Friday, 24 August 2012

Home You Go!

Home You Go - Spear's Games


Home You Go
Published by Spear's Games
Designed by Gustav Muller
For 2 OR 4 players, aged 6 to adult

Rules... They're made to be broken. As a collector of old and out of production board games, I really only have one rule: I won't keep a game if I'm never going to play it.

Most of the time I keep to that rule. It allows me to keep my collection manageable, and curtails my habit of buying any game I see in a charity shop or flea market. However, I am not above breaking the rule under the right circumstances; and that's why I own a copy of Home You Go. To be specific, a copy of the 1968 Spear's Games edition of Home You Go, which was purchased by my lovely wife for £1.99 at a local charity shop.

This is not a particularly good game: It's quite luck heavy, and it really only works with four people (and doesn't even allow for three people to play at all). But I keep the game because I used to own it when I was a child, so it has some nostalgia. Of course, the same could be said for many of the games in my collection, so there must be another reason.

There is another reason: The (literally) kick ass box art.

Who wouldn't like a picture in which a classic cone shaped pawn (complete with a cheeky grin) kicks another classic cone shaped pawn in the ass and sends him home? It's just a joy, and far, far better than the game really deserves.

But enough about the box: What about the game?

Home You Go is such a simple game the rules are printed in the box lid rather than in a separate booklet. Does anybody else remember games where the rules are in the box lid? I kind of miss that in modern games. It's nice to know that a game isn't bogged down with a cumbersome rule set, and even nicer to know you aren't going to accidentally lose that rule set.

Home You Go - Rules
Rules in the box lid - that's old school.


I think my favourite part of the rules is the opening line: "A very simple yet exciting family game for 2 or 4 players." Yeah. A FAMILY game for 2 OR 4 people. Any families of exactly three members or more than four members need not apply... That's surely got to rule out a lot of families? It certainly rules out mine.

I also like the fact that the rules refer to each player's pieces as "men." That's good old-fashioned family sexism right there.

Anyway, the game is played on a small board which is basically just a plain grid (but with more of that great ass-kicking art in the corners). Each player gets five pawns which are line up along one edge of the board. The aim of the game is to get all five pawns across the board and into spaces on the other side. The game only handles two or four players because each player must always be facing directly opposite another player, thereby creating a situation where pawns will "meet" as they move across the grid towards each other.


Home You Go - the board
The board - with artwork that makes it all worthwhile.


Pawns can only move in straight lines (they can't switch lanes), but they are allowed to jump over other pawns. If a pawn lands on an opponent's pawn, the opponent's pawn is sent "home" (back to its starting space).

That's pretty much it: Roll a dice to determine the number of spaces one of your pawns can move, move one pawn the exact number of spaces (moving forwards and backwards within a single move is allowed), and hope you can land on an opponent's pawn or get one of your pawns to its respective target space.


Home You Go - the playing pieces
A very poor picture of the playing pieces.


There is a small amount of tactical play (you may have several pieces you want to move for different reasons), but as each pawn is stuck in the lane it started the game in, and because you have to move the full amount you rolled on the dice, there tends to be a lot more luck and a lot less skill than a game of this type needs to be really enjoyable.

Worse than that, playing this as a two player game is boring: You will rarely get to land on an opponent's pawns, and the game becomes an exercise in rolling the dice and moving whichever pawn has the most chance of getting home. There is also little incentive to get all your men out on the board at once.

With four players, there are so many pieces moving across the board the chances of landing on an opponent's pawn are dramatically increased, but this really just makes the game run long and increases the level of chaos.

I suppose the game is fun enough for a while, but I have so many better games, this one is just never going to see the table.

So there we have it: Home You Go. Not a great game - not even a very good game - but it stays in my collection because the artwork makes me smile.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Heroes of the Maze

It has been ten days since I last updated my blog, which is far too long. Unfortunately, real life keeps getting in the way, so all I can do at the moment is churn out another slightly edited version of an old review that I original published on www.BoardGameGeek.com.

Heroes of the Maze


Heroes of the Maze
Published by Waddingtons
Designed by another one of those poor uncredited souls
For 2-4 players, aged 6 to adult

As regular visitors to my blog will know, I don't often write reviews of the newest, hottest games. When I write a review, I will tend to write about games that are not getting a lot of coverage at the time (Cadwallon, Claustrophobia), or games which are a little older or a bit more obscure.

