By Andrea Crespi, Lorenzo Silva
From Horrible Game
Plays 2 - 4 players
Ages 14 and up
(Tested is a format that I use to give a first or second impression of a game. Therefore, this article is not a final review, as I like to know all the ins and outs of a game before I score it. And this should be treated as giving you an idea about the game.)
Dungeon Crawlers have always been a one sided affair. A team of gallant Heroes would stand off against one evil play or dungeon master and their minions. Alone turns that on it’s head and has a team of devious masterminds hinder a lonesome Hero from achieving their objectives. It’s a nice twist in the genera. Placing it is a sci-fi setting also makes it stand out from the other board game counterparts. Giving a fresh feel and making my wish that is had the Alien licence thrown in. Even Dead Space from EA games would have been nice too. But luckily, if you know nothing of these two titles, the game feels like it’s own beast.
Let’s start with the set up, which is a little time consuming as at first. The Hero player will need to choose what suit their character will don. Each suit has its own special ability, from the Medic Suit that lets you recover a life point and mind point, to the Captain Suit that lets you reroll a die in combat. Added with that, there is a detailed miniature of each suit to represent the Hero on the main board. And a nice nod to Dead Space, instead of creating a doctor character called Ash and captain called Sheridan. Another nice touch is that all the suit not chosen may possibly be used in the game as companions that you may encounter in the quest. As you can just play a basic game (which is what I have done twice) or from a scenario from the scripted campaign book (something I haven’t looked at yet). In a basic game, there is the random drawing of the three mission cards, that are the objectives of the Hero. Kind of like what Riply did. Set the self destruct, grab the cat and get out of Dallas.
Each mission must have a different destination, so if two are in the laboratory, for example, you would redraw until you have three different ones. Two of these missions are primary missions. One will offer an upgrade for the Hero while the other gives the Hero a penalty to one of their normal actions and a reason to get this neutralised. The Hero needs to complete one of these before they can go directly onto the final mission, and win the game. Final missions consist of escaping in a pod or killing a boss creature. The 21 mission cards give a good mix to the replayability of the game. And with this Kickstarter (coming back in February 2019), there were some bonus mission added too. The Hero will then fill up the data sheet/player board with tokens, recording life and mind point, round tracker, locations for missions and turn tokens.
It’s at this point that the Evil players will stroke their evil beards, then be able to start setting up, as they now need to generate the two levels of the dungeon. Sorry, spaceship map. These are two, double sided small boards, that have corridors and room spaces layed out in different formations. And the reason that the Evil players have to wait this long to set up is so they know what locations the Hero is searching for, as they have to place the room tiles onto the map. They’ll also choose which part of the ship the Hero wakes up in. Obviously, the further apart you can place the Heroes destination, the harder it is for them to complete their missions. After placing these locations strategically, you get to add few nastie creatures from your pool of worms, parasite, hybrids and cultists. And all this will be concealed behind a screen from the Hero player, until they discover it while exploring the dark desolate vessel. And the final thing the Evil players do before the game can begin is select two of four decks of card to play with. Fury, Speed, Terror and Traps. Each give a benefit to either combat, speed of your creatures, mind damage and damage in general. These cards are reaction card, because the Evil player doesn't really have a turn. It will be the Hero who takes all the actions. The only way that the Evil player can disrupt the Hero is to play a card that says you can play it if the Hero moves. Or operates something. Then... WHAM!
The game contains a vast amount of components, from boards, cards and tiles, to more tokens than you’ll ever need. Oh, and a handful of mini’s. In the games that I played, there were never been a swarm of enemies on the main map, which I believe justifies only having 23 minis in the game. They are well detailed and again, we have hardly used many in the games we have played, lending an air of “Alien”, and not “Aliens” to the game. There are some nice “in the box” trays that you can pull out and place next to you. This lessens the burden of sorting out bits from baggies and speeds the placement of everything on the table immensely. And your going to need a big table to play this on. As well as, situate the two sides in the right way, so all the Evil players can see the minimap and relay everything the Hero encounters onto a main map area. While having the Hero, not to far away, so they can see this main map and have space for the items they collect. Depending where the Hero goes and how ever far they go, this main map could take a vast amount of space, as it stretches out with each exploration. This is until the Hero swaps floors or more likely, at the end of each round. When a round ends, any parts of the map that are not in the Heroes line of sight, are removed. Making this a memory game for them. Luckily, there is a segment on their board that they can use to trace their steps, using some of the myriad of tokens at their disposal.
