Can you Escape from Colditz?

In late 2016, Osprey Games released a special edition of Escape from Colditz to commemorate the 75th anniversary of Pat Reid‘s escape from the inescapable German prison. Originally released in 1973 Escape from Colditz was designed by Pat Reid and Brian Degas with art by Pete Dennis. The game was given the deluxe treatment with great new components but the original design is intact.

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Gameplay

In Escape from Colditz one player will take on the role of the German security officer who will control a number of guards who will patrol Colditz to prevent the escape of the POWs. The POWs will be controlled by one to five players who will play an escape officer who must help their team gather equipment to enable their escape and then make their move.

Each round begins with the escape officer to the German officer’s left rolling two dice. The total of these dice is the amount of movement points the escape officer can use this turn. Movement points can divided among as many POW pawns that the escape officer chooses. If they roll doubles, they roll again (up to three rolls maximum) and add the total of the rolls together for their movement points. If any of the rolls are lower than five, the player draws an opportunity card that will provide them with an item or action that they can take at any time during their turn. Over the course of the game, escape officers must gather the items required to assemble an escape kit ( food, documents, a compass and a disguise) as well as items that will help them scale walls (rope), cut through fences (wire cutters), open doors (keys) and get through checkpoints (passes). The items are gathered by ending a turn with two POWs in rooms where those items are found. Play will proceed clockwise until each escape officer has taken their turn and then it is the security officer’s turn.

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The security officer begins their turn in the same way as the other players by rolling two dice and determining their movement points. Guard movement is much more versatile since they have the ability to jump from the guard posts to the commander’s office to the barracks, allowing them chase POWs much easier. A roll of less than five will grant them access to security cards rather than opportunity cards. The security cards will allow the guards to recall the POWs to a corral point, take sniper shots at POWs outside the falls, search areas they normally couldn’t enter etc… Guards can arrest POWs and send them to solitary if they are caught with escape equipment and depending on where the POW is caught the item could be removed from the game. At the end of the security officers turn the round marker is moved one position.

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The game will proceed like this until one of two conditions triggers the end of the game. When the round marker reaches the eagle the escape officers each have one final turn and if the escape conditions aren’t met the security officer wins. Alternatively one escape officer will successfully gather all the required items and get two of there POWs to an escape point, if this happens that escape officer wins.

Components

The treatment given to this game by Osprey Games is really impressive. The first thing that strikes you when getting your hands on a copy of Escape from Colditz is that the box itself is large and very sturdy. The cover art is striking and the graphic tone set by the cover carries throughout the game. The game board is very large and on very heavy stock, it has a lovely touch of the title silk screened in gold on the underside. The inside of the box features a large cardboard insert that holds a box fashioned to look like a Red Cross prisoner care packages which contains the game components. The cards come in matching tuck boxes. The cards themselves have a great aesthetic and vintage art. Throughout the box there are little historical touches like newspaper clippings, postcards and other documents from the prison and the era. All the pieces look and feel great and have a coherent look.

I found that the art and style really brought the theme to life and also really respected the original publication of the game.

 

Conclusion

I know that roll and move words that will make many modern gamers run for the nearest worker placement game but I was really surprised at the depth that was provided with such an old and much derided mechanic. The non-linear aspect of the movement combined with the multiple pawns to move and the many goals those pawns can accomplish make the decisions in Escape from Colditz quite tactical. I found that every turn you had to choose from many meaningful decisions and required some thought beyond just moving your pawns the maximum spaces.

This game is steeped in history and not just its own, which is rich and intriguing enough. Included in the game box is a little booklet recounting the story of Pat Reid’s escape as well as some interesting back story on the prison itself. I played several great games of Escape from Colditz and have no problem telling people to try this game as I think that for such an old game with such simple mechanics it really does a wonderful job of bringing history to life and really is quite fun.

