Captain Sonar Review

I’m a bit of a jaded gamer. I look at a lot of games and I have been playing games since the nineteen eighties and usually I’m seeing a game with similar mechanics to hundreds of other games just with a different coat of paint.  If you’ve been a tabletop gamer for awhile,  you’ll know what I mean.

Then along comes a game like Captain Sonar that blows me out of the water!  See what I did there?…

It is the odd occasion I walk away from a game and think about it for days afterwards. It’s also quite rare for me to be immersed in the atmosphere of a game usually being taken out of the experience because of components, clunky rulesets, or something else. Not since Twilight Struggle have I felt so ‘in the moment’ during a game.  So it was to my great surprise how immersed and reflective I was upon playing Captain Sonar by Matagot games. I’ve never heard of this company before, but man what a surprise!

Captain Sonar is an intense, competitive experience where two teams face off against one another in unstable, prototype submarines. The flavour text tells you something about militarised corporations fighting over rare earth materials, blah blah.

The rulebook itself is a little bit of a strange beast. At first I looked at it and thought this isn’t very linear. It seems I have to learn four games in one. The role of the radio operator, engineer, first mate and of course the captain. Additionally, I’ll have the dreaded responsibility of having to teach others but then I read the rulebook and realised it was one of the best written and illustrated rule books I’ve come across in a long time.

I don’t do lengthy rules explanations. I like to get to the point and that’s what this rulebook does. You will quickly find out that there are four roles for you to play as above and that you can play either in turn order or real time, both having their pros and cons.

The captain really does have to know all the roles and carefully co-ordinate with his or her crew. The radio operator has the rather tense task of finding where the enemy submarine is on the map. The first mate has to record systems as they come online and are used and has some autonomy to engage drones and sonar, which are vital to finding your enemy submarine. And of course there is the beleaguered engineer. A funny thing about this particular title is that they have chosen to model damage in these prototype submarines by having the engineer pick which system he will take out and then which system he will try to get back online. He does this by coordinating with the captain and advising him what direction the submarine should go in.

227153_CaptainSonar_PlayerSetup.jpg

It’s a little clunky and counter-intuitive but on the scale of it all it is only a minor criticism. It does the job of representing an unstable prototype submarine quite well. You are not just taking damage from the enemy submarine you are battling with a new computer, weapons and engine system. Likely the submarine was built by a company that also came well under the required budget and I would say that is not too much of a stretch given that the world you are fighting in seems to have been taken over by capitalists.

Boring ideology aside, this game shines in so many ways. It is an over-simplification to call it ‘battleships on steroids’ but in so many ways it is. Yes there are a lot more bells and whistles and yes there are a lot more things to learn about. But it is worth it and it develops such a deep competitive game that I’m longing to get it back on the table already. That’s actually quite rare. At least for this jaded seadog!

I will also have to say that as it is a team game played with up to 8 people, the fun factor will also be determined by the quality of the players. In fact, it is possible to play this game without having a traditionally good time.  It could be rewarding enough for you to have a quiet intense battle of  minds: one captain versus another! Can anyone say Das Boot?!

In our first game we saw people who had never played a board game before struggle with some of the new ideas and struggle with the idea of having to work as a team. The rule book itself does not talk about protocols that clearly and we were struggling for a little while about who gets to do what and when particularly during a real-time game. It would take very little to clarify this with some basic house rules. Essentially a little bit of submarine etiquette would have gone a long way in the rules book.

People like structure. They can also feel a bit stupid when they have to pump their fist in the air to call the stop even though they secret and desperately want to get into their role. It’s just the nature of humans particularly wallflowers and we did play with people who weren’t that extroverted, which presented some communication challenges. But that is the beauty of team games. Just as in a submarine (I’m guessing!) the captain is dealing with varied crew members and he or she must be able to balance their performance in an effort to identify the location of and destroy the enemy

And atmosphere!  Did I happen to mention the atmosphere of this game! We ramped things up to 11! We played with some wonderful submarine sounds off YouTube that just added to a game that already drips with atmosphere.

Few games will grip your attention and immerse you so fully in their universe. As I mentioned, Twilight Struggle was certainly such a game but they are far and few between.

We can not give a better recommendation for you to go out and buy this game. As long as you are prepared for the dynamics of team gaming we have very little doubt that you will enjoy this title.

Well done Matagot!

 

 

 

 

Sekigahara Review

Sekiga-WHAT?!

Sekigahara was a decisive battle that took place in the year 1600 and helped to establish the Tokugawa shogunate.

This is an interesting and seldom approached premise for a war game in a market that is often saturated with games about World War 1 and World War 2. No bad thing but change is good. I love Japanese themed games too but I will try not to litter this review with my biases!

At Bunyip Kingdom we try to avoid regurgitating rules. We just want to give you a very quick idea of what we thought of the game and usually if we recommend something,  we are quite confident the title has longevity, is easily to moderately accessible, and is well presented and thematically rich (unless we’re dealing with purely abstract games).  But is this one of those overall winners?

One might think that a game that has such a specific theme might not have much general appeal but let me nip that in the bud. Sekigahara is a fun and engaging 2 player game that doesn’t require an incredible amount of investment to enjoy and its ability to entertain is not reliant on whether you particularly like Japanese history.

This is a block game produced by GMT Games. GMT has a well respected run of war games but they can also be quite dense and demanding at times. Sekigahara categorises itself as only a lightly moderate game and I would say that is quite accurate. The rulebook is largely devoted to an historical account of the battle with about 8 pages dedicated to the rules.

It’s simplicity though is quite deceptive. Using number and icon driven blocks and cards, much of the games information is clear and at your fingertips.  Cards display things like allegiances and on occasion special actions. The movement system (also derived from card management) is incredibly simple but still manages to create diverse strategic options that make this game easy to learn but…yep, we’re gonna say it…hard to master.

There is also a great loyalty system that can change enemy units into friendly units for battle. Very quickly, a near defeat can become a victory!

There are even rules that govern siege warfare and capturing supply points which adds to the tactical brilliance of this title!

There is some randomness with card draws and if you bemoan that then we suggest you look elsewhere but we feel (with our years of combat experience😂) that such randomness exists on the battlefield too!

Though it is never our goal to recreate rule books in our reviews we will say this is one of the finest rule books with the greatest clarity we have seen in a long time.

Regarding the quality of components: the blocks, board game, stickers (and yes that is my only gripe – I hate putting stickers on things, but that is the name of the game sometimes) right down to the rule book and box are of exceptionally high quality.

137457_Sekigahara_6

As with many GMT games the popular titles can quickly go out of print (at least for awhile)  so Bunyip Kingdom suggests you get your copy in haste!

On a humanitarian note, if you purchase this game the author Matt Calkins will be donating his proceeds to assist Japan with ongoing relief from tsunami and earthquake damage. What a guy!

GMT kindly supplied a copy for review. That said, we keep it real!

Lanterns Review

So here we have yet another tile laying game and one must wonder how many iterations of this mechanic can be published without there being too much overlap…

Does Lanterns The Harvest Festival do anything new or do something old in an interesting way or is it just another tile game with a different coat of paint?

In the game of Lanterns you are charged with preparing a lantern display on the lake of a nameless palace. The person who lays down the prettiest lantern display gains the most honour.

To do so you lay down tiles with matching sides or tiles that have platforms to create a hand of cards that enable you to buy honour tokens with varying criteria. For example one token might require you to have one card of each colour. The harder the criterion the more you score.

So if Lanterns is different to other tile games it would be in its card set collection mechanic.

If you have read this far you may be starting to get the impression that I was not very enthused by this and you would be right. Admittedly the first few games were enjoyable enough but I got the same impression for this as I did when I played Between Two Cities. Bland. Super bland. The theme does not shine through very well and at the end of the game you are more or less just fighting for victory points like you are in so many other variants.

The components are reasonable with a mix of cards, wooden tokens and quality tiles and the graphics are attractive.

0859930005025_p1_v2_s550x406

But do you need this to add to your tile laying collection? If this is your favourite mechanic, this offers something reasonably interesting and engaging that you might not have experienced before but it’s not a game that I would say is essential to have on your bookshelf. Not when there are other games out there doing this better.

