Thursday, July 28, 2011

Monsters Menace America - All Your Base Are Belong To Us

I don't care who you are, unless you've been under a rock or living in sub-saharan Africa for the last 50 years, chances are that you know who Godzilla is. And if you know what he is, you know what he does: break shit and kill people on an epic scale. While the 1954 release of Gojira in Japan spawned countless other "big monster terrorizing a city" flicks, the most recent notable one being Cloverfield, it did not spawn all that many board games of the genre.

The best, arguably is Monsterpocalypse, from Privateer Press, but while great, it is limited in scale to only one city. If you are itching to destroy not only one city, but to plague the entire United States with odd, mutating monsters that devastate everything in their path, Monsters Menace America (MMA) from Wizards of the Coast and Avalon Hill may be just what the cryptozoologist ordered.

MMA is a two to four player game that has each player controlling a unique, campy, oversized creature that has its own advantages and disadvantages, vying to be the King of Monsters. The game is essentially broken down into two parts, with the first being to devastate cities, bases, and national treasures such as Elvis' shrine, Graceland, in order to gain health, send your preferred branch of the military in to mess with opponents' monsters, and most effectively, head to toxic waste sites or research agencies in order to mutate your creature and provide it more powerful attributes.

The last part of the game, after all possible stompings have occurred, the last person to crush something becomes the ringleader of a battle royale where he chooses which creature to battle to the death. The winner of that battle will gain whatever health the opponent began that battle with, and then continue onto other monsters until only one creature remains, who is declared the winner. It's a fun, campy romp through 50's era monster movies, but the game isn't without minor problems, at least in my mind.

First, there is no direct monster versus monster action until the end game, as its forbidden during the first part of the game until the final battles. While this makes some sense to me because most big monster movies has the military softening up the big baddies before the final showdown, this isn't a movie, and I'd have liked to use my death rays or spiked tail to flay the white meat from my one-eyed, tentacled opponent more than just for 5 minutes at the end of the game.

Second, the final battle seems to be a tacked-on mechanic, because the infrastructure is built into the game to have a player be declared winner based solely on the carnage factor, but since they've tacked it on, the real impetus to break things in the game is solely to get more hit points to be more durable during the final battle. It's a shitty thing to be well in the lead when it comes to crushing and maiming, yet lose because one of your opponents got a lucky mutation card that makes them harder to hit or more damaging, or worse, both.

Before I get into the nuts and bolts of gameplay, let's talk a bit about what comes inside the box. I'm going to start off by saying that I love all of the campy, cartoonish art that is on the box, in the manual, and all over the cards. It's brilliant, fun, funny, and completely embodies what the theme is trying to do.

The box comes with a variety of neat plastic tanks, missile launchers, fighters, and cruise missiles in five colors, and it comes with six unique monster characters, all painted and looking really cool. There's also two additional figures that represent a superhero and a big war-bot, both of which become controllable by players if the proper card is pulled to allow it. In addition to this stuff, there's two medium-sized cardboard sheets that are used to track statistics on the two aforementioned card-pulled units, and there's five large cardboard sheets that tell you how to implement your military forces, each broken down by branch; Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, and National Guard. There's also a bunch of Infamy tokens and Stomp tokens, both of which are made of durable cardstock and punch very cleanly from the sheets.

Now I need to mention that there's six large, cardboard character sheets, each representing a monster, and each has two plastic sliders you affix to the edge of the monster cards in order to track health. These, in addition to the two large unit cards, use these sliders to track health, and these sliders will invariably muck up the cards, as nice as they are, from the friction of continually sliding them up and down the card edge, so I view this as a negative. You could put a couple of D10s in the box to perform the same function, albeit slightly less easily, but it will certainly save the cards from wear.

The final bits in the box are the standard D6 dice, a great, well written manual, and the game board, which is well illustrated and rather funny, but has a single deficiency. The spaces are too small to place a monster on and have any military units on as well, so you end up having to prop the military units on top of the base halfway inside the hex.

It's a bit wonky, that's all, and sometimes you can confuse which units are engaged in battle and which are on an adjacent hex. All in all, the game is very well-produced and the bits are very, very good. Were it not for the minor bitch about the hex sizes and the major bitch about the life tracking cards, this would be a total A+ game from the standpoint of the quality and design of the game.

Now moving onto how to set the game up, it's really a breeze to accomplish. Each player can pick a monster, and starting with the last player to choose a monster, each player will then choose a branch of the military to control. Once that's done, you shuffle the two decks of cards, place your monsters on one of their three pre-set starting points which are printed on the board, and then deploy the military units to their respective locations. While all branches are initially placed, the only branches that are directly controlled are the branches chosen by the players, and to a small degree, the National Guard. Each branch has its own selection of bases to choose from except the National Guard, whose units can be placed in any city, base, or "infamy site", which represent national places of interest as I noted before.

The final bits to set up are the Stomp tokens. During the game, these are placed onto locations that were destroyed by monsters, but the reality is that they act as a game timer. Depending on the amount of players, you'll stack a certain amount ranging from 14 to 20 for use when a monster attacks. Nearly all location actions require the stomp action, and it's one of the few ways to gain hit points or stifle other players so it's an important part of the game.

Once you've got everything set up, everyone rolls off to determine who goes first. Each turn is broken into four distinct sections: Move, Fight, Encounter, and Deploy. Starting with the movement action, you may move your creature as many spaces as it is allowed, and there are some restrictions as to where some may move, such as not being able to move over water if that creature lacks that ability, or to move onto a tile with another monster which is always illegal. If you move into a space with a military unit, even one of your own, you must immediately stop.

An alternative to making a normal movement with your monster is to disappear. I'm guessing that this represents your creature burrowing underground, sinking into the depths of the ocean, or whatever, and so you pull your monster off of the board completely. On your next movement phase, you can not only put them back on one of your starting spots, but if you're hurt, you can heal yourself back to your starting health. It amounts to both a catch-up mechanic as well as a way to get around the board more quickly or to evade a large swath of incoming enemy military units.

