Come on in for another home-fried Next of Ken, where this week I'm all bout The Dark Knight Rises, I spend some table time with Lost Temple and Knights of Ten, and give my final word on Omen: A Reign of War: 2nd Edition: Lots of Subtitles. Join us, won't you?
First up, my heart goes out to the people who lost loved ones because a depraved maniac decided to open fire on a defenseless crowd of people in a theater. I hope they find justice and eventually, peace.
Having watched The Dark Knight Rises, when the credits rolled out theater applauded. Christopher Nolan gave us a fittingly epic trilogy and somehow managed to stick the landing, to boot. There is a major concession you have to make about Nolan's Batman--that he'd be willing to take himself out of the action for the good of Gotham. If you can get beyond that and accept that this is Nolan's take, the rest of the movie is golden. You've got tie-ins to The Dark Knight and especially Batman Begins, including a hilarious cameo that I wouldn't dare ruin here. You've got stuff that is ripped directly from the pages of the comics, characters you never thought would see screentime in a Batman movie, yet there they are.
You've got a great take on Bane by Tom Hardy, who puts in a physically impressive performance, but also makes Bane a man of muscle and intelligence, both of which were key factors for Bane in the comics. This was the man after all who, in the comic book world, deduced the Batman's true identity, laid a trap for him by having him fight all of Arkham Asylum's inmates, then waiting for him at the Batcave where Batman was too exhausted to be a match for him and ended up breaking his back. Now that's hardcore. I didn't think Hardy had the physical stature to play Bane, but dude is jacked in this movie. He also is forced to act without most of his face visible, and he does a great job showing mirth, menace, and contempt with just a few flicks of his eyes. While Hardy's Bane is no Ledger's Joker, I don't think people are giving him nearly enough credit.
I do have a few other quibbles with the film that venture into spoiler territory, but it's safe to say that this is better than Batman Begins (an excellent movie) but not quite at the same level as The Dark Knight. There's no shame in that, though. A fitting end to an epic trilogy. Seriously, who among you thought--after seeing Bane in a chaffeur hat in Batman & Robin--that we'd ever get to see a treatment of Batman onscreen anywhere close to the quality that Nolan has provided us?
Yeah, I thought not.
Go see this movie. It's full of awesome sauce.
Don't Be Taken By Weakness, Go By the Light of Your Sword
Lost Temple (Bruno Faidutti, published by Stronghold Games) takes the core role-selection mechanic from Faidutti's extremely popular Citadels and puts it smack dab into a family-friendly racing game.
The theme is one of explorers racing through the jungle toward the Lost Temple. The "roles" here represent the explorers seeking help from the locals in order to beat their rivals to the temple (and presumably a fat load of treasure.) Whereas many of the roles in Citadels are often destructive in nature--such as the Assassin and the Thief--it's obvious here that in the interest of keeping the game more accessible for families, some of the edge has been taken off those type characters, giving the game a much less cutthroat feel.
Usually hampering other players will involve trading spaces with them, or robbing them of the gems they'll need to pay for the services of some of the local villagers. Most of the role cards involve moving forward a certain amount of squares, though some will move you directly to the next waypoint of a particular type. In your way also are deep jungle spaces, which will slow you down unless you've collected a machete token. You'll need to watch what the other characters are doing, as a few of the roles (such as the Canoe) can allow someone who has successfully hoarded gems to move a massive amount of spaces at once.
It's not quite as important to guess correctly as all the roles will at least move you forward a couple of squares, but being inattentive will certainly hand someone the victory. I like Citadels a lot but it can be a difficult game to teach strategy for. It's also a game that can drag with higher player counts. Plus, the highly confrontational nature of much of the role-selection can be off-putting for younger gamers who will get frustrated if their role continually gets assassinated or stolen from.
The race theme here is certainly more appealing for a family gaming session. The racing positioning is easier to look at the board and more quickly understand the standings of all the players, who's close to winning, and who might benefit the most from choosing a particular role.
