Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Review -- AXIOM


Games are always interesting when they offer challenges you don’t usually have to deal with.
It’s a case where as much as I love chess, and its vast array of variants, they are generally played on a board that varies only in size. The result is a ‘sameness’ to game play.
There are however games which change things up for players, and Axiom is one of those.
Axiom was invented by Michael Seal and first released back in 1988. For a game which has been around for two decades and is as interesting as this one, it should be far more widely known.
Of course that is sort of the curse of being a game from a small indie publisher such as Abstract Planet. It is hard for small companies to do the promotion and distribution to create ‘the buzz’ to really stimulate interest. As a result even among avid gamers such as those on the Board Game Geek site (www.boardgamegeek.com) there are only about 150 members who have clicked that they own this game. That does surprise me in a sense because I do see Axiom as what might be termed ‘a gamer’s game’.
A gamer’s game is one of those which looks good, has a unique feature, or two, and has quality components. Axiom hits on all three.
So let’s start with the rather unique feature. Axiom is a two-player abstract strategy game which plays in three dimensions. The play area starts out as a square of twelve cubes. Each player has two pawns (called Sceptres) which set on the top of the cubes as the game begins.
The pawns then move across the faces of the cubes, with the object of moving your sceptre onto any cube occupied on another side by the opponent’s sceptre. Such a move wins the game.
As you might envision the sceptres end up on the sides of the cubes. In early versions they sort of clicked into position from what I’ve read, and didn’t always come out of the recessed hole on the cube easily. That system has been replaced by a system of magnets and works very slick now.
Having to get your mind off a flat board and into the mode of envisioning moves around a stack of 3D cubes is the interesting challenge. It is something you do not generally have to think about when playing boardgames, and is thus rather refreshing.
The pieces are plastic, and should last, which is great.
And the game looks fantastic. While there are other colour options, the black and white version is simply dramatic looking. It is classy and eye-catching.
The game is small and compact too. The box is nothing special. The game sort of begs for a nice wooden box, although that would add too much to the cost. Still, one day I might have to have one made. Yes this game is that interesting. I find its classic look, and game play a rather special combination which would put this game easily in the top-50 abstracts out there.Check it out at www.axiomgame.com

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Jan 27, 2010 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- VERSUS


Well regular readers will know I have a huge soft spot for abstract strategy games so I was immediately interested in Versus designed by Michel Pinon, and released in 2008 by Asyncron Games.
The game is rated for those eight and up, is for two players, with a suggested playing time of 20-to-30 minutes. The playing time of course will vary with the skill of the players and the time they take to formulate moves, but at about half-an-hour it’s a game that promises some thinking without eating away hours.
Regular readers will also know I am partial to wooden games. The look and feel of wood means quality in my mind.
So, when I had the opportunity to pop the box on Versus, I was immediately impressed. To begin with the box is a sturdy one, which bodes well for keeping everything pristine over the long haul.
And, you will want to keep this game in nice shape, because everything inside the box screams quality. The board play area is made up of hexagons, which are painted onto a thick, round, wooden board.
The pieces too are wood, one player’s stained darker than the others. There’s even a small leather drawstring pouch to hold the pieces. It all comes across as very classy. I like that in a game.
Now one problem, and I suspect that will be rectified as the game breaks into North America in a more significant way, but there are no English rules in the game box. Today though that is less of a problem since the Internet is such an amazing resource. You can find the English version at www.versus-le-jeu.net. They are in a handy .pdf format which prints easily.
The game revolves around trying to get your pieces to a specific spot on the board.
There two distinct type of pieces, pawns and Versus pieces. The Versus pieces when moved actually attract pawns on the board, altering their position if they fall within the rules of movement.
Pawns are interesting too in that they can be flipped, and in so doing they come under the influence of the other player.
The ability to influence board position, and to switch pawns, are two highly interesting strategic mechanics of the game.
The game is different enough from other strategic games out there, with different enough mechanics, that is should provide fresh challenges for diehard strategic gamers.
That said, Versus is not really a game for casual gamers. You must like the genre of the game in this case.
If you are a strategic gamer, then the ruleset and game quality make Versus a hard one to pass up.

