Sequence + Skill = Crossways

“Oh!  It’s like Sequence,” was my first thought when I saw this chip placing, card laying game.  And while that wasn’t far from true, Cross Ways offered some interesting twists on this familiar game.

If you are not familiar with Sequence, allow me to explain:  In Sequence you play a card and place a chip on a corresponding spot on the board, the game is won by getting four chips in a row of your color.  Each card is represented on the board twice, so you always have some small choice in the game about where you place.  Otherwise, the game is largely about luck of the draw, and if you like that kind of thing, more power to you.  However, I for one have always found there to be far more interesting ways to fill my time.

So how is Crossways different? For starters, it is a bit more strategic.  You see, the places on the board are not marked as “King of Spades” or “Eight of Hearts”, instead the board is covered in much simpler spaces such as “Black King” and “Red Eight”, so you could place the King of Spades, or the King of Clubs, on that space.  The goal of the game has also changed.  You are not trying to simply get four in a row, but get a line of pieces that span the board.  This allows you to zig-zag around the board, taking the path that will suit your cards best.

Game Information
Crossways
PublisherUSAopoly
Year Published2013
# of Players2 - 4
Playing Time15
Mfg Suggested Ages8 and up
CategoryAbstract Strategy, Card Game
MechanicGrid Movement, Hand Management, Pattern Building, Take That
Alternate NamesCross Ways

Info courtesy of boardgamegeek.com. More Info.

One common strategy in Sequence (when your hand allowed you to have such luxury as a strategy) was to place your chip on a spot that would be desirable to your opponent, thereby cutting them off.  However, in Crossways each spot on the board may be occupied by more than one piece; in fact, the pieces are designed to stack.  This is cool and interesting, but what makes it neater is an added rule:  two chips of the same color which have been stacked on top of each other, blocks that place from being played on by anyone else.  This leaves the player pondering if it is worth it to play twice on the same spot, or save that card and play elsewhere.

When I drew a pair while playing Sequence, I would curse my bad luck.  The cards were always on opposite sides of the board, and were almost never helpful.  However, in Crossways, drawing pairs is a very good thing, because pairs act as a wild card.  You get to place two chips anywhere on the board you like.  This could be on the same spot (and therefore blocking it), or it could be on two different spots, your choice.   Being able to play on any two spots throughout the game is a huge advantage that takes away the need for a “lucky draw”.  Sure, you have to be lucky enough to draw a pair into your hand, but that is a relatively minor problem compared with needing to draw one specific card out of a deck of 104.

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Runs are also special, but here I think the mechanics break down slightly.  If you have a run of three cards (such as the 2, 3, 4 of hearts) you can remove three chips from the board.  If your run is four cards long, you can remove four cards.  Given that the game is played with a double deck of cards, this isn’t an impossible feat.  Granted, this adds a deeper level of strategy (Do I save that 2 and hope to complete a run, or do I use it now?), but it also tended to be overpowered.  Getting a run just wasn’t all that hard, not really any way.  It commonly happened four, five, even six times over the course of a short game.  That’s a ton of pieces being removed!  And while it’s fun to do the first time, by the fifth, it just seems like a stall tactic.  Can’t we get on with the game already?

From the games I ran, the game also didn’t scale very well.  As a two player game, I found the game to be semi-strategic (as strategic as a game that is dependent on lucky card draws can be), but because of the runs removing chips, the game went on for much longer than desired.  Perhaps if a run only removed 1 chip, that would be fixed.  Alternatively, when three or more people played, the game always seemed to be over in a blink, typically in less than five minutes.

For the light casual gamer, I think this would be a fine addition to your collection, and even a preferable one over it’s predecessor.  You’re likely to get more game play out of this because of the light strategy element.  It keeps the game interesting.   However, for most strategy or Euro gamers, I don’t think this is going to hold your interest, and after a round or two, are likely going to feel like you wasted your money.  Regardless, this is likely one that I would consider keeping in my personal collection, because it will be a good one to pull out when grandma comes to visit: simple enough for non-gamers, and just enough strategy that we seasoned gamers don’t want to stab ourselves in the eye (unlike some other popular American games… *cough* Monopoly *cough*).  Really, it boils down to choices, and Crossways offers a plethora of choices to choose from, which its predecessor did not.  And I for one always appreciate having a range of options.

