Category Archives: board games

GAMES I REGRET PARTING WITH: LOST: The Game

Perhaps one of the big reasons why I adore the show LOST so much is because it was something my mother and I both watched, and after each episode, we’d e-mail each other with reactions or theories or to generally complain about how mean Ben is or what nickname Sawyer came up with for some other cast member. Good times. She got really into it during those early seasons; I can’t remember if she ever saw its conclusion before passing away in December 2010. At some point during the show’s popularity, my mother purchased for me LOST: The Game at her local Borders. Here’s the sad rub: I never played it, and by the time I was ready to move out of my studio apartment in Clifton, NJ, I tossed the whole thing away, cool suitcase and all.

Now, around this time, I did make some friends, and we played a lot of board games, such as every iteration of Munchkin out at the time, Talisman, Dungeons & Dragons, Catan, Chez Geek, Pimp: The Backhanding, Kingmaker, and so on. I just never felt comfortable bringing the game over or learning the rules by myself and then having to teach everyone; plus, I was still pretty new to the world of board games, and I had no idea if LOST: The Game was a good one or a bad one or even worth figuring out.

LOST: The Game was released on July 15, 2006 in the United Kingdom and August 7, 2006 in the United States. The game was designed by Keith Tralins, developed through MegaGigaOmniCorp, and published by Cardinal Games. It is a hybrid strategy/social/role-playing game set in the world of LOST that, if you’d believe, is somewhat similar to many solo games I play now, such as Fallout: The Board Game and Discover: Lands Unknown. The game allows you to assume the role as a character from the show in your attempts to survive on the Island and features many of the elements involved in the first few seasons of the TV show, including mysteries, alliances, and the “Smoke Monster.”

There are 75 hexagonal Location tiles that make up the main playing area for LOST: The Game. There are two types of tiles: 30 Shoreline tiles and 45 Inner Island tiles. The location tiles are set face-down randomly to ensure that each experience with the game is unique, just like with Catan. The tiles can be arranged in any fashion the player wishes, as long as the Shoreline tiles are on the outside edge of the board because why would you put water in the middle of the island. Also, how did a polar bear get out there? Anyways…

Here’s how it plays, as far as I can tell. Players are randomly dealt a Starting Character, such as Jack, Locke, Kate, and so on. You cannot play as Desmond, and for that sin alone this game deserves to be stuffed down a hatch and forgotten for good. On each player’s turn, they must move all of the characters they own to an adjacent tile. If the location tile their character is located at is face-down, they flip the tile face-up and follow its instructions. If a Fate card is drawn, they must immediately deal with any Encounters or equip any equipment; however, they may choose to hold an Event card for later use. Characters may also attempt to lead neutral characters at their location. If another player occupies the same location tile, the players may attempt to engage their opponent’s characters to lead them, steal their Fate cards, or steal their equipment.

You win LOST: The Game when:

  • One player leads all characters on the Island
  • A Starting Character’s win condition is fulfilled
  • Another win condition decided upon by the players prior to the game (whatever that means)

Right, so it doesn’t sound like the most intricate or complicated board game ever designed. We’ll give that award to Scythe. Still, I wish I had my copy now because I’m more familiar with this style of gameplay, and it is something I’m curious about, as LOST is never not spinning away in the back of my mind. There wasn’t a lot of attention given to the game’s art or look, other than it coming packaged in a briefcase and using images from the show, and that’s a shame because a more stylized version might have convinced me to keep it for the long run. Oh well. Perhaps I’ll run into it again down the road. Y’know, when we all go back to the Island.

GAMES I REGRET PARTING WITH is a regular feature here at Grinding Down where I reminisce about videogames I either sold or traded in when I was young and dumb. To read up on other games I parted with, follow the tag.

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Palm Island, a card game you can play in your hand

Initially, I wanted to get a copy of Palm Island before my family and I went on vacation to Disney World last summer. Alas, I never bit the bullet and instead brought along One Deck Dungeon, which, to nobody’s surprise, I didn’t even play once…for various reasons. Mostly because there are a lot of components to that game, such as a handful of colored dice, and you need a decent amount of table space to really set everything up. The idea behind Palm Island eliminates the need for this space, allowing you to play an entire match in the very palm of your hand. I ordered a copy several weeks ago and am glad to finally have it in my collection, as it actually does what it claims to do. Go figure.

