Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Joking Hazard: An Offensive Card Game From Cyanide & Happiness

This review features subjects which may cause offence.  If you are easily offended by ANYTHING then for the love of God stop reading now!!!

Almost 3 years ago to this very day we posted our review for Cards Against Humanity (UK Edition), and it proved to be our most popular review ever by an incredible margin.  Now, whilst CAH didn't follow an original format (Apples to Apples being its main inspiration), it did set a pretty high bar for offensive "fill in the blank" games.  Since its release there have been many CAH clones trying to capitalise on the success, but finally it appears to have a true spiritual successor: Joking Hazard, from Cyanide & Happiness.

Cyanide & Happiness, for those who may not be aware, is an online comic strip series.  It features (usually two) stick-men, and over the course of three or four frames they play out an event which can sometimes be quite meaningful and moving, but most often dark and twisted.  For an idea of their format, you can check them out here (but please come back to us afterwards!).

Joking Hazard follows a similar format to Cards Against Humanity, but instead of creating a joke with black and white cards, 3-10 players compete to create the funniest (and usually most offensive) Cyanide & Happiness comic strip.

The box contains 350 cards, each depicting a single frame of the comic.  Many are generic and innocuous, but when combined in the right way can become something altogether more horrifying!  Unlike CAH, there are no black card/white card equivalents; everything is just of one single card type.

Each player begins the game with 7 cards in their hand, and then one player - chosen through non-violent means, as dictated in the rules - becomes the judge for the first round.  That player then draws one card from the top of the deck, and places it face-up in the centre of the table/floor/building site/satanic altar (here at Games & Tea we feel you should be able to play wherever you feel comfortable).

The judge then chooses one card out of their own hand to accompany this card.  It can be placed either before or after the first card, depending on what the judge finds most fitting.

These two cards now form the "setup", and all of the remaining players now submit a card to the judge to be played as the final frame of the comic, and the judge must select their favourite to gain honour and glory (and also a point).

So in fairly standard offensive game fare, the players above have gone for options of violence, anti-Semitism, and sex.  Once the judge has picked a favourite, that player gains a point, all players draw back up to 7 cards, and the next player around the table becomes the judge, repeating the process until one player scores 3 points and is declared the winner.
If a red-bordered card is drawn off the top of the deck then it becomes the final frame of the comic, and the players must instead create the two card setup from their hands.  And that's pretty much all there is to it!
There are a couple of variants included in the rulebook, such as a set of drinking game rules, or "The Neverending Story", wherein each turn just adds a single frame to an ongoing strip, leading to the creation of truly epic stories!

Of course Joking Hazard will be primarily compared to Cards Against Humanity (at least until the Joking Hazard clones start hitting Kickstarter), and we have to admit we found it to have some advantages over its spiritual predecessor, and some disadvantages.

The big advantage is that due to the storytelling nature of each round, the cards played have to make sense.  We've witnessed several games of CAH where points were won by players just because they played the most controversial white card, despite it not fitting with the black card whatsoever.  With Joking Hazard any non-relevant cards played tend to draw few laughs, meaning that even those most controversial cards have to wait for their golden moment!

The largest downside is ironically in the same vain.  We often found ourselves with setups which didn't work for any of our cards!  Sometimes this was just down to nothing being suitable, but a lot of the time it was down to having a card with the perfect response, just being delivered by the wrong character.
The other downside is that the game creates a bit less of a social atmosphere than CAHJoking Hazard is very visual by its nature, and quite a lot of the cards actually feature no dialogue, just actions or facial expressions.  This means that when the cards are laid out on the table (altar... whatever), it's usually quietly with all of the players leaning over to read them, and this is where you can really feel the difference between everyone being told a joke, and everyone reading the joke for themselves.  Now, in fairness, the rules do say the judge should read out the cards, but again those dialogue-free frames don't really work with reading out-loud, and some players don't feel comfortable with effectively acting out a scene.  At face value it might not seem like much of a difference over the CAH format, but it does feel a little bit odd when you start playing.  It's certainly not enough to ruin the game or make it an unpleasant experience by any means... just a little odd!

The Good Points
  • Joking Hazard is extremely easy to learn, pretty much taking just seconds.
  • If you're a Cyanide & Happiness fan, this will tickle your funny bone in all the right places.
  • Capacity for up to 10 players, making an excellent party game.
  • Requires a little more thought than CAH or most of its clones.
The Bad Points
  • As with CAH, some people will find it offensive.
  • Sometimes it can be tricky to play a fitting card for the setup.
  • Can create an odd non-verbal atmosphere.
Recommended Number of Players: 4+ (The more the merrier!)
Again, as with most games of this format, 3 players is the minimum requirement for the game, but 4 players is the minimum to get a decent selection of cards going for the judge to choose from.  Of course you could always import the Rando Cardrissian rule from CAH, as we did!

Average Game Time: 20-40 minutes
If you're just playing to the three point win condition in the rulebook, a game of Joking Hazard will last about half an hour.  Of course, this is one of those games where you can set your own win condition or just say "to hell with it, let's keep playing!", so games can go on for as long as you want!