Island Fortress

One of the “Alpha Gamers” that I have grown fond of having in the shop was talking to me one day about new games that were coming out.  Given the “Alpha Gamer” title, you might assume that he knows a lot about cutting edge games, and you would be absolutely right.  He can wax eloquently about game mechanics and designers, and so when he mentions that he likes a game, my ears perk up a little extra.  So when he mentioned that Island Fortress was getting a lot of good press, I was anxious to get it into the library and give it a try.  And much like his other recommendations, I wasn’t left disappointed.

Game Information
Island Fortress
Island Fortress is what I call a “resource management” game.  You are carefully maneuvering your cards and pieces in order to have all the goods you need to complete given tasks.  In this case, that means gathering goods and workers to build a wall for the Governor.   However, completing this task successfully and efficiently has many different paths to success.

The primary driving mechanic each round is playing down a card that has some abilities.  Everyone starts with the same hand of cards, so everyone has the exact same chances for success.  Each card does something cool, like recruiting you workers, or gaining building blocks, or actually building a piece of the wall.  Each round you play down three of these cards, so you are constantly assessing what you need as a player in order to make the biggest impact.  While you are not actually physically placing meeples, this game’s driving mechanic certainly falls into the “Worker Placement” genre.

The one mechanic that I found particularly enjoyable is the “task master”.  This is represented by one of the cards you can play down.  However, the task masters primary ability is allowing you to play any other ability that you have already played down, for a small price. You can also pay a buy back cost to return the task master to your hand. Your turn in the r0und doesn’t end until you have played a card down to the table, so buying back the taskmaster means you can play another card, because the card didn’t stay on the table.  This means that you can chain together several cards, if you have the resources to keep buying back.

Ultimately the game is all about scoring points, and points are only scored for building the wall.  Placing the last tile in a row scores you points.  Placing the last tile in a level scores you points.  Having the most of your tiles in a row or level scores you points.  Creating certain patterns in the wall scores you points.  Placing the highest block in the wall scores you points.  Points points points… everywhere!  This leads to a “sniping” aspect of the game: waiting till just the right moment to build, when you will be able to pick off the end of rows, columns, and levels.  But sniping alone won’t get you the bigger points associated with having the most.

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The game ends in one of two different ways, at the end of an arbitrary number of rounds, or when all the spaces of the wall have been filled with tiles.  The games I played were split pretty evenly between each ending mechanic.  However, I greatly preferred the games that ended by filling the wall, because they didn’t take quite as long.  Waiting for the number of rounds to end it made the game feel like it dragged on for about 30-40 minutes longer than it really needed to, creating a game that takes upwards of two hours.

Overall, while I enjoyed the mechanics of the game, the length of the game makes me take a moment of pause when deciding what I want to play.  There are certainly two hour games that I jump to play, but this one starts to feel like it’s dragging by the end.  However, with just a couple small house rule adjustments that could be easily rectified.  While this isn’t my favorite worker placement game, it does hold up well in it’s genre.

Fluxx: The Board Game – Not Your Average Looney Labs

I’m kinda harsh about Looney Lab games… like, a lot.  I haven’t always been real kind to them.  Why?  Because their games are silly and random and personally I don’t find them to be all that fun (note: this opinion does not apply to Are You A Werewolf?).  When I say they are “silly”, I don’t mean in that cutesy adorable way that everyone loves.  I mean in that annoying “This doesn’t make any sense it’s so random” sort of way.  However, on this game I have to eat just a little bit of crow, because this is not your typical Looney Labs game.

Game Information
Fluxx: The Board Game
DesignerAndrew Looney
ArtistMichael Hays
PublisherLooney Labs
Year Published2013
# of Players2 - 4
Playing Time30
Mfg Suggested Ages8 and up
CategoryCard Game
MechanicGrid Movement, Hand Management, Modular Board, Set Collection
ExpansionFluxx: The Board Game – Scramble Colors, Looney Labs Mammoth Fun Pack
FamilyFluxx

Info courtesy of boardgamegeek.com. More Info.

Fluxx: The Board Game follows in the footsteps of their top selling card game Fluxx.  The rules are constantly changing, even the way to win the game changes.  In the original Fluxx card game, you are trying to collect “Keepers” in order to complete a “Goal”.  In the board game version of the game, this is much the same, as you are trying to get your pawns to land on images very reminiscent of Keepers in order to complete a Goal.  Furthermore, the familiar “Draw one, Play one” set of rules are still in place at the beginning of the game, but now they have been joined by a few new mechanics such as “Move one”.

