Planet of the Apes (IDW, 2017)

Date played: November 30, 2019

Gist of the game: In this cooperative game for 1-4 players, you essentially reenact the original Planet of the Apes movie, working your way through the most notable scenes. You’re in a race against fate, which marches steadily ahead through the progression of time. So fate is meta, across the different scenes. You also have to outpace the apes within each scene and reach the finish line before them to advance (ok, you can also eventually advance even if the apes finish first, but you suffer a number of nasty consequences if that’s the case). There are 8 total scenes to work through (3 minor, 4 major, and the final “The Discovery” scene. Each scene involves a number of adventures that you embark on to try to successfully resolve the scene.

Each character plays one aspect of Col. Taylor’s (i.e., Charlton Heston’s) personality: clever, commander, cynical, and defiant. Each facet comes with its own strengths. Players are “defeated” when they accumulate 5 damage tokens (at which point they can still play and contribute, but with more limited capability). When all characters are “defeated,” the players collectively lose and the game ends. Only by successfully completing all scenes, including The Discovery, can players win the game.

Color commentary: Ok. So the rule book was intimidating, and I feel like not everything was adequately explained. For instance, when trying to resolve adventures, you can discard particular card colors, but it’s not clear what doing so gets you. Casually reflecting on it hours later, I have a plausible explanation (discard a single card and use the symbol on that card, usually involving the re-rolling of a single die or adding a die you can use for any purpose), but is that correct? Hard to say. More than anything, it might have been helpful to have a dungeon master or similar manager-type whose task was to keep track of things like advancing the day token (because arriving back at sunrise always results in some unpleasantness, first through mandatory cards that are revealed and also possibly depending on what open adventures there are in the current scene) and helping keep track of each character’s special capabilities and the assistance available through the use of Special cards, etc. It was a lot to keep track of. We realized part way through Scene 4 (“The Hunt”) that we had been doing the sunrise token incorrectly. It’s not clear how much earlier we would have lost, but since we didn’t make it past Scene 4 and it was only the second major scene, I’d say having played correctly from the beginning probably wouldn’t have helped us.

This is the first cooperative game of this type that I’ve played, and losing was an incredibly anticlimactic way to end the game. It’s a strange letdown when everyone loses and an inanimate object wins. It’s also hard for me to envision a scenario in which it would be possible to win. The adventures involve dice accomplishments that are often much closer to 10/90 than 50/50 propositions and again, had we been playing correctly from the beginning, we would have lost even sooner. Perhaps it would be different with four players (or at least four characters, perhaps with each player responsible for more than one character) to absorb some damage more? M was defeated on damage tokens, but we lost in the end by me simultaneously being defeated and the Statue of Liberty standee crossing the finish line. Also, those damn, dirty apes always start ahead of you on the track during an adventure, providing another disadvantage. And to add additional insult to all those injuries, when the Taylor standee reaches particular rungs on the track, characters are dealt more damage and/or the ape and/or the Statue of Liberty standees advance further, too. I understand that the apes definitely had the advantage in the movie, but I want to know that if I played this game something shy of an infinite number of times we’d be likely to win at least once.

M wants me to stress how spectacular (his literal word choice) the artwork is. I’m doing so, but I also want to make clear that it could have been stick figure apes and we still would have purchased it, because M is bonkers about the original Planet of the Apes movie. Also, the game comes with plastic miniatures that serve no purpose other than to bring joy. Maybe they’re supposed to distract you from the game being actually impossible to win?

M’s thoughts: There’s an awful lot going on, to the point that I can’t even really envision a strategy. There’s probably something to managing your skill tokens and when to heal damage, but on the whole, my impression is that it is very complicated for a game that doesn’t really involve a ton of skill and is mostly reliant on luck. Also, I felt very conflicted about not being on the side of the apes. I saw the film as a young child and vowed that, if and when the time comes, I would betray humanity.

King of Tokyo (iello, 2015)

Date played: November 28, 2019

Gist of the game: You’re a monster trying to gain and maintain dominance over Tokyo. Battle with other monsters to maintain your position. The first player to accumulate 20 victory points wins. Fight and gain victory points by rolling 6 dice. Players also receive 1 victory point for taking Tokyo and 2 points for each turn you begin in Tokyo. The catch is that you can’t use dice rolls to undo combat damage in the city, so it may become necessary to cede the city to your attacker. In 2-4 player games, only one player will ever occupy Tokyo, but another city location becomes available for 5-6 player games. Combat damage affects players where you are not (i.e., if you are in Tokyo, you deal combat damage to monsters outside Tokyo and vice versa).

