Animix: Taming the Grid

  • Designer: Mathieu Bossu
  • Artist: Simon Douchy
  • Publisher: Blue Orange Games
  • Release Date: June 2020

Disclaimer: This game was provided to us for review by Blue Orange Games.

Luke: If I was to point to why the Blue Orange line of small box games is so appealing, its that they often take the best bits from larger titles in the industry and condense them into quick filler titles.

Phil: Not just filler titles, but ones that stick in your craw and make you remember them days, if not weeks, later.

Luke: Animix is another one of these titles, borrowing liberally from Arboretum and Capital Lux to create a stylish experience all its own.

Phil: Depending on the player count, a grid of animals is laid out at the start of the game, establishing the jungle through which players must navigate. How many animals are in play also depends on player counts, determining the ways players can score (similar to Ethnos).

Luke: On their turn, a player will either:

  • Swap a card with one from the grid. The newly taken card is placed in that player’s personal pool face-down.
  • Play a card directly to their personal pool face-down.

Once a card is swapped into the grid, a token is placed on it, preventing other from swapping for it at a later date.

Phil: After 6 rounds, ie when all players have played all cards from their hands, players will compare the cards in their personal pools. Whoever has the most of a given animal will be the only person to score for that animal.

Luke: How they score can vary dramatically; elephants and monkeys care about the other animals in the row/column, wolves want to be along the edges of the grid, and chameleons want unique cards adjacent to themselves.

Phil: Most of the variety of this title comes from the 10 animals you can mix-and-match, especially at 2-players, which only includes 3 animals in every game. That being said, this limits how robust the 2-player mode can be.

Luke: Compared to other player counts, the grid is fairly small and your options limited. Due to ties being friendly, many games have ended with a flat tie, with both players vying for the same animals or with scoring ending up being very uniform.

Phil: The unfortunate fact of the matter is, for a game like this to truly sing, you’ll need a group of 4 or more players. The grid becomes expansive, the bluffing funnier, and your actions more meaningful.

Luke: This is a smart game for sure, and I’d happily recommend it to those looking to play in big groups, but as it stands, we can’t recommend this for a group of 2.

Verdict: Animix does a lot with a little, pushing players to make tough decisions in about 10 minutes. At 2-players, however, there’s little of the chaotic fun to engage it, making games feel dull. Don’t pick this up unless you’re going to playing with a larger crew.

Marvel Champs Monday: Release Patterns Matter

Luke: Marvel Champions is a fantastic game for many reasons. Clearly, we feel that way, as it’s a game we discuss pretty regularly.

Phil: There’s something about the deck-construction, the genuine feeling of cooperation, and the tension that many of the villains pose that just works really well for us.

Luke: And yet… there’s something rather substantial that holds this game back. Not from a design perspective per day, but from a structural, corporate perspective; the release schedule.

Phil: Now, to be clear, we aren’t talking about the frequency of the content releases. Obviously, this has been a weird year for that, considering recent events, and we aren’t about to criticize anyone for such a world-altering event beyond anyone’s control.

Luke: What is under FFG’s control, though, is what content is released and in what order.

Phil: When Marvel Champions was first getting started up, the release schedule was one of excitement, interest, and hope, even before folks got their hands on it. After the base box, we would see a villain, then 2 heroes, and then another villain, a pattern that, to many, would seem reasonable and conducive to keeping the game alive and fresh.

Luke: It made sense for Norman Osborn to show up so soon after the base game, as players had 5 characters they were still learning and trying out. And with Cap and Ms. Marvel adding some new deck creation options and experiences all their own, it looked like this would be a formula that would carry the game far into the distance.

Phil: Regardless of the fact that all these pieces were eventually released simultaneously, the intent was that they would be released in this periodic manner, and in that way, it created a great feeling of progression for many gamers.

Luke: After the release of the largely disappointing Wrecking Crew, players were told to expect a new series of releases; 4 hero packs followed by a big box expansion, promising a whole bunch of new baddies to fight.

Phil: This makes sense in theory; we’re bound to see a bunch of new scenarios to fight down the road, so it’s obvious we’d see less of them in the regular cycle, right?

Luke: And yet, here we sit with a lot of the community vocally complaining about the few villains that we have to fight as it stands. With Wrecking Crew being a less popular release and Risky Business being criticized for being easier than Rhino, that leaves us with 4 villains that a majority of players find satisfying adversaries. I personally enjoy Risky Business as well, but I know that’s not everyone’s cup of tea.

Phil: This means that, as we get more heroes to toy with, we’re fighting against the same, small pool of villains, which can make the game feel stale. Even if you regularly circulate all 6 villain sets, it can feel tiresome after a while.

Luke: As someone who’s played 100+ times at this point, I’m craving more villains to take down in battles of glory. Custom Content can help with this, but there’s no replacing an official release from the game creators.

Phil: And looking forward, it appears FFG is intending on repeating this unfortunate cycle. After the Rise of the Red Skull set, set to double the villain pool, we’ll get yet another villain, the newly revealed Kang, followed by 4 more heroes before we see any other villains.

Luke: This looks like history ready to repeat itself, players getting a ton of 1 kind of content, then a ton of the other kind of content, rinse and repeat. The choice to release Kang immediately after the big box set is particularly baffling.

