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Building Buildings – A Review of The Builders

A bored European on the cover?? I’m In!

My level one friend Jeremy went to Essen last year and hoped to pick this game up but unfortunately it wasn’t available. So I picked it up a few weeks ago. Packed in a nice little tin is a really enjoyable game. I’ve played two times, which is enough for me to review it.

Let me remind you that I review games after 1 or 2 plays because if it stinks after 1 or 2 plays then I’m not likely to play it again. So games usually have to make a pretty good impression early on for me to desire more plays.

So today I present my opinions on The Builders!

In The Builders players are racing to 17 points. Points are earned by completing buildings or tools, each of which can be worth points. Players will utilize their workers by sending them to work at their buildings that are under construction. Once the resource requirements for a building are met with workers or tools then the building is completed. The player will earn coins instantly and points which are counted at the end of the game.

The Builders set up for three players. Image via BGG user Spielemitkinder

At the start of the game each player will begin with an Apprentice card as their lone worker. Five buildings and five workers will be placed on the table. Each player will also begin with 10 coins.

On your turn you can do three total actions, choosing from the following:

  • START CONSTRUCTION: Take one of the five available building cards
  • RECRUIT A WORKER: Take one of the five available worker cards
  • SEND A WORKER TO WORK: Place one of your workers next to one of your unfinished buildings
  • TAKE COINS: Take coins

Those are the four actions you can choose on your turn. You could do the same action all three times if you so desired. There are a few rules with how choosing the same action works, but I won’t get into that here.

Basically you go around and around until someone gets to 17 points. Then you finish the round and score it. Pretty simple… but is it any good?

Here’s What I Like:

ARTWORK: Amazing! The artwork for the buildings in this game is so vibrant and colorful that they really pop on the cards. If I were an artist I would want to make things look like the buildings in this game.

EASE OF GAMEPLAY: Since players only have three actions per turn, and since there are only four options from which to choose, this makes for pretty simple gameplay that is easy to understand. It’s also very easy to teach this game, which allows me to play with non-gamers or baby gamers.

Here’s What I Dislike:

ACTION CLARITY: What I’m referring to is when you choose the same action several times. For instance, when you place two workers on the same building in the same turn there is a compounding of actions and money that isn’t completely clear in the rulebook.

Designer Perspective – What Would I Change?

This is an all around solid design. That makes it tough for me to think of something I would change. One thing I would change is to add female workers to the workers deck. There’s no reason they all have to be male. Perhaps the biggest thing I would change would be to add bonus points for building similar types of buildings. So players could purposefully try to build a church and a cloister and earn bonus points. Those types of combos could be very interesting, especially if similar types of buildings required different resources.

Beer Pairing

This is a simple, light game with nice deep decisions. So it calls for a similar beer. One that comes to mind would be the La Trappe Tripel. Most tripels seem to have two taste components. When you first take a sip you get an excellent character of quality beer. Then after you swallow you typically experience floral overtones. That’s similar to The Builders in that The game is so simple and exhibits an “excellent character.” Then once you’ve played it you can see some awesome depth, similar to the floral overtones.

Overall Rating:

I really enjoy The Builders. It is fun, quick, and yet has compelling and interesting decisions throughout the game. It is a test of optimization, to be fair. But I ignore math when playing games and focus on fun instead. And this game is a lot of fun. I’m rating it 8 out of 10 according to the BoardGameGeek.com rating scale.

Very good game. I like to play it. Probably I'll suggest it and will never turn down a game.

Very good game. I like to play it. Probably I’ll suggest it and will never turn down a game.

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Minute to Win it? A Review of Mad City

I recently played Mad City, a new release by Mayfair Games in their Fun Fair line. This game also happens to be designed by a local designer. Kane Klenko is the designer and you can read his Designer Diary on BGG.

Today I’ll review the game. I have played it three times.

Mad City lasts a variable number of rounds. In each round players have 9 tiles and they will have one minute to build their city by arranging the tiles in a 3×3 grid. All tile placements are allowable. After the minute is concluded players may bid if they believe they have the largest group in one of four categories: Residential, Industrial, Urban, and longest Road.

