Sunday, November 9, 2014

Review: Escape the Room Philly: The Office




The timer started as soon as the door closed. We were locked in the room which was set up to look like an office. We had an hour to find a way to unlock the door before the boss returned and we would be trapped in the room forever.

I also have been suffering from a nasty stomach virus and I ate dinner about an hour before we started. We were playing in hardcore mode.

I will not spoil any of the puzzles in the game, despite wanting to excitedly gush about them. But I will spoil two things: We got out and despite the intestinal rumbling and discomfort, I made it through the time alright.

Escape the Room: The Office is an live action gaming event where your group of up to ten people are literally locked in a room designed to look like an office and you have one hour to find and piece together the clues to eventually get the key to make your way out.

We had a little bit of an advantage. We had players who had gone through a different Escape the Room event before in New York. That didn't help us with the puzzles at all, since they were completely different. But what it did help us with was understanding how the space is used in the game. As soon as the door clicked closed behind us we started to tear apart the room, ripping down wall art and upturning everything not bolted down--and only after testing the bolts for a bit first. I think a group of virgin potential escapees might handle the setting more delicately.

And that is something that makes this game remarkable. The setting is such an element to the game. Everything in the room is potentially a piece of a puzzle, but it is also set dressing. In a typical setting, I would be hesitant to peek inside of drawers. But here, I quickly learned to tear off everything from the walls searching for any clue.

Because of the combination of physically finding things such as clues, riddles, and even keys mixed with having to piece together numerical strings and patterns to unlock physical locks and patterns, the game actually successfully recreates the experiences of classic puzzle video games such as Myst. However, while I found the process of running the cursor over the entire screen to find the pixel I needed to click on in games like Myst tedious and dull, the physical equivalent of tearing through every object in the room in the Escape game is so very much more visceral and satisfying.

If there is a comparison to puzzle video games, it is to games like Myst. I feel bad in some ways making that comparison because personally, I hate Myst. But other, more modern puzzle games such as Portal use movement and momentum in their solutions in ways that do not work safely in real life.

But what does the game evoke?

There is a screen in the room that has a countdown on it. You can always look to see exactly how much time you have left. For some, this could add a lot of pressure and worry and stress throughout the game. Surprisingly, I barely looked at the screen to check the time. I specifically looked at our time left twice in the game. For the rest of it, I was too busy running around and trying to figure things out.

But the other thing that the game evokes quickly is a sense of who are the alphas in a group. Now, our group contained friends and friends of friends, so there was already existing relationships. But I found that we quickly broke into groups and scattered throughout the room. As locks and puzzles were found certain people claimed them as their own. Everyone was very willing to accept advice and help from the other players, but people definitely staked out their claims.

If our group were less extroverted and consisted of fewer alphas, I could easily see the group sticking together and trying to work through each puzzle as group. Here, I think, you could run into problems with people butting heads. But for us, even in the small enclosure that we were locked inside, there was enough puzzle landscape for each of our alphas to roam freely with their own territory.

As our territories were eaten away by the clues and puzzles being solved, our individual herds grew larger as we consolidated. But the consolidation came with successfully solving puzzles, so none of us were put in the position of joining others in frustration, but rather with the adrenaline rush of success.

It made our dynamics work really well. On the one hand, certain puzzles were solved without my knowledge of exactly how they were figured and I had a few combination of numbers floating in my head that were already used. However, our groups grew with success rather than failure, so each time a herd grew, it was on the back of triumph.

An unsolved puzzle, however, can be very frustrating. And this is the genius of the design. Each game has someone watching over it. They monitor our activities by video and through microphones. If we spend too much time on a clue or seem hopelessly lost misinterpreting something, the game master would play a chime in the room and we would know to go to the countdown screen. We would get an additional clue set up like it was an office memo. The game master wouldn't be obvious with the clue, but it was enough to get us on the right track and to either focus on something we ruled out or to check back at something we missed.

This helped save us from the frustration of lingering on an unsolved puzzle for too long. We didn't get a lot of clues over the screen, but the ones we got were timed rightly to help redirect us when we began to wander down paths that would have caused frustration.

There is also a debriefing at the end of the game, which walks you through the clues and how to piece them together if you succeeded or failed. This helps to focus your thoughts and to show you the process that was intended--even though we didn't always follow the same path.

If I have anything negative to say about the game, it is only that despite the setting, there isn't that narrative arc that I enjoy in games. When I play Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective, the puzzles and deductions come naturally in the course of a story. But despite the stage and set of the Office, the second the door is closed, the set dressing is moot and everything simply becomes an piece of a puzzle. I don't feel like I am an office worker and the puzzles use the office setting for clues, but ultimately the solutions don't necessarily make any narrative sense. In a board game or a video game, this would annoy me. However, it is forgivable in this context because the adrenaline of running around in real life is engaging enough that the theme being only the set dressing doesn't matter.

One particular puzzle is a rather bold choice since it solely relies on at least one player having a specific item rather than using something that is present in the room already. But, ultimately this puzzle only offers a piece of another puzzle that could be figured out without it.

The other problem I see with the game is losing. We made it out of the room in about 46 minutes. I think I would have become much more aware of the timer if we reached under 10 minutes. We left with elation and triumph and that mixed with the adrenaline flowing through us enhanced the victory. I would have enjoyed the experience even if we lost. I had an amazing time throughout, but I could see frustration bleeding in and mingling with that adrenaline and not always being a pleasant experience for some people. The fact that the escape rate is only at about 18% means that you should be prepared for very real possibility of failure.

But these are little things that really are just a stretching to bring contrast to what was an overwhelmingly and surprisingly amazing forty-six minutes. I figured I would have a good time, but I didn't realize how great of a time I would have.

So if I really have any complaint, it is that I cannot do this puzzle room again. There are other puzzle rooms that are set up differently, but they are in different cities and I would eagerly want to bring a group of different friends through the Escape to experience it with them.

However, the Escape the Room in Philadelphia is in the process of finishing off a new room. It will be a bank heist and they have an actual bank vault door. You will have one hour to make it out before the police arrive. I'm sure that once the door shuts behind us, the theme will melt into set dressing once again. But I don't care. My wife made the suggestion that when we go to that one, we go dressed up.

We will be there shortly after it opens, dressed in black with ski masks. And it will kill me that I would only be able to do it once.

Escape the Room Philly is located in Center City Philadelphia at 1528 Walnut Street. Their website is:
http://www.escapetheroomphilly.com

Escape the Room New York has the Office, as well as other rooms and their website is:
http://www.escapetheroomnyc.com




Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Review: Legendary Encounters: An Alien Deck Building Game




I reference the Alien movies in the blocks in italics, so there may be spoilers for movies that are over twenty years old if you want to skip over those parts. Some spoilers, such as Alien Resurrection was terrible, horrible movie, are more of warnings. But there may be some plot sensitive things in them as well.

