Sunday, December 19, 2010

Galaxy's Edge - Epic Interstellar Conquest In About An Hour

 After playing the amazingly fun "Conquest of the Fallen Lands", I started looking into the publisher, Assa Games, to see what they're all about. It turns out that it is essentially a two-man show, and they had produced a second game after Fallen Lands. This second game is called "Galaxy's Edge", and while at first glance it appears to be a rethemed Fallen Lands, it absolutely is nothing like the other game aside from using a variable, hex-based playfield. This game is about mercilessly conquering the galaxy while appeasing your new alien allies, and it's a nasty snatchfest of stealing colonies from your opponents pretty much the whole game through.

The concept of this game is that you represent a faction that is intent upon taking over the entire galaxy through colonization, military expansion, treachery, and diplomacy. There are five alien races which inhabit this galaxy, and the player who has colonies in the most sectors of each alien type gets the benefit of the alien's ability at the end of the game. The abilities are generally tied to how many of a specific type of installation you've got, either colonies or military bases, and you get a windfall of points by meeting the power's criteria. The end of the game has each player counting points based on the alien powers and tallying the value of the players' owned colonies, with the winner being the person with the most points. It's a little bit mathy, but if you base your understanding of the scoring on the theory written in the rules, it seems quite daunting, yet in practice it's actually quite intuitive and very simple.

Upon looking at the box, you'll find cartoonish characters and illustrations which are quite nice and carry the theme very well. The interesting thing about the art direction is that while the characters and cards all have a very cartoonish feel, the art on the gameboard tiles is noticeably very non-cartoonish. They art and fonts are superb and add a tremendous value to the game's overall look. The included rules are very, very short and completely understandable, with many illustrations that will help you easily get into the game and help you to score it at the end.

The components are top-notch, although the die cutting on the system tiles wasn't the best, with a lot of little hanging chads that you'll have to tear or trim off. Included are hundreds of high-quality wooden bits in four colored sets, a bunch of special event cards, and as mentioned, 30 hexagonal sector tiles in six sets of five types which represent the galaxy itself and the alien races which control those sectors.

I will note that the flagships and ban tokens are huge when compared to the actual tiles they'll be sitting on, making them quite easy to see from any seat at the table...or across the room, for that matter. The last bits in the box are five alien power cards which are used to help you understand what benefits are gained by having the majority control of any given type of alien sectors, which is a key ingredient to scoring well and winning the game.

Setup takes about 4 minutes, provided you've bagged up your tokens by color. First, you randomly lay the tiles down in a rough hexagon shape, with the two center stripes being six tiles long and the rest tapering off down to four. Next, you shuffle the event deck and hand two cards to each player. Randomly choose a first player, and in turn simply pick a sector on the periphery of the board and place your flagship there. You're now ready to begin your imperial onslaught of the galaxy.

Turns amount to moving your flagship to an adjacent tile, building an installation, and rolling the event die if you built something. While this seems pretty easy, it's a little more complex than you'd expect at first glance. To build an installation, you must either have your flagship on a sector, or you must have any one of your installations in a sector adjacent to the one you wish to build in. Building a colony is quite simple, really, as you simply place a circular colony marker within an empty circular "system" space of your choice in that sector. This will, at the end of the game, score you the value of the system you built on, should you be lucky enough to keep that colony.

Military bases may also be built in a similar way, but these are represented by triangular bits, and you may stack these either one, two, or three triangles high to represent their base class. The class of the base only matters when checking for military superiority, which happens when the last open system in a sector is taken, thereby closing out that tile. Even if a colony was the last installation built, you must still check the military superiority status, and sometimes you will be stuck losing a valuable colony even though you've just placed the last installation in that sector. In other words, planning is crucial.

Checking for military superiority was one of the more confusing things in the rulebook, but it is immediately made clear when you play the game. Essentially, you must look to all adjacent sectors and see if any opponent has a class one base on any system to determine if you have superiority. If any other player has one, you then check for class two bases, then class three bases. If you are the only person to have a base of the class you're currently checking, you gain superiority and may therefore take the most valuable enemy colony in the sector you just closed out.

The key to gaining superiority really stems from placing military bases of varying values in key locations so that you always have one of each type in a group of sectors with valuable enemy held colonies, ensuring that even if there are several players' class one bases that you can have a higher class base available to take over colonies. The down side to being a war monger is that military bases have no value related to scoring, so placing a base on a nine point system is a very bad move.

