Wednesday 31 December 2014

Review - Vineta


Published by Winning Moves
Designed by Fabiano Onca, Mauricio Gibrin, and Mauricio Miyaji
For 2-6 players, aged 10 to adult

Vineta Box
I really like the art style for this game.

My wife is really quite a special lady. She has to be, to put up with me. However, even special ladies can occasionally drift dangerously close to stereotypical behaviour.

For example, my wife is addicted to purchasing shoes and handbags. I would complain, but when you have almost 200 board games stuffed on your shelves, you don't have a huge amount of wiggle room (metaphorically or physically) for arguing about that sort of addiction.

In fact, my wife is addicted to purchasing clothes in general, and hardly a week goes by when she doesn't pack something else into her overflowing wardrobe.

As for me, I am far less special, and far more likely to fall into stereotypical male behaviour, particularly when it comes to clothes shopping. If I need to buy a new pair of jeans, I grab something with two legs and head for the closest counter to pay. The thought of spending more than five or ten minutes picking clothes fills me with the kind of dread people usually reserve for using the portable toilets at an outdoor festival.

Recently, my wife purchased a new top. I don't remember what it was like. She asked me if I liked it, and I said, "Yes, it really suits you," because I'm well trained and value my testicles, but I didn't actually look at it. I couldn't describe it to you.

It was probably sparkly.

I only remember this top because my wife really loved it, but then never wore it. The problem was, she could never find anything that went with it. On its own, in theory, the top was everything she could have wanted. However, no matter what shoes, handbags, trousers, skirts, or scarves she wore with it, the resulting ensemble was wrong.

That's very similar to my experience with Vineta, a game that looked great, sounded great, and was theoretically a good match for my gaming group; yet which was ultimately a game I had to get rid of because no matter how many people I played with, the result was always a bit of a damp squib.

Vineta rules
The rules... All seems clear enough.

The premise of Vineta is simple. In fact, it's almost elegant, which is a word reviewers like me use in an attempt to make our hobby sound more interesting when we are talking about very simple games.

And Vineta really is a very simple game.

I mean, we're talking similar complexity level to the plot line for an episode of Dora the Explorer.

But simplicity does not go hand in hand with dull, chaotic, strategy-light mechanisms.

Not always, anyway.

It's like my daddy never said, "Paddling pools seem shallow, but they usually have a few feet in them."

Vineta board
The board before the island pieces are added (or after they have sunk).

In Vineta, each player is a god who has decided to sink the titular island. You know how gods can get, sometimes. However, each god has taken pity on a particular group of islanders. So, over the course of the game, each player is trying to sink parts of the island to drown certain people, while at the same time trying to keep other areas of the island above water level.

The island itself is composed of nine jigsaw pieces, and at the start of the game, each player allocates houses of different colours to each region. Secretly, each player is allocated one region he or she wants to keep afloat, and one colour of houses to save.

Vineta the island
The island of Vineta... There's a storm coming.

Play then proceeds in rounds, with players playing cards from their hand to achieve different results.

Many of the cards are tidal waves. Players select an area to flood on the island, and then they start to add tidal wave cards. At the end of the round, the region that got hit by the most water is removed from play, along with any houses that were on it. These houses are divided out among the players who helped to sink the region, and translate into points at the end of the game.

However, there are lots of other cards that have different abilities. Some allow you to transfer houses from a flooding region to a safe region, some allow you to swap the locations of houses, some allow you to push houses into danger. If you love drowning people, or saving some people so they can watch while you drown other people, then you're in for a great time.

In theory, it all sounds okay.

The presentation is lovely: You have a beautifully illustrated island, full of cute wooden houses, and decks of cards that shuffle like Frank Sinatra sings.

Vineta houses
Look at all the cute houses you get to flood.

The theory behind the game is just as slick. Through careful hand management, bluffing, and a bit of negotiation with other players, you have to flood areas containing houses you don't want to save, while trying to prevent other players from sinking your bit of the island and all of your houses. Then, at the end of the game you get awarded points for every house you sank and every house you were trying to protect that is still standing, plus a bonus if the only piece of the island remaining is the piece you were secretly allocated at the start of the game.

But there is a problem.

Several problems, actually.

First of all, the game includes a crib sheet to explain the actions on the special cards, and it is totally wrong. That almost sank my first game due to the levels of confusion resulting from icons on cards that did not match up with the explanation of what those cards did.

Still, I got over that by printing off new sheets that I found on BoardGameGeek.

The second problem is the random allocation of island pieces that each player needs to save. During the game, you can only attempt to sink an island piece that is on the outside edge of the island, so for the first few rounds the inside pieces of the island are totally safe. If you get allocated an outside edge to protect, chances are you are not going to be able to save it, as it is a prime target for sinking, while if you get an inside piece, your chances of getting bonus points are much higher. Okay, inside pieces are worth less points, but some points are generally better than no points, and this is a random element of the game that can screw you over before you even get started.

But, like I said earlier, this game has an even bigger issue: It's no bloody fun no matter how many people you play with.