So, that should explain why I'm writing about Heroes of the Maze, a plastic fantastic offering from Waddingtons that came out in 1991.

I picked up this little "gem" in a charity shop for the princely sum of £3, explaining to my wife that it didn't matter if it was on fire when I opened the box because at least the money was going to a good cause. As it happened, the game was in excellent condition with the exception of two missing pieces which are not really necessary to play, and which I am sure I will be able to find eventually.

So, what was in the box?

Surprisingly little, actually. Heroes of the Maze is a product of its time - a game desperately dressing up as a toy to try to attract attention away from home computers. The game board itself is made of good quality plastic. It is a circular maze, complete with walls and four completely irrelevant plastic arches around the edge that indicate the starting spaces for the players. The joy of this board is that the walls rotate by sliding levers around the edge, and this movement causes the path through the maze to change.


Heroes of the Maze - the board
The board - so fun, so plastic.


In the middle of the maze there is a pool into which you place nine rings (or seven in my case!). And on a column in the centre of the pool you place the fantastic green troll figure. The troll is the guardian of the maze and he has incredibly short arms.

The game is for up to four players, and each player is represented by an identically sculpted hero figure in one of four colours. These heroes are really quite nicely sculpted, depicting a typical-looking adventurer armed with a sword and a shield (they don't look anything like the guy on the cover of the box though).


Heroes of the Maze - miniatures
The heroes of the maze.


Finally, there are three dice: One standard D6, and two custom D6 with two sides showing swords, two sides showing shields, and two sides showing blanks.


Heroes of the Maze - custom dice
Heroes of the Maze - the custom dice.


The pieces are all really good quality, and even the box is pretty sturdy. It's a decent package - plenty of chrome to try to draw in the punters.

The game plays very quickly and easily. On your turn, you roll the dice. The number rolled indicates the number of times you can move the walls of the maze. You can then start moving your piece. You move your piece until you reach a point you can't advance, and then you can move the walls. After moving the walls, if the path has opened up again you can continue. You repeat this process until you have used all your moves for that turn. This is basically roll and move, but with a little bit of a twist as you are not rolling the number of spaces you can move (indeed, there aren't even any spaces on the board).

It should be noted, this part of the game is ace, and for children it really is good entertainment. With clever planning you can open up your own path while also blocking off your opponent's route, and in that respect the game is quite similar to (the far superior) The AMAZEing Labyrinth.

In the centre ring of the maze there are four target zones - one for each player. If you reach the target zone, you can challenge the troll to a fight using the custom dice. You roll the dice, and if you roll a sword you win; if you roll anything else the troll gets to fight back (you roll the dice and this time need a sword or shield). You repeat this process until you either roll a sword to beat the troll, or you roll a blank while defending.


Heroes of the Maze - the troll
The troll - short arms, short temper.


It should be noted, this part of the game is bloody awful. It really feels like the designer came up with the fantastic maze idea with moving walls, but once he had got that far he didn't know what else to do so just chucked together some rough and ready dice-rolling rules that aren't any fun.

If you lose against the troll you go back to the start and get to run through the maze again - yippee! If you beat the troll, you gain a ring and you place your playing piece on the central column. Interestingly, you place the troll on your starting space, and in subsequent turns you will control the troll. You get to run through the maze hunting the other heroes. This is a surprisingly neat concept, as suddenly your objective has changed - instead of trying to get to the centre of the maze, you are trying to stop other people getting there, and this can create some fun cat and mouse situations. Unfortunately, if you actually catch a hero, you get to do more dice rolling using the same naff custom dice rules. If you win, you get another ring. If you lose, you go back to your starting space.

If another hero gets to his target space, he can challenge the hero who is already on the central column for the right to take the hero's place and also take control of the troll. You guessed it - more rolling. This time both players rolls a custom dice and whoever rolls a sword when the other person rolls a blank is the winner. Yes, you read that right. You both roll, and you keep on rolling until one person rolls a sword and one person rolls a blank. Some of those fights can go on for a very loooooooong time.

First person to get three rings wins.


