Sunday, February 28, 2010

Event Review - Freelancing

I used to be self-employed. In fact, when I started writing Drake's Flames, all I was doing was freelance design and running VixenTor Games. And every time I would tell someone I was self-employed, they would tell me how lucky I was. What they didn't really understand is that being self-employed means that you have to work 14 hours a day, seven days a week. I did it for two years, and had exactly three days off the entire time. And they were all in a row. I would talk to people who had jobs and they would say, 'hey, I'm just glad it's Friday!', which was funny, because I hated weekends. It meant my kids were home, I couldn't get suppliers on the phone, and inevitably, someone was going to be looking for something to be shipped by Monday.

I'm not whining, though - I loved it. I slept in every day, and took a nap every afternoon. I went to lunch with friends, I watched a ton of TV (while making dice towers at the coffee table), and saw a lot more of my family. Plus I never, ever, ever wore a tie. Ever. I would be self-employed now, if only the crashing economy had not resulted in the bankruptcy of several of my best clients, which in turn meant that my income was cut in half.

But old habits die hard. I still run VixenTor Games, although now I have my wife, son and a good friend making dice towers for me, instead of doing them all myself. And I still do freelance design, which seems like it would be cool until you consider the fact that the companies who can actually pay for freelance designers tend to do really boring stuff. It's not all that glorious to tell people that you're making a three-page course schedule for a night school, but it sure beats having the mortgage company sending foreclosure papers.

In all honesty, I would quit it all and just write Drake's Flames, but we kind of need the dough. My wife has a connective tissue disorder, and it kicks her ass like a steel-toed work boot. She can't work outside the house - how many employers do you know who will let you sleep in the middle of the afternoon? They're just not all that interested in an office worker who works like a champion for most of the day, and then has to take painkillers and steroids just so she can keep from throwing up her lunch. I can't afford my mortgage on just my day job, so I keep plugging away at the extra stuff, because it pays the bills.

Freelance work has a lot of upsides, though. For one thing, you can take that extra time at night when you would be surfing Facebook or watching reruns of Everybody Loves Raymond and turn it into money. And nobody ever complains if your shirt isn't ironed or you need a shave. Plus, even when I'm tired and want to go to bed and really wish I could just spend the night playing on the Xbox or catching up on White Collar (seriously, that show is blast), there's a hell of a sense of pride you get when you know that people are willing to pay you good money for doing what they can't.

So I spent this weekend working on a huge dice tower order and finishing a catalog of classes for the local university. It's kind of weird to spend three hours cutting wood in the shed, then another three hours formatting text, but I almost never feel like I wasted my weekends. Maybe I'm a little addicted to working, but more likely, I'm addicted to eating my wife's amazing cooking, driving my very nice car and living in my very pleasant middle-class suburban home. And if I have to work myself death to do it, well, I'll die in my house with my belly full.

I know lots of people who have lives that are far more interesting than mine. I always kind of dreamed of being a reporter for National Geographic or a marine biologist, and traveling the world in search of odd stuff. But if I'm honest with myself, I'm not cut out for that kind of life. I like running things, working hard, managing my business and hitting my deadlines. I'm no Donald Trump (for one thing, my hair doesn't look like I stuck it in a cotton candy machine), but it's pretty cool to run a business, even if I do kind of suck at it.

If you want to experience the joys of working for yourself, there are a few things you should know. First, it never pays as well as you thought it would when you started out. You'll work twice as hard for half the money. Second, you'll work harder than you ever knew you could work. Third, there's no room anywhere for a pissy attitude - you can't sandbag or just try to look busy when you're paying yourself, so you have to suck it up and get it done, because you can't sell an excuse. Fourth - well, hell, I could go on and on, because there are probably about 80 different things you need to know, and there isn't time to cover them all here.

But whatever drawbacks there are to freelancing, the upsides make all the difference. Pride, a sense of ownership, and let's not forget cash dollar money - these are wicked good motivators. And you'll learn stuff that you can apply anywhere, like work ethic and attitude and business savvy. It's not easy, but it's worth every minute.

At least, it's worth it as long as you're getting paid. And writing this is not getting me paid, so I think I'll stop now and go to bed.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Board Game Review - Nostra City

When I started thinking about the direction I wanted to take with my review of Nostra City, my first impulse was to write it as if I were a mobster in New Jersey. Or maybe Brando in Godfather. Or, to really throw it back, Cagney in Public Enemy.

Lucky for you, I came to my senses and remembered that while that may be dorky fun to write, it's an embarrassing beatdown to read. The entire time I'm going, 'I know it was you... you broke my heart', you'll be thinking, 'one more dorky gangster line, and I'm breaking my monitor.' And you would probably be wise to just close your browser and come back in a couple days when I quit thinking I can talk like Tony Soprano.

The reason I'm inspired to sound all mobster when I'm discussing Nostra City is that it's practically a board game version of every Martin Scorsese gangster film ever made, with a good dollop of The Sopranos. It's so steeped in its theme that you'll have to tell your friends to quit saying, 'Am I funny? Do you find me funny? Am I clown?' And if they don't stop, you'll shoot them in the feet.

See, dammit, now I'm doing it.

The background behind the game is that the head of your criminal organization has been arrested and is on trial. He announces that, should he be found innocent, he will nominate one of the players to take his place, and retire peacefully. So suddenly, on top of running hookers and coke, you have to rig the jury and corrupt the evidence, all while trying to get more respect than anyone else at the table.

The game takes place over six turns, each representing a month of the ongoing trial. Every month, you'll work your businesses for cash, then spend that cash to get more businesses, and finally, work on influencing the verdict. Each phase of the game has some tricky, deep strategy that requires you to plan ahead and still think on your feet.

For instance, when you're drumming up money, you can choose rackets based on similar neighborhoods, or you can choose to work your illegal trafficking. Then you commit one of your lieutenants to go take some bets, or work some whores, or sell some drugs. The more of your guys you put to work, the more you can make - but there are several catches. For one thing, everyone else in the same business gets a cut of the dough, so you may have to split it with the other players (unless you decide to cheat them, in which case you would be awesome). For another thing, if you send one your guys to run hookers during this phase, you can't use him next phase to fight over new business. You have to balance your need to earn against your desire to expand your turf.

