Episode 39: Chimera, Diamonds and Best/Worst of 2014

BPPP Chimera Diamonds and Best/Worst of 2014 (click on the text to the left to listen)

chimeradiamondsDuring this episode of Blue Peg, Pink Peg:

1) All of the Pegs talk about some of their recent game plays such as Mansions of Madness and Medina as well as some news about a few upcoming games that have their attention, including La Granja.

2) All of the Pegs review Z-Man Games trick taking card game, Chimera and Stronghold Games trick taking card game, Diamonds.

3) All of the Pegs talk about their best and worst gaming related experiences of 2014.

The aforementioned review derives from a copy of the reviewed game which was provided by the publisher, free of charge.

Click here for show notes and game play photos.

Top Promoter

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Top Promoter HeaderThere are games that are tense enough that by the time you finish them you are as sweaty and exhausted as Rocky Balboa at the end of his famous run through Philadelphia (though it’s unlikely you’ll have been cheered on by as many children). In some gaming groups, the victor may be as bruised and bloody, and the losers as reviled as a pummeled Dolph Lundgren.

Top Promoter is not one of those games. And that’s fine. I mean, who wants to end a game that beat up, no matter what side of the victory line you fall on?

Rather than Rocky Balboa, Top Promoter puts you in the role of his manager, assigning a roster of fighters in a range of weight classes to a series of bouts in cities across the world. As a promoter, sometimes you have to put up a lesser fighter against a more bruising opponent so you can save your best boxer for a higher profile match in a city that will pull in the cash. It’s a bit mercenary, but everyone knows the business of boxing is every bit as brutal as what goes down in the ring.

Rules

 

 

Players begin by selecting a deck of fighters and actions. There are five decks in the game, each containing an identical distribution of cards, differentiated only by color. A number of Location cards, equal to the number of players minus one, are laid out in the main play area. Players shuffle their decks, draw six cards, and play begin.

Decks consist of two kinds of cards – fighters and actions. Each fighter has a weight class, a Popularity score, a dice stat, and a hometown. In addition, some fighters have a Knockout score – a special dice combination that can be rolled for an instant win and a premium cash award during the bout. The small number of action cards can be played either as fighters are being assigned to bouts, or after bouts have begun, depending on the card.

fighter example
Exemplar Fighter Cards

 

The Action Cards
Exemplar Action Cards

At the beginning of a round, each player selects a fighter from their hand and places it face down in front of them. Once all players have selected a card, the fighters are revealed. Play order is then determined by the Popularity scores of the revealed fighters – highest Popularity going first, and then advancing in descending order. Players will then assign their fighters to a a bout at a location, keeping in mind that fighters receive a one-die bonus for fighting in their hometowns. Placement of boxers are limited by a few conditions: players cannot pair their own boxers against each other, they have to assign their boxers to bouts of the same weight class, and they can’t assign their boxer to a new bout if a location already has a boxer of the same weight class open. A location can hold three bouts, and each bout consists of two fighters. Once a player assigns a fighter to a city, she can play one of a small number of action cards that do things like swap location cards or move the bout her fighter was assigned to higher in ranking. In some cases, it’s possible that a player may not have a location to assign their fighter because there is no open bout in their selected fighter’s weight class, probably because another player filled a bout ahead of them. In this case, their fighter is simply discarded and play continues.

If at any point an assigned fighter causes a location to have three full bouts, the fight immediately commences at that location. Resolution of bouts begins with the bottom-most pair and proceeds upwards to the Main Event. Players receive more rewards the higher up in position their match is $1 million, $2 million and $3 million respectively.

Combat is very simple. Players roll a number of six-sided dice equal to the Dice Stat of their fighter, with a couple of modifications. They may play a Superior Training card with will add a die to their roll. As mentioned earlier, fighters competing in their home towns also receive a bonus die. After each pool of die is rolled, victory is determined in one of two ways: 1) Players arrange their dice in descending order and compare rolls, one player comparing their highest roll to their opponent’s highest roll, until one player beats their opponents’ score. or 2) A fighter with a knockout stat rolls the particular combination of dice needed to complete their knockout.

