Saturday, July 20, 2013

Crazy Creatures of Dr. Gloom

Crazy Creatures of Dr. Gloom
Designed by Michael Schacht

Introduction / Backstory
Scientists sometimes have a bad rap. Put on a white lab coat and forget to comb your hair for the day and what are you labeled? A "Mad Scientist" most likely. You have to admit that in our fictional world there are a lot of examples of scientists messing with something that quickly grows into a big issue creating all sorts of problems. Think of Dr. Frankenstein and Flint Lockwood (Mmmm....giant food). In Crazy Creatures of Dr. Gloom, you have your heart on becoming the greatest scientist ever! You want...nay...need to become the apprentice of the great Doctor Gloom (or Doom depending on where you live) to realize your dream. Rumors of crazy creatures in the forest surrounding the mansion of Doctor Gloom and colorful clouds coming from his chimney has really peaked your interest. Lucky you - he is looking for a select few to help him with his current project! Will you be successful? Stand out above your competitors on this project and you can become his apprentice and start your way to fame and glory (or at least win the game).

I am a big fan of Michael Schacht's Coloretto and Zooloretto. The game mechanic of those games is just fantastic. This game takes a different, very simple, game mechanic and makes a nice family card game that everyone can enjoy. I think that this game will appeal to those who like games such as Coloretto, Lost Cities, Pinata, Slide 5, Uno, Love Letter, and Little Devils. I can see a lot of different little elements from these games in Crazy Creatures (i.e. the points listed on some of the cards like in Little Devils/Slide 5, the Increasing and Decreasing sides to the machine cards like in Pinata, trying to get rid of your cards first like in Uno, the strategic thought process of trying to determine what your opponents have in their hand like Love Letter...). The game can be a great "filler" for those hard-core gamer types and it provides a very easy, kid-friendly game that the entire family can have fun with. The illustrations are really well done. The way that the monsters evolve and are depicted reminded me of Pokemon (yes, I grew up playing the first U.S. version on my Game Boy).

Overview / Components
You can play Crazy Creatures with 2 to 4 players. I feel that it does play well with just 2 players. The game takes up to 20 minutes to play but can be shorter with just 2 players. Kids ages 7 and up will be able to play the game nicely. Shuffling is required in between rounds but not during game play. Some of the cards are not used each round creating some good unknown element to the game. The game doesn't take up a lot of room and is very easily packed around. While the game may not offer deep strategy, it still offers more strategy than Uno. Players must decide whether to make another draw a card, or change the machine from Increasing to Decreasing. You will want to try and wait to play some cards if you think other players have a duplicate one. Really fun stuff.

The components are great quality all packaged in a nice tin. Instructions are easy to read and understand with helpful illustrations. Cards shuffle well and again, the illustrations on the cards of the creatures/monsters are really enjoyable. The game includes 4 machine cards, and 48 creature cards (1 through 6 in each color/creature twice).

Set Up and Game Play
Game set up is really simple. Place the 4 machine cards with the plus or increasing sign up (possible alternative house rule: place these cards on the table randomly increasing or decreasing side up). Shuffle all 48 creature cards. Deal 12 cards to each player (10 in a 4 player) and deal 8 into a side pile. The rest of the cards are not used this round (in a 4 player game, all cards will be used).

On a player's turn, they play one card from their hand if they are able to the side of one of the machine cards corresponding to the color of creature card (possible alternative house rule: you can choose to pass even if you are able to play a card). You have to play cards according to what the machine for that color currently shows. If the machine is showing the increase side, you must play a card equal or higher than what is shown (special rules for the DNA symbol type cards 1s and 6s). Play then proceeds clockwise. If you can't play, you pass (you may be able to play next time around). If a player is able to play an identical card onto another already in play, that person gets to choose between two bonuses. They can make any other player of their choice take one card from the pile of 8 OR they can choose to flip one of the machine cards switching the rules for that color/creature pile. The DNA symbol cards can be played on one another. This makes it possible to play a 1 on a 6 and vice versa. Pretty handy!

