Friday, July 11, 2014


We've finally grown up, and we've decided it was time to have a little more control over our own destiny. Thus, we've bought 5 years of service and hosting.....and our new site is up and running. We've had a problem that I suspect is related to us being hacked in November, and now (as I'm sure you know) we've been inundated with these damned pop-up ads. Well, fuck that shit. No more blogger, we're now a WordPress site, and we're self-hosting!

I hope you enjoy!

If you have any questions, get me at

superflytnt aT twc d0t com
superflytnt At superflycircus dat com

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Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Firefly - Joss Whedon's Ultimate Misbehavior Is Lifting Ideas From Other Games

The world of the TV show Firefly, and the fiction surrounding it, is quite a far cry from your average Sci-Fi, with an odd, kind-of-mystic, pseudo Western/Chinese vibe. As I'm sure you know, the show was incredibly popular, but apparently not so much that it could last more than one season plus a movie, but that hasn't stopped a subculture of fans from reliving its short-lived glory. Enter Firefly: The Board Game, licensed to Gale Force Nine, who up until relatively recently pretty much made its name as a tabletop war game publisher. They seem to have a thing for licensed IP because they've made this and one other board game, based on another show, which is still incredibly popular and well-received by the hobby game community. Firefly seems to be doing the same thing, for the most part, and at GenCon last year people were going fully bat-shit crazy over it. The truth is that sometimes people want something to be better than it is because they like the theme or license, as can be attested to by a litany of really shitty Star Trek computer games.

The thing about this game is that I feel as if I've played it several times before, but the other times it was called Runebound, Return of the Heroes, and Merchants of Venus. See, there's nothing remotely new about this game, to be honest, because it's essentially a portmanteau of a bunch of other games, with a Firefly-branded theme slapped on. As much as I liked the show, I really am a little disappointed because while the game is sort of fun, it's just that it's so much like other games I've played that it feels like I'm walking the same old ground. The base game, even with the "Breakin' Atmo" expansion which is just a small deck of cards with more stuff to buy and people to hire, amounts to running around doing pick-up-and-deliver missions with a skill check at the end. With some missions, there's not even a skill check, you just declare it complete and that's it. All in all, it's just not that engaging or exciting because it's just not that different from other stuff I've played. There's very little player-on-player action unless you get the latest expansion "Pirates and Bounty Hunters", which I own, and I think that it's omission from the game's launch was either a huge misstep or a marketing calculation to sell you new stuff down the road, knowing that it's like Tribble Shit...if it's licensed, it will always sell.

That said, this latest expansion changes the base game profoundly, allowing you to steal other players' crews, kill, murder, maim, pirate, and basically be a dirty, rotten scoundrel for a living. I was much colder on the game before I had this, but considering that I'm about $80.00 USD deep in the game at this point, I'm quite pleased to say that we really dug the game a lot more when we added it in. It quite ably brings the game up to the level of "something new and exciting", and more importantly, it does so without adding bullshit, chrome rules that add complexity for complexity's sake.  It's quite surprising that one little expansion could make such a difference, especially when it doesn't change the basic premise of the game.

Pairing with the new PvP action are new cards and jobs that are indisputably criminal and nefarious, not to mention that it adds the single most interesting character from the entire show, the bounty hunter Jubal Early. Two new ships are in the mix as well, one of which is essentially a Firefly version of Slave One, with the other being a great big, slow, unwieldy cargo ship for doing a bunch of legitimate, or not so legitimate, cargo runs. All said, I would likely have traded Firefly and the first expansion away for something else had I not bought this expansion on the recommendation of the Grand Poobah of Ameritrash Criticism, Michael Barnes. So compelling was his argument that despite his continual execration of the Euro classic game, Stone Age, I could no longer demur and bought in, despite my lingering reservations about the play quality of the base game. I hate it when he's right, and I hate it more when I agree with him.

Now, if there's one thing that can be said about this game and its expansions, it's that the components are top notch. I don't think I've ever seen paper money that was so outstandingly illustrated, to begin with, and the little plastic ships are pretty cool too, despite the players' ships being identical in all but color, unless you include the new ships from Pirates and Bounty Hunters. The cards are all illustrated well, with the backs being really nice looking and the fronts being printed with images from the show, and with legible, understandable text, complete with colored and highlighted key words. I wish more games would do that. The board is probably the weakest point, with it having a total fucking mess of space delineations. Sometimes you just have to kind of wing it because there's no real guidance as to which space is considered to be in a specific area, and it matters because some jobs require you to go to that area, but you're not sure which planet is the target. All in all, they could've done better there, but that said, we just house ruled it and moved on.

Gameplay is quite brisk, and even then, the game can be an hour for a two player game or three hours for a four player game. Turns amount to players taking a couple of actions, in turn, which can include moving one space, moving several spaces and drawing cards each turn to determine if bad shit happens, buying and selling, or completing jobs. Some jobs are legal and simple, but the illegal jobs such as hauling fugitives or contraband across the galaxy are not. There's a sort of police force in the game, but it's really just there to annoy you and screw your plans up, and honestly, the Alliance Cruiser which represents the cops doesn't shot up very often, especially since it can only travel the inner part of the board. Now, the outer part of the board can be particularly nasty because there's a Reaver ship, representing space anarchists of a sort, that also occasionally shows up at your doorstep to kill and steal everything you've got. The card-flipping mechanism is a little bit interesting in that there's a tension you feel because it triggers the cops and Reavers, but it also tends to slow the game pace down a little. The whole card-flipping thing is removed in a two player game, and I think that accounts for the brevity of the game when playing in that format.

The real meat of the game, though, is doing jobs and earning a space buck. These are initiated by talking with contacts, strewn about the galaxy, and simply choosing them from the discard deck. This looking at the discards is a neat way to ensure that you know what's available at all times, and this is a lot like Runebound in that sense, but with Firefly, this applies to jobs as well as items and people to buy. Once you've got the mission, you are told to go somewhere for the first leg, then go somewhere and do something else on the second leg, at which point you're paid for a job well done. There's a reputation system at play so when you do a job, you become "solid" with a contact, and end up getting more options. Some jobs, however, are highly dubious and require one or more skill checks, initiated by drawing a "Misbehave" card. Some require you to have certain items or skills just to start them, and many are incredibly tough because they have high bogeys to hit via a die roll and then adding your workers' skills of a type. All in all, there's not much new here but it works, is simple, and is pretty fun.

