Category Archives: board games

Turn-based trial and error assassinating with Hitman GO

gd early impressions hitman go

The Hitman series and I have not exactly clicked over the years, which is strange, seeing as these are stealth-based games with multiple paths and ways to succeed, with one often using the environment or disguises to get jobs done than simply firing a bullet from a sniper rifle miles away. It’s that whole “this sounds better on paper” thing, seeing as I could barely get through the opening parts of Hitman: Blood Money and walked away from Hitman: Absolution fairly early on, though I’d still like to return to the latter eventually and give it a second shake.

Good news, everyone–Hitman GO rocks! In fact, it’s my favorite Hitman game so far. Yup, this turn-based, puzzle board game version of Agent 47’s stealth assassination missions is basically everything I do like about these games, but with a super strong aesthetic and enough challenge to get me scratching my head, but returning for more after every level. I bought it the other night for $0.10–that’s ten cents for those with eyesight problems–through Microsoft’s online store as part of their weekly sales for Black Friday, though I’m playing it on my laptop and not a tablet/phone as it is probably intended to be experienced. Too bad, so sad.

There’s no story in Hitman GO, and there doesn’t need to be. Instead, each world, represented by a vintage-looking board game box, collects a handful of themed levels together, with the main goal either being to reach the exit unnoticed and alive or kill a specific target, often draped in red attire. There are side objectives as well, such as collecting a briefcase or completing the level in a set number of turns, and those go towards acquiring stars, which will help you unlock future sets of levels. Every character is represented as a tiny figurine, even mimicking the “toppled over” effect of taken chess pieces when knocked down. I liked this in Crimson Shroud, and I like it once again here.

Truly, it’s the board game aesthetic that has me transfixed. Here’s a true fact about me: if you are ever looking for me in a bookstore, you can generally find me at the board games shelf, ogling just about everything, fascinated with all the games and possibilities, saddened over the fact that I don’t have anyone to play these things with. Recently, I gave Machi Koro a good hard look, amazed at the colorful, friendly artwork. If a real, tangible version of Hitman GO existed, I most assuredly would be staring at it for a while, as i do when I play. You can rotate the board around for a better view or to simply admire the small, off-to-the-side details.

I’m currently in the middle of the second world’s levels, which have introduced new, tricky mechanics like hiding in potted plants or using trapdoors to teleport around the screen at the cost of a turn. My biggest struggle right now is with the knife-wielding enemies in teal shirts that turn 180 degrees, as I still don’t grok when it is wise to move towards them. Strangely, it’s when they are already facing you. It’ll take some practice, though I’m sure there are other elements down the road that will be just as hard to figure out.

A negative, sadistic part of me wonders if I’ll hit a wall when I get to the Blood Money-themed levels–yup, I know they are forthcoming–and tasked with tossing coins to distract guards, but we’ll see what those ultimately look like when I cross that path. Until then, may all your puzzles be murder.

Gloom is a macabre morsel of merriment

Gloom Hand

Gloom asks you to laugh in the face of others’ displeasure, perfect for an evening of beer, pretzels, and friends, so long as everyone is in the mood to make much mayhem. Also, alliteration. It’s not a great fit for more serious gamers, thirsty for strategy, but I’ve found the game of inauspicious incidents and grave consequences a strong palette cleanser after energy-draining, often soul-crushingly long sessions of Lords of Waterdeep or Kingmaker.

In Keith Baker’s Gloom card game, which came out in 2005, you assume control over the fate of an eccentric family of misfits and misanthropes. There are four families in the base set, each containing five members: Blackwater Watch, Dark’s Den of Deformity, Hemlock Hall, and Castle Slogar. The goal is easy enough: make your family suffer the greatest tragedies possible, and then kill them off one by one. Modifiers like “Was galled by gangrene” and “Was swindled by salesmen” add negative points to your people by lowering their self-worth, and the player with the lowest total family value after an entire line has been wiped out wins.

Gloom‘s gameplay is rather simplistic, but still requires some planning. Each turn, you get two actions to play modifiers on your family or an opponent’s, event cards, and untimely death cards. Please note you can only kill someone on your first action every turn, preventing you from loading Lord Wellington-Smythe up with a lot of self-worth and then forcing him to kick the bucket. The event cards can really shake things up, but other than them, it’s perfunctory card action, with a few rule changes to pay attention to, all of which are stated directly on the cards themselves.

