MadScientistUniversityMad Scientist University
Atlas Games, 2005

Mad Scientist University is a light, simple, storytelling party game. Each player is a student at Mad Scientist University. In turn, each player will get to be the TA. The TA will give each player an Unstable Element Card (Aluminum Cans, Penguin, Lawn Gnomes, etc). Then the TA will give the group an Insane Assignment (Take over the world!). Each player must create a story on how they will use their Unstable Element to achieve the assignment. The TA will choose the best story to win the assignment. After three rounds of play, (Each person will TA once per round) the student with the most won assignment wins the game.

We have had a lot of fun with this game. The Unstable Elements cards have just the right amount of wacky wierdness to make the storytelling easy and fun. The Assignments are general enough to be able to give players a good amount of latitude in their storytelling.  We were playing with the base game and the spring break expansion, and much fun and hilarity ensued. There are several more expansions of the game available, which will give the game more replay value.

If you like storytelling games, then you will very likely enjoy Mad Scientist University. Recommended.

When this post goes up, we will be happily gaming away at Gamicon. If you read this before the 28th, come join us at the Sheraton Hotel in Iowa City!

This year we received a ton of games for our Play-To-Win effort. I would really love to play all of them, but don’t have enough time. We did, however, get to play Gobblestones. Check it out…

R&R Games, 2015

Gobblestones is a simple, abstract tile placing game. You are playing a hungry goblin who is trying to eat up the most gemstones.

The board consists of 9 square double sided tiles. There are 25 small colored, numbered squares on each side of each tile. The board is made by placing the tiles in a 3×3 grid which will make a total playing surface of 225 colored, numbered squares.

The playing pieces consist of 100 colored surface tiles that are placed into a bag and drawn randomly. The object is to play a straight line of tiles and score the values of the squares on which the tiles were played. You can’t make a 2×2 block of tiles, and can’t turn corners, but otherwise can play as many or few tiles as you want as long as they are all on the same straight line. The more tiles you play, the fewer you draw, so you need to balance your play so you can always make some type of play.

Gobblestones is very easy to learn, but isn’t by any means a “simple” game. Trying to achieve the highest score with your tiles, while managing to keep enough to keep constant play can be a delicate balance. Trying to make a good score without leaving great plays for your opponents can also be quite tricky. Because each tile is two sided, and the game board configuration has lots of different play possibilites, giving the game a good amount of replayability. There are several different possible strategies and an intriguing amount of possibilities for each play.

We did have some difficulties because the tiles have a mirror-like surface, and with our lighting and surroundings, sometimes the colors were difficult to differentiate (gold reflecting a red sweater looks remarkably like the red tiles). There wasn’t any consideration to color blindness either. A simple pattern on each color tile would have easily taken care of this. There are also gray squares which aren’t mentioned in the rules. After playing, we figured out online that the gray squares are wild, but are 0 points.

Overall, this is a quick, light, fun strategy game. I very much enjoyed it and recommend it to fans of games like blokus.

Volt: Robot Battle Arena, Nazca Games 2014
Volt: Robot Battle Arena, Nazca Games 2014

Volt: Robot Battle Arena
Publisher: Nacza Games, 2014

I could give you a whole lot more nuts and bolts info, but, hey, that’s what is for, right? So let’s get right to the good stuff…

Volt: Robot Battle Arena is an awesome board game with a neat mechanic that is a little tricky to get your mind around at first, but works pretty great once you get the hang of it. Remember the robot battle arena shows on TV a few years back? Well, this is the board game version of that. From 2 to 4 people can play, and I find the game equally as fun with two, three or four players. It is more challenging with more people.

Your basic game play is as follows. The object is to move your robot to a randomly selected control point on the board. You have a control panel, which controls movement and firing. You secretly place dice… Yes, PLACE, dice (no rolling here) on the control panel to dictate your movement. Once everyone has placed their dice, all control panels are revealed and the dice are resolved. Then victory points are awarded based on if you are on the control point at the end of the phase, or if you managed to destroy another robot. The first player to 5 victory points wins.

If you have ever played the board game “Robo Rally”, then you might have a better feel for this game. In “Robo Rally”, you program your robot (which is a similar idea with a different mechanic, to the placement of the control dice), then simultaneously based on game criteria, you move your robot, interacting with other robots, firing weapons, and being affected by board elements.

I found this game challenging, quick and fun. There is a lot of strategy, but it is easy to get thrown off your game by a random (or not so random) play by another player. Knowing your opponents favorite strategies can help your game. It has a scrappy, fast-paced battle feel and really brings across the idea of the robot battle arenas from TV. You are never “out” of the game, because if you get “destroyed” you just start over again on your home row. Unlike Robo Rally, there is no “facing” in this game. Your robot always faces straight ahead. For some people I have played with, this makes the game easier. Using only an 9×9 board gives you limited options on where to move, so it can get quite crowded next to a control point.

The game comes with optional advanced pieces, giving you special upgrades that can add an extra level of fun and excitement, although I think you will find that playing the basic game is challenging enough for most people.