Board Games for PC and Console Gamersby Thomas Cap & Dominik Rumler
Every once in a while I feel the urge to do something special, something that stands out among the numerous "ordinary" articles I produce day by day and week by week here at Gamer's Hell. The idea for this special came to me while visiting this years "Spielefest" [follow this link only if you wish to polish your german skills] a yearly (board) gaming convention in my hometown of Vienna. The "Spielefest" is around for 20 a year already hence dating back to a time when entertainment systems like Playstation, Gamecube and Xbox were not even thinkable of. The convention was always "only" about board games, table tops and family games and only this very year the videogame industry was granted access for the first time - hence me being there too after a few years absence. Although I focused on electronique gaming many years back already this doesn't mean that I haven played my share of "pc-less" games. Among the "traditl" board games I'm of course familiar with games like Cluedo, Risk and Activity but also collectible card games like Magic: The Gathering or the even more complex table top games of Warhammer by Games Workshop, they all have been sources of triumphant victories but also bitter defeats over the years.
Still I'm not really up-to-date regarding board games and the sheer number of different games you could look at and try out at the "Spielefest" would have been too much for me without the help of my trusty (freelance) co-worker Domink "The Goatfather" Rumler that - unlike me - while disliking most "modern" console and pc games is a real expert when it comes to board games and other ways of spending evenings gaming with friends without the need for a gamepad or mouse. He also produced parts of this article and was always willing to defeat me in every single one of the board games. Thanks for your support and get that beard trimmed! ;)
While exploring the convention floor by floor and room by room we ran across more games than I could ever hope to remember but a few really caught my eye, not because I would have heard of them before but because their name was somewhat familiar. Or isn't a game named Age of Mythology: The Boardgame at least worth a second look? At first look the game looked interesting already since including several detailed miniatures of units from the pc game and although we lacked the time to take a closer look my brain began to work. Well long story short right at the morning of the next day I knew I was going to write an article about boardgames that base on PC Games. But where to start it? Working through the convention catalogue I soon found several possible "preys" among the exhibited games and it didn't took too long to contact the persons in charge at the various companies.
I wasn't surprised that one company or more exactly store yet again stood out among the crowd. The people working at Damage Unlimited [English Interface in the works, try again in a few days], perhaps THE store for gaming and special interest gaming in Austria deserve more than just a simple thanks for their support. Knowing the store from my days of Magic and Warhammer the support for the "average" customer was always excellent and the information (and games) they provided for this article only made it possible in the first place. A big thanks to the staff and the people at their pr agency! If you ever need information on gaming or board games or are looking for a hard to get speciality this is the place to visit and the people to ask - not without a reason even people from Chile order from them....
But to the games shall we...
Age of Mythology was definitely one of the PC RTS blockbusters this year coming from Ensemble Studios the very same people that also created the equally successful Age of Empires Series. While Age of Empires was more of a "realistic" kind of game with genuine units from different ages and populaces Age of Mythology took quiet a different approach.
Age of Mythology is one epic RTS game where you switch populations several times as the story unfolds. From the mysterious island of Atlantis you soon take ship to Greece, after taking a passage through the underworld you pay a visit to Egypt and finally far in the North you will meet the last of your possible allies in an epic battle where even the gods are involved. Gods, the Underworld?! Like I said, Age of Mythology is different since you can not only control the human and mortal units from that time and age but also all the countless heroes and mythical units from classic legends and epic stories are fighting with or against you. In Greece Achilles, Odysseus will lead your armies and Pegasi will control the air, in Egypt giant beetles and mummies emerge from deep tombs and in the North dwarves and Frost Giants will battle each other till death.
Since I personally liked the PC game very much I was quiet curious who good the conversion to a board game would be. After opening the box - although having seen most of the content at the "Spielefest" - a pleasant sight awaited me.
