Star Realms – Much better than Star Trek

Star Realms has been out for quite a while, but I hadn’t played it until very recently. Which is a shame since it’s possibly the best introduction to deckbuilding games I’ve seen.

The unifying theme of all deckbuilding games taking an initially bad deck and building it up to be more efficient. Typically this follows two paths, finding ways to make more money so you can continue to buy better cards, and pushing for the victory conditions. In every deckbuilding game there comes a point when you have to switch from building your money and card draw to spending money on your victory condition.

scoutviper

You’ll start off with a deck of these losers, but build to something greater.

In Star Realms the route to victory is simple, reducing your opponent to zero life or ‘authority’. You’ll achieve this with your deck of ships and star bases. Which provide some combination of money, damage, and authority, as well as special abilities.
One unique feature of Star Realms is the distinction between ships and bases. In most deckbuilders you play out your hand, resolve any effects, then discard all cards and draw a new hand. While ships do work like this, bases stick around, meaning you get their effects every round, and some bases must be destroyed before your authority can be reduced. This gives star realms an element of board presence not seen in most other deckbuilders.

star realms shipsbases.jpg

The cards you can buy in Star Realms belong to one of four factions, each having things they tend to be good at. The Trade Federation restores your authority and draws lots of cards, the Star Empire messes with your opponents’ hands, the Blob make plenty of money and the Machine Cult are strong attackers and the best at scrapping cards from your deck. Scrapping cards is important because as the game goes on some cards will become ineffective, so them remaining in your deck is inefficient. Also, cards will have abilities that only trigger when another card of that faction has been played so specialising has advantages.

This synergy within factions plays into the way Star Realms organises its shop. typically in deckbuilders the cards available for purchase are already determined meaning you can plan out you purchases ahead of time. However in Star Realms the buyable cards are all shuffle together and five are dealt out for purchase. This means you need to think about what factions you start purchasing, sure there might be a good Blob ship available but there may be none for a while after that. This also makes setup much simpler, just give out the starter decks then shuffle a big pile of cards, so Star Realms manages to fit into my natural habitat, the pub.

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Just a handful of the cards available for Star Realms’ 4 factions

Star Realms also includes some excellent multiplayer modes to make it great for teaching, there are several team variants and a very cool boss battle mode where all players fight against one. This means you can pair up the more and less experienced players to help everyone have a good time, and spread teaching out across the whole game rather than having to front load all the rules and strategies. This feature is something I’ve seen few other games do and is the reason I would say it’s the best deckbuilding game for new players. And if you feel that way inclined the game has plenty of expansions to keep the card pool fresh.

I have almost nothing bad to say about the game, apart from its art which isn’t bad but doesn’t do anything great either. When you combine the excellent entry point to the really engaging gameplay and the fact that it is dirt cheap and very portable it should definitely have a place in your collection.

Quantum – The best game ever?

I’m often left wondering which game I would keep if i could only own one (OK I’m not but just roll with it). There are a lot of strong contenders. Battlestar Galactica has a great theme and combines deception with harsh resource management. Skull and Love letter can be played almost anywhere by anyone of any level of drunkenness. And Netrunner is a game of great depth with a huge community. However the game that has won is Quantum.

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Sorry buddy, just missed out.

Quantum is one of the first games I ever bought and as such carries a lot of sentimental value, but I think the game can also stand up on its own merits. Quantum represents everything I like to see in board games. It is a game about combat and map control which i definitely prefer to economic passive aggression, and at the same time visually appealing with its brightly coloured dice. Even though you can attack and destroy your enemy’s forces, getting back in the game is fairly easy so people don’t end up sitting out the majority of the game.

The main aim of Quantum it to put your quantum cubes down on planets and you achieve this through your ships. The ships are by far the best and most creative aspect of Quantum. Each ship is represented by a die, with the number on the die showing how fast a ship can move and how effective it is in combat, with combat favouring low numbers, and each ship class has it’s own special ability. If you aren’t happy with your fleet composition you can spend actions to randomly re-roll your ships, introducing a serious amount of risk/reward when you choose to do so. The two ways to place cubes are by increasing your dominance, a meter that increases when you destroy a ship and decreases when you lose one, or by placing them on placing them on planets which requires the total numbers of the ships around a planet to be equal to a certain value. This means you can either focus on small numbered ships for combat, or some higher numbered ships to place cubes on planets.

quantum-dice

For example, Green could now place a cube on the central planet because their ships surrounding the planet add up to a total of 10.

