It's been a while since I've done one of these. But I'm back in the saddle, and ready to see what I see!
1. Thunderstone Quest: New Horizons
After the recent delivery of the To the Barricades! pledges, AEG is back with another Thunderstone Quest expansion. Get ready for some new quests! I do, however, plan to exercise some caution with this one. Why? Because I haven't had time to play To the Barricades! yet, and I have no idea whether I want to keep investing in this series. Not gonna lie, I feel a little bit rushed. So while I love deck builders, and I'm interested in the scope of this game world, I am not ready to commit more until I've had a chance to seriously enjoy the previous installments.
2. For What Remains
Regular readers will know that I'm quite the fan of David Thompson's Pavlov's House. His current game from DVG, For What Remains, is currently on Kickstarter. For What Remains is a post-apocalyptic skirmish game for 1–2 players, that comes in three separate installments. You can either follow the story through all three boxes, or choose one . that interests you most. Either way, expect plenty of replayability.
3. Iron Clays & Spades
This isn't a game—just luxury components for all of your games! Iron clays are some pretty sexy poker chips. If you've played the reprint of Brass, then you've probably encountered them. They're definitely a splurge and not a necessary addition to your gameplay, but my goodness they are pretty! I've been thinking about getting some nice coins or other components to use with multiple games, and I think these might be it. You can also get some really nice playing cards, which are useful for a number of purposes.
After his awesome conversation with Athena Ex, I'm once again handing the mic to Albin/Crazed Survivor/Razoupaf, a dedicated solo gamer and BGG aficionado who knows his way around solo games and the people who play them. You can find more of Raz himself at his site, Le Comboteur Fou. This week, I'm publishing his interview with Dejun King, another underappreciated 1PG hero. Take it away, Raz...
Dejun is someone whose generosity has always impressed me. Be it from trading a copy of Coffee Roaster, new, in shrink to send to me just because — something which I'm still yet to repay — or from sending some of his games to new members of the guild, the guy just likes giving and sharing.
He's also responsible for a couple solitaire variants to games he loves, notably Honshū. He won't hesitate to start designing a variant if you start asking him to. And he will pause playtesting his million undergoing designs to do so.
Admit it, you've already fallen under Dejun's spell!
So far, Dejun has done variants for Villages of Valeria, Honshū, Hokkaido, Goodbye, Ghosts!, The Oracle of Delphi and Arboretum.
While he's a little less present nowadays for reasons of his own, Dejun has left a strong impression on many a Guild member, who are avidly awaiting his return.
Raz - Dejun, I have selected you for your generosity towards new guild members, and for the solitaire variants you have designed. Can you tell us a little more about you?
Dejun - Raz! How's it going my friend, nice to be speaking with you again. Fair warning, since this is an internet-based interview I fully intend on making myself sound way more exciting than I actually am for the listeners, is that ok?
R - I'm totally fine with that and the mic is on. Lemme... Okay... Dafuq is wrong with this record... *Scratch scratch* okay the beat is on moffo, you can start, make it good!
D - Awesome! Well where to start... I am a 32 year old engineer from Missouri (astrological sign- Cancer, in case we have any fans out there) whose hobbies include not all but most of the following: Gaming, Music, Art, Eating, Long Car Rides, Adult Beverages, Tree Hugging, Maple Syrup Making, Gordon Ramsey Binging, Heavy Book Lifting, Flowers, Nature, Quilt Collecting, People Watching, Fire Juggling, Dancing, Antiquing, and Metal Detecting.
CONTEST ALERT: The first person to tell me the 6 falsified hobbies I listed of mine will receive a free game, compliments of myself.
R - Can I play too?
D - Dude we talked before this, you are getting the interview, isn't that enough... stop de-railing this thing... sheepsheepsheepWWWWWsheep [Editor's Note: Am mildly concerned, but determined to leave this interview as submitted.]
Moving on, I have a lovely family which consists of myself, my beautiful wife of of 7 years, Taylor, my smarter-than-he-should-be 6-year-old son ,Apollo, and our super-lazy dog, Tuna. I really enjoy meeting new people and am guilty of starting conversations through PMs on the Geek that end up lasting months... those poor souls who feel it's rude to not reply to my messages, I feel sorry for them.
Raz, I am sure you know me better than I know myself by now, did I leave anything out?
R - The freaky parts but those are best kept to ourselves, if you ask me.
D - Right... there are the rails... lets stay on track.
