Search This Blog

What more can be said about Scythe?  I will offer my own review of this exceptional game – and I’m not someone who particularly enjoys ‘dude...

Scythe by Stonemaier Games Scythe by Stonemaier Games

For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!

What more can be said about Scythe?  I will offer my own review of this exceptional game – and I’m not someone who particularly enjoys ‘dudes-on-a-map’ games.

Scythe was originally released in 2016 after a hugely successful Kickstarter. It has continued to romp up the bgg rankings and currently sits just outside the all time top 10 games.  Scythe is based in an alternate-history version of Europa in which a heavily mechanised city-state collapsed allowing its neighbouring countries (the players) to target its natural resources and compete for its leftover territories.  What follows is 2 to 3 hours of ‘aggressive walking’ with your Mechs and workers into new territories whilst trying to optimise your own engine; assuming your opponents don’t get in the way.  Scythe is your traditional 4X game wrapped in some very pretty and clever clothes.
It's Starting To Get Busy

Gameplay

Before you start each player selects a faction and player board. The player factions have unique, but balanced, powers and the player boards have asymmetric yet balanced action spaces.  Each player board contains two rows of actions which are not only different between player boards from top to bottom but the cost and reward for each action is subtly different as well.  Which means that you’ll probably have to play dozens of times before you have the opportunity to play the same faction and powers again.  This combined with the randomness of your opponents provides a unique experience almost every time.

The winner is determined by scoring players amounts of territories, stars, and resource.  This is added to your remaining money and whoever has the most (of everything) wins.  There are a number of different viable strategies that can win a game of Scythe but these can be largely pre-determined by your player and and starting Faction.  To be successful you have to optimise your engine to exploit your player board advantages and mitigate your weaknesses. 
The Popularity Track - Essential For Scoring

The turns in Scythe pop along at a quick pace and if everyone’s familiar with the rules you can complete your top actions (which may have an element of interaction and combat) in about a minute or two. The bottom row actions will never involve another player and the next player can start their turn whilst you complete your bottom row actions.  This means that even in a six player game your turns come back around in about 5 minutes, which is mighty impressive when you consider how much is going on. And in those ‘spare’ 5 minutes you may be defending in combat and watching for your neighbours actions that give you bonuses.  There’s always something to do even when it’s not your turn.  I’ve found that there’s often just the right amount of time left in between turns to deal with any other players effects on you and then plan your next turn.  I have never felt bored or inactive in between my turns in Scythe.

Almost everything you do, if you do it enough, will gain you a star.  After any player has accumulated 6 stars the game immediately ends.  If you concentrate on getting 6 stars and finishing the game there is no guarantee that you’ll actually win; if you don’t get 5 or more stars, I can almost guarantee that you won’t… This push and pull of strategic objectives and tactical rewards is perfectly executed.  However, after one player gets their sixth star the scoring of coins, territories resources, popularity and stars etc. feels a little anti-climactic to what has probably been quite an epic game.
These Stars Tell A Great Story

The rules are extremely well written and contain helpful strategy snippets throughout.  They also include a ‘Delay of Game’ variant rule which I think should be applied to every game, not just Scythe: “if a player delays the game for more than 10 seconds by trying to calculate the final score, they lose 2 popularity”. This is one of my favourite rules ever! It is intentionally difficult to glance at the board state and determine who is ahead at any point in time, it can obviously be done and AP-prone player may delay a game that, in my opinion, was designed to be played quickly.

Each player mat contains 4 top row actions: Move, Bolster, Trade and Produce.  These do pretty much exactly what they say do, you pay the cost and then you can take the relevant action although each of them have an alternate action as well.  Move allows you to move …(duh!) (or gain $1 if you don’t move as the alternate action). Bolster provides more combat power (or combat cards), trade converts money into resources (or popularity) and Produce uses your workers to generate resources.
Two Different Player Mats

The bottom row actions that you take are dictated by the top row action taken.  You have to do the bottom row action immediately beneath the selected top row action. However, each player mat, has a different alignment of top row and bottom row actions; the cost and benefits for the actions are also subtly different as well.  This asymmetry, for me, turns this game into a work of genius and gives each faction a different feel and play style.

The bottom row actions are: Upgrade, Deploy, Build and Enlist. These aren’t as intuitive as their top row counterparts but are arguably more crucial to getting your engine humming.  You’ll never be able to afford a bottom row action on the first turn of the game but after that working out how to pay for a bottom row action along with an acceptable, if not good top row action, are the key for success.

Deploy allows you to place your Mechs on the board and consequently gain new abilities. Build allows you to build one of four buildings which each provide a top row action bonus.  Enlist allows you to gain an immediate bonus and provides an ongoing bonus anytime you or your neighbours choose the relevant bottom row action.  I always enlist my Upgrade recruit first as I think that’s the most important bottom row action and assume my neighbours will think the same.  Sadly for me it doesn’t always play out that way though.  
Two Different Faction Boards

Upgrade allows you to decrease the cost of a bottom row action and subsequently increase the effect of the top row action.  These are tracked by moving cubes from the top row actions into any available slots in the bottom row actions.  I’ve not worked out whether upgrading your good asymmetric powers further or reducing your negative asymmetric powers into parity with your opponents is a better choice.  I believe the decision comes down to a myriad a factors and which are different every game.  However, calculating it is often straightforward and immediately obvious.  This is another example of why this is truly a genius of game design and why Scythe fully deserves its place at the top of most board game charts. 