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FIGHT! a review of Exceed

Exceed Exceed is a card based fighting system designed by Brad Talton and published by Level 99 Games. The game is essentially a fighting video game (like Street Fighter) but with cards. 9 cards are placed in a line across the table and this will represent the 2D arena that will be quite familiar to anyone that has ever launched a Hadouken. The system is interesting in that the decks are closed systems which are being released in “seasons”. Each season introduces 16 fighters in boxes of 4 fighters each. Exceed’s cards are not collectible and decks are not constructible, each fighter has a pre-determined set up so players will know exactly what each opponent is bringing to the table.

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Gameplay

I don’t want to get to deep into the rules details but some understanding of card anatomy will help understand the basic actions of the game. Cards will feature its attributes, like attack range, strength, speed etc…, on the top left of the card. The text will list any special effects and the box at the bottom will outline the cards boost ability if the player plays this card for a boost.

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This card is a basic card that will be found in all decks. Decks will also contain cards unique to each character. These cards feature the characters face in the top right corner.

Players will choose a fighter from the ones available in their set and assemble their deck by shuffling together the Normal Set which contain 2 copies each of the 8 normal attacks shared by all characters, next they add their character specific special attacks and ultra attacks. You can now place your character cards on the 3rd and 7th spaces of the arena and face off by alternating turns by either taking an action and drawing a card or performing a strike.

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When a player declares a strike they can choose a card from their hand (they can play doubles for an EX attack that enhances its power) or they can take a wild swing by blindly playing a card from the top of their deck. The opponent responds by also playing a card (or doubles) from their hand or a wild swing. Once the cards are played they are revealed and the strike is resolved.

1. Determine the active player by comparing the speed value of the cards played, the highest speed value card goes first.
2. Perform any Before actions listed on the card.
3. Check the card range and ensure the opponent is in striking range
3. If the opponent is in range, perform the Hit actions.
4. Calculate the damage done to the opponent by subtracting the armour value of their card from your card’s strength. If the remainder is higher than their guard value they are stunned and will not get to counter.
5. Perform After effects.

Once the active player has resolved their card the opponent can counter attack if their guard value was higher than the damage done by the attack. The opponent follows steps 2-5 disregarding the guarding/stunned results. If the players successfully hit the cards used are sent to their gauge pile rather than the discard pile. The gauge pile can be used to power other cards or actions are we will see shortly.

If the player chooses to take an action they choose one of these 6 actions:

1. Prepare: Draw a card.

2. Move: Generate 1 Force per space to move. To move past an opponent requires 2 force. Force is generated by discarding 1 normal or special attack card. A player can generate 2 force by discarding a single ultra card or a card from their gauge pile.

3. Boost: Play a card from your hand to your tableau paying its force cost to use the boost section of the card. Instant boosts are immediate effects and the cards are discarded after use. Continuous boosts will enhance stats or grant additional effects for the next strike the player is involved in.

4. Change Cards: Spend Force to draw cards equal to the force spent.

5. Exceed: Each character has normal side with his or her ability listed as well as the Exceed cost. Players can pay that Exceed cost with cards from their gauge pile to flip their character which will reveal their Exceed side which has a stronger version of their ability or an entirely new one.

6. Reshuffle. Once per game, shuffle your deck and discard together to form a new deck.

Players will go back and forth this way battling until one opponent manages to reduce the other to zero life points and which point they are declared the victor.

Components

The cards in Exceed are quite nice. They are of a good thickness and quality with nice glossy finish. The art is colourful and reminiscent of 90s fighting games and anime. Each set of 4 fighter comes in a small box that I would quickly replace with few deck boxes. The overall quality and packaging is very good and exactly what I would expect for a card fighting/dueling game.

Conclusion

Exceed was easy to pull out, learn and get going. My first play was 30 minutes including set up and reading the rules with subsequent games taking 15-20 minutes. The fighting game vibe really came through in Exceed and it was a blast. The first few games I find that most players focus on striking right away but with a few plays the strategy of building boosts and laying the ground work for big combos becomes more obvious and can really pay off. This small box, simple looking game really offers some great tactics and some fun back and forth duelling.