Basically, if you like Runebound, this will probably be a nice change of scenery while being a very similar game, especially if you like Runebound and always yearned for a simpler, English version of Return of the Heroes. There's a lot to like here, especially if you're going to buy the base game and the expansions in one fell swoop. I can't say that I'd be recommending this without the Pirates and Bounty Hunters expansion, because it's such a retread of what I've already played ad infinitum, but I think the Circus as a whole is pretty split on that matter. Some players really dug it, and those were unanimously the same ones that never played Runebound. My wife and I both were very tepid, having played Runebound so very many times, but once I introduced the expansion, we both agreed that the "missing piece" that could make the game shine was now present. The short version is that we intend to keep flyin' for a good long time, but we're a little miffed that we had to have an expansion to get to that point. To add to this, there's yet another expansion that's releasing at GenCon, Blue Sun. It appears to add a new side-board of sorts to expand the space you can explore, which is a good thing, because once Jubal Early starts flying around, space gets very small, very fast.

Why I'd Wear A Brown Coat, Even If It Was Made Of Poo:
- Production values are absolutely dynamite, especially with the paper money
- Replay value is there, for sure, because there's a ton of cards
- Brisk pace ensures that there's the perfect amount of downtime
- Very few expansions have ever done so much with so little
- Two Words: Jubal Early. Does that seem right to you?

Why That Brown Coat Is Probably Made Of Poo:
- The base game is lackluster and feels very samey in relation to older games
- The wee player ships are identical, except in color, which kind of sucks
- Card-drawing during long moves mostly serves simply to slow the game down
- How many pick-up-and-deliver jobs can you do before you just get worn down?
- It's really hard to fit everything in one box if you have both existing expansions

The base game could be great for someone who hasn't played similar games, but it's certainly not going to replace Runebound in my collection anytime soon. The first expansion was also quite lackluster and uninspired, but does add a few interesting items and characters. The latest, though, is that whole "you complete me" kind of expansion that I can't help but wish was in the base game to begin with. I can't recommend the game highly based on the base game, but when you toss in Pirates and Bounty Hunters, all of the sudden this is a game that has some teeth, which is kind of odd, since it is essentially retains the same pick-up-and-deliver core, while adding a big dose of "screw you", and making traveling near other players quite dangerous.

Rating (Base w/ Breakin' Atmo expansion):
3/5 Stars

Final Rating (Base with all expansions):
4.25/5 Stars

Learn more about the Firefly game here, at Gale Force Nine's page:

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Revolver - This Colonel Ain't About The Chicken

I know I'm late in reviewing this, but nobody has ever really talked much about this one, so here I am, a year after first playing it, talking about it. Let's just get one thing straight: I really don't like very many card games. I'm a board gamer, and these deck building games, trick taking games, and other card-based games just don't do it for me, by and large. Some card games can transcend their disability (read: being a card game) with me because they're not quite card games, really, such as Summoner Wars or Trick or Treat, and it's that way because they're not really card games as much as a poor man's board game because the cards are really more like flat, rectangular units or locations.

Well, when "Dangerous" Dave Roswell, a dear friend I met at Fortress: Ameritrash, turned me onto it, my first thought was, "Shit. Another card game I won't like." It turns out that not only is the game very good, it's so much different than many of the card games that I've played, both in style and play, that it might actually be one of the best card games I've ever played. It is so good, in fact, that I just bought a second copy to replace the one I got from Dave and subsequently loaned to my friend Chris, knowing I'd probably never ask for it back. Only a very solid game would cause me to own it not once, but twice, especially when it's a card game in one of those abhorrent tins that doesn't seem to fit well on a shelf full of games.

Revolver, from Stronghold Games, has an "American Wild West" theme which is both very different than the usual fare (read: not zombies or generic fantasy tropes) and truly exudes a Wild West feel. Being a two-player game, it pits the good guy"Colonel" player and his posse against the "Outlaw" player in a game that's part battle and part racing against the clock. There's several cards in the tin which represent locations and have a sort of timer mechanism printed on them. These represent the battlefields which the two players will battle over for around four turns, until the time runs out and you move to the next. You simply place cards with icons on them on your side of the battlefield, the other player does the same, and then you see who has more hits. If the good guys do, the bad guys lose one of their gang members, but if the bad guys do, they get one step closer to escaping across the Mexican Border. 

It's a very simple game, mechanically, but there's a lot of strategy that goes into it because many cards cause special effects to happen which bolster your side's ability to make war upon the other. Some allow you to play extra cards, some block the opponent's ability to place cards on a battlefield, some give you auto-kills of the bad guys, and a whole lot more. I was kind of surprised how much I liked the game, and it has a very different feel to it. It almost feels like a John Clowdus game in some ways (which is a good thing), but without the multiple-purpose cards. The best part is that it only takes maybe 30 minutes or so to play, and setup only takes about 3 minutes, if that. I've brought my wee tin all over the place, and I've played it with friends and the wife over dinner at restaurants, at the park while the kids attempted to shatter all the bones in their bodies on the jungle gym, and so on. 

From a value perspective, I think it's a pretty slick deal because at around $20.00, it will provide you with a whole lot of fun. I've probably played it 10 times at this point, and I'm still all about playing it again. Shit, the kids are at their aunt's house for the next couple of weeks, so me and the missus are going to be all over this at night when we're about half in the bag thanks to Mr. Tanqueray and Stella Artois. It's also worth mentioning that the art is actually pretty damned good, and the components are top quality, with well painted wooden blocks, thick cards, and great little punch-board tokens. There's a handful of cheap expansions as well, two of which Fortress: Ameritrash's Josh Look was kind enough to sell me on the cheap. I've not played them yet, but the first expansion changes the core rules a little, such as being able to set ambushes for the bad guys by placing cards underneath a battlefield, and the second expansion adds a new Prison location from which the bad guy player can free his defeated cronies. 

As I said, it's a good game that I, my wife, my 12 year old, and several of the Circus Freaks have enjoyed. Not a single person said anything untoward about it, although it was rated a little lower than I'd have expected when I polled them all. If I had to name just one flaw with the game, I don't think I really could, to be honest, if we're talking the game itself. Now, I hate those little tins that come with this, Panic Station, and the original edition of Quarriors. They never fit anywhere right, and the art isn't nearly good enough to be a little display piece. Other than that, though, the game is solid, really fun, fast, and portable. I think, since I've been thinking about this game for an hour or so now, that I'm going to get the wife out of bed right now, set this up, and whip her ass at it. Or try, at least.

Why My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys:
- Nice art and good components make this look nice on the table
- Tons of replay value allow this to not end up a shelf toad
- Just the right amount of randomness due to card draws make each session different
- The price point is perfect 

Why This Bronco Needs To Be Put Down:
- Cremated bodies are the only thing that should come in embossed tins
- I think it's slightly easier to play the good guy side, but not by much

Revolver, with its unique Western theme, fast play, portability, and price make this a game that is very good, although probably not great, and that is simple to learn, teach, and play. While it is the epitome of a filler game, I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing because it's not expensive and is so accessible that you can literally teach it in just a few minutes at best. We highly recommend it if you like quick-playing card games that don't involve set collection or trick taking. 

