Magnetic Tide of Iron and Scenarios

Awhile back I talked a bit about Tide of Iron, Fantasy Flight’s entry into the world of World World II squad combat. Overall I’m a big fan of the game as it abstracts enough elements to make the game playable but really hits the sort of cinematic feel you would expect from a game with such gorgeous components. While the plastic army men look great, I really dislike how they plug into their bases. The concept is solid: you have circular bases with four peg holes and you stick your army guys in to build up squads. Unfortunately the pegs have a lot of extra flashing, are poorly shaped and just don’t fit into the bases nicely. It might sound a little silly if you haven’t played but honestly my friends and I found the pieces such a pain to deal with that it was enough to make us often choose something else over Tide of Iron.


One day I was poking around the Litko website looking at all their awesome laser-cut components and discovered you can get custom bases in a wide variety of materials. What really caught my eye were the flex magnets that have sticky backs. I immediately thought of Tide of Iron when I saw those and finally got around ordering some to start my work. Along with the 25mm flex magnets I picked up 200 #6 steel washers and some super glue.

I started by using an X-Acto knife on a cutting pad to hack the pegs off all the army guys. You could also probably use fingernail clippers or something else; I just grabbed the knife and went to it. Chopping those pegs off was wildly satisfying! Then I stuck all the flex magnets on the bases which was just as easy as you’d expect. Finally I glued washers on the bottoms of all the army guys. My bottle of super glue had a brush which was nice and a small dab was all I needed. Press each washer for 15-20 seconds to make sure it bonded, let dry and a glorious magnetic army arose!


It took me roughly an hour per army which wasn’t nearly as bad as I anticipated. If you are a perfectionist the 25mm bases are about one or two millimeters too large and overhang the top of the base just a bit. You could cut them down I suppose but it doesn’t bother me so I just left them. I was far more concerned with speed over aesthetics! Mostly I was impressed at how well the super glue bonded. There’s not much surface area touching between the army guys and the washers, especially on the officers (had to set them forward a bit more) but it was more than enough for the glue to really grab on. At first I was concerned the washers might easily plink off and need frequent re-gluing but that seems like a non-issue!

We managed to get a game in the other night to test drive the new magnetic armies and I’m really pleased with the results. All the guys now stand upright which makes counting out your starting units easier. The figures now have a little extra weight to them which I find satisfying and the magnets are just strong enough to hold the figures in place while moving the bases around but weak enough to easily remove the figures and not repel each other. I think the magnetic bases greatly increased our enjoyment of the game! If you own Tide of Iron and have a couple of hours to spare I’d really recommend magnetizing your set.


I also picked up the hard-cover designer series scenario book some time back and have flipped through it a few times but haven’t really had a chance to play any of the scenarios. This time we finally gave one a shot and it was easily the most fun I’ve had with a Tide of Iron scenario. To date many scenarios have been attack/defend style which – while probably historically correct – aren’t particularly exciting for the defender. You still need to prioritize your targets but typically have less movement options to make and just hope you roll well. Looking through the book there are a few scenarios in the book that have some points on the board that you need to hold to win (king of the hill style). We tried one with three points with each side starting near one of them and the third was more in the middle. You win if you hold all three at the end of any round or if you hold two at the end of the fourth round. This was great fun as each player had interesting tactical decisions to make; the Americans started with many more troops but had no reinforcements while the Germans had fewer starting troops but got more as the game progressed. It pretty much came right down to the wire and was serious fun.

Unfortunately I think that is the only scenario from the book I’ve had a chance to play. It looks like there is a really nice variety of scenarios, though, and I noticed at least two others that had a similar layout and goals which gives me hope. I’ll come back with more thoughts later once I get to try out more scenarios but so far it seems like the book is well worth the money. There are some mistakes in (be sure to check out the FAQ and errata) it but there’s a lot of great information from the scenario designers and they seem to be pretty creative. If you enjoy Tide of Iron the book seems to be a great addition and I’m hoping we see more of these down the road.