Replayability: High
There are a lot of cards available in the base set, creating a truly gargantuan number of possible strips.  With a set gaming group it should last for quite a while, but with a group of rotating members it could feasibly last for years.

The Future: Bright
At the moment Joking Hazard is fresh of Kickstarter, and the only expansion is the Blast From the Past 50 card pack, all set to a historical theme.  However, the fact that there's already an expansion ready to go means that there will almost certainly be more to follow, and the idea of them being thematic is very appealing.

Price: £25
Joking Hazard is now available to buy on Amazon for £25.  Whether it will remain an Amazon exclusive much like CAH or whether it will quickly find its way onto the shelves of hobby stores remains to be seen.  It is also currently available to buy online through the Cyanide & Happiness store for a price of $35, which includes the aforementioned Blast From the Past expansion.


Tea consumed during this review: Tetley with milk and 2 sweeteners.  Brew rating 7/10.

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Saturday, 26 March 2016

Exploding Kittens: A card game for people who are into kittens and explosions... and laser beams... and sometimes goats.

We certainly can't be described as having been active at Games & Tea over the last 18 months.  The sad fact of the matter is that our play/review group has drifted apart, and gaming sessions are few and far between these days.  However, this doesn't mean we don't still thoroughly love a good game.  All it means is that we've accepted the fact that our content won't be as frequent as it used to be (for the time being, at least), but we'll still be posting as and when we get the chance to play and review something different.
So, we've recently introduced the first newcomer of the year to the Games & Tea library, and are filled with joy (and TNT) to bring you our thoughts on the game.  We give you Exploding Kittens; a card game for 2-5 people by Elan Lee, Shane Small and Matthew Inman.
Exploding Kittens began life as a Kickstarter campaign, and we should probably take a moment to say it's kind of a big deal.  With its simple game mechanics, illustrations from popular comics website The Oatmeal, and cats (it's the internet, cats are just what we do), it went on to become the most backed project in Kickstarter history.  With such a legacy, it was fairly safe to say we had high expectations going in!
Exploding Kittens is a card game version of Russian Roulette, with players drawing cards from a single, communal deck.  If they draw an Exploding Kitten they are blown up (not literally, in any of our playtests) and out of the game.  The game continues until only one player remains free from kitten-based destruction, and that player is declared the winner!
However, it's not a game of pure random chance.  Different cards throughout the deck allow players to defuse their Exploding Kitten, attack other players, steal cards, and a range of other actions all designed to keep the feline menace at bay!
Let's start at the beginning, and look at how the game works...
As mentioned, Exploding Kittens is a game for 2-5 players.  There are four Exploding Kitten cards in the deck, and the game should be played with one fewer kitten than there are players (so 2 EKs in a 3 player game, 3 in a 4 player game etc).  One immediately obvious benefit of this system is that it guarantees a winner by the time the deck is depleted, eliminating the discard pile reshuffle so common to most casual card games.
Each player takes one Defuse card (which we will come onto shortly) and four random cards from the deck as their starting hand, the Exploding Kitten cards are shuffled into the deck, and the game begins!
During each players turn they can play as many cards as they wish from their hand.  They may choose to play everything, or they may decide to keep hold of all their cards for the moment, and in Exploding Kittens there is no limit on hand size.  Once they're done playing cards, they end their turn by drawing one card from the top of the deck.  If they draw an Exploding Kitten, then BOOM!!!
So, in order to keep the game from being completely random and no fun whatsoever, Exploding Kittens includes a number of options to protect players from the titular moggies.  The most straightforward of these being the Defuse card...
The Defuse cards each feature a different method for distracting/pacifying a kitten, from a laser pointer to belly rubs.  The illustrations are just for amusement value though, and they all serve the same purpose.  If a player uses a Defuse card when drawing an Exploding Kitten, they remain in the game and can reinsert the kitten into the deck wherever they like.  To be cruel to the next player in line, it's often a popular move to place the Exploding Kitten back on top of the deck!  This is by no means a foolproof tactic, and can backfire drastically, if that player also has a Defuse card or one of the other varieties of card in the deck.
The first option players have in their arsenal is the Skip card.  It allows players to immediately end their turn without having to draw a card, thus avoiding the risk of explosions.  Attack cards are the next aggressive step up from Skip, not only allowing players to avoid drawing a card, but forcing the next player to take two turns!  Double explosion risk!  Shuffle cards do exactly as you'd expect, and can mess up best laid plans - especally useful in conjunction with See The Future, which givesthe player a look at the top three cards in the deck.  Favours force a player to give a card away, and the Nope card can be played responsively to negate any of the above (even another Nope, turning it into a Yup).
Between all of these assorted action cards, players will usually have an option to avoid kitty destruction early on in the game, but as time rolls on options will become depleted and the pace of the game takes on a more frantic tone!

In addition to the various actions, there are a variety of Cat cards emblazoned with a selection of non-explosive cats, from Rainbow-Barfing Cat, to Tacocat (who is very proud of his palindrome status).  These serve no purpose alone and can only be played as a pair, but once played they allow the player to steal a random card from an opponent.  Not the most devastating action available in the game by ny means, but if played against someone who only has a single card left in their hand, it can be very useful!

