February 23, 2010

Napoleon Total War Released - Time to Lose Sleep

Napoleon Total War for PC [Amazon]

Sweet day of days. Last year we fell in love with Empire Total War, an 18th century turn-based board game mixed with real time tactical combat simulation chalk full with musket fire, mortars explosions, cavalry charges and fleet actions. Usually a year late the Creative Assembly produces an expansion pack with new maps and new campaigns, but this time they've taken a much larger step forward.

Today the series tackles the story of Napoleon Total War [Amazon] as the French Emperor marches through early 19th century Europe. The game is told via three new campaigns: Italy, Egypt, and the continental map of Europe. Standing in his way is a coalition of forces with such major players as England, Prussia, Austria and Russia. Play as either Napoleon in his epic military campaign (and try to do him one better) or try to successfully put up a road block bring France down to its knees.

NapoleonTotalWarCannon.jpgThe game also iterates on the already incredible tactical battle engine and campaign engine. For one, and perhaps the most exciting, Campaigns can be played with 2 people over the Internets. You can play either cooperatively or competitively on the campaign map, forging improbable alliances or sticking with this historic stuff - it's up to you. And on your turn, if you strike a battle with an opponent, your friend will control the opposition on the battlefield while you try to carry the day. Nobody sits there with bored eyes waiting for a battle to end; everyone is involved.

Other new features include more smoke effects, better garrisons of buildings during firefights, new troop types, better technology, a narrative campaign, a new suite of 19th century historic battles, unit attrition in enemy territories, and nuanced campaign maps including mountain pass choke points, four seasons to the year, and a higher level of detail.

NapoleonTotalWarEgypt.jpgThe game came out today.. so you might be asking yourself how we could know all this stuff. Well the software team behind the game has published a series of preview movies like the one above. Give them a gander, they're well worth your time:

We'll quickly let you about our initial impressions of this Total War installment near the end of the week. If we're enthralled, then we'll post another series of Empire Total War Tips to go along with it.

Until then, enjoy the viewings!

Critical Gamers Staff at Permalink social bookmarking

February 22, 2010

Mayfair Games Announces Forest Fires and Nuns for March

Mayfair Games has been the publisher of some fantastic Eurogames over the years. Unfortunately they haven't pushed a title with enough beef to make our must-purchase list lately, and we're hoping that 2010 is the year they turn things around.

So let's see how the year starts. First up for the end of winter are two new titles: Ablaze and Nuns on the Run.

Let's address Nuns on the Run first. We should note that title has nothing to do with the 1990's Eric Idle and Robbie Coltrane masterpiece. Instead of disguising yourself in drag to hide from fellow bank robbers, players on the board game will take on the roles of novices exploring the nunnery at night. Players will have their own secret agendas to achieve during the game, working together to sneak through the halls while remaining undetected. The trick is that another set of players will be controlling the Abbess and the elders of the nunnery, all of who are trying to catch anyone out of their beds at night. It's an "Us Versus Them" game of sneaking, spying and dark corridors which should be some light, interesting fun.

The other title on the near horizon is the game themed with explosions and wild fire. Ablaze is actually three games in one, two of the games are proven titles under different names, and the third is a yet unseen game. The first variant Volcano! has players controlling air tankers competing to save as much land as they can from the firey embrace of a very active Volcano. The second variant Wildfire! involves players taking on the roles of firefighters on the ground who work from water sources outwards as they attempt to contain fires that spread through a tile flipping mechanic. The final title On the Run! challenges players to save slightly crisp forest critters running from a fire that's spreading by lightning strikes

More information about these two titles can be found at the Mayfair Games website. We'll keep you apprised of the game details when the titles launch in March.

Critical Gamers Staff at Permalink social bookmarking

February 19, 2010

Rubik's Next Invention: the Rubik's Slide Coming this Fall

Rubik is at it again. Last year so the premier of the Rubik 360, a sphere puzzle game that rattled our ears more than it rattled our brains. Still, the puzzle aspects of the game showed that Rubik still has his touch.

This next invention looks even more intriguing. An LED driven electronic slide puzzle (you remember slide puzzles, right?) with rotation to boot. And when you finish the first puzzle, the game presents one with more difficult, eventually adding multiple color patterns to slide and shimmy pieces into. In the childhood memories of our day, this later aspect pays some homage to Simon, a game that we truly loved.

