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A (Humorous) Review of Agricola
Ed. Note: This review was written by James Webb 
So I was looking for a new game for my elderly uncle and aunt. They were coming to stay with me for a few weeks and they were keen boardgamers. Seeing as they were from farming stock I figured that Agricola, a game about European farming in the seventeenth century, would be worth a go. It was highly rated on BGG. The theme was a good fit. It looked perfect. So I duly placed an order for the most expensive game in history and waited.

Delivery was slow, and the game didn’t actually arrive until after my uncle and aunt had been staying for a few days. I was impressed by the weight of the box and the number of wooden components, and so were my relatives. We arranged to play the game for the first time that evening. I only had time to give the rulebook a cursory glance before we started.

At first things seemed to be going well. Although the game was fairly slow (I had to keep checking the rules as we went) it seemed easy to follow and my uncle and aunt seemed to be really appreciating the theme and seeing their farmyards grow. It was all going great until round seven, when my aunt (the starting player) flipped over the new action card for that round.

“Ooo. What’s that? Family Growth? That sounds good. I’ll take that. What does that do?” my aunt asked.

“Yes,” my uncle added, “What does the Family Growth action do?”

So I checked the rule book.

Hmmm…let’s see. Family Growth action…

“It sounds good. Family Growth action. I bet it’s good,” my aunt continued

“Probably,” my uncle chuckled, “because you’ve blocked me from taking it.”

Here we are…Family Growth…it means…hmmm…what?

“Yes,” my aunt chortled, “I’ve blocked you from Family Growth action.”

“That sounds like you!” my uncle responded, “You’re just the sort who would block me from Family Growth action.”

Sweet Jehosophat! That can’t be right! I thought that this was a family game! That’s…that’s...disgusting!

“If it’s good, I want to block you from taking it!” my aunt exclaimed.

“Huh! Sounds to me like you’re never going to let me have Family Growth action.”

How can they put this in a game that they claim is for the whole family? I can’t believe it…this is terrible!

“I want to do a Family Growth action, but I don’t want him to do it too!” said my aunt, pointing at me uncle.

“Looks like I’ll be going after the Sheep then!” my uncle added. At this point, I snapped. I stood up, throw a jug of water over my relatives and shouted.


Needless to say, the game was abandoned shortly after this.

I feel that it’s my duty to point out to any potential buyers of this game that darkness lies within. Don’t let the apparently tame theme fool you. This is a game that allows you to choose…procreation…as a player action. Nay, not just ‘allows’ but ‘encourages’, because every time you take it then – provided you have enough room in your house – you get three victory points and an extra action. This is a game that rewards carnal knowledge! It’s Grand Theft Agricola!

As an aside, the whole ‘extra action’ consequence is also morally irresponsible. You are allowed to have a child and then send them out to work the next round. At first I wondered if this meant that each round was supposed to cover an extended period of time, say nine or ten years, but this clearly doesn’t work. This becomes obvious when you consider the placing of the Harvest spaces. If each round represented a lengthy space of time, then you would – for example – only be harvesting every twenty years. This is clearly nonsensical, meaning that the only possible interpretation is that the player is encouraged to have a child and then send him/her out to work when he/she is merely months old! Is there no limit to this game’s depravity?

Furthermore, I am no longer enamoured with the huge amount of wooden pieces. They come in a variety of different shapes and colours and this has led to me to discover that you can easily create pornographic totems with them. And I’m only talking about the base wooden pieces here – I’m not even going to touch the subject of the animeeples that some perverted individuals purchase purely for this ‘game’. I was, using only the pieces included in the base set, able to create over fifty disgusting models on our kitchen table. It would be an understatement to say that my wife was unimpressed. I took a photo in order to show concerned gamers my findings, but unfortunately the image was not passed by the Geek Mods. I don’t think that they appreciated my investigative zeal.

It shocks me that this game is not only easily accessible to children, but that the rules contain a ‘family game’ version – as if the designer intentionally wanted you to expose your children to this filth! For those who are wondering, the so-called ‘family game’ still includes the infamous Family Growth action!

In my investigations, I discovered that the designer of the game Uwe Rosenberg (if that's his real name) is actually German. That pretty much explains everything. After discovering this, I did a quick spot check of my games and discovered some disturbing trends.