Once you've built something, you must roll the specialty D6 known as the event die. Some faces allow you to play a card from your hand or draw a card from the deck, provided any cards remain, and other faces cause you to place a "ban" token on the sector you just built an installation in, thereby stopping any installations from being built on that location. Each player has one ban token of their color, and these will always end up in play, moving about the board regularly and stopping yourself and others from carrying out construction projects. These are a real pain in the ass to deal with, and you've got a high probability that your ban or another players ban will be placed on the tile you just built something on, meaning it's few and far between that you can develop any one tile very quickly. The other pain in the ass about the ban tokens are that they're huge, and take up a significant portion of the tile they're standing on.

Now as I mentioned, you can play cards if the die allows you to, and these cards have a wide variety of functions. Some allow you to move your flagship anywhere on the board that you wish instead of the usual one sector movement you're normally allowed, where others allow you to colonize tiles for free. Some cards allow you to place a colony token on an alien power card, which adds one point to your count of colonized alien sectors, thereby increasing your chances of gaining that power at the end of the game during scoring. Playing cards at the right time are absolutely crucial to winning the game, and are not an afterthought in any way as in some area control games I've played.

The end of the game comes when either all systems have had installations built upon them or when each player has taken a consecutive turn without building anything. In my experience, we've never had the latter come to fruition, and the game has always ended with the total enslaving of the galaxy. Scoring, as I noted, looks daunting on paper but is actually very easy, provided you follow the step-by-step scoring guide on the back flap of the rulebook.

First, you determine which players have earned the powers granted by the alien species by counting how many sectors of each type you have at least one colony on. Again, military bases do not count towards achieving this goal. The players who have control will take the cards and tally up their scores based only on the alien powers. Some alien powers are based upon having the most, or least, military presence in the galaxy, and others are based upon such things as one point colonies. Once everyone has scored their windfalls, you simply add the values of all of your colonies to that number and that is your final score. The player with the most points wins and is crowned God-Emperor of the Known Universe, or at least that's what we called the winner.

The long and short of the game is that it looks very simple but is deceivingly complex in strategic options, and is a hell of a lot of fun. Everyone at the table rated this game a consistent seven or eight, and I went a step further by rating it an eight-and-a-half. For the record, this is my blog and therefore my opinion is the only one that counts, so that's how I rated it, and I highly recommend this game to anyone who appreciates space themed games or area control games. It's brilliant, and I wish I'd have played this sooner.

Why The Galaxy's Edge Is Where It's At:
- Strong theme and nice art make this fun to play and explore
- Complex strategic options make this a thinking person's game
- High quality components really make this a great value
- The tile-based board gives a tremendous amount of replayability
- Great, short rulebook that allows you to learn and play this game in ten minutes or less

Why This Isn't Nearly As Cool As U2's The Edge:
- The bans and flagships are WAY too big and should be replaced with better components upon purchase

This, simply, is one of the best area control wargames that I've ever played. It's a total blast, and any game that can be played from front to back in about an hour while not being overly simple is a real catch. I highly recommend this one, as did all of the players I've played with to date.

4.25/5 Stars

Learn more about this badass game at:

Note that the picture above with the three folks playing is actually a photo taken by "Howitzer" on Boardgamegeek of the one and only Matt Drake, of Drake's Flames fame. If it's good enough for both Matt and myself, it's got to be a winner.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Social Commentary - Enough with the denominations, already!

I'm not actively attempting to offend anyone, but if you are offended, then you shouldn't have read it. Don't blame me because your curiousity got the better of you, perhaps like watching a person burning alive in a car wreck, too horrified to turn away. If you disagree with any of my assertions, go make your own website and tell me to fuck off. This is my little slice of the internet, and I am the Supreme Emperor For Life of the Superfly Circus, and if you enter my home and I spit on you, well, you should've read the fucking sign, now shouldn't you, because it clearly read that "spitting season is now open". 

Anyhow, thank you for reading if you are about to, and if you decided not to, bugger off. A game review will be back in town on Sunday (because I don't work Saturdays) and I have a lovely menu of previous reviews to choose from.  My favorite has to be either Scooby Doo Gold Rush Game or El Grande, and I invite you to find your own favorite.