Round / Game End
The round ends when a player plays their last card. Other players then get one more turn if they can play (recommended house rule: end the round immediately and don't allow any further turns). Players then score what remains in their hand. You score one point for each skull and crossbones (cards either have 0, 1, or 2). This gets added to your total. The player who triggers the end of the round by going out first gets a bonus by subtracting 3 points from their total (possible house rules: you can disregard this bonus if you like, or you could allow negative points - in the actual rules, you subtract 3 not going lower than 0). For each game it says to play a number of rounds equal to the amount of players. I feel that for a 2 player game at least, it feels really short. So, you could create a a house rule where you just decide an amount of rounds, or you can always just play again! The winner is the one with the least amount of points.

Conclusion and Final Thoughts
The first time I played it, I honestly felt pretty indifferent about the game. Didn't think it was bad, didn't think it was mind-blowingly awesome. The more I play the game though, the more I have come to enjoy it - a lot. So, take that into consideration. Don't just play it once and make your conclusion about the game. I think a game by  Michael Schacht deserves more than that - this game definitely does. In fact, after a few plays, I have decided to give it a 4 fingers up or 9 out of 10 stars! Now, the enjoyment level for you will differ depending on what you are looking for. Those who like Agricola may not enjoy it nearly as much as one who enjoys games more like Uno, Little Devils, or Coloretto. The game is a simple one, but has plenty of room for strategy and is quickly taught and played. A great portable card game that everyone can enjoy and that is How Lou Sees It!

A big SHOUT OUT to Stronghold Games for making this review possible.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Cinque Terre

Cinque Terre: The Five Villages
Designed by Chris Handy

Multiple games are named after famous or significant places throughout the world. One of my favorite games is actually designed and named after a famous fortified French town, Carcassonne. Other really fun games named after famous locals include but are not limited to: Puerto Rico, San Juan, Hawaii, Pantheon, Jamaica, Alhambra, and Jaipur. Cinque Terre for those who don't know is a rugged portion of coast along the Italian Riviera. "The Five Lands" consists of 5 cities which are close in proximity one to another. If you check out the pictures online, it definitely looks like a nice place to visit. I have visited Italy once seeing Rome, Florence, and Venice. I definitely would like to visit Cinque Terre if there is another trip to Italy. Also, I would like to mention that it is kind of crazy that while reading Dan Brown's newest book Inferno that is based on Dante's The Divine Comedy and which takes place in Italy - I have reviewed both Little Devils and Cinque Terre.

The goal of this game is to harvest produce to sell in the varying markets completing as many orders as possible. The game is for 2 to 5 players and takes approximately  an hour to play. The game's concepts are easy to understand and I would think that children 8+ could play it fairly well (manufacturer recommendation is 13+). When thinking about the complexity of the game, I would compare it to Ticket to Ride. The competitiveness of the game however may relate better to Thurn and Taxis. You can't physically block paths like in Ticket to Ride, but you can claim available points before someone else. I and the wife really enjoyed this game. Let's take a look at what's in the box...

 As usual, Rio Grand Games has done a great job with the quality of the components (boards, cards, cubes, etc.). The game includes 128 wooden produce cubes, 80 produce cards, 16 starting produce order cards, 80 regular produce order cards, 16 dice (2 in each color), 1 large game board, 5 personal player game boards with matching scoring marker and produce carts, 5 MPV cardboard tokens, 1 cloth bag, and 1 instruction booklet. I do wish that there was a built in location to store the cards (I store them in the provided cloth bag, or you can use rubber bands to keep them contained within the box). I really like the personal player boards with references to available actions. The wooden cars or carts are a nice player piece, although I have really liked the idea that others have done by using matchbox type trucks as the players pieces so that they can physically carry the produce cubes around in their trucks (in the game, you store these cubes usually on your player board where there is a depiction of your produce cart). Very cool idea! The instructions are very clear with great illustrations and examples.

Set Up
Setting up the game does not take long and consists of shuffling card decks, placing produce cubes, and rolling and placing a few dice. If you have extra sandwich bags or game bags, I would suggest keeping the 8 different colored produce cubes in their own individual bag. This will help speed up the minimal set up time to
begin with. The cloth bag is provided purely for randomizing the produce cube placement and die placement. The bag will not be needed throughout the rest of the game. To help randomize the placement of the 8 different produce cube fields, place one cube of each color in the bag and draw them out placing them in the next field. You then can place the rest of the corresponding cubes in that field (see instructions for amount of cubes - varies with different amount of players). You do something similar with the die. Place one of each colored die in the bag, draw one out and roll it. Place that die in the top city on the left and continue until full (4 die). Then the next 4 go in the bottom city. Then you place the remaining 8 die in the bag and fill in the 3 other villages with die. The numbers represent how much each produce will be worth or sold in that village (if a die is not present for that village, people will be able to sell any produce still for 1 lire/point. Each player is also dealt a starting produce order card and 4 produce cards. The regular produce order cards are shuffled and a number of cards equal to the amount of players are dealt face up next to this deck. Players then place their cart on one of the 3 different harvesting locations.