With big hulking Mechs and Characters roaming the landscape you’d be led to believe that combat is a fast and furious affair.  However, I’ve had games with fewer players where combat didn’t happen at all.  However, once it does it is quickly resolved and often rewarding.  Thematically, I like to think the countries are all a bit war-weary and will only enter another fight if absolutely necessary.  Unlike some area control combat mechanisms where buckets-of-dice randomly determine the winner, you enter combat in Scythe with some intelligence of how much power your opponent can bring to bear.  This allows for a nice element of bluffing and calculated risk management, although it is quite a simple affair.
Will They, Wont They?
There are a number of other mechanics (Structure Bonus Tile, Player Objectives, Encounters) which I won’t describe here as they’re all fairly minor parts of the game; they all serve to change the game from play to play and suffice to say I like them all.
Encounters, Factory Cards, and Objective (left to Right)

During the Covid-19 lockdown I have had the opportunity to play a number of solo games of Sycthe using the Automa provided which plays very well and truly gives a feel of playing scythe against an aware and intelligent opponent.  However, you do need to wrap your head around the valid territory selection process which I initially found a bit cumbersome.  Arguably, the Automas provide an interesting opponent and if you were every caught playing Sycth with 2 or 3 players I would definitely add in an Automa.  I’ve managed to beat the Autometta, and Automa levels (beginner and normal difficulty respectively) and have attempted the Veteran level (Automasyna) twice and lost handily.  I’ve not bothered with their Ultimasyna – an expert level AI (AI may be too strong a word for what is quite scripted).

Components

The production of Scythe is an exemplar of how good board game components can be.  I know we’re experiencing a golden-age of board games with glorious components but I don’t think it gets much better than Scythe.  There are even intrinsic game functions intrinsically built into the component material (e.g. plastic pieces fight, wooden pieces do not).  I think this shows how well designed and published this game is.
I Love Me Some Double Layer Cardboard

The cardboard components are similarly fantastic and I really appreciate the effort to put double layer player mats into the game (even in the retail version).  This helps you to place your upgrades and buildings with much less risk of dislodging them and forgetting where there were.  (Here’s looking at you Terraforming Mars)

Criticisms

I had to think hard to find my criticisms.  I think this is a marvellous game and one I would play anytime.  I’m not the world’s biggest fan of dudes-on-a-map games so let me tell you my very minor gripes.
Mmmm Marvelous Mechs

When played with lower player counts the map feels quite empty for a long time and combat is a rare beast.  This fundamentally changes the flavour, for worse, of the game.  To shine I believe you need a minimum of 4 players (even if one or two of them are run by the Automa). However, it scales well at higher player counts.  Out of the box you can play with 5 players, and with the expansions you can play with 6.  I’ve tried both and would recommend both as long as you’re not teaching it.  I have been in a learning game with 6 players and that did outstay it’s welcome.

I would like to have an option of playing with a smaller map, or increasing the number of resources of pivotal hexes, for example instead of 1 resource produced in a hex, there could be a few bountiful hexes which produce 2 resources per worker. This would provide more chokepoints, particularly among games at smaller player counts, and combat would occur more frequently.

Conclusion

The Game Ends - I Came Third

Scythe tries to unify the typical Euro game (worker placement resource management etc.) and Thematic game (area control, miniatures, direct conflict etc.) functions into one game.  And you know what? I think it’s the best game that manages to implement features taken from both camps, albeit favouring the more thematic mechanisms.  It is evidently a huge success and has spawned a slew of expansions that expand the game further. Unfortunately, it won’t appeal to a more casual gamer, or on the other side of the spectrum, a die-hard grognard/18xxer but the game that appeals to both will probably never exist.  The fact that it can provide an epic-feel in close to 2 hours and broadly appeals to typical gamers, makes it a perfect game to take to game night.

I’d like to thank Asmodee UK for sending this review copy. This is in stock in many stores and you can use this link to find your FLGS

Designer: Jamey Stegmaier
Play time: 120 minutes +
Players: 1-5 (I recommend 4, 5 and 6 with expansions)

Keyforge is a two player card game with a unique twist... What sets this game apart from all the others that I have played (including Pokemo...

Keyforge - Mass Mutation by Fantasy Flight Games Keyforge - Mass Mutation by Fantasy Flight Games

For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!

Keyforge is a two player card game with a unique twist... What sets this game apart from all the others that I have played (including Pokemon TCG, Lord of the Rings LCG, Android Netrunner LCG and Magic the Gathering CCG) is that you’ll never ‘build’ your deck. The decks are all pre-made and inviolable, you’ll never replace cards or alter your deck(s) in any way.  This is a fundamentally different from any other ‘deck-builder’ and in my opinion is a breath of fresh air.