Looks like Rubik has a hit on his hands. Look for more details of the Rubik Slide this fall.

Critical Gamers Staff at Permalink social bookmarking

February 17, 2010

Settlers of Catan for the iPhone - A Definite Winner

iPhoneCatan.jpgA baby joined our group this last week so I had a lot of time to sink into something handheld and entertaining. I found myself bored pretty quickly after tinkering with some of Reiner Knizia's iPhone & iPod Touch games. In principal the games were fun, but I needed something that I could play, put down on a moment's notice, and quickly pickup where I left off. Also puzzle games require a level of coherency that my sleep deprived brain couldn't embrace.

I suddenly remembered the news of a Settlers of Catan game for the iPhone. I quickly installed it, fired it up, and I was greeted with a clean menu system and a level of familiarity that I wanted. I could easily pick up a numerous series of sessions of the game without a bother in the world, and a variety of game configurations left me with a bunch of cool things to try out. Random maps, victory point and robber options, and a generous amount of AI opponents to chose from were all features that made me satisfied the game would hold up well to repeat plays.

I should note that I haven't played Settlers in years. The game was my gateway game of choice for a long time - and remains to be in some circles - but I've since moved on to newer, more modern things. But something about the iPhone version fit me like a glove.

The immediate first impression starts with a UI that's clean and crisp to the eye. More importantly the level of usability is high -- you can easily offer trades, build roads, towns and cities, or buy and play cards with only a few gestures.. The presentation of the dice rolls and subsequent resource rewards are also both very clear and quick to vvisually process.

CataniPhoneInGame.jpgThe game also does an excellent job of drawing your attention to the specific portions of the island that are being acted upon by other players. Construction projects clearly blink twice while the game quickly and smoothly snap-scrolls the screen to the portion of the map in question. And when it's your turn to build roads or cities, etc, the game visual prompts you with all of the potential positions for where you can spend your resources. Building out your small empire on Catan is as easy as tapping the screen.

Finally a nod to the AI. While tournament players might laugh at this, casual players like myself will find the AI characters quite capable. They're great at finding the best potential placements of their towns, and when you're ahead they do some nice moves to block you out of particular resources on the map, or block you out of trading, The game also has a very good trade offer and counter offer system that seems to work quite well.

I should also note that the game ships with a variety of AI personalities which you can play against, all having different values for things like Expansion, Aggression and Overall Skill. You can even hot seat with more than one human player in case your stuck on a bus or a long flight with a friend.

ThumbsUp.jpgOn the dark side: there haven't many things to complain about. I've noticed only one niggling 'feature' that rubs me the wrong way. Say you run out of settlements to place (the incarnate board game only ships with a certain number of houses after all). The game doesn't present you with an obvious error saying "sorry, no more houses for you! Next in Line!" Instead it greys out the possible construction project in the same way it does when you don't have the adequate resources to pay for it. So you may end up with nine out of ten victory points and yelling at your phone, telling it that you have the gosh darn resources to build a settlement and win the game, only after you've made an ass out of yourself do you notice the small fine print on the building screen "No more settlements available". They could have made this a bit more obvious, especially since you usually run out of settlements on the games with higher than 10 vicotry points.

Overall the Settlers of Catan for the iPhone and iPod Touch is a standup title. It's well produced, bug free, and easy to pickup and play. Most importantly it's a blast.

Our Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

The Settlers of Catan for the iPhone and iPod Touch can be purchased in Apple's App Store, accessed from your iPod or iPhone.

- From the Editor
Critical Gamers Staff at Permalink social bookmarking

February 15, 2010

Lego To Get Into The Board Game Business

LegoLogo.pngWe are all for getting kids into gaming at an early age, but the standard Parker Brothers and Milton Bradley suite of games is .. how should we say.. dated.

Heck one of the things that made board gaming so mundane in our youth was the lack of bridge into more interesting gaming after The Game of Life. Thankfully Eurogames started to fix that in the states in the 90s.