And that's all there is to it!  Play cards, draw cards, infuriate your opponents, and pray to the higher powers you don't find yourself on the wrong end of an Exploding Kitten!  So that's the mechanics out of the way, how does it actually fare as a game in practice?
Well for one thing it's incredibly simple to learn - we wouldn't even describe it as having a learning curve, seeing as the learning process is so quick that it never has the chance to form a distinct shape.  The box boasts "2 minutes to learn", and frankly we're convinced that one minute of that is spent figuring out that the instructions are tucked inside the box lid and then unfolding them.
Once the game gets going, it's very fast moving and entertaining.  Not only do you never have long to wait for your turn even in full 5 player games, but it's fun to watch the other players sweat and argue as the deck moves closer and closer to one of the kittens.  It can be infuriating at times when your friends mercilessly turn on you, but the number of Defuse and assorted action cards are so much higher than the number of actual Exploding Kittens, that escaping or avoiding the explosion is actually far more common than being caught in it.
Purely from an aesthetic point of view, we feel we should point out that Exploding Kittens is wonderful to look at.  Not only are the the illustrations an absolute joy, but almost all of the cards are different.  Each Exploding Kitten is getting up to different destructive mischief, each Defuse is a different method of cat pacification, each Attack is a different form of aggression, and so forth.  Only the Cat cards - which must be played as pairs - have identical illustrations, and this is understandable.
And also, pairing aesthetics with practicality, the box is pretty darn nice too! 

Decorated inside with more of Matthew Inman's illustrations, the box is sturdy, precisely the right size for the game, and is divided into two sections so you can even play a round in a place where space is simply unavailable, using the empty side of the box for the discard pile.

But the world can't all be sunshine and rainbows (or even Rainbow Barfing Cat).  The biggest weakness of Exploding Kittens has to be 2 player games.  It seems to be a running problem with card games, that as soon as you drop to two players and the "back and forth" routine begins, the game loses its lustre.  It also leaves the game susceptible to a card hoarding tactic, enabled by the unlimited hand size.  Unlike larger games, where a certain momentum can be reached, two players can simply draw and keep cards indefinitely until the single Exploding Kitten in the deck is revealed, at which point both players can simply play everything they have in one go to see who ultimately wins.  It's not a very exciting way of playing, but if one player does it then the other has to in order to compete.  In a game all about explosions, it really is the nuclear option.

The Good Points
  • Quick to play, and even quicker to learn.
  • Beautifully illustrated - quite possibly the nicest looking game in our library.
  • An excellent way to enrage your closest friends.
  • Cats.  Who doesn't like cats?!
The Bad Points
  • Less enoyable and prone to being broken with only 2 players.  In fact we'd even go so far as to say it flat-out doesn't work as a 2 player game.
  • A little pricey for a card game.
  • Apparently some people find the notion of exploding kittens "distasteful".  Here's hoping those people never find out about Kittens in a Blender.
Recommended Number of Players: 3-5
As we highlighted above, Exploding Kittens can become something of a joyless back-and-forth slog with just two players.  Any more than two is great, and five is just epic.

Average Game Time: 10 minutes
It doesn't take particularly long to get through a round of Exploding Kittens, seeing as the draw deck never needs to be replenished.  Games can range from 2-20 minutes, so we figured 10 was a good average.

Replay Value: High
Exploding Kittens is short, light-hearted, and leaves the losing players wanting to exact revenge on the winner.  As a result, it tends to get replayed quite a lot!

The Future: Nuclear?
At the moment there are no expansions for Exploding Kittens, nor any mention of them on the official website.  However, in theory it should be easy enough to incorporate a few more cards and different types, and the box definitely has room to accomodate them.  Given the incredible Kickstarter success of the game and a strong commercial follow up, we certainly wouldn't be surprised to see more on the horizon in the near future.

Price: £18
There are currently two versions of Exploding Kittens: the version featured in this review, and a NSFW Edition, which is somewhat more adult and apparantly features Boob Wizards.  Either version will set you back roughly £18, and are quite readily available from gaming stores.  We'd like to point out that yes, you can get them for £16 on Amazon, but we didn't for two reasons:
1) We like to support our local hobby stores, and would encourage all gamers to do the same.
2) The copies on Amazon don't meow.  Check your local gaming store and you can probably get a copy in a meowing box.

OVERALL SCORE: 8.5/10 (3-5 players), 2/10 (2 players)
 Tea consumed during this review: None.  Lemsip all the way, on account of a lovely cold and sinusitis.  Congestion Rating: 4000/10

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Argent: The Consortium, Part 1: Box Contents

The hardest part about reviewing any game with a colon in the title is having a double-colon article headline.  That really is quite frustrating.  However, we're going to push through the pain as we bring you the latest review from our mighty game pile: Argent: The Consortium (oh God, we've done it again!) from Level 99 Games.

This had been sitting in a box for the last 3 months, with every intention of using it for our next unboxing podcast.  Unfortunately it seems that assembling the team for a game is considerably easier than assembling for a recording session, so eventually the decision was made to just open the damn thing and actually get some games out of it!  So here we now are, with this article for your reading pleasure as a result.

