Bang!

This is a game that was given to us almost a year ago. When we opened it, however, we realised that what we had was the French version, which was a tad problematic — for me, at least. So the game ended up being put to the side and largely forgotten. A few weeks ago, however, Alex picked it up and suggested we give it a go and a quick search for a translation of the rules ensued.

Luckily, the publisher has downloadable rules in a multitude of languages. They also provide a handy description of the game:

When a man with a pistol meets a man with a Winchester, you might say that the one with the pistol is a dead man… unless his pistol is a Volcanic!

In the wild west, the Outlaws hunt the Sheriff, the Sheriff hunts the Outlaws, and the Renegade plots in secret, ready to join one side or the other.

Before long, bullets start to fly!Which gunmen are Deputies, ready to sacrifice themselves for the Sheriff? And which are the merciless Outlaws, looking to gun him down?

The world’s best-selling wild west card game is back in a new, richer format. Easier to learn and play than ever before!

I’m not sure about that last line. There can’t be that many wild west card games in existence and being the leader in a field of one isn’t as impressive an achievement as it sounds.

As for the game itself, I shall start by noting that I may be being a little unfair to the game here. A lot of the information necessary to play is printed on the cards which should make for a reasonably fast flowing game. However, with all the cards are printed in French, I have to keep referring back to the rules in order to understand both the character abilities and what the cards can do.

It’s not a bad little game, but nor is it great.

Bang! is a card game and it’s about players shooting each other. It’s not open warfare, though, as each player has a role. In the four player game, there is a sheriff, who has to eliminate everyone else from the game; two outlaws who have to eliminate the sheriff and a renegade who needs to be the last man standing.

Each turn, the player draws two cards, plays as many cards as they can and then discards excess cards until they no longer exceed their hand limit (which varies from player to player and over the course of the game). And I think it’s the need to discard cards that is my main issue with the game because this makes everything heavily dependent on luck. If you have a card that can be played, you really need to either play it or lose it and this makes it near impossible to hang onto a card in order to spring a nasty surprise later in the game.

The game is also a lot easier for the outlaws to win, and very difficult for the renegade, which can make for some very frustrating gameplay.

Linked to this is the fact that the large number of defensive and recovery cards can cause the game to drag somewhat. This is especially notable as players are eliminated and those remaining become increasingly difficult to knock out. This is not helped by the fact that only one Bang! card (the main method for shooting opponents) can be played per turn.

That said, at it’s core the game is a good one and we have played it several times, so much so that the game is flowing a lot more easily. With a bit of tuning, it could be a great game.

We may play around with the rules a bit at some point in the future, just to see what happens if we ignore the hand limit as well as the rule about only playing one Bang card per turn. Because, for me, a Spaghetti Western should end in a massive shootout, and not a long slow grinding of each other down.

Dungeon Mayhem

Dungeon Mayhem is another D&D inspired game, this time a card game in which four players battle to the death.

Each player picks one of the four characters and takes the appropriate character deck. They then shuffle the deck and draw three cards and the game is ready to start.

Each turn, a player draws one more card and then plays a card. The cards can be used to attack, defend, recover health, get more cards or uses a special power (each character has their own special powers). Defensive cards stay in play until they’re destroyed, all other played cards are discarded and it’s the next players turn.

Normally you only play one card per turn, but some cards let you play additional cards, which can be useful. And if you run out of cards, you draw two more and keep going.

The last player standing wins the game.

Dungeon Mayhem is a really simple game. It’s quick to set up, it’s easy to understand and each game is over very quickly. And, because the games tend to be over quickly, being knocked out isn’t much of an issue because the next game will start very shortly. What we tend to find, in fact, is that everyone bar the winner will be knocked out in the last couple of turns.

The game can be played by two to four players and we have found that the four-player version works really well, providing scope to watch which players are looking strongest and react accordingly. Playing with two players is less challenging — both players tend to simply blast each other and whoever went first invariably wins.

This is a fun and fast game and a very portable one. The only problem for us — as a family of five — is that only four people can play at a time. Maybe I should look into the expansion.