So it's great to hear that one of our favorite toy companies Lego is going to pump new blood into the ground floor with 10 new kid friendly titles in the next coming months. Here's a snippet of the official details via Rueters:

Priced between $9.99 and $34.99, the board games, which include "Ramses Pyramid" and "Minotaurus," will mostly hit store shelves in July. A few will be available online from late March.

The games promise to test memory and logical skills of children as they compete to reach a certain destination.

"We are pretty sure we are sitting on a formula that will be worthwhile for the retailers to support," Laursen said, citing the success of a test launch of the games in Britain and Germany.

We'll keep an eye out for how good these games appear to be when we get closer to their release.

Critical Gamers Staff at Permalink social bookmarking

February 10, 2010

Horus Heresy Redux Coming Your Way Shorlty from FFG

HorusHeresyBox.JPGOh boy, yet another giant war board game with over 100 figurines is slated for release this winter. Akin a giant streamlined Tide of Iron battle, the new edition of the Warhammer classic Horus Heresy board game pits the sides of The Imperium and its Traitors in a giant space marine slugfest at pinnacle battle being fought for the control of Terra. The game is made up of 6 different scenarios, but the game itself centers around the single climatic last push from both sides to bring home victory.

HorusHeresyBoard.bmpYou take one look at the board (which pays homage to the original title) and you'll see some 3D fortifications built into the board. First of all: they look pretty slick. We can see massive fort battles play out in our dreams already. But with such a static layout you might wonder how a game could have multiple scenarios?

Well one cool mechanic is this: the Imperial forces setup all hulled-up in the fortresses and generally outnumber the Traitorous invaders who stick out like sore thumb in killing fields. But a select set of Imperial troops will have their loyalty tested at the beginning of the game. Each scenario will have a different initial setup and will vary the number of potential turncoats. Determining loyalty is as easy as pulling up random cards form a deck and checking Imperial or Traitor symbols. Any Traitor symbol revealed will not only make the fight closer to numerical parity, but it'll also pace an enemy troop inside the fort with the rest of the defenders.

Elements like this will surely make the game extremely different on each play through . There also other interesting mechanics already revealed too, like diceless, card-driven combat, or ordering units with drawn cards (like Memoir). Interestingly you will be given the option of delaying your orders for a turn ('till the 'Strategic Phase') which allows you to pay less for the order, but because you've delayed, you won't quite know the state of the battlefield by the time your order goes through.

The Initiative system is also intriguing; where you pay an initiative cost to play cards, and the player with the smallest total initiative takes the next turn. In other words, one player could play some uber powerful cards that push him further down the initiative track, and subsequently the other player could followup with a lot of smaller jab actions.

For more information checkout the Horus Heresy game page at FFG. It includes an index to all of the feature articles thus far.

Currently the game is slated to ship at the end of Winter, which we take to believe sometime in March. We'll keep you apprised of any new cool details as they emerge, and we'll definitely keep you posted on when the game finally ships.

Here are the official details:

In the Horus Heresy board game, this legendary battle unfolds across the razed plains of Terra and in the frozen orbit above. Deadly fighting ranges from the Emperor's golden Inner Palace to Horus's flagship, the Vengeful Spirit. Taking the side of either traitor or loyalist, two players control either fearless Space Marine legions or deviant Chaos Space Marines, mighty Titans, Imperial Armies both loyal and traitorous, and a fearsome array of other units, including the Emperor and Horus themselves.

An innovative order and initiative system forces each side to carefully consider the commands they issue to their troops. A dramatic, card driven combat system incorporates escalating damage, gives players the opportunity to allocate resources between attack and defense, and brings to bear the unique special powers of each unit type, from fortification-destroying Titans to the perverse daemons of Chaos. Brother fights brother, and the universe hangs in the balance!

Critical Gamers Staff at Permalink social bookmarking

February 8, 2010

Some Dominion Alchemy Teasers Hit the Net

DominionAlchemy.jpgBoardGameNews.com has word that the Candian publisher for Dominion has posted a preview about the upcoming Dominion expansion.

Called "Dominion: Alchemy" the new set will contain a smaller set of cards than we're used to (12). Apparently this smaller expansion is a move to appease some of the international publishers who figured their customers would rather purchase a smaller set of cards instead of expansion the size of a standard main set. Why? We haven't the faintest clue.