Then, once everyone collects from their businesses, you all get to have a sit-down (that's more mobster speak, I apologize) and figure out how to divvy up the new business, turf and respect that came available that month. Basically, you use one of your wise guys to bid on an available card, and everyone else can do the same thing. But the bidding is blind, so not only do the other players not know what you're trying to snag, they don't know how much you're willing to spend. And to really make this part awesome, you can, once again, be cheated. Committing more of your guys to the auction means you're more likely to win something you want, but it also means you're hurting your chances to try and clear the boss, and you probably don't have much cash because you couldn't use those guys to hit the streets and make money.

Finally, if you have any mobsters leftover, you can try to corrupt the trial. The boss starts off officially guilty as sin, but you can buy jury members, buy cops, even buy the judge. All of this is abstracted by you putting down money, one bill for each mobster you saved for this stage.

There are so many cool elements to Nostra City beyond the rules I've abridged so far. I'm just going to hit two of the coolest highlights, and then tell you to buy the game and see for yourself. The first cool highlight is that you can totally cheat your fellow gangsters. If you owe them money, you don't have to pay. Awesome, right? But if you don't pay, they get real mad. And you wouldn't like them when they're mad (I may be thinking of a non-mobster movie on that one). Because they'll have a chance to start vendettas, and those can really change the way the game works.

In fact, the biggest change - and possibly the coolest - is that a couple of the vendetta cards, instead of saying something like, 'steal turf from an opponent' or 'put two bullets in a wise guy's head', they, 'FBI Snitch.' And if you get that card, your goal completely changes. Now you want the boss to be guilty, and you still need respect, because the Feds don't care about some low-level punk. Since about half the money cards you could use to corrupt the jury make the boss more likely to be convicted, if the snitch turns up, he could totally tank the game for everyone who cheated him and stole his turf. Which, as I may have mentioned, is awesome.

What happens is a sort of Battlestar Galactica-style witch hunt, with people accusing each other of being the rat, and constant bluffing, and irrationally expensive attempts to clear the boss's name. Because if he goes down for this one, none of you gets to be head mob guy. Then there's probably one of those mob wars where people get shot down in the street and bodies wind up in the East River, and some really mean Colombian guys come into town and start stealing all the hookers and making them work in Spanish-speaking strip clubs.

Nostra City is one of the coolest games I've played in a while. Granted, I love mob movies, but the theme alone isn't enough to make me play anything. The reason Nostra City is so cool is that it winds up being cooperative, with a turncoat, and everyone out for themselves. A competitive cooperative game would sum it up best, which is an oxymoron that should make your head hurt.

With all the difficult decisions, tricky plays, and a good helping of luck, Nostra City has a near-perfect amount of depth. It's not a bruiser of a game like Through the Ages, and it's not a light-weight like Dominion. You have to think about what you're doing, but it's still less work than getting your MBA. There's body count, because you can kill the other players' soldiers, and there is not much margin for error.

If you're slow to catch on to complicated games, you're not going to like Nostra City. It's not that hard, but it does have several places where it's not particularly intuitive. But if you're OK with spending a little time learning how to play, and you're able to think a couple turns ahead, and if you like a game with some meat on it that does a great job of feeling like a season of The Sopranos, Nostra City is a sure thing. It's an offer you can't refuse, unless you want to sleep with the fishes and wake up with a horse's head in your bed.

Sorry. That's been building for a long time now.


Great theme
Cool art
Heavy enough to be satisfying, but light enough to be enjoyable
Lots of depth for a game you can finish in under two hours

Could be a little tough to learn

Dogstar Games doesn't have Nostra City yet, but I'm willing to bet they will. I'll update this link when they get it.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Board Game Review - Space Pirates

When I was a kid, I remember watching a movie called The Ice Pirates. It was about these spacefaring ne'er-do-wells who stole stuff, I think. The only thing that really stuck with me from my childhood was a mechanical torture device, kind of like a bear trap that snapped open and shut, and the bad guys put Robert Urich onto a conveyer belt that would feed him into the metal jaws, which would then bite him in the junk.

He escaped, family jewels intact, in case you were nervous.

Some twenty odd years later, I sat down to play Space Pirates, and thought, 'man, I wonder if there are nut-chewing bear traps in this game.' I kind of doubted there were, to be honest. That seems like the kind of thing that would not be considered family-friendly.

I was right. No bear traps of any kind. Instead, what's in the box is a really cool hybrid game, essentially a strategic dexterity game. And by 'dexterity game', I mean another one of those games where there are little discs that you hit with your finger and make them slide all over the table. But unlike Pitchcar (which is fun, but has less strategy than a trip to the grocery store), Space Pirates demands that you play well if you hope to have a prayer, unless your opponents are as clueless as you are, in which case you're going to be there a very long time.

The discs that you'll be flicking around are the freighters. They have the freighter on one side, and different kinds of cargo on the other. A few of the freighters are disguised - two of them are actually police that will chase you around if you accidentally rob them, and two of them are asteroids that you're apparently too stupid to avoid. The captain of the pirate ship probably sees some blip on his radar and says to his crew, 'go get that!', and then his brain-dead pilot, after seeing that their target is, in fact, a giant rock and not a space-bound treasure trove, decides to run into it. That pilot might be a candidate for the nut-chewing conveyer belt.

Your goal is two-fold. First, you have to get 20 MegaCredits. Each piece of cargo is worth a different amount at any given pirate base, so you'll fly out, maneuver over the top of these freighters, capture them and return home to sell them again. You move your pirate ship by playing energy cards and setting up your move with little templates, but the real problem is that your opponents will be flicking the freighters away from you, which can be mighty irritating.

The second goal is to buy a pirate base. This is not that hard, really - by the second time you visit a pirate base, you'll probably have enough money in your pocket to buy it. Then you can refuel for free, sell your cargo, and bribe the cops. Having your own base is a huge advantage, but it's tough to manage until you've made a couple passes through the universe to collect innocent freighters and steal their crap.

The main problem I have with Space Pirates is that it's over too fast. The goal of 20 MegaCredits is not impressive, because you can probably gather that much cash on one quick trip through the galaxy. Basically, that means that the player who can stock up fast and hit a base twice in a row is probably the winner. It's not that the strategy suffers, really, it just feels like it's done before you get to use all the cool stuff.

Thankfully, the game's designer (Cristophe Bolinger, who created Dungeon Twister) probably felt the same way. The rules have recommended goals for multiple players that are quite a bit higher than 20, which means that you'll be at the table longer, but you'll probably have more fun. My personal opinion is that the shorter endgame rules were probably grafted onto the game after the fact, to try to keep playing time under an hour. This is one case where the game designer probably wouldn't have minded if the publisher found himself sliding into a groin-eating man trap.