Now let’s get to the nitty gritty of the game play. The Hero will wake up in their location, not knowing where they are and have to complete two of three objectives to win. The Hero player will perform all the actions that you come to expect from a game of this ilk. Mainly move, fight, search and interact. With every action announced before it is performed, the Evil players then have the chance to play a reaction card and move the world around. Each card can be used in two ways. If the Hero player claims they are going to search, card marked with the search icon can be played against them. These may say that an item found is damaged and not working correctly. Or, while searching, a distant creature moves closer. Very “take that” in essence, but of course, very thematic at the same time. Hero and Evil players then do these actions in the order indicated on the card and then it’s the Heroes next turn. Do this eight times and it then it’s the end of the round.
There is a limitation of two cards maximum that can be played each turn. Because bad shit doesn’t happen in one chunk, unless your me. It is spaced out. Building up to the climatic finally. And depending on your playing style, you could create the classic “little bumps in the night” up to the “mass attack.” Or mix it up with a loud, aggressive attack in the intro to shock your Hero and then recoop before the final onslaught, like a modern horror film. These cards go onto a track above the Hero board. Once the track is full, no more cards can be played. This has another interesting limiting device, as if two cards are played on a turn, one of those cards if placed horizontally to take up two spaces, filling the track faster. But you may have stunted the poor Hero enough to justify this risk. Filling up the track will unfortunately stunt you as the Evil players. At the end of every round, a collection of danger tokens are given to the Evil players, depending on the number of spaces left open on this track. These danger help the Evil player immensely. They active a bonus power on the reaction cards, if they are played when the Hero is in a zone with a danger token. As well as give a bonus to combat.
Now I mentioned a second use for these cards. You can spend one or two of them to spawn or move one of your existing creatures. Again, these cards go onto the track, clogging the amount of actions, you as Evil players can take. But this is a nice way to mitigate bad cards in your hand. Discarding them, so to speak. Every movement and spawn will have to be communicated to the Hero. Whether it be a “Sluuurping” sound, 4 spaces from their west or a “Haunting Gurgle” from the other floor. And all the while, the Evil players will be trying to communicate with their team, in code. Pointing. Humming. Making words up. As your not allowed to see the other players cards and you don’t want to tell the Hero what you have planned. But you want to convey the plans you have concocted in your head to the rest of your team.Giving some interesting aspects to the Evil teams play. Unless you are playing ALONE. This is a nice roll reversal on the discussion front from games like Descent, where the heroes talk about how to take out the tribe of goblins.
So with the Hero taking actions, the Evil players occasionally interfering with those actions. They are also responsible for doing the bookkeeping of the game. They adjust the hidden mini map whenever they or the Hero does something. They also update the main map for the Hero to see where they are and what’s about. Whenever a unseen creature spawns or move, they inform the Hero or move them if they are visible, while making strange noises to insight fear. All this storytelling is meant to enhance the Hero players experience. And I kind of felt that after two times playing on the Evil player team, this game is exactly that. The Hero is playing a game and the Evil players are reading the story. Although playing as the Evil player made it easy to explain the rules to both side...While playing. Which is a bonus.
For our Hero, they are having to use the items that they have collected. They are having to use their memory, to map out the ship. They are mainly going to have to use the actions wisely, because there are not many of them. Eight actions per round and only four round, which is enough to move and map out the entire ship, but you’d fail the mission. But our Hero has a little bonus in adrenaline tokens that can be used on a turn, to either heal a point of damage or go into bullet time. This lets the Hero perform two actions instead of one and prevents the Evil player from interfering with a reaction card during those actions. A little advantage for Mr No-Friends. This can be very useful when scanning for a location, in which the Evil player will tell you how many spaces away that room is and can’t react, which will allow them to lie about this information. Or even where a monster is. Knowing when to switch lights on and in which direction is also important. As the ship is in total darkness and the darkness is your enemy. It makes the creatures attacks stronger and it also makes you crap your pant. If ever a creature jumps out on you in the dark, you can kiss you mind points goodbye. Knowing when to search and after you have found an item, do you upgrade it, burning a component from another item you own? Which is again thematic and cool. And should you fight or run? Running can be a good option, as time is against you. But fighting is also a bonus. Defeating two of the same type of creature gives you a special ability. Seeing a door means there is a room. Could it be the one the Hero needs? And will there be any surprises behind it? Lots of choice for the Hero and tons of good ideas in the design that seem to balance out nicely.