Light Hunters by DTDA Games

Light Hunters: Battalion of Darkness is a fantasy card game currently on Kickstarter. The game first caught my attention because of its striking black and white aesthetic and fantastic art work, without even looking into gameplay I was intrigued by a game that clearly had a distinct vision. The DTDA team of Designer Sergio Matsumoto, Artist Manon Stripes, and media/writer Marine Vinais are offering a pretty unique product and I was quite excited when they reached out to us here at To Die For Games to talk about their project.

DTDA Games is a French company and much of my communication with Marine has been in French but we conducted the interview in English so please forgive some language peculiarities in her answers.

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Is science (or science related terms) supposed to be a prevalent part of theme? (Discussion of Ethers etc…).

[let us] tell you more about Ether.
It’s inspired by an ancient/traditional magic (in French magie tellurique) that’s a mix of the energy of the Earth and the strength of the cosmos. It will act on the physical and mental state of a character to give it more mental and spiritual energy.

In Light Hunters, Ether is like “Energy/Mana/SP” of other games, depends on the level of Ether the hero can play one or multiple skills, the level of Ether depend of the round, 1st round = 1 level of Ether, 2 round = 2, until the maximum of 5.

Was diversity of characters an important factor? I notice a mix of humans (different races and gender) as well as different species.

Our game aesthetic plays with Light and Darkness, with opposition (this is a fighting game after all). We tried to keep the opposition symbolism in a lot of aspects of the game and so with the initial 8 characters.
For the tanks/defence, we have a human race character and an orc.
For the fighters, we have a woman and a man.
For the healers, we opposed youth and age.
And for the spellcaster, white magic Vs black magic.
The diversity of characters is a result of this opposition theme.

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How long have you been developing/designing Light Hunters?

Initial graphical designs took 3 intensive months to develop. Dozens of prototypes to adjust the visual render of the game on a table.

Has DTDA been around long? How big is the team?

DTDA was created 6 months ago. We are 3 on the team, Serge the game designer, Manon the illustrator and Marine the communication part.

The artwork in Light Hunters is really interesting, what made you decide to go completely black & white? The iconography is subtle yet quite effective was that difficult to balance?

we were in a opposition/fighting theme, we reduced the illustration to only two colors, after different test and search, we opted for black and white. Reducing to two colours automatically augments the visual impact, the difficulty resided in balancing illustrations with the card layouts. We wanted to stay subtle, and still readable, without distorting the universe of the game or crushing the illustrations.

Was it difficult to balance all the heroes and all the player counts?

The skills of the heroes are inspired by many board games and video games. We played a lot to balance the powers, we also realized a small software that simulates games randomly, to make sure that a hero is not under represented.

Did you experience any major problems or issues getting the Kickstarter campaign going?

The most important point was the definition of pledges, we thought a lot, and exchanged with the French community before launching our campaign Kickstarter. The communication to make known its camapgne is also a point, that it is not to be underestimated.

What is the thing you feel offers gamers something a truly unique experience with Light Hunters?

We imagined the game around 3 main lines : in team, fast games, for everyone/fun.
The players often told us that the “team games” are under-represented (for the moment) so they like to find that type of game in Light Hunters with our principle to form 2 teams and to face them the one against the other one.

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I haven’t played Light Hunters but after looking at the art and reading the rules I am very intrigued. I am interested in the way that the Heroes’ powers will grow from round to round allowing them to use more powerful skills each round. The use of teams of heroes will create some interesting dynamics and variability. During our communications Marine indicated that they are working on  a game play video that I will keeping an eye on the Kickstarter page for. I think Light Hunters is an interesting project that is worth your consideration. Check out the Kickstarter page.