Unlike in Anno 1503 below or Warcraft that will follow a little later Age of Mythology consist of many, many parts and of many, many DIFFERENT parts that is. You have 6 coloured sets of armies two for each population - Greek, Egypt and Norse - although only four people can play at a time. The "double" armies make it possible that two independent players can play the same civilization at the same time preventing battles for a particular tribe right at the beginning. For each player there is also player board where most of his actions will take place and a deck of cards, each deck containing battle cards, permanent action cards, and random action cards for the player.
Setting up the game - especially the first time - can be quiet a hassle since you not only have to free countless figurines from their plastic runners but also the cards, the resources (150 wooden cubes) and numerous cardboard tiles demand being sorted and prepared for the game. Since the box contains no subdivision of any kind you have to come up with a solution of your own after the first game - the only bigger downside of the game I have to admit although.
Working through the rules for the first time will take some time but many detailed examples in the manual make the rules easy understandable and after the first game of Age of Mythology you will likely will not need the manual again too soon.
Every turn starts with each player placing a victory cube on one of four victory conditions
In the next phase of the turn every player can choose his set of cards he want to use this round - the number of cards he is allowed to choose depend on the age he is in. The different actions - explore, gather, build, recruit, trade, next age and attack - are available from two independent decks a permanent action and a random action deck. Cards from the permanent action deck can be freely chosen but cards from the random deck have to be randomly drawn from the top of the deck. The random cards are of course much more powerful than their permanent equals but you will never know what you will get and deciding how many cards to get from each deck is a delicate and important decision if you plan to win the game.
Once each player has selected his cards three rounds of action card play will be performed and resources will be gathered, buildings will be built and placed on each players board, new units will be recruited, civilizations will evolve and sometimes even a battle will take place.
Attack cards always bear a number stating the number of units you may take along in the battle to come. Attacker and defender each secretly choose the units that will defend from their roosters and then the battles will take place. The battles are one-on-one each player deciding on a unit to fight out a duel that will be decided by rolling dices. The "strength" of each unit equals the number of dices you may roll although every single unit contains several modifiers depending on the unit it confronts in battle. A mythical unit like a frost giant might have a large modifier if fighting against a mortal unit but a dwarf on the other hand while weak against normal units might be a fantastic giant slayer. Again choosing the units the units that you take along while be a delicate decision as you often have to "guess" which unit(s) your opponent will choose since the modifiers often decide whether you are victorious or are close to terrible defeat. Once all modifiers are applied the dices are rolled and the player with the larger number of "6"'s wins this battle and his opponents unit is removed.
The buildings you have, cards from your random action deck and other units may also influence the outcome of a battle but besides strategic elements also a huge portion of luck is needed to win most of the battles.
Conclusion:Age of Mythology was the first more complex board game we played and while my co-author has chosen Warcraft as his favourite game Age of Mythology is my personal favourite among in this line-up. The rules are simple yet allow many different approaches to winning the game and the detailed game pieces and lots of artwork from the PC game offers more eye-candy than you can ask for in a board game.
Pros: many, many beautiful game pieces, much strategy, lots of things to do thanks to the numerous possible actions
Cons: too many pieces if you don't take care, the old dice problem - if you have bad luck an obvious victory can turn out to be catastrophe for your army.
There has been a wave of boardgames published under the names of computer-games recently, the first of them to get a closer look from me will be Anno 1503, designed by Klaus Teuber, who already delighted us with his "The Settlers of Catan" series.
In fact, Anno 1503 feels pretty alike his Settlers or Starfarers. Decided by the roll of a dice, you acquire certain commodities to sell or use for expansion. The goal of the game is to meet 3 out of 5 given victory conditions before someone else does, which means to grow your colony, explore the sea and earn money faster than your opponents. Those of you capable of a little german (or can wait since the English translations of the tutorials are added one by one) may want to have a closer look at the homepage of "Prof.easy", where an online tutorial of the game will grant you a closer look at it. If you do, jump over the next clause.