4/5 Stars

Learn more about Revolver at Stronghold Games' Revolver page:

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Krackades Mini - "Healthy Body, Sick Mind" Does Not Even Begin To Explain...

About a month and a half ago, I had an upcoming party to go to with the folks at the Circus HQ, and so when I coincidentally got an email from "Krackie Krackades" (no shit, that was the email address) to review the new game, Krackades Mini, I figured it would be a good game to play at the party. In essence, it's a party game that is dirty as hell, much like Cards Against Humanity is, but this is much more of a game, where Cards Against Humanity is really more of an activity than a game. We played it three times, per the Circus rules, and while the first time was really fun, it very quickly lost its ability to entertain, much to our disappointment.

The game itself is nothing more than a deck of kind-of-ugly cards with four suits; you need to supply your own paper, pen, and Play-Doh, which is one thing that you regular readers know that I truly fucking despise. If you sell me a game, I don't want to have to go to the store to get extra shit. Anyhow, the four suits are "act", "draw", "sculpt", and "Krack Attack"; it's a sort of design portmanteau of "Charades", "Cranium", and "Telestrations" in that people use acting, drawing, and sculpting to elicit the content of the cards so that their teammates can guess what the card says. The first three suits are pretty self-explanatory, but the last are cards that teams can use to alter other team's efforts, such as making them perform their card standing on one leg, or with their eyes closed. As it turns out, it's a one-play wonder, in that as long as you follow a key rule that I'll get into later, it will be a really good time, but not because of the design as much as the looks on people's faces when they realize what it is that you're trying to act out, draw, or sculpt. 

Now, these are not even remotely guessable unless you are a total degenerate, or in other words, if you're like me. For instance, one card asks you to sculpt a "big penis vein", while another card asks you to act out "99 problems but a bitch ain't one". Some are genuinely funny, such as drawing something representing an "asian glow", but some are just reaching. In short, it's a mixed bag, and with the right crowd you can have a good time. This is definitely the kind of game that you break out when your friends and their spouses are around and everyone's had a couple shots of bourbon. The amount of fun you'll have is directly proportional to the level of debauchery that precedes it, and the utter sickness of mind of the participants. 

The magic to making this game last for more than one session is to be sure that nobody has seen the cards in advance so that they really have to guess, rather than have it be sort of a raunchy, multiple-choice game. It was hard for me to play because I looked at some of the cards, which gave me a huge advantage, since guessing "doggy style"  isn't as hard when you know the card is in the deck. I only looked at a couple of each to get an idea of what to expect, so I limited my bias, and I suggest that you don't even look at the cards when you get it so that you don't ruin it for yourself. 

I have to admit, the biggest downside of the design is that the best part of the game is the reveal if your teammate doesn't guess it, since the laughs abound at that point. Once you've seen all of the cards, the game loses all of its humor, and really, all of the fun, so you literally can only play this once or twice with the same people and expect it to be anything but a total waste of time. In short, this is the epitome of an "experience game", one that you play once and talk about for months, but won't be able to recapture the original magic on replay. The first time we played it someone literally spit out a mouthful of beer all over the table and damned near drowned because they were laughing so hard. The second time was notably less fun because we had seen almost all of the cards, and a lot of the shine had faded because of it. The third time we played it, it was a lot more sighs than laughs, and I refuse to play it again because of this experience.

Now, the game retails on Amazon for $13.00, so it's cheap enough to get you past the fact that this is a one-time game, and we had such a fun time with it the first time we played that I wholly recommend it. You'll notice that there's no pictures here, which is odd, and I did this specifically for the reason I mentioned - the less you know about the game, the better, so you can enjoy it fully the first time you play. It had an unsuccessful Kickstarter campaign a while back, and I can understand that there's a limited market for it, but I think this game would actually be a great $25.00 party game, especially since the Kickstarter version (not to be confused with the subject of this review, the mini version) was actually a full game that contained all the required parts, and had a lot more cards. As I said, these two points were the only drawbacks to the currently available Krackades Mini, so honestly, the Kickstarter version would've been a really, really good party game for people with sick minds.

Why Krackades Mini Overdoses On Awesome:
- Sick, filthy fun, with a dash of backstabbing, make this a great party game
- Simple rules make this a game that isn't hard to explain at all, especially when wasted
- It supports huge crowds, so you have no upper limit on players
- Two words: KRACK ATTACK

Why "Krackades Mini" Is How One Describes An HIV+ Midget Crack Whore:
- You need to buy extra materials in order to play, especially if you have no young kids
- If you look at the cards before playing, you ruin the game
- You have to have at least 8 people to make this worth playing
- There's not enough cards to support three full sessions with the same people
- The art is about two steps above stick figures
- There's very little that's novel about the design

I'd totally buy this if I had a party to go to and I knew that I'd only play it once or twice with the same crew, and also, the crew is pretty open to "irreverent humor" (read: crass, lewd humor). If you're looking for a long-term party game like Wits and Wagers, but grimy, that you can play for dozens of weekends at barbecues, this isn't the game. The price point is perfect, though, for that one-time experience if that's your goal.

3/5 Stars

Learn more here:

You kind of have to see this video:

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Stratego: Fire And Ice - "Let's Paint A Wizard's Hat Onto The Mona Lisa To Freshen It Up!"~ Hasbro Designer

Over spring break I've been introducing my 12 year old daughter to some of my more advanced games because most of her friends are away with family and whatnot, but since we're moving soon we're preserving our vacation time for the move and so here she sits, with only a couple of neighborhood friends to hang with. Anyhow, a couple nights back we broke out Stratego: Fire and Ice, and playing the basic "classic" rules, we played a couple of games. She immediately fell deeply in love with it, because it's simple to learn, relatively quick, but has enough strategy to feel like it's not a total waste of time. It's actually quite brilliant, according to her gleeful smiles as she trounced the shit out of me not via luck, but by being a clever little turd. Woe is me when she's 16 and dating.

If you haven't heard of the old Hasbro game, Stratego, you've been hiding under a rock for 30 years. Recent versions have tried to spice up (read: bastardize) the game with all kinds of new skins and special powers, such as a Lord of the Rings and Star Wars version, and this latest iteration, a generic fantasy version. To me, this speaks to the broad appeal and longevity of the game's core mechanics, and to Hasbro's apparent ideology that freshening up games for the iPad generation can sell more units.  All I know is that when  I saw this sitting at my local Goodwill store for 4 bucks, complete, I could not help but buy it to see whether my nostalgia for the game was ill-conceived. 