On your turn, roll 6 dice with up to 2 re-rolls. Resolve the dice to gain victory points (triples only), gain energy, deal combat damage, or heal. You can also purchase cards, using energy tokens, that offer specific rewards (either temporary or permanent).

Color commentaryM claimed after we sat stupefied following the first game at how easily we grasped the mechanics that he thought this was a children’s game. To quote my notes, “I’m not as convinced, though maybe.” But indeed, the box indicates the game is for ages 8+ and it won Golden Geek Awards for Best Children’s Game and Best Family Game. That said, the easy mechanics don’t diminish game play, and make it a breezier play than a lot of other games. It also has considerable replay. 6 monsters come included in the original game, but you have more than a dozen options once all the expansions are taken into consideration. Moreover, the expansions include “Evolution” cards, which add additional dynamics that keep the game feeling fresh and unique. However, except for an initial selection from 2 Evolution cards at the beginning of the game, the dice didn’t present any other opportunities to add to my evolutionary bounty. The same was generally true for the regular cards available to purchase with energy tokens. I was also too focused on trying to smote M or rack up victory points of my own to focus on acquiring energy tokens as currency.

Probably my biggest complaint about the game is that the original packaging doesn’t take into consideration at all the additional monster standees, monster boards, and cards that the expansions offer, so can’t handle even a small expansion. I’ve ordered inserts from The Broken Token that seem like they’ll better manage the surfeit of accouterments. I’m hopeful, because looking at the box is giving me a little bit of anxiety, and I’m hesitant to crack open King of New York until I know its expansions can be managed.

M started getting a little cranky about the fickle nature of lady luck in the last game, which was essentially a battle of attrition. There were repeated changes in possession of Tokyo, and M clawed his way back from the brink of defeat several times (also refusing to acknowledge that he was also getting lucky dice, though from a defensive, rather than offensive, perspective). Also, we played this game probably more times before writing the blog post than any other, rampaging our way through probably half a dozen games over the course of Thanksgiving day and Black Friday. We even broke out some of the expansions, which we feel a compulsion to collect even before playing the game. I’m excited to work more with the evolution cards, which are really where the monsters become differentiable from one other, since otherwise they’re essentially featureless figures that add nothing to the game besides something neat to look at. Without the evolution cards, we could just as easily play with Hello Kitty and Homer Simpson figurines.

M’s thoughts: Top of the line graphics. There’s lots of advantage to going first, as there are considerable benefits from being the first to take Tokyo. Maybe it’s different with more than 2 players, and especially 5-6 players, when the 2nd Tokyo location becomes operable. The cards available for purchase seem to be of minimal use (P here: he said this moments before purchasing one that gave him the 3 victory points needed to win). It might be interesting to play the game over a series of rounds and retain your energy points across rounds, thus making it more likely that you would (be able to) purchase cards.

ROBiTs (Quick, Simple, Fun Games, 2017)

Date played: November 10, 2019

Gist of the game: Using separate cards for head, torso, arms, and legs, construct a robot. You score points per body part, and, contingent on assembling a complete robot (in which you can use junk, which has no independent points, but counts for completion), bonuses for having 3 or more parts of the same color. Cards are dealt into an “assembly line,” with one row of 7 cards per player that everyone can pull from (e.g., a 2-player game has two rows, 14 cards total, but both players take full advantage of all available cards). One row starts face-up and subsequent rows get revealed as they replace cards that have been taken. If you’re feeling especially bold, you can also take a card sight unseen.

Color commentary: M, hot shot of the board game convention world, won this game at the 2018 Lexicon board game convention. Did I, who backed Lexicon on Kickstarter, paid for our tickets, and was the sole reason we knew about convention in the first place, win anything? No, I did not. But it’s fine. Really.

This is a super fast game, about 5-10 minutes, depending on how carefully you want to consider all your options each turn. Strategy is light. In general, take the highest-value body parts you can, and the same color when possible. Like a few of our games, we suspect this is actually meant for children, but we were drawn to it by the fun artwork.

M’s thoughts on strategy: Strategy? The strategy is to try to get the same-color-combination bonuses, or to thwart your opponent from getting them. Overall, the artwork was fun, but the game in general seems to be lacking in entertainment value and wasn’t as much fun as I remembered it being. (Petra here: HA! Hoist with your own petard!)