In video-game parlance ‘loot-boxes’ have come under fire for giving kids an easy path into gambling; although their legal status is still under review (in the UK at least). Buying booster packs for MTG or whatever your crack CCG (or even LCG) of choice feels exactly the same and I find it bizarre that they are not considered the same as loot-boxes.  Keyforge avoids all of those issues by providing a unique deck in every box and an in-game ability to handicap a deck if it appears too strong.  According to FFG there are 104 Quadrillion possible decks. If my maths is correct, if you stacked all the possible Keyforge decks on top of each other they would reach to Pluto and back!
A Few Boxes

But the best thing about every deck being utterly unique is that you don’t have to take things too seriously (here’s looking at you Magic)…you can relax and have fun; and enjoy the game for what it is rather than how much money you’ve spent on it.  The deluxe box comes with two decks and all the counters and introductory rules to play the game.  Additional decks are a snip at about £7.  I have friends who own large boxes of Magic Cards that probably represent thousands of pounds…and they only run with 2 or three decks. Absolutely bonkers in my opinion.

However, this isn’t a Magic the Gathering bash, but a review of Keyforge so let’s get into it. Keyforge was designed by no other than Richard Garfield himself and so its pedigree couldn’t be better.  During a game both players are trying to forge three keys to win the game.  The keys are forged by collecting a resource called Aember through playing and activating your cards.

Aember Keys Completed

Gameplay

In the universe of Keyforge there are 9 different houses and each deck will be comprised of cards from three of those houses. The players take on the role of an Archon that is trying to unlock a crucible of hidden knowledge…This theme is probably the worst thing in this game, in that there is no readily accessible Intellectual Property or generic setting that I am familiar with, which would help me to understand this concept and get immersed in the story. Although, you could argue this is also a feature; let me explain...

The cards, their powers and text and even deck composition is all generated by an algorithm.  This leads to some quite ridiculous named cards. The cards do have a consistent art design amongst the houses but other than that they don’t appear to link to one another or tell any coherent story.  This randomness is echoed in the overall concept and I got to the point where I just didn’t care why I was playing but I was just having a blast playing the cards and seeing how I could best use the cards I had.
A Small Selection of Cards From One Deck

There are many familiar mechanisms, tapping cards, battle lines, upgrades etc. that enable any gamer to literally learn as they play their first game.  The rules are fairly succinct in the starter set, and you’ll likely have a few questions left unanswered by the rules. The living rules are kept online and is the definitive source for any rule questions. But even though I have had a few questions, I’ve never felt the need to stop a game and look up a rule. It’s just not that type of game and it doesn’t create the super competitive atmosphere other card games can.

On your turn, before you start playing cards you have to choose which of the three house will be active for that turn.  You’ll then be limited to playing, activating or discarding cards from that house for the rest of your turn. Although this is a simple concept it allows for a good deal of strategising with your hand of cards and it helps to keep the game moving quickly as you’ll rarely be in a position to play more than 4 cards from your hand on any turn.  And if your opponent is doing their job you will not have too many creatures on your battle line to activate either.
Playing My Son...I lost this one.

There are four different types of cards: Creatures are played into the battle line and have lots of different passive and active abilities; Upgrades are attached to creatures to enhance them in some way, Artifacts are played behind the battle line and provide additional abilities and actions that could be used, and the last type of card are Action cards which are played to the discard pile and have an immediate effect.  Every other card enters play exhausted and so you’ll have to wait until your next turn in to use it’s abilities…(unless it has a Play ability - did I say there was a lot of variety in this game?)

When a creature is activated (belonging to the active house) you can Reap or Fight with it but not both. Reap collects Aember from the common supply and places it on the creature. You have to work out how you can collect the Aember from the creature back into your pool before your opponent kills the creature and collects it for their pool.  Fighting is very simply a simultaneous creature power number of hits applied modified by creature defence.

Snarette has 4 Power and no Shield.  Thero Centurion (did I say this was generated by an Algortihm) has 6 Power and 1 Shield.  If they were to Fight, instead of Reap the results are as follows:

Snarette takes 6 damage from Thero, killing it (its Power is only 4). Thero takes 3 damage from Snarette as Snarette applies 4 hits and Thero has 1 shield. Combat is resolved simultaneously and is simple as that.
 
All the mechanisms in this game are easy to understand and also easy to forget about.  After four or five rounds you’ll have a tableau of cards with many different actions and abilities to try to follow. I guarantee you’ll forget some of them, but you know what, in this game it really doesn’t bother me that I may have forgotten a rule when for example a creature has a Destroyed ability because this game is all about have a fun and exploring how the cards interact within the deck and how they manage against a different deck. The entry point is so low that I can’t help but recommend picking up a few decks to try it out.

Components

The components are all typical FFG quality but unlike most FFG games you’re not tracking dozens and dozens across an expansive board.  You’ll normally have less than ten or twenty in play at anyone time and I’ve even seen some people (online) improvise all of the components with common items / other board game pieces.
The components you get in a Deluxe box

Criticisms

The artwork is a bit cartoony for my tastes but it fits the overall nature of the game perfectly, it stays light and humorous. Unfortunately for me I prefer the more serious and dark art you get in Lord of the Rings LCG and MTG.

