Monthly High Five - October 2018
What is Cardboard Reality’s High Five?
The High Five is a monthly piece where five of us talk about one of our board gaming highlights from the past month each. The sixth member of Cardboard Reality will then deliver the “down low” at the end of this piece, covering a poor board gaming experience from the past month. Enjoy!
James Geist - I played some great games in October, but the best gaming experience in October for me had to be Antiquity. Antiquity was the closest thing I’ve had to a Grail Game in my 2 short years in the hobby. I remember discovering it shortly after I’d played a friend’s copy of Food Chain Magnate and seeing all the boxes it checked for me: tile laying, resource management and conversion, exploration and expansion, it even had polyominos! But alas it was just too expensive, too fiddly, and too heavy for me - or so I thought. As my experience and taste drifted to the heavier side of the hobby, it was a matter of not if, but when, I would add this gem to my collection.
I picked it up in a trade recently and was thrilled to get it to the table on a Saturday afternoon with a friend of mine. Despite a few rules gaffes that made it a bit of a learning game, I was absolutely in love with the mechanics. The variable win conditions felt impossible in the early stages of the game, but as you continue to expand, explore, farm, and build in your cities, everything starts to lock in. Of course by then you’re swimming in pollution and death as every one of your actions has as much negative effect on you as it does positive. It was such an amazing experience, another knock out from Splotter Spellen, and I can’t wait for it to hit the table again.
Hannibal & Hamilcar - 20th Anniversary Edition
Nick Northcutt - Wargaming has always been this distant monster lurking in the background of board gaming that I never fully cared to explore until recently when Hannibal & Hamilcar finally made its claim on my table. I say finally, because I’ve attempted and failed to learn this game numerous times over the past four months. Digesting Hannibal’s rules has legitimately been the most challenging learning experience in gaming to date, even when considering behemoths like John Company, Pax Renaissance, Feudum, and Arkwright. Sure the game’s system is involved, but I don’t believe that is the primary reason the learn has proved such a cumbersome challenge. Instead, the problematic learn stems from the poorly crafted rulebook, and even poorer playbook that was designed solely as a teaching guide for those new to the system. However, this isn’t the “down low” part of our new monthly written segment, and that’s because I can vehemently say Hannibal was absolutely worth conquering the, at times, seemingly impossible climb of its steep learning curve.
This game is really good.
In its latest 20th anniversary edition, Hannibal’s box is jam packed with lots of history, scenarios, stellar production, and a whole second standalone naval focused game called Hamilcar, based around Hannibal’s beloved card driven system. I reckon it’s safe to assume I won’t run out of game to play in this box any time soon.
With the wonderful production and extra content aside, what makes Hannibal relevant twenty years past its initial publication is its tightly balanced tug of war between the ancient foes of Rome and Carthage. Each turn you’ll be faced with fascinatingly open decisions. As Hannibal, should you follow history and command your army, elephants in all, across the towering Alps or change history and sail towards Italy instead? As Rome, should you bolster your defenses in Italy to prepare for Hannibal’s eventual invasion or take the offensive and apply pressure to Carthage in Africa? The decision space is significant and the combat carries real weight, resulting in an epic and engrossing experience every time I’ve sat down to play. Expect to hear more about Hannibal & Hamilcar from me in the future, because it’s not leaving my table anytime soon.
Dylan St. Clair - After six plays of Memoir ’44, I would think it might get a bit old, a bit repetitive, and/or a bit too simplistic. But in those three scenarios, each one has played out surprisingly different. Take my last game against Scott as an example. We opened the rules and placed the soldiers for the first beach scenario in the base game, Sword Beach. Scott opened as the Americans and rushed waves of troops down the center to halt the firing from my artillery. While I picked off each band of infantry and even the tanks, he whittled down the big guns until they collapsed. That opened him up to the freedom of funneling his troops down the middle without fear.
I, on the other hand, sought to use the British Commandos to jet up to each of the three bunkers and take them out. But each one was weakened down to a single soldier. So I used the tanks and vanilla infantry to protect my British forces from enemy fire. I also used said tanks to plow over the barbed wire and give my units a straight path to the infantry in the back lines. Both ended in losses for myself, but both seemed to be viable strategies.
I’m loving Memoir ‘44 as I’ve walked through the scenario book, touring each of the real-life battles. I’m super excited now that I have the Eastern Front expansion on the way for my own collection, along with my own copy of the base set. Can’t wait to explore more from this light, but fun look at war.
Scott Alberding - This October I had the pleasure of playing Washington’s War by the grandfather of card driven games, Mark Herman. Washington’s War is a redesign of the Avalon Hill game, We the People, also by Mark Herman. My love of card driven games started with Twilight Struggle, but I was looking for something more similar to a traditional war game which led me to Mark’s designs.
