The Hunt for Red November

 

Red November board game

Red November, a cooperative crisis game on a gnomish submarine

I recently had the opportunity to try out two new board games: Red November by Fantasy Flight Games and Small World by Days of Wonder.  I’ll be discussing Red November in this post and Small World in the future.

Red November is a cooperative stress/crisis game, where players take on the personas of maritime gnomes on a submarine, literally running around and putting out fires.  If you can survive for 60 “minutes” without getting killed by a kracken, asphixiating to death, drowning, burning in a fire, or getting crushed by pressure, you win.

The submarine is divided into 10 cells, some of which have special functions, such as being the supply room or the reactor control room.  While in a room, a player gnome can undergo a number of possible actions, such as attempting to fix a problem, stocking up on supplies, drinking grog, or trading inventory tiles with other nearby players.

The most intersting mechanic to the game is how actions are undertaken.  When you want to enact an activity, you can apply any inventory tiles in your posession for a fixed bonus, such as crowbars or fire extinguishers, and then you decide how many “minutes” you want to spend attempting the activity.  Then, you roll a d10 and if your result is less than or equal to the amount of effort you spent, you succeed.  This mechanic provides an interesting risk calculation because every 5 “minutes” or so, you have to draw an event card, most of which are bad, such as fires breaking out or rooms flooding.

Overall it was a pretty fun game to play, and I’m satisfied with the mechanics, but there were a few things that annoyed me about the materials.

First of all, the iconic symbols for asphixiation, pressure, and the reactor didn’t match between the board, the inventory tiles, and the event cards.  It would help if they were consistent so you can identify them easily.  Also, the oxygen/asphixiation icon looked like a pressure gague, which was confusing because the pressure gague was a gear.  A better choice would have been an oxygen tank for the oxygen track and a pressure gague for the pressure track.  The reactor icon should have been the nuclear symbol instead of a lightning bolt.

Second, the d10 that was provided with the game seemed cheap.  Most 10-sided dice will have an underline or a period after the numerals 6 and 9 to indicate their orientation, but this one didn’t.  I’m sure this is just nitpicking, but I run a dice store, so I think I have the right to be picky about board game dice.

The third thing that bothered me were the timer tokens.  Each time you move or take an action, you have to move your colored token forward, and stack it on other tokens if they share the same “minute”.  The tokens themselves were too small and lightweight to manipulate easy, and this is coming from someone with pretty nimble fingers.  By the end of the game, we were just putting the tokens adjacent to each other on the table instead of stacking them because they just didn’t handle well.

Finally, the theme seemed a little weak.  The fact that the sailors were gnomes instead of, say, Russians, wasn’t exploited at all.  It was like a throwaway reference which didn’t affect the gameplay in any way.  Some people may like the gnomes because they are a little cartoonish, which helps relieve some of the stress of the game, but I would have liked a serious and straightforward approach just as well.

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It's a Piece of Cake

The box cover for Piece o' Cake

Don't be fooled by the clever artwork: Piece o' Cake is actually about pies.

Piece o’ Cake by Rio Grande Games is named wrong.  It should actually be called “Piece o’ Pie” or “Pie in the Sky” or something like that, because the artwork is clearly indicitive of pies and not cakes.  I’m getting a little ahead of myself here, though–let me start from the beginning. 

Piece o’ Cake is a very simple game.  There are 57 pie slices, which compose 5 pies of 11 pieces each, with two pieces left out of play.  The game is five turns long, one pie per turn.  The object of the game is to get as many points as possible. 

Each turn, one player divides the pie into a number of segments, and the other players then get to choose which segments to take.  The pie comprises several different random slices, such as strawberry, pecan, chocolate satin, apricot, and more.  Players try to maximize their points by hoarding matching pieces.  You only get credit for a collection of slices if you have more of that kind than anyone else.  It can get interesting when you have mutliple players all trying to collect the same kind of pie. 

You can also choose to eat the slice right away instead of saving it for later.  If you do so, you get fewer points for that slice than what you would get if you won the collection, but the points you get for eating it are guaranteed. 

The game mechanics are very similar to the card game Coloretto.  This should come as no surprise, since both games are published by Rio Grande.  In Coloretto, you try to collect more of a set of colors than the other players.  If you like Piece o’ Cake, you might want to look into Coloretto too. 

Piece o’ Cake is a very simple game which can be played quickly.  I’d recommend it for very casual gamers or children, or as an appetizer for a heavier, more complex board game to serve as the main course.

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Betrayal at House on the Hill

Avalon Hill's Betrayal at House on the Hill

The box for Betrayal at House on the Hill, Second Edition

The University of Utah had a board gaming event on Saturday, which I went to with a few friends.  There were 28 total players in attendance, comprising 26 men and 2 women.  (This turnout seems typical.  Why is it that there are so few women in the hobby?)

It was a fun event and I got to play a couple of new games I hadn’t ever played before: Betrayal at House on the Hill, and Piece o Cake.  In this post, I’ll be writing about my experience playing Betrayal at House on the Hill.

