GnomesOfZavandorThe Gnomes of Zavandor
Z-Man Games, 2011

First of all, you should know that I’m partial to gnomes. Love the little guys. I like playing them in RPGs. I like them in my flowerbed. So any game about gnomes is likely to grab my attention. I got this one on sale at my FLGS. It’s got gnomes, it’s on sale. Where is the bad? Happily we didn’t find it. I don’t have a great track record with this. My hubby can pick up a game because he liked the art on the front cover, and we’ll love it. Not so much with me.

The Gnomes of Zavandor is a market game about gnomes and gems and wondrous machines. In the game you mine for gems, and buy and sell them, claim mining rights, artifacts, jewelry and machines. The market for gems bounces around like a crazed super ball, invariably ending up at sky high prices, and money is scarce, so there is quite a bit of strategy to manipulate the market and get the best deal.

The game is played in a series of rounds. Each round consists of an action round and a mining round. In the action round, each player in turn does one action, until each player has had three actions. Then play moves to the mining round where players use their mining rights to obtain gemstones. After the mining round, the start player moves clockwise and another round begins. The game ends when one player reaches a number of victory points (determined by the number of players, example, 16 victory points for 4 players). Gems are used to purchase more mining rights and cards.

The board consists of the town of Diamantia (center) and 5 mining districts around the sides. Each district and the town have 4 mining rights tiles (face down). The cost of the tiles are located on the board. A small gnome figurine which moves clockwise each round shows which district is active that round. Players may only purchase mining right tiles from the active district. Players may spend 1 gold piece (start with 23) to peek at a tile. A purchased tile will be set in front of you to give you victory points, and will supply you with the gem types on the tile during your mining round.

There are a lot of different actions available, so you must choose your 3 actions carefully. You may: Buy gems, Sell gems, Draw 2 cards from face down jewelry or artifact piles (keeping one), Buy mining rights, Buy a face up jewelry or artifact, or one from your hand, Take or exchange a trader gnome card (which allows you to trade one type of gem for another), or Take 4 gold.

Buying and selling gems, buying a mining rights tile, and buying items all cause the target price of gemstones in the market to change either up or down. At the end of the mining phase, the price of the gem will move to the new target price, setting the prices for the next round. The market prices fluctuate between 1-15 gold.

We really enjoyed this game. There is a lot going on, and you really have to pay attention to which actions cause the market to fluctuate. Getting the right mining rights, manipulating the market and being able to convert them to what you need gives this game a lot of strategic play. There are many ways to win, and we found the game well balanced and fun. The quality of the game pieces and the nice artwork are good. Recommended.

DeadOfWinterDead of Winter
PlaidHat Games, 2014

Dead of Winter made a big splash in the game world in 2014. It was nominated for a bunch of awards, including 2015 Origins Best Board Game. It was featured on Wil Wheaton’s Tabletop, and everyone, everywhere seemed to be talking about it. What they seemed to be saying is “Hey, there is a great new game called Dead of Winter! It’s a Zombie themed game, which isn’t really about Zombies. It’s really a survivor game with zombies in it.”

And that is about the size of it. Players are a colony of survivors trying to live through the winter after the [insert disaster here, which just happens to be a zombie plague] has decimated the population. The game is semi-cooperative and may have an element of betrayal.

The game comes with 10 double sided main objective cards (10 regular and 10 hardcore objectives), so it has a lot of replay value. There are also 24 secret objectives and 10 betrayal objectives which may or may not be used, depending on the type of game you wish to play.  There are also crisis cards which give an immediate crisis that much be faced each round. Each player will control 2 survivors during the game. There is a colony board, and 6 locations. There are item cards which the players must acquire, and allocate to best fulfill the main objective, their own personal objective, and stave off each crisis as it happens.

Each round happens in 2 phases. Phase one,  the player turns, consist of revealing a crisis, rolling action dice and taking player turns. Players may attack, search, barricade, clean waste, attract (move zombies), or use their survivor’s abilities which use action dice. They may also play cards, add cards to the crisis (face down), move their survivors, spend food tokens, request items from other players, hand off cards, or (if playing with a betrayer) vote to exile a player. Phase two is the colony phase. This is where you resolve various actions. Making sure there is enough food to feed the colony, checking how much waste has been created and reducing moral if there is too much, resolving the current crisis, add zombies, check the main objective to see if it has been met, move the round tracker and pass the first player token. There is a lot of detail in each of these actions so I’m going to skip over a lot of it. I don’t want to re-write the rulebook here.

During the course of these phases you can become exposed to winter elements or get bitten by zombies. Neither is a good thing. Like most cooperative games, there are several ways to lose the game. You win if you meet your individual goal at game end. Consolation if you lose but the group met the main objective. The game ends when the morale track hits zero, or the main objective has been completed.