I still have Carcassone the city edition and though it is a bit involved beyond basic Carcassonne, I would say that Carcassone is a far more engaging game that actually makes you feel like you are building something and there are others out there doing that better than Lantern. Basically you’ve seen it all before. Move along. Nothing to see here.

This was an unpaid review. We were provided a review copy.

Red 7 Review

A small game.  A small review.
Red 7 is a card game by Carl Chudyk author of the now infamous Glory to Rome card game (get that one out again through another company guys! Or sumfink!😁).

A quick (as in 5 minutes) game where each player has 7 cards with different values, colours and (like Fluxx but WAAAAAY better) game changing rules that you must be winning by at the end of your turn our your out.
The player elimination element does not hurt this game as it is such a short game anyway you can have a few rounds. You will likely want to have a few more rounds to once you get your head around how simple it is. In fact it’s simplicity was off-putting at first but it offers some reasonable thinking time nothing too serious and not ridiculously light where you want to throw it away the first time you play it.

images(11).jpg

This is priced quite well for what you’re getting, the components are very good the rules are fairly clear although maybe better examples of play would have helped and there are advanced rules too. As far as short, so called ‘filler’ games go, this is one is definitely one to look out for.
We were given a courtesy copy for this unpaid review.

Thunder Alley Review

At Bunyip Kingdom we don’t write long-winded articles filled with ponderous rules explanations because like you we usually skip to the end! 😎  We just want to get a feel for the game and know where it fits, and if it’s reasonably easy to learn.  So keeping with the game itself we are going to race to the finish because, let’s face, few of us have time for essay-like reviews that just go round and round in circles. Pardon the pun…this is a Nascar game after all! 😆

GMT are well known for their heavy games usually about war. They usually produce very meaty games for a particular niche in the board game market. However with Thunder Alley they have hit one out of the park in creating a game that is more generally accessible. Yes I know that’s using a completely different sport analogy but anyway…

This game holds far more general appeal than some GMT titles, has a lighter ruleset and is very accessible even for younger players and it would be ideal for family game night too.

Not to mention the presentation is absolutely outstanding! GMT is quite capable of producing very high quality games with typically very good presentation and components but this is one of their very best in the looks department!

maxresdefault

We don’t really have any complaints about this game but it would have been nice to step it up just a little bit with model cars. Though that would have been more dosh down. This game could be pimped very easily though as it is already beautiful to look at.

Thunder Alley does not rely on any previous knowledge of Nascar and to be perfectly honest you don’t even have to like racing at all to enjoy this exceptional game.  If I watch any racing at all it is usually rally car racing or Moto GP but the team and I were hugely engaged by this title!

In a nutshell, the game revolves around controlling a number of cars per player and your performance is gauged not solely on coming first but in how you manage each car and each lap.

The game is card driven involving event and racing cards. The former clearly has things that happened to you and your team as you go along and often are triggered by accumulating a particular amount of damage. As an example, before one blows a tyre or has engine troubles certain criteria must be met which means these are not just hapless occurrences. Racing cards allow for certain maneuvers to be performed. One would think that this would manifest itself in a very boring, cerebral game but somehow GMT have managed to capture the spirit of a racing game. Thunder Alley also manages to accommodate players who like to have their games lighter but at the same time have a title that provides solid strategic challenges and management components that allow for a more tailored approach.  Put it this way, Thunder Alley holds a lot more strategic options than games like Formula D, as it should. I am aware, even with my limited knowledge on racing, that NASCAR is actually quite a strategic sport. But don’t let that fool you into thinking this game is naff! It’s absolutely brilliant.

The game is not likely to get old in a hurry either as GMT have been quite generous providing not one but two double sided, mounted maps that are outstanding in their quality and graphic presentation.

Talk about variety!

We are looking forward to getting this one back on the table soon and can confidently say that this is a game that will come off the shelf again and again. Which, to be perfectly honest, is getting harder and harder to say of so many games as the companies pump them out so quickly that the majority of games today, in our humble, weighty and well-respected opinion😂 are hyped, bought, played and collect dust there after.