Betrayal at House on the Hill is one of the best board games I’ve ever played.  Its two strongest suits are its heavy theme and the plot twist which occurs when “the haunting” begins.

Betrayal at House on the Hill is a complex game, with a lot of rules.  Each player takes one of twelve predefined characters who are exploring a mysterious and spooky mansion.  Each character has four attributes, including Speed, Might, Knowledge, and Sanity.  When a player takes damage, he moves a slider on his character token down.  Likewise, if he gets a boost, he moves it up.  This mechanic reminded me of the game HeroClix, because the attributes change on a scale instead of just adding or subtracting by one each time.  Players also have items which can affect their statistics or can be used for special effects in the game.

Players can move a number of squares equal to their current speed value.  The house starts out with just five squares discovered, and players explore the house by moving into undiscovered space and drawing a tile at random from the deck.  I thought this was a great way to keep the game dynamic and replayable.  One thing that always bothered me about the game Clue is that the board was so static, so this was a refreshing change.

Some room tiles have symbols on them, which indicate that the player should draw a card.  The three kinds of cards are Events, Omens, and Items.  If you get one of these on your turn, you have to end your turn even if you have movement speed left over.  Every time you get an omen card, you have to roll 8 dice to see whether the haunting begins.  The more omen cards have been drawn, the higher the probability of triggering the haunt.

The haunt is a prewritten scenario which is picked at random based on the omen card drawn and the room it was drawn from.  Usually, when the haunting begins, one of the players becomes the traitor and he has to compete against the other players for victory.  When the haunting occurs, the game really comes alive.

I participated in two games of Betrayal at House on the Hill at Saturday’s event, the first with six players and the second with four.  In the first scenario, the house had been carried away by a giant bird and we had only three parachutes among us.  So, we had to fight to the death to see who would end up with them and escape.  (I was one of the lucky ones.)  The second scenario involved the animation of Frankenstein’s monster, who ended up killing everyone quite easily.  (I was not so lucky that time.)

The game comes with eight six-sided dice, each of which has two sides each of nothing, one pip, or two pips.  So, it’s effectively a d3 dice with a range of 0-2 and a 33% chance of any one result.  The dice are used to determine whether the haunting occurs when an omen card is drawn, and also frequently with other cards to determine what happens, and in combat or when trying to get past a trap.

It’s the perfect game for a Halloween party.  In fact, I think we will be playing it at my annual Halloween party this year.  I can’t wait to play it again.

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Game Master Dice's New Owner

Kevin Owens, the new owner of Game Master Dice

Kevin Owens, the new owner of Game Master Dice

Game Master Dice is under new ownership!  I’m Kevin Owens, the new owner, and I’d like to introduce myself.

My professional background is in software development.  I also really like making websites, and run a couple of other sites in my spare time: Draconika Dragons, Dark Middle Ages, All About Unicorns, Phonics on the Web, and Active Family Tree are some of the more popular ones.

I’m also very interested in games of all kinds.  I originally got interested in computer programming because I liked playing computer games and wanted to make my own.  I’ve worked on a number of them over the years, but the only ones I’ve finished have been a Connect Four game with an A.I. opponent and a handful of educational phonics games.  I’m working on a hexagonal tactical wargame right now in my spare time–that is, what spare time I have.  My favorite computer games of all time are the StarCraft, HaloFallout, and Civilization series.

I also enjoy playing table-top games, and my family has a long tradition of playing board and card games at family gatherings.  Risk and Castle Risk were perennial favorites.  My father used to win most of the time when we were kids, but eventually we got wise and learned to gang up on him, and the poor guy has hardly been able to win a game since.  We used to play Uno and Rook frequently, too.  My current favorite games are Diplomacy, Bang! and Settlers of Cataan.

I started playing Dungeons & Dragons as a teenager, and got hooked.  I had played computer RPGs before, but when I found out you could play in an open-ended imaginitive game where you could do anything you want (including attacking the blacksmith, if you so desired), there were stars in my eyes.  I kept playing pretty faithfully until I had children of my own, and had to cut back on the marathon gaming sessions.  My first character was a rogue named Dalanthro and most of my characters since have been rogues too.  I like the finesse of the class and, plus, I like doing a lot of damage and earning a lot of loot.

So, I’ve established that I like websites, and I like games, so you can see that it’s a natural choice for me to have a website which sells gaming supplies.  When I saw Game Master Dice for sale by the previous owner, who created it, I jumped on the opportunity.  I’ve been running it for a month so far now and I love it.

I’ve got a lot of improvements for the store in development currently.  I’ve been updating the look and feel of the website to load faster, look better, and be easier to use.  I’m also adding new dice and getting other dice back in stock all the time.  I’m looking forward to a long and successful future running the best dice store in the world.

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Gotta Love Dice Wars

I found this widget and had to put it here for all to play.

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Movie of Twilight Three Player Game

I thought this was a great way to see a whole game.

