February 5, 2010

The Wings of Naxxramas Revolutionize WoW TCG's Raids

NaxxramasRaidDeck.jpgThe whole notion of a cooperative raid deck to a standard 1v1 Trading Card Game still remains an exciting prospect to us, even after the long series of raids over the years. They have had some drawbacks though. Some raids are long, arduous affairs that you might spend all day on. Others are just plan impossibly broken hard.

Thankfully the latest Naxxramas Raid Deck [Amazon, Troll&Toad] fixes a lot of the things we find lacking in others, and then some. Here are top 5 reasons why we think its head and shoulders above all of the other raid deck experiences to date:

5. Variety Most of the raid decks have a plethora of bosses all under the umbrella of a specific theme. Well Naxxramas is composed of four different wings of bosses , each falling under the same Undead Bastage theme, but each wing providing a different attitude toward bad guys. The Spider Wing is littered with quick acting bosses that attach multiple times, the construct quarter is full of hard hitting, high health scary behemoths that would make Jack Palance crap twinkies, and so on. Each wing challenges your group in different ways for a spurt of 3-4 bosses, and that makes the whole deck building experience pretty darn interesting.

4. Multiple Climaxes These Wings we spoke of also change the flow of the raid entirely. The standard practice of multiple boss raids like Molten Core or The Black Temple had players run full gamuts of 10+ bosses in a row, and then hopefully the players had enough left in them to take on the final boss in a climactic battle of epicness. Problem is, Upper Deck's cramming of 10 bosses in a row required some of the bosses to be pansies and ultimately forgettable in previous raids.

Not so in Naxx. Whenever your group finishes a wing, everyone reshuffles their deck and starts anew on the next wing. The net result: Upper Deck has scaled up the bosses, each becoming more difficult, lethal and ultimately a more interesting fight. And on top of that, the game is balanced to make the final boss in each wing become a climatic fight of epicness, because why not? -- the game is going to reset after you defeat him anyway. So that's 4 times the climactic, tough battles, condensed into bar form.

3. Treasure Packs Sold Separately
While each raid deck ships with its own treasure pack, you can buy additional treasure packs separately, too. The implications for collectors is obvious, but for gameplay it's even better: You can reward your players phat loots after every wing. While technically you're not supposed to let players alter their decks between wings, traditionally in the MMO that's just what happened: your raid would tackle one wing, grab the loot, and use that loot to help defeat the second wing. And that's truly what raiding is all about - the getting to the next wing, raid, boss, etc.

2. The Raid Leader and Strategery
A new and very welcomed move in this raid deck is the addition of a Raid Leader. Every once in awhile one of the raid events will engaged the Raid Leader and have him make some pretty interest decisions. Things all the way from the Leader choosing to discard multiple cards himself, or have each raid player discard a single card, etc. These events are also sometimes beneficial, so directing the beneficial ability to the correct player at the correct time could mean the difference between success and failure.

But that's just the icing on the cake. Each of the themed wings also provides a buff to the raiders once the wing has been defeated. Some add damage to abilities, others increase the effectiveness of equipment, etc. It's up to the raid leader to decide which wing to tackle and in which order, using bonuses from one to defeat one of the harder wing, or to even bypass some wings all together and push to the final boss fight. The strategy lies within these choices and weighing such variables as what sort of classes you bring to the raid, how many people are in your party and the quality of their decks. Yep, there are definitely some good decisions to game.

1. Multiple Sessions
Raid Decks require a huge block of time - like upwards of four hours per session. Traditionally they were reserved for special weekend game night sessions, or we would hold off to play them on our quarterly dork fest, scheduling them between smaller games. In the weekend gaming sessions WoW TCG Raids landed somewhere on our Saturday mornings (through afternoon) gaming calendar like a giant gorilla dropped from a 747 flying 10,000' over a Saturday brunch in the country.

But this notion of Naxxramas wings, each a complete prepackaged experience, and when complete include a step where players reshuffle their decks to reset the state of .. everything, and start anew, is a mechanic that happens to provide an incredibly perfect breaking point. Now Raid Decks can be on normal game nights without the risk of our players becoming dead beat dads, or lining themselves up for an early 30's divorce.

In other words an already amazing experience has just become more approachable and game night friendly. It's also become an epic experience that occurs over multiple days of fresh, rested layers, instead of dragging in one long, tiring block. And that is an absolutely fantastic win-win for gamers.

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November 27, 2009

Critical Gamers' 2009 Holiday Gift Guide

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Welcome to the one-stop index page for all of our Holiday Board Game Gift Ideas for 2009! There have been some tremendous games that were released this year. Some released created new genres of games, others lovingly refined old formulas. We'll break down these top releases and let you know the perfect present for your gaming friend or love one, all while avoiding the frenetic crowds and annoying cell phone vendors at your crazy local mega mall.

So lets kick things off with our favorite game of the last year, Dominion, which has two new expansions this year!

