ManorCon 2015 - Part Two


Takenoko - Best. . . Component. . . Ever!


YES! Finally someone brought Takenoko to a gaming event (in fact several at this convention had it seemed) and taught me the game! I can't think of many local players who own this and it's been probably the highest and longest running contender on my radar for try before I buy. I own a few games that are considered gateways for non-gamers. This is because I know friends who are new to the hobby and every collector should include at least a few choice games that they can bring out for fresh meat, er I mean, new enquiring people! But I felt I needed something that wasn't a co-op as most of my gateway games are (for obvious reasons) and a change from the usual Ticket to Ride/Catan/Carcassonne games which of course are still quality choices.

Takenoko's premise is growing bamboo shoots in different colours and sizes that are subsequently eaten by a wandering panda. OK right there you have to be at least intrigued in this game by the craziness of that sentence. But you will be aiming to complete objectives for points, which can include growing bamboo to particular lengths, getting the panda to eat specific colours and irrigating the land in specific colour formations. The rules are incredibly simple and I've never heard myself or my buddy Stuart Garside comment so much about a panda being cute before. The farmer and panda are represented by two really cool and detailed miniatures and you cannot help but love them to bits. Even the bamboo shoots are small wooden pieces that stack. The publisher could easily have just gone with boring tokens and probably ruined the appeal of the game for many, but this was a good move. The panda gets so much attention and if you want to see something truly insane, go search Google for the Takenoko deluxe edition.



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ManorCon 2015 - Part One

A bit late off the bat I admit, but this is the start of me keeping true to my News Year Resolution to attend more gaming conventions from now on. The UK Games Expo is good fun, but it's only once a year and most of it is usually spent buying, selling or trading/browsing as opposed to playing games solidly. OxCon earlier in January was OK, but a very small fish in comparison to many others. So I had to find other events to indulge myself with and last weekend the chosen event was ManorCon 2015 at the University of Leicester.

Lasting from Friday afternoon till Monday afternoon this is longer than most, though unfortunately due to a job getting in the way I could only manage Friday afternoon until Sunday evening (I know, tragedy right?) However none of that time was wasted and the event was very enjoyable with a friendly demeanour across all of the gamers never before seen from experience. So what is it like and what games got played? Well that's the point of this article, to answer those questions. Normally I reflect on these on the podcast and I will still give a shout-out overview at the start of the next episode to the event, but in August as some who watch my Twitter/Facebook pages will be aware, August is reserved for a big double bill anniversary special in which I'll be giving my Top 50 Games Of All Time! As a result, there won't be time to give my usual first impressions, etc so consider this article a replacement as I was fortunate enough to tick off many games on my "try-out" list.



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This Strain Is Starting To Lose It's Impact - Pandemic State of Emergency Review

We’re back to milking the cash cow again! Pandemic took a little break for a while but with Pandemic Legacy on the horizon and now State of Emergency here Matt Leacock is certainly not letting it fall out of your subconscious any time soon.

Now I’m not the biggest fan of Pandemic, I’ll make that clear now and if you’ve seen my previous review (click here to check it out) of the game then you already knew that, but I still own it as it does scratch that puzzle itch and it can’t be argued that it’s a great gateway game for new players. Hell it worked on my non-gamer ex-girlfriend so it has to be doing something right!
Two expansions have already come out for this game; those being On the Brink and In the Lab. The first added lots of little extra modules to the game whereas the latter was more about one big game-changing module, yet both were very solid expansions for me, adding in a lot of new variety and even some theme to what is otherwise a fairly abstract game. For those not familiar with the term “game-changing” this would be a new element that completely changes the way the game plays and feels whether for better or worst. In The Lab for example introduced an entire new board where you actually felt like you were performing laboratory tasks to cure the virus, something which completely alters the way the game plays.
So with State of Emergency we have a few extra modules but at first glance this seems smaller in scope than previous additions. Is this another must-have remedy for your bursting box or are the cures losing their potency?

Check out the full review here - Games Quest Blog - Pandemic: State of Emergency

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Myyyy. . . Preecioussss! - Lord of the Rings LCG Review

The Collectible Card Game genre is one that every gamer knows. Buy a starter set, then be forced to buy every booster box that comes out in bulk so that you can keep up with power creep, spend all your money, rinse and repeat. That's not to say the games aren't fun to play, but you're involved when you take one of these up.


The Living Card Game was a concept invented by Fantasy Flight Games which has similarities to CCG's. You buy a core set which contains several starter decks rather than just one and then frequent mini-expansion packs are released over time with the occasional deluxe set to supplement the card pool. Except with LCG's the cards in each pack are fixed with all the copies you would ever need so you never need to worry about whether you'll get a super rare or not, everyone is on the same playing field which is in my opinion the best thing about this format.


Now you would think that this means you can simply buy the packs you need as opposed to getting them all. And you'd be right. . . . . well sort of, you can do that . . . but you won't. Eventually the lure will take you like an uncontrolled drug addiction and you'll still buy all of the expansion packs like I end up doing. Ok, maybe some of you have stronger willpower than I, but if I really enjoy a game, I'll stick with it though being a Chartered Tax Accountant probably helps on that front!


I've already reviewed Android Netrunner, possibly the most popular (and deservedly so) LCG that exists to date and I think very highly of it. But the addiction hasn't ended there. The power of the One Ring has spoken to me and a second LCG has taken hold causing me to succumb to another legacy of expansion packs and ever-growing card pools. . . . myyyyy. . . . . preeeeecious!


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Come On You Apes, You Wanna Live Forever? - Xenoshyft Onslaught Review

Who remembers the old sci-fi gore fest that was Starship Troopers? Released what seems like an age ago, this was a cult classic with some dark humour and lots of marines with big guns blowing up giant bugs. . . . . and rapidly dying in the process also. Well, we’ve now got this theme embodied in a deck builder called Xenoshyft Onslaught from Cool Mini or Not.

This is a big side step from their normal line-up which can be summarised as “here’s our game, but look at the shiny miniatures”. CMON love their miniatures and to their credit they put out some gorgeous looking stuff, blowing their funding targets out of the water on every Kickstarter they do. However for me the games have being a mixed affair. I didn’t subscribe to the Zombicide craze which is getting to the point that it’s more expensive than LCG’s to keep up with, but I think Arcadia Quest is a fantastic dungeon crawl game with a fun PVP twist. Deck builders are again a mixed genre for me also, but generally I enjoy them and being a co-op automatically entitles you to a free test-run at The Broken Meeple these days.

I had my suspicions however. I purchased this directly from a games store but when I attended the UK Games Expo recently, there were a lot of Kickstarter copies being sold off and so soon after its release date. Not a great sign. Was I too hasty in my purchase decision or will my faith be rewarded?





Designer: Keren Philosophales & Michael Shinall
Publisher: Cool Mini Or Not
# of Players: 1-4
Ages: 14+
Play Time: 90-120 Minutes
BGG Rank/Rating: 1292/7.39


Bring Back The Miniatures

The box is a giant size, but even this manages to be a problem with regards to storage. If you own the retail version, then everything will fit in the box for the time being, however if you’re one of those people who ordered the Kickstarter version with all the extra cards, suddenly storing them becomes a lot more tricky if you decide to sleeve them. The main reason is down to the insert which doesn’t use the space very efficiently, much like the insert from Marvel Legendary. You’ve got plastic where you shouldn’t need plastic, how hard can be it to just have an open box with some dividers in? Sentinels of the Multiverse or Smash Up: Geeky Box are great examples of how to do it right. Just a big empty space with some walls and custom dividers (decent dividers that is thank you “Legendary”) that’s big enough to hold all the cards and room for expansion. How hard can it be?

"This is the basic insert with unsleeved cards added - yeah, not the best use of space is it?"

And to get back to sleeving, yeah you’re going to want to sleeve these because the same quality that goes into CMON’s awesome miniature range can’t  be said for the card stock here which is very easily bent and wears down within a couple of plays. In fact some looked worn before the first play out of the box! Sleeving for this I feel is mandatory, but again, see above if you ordered the Kickstarter version.

It’s not all bad though. What the cards lose in physical quality, they make up for in the artwork which is sound across the range. Some of the bug creatures look truly horrific (and I don’t just mean the spiders which scare the hell out of me), the items have a high amount of detail on them and the infantry/battle suits show in-battle images to give the game a feeling of epic-ness. 

Take note that the images are quite glossy though; there have been reports of a high amount of glare arising during play when viewed at an angle making it hard to see across to what your comrades are using in brightly lit rooms.


Wait, I Get To Use This Now?

Xenoshyft has a couple of unique features that set it aside from all other deck builders. Firstly the biggest shock to any gamer’s system is that when you purchase a card from the piles you put it in your hand immediately as opposed to the discard pile for cycling later. The amount of times I have to remind people of this fact is on par with the classic problem of forgetting to not look at your newly drawn card in Hanabi. But it’s cool to be able to use the big gun or funky gadget that you just purchased straight away without having to wait for your deck to recycle through.

Xenoshyft also takes the top spot for the level of teamwork and interaction available in a deck building co-op. You might be thinking, well hang on, Legendary Encounters has a lot of that with Co-ordination and the difficulty level. Well very true, but as much as I think that game is amazing, Xenoshyft does have a trump card. You have to help by playing cards for each other, but it doesn’t stop there. Items and marines played to another player’s battle line go into their deck when discarded instead of back to your own. So you’re not giving them a laser rifle on sale or return, you’re physically giving them the item permanently, or at least unless they gift it back to you at a later stage.