The real magic behind Gloom is in the stories it births. When you take control of a family, you play the narrator of their lives, coming up with reasons why they went here or there and did this or that. It’s better to play a modifier with passion and reason than simply to give a character negative 15 self-worth. Sure, it takes imagination and effort, but it is worth the storytelling, especially when you begin to link your families with others, like the time I decided that Butterfield, the butler for Hemlock Hall, was actually married to Grogar, Professor Slogar’s work-in-progress teddy bear, after receiving the “Was wondrously well wed” modifier card from another player. Keep the stories alive, and the game, even when it slows down due to card shortages or roadblocks, remains bursting with flavor.

It’s hard to know what I love most about Gloom: the art or design of the cards. Both work hand in hand. All of the cards are transparent, which makes it so easy to see how the modifiers stack on top of a family member. Plus, they’ll survive an accidental soda spilling before all them Munchkin cards. The macabre and gloomy artwork, done by Scott Reeves, Lee Moyer, and Todd Remick, as well as heavy use of alliteration, will make many think of Edward Gorey instantly, but there’s also room for some influence from The Addams Family comics and Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. Regardless, fans of ominous Victorian horror will delight at the family member depictions, though the majority of the other cards lack personality.

I brought Gloom home-home during the holidays to play with my sisters, but we never got the chance due to all the to-and-for hubbub, charades, and Scrabble bouts. Hopefully we can make up for this over the summer so long as no one is stalked by snakes or sleepy from the sun.

Vying for political control in Lords of Waterdeep

lords of waterdeep play board games

Currently, I have a new favorite board game. For the longest time, it’s been Munchkin, and that’s not to say that Munchkin has lost any of its spontaneous, kooky fun, but Steve Jackson Games continues to churn out Munchkin-related product one after the other with no sign of slowing down in the future, and well…I just can’t keep up. Though I did get two new sets for Christmas–Munchkin Pathfinder and Munchkin Apocalypse–both of which are a lot of fun, but more or less the same ol’ backstabbin’, treasure-hoarding experience with a small twist or two, like Seals. There is strategy involved in every game of Munchkin, but also a lot of luck, like getting decent treasure early on to keep your character in the fight.

However, I’m always looking for more strategy elements over luck-based things–one big reason why I don’t play cards at the casino–and so we move on to Lords of Waterdeep from Wizards of the Coast, a fantastically unpredictable hour and change of planning, plotting, and plundering resources. It’s pretty much the best of both worlds.

Here’s how the publisher describes it: a strategy board game for 2-5 players, you take on the role of one of the masked Lords of Waterdeep, secret rulers of the city. Through your agents, you recruit adventurers to go on quests on your behalf, earning rewards and increasing your influence over the city. Expand the city by purchasing new buildings that open up new actions on the board, and hinder – or help – the other lords by playing Intrigue cards to enact your carefully laid plans. During the course of play, you acquire victory points or resources through completing quests, constructing buildings, playing intrigue cards, or having other players utilize the buildings you have constructed. At the end of eight rounds of play, the player who has accrued the most victory points wins the game.

That might not sound like a whole lot, but there’s actually a whole lot there to work with, seeing that you are limited in the number of choices you make. You have to start planning things out from your very first turn, as every turn taken should be to your advantage, whether it is playing a card against an opponent or visiting a specific building to get the right colored cubes you need to complete that secret quest in your hand. I find going to the harbor to play Intrigue spells very beneficial as, after everyone else has moved all their units, you get to move off the harbor to any free spaces left, basically giving you an extra turn. See? Strategy. You can also play Mandatory Quests on opponents to slow them down on their journey to the top, but other than that, it’s quite a civil game, much more than say Munchkin or Shadows Over Camelot.

Ironically, my favorite part of Lords of Waterdeep is when it ends. This is the moment when you get to reveal what lord you specifically are and how it affected your decisions, as well as add up how many units you have in your tavern, how much gold you have left, and so on. All of that basically turns into more victory points come the endgame, seeing everyone inch up further (or down further if corruption from the Scoundrels of Skullport expansion is a factor), and the best part is that, more often than not, it’s still anyone‘s game here at this point. Only once all the points are added up can you really see who is in the lead, the truest lord of the city.