We played it with experienced gamers and surprisingly enough for a relatively light game it was taken to very well. Now let me be clear--this game isn't in the same league as Citadels. In fact, its primary appeal is if you enjoy hidden role selection and second-guessing your opponents but want to play with family and/or younger gamers. For that purpose, it's solid. It's light and fluffy and is a great introduction to this type of mechanic.
In terms of older gamers, as long as you treat it as a party game, I think you can get some mileage out of it. A good opener or closer for game night, most likely. It plays a large group quickly, always a plus. Before considering it for purchase as a regular rotation game in that setting, I do recommend trying before you buy.
If you are going to play with your kids or non-gaming relatives, this one's a good pick-up. I'll be keeping Lost Temple around for just such an occasion; the next thematic step up from Incan Gold.
A Little More, Let's Make This Even
Knights of Ten is a 2-player game played strictly with cards (well, and little plastic gold gems) where players use number cards to build up their "horde" or lower the value of the opponent's horde. The cards are numbered 1-10 and have one of three symbols on them--plus, minus, or "gull" which is their slang for gold.
A hand is played as a series of tricks where whoever has initiative leads with a card from their hand. Their opponent must respond first by building their own horde, playing a card of equal or higher value than what is led by an opponent. After that, it's a series of either playing cards on your own horde to keep them equal or higher than your opponent, or playing negative cards to pull the value of your opponent's horde down.
So long as you have a card in your horde, you have the choice of either bumping yourself up or pulling your opponent down. If you play a "1" of any kind, you have the option of playing a second card, which can be useful to manipulate both of your scores in the same turn if necessary.
The rub is that no horde can ever be below 0 or above 10. This can lead to a situation where your opponent is at 9, you're at 8 and holding a 3 in your hand...which would put you at 11, and therefore you have to pass instead.
In between every trick, a card is flipped face-up from the deck and this is dubbed the "donkey". The winner of a trick can choose to either take the face-up "donkey" or draw the top card of the deck. The loser must take the donkey and one more card from the top of the deck if the donkey was not taken, or two off the top if the winning player takes the donkey.
\Gold is awarded also to the winner of the trick. The default is one gold awarded, plus one for every 'gull' card played during the trick. Once the cards are taken and the gold awarded, a new donkey card is flipped face up and play continues with the previous winner having initiative. A player with initiative can pass, which may be necessary if their hand is running low. A player who is passed to has the option of either passing as well, where both players get one card, or playing a single card to claim the trick, winning gold by the normal rules. A player can play a gull card here to claim the extra piece of gold.
The number of gold for the hand is limited, as are the number of cards. When either runs out, the hand ends, and the player with the most gold is the winner.
There are two special cards I didn't mention yet. The Wizard is a card you can play to instantly set your score to 10. If your score is ever set to 0 by your opponent's play, the only legal plays are a gull card (of sufficient value) or a Wizard, so having a Wizard on hand is strong, and if a Wizard ends up being the face-up donkey you can bet competition for that trick will be fierce.
The Dragon is a trick-ender that wins that trick for the person who plays it, but a Dragon has no need to share gold and will claim all the gold for that trick for himself. If there isn't enough left, you'll have to pay the Dragon yourself from your own stash--it's not wise to anger a Dragon, after all.
Knights of Ten is a cute little game that is obvious it began its life as a standard card game with a regular deck of cards. The rules are actually pretty funny (before dealing out a hand, the rules advise you to clean any "blood or hair" off the cards), even if they are a bit fuzzy in places. It's a simple game but you'll find yourself going over the rules for the edge cases a couple of times.
The only thing I'm not crazy about is the production of the game itself. The deck of cards and pile of gold gems come in a little rough-hewn pouch with a drawstring. The cards are strangely and oddly a bit oversized and a little on the thin side, so you won't be able to sleeve them at all. We've played 12-15 hands and the cards aren't showing any wear, so that's probably fine. I do recommend sticking the gold gems in a ziplock back, as my Dragon card took a few scuffs from them. Thankfully it was on his front side so his card isn't actually marked.
