Monday, 26 August 2013

Star Wars X-Wing Miniatures Game, Part 2: Gameplay & Verdict

Our last post took a look at the substantial box contents of Fantasy Flight's X-Wing Miniatures game.  Now it's time for us to climb aboard our starfighters and take the battle to the enemy, as we run through the gameplay and give it an overall Games & Tea verdict!
The first players must decide upon is the points value of their fleets.  Each pilot's points value is shown in the lower-right corner of their pilot card, with more experienced pilots having a higher value than those fresh out of the academy.  Various ship upgrades can add points to each fighter, but for the purposes of this basic runthrough we won't be adding that complication.
For this battle the Rebel Alliance is fielding Luke Skywalker, with a points value of 28.  The Galactic Empire is sending out Night Beast and an Obsidian Squadron Pilot to face him, with values of 15 and 13 respectively.  This gives both sides a total value of 28, and so should lead to a close-fought battle.
The numbers down the left hand side of the card are the physical stats of the ship and pilot.  From top to bottom they are:
  • Pilot skill (orange) - This determines which ships move/attack first.
  • Attack value (red) - The number of attack dice rolled during combat.
  • Defence value (green) - The number of defence dice rolled during combat.
  • Hull rating (yellow) - This shows how many hits the ship can take before it is destroyed.
  • Shield level (blue) - This shows how many hits the ship can take before it starts suffering hull damage.
With the pilots chosen the ships need to be assembled, complete with base-inserts appropriate to each pilot.  They are then set up in each player's starting area on the 'board' (usually the very edge of the playing area), and any asteroids can be randomly scattered about to add an extra tactical element.
Once this set-up is complete it's time to move!
Seeing as X-Wing is supposed to simulate a constantly-moving dogfight, the ships MUST move each turn.  The course they take is determined by the Movement Dials, as shown in our box contents overview.  There is one dial per ship, and by twisting the dial the players can cycle through a wide range of movement options.  Each ship has to have their course plotted in secret, with the dial placed face-down beside its corresponding model once it has been selected.  When every ship has had its Movement Dial placed, they can begin to move.
The order of movement is determined by the pilot skill values of each ship.  The pilot with the lowest pilot skill moves first, so in this case it's the Obsidian Squadron Pilot, with a skill of 3.  His movement dial is turned over, revealing a movement of 2 with a curve off to the left.
The appropriate Movement Template is placed at the front of the Obsidian Squadron Pilot's base, and the TIE Fighter is moved forward, so that the end of the template is flush with the rear of the base.
Night Beast is the next pilot to move, with a skill of 5, and once he's moved then Luke Skywalker's skill of 8 allows him to make the final move.
After making its move, each ship is allowed to take a single action, and the available actions are dictated by the ship types rather than the individual pilots.  These actions are shown by the symbols in the blue/grey bar at the bottom of the pilot cards (next to the shield value), and are also on the right of the base inserts.  There are a wide range of actions across the various ships in the game, but for the purposes of this review we're going to show you the three most-used actions by having each pilot utilise a different one.  Obsidian Squadron Pilot has used a Dodge action, Night Beast has used Focus, and Luke Skywalker has used his Target Lock ability to lock onto Obsidian Squadron Pilot.  Each ship has a token of the appropriate type placed beside the miniature, and then we can move onto combat.
When it comes to combat, the pilot with the highest ability shoots first, and so Luke Skywalker opens fire upon the Obsidian Squadron Pilot.  The measuring ruler is used to determine that Obsidian is within range 3.  Seeing as this is the maximum range of Luke's lasers, Obsidian gets one extra defence die to try and avoid a hit.
This is the first point at which X-Wing stumbles as an out-of-the-box experience.  The box set contains 3 attack dice and 3 defence dice, but TIE Fighters have a defence value of 3, and X-Wings have an attack value of 3, so if either are receiving a bonus then there aren't enough dice for a single roll.  The only option (aside from buying further dice, which defeats the point of being able to play the game straight out of the box) is to roll once, and then re-roll one of the dice (preferably a miss) to add to the previous 3.  It's a point which could have been easily addressed by simply putting 4 of each dice into the box set, and it seems like Fantasy Flight let themselves down a little after making such an effort to get so many other aspects of the game spot-on (see the box contents section for details).
So Luke and Obsidian roll off at the same time.  Luke rolled 1 hit and Obsidian rolled 1 dodge, which, combined with his Dodge action, gives him 2 dodges.  Tough luck, young Skywalker!
But wait...
Luke expends his Target Lock, allowing him to re-roll his dice.  This time the force is definitely with him, and he rolls 3 hits!  Obsidian's 2 dodges allow him to avoid destruction, but the third hit makes a dent, and the Obsidian Squadron Pilot suffers a point of hull damage.  The Dodge and Target Lock counters, having been used up, are returned to the game box.
The Empire Strikes Back!  Night Beast makes his attack on Luke, who is within range 2, so both ships roll off with just their face-values.  This means 2 attack dice for Night Beast, and 2 defence dice for Luke.
Night Beast gets one critical hit and once focus symbol.  As he used a Focus action this turn he can discard his focus token to turn that symbol into a hit!  Luke, in the meantime rolled a focus symbol and a miss, but his special ability (see the pilot card) allows him to change one focus symbol into a dodge.
With these effects applied, Luke has dodged one hit, but the other hits home, reducing his shields by 1.
Finally, the Obsidian Squadron Pilot gets to have a shot at Luke.  We already know the range is 3 (from Luke's attack on Obsidian), and so the dice are rolled.  Obsidian rolls 1 hit and a focus, Luke rolls 2 dodges and a miss.  Luke has successfully dodged this single hit, and the combat phase is now over.
After the combat phase, any unused Dodge or Focus tokens are removed from play, but any unused Target Locks remain in play.  Let's take a look at how the ships are faring after this round...
As you can see, Night Beast is cruising around, having taken no damage this turn.  Luke's hull is in-tact, but he has just 1 shield token remaining.  Obsidian Squadron Pilot has suffered the worst though, and has taken a hit to his hull, as indicated by the explosion poking out from the top of his pilot card.
The game continues in this fashion - movement, combat, cleanup - until one side has been completely wiped out, or until any predetermined objectives have been met.
