Saturday, I got to show off one of my favourite board games of all time, Shogun by Dirk Henn, to three of my friends.
After Shogun, I got Valeria Card Kingdoms to the table and tred out the Shadowvale Expansion. Then, Sunday morning, before some amazing Ramen, I got a chance to show Sean, my podcast co-host, War Chest, and Eminent Domain which has a unique take on the deck-building mechanic.
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A return to one of my favourite boardgames: Shogun
A few weeks back I got the game Immortals to the table for the first time. I played it first with Deanna, Eugene and Sean a couple of weeks ago and then gave it another try a week later at The CG Realm. My overall impressions are mixed and you can read those in previous Tabletop Gaming Weekly posts. Immortals is the latest cube tower game from Dirk Henn, and the main thing I kept thinking and saying to the players I played with was: “If you like this at all you really need to try the original games Wallenstein and or Shogun.”
With Deanna still recovering for surgery, and no Gloomhaven campaign being played, I took last Friday as a chance to act on this desire to share my love of Shogun. Last weekend also had the bonus of having Sean down from Hamilton for a couple days to visit family.
I let the group pick between Wallenstein and Shogun, and they decided the samurai theme seemed cooler. I was up for either as both are basically the same game on different maps. I set the game up before everyone showed up and stuck to the “Sun” side of the board. This one is a bit more friendly to new players. I also used the default army set up, which makes sure that everyone has a balanced starting set of provinces.
Teaching the game went pretty quickly since all three of the other players had played Immortals, and some of the core mechanics like programming your actions each turn using Province cards are the same. Most of the teaching involved me pointing out how things were different from Immortals. It was pleased to note that one of the things that also helped teaching Shogun was how much better the mechanics are tied to the theme (or is it the other way around?).
For example: When you confiscate rice from your province it pisses off people and they may revolt. This is represented by a revolt token. Revolt tokens also matter when there is a battle. If the farmers are already upset, as shown by a revolt token they fight for the attacker. If they are happy (there is no revolt token) they fight for the defender. This is a lot more thematic and intuitive than the way the equivalent Inhabitants in Immortals work.
I’m not going to go into a full rules description here, but I will say that the game is not only easier to teach than Immortals I think it was easier to learn.
Now the important part: did people dig it?
I would say yes. Even part way through turn one we had quite a few smiles and “Oh, that’s how that works” moments that were moments of discovery and not frustration. People made mistakes, mistakes that probably cost them the game, but they were learning experiences. For example: Sean learned not to tax his provinces on the front line for fear of losing them before he has a chance to collect those taxes.
By the end of the game all three of my new players were noting they were looking forward to playing again. That, to me, is one of the best indications that a game has gone over well. Tori and Kat even discussed purchasing a copy at some point. Personally, I was very happy the game went over so well, especially after Immortals flopped so badly. It was great to see that Shogun not only stands the test of time for me but is still appealing to new players.
A look at the Shadowvale expansion for Valeria Card Kingdoms
When I first mentioned to Tori and Kat that we wouldn’t be playing Gloomhaven on Friday the first thing Tori asked me is if we could play Valeria Card Kingdoms. He tried this game at my Birthday Bash and has been itching to play it again. After I explained the plan to play Shogun (which he obviously agreed to) I noted that if Shogun finished early enough we could play Valeria, with one condition: I get to crack open the new Shadowvale expansion. He agreed, and Shogun finished early enough, so we did just that.
I’m a big fan of Valeria Card Kingdom. The year it came out we did a demo, put on by the designer himself, at Origins. After that demo, they offered to sell me a copy and toss in two expansion packs for free. I was sold. It was the first game I bought that convention and Deanna and I played it about 10 times before heading home to Windsor that year. We still break it out fairly regularly. One of the things that keeps the game fresh is the number of expansions they have put out. The latest of these expansions to come out is Shadowvale, that just came out this year.
Shadowvale includes a completely new set of Citizens, five new Monster decks, a complete set of Domains, new Events and 5 new Dukes. Because I backed the Kickstarter for this expansion I also received the Relics expansion pack with my box. There’s enough stuff in here that you can almost replace everything in the base game with the cards from Shadowvale. The only problem is that you would need 2 new dukes per player, and with 3 or more players you wouldn’t have enough. We played our game with using everything from Shadowvale. Just stuck with the new Dukes and didn’t give players the option to pick from two Dukes.
Overall we had a good time. I have to say that once we started playing I didn’t even really notice or remember we were using an expansion. There was nothing that stuck out as stranger or new. I’m sure the cards all did different things from the core cards, but in this game they were just things the cards did. The one new mechanic I do remember seeing is that there were now cards that removed cards from the game. I don’t remember that from before. There may have been more “take that” style cards than the core game. I know one of the citizens actually took gold from other players rather than generating their own resources.
The one truly new thing were the Relics. This is a new deck of cards, from which each player randomly gets 2 cards to pick from. Each of these cards gives the player an in game ability. I ended up picking a treasure chest that, as an action, let me swap 3 resources for any 5 resources. Kat had some Axe that made fighting easier, reducing the cost of defeating monsters. I don’t remember of hand what the other Relics we saw did. What this adds is an asymmetric element to the game giving each player something unique they can do. It seemed interesting but I’m not sure how well balanced they were.
