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12 Days of Holiday Gaming – Cursed Court

I’m once again doing something a bit different for Day 10 of my 12 Days of Holiday Gaming Suggestions and discussing a game that won’t be released until Tuesday, December 19th. Look a few days into the future with Cursed Court!

Disclosure time: John Nephew (the head of the game’s publisher, Atlas Games) is friends with Lory Aitken (my boss at Pegasus Games). John was in Madison for Thanksgiving weekend and brought a copy of Cursed Court to the store to run a few demos. Neither of them had any idea that I’d be writing this.

Cursed Court is a deduction game for two to six players, who take on the roles of minor nobles in a fantasy setting. The game’s board shows nine major nobles in a three-by-three grid. There is also a deck of 36 cards; four copies of each of the major nobles. The players will be trying to use public and semi-private information to deduce which cards will be appearing, and in what combination.

The game is played over the course of three cycles (or years), each with four phases (or seasons). At the beginning of each year, every player gets four wagering crown tokens and 20 influence coins. The deck of major nobles is shuffled, and one card is dealt in between each of the players. That card is shared information for the two players it is between. At the beginning of each season, a single card from the major noble deck is publicly revealed and placed next to the board. (Meaning for cards will be made public by the end of each year.)

After a noble card is relieved the betting begins, and this is where Cursed Court shines. Each season, players can place one of their wagering crowns on the board; either on a single noble, or a combination of nobles who they think will appear the most that year. (For example: a player could bet on the Queen, or bet on “The Wedding” which assumes a combination of the Queen, Duke, and Priestess.) At the end of each year, all of the cards that were dealt between the players are added to the revealed cards, and successful wagers are scored. Bets on a single noble score based on how many copies of that noble’s card are showing. Bets on a combination score if at least one copy of each of the required cards is showing at least a single copy. (“The Wedding” will only be worth three points, even if two copies of every card is present.)

While that may seem straightforward, there is a major limiting factor in Cursed Court: each space can only have a single wagering crown on it. When a player places their crown on an unclaimed space they can add any number of their 20 influence coins to that space as well. If a player wants to take a claimed space they must be able to play twice as many influence coins as the controlling player has already played. (This means spaces with 11 coins on them are completely secure.) Players must time their influence use wisely because they cannot get coins back until they lose a space, or at the end of the year.

Cursed Court is another game where the mechanics and the components compliment each other perfectly. The fact that only one player can control a possible wager, plus the limited number of influence, plus shared “hidden” information, plus the slow reveal of public information leads to a lot of bluffing, second-guessing, and ruthless undercutting. It feels like cutthroat political intrigue. This is magnified by fantastic artwork and well-designed tokens. Everything blends together very well.

When I first did this list in 2015 my game of the year was Revolution!, and I said it was an underrated game that deserved much more love than it gets. It made me happy to see so many people agree with me in the comments. To those people in particular, I say keep your eyes open for Cursed Court. Beyond that little niche, I think this game is going to be a hit with anyone who likes deduction, bluffing, and playing the odds in a highly combative way. If this sounds like a game for you, get ready for its release in a few days!

About the Author

James Nettum started playing RPG’s while in fourth grade, sneaking in sessions of AD&D on the playground of his Catholic school. He went pro at the age of 25 when he took a position at Pegasus Games in Madison, Wisconsin. He’s been there 10 years and plays every sort of game, except collectibles.

James started posting a 12 Days of Holiday Gaming via Facebook on Black Friday in 2016. I enjoyed the recommendations and wanted to share them. With his permission, I’m reblogging the series here at Chicago Geek Guy.

12 Days of Holiday Gaming – Baffle

Hello, Day 9 of Holiday Game Suggestions! Today’s entry is will be short, but it’s for a game that I feel deserves a much wider audience than it has. Let me tell you all about the Baffle!. (No, that’s not a typo. “Baffle!” is the full name of the game.) This one is independently published, so most stores don’t carry it.