In my other games, there are some common suggestive themes. In the Year of the Dragon and Condottiere are games that reward you for involving ‘Court Ladies’ and ‘Courtesans’. Citadels contains some dubious art work. In the Shadow of the Emperor is a game that has a ‘Descendents’ phase, which works like Agricola’s shame. Tribune demands that you ‘influence’ the Vestal Virgins. What do these games all have in common? That’s right – designed by Europeans.

In contrast, American born-and-bred Axis & Allies: Guadalcanal contains no casual nudity or suggestive themes. OK, so Zombies!!! has a couple of female figures on the cards, but they are few and far between and nowhere near as corrupting as the ‘Village Beauty’ card in Agricola!

In short, this game should not be bought but rather burnt. It’s a disgusting product, designed to corrupt our children by stealth. I expect that drawing your attention to this will make me some pretty powerful enemies – I might even find myself targeted by the Mafia (don’t they have a vested interest in this sort of thing?). That’s OK. I’m prepared to pay the ultimate price for this revelation. I will not be silenced! The truth must be shouted from the rooftops! This game must be banned!

In the meantime, if you’re interested, I’m currently working on a ‘Take A Cold Shower action’ variant. I’ll post it up when it’s finished.
Review of Through the Ages

Ed. Note:  This review was written by Tom Vassel

The computer game I've played more than other is easily Sid Meyer's Civilization series - I love the historical aspects to it, the combat mixed with empire building, etc. I've longed for a board game version, and while I enjoyed the Eagle Games version, it just didn't hold up to repeated plays - it was too long with little payoff. 7 Ages from Australian Design Group came close to exactly what I wanted, but has a high time requirement, taking days to complete a full game. I was therefore cautiously optimistic when I first heard about Through the Ages (Eagle Games, 2007 - Vlaada Chvátil), with so many raving about this three to four hour civilization game. Same company (sort of), but a completely different game!

After several plays, I must concede that the fans are true - this IS very close to having Sid Meyer's game as a board game - and it's actually a card game! Geography isn't quite as prevalent in the game, but it's still very enjoyable, and offers players a ton of choices while keeping everything very streamlined. I will say that some of the accounting and manipulation of bits is a bit fiddly, and it may be overpriced component wise - but the game offers a very deep and fulfilling experience. It's the best of its genre, one of the best games I've played lately - and an amazing amount of game packed in a small box.

Rather than condense the rules down, I thought I'd just point of some of the features of the game.

1.) When buying the game, it's certainly evident that you are buying the system, not the components. I'm not sure why the game carries such a hefty price tag, when it's basically just some decks of cards, cubes, and tokens. I'm not complaining about the quality of the components - it's quite good, it's just not at the level of the price. I quickly insert that the game is worth the price, but the game still feels a bit "bare bones". There have been some complaints about mistakes in the game, and parent company FRED Distributions has made a free kit that fixes these mistakes (although all of them but one are incredibly minor - and I missed most of them.) The cards are very functional, and the icons combined with reference cards keep everything fairly clear. Incidentally, the game is being reprinted, and all of the mistakes should be fixed in the new version.

2.) There are three sets of rules, although the "Simple" game really isn't worth playing for any other reason than to teach the game (and I've done that plenty of times!). The Advanced and Full Games are actually closer to each other, and I'm perfectly happy playing either of them. In fact, the Full Game only adds air forces and wars; and since this causes the game to go a little longer - I may actually prefer the Advanced Game.

3.) Speaking of length, Through the Ages is a decently long game - lasting about an hour per player. Because this makes it perhaps a bit too long with four, three seems to be the best number. Two players can certainly have an enjoyable time, but three allows there to be slightly more interaction, especially when it comes to combat.

4.) Civilization IV for the computer is currently my favorite PC game, as it just amazingly encompasses history and allows me to change and focus an entire civilization. I've always sought to see the same thing in a board game, and it's very apparent that the designer of this game did also, because many of the concepts are very close to those in the computer games. From the "smiley" face used to indicate happiness in a civilization, to the Wonders of the World having massive effects, to the buildings having the same name and effect - one has to almost wonder why the game isn't simply called Sid Meyer's Civilization: the Board Game. Of course, I already know that such a game exists, but this game does it better - much better.

