Jaws Board Game Review

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Publisher: Ravensburger
Age: 12+
Players: 2-4
Game Length: 60 minutes
MSRP: $29.99

Brody: I used to hate the water…

Hooper: I can’t imagine why.

Building upon the success of last year’s Jurassic Park Danger board game, Ravensburger returns with another movie license in the Jaws board game (available exclusively at Target). Released in 1975, Jaws is often considered the original summer blockbuster, as a trio of men on the vacation destination of Amity Island try to keep a man-eating shark from, well, man-eating, first by trying to close the beaches, then by getting on a boat and hunting the shark themselves.

The Jaws game brilliantly captures both halves of the film in a unique two act structure, culminating in an exciting finale where the shark player rips apart a sinking boat while other players desperately try to fend it off.

A Bigger Boat

As in Jurassic Park Danger, players are divided up into two teams, the humans and the shark. The three human characters of Brody, Hooper, and Quint are always present, making the 2 and 3-player game a little more challenging for the human player but also maintaining a proper balance when playing with fewer than four.

In act one the human team controls the three characters on Amity Island. Each turn they have a set number of actions with which to rescue swimmers (spawned from event cards drawn each round), gather motion sensing barrels, close beaches, and try to locate the shark. The shark player, meanwhile uses a hidden notepad to track their movement and eating habits.

Act one results in an excellent game of cat and mouse as the humans try to locate the shark player using their various abilities, like Brody’s binoculars and Hooper’s fish finder, while minimizing losses.

The first act ends when the shark has eaten nine swimmers, or if Quint manages to tag the shark with two of his barrels. Depending on how many swimmers the shark ate, act two swings in favor of either the shark (more ability cards) or the humans (more gear cards). The board is flipped and boat tiles are added to represent Quint’s boat from the film, the Orca.

If act one is a subtle detective game with some light strategy, act two is a full-on tactical strategy warfare with hit points and dice rolls. The shark resurfaces by choosing from several different Resurface cards, and the humans have to predict where it’ll appear, targeting the space with spears, flares, and pistols. The shark player rips apart chunks of the boat, flipping tiles or eliminating them entirely, and possibly dumping humans into the water where it can start whittling down their hit points.

I’ve played both extremes of act one, with the shark player eating the maximum number of swimmers (and thus gaining the biggest hand advantage going into act two) and the humans tagging the shark almost immediately, with the opposite swing in momentum. However, the card advantage from act one doesn’t grant an automatic win. In both instances the final turn of act two came down to a nail-biting thriller, with a 1 hit point shark nimbly trying to avoid becoming sushi while the surviving humans cling to the last shreds of a sinking boat.

We ran into a few rules questions when it came to act two’s constantly changing battlefield and adjacency conundrums. And it’s a bummer that the movie license doesn’t appear to include the actors’ likenesses, but that doesn’t take away from the fantastic gameplay.

The Rating

The Jaws Board Game has an age recommendation of 12+. Both acts require tactical planning and strategy, and in the case of the human players, coordination of their actions and attacks. The shark player needs to keep careful, honest track of what they do each round throughout act one.

The subject matter is another factor, as the shark player is eating people in act one, and both sides are trying to kill one another in act two. Humorously the original film is rated PG, but would garner at least a strong PG-13 rating (which wasn’t invented until 1984) if not an R rating today.

The Takeaway

I was very impressed to find the solution to whether or not to adapt a Jaws game from the ship or the island was “Why not both?” The two act gameplay structure creates a memorable mini campaign as both sides earn their powers from how well they handle act one. Alternatively you can play each act as a separate game mode if you’re short on time. Both sides play completely differently and the action is fun and tense throughout both acts. Even more than Jurassic Park Danger, the Jaws board game is a triumphant of great game design and an excellent use of the source material.

invasion of the cow snatchers

Invasion of the Cow Snatchers Review

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Publisher: Thinkfun
Age: 6+
Players: 1
Game Length: Varies
MSRP: $29.99

Thinkfun’s new magnetic cow-grabbing puzzle game Invasion of the Cow Snatchers adapts a common puzzle design into a modular, interactive 3D board, thanks to a little magnet-magic. A deck of 60 puzzle challenges with five difficulty levels ensures a hefty amount of replayability. The components and gameplay are simple enough for kids to enjoy, and engaging enough for teens and adults.

