The Fall of Empire – Terraforming Mars: Colonies (FryxGames/Stronghold Games, 2018)

Terraforming Mars (FryxGames/Stronghold Games, 2016) is probably the RockyMountainNavy family’s favorite Eurogame. That said, I had shied away from larger expansions like Terraforming Mars: Venus Next (2017) because of time issues. We liked the 2018 Prelude expansion as it solved a (minor) issue we had with the game; game length. After the real success of Prelude, I ordered the most recent expansion, Colonies (2018), in a hope that it could find a sweet spot between Venus Next and Prelude. Our weekly Game Night found Terraforming Mars using the Corporate Era variant and Prelude and Colonies expansions on the table this week…

…and it was dissatisfying.

One of the reasons the RockyMountainNavy Boys and myself like Terraforming Mars is the narrative it builds during play. The game shows how different Corporations, each with a different way to build their empire (game engine), use them to bring a lifeless planet to life. The added bonus for us is the ability to play out this drama in less than three hours.

Our game this weekend took 3 hours 15 minutes to play (setup/breakdown was extra) – by far the longest Terraforming Mars game we have ever played. I see two major factors in this slow down; a bit of Analysis Paralysis as new Project Cards were encountered and a very slow engine build for all of us, even with the Prelude “jumpstart.”

Some people like “heavy” games with their longer playtimes. Games like Twilight Imperium (4th Edition) with a playtime rated up to 8 hours! Heck, even one of my favorite wargames, Fifth Frontier War (GDW, 1981), is rated at 6 hours. But for the RockyMountainNavy Game Night we prefer to keep game time in the 90-150 minute range so that with setup/breakdown we go no longer than 3 hours.

The second disappointment was the lack of game narrative. I just don’t feel that the Colonies expansion with its combination of new Corporations, Colony Tiles, and Project Cards, added meaningful dramatic narrative to the game. In other games I feel like my Corporation is my own littel empire I can build; in our game this weekend my Project Cards really felt more like “luck of the draw” rather than “building my empire.” The Youngest RockyMountainNavy Boy pointed out that the many Project Cards actually seems overwhelming – too many cards leading to too many choices which actually threatens the gaming narrative.

Now, it is very possible that we simply got a bad draw of random Colony Tiles and Project Cards and failed to make the best of what we got. I personally was trying to maximize my Actions and was running away on the Terraforming Rating as I tried to terraform. Maybe my problem is I actually “played” Terraforming Mars for the first time rather than “experience” the game.

By far the largest change Colonies brings to the RockyMountainNavy Gaming Family is a change in how we think about Terraforming Mars. I feel like Colonies may be the last expansion we buy for the game. If the game is played in the future, I think it may be the Corporate Era variant with the Prelude expansion; what we think about as the best fit in narrative and time.

Empires rise and fall. Terraforming Mars has a solid, respected reputation in the RockyMountainNavy household and has deservedly earned a lofty spot our pantheon of games. Unfortunately, Colonies highlighted one of the major reasons some games don’t fully earn our greatest accolades.

Featured image courtesy Stronghold Games.

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Why Panic? Game Night revisit of Castle Panic (Fireside Games, 2009)

Castle Panic (Fireside Games, 2009) was one of the family board games I bought when the RockyMountainNavy Kids were much younger and was trying to start a family gaming renaissance. My copy has the GAMES 2011 Traditional Games 100 seal on it. I know I played it a few times with the kids although I only recorded two plays from 2012 in my BoardGameGeek logged plays (back then I was not very diligent at logging plays). I always thought of it as a cardboard video game; a paper version of the classic collapsing tower defense game with evil trolls and orcs and goblins descending on your castle.

What I failed to realize until this weekend was just how much the RockyMountainBoys had played the game without me. So much the board tore apart! I discovered this when LittleRockyMountainNavy brought the game to me Saturday afternoon as a nominee for our weekly Game Night. When I opened the box to look at the rules he (nonchalantly) warned me about the busted board. All the other components were in there (including sleeved cards) so we went ahead and played it later that evening.

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Evidence of an often-played game….

Between my “manual video game” attitude and a perception that Castle Panic was more of a kid’s game, I didn’t have much hope for a deep game experience. The game is rated for ages 10+ and only one hour of playtime. Unexpectedly, after playing the game I was pleasantly surprised at how the cooperative play and simple strategy decisions deliver a tense play experience.

