Kickstarting Eminent Domain

The fine folks at Tasty Minstrel Games – makers of Homesteaders, one of my recent favorite games – are hard at work on getting their latest project to the printers. Eminent Domain (designed by Seth Jaffee) is a deck-building style game reminiscent of Dominion and Glory to Rome. Seth also designed Terra Prime, another Tasty Minstrel game that I will hopefully be talking about after it hits the table again.

To get Eminent Domain out in a reasonable amount of time, Tasty Minstrel is turning to the community to help fund the project. You may find more information on the project at Kickstarter:

Eminent Domain at Kickstarter

They even have the rules available:

Eminent Domain rules

You may pledge as little or as much as you’d like. $35 will get you a copy of the game shipped to your door (additional cost if you are outside the US); it seems like a great deal if you have any interest in this style of game. What makes Kickstarter great is that you pledge your support but will only be charged if the project meets its goal. If it’s something you are interested in there’s no risk, you are only helping it see the light of day! They have until November 23rd to make their goal so head over to Kickstarter and see what it’s all about.

I’ve made my pledge and plan on giving away a couple of copies through some sort of contest here once the game is released. If you pledge to the Kickstarter project and enter my content when it happens you’ll get a second entry! That’s right, your single pledge could get you two copies of Eminent Domain! With a deal like that you are losing money by not pledging.

Quick Hits: Defenders of the Realm, Carson City

Defenders of the Realm

Defenders of the Realm has been hitting the table a lot lately, going over particularly well with my Monday night group. This time we decided to work in the free mini expansions that Richard Launius provided on BoardGameGeek. Here’s a quick look at the expansions and what they bring to the game:

(image by holepuncher @ BGG)
Winds of War – Winds of War adds a side board and a new deck of cards. Whenever Quiet Night darkness spreads cards are revealed or heroes play special cards they are stacked up on the Winds of War board. Every three cards triggers a random event that the heroes must deal with. These are extremely nasty but usually may be canceled by discarding cards or making other sacrifices.

We’ve played with this twice now and I would almost consider it an essential expansion. There are some very powerful special hero cards and little reason to not play them all. Now with the Winds of War events players need to think very seriously about when to play these specials. Is it worth the risk of the event that may happen? Can we afford to negate it if it’s too harsh? Those added decisions add a lot of fun to the game.

Forging of Heroes – With Forging of Heroes, the players level up their heroes and unlock their three special abilities instead of having them available from the start. Experience points are earned by killing groups of enemies, completing quests, building magic gates and wounding generals. To make up for this increased difficulty the evil generals start off of the map and slowly enter the game, giving the heroes more time to deal with the threat.

I think Forging of Heroes is a good addition as well. It puts much more importance on quests and building magic gates; generally you only did those when absolutely necessary in the main game as you often just had to fight fires all the time. With the slower start you have time to work on quests and will need to so you can level up and unlock your powers. Like Forging of Heroes it adds in more decision points which is great.

(image by Titus SWE @ BGG)

My only complaint is that players rolling poorly in combat or stuck with a tough quest will struggle to earn experience, preventing their heroes from reaching their full potential. It can be a little disheartening to see your teammates fly through levels while you are stuck at level one. This variant may also add more time to the game which may or may not be a good thing depending on your group.

Be sure to print out Winds of War, it is an incredibly simple way to add in more fun decision making. Forging of Heroes is a clever way to add in a leveling-style system and encourages players to take time performing actions you may otherwise ignore in the base game. It does increase the complexity and length of the game, though, so it will not be ideal for everyone.

Carson City

(image by aqwerty @ BGG)
We’ve had Carson City on the shelf for awhile now but haven’t had a chance to table it up until recently. Homesteaders really captivated us so we got a bit distracted!

Carson City is a worker placement game where players are cowboys settling a new town in the Western frontier. You earn points for the buildings you contribute and money you’ve earned. Overall the game is a fairly straightforward worker placement style game but does have a couple of things that make it stand out:

Parcels – Purchased buildings must be placed on the land grid. A building’s income is determined by adjacent squares; for example, the bank’s income is increased by adjacent mines and homes. I like having that spacial competition in a worker placement game. It also adds in another level of player interaction which is sometimes missing in these types of games.

(image by francobollus @ BGG)

Duels – What’s a Western town without duels? Most worker placement games only allow a single player per action. While that’s true in Carson City, multiple people may attempt to take the same action but must duel to see who emerges victorious and performs the action. Duels are resolved by a simple roll of a (massive) six-sided die plus your on-hand weapons and cowboys in reserve. Worker placement games tend to be fairly passive-aggressive so it’s fun to see some serious direct competition.

