Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Yardmaster Preview

Designed by Steven Aramini
Published by Crash Games
2 to 4 players
20 minutes
Set collecting, trading, and train building
Prototype version reviewed, on Kickstarter soon

I won a copy of a prototype version of Yardmaster from a contest on Board Game Geek. I was very excited to get my copy. Yardmaster recently won the ION award from the 2014 Salt Lake Gaming Convention. This award is given to......blah blah blah.

There are a lot of train themed games out there, but I have yet to play one myself that doesn't involve train routes - until I played Yardmaster. Yardmaster seems to be unique in this regard as the goal is to be the first to build or link up your train before your opponents. You are building a train by purchasing railcars using sets of cargo cards. Players score a set amount of points for the different railcars added to their train. First player to the designated amount of points wins.

Components and Rule Book
As this is a prototype I won't be saying much considering that what I played with was only a prototype. That being said, the quality of the prototype cards were very nice and I would be happy with that quality for the final version.

I would also like to say that even though high quality cardboard tokens could work for the exchange rate tokens, I would love to see these produced as high quality poker chips. Or at least an option for such as a stretch goal.

The rules presented in the prototype were straight forward and we'll explained. Simple game play is not over complicated by rules. Seem good enough. I would like to see some other variants possibly (again, maybe via stretch goals). I share some variant ideas a bit later.

The artwork is really cool. It is a good overall analogy to how I feel about the game. Clean, crisp, simple, and enjoyable. Like the rule book, the artwork does a lot by not over complicating things. Words are provided with symbols or depictions of railcars along with an old school feeling color theme that just seems to fit the game so well.

Game Play and Thoughts
Setup is easy. Shuffle the railcar and cargo card decks, put three railcar cards face up and deal out three cargo cards to each player. It may be very small, but I like the fact that it is easy to remember the number of cards as it is three and three and this doesn't change with amount of players. Each player also starts with one of the four exchange rate tokens given out at random.

Game play consists of performing two actions on your turn. You may perform each available action multiple times if you wish although you can only purchase one railcar each turn. Basically there is three different actions you can perform.

Gain a new cargo card
You may gain a cargo card by drawing blindly from the top of the facedown cargo deck, or you may take the top cargo card from the cargo discard pile (you can't perform the later if the top card is a bonus card).

Gain a new railcar
You may purchase one of the three face up railcars from the center by paying the number of cargo cards matching the color and number shown on that railcar. The color represents the type of cargo/railcar and the number on the car is both the cost and point value.

Trade exchange rate token
Each player begins the game with and can utilize at any time the 2:1 exchange as shown on their current token (i.e. If you have the coal exchange rate token, two coal can be any other cargo). As one of your actions you may exchange your token with any other player or with any tokens left in the bank.

The Yardmaster token allows the player to take an additional action (three instead of the normal two). This token is passed to the right after that players turn and play continues to the left. The first player to the goal point value is the winner.

Building your train
When purchasing a railcar from the center, this must be added to your train if possible. The first card behind the engine can be anything, but then cards to be added after must match the color or number of the last car. If a purchased railcar can't be added, it gets stored in a player's sorting yard. Then, later in the game, cars will be added to the train if able, not costing any actions to do so.

Yardmaster is a great light set collecting game. Very easy to learn, Yardmaster still offers some nice strategy while keeping it simple. I really think that the artwork is great and refreshing. The game play is interesting, because players need to balance nabbing a train each turn and waiting to try and get a larger point value train (while risking the possibility that an opponent would nab that same train). Switching an exchange token with an opponent could mess with your opponent's strategy and perhaps keep a railcar still around while you try and get the last cargo that you need. The game is a light card game though, and at times the options seem very limited. I guess that is where some of the other strategy and risk taking comes into play. You will most likely be taking many cargo cards blindly, so that adds a luck element to the game (and yet you have the option of taking a known card - but that is just it - it is only one face up cargo card to choose from or you take one blindly. Interesting.

The train building and sorting yard is also an intriguing thing. You can purchase some higher priced railcars even if they can't be added to your train right now, but you risk not being able to add them at all. Placing lower valued cars is a safer bet that you will be able to continue to add more and more cars, but then again is taking 4 actions to purchase 4 different 1 value cars better than taking 1 action to purchase a 4 valued car? You won't be able to add on your train as easily, but you still have the same color you can add and get the value lower again to match other cars. But I ramble. The truth is, the game has some strategy, the game is simple, and it has a large luck component as well. Is it all balanced? I'm not sure yet, but I can say that it is a fun game that you can start playing within a couple of minutes and provides a nice casual game play that can be enjoyed by a wide range of people and that is How Lou Sees It.

