Friday, April 12, 2013

One Year Later: Three Mini-Reviews

Last spring, I had the privilege of attending Alan Moon’s Gathering of Friends for the first time in 10 years. (Yes, that’s a long interval – the first Gathering I got to attend was in 2002 and the newfangled Puerto Rico was just off the boat & all the rage.) I got to play a lot of games (71 different games, some multiple times) and had a wonderful week.

Well, I’m getting ready to head out for the Gathering again this year – a thankfully much shorter interval – and that got me thinking about some games that I’d played for the first time a year ago… and wondering how much my opinion on them had changed. So, what follows are three mini-reviews of games that I left the Gathering feeling quite positive about…


review copy provided by the publisher
Extremely Short Summary:

What we have here is your standard “giant robot armies skirmishing on the surface of a valuable but forbidding planet” scenario – filtered through a fog-of-war command system designed by Richard Borg that is a cousin to the Command & Colors system.

Thumbs Up:
  • very nice minis
  • options for play with 2, 3 or 4 players – all of which work well
  • variety of scenarios (with different objectives)
Thumbs Down:
  • the rules could use a polish (though I appreciate the willingness of Toy Vault to include an errata page when the game was published)
  • as in almost all multi-scenario battle games, the introductory/teaching scenarios do a lousy job of showing off how the good the system can be when it’s firing on all cylinders
The Verdict (2012):

When I played Abaddon on a pre-production copy last year (4 times in a week!), I was delighted by the awesome miniatures and the fast & furious game play. I understood why some gamers didn’t like it – it is more chaotic due to the use of both dice & cards for command than any of Richard Borg’s C&C games. At the same time, I could see it really appealing to my elementary age boys.
Two other observations from a year ago:
  • Mike Gray (from Hasbro) passed by the table while we were playing & remarked that Richard had shown him this game as a prototype a number of years ago.
  • I was given the opportunity to play one of the first “web” scenarios – and both the reorientation of the board & the interesting choices that both players are forced to make from the beginning gave me great hope for Abaddon.
The Verdict (2013):

With 15 plays under my belt now, I continue to enjoy Abaddon. My gut feeling that it would be enjoyed by my 11 year old & 7 year old was spot on.

We’ve reached a point in playing where we feel (particularly with two players) that the game tends to run a bit short… and we’re toying with adding 5-10 points to the victory point total required to win those scenarios. (There are two extra official scenarios, btw – available at

I’ve come to believe that some of the lackluster reviews of the game were due to gamers wanting Richard Borg to create “C&C: Robots” rather than enjoying the game that was in the box. In fact, combined with Mike Gray’s comment, I see some commonalities with another classic “old school” Borg game – the excellent (if dated) Mutant Chronicles: Siege of the Citadel.

EscapeEscape: The Curse of the Temple

Extremely Short Summary:

A cooperative real-time dice-rolling expedition into a cursed temple… with a soundtrack!

Thumbs Up:
  • extremely involving game (it’s the real-time adrenaline rush)
  • seems to scale well with varying numbers of players
  • the first expansion (Curses) is already in the box
  • beautiful components
Thumbs Down:
  • the game must be played somewhere with a decent sound system (due to the cues you need to hear from the CD)
  • as with all real-time dice rolling games, there is great potential for inadvertent cheating
The Verdict (2012):

My two plays of Escape at the Gathering (also on a pre-production copy) were a lot of fun… and I watched a couple of other games. I spent half of one of my games with my hand glued to my head and my mouth shut (due to a pair of curses) – which actually made the game all the more exciting!
Interestingly, though, I walked away from the experience with some really big question marks about replay value. It was a frenetic & fun 10 minute experience – but how many times would I find myself willing to play?

The Verdict (2013):

Well, the answer is pretty straightforward – I’ve only played Escape one more time in the year since.
That doesn’t make it a bad game – everything certainly “works” in game terms & it gives a consistent adrenaline-fueled & noisy experience. The components are quite nice and the iconography is clear & useful.

But I do think that Escape will quickly become a “once a year” staple… or a game that’s simply brought out with a new group of friends. (Though there may be some limits on that – the speed dice rolling/recognition thing is not for everyone.) That makes it a game I’m perfectly willing to play but not willing to plop down my limited game-buying cash to own


Extremely Short Summary:

Michael Schacht re-purposes the “book” mechanic from his game Valdora for use in a clever pick-up-and-deliver game about exploring Africa.

Thumbs Up:
  • the “book” mechanic both looks cool and adds a slight but important memory element to the game
  • like many Michael Schacht designs, there are opportunities to cascade actions into each other that give you a feeling of accomplishment – even if you don’t win the game
  • the production & components are lovely
Thumbs Down:
  • there’s a sameness that develops from game to game – similar tactical & strategic choices
The Verdict (2012):

I played Africana (with a freshly released copy) three times at the Gathering. My first play was your classic “enjoying the discovery of the first time” experience – which led to the equally enjoyable “now that I know what I am doing” second play.

But the third play began to feel an awfully lot like the first two plays… and I walked away questioning if it would hold my interest.

The Verdict (2013):

Subsequently, Michael Schacht put a PBEM version of it online – and I played exactly one more time. Sadly, my Gathering impression was correct – while I like the game and enjoy the chances to make crafty moves & combinations of actions, it doesn’t feel like there is a great variety of storylines from play to play.

Like Escape, this doesn’t make Africana a bad game. It just makes it one that I enjoy but don’t have to own.

This article originally appeared on the Opinionated Gamers blog.

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