Episode 40 - Gateway To Gaming

2016 is upon us and maybe this year will bring us a new wave of friendly people to the board gaming scene. Well to help those people out, this episode is mostly dedicated to gateway games, that is the entry level games that help to bring someone new into the hobby.

Kicking off are the first impressions of Trains & Stations and Letters from Whitechapel. Followed by the return of my "One More Game?" segment discussing Catan and then a list I've wanted to do for some time, my Top Ten Gateway Games!



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I'm Really Hungry For Strudel And Wine Now! - Grand Austria Hotel Review

It feels like a while since I did a review on a proper Euro game. I suppose you can count 7 Wonders: Duel, but that's quite light. Before that though, looking back on my blog, yeah it's been a while since I got a pure Euro into the works. Well, better sort that out hadn't we? After all I don't hate Euro's at all, I love them as much as Amerithrash games. They test your brain cells, incorporate some good themes and can be a good laugh as well at times. Of course there are exceptions to this rule <cough cough Power Kingdom Grid Builder>, but generally I like them. The more theme they pack the better, but again I love Terra Mystica as well as Tigris & Euphrates, but do you spot a theme there? I own quite a few solid Euro titles on the shelf and am always keen to add others providing they have what it takes.

Grand Austria Hotel is the newest venture from Lookout Games / Mayfair depending where you're from. Now their history has been pretty good in the past with Caverna & Snowdonia making it to my collection and Agricola and Patchwork being solid games also. Of course they've done a lot more, some of which I want to try (anyone near me want to show me Murano?). They seem to have a knack for making clean Euro's and by that I mean, ones that aren't all fiddly and flow nicely from start to finish. That's a good quality in a Euro game and one that makes me intrigued to try this new one out . . . plus it brings back memories of sitting on top of Schmittenhohe in Austria after walking up it on a hot summer's day eating strudel and goulash! Best holiday ever!



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A Hybrid Of Two Great Warrior Races - Warhammer Quest ACG Review

How soon before the Adventure Card Game format becomes a new "thing" in board gaming? We already had the Pathfinder ACG which has 3 iterations already and rumours are suggesting a 4th is in the works. I've only really delved properly into the second one being Skulls and Shackles and even then I've got a ton of content to get through before that one is done and dusted. Let's just say it's going to take me a considerable while. But it's good fun despite its flaws and I think the concept of having the fun of levelling up a character condensed into a card game is a good one. We all like to get new loot, new upgrades, new "shinies" when we play RPG games, it's strangely addictive. I think if life were more like that we'd pay more attention at self-development at work. Imagine if you worked extra hours to get that job done for your boss and then found a crate on your desk containing those new Bracers of Ogre Strength you always wanted, wouldn't that be cool, if somewhat surreal?

The ACG trend is dipping its toes into the board game world further with Warhammer Quest, a license which has a cult following like no other. Personally I never played the original game, but for nostalgia sake alone I'd happily do so, after all I used to play Warhammer and old dungeon crawls like Hero Quest still hold a place in my heart (that reminds me, I really need to get Dungeon Saga played). People went giddy over the reveal by Fantasy Flight Games and now it's arrived and naturally everyone is keen to find out if it was worth the wait. So grab your sword, axe, bow or hammer and journey with me!



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Game of Thrones LCG - Taking the Black Review

Well this is the month for new ideas isn't it? First we started off with a review on a Steam PC port of a board game and now we're adding to that variety with a review on an LCG pack! Basically I keep up (for the most part) with a few LCG's from Fantasy Flight and enjoy my time with them highly. My current projects are Netrunner, Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones. Now it's hardest for me to keep up with Lord of the Rings but that's just a solo co-operative experience so I can proceed with that at my own pace, and it still remains to this day in my Top 10 games of all time.  The other two I can keep up to date and enjoy the odd casual tournament scene at a local store, but mainly I just play for fun.

So what I'm going to start doing from this point forward is give my opinion on the cards that come in the pleathora of expansions that Netrunner and Game of Thrones receive, that being the cycle packs and the deluxe expansions. Now of course as a caveat, this is just my opinion from my knowledge of the game and experience in using the cards. I am not a Nationals 2015 Top 8 Winner or something to that effect and it gets on my nerves that some bloggers/podcasters seem to give off the impression that unless you are one of these things you don't have the authority to review LCG's (seriously there's one out there that takes forever to do the introductions because they have to spout out their tournament qualifications like they're reading out their bloody CV or something)!