If players bid and have the largest, they will earn 3 bonus points. If they bid and do not have the largest, they will lose 2 points.

There is also a park ranger tree which can be taken by any player (unless that player already has 50 points or more). Once you take the tree you cannot rearrange your city any longer. However, if you have parks or ponds in your city you will earn more bonus points by taking the tree.

After the bidding portion is completed then players can score their city. There are 9 scoring categories, three for each of Residential, Industrial, and Urban. Depending on how many of each type of building you have grouped together in your city you will either be rotating, flipping, or scoring. Here’s a look at the tiles:

Blue = Urban, Red = Industrial, Yellow = Residential, Circles = Bidding Tokens. (Image via BGG User Osirus)

For example, if you built a section of the city with 4 residences (yellow) in it you would rotate the yellow pentagon (which is for 3-6 residence sized groups) clockwise, which would result in the “4” being at the bottom. The number by the arrows represents how many of those size groups you need to build before the scoring tile flips over. Once the scoring tile is flipped over it will then allow you to score points for those size groups.

It is beneficial to try and get your scoring tiles flipped over early on so that you can score faster than the other players. The round during which someone scores 100 points is the final round. The player with the most points wins the game.

Here’s What I Like:

Fast Play: This is a game that doesn’t take any longer with more players or shorter with fewer. It is basically a race against the other players and each round takes only a few minutes. You can play with up to 6 players and there is minimal downtime. This isn’t a turn based game. You are racing. A minute is the perfect amount of time to try and build your city to score loads of points.

Scoring Mechanic: I think the scoring mechanic of having to build smaller groups to get your scoring tiles flipped over rather than just building the largest groups possible adds a great layer of strategy to the game. I especially like how it creates a natural acceleration in the game. The first few rounds you can feel like you are making little to no progress. But all of a sudden your scoring tiles will be flipped and you’ll be able to rake in the points. It is a very clever mechanic and it works really well!

Here’s What I Dislike:

Sand Timer: It has been reported that several people have received sand timers in their copy of the game that are either short or long. One such account reported their timer only ran 25 seconds. This is a quality control issue from the sand timer manufacturer. If you have had problems or noticed your timer isn’t very close to one minute, I imagine Mayfair Games can help you out. (Mayfair Contact Page) Sand timers aside, I recommend using a timer on someone’s phone so that no one has to watch the timer. Plus, phones make a noise that all players can hear so everyone knows when the minute is up!

Designer Perspective: What Would I Change?

I struggled trying to think of something I would change with this design. It is a really elegant and simple design that is accessible, family friendly, and fun. Perhaps what I would change are the scoring tiles. After a half of a game they’ll make sense, but up front they can feel a little daunting. One option would be to have tracks on your player score mat. Then every time you complete a section of buildings you slide the marker cube over for the section of that size. When it is all the way to the right then you can start scoring that category. This, however, would likely cause the cost of the game to rise since cubes are more expensive than chits. But that’s what I would change to make the game slightly simpler to learn.

Beer Pairing

Kane is a local guy and I get the feeling that Mad City is perhaps named after Madison, Wisconsin’s nickname of “Mad City.” With that in mind I feel the best pairing would be a local beer by the name of Mad Town Nut Brown by local brewery Ale Asylum.

This is a brown ale brewed in town by rapidly growing Ale Asylum. It is a nice accessible beer that beer drinkers will enjoy. It weighs in at 5.5% abv and has a “creamy finish that you’ll dig.”

Overall Rating

I really enjoy this game. It is fun, fast, and engaging. Players I’ve played with have really enjoyed it as well. It possesses the elegant scoring mechanic that accelerates the game. It has the park ranger tree which gives you a reason to build quickly. And it has a good level of strategy with how to best build your city. I’m looking forward to playing again soon. I’ll rate Mad City an 8 out of 10 on the BGG scale:

Very good game. I like to play it. Probably I'll suggest it and will never turn down a game.