But enough about how the games are the same, let’s talk about how the games are different!  Firstly, the ability to move around on the board in order to reach the necessary goodies, rather than hoping and praying that you draw the right card at the right time, makes the game much more strategic than it’s predecessor.  With the ability to move pawns, rearrange the board and play cards the strategic possibilities are very evident and endless.  You never would have been able to do that with the original Fluxx card game.

Two of the new mechanics in the game, as mentioned above, allow you to manipulate the boards layout.  This is accomplished by allowing players to pick up and move, or rotate, square tiles that make up the board.  The ability to do this takes the place of a move action, which makes their use very powerful, but can only be turned “on” by playing a card that allows it.  However, should you really love these abilities, each player is allowed to modify one rule at the beginning of the game of their choice.  So, you could choose to turn this feature on early.

The one thing I really disliked about this game is the components.  You see, the game comes with two peg boards that are used to keep track of the new rules as they are played.  This seems ingenious, until you look at the components they used.  The little pegs were constantly popping out during our game leaving us asking each other repeatedly “How many cards could we play?” and “How many goals did we need completed to win?”, because roughly once every 2-3 rounds at least one peg would come clattering out of it’s hole.  But, given this severe oversight, I am pleased to say that the designers did take our color blind gamers into account.  Not only are the playing pieces different colors, but they are also different shapes.  This makes it really easy for the color impaired to play as well.  Huzzah

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As far as the theme goes, I guess I can’t be surprised that the first Fluxx board game was as bland as it’s original card game.  The goals are things such as “Cookies and Milk” and “Time is Money”.  Bland, benign, and overall flavorless things.  What will be much more interesting is if Looney Labs decides to continue onward and make themed versions, as they did with their card game.  A Cthulhu Fluxx Board Game could be quite interesting!

My final thoughts on the game?  If you are like me, and have a dislike of all things Fluxx, sit your negative bias aside for a moment and give this one a try.  I’m not saying that it will change your mind and wow you, but you might be pleasantly surprised.  This games ability for forethought and planning makes it quite different than it’s fore bearer, and those changes might be enough to positively sway your opinion.  However, if you like the original game, you will certainly see a lot of similar mechanics and hopefully the need for small bits of strategy won’t scare you away.

Jambo: When “Special” Isn’t Special.

A close friend of mine found this game at a thrift store.  It still had the plastic wrap on it!  It’s just sad to see a game be discarded in this manner, and given that it was a two player game, he thought this might be a great thing to rescue for him and I to try out.

At first it just sat on the shelf for a while, nearly six months in fact.  We just never quite seemed to get around to gaming together.  Well, that’s not true, we gamed together several times, but it was always with other people involved.  Never just the two of us.  This is a problem that is somewhat new to me.  After all, when I first started gaming, I sought out two player games.  It used to just be me and my (now ex) husband, filling time on cold nights up in Minnesota together.  Back then we didn’t have a game group, we just had each other, and so two player games were a sought after commodity.

Finally,  my dear friend and I sat down to play this one together.  We opened up the box and began emptying out the little baggies of pieces.  The game comes with a variety of chips:  wares, gold, and action markers.  We separated them into like piles and began reading through the rules, which were thankfully short and pretty to the point. We were up and playing in about five minutes.

Jambo, which means “Hello” in Swahili, is a merchant game where you want to purchase goods for cheap and sell them to customers at an elevated price.  The first person to get to sixty pieces of gold initiates the end of the game, at which point, the person with the most gold at the end of the turn is the winner.

Players buy goods by using “ware” cards, which depict a number of items that can either be bought or sold.  If you need these goods, you can buy them (all of them, never just some) for the price on the bottom left of the card.  If you have all of the goods shown, and would like to sell them, you can for the price listed on the bottom right of the card.  There are 40 ware cards in the deck.

In addition to “ware” cards, there are also items, people, and animal cards that have special abilities.  Each card does its own unique thing, just read the card and follow the instructions.  These cards do a variety of things, including messing up your opponent, getting you extra wares,  getting you extra cards, or allowing you to trade around wares or cards.  All sorts of things happen due to these special cards.  But here is the one downfall… these cards aren’t so special.  There are 70 of these “special” cards in the deck.  That’s right, 70… almost double the number of ware cards.  We found ourselves actually struggling to get the “boring” cards!

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On a turn a player can perform five actions.  These actions are tracked using the action markers.  Or at least, they are supposed to be tracked using the action markers.  For each action you take, your opponent is suppose to take an action marker from you.  We found this to be a clumsy way of handling this.  We were constantly having to stop and count our actions again to make sure that an action was not double counted or missed.  I don’t know that I have a better suggestion for how to track this, but the tokens simply didn’t work well for us.

