Wonder Woman: Challenge of the Amazons Review

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Publisher: Ravensburger
Age: 10+
Players: 2-5
Game Length: 45-60 minutes
MSRP: $34.99

A little over a decade ago, Pandemic popularized the cooperative board game genre with doctors and researchers matching cards to find cures to multiple diseases before the disease-cubes took over the world.  While I appreciated the then-new concept, I found the theme a bit dry and card-matching too simple.

In 2020, Wonder Woman is here to save the day. Wonder Woman: Challenge of the Amazons is a smart evolution of co-op cube-defense, with the much more exciting theme of defending Themyscira from comic book villains.

No Man’s Land

The Amazon island of Themyscira is gorgeously presented in a large game board with over a dozen different locations, such as the training grounds, the library, and the Temple of Aphrodite. Each player chooses one of five Amazons, including Diana, better known as Wonder Woman from DC Comics. Each Amazon has a unique ability and a bronze miniature figure that contrasts beautifully on the colorful map.

Challenge of the Amazons pits your team of Amazon warriros against one of three different villains: Ares the warlord, Circe the spellcaster, and Cheetah the lycanthrope. Each villain has their own agenda and tactics reflected in their personal card decks, as well as scaling difficulty for the number of players.

Each turn the chosen villain runs around the map deploying cubes and hazards, which could represent blocked roads, wounded amazons, or enemy minions. The players need to balance removing these cubes with chasing down the villain. Both the villain and the island itself have health bars, and if Themyscrica’s defense drops to zero, the Amazons lose.

Goddess of War

The Amazons’ turns are divided into two distinct phases. It’s here where Challenge of the Amazon’s clever game design helps solve one of the biggest problems with co-op games: players ordering each other around.

In the Strategize phase, players can openly discuss their plans for the turn, but only with about half their cards visible, face up in front of them. Enemy obstacles are cleared by playing cards, each of which features multiple numerical emblem symbols. Symbols include Vigor (sword) to defeat minions and Leadership (star) to summon additional warriors. Players can use this public information to plan out where to go and which obstacles to tackle, or combine their might into a big hit on the enemy villain.

Once they’ve finished strategizing, the Battle Plans phase begins. Players pick up the rest of their cards and plan their three actions in secret, without speaking. The flexibility on each card results in a satisfying balance between trying to coordinate with your teammates, while also improvising based on the cards. Sometimes your best laid plans go awry, as in battle, but it still feels thematic and fun.

While the Amazon minis, enemy character sheets, and game board are exceptional components, the same cannot be said of the cards. The hero cards represent abstract adjectives like Experienced, Resourceful, and Bold, and depict images of clouds, trees, and spiderwebs – not exactly a thrilling declaration when battling the forces of Ares. I would’ve much preferred scenes of our Amazon heroines fighting and training, especially as the cover art by comic artist Jenny Frison is so darn good.

The Rating

Wonder Woman: Challenge of the Amazons has a recommended minimum age of 10+. While DC Comics and Wonder Woman have become increasingly kid-friendly, the board game requires advanced tactical planning and coordination, which can be challenging for younger kids.

As a co-op game, Challenge of the Amazons would make an excellent pick for family game night with older kids, teens, and parents.

The Takeaway

With the exception of big-box RPG Gloomhaven, co-op games aren’t usually very popular in my house, but I’m more than happy to make room on the game shelf for the princess of Themyscira. With colorful components and a nice balance of teamwork and solo planning, Wonder Woman: Challenge of the Amazons makes co-op fun again.

Find Wonder Woman: Challenge of the Amazons at Amazon, Target, and other retailers.

Funkoverse Board Games Are the Perfect Light Strategy Games for Families

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I never paid much attention to the odd, square-headed figurines known as Funko, despite their incredible popularity and breadth of licenses. They couldn’t be scanned into their own video game series like Skylanders, nor unlock various Nintendo features as with Amiibo. Plop them into a series of tactical strategy board games, however, and you have my attention.

With intuitive rules, multiple game modes, and asymmetrical figures, the Funkoverse Strategy Games are a refreshing blend of family-friendly content with satisfying tactical gameplay.

The Funkoverse games originally released last fall in four-figure base sets ($39.99, up to four players) as well as smaller two-figure “expandalone” sets ($24.99, two players) using smaller figures with popular, kid-friendly licenses like Batman and Harry Potter.

The second wave of Funkoverse games are releasing in March, including four-figure and two-figure sets from Jurassic Park, two expandalone sets from the Golden Girls, and the first character-only expansion in Aggretsuko, the rage-prone anime cat from the Netflix series. Future sets releasing this summer include Back to the Future and Wonder Woman.