5.) A complaint that is leveled against Through the Ages is a lack of terrain, and indeed, it's the only Civilization game that I've ever played that had no map. This was one the major reasons I had stayed away from the game to begin with, because I simply couldn't imagine a card game without a map sufficiently addressing the subject properly. After playing the game, I still think that the ultimate civilization game (if there is such a thing) will manage to incorporate a map into the game. However, after playing Through the Ages, I see that a map isn't essential to the actual building of a culture. There are some pseudo-map features to the game, with different territory cards that are fought over via combat; and for this game - that's enough. Through the Ages might have the subtitle, "A study of culture", because it's more about building up a Civilization than it is about conquering the world.

6.) One should know that the civilizations are also perfectly symmetrical at the beginning. Some games have limits on different civilizations (such as 7 Ages), and players will have a mighty fleet if playing the Vikings, and a propensity towards government if Romans. Here, your civilization is unnamed, and all are the same at the beginning. Players will be able to add leaders to their civilization, change their governments, and basically follow their paths, but their civilizations will always feel just a bit generic.

7.) That being said, the game offers a dizzying array of choices - so many that players may be overwhelmed at first. Of course players are going to concentrate on getting an economic engine running, and mines and farms are a must. After that, however, players must balance getting culture points (the way to win the game) with increasing military strength, along with keeping everyone happy, having an efficient government, and more. The tokens on the players' main card are used for a variety of means, and it's about as efficient as it can get without having a computer do the bookkeeping for you.

8.) Through the Ages IS a card game, and there is a line of cards that makes up the game, with several of them discarded after each turn. This helps bring the game to some sort of conclusion, but it also keeps players on their toes - if they see a card they want, the time to get it is now; because chances are high that another player will snag it, or that it will be shuffled off the card line. Moving the cards constantly can be slightly annoying, but it's a concept that works well, although I have no idea how it fits in thematically. All I know is that it works.

9.) There are various leaders in the game, from Moses to Maximilien Robespierre to Albert Einstein; and a player is really a fool who doesn't have one in their civilization at all times. However, while leaders give a great benefit, it's going to be a tough decision which to have in your civilization, since a player can only have one at a time. There is great debate between some players as to which leader is the best; but I've found them all useful, and they can help shape a player's strategy. For example, Bach gives great bonuses to a player for the amount of theaters they have; while Robespierre is there simply to help more easily transfer between governments, and Napoleon gives military bonuses. The faces and names help add to the theme of the game (except perhaps the final leader - the "game designer") and keep it from becoming too abstract.

10.) Having the right government is also important, since the governments drive the game. Each government gives a certain amount of military and non-military actions per turn. As the game progresses, the amount of actions increase; but each government has a different balance of war and peaceful actions. A player can ignore war but will likely do so to their detriment. Since the goal of the game is not really to conquer the world, it's not worth it to try and go that route (and I'm thankful, because it's simply never happened in history; so why dwell on it?); but one cannot ignore military options, or they will forgo a good half of the game. Tactics cards, which encourage different army formations, are one of my favorite parts of the game and add a bit of interest to a system of combat which could feel more like an auction than your typical dice-rolling affairs.

11.) The full game is divided into five basic eras, although the first era - Ancient - is more of a setup time than anything else and the last era (if you can even call it that!) just winds down the end game. Technology increases, and things grow more powerful and expensive as time goes by; and while it's not perfect, I'm very pleased with the passage of time within the game. It gets rather exciting, as it nears the conclusion.

12.) Not everything is peachy keen as the game plays out. As much as it would be fun simply to build up a nice economic engine and build wonders of the world and recruit powerful leaders, players must constantly keep their happiness level high, or an uprising may occur. Players also have to deal with irritating corruption the larger their production levels grow, although an alternate rule helps keep corruption lower for new players. As much as these travails pain me, I think they both help keep a good focus to the game. Winning despite your whiney population is a very good feeling.

There's a lot more I could write about the game, but despite many of the things I said, Through the Ages is an amazing game. Much of it is because the game has so many options and plays differently each time I try it out. It's very immersive; and even though the typical game takes around three hours, the time will fly by.r} Several decks of cards and a bunch of small wooden tokens combine to be a very good civilization building experience, one that is both addicting and fun.

