I’ve had a few new games for a while that I’ve been wanting to try. They’re card games – well, mainly card games. Race to Adventure is more of a board game that just uses cards to build the board, but if I call that a board game, then how about Infiltration? You build the board in that game with cards, too, but cards feature more prominently as things you play, so is that a card game or not? At least Sentinels of the Multiverse is very clearly a card game. To keep things simple1, I’m calling them all card games, mainly because the main thing you do in setting up each game is shuffling and dealing, whether it’s a nine-card deck or something larger.
Anyway. Onward to a point.
I wanted to try these games, but was having trouble getting folks to play – at the Tabletop Day thing, everyone was into the stuff they’d seen on Tabletop, and my regular gaming schedule meant that getting my friends to commit was problematic at best. So, I finally bit the bullet and invited a bunch of people over, bribing them with dinner and dessert2, on the condition that we play through all three games.
And so, this past Saturday, we did that. Here are some shortish thoughts on each of the games.
I got in on the Kickstarter for this game, and it showed up in my mail several weeks back3. Once I got my friends to commit to the evening, I laid the game out to make sure that I could teach it to folks quickly, and walked through a game. Even playing solo4, it was quite a bit of fun.
The idea behind the game is that each player takes one of the iconic members of the Century Club, the centerpiece of the Spirit of the Century RPG from Evil Hat. Your goal is to travel to nine more-or-less remote places, complete missions, and return to the Empire State Building with all nine of your passport stamps filled in. The main mechanic in the game choosing which of the six items – zeppelin, biplane, magnifying glass, jet pack, map, and lightning gun – your character gets for your turn. Three of the items5 let you move in different ways, while the map and lightning gun let you complete missions at your destination to earn your passport stamps, and the magnifying glass lets you earn clues, which are also needed to complete your missions. The strategy part of the game is about getting the item you need at the right time – you pick your item in turn, and you may find one or more other players hogging an item you badly need.
There are a couple of other little quirks, likes a time limit on getting your rescued Atlantean prisoner to safety or removing the curse you pick up in Egypt, but that’s the game in a nutshell.
The game is pretty simple to learn and play. It took me maybe ten minutes to explain the rules and lay everything out, and we jumped right in. Overall, the game took about a half-hour to play, though I can see it going much more quickly once folks get into the flow of things. The default play method is for everyone to choose their items and then take their moves and actions simultaneously. We took turns, mainly to make sure we understood properly what was going on. In later games, I expect things to move more towards the simultaneous action, which would speed play up.
There are some nice nods to replay value, as well. First, the locations are laid out randomly in an three-by-three grid next to the Empire State Building starting tiles. The different placement of the tiles – especially Atlantis, the United States, and Schweiz – will change your strategy and the flow of the game. Secondly, you can flip the locations over to reveal the shadow locations, which are more difficult versions of the standard locations. By varying the number of shadow locations, and which cards you change to shadow cards, the game difficulty can be scaled up. Thirdly, there are three expansions for the game: Dinocalypse and Hollow Earth expansions, based on the Dinocalypse Now! novel by Chuck Wendig, and Strange Travels, which provides rules for a sixth player, solo play, and alternate board layouts. Between these three expansions, there’s a lot of new stuff to keep the game interesting and exciting for some time.
We had a lot of fun playing this game. It was light and fast, with some interesting strategic choices to be made. I think it was the hit of the evening. And, for those who care, Benjamin Hu was the first to return to headquarters and shout, “I have returned!”
The second game of the evening was Sentinels of the Multiverse, a fixed-deck comic book card game. Each player chooses one of the heroes to play and gets the 45-card deck that represents that hero’s powers and abilities. The players co-operate against a supervillain with a 25-card deck , in a location represented by a 15-card deck. All the decks are predetermined – there is no deck-building aspect to the game6, you just get your deck, shuffle it, and do your best to play it.
We played with five heroes: Ra, Mr. Fixer, Tempest, Fanatic, and Bunker. These weren’t necessarily the simplest heroes to play, but they were the ones that caught the eyes of the players. I ran through the villains for everyone, but got drowned out with the shouts of approval when I got to La Capitan7, and then we chose Rook City – the Gotham City analog – for location.
The game is pretty simple in execution, but elegant in design. The fundamentals of play are straightforward – the villain and environment decks work in a clockwork-like fashion to simulate their challenges, and every turn, heroes can play a card, activate one of their powers, and draw a card. As usual in card games, individual cards can play with the way cards are drawn and played, and the strategy of the game comes in how you play the hero cards in your hand.
Again, as is typical of card games, the interactions between your hero cards can produce synergies and combinations that pay off in big ways. These interactions aren’t always readily apparent, however, so playing an individual hero’s deck is a skill that will develop over repeated plays. While this points to some interesting replay value, there are a lot of heroes in the game that I’d like to try, which means that I’m likely to suck at the game for some time to come.
