Kickstarter Campaign: Sans Allies

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Over the last 6 months of blogging, I have been lucky enough to connect with a number of other bloggers who share my passion for board games. Geoffrey Greer, writer of Past Go Gaming & Geeking, has been a big part of that connection. Geoff is a teacher with a passion for history and geeky topics, so he has a ton of great articles about a number of interesting subjects from Monopoly in American Culture to Howard the Duck. Going back the past few months, it’s rare to see a post I’ve made that doesn’t include a like or a comment from Geoff. I have always appreciated his activity on my blog, and the articles he writes are all very cool, so when I heard about his new game I jumped on the chance to try it out. Geoff and his wife Valerie have created a solitaire game called Sans Allies that is currently on Kickstarter. They have also added a prototype online, which I printed out and played over the weekend. Below is a brief description of the game and its rules, as well as a few important points about the game’s strengths and why I think you should back it on Kickstarter!

Sans Allies is a single player game with a very similar style to Pyramid Solitaire. The game has a 20th century war theme and revolves around fighting through enemy lines to capture the Enemy Capital before time runs out. The Enemy Capital is always at the very top of the pyramid, which means that in order to reach it you have to make your way through a number of different types of land, all while trying to build up your own forces and stop the enemy from developing their “ultimate weapon.” The game mechanics seem daunting when you first open up the instructions, but they are quick to pick up as long as you thoroughly read through the rule book before you play and then keep it on hand the first time you try the game. All in all, it only took me about 10-15 minutes to learn the “Limited War” gameplay (simplified rules) and only an additional 5-10 minutes to learn the “Total War” rules (complete rules). The first game I played took about an hour, but once I got the hang of it and was playing at a faster pace I found myself finishing a round in slightly over 45 minutes.

The game feels a lot like a single-player version of Risk to me – in order to “invade” a space and move closer towards the Enemy Capital, you roll two dice and either lose or maintain troops based on the number you rolled. This means that how and when you sans allies cardsdedicate your troops to an invasion is a crucial part of the game. You gain troops each turn, but after every turn the enemy has a chance at improving their ultimate weapon, so you can’t sit around and stockpile troops for too long. Sans Allies is also similar to the game Axis and Allies because there are different types of troops that can be used; you have personnel (ground troops), vehicles (tanks), aircraft (planes), and ships. Each type of territory you try and invade has specific types of troops that can and can’t access it. For example, only aircraft and ships can invade sea territories, and only aircraft and personnel can reach mountain territories.

There are plenty of other rules and tactics to the game, but I don’t have the space to go into everything in this post. Instead, here are the main reasons why I believe that Sans Allies is well worth backing on Kickstarter:

  • Easy to pick up – I mentioned before that it took me about 20 minutes total to learn the complete rules of the game (both Limited and Total War rules). This may seem like a significant amount of time, but that is mostly because I read through the entire instruction book once and re-read specific chapters beforeSans Allies 1 trying to play the game. This meant that by the time I actually started playing the Limited War version of the game, I only had to check the rules a few times for my first play through. When I upgraded to Total War for my second play-through, I felt comfortable enough with the Limited War rules that I only checked the rules for Total War additions. Ultimately I’ve played through the game four times in total, and feel like I know pretty much everything I need to play the game moving forward.
  • Challenging (but not too challenging) Gameplay – I’ve found that game difficulty is a big part of what makes a game good or great. If a game is too simple, it’s boring, but if it’s too complicated nobody will want to play it. Sans Allies found a good balance with its combination of strategy and luck, giving it a feel of a game that isn’t easy but is certainly beatable. I won each game that I played, but there were definitely some rounds that were pretty close and I never felt like the game was “in the bag.”
  • Easy to Carry (good travel game) – Speaking of in the bag, since the game is mostly made up of cards and no boards are necessary, it is the perfect game to take on a trip. Whether it’s a family vacation or a work function, sometimes having a game you can play during your travels can be a lifesaver. Most people bring a deck of cards and play solitaire, so why not enhance your experience by bringing a more complex travel-sized game instead?
  • Cheap – Large-scale board games are getting more and more expensive as time goes by; most games nowadays cost around $50-$60, and while they are usually worth the price in my opinion it’s difficult to justify buying certain games because of the price tag. Smaller games usually register around the $30 range, so Sans Allies being $20 for this Kickstarter is a good deal in my opinion. I have enjoyed playing the prototype online, but as someone really into the aesthetics of a game I’m seriously looking forward to getting a copy of the real thing!
  • Good way to pass time – As someone who is almost constantly busy, this isn’t something that I experience very often…but I could see Sans Allies as being a great game for people with an hour to kill who want to do something different for a stretch. It’s also a game that you can leave and come back to if necessary without losing your place in the game.
  • “Scratches the Itch” – Geoff used this phrase in his video about the game (you can find it on the Kickstarter page) and I think it’s extremely accurate. Sometimes you’re just in the mood for a strategy game, and maybe you don’t have anyone around to play with or you don’t feel like getting a group together at the time. Sans Allies is the perfect game for that situation, because it’s a game that gives you what you’re looking for in a fun and engaging way.