Ok, so now that you know a little about the game, you are probably saying to yourself, “Well, ok… but was it fun?”.  We played a couple of games back to back, so it couldn’t have been too bad.  The game was pretty simple to learn and get moving on, which was nice, and we both enjoyed ourselves.  My friend made a keen observation though, the game never really had that “edge of your seat” feeling.  Do you know what I mean?  When you have a really cool action to play, or are about to go out, you get this excited “I can’t wait till it’s my turn!” feeling.  He never got that, and neither did I.  As he described it, he largely had the “What lousy card am I going to get next?” feeling for most of the game.  Why?  Because of the lopsidedness between “special” cards and “ware” cards.  You can’t do much without the boring cards.

Overall, was it bad?  No.  It was vaguely enjoyable.  However, it’s not something we are dying to play again.  But for a thrift store find, it was better than most.  Certainly worth the couple of bucks he paid for it.

 

Pixel Lincoln – A new flavor of Deck Builder

My first experience with Pixel Lincoln was last year at Gen Con.  I had some time to kill and I was holding onto a friends backpack while she did a run of True Dungeon, and I certainly didn’t want to lug it very far!  So I looked for a game to camp at for a couple of hours, and a game of Pixel Lincoln was just about to begin.  I had no idea what it was, but decided to give it a go. After a hearty chuckle about the premise (a side scrolling, meat slinging, President Lincoln) we got down to the game play.  I played through one game, and because of it’s uniqueness, the game stayed rolling around in the back of my mind.  So when I was sent a copy to review, I was pretty excited, and the more I play it, the more enamored I become with the game.

For those who are roughly 25 and older, you probably have some pretty fond memories of playing Super Mario Brothers on the NES, and this game harkens back to that.  So it already wins some points for nostalgia, as this is a side scrolling game with 16-bit graphics, and enemies you can jump over.  But this game is also a deck builder, rolling into town on the momentum of other popular deck builders such as Dominion, Nightfall, and Thunderstone.  You build your deck by buying items, and killing enemies, all of which will make you stronger as you progress and have more victory points.

Each turn you face whatever card is in front of your character in the level.  If you have jump cards in your hand, you can play them to jump over that card and ignore it’s effects.  However, if it is an item, you can pay it’s cost to add it to your deck, and if it’s a bad guy, you can kill them to add them to your score pile.  Either way, you are adding points to your deck, and possibly more power.  Whenever you get to the level deck (aka killed, bought, or jumped a row of five cards) you “scroll” and flip over cards to replace the row.

Cards also have “suits” which allow you do perform special abilities.  Personally, I found this to be one of the gems of the games mechanics.  Because it gives you something else to do with cards that might otherwise be useless on your turn, and it gives you one more reason to be picky about what cards to buy and what cards to jump.  These suited cards, when discarded perform additional actions, such as letting you score a card from your deck, or exiting the level you are in to go to another level.   This is a mechanic that we were a little confused on the first couple times we played, but as we got this idea under our belt, it became evident how truly powerful it could be.

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This game, unlike some of it’s deck building brethren, is on a pretty fixed timeline.  This means that a game is not going to be extremely short or extremely long.  This is handled through the use of “check points”.  Each level has three check points, one of which is a mini-boss, and one of which is a boss.  Each of these are shuffled into one third of the level deck, so the exact spacing is random, but things tend to be within a certain reasonable range.

There is one downside that I have found:  the game has a limited number of cards, much fewer than I would have guessed for a box that size.  Each game you play with three kinds of bad guys in each level and three kinds of items in each level.  So in two to three games, you have now seen all the goodies the game contains.  This isn’t a deal breaker, but after having played a half dozen games of this, I really have started to feel the lack of different flavors.  This game is just begging for expansions, and I for one, can not wait for that to come to fruition

Overall, I really like this game.  It has grown on me more and more each time I play it, like a fungus, and I have been excited to infest others with this same desire to play it.  It has a lot of polish, and the game play and components show it.  This is clearly someones baby, and we have had great fun with it.

Snake Oil – It is what it’s name implies

These are the reviews I hate to write: a good company, who I have a good working relationship with, puts out a lousy game.  Out of the Box puts out a lot of stellar games that I can highly recommend, such as Word on the Street.  However, Snake Oil does not deserve to be in this reputable brands lineup.