Evidently, there’s an IOS version of Lords of Waterdeep, which is both awesome and not. Naturally, my Windows 8 phone swings and misses yet again. Oh well. Actually, no,  it’s okay. I’d much rather play a round of this game with my friends and food and the ability to watch their every move than tapping a phone’s screen on end until I win or lose. And just so it’s clear, I think I’ve only won once out of the handful of games my group has played since discovering the City of Splendors.

Munchkin Apocalypse to cause frenzied fun with new card types

Last week, I got to go to Barnes & Noble. Now, this used to be no big thing, as I went to the bookstore a highly frequent amount when living in Clifton, NJ, nearly every other day, especially with the given that I had two brick-and-mortar locations within five minutes of my apartment–in either direction. A beautiful thing. I’m not bragging, really; I’m saddened on reflecting this, as there are no bookstores near us in the Pennsylvanian woods. There used to be a Borders about 20 minutes down the road, but that place went under and is being replaced with a Michael’s, not a BAM. ::insert the sound of a toddler crying::

Right. All of that was to say that I was in B&N recently, and so I got to check out their stock of geeky board and card games. My eyes bulged and brightened at all of these desirable gaming experiences, such as Game of Thrones: The Card Game and Game of Thrones: The Board Game–love the originality there. Sadly, no copies of Gloom, a quirky social card game Tara and I are interested in after seeing Wil Weaton and friends play it on a recent episode of TableTop. However, I did get to see what was new and kewl with Munchkin these days, because really, it seems a new product or expansion is launched each month, and if you blink too much you’ll miss it all. I saw a copy of Munchkin Conan, which looked tempting and is so not easily confused with the 15-card booster pack called Munchkin Conan the Barbarian, but I passed for the time being. Right now, I have one Munchkin core set in mind, and one only. It comes out this fall, it’s based on the end of the world, and it’s called Munchkin Apocalypse. Let’s take a look at a few preview cards…

Here are some sample doors:

Oh man. Doesn’t everyone know that bloggers have no class? ::zing::

And some sample treasures, with a first look at the new Seal card type:

Don’t know much yet how these Seals work–I have to imagine like Portals and Dungeons from vanilla Munchkin and Munchkin Cthulhu–but I have read a rule online that says if seven Seals are currently open, the game is over. Kind of like when everybody becomes a Cultist rule. Hmm…

You can’t see them all, but these are the cards you get if you buy some Radioactive Dice for your next round of Munchkin Apocalypse:

Not satisfied yet? Want more? Wow, y’all are a demanding bunch. Okay, okay…I’ll scour the Interwebz for more previews. Just give me a sec.

And I’m back! Only found one decent image. Here, here:

So, yeah. This is looking good. I hope there’s references to the following items: A Boy and His Dog, Fallout 3, and The Walking Dead. Guess I’ll find out in a few months, and I hope I can squeeze a group game in before the Earth cracks open and we all kiss each other goodbye.

Munchkin 8 card previews take over the Internet

Yesterday, March 8, was deemed Munchkin 8: Half Horse, Will Travel preview day, which should be in or heading to stores right around now. I’ll let you figure out the clever connection between the two. But either way, this meant previews of the newest expansion to original Munchkin, and while I am growing tired and running out of room for more fantasy-based Munchkin antics, I am always excited to see new cards and gameplay mechanics. But before one could feast, one must find, and the preview cards went up all over the Internet: Twitpic, Facebook, Dork Tower, Wired GeekDad, and so on. It was like a little treasure hunt, and if you’re a true Munchkin then you know how fun getting treasure is.

I think I found them all and have collected them together nicely in this preview post for y’all to devour. We’ve already seen what Lizard Guy and Centaur look like, but check out some of the new cards below cut, because all the cards are super large…

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Lizard Guy and Centaur knocking down doors in Munchkin 8

Another year, another mass of uncountable Munchkin releases. I think that should be printed on a banner and hung in the atrium that leads to the Steve Jackson Games sweatshop. The group just got done having a jam-packed 2011 with Munchkin Axe Cop and Munchkin Zombies. Just off the top of my head, for 2012, we have the following pieces coming out: Munchkin The Guild booster pack, Munchkin Skullkickers thingy, Munchkin Conan the Barbarian core set, the most anticipated number of them all Munchkin Apocalypse, and lastly Munchkin 8: Half Horse, Will Travel.