You lucky lot.

Anyway, 8am caffeine-fuelled ramblings aside, Argent: The Consortium  is a Euro-style resource management game for 2-5 players.  The game is set in a magical university, and the university chancellor's seat has been left vacant.  Each player takes on the role of a high-ranking member of the university faculty, and through resource-gathering and worker-placement they must win as many votes as possible over the course of 5 rounds, securing themselves as the next chancellor.
As is our usual MO for board games, we'll be vigorously studying (see what we did there?) the box contents in this article, before a thorough exam (okay, we're done with school puns now... maybe) of the gameplay mechanics in part two.
So, wands down, time for first period, and let's see what's inside the box of delights.

Before getting into the box, let's talk about the box itself.  With Kickstarter projects we like to talk about how professional the overall presentation of the game is, and the quality of the game components.  Obviously most Kickstarter games are run by very small companies or even just a couple of enthusiastic individuals, so at prototype stage we never scrutinise the physical quality of the game, just the gameplay.  Once it's been published, however, the rules change - small company or not, if you're putting your game on the shelves then you're throwing down with the big boys, and should be offering up a product which can hold its own!  The podcasted, but currently un-reviewed CLASH! Dawn of Steam was an example of a Kickstarter project which didn't result in a retail-quality product, whereas 404: Law Not Found showed us all how it's done!

We're happy to say Argent falls into the latter category.  It's a big-box game of a similar kind of size to the likes of Arkham Horror, Smallworld, BioShock Infinite: TSoC and so forth.  When you pick it up for the first time you notice the weight straight away - this is a game with a lot of content and it's not shy about it!  The box itself is nicely illustrated, cleanly printed, and of a solid build.  This is something which can end up in the middle of a big game pile and not come out any worse for wear on the other side.
It straight away gives you an idea of the overall styling of the game as well, which we feel is going to prove a divisive point amongst gamers and possibly harm Argent's potential audience.  As an American game built on Euro-game mechanics, Level 99 have interestingly chosen a Japanese Anime/Manga style for the character artwork.  It's bold and certainly very colourful, but will be less likely to strike a chord with the older generation of gamers, instead aiming much more towards the younger crowd.  Time will tell whether this will impact the success of Argent in the long run, but we can't help but feel that a more classical illustration style would probably have appealed to a wider audience.

Anyway, enough about the box, time to delve into the contents!

If you're going to vie for chancellorship of the university then you're going to need a suitable candidate.  In Argent there are 12 candidates to choose from: 2 each from 6 colour-coded departments within the university, which consist of Planar Studies, Divinity, Mysticism, Natural Magick, Sorcery, and the Department of Students.   Each department can only have one candidate in the running for the chancellor's role, so each of the 6 Candidate Sheets is double-sided giving the players the choice of a male or female character from their chosen department.
The sheets themselves are relatively simple, featuring an illustration of the chosen character, a summary of the turn sequence, a space for discarded cards, a list of starting items, and a track across the top of the card for storing the player's apprentices when they're not out running errands.
A fair few games these days - such as Zombicide - choose to print their character boards onto thick, board-quality card stock, whereas many are content to just use a standard card thickness.  Argent goes for the latter, but frankly the Character Sheets aren't really going to be getting handled, so there's no real risk of them becoming tattered in any hurry.

One of the unusual things about Argent is that it's a big-box board game without a standard board.  This isn't necessarily a bad thing, just a break from the norm.  Instead there are 15 smaller boards, each of which represent a room in the university.  Depending on the number of players, 8-12 of these boards will be used during the game, with the white-bordered rooms always in use, and the remaining rooms drawn at random, or selected based on one of the pre-set layouts in the rulebook.  Each board is also double-sided, with side B featuring slightly more advanced rules for more experienced players.
During each round, players will send their Mage tokens on errands to the various rooms throughout the university, and reap the rewards for their success (or failure) by way of various resources.

Well if we're running errands then we'd better have some minions to do it with!  There are 6 different colours of Mage tokens, and the game comes with a set of reference cards to remind the players of the different Mages' abilities.  The red Mages, for example, can wound an opponent's Mage and send them off to the infirmary.  Green Mages are immune to wounding, and so are good for placing in key areas around the university.
The eagle-eyed amongst you may have noticed that there only 5 reference cards.  Well the poor little yellow Mages (or beige, if you believe the rulebook... we don't) are neutral Mages - they have no special abilities, but when push comes to shove you might find yourself needing all the help you can get your magical hands on.

The actual models themselves are of decent quality.  Many board games these days treat their players with tabletop-quality miniatures, which look amazing on the board but often result in a higher price tag.  The models in Argent aren't particularly intricately detailed, but do the job, and at the end of the day they are simply playing pieces rather than miniatures.

