Lost Cities

Lost Cities

I don’t know why I always assume games with the ‘South American explorer’ vibe revolve around Mayans. The Incas were pretty legit.

Screw the Aztecs, though. Stupid Eagle Warriors.

Wait, which game are we playing?

Lost Cities is a Reiner Knizia game, which is good! Reiner makes good games! So Lost Cities is… it must be…

Ok, look. This is a 2008 reprint of a 1999 game. Less was expected of the industry back then. It’s useful to go back and look at games like this so we see where our hobby came from while also looking towards where it’s going.

So.

In Lost Cities, you have five explorers and five tracks for them to go down. Each track has a randomized set of bonuses on certain spaces, and are worth a certain number of points at the end of the round depending on how far your explorer moves. There’s also a huge deck of cards, with cards numbered zero through ten and corresponding to the color of one of the tracks. If you want to put an explorer on a track, you play a card of that color. Easy.

However, if you want to move the explorer further along, you have to play a card of the same value or higher. Therefore, in order to move the explorer a decent distance (hopefully all the way to the end), you need to start with low value cards and work your way up as slowly as you can. You can discard a card and draw a new one rather than play a trash card; however, you can’t take too long, because as soon as a certain number of total explorers reach the break line on their tracks, the round ends, and explorers who haven’t moved very far are actually worth negative points.

The points get kind of stratospheric, which is neat—many games don’t go above fifty, and most don’t go above one hundred. If you’re not getting triple digits in a single Lost Cities round, that wasn’t a very good round.

But there’s not much strategy here. As the round draws nearer to a close, you may need to decide whether it’s worth the risk to start an explorer down a new trail when they could be worth negative points. It can be a consequential choice, but it’s about the only intellectual decision you’ll need to make. If you can go down a track and you have a low card, you play the card and go down the track. If you can hit bonuses that give you extra moves, you link them together as best you can. Maybe you play a 2 on one track rather than a 0 on another because you like the bonuses on that first track more, but you still have the 0 and you’ll still play it pretty soon.

I imagine that people looking for games that weren’t Twilight Imperium-sized but more friendly than Monopoly and less mindless than Chutes & Ladders were probably happy with this in 1999. Today, it’s quite possibly a good tool for teaching game basics to kids. Beyond that, it’s just a casual game that can kill an hour. Don’t avoid it like the plague, but it’s not much more than a thrift store purchase.

(3 / 5)
When in Rome

When in Rome

If there’s a potential issue with any trivia game, it’s the possibility of seeing a question twice. The Internet is full of trivia. So running a trivia game through Amazon’s Alexa service has to be perfect, right?

Quoth the Internet: LOL

When In Rome is, if nothing else, a clever little idea. Once computer/phone apps started becoming integrated with board games, it was only a matter of time until online services were used to expand the possibility even further. When In Rome lays a map of the world in front of you; you pick a city in which to start, then answer a trivia question about that city to make a friend. If you make a friend, the other player can’t (two players or teams max), because apparently there are only twenty people in Alexa’s world. You can normally only travel to a city connected to the one you’re in, but having friends lets you chain moves together, because the world is a mosh pit and we’re all just crowd surfing on it.

In every city, you have a choice between an easier, three-point question of a random category, or a harder, five-point question in a different category. All questions are about the city you’re in. Between the points for answering questions correctly and for picking up special souvenirs that pop up from time to time for bonuses, you play through either nine rounds or when three souvenirs total are collected (the latter is much more likely). Highest score wins.

I’m not going to say you can’t have fun playing When In Rome. It’s possible. But that sentence alone should tell you where this review is going.

The tricky thing about a review is that I’m not sure if it’s trying to do too much or not enough. That shouldn’t generally be a point of confusion about anything. But this is a game where they hired twenty different voice actors to play the friends in each city and ask the questions related to that city. Considering this is the first real Alexa-based board game, nobody would have expected them to go so far in their efforts, so it was really an above-and-beyond decision. However, using voice actors dramatically limits the number of different questions that can be asked. This thing is connected to the Internet, but in the first two games I played, I got the same question both times I ended up in San Francisco. That’s beyond unacceptable for a trivia game, and the way the voice acting is used isn’t even that good (between the actors and Alexa, there’s often too much of a gap between questions).

Worse yet—and that first problem is pretty bad—they put all this time into the aesthetics but couldn’t even figure out a good way to make the souvenir system work. First, when a souvenir pops up, it’s in a randomly generated location. Fine. These locations seem to always be relatively equidistant between the two players. That’s reasonable; it would be pretty jacked up if one player could move one space to the souvenir city while the other had to move five, giving the first one several chances before their opponent had one. But the souvenir can pop IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ROUND.

