Freedom: The Underground Railroad Review

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Freedom: The Underground Railroad is a game by Brian Mayer, published by Academy Games. It is for 1-4 players. In this game, players take on the role of Abolitionists during the time of slavery in the 1800’s. They will be working together to influence pivotal events in history, raising funds for the cause and escorting slaves to freedom in Canada. If they are able to gain the support needed and move the required number of slaves before time runs out, they will be declared the winners.

To begin, each player may either choose a role card or be dealt one randomly. They then take the corresponding player mat for that matches their role card. Slave cubes are placed on each of the light space of the plantations on the bottom of the game board. The slave market cards are sorted out by player number and only the corresponding number cards are placed into the deck. The cards are then shuffled and the top 3 cards are drawn to fill the 3 empty spaces on the board. The cards are placed face up and each box is filled with a slave cube. The deck is placed face down on the appropriate space on the board. The abolitionist cards are sorted and for games with fewer players, the cards that indicate that they are to be used with 3 or 4 players are removed. The remaining cards are sorted into the appropriate periods. A specific number of opposition cards are placed into each period deck depending on the number of players. Each deck is then shuffled and placed on the appropriate space on the board for the time period. 5 cards are then drawn from the first period deck and placed face up on the spaces of the Abolitionist Queue. If 2 opposition cards are drawn, the second one is set aside and a new card is drawn to replace it. The card is then placed back into the deck and the cards are shuffled. The correct victory condition card that matches the number of players is placed on the appropriate space on the board. The white side is used for a regular game while the red side is used for a more challenging one. Each player is given $8 while the remaining coins are placed within reach of all players. The 5 slave catcher markers are placed on the corresponding start spaces on the board. The lead player is chosen and is given the Lantern token. The grey conductor tokens are placed on the corresponding spaces on the board. Tokens are then added on top of the grey tokens based on the number of players. Play now begins.

The game is played over 8 rounds that are divided into 5 phases each. Those 5 phases are slave catcher phase, planning phase, action phase, slave market phase and lantern phase. The first phase is the slave catcher phase. In this phase, the lead player rolls the slave catcher die and the movement die. These determine if a slave catcher moves and in which direction. The slave catcher die will tell which color/shape moves or if the walking slave is rolled, no slave catcher moves that turn. The movement die will show either a black or white arrow. These are located on the spaces on the board and tell which direction to move the slave catcher. White indicates westerly movement while black indicates easterly. Two arrows means that the slave catcher moves 2 spaces instead of just 1. The slave catchers follow the colored path that corresponds with their color. If a slave catcher finishes it’s movement on a space occupied by slave tokens, those tokens are removed from the board and placed on the slave market cards beginning with the bottom one and working upward.

The next step is the planning phase. In this phase, each player may take up to 2 tokens from the board beginning with the first time period. A token may only be taken if the player has the money available to purchase it. Support tokens are instrumental to winning the game. The conductor tokens allow a player to move slaves along the paths. Fundraising tokens help a player to raise money. Once the last support token in the active time period has been taken, the game is paused to take care of 2 effects. The Abolitionist card deck for the active time period is removed from the game leaving any cards in the queue where they are, then the next time period becomes active making it’s tokens available to purchase.

The third phase is the action phase. In this phase each player in turn order may take any actions that they would like from a list of actions. A player can take their role card’s benefit once per turn. They may also take it’s special ability. Once it’s taken they must turn their role card over to side II, signifying that the ability has been done. They can play a conductor token to move a certain number of slave tokens a specified number of spaces. They can also play fundraising tokens that give the player $1 for each slave token in a certain space. They are also able to buy and resolve a single abolitionist card. Some of these cards like the general cards are resolved immediately, while the reserve cards are saved on a player’s mat to be used when the player chooses. The opposition cards will negatively affect the game’s and it’s players however some of them can not be bought.

The next phase is the slave market phase. In this phase, slaves are moved from the bottom slave market card to any available plantation spaces on the bottom of the board. If there are no available spaces, the slave tokens are placed on the slaves lost track on the victory condition card. If the player has to add a slave to the card and there are no spaces, the players have lost the game. Once slaves are placed, the card is removed from the game and the current cards slide down. A new card is then placed in the top space of the row. Slave tokens are used to fill up the card just like at the beginning of the game.

The last phase is the lantern phase. In this phase, the abolitionist card queue is restocked from the current time period’s deck. Of course before restocking, a number of cards must be discarded from the right of the queue first depending on the number of players. All cards will slide to the right to fill up any empty spots and then cards are added to the left side to finish the row. Victory conditions are checked. If the conditions have not been met yet, then the lantern token is passed clockwise to the next player who becomes the lead player. A new round then begins.

Winning the game isn’t as easy as it might seem. To win, the players must purchase all the support tokens from each of the 3 time periods. They must also have moved all the required number of slave tokens on the victory condition card in Canada before the end of the eighth round. The game ends on the round that this happens, however the players must finish out the round without losing to win. If the players are able to do this, they are the winners.

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COMPONENTS
This game is a beautiful game with lots of history ingrained inside it. The cards are very high quality and each one has historical references to the different events and people that were important to the movement during these time periods. The tokens are all nice and thick cardboard and are easy to understand. The dice are very unique and are also easy to understand as well. The board is a beauty of design and divides the map and the time periods beautifully. The slave cubes are wooden and very sturdy. I absolutely love the look and feel of the game. You really get a great sense of theme in every piece. Even the backs of the cards have a real historical feel to them. Even the player mats pull you into the setting quite well. I can’t compliment the look of this game enough. Everything is high quality and well designed. I love it.
10 out of 10

RULEBOOK
The rulebook is a masterpiece just like the components. There are lots of great pictures throughout. There are tons of examples for playing the game through the book as well. Everything is explained really well. All of the different iconography is explained in detail as are the different aspects of the game including each of the game’s phases. The book even includes ways to adjust the difficulty for easier or harder games. There’s also rules for keeping score if players choose to do so. Every one of the cards are thoroughly explained including the role cards in a section of several pages. If that wasn’t enough to interest you, the last 2 pages are dedicated to the actual history behind the game from the different ages through the underground railroad. Overall, the book has a great looking design and is full of all kinds of information. I really feel like it is extremely well done.
10 out of 10

