Tuesday, January 19, 2016

ADAPT, by Gate Keeper Games, is a tactical and strategic game of battling to be the baddest fish in the sea, for two or three players (expandable to support more players).  As you play you'll accrue Experience Points which you'll spend on new and nifty parts for your fish, to help you survive against the opponents who are looking to do you in. Check out all the neat ways you can customize your fish:

The game will likely draw comparisons to Evolution, a 2014 game that has enjoyed much success, but personally I like ADAPT even better than Evolution.  ADAPT offers a higher level of customization in a way that just makes sense - your player mat features a space for your Body card, surrounded by spaces for a horn, dorsal fin, tail etc, in the appropriate places.  This is the game some of my players were hoping for when they playtested Evolution; a game in which you really feel you are building a beast, not just knee-jerk reacting to what other players are doing. Rather than just choosing from the cards that come into your hand, you're watching what's available and spending accordingly. Rather than just eating, you're evolving in a hierarchical way and taking the battle to the enemy.  I like that the game makes preparation and conflict the centerpiece and does not shy away from player elimination.

ADAPT is a gamer's game, but there's a simplified version to play with "guppies" (kids) that uses fewer slots for adaptations (cards representing specialized parts of your fish).  While there's still a lot to keep track of, this makes it more accessible to younger or newer gamers.

I received a beautifully printed prototype and used my own dice - the finished version will look even better and will come with multiple sets of fish-themed two-toned dice.

I would like to thank the creator of ADAPT for being great to work with during the review process - he really "gets it".  Congratulations on a really neat game and best of luck with the kickstarter!  To all who like games with tactics and customization, with some exciting dice-based combat, I encourage you to check out the campaign and consider pledging today.

Friday, December 11, 2015

The Last Spike

Train games are a big deal in the world of board games - the biggest of them all being Ticket to Ride, a board game behemoth of epic proportions. When you bring The Last Spike to the table, it may draw comparisons to TTR, but it's a very different game, and I actually enjoy it more.  Let's take a look.

In The Last Spike, you and the other players are rail barons and land speculators striving to connect cities by rail in the 1800s United States. The ultimate goal is to have a complete route connecting east and west (St. Louis and Sacramento, at the far right and left of the board respectively). The play is interesting because (as in games like Cutthroat Caverns) you are cooperating and competing at the same time.  While you all share the goal of connecting cities, and can all potentially benefit every time a connection is made, there can only be one ultimate winner and sometimes the right move is not to connect.  Not all routes will be completed.

The game is fast to learn, fast to play, and simple enough that almost anyone can enjoy it.  On your turn you have three simple and quick actions: 1) Place a railroad tile and pay for it (the dark squares above) 2) You MAY, but are not required to, purchase a land card (the colorful cards above) 3) Draw a new railroad tile randomly from the supply.  That's all there is to it!  It's a game of simplicity, but with interesting depth. A big part of the game is managing your cash flow (in the early going you'll buy lots of land cards, but they won't pay out for a while, so you'll need to choose carefully.  Also you will need to decide how much to diversify and buy cards for different cities, vs. specializing in a few cities and getting bigger payouts.) This sort of financial thinking is good for kids to learn - really, good for everyone to learn!  In my game I came perilously close to running out of money (and having to sell some of my land deeds for half what I paid for them!) but then the routes started connecting cities and the money started rolling in.  I ended up missing the win by a mere 1000 dollars (one lowest value chip!).  I should have abstained from buying one of the land deeds toward the end of the game- it's not advised to buy one unless you think it will eventually pay out due to a connection.

In conclusion, The Last Spike is a game that will be a hit with families, light strategy gamers, and probably just about anyone.   I recommend it. You may learn more at Columbia Games' web site.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Retro Loonacy

Retro Loonacy is a fast-paced game of matching iconic pictures.  The rules are simple - find matches between the cards in your hand and the cards in piles on the table, and play your cards on those piles as fast as you can.  The first player to empty her hand wins!  I love the artwork and the old school background colors on the cards.  As I have shown the game to various groups, I've noticed people play very differently.  Some people shout out the name of the image they're matching - "Rocket ship!  Lava lamp!  Record player!", some people talk some good-natured trash, and some people play in intense, exciting silence. You can only play one card at a time - no stacks of cards - and only use one hand, to give everyone a chance.  Still, some people are just really good at this sort of game and it's a fun challenge to up your game and beat them. 

