Thursday, June 27, 2013

New Arrivals This Week 6/25/13 to 7/1/13

by Becky "Ready My Airship!" Topol

We’re all crazy excited about Kings of Air and Steam. A pick-up-and-deliver game in a brightly-colored, cartoony steampunk world, Kings of Air and Steam challenges players to use their airships to deliver goods to rail depots, where trains can haul them to the wealthy cities, all for your profit. When I say “airships”, I feel the need to emphasize that the pieces are fiercely adorable zeppelin stand-ups in a rainbow of colors, and I am in love with them. Despite being awesome, the zeppelins are forbidden to land in the cities, so players have to use clever planning to come up with a series of cargo drops and movements to get their payload from the factories to the rich captains of industry in the cities. Players secretly decide all their actions at the beginning of the turn - movement or upgrades to airships and trains, building depots, begging for a loan, etc - and then all reveal their first move simultaneously. Turn order and character specifications determine who will actually move first on each action card. The board is modular, and its size changes with the number of players. Cities (including Geekopolis!) can be in a different arrangement from game to game, which means greater variety and replayability. Kings of Air and Steam is a gorgeous game that we can’t wait to take for a spin!

Via Appia is another new board game this week. You play as Roman senators, attempting to be the first to get from Rome to Brindisium. Of course, there’s no road from Rome to Brindisium yet, so you’re going to have to build it as you go. Essentially a tile-laying game, Via Appia is rife with difficult decisions; doing something that may help you in the moment may also give your opponent a big advantage in a later turn, but the quarry mechanic means that things are always changing in a very visible way. The quarry is what I’m most excited about in this one. If you’re building a road, you need the stones to come from somewhere, and Via Appia does this by including a device like an arcade’s coin-pusher game. You place stones in the back of the quarry pusher, and slowly press them forward with a wooden arm in the hope that a bigger, more valuable stone will slide forward off the edge. Players use the stones they collect this way to add to the road, visit different cities along the way, and earn money. With this totally unique mechanic and so many different choices on each turn, Via Appia promises to be an exciting challenge.

For the card gamers among us, Archaeology: The Card Game is a set-collection game that we've just begun to carry due to the large number of requests for it. Taking the role of archaeologists, players attempt to buy and sell various artifacts ranging from lowly papyrus scraps to the highly valuable pharaoh’s mask. Larger sets of the same item are worth more points when sold to the museum, but you can’t keep a set in your hand too long: Sandstorm cards will force you to get rid of half your hand, and Thief cards allow players to steal cards from each other. This constant threat keeps tension high, and forces quick, sometimes painful, decision-making (if I’d held out on selling those talismans for just ONE MORE TURN I’d have had the whole set! Argh!). Archaeology is a relatively quick, easy to pick up, and super-engaging game for two to four players.

With summer getting into full swing, it’s the perfect time for more-portable versions of classic games like Battleship. Whether you’re heading out to an afternoon at the park or a week at the beach, you might want to pack the new Battleship: Card Game or Battleship: Fun on the Run, a new miniature version of the classic peg game. For more fun on the road, we’ve added Summer Fun Mad Libs to our growing collection of old-school write-in books. Letters from Camp Mad Libs are perfect for kids heading off to summer camp, or anyone who likes sending silly mail to friends. Each page is a fill-in-the-blanks letter, ready to be torn out, sealed with a sticker, stamped, and mailed!

And if you do want to bring your games on a trip, we’re now carrying Rubber Box Bands - specially-designed elastic bands in various sizes meant to keep game boxes closed tight. They’re a great addition to any game collection (even one that stays home) to keep rulesheets, cards, and parts in their boxes. I know I’d be heartbroken if a zeppelin got lost...

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

New Arrivals This Week 6/18/13 to 6/24/13

Hanabi is one of the great new arrivals at Labyrinth this week. A nominee for this year’s prestigious
Spiel des Jahres award, Hanabi is a cooperative card game in which nobody can see their own cards, but can see everybody else’s. Players must rely on limited clues from their teammates to deduce what they should do next. The aim is to collectively play consecutive numbers in each of five colors, while making less than four errors in a game. This is a fantastic, high-tension card game that avoids many of the pitfalls common to cooperative games. For example, it’s impossible for one person to take control of the game and dictate how everyone else plays, since everybody has to pay close attention and really rely on each other for information. Challenging, yet easy to learn, Hanabi is a true cooperative game unlike anything else around.