The game is played by choosing to perform 3 actions each time it's your turn. You have 4 different options and these actions are listed on each players individual boards. You can perform these actions in any order and can perform each of the different options as many times as you like. The 4 different action options are:
  1. Move up to 4 spaces: The player can move his cart up to 4 spaces clockwise around the board. Remember that if you move your cart just 1 space, that will count as one of your actions just the same as if you choose to move 4 spaces. You may, as stated above, perform each of these actions more than once per turn. So, you could move 7 spaces, but that would be 2 of your 3 actions. You could also move 1, perform a different action, and move again.
  2. Draw 1 produce card: You may draw/take 1 produce card from the board and add it to your hand. Each produce card you take counts as an action. When you take a face up card, you immediately fill the empty space from the top of the draw deck. You may choose to draw blindly off the top of the produce deck for your action. There is no limit to the amount of produce cards in your hand. We created a house rule that when all 4 of the face up cards are of the same type, you discard all of them and flip over 4 new cards. This seems to have worked well.
  3. Harvest produce: The player may harvest up to 4 produce cubes if at one of the three locations to harvest. The player may only harvest the produce cubes available at that location and remember that you can't have more than 4 produce cubes in your cart. To harvest a cube, there must be a cube for you to harvest and you need either 1 matching produce card, or 2 cards of the same type can be used for any produce cube.
  4. Sell produce at a village market: The player may sell up to 4 produce at any one village for one action. They must have an available space on their player board for that city for all produce to be sold (this isn't made really clear in the rules, but after assuming and confirming that assumption - each player can only sell 8 produce to each city). You receive lire (or in other words, points) equal to what is shown on that produce's colored die. You can sell any type of produce in any village. If you are selling a particular produce not represented in that city by a die, you get one point.
How to Score
Besides gaining points for selling produce in the villages, the other key way to obtain points is from the
produce order cards (starting and from the table). Produce order cards are available from the table (# of them face up equal to the # of players). Players may score one order card at the end of their turn if they have all the produce sold in each city as described on the card. The player then places that card in front of them and scores those points. Now that player secretly draws the top card of the order deck. Then that player may choose whether or not they would like to keep that card secretly in their secret deck of order cards (with their starting card). Any cards kept this way remain secret until the end of the game scoring positive points if complete, and negative points if not completed. If they choose not to keep the card, it goes down onto the table face up to fill in the empty space. They player then gets one final choice -
draw another order card from the top of the deck or pass. If they choose to draw, they must keep this second card.

The final way to obtain points comes from being popular. The Most Popular Vendor (MPV) tokens are obtained when a player fills in the 8 slots for a city before anyone else. The player scores these points immediately and places the token in front of them with any other MPVs or publicly scored order cards.

Game End
The end of the game is triggered when a player gets a total of 5 point cards/MPV tokens which are laid out in front of them. Any completed order cards in a player's hand are scored at the end of the game, but do not count toward the 5 needed to trigger the end of the game. All players then get one final turn, including the player who triggered the ending.

Closing Remarks
This is a great game! I am giving it 4 fingers up (or 9 out of 10 stars). Cinque Terre is one of those games that provides a nice light (not too competitive) experience. A good "gateway" euro-style game that is easy to learn. I think people who enjoy such games as Ticket to Ride, Thurn and Taxis, and Jambo will enjoy this game. The game has some nice variation built into the set up to make each game a little different. Setting up the game doesn't take long at all and explaining it to new people doesn't either. Some people may not like that the game doesn't have more player interaction with each other (i.e. no trading aspect, markers don't interact or restrict people from spaces, etc.), but everything works well as designed and not having a lot of player interaction keeps the competitive nature more similar to Thurn and Taxis. Some of the hard-core gamer types might find the game a little too simplified, or may find that it doesn't provide enough strategy for them. I would say that this is a great family game where even kids who are 7 or  8 could get a grasp on the game pretty easily. I would recommend this game to everyone and that is How Lou Sees It!

