Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Another Mole Rats in Space Giveaway! Five Winners!

Mole Rats in Space
Designer: Matt Leacock
Publisher: Peaceable Kingdom
2-4p | 20m | 7+
GJJ Games and Peaceable Kingdom have partnered up to give away FIVE MORE COPIES of the new cooperative family game, Mole Rats in Space by renowned designer Matt Leacock (Pandemic series, Forbidden Island, Forbidden Desert, Roll Through the Ages: The Bronze Age, Thunderbirds, Knit Wit, and more).

Why are we giving away five more copies?  Read my review and find out!  This is in addition to two copies given away last month.  Thank you to Peaceable Kingdom for their generosity!

In a space station far from Earth, a team of Mole Rats is busy at work when a band of snakes infiltrates their station. Players work together to help the Mole Rats gather their equipment and make it to their escape pod before time runs out! Climb the ladders, slip down air-shafts, but don't get bitten by the snakes. From celebrated cooperative game designer Matt Leacock.

Winners will be contacted via the email they supplied via the the contest widget.  Winners will have 48 hours to respond before a new winner will be selected.  Winning entries will be checked for validity, so any shares must be publicly visible.  Winners will be selected from all eligible entries.  Winners will be limited to winning one prize.  Peaceable Kingdom is responsible for prize fulfillment.  Shipping is provided to US Locations only, international winners may be asked to pay actual shipping charges.  Peaceable Kingdom, GJJ Games, and their immediate families are ineligible. This promotion is in no way sponsored, endorsed or administered by, or associated with, Facebook or Twitter. We hereby release Facebook and Twitter of any liability. No purchase necessary, void where prohibited. Contestants release GJJ Games of any liability. By entering this contest you agree to being added to our mailing list which can be opted out of at any time. Winner(s) will be announced on this page and contacted by email within two weeks of contest end.

This promotion is in no way sponsored, endorsed or administered by, or associated with, Facebook.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

People Behind the Meeples - Episode 66: Andrew Birkett

Welcome to People Behind the Meeples, a series of interviews with indie game designers.  Here you'll find out more than you ever wanted to know about the people who make the best games that you may or may not have heard of before.  If you'd like to be featured, head over to and fill out the questionnaire! You can find all the interviews here: People Behind the Meeples or in the index.

Name:Andrew Birkett
Location:Orlando, FL, USA 🇺🇸
Day Job:I am still a college student at the University of Florida. I have a job as an account manager with my uncle's company.
Designing:One to two years.
Facebook:Atheris Games
YouTube:Atheris Games
Find my games at:FLGS and Amazon
Today's Interview is with:

Andrew Birkett
Interviewed on: 3/11/2017

Andrew Birkett has been designing games for only a couple of years now, but he's already gotten into publishing games through his company Atheris Games. Last year he successfully funded Cul-De-Sac Conquest and has a game (by another designer) on Kickstarter right now! But only for a couple more days. Mutant Crops is already funded and working toward stretch goals in the last 48 hours. For only $19, it's worth checking out now.

Some Basics
Tell me a bit about yourself.

How long have you been designing tabletop games?
One to two years.

Why did you start designing tabletop games?
I have always been really passionate about entrepreneurship. I used to try to start all kinds of businesses as a kid. I bought a gumball machine to put into the AT&T store my dad owned, washed cars, mowed lawns, etc. All my family were entrepreneurs at some point of time or any other so I knew I wanted to start a company. When I was in high school I developed an idea for an automotive trading card game. The game ended up changing into more of a livable card game model and has yet to be published. However, the time developing the business plan and learning game design was instrumental to my introduction to designing tabletop games. Ultimately the artwork costs for my automotive game became too high. I didn't have the capital to continue and I had potential investors that all dropped out so I pivoted to make a board game. At first it was a war game I had been developing whenever I got stuck on the automotive game, but then I changed the theme to be about annoying neighbors. We launched on Kickstarter super quickly and raised just over $20k.

What game or games are you currently working on?
When I was making my automotive game I posted in an art for tabletop games group and asked if any graphic designers would be able to assist me with improving the design of my cards. Sebastian Koziner responded and did the first layout for free. I loved his work so we worked together on all the graphics for the automotive game, Cul-De-Sac Conquest, and my upcoming game Supernatural Socks. In addition to graphic design Sebastian is a game designer and owns a publishing studio in Argentina. Atheris Games is excited to launch Sebastian's game Mutant Crops on Kickstarter March 21st 2017 through April 20th 2017. Mutant Crops is a game about sowing, feeding, watering and harvesting mutated crops. My next game, Supernatural Socks, which is a game about socks being lost in the laundry should be on Kickstarter in June.

