Monday, January 28, 2013

Castle Panic Written Review


Fireside Games/1-6 Players/Ages 10 and up/Play Time: 60 minutes

Have fun defending the castle.

Castle Panic is a family game where players work cooperatively to defend the castle walls from a horde of oncoming monsters.  Through careful planning, smart trading, and some sheer luck you just might succeed!

The Board

Inside the box you will find a nice, durable board.  The layout is simple, and once you are familiar with the rules it will just “click” and make sense.  I also like how the developers have included some necessary information (order of play and special rules for the “boss” monsters) at the corners of the board.  It is easy to read these rules, but they are out of the way enough so as not to detract from the visual appeal.

Besides the board, you will find two types of cards: the player aid card (always nice for newbies) and the action cards.  All cards are of average quality, with a slightly cartoony but fitting art style.

Finally, you have the cardboard playing pieces.  There are the castle pieces themselves, six towers and six outer walls, which have plastic bases you attach to help them stand upright.  Then there are the monster tokens and a few other “special” pieces such as tar and wall fortifiers.

The Game

The board is set up with six sections spread out in a hexagon.  Each of these sections are color coordinated (green, blue, and red).  There are two parts of the hexagon in each color.  To set up the board, players must place their six castle towers in the center of the board to form a hexagon.  Next, you set up the castle’s outer walls around said tower.  This is the castle that everyone will work together to protect.

After doing this, a monster is placed at the outer edge of the playing field in each section.  You start with three goblins, two orcs, and one troll.  However, as the game goes on, more and more monsters will be introduced, and they will march upon the castle, trying to destroy it.

The monsters start out in the forest.  After each turn the monsters move one space closer to the castle beginning with the “Archer” ring, followed by the “Knight” ring, and then, finally, the “Swordsman” ring.  After that they will be right up against your castle wall, which they will destroy.  Once that happens, they will be inside your castle and will begin destroying your tower.  If they manage to make it all the way to the center of the board, through your defensive outer wall, and then wreck all six towers, you lose the game.
Luckily you have some defenses!  Each player has cards in his or her hand that can be used to attack the beasts.  You might, for instance, have a “Blue Archer.”  This card can be played to hit (or kill, depending on the monster’s strength) a monster in the blue “Archer” ring.  A “Green Knight?”  Play him to hit a monster in the green “Knight” ring.  You get the idea.
Your turn goes something like this:

            1.         Draw Cards until you have a full hand (this varies depending on the number of players);
            2.         Discard a card and draw one (in case you have nothing good to play);
            3.         Trade cards with another player;
            4.         Play as many cards as you can;
            5.         Move all monsters up one ring closer to the castle; and
            6.         Draw and place two new monsters on the board.

As you can see, unless you kill several monsters EVERY turn (not likely), you will soon have a board full of beasts.  This is why it is very important to play together as a team.  If all of the monsters are in the “Archer” ring and I have no archers then I need to trade for one.  And maybe, if I’m lucky, I can make sure that whatever I give in return will play when it is THAT player’s turn.  You really need to plan ahead and play cards carefully.

On top of all of this, there are special ability cards and stronger boss monsters that add to the strategy and challenge.

The Verdict

I really enjoy this game.  It is a game that plays well with all ages.  The strategy is somewhat light, but it is there.  I also like the fact that it plays up to six people, since I usually have five in my gaming group.  Both my children and friends enjoy it.

The components are nice.  It consists of lots of cardboard, but the artwork is fitting.  I personally would have preferred plastic towers or monster figurines.

As far as cons?  I suppose children might get frustrated if they lose too often (which can happen).  At the same time, “hardcore” gamers might find it a bit too easy.  If you enjoy cooperative games then you should definitely check it out.

Final Score:  7 out of 10

Last Night on Earth Written Reivew


Flying Frog Productions/2-6 Players/Ages 12 and up/Horror Strategy.

First, I want to start out by saying that I have never played as the Zombies. That being said, I am what you might call a veteran at losing as the Heroes. The basics of this game are easy: humans vs zombies. While the game does get more complex depending on the scenario you play, the goal, whether playing as humans or zombies, is to kill the other side before they kill you.