As it turns out, now that I've been playing hobby games for a great while, I understand with great clarity that this game is literally a great grandfather to games like Dungeon Twister, or other more European style confrontational games. Further, as I realized just recently after reflecting upon a thread at Fortress: Ameritrash, this is actually a hybrid combat/deduction game. Unfortunately, with regard to the new advanced rules, they literally destroyed what made classic Stratego what it is.

The first copy I ever saw was the 1970's version that had a Colonel Mustard-looking guy smiling across the board at you, holding a piece. Never trust a guy with a pornstache, says I, and that skeevy pervert totally looks like he's got some children locked in a basement somewhere. Anyhow, it had Marshals, Colonels, Captains, and so on down the ranks to the lowly Scout; only a very few pieces had any powers, and in almost all cases, the guy with the stronger piece would win an individual battle. The only way to know what rank the other guy's piece is was to attack it, which forced you to make incredibly tough decisions that delivered a very palpable tension. It's what made the game so fun to play. Not so any more, because with this latest "Fire And Ice" version, gone are the military ranks, replaced by mostly generic fantasy wankers such as the Dragon, Mage, Elf, and Dwarf. The funny thing is that the art looks straight out of Heroscape, down to the "Lava Monster" creature that looks a hell of a lot like a Marro Warrior, if you know what that is. I'd argue that it's not that the new rules are "bad" in the sense that they don't work, it's that

Regarding the art and components, the board a nice looking four-fold design which I love because it's small enough to take up very little room, and the components are of the usual new-style "castle" design with sticker faces. Gone is the medium sized, rectangular box and now the box is a small square, making it easier to put on shelves with newer-style games. In addition, I am incredibly happy I didn't have to sticker these myself, thanks to the previous owner, because there's like 100 pieces and the stickers have to sit in this little recessed area which I cannot see being anything but a white-hot bitch to get in there right. The stickers on some of my pieces are awry, which gives credence to my thoughts on the subject. 

It's hard for me to really define what the art looks like; it's somewhere between Larry Elmore and whoever did the art on Heroscape. It's not really bad, although the board art is a bit on the lazy side, but rather it's just so damned generic and cartoony looking that it's hard to take it very seriously. My major complaint is that my board has the wrong power names written on the character images on one side of the board, so instead of "Flight" or "Detect Unit", they all say "Quickness", although the power descriptions are right. Pretty funny shit, you'd think someone would've proofread, especially at a mega-corporation like Hasbro. Anyhow, the rules are really simple, even using the Fire and Ice rules, so it's not a big deal to learn or teach, and to a 12 year old, no less, and it only really takes 45 minutes to play, so it's actually a great little 2-player filler game.

So, back to the "classic" game, my friends. I started looking at the way the game is set up, the actual design of it, and I realized that it is the epitome of a Euro game. There's no luck at all, and every move is an important decision. It is the ultimate brain burner, and from the moment you crack the box until one player takes the flag, it's a battle of minds. There is no post-game whining about dice rolls; if you lost, you lost because the other person out-thought you. The best part is that the complexity comes from the strategies you employ, not the rules, which in my mind is one of the most important features of a truly great game. There's no chrome, everything makes sense, and every design feature serves a purpose. It really doesn't get any more awesome than that, from a design perspective.  With the art direction and the new powers, it's almost a drop in for a Dungeon Twister theme; in fact, I think this game could've really been branded with the Dungeon Twister moniker because I see a lot of similarities between that game and this. The difference is that I think it's far more intimate because of the small amount of controlled units; Dungeon Twister is SEAL Team Six to Stratego's Battle of the Bulge.

Even the new version, with it's new powers, is definitely still a Euro-style game, with simple rules and deep play, but with all the chrome nonsense that comes into play, I think it can be chalked up to "adds complexity for complexity's sake" at best, "abortion on a shingle" at worst. At least from a thematic standpoint, everything makes sense, but sadly, from a design standpoint, it seems like someone from Hasbro couldn't stand to leave well enough alone and, to add insult to injury, had to use cool sounding (read: insipid) names like Volcandria and Everwinter, as if it wasn't generic enough just adding generic fantasy tropes into the mix. It's like the Magic: The Gathering third string team was out of ideas, reached into a hat, and pulled out rejects from 1989. On its face, and only on its face, it's not a bad update of the classic game, it simply certainly muddies what was once a stellar game design. One could make the argument that it adds to the game by giving players more choices, thereby adding a new layer of strategy. Sadly, once you get past the skin deep level, you realize that it murders the key tenet of the original game, the risk-taking mechanic, and since there is less risk, there is less tension, which makes it boring.

The changes are so profound that the game is hardly recognizable; it's not really Stratego as much as it's more of a "generic fantasy battle game". The board layout is the same, and the unit composition is the same, but that's about all. Funny enough, I think the printing error I mentioned may well be Ms. Hermance Edan's revenge for the wholesale, rapacious profiteering through "updating" of her original 1908 design. Yes, a lady originally invented this game, if you weren't aware, and it was originally designed over 100 years ago. That's a fucking classic, if I ever heard of one, and Hasbro essentially went to The Louvre and painted a wizard's hat, replete with magnificent yellow moons and stars, onto Da Vinci's masterwork.

To be more specific, let me elaborate on some of the changes, since they kind of irritate me. First, the Dragon, this version's avatar of the Marshal, can fly over any units in orthogonal directions, land, then attack. In 1908, the first plane had only been invented 5 years prior; no, the Marshal couldn't fly. Another example is that the Mage can reveal itself, select an enemy unit within 2 spaces, and force the opponent to reveal its rank. In the classic game, a key decision point on every turn was whether to attack an enemy unit because the only way to determine its rank was to do so, and which was the core risk-reward mechanic in the game. In that same vein, the Elf can shoot any creature up to 2 spaces away, essentially giving the game ranged attacks, which make no sense when you consider the classic rules' adherence to a battle's victor taking over the space of the defeated unit, and again, the risk-reward mechanic that made the game so tense. Now, you can create a wall of strong units in your first rank, put Elves and Wizards in the second rank, and with zero risk simply force the enemy's hand in revealing itself. These two additions, alone, are a colossal, epic, indescribably fucking stupid change to this game's core mechanics. It literally changes how you play, and this is where the "rules get in the way" of the strategy. 

