PixelTacticsPixel Tactics,
Level 99 Games, 2012

Pixel Tactics is a two-person duel type card game. You and your opponent are fighting to try to defeat each others leader. The game uses cute 8-bit video game type artwork, and has a unique mechanism that allows each card to have multiple functions. I love this because it gives you so much versitality with only the few cards in your hand. I enjoy this game, and like the humerous treatment of card themes. It is set in the World of Indines, but you don’t need to know anything about that to enjoy this game

The game is played in three “waves” with each player taking two actions per wave. First player switches each round. Each player has a field of play that consists of a 3×3 grid with the Vanguard row at the top, the flank in the middle and the rear at the bottom. Each player starts the game by drawing 5 cards and choosing a leader from those. There leader will not change during the game, and a leader’s death ends the game. I’ll explain more about leaders in a minute when I describe the cards themselves. Once each player has chosen a leader, then the waves start. Beginning with the Vanguard wave, the first player may take two actions. Actions may be recruiting a hero, drawing a card, or in the 2nd round on, fighting your opponent. But here’s the kicker. In the Vanguard wave, you may only recruit or move cards to or from the Vanguard rank in the field of play. Then the flank wave and rear wave likewise. Pixel Tactics Deluxe box comes with a paper playmat which helps the newbie visualize, but isn’t necessary. You can also download a printable playmat.

So what I find so cool about this wave mechanic, is that the cards have different powers on them based on which wave you play them in, or if you have used them as your leader. For example, in the card below: If the card were turned upside down, you would be looking at it’s leader power. The leader name is Borneo. It has an attack of 1 and can take 20 points of damage. It’s special power is that it’s opponent’s leader loses it’s special effect. So if your opponent was playing a leader that allowed all it’s ranged attacks to be at +1, for example, that effect couldn’t happen.

But if you don’t use this as your leader, then it remains in your hand, and you can use it then as a hero, in this case, “Mascot”. Mascot has an attack of 1 and can take 4 damage. But it’s special power depends upon where it is in your field of play. On the playmat, the Vanguard rank is red, flank is green and rear is blue. The powers on the card match these colors, and also have a little diagram with the row highlighted, and text saying what the power does. So if you play Mascot into your vanguard, then if you use an action for its power, another vanguard hero can make a melee attack. (Normally a hero would only be able to make one attack). If you used it in your flank wave, then another hero would make a range attack, same if you played it in your rear wave.  I won’t go into more detail here. It’s all pretty self explanitory once you start playing. The rules are well done, and easy to reference as well.

But there is one more thing on the card. Just below the three waves will be another box. In the example it is purple, which means it is an order type card. You can play a card from your hand to use the power in this row. If the color is yellow, then it is a trap that you set for your opponent. If it is gray, then it is an event type card. Sometimes these cards may be played into the field of play (such as a trap). They go in a 4th row below the others, and activate when their conditions are met, if you choose to use them.










So, as you can see, there are lots of different options you can use with each card. In a starter deck, you might have 25 cards, and each card would be a type that contains a leader. But as you acquire more cards (they are sold in sets, not like CCG’s) you may find other cards that are just heroes with no leader section, or other types of cards. Level 99 Games also offers league and other competitive play options.

Overall I very much enjoy this game and recommend it.

MysteryRummyMystery Rummy: Escape From Alcatraz
U.S. Games Systems, Inc., 2009

The card game Rummy has been around since the 19th century, with variations of the game coming from much further back in history. Melding, laying off, and going out are all familiar old friends to the card players among us.

Back in 1988 a friend and I were wandering around a convention looking at new games when we came across a guy teaching a rummy game. Well that seemed easy enough to learn, since we already knew the basics. The game was Mystery Rummy: Jack the Ripper. We were hooked. Since that time there has been several different iterations of the game: Murders in the Rue Morgue, Jeckyll & Hyde and Al Capone.

In the newest version, Escape from Alcatraz, you play Alcatraz prison guards, attempting to foil escape attempts by collecting melds of plans. When a total of 8 cards have been laid off on a plan, the melds are placed in the score piles along with the ringleader. When either a player goes out, or the deck is exhausted, the cards are scored, and points awarded. The first player to 100 points is the winner.

What I love most about these games is the historical themes. The cards are filled with historical trivia, and Alcatraz is no different. Each escapee card details the history of one of the prisons infamous inmates, their crime, and their escape attempts, the “Plans” deck details some of the successful escapes.

The cards keep the look of crime files, much like the earlier versions of the game and the “suit” colors are easily distinguished. We have had some difficulties when playing in identifying the escapees. Some of them have suit colors, and can easily be mistaken for plans cards when drawing. They do have a different icon, so knowing that they are mixed in, and making sure you keep watch for them is an important thing to remember.