Barrage Battle Review

Barrage Battle is tactical card game designed by Matthew Kuehn and Raechel Mykytiuk with art by Manolis Frangidis, after it’s successful Kickstarter campaign it was published by MK Games. What differentiates Barrage Battle from many of the other tactical, squirmish games is it’s use of dexterity as well as strategy.

Gameplay

In Barrage Battle players face off on a large board with a grid pattern using the same three starting cards: The King, The Wizard, and The Castle. In order to win one player must kill the opponents King.

The players start their turn by declaring their intentions for this turn by choosing, Peace, Engagement, or War. The choices will decide the ratio of gold and actions that player can take each turn. The declaration a player picks will dictate a building/reinforcing turn, a balanced turn, or an offensive push.

Once the declaration phase is over players can now deploy cards from their hand to add units to the board, cast spells, move, or attack. The strategic part of the game is most well represented by the players choices about card deployment and move. Attacking is where this game takes a sharp left. Melee attacks function much like a typical squirmish game, you roll dice and resolve but ranged attacks requires players to throw dice. The value of the dice face doesn’t matter, what matters is if the dice lands on the space where a card resides.
At the end of their turn players will draw cards from a common deck which also marks major difference from other games this may get compared to. It is quite interesting that players do not have unique or asymetrical decks. This allows for a very balanced game as all players have access to the same weapons, units, and spells.

I found that most of my plays of the game had a similar flow. Players would spend much of the early game declaring peace to collect gold and bolster their army and to build up for later turns when then would rush in and attack.

The units in Barrage Battle work well since most units or structures have a counter card. Ranged attacks can be blocked by certain structures and the spells are limited by the fact that a player must have a wizard in play and the mana to pay for that spell. What I was missing though was a sense of uniqueness to my army that I have come accustomed to in other similar games.

Components

The first thing that struck me when opening the box of Barrage Battle was how big the board is. It is a really big board and the first time we set up the game I never thought the armies would get close. The card quality was average and suitable. The game comes with a variety of dice (10 sided, 12 sided, 6 sided, and 2 types of 4 sided dice). The different dice are used by different ranged units as their projectiles and I am still not sure if this many different dice are necessary.

The art design of Barrage Battle fell a little flat for me. It isn’t bad art work but it has a distinctly late 80s early 90s fantasy video game look. Where the graphics did let me down, however, is the cluttered cards. They convey a lot of information regarding the unit but I didn’t find that they did so in the clearest fashion. The damage and HP counters are functional but have a very simple and dated look to them.

Overall the components and art of Barrage Battle are functional but dated and did not appeal to me.

Conclusion

So full disclosure, Summoner Wars is one of my all time most played games and it was hard not to compare Barrage Battle to it because they are quite different games but it is the obvious comparison. Barrage Battle differs significantly with the use of dexterity for combat resolution which intrigued me but ended feeling to fiddly for me. It also feels significantly because of the shared deck which I found really added a interesting layer as players had to rely on their play more to rather than unique abilities to develop strategies.

Another problem I had with Barrage Battle was the length. I found that most of my plays ran 15-20 minutes longer than I found enjoyable. Despite all this the game was a success with my sons who quite enjoyed building up their armies and throwing dice at each other across the table. While Barrage Battle wasn’t for me it did find a place with my sons and if a game that combines strategy and dexterity has any interest for you it may find a spot on your shelf.

Monster Trap Review

Monster Trap is a cooperative family game where teams of 1-6 players must set traps stop the evil purple monster from reaching the innocent and wide eyed sheep. The game is colourful and is easy to teach but really takes teamwork and planning to win.

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Gameplay

The main objective that players are striving to achieve in Monster Trap is to gather the resources from the conveyor belts and deliver them to the revealed traps in order to activate them so they can be sprung when the monster walks by them.

The flow of each round of play is as follows:

1. Players take their actions

Players can take 3 actions (unless they have an ability that allows them to take additional actions), they can move, pick up a resource, cash in a resource, use a special ability, stand up if they’ve been knocked down, or install a new trap.