Legendary Encounters: Alien is a cooperative deck-builder, where players must work together to complete different objectives based on the chosen scenario. There are four scenarios, one based on each of the four Alien movies, and while the base mechanisms do not change, the strategies and feel of each scenario changes and it mirrors the events of the movie it represents.

The game play is vaguely similar to Marvel Legendary which, despite using the same base system and mechanisms, manages to pull together much more theme and narrative than Marvel did.

Each character has an Avatar, which determines the player's health as well as a bonus card that is immediately added into their basic starter deck. Did I mention health? Yes. Players can die in this game. They can die and be eliminated from the game.

Like most deck-builders, players start with a deck of weak cards. The Legendary games use two currencies on their cards: Recruit and Attack. Recruit allows you to purchase cards from the Headquarters to add to your deck. Attack allows you to attack enemy cards.

Marvel Legendary also uses a two currency system and in that game I thought suffered for it. I did not think that the base game had a good enough balance of cost to attack cards, making decks more clogged and unwieldy than fun.

Legendary Encounters: Alien, however, fixes that problem. The two currency system works much better. The cards are better balanced to fit the dichotomy of currencies, but also the game incorporates a Coordinate mechanism. Some cards have a Coordinate ability on them. This means that another player can use the card on their turn to aid the active player, giving the active player the currencies on the coordinate card to use. This means that decks are more efficient as you can dominate currencies better with planning to aid or be aided when necessary.

At the start of each turn, a card is added to a track from the Hive Deck, sliding the others along the path. This is the Complex. Cards, however, are placed face down. Depending upon where they are along the track, Attack value must be spent to "scan" the card and flip it face up. A card can only be attacked if it is face up.

Not all cards are aliens, however. Some are Event, Hazard, or Objective cards. Events are resolved depending upon which Objective you are on. Hazards are resolved depending upon the scenario's chosen Location. And Objective cards are usually additional mechanisms that help set up the goals in the game.

If a card reaches the end of the Complex track, it moves down into the Combat Zone. At the end of a turn, cards in the Combat Zone attack. The current player has to draw a Strike Card for each attacking card in the Combat Zone. The Strike Cards have varying amount of damage and effects on them, but they are placed next to the player's Avatar card to calculate how much health the character has remaining.

Once an objective is completed, the next objective immediately replaces it. Once the third objective is completed, the players win.

I love Alien. If I were to list my top ten movies, Alien would most likely be on the list. The movie is a beautiful achievement in theme, tension, pacing, suspense, and horror. The characters in the movie have an authenticity and realism to them that you rarely find in modern movies. However, the crowning achievement is its tension.

Legendary Encounters: Alien does a remarkable job of carrying forward tension in the play. The scenarios are hard. They are seriously difficult and players often find themselves trying to figure out how to work together to resolve the current situation, let alone have any time to plan for an overall strategy. But because of the cooperative nature and the ability to Coordinate with certain cards, players can focus their decks to succeed at a certain type of role and play style.
However, that does not mean you should trust them. Adding to the tension is the fact that there may be a hidden traitor among the players. Someone may be secretly working for the Corporation who wants the Xenomorph to live and needs the other players to die to carry that out.

Each player is given a hidden agenda card at the start of the game. One Secrets Revealed card is added to the Hive Deck for each player. If the active player reveals a Secrets Revealed card on their turn, they can choose one player to reveal their agenda. They can choose themselves. The Agenda card reveals their allegiance, but it is also a useful card that is them added to the player's deck. There are ten Good Agenda cards and five Evil Agenda cards. At the start of the game, one random Evil Agenda card is mixed in with the ten Good Agenda cards and then each player is dealt one card. So there is a fair chance that no one will be working for the Corporation, but you cannot be certain. And even if you do reveal a player with an Evil Agenda, you care allowing them to place that card into their deck. Now, none of the Evil Agenda cards let you try to smother another player with mock-fellatio with a rolled up magazine, but they are still nasty and powerful.

I have the unpopular opinion that the second movie isn't that good. It's fine for action schlock, but it took away what the first movie created. The "perfect organism" introduced in the first movie--the perfect killer--is routinely shot to pieces and scores of them get mowed down from gunfire. Also, it is a handful of marines against a thousand xenomorphs. Given that ratio, the marines would have difficulty against a thousand colonists. The point that they are a "perfect organism" is moot. And, yes, I get the Viet Nam allegory, but the movie is just popcorn team action.

Legendary Encounters: Alien has its share of action. You can eliminate the enemy cards in the Complex before they reach the Combat Zone. It is how to remove them before you have to worry about having to draw strikes and taking damage. However, scanning costs Attack. And you may hit a point where you just cannot stop the tide quick enough.

As cards drop into the Combat Zone, you really do feel like you are surrounded. You do your best to work together to try to take out as many of the enemy as you can, but sometimes there are just too many of them. Even in these death moments, it feels right. It feels like you are being swarmed and overwhelmed. If I'm going to die, I at least want to die thematically, and Legendary Encounters: Alien lets me go out with style.

But because of the cooperative nature, you do not have to have your deck do everything. Instead, you help one another out. Cards have symbols on them to signify the "class" that they are in. Some cards trigger bonus effects if other cards with the matching symbol are played first. This means that you can specialize and help the group better in that way. I've actually played a successful game where I was the "support" character, aiding other players with Recruit points to help them get better, more aggressive decks. In turn, they helped me by Coordinating with me on my turn to kill anything that threatened me. Legendary Encounters: Alien is definitely a game of strategic cooperation and I really appreciate that.

I also have the even less popular opinion that the third movie is actually pretty good. Sure, it undoes the previous movie's ending, but it takes the premise back to the original and we have a perfect hunter stalking the heroes. But the movie demonstrates Ripley as a strong female character, having her strength stand out even when surrounded by double Y chromosome men--double men. The crucifixion pose at the end is a little over done, but it ends with her cradling the burster--and she ends with a motherly, feminine pose. But really, the movie is about death. And accepting death. Ripley realizes that she will die and tried to commit suicide by alien. The prisoners know that the Corporation will kill them, but they decide to go out fighting with dignity instead of submitting. And Ripley's final act is her acceptance. Death is inevitable. What matters is how you will face it.

There is player elimination in Legendary Encounters: Alien. That may ruffle a few feathers, but that threat is what carries the theme. This isn't a nice game where if one player is out, everyone stops and starts again. No. Death is a threat. And it may cause you to act selfishly on your turn. Or it may cause you to act heroically.

But there are other things that can happen. One of the threats that can appear in the game are Facehuggers. When one is revealed on a player's turn, they immediately place it before them. If it is not killed by the end of the next player's turn, then the player removes the Facehugger card and places a Chestburster card into their discard pile.

