The Las Vegas Board Games Meetup on December 12 at the Juke Joint was a special holiday occasion. Organizer Stephen Brissaud aka Frenchy raffled off over 20 games early in the evening with every participant walking away with a game. I was never quite sure of what the entry fee was, but donated $5 via Paypal, which seemed to cover my entry.
Up for grabs potentially were Killer Bunnies, Castle Panic, Bloodsuckers, King of Tokyo, Uchronia, Munchkin, Pokers Wild!, Lost Cities, Reverse Charades, How to Host a Murder, and many other titles. My card got drawn towards the end of the raffle and it didn’t take me long to select Commander-in-Chief. I had seen the game before at the GAMA Trade Show and sat in on several seminars with its creator. Besides containing components to play Checkers and Chess, there is the actual Commander-in-Chief game which is played with large clunky military vehicles that easily double as toys for young children. For a $5 raffle, I was pleased with what I got.
Having played and won Havana from 999 Games once before, I readily agreed to play it again, but was surprised to finish with only 11 points to my opponents’ 17 and 22. One of my opponent’s strategy of playing his Siesta card with a value of 0 over and over again at the end didn’t seem to be that promising to begin with, but he ended up getting more of what he wanted before the rest of us. The Siesta (0) combined with Grandma (9) creates a hand of 09, letting its player get a jump on his competitors. Meanwhile I was going for cards combining to 21-49 at the same and was going second or last. I also wasn’t planning ahead at all, going for the low-hanging fruit rather than saving for the buildings that yield 5+ Victory Points. All of my initial impressions about Havana were right: it is a great little game.
We moved onto the newly-acquired Castle Panic next. I was put off by its simplistic artwork and cartoony style. Cooperative board games are also new to me. In Castle Panic the players take the role of castle defenders and work together to stop the oncoming rush of monsters from the forests. It’s a turret defense game and a couple of turns into it, I was hooked.
Every turn players draw a new card and have a chance to exchange a card for another or to make a single trade with the other players. Cards allow you to make attacks against the invading monsters who move inwards on the game’s concentric circles, passing through the Forests, Archers, Knights, and Swordsmen circles before they arrive at the castle’s walls and the castle’s towers. Attacking the walls costs monsters 1 HP, but then the walls are destroyed. A combination of two cards, the Brick and Mortar, can rebuild a wall section. The circles are further divided into four color-coded quadrants. A Green Archer can be played to damage a monster in the Green Archer area. The monsters range from the one HP Goblins to 3 HP Trolls, but there are special monsters with special rules. At the end of each player’s turn, surviving monsters move inwards one step and two new monsters are drawn. If the players survive the 40 or so monster tiles, they win. If the monsters wipe out all of the castle’s towers, the players lose.
After the first few turns our precarious position was made clear as we began losing walls and special monster tokens were revealed that forced us to draw more monsters. Plague tokens were revealed wiping out all Knights and Archers in our hands. Someone (me) hadn’t shuffled the cards well and we were besieged by rushing hordes of evil. It was a lot of fun. Towards the end of the game we found much more powerful cards at the bottom of the deck. I was having so much fun battling the monsters and just trying to survive that I didn’t care about the game’s one concession to players who have to be the best, the Slaymaster. Simply put, the Slaymaster is the player who killed the most HP of monsters. I don’t know who took it, but I do know that we only had two of our towers remaining at the end of the game and we had been saved by a lucky Boulder that had been revealed and wiped out a mass of dangerous monsters.
I haven’t witnessed much back to back game play at the Board Game Meetups. Everyone wants to try something new, but I would have jumped at the chance to play Castle Panic from Fireside Games again after we finished.
King of Tokyo
Since Brissaud is the American distributor for IELLO, most Meetup members have played Richard Garfield’s King of Tokyo dozens of times. This was my second. We were using the new expansion, Power Up! Slowly monsters maneuvered into Tokyo Bay and out of it as I tried to gather energy and use the expansion’s mechanic of Evolution, which can be done once for every three Hearts rolled. I gained powers and Victory Points on my Kraken monster as several of the other players dropped, until it was down to three of us. Like me, my opponent Vincent was attracted to building up power, unlocking new abilities, and seeing what Evolution had in store for him. We both would have been disappointed had the game ended in five minutes, but this game went on and on.
It ended up being the most epic game of King of Tokyo that some of the veterans had ever witnessed, going for well over an hour. Vincent and his monster were eventually eliminated, leaving me head to head with Dan. I had special abilities out the wazoo and so did he. His Evolutions focused on doing extra damage. Damage I could soak up with the help of the special Rapid Healing card letting me spend 2 Energy to heal 1 point of damage. Dan also had an ability that could force me to reroll one die each round which was quite annoying. With my victory in sight via Victory Points, Dan’s monster finished me off, but the game wasn’t over yet as I played It Has a Child, letting me return to the game anew, but without all my cool powers, Evolutions, and Victory Points. Despite what seemed like an overwhelming advantage against me, I began slogging it out, going back into Tokyo and accumulating 2 Victory Points a turn, plus another from a special card that gave me an extra VP whenever my opponent had more. I also had a card at some point that took away one 1 VP from my opponent whenever I damaged him and over many turns caught up. The game came down to a single die as I stood at 18 VPs in Tokyo with a guaranteed victory next turn. Dan attacked and stopped during one of his dice rolls because he had done enough damage to kill me, or so he thought. I had a special card allowing me to change a single die roll in the game to anything I wanted, but he managed to roll an extra Attack and I was down.
Power Up! Expansion
For me, the Power Up! expansion takes an enjoyable beer and pretzels game and makes it great. King of Tokyo will always come down to some lucky dice rolls and the skill in choosing which dice to keep, but the Evolutions add extra tactics. The new Evolutions are themed to their associated creature which adds more flavor and Power Up! also introduces the new Pandakai monster to trample Tokyo. The monsters have gone from being merely skins with the same abilities as one another to actually developing their own personalities. For Kings of Tokyo owners, I think Power Up! is a must-have.