I don’t really have any criticisms of a game that is so accessible, cheap and easy to learn, doesn’t take itself too seriously and yet still provides a similar depth of play as the more serious card games.  A huge bonus of this game, if you are or you play with a sore loser (or a child still learning how to lose gracefully), is that there is no personal affront for losing, you can excuse any poor play by blaming the inferior deck and trying a new deck, or swapping decks for the next game.  This non-confrontational meta-game will unfortunately be its downfall.  As a species, we enjoy seeing winners and losers after a fair contest.  A game of Keyforge isn’t really a fair contest (who knows how equal 2 decks out of 104 Quadrillion are) and even when I lose, I consider the deck to have lost not me. 
What was I saying about loot boxes being addictive!

Conclusion

After several weeks playing this game solidly with my son, I can say that I am honestly surprised at how much more strategy and depth there is in this game than I thought at first glance. It’s well worth picking up to try at its RRP.

I’d like to thank Asmodee UK for sending this review copy. This is in stock in many stores and you can use this link to find your FLGS

Designer: Richard Garfield
Play time: 30 minutes.
Players: 2

INVASIONS VOL. I from W ISDOM O WL This was a game that I have been waiting to review for a long time. A magnum opus from Phili...

INVASIONS VOL I INVASIONS VOL I

For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!

from
WISDOMOWL


This was a game that I have been waiting to review for a long time. A magnum opus from Philippe Thibaut. a legend himself as the designer of Europa Universalis, and a long time in gestation - I expected something spectacular.  

Its arrival promised well when I opened the package to find not just the huge game itself, but the two expansions from the Kickstarter. It is stunning to look at.  A vast box and magnificent mounted map board with a number of important tracks unobtrusively edging the play area. Nine sheets of equally impressive counters representing all the major historical players and many, many minor ones are divided into four player factions: Romans, Persians, Goths and Huns.


These counters are the typical thick, rounded-edge Euro-game format that simply press out of their frames with no tags to be dealt with.


Here you can see just a few of those sheets, along with the two books, one of rules, the other labelled Appendices.  Barely glimpsed, still in the box are, 33 full colour cards supplying information on those many tribes and nations that play a very small to impressively large part in history and the game.


Definitely a major player!

Five A4 size player aids, each of 4 pages in length, repeat some of the details covered on the smaller cards, along with a wealth of information necessary for game play and a final sixth player aid contains information on the Events and Calamities introduced through a variety of cards.  What surprised me was that turning to the Appendices book, I discovered that this was a compilation of all six of the Player Aids.  


This is a massive game of astonishing quality that I suspect has had layer upon layer of detail and information gradually build up in the course of its development, but the more I tried to peel back those layers the more disconcerting and overwhelming the task became.


I had expected depth and detail and a need to work slowly through the rulebook.  I had assumed there would probably be a number of smaller scenarios to help build understanding and acquire enough comfortable familiarity with the parts to eventually tackle the whole campaign.  There are smaller scenarios, but you'll need to go online to download them, as the boxed game and the thick booklet entitled Appendices simply give one Scenario: the full Campaign for 4 players.

To be frank, the six Scenarios provided online look remarkably like something that really should have been there from the start.  Below is the shortest intended for two players, a mere one turn and not including all the possible Phases.


As working step by step through these shorter scenarios seems the sensible way to approach such a vast amount of information, I assume cost more than anything determined their not being included as a prerequisite of the package.



Even with them downloaded, it is still an uphill battle.  For me. one of the basic obstacles to coping has been the decision to number all thirty-one sections of the rule book in Roman Numerals.  It may be in keeping with the period, but it would have been easier to think Section 18 that's Movement, rather than XVIII - ah, that's Movement.  What's more these cross-references come thick and fast, usually accompanied with a subsidiary letter [e.g. XVIII.J], so there is a constant backwards and forwards checking, checking, checking.


Looking at the Sequence of Play in the Rule Book everything looks beguilingly straightforward.  The sequence of play has a well known trajectory from probably the first such game, Decline and Fall [1972] through the various iterations of Conquest of Empires, History of the World, plus A Brief History of the World and History of The Roman World and so on.  All of these, I should add include very little of what Invasions covers and do so by comparison in the most cursory way.

Broadly the game divides into four major Phases, starting with the TIME PHASE. What in most of these games involved no more than acquiring a new nation and a new set of units at the beginning of a specified turn mutates into a substantial section entitled the Status of Nations  This seems straightforward enough as there are only three statuses: Barbarian, Kingdom or Empire.  Then you discover that some nations are inactive and don't need to go through the usual activities of nation and don't earn VPs, but then you learn that they may become a client, federate or vassal.  At this point they do have the potential to earn VPs.  There are also Raider nations who do even less, but some may settle down and become inactive while others later become normal active nations.

You have to take into account the Aging of a Nation, the differences in play of a Kingdom as opposed to an Empire both of which count as being civilised, along with the fact that Barbarian nations will at some point become civilised and transition into Kingdoms.  Throw in the fact that differing religions also play their part along with heresies and you begin to see the depth and complexity involved.