GAMEPLAY
I’m gonna go ahead and spoil things a bit, but I LOVE this game. It’s a bit abstract and unlike anything that I’ve played before but I love it. The complexity of the game’s design is so amazing and yet it’s a really simple game to play. There’s lots of strategy as you really have to think each move through. Like should I move this slave here even though it’s going to bring the slave catcher this direction and make it impossible for me to move my other slave forward. Can I afford to lose this slave to make it where this slave can move on ahead. The game is SO thematic. You will agonize over moves as you find yourself really wanting to get everyone free, but as in life, that won’t be the case. Sometimes you will have to make sacrifices as I’m sure was done during that time as well. The game is really beautiful and the theme is 100% a part of the game. I love that actual historic events are present in the different cards as are people that were influential during that time as well. Look, I could ramble on and on about how much I love the game and how pretty it is but in the end, it doesn’t matter. This is a great game and it must be played to believe.
10 out of 10

OVERALL

Freedom: The Underground Railroad is a light to medium weight game that lets players relive the historic actions of a group of abolitionists during the 1800’s. The game lasts anywhere from an hour to 2 hours depending on the number of players. The artwork and theme to the game are beautiful and rich with historic accuracy. I love that so many elements from that time period are prevalent in the cards as well as other aspects of the game. The game has quite a bit of strategy to it that will cause you to sometimes agonize over your next move. You will feel bad about sacrificing one slave to free others. I realize that the theme might put some people off and that it might not be everyone’s cup of tea, however it’s definitely a game that everyone should play. I can’t think of anyone that wouldn’t enjoy this game if they gave it a chance. Fans of games with a historic slant to them will love it as will abstract game players. The fact that there are varying degrees of difficulty should delight even the most hardcore of gamers. I have thoroughly enjoyed this game and can’t wait to play it even more. I highly recommend this game. It should be on your table today. You will love it.
10 out of 10

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For more information about this and other great games, please check out Academy Games at their site.

http://academygames.com/

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Preview Review of Other World

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Recently I was given the opportunity to check out an upcoming new game. I received a prototype copy of the game along with rules for play. This is my thoughts and opinions on the presented materials. Enjoy!

Other World is a game by Mark Hanny, published by Joe Magic Games. It is for 3-5 players. In this game, players take on the role of fantasy heroes who have been summoned by the King to destroy the foul creatures summoned by the Evil Prince in a bid for power. Players will be traversing from the village through the dank foul smelling catacombs as they attempt to stop the Evil Prince from taking over the kingdom. The player that can best battle the beasts from beyond and collect the most victory points will be declared the winner.

To begin, each player chooses a colored character pawn and receives 3 matching player cubes. The first player is randomly chosen. The village and catacombs boards are placed on the table beside each other. The weapon/spell cards are shuffled together. 6 cards are drawn and placed face up on the yellow spaces of the village board. The Abyss cards are shuffled and placed face down near the boards. The first player chooses one of the character cards to play and places it face up in front of himself. The remaining players in turn order choose characters as well. Each player will then receive the starting tokens shown on the bottom of their character card. The Evil Prince/Prison card is placed face up near the boards. The Creature cards are shuffled and are then randomly placed face down on each space of the Catacombs board. 5 Victory point tokens are counted out for each player and placed near the boards. The last player to choose a character is now the starting player for the rest of the game. Play now begins.

The game starts with the first player moving the Evil Prince pawn onto the castle space of the village board. From then on, every time before the first player takes their turn, they must move the Evil Prince pawn to the next highest unoccupied space in the village. The space that the Evil Prince occupies is unavailable until he moves. Once the last space is reached, the Evil Prince starts back over at the Castle space again. When he moves to the Castle space, he taxes all the players. They must lose either one gold or basic weapon token, player’s choice. If they can’t pay either one, they lose a weapon/spell card. If they can’t pay that, they go to prison, placing their pawn on the number 1 space of the Evil Prince card. Their next turn, they will move to the number 2 space and then finally on their next turn, they can move back to the village or catacombs. When the Evil Prince moves onto the sorcerer space, each player must flip one of their weapon/spell cards face down not to be used that turn.

After moving the Evil Prince, each player takes turns moving their pawn to either an unoccupied space on the village or catacombs board and take the appropriate action(s). There are several different spaces in the village that a player can move to. The castle space allows a player to commission new weapons, thus reshuffling all the cards face up on the trading post places back into the deck and drawing new cards for each yellow space. They can then take another turn. The other option is that they can gain an advancement token if they have the correct amount of victory point tokens. The market allows a player to remove one of their blocks from the supplies track to gain 3 basic weapon tokens or 2 gold. They can remove 2 blocks instead to gain a victory point. The forge allows a player to gain 2 basic weapon tokens. The healer removes from one to three wound counters for specific amounts of gold. The sorcerer allows a player to look at the top card of the abyss deck and put it back. He also can change 2 basic weapon tokens into a gold piece or into a weapon/spell card. The king’s army allows a player to place one of their blocks onto the Influence track. The Forest/Mine space allows a player to place a block on the supplies track. Remember that each player only has 3 blocks so these last two spaces can exchange a block from one track to the other as well.

The last areas consist of the trading post. In the beginning, these spaces are covered with weapon/spell cards. A player can move to one of these spaces for 1 gold and take the corresponding card, thus opening up the space below for the next round. Once the card is removed the space is available to be used until a player uses the action from the castle space. The smuggler allows a player to pay 3 gold for a victory point. The artificer allows a player to discard two weapon/spell cards for a victory point. The merchant allows them to discard a weapon/spell card for a gold. The gold miner gives the player a gold. The hermit lets a player enter any space in the catacombs not just the top row for a gold. The mystic lets them pay 3 gold to gain any card from the weapon/spell deck.

The other option that a player can choose is to move into the catacombs. The player must start on the top level and work their way down following the arrows. They have to move out of the catacombs the same way but in reverse. Once the player makes it to the bottom level, they will then move onto one of the Abyss cards. Each space has a monster card that must be beaten. This starts the combat section of the game. Whenever a player places their pawn on one of these creature spaces or in the space where the Evil Prince is located, combat occurs. The player will use the blue dice for their character and the red ones for the monster/Evil Prince. Combat consists of 7 steps that must be done in order; use basic weapons, roll random red die, place set red die, roll extra dice, roll 2 blue dice, manipulate the dice, compare dice totals. The first step is us basic weapons. The player can use one or more of their basic weapon tokens to purchase extra dice for either themselves or the monster. This is because sometimes the player must roll higher than the monster and sometimes they have to roll lower. It all depends on the monster.