That Chestburster card will get shuffled into their deck once their deck runs out. Once that Chestburster card is drawn that player dies. They are dead. Get rid of their Avatar and that's it.

Almost.

You see, if you die from a Chestburster, you reenter the game as an Alien player. You draw an Alien Avatar and you get a new special deck of Alien cards. Now on your turn you play against the other players. You try to take them down and once there is an Alien player, things get REALLY difficult for the others.

But if a player gets a Chestburster in their discard, you get to see what people are made of.

Does the player with the Chestburster try their damnedest to help the other win before it is over for them? Or does he give in and not help? They will soon be an Alien and fighting against them anyway.

But the other players have options as well. Do you let the other player help as much as they can before the inevitable and they turn against you? Or do you attack and kill them before the Chestburster appears? See, you can attack other players in the game. You can try to kill a Company stooge with an Evil Agenda, but you can also turn against your friend sitting next to you whose only crime was not being able to kill a Facehugger quick enough.

Death can be inevitable in this game. And it is amazing to see how people face it.

It is just a plain fact that Alien Resurrection is shit. Absolute shit. Now, I love Firefly as much as the next person and some of my favorite teevee has been Buffy episodes, but I want everyone to realize that whenever we praise Joss Whedon and put him on a pedestal, he was the one who wrote Alien Resurrection. I don't care how awesome the Avengers is, we cannot blindly forget that Alien Resurrection exists. For every interesting character quirk in the Serenity's crew in Firefly, you see that Alien Resurrection was the breeding ground for it. Tough guy with a girl's name? Government/Corporation created person for military application? Good natured mechanic whose outlook has saved them from becoming as jaded as the others? Yeah. They are all there. Alien Resurrection is a good, hard look at how shitty things can be.

Legendary Encounters: Alien isn't all good. There are some problems with it.

First of all, the game's scalability isn't perfect. It isn't bad, but there are a few problems with it. With just two, both players will have gone through their starting deck and hitting their purchased cards before anything can reach the Combat Zone. With five players, everyone will still be on their starting decks when that happens. Fortunately, the Hive Deck is crafted so that weaker cards are on top, but with a lot of players, the early game is more of a focus of luck and a Facehugger before people have crafted their decks means an early Alien player, who will run over the other players.

For the most part, the rules are well done, but they do suffer from the lack of a formal glossary.

The cards have beautiful (if sometimes gruesome) unique artwork, but they scuff easily. Our first game wasn't even completed yet and I already saw white wear along the edge of some of the cards. And the cards get handled a lot in the game. I'm not a fan of sleeved cards, but I fear that I will have to sleeve them to protect them.

And while the Corporation Traitor is a great, thematic mechanism in the game, there is little subtlety in playing it. Any player is free to examine any other player's discard pile at any time, which means that there is no way to be covert about your actions. You cannot lie and say that you do not have a card when anyone can immediately check your discard pile after your turn.

The box size is also remarkably large and, after everything is sorted, contains a notable amount of air in it.

Finally, there are two things that set this apart from most other deckbuilders that require constant vigilance. When I add a card to the Complex from the Hive Deck, my instinct is to flip them over. However, they are placed face down. And your hand is not five cards like every other deckbuilder in existence, but instead, it is six cards. These aren't flaws with the game, but just damned hard to adjust to in the beginning.

My wife does not like the Alien movies. I didn't know that before I married her and I'd like to think that wouldn't have changed my mind. I've shown her the movies several times now and her ambivalence toward them is so great that she immediately forgets everything about them once she has seen them. Every witty reference that I've made to the movies, or every time I've responded to her with a salute and said "Aye-firmative" and every time we've seen someone get pissed and I say, "I guess she don't like the cornbread either", I am met with blank, non-reference-getting eyes. Her ability to forget these movies is so great that when she drew the Synthetic Human Avatar card in one game, she remarked, "Wait. There are robots in this?"

Despite my wife's dislike of the Alien movies, she likes this game. She likes the strategy and coordination as we work together cooperatively to complete the objectives. Even removed from the theme and narrative that the game does so well, she still enjoys playing the game for the strategy and the solid mechanisms. Poor theme or narrative kills a game for my wife, but she likes the game even though she has no interest (and barely any recollection) of the movies at all.

The game works best with three players, though it is still a fine enough game with two for us to play it together during the evenings.

I'm not a big solo gamer, but I've played Legendary Encounters: Alien solo to see what it was like and I really enjoyed it. I've played it solo a number of times now. Scaling works well solo in all but the last Scenario since there is a repeating Strike mechanism that is just too difficult to absorb with one player.

That said, there is scalability to make the game more or less difficult by adding more or fewer drones into the Hive Deck. This really can help adjust the pacing and difficulty, but it still will not make the game any easier for five players getting through their initial decks before having to confront enemies.

Legendary Encounters: Alien is an amazing game. I haven't wanted to play and replay a game as often as this one in a long while. The different scenarios are varied enough to feel different enough to keep them fresh. I haven't gotten to mixing the crew cards yet, but eventually I may put Captain Dallas in Hadley's Hope with Corporal Hicks to see how things work out. I haven't even begun to explore the variations and possibilities fully yet and I am still eager and excited with each play.

I admire this game. I admire its purity. It's a keeper... unclouded by conscience, remorse, or delusions of morality. It is the perfect game.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Review: Tragedy Looper

Tragedy Looper is a rather confusing team vs. one player game. One player controls a Mastermind who is trying to accomplish his goals, which are the tragedies, while the other players control a team of Protagonists who are trying to stop him from accomplishing these hidden goals by playing cards on the characters on a modular board. The problem is that the Mastermind is also playing cards on these characters and you are reacting to these moves with your own card plays and little information about what the Mastermind may be doing. Honestly, the whole process can be overwhelming as you are set in a situation to stop hidden plots from occurring by the mastermind triggering characters with hidden roles. In the end, you might as well be just laying down your cards on characters at random because you have no idea what is going on since all of the information--every possible bit of it--is hidden from you. The Mastermind plays three of his cards down on characters and then each of the three Protagonist plays one of their cards on one of the characters. However, even after you see what the Mastermind has played and you resolve the cards, you are no closer to knowing what is going on as the characters move around the board, trying to fulfill hidden goals that you know nothing about until the Mastermind announces that because of the set up, one of the characters is dead.


[A Murder Has Occurred. Timeline Aborted. Initiate Loop Reset. Entering Time Spiral.]


