Friday, April 29, 2016

This time it's Battle Yahtzee

Fill-in-the-blanks licensed versions of games like Monopoly or Clue are tie-in products first and games second, and Battle Yahtzee: Alien vs. Predator is no exception. If you're a fan of Yahtzee and the Aliens vs Predator franchise you'll probably enjoy the game, but it's not going to change your mind about either.

That said, the game does add some interesting elements to the game in deference to the confrontational nature of the AvP license. Rather than just trying to score more points than your opponents before the game ends, Battle Yahtzee allows you to use some of your rolled combos to attack your opponents and take away some of their points. It also adds a "battle chance" die that you can roll on your turn, that will either add or subtract from your score depending on how it rolls. Additionally, each player gets to play as a character, either the Alien, Predator, Marine, or Scientist, each with a unique once-per-game special ability.

The additional rules don't really make the game that much more complicated, and it is still recognizably Yahtzee. Players can easily use the included dice and score pads to play by the standard Yahtzee rules, which are included on the rules sheet.

The components are slick and nicely designed, but the dice are a little hard to read, and the included score board is too small for its score tracking pieces, so the board tends to get crowded when player scores are close, and the pieces can get bumped easily.

Rating: 2 (out of 5) Not bad if you already like Yahtzee, but there are a lot of more compelling AvP games out there. AvP Clue looks interesting though...

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Dracula is FURIOUS!

Like its title character, Fury of Dracula is a game prone to death and resurrection. It's been released in three different editions over 28 years, with each edition offering substantial changes to the game's structure and rules as well as its graphic design. We played the second edition once or twice, but most of our experience is with the third edition (released in 2015), so we'll look at it on its own merits, rather than comparing it to the earlier versions of the game.

It's a "one against many" game like Mansions of Madness or Middle-Earth Quest, but rather than one player commanding the forces of darkness against a group of hero players, here the Dracula player is on the defensive, attempting to hide his location for as long as possible while he matures nests of vampires throughout Europe. The hero players, taking the roles of characters from the original Dracula novel, need to balance their efforts between finding Dracula himself, and rooting out his hidden lairs.

Since there are four heroes (regardless of the number of players), it would seem that they have the advantage, but that definitely isn't the case. They will still need to apply a good deal of thought and strategy to finding Dracula in the time available. The game's clock is ticking in the form of Dracula's influence track, which increases when vampire nests aren't found and destroyed. Game rounds are represented by days on a calendar, and if Dracula isn't found after three weeks, the influence track starts advancing much faster until the world is plunged into darkness.

It's a neat game that really captures the tension, for both the Dracula and hero players, with Dracula often narrowly eluding discovery, and the heroes desperately scrambling to find him in time.

The third edition, published in 2015 by Fantasy Flight Games, boasts updated graphic design and illustration as well as streamlined rules. The design is very well done, keeping with FFG's house style but adapting it to the gothic horror theme. The rules are fairly smooth and elegant, with a straightforward turn structure that makes for quick turns, adding to the game's sense of tension and urgency.

Rating: 4 (out of 5) A complex but elegant game that gives players a lot of strategic decisions to make, and evokes the gothic horror theme very well.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

A tile by any other name

Jarl: the Vikings Tile-Laying Game is a re-skin of The Duke, a tile based combat game with an abstract medieval theme. You could be forgiven for assuming that the Vikings theme has been tacked on in order to make an easy piece of tie-in merchandise; in spite of the photo of Travis Fimmel as Ragnar Lothbrok on the box cover, the game has very little connection to the History Channel television show. Or does it?

Theme aside, it's a very ingenious game system which can perhaps best be described as "chess with more variables." It is played on a grid, and the object is to protect your Jarl (king) from being captured by your opponent.

The playing pieces are tiles etched with a simple diagram describing what moves that tile can make relative to its current position. Some pieces can jump over others, some can attack from afar without moving, some can move other pieces or prevent them from being captured. But here's the catch: after a piece moves, it must be flipped over to its opposite side, which has a different set of possible moves.

So a huge part of the strategy is keeping track of how a piece's new position on the board, combined with its new set of moves, will affect the game.

Unlike chess, where you start with all of your pieces and watch them gradually get whittled away, here you start the game with just three pieces on the board and the rest in a bag. On any turn you can forego moving a piece to instead place a new one, randomly drawn from the bag, which must be placed adjacent to your Jarl. Each turn is a decision whether to use what you have on the board, or call for reinforcements.

The Jarl is no slouch when it comes to defending itself and capturing opposing pieces, and it can't be cornered as easily as the king in chess. This, combined with the fact that the pieces have such dynamic and varied movements, makes for an energetic and vital game that really reminds me of the battle scenes on the Vikings television show. As a fan of the show who probably wouldn't have given the game a second look otherwise, it's a smart bit of licensing.

Rating: 5 (out of 5) a deceptively simple game that is very compelling and gives players a lot to think and strategize about, and the fact that it reminds me of a favorite television show is a nice bonus.