Board Game Review: Sheriff of Nottingham

This week’s featured review is all about Sheriff of Nottingham, a great board game released in 2014.

Described by the makers as “a social game of bluffing, bribery and negotiation” – I can attest to the fact this game requires you to lie, often. The results are often hysterical, especially when playing with the table rule of mandatory British cockney accents.

The game play is pretty straight forward. Each player is trying to transport their goods through Sherwood forest to market. Each round, a different player in the group acts as the Sheriff, whose job it is to inspect the goods being transported. You receive goods by drawing them from either the stack o’ goods or from the discard pile. Then, each round, you place goods in a small felt pouch and toss it in the center, declaring what you’re transporting across the border.

The deception comes in the fact players can only transport one type of good at a time. If the Sheriff decides to open and inspect your pouch, and you lied about its contents, you pay penalty fees. If you were honest, the Sheriff pays you a penalty fee. For example, if you decide to transport three cheese cards across the border, you would say “Three cheese.” If the Sheriff inspects your goods and finds the three cheese, he pays you a penalty per cheese. However, if you say “Three cheese” and really put two cheese and an apple card, you would pay the Sheriff a fee for the apples.

The game also has contraband cards, which are ALWAYS illegal to declare/transport. They have higher fines if caught, but they are worth the most gold.

You can bribe the Sheriff with gold, goods you’ve already transported to market, in-game favors or what may be in the pouch. If you make a promise that can be immediately resolved (ex: giving the Sheriff three gold and two wheels of cheese you sold at market) you must follow through. If you promise something in the future (ex: they get a specific type of good that may/may not be in the pouch or you won’t inspect them when you’re Sheriff) you are not required to honor the deal.

After every player has acted as Sheriff twice, the game is over. There are bonus gold rewards for transporting the most chickens, bread, apples and cheese across the board. Count up your total wealth between your gold and any goods successfully sold at market, including contraband – richest player wins.

The wheeling and dealing is dynamic fun, and the game play is fast. The moment that the Sheriff is holding a mystery bundle, evaluating whether or not to inspect the goods is fraught with tension. I love this game and if you’ve got a particularly good humored play group, it’s screamingly funny.

Maybe not the best game for some gamers who take a very long time to make the most analytical decisions possible… but for someone who loves to have a raucous time with friends? PERFECT.

– E.B.

NerdAtlas Holiday Buy-Guide: Table Top Gaming

Board games are a ton of fun, providing unplugged entertainment for any age or demographic. They are particularly wonderful around the holidays, serving as great bonding time with the family that doesn’t require awkward small talk.

I have linked all of the games to their Amazon link, and the prices is the original cost without discounts. Amazon has a lot of sales going on right now, so you can pick up some of these titles for as much as 50% off!

For two players: Android Netrunner: The Card Game

This is a “living card game” that allows you to buy cards and construct decks to face off against your opponent. By playing as the hacker “runner” or the “corp” defender, two use card powers and resources to score seven points the fastest. It’s complex, meaty and a good challenge to sink your teeth into. Start out by purchasing a Core Box set to have everything you need to play!

$40 – http://tinyurl.com/pnkn2sd

For three players: Suburbia

This is a tile placement and resource management game. Buy your buildings and services, harvest your resources and exercise your inner city planner. The game has serious depth, but it’s fairly straightforward to learn.

$60http://tinyurl.com/mplr96o

For four players: Ascension

This is one of my favorite deck building card games. Filled with fantasy flavor, you purchase your heroes and constructs and create vicious combinations to steal the victory. Any Ascension box set can be played as a standalone game – my recommendation is the Realms Unraveled edition.

$40http://tinyurl.com/mzjo6yc

For five players: Dixit

This is a game of storytelling and wagers. Players guess what image the “storyteller” placed in an anonymous lineup and score points based on the most popular answers. Simple, beautiful and a ton of fun to play with people you know well.

$35http://tinyurl.com/pwmelrp

For six players:  Shadows Over Camelot

As the loyal knights of King Arthur’s Round Table, complete quests and fight off Picts/Saxons to win the war over evil. Careful though, as one amongst you might be a traitor who can usurp the entire party. A great blend of social deception, co-op and tactics.

$60http://tinyurl.com/lpsfz2p

More than six: Coup

This is a game of social deception and elimination at its finest. Everyone has two identities, permitting them special powers. By deceiving others, stealing money, committing coups and catching others in their lies, players lose their identities. The last player left with a living persona wins. Fast paced and very very fun. One of my all time favorites.

$15http://tinyurl.com/qe5zpyd

For non-gamers: Quirkle

Match either six of a color or six of a shape to score a Quirkle! Create combinations to rack up as many points as possible. Essentially a visual variation of Scrabble, this game is easy to learn and quick to play. There’s also great potential to get competitive over placing tiles and upsetting someone’s best laid plans  – perfect for family time!

$35http://tinyurl.com/llr5uvv

Happy shopping and gaming!

