Thursday, 12 January 2012

Meltdown 2020

Box Cover
Meltdown 2020 is designed by Corne van Moorsel and published by Cwali. It is for 1-5 players aged 8 and up and plays in about 45 minutes. The theme behind the game is that the players are organisers of rescue teams on an island where seven Nuclear Reactors are beginning to malfunction. Each turn players get to know which reactors are affected and manoeuvre their vehicles to rescue their colour meeples and move them to the airport where they are flown to safety.
An example of a playing area with Radiation counters and a few rescued Meeples
The game box contains 12 Tiles, 20 Meeples in each of 5 colours, 3 Vehicles in each of 5 colours, 1 Phases Board, 15 Radiation Counters and an 8 sided Die. I will take the tiles first as they are placed together to create the playing area. Each tile consists of 7 Hexes, on 7 of the tiles one of the hexes is a nuclear reactor, on 2 of the other tiles one of the hexes is an airport. All the other hexes have coloured markers for placement of all the Meeples and the vehicles at game set-up (some hexes have 2 such markers).
Tile with Airport
Tile with Nuclear Reactor No3

The 3 vehicles are a minibus which can carry 4 people but only move 2, a Saloon car which can move 3 and carry 3 and a Helicopter which can carry 2 and move 4.

The Cardboard Vehicles
A round is governed by the Phase Board. The first thing that happens is the die is rolled and a Radiation Marker placed on the corresponding Nuclear Reactor, then everyone in player order gets to move their Minibus. The die is rolled again and another Radiation marker placed and the saloon cars are moved, finally the die is rolled again but this time a marker is removed (if there is one) and the Helicopters moved. The final phase of a turn is reactors radiating, the strength of the radiation is defined by the number of discs on a reactor and distance from them, radiation from multiple reactors accumulate. All meeples have 3 states, happy, ill, and very ill; their orientation (lying on their side, on their back) reflects the level of illness whilst those that have taken three or more lots of radiation are removed from the board. Vehicles of different players are not permitted to occupy the same space except at an airport.
Phase Board
So how does this play? We played this four player over Christmas and it went down very well, the mechanics work perfectly and there was a certain amount of tactical play in blocking the passage of your opponents vehicles whilst desperately getting your own meeples to the airfield. There was also a certain amount of logistics involved, getting your helicopter to sweep meeples up from distant locations and depositing them in groups for the slower vehicles to pick up; I tried to be systematic and ignored responding to the early nuclear Markers assuming that there would be some losses – unfortunately for me there were a large number of 8’s rolled meaning that fewer Radiation markers appeared on the board and my tactics were doomed.
Radiation markers - good and stocky
I am always interested in games that play solo, most just mimic the game and it becomes more of a puzzle solving exercise. I played this twice solo, first just using one colour as per the rules (the rules do not give separate solo rules), secondly using all the colours. The one colour version was quick and very dull, there was never a game there, it was just me seeing what numbers I rolled on the die and seeing how lucky I was. The multicolour version worked a lot better, I stuck to the rule that only one vehicle colour could occupy a hex and that each colour could only rescue its own meeples. Like most solo versions of games it was still a puzzle, in this case how do I avoid getting in my own way whilst maximising the movement of all the vehicles, but I did get a feeling of some control over what was happening.
Phase board with saved Meeples aligned by health in the solo game.
Cwali manage to fit everything into a nice sized box, no wasted space, the wooden bits are robust, but here comes my one and only complaint of the game, the vehicle pieces are bent pieces of card that “clip” together at the top – or rather that is what they are supposed to do, it only works with the smallest vehicles. The card tears at the bottom and you end up with floppy bits of card that keep coming unclipped midgame knocking meeples over as they do, remembering that meeple orientation is important in this game. Why they did not go with a piece of card in a plastic stand or even wooden representations of the vehicles I have no idea. 
Minibus - folded
Helicopter - unfolded

To finish on a high note, Meltdown is an excellent game with well balanced mechanics, it is a lightweight game and probably best as a session starter. I am glad I managed to pick up a copy as its not available through many UK outlets. 

