Reviews and Previews: Jamaica/Photosynthesis/Adventure.exe/Cpt. Sonar/Betrayal at Baldur’s Gate/Rising Sun

Me, but with miniatures and tokens.

Okay, with Jonathan and Steven’s visit we went full-bore games shopping for some likely additions to our respective catalogues. Some I can review (along with a podcast), some I can preview, but keep in mind that I tend to like boardgames. Rarely meet one that I couldn’t enjoy a few times.  The two that we tried out were very enjoyable, but unless I get an amazing deal I’ll probably not pick them up, but they would certainly be good additions to a game library.

There are a few things I haven’t got to completely finishing yet, like the entire back catalog of Cirith Ungol, the streamed sessions of MCG’s Invisible Sun, the new Numenera novel “The Night Clave” and the campaign “The Devil’s Spine”. Mostly that’s because I’ve been busy with Crusader Kings 2, because it is so great and eats all my time and I don’t care and let me tell you about my Kings…

REVIEWS

A turn based race around the island of Jamaica. It’s a six player, 45 minute game that is easy to pick up, got a bit of tactics to it and with beautiful (nay, award winning) art. After you get the gist of the rules there’s no reading required and you cant be knocked out of the game, so it would be a good game for kids.

Players have a hand of three 2-action cards; the lead player rolls two dice, and assigns one die to morning and one to the evening. Then everyone chooses a 2-action card, the first action tied to the morning die and the second action tied to the evening die. So if the dice were 2 then 5, a player could assign a Collect Morning (and collect 2) Action and a Move Evening (and move 5 spaces) Action. This means the dice usually favour the roller because they can tailor the dice/action interaction, but not always.

To land on most spaces requires either food or gold, resources you can collect as you go. If you don’t have enough of these things, you end up going backwards, which sounds bad in a race, but can sometimes work out well. The only spaces that don’t have this kind of tax are pirate hideouts, which give treasure to the first person who lands there. Some of that is Victory Points, some of it is gear that helps in combat.

Basically the first person across the finish line gets a whole bunch of points and wins, unless their opponent is close behind/laden with treasure. Streaking for the finish line is a pretty solid strategy, but there are a few tactical things like cargo management and treasure detours that make for a more interesting game.

We were all set to pick up a copy, but it is $60, which is understandable because the production values are high, but I don’t think there’s 60 bucks of play in it. I can see playing a 45 minute game along with a few other games, but not burning a few entire evenings on it. I’ll keep an eye out for it though, it’s a fun simple time and if I could get it for half-price I wouldn’t hesitate. If I was in the market for a family /non-gamer boardgame though, I’d maybe spend $50 on it. I’m cheap, is what I’m saying.

Yeah, look, I wasn’t sold initially either. But if you’re looking for games with obscure-to-the-point-of-ridiculousness subject matter, or you’re a biology graduate (ahem), this might be your game. And it’s really good. As easy to pick up as Jamaica, but with what feels like a lot more depth to the strategy involved. While Jamaica is partially fun because of the luck of the dice, Photosynthesis has no luck involved at all, but relies on player strategies that must adapt as the game progresses.

At its root (eh?) the game is about growing a tree that harvests a bunch of sun points, then dies, scoring you points. The sun points (I think that’s what they’re called) scale to the size of the tree but are denied if your tree is blocked from the ever shifting sun: these are your action points, so the more of these the better. Play involves growing your trees to throw shade on your… opponent (?) trees, collect sun and eventually go the way of all things.

This was a really enjoyable game, the knack of orchestrating your tree placement/growth in such a way that will pay off in a few turns time takes a bit. It has fewer moving parts than Jamaica, yet somehow seems more complicated, probably just because of how many moves ahead you can plan your strategy. Again it’s another language independent, beautifully produced game. You don’t get many games with trees as playing pieces; it’s crying out for a LOTR Treebeard reskin. I could see buying it if you wanted a different kind of game for a gamer crowd, it is maybe slightly slippery for non-gamers.

Dipping around for other roleplaying podcasts I’ve found that an awful lot of them are… a lot awful. Even One Shot, which can be great, is well produced and can be a good way to check out new games ahead of time can also be very spotty. I think it’s the problem of trying to set a tone for a genre of game, yet also setting up a space for yucks. You can do that if you have the right game (nothing too heavy) and the right personnel. I’m delighted to see that Sarah Guzzardo was going to return to Nerd Poker, because I missed her.