Palm Island uses a deck-transforming mechanic that allows a player to play with just 17 cards over eight rounds to shape their island and overcome its unique challenges. You’ll store resource cards to pay for upgrades and upgrade buildings to access new abilities and gain victory points. Each decision you make will drastically change your village from round to round. After eight rounds, you calculate your score, and I’m still ending most of my games in the “needs work” range, but I can see the potential each time to do better. Palm Island is a solo card game with multiplayer variants, and the copy I got comes with enough cards for two decks, which is generous and kind of neat to see.

Here’s how the game ultimately works. Each card, which are double-sided, has four states, and they all start at state one when you begin playing. As you proceed through the game, which consists of a total of eight rounds, you may upgrade cards by rotating or flipping them, so long as you have the resources to do so. These actions change the card for the rest of the game and can help you gain more resources or victory points down the line. The decisions then come down to either upgrading your resource cards for more effects or spending all you got to build that grand temple for a ton of victory points. A lot of this deciding is affected by your initial shuffle of cards; for instance, one game, I ended up having all my temples back to back in a row, unable to do anything but skip past them, which meant losing out on a lot of victory points.

Palm Island has a fairly distinct look, with artwork done by Jon Mietling. It’s tropical, colorful, and well designed, with clear pictures for different resources and actions. In fact, for cards doing quadruple duty, there’s quite a lot of information to grok, but it never felt overwhelming. I did have to constantly double-check which was the flip upside-down icon versus the flip card over icon, but I eventually got it. The cards themselves are sturdy and thick, but a bit slippery, which can be dangerous when you are playing everything in your hand and trying to keep organized. Turning and un-turning resource cards can be tricky, and if you drop the deck you might as well just start the game over as it can be impossible to remember what order every card should be in. Still, that’s a minor complaint overall.

Right. I’ve played it at my kitchen table shortly before dinner. I’ve played it while in the chair at the oncology center getting my latest chemotherapy treatment. I played it on the morning of my wedding to kill time. Palm Island is without a doubt a game I’ll be bringing with me almost everywhere because…well, you can literally play it anywhere. So long as you don’t accidentally drop the deck of cards, you can game it up whenever you want. I truly love that.

Continue to smoothly dodge bullets with SUPERHOT: The Card Game

Let’s just get this out of the way right from the start:

SUPER…HOT.
SUPER…HOT.
SUPER…HOT.

Phew, there. Now we can begin proper and talk about SUPERHOT: The Card Game from Grey Fox Games, which is both alike and different from its videogame counterpart, which I greatly enjoyed playing through last year. Y’know, despite not really understanding anything related to its narrative. This is a micro deck-building game, based on something called Agent Decker, which I have not checked out yet, though there seems to be a free print-and-play version. In this one, naturally, you use abilities and items to deal with increasing threats, such as men with guns and flying bullets. Threats you eliminate are added to your hand, giving you improved abilities and more options while bringing you closer to victory; however, you need to be careful because the more cards you use, the faster you move through time, which is represented by a line of obstacles moving in your direction.

Okay, let’s get more detailed without hopefully making your eyes glaze over. Rules for board games and card games can sometimes be a lot to take in, which is why simpler games like Just Desserts, Bandido, and Elevenses are more digestible. Basically, on your turn, you need to interact with obstacles–whether killing them or knocking them out, though I still don’t understand how you knock a table out–to increase future possibilities or give you more time before bullets begin to appear in the line, which are harder to deal with. The cards that you use are discarded to the obstacle pile while cards you pass by are placed in your personal discard pile, creating a mini-deck of cards. The game has three types of obstacle cards: enemy, scenery, and objects, with each type giving you different abilities when they’re in your deck. Your goal is to complete three tiers of missions–level one has one mission, level two has two, and so on–while not running out of cards or ending up with four bullets in your hand.

Initially, I was very confused with how a turn went in SUPERHOT: The Card Game. I ended up watching three or four videos to finally see how things are supposed to go, and I get it better now. Still, I’m constantly flipping through the rulebook to make sure I’m doing things correctly. For my last game, I managed to get to the third tier of missions, but ended up running through all the bullets in the bullet deck, which is an automatic loss. Wah. Here’s hoping my next run is more successful or, at the very least, more confidently done. There’s both cooperative and versus modes, but the game was definitely designed for solo gaming, and I think that’s where it will remain with me.