Lorenzo Silva is fastly becoming a designer who’s input in any title seems to be a fresh twist to any genera of game. From Steam Park to Dragon Castle, there is always some little nuance in the rules that I like. And the same is true with this co-design here. There is a lot more to the game that I can explain here, like the combat dice that have three results. Hit, miss and a possible hit, depending if it’s dark or light. Some many nice little ideas that convey the sensation of one of the greatest horror films ever, but I’ll leave that for a final review. Everything I encountered in the game was thematic and fitted in this world of lost in space. Ever rule and mechanism, while being slightly chunky and clunky, fitted into the experience of the game. And I’m sure with more plays that it will get smoother, and timing issues will disappear, like a xenomorph out an airlock. As I mentioned earlier, this may feel one sided, where the Hero is playing a game and Evil players are story telling, but I still haven’t played as the Hero to confirm this. And I have played with two different groups, and I have trouble getting a feel for a game while teaching it. But so far from what I have played...
Tested - Liked - Want to play again soon
(Just needs a cracking soundtrack to play with ;) wink)
Cuzco - Tested
(Tested is a format that I use to give a first or second impression of a game. Therefore, this article is not a final review, as I like to know all the ins and outs of a game before I score it. And this should be treated as an giving you an idea about the game.)
Tile placement and world building is the name of the game here. Just like in Carcassonne, you and the other players at the table will be generating a landscape, from which you will profit in the form of points. But so will the others, using the stepping stones that you have already created to boost their scores.
Cuzco is the 3rd in the “Mask Trilogy” from Kiesling and Kramer, that has been rejuvenated by the team at Super Meeple. Although this game has not kept the same name of Java, it still has a small component upgrade just like Mexica and Tikal had before it. And having never played any of these game before, I will be coming at this with a fresh perspective. I can’t tell you if the games rules have been changed or improved, but I can obviously see that the has been a facelift done on the temples and meeples, that are physical improvements to the aesthetics of the game. And man, the game looks more and more beautiful as the game develops. So let's talk about the game.
As an Inca dignitary, you’ll spreading out your tribe over virgin soil to cultivate and develop the villages you construct into cities. Constructing temples will earn you prestige points as well as being the tribe that offers the most gifts to the gods at a temple, when a festival is held there. Irrigating ponds to water crops will also give big points too.
The land on the main board will terraform very quickly as each player has six, sometimes seven actions points to use on their turn, if they decide to use one of three bonus tokens. Most of your action points will be use to add a tile to the board. You’ll have a personal reserve of special tiles, made of one and two hex’s, but you’ll mainly draw from the general pool. This pool consists of a three hex tiles, each has one village hex while the others are fields. You can place these on any of the spaces of the main board and even go off the main board, as long as one of the hex’s of the tile sits in a space. Which is an interesting prospect that can change the game, when you think all is lost in the closing stages of play. Tiles can also be stacked, giving you a 3D terrain, that is not only pleasing to look at, but also gives the games main strategic mechanism. Connecting the village sections of tiles together, make a village bigger. The bigger the village, the bigger a temple can be constructed inside it, transforming the village into a city. Which mean the architect of this monument reaps a bigger chunk of prestige points.
But to be able to construct, you need to have control of the village. Having one of your Incas on the highest village tile, gives you this control. And it’s this control mechanism that is the main strategic mechanism I mentioned earlier. Adding an Inca of your colour to the board will cost an number of action points, depending if they enter the map from the forest side of the board or the mountain side. Which doesn’t sound like much, but as the game goes on, the Incas will stop entering from the cheaper forest side of the board and start coming from the action point eating, mountain side. As it may be quicker or cheaper in action point spending to get your Inca to where you want them. Your Incas can move about freely on one type of terrain, field or village. But as soon as you cross over from one type to the other, that eats up an action point. Seen as your opponent's Inca’s will block routes, you may have to weave in and out between them. Or it may be more beneficial to move one you placed earlier to get to where you're going. Having your Inca of the highest level tile in a village, gives you the right to construct a temple, or enlarge one that is already there. Giving the 3D meaning to the game and leaving you fighting for this higher ground. Or terraforming for.
Building costs an action, but will give you those much needed points. The larger the village, the larger the temple you can construct. And the stone like pieces of the temple components look stunning as you build here, there and everywhere. Adding depth to the board, with its colours and shape, making for a easy reference in the game. As do the little flame tokens that are place on top, when a festival is held there. With the increments of the temples at 2/4/6/8/10, which also tie in with the village size, you will find yourself following a pattern on each of your turns. You’ll start by making the village sections as vast as you can, getting an Inca to the higher ground of said village, before finishing your last action on the construction. And possibly hold a party after, gaining bonus point. See, burning the candle at both ends does pay off…
Then the next player will come along, enlarger that city, insert an Inca and add levels to the temple on their turn. Receiving a larger chunk of points than you did previously. Maybe have a better party than you did too! Before the player after them, maxes out the city, sending the temple to its highest level and parties like it’s 1999. Which at first will make you think that this is just a rinse and repeat game. And it can be that for lazy players. Or you could “PLAY THE GAME.” It’s always advisable to get in the other players way, while helping yourself to the largest piece of cake. That’s where the pleasure of the game comes. Placing tiles out that make your opponents think “what are you doing!” Or getting to a temple, just to finish it off, amassing the largest score possible. Even block main routes with you Incas, forcing other players to use more actions to get to where they want to go. And even just simply, laying the foundations for your next turn. And even though there is this slight nastiness between players, it is hard to see, but occasionally felt.