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Christmas Games part deux

It probably seems a bit quirky having the Christmas Games Report after the New Year Games Report, but that is how it is this year/last year?!?...... Anyway here is Christmas Gaming 2011 part deux giving a brief overview of the games played over 3 days, reviews for most will follow later in the year.
Christmas Day after a superbly excellent Christmas lunch cooked by Wendy and present unwrapping the first game hit the table. First on the table was “Lucky Ducks” published by MB and designed by Len Stubenfoll. It is for 2-4 players aged 3 and up and plays in about 10 minutes. You may be surprised that this game came out for a group of adults, Lewis certainly was – he had expected “Duck Duck Go” and in my obtuseness I had deliberately brought the wrong game. Ah the humour of it all! The idea of this game is collect your three ducks denoted by your colour on a sticker underneath it as they revolve around on a motorised duck pond. On a players turn they select a duck, secretly look at it, if it is their colour they take it and place in front of them, otherwise they must place it back on the path and the next player has a turn. This continues until everyone has found their ducks, the first player to do so, winning the game. We had fun playing three games of this over half an hour, what I haven’t mentioned is the mechanical quacking that continues from the revolving pond during the game – it is almost hypnotic. The game was quite intense, so much so that I cannot remember who won the three games.
The second game we played was “Vikings” by Rio Grande Games, designed by Michael Kiesling it plays in about an hour for 2-4 players aged 10 and over. Probably one of the most played games in my house during a year showing its popularity again by being chosen by Lewis for playing at Christmas. The idea is to collect tiles and place them in your own tableau to create islands in a grid pattern, the tiles come with various coloured meeples who are placed on the tiles. It is the combination of meeples and tiles which gains you victory points, the game is played over 6 rounds, whoever has the most points at the end wins. Lewis beat Wendy by one point, however what this game will be remembered for especially by Alan is his score of “2”, which achievement will be revealed as even more remarkable when I mention everyone starts the game with 10 points and In general a bad score is considered to be between 30 and 40 points.
“Kingsburg” was next, designed by Andrea Chiarveslo and Luca Iennaco and produced by Fantasy Flight Games, it is for 2-5 players aged 13 and above and plays in about 90 minutes, though I think 10 year olds could cope without too much difficulty. The game falls under the worker placement category where you roll a set of 3 dice which become your workers, these are placed on various spaces on the board to collect resources; these resources are used to build buildings which give you victory points and special power-ups during the game. Each board space can only be used once during a game turn, so blocking others whilst maximising your own resources is part of the fun, again  I cannot remember who won, I should start writing the results down as they happen, not a week or two later.
The fourth game (we are now on day 2 by the way) was “Egizia”, produced by Rio Grande Games and designed by Acchittocca, Flaminia Brasini, Virginio Gigli, Stefano Luperto and Antonio Tinto. It is for 2-4 players aged 12 and above and plays in about 90 minutes. This is a lovely game and plays over 5 turns, each turn a variety of power cards are interspersed with power spaces on the board then players take turns putting workers on these spaces, only one worker per space so whoever gets there first gets it. As you can never go back up the path of these power spaces, careful choices have to be made.  This was a hard game, this is the third time I have played it 4 player and it plays differently to 2 or 3 player games which is how I think I prefer this game. With 2 and 3 players there is a degree of predictability which makes you feel you have some control, this to me is lost with 4. Wendy though seems to cope with it no matter how many players there are and has won more than her fair share of this game (she is 4-1 up 2 player) and added this one to her winning tally also.
