Played@ Gamehole Con 2016

Fairway had a tough weekend for a convention, but managed to get in a few games: Lanterns, Valeria Card Kingdoms, The Guardians: EXPLORE, and Potion Explosion. Check out these mini-reviews!

I did not get to spend nearly as much time at Gamehole Con this year as I thought I might. However, I made good use of my time and got in a bunch of really great games.  Here’s a few:

Lanterns ^

Right out of the gate, I got to play a game of Lanterns by Renegade Games Studio and Foxtrot games. This game has rightfully received a lot of praise. The game plays in about a forty minutes with two to four players. Because of how the game plays, four players is probably the ideal.

How to play. The basic game play is simple: you choose tiles from your hand and play them onto the table.  When a tile is played, each player collects a colored card based on the color of the lantern facing them. In addition, the person who places the tile will collect an additional card for any colors that match the colors of lanterns touching that side.  And, one last rule, if a tile has a float on it, you collect a token for each color match when placed; a pair of tokens plus another color card lets you draw any color card you’d like.

At the start of your turn, you can then turn in color cards for points.  In general, you can turn in cards three different ways to score: three pairs, four of a kind, or one of each color.  As players turn in cards for points, the points associated with those various scoring offerings decreases.  The game continues until all of the tiles have been placed.

What makes this game awesome.  Lanterns is one of those games that is both simple to understand and grasp, but strategically interesting. You’d be hard pressed to win the game merely by matching colors and collecting sets, to score points. The fact that other players collect cards with each play means that your play can be influenced as much by strategically playing your tiles to affect their hands.

The game is also beautifully illustrated by Beth Sobel. Lining up the pretty lantern displays on the table can create a very beautiful tableau.  The thoughtful illustrations extend to even the color cards.

I’d consider Lanterns to be a very good game to introduce to a new game group. It introduces tile placing and set collection mechanics in an intuitive way. It makes players think in a very spatial way that creates both an interesting puzzle and stratetgic experience.

Valeria Card Kingdoms ^

From Lanterns, I moved onto a game of Valeria Card Kingdoms by Daily Magic Games (you can also check out Cassie’s video review). Anyone who’s played Machi Koro will quickly grasp the game play, but don’t let that fool your. Valeria Card Kingdoms fixes so much that’s wrong with that game.  In VCK, players recruit citizens to their kingdoms, acquire domains to expand their powers, and fight monsters and bosses, all in an attempt to score the most points.

To play, your kingdom starts with two basic citizens like a peasant and a knight. Each citizen has a number at the top and two effects: one for when you’re rolling dice and one for when others roll the dice. On your turn, you roll two dice. The dice can activate citizens for up to three different values: one for each of the values of the dice individually and one the total.  Rolling a five and six, for example, activates the five, six and elevens.  If you roll the dice, you activate all the citizens you can and take the reward on the left of the card. Everyone else does the same thing, but takes the effect on the right.

In general, these effects allow you to collect: money, attack, or magic. Generally, money is used to add new citizens or buy domains and attack allows you to fight monsters.  Magic can serve multiple purposes: sometimes its required for attacks, sometimes required for purchases, and can also act as a “wild” when spent with the type of token you’re trying to copy.

After you’ve rolled and collected your rewards, you can take two actions: gain a resource, acquire citizens, buy a domain, or attack a bad guy.  The last three options all require that you spend some amount of the resources you collect.  Acquiring new citizens lets you flesh out the range of numbers that activate on turns. Buying domains scores you a bonuses as well as victory points.

Going after monsters is a lot of fun.  There are four stacks.  To attack a stack, you expend the necessary attack and, sometimes, magic to kill the monster. If you kill the monster, you collect the reward and keep it as a trophy to score for victory points at the end.  At the bottom of each monster stack is a tougher boss monster.

The game continues until enough stacks of the cards are depleted.  Players sum up their scores: earned victory points from monsters, domains and a hidden victory point condition they started with.

Why this game is awesome.  It’s hard to escape the idea that this game is basically what Machi Koro should have been. Unlike that other game, VCK keeps all the players involved with every toss of the die. What’s more, the die rolls have much less impact on the outcome than in either Catan or Machi Koro since you have three opportunities on each player’s turn.  There’s very few rolls where you get to do nothing.

In addition, the ability to deploy your cards for purposes other than money generation is a welcome addition. Collecting attacks and magic to go and battle boss monsters provides players an interesting choice.

I didn’t mention this above, but the market of citizens can also vary with each game. This variation should keep the game interesting and prevent players from figuring out an optimal game strategy.