Game Information
Snake Oil
DesignerJeff Ochs
ArtistJohn Kovalic
PublisherAMIGO Spiel + Freizeit GmbH, Hasbro, Out of the Box Publishing, Snake Oil, LLC
Year Published2010
# of Players3 - 10
Playing Time30
Mfg Suggested Ages10 and up
CategoryCard Game, Humor, Party Game
MechanicActing, Hand Management, Storytelling
FamilyMensa Select, Snake Oil
Alternate NamesSnake Oil: Das Wundermittel gegen Schlangeweile

Info courtesy of boardgamegeek.com. More Info.

Snake oil is a game that promises to “Really get you Laughing” and that it is “The Perfect Dose of Laughter”, but that was far from my play testers experience.  One tester went so far as to say, “It seemed very lacking in a lot of ways and bored me by the forth turn.”.  Not exactly a stunning review.

When I originally opened up the box for the game, I was somewhat bewildered, as the first thing I do is reach for the instructions, but there was no instructions to be found.  I looked under the plastic card tray… nothing.  I started riffling through cards… nothing.  I checked the back of the box… nothing.  It was then that I noticed a small paragraph on the side of the interior portion of the box that proclaimed “Rules”.  I read the very short rules, and immediately thought: Oh!  This is Apples to Apples blended with The Big Idea.  While that initial thought wasn’t a terrible analysis, this game fell short of both of those.

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So in Snake Oil, you take turns being a “Client” looking to purchase a good.  What kind of client you are is dictated by a deck of two sided cards.  These cards have client types such as “High School Dropout”, “Pirate”, and “Castaway”.  Each person then uses two word cards out of their hand to create a product that you would like to purchase and attempts to pitch that product to you.  After you have heard the pitches, you pick the pitch that you like the best, and that person keeps the Client card as a trophy.  The person with the most trophies at the end of the game wins.

What I didn’t think about when I first heard the premise was that this game can not be played competitively.  Because you know who submitted each item (unlike Apples to Apples), if you are a competitive player, you are compelled to pick the person with the fewest number of trophies.  This will always end in a tie, and a very unsatisfying game.  Ok, fine, so this is a game for uncompetitive people who just want a laugh… no problem.  But it fell short there as well, the cards just weren’t very funny.  And while the quick set of rules was great to get people playing in a hurry, they fell short.  My players asked things like “Can I discard cards?” and I simply had to say “I don’t know… the rules don’t mention that”.   So there was no hope of getting better cards that might actually instigate some of the laughter that the box promised.

In the end, this was not the right kind of game for me and my crowd.  Who might this work well for?  People who enjoy hamming it up and being the class clown.  If making people snort with laughter is your strong suit, you could probably pitch some hilarious products and would love this game because of the creative outlet it gave you.  However, for the average gamer, this one just doesn’t make the cut.  The promise of a box full of laughter was merely snake oil.

 

Tapple – Fast, Furious, and Fun

I love BHOPs.  I don’t know what it is about them, but they make me a little giddy.  What’s a BHOP you ask?  Well, here in the shop, it’s slang for Big Hunk Of Plastic.  In reality it’s any unique component, usually made of plastic, that is large and bulky.  A special pawn would not be a BHOP, but a large plastic dial with letter levers and a built in timer is.  So when I realized that Tapple was a BHOP, the big kid in me was more than a bit happy.

Tapple is a very fast paced word game created by USAopoly.  And when I say fast, I mean fast!  Each turn is merely 10 seconds, any longer than that, and you’re out for the round.  Rounds typically last about 2-3 minutes at a max, so once you are out, you won’t be out for long.

Game Information
Tapple
Designer(Uncredited)
PublisherBizak, danspil, Ideal, Jumbo, USAopoly
Year Published2012
# of Players2 - 10
Playing Time30
Mfg Suggested Ages8 and up
CategoryCard Game, Electronic, Party Game, Real-time, Word Game
MechanicPlayer Elimination
FamilyCategories, Pim Pam Pet
Alternate NamesLast Letter Standing, Last Letter Standing, Pim Pam Pet: Revanche, Pim Pam Pet: The Battle, Pulsa el primero: New Generation, Think! Words, Too Late... ¡Pulsa Rápido!

Info courtesy of boardgamegeek.com. More Info.