Heroes of the Maze - the rules
The rules - not bad, except for that crap with the custom dice.


Obviously this is a very light "filler" game. It has a great maze-moving mechanic, and the idea of fighting to take control of the troll is great. Unfortunately, the dice-rolling element is so random and so badly implemented it can suck the fun right out of the game. Watching as someone rolls one dice six or seven times to resolve one combat is never going to be in anyone's list of fun ways to spend the evening.

The game is also close to being broken with just two players. Once one player has got control of the troll, he can linger around the other player's target zone, and attack with the troll whenever the hero gets too close. This makes it almost impossible to make a comeback. However, with three or four players this isn't a problem.

Overall, I think the game is dumb fun for ten minutes for adults (did I mention there is NO setup time? - the board is assembled right out of the box and there are no cards to shuffle!), and I think children will have a real blast with it because of the "toy" element and the ability to play the "bad guy" and chase the heroes around. The game can also help to teach counting and spatial awareness.

All said, I am pleased to be able to include Heroes of the Maze among my collection of old and out of print games; but if I want to play a game with a shifting maze, I am probably going to choose the AMAZEing Labyrinth every time, which is an absolute joy with any number of players.

Saturday, 4 August 2012

A Touch of Evil: The Supernatural Game

Long before I had this blog, I was writing reviews at www.BoardGameGeek.com. For the sake of completeness, I am now gradually porting across all those reviews. Not only does it enable me to keep track of my collection and what I have reviewed, it also allows me to update my blog more regularly without putting in any real effort. You know... I'm lazy.

This is a rather less than glowing review for A Touch of Evil: The Supernatural Game, which I first published in April 2009. I've edited it, and slightly updated a small amount of content.

A Touch of Evil: The Supernatural Game


A Touch of Evil: The Supernatural Game
Published by Flying Frog Productions
Designed by Jason C Hill
For 2-8 players, aged 12 to adult


Before I begin, I should just mention that I’m not going to cover the rules of the game here, but I am going to reference certain mechanics. Just so I don’t completely confuse people who have never played the game, I will briefly (very briefly) run through the game basics. If you have played, or already know how the game works, skip on a little:

Each hero in turn rolls a die, and then moves up to the number of spaces indicated on the die. Once on a space, the hero can perform certain actions such as pick up investigation tokens (which act in an abstract way to represent money, knowledge, clues, etc.), draw a card (sometimes mandatory), or pay investigation tokens to buy items, buy a card that tells you where the villain is hiding (called a lair card), or pay to find out the secrets of a town elder. The town elders are one of the most interesting aspects of the game, as you can ask some of them to help you fight the villain, but each one has a secret. Some secrets are bad, some are good. You need to figure out which elders you can trust to take on a fight, and which ones you want to leave back at town.

Once all the heroes have moved, the villain acts. This is represented by drawing a card and following the instructions on it.

That’s pretty much it. On to the review...

Okay, not quite on to the review. Before I get there, I want to say something about the theme of this game. This is not a game about Hammer Horror style Gothic horror. This is a game about Tim Burton’s movie, Sleepy Hollow. I’m not stupid, and I know that Tim Burton’s film is a love poem to lots of horror conventions, and therefore it is possible that a game that is also a love poem to horror conventions will contain similarities to that film; but really, everything about this game shouts Sleepy Hollow, and very little of it shouts Hammer.

A rundown of some of the reasons I think this is Sleepy Hollow: The Game...

The time period is right (early 1800ish). The locations in the game are all important locations in the film: a windmill, a covered bridge, a wood, a manor house, a ruin. One of the bad guys is the headless horseman. Another bad guy is a scarecrow (tenuous, but scarecrows are a big part of the movie, and appear in several key scenes). The whole plot: Investigators from out of town turn up to rid the town of an evil presence. And the clincher: The six town elders all have the exact same professions as the six potential victims/potential killers in the film. Okay, you could argue that the professions of the town elders are simply reflecting the people who would have been most important in any colonial American town during this period, but even so, it all seems a bit too much of a coincidence... Oh, and in the film, every one of the elders has a secret.

There’s more: Similar characters, similar names, similar events, but I won’t go on. This is a review, not a soap box, after all... Now, the fact I believe this is Sleepy Hollow: The Game isn't exactly a bad thing. I love the film, and therefore I enjoy the theme of this game, but it does cause certain issues.