Tragedy Looper is a complicated team vs. one player game. One player controls a Mastermind who has hidden goals that he is trying to accomplish. The remaining players control the three Protagonists who have to try to stop the Mastermind from accomplishing these goals. This is done over "Loops". When the Mastermind accomplishes one of his hidden goals, the Protagonists lose as they failed to avert the tragedies that he was attempting to bring about. However, the Protagonists have the ability to travel back in time, initiating what is called a "Loop". The board is reset as it was in the first turn and now they players are potentially armed with some more knowledge of what the Mastermind needs to do to fulfill his tragedies and what they need to do to stop it. For example, if a Loop ended because a character died, the Protagonists now know that this character is important and needs to survive throughout the game, otherwise the Mastermind will have won.

Both sides can play cards onto characters on the board to try to affect the characters and their involvement in the story. The Mastermind lays cards first and plays three cards face down onto the characters on the board. His cards can effect the movement of the characters around the board, or it can add Intrigue or Paranoia to the characters. Intrigue added to certain characters can trigger certain Plot losses. If enough Paranoia is placed on a character to reach their Paranoia limit, then they Panic, which means that they can trigger Incidents that may occur. Incidents could be something such as "On day three, a murder will occur." However, for that murder to occur, the Mastermind needs the Killer to have enough Paranoia placed on him for him to commit the murder. Also, he needs to be in the same location with another character who has at least two Intrigue on him. If this occurs, then the Killer will kill the other character on Day Three.

The board with characters on it.
However, the Protagonists also play cards. If they've seen a character die and then the Loop end as a result, they know to keep the character alive. Knowing that on Day Three a murder is supposed to occur, they can play their cards to try to counter the Mastermind's movements. Perhaps they will play their cards that will reduce the Paranoia of characters, trying to keep the suspected Murder's paranoia too low so he doesn't commit the murder. Or perhaps they will try to move the characters so that the murderer and the Key Person whose death ended the last Loop stay far away from one another. Or perhaps they will use their cards to lay Goodwill on characters. Each character, once they have enough Goodwill tokens on them, will be able to use their unique special abilities that can benefit the Protagonists. Perhaps their ability will reduce Paranoia in other characters they are with. Or perhaps their ability will be to reveal their role.

The Mastermind and the Protagonists each have cards that can be played to counter the other's card abilities, but since everything is played face down, it is a matter of trying to anticipate the Mastermind's movements to counter them. I also forgot to mention that the Mastermind can play cards to Locations instead of just to characters. Ah, dammit! That's right. He can play cards to Locations as well. Shit! We're fu--


[Timeline Aborted. Initiate Loop Reset. Entering Time Spiral.]


Tragedy Looper is a complex team vs. one player game. One player controls a Mastermind who has MULTIPLE hidden goals that he is trying to accomplish. All he has to do is to complete any ONE of these goals and he wins. The remaining players control the Protagonists who have to stop him from completing ANY of these goals. When the Mastermind completes a goal, the board is reset and players begin again with a new Loop. However, the Protagonists only have a certain number of Loops to play. All they have to do is to make it through a Loop one time without the Mastermind completing any of his goals. If they do, they win. Each Loop gives the Protagonists more insight into what the range of goals the Mastermind has to accomplish.

Both sides can play cards onto characters on the board to try to affect the characters and their involvement in the story. These cards can affect movement, add or remove Paranoia (which could trigger Incidents), or add or block Intrigue (which can trigger Plots or make characters targets for Incidents), or add of block Goodwill (which allows characters to use their special abilities).

The Mastermind can also play cards to Locations. Locations can have Intrigue added to them as well, but if the Mastermind lays a card to a Location, the players could lay a card to the same Location to try to block the Intrigue from being placed. If a Location has Intrigue on it, it is possible that it could end the Loop. For example, if the Loop ended after the School had 2 Intrigue placed on it, the Protagonists can look at their reference sheet and see that the Plot "A Place to Protect" creates a loss condition if 2 Intrigue is placed upon it. Also, the Plot "Light of the Avenger" creates a loss condition if 2 Intrigue is placed upon the Brain's starting location. The Brain is a hidden role in the game that the Mastermind is aware of and one of the characters has.

Characters with Paranoid tokens (their
Paranoia limit is in the upper left) and with
Goodwill tokens (their Goodwill abilities
are on the bottom of the card.)
So, if the Loop ended with 2 Intrigue out on the School, then one of these two Plots must have been triggered. The Protagonists have narrowed down the Plots. And each Plot lists what hidden roles are involved in it. This means that the Protagonists have a better idea of what the Mastermind has at his disposal.

So now the Protagonists begin the next Loop remembering that they have to stop the Key Person from being killed. They know who the Killer is. And they also realize that if too much Intrigue is added to the School, they will lose. So they watch where the Mastermind plays his cards. He plays them face down, but they can see who or where he is effecting. The Protagonists then try to figure out what he is doing and, armed with more knowledge, try to counter everything that they believe he is doing.

Countering the card on the Location is easy. That is an obvious play. The day of the Murder is coming up and we've limited the Killer so that he is one Paranoia short of becoming panicked and killing. The Mastermind places a card on him, so we lay a card as well. We are certain that the Mastermind is laying his +1 Paranoia card to the killer, so we lay a -1 Paranoia card to him. They'll cancel one another out and the killer still will not have enough Paranoia to commit the murder. The other Protagonist has blocked the card on the School Location. We have this sewn up. Though... why the hell did the Mastermind play a card on that character over there? He hasn't touched him this entire game.

Cards are revealed and the Intrigue at the Location is blocked. The Paranoia is kept one below what the Mastermind needs on the Killer. And the Mastermind moves that character he hasn't touched since to the same location as the Killer.

Then the Mastermind announces that he is adding a Paranoia to the character who is the Killer. What? Fuck! We look at the sheets are realize that the hidden role of "Conspiracy Theorist" allows the Mastermind to add one Paranoia to a character in his location. That character MUST be the Conspiracy Theorist. The Killer has enough Paranoia now and the Mastermind announces that there has been a murder and he indicates that the Key Person is killed. Son of a--


[A Murder Has Occurred. Timeline Aborted. Initiate Loop Reset. Entering Time Spiral.]


Tragedy Looper is an amazing team vs. one player game. One player controls the Mastermind, who has multiple hidden goals that he is trying to accomplish to win. The other players control the three Protagonists who have to stop him from completing all of these goals. When the Mastermind completes a goal, the board is reset and the players begin again with a new Loop. However, the Protagonists only have a set number of Loops to play. All they have to do is win one Loop and they win the game. However, the Mastermind has all of the information, from hidden Plots, Subplots, and knowledge of the hidden roles of each of the characters. However, as the Loops play out, the Protagonists begin to realize which Plots are involved in the game and which characters are assigned which roles.

Each game is played with a "script" which defines which Plots and Subplots are used, as well as which Incidents will occur on what day. The scripts also denote which character has which role. There are ten scripts that come with the game, which may not seem like a lot. However, a good portion of the book instructs (and encourages) you to make your own script. It walks you through the process, letting you know which characters are better for the Protagonists and which are better for the Mastermind. A Protagonist player can really only ever play a script once before they know it. However, the replayability is infinite once you realize how things work and try your hand at your own stories.