This, once more, is a nice element which gives X-Wing more of a standalone/board game feel than that of a tabletop system.  In most tabletop games, battles are played to a predetermined number of rounds, and at the end of the final round the victor is usually decided based on the points value of their remaining units.  With X-Wing you actually feel as though you're achieving something, as the game doesn't end until the mission has been accomplished.  This not only gives a tremendous feeling of satisfaction, but also makes the game exciting to play, especially towards the tail-end of a mission, when ship numbers are dwindling and both sides are anxious to scrape through with a victory!
The actual mechanics of the game are well thought out, as we touched on in part 1 of our review.  The simple idea of templates for movement and measuring firing range remove a lot of the typical tabletop clutter, and the combat system of rolling hits against dodges is fast-flowing and intuitive.  The mountain of tokens supplied in the box set are easy to keep track of, especially when each ship only has a limited number of available actions (an Imperial player, for example, will never have to worry about Target Locks with this beginners box).
The Quick Start rules give a nice balanced battle, and contain less detail than we've addressed here in this review.  Once these have been mastered then players can progress up to the full set of rules shown here, and from there can move on to include ship upgrades.  It's an excellent 3-tiered system which allows new players to ease into the game without feeling overwhelmed.
The big question though, is how satisfying is it as a standalone game?  Does it require a further investment of ships, or is the starter box enough to keep you going?  Well it's certainly satisfying, but as a complete game it is slightly flawed.  The main flaw being that if the Rebel player chooses Luke Skywalker and upgrades him with R2-D2 then he's effectively invincible, and the Imperial player will quickly lose heart.  The other niggling flaw is the dice issue, as raised earlier.
When we reviewed Puppet Wars a few weeks ago we were let down by the fact that it wasn't playable straight from the box, and the worry with X-Wing was that it was going to suffer similarly.  Well, we can definitively state that it doesn't!  Whilst perhaps feeling a little incomplete (you'll find yourself lusting after a wider range of ships fairly quickly), X-Wing does work as a standalone game.
For comparison purposes we've also played a couple of large-scale 200 point games, and the two experiences are very different.  With the larger games it does feel good to be in control of an entire fleet of fighters, but entire turns will often pass by with no damage being dealt to ships on either side, and frustration can quickly seep in.  Whilst you do have turns like this in small-scale skirmishes, the fact that the turns pass by so quickly means that these are quickly forgotten in the mad frenzy to stay alive!
The nice thing, however, is that if you do decide to expand you can do so at a slow pace and keep the costs down as a result.  After trying out the box set we went out and bought one extra TIE Fighter and an A-Wing, and the simple addition of these two ships has given enough variation to keep the game from going stale here at Games & Tea.
The Good Points
  • In the X-Wing Miniatures Game, Fantasy Flight have succeeded in making a tabletop system that doesn't feel like a tabletop system.  This makes it incredibly accessible and very easy to pick up and play.
  • At the end of the day, it's Star Wars!  Classic Star Wars!  Most gamers will have grown up loving these films, and it feels a bit like living a childhood fantasy.
  • Further ships can be bought to expand the set at a very reasonable price, so it doesn't need to break the bank if the decision is made to add a little variety.
  • The quality of the minitaures is high, although a little shelf-by-shelf comparison may be required to make sure you get the best ones possible.
The Bad Points
  • The X-Wing starter box really should come with one more of each dice.  Any game which will require you to roll 4 dice at some point should provide the players with those 4 dice.
  • Combining Luke Skywalker with R2-D2 is an instant way to make the Rebels unbeatable with the box contents, which is a pity seeing as Star Wars fans will want to have them flying together.  They are a perfectly valid combination in larger-scale battles, just not against a pair of TIE Fighters with no backup.
  • X-Wing is limited to just 2 players, so isn't really an option in a large gaming group.
Recommended Number of Players: 2 (no other option)
As mentioned above, the only way to play X-Wing is with two players.  There are no options at this point for a third faction to enter the fray, and it can't be played with just a single player.
Average Game Time: 30 minutes
Using one of the missions in the rulebook and playing the X-Wing vs 2 TIEs balance from the started box, a game will last half an hour on average.  The addition of extra ships will obviously lengthen games, and large-scale engagements can take anything up to a couple of hours.
Replay Value: High
With the range of different pilots, upgrades, and missions, it's fair to say that no two games of X-Wing need necessarily be the same.  Once players have got their heads around the mechanics of the game they can even start to create their own missions, or even ongoing campaigns.  X-Wing is certainly not a game which will go stale for quite some time.
The Future: Bright
The Future of X-Wing is in the additional ships being released by Fantasy Flight.  At the time of this review, the currently available ships are; X-Wing, A-Wing, Y-Wing, Millennium Falcon, TIE Fighter, TIE Advanced, TIE Interceptor, Slave-I.  The next batch of releases is set to include the B-Wing, HWK-290, TIE Bomber and Lambda Class Shuttle.  With other Extended Universe and prequel ships still to choose from, Fantasy Flight have the potential to continue releasing new ships for a number of years.
Price: £30
The box set for X-Wing will cost roughly £30, and for that you'll get a good all-round 2 player experience.  The smaller fighters retail for around £12 each, and the larger ships (The Millennium Falcon etc) will cost around £24.  As we mentioned, we picked up two extra fighters to give a good variety of gameplay options to our set, and by visiting our local hobby store we were able to buy everything we needed for £45, which is a decent price for a specialist game.
Availability is one of the only let-downs for X-Wing, as Fantasy Flight unfortunately don't seem to be matching the demand with their supply.  X-Wing is such a popular game that most ships are unavailable from many retailers until October (we were very disappointed not to be able to add a TIE Interceptor to our collection, opting for that third TIE Fighter instead), and even the latest wave of releases have already pre-sold out in many places.
(9/10 with the inclusion of 2 extra ships)