Because all of the new unit designations have special powers, so it's much more of a miniatures game than old Stratego. Maybe it's nostaligia, but honestly, I don't know that I'd be interested in playing it even if I had no experience with Stratego, primarily because if it stood alone as a miniatures game, it simply wouldn't be all that good. My daughter and wife both share this opinion, after playing the classic rules and the advanced rules, and the wife never played Stratego's classic version prior to playing the advanced rules. The long and short is that the game's changes are so profound with regard to removing the tension and risk-reward mechanics that the game itself is simply not the same game.

Anyhow, while none of us can really offer a strong recommendation of this version of the game for the aforementioned reasons, this version does have a few redeeming values. First, it comes with the classic rules, so you can literally just avoid playing the Fire and Ice rules. Second, the smaller box that I mentioned makes it easier to store than the old-school rectangular box. Now, on the flip side, the pieces aren't the old-school engraved bits, which is a definite negative; stickers peel off eventually, but the engraved, painted numbers don't.  I mean, if you look at it from the perspective that you get a "free" variant Fire and Ice version packaged in with the classic game, maybe it's a good deal. That said, if I wanted to buy Stratego, and I don't plan to buy it again, ever, I'd want the Onyx version, but if I wanted to buy cheaply, I'd most assuredly buy an older, classic version off of eBay for a low price. I guess what I'm saying is that this version leaves a lot to be desired, although for the four bucks a paid for it, I really don't have too much room to bitch, considering I can play the classic rules any time I want.

Why Ice Is Cooler Than Santa Sipping A Milkshake In A Blizzard:
- Stratego is a classic that every person must play, and will likely love
- The small box makes this version of Stratego easier to store
- It has the classic rules built-in
- The "new-style" pieces are nicely molded and don't tip over

- Fantasy tropes scream "We don't care enough about you to develop something cooler"
- The new rules ruin most of the tension that makes Stratego a classic
- The misprint on the board is irritating
- Stickers instead of engravings are understandable, but undesirable

First, the new rules murder most of the tension in the game, which was a deliberate act of gaming vandalism. Next, the stickers were a necessity to show the dragons and elves and whatnot, but putting that many stickers in small little apertures has to suck. Finally, with a market capitalization of over seven billion dollars, you'd expect them to hire an editor, but no, the misprint indicates otherwise. Short version: this version is inferior in almost every way to older versions, so buy them instead, but the classic game is so incredibly well designed that you should most certainly go out and buy an older version instead. In my estimation, "Jumbo Original Stratego" has the best value-to-quality matrix, and when I get some cash I'm going to get that one.


Check out the rules here:

Then go buy this:

Oh, and check out the single most optimistic person on the planet:

Saturday, April 12, 2014

The Bane Of Peer Marketing, As It Relates To The Hobby Board Game Industry

I was involved in a conversation at Board Game Geek, and the subject was game criticism and the hesitance of people to do negative reviews. Up until the end, it was an interesting and compelling conversation, and it brought all kinds of people into it. As it turns out, some reviewers are trying with a straight face to somehow obfuscate the fact that compensation is received for the articles, videos, podcasts, et cetera, and that it influences them even a tiny bit. I'm sorry, but in my opinion, any sane, reasonable person would have to conclude that at some point, a motivation for doing serial reviews of games, and I mean more than a handful, has got to be access to review copies. I'm not saying the sole motivation, but I am saying that it's certainly one of them, and not a small one. And I'm not saying that people are in it for the money, either, but rather in the preponderance of reasons, access to review product is one of the motivators for people to begin reviewing games.

One participant of the conversation had concluded that receiving review copies is not compensation, or not nearly enough alone to want to do game reviews. I cannot envision how he could possibly come to that conclusion. Access to review copies is absolutely a factor into why many people I know have started doing reviews. It's common sense, and I don't understand why there's such hand wringing and soft-shoeing about it. Why deny it? Just say, yes, having access to review copies is one factor of me starting this blog/podcast/website. I know it was with the Circus...after all, I'm not interested in spending thousands of dollars per year on games, but I wanted to get my voice out there because I didn't see any "groupthink" reviews out there other than Opinionated Gamers, and I didn't particularly care for their style of writing or the games they review, in general. But you can't start a well-followed blog without a large collection of newer games, and unless you review new games when they come out, you will lack a great deal of relevance, because what you say has likely been said before, and a thousand times at that. So, access to new games upon release is a huge deal for a person wanting to do reviews, because it allows them to be on the forefront of people who are writing or talking about new games as they release.

Anyhow, this same participant who said that serial reviewers do it for "love of games alone" also said that when calculating compensation in the form of free games, you need to calculate the time you spent playing. Well, in my opinion, if you count playing the games you get as "work", then you're probably not doing it for love of games. I mean, some games, like Crossroads at Darklion Pass, or Halo Interactive Board Game can be work, no doubt, but the comments and guffaws at the game make it far more of a conversation about a bad B movie than work. Playing games is a hobby, and a joyous one; it's not work, unless you do it for a living or gain substantial money from it. Guys like Vasel put out such a huge volume of high-quality, edited, and professional content that I would ~dread~ doing that, and unless the compensation was so overwhelming that I could clear a hundred grand doing it and quit my job, forever. Even then, I'd probably take a pass, because I simply am not that invested in the hobby.

In that discussion, I did a little math to determine just how much "payola" someone like me could make, not counting advertising money on their site, access to paid previews, et cetera. I reckon that if a reasonably popular reviewer got 30 review copies in a year, which is 2.5 reviews per month, and the value of the average game at retail is $50.00, that person received $1500.00 per year in free product to review. Furthermore, if you consider an average effective tax of 23%, that person would've had to gross $1845.00 to pay for those games if they didn't have access to the review copies. If the average US household median income is $51,017.00, then they saved 3.6% of their annual household income by getting those review copies. That's $1500.00 in arguments with the wife about "your game addiction" that you didn't have to have. On top of that, there's free GenCon, Origins, ConnConn and other con passes you didn't have to buy, and of course, advertising revenue if your site has it.

I also figured that a review, soup to nuts, takes me two hours. It takes an hour to think about the article, review notes, and so on, and it's an hour of editing, uploading, photography if none was taken during the games while they were being played. You could even slide in 30 minutes for ten minutes of polling and discussion for each of the three games played (at least that's how we review things here) in order to get the scores and some of the key ideas that the Circus members wanted to get across. If that game is $50.00, and it takes you two hours, the savings rate is $25.00 an hour to write and "research" a review. I don't know about you, but that's not insignificant. It's a simple, reasonable argument that publishers pay me $50.00 to spend two hours of my time talking about their game. Now, if they don't like what I write, well, they hired me, so it's their own fault. But again, it's not about the money, although this was a good example of the kind of compensation that is available to a reviewer who wishes to get free product and wants to justify the benefit/liability matrix in their own mind.