Have you designed any games that have been published?
Cul-De-Sac Conquest was my first published game

What is your day job?
I am still a college student at the University of Florida. I took the spring semester off school and work but I often work, go to school, and work on Atheris at the same time. It is pretty stressful, but I love making games and couldn't imagine my life without Atheris Games. I owned a game store shortly (4 months) because I won space at the University of Florida student union, but I felt it took me away from publishing games so I ultimately decided to close it. I now have a job as an account manager. I am still training but it seems like a great job. It is my uncle's company so I work with family, which is nice.

Your Gaming Tastes
My readers would like to know more about you as a gamer.

Where do you prefer to play games?
My house.

Who do you normally game with?
Recently my family (most were not gamers before)

If you were to invite a few friends together for game night tonight, what games would you play?
We normally play Deception: Murder at Hong Kong, Dixit, Avalon, Cash N Guns and other simple games with large player counts.

And what snacks would you eat?
Any snack is good with me. I eat a ton of candy and drink a lot of Red Bull. Some of my family will bring beer and other drinks over. I normally don't drink alcohol, but I am all for Red Bull. We also ate pizza last week. I am lactose-intolerant, but they make pills to ease digestion.

Do you like to have music playing while you play games? If so, what kind?
I guess it would depend on the game. I play music when playing some of my prototype games. I have a office game I am working on and I like to play elevator music. For Cul-De-Sac on my turn I play whatever music would be thematic for my character.

What’s your favorite FLGS?
Gamesville Tabletop definitely has a place in my heart. When I started designing in Gainesville, FL everyone at Gamesville were super helpful and supportive. Though I must admit I love most of the local FLGS in Orlando and all the FLGS that have supported Atheris.

What is your current favorite game? Least favorite that you still enjoy? Worst game you ever played?
I really enjoy Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle. My least favorite game that was still ok was Backyard Builders Treehouse. The worst game I ever played was a roll-and-move game at a prototype convention.

What is your favorite game mechanic? How about your least favorite?
My favorite mechanic is probably card drafting. My least favorite is probably anything with dice movement.

What’s your favorite game that you just can’t ever seem to get to the table?
World’s Fair 1893

What styles of games do you play?
I like to play Board Games, Card Games, RPG Games

Do you design different styles of games than what you play?
I like to design Board Games, Card Games

OK, here's a pretty polarizing game. Do you like and play Cards Against Humanity?

You as a Designer
OK, now the bit that sets you apart from the typical gamer. Let's find out about you as a game designer.

When you design games, do you come up with a theme first and build the mechanics around that? Or do you come up with mechanics and then add a theme? Or something else?
Both. Most of the time I start with theme, but I am designing a game now that has no theme currently.

Have you ever entered or won a game design competition?
I have not.

Where or when or how do you get your inspiration or come up with your best ideas?
I do a 5-minute game theme challenge almost everyday. That is great inspiration. I also love writing so some of the themes come from that. Cul-De-Sac Conquest started as a story I was writing about annoying neighbors.

How do you go about playtesting your games?
There are local playtesting groups, we also do blind testing and I test with my girlfriend when the games are at the worst. She is kind enough to play them.

Do you like to work alone or as part of a team? Co-designers, artists, etc.?
I like working with other people. With Supernatural Socks I wanted to design alone since i worked with others on Cul-De-Sac Conquest, but I have many collab projects in the works now.

What do you feel is your biggest challenge as a game designer?
Time. Or rather the lack-thereof.

If you could design a game within any IP, what would it be?
Probably Guardians of the Galaxy

What do you wish someone had told you a long time ago about designing games?
That prototypes don't need expensive artwork.

What advice would you like to share about designing games?
Prototype rapidly. Take criticism well, but know that at the end of the day it is your game so you need to be happy with it. Have fun.

Would you like to tell my readers what games you're working on and how far along they are?
Published games, I have: Cul-De-Sac Conquest
Games that will soon be published are: Supernatural Socks
I'm planning to crowdfund: Supernatural Socks

Are you a member of any Facebook or other design groups? (Game Maker’s Lab, Card and Board Game Developers Guild, etc.)
Yep. Hopefully all of them.

