Strife: Legacy of the Eternals

StrifeStrife: Legacy of the Eternals is a lot of game in a very small tin. The version that we at Major Fun played has 35 cards (20 characters, 10 locations, 4 score cards, and 1 quick guide), 1 ten-sided die, and a single sheet for the rules. The game is currently near the end of a spectacularly successful Kickstarter campaign and it looks like more cards will be added thanks to their stretch goals; however, the basic game boils down to 10 characters vs 10 characters battling over 10 locations.

Players start with the same 10 characters. These characters (fantasy epic stalwarts like Barbarian, Necromancer, and Paladin) each have 2 special abilities: a Battle Ability and a Legacy Ability. These abilities determine who wins a confrontation. These confrontations occur in Locations. These Locations provide points for the players. These points determine who wins.

A game starts with a face-up Champion in front of each player—this is the Legacy Champion. Each turn, a player chooses a Battle Champion and places it face-down on the table. The Champions are numbered 0 – 9. When they are revealed, the highest number goes first—that player can choose to use the Champion’s Battle Ability or not. The lower Battle Champion may then go. The players then activate their Legacy Champions in the same way—high number goes first. After the battle abilities and legacy abilities have been used, they player with the highest Battle value wins the location and takes the points.

The Battle Champion is moved to the top of the Legacy Pile (become the new Legacy Champion) and the players choose new Battle Champions.

What makes the game so enthralling—and Major Fun—is the way in which the abilities interact with each other to produce surprising results. Some abilities increase battle value. Some abilities allow Champions to be swapped. Some abilities cancel abilities. It is not enough to have the Champion with the highest battle value. The Battle Champion and the Legacy Champion must work together to win. Players must be clever and patient: each character will be a Battle Champion ONCE in a round. You have to play your cards wisely because at some point you will have to use each one.

01 AwardStrife is a perfect information game in that each player starts with the same cards, and each knows what cards are being held by their opponent. The only mystery is when Battle Champions are placed face-down at a location.

There are almost no random elements in the game. This is a deeply strategic game. There is also an incredibly clever way to resolve ties. I won’t go into it here, but it uses the die (and rolling is not involved).

The art is distinctive and reminiscent of the painted illustrations in pulp fantasy magazines (the more family friendly ones—not the really lurid ones). The instructions are concise and clear. Your first game will take a while as you figure out how the abilities interact but within a turn or two the basic mechanics will be second nature and you can focus on what is really important: how you are going to stop that Barbarian and Necromancer from demolishing your Ranger.

2 players. Ages 10+

Strife: Legacy of the Eternals was designed by Christopher Hamm is © 2014 by V3G.

Battle Sheep

battlesheep_gamerA bucolic scene. Technicolor sheep grazing in a green pasture. They look up every few moments, amble over to another patch of grass and clover. Quiet except for the sound of chewing and the occasional bleat as one of the sheep gets boxed in.

The horrors of war!

The pasture is a battleground. The sheep scan the field with steely eyes, looking for weakness in the enemy lines. A scream of defeat.

Welcome to the vicious world of Battle Sheep.

Blue Orange has brought us another great strategy game. Battle Sheep combines an area capture mechanic with a variable board that changes the contested pasture every time you play. As is the hallmark of most Blue Orange Games, the pieces are of the highest quality and the art is fun. The rules fit on a tiny slip of paper and once you have read them you will never need them again.

The game starts with the construction of the pasture. Players take turns placing the pasture tiles so that they connect. The combinations are practically infinite and you can construct some truly bizarre playing areas.

Once the pasture is set, the players take their 16 sheep tokens and place them in a single stack at the edge of the pasture. Each turn after the initial placement, each player must move at least one of their sheep tokens in a straight line until they have to stop—either by running into the edge of the pasture or by bumping into another sheep. A player can move a single sheep or a stack of sheep as long as at least one sheep is left behind. As the game progresses, there are generally several smaller stacks of sheep of each color. Players with multiple stacks may only move from one of the stacks.

