May 10, 2008

WoW TCG Servants of the Betrayer Review

ServantsOfBetrayerBoosterBox.jpgThe Servants of the Betrayer [Amazon, Funagain] release marks 5th set of the solidified World of Warcraft trading card game. No longer the new kid on the block, Upper Deck now has a foundation of cards and mechanics to work with, and as the middle set release in the Outland series (between March of the Legion and The Hunt for Illidan coming later this year) the Servants of the Betrayer has the potential to both solidify the style of the game, the set, and steer the entire franchise in new directions at the same time.

But does it pull it off?

The Setting
MarksmanGlous.jpgThis set release includes a standard lot of heroes, each sports new flip powers, specialization the works -- as is the norm. But Upper Deck found the story of Outland - the shattered and floating home world of the orcs that the current detailed focus is the World of Warcraft MMORPG - needed an extra oomph beyond the stock set of heroes.

Outland is ruled over by a particular bitchy demon named Illidan Stormrage who's nicknamed The Betrayer, hence the name of this expansion release. Outland's story is saturated with backstabbers, traitors, and unsavories, and Upper Deck aimed to bring that feeling home in the WoW TCG version of this setting.

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April 8, 2008

Gisborne: a Eurogame Board Game to Avoid

Gisborne.jpgWe tend to ignore the bad releases, and as 'Critical Gamers' one could superficially complain that we're doing our readers a disservice. In reality we cull all of the crappy games you shouldn't play, silently dismissing them to the bottom of the stack.

\We hope to start talking a more proactive approach to steering you way from games.

We haven't played Gisborne (Clementoni, 3-5 players, 40 minutes) ourselves, but we can smell a frustrating and unimpressive experience when we see it coming. We've done some research and what we've found just ain't up to snuff to win moneys from our gaming budget. And we thought we should warn you.

Gisborne is a game in which players explore New Zealand during the colonial age, and though isn't necessarily a game you should completely avoid, it sports some glaring faults. The over engineered components - once sloppily assembled - don't easily fit back into their box without a heavy sigh of dismantling, and the rules take a few gaming runs to go through to fully understand. Finally, the game is only a slight advancement on the innovation scale. In the end, this is not the most approachable Eurogame - a genre of games that are meant to be approachable - so we highly suggest that you spend your money elsewhere. It seems that this game can only be recommended to Eurogame fanatics who want to stay on top of the genre.

Here's an entertaining critical look from a Board Game News' review, specifically about the game's pieces and woefully inferior packaging techniques:

"Ideally, you'll convince a mortal enemy to open the game box. You'll invite him over under the pretense that you want to settle your differences, that you want to limit future confrontation to family board games and not acid-filled scarfs and showers booby-trapped with razor wire. You'll wave towards the box in a friendly manner, inviting him to open it, while you fetch him a drink from the kitchen. Will a Merlot be good? Whatever he asks for, though, you can put it out of mind and pour a celebratory glass for yourself since his doom is near thanks to this lethal chunk of cardboard... " - W. Eric Martin's Review on BGN

Overly critical? Perhaps. In the hopes of being somewhat impartial (despite this article's name), we'll end this story with some links for you to research the game for yourself:

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February 28, 2008

Last Night On Earth - Avioid The Mansion Scenario

LastNightOnEarth.jpgLast night we sat down to play the Last Night on Earth - our favorite zombie board game to date - and something bad happened: we didn't have fun. Why? We had the unfortunate event of randomly drawing the Manor House scenario, something that we'll ensure won't happen again.

This scenario pits 4 nimble axe toting heroes against 16 shuffling zombies. The goal: prevent the sea of zombies appearing on the cusp of the board from reaching the mansion in the middle. If 9 zombies set foot indoors before the sun rises (some 15 turns) then it's lights out. Game over. You lose.

It all boils down to this: there are just too many zombies to fight, and there ain't no way to kill 'em all. As soon as one dies, another appears on the edge of the board, walking in the dead Z's footsteps. While this is great for theme, it stinks for balance. Due to the combat mechanics of the game - a hero has to roll doubles on two dice to kill a zombie - the heroes quickly become flooded with beaten zombies, but not killed zombies. Their only chance is to pick up some key weapons drawn from a random deck, but they have to reach the fringes of the map to successfully search for weapons, knives, and supplies. Spending the time moving and searching means even more zombies make their way to the Mansion, setting up forts with kitchen tables and couch cushions.

Sure the heroes can use their bodies to attract zombies away from the Mansion (zombies have to move towards adjacent heroes), but they soon fall due to the mass mob and the nature of the fight dice. And once it's down to three heroes things just start falling apart fast. Even the Zombie player was having a pretty lame experience , and felt sorrowful as he tore the intestines out of the heroes and wore them as hats.

It got to the point that we thought we had done something wrong, or played the game in some stupid way, so our group played it again; the heroes lost 7 turns in the second time around, too.

We've had lots of great times with Last Night on Earth, and we hope it remains a mainstay in future, including the Growing Hunger Expansion coming in the next few months. But we'll be sure to ditch the Mansion House scenario when it comes around next time.

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October 24, 2007

Wits and Wagers Review

Self-captioned “Trivia for people who don’t know stuff,” publisher North Star Games’ Wits and Wagers [Amazon, Funagain] attempts to mix things up the trivia genre. Instead of players straight-up answering stock trivia questions on pop culture or mainstream history, the questions hit the edge obscurity requiring players to ballpark a guess at the answer. This increased challenge is balanced by betting phase where people stake points on which guess is the closest answer without it going over (every answer is a numerical value). This layer of abstraction keeps everyone involved and entertained throughout, and makes Wits and Wagers a great addition to anyone’s stack of party or trivia games. In fact, it conrasts some older titles in the trivia game genre, making them seem like the dinosaurs that they are.