I had forgotten altogether that Castle Panic is a cooperative game. Sure, one mode can determine a winner, but at it’s heart the cooperative play mechanic makes this a game of teamwork. I really like the Order of Play which has you draw up your hand, then decide to discard and draw, then trade, then play cards. Each step involves all players as everyone watches for a card that is needed, agonizes over whether to discard and draw, and then jockey for the right trade. Even playing cards in the right order can be important. None of these strategic decisions are hard, but the tension of the collapsing tower and visibly descending hoards makes even these “simple” decisions being made under pressure and fraught with danger.

In our game we started off strong but the midgame turned bleak as too many smaller monsters descended through our defenses. It didn’t help that a few Plagued cards – forced discards – hit us at inopportune moments. We also started worrying because the real Boss Monsters – the strongest and most powerful ones – didn’t come out until literally the last set of draws. Even that one was bad as the final Draw Monsters step had a “Draw 3 Monsters” come out, which in turn brought out the final three Boss Monsters at the same time! Fortunately for us, we seemed to have hit our stride and made smart discards and trades that not only strengthened our hand but also set up the next player to be stronger too. My final Draw Cards was so thematically appropriate as I drew the awesome Barbarian – a one kill wonder – to eliminate the final Boss Monster as it was knocking down the walls of our tower.

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Courtesy firesidegames.com

Fireside Games offers several expansions for Castle Panic. We own the first expansion, Castle Panic: The Wizard’s Tower, though we didn’t add it to our game this weekend. The RockyMountainNavy Boys say it makes the game much harder. It looks to add about 30 minutes of playtime to the game, which actually makes it a better fit for a Game Night where we look for games from 90 minutes to 3 hours. I see there are two other expansions available too. I don’t think either of these are in the future for the RockyMountainNavy family; we like the game but more as a family filler than a Game Night centerpiece.

Castle Panic delivers a great, tense game of meaningful decisions in a very simple set of rules. Although the game is certainly kid-friendly, it is far from a simple kid’s game. Castle Panic will remain in the RockyMountainNavy collection and likely will be played more as a weeknight lite game when a hour of filler is needed.

Featured image courtesy Fireside Games.

Expanding the Game with 878 Vikings – Invasions of England: Viking Age Expansion (@Academy_Games, 2017)

The Viking Age expansion for 878 Vikings – Invasion of England (Academy Games, 2017) is actually nine (9) expansions. At first look this can be a bit overwhelming. Which one do you choose? All? Just a few? After looking at the forums on BoardGameGeek.com I took some advice and for the first RockyMountainNavy expanded game we used just a few. I am happy to report the results were, “Most Excellent.”

In our weekend Game Night play we used:

  • Expansion 7 – Epic Battle Events: This adds event cards to the Fyrd Deck (the Fyrd being peasants that join battles to defend their homes for the English)
  • Expansion 8 – Viking Ships: Adds Viking ships to increase mobility along the coasts
  • Expansion 9.2 – Legertha: Legertha is a Viking Leader that can be added to another invasion; she adds an “extra” invasion but divides the forces.

I played the Vikings against the RockyMountainNavy Boys who divided the English. My Viking hordes quickly conquered northern England. I was doing great until my third invasion which encountered the Traitor event card in the Fyrd Deck. In the Traitor event:

The attackers choose one of theirFactions to fight for the defenders asTraitors. The defenders roll the Traitor Faction’s dice and make decisions for the Traitor Faction’s Units during this Battle. Surviving Traitor Units are placed in the Fled Units Area. (Viking Age, p.9)

As this was the initial invasion for this leader the army was large and it was painful to have to “give away” a major portion of the army. Elsewhere, I got a bit too ambitious and ended up with both of my other leaders killed in battle. Of course, the next Round I drew a Reinforcement card and not another invasion which stopped any chance of seizing more shires. Desperately trying to end the game, I played both Treaty of Wedmore cards to trigger the end game conditions. Alas, in Round V I tried to use Legertha to add a second invasion leader but all I really ended up doing was diving my force. It also didn’t help that the English Ships event card made an appearance and severely limited my choice for landing locations. With the arrival of King Alfred I ended up losing my ninth Shire and failing watched helplessly as victory slipped away.

The added expansions were easy to incorporate into the game with no real additional rules overhead or extra play time added. They did add some major fun as the RockyMountainBoys were all high-5’s and the like when the Traitor card showed up. They also took great pleasure in burning my Viking Ships.

Between the Advanced Setup rules in the base game which allows players to customize their Event Card Deck and these expansions, 878 Vikings has shot to the top of my list for enjoyable family Game Night products. Although there are many games in the RockyMountainNavy collection, I fully expect this one to get to the table often because it has proven it can deliver great fun every time.

Featured image courtesy Academy Games.