So, there's an ongoing, exhaustive debate on the merits of Christianity on a website I frequent, and I poke in from time to time to stir the pot or smack some people around there who say some ridiculously outlandish shit out of either ignorance or to just plain be nasty. I rarely make appearances, though, becuase it's not a debate where anyone can win.  It's not like someone's all of a sudden going to "find Christ" because of an internet forum that's not even remotely about religion, except this one thread.

Anyhoo, while perusing the thread, I came upon this post that indicated the author had some problems with Christianity because of the existence various, myriad denominations.  Essentially, he couldn't buy into something where everyone has a varying opinion on the same exact subject, where no new information has been revealed in over a millenium.  After pondering this, I realized that while he is correct about the assertion that it's pretty ridiculous that these little tribes have formed with their own, unique version of Salvation, he is incorrect in thinking that this difference of opinion somehow invalidates the original text.

I responded with an open challenge to all readers:
Read the book, interpret it as best you can, and pray for enlightenment (per included instructions) as best you can for that which you find incomprehensible. Once you've done that several times, then attempt to live in that understanding, as you see it to be.

There is no "great truth" out there, only our understanding or perspective of what "truth" really is. That's an individual assessment, and gathering together for "Mass" to share a group of beliefs is both futile and rather difficult to reason out simply because no two people on the planet share the exact same view on every word of that book, provied no outside intervention, saving the divine, is accepted. For instance, if you're a Catholic child, you're expected to go to Catechism, which is outside influence.

If the original book, the Bible, is the Word of God, and is essentially the final say to all the important questions of the universe, why is a second book required? Why a handbook that has little to do with the Holy Bible itself and is more a guidebook to "how to be a Catholic". Seems to me it would be far better to simply have a Bible study, that way 100% of the time invested is actually done to further that child's understanding of the Bible, rather than guaranteeing that child's indoctrination by repetition of the second-source handbook.

Not knocking Catholics, since I am one, and many denominations of Christianity have their own little "how to". Seems to me that people should just determine the truth on their own and forget about going to a place, hoping that the other folks all are on the same page, or worse yet, having to wing it because you don't actually believe what they're saying.

In short, until you read your Codex of Ultimate Wisdom and determine what it means to you, joining one congregation or another is simply following blindly, without actually understanding what it is you're actually following.

Denominations of all religions, be it Baptist versus Calvinist or Sunni versus Shia, are nothing more than going through the motions if you don't understand the underlying tenets and interpretations, most importantly, your own. Were this not so, there'd not be jacket-bombers in Haifa and Tel Aviv, nor would there be Klansmen.

Seems to me that unless you study your Codex and view the contents with an open mind, not blindly accepting what your parents or pastor told you, who are arguably no more qualified than the man sitting next to you in the pew (or rug) is to interpret that Codex, you're just going through the motions hoping your "tutor" wasn't making a terrible mistake about one interpretation or another.

For instance, in Catholicism, people are taught to belive that when you take communion (the drinking of wine and eating of bread) that the wine and bread actually becomes the blood and skin/meat of Jesus Christ inside your body. So...if you died right then, after taking communion, would the coroner find you were a vampiric cannibal? Obviously not. So, that is something that is meant to be symbolic that some guy in an odd hat took too literally. Then he decided to repeat it in Church every Sunday. It's arguable that this mindset is one pair of mirrored sunglasses away from Jonestown. Why on earth would one simply follow along blindly? Because that's what your parents did, or what you've just "always done"?

If on the Seventh day He rested, and we keep the Sabbath by resting as well, why do we do so on the first day of the week, Sunday, and not the last, Saturday, as Jews do? What, Jesus came along and changed the day of Creation? What about Christmas? We just do it because it's a tradition, but it really has no underlying foundation in the Bible. What's ironic is that there's not much more offensive that you can do to pi55 off a Christian than point out how made-up Christmas is. Go to a small town and when someone says "Merry Christmas" tell them, "Sorry, I don't believe it's Biblical". You're likely to get punched, or at least scolded. Do the same on Easter? Maybe an odd look. Why should people praise His birth on a day not noted or prescribed in the Bible and get angry when someone doesn't buy in, yet on the single most important day to Christianity, the rising from the grave of our Lord and Savior, not say a word. I mean, everyone says "happy holidays" or something at Christmas, but it's not uncommon not to hear "happy Easter" on Easter when going to a store.