Each box includes a complete game, containing dice, tokens, and a double-sided game board to wage miniature tactical warfare. However, Funko Games and developer Prospero Hall (Disney Villainous) smartly recognized the mix-and-match quality of the Funko universe, and designed the Funkoverse games to be fully compatible with one another. It’s easy to field a dream team of whichever Funkoverse heroes and villains you like. Hermione, Bat Girl, and Rose from Golden Girls can team up against Harley Quinn, Dr. Ian Malcolm, and Rick Sanchez from Rick and Morty.

Two players (or two teams) begin by choosing one of the sides on the grid-based game board, and field a team of either two or three figures each. Each base game and expandalone set feature additional basic figures such as “Police Officer” (represented by small discs) to help pad out teams before you invariably buy more sets and figures.

Each set comes with four game modes, including capture the flag and territory control, and each figure comes with its own set of special abilities that operate on cooldowns. Players (or teams) take turns activating figures and performing actions such as moving, challenging opponents with dueling dice rolls, assisting allies, or performing special abilities.

Special abilities are thematically tied to each character. Batman has a grappling hook to quickly close the distance to the closest enemy, while the Jurassic Park Raptor can place ambush tokens to pop up in different places around the board. Clever girl.

Special abilities are limited by using tokens (two per character) with a cooldown tracker, with stronger abilities taking more time to recharge. Each Funkoverse figure also has a special ongoing trait. Defeating Joker lets him place a mystery box in his space, which he can later explode using his Bang! ability, while Harley can perform a free challenge attack when standing back up – securing an epic win for my opponent in a close game.

The scenarios play quickly while still leaving plenty of room for interesting tactical decisions. Do I spread my figures out to nab those precious point markers, or stay clumped together to form a defensive phalanx? Do I spend both my actions moving to a critical spot, but leaving myself vulnerable? Should I use Batman’s stronger special attack now, knowing it leaves me unable to use Relentless next turn if he fails and gets knocked down? Strategic depth comes from learning when to use which characters and how best to manage the limited ability tokens.

I’m delighted by how impressive the Funkoverse strategy games look and play. The figures are smaller than standard Funko in order to properly fit in the tactical grid, but look fantastic. The Funkoverse figures can also carry tiny weapons and tools that add their own special abilities, like Harley’s signature Mallet.

With a recommended age of 10+, younger kids will need some assistance with advanced tactics – or you could play without special abilities and ease them into the world of tactical strategy. The Funkoverse games are part of a rare breed of tabletop games that are fun with both kids and adults, making it a huge win for family game night.

Find Funkoverse Strategy games at Target, Amazon, and hobby game stores.

Dragon Quest Your Story Review

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Available On: Netflix (English dubbed and English subtitles)

I’m a latecomer to the Dragon Quest series, having played through and enjoyed Dragon Quest 9 and 11, and bits of 7 and 8 via the semi-recent 3DS remasters. But I’m completely unfamiliar with Dragon Quest 5: Hand of the Heavenly Bride (1992), from which the new feature-length animated film Dragon Quest Your Story is based on.

Turning a 40+ hour RPG into a 100 minute film is a daunting task, beginning with the well-known stigma of adapting any video game onto the big (or small) screen, yet Dragon Quest Your Story distills all the game’s major events and fun characters into a film that should please fans and newcomers alike.

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Kunai Review

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Available On: PC (Steam), Switch

Shovel Knight was one of the most popular and well-received indie games of the last several years, lovingly ripping off NES-era pixels and gameplay.

With fun abilities, excellent level designs, and a charming art style, I’m declaring Kunai the Shovel Knight of 2020, though Kunai shoulders the much more expansive (and oft-overused) genre of metroidvania, and not without some significant growing pains. Read More

8 Bit Attack Review

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Publisher: Petersen Games
Age: 10+
Players: 2-5
Game Length: 60-90 minutes
MSRP: $29.99

Cooperative dungeon crawling is one of my favorite digital past-times, and the same is true for tabletop gaming. In Petersen Games’ 8 Bit Attack, the pixelated dungeon has been distilled into a series of boss battles against aliens and demons, culminating in a gigantic showdown with Cthulhu himself.

The character and monster variety create lots of different situations, though the dice-chucking gameplay wears out its welcome long before it’s over.

Select Your Fighter

Before delving into the pixelated battles, players choose their character from an impressively diverse roster of cyborgs, elves, fish-ladies, suit-wearing ghostbusters, and drunken demonologists. A total of 20 heroes are available, each with their own character sheet, abilities, and future upgrades.

This is not a game where you can randomly deal out characters and waltz into a battle, however. The champions and minions you face will punish any team that hasn’t been carefully planned and balanced, including defensive tanks and supportive healers and buffers.

There are four waves of battles before taking on final boss Cthulhu, whose massive armor, damage, and stunning capabilities require the team to level up substantially before even having a chance at facing old squidface.

