Let The Spy Fall, When It Crumbles, We Will Stand Tall - Spyfall Review

One of the best ways to find out if you will like a game is watch a live play through of it. Now whether you obtain this from The Dice Tower or Tabletop or some other online broadcaster is down to your preference, but seeing how a game plays out among gamers is a good way to at least dip your toes in the water.

This happened for me with Sheriff of Nottingham when I saw The Dice Tower show the old Robin Hood version in a live 24 hour marathon session. I was instantly hooked and have not regretted my purchase of the game, for which you can check out my review here. 

Spyfall is another game which has gone through the same motions. For a long time this game was insanely hard to get and so most of us were forced to simply watch The Dice Tower crew enjoy themselves in many, many games of it. Of course this built up the hype and everyone was excited to finally see its full release recently. Was this one worth the wait as well or did I make a really bad James Bond pun in the title for nothing?




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Progress Contagion, No Wait, Pandemic Technology - Progress: Evolution of Technology Review

It’s strange but even though I’m not usually a fan of anything history related, I do have a soft spot for technologies. When was that invented, how did it revolutionise the industry or our way of living, etc. It’s actually why I grabbed a copy of Timeline so I could learn a bit more on the subject (and as a side note it’s a solid way to educate you).

It’s not just technologies in real life though, it’s anything involving “tech” in games as well. My favourite part of any civilization game is upgrading technologies whether it’s through the ages of history or in a futuristic 4X setting. It’s my favourite part of Sid Meier’s Civilization and Clash of Cultures and even though it’s a tacked on theme, it’s what drew me into Innovation.

It took me a while to consider about grabbing this game. I bypassed it when it got released around Essen 2014 and I hoped to find someone else who had it. Unfortunately that never happened and as such I finally grabbed a second hand copy at the UK Games Expo. Is this an innovative marvel or simply an outdated concept?





Designer: Agnieszka Kopera / Andrei Novac
Publisher: NSKN Games
# of Players: 1-5
Ages: 10+
Play Time: 90 Minutes
BGG Rank/Rating: 1184 / 6.84


Cosmetic Upgrades

Component wise, there’s not a ton here, but what there is generally pretty good. The player boards are sturdy, the tokens are large enough so that they’re easily distinguished and the artwork is fairly impressive on the technology cards. Have fun punching out the player boards though and have a bin nearby, you’re going to have a lot of tiny cardboard squares by the end of it, perfect I suppose if you’re into designing mosaic art.



In the Kickstarter version (and maybe the retail one I’m not sure) you also get tokens for victory points and a central board for the cards, but these are completely redundant  as you count up the points on your cards/boards at the end anyway and I’m pretty sure players can find a spot on the table to place a couple of decks with discard piles. Given that a page in the rulebook is dedicated to a recommended setup layout for each player, I think extended player boards would have been more useful. On the same note the rulebook is fairly well laid out and picking the rules up is straightforward although take note of the rule for the draw action being your last one in a turn. It’s mentioned once really briefly and then never mentioned again at any point when describing the turn sequence or on the reference cards.


So Thin You Can Almost See The Gears

Despite the artwork being very appealing, the theme is quickly dead on arrival. Granted, in the games defence it’s going to be incredibly difficult to do a thematic game based on technologies alone, but this is essentially pure mechanics at work. The designers even acknowledge in the rulebook that due to the widespread nature of how technologies came about, they aren’t always matched up perfectly to the ages that they appear in. Your attributes that you upgrade are nameless and the three different power tracks you can increase for victory points might as well be red, blue and yellow for all it matters.

Normally you spend knowledge points to discover new technologies, but you can also gain free ones if you happen to have the prerequisite to hand and this is about as thematic as the game gets as for the most part, these tend to make sense and at least follow a logical progression. There aren’t as many technologies as I would have liked though in each age as you basically end up with extra copies in games with more players. So you’ll quickly run through the deck in your first few games and wish there were more to hand. This might pave the way for future expansion, but I don’t think there’s enough longevity here to keep it going until then.