Beam Me Up

As a visiting UFO armed with a magnet, the player’s job is to abduct magnetized cow discs from a 3D farm field littered with obstacles, such as silos, hay bales, and barn doors. The puzzle is set up according to the challenge card, then a clear plastic cover placed on top, allowing the UFO to fly over and capture the cows one by one.

Four different colored fence pieces come in specific sizes, allowing only a certain number of cows to pass over once abducted. Once magnetized, the cows stick to the underside of the UFO, making it increasingly difficult to maneuver around the board. Puzzles are set up to allow only one or two possible solutions. The backside of the card reveals the exact movement and order of abductions that players need to make in order to catch ’em all and complete the puzzle.

It’s a simple puzzle system brought to life with the tactile quality of the plastic pieces and board. My seven year old was delighted to pick up cows, and equally flummoxed when she realized she was trapped behind fences that were suddenly too high. Thankfully puzzles are easy to reset. With a few minor hints and tips (“You don’t have to pick up this cow first; how can you reach that one over there?”) she was able to blaze through all 10 easy challenges and begin making her way through the medium level.

As a single-player series of puzzles, Invasion of the Cow Snatchers isn’t a typical competitive game, yet I witnessed a group of kids excitedly deduce how to approach each puzzle, and set up the next layout for one another.

The deck of challenge cards includes 60 total puzzle layouts, including Easy, Medium, Hard, Super Hard, and Genius. Genius actually features a few extra rules involving dropping off cows at certain drop-off points, creating some advanced brain teasers that teens and adults can enjoy.

The only snag we ran into was in one of the fence heights. The green barrier (crop field) is supposed to allow for one, and only one cow disc to pass overhead. Unfortunately we constantly struggled to get one cow across. Not sure if it was a defect with my particular copy or if the size of the fence is slightly off but it was enough to cause some frustration when playing, even with adults.

invasion of the cow snatchers

The Rating

Invasion of the Cow Snatchers has a suggested minimum age of six. Younger kids would be prone to quick frustration and may lack the dexterity of operating the UFO. Puzzles come in five different difficulties, allowing for multiple age ranges and skill levels.

The Takeaway

Using only a handful of plastic pieces, a modular 3D board, and a deck of cards, Invasion of the Cow Snatchers provides an impressive array of puzzle designs. The pick up and deliver gameplay is simple but effective and multiple difficulty levels allow for proper scaling as kids master each puzzle layout. A lovely puzzle game for kids and families.

oathbreaker

Game of Thrones: Oathbreaker Review

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Publisher: Dire Wolf Digital
Age: 14+
Players: 5-8
Game Length: 30-45 minutes
MSRP: $35

When you play the game of thrones you win or you die, but when you play Game of Thrones: Oathbreaker, everyone has a great time. Game of Thrones: Oathbreaker is a social deduction and bluffing game for large groups of five to eight players that builds upon the successful game mechanics of other social card games. The Game of Thrones theme fits perfectly as players hide their loyalties, accuse their neighbors, and ultimately serve their own personal ambitions.

Chaos is a Ladder

In Oathbreaker one player plays as the king (or queen) of the realm, while the rest are nobles vying for control. Nobles are secretly dealt cards to determine if they are a loyalist or conspirator. Loyalists need order to be higher on the score track while conspirators are all about sowing chaos. In addition, each player will have a secret personal ambition card, dictating a certain amount of honor, power, or wealth they need to accumulate to win the titular game of thrones.

Every other round nobles play cards face down to complete randomly drawn missions. They’ll need to match the correct symbols on the mission card if they want the mission to succeed and raise Order. Or they could secretly play sabotage cards to tank the mission, ensuring the rise of chaos. Conspirators will need to cleverly hide their motives, as the king player then bestows decree cards on the nobles. Favors offer boons and bonuses while Suspicions do just the opposite. This creates an interesting incentive to keep motives and actions hidden throughout the game as players compete for the king’s favor.

