,  and the abilities of their Champions to stomp the hell out of opponents and hurt them deeper than just killing a unit.  Raechel Lovegood, a Champion of the Vanguards, not only kills opponents' units with ranged attacks, but when she does kill an enemy unit, she forces the opponent to discard a card from his hand. 

The focus of the Vanguards appears to be that they are built with the idea of retaining their units rather than using them for sacrifice plays.  The Priests, when paired with Guardian Knights, are a nasty combination as they both have multiple hit points and the Priests can hang back behind the Knights, healing them as they go while the Knights protect the Priests from being attacked.  Pair that with the Event cards that buff the Priests' attack value, and you have a very powerful front line. The Stalwart Archers, the other Common of the Vanguards, can sit back in groups and for each adjacent Archer they get a extra attack die. It's a powerful combination that truly represets medieval warfare, with Knights leading the charge while being covered by deadly Archers.

All in all, the faction is a lot of fun to play with, but is far more similar to other factions to play with than the Fallen Kingdom.  I really like the new art on the Vanguard too, although the Fallen Kingdom is really the best Plaid Hat has ever done.  Take a look at some of the cards and see what I mean:

All in all, these new factions both bring something to the game, and the new premium board elevates this game, in my mind, to the same level of quality that FFG or AEG might produce. The art can be a little lackluster on some of the older cards, especially the Dwarf deck, the new stuff has completely changed my opinion. I can't wait to see the new stuff Plaid Hat is coming out with because the trend is that they are getting better from both the design aspect as well as from the art perspective.  God help my wallet if they ever come out with a miniatures game!!!

You can find more information about Summoner Wars at: