Dragonstone Mine – Kickstarter Review

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Dragonstone Mine is a game for 2-4 players and was invented by Scott Elliot and his family on a rainy afternoon. The game was further developed over the next several years until a friend in the game industry (Scott is also in the game industry) convinced Scott to try and publish the game. Thus the Dragonstone Mine Kickstarter campaign was born!

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What has Kickstarter Become? or… How White Wizard Dropped the Ball.

This morning the Kickstarter campaign for Hero Realms went live. As of this moment it has about $49,000 worth of backers, and none of that is my money.

“Why not? I thought you loved Star Realms?!?”

This is true. I do love Star Realms, and I have purchased every expansion that has come out for it, both in card and digital form, and I will continue to do so. When Hero Realms was announced I was incredibly excited and expected that I would be auto-backing the game. So when the Kickstarter went live this morning, I clicked the link, assuming that I would soon be clicking the “Back this Project” button as well. As I read through the backer levels, I became less and less enamored with it, eventually deciding that I would not be clicking the “Back this Project” button after all.

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The Gamer’s Dilemma

12002144_10153210527829472_2213911743158511248_nColorful boxes filled with chits of cardboard and plastic adorn floor to ceiling shelves. Towards the back of the room a group of three is setting up to play the “new hotness”, the fourth open seat beacons you to join them. You don’t really have extra cash right now to get a new game, but all of these boxes are begging you to take them home, and if you sit down to play you know the result. Each container of gaming goodness provides at least one mechanic, theme or component that you desire. Unable to decide or justify a purchase, you leave the game shop empty handed.
In an effort to take your mind off of all the games you left behind you decide to check in on your family and friends on Facebook. Forgotten until that moment, the Board Game Geek group fills your feed with shelfies, photos of players’ birthday and convention hauls, discussion of the latest games, and requests for recommendations. “You’ve got mail!” Elation builds as you can find solace in your work, but it flitters away as the email loads, “Daily Board Game Sale” is the subject headlining your inbox. Your will breaks, with a few clicks of the mouse and clacks on the keyboard, a new email appears in your inbox… “Order Confirmation”.

Ding! A Kickstarter alert appears.

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Bling that Game!

When my wife and I first played Lords of Waterdeep we immediately knew that we had to own the game. After just one play I placed an order for not only the game, but also the expansion, and an upgrade kit to replace the fighter, thief, cleric, and wizard cubes with little meeples. Since then I’ve purchased the Broken Token insert for the game and I’ve backed a Kickstarter campaign to replace the money chits with metal coins. I have yet to receive those coins, but I hear they are almost here!

In the end I’ve spent more money on upgrades for Lords of Waterdeep than I have on the game itself. Companies like Broken Token, Meeple Realty and Meeple Source have made a business of upgrading your games and many people are more than willing to shell out the money to make their favorite game their own.

Bling

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Brief Overview – Ultimate Scheme

Ultimate scheme is a game of world domination! Each of the 2-5 players is in control of a different sinister faction trying to wreak havoc in the world by carrying out nefarious plots. Your minions travel the world collecting resources because you always need resources to carry out a nefarious plot. Once you have sown enough anarchy in the world you can claim victory and claim the world! Ultimate Scheme was designed by Richard Baker and is being published by Sasquatch Game Studio. It is currently on Kickstarter with the campaign ending on February 25th, 2016.

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Brief Overview – Control

Brief Overview

ControlIn Control, each player is a time traveler caught in a rupture in space-time and displaced outside time. Each player must use fuel cells to refuel their own time machine or stop other players from refueling theirs first. Control is a strategy card game for 2-4 players and a round lasts from 5-15 minutes. The game was designed by Mattox Shuler and published by Keymaster Games. Control is currently funded on Kickstarter with 18 days left in the campaign. The game costs $15 with free shipping to the US, but you can back at any level, even for just $1 and receive the print and play files immediately. Estimated delivery is July of 2016.

All players draw cards from the same deck which consists of four copies each of various cards which represent fuel cells. Each player starts with five cards in their hand. Cards have a value on them from one to ten, a special ability, and are colored either bronze or silver. On a player’s turn they may take one action from four options; install a fuel cell, burn a bronze fuel cell, diffuse an opponent’s fuel cell, or draw a card. The goal of the game is to have twenty-one points or more in installed fuel cells. The first option lets you install any fuel cell from your hand to the board. If the fuel cell is silver then the special ability printed on the card takes effect. For example the card Rift is a single point fuel cell that upon installation will either destroy a Nova (ten points) or allow the player to draw a card. Bronze fuel cells do not activate when they are installed, but the second option to burn a bronze fuel cell allows you to discard a bronze card in your hand to activate it’s ability. Singularity is a seven point bronze fuel cell which destroys all bronze fuel cells when it is burned. To complete the third option, diffuse an opponent’s fuel cell, the player discards a fuel cell from their hand that is worth equal or greater points than an installed fuel cell on the opponent’s board. That fuel cell is then placed in the discard. Finally a player may choose to draw a card. Aside from the Rift, this is the only way to increase the player’s hand size. A player may not have more than seven cards in hand at any time.

With two or three players the game is played as a free-for-all battle, whenever a player gets 21 points the game is over with that player being the winner. In a four player game, it is supposed to be played as teams of two, played such that the teams alternate turns. The goal is the same, but if one player gets 21 points, then that team wins.