It feels like a game you'd find hanging on the racks at Wal-Mart, though better than most of what you'd actually find there. It's affordable, and hey, my wife likes it. I know I keep bringing you guys and gals a lot of fillers, but it's what I've been filling in the cracks of my main event gaming with, so there you go.
So Knights of Ten. Great for players who enjoy more traditional card games or ladder games. Very light and straightforward, but enough room in there for good hand management and strategy--when to hold 'em, and when to fold 'em.
A King of This World I Am, Thronebearer of Hate
I'm going to wrap up the non-flashback portion of today's column by giving my definitive wrap-up on Omen: A Reign of War 2nd Edition from John Clowdus at Smallbox Games.
I know I've talked off and on about Omen over the past year (including my report on Trashfest South), but this will be the straight skinny on the game itself from a review perspective. Thing is, I'm not going to cover the base game again, as I reviewed it in the past. What I do want to talk about though is just how much more I enjoy the game every time I play it, and considerably more than I even reported on first review--and I was pretty high on it to begin with.
I had a chance to talk to John at Trashfest and found that he and I shared some similarities in our gaming backgrounds. John has taken those influences and created a damned fine game that sneaks up on you with just how good it really is.
It's all about juggling your wealth actions for cards and money, versus when and where to deploy to pick your battles, to what to save for a card's Offering value that will in turn give you more cards and/or coins. It's about making difficult choices as to keeping your reward cards in your hand where they'll be worth 2 points, or using them for their one-time power but making them worth only 1 point at game's end. The influence of games like Magic is fairly undeniable, but it's not in a derivative way, but more of feel than anything mechanical. The brilliance of losing board position when you win a battle is genius, and it keeps the game from getting bogged down in giant piles of troops as players lock down locations and make them too difficult to battle for.
Speaking of Magic, after a few dozen plays of Omen, I've found myself starting to study it in a serious, more competitive way--this is a compliment. A lot of games are just not worth the mental gymnastics of studying their interactions. It's better for those games to "go with the flow." Not so with Omen.
The plethora of ways to play the game keeps things fresh, but after you've spent some time with the game you'll understand the 'real' way to play is drafting the stacks of cards. It's here where the pre-game deckbuilding happens, and then it's a matter of seeing how well you've drafted and if your card combos are going to come together. (My current favorite--Cloudcall Pegasus and Grim Merchant engines.) With 50 different individual units now, drafting is much more interesting than when you only had the base 24 units.
As awesome as it is, it does require two players who are willing to learn the game well. It's the sort of game where a veteran will destroy a newer player 95% of the time. Getting the hang of the flow of the game, through cards, money, and offerings can be pretty tricky, and knowing about which cards can really nail you is pretty impotant.
Having played and evaluated the game at a higher level, I do have to admit there are a few very small issues here and there. In the "draw from the big central deck" way to play, we've found that Hades' Caress is the reward card that basically determines the winner of the game. The first time I won with a massive "from the Graveyard!" Hades' Carress mega-turn, I felt pretty clever; however after enough hands you'll realize that it's powerful enough in the big deck scenario that it's more brute strength than cleverness.
I'll put it this way--in one game I had raced out to a large lead due to some good luck on my card draws. I was up 19-8. Then my wife played Hades' Caress on the last turn of the game and we finished 19-17. Yep, that's right, I won after Hades' megaturn but only because I started the turn 11 points up. I'm all for catch-up mechanisms, but that's crazy.
That's why for us draft is the way to go, but experience is even more important here. If you're not dilligent in watching the combinations your opponent is trying to put together, you're going to shuffle up and get completely buried by powerful combos in no-time flat.
Now let me talk about 2nd edition changes specifically. First up, two nasty creatures who were notorious for stealing all coins or forcing the discard of an entire hand have been neutered; now the previous will only remove coins for each unit on the field, and the latter will only hit Soldiers in hand instead of every card. What that means is that hording coins for a big turn is a much less risky proposition than before, which will make aiming for big combo turns much easier.
