Monday, 29 June 2015

Monsuno

Monsuno


Monsuno
Designed by... someone
Published by Topps
For 2 players, aged 6 to adult

Monsuno Cards
The contents of the starter set... Enough cards to start a nice fire.


Hi.

You've been here before, right? You know about my "special" condition.

Course you do, I can see it in your eyes.

It's okay. Don't be afraid. Take a seat.

Go on, take a seat.

TAKE A SEAT!

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Quest: A Time of Heroes - Attack of the Orcs

Quest


Quest: A Time of Heroes - Attack of the Orcs
Published by Z-Man Games
Designed by Alexander Dotor and Andre Wiesler

For 2-5 players, aged 10 to adult

Quest map
Look - it's a big fish.


I'm a theme guy. If you've been to my blog before, you know this.

I love all games, and I am not opposed to abstract games; but as far as I am concerned, a dollop of theme makes anything more palatable. The theme doesn't even have to be totally integrated for it to work for me. Hive, Lost Cities, Dragonheart, Biblios... Not exactly the most thematic gaming experiences, but superb games with just enough theme for me to feel more engaged than I am playing something like Pentago.

But the games I love the most are those where the theme is ladled on thick. Space Hulk, Gears of War, Fury of Dracula, Super Dungeon Explore, Claustrophobia, Winter Tales, Tash-Kalar (yes, Tash-Kalar), and Mage Knight... These are the games that capture my imagination, and transport me into another world.

Considering my predilection for such games, Quest: A Time of Heroes - Attack of the Orcs (hereafter called Quest, to ease the onset of RSI) seemed like an obvious fit, and I jumped at the chance to pick up a copy when I found it on sale at Amazon for less than £10.

Quest is one of those old-fashioned heavily thematic adventure games that pits a group of heroes against a dark overlord (or game master) in an epic quest.

In most games of this sort, the heroes delve into a dungeon, kill some monsters, level up, find treasure, and buy some new equipment. They grow. They evolve. They come to life.

Their story comes to life.

Each dice roll, each new treasure card, each slain monster, becomes a part of the story. You create your own legend.

But in Quest, things work slightly differently. In Quest, the legend is already mapped out. The heroes walk a preordained path, dictated by a thick adventure book, which relates events and occasionally provides opportunities for the heroes to alter the course of events based on decisions, skill tests, and battles.

Anybody who remembers the old Fighting Fantasy "Choose Your Own Adventure" books knows what to expect here. The game master reads a section of text, and at the end there is a decision to make, a skill test to perform, or a fight to win. The results of these events dictate the next passage of text for the game master to read, and so the story progresses.

And it is a story. A proper story, with dramatic moments, exciting climaxes, and tough choices. This is a system that offers the potential for an immersive adventure, where it is a writer, and not random dice rolls and card draws, that crafts the nature of the encounters. The writer is a guiding force, sculpting the world, and making a fulfilling quest that has the potential to be more engrossing than anything other adventure games provide.

But there is a problem.

In fact, there are lots of problems.

You may have noticed my use of the word "potential."

Twice.

That wasn't an accident. Because Quest fails in its attempt to create an immersive storyline.

In fact, I have never seen a game that strives so hard to be a thematic, storytelling experience while at the same time creating quite so many barriers to entry.

A good thematic game draws you into the world. It hooks you at an emotional or intellectual level, and it won't let go.

Not Quest.

Quest pushes you away every chance it gets.

By that, I mean, imagine something that would ruin your immersion in a book, television show, or movie. Imagine that one thing that snaps you back into reality. That continuity error in the film. That spelling mistake in the book. That bit of dodgy acting in the television show.

Quest is an explosion of those "WTF?" moments.

It's a car crash of mistakes.

For a start, it has the most generic and boring fantasy theme possible. Of the four heroes, only the lizardman shaman is remotely interesting. The other options are a human mage, an elven ranger, or (of course) a dwarf warrior.

Quest elf
Generic elf, ready for action.


These utterly bland heroes explore a world where they discover equipment such as swords, shields, crossbows, and the mighty potion of healing. And every now and again they get caught up in a scuffle with thrilling adversaries such as orcs, slightly bigger orcs, really big orcs, and orcs that know magic.