Retro Loonacy has gotten a lot of positive buzz from game groups I've introduced it to, and has had many repeat requests for play.  It's a simple and fun game anyone can learn in under a minute.  I encourage you to give it a try - it's from the good folks at Looney Labs in College Park, Maryland.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Holy draw four, play all! It's BATMAN Fluxx!

The venerable Fluxx, the brightest star in Looney Labs' constellation of games, has been around since way back in 1996, at at last count there are over 15 versions and variants out there.  The latest, released today, is Batman Fluxx, adding a new theme featuring one of the icons of the American mythos.

The players I tested out the game with were excited to see it's based on a fondly remembered animated TV show version of the Batman universe, and the game adds some interesting new ideas to the classic chaotic Fluxx mechanism.  For those who haven't played before - it works like this.  Each player starts with a hand of three cards, and the game starts with the Basic Rules: Draw one, play one. Do what the rules say, but over time people play new rules and change the existing rules.  This keeps things interesting and possibly confusing - but you can always just check what the rules cards say, they are on the table for all to see. The object is to play Keepers in front of you when the Goal is favorable to your Keepers. But there are also Creepers in the deck - which will usually prevent you from winning.

Some of the new ideas in the game include:
  • Creepers now prevent anyone from winning, not just the person who they are in front of. Thematically, all players are working together to rid Gotham of crime.
  • a pair of handcuffs that allow you to take one villain out of play
  • Some keepers provide game benefits for the player who played them
  • and more!
It's impressive that Looney Labs has been able to keep the Fluxx concept this fresh and multivaried after all these years.  I encourage you to pick up Batman Fluxx - my friends did!

Learn more and purchase the game at:  http://www.looneylabs.com/

Friday, July 24, 2015

It's Party Time - a game of dexterity and daring

Party Time, a game by Chrissy Atherholt, is one of my favorite types of games - a social game where the players bring the funny.  Some games, such as Cards Against Humanity, have all the humor pre-written on the cards and your mission is simply to combine them.  Once you've seen them all, the game is less fun - that's why CAH has more than half a dozen expansions.  You could go bankrupt collecting them all. Party Time, like Say Anything or Truth Be Told, has players provide the content every time - so the game is as funny as you are, and the possibilities are nearly infinite.

The rules and components are simple.  The game is a large box with sixteen compartments and sixteen dry-erase discs, with a few dry-erase markers provided.  Simply write down funny activities, ridiculous rules and such on the discs, place the discs face down in the box (one to a compartment), and you're ready to play.

If in high school or college you ever tried games like beer pong, quarters, or flipcup you know the basic premise of the dexterity aspect of the game.  Bounce the provided table tennis ball into one of the sixteen compartments to get a challenge. (The box has some suggested ideas you can take inspiration from - Draw a moustache on the player to your right, speak a fake language until your next turn, take a shot of BBQ sauce, etc etc).  It's OK to look into the box to see which compartments still have discs in them, so you know what to shoot for.  The object is to have the most discs at the end of the game - but really, the object is to have fun and be silly with friends.  As with any good party game, whoever had the most fun is the real winner, right?

The game is intended as a drinking game, but states up front that drinking is not necessary (but recommended.)  Because I sometimes play games with non-drinkers, I tried it both ways and liked it equally well.  But I am a silly and pretty uninhibited person by nature.  Your mileage may vary.

My players enjoyed the game and were pleased to play again, and though the version I played is a prototype, I thought it was well constructed.  The finished version will no doubt be even nicer.

I like the combination of dexterity and silliness that the game provides... and I love that it's possible to hit one of the discs YOU wrote and have to do the terrible thing you thought up.

Skill levels will vary widely.  In my games, I made a house rule that you could get one re-try if you missed the box altogether.

Party Time is a frolicsome social game that greatly improves on brainless challenges like "Quarters." Highly recommended if you've got the right group for it.  The game is heading to Kickstarter in the fall of 2015 - for updates, follow me on Twitter.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Utter Nonsense

Accents are one of those things that have been intrinsically funny forever.  In doing a funny accent, we are simultaneously poking fun at, and celebrating, the culture of origin. The French are a much-loved target - think of Peter Sellers' character Clouseau, or the French knights in Monthy Python and the Holy Grail.  But almost any accent can be exaggerated and made funny.

