All Aboard April 2013

I’ve been going to the All Aboard events for several months now, and last week was one of the most enjoyable events I’ve attended primarily because I was able to try a lot of different games. My girlfriend and I arrived relatively early – none of the tables have been occupied save for one, where the organizers sat and played while waiting for people.

Let me say that I like arriving early at this event when I’m with my girlfriend or my nephew – it allows me to grab a new game, read about the rules and try that game with her/him without any time pressure. So I did just that – I picked out a game that I’ve seen mentioned on the YouTube show The Dice Tower called Forbidden Island:

Tin_FrontFind the four treasures before the Forbidden Island sinks into the ocean!

In Forbidden Island, players take on the role of different types of treasure seekers as they embark on a search for four ancient treasures. Unfortunately, the ancient treasures are located on the Forbidden Island, an island that is currently sinking. The players must work together in order to find the four treasures before the island sinks completely.

The island is represented by several tiles, which each tile representing a specific location on the island. The players look for the treasures by means of drawing from the deck of “Treasure” cards, and once they’re at the end of their turn they draw a certain number of cards from the deck of Flooding cards to determine which parts of the island have been flooded.

forbidden island - set upThe Forbidden Island, as represented by the game tiles. Two locations are already submerged.

The mechanics of Forbidden Island are very similar to Pandemic and Flash Point: Fire Rescue, so it was easy for us to grasp the game. Plus, we were assisted by one of the organizers, who did a good job of walking us through a few rounds. Because of the similarity though, we didn’t like it as much as we could have – the game really felt like a simpler version of Pandemic, so if we wanted to play that kind of game, we’d much rather play with Pandemic than with this game.

But I have to say that, because Forbidden Island is simpler, it’s easier to set up and clean up. The game comes in a tin box that’s smaller than the boxes for most board games and thus is more portable.

Anyway, we got a couple more players to join our group, so we moved onto Ca$h ‘n Gun$, a game that we played last month (and I wrote about just a few days ago):

cash and guns boxWe’ve really got to try the Advanced rules of this game next time.

It was my second time to play/facilitate this game, and I have to admit that I didn’t have enough time to really read through the rules other than the Beginner’s guide, so we had to play using the Beginner rules. I don’t think everyone in the group enjoyed the game that much. I think that this game is similar to Incan Gold where you need someone who’s really animated to hype up the game for it to be really fun.

We then moved on to another game that I played once in the past, Puerto Rico:

puerto rico boxNever thought I’d like it after the second try, but I did.

I didn’t enjoy this game enough the first time I played it, and I wasn’t really that enthusiastic about playing it again, but I went along with the group and agreed to a game. Surprisingly, I enjoyed it a whole lot more this time around, and I have to admit that I had fun because I finally understood a strategy that allowed me to win.

As I described it in one of my earlier posts,  Puerto Rico is a game where players take the role of plantation owners vying to be the best or the number one plantation owner in the country. Managing your own plantation involves things like choosing what kind of crops to plant, what kind of structures to build and invest in, and what to do once your crops are ready for harvesting.

puerto rico boardThose brown-colored tokens represent the colonists manning your structures and plantations.

The game requires a lot of foresight in order to win – what you do in the early turns can decide what will happen to you throughout the game. Do you have the right buildings to process your crops? No? You won’t be able to produce coffee then. Do you have enough colonists to man your buildings and farms? Then not all of them will be operational. Or maybe you have too many colonists?

If it sounds challenging already, well there’s more. What you do on your turns affects the rest of the players, and what the other players do on their turns affects you a lot. The game makes use of different roles that players choose from when it’s their turn to act first:

puerto rico - rolesThe many roles that you can choose from in Puerto Rico.

For example, choosing the Settler role allows you to choose a plantation from a random selection, then all the other players are forced to choose a plantation after you. The player next to you still gets to have a lot of crops to choose from, but the player farthest from you in terms of turn-order would probably be left with just one or two types of crop. This can seriously screw up plans when it happens at the wrong time – let’s say you choose the Captain role that allows the players to ship goods to Spain. What happens when the player next to you has no goods to ship? That’s a missed opportunity, and would probably mean falling behind everyone else in the game.

Anyway, I won the game, scoring 97 Victory Points. We took a short break, and then we planned on trying out Police Precinct but the game was a little too complicated to setup and I was tasked with facilitating. Luckily, other people joined our group so I was able to put this game back. We played Guillotine instead.

Guillotine - boxGuillotine may be a filler game, but it’s a good filler game.

Guillotine is a card game where players take on the role of executioners. The game is played in rounds, or “days”. Each “day”, twelve different people are all lined up for execution, and the players take turns executing the person who is at the front of the line, earning points based on the point value of the person executed.

guillotine - in gameA game for people ages 12 and up that features executing nobles. Go figure.