A big SHOUT OUT to Crash Games for the prototype version sent to me free of charge and for the opportunity to review Yardmaster. If you are interested in learning more, I will post a link to the Kickstarter here when available. Video review also provided below. Enjoy!

Variant Ideas
-Sorting yard rail cars must be played/added to your train in order of purchase.
-Play with the exchange tokens face down. Reveal it when you use it. As an action you can take all the tokens and shuffle them face down and pass out again.
-Play either without the exchange tokens, or play with fixed tokens (can't trade them).

(Work in progress, I may add more ideas for variants, or house rules here in the future.)

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Smartypants Tavern

Disclosure: I got this product as part of an advertorial.

Tavern Puzzle Collection
Tucker-Jones House, Inc
Metal Disentanglement Puzzle


Background / Introduction
I grew up with a really basic metal disentanglement puzzle in my household (Tucker-Jones House, Inc. who makes this "Smartypants" puzzle also makes the exact puzzle that I grew up with - they call it "Old Shackels"). I remember as a little kid trying and trying to figure it out. Then, once I was shown how to do it, it was so simple! It was really cool to see the mechanics of the puzzle though and fun to show others how to do it.

Years later, and I'm a Mechanical Engineer who hasn't really touched a puzzle like this since I solved "Old Shackels." And now, I ask myself why!? Why has it been so long. I love puzzles. I used to know how to do the Rubik's Cube, one of the greatest puzzles of all time (Koszonom szepen Erno! Igen, beszelek magyarul. Bizony!), but I have since forgotten the sequence of movements. That is really what these disentanglement puzzles come down to as well - distinct mechanical movements in a sequence that will give the desired result.

From the home page of Tucker-Jones House's Tavern Puzzle Collection website:

"Tavern Puzzles® are reproductions of a type of puzzle traditionally forged by blacksmiths to amuse their friends at country taverns and inns. Keeping with tradition, a museum-trained blacksmith from Long Island has reproduced some of these antique designs as well as his own original designs. All the puzzles are handcrafted and individually assembled. Each puzzle is mechanical in nature; removal of the object piece does not rely on force or trickery. (100% Handcrafted in the USA)"

I actually worked in a local Toy Store for a time, and I remember that we carried a good selection of these puzzles. They are very nicely made puzzles and it is so cool that they are all hand-crafted and individually assembled here in the USA! The puzzle comes in a simple bag, but you can purchase stands to actually display the puzzle, and I would recommend that. Mine sits on the shelf, but it would be so cool to have it out on display. A great quality puzzle.

The Tavern Collection is split into 8 different groups with varying difficulty and type of puzzles. "Smartypants" is somewhere in the middle being in Group 4. The object of "Smartypants" is to get the ring disentangled from the rest of the puzzle so that it comes completely free. The puzzle is considered difficult, and it is partly do to some misdirection. While consisting of multiple steps to get the ring off, I wouldn't really consider the steps hard and they are still not that many steps (spoiler alert). I really enjoy it, but at the same time, I think my engineer mind craves the more challenging puzzles!

Final Thoughts and Videos
If you like puzzles that make you think, I definitely think you should give these disentanglement puzzles from Tucker-Jones House Inc. a try. They all are priced at approximately $22 and there are some really cool designs. The puzzles can be challenging and getting one like "Smartypants" might be a good start - you can then tell if you want something simpler or more difficult. I have included a video review showing you the puzzle and below that is a solution video for those interested in seeing how this one is solved. I would love to see more of these in my collection and that is How Lou Sees It!


I received one or more of the products mentioned above for free using Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Lords of Waterdeep is Amazing!

Lords of Waterdeep 
Designed by Peter Lee and Rodney Thompson
Published by Wizards of the Coast
2 to 5 Players
60 Minutes
A fantasy themed worker placement game that includes city building, completing quests, and intrigue

Background / Introduction
Lords of Waterdeep is a fantastic worker placement game with high quality components and a great fantasy theme. You will notice the Dungeons and Dragons label on the box and in most cases this will either make you very excited about the game or turn you off to it immediately. I for one, have never played Dungeons and Dragons or any other tabletop RPG. I wanted to play this because of all the great things I kept hearing about it and I saw it played on TableTop. Well, all the good things I heard are true and I love this game.

