Monthly High Five - February 2019
WHAT IS CARDBOARD REALITY’S HIGH FIVE?
The High Five is a monthly piece where we talk about five of our board gaming highlights from the past month. Then one member of Cardboard Reality will deliver the “down low” at the end of this piece, covering a poor board gaming experience from the past month. Enjoy!
The High Five
Nick - I’ve always been the odd person out who normally dislikes miniatures, especially those of the large, over-produced variety. They oftentimes seem a little silly on the table, and can on occasion appear ridiculous—I’m looking at you, Rising Sun. You might be wondering what I prefer in lieu of miniatures; my response will vary from game to game. Sometimes I enjoy nice wooden discs or simple chit counters—anything to serve purpose without the silly glamour, but when it comes to Sekigahara, it’s all about those beautiful black and gold blocks. They possess a certain modest sophistication that miniatures lack. Sekigahara’s blocks are to Rising Sun’s miniatures as an Audi A7 sedan is to a Lamborghini—some people want the flashy Lamborghini, but I’d prefer the quiet luxury of an Audi any day.
Sekigahara, or more aptly named Seki-G per my friend Nathan, has been collecting dust on my shelf for more than a year since my last play. Due to my recent surge in interest for two-player wargames, I decided to revisit this one, and I am so glad I did. The re-learn was a breeze due to the elegant ruleset. Unlike other wargames I’ve played recently, Sekigahara is clean mechanically. No fiddly or hard to remember rules here, which is a breath of fresh air after playing Hannibal and learning COIN titles among others. And the game just sings on the table. It mixes bluffing with a fog-of-war version of hidden movement, tactical maneuvering, and innovative combat. A tight tug of war that I highly recommend to anyone who is interested in feudal Japan or that may want to try their hand at an entry level historical wargame. This one is the real deal.
Railways of the World
Joel - It happened. After months of waiting, it finally happened. Well, sort of. As you know, I have been on a bit of a train kick, like the rest of the podcast, particularly games in the 18xx genre. However, once I heard of Age of Steam and watched a few Heavy Cardboard streams of it, I was really intrigued. It seemed like a cutthroat experience that was right up my alley. Even though I am not the biggest fan of player conflict, it felt a bit different. After talking with a few people, including some of our patrons on Slack, I concluded that I should either search for an old version of Age of Steam or wait for the reprint with Ian O’Toole’s art. I was struggling with that decision, but then when Dylan ended up picking up a copy of Railways of the World, I knew my desire would be satiated enough to wait. Boy was I right.
Railways of the World was exactly what I was hoping it would be. Even though it is not quite Age of Steam, it is enough of the system to get me really excited for the “real” thing. It is not quite as brutal from what I can tell. It seems a bit more forgiving. It is also way over-produced in comparison with previous versions in the system. Which does not include the new Age of Steam Kickstarter coming from Eagle-Gryphon Games, which is famous for high quality production. Railways of the World has these ridiculous figures to use to represent empty towns. There are four different versions in the box, and enough of them of each type to only use one of the versions for an entire game. Each player also had his/her own train figures to represent track pieces. I like a nice quality production just as much as the next person, but all this plastic just felt out of place and likely doubled the cost of the game. Irrespective of these qualms, they did not detract from the experience of the game. I only played a two-player game with Dylan on the Mexico map, so it was not quite as “full” of an experience that I think it could have been. After only one play of the system, I know that when the Age of Steam Kickstarter drops on March 7th, I will be backing it immediately. Therefore, I am really excited to explore this system more, especially with more players.
I think Railways of the World is all about margins. Narrowly beating your opponents at everything just enough to pull out the win. If you know you are losing out in one area, that means you need to win even more in another area. Other games are obviously similar in this, but it feels so much more important to balance in this game. While it is not extremely mathy, I can definitely see the tough decisions involved in cost-benefit analysis at most points in the game. I am curious if this feeling remains with more plays, and even more interested to see if it is indicative of the system itself.
Scott - This past month I had the pleasure of playing Commands and Colors: Napoleonics for the first time. If you have seen my top 30 episode you already know how highly I rate this game. I have played quite a few games of Memoir ‘44, another game in this system I really enjoy, and I can confidently say that if time is not a factor I would always prefer Napoleonics. Napoleonics feels much more methodical than Memoir. The dice don’t have an equivalent of the grenade from Memoir which counted as a guaranteed hit no matter what type of unit you were attacking, additionally, damaged units roll fewer dice in combat.
If you’ve never played a game in the commands and colors series, each player has a hand of command cards that they use to order units on their flanks or center of the map, and combat is resolved by dice rolls. It sounds very straight forward but, Napoleonics adds a lot of depth with each unit having unique capabilities like British Line Infantry firing with one extra die if they don’t move, and French Line Infantry battling in melee with one extra die. There’s also leaders, who bolster the morale of attached units or can stop a unit’s retreat early. Finally, there is the Napoleonic tactics, each with their own special rules. These are Retire and Reform, Combined Arms Assault, and Form Infantry Square.