First of all, the setting means that certain classic horror villains just won't seem right. I think the designers have already acknowledged this by their choice of villain characters in the game (and by the way, am I the only person who thinks calling the monsters "villains" makes them sound like something out of Scooby Doo?): The villains are a werewolf, a headless horseman, a vampire, and... a scarecrow. A mummy wouldn't seem right shambling around this town, and neither would a Frankenstein's monster or a voodoo priest summoning zombies. It's not a massive issue, but it makes the game seem less generic.


A Touch of Evil - Villain card
The Headless Spectral Horseman.


The second reason the theme is a bit of an issue relates to the artwork, but I'll deal with that in the main body of the review, which follows...

In age old tradition, I’ll start by talking about the components. All the tokens and cards are thick and glossy and everything is of a very high standard in that regard, but I do have serious issues with a good proportion of the bits. Not issues with the quality, which is hard to fault, but issues with the functionality.

Straight out of the box, all the cards are stuck together, and I found it necessary to go through each deck to prise the cards apart. I believe talc can help prevent it, but even after a few shuffles, cards will still stick to each other. Not a deal breaker, but pretty annoying.


A Touch of Evil - card backs
Cards from the four different locations in the game.


Much, much worse is the problem I have with the tokens: They’re double sided! This may not seem like a problem, but it really is. For example, during the course of the game you can acquire additional statistics for your hero (extra combat, honour, etc). Each bonus is represented by a little token. So, I put a few tokens on my player board that say +1 combat and a few that say +1 honour, but during the game... the board gets knocked, sending the tokens flying. I quickly pick them up, but... these tokens that say +1 combat say +1 honour on the back. Now, did I have 3 combat and 2 honour? 3 honour and 2 combat? I can’t remember. This is stupid! Okay, you will probably remember how the tokens were allocated, but as the whole point of the tokens is so you don’t HAVE to remember. It’s a pain.

Monster tokens also suffer from being double-sided (a different monster each side). This is a pain for a completely different reason. It means that, unlike in one of my favourite games, Arkham Horror, the special powers for the creatures cannot be printed on the back of the token. Every time you fight a monster you have to refer to a chart. A chart! It’s like playing Warhammer Quest 15 years ago all over again.

Each villain in the game has its own chart, and every time you have to put a monster on the board, you have to roll on the chart. This is nice in one way, as it means each villain has its own set of monster tokens, and this makes each game feel a little different; but it is so much easier being able to randomly draw a tile from a pool rather than rolling a die, referring to a chart, then finding the right token, and then referring to the chart again to figure out what special rules affect that type of monster. It just feels so... old fashioned.

Funnily enough, in a game where so many things are double-sided, the villain reference sheets aren’t. They cram the basic AND advanced rules for each villain onto one side of the card rather than having one side for the basic rules and one side for advanced. This just seems lazy.

I don’t like the hero character sheets either. There is no space to put bonus counters, so once you have amassed a few +1 tokens for combat, cunning, etc., it can get a bit messy.


A Touch of Evil - Victor Danforth
Victor Danforth - one of the investigators.


The character sheets could have made use of sliders or something to show adjustments in statistics. Also, the sheets don’t make it easy to keep track of your cards. Anyone who has seen the Fury of Dracula character sheets will know they are laid out to indicate how many "spaces" you have left to hold items. This is not the case in A Touch of Evil, and again, it’s just a bit messy keeping track of everything.

The character pieces are very nicely sculpted, but there is little to distinguish them apart from a distance. Worse, their stances are not reflected on their images on the relevant character sheets, so it is not immediately apparent which figure goes with which character sheet.


A Touch of Evil - miniatures
The miniatures from A Touch of Evil.


The artwork also causes concern. When I thought this was a B-movie / Hammer Horror type of game, the artwork seemed quite fitting (although it would have been better in black-and-white); but once I started to feel like it was a Sleepy Hollow type of game, suddenly the graphics seemed all wrong for the mood. Still, I appreciate Flying Frog Productions "branding" their games in this way, and I can live with that. My favourite graphic is on the "first player" token - the FF logo. This is a theme-breaker for sure, as a frog has nothing to do with the game; but it’s a great piece of artwork. I hope the frog gets his own game one day.

