Tuesday, September 27, 2016

LS Review: Gubs

LS Review: Gubs 
What is a Gub? I’m not exactly certain, but I feel as though they may be the creatures who are created after a nuclear explosion. They look like anthropomorphic slugs, which is something I never knew I didn’t need in my life, and they seem to be led by an Esteemed Elder Gub. They are also the center of today’s reviewed game.

Gubs is a card game, made by Gamewright and sold in the MKTabletop.com store (find it here). The box recommends 2-6 players, ages 10 and up. We played with 4 players, the youngest of which was 8 and she had no problems following the rules or reading the cards. Occasionally we needed to clarify when she wasn’t sure if playing a card would help her or not, but for the most part she did good. The guess of a 20 minute play time seemed about right for us, but as usual I would guess fewer players would take longer, more players would probably go faster. The goal of this game is simple: have the most free Gubs when the game is over. Hold on, I’m getting ahead of myself here. Let’s start from the beginning.

The supplies for this game are simple, just a deck of 70 cards. In this deck you will have 13 Gubs, plus the Esteemed Elder Gub. You will also have 13 ‘barricade’ cards which protect your Gubs. These barricades can be important. See once you have a Gub in front of you, that is no guarantee it is going to stay there. There are also ‘event’ cards, ‘hazard’ cards, and ‘trap’ cards. These can all be used to take other people’s Gubs, either for yourself or simply to put them out of play.

Yeah, if you are doing the math here, this is a competitive game which allows you to target other people. But don’t worry too much about that yet. Even if other people are targeting your Gubs, there are also ‘tool’ cards to undo problems, or ‘interrupt’ cards which can stop it from happening to begin with. I know it is getting complicated, but stay with me. There are only three more cards that you need to know about, the letter cards. These three, G, U, and B, are shuffled into the deck. When they are all drawn, they will signal the end of the game. Are you ready to play?

All right. Everyone gets one Gub to start. This is nice, since it means at one point in the game, everyone will have had at least one. The letter cards are removed, everyone gets three cards, and the letters are then shuffled back into the deck. You can choose to draw a card at the beginning of your turn, or not, and you can play as many cards as you like. If somehow you end up with more than eight cards in your hand at the end of a turn, you must discard down, but you cannot discard just because you don't like your cards. During your turn, you can put down Gubs, protect your Gubs, or attack other people’s Gubs. Any event cards or letter cards that are drawn, must be played immediately and all players must obey. If you draw an event card that does not end the game, you are allowed to continue your turn afterwards. Basically, get your cards, follow what they say, and get a tribe of Gubs.

Cons: I am sure a few of you could see this coming... this is a game that is not only competitive, but also allows you to specifically target other players. I hate that. A lot. But surprisingly, it wasn’t an issue for us.

When we started the game, for some reason everyone chose to name their Gubs. We had Jade, Bob, Susan, and of course Fart, (all of the letters in this Gubs name were silent... and deadly). Because they had names, instead of attacking each other, we were acting on behalf of the Gubs. For example, I wasn’t targeting a specific player, however I could have a blood feud with the entire family of Jade, and my daughter could (and did) spend the entire game avenging the loss of Jade the Gub. This simple trick turned the game from Advanced Competitive into silly and fun.

As far as the pros go, it was simple enough to play, well paced, and, well, fun. There wasn’t anything specific about this game I liked more than other games, and it is never going to become my favorite game. But, I like it. It was fun enough and everyone in the house was able to enjoy it. For that reason, I have to give this game a thumbs up. I mean, seriously, no matter what the cons are, if everyone has a good time playing that is all that matters.

So, add this game to your collection, collect your Gubs, and share in the comments what you choose to name them.

Happy Gaming everyone.


Tuesday, September 20, 2016

MK Review: HISSS With a Three Year Old

MK Review: HISSS With a Three Year Old

Welcome to a very unique review. How might you ask? How often do you get to read a review based on the impressions of a Three Year Old? I know, when you first saw the game to be reviewed, you had to wonder how much trash would be talked about the game. It was designed with kids from Four and above in mind, and this guy plays games with rule books that read like textbooks. This is going to be a roast!

Nope. Sorry to disappoint you. I actually broke this one out to play with my Three Year Old, whom we shall call M. Why give my opinions when I am not the target audience? I wanted to give you a solid impression from the perspective of the person you buy the game for. M has a good brain in her head, and is quickly developing a love for games, just like her Papa. I find it important to both stimulate and challenge my children on a mental level. I also believe that Tabletop games are one of the best ways to do that while having fun and experiencing real face to face social interaction, something too many kids are missing these days.