Baffle! is a variant of Sudoku that uses colors and shapes rather than numbers. There are 25 pieces in five different shapes and colors, and a 5×5 playing board. To win Baffle! you must have a full board that doesn’t repeat a single color or shape in any column, row, or corner-to-corner diagonal. There are 60 puzzle cards full of different starting-states for the board, each with a different difficulty.

What sets Baffle! apart from other puzzle games is that it has different rules variations, including competitive multiplayer. A possible way to play with multiple people is that the person who places the last piece wins. On a player’s turn, they can add or remove a piece; or swap two pieces around the board, or from the board to the unplayed pile. Since many of the puzzles have multiple solutions, the challenge now includes figuring out which one everyone else is going for and cutting them off.

Baffle! is most certainly a game for fans of logic puzzles, and it also has great potential as a learning tool for all ages. This is especially true with the competitive or cooperative multiplayer aspect. I could easily see this working well in a classroom, after-school club, or senior center. This one gets a big thumbs up, folks. If you’re a fan of logic games, this one’s for you.

(And I can say personally that the game is highly addictive. For you see, when Pegasus Games first started carrying Baffle! there was an open copy at the counter for customers to look through. But after a week or so it was obvious that Baffle! was causing some major loss of productivity on the employee end, and the open copy was put on the demo shelf.)

Baffle! can be purchased from the manufacturer Flying Rabbit (http://www.bafflegame.com/) or from Pegasus Games.

About the Author

James Nettum started playing RPG’s while in fourth grade, sneaking in sessions of AD&D on the playground of his Catholic school. He went pro at the age of 25 when he took a position at Pegasus Games in Madison, Wisconsin. He’s been there 10 years and plays every sort of game, except collectibles.

James started posting a 12 Days of Holiday Gaming via Facebook on Black Friday in 2016. I enjoyed the recommendations and wanted to share them. With his permission, I’m reblogging the series here at Chicago Geek Guy.

12 Days of Holiday Gaming – Simon’s Cat

Sometimes you just need a simple, silly game. Maybe you have friends or relatives over who aren’t habitual gamers. Maybe you need to kill time while half your gaming group finally finishes that. Damn. Game. Of. Agricola. ALREADY. Maybe you just need something to pay at the restaurant while you’re waiting for your order to show up. For all those instances (and undoubtedly many more) we have our Day 8 suggestion, the Simon’s Cat Card Game.

Yes, it’s that Simon’s Cat straight from the YouTube series. The card game is another one that follows trick-taking mechanics, but adds a few unique twists to it. For starters, none of the games’ six suits are the same length, and some don’t even have the same value. (For example, the pink Cat deck goes from 3-10, but the green Gnome cards only have a 1 & 2!) Secondly… well, let’s get into that as we discuss the play.

Shuffle the 36 cards together to form a deck of Mischief. Deal an equal number of cards to each player. How many? As many as you want. The bigger the opening hand, the longer the game. Any leftover cards are set aside face up, public knowledge to every player. During the game, players must play a card by following the same number or color of the last card played. If a player can’t do either, they are forced to take the trick.

The round ends when everyone has played all of the cards from their hands. Whoever has collected the most tricks has made the biggest mess, and therefore gets one Simon card. The first player to collect three Simon Cards has lost.

That’s just about it. If I gave any more details, I’ll have copied all of the game’s rules. So why am I recommending this game? Because like I said above, sometimes you just need a simple, silly game. Have you had fun with games like Love Letter, Yam Slam, or Zombie Dice? Then you’ll probably enjoy Simon’s Cat.

The Simon’s Cat Card Game is by Steve Jackson Games.

About the Author

James Nettum started playing RPG’s while in fourth grade, sneaking in sessions of AD&D on the playground of his Catholic school. He went pro at the age of 25 when he took a position at Pegasus Games in Madison, Wisconsin. He’s been there 10 years and plays every sort of game, except collectibles.

James started posting a 12 Days of Holiday Gaming via Facebook on Black Friday in 2016. I enjoyed the recommendations and wanted to share them. With his permission, I’m reblogging the series here at Chicago Geek Guy.