Sitting In An Exam Room With No-One Peeking At Your Work

People in the past have always ragged on games like 7 Wonders for being what they call “multiplayer solitaire” games where despite the fact you’re playing with other gamers, you’re essentially playing your own game and not caring. On a side note I disagree whole heartily that 7 Wonders is like that but I digress. Well you ain’t seen nothing yet, because this is multiplayer solitaire defined. Aside from the occasional point where a player will draw a card that you wanted, there is zero interaction between the players. What your neighbour is building has no direct impact on your game other than how far ahead he is on points. In fact the only minor hint of interaction present is in the mini expansion where players can contribute knowledge to a widely available card for bonuses and/or points. But again, it’s so minor you will barely notice it.

So what you have here is essentially a straight up mechanical Euro game of efficiency. No direct player interaction, just a race for victory points. It gives me the same vibe as Pandemic Contagion, a spin off from the popular co-op game Pandemic where you took control of the viruses and upgraded your attributes to boost card draw or infection rates. That game too was mostly multiplayer solitaire bar the concept of sharing cities with other viruses (and spoiler alert, I found it really boring). Progress is definitely more advanced overall, but considering both of these games came out in 2014, it’s disturbing how similar they are.

Feels Like Researching In Real Time

One of the biggest issues in the game is the time length for what it offers. With players taking several actions on their go and having to think about their plan as well as considering how each card they pick up affects said plan, this game drags on a lot. The suggested playing length is 90 minutes on BGG and it’s entirely possible for the game to take longer than that. But even 90 minutes is too long for a game like this. Pandemic Contagion is usually wrapped up in a shorter time, but even that game can drag on for ages and this kind of game I don’t think warrants a long playing length. Take Dominion for example, that’s an engine building game, but how quickly can you wrap up even a 4 player game of that in comparison to this?

Don’t even think of playing this with 4 or more players as you’re going to be stuck there till cardboard becomes obsolete and even a 3 player game can take a while with new players. Its sweet spot is therefore either 2 players or solo, not that there’s much difference between the two due to the lack of interaction. Oh and unless you really enjoy this game, you’re going to want to seal the Age IV deck expansion if you have it in a vault somewhere and never bring it as this only extends the game further without introducing anything new.

The solo mode can be wrapped up in fairly quick time if you know what you’re doing, but all it boils down to is the same game with a timer mechanic tweak thrown in. Try to score the most points and then try to beat your score. Solo modes in Euro games are usually a hit or miss affair as nothing much tends to change in how they operate. Add in the players and it doesn’t really feel any different, but it will overstay its welcome.



Verdict

Sadly this didn’t turn out to be the innovative new take on researching technologies that I hoped for. Rather than be a fun game, it’s more like a puzzle based on an efficiency engine with not that many ways to go about it. It quickly outstays its welcome especially in higher player counts and just doesn’t provide enough excitement to keep me interested due to the lack of player interaction to the point where I’m mentally bored.
It bears a lot of similarities to Pandemic Contagion, which I wasn’t a fan of either, in that it uses the same mechanics of tracking your skills and upgrading, however it is definitely more advanced by far. The rules themselves aren’t complicated, but I guarantee some analysis paralysis is going to hit when you start increasing the actions you can perform each turn in the later ages. 
This has quickly ended up on the trade pile and if it’s made me think of anything, it’s about my copy of Innovation sitting on the shelf that desperately needs to hit the table again. It has technologies also, but tonnes of tactical play and player interaction. Progress: Evolution of Technology is very visually appealing and if you like engine building games and don’t mind multiplayer solitaire, try it out as it will probably be right up your street, but it hasn’t gripped me personally. I guess I’m not going to like every game you put in front of me that has technologies in it.

You Will Like This Game If:

  • You enjoy games based on efficiency – it feels like an engine building puzzle.
  • You intend to only play this with minimal players or solo.
  • You enjoyed Pandemic Contagion as this is the older step-brother.

You Will Not Like This Game If:


  • You want player interaction for this is the poster child of multiplayer solitaire.
  • You wanted a thematic game on technologies – it’s very mechanical in nature.
  • You wanted a quick game as with 4 or more players this overstays its welcome.