Every step of the way is fraught with substantial detail that is given in a list of bullet points containing information that is typically presented in a sequence of short phrases which are cross-referenced to another section of the rules.  A typical example would be the rules on Nomads which, we're initially told in the first of seven bullet points, are a special type of Barbarian.  Among five of the remaining bullet points there are ten references to other parts of the rules.  Below is a picture of the typically densely texted pages with very little in the way of illustrations.

The sheer extent of detail in the Rule book alone is enormous.  On top of this each player has his/her separate Player Aid with a significant extra set of Additional rules and a minute breakdown of all the different possible victory point  scorings of each of the various tribes and nations that they will control in the course of the game.  There is a also an individual card sheet [33 in total] covering either one or several of these peoples.  Attractive though they are, they only include some of the most basic points included, but by no means all that are on the 4 page Player Aids.  So, once again it's back to checking between one source of information and another to make sure that you've got all the information you need.

So far, we've barely advanced any distance into game play.  Next comes Reinforcements  including units and two types of Leaders, who arrive with accompanying displacement of previous occupiers. Consult the timetable for these, though Civilised nations primarily have to purchase reinforcements rather receive according to a schedule.

Events covers card draw and play, plus possible raids and income from caravans!  Of importance to these and many other points in the game is Province and Area control.  Considering the huge span of years covered by the game, it's to be expected that fixed boundaries cannot be delineated on the map, instead you have a very small image on the relevant player aid card to refer to.  Most of these are fairly clear, but add another detail to check and work out

Oddly the final part of this first PHASE, Diplomacy, doesn't get covered until almost the very last page of the rules [SectionXXX], and appears to be a very simple process of card play, until you realise that you need to master the several, immediately preceding sections on Alliances, Clientele, Foedus and Submission [Vassalage] in order to execute the card you play.

The second major PHASE is the ADMINISTRATION PHASE, which takes in the play of Administration cards, Income and Purchases and Revolts. By and large, it provides some of the easier, quicker and more accessible rules with Income the lengthiest part.


Then the third PHASE brings us to the inevitable MILITARY PHASE, which encompasses the Movement and Combat rules. With the complexity and scale of detailed reference and sub-reference that I'd met so far, I approached this next stage with some trepidation.  I was pleasantly rewarded to find that this Phase is without doubt the easiest and clearest to deal with.  There is an alternative choice of rules called Advanced Combat.  These I personally didn't choose.  My main reason for missing out the latter was not because of added depth or length [Advanced Combat is an even shorter set of easy, clear rules], but because they do away with the very nice specially designed combat dice.
Must admit I'm a sucker for such touches and the rules provide two and a half pages covering 5 detailed examples of play.  Fortified Cities, Sieges and Naval Movement and Warfare do add quite a few more rules, but as with the essential Combat rules they are, by and large, a simple sequence and lack the convoluted sub-references, exceptions and multiple variations that made the first PHASE of the game such an endurance test.

Finally on every 3rd Turn, you come to the 4th PHASE SCORING.  Now that does sound nice and easy, but it really isn't! First of all, some form of scoring takes place every Turn, but what makes it so convoluted is the variety of scoring possibilities for each player and for each different historical group that come under their control in the course of the game.  Where I to focus on just learning a single one of the four player factions [Romans, Persians, Goths and Huns],I cannot imagine ever mastering an awareness of exactly when, where and how I would gain my victory points for that particular faction.

All in all, there is just too much information to comfortably handle.  So many rules, so much detail, so many exceptions, so many differing presentations of the information through differing play aids and on top of that too many inaccuracies and contradictions.  Many of the latter are fairly minor, but they all add to the problem of getting to grips with this game.

Through BoardGamegeek, the company is working extensively to support and clarify the many questions and requests for clarifications that have been raised.  Living rules are available and work seems to be underway to produce a simplified level of play.  I sincerely hope this comes to fruition, otherwise for many this beautifully lavish production will languish unplayed.

As always many thanks to WisdomOwl for providing the review copy

RRP 99 euros














Tank Chess by Forsage Games  Forsage games sent me their excellent Age of Dogfights:WWI game of aerial warf...

Tank Chess by Forsage Games Tank Chess by Forsage Games

For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!





Tank Chess

by

Forsage Games










 Forsage games sent me their excellent Age of Dogfights:WWI game of aerial warfare in World War I. They asked if I would want to review their other game 'Tank Chess'. I was a little reluctant to agree. I really like most games about World War I plane combat, but I was not so sure of a wargame that had Chess in its name. I was thinking that it would be a weird creation of half chess and half tank warfare, or tanks that would have to move like Chess pieces on a board. I am a die hard wargamer who loves thick rulebooks, and lots of counters or blocks on a map. So, in the end I agreed, not really knowing what I would be getting myself into. I had it in the back of my mind that I was just going to ship it back, and say that it was really not my cup of tea. It even took me a bit to decide to open the 'game' and see what I had to deal with. Follow along, and let us see what we actually have inside the box. This is what the game comes with (they also sent me an add-on to the game, more on that later):


- Box 24 x 24 x 4 cm (9,5 x 9,5 x 1,5 in)
- 2 double-sided boards:
        47 x 47 cm (18,5 x 18,5 in)
        38 x 38 cm (15 x 15 in)
- 30 tank pieces
- 30 flags/antennas
- 26 obstacles
- 4 border surfaces
- 2 reference sheets
- Notepad
- Blank scheme pad
- Rules
- Brochure





 The two different sized mounted boards are a really nice touch. If you only want a short game, then pick the small one. Each of the boards has a completely blank side, and the other has an already planned out battleground for you to use. The two premade sheets of obstacles mean that you will never have to play with the same setup twice. It also comes with two blank black sheets to create your own obstacles. The four page rulebook is written well and has numerous examples of play. The brochure is nine pages long and has a lot of different pre-made setups to use on the boards. It also has some mods to play such as capture the flag, etc. The plastic tanks and other armored vehicles are very well done for their size. They are small, but you can easily tell the difference between the units. The game is a neat little package that even includes a notepad for you to write down whatever you want. The game components and little additions just seem well thought out. 





