MSRP $34.95, 2-4 players
Designed by Tom Lehmann
Published by Rio Grande Games
The residents of Earth have finally discovered the miracle of Jump Drive, meaning we can leave our puny solar system and head out for the stars! It’s a big universe out there and it’s full of daunting challenges, but we’re more than up to the task of doing what humans do best—strip mining all the planets we can find and subjugating their inhabitants!
Race for the Galaxy is an ambitious card game of space exploration, where each player establishes and grows their very own empire by colonizing, conquering, and trading their way to total galactic dominance. It plays in about 30-45 minutes (once you get the hang of it), but still makes you feel like you’ve really spawned and cultivated a true empire of thriving commerce and ruthless military efficiency.
Each turn has five possible phases—Explore (to gain more cards), Develop (to create new technologies or infrastructure), Settle (to add new planets), Consume (to trade resources for money or victory points), and Produce (to generate resources that can later be Consumed)—but you won’t perform each one on every turn. Instead, each player secretly chooses which phase they would like to do. Once the chosen phases are revealed, *everyone* at the table gets to do them—but the person who picked it gets a special bonus. It’s an interesting mechanic that creates a unique atmosphere and ensures there is never any downtime (since everyone is taking their turns almost simultaneously).
Expanding your empire requires planning and strategy, whether you choose to colonize peaceful planets and harvest their resources, bulk up your military and take planets by force (and some can *only* be taken by force), or develop a highly regulated engine of advanced technologies that will maximize the output of every card you play. They are all legitimate paths to victory and the wealth of different cards you draw ensure that each game is full of tough choices and temptations.
Although I admit that Race for the Galaxy does not boast much in the way of player interaction (it’s detractors like to call it “multiplayer solitaire”), I’ve had endless amounts of fun with Race and its expansions. If you’re looking for a fast, easy way to get your sci-fi fix and the idea of mere world domination has always felt a bit too small-minded for you, look no further, my friends, than Race for the Galaxy.
MSRP $27.95, 2-4 players
Designed by Klaus Westerhoff
Published by Steve Jackson Games
When I published my first gaming article, I received several comments and emails along the lines of “Why didn’t you review <insert my favorite game in the universe>?” For the most part, I didn’t review them because I hadn’t played them (or it was Munchkin, which is probably big enough that it deserves its own article). There was one, however, that I had played and enjoyed, but still hadn’t thought to include until one of our readers brought it up. Today, I wish to rectify that mistake.
The Stars Are Right is a puzzle game where you play a Lovecraftian cultist who is attempting to summon the Great Old Ones and bring about the end of the world. Of course, communing with the souls of the damned is tough work when you’re on your own, so you’ll be enlisting the help of lower demons and nasty minions that will hasten the process and ease some of the burden of mass destruction from your shoulders.
Each player has a hand of cards that grant different powers and, instead of a typical game board, you will be manipulating a 5×5 grid of double sided tiles, each showing a different configuration of suns, moons, stars, and comets. Players will play cards from their hand to push, pull, and flip these tiles (sort of like a sliding number puzzle) until the stars are aligned correctly and they can summon minions and servitors who have special abilities and can assist in your ultimate goal of bringing forth Cthulhu and the other big bads who spell trouble for the rest of humanity.
For anyone feeling leery at the prospect of summoning demon spirits even in jest, I think it’s also worth mentioning that the artwork for The Stars Are Right is incredibly goofy and gives off a vibe that is closer to Saturday morning cartoons than brooding, Satanic rituals. Of course, if you are looking for something brooding and Satanic, I suggest you crank your Dio back up and dig out the Ouija board.
The Stars Are Right is a brain-bending puzzle that will likely test the patience of even the most level-headed player. The tug-of-wars it creates often evolve into tests of will that can end friendships and annul marriages. It’s just that much fun.
One further note—the game box for The Stars Are Right says this game is designed for 2-4 players. I’m firmly convinced this is a misprint. I can’t imagine playing this game with more than two people: adding a third pair of hands into the pushing, pulling, and flipping is like riding a unicycle down a tightrope and deciding to juggle power tools along the way. I’m sure it could be done, but you’re probably not walking away without an injury.