Yes Trivial Pursuit, you dice tossing and inconsistently challenging spawn of ancient early-1980s gaming culture, we’re looking at you.

Slightly tarnished by the inclusion of some cheap components, Wits & Wagers’ gameplay shines through its foggy exterior to deliver a fast paced and most importantly fun 20-30 minute trivia party game that's well worth your time.

Read on for a more detailed breakdown in our full review.

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October 10, 2007

Top 5 Halloween Games 2007

EvilPumpkin.10.31.06.jpgThe weather just turned all overcast and rainy up here in New England, and when darkness fell as the sun set at about 3:30 pm it suddenly struck us: Halloween is just a few weeks away. Something about the cold rainy weather of autumn complements the theme of fighting undead beasties, and that’s a-ok with us. Our game nights for the next few weeks just went into zombie / demony / vampire slaying-fest mode.

Here is our select top 5 games to throw down for the 2007 Halloween season. Some of our choices might surprise you, but hey toughen up -- it’s freakin’ Halloween ya pansy. Close your eyes and stick your hand in this bowl of eyeballs, or even better read on to see our selection for this year.

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October 2, 2007

WoW TCG Damage Dice Review

WoW TCG TreasureChestWe didn’t know what we should have expected from the WoW TCG Damage Dice [Amazon, Funagain], and Upper Deck accessory product that's a sideshow to the formidable WoW TCG. After all – it’s just a box, with dice in it. It’s a Box O’ Dice. Pure and simple. But to be honest, we thought it would be something at least a little bit cooler that it actually is.

The Good Points
It’s a handy little dice carrier that’s not too large and matches the artistic theme of the game, bringing some of the World of Warcraft cartoony art style alive on your table top. It really is a pretty slick looking treasure chest model... when viewed from afar*. The dice set contains both blue and red dice for assigning damage to your alliance or horde allies, and two 10-sided dice (one 1-10, the other 10-100) which work well in tandem to assign damage to your hero. In other words, the product does what it says it does without any major usability gripes.

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September 12, 2007

Murdero Review

We don’t usually review many card games so we weren’t quite sure what to expect when the title Murdero [Official, Amazon UK] - a murder mystery themed game from D'Avekki Studios – showed up on our doorstep in its bright white box. Our immediate concern was that we’d all be wearing funny hats, drinking scotch, and pointing Deringers at each other across the table. And then the night would end with us talking with old-timey accents as we accused the woman with the purple boa of the premeditated murder of her rich, drunken, and estranged twin brother / husband.

But then we cracked it open and played a few rounds and lo and behold! Murdero is actually a really entertaining card game, and there’s absolutely no roleplay nor feather boas required. Sorry Russell... sorta. Checkout this brief preview movie from the game's designers, then read-on for our impressions.

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September 6, 2007

WoW TCG Fires of Outland Review

Fires Of Outland Booster BoxThe World of Warcraft Trading Card Game set expansion Fires of Outland [Amazon, Funagain] was released a few weeks ago, and after the hangover of opening boxes upon boxes of new cards we’ve had ample time to put the release through its paces.

To sum it up: it’s fun, but how well does the game stack up against the other sets? And does Fires of Outland introduce enough new elements to the Heroes of Azeroth and Through the Dark Portal framework to warrant your hard-earned gaming cash?

Truth is that we’ve had some mixed feelings about it all. Read on to find are conclusions on the Fires of Outland’s Art, Gameplay, and the thoughts on the future of the WoW TCG in general.

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July 1, 2007

World of Warcraft TCG Molten Core Review

Molten Core Raid begins on May 30thIn our review of the World of Warcraft TCG: Molten Core Raid Deck [Amazon,Shopzilla] we offer our final impressions on the second - in what we hope to be a long line - of cooperative WoW TCG experiences out of Upper Decks lab of mad scientist .

Of course this article serves as the final act in a tree part series. Our step-by-steb impressions from the two prior Molten Core articles: WoW TCG Molten Core Raid Deck Hands On Part 1 and Part 2 walked through the extended raid experience of ten boss battles in a row. Today we offer some insights and reflections on the good bits, the bad bits, and some suggestions on how you might sculpt the raid to get thoe m most challenging and entetaining experience for your WoW TCG group.

The only question we still have in our group of five, is "what's next?"

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June 22, 2007

WoW TCG Molten Core Raid Deck Hands On Part 2

Molten Core Raid begins on May 30thWhen sat down and talked about running through the World of Warcraft TCG Molten Core Raid Deck [Amazon,Shopzilla], with a party of five heroes, we unanimously decided to make a true challenge of it and go for the entire raid experience. That meant downing each of the raid's 10 bosses in a row, without rest, or heals, or reshuffling of decks. We were going to tackle this thing like a Forza 2 Endurance Race.

But the first night [part one] went much slower than anticipated. We were thinking the whole raid would be a three hour affair. But with five of us playing heroes, and a sixth pulling the strings of the Molten Core bosses and cannon fodder, the night stretched, and stretched, and stretched on and on, until we decided to call it quits 3.5 hours at 11:00pm. So we packed things up on the fifth boss - Baron Geddon.

We reconvened a week later for the final push. The group sat down, cracked some beers, setup the board as it was before, and in forced march sitting we put our heads down and pushed through the five remaining bosses: Shazzrah, Sulfuron Harbringer, Golemagg, Majordomo Executus, and the king of the first pits Ragnaros. Here's how evening two went down from th e perspective of Russ - the Critical Gamer who we placed in charge of running the Molten Core raid experience.

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