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February 9, 2009

World of Warcraft Minis Review

WoWMiniDeluxStarter.jpgWe don't have a long standing relationship with miniature games. In fact, our only experience was with Warhammer, and that was only a few of us who put the World of Warcraft Minis through its paces. Already hooked on World of Warcraft, and WoW TCG, we immediately liked what we saw through the drum-up to release, from the few official preview articles, and the hands-on prerelease demo that we participated in while at the Penny Arcade Expo. The question still remained, though: Will WoW Minis hold up to repeat play, and as a secondary question, will it supplant our interest in the WoW TCG?

After toying with the premier release of WoW Minis over the last few months, we have our answer.

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November 27, 2008

Carcassonne Catapult Expansion Lobs One Over The Fence

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We've always felt Carcassonne was fun. The only thing that needed spicing-up through expansions were new mechanics that kept the game fun while adding interesting depths to the already fantastically balanced strategy.

Unfortunately unless you're trying to make Caracassonne more approachable for kids, this expansion easily manages to ruin both of those things. Caracssonne: The Catapult [Amazon, Funagain] includes new Fair pieces to mix in with your stock landscape tiles. If a Fair is drawn the player gets to put his meeple on a relatively shodding tiddily winks launcher which tosses him in a tight arc. If any meeple breaks his fall on his way down, the that meeple is carted off board into to the local medieval infirmary. There are a few different modes, too, including one where you shoot chits at each other and score points on catches, or where your meeple replaces the flatted victim on the board.

That's it. It's a randomized aggressive potshot that's fun for the first few random launches, but then gets as tiring as watching Steve Wiebe try to get the kill screen in Circus Atari. Moreover, this expansion flies directly in the face of the interesting - yet light - strategy placement of Carcassonne & expansions that we hold in the highest of regards.

Let's hope this new direction is a short stint. Here's the official word:


It's fair time in Carcassonne. A‚Äątraveling salesman arrives and brings his newest invention: a wondrous catapult!

His demonstrations amaze the crowds and inspire the creative to find many uses for this new contraption. Of course, not every planned use is well thought out or successful...

Contains:

  • 12 landscape tiles
  • 24 catapult tokens
  • 1 wooden catapult
  • 1 measuring board


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November 24, 2008

Critical Gamers 2008 Holiday Gift Guide - Party Games

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For more great gift ideas across all genres of games please see our
Holiday Gift Guide Index.

Now while we love a board and some strategy in most of our games, they're not the right fit for a social evening. That's where party games come in - they tickle the exhibitionist side of everyone, and promote social elements of gaming in a far stronger light than the cerebral mind-game of positioning and placement. Most importantly, they make us laugh our buttocks off.

We're not going to lie to you; the releases in 2008 weren't very friendly to the party gamer. Sure, you could suck it up and buy the heavily commercialized PartiniTravolta.jpg, but it's just the rehashed/ reboiled essence of decade-old Cranium repackaged under a new publisher, and we simply can't suggest that to anyone.

So for this year's guide we revisit our favorite Party Games. These titles still top our table even after numerous repeat plays, some over the span of years, and that's saying something. So as much as this is a Holiday Shoppers List, also consider these choices our Best of Party Games Eva' list, too.

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November 22, 2008

Critical Gamers 2008 Holiday Gift Guide - Strategy Board Games

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For more great gift ideas across all genres of games please see our
Holiday Gift Guide Index.

In part two of our Holiday Shopper Guides we look into gifts for the Strategy Gamer. These are the folks who grew up playing Chess, Stratego, and the classic Diplomacy, and are now ready for evolved games with better themes and potentially deeper gameplay.

Most of these games are for the more serious gamer who in their mid-teens and up. If you're looking for a title to fit the younger generation or pickup a mainstream game then you should checkout our 2008 Family Games Holiday Gift Guide, which lists some greats games that are more relaxed and interest a wide range of player types. For Rodin.jpgthose of you looking for strategy war games: we ask you to checkout our War Game Holiday Gift Guide for 2008 which runs down our list of the best war gaming gifts for this year.

But those who want some great stand up strategy games then look no further. We've got quite a list here, including many critically acclaimed award winners that'll satisfy any strategy gamer when they tear off the wrapping paper come late December.

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November 20, 2008

Critical Gamers 2008 Holiday Gift Guide - Family Games

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For more great gift ideas across all genres of games please see our
Holiday Gift Guide Index.

We once again kick off our annual series of Board Game Holiday Shopper guides with probably the most difficult of gaming archetypes: The Family Gamer. Our goal was to compile a list of fun games that span the disparate interest levels of younger players, teens, and adults where challenge and creativity is more interesting than following the rules.

