Saturday, September 3, 2011

The Future Past

My reviews so far are copy/pastes from with some edits. Expect me to tweak these a little more to include links and more information about each game in the next few days!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Space Hulk: Death Angel - The Card Game

Space Hulk: Death Angel - The Card Game is a co-operative card game for 1-6 players by Fantasy Flight Games.  It plays in about 30 minutes, but new players should be prepared to double that for their first time through.

Components: Fantasy Flight can always be counted on for solid components and this Silver Line game is no exception. The cards are a nice, sturdy stock, and the art is very crisp and fresh while capturing the grim darkness of the Warhammer 40,000 setting. The rulebook is another story and is definitely a step back for FFG in terms of layout and comprehension.  It's worth noting that the two Print on Demand expansions available for the the game use a lighter, more flimsy card stock that just does not match up with what comes in the base game.  This however, does not affect play.

Rules: The poor layout of the rulebook only adds to the confusion of a ruleset that requires at least one step by step turn sequence. After stumbling through a few turns (both solo and with friends) I finally got comfortable with how a turn is supposed to play. Once the ball gets rolling, though, SH:DA does a good job of capturing the feel of an elite team of Space Marines beset on all sides by horrifying alien creatures.

Gameplay: My experience with the game varies. As a solo game (once I got the hang of the rules) it plays quick and easy. With a group, things tend to run a little longer due to the small space the game occupies and the fact that players generally gravitate towards discussing the best courses of action. In both cases, SH:DA succeeds in delivering tense moments where success or failure hinges upon a die roll. The luck factor is mitigated some by the ability to gain re-rolls, but sometimes you’ll lose a team member in the blink of an eye.  If a player loses both of their team members, then they are eliminated from the game completely - a huge black mark for me.  

Overall: This game is well worth the price of entry for something to pack up and play either with a few people or by oneself – especially if you’re a 40k fan. However, there are several other games that will scratch the same itch with less frustration at the rules and without the possibility of player elimination.The aforementioned Print on Demand expansions (Marine Pack 1 and Mission Pack 1) add some nice new options to the game and are well worth picking up, but do little to mitigate the luck/elimination factors.

Pandemic: My gateway game of choice

Pandemic is a co-operative game for 2-4 players by Z-Man Games.  It plays in about 60 minutes with a very easy ruleset that adds roughly 10 minutes to play time for new players.

Components: Given the scope of Pandemic’s theme (worldwide disease outbreaks), Z-Man has put together some very appealing components. The board (and box) are a hefty, matte cardboard. The cards feel sturdy, have a nice satin finish and can handle being shuffled. The disease markers are simple colored wooden blocks, but they work very well. Visually, the game is simple, crisp and striking.
Rules: Pandemic’s rulebook is laid out well and easy to follow. At just 8 pages, Z-Man has been able to not only explain all of the games mechanics, but also lay out a number of fantastic examples and illustrations.  The rules themselves do a good job of abstractly capturing the theme of the game with diseases sometimes raging out of control despite the valiant efforts of the disease control team.
Gameplay: As simple as Pandemic’s rules are, the game definitely requires players to strategize. Epidemics, outbreaks and infections happen at random, so you may find yourself scrambling to get halfway across the globe to administer a cure. Careful planning of your team's actions is crucial, but may open the game up to one player dominating the actions of others.  Z-Man states a 45 minute play time and I have found this to be pretty accurate, although new players may run closer to an hour.
Overall: Pandemic is a fantastic co-operative experience with mechanics that fit its theme very well. The game will work with hardcore and casual gamers alike and can be a great gateway to more complex boardgame concepts for the “Monopoly & Battleship” crowd.

Rune Age: Fantasy Flight Games' entry into the deckbuilding arena

Rune Age is a deckbuilding game for 2-4 players by Fantasy Flight Games.  It takes about 45-60 minutes to play a game with an additional 15-20 minutes allotted for new players.

Components: Being as big a fan of good components as I am, I have to say that Fantasy Flight has never let me down and Rune Age is no exception. Their cards have a nice, sturdy feel to them with a fantastic satin finish. The Runebound universe has always been populated with fantasic art pieces and Rune Age is no exception. Every piece of artwork jumps off the cards and the overall layout of each card is very clear and crisp. Of couse, since this is a FFG release, it comes with a nice set of heavy card stock damage tokens and a proprietary “attrition” die.
Rules: As with all other games in the genre, Rune Age’s primary mechanic revolved around drafting cards using in-game resources in order to create an effective deck. Where this game deviates is in it’s use of faction specific “barracks” (pools of cards for each of the game’s 4 factions) as well as neutral cards (which can be purchased and used by players of any faction). In addition, the game ships with a number of scenarios which will effect how players interact with one another as well as the game itself. Scenarios determine which cards make up the event deck and this in turn provides challenges beyond the other players in the game.
Gameplay: For all it adds/changes/tweaks to what may be considered the “classic” deckbuilding format, Rune Age is very easy to pick up and play. Each faction has it’s own quirks and playstyles which shift between the different scenarios and the event deck adds a nice layer of neutrality during some of the more cutthroat and competitive scenarios. It may take players a few turns, or perhaps even a few games to fully grasp all of their options and understand how both faction and neutral cards can be combined to produce the most advantageous effects, but from my experience, each and every turn spent learning the game is just plain fun.
Overall: Rune Age is a wonderful addition to the burgeoning deckbuilding market and a worthy carrier of the Runebound mantle. FFG did a very good job of creating a game that will be familiar to fans of the genre and fans of the IP without forcing the marriage between the two. Every time this hits the table, I am excited to play it and I sincerely hope that FFG will continue to support the game with future expansions including more units for each faction, more neutral cards and (most of all) more scenarios.