Quest standees
An exciting array of heroes and villains.


I could forgive a generic fantasy theme if the game offered a good storyline, but it doesn't. It's just some twaddle about an evil force lurking behind a gate that wants to break out (probably intending to rule the world from an evil lair beneath an evil volcano).

Worse yet, the translation of the text in the adventure book is appalling. There are spelling mistakes, changes in tense, and poorly constructed sentences.

And that's just in the first paragraph.

Considering reading from the adventure book is such a big part of the game, the publisher really should have spent more time getting this right.

But I could forgive a poor translation if the game looked really nice...

Good grief.

It isn't that the game uses cardboard standees instead of miniatures. I actually don't mind that.

It isn't that the cards lack a linen finish.

It isn't that the game is in such a small box that you can't fit the components back in once you pop them out of the punchboards.

It's the art.

The graphic design.

I honestly don't know what the designers were going for here.

A few of the location cards have nice painted artwork, but these just look jarring compared to the special ability cards, which were thrown together using what looks like clipart.

Quest cards
Seriously? Someone got paid for this artwork?


There is no sense of cohesiveness between the different cards, and most of them look so bad you can't help laughing.

But I could forgive poor artwork if the game played well...

Okay.

Let's wrap this up quick.

The game is a mess.

I wish I could be more positive, but I can't.

The game master reads to the heroes. The heroes make a few decisions. They may have to complete a skill check which involves rolling a dice. This goes on for a while until a fight breaks out.

And then the game grinds to a halt.

The heroes wait while the game master uses some special cards to lay out the perimeter for a battle ground, and then assembles the standees for the monsters, and then finds the tokens that represent trees and other landmarks.

At this stage, the game transforms into a budget skirmish miniatures game. Unfortunately, because fighting is not the main focus of the game (there is only a single battle in the first quest), not a lot of effort was put into making the combat system engaging. It's very simple, with mechanisms that seem designed to "get the job done" quickly and easily with the least amount of fuss possible. In the end, players simply measure distances, move standees around, and roll dice to hit each other. It's incredibly pedestrian, and lacks a lot of the tactical choices and intricate positional play that skirmish games normally offer.

Quest gift cards
I mean, seriously... This art? For real?


Ultimately, Quest attempted to do something new and inventive. It attempted to combine a storytelling roleplaying game with a miniatures game, and in doing so failed to do either one particularly well.

You get very basic roleplaying, clunky storytelling, boring fights, and mediocre components.

No single element of the game is strong enough to stand on its own merits, and when these elements combine the whole is even less than the sum of its parts.

It was a brave experiment.

Admirable, but flawed.

And much like its badly translated adventure book, the game itself ended up being bland, and full of mistakes.

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Warball

Warball
 
 
Published by Duncan
Designed by Trish Bell, Richard C. Levy, Mike Selinker, Brian Tinsman, and Teeuwynn Woodruff
For 2-4 players, aged 8 to adult
 
Warball Battle Box
The Battle Box in all its eye-catching glory.


Ah, Poundland...

What would I do without Poundland?*

I go in looking for some craft supplies for my daughter, some Halloween decorations, or some overstock batteries that have about 25% of their charge left, and sometimes... just sometimes... I find something interesting.

By which I mean weird.

The other day (a term I use here to define a specific date I no longer recall), I was strolling past the toys, chuckling at the action figures that look a bit like Power Rangers while being just different enough to avoid a lawsuit, when I saw a small box with an eye-catching design. It had some half-decent fantasy art, and little cutaway sections revealing... revealing?

I moved closer.

No. It couldn't be.

But it was.

Marbles!

It was a game with marbles.

Warball contents
Battle Box contents. What a lot of balls.


I quickly checked the date on my watch.

I had driven to the store quite quickly that day, but I was absolutely certain I hadn't hit 88mph.

Sure enough, the date was correct.

A company called Duncan had actually made a new game using marbles.

A new game that Duncan hilariously (and apparently seriously) called "revolutionary and original."

A new game that Duncan hilariously (and apparently seriously) called a trading card game, even though it is quite clearly a game about marbles.