A big SHOUT OUT to Rio Grande Games for making this review possible and for continuing to make great games!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Little Devils

Little Devils
Designed by Michael Feldkotter

I am a big fan of trick-taking card games, and they are definitely not in short supply. One of my all time favorite trick-taking card games is actually Rook. For those unaware of what a trick-taking card game is, it is referring to a game in which players take turns playing a card or cards from their hand until by some evaluation specific to that game (highest card, trump, etc.), a player wins that "trick" or "hand."

Personally, the theme of the cards being little devils isn't my favorite and I probably wouldn't have picked it up from the store because of the cartoon devil on the front (yeah, I judge things by their packaging or "cover"  occasionally). That being said, if you dismiss this game just for that, you will be missing out! I am a big fan of the game Slide 5 and I couldn't help but think of that game while playing this one. There is some good strategy that can help you out, but there is also a great luck element where you really aren't sure exactly what card your opponents are going to play. You will find yourself laying a card just hoping someone will play a card higher/lower than yours. A bit ironic that I am currently reading Dan Brown's new book "Inferno" as I am reviewing this game...

What's Inside The Tin
So, first of all, the game comes in a great portable tin. I am a big fan of the tin for its durability and visual appeal. All of the cards fit very nicely into the tin (I have some games that really don't fit everything well, and that is frustrating, but this one is great). You have 54 cards numbered 1 through 54 and the rules. The rules are very well explained and includes some example rounds which is nice.

Game Play
There is a little set up required for the game depending on the amount of players you are playing with. This can sometimes be a pain if you are constantly adding or dropping people, but it really isn't too bad. You just need to remove cards from the deck so that you have 9 cards for each player (no extras). So, for a 4 player game, you play with cards 1 through 36 removing cards 37 through 54 from play. I store my game this way since I will usually be playing with 4 people when I play.

The cards are then shuffled and dealt out. Play starts with the player to the left of the dealer and the role of dealer moves to the left after each round. That player picks a starting card and places it out in front of them. The player to the left then goes with play going clockwise. What makes this game so great is that the person leading or starting each hand AND the next player both make key decisions for that round. The second player then decides to play a card higher or lower than the starting card. If he plays a card higher than the first card, then all other players MUST play a card higher than the starting card as well. In this situation, the player with the highest card would take the trick. If a player can't play a higher card, they may then play any card, but they will be at risk for taking the trick. And if someone plays a card lower, then it becomes the player with the lowest card that gets the trick. May sound a bit confusing at first, but it really isn't it.

Likewise, if the second player plays a card lower than the first card, then all others must play a card lower as well if they can. If they don't have a lower card, they are forced to play a higher card with the highest card taking that trick. In Little Devils, each card either has 0 to 5 little devils on the card. These represent the point value of each card. Players are trying to avoid taking any points. Thus, avoiding taking any tricks or obtaining tricks with low points is your goal. Sometimes you will want to take a trick to get rid of a card from your deck, hoping to take low points now so that you can avoid larger point tricks later (lesser of two evils). The player who won the trick then starts with a new starting card. The starting card can't be a card with 5 little devils on it unless there is no other option. Game play continues until all 9 hands have been played, and then players add up their little devils adding it to their running total.

Game End and How I See It
The game ends when someone gets 100+ points with the winner being the one with the least amount of points. Simple game, for simple fun. There is definitely a pretty hefty luck element to the game, but there is also some great strategy that can keep the devils away. My friends really enjoyed the game, as did I. There is actually more strategy to Little Devils than there is in Slide 5 (which is nice). I do however like the 2 to 10 player range that Slide 5 offers while Little Devils you are limited to 3 to 6. Both games are different enough as well to warrant getting both. Besides the ability to strategize a bit more in Little Devils, that second player deciding higher or lower each round is really what I enjoyed most about the game. I give the game 4 Fingers Up, or 9 out of 10 stars. The game retails for $15 dollars which is pretty average for a nice quality card game like this. A big SHOUT OUT to Stronghold Games for making this review possible! I look forward to reviewing many more Stronghold Games (in fact, keep your eye out for another Stronghold card game review in the coming days)!

Avoiding little devils has never been so much fun! That is How Lou Sees It!