The hidden traitor mechanic has been used in many modern social card games from Ultimate Werewolf to The Resistance. Having a dedicated king player sets Oathbreaker apart, creating a uniquely asymmetrical experience. The king, who is always obviously on Team Loyalist, needs to pay careful attention to how their fellow players are using their character powers and where they play their cards. It’s a completely different experience compared to playing as one of the nobles.

oathbreaker

The components are impressive and high-quality, particularly the fold out score board depicting the map of Westeros and the nice chunky sigil coins for each house. The character player boards and mission cards are modeled directly after the HBO series. Familiar faces like Jon Snow, Melisandre, and Cersei Lannister each have their own unique ability that often directly involves other nobles, like Margaery Tyrell’s Wedding Pact allowing her and another noble to draw two cards.

The mission cards depict major and minor scenes from the TV series, such as the fight between The Red Viper and The Mountain, Arya’s assassin training, and the Battle of Blackwater Bay. A total of 33 over-sized mission cards ensures a nice amount of replayability in each game.

The only real complaint about Oathbreaker is the hefty player requirement. Since one player always needs to play as the king, Oathbreaker only works with higher player counts of at least five players (with eight players requiring two king players). In all but six player games a hidden Agent mechanic is used to even the playing field between conspirators and loyalists, and can often serve as an anticlimactic ending that pushes one side or the other to victory.

The Rating

Oathbreaker has a recommended age of 14+. Social deduction games can be difficult to grasp for kids and tweens. Players need to be comfortable and somewhat proficient in lying, deflection, and deception. And while the game itself nor the scenes depicted are objectionable, the Game of Thrones HBO series has a very strong TV-MA rating.

The Takeaway

Party games are often light on strategy in order to engage more players, but Oathbreaker expertly threads the needle between complex strategy and deception and hilarious hi-jinks. Even non-Game of Thrones fans could appreciate the simple but effective gameplay. Oathbreaker could very well replace many of the biggest social intrigue games on your game shelf and should be the first game you pull out for larger gatherings on game night.

wicked to the core

Disney Villainous: Wicked to the Core Review

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Publisher: Ravensburger
Age: 10+
Players: 2-3
Game Length: 40-60 minutes
MSRP: $24.99

Disney Villainous (now referred to as Disney Villainous: The Worst Takes All) released last year as a devilishly clever card game where players take on the role of infamous Disney Villains, like Ursula and Maleficent. Its asymmetrical gameplay, intuitive action system, and classic Disney artwork made it one of our favorite tabletop games of last year.

This month Ravensburger released Disney Villainous: Wicked to the Core, a stand-alone expansion that adds three new Disney Villains: Hades, Dr. Facilier (Shadow Man), and the Evil Queen. The three can be played against each other for up to three players, or mixed in with the The Worst Takes All to add even more sinister machinations.

Mirror, Mirror

Each of the three new villains are given the same detailed treatment as the base game, with a folding player board for locations based on their movies, a deck of villain cards and hero cards, a molded player token, and some power tokens. Each villain is also given their own little paper guide to help explain how they achieve their unique player goals, whether it’s defeating Snow White or Ruling New Orleans. The components are just as fantastic as before, though all three villain tokens look a bit too similar to each other, each a slightly differently shaped and colored obelisk.

Hades is the most straight-forward of the bunch. As the god of the Underworld with his eyes set on Olympus, his goal is to move four of his unique Titan allies from one side of his board to the other. Titans have special powers but are quite expensive, and using them to defeat heroes will greatly slow down his progress – unless you can play a Hydra or Mortality Potion first. Hades’ Fate deck feels especially powerful and cruel, however, with strong heroes who trap or teleport Titans backwards.

wicked to the core

Dr. Facilier and the Evil Queen are much more complex than the heroes from The Worst Takes All. Dr. Facilier, better known as the Shadow Man from The Princess and the Frog, has a unique sidebar called the Fortune Deck. His goal is to control the Talisman, play The Cards Will Tell, and draw the Rule New Orleans card out of his Fortune Deck. It takes a lot of careful set up to pull off.

Meanwhile your opponent can use heroes to steal the talisman and stuff your Fortune Deck full of unwanted cards, to make drawing the one you need all the trickier. Being able to fan out the cards and let players draw the winner is a fun twist, and a wonderful translation of his tarot cards from the movie.