I’m sure there’s more, but speaking of that last one, I just saw the first spoilers of the new expansion set and they have magically got me excited for original Munchkin, a core set that keeps growing to numbers that are basically unplayable, making me like it less and less as time goes on. In case you don’t know, I dislike having to shuffle 1,000 cards.

Ya ready? Feast your eyes on these new Races then:

I apologize for the teeny tiny images, but that’s all that’s out there currently. Here are the cards in raw text format:

CENTAUR
Two Left Feet: You may use two footgear.
Leader of the Herd: You may have any number of steeds in play.

LIZARD GUY
Cold-Blooded: “Usable once only” Items that you play to help the monsters count double.
Drop Your Tail: You get +1 to Run Away from Level 10-15 monsters and +2 to Run Away from Level 16 and higher monsters.

In short, Centaur is surprisingly boring, but LIZARD GUY IS FREAKING SPECTACULAR. Like, if this was Magic the Gathering, I’d totally construct a deck just around him. Both his abilities are stellar, and both seem to have the potential to be game-changers, whether it is truly screwing over a fellow Munchkin-er with a +20 enhancer or getting the heck out of Dodge when Cowthulhu shows up. I don’t yet have all the expansions for vanilla Munchkin–I really do need to make a checklist at this point–but this latest one might have join in on all the fun. I totally want to be a High Lizard Guy Thief with the Dagger of Treachery and maybe the Kneepads of Allure. Mmm, yes. That’s exactly what I want to be.

A great videogame is not coming for A Game of Thrones

Evidently, there’s a videogame in the works for A Game of Thrones. This should be cause for excitement and celebration, as the series is riding a great high currently, blowing up bookstores and flatscreens with its epicness and sexy beards. Alas, if you want a game version of Westeros and its politics, I suggest going with the card game or board game version. Heck, feel free to print out my ASoIaF drawings and make them attack each other with your imagination. Do it. Because A Game of Thrones: Genesis from Cyanide Studio does not look promising.

Which sucks, because lore-wise, the game is digging deep, taking place before the events in A Game of Thrones and exploring the time of Aegon the Conquerer. This, of course, even means bringing in dragons and Robert’s Rebellion and other great historical happenings from the good ol’ days of Westeros, of which much is talked about in the books. Maybe even some insight into Lyanna. Who knows. Well, I won’t. Cause I’m not going to play A Game of Thrones: Genesis, not willingly at least.

It looks pretty crappy. The rooftops in this screenshot remind me of The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, and that was nine, almost ten years ago. Surely we’ve come farther than this. Granted, it’s an RTS game, meaning that for most of the battles and main gameplay, the camera is zoomed out to get a better view of the battlefield and where units are, but still…the graphics are not knocking me back. Everything is clunky and separate, as if the layers are showing. And I promise y’all, I’m not a graphics whore. I just need them to look good enough to not notice the ugly seams, flat textures, and lack of refining. Because Cyanide is obviously going for a more realistic look and failing. Any other style, even a Borderlands look, would have worked better.

Kind of want to see this little game fly…right out the Moon Door!

Originally, I didn’t think the whole A Game of Thrones RPG video from College Humor was all that good. It kind of plays on the same cliches and ideas that these videos cull from. Take something popular, boil it down to Final Fantasy era mechanics and look, add some obvious jokes, and watch the views roll in. But now…I’ll take it. Seven hells, I’ll take it!

