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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.

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Board Game Review: Bruges

Bruges at Christmas time. Image via short-breaks.com

Bruges is a city located in northwest Belgium. It is also a game by famed designer Stefan Feld. And today I am reviewing it for you.

Disclaimer: I have only played Bruges twice, but I review games after one or two plays because I usually won’t give them another shot if I don’t like it after two plays.

Bruges: Is this another Feldian Point Salad?

Bored Europeans on the cover of another Euro game.

In the game Bruges players will try to win by garnering the most points. Players will attempt to earn points from buildings, people, canals, and reputation.

But the unique part of the play in Bruges is that cards serve multiple purposes. The colors of the cards matter (there are five colors). Each card can allow you to do one of the following things:

  • obtain workers of that color
  • obtain guilders equal to the pips on the die of that color
  • discard a threat marker of that color
  • build a house
  • build a canal section of that color
  • add a person to an existing house

The game is played until one of the two card decks runs out. Each round players will draw to a hand limit of 5 cards. Then they will play four turns each where they are choosing from the actions above.

There are many choices to make during a game of Bruges. From choosing which deck to draw your cards, to deciding whether to go for canals or houses and people. The decision space in this game is immense and yet it is limited. How can I make such a statement? The reason I make that proclamation is that with the 5 cards you have in your hand each turn, each card presents 6 options. So there are 30 things to decide from in each round. That’s a lot. But on the other hand, you will likely not actually be choosing from those 30 things. You will likely be choosing from a subset of those options based on the gameplan you have. So while there are plenty of decisions you could make, you are probably going to choose from a few of the options available to you. Also, the threats in the game can steer some of your decisions, which can be frustrating and relieving at the same time.

Here’s a look at the game (Image from BGG User henk.rollerman):

Bruges plays 2 to 4 players in about an hour. It has a bit of a learning curve, but I think it fits the Feldian mold nicely.

Here’s What I Like:

OPTIONS: I love options and a large decision space in games. I don’t love when decisions are made for me. Bruges allows me to have the liberty to play just about however I want. I can play as dumb as an ox or as brilliantly as a fox. Feld has made an open decision space where players have full control of their gameplay.

MULTIPLE-USE CARDS: I like when a designer or publishing company can provide multiple ways for components to be used. As I mentioned above, each card can be used to do any of those 6 options. That’s pretty cool.

Here’s What I Dislike:

STRUGGLE FOR SUCCESS: Though you get four turns in a round to do stuff it usually feels like only two of those turns move you forward. Often you are using turns to discard a threat or to take two workers. These don’t feel like fulfilling actions in the game. And that can be frustrating.

STRUGGLE FOR MAJORITIES: There are 12 points available if you can gain the majority in the categories of people, canals, or reputation. That’s a pretty cool thing. What’s not cool is that it can be very difficult to gain the majority from someone who already has it. That can be frustrating. While emotion in games is a good thing, negative emotions should be limited. Struggling for the majorities invokes negative emotions.

Designer Perspective – What I would change:

I think I would try to drop some of the frustration and increase the positive emotions in the game. Feld is a designer who loves resource limitation as a form of tension in games. One way that I would change Bruges is to allow for more success and turn the game into a more rewarding experience. A simple way to do that is to change the “take 2 workers of the card color” option to this:

  • Take any two workers OR take 3 workers of the card color

This change alone would open the game up quite a bit, make it less frustrating, and allow players to do more while not changing the overall feel of the theme of the game. I think I’m going to try this as a house rule next time I play!

Beer Pairing:

A fine Belgian brew!

Being that the game is based on a Belgian city I have not choice but to pair it with a Belgian beer. And since I like the game quite a bit I’ll pair it with a Belgian beer that I like quite a bit. That beer is Duvel.

Duvel is a full bodied lager that is refermented in the bottle. It is hopped with Saaz-Saaz and Styrian-Golding hops. It weighs in at 8.5% abv, so don’t drink too much at a time.

The next time I play I’ll try to make sure I enjoy the game with a bottle of Duvel!

Overall Rating:

I am a fan of Feld’s games. My favorite is The Castles of Burgundy. Bruges offers some pretty interesting gameplay, but some elements seem more mechanical rather than thematic.

On the whole, this is definitely not the typical point salad that some other games can be. This game requires some work to put together a good number of points. In typical point salad games, everything you do gets you points. That’s not the case with Bruges, and I count that as one of the game’s strengths.