Once you've moved your beastie, you can then move all of your own military units. Each unit has a movement value, with cruise missiles zipping along at a huge rate of speed and the lowly tanks plodding along at about the same speed as most monsters. These units also have a limited amount of restrictions that mirror the monsters' restrictions. If you move them onto a space that contains a monster, or as I mentioned before, on top of the monster's base, they can attack during your fight phase.

The fight phase is really simple to resolve. The player chooses the order of attacks if more than one battle ensues, and the mechanics for battle are quite simple. With few exceptions, monsters always get to attack first, even if one of your military units initiated the fight. Monsters have three attacks per round, and they declare who they're attacking and roll a die. Each monster and military unit has a defense value, and if the roll equals or exceeds the defense value, they are damaged.

All small military units have one life, so if you hit them, they burst into flame, with little wee soldiers screaming and attempting to escape the boiling wreckage. If any survive, they get to counterattack, and they follow the same roll-and-check system. Monsters who are damaged simply move their life markers to indicate their new life level. Monsters, however, may use any earned Infamy tokens to make another attack, if they desire to, and there's no limit on how many they can use, provided you have them.

Each battle lasts exactly two rounds, and in the unlikely event that any military units survive the onslaught of the gargantuan creatures for the two rounds, the monster must retreat to an unoccupied, adjacent space, thereby stopping them from encountering the space they were hoping to crush under their un-sandalled feet.

Now, not all military units are as easy to kill. The big robot and superhero figures that can be called into play by Military cards have more than one life point, and therefore are quite valuable in forcing monsters to retreat. Retreating monsters do not get to encounter a space when they retreat, effectively denying them a stomp opportunity, and if they can't retreat, they are forced to move using the disappear mechanic, which causes them to come off of the board.

If a monster is killed, they don't simply go off into the sunset, they become a star. I shit you not, they get put on the Hollywood space, where they're exploited more viciously than the Olsen twins. A monster sent to Hollywood loses all of their Infamy tokens, and on each turn they may roll a 1D6 and recover that much health. If they reach five health points, they may re-enter the game immediately by placing their unit on Los Angeles or one of its starting lairs, thereby ending it's movement. Another drawback of going to Hollywood is that if the game ends and a monster is in Hollywood, that moster effectively loses the game and cannot participate in the Monster Challenge, which is the final battle royale that I mentioned above.

Once all battles are resolved, the encounter phase begins, provided your monster didn't retreat. Depending on which space you encounter, different things happen. If you stomp a city, you are awarded the amount of hit points printed on the board. While most indicate one measly hit point, many allow 1D6, 2D6 and in two cases, 3D6 of health to be earned. If you stomp an Infamy site, you get two infamy tokens.

If you destroy a military base, which is arguably the most satisfying, you not only destroy the base and earn an Infamy token, but you may snatch, from the board or from a reserve, a single military unit from the branch whose base you crushed, and it is permanently removed from the game. The final space you can encounter, but not destroy, is a mutation site, which allows you to draw a mutation card and permanetly use the mutation you've gained in future activities.

Mutations are one of the coolest things in the game, and they vary wildly in what they allow you to do. Some, like the Armored Scales card provide you a higher defense value, and others give you regeneration ability like the Son of a Monster card. The cards all have wonderful artwork, and the variations between the cards is surprisingly large. As an aside, some military units, such as certain missiles, can cause a spontaneous mutation if the person rolling against the monster rolls a value of one. While there are some Military Research cards that can sap a monster of these powers, generally they are persistent and your monster will remain a mutated colossus for the duration of the game.

The last phase of the game is the deployment phase, where you'll choose to either place some military units onto the board, move them from one spot on the board to a distant base, or instead of placing units, you may draw a Military Research card. It is during this phase that the National Guard comes into play, as all branches of the military allow players to place one National Guard unit onto the board in addition to some of their own. While National Guard units may be placed on any city, base, or infamy site, players may only place their units on bases of their own type.

Military Research cards, when drawn, can provide a persistent power, such as the Fuel Cells that allow you to move all of your units one extra space during the movement phase, while others provide a one-time effect such as the Defense Satellites that damage all creatures on the board, including your own, up to six hit points.

In addition to these powers, there are the three cards that allow you to place special units onto the board, two of which are the giant superhero and war-bot figures, with the last being a pair of X-Fighters which are slightly beefier versions of normal fighters. These cards are absolute game-changers in many cases, and can sometimes be far more effective at staunching the appetite for destruction of one of your opponents than simply pounding them with military units on the map.

Once the last stomp token has been placed, one final round passes before the final battle begins. There are several Challenge spaces marked on the board, and if a player can move their monster to one on their last turn, they become the Challenger instead of the last person to stomp something. Being the Challenger is important because you choose which monsters to fight, so you can knock off a weaker one to absorb their starting hit points before going after the really nasty opponents. Once the final battle begins, the player who is the Challenger chooses a monster to fight and a special battle phase begins, this time to the death.

Monsters may use their Infamy tokens, mutations, or any other benefit they've accrued during the game to battle their opponent, and starting with the Challenger, each of the two battling monsters take turns using their three attacks to whittle away the opponent's monster. Once a monster has been butchered, the winner then adjusts their life meter upwards by adding to their current life level the amount of life the opponent had when the battle started. After doing so, they pick another remaining creature to rinse and repeat the process with, and the last monster standing is the winner of the game and is crowned King of Monsters.

As I noted before, the end-game is a bit disappointing because irrespective of how much carnage you wreaked upon the planet, if your life level starts low, you have a very small chance of winning. The Infamy tokens are a bit of a counterpoint to that, because if you weren't racking up hit points by decimating major cities, you were likely mutating like a flu virus and scoring some serious infamy tokens to get extra attacks during the final battle.

Still, it feels a bit underwhelming to have destroyed the Eastern seaboard and lose because Mothra or whomever got a lucky mutation card to raise it's defense value even though it did little damage to cities and bases during the game. It's a minor beef, at best, because I really like the game, but it still feels a hair tacked-on.