If you’re someone who enjoys dice rolling games and fantasy monster slaying, you should definitely take a look at Valeria Card Kingdoms.

The Guardians: EXPLORE ^

So before I jump, let me say: after demoing the game, I picked up a copy. I liked The Guardians that much.  The Guardians is a two- to four-player semi-cooperative game about a bunch of kids saving their town from some bad guys.

There’s kind of a lot going on in this game, but in a nutshell it is a deck-building or, perhaps, a deck-optimization game. Each of the characters in the game starts with a specialized deck-there’s also an option deck-creation step, but either way you get a starting deck.

Each round of the game follows some basic steps. First, you’ll draw four cards from your deck.  Next, you’ll move your character to a “safe” spot in the map. At the start, that’s only “home,” but as the game progresses players will build blanket forts at other locations.  This safe zone gives players some benefit.  Once the safe zone effects are resolved, players will simultaneously activate cards from their hand.

These cards do a few things. They can provide attack strength. They can provide energy to power other cards. They can provide special bonuses, like drawing cards or might be equipped as items.  The players attempt to chain the cards they have into the most effective combination, typically trying to maximize their attack.  Once powered, up, the players will have a total attack value that will let them pursue monsters that have invaded the town.

The town is a set of locations.  Each location has either one or two monsters.  The monsters total attack value is the total of all the monsters on that location.  After powering up, the players will move their characters onto one of the monsters locations where there attack exceeds the monsters’ attack value.  If they can, they’ll collect the monsters as trophies and activate any special bonuses the monsters might provide like permanent increases to energy or attack.  If the player wants, he or she can then set up a blanket fort on any of the cleared locations, which turns it into a safe zone for subsequent rounds.

The game continues like this until the players defeat a boss monster.  Once the player defeats the boss monster, the players total up their victory points. The player with the most points wins.

What makes this awesome.  I think I’ll just rattle off all the really great things about this game:

  • It is definitely a family-friendly deck-building and adventure game. The art, theme and game play aren’t overly violent or scary. And the cards, locations, and powers are easily relatable.
  • The characters are diverse: girls and boys, different ethnicities, different abilities, etc. This is a very nice touch. My daughter like the number of playable girl characters.  But even with this diversity, it still hits the typical role-playing game archetypes.
  • Play levels scale well.  The “apprentice” mode takes only about 40 minutes to learn and play. But if you want a more involved game, the full version of the game offers that too. This fact is great for families who might not want to commit a ton of time to any particular game, but lets them do so if they want.
  • The art and graphic design are very well done. There’s a good number of unique art elements just like you’d expect from a game like this.
  • There’s a huge variety of cards.

Potion Explosion ^

One of the very last games I played had some of the coolest components I’ve played with: Potion Explosion. Potion Explosion by Cool Mini or Not is a two- to four-player game of collecting marbles to brew potions.  The first thing you notice is the remarkable marble contraption constructed entirely from cardboard components. Since I borrowed the game from the convention’s Game Library, it was already constructed (phew).  Marbles go in the top and line up in the slots at the bottom.

To play, players collect marbles from that fantastic contraption and attempt to place them in the correct combinations in potions that they have in front of them.

The “magic” of the game is the initial pick from the marble contraption. On your turn, you will pick a single marble from the machine. If the marble causes two like colored marbles to crash together, you cause an explosion allowing you to take all the marbles that form the explosion.  Taking these, in turn, might cause further explosions that you can also take.  All of these gathered marbles are placed in your hand and then placed into your potions.

The potions themselves are very neat card board cutouts.  Each band of the potion has a series of circles that allow you to place one or more of the color-matched marbles.  Once you fill up all the spots, you complete your potion.

Completed potions score you points and provided you a one-time use special power when drunk.  These can be things like drawing extra marbles from the machine (no explosions, though) or letting you steal other players’ marbles or letting you substitute colors.

As players finish potion, they can collect experience tokens for finishing three of a kind or five different kinds of potions.  Once these experience tokens are depleted, the game ends.

What’s awesome.  The components are pretty great. This game looks great on the table. When we were playing in the open game room, lots of people just stopped to watch as we’d draw marbles out of the little card board contraption.

As if the cardboard components weren’t enough, a game full of marbles would likely be a show-stealer anyway. The marbles are fun, although they do have a tendency to roll away if you’re not careful.

The marble collection mechanic calls to mind all of those video games where you line up gems or pills or insert-other-colored things.  Players definitely plan their pulls to maximize the explosions, as well they should.

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