Archive for April, 2012

Junta

Posted in Board Game Reviews with tags , on April 21, 2012 by Danny_Noe

2 to 7 players

ages 12 and up

2 to 4 hours playtime

When I was a kid, I had a fair share of board games, ranging from common ones like The Game of Life and Mouse Trap, to lesser known ones like Goosebumps: Terror In The Graveyard and Goofy Golf Machine. I honestly don’t remember a whole lot about some of them. My sister and I played a lot of Life, but I never really got into the rules to the other ones. I just liked setting up the pieces and making my own game with them. That’s sort of what sparked me to start making my own board games as a kid. The one I can remember the best was a vampire hunting game where you would adventure through a forest, a swamp, and a bridge (that actually elevated) and finally you would arrive at Dracula’s castle. I remember a break-away bookshelf I made out of cardboard and tape, and behind it was a weapon or power-up that you used to kill Dracula. Aside from that, I don’t remember much of it, and as time passed my board game collection got sold off via garage sales and my board game creating would lie dormant.

Jump ahead several years later, and I pick up my first board game to my brand new collection, and re-spark my enjoyment of designing board games. That game is known simply as Junta, and we’re going to find out if it’s good enough to add to your own collection.

The Pieces

I know that they’ve made newer versions to this game, but as far as the 1985 release of it goes, the pieces aren’t terribly impressive, but they get the job done. All of the playing pieces are cardboard tokens you punch out of a template, and even the money and playing cards came on sheets with perforated edges and you would have to carefully separate them. This could prove frustrating, as one little mistake could accidentally tear one of the cards or play moneys. The tokens consist of various military pieces, your player location and control pieces, pieces that keep track of what’s going on in the game, and a large amount of red pieces that you place on the board depending on the cards you play. The cards are very interesting. As you rarely have what you want in your hand, you often have to negotiate with other players to get a hand that benefits you. These cards are how you get more votes in elections, recruit fighting units to your side, assassinate other players, gain extra money, and so on. There’s also the cabinet cards, but these don’t go into the deck; these keep track of which players control which armies on the board and what kind of special actions they might get. The play money is fairly simple; it’s not only used to win the game, but it’s also used to keep track of game-end, so there’s a rather interesting twist on it. Along with all these pieces, you get some dice for fighting and determining certain actions, and the playing board that is mainly used during a military coup. Again, these pieces aren’t entirely interesting to look at, but they get the job done and I’m pretty sure the newer editions offer prettier pieces.

The Rulebook

If there’s one board game to start off a collection with for it’s intuitive and well thought out rule book, this is definitely not it. I mean, my goodness I thought I would never learn how to play this game. The rules are scattered all over, and the designers seem to take it on faith that you’re somewhat familiar with other board game mechanics already. One of the main difficulties with trying to figure out the rules, is that with most board games you can set everything up and have a “mock session” in which you play two or more players and have hands-on practice with how the game works. With Junta, the game’s mechanics rely heavily on subterfuge and guile, so each player will rarely know the other player’s intent until it’s too late. Trying to set up a mock session and pretend that you don’t know what your own next moves or intentions are is kind of hard to emulate, so getting to know the political part of the game is tricky. The military part on the other hand, is a little bit easier as this follows a rather standard move-troops, attack, next-player’s-turn routine. They even spend two pages explaining their own mock battle to try to show you how some of the parts work in Junta. Ultimately though, the only way you’re going to get even an understandable grasp with this game is by gathering up several friends and playing a few matches. Another thing that kind of bothers me about it is that it requires at least four people to have a normal game, and seven to have a really enjoyable one, but this is just a personal complaint. Honestly, it should act as a motivator to get some sort of board game club going so I can try out the new games that I buy.

The Mechanics

The whole goal of this game is to have the most money in your Swiss bank account by the end of the game. The player elected El Presidente hands out the budget to the players each round, and the players then come to an agreement of some sort about said budget, and then try to sneak off to the bank to deposit the money. This whole portion of the game is the political part, and requires the use of your own personal negotiating skills to do well in. Earlier I mentioned getting cards from other players so you have a beneficially hand is crucial in this game, and this is the part where you can trade those cards. If a player becomes unhappy with the way the current El Presidente is running the budget, he can either try and have him assassinated, or start up a full scale coup in the city streets. This leads the game into the second half of the mechanics, which is the military part mentioned earlier. Players will either side with the current government, or join the side of the rebels, and then each side dukes it out. If the rebels win, then they can instate a new Presidente and oust the old one. The way that each of these parts requires a firm amount of negotiating between the players, and doesn’t require knowledge of a whole lot of arbitrary numbers or trading in objects for victory points, and it makes it very tense. You know that each players ultimate goal is to get a bunch of money into their bank account, but depending on the person, their approaches could each be different. One could use direct and brute force to push his way into power, ruling with an iron fist, while another player could work in the shadows and try to get the players to turn on one another, while he casually slips by their radar and onward towards the bank. It creates a very uncertain atmosphere and you start getting very suspicious of your own friends. I enjoy how one of the tips in the back of the book on how to be a better player is to write “It’s only a game” 100 times on a piece of paper, while another one is to read “The Prince” by Machiavelli. There’s even a sort of house rule the store owner told my friends and I about where if someone leaves money unattended and not in their Swiss bank account, it can be subject to theft by the other players. It’s some of the most unique mechanics I’ve ever seen used in a game, and it’s very well utilized.