I've owned this game for a good long time, and I've played it many, many times. I've always enjoyed it, win or lose, because it's a fun and challenging game of death and destruction in the good ol' U.S. of A, and the art and theme really shine to make it a fun and engaging experience. Down time between turns is quite minimal, and you can play out a four-monster war on America in about 90 to 120 minutes.

The monsters aren't all that different, to be honest, but they're different enough that you'll want to try out several and see how you fare using their unique abilities over the course of several games. Pair that with the fact that each branch of the military has its own advantages and disadvantages, and there's a lot of replay value there. On top of that, there's ample Military Research and Mutation cards to play through the game a multitude of times without ending up playing the same cards over and over again. I play this often, and every time it comes to the table, it's always a group favorite.

Why I Want To Be Godzilla When I Grow Up:
- Great bits, fun gameplay and a great theme make this a hell of a time
- Ample strategic and tactical decisions abound
- Minmal downtime reduces the snore-factor to almost nil
- The artwork is absolutely outstanding, and perfectly fits this game's theme
- Huge replay value makes this a game that will be played often

Why This Big Monkey Belongs In Hollywood:
- The hex size is too small to place critters and tanks on the same spot
- The end game makes the destruction portion of the game seem less important
- An expansion with new monsters and cards would've been an auto-buy, but it doesn't exist

The short version is that it's a really neat little game, but just as the internet meme from Zero Wing was a not-so-great translation from Japanese, Monsters Menace America is a mediocre translation from the Japanese "Godzilla" genre that spawned in the 1950's, primarily due to the end-game. The gameplay is brisk, and fun, but as I noted, the end game takes a little shine away from an otherwise brilliant game. Regardless of this one shortcoming, I recommend this game to anyone who likes a medium-length "dudes on a map" style game with an emphasis on screw-your-neighbor backstabbery.

3.75/5 Stars

You can get this game on Ebay or Amazon for the original retail price, generally, and you can check it out at Wizards' site here, complete with an online demo:

As usual, Universal Head, the coolest cat in gaming, has produced a wonderful rules summary sheet, which is downloadable here:

And, as always, if you want to try this before you drop 40 bones on it, especially since it's an older game, give Board Game Exchange a shot:

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Omen: A Reign of War - Shattered Aegis Expansion

Well, as usual, I screwed up. In normal Circus fashion, I gave one of my subscribers Omen: A Reign of War after reviewing it. This was clearly a mistake because the expansion, Shattered Aegis, is coming out. Here's a preview of one of the cards and what Small Box had to say:

Shattered Aegis is the first expansion for Omen: A Reign of War. The expansion adds 20 new units, once again illustrated by Michael " Riiven" Ng, to the base game that can be used in the standard game or the draft variant, but also in 3 new game play variants: Test of Skill, Grand Melee, and Pure Deck Building.

Test of Skill gives each player an identical deck of 40 units (1 copy of each unit from the base game and expansion).

Grand Melee is a 4 player swiss-style draft variant, where each player drafts and builds his own deck of 10 units to play against the other players. Each game one grants a Victory Card, and the first player with 2 Victory Cards wins the Grand Melee.

Pure Deck Building allows each player to build his own deck (or decks) to play against opponents who have done the same. This variant requires both players to own a copy of Omen: A Reign of War and the Shattered Aegis expansion.

Aside from new units and play variants, Shattered Aegis also introduces the first status effect: Enrage, which turns non-beast units into beasts for short time, allowing players to turn the tide of war in their favor, help achieve a feat, or turn the opponent's most threatening unit into a mindless beast.

Preorders for Shattered Aegis will open the week of August 1st at

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Game Of Redneck Life - Living The Life Of Riley....Bubba Joe Riley, That Is

At Origins, I walked by a booth that had on display, for our amusement, a mullet-topped hilljack with a tobacco stain on his already pit-sweat stained wifebeater tank top. I had to stop and ask what the hell the dude was about. Turns out that no, he isn't a Kentucky resident, he was the spokesmodel for Gut Bustin' Games offerings, The Redneck Life, Trailer Park Wars, and O Gnome You Don't. After ten minutes of conversation involving the merits of Kentucky Pillow Talk ("Git off me Paw, yer crushin' mah smokes") and other aspects of country life, I was offered a copy The Redneck Life to review. Now, I had never heard of these folks, but now that I have, I'm going to keep an eye on them. This game had all of us involuntarily snort-laughing nearly the entire time.

I just played this game for the third time last night, and I have to tell you, that while it is a really, really dumb game when it comes to any meaningful, thoughtful mechanics, it's so damned funny to play that I have to admit that it was a thoroughly enjoyable experience. I cannot envision another game that has such anecdotal moments as that which I just played, such as when my wife was getting divorced, and when she was asked whether or not she wanted to fuck the lawyer for a $50 discount, she responded, "I ain't no ho, and I ain't sleepin' with no damned lawyer. I gots Elvis to think about!" Elvis was her youngin', just so you know, and it was a noble thing to do seeing as she had merely an 11th grade education and was trying to make ends meet by operating a Mullet salon. In the immortal words of the cousin in 'O brother, where art thou,' "There's a depression on, and I gots to do for mine."

The game had incredibly funny moments involving the fact that my second wife, who coincidentally was named the same as my actual wife's character in the game, had five kids named Darryl, who became stepbrothers for my other two kids, Thelma Louise and Jack Daniel, all of whom were taken by Child Protective Services near the end of the game. My wife was blessed with the adoption of two of her brother's kids, who were names Denise and Denephew, not to mention little Elvis.

At various points in the game, all four of us had houses in various states of disrepair, all vividly illustrated on the title deed cards, and were driving around in stretch limousines and upon the backs of donkeys named Quincy. I should also mention that by the end of the game, we'd lost a combined 24 teeth between us, accumulated over $3,000 in debt to the local paycheck advance guy, and to top it off, half of us had slept with the lawyer, who we decided was my wife as she was continually correcting our 4th grade math. Damned college folks. To add insult to injury, I chose to bone the socks off of the lawyer not only because of the discount, but because she got the judge to let me keep my trailer. You really can't buy that kind of representation, so I rented her.