Vineta cards
The cards... You may as well play them randomly for all the good they do.

Play it with two people, and for most of the game there is very little interaction. Each player tries to sink different bits of the island with little interference from his or her opponent. If one player does attempt to prevent the other player from sinking a location, it is a massive giveaway that the location in question is one that the player needs to keep safe, which blows the bluffing element of the game right out of the water.

Play with three players, and mechanisms that could have been fun start to seem a bit fishy. The biggest issue is that if you attempt to prevent a location from sinking, the other two players immediately realise you want to save it and gang up on you. In this situation it is impossible to save the location. Pretending to save a location you don't actually need doesn't work either, because you end up wasting cards that you really want to use elsewhere. Basically, if one of the players randomly selects to attack the region you want to save, there really is very little you can do about it.

Now, if you play with even more players you will really start to get a sinking feeling. With four players, the game turns into complete chaos. You have no chance to save a location. If you move houses out of danger, someone else will probably move them right back. If you play a card, someone else will cancel it in some way. You cannot predict what will happen because there are so many cards getting thrown into the mix. You feel like you have no control over anything. Add a fifth or sixth player, and it really is just an exercise in flipping cards and hoping for the best.

Ultimately, I feel it doesn't really matter what you do.

It's a shame. All the pieces are there for what should be a really good game, but it just doesn't hinge together. It isn't deep enough to give you the options for clever bluffing and card play. It isn't shallow enough to be a light filler. It is a frustrating mix of random chance and "take that," which is about as much fun as it sounds.

I am sure some people will enjoy this, and some people will say I am wrong and that it is not as random as it seems; but there are better bluffing games, and better secret role games, and better... games. Just better games.

Loads of better games.

So, I had to wave goodbye to this one. And now it sleeps with the fishes.

Tuesday 23 December 2014

Review - Destination London

Destination London

Destination London
Designed by Rachel Lowe
Published by RTL Games
For 2-6 victims with nothing left to live for

For those of you who haven't picked it up from my quaint mannerisms, and my tendency to put the letter "u" in words that clearly don't need it, I am from the UK. To be exact, I am from a small town in Wiltshire, just a stone's throw away from the village of West Kington.

Actually, that's not strictly true. Mainly because, as my old P.E. teacher would tell you, I can't throw for toffee.

But if you had a trebuchet, and a relatively small stone, then West Kington is probably almost close to being about two stone throws away from where I live. Which doesn't sound as snappy, which is why I didn't say it in the first place.

But why all this chatter about West Kington?

Well, that little village, which is just a short distance from Chippenham (a place that deserves to have stones thrown at it), is where the Canadian new wave band Men Without Hats filmed the video for their classic hit The Safety Dance.

Some people think "The Safety Dance" is about safe sex, but the truth is, the song was written as a protest against bouncers in the 1980s who wanted to stop clubbers from pogoing. I guess they wanted to stop people hurting themselves.

And looking like tits.

Anyway, I am not really big on protests. I mean, I have a lot of respect for people who strongly disagree with something and decide to hold a march, or stand on a fountain, or shout into a loud hailer. Or whatever. It takes great courage to stand up for your convictions. But for me... I'm just a bit too lazy and laid back.

My idea of a protest is getting off the sofa to change the television channel by hand when I can't find the remote and Alan Carr Chatty Man comes on.

But if I was ever to hold a protest march, it would be against games like Destination London.

Destination London SMASH

Every year I host an evening of games to celebrate the festive season, an event I laughingly refer to as the alternative Christmas party. I put away all the "designer" titles, and roll out the silly shit I never play at any other time. Stuff like The Logo Game and Family Fortunes.

I thought Destination London would be a suitable fit: Something mindless and stupid that would give my guests the chance to roll dice, move pieces, and chat, without paying too much attention to strategy.

All I can do is apologise to those guests, and hope they come back next time; because Destination London is a game that makes people hate games. It is an amalgam of every bad thing that people ever say about games. It is a... non-game. It makes Monopoly look good.

Destination London STAB

In fact, if you were to chuck Monopoly, Snakes and Ladders, and Ludo into a cement mixer, leave it for 15 minutes, pour out the result, sift through it and stamp on anything that looks fun, remove anything that looks attractive or artistic, and then repackage it in a gaudy red box, you would have a game that is about twice as good as Destination London.

So, what is this game? Why is it so bad?

The premise is simple. You are a taxi driver. At the start of the game you have a certain amount of money, a certain amount of fuel, and several destinations you need to reach. You roll a dice to move to a destination. When you reach that destination, you hand in the matching destination card and a fuel card, and then you take the fare listed for that destination and a new destination card. This continues until every destination has been visited, someone flips the table, or someone starts waving a knife around in a wild-eyed frenzy.

There really isn't anything more going on.

It is a game that is clearly aiming at the Monopoly market. There are even traffic light spaces that allow you to draw special cards that may be nice (have some money) or may be nasty (miss a turn), which is very similar to Monopoly's Chance cards. However, this is Monopoly without the trading and haggling... Without the fun bit.