I really, really love the look of SUPERHOT: The Card Game. Obviously, it draws many of its images from the videogame, which is sparse on details yet high on style, but the cards themselves manage to contain a lot of information without being completely full of clutter or text. They maintain the dedication to the colors red and gray, and the mission cards all contain a bunch of code that probably says something to people that can read code, but I’m left in the unknown. Either way, it’s slick and cool and feels futuristic.

SUPERHOT: The Card Game features game mechanics that forced me to figure out the best tactical and strategic solutions in each moment.  Do I destroy that flying bullet or clear out the enemies that, if I don’t, will add more bullets to my deck? Do I want to empty my hand, moving time forward quickly and risk seeing more bullets coming my way? Sometimes the best laid plans don’t always work out, but, in the given moment, you do feel in control. This often resulted in tense decision-making, but felt satisfying when things did work in your favor.

For a solo game, it can take anywhere between 15 and 45 minutes, depending on how often you need to re-read the manual, but once things get going, and you understand the flow of turns, the game stops being about the manual and specific rules and more about moving through time as you see fit, and for that SUPERHOT: The Card Game flips a table and lives to see another day.

Bandido wants you to stop a prisoner from escaping

I’ve never been to prison, and I hope to never go to prison, but there is a small piece of me that fantasizes about pulling the greatest prison escape, one that would make Alcatraz Island weep. Bandido, designed by Martin Nedergaard Andersen and put out by Helvetiq, is not actually about escaping, but rather preventing a prisoner from seeing blue sky and green hills ever again by blocking all passageways, forcing him back to his cell to continue counting the days.

To begin a game of Bandido, you place the Super Card. which is the one showing the prisoner in jail with multiple exit points, in the middle of the table, shuffle up the remaining cards, and deal three cards to each player. That’s all there is to begin the game, and I appreciate that, especially when things like One Deck Dungeon, Fallout: The Board Game, and even Friday take a good amount of organization to set everything up before you can begin playing.

On each player’s turn, you’ll place one card down so at least one tunnel is connected to an existing tunnel and then draw a new card. The one main rule is that you can’t block off any of the tunnels with walls when you’re placing a card; everything has to fit and connect. Only cards showing a dead end, represented by a circle and a hand holding a flashlight, can truly end a good-going tunnel. That said, there are a couple of other cards that basically form a loop that connects multiple tunnels together, and those too can block tunnels off. You win if you’re able to block all of the tunnels, and you lose if there are any open tunnels by the time you’ve gone through the deck or if you are unable to play any more cards.

In terms of complexity, there’s really not much to Bandido. The only strategic decision you ever have to make generally involves when to branch out to avoid cutting yourself off and when to tighten things up so that you can try to narrow multiple paths of exit down into just one or two manageable ones. This isn’t always easily done based on the cards in your hand and requires some table talk to try to figure out the most effective card placements. You can play it solo, but Bandido is better with more people, because it is more of a cooperative game that really makes you care about the outcome as a group. Sometimes you need to be aggressive and say things like, “Oh, don’t play a card there, I have a perfect one for it next turn.”

I tried playing it solo a few times, never winning a single game. Then Melanie and I played it twice the other day, winning the first game where the Super Card had only five exits, and losing horribly the second game with six exit options. Still, it is a good amount of fun, and the game is quick to set up, quick to break down, and small enough to fit in your pocket. The only real problem, much like Okey Dokey, is that is takes up a lot of table space, especially once the tunnels begin to get out of hand; a few times, we had to shift all the cards down on the table to make room for more growth, and that’s a touchy process, trying not to mess up the placement of all the cards in play.

Bandido isn’t a big game, but it doesn’t want to be. The rules are relatively simple to follow, and because the cards have no text on them, anyone can quickly learn how to play and see what to do next. For that, I really like it, and hope to stop the titular criminal from breaking free the next time we play it.