The Board

When you first open the box, you will notice that there are a large number of components.  To start, there is the board itself. The game comes with one square center piece that is reversible for different scenarios. Then, there are 6 L-shaped pieces that, selected at random, make up the four corners of the game board. These pieces, unfortunately, are not reversible.

When the game begins, the Heroes select one or two Hero pieces depending on the number of players.  Each Hero piece has a corresponding Hero card/placard with his or her attributes listed on it.  The game also includes a sun tracker that shows the number of days/rounds that remain in the game. When the counter reaches zero, the game is over, usually to the Hero’s dismay. 

The game also includes two decks of cards:  one for the Heroes and another for the Zombies.  The Hero deck contains special items and powers to assist the Heroes in their quest for survival.  The Zombie deck, on the other hand, does not contain any items.  Instead, the Zombie deck contains a number of “one-time use” or “remains in play” cards that are meant to do one thing:  make it easier for the Zombies to munch on the Heroes.

Character figurines, while detailed, are fairly bland.  There are 14 Zombie figurines, 7 brown and 7 green, for when there are two people playing as Zombies. Then there are 8 Hero figurines, each made to match the picture on their respective Hero cards/placards.  Finally, the game comes with a handful of Wound Markers, for when the Heroes get hurt, 16 dice, and a number of random items for the different game scenarios.

The Game

At the outset, I should admit that I have a soft spot in my heart for anything zombie-related. As a result, this game caught my eye right away. The board is thick and sturdy, and the cards are stronger than most, with a nice plastic-type coating.  While the board and game pieces are not overly complex, the cards are where the game shows its depth.  Deciding what items to play, and when, can be the difference between escaping alive or losing within the first three rounds of play.  That being said, I feel I should warn those who have never played the game before that, at least in my experience, the stock rules heavily favor the Zombies.  Therefore, if you are the type that likes a good challenge, or is always rooting for the underdog, I say play as the Heroes. On the other hand, if you like to have control of the board at most points in the game, you will love the Zombies.

Scenarios included in the box range from the simple, kill 15 zombies in 15 rounds, to the more complex, find the keys to the truck, fill the truck with gas, and escape the town within 15 rounds.  No matter how simple the game may sound, however, each scenario is extremely difficult, especially for the Heroes.  Therefore, if you want to win, communication among teammates, often times out of the hearing of the other side, is essential.  

The Verdict

Overall, Last Night on Earth is fun to play and doesn't seem that long once you get into it. However, perhaps the best thing that I can say about Last Night on Earth is that, even though I have played and lost the game quite a few times, I still find myself drawn back to the Zombie-infested town for one more try.

Final Score:  7 out of 10

Formula D Written Review

Formula D

Asmodee/2-10 Players/Ages 14 and up/Racing
Killer cars at high speeds and you dont even need to know how to drive stick!

Formula D is a racing game that has it all: a cool theme, multiple ways of playing it, both beginners and advanced rules, and the ability to play anywhere from two to ten people.

The Board

Inside the box (which, incidentally, has some of the most gorgeous cover art you will ever lay eyes on) you will find a large board.  Two actually.  Each board is one half of the race track and each is double sided, allowing you to play on a traditional Formula 1 type track or a city street at night.  The rules vary slightly depending on which track you choose.  Either way, the art on the board is very colorful and fits the theme well.  My only complaint here is that the board has several folds in it that prevent it from lying perfectly flat on the table.

There are twenty cars to choose from: ten formula vehicles and ten street racers.  The vehicles are definitely on the small side, which unfortunately makes them easy to bump or even lose once spread out on the board.  They are pre-painted and fairly easy to tell apart from one another.

There are several dice that are color-coded to match up with whichever gear your car is in.  Basically, the higher your gear, the larger the die you can roll for movement.  First gear has four sides and it goes all the way up to sixth gear, which has 30 sides.  It must be noted that the dice do not have normal dice numbering.  The first gear (four sided die) only contains ones and twos, while the top gear (sixth) only has numbers 20-30 that are repeated on multiple sides.