Many Inca’s in the same village may jussel about to get the privilege to build. As ties can be a frequent occurrence. If players are joint on the highest level, the deciding factor goes to the one who has the next highest Inca. So on and so on, meaning a village may be swarming with players Inca’s, which can be a good and bad thing, as a village can be cut into parts. A strategically placed tile can replace that one village hex with a field, making that once larger city/village into two smaller ones. Again, having a Inca in the right place can play havoc on this possibility, retaining this man made settlement in it’s form.
Yes, villages and cities can be reduced as well as be enlarged, as long as there is only one temple in that zone. And as long as the tile placement rules are followed. What’s that? More rules? Well, nothing overly complicated. But something else to carefully plan as you play. If you play a tiles on top of another, it can not stack in the same way as the one beneath it. So in the case of a three hex tile being played, it can not be directly placed on top of another of the same size. Meaning that it has to be placed on top of different tiles. Although placing a smaller tile on top of a larger one is permitted. This prevents a back and forth of, “this was a feild, now a village, now a field, now a village…” And lends itself to a deeper way of thinking, as the tiles need to sprawl out and not stack like a two year old stacks the same size Lego blocks together. This cuts down on the “I’ll just place these willy-nilly on the board” moments that unthinking players do. You may find that you will have to place two or more other tiles on the board before placing the one that you need to fulfill your dream. As you can see, there is a little more to this game than in other tile placement games, due to this 3D aspect. As 1) being higher allows you to build temples and basins, 2) let’s you shape the map and 3) make for a sexy tabletop experience.
Not only can you build temples, cities and villages. Small and large basins of irrigation water can be created. These can gain you a small or large chunk of points in one fail swoop, if you pay attention. These basins can only be created on the board itself and never on top of tiles already placed. If while placing tiles, you leave a hole of empty board spaces, totally surrounded by tiles, for an action you can transform them into these water pools. Collecting three points for each single irrigation tile placed. That can sometime be a large chunk of points. Again, as long as you are have the highest Inca adjacent to this body of water when you build it, you will get these points. So being careful not to give points away or lose them in a tie is always a think to look for.
As I mentioned early, the game can follow a repetitive formula of, place a few tiles, move an Inca into a village, build the temple, score point. Added to this simple pattern is the prospect to earn extra points by using a free action at the end of your turn, holding a festival in a city. Any city on the board that you have an Inca in, can be used. If there are other players, with Incas in the same city, they also can participate in this mini game. Players will start the game with a few cards in their hands, depicting one or two gifts for the Gods. More cards can be collected by spending one or two action points to receive one or two cards, each turn you take. And these are always blind from the draw pile. With only three types of gift on these cards, you could draw the same thing every turn. That can be a benefit and a curse where festivals are concerned.
Some of these cards are spilt, holding two different gifts, so they can be used as one or the other. The discard pile will dictate which gift or gifts the Gods hold as the flavour of the month. These images are of statues and masks, but it’s the colour of the background that makes them easy to distinguish. When a player holds a festival in a city, they play a card that has the same colour background as the card on the discard pile. Each other player, in the same city may also offer the same gift to the Gods. And so on around the table, until all players are fed up with giving or can not give any more. That’s when you count to see which player has offered the most gifts. That player then earns some bonus points, depending on the size of the temple and if there were other players at the festival. Before all played cards are discarded and a new card from the draw pile is place on top of the discard pile, create the next fashion that the Gods wish the Incas to follow. This mini game breaks up the play a little and adds a little layer of marzipan to the already nice simple icing covered sponge cake. You may feel that wasting an action to draw a card is a pointless affair, but it is one you should not forget. Festivals can be frequent occurrences and other players will get fat on the juicy points that are left behind. No sugar rush included. And after the festival is finished, a touch is lit on that temple, signifying that another festival can not be had there until the temple has been developed to a higher level.