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Thursday, 22 August 2013

Star Wars X-Wing Miniatures Game, Part 1: Box Contents

Today on Games & Tea we're going to look at something a little different.  We want to keep our little review blog centred around board and card games, and have no intention of changing this, so it may surprise you to see that our latest review is of the Star Wars X-Wing Miniatures Game from Fantasy Flight, designed by Jay Little.
Now many specialist games are catered towards a more geeky audience, and in any geeky audience you'll be sure to find a large number of Star Wars fans, and it's for this reason that we were very excited to pick up a starter box and see if joining the Empire was everything it was cracked up to be.  But more to the point, we wanted to see how it works as a standalone game.  Obviously as a tabletop system, a new player's X-Wing force is supposed to built upon over time, but from a board gamer's perspective we wanted to see if this would work straight out of the box with no additions at all.  Just two players, two TIE Fighters, one X-Wing, and a plethora of cards and tokens.
Regular readers of our blog will know we cast a similarly critical eye over Wyrd Miniatures' Puppet Wars, which came away as an excellent mini-tabletop system, but a deeply flawed board game.  Will Fantasy Flight's efforts with X-Wing fare any better?  Read on to find out!
As usual we'll start with the box contents, and boy does this box have a lot of content!  To the uninitiated this can be quite daunting, and as a reviewer I personally was guilty of the worst cardinal sin a gamer can commit - the first time I saw a game in action I thought it looked too complicated, and walked straight past, having no interest in learning.  We hope that the long list of items below doesn't put off our readers in the same way, as they are all very easy to pick up, and will quickly become second nature to players after a couple of games.
We might as well start with the most fun element.  If you're going to join the Alliance/Empire then you're going to need ships!  X-Wing comes with a pair of TIE Fighters and a single X-Wing to give two players a nice balanced encounter (yes the X-Wing is outnumbered, but it has shields which balances things out).  These come pre-painted, so as with any mass-produced miniatures there will be varying quality from one model to the next.  If your gaming store has several copies in stock then don't feel embarrassed about comparing the various sets until you find the one with the better miniatures.  We did the same with our review copy, and feel very pleased with the outcome!
Obviously this ships need to hover over the gaming area, so the box also contains three easy to assemble/disassemble bases for the fighters to slot onto.
That's right, we did say "gaming area", for there is no board in X-Wing.  However the nice thing about the game vs other tabletop systems (and one that helps its standalone case) is that it requires very little room to play.  Any flat tabletop measuring 3'x3' is enough to play on, and being a game of outer-space dogfighting there's no scenery required.  Some actual board games require more space than this to set up (we're looking at you, Zombicide), so in our book this doesn't cost X-Wing any points.
Next, Maneuver Templates.  This is another innovation which helps X-Wing's standalone case, as it doesn't require the tape measure typical to most tabletop systems.  Each ship's course of movement is decided at the beginning of the turn, and the ship simply travels along the length of the appropriate template.
Now for the dice, and once again X-Wing is really selling itself in this respect.  You'll find no standard D6's here, which would lead to cases of "I've rolled a 5, you've rolled a 4... let's pause the game while we check the rulebook to see what this means."  Instead there are three green 8-sided defence dice, and 3 red 8-sided attack dice.  The defence dice have two symbols; evade and focus, and blank sides.  The attack dice have 3 symbols; hit, critical hit, and focus, and once again blank sides.  Each time one ship opens fire upon another, both players roll off against eachother.  If the attacker rolls more hits than the defender does evades, then the defending ship is hit!  Simple as!  Critical hits cause more damage than regular hits, and focus symbols can allow players to convert their misses into hits/evades at essential moments.
Once a ship's shields have been depleted (or if they had none to begin with), they start to take hull damage.  In the case of regular hits a damage card is placed face-down beside the pilot card (see below), and in the case of a critical hit the damage card is placed face-up, and its text takes effect.  These critical hits can often nullify ship upgrades, disable weapons or navigation for a single turn, or (as in the case above) simply cause extra damage in the long-run.
A ship is only as good as its pilot, so X-Wing features a set of pilot cards to determine the stats on each ship in the game.  The cards dictate the ship's pilot skill, the number of attack and defence dice rolled, the amount of hull damage the ship can sustain before being destroyed, it's shield levels, the number and type of available upgrades, any special abilities, the ship's available actions, and the number of points the ship is worth.  This may sound like an overwhelming amount of information, but it's clearly laid out and doesn't take too long to get your head around, especially in a small-scale game such as this.
Each pilot card comes with a corresponding base-insert.  These slot into the miniatures' bases and allow the players to keep track of which ship belongs to which pilot, as well as giving them a quick summary of the ship's stats.
As we mentioned above, ships can receive upgrades.  These add to the ship's points value but bestow extra abilities upon it, and can often be cards which make-or-break a game!
In space, no one can hear you stop!  In X-Wing your starfighters are in a constantly moving dogfight, and so stopping to get a better shot at your enemy simply isn't an option.  Ships have to move each turn, and the players decide the distance and direction at the start of the turn by setting their maneuver dials.
The odds of successfully navigating an asteroid field...  As mentioned, there's no fancy scenery required for X-Wing, but it does come with a selection of asteroids.  These can be cast haphazardly across the table, giving players a bit more of a challenge as they're forced to plot their course around these obstacles, or even use them as cover against an enemy ship.
Again, X-Wing excels at finding ways around typical tabletop systems.  To see whether an enemy ship is within weapons range, players simply measure the distance with the range ruler.  If with range 1, the attacker gains an extra dice, at range 3 the defender gains an extra dice, and at range 2 both players roll off with their pilots' face values.
Time to start with the tokens, and if there's one thing X-Wing isn't short of, it's tokens!  Starting from the left we have evade tokens.  A pilot with an evade token may add it to their defence roll to avoid that game-changing hit.  Next up, focus.  A focus token can be discarded to change all focus symbols on an the pilot's dice to hits/evades.  In the middle we have stress tokens, which are gained from certain maneuvers.  These limit pilots' abilities until the player carries out a basic maneuver to remove them.  Then we have critical hit tokens, which just help players to keep track of which ships have received critical hits.  And finally we have shield tokens, which simply keep track of each ship's shield levels.
Next up, target locks!  These come in matching pairs, with the red counter attaching to the targeted ship, and the blue attached to the targeting ship.  If a player has a target lock on an enemy, they may discard the lock to re-roll their attack dice.
The identifier tokens are nice and simple.  If you have a pair of Academy Pilots then these slot into the ships' bases to let you keep track of which one's which.
The X-Wing rulebook contains a selection of missions to play through, and some contain mission objectives.  These are represented in the game by more tokens, rather than extra miniatures.
And finally we have the rulebooks.  Once again, Fantasy Flight seem to be doing everything right with X-Wing in this respect.  There is a full detailed rulebook, which contains the full range of scenarios, rules for upgrades etc, but there's also a Quick-Start rulebook.  This is a board gamers dream, as it contains a walkthrough of a basic game, making X-Wing accessible straight out of the box.
So there's the box contents.  You certainly get your money's worth in this set, and as we've made clear, Fantasy Flight have made some serious effort to make a tabletop system which is instantly accessible to non-tabletop gamers.  The big question remains, does it actually play well straight out of the box, or is this a system which will require time and investment?  Come back for Part 2, where we'll run through that Quick-Start game, and give X-Wing its Games & Tea score.