And the oddly personal, but harmless stuff…
OK, enough of the game stuff, let's find out what really makes you tick! These are the questions that I’m sure are on everyone’s minds!

Star Trek or Star Wars? Coke or Pepsi? VHS or Betamax?
Star Wars but I am not a huge fan of either. Coke and Pepsi are the same thing. VHS. Growing up I used to use VHS tapes to make roads for my Hot Wheels.

What hobbies do you have besides tabletop games?
I like running, writing and reading.

What is something you learned in the last week?
I am learning a lot about student loan repayment options since I am almost out of school.

Favorite type of music? Books? Movies?
I like all kinds of music but I mainly listen to rap. I read a lot of business books, non-fiction and fiction books. Right now I am reading Marcia Clark's Without a Doubt. One of my favorite books is the Green Mile by Stephen King. For movies I am obsessed with Guardians of the Galaxy. I like comedies, too.

What was the last book you read?
Cold Killing by Luke Delaney. It is a fiction book but I read a lot of crime novels (fiction and non-fiction).

Do you play any musical instruments?
Unfortunately not

Tell us something about yourself that you think might surprise people.
I have maxed out all of my credit cards to start Atheris Games.

Who is your idol?
Elon Musk. I love cars and Tesla Model D's can do 0 to 60 in 2.8 seconds

What would you do if you had a time machine?
Nothing. I am happy with my life and wouldn't want to accidentally change anything. I do enjoy history so I might go and check out old artifacts in pristine condition.

Are you an extrovert or introvert?

If you could be any superhero, which one would you be?
Batman. He has a sweet car and is an entrepreneur.

Have any pets?
My dad has two shih-tzus, Gizmo and Lily.

Just a Bit More
Thanks for answering all my crazy questions! Is there anything else you'd like to tell my readers?

Here are a few more pictures:

Andrew and his girlfriend.

Andrew with a Holeshot Heroes shirt and a copy of Oni, the first game Sebastian Koziner (the designer of Mutant Crops) had published internationally. Holeshot Heroes was the car game Andrew was working on.

Andrew's game designs.

Andrew is Kickstarting Mutant Crops, Atheris' second game, by Sebastian Koziner. Check out the game now!

Thank you for reading this People Behind the Meeples indie game designer interview! You can find all the interviews here: People Behind the Meeples and if you'd like to be featured yourself, you can fill out the questionnaire here:

Did you like this interview?  Show your support by clicking the heart at Board Game Links , liking GJJ Games on Facebook , or following on Twitter .  And be sure to check out my games on  Tabletop Generation.

Monday, April 17, 2017

GJJG Game Reviews - Mole Rats in Space - by Peaceable Kingdom

Mole Rats in Space
Designer: Matt Leacock
Publisher: Peaceable Kingdom
2-4p | 20m | 7+
GJJG Game Reviews - Mole Rats in Space - by Peaceable Kingdom

Game Overview:
In the last few months I've reviewed a few of Peaceable Kingdom's kid friendly cooperative games.  I started with Race to the Treasure, which was aimed at kids age five and up.  It was OK, but I felt it was too simple, even for young kids.  It didn't really offer many real choices or decisions.  Next up was Cauldron Quest, which was for ages six and up.  This was a much 'gamier' game, and offered a few more choices, but was still pretty linear and relied on luck.  But today I'm going to tell you about the newest cooperative game to be released by Peaceable Kingdom, and it's designed by a pretty big name in cooperative games.

Mole Rats in Space is the latest cooperative game for kids (ages eight and up) from Peaceable Kingdom and renowned designer, Matt Leacock.  Matt is known for designing some of the biggest hits for cooperative games, including Pandemic, Forbidden Island (which was my sons' introduction to cooperative games), Forbidden Desert, Thunderbirds, and the number one game on Board Game Geek, Pandemic Legacy.  With a catalog like that, a kids cooperative game comes with some pretty high expectations.  So, does Mole Rats in Space deliver the fun, cooperative experience we've come to expect from Matt Leacock in the family friendly package we expect from Peaceable Kingdom?  Read on to find out!

