The Dork Den Blog

Review: Photosynthesis


By: Dave

Bob Ross would be so proud of this game.

Photosynthesis is a, uh... mm... it's not worker placement... 'strategy', I mean, everything is a strategy game... it's a game about growing trees, really. That's what you do. You plant trees and watch them grow, as long as they're getting sufficient sunlight.

That's it! It's a sunlight absorption game!


Here's how it works. You start the game with a small collection of trees and seeds to plant in the forest. As you plant more trees and the sun revolves around the forest (I know, I know, just go with it), your trees gather light, which gives you points to spend on more trees and seeds. Seeds lead to small trees, and trees can grow from small to medium to large; the bigger the tree, the more light points you get when the sun hits them. However, they need to be positioned to catch the sun, which means being either taller than the trees in front or beyond the reach of their shadows.

Once large trees are on the board, the owners of those large trees can spend light points to remove them for a scoring token. The closer you are to the middle of the forest, the better the soil, and thus the more points you get for scoring a tree there. Trees in the middle often have a harder time gathering light when they're smaller, but that's ok; all of your light points go into one pool, so the trees routinely gathering light on the outside can fund the growth of trees on the inside. It's like a hippie commune that met its final destiny and actually became the trees they love so much.

The game has a very interesting way of balancing itself out. There are no catch-up mechanics per se, and a player who pulls in a bunch more light points than their opponents can look like they'll snowball out of control with the number of trees they can grow or embiggen (it's a word). And, if completely allowed to do so, they will. But the sun goes through three rotations, sitting on six different positions on each one, and it's almost impossible to not be in a favorable position with regards to blocking your opponents and getting more light at least some of the time unless you're completely botching the game.

It could happen if a particularly experienced player and someone who doesn't know the game but tries to be too clever match up, but most likely a snowball occurs when two players target each other and a third grows, mostly unmolested. There are enough turns in the game, though, that the third player can then be targeted for getting too far out front. So there are no self-correcting functions for a game that might get out of hand, but there are ample opportunities for players to deal with the problem.

The art is lovely, and having bundles of actual tree figures to put together and place on the board feels fantastic. Lay a seed, pop a tree down, replace a tree with a bigger one, chop down the giants... it's all viscerally solid. It's one of a number of recent releases that is simply beautiful to look at, the sign of a designer trying to take one of the things unique to board games—actual physical pieces to play with—and turn them into a major plus.

As with many games which have that lovely aesthetic, however, there's a sense that the art is top-quality to make up for the gameplay. The first time you play it, it's like you've been handed a familiar but still noticeably different type of puzzle to solve. The second time, with experience in hand, you build a strategy around how to get your big trees out and score some points, because in most games players won't be able to do that too many times. The third time, all the ways your opponents messed with you in the first two games come to mind and filter more fully into your strategy. Those games are fun.

The ones after it...

There are going to be people who could play this game again and again and again and adore the hell out of it. Some of them will be relatively casual gamers who particularly enjoy the theme and art, and to be fair, that's probably the main audience for this game. I think that a lot of what will drive people through multiple playthroughs, however, is having the right opponent or opponents to turn the game into a proxy for trying to soul-read each other's strategies, which is not the same as the game itself offering tremendous replayability.

A strong and important market exists for games that are better designed than the buy-at-Target classics, yet appeal to casual gamers and would go well on their shelves or the shelves of those who often find themselves introducing casual gamers to the hobby. It's for people who don't play many games but are very curious and ready to throw themselves into the medium depth of the pool, or those who have played the real entry-level stuff like Catan and want something that doesn't rely on any luck whatsoever. Photosynthesis fits that niche. Consider this a strong recommendation if that's the type of game you're looking for, and a 'play someone else's copy' recommendation if it's not.

Score: Eight happy little trees out of the eleven we have enough paint for on the palette.

