Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Rebels with a Cause

Dantooine is too remote to make an effective demonstration -
but don't worry; we will deal with your rebel friends soon enough. 
Just being honest: if I had access to a Death Star, I don't know if I could act with the same cold restraint with which Grand Moff Tarkin acted. And now, for the first time ever, thanks to the creative geniuses at Fantasy Flight Games, I can have a Death Star! I can indiscriminately blow planets to pieces! I too can give Obi Wan Kenobi a headache from all the millions of voices suddenly crying out in terror and suddenly being silenced. For now, I have a copy of an "investment" game that I've long had my eyes on: Star Wars Rebellion!


Here's how it started: well, wait. I actually started by reading some gushing reviews along the lines of "OMG play this game immediately." Truth be told, I should just point to that review at that link and just drop the mic. But I have a blog and an ego, so...  After that review, I saw that game time and again at my favorite game store in town. There it sat, staring at me. Beckoning. Requiring. But...the price tag. But...who'd play with me? But...

And then along came a bucket-list trip for me. I've long wanted to get to  GenCon. And finally, early in August, I got the chance to hang out with my most favoritest nerds during the "best 4 days in gaming" and lose myself like a kid in games and game demos and game playing and meal-missing and caffeine-chugging.  I was surrounded by My People in an environment where we can let our nerd flags fly proudly.

GenCon demo with my favorite dorks
Fantasy Flight - one of my favorite publishers of some of the best games I own - have come up with a series of games that allow gamers to interact with the Star Wars universe at any level they wish. Star Wars Imperial Assault is troop-based ground combat. Star Wars X-Wing is fighter-based combat using beautifully-painted minis of your favorite Star Wars fighters (X- and Y- Wings, B-Wings, TIE of every flavor, etc). Star Wars Armada is capital-ship combat between the behemoth starships like Star Destroyers and Mon Calamari Star Cruisers (little fighters are now itty-bitty squadron-sized minis), highly-detailed and beautifully rendered. And finally, there's what you see here: Star Wars Rebellion. This is the whole war, the whole time period around the first-3-movies-that-are-the-second-3. Ships and planets and troops and Death Stars and all your favorite generals and admirals and heroes and villains.

And so all those questions and second-guesses from seeing that lovely box at my game store were washed away in the environment and hype and joy of a gaming convention, and home I came with a 10-pound game in a bag on your arm.


This is a game for 2, 3, or 4 players. I loved the competitive/cooperative feel for the game. 2 players is simple: Empire versus Rebellion. As you add more players, each new player picks a side and it becomes a 2-on-1 or a 2-on-2 battle, complete with cooperation between partners.

Game-play is not that complicated. Each player gets mission cards, and assigns a well-known Hero like Darth Vader or Han Solo to do it. Then: you do it. Sometimes it's automatic, sometimes, the other player tries to oppose it, each of you rolling a number of "successes" on the supplied dice. Each player, one after the other, can also put famous characters in systems in order to activate that system to move troops and ships into it. If there are badguys there, fight. If not, enjoy the view.
Look at all those chances
for millions of voices to cry out

What's the point?

If I'm the Rebel player, I'm doing missions that sully the reputation of the Empire (like shooting all their Storm Troopers off a planet or blowing up a Star Destroyer), and waiting for a moment in the game where you have essentially waited-out the Empire. The game has a time tracker. Time tracker runs out, game over for the Empire.

If I'm the Empire, I'm in a mad dash to find the Rebel base and shoot all the Rebels I see. If I find the base and land on it and beat the Rebels, I win. If I find the base and stick a Death Star next to it and blow it up, I win. But again, if the Rebels wait me out, keep the base a secret, and essentially embarrass the Empire enough (Geez, these little upstarts keep blowing up fearsome ships and punching Imperials in the face...the Empire must suck...), the Rebels win.

There's more fun to it: there's probe droids, capturing and interrogating leaders, turning people to the Light or Dark, blowing up planets with Death Stars, blowing up Death Stars, blowing up.... It's a fun way to participate directly in, and even maybe change the "history" of, one of the most famous and beloved stories of all time.

My only complaint: the combat system is a tad clunky. We had to refer to the rulebook a lot during battles, and then had to refer to a separate (but included) document on rules clarifications a few times. Once we got the hang of it, we got it. But it took several combats before we really felt it. It's a slightly more cumbersome take on Risk's system of successes-versus-successes. That alone isn't so bad, but when you add-in multiple colors of dice, and some ships or troops can only be damaged by certain colors of dice...you get a little clunky.

But that complaint is far, far outweighed by being able to  get so deeply involved in Star Wars.

