Yesterday I talked about Silver in my TableTopTalks, you can find that here. It’s an interesting little game that is very easy to teach and I like that about it. However, I did see one problem with the game, and that’s with the 14 different …
You pick up your doughnut and wait for the coffee to brew. Soon you’re pouring over notes, looking up clues in the database, all while waiting on the lab to finish running their reports. Detective is a game where you get a chance to dig deep into cases and try and figure out the whole story of what is going on, while not using up too much time.
In Detective: A Modern Crime Board Game, you are playing cooperatively as a team of detectives/investigators who are trying to solve a series of linked cases. But can you figure out the links between the cases, what information from previous cases will be useful, and how much, per case, should you dig into the big picture? To do this, you have to travel around from your Antares HQ to places like the Courthouse, Richmond PD, The Lab, or various places that are all at fieldwork. At these places you’ll look at cards which will allow you to investigate a crime scene, or talk to a witness, or get some reports run on various clues. Doing any of these things costs time, and you only have so much time during the day, 8 hours, to get your work done, or you can work overtime, but too much overtime and you become too stressed and the case wraps up. At the end of the case, when you think you’re ready, you answer a series of questions about what you found out.
Detective: A Modern Crime Board Game is an advancement in deduction sorts of games where you have a pretty small deck of cards, 35 per case, that you’re going through, and with that, you probably will see around twenty of them per case. So you are only getting a limited amount of information. With that said, there’s so much more beyond just those 35 cards, there’s the whole Antares database that you’ll be using a lot as well. This will have records of interviews you’ve done with witnesses, larger descriptions of crime scenes, or clues, police reports on people or old cases, ways to tie fingerprints together to determine who was at the crime scene. The Antares database is a website that is set-up by Portal Games that they can add new cases to whenever they want. This means for expansions they can add in new cases, redo the look of the database for the time period, or do whatever they want with it. How extensive the database is, is really cool. And it adds a lot of depth and theme to the game. You also can even google some things on the cards to determine what some real events that are referenced actually were.
Out of the five cases in the base box, we’ve played three so far, and while the first two cases felt fairly similar, the third case felt extremely different. I won’t go into spoilers, but it’s fun to see how they can create different almost puzzles for you to solve in the game. Some of them you might be digging up larger parts of an old story that puts together a grand tale that is tying all the cases together. Or you may be diving back into a cold case to figure out why there was such a rush to get the case closed and to find out if there is more to it. Or you might be in a highly time sensitive situation where you’re racing against the clock to stop some bad event from happening. All of them are possible in the game, and it feels like there is even more room to expand.
I do want to talk some about the thematic immersion in the game. I’ll start out by saying that of the three cases that we’ve done, two of them have taken three hours or just a little bit longer, the last one took just about two and a half hours. So this is a pretty long game for something that just have 35 cards per case. But the game is highly thematic, and you feel like you’re investigating to some extent. You’re looking through everything that’s going on, and you can see the threads come together, you’re taking notes and connecting things that seem like they might be separate because of a clue you find at a third location. And it’s not that the game is handing you those connections, you are having to use deductive reasoning to put two and two together and get the right answer. This game really has so much theme, and in fact, so much theme that you get immersed in discovering the story, not just “who done it” that you lose track of time. Each case doesn’t seem like a three hour chunk of time, because you’re puzzling over everything trying to figure out what is happening.
Finally, let’s talk about replayability. I would likely this to TIME Stories, where maybe, after a period of time, I’d be able to play it again, or if you wanted to see how good a job you could do you could play it again. But this game is not that replayable. You are solving a case, and once you know the solution you need to forget it to really be able to play it again, and I think unless five years have passed or more, I’m probably going to have my memory jogged by starting the case again and be able to take an ideal path. My thoughts, because we’re playing in a group of three, is that I might run the game again for another group, be in charge of the cards, like I am now, so that people can’t accidentally spoil themselves, but just sit back and watch someone else enjoy the experience. With that said, there is a Season 1 implementation of this coming out, there is the LA Crimes expansion for this, and there is a Dig Deeper expansion coming out as well, so there’s going to be added content for it, and for the amount of time that you’re playing each case, and the enjoyment from it, I think the base game is very much worth the value.
Overall, I love this game. I know some people won’t like the fact that is uses a screen, but that adds in a ton for the thematic element. Because even though I don’t love procedural cop shows on TV like CSI or Law & Order, Detective: A Modern Crime Board Game has that feel and when you’re the detective and heavily involved in trying to figure out who committed the crime or even how multiple cases tie together, it is so much fun, and the Antares database adds so much to that feel. This is a great thematic experience, and while the questions at the end can seem random if you chased a few red herrings, the story throughout the cases has been crafted extremely well.