In Mole Rats in Space, each player is an anthropomorphic mole rat that is stuck on a space station with a bunch of snakes (cue a Samuel L. Jackson quote now).  The mole rats must escape the space station together and avoid the snakes.  The game borrows a lot from Snakes/Chutes & Ladders, but Matt Leacock puts a modern spin on this ancient classic.

Components & Packaging:
As usual, the components in Mole Rats in Space are top notch for a kids game.  As I've mentioned before, Peaceable Kingdom's games are all manufactured in eco-friendly ways.  Everything from the cardboard to the plastic figures are from sustainable sources.  And they don't skimp on quality to meet these standards either.

The game comes with four plastic mole rat figures (don't worry, they're not naked mole rats - they're wearing space suits) in four colors.  Each mole rat has a backpack that can be used to carry a med kit and other equipment acquired during the game.  The little chits used for the med kits and equipment are a bit thinner than you might find in other games, but they're sturdy enough and fit nicely in the backpacks.  There are also twelve snake tokens that are the same thickness, but bigger.  Nothing feels cheap, and everything has nice printing.
Awesome mole rat figures!
The cards are decent quality, too.  They have nice snap and shuffle well, although they're missing some premium features, like black core or linen texture, but in a kids game where you're only handling one card at a time and only shuffling once at the beginning of the game, the quality is more than adequate.
All the components are good quality.
The game board is nice and large, with clear graphics printed on the playing side and the Peaceable Kingdom logo and game name printed on the back.  This makes a nice presentation in the box when the board is folded up and put away.
Just lifting the lid is a great presentation!
Which brings us to the box.  The box, I think, is my favorite component (or maybe the mole rat figures, I can't quite decide).  The box is nice and thick, with an awesome insert that holds everything snugly.  The mole rat figures each have their own spot to sit, and the board holds the cards and tokens in place nicely.
Everything has a spot!
The outside of the box looks great.  It's obviously a kids game from the artwork, but the characters really grab your attention.  And if they don't, then the metallic lettering definitely will!  Peaceable Kingdom always has attractive covers on their games, and Mole Rats in Space is no exception.
Look at all those shiny letters!
Score: 9/10 x1

Rules & Setup:
Setting up Mole Rats in Space is a piece of cake.  Each mole rat starts on the side of the board with its color (although, as long as they start in a starting space, which one doesn't really matter).  Each mole rat also starts with its corresponding med kit token, in its backpack.  Four other equipment token and four snake token are placed in their designated starting spaces.  Shuffle the cards (after removing one for a two player game), deal one out to each player, and you're good to go!
All set up for a three player game.
The rule are also pretty simple.  Basically all the game is, is play a card, do what it says, then draw a new card.  Players work together on a board very reminiscent of Chutes & Ladders (aka Snakes & Ladders).  Just like in the classic kids game, there are ladders to climb and chutes to slide down, but the levels form concentric squares instead of a zigzag path, and there are dangerous snakes slithering through the corridors of this space station.
The rules are clear and concise.  Just what you'd expect from a kids' game.

The goal of the game is to acquire the four pieces of equipment and get all the mole rats to the escape pod at the center of the board, before a name finds its way to the escape hatch, a mole rat is bitten twice, or the players run out of cards to play.

Cards have one or two action on them and each player must play the card they have on their turn.  Most cards have two halves, one that moves mole rats, and one for snakes.  The mole rat action tells you to move either your own mole rat, all mole rats, or any one mole rat one, two, or three spaces.  Some cards give you a choice of how far to move, but most just tell you how far.  Snake actions have you move a single snake in a particular color, all snakes of a color, or one snake of any color one, two, or three spaces.  Or, some snake actions require you to spawn a new snake of a particular color.  There are also a few cards that don't have any mole rat actions and just have one or more snakes move directly to the nearest ladder and climb it.
This card lets you move your mole rat one or two spaces, and requires that you spawn a new red snake.
As mole rats and snakes move through the space station they may land on spaces that have different effects.  Passing through a space has no effect (except for mole rats passing through spaces occupied by snakes or vice versa).  Ending your move on a space though, causes that space's effect to happen.  If a mole rat or snake lands on a ladder it will immediately climb up to the space above the ladder.  Landing on a chute takes the character down to the Chute's exit, but be careful, some chutes vent into space!  These are good to move snakes onto, but your mole rats should avoid them.  Some spaces have equipment on them and if a mole rats lands here, it can pick up the equipment token and put into its backpack.  There are also spaces where new snakes will occasionally spawn.