Phil: Are we excited for more villains, absolutely, but it would seem smarter to pace it out a little bit. Frankly, there ought to be a change to how the Marvel Champs content is released as it stands

Luke: That’s not to say that the big box is poorly formatted; we think 2 heroes and a bunch of new villains is exactly what the doctor ordered, allowing for the campaign mode to be a more realistic endeavor.

Phil: We’re not even suggesting they release a different quantity of content or in different sales packages. Rather, the change would be incredibly simple; FFG could release a big box set, then 2 heroes, then a villain pack, and then 2 heroes. Rinse and repeat.

Luke: Sticking the solo villain pack in the middle of the series of heroes allows for players to get some new deck-building options, then get a fresh villain to try them out against before getting more of the same content, all culminating in a mix of both.

Phil: It’s a subtle shift, but one that we think would help the game last that much longer.

Luke: Still, we have yet to see how satisfying the Rise of the Red Skull set is, and who knows what Marvel Champs has in store moving forward. But it’s worth notating a pattern that’s started and has been hurting the experience for some time now.

Phil: What do you folks think? Should the release schedule get shaken up, or are you happy with the pattern in which content is being released? Let us know your thoughts, and we’ll see you next week!

Marvel Champions: Black Widow – A Plan for Everything

Phil: It’s been a long wait for Black Widow for those of us in the U.S. She’s been a character that both of us have been excited about for some time, and now that she’s finally here, I think it’s safe to say-

Luke: Meh.

Phil: “Meh”? What do you mean, “meh”?

Luke: I dunno man, I’m kind of… disappointed. Let me explain.

Black Widow has been a character that I’ve found underplayed in most media. She played an important role in the films for a time but has been pushed aside more and more with each entry as other super-powered heroes come into play. Yes, she has her solo movie coming soon, but that feels more like a footnote now that her primary narrative in the MCU has concluded.

Phil: Yeah, and I guess the same can be said for her role in the comics. She’s been a mainstay in many Avengers or S.H.I.E.L.D.-related comics, she’s had plenty of solo series, but I’ve never felt she got the same love as the other “world’s mightiest heroes.”

Luke: So here we have an opportunity to make a truly unique and interesting character design, something of a control deck that stymies the villain while giving the heroes opportunities to strike. And, in practice, that is what she does.

Phil: The Black Widow pack introduces a new type of card; Preparations. These cards are played in advance, triggering off of villain actions to prevent effects or retaliate after the fact. They’re cheap and effective abilities.

Luke: If used sparingly. Too many in a given deck will slow down what the character can do, simply playing a waiting game. And while some may enjoy that element, I found myself missing the days of punching someone square in the jaw for 10 damage as Captain Marvel.

Phil: This is certainly a fair critique. Black Widow, from a design perspective, is made to lie in wait until the right moment. She has the same health as Tony Stark before he starts building his suit, but has plenty of ways to reduce or avoid damage, and is encouraged to switch between her 2 forms regularly.

Luke: But the bigger thing is that her ability entirely hinges on the new type of card, Preparations. Most other characters have very flexible play styles, allowing them to try a variety of different builds that can provide more or less unique experiences. Black Widow, on the other hand, is restricted in many ways by what Preparation cards are available.

Phil: And as our interview with Michael Boggs revealed, it’s unlikely that we’ll see more Preparation cards down the road, thus capping the scope of her core abilities as they are.

Luke: That’s not to say there aren’t other ways to diversify her deck; some cards introduced in this set are “Spy” specific, so we could certainly see more of those down the road. But I also assume we’ll see other spies show up as well, like Spider-Woman, a character that seems waaaaaay more interesting from a design perspective.

Phil: And that hard-limit on her character design makes her, in some ways, less interesting to play than the rest of the cast.

Luke: That’s not to say she’s bad, far from it; many players have proven that she is a very effective force in the game. What I’m saying is that, personally, I don’t have much fun playing as her.

I think the Preparation cards are a great addition to the game, and I’m excited to plug those into a variety of decks. I love some of the new Justice cards and am interested in mixing them with some of my favs, like Ms. Marvel or Spider-Man.

Phil: It’s hard to deny that the new cards are a ton of fun to toy with and try in a variety of decks. And I think canceling the villain, while an effective tactic, takes away from some of the fun the game provides.

To me, a big part of a memorable fight is being forced to fight a Nemesis, getting pounded for a ton of damage, and seeing those big, dramatic moments swing in the favor of the villain so you can fight against it and turn the tides back in your favor. Black Widow is designed to stop that from happening and make the game more level and predictable generally.

Luke: That’s a great way of putting it, honestly. I love this game for, oddly enough, many of the stories it tells, and I want exciting, tense spy missions, but what we got here was a lot of reconnaissance and a long build-up to the eventual pay-off, both in and out of game.

Verdict: Black Widow’s pack is fun enough for the cards they include, and some will have a blast playing as the Russian spy, but we found ourselves more interested in revisiting the other heroes with what new tools are on offer.

Marvel Champs Monday: Dodge

Luke: In any co-op game where you’re trying to defeat or outdo the AI, being able to cancel their actions is regularly a strong option.

Phil: It gives you more control over the unpredictable elements of the game, making it easier to plan without worry or concern.

Luke: And since the game’s release, Marvel Champions have seen a few instances of cancel cards, most prominently in the Black Widow expansion. Let’s take a look at the different forms these cards take and how useful they are.

Phil: There are only 2 types in the game thus far; canceling boost cards and canceling encounter cards.

Luke: And each has seen hero-specific iterations and Aspect-specific cards.

Phil: Canceling boost cards are always nice, especially when playing on the defensive; being able to reduce what damage you’re taking while often dishing some damage back can turn the tides.

Luke: Attacrobatics and Preemptive Strike are basically the same card with one major difference; Attacrobatics is played in advance, whereas Preemptive Strike must be played in response.

Phil: This is significant for hand-size in particular. Playing 2 cards before your turn even starts can seriously limit what actions you can take feasibly, especially if you have some expensive cards in your hand.

Luke: You also need to hold on to it until the effect becomes predictable. Being able to put a Preparation card in play and let it trigger at the opportune moment is way more satisfying and efficient.

Phil: Hence why it’s a hero-specific card.

Luke: Exactly.

Interestingly, the only instance of canceling a boost ability comes in the form of Target Acquired, a neutral card. For an effect that can be so optimal in a given circumstance, it’s interesting that this isn’t tied to a particular Aspect.

Phil: I love adding 1 or 2 into my Aggression decks, as they give me some protection while adding a few physical resources to my deck.

Luke: Canceling Encounter cards outright, though, that can be game-changing. Preventing a ton of threat from going onto the main scheme or stopping a Nemesis from coming into play can be huge.

Phil: Hence why many of these cards have caveats. Get Behind Me! requires that you get attacked instead, whereas Spycraft can only be used if you’re a spy and forces you to draw another Encounter card to replace it.

Luke: Black Widow (the ally) works similarly, making you spend a resource only to have you replace the Encounter card with a new one. To me, this can mean you spent resources only to get a worse card, which isn’t worth it. At least Get Behind Me! is a bit more predictable, if dangerous in its own way.

Phil: But of course, we have our two spider-related heroes, each with their own diffuse options to bring into play. Spider-Man can cancel any Treachery card with his Enhanced Spider-Sense, whereas Black Widow can prep her Grappling Hook, which only cancels a Treachery card she draws.

Luke: This is a significant difference, making each card on-par with one another in fascinating ways. Spider-Man has to hold his card in-hand, meaning that it has an inherent cost in that sense, but being able to protect anyone at the table is a nice boon.

Phil: Black Widow, on the other hand, just leaves her card in play, but who gets what cards can mean the Grappling Hook is much less helpful depending on the flow of the cards.

Luke: To my mind, canceling boosts are much more regularly helpful than canceling Encounter cards. Boosts give immediate effects to the villain and can do as much damage as the worst of Encounter cards, give the right circumstances. A well-placed Attacrobatics can swing the game in your favor by 6 damage (3 canceled from you, 3 dealt to the villain).

Phil: Still, Encounter cards can be a huge hurdle to deal with; assuming that you can cancel particularly punishing cards, the ends may justify the expense.

Luke: We’re curious, what are your thoughts? Which is the best cancel option to date? Let us know your thoughts below, and we’ll see you next week!

Behind the Board: Andrew Thompson on Cobble and Fog

Luke: Hello everyone, and welcome back to Behind the Board! Today, we’re going to chatting about the most recent Unmatched set, Cobble and Fog, with the artist, Andrew Thompson! How’s it going, Andrew?

Andrew: Pretty well, how’re things with you?

Luke: Not bad; I get to chat about one of my favorite board games with you, after all.

Andrew: [laughs] Fair enough.

Luke: So Andrew, I know you haven’t always worked in the board game industry; what sorts of artistic jobs have you done prior to now?

Andrew: Out of college (class of 2013) I worked at Reebok in Boston as a graphic designer. I designed apparel graphics for the running category for a year before being hired full-time to their marketing department where I did the CrossFit games posters for a few years.

For several years I also worked with Gallery 1988 and Gallery Nucleus creating pop culture art. Through those, I was able to do official work for Magic: The Gathering, Star Wars, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse, Terminator: Salvation, and Bethesda Games. From there, I started attending cons and selling work there which led to me picking up freelance in the gaming community. Now I do my own personal work, including a comic on my Patreon, in addition to tabletop game art.

Luke: Wow, that’s an impressive portfolio! Have you ever had the chance to play Magic: The Gathering or have you only worked on it from a professional level?

Andrew: I’m addicted to MtG. It’s seriously a problem [laughs]. I also played Yu-Gi-Oh for a hot minute, but those are the main games I play.

Luke: Damn, I haven’t played Yu-Gi-Oh since elementary school, brings me back just thinking about it.

Anyway, how did you find yourself working on Cobble and Fog?

Andrew: I met some art directors at a convention. Seriously, it’s the best place to meet AD’s. You know, when it’s not 2020 and a pandemic is happening.

Luke: I can imagine there was a certain amount of pressure taking on a project entirely helmed by Oliver Barrett up until this point.

Andrew: Oh my god, yeah! I have always been a fan of a lot of Mondo artists like Matt Taylor, Oliver, Erica Williams, etc. Getting approached for Unmatched was a really great moment. I remember I was in Colorado at the time for Denver Pop Culture Con.

Luke: How would you describe your experience working on this entry of the series?

Andrew: Unmatched was great! Everything was smooth sailing. Particularly I loved how feedback was delivered. With games, there are always teams working on them and despite the entire team being in our chat, they would discuss the art and give feedback in one message vs everyone saying something.

I will say, I’ve only had one really bad experience working on a game. Overall, I’ve really enjoyed working with those in the gaming industry. Everyone is so passionate and I love working with teams who love what they do!

Luke: Did you have a particular process when working on the card art?

Andrew: It’s really robotic, but I blame art school (in a good way) for my process. I start with thumbnails, then I gather reference or take my own, revise the sketch, then finalize.

Luke: Hey, if it works, it works, and clearly you’ve done a phenomenal job here.

Andrew: [laughs] Well thank you, I appreciate it.

Luke: Was there any character you particularly enjoyed drawing?

Andrew: I really enjoyed all of these characters, as I’ve never played around with the Victorian era before. I had the most fun with Jekyll/Hyde and Dracula. I have an artist buddy (Inkwell Illustrations) who has strong Dracula vibes and I have a ridiculous amount of reference photos of him. Jekyll and Hyde are all me plus some age lines and facial hair! If you look at the cards, you can imagine how silly the reference photos are!

Luke: Dude, you should sport the Dr. Jekyll mustache more often!

Is there any card in particular that you had trouble with putting together?

Andrew: I struggled a lot with the conception stage of the Invisible Man. Figuring out how to show a menacing character without a face will forever be one of the most challenging design problems I’ve had to solve!

Luke: Are there any characters you’d love to see show up in the series down the road?

Andrew: Selfishly speaking, as in I’d love to illustrate them if they were to show up in an unmatched game, I’d love to illustrate Iron Man, any MtG character, or anyone from Naruto, Lord of the Rings, or Gundam: Wing.

Luke: Now that this set is complete, are you planning on working on another Unmatched set down the road?

Andrew: I don’t have the authority to make that happen but I would absolutely work on another one in the future!

Luke: What would you say is your biggest takeaway from your Unmatched experience thus far?

Andrew: Do what you love, draw how you draw, and you’ll eventually get hired based on that work. There’s a ton of companies who hire artists and then ask them to work in a different style. I’ve done that before and it’s never as strong as work that falls in with my style.

Luke: That’s such a great outlook, Andrew. I’m honestly working on that myself, so it’s nice to hear that confirmation from someone else in the industry.

Last question for you today; how can folks support you and your work right now?

Andrew: If you want to purchase any of my work, I sell playmates, mtg token packs, and art prints on my website.

I also am currently working on a comic via Patreon ($5 patrons get to see it a month early). The comic is based on my “Banishment series” which is about overcoming difficult times, accepting them, and eventually discovering how those times have made you grow as a person. The comic means a lot to me right now because it’s been a major way of working through my own struggles during this pandemic. I hope anyone who is dealing with depression, feelings of uncertainty, and anxiety right now can relate.

Luke: I’ll definitely have to take the time to check that out! Thanks so much for stopping by, Andrew, I really appreciate it.

And thanks to all of you reading this! Feel free to let us know your thoughts in the comments, as well as who else you’d like to see us interview, and I look forward to seeing ya’ll next week.

Unmatched: Cobble and Fog – Fighting on Solid Ground

  • Designers: Rob Daviau, Justin Jacobson, and Chris Leder
  • Artist: Andrew Thompson
  • Publisher: Restoration Games
  • Release Date: June 2020

Phil: We at 1-2-Punchboard are big fans of Unmatched.

Luke: Have been since we had the chance to give it a go at Origins last year.

Phil: So any chance we have to talk about this gem of a series, we’ll take, and surprisingly, we have yet another expansion to talk about.

Luke: With the Jurassic Park set having only come out a month or so ago, it feels like a treat to get 4 more characters are 2 more maps.

Phil: The first big box release since the base game.

Luke: This is also the first set not illustrated by Oliver Barrett; Andrew Thompson has taken the reins this time around, bringing his own unique flair to the series, and I have to say, he’s done a fantastic job.

Phil: Oliver’s a tough act to follow, and I can certainly say that both are incredibly talented humans who have brought such life to these titles. Genuinely, I applaud them both for what their skills have added to this series.

Luke: For those of you just hopping aboard the Unmatched train, this 2-player-focused series pits famous characters from pop culture against one another in a battle to the death.

Phil: This time around, we face the likes of devilishly smart Sherlock Holmes and Watson, the crafty Dracula and his Sisters, the devious Invisible Man, and ever-conflicted Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Each has their own decks and abilities, but the gameplay remains the same across all heroes, tying everyone together in an intuitive system.

Luke: Each turn, you’ll take 2 actions, either moving, fighting, or using a special ability. Moving tends to be the only way to get more cards, making it an integral step to take so you have options to work with. Instant effects vary from character to character and can help to differentiate play styles. But the meat and potatoes is the combat.

Phil: After someone declares they are attacking, laying a card face down, their opponent may either block or not. Revealing any played cards, players will compare card effects and values, seeing if the defender takes any damage or what abilities come into play.

Luke: And hot damn, these characters have some spicy options to work with. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde focus on defense and attack respectively, pressuring you to flip back and forth as need be while sometimes taking some risks. The Invisible Man can disappear from the board for entire turns before reappearing anywhere he wishes. Dracula can dish some serious damage while hypnotizing players into using different cards than they selected. And Sherlock can look through his opponent’s hand and discard some of his opponent’s options.

Phil: Every hero feels powerful in their own right, but you’ll have to play smart and carefully to be successful. Something to stress about this set is its best for more familiar, advanced players.

Luke: Hero abilities are more nuanced and involved, and card effects can take up large portions of a card, meaning you’ll have to pay close attention to every move you make.

Phil: But unlike the base game, I feel like this set provides a more diverse line-up of fighters in terms of their mechanics. Everyone feels far more unique and pushes you to try different tactics.

Luke: And the boards provide little details to make them all the more exciting to traverse. A sprawling mansion allows players to move across the map through secret tunnels whereas the streets of the city could feature a rooftop brawl, cut off from the rest of the map.

Phil: Overall, this is a phenomenal set if you are already invested in the game. I would recommend checking out some of the other releases of the series first, but once you’ve grown acclimated, there’s no other game out there quite like it.

Luke: I will say, on a personal note, that this is a first set where I generally just don’t care for one of the fighters. The Invisible Man is conceptually awesome, disappearing in a puff of smoke across the board while milling the opponent’s deck, but in practice, I’ve found him tiresome and annoying to fight against. Particularly when he can just leave the board for a whole turn twice per game, it can be frustrating to have nothing concrete to do until he reappears.

Phil: That being said, I loved playing as him, as there’s no other hero that’s been released who plays in such a skittish, stealthy manner. Not every character will be to everyone’s liking, of course, but I think the hero will be great for some and polarizing for others, more so than the rest of the cast.

Luke: Still, I would hands down recommend this set without hesitation. What it adds to the experience is well worth the price tag.

Verdict: Unmatched: Cobble and Fog is a fantastic addition to the series, adding a ton of new toys to an already robust series. It shouldn’t be the set you start with, but once you’re more familiar with the system and heroes, this will be a must-buy.

Marvel Champs Monday: Be Prepared

Phil: With the release of the Black Widow hero pack has come Preparation cards, a new way to get the upper hand on the villain. Put into play in advance, these cards can trigger when certain cards or effects come into play, allowing you to navigate the uncertain waters of the villain deck with a bit more control.

Luke: From what we’ve heard from head developer Michael Boggs, it’s unlikely that we’ll see other Preparation cards down the road, at least for a long time, meaning we have 10 of these toys to play with as we see fit.

Phil: But how players can get the most out of them, that is the question. Preparations have their own nuances and uses to navigate, making it a sometimes difficult task picking and choosing how to best build your decks.

Luke: Let’s take a look at the effects of these cards and how we’d suggest including them to your decks.

Phil: I think the biggest mistake I made out of the gate was flooding my Black Widow deck with Prep cards. Her ability triggers off of them, making it a seemingly obvious choice.

Luke: Same, but playing a game or two like this quickly reveals how little control you actually have when employing a strategy like this. You end up so shackled to the villain falling into your traps that your turns barely feel substantial.

Phil: And the effects of Prep cards, while useful, may not do as much damage or thwart as well since they often cancel the negative effects of other cards.

Luke: Leading to slower, more arduous games.

Phil: It’s far better to choose a handful of these effects to include in a single deck. Hell, Black Widow may be able to get by with just her core Prep cards, depending on how you build your deck.

Luke: So what Preps you do end up including should have great effects. Cards like Espionage or Spycraft seem neat in theory but are rather situational in practice, making them a questionable choice even if you are allowed to use them.

Phil: Preparations won’t fit in every deck, but they can be huge boons in shoring up your weak-points and better supporting your hero in trying times. The best Prep cards are those that allow you to get more value out of your actions.

Luke: Rapid Response stands out in this regard, allowing you to bring defeated allies back into play. Doubling up on the effects of Nick Fury or Heimdall can be huge, as well as Leadership-specific heroes like Falcon.

Phil: The most common type of Preps, though, are those that mitigate the actions of the villain. Counterintelligence reduces the amount of threat put on the main scheme, Counterattack allows you to deal damage equal to the damage dealt to you, and Defensive Stance reduces the damage an attack would deal to you.

Luke: The last notable iteration is the preventative measures that outright cancel what the villain attempts to do. These are a bit more common in Black Widow’s cards, but Target Acquired can be a clutch card to have in play, depending on the boost effects of your foes.

Phil: Grappling Hook, a Widow-specific card, is obviously the crowned jewel of this, making it a strong variation on Enhanced Spider-Sense. Spidey can cancel anyone’s treachery card, but only the “When Revealed” effects, whereas Black Widow needs Grappling Hook in play and can only target cards she draws, but can cancel any card outright.

Luke: All of these cards are pretty cheap, sitting at a 1 or 2 cost, which can make them more viable than your average card.

Phil: Perhaps, but the more I look at them as a whole, the more skeptical I become about their general use. Outside of a few stand-out selections, Prep cards will, to me, end up being filler cards. Do I need more of a given resource and don’t know what to put in this slot? My Aspect-specific Prep will likely get the job done.

Luke: I wanted to like Preps a lot more, and I think I’ll enjoy using them in smaller doses. Rapid Response easily makes me the most excited, but I’m curious to see how players will begin to use them at large.

Phil: What do you folks think? Which is your favorite Prep card? How useful do you find them on average? Let us know down below!

Luke: Thanks for stopping by, we’ll see you next week!

Imperial Settlers: Roll and Write – Boxes Full of Apples

  • Designer: Ignacy Trzewiczek
  • Artists: Various
  • Publisher: Portal Games
  • Release Date: June 2019

Phil: I knew this was coming. It had been too long since I heard your pencil sharpener running.

Luke: The silence was deafening I’m sure.

Imperial Settlers is likely Portal Games’ most profitable franchise, built on the back of another one of their designs, 51st State. Beyond the base game and its numerous expansions, it’s stemmed a spin-off series, Imperial Settlers: Empires of the North, so of course it would get a roll-and-write one of these days.

Phil: And what better time than the renaissance of the genre?

Luke: This time around, folks are attempting to build the most profitable civilization by crawling up 4 resources tracks. At the end of the game, you’ll score points based on how high you got on each track, as well as the buildings you’ve cobbled together.

Phil: Seems kind of abstract for a series that usually oozes theme.

Luke: While some cards in the original feel more mechanical than others, Roll and Write feels like you’re filling out a spreadsheet composed entirely of checkboxes. It creates a disconnect that I don’t believe benefits the system much, nor the audience the game is aimed towards.

Phil: The aesthetics look great, likely because a lot of the images are ripped straight from the original game. And why not? The assets are fitting for what this game is and ensures the artistic direction is in line with the other titles.

Luke: Each round, after the 4 dice are rolled, players will draft from up to 5 power tiles, depending on the player count. Of those tiles, 3 of them are variants of the same action (getting resources), 1 provides an extra action (which is crazy good), and 1 provides extra points for unused resources (which is crazy situational).

It’s clear that some tiles are just better than others 100% of the time, and while you can build your civilization to lean towards a particular tile, 9 times out of 10, getting an extra action will just allow you to do what you’re looking to accomplish.

Phil: They do seem surprisingly lopsided, and it’s kind of baffling why they’re presented this way. It creates a system where the draft is stale out of the gate, more a preamble than a series of meaningful choices.

Luke: Once everyone has their powers, players will simultaneously take their turns, composed of a variable number of actions. The worker die determines whether everyone gets 3, 4, or 5 things to do that turn, barring any additional actions gained by other means.

The other 3 dice give everyone resources to be used to accomplish those actions, limiting what types of things you can do.

Phil: Those actions being… what exactly?

Luke: Primarily, checking boxes. You can, for an action, fill in a space on either of your sheets, assuming you can spend the resources depicted within it.

Phil: Wait, you get 2 sheets? What is this, Fleet: The Dice Game?

Luke: I wish. One sheet displays your village as it grows whereas the other allows you to unlock passive effects by completing buildings. Farms get you extra food each turn, the Collector gets you extra resources if the dice rolled show different results, and the Fortress lets you chuck wood and stone for extra VPs.

Phil: What are all the shapes shown next to the buildings?

Luke: At the end of the round, you can outline boxes on the primary tracks you’ve filled in with one of these shapes. In doing so, you’ll either earn bonus points or make the ability associated with it more powerful.

Phil: And then the fields below your civilization are presumably resources you can farm?

Luke: Assuming you’ve unlocked the bridges to reach them, you can use an action to fill in one of those spaces and get the resources from it for that turn. All resources are thrown away at the end of the given round.

Phil: Aaaaaaaaaand… that’s it, huh? Just kind of do stuff and get points for 10 rounds.

Luke: Yeah. The whole experience feels a bit stilted and slow.

Phil: And there’s no variable player boards?

Luke: For the multiplayer mode, no. But for the solo game, well… that’s where this game actually shines.

In the box, 48 different sheets are provided for solo play, each entirely different from each other. Playing a game on your own, you’re fighting for a good score, but the buildings offered to you can make a big difference in how you tackle the puzzle. And once you’ve played through that scenario, that’s it; no do-overs, no take-backsies. The score you get is what you get.

Phil: Fascinating. And this made that game, to you, better?

Luke: Significantly. No longer are you waiting on an arbitrary draft or on other player’s turns, with games lasting maybe 10 or 15 minutes. Plus, the variability makes a big difference and encourages you to try a diverse number of weird things.

Phil: So, is this a game we’re recommending?

Luke: Not exactly; while I enjoy the finite nature of the solo mode of the physical version, you’ll get far more for your money playing the digital implementation, with it being cheaper and allowing you to replay scenarios.

I personally, after 52 games, have gotten my fill of this title, but the digital version, no matter how you slice it, is the better deal, whether you play it 5 times or 50 times. Sure, you won’t be able to play multiplayer easily, but that’s not really a big loss in my eyes.

Verdict: Imperial Settlers: Roll and Write falls into a lot of the traps the genre offers, being more abstract and obtuse for the sake of sticking to the series’ formula. The multiplayer is not something we can recommend, but the solo play provides a nice, relaxing distraction that may be worth your while if you’re already a fan of the series.

Marvel Champs Monday: The Fractured Mind of She-Hulk

Luke: She-Hulk is perhaps the most divisive character in the entire Marvel Champions line-up. She’s easily the character I’ve had some of the hardest time with, and while the duality of the character can be a boon, it can make her design feel fractured.

Phil: Fitting for a character that’s split between two personalities.

Luke: Except traditionally she isn’t. Jennifer Walters, while she can transform to her human self, rarely does, maintaining her personality and ideals no matter what form she takes. She has, for a long time, represented the opposite of her cousin, being both a legal genius and unstoppable physical force.

Phil: Most of her series involve her starting or working in a law firm of some kind, taking commanding roles wherever she goes while helping the superhuman and helpless get justice.

At least, until Civil War 2.

Luke: [sighs] Yes. That.

For those unfamiliar, after the death of Bruce Banner for the umpteenth time, a recent interpretation of Jennifer Walters has rendered her emotionally unstable, showing signs of PTSD that make it hard for her to control her reactions and powers.

Phil: Which, as you suggested earlier, is very strange for the emerald hero.

Luke: Jennifer is confident. Overly confident in most comics, to the point where she gets herself kicked out of the Avengers Mansion because she is so full of herself. She is always in control; her flaw comes from what she does with that control.

Recent comics, however, has leaned into this more Hulk-lite interpretation of the character, an influence that can very easily be seen here. Sure, Legal Practice and Supernatural Law Division can be helpful tools, but compared to her arsenal of attacks, they rarely amount to much.

Phil: Especially when both are Alter-Ego-only actions and require some hefty payment.

Luke: Art from this more recent version of She-Hulk, can be seen in Focused Rage, Split Personality, and the powerful Gamma Slam. These images come from a series tellingly labeled Hulk, making her a stand-in for Bruce until his eventual return… except she never rebounded from this personality shift, at least not yet.

Phil: The series was later re-labeled as a She-Hulk title, but only in the last couple of issues, but by then, the damage was already done. While the series concludes with her coming to terms with her trauma, the Avengers series published shortly after continues to present Jennifer as a barbaric brute, taking on the monosyllabic speaking pattern Hulk is known for.

This is also where the image for Superhuman Strength comes from, again showing off a more raged-out version of She-Hulk.

Luke: That’s the tricky thing with comics; with different authors penning the same characters all the time, the interpretations of a given hero can range drastically. And while one author may want their interpretation of a character to have a conclusion to the story arch they crafted, another may just choose to… ignore that shift in favor of their own narrative designs.

Phil: Sooooo, what does that have to do with Marvel Champions? … Luke? Any ideas?

Luke: Well, to my mind, She-Hulk should have been more balanced between thwarting and attacking. As it stands, she has tools to do both, but the design is clearly lopsided in favor of punching things. This is also shown through the use of art, with many of the assets being pulled specifically from these more recent comics that show Jennifer in a less flattering light.

Phil: It’s also telling that both her thwarting tools are original art, whereas all her aggressive cards are the ones to feature art from comics. That means it’s unlikely that as much inspiration was pulled from her comics released prior to 2016.

Luke: We don’t know that for sure, but the design speaks volumes. Sure, the legal elements are still there, but they’re underplayed and far more situational.

Phil: A lot of people online are theorizing that the upcoming Hulk hero pack will present a better version of this hero design, and I’m inclined to agree, but only slightly. I think Hulk will end up being a better version of what this design feels like it wants to do; be hyper-aggressive with a few mitigation tools.

Luke: Ultimately, I think She-Hulk is a strong hero to play with, despite her thematic disconnects. I definitely want to revisit her now that we’ve taken a closer look at her origins, and I think what flexibility is here can be very helpful.

Phil: It’s a shame that this is the version we’re more likely to see of Jenn moving forwards in popular media. I’m really hoping the Disney+ show is more in line with her earlier work, but I can’t imagine that will be the case.

Luke: Thanks so much for taking the time to read this particularly different article. Let us know your thoughts and if you’d want to see more content like this down the road. See ya’ll next week!

Behind the Board: Paolo Di Stefano and Gabriel Gendron on Mini Rogue

Luke: Hey there folks, and welcome back to Behind the Board! Today, we have our first ever 2-person interview as we discuss Mini Rogue, a game that is now on Kickstarter, with both the designers, Paolo Do Stefano and Gabriel Gendron.

Paolo, Gabriel, it’s great to be talking with you both.

Paolo: Thanks for having us.

Gabriel: It’s great to be here!

Luke: So I guess we should start with where this all started for you both; how did each of you get into game design?

Gabriel: I started tinkering in game design back in 2007 with wargames. My very first design was a tactical squad-level wargame (think Combat Commander); I still have that prototype lying around, complete with the components and notes I took on how to play.

Being a first design, you don’t know what you’re doing, and I think that’s part of the fun… Everything is new, you’re amazed by everything you discover in the board gaming world!

Paolo: Eventually, Gabriel asked me to join up and create our indie game company, which is where I got my start in the industry.

Luke: Why don’t ya’ll tell me a little about that company, Mountain Gold Games?

Gabriel: When I met Paolo at work I had this instant cosmic connection, like we always knew each other, we connected on so many things it was insane. He quickly became one of my closest friends. The whole process of working together was quite organic and candid. Here we are, four years older, still designing together in our spare time!

Paolo: The point of Mountain Gold Games is to make a lot with few, or big with small. Boardgames have an immense advantage over modern AAA video games: imagination plays a big role in feeling the “size” of concepts and ideas. As board game designers, we ought to use imagination as a game component, if you will. That’s why we try to stay as thematic as possible.

Luke: Something that I think folks can clearly see in the Mini Rogue design as a whole.

Paolo: When we were first putting the game together, I started fiddling with some Napoletane playing cards. They are like poker cards but with 10 cards per color instead of 13, and it’s Clubs (actual clubs), Gold (coins), Swords (spades), and Cups (wine?). When I was young, my older siblings used to take these cards and play some kind of story-teller + fortune-teller mix. They would take the deck and just pick the first card, flip it up, and say something about it. That was the “random generation” part.

Gabriel: All the game ingredients were there but we were just figuring out how to put them together. My first playable version of Mini Rogue was more akin to a game like Elder Sign, it was okay but lacked that roguelike/dungeon crawler flavor.

I clearly remember the day Paolo brought the first iteration of what became Mini Rogue as we know it: the branching of Rooms, the dungeon Floor with increasing difficulty, the unlocking of dice, the Resting area, etc. The game was not balanced, but I immediately saw that this was much better in recreating the feel we were searching for. I took his cards home that night and rebalanced every value, and that became the 9 card version.

