Have you ever wanted to hit the racetrack in a high performance automobile, zooming past the other drivers and cruising across the finish line to the cheers of the crowd?
Thunder Alley, a new racing game from GMT Games, promises just such an adventure.
In Thunder Alley, two to seven players take on the role of a team of professional race car drivers. Each player is given a team sheet in his color and a number of chits denoting his cars, depending on the number of players. The game comes with two double-sided boards, offering four very different race tracks.
Team sheets have info spaces for each car, which correspond to the numbered chits on the board. Consulting a card from the race card deck, players determine who has pole position, and then all begin to place their car chits on the racetrack, which is divided up into a number of sectors and squares.
In turn order, each player may move one of his cars with a race card from his hand. Each race card contains a movement point number, which the player must spend to enter a new space in front of his car, to move laterally, or to displace another car.
There are four types of movement cards. Solo movement allows you to move just your car. Pursuit movement means you must move your car forward, as well as all the other cars directly ahead of your car. Lead movement means you must move all cars directly following your car along with your car, and draft movement means that you must move all the cars directly in front of and behind your car. Playing a card often means that you will be moving other players' cars forward as well as your own car.
Most race cards also contain a wear penalty, such as engine trouble or tire wear. This requires you to take a wear chit from the pool and place it on the appropriate car's info section on your team sheet. If too many wear tokens accrue, you will suffer penalties and may eventually have to eliminate your car. At the end of a round, players can opt to move a car into a pit stop in order to remove some of the wear tokens, though that often means conceding your position on the track to your opponents.
At the end of each round, a player draws an event card that may affect all players or a specific player. The game ends at the end of the round that the first car crosses the finish line. Players then add up the placement score of all of their cars to determine the overall victor.
Thunder Alley is an intense, fast-paced racing game that succeeds in simulating modern racing. The rules are generally very simple, though some of the yellow flag procedures that pop up from time to time can be a little confusing. Despite its simple rules, there is a real strategic depth here.
Thunder Alley is recommended for ages 14 and up and plays in about 1-2 hours, depending on the number of players.
Canalis: Canalis is the latest game in AEG's Tempest series, games that take place in a shared Renaissance-era kingdom and feature a shared story.
In Canalis, two to four players compete to control the city-state of Tempest's canals. The game board contains a section to keep track of scoring, a section to hold the various shaped tiles, and a grid section featuring Tempest's harbors on two sides and various resources on the other two. At the beginning of the game players each receive a faction card, which gives them special abilities, two mission cards (secret objectives) and five coins from the bank.
Essentially, there are four phases to the game, each with two card decks divided into two. Each phase, players receive a hand of cards, they may choose one to play, then pass the others to the player on their left. This continues until no more cards are left, then players start the new phase with the new cards.
The goal of the game is to place buildings on the board that can be scored. Generally, most buildings can be scored when they are connected to a resource, a worker tenement building, and a harbor via canals. Some special buildings can be scored in other ways, however, and some tiles, like gardens, can improve your score for other buildings. The game ends after all four phases are complete. The player with the highest score wins.
There is a real Tetris feel to Canalis as you struggle to make the shapes of your tiles work on an increasingly shrinking area. This leads to some real cutthroat competition as a player works to connect his or her buildings, even as other players block their strategy with their own tile placement.
Still, for all of its strengths, Canalis never quite rises to the level of sheer enjoyment that Courtier and Dominiare, the strongest offerings from the Tempest series, create. Canalis is a solid game that fans of the series will enjoy, but players new to the Tempest series would do well to start with one of its stronger titles.
Canalis is recommended for ages 14 and up and plays in about an hour.
Tsuro of the Seas: Staying afloat and surviving dreaded sea monsters in Asian waters is the theme for Calliope Games' Tsuro of the Seas. In this game, two to four players place a ship model on the edge of the board, atop a line. Then, rolling two different colored dice, corresponding to colors on the board's grid system, players begin placing the daikaiju tiles, the dreaded sea monsters.
On their turn, players will roll the dice, and on a roll of 6, 7 or 8 the daikaiju move. The player that activated the daikaiju must then roll another dice to determine how the sea monsters move, the dice roll corresponding to movement patterns upon the daikaiju tile.
Next, a player may place a wake tile from his hand on the board, next to his ship. Each wake tile has lines upon it that correspond to the initial line the ship was placed on. The ship then moves to the end of the line on the tile. If the line ends where another tile begins, the player must follow that line all the way to its end. If a player places a tile that affects another player, both players must follow the line to its end. At the end of a turn, a player draws a new wake tile from the deck.