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Yssaril Tribe Race for Twilight Imperium

The Yssaril Tribe

I call these guys the frogs. This is one of my favorite races to play with because of one simple ability. The Yssaril Tribe has the ability to skip every other turn. They also draw one extra action card during the status phase and can look at one other players cards during the strategy phase. This may not sound like much but it sure does com in handy. They also start with 2 carriers so no need to worry about getting a second one first turn.

Have you ever been playing and next thing you know it is your turn and you have no idea what you want to do? If you are using the Yssaril Tribe just say skip and think about it a while. This skip ability is great. It lets you pass on a turn without passing. It also lets you see what everyone else does before you are forced to move. You can hold off doing just about anything until that strategy card you want played is played. Watching what others are doing and being able to almost always take the last turn is a major advantage.

Since you get extra action cards and can see others cards plan on having a full hand but don’t forget they are there. Many people forget that they have an action card which may help them in the current situation. You will have a lot of action cards so be sure that you know what your hand hold and when the appropriate time to use them will be.

Dice to use for this race

Green Jade Dice

Green Jade Dice

Speckled Recon Dice

Speckled Recon Dice

Transparent Green Dice

Transparent Green Dice

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Yin Brotherhood Race for Twilight Imperium

The Yin Brotherhood

I call these guys the sickos (They remind me of that race in Star Trek where they are all diseased). The Yin Brotherhood is another great race if played right. They have some strange abilities including a first strike of 5+ to steal a ground force from any planet you are attacking. They also have the ability to sacrifice a destroyer or cruiser in order to inflict damage to an opponents ship. Once per turn they can also select a planet and reverse it’s influence and resources. They do start with two carriers so this is one less thing you need to worry about first turn.

If you have a War Sun next to you and want to attack make sure you have that action card which allows you to make a kill once the War Sun is damaged. Roll your one round of combat, sacrifice a destroyer and then play that card. Pow no more War Sun. You will want to try and get as many action cards as you can so that your chances of drawing that card go up. Taking over planets can be fun too. Of course you want to roll above a 5 for that first round so that you can steal a troop but the result is worth it when it works.

If you see a high influence planet in your realm reverse the stats and use the resources. This can be very handy but don’t forget to use this ability. Many forget that they even have the skill. Go for whatever tech you want since you don’t start down a designated path.

Dice to use for this race

Silver Tetra Dice

Silver Tetra Dice

Hurricane Dice

Hurricane Dice

Transparent Orchid Dice

Transparent Orchid Dice

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Xxcha Kingdom Race for Twilight Imperium

The Xxcha Kingdom

I call these guys the turtles. The Xxcha Kingdom is an OK race they have a few abilities that if played right will help you get those goals. The first is that hey can execute the primary ability of the diplomacy card when executing the secondary. They can also spend a command counter to make a political card now happen. The best thing though is that all opponents get a -1 for that first round of combat against the Xxcha. Not great abilities but they are designed to save you if bad things arise. As with all races that start with 1 carrier move out of your home world and wait for that production card to be played. Then build a second carrier and go grab another planet the first turn.

Keep a command counter handy so that when that diplomacy card is played and you see a threat on the board you can stop it in it’s tracks. Most players forget that the Xxcha have this ability. They get ready for attack and then someone plays diplomacy and you are safe and sound. The ability to cancel a political card is also a great advantage if the card is something that would cause you grief.

No matter what you do, do not forget to use that -1 on all first attacks against you. It can save your life and make your opponent reconsider their plans for conquering your empire. Other than that they don’t have any real abilities and should be played to whatever end you want as far as tech goes.

Dice to use for this race

Speckled Earth Dice

Speckled Earth Dice

Speckled Recon Dice

Speckled Recon Dice

Pearlized Emerald Dice

Pearlized Emerald Dice

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Winnu Race for Twilight Imperium

The Winnu

I call these guys the shizz. The Winnu have almost the same technology advancements as the Universities of Jol-Nar. You may always add the influence value of your home system to add to your vote. Your planets that have at least one ground force are immune to the Local Unrest Action Card. To top this off you do not need to spend a command counter to execute the secondary of the technology card. You also start with 3 technologies. As with all races that start with 1 carrier I suggest getting out right away and wait for the production card to be played before putting another carrier into play. That way you can still move and take another planet that first turn.

Spread yourself thin leaving only a single troop per planet since they are now safe from the local unrest card. Try to get the technology card the first turn if possible then let others get it and use the secondary ability. Save money because tech will still cost you but it will not cost you a command counter. When you do tap planets try to tap your home world first since the influence can still be used even while tapped.

Your starting technologies do not put you directly on a path to War Suns but they do help. If you are lucky enough to get a secret objective that involves technology you should have no problem taking over the world. As with any race try to keep the funds flowing and always have excess command counters allowing you free movement and secondary actions.

Dice to use for this race

Speckled Golden Cobalt

Speckled Golden Cobalt

Glitter Purple Dice

Glitter Purple Dice

Transparent Violet Dice

Transparent Violet Dice

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