Discussion

I’ve gone back and forth in my thinking on Control. When playing it the first times at game night (three player games), I was having fun. As we played more games we all caught on to the strategy and the games ran longer and longer, though we never did hit the end of the deck and trigger the “sudden death” ending. We played around with removing a copy or two of some of the higher value cards (it seemed that the game was always ended by a Nova), and generally we were enjoying ourselves. I went home and was all set to back the game. In reading through the coverage of the game I started wavering in my resolve; first Jan probably wouldn’t like the game, so getting my own copy was probably not necessary, on the other hand, to print-and-play the game I only had to back at $1, but then I would have to spend all that time printing, cutting, and sleeving the game. In the end I decided that it was only $1 so I went for it. I still haven’t played the game with Jan or Karen, but I’ve played several games against myself, and guess what? I always win! Thus far my only real gripe is with the theme of Control. In reality, the game is an abstract. It could literally have any theme pasted on, but I personally feel that the game should have no theme. In fact, I feel that the time travel theme detracts from the game because if you think about it, if there were three scientists all trapped outside of time, don’t you think that they would work together to get everyone home safely rather than sabotage each other to be the only one to make it back? Even the name doesn’t really seem to fit the theme, the scientists aren’t controlling time, they are simply trying to refuel their time machines.

Control is an intriguing game however, and I enjoy the mechanics of it quite a bit which is why I went ahead and backed it. In the rules it gives a strategy tip that with an empty board, any player is just three turns from a possible victory. This is true, but in reality it can be broken down to what should be an actual rule in the game, if a player is at eleven or more points, you must get them below eleven or they will likely win. Another consideration for strategy is this, if you can not win with the next card, do not put yourself above eleven points which per the previous rule, will make you a target. What seemed to happen in our three player games was that each player had to police the next player in turn order. If that player got to eleven or more, they had to be stopped, and if the previous player couldn’t play something to stop them, they would likely win. In my two player games against myself, it felt kind of like a tug-of-war, but once a side pulled ahead, then the other side had no option but to utilize their cards to stop the other player rather than advance themselves. I did find that I had forgotten about one rule which is the ability to diffuse another player’s fuel cell. I tended to give up the game if I didn’t have a bronze card to answer the player who was above eleven points, but in the end there were many times where I could have used the diffuse action to put that player below eleven. My last worry about Control is whether the game is too simple. I’m a gamer, and I strive to find a strategy in any game. Some games have no clear strategy, but I feel like Control has just one strategy. If all players play by the two pieces of strategy that I listed above, then the game simply becomes who can get their points on the table with the other player or players simply unable to respond. At that point it just becomes who gets the luck of the draw. However, the Control is billed as a gateway game, not a deep strategy game, and as such, I suppose it doesn’t have to try and fix that issue.

For me personally the game might lose some of its luster once I have more plays under my belt and once the people I play against are all up to speed on the strategy, but for now I enjoy it. It is a decent abstract card game for a casual or new gaming group.

Brief Overview – Tiny Epic Galaxies

Brief Overview

pic2349732_mdTiny Epic Galaxies is a dice game by designer Scott Almes and published by Gamelyn Games. It is the most recent game in their “Tiny Epic” line, preceded by Tiny Epic Defenders and Tiny Epic Kingdoms. Currently the next title, Tiny Epic Western is available on Kickstarter (campaign ends on 2/4/16). Tiny Epic Galaxies plays 1-5 players and a game runs about 30 minutes long. Each player tracks their empire and resources on their own player mat. On their turn each player rolls a number of dice dictated by the current level of their empire. The different symbols on the dice are activated to do various actions; generate culture or power, launch a ship to land on a planet, activating it’s power or launch a ship to put it in orbit around a planet, increase your position in a planet’s orbit, or upgrade your empire. The goal is to earn twenty-one or more victory points which are gained as you upgrade your empire and whenever you colonize a planet (move your ship around the orbit until you get to the final space). When you colonize a planet it moves off of the center row and stacks under your empire board, and the planet’s ability becomes a choice whenever you activate the empire die (which initially only upgrades your empire). Whomever gets twenty-one points triggers the final round. Once all players have finished their turns, the game ends. Players then reveal their hidden goal, and the player with the most points is the winner!

Discussion

I’ve backed quite a few Kickstarter games in my time. Some are better than others, but Tiny Epic Galaxies is among my favorites. This has been stated about a great many games, but they really pack a lot of game into a little box. Most dice games are fairly un-interactive. You roll, take your actions, and the next player then takes their turn. Tiny Epic Galaxies has one action that you can do which solves this problem. It is called following. Whenever a player activates one of their dice I can spend a culture point and “follow” that action. When I follow an action I get to use that same action as if I activated that die face myself. I don’t have to do this in the same way as the player who activated the die initially. For example, if my opponent activates the launch face of a die and puts one of their ships into orbit around the planet Helios, I can follow and also launch a ship. I could put that ship into orbit around Helios, but I could also land it on Helios or land it on another planet, or put it into orbit around another planet. The follow action removes  the down-time that accompanies most dice games as well as truly giving the players interaction and increases the tactical decision making aspect of the game. As the end of the game nears, you have to really pay attention to who has culture and who doesn’t, and be cognizant of which players can follow your actions and steal points right out from under you. TEG may have been my first Tiny Epic game, but it certainly won’t be my last.