Components / Rule Book
This game has a very high quality production value. The first thing you will probably notice is the nice box that the game comes in. The box has a nice finish to it and seems like it will be very durable. It also has a very unique way that the lid and box fit together creating a nice visual effect. Once the box is open, you will notice the amazing plastic insert that will help organize the game components. This insert is probably the best one that I have encountered. Everything has its place and it all fits perfectly. The insert also is designed such that you can very easily retrieve the components from the box without having to tip the thing upside down. Hands down the best use of an insert.

Another nice touch to keep the game feeling unique, is the shape and design of the gold used in the game. There are two different types of gold tokens, one is square and the other is a half-moon shape each with a little hole in the middle. I really like this little detail that adds to the theme and just gives another component that stands out above just using a normal round looking coin. The gold tokens are very high quality cardboard type pieces, but they have a nice finish to them and will keep well. Of course, I would have loved actual metal coins, using the cardboard I'm sure keeps the price point down.

The game includes a board and building tiles which are also made of some nice cardboard. I am impressed with the building tile pieces from Lords of Waterdeep, because similar tiles in other games seem more prone to warping or just feel flimsy. These tiles are anything but.  The game includes wooden meeples and scoring tokens that are well painted and look nice. The cards used in the game are nice quality and shuffle well.

The only thing that I wish was better is the player mats. The mats in my opinion are not a real huge need, but they are nice to have to keep things organized and to keep track of players' factions. These mats divide your completed quests from uncompleted ones and provides a storage area for Adventure Cubes and resources. I really wish these mats were made out of the same material as the building tiles - that would be awesome, but alas, they are not. The mats seem to be printed on a cardstock type material and they are flimsy. They could easily become bent or ruined. Again, I know that it was probably a price point thing and the mats are not necessarily small like the building tiles - but that is really the only part about the components that I found lacking.

The instruction booklet is also great quality in material and content. A durable rule book with lots of illustrations and well understood rules. The rule book also provides a diagram on how to use the insert - pretty sweet! I think the quality of components and rule book are top notch.

Players are trying to obtain the most victory points by completing quests, building buildings, playing intrigue cards, and by trying to get bonus points from meeting a special goal for your specific Lord. Setup is pretty quick and consists of shuffling some cards and gathering adventurer cubes and other components. Each player gets a Lord of Waterdeep card that will provide bonus points for completing specific types of quests or building buildings. Players will also start with some intrigue cards and some quests.

Players will place an agent (one of their meeples) on one of the open action spaces which will allow them to gain adventurers, gold, build a building, gain or play an intrigue card, and take on more quests. Building buildings will add more action spaces to the board and the owner of the building bets a benefit whenever some other player uses that building. Intrigue cards allow you to snare up your opponent with such things as mandatory quests that are required to be completed before completing any other quests. The game really is simple and easy to teach/learn, but the game offers a lot of strategy. The game is a great length as well lasting about an hour (the game is played in 8 rounds and the game is adjusted for the different amount of players by adjusting how many agents a player will start with).

Closing Thoughts
I really have enjoyed Lords of Waterdeep. I am just amazed at the nice quality components and the attention to detail for each right down to the wonderful box insert to keep everything organized. I like the little things that make the game have a unique feel like how the box closes or the shape of the gold coins. The artwork is great and all the gameplay with components create a really great theme that is enjoyable and yet isn't overwhelming to those who may not care for fantasy. Those who don't enjoy fantasy at all can still really enjoy this game! It isn't too heavy, so more casual gamers can still enjoy it. The game length is perfect at around 60 minutes. There is variation in the different quest cards, intrigue cards, and building cards used in each game along with the different Lord cards with special bonus point goals. I like the building concept where if you build a building and another player uses that space, you get rewarded. The simplicity of the game combined with the shear fun of completing quests and great strategy depth should make this game shoot to the top of your want list. And with a great player range of 2 to 5 players, this game seems to have it all. It plays really well with 2 players, a lot better than I originally thought it would. I think that there is a lot of replayability and there is also currently one expansion (that apparently is like two in one) available to add even more fun. I hope that I can try it soon as well, for Lords of Waterdeep is amazing and that is How Lou Sees It!

A big SHOUT OUT to Wizards of the Coast for making this review possible.