2. Move the Monster

4. Refresh the cubes

6. Draw an event card and resolve it.

All the characters have special abilities that add a nice bit of flavour and variability to the game. Some of the abilities will allow for additional actions to be taken, grant more movement, carry more resources, look though the decks etc… Depending on the characters chosen how the team of players can and should work together can really change. My last play with my kids is a good example of how some team members can work well together. I was using Miguel who can pick up a resource as a free action and can carry 3 rather than 2 resources, this paired extremely well with my daughter who was playing Charlie who can move twice as fast. We spent most of the game with me carrying resources mid way to the traps while she would sprint from me to the traps to deliver them. This a good example of the teamwork required from the game and of the neat little synergies one can find between the characters.

The game play was smooth and easy to teach. From the first or second turn of our first game my 8 year old twins had a good handle on the game and felt at ease playing.

Components

I have only played a prototype so I cannot comment on what the final product will look like. The prototype had nice a nice colourful board and solid player pieces. The art work is reminiscent of 90s cartoons like My Pet Monster and Captain Planet which I found worked well with the theme and target audience.

Conclusion

Monster Trap is interesting little cooperative game that I think would find a home with families with children in the 6-10 range. It is accessible enough that the younger members of the team can contribute and provide good ideas without having to be guided throughout the game but also still has enough choices to keep the adults in the game interested. If you are in the market for a game to add to the family game shelf or to introduce cooperative gaming in a classroom then I would keep my eyes on Kickstarter for Monster Trap.

 

Mint Works Review

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Mint Works is a curiously strong worker placement game designed by Justin Blaske and published by Five24 Labs. The game plays 1-4 players in 10-20 minutes and is suitable for players 10 and up. The objective is to score the most stars for the buildings you have built in your neighbourhood.

Setup

Getting Mint Works out of the tin and onto the table is quick and will have players rolling in very little time.

  1. Place 4 core Locations on the table
  2. Place 2 Deed locations on the table with the “”closed” side up
  3. Shuffle the Plans and make a deck
  4. Draw 3 plans from the deck
  5. Give each player 3 mints and place the remaining mints in a pile
  6. Give the start player token to the first player

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The game comes with a variety of additional locations that can be added once players have played a few games and want to change up the strategy and options presented.

Game Play

Each round has 2 phases Development and Upkeep. During the Development phase players will make one of 2 choices:

  1. Place a mint on an available action and perform that action
  2. Pass

That is the extremely simple view of Mint Works, essentially on your turn you are trying to accomplish 3 major things

  1. Get more mints
  2. Get a Plan
  3. Build a Building

Getting mints is relatively simple as long as the producer or leadership council actions are open but the other two require a little planning. To take the Supplier action which allows you to take a plan you must play the amount of mints indicated on the plan you intend to take. In order to build you need to first have a plan in hand and then place on the Builder action space. Getting buildings built in your neighbourhood is key since this is not only how players score but certain buildings will grant the player bonuses during the upkeep phase.

Once everyone has passed they complete the upkeep phase:

  1. Check if anyone has reached 7 stars, if so move onto scoring
  2. Refill the plan supply to 3 plans
  3. Check each players buildings for upkeep effects and resolve them
  4. Check if any played on a deeded location, if so pay the owner
  5. Return all played mints to the mint pool
  6. Each player takes 1 mint

If scoring wasn’t triggered during upkeep play another development phase until the end game is triggered. Once the end game is triggered the player with the most starts in her neighbourhood is the winner.

Components

Mint Works is really well done. The embossed tin looks great and fits nicely in your pocket or back pack. My only minor quibble was that the instruction booklet didn’t pop out of the tin as smoothly as I would like due to its square corners when the tin has rounded corners, this was quickly resolved by trimming the corners. The mints are lovely little wooden bits and even the start player marker is wood. The location and plan cards look great and have a good weight. The overall presentation is excellent, its cute, its functional, and is extremely portable.