This is a game I can see myself playing multiple more times. I’ll rate Bruges a 7 out of 10 on the BGG scale.

Good game, usually willing to play.

Good game, usually willing to play.

Oxides and Acids: A Review of Compounded

A game that I received via Kickstarter that has brought enjoyment to my gaming group recently is Compounded. This game was designed by Darrell Louder and published by the excellent Dice Hate Me Games.

In Compounded you are essentially a lab manager taking care of different experiments. Your objective in the game is to earn the most Atomic Points (AP… Note: this is the type of AP that you want!). Atomic points are earned by completing compounds. Each round consists of the following four phases:

  1. Discovery Phase: Players obtain new elements from the draw bag based on their Discovery research level.
  2. Study Phase: Players place or move their claim tokens, which indicate the compounds that they are claiming.
  3. Research Phase: Players take elements from their workbench and place them on compounds.
  4. Lab Phase: Players score any completed compounds and deal with any lab fires.

The game lasts until someone reaches 50 atomic points or when someone has 3 of their 4 research levels topped out or when the research field can no longer be filled.

Throughout the game players are trying to complete compounds that will be beneficial for them. Beneficial refers to the type of research that they will gain when completing a compound. Let’s take a look at the examples in this image:

The compound in the middle, Hydroxylamine, will award 6 atomic points (upper right corner). The player completing the compound will also be able to increase their “Discovery” experiment level (Blue indicator next to the score). Also, the player completing the compound would receive a Lab Key token, which they could use later in the game to obtain the first player marker. The compound on the left awards 5 points, a bump in the “Research” experiment level, and causes volatility in the lab (red flame icon in the lower right corner), which is like a lab fire. The compound on the right awards 6 atomic points, a bump in the “Study” experiment level, and safety goggles, which can be really useful!

As players complete compounds their abilities will increase. That nature of the game allows things to ramp up really well throughout the game. Here are my thoughts:

Here’s What I Like:

Science and Theme: You’ve gotta give it to the designer and publisher. This is not a typical theme and I imagine some people would find it dry because there is no boring looking renaissance man on the cover. However, the theme is so perfectly integrated into the game that you almost forget that don’t realize Hydrogen Oxide is, in fact, water! Everything thematically works really really well in this game.

Graphic Design: Normally I list that I enjoy the artwork in a game. This game is a little different. There is actually very little artwork. Rather, the game is nearly all graphic design. Even the box cover isn’t your typical fully painted work of art. So why is this in the section of things I like? Because they pulled it off beautifully. In a game like this there’s just no need for gaudy, over the top artwork. This is a streamlined product that looks really nice.

Gameplay: I really enjoy how this game works. It is similar, in some respects, to Scoville in that each round of the game is made of different phases. I enjoy that each round is discrete and you have to work to maximize what you can do during your turn while hoping you’re doing a better job than your opponents.

Here’s What I Dislike:

Luck: Since drawing elements during the discovery phase is a luck mechanic, it can make things a little frustrating if you are unable to draw what you need. This issue is minimized, however, by your abilities as they increase throughout the game. While luck is present, it becomes less and less as the game goes on, which is good.

Flame Token and Draw Bag Components: This is more of a gripe than something I dislike. I wish the flame tokens were slightly larger so they would be easier to grab. I understand that their size makes them fit really well onto the compound cards, so I can forgive that. The draw bag is also slightly too small. We swapped it for a draw bag from VivaJava and the VivaJava draw bag worked much better.

Designer Perspective: What Would I Change?

First, you should be aware that I have not yet played the game with the Chemical Chaos or Journal expansion cards. As a designer I would like to drop some of the symmetry from the game. I’m not sure how it would work, but I like the idea of having different starting conditions or abilities for each player. Perhaps Player 1 could start with a bumped Discovery level and fewer elements. Perhaps Player 2 could start with a bumped Research level. Those options for asymmetry wouldn’t work very well. A better option would be hidden objectives. Like someone could be an Oxide collector where they try to get a set of three different oxides for bonus points. I think that could be fun as it helps to steer your long term strategy in the game.

Beer Pairing:

While I have not had this particular brand of beer, I cannot think of a better partner for Compounded than Element Brewing Company. And the beer I’ve chosen for this pairing is the Dark Element.

According to the website, Dark Element is strikingly viscous and creamy on the palate with citrus fruit and chocolate cream. It sounds like a delicious beer that would pair well with Compounded!