If a mole rat and snake ever occupy the same space, even mid-move, the mole rat gets bitten.  The mole rat must discard its med kit and return to its starting space.  If a mole rat doesn't have a med kit because it's already been bitten, then the players lose the game.  So be careful and avoid those snakes!
Ladders go up, chutes go down.  Keep the snakes away from the mole rats and escape pod while you collect
the equipment and make your way to the escape pod.  That's the game in a nutshell.
That's pretty much it.  The game is easy enough for an eight year old to play with other kids, or as young as four or five to play with an adult.  There are a few details that aren't addressed in the rules, but they're pretty easy to surmise.  For example, the rules don't state which action to complete first, the mole rat or snake action.  We took this to mean it didn't matter what order actions were taken in, but you could make the game a bit more challenging by requiring the mole rats to always move first.  The rules also don't say if a mole rat can enter the escape pod before all the equipment is collected, but we assumed no.  Overall though, the rules are simple, clear, and concise.

Score: 8/10 x2

Playing Mole rats in Space is actually quite fun.  The mechanics are super simple, and the play-a-card simplicity still generates a number of interesting decisions.  Often times the best decision is pretty obvious, particularly for older players, but younger players will like deciding where to move pieces, and which pieces to move.  The game is still heavily driven by luck (card draws), and still has a pretty linear progression.  
Loading up the mole rats with equipment is quite fun, but sometimes feels inevitable.
Whether we won or lost didn't really feel like something we really had much control of.  The first time we lost it was because someone had to play a card that made all snakes of a certain color move to the nearest ladder and climb up.  There just happened to be a snake on the same level as the ladder to the escape pod, so we lost.  Our second loss came because we ran out of cards to draw, not because we made any choices that we shouldn't have.

There is a way to make the game more difficult though.  Mole Rats in Space includes a Challenge Pack.  This is a small envelope that says not to open it until you've won three games.  SPOILER: The More Venom challenge cards add in a few more challenging cards, including a few more spawn a snake cards.  This means there's a new lose condition.  If you have to spawn a snake of a specific color and can't because all the snakes of that color ate already on the board, you lose.
The 'More Venom' cards are only to be used after you've won three games.
Overall though, it wasn't difficulty that I felt the game was lacking, it was decisions that I wanted more of. You always have to play the one card you draw, so you do kind of feel like the game is playing itself, even though you do get to decide the directions to move. Yes, I'm an adult, so I'm looking for something a bit more complex, but even my seven and ten year old boys wanted something a tiny bit deeper. As my ten year old put it, it didn't seem fair for the snakes that we could always just move them away from us. Because of that, it felt like when we did get caught by the snakes (or they managed to climb a ladder into the escape pod) it was just bad luck and not anything that was controllable.

After playing a few times we wanted a little more teamwork and decisions, and it's really easy to change the game up for that.
His comments got me thinking, and the last few times we've played we've used a very simple variant that I came up with.  It's such a simple twist that I'm actually surprised that it wasn't included as an official variant that increases both the challenge and cooperative aspect of the game, and makes decisions sometimes a challenge.

So here's my super easy to implement variant:
  1. Each turn players have two cards in their hand, instead of one. You'll play one card and then draw back up to two.
  2. Snakes always move toward the nearest Mole Rat, if there is one on its level. If you have a choice of moving a snake that is on a level with a mole rat and one that isn't, the one on the level with the mole rat moves.
That's it! We felt it added a lot to the game, just having that extra decision to make about which card to play. We found we were actually discussing possible move sequences and cooperating a whole lot more. The base game was a bit easier this way, but more fulfilling. The challenge game was still pretty challenging.

A few things that can be done to increase the difficulty even more:
  • Start with more snakes out on the board.
  • If there are no mole rats on the same level as a snake they'll move toward the nearest ladder (up or even down ladders and let them climb down ladders).
Without this variant, Mole Rats in Space if still a good game. It's great for families and kids that are new to cooperative board games, and offers a casual, fun time that even adults won't mind playing occasionally. But if you're ready to move up to the next level and want some real cooperation, strategic planning, and teamwork, give my little variant a try. My sons and I feel it really makes Mole Rats in Space a great family cooperative game, and my rating below reflects the fun we've had with this variant.