Thursday, 15 August 2013

A Day (or Two) of Games

Here at Games & Tea we're regulars at our local hobby store Titan Games, and over the course of Tuesday 13th and Wednesday 14th August they were kind enough to let us use their store to host two days of board and card game goodness.  The main reason for this event was to try and introduce players to games they hadn't yet experienced (or in some cases hadn't even heard of!), but to be honest we were just thrilled to be able to spend two days playing some fantastic games with new opponents!  We took every game in the Games & Tea arsenal down to Titan with us, and some extras were brought in by some of the other regulars, which meant that even we were able to experience something new.

Day one started with a round of Felinia, the spice-trading cat-based game which has become a cult hit amongst Titan regulars, and a firm favourite here at Games & Tea.  We were more than happy to sit this one out, allowing four brand new players to experience the joys of this game, as we guided them through the turn sequences.  In an exceptionally close-run game, victory ended up being snatched by The Caustic Triton from fellow gaming blog The Hobbynomicon.

"Spice must flow..."

The day continued with a round of Letters From Whitechapel, an amazing game from Fantasy Flight in which one player takes on the role of Jack the Ripper and the remaining players must work together to catch him before his murder spree is complete.  Dark subject matter aside, Whitechapel is an exceptional game, with very tense gameplay and some seriously strategic thinking required (a full review will follow soon).  The game takes place over four turns, and in a dramatic turn of events, Jack was caught at the very end of turn three!  He could have made it back to his hideout, but one last attempt to throw the police off the scent was his downfall, and his reign of terror ended.  Once again we sat this one out, hand-holding for a new Jack player and taking the police through the motions at the same time.

"Did anyone hear footsteps?"