R - Can you tell me more about your variants? How do you pick a game to do a variant for and how do you design the rules ?
D - For me the games I choose to make variants for are the ones that I love to play during game nights but are impossible to play any other time. In order to get my fill of these games I must take it upon myself to either try and find a solo variant on the Geek that fits my personal play style or create something I would enjoy.
As for designing, I always enjoy an objective or competitive driven solitaire game rather than the stand by "Beat your best score". In multiplayer games I am striving to play better than my opponent to win, so this is what I try and re-create in my variants, even though my opponent is a fictitious robot with no face for which to rub in a victory.
Before I start a variant I really try to understand how the game works as a multiplayer game. From there I try figuring out what I can do to mimic "Player Only" decisions and make them as streamlined as I can. Sometimes it works great and the game is very enjoyable, and other times it all falls apart and you feel like you are doing tedious work rather than enjoying a board game, and this is where playtesting a variant over and over and over (I will skip the next 100 "over's" for the listener's sake) really becomes a crucial part you must not ignore.
Could I also just take a minute to--
R - I don't think we have time for that...
D - —thank each and every person--
R - Dejun I have a schedule to--
D - —who has helped me with any form of feedback and playtesting--
R - No seriously dude I really mean it!
D - —for my games and variants over the years.
R - Oh boy I'm so fired!
D - You have all made a huge difference and I appreciate each and every one of you for your help.
R - You mention all of your designs, be it solitaire variants, or actual new games, are ongoing. You've released your variants and have sent game rules to your friend, but you're never satisfied. What would it take for you to consider a ruleset to be finished and ready for publication?
D - I do not think that the design is the issue in your question but rather the creator. I have been this way all my life. I have drawn pictures that I have never hung up for display. I have written songs that only a handful of people have heard. This type of compulsion to never finalize something because I think I can keep making it better leaks through to my solo variants as well. Even though I design simple games/variants that receive positive feedback, I still am always hesitant to commit and say that a product is finished.
R - You love trading. You are not trying to make a profit in it, and you love meeting back people you've traded with to play a game with them. What's your best trading memory?
D - You absolutely right Raz, I am a trader through and through. I often do mildly lopsided trades benefiting the other person for two reasons:
1.) The games I trade no longer get played as they should and I know they are going to someone who will give them the attention they deserve.
2.) When you feel like you are getting a deal you can't help but smile and be happy and I love to make people happy.
As for my most memorable trade story, it would have to be when I traded Terraforming Mars to Derek (Donutz McGoo). I was no longer playing TM like I once was when I first picked it up, and he had expressed interest in a number of games I had so I thought it would make for a good trade opportunity. After discussing the trade we met up and I said goodbye to my games as did he to his and we parted ways.
A couple weeks go by and I saw Derek post an entry to SGOYT (ndlr: the Solitaire Games On Your Table monthly geeklists, for which you can subscribe here) for Terraforming Mars and I was pleased to see that my game was getting to the table an being enjoyed. A few more weeks go by and Derek's entries of Terraforming Mars continue to increase especially after adding the expansion Prelude. The more entries I read of Derek's, the more I found myself saying, "Man, he is making this game look great...... is he selling me on my own game!?" Long story short, it didn't take long until I was back at the game store making a purchase for something a few months earlier I was glad to get rid of. I still laugh about this today.
R - You've fallen deep into the Keyforge trap, and although I know you enjoy crushing your opponent and then digging their grave with their own corpses, I'm surprised you still haven't figured a solo variant for the game. I guess my next question is: when can we expect such a variant?
D - Oh man we get to talk about Keyforge!!! Ok, super pumped about this... so there is no solo variant on the horizon although I did try and contact Richard Garfield and FFG to ask if there would ever be an introduction of "Training Decks". House-specific products you could purchase that you could pit your decks against at your leisure (something along the lines of what Magic: The Gathering did around the Theros block (nldr: Magic: the Gathering had soloable challenge decks during the Theros block which never really took off but were a much welcome addition for players who couldn't regularly meet opponents, or simply wanted a lighthearted cooperative variant. There were 3 of them, one against an hydra, one against a minotaur horde, and against Xenagos after he ascended to godhood). Each deck would deliver road blocks that house is capable of playing in a PvP game and it is up to you to forge 3 keys before the training deck can.
Although a solo variant is not in the works from me, I am very pleased with the progress I am making for the "Big Deck" variant I am in the process of creating. I love, love, love this game and am so pleased the I have finally found for myself a good alternative to MTG.