Score: 8/10 x2

While Mole Rats in Space doesn't really teach any formal subjects, it is still somewhat educational.  The rulebook does have a short blurb about the naked mole rat, which may spur an interest in some kids to learn more about the diminutive creatures, but where the game shines is in what it teaches about planning, cooperation, and even a bit of teamwork (something that was lacking in the other Peaceable Kingdom games I reviewed).

In Mole Rats in Space, players really do need to work together.  Players don't have different abilities, but they will have to cooperate to move snakes out of the way (preferably by venting them out of airlocks) and collect all the equipment.  Players will have to work as a team to figure out who should go which piece of equipment.  With the variant described above, players will even learn how to plan a sequence of moves across multiple players for the best strategic outcome.
Cards like these offer some very strategic decisions.  You can move any mole rat (not just your own) and any snake three spaces.
Score: 7/10 x1

Unlike the other Peaceable Kingdom games I reviewed, my sons actually asked to play Mole Rats in Space multiple times.  Both, and especially my younger son, really enjoyed it.  And you know what?  I enjoyed it, too.  Even without my variant, it didn't feel like a chore to 'play another kiddie game'.  This isn't Pandemic, or even Forbidden Island, but there's enough going on that it'll even keep adults interested.  And I'm actually itching to play again with my variant.
The mole rats won and escaped!  Our win:loss ratio was about 5:2, so that's pretty good for a kids cooperative game.
Without my variant I see this as a game that will outlast most other kids games for both kids and adults.  With the variant, I can even see my gamer family pulling this out fairly frequently.  Of the Peaceable Kingdom games I've reviewed, Mole Rats in Space definitely has the most replay value.

Score: 7/10 x1

General Fun:
Despite the silly premise, similarity to Snakes/Chutes & Ladders, and simple mechanics, I really had fun playing Mole Rats in Space, and so did my kids.  Its not a game that I'll take to an adult game night, but it's definitely a winner for family game night.
We enjoyed Mole Rats in Space more than any of the other Peaceable Kingdom games.  This is a winner!
The whimsical miniatures and artwork complement the friendly gameplay perfectly.  From the moment you open the box to the last turn of the game, Mole Rats in Space provides an entertaining experience.

Score: 8/10 x2

Overall Value:
At only $20, Mole Rats in Space should be a no brained for your family, or as a gift for another family.  It's simple enough that non-gaming families will 'get' it, but there's enough going on that even gamer families will enjoy it.  And with my variant, it's a game that can last through quite a few plays and stay entertaining for several years.  You'll definitely get your money's worth out of Mole Rats in Space!
$20 is a bargain for the great components and great game.
Score: 9/10 x1

Final Thoughts:
As expected, Matt Leacock has created another successful cooperative game with Mole Rats in Space.  This time it's a game for the young'uns, and it works great.  I do wish a more highly cooperative variant was included from the get-go, but the two-card variant was just so obvious that I have to believe that it was almost a part of the game at some point.

All of the Peaceable Kingdom games I've played have been enjoyable experiences, but Mole Rats in Space is by far the most enjoyable yet.  It's fun for kids, interesting for adults, and simple to learn.  Mole Rats in Space offers up some interesting decisions, and encourages simple teamwork.  This is a solid entry for a family game, and the price, Peaceable Kingdom's ethical production processes, and quality are all incredible.  I highly recommend Mole Rats in Space to all families and think it is suitable for as young as four or five with adult help, and up to 12 or more with a more challenging and cooperation driven variant.
Ahhhh!  A purple snake is stealing our escape pod!
You can find Mole Rat in Space online at the Peaceable Kingdom website, your favorite online retailer, or a FLGS (Friendly Local Game Store) near you.  You'll love your copy!

Overall Score: 80/100

Mole Rats in Space HUGE Giveaway - 5 Winners!

Did you like this review?  Show your support by clicking the heart at Board Game Links , liking GJJ Games on Facebook , or following on Twitter .  And be sure to check out my games on  Tabletop Generation.