Thunder Alley is not one of these games.  It’s a keeper! Find yourself a copy today!

A review copy was provided for this unpaid review.

Onitama Review

There are those of us who simply cannot tolerate the idea of sitting down to a game of chess. I am not necessarily one of these people and I enjoy the deep strategy of this game but I’m not very good at it and it often leads to a frustrating end. Chess along with Go are wonderful and very deep games but they’re not always the sort of games people want to sit down to particularily if you have time constraints or you prefer shorter lighter games. In this respect,  Onitama certainly delivers!

Onitama is a light to medium strategy game for two players playing in around 10 minutes. Each player has 5 pieces on their board (which is a nice durable neoprene material). One of the pieces is a master pawn and is an important piece in either of two modes you can play. You can either play the Way of the Stone or the Way of the Stream. In the former you must catch your opponents master pawn in the latter you must occupy your opponents master pawn’s Temple arch space.

Moves are card-based and as you can see in the picture below, cards show a black starting point for wherever your pawn is and coloured squares represent legal moves.

2017-05-13-15-13-17--1597049158

The game is incredibly simple to learn taking under 5 minutes to digest the rules. This is the sort of game you will want to play several times in a row.

Often with games like this I am left questioning whether I will return to it, whether it is just a fad and whether it has real substance. At this point in time after several plays I can quite happily say that Onitama does presente a deep enough strategic challenge for it to demand repeat plays over the long term.

The presentation is very good and the components are of quite a high quality. I wasn’t terribly impressed by the moulds for the pawn pieces but that is neither here nor there unless presentation is the absolute priority in your gaming life.

We at Bunyip Kingdom thoroughly recommend Onitama!

Raptor

“It’s day two and we find ourselves in the deep darkness of a steamy jungle surrounded by an angry raptor mother as we hunt diligently for her young. She is elusive but we have come with brains, tranquilizers and a flamethrower. Though there are only 10 of us we feel confident that we will secure her infants and have them under knife and microscope by days end.

All of us are quite confident that…”

This was the last entry recorded by a team of scientists set the mission to find what is believed to be the last living dinosaurs on Earth! They have not been heard from since…

What a game!  And I’m not just saying that because I win most games! 😆

Raptor, by Matagot Games, revolves around hunting dinosaurs or conversely being hunted by them! 10 scientists versus a mother raptor and her babies face-off in a game of light to moderate strategy with a handful of luck thrown in.

Raptor is designed by two heavyweights who know about game development and it shows. Bruno Faidutti (Mystery of the Abbey, Ad Astra, Mascarade, microphone drop!) is the creator of the exceptional game Citadels, a game that we came upon early in our return to tabletop gaming and that we still love. In Citadels, skillful card play is an essential mechanisms. Faidutti has brought across this great talent into a game that is both addictive and genuinely interesting in it’s strategic potential.

Bruno Cathala (Mr Jack, Five Tribes, Seven Wonders Duel…need I say more?) is the co-designer.

So those in the know might ask “How could this game possibly go wrong?” Quite simply it hasn’t so far and we have played it almost 8 times in a row now! Every game has presented new challenges and new strategic variations which are offered by simple manipulation of the board serving up a new environment with every game.

There are only a handful of cards, 9 each, to choose from as you play, and a set number of actions for the scientists and dinosaurs. It is this very efficient game design that we have appreciated most. Though it has been very easy to learn it is proving hard to grasp the strategies involved toward success. I am also of the opinion that this game rewards strategy though sometimes you will simply get bummed out by a bad draw.

tmp_9709-raptor-board-game-880x320358249867

The question arose whether such a light-moderate game could offer long term attraction. At this stage I would have to say it most certainly does. Though it is no game of chess and could not possibly offer that sort of high level strategy, it does offer more tactics and strategic opportunities than we were expecting from what one might term a ‘light’ game.

Now on to the sole criticism… And this is something that applies not only to this game but has unfortunately become a trend adopted by many game publishers. Quite simply, they sell you a big box that is largely full of air! Yes there is the intellectual property argument but it seems cynical.  There could be a deeper issue here and perhaps it is the consumer driving this seemingly cynical strategy. Perhaps we like big, shiny new boxes on our bookshelves and publishers feed off that! It is a solid theory if I do say so myself!

