Nov 11, 2017

Zoomaka

Zoomaka is a game I have have been looking forward to playing for a while, but have been delayed due to the business of life.

The game is currently on Kickstarter (here), and as I write this it has 3 days to go.  However, I have had the print-and-play version for a while, and have even had it printed for a while.  Tonight my wife and I finally found some time for games, and this was the first one we tried.

I have to be honest; print-and-play is not normally my thing.  I typically don't like to play games that have low-quality components.  And simply printing a game is about as low budget as it gets.  But with it not shipping until April 2018, there wasn't much choice!  I did splurge and print them at a decent quality and in colour.

One of the print-and-play sheets
Not having played before, we spent about 5 minutes going through the rules, which are pretty well written.  It was a little bit confusing just due to the large variety of card types (e.g. all the different type of actions), but as soon as we started the first round it made sense immediately.

Near the beginning of our first game
The game is a relatively simple "Gotcha!" type game; normally not preferred game type, but something we are willing to play here and there.  The intent of the game is to build your zoo by building 4 sections into your zoo (complete 4 sets of animals).  The number of animals needed to complete the set varies by set, and relates directly to the number of those cards in the deck.  Most animals belong to a certain set, with a few that can be played in a couple of different sets, and a couple true "wild" cards that can be played in any set.

My over-sized (i.e. inefficient) zoo, showing a variety of animals
More than half of the cards are the action cards, and are split into a few different kinds of actions.  Some help with your turn (draw, extra actions, etc.), some steal animals from your opponents, and the entrance cards charge the other players to come to your zoo.  You can sell cards into your bank to fund these trips to other people's zoos, but if you can't pay from there you have to pay by sending them the animals from your zoo.  There are also some cards that can surprise people by swiping their animals outside your turn, or by preventing the effects of the actions they have played.

Although there was some shifting of the game due to the actions with 2 players, I can see it being a lot bigger swings with more players (maximum of 5) as you will have more options of what you need, and some of the cards affect multiple players at a time.  Plus, I think that you will have to be more strategic about when you play your "negate their action" cards.

I enjoyed that the game moves quickly, with little downtime.  In what I find is a rarity with this type of game, there always seemed to be enough different options on my turn to allow there to be some tactical choices and keep it interesting.  The theme is also fun, with a wide range of animals available, more than I can find at my local zoo!  The cards are well designed, making each card clear on what it does or what set it belongs too. I even looked up a new animal - a Kookaburra.

One of my winning zoos
The weaknesses are what you would expect for a game in this genre; being quick and highly interactive between players often makes it less strategic, and therefore just not a game I would play all night.

Overall Zoomaka is a fun, refreshingly straight forward game that I would recommend you check out, and one I am looking forward to receiving.

Nov 9, 2017

TES Legends - Rumble in Skyrim Gauntlet

This past weekend TES had one of their Gauntlets, this time the "Rumble in Skyrim".  This one was exciting for me for a few reasons; I actually had some time this weekend to play, Skyrim has ended up being one of the sets that I have more of (than any of the others) and it was the first time it came out (harder to find "pre-made" strategies).

I actually tried to prepare for this one, and made two decks ahead of time; one spellsword (which is still my favourite deck type) and one scout.  I even splurged and crafted a couple of legendary cards in Skeletal Dragon and Undying Dragon.  I tested them both out and they seemed okay; however, I found it hard to judge when playing casual against standard decks as limiting to Skyrim cards eliminated quite a few of the key cards in each deck type.  My plan was to play each deck in two of the runs (out of the 4 that counted to the overall standings).

The first deck I played was the Scout deck:






































I had a lot of fun with this deck, and actually went 6-3 on my first run (this is significantly better than I normally do).  Also managed to pick up a decent pack as a result!



Due to the success of the deck, I decided to stick with it.  I found that I typically had some trouble against Archer decks as they simply outraced me to direct damage, but did quite well against most other deck types.  There were a few great games and a few games where the larger amount of bigger creatures bogged down the beginning of my game!



In the end my next few runs were 4-3, 6-3 and my first Gauntlet 7 win at 7-1 for a total of 23-10.  At the time I finished I was in 106th place (frustratingly short of a legendary pack) and I finally finished in 121st place.

This was one of the more fun decks I have created; the biggest plus I found was that there were a few different "combos" that worked well:

  • Shouts with Word Wall, Young Dragonborn and Greybeard Mentor
  • Werewolves making an early push an option (Grim Shield-Brother, Whiterun Protector)
  • Drain to make a bit of a comeback (Palace Prowler, Brynjolf and Grim Shield-Brother)
  • -/- to trim their board (Drain Vitality, Shearpoint Dragon)
  • Guard until the bigger creatures came out
The Gauntlet was interesting, as it felt like the removal options were a lot more limited, so there were more instances where creature domination of a lane was the key element to a win.  I also enjoyed making a new deck entirely from scratch, and it felt like a lot of other people did as there were not too many times where I faced the same decks.  Next time there is a Gauntlet that narrows the card pool I would definitely recommend them for other casual players.