Both sides play cards onto the characters on the board as well as the Locations on the board. The Mastermind will try to use these cards to arrange situations to bring his tragedies to fruition. However, the Protagonists, armed with more and more knowledge each Loop, will try to counter every move and plan of the Mastermind's before he can set anything in motion. They now know who the Killer is and who the Key Person that they want to live is. They know that too much Influence on a Location can end the Loop for them. They also have deduced one of the hidden roles that adds Paranoia to other characters. So, even though the Mastermind lays his cards face down, they can deduce what his cards and plays might be. They need to keep the Paranoia on the Killer low. They need to keep Intrigue off of the School. And they need to keep the Conspiracy Theorist away from the Killer so that he doesn't get Paranoia added to him that way.

Characters with Mastermind cards and
Protagonist cards played on them. A
Movement card was played, but a
Forbid Movement card will cancel that
card's effects.
So the game becomes much more focused as it proceeds. But the Mastermind's role isn't exactly easy as well. The Mastermind has all of the power in the first Loop. The Protagonists are blind. He can end the Loop at his leisure. However, with each successive Loop he is arming the Protagonists with more and more information. If he had simultaneously added the second Intrigue to two Locations, then the Protagonists wouldn't know that it was the School that ended the Loop. If the Key Person victim had died in a room with two characters at full Paranoia in it, then they wouldn't know for certain which character it was that was the Killer.

While the Protagonist's role becomes increasingly focused, the Mastermind's becomes increasingly difficult. The Mastermind must plan for diversions for Loops that haven't even occurred yet. The Protagonists are playing a deduction game as well as a puzzle of how to block certain things from happening, but the Mastermind is playing the long game to bluff for future Loops. In fact, the Mastermind cannot simply go for a win condition for the Loop. He must go out of his way to make it as vague as possible as to why things occurred and why the Loop ended. The Mastermind's own worst enemy in this game is his own short-sightedness. The Protagonists become more and more aware as the game progresses, but only ever as aware as the Mastermind allows them to be.

By the third Loop, the cat and the mouse roles may have, in fact, changed. And the Mastermind is now the mouse trapped in a maze only as small as his own failure of forethought.

But that is the thing about this game as the Mastermind. You need to bide your time when you set up your bluffs. For example, that errant character that you moved last turn that the Protagonists thought was the Conspiracy Theorist? Well, you just moved him to make them think that. The Conspiracy Theorist has been standing next to the Killer this entire time. And now, you see the Protagonists playing---no, wasting--their cards on that pointless character trying to ensure that he remains far away from the Killer.

And now, as the third day ends and cards are resolved the Killer is one Paranoia shy of murdering the Key Person victim. It is hard not to smirk when you pick up a Paranoia token and add it to the card and say that the character gains a Paranoia. You see all of the Protagonists quickly look over their reference sheet, trying to deduce who or how that Paranoia was added, too late realizing that you've played them on who the Conspiracy Theorist was this entire time.

Knowing that this was their last Loop to get things right, you feel like Moriarty as you rotate the Key Person victim's character card and announce to the players that a murder has occurred.


[A Murder Has Occurred. Failure to Initiate Loop Reset. Time Spiral Shutting Down.]




Friday, September 5, 2014

Review: Heroes Wanted




Seriously. Asgardian fashion is essentially
technicolor vomit.
When I was younger, I liked the Marvel Universe for my superhero comics. You see, they were gritty and had flaws. DC heroes are demi-gods among men, but the Marvel heroes are "regular joes" who had superpowers thrust upon them, dealing with "real-people problems" on top of fighting supervillains. The X-Men dealt with prejudice. Iron Man dealt with alcoholism. Thor had a dialect problem and a family with terrible fashion sense. These were things that made the comics and the heroes darker and edgier. It made them more grounded.

At least that was what awkward teenage me thought I could defend reading superhero comic books with if I was discovered and called out on it.

But then I grew up. I didn't care what most people thought of me anymore. I had bypassed the first and largest hurdle of a teen comic book reader--I had a girlfriend. This liberated me. My comic books didn't have to be dark, angst-pieces for reasons of self-defense. They could be cheesy and fun.

So, secured that I was getting laid, I ventured into the DC Universe. I fell in love with the cheesiness of the Flash. Superman was even more of a goofball than Captain America and I could appreciate him, even if he didn't take the easy route and throw everything he encountered into the sun. Who the hell cares if Green Lantern makes a giant green catcher's glove to catch someone falling from a building? That's his embarrassment to live with, not mine.

Comics could be silly and fun. And despite all of the hundreds of millions of dollars spent on superhero movies, Mystery Men still remains one of my all-time favorites because I can embrace the inherent silliness of what superheroes really are now. Seriously, I have a wife and get laid regularly. I don't have to act cool anymore.

And that is what I like about Heroes Wanted. They're not your classic heroes. They're the other guys.

Heroes Wanted is a competitive game where each player takes on the role of a second-rate, up and coming superhero trying to gain enough fame to be adopted into the ranks of a real superhero group, the Champions of Zeta City.

Players choose a scenario (the game comes with four scenarios, each with its own board) and set it up accordingly, seeding it with Henchmen and Underlings (meeples representing the weaker minions aiding the Villain). Now, since you are wannabe heroes, your crime fighting goals are still rather low. Scenarios include things such as stopping littering and jaywalking in the city and ending a bootleg DVD ring before moving onto scenarios that are a little more traditional.

Next, players create their characters. They do this by being drawing three Hero A cards and three Hero B cards and then choosing one of each to use. This combination of cards will determine what type of hero the player is (Mutant, Vigilante, Tech, or Cosmic) and what their Superpowers and extra abilities are. Each player then takes a hand of cards for their hero, and any special cards given to them by their hero type. Finally, players draw a Quirk card which determines a personality trait that the PLAYER (not the character) must exhibit throughout the game--more on this later.

Who should I be? So many possibilities...
Well, technically, nine.
The Villain for the game is created in a similar manner as the Heroes. One Villain A card is drawn and added to one Villain B card. This determines the Villain for the game and its abilities and strength.

The game then begins.

Game play is really simple and is divided into two phases. During the Hero Phase each player, in player order, either plays a single action card from their hand or rests.

If a player plays an action card, they resolve it. Cards will describe what the player may do and, when played, are laid in the player's discard pile. They let the player move up to a number of spaces or offer an attack, stating how much damage is done, or they may allow the player to use their Superpower or pick up another card from their discard pile.