A new game that Duncan hilariously (and apparently seriously) called Warball.

Now, I don't know if Warball's name is supposed to sound like something certain birds do; but it does. Every time I say it, I feel like I am imitating an avian mating cry.

Warball...

Warball...

It's just awkward. And my friends don't like it.

But I'll forgive the name, because Warball is quite an attractive game, and I'm quite shallow. The marbles... sorry, Warballs... are nicely made. Some even have little monsters trapped inside them like mosquitos in amber, or dreams encapsulated in one of those crystals David Bowie loved pretending to wave around.

Savage Warball
It's a crystal, nothing more...


These Warballs work in conjunction with a set of cards that have some pretty interesting artwork on them (this is supposed to be a trading card game, after all). The problem is, the cards have a thick glaze that has a tendency to chip on the edges. Futhermore, when the cards are brand new, they really stick together, making shuffling a bit of a bear.

Still, the whole package is quite appealing, and there is a cool drawstring bag included for storing your Warballs, which is a nice touch.

Warball marbles
Nice ball bag.


However, despite the good-looking components, and despite the wedge of 60 illustrated cards, and despite the range ruler, this is quite obviously a game of marbles. I mean, Duncan has dressed it up as a trading card game, suggesting that players need to collect different cards to build power decks that allow them to manipulate each battle and maximise the usefulness of the available Warballs. But you can't fool me.

This is just marbles.

Warball rulebook
I don't remember marbles having so many rules...


At the start of the game, players line up their Core Warballs across the centre of an arena, keeping aside any of their larger Master or Savage Warballs, then they shuffle a deck of cards built around the Warballs they have brought to the battle. If you are playing with the contents of the Battle Box starter set, like I was, you don't get any choice in the Warballs and cards you have available; but it is possible to buy expansion packs containing more cards and Warballs, allowing for the possibility of custom decks.

On a turn, you draw four cards, and then you use any that you can to activate Warballs. To use a card to activate a Warball, it has to match the Warball design, and you have to check any special requirements. For example, you can only play cards that activate Savage Warballs if you have at least one of your Master Warballs on the battlefield.

Warball cards
The cards. (The artwork varies from nice to... not nice.)


When you activate a Warball, you simply flick it at enemy Warballs. If you knock any Warballs out of the arena, you capture those Warballs, and you win the game by...

Marbles.

It's bloody marbles.

Okay?

You flick your marble to knock your opponent's marbles, and you win by knocking all of your opponent's marbles out of play.

Warball flicking rules
Instructions on how to shoot marbles. Seriously?


They have added a few gimmicks, of course. This is a "revolutionary" game, after all. Some cards only allow you to activate a Warball with a trick shot, like using your feet or the edge of the range ruler; and your opponent can take control of your Savage Warballs if you don't have a Master in play to keep them under control.

Oh, and some cards don't activate a Warball, and instead "hex" an opponent's Warball. Being hexed is bad, not least because you have to fiddle around trying to slide the hex card under the Warball without displacing any of the Warballs in play, which is something of a dexterity game within a dexterity game.

But for all the gimmicks, this is just marbles.

Fortunately, marbles is a really cool dexterity game.

I grew up playing marbles over manhole covers, and had countless hours of fun. And yes, Warballs is fun too.

Best of all, one Battle Box (which, let us not forget, I bought for £1) contains enough content for two people to play, without having to worry about deck-building.

It isn't revolutionary. It isn't original. It isn't even a trading card game.

It isn't anything Duncan said it is.

But it's fun.

For £1, I can't really ask for more than that, can I?





*"Buy better games" seems like the obvious answer.

Thursday, 18 June 2015

HeroClix - TabApp

HeroClix


HeroClix TabApp
Published by WizKids Games
For 2 players, aged 10 to adult


I don't like blind-packaged games.

I like buying a game, and knowing I've got everything I need to have a good time right there in the box. However, once upon a time, back when I was in my 20s, I decided to start collecting one of the popular blind-packaged miniatures games.

I really wanted a skirmish game, and I guess I thought it would be fun to invest in a game where building the collection was part of the hobby.