We played two games back-to-back and my feelings are still mixed. At its core, Carson City seems like a very solid worker placement game. There are multiple paths to victory and you get that delicious tension of not having enough actions to do everything you want. It also plays fairly quickly – around 90 minutes – but doesn’t feel like it is lacking in decision making. There are a couple of things that are keeping me from instantly falling in love with it, though:

Story Arc – I’ve talked about the importance of story arc in board games before and Carson City falls a little flat. With only four rounds of play you don’t build much of an internal engine; the game seems to end at what I would generally consider to be the midpoint of most other games. Given the game’s fast play time I don’t mind as much but you do feel like the game is ending just as you’ve started to get going.

(image by francobollus @ BGG)
Luck – Generally I enjoy a bit of luck in my games but I think the duels may hurt Carson City. I’ve only played two games but both were essentially won and lost on duels. Risk management seems to be central to the game; you can take measures to increase your odds in a duel but it also seems like you’ll have times where you just have to take a chance. Again, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing but seems very counter to the solid euro underpinnings of the design.

I need to get more plays of Carson City in before I pass judgment. If every game comes down to the last couple of duels I think the game will lose a lot of its luster, but if over time strategies emerge that better incorporate risk management and solid planning I think it could have some good staying power. I certainly enjoyed it enough warrant revisiting, which is a good thing!

Interview at Grinding to Valhalla

For those that may be interested, Randolph Carter over at Grinding to Valhalla just posted an interview with me. He’s been doing interviews with folks in and around the video game industry (particularly MMOs) for a couple of years now and has a very extensive set of interviews on the site. Lately he’s started to make a shift towards cardboard and as part of his adventure has started branching his reviews out to the world of board gaming.

Many thanks to Randolph for the opportunity. If you have some time I highly recommend looking through his catalog of interviews, there’s some great stuff in there!

Cooperative Series – Forbidden Island

(image by keebie @ BGG)
I love games with depth. Give me lots of interesting strategic and tactical decisions, multiple paths to victory and interesting rules that hold up to repeat plays. Many of the cooperative games I’ve covered so far have many of these features but also take an hour or more to play. As much as I love epic gaming sessions, though, sometimes you just want a quick filler or something with an easier rule set if your audience isn’t your normal gaming group.

Enter Forbidden Island, Matt Leacock’s simplified version of Pandemic. It has many of the same core features as Pandemic but streamlined to play in less than a half hour. Instead of curing diseases, players are treasure hunters trying to seek out ancient artifacts and return them to the helicopter before the island sinks. It’s an impressive simplification of a great cooperative game, although some may find it a little too watered down:

(image by @ mikehulsebus BGG)

+ Components and Price: Forbidden island is a beautiful game. It comes in a neat tin container, has some really nice artwork and awesome (but unnecessary) plastic figures of the treasures you are trying to collect. For $15 retail you’ll be hard-pressed to find better components and quality!

+ Easy and Fast: As I mentioned, the game is very simple to learn and plays quickly. While the mechanics don’t allow for as much interesting decision-making or teamwork as Pandemic, the fast play time makes up for the simplicity. It also makes it a fantastic introductory game for new or younger gamers.

+ Modular Board: The game board is made up of tiles representing the various island locations. Every time you play you’ll end up with a different island layout and combined with the randomness of the flood deck you will have different priorities every game. There are also variant board layouts online which add more challenge and replay value.

(image by TunaSled @ BGG)
– A Little Lacking: I think some will find the game a little too simplistic, lacking real decision making. At the end of your turn you draw flood cards to see which parts of the island start to sink. At first they are flooded – which can be remedied by players shoring up those locations – but will sink into the ocean if they are hit again. Used flood cards are reshuffled and placed back on top of the deck when you hit a water rising event. Like Pandemic, this means you know which locations will hit again after the water rises, allowing you to set your priorities. Unfortunately the player actions are more limited and the map smaller so these decisions seem less interesting and more luck-dependent than in Pandemic.

Forbidden Island probably won’t hit the table much with serious game groups – Pandemic and Defenders of the Realm offer up much more interesting game play but Forbidden Island wasn’t meant to deliver that type of experience. What you get is a beautiful game that offers up quite a bit of fun in a small package. I was a little taken aback by Forbidden Island’s simplicity after my first play and wasn’t entirely sold on the game. Coming back to it with proper expectations, though, I found myself enjoying the game a lot for what it offers.

For the simplicity, components and especially the price I think Forbidden Island is a fine game.