The idea is to control as many hex spaces as you can and block your opponents so they can’t move. The game ends when only one player can make a legal move. At that point, players count how many pasture hexes they control.

01 AwardThere is a lot to think about here, starting with your initial placement. It is entirely possible to get shut down early in the game if you choose poorly. Each move involves a reassessment of the pasture and the possible moves of your opponents. And of course there is the great satisfaction that comes when you can box your opponent in to a small corner.

Baa Ram Ewe, buddy. Baa Ram Ewe.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5MdU58CUw34[/youtube]

2-4 players. Ages 7+

Battle Sheep was designed by Francesco Rotta and is © 2014 by Blue Orange Games.

Niya

niya_gamerNiya is a quick little strategy game that draws its inspiration from Japanese garden prints. Each player represents one of two clans who are trying to quietly take possession of the emperor’s beautiful garden. Violence in such an exquisite location is out of the question but there are rules for entering the garden and if you can align your clan just right the space can be yours.

The garden is made up of tiles that are shuffled and placed in a 4 by 4 grid. Each grid square contains two of the following images: rising sun, poem flag, bird, rain cloud, maple leaves, cherry tree, pine tree, and iris. Each player also has eight clan member tokens. The game starts when one player places a token on the grid. Opponents alternate placing tokens until one gets 4 in a row, a box of 4, or prevents the other from making a legal move.

After the each token is placed, the next player must put a token on a tile that has an image in common with the previous tile. For instance, if I play on the tile with the Sun and the Iris, my opponent could only play on those tiles that have either a Sun or an Iris on them. Capturing tiles becomes a strategic battle to achieve an advantageous position while impeding the options of your opponent.

01 AwardIn many ways this is a variation on tic-tac-toe. I imagine there are optimal strategies for first placement and response moves, but nowhere near as simplistic as tic-tac-toe. Because there are two elements to keep track of and the board changes with each and every play, the exact same strategy will not work each time. Figuring out good approaches will probably happen over the course of several games. Fortunately, the games are quick and Major Fun.

The game is beautifully illustrated and thoughtfully designed. The tiles are double sided, heavy-duty cardboard, and the tokens are a high-density plastic. Rules, tiles, and tokens fit in a compact tin. It’s an elegant strategy game with great art and intuitive rules. Great for quiet evenings and rainy days.

2 players. Ages 8+

Niya was designed by Bruno Cathala and is © 2014 by Blue Orange Games.

Survive: Escape from Atlantis

SurviveSurvive: Escape from Atlantis has been traveling a long time to make it to Major Fun.

Created in 1982, Survive: Escape from Atlantis is a board game with hexagonal tiles that change over the course of the game in a fashion similar to what you would find in more recent games like Forbidden Island and Settlers of Catan. As the story goes, you control a team of explorers who have discovered the island of Atlantis only for it to disappear beneath your feet. You must escape across hostile waters, either by boat or by swimming, to safe ground (the corners of the game board) before the volcano rumbling beneath the island goes all Pompeii on your…

As for tiles, you have three basic kinds: beach, forest, and mountain. These sink at different rates. The beach tiles disappear first, followed by the forests, until only the mountains remain, only to finally succumb to the inevitable collapse of the soon-to-be-lost continent. The tiles are cleverly constructed so that the beach tiles are thinner than the forests which are thinner than the mountain tiles. In this way players can instantly and intuitively tell what spots are most imperiled. Stronghold Games has done a fantastic job of designing all aspects of this edition.

Surrounding the island there is a wide expanse of ocean that teems with sharks, whales, and sea monsters. These entities slowly awaken as the island collapses and wreak havoc upon the explorers as the players try to make guide them to safety. Whales capsize ships. Sharks eat swimmers. Sea monsters destroy anything they catch.