The game comes to an end when the general pool of tiles is empty. From then on, each player has one more turn to scrape up any point that they can get, plus move their Incas to prominent positions in each city. Because after you have used your last action point, it is time to do your final scoring. A simple case of looking at each of the cities and seeing which ones you have control over. Remember, control is the Inca that is on the highest level in that city. For each city you have in your control, you win the points indicated by the size of the temple there. As you can see, you may have control of a city at the end of your turn, giving you points, but then the next player can then take control, scoring from the same city. This makes for an intriguing last turn. You may just try to take as many points as you can or try to make it hard for others to claim control over the cities, by dividing them or moving one of your Incas to a hex, that makes players spend more actions than they should. Oh, so sweet, when you can reduce someone's potential final score from 55 points to only 30.
All in all, this is my type of euro style game. The rules are relatively simple, with a few exceptions. Like Carcassonne is simple to explain and then you get to the Farmer scoring rule. But once you get your head around all of the little intricacies and start playing, you’ll take to it like a duck to water. This is a game that could be classes as just one of those classic euros, with very little variety and small replay value because it’s the same thing over and over. Much like Splendor and Pastiche, games that I can see myself playing many time, adapting my strategy and learning new ways to get the most points. This is definitely a game that an experienced player will walk away with, in regards to final score. And there is no sign of luck helping you. You’ll just have to use your keep eyesight, imaginative perception and mathematical calculation to be a master at this game.
Tested - Liked - Want to play again soon
“Small, simple and fun” must be the moto for Oink Games, as well as my review for the game. Thank you for tuning in. Goodbye....
Flotsam Fight is another, very small box game that fits in the palm of your hand. And seems to be the model of production for Oink. It’s also a continuation of a story from a previous title, Deep Sea Adventure. In that game, you were bringing treasure up from the depths of the sea to your submarine. In this one, your sub is taking on water and you have to evacuate to the lifeboats with your collection of priceless artifacts.
Unlike the first part of the story, that used a push your luck mechanic with dice rolling and space displacement, this is a pure traditional style card game, in which you still have the push your luck aspect of, which card to play that will let me play more cards and stop the other players playing more of their own. But done in a light, mathematical way, that is not only fun to play but educational for the younger ones at the table.
There are eight lifeboats on the table, each with their own number, between 3 and 10. And you will have a hand of treasure cards dealt to you, each has a different value, somewhere in the realm of 3 and 99. These treasure values are divisible by the numbers marked on the lifeboats. For example, 77 is only divisible by the number 7, so can only be played into the lifeboat marked with that number. Where as treasure 42 can be placed in either lifeboat 3,6 or 7. So far it sounds like a traditional card game, and you’d be correct in that thinking. I have played games similar to this with a standard deck of cards. And they have all been funnish. What makes this game stand out, is nothing to do with the artwork, that you will forget exists when playing, but the restrictions the game puts on the player.
To start, if you load a treasure onto a boat, it must be of a superior value to the previous treasure played there. Of course, the higher the value, there is less chance of another card being played on top of that by any player. And again, even less chance depending of the divisibility of that lifeboat number. You’ll also be restricted by the amount of lifeboat available to load upon, depending on the number of players playing. Therefore, in a two player game, only two lifeboats can be loaded up with treasure. Just until one or the other player can not or chooses not to play.
This resets the the lifeboats, as all played cards are removed to a discard pile and play continues with the one who never passed. Making a two player game quick, but also not so interesting, as there is not really much to risk due to most of the cards not being in play. Where as more players opens up more lifeboats and more risk. You’ll be tempted to play those higher cards earlier, to bring the game to a standstill, then the lifeboats can be reset and you take control of the round, like a trick taking game. You’ll also think a little more about passing, just to save your best cards for the final stretch. As being caught with only one card in your hand after the lifeboats are reset, inflicts a penalty of starting with two extra cards. Unless you haven’t passed. And that last card “can” be played. You can play it and claim that mini victory.
Your objective is to place all of these treasures into the lifeboats and get them safely out of danger. Being the first player to do so will rope you the largest score for the round. The other players will squabble for the second and the last place score tokens, by revealing the highest valued treasure of the remaining cards in their hands. The one that has the smallest value will scoop up the second prize score, whereas the player with the largest remaining treasure collects the negative point token. Their small values of 2 points, 1 point and -1 point are an added bonus to the fluffiness of this endeavor. Meaning that the end of game scoring, after the third hand, is quick and simple.
Technical score 9/10
Aside from a rule book that needs cleaning up a few keywords to help explain the game clearly, there is not much to say. It’s a small deck of cards with a few tokens of good quality. Meaning you can sneak it into restaurants and play quickly before your meal arrives. It’s simple mechanisms that resemble other cards games, make it easy to teach. And the strange art and colour pallet that does nothing, apart from try to make it stand out from everything else out there. And while playing, you won’t be looking at the individual campy art on the cards, but the number and the side numbers that act as a key to which lifeboat this treasure can be loaded on. Useful.