So there you have it – I really hope you consider giving this game a shot. You can try out the prototype yourself, or just take my word for it and wait until the real game is out. Whatever you decide, I hope you know that any pledges you can make are much appreciated. If you have any questions about the game, you can contact Geoff at geoff@pastgo.net or on Twitter at @PastGoGames. And once again for good measure, here is the link to the Sans Allies Kickstarter. Thanks to anyone who is able to provide their support!

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Board Game of the Week- Stratego

  • Game Title: Stratego
  • Release Date: 1947
  • Number of Players: 2
  • Average Game Time: 45 minutes
  • Game Publisher: Hasbro
  • Website: http://www.stratego.com
  • Game Designer: Jacques Johan Mogendorff
  • Expansions/Alternates: Yes
  • Available in Stores: Uncommon- available online

Stratego is an older game that has been around for multiple iterations throughout the years. Games like Stratego- strategy games based on one-on-one high level strategy- seem to be much more uncommon nowadays. Most games are meant for more than two players and have a larger scale than squaring off directly with your opponent. These types of games, such as Battleship or even Chess, force players to think critically and outwit their opponent. Stratego matches this idea and also expands on it with a “fog of war” element where you can’t see your opponent’s pieces.

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The game ultimately acts as a form of capture the flag; similar to chess, where the goal is to get the king with a piece, the goal in Stratego is to have a piece reach the opponent’s flag. The big trick in the game is that each player places all of their pieces, including the flag, wherever they want on their side of the board. Because of this, coupled with the fact that you can’t see your opponent’s pieces, means that you have no idea where the flag is at the start of the game. In addition, you have a number of “troop” pieces, with strengths of 1-10, that can fight each other and search for the flag. Finally, there are “bomb” tiles that, if a troop tries to attack one, blows up and destroys the piece. Bombs can be defused or avoided, but the placement of bombs becomes a huge factor in how the game is played as well.

Stratego-Original-SetupThis game focuses more than any I know on pre-game setup. How you choose where to put your pieces effects the game almost more than your strategy for the game itself. Whether you put your flag as far away from the enemy troops as possible, try some form of misdirection, place the bombs near or far away from the flag, place your high powered players up front or use your weaker troops as shields, all of these ideas and more effect the game experience. Not only your choices, but your opponent’s choices and figuring out their strategy is crucial to success in this game. This doesn’t mean that the strategy stops when the game starts- memorizing your opponent’s pieces, understanding when sacrifices must be made, and adapting to new scenarios all become crucial as the game goes on. Being able to shift strategies and compensate for losses is one of the hardest things to do in a game, and Stratego takes this idea and runs with it.

There isn’t much about this game I can truly criticize, other than that it is complex enough to not be a “casual” game with friends. Similar to chess, you have to be in a very specific mindset in order to want to play the game. It’s not a game I would pull out for a game night, and I don’t see myself playing it a bunch of times in a short period of time. The game pulls you in when you’re playing, but it isn’t the type of game that jumps off the shelf. Overall if you’re in the mood for a fairly intense, but not too complex, strategy game, this is a great one to have available if you have a friend who wants to play a game and compete with you.