Getting back to the details, though, the concept of Redneck Life is quite simple. Players roll and move along a very linear downward spiral toward the end, noted by the Day of Reckon'n, taking cards and enduring such inequities as taking days off of fishing to sire several illegitimate children, having the payday advance guy come and pop our teeth out when we couldn't pay up, and enduring names given our kids such as Cooter and Skeeter, all of whom drained our paychecks. Let's not forget about my buddy's one-night stand with his cousin which produced his new son, Gene.

Anyhow, each space on the board produced more and more absurd text and card draws which ended sadly in the above mentioned circumstances. At certain pause points during the game players will make rolls to determine things such as getting edjumucated up to a maximum of 12th grade, getting such illustrious careers as becoming a Swap Meet Merchant and Mullet Salon Operator, buying a trailer painted as an American flag or a trailer with a porta-john attached to the exterior, getting married to such lovely folks as Jebediah James and Bessie Sue, divorcing said folks and putting their home in peril, getting remarried and adopting up to six stepchildren named Darryl, and at the culmination of the game, spending money to pay off debts, and if any money remains, to buy back teeth, which in this game is the coin of the realm. The winner of the game is the player with the most teeth in their head, and in the case of a tie, the player with the most cash wins.

When you open the sturdy, imaginitively illustrated box, you'll find a pad of scoresheets with which to record the trials and tribulations of your redneck avatar, a bunch of pawns, a red and blue die, a crapload of funny money with such titles as "Mullet Moola", "White Trash Cash" and others, a stack of photo-realistic homes and vehicles, a huge supply of red debt bills, and a huge stack of "Gone Redneck'n" cards which provide most of the narrative of the game. There's also a primative but surprisingly well-made game board, and several reference charts to use at each stop along the Redneck Trail of Tears, which is what we came to call the track on the board. The final bit is one standard letter sized rule sheet, which is truly all you'll need to play this very, very simple game. All in all, the components are exactly what I'd expect from a novelty game, and were fully adequate.

To set the game up, you simply get the money laid out with the banker, put the appropriate cards on their spaces on the board, and put all of the vehicles into the "Uncle Clem's Rig Rodeo", which is a plastic sleeve used to display the sad excuses for vehicles that inhabit the game. Pick a pawn, get a scoresheet, and then you're ready to go. Each player, in turn, will roll the blue and red dice to name their hillbilly, using a chart to come up with names such as Billy Bob, Earl Ray, and Wynona Fae.

Gameplay consists of rolling the dice, adding the values, and moving your pawn that many spaces on the track. Some spaces have text that causes events to occur, which vary from group events such as the Redneck Olympics to individual ones that can cause you to take on new kids, referred to as youngin's, or lose teeth. Other spaces, which are the most common, cause you to take and resolve a Gone Redneck'n card, and these vary from winning a chaw spitting contest and winning money to getting into a bar fight and losing several teeth. Some cards are Redneck Revenge cards which contribute a screwage factor in the game, allowing you to hose over an opponent, take their stuff, or foist your leeching kids off onto them.

I really want to emphasize how funny some of the cards and events are. One of them tells you that you've earned some cash by selling the story of your daughter, who was born with sideburns and a mullet, to the Globe Magazine. Another card has the drawing player judge a real live hog calling contest, where three of us called, "Sooooooooey!" loudly and my wife ended up winning on originality by calling, "Here, piggy, piggy, piggy!" There's a huge variety of hilarious cards, and I don't imagine we've gotten through them all in three plays.

Several times during the trip through the Redneck Life you'll come across stopping points that cause you to resolve events, as I mentioned before, starting with determining your level of education, your job in life, what kind of hovel you get to inhabit, and finally, who your first and second wives are. There's also payday spots which allow you to get paid whatever your career choice allows, less ten dollars per kid you have on staff. Note that in the last game, I had nine, two of which were actually produced via incestuous activity.

Your chittlins, as you can imagine, play a huge role in the game as you not only have to pay for them each paycheck, you also have to transport them. Each vehicle in the game has a youngin' capacity, and at all times you must maintain a total capacity that exceeds the amount of kids you have in your corral. At several points during several games I noted, "Damn, I need to gets me another rig, cuz I need to drive a damned mob around town." It is likely that you will have a veritable used car lot in front of you, as I have had more then four rigs at any given point during several games to support my large and empoverished stable. If, at any point, your legion of ill-conceived children exceed your transport ability, any player can call you on a violation at which point you must immediately buy a new car capable of transporting them, and then pay them $100. I have to say that you will NOT have that hundred bucks, and will invariably go deeper into debt with Uncle Clem and his shady loansharking operation.

Some of the other spaces cause you to roll on charts to determine what a bad batch of moonshine has done to you, while another allows you to get a hundred bucks and gamble it in a winner-takes-all, luck pushing dicefest. There's even spaces that allow you to determine what your cigarette habit has done to you, from being able to sue for millions yet only keep two hundred due to the damned lawyers, all the way to getting very sick and having to pay a bunch of money you don't have. I should also mention that at one point in the game, and only one point, you may purchase health, car, and home insurance for a hundred bucks each. These are invaluable resources as rednecks appear to be the unluckiest folks in the world.

At the end of the game you'll reach the "Day of Reckon'n" space and you sell off your house and cars for half price, assuming they weren't "blowed up real good", lost in a lake, or otherwise destroyed, and then with all the cash in hand, you have to pay back any debt to Uncle Clem. In the unlikely event that you have any cash left over, you can spend a hundred dollars a tooth for dentistry work, which are the victory points in this backwoods adventure. You record the amount of remaining teeth, your extra cash, and then sit back and heckle the other players. As noted, the winner is the player at the end of the game that has the most teeth, and in three games, only one time did any player actually have all 28 of their "moufers" in their gums.

I would be remiss in my duties were I not to mention that with four players, the game time can run two hours or more. Part of this is due to the conversation, which is a good thing, but the main issue with the time is that the roll and move mechanic can cause you to lose interest. The rules have a game variant that allows you to roll a third die, if you provide one, to speed up the travel along the grim path, and I highly encourage this practice. It drops the game time to just over an hour and thirty minutes, which is the sweet spot, in my opinion. Too much longer, and you just get sick of the tedium that the roll and move mechanic is prone to producing.