Speaking of balance, that’s where our one complaint with the game came up. Sean, in particular, hates the grammar they use on the Duke cards. Despite trying to make sure everyone got it at the start of the game, he misunderstood how his Duke card scored at the end of the game. This is a very common complaint about Valeria and one I’m really surprised they didn’t clarify on these new cards. Sean also noted he didn’t think the Dukes, even these new five seemed balanced. That getting more points per resource does not compare to getting 2x points for something else. Now I personally have never noted this problem with Valeria but Sean found it both times he played, so it’s definitely worth noting.
Despite Duke issues I think we all enjoyed the game. It was Kat’s first time playing and she really seemed to enjoy it. She noted that this was a much better system and game than Machi Koro which uses a similar dice based resource generation mechanic. As far as Shadowvale goes, it seems like a really solid expansion that while adding a little bit of new stuff, still very much keeps the original feel of Valeria Card Kingdoms.
My friend Sean finally gets to try the great abstract game War Chest
We played two, two player games. Learning from the mistake I made when I brought War Chest out to the FLGS, we played the first game using the 8 starting unit types as recommended in the rulebook for a first play. I’ve now confirmed that these unit choices definitely help in explaining the game as their various tactics and rules are all very straightforward. They don’t include things like having multiple units on the board or using one unit to activate another. I strongly recommend anyone teaching War Chest or playing for the first time do the same.
I’m pleased to say that War Chest went over well. Our first game was a bit of a route, but good for figuring out the game rules. By the second game, Sean had the rules and some of the strategy down and even managed to beat me. That second game was close and one of the longest games of War Chest I’ve played. I was down to only 2 chips in my bag by the end and I think Sean was down to 3 or 4. It was a big war of attrition.
Personally, I’m digging this game more and more the more I play it, but I’m also getting more and more frustrated by the control tokens. The problem is that they are smaller than the unit chips, and when there is a unit on one you can’t tell who owns that token. I seriously think these should have been the size of a full hex. Sean, who had never seen the game in person before commented right away about the quality of those tokens when compared to the unit chips. He also brought up another point that I had not noticed myself. The control points on the board could also use some way of setting them apart from other hexes. They have the same problem, once a unit chip is on them you can no longer see them. Now a bunch of people online have hacks and fixes but this is something I would love to see AEG improve on with an expansion.
Despite some frustration with tokens and control points I still really dig and recommend War Chest. If you are a fan of abstract strategy games you owe it to yourself to check this one out.
Eminent Domain does something a bit different with deck-building
The last game I got in this past week was a two-player game of Eminent Domain with Sean. Anyone who listens to the podcast knows that since the end of 2018 Sean has been obsessed with card based mechanics in modern hobby games. He’s specifically a fan of Deck-Building. So every time he comes down I try to broaden his horizons and show him a game that does something new with the mechanic. Last time that was Core Worlds and Clank! This time I chose to teach him Eminent Domain. Badly.
I say badly, because it had been far too long since I’ve played Eminent Domain and to say I was rusty on the rules would be, being very polite. I did such a bad job of quickly scanning the rules and reading off bits of them that we started playing and after only two rounds realized we had messed up so many things we had to start over. A big part of this is due to the fact Eminent Domain is very different from every other Deck-Builder I’ve played.
Eminent Domain is a role selection game that also uses deck building. Similar to Race for the Galaxy, each turn players choose a role. That role determines not only what they can do but what their opponents can do. The twist here is that every time you choose a role you take a card for your deck based on that role. So the more you do an actin the more cards you get for that action into your deck. There are five roles: Survey, Warfare, Colonize, Produce/Trade and Research. In addition to choosing a role each turn each player gets an action, each role card has it’s own associated action. In addition technology cards give you access to a variety of other action. You are using these roles and actions to settle plants. Planets are found through surveying, they are then either conquered through warfare or settled through colonization. Once you own some worlds you can produce goods on them and trade those goods for victory points. Research gives you access to better cards and special abilities and actions.
What I love about Eminent Domain is that it takes Deck-Building and does something new with it. It basically represents experience and specialization. You keep taking the Warfare action and your deck will fill with Warfare cards. This is great when you are trying to recruit a fleet and want to conquer planets. What you have to watch for is becoming too specialized, those Warfare cards aren’t any use if you can’t Survey any new planets. Players need to maintain a very interesting balance of what to keep in their deck. A big part of the research cards is to get cards out of your deck. No longer need to focus on Warfare it’s time to do some research and re-focus your efforts.
Eminent Domain went over very well, at least the second game once we had nailed down the rules. This last play has reinvigorated my love for the game. I had a feeling this would happen. Even when I mentioned to Sean that I was going to teach it to him I commented this that this would probably spark a bunch of Eminent Domain playing for me.
As an added bonus, someone on Twitter (@letsplaypod) pointed out you can play Eminent Domain on Board Game Arena. Something I haven’t tried yet but plan on doing soon.
That was my week. So what games do you have for this wonderful #WhatDidYouPlayMondays, Monday?