You can't have a game called Argent: The Consortium without a Consortium.  Well, you could, but it would be maddeningly illogical.  It'd be like having a game called Billy The Space Penguin and basing it around a dinosaur named Joe.  That way lies madness.
As mentioned earlier, the aim of the game is to secure votes for your candidacy, and the Consortium cards represent the movers and shakers of the university whose votes you'll be canvassing.  There are 18 Consortium Voters, but only 12 used in any particular game.  As with the room boards, there are 2 white-bordered Consortium cards, which are always in play, and the remaining 10 are drawn at random.  Each of the voters has a different voting criteria - one may vote for the player with the most gold, one for the player with the most mana, one for the player with the second-highest influence, and so on.  Where the game becomes interesting is that only the white-bordered Consortium cards begin the game face-up, so at the beginning of the game the players will not know 10 of the win conditions.  As the game progresses, they'll earn the right to peek at the face-down voters, and can then start to tailor their tactics to this new information.

The Consortium Voters need a place to hang out while the players are engaged in their House of Cards-esque political maneuvering, and so the Consortium Board becomes their home.  The 12 voters take their places in the centre of the board, and the players' influence is monitored on the track around the edge.  One of the constant, white-bordered voters always sides with the player with the highest influence total, so it's an important resource to chase after in the early stages of the game.

Without magic, it would be a fairly ineffectual magical university, and so the players are going to need some spells!  The oversized Spell cards each feature a different spell, and each spell has 3 levels, which can only be unlocked through research.  The first level allows the player to take a card from the deck and opens up the most basic capabilities of the spell, whereas further levels unlock its full capabilities.  Depending on which Consortium Voters are on the table, it could be beneficial to have a wide range of low level spells, or just one or two which are fully tricked-out.  Spells can usually only be used once per round, and can be used to gain resources, hinder your opponents, or give advantages to your own Mages as they scurry about doing their master's bidding.
Each player begins the game with a spell specific to their character, with the other spells having to be earned as the game progresses.  There are also a limited number of Legendary Spells, but these have been sealed in the university vault where only the players' Mages have hope of locating them!

More cards!  The other two major sources of resources are Supporters (top) and Vault Cards (bottom).  Both can be secured by your wandering Mages to add to your arsenal during the round.  Some of the Vault Cards are classed as Treasures, meaning that you can reap their benefits every round gaining gold, mana, influence, or bonus abilities.  Others are classed as Consumables, which tend to offer a more powerful benefit but as a one-time thing.  Supporters work in much the same way as Consumables, but again both of these can contribute towards the favour of particular Consortium Voters.

The final remaining type of card - the Tower Card - is an interesting addition to Argent.  During each player's turn they are granted one action, and for that action they have the option of taking a Tower Card.  Each player may only have one, and once the last one has been taken, the round ends.  Each card bestows a different reward, from influence to the First Player token for the following round.   This means that the round won't end until every player is ready for it to proceed, and so if you have a grand masterplan to implement, no one can rush you through it.  They can also force players into difficult choices - do you place one of your Mages into a prime location on the board, or do you give up Mage placement for a turn in order to claim the Tower Card which adds to your influence?
Once the round has been completed, all of the Tower effects are resolved, and then the cards return to the table for the next round.

This then just leaves the usual plethora of tokens.  Once again these are cleanly printed onto good quality stock, so should stand the test of time as the games wear on.

One thing (or two, more accurately) we were disappointed with were the upgraded coins and mana tokens.  Originally the coins were going to just be more card tokens, and the mana tokens would have been acrylic cubes, but these were both upgraded as Kickstarter stretch goals.  If we're being completely honest, we can't help but feel they would have been better left in their original incarnations.
Many games use card tokens for coins, and as long as they're cleanly printed then they don't detract from the gaming experience at all.  The upgraded plastic coins are of the same sort of quality as the kind you'd find in a childrens' shopkeeper playset, and if anything actually lower the overall quality, feeling cheaper than the other game components.  We may at some point further upgrade ours to metal roleplay coins, but would rather that we hadn't felt compelled to take that step.
The decision to give the more random shapes to the mana tokens was understandable, giving them the general aesthetic of formless arcane energy, but the downside to this is a purely practical one - they don't fit in the box as well, and are a little more chaotic when you've amassed a decent number of them and they're piled all over your Candidate Sheet!

So those are the physical components of Argent: The Consortium.  Our overall thoughts are definitely positive at this point.  Aside from the plastic coins, everything seems to have been produced to a very high, professional standard.  If this was handed to us and we didn't know it was a post-Kickstarter game, we would have thought it to be from a big game developer.  The cards all have the satin finish which seems to be popular lately, which means that sleeving will probably be in order, but as the cards aren't cycled through as often as you'd expect, this isn't particularly urgent.  Obviously the style of artwork will be very hit-or-miss with people, but regardless of opinions on the overall aesthetic, it's all definitely of high quality.

We've already played through a number of 3 player games, so over the next week we're aiming to try it out with different player numbers and then we'll be back with the gameplay verdict shortly!  Stay tuned!

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Guild Ball Store Promotional Code

Evening, gamers!  It's been a few weeks since the last game review, which is a bit of a shame.  Unfortunately Games & Tea HQ has had a distinct lack of gaming gatherings, so our playtesting/scrutinising/generally discussing games over a pot of tea has fallen behind somewhat.  We are (most likely next weekend) planning to finally get CLASH! Dawn of Steam reviewed, and/or record an unboxing podcast of Argent: The Consortium to get back into the swing of things!