 The game itself is extremely easy to learn. Like Chess the player has to move one piece, or change its orientation, each turn.  Even though some of the units are tanks with turrets, you can only fire in an arc of the three spaces at the front of the tank. The Tank Destroyer and the Heavy Mortar can only fire in a straight line. So, the game does have some Chess like rules thrown in. The game rules seem fine to me, except the rules for the Heavy Mortar. You do not need a line of sight to fire a Heavy Mortar. It can fire over obstacles that other units cannot see through. This rule is a two-edged sword. While the ability to fire without line of sight is more gamey than wargames, it does give the both players something to keep their eyes on. Maybe a house rule of only being able to fire the Heavy Mortar on other units if it, or another unit, has the target in its sight? That would make the Heavy Mortar use more in tune with a wargame. However, the ability to rain down destruction when your opponent thinks he is safe is also a plus. It is a bit like playing Chess with two boards with only one unit on one of the boards. The play is fast and furious, as the designers intended. It is still a very good strategy game even though it is not completely in the wargame category. 

 The units in the basic game are:

Light/Command Tank
Medium Tank
Heavy Tank
Tank Destroyer
Heavy mortar





 I like the game and it is fun. It delivers everything it is designed to, and its advertising is spot on. The basic game is a blast, but where Tank Chess really shines is when you play with one or all of the expansions available. Forsage Games was nice enough to include the Tank Chess 'Fun Set' expansion. 

 This expansion adds these tanks and armored vehicles to the mix:

Recon Tank
Super-Heavy Tank
Tank Hunter
Assault Tank
Amphibian Tank
Twin-Gun Tank
Light Mortar
Rocket Launcher
Light Howitzer
Heavy Howitzer
Heavy Bulldozer Tank
Minesweeper Tank
Bridge Tank
Recovery Vehicle





 The new vehicles make the game even more of a strategy game. However, it is the addition of the following obstacles that really make it shine:

Two types of Land Mines (one is Remote-Controlled and hidden)
Low Obstacles
Water obstacles
Hedges
Mud
Trees





 The obstacles are see through different colored plastic pieces that are of different shapes, like the obstacles from the basic game. The expansions that can be bought are:

Fun Set Deluxe
Fun Set Light
Fun Set Pocket

 Do yourself a favor and pick up the standard or deluxe expansion. It adds a great amount to the base game. There is also an expansion that is called 'Central Square', and it also comes in a standard or deluxe model.


  Thank you Forsage Games for letting me review Tank Chess. To put it mildly, I was very skeptical of the game in the beginning. I was happily proved wrong by the game play. 

Forsage Games:
https://www.gamesforsage.com/

Tank Chess:
https://www.gamesforsage.com/product-page/tank-chess-standard

Robert

Stellar Horizons by Compass Games  I received a massive box from Compass games last month. For those of y...

Stellar Horizons by Compass Games Stellar Horizons by Compass Games

For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!




Stellar Horizons

by

Compass Games








 I received a massive box from Compass games last month. For those of you not now into weightlifting, the box is heavy enough to start doing a home regimen. It is filled to the brim with everything you need to play this game. Once again, Compass has put me on the horns of a dilemma. I do not know much at all about the science and history of space exploration. I lived through the space race etc. so I know a smattering of things about it, but it is something that never interested me enough to really read up on it. So as usual with games, I have not only had to learn how to play the game, but also had to read up on the history behind it. I guess we will have to start checking out this leviathan. 





 This is some of the information about the game from Compass games:

"Stellar Horizons is a "build your own space program" game where you will lead one of seven Earth Factions to explore and develop our solar system. Designed by a real-life space engineer with a PhD in long-duration spaceflight from MIT, Stellar Horizons is intended to be a plausible representation of the first steps of humanity towards the stars between 2030 and 2169, with each turn representing a year of time. You control your Faction’s space program, outposts, and fleets spanning across the solar system, although you will also have some influence over your Faction’s politics back home on Earth as space development becomes more important.

 Movement is based on real physics. You move from orbit to orbit, or conduct long range transfers to move between planetary systems like Earth, Mars, or Jupiter. As you send out robotic explorers and crewed vehicles to explore the solar system, they bring back valuable data to further your scientific research. Technologies are intended to represent plausible extrapolations of existing development during the next 150 years: there are no transporters or warp drive, but you will be able to develop rockets powered by fusion and even anti-matter. In the engineering and biology domains, you'll eventually be able to construct space elevators and put your crews into safe hibernation for long journeys.