12 Days of Holiday Gaming – Sentinels Comics RPG

I’m breaking yet another of my very-much-not-long-standing traditions with Day Seven of my 12 Days of Holiday Game Recommendations because I’m going to recommend a game that just came out. Step right up, Sentinels Comics RPG Starter!

“But, James,” protests some voice that definitely isn’t just in my head, “everyone knows about the Sentinels of the Mulitiverse card game. It’s a best-seller everywhere!” While that’s absolutely true, the followup Sentinels Tactics board game didn’t share nearly the same success after its Kickstarter. (Which is a shame because it’s a great game but we’re not talking about it right now focus James!) So please loan me a few moments of your time, and let me tell you about the Sentinels Comics RPG Starter.

(And for my own sake, I’m going to talk about the RPG Starter without referencing Sentinels of the Multiverse. For my fellow Sentinels fans, just know that this story takes place after the OblivAeon Event.)

The Sentinels Comics RPG Starter takes place on an Earth that is being rebuilt following a global disaster, one that could have been total extinction event had it not been for the world’s superheroes. Up to six players will step into the spandex of the most famous superhero team, the Freedom Five (plus their former intern), while one takes on the traditional GM roll. Over the course of six adventure booklets, the players will lead the Freedom Five through a series of events that will set the state of the world for the full release of the Sentinels Comics RPG.

The Sentinels Comics RPG is a world of brightly colored superhero shenanigans. The closest “real world” parallel I can think of is the old DC Animated Universe. While the tone of those shows varied from the gloom of Gotham, the urban utopia of Metropolis, the fantasy of Atlantis and Olympus, and even the blighted hellscape of Apokolips, there was always a positivity and optimism over the stories. So too is the world of Sentinels comics. There will be highs and lows, emotional stakes, and the threat of death, but the players are Capitol H Heroes.

The mechanics of the game reflect this by supporting a play style that’s more about storytelling than number crunching. At the system’s core is a unique mechanic that uses three dice, ranging from d4s to d12s. When a player wants to accomplish something, they pick a die associated with one of their character’s powers, a die associated with one of their character’s qualities, and a status die. The three dice are rolled, and usually, the middle result is used. (Individual abilities will often modify which die is used, but will always be three dice for the PCs.) This could be an attack, or it could be…

– An OVERCOME action to remove an obstacle, or narrative danger. (Tachyon the speedster using her scientific knowledge and inhuman quickness to override the guidance system of multiple missiles.)
– A BOOST or HINDER to modify someone else’s roll, be it a player or the GM. (The ninja-like Wraith using her gadgets and stealth to lay down a series of smoke bombs.)
– A DEFEND action for when the player wants to focus exclusively on protecting more than just their hero. (The cold-based Absolute Zero creating a wall of ice to shield his team from an incoming gout of flame.)

The emphasis on action type and broadly defined powers and skills gives players a feel of narrative influence, while still allowing for the dice to dictate a degree of randomness beyond the outcomes of success or failure. Additionally, the initiative system is completely under the player’s control! After a character gets an action, that player decides who will go next, even if it’s the GM’s villains. This streamlines in-game conflicts, by focusing on teamwork, and doing away the need for prepaid or held actions.

To a veteran RPG enthusiast, I would say that the Sentinels Comics RPG Starter is much more freeform than D&D or Pathfinder, much less straightforward than Savage Worlds, but not nearly as open-ended as FATE. It shares a designer with the Marvel RPG published by Margaret Wies Productions, and probably is most likely that game more than any other.

A final note in case you’re wary of starter products or prepackaged adventures because you don’t like linear stories. Of the six story booklets, only the first two and the final one have to be done in order. The first serves as an introduction to the heroes and the setting, while the second sets up the state of the world and the story. The next three are up to the players; how they arrive to the final showdown (and in what shape things are in at that point!) is up to them.

Bottom line, if you’re an RPG fan of any sort, get the Sentinels Comics Starter. Better yet, buy it from a Friendly Local Game Store that’s part of Bits and Mortar. You’ll get all the PDF of the whole bundle for free if you do!

The Sentinels Comics RPG is by Greater Than Games.