Review: Thrawn #1

Star Wars: Thrawn #1

By: Anthony

Well - it’s here, we all saw it coming. It seems as though if a popular Star Wars thing exists, and it’s not already a comic book, you can bet a comic book will be made. It’s gimmicky and it’s an easy way to get a small chunk of cash and yet here we are falling for the Marvel/Disney/Star Wars trap. Thrawn may be a bit different from the previous comic book Star Wars carbon copies.. Unlike the movie comics, you aren’t looking at the same exact thing you just watched at the movie theater in a rushed - unnecessary format. Thrawn was a novel, and one I actually found myself interested in seeing in visual form. Now of course Thrawn fans would love to see the Imperial mastermind hit the silver screen, it’s hard to say how far outside of  possible reality that is. A comic will do for now, and it’s exciting to see how loyal, and what kind of creative liberties this creative team will take using only the words of Timothy Zahn’s writing. I really enjoyed Zahn’s new Thrawn book, and I was pretty excited to see how these guys went about comicalizing (not a word) this short but incredibly enjoyable novel.

Thrawn #1 begins precisely where the novel begins. The Chiss genius has infiltrated an Imperial encampment and outsmarted all Stormtroopers and higher ranking military officers within in order to impress - and get an in into the imperial high command. Unlike the novel, readers aren’t going to get a good idea of Thrawn’s motives and what exactly he’s doing in the early pages of this issue. It’s difficult from that standpoint to understand exactly how it would feel looking at these events without previous knowledge, though I think everything is mostly self explanatory. Upon sneaking his way onto an Imperial ship and turning himself in, Thrawn explains - with the help of an Imperial cadet Vanto, the only person on the ship who can translate Thrawn’s language, that he wishes to help the Empire in the desire to also help his own people. Thrawn’s cunning and mysterious nature secures him a ride to Coruscant, and a meeting with the illustrious Emperor Palpatine himself who sees a great amount of potential in Thrawn’s words of wisdom. With the Emporer’s approval, he sends both fish-out-of-water Vanto and Thrawn to the Coruscant imperial academy to complete their training and become full fledged members of the Empire.

It’s important to understand first and foremost that Thrawn is a master tactician and a master in manipulation. It’s because of those traits he’s able to get what he wants when he wants it. And although he’s obviously unable to outwit someone as powerful as the Emperor, it’s because of those traits that the Emperor sees in him, Thrawn is able to succeed where others would fail. The comic book struggles to really portray these ideas because we can’t see the constant thought processes going on within Thrawn's mind. Often times the book doesn’t give you that information either, but even still our hand holding comes in the form of Vanto, who often explains or wonders with the reader how Thrawn does what he does. This comic is missing something really important to Thrawn existing in a solo story - the mind of Thrawn. For much of the comic book that’s okay. We get to see Thrawn doing what he does in his mysterious and superior nature, but often times it’s easy to miss what the book offered in that sense. Visually the comic book is a winner, and it offered to me some things on a visual level I hadn’t thought of before or was surprised by, like the Stormtroopers still wearing Clone Trooper armor, since Thrawn takes place shortly after Revenge of the Sith. These kind of elements are really cool and offer a completely different perspective to some things that my mind simply had to assume when reading the novel. Additionally, with the help of Zahn’s writing, many of the scenes that the artist whipped together feel almost identical to how I pictured them in my head when reading the book, and that’s simply wonderful. Thrawn #1 offers the beginning of a carefully paced - loyal rendition of the novel with visual prowess and a minor loss in spirit. All in all - readers of the novel may find something really enjoyable here. Those who haven’t read the novel may find something special as well, but it just isn’t the same.


Review: Grim Forest

The Grimm Forest

By: Dave Powers

When considering the history of the Brothers Grimm, one might think that someone who hears the line, "Little pig, little pig, let me in," and thinks of Negan from The Walking Dead would like something situated in the Grimm universe.

Nothing quite so bloody to find here. Just a good little game with some of the best aesthetic choices in recent board gaming history.

The concept behind The Grimm Forest is that the king needs an architect, and goes to the Three Little Pigs of yore for help. But they're old and senile now, so it's up to their extended family to compete for the king's favor and the contract to become the kingdom's new building maestro. The pigs need to go to the straw fields, forest, and brickyard for material (a market with an assortment of resources is available in a four-player game), and build houses to prove their worth. The first to build three houses is the winner; if more than one pig finishes three houses in the same round, the one with the sturdiest houses (brick > wood > straw) wins based on their efficiency.