To summarize, this is clearly a novelty game. This is not a game that you're going to talk about because of the epic comeback victory over Sauron, and it's not a game where you'll lament rolling all skulls when you needed all shields. That being said, I am very glad to have played it repeatedly. The conversations that have spawned are something we've been talking about for the last 2 weeks, and we're still laughing about how Jebediah Joe was shipped off to military school, which was the edge needed to buy back a couple of teeth and win the game.

We're still calling each other Billy Bob, making jokes about how we "can use us some biscuits and mustard, ummm hmmm" and still thinking about what total shithole houses we ended up drawing. All in all, it's a very funny game, and without the humor would be incredibly dull, but the humor made it fun. In a lot of ways, this game is the same as Munchkin; you can play it a few times, but when the jokes wear thin, that's when the game gets shelved, only to be played when your relatives from out of town come over and you need to kill some time after, well, some biscuits and mustard.

Why Living The Redneck Life Will Give You The Vapors:
- This is a ridiculously silly, fun time, provided you have funny friends
- The photographs of the houses and cars are priceless, and other art is pretty decent too
- There is some serious screwage in the game via the Redneck Revenge cards
- Turn length is very short, so there's minimal downtime
- If prominently displayed, this will certainly be a conversation piece

What Makes This A Southern Fried Nightmare:
- This game has precious few meaningful decisions outside of playing Redneck Revenge cards
- When the funny wears off, this will become a once-a-year event
- The math in the game can cause confusion if you're actually playing out your real life's story
- The game is just too long to keep your interest if you play with two dice

The game is as simple a roll and move game as you're ever going to find, but the merits of the game have far less to do with the gameplay's interesting decisions, razor-sharp mechanics, or exquisitely sculpted miniatures. None of those things will make an appearance in this game. The fact is that while the game tends to lag on for about 45 minutes too long, the theme and conversations that erupt from the game make it a worthwhile party game that, while a hair on the expensive side for what you get, is as entertaining as many other, far more cleverly designed games. The downfall is that once you've played three or four times, the jokes will have all been heard, and it will be a lot less fun.

3/5 Stars

You can learn more about The Game Of Redneck Life and its expansion at their website, which also has information on their other games:

If, in the interest of wanting to play this game a couple of times without dropping thirty bucks at Wal-Mart, you can rent it at The Board Game Exchange!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Kickstarter Spotlight: Travesty Games

This week, since the wife is out of town tending to her very sick grandmother, I haven't had too much time to play games. I've got 3 games on the review schedule, but I simply can't get people together to play them for a second or third time, respectively. Suffice to say that one of them will knock your socks off and the other will have you soiling yourself with laughter, at least until the jokes wear thin.

So, this lunch hour I've decided to start yet another little Circus venture, where I show you some games that you likely have never, and arguably would never, have heard of. These games are from relatively unknown, or at least underrealized, companies that are making their livings by trying to get funding through Kickstarter, the newest way for companies to attract investments in small increments based upon a sort of preorder system. 

This week's game company is Travesty Games, a small and relatively unknown publisher that got its start on Kickstarter and has successfully produced a handful of imaginative and rather diabolical games. Just my kind of folks. 

Travesty Games is an odd bird, and that's why I've been subtly stalking them for a while. The boys over there, Gil and Adam, have a good sense of humor and I, as a proponent of all things humorous, appreciated their "Vision" page on their website:

"Our goal is to make stuff so awesome that your skin flies off your body.

Or to put it another way, our goal is to make stuff so awesome that it’ll make you run into the forest, where a turkey will fly into your mouth and you will jump up into a tree. And I’m not talking about some little tree either. I’m talking about a Redwood or something.

And that’s how angry that makes me."

So far, my skin is still intact, but I've had skin cancer and so I stay out of the sun to avoid burns and subsequent peeling. Maybe I'm the outlier. To be fair, though, I've only read rules and checked their press releases, so perhaps I've just not been exposed to their games long enough to have my skin etched from my body as they so hope. Anyhow, they have three really interesting products, one of which has just successfully been funded by Kickstarter supporters.

The first game is PsiDuel, a card game that allows you to take the role of a psionic superdude (or superbabe, as it were) to psychically kick the piss out of your opponent. The card art is really nice, and the layout of the cards is actually really appealing to me. So appealing, in fact, that I asked Gil to send me a copy for review, which he has kindly done. So you'll be hearing more about it very soon.

The second game is KillBall, which is a cross between soccer and the French revolution, and it's played by clones. There's goals on either side of the board, and the goal mechanisms aren't all that smart, so you can score by putting a ball in the goal, or alternatively, by severing an enemy player's head and putting it in the goal instead. Not only that, but you can regrow clones, which squirt out of little chutes and can re-enter play. In short, heads will roll. It's a neat looking and quite clever dicefest, and although the art is black and white, it's still a pretty cool chit and counter type game.

The last game these guys are currently publishing is a cool dungeon crawler called Deathfear. It's not your standard fare, though, as it comes with a twist: the object isn't to kill some nameless, faceless monster and emerge a champion, it's to BECOME the nameless, faceless monster before your opponents, and then bust their shit loose. You hunt the dungeon for demon parts, and once you've gotten them all, you become that demon and then seek to devour your former running mates.'s a promotional video that comes with the game, apparently, and you have to check it out. It reminds me of the video that comes with Dragonstrike on's a riot.

I just started looking at this game very recently, and they just hit their mark on Kickstarter, which guarantees that the game will be published. It's currently on a fast-track to get printed before GenCon, and these boys will be there in the dealer hall at booth 757, giving demos of PsiDuel, from what I understand.  Get over and show them some love, check out their stuff, and see if there's something there for you.

Check out the Travesty games site at for more information on their stuff!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Omen: A Reign of War back in stock!

John Clowdus asked me to get the word out about Omen: A Reign of War. He sold through his first printing and ordered a second one, which is now sitting in his warehouse (read: home office) awaiting homes.

