Sunday 10 February 2013

Review - A NinjaGO storage solution

NinjaGO storage case

Back in October 2012, I reviewed NinjaGo, a Lego game that I didn't rate particularly highly. While I didn't think much of the game, I didn't have the heart to get rid of it because... Well, you know... It's Lego. You can't get rid of Lego.

Anyway, I kept the game, and played it a few times with my 11-year-old brother-in-law. He really enjoyed it, so I guess Lego know what they're doing after all!

Fast-forward to February 2013: I discovered were having a sale on some of their Lego products, including a NinjaGO Spinner Storage Box. These nifty little cases are normally £15 or so, but Amazon were selling them off for less than £5. I don't particularly need a storage solution for my epic collection of two NinjaGO spinners, but I know a bargain when I see one.

(Man, I am such a sucker.)

I purchased one of the cases, thinking it would be a bit tidier than the screwbox I had my spinners stored in; but I wasn't really expecting much. However, when the case actually arrived, I had to admit I was pretty impressed.

It came in a nice cardboard sleeve to keep it unmarked, and I was slightly amused to see this sleeve included a diagram showing how to put the Lego bits inside. Have we really reached the stage where we need instructions on how to put things in a box?

After I had removed the sleeve I was presented with a pretty cool piece of artwork featuring Lego ninjas and snake people. (I'm glad it was the snake people, as I think they are more interesting than the skeletons and stone people that comprise the other enemies in the NinjaGO line of products.)

NinjaGO spinner storage case
The NinjaGO spinner storage case - Ninjas are so cool.

The case itself is very sturdy, with a durable plastic handle and two straps that fix in place with poppers to hold the lid closed.

NinjaGO spinner storage case
The case is actually well made and sturdy.

Inside, there is a plastic flap to store cards in, and a moulded plastic section that can house plenty of spinners, figures, weapons, blocks, and instructions.

NinjaGO spinner storage case
Moulded tray stores 10 spinners and accessories.

It's a good little product: Certainly not worth £15, but well worth £5. And yes, it does look tidier on my shelf that that old screwbox I was using before.

Sunday 3 February 2013

Review - Mighty Warriors

This review of Mighty Warriors originally appeared on in June 2011. This is a slightly edited version which I hope reads a little better than the first effort. And if you were wondering: yes, I do still own this game; and no, I haven't played it since.

Mighty Warriors title

Mighty Warriors
Published by Games Workshop
Designed by Andy Jones (he should be ashamed of himself!)
For 2 players, aged 8 to adult

Mighty Warriors box
You will note how the box art has bugger all to do with the game.

Before I begin, it should be noted the only reason I have Mighty Warriors in my collection is because a few years ago I bought an incomplete copy of Advanced Heroquest on eBay for pennies. The game was missing all the hero pieces and about half the skaven and henchmen. A good friend of mine knew this, and gifted me his mint condition copy of Mighty Warriors. Why would he do that? Because Mighty Warriors is a game that appears to have been released (back in 1991) with the sole purpose of enabling Games Workshop to pack up and sell surplus stock of the figures that came with Advanced Heroquest.

So, let's start with a brief rundown of the miniatures you get: One elf, one dwarf, one knight, one wizard, 20 skaven (four with different coloured bases to denote champions), and 12 henchmen. These miniatures are great. I believe they are some of the finest GW ever produced for a game. They look good on the board, and they are also totally functional (they don't get all tangled together like those damned genestealers in first edition Space Hulk).

Mighty Warriors skaven and wizard
The bad guys.

These miniatures actually drive the design of the game. Basically, it feels like the designer was given the miniatures and told to come up with a set of rules to match them.

DESIGN FAIL 1: Design miniatures for use with your game, do not design a game for use with your miniatures.

As an example of how the models define the rules of the game, consider there are 20 skaven with shields that can be removed. As a result, the rules for Mighty Warriors allow skaven to block hits with their shields (resulting in the shields being removed from the model).

DESIGN FAIL 2: Do not have fiddly little bits of plastic that need to be constantly taken on and off of other fiddly bits of plastic. (We used cardboard tokens pinched from Advanced Heroquest to show which skaven had lost their shields.)

More examples: The elf is the only character that can use a bow, because his model is the only one that has a bow. The skaven are led by a chaos wizard - this only makes sense because it enabled the game to use the wizard figure from Advanced Heroquest as the leader of the bad guys. Even the plastic shields for the dwarf and knight are used as "flags" to be captured (rather than being affixed to the models as you would expect). Bizarrely, the henchmen in the game do not have rules for using a shield, so the models do not come with shields, even though each model has a little peg where a shield should be attached!