Ra

(image by cnidius @ BGG)
I’ve talked about Reiner Knizia and auction games a few times in the past. Knizia’s Modern Art is almost as pure an auction game you will find while other titles like Amun-Re and Hollywood Blockbuster feature interesting twists on auctions. I’ve mentioned in the past that I’m not a huge fan of auction-style games, mostly because I tend to be really bad at evaluating the worth of things. Ra, however, is one auction game I think everyone can love.

In typical Knizia fashion, Ra’s theme is completely irrelevant. The game takes place over three years with players either placing a new random tile to the collection of items up for grabs or calling an auction. Ultimately you are trying to collect these tiles which earn you points either at the end of each year and at the end of the game. Ra bares an Egyptian theme where tiles represent rivers, civilizations, gods, buildings and who knows what else. Why you are collecting these things through an auction is inconsequential; thankfully there’s a fantastic game sitting underneath the tacked-on chrome. I will say that the art and theme should age well, though, giving the game a classic feel.

Two things really make Ra tick:

(image by @ ekimmel BGG)

Fixed Bids – The game comes with 16 bidding tokens numbered 1 through 16. Players are given three each and one token is on the main game board up for auction with all the tiles. All auctions are once around: bidding starts with the player to the left of the auctioneer and each player is allowed only a single bid. The winner takes all the tiles that were up for auction along with the bidding token on the board which goes face-down in front of them, unavailable until the next year. Finally, they place the token they used to bid on the board and it is now up as part of the next auction.

Ra works because you know what bidding tokens everyone has and as the auction is once-around you know who can and cannot outbid you. The key decision is knowing when to call an auction or make a bid that forces the difficult decision on someone else. Let’s say a couple of tile were up for bid and the bidding starts with me. My hand is 3-5-10 and the next player’s hand is 2-9-14. Those two tiles out there aren’t necessarily worth a whole lot but it may very well be in my interest to bid my 3; now the next player has to bid 9 to outbid me. They have to decide if it is better to let me get those tiles for a small bid value, spend their higher bid to stop me from getting it or hope someone else outbids me. For me those tiles could easily be worth 3 but I’d also be just as happy seeing another player outbid me and use up one of their three bids for this year!

(image by @ wizardless BGG)
Push Your Luck – Ra features a great push-your-luck mechanism as you draw tiles. The main game board features two tracks: the bottom track shows the collection of tiles up for bid and the top row is where the Ra tiles go. If you pull a normal tile on your turn it gets added to the collection but if you draw a Ra tile it goes on the upper track and you are forced to start an auction. The catch is that when the last spot on the Ra track is filled up the year is immediately over and you start the next year of bidding! It is quite possible that you won’t have used up all your bid tokens by the end of the year and unless you won a big auction earlier you could end without much to show. You need to decide how long you can hold out for the perfect set and when you need to be happy with whatever you can get.

Scoring adds further tension to the push-your-luck element. Some tiles earn you points for sets, some stay in your collection from year to year while others are discarded. You may lose points for not collecting a specific type of tile and disaster tiles actually destroy tiles you may have collected so far! Things get agonizing when there’s only a couple of spots left on the Ra track, you are on your last bid token and there’s a great set of tiles up for auction but it doesn’t contain the tile you need to keep you from losing points this round. Ultimately you need to weigh how many points you stand to gain or lose against how soon you think the round will end.

(image by done111 @ BGG)

I love Ra because it is less about evaluating the worth of things and more about pushing those tough decisions onto your neighbors. If you have a bunch of low bidding tokens it is usually in your best interest to call auctions as frequently as possible; you don’t have much bidding power, so make the other players decide if they really want to spend their bigger bidding tokens on a small set of tiles. With higher bid tokens you know you have the muscle power to win but holding out too long means you may hit the end of the round before you can even make a bid.

Like many of Reiner Knizia’s games, Ra looks awfully dry on the surface. I highly recommend giving it a shot, though. The game plays quickly (around an hour), is easy to learn and filled with lots of tough decisions and tension-filled moments. I don’t think I would ever turn down a game of Ra!