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Wizardry At Its Best - Argent: The Consortium Review

Level 99 Games seems to have a thing about making games with so much variety it burns your brain cells trying to comprehend all the options available to you. Pixel Tactics was my first introduction to their line-up and a good one too, but man does your brain fry when you try to comprehend all the options on your turn and then think about all the different ways the game could go depending on what setup you used or how you arranged your characters.
Well, reviews I watched of Argent: The Consortium suggested to me that I would have an even worse case of smoking brain with the variety and options here, however I don’t class this as a bad thing in games. Paths to victory and plenty of options are two of my favourite characteristics in games, if a game feels scripted or linear, it’s not as good for me. I want the ability to do what I want, when I want and that way if I lose the game, I only have myself to blame, but I’ll feel happy that I’ve tried something new.
Of course one problem with games like this is the ability to teach them to other players. Anyone other than a hard-core heavy gamer will likely get bogged down in the options and Analysis Paralysis and frustration can set in. So will this one be any different? Well hop on board the Hogwarts Express and strap yourself in because this may take a while…

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Citadels 2.0 or 0.5? - Libertalia Review

Citadels was one of the first games I played when I was being introduced to interesting little card games back my university days. I highly enjoyed it, bought a copy and then subsequently upgraded to the expanded reprint version that thankfully realised that box sizes when it comes to card games actually mean something! Seriously make the box size reflect the contents of the game. If you want to release expansions then just release a bigger box to hold everything in when you release the expansion!! Rant over!

Role selection and bluffing - two aspects of a game I really like so naturally Citadels was going to be a keeper, but then a new game came out to threaten its existence. A bigger box, a pirate theme and essentially been touted as Citadels 2.0 with improvements in every aspect. That's a bold claim in my book considering Fantasy Flight Games have this down as an "evergreen" game so naturally I had to jump on this train (or ship I guess in this case) and see what was what for myself.

It's been over a year I think since I bought the game and I've owned Citadels for longer, so which has stood the test of time?




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Episode 31 - UK Games Expo 2015 Special

It's a special episode today, all devoted to the UK Games Expo 2015. I'll talk about games I played, games I saw, people I met, tips for newcomers and give my Top 5 Moments from my experience this year. Why Top 5? Because I talk in more detail about these ones!

Listen out for one of the worst Alien Queen impressions you've ever heard and keep listening at the end where I ask for feedback on what you listeners would like to see from the podcast in the future in terms of content, length and frequency.


04:45 - First Impressions - Mysterium
09:20 - First Impressions - Concordia
14:51 - First Impressions - Samurai Spirit
18:40 - First Impressions - Good Cop Bad Cop
21:12 - Tips For Expo Newcomers
39:58 - Top 5 Games Expo Moments
01:02:08 - Conclusion including Request for Feedback


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I Can't Lie About Your Chances But. . . You Have My Sympathies! - Legendary Encounters Review

If you ask me what I believe to be the best horror movie franchise of all time, I would quickly say the Alien films and specifically the first two. Nowadays so many films that call themselves “scary” rely on jump scares which to me is a giant cop out because anybody can be scared by something effectively going BOO at them! Forget “It Follows” or “Poltergeist” or any of the “Paranormal” films, give me something like “Unfriended” – creep me out, don’t go excessive on gore and don’t just go for shock value all the time. “Alien” I believe was a timeless classic that got it right. Atmosphere oozing from every part and if you haven’t played Alien Isolation on the PC yet, check that out because it nails the franchise perfectly.

To throw in my likeness for the movies, Aliens is an excellent action flick, Aliens 3 is actually fine if you stick to the Directors Cut version and Alien Resurrection. . . . . . Ok it’s not good but I don’t think it’s complete dirge either, just a shame that Fox interfered so much with Joss Whedon’s script ideas. But despite this I still love the Alien franchise whether in movie form, book form or even TCG form – oh yeah who remembers the old classic Aliens vs Predator trading card game? . . . . . I miss that one.

Sadly though there aren’t many examples of this franchise being put into a board game despite the fact it’s ripe for it. Level 7: Omega Protocol came close with a cool sci-fi dungeon crawl, but it’s just not the same. But Upper Deck has now taken their Legendary system, switched the license from Marvel to Alien and made some tweaks to give us a new deck-building game that stays true to the franchise.