I'm kind of a sucker for cool dexterity games, so Space Pirates appeals to me purely for novelty value. But then, I also like games where I have to play smart, and Space Pirates hits that sweet spot, too, so now I'm liking it twice. It's fun to knock the little freighters around, and it's cool to play a game where you have to move around the table instead of just sitting on your ass until your legs fall asleep. The strategy isn't too heavy, so you can enjoy it with kids, but it's not paper-thin, either, so you can have fun with your drinking buddies. Basically, Space Pirates is about as close to a one-size-fits-all game as I can remember seeing. Of course, that means there are probably tons of people who will hate it, but I don't care. Those people can slide right into a set of crotch choppers.


Neat pieces, especially the cool pirate ships
Fun combination of tactics and flicking stuff
Straightforward and entertaining

Not involved enough to please people who only like complicated games with lots of rules

Good news! Dogstar Games has Space Pirates! So if you're looking for a game that you can enjoy with just about anyone, and you don't have fingers like rolled up newspapers, you should buy Space Pirates from Dogstar.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Rant - I'm Rude

It has come to my attention that some people find my writing style a little raw. I have had numerous people mention how offensive they find me, how wrong it is to make fun of disabled people, and how disgusting it is that I find considerable entertainment in women of low moral virtue. I have absolutely no intention of changing any of that, but I thought it might be nice to explain a little.

For starters, let's talk about retards. Right off the bat, as soon as I use the r-word, some of you cringe a little, especially when I actually come right out and say, 'retard,' as opposed to 'retarded kid' or 'people of diminished capacity.' And honestly, part of the fun is knowing that the shock value makes you a little uncomfortable. It's like you laugh, and then you feel guilty for laughing, and then you feel a little guilty for reading this website at all (that, or you don't ever come back, in which case you are probably not reading this right now).

That guilty laughter is the part of you that wants to desperately conform to society's standards of grace and etiquette being in direct conflict with the part of you that wants to find amusement in things that are objectively funny. You don't want to laugh because you don't want to upset some touchy-feely ACLU sub-group, but honestly, when a kid can't catch a football without letting it bounce off his head, that's funny. If the kid was the star quarterback, you would be in stitches.

Some people are offended simply by the word 'retarded'. Ironically, in 1975, that's just what you called 'em. Then we change it to be 'special', only now you can't tell people they're special, either. So now it's 'differently abled' or 'delayed,' and ten years from now, those will all be profanity, too. And they'll be profanity because, let's face it, they mean something bad. I'm not going to continue to update my lexicon just so that I can avoid damaging the finer sensibilities of lily-livered people who would rather lie to themselves and keep coming up with ways to say 'slow in the head.'

Also, there's a difference between mocking one retard and mocking retarded people as a group. The Ringer, where Johnny Knoxville competes in the Special Olympics, is like a two-hour retard joke - but it also made retarded people as a whole far more human, and presented them as individuals, each with different personalities and lives and senses of humor. If I see people picking on a kid because he's a potato-head, I'll be a Holy Avenger. I'll be the hammer of righteous retribution. There's a big difference between laughing at amusing behavior and outright cruelty. Saying that a game is stupid enough to be enjoyable by retarded kids is one thing; picking at one particular child is outright horrid. But it's just as dehumanizing to lump all retarded people under one untouchable umbrella of pity. They're people, and I'll laugh at anyone if they're funny.

In fact, when I was a kid, I had a retarded cousin. He knew damned well that he was funny, and he couldn't stand for people to pretend he was just like everyone else. He wanted to be treated like a person, not a disability. People who would pretend he could be president just pissed him off. He didn't want pity or false promises of a bright future. Compassion and understanding, sure, but never, ever pity. Sadly, he was also a dick, but that was just his personality, and had nothing to do with his basement-level IQ.

So as long as we've settled why I'm not going to quit making jokes about rubber helmets and sippy cups, let's move on to easy women. I like making references to dirty women because I like sex. This also goes back to the shock value amusement factor - you laugh, but you're not sure you should. And you don't think it's OK to discuss women who actually enjoy sex because somewhere along the way, someone taught you that sex was bad, and that women who liked it were possessed of no moral code. That's stupid. Women like sex. So do men. Men like women who like sex. Pretending that's not true is ridiculously immature.

Furthermore, just because I find easy women fascinating does not mean I spend a lot of time with them. I confess that I have known women who were prostitutes (though I never enjoyed their services), and I have likewise known several girls who were not the least bit opposed to one-night stands (I have also never had a one-night stand, though that's not for lack of trying in my rambunctious youth). However, I have been married more than 15 years now, and my days of easy women have long since passed (and were rather unimpressive in the first place). But just because I do not seek the company of loose women does not mean I don't find them fascinating. And given the popularity of shows like Cathouse, Real Sex and the entire booming porn industry, I don't think I'm the only one.

Basically, I would like for people to be more honest. You don't have to make fun of a retard to find the Special Olympics a little funny. You can still admire the ass on a hot dame in a tight dress without feeling the need to run over and grab her boobs. Drugs exist, and booze, and venereal disease and cancer and cerebral palsy. If my tasteless jokes make you even a little more willing to come to grips with the fact that life is not as sanitized as you might like it to be, that a clear mind can exist in a filthy world, then maybe you're a little better off. Hiding from the ugly truth does not make it go away. It just makes you less prepared to deal with reality when it crashes through your door. It might not be as comfortable as a cocoon of cultural sensitivity, but it's better than pretending that the entire world is as whitewashed as your own little suburban kitchen.

Plus it's funny. This isn't me laughing at my own jokes - I get a lot of feedback from people who laughed right out loud at some of my more raucous humor. And so if you're disgusted, angry, or offended, if you turn up your nose at my guttered mind and filthy mouth, if you wish I would just disappear and take all my toilet humor with me, then you can step right up and kiss my hairy ass.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Card Game Review - Fantasy

While discussing our latest game with my wife, I came to the conclusion that Fantasy (a new card game from Asmodee) is the Kim Kardashian of card games. Really pretty, but completely worthless. Interestingly enough, Kim Kardashian is also something of a fantasy for men who like empty-headed females with big boobs.

Fantasy is a card game in which you take turns playing various fantastical creatures, like goblins and hobgoblins and elves and fairies and stuff. Each card had a power on it, like the goblin that lets you steal two cards from an opponent or the fairy that stops other players from using the powers on their cards. At the end of the game, the player with the greatest number of critters on the table wins.