The game was fun, though. We pulled a bad card from the villain deck right off the bat, which brought in La Capitan’s crew of nasty henchmen, and that was not good. To add insult to injury, two or three of the four crew members had effects that attacked the hero with the lowest HP each villain turn. Poor Tempest was taken out in only two or three rounds.
Most of the rest of us followed. At the end of the game, Mr. Fixer was the last hero standing, and he managed to take down La Capitan with under five HP left of his own. It was tense toward the end, and I’m not a huge fan of player elimination8, but the mechanics that come from flipping a hero card over to the taken-out side are actually pretty cool, reflecting heroic sacrifice, renewed resolve of the surviving heroes, and stuff like that. Very flavourful.
Overall, the game was a lot of fun. The learning curve was sharper than for Race to Adventure, because of the complexity of playing the various hero decks. For players not familiar with hobby card games like this, it can be pretty opaque for the first little while. It also took significantly longer than the first game – about ninety minutes. A lot of that was learning the game, though, so I expect subsequent games will go faster.
And there will be other games – with the expansions, I have 18 different heroes, 12 different villains, and 12 different environments. The combinations available boggle my mind and pretty much guarantee that I’ll be trying another game soon.
The third game had the most complex rules and set-up. There were cards to sort, cards to shuffle, cards to lay out, cards to deal, tokens to sort, tokens to lay out, and characters to pick. The explanation of the rules was not as clear as I might have liked, and I hadn’t had time to do a solo run of the game to make sure I knew what I was doing, so I was less confident in running this one9.
As it turned out, this one ran smoother than Sentinels of the Multiverse. The card interactions, goals, and usage were all very straightforward and well-spelled-out on the cards themselves. Once the first round was done, everyone understood what was going on, what they needed to do, and how to do it.
In the game, you play various criminals in the cyberpunk universe of Android, another board game from Fantasy Flight. The goal is to break into a corporate installation, make your way through the two floors (and secret room) of the building, and loot it of all available data. Of course, just stealing the data is only half the job; you also have to escape before the corporate goons arrive, lock down the building, and arrest everyone still inside.
You have a hand of cards to help you accomplish your mission. Everyone has four cards to advance, retreat, download data, and interface with the technology of the place. In addition, everyone starts with (and can receive more) four item cards that give you special abilities and then are usually discarded.
Every turn, you play one card, and then resolve them in player order, and then check to see how much time you still have left using an alert tracker device. Moving through the building is accomplished primarily by using the advance and retreat cards, and each room you reveal will have some data and probably something else in them. The something else can range from a secret door to a special room, through data that you can’t get at unless you defeat the tech lock on it, to NPCs that might just gut-shoot you when you walk through the door10.
This is not a co-operative game. The winner is the criminal who is both outside the installation when the goons arrive AND has the most data downloaded. If you’re still inside the building (i.e., still on one of the room cards) when the goons show up, you lose. You can leave the building at any time through the room you came in, but you cannot re-enter the building once you leave. Thus, a lot of the game is risk assessment and management: how much longer do you think you can stay in the building, what’s the best use of your time, etc.
We had a lot of fun with this game. The constant-but-irregular increase in the alert counter, counting down to the arrival of the goons, added some very nice urgency to the game, and the rooms that we found all had something interesting going on. I’m not sure if the fact that we didn’t get much past the first floor is typical, but it felt a little frustrating – there were all these other rooms that we just weren’t getting to. Even the player who resigned herself to not escaping, and just pushed higher into the building, hoping for an emergency exit11, didn’t manage to reveal all the rooms.
But play was face, fairly simple12, and entertaining. It’s definitely going on the list for replay.
But What About Dinner?
Dinner was tasty. We all enjoyed it.
- Well, that ship’s pretty much sailed, huh? Yeah, I get that I’m being obsessive and pointlessly pedantic. Deal with it.
- Pulled pork sandwiches, coleslaw, and potato chips, with home-made blueberry dumplings and home-made vanilla ice cream for dessert. Not a bad bribe, if I do say so myself.
- Yesterday, I got the rest of my Kickstarter goodies, including the very nice messenger bag.
- And not even using the solo rules included in one of the Kickstarter stretch goals, just playing three characters by myself.
- Zeppelin, biplane, and jet pack, of course.
- And I, for one, am immensely grateful. I never got the hang of the deck-building parts of other card games, and never enjoyed it.
- “She’s a TIME PIRATE! How can we not fight her?”
- “You lost the game. Now go sit in a corner while the rest of your friends continue to have fun.” “But I want to have fun, too!” “No. You have proven unworthy of fun. Now go. You’re embarrassing both of us.”
- Especially teaching the game last in the evening, when people were getting more tired.
- This is what happened to me on about the second turn. Being injured in the game sucks, and I was injured right up to the end. Never did get off the first floor.
- There are a couple of other ways you can leave the installation besides the entry room. These all seem to require sacrificing some data, but pop you right out of the building instantly, so sometimes it could be worth it.
- Though some of the choices were hard.