That's right. American King. He fights for
truth, justice, and a return to the monarchy.
Attack cards state how much damage that they do and can be used to inflict some damage onto the Villain (who often has a lot of health, but can be taken out by group efforts), or a Henchman or Underling (who have much less health, but are usually worth fame for defeating), or even other heroes (they are your rivals for the position in the Champions of Zeta City--and it just might look better if they got knocked out a couple of times and you didn't).

Each scenario has different actions that can reward fame. Some are set and some are Headlines which are drawn at random at the start of the scenario. For example, you may receive bonus points for defeating six Underlings, or for doing at least 10 points of damage to the Villain. Whenever a player first accomplishes one of these tasks, he takes a marker and places it on the headline--the first players to accomplish it get more points and later ones get fewer. However, whenever a player places their marker onto the Headline, they may trigger an ability on their Hero Type card, which allows them a one-time bonus action or ability, or lets them take another special card up into their hand for the rest of the game.
  
Alternatively, the Hero can Rest instead of playing a card. If a Hero rests, all they do is to pick up their entire discard pile and bring it back into their hand.

The Villain's turn is simple as well. The Threat Track, which determines the number of rounds in the scenario and also triggers certain events, is advances. The Villain usually will then move along a preprogrammed route. And then the Villain and the minions attack. The Villain does damage to all of the players equal to the amount of damage listed on his Villain A card. And each Henchman does 2 damage to a Hero within one space and each Underling does 1 damage to a Hero within one space.

Villain B cards are added to...
The Heroes must now defend against the damage. Each card in a player's hand has an action as well as a Stamina Value on it. The Hero must discard cards equal to or greater than the total damage inflicted upon them. If they do not, they are Knocked Out and discards their entire hand of cards. A player who is Knocked Out takes an Injury Marker and places it on their sheet. Injury Marker cost fame at the end of the game and also mean you take additional damage for each one that you have. Any player who can discard enough Stamina Value in cards avoids the damage, however, getting Knocked Out and playing a lot of cards to defend with cause a player to have to Rest more often.

The game ends when either a Villain is Knocked Out or when the Threat Track reaches the last turn and the Villain escapes. Fame is added up from accomplishments and from the Headlines and is added to the values that players gained throughout the game. Players also receive fame based on how well they stayed true to their Quirks (still more on that later). Whoever has the most fame at the end of the game gets the prestigious rookie slot on the Champions of Zeta City team.

Villain A cards.
Heroes Wanted is both a fun and funny game. It does not take itself too seriously, which is exactly how a superhero game should be. Players create their heroes from a combination of two cards, which not only define your Hero's powers and type, but also gives your name. The B cards represent the lower half of your body, while the A cards represent your upper body and head. The B cards have the start of your name, while the A cards have the end of it. So, you could have a choice between B cards of "Captain", "Teen", and "American" and a choice between A cards of "Millionaire", "Cop", and "Giraffe". From these cards, you could make your Hero "Captain Millionaire", or "American Giraffe", or "Teen Cop", or "Captain Giraffe" or however you want to break down the names. The combination also defines your powers--but, honestly, that is a much less fun way to play. You should always go for the most awesome Hero name.

Best Villain ever.
Villains are also created in the same way, but by just drawing one Villain A card and applying it to one Villain B card. You can end up with just as funny and amusing Villains, though there is more chance on getting a very funny one here since it is pure luck of the draw. Unfortunately, for our very first game we drew the absolute best combination for a Villain and so no game since has a chance of being as awesome as that first one where our enemy was Baron von Caveman.

Players are also dealt a Quirk card before the game begins. Each card gives the player a specific behavior that they are supposed to exhibit as part of their Hero's persona. Quirks are silly things, such as, "Overly Apologetic" where the player must sincerely apologize after Knocking Out a character, or "Inflated Ego" where the player cannot say the words I, me, or my and must only refer to themselves by using their Superhero Name in the third person, or "Former Sidekick" where after a Hero to your left or right Knocks Out a minion, you must offer them a high five. Each Quirk starts by giving you 10 points and each time that you forget to perform your Quirk and another player calls you out on it, you lose 2 points from your track.

Quirks are silly and optional. However, if you are a Very Serious Gamer who cannot be bothered with such frivolity, then this game probably isn't for you anyhow. This is not a Very Serious Game.

I mean that in both theme and in mechanisms.

Each scenario has its own scoring.
The game is silly and simple. There is a little strategy and tactics to be employed, but it is a fairly simple undertaking. There really isn't much deep game play there and the game relies upon its theme and humor to carry it past the simple (and sometimes odd) mechanisms.

Does it succeed in carrying the weight of simple mechanisms with its humor? Yes. And no. But mostly yes.

Most of the humor of the game comes from revealing your Hero and the Villain and laughing about what your Quirk is. Less humor comes from actually having to come up with a taunt comprising of alliteration each turn than the idea of having to do it.

But because most of the humor comes from the reveal, a good 90% of the humor is front-loaded in this game. Once the reveals are finished, there is nothing really new to create that fun and laughter as you delve into a light, convoluted hex battle game with little in the way of deep strategy or tactical surprises.

It isn't all bad though, since playing as "Teen Yeti", or "Brunch Foot", or "American Giraffe" is still amusing enough to carry some levity throughout the game. But if you have a poor draw of Hero cards, your amusement is short-lived and the game play isn't strong enough to make up for it.

Game play is also hinges on mechanisms over theme, which is a little disappointing. The first scenario fills the board with 28 Underlings and 16 Henchmen. Every space on the hex map is filled with a bad guy. Since the Villain's crime is jaywalking and littering, it hardly seems worth dragging out 44 minions to aid you.

Look at all of those villains and minions
littering. Seriously, there hasn't been this
many people group littering since
Woodstock '94.
But the map is covered in minions not because it is thematic, but because it makes the mechanisms of movement and card play easier. This is a bit disappointing. I see how it moves the game forward, but it does not more the theme or narrative forward.

Essentially each of the scenarios have the Threat Track setting a very predictable event release and a very predictable and easily trackable Villain movement. There are no surprises in the game play. Surprises end once the laughter is over at the character reveal.

That doesn't mean that Heroes Wanted isn't fun. It isn't a great game, but it is still silly enough to be fun. My eight year old daughter loves it (her first game allowed her to be "Princess Hedgehog--combining two of her favorite things). Some strategy is a little forward for her still (such as realizing sometimes it is worth it to let yourself get Knocked Out and take an Injury because the net point gain is better).

So it is a wonderful family game that she requests often. For my Very Serious Gamer friends--well, it's a fun game to introduce them to for the laughs, but it will unlikely get many repeat plays with them unless we get to bring in a new player to see their reaction to everything as well.

I probably sound more negative than I really am on the game. I like it. It is fun. It is silly and it will stay in my collection. I am just disappointed at the missed opportunities to make it stand out with deeper strategy and more complex mechanisms and more theme in the design decisions.