Normally, you'd preorder his games and at the end of the month his orders would be filled, but this time, since Omen has become so popular, he put his you-know-what on the chopping block and invested in you, his customers, so you wouldn't have to wait.

So, get over there and order it already!

What, you've never heard of Omen?

Go to to order! While you're there, check out his other games, too. I recommend several, and the reviews can be found here at the Circus.

The Management

Saturday, July 2, 2011

A Journey Of Self Realization In Gaming, Or, "Sick Of The Same Old Shit"

Well, I've had ample time to reflect on games this month, and it was primarily because I'm in the process of cleaning up my Man Cave (...or Dude Dungeon if you prefer) for the purposes of having a huge 6 player Heroscape game. In the process, I was reorganizing my games, and it hit me that there are certain games that I simply don't have. That being said, I'd almost rather have my scrotum crushed by an air conditioner that fell from a skyscraper than have them.

The reason I say this is that no matter how compelling the gameplay, how clever the mechanics, and how highly rated the game may be by those who enjoy, above all else, such amazing feats as moving a quarter-inch brown cube from a pile (arguably the slave pens) onto a map representing Puerto Rico, if the theme is garbage I'm going to have a hell of a time wanting to play it repeatedly. Where's the fun in that? It seems to me that these games generally end up as dick-measuring contests by potentially unimaginative people who yearn to prove to their slide-rule using peers that they are, indeed, the smartest Mensa member in the room.

To those who think these games have compelling themes, I loudly proclaim: "Fuck That Shit." I'm sorry, but if you think that managing the power grid of Germany or scheduling shipping containers is fun, chances are that you and I will never see eye to eye. In my world, being a merchant of the middle ages, hustling corn husks between the farm and the market is about as compelling to me as having every single ass hair ripped from the root by an Epilady. Sure, I loved "The Darjeeling Limited" and "Lady In The Water", but if I had my druthers, I'm watching "Aliens" or "Conan The Barbarian" instead nine times out of ten.

So, seeing as I'm here, let's talk about theme a bit.

First, what the fuck is going on with games these days? Most of the drivel that is being produced for the Board Game Geek crowd of late seems to come in two flavors: games that involve farming or production of some kind, or games that are total knock-offs of someone else's work. Seriously, you think Hollywood has plumb run out of new ideas, take a look at our hobby. It's the same old shit, redone over and over, ad infinitum. If I see another damned Zombie game where a small group of survivors have to escape peril through swarms of the undead, I may slice my fucking balls off and sing showtunes in front of city hall until I bleed out.

Same with production games where the pinnacle achievement is growing and selling shit (oh, wait, let's not forget the shipping the shit you grew variant! BRILLIANT!). Or, wow, set collection games. There's a new one. If I wanted to play an Old Maid or Go Fish variant, I'd just play Old Maid or Go Fish. Worker placement is another pet peeve, because I can't think of many things less interesting than putting a little cube somewhere that represents a person in some manner of indentured servitude, be it serf, slave, or subject.  Where's all the new stuff?

Back to theme, though, in my little tirade here, what the hell is going on with the damned Renaissance? Why is that so compelling to so many people? Do we really want to relive plague, death by dysentary and cholera, and wars that lasted 30 years? Or how about tripe like Fresco, where the object is to mix paints? Fuck that, if I want to mix paints, I'll do it, and I'll go even further by actually painting something. Like maybe a ultra bad-ass pewter miniature resembling some nightmare creature eating the white meat off of a damsel in distress!

I just don't get it. Maybe people are just boring these days, or maybe the advent of the internet visual media has completely dumbed down peoples' ability to use their imagination. How many shipping games do we need? How many Pillars of the Earth building games does the world really need? Why on God's green Earth do we need another game about farming or medieval life? I mean, seriously....WHAT THE FUCK?

Theme matters to a lot of people. Games like Ascending Empires, where varied interstellar races beat the piss (or whatever liquid non-humans excrete) out of each other, are compelling. They make you WANT to play the game. Games like Road Kill Rally, where the racing aspect is less important than running over grandmothers pushing strollers, are irreverant and fun, and although the theme is a bit dispicable, at least they're compelling. It's not enough anymore to simply pick a theme out of the old playbook, tack on some mechanics that may or may not work well together, and then hire an artist to make it all look fancypants. If you do, you'll do it at your own peril because I'm not fucking buying it. God forbid I do get a hold of it, because your ears will be on fire from the review I'm going to write and whose wrath I'll personally deliver to 10,000 readers in the first month of publication.

I'm not saying that some of the new "thematic games" ( which incidentally, I refer to as "games that may actually be fun" ) have to be completely original themes to be good. I really like Battleship Galaxies, and I think it may well become a fan favorite, but it really is just another "space dudes in space shooting space weapons at other dudes in space" when you boil it down to the base. The difference, my dear friends, is that Hasbro took the time to flesh out the story, build some characters in, and then explain the whole thing to players so that they had a reference point. As I noted in another article, the imagining of a universe or setting, and then building the game, from bottom to top, around that setting, is the hallmark of a great game.

Games like the new Chaostle, while I don't know that much about it, are compelling because there's something new there. I want to know more about it, and that's saying something because there's so few games these days that actually make me want to click on a couple of links to learn more about them. I'm not saying Chaostle is a great game, because I don't know yet, but I will tell you that it has an integral theme, great visuals, and a backstory, and all of this adds up to something that has the potential to be fun.

To be great, as I've said before, requires a rare crossroads of integral, interesting theme, great mechanics, good pacing, and most of all, an assload of fun gameplay. There are very, very few games that I consider to be truly great, but I can point to all of them and they have precisely that rare mix of elements, hence my reasoning that these games have risen above the chaff to become legendary, in my mind, at least.

