I’ve been on a roll and write kick lately, and Second Chance is one of them that I picked up because I thought it looked fun in a video that Board Game Geek did. I was right, it was a fun game, though not my…
Tag: board game review
When it comes to dungeon crawling games, Gloomhaven was the first one that I played and is the one that I love the most. But, with the start of the Malts and Meeples streaming channel, I decided that I should get some more dungeon crawlers because a lot of them you can play solo. Now, if you’ve noticed, Sword & Sorcery hasn’t been played on Malts and Meeples, but I am playing through it now with a friend, so not even solo.
In Sword & Sorcery, you control a character who is an ancient hero brought back in this time of need. You are exploring and different scenarios, getting options presented to you as to what to do, and making choices based on the sort of party that you have. During each scenario, you are fighting monsters, collecting soul points, getting money and other loot and hopefully leveling up your character. Then, as you win, you advance to more scenarios. All in all, the basics of what you’re doing in a game are pretty standard.
Sword & Sorcery does have some unique things, the biggest one being death in the game. When your character dies, you were an ancient soul that has been brought forward in time, so you become a ghost, instead of just being dead. You can do a few things as a ghost, but the main thing you can do and what you want to do, is get to your soul respawn point, respawn, and get back into the fight as fast as possible. Because, if your teammates go down as well, you’ll lose the scenario. This feels unique to me in the game because death isn’t the end. In Gloomhaven, it’s possible to have a character go down half way through a scenario, and while there is plenty of things that player can still help with in terms of running the encounter, you are done playing your character for that scenario. Sword & Sorcery handles that differently allowing you to hop back into the fight, but at a cost. To respawn, you have to use a soul point. And while that doesn’t seem like much of a cost, the soul points are what you use to level up as well, so you’re slowing down your leveling progression, and when you get knocked out and turned into ghost form and come back, you lose a level.
The leveling is also interesting in this game. It’s interesting because it’s not a standard leveling. Characters don’t level up based on XP that is gained, there isn’t a divided amount of anything that gets you closer at a regular rate. You have a group pool of soul points, and you don’t get soul points all that fast. You also have to keep a reserve of soul points because if someone goes down and you have none, they are extremely limited in what they can do until they can get back into the fight. Leveling up is also not a cheap affair. You are spending soul points equal to the level squared that you are going up to. So at level 2 it’s 4 soul points, at level 3 it’s 9 soul points, at level 5 it’s 25 soul points. The game hands them out fairly often, but that’s a lot of soul points to get up to the higher levels.
Another part of the game that I really enjoy, is the character creation/skills aspect of the game. Each character has two sides, a lawful side and a chaotic side. When you start the game, you, as a party, decides if you are going to be lawful or chaotic. That is going to give you a different unique character power than if you have played lawful. It also gives you the opportunity to get different abilities. And when you pick abilities, you have a large variety to pick from. So how you build up a character over time is going to be different than someone else might. Because of that, you really do get a good variety in the game and it adds back in some replayability, even if you know what is going to happen in the scenarios. And, depending on if you are lawful or chaotic, you are locked out of picking some abilities which limits your choices some in an interesting way.
They also have some cool rules for characters and monsters in the same area. If there are more heroes than monsters in the area, you have majority, if you have have twice as many you dominate the area, and just for that, you get an extra hit. But it isn’t just for you, it’s also for the monsters, so if you get swarmed or split up, it’s possible that you’ll be taking extra damage. It’s a nice way to make the majority feel like it means something, but it also means that you can get piled on quickly if you aren’t careful. This is one area that strategy is added into the game where it isn’t just the die rolls.
The game has a massive rule book, however, and like a lot of dungeon crawlers, that can be a deterrent from people getting into the game. I don’t think that the rules are all that complex, however, once you’re used to them. Most of what you need to know is explained on the cards for your abilities, and resolved by die rolls. So, once you know how to interpret those rolls, it goes fast. I feel like that’s fairly common for larger dungeon crawlers where they need to cover the edge cases, but most of those things will be fairly rare so the focus of the game is actually pretty straight forward.
One downside to the game is that it’s a bit fiddly. I bought a ton of small plastic bags and that helps keep things sorted. But the game itself does not come with those, which means that it would be a lot of work finding stuff. I think that a tackle box or a cross stitch thread box would work nicely as well. I feel like this is a common issue with a lot of dungeon crawlers. Without an organizer or organization strategy for Gloomhaven, it would have the same issue as well. Also, because of the size of the maps and the amount of tokens, you need a fairly large table to play the game easily. Once you’re into the game you know what you need and it’s easier to keep track of, but set-up can be a lot, thankfully tear down is a lot faster which is to be expected.
