504 – Off The Shelf Board Game Reviews

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What if there were parallel Earths, where each Earth is different, and on each unique Earth, the priorities on Earth are unique from one another?

In a distant future, scientists are able to build small alternate Earths. Exactly 504 such Earths have thus far been built. The scientists programmed each of these Worlds with an individual set of laws and rules which the residents strictly follow and consider most important for their lives. These may be exploration, consumption, economics, military, etc., and each is unique. You can visit all of these 504 alternate Earths to experience how the people are living, and decide which of these worlds harbors the best civilization. On which World do you want to live? Explore them all and decide!

504 is a game that creates 504 different games out of one box. The game consists of nine modules:

Module 1: Pick-Up & Deliver

Module 2: Race

Module 3: Privileges

Module 4: Military

Module 5: Exploration

Module 6: Roads

Module 7: Majorities

Module 8: Production

Module 9: Shares”

The Quick Overview

How To Play

World 456

World 564

World 645

Review

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504 – A Written Review

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“We really did it!” The lonely writer who talked to himself as if he actually consisted of two distinct personalities could not believe it…but the proof was hovering in front of him.

The huge tome was full of words! Up and down the pages stood hundreds of bold words, not exactly the ballpark figure he estimated but good enough.

It seemed so simple after many tough years of plugging away at the keyboard and developing a modest vocabulary. A review with four worlds, each jumbled haphazardly in a way to make ingestion possible but unpredictable. Only this way permits one to describe the fundamental brilliance of 504.

Of course, the confused writer recorded all of the instructions to decipher this Book of Review Worlds in a couple of sentences listed below. Now it was time to start your observations.

The Rules
Review Worlds are staggered in priorities. You will need to check for the correct order to decipher the ensuing ramblings by reading Review Worlds in priority order, from lowest Roman numeral to highest (i.e. read the World with priority I before the World with priority II)

The Book Of Review Worlds

(Priority II) The World of Chaos, a Collection of Mechanisms Jammed Into a Compelling Metagame (Review World #394)

The nine modules consist of hobby game staples from all across the spectrum. We have pick up and deliver, race, military conquest, area control, goods production, even a compelling stock market system. Each slice of mechanisms is typically combined to form a medium weight Euro that is relatively easy to assimilate once one navigates the Book of Worlds.

The Book of Worlds is certainly the most compelling element of this game. It’s a spiral-bound booklet with each page cut into three sections or flaps. You can build the world and the associated rules by turning a particular flap to the world desired. This is done across each third of the page to form the three intersecting mechanisms you wish to explore.

So in the top position you can flip to any of modules 1-9, selecting your choice for this specific play. Then you do the same thing in the middle position and finally again in the bottom. You may never choose the same module to occupy more than one position as this will cause a quantum rift the equivalent of crossing the streams. These three positions are referred to as TOP I, TOP II, and TOP III.

The module you select in TOP I is the most important. It determines how victory points are gained and sets the overarching tone of the world. The TOP II module determines how money is accrued. TOP III is the least impactful and adds a wrinkle or nuance to the structure.

A simple enough example is the recommended starting world, #123. This has module one in TOP I, which means victory points are gained from picking up and delivering goods to cities. Module two, Race, determines how players can earn money which they will use to upgrade their trolleys and carry more goods or move faster. Finally, module three is in the TOP III position and adds Privilege cards – special powers which are bought each turn.

When you first hold this book and start to make sense of the madness a huge light bulb will explode over your noggin. Everything fits together and works exceptionally well. There is certainly a substantial learning curve to deciphering the Book of Worlds and a priority system is used to determine which option trumps the others. For instance, each module will list one of several map layouts but you will need to look at only the map listed with the lowest Roman numeral (highest priority). Small rules and setup options will continue to utilize the priority system and you will need to play the decipher metagame to get the world properly setup.

This inherent juggling of priorities and subsystems split across multiple sections of rules is a battle you will need to participate in a couple of times before everything begins to flow smoothly. After a few plays it will all be second nature, however, the game tends to run best if someone determines the world and associated rules before you sit down to play. This allows you to iron out any kinks and work your rules deduction without pressure and distractions.

 

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The Book Of Worlds! Oooh, aaah!

(Priority III) The World Where Everything Matters and Currency is Subtle (Review World #765)

Upon repeated plays you will start to see design patterns and personality emerge in terms of how the disparate elements fit together. The position (TOP I/II/III) that each module is slotted in will have an enormous impact on your game and result in interesting discoveries you may not initially foresee. This will amount to a realization that participants will likely develop clear indicators on how they favor the use of certain modules, refining play to bring about the most enjoyment. In some ways it’s as if you’re developing a whole new skillset akin to learning Worker Placement or Area Control for the first time. This can be exhilarating and thought provoking.