The Evil Queen from Snow White is one of the most classic Disney Villains of all time. In Wicked to the Core she functions a bit like Ursula in that she can’t directly attack heroes. Her prowess isn’t based on raw strength or power, but manipulation. Instead she needs to brew poison by converting poison tokens into power using a special unique action at her laboratory, while playing ingredient cards to unlock the dwarf’s cottage and summon Snow White herself.

The Evil Queen has to use poison along with the Take a Bite cards to defeat pesky heroes, such as the dwarfs who add to Snow White’s strength. It’s unfortunate that we didn’t get actual poison tokens; it’s up to the Evil Queen player to keep up with both identical but separate piles of tokens.

wicked to the core

The Rating

Disney Villainous: Wicked to the Core has a recommended age of 10+. Like The Worst Takes All, it’s aimed at an older crowd of animated Disney lovers, as it requires careful planning and hand management – and every villain plays differently. Dr. Facilier and Evil Queen are both more complex than any villain from the base game, making the expansion a better option for those who already know how to play, and are looking for more villains.

The Takeaway

Wicked to the Core benefits from the solid components and gameplay of Villainous, as well as the deep roster of fantastically themed villains from the Disney animated universe. All three villains play differently than the original six, and we appreciated that Wicked to the Core draws from multiple eras of Disney animation.  We recommend getting the base game first as these new villains are a bit more advanced, but no less enjoyable, and should make the villainous competition that much fiercer.

Find Disney Villainous: Wicked to the Core at Target.

card games

The Fox in the Forest and Sundae Split: Two Light Card Games for Families

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The Fox in the Forest and Sundae Split are two small box card games from Foxtrot Games and Renegade Game Studios. Both games retail for around $15 and make for engaging alternatives to breaking out that old deck of Uno cards.

Sundae Split

Sundae Split is for 2-5 players with a suggested age of 10+, though my seven year old was able to quickly grasp the concept with a little help. Sundae Split is a set collection game where each player is trying to make the best ice cream sundae, which is a very easy sell for kids.

Cards appear as ice cream flavors, sprinkles, whipped cream, , bananas, cherries, or the dreaded vegetables. Collecting certain cards will affect your score. Ice cream cards score the points listed on the card, as well as a bonus for each set of three flavors. Sprinkles and whipped cream cards score five points for every pair, while bananas will score a beefy 10 points, but only to whomever has the most bananas. Vegetables, however, score minus points if they find their way into your sundae.

 

card games

How do you accidentally put broccoli in your ice cream? Every round one player plays the splitter. The splitter draws and creates multiple piles of cards, one for each player, with the number of cards scaling for the number of players. Players then select a pile of cards to add to their sundae, with the splitter choosing last. The catch is that some of these cards can be face down.

Most of the light strategy involves fun little mind games with your fellow players. Do you hide a banana underneath some undesirable celery? Do you leave an entire pile facedown to tempt someone with a mystery draw? The splitter rotates each round giving every player a chance to be deliciously devious.

With a little set up time Sundae Split scales well for multiple players, though if you only have two, I would highly recommend The Fox in the Forest.

The Fox in the Forest

The Fox in the Forest is a trick-taking card game for two players. It’s basically a more advanced version of the classic game of War, but with a lot more interesting strategy rather than just flipping cards to see who wins each set.

The card game includes 11 cards in each of the three suits. Each odd-numbered card has a special ability. The seven card is a treasure, and it’s worth an extra point to whoever wins it, the witch can act as a wild card, while the woodcutter lets you draw a card from the deck.

card games

What makes The Fox in the Forest especially interesting is that winning the most amount of tricks will paint you as a greedy villain, and awards no points. Instead your goal each game is to find the perfect sweet spot – winning 7-9 of the 13 total rounds, to achieve the most points. If your opponent is performing well, you can work on playing lower cards to force them to win even more sets, thereby ensuring your own point advantage. A full match lasts until someone reaches 21 points, which normally takes about three or four games.

The Fox in the Forest also features a fun, classic fairy tale theme, with evil monarchs, mysterious witches, and friendly lumberjacks (or lumberjanes!). The painterly artwork is lovely and evocative, and the box includes cardboard number counters to keep track of points between games.

I would recommend both games if you’re looking for light, easy card games that are a bit more advanced than Uno but still very easy to teach. Sundae Split is great with kids while The Fox in the Forest is perfect for couples.