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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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Yarr! Merchants & Marauders be Awesome!

Yesterday was National Talk Like A Pirate Day. So I bet a bunch of you played Pirate themed games last night. I didn’t play any pirate games last night, but I did watch a show about the industrial age and now I have an amazing game design concept which I’ll be keeping quiet about for now. Never-the-less, due to all the Pirate-y goodness I am reviewing a fantastic game called Merchants & Marauders. Let’s get to it!

For those of you who enjoy Pirates and everything involved with that genre and history, then this is the pirate game for you!  In the game you take on the role of a captain who is exploring the open seas of the Caribbean.  During the game you have the option to be a merchant and pick up goods and deliver them to other ports, or you can be a pirate (marauder) and raid other ships and plunder gold.  But the game goes so far beyond just that.  There are rumor cards to fulfill (for example: you could get a rumor card that says there is hidden treasure off of Cartagena… if you prove the rumor to be true, then you are rewarded with gold!).  There are mission cards to complete for bonuses.  There are different types of ships you can own.  There is so much to this awesome game!  If you feel the desire to plunder some booty, then hop aboard and sail the open seas with me!

Here’s what the game looks like on the table:

Yarr Matey! It be a thing o’ beauty!

So each player is a different captain in control of a ship. On your turn you can choose from several different actions depending on whether you’re in open water or at a port. If you choose to be a merchant then you’ll want to go from port to port picking up and delivering goods for a boatload of booty! If you attack someone, then you are automatically considered a Pirate. This is a more high-risk venture but it can also bring big rewards. But, as they say, “Once a Pirate, Always a Pirate!”

During the game other ships also begin sailing the seas. You have to watch out for these ships. If you are a merchant you’ll have to stay away from Pirate ships, and vice versa. The whole time you are trying to obtain money. The game ends when someone gets to 50 doubloons.

Here’s What I Be Liking:

Artwork: This artwork is absolutely sensational.  It is a pleasure for my eyes to look up the game board and player mats.  The colors are vibrant.  The art style is impressive.  And there is nothing to dislike when viewing this game! I am typically influenced by the art on games and this is no different. It’s amazing!

Sailing the Open Seas: This game let’s you sail around as you wish. You are a captain and you have full control of the helm.  Nothing guides your strategy in this game and you are free to do as you please.  I love having that openness, knowing that I am fully responsible for the actions I take in the game. There are not many games that really immerse you the way this game does!

Many Options: In this game you constantly have many options available to you.  You can do numerous things when you are in a port.  You can choose to become a pirate by raiding a ship.  You can attack your enemy.  You can try to complete missions or determine if rumors are true. Overall there are a lot of things you can do!  It really feels like you are guiding a vessel around the Caribbean!

Here’s What I Be Disliking:

Downtime: The only complaint I have is that when the other players visit a port it can lead to a lot of downtime where you just don’t do anything.  With four players all taking port actions on their turn it can lead to a long time to wait between turns.

Length of the Game: I love Merchants & Marauders. But it takes a long time to play. I group it into the same game length category as Eclipse. It the game didn’t take so long to play it would make the table a lot more often.

Designer Perspective – What I’d Be Changin’:

One thing that seems a little off is that being a Pirate is really hard. I’d like piracy to be a more viable option for players. While the game makes being a pirate have about the right feel, I would rather have the game be a little off theme to make piracy more fun. So I would either make the pirate ships more evasive so that they can plunder and run or present more options for pirates to obtain booty. This isn’t that big of a change and could make it more fun to be a pirate.

The other thing I would change is to add scenarios to the game. I know that the rumor cards give players to work toward, but I would prefer some cooperative scenarios for the game. Imagine all players playing as Pirates and trying to plunder a fleet of merchant ships that are controlled by the game. That would be a lot of fun!

Beer Pairing:

I wish I were out on the open seas soaking up the sun and sucking down a Red Stripe!

While a big jug of rum would be the ideal beverage pairing for this game, I will pick a beer anyway. And I can’t think of a more fitting beer for sailing around the Caribbean than Jamaica’s finest, Red Stripe.

I have to wonder if they didn’t choose the bottle shape so that it felt more like a jug of rum. It’s not a typical shape for beer bottles. But I suppose that’s fitting since Merchants & Marauders isn’t a typical pirate game. It’s better! I haven’t played it in a while, but now after posting this I really want to get it to the table again!