The position of a particular module has a large impact primarily because each mechanism functions differently depending on how it is integrated. Module three, Privileges, is a prime highlight as it adds entirely new elements in TOP I and II as opposed to TOP III. It feels most comfortable in the TOP III position as you integrate the special ability cards smoothly and without much issue. In TOP I and TOP II you throw in Factories and start producing goods, which has absolutely nothing to do with the deck of Privilege cards. This appears to be a natural limitation of the combinatorial metagame at play. It will push you towards utilizing modules in specific slots more often than not, but one can’t argue that they all stick to the wall no matter where you throw them.

It’s also noteworthy that certain modules feel more ethereal or background than others. The fantastic Shares module adds an external area of play off-board. If you play 943 then the only direct interaction on the map will be military conquest. The other vectors of play are all happening above board or on a separate collection of stock components. This doesn’t feel disjointed or fiddly, but it does feel distinct and each combination can have a very definite personality.

 

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Delicious goods to be produced, picked up, and delivered.

 

(Priority I) The World of a Sophist of High Concept with a Knack for Excitement (Review World #281)

504, as a concept, is bananas. With Friedemann Friese behind the wheel this should come as no surprise. This eccentric German designer perpetually maintains a green mane and requires the name of all of his designs begin with the letter “F”. His titles always bring something unique and attempt to work in a space not well defined or previously tread. One should admire him as much for what he’s attempted as for what he’s accomplished.

This release is a huge box of 504 Euro-style games broken down into nine distinct modules. Each forms a portion of the DNA of the individual games – called worlds – that you may experience. When sitting down to play you pick three of the nine modules and arrange them in an order of your choice, the specifics of which matter greatly.

To facilitate all of these different mechanisms and systems the box is crammed full of high quality components. You have hundreds of wooden bits that are used as Residents, Settlements, and Trolleys. There are several different decks of cards. Mounds of chits used in all different manners. Player aids, swathes of hexes, and two distinct booklets. You could lose a pet or a small child in a component drop. All of this acts as a sort of flag or indicator of the wizardry the designer is about to perform as you sit down to the table.

 

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(Priority IV) The World of Confused Critics and Revelatory Procedure (Review World #629)

Sitting down and expecting to combine semi-random Euro mechanisms into a coherent game that reaches lofty heights is a fantastic dream. I believe those expectations should be jettisoned from your trolley and long forgotten. An inherent limitation of this combinatorial exploration of separate mechanisms is producing a finished game that could most commonly be described as generic.

Those desiring 504 exceptional games crammed into this box are missing the point entirely. The “game” here is not what you sit down to play or limited to the three main mechanisms at work. The true heart of this design is the metagame that you encounter every time you embark on the journey and crack open that box.

You could describe the experience of playing this title as one big module five – exploration. It feels like you’re exploring the far reaches of Friedemann’s madness, lost in a maze of abject insanity and fumbling along walls engraved with astonishing brilliance. It’s a journey across multiple layers that will reveal itself in waves of colliding sub-systems.

It’s not a stretch to call 504 a piece of art. It’s a huge exploratory adventure that teases out wonderful reactions and poignant discussion. This is the type of game that anyone interested in even contemplating game design needs to experience. No individual world may earn its way onto your top 10, but 504 as a whole is a touchstone experience that can radically redefine a person’s perspective.

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Survive: Space Attack! – A Written Review

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Julian Courtland-Smith’s classic Survive: Escape from Atlantis! was an enormous mass market success over two decades ago. It’s a vicious family game of fleeing from a sinking island via lifeboats as you take turns controlling the monsters and devouring your next of kin.  The game manages to be confrontational without ever feeling mean or unfair, and it has a strong unique identity that separates itself from other games with wide appeal.  Stronghold Games perhaps flagship title has been the utterly fantastic 30th anniversary edition of the game, featuring beautiful artwork and lovely bits.  Lovely bits is a term I need to use more often, perhaps in a British accent.

Geoff Engelstein and family, best known for the exciting Space Cadets series, have continued their electric connection with Stronghold by getting their hands on Courtland-Smith’s aged baby and massaging out some of the wrinkles. They’ve taken a venerated classic and provided just the right level of development to produce some new tricks without altering the original’s DNA or smooth feel.  The amount of care and reverence displayed is enormous and you can tell everyone involved in this project just clicked and forged ahead in unison.

As an overall experience this is very similar to Survive set in space. Players take a collection of pawns numbered 1-6 and deploy them to open spaces on a space station mid-destruction.  You take three actions on your turn which includes floating your astronauts helplessly into the black or hitching a ride aboard an escape pod, possibly one contained by other players.  You’re trying to make your way to one of four warp gates which will often require fleeting moments of cooperation and, more often than not, meting out huge bouts of destruction.  The idea is to score the most points, which means you need to get your highest valued pieces to safety.