A round consists of drawing a card and reading the category aloud.  Categories can be things like “Parts of an Automobile” or “Crayon Colors”.  Whatever the category may be, each player goes around calling out something that fits in that category and starts with a letter that still hasn’t been marked off.  After calling out the word, they press the lever corresponding to the starting letter, showing that it has been used, and then hits the center button, which starts the timer for the next person.  If you can’t think of something in time, a buzzer goes off, and you are out.  The round continues until only one person is left standing, and they get the category card as their trophy.  First player to three trophy cards is the winner.

I know that all sounds very dry, but in reality it was a great time.  The rounds are so fast paced, and you have so little time to come up with something, that it’s quite the adrenaline rush!  This mechanic reminds me a little bit of Catch Phrase, which I love.  We played several games through, without it ever feeling like we had played several games.

However. In my opinion, the game has two downfalls.  The first of which is possible limitations in replayability.  We played several games, without running into any problem, but if this was something that got pulled out for very many game nights in a row, you would quickly see all of the categories, and thus would already have lots of great ideas about what words to use.  The game comes with 36 cards, and each card has four possible options, so there are 144 different categories, which you could easily burn through in 15-20 games.

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The second downfall is the beeping and the batteries.  The game requires two AA batteries.  Personally I always find this annoying, because either the batteries are dead, or there are none in it, or (and this is the worst) the batteries have been in there so long that they start to corrode, yuck!  And what do the batteries do for us?  They power the timer, which beeps the entire time.  I understand this creates the sense of urgency, but it also can become annoying to others.  Especially to someone just a couple tables away who isn’t playing your game.

But for these small downfalls, the game is fantastic, and the price is even better.  The game retails for $19.99, so you are really getting a lot of bang for your buck.  Especially given that it’s a BHOP.  I’ve seen games with standard pawns and dice cost that much, let alone something that custom.  And the BHOP seems to hold up pretty well.  I have some enthusiastic play testers, and yet I never once worried about the board breaking.

Overall, it’s a really fun word game that I would recommend to others.  We had a great time playing it, and I think you and your friends and family will as well.

The Big Fat Tomato Game

I love tomatoes! When I was a little girl, my grandpa had a huge garden. He grew corn, cabbages, carrots, tomatoes, and a little bit of anything else you might think of. The little cherry tomatoes were my favorite, me and the other grandchildren would eat them like they were candy. He would often send huge bags full of produce home with my mom, and tomatoes were something that we were never without. So when I opened up the box on my doorstep to reveal a game about tomato farming, my mind immediately went fondly to my grandfather.

Game Information
The Big Fat Tomato Game
DesignerCasey Grove
ArtistStephen Gilpin
PublisherGamewright, Lifestyle Boardgames Ltd
Year Published2012
# of Players2 - 5
Playing Time20
Mfg Suggested Ages10 and up
CategoryFarming
Alternate NamesПомидорный Джо

Info courtesy of boardgamegeek.com. More Info.

The first thing I noticed when I opened-up the box was the goofy artwork and whimsical fonts. This was packaged like a children’s game, and mentally I filed it away in that category. However, when I started investigating just a little further, I noticed the 10+ age rating, and began to think there was maybe a little more to this juicy tomato game.

Opening up the box, I found some components that immediately made me say,”OoooOooooOooo”. The game comes with little baskets for harvesting tomatoes and dozens of little red pom poms that represent the tomatoes themselves. In addition to this, there is a deck of full-color cards and a pair of dice. Later, when I showed the game to my players, they had the same reaction when I opened up the box, and began playing with the components like giddy five year olds.

So I read through the rules. They were pretty short and sweet, and had handy reference sections to make it all a little easier to grasp. However, what required grasping was really simple.

The game is all about storing your tomatoes so that you can take them to market. The player to take the most tomatoes to market is the winner. Each turn you can harvest some of your tomatoes into the small basket in front of you. The number of tomatoes you harvest is equal to the number you roll on two dice.

Well, that doesn’t sound very exciting does it? The interesting bits in the game come-in with the deck of cards. There are two basic kinds of cards: attack cards and attack-nullifying cards. The attack cards are things like worms, or “varmits”. The nullifying cards are things such as a hoe to dig up weeds, and pesticides.

Still doesn’t sound real exciting? Yeah, unfortunantely that is what we found-out, too. The game is about causing effects and removing effects. Really simple, and therefore not real great for an adult audience. So why the 10+ age rating?

Two hypotheses exist for me. Firstly, a small amount of math is required. You need to be able to do some simple addition and subtraction based upon the effects in play. This could get to be too much for a small child… maybe. Secondly, there is a small bit of memory that is required in the game.