Here’s how a round works: a challenge for both players is put forth. Sometimes they need to come the closest to a percentage-based statistic (ie. guess what percentage out of 100, closest wins); sometimes the players alternate answering different questions until one of them gets one right. The winner of the challenge makes the first move that round. If there’s no souvenir and no reason to go any particular direction, then going first doesn’t matter.

The only real advantage to going first is if it gets you to a city with a souvenir sooner. Therefore, giving a potential disadvantage to someone for winning the right to go first (you don’t get a choice) is completely bonkers. The fact they didn’t realize this tells me we’re talking about a bunch of programmers who never made a game and thought they could do something cool with Alexa. They apparently nailed it with a game called Beasts of Balance a couple years ago; the ball got dropped in every conceivable way here.

It shows. Play this game if someone else has it or you find it in a thrift shop for a buck, just so you can see the problems and dream about what could have been if they hired anybody who knew what the hell they were doing with this, or even just some competent game testers. They’re in London, they should have asked Shut Up and Sit Down to do it.

(1.5 / 5)

Lords of Xidit

Lords of Xidit

The fantasy land of Xidit cries out for a champion, a leader that will save it from the terrible monsters which traverse the realm! Someone noble, someone grand of vision, someone who will conscript farmers to the cause before actual trained warriors!

 

In Lords of Xidit, you play the role of an army commander who is identical to all other commanders except for how sweet they look (hell yeah, ninja lady). It’s a programming game in the vein of Robo Rally; you select six actions, your commander does each of them in turn, and if someone ninjas in to take whatever you wanted to get, well, too bad. At least you can’t drop into a bottomless pit.

 

The possible actions are few, but they’re enough. Each location has three roads leading away from it: blue, red, and black. If you choose one of those roads as your action, you travel that road from whatever location you’re in, whether you want to anymore or not. You can conscript the lowest-level unit type available in the location, assuming it’s a city; once all the possible conscripts are gone, this action does nothing. You can also do battle with a monster in a location. Or pass the move, if you think a delay will get you what you want.

 

Each monster requires a specific set of unit types to defeat it. You cannot use higher-level unit types in place of whatever’s necessary. Beating monsters earns you two of three possible rewards: lyre points, towers, or gold. There’s a different balance of these rewards on each monster, such that most of them have a pretty obvious ‘two best’ rewards, but in some cases you can’t choose those (most likely because someone has a tower built in that location, forcing you to take the other two rewards). One curious mechanic is that tiles have a monster on one side and a city in the other, which means when a city runs out of conscripts, it flips into the monster pile, to be drawn when you run low on monsters, and so on forever. (There are titans you can fight in any location, with any set of troops, if no monsters are available to be drawn.)

 

That’s all of the mechanics. Your goal is to score the most points in… well… it changes. And it’s not exactly the most points.

 

The win condition is intriguing but takes a bit of getting used to. There are three ways of scoring, based on the aforementioned monster-smash rewards: lyre points (gained from having the most lyre tokens in a territory), the most levels of towers (height is irrelevant; nine one-story towers is better than two four-stories), and straight cash. These scoring methods are chosen randomly at the start of the game into the first, second, and third scoring slots.

 

Scoring for each of these is straightforward—count the appropriate item. How they apply to winning, however, is pretty different from most games. For the first scoring metric, being first does not matter; you only need to be in the top three. (In a three player game, an NPC gains points in each metric slowly as the game progresses so there’s someone to eliminate in the first round.) For the second metric, you need to be in the top two. Having the highest score only matters with regards to the final metric, and you only need to beat the other person who has made it that far.

 

Since gold is hidden, and lyre points in the center are as well (they go into a strongbox), each game plays different in part around how readily available information is on the first two metrics. A game that counts towers first, where all info is open, plays differently than one where gold is first and everyone’s just taking their best guess.

 

So, there are two main aspects to the game outside of the theme that will determine if you like it: the programming gameplay and the shifting win conditions. Programming requires some forethought, but if everyone is experienced, the “I know what you know, but you know that I know what you know” shenanigans can run deep. If you’re into that, it’s great. Likewise, some people are more comfortable going into a game knowing what their goal will be, and even those who are fine with a shifting win condition may struggle with some setups (ie. gold -> lyres -> towers) while excelling with others (towers -> gold -> lyres). It’s a real challenge to be good at the game no matter the set of win conditions.

 

Short version: Lords of Xidit a game that’s hard to broadly recommend, as there are a lot of speed bumps any given player may not like, but it’s very good for the people who would enjoy the game that it is.