Gonna say this up front, even though it has nothing to do with the gameplay: whoever designed the inserts for this game deserves a raise. Or a bigger cut of the profits. Something. Massive Darkness was a game with fantastic minis, with a set of inserts that handled almost all the minis, cards, and other pieces, but still managed to fail spectacularly enough to make the game not worth pulling off the shelf unless we really wanted to play it. Grimm Forest has zero of these issues. Each insert is given a precise spot in the box, shaped perfectly for the pieces it's designed to hold, and doesn't rely on most of the items going into slots carved out of one piece of plastic that serves as the main insert. Even the boards you punch the pieces out of are designed not to be thrown away, but to be slipped into the bottom of the box so that the inserts sit flush with the box top and nothing moves around. You can put the box sideways without worrying that everything will tumble free. If there's anything they could have done better, it's mark which of the four player pigs go in which of their slots, because it's not entirely obvious, but that's a minor quibble about something seriously impressive.

And the minis are fantastic. Returning to the above comparison, Grimm has only a dozen or so minis, but they're on the quality level of Massive Darkness. It allows the game to boast high quality miniatures while maintaining a $50 MSRP (we assumed it was $70 before seeing the price). The other art (player boards and resource locations) is gorgeous as well. Everything about how the game is aesthetically designed and put together is great.

That sounds like a lead-in to talking about how the game is seriously underwhelming. Not here! In fairness, the aesthetics are the best part, but that's more a compliment to the design than a mark against the gameplay. The game itself is... well, let's discuss how it works.

Each turn, players place a gather card (and, optionally, a Fable card with a special effect) face down for the location they want to get resources from. This card goes back to your hand; there's no need to rotate locations if you don't want to. Pigs go to the chosen resource, unless some ability prevents or changes that; all pigs in the same location share resources equally, with remainders left for the next round. Pigs in a location by themselves get everything there (so you want to pull that off as much as possible, generally speaking). Once resources are gathered, players perform two actions from the following: collect one resource of their choice from the general supply, draw a Fable card, or use collected resources to build a piece of a house. Then more resources are piled on to the locations and the process begins again.

Houses consist of a floor, walls, and roof; these cost two, four, and six of the appropriate resource, respectively. Building the walls lets you draw a Friend card; you can have one Friend at any given time, and if you don't want the one you draw, you have to give it to someone else. In that case, they have to accept the new Friend and get rid of any they already have, which is the only way to remove powerful Friends from your opponents' boards. It's also a good way to piss people off and make them target you, which means the requirement that someone has to take any drawn Friend keeps people interacting.

Fable cards tend to have less powerful effects than Friends, only work that turn, and in some cases don't have any effect (ie. the card requires you to be on a location alone and you end up with somebody in the same spot). You can pile them up, though, and choose the best one for any given situation. Fable cards also include monsters, which can destroy resources in an area if anyone goes to it (wolf), destroy the resources someone already has if they visit where the monster is placed (dragon!), or knock part of someone's house off (BIG BAD WOLF). It's a take-that mechanic, and a lot of people aren't fans of that type of gameplay. However, it's not as simple as screwing someone over at will; Fable cards are shown before gather cards, thus monsters are placed in locations before anyone knows for sure where their opponents are going. Monsters are very dangerous for anybody who's telegraphing their moves, but if you can keep your opponents guessing, they may play monsters at inopportune times, target other people, or never use them at all because they never find a good moment.

The balance between efficiently gathering resources and remaining unpredictable is fairly well struck, though not perfect. In general it ends up being more effective to collect whatever you need most than to dodge opponents unless you're sure the area you need is about to be targeted in a way that keeps you from collecting as much useful stuff as you'd get from somewhere else. Even then you need to really know it's going to happen, in which case your opponents are being predictable and you have the advantage. Mostly people are going to try and be clever here and there and screw themselves up in the process, and the monsters don't show up that often most of the time, making a straightforward strategy generally preferable.