The second step is to roll random red die. The player rolls a red die. This is for the translucent die space that is on each monster card. If the space has a number on it with an arrow that means the die must be rolled again if that number is rolled.

The next step is to place set red die. Each monster card has a numbered die on it as well as the translucent one. The player places a red die matching the number on this space thereby making each monster card have two dice on it at this point. One that was rolled earlier and the one that was already predetermined.

The fourth step is to roll extra dice. If the monster is on the first level, no extra dice are rolled unless the player chose to add some using their weapon tokens in the first step. On the second level the player rolls an extra die and on the third level they must roll two. The color of dice used are shown on the bottom of the monster card where this information is indicated. The player could also use their weapon tokens to add additional blue character dice as well. These are rolled during this time as well.

The next step is to roll two blue dice. This is when the player rolls their character’s dice. This is the normal character’s attack roll.

The next step is to manipulate the dice. In this step, the player is able to use weapon/spell cards to change dice rolls. These cards can only be used once per combat but as long as the skill levels are equal or higher than the price on the card, they are allowed to use any abilities provided. This includes spell or weapons. The character can only use as many effects as the lower skill level on their character card though. Advancement tokens will increase this number as well as increasing their character’s ability to use weapon/spell cards. The player may also use a basic weapon token to re-roll a single die.

Once all manipulations are completed, the final step occurs. The player must then compare dice totals. The winner is determined based on the symbol on the monster card. This will either be where the player had to roll greater than the monster’s total, less than the monster, greater or equal to the monster or less than or equal. Once combat is completed, if the player won they take what the space beneath the monster card shows. However, the monster card stays put. In addition to the previous spoils of war, they can also remove one of their blocks from the influence track to gain either two gold or a weapon/spell card. They can alternatively remove two blocks to gain a victory point. If the player loses, they gain a wound token. If a player gains 4 wound tokens, their character is dead. The player must then lose all their cards and tokens and remove their pawn from the board. They then choose a new character and start over with new starting tokens as indicated by the character card.

Once a player makes it to the bottom level of the catacombs, they are able to enter the Abyss. Of course, the combat is more difficult but is played out the same as above. The player draws the top Abyss card and it is the monster that the player must face. These monsters have an extra condition listed on the bottom of the card. Win or lose, once combat is finished the player moves their pawn back to an available space in the village. If they won, they keep the monster card for extra victory points at the end of the game. If they lose they get a wound just like in regular combat, however the Abyss card remains face up for a new player to combat later if they choose.

Of course the object of the game is to defeat the Evil Prince. This is done by the player moving their character pawn to the same space as the Evil Prince and performing combat just like any normal combat. The player must roll higher than the prince’s dice totals to win. If the player wins, they gain an advancement token and remove the Evil Prince pawn. If the player loses, they lose an advancement token if they have one. A victory doesn’t end the game though. The game ends when the last victory point token is gone. Players add up their victory points, subtracting 1 point for each wound token that they have. The player with the most points at the end is the winner.

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COMPONENTS
This game has some really great looking pieces. There are several different colored player pawns which are all brightly colored plastic. I like that each one is a little bit different and look like a different type of character. For instance, the blue pawn looks like the enchanter whose character card just also happens to be blue. Coincidence? I think not. There’s also a black evil prince pawn. I love the different looks of each of these. There are lots of cardboard tokens from advancement, wounds, victory points, gold and basic weapons. Each one is easily distinguished from the others and looks really nice. I especially like the wound and victory point tokens. The blood drop on the wound token and the lion shield for the victory points are both especially nice touches. There are red and blue dice for combat. These dice are a little smaller than normal but fit the die spaces on the monster cards nicely. There are cubes for each player in different colors. These are also plastic and quite sturdy. The boards are both really nice depicting the village and the catacombs. Everything is easily understood from the iconography on each board. Once you’ve read through the rules you know what each symbol means. It’s that simple. The character and Abyss cards are all normal sized and have really nice looking artwork on them and are good quality. They aren’t super linen finished like on some of the higher end games but are still really well done. The creature and weapon/spell cards are smaller sized and fit the spaces on the boards for each nicely. Every aspect of the game was designed out really well and works in concert with each other very well. I’m thrilled with the quality and look of each piece.
9 out of 10

RULEBOOK
The rulebook for this game is nicely done. It’s full color with lots of pictures and examples throughout the book. Everything is explained and is easy to understand. It does tend to jump a bit here and there but it’s easy enough to understand that it doesn’t cause any problems. I like that the different spaces as well as combat, each have their own section with everything laid out in great detail. As I said, there’s nothing hard here and it doesn’t take that long to read either with only 9 pages. There’s also a section devoted to the special abilities of some of the weapon/spell cards that might come up during play as well. All in all, it’s not bad.
8 out of 10

GAMEPLAY
This game is fun and gives a bit of that dungeon crawl feel mixed with a worker placement game. It’s a bit unusual but works quite nicely together. You really have to work at building up your character before you start jumping over to the catacombs. Otherwise, you will find yourself collecting a lot of wound tokens. My first run through I thought, I’ll just whoop up on some monsters and run the table on this game. WRONG! I quickly found myself licking my wounds in the healer’s hut. You will need those extra basic weapon tokens and weapon/spell cards. You’ll also want to have some cubes placed on the different tracks to gain some other perks as well. Trust me, one does not simply walk into the catacombs. Thanks Boromir. In any event, the dungeon crawl aspect of the game is quite nice. It can get a bit confusing at times as you’re trying to determine if you need to roll higher or lower than the monster. It will easily throw you at times and make your mind do a double take. Once you get passed that everything else is cake. I really enjoyed playing the game and really like how there’s a real sense of character development beneath the surface. Not bad for a worker placement game.
9 out of 10

OVERALL
Other World is a light to medium worker placement style game with a dungeon crawl feel. The artwork is really nicely done and has a great fantasy feel to it. The boards and cards are all well done and really draw you into the game. The game takes over an hour to play solo and even longer with more players. There is a bit of strategy to it in deciding when to take a certain space and when to enter the catacombs. Combat can be a bit of a number crunch fest as you compare dice. Still it gives a really good dungeon crawl feel to it. Fans of games like Lord of the Rings or possibly even Descent will enjoy this one as well. I find that the worker placement aspect should appeal to fans of Lords of Waterdeep and the like as well. I really enjoy the fantasy feel and look of the game. Everything looks really nice and plays even better. This is a really good game that takes two fun mechanics and throws them together to form a excellent game. I recommend checking it out.
9 out of 10

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For more information about this and other great games, please check out Joe Magic Games at their site.

http://www.joemagicgames.com/

You can also back the game later this year on Kickstarter.