 

(4 / 5)

Villainous

Villainous

Oh god. Disney IP at work. This can’t possibly be good.

Right?

Villainous is a game where up to six players take on the roles of some of Disney’s most nefarious villains: Maleficent, Jafar, Captain Hook, The Queen of Hearts, Ursula, or Prince John (animal version). Each player has a board with four sections full of actions they can take on their turns, a deck of cards, and a second deck of Fate cards to throw them off track, but that’s largely where the similarities between the characters end.

In keeping with the small but growing trend towards asymmetrical gaming, Villainous offers a different win condition for each character, a different deck of cards with different items and abilities, different Fate cards (which reflect that character’s nemeses—Captain Hook has all the children from Peter Pan, for example)—and different sets of actions on each of their four board sections. In fact, not all characters have access to all four sections on their boards at the start of the game, or at any point—Ursula constantly has one end of the board or the other locked off.

Each turn, the player takes their very well-made pawn and moves it to a board section other than the one they were just on (think Scythe). They then perform all the actions on that section. This can be partially thwarted by their enemies; one action is to play a Fate card off someone else’s deck, which can be used to cover the top two actions on one section of that player’s board. These heroes can’t be defeated unless the player puts minions on, or moves them to, the same space with power equal to or greater than the hero’s. Items can be attached to minions to make them stronger, but the same goes for the heroes. It’s a take-that mechanic without the rage inducement; rarely does a player not have any board options without all of the actions on it available unless they’re winning handily and everyone is coming after them, in which case, hey, be a better villain.

For a deck-based game, the balance between when people reach their win conditions is pretty remarkable. This isn’t to say that everyone gets there at about the same time, but rather that everyone has a win condition other players can see coming. Whoever’s closest to winning can get slowed down, but not to a degree that effectively stops them from being able to win unless they get dogpiled hard (which is itself just a strategy that hands the game to someone else). It could have been successful with any theme; the game is strong.

But beyond that, Villainous has more flavor than atomic wings. All the minions, heroes, items, abilities, and everything else associated with each villain is spot on. The game even allows for some seriously messed up situations; for example, Jafar can hypnotize Aladdin and make him kill Jasmine. If you don’t think that’s great—not the domestic violence aspect, but the sheer evil in the act of making it happen and the fact you can get so dark—this game might not appeal to you as much as others.

It’s a really good game, though. Play it. You want to be bad. You do. You doooooo.

(4.2 / 5)
Tea Dragon Society

Tea Dragon Society

For some time, Renegade Games has been held up as an example of a company that consistently puts out quality products. I’m starting to wonder if it’s more a matter of them very consistently putting out products, and some of them are quality.

 

The art on the box is exactly like the art in the game: flipping adorable. If you want a game you can hug because it’s so KAWAII, this is definitely your thing.

 

For everyone else, it’s Fisher-Price: My First Deckbuilder. Everyone gets a character and a starter deck (differences are aesthetic only). You don’t have a hand of cards; all cards are face up in your ‘hold’. However, you draw cards and add them to your hold, which is functionally the same as adding them to your hand in a more normal card game. It’s like the entire point is to keep the information open so you can teach kids how to play, as if you couldn’t figure out playing with hands on the table if the kid’s problem was struggling with what to do without advice.

 

Cards can have up to four parts to them. Growth is effectively mana, the resource you use to buy cards. You can find growth in the upper left (that’s what she said…?). The cost of a card is in the upper right. If there’s an effect, that’s in the lower middle. Points are at the bottom/middle. And some icons are also in the bottom middle, while others are on the pictures, which is confusing but not a huge deal.

 

Your entire turn is drawing a card and, if you want to, buying a card. This at least has the effect of keeping the game moving. Your hand is sitting in front of you (that’s probably what she said), and you don’t throw it out every turn, so you already know how much growth you’re working with (she definitely said that) minus the card you draw next. The market and memory cards are all sitting there for you to peruse, so you’re considering your next play on other people’s turns, which don’t take long, and the game stays fairly active.

 

Market cards get added to your deck by using sufficient growth (do you think she said that? I do) and putting it in your discard pile. Memory cards also get added to your deck, but tend to be worth more points, have different effects, and are related to specific seasons—the game is played in four rounds, representing the seasons, and once one memory card is left you move on to the next season. When one memory card remains in winter, the game’s over. Count up your points.

 

It’s… fine. There’s not much here for adults to enjoy in terms of rich strategy. Anyone who comprehends deck builders will talk more about how cute the artwork is than the game. Bump it up in priority if you have kids in the mid-single digits to whom you’d like to teach very basic game ideas. Other than that, this isn’t going to entertain most people for too many playthroughs.

 

(3.1 / 5)

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