Advanced #878Vikings from @Academy_Games

The RockyMountainNavy Game Night this week featured 878 Vikings: Invasion of England from Academy Games (2017). This was the first game we played using the Advanced Setup Rules found on page 2 of the Rule Book. This rule allows players to “customize” their deck by choosing which five (5) event cards of cards 08-19 they want to add to deck. Players still use a 12-card deck, but in this Advanced Setup version cards 01-07 are “fixed” and the last five cards are “customizable.” The resulting game was very fun!

The Youngest RMN Boy took the Vikings against Middle RMN Boy (Thegn) and myself (Housecarl). The first Viking invasion stabbed through the middle of England but eventually culminated with around seven shires taken. The Second Viking Invasion was stopped with its leader killed. A Third Invasion didn’t expand much. Alfred the Great eventually arrived for the English but the first attempt to push back the Vikings ended in near-total disaster.

In Round 6 the Vikings were forced to play their second Treaty of Wedmore card which ends the game after that turn. The Vikings held seven shires going into the Round and to win needed to take two more.

Middle RMN Boy played an Advanced Training Thegn Battle Card that converts all Thegn Fled results to Hits. Unfortunately, neither of us realized just how much this changes the die roll odds in favor of the Thegn and instead of removing Housecarl on Viking hits removed too many Thegn too early, thus missing a chance to attrite the Vikings a bit more. As it was, the game came down to a nail-biting conclusion where a lone Fryd (English peasants called up to defend their homes) stood against a single Norseman on the last battle of the last turn. The Fryd missed while the Norseman hit, delivering Youngest RMN Boy his ninth shire and (barely) making his victory condition.

The Advanced Rules Setup adds some simple player-driven variability to the game. This feature is not found in games of the Birth of America-series (at least the base games). I really like this rule as it has the potential to make each game different and allows exploration of subtly different strategies. Yet another example of how “lite wargames” from Academy Games actually deliver a deeper strategic challenge.

It’s a Co-op with a Traitor Mechanic – A RockyMountainNavy play of Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game (Fantasy Flight Games, 2008)

pic354500Something awesome happened this gaming weekend. The RockyMountainNavy house got Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game (Fantasy Flight Games, 2008) to the gaming table in a 3-player event. I played Tom Zarek (Political Leader, President) while MiddleRockyMountainNavy Boy played Helo (Military Leader, Admiral) and LittleRockyMountainNavy was Apollo (Pilot).

There were many Cylon ships on the board before the first jump and both Helo & Apollo ended up in lots of space combat. Galactica herself was in a poor way with four hits (six needed to destroy – and lose) as well as a Boarding Party aboard. We were eventually able to jump, clearing the board of threats and made repairs. The time up to the second jump proceeded without any real trouble and it looked like we were going to do fine.

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Courtesy Dynamite.com

As it turned out, none of us was a Cylon though the Sleeper Phase because I drew the “You Are a Cylon” card at that time! Before the Sleeper Phase, I had made the statement that I thought Middle RMN/Helo was a Cylon so I kept pushing that thought even as he protested his innocence. Little RMN/Apollo was not sure. Using the power of the President, I stripped the Admiral title from Helo. Eventually, the Boys grew suspicious at my actions and I had to reveal myself as the Cylon before they could Brig me.

The game then switched from a 3-player co-op to a competitive race to human victory or death. As the Cylon player I almost made it but the Boys were able to face down several Super Crisis Cards and (barely) survived a final jump. They won the game with Fuel 3 / Food 1 / Morale 6 / Population 1.

Overall, the RMN Boys found the game fun. If we have one complaint it is that the game takes time to play. Including rules explanation our game took nearly three hours – putting it at the long end of our usual gaming nights. Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game is not a heavy game as the rules are actually quite easy to learn and execute. In our game the slow play was a combination of first time and the paranoid-induced analysis paralysis that is part of the experience.

Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game will land on the table again, I am just not sure when. As the winter months approach, there are several new game due to arrive and other longer games (like Scythe) need to get back out too. At least we all know that this”shelf queen” is worth the space.

Featured Image: Ralph McQuarrie concept art for BATTLESTAR GALACTICA (1978) via @HumanoidHistory on Twitter

Frienemies with Enemies of Rome (Worthington Publishing, 2017)

The traditional RockyMountainNavy Game Night saw Enemies of Rome (Worthington Publishing, 2017) land on the table. The game covers 600 years of Roman history using relatively low-complexity mechanics. Our game this weekend reminded me both why I like the game even when I have issues with it.