The problem is, Fantasy is more random than playing 52 Pick-Up, because the powers on the cards are complete game reversals. Like the imp, that swaps all the cards in your hand with someone else, so that you can't ever build up a good closing hand because all of a sudden you don't own your own cards any more. Or the hobgoblin, that swaps all your scoring cards so that you go from getting your ass kicked to drinking champagne with one of America's most useless rich girls. It's impossible to plan ahead, build a hand, work out a strategy or make clever plays. You can scheme and swap the whole game, but in the end, the player who drops the last card is probably going to win. And if he doesn't, he probably ties.

I can't understand how a game this vapid gets published by one of the biggest game companies in the world. Doesn't someone go, 'you know, this game is freaking stupid,' and shut it down? It's not like you could think, 'hmm, there might be something here, let's push it through production.' One play should be enough for any gaming executive to realize that the Fantasy is not the game, the Fantasy is believing anyone would want to play this often enough to buy a copy. Of course, I also don't completely understand how Kim Kardashian builds a media juggernaut based mostly on looking good in a bikini. I've seen her show. She's dumber than a box of used brake pads.

The art is really nice, though. As a portable art gallery, Fantasy would be a huge success. If they had just put different art on 50 cards, and it all looked this good, Asmodee could have just sold it as an art collection, because it's that pretty. I guess that's how Kim Kardashian sells calendars. She is fairly attractive. Of course, she also has a tendency to go to photoshoots without her pants on. That probably helps.

Some games I've played with my family wind up irritating me but entertaining everyone else. Fantasy is not one of those games. For once, everyone at the table was equally confused by the idea that a major game publisher could think Fantasy was a viable piece of interactive entertainment.

What's ironic is that with a little restraint and a lot of playtesting, Fantasy probably could have been really cool. Like if the goblin stole one card, and the imp let you trade one card you choose for two random cards from an opponent. The dryad that lets you steal from an opponent's score pile is cool, but the hobgoblin that takes the whole damned thing is just too much. Tone down the wild swings a little, and Fantasy could be really fun. By the same token, get Kim Kardashian a college degree and a modicum of class, and she might be interesting, too. She would still have that killer rack, so it's not like getting smarter would make her less appealing. Though it would probably result in fewer naked pictures.

I prefer my games to be interesting, and I prefer women who have some value to society as a whole. So I heartily dislike both Fantasy and Kim Kardashian, neither of which is worth a puddle of warm spit.


Really pretty

Completely worthless

I emphatically do not want you to buy this game. So instead, here's a hilarious picture of Kim Kardashian.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Card Game Review - Mow

If you were to ask me what my favorite kinds of games are, I would have to start with the dungeon crawl. Anything where a bunch of heavily-armed heroes tromp through narrow corridors doing violence and burglary is going to wind up near the top of my playlist. After the dungeon crawl is what the Fortress Ameritrash guys call 'Dudes on a Map', which is one of those games with a bunch of different places, and you put figures all over the board (or wooden cubes, or plastic markers, or used condom wrappers) and roll a bunch of dice to fight over the different spots.

Continuing down the list, we might get to the involved card game, or the clever bidding game, or the cool dexterity game. We would have to continue down the list for quite a while before we get to games where you collect cows and try not to get flies. That's never going to be the kind of game that gets my heart racing.

Apparently, however, it makes a fairly fun game, as evidenced by Mow (a game whose name sounds like it should have something in common with either lawn maintenance or, extremely tangentially, that guy from Slingblade who says, 'I like them french fried potaters'). This simple little card game with a really silly theme turns out to be a casually entertaining good time for people who don't want to make their brains sweat.

To play the game, each player gets four cards. These cards all have cows on them, and maybe some flies (OK, probably some flies. Cows draw flies. It might be the fact that they can't use the bathroom). These cards also have numbers on them, from 0 to 16, and when you play, you have to go over the highest card or under the lowest. If you can't play, you have to take all the cows - and so you get all their flies, too. You may want to invest in some screen doors.

There are also a few special cards that you can play when you shouldn't be able to play, like the acrobatic cow that stands on another cow, or the sleepy cow that slides in between a couple others. When you play one of these, you can change the direction of play, which means that if you think you just played the last card that can be played and you really want to hose the person who just played, you can put on a wicked grin and say, 'your turn.' That's especially crappy because the special cows come with five flies. Apparently being special also means being stinky.

The game ends when someone gets 100 flies. This can take four or five trips through the deck, and so if you get hosed for one round and wind up taking most of the flying pests, you have another chance to get back in the game.

This is a simply game, but it's not particularly deep or interesting. It's light and fun, but it's not hard to get totally screwed and not have a whole hell of a lot you can do about it. To be perfectly honest, I didn't like it, but my family thought it was really fun. It comes down to what you want in a game - if you want an easy, breezy card game that you can pick up and play in half an hour, Mow might be a good fit, but if you want a mental challenge, keep walking. This is not the game you're looking for.

So Mow isn't my favorite kind of game. It's not even close to the top of the list. But if I were to really tell you what kinds of games are my favorites, it would have to be anything my family will play with me, and on that count, Mow is a big winner.


Easy peesy to learn and play
Enough strategy to reward a smart player, but can still be enjoyed by dopey kids
Cute cows

Shallow as a puddle of warm cow piss
Collecting cows is a dumb theme

Dogstar Games doesn't have Mow right now, but they might at some point. If they get it in, I'll tell you.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Abstract Game Review - Hive

I think we've hit the board game equivalent of peak oil when it comes to theme. We've got so many games about farming that they're starting to make up a substantial portion of the German gross national product. We have games about selling silk, parking cars, and even one about shipping containers. But you can tell we're running low on ideas when we take a pure abstract and slap a theme on it where spiders and ants try to surround a bee.

In fact, the theme for Hive is so interchangeable that I've seen versions that use everything from Space Invaders to Pokemon, with lots of other weird variations. People make their own Hive sets, and I've even seen one custom set made with chess imagery.

The chess thing is especially apropos because Hive has a lot in common with chess. There's a lot of planning moves, setting up plays three moves out, smart opening moves, traps for the unwary opponent, and other elements that make chess the kind of game where very boring people who have very little sex write books about how to spend an inordinate amount of time talking about a game, and not that much actually playing. Hive is not quite as popular as chess, but for a very small game, this puppy has a ton of fans.

It's pretty clear to see what hooks all those fans. Hive is an incredibly strategic game with the kinds of simple rules you find in chess, and an astounding amount of depth. It's the epitome of strategy games, with every move being vitally important and every mistake costing you dearly. Every piece moves differently (you know, like in chess) and a very short set of rules explains everything you need to know.