Even Easter, the most Holy day in Christianity, was Passover long before it was Easter, and only the Jews still celebrate that. People don't get the house all lit up for Easter, nor do they get a special Pagan tree decoration, and generally there's far fewer lavish gifts given. Where, exactly, was all of this in the Bible...that Christmas gets a whole bunch of movies and TV shows, and 5 weeks of shopping frenzy, yet Easter gets an anti-diabetic swag bag, a long weekend and maybe a ham? Which isn't even kosher! Add to that a f$$%ing mythological bunny who lays f##!ing eggs, and there you have it. Where the hell was all of this stuff in the Bible? ham is OK? Shellfish? Milk and Beef? Hell, let's make it Beef Stroganoff; beef that was LITERALLY boiled in its calf's milk. That's OK now because the Jewish guy who was eating kosher died and rose from the grave, so now it's OK? Maybe that's in the bible too, but I don't get why things suddenly changed. No more killing animals as sacrifice..that I get. Jesus gave his blood sacrifice so we could live without having to off the family dog to atone for Sally getting pregnant at 15.

Now we have go to a confessional instead and tell a guy who hasn't had sex in 20 years all the lurid details of how THAT happened, and then hope he isn't having masturbational fantasies and eyeing my son lovingly. But if Jesus sacrificed himself for all mankind so that I can be forgiven my sins, why the need for the middle man? How is it I tell that guy my dirty little secrets, say some repetitious chant-prayers, and it's all OK? Where the hell is THAT in the bible?

So, you see, following along blindly is folly, at best, that may provide you comfort, but shall do nothing to further your understanding of what it is that you actually believe, or why you belive it.

Study, understand as best you can, and live your life based on that, doing no harm. That's all any God that I can imagine could ask for. Seems like a fair tradeoff for everlasting life to me. And if you're wrong, and there is no God, just a dirt nap and worm lived a righteous life, did no harm, and left no stain upon the earth. Perhaps everlasting life isn't in Heaven, but instead is embodied in the fond memories others share about you when you are gone, based on how righteous and good and kind you were in life.

Read the book and find out for yourself.

So, in pondering this all tonight, smoking my Camel Blue and listening to the lovely and talented Ella Fitzgerald, I've realized that the real trick to it all is that if you do not understand the Bible because you've never taken the time to actually read it, you're not only worse off for it because your laziness has pre-empted your interest in actually going to heaven, you're worse off for it because the reality is thatyou do the things you do because some guy told you to. And he might well have graduated with a guy that likes to burn Qu'rans in Florida, or get on TV and preach abstinance and chastity and then cheat on his wife with several Vegas hookers, or rape small boys. How much bollocks is that?

I think I'm going to start reading my Bible again. The more people talk about Christmas and "being holy" right after spending thousands on a diamond for their wife instead of donating that money to people living paycheck to paycheck in a homeless shelter, the more I shake my head and beg God to understand why he allows us to be so fucking daft.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

A Lone Banner - A Tale Of Dice And International Invasions

I recently got my order filled by Small Box Games, which included the new, and very fun, A Lone Banner. It's a light wargame that looks very simple at first glance, but is surprisingly fun and is easily the quickest Small Box Games product to learn and play. Further, the art and font choices are exceptionally easy on the eyes, thematic, and take me back to 1983 when the old film classic, "War Games" was released. When I got my wife and daughter at the table to play this, I even said, in a faux-computer tone, "" They didn't get it, but that's OK, we can't all be geeks.

The concept of A Lone Banner is very simple: Players assume the role of a world leader who is attempting to take over the planet using limited troops, guile, and sheer brute force. Players start with one starting region of Earth and, using dice to represent troops, slowly take over the planet in a systematic global invasion. The dice values represent the strength of the corps or divisions of troops players command to invade territories for both victory points as well as invasion routes to other players' conquered territories. All in all, it's as cut-throat as they come, and it's a brilliant design for a very light, very fast war game.

The components are not the typical Pure Card Line fare, either, because there's only about 40 cards in the deck, but it also comes with four colored sets of three dice and a fifth set of four white dice. The art on the cards is very nice, even though it's simple, and the graphical layout is excellent. I say simple because there really is only about seven pictures total in the entire deck, but I happen to dig them all. I especially appreciate John hearing the clarion call of his fans for him to use readable fonts again, because he actually used one of my all-time favorites on this one, and it's perfect for the theme. The dice are really neat little 16mm jobbers, and I really like the speckled colors. All in all, the quality is great, as usual, and the inclusion of these neat little dice makes me one happy guy. Well worth the thirteen bucks!