The RockyMountainNavy Boys and myself really like the game for its theme:

THE GAME:  It is 300 BC. Since being founded as a Republic in 509 BC Rome has grown in power and influence. Now it is your time…

You and up to 4 other players are one of Rome’s great leaders. Take control of legions and lead them across the known world for the next 600 years as you deal with uprisings, rebellions, political intrigue, and wars. Players can make alliances with one another (and true to Rome, break those alliances!) maneuver their forces and the enemies of Rome, all as they try to become the one true Caesar! All others are fed to the lions and their legacies lost to history…(Publishers Blurb)

We played a three-player game although we “know” this is not the optimal player count. Well, we play more for the fun of gaming together.

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Game Start – My Proconsul (Purple) is in Syria

The early turns were not kind to me. The other Proconsuls (i.e. the RockyMountainNavy Boys) moved the Enemies of Rome against me. As a result, I quickly lost my home territory.

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Enemy horde ejects me from my capital (Syria)

Not having a capital is not a total kiss-of-death, but having the fortress bonus on defense helps. I really needed a secure area to keep building up from. I thought I had found a way using the First Roman-Jewish War Event Card. I succeeded in reoccupying my capital in Syria, but along the way ended up fortifying the Enemies of Rome positions in Palestinia and Arabia Petrea.

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First Roman-Jewish War fortifies the area south and east of Syria

The other Proconsuls continued to use the Enemies of Rome against me, and as a result I ended up losing Syria again. I was forced to use Cilicia as my new “base” of operations.

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Ejected from Syria…again

Although I had difficulty in keeping a home territory, throughout the game I was always looking for easy opportunities to knock off a territory and gain that coveted Glory Point. I also paid a lot closer attention to the Event Cards I was dealt and tried to use them to create situations to gain Glory Points not just defend. When defending, one usually loses Legions to attrition in battle without any Glory Points gained. In the end game, the opportunity to retake Syria (yet again) presented itself. I took it, along with the Glory Point. To my (happy) surprise, at the end game scoring I pulled off a narrow victory!

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Victory by one Glory Point!

Playing Enemies of Rome again reminded me of several issues I have with the game. The first issue (which I have discussed before) is the victory point mechanic. In short, one gains VP (Glory Points) for winning battles as the attacker. What looks like a territory control game is actually not. Middle RMN Boy (playing Yellow) has the most territories and could of won if he was able to stay no more than two Glory Points behind the leader. My second issue is that for a game that is low-complexity (rated 3 out of 10 by the publisher) I actually have missed a few rules in the book. As a matter of fact, as I was reviewing the rule book before our latest game, I discovered this “obvious” rule that I had missed before:

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Enemies of Rome group size defined….

Although the Glory Point mechanic is a bit wonky, a larger player count is better, and some rules could be explained better, the RockyMountainNavy house still endorses Enemies of Rome.

Bottom line – It’s Fun!

I was a bad outlaw in #FireflyTheGame (Gale Force Nine, 2013)

The RockyMountainNavy Boys are back from their summer travels. Before they left, they had found my Customizable Ship Models package for Firefly: The Game (Gale Force Nine, 2013) and painted up their own ships. For our Friday Game Night they wanted to get the models to the table and misbehave!

Since this was really only our second full Firefly gameplay, we went back to the starter “First Time in the Captain’s Chair” Story Card. We had all the Contact Decks on the table so we could work with any of them.

The game was really fun and we certainly created a ruckus in the house!

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Setting up….

I had Burgess as my Leader. I was immediately able to purchases Burgesses’ Gun for a whole lotta Gun Skill. To helped lead me astray as two of my three Starting Jobs were Illegal. So my life of crime began. Along the way I recruited some unsavory types with more guns, a little bit of mechanics, and not enough negotiation.

Youngest RockyMountainNavy Boy tried the lawful approach, getting Solid with Harken early. This gave him easy passage through Alliance Space. He was able to stay lawful until he needed to catch up – and went outlaw! Middle RMN Boy took a mix of Legal and Illegal Jobs.

My first job was Botched and I got a Warrant for my arrest. For the rest of the game I avoided Alliance Space. I did have one encounter with the Reaver but was able to Evade.

Middle RMN got a sweet deal and picked up a job where he was able to ship 10 passengers across the ‘Verse for a $3000 (+$400 bonus) payout. This gave him the money he needed for the win. He was not far from the bank but took his time Moseying Along which caused brother and Dad to desperately race to complete their last job and then Full Burn to the bank. He didn’t let us win and with a smirk on his face arrived at the bank one turn ahead of the rest of us.

Gameplay was much faster than before. We already have the basic mechanics of the game down and can now work on strategies to win. Unlike our first game, we all took on more Illegal Jobs (in my case, all Illegal) and drew from the Misbehaving Deck heavily. After the game we all agreed that we want to try another Story Card next game.