Dungeons & Dragons: Adventure Begins

When I was younger, I was a very regular player of roleplaying games. This is something that fell by the wayside as I moved but I have never completely given up on re-entering the hobby. Moreover, as the kids have grown older I have often wondered how they would take to tabletop roleplaying.

With Dungeons & Dragons: Adventure Begins I have a chance to find out.

This is a co-operative board game, set in the world of D&D, in which the players select from one of four characters: a dwarf fighter, a dragonborn rogue, a human wizard or an elven bard, along with a choice of two combat types and one of four personalities.

The party then moves through four zones, fighting monsters and roleplaying encounters until they meet the final boss monster at the end of their quest.

Obviously, in a proper roleplaying game, you would have a DM to narrate the events and manage the outcome of encounters. In this simplified version, however, we have a deck of cards (four decks, in fact — one for each of the four zones) and a rotating DM. On each space, the DM for that turn draws a card which can be either a monster or an event. At the end of the turn, the deck is passed to the next player who becomes the DM for the next turn.

If the card drawn is a monster, everyone gets to fight the monster, which involves rolling dice until the monster (or party) is killed. Then everyone takes a reward and moves on to the next location.

The fun begins, however, when the DM draws an event card. Event cards can be anything including coming up with a creative solution to a problem, simple yes/no decisions or helping some character we encounter. It’s the event cards that really encourage the storytelling aspect of roleplaying games and the kids all engaged with this brilliantly, with solutions getting madder and the laughter getting louder as the game wore on.

Adventure Begins is a highly simplified version of Dungeons & Dragons, and one that works remarkably well for what it is. For kids who are familiar with the idea of co-operative games but not ready to be bogged down with D&D proper, this game provides a wonderfully accessible way to DM without too much work, fight battles and roleplay simple scenarios.

Watching the unleashing of unbridled creativity as the boys figured out how to cross a sudden chasm, or described how they defeated a dark dwarf really was a joy to behold.

While there are a lot of cards and four boss monsters to provide variation, all of the quests are essentially the same and necessarily episodic. There is a possibility, therefore, that this will start to feel a bit repetitive after a while. Then again, we still play Forbidden Island, so it will probably turn out to be a long while before anyone has had enough of Adventure Begins.

Risk

So here’s something of a confession. While I have played several digital versions of Risk (such as Domination) and a few Risk variants (Star Wars Risk being the most notable), I had never played the actual board game. Until recently.

For my birthday last week, the boys clubbed together to get me Risk, the board game. Clearly I have trained them well.

Risk is probably the most popular war game around and one that still holds up today. A large part of this, I am sure, is down to the elegant simplicity of the rules.

First you place armies in the countries you control, then these countries are able to attempt to invade neighboring countries, gaining a bonus card if you succeed (only one per turn, though) and finally, you can move armies to defend your borders.

This simplicity makes for rules that are very easy to understand and encourages players to start thinking strategically very quickly. Indeed, right from the initial placement of armies, you can see what territories your opponents are trying to capture and quickly have to start developing a strategy of your own.

Invading a territory is determined by dice rolls and, while it is possible to be incredibly unlucky on occasion, the mechanics feel quite balanced overall. For equally matched battles, the defender has a slight advantage, but once the attacking force is stronger the advantage goes to the attacker.

It’s easy to see why Risk has remained popular for over six decades. While there are plenty of games that add both complexity and sophistication to war gaming, in terms of getting the basics absolutely spot on, Risk is very hard to beat.

Unfortunate timing

On Friday, the Pixel Museum opened it’s doors to the public. This is Brussels’ first and only video games museum and includes merchandise, memorabilia and — most interestingly to me — 50 playable arcade games.

In other Friday news, the Belgian government announced a tightening of restrictions in order (hopefully) to bring down the rising Coronavirus numbers.

Among the restrictions, bars and restaurants have to close for four weeks, although this will be reviewed in two week’s time. Understandably, the hospitality sector is not happy about this.