Very good game. I like to play it. Probably I’ll suggest it and will never turn down a game.

Terraforming Rocks! A Review of Alien Frontiers

Friday means it’s time for a board game review. And since the Alien Frontiers Kickstarter campaign just ended I suppose I’m a day late putting up this review. But after seeing that the campaign received 75 times the funding level they were after I doubt my review would have had any effect on the campaign. Let’s get on to the review.

Spoiler: It’s awesome!

Alien Frontiers, at the time of it’s release in 2010, used a very innovative dice placement mechanic for claiming different portions of the board. Your dice represent ships and based on the rolled values you can dock your ships at several of the orbital facilities.  Throughout the game your goal is to colonize the planet, and doing so can give you special bonuses in the game.  When you’re ready for an outer space adventure, and curiosity about the temporal warper has reached it’s peak, then get your friends together for an intergalactic kegger and enjoy Alien Frontiers!

Here’s a look at all the components in the base game (image via BGG user GremlinMaster):

Newer versions are even more awesome!

Since the game was released there have been three other printings (including the Kickstarter that just ended). There have also been expansions, which I am not reviewing today, since I have not played them. Time to launch the rocket and get into the details:

The Upside:

  • DICE PLACEMENT: I think this is one of the first games that really had an elegant dice placement mechanism, combining not just the concept of using a die based on its number, but also using combinations of the numbers you rolled. I think that it makes it really interesting because sometimes you want equal numbers and sometimes you want different numbers.
  • ARTWORK: The artwork for this game is really beautiful. It doesn’t go over the top. It’s family friendly and visually easy to understand. And everything fits the theme of the game.
  • SCI-FI NAMES: A really cool thing they’ve done with the game is name the different regions on the planet after science fiction authors, including Asimov, Heinlein, and Bradbury. That’s just a really cool feature that associates the game with sci-fi literature that fits the theme.

The Downside:

  • THE ENDING: I don’t often like games that just end. This one is like that. Once someone gets to the right number of points it just ends. There’s no final move to try to claim victory. It’s just done. There’s something nice about how a game of Ticket to Ride ends where everyone gets a final turn when the endgame is triggered.
  • ANALYSIS PARALYSIS: This game offers so many cool options to do on your turn that it can lead to some AP. I love options, but I hate AP and the slow play that it causes. I suppose this could be mitigated by playing with the right people. Not really too much of a downside here, though.
  • BALANCE ISSUES: It feels to me like some of the cards that players can earn are a little too powerful. These can allow for some huge moves in the game. And if the other players gets a few of these then you’ll likely lose. Or so it seems.

Designer Perspective – What I Would Change:

Based on the downside above I’d probably try to balance the cards a little bit better. This is a pretty weak answer for this section, so I’ll go out on a limb and make up something more awesome: Player boards where you can change your capabilities of adjusting your dice rolls! OR Factions where each player has a different ability. Oh wait… that’s been done! Aye… it seems they’ve got a very complete and awesome game here!

Beer Pairing:

This just seems so appropriate!

Werner von Brown Ale. This just seems so appropriate!

This game could be paired with many different beers. I could choose something complex because there are so many options on your turn. I could choose something elegant because the game is elegant and beautiful. I could choose something light because it is pretty easy to understand and play. But instead I’ll do like the game did with the naming of the planet’s regions and choose a beer based on someone associated with space: Straight to Ale’s Werner von Brown Ale. While I haven’t had it, it just seems like a good fit for this game.

OVERALL RATING:

I really enjoyed playing Alien Frontier’s. I love the awesomeness of the dice placement mechanics. The theme fits really well. I love the concept of having a fleet of ships and sending them off to do different things. Sometimes you have to send ships off together. Don’t forget about Terraforming! I wish my friend hadn’t traded it away. And I wish I had $95 I could have thrown at the recent Kickstarter campaign. I’m looking forward to playing this again. I’ll rate it 8 out of 10 on the BoardGameGeek.com rating scale!