While it's true that some games have such novel concepts that they can ride on that alone, they are the rarity. Dominion, for example, has almost no noticable theme and could've been about buying various quantities of dope from Columbian and Afghani dealers, or alternatively could've been about amassing different tiers of out of print board games in a basement. The result would've been the same, because at the time, this style of game didn't exist. Dominion was so novel that many were OK to look past the obviously pasted-on theme and saw it for what they saw it for: a neat new game design.  Personally, I owned it for a month, played the shit out of it, and then realized that it was ultimately a very boring multiplayer solitaire game, and I subsequently gave it away. But that's because it wasn't about Space Marines collecting the ears (or whatever) off of Genestealers, right?

So, in conclusion, I sure wish game designers would focus more on getting cool games out there that have nothing to do with shipping corn to some island I don't give a fuck about, or games that involve having fistfuls of cards that are supposed to make me feel like some sort of land baron. Stop trying to be "Dominion with a theme" because you can't. Ascencion of the Godslayer, Nightfall, Thunderstone.....whatever. They're all trying to trump the original, and you really can't. All you can do is hope to ride the sea of mediocrity and sell as many games as you can until it subsides and sanity kicks back in.

Be original in design, and stop trying to knock off other people's shit. I know that virtually all games are derivative of another game design, but you can certainly mix it up. Talisman does the same thing Prophecy does, essentially, but they are very different game designs. Earth Reborn does what Tannhauser does, but again, very different paths between A and B. Come up with a cool theme that hasn't been done not only to death, but to death, reborn, and to death again. Take that theme, and wrap around its magnificence a great story, some great art, compelling, fun mechanics and gameplay that are absolutely soaked in the pickle juice that is your awesome theme, and then playtest the shit out of it so that it doesn't disappoint. Then, alone, you have a shot at greatness, unless you're very lucky.

There's just not enough "new" games out there that are worth buying, and quite frankly, I was wholeheartedly unimpressed with the big-box offerings at Origins. The highlight with all the buzz was yet another snoozefest Knizia math game that happens to have Captain Kirk in it is a completely epic failure in judgement and execution. So much could've been done with that license, especially with the skill at minis games Wizkids has, yet they found a way to totally fuck it up. Seriously, is this all we, as a colletive group, have to offer the world?

I hope "Wild" Bill Shatner kicks ol Wizkids hard in the balls for that one....whomever decided Star Trek and Knizia in the same sentence would be a good idea really should go back to barber college or whatever the hell they did before signing up at Wizards. What a shame. And things like this are so much more often the story than the story of triumphing over all odds and creating a totally awesome game like Omen: A Reign of War. And guess what: John Clowdus doesn't have Wizkids money, Knizia name recognition, or Star Trek fanbois to work with, either. So stop blaming the market for your failures, bitches, and start sacking up. Make great products that are loaded with fun and stop relying on the same people with the same old ideas. There's a lot of fresh ideas out there, I know it, but they're buried under the weight of the old guard and the marketing giants that get all the press.

Alright, I'm done, go back to your regularly scheduled programming. I'm going back to playing Heroscape and waiting for my Hirst Arts molds to come in so I can pimp out my Epic Duels know...a FUN game?

Because the Blogger interface is pissing me off and won't let me post comments, I'm having to put responses here.
@Kenchan13: Thanks!
@Trent: (shaking head...) Buddy, there's a difference. The brown cubes are nameless, faceless little markers. They're not Paco, Pablo, and Geronimo. There's no personality, and if you're trying to tell me that people actually can not only keep track of who's who on a loaded PR board, I'll be the first to tell you that you're full of shit.
Miniatures have unique looks, and they elicit emotions in people, which is why they're so popular. It's not enough to note that your random legion cube dies in T&E when viewed from the light that you could rather be playing a game that Kaemon Awa, Master Samurai, has fallen to the likes of the sinister robot menace, Major Q9. It's just apples and oranges.
It's hard to give a shit about cube #9, but your imagination runs wild when playing a game like Dungeon Twister when your Paladin falls to the fearsome Dragon. Totally different experience.
I am sure glad you grabbed onto the idea that "Pete is saying people that like cubes are dumb", although it's totally inaccurate. I like Puerto Rico. I like El Grande. I like Tikal. I'm just sick of every God damned game being a copy of something else, with a different but equally boring theme tacked on.
Clay: Totally agree.
July 3, 2011 6:49 AM

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Resistance ... Is NOT Futile

The more I play games, the more I realize how much small game companies are overlooked. The mainstream gaming press tends to gravitate toward the behemoths of the industry; the ones with infinite reviewers to send games to, virtually unlimited marketing resources, the ones who have $50,000 booths at game fairs. That's fine and dandy, but there's more than that around. Some of the best games are the overlooked gems that you've never heard of, or simply didn't know enough about to pick up a copy.

So it is with Indie Boards and Cards it seems, and their outstanding little deduction-and-sneakery game, The Resistance.

I went to Dallas a while back, and while I was there I was lucky enough to have a good buddy break out this little wonder.  I had not a clue what it was about, how to play, or even what the theme was. For all I knew it was a Race for the Galaxy clone or something. Turns out that it's the single best party game I've ever played. It's about a group of players, some of which are noble Resistance agents and some of which are loyalist spies for a tyrannical regime who are up to dastardly deeds, planted within the resistance cell to break up their plots. And it is epic. I mean, this is a game that can start a fistfight if you have the right people involved.

The object of the game depends on which side you're on, but the mechanics of it are astoundingly simple, yet novel. Resistance agents want to complete a series of missions where the loyalist agents want to sabotage them from doing so. This is handled by the player in the dealer position, which rotates per round, choosing a group of people to go on the mission, and then all players vote to agree on that squad.

If an affirmative vote is reached, the selected agents then vote, secretly, on whether the mission should succeed or fail via vote cards. If, though, consensus cannot be reached and no affirmative vote can be made on a team five consecutive times, the spies have immediately won and the resistance is crushed. But here's the even nastier part: If a team is successfully chosen, if a single failure vote comes up, the mission's been compromised and therefore fails. If three missions are successful, the tyranny is overthrown and the resistance wins, but if three failures occur, the spies win and the resistance is subjected to merciless torture and subsequent death by hanging. Or at least, that's how I envision it.

