The Dork Den Blog

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Illusion

Illusion

Look at the pretty colors… look at them… looooook…

 

How much color did you see WRONG WRONG WRONG

 

Illusion is a party game for a small party, which is to say it’s for a relatively small number (two to five), but also for people who don’t have to know anything about games to understand it and better if they’re all drinking.

 

The game is played with a deck of cards, each of which has a unique colored pattern on it. One card is placed face up and set on the table, along with a card from a smaller deck that just has a collection of colored arrows. The first player places one of the patterned cards face up and decides if it has more or less of the color on the arrow than the first card. So, for example, if blue is the color, the player decides if his card has more or less blue than the card on the table. If he thinks it has less, he places it closer to the arrow. If he thinks it has more, he puts it on the far side from the arrow. Simple.

 

The next player decides if the first player made the right choice. If not, she can challenge (more on that shortly). If she’s fine with it, she flips the next card and decides if it has more than both cards on the table, less than both, or should go in the middle. Then the following player decides to challenge or play the next card, and so on.

 

Once it comes around to a player who thinks the order is incorrect, they can challenge. The card is flipped over; on the back is the percentage of the card that is blue, red, green, or yellow. If any of the cards are out of order, the challenger gets the arrow card, which counts for a point. If all the cards are in the correct order, from lowest percentage to highest, the person whose turn just passed gets the arrow card. In essence, the challenge is to the previous player, saying they made an incorrect judgment either on the card they placed or in not challenging when they had the opportunity. Then whoever wins the challenge starts the next round. Play until one person collects three arrow cards, or just play through the arrow card deck (there are only twelve) and whoever has the most at the end wins.

 

If it wasn’t apparent, this is a game whose simplicity is its strength and weakness. Anybody can understand it and there’s no great strategy to it—you can try to figure out the math on when it’s good to challenge even if you’re not sure there’s anything wrong, but there isn’t much of an advantage to be gained. Everyone will get what’s going on almost instantly, so it’s a fun warmup, especially on a game night with some very casual players around. You’re not going to play it a ton, though; even if you’re extraordinarily fascinated by the game, eventually you’ll play so much you start to memorize the patterns and percentages on some of the cards, and that would be a huge advantage, possibly to the point of breaking the game for you.

 

Basically, if your collection could use a cheap casual game that acts as a good starter to game night when not everyone’s shown up yet, this is good. If you already have games like that which you’re still playing, you can hold off on buying this.

 

(3.8 / 5)

Black Bird #1

Black Bird #1

Blackbird falls into one of the many genres out of my wheelhouse. It’s synopsis and quick glance-through gave me fantasy young adult vibes, which is totally cool, but pretty hit and miss for me. Image’s line of fantasy comics have perhaps been the shakiest in everything it allows its creative teams to dish out, perhaps because of the sheer quantity they’re publishing at any given time. Image should be held to a high standard regardless, and if Image’s vomiting of tons and tons of comics ever falls short of decent, they should rethink their strategy, because I feel they’re in more dangerous territory now than they’ve been in the recent past. Blackbird should fall in line with that standard, and while I think the cover was cool enough for a grab off the shelf, I was skeptical going in.

Blackbird follows the seemingly slice-of-life life of Nina, a woman long haunted by an experience in her youth that exposed her to a magical world invisible to the normal human eye. Her one time experience was short lived, and believed by few if none at all. She no longer sees this magical realm she knows to exist, and so she spends her days near obsessing over that reality beyond her own. Giant mythical creatures, essentially what Nina believes to be near omnipotent gods roam the world and appear when necessary. She’s unsure whether they’re benevolent, or for all she knows, completely evil, but she feels she deserves to be exposed to this world again, because why would she be in the first place? It was an unfair existence, and no one can argue. But, when she’s once again exposed to this magical world now as a woman, she may have the power to seek out the answers to the mysteries of this realm. She also may be completely in over her head.

To my own surprise, this comic book was really well received by critics. I didn’t hate this comic book, it just felt a little unsurprising. The world is vibrant and the creatures are cool to look at, and yet it feels underwhelming. I couldn’t help but feel like I was reading a weekly comic from an amateur comic book writer on Reddit or someone’s blog. There’s nothing particularly wrong with that, I enjoy that world of comics, but as I mentioned earlier Image’s publications should be held to a high standard if they’re going to oversaturate the way they do. The writing is good, the art is nice, but other recent Image titles like Isola or Death or Glory completely blow this comic book out of the water. It’s not to say there isn’t potential in this comic. I think there is a world to be built and expanded upon here that’s worth paying attention to, but I don’t think this is as much of a mind-blower that Image seems to consistently publish.