GJJG Game Reviews are independent, unpaid reviews of games I, George Jaros, have played with my family and friends.  Some of these games I own, some are owned by friends, some are borrowed, and some are print and play versions of games.  Where applicable I will indicate if games have been played with kids or adults or a mix (Family Play).  I won't go into extensive detail about how to play the game (there are plenty of other sources for that information and I'll occasionally link to those other sources), but I will give my impressions of the game and how my friends and family reacted to the game.  A score of 1-10 (low-high) is given to each game in six categories: Components & Packaging, Rules & Setup, Gameplay, Replayability, Overall Value, and General Fun.  Rules & Setup and General Fun are weighted double and Gameplay is weighted triple.  Educational games have an extra category and Gameplay is only weighted double. Then the game is given a total score of x/100.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Quick Review - Tiki Island - Preview

Tiki Island
Designers: Matt Hyzer and
Christian Miedel
Publisher: Great Wight Games
2-6p | 30-60m | 8+
Quick Review - Tiki Island - Preview

Back in September, Great Wight Games ran a Kickstarter for their first game, Tiki Island.  They contacted me about reviewing the game for that campaign, but their campaign was half over at the time and I couldn't squeeze a review in that quickly.  But when that campaign was cancelled I told them I'd be happy to review it before a relaunch if they'd like.  Well, a few months later I unexpectedly received Tiki Island in the mail and was excited to review it before their next campaign... which started the day after I received the game.  Once again, I wasn't able to get a review out before their campaign end (I generally require a minimum of 4-8 weeks to get a review out, depending on my current queue, which has been packed solid since last summer).  But I promised I'd review the game when I could fit it into my schedule, and since the second campaign was successful I figured I'd wait until closer to the release of the game.  Tiki Island is scheduled to be delivered to backers in June, so if you're interested in it, you can preorder it for $40 now!

Despite the shaky start to my experience with Tiki Island, I was very curious about the gameplay, and was excited to play.  It's a highly chaotic game for two to four players.  Each player controls a group of three islanders that are escaping their island before it is destroyed (by volcanoes, earthquakes, tsunamis, a kraken, etc.).  Unfortunately, they're trying to escape to another island that is also being destroyed, but that's besides the point.  As long as you can get your islanders to the island on the opposite side of the board they're safe.
What calamity is destroying your islanders' home?
To save your islanders you need to build smaller islands as stepping stones between the island you are escaping and the island you are trying to reach.  The problem arises when your chain of islands meets up with an opponent's chain.  Your islanders are only able to use your own islands or neutral islands, so as you build a chain you are also blocking your opponents' progress.
Starting out on a journey.  Things look wide open, but that's about to change!
Tiki Island is a relatively simple game to play.  On your turn you'll roll a die, determine what action to take - either one of the basic actions or the one allowed by the die, and play a card or two (maybe).  Each player has four units - three islanders and one tiki.  The islanders need to cross the central sea, but they can't stray too far from the tiki because only the tiki can build the little islands for the islanders to move across.  Throughout the game you'll also acquire rune cards that will give you a variety of abilities that can influence the game.  
Lots of rune cards ensure the game stays unpredictable.
There are three basic actions: Move, Build, and Draw a Rune.  There are also two types of movement: standard movement and soaring movement.  Standard movement allows you to move your islanders or tiki to any adjacent or neutral island.  Soaring let's you move through enemy, occupied, or even ocean spaces, as long as you end your movement on a friendly or neutral island.  Build let's you add an island anywhere within three spaces of your tiki.  Draw a Rune simply gives you a rune card that can be used later.