About the Author

James Nettum started playing RPG’s while in fourth grade, sneaking in sessions of AD&D on the playground of his Catholic school. He went pro at the age of 25 when he took a position at Pegasus Games in Madison, Wisconsin. He’s been there 10 years and plays every sort of game, except collectibles.

James started posting a 12 Days of Holiday Gaming via Facebook on Black Friday in 2016. I enjoyed the recommendations and wanted to share them. With his permission, I’m reblogging the series here at Chicago Geek Guy.

12 Days of Holiday Gaming – Grifters

We’re halfway through my 12 Days of Holiday Game recommendations! Now over the last two years, my first nine picks were in no particular order, and I saved any ranking for my top three. I’m doing something different this year. Today may be day six, but this game is not only my Number Three pick of the year; it’s also a teaser for my overall Game of the Year.

Today’s game is Grifters, and it feels weird to have to shine a light on this one. Grifters exists within the same world as the incredibly popular Resistance and Coup card games, but seems like it’s become to be their forgotten sibling. (The William Baldwin of the group, if you will.) But Grifters is an excellent game, and it deserves way more credit than it gets.

In Grifters two to four players take on the role of rival criminal organizations, competing over a limited supply of money, jobs, and specialists. When any one of those three supplies run out, the game is over. At the beginning of the game, each player will start with a hand of six cards. Three of those cards will be the game’s three ringleaders (Mastermind, Thief, and Pickpocket), and three will be randomly drawn from the specialist deck. Players will recruit additional specialists throughout the game either by drawing from the deck or stealing them from other players.

Specialists in Grifters either work solo or as a team. If a card is played by itself, follow the rule text on it. (For example, playing the Mastermind would allow a player to add more specialists from the deck to their hand.) To complete a job, multiple specialists are played as a team. When this happens all of a card’s printed rules are ignored in favor of what suit it is. Each job requires a combination of one or more of the game’s three suits (red, green, and blue) to be completed. (For example, when played as a team the Mastermind simply counts as one blue card.) Players can choose to either play a single card, or as many as they need to complete an available job.

My favorite mechanic in Grifters is in its player boards. Each player has a hideout with a multistage discard area, representing the time their specialists are laying low after an assignment. When cards are played, they go into the “Night One” space. At the beginning of every turn, players will move any cards from Night One to Night Two; from Night Two to Night Three; and from Night Three to the Refresh area. At the end of a players turn, they put any cards in their refresh area back into their hands. The heat is off; time to get back to work.

Much like Honshu, and Bad Beets, Grifters is a small box game that’s easy to teach. It’s also a game that does a great job of merging mechanics and theme. Between assembling the perfect team for a job, and having that team lay low for a few turns afterwards, it feels like a heist game. Having to race against the other players for the perfect team and the perfect score—all the while stealing specialists and resources from each other—definitely gives the whole experience the cutthroat feeling of rival crime families carving up a city. If you’re a fan of quick to play, highly competitive player-vs-player games, you should check out Grifters.

Grifters is published by Indie Boards and Cards.

About the Author

James Nettum started playing RPG’s while in fourth grade, sneaking in sessions of AD&D on the playground of his Catholic school. He went pro at the age of 25 when he took a position at Pegasus Games in Madison, Wisconsin. He’s been there 10 years and plays every sort of game, except collectibles.

James started posting a 12 Days of Holiday Gaming via Facebook on Black Friday in 2016. I enjoyed the recommendations and wanted to share them. With his permission, I’m reblogging the series here at Chicago Geek Guy.

12 Days of Holiday Gaming – The Others

Day four’s Holiday Game Suggestion is going to be a bit different from the rest. Nearly all of my past (and upcoming) choices are meant to cast a wide net in terms of interest. But much when I recommend the Dread RPG last year, it’s time to focus on people who like their games a bit creepier. Step out of the light with The Others, a one-versus-many, dungeon-crawl board game set at the beginning of a potential Apocalypse. Up to four players take on the role of the Heroes who will fight save the city of Haven. Opposing them is the player who takes the role of one of the Seven Deadly Sins!