Just Desserts is the sweetest, tastiest card game

I’ve been on a real solo board/card gaming kick as of late, mostly because I’m used to playing by myself and I can probably only convince Melanie to join me on these larger-than-life games, such as Fallout: The Board Game or A Game of Thrones: The Board Game, so many times. I know it is not her thing, and that’s perfectly fine. However, when I saw Just Desserts in my local gaming store, I thought this might be a good one for us to play. It’s all about eating yummy food, specifically desserts. The game is recommended for two to three players, but I think three or more is the best way to go. Two players is fine, but less cutthroat.

Just Desserts comes from Looney Labs, which is the company that makes five thousand and thirty-two Fluxx variants each year. That’s an estimate. I have a copy of Zombie Fluxx from years ago and tried to play it once or twice, not really enjoying it all that much. Or maybe I just didn’t understand all the rules swapping around. I also have a copy of Retro Loonacy from them, which has yet to be played, but I love the artwork nonetheless.

Anyways, Just Desserts is a sweet, delicious card game all about serving some very picky guests at the cafe you work at. No soup, no salad, no main dish… all they want is dessert, and I can understand where they are coming from. I mean, over the Christmas holiday, I probably ate more cookies than anything else, along with a few peanut butter trees from the good ol’ boys at Reese’s. You’ll have to compete with your fellow waiters to serve guests their favorite goodies before someone else gets to them first.

The rules are relatively simple and easy to explain. Each player starts with a hand of three dessert cards while three guest cards are placed in the center of the table; each dessert card shows one to three tastes that it satisfies, such as chocolate, fruit, or pastry, while the guest cards show what they crave, as well as what they refuse to eat, such as veggies or peanuts. On your turn, you draw a dessert card, add a guest card to the table from the deck, then take one of three following actions:

  • Serve (and claim) one or two guests by discarding one or more dessert cards to give them what they want (while avoiding what they don’t want); also, if you give a guest their favorite item, which basically meets all their desires, you get tipped with an extra dessert card.
  • Draw one more dessert card.
  • Discard as many dessert cards as you want, then draw that many cards from the deck to refill your hand.

At the end of your turn, discard guests from the table so that only one guest of each “suit” is still waiting to be served; however, you can consider this guest heading out the door, but still in play to be claimed…until another guest card is discarded on top of it. You win Just Desserts if at any time you’ve served three guests of the same suit or five guests of different suits.

I absolutely love the art in Just Desserts, which is done by…I’m sad to report, I don’t know. I’ve tried searching online for the artist, but am having no luck. Please, if you know, let me know, and then we can all know. Each dessert card looks delicious, even if it is a dessert that I don’t want to eat. The guest cards are goofy and fun to look at, and each person looks unique and truly stands out from one another. My only quibble is that the font on guest cards for their favorite treat is small and hard to see from a distance when you have them in the center of the table. The gameplay is loose and casual, but fun, and there are variants you can use to make it more aggressive, such as stealing other player’s claimed guests, but we haven’t tried these yet.

I’m excited to play more Just Desserts in 2019 and have even ordered copies of the two tiny expansions–Just Coffee and Better with Bacon. They don’t seem to mix up the gameplay too much, but rather add more dessert cards and characters to please in your cafe. Fine by me. I love both coffee and bacon.

Rolling dice never changes with Fallout: The Board Game

I am still surprised to this day that I did not fall head over heels in love with Fallout 4. I mean, I like it well enough, but the obsessive amount of exploring I did in Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas never reared its pretty head in the same way, and I’ve tried going back to the campaign about finding my stolen son and defeating–or teaming up with–an army of synths several times now to see things from a different perspective, never really getting too far in and eventually petering out when something more interesting comes along to demand I play it. Still, if anything, Fallout 4 brought with it some fun side stuff that I enjoy more than the main gig, such as Fallout Shelter and Fallout: The Board Game; I’ve already talked about the former, and this post is most definitely about the latter.

Initially, I balked at Fallout: The Board Game‘s price tag. Sixty dollars plus tax sure seemed like a lot for…a board game, but maybe I’m still new to this cardboard, tiles, meeples-run world, considering I’ve looked around online and seen other games priced much higher than that. Still, that price is in line with a brand-new videogame release, and I don’t often get a lot of those. Well, regardless of all that, in March or April of this year–sorry, my chemo-drippy brain is fuzzy on the details–I entered V.A.T.S., selected a copy for a 100% lethal shot, and watched as Bloody Mess played out at the register. Er, I bought a copy. Sorry, sometimes I lose myself in both the world and language of Fallout.

