A Deckbuilding Look at Tyrants of the Underdark

Tyrants CoverClearly, deckbuilding games are still a going concern, as I’ve been able to write about two new designs this month: first Mystic Vale (2016) and now Tyrants of the Underdark (2016).

With that said, deckbuilders are growing more outré too. Both of this month’s designs have basic mechanics that you could have found in second-generation deckbuilders following Dominion (2008), but they also incorporate much weirder elements, like the plastic cards of Mystic Vale … and the plastic armies of Tyrants.

The Game

Tyrants of the Underdark (2016) is a game in two parts.

On the one hand, some cards give you Influence. That’s used to buy cards from a central tableau. The default cards can be used to generate influence or power, while a random array of six market cards can provide players with more varied powers.

On the other hand, some cards give you Power. That’s used to affect the game board. You can use your influence to deploy troops or to assassinate troops, slowly expanding across the Underdark and taking control of central locations, which are worth victory points.

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A Deckbuilding Look at Mystic Vale

Mystic Vale CoverIt’s now been almost eight years since Dominion changed the face of gaming by introducing a dominant new style of play. Long gone is the day when a semi-clone could be released that just moved Dominion into the dungeons or the scullery. Instead new deck builders must have dramatically different styles of gameplay … or even dramatically different styles of components.

And that’s an intro to Mystic Vale (2016) which features transparent cards made of plastic!

The Game

In many ways, Mystic Vale is a pretty traditional deckbuilding game. You buy cards that can generate money (mana), then use that money to buy new cards. The most valuable cards are worth victory points, while some cards also generate victory points when played.

The big innovation of the game is that the “cards” are actually plastic card sleeves that are used to hold transparent cards. You can slide up to three transparent cards into each sleeve, provided one shows its powers at the top, one at the middle, and one at the bottom. So, you’re not exactly “deck building”, but you’re “card crafting”, since you’re improving the cards already in your deck. But, it really amounts to the same thing — especially when you consider that some card sleeves are empty at the start of the game. Continue reading

New To Me: Spring 2016

It’s been a weak quarter for new gaming for me. Because of a business trip and a vacation, I missed out on about a month of my normal gaming. Still, I managed to get in plays of almost a dozen new games, expansions, and variants — just barely enough to people a new New to Me article. 

As usual, this listing is games new and old that I’d never played before, rated according to how much liked them. Continue reading

Anatomy of Three Conversions: Burgundy, Ra, and Galaxy

Games can be defined in a lot of different ways. They can come in different styles, from American take-that to Eurogames, from party games to abstracts. They can can in different fictional genres, from science-fiction to history, and in different mechanical genres, from worker placement to auctions. Finally, games can also be parts of different mediums, primarily including board games, card games, and dice games.

Gaming mediums are particularly interesting because they seem to encourage conversions. Board games  become card games or dice games, and vice-versa. This trend seems to have been growing in the last few years, as Intellectual Property has become a byword of the eurogame community. Alea is currently be the poster child of IP conversions, with Broom Service (2015), Castles of Burgundy: The Card Game (2016), and Broom Service: The Card Game (2016) all being conversions of this sort. The last is particularly notable, since Broom Service: The Card Game began life as Witch’s Brew (2008) … a card game!

So are medium conversions good or bad?

Too frequently they result in a game that’s a pale shadow of its originator. I know I’ve played Euphrates & Tigris: Contest of Kings (2005), but I barely remember it, while Shadows Over Camelot: The Card Game (2012) and Bang! The Dice Game (2013) were more interesting, but in no way overshadowed the original. But, in some cases you get games that are quite exciting. San Juan (2004) is obviously the vest example of a game that managed to massively innovate its predecessor, creating something that was as good, in its own way.

This week I’m going to take a brief look at three games that were converted to new sorts of dice and card games: one of the newest entrants to the field and two that I think really worked.

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Making the Dick Move

Hollywood Blockbuster CoverWe were attending the last party in Hollywood Blockbuster (2006). That’s the Reiner Knizia game of auctions and moviemaking that’s also called Traumfabrik (2000) and Dream Factory (2009) because name changes sell games. I’d finished all my movies except one, and I hadn’t started that last one, so I had no use for any of the resources being offered.

Two players were going after me, and I glanced at each of their movie boards. One had a movie that was nowhere close to completion, but the other needed just a single audio effect to finish a film. I grabbed the only audio effect chit at the party, then tossed it to the side, unused.

That was the dick move. Continue reading

Co-Op Interviews: Eric B. Vogel & The Dresden Files Co-Op Card Game

Dresden Files CoverEric B. Vogel is the designer of multiple games, including two deckbuilding designs, Zeppelin Attack! (2014) and Don’t Turn Your Back (2015), that he’s discussed in previous interviews. This time around, he’s created his first cooperative game, based on the popular Dresden Files series of novel — a game that’s now available on Kickstarter.

I talked with Eric about the mechanics of designing a cooperative game in an email interview conducted over the course of April 2016.


Shannon Appelcline: Thanks for agreeing to talk about your new game design, Dresden Files Cooperative Card Game — or DFCO to use the abbreviation favored by your publisher, Evil Hat. It’s your first cooperative game. What made you decide to go with a cooperative design?

Eric B. Vogel: It was the publisher, Evil Hat Productions, who made the stipulation that they wanted it to be a cooperative game. That was not initially something I was happy about. I had done some development work on a cooperative game previously, but I had never designed one up to that point. So I started the project without any clear ideas for cooperative design. It took a few months of blind fumbling before I finally came up  with the core mechanic of DFCO. Continue reading

The Tao of Board Gaming VI

The Tao of Board GamingKoans I-III can be found in The Tao of Board Gaming I (December 2009). Koans IV-VI can be found in The Tao of Board Gaming II (April 2010). Koans VII-IX can be found in The Tao of Board Gaming III (October 2012). Koans X-XII can be found in The Tao of Board Gaming IV (May 2014). Koans XIII-XV can be found in The Tao of Board Gaming V (December 2014).

XVI. The Buddhist Nature of Munchkin

There was once a gamer who seemed to have a perfectly Buddhist nature. When he played Monopoly he simply nodded as all of his money was stolen away by fat cats. When he played Risk he had a light heart when his armies were cleared from the map of the world, even unto Australia. When he played Munchkin he smiled when he lost cards, and even levels, as his opponents cried out, “Take That!”

However the Buddhist gamer’s nature seemed to crack when his gaming group began to change their play from American games to their European brethren. He was still able to accept the loss of a meeple in Carcassonne, of a route in Ticket to Ride, or of a hex corner in Catan. However, he then took no joy as he collected his points, completed his tickets, and built his civilizations. Worse, he became agitated and unhappy, losing the Buddhist nature that was his core. Continue reading