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Jack’s Rating: 4/5 Stars

 

Board Game of the Week- Sheriff of Nottingham

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  • Game Title: Sheriff of Nottingham
  • Release Date: 2014
  • Number of Players: 3-5
  • Average Game Time: 45-60 minutes
  • Game Publisher: Arcane Wonders
  • Website:  http://www.arcanewonders.com/sheriff-of-nottingham
  • Game Designer: Sergio Halaban
  • Expansions/Alternates: Yes
  • Available in Stores: Yes

I am not a good bluffer. I like to think I am, but looking at it objectively I really don’t have the best poker face. So when I opened up Sheriff of Nottingham and realized the game is based around bluffing and misdirection, I was worried I wouldn’t be able to pick it up well. Luckily enough, the game is based on so much more than bluffing and there are many different types of strategy while playing, so I was able to find a strategy that works for me without too much struggle.IMG_2835

Sheriff of Nottingham focuses on merchants trying to bring their goods into the city to sell. The basic mechanic involves drawing cards and choosing what types you want to load into your bag. Everyone then declares what foods he/she put in his/her bag (4 apples, 3 bread, etc.) either truthfully or untruthfully if IMG_2837they have extra foods or “contraband”. The added twist to this is that every round someone acts as “sheriff” who then can choose to inspect each person’s bag. If you were truthful about your goods then the Sheriff has to pay you, but if not the extra goods get confiscated and you have to pay the Sheriff. This means that you can try and smuggle contraband in for big point totals, or you can tell the truth and hope that the Sheriff tries to catch you. A number of other nuances in how you draw cards and what goods you choose to play add up to a very inventive and interesting game.

I found that this game can be a lot of fun, but how much fun depends on the company you are in. My friends and family are all very outgoing, energetic, and goofy, so when we started playing we immediately turned it intoIMG_2838 an improv show where everyone put on different accents and asked silly questions to try and get a reaction from the group. This caused everyone to be more engaged in the game and the enthusiasm built up as we went. I feel like if you were in a group of more straight-laced people that wanted to play it normally it could be less exciting, though the strategy and gameplay still appeal to the average player. The game tends to drag at times if the Sheriff takes a long time to ask questions, so 5 players can take a while. Playing with 3 players, on the other hand, adds an extra round to the game so it doesn’t exactly shorten things. I recommend the game with 4 players if possible as the best middle ground option.

Jack’s Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Board Game of the Week- Battleship (Salvo Rules)

  • Game Title: Battleship
  • Release Date: 1931
  • Number of Players: 2
  • Average Game Time: 30 minutes
  • Game Publisher: Milton Bradley
  • Website: https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/2425/battleship
  • Game Designer: Antoine Bauza
  • Expansions/Alternates: Yes
  • Available in Stores: Yes (newer versions only)

It’s not that often that I choose to delve into games from the 30’s for a Board Game of the Week, mostly because the assumption is that if a game has been around for over 80 years, it’s not exactly new and so it’s harder to write interesting stories. Battleship would seem to be one of those types of games; pretty much anybody from my childhood, my parents’ childhood, and even my grandparents’ childhood has played the game or at least knows of its existence. One of the games that has withstood the test of time, multiple different versions and reiterations of Battleship have been created to keep the game popular through the decades. I had an anniversary Battleship as well as a Star Wars Battleship when I was a kid, so I’ve known the basic rules for a long time and remember them to this day.

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For a while I have felt that Battleship is one of those games that is fun, but there isn’t too much variety to it. Luckily for me, when I pulled out my classic Battleship game and played a few rounds with my sister’s fiancé I was introduced to a whole new way of playing Battleship; the Salvo rules variation.