Each time you gather tomatoes, you put them in your bucket; however, they don’t get to go to market at the end of the game unless you move them into storage. At the end of each turn you have the option to store your tomatoes. If you choose to, you dump out your bucket and count up how many tomatoes you have. If you have 20 or more tomatoes, they are sucessfully stored. If you have 19 or less, they all go back into the bank and are lost. So being able to remember how many tomatoes you have (or being able to guesstimate) is important.

So the end result? If you are an adult gamer, who games with other adults, skip this one. I just don’t think you’ll be very enthused for very long (at least once the novlety of the components wears off). However, if you have young kids, go for it! Don’t let the 10+ age group scare you off. I think this could be great for kids all the way down to 6 or so, as long as you are willing to help them with a little math. Also, the theme might inspire them to eat their veggies a litte, and who can argue with that?!

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'The Big Fat Tomato Game'
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And now I have a hankering for cherry tomatoes… sadly my grandfather’s garden wasn’t maintained in the same fashion after he passed, but the memory is a fond one. This year, me and a loved one are tending a garden together and have planted roma and heirloom tomatoes, so they will have to suffice for now. But next year, cherry tomatoes will surely have to be on the docket.

 

Chupacabra – Can you survive the night?

 

Chupacabra is the only game I actually bought during Gen Con 2012.  I was wandering through the halls, on my way from the Rio Grande room towards the main expo hall, when my attention was caught by a man carrying a serving tray suspended by a strap around his neck.  He beckoned me over, along with a few others and handed us each six dice.  The dice were all the same and had pictures of animals and glowing red eyes embossed on them.

The man instructed us to each roll our dice and then match up like animals.  I rolled and had a group of three eyes, a bull, and two goats.  My opponents made similar groupings, but no one had nearly as many eyes as I did.  He told me that made me lucky, as my chupacabras got to eat first.  Eating works like this:

Chupacabra Feeding Rules

1 Chupacabra………………..can eat…………………. 2 Chickens
1 Chupacabra………………..can eat………………………….1 Goat
2 Chupacabras ………………..can eat………………………….. 1 Bull

 I began evaluating the clusters that my opponents had, that’s when our GM told us of another very important rule:  there is safety in numbers.  For instance, I only had three chupacabras, so if my opponent had a group of two bulls, I couldn’t decide to eat one bull and leave the other.  I had to be able to eat the whole group, or none at all.   Well, that changed things a bit!  I ended up eating a group of chickens, and some goats, because that combination ate the most dice.  The dice that I ate then became part of my grouping of dice.  We went around the table, until all the chupacabras had fed, and then we moved on to the next “night”.  Each person picked up all their dice (the dice they had left, plus any dice they just ate) and re-rolled.  The game continues like this until one person has all the dice.

The game stayed on my mind, and eventually I went to the dealer hall and bought myself a copy.  The game was fun.  There was plenty of moaning as people ate your animals, and a lot of triumph when you rolled a lot of chupacabras.  I mulled over the idea of writing up an article about the statistics behind the game, like I had done for Zombie Dice.  I started pondering how best to go about that, and that’s when the realization dawned on me… this is just a variation on a “put and take” game.

Game Information
Chupacabra: Survive the Night
DesignerDavid Blanchard, Brian Frodema, John Jacobsen
ArtistAlex Fernandez (I)
PublisherBlack Monk, Edge Entertainment, Haywire Group, Steve Jackson Games
Year Published2012
# of Players2 - 4
Playing Time0
Mfg Suggested Ages8 and up
CategoryDice, Horror
MechanicDice Rolling, Press Your Luck
Alternate NamesChupacabra, Chupacabra: Przetrwał noc

Info courtesy of boardgamegeek.com. More Info.

There are a lot of put and take games on the market.  The most famous of which is probably the dreidel game, which is a staple of Jewish tradition.  But if you don’t know much about Jewish culture (or have never heard the dreidel song) then you might not know what I am talking about.  However, you might be familiar with L-C-R.  L-C-R is a game that took the nation by storm about six years ago.  When I worked at Games by James in 2006, it was our most popular game.  We sold hundreds of copies each month (although now you can simply pick up a copy at your local Wally-world).  The game consisted of nothing more than three dice (with L, C, and R on them) and some chips.  It’s a game people commonly play for money at parties.  The goal there is also to be the last man standing, and if you are, you get the pot of money.  Pretty simple and nothing more than a game of luck.