Right out of the box I was happy with the game from a parental point of view. Produced by the good folks over at Gamewright it has a preschool designation right on the box. it takes about 15 minutes to play a single round of the game. You can play with two to five players, suggested age is four years and above. It has that big round gold seal of approval, otherwise known as the "Oppenheim Toy Portfolio: Best Toy Award" affixed right to the lid. The bright, distinctive colors of the cards were easy to differentiate, even between colors like yellow, orange and red that can look similar being from the same end of the spectrum. The cards themselves are made out of a solid thick cardboard stock. This is a major bonus! When you have a bunch of kids playing with a set of cards you need more than basic wax coated paper to have any sort of longevity. I know in my family we killed a lot of games through card destruction. The rules are simple enough to be understood, even by my three year old. 

You shuffle the stack, draw one card and place it on the table to start the game. The youngest player goes first. On your turn, you draw a card, if it can match colors anywhere on the table, you line it up as part of the snake. If it doesn't have a place that matches, it becomes a new snake. Each snake must have a head, at least one "middle" piece and a tail. If you put down a piece that completes a snake, you collect the snake! If your piece can combine two active snakes on the table, than it does! Whoever collects the most pieces wins! Tie? Who ever made the longest snake wins!

Very simple yet fun mechanic. The current record for longest snake in our house sits at nineteen pieces, collected by M, in the same game she whooped my butt 45 - 4. Since breaking it out just less than a week ago we have played it over a dozen times in at least three sittings. M will go over to the game shelf, take the game down, then look at me with a huge grin and say "HISSS! Papa, can we play the snake game again?" It was an obvious and instant hit. I made sure to ask her a few basic questions after each session of play, and her answers didn't change. 

MK - Do you like this game?
M - YESSS! (saying it just like she says HISSS)

MK - What do you like best about the game?
M - I like the colors and the counting!

Most frequently uttered phrases
- We are making snakes!
- Can we play that one again?

If I had to rate this game without a child involved, it might rate a bit lower, but only because I am not sure how long this game would keep my interest. As I said it is a simple mechanic and after about three to six games or so in one sitting I am done. My daughter (you know, the target audience) would rate this game a lot higher. So I will give this an M rating of 4 stars!

Want to own this one for you and your family? Grab it from the MK Kids Collection here!

Until next time ...Game On!

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

MK Kickstarted: LAST STAND

MK Kickstarted: LAST STAND

Welcome to this edition on MK Tabletop Talk! 

You may have noticed in the title, today we are doing an in depth review of a game that has just begun to hit the table. It was officially funded through Kickstarter on April 11th, 2016 and arrived in peoples homes beginning in late July. 124 backers pledged just over $5,500 to support the creation of this game. Considering the low initial goal of just $4,000 most people would consider this a decently successful campaign.

The concept of the game? You and the rest of the players are part of a team that arrives to handle a big threat, One of three Generals. Turns out it was an ambush! You are surrounded and minions begin to pour out from every exit. It is time for one LAST STAND! You have only one goal, survival. If you can make it through the waves of minions that have been lightly peppered with Lieutenants until the main boss arrives, and take him down before you run out of time, the troops will scatter and you can make your evacuation. I am a sucker for co-op games and I do like the premise, so I was happy to get this one onto my Tabletop.

 It is my personal belief that a bit of rule polishing, and few upgrades/adjustments to the game material can make this one a huge hit! As it stands it is a pretty fun game! I did have to play through it twice. The first time I had made a few mistakes in the rules. I hadn't quite read everything correctly.

Play Through 1
For this first game we had three players at the table. One quick look through the rule book and we were off! We had The Brawler, The Combat Medic and The Demolitionist in the fight. We decided to go with the games suggestion and started off against the General known as Firestarter.

Set up was fast and easy. I always appreciate this in a game. It doesn't matter if it is the best game ever invented, if it takes too long to set up, half the room has lost interest before the first turn is taken. I have had groups stop mid set up and decide to change the game solely based on the difficulty or length of the set up.

The first real question we came upon had to do with the "out of position" minions. It seemed odd to us that after using a skill like the Combat Medic: Blowback ability that moves a Front line minion out of position into a ranged space, why wouldn't that minion step back up to hit you? It wasn't as much of an issue with the ranged attacks as they could be pulled forward and still do damage, but the Grunt that can only hit you if he is standing next to you just hanging out in the back waiting to be picked off? The Brute has an ability called Charge that lets him step up to the front again, but he is the only Front line minion I noticed that could do that. I understand the mechanic, I just don't think it makes any thematic sense. I like my games to tell a story. It is hard to stay in the story of a game if there are rules that contradict the overall thematic reality.