The different moves define Hive. Every hexagonal playing piece has different rules for moving. Ants can run like the wind, but can't fit into tight spaces. Grasshoppers just launch themselves over the tops of everyone else and land wherever they wind up. Beetles, spiders and even the queen bee all move differently, and since the goal is to get your opponent's queen surrounded, understanding how to exploit those moves is critical to success.

For instance, since you can't split the Hive, moving a piece onto the outside of an opponent's ant locks down that ant until you move your own piece. If your opponent's grasshopper is interfering with your ability to bring in your pieces, you can hop on top of it with your beetle. I prefer not to know why the beetle is mounting the grasshopper, but at least I can bring out my bugs. Let's just hope that beetle is using protection, or there might be little baby beetlehoppers running all over the place.

I've played more than a half dozen games of Hive at this point, and I'm just barely scratching the surface of how to play. I understand the rules, and know how everything moves, but I discover more strategy and flexible tactics every time I play. I love it, and would love the opportunity to teach it to more people and learn a lot more as I play.

On the other hand, half of the people I've played would prefer to scrub grout than play Hive, and frankly, I understand entirely. Hive is very much an abstract, and it's one where the best player wins - there is literally no luck in the game, but there is remarkable strategic and tactical decision-making. If you would rather play Talisman than chess, Hive is going to appeal to you almost as well as an actual nest of insects you found in your attic. It's faster than chess, but still contains an impressive amount of difficult decisions and abstract maneuvers.

If you like chess, you'll probably like Hive. If you think chess blows donkeys, you'll probably hate Hive. And if you like a good story behind your games, then you're really out of luck. Maybe the best thing to make Hive more popular would be for the game's designer to pretend he's German, and to replace all the bugs with stuff about farming.


Intense intellectual challenge
Every move counts
No luck
Requires planning, seeing the moves, setting traps, and lots of other tricky strategic stuff

Ants and grasshoppers surround a bee - that's not a theme, it's a Disney Movie
Pure abstract - if you like theme, you'll hate this game

Dogstar Games doesn't have Hive, but if you check Thoughthammer or FunAgain, they can probably help you out.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Event Review - Snow Day

North Texas gets snow about twice a year, and it's usually for about fifteen minutes, and normally it melts into slushy mud before you can do anything with it. But today is different. Today is a full-blown snow day.

Now, not everyone thought that three inches of snow was enough to call it a snow day. And maybe if the temperature had been over freezing, and maybe if we were even remotely prepared for weather that wasn't hotter than Satan's crotch, that might make sense. But just to be on the safe side, a bunch of school districts closed - just not ours. And when I called work, they were quite clear that there was no inclement weather threat. So off I went, dutifully, taking my daughter to school and then driving to work.

Here's the thing. We are the worst cold weather survivors on the planet. We can crash our cars on a four-inch-long strip of black ice, and we get all kinds of black ice because local businesses turn on their sprinklers overnight right before the mercury drops to 20 degrees. In other states, I would have snow tires, and government trucks would be out throwing salt on the roads. Here we just have sand trucks, and they only come out when there's virtually no possible excuse for throwing garbage on the roads. When there are actual dangerous conditions, and the roads seem to be covered with a layer of KY sex lube, those truck drivers get scared and call in sick.

I should have known after the third time I spun out trying to leave a stop sign that the roads were a little sketchy. They weren't as bad at 7:15, but by 8:30 there was so much slush on the road that it was a little like driving on jello. Sometimes your tires would grab, and sometimes - not so much.

By way of example, to illustrate how slippery the roads were this morning, I will tell you how I wrecked my car.

To get on the freeway, I have to drive over a bridge. The bridge makes a turn at the bottom so that you can point your car the same direction as all the other cars that are driving at 70 miles an hour regardless of whether the road is covered with more ice than an Olympic skating rink. So as I came over this bridge and headed down the other side, I had to turn the car. Only the car wouldn't turn, because the road was slicker than dog crap on a freshly watered lawn, and I was headed directly out onto the freeway, but sideways, so that I could have a semi truck t-bone me into a fine paste.

The wheels grabbed at the last minute, which probably saved my life, but sent me into a mad fishtail. My car dodged back and forth like a punch-drunk boxer before slamming into a guard rail and spinning 180 degrees, so that I was moving backwards but still able to look at the oncoming traffic on the freeway as it barreled toward me and my nearly disabled train wreck of a car.

Happily, I didn't hit anyone else, and nobody hit me. I was able to limp home, after which I was able to cuss like a sailor about the fact that the sand trucks weren't out and the office still wanted to see me. Then I called work and told them that, thanks to the fact that my front bumper was ripped off and the right side of my car had been compressed enough that I could no longer open the doors, I was not going to be able to make it to the office.

Anyway, now I'm home, have been for several hours, and the snow is still falling out of the sky in chunks the size of grapes. My daughter is home now (I went and got her, because the roads were just getting worse and I'm not sure I'll be able to leave my driveway this afternoon), and she proposed to me that we make the best of a bad situation.

We made a snowman.

This is a big deal, because this is the first time in ten years of living in Texas that I can remember getting enough snow to make a serious snowman. We probably could have made a good eight-foot tall monolith and named him Gargantua or something, but we settled on the trusty three-ball, four foot version, and then decorated him with a hat, a couple glass beads for eyes, and an old pair of glasses.

I took pictures, so that I could share with the class. Here's the snowman. Like me, he prefers Winston full-flavor shorts.

Grouchy snowman thinks you suck.

My daughter was outraged, so we made the snowman happy. Plus my daughter decided it was a snowgirl, not a snowman. I should probably affix boobs.

After that, we had a huge snowball fight. She hit me in the side of the head with a snowball the size of a grapefruit. All's fair, I suppose, so I pick up a double handful of snow and shoved it down the back of her shirt. Then I ran in the house.

Now we're waiting for the pizza and the tow truck. I don't much care which one comes first.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Board Game Review - Blue Moon

While I have a group of good friends I meet for games just about every weekend, I end up playing more games with my wife than anyone else. This might have something to do with the fact that we both live in the same house, and it might just be that my wife is totally kick-ass and, on top of being one of the finest chefs you can imagine, also loves to play games with me. But either way, it means I'm always scouting good two-player games. And when we find one that we can enjoy with two players, we play the hell out of it.