Salvo is a great example of a rules variation helping make a good game great. Salvo is actually listed as a recommended game type in the Battleship rulebook for advanced players, but the rules are fairly simple so you don’t have to be a master to play. The salvo rules are the same as regular Battleship rules, except that instead of one shot per round a
player gets one shot for every ship they have. This means that at the start of the game you have five shots, and as time goes by and you lose ships you Battleship board gameget less and less until you lose all of your ships. If on any of your shots you hit a ship, your opponent must tell you where you hit and what ship it was. This speeds up the game significantly and also provides an added layer of strategy for when you’ve hit someone. Ultimately it’s a simple change, but it provides better results in my opinion compared to the traditional version. There is an element of luck to it because if you lose a ship early and have less shots to work with you are at a big disadvantage, but from the times I have played salvo I found that it stayed pretty even no matter how the first few games started solely due to the volume of opportunities to get a hit on your opponent.
Another version of the Battleship game with an added layer of complexity is the advanced salvo variation, which includes the same rules as salvo except when a player gets a hit the opponent doesn’t say which shot hit or what ship they hit, and only says the number of times they hit in that round. This is a significantly harder style of play and requires paper and abattleship pieces pencil available because you will need to write down as much information as possible each turn to help figure out which of your shots was a hit. For example, if on your first turn you choose A2, B7, H5, G9, and A10 as your five shots and your opponent tells you that you hit twice, that’s not a lot of information to go on. If you don’t keep a record of the hits and do some experimenting to figure out where those hits came from, it will be impossible for you to keep track of everything as the game progresses. This type of game can be a lot of fun if you play it right, but can also be very frustrating if you don’t keep organized and use your shots wisely.

Ultimately Battleship was a fun game by itself, but playing the Salvo or Advanced Salvo version is a good way to try something new with an older game. For those of you who haven’t played the salvo rules, I recommend picking up your old copy or buying a new one and giving it a shot (no pun intended).

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Jack’s Rating (salvo): 4/5 stars

Jack’s Rating (advanced salvo): 4.5/5 stars

Board Game of the Week- Castles of Mad King Ludwig

Before I start my first post of 2016, a quick note to all of my followers and readers out there- thanks so much for all of your support as I’ve started my blogging adventures in 2015. I’ve enjoyed every minute of it, and I hope you all have too. 2016 has a lot of great stuff in store and I will continue to write and learn, so I hope even better things await in the upcoming months. For everyone reading this, I hope you have an amazing year and the future is bright for you. Now let’s get to it!

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Game Title: Castles of Mad King Ludwig

  • Release Date: 2014
  • Number of Players: 1-4
  • Average Game Time: 45-90 minutes (my games all lasted about 45 minutes)
  • Game Publisher: Bezier Games
  • Website: http://beziergames.com/collections/all-games/products/castles
  • Game Designer: Ted Alspach
  • Expansions/Alternates: Yes
  • Available in Stores: No (available online)

I was lucky enough to receive a number of board games over the holidays, so I have a lot of great material to write about over the next few weeks. One of the gems of my new board game collection is the Bezier Games castle-building game Castles of Mad King Ludwig. For those of you who enjoy random historical tidbits, King Ludwig was actually a real king of Bavaria in the 1800’s who was known for spending ridiculous amounts of money on extravagant castles and construction projects. His penchant for spending money ultimately was used as justification for declaring him insane by his cabinet in an effort to depose him. In Castles of Mad King Ludwig, you channel your inner architect and try to appease the Mad King by building the most impressive castle possible.

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Looks pretty mad to me…

The object of the game is to score as many points as possible based on the rooms you play, along with special bonus points from completing certain tasks and gaining the King’s favor. The game setup is that every round, cards from the Room Deck are drawn to determine what size rooms will be played for the round. These room tiles, with varying points and effects for each, are placed in a “bidding” area with different cash values associated with them. One player in the round is the “Master Builder”, who chooses where each room goes in the bidding area which determines how much it will cost for that round. Next, the player to the Master Builder’s left buys IMG_2817any of the rooms he/she wants and pays the Master Builder for the cost, then plays the rooms in his/her castle area. Each room has a different effect after it is played, which can get you more money, points, or bonus cards that have different effects. Play continues to the next player on the left, until it is the Master Builder’s turn. The Master Builder then can buy whatever rooms are left (if there are any) by paying the bank. Once the Master Builder finishes his/her turn, the person to the left becomes Master Builder for the next round. Once all of the Room Deck cards have been used up, the game is over and points are calculated.