To set the game up, you need to randomly hand out one "Starting Region" card, which essentially acts as your nation's headquarters, and then hand out one white die and a set of three colored dice. The last step in setup is to create a "Region Deck" which contains all of the cards that are not Starting Regions, and then to place one card for every player face up in the center of the battlefield. These cards act as the contested regions that are not aligned or otherwise conquered by a given player, and these are the main source of victory points.

There are no rounds in A Lone Banner, but rather in a continuously evolving game. Each player takes their turn, which is broken into phases, and then the next player to their left takes theirs until one or more of the endgame conditions has come to pass, at which point all the players take one final turn each and then the game is over.

On each player's first turn, they will roll their three colored "Troop Marker Dice" and determine the strength of their divisions. You may reroll any die you wish, except if you've rolled a one, in which case you're stuck with that. In certain circumstances, you may roll doubles, triples, or a straight, at which time special powers will come into play if you choose to keep those values on the dice, such as immediately taking an uncontested Region, placing multiple dice on the same Region, or moving opponents' troop markers off of a Region. Once you've opted to keep all of your dice, you may place one of them onto a contested region you wish to conquer, or if an opponent has a Region conquered already, you may place a die on that Region, effectively invading it.

Regarding invasions, you must have a path to invasion before actually invading it. For instance, if an opponent has conquered the Southern region in Europe, you must have conquered a card with the "Invasion: Europe - South" path on the card to be able to invade that Region in another player's tableau. On the first turn this generally doesn't matter, but on all subsequent turns, this is a big part of gameplay. To resolve an invasion, the player who attempts the invasion rolls the white die and adds that to the value of the Troops they placed on the Region, and the defender rolls a white die and adds to the rolled value the number of Regions that he owns on the continent that's being invaded. The highest value conquers, or retains, that Region.

Anyhow, back to the first turn. If a player has previously placed a die onto a contested Region and one or more opponents have subsequently placed a die onto that same Region, it's time for a battle. The white die is rolled by all combatants, and adding the white die to the colored Troop die is your overall attack value. The highest roll allows you to take control of that Region, taking it from the center of the table into your own tableau. In the case of a tie, everyone takes their dice and goes home. Another action you may take on your turn is the Recon action, which allows you to get swap a Region that is face up with a new card from the deck, but only if the card you wish to swap isn't occupied by any Troops.

If you start any turn with enemy Troops on a contested Region that you also have Troops on, battle ensues. Essentially, each player involved simply rolls a white die and adds the value of their dice on that contested region. Winner takes all, and in ties, nobody wins.

The endgame begins when one of the following occurs: The Region deck runs out of cards, any single player gains seven Regions, any player has 4 Central Regions or any player gains five Regions on any given Continent. After one final turn each, the players tally up the scores based upon the values of the Regions in their tableau, and bonus points are awarded for varying reasons, such as gaining one point for every continent you have a Region of and gaining three points when you own four Regions in a single continent.

All in all, it's a game that takes half an hour to play, is really decent to look at, and is fun as hell. I really liked it, and so did my wife, my daughter, and the friends I've played this with. It's so simple, yet so complex, all in one. Best of all, it's as cheap as your half of a Dutch date at Olive Garden.

Why A Lone Banner Stands Alone At The Top:
- Its small table requirement and quick playtime make this a kickass coffee shop game
- While the art is very, very simple, it's also very, very perfect for the game and I really like it
- The dice are really cool, and there's 12 of the colored ones, which are the coolest

What Makes A Lone Banner Feel Lonesome:
- I wish this was a 2-player game, but it's rated for 3 or 4 players
- This isn't Pure Cards. He lied about that....?

This is the perfect filler game, and unless you're so afraid of dice that you consider moving to Germany at the sight of them, you will like this game. There's a little too much cut-throat for some, I'd imagine, but the game is just simply a load of fun and quite brilliantly executed from a design perspective. This is one of the best of Small Box Games' Pure Card Line, which is ironic because it's the one game in the line that isn't just cards. John nailed this one, and were this a 2-player game, I think it may have even beat out my favorite 2-player card game, Bhazum. Great stuff, and for 13$ the price is perfect.

4.75/5 Stars

Read more about the game, such as the rules, at:

Preorders for December are closed, and I'm sorry for not getting this out earlier so y'all would know about it for Christmas. Trust me, this is one you want. Preorders open for this again in January, though!