In the meantime, as a self-serving gesture disguised as a kindness, we thought we'd throw out a promotional code for the game which is currently dominating our lives: Guild Ball.
The online store runs a rewards program, and whilst this code sadly won't give you any discount, it will give you double reward points (Guild Ball Credits) for any subsequent purchases.  In the interest of full disclosure it also gives our beloved Teamaster extra credit, allowing him to expand his range and allow him to run more intros as a Guild Ball Pundit.

The code is: ROB405

So if you're shopping online for Guild Ball grab yourselves some bonus credit to enjoy!

See you again soon, for some juicy (and much missed) board and card game goodness.

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Exciting (personal) News!

Good evening, fellow gamers and tea drinkers!   And game drinkers, if that's your thing.  And drunk gamers.  In fact, a very good evening, one and all, to anyone who has taken the time to wander into our little caffeinated corner of the interwebs.

Normal service shall be resumed shortly, with a number of game reviews and at least one unboxing podcast imminently on the horizon, but for now we have an exciting little announcement we wanted to share with you all.

Any regular readers out there (hello, regular readers, we love you!) can't have failed to notice that we've been featuring a fair bit of Guild Ball as of late.  Well today we received the news that your beloved* (*may not accurately represent actual feelings) Teamaster has been officially named as a Guild Ball Pundit!
Many tabletop systems have volunteers within the hobby community, with Wyrd's Malifaux Henchmen probably being the most well known.  The purpose of these volunteers is that they give up their free time every now and then to promote their chosen game, run intros for new players, and organise competitive events.  In return they can be rewarded with anything from shiny and exclusive toys, to invites to exclusive events. Guild Ball has decided to adopt a similar system, with their volunteer network being called Pundits, and recently opened registration for any interested players, and today Teamaster Rob was officially elevated into the ranks of Guild Ball spods.

So what does this mean for Games & Tea?  Well there may be a little more Guild Ball content.  This isn't our way of turning our blog into a shameless advertising service - this isn't what Games & Tea is about, nor will it ever be our way of doing things.  This blog is run by gamers for gamers, and is a way of showcasing our passion, and the simple fact is Guild Ball has quickly become a passion.
As the Teamaster will be getting directly involved in organising Guild Ball events, there will undoubtedly be write-ups of these events.  There may be more miniatures going up in the painting gallery, and there could even be information about future releases, who knows?  One thing that won't change is our heavy focus on card and board games, and our overall love for the hobby in general.

In the meantime this has been cause for celebration here at Games & Tea, and we're thrilled to be getting involved with a brand new system in its earliest days!

Sunday, 31 May 2015

Guild Ball - An Overall Sort-Of Review, Part 1: Team Lineups

Last year we mentioned a new tabletop system we were backing on Kickstarter, named Guild Ball, and a couple of weeks back we posted a brief article showing off the contents of our pledge after they'd arrived.  To summarise, we were extremely impressed with the components, and were left feeling excited about our impending first games.
Now in that article we mentioned that we wouldn't be reviewing the gameplay of Guild Ball, wanting to keep the focus of Games & Tea on out-the-box games, but frankly we were so enamoured with the gameplay that we couldn't resist putting together another article giving it our overall thoughts.
The reason we've never been interested in reviewing full tabletop systems over board/card games is that there are too many variables to go into - we like to talk about turn sequences, game components and so on, but when there's an infinite possibility of actions to choose from each turn, and the components are determined by the shopping habits and play style of each individual hobbyist, it can be a struggle to keep the article at a decent length!  As such this will be slightly different from our usual review format, and we hope you bare with us and still find it an enjoyable and educational read.

So for those who missed the Kickstarter, and missed our fanboy gushings over the game, and haven't seen it at the UK Games Expo (and so on and so on...), Guild Ball is a tabletop miniatures game which is half way between a sports game and a skirmish game.  It's set in the fictional Empire of the Free Cities, where the great guilds all play each other at the titular game - a medieval mob football style game.
The guilds are all based on areas of industry, and at the time of Season 1 there are 7 guilds to choose from; Butchers, Fishermen, Brewers, Masons (the Teamaster's personal favourites), Alchemists (the Tea Boy's personal favourites), Morticians and Engineers.  While not a guild, there is also the Union, which can be fielded as a team, but who's members are also free to play for a selection of the other guilds.

Each team consists of 6 players.  The captain and the mascot are both mandatory, and whilst we expect that later seasons will give us a selection, at this early stage in Guild Ball's life each guild only has one to choose from.  The remaining 4 places are where players get to customise their teams, and tweak them to match their preferred style of gameplay as they start to build up experience.
This is where Guild Ball stands out from the only other major sports-based game on the market right now - Dreadball.  It isn't simply a case of "These are your strikers, they kick the ball," and "These are your defenders, they stop your opponent from kicking the ball", each player has unique stats and abilities.  So instead you have "This is Harmony, she can do all of these wonderful things", and "This is Mist, he's basically Batman".  While the Union players are free agents and as such work as individuals, the guild-specific players all tend to have abilities to work off eachother.  In the Masons Guild, for example, the team starlet - Harmony - gets an armour bonus when close to their heavy hitter - Brick - as he's protective over her.  The team captain - Honour - gets an attack bonus when going after the same player as the mascot - Marbles.  Now this does mean that it will take a few games before any new players even begin to squeeze the maximum potential out of their lineup, but the trade off for this is that the team rosters have an incredible degree of flexibility, helping players to become invested in their chosen guild rather than having to go down the route of collecting multiple teams to get any kind of replay value from the game.