I was surprised to find that Blue Moon was one of those 'play all the time' games. For one thing, it's from Reiner Knizia, and I have about a 50% success rate with Reiner games. Some of his games are pure genius, and some are so boring that I would rather clean the cat box. On top of the Reiner thing, it's also got a rather bizarre theme, being set in a trippy fantasy world where fire people do battle with old men and naked girls in body paint. And if those weren't already two strikes down (not that the naked girls are a strike, there just aren't enough of them), there's a weird capture-the-dragon thing working that can lead to some near-instant ass-kickings.

Blue Moon is a card game. It's expandable, which means you can get more decks for it, but you can also play it right out of the box, as long as you like setting the Vulca against the Hoax (that would be the flame dudes and the octogenarians I mentioned before). Each deck has 30 cards, split between leadership cards, characters, support and boosters. Some tricky rules tell you when you can play each kind of card, but the basic concept of the game is that you use the cards in your hand to compete in battles where you constantly try to one-up each other for the high score in either fire or earth, with the winner attracting a dragon (told you this was a wacky theme).

Character cards are the driving force for the battles in Blue Moon. Each has scores in both earth and fire, though sometimes those values might be '0', in which case they're really not much use in a fight. If your opponent hits you with four flame, you have to come back with at least four flame, or you retreat and he swipes a dragon off the middle of the table. These characters are all colorful and often a little silly. Like the old men are mostly gray-haired, tubby academics. They kind of remind me of Jack Nicholson when he thinks he's still a viable sexual candidate and does a scene without his shirt on. Only since it's just a card game, it's less disturbing.

The booster and support cards add a ton of strategic possibilities. A support card might tell your opponent he can't draw replacement cards, or play some kinds of cards, or it might just add to your total. Boosters might give you a huge kick for one round, but if your opponent can beat your numbers, you lose the booster and have to go back for more. Leadership cards can give you some cool one-time bonus, like drawing a big hand or throwing out all your opponent's support cards.

And that's just for starters. Add in the crazy icons that let you break the rules even more, and now you're starting to see some pretty wicked card play. Battle getting a little too rough? Drop out the guy with the shield and the '2' and bring it back down a notch. Want that extra boost without losing all your cards? Play the booster with the retrieve icon, and take the card back into your hand. But be careful - if your opponent bails before you get a chance to pick it back up, you lose the card (though you do win the battle, so it might be worth the sacrifice). And to just completely twist your head around, many of the cards have special powers that break all kinds of rules. It's madness. Cats and dogs, living together - mass hysteria.

It's not really that crazy, honestly. It all goes together smoothly into a clean, quick, clever game that is easy to pick up and play. But since knowing how to play a deck depends largely on knowing what other cards you can count on seeing, both from your deck and your opponent's, experience is the best teacher. Knowing the cards provides an immeasurable advantage, and so there's a bit of a barrier here for new players. Study up and learn your deck, and you'll have a better idea how to play it. The different decks have drastically different play styles, and so you have to know your own cards and what the other guy might break out. You may want to keep a card ready so you can counter those one or two cards that always seem to catch you with your pants down, or you may want to be overly aggressive even if it means you're weak towards the end of the game.

One complaint that might plague the novice player is that the game can end pretty suddenly if you're not careful. It's supposed to go until someone runs out of cards, but if one player can bogart all three dragons and then capture one more, it's over early. And since it's not all that rare to score three dragons in one fight (using some horrifying card combinations in a long fight), it can be very discouraging. It's just no fun when you play one fight and then the game is over. And sometimes you just can't get the cards you need, and while there are ways to get to what you need, the new player isn't going to know when to do that.

If you're just playing with the base set, the only way to play is to use the preconstructed decks. That's fine, because they're balanced enough. They can be tough to learn, though, and after a while, it can get pretty boring to be playing the same thing over and over. It's like a really good pizza - awesome, but after a while, you just want some decent Indian food. So if you buy some expansion decks, you can either play them the way they come, or you can build your own. There's enough meat on the expansion decks to warrant their own review, so I'll write another review later. It's not worth buying the expansions until you decide if you like the base game anyway, so there's no rush.

If you're a total theme hog, Blue Moon will seem too much like dropping acid. It's very odd, and there's very little connection between the pictures on the cards and the effect they provide. And if you like your card games to be intense, lengthy duels of luck, will and wit, Blue Moon is going to bore you to the point that you wish you were dropping acid. However, if you like to play short, intelligent games that require quick decisions, or if you like games where experience allows shrewd play, or if you just like card games with really pretty art, Blue Moon should be high on your list.


Very pretty card art
Tricky card effects require quick thinking
The more you play, the better it gets
So interesting, it doesn't even feel like a Reiner Knizia game at all

Potential for sudden 'oh crap I lose' events
Very odd theme

Sadly, Dogstar Games does not have Blue Moon. They have a listing for it, but considering how long this game has been out of print, it's no shocker that they can't keep it in stock. However, there are probably other online retailers who do have it, so you could look them up, if you feel like it.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Board Game Review - Witch of Salem

Open Letter to Mayfair Games:

Dear Guys Who Make Settlers of Catan,

It is my sad duty to inform you that you are not Fantasy Flight Games. I apologize for the rude awakening, but I felt it important that you realize as soon as possible that you should not make Ameritrash games. You make some of the finest Euro games on the market, and you do it very successfully. I have personally enjoyed a great number of your European-style games.

However, I do believe you are not very well suited to creating games with heavy themes and lots of creepy monsters. Lovecraft games are best left to companies who specialize in hundreds of little pieces of plastic and too many cards, and who hire artists who get kicked out of LucasArts for being too nerdy. Rules for these games are supposed to be long, but generally somewhat intuitive, not short and confusing as hell.

I am referring, of course, to Witch of Salem. This absolutely stunning game seems to be an attempt to breed Arkham Horror with Pandemic, and winds up more like a watered-down version of Ghost Stories. It is, without doubt, one of the most beautiful games I've ever played, but sadly, the game itself ends up with a bad case of identity crisis, and can't decide if it wants to be an underwear model or a librarian, and just sort of ends up like a boring Kathy Griffin.

I will give you credit for having made a set of rules with the potential to be interesting. Witch of Salem has players traveling the board using location cards that can't be retrieved until you've gone back to Miskatonic University, so right off the bat, it feels like a dry European game. But then monsters pop up every round, and this evil Necron guy advances to the point where he will unleash a Great Old One on the city of Arkham, so you've got a theme that should guarantee brilliance.