Lost Cities (Kosmos, 2014)

Date played: November 10, 2019

Gist of the game: You’re an explorer, creating routes along 5 different expeditions: tundra (white), underwater (blue), desert (yellow), jungle (green), and volcano (red). You can bet on the success of your expedition by playing wager cards, which makes your triumphs more profitable, but your failures more catastrophic. Any expedition you start incurs a cost of 20 points, so the cards you play (numbered 2-10 and played sequentially) need to at least cover the cost of the expedition. On a turn, you play a card or discard a card, and then draw a card, either from an expedition’s discard pile or the draw pile. The game is played over three rounds, but you could easily play more or fewer depending on your time availability and inclination. Each round takes about 10 minutes, so a full game is about 30 minutes.

Color commentary: This game is an oldie but nearly-forgotten goody; it’s one of the first game M and I played, back in our Lansing days, when all we had for a playing platform was our bed (I mean, we had a table, but it was a one-bedroom apartment and it was serving other purposes). The wager cards certainly create an interesting dynamic, and make possible the rare scenario in gaming where you can win with a negative number of points. The rules don’t expressly forbid this, so we play with deck checks: information about the number of remaining cards in the draw pile that’s made available to everyone. And by everyone I mean both players, as it is a 2-person only game. Deck checks help you make informed decisions about when you should start dumping cards you already have versus holding out for a lower-value card to build from. Also, as M would probably point out, it helps to adequately explain how scoring works before the game starts, as the scoring process ((sum of expedition points – 20 points for expedition costs) * wager multiplier)=total points) materially affects your strategy and when to settle for a few high-value cards versus trying to build as complete a series of cards as possible with the possibility of a 20-point bonus if you accumulate 8 cards on any expedition (this bonus is added after the initial calculation explained above). The artwork is cool, and the game is enjoyable, but you could also play a slightly modified version with a regular deck of cards (you could use face cards as ascending wagers, and then only have 4 expeditions instead of 5). I think there’s also a more board-intensive version of this game, but it costs more and it came out after we had this version. It seems weird to have more than one version of the same game if the Simpsons or Hello Kitty are not involved, so we’ve just stuck with this one.

M’s thoughts on strategy: (after insisting I take his strategy dictation): One key element of this game is trying to keep an air of mystery about what you have in your hand, as it could affect your opponent’s strategy. If they don’t know you have cards they want, they may go on fruitless expeditions, wasting turns and playing cards they might have otherwise not wished to play. (Petra here: if you don’t know your opponent has the 4, 5, and 6 cards for an expedition and you have 3, 7, 9, and 10, you may waste precious turns hoping for 4, 5, and 6.) So the game is largely the tension between not wanting to run out of turns to play your necessary cards and trying not to play them too early, both because you might eventually get lower-value cards that could help you and because you don’t want to tip your hand to your opponent.

OctoDice (Alderac Entertainment Group, 2016)

Date played: October 20, 2019

Gist of the game: You’re a scientist on an underwater research station. Your data-gathering bots have stopped working, and you need to reactivate the bots while continuing your other work. The game is played over 6 rounds, with one turn/round. You take two actions per turn. You roll 6 dice, set aside 2, roll the remaining 4, set aside 2, and then roll the final two dice.  Using combinations of “research” dice (bot, submarine, lab) and “condition” dice (color, number), you take various actions. You also need to accumulate at least two octopods per turn lest you face a 2-point penalty. Each turn, your opponent also gets to take an action using the available dice. There are intermediate scoring rounds after every two turns, with a final scoring round after the sixth turn, including bonuses for the most crystals and fully built labs.  The player with the most points wins.

Color commentary: While a considerable amount of strategy probably lies in the way you use labs, M was the only one who used them, and only in one of the games we played. There’s a lot to keep track of, and balancing setting aside guaranteed actions (one role and one condition) per roll versus the most auspicious-seeming dice of any variety is challenging. There are also bonuses in case you roll a glut of octopods, which is kind of fun, since aside from preventing a penalty, they don’t really earn you any affirmative points. I’ve played this game once with my mom and now once with M. I always set aside discrete actions when I roll, and then decide which two options out of the three available seems best. It’s a fairly quick game, especially once you get the hang of how the different combinations of dice work out, which can take a few turns. Having your opponent be able to take an action during your turn is also an interesting dynamic, as they may have different priorities than you (I mean, obviously they want the most points, too, but may have a different strategy for getting there), which can have longer-term implications as the game goes on.

M’s thoughts on strategy: It’s mid November. I know why we didn’t post this on October 20, because we couldn’t upload photos to Word Press, but honestly. I remember we played. What more do you want from me?