The next slight hiccup landed when the first Sniper minion hit the board. The rules state quite clearly that all attacks in the game, ranged or otherwise, happen in a straight line. So a range of 3 allows a person to attack anyone within three spaces in a straight line. The Sniper has no listed range, instead it says this minion attacks the player on the board with the lowest hit points. So ...does this mean in a straight line as dictated by the rules, or should we follow the one sentence in the rule book that says in any rule dispute, the card text overrules the book? Again, assumptions upon the games intent can be made, but so could arguments in another direction. 

One last thing that was pointed out that could have been helpful was found in the Reinforcement Track. It clearly shows every space where a Lt. is released into the fray. In the picture you can see the large letter L. If you read in the rules it will tell you that the General arrives in the space directly following the third Lt. So why not put a large letter G there? A small but useful addition.

We also misread the rules for Firestarter and only released one fire token for every Lt. on the board, not every one for every Lt. that had been on the board. These small errors made for an easy victory without even using a single life token. Instead of feeling like an intense stand off where every moment could mean our demise, it felt a bit more like Rambo with a huge gun mowing down the opposition. We all walked away feeling less than impressed. I remember having the distinct thought "How much was this game? Is it really worth it?"

...Luckily I had a chance to give it another go before I wrote this.

Play Through 2
With only two of us this time, the rules (re-read with more detail) stated we each play two Heroes. I instantly thought it would be a cake-walk with an extra body in the mix. We stuck with playing against Firestarter so I could see how he worked when played properly. Again we had the Combat Medic, the Brawler and the Demolitionist, but we added in the Femme Fatal

It was when the Lt. Sawbones hit the board that we found another problem. Printed there on the Sawbones card was this, "Add 1 minion to the reinforcements pile." You see, all other Lt., or other cards for that matter, I had encountered read things like "When ___ enters play" or similar verbiage. This lead us to wonder, is this only when he hits the board, or the entire time he is on it? We decided to run with continually, because it didn't have the qualifiers for one turn only. This proved to be a bigger issue than thought. When the next and final Lt. hit the board, the Leader, he had "Add 2 minions to the reinforcement pile". We now had three extra minions charging at us every round! The math on this one added up quick and with the Overrun damage, all three fire tokens keeping our movement limited and the arrival of Firestarter himself, our entire party dropped in the same round! Two rounds later, only one turn away from actually defeating Firestarter, two more party members dropped handing the game to the villains ...this time.

The only noticeable difference from the start was the number of minions drawn due to the number of Heroes on the board. The later game definitely showed its savage jaws! Even though we found a few more issues with clarity in the rules, after some more sifting through the book we both agreed that the main problem was not in the lack of rules (although there were a few unanswered questions), it was in the poor layout and lack of cross referencing that all the confusion spawned.

Here is an example of the type of unanswered questions we had:

Brute has an ability that keeps any target behind him from taking damage. Demolitionist  has an ability that allows him to "choose any target in an adjacent quadrant" and do area damage to the rest of the targets in the area. Could the Demolitionist target an enemy behind the Brute? Even if he can't, does the target behind the Brute take the area damage, or is he immune because of the Brutes ability? The Sharpshooter has an ability called Long Shot that allows him to "Target any enemy". Could he target an enemy behind the Brute? The same question arrives again with the Heavy Support and his Chain Gun ability that gives him spray damage in the same line as his target.

As we could not find any rulings and it was in fact the cards that were contradicting each other, we ruled in all of these cases that due to the Brute and his ability, the targets behind him could not be targeted, but they were effected by the secondary damage as it landed in a zone instead of being aimed directly at them.

Another suggestion we had for the basic graphics on the Hero cards. There are two icons, like in the picture, cross-hairs with a number that gives you the range of the attack, and a blue fist with a number that tells you the power of the attack. These icons are on every enemy in the game. Dropping smaller versions of these exact images into the skill descriptions of the Heroes abilities would help with the "at a glance" ease of play. There are other minor changes that could help make reading the rules go a touch smoother, but that would be better discussed with the folks who are producing the game rather than chatting about layout alterations during a blog with potential players.

The Wrap Up

I have to admit again that I am thoroughly glad I had a chance to play this game more than once! I was at first inclined not to recommend the game. It was hard to justify the $40 price (plus shipping) for a game that seemed unpolished. It was my second time sitting down to the game (with correct rule play) that gave me a much better view of it. 
I had said it was like mowing down minions? It turned into us getting mowed down like goons. It truly did achieve that "I am going to die" feeling after a short minute into game two. This was in part due to following the rules as written, and one part how we decided to interpret the rules when clarification was not present.

