Tuesday, June 17, 2014

UK Games Expo 2014--Games I Tried

Here's a not so exhaustive list of games that I played at the UK Games Expo 2014, in roughly chronological order (if my memory serves):

1. Memoir '44 El Alamein Overlord edition (part of the Mediterranean Theater expansion)--one of the first things I saw when I arrived at the Expo on Friday (which is a games only day, i.e. no trade shows or seminars) was a massive map of Memoir '44. It had Allied troops in tan and Axis in grey fighting the battle of El Alamein. Two guys were running their respective sides of the board and letting people come up and command one of the wings of the battle. At most, each side could have four players--three assigned to the left, middle, and right parts of the board and one overall commander giving cards to those three. I played as the right flank of the Axis for about 45 minutes. Playing in that format with the gigantic board (it was a printout on poster paper, very impressive looking) was a lot of fun even if I wasn't doing too well.

Memoir '44 El Alamein Overlord map, seen from the Axis side

2. London--In this game  designed by Martin Wallace, players rebuild the city of London after the Great Fire of 1666. The games goes to the end of the 19th century, though it certainly doesn't feel that long. Players draw and play cards to develop buildings in the city. Buildings can be activated to get special bonuses but poverty might also increase. Players can also purchase boroughs of the city to get victory points and protect themselves against poverty. In the final parts of the game, players can build the Underground. The game requires a balancing act between going into debt, developing and replacing buildings, and investing in the boroughs of the city. I enjoyed the game but it didn't wow me as a must buy.

3. Mauna Kea--Groups of explorers on an island have to bring some relics/treasures/artifacts (they are little wooden cubes, okay?) to the boats on the shore to escape before the volcano's lava makes them permanent residents. The island is made of tiles but only a few of them (the center of the island and the ones with the treasures) are in place. Each tile is a two-by-two grid with jungle, water, or mountains in each of the four spots. The jungles require one movement point to go through, the water two movement points, and the mountains are impassible. Players take turns drawing tiles which are used either to build the island (thus creating escape routes for your explorers or blocking the escape of other players' explorers) or to move your explorers (each tile has a certain number of movement points on it). When the players draw new tiles, sometimes they draw lava tiles, which are placed over the existing tiles and may block or even kill explorers. The game is tense and enjoyable. In our first play, almost no explorers made it off the island! We immediately played a second time with the advanced rules, which include cards that give special victory conditions (get off the island with so many white or grey cubes for a bonus) or special powers (move through contiguous jungle, water, or even mountains for one movement point!). I liked the game so much, I bought it!

4. One Night Ultimate Werewolf--Listening to podcasts about gaming, I often hear about Werewolf, a popular, large-group game where most people are villagers but a few are werewolves. The werewolves try to kill off the villagers before they themselves are killed. Each turn, all the players vote on a person to be killed after they spend a certain amount of time discussing who might be the werewolf. Play proceeds until there are no werewolves or no villagers left. In this One Night version, cards with various roles are handed out to the group with three extra cards put in the middle of the table. Many of the villagers are given specific tasks, e.g. the Troublemaker, who switches cards between two other players without looking at the cards, or the Drunk, who switches his card with one of the cards in the middle without looking at it. After players have their cards, look at them, and place them on the table in front of them, they all close their eyes. The fellow running this game had an app that would prompt the players to do their roles. Thus the app would say, "Everyone, close your eyes...werewolves, open your eyes. If there is only one werewolf, that player may look at someone's card...werewolves, close your eyes...Troublemaker, open your eyes. Switch cards between two players without looking at them...Troublemaker, close your eyes..." and so on. The game is fun because the group is only given a few minutes to discuss what happened while everyone was asleep. Maybe people won't be honest about their roles or what they did. When time is up, everyone points a finger at who they think is a werewolf. That person is killed. If that player is a werewolf, the villagers win; if he is not, the werewolves win. The only drawbacks to this game are (1) you need a fairly big group (at least six players) and (2) if you don't have the app, someone has to read the script out without looking at the other players doing their moves. Otherwise it's an interesting exercise in bluffing and reading other people.

5. Dodekka--Players draw cards from the table or a draw deck. The cards are colored with various numbers on them. Each color represents an element and players want to accumulate as many cards of one color as they can, though often they have to draw some color they don't want or plan on needing. When the cards run out, each player chooses a color as their victory color. They add up the numbers on the cards of the chosen color and then subtract the total number of cards (not the numbers on the cards) they have in other color. It's pretty simple--J understood it, L just barely. We played a quick game on Saturday morning before trying other things.

