Last week someone on Twitter said to me “Brother, beloved brother, God of Games, you have been recommending a lot of very expensive board games recently,” or words to that effect. And I was all like - “Have I?” And then I checked and I kinda have been. So this week I want to quickly tell you about two inexpensive little games, one old and one new, that I think are great games for the price. Shall we start with the new one?
By now, everyone knows what a deckbuilding game is. Just in case you've been living in a bin – it's a game where you build your own deck of cards as you play, by acquiring new cards and getting rid of cards you find sub-optimal.
Star Realms is a tiny little game in a tiny little box. It's a good-sized deck of cards, with enough play for two players. If you want to play with 3 or 4 you'd have to buy another set, which is a nice way of keeping costs down for a game that feels like it's probably best with 2.
Each player starts with a deck of ten cards. Eight of these cards are “Scout Ship” cards that have a trade value of 1. Two cards are “Vipers” that each give 1 attack strength. Each player starts with 50 “Authority”, which acts pretty much like health points. The first player to deplete all of his opponent's Authority is the winner. In the middle of the table there is a market of cards that can be bought in a turn. You draw five cards into your hand and start playing.
Trade points allow you to buy cards. Play out four scouts for four points and you can buy cards up to that value, right? Any attack cards you play can be directed at your opponent, and they lose that amount in Authority. As you bring cards into your deck you strengthen your abilities. Three trade points is usually enough to send a nastier combat ship cycling through your deck. Once you start generating six or seven trade points, you can buy starbases that stay out on the table when played and generate good stuff every turn.
Once some bases are in play, you and your opponent can start sending attack points to those too, to clear them off the table. It's one of the best parts of the game – do you attack your opponent directly, or do you get rid of that base first? Do you push for the win or try to cripple your opponent's chances of recovery? What comes first? (Some bases, by the way, are marked “Outpost” and these need to be attacked and cleared before your opponent can be sent any hits. Every base has a defence value that you need to generate enough attack to take out. Fielding a few Outposts can really keep you out of trouble for a while.)
To make your deck really fizz, you want to try to get some faction alliances happening. Most cards are marked as belonging to a certain faction, and if you can play two or more cards from the same faction then A-BOOM-A-BLAP you can use additional ally abilities on each card and blast massive attacks at your chump enemy. You can also trash some cards for additional effects, but these cards go out of the game forever – more interesting decisions in this short 20 minute game.
I like Star Realms a lot. It's not anything new. It's a streamlined, refined deckbuilding knife fight with great art and a fast play time. If you've played any deckbuilding games before, you will understand how to play this one instantly and be able to get right down to action. It's a cheap, fun, solid game you can carry in a coat pocket.
SPACE HULK: DEATH ANGEL
Death Angel has been out for a while, but it's something that needs to be recommended to anyone who loves great game design. It's about 20 quid, comes in a small box, and plays brilliantly with 1-4 players.
What Death Angel manages to do, amazingly, is deliver some of the feel of the full Space Hulk board game in a game that uses cards, a few tokens and a die. The rulebook makes the game seem much more complicated than it really is. Essentially, the game has you laying out your Terminators in a column, as if they're all stacked up in a corridor. Each Terminator will have a position in the column, and will be facing either left or right. Each area of a mission has you laying out some terrain cards beside your Terminators. These terrain cards can be moved to and activated, and they do different things. Some of them might become mission critical too. Every round, Genestealers appear at positions along the column, and the Terminators need to deal with them or face their attacks.
The player has order cards for his squad of Terminators. Some allow movement, some allow attacks, some allow support. (Support lets a player place support tokens on other Terminators, allowing re-rolls – which are essential.) Orders are laid face down by all the players, then revealed, and resolved in initiative order. The Terminators start clunking around, swapping positions with each other, activating special abilities and shooting Genestealers. Any Genestealers surviving at the end of the round attack Terminators at their position.
And Terminators regularly die. Regularly.
The game can be played at different difficulty settings, but it can be tight enough played as it comes, right out of the box. As a solo game it really shines, as a sort of puzzle game about prioritising threats and jockeying for position. When Genestealers are massing at certain positions in the column, you might want a particular Terminator up there to deal with them – it's your job to work out how to get him up there quickly and safely. And while you're doing that, some event card will spring more Genestealers out of your arse. Nice.
How do you even design a game like this? All that tension, all that intelligence, all in one little box? Corey Konieczka is a clever bastard.
Two highly recommended games. Both 20 quid or less.
Aren't I good to you?