megaland

Megaland Review

Posted by | Reviews | No Comments

Publisher: Red Raven Games
Age: 8+
Players: 2-5
Game Length: 20 minutes
MSRP: $24.99

In Megaland players explore video game levels fraught with enemies but filled with treasure. If they survive they can use that treasure to purchase buildings and earn victory points.

Megaland plays quickly and easily and features beautiful artwork by Red Raven Games designer and illustrator Ryan Laukat. The gameplay provides a solid, family-friendly introduction into more advanced board game concepts such as set collection, resource management, and risk assessment.

Ready Player One

In Megaland each player starts with four hearts. Each round everyone jumps into a level, which is represented by a deck of 10 oversized cards. Players earn one treasure card from the treasure deck as each of the level cards are flipped over.

Level cards can contain enemies with 1-3 skulls, a blank, or a treasure chest. Encountering an enemy causes everyone who’s in the level to take damage equal to the number of skulls. If anyone would lose all their hearts, they’re knocked out and lose all their accumulated treasure. However, any time before the next level card is revealed, a player can choose to leave the level to keep all of their earned treasures.

megaland

The goal is to risk staying in the level long enough to earn as many treasure cards as possible. Treasure cards are more like resources or materials, such as carrots, gears, and eggs. These cards are then traded in to purchase buildings as each player builds up their own city.

Building cards are randomly selected from the box, so each marketplace layout plays a bit differently. Sets of unique treasure cards purchase buildings, while sets of the same treasure cards can be used to purchase additional hearts, allowing for longer (and more lucrative) runs.

We Built this City

Since everyone journeys on a level together, taking damage and earning treasure cards simultaneously, the game runs very quickly.

Purchasing buildings works similarly to a lot of deckbuilders, especially Dominion. But you’re not building a deck in Megaland; building cards are placed in front of the player, making it easy for kids to keep track of any possible ongoing effects.

These buildings often earn coins (victory points), either directly or through various triggers. The Hospital, for example, earns that player two coins for every player to their left or right who falls in a level, while the Fishing Pond simply awards two coins at the end of each round. The first player to reach 20 coins wins.

megaland

The risk of staying in a level to earn more treasure is a lot of fun, though it’s a shame the level deck is so thin. At only 10 cards it’s much more about calculating the odds each round rather than being surprised and shocked at the deck’s reveal.

The video game theme is also a bit thin. Other than a single jump ability provided by certain building cards, nothing inherently screams ‘video game.’ And most video games require you to finish the level, not quit early to get ahead. In Megaland the levels also never get more difficult; the level deck simply changes the order of which enemies (or blanks) you encounter with each shuffle.

On the plus side, the game moves very quickly and scales nicely as players earn more hearts, thus more treasure, more buildings, and finally more coins.

The Rating

Megaland is a great pick for kids who have graduated beyond the low age (4+) starter games but aren’t quite ready to tackle the big stuff (13+). Weighing the odds of when to jump out is a great teaching tool with stats and percentages, as is choosing which building cards to purchase. Although it’s competitive, players aren’t attacking each other, making Megaland a good game if you’re looking to avoid direct confrontation.

The Takeaway

Megaland is the perfect example of a board game publisher successfully applying advanced tabletop systems and mechanics to a wider, younger audience. Despite the small level deck the large number of possible building cards in any given game creates a solid amount of replayability, and risking it all for just one more treasure creates a lot of anguished yet enjoyable laughter.

Find Megaland at Target.

Sleep Tight

Sleep Tight Review

Posted by | PC, Reviews, Switch | No Comments

Available On: PC, Switch

Sleep Tight presents the classic monster-in-the-closet tale and transforms it into a kid-themed tower defense game, married with the gun-play of a twin-stick shooter. Both aspects are decently executed if a bit shallow, and the theme of defending your bedroom against an onslaught of Pixar-friendly monsters is a fun one.

Yet Sleep Tight lacks the mechanical depth of other tower defense games, and surviving against the hordes is more of an exercise in quantity over quality.