Is this a game that you’ve tried, do you enjoy it? Is it something that seems interesting to you?
Gamer Grade: A
Casual Grade: B
Overall Grade: A-
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There are times when you stumble across a game on sale and you don’t know anything about it. But because of the theme or a look of the game, and how big the sale is, it is worth checking out. This was the case with The Hobbit game, I got it on a winter inventory clear out sale at a FLGS (Friendly Local Game Store).
The Hobbit is a semi-cooperative game where players are bidding with dwarf cards to see how far they move on a board, but it’s done at the same time, each spot has a different skill or ability that you can raise the level of, so that when you reach locations in the Hobbit story. There you need to complete challenges, and the person who is doing the best gets first crack at them, but those challenges can be difficult and do you want to push your luck further into the pile to get more treasure early or hope to gain it late. At the same time, as a group you need to complete these challenges otherwise Smaug will advance towards Esgaroth (Laketown). You have to work together to make sure everyone is building up their skills, but you can’t discuss how you’re bidding. This leads to people getting something they don’t need at times or someone being under powered, so you have to be careful with that. But in the end, the dwarf with the most gems wins.
This game is interesting because it’s not that complex. You are playing a card, moving on a board, and getting skills. But the semi-cooperative nature adds in some depth to it. You want to get your skills high fast so that you’re able to collect more gems that’ll win you the game. However, if you do that at the expense of others, then Smaug is going to move more and that can cut short the game. So if someone hogs all the skills early in the game, they can get early gems but those might be worth less than later challenges which would give more gems so even in a short game trying to push the end you could still end up losing. For some people, this semi-cooperative nature isn’t going to work, but for me, and the times that we’ve played it, it’s been fun. Everyone can see what everyone else needs so you’re trying to be strategic getting the skills that you need, but not getting it too out of balance, and inevitably it does with someone being extremely cunning but having no power, and that makes it hard to beat some of the challenges. This semi-cooperative nature can be enhance by adding in the rule that if Smaug reaches Laketown the game is over and everyone loses.
A downside to the game is that it can be a little bit simple. I think the rule that everyone loses if Smaug reaches Laketown is almost needed in the game. Otherwise it can have someone rush to get as much treasure as possible and it’s possible that they will end up winning just because they are the only ones with enough skills. There is still luck with that, though, because to defeat these encounters, you are rolling dice and then supplementing with the skills that you have. I’ve pulled off a win by passing on all the smaller treasure encounters and only grabbing the big ones, and I’ve seen that cause people to lose as well if they get a really poor roll while going for those bigger treasures. I think that first blush the game can be a bit simple and the die rolls a bit too random for some people, but there is more strategy hiding in the game than one might expect.
Let’s talk about the theme a little bit. I think that the semi-cooperative nature works for The Hobbit because while Bilbo isn’t after anything more than an adventures, the dwarves want to get as much as they can and to take back the mountain for the riches that are in there. The greed is what is driving them, and that’s what drives the players in the game. You are trying to get the most gems, because that’s how you’re going to win. For that reason I’d say that it’s fairly thematic, but there’s also just this abstract push your luck piece to it as well. It’s a game that you can bring the theme into it, but one that won’t feel like it has as much theme as it might compared to some other Lord of the Rings/Middle Earth themed games.
Finally, let’s talk about the components. The artwork on the game is really nice. It’s very much art that was done before the movie, so if you’re expecting to see something that’s similar to that, it’s not going to tick that check box for you, but it’s classic Hobbit/Middle Earth art. But the game has plastic little gems which is what really makes it shine on the table. They are very cute and actually very thematic because as players, you want to have the games just to play around with. It’s the same mold that’s being used for other games, like Century: Golem Edition. Beyond that, it’s just a well done production of a game.
Overall, this is a fun game. It’s a light game, as much as I liked to talk about how there is more depth than it first seems, it never has a ton of depth to it. Can you workout where you want to be and get that certain ability or land in a certain spot to make your dwarf better? There’s both luck of the dwarf cards that are dealt to you, which you use to bid, and luck as to what everyone else plays. But the game says it only takes 30-45 minutes, which seems right to me, and so for a lighter game, it doesn’t overstay it’s welcome. I’d recommend this game to people who like Lord of the Rings/Hobbit/Middle Earth, as it has a decent thematic feel to it, and even if they aren’t gamers, it’s pretty easy to understand.