I'm a casual player that enjoys the game and can hold my own in a local store tournament despite having much to learn myself. That's all. Take that for what its worth, but maybe that will allow me to consider combos and ideas that will be fun to use rather than simply dismissing anything that doesn't make a Tier 1 level deck or whatever! So that being said, let's start. You can already check out my Game of Thrones LCG 2nd Edition Core Set review on my site and I'll start my Netrunner reviews from the first pack of the Mumbad cycle that's incoming. Here now is the first chapter pack in the first cycle for Game of Thrones. If you want to see all the images for each card, I recommend you visit thronesdb.com and use their search engine.





Will

He's proven quite popular in a lot of Night's Watch decks. Insight is nice when combined with Stealth allowing you to gain some additional card draw, which The Nights Watch are already really good at in general. Intrigue is also something that most factions keep having to find suitable defense for. However watch his penalty for losing an unopposed challenge if you're not well defended.


The Watch Has Need

You have to trust a bit to luck with the tutoring, but this can be a highly effective targeted card draw utility for The Nights Watch. There are certainly some good choices for fishing out of your deck on all 3 traits used


Maester Luwin

I'm not a fan of Luwin here, for a start the 4th character on his list isn't even released yet! Most people are barely running Jon Snow and here you'll need to be running a hybrid Stark/Watch deck to make use of that. So you're left with Bran and Robb and even their boosts are not ground breaking. Maybe nice to throw in one of him, but otherwise he's a pass.


Lady

1 gold for a +2 boost to strength that can be transferred between characters is frankly a steal. It benefits from the Direwolf keyword if you're making use of the synergys and it's a cheap way to get Sansa to stand for her power gain when you want to as opposed to waiting till the very end.


Arbor Knight

The Tyrells can get a fairly good economy going especially when partnered up with their favourite companions of late, the Lannisters. Therefore having money to afford this ability isn't usually difficult to come by and can swing the tide of a close battle. Your opponents also have to consider your Treasury every time he's on the board when planning their turn which can throw in a spanner in their works. All in all he's a decent include.


Pleasure Barge

If you can get a strong economy going, this is a fantastic burst in card draw for the Tyrells. The -1 Gold penalty can't be taken lightly though. If you're in a struggling situation or haven't quite got a generous economy going, you risk putting yourself into stagnation.


Renly Baratheon

Not so great unless you're barely tapping into Baratheon for their cards and even then he's a high cost for a medium strength character. However don't underestimate the usefulness of having all 3 icons on a character.


King Robert's Warhammer

Stick this on Robert Baratheon and you get pure sickness. Absolute sickness. It's very much a one-hit wonder, but it's like throwing a bulldozer at your opponent. It won't hurt many high STR characters, but if you target a collection of cheap allies you can kneel most of the opponents force and boost Robert via his own ability while you're at it. Not as cool on anyone else.


The Hound

This guy is an absolute beast! So cheap to play for a high strength and 2 icons, but the downside is the discard or bounce effect of his wins. However if you've got card draw sorted or a decent economy you can make this guy go to town on the opponent. Just be warned not to keep him in your hand too long if your opponent is winning Intrigue challenges.



Cersei's Wheelhouse

I can vouch for how amazing this card is in a Joust game, though it loses effectiveness in a Melee with multiple players. The opponent has to think hard about whether to give you the bonus or not and it's just constantly giving you more against Martell or The Nights Watch who usually like to go last. My last Cersei Intrigue Control deck loved this card and you'll barely notice the penalty to initiative.


The Seastone Chair

On face value it appears to be amazing, however be warned. The requirement to succeed in an unopposed Military challenge coupled with choosing a character without attachments means that this targeted kill card won't be triggering as often as you would like. It's nice when it does, but not one I would base a deck around.


Rise of the Kraken

A new plot card for Greyjoy and it's usually an auto-include in any Fealty deck. The claim value of 2 as well as the 2 extra power for unopposed challenges means that this is effectively a super-bomb card to pull out when you've got the upper hand on characters. Potentially can win the game for you outright.


Merchant Prince

3 cost for a 3 strength Intrigue character isn't a bad deal to begin with, but put any attachment on him, however small and he improves further. One snag. What attachment would you want to put on him? I've seen nobody use Noble Lineage for the Power icon and he already gains the other two. High value attachments like weapons and Seal of the Hand are generally better spent on your powerful unique characters. So it's hard to really justify him apart from having some good Intrigue defense.


Vaes Dothrak

Targeted attachment hate for the Targ, but the issue is whether you want to discard your attachment in the first place. For dead cards this is a good deal especially to get rid of an annoying Milk of the Poppy. Otherwise you have to decide which is better. It's just a shame that there aren't many attachment choices out there that tend to be used, so this is one I see getting more love as time goes on.