And I also regret that there is no B Hero card of "Blue" and no A Hero card of "Raja". That is the biggest mistake in design.


Friday, August 29, 2014

Review: Ca$h 'n Gun$ vs. Ca$h 'n Guns 2nd Edition




Ca$h 'n Gun$ has always been a weird one that stuck out on my shelf. It isn't just because the box size is a little smaller, but a little thicker than the other square box games next to it. Nor is it because of the Kesha-like spelling of the title. But rather because it was a game that I could pull out with my long-time gamer friends and new gamers with little hesitation or worry that it might not produce an exciting and fun experience which was directly proportional to the amount of silliness we would display from pointing bright orange foam guns at one another's heads.

It really is a side-by-side comparison.
So, Ca$h 'n Gun$ (hereafter referred to as Cash and Guns) had a solid place in my collection. When Ca$h 'n Guns 2nd Edition (hereafter referred to as Cash and Guns 2) was announced, I was curious. I mean, there were changes to the tried and true system. Did I need the new version to replace my old one? Well, I got a copy to find out. And I'll compare both versions of the game side-by-side.

First of all, the core game play is the same for both games. Loot for the round is placed out face up for everyone to see. Players then choose one of eight cards to "load" into their gun for the round. Five cards are "clicks" that are essentially bluffs--the gun will not fire. However, each player has three cards that will do damage to another player if it shoots. Getting shot means you get a wound (three wounds and you are out of the game) and you miss out on that round's share of loot.

First Edition. My guns have bite marks in them courtesy
of my teething daughter.
Next, players count down and then simultaneously point their guns at another player. The character you are pointing does not know if you played a click or a bullet. Multiple guns may be pointed at a single player and some players may be safe with no guns pointed at them during that round. However, players now have a chance to take the coward's route and drop out. There is another countdown and players may simultaneously drop their guns. This means that they will not be wounded by any guns pointed at them, but they are excluded from dividing up the round's loot.

For the players still in with guns pointed at other players still in, cards are revealed. If anyone is shot, they gain a wound and drop out of the round's loot share. Then those remaining in the round divvy up the loot for the round.

Second Edition.
Play continues for eight rounds (or until only one player remains alive) and the winner is the player who is alive with the most amount of money.

That is the basics of the gameplay which is consistent between both editions. So, what are the differences?


Title:

First Edition: Ca$h 'n Gun$

Second Edition: Ca$h 'n Guns 2nd Edition

Summary: Although the annoying punctuation and shortened version of "and" is still in the game, they've reduced the number of dollar signs in the name to only one in the second edition, which is an improvement.

Verdict: Cash and Guns 2 wins.


Number of Players:

First Edition: 4-6 players.

Second Edition: 4-8 players.

Summary: There have been numerous times when we've had 7 players and someone suggested Cash and Guns and we were unable to play. However, the first edition did have rules for a 9 or 12 player team variant in the box if you had a second copy of the game, but purchasing a second copy just for the very specific number of players seemed silly.

Verdict: Cash and Guns 2 wins.


First and Second edition Bullet Cards.
Production Value:

First Edition: The character standees, tokens, and money are cardboard, and everyone has a set of relatively standard sized cards for their eight bullets. The bullet cards are large enough  The foam guns are bright orange (in the US release, since we kind of need every precaution to not get shot by our police), but are solid and feel good to hold. There are little details throughout the game that are fun. The money has small fine print text with hidden little jokes on it. Honestly, the game feels like it was made as a labor of love because of the little things hidden throughout it. The game even thanks a bunch of gangsters and "Quentin" in the back of the rules.

Second Edition: The character standees and tokens are cardboard. The bullet cards are a lot smaller, though the loot cards (no longer cardboard) are much larger. The foam guns are black with orange tips. The guns are identical in build and feel with a coloration difference. The money cards are a lot more "simple" in design. While they look less cluttered, they are also rather plain. There are also updated special thanks in the end of the rulebook as a nice nod to the original list.

Summary: Cash and Guns 2's standees and tokens are die cut to the shape of the illustration, which is a nice, albeit minor, nicety. The loot cards in Cash and Guns 2 is larger, which is nice, but it is without the details of the original, making the larger cards look empty and plain. The bullet cards in the second game are universal (the original had bullet cards associated to each character), however, the smaller bullet cards are actually a little disappointing. There is something psychological about holding a hand of large cards as being more intimidating and it feels more powerful. It really is a minor thing, but the bullet cards feel like Derringer ammo instead of Magnum ammo. However, there is also something psychologically empowering about holding a black gun instead of a bright orange one.

Verdict: Cash and Guns in everything except the guns. Unless you live in Missouri, then the bright orange guns in Cash and Guns is a positive.


Second edition characters (top) vs. First edition
characters (bottom).
Artwork:

First Edition: Cash and Guns art style is campy and cartoonish, however, it can be a little... uncomfortable. When players choose their characters in the opening, I usually lay them out and tell new players to choose their ethnic stereotype. It isn't really a big problem, but it is noteworthy for some groups. However, the illustrations are stylistic and lend to the theme, giving the game just a hint of grit in the silliness of the actual game play.

Second Edition: I actually kind of like John Kovalic's artwork in the Dork Tower comic. He has a simple art style, but it conveys the care that he has for those characters. His artwork has also been associated with Munchkin, which is the bane to many "serious" gamers. That being said, I am very disappointed with Kovalic's artwork in this. It is too simple and the lack of detail stands out too much. Even with the crisp lines, the artwork looks more like placeholder sketches rather than completed artwork on the cards.

Summary: Taste in artwork is subjective, so YMMV, but despite liking Kovalic's artwork in Dork Tower, I find it too simple and plain in Cash and Guns 2. The larger bills for the money just have too much empty spaces in it, which draws more attention to the simplicity of the illustrations that adorn them. However, it does avoid the ethnic stereotypes in his artwork that made some players uncomfortable.

Verdict: Cash and Guns wins here. Unless you play with ethnically sensitive Munchkin fans, then Cash and Guns 2.


Gameplay:

First Edition: In the first edition of Cash and Guns only five bills were added to the table at the start of a round. When the loot was split between the remaining players, it could only be split if it could be split evenly--without making change. This meant that if there were three players left in and there were two $5000 bills, one $10,000 bill, and one $20,000 bill, then no one would get any of the loot. Instead it would remain on the table and next round five more bills would be added, making the pot much higher.

Second edition loot (left) and
First edition loot (right).
Also, when players backed out and laid down their guns to avoid being shot, they took a shame token. Each shame token cost the player $5000 at the end of the game.