Iello's King of Tokyo was a new discovery for us, courtesy of another Titan regular.  Each of up to six players takes on the role of a monster movie archetype (or sometimes far-from-archetype!), and each must compete to become the greatest monster in Tokyo.  It's a game with very basic mechanics and a simple premise, but is a very good wind-down game, and falls very much into the light-hearted category, along with the likes of Looney Lab's Fluxx.  Sadly our Kraken became a little too ambitious, and was the first monster to die at the hands of its peers.
Speaking of Fluxx, a few rounds of Star Fluxx found their way into the afternoon's play, which were especially good as we were once again introducing new players to the game.  Star Fluxx has a general sci-fi theme running through the game, with references to Star Trek, Star Wars, Doctor Who and Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy in amongst the deck.
Keeping with card games, an epic five-player game of Atlas Games' Gloom was possible, thanks to the fifth family added by the Unfortunate Expeditions expansion.  The stories flowed thick and (occasionally) fast, with some compelling (again, occasionally) narratives.  There was love, a cruise, game-manufacturing apes, spice-cat expeditions, and a cannibal cookery course... everything you could want from a tale of death and woe.  Not to mention a very eventful dog.
On a less sinister note, time was found late on in the day for a round of Dixit, from Libellud.  Once again, two of the players were brand new to the game, keeping Games & Tea's mission profile of bringing new game experiences to the masses right on track!  The game ran very closely up until the very final round, where we just managed to scrape a victory by 2 meagre points!

Day two took off very quickly, with a game of Fantasy Flight's Relic, a game based on the Talisman system, but based in Games Workshop's Warhammer 40,000 universe.  This was a slow-paced game as we needed to brush up on the rules, having left it gathering dust for some months.  This isn't because Relic is a bad game, but it is extremely complex and requires a lot of time and effort to play through to the end.  Even on the beginners' mission this game lasted around 2 hours, with a Sister of Battle just about snatching a victory after the Sanctioned Psyker looked as though he had it in the bag.
With the Felinia crowd busy playing Magic: The Gathering, a round of Wyrd Miniatures' Puppet Wars was set in motion; a 'shoe box' sized game with Lady Justice facing off against Pokey Viktoria.  The game got off to a slow start with both players advancing cautiously to the neutral workbenches, both wary about drawing first puppet-blood.  Lady Justice's crew looked to take the upper hand quickly, by shredding the heaviest hitter in Pokey Vik's crew, but this only seemed to enrage the latter master, as Lady Justice suddenly found her crew dropping like flies.  As Lady J's numbers started to dwindle and Pokey Vik began to gain the upper hand through workbench possession, the Justice crew went on an all-out offensive, targeting the opposing master relentlessly, and eventually managed to pull a victory out of the bag.


With the war for the workshop over, it was time for a new war to be fought.  We've recently been pulled into the world of Fantasy Flight's X-Wing Miniatures game, and were curious to see whether it had to be played as a full on tabletop gaming system, or if it could work straight out of the box (containing one X-Wing and two TIE Fighters).  A starter set was cracked open, the pieces assembled, pilots chosen, and the basic quick-start scenario was played.  It was a short-run game, but the two Imperial pilots were able to outmanoeuvre the lone Rebel, and the wreckage of a solitary X-Wing was left drifting through the asteroid field as the TIE pilots reported back to base.

"I can't shake him!"

With it firmly established that X-Wing does work as a standalone game, the table was reset with two large-scale opposing forces to see how the small-scale skirmish compares to an experience of X-Wing as a full tabletop system.

"There's too many of them!"

The game got off to a very close start, with early losses on both sides.  Both forces demonstrated some excellent piloting skills, with ships weaving closely in and out of eachother, working together to take down enemy targets.  The occasional glaring pilot error did start to creep through after the first few turns though, most noticeably in Boba Fett's three-turn streak of crashing into meteors.  Towards the end of the game the Rebels began to gain the upper hand, and when the dust settled Han, Luke and Biggs were all soaring off, undoubtedly heading back to fanfares and medals.
After the Galactic Empire had held a memorial service for Darth Vader, Boba Fett and the legions of nameless pilots, doom and gloom returned to the streets of Victorian London as Letters From Whitechapel unfolded on the table once more (or twice more, in fact).  Again we were pleased to introduce two new players, as well as allowing an experienced player his first taste of playing as Jack.  The first game ended half way through night 2, with some lucky patrol work and excellent deduction leading to a sneaky arrest on the Ripper.  The second game saw another player take their first taste of Jack, but sadly closing time meant that the game was abandoned at the end of night 2.  The police had a rough idea of the location of Jack's hideout, but without those other two turns we'll never know if he was ever caught.
We were able to round things off with a bit of board game rambling, as our Hobbynomicon friends were recording their second podcast, which even included a brief recap of our little event!

Overall the event was a lot of fun, but so many games were brought down by ourselves and others that some sadly went unplayed.  Zombicide, Bugmans, and three different Fluxx varieties never made it out of their respective boxes, so we're certainly hoping the guys at Titan will let us run another such event in the near future.

We hope you've enjoyed this recap of our little games extravaganza!  Normal service will now be resumed, so come back next week by which point we'll hopefully have a full review of Letters From Whitechapel up and running.