R - You definitely have to let us know if you start co-designing with Richard Garfield!
D - HA! you know that will never happen...
Wait, did I hear sarcasm in that comment?
Was that meant as a stab towards me..
You know what.. we're done here..
GET THIS THING OUTTA MY FACE!
R - Erm. Moving on.
What is this game about?
Tournament Fishing: The Deckbuilding Game is just what it says on the tin: a deck building game about tournament fishing. It is designed by Greg Mahler, and can be acquired on The Game Crafter. Each player gets a starting deck of cards, which includes lures, cast cards, and hooks. You also set up a lake, using stacks of cards that might be fish... or might be events, some of which are positive, and some of which are definitely not.
This is a light game with easy setup, but there are several elements of play that make it interesting. The first is hand management—if you don't have a lure, you can't even cast to look for fish in the lake. You also need to make sure that you're acquiring the more powerful cards you'll need to catch tough fish. On top of that, each fish likes a different type of lure, so you might find yourself fishing with the wrong bait! The cards are also multi-use, so you need to think about the way you are choosing to deploy your hand every turn. While cards can be used for their value when meeting the threshold to reel in a fish, you'll also need cards in your hand so you can "fight" the fish and complete the catch. Each fish will require you to draw a certain number of fight cards, and you must play a card from your hand that matches the symbol on the fight card if you want to succeed. Finally, cards can be used as money during your buy phase. If you want to take a trip to the bait shop and pick up a fancy lure or hook, you'll need to hold on to enough cards in your hand to make the purchase.
Unlike most deck builders, Tournament Fishing also requires you to keep cards in your hand until you use them in one way or another—you don't automatically discard your hand at the end of a turn, and you can't deliberately overspend in order to get rid of a card. This mechanical difference forces you to adjust your strategy in some interesting ways as you play.
There are also some memory elements to Tournament Fishing that make it more fun to try to plan ahead. Some card effects allow you to "scan" various spots on the lake, which can help you find out whether there is an event you don't want—or a fish you do—when you cast your line on future turns. There are some events that end your casting phase or even cause you to lose lures, so it's good to check when you can, although you won't always be able to. You should always keep track of the time, too—each round of the game represents an hour of your day spent on the lake.
Overall, Tournament Fishing really does replicate going fishing in some interesting ways—sometimes you just cast your line and see what happens, other times you make a plan and go in ready to land and big one, and the fish sometimes wins no matter what you do.
How does it play solo?
Tournament Fishing now has two solo variants, both of which are fun. In both, your goal is to score more points than your automated rival. In the first variant, you draw AI cards that determine which items you will remove from the bait shop, and which spot on the lake the AI will focus on when trying to catch a fish. In this version of the game, the AI will automatically catch six fish. The question is, how valuable will they be? In some games, the AI will catch all high-value fish and totally destroy you in the tournament. Other times, the AI is less lucky and you can gain an edge.
In the second variant, you draw fight cards for the AI, and if the AI player draws a "POP!" card, then it loses the fish. This keeps AI upkeep low, while still giving you a bit more realistic experience, since you are vulnerable to "POP!" cards, too. In the same vein, you can also choose to play in such a way that the AI is vulnerable to negative events, again giving you a chance to get ahead!
In either solo variant, the memory elements of the game keep the AI turn interesting for the player. While some cards straight-up tell you where the AI will fish, there are others that allow you to choose... meaning that if you've been scanning the lake and have a good memory, you can send the AI to less desirable areas and keep the best fishing spots for yourself.
There is a lot to like about Tournament Fishing. It's a light, enjoyable deck builder that captures its theme very well. It really does feel like you're experiencing the vagaries of a day out on the lake—did you choose the right lure? The right hook? The right casting techniques? And even if you did, will a feisty fish make off with your bait? Tournament Fishing also gives you a good range of decisions to make while remaining a relaxing experience. You need to choose which cards you'll hang onto for what purposes, as well as which cards you'll buy from the bait shop to add to your deck and why. Overall it works very nicely.
That said, there are sometimes clunky turns where useful combinations of cards don't come up. This is, after all, a deck builder—and one in which there is no mechanism for culling, other than events in which a fish makes off with something you actually want! While the random elements like "POP!" cards don't bother me much—a fish making off with your expensive lure is a reality of going fishing—it can be a bit challenging to streamline your deck, and there's nothing more frustrating than a dead turn.