To illustrate: player one has a dice stat of 3x, while player two has a dice stat of 2x. Player one rolls 3 dice, while player two rolls 2. They then compare rolls. Player one rolled a 4, a 2 and a 2, while player two rolled a 6 and a 1. In this case, player two wins the bout with their roll of 6. In another case, two fighters each have a dice stat of 4x. Player one rolls a 6, 5, 5, and a 3, while player two rolls a 6, 5, 4 and 4. Comparing scores, the players see their their highest roll, 6, ties. Their second highest rolls, 5, also tie. The third highest rolls – the third round of the bout – sees player one with a 5 compared to player two’s 4. Player one wins the bout.

Only a handful of fighters have knockout capabilities, and the combinations that result in knockout are pretty straightforward: three of a kind in one case, a consecutive run in another, and a Full House on the third. If a fighter rolls their knockout score – regardless of the value of their dice – they win the bout.

An example of a night of fighting is contained below. In the first fight, Myers wins in two rounds, since in the first round he and Big Mouth both had fours, but in the second round Big Mouth had no die and lost. In the second match, Sledgehammer rolls an extra die, which would seem to spoil his KO chances and cause him to lose the match; but extra die only count if they contribute to a KO, so he beat New Kid in a knock out. Finally, in the main event, the purple Wily Veteran lives up to his name and plays a drug test card on his opponent, who roles a 1 and loses the bout.

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A combat example

 

Awards are then assigned to the victors. A player may receive bonus awards for a number of conditions; for example, a Slugfest – a bout that goes on for several rounds – will cause the victor to receive additional dollars, while knockouts results in a premium and underdog boxers – boxers who have a smaller dice stat than their opponents, even if a Superior Training card or hometown advantage results in that boxer having a higher dice pool – also receive a bonus upon victory.

When the last bout is fought, boxers are discarded to their players’ discard piled, the location card is discarded and a new location is drawn. If this results in the last location card being drawn from the location deck, the game is over and players compare their total cash to determine the winner. If not, play continues to the next player in the round until all players have taken their turns. Hands are replenished to six cards, and play begins again.

Impressions

Top Promoter is a bright, exceedingly light game that manages to emulate a kind of bloodless boxing that, frankly, works just fine. This is not a game about the grueling, brutal, exhausting sport of prizefighting. The art emphasizes this with colorful cards and cartoony fighters, none of whom I can recall bearing a single bruise or laceration. It may be a boxing game, but it’s certainly family-friendly.

The game plays quickly, and even though there are some decisions to be made when selecting a fighter, it is not a tough decisions and as the game moves forward that decision – due to a shrinking number of fighters and actions in a player’s hand – will become less critical, so there is little chance of the game hanging up due to analysis paralysis. There is some light strategy involved in terms of selecting one’s fighter each round and deciding where to assign that fighter, but mostly the game comes down to luck.

Top Promoter reminds me, superficially, of both Smash Up, in the sense of assigning cards to a location until that location resolves, and King of Tokyo, in that victory ultimately comes down to rolling a pool of dice. I emphasize the superficial nature of that comparison, though; to the extent that it compares to either, it is certainly a much lighter game.

Player interaction is decent. Obviously, players interact during the boxing matches, and there is some interaction when players assign their fighters to bouts, with minimal jockeying for position at locations. As the game proceeds, it becomes more likely that players will be fighting to assign their boxers to qualifying weight classes to avoid having to discard a card, but even when this happened I felt it was more luck of the draw than player strategy.

Variability is nil, and even if expansions were planned I have a hard time imagining how they could change the game much without adding entire new rules sets. Unlike Smash Up, location cards do nothing other than give a hometown bonus for fighters – they don’t provide any special rules or bonuses – and neither do fighters. That said, not every game needs to feel different when you pull it off the shelf – it’s OK to have something consistent and straightforward.