Overall Rating:

I really think this is a fantastic game. The game flows nicely, minimizes downtime, maximizes strategic decisions, and, most importantly, is a lot of fun. But then as a bonus you can learn stuff while you’re playing! I can’t wait to play Compounded again. I’ll rate this game a 9 out of 10 on the BoardGameGeek scale:

Excellent game.  Always want to play it.

Excellent game. Always want to play it.

I Rolled Three 1s: A Review of Kingsburg

In Kingsburg you take on the role of a lord sent from the king to administer frontier territories. That role involves building different structures in your territory to earn points. The game takes place over 5 years for a total of 20 turns. At the end of each year you must battle enemies that include goblins, orcs, and zombies. Building structures requires resources.  Those resources are gained by influencing appropriate council members. Will you influence the right council members? Will you defeat the enemies? Will your territory be the best? Try it out by playing Kingsburg.

The board looks beautiful!

The game comes with a spectacular board, numerous dice in 6 different colors, several sets of colored cubes to represent different resources, player tokens to mark structures that have been built, cards to represent the enemies that will be faced at the end of each year, and player mats that list the structures that each player can build.

This game has a very interesting mechanic of dice placement. All the players role their colored dice. Then one at a time those dice are placed on an advisor location on the board. For example, the advisor in the #1 spot would require someone to have rolled a 1 with one of their dice. Also, the advisor in the #10 spot would require any combination of dice that total to 10. No two players can take the same advisor on any one turn.  Once all the dice have been placed, then each player gains the
appropriate resources, points, or tokens.  I think it is a very fun mechanic that requires you to adjust your strategy from
turn to turn based on your dice rolls.

Here’s What I Like:

Dice Mechanic: As I just mentioned, the unique dice mechanic is very strategically interesting. I really enjoy how you have to try and make the most of your dice each turn. Do you try to block other people? Do you try to maximize your resources? Do you go for victory points? There are many options which make this mechanic a fun one!

Paths to Victory: I should state a disclaimer here and say that the only way to win is by having the most victory points.  However, I say there are different paths to victory because of the options of structures that you can build. You could play the game many different ways and still be able to be the winner.  Each structure gives the player a different benefit so it is up to the player which series of benefits they would like in the game.

Here’s What I Dislike:

Replayability: Unfortunately I feel that after 10 plays or so this game begins to feel monotonous. While the game itself is very fun, I feel that it would become the same thing over and over.  On the plus side, the game designers also have an expansion called “Kingsburg: To Forge a Realm,” which includes components that increase replayability drastically.

Dice Mechanic: I know that I mentioned it as something I like, so why is it here as well? I’m not a huge fan of games that can be won or lost based on luck. And this game is one of those. Sure, you can build the right structures to allow for re-rolls or other benefits, but I’ve played games where I constantly rolled low numbers and couldn’t make any progress. That’s frustrating.

Designer Perspective: What I would change:

The biggest problem for me is that the dice can go very strongly for or against you. Yes, you can use structures like the Market to adjust a die roll, but it can be better than that. One simple change could be very beneficial: If you roll less than10 you can flip one die over to the bottom side. So a 1 would become a 6, a 2 would become a 5 and so on. I think this rule would allow for more flexibility. The downside is that it could add to the AP in the game.

Beer Pairing:

Everyone loves building a kingdom. And everyone loves castles. So I’m recommending a beer brand that I learned about from the esteemed designer of Jump Gate, Matt Worden.

Matt, who lives in Minnesota, has mentioned Castle Danger brewery in the past. And since Kingsburg is based on the idea of building a territory around a castle I feel it is appropriate enough for this beer pairing. While I have not had any Castle Danger beer I know that I enjoy a cream ale. And a cream ale would go well with this lightish game. So today’s preferred beer pairing is Castle Danger Castle Cream Ale.

Overall Rating:

While I enjoy the game I’ve gotten to the point that it is very samey over and over. It’s relatively simple to learn and play. The artwork is outstanding. The dice mechanic is great. And it’s a lot of fun. But I would recommend also buying the To Forge A Realm expansion. At this point I’ll rate Kingsburg a 7 out of 10 on the BGG scale:

Good game, usually willing to play.

Good game, usually willing to play.

There’s Fungus Among Us! My Review of Morels.