Luke: And with 9 cards, you can only add so much; how did you decide what elements to include in that original version?

Paolo: I think we started with a bare-bones game where we just shuffled a Room deck and went through each card one by one, resolving them with… a lot of improv? Working up from 0 made it always fit the 9-card mold, and we gradually added ideas from true roguelikes and some video games that had a lasting impression on us (Dark Souls, Dungeon Hack, Diablo, and Brogue to name a few).

Luke: Now that you’ve had the freedom to expand the design, what elements were you most excited to include?

Gabriel: Having the luxury to expand the design and components was both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because we had more design space and could further improve upon the usability. The XP track is a good example of reducing rules, skill checks now require looking for a symbol, etc. But it was difficult to choose what we wanted to add to the game and not turn it into a monstrosity with tokens and cards all over the place.

Personally, the element that I’m most proud of is the Poison and Curse mechanism: most game would just give you a status token that you’d have to remember to apply on your turn, in Mini Rogue having them in your dice pool makes it much more easy to grok and unique!

We were very selective about what new components we included in this new version. The game got bigger, but at its heart still retains the core experience and feel of the original game.

Paolo: We’ve also explored many other ideas that were just as exciting but didn’t quite fit in terms of components or theme, so they were cut.

Luke: And yet there’s still a good number of expansions to be explored here! I haven’t had the chance to play with them myself, so tell me a little about each.

Paolo: The first expansion, Old Gods, kind of completes the base game: one additional bad@$$ Boss, an additional character that should prove very interesting to play, and some other rooms. It’s a small expansion but rounds out the experience in my opinion.

The second expansion, Depths of Damnation, is where the new mechanics come in: there are new Monster types that regenerate their HP, 2 new Bosses, and a completely new mechanic: Lore cards. These cards are like bite-sized Choose Your Own Adventure stories. They expose the lore of the game in subtle ways, providing some greater connection to the world we’ve built. They are very immersive!

Gabriel: Yeah, Depths of Damnation is our humble minified love letter to COYA books. I just love it.

Paolo: The third expansion is all about the bling. Glittering Treasure is a cosmetic upgrade of all the Boss cards and the Rewards card from the base game.

I know I am biased, but when I play the complete game with all expansions, the sheer number of different Rooms makes it very engaging: you can’t start figuring out if X or Y Room card will appear in the next shuffle of the Room deck… you just don’t know! This can lead to very tense and suspenseful moments, as well as some very euphoric reactions!

Luke: It’s clear that you’re both very passionate about this title, which makes a ton of sense. Currently, this is the only game either of you are credited with on BGG. What has it been like dedicating yourself to this single design for 4+ years?

Paolo: Hard! It’s hard to keep focus; there are so many ideas that we have.

Gabriel: Life gets in the way so to speak, but this is a passion project of ours and we never lost hope of having the product in people’s hand.

Paolo: The other hard part was not delivering the KS earlier: every year it meant another year of Mini Rogue, and not on a new project. But don’t get me wrong, delaying the KS until 2020 was the best thing that could have happened, as we could iron out a lot of kinks and made the game better. At the same time, Nuts! Publishing got to learn to drive a Kickstarter and organize a whole lot of stuff.

Luke: It must have been an amazing experience watching the game evolve so dramatically over the years.

Gabriel: It’s been humbling, seeing so many people use the game system and make fun projects on their own; it’s just beautiful.

Paolo: For a 9-card PnP game, we’ve sure had a lot of visitors. We’ve seen a couple of adaptations too, like the Arduboy demake, and some cool guy on BGG making a DOS version in his spare time. So the best part is how some people see the game as something much more than the sum of its parts.

Luke: What would you say has been the hardest part of the design process at large?

Gabriel: One of the more difficult aspects of designing a game with so few moving parts is that changing a card’s single value does have a big impact on the overall experience than say a big euro game where you have many moving pieces. The fewer pieces you have, the more difficult to get that “perfect” game balance.

Luke: To sort of summarize everything we’ve talked about here, why do you feel folks should back Mini Rogue on Kickstarter?

Gabriel: I believe our game does a quite good job at capturing the feel and tactical decisions of old school roguelikes/grid-based dungeon crawlers in a small and new format. If you pay close attention, you’ll see multiple inspirations, especially the original Rogue. We also put a lot of thought and effort into making a game that’s challenging but never impossible, we’ve often come quite close to getting our hand on the Og’s Blood and even touched it a couple of times.

Paolo: It’s a simple game but has a ton of variety. Easy to set up, easy to understand, easy to play, and you can play with a friend!

Luke: Last question of the day: what would you say to aspiring indie board game designers?

Paolo and Gabriel:

  • A game that is played will always be better than a game that is only made.
  • Iterate. Iterate. Iterate.
  • Play, take notes, adjust values, repeat.
  • Get someone else to play; you have the curse of knowledge so they don’t get the game like you do. Explaining again and again will rewire how you formulate concepts for the better.
  • Between something that YOU WANT and something that the GAME NEEDS, choose the latter. Let go of your ego; the game has its own destiny and needs to be free.

Luke: Fantastic, thank you both so much for taking the time to talk with me today.

And thank you to those who took the time to read with us! Let us know your thoughts below, let us know if there’s someone you’d like us to interview soon, and we’ll see ya’ll next week!