Finally: the board. I love the artwork on the board, and I really wish the artwork had been continued to all of the cards. When I unfolded the board I was instantly excited to play the game. There are little details all over the place (scarecrows in the field, grazing cows) that I really liked. But...

It’s really small. I didn’t think this was a problem until I realised the shadow track (a thing that runs out as the game progresses and counts as a win for the villain if it runs out completely) was printed on a separate piece of card. This could have been printed on the board if the board had been bigger. More of a concern is the number of spaces on the board. A character rolling a 6 for movement who also has a horse (+1 move) can almost get from one corner of the board to the opposite far corner in one turn.


A Touch of Evil - detail of board
A sleepy little hamlet, gripped with fear...


The board's layout seems wrong. All of the relatively safe town spaces give you a free useful event card plus another useful special power. That being the case, why would I hurry to head out to a dangerous location? And why would I ever stop in the marsh or the field, where there is a chance of an extra mystery (bad card) being played that will hurt me? In fact, the first few turns of the game will involve all of the heroes staying in the village in order to build up powers before venturing somewhere dangerous. This is incredibly dull. Even if you are on a town space and intend to go to a dangerous corner location you may not get the chance because the spaces on the way to the corner location are "dead" spaces where nothing happens. That means if you don't roll at least a three to get from the town to the corner location in one turn, there is no point leaving the village: Your choice in this situation is to finish your turn on an empty path space where nothing happens, or dawdle in the town for a turn picking up bonus event cards. There is no incentive to head out questing at all.

I have actually been forcing myself to play more aggressively recently, heading to corners straight away to encourage more exciting play. The net result is I end up losing to the players who take their time building up cards in town. If I play the waiting game, I can win easily every time.

Two spaces on the board allow you to pay two investigation tokens to get extra cunning or spirit, and as every investigator starts with two investigation tokens, it makes sense to use your first turn to try and pick up some cunning or spirit if that particular stat is low for your character. This highlights a ridiculous disparity between some of the characters. For example, Karl the soldier is very strong (4 combat) and has high honour (5), but has low spirit and cunning. He starts the game in the town hall, one space away from a space that allows him to pay two investigation and roll dice equal to his honour (5!) to get an extra spirit or cunning. Why wouldn’t you do that on your first turn? It makes a mockery of giving the character poor starting stats.

Simply put, the village allows you to build up powers and stats too quickly. As an example, in our first game, my wife was Katarina, who is already pretty tough (4 wounds, good all-round stats, high honour). She rolled a one for movement (gaining a free event card for doing so), moved one space to the church (getting another event card), and then paid her starting two investigation to get an extra spirit. By the end of the first turn, she had +1 spirit, an extra wound (from an event), and a card that put two investigation tokens on every named location. We both subsequently spent a few turns just walking around the village picking up the tokens and trading them for power ups and getting tons of event cards in the process.

The investigation tokens are a cool idea. This is a really good element of the game. By using these tokens in an abstract way, there is no need to keep track of lots of different things such as cash and clues and this really simplifies the game. However, the investigation is too easy to get, and after a while the tokens become worthless. Once you have bought a lair card (which may cost as little as one token) and have bought a few items from the village shop, and you know the secrets of the elders, the tokens have no further use. You can’t use them in clever ways to get bonuses in combat, or to pick up some better weapons. In fact, the only way to get the best weapons is to explore and acquire them randomly from a draw pile.

While we are talking about the mechanics of the game, it is worth mentioning that this game takes a lot of ideas from a lot of games (nothing wrong with that), but I don’t feel it implements any of them as well as it should. The game it most resembles is Talisman - you roll, move, sometimes do something based on an instruction on the board, sometimes draw a card, build up stats, acquire items and allies, and eventually feel strong enough to take on the bad guy. But it mixes that Talisman model with bits from Arkham Horror such as having specific decks of cards for specific locations. Talisman is good (not great) because of the variety of encounters you can have, but in this game there are only 20 encounters for each of the four main locations and no encounter cards for any other space on the board. This means you get some of what Talisman brings to the table, but not enough. The other spaces on the board only have very basic instructions (roll a dice, draw a card dependent on the result) and this just doesn’t bring enough excitement to the game.