Chupacabra is also nothing more than a game of luck.  The only decision you make in the game is which groups of animals to eat, and the logical strategy for that is to always eat the groupings that are going to yield the most dice.  I suppose that one could make arguments for eating lesser groups of dice, if it meant taking away dice from someone with a large pool, rather than taking away more dice from someone who has very few, but the argument is thin at best.  Either way you go, it really is just a matter of lady luck smiling upon you.

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'Chupacabra: Survive the Night'
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But even now, given that this is nothing more than a game of luck, it’s a FUN game of luck.  Something about it appeals to a baser instinct.  Couple that with very neat looking dice (that glow in the dark, I might add), and you are looking at a game you can’t help but want to purchase for filler.  Well, at least until you see the price tag.  This game sells for $20.99 online.  I paid an even $20 for it at the convention.  Once you realize you are paying that much for a simple “put and take” filler game, that price tag becomes harder to swallow.  However, in their defense, this game comes with 20 custom dice that are embossed with the images rather than simply being stickers or paint.  The game components are quality.  So the question you must ask yourself is, “How much do I like put and take games?”

PongCano – Why are we still playing?

Every once in a while I receive a game in the mail that makes me want to bang my head on the table.  A game where the premise is so bad, or the idea is a clear rip off.  Pong Cano was one of those games.

The game is very very simple.  Bounce the ball on the table get it into the center of the volcano.  If you can, you take the chips.  If you can’t, you put a chip in.  The idea is to get all the chips in the game.  Does this sound like anything to you?  Oh… how about quarters?  Or beer pong?  Or even tiddly-winks?  What about Cuponk?  The game is not original in the slightest, and actually could probably be played with items from around your home for the low low price of nothing, rather than the $13.99 currently advertised on Amazon. Go to the kitchen and grab a plastic cup, or a shot glass, and either a ping pong ball, or a quarter.  Grab something to use for chips (you only need 12 of them) and ta-da, you have your very own home made version of this game.

The second thing I really loathe about this game is the packaging.  You see, each of the games we review go into the library so it can be played by our patrons in the future.  We categorize over a thousand different games, keeping track of parts, rules, statistics, etc.  It’s no small task, but something that helps immensly with that is a game that COMES WITH RULES AND A BOX.  Take a look at the top picture.  Notice something?  This packaging is not really a box.  Once you take the blow mold plastic off, you better have another way to store the game, otherwise you are doomed to loose chips and the ball.  Gallon sized ziplock baggies to the rescue!  However, there still isn’t a rules sheet.  The rules, while very simple, are important to have.  The only place they are printed is on the back of the packaging.  You know that awful packaging you were going to pitch and use a ziplock baggie instead.  So much hate!

Game Information
PongCano
DesignerJoseph M. Balcuk
ArtistDesign Edge
PublisherRoosterFin, Inc.
Year Published0
# of Players2 - 0
Playing Time5
Mfg Suggested Ages8 and up
CategoryAction / Dexterity
FamilyCrowdfunding: Kickstarter

Info courtesy of boardgamegeek.com. More Info.

But how it plays is really the important part right?  I mean, if it’s fun who cares?  And, well, that was the surprising thing.   When we sat down to play, we scoffed at this, but before long we were bemoaning our opponents success and cheering at our own.  We became a bit competitive about it to say the least.   My players and I sat around the kitchen table bouncing that little ball for well over an hour, well past when the game was over.  Once the game was officially finished we weren’t satisfied.  We kept bouncing the little ball, trying desperately to get it in the hole.  Until someone finally asked, “Umm… guys?  Why are we still playing this?”  And that really struck this idea home.  The game itself is simple, but the concept is addictive.  In retrospect it makes sense that there are so many similar games, because this kind of skill game makes you want to play more, like a gambler who just needs to play one more hand to get his luck to turn around.  If you just try again, surely you’ll get it in the hole this time!

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Once we had decided to move on to some other game that evening, we first sat back and had a moment of conversation about what we had just played.  Who would this game be good for?  We had a mom among our players and she immediately said “This would be terrible for my kids”, ages 7-10, “they would get so frustrated, and then they would be fighting”.  This varies from the manufacturers suggested age of 8+.  One of the gals who was playing is in her early 30’s and single, she said “Well, it was fun I guess, but if we were going to play it regularly, alcohol would have to be involved!”.   And there in lies the problem as I see it.  The game play is too hard to be appropriate for children, but the game just doesn’t have a lot of draw for adults in and of itself.  To be a real hit in the market place I think this game either needs to be made easier for kids, or more interesting for adults.  But either way, for God’s sake put it in a proper box!