Review of Twilight Struggle
Ed. Note: This review was first written and published by Wes Nott 

What is Twilight Struggle you ask?

It is a card driven game (CDG) about the Cold War from approximately 1945-1989. The game is 2 player with the sides being the USA and USSR (as one would suspect).

What you're trying to do is vie for influence in various regions of the world (Europe, South America, Asia, The Middle East, Africa, Central America).

At certain times you'll score victory points based on what your superpower controls in a particular region. You can win in a few different ways:

1.) If at any time a Super Power has "Control" (the game's terminology) of Europe that Super Power Wins.
2.) Having the most Victory Points at the end of the 10th turn.
3.) If a Superpower achieves 20 victory points at any time, they win.
4.) Whoever causes the DEFCON level to fall to 1 (NUCLEAR WAR!) loses the game (although technically, I think everyone loses, heh).

So whats the game like?

Well basically every turn the players draw a bunch of cards. The cards really are what drive the game and you can't do anything on the board without them. So there is some inherent randomness here, but it all evens out.

All cards have an Operations Point (OP) value of 1-4. OPs let you do stuff in the game such as realign a country, try to coup a country, or place Influence points in a country. Influence Points are what determines who controls a country and who doesn't.

All cards also have an event that has some in game effect. A lot of the time they let you do specific things that you otherwise wouldn't normally do. The "Fidel" Card, for example, removes all USA influence from Cuba and grants the USSR enough influence to control it (Gee, just like what really happened!)

So why the hell would the USA want to play a card like that? Well they wouldn't - but here is the real interesting thing: all the cards are of three types USSR, USA, or Neutral.

If you are Superpower you can choose to play a card that matches your Superpower, or a Neutral Card for either its Operation Points (OPs) OR for its event.

So ideally you'd think you would only want cards matching your Superpower or Neutral cards. But that ain't happening.

When you have a card associated with your opponent's superpower you basically just play it for its Operation Points, however, the EVENT also occurs (and your opponent gets to resolve it). You do, however, get to chose if the event occurs before or after you spend those OPs.

So a lot of the play is spent trying to mitigate damage from opponents cards you have in your hand. Sometimes you can play them at the right time and the damage is minimal. Sometimes, though, it's damning. Both players are working against this though. A note on the events - some cards go out of play once played, some stay in play on the table (or both of those), and some are simply put in the discard pile to eventually be reshuffled in to the deck.

So at the beginning of the Turn each Superpower has to play a "Headline" - what that means is they have to play a card from their hand for its event only. It's just a way for events to get played. Then there will be a number of actions rounds dependent on what phase of of the game you are in (early or mid/late war). And basically in an action round you'll just play a card for it's OPs or Event. Then your opponent will do the same. And you'll alternate in this manner until you've had the specified amount of action rounds.

You do have the option of, once per turn, using a card to attempt to advance in the Space Race. Basically the Space Race lets you dump (discard) a truly nasty card of your opponents in order to try and advance on the Space Race Track. The Space race basically serves as a way to get rid of a terrible card but there are also some victory points associated with it as well and a few other bonuses.

One more thing about the cards:

Their are "scoring cards." What does this mean? Well it's a card that either Superpower can play. The card will be associated with one of the regions on the board. When you play the card, you immediately "score" the region on the card and assign victory points.

So in game you might see an opponent heavily hitting a certain region. Guess what? He very well likely has that region's scoring card in his hand and is trying to get as much influence in the region to maximize his Victory Point gain when he plays the Scoring Card in a later action round this turn.

You always have to play a scoring card. Generally at the end of the turn you'll have one card left over. This is called a "held" card. A scoring card can never be a held card.

What is great about the scoring cards is that often you'll see an opponent start putting influence in an area. And what will you do? Go right over there and put your own influence but only because your opponent went over there and added his. It's a great sort of quasi-paranoia and keeps you guessing about what your opponent is up too.

What else happens in Twilight Struggle?