There is one big playing surface, showing the sea, you move your ships (max. 2) on. Some of its tiles contain islands with an unknown "surprise" on their backside. If you reach them with your ship you're allowed to "explore" those islands (take a look at their backside). If it shows a contor, or an island with a trade contract, you may move it to your colony if you like to, but if you do, you have to remove your ship. The contor adds the possibility to get new commodities at the beginning of each turn, the trade contract causes cheaper purchase of goods. If you're especially lucky, there might be a treasure containing money or free upgrades for the houses of your colony. Each player has his own small board, representing his colony, where he can build houses and give them 4 stages of upgrades or add trade posts from explored islands.
Now that we're done with this basic introduction, there is no way but comparing it to its pc-equivalent.
Imagine 2 - 4 people sitting around a table with their laptops and a playable demo of Anno 1503, which is limited to one town, a small number of buildings, no military units, a maximum of 2 ships and without a multiplayer option. The first one to get through this demo shouts "DONE!" and is considered the winner. This is probably as far as the game gets to the basic gameplay-principles of Anno 1503.
As sarcastic as this sounds - don't get me wrong, because this indeed can be fun. Like some of you may have spent hours and hours playing through the demo of a certain game again and again, maybe this game will give you somehow a similar experience, trying to optimize your resource-management and succeed in the race for unexplored islands.To accomplish 3 out of 5 given victory conditions, you may try different strategies, focusing either on exploration, extension or the way in between.The biggest problem of the game ist just the absence of interaction among the players. No trading, no fighting - hardly any way to influence your opponents progress.
This might be a nice gift for someone who likes the computer-game. It can be pretty fun, but I wouldn't recommend it to those looking for a brilliant, innovative boardgame or an inventive pc-boardgame conversion. Fans of Klaus Teuber will more likely stick with his "Settlers of Catan" or "Starefarers".
Pros: pretty short, easy rules > family friendly, theme of Anno 1503, different strategies
Cons: maybe too simple for those who are a little more into boardgames, no interaction, low replay value
Let's start with one simple statement: This game is HUGE! The box is one of the largest game boxes I have ever seen. The game board already gave us a hard time because the table we normally play games on was almost not large enough. 46"x36" should be proof enough that I'm not exaggerating but the superlatives don't stop here. It took us almost one evening only preparing the game. Why that? Well a total of 784(!!) game pieces had to be removed from plastic rulers and we have to learn almost 15 large pages of rules (and that were only the "basic" rules since there is also an advanced set of rules for people that have WAY too much time). Yet after some struggling with the boxes contents we were ready to go - but before that we needed some sleep.
Original pictures taken from http://www.boardgamegeek.com
The next evening we were highly motivated although information from the web that a single game can take up to three evenings was quiet bad news. We brewed some extra coffee, filled up the fridge with some coke and were set to go - no matter how long it would take!
Although the game consists of many, many different pieces the game wasn't as complex as we feared. Every turn consists of four phases - Movement and Battles phase, Trade phase, Production phase and finally Purchase phase. Every unit may move a given number of fields each turn using so called movement points. Each field of the board starts with a exploration marker and a player who's settler reaches it may take a look at it. The markers can bear either one of 8 resource icons, trigger a special event or perhaps do nothing at all.
Once all movement is done players who share a field with units of another faction *may* decide to battle. Battle is NOT a requirement but if one of the two parties wishes to fight it will be done so. Players can choose to not fight at all but a formerly peaceful player can also attack all of a sudden making this a very interesting aspect of the game. The battles themselves are simpler than in the other games. Depending on the era the unit is from - Ancient, Medieval, Gunpowder/Industrial and Modern Area - and various modifiers you and your opponent will both roll dices and the unit with the higher total wins - in case of a tie both units are destroyed.
Considering this turn of events we will have to take a closer look at the other phases. During the trade phase you can trade virtually everything. There are not rules that would demand the trade to be fair nor limits what can be traded. Players can not only exchange resources but also settlers, military units, cities (!), technologies and yes even wonders can be traded if both parties wish too. Unlike other games players might virtually bribe other players anyway they want!
During production phase you first of all calculate the gold you get this turn. Depending on the size of each city it will produce more or less gold each turn. But before the gold distribution is finished a dice is rolled to decide on a "critical" resource for this turn and lucky players that have a city producing this resource - remember the exploration markers we could take a look at during movement phase? - may instantly double their income! Also other modifiers like monopolies on certain resources and already obtained technologies apply and the amount of gold you get every turn and can make your civilization more and more wealthy turn by turn.