So, as I can show, game reviewers are paid, and as I showed above, it's not insignificant. Some people write for that. There's also the "celebrity" factor, because some people have a need to be liked, and in writing about games a lot in our little niche hobby is the fastest way to get recognized. I think this is an even more pervasive reason in our world, because many people that are gamers are social outcasts, or socially inept, and this helps them break through the wall and be part of something larger than they ever were before; to be the popular kid. I've talked with some people whose biggest reason for getting into the gig is this one, and I can respect that. At least it's an honest answer, and it's not seeking payola for payola's sake.Some people have that need, and for whatever reason, gravity or fate, they found themselves doing this review thing because it made them feel special and liked. No matter why this is, I'm just happy that they found peace in something positive.

I'm not saying I'm any better, or any less flawed, or any less biased. This is why I set the Circus up the way I did: I have unbreakable rules, I reviewed and continue to review every review copy I was ever sent or will ever be sent, and I sought out people outside the board game hobby who had never played anything beyond the old GameMaster series, Monopoly, or similar games, because they would be the least likely to have preconceived notions. I also set up the rules for review copies being given away because that way I had no vested interest in them; the words I use, the rape jokes, the utterly vulgar language, all of these things pretty much ensure that I was not going to get a lot of review copies, and I am 100% fine with that. All these things I did because I didn't want to have the possibility of being biased, personally, and because I know I'm flawed. Again, I'm no better than anyone else, nor more principled, but I did things at this site solely to guard against the fact that I am indeed human, indeed flawed, and prone to weaknesses as others are.

Another factor in setting the Circus up as it was has to do with "personal relationship bias". I like a lot of industry guys, because they're smart, savvy, and game dudes that are just cool. Colby Dauch is a cool ass guy. Jerry Hawthorne is an even cooler guy, one of the coolest people I've ever met. James Mathe is a great guy, and I really, truly like and admire him. That said, not a single person at the Circus besides myself have ever met any of them, will ever meet any of them, and couldn't identify them in a lineup if they were the only ones in it. I did this because this insulates my review process from bias; my Circus brothers and sisters are loud, obnoxious fucks just like me, and we don't pull punches. There's no bullying them into anything, and there's no persuading them unless the argument is sound. I've got a great group here, and this is why the Circus is so effective at what it does, which is being a champion of the consumer.

I mean, there's nothing wrong with getting review copies on its face - it's not indicative of bias simply because you've gotten review copies from one vendor or another, provided you review all that you get. It's only indicative that you are human, and that you feel you produce good enough quality work that you deserve to receive them, and that you'd be a good news source for people. As long as you are explicit about receiving a review copy when you write or record a review, then the buyer has the relevant information and can then make a value judgement to determine if you are, to them, a credible witness, so to speak. This isn't even about individual reviewers, it's about how publishers rely on reviewers' fear of losing access in order to skew the entire industry to the positive. I mean, we used to get some review copies, but I stopped actively soliciting review games for the most part, doing so only if a reader specifically asked us to get a game, or if the game is from an unknown or smaller publisher and the game looked so cool that I felt an obligation to get it out there, in the hopes that a larger reviewer would follow suit. Again, that's our choice and we've suffered from it; we were up to 4,000 page reads a week and now we're down to 200, and I reckon it has a lot to do with my refusal to post to Board Game Geek and not being as relevant due to not reviewing "hot games" when they come out as we once did.

But in the end, my point in writing this article is that there's something not often talked about, or rather goes unnoticed, and it has everything to do with "industry bias", and marketing people's understanding of human nature. It has to little to do with "an individual reviewer's bias". The main point is really about major reviewers not reviewing games that they don't like, after receiving them. You see, many reviewers, and especially the big name ones, are not keen on doing negative reviews, for a variety of reasons. Joel Eddy, a major reviewer, has publicly said that he does not do many negative reviews because they're not worth his time, among other things, which is his decision and I think it is probably a valid one considering the costs involved with producing a video. Others have said they don't do it because they don't want to deal with public backlash from the fanboys of any given product. Others have said that they simply don't want to hurt anyone's feelings, such as a designer, or a friend that is a publisher. All totally legitimate reasons not to do something, with the latter being a form of misplaced nobility, I believe. 

But here's the catch: publishers know this about reviewers. They know that people don't want to waste their time on a game they don't like, that they don't want drama, and they don't want to hurt feelings. In fact, they count on this very human factor in order to ensure that they sell their products. The "review sales channel" is entrenched in "reprisal fear" to the extent that they have strong  evidence that their risk of receiving a bad review from a major reviewer is very slim, and even minor but vocal reviewers are even more at risk from this kind of thing. To them, it's a $20.00 bet; if no review comes out because the reviewer doesn't like it, they're out $20.00 and get a marketing write off. If a good one comes out, all of the sudden, you spent $20.00 and got $200.00 in sales, or $2000.00, or if you're big enough, $20,000. I mean, I might be wrong here, but I've been researching this subject for five years now, and thanks to my "day job" I can smell a marketing plan a mile away just like a 20 year Army veteran can smell an enemy soldier around a corner. It gets worse though, and more insidiously damaging to the industry, when all major reviewers are in the position that their ability to produce content is in jeopardy simply by doing negative, but factual and honest, reviews, without pulling punches.

Because of the incestuous relationship with publishers providing review copies, it's the publisher who benefits, not the consumer, because the publisher is fairly secure in the belief that they hold most of the cards. It's not their fault, after all, because it's their job to sell games, and if the public isn't getting pissed about the fact that so many mediocre games are being made but rated highly, why shouldn't they continue doing what's working? Until the stick is removed from their hands, we will all remain prisoners in this trap.

For example, look at what happened to Michael Barnes, who was blacklisted from FFG's review corps for the grave and inexcusable sin of speaking plainly about the company's failings. If this is what journalism is about, only telling the good stories and burying the bad ones, we're all going to be walking to the game store with our rose colored glasses on, provided at no cost by YouTube, Board Game Geek, and reviewers who have the carrot and the stick to consider when telling you about a product. I read that Tom Vasel was blacklisted for simply giving a "not incredible" review, although that's hearsay and I can't verify that, although it came from a trusted friend who knows him personally. These are the lessons being taught by this sales channel to reviewers: "get in line or you lose access", which affects their ability to do reviews at all, or at least often enough to remain relevant in the eyes of the eager and ravenous public. 