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Preview Review of Crop Cycle

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Recently I was given the opportunity to check out an upcoming new game. I received a prototype copy of the game along with rules for play. These are my thoughts and opinions on the presented materials. Enjoy!

Crop Cycle is a game by Trevor Lehmann, published by Convergent Games. It is for 2-5 players. In this game, players will take on the role of farmers as they try to plant, protect and harvest their crops before their opponents. They will have to carefully select the best crops as well as be aware of the different seasons. The player that can successfully collect enough harvest points will be declared the winner.

To begin, the +1 and -1 Harvest Point tokens should be placed in separate piles. The season card and reference card should both be placed in the middle of the play area. A Harvest Point token should be placed on the Spring season. The rest of the cards are all shuffled together. Five cards are then dealt to each player with the remaining cards being placed face down in the middle of the play area. The first player is chosen and play now begins.

The game is played over the 4 seasons of Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter. Each season is separated into 2 phases; Planting phase and Harvest phase. The first phase is the Planting phase. In this phase, each player may perform several actions. They may plant a crop by playing a crop card in their own field face up in front of them or they can plant a weed in an opponent’s field. They may also plant 2 of the same crop if they have 2 of the same card. They may then play 1 utility card. Instead of doing those things, the player may choose to draw up to 3 cards. However, they may not exceed a hand size of 6. This action can not be performed in the same turn as a Farmer’s Auction. A Farmer’s Auction is done at the start of a player’s turn before any cards are played. This allows the player to discard their hand and draw a new hand of cards minus one card. This can only be done once a turn. The player may then play cards in the Planting phase like normal. Another action that is available is weeding. This is done during either the Planting or Harvesting phase. To do this the player discards 3 cards to remove a weed from their field. This may be done multiple times during a player’s turn, as long as they have the cards to discard. Once a player has completed their Planting phase, play passes to the next player in turn order who then performs their Planting phase.

Once all players have performed their Planting phases, the Harvest phase takes place. The Harvest phase begins by checking to see if any player has no cards in their hand. That player then draws 1 card. In turn order, each player will then harvest all the crops in their field that are harvestable during the current season. Those cards are then placed in the discard pile unless otherwise noted. The player then receives Harvest points equal to the number on the crop card. If the season is Winter, all planted crops are removed unless otherwise stated on the crop card. Once all players have finished, the season then changes by moving the Season marker to the next season.

The game continues back with the Planting phase again. Turn order changes to the left of the current first player. If a player reaches 5 Harvest points at any time, the game ends and that player is the winner.

One last thing that should be noted, the Farmer’s Fortune cards. These are used during any player’s Planting phase immediately after the player has played a utility card. When this is played it causes both cards to be discarded from play. The utility card has no effect. However a player can play another Farmer’s Fortune card to counter effect the first card negating it instead of the utility card. There are no limits to how many of these can be played at a time.

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COMPONENTS
The game has some really nice looking pieces. The cards are the main focus of the game. The artwork is photo realistic. It looks a bit like what was done in the Keanu Reeves movie, ” A Scanner Darkly”. The pictures look like they were taken and then artistically outlined and painted. Whatever the case, they look really great and have a very unique look to them. The different types of cards are easy to tell apart thanks to the colored outlines. The only thing that I might have to complain about are the tokens. These are a bit small and easy to lose track of. They are fairly thick cardboard and fairly sturdy. The thing is that I would have preferred larger and bright colored tokens. The tokens all look the same with the same background whether they are Harvest Points or +1/-1 tokens. It’s easy to get them confused. In any event, that’s a minor gripe and something that isn’t that big a deal. Most of the emphasis is on the cards anyway.
8 out of 10

RULEBOOK
The rulebook for this game is small and compact. It’s themed quite nicely to fit in with the look of the game. There are only a couple of pictures that explain the iconography of the cards as well as the different types of crops. There is a section that covers all the different terminology used in the game. Of course, this being a prototype, things may change in the final design. As it is though, it’s not bad. Everything is easy to read and understand. I like the look and feel of the rules and think they are fairly well written.
8 out of 10

GAMEPLAY
The game is quite simple and fun. It’s very easy to learn and play fairly quickly. Most game sessions last around 30 minutes give or take. It deals mostly with hand management but has a bit of a take that feel to it through playing weeds in the other player’s field, using special utility cards or through the use of the Farmer’s Fortune cards. I like how the game simulates farming in a very simple way through the different seasons. It’s great how certain types of crops are only harvestable in a certain season, like in real life. I like that the game has that mild educational style to it as well as being a light filler style game. Playing to 5 points can make for a fairly quick game at times. I found that you could always bump up the points and play to a higher number if you’re really looking for a longer game. I really enjoy the game and think the combination of mechanics really shine quite nicely.
8 out of 10

OVERALL
Crop Cycle is a light card game of hand management with a take that feel wrapped up in a farming theme. The game is light and easy to play. It can be played fairly quickly with most sessions lasting around 30 minutes. There is a bit of strategy to it but nothing that would be too hard for younger players to grasp. Fans of farming games like Bohnanza or even take that style games like The Red Dragon Inn might enjoy this game as well. The artwork on the cards are really great looking and have a unique style that I really enjoy. I only wish the tokens were larger and easier to distinguish between. The game is very simple and family friendly. It’s a great little game for players of all ages. I would recommend it. It beats playing Farmville for the nine millionth time.
8 out of 10

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For more information about this and other great games, please check out Convergent Games at their site.

www.convergentgames.com

Also, you can check out the current Kickstarter page for the game here.