Very good game. I like to play it. Probably I'll suggest it and will never turn down a game.

Very good game. I like to play it. Probably I’ll suggest it and will never turn down a game.

BGR: Guildhall

I’ve had the privilege of playing Guildhall four times now so I figured I’m overdue to review it. So since it’s Friday and I post game reviews on Friday I figured better late than never. Let’s see what I think of the game!

He’s smiling because of bacon!

Guildhall by Alderac Entertainment Group is a card game where players try to fill the halls of their guilds (imagine that). To fill a guild you have to have five different colored cards of the same character. There are Farmers, Weavers, Dancers, Historians, Traders, and Assassins. Each character type provides you with some different ability. For example, when you play a dancer you get to draw a number of cards equal to the number of dancers in your guild and you get an extra action. Players have two actions per turn.

This game is played to a certain number of points. Points can be earned in two ways. The Farmer cards allow you to earn points if you have a certain number of Farmers already in your guild. The other option to earn points is by completing a guild hall and turning it in for a card with a point value on it. The winner is the first player to 20 points.

Here’s a look at Guildhall on the table (Image via Trent Hamm via BoardGameGeek.com):

This is Guildhall. A big game in a small package!

 

The Upside:

  • OPTIONS: So there’s only six different types of cards, how many options can there be? Well, each card does something slightly different based on how many of that card you have in the guild. So 6 cards with 3 categories means 18 options every turn. But it’s even better because you can combo things, which is awesome!
  • INTERACTION: This game has a great amount of interaction. You are constantly messing with other players guilds and they are doing the same to you. You are constantly hoping that they won’t mess up the guild that you’ll be able to complete on your next turn. This game definitely has a nice back-stabby layer to it!
  • WEIGHT: This game is just a big deck of cards and a few coin chits. But beneath the surface is a pretty deep and tense strategy game. Players can’t plan too far ahead but it’s important to make good plays with at least your next turn in mind. This game is heavier than one would expect. And that’s a good thing!

The Downside:

  • QUALITY: I’m sort of a stickler for good quality. In this case it’s not the physical quality that bothers me but rather the visual quality. My problem with it is that in the copy I’ve played there are different shades of the background colors. For example, the green Farmer will be a different green than the more limey green Trader. It just bothers me. This does not affect gameplay though.
  • LACK OF CONTROL: Often in the game it feels like you don’t have much control over what’s going to happen to you. If you jump out to an early lead, beware, because they’ll probably all come after you. And there’s nothing you can do about it. That bothers me, but only a little.
  • THE BOX/INSERT: The box for Guildhall is ridiculously large. Like I mentioned above, this game is just a deck of cards and coin chits. The box is just oversized for the amount of components you receive. This does not affect gameplay though.

Designer Perspective – What I Would Change:

The only thing I don’t really like about the game is that once you’ve filled a guildhall you basically just turn it into points. And if you’re wise you’ll likely grab the highest valued point card available. As a designer I’d like to see the ability to use the completed guild halls in a more interesting way. My suggestion would be that the face up cards that represent points would require sets of completed guildhalls (like Farmers and Dancers). This could make it more strategic if all the players are really trying to complete the same guild.

Beer Pairing:

This game feels like a light beer but plays like a heavy beer. There’s one beer in particular that fits the bill for me and that’s Guinness, which drinks like a light beer but feels like a heavy beer. (I guess that’s the opposite… oh well)  So I’m pairing Guildhall with a classic brew, Guinness Draught. This beer is a very enjoyable beverage that is deeper than one might originally guess. Just like Guildhall.

OVERALL RATING:

I didn’t care much for this game when I first played it. That’s due to my lack of understanding of how the cards could really interact with each other. (Maybe I shouldn’t review games after only one play!) But now that I’ve played four times I can really see how well this was designed. Not only is there player to player interaction, but card to card interaction. My favorite combo is to “weaver a dancer” and then play a dancer to get the extra card and action. I’ll rate this game an 8 out of 10 according to the Board Game Geek ratings scale.