As for age-appropriateness of game-play: my 11-year-old and I played a game recently.

I believe this picture sums-up how that went...

He's grounded now
A light and fun family game this is not. This is a gamer's game, made for gamers, by gamers. It's an investment in both money and time, and is a few steps complicated enough that it helps to have some solid "I've played a zillion different games" experience under your belt to really grasp the play. If you've played Axis and Allies, you'll get this game. That said, a mild gamer could learn this game very quickly from an experienced gamer and realize some fun and success (just refer to that picture...).

All in all, I recommend this game as among the most interesting, detailed, and fun I've played. The cooperative/competitive multi-player approach is really wonderful. You'll not play this game at a warm, couple-y game night; this is 4 friends, beers, and a Saturday. Or your 11 year old Star Wars fan whose deft planning foils the mighty Empire and secures a better, less blown-up future for the galaxy!

Monday, August 22, 2016

A Better Take on an Old Classic

Kids across America were, at one point in our lives, around the time where Sorry stopped being fun and Yatzee was still confusing and mildly dumb, introduced to a classic board game; a game that ended friendships. A game that strained familial relations. One of the first games (outside of Chess) with minis and a currency. A game introduced by a parent or a grandparent with a sly grin on a rainy evening. That game:


And then one day, after you beat your younger sibling for the ten-thousandth time, after your uncle or dad beat you for the 100th time, and after you got introduced to games like this and this, you realized that Monopoly got one thing right: it put the MONO in monotony.

I really used to love Monopoly, and we own several copies of several different variations (from regular to Junior to Bugs Bunny to Empire). But as I have said before, we live in a golden era of table-top and board games. Never before has there been such a massive variety of games of various complexities, each one relaying less and less on randomness (though that random roll is still of high importance) and more and more on strategic or cooperative thinking.

Monopoly relies so heavily on the randomized die-roll that there is a point in a game at which victory is unequivocally certain for one player and defeat unavoidable by the rest. The holes in the gameplay become apparent, and the strategy, unlike chess, is fairly straightforward. Though it is possible to win without the vaunted Boardwalk-Park Place bank-breaker, those properties are key, and those properties go to the person who rolls the right rolls, largely.

For those of you who tire of Monotony's monotonousness, but you really want a game wherein property, property value, and a race to build income-rich monopolies are exciting, allow me to direct you to:

Machi Koro!

Cards and "coins," that's all the game is. No meeples or minis or game boards. The cards are arranged in numeric order (numbers on the top of the cards), and each small stack of cards is either a resource or business. Thus, every player gets a chance to have access to resources, but the resources are finite and a player could easily corner the market, so to speak.

Every turn, each player  - up to 4 players - rolls one or, later, up to two dice. The die roll "activates" a resource for whomever controls it...sort of like landing on a property in Monopoly. Some resources pay everyone, some pay the person who rolled it, some make the person who rolled it pay.

What do you do with this money?

Either buy more resources or business in your burgeoning little town in order to make more money, or save your money to buy 1 of 4 landmarks (a train station, a shopping mall, an amusement park, and a radio tower....why those 4 things somehow signify an advanced city, I'll never know, but it matters little). Every player starts with all 4 landmarks "under construction." The first player to buy all 4 landmarks wins!

As you can see, there are several similarities to Monopoly, including the accumulation of properties and wealth, making money off of other players who roll your property, and even buying-up the scarce resources (from wheat fields to bakeries to restaurants and cafes). There still exists even the ever-essential-in-gaming randomized die roll. But beyond that, the similarities end. There is complex strategy in which resources you buy and when to build - or not - your landmarks. Do I buy all the 3 &4, 7 & 8 die roll resources, or a gob of 1 and 2, 11/12 resources? can I win simply by making people pay me, or is there a balance?

Our growing little towns...the race is on between Dom and I!
Here's the key: this is very family-friendly. My 8-year-old twins understand the rules, and understand the basics of the strategy well enough that Dominic was within 1 coin of getting the 4th landmark before I did. All 3 of us had 3 of 4 landmarks within just a few turns of one another. It was a close game, but nobody got blown-out. There are winners and losers, but the losing players are bankrupted and beaten into submission; it's a race, and it's a close one, even if your resource and business cards are scant. Its replayability is very high; we played 2 games in a little under an hour.

There are 2 expansions out for the game as well: Harbor, an Millionaire's Row. More variation, more cards, more landmarks, more game, same easy theme with fun illustrations.

This isn't your father's Monopoly, and that's just fine. Family-friendly, kid-friendly, and quick and easy enough that if you have people over for a game night, they'll be playing in no time and even have a shot as a novice at winning.