Monday, 12 August 2013

Felinia, Part 2: Gameplay & Verdict

So in our previous entry we examined the box content of Michael Schacht's little-known Felinia, a 2-4 player game from Matagot.  Now we're going to run through the gameplay and give our thoughts on the ups and downs of it as a product in general.
In Part 1 we mentioned that the board is double-sided, for basic or advanced gameplay.  For our review we're going to just be looking at the basic gameplay.  To start with each player must squabble amongst themselves over which colour of cat-trading family they wish to control, and then assume possession of the appropriate player card, Bid Counters, Money Counter, and Merchant Tokens.  The Money Counter for each player keeps track of their current wealth, and at the start of the game is placed on the number '2' along the upper edge of their player card.  Each player is then given 2 Merchandise Tiles, which are dictated by the rulebook based on the number of players (there is a quick-reference card to prevent players from having to keep the rulebook out at all times).
The Auction Houses on the left of the board then need to receive their initial stock for your merchant-cats to place their bids on.  As you can see, each auction house has 3 square spaces; these are the free slots for Merchandise Tiles, and at the beginning of the game each auction house received 2 tiles randomly chosen from the merchandise bag.

Then the right hand side of the board needs to be prepared, with the five nations of Felinia.  The Trade Tokens are each placed face-down on a space containing a trade symbol, in a province matching the colour of the token.
Once all of the tokens are placed, the final items in the initial setup are the galleons.  These are lined up next to the auction houses, and the Ship Tiles are shuffled to form a deck.  The top four cards are placed into the galleons, and then the setup is complete!  Your merchant-cats are now ready to start trading and building their empire!
This may sound like a lot of setup time, but in reality it takes less than 5 minutes to prepare the board for a game of Felinia.  It's a small price to pay for what will prove to be an interesting hour of cut-throat business management.
As we've mentioned, the game features auction houses and Bid Tokens, so obviously bidding is the way to acquire the merchandise needed to sail to Felinia, so let's look at how that works.
Each player starts the turn with 3 Bid Tokens, and each of these can be used to increase their coins for the turn or to place a bid.  To place a bid, the players simply place their tokens next to the appropriate auction houses.  Once all tokens have been placed by all players the bidding ends, and deals can start to be made.
The bids at the two auction houses above have finished with very different outcomes.  The auction house on the left is resolved first, starting with the topmost Bid Counter.  As there is only 1 bid counter, the yellow player just has to spend 1 coin to buy a single Merchandise Tile of their choice.  Next, the auction house on the right is resolved with greater complication. The topmost counter is red, so the red player gets first pick of the Merchandise Tiles.  Seeing as there are 3 counters at this auction house, the red player must spend 3 coins to purchase a Merchandise Tile.  Once they've made their choice, the red counter is removed and the blue player can make their choice, but as there are now only 2 counters left their purchase will only cost them 2 coins.  After their counter is removed the green player is left with the one remaining tile, but even though they probably will no longer be getting the tile they were after, at least it's now only costing them 1 coin.
This is an excellent bidding system, and each turn will leave the players mulling over the awkward choice between buying more lower-cost Merchandise Tiles, or paying through the nose for the one they really need.  But how do you decide which tile you really need to buy?  Let us show you...

At the port of Katzburg the galleons are waiting to ferry the players' Merchant Tokens off to the continent of Felinia.  To board a galleon the player must have just completed a deal at an auction house and be in possession of the correct goods (shown at the back of the ship).  In this case the upper ship requires 2 grey tiles and 1 purple, and the lower ship requires 2 purple tiles and one green.  Once a player has met these requirements they discard their tiles into the bag and place a merchant onto to foremost vacant space on the galleon.  When the galleon is full to capacity it sets sail at the end of the next round of auctions, and the second phase of the game begins.

Once the galleon reaches the appropriate nation of Felinia, the merchants disembark one by one.  They are then able to turn over 2 Trade Tokens, and then move 2 spaces to end in a province containing one of these tokens.  This token then goes to the merchant's controlling player, counting towards their final score.  As well as gaining Trade Tokens, the placement of the Merchant Tokens themselves is another strategic factor.  A lone merchant is worth 1 point at the end of the game, but 2 merchants in adjacent provinces are worth 2 points each, 3 adjacent merchants are worth 3 points each, and so on.  This doesn't just push the players to try and keep their trading outposts close together, but also can lead to players deliberately setting up their outposts to interrupt a line of their opponent's merchants before their score can rack up too high.
When all merchants have disembarked the galleons return to the port, their Ship Tile is discarded and replaced with a new one from the top of the deck.  The auction houses are all fully replenished, the first turn card passes clockwise to the next player, and a new round begins.  There are two ways the game can end; the first player places his final Merchant Token on a ship, or the final Ship Tile is placed from the deck onto a galleon.  In either case all ships set sail (regardless of whether they're full to capacity), and once the merchants have established their outposts the game is over.  Points are tallied and the winner can be declared.