If ever your ship moves off of the board or into a daikaiju, you are eliminated. The last player to remain on the board wins the game.
Tsuro of the Seas has taken a very simple concept, tile placement and corresponding movement, and turned it into a thrilling adventure. It becomes increasingly difficult over the course of the game to place your tiles in such a way to keep you on the board and out of the hands of the daikaiju. The limited number of wake tiles in your hand makes for some tough choices and often allows you to play dirty tricks on your opponents.
Tsuro of the Seas is recommended for ages 8 and up and plays in about 30 minutes.
Bedpans + Broomsticks: In Bedpans + Broomsticks, one to four players take on the roles of Elders, the residents of a nursing home, while one player takes on the role of the nursing home Staff. All the Elders want to do is leave the nursing home for a few hours, but the Staff is determined to keep them indoors. Each Elder player is issued two tokens with a picture of their Elder upon it in either blue, yellow, green or red. On the reverse side of one of the tokens is a black dot, denoting that this is the real Elder. The other is a decoy.
Players place a starting tile containing beds with their colors on it, then players roll dice to move both their Elders and the decoys one at a time. When the Elders come within line of sight of an open door, they can see into the next room, and the Staff player randomly draws and places a new room tile. When new tiles are placed, players also place stuff items upon the tiles. Stuff items are tiles that represent wild events and silly weapons that can be used against the Elders or the Staff by either player. Typical stuff items include banana peels, lost teeth, locked doors and disguises.
Bedpans + Broomsticks feels like a dungeon crawl game, only instead of heroes you have the Elders and instead of monsters you have the Staff. The theme is silly and a lot of fun, and the stuff items provide a lot of variety and surprises as they let players play dirty tricks on one another.
Dice rolling in this game is a bit weird. Two white dice and a red die are rolled, and depending on who is moving — the Elders, the Nurses or the Doctor — two of the three dice are added together for movement. It's a weird mechanic that could have been simplified. All told, however, Bedpans + Broomsticks is a fun and lighthearted game that players, particularly younger gamers, should really take to.
Bedpans + Broomsticks plays in about 45 minutes and is recommended for ages 8 and up.
Galactic Strike Force: Greater Than Games is perhaps best known for its superhero card game, Sentinels of the Multiverse, a fan favorite with a massive following and several expansions. Now, the company sets its sights on a space adventure card game in which two to six players work together to defeat the galaxy's evil forces. Instead of a crack military team, players command the ship and crews of bounty hunters, smugglers and interstellar criminals that, for good or ill, are humanity's last line of defense.
Players start by selecting a ship by taking its ship card, standee and unique ship deck. Each ship card has room for weapons on one side and defenses on the other. Then, players select three different large sector cards representing different key locations in space. On one side of the sector cards opposition cards are laid face down, representing the evil forces, along with the evil flagship, while on the other side station decks are dealt out face up.
The game plays out in phases. In the Travel (T) phase, players may move their ship standee to any of the three sectors. Next, during the Requisition (R) phase, players may spend currency from the cards in their hand to purchase new cards from the station decks. The Installation (I) phase allows players to put new weaponry and defenses on either side of their ship card, increasing its value. In the Battle (B) phase, players can attack or be attacked by opposition forces. In the Aftermath (A) phase, opposition ships can overrun sectors and players engage in housekeeping, refilling their decks.
Each Battle phase, players' ships must battle with opposition ships in their sector. Any unengaged opposition ship that gets through can cause problems in the Aftermath phase, and if left unchecked, the opposition can overrun the sector. Battle itself is largely determinative, depending upon the number of weapons and defenses you have as opposed to the enemy ship.
The various opposition cards have either T, R, I, B or A printed on them, letting you know during which phase they are activated. Players must keep track of which cards activate and when, as they can have serious effects on the course of the phase. The players win the game if they can destroy the opposition flagship, or if at any time there are no opposition ships in any sector. The game wins if all three sectors are overrun, or if all of the players' ships are defeated in combat (grounded).
First of all, Galactic Strike Force is a beautiful production. The cards are quality and the science-fiction artwork and theme are all first-rate. Game play, however, doesn't really live up to the game's presentation. Cooperative games should be difficult to beat — who would want to play a cooperative game that was easy? In Galactic Strike Force, however, players feel like they are not only on the ropes the whole game, but are being strangled by them.
Galactic Strike Force plays in about an hour and is recommended for ages 13 and up.
Cody K. Carlson holds a master's in history from the University of Utah and teaches at Salt Lake Community College. An avid player of board games, he blogs at thediscriminatinggamer.com. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org