More on Runewars

(image by UndeadViking @ BGG)
I’m almost certain I have managed more plays of Runewars faster than most any other game I’ve played, which is fairly impressive. Yes, it still has the newness factor going on but our group has really been enjoying it. Here are a few more thoughts on the game:

* Fantasy Flight lists an estimated playing time of three hours. I think for many that will be a pretty fairly accurate (without learning time included). We’ve been trending more towards four to five hours but we take longer on nearly all games.

* Starting position is crucial. It seems like you will initially be short on one of the three resources, so plan accordingly. Choke points tend to be an even bigger deal as they can really restrict your movement options. You also have to consider all your opponents’ choke points as well since they may force your neighbors in directions you otherwise would not expect! There are more factors to consider when building the map than I originally thought. Overall I’d consider that a good thing although it is possible to end up with a somewhat imbalanced map that you originally thought would be relatively fair.

* I really love the variety from game to game. Sometimes there are lots of heroes running around attempting quests and battling for loot. Other games you will see a lot of military action and jockeying for position and key territories. Neutral units will be wildly important one game and nothing but an afterthought in the next. There’s no single path to victory and how you play your race will really depend on your starting position and what your neighbors are doing. Add in the random season events that can really change up your plans and you have a game with extremely high replay value.

(image by Firepigeon @ BGG)

* The fate deck is a pretty slick mechanic but also introduces a few small annoyances. I really like how it works for combat: you simply draw cards equal to the number of units you have and see what the result is. My only real complaint is that you will do a fair amount of shuffling. It isn’t enough to be a hindrance (you’ll shuffle more in a few rounds of Dominion then you will in a full game of Runewars) but it can be a little irritating when you are in mid-pull and need to shuffle the deck to finish resolving combat. As one of my friends pointed out, it is very important to try and do a good shuffle as you naturally tend to sort the combat cards as you resolve them. This can end up with a really uneven distribution if you shuffle poorly.

* I like the flavor the optional exploration tokens add but I recommend caution when using them. Two of the tokens act as dragon runes and their position on the board can wildly turn the tide. We had a great game going one night then two dragon runes via exploration tokens popped up right near one of us and there was nothing the other players could to do stop him. It was a somewhat hollow victory and only happened due to those random exploration tokens. If we play with them again I think we’ll only have the chance for one of them to result in a dragon rune; the chance for two seems a bit much.

* Elves seem like the most challenging race to play well as their units are generally weaker than the others. Undead are great fun with the necromancers that can raise more units mid-battle. The barbarians have some strong units but and are formidable in combat but I feel like they rely a bit more on their special abilities to do well. So far my favorites may be the humans. It may just be my perception but I feel like they can put up a really solid defense but have good offensive capabilities with siege engines as well.

Overall, Runewars is fantastic. It has the agonizing decisions of a good Euro-style title mixed with the healthy dose of luck and combat you’d expect from an “Ameritrash” game. Unlike other big epic games I find the ending to be just as satisfying as the process of playing. Skilled players may run into bad luck but solid planning and properly timing your actions will generally make you a contender.

Quick Hits: Dungeon Lords and Tobago

So far on Beware the Gazebo I’ve generally tried to have longer write-ups on games I have a lot to share. Unfortunately game night happens once or twice a week and we usually only get one or two games tabled. Every now and then one of those games strikes me as something worthy of a longer post but usually I don’t feel like I have a full posts-worth to say on a weekly basis.

So to try and write a bit more I thought I’d introduce another new segment: Quick Hits, shorter impressions on games I’ve been playing recently. This way I can put down thoughts on games I played in the past week or two without having to do a larger write-up. Some games will be brand new to me, others classics and I might revisit games from time to time to give revised thoughts.

(image by karel_danek @ BGG)
Dungeon Lords

I’ve already professed my love for Vlaada Chv├ítil games here a few times now so there was no way I could pass up his newest game, Dungeon Lords. Inspired by the classic computer game Dungeon Keeper, players take the role of evil overlords preparing their dungeons for the onslaught of heroes at the end of the year. Points are awarded for keeping your dungeon intact, imprisoning heroes and having the most of all the various resources the game. Whoever has the most points at the end of two years wins!