The monsters can be killed if you show up with the right magic items, but of course, we never seemed to have the right items when we needed them. And if two of the same monsters come out, something real bad happens, like you lose magic stuff or all go a little more crazy. The titular character (if there's a word in the language funnier than titular, I don't want to know about it), Robert Craven, will help when he can, but that creepy Necron character keeps trying to pee in your Wheaties and accelerate the coming apocalypse. If you can follow the witch dude around, he can help keep the monsters from pestering you, but he can't be everywhere at once, and he pretty much wanders at random, so it can be a little hard to track him down.

And all the while, Necron is advancing, and the Great Old Ones keep popping up at Miskatonic University to irritate you, and you have to reveal all of them while you're sealing magic portals and killing monsters and trying not to go completely wackadoo until you wind up wearing a straight jacket and giggling at the male nurses. It sure does seem like time is against you - until you figure out how easy it is to win the game.

And this, dear Mayfair Games, is where you dropped the ball. By attempting to make a European game with an American feel, you have missed the most important element of a cooperative game - tension. Every time I have played this game, we beat the slick green snot right out of whatever bad guys were threatening the city of Arkham. More characters made this even easier - it's supposed to scale by bringing out more monsters, but we just ignored the gathering monsters, since the penalty for having a bunch of them out is weak and unintimidating (and might not happen at all), and they were completely unimpressive. There's no fighting mechanic, just a die that tells us if we lose a magic knife down a sewer grate that leads to Hell, and killing monsters is supremely anticlimactic - you just point to the stuff that matches the monster's stuff, and the monster goes to the discard pile. So even if you do bother to kill monsters (which you almost don't need to do), smoke-testing a boogeyman is not the achievement it feels like it should be.

The real problem here, Really Impressive Publishers Who Dropped The Ball On This One, is that you didn't really understand what makes Ghost Stories or Pandemic as much fun as they are. When a completely novice group can sit down and whip the piss out of this game without even breaking a sweat, you did something wrong. Ghost Stories is intense and exciting and fun - and hard. I've never even won Pandemic, though we came close twice. But Witch of Salem just kind of feels like an exercise in planning out some rather dry moves, and any theme that might have made its way to the game by way of monsters and sanity points is lost in the thoroughly unthematic rules.

I don’t want to give the impression that I completely hate Witch of Salem. It was enjoyable the second time I played. It wasn’t a complete waste of time, unlike many games I’ve played since I told people I would review anything they sent me. However, even if we did have fun, the entire time I kept thinking, ‘man, Ghost Stories is SO much better than this.’ When I would rather play a remarkably similar game with far superior execution, there’s just not much point to playing this one.

Please don't feel bad, People Who Make Bang! You have some really fun games. There is no reason to feel bad, aside from the fact that you made a mediocre cooperative game that is easily outshined by half a dozen games that are out there. We still love you. You still bring us some pretty bitchin' titles, from time to time, and so it would be a shame if you hid your head and cried. I don't want that. I just don't want you to make crappy Euro games that think they're Ameritrash games and then end up sucking on both counts. And the game really is incredibly pretty - prettier than both Ghost Stories and Battlestar Galactica. However, both of those are incredible examples of cooperative games that rock my face off, and Witch of Salem is an example of a gender-confused game that doesn't know if it's a man or a woman (or Euro or American).

Yours truly,

Matt Drake


Flat-out gorgeous
Very Euro-style cooperative game
Great theme
A few interesting elements

Never really gets to the point that all the parts come together
Theme gets lost in nonsensical rules
Way too easy
Not bad, but not as good as a lot of other cooperative games

If you're a Cthulhu fan and like cooperative games, you could do a hell of a lot worse than Witch of Salem. And if you like this site, and read it with any regularity, you know what I'm going to ask you to do - buy from Dogstar Games. Without them, this review simply would never have happened, and so the best support you can give Drake's Flames is to buy from Dogstar Games.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Board Game Review - Tomb

I don't run across a whole lot of dungeon crawl games I don't like. Even really bad dungeon crawl games usually appeal to me on some level, because I'm a fan of the theme. So for me to play a dungeon crawl game that a lot of people like, and then come back not liking it, seems like there's something a little bit wrong. I don't know if it's me or the game, though I'm pretty sure my friends who like Tomb will tell me it's all me. But I say it's the game.

Here's the concept - you start at the inn, recruit adventurers, and then send them into the tomb to raid crypts and score treasures. You get the XP, not the grunts, because you're apparently a Bear Stearns CEO and profit mostly by the work of other people and produce next to nothing yourself. This is especially unfair because those adventurers get the piss knocked out of them every time they show up anywhere, between traps that cut off their legs to monsters who eat their eyeballs with brie and dry crackers. That tomb is a ridiculously deadly place to hang out, and it's only made worse by the other players.

You can't actually attack the other adventuring parties (usually), but you can rob them blind, which is painfully irritating when they steal the one magic item that was keeping you from getting your ass kicked by Zed the Redneck Manlover in the next crypt. And that rule about attacking the other parties? That goes away whenever a card says it does. And that happens a lot.

The actual game moves pretty quickly. On a turn, you can move, check out a crypt, recruit some help, or equip your guys. Since some other asshole is going to steal all your crap anyway, gearing up seems a little pointless, but spells can sure come in handy later. The only lengthy part of the game is the actual crypt exploration, where one of your friends picks up the cards that describe the contents of the death trap and describe to you exactly how painful the next beating will be. Then you roll a bunch of colored dice to see if your adventurers can avoid having their testicles used as monster hacky sacks. Usually, they don't.

Now, if every player on the board was having the same trouble at the same time, this would be different. But all it takes is a couple crappy card pulls and you're up a creek, watching your whole party get completely destroyed then eaten then crapped out and set on fire. Now you get to go back to the inn and see if there's anyone left (and there probably is not, unless you count the crappy characters that nobody recruits because their main talent is being hit and falling down). Meanwhile, some other jackass has hoarded all the good adventurers and is in the process of waltzing through crypt after crypt, disarming traps, killing monsters and carrying so much treasure that he has to put it in the bank because nobody has any more room for it.

I think the reason that I get angry every time I play Tomb is because so many of the cards have some arbitrary middle-finger-of-death that takes you from competitive to completely ruined in one bad die roll. In one game, I had a great magic item that was keeping me in the running, and another player had some assassins dagger that said something like, 'no matter how tough the other guy is, and no matter how well he's rolling, go ahead and kill him and take all his crap.' And another time, I pull up the trap card and it says, 'if you didn't roll like Jesus was blowing on your dice, everybody in your entire party dies and you get to go back to the inn and stare at the walls because every single potential recruit is deader than disco.'