Anyway, I was alerted through the social medias that Toren Atkinson, RPG artist and lead singer of Darkest Of The Hillside Thickets, was playing a bard in Season 2 of Adventure.exe. I’d just got done listening to another podcast he co-hosted, Caustic Soda and his RPG games were often mentioned, rarely elaborated upon. So I figured I’d check it out.

I’m so glad I did. They’re short episodes ( I think) once a fortnight. Maybe it’s because they’re in Season 2, but the production is very good and the four regulars do a good job with their not-particularly-adept adventurers/world building.  If you listen to the first 10 minutes of Season 2, Episode 1 and aren’t entertained, then it’s not going to be for you. But I’m really enjoying the banter between the snooty Elf aristo, cripplingly humble Kobold Paladin and Atkinson’s amazing Tim Curry-as-a-1st-level-Bard: a) It is a spot on impression b) he really commits to the songs and c) God, who wouldn’t want a Tim Curry Bard in their party?

Malachi Purvis, at your service.

PREVIEWS

We’ll have to hear how Captain Sonar goes from Jonathan, but I thought it looked like an interesting idea. It pits two teams of 1-4 people against each other in a game of uh, what seems like a mix of Battleship and Spaceteam. This seemed like an apropos pick-up after we’d spent the morning on the U-505 in Chicago, but as far as I know there’s no game mechanic for 67 players who aren’t allowed to shower for 6 months (and 2 who are) or having to eat the second toilet clear of stored food before being able to use it..

Each player has a different role: The Captain calling the shots, the First Mate and Engineer making those commands happen through their own mini-games and the Radio Operator listening to the other team, trying to deduce their sub’s position based on their shot calling.

At four players-a-team this is done in real time, which seems like it would be bonkers, but with 2 person teams the game is turn based so that you can move all the moving parts.

With essentially four mini games going on, the learning curve may be on the steep side, but it does look like it could be fun. By size it may be the heaviest game I’ve ever picked up because that central screen isn’t fucking around. I’ll stay tuned for updates from the North Atlantic as to how that goes.

Betrayal at Baldur’s Gate is a reskin/variant of Betrayal at House on the Hill that Steven and Jonathan raved about. I already have a haunted house game so when I saw the opportunity to get a variant I was happy to take it.

As adventurers, you explore Baldur’s Gate; its streets, its buildings and its catacombs, picking up items, surviving encounters and experiencing omens, hopefully getting more formidable. When you’ve experienced enough omens to trigger a Haunt the game changes. A different Haunt is experienced each game, depending on where the Haunt was triggered and which Omen did it. Whenever and wherever it goes down, the heroes get new victory conditions and so does the newly revealed traitor (some haunts have no traitor and some haunts are fully cooperative) and the game becomes very PVP/lethal. Betrayal at Baldur’s Gate is like a box of poisoned Drow chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get, but probably dead is the answer.

Players start off in the Elfsong Tavern, which is memorable for its amazingly impressive tit-physics. They were in real danger of dislocating her shoulder if she turned too quickly.

The streets could be flooded with monsters, or the traitor could just waltz around killing other adventurers. Who knows? The tokens for the game necessarily can’t be too specific – you aren’t going to get a bunch of kobold miniatures on the off chance you get a kobold uprising Haunt. So this isn’t some Descent-style extravaganza: You get six adventurer minis (12 possible adventurers) and some very nice tiles and a whole slew of generic tokens and not over the top cards. This wasn’t an expensive game and that’s fine.

Games are up to six players, probably two to an evening. I’ll be looking forward to getting a run at this fairly soon if anyone wants to come stab me in the back while feeding me Drow chocolates. The short length of the game makes up for permadeath as a possibility when the game flips to Haunt. Being the first casualty in a six player game would otherwise be a bummer, but it looks like when it gets to that point it snowballs really quickly.

Rising Sun arrived today in a whopping great box. I’d bought this so long ago that I wasn’t expecting it at all, so that was nice.

I’ll do a deeper dive into this once I’ve popped all the counters and given it a once over… but 89 miniatures! 39 of them larger-than-man-sized, from slightly larger to fucking Gojira. That’s 63 unique minis, as each Clan has its own themed minis, rather than just soldiers in different colour plastic.

I’ve committed to painting all my Mansions of Madness Minis; then after that, Rising Sun is getting painted, Basic box first, then all the Monsters/Gods/Dragons/Horrorific Japanese Folk Demons next. If anyone wants to come clean molding lines from minis while we playtest other shit…

Good god y’all

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