That aside,  we thoroughly enjoyed this game and expect it to become a regular!

A review copy was supplied for this unpaid review.

Trouble in Chinatown

Negotiation is a skill that is employed from an early age. A child will negotiate with parents for the latest mobile phone or bag of sweets while we adults negotiate for a better deal in working life, real estate and the price of consumer goods and services. In the game under the spotlight today, Chinatown, negotiation is the key mechanic.

The negotiation found in Chinatown is quite freeform. For those who like lots of structure, this can be quite jarring at first. You will be competing to complete a chain of retail outlets and you will be haggling for the best real estate in late 1960s San Fransisco’s colourful, you guessed it, Chinatown.

tmp_23812-pic362543_md(2)-647026928

 

The fascinating thing about this game is its ability to draw out those capable of intense, competitive play but still reward more subtle play styles from players less inclined to go down the whole Gordon Gecko path of “Greed is good!”. At times you will be desperate to sell a shop to another player while at other times you will understand the value of holding onto properties until others are desperate and willing to pay top dollar. The game could be ‘mathed out’  (but only to a certain extent) but we think its more fun to approach negotiation as an art or gut feeling. That’s probably why we’re always getting ripped off!

There may be problems with the negotiation-style mechanic in addition to how ‘wide open’ it can feel and one of those problems is how players interact in these sort of games. Players may allow personal feelings to inform their play, holding off negotiation with one player in favour of another and not solely with an eye to the bottom line. Plenty of games have been played by our group where players rivalled against one another for an entire game simply because an early deal went sour or they had a friendly rivalry existing outside of the game! So even when favourable terms were presented later on the ‘discrimination’ continued.

The biggest problem, which is now becoming a deal breaker after a few plays is that this now feels like a weakly disguised game of monopoly.  The initial ‘high’ of the broad approach to negotiation has started feeling not so much like a sandbox of opportunities, but like a chancey, random event every time we play, and that can be fun, but the shine is definitely off and I’m not excited about this one after 5-6 plays.

We can deal with random, we like random but only when it’s either happily undisguised or is balanced by other mechanics that leave players feeling a little more involved and in control of their gaming experience.

So, though we cannot thoroughly recommended the game, for those who enjoy the art of the deal it still has some appeal and it’s at least worth a few plays.

Unpaid review. No courtesy copy provided.

Where’s Dustin Hoffman When You Need Him?!

It’s 1995 and I am sitting in a packed cinema watching the opening scenes of the movie Outbreak starring Dustin Hoffman. It’s pretty standard but engaging fair that tracks a team of scientists as they try to combat a deadly virus. There’s a particular scene in the movie where the lethal virus is spread by a man coughing in a packed cinema! The camera follows the cough spray as it goes in the mouths and noses of the unsuspecting patrons. I was eyeing the nearest exit and hatching an escape plan!

The rest of the movie is a dramatic, action packed game of cat and mouse as Dustin and his team of scientists battle to contain the spread of infection and save the world!

tmp_9709-images-2-600403514

Now fast forward 13 years to 2008 and Matt Leacocks’ quite stunning cooperative board game, Pandemic-basically the movie Outbreak in a box. When the game came out it presented an evolutionary leap in gaming mechanics not to mention sheer fun. With a group of your friends you could desperately try to contain the spread of three infectious diseases as they threatened to make humankind extinct. The game became so popular it gave rise to a second edition and multiple expansions which make the game even more engrossing!

The game allows up to 4 players to take on various roles such as a Scientist or an Operations Expert. Player’s must work as a team to eradicate the viruses before they accumulate in cities and cause outbreaks which then cause an exponential increase in the infected population. Left unchecked an entire city could be lost quite easily. Ok, so it’s a city on a piece of cardboard but after a couple of turns it may as well be your home town you’re saving!

The game is cleverly guided by some interesting and rather simple mechanics including a nifty deck of specialised cards that determines where the viruses will appear and when something like an epidemic will occur which ups the ante substantially.