Oct 28, 2017

The Elder Scrolls: Legends - Basic review from a casual perspective

The newest (computer/phone) game I have gotten into recently is The Elder Scrolls: Legends.  This is a free-to-play online card game in the same vein as Hearthstone.  

As I have started to play this as my main computer game, I am intending to write a series of posts about some of the aspects of the game from a casual, free-to-play perspective.  There are a lot of great articles, videos, etc. about the game out there, but I find that they tend to be from the perspective of serious players who put a ton of time into them.  While there is nothing wrong with that, there may be others out there who are a lot more casual and wondering if this is a game for them.

TES Legends is an online collectible card game where you build decks and compete against other players.  The game is available both on PC (through Steam) and on the iphone/ipad.  Thankfully your account transfers between all platforms (so you are always using the same collection, etc.).

There are 3 primary play modes; story where you play on of the storylines through, using combinations of pre-made decks and your own decks, arena (both solo and versus) where you draft a deck for the "tournament" and play that through, and play, where you use your constructed decks in the monthly ladder.

The "Home" screen showing various game modes
Some of the "positives" for me:

  • Its free!  Obviously there is some disadvantages for not paying (see below) but playing for free is still a lot of fun and it is totally playable
  • It is based on The Elder Scrolls.  This is a franchise that I have played a lot of, including MorrowindOblivion, and Skyrim.  Although I find this adds a lot to the background story (as you recognize your favourite characters) it does not add directly to the gameplay, so you don't need to have played these games.
  • The intro storyline.  It was a great way to try the game and learn the basics.
  • It is playable and enjoyable on both PC and iphone.  They look different, but both play equally well.  I do find it a little bit harder to build decks on the iphone.
Playing on the PC

Playing on the iphone

  • Multiple game modes keep it interesting.  In addition to the standard modes, there is often a special mode on the weekend that they call "gauntlet" that is a variation on the other modes.
Completed Solo Arena Run
Some of the "negatives" for me:
  • It can be hard to complete the collection free-to-play.  I started after one expansion and one additional storyline, and I am struggling to get all the cards.  This is mitigated somewhat by the game modes (collection is really only used in "play" mode) and you have access to all cards (even ones not in your collection) in the arena mode
Character Screen, note the % of Skyrim expansion (and that is only the first of each card, not the multiple copies)
  • Free-to-play takes time.  It sometimes feels a little bit like a grind to try and ensure I complete the quests, especially when your collection is small and you just get steamrolled on the "play" mode by cards you don't have.  I am a casual gamer, so I don't play every day or spend hours even when I do play
The other obvious question is why Legends vs Hearthstone?
  • I found Hearthstone was feeling very much like a grind as a free-to-play to have any chance of getting a wide collection of cards.  This may happen in Legends too but so far it hasn't felt quite that way.
  • The individual games seem to have more depth.  I find that unlike Hearthstone, you can get behind and still come back depending on your deck type.  This probably has to do with the rune system, and the fact that it is a bigger deck size.
  • Although I have played both sets of games that the card games are based on, I always enjoyed The Elder Scrolls more.

Oct 23, 2017

Power Grid, Deluxe

This is a game that I have been meaning to write a review about for a long time!

I thoroughly enjoyed playing Power Grid whenever I have played it, so I decided I wanted to purchase a copy.  However, when I got to my local game store, I was faced with a dilemma purchase Power Grid or Power Grid Deluxe?  I have to admit, that up until that point I hadn't even been aware that there was another version.  This is noted as a 10th anniversary edition, that has a few tweaks (which I will explain more), but was also more expensive (I could get the original plus a few other maps for the same price).  In the end I went with the deluxe version, even though it isn't compatible with the extensive library of maps available (which definitely interested me; however, I have since found that there is a kit you can buy to make it compatible).



This is primarily a comparison to the original, some of my thoughts about the game in general can be found here.

One of my favourite changes (despite it not actually changing the gameplay) is that the "garbage" resource / fuel type has been replaced with natural gas.  This just makes it seem a little more up to date, and grounded in reality

Resources Tokens
Resources on the board
The other component change is from paper money to plastic tokens.  Both the durability, plus the ease of use has definitely improved.  The complaint I do have is that somehow they are just hard to read in a lot of lights; the depth of the numbers and how shiny they are makes it difficult.  Plus, the colours didn't end up being intuitive to me in terms of value, and I keep mixing them up.

Money Tokens
The maps are still "North America" and "Europe", but they have been re-done and now are more extensive in terms of the real geography covered.  The maps are clean and user friendly, so no complaints there.

North America Map
Europe Map
The cards and the components are well made, and easy to use.  They game play has a few tweaks to the bidding process on each map; this allows the older powerplants no one wants to be removed or sold off cheap, while having different techniques for each map makes them feel a little bit different.

Powerplant Cards
Powerplants on the board
I would definitely recommend this version over the original, but the differences are small enough that I can't see any reason to have both in your library.