As a family game, Top Promoter is one I would recommend. The light strategy is enough to challenge most kids into the skills of planning their moves as well as some basic hand management, but victory still mostly comes down to the luck of the die, so each player – regardless of age – has a decent chance at victory. That said, the game comes in at $35 and can be purchased directly from Game Salute at their website, or via Amazon.com. While it’s a fine game, $35 is too high a price point given the components – some cards in an oversized box, dice, and cardboard tokens. If you can get your hands on this for $20 or $25, it would make a fine addition to your family game night collection.

Summary

Top Promoter is quick, easy to pick up, light without being empty, and a lot fun. It’s not going to tax your brain, but as a warm up before the main match of a night of gaming it’s a fine game to have on hand.

The Five

For players of a certain age, Top Promoter will immediately invoke memories of that NES classic, Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out. The homage may not be intentional, but it’s effective nonetheless. In this, Top Promoter joins the ranks of other nostalgia-invoking games such as Boss Monster and Attack at Kemble’s Cascade, though without the 8-bit artwork that makes the homage explicit.

Other reviewers have expressed frustration with the combat mechanic in the game, which involves each player rolling a pool of dice and the victor being determined by whichever player rolled the highest value die. I was rarely as frustrated, in part because it’s unlikely that the boxer’s pool size will be separated by more than a die, and thematically its appropriate that every once in a while the underdog beats the big guy.

Game Salute is notorious for their tuck boxes, and Top Promoter is no exception. The box is probably twice as large as it needs to be, designed as it is to hold six tuck boxes, each of which is about three times as large as it needs to be. Unless there are ambitious plans for expansion of the game, this feels like a lot of wasted space, as the whole game could probably fit in two of the tuck boxes.

When I initially wrote this, I claimed that each deck was differentiated only by color, and that otherwise the art is the same for each of the five groups of cards. I later reviewed this and discovered I simply wasn’t paying attention – while the power range for cards seems to be the same for each deck, and there are some cards that are identical in each group, there are also some unique cards, with unique artwork and fighter names, in each deck as well. The fact that I didn’t really catch this on my couple of playthroughs suggests I need to increase my powers of perception, or that the game art doesn’t really draw much attention to itself.

I was a bit skeptical of the theme at first – almost all the games on my shelf are fantasy, sci-fi, or horror themed – but warmed up pretty quickly. Top Promoter trades the deep mano-a-mano combat one might expect from a boxing game for more of a strategic fighter management game (it is Top Promoter and not Top Boxer after all) with a quick dice mechanic to handle eliminations. It’s a fine entry, but certainly leaves room for other games to explore a more tense, blow-by-blow exploration of the theme.

Episode 38: Concordia and Robb Hot Seat

BPPP Concordia and Robb Hot Seat (click on the text to the left to listen)

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During this episode of Blue Peg, Pink Peg:

1) Patrick and Robb talk about some of their recent game plays including Praetor, Waggle Dance and The Castles of Mad King Ludwig as well as some news about a few upcoming games that have their attention.

2) All of the Pegs review Rio Grande Games Kennerspiele de Jahres nominee, Concordia.

3) All of the Pegs give Robb a little bit of a roasting as we place him on the Blue Peg, Pink Peg Hot Seat.

Click here for show notes and game play photos.

Praetor

Praetor

Praetor Header 3

In Praetor players take on the role of what amount to city planners in order to (historically Praetors served as either military or civic leaders, during this game you focus upon the development of civil as opposed to military capacity) expand the Republic. This is performed by assigning workers to either build certain city features or activate the features in order to develop capacity. However, what makes Praetor unique is the fact that each of these workers become more efficient and powerful the more that they are used, until such time as they become so skilled they are able to retire and live out their lives in relative ease (except of course for when they are pressed into forced service through those pesky labor camps). The player that is able to best exalt the glory of Rome through the creation of the most buildings and monuments, is named Praetor Urbanus and the winner of the game.