 

(3 / 5)

Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig

Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig

How many fking castles does this guy need?

 

Between Two Castles is, as the name does not make any effort to hide, a mash-up of Between Two Cities and the Mad King Ludwig franchise. The core gameplay comes from Between Two Cities—there are two rounds, and at the start of each round, each player takes a stack of tiles. Draft two tiles, pass to the left, draft two tiles, pass to the left, until only one tile remains, which is discarded. You’re building a castle with each of the people adjacent to you, and your score is the lowest of the two castles you help build, which means you can’t let one of them suck.

 

The Mad King aspect is how all the tiles go together. There’s no spatial aspect like the original Castles of Mad King Ludwig; instead, you have several types of square tiles which can be placed around the core of your castle, the throne room. Like Castles, each tile has a type, and most tiles have a way to score points that relates to other tiles in the game. The most common adjacency rules are to score for tiles in the eight spaces around a given tile, or for all tiles above a tile, below it, or both. These can relate to the room type itself (utility room, outdoors area, etc), or the second icon on these tiles (swords, a mirror, and so on).

 

Another similarity to Castles is that you have much more freedom to build your castle however you want. Most rooms have to be built at the ground floor (the level of the throne room) or above, but there are downstairs rooms that can go below. Tiles have to be placed adjacent to other ones. The castle can go as high as you want, but all rooms must be supported by actual room tiles beneath them (you can’t place a tile above an outdoor area). Alternately, you can go as wide as you want—whatever works for your grand architectural plan.

 

Also like Castles, you get bonuses for fulfilling certain basic requirements. In this case, if you place three of a tile type, you get an associated bonus, and if you place five of one type, you get a specialty room tile that can add substantially to your final score. It takes some getting used to the bonuses; none of them are hard to understand individually, but understanding them well enough to grab them quickly in the flow of the game can be hard.

 

And if there’s a flaw in this game, the bonuses are it. Between Two Cities is a fantastic game. Castles of Mad King Ludwig is a game I don’t like playing, but which I can’t deny is well-designed—I’m just crap at spatial awareness. Putting together a castle in the Ludwig vein, according to BTC rules, is quite fun on a basic level. But the draft mechanic works best when everybody sorts through the available tiles, picks two, then everyone plays their tiles together and moves on to the next decision. When people get bonuses, new players will often overlook them because they want to move on to building more castle pieces; once everyone’s used to grabbing their bonuses, then the game either slows a bit while decisions are made (some of the bonuses require players choose from tiles or bonus cards), or some people move on with their next decision and are left to wait while the bonus earners catch up.

 

I didn’t have a chance to play this with a group who was experienced enough to blow through the bonus-grabbing process, so it’s theoretically possible the game plays very well once everyone is on point. Thing is, BTC is a fairly casual game, and it’s unlikely this game (especially with a bigger group) is only going to have experienced players in it. The rhythm of Between Two Cities that this idea relies on gets thrown off by the Mad King Ludwig aspects. Thus, while the idea is sound and the baseline game is pretty good, it winds up being about 90% as good as what you’d hope to get when putting two games of this quality together.

 

Still, when you’re working at this level, 90% is solid. If you liked both of the component games, you’ll probably like this. If you liked one and didn’t play the other, it’s worth trying. If… look, just play the game if you get the chance.

 

(4.1 / 5)

Sun Bakery #1

Sun Bakery #1

This is an interesting comic to say the least. When I grabbed this guy, I had absolutely no idea what it was, what it was was about, or anything about the creative team. However, the cover was awesome and it immediately gave off Scott Pilgrim vibes, which is one of my personal favorite comics of all time. Upon my first read, I was extremely confused, the story seemed to be jumping around, characters were undeveloped and world building was too quick and unexpected. I was, honestly, extremely disappointed by the comic simply because I was so thrown off by its contents. However, I really wanted to give this comic a revisit and thus a second opinion.