You'll have access to a wide variety of robot explorers and crewed ships. These range from tiny probes intended to merely take photographs as you fly past Jupiter, to giant destroyers, cruisers, and battleships which ply the space lanes with peaceful or hostile intentions. New ship types become available as you gain access to better technology over the course of the game."


This is what comes in the big hefty box:

 1 Rulebook
20 Punchboards containing:
  • 231 Units – 33 for each faction
  • 1 Invader
  • 30 Mission markers
  • 2 Turn markers – 1 Year and 1 Decade
  • 8 Asteroid markers
  • 12 Signs of Life/Life markers
  • 12 Pirate markers
  • 15 Helio Transfer markers
  • 27 Trade markers
  • 90 Numbers – numbered 1 through 9
  • 182 Faction markers
  • 30 Damage markers
  • 100 Settlement markers
  • 130 Installation markers – 21 each of Supply Stations, Spaceports, Mining Stations, Refineries, and Research Stations, and 25 Defense Works
  • 40 Politics markers
  • 40 Victory point markers
  • 108 Technology number markers for Engineering, Physics, and Biology – in denominations of 1,2,3, and 5
  • 21 Technology bank markers – 3 for each faction
  • 2 Large Planet tiles – e.g. Jupiter
  • 2 Medium Planet tiles – e.g. Neptune
  • 8 Small Planet tiles – e.g. Earth and Alpha Centauri
  • 24 Satellite/Moon tiles – e.g. Hygeia-Palas and Triton
  • 1 Deep Space Astronomy tile
  • 54 World Cards
  • 29 Currency Coins in denominations of 1,2,5,10, and 25 Billion
  • 393 Resource markers – 131 each of Ore, Fuel, and Supplies in denominations of 1,2,5,10, and 25
4 Punchboards containing the 7 Player Faction boards and the Policy Tree
1 Punchboard containing the Tracks board
1 Technology Tree on a mounted board
7 Player Aids containing the various charts and tables needed to play and the Solar System and Space diagram
7 Rule summary booklets
1 Percentile die and 3 ten-sided dice
1 Box and lid set

"and a partridge in a pear tree"






 Stellar Horizons is a game of space exploration and colonization for two to seven players. You will be in charge of the space program for one of seven Earth factions. These are:

Asia
China
Europe
Japan
North America
Russia
South America-Africa

 Each faction has its strengths and weaknesses. There is a short, but good breakdown of them on page twenty-nine of the rulebook.





 The game plays out the years 2030-2169, in one year game turns. The game begins with the current level of technology, and then builds to an advanced Star Trek future. This means that the game play relies on the technologies that are based on our current knowledge of physics. You will play on tiles that represent planets, asteroids, moons etc. Exploration will kick start your further endeavors to the stars. The game comes with both co-operative and competitive scenarios that last around one hour. Stellar Horizons also comes with a grand campaign that can be played in a day or longer. The campaign can be played solo as well. This is always a great addition to games, especially now. During your exploration you will deal with all sorts of problems, among them: severe radiation, severe atmospheres, and any other problems you can think of when exploring space. The game is not just one of science and exploration. In a twist that I have not seen in a boardgame like this, it also includes combat between fleets of the different factions. In one more twist, it also adds SPACE PIRATES! to your list of problems. The warfare part of the game reminds me of carrier battles in the Pacific. The main part of the build up to combat is searching out your enemy.





 The components are really a sight to behold. They are also of thick cardboard, like a mounted map. The pictures of the components do not do them justice. Holding and looking at the ones in this game is like the difference between a paperback and a limited edition leather bound book. I must caution you to be careful about handling the pieces of the game. They want to jump right out of their places on the sheets. You do not have to fight or worry about needing a pair of scissors or an exacto knife with these. They are like the proverbial lemmings near a cliff (yes, I know it is a wive's tale). The planet pieces are beautiful to look at. In fact, for someone who is very into our nearby space, it is worthwhile to buy the game for the visuals and the information with it, and forget about the game. Opening up the box reminds me of opening up my first monster boardgame so many years ago. The sheer amount of components might put you on your guard. However, I can assure you that even though your house will be overrun with pieces from Stellar horizons, the rules are not really that difficult to follow.

 The rules in the rulebook itself are twenty-one pages long. The next page is a listing of the events that can happen. Then there are two pages of scenarios, seven in all. There is a half-page of optional rules. Three and a half pages of play examples come after that. The last two pages are a picture of the Technology Tree, Policy Tree, and then the Combat Table is on the back page.

 The proverbial tech tree that is present in every space exploration game:




 This is a simplified Sequence of Play:

Each yearly game turn is divided into phases, which are subdivided into steps. Each phase/step is completed in initiative order.