But don't be too worried, more details were posted to Board Game Geek by the game's designer Donald Vaccarino who quickly stated that the franchise will receive some more large boxed expansions, too. And he even hinted that the franchise has the legs to least a few more years. Excellent.

From the BoardGameGeek Forums:

"We are still doing 300-card sets as well. The expansion after Alchemy is the normal, larger size. If I had to guess I would say we'll alternate sizes for a few years, but nothing is set in stone past the expansion after Alchemy. I think that expansion may be announced at Nuremberg, so we'll leave that one alone for now."

Also based on a translation of the French gaming site Tric Trac, we should see the Alchemy 'small expansion' hit the shelves in the spring. We can't wait. More - and hopefully interesting - Dominion content with new mechanics is something we'd love to have kickoff the new gaming season once things ramp up again after the holiday hangover.

We'll keep you posted of more details as they emerge.

Critical Gamers Staff at Permalink social bookmarking

February 3, 2010

Thunderstone: The Next Deckbuilding Game After Dominion

Thunderstone.jpgWe had a chance to sit down and play a few rounds of Thunderstone [Amazon, Funagain] this week and we were quite impressed.

While not directly linked this new title bases itself on a foundation of Dominion, where you build your deck by buying cards and then snowball those cards into better cards. There are two major differences however. First: instead of picking 10 random cards to place in the 'store', there are a set number of particular types cards that you must have. For instance, there's always four heroes types in the store when you setup the game. While those four types of heroes are randomly picked, you guaranteed that each game will have at least and at most four. This nicely balances out the card population and avoids defense or attack card overdose that's inherent in Dominion.

But more importantly Thunderstone gives you two different options during your turn . Each card has a gold value and you could visit the store in Dominion fashion, playing your hand to buy more cards that fold into your deck. OR... you can use the offensive capabilities of your cards to delve down into a randomly dealt dungeon to kill monsters and collect booty.

Yeah, that's right. Instead of buying Victory Point cards, you can bypass a store on your turn and use your hand to take on beasties in a randomly drawn dungeon. Each evil minion has a victory point associated with them, and each vanquished foe you have in your deck at the end game pushes adds to your victory point total.

Thunderstone2.jpgOn any given turn the heroes, weapons, and spells that you purchased and folded into your deck could appear in your hand. If you think they've granted you enough strength to take on one of the beasties in the dungeon then you can try your hand in some really quick and simple combat Or, if you think that zombie with the Burt Reynolds moustache might be too much for you to handle, then you instead head to the store and use the coin value of your hand to buy new cards at the store. It's all up to you!

Thunderstone is definitely a step up from Dominion on both the complexity scale and the dork scale. While Dominion remains the new gateway game of choice - highly approachable and downright fun - Thunderstone kicks it up a notch. While the RPG narrative of the game is something our group truly likes, it might not be very interesting to all.

We think it's a sweet move, however. The theme is so much stronger than Dominion and the game hits just the right level of complexity to keep things interesting. Games last longer, are balanced better, and no two games are alike. There are expansions already announced, too, so as we play this where smiling knowing the franchise is going somewhere cool.

For a more in depth review, check out the Thunderstone review by The Dice Tower. Here are the official details:

"For ages the vile Doom Knights have sought to gather the remaining Thunderstones to fulfill a prophecy of corruption over the lands. Now the first Thunderstone has been discovered in the Dungeons of Grimhold and the Doom Knights have sent their minions to claim the relic. The Villagers of Barrowsdale gather brave souls to face the dungeon and keep the Thunderstone out of the hands of the Doom Knights.

Thunderstone is a new and exciting fantasy deck-building game from Alderac Entertainment Group. Fight the evils of the dungeon to prove your worth. Gain powerful weaponry and level into new and mighty hero classes. Claim the best cards and survive to take the Thunderstone. Featuring beautiful art from Jason Engle, Thunderstone is a welcome addition to any fantasy gamer's collection."

Critical Gamers Staff at Permalink social bookmarking

January 28, 2010

"Runewars" the Empire Adventure Board Game Hits Shelves

The newest epic board game experience from Fantasy Flight Games is now in stores. Runewars [Amazon, Funagain] is a full-fledged fantasy empire simulation and an adventure game with heroes all rolled into one. The game board is setup in a random tile draw like fashion, with a strategic placement phase for that each player. These tiles include terrain elements that effect movement and resource collection, so the implications of each tile's placement will have an impact throughout the entire game.