Well, the DEFCON level in the game is important. It starts at 5 and every time a coup attempt is made against a"Battleground" (game term) Country the DEFCON degrades by 1, towards the "1" space. Of course there are cards to increase the DEFCON towards peace, and at the start of a new turn the DEFCON improves as well. You have to be careful though, because often you'll get cards with your opponents event that will degrade the DEFCON. You need to get rid of those when the DEFCON is high, because you could get stuck playing it (as you always HAVE to play a card) and unintentionally starting a Nuclear War and losing the game.

Also each turn you are supposed to try and conduct a certain Operation Points worth of Military Operations (90% of the time in the form of COUPS). How many Military Operations you need to conduct is tied to the DEFCON. When you're at peace you have to conduct more, while when at say DEFCON 2 you conduct less. It's actually not very complicated at all, and when the DEFCON is low one coup will usually satisfy the military operations requirement. The penalty for not conducting enough Military Operations is that you can potentially give Victory Points to your opponent. Again both players have to deal with this.

Also the DEFCON level determines which regions you can Coup or Realign in. Generally the lower the DEFCON the less regions you can Coup/Realign in. A positive note you can always Coup in Africa and Central/South America!

OK, just one more thing about the cards (I promise):

You start the game only being dealt the "Early War" cards. As the turns goes by you add "Mid War" and finally "Late War" cards to the draw deck. In the Early War Asia, the Middle East, and Europe are the only "Scoring" regions that can give you Victory Points. Once the Mid War hits then all regions are up for grabs.

The cards are great too. The events are really thematic; stuff like Warsaw Pact, NATO, Marshall Plan, the "LONE GUNMAN", STAR WARS, Allende Elected, Cuban Missile Crisis, Grain Sales to Soviets, etc. All with wonderfully thematic effects too that any history buff would be sure to recognize.

The era that the card belongs to will contain events specific to that time period. So you wont be seeing cards dealing with Reagan or Gorbachev until the last few turns, while Fidel might get out early.

On that note, the Rulebook actually has a paragraph devoted to the event on each card - so if you are unfamiliar with the event in question you can look it up. A very nice touch.

Final Thoughts:

Anyway guys, I can't say good enough things about this game. It's just fun. The cardplay is tense. Trying to figure out when to play a card for an event of OPs is fun and challenging. Likewise figuring out what to do with all those cards you just drew that are associated with your opponent is a tough job. Just hope your opponent drew poorly too :D

The rules are only 10 pages long and nothing is actually too complicated. I had to check the official FAQ on the wording of a few of the event cards, but I had to reference the rules like twice in my first game. You really can't do much in an action round: play an event, place influence markers, make realignment attempts, attempt a coup, or try to advance in the space race. The player aids included with the game are great.

It can be lengthy, however, my first game was over three hours but we had so much fun it didn't matter.
Review of Galaxy Trucker

Review of Galaxy Trucker, by Thomas Taylor

I was going to write this review in my previous "Two sides of the coin" style, but I'm still trying some different ideas out to see what sticks.

If you prefer that style of review please let me know.

Galaxy Trucker is a pretty unique game. And I mean Unique Good. Not "Oh she has a nice personality" unique.

The basic premise of the game is there are 2 halves to the game play that consist of
1. A timed mad dash where you draw random face-down tiles in an effort to build your ship before everyone else does.
2. Taking said completed ship (or not most times) out for 3 space adventures each one more dangerous than the last.

Player who does the best with his patchwork ship after 3 adventures wins the game.

Tiles consist of crew cabins, freight cabins, Guns, Thrusters, and a few other oddities. Tiles also have a connection system that basically consists of even, odd or universal joints. To be placed, a piece must connect legally.

There is some strategy to flipping the timer to end the ship building round to end it to benefit you, but its not huge.

So, once you have all completed your building phase, you take your SS POS out for its 3 flights. The player that completes his or her ship first starts in first in the Race sequence and so on.

The leader then flips a card from the "event" deck, and things go down from there. Planets to land and take goods from, smugglers come and steal those goods if you don't have enough guns, slavers come and steal your crew members, pirates just blow you up randomly. Also...meteor showers are the most deadly, they randomly hit all ships in the same locations and if you have an exposed junction facing goes boom. If that piece is the only piece supporting other pieces...they go bye bye too. So, your ship falls apart slowly as you fly it. This makes the game pretty fun to watch happen, and it keeps things tense.