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Jan 20, 2010 - Yorkton, SK. Canada



It’s hard not to like a game that can basically be carried in your pocket.
Knockabout has such simple game components that it really comes down to a game board printed on a piece of cloth about the size of an old-fashioned mens’ handkerchief, and then add a fistful of dice.
The game is nice since it plays with only two players, but also accommodates three, which is actually rather rare in the gaming world. Unfortunately the three-player variant rules are not in the game package, but can be found at http://www.pair-of-dice.com/games/knockabout/knockthreeplayer.html
Each player starts out with a handful of dice, a selection of four, six, and eight-sided dice. Those dice are laid out on the board in predetermined positions.
From there, Knockabout which was created by Greg Lam in 2001, and is produced by Pair-of-Dice Games comes down to a strategic game that is reminiscent of sumo wrestling in the most abstract fashion.
Players are trying to push the other players pieces (dice) off the hexagonal board. On a turn a player is allowed to move one dice. The dice move in a straight line as far as the number on their top face.
The fun starts when a dice bumps up to a second dice during its move. Whenever a die hits another piece your own or the opponent's, it stops, and the hit die continues the first pieces move. As an example you have an eight-sided dice showing a six. You begin to move it and in two spaces it collides with an opponents dice. Your piece stops, the six-sided dice must now continue the move, in this case going four spaces.
It is of course possible to set off a chain reaction involving multiple dice of both your own, and your opponents.
The last die to move as a result of the collision gets rerolled. That is the extent of the randomness the dice impart on the game, and in this case the changing values add a lot to the game.
Pieces knocked into the outer ring are eliminated from the game. Dice pushed into the gutter can prevent future pieces from being knocked into the same spot.
In two-player action the first player to knock five out of his opponent’s nine pieces into the outer ring wins.
The game can be learned within minutes — the rules are on one side of a single sheet of paper — and that is a good thing in terms of introducing new players.
This is not an overly deep strategy game, but it plays in about 20-minutes so as a coffee-time filler it’s a great option.

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Jan 13, 2010 - Yorkton, SK. Canada



One of the standard games types is of course those played with cards. Those games get split into two distinct types in my mind, those using the standard 52-card deck we see in games such as the classic cribbage, and those which work with cards designed specifically for the game, Magic the Gathering being a prime example.
Soul Hunters fits into the second category.
As a card game, one of the key elements is of course the cards. Often gamers are first attracted by the artwork on the cards, which is unusual given that the old standard card deck is ultra boring in terms of art. Again referring back to the classic MtG, expansion sets are often measured in players’ minds as much for the art as the card play.
With Soul Hunters you sort of expect some rather dark art, and you get the feeling that is what they were going for with cards such as Touch of Death and Pestilence, Death and Devil’s Minion. However, they really come up short in terms of creating visually striking cards. They use basically black line art that lacks definition, and when applied over the dark red cards, and the green cards, it really gets lost. The game could be more appealing with better art.
Designed by Ville Hankipohja and published by Tuonela Productions Ltd., Soul Hunters is a pretty straight forward game for two to four players.
From the rule set we get a taste of the game’s theme. “Souls are the most valuable commodity in the universe and by ancient laws the one who possesses the most souls, is declared the ruler of all.
“Your task is to use powerful characters to lure souls on your side. Choose your alignment, play your cards right and you just may become the sovereign ruler of the universe.”
So the game is one where you are trying to capture souls. That is accomplished by either being very good or very bad.
Players take on one of the title characters, a soul hunter, which represent one of six different alignments or factions. By focusing on a single alignment, players receive a bonus on their influence, which is then used to lure souls.
You can collect negative or positive influence, the good or the bad, depending on which characters you use.
A turn consists of acquiring one card and then playing one. There is some potential to form a strategy as you play cards, but ultimately the game is pretty random. Now that is not necessarily bad, since if you like card games you are OK with the draw of the cards often swaying fate in a game.
The game rules are pretty straight forward, which is a positive.The game box suggests an hour to play, which is a bit long for a card game that is not particularly deep in tactics.