Once the island is created in the center of the board, each player has 10 explorer pieces to place. The explorers have numbers 1 – 6 on the bottom of their bases which represents how many points each are worth. The goal is to have the most points at the end of the game, not necessarily the most survivors. When you place your pieces you decide where they go but once they have been placed you can’t look at their value. In the chaos of the game it is easy to forget which piece is which so there is a lot of tension as your explorers become threatened or are close to rescue.

On your turn you take four actions in this order: play a special tile (if you have one), move your explorers, remove a terrain tile, and roll the creature die. The terrain tiles are double-sided: one side shows terrain the other gives you a special action. Sometimes this allows you to summon a creature. Sometimes you can move your explorers. Sometimes you can prevent others from attacking you. Some tiles you can hold on to. Some must be played immediately.

awardOnce you move your explorers you must remove a terrain tile from the board. Beach tiles must go first. Mountains are last. If possible you try to dump your opponents into the drink. Because that’s where the creatures are and, as the blood-thirsty competitor you are, you get to command those creatures to smite your foes.

Your last action is to roll a die and move whatever creature comes up. This is how you prevent your opponents from reaching safety. Eat them with sharks. Capsize their boats with whales. Obliterate them en masse with monsters and whirlpools.

The removal of terrain tiles, in addition to the special actions they provide and the fun of dropping your opponents into a watery grave, also serve as the game’s timer. Under one of the eight mountain tiles there is a volcano. When it is turned over, Atlantis explodes killing any explorer who has not reached safety. Players tally up the score for each survivor.

The game has a lot of pieces but the art design and the instructions make the entire process very easy to follow. The most difficult aspect is probably the movement rules because there are different rules for swimmers, but once you have that down, the rest is very intuitive.

And very fun. Survive is a strategic game but one in which your plans often have to be scrapped and replaced as the island disappears and the ocean fills with flesh-hungry monsters. Of course, we control the flesh hungry monsters so maybe that says more about us as a species than we would like to admit. But revenge is so much fun!! And the sea creatures are so very very hungry…

2-4 players. Ages 8+

Survive: Escape from Atlantis was designed by Julian Courtland-Smith and is © 1982 by Stronghold Games.

Space Cadets: Dice Duel

space cadets boxGamers Games are Major Fun for the more experienced gamer. For one reason or another, these games are a bit more difficult or require a greater time investment than the games we generally award BUT we feel that they are well worth the effort.

A while back we gave an award to a cooperative and yet utterly chaotic app called Space Team. It is a fantastic example of how our phone and tablet technologies can be used to not only connect players, but have them physically act together. At the time I thought that this kind of game might be unique to technological devices. Phones and tablets after all are designed to record and respond to a wide range of motions.

Board games? Less tolerant of vigorous activity.

Well, I’m here to tell you that Stronghold has provided the world with a game that effectively splices the strategy of a board game with the frantic and physical activity of an obstacle course. That game, is Space Cadets: Dice Duel.

Space Cadets diceDice Duel is set in space. Two starships have found themselves locked in combat over a region of space that contains wormholes, asteroids, nebulae, and mysterious power crystals. Players divide into 2 teams with the unambiguous mission to destroy the other ship. Each ship comes with a Helm (for steering your majestic ship into glorious battle), Sensors (for locking on to the vile opponent and cloaking your presence), Weapons (for cleansing the galaxy of the alien filth), Shields (for deflecting the villainous armaments of your foe), Tractor Beams (for moving all manner of material and laying mines), and most importantly Engineering (from whence your ship distributes cleansing power to all your Stations).

This would be a lot to track for one person, but fortunately you have a crew. Each of the ship’s systems has its own Station and a set of dice that is color coded for that control panel. In order for any Station to operate, that Station first needs power from Engineering and then it needs the right combination of dice. One of the things that makes Dice Duel so intriguing is that it can engage up to 8 players at a time. It is actually better with more players.

Space Cadets weapon diceWhen the game starts, Engineering begins rolling its dice. It distributes these dice to the Stations (Weapons = 1, Sensors = 2, Helm = 5, etc…) so that those crew members can get their sub-systems up and running. A Station may roll one die for each Engineering die it receives. When a Station gets the result it wants it places the die on the control panel and returns the energy die (or dice) back to Engineering.