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1776342422/crop-cycle-2015?ref=discovery

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Backstab Review

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Backstab is a game by Dave Stawar, published by U.S. Games System. It is for 2-4 players. In this game, players will encounter hideous monsters and horrible traps in lots of different areas that they will then have to battle to gain valuable coins. Of course, they’ll have to watch out as the other players can backstab them at any time forcing them to battle it out. The player that can withstand all the horrors and are able to collect the most coins will be declared the winner.

To begin, the action cards are shuffled together and 5 cards are dealt out to each player. The remaining action cards are placed face down on the table. Players are also given a 5¢ coin. The remaining coins are placed in a pile where everyone can reach them. Players receive 3 backstab tokens which are placed in front of them with the black side up. The encounter cards are shuffled and 5 cards are pulled from the top of the deck and placed face down into a row in the center of the play area. The remaining encounter cards are set aside. The trump cards are shuffled and placed face down next to the encounter card row. The zone cards are shuffled and placed face down near the action deck. The top card is drawn and placed face up next to the first encounter card in the row. Play now begins.

The game is played in a series of rounds. Each round the players will face off against 5 different encounters. Each round begins with the first encounter card being flipped over. A card from the trump deck is then drawn and placed on top of the encounter card, partially covering it. These 2 cards provide the number value and suit identity of the encounter. Players then must match or beat the value of the card. This is done by checking the zone card to see which suits are stronger and which are weaker. Each player places their chosen card face down in front of them on the table. Once everyone has placed a card, the cards are revealed. If a player was able to meet or beat the encounter, they are able to draw a new action card and receive 1¢ from the bank. If a player loses the encounter they do not get to draw a new action card or gain money from the bank. Instead, they must face the next encounter with only 4 cards. This continues until the last encounter card has been resolved. Once this happens a new round begins.

To begin a new round, 5 new encounter cards are placed face down in a row just like before. A new zone card is drawn to replace the old one which is placed in the discard pile. Players with less than 5 cards are allowed to draw up to 5 new action cards. Players must then exchange any of their 1¢ coins with the equal value of 5¢ and 10¢ coins if possible. Used backstab tokens are flipped back over to their black side. Discarded cards are separated into the appropriate discard piles. With this done, the next round can begin.

Of course, I haven’t mentioned the backstab tokens yet or how to use them. Backstabbing is much like facing an encounter, only against an opponent instead. It starts when a player decides that they want to attack another opponent, flipping over one of their backstab tokens to the red side. This can be done at any time even before an encounter is flipped over. Just like facing an encounter, players check the zone card for ranking. Players then choose a card from their hand and place it face down in front of them. Once both players have done this, the cards are revealed. The winner is decided. Repel cards are defensive and always win a backstab while dragon cards win against everything else. If 2 dragons are played and neither player win. The winner is then allowed to draw a new action card and take a 1¢ coin from the losing player. The losing player gets nothing.

There are a couple of special cards that need to be explained. Zone change cards are special action cards that can be played in a backstab or during an encounter. In both cases, the player plays the card face down. When the player reveals their card, they are then allowed to draw a new action card and replace the current zone card with a new one. The player then checks the new zone card and plays a new action card from their hand based on this new knowledge. Wins and losses are decided just like normal. Steal cards and trap cards are special encounter cards. Steal cards make each player to take an action card randomly from the player on their left or right depending on which card is revealed. The trap cards make each player roll the trap die. If the coin steal sign is revealed, they steal a 1¢ coin from another player. Zone change replaces the current zone card with a new one. Backstab makes the player backstab an opponent, unless they have no cards in their hand. In this case, the player must give 1¢ to the bank.

The game continues until a player has collected 25¢ worth of coins or more. The round must be played out till all 5 encounter cards have been resolved. If at the end of the round a player still has 25¢ or more, the game ends. Players add up their coins and the person with the highest coin value is the winner.

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COMPONENTS
This game comes with a whole bunch of cards, some cardboard tokens and coins, as well as a special die. The cards are all really well designed and the artwork is really fun. The art itself reminds me of the Adventure Time TV series in the way that it looks. I really like all the different zone cards and how each one is different. The tokens are all thick cardboard and use really bright colors. It would have been nice if the coins had been made to look like actual coins or something of that nature instead of just having 1¢, 5¢ or 10¢ written on them. Still, it gets the job done and isn’t that big of a deal. The trap die is really neat even though it appears to be screen printed instead of being engraved. I really like the unusual look to the game. The design is really unique and unusual. I like the oddness of it all. It’s really cool.
8 out of 10

RULEBOOK
The rulebook is in black and white on a multi-folded sheet. There are lots of pictures and examples including setting up the game. Everything is easily understandable even though some of the concepts are broken up into different sections. The rules seem to bounce around quite a bit but it’s nothing that will cause a lot of problem. This is mostly because the rules are so short and simple. If this was a bigger or more difficult game there could have been some real problems. As it is, I found the concepts to be simple enough that I didn’t have much trouble with it. There does seem to be some mild humor in some of the examples which felt kind of odd as the rest of the rules didn’t give me that feeling. I wasn’t exactly thrilled with the look or layout of the rules but they get the job done. As it is, once you’ve read it, you shouldn’t have much use for them afterwards except as a refresher or for set up.
6 out of 10

GAMEPLAY
The game is very simple and rather fun that plays a lot like a trick taking game. Each round the zone will determine which suit is more powerful than the others. As the encounters are revealed, you’ll have to be aware of what you can do with what you have and hope to save what could be your better cards for the next encounter. Of course, another player can always switch up the zone and completely mess up your well thought out plans. If that wasn’t bad enough, the other players can backstab you to try and take your money and possibly cause you to lose a card if you don’t win. The game can be quite cutthroat at times. Thankfully a player can only backstab 3 times a round. Of course that can still mess you up quite a bit if you have a bad hand. Luck does seem to play a fairly decent part of this game, both through the cards and the die roll for the traps. Even with all the chaos, the game is a pretty good little filler style card game. It plays around 30-45 minutes. I enjoy the weird humor and chaos of the game fairly well.
8 out of 10

OVERALL
Backstab is a light card game of trick taking with a bit of a take that feel, sprinkled with some hand management. The game doesn’t take that long. Most sessions last around 45 minutes tops. The artwork is really unique and odd but still humorous and fun. It reminds me a lot of TV’s Adventure Time. There’s not really much of a theme to it, even though it seems to have wanted there to be one. I see what they were trying to do. I wish that the money tokens had actually looked like money instead of just round circles with a number on them. I also wish that the die had been engraved instead of screen printed as I fully expect the ink to rub off after lots of use. As for the game, it is really simple and doesn’t take much to learn. The rulebook is a bit off and seems to jump around quite a bit from concept to concept. Thankfully the game is simple enough that it doesn’t cause any problems. For a trick taking game, it’s pretty solid though a bit chaotic with the use of the backstab mechanic. Luck plays a fairly large part in the game through the luck of the draw and dice rolls. Even though a lot of my thoughts seem negative, the game is quite fun. Yes, there are some things that could have been done better but for what it is, it’s not bad. This is one that I’d recommend trying out first unless you really like trick taking games. In that case, I’d recommend it. In any event, it’s definitely fun and worth playing. I enjoyed it.
8 out of 10

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Watch Your Back!!!!