Just to give an example, here are two of the starting lineups for the Teamaster's Masons Guild.  The top team is pure Masons, and so there's a lot of synergy going on there.  In the bottom team, 3 of the players have been dropped out in favour of Masons-compatible Union players, so while the team no longer gels quite so well, it's now much quicker and favoured towards fast strikes.

At the point of Season 1, most guilds have 7 players on their own roster, with 4 compatible Union players to choose from as well.  So with the captain and mascot slots filled, this leaves 9 choices to fill the 4 remaining spaces, giving the players plenty of freedom to build a team to suit their style of play.
And speaking of style of play, how do they work?  Each player comes with a stat card, which tells players what they can do whilst at the same time allowing them to keep track of the damage done to that player...

The top bar of each card gives the player's stats, which come under 6 categories:

  • MOV determines their base and maximum move distance, so for example 6"/8" means they can jog 6" or sprint/charge 8".  The higher this number, the quicker the player.
  • TAC is the number of dice in their dice pool when attacking another player, so a higher TAC means a stronger attack.
  • KICK is the size of their kicking dice pool and the maximum kick distance, so 3/8" would mean an 8" kick range and 3 dice to try and succeed in that kick.  The higher these numbers, the better chance of scoring goals and successful passes.
  • DEF is the player's base defense, and is the target number an attacker must roll in order to hit the player.
  • ARM is the player's armour, and dictates how much damage is deflected before getting through to the soft and squishy player underneath.
  • INF determines how much influence the player generates, and how much they can be allocated.  So 2/4 means they'll generate 2 influence, but can be allocated up to 4.  We'll go into influence in detail in the second part of the review, but in a nutshell it's the currency used to perform almost any action.  Attacking, sprinting, passing, shooting - all of these require influence.
The Character Traits on the front of the card address any passive abilities the players possess, such as DEF boosts in the presence of other player, MOV bonuses, and so forth.  The bottom of the card shows the players damage boxes - once these have been depleted then the player is knocked out.
The rear of the card tells you their base size and melee range, the details of any activated abilities, and explains how they cause damage in combat.  Again, this will be further addressed in the next article.

Before we wrap this article up, we should also take a moment to talk about the quality of the miniatures, as this is a tabletop system and so the hobby element is a key part.

First of all, the sculpts themselves.  Long gone are the days of hunched-over Space Marines, shuffling awkwardly around the battlefields of the 41st Millennium.  These days, most miniature-based games do provide nicely detailed and dynamic models for hobbyists to enjoy.  Guild Ball is no exception, and in fact has left us salivating over some of the nicest models we've ever had the pleasure of owning.  The poses are incredibly dynamic for the best part, and even the ones which aren't don't feel disappointing.

In terms of casting quality and assembly, Guild Ball's quality shines through.  There's very little cleanup work required on the miniatures, with mercifully few mold lines and little to no flash on those we've built so far.  They also fit together very nicely, and don't generally require the fine tools of a NASA engineer and the steady hands of a neurosurgeon to assemble them correctly.  The only criticism we'd put forward is that the blisters include character artwork, but not an image of the built miniature, so we have on a couple of occasions found ourselves wondering where pieces go.  In fact one of our Union models - Snakeskin - came with a dagger sheath which ended up in the spare bits box, as it didn't have an obvious place to go and the model seemed complete without it!

So that's all we really have to say on the subject of the teams.  The model quality is astounding, the player lineup happily full of variety, and the synergy throughout the teams works to give Guild Ball an excellent learning curve.
Tune in for the second half of the review, where we'll talk about the gameplay, including how that influence works, gathering momentum, and the consequences of beating an otter into unconsciousness.

Saturday, 30 May 2015

Batman Fluxx: A First Impressions Review/Preview

As most UK-based gamers will be well aware, this weekend is the 2015 UK Games Expo: an annual event held at the Hilton Metropole Hotel at Birmingham's NEC.  This year was the second year that we were in attendance, and whilst a general write-up will be forthcoming, there was something else we wanted to report on first and foremost.

A couple of weeks ago whilst pootling about on Twitter, we saw a retweet of an announcement for Batman Fluxx.  As fans of both of those words, this got pulses racing a little here at Games & Tea HQ.  It's scheduled for release in early August, so it was put right at the top of our shopping list and no more was thought of it.
What we didn't realise was that this weekend Looney Labs would have a table at the UK Games Expo, and that Batman Fluxx would be one of the games available for demo (along with a couple of other Fluxx prototypes, which we can't mention due to the copyright negotiations still ongoing).  So we had the opportunity to have a look through the deck, play a game with Fluxx creator Andrew Looney himself, and take a few photos along the way!  Seeing as we completely overlooked the fact that is was Games & Tea's 2nd birthday just a few days ago, this felt very much like a belated present!