Rules

 

 

Game play commences with each player receiving an individual player board and three dice, turned to 1, 2 and 3 respectively. Each players morale is set to 0 and their starting score is set to 10, 9, 8, etc. depending upon each players starting player order. The starting city tiles are then laid out, with the market, work camp and imperial outpost tiles in the middle and a gold mine for each player laid out on the periphery (the starting layout and number of city tiles will vary depending upon the number of players). The remaining city tiles are laid in a face down stack and city tiles equal to the number of player plus one are revealed. A stack of Imperial Favor tiles is also laid, face down and the top Imperial Favor tile is revealed. Each player places one of their markers on one of the gold mines. Each player also start the game with 10 coins, four wood (orange), three stone (grey), two marble (white) and one weapon (black) cubes.

On their turn each player may either place a worker on a tile to gain a resource or action; activate a special action tile; build a city tile by placing an active die upon the tile, paying the tile’s construction cost and placing the tile adjacent to another tile; or pass.

Most tiles are triggered by placing a worker die upon them. If the tile was built and therefore controlled by another player the player using the tile must pay the controlling player a use cost in order to use a tile. There are some tiles that do not require a worker (special tiles which have a grey background). Unlike the other tiles these tiles may be activated by each player; however, no player may activate these tiles more than once during a turn. The tiles perform different functions and the power of some tiles increases when activated by a more skilled worker. In other words, some tiles create more resources if they are triggered by a worker die with a higher value. Generally speaking, production tiles create a number of resources equal to the value of the die placed upon them.

The actions available vary wildly; however, the actions available can be roughly summarized as follows: producing each of the resources; selling and buying resources; converting resources; increasing moral; increasing victory points; training citizens in order to convert them to workers; hastening training, meeting Imperial Favor in order to gain victory points that increase in value as more demands are met and pressing retired workers into service.

When building a tile a player may select from the face up city tiles, place one of their available worker die upon (value is irrelevant) and pay the production cost. The player then get points equal to value of that tile and places one of their markers upon it. Each tile may be used right after it is built (by another player since the active players turn is over once the construction is complete) but as noted above its use will require the player that uses it to pay the builder the activation cost.

In the example below, white would pay blue one coin and then receive, one marble cube (white). Black would pay white one coin and then receive, two coins. Finally, black would pay two wood cubes (orange) to the bank and construct the stone quarry, receiving four points at that time (a base of two, plus a point for each of the green plaza tiles that matched the tile that he laid). Later, blue played upon that tile and paid black one coin and received three stone cubes (grey).

Pretor Example 1

After all players have passed or used all of their active workers, the board clears and all workers that triggered a red action tile or built a new tile advance in experience (the die face is changed to the next highest value). If a worker reaches a value of six that worker is retired and the player that controls that worker immediately gain victory points, with more points being awarded if the worker retires earlier in the game.

In the example below, both of black’s dice would advance to five, since one was on a red space and the other was used to construct a tile. Likewise, both of the white die would advance to six and retire, with the white player immediately scoring twenty-four or sixteen points, depending upon whether they retired in the first or second era. Additionally, because white constructed the labor camp he was able to use one of his retired workers to gain moral at the Coliseum; however, he did have to pay black three coins for the privilege. (Note, a die is not placed in this space in order to use it and it may be used by all players that that pay the price of one weapon cube (black).) Finally, though blue would be able to covert a citizen to a novice for free, his die would not advance since it was on a blue work space.

Prateor Exmaple 3

Players then must pay one coin for each active or retired worker (in some cases more coins must the paid) to feed their workers. For every worker that the player cannot feed they lose one space on the moral track, which will either award or deduct points from the player’s final score at the end of the game. Players then advance training workers one step, or turn workers that were on the final stage of their training into a value one active worker.

In the example below, the white player has three active workers and one retired worker. So, white’s feeding cost will be four dollars. He is also at the two point space on the moral track. If the whiter player only had two dollars during the upkeep phase, his moral would degrade to zero moral. Additionally, white’s novice worker would advance one more space through his training and would become and active worker (that would have to be fed) during the next upkeep phase.