But the best component in the box is your gearbox.  Each player has a plastic tray where you actually fit in a plastic gearshift knob as well as pegs to keep track of your cars condition (brakes, gearbox, body damage, etc.).  It is definitely cool to physically shift your car into a higher gear, reach over for a larger die than before, and roll away.  I love it when a games components match its theme so perfectly.

The Game

The track is divided up into an almost grid-like pattern that is three lanes wide and gameplay basically consists of the age old roll and move mechanic.  You roll a die and move that many spaces.  Which WOULD be boring were it not for the rules added on top of this to match the racecar theme.

 At the start of a race players must roll a 20 sided die to see how strong their start is.  A one means a stall out and they lose their first turn. Anywhere from two to 19 and they have a normal start and roll the first gear die to move.  If they luck out and hit a 20, they receive a great start and go four spaces.  After this, movement is decided by both your gear and the number you roll.

So basically you go up a gear until your max out and then speed like a bat from the very depths of Hades, correct?  Not so fast, because the tracks have turns.  Turns mean you must slow down or risk death.  And the possibility of death means you have to decide when to push your luck and when to play it safe. 

Each curve of the road has a number next to it (a one, two, or three).  That number indicates how many stops you must make in that turn (which is boxed off to show where the turn begins and ends).  A slight bend in the road will only require you to stop or end your turn once within it.  A sharp dead-mans-curve may have a three by it, meaning tiny dice rolls in order to stop three times within the cornerbox.  So basically you need to downshift in advance of these turns in order to not blow right through them and die a terrible, fiery (but way manly) death.

Now, you can still take risks.  If you are the type who rides hard you could do zero stops in a one stop corner.  However, in order to do this you take one point of tire damage for each space you move past that corner.  Once you run out of tire points, you begin to spin out and lose ground.  Or you could brake hard, stopping short of the number of spaces that you rolled.  Again, this is hard on your vehicle and you take brake points.  If you run out of brake points you die.

You can also receive physical damage (if you end next to another players car you both roll to check for bumping).  I have seen players use this as a strategic move to eliminate another player!  Andrew (Red Meeple) once realized he had taken no body damage the entire race, while Patrick (Purple Meeple) was down to his last body point.  Andrew then began PURPOSELY landing next to Patrick at every opportunity.  He knew that he could afford to take the hit and that Patrick would be dead.  Talk about cutthroat.

There are a few other rules, such as rules for slipstreaming and pit stops, but what you need to take away from all of this is that each and every rule ties into the theme.  Every rule in the game happens for a reason, and that reason is to make the races more realistic and exciting.

The Verdict

I think the theme is done VERY well.  It oozes cars and racing all the way from the box itself to the components inside.  The artwork also helps it to all come together.  A very tight package.

I love the fact that there are simpler rules for people just starting out.  It makes it easier to get kids (or non-gamers) going.  It is also nice that you can not only add more complicated rules, but you can change the race style and have even crazier rules!  If someone is not into the formula racing concept you just flip the board and street race Fast and Furious style (complete with thugs shooting at your car in certain parts of the city).

And did I mention that it plays up to ten?  Great for family night, game night, or party night.

One of the only downsides that I see is that you do sort of sit around and wait for your turn.  People who bore easily may get antsy.  This also means that the bigger the game the more it might drag.  I have found 4-7players to be the sweet spot.  Luckily turns are short. 

The dice also add a sort of randomness that some will love and others will hate.  I feel that it is nice to always have that nervousness of If I roll now I can hit anywhere from a four to an eight.  As long as I dont roll that eight I will be fine.  And of course you roll the eight, blow through the corner, and wear out your tires.  Pushing your luck almost always makes a game more thrilling.

Final Verdict:  9 out of 10 

Tobago Written Review


Rio Grande Games, 2-4 Players,  Ages 10 and Up,  Play Time: 60 minutes

Piecing together long lost treasure maps has never been so much fun.

Tobago is a family game where players act as explorers on a deserted island.  It is “every man for himself” as each treasure seeker hops into his or her Jeep (or Land Rover, we here at Meeples on Meeples can’t seem to agree) and races for the gold.