This continues for 2 more flight rounds (with 2 new ship boards, both bigger and badder than the last) and whichever player finishes with the most VPs wins.

This sounds relatively simple, right? It is..and it isn't. The nuances to building your ship are pretty huge. You can also peek at the deck, taking time out of your building phase to get a look at some of the incoming disasters headed your way.

Some people will not like the "build your ship and things happen to it" aspect of this game, but I have yet to find one. Its tense, its fun, and just when you get bored of watching your ship get blown to hell, you get to build a new, bigger ship.

This game is fun, pure and simple.

Bits: There are high quality tiles, high quality boards, and very cute high quality space-meeples, and some slightly phallic spaceships. The spacemen and aliens are a highlight. Also the manual is hilarious to read. Its the only manual I read twice once I "got the game" just to get all the humor that the manual is chock full of.

Playing time/Elimination: Game never feels like its going to long. Ends just when it should. Occasionally your ship gets blown up mid-flight, but you just build a new one in the next phase, so by the time you get up and get a coke, its go time again.

Screwage: There really isn't any. You can get to planets first and plunder their loots first, but that's something you can control. You just have to select different loots if you come late to the party, usually.

Summary: I love this game. Everyone who has played this game, girlfriends, grognards, AT'ers, Eurosnoots, neighbors, puppies, have all liked this game. Its short-ish, its cute, its fun, and the theme lends itself to all sorts of Star Wars/Trek/Firefly/etc humor. Most importantly this game is an absolute hoot to play.

Its very clear someone put a lot of love into this game and it shows.

As unhappy as I was with some of the other Essen releases *cough*League of Six*cough*, I am ecstatic with this purchase.

Why do I like this game? I own a lot of games, and none of them are like this one. It shoehorns frantic strategy and pressure into a light fun, semi-not-really competitive game.

The turns are non-existent, everything is simultaneous, and mostly real-time. All in all this game is a brilliant design. I can think of 50 brilliantly (over) designed games I own that just aren't fun. This one definitely is.

What's fun about it? spend 5 minutes frantically making your ship and lovingly crafting it...then you take it out for a drive and watch it get blown to hell one piece at a time. Sometimes the random elements coalesce into really funny happenings.

Case in point I was playing with a friend and I had built the perfect ship. Not a wasted space or an exposed port anywhere. Lots of battery life, lots of guns, and a whole lot of thrust. His ship looked like the SS Minnow on crack. I was clearly going to smoke his ship on our 3 hour tour. So, there are 2 epidemic cards in the decks. Basically any cabins that are connected to other cabins, each lose one crew member.

The first card of the mission flipped over, and it was an epidemic. I looked down and I realized I had 5 cabins, all interconnected. Well there goes 5 of my 10 crew. (2 per cabin in initial setup) A tragic loss, but my 5 homies were well protected, I'd be fine. Second card...ANOTHER EPIDEMIC. My ship spent the remainder of the round floating listlessly through space as all of her crew were dead. My opponent cheerfully piloted the remains of the SS minnow to a clear victory and giggled about it the whole way.

I managed to lose horribly and I still had a damn good time doing it.

In the words of Abe Froman, the Sausage King of Chicago. If you have the means, I highly recommend you get one.

Note: Galaxy Trucker will be released by Rio Grande Games in March, 2008.

Review of The End of the Triumvirate
It is the year 56 B.C. The Roman Republic is torn by civil war. The historical three-man council (the first Triumverate between Caesar, Pompeius, and Crassus), could not be renewed at the Conference of Luca, and a bitter struggle broke out between the three rivals.
Now they are trying to eliminate one another to gain supremacy over the Roman Empire. They draw supplies from their provinces, move about with their legions, and try to persuade the people and Senate of Rome to lend support to their claims. But in order to gain power, they also have to exhibit skill in politics as well as military strategy - or preferably, both!
Different paths lead to the ultimate goal of the individual ascendancy. Because even when there is occasionally pragmatic cooperation to cut a successful rival down to size, in the end, only one can win.
May Jupiter smile on you!
Review of Battue

Designer: Jim Long
Publisher: Red Juggernaut, Inc.
Players: 2-4
Time: 45-60 minutes
Price: $59.95

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