One questionable decision is the inclusion of basic and advanced cards. If you do as they suggest, and remove the advanced cards before your first play, you get a fairly junk version of the game. Without more tools for pushing back against other people's advancement, one big hit on a resource (most likely when everyone else avoids it expecting a monster because it's too tempting a target) puts you so far ahead you can coast to victory. It's a more solitary version of the game, and while playable, it's very much a learning version of a game that doesn't need a learning version. You aren't going to have an advantage by knowing the mechanics better than newer opponents, because the mechanics are clear from the start; an advantage in experience would involve knowing the cards available, which doesn't require playing a basic game first. Shuffle everything in and play the full game from the start.

This is a very good game for introducing people to some of the concepts that undergird more complex titles. Solving the riddle of your opponents' hidden decisions and using that to your advantage? Check. Keeping track of your opponents' progress and resources? Check. Timing your special abilities for maximum effect? Check. If you already run with a pretty hardcore gaming group, this probably won't be enough to keep you entertained for more than a few plays, but if you're a casual gamer or routinely have them around, this is going to last quite a bit longer for a very reasonable price.

Score: Ten finished houses out of twelve (wolf blew the roofs off the other two).

Review: Sideways

Sideways #1

Review by: Anthony

Among the turmoil and strife of both Doomsday Clock and Dark Nights: Metal, our main heroes are tied up in universe altering events that still have some life left in them before their inevitable end. During this many month time slot however, DC is offering a fun glimpse into some new hero designs and characters we’ve never seen before. Branded “The New Age of Heroes”, multiple new comic books are hitting the shelves including Damage, which hit a few weeks ago, with more to come. DC Comics are on a marketing hype to expand their universe a bit, and so far everything has been going pretty well considering the success of both their main title events running simultaneously. Sideways wants to bring you back to Earth a bit, putting you into the shoes of some more grounded characters as our Batman and Superman types are busy fighting celestial and demonic entities.

Derek James is a fairly typical high school kid who spends his days bored in class and doing nothing all day. Upon the events of Dark Nights Metal however, with Gotham is stricken by powerful entity (See Dark Nights Metal #1) Derek is unintentionally thrown through a rift in space-time that forms in the midst of all the destruction, and of course, as a comic book characters, receives superpowers from the unnatural event. Self-named Sideways, Derek can open and travel through rifts in space-time whenever and wherever he chooses. He also apparently has super strength.. Which is odd, but we haven’t really fleshed out the extent of his powers yet so we’re still making some guesses, and the writers probably are too. As with all space and time travel, there are those who would protect its integrity. Entities greater than man tasked with protecting the fabrics of space-time from intruders and manipulators. Despite Derek's good intentions and exploration of his newfound super powers, he’s unaware of the repercussions of screwing around with such a powerful force in the universe, and things might not end up so great for our new hero.

Unlike Damage, Sideways truly feels like a different character than other heroes. While teleportation or rift walking isn’t exactly the most original superpower, the methods and look of the character Sideways himself has an aura of originality I haven’t felt with most new attempts as hero comic books, and I think that’s a success in itself. Derek as both a character and a hero is likable, and while his dialogue and the dialogue of those around him can feel cliche or typical for a highschool setting or a parent-child setting, it all still works thanks to the talents of Dan Didio and Justin Jordan. All in all I think Sideways has a chance to succeed on its own unlike previous new DC Comics, but again I think this character will excel on a team like Teen Titans or a new JL team up. Time with tell with this one, but Sideways for now is a success for me.


Review: Tokyo Ghost TPB

Tokyo Ghost

By: Dave Powers

I wanted to like this. For a while, I did.

Led Dent and Debbie Decay are constables in future Los Angeles, a world where everyone is plugged in all the time and can't see the world around them for all the screens in their faces (Debbie being the lone apparent exception). In the course of their work, they're sent to Tokyo, the last tech-free land on the planet. I'm curious if Tokyo was chosen because the creators liked the idea of a low-tech Japanese aesthetic, wanted to flip the script on Japan often having the most cutting-edge technology on Earth, if they just liked the sound of "Tokyo Ghost", or if it was something else entirely.

In any case, Debbie uses the opportunity to unplug Led and bring him back to his senses. They'd grown up together and fallen in love before he succumbed to the screens, and she sees this as their chance to be the happy couple. It all happens a bit quickly; the problem isn't so much that the process needs to take X number of pages for it to matter, but rather that because it happens so fast, and we don't see Led struggle very much with reintegrating himself into the real world, it's a given some other conflict has to come and screw everything up for them.