And the game is full of the most ridiculous design choices.

For a start, each destination card states the location you need to reach, but there is no graphic or miniature map to indicate where on the board that location is, so you end up spending a long time simply looking at every location trying to figure out where you need to go next. When you do find your location, it is invariably in the middle of a one-way system that forces you to take a mind-numbingly long detour to get there.

Movement is achieved by rolling one dice and then moving that number of spaces. However, everyone has the option to pay to supercharge their car so they roll two dice each turn. This seems a reasonable rule until you realise that everyone starts the game with more than enough money to instantly pay for the upgrade, which is exactly what everyone did the first (and only) time I played. Why not just have every player roll two dice from the start, and give them a lower amount of starting cash?

And the game mechanisms are really clunky. For example, every time you reach a destination, you have to hand in the card, then hand in a fuel card, then take your fare, then drew a new destination card. You spend more time swapping and exchanging money and cards than doing almost anything else.

But then that's probably because there isn't really anything to do.

Roll. Move. Shuffle money and cards around. Wait. Wait. Wait. Wait. Wait.

Weep quietly.

Pray for forgiveness.

Destination London BURN

Okay, I'm overegging the Christmas pudding here, but this is really just a nasty mix of everything that is wrong with mainstream games:

Roll and move mechanic. Check.

Random chance you cannot do anything about. Check.

Paper money. Check.

"Miss a go" moments. Check.

Ugly artwork and design. Check.

Agonisingly long game time. Check.

No actual choices. Check.

This is the kind of game that hurts the hobby. This is the kind of game that people see, and then think "God, board games are dull." This is the kind of game that stops people trying Lords of Waterdeep or Castle Panic.

But what really upsets me... What really sticks in my throat... This is an award-winning game. It says so right there on the box: "The award-winning souvenir game." It is bad enough that such a banal and pointless collection of cardboard and paper got any kind of award, but the fact it got that award based on its worthiness as a souvenir is almost criminal.

Destination London STOMP

It makes me shudder to think that foreign tourists have visited London, and then purchased this game as a fond memento. Is this really the best that we, as a country, have to offer our visitors? Is this all the thanks travellers deserve for choosing to visit our fair isle?

I once visited Scotland and got punched in the head, and returned home with severe concussion. I can only imagine coming home with a copy of Destination London is somewhat similar.

If you have spent any time on my blog, you know I don't tend to pull my punches. If I love a game, I wear that love on my sleeve. If I hate a game, you will know about it. However, I still try to see the good in every game, and I pride myself on being as balanced as possible when I review something. But here, with this game... Frankly, I don't want to waste my precious time trying to come up with any kind of positive comments.

Just like you don't want to waste any of your time playing something this bad.

Now, if you excuse me, I'm going to take Destination London into the back yard to try a little safety dance all over the box.*

Down with this sort of thing!

Destination London FLUSH

Oh, and Merry Christmas to all of my readers. You all deserve the very best the season has to offer, you bloody lovely people.

* Okay, I'll be honest. No games were harmed in the making of this review. No matter how much I dislike a game, I could not bring myself to destroy something someone else created. It is the ultimate insult, and not something I condone. However, I can't keep a game this bad, and I haven't got the heart to take someone's money for it; so, this one's going to the charity shop. I am sure someone will enjoy it. Maybe...

Friday 5 December 2014

Roots - A New Novel

Okay, so I have to hold my hands up... I have not been updating AlwaysBoardNeverBoring as much as I should. I have dozens of games to review, including the truly horrific Thunderbirds from Susan Prescott games, and the far less horrific Battue: Storm of the Horse Lords. However, I have a good excuse.


For the last month, I have been feverishly putting the finishing touches to my new novel for young adults, Roots.

Roots, by Kevin Outlaw

So, what's it all about?

Well, let's see what I put on the Amazon page...

A mysterious tree, an incurable disease, a troll, a zombie, an immortal, an assassin, a giant earthworm, a missing girl, and one dead cat.

Nobody said being a superhero was going to be easy...

Duncan has a list. It is a complete rundown of all the things he hates most in the world; and like many fifteen-year-old boys, he hates a lot. He hates that he can’t get the girl he wants. He hates that he isn’t good enough at football to be picked for the team. And he hates Carl, the school bully, who feels pretty much the same way about him.

But Duncan is about to make a discovery that will allow him to get whatever he wants. The problem is, he isn't the only one.

Roots is a horror fantasy science fiction psychological thriller mystery romantic comedy superhero origin story for young adults, from Kevin Outlaw, author of The Legend Riders trilogy.

If that sounds like something you might like to read, the book is available through Amazon Kindle in all countries (English language only), and it is totally free if you are enrolled in the Kindle Unlimited programme. A paperback edition will be available in the New Year.

Here are some handy-dandy links:

And that's all you need to know. I hope you will consider downloading the book, sharing it with your friends, and posting reviews. It all helps to make me a little bit happier. And isn't making me a little bit happier what we all want out of life?


Please forgive this shameless plug. I promise I will be returning to reviews very soon. Thank you all for your continued support