Okay, time for the nitty-gritty. No, not that Gritty. Fallout: The Board Game is a post-nuclear adventure board game for one to four players. Naturally, it’s based on the mega-popular series–well, maybe not Fallout 76 as it currently is–by Bethesda Softworks. There are multiple story scenarios to play through, and each is inspired by a familiar story from the franchise. Survivors begin the game on the edge of an unexplored landscape, uncertain of what awaits them. With just one objective to guide them from the very beginning, each player must explore the hidden map, fight off ferocious, irradiated enemies, and build up their survivor’s skills as they attempt to complete challenging quests and balance feuding factions within the game. To win, you must reach a specific amount of agenda influence points, and the number of influence points required for victory is dependent on how many players are participating.

Fallout: The Board Game is played in a series of rounds, with each player getting two actions on a turn. Different actions include moving, exploring new tiles, fighting enemies, questing and encountering, and resting. After all players finish their respective turn, the round ends with monsters activating and looking for wanderers to attack. Combat is handled with three custom dice. Every monster has vulnerable areas, represented by the V.A.T.S. icon, and players must roll to hit these specific areas. Having a weapon and matching S.P.E.C.I.A.L. stats will grant re-rolls, along with other cards and perks. Defeating monsters grants XP and sometimes loot, but the monster doesn’t go away entirely, instead it retreats into a dormant stage to fight again another day.

Experience is handled through a pretty nifty leveling system attached to a tracker. Each point of experience will move a peg along the player’s S.P.E.C.I.A.L. track, skipping over any empty spaces. Once it completes a circlet, the player gets to draw a new S.P.E.C.I.A.L. token to add to their stats. Duplicate tokens will instead grant a perk and single use abilities, and having certain S.P.E.C.I.A.L. tokens will affect combat encounters and mission quests. You also track your amount of radiation on this board, and if your HP every goes below the current radiation peg…your character perishes. The tracker also has slots for companions and inventory items.

There are quests. Lots of ’em. In fact, the base game comes with a 150-card deck of numbered missions to complete. When a player has an encounter, another player will read the card and options to them, but not the results. The player must then decide which option to choose without knowing the outcome. Alas, when playing solo, it can be difficult to not read the results as you do this to yourself, and I often based my decision on already knowing what goodies I got. Many quests will branch off into multiple cards after granting experience points or loot, and some will also reward you with influence points. Following an entire questline to its end is fun and just as satisfactory as in the videogames, but sometimes you have to juggle multiple quests, which can become overwhelming.

Phew. I know that is probably a lot to take in, and for me, it took several attempts at playing Fallout: The Board Game for most of that to sink in. I’m still not 100% certain how the shop works, but whatever. Also, the agenda points system isn’t great, especially in solo mode, but it’s how you win the game. Personally, I wish it wasn’t, as I have more fun doing quests and exploring unflipped tiles than trying to balance two factions or simply focusing on a single one only to betray it at the end if you suddenly see a way to get more agenda points with the other faction. It just doesn’t feel cohesive, but maybe it works better with more players fighting to gain these points first.

So far, I’ve only played solo, and it can be a lot to pay attention to. Each game has roughly taken me two to three hours to complete, and my first time having a go at it, most of that was dealing with the game’s initial setup. There’s a lot to set up, from the placement of tiles, to the shop, to your inventory, to the multiple quest decks, and so on. The game pieces look amazing, and I love the little enemy tokens. It’s pretty exciting to see things I barely glanced at in the videogames represented as useful cards here. I’ve occasionally also forgotten some rules and flubbed my way through a mission, and there was one mission card related to the alien mothership that simply broke my brain; I tried searching online for an explanation of what to do, but couldn’t find anything so I simply packed everything up and called it a day. The game is aesthetically cool, but not perfect in how it plays.

Oh, and I just became aware that there’s already an expansion available called New California. Right, and this gaming mat looks really neat and would certainly help me keep things more organized because I generally don’t know where to keep some of the decks and other items in relation to my health tracker and other cards…though its price tag is not immediately desirable considering it costs just as much as an entire game expansion. Hmm. Either way, I’ll keep having a go at Fallout: The Board Game in hopes that I can actually win it without getting a rule wrong or forgetting to do something vital. Y’know, like moving all the monsters towards me at the end of a round.