My BGG score 7/10 - Good, usually willing to play
I like playing games like this, especially with a group of players. The more the merrier. Quick and easy, no brainer games that require little to no planning. Maybe it the feeling that you are getting “one up” on the other players as you whizz through your hand. Or that it’s because of the many moments where you bite your tongue, as some gets “one up” on you and stops you playing cards. A good filler and holiday game.
Combined score 8/10
Now it's over to you...
The “Choose Your Own Murder Mystery Adventure” has landed and as well as crossing two game genres,(choose your own adventure & murder mystery) it also crosses two gaming mediums (board game, app game). It’s called Chronicles of Crime, and rightly so. There is a crime that has been committed and the clock is ticking. You’ll be investigating crime scenes, interrogate suspects and drawing your conclusions as quick as you can. Do this well and your team will get a high score. Failing slightly or terribly means that you can replay to see if you can do better. Or just look at the solution.
As you can tell, this is a team game or a solo affair if you wish. Both experiences make a little difference. Play on your own and you’ll be 100% engaged, but may miss certain clues or not be able to think out of the box. Playing in a team, your engagement level is as high as you want it to be. The more you participate, the more you get out of it. Being timid may leave you on the sideline, wishing you said “yes” to TI4 instead. And the more minds there are, the better the chance of succeeding at this puzzle. As this is what the game is. A tangled puzzle of what he said, she said, this clue, that clue and “I think it was…”
At the start of the game, after choosing a scenario, you’ll be given very limited information about a crime. Either a murder, theft or a disappearance. And away you go. If you have ever been on a Murder Mystery Weekend, this game will be very familiar. Instead of going away with some friends, to a hotel and dressing up in period costumes, you’ll be sat around a table, trying to decide what to do and where to go. And instead of bumping into character actors in the dining room or hallway, to get their accounts of what they saw and heard, you’ll have a deck of beautifully drawn character cards, with QR codes to scan. Scanning a card will be like talking to these actors.
But as I said, you will start with just one location or one character. By interacting, you will open up new locations and other characters. The game comes mainly from a very smart app that you will have to download to play. It holds a selection of stories for you to play and there are more in the works. Where as the table will hold a board, that houses locations, clues and characters. Everything has a QR code that you’ll scan into your smart device. A very intuitive system, where if you want to go to a location, you scan it and voila, your there. To talk to someone, scan them and they are now talking to you. But they need to be in the location that you are in. Ask someone about something, scan that person then that item. Scan, scan, scan. There is a lot of scanning in the game. More so at the beginning of the game, as you are collecting evidence and clues to a story you know not much about. There’s so much scanning, you may forget that this is a board game.
Talking of scanning...
If you have an older device to run your game on, you may like I, have trouble running the app. Or find that it freezes while searching for clues. Or it may struggle to scan codes, sending frustration through the group as you wait for a response from your number one suspect. Where if you have a brand spanking device, the game will run seamlessly. And fun will be had.
I’d say that around 70% of the game is on the device, the other 30% is at the table or in the imagination of players, trying to piece together this mystery. The game tries to get everyone at the table involved in the form of a light virtual reality, search the crime scene segment. One investigator will be given the app and using it, look around the location, calling out thing of note to the rest of the team. While the team will be flicking through a deck of clue cards, trying to find cards that correspond to what the investigator is seeing. The cards are vague in substance. Stating “bags” or “decorations.” The vagueness works well as player can discuss and debate whether it was a clue or not. It also leaves this items open for use in another scenario, as they could be shopping bags, hand bags or luggage bags.
The virtual reality that the game uses is like a 360 degree image that the investigator can either scroll through with a finger and zoom. Or if you have purchased the Kickstarter addon of the 3D glasses, you can slip these onto you screen and look around the interior of a bubble image. A very nice use of technology in a board game, as it inserts the player right into the world they are playing in. A time limit is added as well, meaning you will frantically be shouting out all kinds of things, in vain hope that your team can find the right clue cards. This adds some of the tension to the game, because as the titles states, you are up against the chronometer.
Every action you perform with the app, costs “in game” time. Your case may be on a time limit, were every minute count. As a team, you’ll be talking back and forth about what to do and what questions to ask. Every question, location change and search of a crime scene costs a different amount of in game time. Before you know it, it’s the evening, in game that is. And each character has a real life in this virtual world. Bob may be found in his Camden Town office during the day, but at night, he is at a little bar in Soho. And because of the way the game is written, Bob may be happy talking to you, up to a point. But asking him about one particular thing may result in him taking a dislike to you or maybe not wanting to see you at all. He may disappear entirely from the game. And that’s a hat tipping moment of the game, to the writers and programmers. You feel this world is alive.