As you might have guessed, Washington’s War takes place during the American Revolution. For our first game I played with Dylan who controlled the Americans and I played as the British. This game has some mild asymmetry that actually leads to a significant difference in strategy for both players, but thanks to the nice player aids, everything is easy to keep straight. The result is a small increase in rules overhead in exchange for a historically grounded difference in strategy for the British and American forces. As the British, I felt as if I was on a wild goose chase, constantly hunting down and defeating weaker American forces. The caveat here was that the American generals are cheaper to activate and more maneuverable. This created the interesting dynamic where the Americans are trying to hold out while they establish political control across the colonies. Conversely, the British are trying to position Generals in locations that will allow them to stamp out this political control while they hunt down and disperse the Continental Congress. I feel this game has plenty of room to grow, and just like with Twilight Struggle, I look forward to digging deeper into this game.
Joel Moser - A few months ago, I played Broom Service with the other hosts but was not really impressed. Therefore, when Mike from the Keep Gaming Indy group pulled out Witch’s Brew at the monthly event in October, I was a little hesitant. Broom Service re-implements the card play from Witch’s Brew, which is long out of print, and adds a board to the mix. One might see why I was not quite looking forward to playing it, but Mike kept talking it up as one of his favorite games, if not his absolute favorite. He had also deluxified the game himself, as you can see from the picture, which was pretty cool. After we started playing, I could tell that the game felt much different, even though the card play was actually part of my complaint with Broom Service. It seemed like Witch’s Brew was a tighter experience, since it was only about the card play and resource management pieces.
Witch’s Brew has the same mechanic with the cards where you choose some card actions to take for the turn and must choose either the strong action or weak action, and if someone after you also has that card, they must play it and decide if they want to take the strong or weak action. However, if you are the first to play a card that turn, you must play the strong action, so then you often do not get to take that action unless you perfectly plan out that no one else has that action in hand. This small change made the decision space much more interesting. You now had to plan out your actions in a way that you could get to do the actions you wanted without wasting them or ending up having to play them out of order. Since you did not have a pawn to move on the board, it felt like you were not completely screwed if your cards did not quite work out exactly as you planned. There were times where it did majorly mess you up, but it felt less punishing since the actions you got to take were much smaller.
We played a three-player game, and I felt like I could generally read the other two players on what they were wanting to do on their turns. Whereas in our game of Broom Service, it was five players, and it was very difficult to read all the other players. I do not know if this is entirely what contributed to the vast difference in experiences, but I enjoyed my play of Witch’s Brew vastly more than Broom Service. I think the decision space is so much more interesting with how tight it is. It feels a bit more like a knife fight. Sometimes you will be able to execute your cards perfectly, and other times you will end up being required to play them in the complete opposite order of what you desired. This adds to the planning and stress of the game. One other thing that made this game much better than Broom Service is how quickly it played. Even with the discrepancy in player counts being considered, the game length is vastly different just based on the actions you take. Once it is determining which person is taking which action, it happens immediately, as it is very small. You will either gather a resource or gain a card for victory points.
I know this game is out of print and therefore very expensive on the BGG Marketplace, but I believe that Broom Service: The Card Game is very similar, if not an almost complete reimplementation. However, I would highly recommend just playing Witch’s Brew over Broom Service, if possible. I am looking forward to playing it again whenever Mike brings it to a Keep Gaming Indy event.
Fortune and Glory
B.L. Anderson -
Board games move fast. What was fresh even a couple of years ago can quickly grow stale as others expand and improve a successful formula. Some games manage to resist this, but some lose their luster. 2011’s Fortune and Glory falls into the latter category.
Fortune and Glory follows the pattern of other games from publisher Flying Frog, also known for Last Night on Earth and Shadows of Brimstone. These games are Ameritrash defined: theme-heavy dice chuckers featuring minis and actual actors on the box and card art.
While Fortune and Glory is doused in theme — you’re an Indiana Jones-style pulp adventurer fighting Nazis and collecting occult artifacts around the globe — the gameplay falls short. Nearly everything is based in dice rolling. You roll to move. You roll to collect artifacts. You roll for combat. It never feels unbalanced, since everyone else is in the same boat as you, but a bad dice roll can take you nearly back to square one and make the game drag.
There are a ton of variants — like a co-op mode and additional enemies — that may help save the game a little. But after 2 ½ hours and at least another hour ahead of us, my group called it quits, and adding more complications likely wouldn’t help that already too-long playtime. Playing Fortune and Glory only made me want to play the equally thematic Firefly, which came out two years later and clearly borrowed heavily from Fortune and Glory — and in the process, rendered it obsolete.