I also will say that right now I’m playing the game two player, each of us running a single character. I think that we’re going to consider going to two players each. The reason for that was that we’ve had good luck. The friend seems to roll defense like no ones business, so their character has never been in danger and is often the one focused on. And I’ve had a lot of luck doing large amounts of damage so it’s been fairly easy. I don’t know how much more difficult it will be controlling two characters each or what that will do to the length of play, but we’re hoping it bumps up the difficulty a bit. It should because you flip an encounter card after every heroes activation, so theoretically characters will get hit more. We also have two magic users, so we are limited in what we can use for equipment and want to get more variety.
I have enjoyed this game a lot thus far. I don’t think that it’s as good as Gloomhaven, but it’s a lot of fun. The story has been enjoyable, and I like the fact that when you’re knocked out, you really aren’t knocked out of the scenario. I wish it felt a bit harder or had a good way to scale the difficulty. But there are unique aspects to the game and I’m excited for playing more of it. There are also a lot of interesting characters to play and way more than I will probably ever get to, plus expansions. This is definitely not a game for those who don’t like the luck of the dice though.
Overall Grade: B+
Gamer Grade: B+
Casual Grade: C-
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There are so many roll and writes or flip and write games out there, how do you go through and find the good ones? In some ways, you just have to guess and find the style that you like. Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a map to find the good ones?
Cartographers is a mapping flip and write game where you are trying to create the best area of land for scoring. Your cartographer goes out and is trying to place Tetris style shaped pieces and other shapes onto your map. These shapes are different types of land, and depending on how the land is laid out, it is going to allow you to score throughout the game. But watch out for monsters, if can you can’t get them surrounded in your map, they are negative points, and your opponents are going to be the people who are putting the monsters onto your map.
Cartographers is scored over four seasons, each with two different scoring criteria. In spring you score A/B, summer – B/C, fall – C/D, and winter – D/A. So you have to both be planning ahead and trying to score as much as you can on each round. The first round is generally lighter scoring, because you haven’t built up anything for either the A/B scoring. And the scoring can be having squares surrounded but not filled, having forests surrounded, having six or more buildings next to each other, etc. These can really change up how you play the game, and help make it unique because maybe in spring I am not set-up to use something right then, but I can plan for the summer. Or you can really focus on a couple of them in hope that they are going to score you more points. Plus, you can get coins by surrounding mountains or using smaller areas, and those give you points each season that you have them. And the monsters are going to be negative unless they are completely surrounded, and each spot open by them is a negative point, and that can add up fast.
Now, there are a ton of roll and write or flip and write games out there, is there anything that makes Cartographers stand out from other games? First, there is no down time, not something that makes it stand out, but something that is nice. On each card flip you are placing land on your map or a monster on your opponents map. So you are always going to be able to play, and even if you can’t fit the shape, you then get to place a single square of any type, which you’ll be able to fit for sure. I also like the scoring throughout the game. Cat Cafe has a little bit of this, as does Welcome To… but Cartographers leans into that a whole lot more. And the scoring changes for each season which adds to the puzzle nature of the game. I think if the scoring was just static, the season scoring wouldn’t work. So like Welcome To… the scoring is going to change up every time that you play the game. Finally, having other people put things on your map and you putting things on other peoples is really interesting and different. You can really mess someone up with a monster and give them a lot of negative points.
The theme works fairly well in this game. I think that the land types being next to each other or surrounded, etc. for the scoring makes pretty good thematic sense. I think that you can argue the mountain being surrounded gets you a gold can make a bit of sense if they are paying you for completing a percent of the map. The monsters, however, being negative points if they aren’t next to anything seems backwards. I think that any that they would be next to would be negative because you don’t want to be by monsters, but I understand from the point of the game, that doesn’t work nearly as well. Like most roll and write games, the theme is a bit abstracted away, but as someone who likes drawing maps, I don’t mind, and I think it works well enough. I can get that itch for making Dungeons and Dragons maps out of my system with Cartographers, which is technically set in the same world as the game Roll Player.