Overall

This game is by no means a good one to start a game collection with. I’m not saying it’s a terrible game, in fact it’s one of my favorites, but when trying to understand how board games operate, this one can be a little overwhelming for first-timers. Once you get the hang of it, though, the game is quite enjoyable to be played among friends. I stress “friends”, because if you invite a bunch of people you don’t know too well to play this game, things could feel awkward as Junta requires you to more or less betray everyone and everything you know and love. It encourages you to get someone on your side and help you, just so you can stab them in the back later for the advantage. It’s conniving, it’s dark, it’s sinister, and it’s damn fun once you get the rules down. I highly recommend this game for experienced board game players, but for people who haven’t played too many, I’d definitely recommend something else.

FINAL SCORE: 7/10

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Munchkin

Posted in Board Game Reviews with tags , on April 12, 2012 by Danny_Noe

3 to 6 players

ages 12 and up

about an hour playtime

You and your party are exploring the dank, dark depths of the despicable dungeon. Arriving at a door, you kick it down, revealing on the other side the mighty Jabberwock. Being the learned wizard that you are, you know that you’re no match for such a creature. As you contemplate a daring escape, your stalwart warrior companion offers his aid (for most of the treasure, of course) . You reluctantly accept, only to have the elven cleric summon a wandering monster into the room, doubling the difficulty of the battle. No worries, because you remember a very simply charm spell that can do away with these silly beasts. Now if only you could get this darn chicken off your head. 

It’s not Dungeons and Dragons, but rather the fast-paced, screw-your-buddy card game known as “Munchkin”. Coming in all different styles and genres, Munchkin has been growing more and more in popularity for it’s easy gameplay and tongue-in-cheek humor. So without further to do, let’s take a look at this silly little game.

The Pieces

Within the original Munchkin box, you’ll find two decks of cards, a six-sided dice, and the rulebook. The decks break down into the “Door” deck and the “Treasure” deck. Each one is filled with humorous monsters, silly equipment, ridiculous curses, bizarre potions, and everything in between. Reading the cards alone is an entertaining thing, and the fact that there are dozens of expansions and variants out there, there’s plenty of comical cards to collect. Other than that, though there’s not a lot in the box. It’s kind of a disappointment for someone like me, who loves little game bits and pawns, but given the fact that the game is made to be simple, and the cards are fun on their own, it’s a forgivable oversight. In fact, I think they heard my cries of more bits, as my friend owns the Cthullu version of Munchkin, which features little counters to keep track of points and curses.

The Rulebook

Given that the game is designed to be fast paced, the rules stay pretty light, making them an easy read. I’ve always been fond of Steve Jackson Games for making some simple games with easy-to-read rules, and this one is no exception. My only concern with them is some first timers seem to have a hard time understanding how the door opening phase works. That sounds pretty strange, right? I mean, it should be as easy as opening a door, but I’ve seen people get confused over this phase more than once, so maybe they need to rewrite that part. Having said that, the rules aren’t terribly confusing in any way and you’ll be able to start playing in no time.

The Mechanics

The idea of the game is that each player takes turns kicking down doors inside of a dungeon, uncovering monsters, curses, new classes and races, and so on. Once they’ve destroyed some monsters, they level up and collect treasure so they can fight some of the harder creatures. The first player to reach level 20 wins the game. What I love most is the player interaction; while someone is taking their turn, all the other players have a chance to play cards from their hand to strengthen the monsters, add more monsters, help the player fighting the monster, or just kill everything in the room. The current player even has the opportunity to ask someone for help if the fight proves to be too much for them. This is where negotiations play a fun role, as the helping player can demand for some of the treasure, and elves can even snag an extra level if they help. The game is playing at the old Dungeons and Dragons theme; players get classes, races, and genders throughout the game. At the start, everyone is a level 1 human, and their gender is whatever their gender is in real life. All of these can be altered by collecting new class cards (warrior, cleric, thief, wizard, etc.), new race cards (elf, dwarf, halfing, and so on), and they’ve even added a curse card that changes your gender (in the game). All of these not only add to the absurdity, but each race and class offer new skills and strategies for winning the game. All-in-all the mechanics are pretty solid.

Overall

The standard game alone offers hours and hours of fun and laughs for you and your friends, but there are so many different versions out there that you can choose to play as super heroes instead, or old cowboys, or even ninjas! There’s even a “Munchkin Blender” variant that allows you to combine all these different versions to create one very off-the-wall game. If you’re looking for a serious adventure through perilous caverns and dangerous locals, go pick up DnD or Pathfinder. If you’re looking for a silly, enjoyable night, then pick up Munchkin and have fun slaying the beasts while stabbing your friends in the back and snatching up all their precious treasure.

FINAL SCORE: 9/10