Now the first of those two features I can take or leave, but I really like the idea of actually gifting cards to other player’s decks. It’s not a mechanic I’ve seen in any other co-op deck builder to date. Usually you can allow a player to copy your card for their own needs, but you still get the card back at the end of the day. This opens up a whole new realm for co-operation with an otherwise fairly theme-less mechanic. I hope this isn’t the last we see of this concept.



Improving The Experience Causes Another Problem

In order to get the full experience from the teamwork aspect in this game, you will want to be playing with at least 3 if not 4 players. However this in itself causes a potential issue with regards to the time. Detailed strategic discussion and card sorting prior to the combat round can take a while to resolve particularly when you’re trying to decide on where cards are best used and what order your marines should be in on the line. And then once you get to the combat, because it’s not simultaneous like the other rounds, it takes a long time to resolve every player. The more creatures with resurrection abilities, the longer it takes.

The first game I played of this with four players we did as our second game of the game night (usually four hours in length). Our first game took about 90 minutes to 2 hours after packing it away. We didn’t even finish the game before we had to leave, I kid you not. It took that long! Now one player was a bit AP-prone but even so, it just felt like it was dragging on like crazy and eventually I had little care for actually surviving! A deck builder that takes 2 hours or more to finish should not exist in my opinion, it’s just too much.

Naturally after more plays you could cut this time down fairly drastically, but unless you’re playing with the same group of people regularly, expect a full complement game to be a lengthy one. Two player games tend to speed along quite quickly as does a solo venture, although playing solo removes the cool factor of giving cards to other players unless you’re willing to play several lanes at a time.


If You Thought Ghost Stories Was Hard. . .

Then you haven’t seen anything yet. My god, beating this game is a challenge and a half. A bad draw of hive cards in a battle sequence can mess you over so badly that recovery is impossible and that’s combined with the luck of drawing from your own deck already. Now if you argue that Ghost Stories is similar with the ghosts that come out of the deck, remember that in that game you got to choose where it was placed to a certain extent and measures could be taken to prepare for them in advance (the Buddha statues for instance). Here though, the four starting hive cards are completely random and you have zero control over how they resolve. The two boss cards in each wave are so nasty that their appearance alone can screw a player over, let alone if they’re unlucky enough to draw both in the same line! To be punished so severely by mere bad luck can really bring your enjoyment level down a few notches. 


Some combinations of items are easier than others to win with but generally you tend to find that people will spam-buy one or two items (Grenade spams anyone?) and then use them repeatedly. The same goes for some of the marine cards as well – 80% of the time you are buying that Hyperion assault mech as opposed to the other two, the extra damage is just that necessary to win. As a result you see some items and marines been left out of many games which kills the sense of variety that deck builders are meant to have.

Now of course this is going to be subjective – some will claim that the game isn’t that hard (and to be honest I’m not convinced they got the rules right in those cases) and others will say it’s do-able with certain item combinations and that’s fair enough. For me it was just brutal to the point where it’s not enjoyable any more. I’ve had games of Alien Legendary where you are riding the bare backbone of health and you’re so close to killing the Queen and then BOOM you’re dead, but it was tense and close. Here the game basically slaps you in the face the second you open the box and says “Game Over you’ve lost” before you even dealt the cards out.



Verdict

Ahhh, noooo, what happened here? I was looking forward to this one, but sadly in my eyes it’s been a big disappointment and a drop from the other high quality ventures that CMON have brought us over the years.
I enjoy a challenging game but when the difficulty is actually harder than Ghost Stories without the use of “spam” tactics or pre-constructed item decks, you’re crossing a line for me. Not being able to see what’s coming is a good tension builder, but also a double edged sword in that an unlucky line-up can completely screw you. The game does however capture a good sense of teamwork and I like how acquiring cards is instantaneous for a change from other deck builders. 
The artwork is excellent, that can’t be denied, but the card stock is very flimsy and without sleeves you’re going to wear these down in your first couple of games. But then that’s a large additional expense and the game is already expensive in my opinion. The insert is also not very future proof and struggles with even the Kickstarter backer extras. No dividers make the issue even worse.
It’s such a shame. I really wanted to love this game, but it’s a dud for me. Some people really love it however and that’s a good thing, I can certainly see why, but I’m also seeing a lot of Kickstarter copies being sold off lately. This is definitely a try before you buy affair.

You Will Like This Game If:

  • You want a challenge – it’s disturbingly difficult and punishing.
  • You like the Starship Troopers movie and want a theme similar to that.
  • You want more team-work in your deck builders – without it, you lose, end of.

You Will Not Like This Game If:


  • You are put off by the low card quality and the inefficient insert.
  • You feel it will be too difficult without “spam” tactics.
  • You play this with more than 3 players.

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Episode 32 - Awards and Disappointments

So many awards issued out recently and this episode is going to focus on that front.

A quick mention of the Spiel Des Jahres winners and then a lengthy discussion of the winners of the Dice Tower Awards and my personal views on them including who I voted for personally on the panel.

On top of that I give my first impressions of Colt Express and talk about my Top Ten Disappointing Games.


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