Let me put it simply: If every major reviewer generally refused to produce reviews of games they received but didn't like, as they currently do, the logical result is that the most popular reviewers who produce the best, most accessible content on the most popular sites will publish an overwhelming majority of favorable reviews, skewing the entire game world greatly positive, thereby giving the false illusion that almost all games are good. Think about it: if Tom Vasel and Joel Eddy hated a game, but Undead Viking liked it, the one review that will come out from a major news source will be positive. There will be no balance. Let that sink in, and contemplate it a minute: If every reviewer didn't take the opportunity to produce negative reviews as often as basic statistics would lead you to believe are possible, what you end up with is the top 5 news outlets taking turns producing positive reviews, which makes all games seem like they're good, from the 10,000 foot perspective. And the publishers count on this, after all, they're not hugely popular reviewers for no reason...they carry weight, and they are convincing in their reasons to like a game. What's missing is the back-and-forth that you might see when looking at Tom Vasel's Top 10 Most Overrated Games video from a Dice Tower Con. This is honesty  in motion...three guys disagreeing honestly about games. Why is it that we don't see this very often in the form of reviews upon release? It's simple: reviewers can't afford to lose their access to free product because they would be crippled in their ability to produce relevant, current content, which is the death knell of any news source.

I can't believe that more people can't see this, or maybe I'm just crazy. That's possible. I already see this phenomenon in the hobby realm, and it's only worse with Kickstarter, since projects on that site use blurbs from reviewers that is not wholly representative of the article, and they pay great sums of money to popular bloggers and video reviewers to "preview" products. This is leveraging your trust in a reviewer's unbiased opinion and his name recognition against the consumer, which is a sales tactic used in everything from deodorant commercials to beer. It's irrelevant what the reviewer said, because if a celebrity spoke about the product, paid or not, you know it's going to be good, right?  It's sort of a conditioning that has set in the hobby world, and nobody seems to notice it: if a reviewer of good reputation is reviewing it, it's probably good. Why do we have these stereotypes, despite the fact that it's not entirely accurate? I mean Joel Eddy had to create his own "Negative Review Geeklist" just to point out that he's not all roses and cake! So why do these stereotypes exist? Probably because if you do 100 videos and 5 of them are negative, people will simply assume that if you review it, it's going to be positive. This kind of dialogue about "why don't you do negative reviews" is a clear indication that most of these guys' reviews are generally very positive, which gives credence to the notion that "if they reviewed it, it's probably good".

Also consider that the lifeblood of the "review gig" is content, as I noted, and if a website is to remain relevant, constant content must be released. Unless a reviewer is independently wealthy and can buy 100-150 games a year to feed the need to keep content flowing, they rely on publishers to feed their content engine, which feeds their subscriptions and page views, which then feeds their advertising revenue stream. So, it's in a reviewer's interests not to write too many bad reviews because if they piss off publishers, they lose a content feed source, which then limits their ability to remain relevant without great personal cost. It's a vicious little circle, and it goes on behind the scenes, and isn't often talked about in detail, so what you have is a reviewer who can't cut himself off at the knees by doing as many negative reviews as they might otherwise, and you have a publisher who knows this, and therefore is willing to take a small risk at a small price with a tremendous upside. Not long ago I was watching a Vasel "Top 10" video whose subject was essentially bashing older games, and at one point, Tom said something to the tune of "Hey, they're a sponsor of the Con!" This indicates to me that reviewers are cognizant of the fact that they can't be too critical, but I don't think anyone needs confirmation of that; it's common sense. This is not an attempt to impugn anyone, hopefully it's the beginning of an ongoing dialogue about how games are sold to us, and to tell publishers that they cannot blacklist a reviewer for a negative review if they want to continue to sell us games.

I'm not in any way saying that any given reviewer is a scumbag, a shill, a charlatan, or anything. Not remotely. What I am saying, however, is that because of this incestuous relationship between the publisher and the "review corps", what you have are loaded dice; a stacked deck against the consumer. The impression is given that almost all games are worthy of purchase, and perhaps many are, but the amount of buyer's remorse that you can find comments about on any given game tells me that people are buying a lot of games they hate. The question is what motivated them to do so, and I posit the idea that it's the stacked deck in an industry that is wholly bought and paid for by participants who are stuck between a rock and a hard place when it comes to negative reviews. It's not one person shilling for a publisher, it's that the entire marketing system is set up under a structure that absolutely makes it deadly for reviewers to review bad games in a negative light. Worse, it ensures that all games get a good review by at least one major news source.

So, yes, I'm vocal, outspoken, argumentative, rude, and a loudmouthed bastard about it, but it's because I'm passionate and I was sold so many utterly shitty games by deceptive marketing and a "stacked deck against the consumer". I took it as a personal goal of making sure that everyone that I could reach understood the way that games are marketed and sold, so that they would know that the deck is stacked against the truth. 

In the end, I think the gaming industry would be better off, and higher quality product would be produced if reviewers as a whole would stop being afraid of the publishers. The reality is that it's not easy to become a Tom Vasel or Joel Eddy, and they carry an incredible weight with consumers. Publishers that blacklist them will have to accept that not every game they make is good, or fun, or even of high quality. They will have to accept criticism as it comes, without reprisal to the reviewer, or they will lose their cheap supply of marketing labor, some huge voices in the gaming world, and furthermore, its in their benefit to take the good with the bad. We hold the cards, as reviewers, not them, but only if we realize it.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Tobago - Can You Believe This Yahoo Is Comparing It To Android?

Why are Moai statues on Tobago?
One of the first things I realized about deductive reasoning games is that there are very few that I really like. I'm a big fan of Clue, but the problem with other games that employ the mechanic of deducing something from little clues is that you are pissing into the wind for a good portion of the game until you can slowly remove suspects enough to nail down a couple of strong leads. Tobago, from Rio Grande Games, is a different sort of deduction game because instead of looking for a murderer, the location of a Battleship, or the elusive Mr. X, you're looking for treasure, and the treasure isn't really so much "hidden somewhere" as much as "needs to be hidden by players". The difference between this game and so many others in the genre is that the players are the ones who control the actual locations of the treasures, of which there's four; Players have direct control over where the treasures are, yet are tasked with "finding them". Imagine Battleship where instead of putting white markers on your side of the board to indicate misses, you place them to indicate possible locations, and you can remove them by playing cards with Tetris-like patterns, allowing you to whittle away the pegs until there's only one possible location. That's what Tobago is, kind of, plus a little more.

Maybe it's the beautiful little Easter Island statues or the palm tree pawns, or perhaps it's the idea of hidden plunder, I've always wanted to play this. I finally got it on the cheap, and it sat here for six months or more, waiting to be played, because I loaned it out for a while, then I finally got it back, but now my wife an I are preparing our house for sale. That, and there was always something that I perceived to be "better" on my shelves. Well, last night I finally played the last game of Tobago with my daughter, and I'm not entirely sure that it will see the light of day again at the Circus, or at least at my house. It's not a bad game, and the most apt word that I heard said about it after beginning to poll players was, "It's funnish". That about sums it up: it's fun, in a not so fun, brain burning kind of way. 