Felinia is admittedly quite a slow game to begin with.  It tends to take 2-3 turns before the first ship sets sail, but once that happens and the trading outposts begin to get established, the game quickly accelerates and becomes quite busy and compelling.  It does feel very much as though it's divided into two halves; bidding and exploration, with bidding being the greater aspect of the game, but these two halves do mesh extremely well, leaving a smooth, cleanly-running game system.
As we've mentioned a couple of times, Felinia is a very strategic game, with many ways to foil your opponents.  If it's obvious that your opponent is after one particular Merchandise Tile, you can make it your mission to outbid them at all costs, even if it's not an item of merchandise you particularly need.  If they're establishing a number of outposts in close succession then you can damage their final score by landing your merchant right in the middle of their territory.  If they're collecting a high number of purple Trade Tokens you can try to sneak in and grab a few of your own to prevent them from getting the maximum score out of their own.
As you can tell, we were very impressed with Felinia overall.  It's simple to pick up, tough to master, and if played with some strategically-minded people it can prove to be a very competitive (and slightly back-stabbing) game.  Set-up and put-away time are both mercifully short, and the game itself tends to clock in at around the hour mark, making it a good game to get involved in without kissing goodbye to your entire evening.
Another interesting point to note with Felinia is the way it plays with 2, 3 or 4 players.  Most specialist games we've reviewed at Games & Tea don't work quite so well with just 2 players, but with this one it's a little different.  With just 2 players there doesn't tend to be much by the way of cut-throat outbidding, or back-stabbing merchant placement.  There's enough room on the board for both players to operate without clashing too often, and the game will often end with a pair of large, well-established trading outposts operating on the continent, with one player scraping a victory by the narrowest of margins.  With 3 or 4 players then space on Felinia becomes a more valuable commodity, and ruthless tactics will start to come into effect.  The game usually ends with much smaller, fragmented empires being established, leaving each player with a significantly lower score, but still a close-run fight to the finish.  Having played games with all numbers of players, we have to say that these two styles of play are very different, but neither is particularly less enjoyable than the other.
The main negative point about Felinia is not a fault of the game itself, but more about the genre.  trading/auction games are a particular niche in the specialist game market, and not one that appeals to all gamers.  This was our first taste of such a game at Games & Tea, and if others run on a similar mechanic then we'd certainly be willing to give them a shot.  However, those who are not fans of trading games will be unlikely to find anything here to surprise and hook them, and would probably walk away from a game of Felinia without a feeling of satisfaction.
So let's give this bizarre and intriguing merchant-cat game a breakdown, and a final score out of 10...
The Good Points
  • Whilst intimidating at first glance, Felinia is quick to pick up, and a whole board of new players will be comfortable with their actions before the end of their first game.
  • The auction system is well thought out, and captures the feeling that players are properly bidding for their first choice in merchandise.
  • The scoring system with the Merchant Tokens and Trade Tokens is very strategic, and rewards players for planning ahead with their bids.
  • It's a game about Elizabethan cats (with opposable thumbs) building spice empires in a far-off land!  Even if for nothing else, everyone should play Felinia once for that reason!
The Bad Points
  • As an auction/trading game, Felinia will only appeal to a certain audience of specialist gamer.  If you're not a trading fan, then this game will be unlikely to do anything for you.
  • The wooden Merchant Tokens are a bit disappointing - in a game about merchant-cats, you'd expect the playing pieces to at least represent these feline entrepreneurs.
Recommended Number of Players: 4
Whilst it does play very differently, Felinia works well with any number of players from 2-4.  If we had to choose a number of players though, we'd have to choose 4.  As long as you're playing with a group who aren't going to take things too seriously and throw a tantrum, the sneaky and competitive nature of a large-scale game can be a lot of fun for all involved.
Average Game Time: 60 minutes
An average run of Felinia will take roughly an hour.  The first few rounds tend to run very slowly, but once ships start to set sail and the Trade Tokens pile up, the pace quickens rapidly and the final turn of the game can sneak up unnervingly soon.
Replay Value: High
As with any game where strategy is the key to victory, the replay value of Felinia is high.  Every defeat is a lesson in how to adjust your tactics, and every victory vindicates your style of play.  The addition of the advanced board allows the game to refresh itself once you've mastered the basics, adding new rules such as food cards, which can be discarded to make your merchants travel further after disembarking from their ships.
The Future: Go Backwards
Unfortunately the future of Felinia is a bleak one.  There have been no expansions for it, nor are the likely to be any, so if you've finally reached the stage where repeat playthroughs of the game hold no appeal then there's not much that can be done to refresh the game.  However, Felinia is actually the third game in Michael Schacht's Gold Trilogy, following on from The Golden City and Valdora respectively.  Whilst we have yet to track down and test out either of these games, the odds are that if you're looking for something in the same vain then these will be a good place to start.
Price: £30
Felinia will set you back around the £30 mark, and for a nice little game like this one it's well worth the money.  Unfortunately the fact that it looks like some kind of crazy cat-people game will probably not endear gamers to pay the full price for it, which is a shame because inside the box is a well thought out game which would be an excellent addition to a collection.  We picked it up from a UK discount store called The Works for just £10, having bought it with the expectation that it was going to be average at best, but amusing for the cat aspect.
As mentioned at the beginning of the review, Felinia is not one of the more mainstream specialist games, and availability could be an issue.  If your local store can get it in then that's fantastic, but you're more than likely to be left hunting for it on the internet.  If any of our UK readers are interested in the game, then we'd strongly recommend checking out your local branch of The Works to try and grab a copy before they're gone!
Starting with Felinia, all of Games & Tea's scored will now be given out of 10, to give a better impression of our opinion.
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Felinia, Part 1: Box Contents

A lot of the games we've taken a look at so far on Games & Tea (and which we have on our imminent review lineup) are quite mainstream as far as specialist games go.  This may sound like a contradiction in terms, but the point we're getting at is that if you visit your average specialist game store then the chances are you'll be able to pick them up without too much trouble.  We certainly don't object to this (as long as the game's good to play then we're more than happy), but our intial plan with this blog wasn't just to give you our opinions on those games, but also to shine a light on some lesser known gems which might have otherwise passed our readers by.
With this in mind, our latest review has us casting a critical eye over Michael Schacht's Felinia, from Matagot, a 2-4 player game where players compete to set up the most successful spice empire.