Being aggressive is heavily rewarded in Quantum, during combat the attacker can’t be destroyed, only the defender, making the risk of attacking much lower and encouraging less certain attacks for the chance to both build up dominance and remove and enemy ships. However the game balances the two styles of play very well, strong combat ships will be slow allowing opponents to flee and put their cubes onto another planet across the map, and the higher numbered ships needed to grab planets are vulnerable to attack. Even losing ships isn’t all that bad since they are simply re-rolled and placed back in your supply ready to redeploy. The game encourages early boldness in another way, cubes cannot be removed once placed so you don’t need to worry about defence as much, and each cube placed allows you to take one of the game’s upgrade cards for your faction.

Quantum’s upgrade cards allow the game to grow over time, either providing lasting bonuses which will change how your faction plays like improved defences or an ability to deploy ships anywhere on the map or one off effects that can alter the board state by giving you another ship or letting you re-roll and re position your entire fleet. Because different abilities are available for purchase each game how you develop your faction will be different every time, and the upgrades other players choose will impact your decisions. The upgrades also offer a nice way to catch up through the research action, if you have actions you don’t want to use on anything you can tick up the research die which will reward you with an upgrade when it reaches 6 before resetting.

quantum-upgrades

The black upgrade cards represent the one shot powers and immediately impact the board, whereas the white cards will change the way you play for the rest of the game.

The map Quantum is played over is also very varied, being made up of tiles which you can re-arrange many different ways. Unfortunately this is one area where i have a gripe with the game. The way some of the maps are shaped can lead to situations where one or more players are left on their own unchallenged while other butt heads, which ends up reducing the fun for everyone. But the map tiles are so flexible you could patch these problems out yourself with a little work, in fact I’ve been working on making and testing some maps that would allow me to expand the game to 5 or 6 players from its current cap at 4.

quantum_configurations

The maps provided with the game are just the start.

All of these elements make Quantum a game with multiple routes to victory , whether you hang back and research while other players fight it out, rush to get your ships in perfect position or throw yourself into the thick of the fighting. I love Quantum because it manages to be a medium complexity game done in around an hour with plenty of strategic depth. It’s no beginner game like Condottiere or Love Letter, but it’s easy to break out without consuming a whole day like Twilight Imperium and a bit more action focused than something like Concordia. If you’re someone who plays board games regularly Quantum is a must own, and quite possibly my favourite board game.

 

 

Top 10 games to play with your family

The festive season is a time to come together, when we reconnect with our loved ones and inexplicably decide to eat turkey and drink mulled wine. It is also unfortunately a time of terrible Dr Who specials and Cluedo, so how about something a bit more engaging after Christmas lunch.

A good family game has to meet some exacting standards. Most of the players will be novices so it can’t be too complicated, also you will likely be blitzed on sherry (or whatever it is young people drink nowadays) . Also to keep people engaged short turns help or turns where everyone does their actions together, and games that have people talking and laughing are going to rank highly.

In the tradition of so many Buzzfeed articles I’ve put together a top ten of the games best suited to the hazy period post Christmas lunch. As a rule only games I’ve played can make the list but there are plenty of games I’m keen to check out that might make a future list.

10.Eketorp

eketorp

Eketorp is about at the limit in terms of complexity for a game I would still recommend for newcomers to board games. It does have a lot of bits and is fairly pricey, but this is made up for by being just so funny. In Eketorp you each play groups of Vikings trying to gather material to build a castle, but since there won’t be enough to go round first you have a massive punch up. The combat system is a little unintuitive but still simple enough, and the feeling of building your castle up only to see it torn down is very compelling. If you’re feeling ambitious Eketorp might be worth a shot.

9.Splendor

splendor

For a more sedate experience I would recommend Splendor, a very pretty economic game for 2-4 players set in renaissance Italy. Splendor is fortunately very simple, players can take only one of four actions per turn and it is very satisfying to watch your economic engine grow allowing you to accelerate your progress. While its simplicity is helpful it is a very quiet game with players focused on their own plans since playing well requires a fair bit of brainpower.

8.Dixit

dixit

If I were to describe Dixit in one word, that word would be French. Dixit is a very odd game, stuffed full of beautiful and sometimes confusing art. Each round one player describes one of their cards, then the other players choose a card they think fits the descriptions, earning points if people thing theirs was the original card. This game can be a double edged sword, for the right group it can bring out some good banter but the pressure to be creative might be too much for some. I would say play this game with at least 4 people so if your family is particularly creative then pick it up.