Very good game. I like to play it. Probably I'll suggest it and will never turn down a game.

Very good game. I like to play it. Probably I’ll suggest it and will never turn down a game.

Board Game Review: Myrmes

DISCLAIMER: I am reviewing Myrmes after one play (2-player). Why do I review games after one or two plays? Because It’s the first two plays that will determine whether or not I want to play it again! If I don’t like a game after those first two plays then I’m definitely moving on since there are so many other good games out there. Now on to today’s review…

The Ants go marching two by two, Hurrah! Hurrah!

Time for another Friday Board Game Review! Today’s game is one with an interesting theme: Building an Ant Colony!

In Myrmes you are in control of an ant colony. It is up to you to manage your workers, soldiers, and nurses to improve your colony as best as you can. Throughout the game you are faced with thematic decisions. Should you sacrifice a worker above ground to provide food for your colony? Should you leave a nurse behind and score points by completing an objective? Should you make more babies??? These are all serious questions, people! And when you play Myrmes you’ll have to make these sorts of thematic decisions! Over and over again!

Here’s a look at the board and components (image via BoardGameGeek.com):

It looks pretty intense! But is it any fun?

So after one play what did I think? Let’s find out…

The Upside:

  • COMPONENTS: This game has a bunch of components and they are almost all of very nice quality. The best, of course, are the little plastic ants even though they sort of look like spiders.
  • ARTWORK: I think some of the artwork on this game is outstanding! I really like the player mats with the ant colony. The artwork there looks really nice and it feels like you are underground in an ant colony.
  • THEME: I thought things fit the theme very well. It felt like you had to decide how to run a real ant colony.

The Downside:

  • COMPONENTS: While quantity doth not make great a game, quality can ruin one! The hexes that are placed onto the board look and feel nice, but they are not the same size as the hex grid on the board. Therefore they don’t fit properly.
  • ARTWORK: While the player mat artwork is really nice, the overall continuity of artwork in this game is non-existent. The player mats are so different from the board, which has about four different art styles (the score track leaves, the distressed seasons, the background, etc.). It just doesn’t seem to be the same style throughout all the components.
  • THEME: By fitting the theme of an ant colony I asked myself, “What’s fun about an ant colony?” Aren’t I supposed to be playing a game and having fun? Are ants fun? The most fun I ever had with ants was burning them with a magnifying glass.

So that was interesting. For the first time I listed the same categories as both upsides and downsides to the game. I suppose that goes very well with my mixed feelings about this game.

Designer Perspective – What I Would Change:

While I can understand the desire to make a game that so thematically fits with the idea of running an ant colony I just wonder why they actually designed this game. There was very little interaction and I often felt like I was just doing things to do them. As a designer I would have tried to inject more tension in the game. I think this would be best accomplished by having all players be part of the SAME ant colony. Either they could each have their own role (i.e., one player could be a worker, another a soldier, a third a nurse, and so on) or they could control one part of the colony. Then the idea of the game could be to contribute the most to the colony. You could compete over the use of the colony’s resources. Doing it that way sounds like a much more fun game!

Beer Pairing:

Back to work! So play Myrmes!

This is a difficult game to pair with a beer. But since the game felt more like work than fun I suppose I should pair it with a working man’s beer. So I’m pairing Myrmes with Working Man’s Lunch by Fullsteam Brewery. I’ve never had the beer so this pairing is based on name alone.

OVERALL RATING:

I didn’t really enjoy Myrmes. It was very ‘meh’ feeling to me. It felt more like work than like fun. The decisions weren’t very intense. There was nothing that stopped me from doing what I wanted. The interaction seemed minimal, though that could have been due to it being a two player game. And overall I can’t rate this higher than a 6 out of 10 according to the BoardGameGeek.com rating system.

Ok game, some fun or challenge at least, will play sporadically if in the right mood.

Ok game, some fun or challenge at least, will play sporadically if in the right mood.

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