Bastard Daughter

A cool chump blocker for Martell, yes she doesn't have much strength and only one icon, but the forced discard kicks in when she dies for any reason, be it a challenge or Wildfire Asssault for example. And the fact it's random can make it daunting for your opponent because he risks losing a key asset in his hand. Let me tell you I don't like having 2 or 3 of these sprung at once. And with the Sand Snake trait due to get a significant boost in a future expansion pack, she'll no doubt be a must include there.


The Long Plan

This is an unusual plot, but it fits in nicely with the theme of Martells who like to play the long game on the defense with swift retaliation. It can allow a player to store up gold for either a mass-marshal phase or for safe keeping when their hand is short on useful cards to utilise. Losing challenges will be painful in their own right to get that gold but hopefully you've got some ways to sting your opponent on successes.


Support of the People

This is one of those cards that you want to make room for and yet have so much competition. There are a ton of locations worth searching for with this card and there's very little location-hate in the game currently. Winning a Power challenge by 5 or more is the hard part, but Baratheon and Greyjoy in particular enjoy this card with their strength boosts. If a location is key to your strategy, this is one to consider.


Street of the Sisters

It's nice to gain extra power for winning a Power challenge, but there are other ways to gain extras for winning challenges and again, the competition for event cards is extremely tight. I personally prefer Support of the People for grabbing more useful locations to keep yourself in the game.


Muster the Realm

Currently there aren't really enough Army characters to make good use of this that I can see. Each faction only has one character with the Army trait plus the neutral Wildling Horde. That makes only 6 Army characters max in your deck and to make use of the card those characters have to win their respective challenges. I've yet to see anyone use it.




Here to Serve

This one is an interesting plot. It's effectively a 6 gold card as your 3 cost Maester becomes free. Again there aren't many Maester's to go around but some of them have great abilities on them. Better for some factions than others (The Nights Watch in particular), but it sees some casual play now and then.


Summary

Being so early in the cycle there's not much here that will dramatically influence new deck design ideas, but for those wanting to improve what was already given in the core set, they will find a decent amount of cards that make core set decks better. It's early days yet so we'll see what's to come soon.


If you are interested in this game you can find a copy at your friendly local gaming store - http://www.findyourgamestore.co.uk/

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Steam Trains At Light Speed! - Ticket To Ride Digital Review

Hey everyone, it's a bonus review! Having acquired a code for the Steam PC version of Ticket To Ride, I thought it would be useful to provide a quick overview of how the software works and whether it's a good purchase whether you know anything about Ticket To Ride or not. Now this is one of the most famous games to hit the gaming world so the vast majority of you readers will know about it already. Therefore I'm not going to go into how the game plays or what it's about and instead jump straight to the features. After all, one of the many requirements of a decent PC port of a board game is the tutorials and rulebooks so I will be giving my thoughts on that. This is the first time I've done an app or PC review so this should be interesting. Here goes!

Designer: Alan R. Moon
Publisher: Days of Wonder
Age: 8+
Players: 1-5
Version: PC Steam
Price: £6.99
Alpha Player Teaching


The interface is colourful and pleasing as you would expect and with only a few menus it doesn't take long to navigate, in fact half of it won't even be relevant to you if you've no interest in visiting the Days of Wonder website or forums. Setting up a game whether for solo, pass and play or multiplayer online is a breeze and it really doesn' take long to get going, certainly far less time than opening up the actual board game and shuffling all those cards. This however is a bit of a godsend because you're going to get quickly sick of that looping jolly music track. There aren't a ton of options to tinker with, it's actually very basic and barebones for the most part, but then it's a simple game and thus shouldn't be needlessly complicated.

There is an interactive tutorial, which takes you through a standard two player game of Ticket to Ride USA and for anyone who's played the game, it's literally teaching your Grandma to suck eggs, everything will be instantly familiar to you. For newbies, it's a very useful way to learn the game although if I have one issue with it, it's that it has a habit of telling you what to do, almost in a pushy way before explaining why you're doing it. I find this is doing it the wrong way round, in that I want the game to tell me why I should take these particular train cards or why the open cards are about to mysteriously discard themselves because of 3 locomotives appearing. It does at least explain it, but you might have those few seconds of "wait, what?" while you're going through it. You don't even have to do what it says, funny enough, you can simply play the game how you like, but if you're doing that then why are you bothering to go through the tutorial mode? 

The rulebook is recreated in the game via an index which allows you to access any rule, minor or major with a single click. Keywords in the text will also allow you to access those specific rules. It's very easy to read, clear and concise and features basic pictorial aids. Ticket To Ride is a simple game to pick up and play, but I have to give credit, that this is an excellent rulebook for navigating, on par with the likes of the X-Com board game app if anyone has experienced that.  