Utter Nonsense is a card game in the vein of Cards Against Humanity, combining two disparate elements in a humorous way, and the person whose turn it is judges which combination is most amusing.  Here the two types of cards are 40 Accent Cards and 460 Phrase cards.  Each player gets a hand of seven Phrase cards and gets to choose the one most appropriate (or hilariously inappropriate) for the accent the Judge chose.

For me, Utter Nonsense generates more laughs than CAH because it involves a performance aspect - recalling seminal party game Curses.  The Phrases are edgy and funny but not outright horrible as in some CAH cards.  The fun comes from not only the card but from the incongruous combination of the cards and the person reading.  I find myself laughing hard pretty much the whole game. I like that the edgy humor is more understated than in CAH.  It's all fine and good to play a card that reads "Two midgets shitting into a bucket," but it's much funnier to see someone reading a phrase about sexting - in a Grandma voice.  Utter Nonsense gives everyone a chance to perform every turn, unlike CAH which has one person reading all the cards.  It's much more dynamic and inclusive to have everyone act each turn.

Players might be concerned that they "aren't good at accents" or can't do a particular accent. There's no need to worry - if you need a reminder about how a certain accent sounds, just let someone else go first.  As the game rolls along and people get warmed up, you'll find even more most reserved friends get into it if they let themselves.  The judge is supposed to award a point each time, but for my players the score didn't matter.  You might find it very hard to choose a best performance if you're in a group of very talented people.  As a variation, try giving multiple points out, or you could not bother with score at all. We also mixed things up by varying which direction the turns went in (clockwise or counter-clockwise from the judge).

Taking our turn as Nonsense Judge, we loved giving people an accent to do so much we let each judge choose from the accent deck.  One other variant could be to give each player three Accent cards at random and then on their turn let them choose which one to give everyone.

Utter Nonsense is a game that will not appeal to everyone, but it is exactly my kind of game.  I love the subtle pun in the title, I love how well-written the Phrases are, I love to see my friends doing hilarious accents.  If you like this kind of game, please pick it up. This is a game that deserves to be played by as many people as possible.

As a final note, I like how the accents in the game are regional or cultural, not racial.  They're all fun to do (some are challenging, some easy) and it's all in good fun.

You can find the game on Amazon.com or learn more at: www.utternonsensegame.com

Friday, April 3, 2015


Wordariffic, by Gorilla Games, plays like "Speed Quiddler" with a dash of Snake Oil - players make words under time pressure, then "pitch" them to a different "Judge" each turn. (The pitching is not necessary if it's clear how your word relates to the theme of the turn. And the rules don't mention pitching, but to me it follows naturally, a la "Apples to Apples".) 

Each player gets 11 cards in their hand.  Before the timer starts, a die roll and a randomly drawn card determine what the "theme" for that turn will be. Each card has a letter on it and also a list of words starting with that letter - so the roll of a 10-sided die indicates which of the 10 words will be used.  As an example, one card with an "E" has the words 
  1. Error
  2. Escape
  3. Either
  4. Etch
  5. Euphemism
  6. Ever
  7. Equator
  8. Elevator
  9. Endow
  10. Envelope
One "O" card features:
  1. Once
  2. Occupy
  3. Ogre
  4. OK
  5. Oath
  6. Oops
  7. Owe
  8. Or
  9. Object
  10. Oblong
The speed and the theme word make the game unique and separate from games like Scrabble and Quiddler which give you lots of time to make a long word.  Here the real goal is to make a relevant word, so it fires up different parts of your brain.  One area of your brain is just stringing letters together, another is trying to tie those strings of letters to "oblong."

There's a modicum of strategy in this word game.  You need to play to your strengths - are you good at making really long words (regardless of the theme) or are you good at coming up with words that are so cleverly tied to the theme, that the Judge will find them irresistible?  Play to your Judge (it pays to know who you're making a word for.) You score 1 point for longest word and 3 points for getting chosen as "best" - most thematic/preferred by the Judge.  If you're REALLY good, create the longest word AND make it thematic, and you'll clean up with four points!  Players are awarded points in the form of small plastic chips.

I liked how the cards cleverly combine the letters (for building words) and the theme words (for determining what the theme will be each turn.)  The design is elegant.  I also like how up to eight people can play. This is good for the larger game nights.

Wordariffic is a fast and fun game of words, and will be enjoyed by players who like making words - and making their case!