Mighty Warriors dwarf, knight, elf, and henchman
The good guys (note the pegs where shields should go).

Besides the models, you get a bunch of floor tiles showing different rooms inside a castle. They are all different designs with a nice, old-fashioned hand-drawn style of artwork. However, the rooms are all different sizes and have thick black borders (which often cut off parts of the spaces on the boards), and this makes it difficult to see how you are supposed to move around and between each room.

DESIGN FAIL 3: If you are going to have some spaces on the board that are cut in half, or only have a quarter of the total area visible with the rest taken up by a wiggly bit of wall, give some instructions in the rules for whether or not those spaces count as a real space.

To make matters worse, the card used for the boards is incredibly thin, and the boards do not "jig" together in any way. This means the boards will often slide around and move out of alignment, making it even more difficult to know which rooms are linked. Pieces tend to get knocked over, and you feel a bit like you are playing on sheets of paper rather than professionally produced game boards.

DESIGN FAIL 4: If you are going to have a board made up of separate card pieces, use card that is thick and durable.

Mighty Warriors game board
The boards - nicely drawn, but thin. Also note the thick borders.

There are also some cardboard doors for showing how rooms are linked together. These are cheap, folded cardboard that fall over a lot and make the doors in Heroquest look top-class.

DESIGN FAIL 5: If you are using doors to link separate boards, do not give the boards thick black borders that are so wide it is difficult to tell which two spaces the door is linking.

DESIGN FAIL 6: When an element of the rules is that models cannot move through a space containing another model, do not include doors that are only one space wide or you will end up with a game that consists of two neatly lined up armies fighting one on one fights through a single doorway.

Finally, you get four dice and the box. Why do I mention the box? Because the inside of the box lid is divided into nine squares labelled "hit" or "miss." Whenever you roll dice to attack or cast spells in the game, you drop the dice into the box lid. Dice that land in a "hit" are hits. This is truly as terrible as it sounds, and it is made worse by the fact that there are five "hits" forming a "+" sign, with four "miss" spaces in the corners. In my experience, it seems that when you throw dice into a box lid, they tend to bounce around and settle into corners rather than ending up in the middle, which means you tend to roll a lot more miss results than you really should. This is just plain annoying.

Okay, so I couldn't even get through the description of the playing pieces without bad-mouthing the game. I will try to be a bit more even-handed with the rest of the review of this terrible, terrible, terrible game. Promise.

Mighty Warriors rulebook
A sample of the rulebook's awesome graphic design.

The game says it plays 2-4 people, but really it is a two-player game, with one person playing the skaven and wizard and the other person playing the three heroes with the henchmen. You set up the board by taking it in turns to draw a room tile and placing it down adjacent to a board already in play. You then take it in turns to place doors. Then you take it in turns to place your figures in rooms. Finally you place your plastic shield in a room you control. If that sounds like fun, then read on...

The aim of the game is to "capture" your opponent's shield. However, the rules give you no instructions on how this "capture" takes place. There are no rules for carrying the shield. No rules for moving it. No rules for what qualifies a win. We decided that you captured the shield if you were standing on the same space as it and there were no conscious enemies in the same room. As it happens, I had completely wiped out my opponent by the time I reached his shield, so it didn't matter. (Oh - did I mention I only played this game once? I should have done - this is a review after one play. Why am I reviewing a game after one play? Because this is one of the worst games ever made. Haven't I made that clear enough yet?)

DESIGN FAIL 7: Don't forget to define the winning conditions.

The heroes move first, and then it goes in rounds, with both teams following the same steps.

First, if your wizard is still alive, you roll two dice into the box lid. If either lands on "hit" you have successfully cast a spell. Pick one dice that landed in "hit" and check the number rolled on your wizard's spell list, then implement the result.

Mighty Warriors elf card
The elf spell card.

The spells vary wildly and range from useless (such as the elf's invisible spell, or most of the chaos wizard's spells) to stupidly overpowered (the elf's "attack EVERY SINGLE MODEL in an adjacent room" spell or his "STUN EVERY SINGLE MODEL in an adjacent room" spell). With the right spells, it is possible for the elf to almost single-handedly win the game.

DESIGN FAIL 8: Don't make spells that are stupidly powerful or pointlessly weak.