Needless to say, this got me hyped, being one of my most anticipated releases of 2014. But despite the fact I love Marvel Legendary as a game, I had some initial fears. Deck builders tend to struggle with theme because of the mechanical nature of the game. Legendary Marvel also has its thematic issues because everyone is mixing all the heroes together in their deck rather than having one identity. Of course that’s a minor nit-pick, but this is why Sentinels of the Multiverse has a lot more superhero theme for me because you have your own personal deck for your hero.

So could it be done? Can the Alien franchise work in the board gaming world and particularly as a deck builder? And how do I get out of this chicken**** outfit?








Designer: Ben Cichoski, Danny Mandel
Publisher: Upper Deck
# of Players: 1-5
Ages: 14+
Play Time: 45 Minutes + 
BGG Rank/Rating: 89 / 8.05

NB: - I'm done writing rules explanations - so many other sources exist and I'd rather talk more about how my feelings towards the game. Rules explanations are the most boring part! #smileyface


A Perfect Organism. Its Structural Perfection Is Matched Only By Its Hostility


As with all deck builders you get a lot of cards in the box. However these cards have been met with some negative feedback in terms of the organisation and graphic design. The artwork for example varies a lot across the game as obviously multiple artists were used and it has a very wide range of quality. Some cards such as the Strikes and the Hive decks are actually pretty decent with a small level of gore present in certain cases so the Aliens themselves look pretty good. 

The hero cards are however, a bit more hit and miss with some like Hicks for example looking downright weird. They still tie in to the theme and the character, but if you like consistency you won’t find it here.

Secondly the initial organisation of the cards is a big task. There’s been no effort prior to packing to sort the cards in any particular order so you are going to have to spend a long time arranging the cards into their respective decks and when the text at the bottom that tells you where they’re from is so small this makes the job harder.

That’s assuming all of the cards are even present as some players have experienced missing ones including myself. Thankfully Upper Deck are aware of this and were very quick at supplying me with replacements. And yet again we have those same boring dividers as from Marvel Legendary that have no headings on them. Seriously check out Sentinels of the Multiverse; that game got it right from the start, more publishers should take note.

As such you will find that there’s a long pre-gaming process that you’ll have to go through to get it ready for the table. And I HIGHLY recommend you go the extra mile and invest in some coloured deck protectors for the Hive, Strike and Alien Player decks (whether you sleeve or not) and print/laminate some custom dividers from BGG. I’ve done to this mine as you’ll see from the pictures and believe me this investment pays off in spades when you’re setting the game up and packing it away.



That’s not to say it’s all bad. The box is large enough to accommodate expansions which are definitely on the horizon and the neoprene mat for the cards is nicely produced, detailed and very functional. It’s a welcome improvement from the original flimsy board.




Game Over Man! Game Over!!



Legendary Encounters ups the ante for difficulty from its predecessor. Aliens are constantly coming at you from the Hive deck, events and hazards are messing up your game plans and strikes have potential side effects from morale loss for example. You barely get a chance to take five and recover, the pressure is always on, but it never feels like it’s being overly punishing. The tension is present throughout the game especially when scanning hidden cards, a mechanic I approve of greatly. That being said, scalability is a small issue. This is an excellent game played solo and utterly brilliant with 3 players. With 4 it’s still really good, but tougher because you encounter the aliens quicker than you can recycle those purchased cards. So have a guess what 5 players is like. . . . . . . . yeah I am reluctant to play this with 5 again, you’re already encountering aliens while still on grunts and it makes the scenario crazy hard as a result. With 2 players it’s a little too easy, but simply play two hands per player and that issue is sorted.

But all of the hard elements of the game amount to one of the most thematic experiences I’ve ever had in a deck building game. You can mix the objectives around but it’s always more fun sticking to the movie layouts provided and the hazards encountered really match the films well.


In Alien you have to lure the organism to the airlock before you can kill it, in Aliens you have to set up sentry guns in open locations and in Alien Resurrection the complex floods with water making combat ineffective. Even the characters you can meet and add to your deck are true to the films. For example, Pervis from Resurrection can appear and you can sacrifice him to kill Dr Wren, an adversary from the Hive Deck – sound familiar to you Alien fans? You can tell that the designers have paid attention to detail when capturing the essence of the films.