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Jan 6, 2010 - Yorkton, SK. Canada



Games which have a connection to our home province of Saskatchewan in some way are rather rare to say the least.
Only a handful of games that I have come across have been created here, or even by Saskatchewan people who have moved.
Fewer still use Saskatchewan as the location for their games.
So Prairie Aflame immediately drew attention. It is a genre game, one of a huge array of historic war games out there. For those unfamiliar with such games, they are generally designed around a particular historic battle, or era, allowing the players to recreate the events.
In this case Prairie Aflame centres on the Riel Rebellion of 1885, or more accurately the Northwest Rebellion as the history books tend to note it.
The Northwest Rebellion of 1885 was an uprising by the Métis people of the District of Saskatchewan under Louis Riel against the Dominion of Canada, perpetrated by the Métis’ contention the Canadian government had failed to address concerns for the survival of their people a position which had really carried forward from the Red River Rebellion of 1869-1870.
The Métis forces had some skirmish successes at Duck Lake, Fish Creek and Cut Knife, the rebellion resulted in the destruction of the Métis forces at Batoche (now an excellent historic site), and Riel was later hanged as a traitor, a position which has really softened these days with Riel being seen as a leader fighting for his people’s rights.
As a gamer, it is quite exciting to unfold a map and see a map of the Prairie region as the play area of a game. In this case the map extends from Fort McLeod south of Calgary, north to Edmonton and Fort Saskatchewan and east to a line just past Regina, Humboldt and Prince Albert. Sadly Yorkton is not on the map folks.
The game, like most war scenario games, comes with cardboard punch outs signifying forces, including those representing historic personages including Riel, Gabriel Dumont, Poundmaker, Big Bear and General Frederick Middleton.
The pieces are small, so get a zip lock bag and be careful to preserve them.
Then there is a 21-page rule book, which includes a number of scenarios, including the Battles of Duck Lake, Fish Creek, Cut Knife Hill and of course Batoche.
Other than that you need a few dice, and away you go.
On one website I did note a player’s comment suggesting when they played out an historical scenario they found it unbalanced in favour of Government forces. As I recall from my school history, the Metis and First Nations led by Louis Riel and Gabriel Dumont really had very little chance of victory especially at Batoche.In fact, as I recall vaguely from discussion in history class with teacher Ted Degenstein, Dumont realized a face-to-face battle strategy was not going to work and argued for more of a guerrilla hit-and-run philosophy against General Middleton’s troops crossing the Prairies. This is a game which is for war buffs, or people interested in Saskatchewan history. It is not a game to be played for casual fun by gamers just looking to kill some time. That is not a bad thing though. The game covers an important battle in not only Saskatchewan, but Canadian history, and it is great to see someone recreate it as a war game, in this case the credit goes to game designer Mark Woloshen and Khyber Pass Games, which sadly has just recently gone out of business.

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Dec 30, 2010 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- KEY LARGO


Key Largo is a game notable for a sad reason.
The game was created by Paul Randles, best known for the earlier game Pirate’s Cove. Key Largo was the designer’s final game before passing away in 2003 of pancreatic cancer.
The game was further developed by Mike Selinker and Bruno Faidutti, and was initially released by Tilsit Editions in French, German, and Italian in 2005. Titanic Games made it available in English for the first time, with an all-new graphic design and pieces, with Paizo Publishing now involved as well.
Key Largo has a fun theme as far as games go. Players basically travel around the Florida Keys in 1899, seeking out treasures in shipwrecks around the island. Before a hurricane hits, players need to search the many shipwrecks and sell the lost treasures to the island denizens for as much cash as possible.
Sounds like a fun little idea.
And, for the most part it kind of works too.
The game board is functional for this game designed for three to five players, although it does remind me of a board designed more your younger kids, than for adult gamers.
The playing pieces are large, colourful sailing ships, which is both a nice touch, and are easily identifiable and moved on the play area.
The rest of the pieces, such as divers, hoses, tridents, and weights, are just thick cardboard punch-outs. They work, but are not particularly special.
The game does rely heavily on cards, with action and treasure decks an integral part of the game. Here the art work is very good, using a sort of whimsical pirate style.
The game also has paper money. I’ve never been a fan of games using paper money. The bookkeeping aspect detracts from the game for me.
The rules are well laid out with a few ‘art’ pieces thrown in for colour, using the same nice art style from the cards.
The action cards of course let you as a player do certain things, ranging from taking tourists out to ‘go dolphin watching’ to heading to the tavern, or shopping for equipment.
Treasure cards, well those are pretty straight forward.
The game is played over a finite series of turns, with the winner being the one with the most money.
Key Largo settles out being a wealth building game, with that wealth derived from the luck of the draw of cards, plus some added influence about how you use the resources you have.
This is not a particularly deep and involved game. It’s light. It has some fun to it, although it isn’t a game that will come to mind to be the first game played. You aren’t likely to complain about having to play a game on occasion, but you won’t be begging for a game either.

-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Dec 23, 2010 - Yorkton, SK. Canada