The head Looney himself - Andrew Looney - proudly showing off one of the latest additions to the Fluxx family!
Now whilst we have done reviews of games in development before, this is the first time we've reviewed a game after just a single playthrough, and without a reference copy in front of us.  For this reason we've branded this as a first impressions review/preview, and will be putting up a full review once we've gotten our grubby mitts on our very own copy, and put it through its paces to determine its replay value etc.

As with our last few Fluxx reviews, we'll be dispensing with the basic gameplay mechanics, and just address the elements of Batman Fluxx which make it stand out from the rest of the family.  For those unfamiliar with Fluxx on the whole, take a quick look at our Monty Python Fluxx review, in which we explained the game's core mechanic.

So to start with the basics, Batman Fluxx is Fluxx with a Batman theme - yes, this may sound like we're stating the obvious, but the point we're getting at is that you'll find the familiar New Rule and Action cards in the deck which are fairly universal, eg. Draw 4, Trash a New Rule, Draw 2 and Use 'Em, etc etc.  And - as with all other Fluxxes - the backs of the cards are of the same universal design, meaning that they can be integrated into other decks.

Yes, this means you can have Pirate Batman Fluxx.

"Bring me the Jokarr!"
On the front of the cards, the first thing to notice is the illustration style.  Fluxx has always had a cartoony element to it, which both adds to its charm and serves to remind players that it's supposed to be a casual, fun game at its heart.  Whilst the recent Love Letter: Batman Edition featured illustrations from the New52 comics series, such serious imagery would look very much out of place in a Fluxx deck.  Instead, Batman Fluxx is filled with illustrations in the style of Batman: The Animated Series, which fits in very well with the general Fluxx feel.  Combined with the classy art-deco style sidebar and font, and Batman Fluxx is a game which is aesthetically very pleasing to play.

The Keepers in Batman Fluxx cover a range or characters, gadgets and locations.  As with most recent Fluxx incarnations, many of the Keepers have additional rules and abilities, just to keep the game moving at a more interesting pace.  Bruce Wayne, for example (above), must be discarded if Batman ever hits the table.  The Batmobile can be discarded to take an extra turn.  The Bank increases your draw by 2, and so on.  Other Keepers we remember off the top of our heads included Robin, Batgirl, Commissioner Gordon, the Bat Signal, and Wayne Manor.

The Creepers (of which we sadly forgot to take any photos, due to being so caught up in the gameplay!) are where the game truly becomes interesting.  Each Creeper in Batman Fluxx is one of Gotham City's famous supervillains, and so there are a fair few of them in the deck.  The Joker, Harley Quinn, Poison Ivy, The Penguin and The Riddler are all out in force, to name a few, so the chances are your favourite villain will be in there somewhere!  Now the most Creeper-heavy Fluxx edition to date is Zombie Fluxx, and it worked very well because many of the game's Goals required Creepers in order to achieve victory.  Batman Fluxx works in a similar way, with Crazy Love, for example, giving the win to the player with The Joker and Harley Quinn.  Now the interesting thing with Batman Fluxx - and the thing which makes its Creepers unique - is that if the active Goal doesn't include Creepers then no one can win if there are Creepers on the table.  This is a wonderful mechanic, first of all in that it gives players a Batman-style task of cleaning up the crime in Gotham City, and secondly in adding a whole new tactical element, as win conditions generally become harder.

That's basically all there is to say at this point about the new additions to the game!  In terms of how it all works, it does really capture the Batman theme while keeping things casual.  Things like the "no one can win" rule with the Creepers, Bruce Wayne's exodus from the table as soon as Batman appears, and the Bat-Signal's ability to 'summon' the dark knight from an opponent all fit together nicely.  The Goals we saw during our game were all nice little references to the cartoon/comics lore, such as Secretly His Daughter for having Commisioner Gordon and Batgirl (we are fans of Babs over here).  And of course the overall aesthetic is very pleasing, feeling very much like the cherry on top.

If we had to nit-pick (and as game reviewers, we do feel it's our duty), the win-condition difficulty increase as a result of the Creepers did feel like it would steer games of Batman Fluxx more towards longer play times than shorter ones.  Fluxx has always been renowned for games lasting anywhere from 90 seconds to 90 minutes, but the Creeper rule does seem to skew things more towards the latter, which may put off a few players who would normally consider Fluxx to be a filler game.
One thing we will be interested to see, however, is whether it can convert a few non-Fluxx fans.  It's always been a Marmite game in the gaming community, and we come heavily down on the 'love it' side of the line.  With Batman being so wildly popular, we can genuinely picture a few folks being swayed over onto our side, where we will be ready to greet them with hugs, cake and "I told you so's".

With a normal review this is where we'd do a summary breaking down the pros and cons, the price, average play time and so on, but seeing as this only a first impressions review we'll dispense with that until the full review in a couple of months time.  We will, however, quite happily give it a preliminary score based on our overall feelings from the day...