That's the end of spoiler territory. I only went in that far because that's the best part of the story and is worth reading even if you already know the above information. The way the world is built, both with the art and the storytelling, is very good. Ending spoilers here means that I can only say this: the creators get to the end of book one (if you're reading it as two trade paperbacks), take everything they were doing well, and flush it.

The advertising in the link calls Tokyo Ghost a "smash hit". I don't know what the sales numbers are, but this isn't a situation where I didn't like something and can't fathom how anyone did. I understand that my complaints about the end of the first book are something I think most people will grasp, but not that many will think are as important as I do. I know that it's easy to bag on any sort of writing because it's not to one's taste, or forgive writing some sins because we like a particular thing about it. Copperhead is my example of the latter; it started pretty strong, but the writing has weakened noticeably over time. I still enjoy it, though, because I like the outer space lady sheriff and the characters that surround her. Others, perhaps many others, will similarly forgive Tokyo Ghost its faults in a way that I can't.

All that said, my criticism of the story is largely based on as objective a factor as I can find. Even if you don't mind the exact things that happen from the end of book one into the beginning of book two, those events leave the writers pinned in a very serious corner. They have room to be creative about how to make the necessary future plot points happen, but there are necessary future plot points, and that's a problem. For a story to really succeed, the readers need to have some question about what's going to happen, the fate of someone in a questionable situation, the likelihood that the heroes will triumph, etc. If you're in a position where thing X has to happen for everything you've done before to make sense, and if thing X doesn't happen then you wasted everyone's time, you have erred drastically. That's the situation with Tokyo Ghost.

It's a cool world. I like Debbie. Led's ok, but he's meant to be the meathead, so it's not like he's a bad character. I'm sure lots of people read the first few issues and were sold on the whole concept. But it doesn't hold up all the way through.

Score: Six absurdly sized motorbikes out of nine.

Review: Ancestree


By: Dave Powers

Let's just talk about the game itself first.

Ancestree is a clever little game of neighbor-bashing, where your goal is to build a more impressive family tree than the people next to you. There are five different dynasties that can run through the generations of your family, some of whom add wealth, others of whom add marriages--surprisingly few, given the number of parent-child relationships running through the game. But, hey, it's open-minded. Gender doesn't matter in the marriages, and if you find a character with a half-heart on each side of their tile, that character can have two legal marriages!

No word on whether those marriages are simultaneous.

Tiles connect either through matching half-hearts on tiles side by side (marriages) or touching the top half of a leaf to a bottom half of the same color leaf (parent-child). You do not need every possible connection to line up; there only has to be one legal connection to make someone part of the family. Stepparents, in-laws, cousins, and all sorts of rational combinations of family can be made part of the tree, which is considerably more interesting than the strict parent-grandparent-great grandparent trees we might be used to seeing.

The game plays out over three rounds. In each round, you add five more people to your family tree. Your goal in building your tree is to have longer runs in each of the five dynasties than your neighbors (which means a dynasty that runs from person to person through the generations; disconnected members of the same dynasty, or members of a dynasty in the same generation, don't count). Your bonuses increase the later in the game you get, so dynasty bonuses in round three are worth more than in round one. You also get bonus points after each round for the coins on the members of your family; these all count every round, so coins played early are worth more than coins played late. At the end of the game, you get bonus points for the number of marriages in the tree (the first few aren't worth much, but they become valuable once you hit four and up). High score wins.

Ancestree is a game that's fun with two people and fun with six. It's easy to understand, quick to play, and requires just enough thinking to make a player feel like she needs to put real effort into winning the game. It might not hold people's attention through twenty playthroughs, but it's reasonably well-crafted and could, at the very least, be a hell of a lot worse.

Then there are the tiles.

I don't want to excessively hammer the designers for this. Even though it also serves to make the game better, it shouldn't be ignored that their rules are very open in regards to how people connect into a family, and that every type of marriage (including multiple) is viable. I also think, or at least I want to think, that their intent in designing the dynasties that went into the game was to include as many cultures as possible rather than having a bunch of white folk in the game. And to some extent it works; you wind up with these bonkers combinations of people that can't possibly make the children your family tree says they made, but it's entertaining as opposed to weird or, really, in any way negative.