“Amateur Mycologists have questionable Morels” ~ from Brent’s shirt at GenCon

During my trip to Gen Con 2012 I was able to meet a nice guy named Brent Povis with Two Lanterns Games.  Brent was a really nice guy and so was his wife, who taught my friend Jeremy and me the game.

Morels is a two player game that has you going on a hike in the woods foraging for mushrooms.  Should you pick the mushrooms at your feet?  Or do you want to hike a little further for that other mushroom that looks a little tastier?  Players are on a foraging hike that will allow them to gather mushrooms of different kinds. Once you’ve got three or more of the same kind, go ahead and fry them up!  You’ll get bonus points if you can use butter with 4 of a kind (+3 points) or cider with five of a kind (+5 points).  Some mushrooms are worth more points, but there are fewer of them.  So you have to plan accordingly on your hike.  On any given turn you can grab one of the first two cards available, or you can pay any number of walking sticks to walk further down the path and grab a card that you would rather have.  There is definitely a lot of strategy with your choices in the game.  When you’re hungry for mushrooms, or ready for a great two-player game, then pick up a copy of Morels!

Here’s a look at the setup to start the game:

This is the special version with hand whittled sticks and plastic frying pans. I’m jealous.

Each player starts with three cards. Eight cards are placed along the foraging trail. And each player starts the game with one frying pan. On your turn you can take one of the first two cards. Or you can pay sticks to forage further along the trail. You pay one stick for each card you walk beyond the first two cards. So if you take the fourth card from the end you would be paying two sticks. When you’ve got a set of three or more like mushrooms you can fry them up by laying your set down by the frying pan, or by laying it down with a frying pan card. That’s the basics of how you play.

The Upside:

Length of the game: As I have gotten more and more into awesome games my wife has kind of been left behind.  So I am always on the lookout for a new, lighter game that she’ll enjoy. That’s one reason I picked up The Little Prince at GenCon this year. She also doesn’t care for games that are over an hour.  So to have a game like this that takes a half hour at most with people who know how to play, it’s perfect for us.

Theme: I don’t like mushrooms.  It’s mostly because of their texture (I have a weird texture-sensitive palate).  However, I love looking at mushrooms and other fungi in nature.  So the theme of walking through the woods on a foraging hike actually sounds pretty cool to me.  Plus, you’re not trying to build a castle or earn victory points.  This is just a mushroom game where you get points for cooking mushrooms.

The Downside:

Endgame: While I could almost equally put this in the Upside category I’m putting it in the downside because there are often situations at the end where you don’t really have any decisions to make. I enjoy games where decisions get more important right to the end. You can have a play of Morels where, based on the last cards to come up, you just don’t have any fun decisions to make. I can forgive that because it’s not always the case and because the game plays quickly. But it needed to be mentioned.

Designer Perspective: What would I change?

This game works pretty well overall so it was a little tough to think of something to change. Basically this is a set collection game where the ability to procure sets is very structured. There is strategy in what mushrooms you take as you are collecting the sets, but there isn’t a huge “Take That” capability in the game. It never feels like I can really strongly affect my opponent. My change to the game would be to add a few cards to the game that each player starts with. These cards would be one-time use abilities. One specific ability I would like would be to take a card without having a card decay. Another ability would be to take a card and replace it with a blank spot along the foraging trail. Both of these abilities could add interesting twists to the strategy while providing a little of the “take that” concept.

Beer Pairing:

“Ommegang! This is so good!”

For a mushroom foraging hunt one might suspect bringing along a light beer that goes down easy. They’d be wrong. For most meals with mushrooms you’ll find the Belgian or French beer styles quite accommodating. So my preferred beer pairing while playing Morels would be the Ommegang Abbey Ale, which is a Belgian Dubbel style ale.

Ommegang sounds foreign, but they are a New York based brewery. So don’t let the name fool you when you go into the beer store looking for a nice foreign beer. For those looking specifically for Trappist beer, which comes from Trappist monasteries, there are only 8 recognized Trappist sources: Achel, Chimay, Gregorious, La Trappe, Orval, Rochefort, Westmalle, and Westvleteren. Of those I have had all except Gregorius and Westvleteren, which I am hoping to remedy in the near future.

Overall Rating:

I’ll rate this with two players in mind and thus it’s rating is compared to only two player games. The fact that I can get my wife to play this game means a lot, and that helps it’s rating. Overall I enjoy this little gem. We specifically love playing this game when we are camping since it feels like we are actually out foraging for mushrooms. I’m giving this game 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.

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