Steve Jackson Games unsheathes Munchkin Conan the Barbarian

Strangely and surprisingly, over the Memorial Day weekend, Steve Jackson Games announced yet another new Munchkin title, this time going almost back to their fantasy origin roots with Munchkin Conan the Barbarian. This is a 15-card supplement for original Munchkin–y’know, the core set that already has 74 supplements as is–and while I will always be excited for new Munchkin art, cards, and game mechanics, I am growing a little weary of how bulky original Munchkin is getting. I think I only have like three big expansions (Munchkin 4 – The Need for Speed, Munchkin 5 – De-ranged, Munchkin 7 – Cheat With Both Hands) and one little one (Munchkin Waiting for Santa), and it’s already way too many cards to deal with. When my wife and sisters and I play, we have to actually create two Door piles and two Treasure piles because stacking them all at once would suddenly turn a round of Munchkin into a round of Jenga.

But yeah, Conan the Cimmerian…I mean, Barbarian. He’s definitely a great character, surviving in a world with inventive monsters and barrels full of fun–yet deadly–weapons. There’s actually so much to Conan’s rich history to pluck from that I’m sad to see this as just a supplement and not its very own set. Again, give me more big sets before little additions.

Munchkin Conan the Barbarian comes out this fall. Naturally, a better title would’ve been Conan the Muncharian. I’m dying to see what the Barbarian Booties do. No sample cards available yet, but you can check out a few pieces of early art over at the set’s homepage.

Munchkin Zombies wants brains, and I want to help them eat brains

Munchkin Zombies is debuting at PAX East this weekend, which is very exciting for two reasons: 1) the sooner it debuts there, the closer we zomb-crawl towards a retail release and 2) it’s the first core set in many moons since Munchkin Booty back in 2008 and early musings of it seem to indicate that it is above and beyond a traditional core set. This is great because, while traditional Munchkin gameplay is fine and fun, I was worried that we’d just get that with a zombie skin (ewww gross). That does not seem to be the case. For instance, instead of players playing as Munchkins, we’re actually in control of the zombies and can acquire different mojo that will tell us how we ultimately became part of undead society. Here, take a look at some sample preview cards:

Either way, I’m excited about this despite my wishy-washy feelings towards the zombie epidemic spreading across all media as of late. Guess I can credit that to John Kovalic‘s adorable and hilarious take on the undead. And there’s already an expansion set to drop this fall, along with more themed booster packs for Halloween and Christmas. That’s cool, that’s cool, but first things first: braaaaaaains…

Chez Cthulhu will drive you mad from a good time

Over the years, my gaming group has occasionally branched out from the Steve Jackson Games staple of Munchkin (and its bajillion incarnations). We’ve tried things like Elixir and Descent and the ever-so-slow Settlers of Catan, but probably my second favorite party board game is another product from SJG called Chez Geek, and not just cause everyone in my group thinks I look like the game’s main slacker:

Um…no. I only have one tattoo.

Basically, Chez Geek is about an apartment of roommates all striving for one thing, and one thing only: to reach their Slack goal. Players are given Job cards to represent how much Income and Free Time they have for activities like shopping, watching TV, or having loud nookie, and other cards help towards achieving one’s Slack goal via clear-cut means. It’s every roommate for themselves, and backstabbery is plentiful. All in all, it’s frantic, frenetic, funny, and fun.

So I was doubly excited when Chez Cthulhu came out! I mean, it’s the gameplay of Chez Geek mixed with the dark craziness of the Lovecraft mythos. I was drooling tentacles and preparing for a life of servitude before I knew it!

There is, however, a new gameplay mechanic introduced into Chez Cthulhu, and alas, it’s the one that hurt the group’s enjoyment the most: Madness. Sure, the High Priest to the Great Old Ones and madness go hand in hand, but for this board game it looks a lot more like befuddlement. See, some cards give players Madness tokens, which count against their Slack goal.  If you get enough Madness tokens you can go Stark Raving Mad, and then any further tokens count for your Slack goal. The confusion comes from the time between one Madness token and, say, eight Madness tokens. We were running out of markers and a little unsure of how to count everything, but wine and a whole lot of beercheese fondue could also be to blame for that. I’ve yet to win using the Madness strategy, but then again…I’ve yet to win at all. I take more pleasure in reading the flavor text, finding all the tiny details in John Kovalic’s drawings, and watching as cards demonically interact with each other.

It’s a good time, really; just don’t get mad at all the Madness.

Check out some sample cards from Chez Cthulhu below:

Scared for your sanity? Go on over to the game’s main website for more then: http://www.sjgames.com/chezcthulhu/