Read More

shadows in the forest

Shadows in the Forest Review

Posted by | Reviews | No Comments

Ever play a board game in the dark? The 1980s kids game from Germany called Waldschattenspiel was designed for night-time playing. It featured an open-flame candle moving around a 3-dimensional board, while other players tried to hide in the shadows. Thinkfun’s recent remake, Shadows in the Forest, officially brings the game to the US with a richer theme and a more kid-friendly LED lantern.

Shadows in the Forest is an unusual and unique board game where players must tactically remain in darkness, while giggling at avoiding the dreaded light.

Hello Darkness My Old Friend

Shadows in the Forest can technically support any number of players, with one player playing as the lantern-controlling Seeker, and everyone else playing as the Shadowlings on a team. Every round the Seeker rolls a dice and move the lantern that number of spaces through different routes on the board.

The Shadowlings aren’t beholden to any such movement restrictions – but they have to remain in the shadows. A number of cardboard trees and rocks have to be assembled each time you open the box. They provide proper hiding places for the Shadowlings. If all the Shadowlings can reach one Hiding Place together, those players win.

shadows in the forest

At the same time, the Seeker player is trying to bathe each one in light. Hitting a Shadowling freezes it, and the Shadowling loses its little plastic mask, unable to move until another Shadowling can safely reach it. The Seekers job is to collect all the masks and freeze all the Shadowlings.

It’s basically an elaborate game of freeze tag. Despite the simplicity it’s a lot of fun, causing a raucous amount of laughing and giggling, even with adults.

Playing with lights and shadows is a novel concept, and easy enough that anyone can jump in and play within seconds.

Blinded by the Light

The original Waldschattenspiel featured dwarves. Shadows in the Forest re-themes the figures, replacing them with cute shadowy blobs called Shadowlings. With their masks on they look like something from a Miyazaki film. They’re all plastic, including the removable white masks, but high quality.

As a nice touch the dice is glow in the dark and rechargeable if you stick it next to a light source. The LED lantern does the job perfectly without worrying about your kids literally playing with fire.

The game comes with six Shadowlings, and it’s up to the players how many they want to play with. It’s a nice way to create a range of difficulty challenges, with three being the easiest and six being very difficult.

Darkness isn’t just a feature, it’s pretty much a requirement, and the darker the better. Playing in an dimly lit area or not-yet dark time of day is less than ideal, resulting in arguments over whether nor not a Shadowling passed through the light. The board isn’t large but it can be tricky to see exactly where the light ends and the shadows begin at the edge of the lantern’s light.

shadows in the forest

The Rating

The box recommends Ages 8+ though younger kids can quickly grasp the simple rules and join in, particularly as the Seeker.

The Takeaway

By using light and shadows as a fun form of freeze tag, Shadows in the Forest is both simplistic and clever. As a rules-lite game with no firm timer it feels casual and light-hearted, though this can cause problems among kids as Shadowling movement mostly requires the honor system to stay in shadow. The game is uniquely limited by its surroundings; perfect for sleep-overs and basements, and provides a fun experience that’s guaranteed to be different than any family game you’ve played before.

Shadows in the Forest is available at Amazon now, and in Target stores in August.

frostpunk

Frostpunk Review

Posted by | PC, Reviews | No Comments

Available On: PC

Things were going well, or least as well as can be expected against an apocalyptic snowstorm, until the temperature plummeted another 40 degrees. “Snowmaggeddon” is a joke during brutal winters. But nobody’s laughing in the world of Frostpunk when temperatures approach -90 degrees, rendering most of the world uninhabitable.

In the last city my supply of coal dwindled to nothing as my geothermic reactor began shutting down. I watched a cascade of Bad News as my workforce grew sick, homes grew cold, and people began dying. I was forced to pass a law to enable emergency 24 hour shifts. Brave men and women operated frozen coal mines in the dead of night to give us the juice we needed. Some grew sick, and some were so frostbitten they had to have limbs amputated.

But the city survived. These harrowing moments solidify Frostpunk as one of the most memorable and emotional city building sims I’ve ever played.

Read More

ink monsters

Ink Monsters Review

Posted by | Reviews | No Comments

Publisher: Albino Dragon
Players: 2-6
Time: 20-30 minutes
Age: 6+

Card games can be tricky for younger kids. It can be challenging to hold very many cards in tiny hands, and privately manage their own resources.