The Others begins with a lot of player choice immediately. First, the players decide who will be the Sin. The Sin player then choices their sin (Pride or Sloth in the core game, more in expansions), and their acolytes (three choices in the core game, more in expansions). Then the group will decide which scenario they’ll play, and which of the map options of that scenario they’ll use. The Hero players then each pick their one starting characters from a team of seven choices, each with different strengths and focuses. The Heroes win in different ways, always dictated by the chosen scenario. The Sin may get other victory options, but one never changes: if they eliminate all of the heroes, they win.

This game oozes atmosphere in its every component, so much so that I could gush about for way too long. Instead, I’ll attempt to do it justice concisely. The Others is a game of both gothic horror and science fantasy, and every part of its presentation merges those two aspects. The map tiles depict a range of buildings like sterile medical centers, towering cathedrals, and decaying warehouses; all of them unified by a gloomy style. The monsters have a visceral, body-horror design that may call to mind the works of Clive Barker, David Cronenberg, or H.R. Giger. There are a lot of extra teeth and tentacles on the likes of zombies, medical workers, astronauts, hobos, and things that were clearly never humanoid. So it’s only fitting that the heroes include a trained marksmen, a vampire, a werewolf, and a mind-controlling mutant. Monster and hero are all depicted in highly detailed miniatures that come fully assembled.

The atmosphere is supported by the game’s mechanics, which help convey a sense of inevitable doom to the Heroes. When it comes time for the Hero players to make roles in the game they can choose to corrupt their heroes to gain a quick boost. The more corruption a Hero takes, the bigger the boost they get. Naturally the more corruption a Hero takes the closer they get to a grizzly end, but they will not succeed without it! It is a question of when, not if. When a Hero dies (and they will die), the player picks a new one from the reserve. If there are no Heroes left in the reserve when one dies, the Sin wins.

The Sin player also has difficult choices to make, but the one most unique to The Others is when they will act. Unlike most one-versus-many games, the Sin player doesn’t have a spot in turn order. The Sin player gets a turn by spending a reaction token after a Hero has completed their turn. The Sin begins the game with a small supply (usually only two tokens), and can only send monsters after the Hero that has just acted, so they must pick their moments to strike carefully.

The Others is one of the most unique dungeon crawl board games I’ve ever played and is one of the best-looking games I’ve ever owned. (Corruption, decay, and eldritch horrors can be beautiful no you shut up!) As a bonus, the massive amount of expansions for both Sins and Heroes means that it will be a long time before this one gets stale. If you enjoy games like Zombicide, Decent, Imperial Assault, or Castle Ravenloft; and you have a taste for movies like Hellraiser, Alien, or Event Horizon, you should check out The Others.

About the Author

James Nettum started playing RPG’s while in fourth grade, sneaking in sessions of AD&D on the playground of his Catholic school. He went pro at the age of 25 when he took a position at Pegasus Games in Madison, Wisconsin. He’s been there 10 years and plays every sort of game, except collectibles.

James started posting a 12 Days of Holiday Gaming via Facebook on Black Friday in 2016. I enjoyed the recommendations and wanted to share them. With his permission, I’m reblogging the series here at Chicago Geek Guy.

12 Days of Gaming – The Dragon & Flagon

It’s Day 3 of my Holiday Game Recommendations, and after two card games, I feel like doing a board game. And I’m on a self-imposed deadline so let’s skip the preamble: Today’s/yesterday’s game is The Dragon & Flagon, by Stronghold Games.

The Dragon & Flagon is a massive bar fight simulator set in a Dungeons & Dragons-style tavern. Two to eight players pick a character from a roster that includes the likes of a paladin, a monk, a pirate, and a druid. Each player gets a deck of cards, cardboard pawn, player board, and tokens unique to their character. The tavern board is set up using 3D tokens representing tables, chairs, flagons, barrels, and rugs. (The game has a suggested format for the first few games, but players can customize the board however they want once they have a some playtime under their belts.) The game’s maguffin—the bar’s signature Dragon beverage—is set up in the middle of the board. The goal of the game is to have the most Reputation at the end.