The game also has action cards. The first time that you play a meld from your hand, or lay off on an existing meld, you draw an action card, which most often gives you extra cards. This is a nice feature and adds to the game. In basic rummy, sometimes players will hold their melds until they can finish them. The action deck encourages players to lay their melds in order to get more cards to finish them before the other player.

Of the versions of Mystery Rummy that have come out over the years, this one rates highly with me. The theme translates very well to the game play, and the action cards keep the game moving. I recommend it with 3-4 players though. Our two player games have been a little clunky.

Smirk & Dagger, 2015

Nevermore is a new card-drafting, set collection game from Smirk & Dagger. This game has a surprising amount of depth for its simplicity.

The Nevermore deck consists of 12 identical cards in 6 suits, Attack, Healing, Radiance, Victory and Ravens. This deck is shuffled and each player is dealt 5 cards. There are also decks of Light Magic and Shadow Magic. These are event cards that pop up during the game and add great interaction and strategic gameplay. Play begins with players drafting their hands by passing 3 cards, then 2 cards, then 1 card to the left. This alternates each round, so the second round, all cards will be passed right. After they have their “final” hands, play begins. Each player also begins with 5 Health cubes. The object of the game is to achieve 6 victory cubes, or be the last human player. This is one of the really great things about Nevermore. If you lose all your health, you become a raven, and continue playing in the game. You cannot deal damage, collect victory points, or recover health, but you can still draw cards, win tricks, and “peck” other players for 1 point of damage. You also still have a chance to change yourself back to human and win the game. Players are never eliminated in this game.

6 tokens are included in the game. The Conspiracy of Ravens, Attack, Healing, Radiance, Victory, and Skulking Ravens. These tiles determine the order in which each suit will be played. The Conspiracy of Ravens always goes first, and Skulking Ravens go last. Each round the rest of the tiles are randomized (after the first round) and placed face down on the table and revealed and resolved during play. Attack, Healing, Radiance, and Victory cards all played in sets. Each Raven card in your hand negates a card of your choice from the other suits in your hand. Any extra ravens will be dealt with during the Skulking Ravens phase. All 5 ravens in your hand is called the Conspiracy of Ravens. If any player holds 5 raven cards in their final hand, then you deal one point of damage to all other players, draw a Shadow Magic card , gain 1 victory point. The round immediately ends and a new round begins.

The first round, play order is set and resolved in the above listed order. Conspiracy of Ravens is checked for first and resolved. If there is no conspiracy of ravens, then the suits are resolved. All players play all their cards of the suit called. If they intend to use a raven to cancel a card in that suit it is played along with those cards. In each of the suits, the final value of the attack is determined by taking the highest number of cards played, and subtracting the second highest number played. So if player 1 plays three attack cards, and player 2 plays two attack cards, then they will do one point of damage. This mechanic applies to each suit.

Attack suit: The player who has the most attack cards deals damage to a player of their choice. A player who plays 4 or more attack cards may choose to do 4 damage to 1 player, or may do 1 damage to all players but themselves, and receive 2 victory points. Players who lose all their health points become ravens. They retain all their current victory points, because they have a chance to become human again and may still win the game.

Healing suit: The player who has the most healing cards heals any damage they have taken up to a maximum of 5 points. If they have 3 or more points of healing left after achieving their maximum, they may gain 1 victory point.

Radiance suit: The player who has the most radiance cards gains light magic cards. If a player plays 5 radiance cards they heal 2 points of damage and gain 1 victory point in addition to the light magic cards they would normally gain.

Victory suit: The player who has the most victory card gains victory points.

Ties: Players tied for highest each earn the power of the suit.

If, after the regular suits are played and the raven cards used to cancel other suits, a player still has a raven card(s) left, then “Skulking” Ravens are resolved. Each player will receive a shadow magic card for each raven they have left.

A person who has become a raven may become human by having a hand of 5 like cards, or if they have 1 of each suit (5 different cards). They play their hand like normal, but at the end of the round they become human.

Although this may sound a little complicated, the mechanic is very simple. Play is fairly fast, and the game can get quite intense. We have had a lot of fun with this game. It has a fair amount of strategy, and the random order of play can really change the round, so there is a slight element of luck. I really enjoy this game. I have found that if you gain victory too quickly, you can become a target, and may end up most of the game as a raven. However, you are still in the game and can play a great spoiler game from that position, as well as work to get yourself back into the game. My next strategy is to not try to get too many victory points at once. We’ll see how it goes. It really isn’t over until it’s over. Nevermore is well-balanced and the theme and quality of the components are good. If you like trick taking games, or the “dirty-on-your-neighbor” type game, you’ll have a lot of fun with Nevermore. Recommended.