Interestingly, the chaos wizard has different spells to the elf. The wizard's are generally related to making the wizard stronger in combat, but one of his spells allows him to bring D6 skaven back to life. As skaven die easily, you will want to bring as many as you can back to life, and that means keeping the wizard safe and alive and OUT OF COMBAT. This makes about 2/3 of the wizard's spells pretty much useless. And of course, bringing D6 skaven back to life for several turns in a row is bloody annoying and makes the game go on and on and on and on...

DESIGN FAIL 9: Don't make wizard characters have spells that are only useful in close combat - the last place you want your wizard to be.

DESIGN FAIL 10: Don't make spells that are annoying and boring.

After spellcasting comes movement. Roll 1D6. Each of your models can move up to the number of spaces rolled. Yup - roll and move. In a tactical skirmish game. Really.

How can you form any kind of strategy when the number of spaces you can move EVERY MEMBER of your team is determined by a single dice roll? I lost count of the number of times I set up my team ready for a powerful attack and then rolled a 1 for movement and ended up "closing ranks" and facing an attack from my opponent instead. There really is no excuse for this kind of design. In a light skirmish game, each piece should have a defined movement allowance so you can actually make some plans and strategies. At least that way you would feel like you had some control over your fate.

DESIGN FAIL 11: Don't do roll and move. Especially in a skirmish game.

After movement you do shooting - well, the elf does, as he is the only one with a bow. He can shoot at any model in the same room. No line of sight. Stupid.

DESIGN FAIL 12: Don't have ranged combat if you aren't going to do proper line of sight and range rules.

After shooting you do close combat - yay, more dice go into the box lid for a bit more randomness. Your success in combat is down to how the dice bounce. If you hit a skaven they can lose a shield before taking the hit. Skaven without shields will be automatically stunned on a hit and killed outright on a 5 or 6. Strangely, the shields make the skavens harder to kill than anything else on the board as you need to attack them at least twice to be in with a chance of killing them, while any other model can be killed with a single attack (although admittedly, everything else only dies on the roll of a 6 and is often not even stunned).

If models are stunned they lie down, and if they are hit a second time they are instantly killed. Quite often you will find that to kill a skaven requires three hits - one to remove the shield, one to stun, and one to kill. Compare this to, for example, the heroic knight character, who has no shield and is stunned on the roll of a 5 and instantly killed on the roll of a 6.

Yes, that's right; it is IMPOSSIBLE to instantly kill a skaven with a shield, and yet the most powerful warrior - the knight - has a 1 in 6 chance of dying every single time even a weak skaven hits him.

DESIGN FAIL 13: Don't make "weak" units that can outlast hero characters.

Finally, after combat you roll for each of your stunned models, and recover them on a 4, 5, or 6.

Mighty Warriors reference card
The hero reference sheet. (You get one for the villains too.)

That's it. There is no more. Play until one team captures the opponent's shield (however you decide that should happen) or everyone slips into a coma.

Honestly, I cannot stress how much I thoroughly disliked this game (although I have tried my best); but is there anything about this game that I do like?

Well - those models are really nice. I love the henchmen. They are nicely detailed, but they are not in action poses so they are very easy to handle and move around. The heroes are similarly well made. The skaven are really attractive pieces and look great in a "swarm."

I also like the almost childlike artwork on the boards (although the boards themselves are too thin for my liking). I am sure these boards would also be useful for anyone who plays Dungeons and Dragons or some other roleplaying game.

The game plays cleanly enough. There aren't many rules so you can learn in five minutes and start playing your first game. Unfortunately, your first game will also probably be your last as the game plays far too long for something so simple.

Rolling dice in the box lid is not a bad idea as such, but in a game that is already so random, it is all a bit much and removes any element of strategy that might have existed.

I am keeping the game for two reasons:
1/ I collect older and out of print games, particularly fantasy themed games.
2/ I can use all the figures in Advanced Heroquest.

As a game in its own right, Mighty Warriors fails completely, and I have no intentions of playing it again. If you find a copy cheap somewhere it might be worth picking up, but I wouldn't recommend actively searching it out or paying the prices I have seen copies advertised for on eBay.

That's all from me. Best of luck, and may all your dice land in a "hit" space.

Saturday 2 February 2013

Review - Quantum

Quantum board game

Published by Lazy Days
Designed by Philip Slater
For 2 players, aged 8 to adult.

Quantum is a two-player strategy game that was released by Lazy Days in 1975. Even if you didn't know it was made in the 70s, the components are a bit of a giveaway: I don't think I have ever seen so much beige in a board game before. Honestly, I have never seen such a boring-looking game in all my life. It is like the publisher was striving too hard to make the game look serious and sophisticated (perhaps in an attempt to be the new Chess) and in the process forgot to make the game look fun as well.