– E.B.

Dice Game Review: Rolling Japan

This week’s review is of the dice rollin’ game, Rolling Japan.

Created and designed in Japan, this is a light and easy multi-player dice game. Based on a variant of the the mathematical principle of the Four Color Theorem – players are asked to fill in a map of Japan that’s divided into the 47 prefectures, grouped together into six differently colored areas.

To start a turn, a player randomly draws two regular six-sided dice from a bag and rolls them. There is a die for each color prefecture, as well as a wild die that can be used for any color. All players must then write down the two number results in their matching prefectures. If the wild die is rolled, that number can be placed in any prefecture.

Sounds easy right? Here’s the catch, all neighboring prefectures — including those in different colored areas connected by shared edges and/or indicator lines — can’t have numbers with a difference larger than 1. For example, if you have a 5 and a 4 in green next to each other, you cannot place a green 3 in a spot that borders the both the 4 and 5, even if it is only 1 down from the 4.

Yeah, have fun with that. If you can’t place a number, then you must place an X in the prefecture and it counts against your score.

After six dice are rolled, the round is marked complete and all dice return to the bag. The game can last to a total of 8 rounds, and the player with the fewest X’s is the winner.

The game DOES allow you to “change” the color of a die, allowing you to place the die result in a prefecture of your choice. You get this ability three times total per game.

It’s a mind bending puzzle type game, easy to learn but very very very difficult to master. We just play tested it with my weekly board gaming group, and we had fun. I doubt I could play it for hours, but it’s a quick and easy game to play between longer play sessions. There’s a logic to placement that certainly favors those with more “left-brained” thinking though, ha.

Personally, if I had to pick between fast and easy dice games, Rolling Japan would not be my first choice. I’d be more inclined to pick Dragon Slayer (which has stronger gamer interaction) or Zombie Dice (faster and fun flavor). However, I think this game certainly has its audience and it’s a fun twist on math. That deserves some credit.

– E.B.

Gems of GenCon

GenCon 2014 was a fabulous experience. The con was brimming with great people, amateur films, swag and lots and lots of games! Gaming giant, Wizards of the Coast, was there in full force, with the completed launch of Dungeons and Dragons 5E and an entire exhibit hall dedicated to Magic: The Gathering. Competitor Fantasy Flight Games had a great show too, with a massive plot of real estate in the main show room. Their play space and shop were busting with people every day, and by Sunday they had sold out of the majority of their retail.

Still, the best part about GenCon is the way indie games and Kickstarter projects can shine. There’s room for everyone at the con, and you can practically feel the enthusiasm permeating the Convention Center.

Today’s post is a collection of some of my favorite finds this year. Throughout the rest of the week, there will be more in-depth articles about specific games, movies and features. Get psyched!

Gems of GenCon:

Indie Game Delight: Iron & Ale is a card based drinking game from Table Forged LLC. Funded through Kickstarter, the game revolves around each player assuming the role of a Dwarven Lord/Lady. Then, you do what all dwarves love to do: mine for gold, fight and drink. Players complete Mountain challenges and Meadhall challenges for “honor” – player with the most honor wins. The Meadhall challenges are where the game rewards players for belching, cursing, arm wrestling and dancing like dwarves – failure results in a drink penalty. It is loads of fun, with or without alcohol, and these guys sold out in the first days of the con.

Wonderfully Ridiculous Short: Qunitipus is the story of a hand shaped alien rebel fighter-pilot who crash lands on Earth. Now, you might think that watching a film of a hand walking around the Earth would be terrible, but this was one of my favorite films at the GenCon film fest. The hand, performed by Chris Murdoch, is so surprisingly expressive, you actually get the sense of a narrative and action. It sounds weird, but trust me, if it’s at a con near you, you should watch it.

Surprisingly Innovative Game Demo: Golem Arcana. This latest concoction from Harebrained Schemes was very popular, with some of the most enthusiastic demo players on the show floor. Look for a special feature from the private demo I had with game maker Mitch Gitelman on Thursday. This game has the potential to shake things up in the table top world for years to come. I’m very excited about it.

Most Niche Retail Booth: Yes, thanks to Doctor Who, the resurgence of the fez hat has gripped the nerd world in its velvety claws. Fez-O-Rama had hats for every nerd, from dice rollers to Lovecraftians. It was fun to try on these hats and the custom options were very cool. These folks also get props on presentation as this was one of the best looking booths at the con.

Wonder Woman Princess!Cutest Cosplay: I am totally bias, but this Wonder Woman princess cosplay was the most adorable thing I saw at GenCon. She was a sweet kid, when I asked her (and her mother) if I could get a picture she immediately struck the classic crossed arms pose. Proof it’s important to have female superheroes in the media! Give this girl her Wonder Woman movie! (Okay, soapbox moment over.)

I hope you enjoyed this little round up. If you’ve never been to GenCon, and you love board games, you must get there in the coming years. Look forward for more content in days to come.