But the depictions themselves are pretty bad. The dragon dynasty is Asian, the camel dynasty is Arabic, and so forth, and that's fine, but the characters are dressed in just about the most stereotypical garb possible. Yes, they could be worse, but it's not a great sign when you open the game in front of a half-dozen different people and all of them say, "Holy cow, these are racist as hell."

The art doesn't affect the gameplay, and the art isn't so bad that it makes the game painful to play because you're looking at these pictures the whole time. A lot of people won't give a damn, and a lot of people will say this complaint is some social justice garbage. If you're in the former group, that's cool; if you're in the latter, piss off. Either way, know ahead of time that if you look at the pictures on the box and think, wow, those look pretty racist, it doesn't get any better once you have the package open. (In fairness again, they do put the pictures on the box, and it may have been a much wiser idea not to do that.)

The game's fine. If you want a large game where you're only worried about your neighbors, Seven Wonders is still the standard, and Between Two Cities is simply better than this, but if you have those, this isn't a bad addition. Just figure out what you think of the art before you lay down your money.

Score: Eight looping gifs of Richard Spencer getting punched in the head out of eleven.

Review: Batman Lost

Batman: Lost

Review by: Anthony

Batman: Lost is coming a bit late, or perhaps really late - as it was a comic book we missed in the middle of all the Doomsday Clock / Dark Nights Metal stuff that was all going down at once, but Batman: Lost IS an important aspect of the Metal event DC has been gifting us throughout the past few months with, so I wanted to give my 2 cents about the comic book even reading it out of order and feeling as though the story didn’t really have an impact throughout the rest of the comic books that came after it. These filler issues often have this problem, but they offer a little more taste of the event and a good little taste of what’s to come before the next major issue comes out. Similar to Hawkman: Found, this comic book doesn’t have a ton of things to offer but more questions, and yet here we are, only wanting more and more, just as DC predicted.

Phew, where to begin with this one..Batman: Lost is a very psychological comic, and it’s very Scott Snyder. If you don’t know the story of Dark Nights metal up to this point, I’m not sure what you’re doing reading this bad boy, because it’s so pack loaded with confusion and expectations of its readers, and you should be reading from the beginning of course. Let me make it clear, that I really think this is the kind of comic book most people grab and say “What am I reading here?” because of it’s unforgiving nature in confusing the living hell out of you. This is not a comic book Snyder wanted to write as part of the main Metal comic books, and that’s why it’s one of these tie-in issues. Similarly to Hawkman’s comic book, Batman is lost both physically and mentally in the Dark Multiverse, a place where all bad things go to thrive. Every bad outcome, every possible evil thing, every nightmare Bruce Wayne has ever had exists in this very plane of existence, and Batman is lost in the darkest regions of it, living every terrible moment all at once. However, Batman is Batman after all, and if anyone can overcome this terrible fate, it’s the legend himself. There is no happy ending in this comic, no easy way out, but there is hope and even though Bruce remains lost in this horrible place, Bruce Wayne is still there, somewhere, planning ahead.

As I mentioned earlier, this is a very Snyder comic book. Its visual storytelling and risk taking makes for a dead giveaway, and as always Snyder’s work is a page-turner of wonder and confusion and beauty and, well, greatness. This comic is no award winner, but there’s something special that always happens when the Batman writer writes, and that’s an utterly captivating comic book read, and once again, that’s what Batman Lost is. Don’t get me wrong, the comic book is still confusing, and you won’t really have any idea what’s happening until a few pages in when you can begin to make predictions about the transpiring events, but even still any non-readers of the Metal series won’t find their jumping on point here at all and some people might not like this kind of of a read, which is completely understandable. Despite the comic books confusing nature, I really believe the read pays off, and it serves as a really neat, physiological Batman mini-story that Snyder obviously loves to write so much, and I can’t not be on board with that.

4 / 5

Review: Shutter Bug


By Dave Powers

I wonder if Mike Elliot is proud of his name being so firmly attached to this.