Player elimination is possible but usually they won’t have to wait around long for the game to finish and there is a variant Alien Player deck rule where they can come back and screw around with the players. This ramps up the difficulty considerably for the remaining players, but hey, who said killing Xenomorphs was easy? However it does turn the player into essentially a mindless automaton as they don’t really have any meaningful choices to make about what they can and should play. It’s a cool idea, but it’s currently flawed and more of a gimmick than a fleshed out mechanic. 


However this game manages to come up with the best way to ever be eliminated from a game – chestbursting! If you encounter a face hugger (Ok, seriously those things still scare the crap out of me whether in movie, game or picture form so why did I put one in this review?), you have your turn and the next players turn to kill before it lays an egg inside you. You then add a Chestburster card to your discard pile and when it eventually ends up in your hand, it bursts forth and you die! Seriously, how cool is that? Painful, but cool!


Get Away From Her You B****!!


There wasn’t a great deal you could do in Marvel Legendary to influence the other players or aid them on their turn, which was a flaw for me. Here however this has been improved upon not just by the general difficulty of the game, but the key word mechanics on the hero cards as well, particularly Co-ordinate and Mobilize. The former allows you to play the card on another players turn to aid them and the latter confers an immediate benefit usually on any player the buyer chooses. Other aspects such as healing strikes can also be distributed to more than just yourself.

As a result, there’s a greater sense of teamwork present in Legendary Encounters. Players are actively assisting each other, not simply just discussing plans for the next turn, which of course you’re doing anyway


You Don't See Them Screwing Each Other Over For A Goddamn Percentage!


 As a full co-op, this game shines. However it is also possible to introduce a traitor in which one of you is working for the corporation in secret and wants to kill off the other players in order to steal an Alien specimen. Now when I heard about this, I was excited; a cool thematic twist to a deck building game. Unfortunately I was set for disappointment in much the same way as with the Alien player deck.

This almost feels like it was tacked on at the end and hasn’t been developed that well. For starters you are allowed to search through anyone’s discard pile which makes hiding your claims that you haven’t the attack value to kill a facehugger for example impossible. Such an obvious issue that has to be house ruled. It also means you’re essentially a player down so expect your scenario to be harder as a result.


This variant almost never sees play now and it’s such a shame because the idea is so cool. Maybe a future expansion will improve on this and the Alien deck, but given Legendary’s history of simply pushing out more cards as opposed to mechanics, I remain dubious.


Verdict


Rarely does hype pay off for me in board games. You get all excited and then usually end up with disappointment when it doesn’t meet your expectations. That’s not the case here. Oh hell no! This deck builder really does manage to capture the Alien theme well especially if you play the scenarios according to the movies using the characters associated with it.

The theme is actually stronger here than in the Marvel versions especially with the hive decks mimicking hazards from the movies and the constant threat of the aliens keeps the tension up and makes this game a good challenge without making it impossibly difficult. Teamwork is also stronger here thanks to some interesting card mechanics like Co-Ordinate that allow you to influence other players actions

There is the issue of the initial sorting out and potential improvements as mentioned, which you must accept when you buy this game. It’s a hassle, it’s annoying, but it’s worth the time. It makes future games much easier to manage and thus you can enjoy them more. Also avoid playing with 5 players and stick to a fully co-operative experience.
If you’re a fan of the Alien franchise and you enjoy Co-Op games, then this needs to be on your wish list. And with more expansions on the way as well as the upcoming Predator standalone game that can be mixed with this, it’s only going to get better………..CLICK…..LET’S ROOOOCCK!


You Will Like This Game If:

  • You are a fan of the Alien franchise – this is a fantastic embodiment.
  • Teamwork is a big part of a co-op for you – working together is the key here.
  • You enjoy deck building games generally, but want something more thematic.

You Will Not Like This Game If:


  • You want authentic Alien artwork/film stills – it’s a hit and miss affair here.
  • You aren’t prepared to go through the initial sorting out process on purchase.
  • You were banking a lot on the Alien player and traitor variants.

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