But how useful would be our riches if we can't put them to good use? Well finally we will enter purchase phase. During this phase you can purchase settlers, military units and technologies but also upgrade your villages to larger settlements.
The (basic) game ends once one player has bought three technologies from the modern area. Every player finishes his turn and then the victory points are distributed. Players get victory points for the number and size of their settlements, the number of technologies they own and the number of wonders they built. In the end military supremacy is yet again useless as you can see!
Civilization is without doubt the most complex game we tested although the basic rules are not that hard once you read the manual and the many included examples. The advanced rules on the other hand are something only for very ambitious board gamers and can't be explained to a newbie in 10 minutes. Be warned - a full scale advanced game can easily take up to 6 hours and more!
The approval of peaceful co-existence among players is something new for a change although a little more aggressive gamers might get frustrated by the only small havoc they can cause.
If you have got the brains and the time for this game you won't be disappointed I can promise you that. The quality of the port is extraordinary and it really played and "felt" like the classic pc game.
I'm quiet positive that every single reader of this review has at least *heard* of "Risk" a board game that has been around for I don't know how long and was played by millions and millions of gamers of all ages during the years. And if you haven't ever heard from the "Lord of the Rings" especially after the marketing campaigns for the movies... well I don't think that this is even possible anyway.
Some marketing mastermind finally came up with the idea of combining these two successful franchises and here we are playing The Lord of the Rings Risk.
Note: Everyone interested in acquiring the game after reading this review will have to be careful although since while reviewing we soon found out that there is more than one version of this game around. In Europe Hasbro retails 2 independent boxes, the main game for up to four players and an addon with an additional "map part" to enlarge the gaming board and additional armies to make games with up to 6 players possible. In the US it seems the 2 boxes can be obtained in one big box called Risk - The Lord of the Rings Trilogy Edition. What the exact differences are we couldn't yet confirm.
The basic rules for the Lord of the Rings Edition of Risk are not too different to the original game. Playing on a map of middle earth you and your opponents are each controlling vast armies and the ultimate goal is to control as many of the countries of middle earth as possible.
Depending on the number of territories you control including bonuses for various cards and the control of whole regions of the map you get a certain number of reinforcements every round that you can place in regions you control. This urgent "need" for more and more land makes Risk a very aggressive game since military supremacy is more or less the only way to win the game. Taking this into credit it isn't really a surprise that there is hardly ever a turn where no battles between opposing armies occur. Battles are fought out using dices yet again so besides strategy luck is yet again an important element. The rules of Risk are really that simple and new players can start right away perhaps also a reason why this game has been so successful for such a long time.
Original picture taken from http://www.boardgamegeek.com
So what is so special about this special edition of Risk? Besides the obvious things like lots of eye-candy and artwork from the movies the game board is like already mentioned a map of middle earth. Likewise the miniatures for the different "concentrations" of your troops- 1, 3 or 5 units are represented by different creatures you might recall from the movies - my trolls simply love squashed elbs for breakfast - and you may choose to play either the good guys or enter into alliance with the forces of evil what mainly influences how your units look like but also triggers special winning conditions and bonuses for certain territories.
Regarding movement rivers are now unpassable unless a bridge is nearby making defending a special region perhaps easier but at the same time perhaps slowing down urgently needed reinforcements. And battles finally are influenced by fortresses that are present in certain regions giving a bonus to the defender but attackers as well might get a bonus if one of the new army leaders is present
.The biggest change of course is the movement of the ring that alone decides the end of the game. As the ring slowly travels from north to south you can try to slow down the fellowship but you will never be able to stop them and once the ring leaves the map the game is over immediately and the winner of the game can be found out.