7. Exploding Kittens

exploding-kittens

Exploding Kittens is very funny, but not so much because of the card art where I’d say the game tries too hard. It is a fairly simple game about building up a hand of action cards so you can use them to avoid the deadly exploding kitten cards hidden somewhere in the draw deck. The slow build up followed by a flurry of action as one player realises they might be doomed allows the game to reach a climax before anyone gets too bored. Seeing the other players’ or your own desperation is where the game creates its funniest moments.

6. Survive: Escape from Atlantis

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I’ve played Survive a lot and use it as my gateway game to get people into games that have a big board and lots of pieces, rather than just a few cards. Survive is really brutal with most of your people dying, ravaged by sharks and sea monsters. But the way control of the sea creatures alternates allows you to be merciful or vindictive, depending on which family members you don’t mind hating you. Another point in Survive’s favour is its excellent playing pieces, from its adorable sharks and whales, to the island itself with different terrain types giving a real sense of height. Survive is a classic for 2-4 players but can go up to 6 with the expansion, I’d recommend survive to absolutely anyone but having played it a lot the shine has worn off for me which prevents it from climbing higher.

5. Formula D

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Formula D should be terrible, its a racing game where you move by rolling dice. But rolling dice is still a very enjoyable thing in the right context, and these are some of the best dice out there, becoming bigger and bigger as you gear up. The game also has interesting decision points as you have to be careful to slow down for corners. It does have a few drawbacks, it is physically quite large and longer than some of the other games on this list. If your family has a formula one fan in it then that always helps (Is Rubens Barrichello still doing stuff?), but it’s still a good time if not.

4. Cash & Guns

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For a very silly game definitely check out Cash & Guns, waving foam pistols in each other’s faces is a factually better Christmas evening than monopoly. Not knowing if the bullets in the other players’ guns are real or fake makes the stakes more interesting, and pointing a gun at your mum or dad is at least going to lead to conversation afterwards Everyone takes their turns together so there’s no deer in the headlights moment when the new players have to get through their turn not knowing what to do. It does require at least 4 players though, and ideally around 6, so if you can’t get that many people then maybe give this one a miss, otherwise you’ll have a blast.

3. Love Letter

love letter

Love Letter has the same kind of appeal as Exploding Kittens, a small simple card game with a little bit of deduction but comes up slightly stronger for me. Love Letter is really quick, a full game taking maybe half a hour at most, and incredibly simple. All you do is draw a card then play a card, but there’s still plenty of thinking to do based on what has been played before and how your opponents are acting. Also the art is really nice and it’s dirt cheap so just go buy it.

2. Codenames

codenames

Codenames is the natural successor to games like charades or Pictionary, but beefed up to 12. Players are divided into two teams facing a grid of words,  only the team captain can see a sheet saying if those words count for their own or the other team. The captains then give one word clues hinting to one or more of the words on the grid. That’s it, and yet managed to be one of my favourite games this year. The rage of the captains staring at their idiot team who can’t see what was obvious to them, and the confusion the teams feel towards the person talking like a mad person are both incredible. One drawback that prevents Codenames from taking first place is it does require a large player count, at the very least 6 but more likely 10 or so.

1. Netrunner   Skull

skull

While I love Netrunner more than my hypothetical firstborn, it’s not exactly a game for everyone. Skull, on the other hand is one of the best introductions to board games. It has no trouble getting a fantasy or sci-fi theme past apprehensive relatives, the tiles are chunky and are enjoyable to just hold, and it’s one of the simplest games out there. You are betting how many flowers you can find among the tiles on the board without hitting any skulls. Within this framework there’s actually a lot you can do and you end up playing with your family psychologically not just mechanically. Skull also scales incredibly well going from two players to as many as you have sets for (and making your own is fairly easy). Skull isn’t necessarily my favourite game or the best game ever, but it earns the top of this list because of just how universal it is.

 

Skull coming out on top doesn’t make the other games on this list any lesser, if you think one of the others suits your family better then by all means go for it. And, if it’s a total disaster? Well that’s what Christmas is about.

 

NAGATL Episode 4 Fantastic bants and where to find them

After a while in the editing bay Dave and I return to ramble on about the games we’ve been taking an interest in. Some Netrunner tournament action and where we’re at with Duelyst. As well as high hopes for the re release of Blood Bowl. And as usual questions from the lovely audience.

HERO BASES: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1o1r9uUDmoM

 

 

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