L and J playing Dodekka

6. Luchador! Mexican Wrestling Dice--Two players battle it out in a Mexican wrestling match. Players role their dice (blue for one side, red for the other) simultaneously on a board. Any dice that go off the board don't count (which means a player could throw their dice in the hope of knocking the other player's dice out!). The dice have symbols for Hit, Miss, Block, Block with counter, or Pin. Misses are discarded. Blocks remove Hits from the other player's dice. Blocks with counter remove Hits and count as Hit dice. After the dice are reconciled, a special green Hit die is rolled for each hit to determine how much damage is done. Two Hit dice can be combined to role the black Luchador die with the probability of higher damage or possibility of an injury to the rolling player. At the end of the round, a player with a Pin will role the yellow Pin die to determine if a pin happens, or maybe a stun (which subtracts a die from the other player in the next round), or maybe the player just shows off to get a strength point back. The pinned player has a chance to break the pin. Each player starts with 21 Strength points. The first one to run out of Strength points or to be pinned successfully loses. Alternate rules let four players have a tag-team match. I played this against the game's designer and won! He congratulated me and I bought a copy. I'm sure the kids will enjoy it.

7. Rampage--This dexterity game is based on the classic arcade game of giant monsters running around destroying various cities. Here, buildings are constructed using meeples to hold up the various levels. Some vehicles are placed on the board as well. Each player picks a monster and draws three cards from three separate decks. One card is a special power to be used once per turn (I had "Long Tongue" which let me eat meeples in other sections of the city), another is a special power used once per game (I had "Hungry" which let me eat twice as many meeples one time), and the third gives some special victory condition (I had "Romantic Monster" which gave me extra points for every set of red and yellow meeples (hero and lady colors) I had at the end of the game). Players then take turns destroying buildings and eating meeples. Players move around the board by flicking a small round token in the direction they want to go, which isn't as easy as it looks. If they are by a building, they can taken their wooden monster and drop him on the building from about a foot above the table. Another option for players is to put their chin on top of their monster and try to blow down buildings or meeples. If the player is in a district with a vehicle, he can put the vehicle on his monster's head and flick the vehicle at a building or another monster. The advantage of hitting another monster is knocking out one of the monster's teeth, which counts as victory points for whoever knocked it out. The game is fun but pretty light and definitely takes up a lot of table space. I enjoyed playing it but am not too sure it has a lot of replays in it.

The end of that city (and our game)

8. Sopio--A simple card game where players try to get to 1000 points. Each card has a line drawing with a title and a value or with a special rule. For example, one card is the Gingerbread House worth 200 points. Some cards are worth negative points and can be played on others, like the Taylor Swifted card for -200 points. Players have a hand of five cards and on their turn play a card and draw a replacement. The game goes quickly and is entertaining enough but the simple drawings looked a little too simple to me, as if they were home-made rather than hand-crafted.

9. Ivor the Engine--Based on a classic British children's show from the 1970s, players are train cars that go around the "top left-hand corner of Wales" collecting stray sheep and performing missions at various locations. Missions are found on cards that players can select from four on display. The cards require the player to be in a certain location which has no stray sheep in it. I've never seen the show but I still enjoyed the game. Finding locations on the board were a little tough as was figuring out routes between locations might take a little time. Fun but not great.

Ivor the Engine game

10. Relic Runner--Players are explorers in a jungle excavating ancient temples and other ruins. Each level of the temples or the ruins (all have three levels) give some sort of bonus in resources, victory points, or special abilities. When fully excavated, a relic is put in place of the temple or ruin. Players collect the relics when they develop routes in the jungle that let them go from one relic to a matching relic in one turn. The game ends when eight relics are collected. The components are great and the play is smooth but not very deep. The parts are better than the whole in this game!

11. Mystery of the Abbey--Players are monks visiting an abbey where one of the monks has died. One of the other local monks is the killer! A deck of 24 cards with monks on them is shuffled. One card is placed under the board (he's the guilty party), some cards are dealt to the players, and remaining cards are put in a special draw pile. Players wander around the abbey gathering clues to figure out which of the 24 monks is guilty. Part of the game is asking other players questions about the cards they have. A questioned player has to answer truthfully but may respect his vow of silence and say nothing. If he answers, he gets to ask a question of the questioner. This game is basically Cluedo/Clue on steroids, so if you want a more challenging version of the game, this is for you. I liked it but wasn't very impressed.

12. Firefly the Game--This game is based on the popular, short-lived TV show. Players each pilot a Firefly-class ship through a small part of the universe doing jobs, avoiding the Alliance and the Reavers, and collecting resources to make the first two easier. I played this at Essen and enjoyed the hour long demo. Here we started late at night and decided to call it a night before finishing the game. The components are great and the play is complicated but very thematic. It's still too pricey and too long a game to add to our collection. Maybe someday...

We played a bunch of games in the Family Zone, but that will have its own post next.

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