The actual board is a grid with spaces "coloured" in black, white, or beige, and the playing pieces are also black and beige. It looks hideous. And then they go and make matters worse by designing box art which just shows a disembodied hand moving aforementioned beige and black pieces around the beige and black board. It's one of the most lacklustre efforts to get someone interested in a game ever.

Quantum game board
There was no expense spared on the board art.

Funnily enough, it was the bland box that first drew my attention to this game as I was walking through a car boot sale. The game looked so dreadful I had to buy it, even though the box was bashed all to hell and it looked like the game had certainly seen better (lazy) days.

Luckily, apart from the damage to the box, and some serious wear on the folds of the board, the game wasn't in bad condition, and it was also complete. It didn't look interesting, but at least it looked playable.

The game itself, as already mentioned, is a two-player strategy affair along the lines of something like Chess or Drafts. Each player gets a set of plastic playing pieces (six shaped like squares, six shaped like circles, and four shaped like crosses). Apart from the boring colours, these pieces are actually quite nice. They are chunky, easy to handle, and can be stacked on top of each other (more on that later).

Both players set up their pieces on the board following a diagram in the rules. For short games, only the white inner section of the board is used; but for longer games, the whole board is used, including the delightful beige area around the edge.

On his turn, a player can move one of his pieces one space. Square pieces move orthogonally, circles move diagonally, and crosses are the strongest pieces and can move in any direction. Much like in Chess, if you move one of your pieces onto a space containing an enemy piece, then you capture that piece; but this is where it gets clever: rather than removing the enemy piece from play, your piece is stacked on top of the enemy piece to form a tower.

Quantum game rules
Rules - showing the movement of the playing pieces.

A towers belongs to the player who owns the topmost piece, and moves in the same direction as the topmost piece (so, if a circle was at the top of the tower, then the tower would move diagonally, even if there were square pieces lower down). However, the taller the tower is, the more powerful it becomes, as instead of moving just one space, a tower can move a number of spaces equal to the number of pieces in the tower.

This creates a really interesting dynamic to the game: You may see an opportunity to capture one of your opponent's pieces, but you need to make sure that this doesn't open up your piece to a counterattack. There is no point capturing an opponent's piece on your turn, if your opponent is then immediately able to recapture the tower, as all you have down is gift him a much more powerful playing piece.

Similarly, even though towers are strong and enable you to move around the board quickly, you have to be careful not to put them in dangerous situations, as if your opponent can capture your tower, he will have an even stronger piece to use against you.

There is also another rule to consider: Fixed towers. At any point a tower has six or more pieces in it, it becomes fixed in place. It can no longer be used, and it blocks the space it is on for the rest of the game. This means you may not want to use your four-high tower to take out your opponent's two-high tower, because in doing so you will lose your powerful tower while only taking out one of his weak towers in the process.

While creating a fixed tower may lose you a powerful piece, sometimes it has to be done, as the only way to win the game is to be the first player to create three fixed towers. Knowing when to create a fixed tower (thus sacrificing your offensive abilities) and when to wait, is quite a skill, and can lead to much head-scratching.

Combine this with the rule that any piece starting a turn on a black square can move as many spaces as you want (adhering to the piece's normal movement pattern), and you can see there is a lot to think about in this little game.

Quantum playing pieces
Nothing says "1975" like a nice set of beige playing pieces.

You really do have to think hard about every piece you capture, and quite often you will see easy captures you shouldn't make because they would ultimately lead to your opponent having a strong tower to attack you with. It is also interesting that your strongest pieces are also your biggest liability: When you get tall towers, you will want to use them to crush your enemies, but you have to be careful, because if your opponent captures the tower then you will find your own pieces being used against you, or even worse, you will have gifted your opponent a fixed tower that will put him one step closer to victory.

The risk of losing a high tower to your opponent, and the fact that in order to win (by creating fixed towers) you must actively remove your most powerful pieces from the game, prevents the high towers from completely dominating, and means that you always feel like the game is in the balance. It can get quite tense, and I have never seen a runaway victory.

Overall, I think this is a great little game, with some cool mechanics that mean every game seems to go down to the wire. The rules fill three small sheets of paper in the rules book, and can be learned in just a few minutes; but this is one of those games that takes a long time to master. It's certainly far more interesting than it's box art, and the colour of the playing pieces, might suggest. If you can find a copy, give it a go. You might be surprised.