There’s so much going on in Napoleonics that I want to talk about, but to avoid just writing up the rules I am going to finish off with my experience. My first battle with Dylan consisted of me holding a line of hills as the French and Dylan approaching with a superior force of British and Portuguese troops. It began with Dylan prodding my defenses with small attacks as he tried to move his large army. This early push was easily fought back by my infantry firing down from the hill and a handy bombard card allowing my artillery to fire at his back line. Once Dylan’s army got within engagement range though he forced one of my infantry to retreat off the hill and occupied it with his cavalry, forcing one of my units into a square and preventing one other from firing at the infantry in front of him. With this screen, Dylan managed to outflank me and force me off the hill. In the process he tied up the score at 4 to 4. I abandoned the hill to make an all out attack hoping to snipe a weakened unit to close out the game. After I failed the 1/9 odds with the dice roll to win, Dylan captured a British objective to secure victory. It was a very tight match and somehow Dylan and I always end up very close despite the randomness of die rolls and cards. I look forward to more plays of this and trying out Ancients.
B.L. - Burgle Bros.—a co-op game about cracking safes, eluding guards, and making a dramatic escape from the rooftop of an office building —might just be the most thematic game I’ve ever played. There are plenty of games where the theme comes through in pronounced ways that serve to enhance the gameplay, but in Burgle Bros., the theme is the game, and it feels effortless, serving simultaneously as the game’s goal, its source of tension, and underpinning every other detail, from unique player powers to the flow of play.
Burgle Bros. does other things well, too; In particular, its enemies -- the guards who roam every floor, following predictable paths that sometimes turn out unavoidable—work more like a living, breathing thing than many other, more programmatic co-op antagonists. (I think particularly of the spreading diseases or colonists from games like Pandemic or Spirit Island, a mechanic I find increasingly tiresome.) In Burgle Bros., the guards’ movement is generated by cards, but their paths are manipulable by the players and the conscientious use of alarms.
I’m not the kind of guy to insist on soundtracks when I game, but Burgle Bros. is so well done, so thematic, a little music (just throw on the soundtrack to your favorite heist movie) helps the experience even more.
Dylan - I am realizing, similar to the other co-hosts over the last year, that my tastes are ever-evolving. While a dexterity game or a light card game can poke a soft spot, I’ve played a lot of great medium-weight economic games this month that have brought to my attention this love I have for them.
None have exemplified this further in February than Power Grid.
I’ve had the opportunity to play Power Grid twice this month, once at the suboptimal 2-player count and once with four players. In both games, I was stunned at how well the mechanics melded together to make a tense build-up of opposing energy empires (hahaha… board game puns…. I’m sorry…).
You’re always wanting to spend your money, but you also want to save it to get what you really want. You’d love that juicy 29 power plant that uses one coal/oil to power four cities (and believe me, it happened to us), but no one else is even thinking about buying up the trash that was refilled during the turn. So maybe you can participate in this auction to drive the price up for everyone else, and shrugging if you happen to win it cheaper than you expected.
But wait, you win that auction. You get that power plant, the trash and the oil to power a buku number of cities, AND you can afford to buy the rights to power those cities. The deed is done. You spend all the money to take the lead.
Now you’ve powered the most cities. Which means you’re first in turn order. But in a rare instance, this is an extraordinarily bad thing in Power Grid. Now you’re last to do EVERYTHING, except for putting a power plant up for auction, which is the one thing you’d probably want to do last so you can pay for the plant at cost.
Hot damn, all this is so cool. I love getting into bidding wars over a power plant that can change the scope of the game for everyone. I love scooping up as many resources as I can, just to make the other players spend more of their money than they want or that they can. I love the singular random element: which power plant flips up from the deck. And even after only playing on the map of Germany, I see so much replayability, even remaining on the German side of the board.
I enjoyed Power Grid so much that I bought my own copy, even though Joel already owns the game. It’s good enough for both of us to have it. Take that, those of you who won’t play older games. This game rocks.
THE DOWN LOW
Blackout: Hong Kong
James - I don’t know if my experience with Blackout: Hong Kong was about necessarily thinking the gameplay was all that bad, or if it was just a matter of a game not living up to the hype and expectations I had going into the first play. I think it falls somewhere in the middle of those two things. Blackout: Hong Kong is the late 2018 release from Alexander Pfister that hasn’t officially arrived in full release stateside. Pfister, the designer of one of my top 10 games Great Western Trail, as well as other enjoyable games such as Broom Service, Isle of Skye & Mombasa, is a name I trust and a name that immediately grabbed my interest when I heard he had a new release. Borrowing from Mombasa’s unique hand management and discard system, and featuring a bit of resource gathering, area control, and set collection, it checked a lot of boxes heading into the first play. Unfortunately, when it came time to play, the multiple pieces in the game didn’t quite flow together, and the art style and production left a lot to be desired.
The gameplay requires a rigid 8 step process, some of which needs to be done in player order, and some of which can be done simultaneously: Plan your actions, reveal your actions, complete objectives, scout new locations, purchase new objectives, clean up, secure locations on the board, and do permanent actions. The whole thing was very procedural, resulting in more downtime than a game of this weight should have, and just killing any chance at flow. It was bumpy, jerky, and clunky. The decision space was there, but was quite limited - points were at a premium and there were very obvious places to get them (such as acquiring new helper cards.) At times it felt like a simple recipe fulfillment game, and nothing more. Unfortunately the art and production was lackluster as well. An “all black” theme was a bold choice, and might’ve worked with better art and components. As is, you’ve got a drab matte black game board that shows many imperfections, bizarre almost watercolor like art on the primary cards in the game, and cubes in 4 colors (green, orange, white, grey) that don’t seem to invoke anything in particular about the setting, theme, or gameplay. Limited player interaction and mostly tacked on theme just add to the negatives, and unfortunately made this a miss for me this month.