– E.B.

Review – Android: Netrunner, the “Living” CCG

This week’s review features the card game, Android: Netrunner.

In 1996, Richard Garfield (of Magic: The Gathering fame) created a cyberpunk collectible card game called Netrunner. However, if you’ve heard of a little thing called Magic, you know where Wizards of the Coast decided to invest their money/time. In 2012, after Fantasy Flight Games purchased the rights to the game, they released a new “living card” version of the game.

A “living card” game is Fantasy Flight’s branding for a CCG that differs from the normal booster pack model shared by games like Magic and Pokemon. When you purchase a base set of Android: Netrunner, you get a full play set of all of the cards in the base set. Likewise, every time you buy a “datapack” or expansion booster, you get a full play set of cards released in that update. This guarantees that every player has access to the same amount of cards, which means players don’t have to drop hundreds of dollars just to get four incredibly powerful/popular cards.

Personally, I believe one of the coolest things about this game is the setting. Android: Netrunner is set in a cyberpunk universe where one player acts as a “Runner” or hacker and the other player acts as a “Corporation” (think evil, very evil.) The Corporation plays defensively, setting up servers and ICE to protect their agendas. Corporations then spend money to advance their agendas, allowing them to score agenda points. Runners hack into the Corporation’s servers to bypass and destroy protections with programs, hardware and gear in order to steal the agendas. The player who can score 7 agenda points first wins.

My initial impressions of Android: Netrunner are pretty favorable after several hours of play time. I think there’s a strong learning curve in the beginning, mostly surrounding all of the terminology. However, once you understand the terms, it becomes much more straightforward. Every player has actions they can take on their turn, giving them access to resources such as single card draw and making money. This prevents issues like Magic’s “mana-screw” – where players don’t have enough resources to do things on their turn. There is a lot of dynamic fun with the different Runner and Corporation identities, allowing you to construct different deck archetypes and develop lots of new combinations and tactics.

Do I think this is a “Magic-Killer” game? Gosh no. Do I think this is a fun game and worth a purchase? Definitely. There are more and more Netrunner play groups popping up in the gaming community, and Netrunner does see tournament play. It is certainly gaining traction with gaming communities and creating a dedicated fanbase. I appreciate the accessibility in the “living card game” model too, so if you see this game – give it a try! You won’t be disappointed.

– E.B.

Dawn of a New Day – D&D 5e

Ladies and gentlemen, chaotic evil, lawful good and everything in between, things have officially changed on the role playing landscape.

Wizards of the Coast, owners of Dungeons and Dragons, officially released the rules for D&D 5e (formerly known as D&D Next) this past week. After the lukewarm reception of 4e into the tabletop RPG community, the hope is that 5e might restore the faith many gamers lost because the previous, more simplistic iteration. I saw some of the rules and combat scenarios play tested at last year’s GenCon and I had mixed feelings. As someone who had spent extensive time with 3.5e and then 4e, I was unsure that 5e was up to the challenge of fixing the issues noted in the fourth edition of the game.

The official “get started” dungeon kit won’t be available until later this month but Wizards of the Coast has made the new rule book available, for free, in PDF form. These are just the basic rules, but I am excited to give everything a try with my friend’s new Roll20 campaign. Expect a full review after I play through a few campaign sessions – obviously an 100 page PDF is not nearly enough to completely judge an edition, but it will certainly give a good impression of how the play mechanics function as a whole.

If you wan to get in on the action, check out the new rule set here: D&D 5e Rules

– E.B.

Review Thursday – Coup

This week’s review is of the board game Coup.

Coup, another one of the many games launched with the help of Kickstarter, has catapulted into popularity since it’s release in 2013. With a recent reprint in the past month, more gamers have access to this affordable, portable game of intrigue and deception.

The premise of the game is deception. Each player begins with two of the following secret identities; Captain, Assassin, Contessa, Ambassador, Duke, or in special editions, the Inquisitor. Each identity has a specific power that you may use in game, whether it’s collecting more money per turn or killing a target player. Human players go through the rounds of gameplay, using their identities’ powers to thwart others and gain an advantage. These identity cards also act as your life points. You can eliminate a secret identity by killing them with an assassin, revealing the player as an imposter or committing a coup and targeting a human opponent. Since your fellow gamers do not know which of the two identities you possess and there are certain card triggers that allow you to draw new identities, the game remains an ever changing battlefield of deceit.

Coup is a fast paced game, with enough tactical depth to keep it interesting for session after session. The rules are intuitive and straightforward. The playing techniques/tactics are easy to learn but certainly more challenging to master. It’s the perfect game for playing in between longer games or Magic: The Gathering rounds or even waiting in lines at Cons. Still, the game is so fun, it’s also possible to play this for an hour or two with friends.

This is a great indie game and for $10-15 bucks, you can have hours of fun. Totally worth it. I’ll be taking my copy with to GenCon!

– E.B.