Drinking too much will do that to you.

After careful consideration, I narrowed my choices to Marvel HeroClix or The Lord of the Rings: Combat Hex Tradeable Miniatures Game. Both games offer themes I love, but ultimately my love for The Lord of the Rings was stronger than my love for Lycra costumes.

Turns out, it was a really good choice. Combat Hex is an excellent skirmish game, with great mechanisms that allow you to field forces of almost any size. It also has really good pre-painted miniatures that put to shame anything WizKids has to offer.

I ended up investing pretty heavily, even purchasing the large special figures such as the Balrog and two Fell Beasts.

Sadly, Combat Hex went out of production, which is a real shame, because I don't think it deserved to. Meanwhile, HeroClix continues to go strong.

And that's why I don't go to Vegas anymore.

I have never regretted my choice, and I would never give up my Combat Hex collection, but sometimes I think what might have happened if I had chosen the blue pill. Would I still be collecting HeroClix today?

Maybe.

Considering my recent experience with TabApp, maybe not.

HeroClix DC
Look at Wonder Woman checking out Superman. Batman isn't happy.


TabApp, which sounds a little bit like something a dinner lady might wear, is WizKids attempt to bridge the gap between the popular miniatures skirmish game and mobile gaming.

It's rubbish.

I'm not going to talk about it.

...

Okay, okay. The theory is, there are certain special HeroClix figures that you can sit on your iPad, and the TabApp game recognises the figures and zaps them into the game. A bit like Disney Infinity, but without the fun and creativity.

The original TabApp game was piss poor, and involved mashing your fingers against your tablet screen in an attempt to kill baddies. WizKids subsequently released TabApp Elite, which involves mashing your fingers against your tablet screen in an attempt to kill baddies.

They're both bad.

Anyway, I happened to be in a Poundland recently, and I discovered the store was selling off TabApp characters. Rather than being blind packaging, these characters were in fixed, thematic sets. There was a DC set featuring Superman, Batman (Adam West style), and Wonder Woman, a The Dark Knight Rises set featuring Batman, Cat Woman, and Bane, and an X-Men set featuring Wolverine, and two characters nobody cares about.

HeroClix X-Men
Wolverine and two Not-Wolverines.


I didn't really know anything about the app at the time, but figured nine HeroClix figures for £3 was probably worth a punt.

Now, we've already established the app is rubbish, but what about those figures?

Well, the good news is, they are completely compatible with HeroClix. They have the patented clicky bases, and they come with stat cards.

Unfortunately, there are problems.

For some reason, the TabApp characters are super-deformed. They are larger than usual HeroClix figures, they have massive heads, and they are on deeper Oreo-style bases. They are like miniature versions of those bobblehead toys you can get. Just without the bobbling.

Don't get me wrong; the figures look great. But if you are going to use these in conjunction with other HeroClix pieces, it is going to look a bit strange on the table-top.

These sets also cause issues for anyone new to the world of clicky bases (like me). WizKids did not include any rules, and there are no maps or tokens. Fortunately, I sourced HeroClix rules online, but it is worth clarifying: These are absolutely not starter sets for getting into the skirmish game. You just get miniatures.

Weird miniatures with bid heads.

And a shitty app.

HeroClix The Dark Knight Rises
Bane says playing the app would be extremely painful... For you.


Personally, I am pretty happy with my purchase. My daughter went nuts for the figures, and we play the basic HeroClix rules with them on a board from another game. She's only four, so isn't up to handling the advanced rules, but she is more than happy to push the figures around the map and roll dice. And that makes me happy.

However, I can't recommend these packs for anyone looking to get into the miniatures game, and I certainly can't recommend them to people who want a fun app to play.

There is a very real chance that the characters are excellent additions to an army for established players. I don't know anything about the game to be able to comment on the abilities each character brings to the table, but they are all varied, and they seem quite interesting. So, if you don't mind big bobbleheads joining your fighting force, these might be worth picking up if you can find them at a good price.

Just don't play the app.

Seriously.

Don't.