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Check back in tomorrow to see more of this guy, as I reveal a new game review full of deadly encounters, horrible traps and plenty of player interaction.  Stay Tuned!

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Yedo Review

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Yedo is a game by Wolf Plancke and Thomas Vande Ginste, published by IDW Games. It is for 2-5 players. In this game, players are Clan leaders during the early 1600s in Japan. They will be attempting to gain favor from the new Shogun by achieving as much fame as possible. There will be numerous tracks to glory but in the end only one clan will be victorious. The player that can best accomplish this task will be declared the winner.

To begin, the game has several different difficulty levels including the easier Geisha level and the intense Samurai level. In this review I will be covering the normal game. First off, the game board should be placed in the middle of the play area. The Action cards are shuffled and placed face down onto their respective place on the board. The same thing is done with the Bonus, Event, Mission and Weapons cards as well. Two Weapons cards are drawn and placed face up on the last two spaces of the Market. One Blessing counter for each player is placed on the Temple District spaces. All the money (Mon) is placed next to the board with 3 Mon being placed on the Church. The Annexes are sorted by type and a certain amount of each are placed on their spaces on the board depending on the number of players. Geisha counters are also dependent on player count and are placed on the Geisha spaces on the board. The “District inaccessible” counter is placed near the board. The Round Marker is placed on the “1” space on the Round Track. The Watch Patrol coin is flipped to determine which color of Watch Patrol will begin the game. The color that the coin reveals will be placed on the Watch Patrol circuit space while the other colored Watch Patrol is placed near the board. Placeholder counters are placed on some of the Assignment spaces to close off certain areas based on the number of players. Players choose a color of Clan board and receive it as well as the Disciples and Markers of the corresponding color. Players place 2 of their Disciples on their Clan House and place the other 2 on the “Reserve” space on the board. The start player is chosen and they will place one of their colored Markers on the “1” spot on the Player Order Track as well as on the “1” spot of the Bidding Track. Players in turn order place their Markers on the next free space on both tracks until everyone has placed one on each. The remaining Markers for each player are stacked up on red space of the Score Track. Players take turn in reverse turn order drawing a card from one of the 4 Mission card decks. This continues until each player has 4 Mission cards. Players must have at least 1 mission of either red or black. Players receive 12 Mon from the supply as well as an Action card. The 5 favor cards are placed face up on the table. Players in reverse turn order take turns choosing one of the cards and gaining the assets shown on it. The card is then flipped over to the Blackmail side and placed beside their Clan board. Any remaining cards are set aside not to be used. Play now begins.

The game is played over a series of 11 rounds. Each round is divided into 7 phases that are played out in order. Those phases are prep phase, bidding phase, event phase, assigning phase, watch patrol phase, trade phase and action phase. The Prep phase is skipped in the first round but is played out in the following rounds. In this phase, 4 things are done. The Round Marker is moved one space forward on the Round Track. Players take back all their Markers from Bidding and Egress spaces and place them back on the Bidding track in the order represented on the Player Order track. A certain amount of Mon is added to the Church depending on if there is currently any money there or not. The player that owns the “Dojo” Annex receives 1 Mon from the supply.

The next phase is the Bidding phase. In this phase, players are given the opportunity to bid in a series of auctions for an extra asset from the action cards, bonus cards, weapons, annexes, geishas, disciples or mission cards. The minimum bid for the space must be used, or in the case of a 2-3 player game, the minimum bid for the category. The highest bidder wins the asset and can not participate in any other auctions during that round. The player’s Marker is taken from the Bidding track and placed on the appropriate Bidding space for the auction they won. The player then collects their appropriate reward. Once all players have either won an auction or chosen not to participate in the Bidding phase, play shifts to the next phase.

The third phase is the Event phase. In this phase, 2 steps must be followed; adjust the market and reveal an event card. The market is adjusted if there are weapons on the first 3 spaces on the Market. Those weapons are then cleared by sliding the first 2 weapons over to the right onto the last 2 spaces. If there were any weapons on these spaces, they are discarded into the discard pile. The top 3 weapon cards are then drawn from the deck and placed in the order that they were drawn on the first 3 spaces. Next, an event card is revealed by taking the top card from the event deck and reading the text aloud. The card is then placed on the “Current Event” pile. The effect from this card then takes place.

The next phase is the Assigning phase. In this phase, players take turns placing their Disciples on either a free Assignment space or one of their Annexes that have been built on their Clan board. This is done in turn order until all players have placed all their available Disciples.

The fifth phase is the Watch Patrol phase. This phase consists of 4 subphases. They are move the watch patrol to the next district, play action cards to influence the watch patrol’s movement, play action cards to save Disciples from being arrested and arrest Disciples. The first thing to do is move the watch patrol to the next district. The direction that the patrol moves is determined by the color of the Watch Patrol that is currently on the board. It follows the corresponding colored arrows. Players can then play one action card each to influence where the Watch Patrol moves. Once this substep is over, any Disciples that are in the corresponding district will be arrested. Players are then able to play one action card or their Blackmail card to save one or more of their Disciples from being arrested. Finally, the Watch Patrol arrests any Disciples that were not saved by an action card, returning them to the reserve on the game board. It should be noted however that a player can not lose either of their last 2 Disciples. If this happens, the player returns the Disciple(s) to the Clan House instead.