Ink Monsters alleviates these issues by providing a streamlined set collection card game, themed around drawing kid-friendly monsters. The enchanting artwork and simple iconography helps sell the light-hearted experience, though end game scoring quickly grows complex and unwieldy.

Monsters, Ink

Ink Monsters is made up of two decks of cards: 48 monster cards and 57 action cards. In each of the three rounds, 12 monsters are randomly drawn into a circle. A magic pen card is place on the outer ring, indicating the next monster that will be drafted. Each round players play from their hand of three ability cards to rotate and move the pen to a more desirable monster before they select it. At the end of three rounds, the most victory points wins.

ink monstersEach monster has a point value, ranging from -5 to +5, as well as several trait icons, such as clothes, arms, and teeth. Monsters also come in five different colors, and almost all of them have either a once per round ability, or offer bonus (or negative!) points depending on the other Monsters you’ve drafted.

Once you start collecting monsters you have to start paying attention to their associated icons and powers, which can be challenging for younger kids who just want to pick their favorite-looking monsters.

I wouldn’t blame them; the card artwork is exceptional. These monsters would feel right at home within the world of Disney-Pixar’s Monsters, Inc. But what really matters are the icons and abilities each monster possesses.

For example, Alex gives you the ability to move the magic pen clockwise one to three spaces, essentially giving you a fourth card in your hand of ability cards. Lisa grants +1 point for each different colored monster you’ve collected. George lets you draw an additional monster from the deck. But that could be a blessing or a curse.

Some monsters are worth negative points, or have negative bonuses. Cary is worth 0 points, but his ‘bonus’ is that each other monster you own with hair scores -1 at the end of the game.

Juggling all these collection bonuses together becomes a bit too unfriendly with less players and younger kids, which is our typical family situation. The game doesn’t scale for the number of players, so less players equals more monsters per player. That means sifting through a dozen or more traits, bonuses, and abilities by the end of the game.

End game scoring is likewise a complete nightmare with that many monsters. It’s way more difficult than I would expect from a game aimed at 6+ kids. Thankfully Albino Dragon has released a free scoring app on iOS and Android that does all of the work for you. It’s a solid app and almost a necessity to determine final scores.

Pen is Mightier

The key to producing a great game for the under eight crowd is to minimize text. Ink Monsters comes close to succeeding but falls short with the abilities. The trait icons are easily identifiable, and all the action cards include a large visual aid indicating the action, such as a turned arrow and a +1.

Yet we still had to explain what most cards do with our six year old, and play with open hands to help her make a decision. Repeated plays helped, but there’s still just a bit too much going on. I would recommended the age closer to 8+.

ink monsters

On the flip side the game scales well for older kids and more players. Collecting less monsters lets you focus on specific strategies, such as monsters with hair and monsters who are pink and purple. There are also not a lot of cruel gotcha tactics. Instead players will often be left with really bad choices toward the end of each round. But there are enough negative-point monsters that everyone will have a few bad eggs in their collection.

Ink Monsters is a fun but flawed card game for kids. The artwork is absolutely amazing and every single monster card is unique, leading to an impressive replay factor that plays fairly quickly. But the gameplay is a bit too complex for what it offers, with too many overlapping traits, icons, and powers that players have to keep up with. With the amount of text involved I would at least bump the age to 8+, and I would absolutely recommend the free scoring app as practically a requirement to get through the complex end-game scoring.

Crossing Souls

Crossing Souls Review

Posted by | PC, PlayStation 4, Reviews | No Comments

Available On: PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, PC (Win, Mac, Linux)

My generation (I’m in my 30s) has an indomitable passion for the 1980s. The appeal waxes from fun nostalgia to tiresome and cynical. Sometimes you get brilliant results like Stranger Things, other times it’s a disastrous grab bag like Ready Player One.

Crossing Souls lies somewhere in between, proudly wearing its 80s setting on its denim jacket sleeve. The retro animated cutscenes help bring the surprisingly heavy story to life, but it’s dragged down by poor controls, repetitive combat, and strictly linear level design.
Read More