MSRP $49.95, 3-6 players
Designed by Rob Daviau, Bruce Glassco, Bill McQuillan, Mike Selinker, and Teeuwynn Woodruff
Published by Wizards of the Coast
Recently re-released by Wizards of the Coast with updated rules and pieces (and box art, though I used the old one here), Betrayal at House on the Hill wraps every haunted house movie you’ve ever watched into one convenient little package. You and your friends take on the roles of priests, jocks, gypsies and cheerleaders whose car broke down next to an abandoned mansion. The door opened and, once you all entered, it slammed shut and locked behind you!
As the game begins, players split up and look for a way out by drawing room tiles one at a time and slowly revealing areas of the house. As you wander, you will also draw cards to encounter items and events that affect your stats—speed, might, sanity, and knowledge—or Omens that can trigger the second phase of the game. Each time an Omen card is drawn, the player rolls a set of dice. If the roll fails, then one of fifty different “haunt” scenarios begins (the haunt is randomly chosen based on the card drawn and the player’s location).
Once the haunt has begun, Betrayal at House on the Hill really kicks into gear. One player (usually the one who drew the Omen card) is declared the Traitor and everyone else becomes a Survivor. The Traitor leaves the room with a handbook, where he or she will receive instructions on how to win the game, and the Survivors read their own handbook and learn how they can defeat the Traitor and live to fight another day. The game resumes, usually with the Traitor now controlling several minions—everything from mummies to werewolves to man-eating plants—as Survivors scramble madly around the house, trying to mix potions or find spellbooks or put tortured souls to rest before the Traitor can complete his twisted mission.
Like Zombietown in my last article, Betrayal at House on the Hill can be lot of fun to play, but it is unquestionably a game that needs friends who are willing to embrace the theme. I’ve played some tense, nailbiting games that really came down to the wire, but I must also admit that I once played a game where someone actually fell asleep. Betrayal probably has more fiddly little tokens than any other game I own and, as I mentioned, it also requires everyone to stop and read the rulebook halfway through, so that can really be kind of a turnoff. Nevertheless, I stand by my recommendation. This is a game that oozes theme and is a lot of fun if you are willing to pick up the ball and run with it. Light some candles! Read the cards in your spookiest voice! Put on a show and you’ll have a great time.
MSRP $99.99 (full first edition)
Designed by David Sirlin
Published by Sirlin Games
Street Fighter? Tekken? Mortal Kombat? Pah! Bow before Yomi, pathetic console fighting games! Bow before your master!
Sorry about that. I sometimes get a little carried away.
Yomi is a 2-player game that simulates the mental side of a fighting game like Street Fighter II. The title, Yomi, is (apparently) Japanese for “reading,” as in “reading your opponent.”
There are ten characters (if you get the full first edition; you can also buy 2-character combo packs), who each have their own strengths and weaknesses and each comes with their own 54-card illustrated poker deck. On a turn, players will throw a card from their hand—an attack, a throw, a block, or a dodge—and determine the outcome in a simple but effective rock/paper/scissors mechanic: attacks beat throws, throws beat blocks/dodges, and blocks/dodges beat attacks. If you both play the same type of card, the speed of each move is compared and victory goes to the quicker strike.
After striking, most cards will also allow you to “combo” off of your hit and add extra cards to do more damage. Of course, the defender can play a face-down card that—if it’s a Joker—will counteract your combo and make you waste all the cards you just played. So the question is: do you think the card he just put down is a Joker?
Situations like that are the heart of Yomi—reading your opponent’s bluffs, looking back at his patterns and trying to decide what card he’s about to throw. It’s wonderfully tense and each character has their own special abilities and their own style of play that creates a real feeling of diversity—Setsuki the ninja girl relies on lots of fast, low-damage attacks that spend her whole hand every turn, while Master Midori has several powerful “Dragon” attacks that do massive damage all at once but must be built up before they can be used.
Yomi is also tremendously balanced—I’d say even moreso than most of the console games out there. Although Midori and Setsuki have very different styles of play, neither is going to blow the other out of the water, and this is true with any of the 45 character combinations the game will throw at you. Someone still may wipe the floor with you, but only if they play the game better. Yomi rewards skill, not luck. It’s easy to learn, quick to play, tons of fun, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.
Pictures courtesy of Rio Grande games, Steve Jackson games, Wizards of the Coast, Sirlin Games, and http://www.boardgamegeek.com