Also, while the rulebook is clear and the game has clear symbology, the actual text in the rulebook is tiny and difficult to read. Some of the graphic design choices are tough on the eyes. None of that detracts from the gameplay, which is solid. But get out your reading glasses!
I also want to draw attention to the fact that Tournament Fishing is a true labor of love. Greg Mahler has clearly put a piece of his soul into this game, designing and redesigning it himself without a big-name publisher. He has released updates, expansions, and even a playmat. He's active on BGG, responsive to feedback, and is constantly tweaking this game to improve it. (The variants that make the solo AI more realistic were player suggestions that he tested and incorporated.) The result is a game that, in terms of gameplay, holds its own among traditionally-published games, as well as many hot Kickstarter titles. I would never have known about it if I hadn't seen a message from Michael Kelley of One Stop Co-Op Shop, and I'm really glad that I've gotten to play it. Tournament Fishing has reminded me that our community has incredible richness and depth beyond the "new hotness."
Do I recommend it?
Tournament Fishing is not my favorite deck builder, but I definitely like it. If you enjoy the fishing theme and you're looking for a light, quick deck buliding experience, then Tournament Fishing may be a great match for you.
Overall Rating: 3.5 stars
5 stars — I love it!
4 stars — I really like it!
3 stars — I like it!
2 stars — It's okay.
1 star — Meh.
Full Disclosure: A demo kit of Altar Quest was sent to me by Blacklist Games so I could make this preview.
To see the Kickstarter campaign for Altar Quest, click here.
What is Altar Quest about?
Altar Quest is a game published by Blacklist Games and designed by Adam and Brady Sadler. It's the next entry in a series that uses the Sadlers' modular deck system, but unlike Street Masters and Brook City, it has a fantasy theme. In Altar Quest, you'll be playing heroes who each have their own decks. You'll also be going up against challenges managed by quest, threat, and enemy decks that combine to form highly thematic, story-driven adventures.
Mechanically, Altar Quest has a bit more bookkeeping than its predecessors, but it also has several elements that make it more interesting to play. Like other Sadler games, die rolls on various skill tests are never entirely useless, even if they don't work out the way you want them to. In Altar Quest, "focus" results don't immediately count as successes, but get you tokens you can use for later—either to meet card requirements or to convert later die rolls into successes. On top of the dice that characters use for tests, there are altar dice that display "rhune" symbols—symbols that both you and your enemies can manipulate and deploy to power up your card actions. The hero cards themselves also do more than help you fight better—many of them can be used cleverly to affect both test and rhune dice.
Although the demo kit I received has only two heroes in it, the synergy between heroes is interesting so far. It's also entirely possible to solo the game with a single hero—something that matters to a lot of solo players.
Things I like about Altar Quest
So far, Altar Quest is delightful. The components are amazing, even in prototype form (especially the miniatures), and the gameplay itself is showing a lot of promise. The quest and enemy decks work well together to give you a goal to pursue as well as pressure to work towards it quickly. Your opponents will pack quite a punch, but if the demo quest is anything to go by, they are manageable. Depending on how the final game turns out, I might like this one even better than I like Street Masters, and that's saying something. I particularly liked the added element of altar dice, which gave me something new to work with when trying to reach my in-game goals.
It's also extremely clear, even from only samples of game text, that the Sadlers have put tremendous effort into building the world of Altar Quest. When you play, you enter a fully realized fantasy world with much left to discover, and I'm here for it.
Possible Concerns about Altar Quest
The Sadler brothers' modular deck system has an incredible capacity for in-game storytelling. It also, however, comes with some pretty serious bookkeeping, especially when you are first learning a game like Altar Quest. Before long, the game flow will make sense, but there are still a lot of cards to keep track of. And because multiple cards have different pieces of text on them, it's entirely possible that you'll overlook the occasional activation or card option. If that frustrates you, consider this one carefully. In my opinion, however, keeping track of all those cards is worth the effort--Altar Quest shines if you love thematic games that allow you to fully experience and imagine an in-game adventure.
Should I back it?
I personally want this game and am excited to play more of it. If you love fantasy and story-driven games, you will probably love Altar Quest. This is even more the case if you have fond memories of playing HeroQuest, because this game is giving off all of those nostalgic vibes. If you love Street Masters, then Altar Quest is also going to be a good match for you—especially if you prefer fantasy themes.
I would think twice, however, if you hate a lot of in-game bookkeeping. Altar Quest makes sense and it's entirely possible to manage it, even by yourself—but if that isn't your thing, this game is unlikely to change your mind.