And that's my real beef with Tomb. It's not that it's not fun, because it is. It's rough and tough and full of raw beat-down action. There are fights and traps and great treasures and exploration and everything I love about dungeon crawl games. But then, just because the designers wanted to make me punch a puppy in the mouth, there are these 'eff you' cards that completely and arbitrarily ruin your entire day. It's not even fair, and there's seldom much you can do to avoid going from romping to ruined inside five seconds.

If you have a longer fuse than I do, and you like dungeon crawl games, you would probably really like Tomb. The art is great. The game play is compelling and exciting. If you're OK with the fact that the other guys at the table are going to kick you in the jimmy and steal your wallet, and you're completely cool with doing it back to them, then you'll probably get a big kick out of this game. But if you don't like having the rug yanked out from under you, or if you don't like twists of fate that you can't control, you'll probably wish you had played something else. Like, I don't know, Parcheesi or something.


Cool dungeon crawler theme
Really kick-ass art
Good combat and trap rules and lots of great treasures and stuff

Doesn't even try to be fair
Sometimes the game itself just feels mean spirited

Dogstar Games has Tomb. If you would like to be kicked in the man junk at random moments while exploring a cool dungeon, you can run right over there and get it:

Monday, February 1, 2010

Board Game Review - Nexus Ops

I'm not always very smart. I'll wait for the smartasses in the back of the class to compose their witty comebacks, and then I'll explain.

I started writing game reviews about ten years ago. It took a little while to get rolling, but after a few years, I managed to land a huge contact - the PR guys for Wizards of the Coast. They loved me. They sent me EVERYTHING. I have a huge collection of Third Edition stuff, all of it read exactly once and then shelved. It was great, but the problem is, I don't really play RPGs any more, and really wanted to write about board games.

And then I scored with the Avalon Hill contact, and it was brilliant. I got Monsters Menace America, Skull & Bones, Betrayal at House on the Hill - and Nexus Ops.

This was a long time ago, which is the only way I can explain the next statement: I didn't like Nexus Ops the first time I played it.

I know why I didn't like it, though. It was because I played a two-player game against my wife's friend who was only a gamer when she came to visit us, and frankly, Nexus Ops confused the piss out of her. Had I been a better reviewer then, I would have realized that the problem was that the game is a little too involved for a casual gamer, and that I didn't enjoy it because I was doing it wrong. Sadly, I did not realize that, and not only did I give it a fairly lukewarm review, but in a move I have regretted for years, I traded it away. It took me five years to get another copy.

And now that I have played Nexus Ops against capable, intelligent gamers, I can tell you that this game is frickin' AWESOME. It's just as involved as I remembered, but if you're playing against someone who can handle a game more intense than Scrabble, you should be fine. I'm not saying there isn't a fair amount of stuff going on, it's just that any halfway serious game nerd is going to pick it up by the end of the third turn and be all over it.

I'm not sure if you could do a completely different theme with this game and still make it work, but the theme that's there works great. You're all playing rival mercenary companies trying to mine a resource-rich planet, and in order to do that, you end up enlisting the locals. And since the locals are some seriously freaky aliens, that just means you get to party with mushroom people, giant spiders and dragons that look like blowflies. Each of the six different races of alien has its own sculpt, including the rather wimpy humans, and this is where this gets visually brilliant - the pieces all look like gummy bears. Not like actual bears, or anything, but they're cast in this neon translucent plastic that would look totally amazing under a black light.

The planet's surface is built from randomly assembled hexes, and each has a type of terrain, whether it's fungus forest, crystal woods, rock plain, or lava field. And every time you explore one of these spots, you might find a rubium mine (yes, it's called rubium. Yes, that's a little gay). You can spend the rubium to buy more wacky aliens to fight for you, and then you can send the aliens into battle, and try to get control of the monolith in the middle of the board. Because if you get the monolith, you get access to some really great cards that can totally turn things around for you when the chips are down.

The key to the game, however, is succeeding at the secret missions. Since the goal of the game is to get 12 victory points, and these missions all earn you points, you want to succeed at them whenever you can. That can be hard, though - if your card tells you to kill something with a lava leaper and all you have are rock striders, well, you better go shopping.

It helps that every different alien has a specialty. Lava leapers are more powerful in magma pits, and can leap over spaces if they start out in lava. Plasma dragons can burn enemies without having to get into the fight. Fungoids can mine, and are powerful in the fungus forests. The only units that don't have special powers are humans, and even they're useful because they're wicked cheap. Some units can't enter the monolith. Some units can't operate the mines. Some units are great fighters, and some are just cheap. With all the different considerations for each unit, it can be a little tricky to decide how to spend your rubium (yep, still gay) when you're buying troops.

And this is where my non-gamer friend got lost. You've got energize cards with powers on them, but you have to time them right, and you've got secret missions you're trying to accomplish, and you've got dragons that need to be at the monolith and humans that need to be at the mines and all the while you have to keep track of what kind of unit you want where because the enemy dragon is coming and you're about to be in one hell of a hurry. For the tourist gamer, this is way too much to handle. For the guy who can read 40 pages of rules and remember what happens when a Descent spider webs your ranger, these are just tactical factors to exploit.

The big picture here is that with all this happening all the time, there are lots of ways to make mistakes. There are critical decisions all over the map, and you need to be able to remember when to play an energize card, and where to move your support troops, and which guys to call up. Pay for a dragon when you can't afford it, and you're swarmed by crystal dudes. Buy a bunch of cheap guys when the other guys have a good number of hard-hitters, and you just wasted your money as they all get eaten. This is the kind of decision-making I like - tons of options, none of them exactly right, but some far better than others.

Nexus Ops is a very tactical game, and it's also decidedly strategic. You have to plan ahead. You have to try to outwit your opponents. You have to make the right move at the right time, or you might just wind up watching all your mines get claimed by one foe as you fight the other. It's an incredibly well-designed game, and while luck certainly plays a role (blow a couple battles you should have won, and you'll be cursing the dice), good game play is going to make a hell of a difference.

I am really glad I got Nexus Ops again. It's a seriously enjoyable game, and I'll play it whenever I can. It's not getting traded away again, I can promise that. If you like tactical strategy games with an element of luck and great pieces, you should probably run down a copy as soon as you can.

But you can't have mine.


Meaningful decisions galore
Really cool alien troopers
Interesting premise and fun theme
Great tactics and great strategy equals a great game

A lot to track (at least until you get it down)
Out of print

I wish I could send you to Dogstar Games for this one, but they don't have it. Instead, here's a link to a Troll & Toad copy that will set you back 70 bucks: