Behind the Board: Scott Almes on Cosmic Colonies

Luke: Hey folks, welcome back to Behind the Board! This week, we had the chance to sit down with Scott Almes again to chat about his game Cosmic Colonies, which was recently released through Floodgate Games. Glad we didn’t scare you off last time, Scott.

Scott: [laughs] I don’t scare the easy.

Luke: So 2020’s been a pretty busy year for you! With Food Chain Island, Tiny Epic Dinosaurs, and a ton of projects on the way, what makes Cosmic Colonies stand out from the rest of your work coming out this year?

Scott: Cosmic Colonies stands out as my big box, casual game for this year. It’s a great fit for those new to the hobby or those gamers who want to add some casual/casual+ games into their collection.

Luke: Which made Floodgate a pretty good fit for it, huh?

Scott: Absolutely. I first connected with Ben [Harkins] back in 2016 to start working on a game together. I showed him two prototypes at the time, and we started to work on what would become Cosmic Colonies! This game was very long in development, which really made the final project shine!

Luke: Wow, 4 years! I’m sure you’ve seen more iterations of this game than you can count.

Scott: For sure, but the core mechanic was always something we had in mind.

The “play and pass” mechanic was derived from my love of drafting games. From a mechanical point of view, drafting does such great things for a game’s design. It allows players to make decisions at the same time which reduces downtime. It is a natural balancing agent because the cards get circulated.

For these reasons, I wanted to add my own little twist to the drafting genre. After some experimentation, I came up with the core loop of Cosmic Colonies; every player has a hand of cards, and the cards that are played are passed to the next player. It adds a bit of a head game to it, too.

Luke: Which, naturally, led to the outer space theme.

Scott: The theme changed a lot, actually… when the mechanics were figured out, we knew the players needed to ‘build’ on something, but we needed to figure out what. After some discussion, we decided that a space thing – building colonies on asteroids – was a great, family-friendly theme that brought in some imagination and sense of wonder!

Luke: The thing that, to me, makes this such a good family title is how customizable it is to a player’s taste, with advanced card pools, scoring, and so on. What led you to create such a malleable design?

Scott: I would say the very long development process helped with this. Since we’ve been working on the game together for 3 to 4 years, we learned that many different versions work with different audiences. Luckily, the features that change the difficultly level, strategic overhead, and such are fairly component-light. So, we were able to work in some customization options into the game.

Luke: It must have been a nightmare to try and balance all of the abilities on the cards, especially with the advanced card pool.

Scott: There is a big excel sheet that breaks down the abilities, which are given weight based on turn order, number of resources it can collect, potential points from the ability, and more. I use this as a starting place to balance out the cards, and then the rest of it needs to happen through play.

Some abilities are easier to balance by others: it’s easy to compare two cards that each give a resource bonus. But, putting the cards against one another in a play situation is the best way to check more disparate abilities. Math gets you started, but you need to verify through play.

Luke: As to be expected in any game you make, the solo mode for Cosmic Colonies is very impressive, particularly because of how easy it is to learn and run. How did you design a solo mode for a fairly interactive game in such a concise manner?

Scott: For most of my games, I actually have a solo mode developed to help with quick testing. This won’t give you a perfect test, but if I’m wondering if an ability is useful, or something is overpowered, it can give me some quick insights during the development process.

Because of this, I accidentally spend a lot of time working on what a commercial-ready solo game would look like. So I get to iterate on it a lot to make sure it plays very smoothly. I really take pride in having low overhead solo modes for my games. I want players to spend their fun managing their own materials, not a robot player’s!

Luke: Last question for today, Scott; what do you hope folks get out of the Cosmic Colonies experience?

Scott: Truthfully, I hope they have fun puzzling out how to best build their cosmic colony! And, I hope they get a lot out of how the different abilities can work together. Especially when you start to use the advanced deck or the advanced modes, there are lots of opportunities for very clever play!

Luke: Oh yeah, I love dipping into some of the more advanced elements of the game. Definitely one of my favorite games of the year thus far.

Scott: Well, thank you, I appreciate it.

Luke: So as we close out here, what other projects should folks be keeping an eye out for from you in the coming months?

Scott: Other than Cosmic Colonies, of course, I have a few other games hitting stores soon. As you mentioned above, be on the lookout for Tiny Epic Dinosaurs, which will be arriving in retail very soon, and Food Chain Island will be coming out late August. Also, my solo game Warp’s Edge with Renegade Games will be released in September.

Luke: Thanks again for joining us today, Scott, a pleasure as always. And thanks to all you readers out there! Leave your thoughts down below, and we’ll see you next time.

Luke’s Unmatched Designer Diaries: To Be or Not To Be

Welcome back to my Unmatched Designer Diaries series! Last time, we talked about choosing potential candidates for designing, why that probably shouldn’t have been my first step, and revealed that the first character I would be working on was Hamlet. And jeez, a lot can change in just 1 week, as any designer or developer can tell you.

The reason why I wanted to tinker with Hamlet was simple; I wanted to try and design a 1-health sidekick that didn’t leave play, instead reviving after a certain period of time. The logical candidate for this? A ghost. Enter King Hamlet, a particularly influential and well-known ghost, the catalyst for his son’s adventure and untimely death.

I set to work, as I usually do, by considering what Common cards I would include in his deck. While, in V0.1, I would include Feint, Exploit, and Dash, I later swapped out Dash for Skirmish, as Hamlet needed the extra strength behind his punches.

A large part of my design philosophy when delving into this was to give Hamlet the vibe of a fencer, a character that dances around their opponents, manipulating them into bad positions. While least prominent in V0.1, one of my favorite cards I designed, Parry, made its debut here. A Defense 3, Parry is set aside after use. When Hamlet starts his next turn, he then is forced to discard Parry and gain an additional action. It’s a powerful tool that gives Hamlet more flexibility and encourages the feeling of using his opponent’s actions against them.

Later builds would include cards like Riposte, Remise, and Lunge, all cards that would toy with the opponent while playing into the real-life actions:

  • Remise is a 2 Attack that rewards losing the combat with an extra action.
  • Lunge is a 3 Attack that moves the opponent up to 2 spaces afterward.
  • Riposte is a 4 Defense that, if you won the combat, deals 2 damage to the opponent.

In addition to this, Hamlet has some heavy-hitting options. Palpable Hit is a simple 5 Attack with a card draw. Murder Most Foul is a 3 Attack that, if it kills an opposing fighter, forces the opponent to discard a random card. But the card I find most exciting is Driven By Madness; a 4 Versatile, this card allows you to discard up to 3 cards off the top of your deck, adding +1 to the attack for each card discarded this way. This allows the player to be reckless and burn through their deck for big damage, or to defend and discard as needed to protect his health.

One other tool Hamlet has is Venomous Blade, a card that I have developed into something that I find to be a bit more palatable than it would have been originally. Previously, this 3 Attack will force the opponent to discard 1 card for each damage taken. Seeing as most people block regularly, I only foresee this card, on average, forcing 1 discard. Yet this does open up the opportunity of making the opponent discard up to 3, a no-no when it comes to this design. Making the card a 2 Attack, though, leaves this card feeling like it will so rarely trigger that it’s barely a card worth including at all. The solution? Make the discards come off the top of the opponent’s deck! While they lose cards, they aren’t losing any cards from their hand, acting similarly to Driven By Madness. Thus far, this has felt like a good compromise, but let me know your thoughts down below.

But what of the King’s Ghost, you may be asking? The very crux of this design, the element that made you so interested in designing Hamlet in the first place? Well… it didn’t work. At least, not how I had it.

In keeping a sidekick on the board extensively, you have to consider how you’ll designate where they return to play. The easiest solution is flipping the Sidekick token face-down and, at the end of Hamlet’s turn (to provide some sort of downside for the controlling player), flip is token face-up again.

But then how do you handle the space where the King’s Ghost is located? Opponents can’t move into or interact with that space if the King’s Ghost returns there, creating an impenetrable roadblock, obviously not ideal. And if the opponent can move into that space, then the King’s Ghost can be returned to the board through a handful of methods:

  • A space adjacent to where his token was, but that can easily be used to make another temporary roadblock between turns.
  • A space adjacent to Hamlet or in Hamlet’s zone, which again allows the player to block the opponent pretty easily.
  • A place of the opponent’s choosing, which could work but leads to a weird player interaction that, to my mind, would leave the King’s Ghost feeling less and less useful.

In short, having a sidekick be constantly reappearing on the board forces the opponent waste cards to get close to Hamlet, only to have him reappear in a frustrating, cyclical loop. Alternatively, Bruce Lee could eternally deal with the King’s Ghost for free, leading to weird, awkward, and unfun board states.

So I pivoted the design to something slightly different but similar; now, after the King’s Ghost loses its 7 HP, Hamlet gets +1 to each of his Attacks. This leads to a heavy encouragement to use the King’s Ghost as a shield while also giving his some spicy card options to make him a nuisance. Primarily, Phantom Blade is a 2 Versatile that, if used to Attack, ignores the opponent’s value, dishing 2 damage. If used to Block, then the King’s Ghost takes no damage, safe to fight another day. His other 2 cards are instants:

  • Vengeance Reaffirmed shunts the King’s Ghost to Hamlet’s side, healing his son for 2 HP.
  • Like Father, Like Son swaps the positions of Hamlet and the King’s Ghost, dealing 2 damage to each opponent adjacent to the King’s Ghost after the swap.

I think, overall, I enjoy the direction in which this design has gone, and I think he works well. My biggest concern is that, currently, he feels a little too “vanilla.” His style and movements make him feel different from the other characters I’ve played, certainly, but his ability is less exciting than I would like. I’ll have to think on this and consider whether this will be one of the 2 designs I ultimately enter.

One character I am incredibly psyched about, though, is my design for Captain Hook, which I’ll be leaping into head-first next week. Thanks again for tuning in, and I look forward to seeing you again soon!

Sagrada: Life – New Shades, Same Window

  • Designers: Adrian Adamescu and Daryl Andrews
  • Artist: Matt Paquette
  • Publisher: Floodgate Games
  • Release Date: August 2020 (Pre-Orders Open Here)

Disclaimer: This expansion was provided to us for review by Floodgate Games.

Luke: Sagrada has been a mainstay in my personal board game collection for years now, which is saying a lot. When only keeping 30 titles on the shelf, you see a lot of boxes come and go.

Phil: I don’t know how you do it, dude.

Luke: It’s just how I am. I’m a minimalist, and I hate having a lot of stuff I don’t use hanging around the house. Also, it makes moving way less of a hassle.

Phil: Oh, I’m sure.

Luke: Throughout the game’s lifetime, I’ve gone out of my way to pick up each expansion as it releases. While I wasn’t a huge fan of the 5- and 6-player addition, I found Passion to be a phenomenal little box that added just enough to keep the game fresh without becoming too distracting form the core experience.

Phil: Naturally, we were excited to give the 2nd entrant into this series of mini-expansions a go, boasting the inclusion of 3 new modules.

Luke: The first is by far the easiest to explain; more Public Objectives. These are always a nice bonus, and some of them are incredibly clever. Scoring points for alternating color or number patterns, the column with the highest total value, or for pairs of dice that match number and color are tricking but very rewarding.

Phil: All 6 of the included options are smart and interesting; an easy recommendation on that front.

Luke: The 2nd of these modules was by far less successful for us, but that was to be expected; the Apprentice cards adds variable player powers that you can draw into mid-game.

Phil: As we talked about with Passion, we’re not a huge fan of what player powers “adds” to the overall experience, but at least with those, you got 1 power at the start and kept it throughout. Here, you’ll get 2+ abilities from a deck of 22 which can vary in usefulness greatly.

Luke: New board layouts are provided, copies of the original 12 released boards but with Apprentice icons sprinkled on them. Whenever placing a die on one of these symbols, you either draw 2 Apprentice cards and keep 1 or draw the top card from the discard pile.

Phil: Abilities may give you 1-time buffs, be passive bonuses you’ll get multiple times, or scoring bonuses at the end of the game.

Luke: I’ve literally won games solely because I had one of said bonus cards, which can leave you with a slightly bitter taste in your mouth. I pride my wins in Sagrada because they feel earned, but having this random element earn me an extra 8 points or so feels against the spirit of what the game is.

Phil: Additionally, drawing cards, reading them, and picking one seriously slows down the flow of the game to a snail’s pace, rusting the well-oiled drafting that normally keeps Sagrada moving so quickly.

Luke: Agreed. I’d say this module gets a pass from us.

Phil: And that leaves us with the 3rd and biggest addition to this expansion; the Masterworks dice.

Luke: These are pretty neat. At the start of the game, various orange dice with different sets of arrows are set out to the side along with a purchasing board. When drafting a die, instead of placing it, you can always “sell” it to this board, either using its value or its color, to get one of these orange dice, placing it anywhere on your board.

Phil: This can be a good way of covering up some of those pesky color- or number-restriction spaces.

Luke: At the end of the game, you could score 5 points for completing the requirements of the die, usually that the dice the arrows are pointing at are either the same value or the same color.

Phil: If you fail to do this, though, you’ll lose 2 points.

Luke: And you can pull as many orange dice as you want, assuming there’s more available, pressing your luck to the brink.