Praetor Example 2

Finally, the face up city tile tableau is refreshed and a new Imperial Favor tile is revealed (with the old one being removed from the game).

Play then recommences with the lowest scoring player going first, the second lowest scoring player second, and so forth.

Once the final city tile or Imperial Favor tile is revealed the game end is triggered. The last round proceeds as usual. Thereafter scores are totaled with players gaining or losing points equal to how high they have proceeded up the moral track as well as point equal to the face value of their active un-retired workers. The player with the highest score is the winner of the game.

Impressions

 

 

During my initial plays of Praetor while impressed by the mechanics I was very concerned about balance. Games tended to be run away victories for a single player and I was very concerned about the run-away leader problem.  Typically when that happens, I have no one to blame but myself and, not to be too blunt about it, neither do you. But this does not change how deflating it is to realize halfway through a one hour game, that you have no competitive chance. However, after repeated plays I came to realize that this experience is not typical of Praetor. To the contrary, after a few plays, and some proper early instruction, most of my game plays were tight and wonderfully tense affairs.

In light of my experience I would commend to you the following advice. First, it is imperative for players to gain access to production facilities, i.e. wood, stone and marble. I have played and won games where I did not have ideal production capacity, but being unable to produce at no costs can make engine building very difficult. Second, the gray tile spaces are incredibly powerful and if one player has control of all of these tiles they will be at a remarkable advantage. Be sure to deny access to these tiles to a single player, regardless of the cost. Finally, tile familiarity is very valuable. Before play it is helpful for the players to know how many tiles of each type will come out during the game. During early plays you should allow time for the players to look through the tiles that will be available during that game (more tiles are used for larger play counts) before they are randomized.

This brings us to the review proper.

The first notable feature of Praetor is its components. The art work, unique to each tile type, is visually arresting and fairly clear. Moreover, the iconography is very clear and easy to understand, making the game, language independent. The tiles are durable and properly sized. I first thought that they may be too large to fit on most tables during larger games; however, this concern has not yet been realized. While the game can spread out over a substantial part of most gaming tables, I have not yet had a problem with the spreading play mat encroaching upon player spaces. It remains possible for the tiles to extend in long irregular tendrils, because to the plaza scoring mechanic (which will be discussed in greater detail momentarily) tile placement tends to be centralized, making the playing space fairly compact. The dice are not remarkable, but they are serviceable, especially since they are placed and not rolled.

The game play is intuitive and elegant, making for fairly rapid turn progressions. Little touches, such as the game’s dice placement conventions, make for easy upkeep and limited downtime. Moreover, while none of the game mechanics are innovative in and of themselves, the manner in which they are combined and employed makes this game fresh and unique. For example, leveling up workers is a previously employed mechanic, but combining this with the retirement of leveled up workers as well as the fact that not all spaces cause workers to level up makes this game unlike any other I can recall. Likewise, while the construction and control of action spaces by players is a tried and true game mechanic, combining this with action spaces of varying costs, values and utilities makes this mechanic feel fresh. And while many games tie tile placement to scoring opportunities, the plaza scoring mechanic where more points are scored when the colors of the corners of the tiles are matched to adjacent tiles, is a slight but significant innovation.

Moreover, Praetor’s balance is exceptional. After many plays, I have discovered multiple paths to victory. Moreover, the balance of benefits against foregone opportunity costs is exceptional. As a general rule, the types and number of resources that are required to build a city tile are commensurate with that tile’s utility or value. Obtaining certain spaces may be of great benefit to players employing one strategy, while of much lower benefit to others. Furthermore, because players can receive substantial income from their competitors when they construct and control certain city tiles, putting together an efficient game plan relies upon knowing not only the tactics that you intend to employ, but also the tactics that your competitors hope to use.