As for the hand nuker, his change alone probably shifts the game away from having a first player advantage. We'd found that 1st edition had a decent first-player advantage, so have for awhile now been using the "bid for start player" variant. What my wife and I both noticed is that we were tending to bid low, trying to go second and keep our bid card, as I think the start player advantage is completely gone in 2nd edition.
With the addition of the new units, it's hard to argue that the game itself isn't much faster now. Faster in terms of how quickly players can set things up, and faster in terms of being able to blitz either Cities or Feats. Games seem to go fewer turns, especially in draft. I'm not opposed to the faster style of play; just making a note of it. The game is capable of ending before you know it, so it's best to be on your toes and if there's points to be had on a turn, you'd better freakin' grab them before it's too late.
Listen, folks. Omen: A Reign of War is an outstanding card game. It's one that can tax your brain as you try to wrangle cards that feed off of each other. It can give you a rush as you drop a 7-strength beast on a City and claim your sweet, powerful reward. It provides that direct conflict, high screwage experience where you'll steal money, kill your opponent's troops, or rip their hand apart, all in an attempt to exert your dominance and crush your rival. Great, great game and the more I play it the more I realize it's one of my favorite games over the past few years.
Ken B. Looks Back!
In my continuing efforts to make sure I'm giving updated opinions on things I've covered in the past (mostly in response to the call for more long-term opinions of games), this week I'm looking back at the games I talked about in my second Next of Ken column--before it was even titled that!
First up was Cosmic Encounter, and I don't think I really need to add a whole lot more here. I named it my first selection to the AT Hall of Fame, it's a game I'd never turn down, and I've played it about half a dozen times in the past several months. When the smoke clears and the Cayluses, Kingdom Builders, and Stone Ages are long forgotten, people will still be playing Cosmic. It's that good.
Next up is Dream Factory. In my original column, I gave it a positive review, comparing it favorably to my favorite Knizia auction game Ra. I talked a lot about how the theme was a good one, certainly more appealing than the lion's share of crappy themes that most pure auction games end up with.
We did play this one several times at first, but it has been several, several months now since we've played it. I still like it, but I don't think at its core its as good a game mechanically as Ra. The scoring and strategy is certainly deeper in Ra, that's for certain.
I still own it and I doubt sincerely I'll ever trade or sell it. The game is goofy fun--let's put Morgan Freeman in Fight Club and see what happens! But it's clear now it's an occasional game to be brought out every so often for some laughs and lots of movie geek jokes. No harm in that, but ultimately it's not a game that achieved a regular spot in the rotation.
Last was Campaign Manager 2008, another game I talked favorably about. CM2008 was going to be a letdown for a lot of people no matter what, but we've had a lot of great head-to-head games of it and the pre-game "draw 3, keep 1" draft is fun and offers the occasional tough choice.
The only thing that hurts the game in my opinion is that after several games you'll have the few predominant strategies pigeonholed (Minority swing, demographic mass grab, influence n' draw, media). That's mostly because the game rests on a much less robust engine than something like Twight Struggle; it's meant to play in less than 30 minutes, and it succeeds at that admirably.
1960: The Making of the President was a huge disappointment for me. The ability to tug-of-war and simply undo whatever your opponent did led to boring, uninteresting gameplay even though the theme of Nixon and Kennedy is much more appealing than Obama and McCain, whose election results were never really in doubt. By keeping the battleground states rotating and making it much harder to straight-up "undo" what your opponent does, Campaign Manager 2008 is leagues better than 1960. We reached a spot where we sort of felt like we'd explored most of what CM2008 had to offer, but I'm keeping it around because I like it and it's a politically-themed game that doesn't bore me silly--a rarity, to be sure.
And that's going to do it for this weeks' column. So until Christopher Nolan puts rubber nipples on the Batsuit, I'll see you in seven.
Ken is a weekly columnist for Fortress: Ameritrash and a member of our staff. When he's not knee deep in playing games for review, he's most likely opening the boxes and getting high off of the plastic vapours.
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