Overall Grade: B-
Gamer Grade: C+
Casual Grade: B
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If you’ve read my previous reviews on Root and Cry Havoc, you can see that I really like asymmetrical games. Skulk Hollow, when it came on kickstarter last year, was a game that caught my attention right away. The look had a bit of that cute woodland creature feel that you get from Root. It was also from the same company that made a silly light game that I have enjoyed, Planet Liftoff!. Based off of that, I decided to take the plunge into the world of Skulk Hollow.
Skulk Hollow is an asymmetrical strategic game where one player takes on the role of foxes who live in the area and the other player ancient guardians that have awoken. The Foxen are trying to disable the guardians while avoiding having their leader perish. To do this, they have to get close enough to the guardian and either shoot them or leap onto them and hack away with their swords. The Guardian, on the other hand is trying to take out to Foxen leader, but they’ll also have some additional objective. It might be getting a certain number of tentacles into play or just taking out a certain number of the foxen heroes. Whomever completes their objective first wins the game.
The game play is pretty simple. Each player has a certain number of cards in their hand and they can play a number, this varies for the Guardians as there are several different ones out of the box that can have varying numbers. These all you to move, attack, maybe heal, leap onto the guardian, or whatever it might be. What’s impressive is that while the Foxen always have the same decks, each Guardian has their own unique deck, and that’s because all the guardians have their own unique ability. Raptra can fly whereas Grak can stomp, so those abilities show up uniquely on the Guardians own deck. Some of the Guardians, and some of the Foxen folk can augment their turn by having spent cards to collect what basically amounts to energy, which can allow them to take various free actions as well by spending the cubes. The game really gets down into a game play where you are trying to guess what your opponent has in their hand and using your cards as efficiently as possible.
I’ve talked some about what makes the two sides asymmetrical and how the guardians all play differently and have different objectives, but it isn’t just them. The Foxen also have the ability to change up their faction. With the Foxen you have the ability to change out your leader. In the base game, they suggest that you go with the Foxen King who has more health than the other Foxen leaders but no special abilities. The abilities of the Foxen leaders can be healing or giving additional moves or pulling cards back from the discard pile. That can change up how the Foxen play as well, and really adds to the replayability of the game. Just out of the box, you have four guardians and four leaders, so you have 32 unique plays of the game with playing both sides once in each combo, which should be plenty to allow you to go back and try a set-up again with it feeling different.
Thus far it’s mainly been about the game play. But I’d be remiss not to talk about the quality of the game. I’ve been very impressed with the quality of Pencil First games and this game definitely keep the standard high. The Foxen meeples are nice, the cards a great, and the boards for the different Guardians are really nice as is the board of the Foxen lands. But what brings the quality level up a lot is the production quality of the guardians. This could have been a game where they created plastic molds and we ended up with impressively detailed minis, but they didn’t do that, because that wouldn’t have matched the aesthetic of the rest of the game, instead we got wood meeples for each guardian. But they aren’t your classic meeple sculpt, they are amazing and fairly large cut outs that match the shape of the monster board. So it’s a very unique cut that makes each Guardian feel unique, and some of them come with extra wooden pieces as well, such as Raptra with a cloud for when they are flying. This really makes the game pop on the table and gives it a similar aesthetic feel to Root.
Now, the game isn’t perfect. You can get into situations where one or the other side will just slowly bleed until they are gone, but they can prolong the game. This happened in a play that I had and while 40 minutes seems generally accurate for the game, that play took over an hour. There was a bit of teaching to that time, but it reached a point where I was pretty sure I was going to lose as the Guardian, but , not being familiar enough with the game, we just didn’t want to scoop. I think especially with the more basic Foxen leader and Guardian this is more apt to happen because of how the winning condition is combat. So I’d be healing to not be able to do something to then have it taken away to heal again, and repeated for a while. This isn’t a massive negative to me, mainly because, I haven’t found this to be the normal for the game. And maybe with a bit better luck in terms of card draw I could have gotten out of it, but it didn’t happen. Just know that it is possible that sometimes one side could be in a position that it’s nearly impossible for them to come back from but not quite dead and that last little bit can be slow.
Overall, this is a really fun game. I think the rules are simple enough and the strategy/tactics are high enough that it is a good game for both more casual players are board gamers. The look of the game also helps a ton because of how cute the artwork is. One of the artists has worked on Disney projects before, and this has an animated Robin Hood feel to it’s look. I think that’ll help sell people getting the game to the table. Skulk Hollow is a good two player game that has an appeal for most people, I’d think.
Overall Grade: B+
Gamer Grade: B+
Casual Grade: B
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