Overall Rating:

I love this game. I love imagining myself sailing the Caribbean with a crew on board who are ready to deliver goods or plunder another ship or suck down some rum. The theme and artwork are so capturing that they really bring me in. Plus, there’s the really cool cardboard treasure chest where you can stash your doubloons. I want to play again and I am rating this game a 9 out of 10 on the Board Game Geek scale:

Excellent game.  Always want to play it.

Excellent game. Always want to play it.

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.

The Little Prince: 16 Tiles of Awesomeness

Don’t be fooled. There’s awesomeness inside!

In case you missed it, last week was GenCon. That meant thousands of people (49,000+) visited Indianapolis for the convention and nearly all of them bought board games. One of the games I picked up, despite my lack of interest in the artwork, was The Little Prince, co-designed by famed designers Bruno Cathala and Antoine Bauza.

I love tile laying games. So when I watched W. Eric Martin’s video preview of the game I thought it could be really interesting. And since Bruges was sold out before I even got to GenCon I had a little extra money to spend on other thingsFor $28 this seemed worth it.

In The Little Prince you will play 16 rounds of the game. On any given round, whomever went last during the previous round gets to choose a type of tile. There are four types of tiles: Characters, Left Curve Edges, Right Curve Edges, and Centers. So the player will choose one type and draw as many tiles as there are players. They are placed face-up. They will then choose a tile, and then they get to choose who gets the next tile. Once all players had chosen then the next round begins.

Here’s a look at the setup (note that you do not actually need the scoring track on the box, but it’s kind of nice to look at):

Here’s the setup. Could it be simpler? (Yes, but not by much)

With fewer players you’ll use fewer tiles, but the gameplay is the same (except for with 2 players). There are also a few things to watch out for in the game. Baobab trees are awesome! Unless you have too many. If you ever get to the point where you have three baobabs on your planet then those three tiles will get flipped over. That’s bad because then you cannot use them for your scoring condition.

Also, volcanoes are no good. Whoever has the most volcanoes on their planet at the end loses a number of points equal to the number of volcanoes.

At the end you will have four scoring conditions that give you points for the things you have on your planet (roses, sheep, lamp posts, etc.). Your goal is to have the most points.

The Upside:

Simplicity: 16 tiles doth a planet make! That’s such an easy thing. It is very simple to play. Just choose a tile and place it down. The location doesn’t even matter so long as you are forming the shape of a planet.

Complexity: 16 sounds like a light game, but there is a lot of strategy in this game. The more players, the better off you’ll be. There are interesting choices of taking a tile that may not score you as much, but could cause another player to lose even more points. There are interesting choices about trying to get in the right spot in turn order. And then near the end of the game there are interesting choices. This game is filled with interesting choices.

The Downside:

Artwork: Originally I was not a fan of the artwork. I’m not familiar with the French story so there is no nostalgic connection for me to the artwork. While I can understand that others may enjoy it, I would definitely be on board to re-theme this one. I could consider myself a fan of the artwork on the basis of others enjoying that nostalgic feeling.

Designer Perspective: What would I change?

Other than re-theming there’s only one change I would make. I would add more scoring characters so that there are no duplicates. In my first game I had both lamp post scoring characters, and I had 13 lamp posts on my planet. With duplicate scoring characters there is a potential for making a huge killing. While I understand that there is also strategy inherent due to the duplicate scoring cards, I’d prefer there be no duplicate scoring cards.

Beer Pairing:

Parfait! (That’s French for “Perfect”)

What we have here is an interesting conundrum. First, the game is based on a French book, so I’m inclined to choose a wine pairing instead of beer. (No worries, that sort of blasphemy won’t happen here!). Second, the game itself is so simple and light, yet so deep with strategy. I have to choose a beer that fits that characteristic. I’d like to choose a French beer, but unfortunately France just isn’t known for it’s beer. So my preferred beer pairing for this light yet deep game is Stella Artois. (It’s close enough to France!) This beer meets the characteristics of the story and the game. It is a lighter beer but has a beautiful depth to it. I think with it’s hoity toity glass with the gold rim (not pictured), it would be a very nice fit with The Little Prince.

Overall Rating:

Disclaimer: I’ve only played the game twice, but I think it was a lot of fun. My wife played it with me and immediately afterward wanted to play again. That makes me bump the rating up a little bit. This game is very accessible. It has some awesome depth to the strategy. And it plays quickly. This will hopefully become our group’s go-to filler for a while. I know that I won’t turn down a game of it! For now I’ll rate this a 9 on the BoardGameGeek rating scale.

Excellent game.  Always want to play it.

Excellent game. Always want to play it.

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.

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