The most interesting thing about the design is that it only allows players two options on a turn: move, or add a card to one of the treasure maps. You'd think that such a minimal amount of choices wouldn't cause the "brain burner" syndrome, but there were some really long turns of "analysis paralysis", which is very uncommon at the Circus. If anything we get "Highsfuk Syndrome", where players are too inebriated to be playing; rambling on for 20 minutes about a drunken tryst in the Philippines, debating the grammatical correctness of the use of the phrase "more perfect" in the U.S. Constitution preamble, or the superior feel of a Lucasi cue versus a McDermott. In other words, it's not that we don't know what to do, it's that we get distracted in conversation, at least normally. With Tobago, we were all kind of slow in taking turns because of the nature of the design.

Tobago has beautiful and plentiful bits, from the treasure and clue cards, of which there's probably almost one hundred, to the cast statues and trees, to the wooden vehicles and huts. As a beautiful final touch, the windscreens and headlights are even painted onto the jeeps. It's a very pretty little game, with nice art throughout, and if you were to judge it on its bits alone, it would probably score quite strongly with people. The best part of the game, at least in my opinion, is the rule book and reference card, which made the game easy to learn and play, which would otherwise be a bit hard to understand because it's quite the odd bird. 

Anyhow, in my view, Tobago can be compared to FFG's Android in some ways, which I was attempting to do at a game night, although it was met with vociferous caterwauling and a great gnashing of teeth. In Android, you're not looking to find a suspect as much as you're trying to frame a suspect. This is the same in Tobago, because you're not trying to find the treasure as much as use cards to remove possible locations, but the players are ultimately in control of where the treasure is through the use of clue cards to establish the treasure maps. In short, you're both looking for treasure and placing it, simultaneously.

The treasures start with a clue card that tells everyone at the table one thing, such as that it's "within two spaces of a river", or "it's not in the largest mountainous area", and then as the game goes on, players place new clues to create each map and narrow down the choices. Players have a vested interest in creating all of the maps rather than just sticking to one, because when a treasure is finally revealed, no matter who recovers it, anyone who contributed to the map gets a share of the treasure, although the treasure distribution is done via a sort of bidding mechanic that has a dash of press-your-luck. Some treasures are cursed, and when a cursed treasure card appears, any treasure cards remaining in the recovered treasure go away, and anyone who passed on previous cards is screwed out of the loot. Furthermore, anyone who did not claim treasure but partook in the map making for a cursed treasure has to lose their most valuable card, or use a recovered amulet to block the curse.

"Amulet", you ask? That's right, like so many Euro games, the designer gave players a way out of bad shit happening to them. When treasures are recovered, the little statues place amulets at the furthest point directly in front of them, along the beach. These things are the "Knight Card", allowing you to ignore the curse by discarding an amulet you recovered simply by driving over it and stopping. The not-so-Euro aspect of the thing is that you can also use the amulet to do other things, such as discard and redraw all of your clue cards, play a second clue card on your turn, take an extra move, or remove one cube from the board. It's most certainly an interesting little nugget, but the truth is that in all of our games, people had two or three in their pile of stuff, meaning that they went unused and were taken primarily for insurance against the cursed treasures, which is funny because there's only two curse cards in the entire deck.

Now, there's one truly fucking horrible design aspect that every single person who played it decried: the cube placement. The idea is that you place these little cubes in possible treasure locations, but you can't always do it when there's only one or two cards, primarily because there's not enough cubes to put on every possible space. So, what ends up happening is that players have to spend too much time imagining the spaces, then look through their hand of four cards (six in a two player game) to figure out what would reduce the possible locations. This is where the "brain burning" comes in, and it's not really that bad, but it's also not a whole lot of fun. The game ends when the thirty treasure cards are depleted, which takes about an hour with two players and a little bit more, but not much, with four.

One of the best design aspects, if not the bits, is the board design. There's three double sided boards which are set up so that no matter what permutation you choose, there's always a "largest area" for any given terrain type, a feat to behold on its own, but that also gives you 32 or so different ways to set the board up. On top of this, the bits that get placed are always placed randomly using some no-go rules which makes every game very unique and really does afford the game a lot of replay value. It's like playing Scotland Yard if every time you played, the board setup was wholly different, disallowing "favorite strategies".

I've played it with two players, three players, and four players, so I've got a good grasp where the sweet spot is, and I think it's with three. With four players, it's a little too crowded and there's a little too much shit going on. It becomes a bit of a race, to a degree. With three, there's enough room to roam around without being beset by other players in an area. If there's one overarching praise that I feel needs to be heaped upon Tobago, it's that it has no "kingmaking" in a three player game, which is incredibly hard to do. The game seems player-neutral, and by that, I mean that there's no apparent leader, and no real way to beat up on the leader. 

The one overarching complaint that I, personally, have about this game is that there is zero player interaction, either direct or indirect, except in the treasure capture phase, and even then, it's simply taking or passing on a given treasure card. It doesn't seem to hurt the game any, and few people in my group mentioned it, but to me, it's a very "multi-player solitaire" kind of game; every player pretty much just plods along and "plays their own game, on their own terms", so to speak.

At the end of the day, Tobago is a surprisingly interesting little game of treasure hunting, with a small dash of truly exciting moments. For instance, my daughter moved her car onto a space for no apparent reason, but the next turn she dropped a clue that removed all the cubes from a treasure, leaving her on the exact location and allowing her to immediately recover it. I never saw it coming as she had been moving randomly for a few previous turns, or so I thought. There was a simultaneous sense of both pride and dread because while she was sneaky enough to pull a fast one on dear old Dad, she was sneaky enough to pull a fast one on dear old Dad. I'm not sure I'm comfortable with that, and I know I'll be watching her a little more closely at this point.

Why Tobago Is A Nice Place To Visit:
- Great components and art make this look very nice on the table
- Clever design allows you to play this daily for a month and never see the same map
- One of the more interesting deduction games we've seen
- The amulets allow for some sneaky little gambits that nobody will see coming

Why I Wouldn't Want To Live There:
- A little too much brain burning regarding the cubes, at least for our tastes
- Zero player interaction makes it a solo adventure, but with others
- How Moai statues got onto a Caribbean island, I'll never know
- Very few "gotcha" or exciting moments make this a very, very dry game

I really am kind of mixed on this game, as were some of my comrades. On one hand, you have a really slick deduction mechanic that makes the game very interesting, but on the other you have this very dry, Euro-style game with very little interaction between players. I guess the only word that I can use to describe it is that of a 12 year old little girl: "funnish".

3.25/5 Stars

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