Dominion: Guilds is the brand new expansion for Dominion. Every Dominion expansion has had its own theme which adds an interesting new element to Dominion gameplay, and Guilds is no different. In this new set, the focus is on new options for how to save and spend your wealth. Some cards allow players to overpay when buying cards in order to gain extra effects. Other cards give players coin tokens they can spend to buy cards, but unlike regular coins in Dominion, these don’t go away from turn to turn. This may lead to more efficient deck-building, since players don’t have to pick between either wasting the money they draw or buying cards they don’t really want, leading to a cluttered and inefficient deck. Guilds gives a new spin to Dominion’s theme and gameplay - after all, you certainly can’t be an iron-fisted ruler if you can’t control your money.

Yottsugo is a tricky word puzzler consisting of interlocking pieces with letters on them. Working on your own or cooperatively, you choose a set of letters from one of the many challenge envelopes. You must try to organize these letters into grids consisting of four or eight words, both horizontally and vertically. Each envelope unfolds like a piece of origami to reveal several layers of clues if you get stuck. In my experience, Yottsugo is definitely a higher-level word game, so if you’re looking to give your vocab muscles a workout, Yottsugo is a cool new option.

For the caveman in all of us, there’s Ooga Booga. A simple, silly memory game, Ooga Booga challenges you and the rest of your tribe to remember a chant that gets longer and longer as the game goes on. Contending with caveman lingo, table-banging gestures, and direction-reversals, the first one to get rid of all their cards becomes the new chief of the tribe! This game is absolutely hilarious for kids as much as adults - I’ve never seen or played in a game where everyone wasn’t laughing, smiling, and cheering the whole time. Not to mention that I became chief my very first time playing...

And those are just a few of the new arrivals this week! Others include Terzetto, a marble-placement strategy challenge for two. Fish to Fish is a race to pick the correct tiles to transform one fish into another. Cheese Louise! is fun spatial puzzle racing game in which you have to hurry to find the right slice of Swiss cheese to cover up all the delicious condiments on your sandwich. Warning: Delicious condiments may contain bugs!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Sink Your Teeth into Morels

by David Kempe, 6/18/13

Morels is a mushroom-themed, two-player, card-based strategy game by Two Lanterns Games. Players can take one of several actions on their turn. They can take cards into their hand, either a single card from from the card row or all of up to 4 cards in the Decay (the area for cards that go too long without getting picked). Players can also cook or sell mushrooms they have collected for victory points or walking sticks respectively. Lastly, players can play Frying Pans out of their hands to use in the cooking process.

There are several different types of cards: Mushrooms, Frying Pans, Baskets, Moons, Butter, and Cider. Most of the different Mushrooms have a sale price in sticks and a cooking amount for points, except for the Destroying Angel, which reduces a player’s hand size for several turns. Frying Pans are required to cook mushrooms. Baskets increase a player’s hand size. Moons get a player an extra special double mushroom card. Butter and Cider get a player extra points for cooking, provided the player cooks a large enough group of mushrooms at once.

We found that the hand size mechanic was integral to gameplay; the stringent hand size affected our decision-making process more than any other mechanic in the game. As such, there was never enough incentive to take Destroying Angels, even if one could get a few good Mushrooms with them, since the mushrooms we wanted never got to the Decay.

Players use the walking sticks they acquire through selling mushrooms to take cards from the far end of the card row, which they could not usually take. Although selling mushrooms can really open up a player’s options during the game, we found that a single good sale of mushrooms could give a player enough sticks for the entire game.

Morels has a very similar feel to Jaipur, while borrowing the card row mechanic that Copycat steals from Through the Ages. It’s very strategy-oriented because players can always get exactly the card they need, provided they have hand space to wait and sticks to grab the cards in a pinch. I highly recommend Morels, not only for the casual gamer interested in more strategy, but also for veteran board gamers looking for something quick.