I stand by my statement that the game felt unpolished and not quite ready for mainstream production. I will also stand by my belief that LAST STAND, after some minor touch-ups, will be an amazing addition to any Tabletop Enthusiasts collection. For what you get right out of the box, a solid Three Star game. 

There you have it. 
Until next time ...Game On!

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

LS: Defining Competitive Games

LS: Defining Competitive Games

Everything in life has both a beginning and an end, and neither beginning, nor end are guaranteed to be fun. You begin a new job, and there is training and meeting new people.  Even if you leave for a better job, under the best of circumstances, it still requires that you leave something behind.  The beginning of a game requires set up, learning rules, finding other players, and carving time out of your day.  The end of the game typically requires that someone wins, and someone loses.
I’ve already written about cooperative gaming.  You work together towards a goal, and everyone wins or loses together.  It is a great way to play a game, particularly if your party has one or more sore losers.  And yeah, I am sometimes that sore loser.
Unfortunately, if you only play cooperative games, it will severely limit your gaming options.  This means diving into the deep end, and selecting a competitive game.  Don’t worry, there is no need to go alone.  We’ll begin by defining competitive games.  I typically consider there to be three major categories of competitive games; coincidentally competitive, strategically competitive, and advanced competitive.
 Coincidentally Competitive

A coincidentally competitive game will have a winner, but much of the outcome of the game will come down to luck.  One of the most simple examples of this will be the classic game, Go Fish.  As a player, you have your hand of cards, and you don’t really know what anyone else has.  Each time you ask the other players if they have a card, you reveal a little of what you have, and remembering what others have asked for allows you to strategize.  You make decisions, but at the end of the day there is a lot of luck involved.
Another example of a coincidentally competitive game is Fluxx.  MK has talked about the rules before, if you need a refresher, but the basics is this; playing different cards changes the rules, and changes what is required to win.  As much as you may strategize or scheme, others can easily force your hand.  Someone will win, but there is no guarantee that any card I lay down will not be the card someone else needs to win.  This luck component of the game makes it harder to deliberately target another player.  Instead of focusing on making you lose, I need to worry about playing the winning cards before you.  Coincidentally competitive games are there for the person who will sit down and not care if they win or lose.
 Strategically Competitive

Strategically Competitive games require you to try to win, sometimes by trying to make someone else lose.  We will use another classic game as an example again, Connect Four.  Two players, each trying to reach the same goal first.  I can see where you are going, you can see where I am going.  This transparency allows not only for me to try to win, but allows me to make a specific move that will stop you from winning.  A strategically competitive game works for people who sit down and want to win, and are willing to work for it.
Most competitive games work in a way that is similar to this. So many, it is hard to list them all.  In Clue, I try to figure out who murdered Mr. Body, and occasionally throw out a misdirect to everyone else along the way.  In Battleship, you position your ships so that no one else can tell where they are.  All of these games require you to try to win, but stopping others from winning is not intended to be your goal.  When stopping others from winning becomes your goal, this is where we enter what I call Advanced Competitive gaming.
 Advanced Competitive

In a lot of ways, advanced competitive games are not about the games, they are about the players. You all know that person.  The one who feels the game starts before you even sit down.  They have been recruiting allies and picking targets for days in advance.  They are not just playing to win.  No, these people select their games because they are there to destroy you.  Advanced competitive games are for those who don’t see winning as enough.  The game isn’t a success unless they have beaten you badly enough that you are humiliated.
There are some games that tend to attract these player a little more than others.  First and foremost, the game that has ended friendships, Monopoly.  I cannot even begin to guess why this game has caused so much pain.  It isn’t exactly an accurate example of how business, real estate, or economics works in the real world.  I’m not going to pretend to be an expert, but I am pretty sure large business deals are not decided by a roll of dice.  And that roll of the dice?  It has denied my ability to buy good properties much more often than it has helped. In fact, the last time I played, I did not land on a single property that I was able to buy.  Seriously, not one.  It wasn’t because I wasn’t trying, it was simply bad luck.  So why do so many people get so competitive over this game? A more logical example; Risk.  You are literally waging world war.  You invade others, make alliances, and betray each other.  It is a haven for the advanced competitive gamer.

So what does all of this mean?  Does this actually mean some games are better than others, or that some gamers are better than others?  Of course not.  It just means that not all games are for all people, and not all gamers are compatible. 

Some people should not play certain games together, and that is fine.  You can play other games, there are lots of choices.  Or you can still play whatever you want, it is your life.  But for the sake of your relationships and your sanity, know what you are getting into before you set up your tabletop.  The more you know, the better choices you can make in your gaming.

Happy gaming everyone!