ShutterBug has a clip-art looking cover, and (spoiler alert) it's the clip-art version of a game. Your goal is to travel the U.S. looking for extraordinary creatures so you can snap photos of them for different magazines, and possible to fill a portfolio of specific pictures for side jobs. You move up to three hexes in a turn, collecting Tip cards when you move through or finish a turn in a city. Those tip cards let you take photos of creatures when you land in spaces where they are. Whatever the photo quality on the card, you discard that many Tip cards (assuming they're relevant to the creature and/or terrain) and get the photo tile.

Your main goal is to fulfill the requests of one of the two tabloids on your secret assignment card. If you get at least as many points of a given creature as the tabloid wants, you score all the points you have for that creature. You can only score requests for one of the tabloids, no matter how many you meet between the two of them. Side jobs are another way to score, although whether or not you can get them is mostly a matter of chance; stay aware of what the side jobs are and recognize if you have the possibility of fulfilling one.

Here's the main problem: the game ends after eight rounds. If you average one Tip card per round—which means moving through a city on most turns and ending on a city once or twice to offset the times you run off into the wilderness for a picture—you end up with ten or eleven, adding in the three you start with. You need one tip card per point that you score, and tabloids have ten points worth of requests. Therefore, if you want to nail everything on one of your special assignments, you have to almost perfectly maneuver your photographer towards both the cities with the Tips and the creatures you need as photo subjects. If you place more of a focus on Tips—using the fact Chicago and New Orleans are somehow adjacent to each other, for example—you can end up with more room to play with in scoring points but less ability to chase the specific pictures you need.

What about the side jobs? Given how tight you're probably running with Tip cards, the most likely way you'll finish side jobs is if you happen to finish most of one as part of your secret assignment and the last part of the job is easy to reach. Maybe that's done on purpose because the side jobs never change and the designer (hi Mike!) wanted to make it feel special each time you finish one. Then again, the side jobs range from two to five points, and you get two bonus points just for finishing the game in a city space, so maybe they're not that special after all.

In a two player game, each player controls two photographers, and you get a little more to work with in terms of resources. Even then, it's not a given you'll finish the whole secret assignment, because you need your Tip cards to match the photos you're taking well enough to play them, and you need the potential photos you need to go on the board in the first place. It would be one thing if two players were swimming in photos and points, and the normal game just played tighter, but even with the extra character it's still not that easy to get all the pictures you want.

It's true that the scoring is relatively flexible. You don't need to finish all three parts of the secret assignment for the parts you do finish to be valuable. That, however, leads to a game that doesn't feel very rewarding for whatever effort you put into it. If you get an assignment with X, Y, and Z requirements, especially when you get two such assignments and have the option of which one you do, not being able to finish the whole thing feels like you're not succeeding even if you win. It would be one thing if there was a reasonable choice to be made between finishing the secret assignment and piling up side jobs, but it's more likely that if you aim for more side jobs it's because the assignment is too hard to complete.

This is more a proof-of-concept than a finished game. It runs too tight on Tip cards for a system where you don't know what photos will be available. The side jobs never change, despite the nature of how they work being such that a deck of side jobs you draw from each game would fit much better. There's a lot to be said for efficient thinking, and efficiency is something I like in board games, but this thing isn't worth the effort.

Score: Five garbage yeti pictures out of nine (entire rolls of film).

Review: Damage #1

Damage #1

Review by: Anthony

DC and Marvel both have a hard time with new heroes and new characters than their competitors in Image and Boom, among others. Long time readers are too loyal to their classic heroes like Batman and Superman or the smaller long time characters like Booster Gold and Elongated Man and thus new hero attempts from the big 2 often crash and burn after a few issues. It’s a difficult direction to go in, but both companies often try anyway, putting money into this or that creative team and offering them a chance to pull in a new fan base or an old on a new character within such a familiar universe. The last time DC attempted these kind of new changes was around the time of Convergence a couple of years ago, and while most of those comic books did okay, I believe they were all inevitably canceled not far into their lives. Some characters were liked enough to stick around at least in the background of other main character’s stories, others sort of faded off into the nether as many comic book characters do over the years. Damage is a new attempt at a new hero, and thus far, he appears to be a success.