Friday, 12 June 2015

Furstenfeld

Furstenfeld


Furstenfeld
Published by Rio Grande Games
Designed by Friedmann Friese
For 2-5 players, aged 13 to adult


Furstenfeld box
A big golden dude with a  beer... every home should have one.


I'm a writer, so creation is important to me, and it is a major part of my life.

As a novelist, I create worlds and I create characters (and if I'm really lucky, sometimes I even create sales).

As a blogger, I create long, rambling reviews.

And enemies, probably.

But as a gamer, I get to create... So many things. It is one of the reasons I love board games so much. Each one is a tool kit, a set of building blocks; and each one lets you build something amazing within the constraints of the rules the designer has provided.

A game like the sublime Winter Tales lets you create a story with your friends, weaving plot threads to seize objectives like spiders weaving a web to catch flies.

A game like Snake Oil lets you create ingenious inventions, countless personas (as buyer or seller), and laughter. So much laughter.

A game like Warhammer Quest lets you create a hero, and an epic tale for that hero to tell while quaffing ale at the tavern.

A game like Battlelore lets you create an army to crush your foes.

And a game like Machi Koro lets you create an economic engine that gradually expands and evolves until it spits out coins like an overly generous fruit machine.

Yes, creation is a wonderful thing, and I am addicted to the feeling you get when you take disparate components and slot them together to make something that is so much more than the sum of its parts.

It's why I love writing. It's why I love LEGO. It's why I love board games.

And it's why I don't really enjoy Furstenfeld.

Now, don't get me wrong. Furstenfeld is a bloody clever game, and it offers players the chance to create an economic engine as they struggle to harvest the ingredients the local brewers need to make their beer.

But it also has an incredibly good mechanism that provides tension and interesting choices by demanding that, at some point, you have to tear down what you have built.

And I don't like it.

But that's no reason why you shouldn't.

Here, let me explain...

Furstenfeld puts players in charge of their own "Furstenfeld," depicted by a board with six spaces on it. Three of the spaces generate resources (one for water, one for hops, and one for barley), and the other three are blank.

Furstenfeld board
My own private Furstenfeld.


Each turn, players draw cards representing new developments they can build onto the spaces on their Furstenfeld, assuming they have the money to do so. Basic options include fields that generate larger quantities of resources, but there are also banks that secure income every turn, town halls that allow you to hold cards back, laboratories that allow you to draw additional cards, and much more.

Of course, you only have six spaces on your Furstenfeld board, so you can only have six developments at any one time. If you build over the top of an existing development, you lose that initial development and any benefits derived from it. That leads to some tricky choices. Sure, building a field that generates three water over the top of your space that only generates one water is an easy choice, but what about building a laboratory over your town hall? One lets you sift through your hand of cards quicker, so you can find the developments you need to advance your strategy, but the other lets you hold on to cards you would otherwise have to discard, so you can keep them until you can afford to pay for them.

Which development fits into your strategy? What kind of Furstenfeld do you want to create?

To be honest, there is nothing particularly new here; but it is all very slick. Each turn, you draw cards, then you harvest your goods, and then you sell them to make the money to build the developments that will make your next turn more efficient. It's a tried and tested idea that has appeared in countless games. However, there are two wrinkles in the rules for Furstenfeld that give players something extra to think about.

First of all, the market for the resources is variable. There are only a few breweries, and they only need a certain amount of each type of resource. When resources are plentiful, the value drops, until breweries start refusing to buy them completely. When resources are scarce, the price starts to climb, and there is a chance to make some big money.


Furstenfeld breweries
I'm not sure five rival breweries would set up in a row like this.

As a result of the fluctuating market, players jostle to be the first to sell their goods, in an attempt to get the best price while saturating the market so other players are left with resources they are unable to sell. This is one of only two ways in which you can mess with your opponents, but it is integral to any strategy.

The market system is all very streamlined, and works nicely, and as earning lots of money in one round means you are forced to act later in the turn order in the following round, it is difficult for one player to steam too far ahead.

Furstenfeld goods
Psst... Hey Man, wanna buy some hops and barley?


The second wrinkle in the rules is the big issue I have with the game: The reason every player is developing a Furstenfeld is because they want to build a palace. You know, so they can show off to the neighbours.