As it is a cooperative game, Pandemic allows for some interesting dynamics to occur. Quite often the game will be lost as it certainly is a challenge to win but when you include in the mix various personalities, each with different ways of doing things, the challenge increases.

The game presents some excellent opportunities to study human behaviour. Pay attention and you may learn a great deal about the people you’re playing with. Do you have a potential bully or alpha in your midst? Do you have a potential leader who is willing to listen to his or her co-workers to find the best solution to your problems? You will of course have those players who are quite happy to be led by others, quietly contributing here and there, if at all. And then you have what is quite often labelled as the ‘alpha player’. Therein lies our key problem with an otherwise great game.  The game can be overrun by a dominant character or simply by someone who knows the rules the best and winds up spending the entire game ‘guiding’ players towards the ‘optimal’ move.  This has the potential to significantly detract from the fun fact.

Good gaming groups will understand that cooperative games are almost always susceptible to this phenomenon and so they make concessions and listen to one another to reach the ideal outcome.   But then conversely, coop games can become quite bland if everybody inputs equally and, hey! why not have fun exploring the ups and downs of cooperative play for better or worse.  Let’s face it, if you were really in a diverse team of professionals combatting a global plaque it wouldn’t all be Kumbaya, My Lord! Would it?!

At it’s core, Pandemic is a fine and smart cooperative experience and one of the best cooperative board games you can invest in. The latest edition is presented amazingly well and the game comes with a number of expansions and variants that will keep the interest of the players for some time to come.

Conclusion…Just get it already!

Come In From The Cold…

Twilight Struggle is a game of variable strategy representing the Cold War. That was a gruelling and bland opening sentence. It was the grey Berlin Wall of sentences but the game is anything but bland. One player takes the role of the US, the other the USSR each engaging in an epic struggle to spread their influence around the globe. There, that was better!

This is in essence, a card game. It runs on the ability of players to manipulate their hand of cards representing the various events of the time and allowing players to engage in various operations depicting military and diplomatic operations of the era. The well presented cards each feature an historic photograph and are evocative of the period. The beautiful, mounted map (only available with the recommended Deluxe Edition) features the key players and their allies and various tracks on the board help to keep account for things such as the current nuclear threat or the race for space. It is not our custom here to go through the rules as many, many other sites go in to great, almost fathomless depths to explain each rule and the function of the cards and counters and so on. Rather we bring your attention to the thematic and strategic qualities of the game that are unsurpassed by most other wargames. For variability and complexity, one of the few games that surpass this 2 player masterpiece would be chess itself, so rich is Twilight Struggle. Alright, admittedly that sentence was as appetising as 3 day old german food from an east berlin cafeteria circa 1979 but you get the picture. The game is very good indeed!

tmp_9709-asia-553046956

At its core, and what you really need to know, is that Twilight Struggle is an exceptionally well thought out 2 player game that demands repeat plays. This is only likely to sit on the shelf if one is turned off by longer playing times than usual but you will be well rewarded for every minute you spend in this world of geopolitical one upsmanship. For pratcially every move you make, your opponent will be planning and implementing cunning countermoves. Twilight Struggle does something few wargames do well. It takes what could have been a reasonably bland experience and imbues it with great tension and atmosphere. The game is equal parts conquering and concession making, all the while you are trying to avoid the cataclysmic risk of all out nuclear war without losing a dominant position. The game not only oozes style and substance but atmosphere too.

And how does it achieve such atmosphere? Not only do the game’s mechanics feature an elegant rule set that allows for repeat plays and shifting, yet realistic strategies but in addition to that every card is based on actual historical events of the Cold War. It is practically genius how the designers have managed to represent decades of warring political ideologies, conflict, social upheaval and the very real threat of global annihilation. Additionally, there is a section in the back of the rulebook that explains the different cards historical significance in more detail.

Unequivocally, we recommend Twilight Struggle. For the surprisingly light rules (for this style of game anyway) and play duration, this is an evocative and engaging representation of a rather scary time in our history…a history that may be repeating itself…

This game was kindly supplied by GMT. Thank you for supporting us Australian game reviewers!