All of this rolling and equipping and moving happens at the same time. There are no turns. The team that rolls its dice and communicates its actions fastest has a distinct advantage.

Early in the game, the teams work to get their ships up and functioning. This is a relatively quiet process as the team members roll their dice to stock up. But as soon as one of the ships moves from its start point, the tension and chaos go supernova. There are lots of things that have to happen for a ship to successfully attack another ship and it is inevitable that in the heat of battle, things will go horribly horribly wrong. Your ship might face the wrong way. You might not have enough power in the sensors. You might not be close enough. You might not have the torpedoes facing the enemy. The enemy might move. Imagine trying to teach someone to drive a manual transmission by giving them instructions on the phone.

awardYour enjoyment of this game will hinge almost entirely on your ability to recover from disappointment. Well, and maybe your team’s ability to not turn on each other like a pack of rabid dogs.

The constant dice rolling provides a menacing sound-track to the proceedings and it is utterly gratifying to land a torpedo on your opponent. Gratifying and Major Fun.

The real-time mechanics are very clever and give the game its own frenetic glee. There is a fairly steep learning curve, but it’s not learning the rules that is hard but rather learning how to communicate with your team and time your attacks. The game comes with a lot of pieces, but once you have the control panels set up, the dice mechanics are really very simple. This game is a great example of rather simple rules complicated by human behavior and constantly evolving conditions. That the game is best played with a lot of people (4 on each team) makes it stand out in a field crowded by 3 – 4 player limits.

4 – 8 Players. Ages 12+

Space Cadets: Dice Duel was designed by Sydney and Geoffrey Engelstein and © 2013 by Stronghold Games.

Cross Ways

The goal of Crossways is to complete a path across the 8X8 game board. Players place their pieces on the board by drawing and playing from a double deck of standard cards. In this respect, the game is a lot like Sequence, but saying that Crossways is like Sequence is akin to saying that a Harley is like a Schwinn.

I’ve had a lot of fun chewing the fat with friends over leisurely games like Sequence, but that doesn’t elevate them to Major Fun. Not so with Crossways. It’s Major Fun because, unlike those more casual games, you might find yourself putting the conversation on hold in order to think through your next move.

When playing as individuals, each player is dealt 5 cards. On your turn you can play one or more cards in order to either add your pieces to the board or remove your opponents’ pieces. If you play a single card you may play one piece on a square that matches the color and number of your card (for example a red 5 or a black queen).

Things get more interesting as you play cards in pairs. If you play matching pairs (pair of 8s or a pair of jacks) you can place two of your pieces ANYWHERE on the board. This allows you to cover more ground or stack the pieces. A stack of two pieces will block other players from that space. There are also some spaces that you can only take with a stack. If you play a run of two cards (for example a 2 and a 3 of hearts) then you may remove two pieces from the board. In this way you can slow your opponents or open up spaces that are blocked by a stack.

awardThe first player to cross from one side of the board to the opposite side is the winner. The board is only eight spaces across, but boy do things get complicated in that journey. Diagonals do not count toward your path, so blocked spaces can quickly frustrate those trying to take the obvious, shortest route. Then there is the added wrinkle that opposing pieces can share spaces. A single piece on a space does not block your opponent. It is easy to lose track of your opponent’s path when other colors are stacked up on the same space. Your color doesn’t have to be on top. It just has to be on the space.

Crossways is graphically clean and the plastic pieces stack in a satisfying, sturdy way. The rules are quick to learn and come with helpful illustrations as well as a raft of alternate rules. We played that you could make runs and sets out of more than two cards (for example three-of-a-kinds or runs of four) which made for some dramatic changes, but the standard game-play is tight and lively.

It was good to see that Major Fun can still be had with a basic grid and some standard cards.

2 – 4 players or teams. Ages: 8+

Crossways was designed and © 2013 by USAopoly.