Six of the development cards represent aspects of the palace. They are expensive, they keep getting more expensive as players build them (which is the second way you can screw with your opponents), and they don't actually do anything. They do not generate resources, and they do not grant any special bonuses. They just sit there like a heavy-handed social comment, filling up a space in your Furstenfeld.

A space that used to have something productive in it.

And you need to build all six palace cards to win, stealing victory by choking the life out of the economic engine you have built over the course of the game.

And I don't like it.

I enjoy creating a little system of developments that link together to generate wealth and resources. I like watching my little Furstenfeld bloom, and I like trading in my chunky wooden money tokens to build a marketplace, or a crane, or a warehouse.


Furstenfeld money tokens
No paper money... There was much rejoicing.


But in every game, you eventually reach a point where you have to take one of your productive spaces and clag it up with a palace card. Now you've got a spanner in the works, and your super slick engine starts to sputter.

And then you have to do it again.

And again.

And again.

This isn't like culling cards from your deck in Thunderstone: Advance to make your deck leaner and more efficient.

Here, you are purposefully making your engine inefficient, and you have to balance which spaces you keep active, and which ones you lose forever.

It's agonising.

It's so clever.

And I don't bloody like it.

Towards the end of the game, you are land rich and stoney broke, desperately searching down the back of the sofa for the coins to build your last palace. You don't get to win this game in a blaze of glory, you just limp over the finishing line.

You win by burying the wizened, useless corpse of your economic engine beneath an opulent palace-shaped tombstone.

It just isn't fun anymore.

I don't like creating things just so I can tear them down again.

Things are a bit better in the advanced game rules. The palace cards are numbered and you have to build them in the correct spaces on your board, but you get some new cards that help you to rearrange your deck so you get the cards you want when you need them, and you get a tour bus that converts each palace into a fixed income every turn. The problem there is that getting a fixed income means you don't get to be involved in the marketplace part of the game as much, so you lose that bit of player interaction and decision-making.

And when it comes down to it, there is something about the latter part of the game that I just don't enjoy.

You're paving paradise to put up a (very flashy) parking lot.

Overall, I think this is a very clever game. It runs smoothly. Everything works (in fact, it works almost too mechanically, making it feel a bit dry). Figuring out the exact moment to start building palaces over your farmland is tricky, and the game has plenty of interesting choices. Plus, the rules fit on four pages, and that includes diagrams and the rules for the advanced game, so it is easy to learn and easy to teach.

Furstenfeld rules
Check out Friese... He loves green. He has green hair. Crazy.


I think a lot of people would like it.

But it is a game of two halves. And unfortunately, I only enjoy one of them.

I think I'll stick to building my palaces out of LEGO.

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Tash-Kalar: Arena of Legends - Legendary Summoner Promo

Tash-Kalar: Arena of Legends


Tash-Kalar: Arena of Legends - Legendary Summoner Promo
Designed by Vlaada Chvatil
Published by Czech Games Editions
For 2-4 players (used in conjunction with the base game)



Tash-Kalar: Arena of Legends Legendary Summoner
Not legendary enough to summon clothes, I see...


Pop quiz...

1. Is a single promotional card worth £5.50 (plus postage)?

2. Is it worth reviewing a single promotional card?

You have 30 seconds to write down your answers. No conferring...

[Cue Countdown music.]

Okay. Pens down.

If your answer to both questions was, "No, it's only a card," you're wrong.

If your answer to both questions was, "Yes, but only if it is a promotional card for the exceptional Tash-Kalar: Arena of Legends," then congratulations. You've won yourself a teapot.

You see, here's the thing... I'm not keen on promo items. They are usually only available by visiting conventions in a country where I don't live, by pre-ordering something that might not even be very good, or by paying an obscene amount of money to someone on the Internet.

Furthermore, promos can seem odd or awkward. They may be silly in-jokes that are jarring with the theme of the game, or they may be wildly imbalanced or overpowered. After all, it's only a promo so it doesn't have to be balanced, does it?

I don't like the idea of components that enhance gameplay only being available to a certain few people who are lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time, or who happen to have a lot of spare cash to throw around.