The has four factions each with their own flavor making up a full spectrum of classic fantasy elements. There's the human sword and board human faction, a slow acting undead faction with elements of regrowth, an elf faction that's quick and fast but paper thin, and a brutal magic wielding faction that don't believe in shirts. Not quite sure why.

RunewarsTiles.jpgThe game sports a whole bunch of other interesting mechanics, like four seasons seasons to the year. This doesn't only just effect when and where you can move (rivers freeze over and become passable in the winter) but it's coupled with different playable cards for each season. You'll have to plan out your year of conquest ahead of time given the hand you've been delt. The board, itself, also has 3D mountains for that extra flair. Interestingly hero units are more about special tactics than leading armies to victory. Neutral monsters are on the board and be can be tamed and brought o your side. There's just tons of cool stuff going on here.

For a good discussion and for more details of the game checkout this user review and its subsequent comments. For more product information check out the Runewars Preview Trailer and this lengthy product description article on the official Rune War website.

Here's the official product description:

RuneWars is an epic board game of diplomacy, combat, and quests for two to four players. Designed by Corey Konieczka, RuneWars pits players against each other in a strategic game of battles and area control, where they must gather resources, raise armies, and lay siege to heavily fortified cities.

RuneWars includes over two hundred beautifully rendered cards and as many tokens, as well as nearly two hundred finely-detailed plastic miniatures, but perhaps most exciting are the modular hexagonal map pieces. Featuring stunning three-dimensional mountain terrain, these map pieces ensure that no two games are ever the same!

RuneWars takes place in the same popular fantasy universe as the best-selling board games Runebound and Descent: Journeys in the Dark, and dozens of fan-favorite heroes and monsters play their part. The wars for the dragon runes are beginning, and only one faction will emerge victorious. What would you do to claim the ultimate power?

Critical Gamers Staff at Permalink social bookmarking

January 25, 2010

Mystery Express Announced, Rekindles the Classic Clue

MysteryExpress.jpgDays of Wonder, makers of fine board games like our favorites Ticket to Ride, Shadows of Camelot and Small World, have announced their first title of the year. Mystery Express has players traveling along the Orient Express, racing to correctly accuse a murderer among the passengers before the rail terminates in Istanbul Hungry.

The game has been designed in part by Serge Laget who worked on Shadows Over Camelot, and at first thought we dreamed that perhaps one of the players would take on the hidden role of the murder (aka Shadow's Traitor) who would use social misdirection to ensure that he or she isn't caught. However, from the breakdwon of the press release, this just seems like a classic Who Done It clue gathering game with a time table. That is: the game ends after a series of turns, and the player with the most uncovered clues is the winner. However, unlike the actual title Clue, you won't have to put all of your eggs in one basket at the end, just get the most clues correctly guessed.

Overall, the game sounds great, and the newly launched Mini Website sports some great artwork. Here are the details from the official press release:

"Players board the famous Orient Express in Paris just as a murder occurs. The rest of the trip - through Strasbourg, Munich, Vienna, Budapest and their final destination of Istanbul - is consumed with determining the who, what, when, where and why of the crime. Players use their special powers of deduction; information gleaned from others in various train cars; and investigative actions to determine the exact circumstances of the murder. The one who correctly identifies the most elements of the crime by the time the train reaches Istanbul wins the game.

Mystery Express is a classic Days of Wonder design made up of top-notch components and unique, period-perfect illustrations. Along with the Mystery Express board map detailing its itinerary from Paris to Istanbul the game features: 5 resin character figures and matching character tokens; 5 Ticket wallets that include a description of each character's special power; 100 Deduction sheets that players use to keep track of their deductions; 72 Crime cards; a Mystery Express miniature train to track the Mystery Express's journey on the map; a Conductor figure; 2 small passenger tokens, a miniature travel bag, a train whistle and rules booklet. Mystery Express is for 3-5 players and will be available worldwide in April 2010. Price is $50/€45."

Critical Gamers Staff at Permalink social bookmarking

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