Phil: It can be a little wonky to explain the nuances of this one the first time, but it quickly feels fairly straightforward, and it makes for a nice way to spice up the Sagrada experience, similar to the clear dice in Passion.

Luke: You also get a couple of Tool cards specific to the Masterworks dice, allowing for a little extra variability there too.

Phil: This is definitely a module worth checking out, but you won’t want to use it every game, switching it out for other modules every few games.

Verdict: Overall, we really loved 2/3rds of this expansion, especially the Masterworks dice, which is the most important element of what’s on display here. We won’t be using the Apprentice cards again down the road, but we can still heartily recommend picking Life up. This is the game that keeps on giving.

Marvel Champs Monday: Fastest Man Alive

Luke: It’s hard to understate how much cool stuff FFG showed off this past weekend, especially in regards to Marvel Champions. With a whopping 6 heroes and 1 villain revealed with a few cards for each, it’s an incredibly exciting time for those of us invested in the game.

Phil: So much so that a few of us Content Creators have banded together to talk about our favorite recently announced hero!

Luke: And while every character looks like they have something that makes them interesting, there was no doubt in my mind that I needed to talk about my boy Quicksilver.

Phil: One of your comic book favs, right?

Luke: He stands alongside Cyclops as one of the cocky mutant screw-ups that I find appealing within the X-Men pantheon.

Phil: I mean, Quicksilver isn’t technically a-

Luke: He’ll always be a mutant to me, Phil.

For those who didn’t have the chance to see the stream, Quicksilver has a lot going for him. In his Alt Ego from, he can sift through his deck, tossing cards to draw more.

Phil: And if he’s teamed up with his sister, he can even get an extra card from doing this, tying into the recently revealed team-up element. I don’t know that I’m a huge fan of how one of his core abilities is so tied to another hero, but it makes sense for Pietro to become impatient and just tossing resources to get more.

Luke: His hero ability is less straightforward, though. With only 1 THW, ATK, and DEF, Quicksilver can ready himself after using a basic ability once per phase.

Phil: The term “phase” being the keyword here.

Luke: That’s not one of the keywords in the-

Phil: You know what I mean. Because it happens each phase, this means that Pietro can defend EVERY TURN for free. Sure, he’s only blocking 1 damage, but that can make for a huge difference.

Luke: These sorts of bonus actions can definitely add up and make a huge difference. You could ping to remove a tough then thwart in the same turn for instance. That flexibility will make Quicksilver someone who can do a little bit of everything all the time.

Phil: Plus, whatever Aspect he taps into will allow him to up that stat, making him slightly focused while still being able to do a ton.

Luke: Speaking of which, Quicksilver will be coupled with my favorite Aspect, Protection, so I’m incredibly excited for that. The one card that we’ve seen from that, Warlock, will be an awesome ally to add to the roster.

Phil: Duuuuuuuuuude, Warlock in a Spider-Man Protection deck is going to be bonkers.

Luke: Right?!?

Phil: Of course, Quicksilver is going to fall prey to a few dastardly elements of villain decks. Anything that exhausts Quicksilver, such as his Obligation or many of Klaw’s cards will slow him down a bit. And Retaliate will whittle his health down to nothing in minutes.

Luke: Every action counts for him, and making those actions less frequent or sub-optimal could trip up the speedster.

Phil: The last thing worth noting today is the team-up card he shares with Scarlet Witch, Order and Chaos. It’s essentially most hero cancels with a little spice on top, dealing 2 damage to the villain just to add salt to the wound. It’s a nice tool if you happen to have the pair working together, and it feels very thematic.

Luke: Plus that art is just great.

Phil: What more will we find in Quicksilver’s pack? Will his Nemesis be his brooding and disapproving father figure? We’ll have to wait and see, but Pietro is clearly a character worth looking forward to.

Luke: We’re definitely incredibly excited for him, but which hero are you anticipating the most? Let us know in the comments below, and we’ll see you next week!

Luke’s Unmatched Designer Diaries: Choose Your Fighters!

Hey folks! Welcome to Designer Diaries where I, Luke Muench, will be walking you through my process for designing my entries into the Unmatched Design Challenge. This obviously is going to be a little different from our usual flavor of articles, so let us know your thoughts on how we can improve it in the comments below!

There are a few reasons why I wanted to start this series:

  • To track my progress as I explored the nooks and crannies of one of my favorite games.
  • To better explore my design methods and find some that perhaps don’t work as well as I think.
  • To create a record of my designs so that, even if they aren’t chosen, I can still share my process with those who are curious.
  • To better connect with the Unmatched community at large.

And I think, in the process of writing this article, I’ve already started to see progress on a few of these points, which is quite rewarding. But enough idle chit-chat! Let’s get to the meat and potatoes of what we’re talking about today.

Upon hearing about the contest, the first step, to me, was obvious; finding characters to work with. In retrospect, this so “obvious” first step should have likely been my 2nd or 3rd, but it was helpful in some ways to start to jog my brain about the types of things I could do with a character.

For me, every Unmatched character design starts with a core conceit, some feeling or gameplay style that I want to see represented in my design. I want to break this specific rule or bring this archetype into the game. Going back, I would likely consider some of the types of things I’d like to create rather than cherry-picking characters and designing for them later. As you’ll see, my first character design isn’t even one of those I methodically select down below! But I do think there were some benefits to the way I went about this.

There is a wide swathe of characters that someone could choose for their design, even with the limitations presented. As a reminder, the core limitations are:

But even with those very clearly laid-out statutes, I found some potential potholes I didn’t intend on stepping into.

For one, not all public domain characters are what you think they are. One of the best examples of this is the Wicked Witch of the West, a character I was heavily considering for this design process. She is listed under public domain, sure, but only her literary iteration. The film adaptation is, to put it lightly, very unfaithful to the original text. Her skin isn’t green, she doesn’t have a personal army of flying monkeys for most of the story (though they do appear briefly, they are more so forced laborers than obedient minions), and she has a habit of summoning various creatures.

This wouldn’t be such a big deal in most cases. Yes, many of the characteristics that we collectively think of in regard to this character were conjured up by the film, but that can be okay. The nail in the coffin for me, though, is her name. In the text, the Wicked Witch isn’t really given a specific name or title, meaning that “Wicked Witch of the West” is protected by the copyright of the film, which will last until 2035. That’s why she has various other names in the adaptations of the story, like Elphaba in Wicked.

So while I could design a perfectly good fighter around her character, there’s no guarantee that we could legally refer to her as “The Wicked Witch of the West” on the box, a limitation that could disqualify my entry on that basis alone. While I did get the go-ahead from Justin Jacobson, I ultimately didn’t want to take the risk.

The other big factor that I took into consideration is the marketability of the character. I wanted to pick someone that is known, recognizable, and have a knack for fighting. Sherlock Holmes has been cited by the design team in the Unmatched Discord chat for not traditionally seen as being a fighter in the sense this game brings to mind, but I think later adaptations of the hero, such as the film duology starring Robert Downey Jr., have made there a more popularized iteration of the character. The same can be said of Alice between the American McGee’s video game series and the Tim Butron films.

The last big factor, for me, was not falling into the trap of making a “joke” character. While there is a certain appeal to selecting a character that clearly isn’t a fighter and transforming them to fit in this game, I generally avoided a lot of the holiday characters or more lighthearted narratives. The Unmatched sets that have been released thus far have included heroes that, if altered, make sense in a combat-based setting, at least to my mind. So I wanted to be aware of how a character might be perceived if shifted in tone.

All of this reduced my count down to 6 characters, including the Wicked Witch (who was later scrapped due to everything I said above). And of those, 2 more were tossed away; Ali Baba and Van Helsing.

Ali Baba has a unique legend and interesting background to work with, especially with a strong, intelligent female sidekick, Morgianna. Unfortunately, Morgianna is a slave throughout the story, and though she’s granted her freedom, she is ultimately “rewarded” by being promised to Ali Baba’s son. I didn’t feel particularly comfortable promoting a slave-owner as one of the “heroes” players would aspire to be.

Van Helsing, on the other hand, would have been a good pick if not for the recently released Cobble and Fog. Being a set that exclusively came with English characters, I felt it redundant and somewhat shortsighted to submit another English character, especially one pulled from the narrative of Dracula, a character that was included in Cobble and Fog.

So, when all was said and done, I had 3 hero candidates that I decided to work with. Yes, I know, you can only submit 2 entries, but I wanted to have a back-up just in case things went awry. Those characters were:

  • Captain Hook
  • The Headless Horseman
  • Mowgli

Iconic? Yep. Visually striking? Sure. Interesting and well-known stories? You betcha. I felt ready to set out on my adventure with a plan under the belt.

… That is to say, until I came up with a character design that led me to a character hadn’t even intended on using; Hamlet. That’s the funny thing about design work; oftentimes, the mechanic will lead you in the direction you need to go more often than the theme will, at least in my experience.

So, next week, I’ll go into detail about what epiphany pointed me in this new direction and why I find myself so enamored with this new idea.

Thanks so much for taking the time to read my ramblings! Let me know your thoughts below, as well as if you’re also intending on entering the contest. Which characters strike you as the no-brainers?

Looking forward to chatting with you next week!

Cosmic Colonies: Orbits Within Orbits

  • Designer: Scott Almes
  • Artists: Matt Bain, Matt Paquette, Tristam Rossin
  • Publisher: Floodgate Games
  • Release Date: July 2020

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

Luke: Cosmic Colonies is a game that, for some time now, existed in my periphery vision. I heard about it occasionally in conversation, saw it from a distance at CuseCon this past fall, and saw that its Kickstarter was pretty successful. It wasn’t that I didn’t have an interest in it, I just never found myself so enticed as to do more research on it until recently.

Phil: And I’m really glad you finally got around to it, as this game is fantastic.

Luke: The premise is innocent enough; players are attempting to mine their own patches of land in space, gathering as many of those precious minerals as possible. Players score more points the less of a given terrain is still showing on their board at the end of the game, as well as for collected sets and secret goal cards.

Phil: Each round is composed of 2 identical phases in which everyone plays a card simultaneously, resolving all effects in initiative order. Assuming you are playing with the advanced variant, which we highly recommend, whether you play a card for the 1st or 2nd phase of a round will determine some of the bonus effects the card provides.

Luke: Cards are numbered between 1 and 20, establishing its initiative order, and will provide benefits for 1 of the 2 actions players can take.

Phil: Those actions being gathering resources or spending them on new tiles. Resources are limited each round according to player count, meaning you’ll have to be quick to get the stuff you need. Similarly, there’s only 1 tile of each type in a 2-player game, so you’ll want to buy strategically so you don’t get outmaneuvered.

Luke: Tiles are placed on your board similarly to games like Barenpark; the first tile can be placed anywhere, but each subsequent card must be placed adjacent to it. They can be rotated and flipped however you wish, but they can’t stick out of the borders of your board.

Phil: Of course, card effects can change this, but you can’t always rely on that. Only so many cards are used each game, again according to player count, so each game will feel unique based on what cards make their way into the pool of options.

Luke: But the biggest hook is that, after players have spent their 2 cards, those cards are then passed to their neighbor, changing up the options everyone has, meaning that you’ll have to constantly be adjusting your strategies based on what cards you currently have and what cards you think you’ll get.

Phil: In 2-player games, cards are passed to a central board, delaying them for a round so that players aren’t just passing options directly back and forth. It’s a smart workaround that makes for a much more dynamic experience.

Luke: The game is certainly best at 3 or 4 players, but for the purposes of this review, Cosmic Colonies is a very strong 2-player offering as well. Some rounds can feel like an intense fight as you and your opponent war over certain resources, which always feel just limited enough to make the game tense.

Phil: And as is par for the course for Scott Almes, the solo mode is sleek, smart, and a ton of fun. It’s biggest boon is how easy it is to learn, utilizing a significant amount of the core game’s DNA to make up a satisfying experience.

Luke: A difficult thing to do considering how much Cosmic Colonies relies on its social interaction.

Phil: Another significant detail worth mentioning is how malleable the game experience is. There’s a standard set of cards vs. an advanced set, adding unique elements to each card depending on when its played. There’s a regular scoring sheet and then an advanced mode on the back that rewards players for being more efficient with their tile placements. And there’s a mini-expansion that adds 5 more cards to the card pool and a neat new way of scoring.

Luke: Cosmic Colonies is the epitome of “play it how you want” in a way that never feels overwhelming. There are plenty of options, but each makes slight rules changes while making the gameplay feel significantly shaken up.

Phil: If I have 1 complaint, it would be the component quality. The player boards are nice enough, being a thin plastic, but light reflects off of them in a distracting way, making it hard to read at times.

Luke: And the cards feel a bit thin, especially considering how often they’re getting handled and passed around the table. I’ll likely have to sleeve them soon enough.

Phil: So this is a game that’s staying on your shelf? An impressive seal of approval for you.

Luke: Cosmic Colonies has earned its spot on my shelf of 30 titles alongside Sagrada; it’s a game I look forward to revisiting time and again.

Verdict: While best at 3 or 4 players, Cosmic Colonies is a fantastic game no matter how many folks you can cram around the table. Its core mechanic feels clever and makes you think around your opponents, there’s plenty of variability game to game, and it’s a ton of fun for new and experienced gamers alike. Definitely take the time to check this one out.

Marvel Champs Monday: The Pre-Legacy of Beat Cop

Phil: It’s been a while since we’ve done a full-out article regarding a specific card, let alone a card that hasn’t even been released yet.

Luke: Not officially in the US, no, but Hulk is just around the corner, so I thought it’d be worth taking a look and seeing what all the hub-bub is about.

Phil: Since her reveal, Beat Cop has been a card that has captured the minds and ire of a number of Marvel Champions fans, dubbed “OP” well before anyone had started putting it in their decks. And while I’m not a huge fan of the expression, I think there’s some earnesty in what people are trying to express when they say as much.

Luke: And don’t worry, those of you worried about spoilers; this is a card that FFG themselves revealed some time back, so we’re not looking to reveal any unannounced secrets.

Phil: Enough chatter! Let’s take a gander at what this card even does.

Luke: Both a Persona and a Support card, Beat Cop in nuanced in a rather unsubtle way. Each turn, a player can remove 1 threat for free (once she’s in play), tracking the removed threat on her card. Then, once she’s built up enough tokens, she can deal a ton of damage on a single minion, with the damage equal to the threat collected.

Phil: Presumably defeating said minion.

Luke: Most likely.

Phil: This makes Beat Cop a multifaceted card in how it functions. It slows down the pace of the game for as long as you have it in play, infinitely in theory. Only when she is desperately needed to remove a minion will she leave the playing field, taking a presumably big threat down with her.

Luke: I agree that the threat removal is easily her strongest asset, even when compared to the other Justice cards. She may be a slow burn, only ticking one away at a time, but when it becomes a free action, you can see how valuable this card can be, even at 3 resources.

Phil: That is likely the biggest element that makes me hesitate to start sounding the alarm bells. A 3-cost card can be pretty expensive depending on what character you’re playing and what other cards you need to get in play. Thor could likely benefit from the help, for instance, but all his cards are already prohibitively pricey.

Luke: Still, it’s hard to argue with the power curve on display here. Not only does she help with Justice’s main adversary, threat, but it also lightly compensates for one of its biggest weaknesses, damage output.

Phil: But will she actually be as strong as everyone suspects? We’ll have to wait until next week when Hulk lands on our doorstep.

Luke: But some of you out there have had a chance to try her out for yourselves; what are your thoughts? Let us know in the comments below, and we’ll see you next week!

Fort: A Sound Structure

  • Designer: Grant Rodiek
  • Artist: Kyle Ferrin
  • Publisher: Leder Games
  • Release Date: August 2020 (Pre-Order Here)

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

Luke: Leder Games is one of my favorite companies in the industry. Not only are they helmed by some of the kindest individuals in board gaming, but they make some pretty phenomenal experiences. We haven’t spoken about the Vast series or Root here because those games work best at bigger player groups, but rest assured they are experiences that ought to be tried at least once.

Phil: So when Fort was announced, we both knew this would be a title we needed to cover. Not only is this a step away from the asymmetrical 2-hour ventures Leder Games is known for, its also a game that sings particularly well at a table of 2.

Luke: Based on SPQF, a game by the same designer released in 2018, Fort tasks players with gathering the neighborhood kids in your backyard and proving that you know how to have the best time on the block.

Phil: Something that stands out from the get-go is that players are always adding cards to their deck, widening their options, but are also giving others the opportunity to sneak cards out of your deck.

Each turn, you’ll play 1 card for its effects, potentially modifying it with the suits of other cards in your hand. All unused cards are sent to your yard, leaving them up for grabs until the start of your next turn.

Luke: Players can also spend cards to follow the actions of their opponents, meaning you’re encouraged to consider how to use each card. You may even find yourself allowing some of your friends to wander into the yard so they’re snatched up by someone else. Sure, your opponent may get a useful resource, but Dot was just weighing down your otherwise svelt engine.

Phil: And the unique way deck-building is handled is inspired. No longer do you worry if you can afford this card or that, only if it helps your engine. You’ll always have to add something, so it might as well be something good.

Luke: Cards will do a variety of things, allowing you to gather pizza and toys (the primary resources of the game), gathering extra cards, removing cards from the game, or even upgrade your fort.

As your fort grows over the game, you’ll get bumps of victory points while also giving you some notable tools. The first, a Made-Up Rule, will give you a secret goal card that you’ll be able to build towards. And the second, a Perk, will give you a special power to compliment your playstyle.

Phil: And there are plenty of playstyles to be found here. You can aggressively build your fort in an effort to end the game, move cards to your Lookout so you get discounts on many of your effects, or just get a ton of points by hoarding pizza in your Backpack. There are a genuinely surprising number of ways that you can approach the game.

Luke: Every game starts with either a blind draw or, once you’re more familiar, a draft, allowing you to get a feel for how you’ll tackle the puzzle of Fort each time you attempt it. And all of this can clock in at around 45 minutes, probably less once you become more familiar with it.

Phil: To be frank, I haven’t been so impressed by a deck-builder since Xenon Profiteer. This game is clever, simple, and involved, making your decisions matter without feeling punishing.

Luke: If we were to site a “complaint” or “issue” we might have, it would be that the iconography can be overwhelming at times, even with a reference sheet. But this feels like a minuscule nit-pick in the grand scheme of things. I firmly believe that this game will have something for every type of deck-builder out there.

Verdict: Fort is charming with a beautiful art style and adorable theme, and the gameplay is smart yet easy to pick up. There are always tough decisions to be made, and there are various diverse methods to strive for victory. Leder Games has once again blown us away with another impressive title.

Marvel Champs Monday: What Makes a True Nemesis

Phil: Nemesis cards are one of the more interesting yet easily overlooked elements of a Hero set. While they add flavor and challenge to a given scenario, they don’t show up too frequently and range from overbearingly tough to underwhelmingly easy to deal with.

Luke: Not all Nemesis sets are created equal, so let’s take a look at what makes for a fun challenge without becoming obnoxious.

Phil: And the easiest way to do that is to create the difficulty range; what are the extremes of the Nemesis spectrum?

Luke: On the easy end of the spectrum, we have Thomas Edison. With 3 health, he’s a pretty quick to defeat, and while he’s protected by other minions unless you’re fighting Ultron or the Mutagen Formula scenarios, it’s unlikely that you’ll have too many adversaries to cover for him. The real threat is his Giant Robot, a minion that is more obnoxious than it is fun to deal with.

Phil: And who knows if this mechanical menace will surface? By the time it does manage to come into play, it’s doubtful that you’ll be far from victory or defeat already.

Luke: Similarly, Yon-Rogg is only as effective as his low-threshold threat; neither are particularly hard to defeat nor do they pose a terribly overbearing threat.

Phil: Yon-Rogg’s stats are rock-solid, but it’s unlikely he’ll stick around long enough to do much, and the events that he introduces to the game are fairly tame.

Luke: On the opposite end of things, Loki is an unmitigated disaster whenever he comes into play. Having a minion that could theoretically never leave the battlefield is infuriating to deal with without some method of looking at the top of the Encounter deck.

Phil: And Family Feud acquires so much threat the moment it comes into play that it becomes a constant, looming issue that is incredibly tough to recover from.

Luke: The fact that these cards come into play with such force could end some games before they even start. They can certainly provide a tight challenge if players have built up their engines a little, but Thor certainly got the shortest end of the Nemesis stick.

Phil: That leaves us with some strong Nemesis sets that will test your skills and put you on edge without throwing your game altogether. My favorite example of this is Baron Zemo. With his Quickstrike and Hit Squad dealing a cool 3+ damage from the onset, Zemo commands the attention of players, putting pressure on your health and threat-levels, making him the center of the action.

Additionally, his Hydra minions can become distracting and relentless, blocking you with Guard and potentially springing into action thanks to Hail Hydra!.

Luke: Baron Mordo shows an equal amount of resilience. Though his stats are weak overall, the fact that he casts a Magic Blast with each attack can make him an imposing foe.

The fact that he cuts off access to one of your Invocation cards can also be rough, but Counterspell and Thoughtcasting are genuinely debilitating, hamstringing your plans by milling your hand and dishing damage or canceling your next event.

Phil: There’s just something about the title “Baron” that really gives a villain some class I guess.

Luke: What make these enemies great isn’t just that they mess with their hero’s abilities, not just that they can be hard to remove from play, but that they have tools that can slow down anyone who runs into them. Your teammate could collide into a Hydra agent and have no choice but to take them down, or be caught off-guard by a Counterspell.

Phil: Killmonger, Whiplash, and Vulture are each great examples of this as well, formidable foes to whomever they oppose.

Luke: Which make the more generic and specific Nemeses like Titania and Taskmaster stand out like sore thumbs, brief roadblocks on the road to success.

Phil: From what we’ve seen of Abomination, he looks like a towering beast that will test Hulk’s raw strength, hopefully falling in line with the pantheon of baddies waiting in the wings to ruin your day.

Luke: What Nemesis is your favorite and why? Let us know your thoughts in the comments, and we’ll see you next week!

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.