Dungeon Lords is Vlaada’s take on the worker placement genre. Each player simultaneously plans three actions they will take that for the current season, places their workers on the appropriate spots on the board and once all workers are placed the actions are resolved. There are two small twists that set it apart from other worker placement games, though. First, the last two actions you play for the season will be unavailable to you next season, forcing you to plan ahead. Second, any given action may only be performed by three people. The later you take the action the more lucrative it is but you risk being blocked by your opponents. I thought the system worked really well and was familiar enough while still adding a little something new.

As you take actions your evilness on the “Evilometer” will rise and fall. At the end of each season the most powerful heroes are assigned to the most evil players and at the end of the year they’ll romp through your dungeons. Each season you may build tunnels and room, hire monsters, purchase traps and gather the necessary resources to put your dungeon together. Then the heroes stomp through, destroying your beautiful dungeon while you try to fend them off.

(image by Toynan @ BGG)

Overall I thought Dungeon Lords was a lot of fun. It’s easily the most thematic worker placement game I’ve played; you really feel like an evil overlord (or maybe evil project manager) trying to come up with clever ways to kill off those pesky heroes. Like many of Vlaada’s games it is tough to teach, though, as you need to understand the second half of the game to make sense of the first half. Once we got going everything clicked nicely and everyone seemed to have a lot of fun. It plays up to four but I think four will really be the only way to play as you end up with “dummy” players with fewer which is a mechanic I’ve never found to work well in other games.

Folks seem to be itching to play this again so hopefully I’ll have more thoughts once I get more games under my belt. Right now I give it a big two thumbs up!

(image by muka @ BGG)
Tobago

I really like the concept of deduction games but not always the execution. Clue is fun for what it is although it is a bit easy once you have a good system down for tracking information. Mystery of the Abbey, on the other hand, was downright painful. When I heard Tobago had sort of a deduction element I was immediately intrigued.

In Tobago, players drive their ATVs around the island trying to collect hidden treasures. The catch is that the exact location of the treasures is unknown so you have to discover clues to figure out exactly where they are. In a clever twist, players play cards that actually define where the treasures are at!

The map is made up of different terrain types and there is always a “largest” of each type along with some landmarks (huts, statues, trees). On your turn you may either move your ATV around or you may play a map card to help narrow down where one of the four treasures is located. Map cards define some feature of the map and possibly a relative location like inside the largest forest or within two spaces of a hut. When you add a map card to a given treasure it must narrow down the treasure’s location. Eventually the treasure will be narrowed down to a single spot on the map and someone may swoop in to get it.

(image by LanaDove @ BGG)

That’s already a pretty fun twist on the deduction concept but the game also has a push-your-luck element to gaining treasure. Everyone who helped locate that treasure is dealt treasure cards valued 1 to 5 along with a possible curse. You get to look at your cards, then all are turned in and shuffled up with one random treasure. A random treasure is then offered in order and you may either take it or pass it up the line. If you know there’s a 5 in the pile and 1s and 2s keep getting offered, you’ll likely want to hold out for that big haul and let others take the small stuff. The catch is that there could be a curse hidden in there which immediately ends this treasure dig plus all those who didn’t take rewards yet on this treasure have to lose their best treasure collected so far!

I was really surprised at how much there was to take in. At first it seemed like narrowing down the treasures would be easy but things can be really vague to start and with four treasures to track it can be a little overwhelming. I think with more plays that feeling will go away but the game could be a little intimidating for some. The push-your-luck element is a lot of fun but there are only two curses in the game so the suspense kinda goes away once they’ve been exposed. Finally, it’s really hard to remember that you can drive through water spaces on the map! My brain is so wired to think water spaces are not valid to move on that it took most of the game to remember that was even an option.

Overall I enjoyed my first play of Tobago but it didn’t seem to be as good of a gateway game as I anticipated. It seems ripe for a computer version where the game could more easily and quickly track the possible locations for a treasure. Yes, the game does come with cubes to help you mark the possible locations but I found we spent more time trying to find all the valid spaces on the map than I expected. Still, Tobago was fun and I look forward to future plays… I’m just not sure it will be as much of a gateway game as I originally hoped.