The players each begin with eight cards. Five are clicks. Two are Bangs, which cause a wound. And each player also has one Bang, Bang, Bang! The Bang, Bang, Bang! cards took place before any other cards. So a player shot with a Bang, Bang, Bang! would be knocked out of the round before his card was played, even if he played a Bang--unless he also played a Bang, Bang, Bang! card. Bang, Bang, Bang! cards still just caused one wound.

Second Edition: Eight loot cards are laid out each round and each round all eight will be claimed in a round robin style, so not every player may get an equal amount of loot. There are also cards other than just bills. There are pieces of equipment that will let the player grab a Bang from the discard pile or heal themselves. There are also set collection pieces as well. Artwork cards are worth more money dependent upon how many of them you have at the end of the game. There are also diamonds, which are each worth a bit of cash, but whoever has the most of them at the end of the game gets a bonus. Each round all of the loot is taken and nothing carries over into the next round.

There are no shame tokens in Cash and Guns 2. Cowardliness isn't penalized with anything more than missing the round's loot, but with eight pieces of loot out there instead of five, it is still costly.

Cash and Guns 2 also has a Godfather. After the guns are pointed but before the chance to lay down your gun arrives, he may direct any one player who has a gun pointed at him to point it at another player. It is a powerful role, but it is included as the ninth piece of "loot" available each round. During the round robin loot taking, a player could take the Godfather title and role for next round as one of their loot choices.

There are no Bang, Bang, Bang! cards in Cash and Guns 2. Each player has 5 clicks and 3 Bangs.

Summary: While the core of each game is the same, there are some key differences in how the game plays out from the changes in each. First of all, the loot carrying over and the Bang, Bang, Bang cards created more strategic play in the original Cash and Guns. Now, don't get me wrong, Cash and Guns isn't exactly a strategic game, but when there are five players and you realize that the loot will only split three ways, you are faced with some interesting decisions. Do you eliminate one person and hope another falls as well? Or, do you play your Click hoping to draw the pot into another round for a larger pot and use your Bang, Bang, Bang!?

Also, I like the Shame tokens. There is something visceral about receiving a marker and a debt for your cowardliness. Without receiving the Shame token, backing out feels easier. There really is something psychological about having to accept a token to represent your cowardliness.
When I first read about the changes in Cash and Guns 2, I balked at the idea of set collection with the loot. Ultimately, it still doesn't work out perfectly, but it isn't as bad as I thought. The only problem is that they become the quickest and easiest to track. So-and-so has four art cards, and another just popped up in the loot pile--well, we know who we have to shoot then. This could lead to interesting decisions, but since tracking actual loot is difficult, this often becomes the focal point of "who to shoot".

The addition of "gear" in the form of healing and extra Bang cards in the loot is an interesting change as well. It comes at the cost of a share of loot during the round robin, so the price of such cards is palpable and fair.

The Godfather role also worried me. I thought that it was too powerful, but honestly, it is a great addition. I really enjoy it. It is strong (for living), and the Godfather chooses loot first, so it is strong (for winning). However, the Godfather role is up as a loot choice. Now, taking the Godfather role means you pass up on loot, but once the opportunity to go first and avoid a gun pointed out you outweighs the available loot, it is sure to go. Because of how the role is balanced with the loot division in Cash and Guns 2, it isn't something that could easily be "ported" into the original game.

Finally, the removal of the Bang, Bang, Bang! cards simplifies and streamlines the game. However, it is at the cost of another "strategic" play. With the Bang, Bang, Bang! card, you could bluff out and intimidate a player with a Bang card pointed at you. And once it as known that you played your Bang, Bang, Bang! then you were suddenly viewed as more vulnerable. I miss it, but I also appreciate the simplicity that its removal has left.

Verdict: This is difficult. Both editions have things that I like about them, but none of those things would translate well by bringing them into the other edition (with the exception of Shame tokens). The annoying truth of the matter is that both are very close to one another. I really do miss the growing pot and the escalation of threat from the first edition. But the second edition also feels "cleaner". It is a toss up.


Additions and Variants:

First Edition: The first edition of the game comes with 10 "Super Power" cards, which give the players an additional ability or scoring goal in the game. They can make the game more interesting, but, honestly, we rarely actually used them. Instead, we focused on the "A Cop in the Mafia" variant.

In this version, players are dealt a secret role card. All players except one will be a gangster (which normal play and victory conditions). One player will be an undercover cop. The Cop wins by calling for back-up three times. Each round a card is passed around unseen to each of the players under the table. If the undercover cop is still in for the round, he can flip the card before passing it. Once the card has passed around the entire table, it is revealed.

Second Edition Power Cards (top) and First
Edition Super Power and Undercover Cop
Cards (bottom).
If the card is flipped, then the police have been called. If three calls have been made before Round 6 is over, then the undercover cop wins alone. If three calls were not made, then the cop can only win if he is the sole survivor.

What I like about this variant is the suspicion and deduction involved. Only players who remain in the round can flip the card. So if the card flips, you can rule out the players who were out. Any time that a game can add suspicion and a traitor, I love it.

Second Edition: Second edition comes with sixteen Powers cards. One Power card is dealt to each player at the start of the game. Unlike the first edition, the Power cards are dealt face up instead of face down, so there is no bluffing or surprise movements that can result from their distribution. Some of them overlap the Super Powers cards from the first edition. The cards give new powers and abilities to the players. For the most part, the Powers are fun and interesting, however, there are a few that have very specific triggers and may not happen in a game, and others that are weakened (or strengthened) by other Powers in play.

Summary: I absolutely miss the Undercover Cop variant in the second edition. For me, it changed Cash and Guns from a silly filler to a silly filler with distrust and hidden traitors. Yeah, I suppose that is a rather direct way of putting it, but tension and distrust is extremely amplified in the Undercover Cop variant.

Verdict: Cash and Guns.


Overall:

Both games are fun. Honestly, there is a little bit of nit-picking here because both games are welcome at my table. Both offer a slightly different take on the same theme. I like both games, so it's kind of like having to choose which of your kids you like the best. I have to default on the older one, if for no reason than it's provided me with more Father's Day presents (or good memories if I'm referring to the game). But ultimately, there are things that I want from both editions in one box. But do I think that an upgrade from first edition to second edition is necessary?

Well, only if you often have 7 or 8 players. The black guns are nice and I know some people will be getting the new edition just for them (because, you know, Sharpies are so expensive). The artwork is a little too plain and they removed my favorite variant from the game.


However, if you don't have the original version of Cash and Guns, then this is a great purchase that you will enjoy to an same proportion that you don't mind looking silly. It is a game that works well with non-gamers, casual gamers, and hardcore gamers (although a bit of the strategy and deduction was removed in the second edition for the hardcore gamers). If nothing else, the game is worth it for those awkward moments when you have your mom pointing a foam gun at you and looking you in the eye and saying, "You know I'm going to Bang you" and you lay down your gun so you don't have to find out what that means.