The next phase is the Trade phase. In this phase, players can trade assets with each other. If players have a Disciple in the Market district, they can exchange weapons and Mon. Players are also allowed to exchange all kinds of assets such as weapons, geishas, Mon, uncompleted mission cards, action cards and bonus cards if they have at least 1 Disciple in the Tavern district. Players can propose deals during the Assigning phase to have another player meet them in the appropriate district.

The last phase is the Action phase. In this phase, players will perform the actions allowed by the placement of Disciples from earlier. Players will take turns activating a Disciple in turn order. If the player chooses to activate a Disciple on an assignment space, they can either complete a mission or perform one of the actions that the space grants. The player can complete a mission by activating a Disciple that is placed in the appropriate district as shown on the mission card. They also must meet all the standard requirements that are listed on the card as well. There are also bonus requirements that will grant a bonus reward if the player is able to meet it as well. The mission card is then placed into the player’s completed mission cards pile. The player can instead choose to perform an action from the assignment space. Each district provides different things. For a detailed listing of all the options, consult the rulebook. The player can choose instead to active a disciple on one of their own annexes, performing the special ability of that annex. Each annex provides 1 special ability and a further ability that can be used at the appropriate time. For more information on these as well, consult the rulebook. Once the player has completed their action, the player then returns the Disciple to the Clan house. This phase continues until there are no more Disciples on either an assignment space or annex.

Once the 11th round or the round in which the “Kill the Shogun” mission has been accomplished is completed , the game ends. Scoring then takes place. Players gain points for completed bonus cards and for an unused Blackmail card. Players check their prestige points and the player with the most points is the winner.

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COMPONENTS
This game comes with lots of beautiful pieces. The board has a really rich looking design that is really gorgeous. All the different cards are great quality and are easy to read. The mission cards are quite nice but the action, bonus and event cards could have used a little bit more art to them. They’re not bad just kinda bland compared to the rest of the game. One thing though, they are brightly colored and easy to discern one type from another. All the cardboard pieces from money to counters are all thick and sturdy. They have really nice looking art on each one and really accent the game quite well. All the wooden pieces from Disciples and watch patrols to round and player markers are all nicely designed. They are brightly colored and look superb. The different colored player boards showing the different Clan Houses are superb. They are quite thick and the artwork on each is beautiful. I love how each one of these look. They have places for every thing that a player will need during the game. These are just amazing both in an organization aspect as well as in beauty. I can’t really complain about anything. Overall, this is a gorgeous game.
9 out of 10

RULEBOOK
The rulebook for this game is really well designed and looks great. There are lots of pictures and examples throughout the book. Each component including the game board and Clan Boards are described in detail with great pictures and references. The rules have extra sections for the easier Geisha version as well as the harder Samurai variant. Everything is written really well and flows through the basics of gameplay from one concept to another. There is nothing difficult to understand and the book is easy to read. All the assignment spaces as well as annex abilities are thoroughly covered in great detail. There is even a great breakdown on the back cover of each thing that can be gotten from prestige points and Mon to weapons and action cards. This section tells how to get each one, what to do with it and any important notes on them as well. Overall, a great looking design full of useful information. Really well done.
9 out of 10

GAMEPLAY
This game is absolutely incredible. It takes the worker placement mechanic to a whole new level. I love the complexity and design of the whole thing. There’s a ton of strategy to this game. In many ways it feels like Lords of Waterdeep with an advanced samurai style theme. It is definitely a couple of steps up from that game and adds a lot more depth to the game as well. Like any good worker placement there are a lot of decisions to be made. Knowing where to move your workers and when is key. Just like Lords, the missions play a key role in your success. As a fan of worker placement games, especially Lords of Waterdeep, this game fires on all cylinders for me. I absolutely love the game and find the theme to be fully integrated into every section. This is an overall masterpiece of design and beauty. I love that there are so many different paths to victory. The game is very strategic and you’ll find yourself analyzing things a bit as you plan your next move. Thankfully it’s not so deep that it will burn your brain that badly. For me, this game is a complete win.
9 out of 10

OVERALL
Yedo is a medium weight game of worker placement in ancient Japan. It is quite long especially with more players. Most games will top the 3 hour mark quite easily. Be aware that this game will be the main event for any game night. The artwork and theme are amazing and the feeling of being a clan leader in ancient Japan comes through really well. I love the look and feel of the game and find that the worker placement mechanic is utilized to the utmost. The game has quite a bit of strategy and thinking but nothing that I found to be a brain burner. For me this game has a lot of similarities to Lords of Waterdeep except that this is a bit deeper with more choices to be made. Fans of that game will absolutely love this one as well. Players looking for more challenging gameplay in their worker placement should definitely take a look at this one. They won’t be disappointed. I enjoy the game quite a bit. This is one that I highly recommend. It’s a great game that should be on everyone’s shelf. You will not be disappointed at all.
9 out of 10

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For more information about this and other great games, please check out  Games at their site.

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Rattus Cartus Review

Rattus-Cartus

Rattus Cartus is a game by Åse Berg and Henrik Berg, published by IDW Games. It is for 2-5 players. In this game, players take on the role of one of the princes of Europe after the death of the king during the Black Plague. Players will be trying to gather support from various classes of people by visiting different types of buildings. Each one will provide a different benefit. They will have to be careful though as they might pick up a few plague ridden rats in the process. The player that can manage to stave off the plague and earn the most points will inherit the crown and be declared the winner.

To begin, the influence board is placed in the middle of the play area. Players choose a color and are given 8 discs in that color. Six of the discs are placed on the influence board, 1 for each row on the starting spaces of each track. The other 2 discs remain in front of the player for now. Players also receive 10 points worth of rat tokens which are placed face down in front of the player. The remaining tokens are placed within reach of all players. The population cards are shuffled. Five cards are drawn from the deck and placed face down in a row. This is called the Nun-row. Five cards are then dealt to each player while the remaining deck is placed face down beside the board. All the special cards as well as the Joker cards are placed in separate face up decks. Players then either chose 30 building cards to be used or they can be randomly chosen instead. Once this is done, these cards are shuffled together and placed face down beside the board. Depending on the number of players, a certain amount of cards from the building deck are taken from the top of the deck and placed face down as the Replacement deck. The starting player is chosen and given the starting player card. Play now begins.