It was about now we played “Duck Duck Go”, chosen to play by Lewis, designed by Kevin G Nunn and produced by APE Games, it plays 2-4 players (you can actually play up to 6 with another couple of ducks) aged 8 and up in about 30 minutes. Best described as “Roborally light” this was actually the Duck game Lewis wanted to play. A brief overview appears in the New Year Session Report, again a fun time was had with ducks careening into one another, a lucky winner drawing all the right cards at the right time was ME! If anyone knows where I can get Booster Boxes in Kent I would be obliged – I have a yen to collect all the ducks.
“Meltdown” which was on my choice list is designed by Corne van Moorsel and published by Cwali, it is a game for 1-5 players aged 10 and above and plays in about 45 minutes. This game is themed around Nuclear Reactors going critical where the players play rescuers, saving and evacuating  meeples to the nearest airport.  An unusual subject for Christmas, however it was one of my newer games and it hadn’t been played yet. It was an interesting game, however some lucky early die rolls meant our game was quite tame with limited losses. I lost the game quite convincingly by trying to save everyone and failing. There is an element of luck in this game, however it played very well and everyone enjoyed it, Wendy won.
Lewis had to leave on day 3, so the remaining games were played 2/3 player. First up after a nice walk to see the Purple Sandpipers was “Richtofen, Ace of Aces”, I last played this about 20 years ago and Alan refreshed my memory with the basic rules. The game was designed by Alfred Leonardi and produced by Nova Game Designs, it is a 2 player game with the basic game lasting about 15 minutes, playing time can lengthen with the advanced rules and if playing a campaign. It is an aerial combat game based during the Great War where each player has a booklet of pictures showing views from your cockpit, you select a manoeuvre and based on the cross-indexing of manoeuvres chosen gives you a new view and perhaps a victim in your sights. I had fun and is one of the games missing from my collection.
Alan and I gave “Satanix” a whirl next, it is a word game for 2 players aged 10 and above and plays in 15 minutes. The design is uncredited and is produced by Habourdin International. The game consists of 16 reels on a central spindle, each reel has 10 faces. Each reel has one blank, one “E” and 8 other random letters, one on each face. On your turn you create a word starting with the left hand reel, your opponent then tries to create a longer word. The mechanisms, both the reels and spindles, and the game itself, work very well; we were playing for pleasure and had plenty of time so our game lasted for about an hour, if playing seriously I would strongly suggest using a minute egg timer.
The last Christmas session game played was “If wishes were Fishes” chosen by Wendy and which she joined us for, this game was reviewed by me on 30-11-11. Designed by Michael Adams and Peter Sarrett, produced by Rio Grande Games, it is for 2-5 players aged 10 and above. The theme is around catching and selling fish shown on cards, however each card can either be used as the fish or a special action – but not both. Another great game was had and a nice light finish to 3 days of games, food and fun. Thank you Alan for providing the venue of our festivities and being a marvellous host, we all had a great time.
The Scalectrix? Well lewis and I set that up on day 2 after I spent half an hour digging it out of cupboard hidden by stacks of games, the course was not bad and was about 15 feet long made up from quite a few basic sets I picked up years ago, several races were had with Lewis winning them all.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

