Recent Board Gaming

I played Cascadia for the first time a week or so ago and was surprised at how much I enjoyed it, given how simple the game seems at first glance. I might add it as my “go to” as an introductory game for new board gamers.

Tonight I played Cowboy Bebop: Space Serenade which was a very good deck builder like Star Realms. Instead of fighting one another, however you are buying cards and improve your deck in order to hunt down criminals. There are also cards that have additional effects if you played a card of a specific other suite, but unlike Star Realms where you want cards that are from the same faction, here you want cards from another character. This also progresses your deck as if you buy a card of another suit to have more team-up effects for your main character, you suddenly also have a card that can enable another team-up effect, which gives the game nice forward progression.

You are also playing the four principal crew members of the Bebop (Spike, Jet, Faye and Ed+Ein) who have individual abilities and whose associated cards are flavored to them. Those four characters alongside the main antagonist Vicious also all have miniatures you can paint, but the game also comes with cardboard standees if you prefer those. It is a bit component heavy but not overly so. All the art is from the original anime series, no Live action stuff.

I also very much like the damage cards where those cards have individual effects ranging from you removing them immediately to them being put on top of your deck and costing you resources to get rid of, which makes them a lot more interesting than in other multiplayer deckbuilding games.

Overall a lot of fun and surprisingly well put together for a game with the main marketing gimmick being a TV show license, but not mindblowing in its mechanics. Still could play several more games beyond the two I played tonight.

Yesterday our local game shop had an event sponsored by Pegasus Spiele, a german publisher in order to present a couple new games. I played two of them.

Swindler is a game where you play thiefs in victorian england. There is a central pun in the game around a german term (“Reiche Säcke”) which literally means “rich bags” but would be more appropriately translated as “rich bastards” or perhaps “fat cats”. Indeed, you “steal” things by picking random tiles from one of several multicolored bags that have different distributions of loot. However, you also keep those tiles across rounds so this also influences what the other players can get. There is also a “skull” in each bag, which forces you to stop stealing and forfeit all the loot from the bag you stole, a classic “push your luck” mechanic.

You steal these things to accomplish certain goals which give you victory points, and you can sell those tiles for victory points according to a randomized stack of dealers, with extra points of you finish off a set a dealer wants, so there is some strategy to what bags you want to steal from and when to sell off the loot (when a dealer is completed you return the loot to its respective bag).

What I like about the game is the persistent influence the random chance has. Unfortunately the game is also extremely heavy on luck. I won the game after a very fortunate pull where I pulled six tiles in a row without hitting the skull, which catapulted me into the lead. I was also lucky to get randomly assigned the most powerful “master thief” card, which gives you a special power after completing a certain number of goals. The game has a couple of catch-up mechanics but there is also a lot of meanness since you can buy “accomplices”, cards that allow you to mess with other players. Overall not my cup of tea.

KuZOOkA on the other hand is very cooperative. You play some animals that are trying to escape from a zoo, but since you are all different species you can’t communicate directly by talking. Instead each animal has a special ability that allows you to interact with the game and possibly other players, e.g. trading cards between them or asking what is in their hand.

The escape itself works like this: Each round each players gets a certain number of cards from a deck with six different suits (representing different kinds of items visitors lost at the zoo), plus potentially a number of open cards on the table. There is a track in the middle of the game with these suits in increasing quantities of cards (e.g. 4 green cards, followed by 3 red cards as red is a more rare color, and 5 green cards further up the track). Without speaking the player whose turn it is has to indicate how far they think the group can go, i.e. what the highest amount of cards of a specific suit is among the cards in all players hands and the open cards, placing one of their animal tokens on the board.

The next player then has to place his token on a space farther along the track, or force the team to start the escape. This continues until someone starts the escape, at which point all the players reveal the cards in their hand and check the last placed token and see if they have at least this amount of cards of the indicated suit. If so, they accomplish the goal and the team gets a number of reward points, that they can then trade in to make the game easier (increasing the number of cards the team gets in the round and the number of open cards). If the target is hit exactly, you also get to add “multi-tool” cards to the deck, which are cards that count for any color.

The goal is to make it to the final spaces on the track within 7 rounds, though that will need additional cards you have to unlock in preceding rounds. If so the team wins as a group or else the escape fails and everybody loses. The game also comes with a wide variety of options to modify the difficulty (the board is double sided with different tracks, there are different amounts of points you can set to unlock additional cards, etc) plus the box comes with both german and english language game material right away.

I found this game a lot of fun and I ordered a copy of my own, because it seems like the kind of game I could teach to my niece and nephew and have fun with them with trying to communicate without speaking. Unfortunately the materials are in my opinion a bit substandard, as each different animal has its own kind of wooden tokens in a variety of colors, but the colors are kind of muted and the tokens are small and fiddly to separate out. It would have been much easier to just have a number of colors indicating the player, instead of different tokens for each animal.