I must admit that when I first opened the box to this game, I was fairly overwhelmed at the sheer amount of pieces involved. In addition to all of the different rooms that are available, there are two sets of cards, 24 favor tiles, a Master Builder token, player aids and markers, 4 separate pieces to form the board, and 4 foyers whiIMG_2814ch act as the starting point to your rooms. The first time you play the game, expect to take a very long time organizing and setting everything up (once you’ve played the game a few times it gets a lot faster). Because of how many pieces are involved, make sure that you have a lot of space available to play, especially if you have four players.

The rules of the game are fairly straightforward, though it does take a few rounds to understand the strategy of playing certain rooms in certain areas. Ultimately you can play any room pretty much anywhere you want as long as there is an entrance from another room and no rooms overlap, but you get added bonuses for having certain types of rooms adjacent to other types (bedrooms next to a hallway, living rooms next to food rooms, etc.). I once had a castle which had a Sauna attached to the Master Bedroom, while my girlfriend’s castle didn’t have a single place to sleep by the end of the game. Ultimately the structure of the castle doesn’t really have to make sense, though the more you follow a straightforward placement of rooms the easier it is to add on to your castle in the later rounds.

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I thoroughly enjoyed playing this game- the style feels like a mesh of games like Ticket to Ride, Settlers of Catan, and 7 Wonders, while also adding in new elements to it. I’ve played the game three times with two players and once with three, and there were major differences between those two game types and the strategy you need to use to win. I would like to try it with four players soon, as I’ve heard that it is the recommended way to play. Every game you play will end up differently, since there are more room tiles than room cards so you will have a different set of rooms available to you at different times each game. The types of rooms available are fun to look at, and seeing what you’ve built when the game is over is a lot of fun (my sister and her fiancé actually recommended we use it as a D&D Dungeon randomizer). The complexity of the setup and initial mastery of the rules does take some time, but once you get the hang of it games go by quickly and are great to play. I would recommend the game to more advanced board game enthusiasts as opposed to the casual player, but all types of people will enjoy the thrill of the game’s mechanics and theme.

Jack’s Rating: 4/5 stars

Board Game of the Week- King of Tokyo

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  • Game Title: King of Tokyo
  • Release Date: 2011
  • Number of Players: 2-6
  • Average Game Time: 30 minutes
  • Game Publisher: Iello
  • Website: iellogames.com/KingOfTokyo.html
  • Game Designer: Richard Garfield
  • Expansions/Alternates: Yes
  • Available in Stores: Yes

I once read an article that discussed the idea that a number of successful games are usually centered on themes that aren’t particularly interesting in real life. There is some truth to that: games like Settlers of Catan, Monopoly, etc. all have fairly straightforward concepts based around tasks or stories that are mundane and unimpressive outside of the board game realm. King of Tokyo takes this idea, smashes it into the ground, and sets it on fire while laughing gleefully.
The theme of King of Tokyo is this: you are a giant monster trying your best to infiltrate and destroy Tokyo all while undermining the other monsters trying to do the same thing, ultimately powering your way to the top and earning the title of the King of Tokyo.  Sounds simple enough right? In reality, the game is a predominately dice-rolling game with inIMG_2756tense amounts of strategy and some power-up cards sprinkled in for extra fun. The game starts off with everyone at 0 victory points and 10 health. The object of the game is to gain 20 victory points all while keeping your health from dropping to 0. You can victory points by rolling the dice, paying for victory point cards, and surviving inside Tokyo where you’re more likely to be attacked.

The dice rolling mechanic is very similar to Yahtzee- you have 6 custom dice which you roll all at one time, then geIMG_2755t two additional dice rolls where you can choose to pick up and roll any of the dice you had thrown previously. After you’re done with your three rolls, you immediately “resolve the dice” by taking any necessary actions that come about from the dice you’v
e rolled. Each die has 6 numbers/markings on it, and the goal of your dice rolls is to either match up the same number together to earn victory points, stockpile health/energy, or attack your opponents. After the dice have been resolved, you can buy any of the face-up cards to power up your monster and then use any effects from cards you want, and then your turn ends.