New Year Games

The Christmas game sessions I hope to catch up with later – they are half written, however hot off the press is the New Year games session, there are no reviews in this article, just an overview of the games we played.
Wendy and I got to spend New Year with Chris and Julia, other guests over the two days included Jay, John, Jens, Beth and Mike. We all had a lovely time, Chris and Julia as always being fantastic hosts, whilst Beth supplied a superb vegetable pie (those simple words do not do justice to how marvellous it tasted). However on to the games. When we arrived Jay, Chris and Julia were playing Kingdom Builder, a game by Donald X Vaccarino, produced by Queen games for 2-4 players aged 8 and over. I got a quick rundown on the rules and I began to see what the current interest is in this game and I look forward to playing it sometime. In brief (very brief) it is a territory claiming game with points awarded for various goals which are on view to all but change from game to game, so each game is different.
We all then played Last Will another game I had heard a lot about. It is designed by Vladimir Suchy, produced by Czech Games Edition and Rio Grande. It is aimed at 2-5 players aged 11 and above and plays in about 60 minutes. The game is all about losing your money as fast as possible, one cannot help but draw a parallel with the excellent Richard prior film, “Brewster’s Millions”. On your turn you use a marker to select from six possible action groups; dependent on which one you choose, it will give you from 0-6 unknown cards from chosen decks, one or 2 hat moves (special actions to collect specific cards), and from 1 to 4 player actions. The better the selection, the later in the round you will go next turn. The actions allow you to play cards to your playboard which chew up cash at various rates. If you have chosen your cards correctly you will get to play multiple cards at a time chewing up even more cash. Houses devalue, but MUST be sold before you can declare yourself bankrupt and that money also squandered away. It was an enjoyable game and I was able to win in a true Brewster manner, with a big party.
After lunch the first game was MOTO GP, designed by Rafael Nunez-Maturana and published by Games for Table Races S.L. (Spain), playing in about 90 minutes for 2-8 players aged 8 and over. It is essentially a Motorcycle race round a track, the rules are relatively simple and consist of on your turn selecting a card from a hand of 3, playing it and suffering the consequences. Cards run in value from 5 to 9, should you play a 9, or an 8 or 9 in a bend, or “bully” through blocking bikes on the straight, or have to play a card you cannot fully use then you roll 2 dice, a 5 or less and you suffer 1 damage point. You have a total of 6 damage points and as you accrue them the you have to do more checks when using lower value cards, you crash when you get your seventh point. You are supposed to play a 3 lap race, however we thought that 1 lap would give us a feel for the game when we could choose to do more laps if we wished. We got a feel for the game after the first 4 bends, however we still  persevered to the end of the lap. I cannot say the game was bad, but inconsistency in the rules, a lack of choice in moves and no real opportunity to plan ahead made it a dull game. It really needs a proper gamer to overhaul the rules;  there is a game there but it still needs a bit of work. This should not detract from Mikes superb gameplay to get the win.
Next up was Kaleidos, designed by Spartaco Albertarelli and published by Edtrice Giochi, a game for 2-12 players aged 10 and up playing in about 60 minutes. This is an excellent observational game, each player gets the same picture to look at, a dial is spun giving a letter of the alphabet and an eggtimer is then turned over and you get a minute to write down as many items you can see in the picture beginning with that letter. At the end of a minute everyone stops writing and lists compared, you get 2 points for a unique answer, 1 point for a shared answer and lose a point if everyone except one person has the answer (as does everyone else with that answer). Play a number of rounds and whoever has the best score wins. Chris won this one with about 20% higher score than anyone else. The pictures are a mass of items and animals and curiosities within a common setting and the artists Marinna Fulvi and Elena prette are to be commended. It was a fun game with many discussions – some very short lived such as my claiming an Alley-Cat for the letter A when everyone said “no – it’s a Cheshire Cat” to the slightly longer for Beth’s “It’s a Mammoth” for M with everyone saying “It’s an elephant” – no one though got Mammal!!!
The next game was Take it Easy XXL, produced by FX Schmid and designed by Peter Burley, it plays in about 20 minutes and takes from 1-8 players aged 10 and up – though I know 8 year olds that could cope with it. A lovely game, each player has a small hex board with a set of hex tiles, each tile has coloured lines going across it with various values  for example 1’s ,5’s & 9’s go N-S. On a turn a caller draws a tiles and then says what numbers are on the tile, everyone takes that tile and places it on their board. A tile placed cannot be moved. Play continues until all boards are full and then you score up. Each completed line scores the value of the line times the number of tiles in the line. We played two rounds with me winning the first and drawing in first place in the second, though most of the others were first timers to this game.
I think it was here when we played Duck Duck Go, designed by Kevin G Nunn and produced by APE Games, it plays 2-4 players (you can actually play up to 6 with another couple of ducks) aged 8 and up in about 30 minutes. The game consists of playing cards to move ducks on a board, the ducks race round trying to tag bouys before crossing the finish line – which is a plughole. Cards are played simultaneously, revealed and played in numerical order, this blind play often leads to collisions and mishaps. It is a fun game not to be taken seriously, strategically it is a nightmare as you never have the correct cards at the right time – but the ducks are so cute you can forgive the high luck element. A review of this game will follow soon.