The scenarios and dialogue are top notch. Nothing overwhelmingly complicated but still intriguing deep and perplexing. When characters speak, it’s not pages of exposition. It’s short, sweet, to the point and laced with clues. The language is not overly elegant like in Doyle’s Sherlock, but more in the realm of a TV sitcom, meaning everyone will understand what is being said. And everything that is said will make you go, “oooh!” In the scenarios I have played, there always seems to be a myriad of possible suspects or interwinding connections between the cast. The more you learn from the world, the more the path becomes clear. And before you know it, you are debating with your fellow detectives, that your account of the story is the correct one. Once you’ve persuaded them to take you to the station, to file your report to the chief, your in end game mode. You’ll answer a collection of question about the scenario, scanning the appropriate responses. Finally, you’ll get to see if your deduction skills have paid off, with a final score. This score will be made up from the correct answers plus the time that is took you to complete the story.
Each story will, after a time of discovery, get conversations started at the table. You’ll be recounting the events, drawing lines and connections between all the suspects. Laughing, arguing and brainstorming all the possible events that have come to pass, that have lead you to your conclusion. A real team game, where you may be making notes, taking names and placing bets on the outcome. You’ll soon forget that you are sat around a table will a smart device in your hand. You’ll actually feel that you are in New Scotland Yard, with Inspector Morse, Columbo and Jessica Fletcher.
Once you have completed a scenario successfully, it’s gone. You can replay it if you wish, but you’ll not be surprised by anything. Even if you play with a different group, months later. Something will trigger a memory and the answers will come flooding back. You could hold your tongue and let the others discovery the wonders of the game, but there’ll be nothing in it for you. Making replayability null and void. Although, replaying a scenario you failed at miserably, is a little more rewarding. But like the Choose Your Own Adventure book, when you die and restart, you’ll be zooming through the starting pages of text because you already know it. Until you get to that branching point in the story were you find something you didn’t see before or get a different response from a character. It is still satisfying when you finally get the correct conclusion. But again, unplayable after. A nice touch is that if you do fail, there is no obligation to replay, as there is an option to see the solution. Clicking on this option and you’ll get the who did it and why. So if your friends can’t come back next week, they have some closure to the story.
One other bug from playing a set in stone story is that, sometime you may miss a clue, not shown the right clue to the right person and feel that you have walked into a dead end. Not sure of where to go and what to scan, you do this frantically until something falls into your lap. Or not. The game does try to help you in the form of, if you pass a certain amount of in game time, you’ll receive a text from the chief of police. This will inform you that maybe someone else has been killed, and you need to get your ass to a location to interview someone. This puts pressure on you, but also help the story move forward. But if you are prudent about your scanning and not wanting to waste time, you may pass a lot of real game time, look blankly over the table, retracing your actions. What did you miss? Luckily, there are four, on hand experts that you can call on, who deal with forensics, medicine, data information and phycology. Always a phone call away. Another nice feature in the app is the ability to go back through the history of your scenario, reading everything that was said and done. A great feature if you have to stop playing for lunch, to recap “previously on…” And useful if you are all clued out.
Technical score 9.5/10
The presentation of the game is extremely well put together. From the wonderful (slightly to big) box insert to the simplistic rule set. And the artistic palette used in the locations and characters is pleasing to the eye. Cartoonie, but relatable. The fact that everything can be reused in another story and be something different. Like the characters, who are like actors. In one story, character 52 is a gardener and in another story, the politician. There are even linked stories that continue off from the previous ones. With the same roles designated to characters and seeing the repercussions of you solving a case. There is infinite stories that can be told with just this base box, as long as there are more available for download later on. And the app handles really well. Any bugs that crop up are cleaned up quickly, thanks to the quick response from the team at Luck Duck. Although the app lacks one small thing that will help immerce the players into the game further. Sound effect. The music is good (yes, I’m kissing my own ass as it was me that did it) but very repetitive. Many will just switch it off. Shame!
My BGG score 8/10
This is why we get around a table. To debate, discuss and have fun. And that’s what this games does. Although there is a long period at the start of every game of silence and scanning. Are real detective game that feels like a detective game. Just needs either a random element or a bucket load of scenarios to play...right now! =)
This game is my cup of tea
Board games are magic. They can create an air of light, puzzling enjoyment or deep, perplexed confrontation. Normally ending with a in-depth discussion of how things could have gone, one way or the other. And some games have the bizarre ability to make laugh in the pursuit of achieving your goal. Party games fall into this cauldron of games, casting a spell that makes you say or do silly things.