We Have To Go Right To Ludicrous Speed! Inside the game, the maps are large and clear and have the same colourful scheme as the board version. Train cards are easily distinguishable although colour blind individuals will struggle a bit as there's no easy way to tell them apart otherwise. One of the biggest issues that hit new players is the choosing of tickets because it takes them ages to find out where the places are on the map. This is taken care of by the relevant cities showing up in green when you hover your mouse over a ticket, making it easy to tell exactly where the ticket is requiring you to go. You should have no trouble planning routes or deciding on your tickets every time you draw. Points and cards and trains remaining are all tracked for every player including the AI so you won't miss a beat. The AI itself is relatively competent, but there doesn't appear to be a way of adjusting the difficulty in the options screen. It should provide a decent game for most players, but it's weird that there's no "Easy-Medium-Hard" differentiation present. I guess they expect more people to play this online, but even so. If you're really a Ticket To Ride veteran and can't be bothered to wait for the brief animations that show what each player is doing on their turn, you can adjust the settings to "fast mode" where the AI turns thunder along at lightning speed. Good luck trying to understand what just happened, but you can see the outcome by inspecting the board afterwards. I don't recommend this at all if you're still unfamiliar with the game. Even on normal animation speed, you can wrap up a game in less than 15-30 minutes depending on the number of players and your familiarity with the rules. And you don't have to clear up all the trains and cards or more to the point, have to count up all the train tracks again to check the points score, that alone is such a time saver.
Travel The World In the base setup you only get the original USA map to play on, but in-app purchases will currently provide the 1910 expansion, Europe (with 1912 expansion), India, Switzerland and Asia and Days of Wonder will commonly throw in special bulk offers. Grabbing every single map to date will still set you back less than 1/2 of the cost of a standard Ticket To Ride board game so it's certainly great value for money. Each map has its own distinct musical track to suit the geographical area (which again you can turn off if you get sick of it, though I find Switzerland strangely addictive) and its own set of indexed rules to explain the changes. They're very easy to learn and add a great amount of variety to what is a classic staple in many peoples collections, myself included. We don't yet have Africa, Netherlands, Nordic or understandably Pensylvania and UK (give them a chance, we only just got a cardboard version), but you know they are coming so expect to give some of that beer money handy every now and again for grab each new one as they announce it on the app, I certainly recommend getting them, they introduce some great twists and cater for different amounts of players.
For the players among us who love to get achievements for everything they do, there is a good amount of special challenges that you can attempt for each map, however some of them are fun, some are a good challenge and others are just plain ridiculous. A fun challenge is to complete a map  with a route that covers several cities. OK that's fine. A normal tough challenge is to obtain a certain number of points. OK that's fine too. But then there are challenges which require you to play a certain number of games and I kid you not, one of them on each map is 20,000 plays. . . . . WHAT?!?! Seriously?!?!?! Please tell me that's a joke put in by the publishers because I want to meet the person who has enough time and enough love for Ticket To Ride that they would play an app version 20,000 times on each map! Even the lesser versions are bad enough. 10 games is easy, 50 games is more of a time-sink but at least do-able, but when you get into the hundreds it begs the question as to whether there is anything in your life that is failing to distract you!
Verdict


The Steam version of Ticket To Ride is a decent port of the classic board game. Saving you a ton of time in setup and tracking this allows you to enjoy everything that the game has to offer for a fraction of the cost. Of course you lose the tactile nature of plastic pieces and nice quality cards, but that's the trade off for using a PC or Ipad. It's certainly a nice way to test out the expansion maps for cheap before you fork out for the cardboard version.

I would like to have seen a few more tweaking options for the interface and AI settings, but it's a stable, functioning port that allows me to get more plays of Ticket to Ride then I ever did before. Good value for money if you don't mind losing out on plastic trains!

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River Song, Stay Away!! - Time Stories Spoiler Free Review!

Well there have been three major hype trains this year excluding Kickstarters for 2016 release. Blood Rage, Pandemic Legacy and Time Stories. Now you know I love meeting these trains head on and seeing what's what and have already done so with Blood Rage. Pandemic is going to take a while as I now have a copy, but am struggling to find a group and don't think I'll get the same experience playing solo. But now we have Time Stories and after playing through the Asylum scenario in full and completing it successfully I can finally give you my "spoiler-free" opinion on this hype train. . . I love it, end of review. . .

OK, OK, I'm not leaving it there, but that alone should have shocked you like crazy. I don't often come out of these hype train reviews positively, Blood Rage was probably the nicest I've been because that was a decent game even if definitely over-hyped. But this game is blowing that one out of the water, though not without some important caveats. So even though I've spoiled the verdict, I'm not spoiling the game so have no fear, I won't reveal anything beyond what you already see/read in the main rulebook or setup - it would be a crime for me to do so!




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