Dice manipulation is the key to One Deck Dungeon’s door

After a handful of attempts, I’ve still not beaten any final boss in One Deck Dungeon, though I got somewhat close against the dragon, better than my time with the yeti, and I’m perfectly okay with that. Each run is completely different and randomized, and luck definitely plays a major factor into how things go, especially when you consider this is a game of mostly dice rolls, and I’m sure I’ll see a flawless run eventually. Until then, I’ll keep kicking open doors, dodging traps and slaying monsters with as much skill as my character sheet allows, trying hard to save all my health potion cubes for the final encounter.

As you’ll recall from my last board game-related post on Friday, I’m getting into solo tabletop gaming. Eventually, I’ll have a post about Fallout: The Board Game, but this is not that post. This one is about One Deck Dungeon, an aptly named roguelike card game, wherein you dive deep into a dungeon for treasures and special skills and build your character up along the way. It’s at times similar to Dungeon Roll and far from it, offering a lot more adventure-affecting decisions each turn. The deck consists of your standard D&D-esque enemies to fight, such as a glooping ooze and a skeleton knight, as well as perils like a spiked pit and boulders, and the character classes don’t stray too far from the traditional, featuring warriors, clerics, and rogues.

Each door card, when flipped over, represents an obstacle to overcome, as well as the potential rewards for doing so. Each turn, after burning a few cards from the dungeon deck to the discard pile, which represents “time” spent, you can reveal what’s behind a locked door and take it on if your heart desires. If you defeat the card, meaning you are still alive and in one piece after all the effects are suffered, you can claim it as one of several things: experience points, an item, a skill, or a new potion type. Each of these affects your character in a specific way, and your current level card determines how many of each you can use at once. For instance, when playing solo and at level 1, you can have one item and two skills. You then tuck the card under the appropriate side of your character card to show off its benefits, such as an extra die to roll or new skill to use in battle. Identifying a new potion not only nets you more options, but also a free potion cube to boot.

Things I’m really liking a whole bunch about One Deck Dungeon are as follows. For one, all the character portraits are women and not sexualized, which is really nice to see in this field where bikini chainmail and mega-muscular dudes run rampant. Layering cards beneath the character sheet and watching the stats and abilities list grow is surprisingly effective and pleasing, reminding me a bit of how Gloom cards went on top of each other, as well as Munchkin weapons and armor sets. Lastly, the manipulation of dice–while at times it can feel somewhat like cheating–is where the most fun shows up, especially as you get more options for re-rolling numbers or exchanging them for other colored dice. Starting off an encounter with a terrible roll and a bunch of ones and walking away from it untouched after covering up every square is an extremely good feeling.

Sometimes there can be a lot of elements to be aware of, and the fights can become overwhelming. For instance, you have to remember that spots on encounter cards with a green shield must be covered first before any others, and the dungeon card has its own spots and effects to be aware of, like discarding all ones rolled each fight or spending extra time to use skills. You must also keep track of the enemy or encounter’s special text, as well as your own skills, and I started using extra white potion cubes as markers for when I used a skill so I wouldn’t accidentally use it twice and therefore cheat my way to victory. Occasionally, I’d goof hard and really want to walk back my actions, but it was almost impossible to remember what dice got traded in and what was originally rolled. Also, as mentioned at the top, the boss fights are pretty tough, and I don’t yet know if I’m the problem–remember, I still haven’t gotten past the pirates in Friday–or if they have been designed to be ultra punishing.

There’s a standalone expansion to One Deck Dungeon out already called Forest of Shadows that adds poison and dice exiling, but I think I’m good with my handful of scenarios and classes for a bit, unless I suddenly become a dice-rolling god, smiting foes and perils with little effort. I’ve also downloaded some extra content from the developer’s website, printing out the Phoenix’s Den and Caliana class cards myself. Evidently, there’s also a Steam version in the works, if that’s your thing; my experience with board games turned into videogames is somewhat limited, having played only a few matches of things like Smash Up, Catan, and Monopoly Plus, though one day I’d really like to check out the digital entertainment version of Lords of Waterdeep. We’ll see. For now, I’ll keep trying to roll six after six after six.