What I first learned by simply looking at the cover a little more, was that Sun Baker is a comic book anthology magazine. Essentially what this means is that they usually use different artists and different writers to make short, very quick stories within one issue. This explained the inconsistencies I found my first time through, and almost completely eradicated my confusion. This allowed me to take in each story (there’s only 2 / 3 in this one) as its own entity and appreciate them on an individual level. I also just spent more time with this comic in general the second time around, giving it an actual thoughtful read, and honestly, after the second time through, I liked this comic so much more. In fact, I loved this comic the second time. It’s extremely quirky and fun, in many similar ways that Scott Pilgrim was. The stories they introduce are simple, but insanely fun and if they revisit those worlds I’m all in. There’s no real character development here, but it’s not really needed to fit into the ‘anthology feel’.

I don’t have a whole lot to say about this comic. If you liked the vibes of Scott Pilgrim, or if you just like that indie vibe at all, sit down and read Sun Bakery, it has the workings of something really special for that kind of audience. If you’re not so sure, or you don’t like that Scott Pilgrim-esque, silly and over the top indie feel, then Sun Bakery might not be for you. It’s definitely a unique comic with awesome and funny art, some great dialogue, and the workings of some really cool action adventure stories with a couple sweet female protagonists. At the very least, give Sun Bakery a shot, you may just find a new favorite out of this one.

 

(4 / 5)

Orbis

Orbis

YOU ARE A GOD. The god of a pyramid-shaped universe. Make it a properly blasted hellscape.

 

Orbis is a game about managing two types of resources: your territory and your worshipers. Your goal, as is the goal of every reasonable god, is to accrue the most victory points (little known fact: the concept of victory points was first alluded to in the Book of Moses). By the end of the game, you’ll have chosen fourteen land tiles and one tile which solidifies your deific identity; this will create a pyramid, with yourself at the top, that is the finest universe in the cosmos, unless you lose.

 

Every round, you pick one tile from a 3×3 grid to add to your universe. Each of these hexagonal tiles has a color. You put a worshiper cube of the appropriate color on each of the adjacent tiles, then place the tile in your universe. And from this simple baseline, things get interesting (in the legitimate way, not the “I don’t have any other word to describe this” way) very quickly.

 

When you take a tile, you take under your wing all the worshiper cubes on that tile. These cubes are used for various purposes—at first, you might use them to pay for effects on the tiles you take, but relatively quickly you’ll need to start discarding certain sets of worshipers to take tiles off the grid. Tiles are placed according to a few particular rules. First, after you place one tile, all others must touch at least one tile already in your universe. Second, to place a tile on a level above the bottom row, there must be two tiles below it (so it makes the pyramid). Third, if a tile is placed above the bottom level, it must match the color of one of the tiles below it.

 

Once your on to your third or fourth tile, you already have some major decisions to make. Do I take the tile with more worshipers or that’s worth more points? You can only have a max of ten worshipers, but you can trade three of one color to get one of another, so you rarely have to discard any. Do I take the tile that’s more useful but which puts yet another worshiper on a different tile that I know one of my opponents is likely to take? Just how do I build my universe? (Something that doesn’t become obvious until you’re well into your first game is how the pyramid structure limits the types of lands you’re able to make maximum use of, since you have to string colors up the chain rather than place them wherever you want.)

 

On one turn during the game, you have to pick the god you want to be. Each of them potentially offers bonus points of you meet certain requirements. This choice is less impactful than it seems like it should be, as you will frequently be the only person able to make good use of a certain god. In many cases, you’ll wait until the end or take it on a turn when there are no tiles you want. However, in some cases—especially ones where a god is out that offers a bonus for having the most of a certain tile type, and you and an opponent are both going hard after that type—this does become a serious matter.

 

Now, what happens if you can’t pay the worshipers for a tile? Then you turn it into wilderness, which fits into a slot and is worth -1 at the end of the game. That sucks… except the wilderness counts as all colors. This means that it’s not just a penalty for poor planning—you can, and often should, strategically place wilderness in your universe so you can take a tile that doesn’t match the rows that come before. It’s another angle for building your realm that takes a bit of cleverness to use well.

 

All in all, Orbis is fairly light and easy to understand, but it’s a game that is going to leave people mulling over most of their moves. Planning is paramount, and for this reason an experienced player is going to have a major advantage over new ones, more so than is the case in most light games. But that just means you need to play it again. There are worse fates than a second go at Orbis.

 

(4.1 / 5)

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