Then the chaos of a bar fight can begin! The Dragon & Flagon use a time-track system for turn order; a checkerboard-style grid system for character movement; and players use their cards to program their character’s moves. Players put a token representing their character on the first space of the time track. When the “current round” token is on the same space as their token, it’s that player’s turn. (In the event of a tie, all of the tokens on that space are shuffled and drawn one at a time to determine order. This means the first turn is once giant tie!) Player actions are chosen in secret by selecting from their deck of cards, and placing two of them face down on their board. The first card is then turned face up, revealing the action, and how many spaces along the time track the player’s token must be advanced. The second card stays face down, and is moved to the first space on of the player’s board; it will be their action their next turn. (This is an action system very similar to the game Flag Dash, which I reviewed two years ago and still highly recommend.)

“Wait, James” you may be thinking. “I thought you said ‘chaos of a bar fight’. That sounds like Robo Rally, which isn’t that chaotic.” First off; it’s like Flag Dash. Didn’t you read the last sentence of the previous paragraph? And yes, I said chaotic. And this is where all those nifty 3D tokens I mentioned come into play because everything on the board can be used by the characters. EVERYTHING. Flagons can be used either to make a drunk boast from the top of a table, or as makeshift throwing weapons. Chairs are great for smacking opponents with. A kicked barrel will roll across the floor, plowing over everything in its path. A pulled rug will knock over anyone unfortunate enough to be standing on it. And of course characters can swing from the tavern’s chandeliers. Each time a player successfully hits someone else’s character, they take renown from that person’s supply and add it to their own.

The cleverness in the design of The Dragon & Flagon is how the tokens and the programed actions interact. To swing from the rafters, for example, a player must first spend one action to move their pawn onto a table, then a second action later to perform the swing. This means another player could—upon seeing a tempting target atop a table—decide to program their action to throw a flagon to where they think that target will be swinging to. Or shove a third character in the way of the swing. Success hinges on anticipating what ones opponents are doing, and planning around that.

I strongly recommend The Dragon & Flagon to any groups who like their gaming silly, a bit unpredictable, and very competitive. Rules options like team play, and two pirate ships on the other side of the tavern board, give the game an expanded lifespan beyond the bar.

About the Author

James Nettum started playing RPG’s while in fourth grade, sneaking in sessions of AD&D on the playground of his Catholic school. He went pro at the age of 25 when he took a position at Pegasus Games in Madison, Wisconsin. He’s been there 10 years and plays every sort of game, except collectibles.

James started posting a 12 Days of Holiday Gaming via Facebook on Black Friday in 2016. I enjoyed the recommendations and wanted to share them. With his permission, I’m reblogging the series here at Chicago Geek Guy.

The Search for My Next Campaign – Star Trek (Mis) Adventures

It’s time for me to start a new campaign. While I greatly enjoyed Swashbucklers of the 7 Skies, the group had lost too many members and finding new players for a relatively unknown game posed challenges. Our group had decided on the system on the fly when we reached an ending point of our last story. This time, I wanted to take some time and find something that really suited me in terms of genre and system.

I launched a plan to play a new system every other month. I wanted to explore current offerings and see what would attract players. This month, I brought together four players to try out Modiphius’ recent release, Star Trek Adventures, and their living universe scenario, Tug of War.

Vulcan BeckieOne of my regular players dug out her Star Trek uniform

The game generated a lot of excitement among my stable of players and group of friends. One person came out of a two-year role-playing hiatus and the session convinced a longtime friend to finally join me at my table. One of my regular players dug out her Star Trek uniform and dressed up her ears to play a Vulcan science officer.

Tug of War puts an away team in position to investigate the mutual destruction of two interlinked species. Ancient weapons complicate the story when the crew and their starship attempt to break orbit. The adventure offers a fascinating puzzle without combat encounters. It struck me as a module in the spirit of Star Trek and I looked forward to giving the story and the system a try.

While we had a great time together, I don’t think I’ve found a new campaign in Star Trek Adventures.

It felt like the system played against the narrative

Star Trek Adventures describes itself as a narrative system, allowing players to add to the story with their descriptions and actions. The system allows a party to build momentum through the being of a session to match the building of dramatic tension present in an episode of the famed science fiction show. In general, especially at the climactic moment of the second act, the system worked well. However, at times, it felt like the system played against the narrative, especially when making rolls for ordinary tasks and what I considered unnecessary complexity. The structure of this particular adventure did not suit my players particularly well.

The party builds momentum by achieving additional successes on rolls. To build up a pool for use later in the session, the system encourages players to make rolls for zero difficulty tasks. Instead of just describing an action, players will interrupt the flow of the game to make a roll.

Honestly, I’m still not sure I got it right.

From the character sheet to receiving damage, Star Trek Adventures the party found itself confused by different, similarly named game elements. The system defines characters with attributes, disciplines, focuses, talents, and disciplines. Each of these items interact in different and confusing ways. Figuring out damage to a starship looked so intimidating, I decided to figure it out in advance of the session to prevent a major interruption to the flow of the game. Honestly, I’m still not sure I got it right. Figuring out personal damage looks just as puzzling.

The game also requires a sense of dramatic timing more akin to a television episode than gaming “reality.” Divided into three scenes, my players and I struggled with the pacing Tug of War. From a story perspective, the first scene serves as exposition and a set up for main conflict. If watching it on television, it would last until the first commercial. The first scene engrossed my players and extended much longer than subsequent acts. Quick thinking by our Vulcan science offer rendered the third act completely unnecessary. Great timing and action for a gamer, but not really fitting a three-act story.

(Don’t worry about us. We used the extra time to play a game of Flashpoint.)

My search will continue. Not as smooth as many of the narrative games out there, such as FATE or PDQ#, nor as easy to understand as something more simulationist, with an adventure structure out of sync with my player, Star Trek Adventures will go back on my shelf.

12 Days of Holiday Gaming – Honshu

On to day 2 of my Holiday Game Recommendations, and we’re sticking with small box card games with simple rules but deeper strategy. Today’s recommendation is Honshu, by Renegade Game Studios. And hey, nothing to disclose about this one so let’s get right into it!Honshu is a card-drafting, map-building for 2-5 people. Players start with a random starting province; one resource cube related to that province; a hand of six cards; and a randomly-determined turn order. (You will not be going around the table in this game!) Nearly everything in the game is done with the 60 card map deck. Starting with the first player, everyone plays one map card face-up into the central play area. Each map card has a value on it from 1-60. Once all the cards are placed turn order is reassigned, with the player of the highest-value card going first, the second-highest going second, etc.

Once turn order is reassigned, players will get a chance to pick any one of the face-up map cards to add to their province following the new order. (So yes, the last player gets stuck with the last card.) Map cards have six spaces with a mix of six different features: Forests, towns, production squares (in one of four colors), factories (in one of the same four colors), lakes, and deserts. To add a card to a province the player must either cover up at least one feature with the new card, or cover at least one feature on the new card with a previously played card. Placement is important, because lakes and towns need to be connected to score big at the end of the game, and resources don’t score if they don’t have a matching factory to be delivered to.

Once everyone has added their new card to their province, they pass their cards to the player on their left. Map cards are once again added to the central player area, turn order is reassigned, and provinces are expanded. After the sixth turn, players are dealt a new hand one six cards, and cards are passed to the right for the second half of the game. After the 12th turn, players add up their points to determine the winner.

Honshu feels somewhat derivative of Between to Cities in its map building, and 7 Wonders in its drafting and scoring mechanics. This is in no way a bad thing because both of those games are fantastic! However, both of those games really work best with a larger number of players, and for various reasons take longer to play. Honshu—as mentioned above—only plays up to five, and its leaner rules mean the game is faster to teach and play. It’s a great way to test to waters for Between to Cities, or 7 Wonders, or a game to play with a group who likes those games but is short on time. It’s family friendly, it’s easy to set up and tear down, and fits into a small box. It’s a perfect game for the holidays.

About the Author

James Nettum started playing RPG’s while in fourth grade, sneaking in sessions of AD&D on the playground of his Catholic school. He went pro at the age of 25 when he took a position at Pegasus Games in Madison, Wisconsin. He’s been there 10 years and plays every sort of game, except collectibles.

James started posting a 12 Days of Holiday Gaming via Facebook on Black Friday in 2016. I enjoyed the recommendations and wanted to share them. With his permission, I’m reblogging the series here at Chicago Geek Guy.

12 Days of Holiday Gaming – Custom Heroes

Friend of Chicago Geek Guy, Jame Nettum, returns with some suggestions for the holidays!

Time for another round of 12 Days of Holiday Game Recommendations (or whatever I randomly decide to call it on a daily whim). Some quick points before we start: I focus on games that won’t necessarily be on a “best of” list, but are still quality titles that are worth your time and money; I’ll make sure to disclose personal connections to the games in question; Lastly, these games are not in any particular order other than my top three.

And on that note we’ll get started with Custom Heroes (by AEG), and those disclosures. I got Custom Heroes for free at GenCon, but that’s because everyone who attended AEG’s Trade Day seminar did. I’m also gaming buddies with an AEG employee, but to my knowledge she didn’t work on this title.

Custom Heroes is a card game for two to six players. Its core mechanics are those of a simple trick-taking game, though the goal is to get rid of your cards rather than collect tricks. Cards come in a set of 1 through 10, with one set per player. The deck is fully dealt out at the start of each round. The lead player starts of stack of cards of any value and quantity they choose. The next player must play the same number of cards with an equal or higher value, or pass. Play continues around the table until everyone has passed, at which point the last player to have contributed to the stack starts a new one. The round continues until only one player has cards left in hand. The first player out of cards gets 5 victory points, and points diminish for each player out after that. The first player to reach 10 or more points, and be the first one out the next hand is the winner.

What sets Custom Heroes apart from other trick-taking games is that it’s part of AEG’s Card Crafting System (like Mystic Vale, which I reviewed last year), meaning that during play the individual cards will be modified. In Custom Heroes they’re through “Card Advancements” which are printed on transparent plastic, and sleeve right into the normal cards. The Advancements have a variety of effects, from changing or modifying the value of a card, or causing a stack to count down rather than up. They are used at a player’s discretion, always before contributing to the stack. Players don’t have to use their Advancements, or they can use all the ones they’ve managed to save in one big play. Since the entire is deck dealt out each round the changes made by the Card Advancements will effect the rest of the game. This is a great mechanic, because players need to remember that when they use their Advancements for a massive play, those cards could be used against them next round!

While the Card Advancements are a very clever twist that makes Custom Heroes stand out above other trick-taking games, the artwork on them also deserves a special note. The game’s art is a rather bombastic anime style, and each of the numbered cards features its own hero character. The Card Advancements modify the artwork of those heroes, giving them various weapons or power effects. The game would still be solid fun without this cool feature, but its inclusion gives a unique visual flair to the end product (and various visual shorthands once cards get heavily modified).

I greatly enjoy Custom Heroes. It scratches the same itch I have for the likes Wizards, The Great Dalmuti, or Gang of Four. But the Card Advancements add unique features that aren’t in those other titles, such as providing a handicap for people who got dealt lousy hands (the loser of each round gets to draw the most Card Advancements), and changing the depth of each value. I’ve always had a new experience each time I play. And I know that some people have adverse reactions to anime-style artwork, but if you’re a fan of any sort of trick-taking game you should give Custom Heroes a chance.

About the Author

James Nettum started playing RPG’s while in fourth grade, sneaking in sessions of AD&D on the playground of his Catholic school. He went pro at the age of 25 when he took a position at Pegasus Games in Madison, Wisconsin. He’s been there 10 years and plays every sort of game, except collectibles.

James started posting a 12 Days of Holiday Gaming via Facebook on Black Friday in 2016. I enjoyed the recommendations and wanted to share them. With his permission, I’m reblogging the series here at Chicago Geek Guy.

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