Players also have a hand of action cards, and they can play one action card on each of their turns. These action cards usually manipulate the order of the nobles in the line so that you can execute the ones with higher points, or to force the other players to execute the ones who have less points. There are also some action cards that subtract points from other players, cause them to discard action cards, and some others that either have beneficial effects to yourself or disruptive effects to your opponents.

guillotine - action cardOne of the many action cards in Guillotine.

The game ends after three days, and the winner is – you guessed it – the player with the most number of points. It sounds really simple, and the mechanics are quite simple, but it’s not easy to win. The action cards played by other players can really mess your game up.

I won both of the two games that we played out of sheer luck – one of the players ended the first game prematurely, not anticipating that I was ahead on points, and on the second game the other players kept targeting each other with effects that reduced their point totals and kept ignoring me because I wasn’t the one with the most points at the time, resulting in them having lower point totals when the game ended. We weren’t really into winning the game – the person who taught us the game described Guillotine best when he said it was a filler game – it was a filler game to us, giving us something to do while we waited for the next game that we were going to play.

I won the first game because one of the players ended our game of Guillotine prematurely without caring to check if he had the most points, right? That’s because he just wanted the game to end as soon as possible, so he could get his copy of Shadow Hunters which he left in his car. And I’m so glad he made the effort to get it because the game is freakin’ amazing.

Shadow Hunters - boxI rarely ask a gaming group for another game, but playing this once simply wasn’t enough.

In Shadow Hunters, each player chooses a character at random, and each character is either part of the Shadow faction, Hunter faction, or a Neutral character (not part of either factions). The game starts with the identities of each player kept secret.

shadow hunters - sample charactersFrom left to right: the Neutral Allie, the Hunter Franklin, and the Shadow Vampire.

Each character has a different winning condition and different health points. Hunters win when all Shadows have been killed. Shadows usually win when all Hunters have been killed or a specified number of Neutrals have been killed. Neutrals have varying, often self-serving win conditions that results in them making unpredictable alliances in the game.

Shadow Hunters - boardThe Shadow Hunters board. The spiral shape at the left is the shared life meter.

Because the identity of each player is a secret, players spend the early turns going around the board trying to identify who’s who. The primary way of discovering identities is to draw Green cards, which can be done by landing on one of two locations on the board. Green cards have effects that say something like “If you are a Hunter, take 1 damage“. These cards are handed off privately to players of your choice, and they are forced to do what the card says. So if you hand over the card that I just mentioned to a player and they don’t take damage, that means that they’re either a Shadow or a Neutral.

Another way of discovering identities is to simply observe how the players are behaving. Are they attacking anyone in particular? They may have already discovered the identities of their opponents and thus are already going after them. And that’s where the fun lies – in the investigations that the players have to do. I’ve had players give me Green cards, then have stumped expressions when their cards didn’t affect me – that meant that they had guessed wrong, or still have no idea which side I’m working with.

In our first game, we spent some time trying to identify each other’s identities when one of the players gave me a Green card that would give me 1 damage if I were a Shadow, and I was. Earlier, a player whom I’ve identified as a Hunter started going after him, and the way that he nodded after I had taken damage from his Green card made me realize that he was a fellow Shadow. We exchanged knowing looks throughout the rest of the game, preparing to strike at the opposing Hunter, when one of the players announced that he had won – turns out he was a Neutral character whose win condition was to collect 5 different Item cards.

shadow hunters - sample gameA game of Shadow Hunters in progress.

In our second game, I was a Hunter with the unfortunate luck of not landing in any of the locations that would allow me to draw a Green card, so I was clueless with what was going on for most of the game. I never got the chance to buddy up with my fellow Hunter who was killed before we discovered each other’s identities. I then found myself against three players – two Shadows and one Neutral character who also wins if the player on his left (a Shadow – am I lucky or what?) wins.

I tried my best to fend them off, eventually killing one of the Shadow players and the Neutral player who was helping their side, but even with the assistance of the other Neutral players (one of which only had to kill one more character to win, the other had to ensure that only two players remained alive in the game to win) I couldn’t overcome the second Shadow. I succumbed to her attacks after several intense turns.

And that was our final game for the day. My girlfriend and I had such a good time, the only way it would have been better was if my nephew was also there with us (he missed out on a lot of good gaming). We were able to try 3 games for the first time, putting my tally at  22 different games played at All Aboard – and I haven’t even started trying the more popular games like Dominion, Mage Wars, and Agricola. Here’s my tally of games played at All Aboard:

  •  Shadows Over Camelot
  • Dixit
  • Last Night On Earth
  • Jab
  • 7 Wonders
  • Pandemic
  • Monopoly Deal
  • Cutthroat Caverns
  • Conquest of Planet Earth
  • Defenders of the Realm
  • Flash Point: Fire Rescue
  • Smash Up!
  • Incan Gold
  • Ultimate Werewolf
  • King of Tokyo
  • Puerto Rico
  • Toc Toc Woodman
  • Ca$h ‘n Gun$
  • Pressure Point!
  • Forbidden Island
  • Guillotine
  • Shadow Hunters
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