Not going to lie, Damage is the Hulk with a slightly different backstory. Ethan Avery is a military soldier desperate to become a hero, and when he’s offered, or forced, not sure, to become this monstrosity and “do the Damage” so the regular soldiers don’t have to do the dirty work he’s forced into some difficult situations. Ethan is on a rampage as Damage, struggling with his responsibilities and his mistakes, knowing that he wanted to be a hero who would help people, but nothing like this. He’s destroying multiple military targets as they try to bring him down and keep him under control but Damage is pretty op, so he’s not going down easily. Action packed awesomeness ensues, and Ethan is finally able to get himself under control, no thanks to the military soldiers trying to subdue him.  When the military leaders track him down in his human form a surprise follows, Amanda Waller and her Suicide Squad. And predictably, she’s interested in what Damage has to offer, and perhaps with an agreement, they can work together and Ethan can feel as though he’s doing some good for the world. And thus, we likely have another new addition to the Suicide Squad.

Damage does a good job succeeding where others fail: not trying to be overbearing or offer too much of a brand-new thing. Including the Suicide Squad and giving the audience some familiar faces to look at is a good move. Without the actual inclusion of well known DC characters, new characters feel as though they fall outside of the universe, existing in their own space at their own time, and that’s never a good move when attempting to introduce new things. Additionally, Damage is a simple character with simple aspirations. He wants to be a good person and do good things, and this new power is hindering that, but it doesn’t have to. What ensues is a good and simple story that feels DC Comics. Damage may have a hard time existing on his own for too long, and he would probably succeed better on a team like the SS, but we’ll see what the creative team does with this guy. Maybe there’s more to Damage than this first issue offers.


Review: Topiary


By: Dave Powers

Nothing says peace and relaxation like a sculpture garden. Except... not this sculpture garden.

Topiary is a game for two to four players based on a simple presence: take your people and put them on the edge of a sculpture garden so they can see as many sculptures as possible. The trick, because there's always a trick, is that you don't know what's in the garden at the start of the game except for the middle sculpture in a 5x5 grid.

At the start you get a hand of three tiles and a pile of little meeple folk. Each turn you place a meeple next to one of the tiles, either orthogonally so it looks straight down a row, or at a corner so that it can see in a diagonal path. Then you take a face-down tile into your hand and place a tile in the open spot (it can be the one you just picked up). Whatever line a meeple looks down, they can see the sculpture directly in front of them and others going back as long as the ones behind are taller than the ones in front. Thus a meeple could see everything in a 2-3-4-5 line, but only the first two in a 2-5-3-4 line.

At the end of the game, your score consists of three things: the sum of all the sculptures your meeples can see in their lines of sight; bonuses based on multiple sculptures of the same type in any single meeple's line of sight; and tiles in hand that are worth as much or less than a sculpture of that type that at least one of your meeples can see. Most points come from the first total, and all scoring requires you to get as many sculptures in front of your meeples as possible.

It sounds relaxing until you realize the flip side of this is that you can also make sure as few sculptures as possible are in front of your opponents' meeples.

The theme of this game does not match the play at all, because this game is a total hate fest. If you have a 5-height sculpture in hand and an opponent is setting up a long visible line, drop that thing in front of all the other sculptures and that meeple's only getting five points. You can frequently screw people out of more than five points that way, and sometimes create a line for yourself where that five is at the back, making tactics of screwing over your opposition usually more effective than playing peacefully and just trying to help yourself. Unless, of course, everyone knows how to screw each other over and so everyone plays carefully so as to minimize the ability of others to screw them.

It's a little weird to rate how good this game is, because the expectation of what you're going to get looking at the box is entirely undercut by the gameplay. I can't think of an aesthetic off-hand that would have worked particularly well, but almost anything would have been better than this. That said, the game itself is reasonably good, but its casual setup doesn't really fit the strategy required to win. It does not appear to be the intent of the creator to make a game where someone is almost guaranteed to be called a dirty SOB at some point. That's what we have, though.

Topiary is a light game with some clever ideas; a casual design with a rage-inducing best strategy. It's a game worth playing, but at the same time I don't know what type of player I would recommend this to. Maybe one who's willing to draw angry faces in sharpie on the tiles.

Score: Seven growly-looking T-Rex trees out of eleven.

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