A Touch of Evil - location cards
A selection of cards you might see if you can be bothered to leave town.


The shadow track in the game is like the terror track in Arkham Horror, but with all the thrills taken out. In Arkham Horror, every time the terror track advances the players squirm. Bad stuff always happens. Shops shut, allies run away, monsters are everywhere. There really is a sense that things are getting bad and the end is nigh. In A Touch of Evil there are 20 spaces on the shadow track, and as the track advances there is no rising sense of panic. The players just shrug and then the next turn starts. In fact, as the track moves along, it gets easier to win the game! The cost of lair cards gets cheaper, which makes sense thematically, but actually encourages players to advance the track. It just doesn’t work for me. Never once, when playing this game, did I ever feel the threat of the villain as I do when playing Arkham Horror.

The biggest issue I have with this game comes from believing things I read on BoardGameGeek. I should know by now that we are all geeks over there, and "easy" for us isn’t "easy" for other people. I read reviews saying this game could be "played by monkeys" it is so easy to learn. I love Arkham Horror, but I can’t find many people to play because it is fiddly. I bought A Touch of Evil believing it was Arkham Light - something I could get to the table all the time. Yes, A Touch of Evil is easier to learn than Arkham Horror; but it is by no means easy, and if anyone can train a monkey to play it I’ll shake him by the hand!

The fundamental elements of the game are straight forward, but it is so fiddly. There are so many things to keep track of, so many different decks of cards, so many charts - the people I play games with just can’t cope with that. The stuff with the elders is relatively clever, but it’s fiddly. The powers of the villains are fiddly. The way all the cards interact is fiddly. Not fiddly for gamers, but fiddly for their friends!

The game also seems to have lots of half-conceived ideas that just add extra complications for no good reason. A good example is the werewolf curse: If you happen to get bitten by the werewolf, you get a curse card. Every mystery phase you add a token to the card. Once you have four tokens, you become a werewolf and... carry on the game as normal, except you make one attack on one hunter in every mystery phase. That just seems like a lot of bookkeeping for no real reason. Why couldn’t being a werewolf have other bonuses? Maybe it could reduce your honour, make it that you couldn’t have allies, allow you to sniff out the location of the bad guy? ANYTHING!! I mean, attacking the other players is actually a good thing in the standard, non co-operative game, so why would you even bother curing the curse?


A Touch of Evil - the rules
The rules - badly laid out, and in a strange font.


I could go on, but this review is getting ridiculously long, and I just realised I forgot to mention something I loved about the game: the CD. I know, I know. Everybody hates the CD. I have read that people throw the CD away. But I like it. Okay, it’s not Mozart, but it is completely non-descript background music that isn’t going to interfere with the game, and that makes it perfect. It is just a load of plinky-plonky piano music, but it does set a mood that I felt was otherwise lacking from the game completely. The music incorporates some genuinely eerie sounds as well: There is often whispering in the background, and at one point some children start singing nursery rhymes. I thought it was a really good addition to the game.

I want to finish up now. I really wanted to love this game. I love the FF boys, and I have much love for what they are trying to do, but I feel like this game is taking bits of other games but missing the heart that made those other games great.

So how can I sum up?

The theme is good, the playing pieces are nice, the quality of the tokens and the board is fantastic, the artwork is fun in a cheesy kind of way. The basic concept of the game is very simple to learn (basically roll and move) and if it was not for so many fiddly little rules and questions about how certain cards work it would be the perfect game for non-gamers. There are a few ideas that are good, such as the investigation tokens, but there are plenty of ideas that don't work well or seem half-baked.

Not every game has to be a brainburner, and this game can't be accused of being that; but it just doesn't seem to be as much fun as it should be.

It is worth noting there are three ways to play the game: Competitively, co-operatively, or in teams. This is a nice touch (no pun intended), but unfortunately the co-operative and team games seem tagged on. The game plays best as a competitive game where the players try to hinder rather than help each other, and this is the best way to play it.

Overall, it's okay. This review may seem negative, but that's because there was potential for this game to be so much better than "okay." It just doesn't cut it for me. I know plenty of people really enjoy this game. I wish I did too.