The Board

Inside the box you will find three double-sided map pieces.  They interlock together, making it easy to set up and almost impossible to screw up.  Being as they are double sided, you have many different map possibilities and near infinite replayability.  The board also has clearly marked spaces showing where to put the draw piles for the various cards as well as all other tokens.  Overall, a great layout with fitting and colorful artwork.  They really went all out.

Besides the board, you will find two types of cards: the treasure cards and the clue cards.  They are smaller than your typical playing cards, but this helps them to take up less table space (which becomes important once the map “clue” cards start to spread out).  They are also very durable.

But I still haven’t gotten to the best part!  Your player tokens are pre-painted vehicles; windshields and all.  You also have great looking palm trees to spread out, mini huts, and even “stone” statues.  The components are amazing to look at and almost every player (especially kids) who has layed eyes on them immediately wanted to play.

The Game

Once the board is set up and the various pieces are layed out (you must spread out the huts, trees, statues, etc.), players each draw a clue card.  The clue cards are set down face up for all to see next to one of the four treasure colors (a brown cube for the “brown” treasure, black for black, etc.).  That card is the first clue as to where the corresponding treasure might be hidden on the island.

Example: I might draw a clue card stating that the treasure is NOT on a beach.  I then know that my treasure (let us say I am starting the brown clues) is not on a beach.

Players then fill their hands with 4 cards (6 in a two player game). 

On your turn you can either
A)    Lay down another clue on ANY of the treasure colors, thus further narrowing down where that treasure is
B)    Move your vehicle
If you choose to play a card it must make sense and not contradict any other cards for that particular treasure.

Example: We already know that the brown treasure in the above example is NOT on a beach.    Therefore, I can’t suddenly play a card saying it IS on a beach.  Instead, I must choose another clue from my hand, such as “the treasure is within one space of a hut”.  The person playing the clue puts a cardboard chit of his color (same as his vehicle) on the clue so that everyone knows who played which clue.

As more clues are played, you can mark the spaces where the treasure might possibly be with wooden cubes of the same color as the treasure.  This helps you to visualize where the treasure might be hidden as well as what cards you can play.  At some point a card will be played that pinpoints EXACTLY where the treasure is.  The first person to reach that spot digs up the treasure and gets first dibs!  You now draw as many treasure cards as clues played, plus one extra treasure card.  Each player who helped in the finding of that treasure (all who played a clue card) gets one treasure card for each clue he played.  You quickly look at your treasures, then mix yours and everyone else’s together so that no one player knows exactly what is in the treasure chest.

Example: I played two clues, so I get to peek at two treasure cards.  I have one for four gold coins and one for six gold coins. All other players see their treasure cards, and then we mix them all together with the one extra card which no one gets to see.  All I know is that there is a four and a six, there might be better or worse treasures (or even curses!) available.

Gold is distributed starting at the bottom of the clues played (with the person who reached the spot getting first choice).  So if I get first choice, and the first treasure revealed is a measly two, I would pass, knowing full well that there is a four and a six waiting to be grabbed!  Sometimes waiting is to your benefit, and sometimes passing on treasures can backfire on you.

A few other things come into play, such as mystical tokens which can be used to take extra turns and dodge curses, the curses themselves (two of the treasures in the game will come up with curse cards), etc.  The game ends when all of the treasure/gold cards are used up.  The winner is the player with the most gold.

The Verdict
I LOVE this game.  The rules make sense, and if you have a question the booklet is well layed out with helpful illustrations.  It is a game that I can play with my family, but at the same time I can bring it to a table full of hardcore gamers.  It has a nice mix of light strategy as well as a dash of luck.  I have yet for anyone to be disappointed.  The gameplay also fits the theme perfectly. 

The components are GORGEOUS!  Everything is colorful and durable.  Kids will love to play with the cars, trees, and ESPECIALLY the statues.  Simply outstanding.

The only cons I see are that it only plays up to four people (my family and gaming group both contain five) and that it might be a bit difficult for some people to look at the clues layed out and wrap their minds around which cards they can still play.  Having said that, it can also be a great game for developing children’s problem solving skills.

Final Score:  8 out of 10