A previous title from Buzzy Games, Top Face, preformed this trick seamlessly. Where one player would draw a card from a deck. Then have to make the same grimace as the image depicted on this card. While the other players had to race to find that face, from a large selection of face-pulling pictures scattered on the table. Simple, amusing and fun for 10 minutes. Longer, if playing with a large group of children and even longer, with a handful of tipsy adults.
Abra Kazam builds off of this game, which is basically the same concept. One player takes the role of the spellcaster and performs an action and the others race to find that action. In regards to the action, Abra Kazam has you casting spells, Potter style. The game comes with a cutely decorated magic wand, which players will be waving in the air, instead of pulling a face. It will be the movement of this wand that will point the other players (or wizards) to discern which spell is being cast by the spellcaster. Unlike Top Face that has around 60 different cards to choose from, this game has a select 24 cards. Narrowing down the choices a tad, but by no means making it easier.
There are four different coloured sets of spell in the game, that are housed in a beautiful but slightly strange box insert. Only two of these sets are used per game, which leads to a slightly different game each time you open the box. On one side is the spell name and a star constellation like drawing, that the movement of the wand needs to follow to activate the spell. The reverse side of the card has the effect of the spell, which I will get to a little later. A duplicate set of these spell cards, with only the spell image are also in the box. These are the cards that the spellcaster will draw from after they have been shuffled. The nice subtle thing about this smaller deck of cards, is that the drawn spell is the reverse to the larger spell cards. So when a spellcast cast their spell from the small card they have in their hand, they will be drawing it in the air, in the correct orientation for the other players.
Each player will have one chance to guess which spell is being cast. Pointing to it and shouting out it’s name. The fastest to do so will win you and the spellcaster a point. Carnage will ensue when kids all scream out, what they perceive the spell and spell name is. “Intellectualis” will become “Intolltacules,” or “Gallinarum will become “that one.” Fingers flailing everywhere. One minute here, the next there, and all because their mother pointed to the same spell too. Guessing incorrectly will mean that you sit out for a while, until someone or no one finds the spell. Finding the correct spell means, both the spellcaster and correct player, takes either the small or the large card into their spell book (a coloured card with a book on it). Each card in your spell book is a point at the end of the game.
Here is another change from Top Face, and evidently, the magic of this game. The player that guessed correctly becomes the new spellcaster. But they have had the previous spell cast on them. They will read the spell effect on the card they have just collected and have to perform the next spell in that fashion. You could be transformed into a Unicorn and have to attach the wand as if it was your horn, casting the next spell with your head. Or a smoke spell covers your eyes, meaning you cast the spell with your eyes closed. Or you are transformed into a snail, casting your spell extremely slow. Whatever you do, the game forces you to mime and act a little. Not too much that you feel like a fool, but a bit. This generates giggles from kids as they watch their parents do crazy things and fits of laughter when merry Uncle Mike does something very bizarre. Performing these actions with a spell becomes a challenge for the young one and also a source of amusement. And once the laughter has died down, the wand has changed hands and you carry on playing.
The game never outlives its welcome, with it’s built in timer. 10 spell remain on the table means it’s game over. Count your cards. It also balances itself, becoming quicker as you remove spells, leaving less possibilities to choose from.
In amongst it’s four types of spells, there are the red spell cards. These are not recommended for your first game. Although there is nothing difficult about them, they add another layer to the game. Making it more of a party style game. These cards have permanent spells that, when cast on the player, stay with them until they guess the next spellcasters spell. Nothing to difficult. Maybe you are now a Cyclopes, watching the game with one eye open or you’ve been turned into a dog, panting with your tongue out. This adds more amusement to the game but only to those who wish to participate in the crazy shenanigans. It might not be ideal for Grandma Gladdis to be tip-toeing around imaginary mice, at the age of 90.
At its heart, this is a family game, aimed mainly at children. And those of a disposition to all things Potter. Adults will probably take it or leave it, but the kids will want to play again and again. And hopefully won't start fighting over the wand. As a party game or cocktail game, it will work at certain parts of the evening. But the game nudges you to be silly, without pushing too hard. And you may or may not like that. Plus, you must alway have space around a bit table, for arms and legs to go flying.
Technical review 9/10
Some magical artwork with a cool magic wand and interesting, yet quaint insert. Simple presented rule book with light mechanisms for families, but party style may not be for all. Not interesting with 3 players.
My BGG score 6/10 (OK - will play it if in the mood)
The presentation is well done, but I like my humor in a game to come naturally. Always fun with new people and when I’m finished. I’m finished. I don’t feel the need to replay. I would recommend playing Top Face instead. It’s cleaner, more natural and you know what your letting yourself in for.
Combined score 7.5/10