When you roll your die to start your turn you'll have an advanced action available to you.  A one let's you move four times.  Two let's you build two islands.  Three is build one and move two.  Four allows you to soar up to three spaces.  Five has you draw a rune and move one.  Six allows you to choose any advanced action.  If you don't like your advanced action option you always have three basic actions you can take: move two, build one, or draw a rune.  You can also discard runes to get additional movement, build, or soar.
The main game is pretty simple and is a fairly dry, abstract strategy game, but the rune cards add life to the game.  There are four types of rune cards that can give you special abilities, wreak havoc in the game, or protect you from that havoc (cue Allstate commercial).  
As the board starts to fill up the tension builds.
Attack runes let you affect the board or your opponents directly.  Attack runes usually have a pretty powerful effect, like devastating islands that your opponents may occupy, moving opponent pieces, or worse.  However all attack runes also have a less disruptive effect, that may even harm you instead of your opponents.  A roll of the die will determine which effect triggers.  So, while powerful, attacks are sometimes risky - either being less effective than intended, or even backfiring horribly.  It's a calculated risk, but whatever the outcome, the result will be more chaos!
Attack cards have two effects, one that's pretty powerful, and another that'll still change up the game,
but may take your pieces out, too.  NOTE: Destroy means move your piece back to the start spaces.
No one is ever eliminated from Tiki Island.
Buff runes give you special one time boosts when you really need them (like extra moves, play a random rune card, etc.), protect you from attacks, and have other effects.  These you'll hold onto and play at just the right time to give you the edge you need to overcome your opponents.
The flavor text throughout the game is a lot of fun.
Miscellaneous runes have all sorts of other effects, adding chaos to the game, or giving you useful abilities.  Finally, Permanent runes remain in effect until something else cancels them.  These usually give you special abilities that you can use turn after turn.
Permanent runes remain in play until a player rolls a six and decides to get rid of a permanent rune.
As I said, it's really the runes that make the game.  Without the runes the game would still be fun and chaotic, but the runes really push it over the top.  They add excitement, humor, twists, and a nice dash of take-that to an already fun game.  They're not too aggressive or mean though, and offer just enough flair to help mitigate some bad luck and shake things up as needed.
By the end of the game the board is a crowded mess, but a very fun crowded mess!
Pink won this game by getting all his islanders off the board!
Final Thoughts:
I was pleasantly surprised by Tiki Island.  It looked fun originally, but after my first read through of the rules I wasn't too sure how it would play.  Roll a die and do what it says or another basic action sounds a little too close to roll-and-move, but all of the options seem really well balanced and valuable in their own ways.  I found that I always had plenty of options and games were always pretty close.
Tiki Island is a blast for gamers and non-gamers, young and old (not that I'm calling anyone in this picture old). =)

The first game I played was just a two player game and it was fun and chaotic, but I was concerned with how crowded the board would get with five or six players.  When I played with more players I was happy to find that the game scaled extremely well, even though the board size remained the same.  Higher player count games do take longer, but I never felt like it dragged or outstayed its welcome.  The runes also have greater effect in higher player count games once playing one will potentially wreak havoc with many players' plans.  In the two player game runes were still effective, but less chaotic overall, so the game tends toward more of a traditional abstract strategy game.
I liken Tiki Island to the classic Survive! (and the Survive: Escape From Atlantis reprint), but with a slightly different feel.  The theme is similar and the take-that aspect is also similar, but there's less carnage and more chaos in Tiki Island.  But if you like Survive!, Tiki Island should be right up your alley.  Plus, it plays up to six, so now everyone can join in!  
Even with two players the game is fun.
It's faster and less chaotic, but still fun.
The rules for Tiki Island are pretty straightforward and the rulebook is nicely laid out with good examples and diagrams.  There is also a lot of humor throughout the game, in the flavor text, rulebook instructions, and artwork.  And the artwork is really great.  There is a ton of detail all throughout the game, from the killer whales and sharks in the water, to each island token in a set having unique artwork.  Tiki Island will look great on your table when you play, and there isn't an aspect of the game that isn't chock full of fun.
The production copy will have hex shaped islands and some updated graphic design to make them more
color blind friendly, but each island will still have its own, unique artwork.
Tiki Island isn't a game to play if you want a deeply strategic brain burner.  There is a ton of chance in this game, and any long term strategy you plan out will be over before your next turn, but if you like a bit of chaos in your games, and are happy with a crazy and silly experience, win or lose, Tiki Island will deliver.

If Tiki Island sounds like a game you'd love to bring out on family game night, be sure to check it out on the Great Wight Games site where you can preorder it for $40 now!

Preliminary Rating: 6.5/10

This review is of a prototype game.  Components and rules are not final and are subject to change.

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GJJG Game Reviews are independent, unpaid reviews of games I, George Jaros, have played with my family and friends. Some of these games I own, some are owned by friends, some are borrowed, and some are print and play versions of games. Where applicable I will indicate if games have been played with kids or adults or a mix (Family Play). I won't go into extensive detail about how to play the game (there are plenty of other sources for that information and I'll occasionally link to those other sources), but I will give my impressions of the game and how my friends and family reacted to the game. Quick Reviews will only get a single rating of 1-10 (low-high) based on my first impressions of the game during my first few times playing. Hopefully I'll get more chances to play the game and will be able to give it a full review soon.