After two semi-complex games - WarCraft and Age of Mythology - and a VERY complex one like Civilization it was a nice for a change to play a more simple yet still demanding game like Risk. The Lord of the Rings conversion was very nice done with enough additions to make even old-school Risk players happy (you may even us the new board with the rules from the original game, just skip the special rules and the movement of the ring). Lord of the Rings and Risk fans alike will both be happy with the merge of this two successful franchises and spent more than one evening fighting for the future of Middle Earth.
Pros: Lord of the Rings & Risk, an easy to learn classic game
Cons: yet again, but most games have that little problem - if the dices aren't in the mood...
Preparing to write this review I browsed the net in search for others opinions on this game, and I found more than one. As a matter of fact the comments on this game do differ a lot - there was either enthusiasm or dislike. So, how does it work?
Since the rules are online at http://www.fantasyflightgames.com, I won't go too much into detail on them.
The Warcraft boardgame features an adaptable/expandable geomorphic board made up by tiles like in "Settlers of Catan" and similar games. Each round is divided into 4 phases: move, gather, completion (of buildings and units commissioned last round) and buying and building of units and buildings.
For a regular game you extend your base to be able to improve quality and quantity of your units. To be able to do so you need to gather the resources gold and wood with your workers(or Peons,...). The number of wood/gold you recieve depends on the roll of a dice for each worker situated on a mine/forest. But like in the computer-game, those, neither forest nor mine last forever, which makes them important and intresting strategic elements. Because every time you take too much from from a field - in this case 3 units of wood or gold - a marker is set for that field. For the time being the field can be still used like nothing happened but if a second time a 3 is rolled the mine is depleted or the forest is destroyed making further gathering at this location impossible.
There a three kinds of different units (upgrades and strengths and special abilities are different for each race), fights are somehow a mixture of strategy and luck, alltough like on the pc the number of units is a important factor. Magic is implemented too represented by randomly drawn cards.
Another important thing to mention is the possibility to play missions. You're even able to make up your own new missions, there is a missionguide available (along some missions already designed by fans) on http://www.fantasyflightgames.com to help you with that.
Compared to the other boardgames, with a suggested retail prize of abot 40$ Warcraft is not that expensive. What you get are variate playing surfaces and missions, lots of artwork from the game and the actual feeling of a rts game in a boardgme - could you think of anything more to wish for? Well as somehting like a critic I have to cover one more thing...
So what are the most important gameplay issues? Since the designers didn't come up with an idea to implement the "fog of war" concept, your always know what your opponent is doing. With three players there is the same problem of balance as in the computer-game. (Yes, everyone is always teaming up against me! -TC)
What else I disliked was a number of limitations, namely players (max. six - really hoping for an expansion set), map (somehow I wished fo a larger map, allthough I'm not sure whether this would have improved the game) and units (only 3 different kinds).
A last but not least, Miniatures would have looked better than consistent tokens.
Even though there are no ogre heads fighting each other I think of it as a great game. It might not be for everyones taste but neither is real time strategy on the pc. This game is far from perfect, but it has great ideas and really fresh, innovative gameplay.
This is an excellent conversion of the actual pc-game and if you're not afraid of a little complex rules and long playing time, it is great fun. From my point of view I definitly recommend this one even though there seem to some people who don't enjoy it as much as I do!
Pros: Warcraft theme, modular board, rts-feeling, missions, price
Cons: No miniatures, 4 players only, some gameplay issues
My, what a long article have we produced...
Although there were some ups and downs while writting this article I must say that I really enjoyed working on it. Most ports normally can't convince me a bit be it a movie based on a certain book or videogame or the other way round for that matter, and some ports from console to PC I played were simply awful. It was nice for a change that there are also good ports. As stated early my personal favourite is Age of Mythology although the game that was the best port regarding general gameplay reproduction was definitly Civilization.
I hope that I could interest you in the featured games although there are many more games that I would like to cover like the "Lord of the Rings" table top game by Games Workshop and various RPG's and other games basing on Dungeons&Dragons, Warcraft, Diablo and many, many more.
Yet our resource are limited and if you are interested in more articles of this kind please give use some feedback by either mailing me or posting at our forums. After all you as our readers have influence on what we do...