Nothing has been decided about museums yet as the rules for sport and culture are still being revised. There will be an announcement this coming Friday, but I would expect to see museums, cinemas and indoor sporting events to be severely restricted, if not closed down completely. Which would be a shame, because I really like the idea of going out to play Space Invaders.

So here’s hoping that the infection rates start falling again and that we can start emerging — yet again — before too long, and that the affected businesses manage to stay afloat long enough to survive this latest outbreak.

Quixx

Quixx is another dice game, the aim of which is mark off as many numbers as you can on a score sheet. One of the nice things about this game is that everyone participates no matter whose turn it is.

The score sheet has four coloured rows, two of which are numbered from 2 to 12 and two of which are numbered from 12 to 2. You win by marking off as many numbers as possible, but you can only mark off numbers to the right of all the marked off numbers in the same row.

On their turn, the active player rolls six dice — two white ones and four coloured ones, the colours of which correspond to the rows. Any player may choose to mark off the sum of the two white dice on one of their four rows. The active player can also choose to mark off the sum of one coloured die and one white die in the row corresponding to the coloured dice.

If the active player fails to mark off any number, he takes a penalty.

As the rows fill up, it becomes possible to lock them which removes that colour (die and row) from the game. Once two rows are locked, or someone manages four penalties, the game ends and everyone calculates their scores based on the number of digits they have managed to mark off.

As with other dice games in our collection Quixx is an easy to understand game that takes no time to set up and can be played anywhere (as long as you have enough pencils to go around). There’s not much depth to the game and it’s not one that stands up to repeated play, but if you do find yourself with three kids and fifteen minutes to spare, it’s ideal.

Roll For It!

Roll For It! is a wonderfully simple game of rolling dice and collecting cards. It takes almost no time to set up, is quick to play and provides a great way to keep a family entertained for twenty minutes.

What you get in the (small and very portable) box is 30 cards and four sets of six dice (each set being a different colour).

To set up the game, you shuffle the cards and draw three which are placed face up in the middle of the table. Then each player picks a set of six dice in their preferred colour.

Each player then takes turns to roll all of their available dice. Any dice that match the dice pictures on any of the cards can be placed on the pictures. Once you have matched all of the pictures on the card, then you take the card. Each card has a score printed at the bottom and you have taken enough cards to score 40 points, you win.

The one thing you have to be careful of, though, is that once you have placed a dice on a card, you can’t roll it again until the card is taken (either by you or someone else). You have to be careful, therefore, that you still have enough dice to actually take the cards you have matched so far.

It’s quite a tactical game and one that is largely driven by the dice rolls — you roll the dice and then decide which cards to go for — and this makes for a quick and easy game that anyone can jump straight into.

The simplicity of the game means that it doesn’t really stand up to repeated plays, but for a quick game which everyone can enjoy, it’s a great way to pass a bit of time.

Also, the box lid is just the right size to use as a rolling tray and helps avoid having to stop the game to hunt for over-enthusiastically launched dice.

Evolution: The Beginning

First released in 2014, Evolution from North Star Games is an award-winning board game where 2 – 6 players adapt species in an ever changing ecosystem with hungry predators and limited resources. On their website, the publisher is keen to point out that this game has been used in the evolutionary biology department at the University of Oxford and featured in the world’s leading scientific journal, Nature.

Evolution: The Beginning takes ideas and concepts from Evolution to make a fun, and very playable, strategy game in which you adapt your species to survive and grow in a changing ecosystem.

The rules of the game are remarkably simple, making it a very easy game to learn, something that is helped immeasurably by the two (very slightly different) player aids which help you remember what you can do and when.

On each player’s turn, the player first places two food tokens in the watering hole and places a card face down in front of them to create a new species. The player then draws three more cards. These can be placed face down to enlarge the population of an existing species or create a new species. Alternatively, these cards can be used to add up to three traits to a species, and this is where the fun begins.

By default, each species can eat only from the watering hole and this supply is very limited indeed. So species will have to adapt — to become carnivores or scavengers so they can prey on other species, or grow long necks in order to reach food from the excess food pile. And once the carnivores evolve, other species will need to gain defensive traits such as flying, burrowing or speed.