I really don't like the idea of paying a lot of money for something which turns out to be a bit rubbish.

I really, really don't like the idea of paying a lot of money for what is, essentially, "only a card."

So, I don't really like promos.

But there are always exceptions.

The Legendary Summoner card for Tash-Kalar: Arena of Legends is that exception.

For a start, this is a promo that was (and is) readily available through Spielbox magazine. Just purchase Issue 6, 2014, and this little card is snuggled away in the centre pages. Okay, I ended up having to pay £5.50 plus postage for a magazine I wasn't that interested in, just to get the card I was interested in, but at least it was easy.

Spielbox
Spielbox, Issue 6, 2014.


Most importantly for me, it is a promo that integrates seamlessly with the original game. It is simply a new legendary creature that you shuffle into your legend deck at the start of the game. It is the same card quality as all the other cards in the game, it has stunning artwork by David Cochard, who illustrated all of the cards for the base game and the Everfrost expansion, and the only hint of an in-joke or knowing wink is the fact the creature is actually the same one that appears on the back of the legend cards.

However, I do think the card might be slightly overpowered. With a formation of four heroic pieces, it is possible to summon the Legendary Summoner. You then gain an action, and for the next being you summon that turn you get to use any pieces on the board, regardless of colour. This makes it pretty easy to string together some really nasty combos, summon over the top of enemy pieces, blow apart tight formations, drop pieces into the perfect place for even more summoning mayhem, or secure points based on mission cards.

But it's a one off.

And everybody has a chance to draw it from the communal legends deck, so it isn't giving a distinct advantage to any one player.

And there is a chance nobody draws the card throughout the entire game.

And when I think about it, quite a few of the legend cards have the potential to turn the game on its head.

And it's only a promo so it doesn't have to be balanced, does it?

Besides, if you are worried that drawing a certain type of legend gives any one player a distinct advantage you have the option to use the variant version of the rules published in the Spielbox magazine.

Rather than players drawing legends into their own hands, there are three communal legends that any player can summon if they meet the criteria. Whenever a player summons a legend, a new legend is drawn and added to the communal offer.

This variant helps to level the playing field between novice players and advanced players. Seasoned veterans can often tell what legends a player is trying to summon, based on patterns on the board, and this gives them a distinct advantage over novice players who do not know what patterns to watch out for. However, with the new variant, everyone knows what legends are up for grabs, and what patterns are necessary. This makes it easier to screw up an opponent's pattern, to prevent him or her from getting a legend on the table, and it is much more difficult for seasoned players to disguise their moves.

In my experience, the variant makes the game more aggressive. Players tend to spot what opponents are trying to do, and they go to extra lengths to smash up formations. It's very cutthroat, and it makes getting legends onto the field trickier (and more satisfying).

Interestingly, the variant also makes the Legendary Summoner slightly more powerful. This is because all of the players are going for the same legends, so there is a better chance there will be pieces on the board in a formation that you can make use of.

To be honest, I'm not that keen on the variant. I feel it tends to draw the attention of the players away from the objective of the game (killing opponent pieces, or meeting the criteria of mission cards), so they start to focus instead on preventing legends from coming into play. It makes the game drag a little bit, especially as players spend a bit longer trying to figure out if an opponent is about to summon an available legend, and you get less of those "a-ha" moments, where you pull the wool over your opponent's eyes and bring out an unexpected legend.

Still, it's nice to have the option of a different way of playing, and the variant does make the game feel different.

But really, nobody is going to buy Spielbox for the variant rules.

It is all about that card.

Now, here's the thing: I was predisposed to like the Legendary Summoner. Tash-Kalar is one of my favourite games ever. I acquired the original version as soon as it was available in the UK, I jumped at the chance to playtest the Everfrost expansion, and I purchased that expansion and the base game upgrade kit as soon as they hit retail. I had to have this promo card to add to my collection, and would probably have paid even more for it than I did.

It's nice to have more variety, and at a time when I am starting to guess which legends my opponents have based on the formations they are making on the board, even a single card helps to shake things up.

But does this single card really enrich the experience?

Well, no. Not really.

It's only a card, after all.