I also think that while this roll and write is a bit more complicated than some other roll and write games, that it isn’t going to be hard to teach, and the visual representations on the board are easy to see and the different terrain types are easy to draw. I’m not sure that I’d lead with this game for a roll and write if someone hasn’t played any, but if they know what a game like Second Chance is, Cartographers is a logical next step. And just teaching it to someone who isn’t familiar with roll and writes would probably work, might just be a bit slower teaching than you’d expect for a roll and write game.
Overall, I think this is a very good roll and write/flip and write. It gives you some challenging decisions, and I really enjoy how the scoring works. I think that the scoring and the monsters make the game feel different than most other roll and write games. Definitely feels a bit like a mash-up of Welcome To… and Second Chance, and that’s great, because I really like those two games. I definitely would recommend this one for the theme, which is light, but easy to sell, and the mechanics.
Overall Grade: A-
Gamer Grade: B+
Casual Grade: B+
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Normally I do these reviews on games that I really enjoy. However, I thought it would be interesting to do a TableTopTakes on Dominion, a game that I have enjoyed but now that I don’t enjoy as much, and it’s still a very popular game.
In Dominion, you are building your deck up to be able to buy as many victory points as possible. The downside is that those victory points clog up your deck. On your turn you are playing down cards that give you additional actions, card draw, number of cards you can buy, and money. At the end of your turn, you draw up a new hand of cards and you repeat the process. Doing this, you are getting cards like Marketplace, Council Room, Estates, or cards like Copper, Gold, and Silver that give you money.
In terms of a pure deck building game, Dominion is a pretty good game. The issue is that it had a dull theme on it. It looks like it’s a trading in the Mediterranean game with poor artwork and a dated looking card design. And with Dominion, that theme “works” because the game itself has nothing to do with the theme. Why the Council Room gives you draw of 4 cards and an extra buy action and the Festival gives you 2 coins, 2 more actions and another buy action, who knows. And really who cares, you are just trying to build an engine of cards to be able to buy estates as quickly as possible.
But, like most deck building games, you are really looking for a very small combo. You are looking for ways to get as much money into your hand as consistently as possible while avoiding getting dead cards. There is a strategy to the game, but with a bit of luck of the draw when you start the game, one person is going to be down the path to victory faster than everyone else, and there are going to be no catch-up mechanisms. Now, a good strategy game, that’s fine, but there’s enough luck with the shuffle of the deck that now it doesn’t matter that you figured out the strategy, someone was able to get the combo going a turn faster than you, you won’t win. And if you don’t notice the strategy, you can figure out half way through the game who is going to win because they figured out the right combo of the cards. Now, again, Dominion is an abstract deck builder with a pasted on artwork and theme that aren’t needed, so if you want that puzzle and hope that you can get your engine rolling faster with a little luck in the card draw, Dominion is a great game for that. It’s meant for you to min-max your cards and find the ways to empty out your deck to just have what you need, more power to you.
For me, I’ve gotten rid of Dominion though. I think that there are other deck builders like Clank! In! Space! or Xenoshyft: Onslaught that I have on my shelf that are a lot better. Now, there’s a bit more going on in those games, so it’s probably not as good for teaching deck building, but I’m not teaching deck building too often. And I think some of what bugged me about Dominion was that there are a plethora of expansions for the game, but they really don’t add that much new, and the new and additional rules that they add, they aren’t thematic, or are they used all that often, because they add to the complexity of Dominion. Dominion being more complex pushes it away from being that introductory deck building game, which means that unless you have people who live and breath Dominion, there are those people out there, I know one of them, and always want to play it and play it with other people who love it, those cards and rules aren’t going to be needed.
Dominion is significant to the hobby, and I recognize that. It really helped create deck builders, and without it, games like Xenoshyft: Onslaught or Clank! In! Space! might not exist. And Dominion has helped get people into the hobby, but some of the love for it that it’s gotten over the years, it just doesn’t resonate with me. That might just be my taste in games coming through, but I think that there are plenty of better deck building games out there, and while Dominion might have been a good introductory deck building game to teach the concept, I think that there are better ones out there, and an early year of Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle is going to be just as good for deck building if not better. Or even something that’s definitely more complex like Xenoshyft: Onslaught, because it’s cooperative, could work decently well in that teaching role. And with both of those games, they feel like they have more theme and that you are doing something more. The veneer on Dominion has now become too thin when it comes to theme.
Overall Grade: C-
Gamer Grade: D
Casual Grade: B
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