1. Economic Phase (only every decade starting in 2040)

• Collect politics markers & roll for events
• Roll for initiative (simultaneous)
• Diplomacy (in reverse initiative order)
• Earth & base production
• Resource transportation
• Assign bases, pirates, asteroids, & trade markers
• Develop technologies in reverse initiative order)
• Settlement growth
• Policy step in reverse initiative order)
2. Build & Service Phase

• Build and service ships (in reverse initiative order)
3. Movement Phase

• Drop all ships in transfer boxes (simultaneous)
• Movement (order by initiative choice)
4. Combat Phase

• Space combat
5. Exploration Phase

• Explore (with depletion: mission, world card, search for life, politics marker); check for malfunction/recall
• Produce with Crew Vehicles
6. Trade & Base Construction

• Trade with bases
• Build & expand bases
• End of game check
• Advance turn marker

While every single step is quite simple, there is a lot to consider in a game turn of Stellar Horizons!






 So, now we come to the the big question. Sure the game is big, bad and beautiful, but can you actually play it, and is it enjoyable to do so? To sum it up in one word: YES! Like some other great games before it, this game has done something that I believe all great games have to be able to do. That is, the player has to become so immersed in the game, that he feels compelled to read about the actual events and or possibilities the game portrays. In this the game has taken me from absolute novice about space exploration to someone who can actually now have a semi-intelligent conversation about it. If a game is able to do that, it should always be listed as a great game. When a game is not only able to give the player information and make him thirsty for more, but also give you a truly excellent gaming experience, then you know that the game is firing on all cylinders. 





 Thank you Compass Games for allowing me to once again step out of my comfort zone, instead of commanding a Sherman or Tiger to blast off into space. Below will be links to not only the game, but also the rules. Wargamers, you owe it to yourself to widen your horizons and fill your heads with even more information, useful or otherwise.





Compass Games:
https://www.compassgames.com/

Stellar Horizons:
https://www.compassgames.com/general-games/stellar-
horizon.html

Stellar Horizons Rulebook:
https://issuu.com/consimworld/docs/sh_rules_0.1_100819?
fr=sMmQ1NzQwNTM5

Robert

Trench Club by PKB Games  So, just so we understand each other this is a preview of a game that is on Kic...

Trench Club by PKB Games Trench Club by PKB Games

For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!




Trench Club

by

PKB Games








 So, just so we understand each other this is a preview of a game that is on KickStarter right now. I do have a prototype heading my way, but I have seen the pictures of it and I was really impressed. 

 I have been waiting for a game that has the look of miniatures that come with the high end Axis & Allies games, but is also a deeper wargame under, and above, the hood. This game looks to be the one that will finally scratch that itch for me. I own one or two that come close and I know there is at least one other one the market, but this will be the first, hopefully, that I will get my hot little hands on. This is the company's blurb about the game:

"Highly complex strategy game, yet very easy and intuitive to learn the rules
Detailed miniatures 
 Different unit types with individual strengths and weaknesses – without using a simple “Rock, Scissors, Paper” principle
Individual strengths of the different nations, yet balanced chances
The game stays in balance for a long time, so every player still has a chance to win and stays excited
Complex combat system that depends on type of unit, combat damage, experience, strategic formation, terrain and armor
 “Dice luck” only plays a minor role (since battles involve a lot of 12-sided dice the outcome is usually around the expected value)
High re-playability due to the variable start setup" 

 This sounds exactly what my mind has been waiting to play since I was about eight years old. I was playing the game below, and I always wanted more depth to it. Then, at ten years old, I saw PanzerBlitz in a hobby store for the first time. Since then I have been looking to do a Dr. Frankenstein and splice the two types of games together to make my Holy Grail.




 Let us take a look at what some of the pieces that you get with Trench Club look like, and see the scale of the minis:




This is the two-sided map board:



An English Tank Unit Chart:


A Mounted Infantry Unit Chart:


These are different Nations Units; notice the German Big Bertha:




This is a picture of the different units on the map:



 You will notice in the picture one or two poles that are attached to each piece/unit. These are used to show a unit's damage and the experience points a unit has. This is a link to the RuleBook in English:


 Right now it also comes in German and French, and if there are enough backers, in Italian and Spanish.

 There is also a 'Special Forces extension' that you can purchase that includes these units:




"The Minelayer can install explosive mines throughout the battlefield. You know where they are – but your enemy doesn’t!
The Poison Gas Launcher (one of the many horrors of World War I) damages units on multiple fields at the same time – friend and foe!
The Medic lets you repair units in the field – normally you would have to retreat from the front line to your own forts."


 The game has just passed a second Stretch Goal:

"The game just got better again. We unlocked the next stretch goal together and now Trench Club will get a tactile Linen-Finish for cardboard prints. This is a higher quality print includes a fabric-like texture you can feel and see. I love it and think it makes prints look a lot more premium. A big “thank you” to everyone who supported Trench Club in any way!"

 The KS campaign has already passed the funding for the game and the first Stretch Goal of adding Solo Rules.



 Just look at the detail of the pieces in the next two pictures:





 "Forts (bunkers) are printed on the game board – which is totally sufficient for the game. However, it just looks so much cooler with the extra large Fort miniatures to place on the game board!"

 These forts might make it into the game:







 The game rules seem easy to learn, but also have a good amount of depth to them. Though to be honest they had me at 'Big Bertha' as a unit! I cannot wait to get my hands on the finished product. So, please go take a look at the KS campaign and maybe help them unlock even more goals.

This is the PKB Games page:

This is the KS page:

Robert