As the game progresses, and the ecosystem changes, traits can also be discarded. This becomes important as each species can only have a maximum of three traits.

Once the player has played all of the cards he wants to play, his populations must eat. Any population that has not found food by this point dies and, once a species runs out of population it goes extinct.

When the cards run out, the game is over and points are totted up, the winner being the player who managed to consume the most food.

Over the course of the last week or so, Evolution: The Beginning has quickly become a firm favourite in our household. The game’s theme is so well integrated into the mechanics that each game becomes an evolutionary arms race as we watch species evolve, grow and go extinct.

Appropriately enough, it’s a very tactical game — any grand strategies you might have had vanish as soon as flying carnivores appear on the scene — and one that is beautifully balanced. It may just be us, but every game we have played so far has been surprisingly close.

All in all, Evolution: The Beginning is a marvelously playable and incredibly enjoyable game that also manages to give you a god’s eye view of the interplay between species and their environment.

It’s possible that the relatively limited number of traits may lead to things becoming a bit repetitive at some point in the future but, by the time that happens, we will all be ready to start on the full size version.

Onitama

Much as I like abstract strategy games, I have to concede that they can become a bit repetitive if you’re not careful. When there is no random element, and every possible move is clear to both players (as is the case with chess, for example), it is possible reach a point at which the same players keep making the same moves and each game is largely the same.

Onitama elegantly and effectively solves this problem, essentially by adding a random element to the rules.

The game is played on a 5×5 board and each player has five pieces — four students and a master. The aim is to either capture your opponent’s master or to move your own master into the opponent’s temple square.

What makes this game really unique, though, is that the possible combinations of moves are different for every game.

The game comes with 16 move cards from which you draw five at the beginning of the game. Two are dealt to each player with the fifth card being put to the side as a ‘draw card’. The first player can then take any of the moves indicated by the two move cards in front of them, after which they discard that card and take the draw card. The discarded card then becomes the next player’s draw card.

In this way, each player always has two move cards available and can see what their next move card is going to be.

With over half a million possible combinations of move cards, it will be a long time before the games start repeating themselves which massively improves the variability of the game. It also adds an additional level of strategy in that, by deciding which card to play and discard, you are able to exert some control over your opponent’s options.

The recommended age for Onitama is 14+ which, quite frankly, is nonsense. As with many strategy games, the rules are straightforward enough that they can be grasped by a nine-year old and probably younger. In many ways it plays like a simplified version of chess for which you don’t even have to remember the possible moves as these are in the cards in front of you.

Aesthetically the game is beautiful. The pieces are beautifully crafted and, combined with the artwork on both the board and the card, give the game a wonderfully Shaolin feel.

Overall, Onitama is a beautiful looking game that is very easy to learn and quick to play. The game also offers enough depth to keep us all coming back to it and, because it randomises the available moves, we can be sure that no two games will ever be the same.

Nine Men’s Morris

Many years ago, I picked up a “Classic Games Compendium”, a collection of boards and pieces needed to play a whole stack of classic, or traditional, board games. It also came with a pack of cards, because you can never have too many playing cards.

One game from this collection that has seen a lot of play over the past few weeks is Nine Men’s Morris. This is a game whose origins are lost so far back in the mists of time that no-one is quite sure where or when it first emerged, and it’s one that remains surprisingly playable.

Each player has nine pieces and the aim of the game is to form ‘mills’ a horizontal or vertical line of three men. When you form a mill, you can take one of your opponent’s pieces. When you reduce your opponent to two pieces, you have won the game.

It’s played in two parts. First, the players take turns to place their pieces and, once all of the pieces are placed, the players take turns in moving them.

It’s always tempting to try and form mills in the first (piece placing) part of the game but this, I think, is a mistake. When a player does this they tend to find all their pieces bunched up together and unable to move. It is far better to place pieces in order to achieve maximum flexibility later in the game.

Nine Men’s Morris is a solved game (pdf), for which the optimal strategy has been calculated and perfect play from both players will always result in a draw.

We are far from perfect.