This is a complicated game with lots going on and a myriad number of things to keep track of. It can be very intense. I see why it has garnered so much attention. It captures the imagination with interesting characters and objectives, great art, and great gameplay. It is well balanced, and gives all players a chance to role-play and immerse themselves in the game. The rulebook also comes with several variants, making it fully cooperative, 2 player, hardcore, or player elimination. I can see this having a LOT of replay ability. It’s got a lot of strategy and if you play with the betrayer, lots of second guessing and suspicion. Recommended

RedneckLifeRedneck Life
Gut Bustin’ Games, 2003

Remember “The Game of Life”. We all played it as kids. Get an education, get a job, marry, have kids, make money and try to end the game with the most money. Redneck Life is a hilarious twist on that old favorite. You get an education (2nd to 12th grade), get a job (anything from taxidermist to clerk at the Ciggy Shack), get married, have lots of kids (mostly named Darrell, Darryl, Darrel, etc.) borrow money from “Uncle Clem”, and try to end the game with the most teeth.

Game play is easy-peasy. Roll 2 dice, move your token and do what the space says. If it says “Go Redneckin”, then you draw a “Go Redneckin” card and see what happens. If the space says stop, then you stop and find the chart that tells you step by step what to do.

The game comes with great sets of vehicles from “Uncle Clem’s Rodeo”. You have to purchase enough vehicle space to tote your young’ens around. It also has homes which you have to purchase when you marry. The great thing about both of these is that they are *acutal* real life, no we ain’t lyin’, places and vehicles.

As to actual game play. It’s like life. You roll the dice & do what it says to do. No strategy. HOWEVER, it is a hilarious game. Break out your best redneck accent and role-play your way through this one folks. We have found that as you do this, you’ll find things crop up for people again and again giving them a “theme”. You might be the bass fishing guide, and pick up the trout painted station wagon, and suddenly you’ll find your “Go Rednecking” cards will go with your theme. I know this is random, but it does seem to happen a lot as we play. The last game we played, my 13 year old daughter ended up stealing her first vehicle, drew a card which said she had stolen a bunch of beer from the back of a truck, then she snatched someone else’s vehicle when she lost hers, and drew another card which said she picked up a hitchhiker and robbed him! At the very end of the game, she drew a card where she would have gained $200. Someone took that card from her, so she drew another, and ended up stealing wheelchairs and selling them, making $300. Another player landed on all the moonshine spaces, and every card they drew had something to do with alcohol. Obviously, the town drunk!

So, you may have gathered… This game isn’t PC… REALLY isn’t PC. This game might offend you. It might offend your friends. It probably isn’t good for kids. It might offend your family. But if you aren’t easily offended, pick this one up. It isn’t one you’ll replay with the same people over and over, and the game even comes with an optional rule to roll 3 dice to speed up play. It can run a bit long after awhile. But still, if you get into the role-playing and like to let loose, and aren’t easily offended, give this a go.

pic2040714_mdNight of the Grand Octopus
Iello, 2014

I was at my FLGS for International tabletop day, when I spied Night of the Grand Octopus on a 50% off table. I had seen ads for it, liked the way it looked, and since it was from Iello, who has a good reputation for fun light games, thought I would pick it up. Some friends also bought a copy and they sat down to play. From the laughter at their table, it looked like I had gotten a good deal. When time allowed, I joined in with them to see what it was like.

Night of the Grand Octopus has nice solid pieces, pretty art, and is simple to learn and play. Each player controls an “offspring” pawn (large) and a “cultist” pawn (small). The object is to be the first to collect artifacts on the University board in order to summon “Him” to earth. You collect an artifact if you can get to a room that has an artifact, and no one else’s offspring or cultist is there to stop you. You use a “command clock” to show where your two pieces will move. You move the large hand on the clock to show which room your offspring will travel to, and the small hand to show which room you will move your cultist to. You are trying to block others with your offspring while trying to get your cultist alone in a room. The more players you get, the harder this becomes. Essentially, this game is a game of random movement, trying to outguess where your opponents will go. Sometimes you’ll be right, most times you’ll be wrong. If your cultist ends up in the room with an opponent’s offspring, you lose life. You only have life equal to the number of players, plus one.

This game goes very quickly, playing in about 10 minutes. As we played, I kept telling myself, there has to be more to this game, some strategy, some… well… anything. But alas, there is not. This is a very simple game. So simple that it is almost boring after the first couple of plays. It is simply a guessing game. You guess right, or you guess wrong. Guess wrong too many times, and you die and are out of the game.

That being said, this might make an excellent drinking game. Instead of losing lives, taking a drink when your cultist encounters an offspring. I can see that becoming more enjoyable the more you play, because you’ll care less about the simple gameplay. *Not an endorsement for underage drinkers or binge drinking.* Just an observation.

So if you’re looking for a REALLY light, and I do mean REALLY light, totally random game, to burn a couple of minutes, Night of the Grand Octopus might be good for you. If you want any substance tho, look elsewhere.