Conclusion

Mint Works is the perfect introduction to the worker placement mechanic, it boils the system to its purest form and makes it extremely accessible. It sets up, teaches, and plays quickly. The solitaire option is an excellent addition with several AI opponents included that can prove to be fairly challenging.  The price point and play time make this a great little game to carry with you at all times and I highly recommend looking into this pocket sized power house.

Rise to Nobility Review

In this magical land of heroes, villains, and adventurers, a fragile peace has been brokered between the Five Realms. Five years have passed since the evil Lord Dranor escaped from The Cavern Tavern. The Elf Princess Tabita Orestes has taken her rightful place as the High Queen of the Five Realms and has built a new capital: the white-walled city of Caveborn.

-from the Rise to Nobility rule book

Rise to Nobility is a worker placement game from Final Frontier set in the same world as their previous title Cavern Tavern. The game has a standard worker placement feel where players send workers to gather resources, so they can fulfill goals to score points but the way they control the amount of workers players can use every round is fairly clever.

In Rise to Nobility, players take the part of characters vying to become lords and replace Berk the Clerk as the city’s town clerk. You can earn the High Queen’s favour by attracting settlers, training them in the various guilds, and bribing stone council members. The player who scores the most victory points will earn the position and help the High Queen mold the future of Caveborn.

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Setup

There are 3 boards in Rise to Nobility the score board, your personal player board and the main board. On your personal board you will track your reputation, store and build houses for the settlers, store unused worker, and build community building. The main board is where you send your dice to take all the main actions. The score board as you may have guessed tracks players scores.

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There are basic setup steps for every games as well as a set of setup cards that will guide you through configuring the game for your player count. I found the overall setup to be a bit fiddly especially the stone council but nothing that we as board game players haven’t encountered before.

Each player will get a pool of 5 dice, a player board, one house, 8 gold, one settler, and a character card. The Character card will give the player 2 special powers, one that is available immediately and throughout the game, the other is a one time benefit that is unlocked when they reach the lord level on the nobility track.

Gameplay

Like I said in my introduction the way you play Rise to Nobility is nothing new to players familiar with worker placement games. On your turn you take on or both of the following actions in any order:

  1. Use one of your dice to take an action
  2. Complete a settler card

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The clever part comes in when determining how many dice you can use each round. At the beginning of the round players roll their dice and they can use as many of the 5 dice as they want as long as the sum of the dice used is equal to or less than their reputation level. Combined with the fact that the worker spots on the main board require  certain numbers to activate it, there can be some tough choices that require careful planning.

The main game board offers players the following choices:

  1. Cavern Tavern where players get new settler cards
  2. Construction yard where players get houses for the settlers
  3. Guilds where players gather resources and place meeples to leave as apprentices who will earn income
  4. Guild Hall where players can purchase buildings to place in the Guilds or on their player board
  5. The port where players can sell goods
  6. The clerks office where players can gain modifier tokens to adjust their dice or change the available settlers and buildings
  7. The stone council where players can bribe Councillors to earn victory points
  8. The White Castle where players can improve their reputation

Planning really is key in Rise to Nobility. Many of the actions have dependencies. For example to complete a settler card you need the appropriate resources but you also need a house on your player board or to build a workshop in a guild you need to have an apprentice in that guild. The real meat in Rise to Nobility lies in the planning of actions and calculating the dice and reputation required to get it all done as efficiently as possible.

Conclusion

Rise to Nobility is a good game but I think it will get lost in the crowded worker placement market. It’s a game I enjoyed playing and would play again if someone brought to the table but not one I would suggest. I found some bit tacked on, like the stone council action, in what seemed like an effort to add options or complexity. I did really enjoy the way that the reputation level and dice selection worked and think that this is the highlight of the game. In the end Rise to Nobility is a good game with nice art and a clever little twist but I don’t think it offered enough to stand out.

here’s To Die for Games’ video review for more thoughts on the game.