Because of the way that tiles are bought and used, player interaction is significant. Throughout the game, players are trying to gauge when they should use certain spaces, hoping to beat their competitors to certain key spaces while putting off other actions for as long as possible. For example, cagey players will delay building certain city tiles until later in a round so that they have more plaza scoring opportunities and so that their competitors will not be able to use that tiles effect during the current round. Additionally, it behooves the players to keep their resource stores robust, so that they are in a good position to obtain some of the game’s more valuable city tiles, once they are revealed.

The game’s variability and related replayability is also above average. The number of tiles used differs depending upon the number of players and while the tiles are categorized by era (with more expensive and valuable tiles coming out during the later era) the cards are randomized within their respective eras, making each game experience unique. Moreover, the order in which the Imperial Favor tiles come out can significantly alter game play. While these tiles have not been discussed in great detail in this review, they can be huge point makers and their acquisition may be hotly contested during some game plays. Moreover, because the game provides so many opportunities for victory, the tactics employed by competitors will significantly impact game play. Notably, it is difficult to challenge a competitor for victory along the same path. Put another way, if two players try to use the exact same tactics during a single game, chances are they will both end up losers. As a result, players need to continually assess and reassess the game conditions, changing tactics as conditions require.

Praetor can be purchased for $39.00 at most online retailers (miniature market, coolstuffinc.) and can often be had for less than this amount. Given the number of plays you are likely to enjoy as well as the depth of each game play experience, this is a fair, if not a remarkable value.

Summary

 

 

Praetor is a game that will grow in your esteem, the more that you play it. The design is fluid and intuitive and game play is engaging throughout. When playing with experienced game players you will find that end game point differences are tight and game play is competitive. Though Praetor employs familiar mechanics it does so in a innovative way that makes the game play experience unique. A wonderful design and production by a young and promising publishing company.

The Five

 

 

While Praetor plays well with three to five players it is less engaging with two players. During my early game plays, my two player games were utter disasters. I was beaten by 40 points each time. While I am ok with losing, and losing big, this game play experience was brutally disheartening. It is harder to keep another player’s actions in check in the two player game and if certain tiles come out at certain times, one player can gain an insurmountable lead. While I have become more adept at preparing for these eventualities, in the two player game luck continues to play an outsized role in determining the winner.

I found that Praetor shines after you become familiar with it’s key mechanics. As noted above, I would encourage you to give new players a few tips before their first play. By avoiding certain pitfalls you can make game play far more enjoyable. In the same regard, if you find early plays of the game daunting I would encourage you to muster through, preferably with two or three other players of comparable skill. Your investment of time and energy will not be wasted.

The game provides for asysmetrical powers as a game play variant. While this option does improve variability, the adjustments are slight and I tend to prefer playing the game in its traditional mode. That said, these differing powers do confront the players with new challenges and are worth uses on occasion.

While the rules are generally clear and well written they are plagued by some ambiguities. For example, one of the spaces allows a player to gain points equal to their progression up the moral chart. However, it is not clear if the player gets points equal to the number of spaces that the player has advanced up the tract or the value of the points described upon the tract (the values increase at more than a 1 to 1 ratio). Moreover, if a player goes to that tract to block another player and the have negative moral values, must they lose points? We have come up with our interpretations of this rule and they seem to work. NSKN Games has a fairly impressive and useful website and would encourage them to add an FAQs section to the site for the clarification of these and similar questions.

One of my favorite features of this game is the speed with which it plays. This is not to say that game play sessions will be short. With four or more players, game play tends to run 90 minutes or longer. However, the turns tend to go quickly, with one exception. When players go to the market game play can slog down considerably. Notably, there are no limits upon how many resources may be bought or sold, so shopping visits can be lengthy. I have found that allowing a player to shop while other players go forward with their moves may be warranted on occasion. While I have played once or twice when players took an inordinate amount of time with their turns, these are players that can take twenty minutes to complete a turn in King of Tokyo, so I do not count these delays as a fault of the game.

The aforementioned review derives from a copy of the reviewed game which was provided by the publisher, free of charge.