The game is played over a series of rounds which is determined by the number of players. Each round is divided into 5 phases; draw new building cards, supplies, enter buildings and play population cards, resolve buildings and end of round. The first phase is to draw new building cards. In this phase a certain number of cards are drawn from the building deck and placed face up in a row. The number is again determined by the amount of players. If the same building card is drawn multiple times, the last drawn card is replaced with a card from the replacement deck. The replaced card is placed at the bottom of the replacement deck. If the same card is drawn again, the process is repeated as many times as needed.

The next phase is the supplies phase. In this phase, players choose a supply action on one of the face up building cards to perform. This can be done either at the same time or in turn order. The actions will either allow a number of cards to be drawn, rat tokens to be discarded or a number of cards to be looked at in the Nun-row.

The third phase is to enter buildings and play population cards. In this phase, beginning with the first player, players will place one of their discs on the first available space on one of the building cards. They then announce how many cards that they will be using in that building and place the corresponding number of cards face down in front of them. A player can choose to place no cards if they wish not to use any of their cards.

The next phase is to resolve buildings. Beginning with the first building in the row, each building is resolved one at a time in 3 steps. The first step is to resolve cards. Players reveal any cards that they played for the building in question. Players gain a point for each population card and joker played on the building and move their scoring marker up on the board to indicate this. If a population card doesn’t match the class of building, the player gains a rat token from the supply. If a card played was a special card like a sword or flute, special rules apply. If it was a sword card, the player with the least amount of sword cards for the building must give half of their cards to the player that played the most swords. If the card was a flute card, the player that played the fewest flute cards receives 1 rat from the player that played the most flutes. Once the cards have been resolved, the players perform actions. The premium action is performed only by the player that played the most population and joker cards combined. The standard action may be performed by the remaining players that are in the building. In a 2 player game, only 1 player can perform a premium action, even if the players chose different buildings. In the final round, no building actions are performed. The player that would have gained the premium action are given one extra influence point for that class. Once all the actions for each building have been performed, players discard the played cards. Population cards are placed in the discard pile while jokers and special cards are placed back on their corresponding stacks. Any cards a player gained thanks to special cards or building actions are kept in the player’s hand.

The last phase is the end of the round. Once all the building cards have been resolved, players take back their discs that were placed on any buildings. The building cards are then discarded and the next player is given the starting player card.

Once the final round has been completed, the game ends. Players gain victory points in several different ways. They gain points for having the most influence points in one of the classes. The second and third most points also gain victory points. Players score points for having the highest number of population and joker cards in their hand. They can also score points for having the most of one of the special cards, except for the gold cards. These are only used if the Treasure building was used during the game. In this case, both the player with the most gold cards and the second most gain points. A player can also gain points for any victory point tokens that they may have collected during the game. Players add up all their victory points. They then reveal all their rat tokens and add up the point value of them. The nun-row cards are then revealed and the number of nuns are counted. If a player has a rat token value that is greater than the number of nuns in the nun-row, they are killed by the plague and lose the game. The remaining players that survived compare their victory point totals and the player with the most points is the winner.

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COMPONENTS
This game comes with a lot of cards and pieces. The influence board is basically just a way of keeping track of the points for each of the different classes. Nothing spectacular about it but it is colorful and well made. There are lots of cardboard tokens both for the rats as well as victory points. These are rather thick and look nice. The player discs are all brightly colored and wooden. Of course the main course of the game is the cards. There are over 200 cards included with this game, including the starting player card. These include the jokers, special cards, buildings and population cards. The cards are really nice looking and are really good quality. The artwork for them remind me a lot of the cards in games like Dominion. It looks like some of the art from Rattus was carried over to this game. That’s actually fine with me as I rather like the design and look of that game as well. In any case, everything is quite simple to understand and the iconography is fairly simple to remember. All in all, I like what all you get with the game.
8 out of 10

RULEBOOK
The rulebook is fairly short but is really well designed. Everything is broken down really well. It’s really easy to read and understand. There are lots of pictures and examples throughout the book including a picture of how to set up the game. There is also a great section that details each of the building cards and explains both the premium and standard actions of each. The 4 special cards also have a section devoted to them with explanations for them as well. All in all, the rules are well written, excellently designed and easy to follow. I couldn’t ask for much more than that.
9 out of 10

GAMEPLAY
This is a really great game. In many ways it feels like a worker placement style game. I guess it kinda is. It’s got a great theme which carries over, at least a bit into the actual game. The idea of the Black Plague is kinda dark but the game doesn’t feel like that at all. Even if you lose the game by succumbing to the plague, the game still feels rather light and cheery. While playing, you’ll want to really keep an eye on your rat tokens as they will mean the difference between life and death at the end of the game. I can tell you that the first game I pretty much did what I wanted to and those darn rats were my downfall. Later games I was a lot more careful and at least was able to lose on my own merits. The game has a lot of replayability as the numerous amount of building cards that can be used make each game quite different. The game doesn’t take that long to play either. Most games last around 40-45 minutes each. I’ve had a copy of Rattus sitting on my shelf unplayed for awhile now. After playing this, my interest in the original game has been sparked quite a bit. Seeing as I’ve not played the original, I can’t really make the comparison between the two but from what I’ve heard, this version might just be better. In any event, I really enjoyed this one and look forward to playing it again.
9 out of 10

OVERALL
Rattus Cartus is a light card game with a worker placement feel dropped into the middle of the Black Plague. It’s not a very long game. Most games last no more than 45 minutes. The theme isn’t dark or dreary like you’d expect. The artwork is very reminiscent of the original game but feels like Dominion in a way to me. I like that there aren’t a lot of icons to learn so the learning curve isn’t that high. It’s fairly simple and easy to play. Having never played the original Rattus game, I can’t make any real comparisons between the two. However, most of what I’ve heard is that this version is the better of the two. I’d have to say that at least for me, this version has the look of the original but none of the mechanics that have kept me from bringing the original to the table yet. Fans of the original game may really enjoy this version as well. Worker placement fans should really like the simplicity of the game’s mechanics. I really have to say that I’ve enjoyed playing this one quite a bit. I highly recommend it. There seems to be a lot of replayability thanks to the many different building cards. Good quality components, great gameplay and lots of replayability make this a game worth owning.
9 out of 10

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For more information about this and other great games, please check out  Games at their site.

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