Here's our most important criteria for the choosing games for our Holiday Board Games Guide for Families:

  1. Games that are interesting for adults, too. Even though we recommend these games to families, we still want play any and all of these games because they're fun for us despite the fact that we're in our 30's.
  2. Games that are simple to learn - but yet interesting and offer a quite a few levels of depth. They have to be rewarding for everyone who comes to the table.CatanMap.jpg
  3. Games that keep everyone involved from the first turn to the last, unlike the traditional family games from our past - like Monopoly.
  4. The games come to a conclusion in about an hour so they're easy to budget time for, and you won't feel that board game hangover as you burn the midnight oil.

There's no surprise that this list jives with many characteristics of Eurogames which came out of Germany in the 1990's - since they were designed for exactly this type of gaming. Also, these games listed here would be great for non families, too, like any social board game group looking to get together a few times a month to play games and just hang out.

And here's our list of Family Games for the 2007 Holiday Season without any further ado:

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June 16, 2008

Ticket to Ride Card Game Review

TicketToRideCardGame.jpgPublisher Days of Wonder has once again brought another solid release to the approachable gateway gaming franchise Ticket to Ride, with Ticket to Ride the Card Game [Amazon, Funagain]. Set within the traditional American rail frontier, this installment takes Ticket to Ride to a few new places while holding onto many good aspects of the successful line of board game predecessors.

But without the colorful & fun train pieces, and the classic scramble to claim routes on the board to lock your opponents out of cities, does the Ticket to Ride card game bring enough strong new experiences to the table to warrant your purchase?

The general answer is... Those of you new to the Ticket to Ride line of games should probably start with one of the board game varieties - we suggest Ticket to Ride Europe.

If you're already a fanatic of the Ticket to Ride line of games, then be forewarned: Ticket to Ride the Card Game leans heavily on the use of your memory. If you don't mind that then there's plenty of gaming to enjoy in this new, clean and fun installment.

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June 4, 2008

Lawsuit: The Board Game Review

Lawsuit.jpgLawsuit [Official Website, Amazon] is a board game for kids. No really! Designed to entice little kiddos ages 6-9, Lawsuit puts each player in the occupational role of a Lawyer, working their way through their own careers.

We have lots of friends who lawyer away in to the wee hours of the morning, and hands-down we love them all. But we know what you're thinking - 'cause we thought it to: in this day and age of stereotypical 'I'm gonna sue you butt off!' we expected Lawsuit to be a bit upsetting, awkwardly making vengeance and greed "fun!" for such a young age group.

When we cautiously lifted the lid and started playing we made note of only a few moral monkey wrenches. Best of all - there's never a point where one player sues another. Instead, it's a game of collecting legal fees from cartoonish cases, which you can use as moral talking points if you wanted to.

Still - those of you with the same cautious knee-jerk reaction that we had might not find much here; as a children's game Lawsuit doesn't have many original virtues. Most of the game is centered around counting spaces and exercising math skills associated with counting money. These mechanics are stock from just about any children's game for ages 6-9. So if you're uncomfortable with the litigation theme for your youngins then you may want to look elsewhere.

But if you're looking to introduce the occupation of Lawyers ('cause, like, maybe you are one?) to your little ones, then Lawsuit just might be the game for you. No really.

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May 21, 2008

WoW TCG Official Card Sleeves Review

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Flash in the pan gamers might not care about material things, but Collectors love to keep their cards in tip top shape. True die-hards shuffle their cards without bending them to ensure lasting value, or precisely position their fingers to pickup each card without peeling back or wearing corners. But still - the normal dealings of collectible card game gameplay devalues their babies no matter how careful players and collectors are.

We're somewhat with these obsessive folks, and we originally tried Ultra Pro Deck Protectors to our disappointment. They were cheap, see-through pieces of .. plastic. Sure, they protected our cards, but they were wrapped in a frictionless, floppy baggy that made shuffling a trial of dexterity. Even worse, cards tended to rotate with the slightest vibration in the floor, or fly off tables with a simple toss from the hand. The cards were near impregnable, will give them that, but as they arched through the air in their protective pouch, onwards down into the dog dish, we wondered: is all this really worth the trouble?

Protecting our investment became a chore more than feeling of pride. Isn't gaming supposed to be fun? Then Upper Deck released these bad boys.

The official World of Warcraft TCG Deck Sleeves [Horde, Alliance, Neutral] come in 75 a pack - not 40 sleeves like the leading brand. That means one pack of these things will cover your entire deck and side deck. Quite nice. And though they're slathered with a pretty slick Alliance or Horde emblem on one side, that's not the best part.

The best feature of these cards is that the back is textured. It makes shuffling a snap, and it keeps the cards from hitting mach 3 when they land on the table.

ThumbsUp.jpgConclusion
What seemed like a token sell-out product from Upper Deck churns out to be a killer hit. Sure the deck sleeves seem like a little thing, but isn't it hte little things in life that we're supposed to stop an appreciate?

Darn right.

Edit: These used to be available at the Upper Deck Store, but no longer. You can find them at Amazon.com. If they hit the Upper Deck store again then we'll let you know!

Rating: 4 out of 5 (our rating system)

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