Let's talk about the box for a minute, though, because it's interesting to me that such a phenomenal game can come in such a small one. The box is very small, measuring perhaps 7 inches by four. The art is very nice, and definitely exudes a feeling of darkness. Once inside, you'll find a bunch of cards that are all cleanly illustrated with crisp text and a great sci-fi font. There's a small cardboard board, and some nice wooden tokens. Then, there's a diminutive rulebook that is both well-written and easy to understand. The last piece I should mention is a nice little insert to hold the cards in, and that's it.

In this day and age of seventy dollar, bloated, overproduced crap I am absolutely thrilled to see such an amazingly simple game, with good art but no plastic, that can be sold for twenty bucks and entertain a crowd of five to ten people. Better yet, it's not another picture matching game or word game to entertain the drunken simpletons at a frat party, oh no. This is a clever, devious game of cat and mouse, and those with a modicum of wit will be dying to play repeat games in the span of a night. With under an hour playtime, at a maximum, you really can't go wrong.

Onto gameplay, this game is simpler to play out than Snooki from Jersey Shore. To set it up, you simply place the small game board in the center of the table, segregate some cards, and then, depending on the amount of players involved, choose a set amount of agent cards, both resistance and mole, shuffle, and randomly hand out the cards.

Once you've done that, the players look at their cards, and then the dealer will ask all players to close their eyes. Now I know that there's the thought of the one invertebrate who needs to peek, and there's not much you can do about that, but in the six times I've played this, a simple "cheaters will be kicked in the dice bag" reprimand is enough to quell the bad actors.  Once all eyes are closed, the dealer tells everyone that the traitors are to open their eyes, look around to make sure that they know who the spies are. They then close their eyes again, to keep up the facade, and all players then open their eyes to begin play.

As I mentioned, the game is incredibly simple, mechanically. The dealer, who is referred to as the leader, will select a variable amount of players to go on a mission. This amount depends both on how many players are in the game and which mission the players are undertaking.  For example, in a five player game on the first mission, two agents are selected, but on the fifth mission, three agents sally forth. In a ten player game, three adventure onward on the first mission and five set out on the fifth. Suffice to say, the game scales well.

Once the leader chooses agents for the mission, all players must vote to accept them. This is done by secret ballot, and each player will hand in their vote to the leader, who will tally the votes. The majority wins, and in the case of ties, the vote fails. If the vote fails, the leader passes his responsibility to the next player, who will then do the same. If agreement can't be reached five times in a row, the game ends with the traitors victorious. If an agreement can be reached, though, the agents chosen set forth on their dubious mission of sabotage and spycraft.

The chosen agents will then secretly vote, again by card, and hand their cards to the leader. The leader will shuffle them to avoid clever, observant folks from noting the positions of the cards, and then will reveal them. If one solitary failure vote was played, the mission fails and the leader will place a spy victory token on top of the mission circle on the board, indicating they've stopped the resistance.

Play continues until either side has three victories, and the game ends with a clear winner being indicated. That's all there is to this game, again, on its face.  The reality is that there is so much table talk, with people yelling at one another and accusations flying wholesale that with the right crowd, the cops may be called by a neighbor. With clever traitor players, playing success votes to obscure their identity and subtle manipulation of the perceptions of the other players, it can be a devilishly satisfying role to play.

Remember also that the traitors will potentially be leaders at one point in the game, and thus the opportunity to influence the game by voting against teams can be just as deadly to the resistance as being selected on a team and voting for failure.  There are so many facets to the strategy of this game that the replayability is outstanding, and I literally am going to play this tonight with the Superfly Circus regulars, even though we played again on Wednesday. To put it bluntly, I absolutely adore this game.

I should go back to how I got this game, though. I emailed Indie Boards and Cards and asked them for a copy, and they were happy to oblige, but they had already run out of their initial 2,000 sets and had to await another printing. I bought it off of Ebay in the interim, and when the box arrived with the game I had actually forgotten I'd requested for review, I was delighted to see that it had not only been updated with a correction, it included the "The Plot Thickens" expansion!  Let me get into that a little bit.

The expansion includes 15 cards that are to be given to players by the leader at the start of the game, with the amount of cards distributed depending on the amount of players. These cards introduce deeper mechanics such as allowing a player to look at an adjacent player's character card, which can be great for a traitor if you have a traitor sitting adjacent to you. Another devious card is the Establish Confidence card, which forces the leader to pass their card to any other player for examination. This can be useful for a spy to call out a known resistance agent, allowing the traitor to act surprised and feign that they were "sure he was a spy".

There's nine new cards in all, and each has its own effect on the game. Some cards must be played immediately, some may be played on demand for a one time effect, and others are permanent cards that, once played, remain in effect for the duration of the game.

In conclusion, the base game was outstanding, and the newly included expansion makes this an even better value. This game is better than Mafia and Werewolf by a large measure, and although its roots surely lie with those games, The Resistance is simply in a different league. I simply cannot envision a better value, since you can get the game for twenty bones, shipped, off of the BGG Marketplace or from virtually any FLGS for about the same. The short version is unless you can't assemble five people for a game, or are a socially inept basement dweller who recoils at the concept of a social game, this is a must-have game.

What Makes The Resistance Righteous:
- If there were more $20 games of this quality, the world would be a better place
- The art is quite good, with dark, thematic sci-fi elements
- This is simple to learn, but the depth of subterfuge available makes this truly brilliant
- Not many games support ten players, and even fewer are this much fun
- Can you say, "Free Expansion?"

Why The Resistance Fails Its Mission:
- The box is an odd size that can be a bit funky to find a spot for if you're an organizational nut
- This game really should be sleeved to avoid damage as the vote cards' secrecy is integral
- It may not suit everyone because not everyone has five friends

If you have a larger group or want to play a party game, this is absolutely a no-brainer. The only people who should not own this game are those who can't get five people to play with them, which is honestly a hard thing to do for some people. Barring that, if you don't get this game to the table, you're missing out, big time.

4.5/5 Stars

You can learn more about this little gem at Indie's website:

And if you just want to give it a shot, Board Game Exchange has this game in stock, in droves, right now to try before you buy!