The last game of the day was Olympos by Ystari games,  designed by Philippe Keyaerts, its for 3-5 players aged 10 and up (I would say 12 and up) and lasts about 90 minutes. The game consists of a map of Greece and Atlantis sectioned off into areas with resource counters thereon. The winner of the game is the player who gains the most victory points which are gained for areas owned at the end of the game, power cards picked up and not used and for “additional power” tiles picked up during the game. The game revolves about a time track, everything you do takes time which is recorded. On your turn you can add troops to the board and conquer areas thus gaining the resource counter or you can buy a power tile; both take “time”. Saving time is essential, as is collecting the right tiles, I missed on both these essentials until it was too late and then it was a fight to stay out of last place. I cannot say I enjoyed the game, the mechanism does force you to attack someone at some point to improve your position and I don’t generally like those sort of games. A game is either a war game where there is the ebb and flow for all participants or it is a resource game, a resource game which has a small amount of combat usually end up being “pick on the weakest” with no catch-up mechanism; such was the case in this game. Jay attacked me to obtain a specific resource he wanted, however I also needed the resource so I attacked him back, we both lost time to the other players putting us a turn behind them – with no material gain by either of us. The game was won by Wendy in rather dramatic style, Julia had established a strong position, however Wendy had concentrated her efforts in just the right areas to overtake Julia at the end.
Day 2 saw us start with Powergrid – The First Sparks produced by 2F Spiele, designed by Friedmann Friese for 2-6 players aged 12 and above playing in about 75 minutes. This game is about expanding tribes on a map made up of hexes that have one of four resources, Grapes, Bears, Fish or Mammoths. Players gather these resources to expand and feed their tribes, to assist in this there are cards to be bought from a deck in a similar manner to powergrid. When someone reaches 13 the turn is played out and furthest past the post wins with food in hand being the tie-break. Julia won this quite easily with John being the only real challenge, I suffered a glitch mid-game by running low on food and Wendy started off a bit too slow and ended up a turn behind the rest . I have to draw the conclusion that the game is unforgiving with mistakes, it is simpler than Powergrid and really a different game though it draws its mechanisms from its “parent”.
The next game was Alles im Eimer published by Kosmos, designed by Stefan Dorra, aimed at 2-6 players aged 10 and above. A card game where you start off with a hand of 12 cards, they can be of numbers 2 to 8 and in any of five colours. On your turn you must follow suit and beat the previous players total, you can do this by playing 1, 2 or 3 cards. If you do so, play passes to the next player, if you fail then you lose a colour token matching the cards you failed to play. The coloured tokens are placed in a pyramid, when you lose a coloured token, any it is supporting you lose as well. Matching numbers switches direction of play. It was a good game where I kept my head, but not the majority of my tokens; this game was won by Mike carefully avoiding the tit-for-tat battles going on and playing some high combinations to avoid losses.
The next game was In 80 Tagen an die Welt designed by Michael Rieneck and published by Kosmos, it plays from 3-6 players in about 75 minutes. The game consists of a number of travel routes round the board which require either Train and/or Ship cards to move by, each card has a number of days thereon which is kept on a tally round the board. The idea is to complete the round trip in less than 80 days. Each turn a number of cards are placed face up dependent on the number of players next to an action space. On a turn a player takes a card and the associated special action and may also complete one Route section. The game plays well, there is an element of luck with die rolls replacing cards, but this is at the players choice, special action cards also have an element of luck to them. All in all the game is well balanced with Mike getting his marker to London first in just under 90 days, on the following turn John, Wendy and Julia also reached London but with an accumulated time of 80 days or less with Julia taking the shortest time. In the meantime Jens and I failed to reach London choosing (I would like to think) to put our feet up in America for a while.
The last game of the day was Nefarious published by Ascora Games and designed by  Donald X Vaccarino , a card driven game for 2-6 players aged 8 and up playing in 30 minutes. It is a light card game with little depth, you each have a game board, some mad scientist tokens and 4 action cards. Each turn the players simultaneously choose one of their action cards, they are all revealed and then played in numerical order. The choices are 1, place an investment counter, 2 get 2 cash and an invention card, 3 create an invention, 4 grab 4 cash. The invention cards generally have additional actions you can carry out but cost money, however they also carry the victory points you need to win the game. We played a 4 player game, due to event cards money was tight, I was very bad at balancing the books, and came last, John came first a well deserved win. I hope to review this game at a later date.
Most of these games were new to me and the two I enjoyed most were Last Will & Kaleidos. Thank you once again to Julia & Chris