Ultimately this game is a lot of fun- there is a lot of strategy revolving around spending your time in or outside of Tokyo. Staying in Tokyo gets you victory points, but also means yKingOfTokyo_3Dboxou are a target for opponents to attack you. You can only stay in Tokyo when you have 5 health, so stockpiling health and energy is important. The cards bring an additional layer to it, and while the game can take some time getting the hang of it’s a lot less complicated than it originally looks. I particularly like the strategy of the dice roll, where you have to decide what to focus on during a particular turn. Choosing between victory points, health, energy, and hurting your opponents can be the difference between progress and defeat. Artistically the game is also very appealing, with six individual monsters that all look really cool (they somehow find a way to make mecha-bunny particularly impressive) and the cards each have a unique cartoon picture that makes the game engaging to the eye. I would have liked to see each monster have their own special ability to make your choice of character more important to the overall strategy, but even without that there are plenty of different paths you can take to claim the title of King.

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This game is suited for people of all ages and groups of all sizes- Iello really knocked it out of the park on this one. Plus, giant fictional monsters fighting each other in a large populated city should always be enjoyed no matter what the context.

Jack’s Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Board Game of the Week- 7 Wonders

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  • Game Title: 7 Wonders
  • Release Date: 2010
  • Number of Players: 2-7
  • Average Game Time: 20-30 minutes
  • Game Publisher: Repos Production
  • Website: http://rprod.com/index.php?page=description-22
  • Game Designer: Antoine Bauza
  • Expansions/Alternates: Yes
  • Available in Stores: Yes

Some board games have a simple style that you learn quickly and then play, without any additional strategy involved. In contrast, there are games that take a lot longer to learn and even once you’ve learned, there is still an opportunity to learn and improve because of the strategy involved in mastering the game. 7 Wonders definitely falls into the latter type of game. I’ve tried to explain the game multiple times to new players and have always received looks of confusion and frustration right away. However, once they start to play and get the experience of “learning by doing”, it all starts to make sense.

I’m not going to go into all of the details of how to play the game (I would be writing a 10 page essay), but the basic premise and rules I can try to explain. To start, each player randomly chooses an individual board with one of the 7 wonders of the world: Babylon, Gizah, Rhodes, Alexandria, Halikarnossos, Olympia, and Ephesos. These boards each have different resources that they provide as well as different “wonders” that have additional benefits as the game goes on. Gameplay is completed through a series of cards that are distributed evenly through three “ages”. There are multiple different types of cards, such as resource cards, science cards, army cards, and more. Using the cards that fit with your Wonder and your overall strategy is the key to win.

To play the game, each player takes his/her cards, chooses a card to play, and plays it at the same time as the other players. The hands are then given to the player directly to the left, which becomes the hand used to play the next card. This process continues until each player has two cards left, when the players each choose one card to play then discard the other. Finally to end the age, each player goes to war with the players directly to their left and right, providing points to whomever has the most army cards. The second age follows the same process except the players hand their cards off to the right, and then the third age switches back to the left. After all three ages are completed, points are calculated based on the cards played, along with war points and points from Wonders. The player with the most total points from all of these factors wins.image2

Reading my explanation of how the game works probably doesn’t do it justice, but I hope that it gets across the vast number of strategies and cards that are involved in every game. That’s the biggest benefit of 7 Wonders by far, is that you can use countless different strategies to succeed. You can build up armies, improve your sciences, create more culture through monuments, or build your wonders to gain points, and any mix or combination and more will lead to your total score. Another advantage of the game is that once you get the hang of it, it isn’t a particularly long game. You can feasibly play the game 3 or 4 times within a two hour period, which gives you the chance to try out new Wonders and strategies and keep things fresh.

Ultimately the downsides of the game are focused around the steep learning curve. I’ve had friends who tried to get into the game but didn’t have the patience to learn the rules and ended up losing interest before they got the hang of it. It’s also a game where you will be constantly checking the rulebook because the card descriptions are extremely vague. I’ve played the game dozens of times and still don’t remember what certain cards or wonders do. Finally, the game is fun with any number of players but when you get to 5+ it gets harder to keep your area organized because so much space is taken up with your board, cards, coins, etc.

While the game may not be for everyone, 7 Wonders is a great game to play in the right setting. It’s also a good game to have as a staple in your game nights. I also recommend taking a look at the expansions out there, because once you expert the game it’s fun to add in additional layers to it.

Jack’s Rating: 3/5 stars