The first thing you'll notice about Felinia is cats.  Specifically cats in period costumes who are, in fact, the ones building the spice empires.  Now at first glance this might seem like utter madness, but here at Games & Tea we're absolutely convinced that it's a work of marketing genius.  Everyone who we've introduced the game to has been sold on the idea once they've heard the premise of 'Elizabethan cats with thumbs, trading to build a spice empire in a far-off land.'  It's a unique enough hook to get people interested, and once they're in they discover it's actually a very good little game.
But we're getting ahead of ourselves.  We've got the entirety of Part 2 to talk about how it plays, for now let's just take a look at what you'll find in the box.
As you'd expect, the first thing you'll come across upon opening this cat-covered box is the game board.  The board consists of two halves, with the auction houses of the city of Katzburg on the right hand side, and the various nations and provinces of the continent of Felinia on the left.  But there's something slightly different about this as far as game boards go...'s double-sided!  The first side of the board is used for playing with the basic ruleset, whereas the second side is for the advanced version of the game.  The gameplay is actually very easy to pick up, and so the first side is more like a tutorial board, and players will probably favour the advanced side once they've got their heads around the game.
Underneath the board you'll find a whole host of various card tokens, just waiting to be popped out of their sheets.  Felinia is a trading game, after all, and your merchant-cats are going to need a range of merchandise to keep their customers happy!
As mentioned, Felinia is a game for up to 4 players, and so there's a card for each player to keep track of their wealth during each turn.  The coins numbered 0-6 around the upper edge indicate how much money they have to spend at auction during each turn, whereas the coins along the bottom allow players to add to their wealth each turn (this will be addressed in Part 2 of the review).
The actual playing pieces of Felinia are no-frills wooden counters, each coloured to match the player cards.  Each player begins the game with 10 Merchants (top), 3 Bid Counters (middle), and 1 Money Tracker (bottom).  Opening the bag of these wooden pieces was the first (and only) moment in the unboxing of Felinia that we felt a little disappointed.  With a game about spice-trading cats we were hoping that the playing pieces would reflect the game's bizarre basis, but the Merchants do very much look like regular human beings.
Next up we have a small fleet of trading galleons.  These were amongst the card sheets of tokens, and even though there was no assembly instructions they were quick and easy to put together.  Assembly of all four ships took less than 5 minutes.  These are used to ferry the players Merchants from the auction houses at Katzburg to the provinces of Felinia, where they will set up trading outposts in the players' names.
Felinia also contains 20 Ship Tiles.  Four of these are slotted into the tops of the galleons, determining their docking location (based on the colour of the deck), departure time, Merchant capacity (represented by the number of white circles), and boarding cost (represented by the 3 crates of goods towards the rear of the deck).  The unused Ship Tiles form a deck at the side of the board.
Now that our cats have transport, they'll need items to trade!  There are 45 Merchandise Tiles in the game, of 5 different types; rare books, fine wines, precision watches, luxury clothing, and refined glassware.  These different merchandise types don't really come into effect during gameplay, and so we've only ever regarded them by colour.
One of the nice little touches to the game is the merchandise bag.  The Merchandise Tiles are assigned to the various auction houses at random at the beginning of each turn, and so the bag is used to prevent anyone from trying to sneakily rig the auctions.
Whenever a Merchant sets up a trading outpost, the player is rewarded with a Trade Token.  These tokens bear the colour of one of the nations of Felinia on the back (which will determine its starting location), and a colour and points value on the front.  The more trading outposts the player establishes, the more of these they'll collect, and the higher their final tally of victory points will be.  As you can see the values aren't fixed (ie. 1-4, 1-3 etc), and this is a clever little mechanic.  Let's take the grey one (centre) as an example, with a value of 1-3.  If at the end of the game the player has one of these, it's worth just 1 point.  If they possess two, then they're each worth 2 points, and if they possess three or more then each is worth 3 points.  This encourages players to become a little bit strategic with their outpost-building, as collecting Trade Tokens of the same type can often be a comfortable way to ensure a runaway victory!
And last but not least, we have Felinia's three different card types; spice, gold and food.  Food only comes into play in the advanced version of the game, whereas spice and gold are a staple of the game.  These can be sold to give the players extra coins for bidding, or they can be saved to score victory points at the end of the game.
Okay, they were almost last.  Finally we have the First Player card.  The first player marker is a common one on specialist games and so we normally wouldn't bother adding a photo to our box content listing, but seeing as it bears an illustration of those delightful spice-trading cats we just had to put it up here.
So that's what you'll get for your money if you choose to invest in Felinia.  This may look intimidating at first glance as it's a game with a lot of elements, but as we mentioned earlier it's very easy to pick up, and certainly rewarding to play.  Come back for Part 2 to see just how these pieces all work together, and what Games & Tea thought of Felinia overall.