Grid Stones

After last week’s review of Flash! some of you might be looking to slow things down a bit. Speed and noise are not the only fun to be had. Contemplative strategy games allow for slower, less reactive thinking. They also lend themselves to conversations and the more measured paces of the chat.

Grid Stones gives those of us who enjoy the more deliberate pace of a strategy game a chance to limber up those slower but deeper neurons.

At its heart, Grid Stones is a pattern recognition game, similar to Tri-Spy or Set. Unlike those examples, speed is not an issue. Each player is given a hand of three cards on which are depicted a 3×3 grid and a certain pattern of glass beads. The game board is a 5×5 grid on which the players either place or take away glass beads.

On your turn you may place one bead on the game board OR take one bead off. You may not slide beads around. If, on your turn, you find a pattern that exactly matches one of your cards, you may reveal the card. The game ends, and the winner determined, by the first person who reveals all three of their cards.

awardIn my experience, players have a tendency to crowd together on the board. The thinking is that if a bunch of pieces are in one place then it is more likely that we will be able to complete a pattern; however, the more people who play in a tight area, the more likely they are to move the exact pieces we need.

Planning ahead in this game is not a precise science. Strategy revolves around creating good opportunities so that you can quickly recognize or create a pattern when it is your turn. There is a good deal of second-guessing that goes on as you watch what choices your opponents are making.

And finally, there is always the dark glee that bubbles up when you ruin your neighbor’s plans and hear that exasperated sigh. That’s definitely Major Fun.

The game rules are clear and short and virtually intuitive. The board is well designed and clearly shows how to play with 2, 3, 4, or 5+ players. You’ll be playing in moments and able to play through several games in one sitting.

2 – 7 players. Ages: 7+

Grid Stones was designed by Tim W.K. Brown. © 2008 by Grid Stones, the game is available through CSE Games.

Linja

It’s true that we of Major Fundom like our props. Good games aren’t just fun ideas, they are fun items: tactile, colorful, aural, rarely olfactory, but always concrete. Of the world. We don’t need a lot of props, but the game pieces should have some heft and style. Elegance (or the lack thereof) can seal the difference between a game that is Major Fun and one that is Major Oh-So-Close.

Linja consists of two props: short bamboo rods and 24 wooden playing pieces (12 black and 12 red) shaped like hour-glasses. Set the bamboo rods in six parallel line on a flat surface, line up your game pieces, and the strategy is on. Of course, if you are like us, it takes a while to really set up the game because you are re-enacting scenes from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon with the bamboo and pretending the wooden game pieces are deadly Linja assassins. First the black Linja infiltrate the palace, then the red Linja neutralize the roof guards, only to discover they’ve been lured into a devious trap…

Where was I?

Oh yeah. The game. So your goal is to get your pieces from your side of the board to the other side. Simple enough. In many respects the movement of the pieces will be familiar to anyone who has played Backgammon. On your turn you have two moves. For your first move you may advance one of your pieces one space. Check out the number of pieces (red and black) in that space—this will control how many spaces you may advance your next piece. For your second move, you must advance a second piece a number of spaces equal to the number of pieces where your first one landed.

The game ends when you and your opponent’s pieces have completely passed each other on the board. Score is calculated by how far you managed to move your pieces. For each piece that made it to your opponent’s side, you earn 5 points. You also get points (fewer points) for the spaces close to your opponent’s side.

I must admit that I thought my strategy was pretty solid. I wracked up several 5 point pieces early. But in the last five or six rotations, my opponent advanced almost all his pieces into my home row or the penultimate row. Crushing defeat.

There might be a sure-fire strategy for winning, but maintaining the balance between advancing your pieces and yet keeping a few back was incredibly engaging. If there is a strategy like you would find in tic-tac-toe, then the game pieces, the elegant rules, and the levels of planning make the search Major Fun.

Game and artistic design for Linja by Stephan Mühlhäuser. © 2003 by Steffen-Spiele and distributed under license by FoxMind Games.

William Bain, Games Taster

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