Players have to collectively decide what Assault level they want to face on each wave, from 1 to 7. A level 1 Assault will result in only three enemies, a champion and two minions, but there’s a big difference between splitting those three enemies up between three or four players than with two. Defeating level 1 only results in a single precious medal for the entire team, which can be used to upgrade heroes with life-saving armor, or gain new abilities.

Heroes are pressured to tackle the hardest possible assault level they can muster to maximize their medal gains, leading to long, drawn-out battles against half a dozen enemies, each of which can activate buffs and debuffs. I would have preferred level waves that gradually progress in difficulty (you know, like an 8-bit video game), and that each wave properly scaled for the number of players.

Boss Rush

The gameplay boils down to rolling a pair of dice to attack with either Slow or Fast hits, and using your limited energy to activate character-specific abilities. Even the lowliest minion often has a greater damage output than most un-leveled heroes – and enemies don’t have to roll dice. Due to the awful armor system, it’s not uncommon for a player to roll dice and not be able to do much of anything on their turn once they run out of energy, while enemies continue to mete out the pain.

Depending on the number of players and Assault levels, it can easily take two hours just to get to Cthulhu. Most champions have around 30 hit points with minions hovering around 10 hp each. By comparison, Cthulhu has 25 hit points PER PERSON, meaning 100 HP in a four player game! Even if you have a solid strategy that’s gotten your team this far, you’re still left at the whims of the dice, while Cthulhu gleefully stuns a player every single turn for the ridiculous amount of time you have to battle him. Elder god indeed.

Stellar components could have elevated the frustrating experience, but 8 Bit Attack suffers from the opposite problem. The cheap components remain a hassle throughout, from constantly shuffling heart damage tokens around to the annoying buff and debuff cards and timer tokens, turning the battlefield into a chaotic mess within the first few minutes.

The Rating

The recommended age range for 8 Bit Attack is 10+. It’s easy to teach, with tactics and synergy between heroes unfolding through experience.

The Takeaway

I can appreciate a challenging co-op game, and I love the rule-of-cool approach to throwing in demons, aliens, and cosmic horror. But 8 Bit Attack quickly became a slog in every game I played. Battles took way too long for too little strategy, and the difficulty ramps up to a ridiculous degree. Old video games were often frustrating, and I didn’t need to experience that all over again in 8 Bit Attack.

Find 8 Bit Attack at Petersen Games Website.

The Tooth Fairy Game Review

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Publisher: Larva Games
Age: 6+
Players: 2-5
Game Length: 15-30  minutes
MSRP: $29.99

Even hardcore “gamer’s game” tabletop publishers like Petersen Games see the value in exploring the lucrative market of kid-friendly games. The Tooth Fairy Game is their first release under their new Larva Games imprint. It packs four different kid-focused games into one box, along with over 100 colorful plastic teeth.

The teeth and bag components are delightful, and the four games increase in complexity to allow for a wider range of age and skill, though we found them all underwhelming.

The Tooth Hurts

The first game, That’s My Tooth, simply asks each player to pull teeth from their bag in the hopes of getting five of their color first. There’s zero strategy (like the card game War) but easy to play with much younger kids. Pulling Teeth is almost the same game but with multiple bags to choose from, and a die roll for the number. These games provide the barest of introductions to set collection, but younger kids will get a kick out of collecting small plastic teeth.

Lie Through Your Teeth is when things get a bit more interesting. It’s basically Liar’s Dice but using numbers and colors of teeth. Players start with a random assortment of teeth in their bag, then bluff on how many and what kind of teeth everyone has collectively.

Unlike Liar’s Dice, winners gain teeth when they win (rather than losers losing dice), giving the winners of each round more and more information. This makes it harder for other players to catch up and can quickly become frustrating. Bluffing is a hard enough concept for children to grasp without piling on the challenge of a runaway leader.

Finally there’s Treasure Teeth, which is a secret bidding game using teeth as currency. A roll of a dice determines the max bid, up to double the roll. Everyone divides their teeth into two hands in the hope of getting their biggest bid randomly selected in a winner-take-all. There’s a bit of strategy with how much to bid, and the risk and reward in dividing the teeth.

Treasure Teeth is a noble attempt to simplify poker-style treasure pots and antes into a game for younger kids, but, like the Liar’s Dice-inspired Treasure Teeth, is also not a genre that lends itself to being kid-friendly in the first place.

The Rating

The Tooth Fairy Game has an age recommendation of 6+. The four included games gradually scale in complexity, allowing for even younger kids to play the easier games, which amount to little more than pulling colorful teeth from bags.

The Takeaway

While I love the the huge amount of colorful teeth and cloth bags, none of the four games do anything meaningful with the theme. The teeth could just as easily be anything else, like buttons, cubes, or coins.

Including four games of increasing complexity is a brilliant method of producing a kids game, allowing one game box to grow along with the kids. But introducing two very kid-unfriendly genres, bluffing and betting, results in dissatisfying half-measures.

Find The Tooth Fairy Game at Petersen Games Website.