 

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After taking your three moves you choose one of the space station tiles to remove from play and dump any crewmembers occupying the tile into space. Throwing people into the mercy of the black cold void feels nearly as sweet as flipping the tile over and reveling in the new special power you’ve just acquired.  Many of the tiles afford one time use benefits that can allow for dirty tricks and swings of dramatic enjoyment.  Oh, and some will spawn ferocious beasts that immediately devour anyone paddling in zero-g.

At the end of each of your turns you roll a die which will dictate the type of creature you get to activate. You are able to choose one such monster in play and unleash your inner beast, devouring escape pods and floating citizens like a toddler on a bag of gummy bears.  It’s gruesome and fun and most importantly – hilarious.  You can’t help but burst into chuckles while mumbling curses at your Mom for moving the Queen over your escape pod and just wrecking your formerly peaceful journey.  I can just picture those little dudes in pod #213 sipping on a glass of merlot and humming along to some Muzak before being swallowed whole.  Now the air is full of a cacophony of screams as alien Queen stomach acid melts their skin from their bones.

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A selection of special powers provide a fabulous oomph to the proceedings

 

The main new wrinkle from classic Survive is that players are given more authority in manipulating these interstellar monstrosities. You can now take to a fighter and move great distances as long as you stay in a straight line.  When you land on a beast you can remove him from the map and place it in front of you.  Likewise, you can spend an action to fire a turret from the station and claim a space bug as well.

At the beginning of each turn you deposit any aliens you’ve claimed back onto the board in open spaces of your choice. So Jimmy, Sam, and Naomi are gunning for an exit at full speed in their escape pod and you throw down a Warrior and a Queen right in their path.  Next turn they’ll be ejecting their urine out the side of the pod with their first action.

 

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Aw, hell nah.

 

This ability to sacrifice momentum towards escape to shift the board position of (kinda) neutral enemies flows nicely with the baked in personality of murdering each other for fun and profit. This game is all about drama and tension, including its subsequent release accompanied by long bouts of raucous laughter.  It takes those prime emotional moments of gaming and just repeatedly slams the buttons to produce excellence again and again.

This version of Survive also includes an alternate board on the back which features only two escape points. For those masochists and sad clowns that didn’t think the original layout was quite vindictive enough, you can now narrow the exit vector and watch the body count pile up.  It’s a hilarious alternative to the standard setup and one worth trying for grins and you know what.

The question that needs to be answered is whether this is better than its older sibling. If you must choose only one version of Survive! it will likely come down to which theme you prefer.  The original Atlantis sinking/sea monster shenanigans is definitely fun, but I’m a sucker for science fiction.

The second query is whether this is worth owning if you already have that beautiful 30th anniversary edition of Survive.  That’s a difficult question to answer as there is much carry-over between the two. However, the new theme in combination with the unique ways to interact with the monsters does create a distinct identity.  In all honesty I’ll have to partake in a rare cop-out and throw up a stone wall as I cannot determine that decision for you.  What I can tell you is that my group has had a blast ejecting each other into space and tearing each other limb from limb.  You also can’t argue with the fact that this is Stronghold Games’ bestselling space title.

 

 

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Rockwell: The Fluctuating Market

Rockwell GameBox

Rockwell is an extremely fantastic game from 2013 published by Sit Down!

If you don’t remember it we had a review for it here on 2D6.org check out the original review RIGHT HERE.  The short version is that Rockwell is a very well designed game where players are vying to take over a mining conglomerate blending a seamless set of Euro mechanics with bite where players can very directly influence each other while fighting the elements themselves.

Players were in charge of drilling crews searching for precious metals and diamonds (with the 1st expansion) in an effort to become the new C.E.O. of the Rockwell drilling company.

Now the first full fledged expansion is out on Kickstarter and already funded! Don’t miss out on your chance to check out a great game that flew under some radars back in 2013.

Don’t take my word alone for it other reviewers including Dan King, Rahdo, and Ryan Metzler all agreed that it is a well designed game.

I have yet to ever have a bad gaming experience and it has seen repeat plays at one of the Meetup’s I attend and is always a success.

As of now there are 8 days left in the campaign (LINK) or check out the original game campaign HERE.

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Fury of Dracula 3rd Edition – OTSBGR

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“For the dead travel fast.
–Bram Stoker, Dracula
In Fury of Dracula, one player assumes the role of Count Dracula as he stealthily spreads his evil influence throughout Europe. Up to four other players govern the iconic characters of Dr. Abraham Van Helsing, Dr. John Seward, Lord Arthur Godalming, and Mina Harker. By day the hunters travel through Europe, searching for any possible clues about Dracula’s whereabouts. By night, they investigate their present locale and prepare for the upcoming day. And by night, Dracula creates new vampires, lays traps for the hunters, and stealthily moves to a new location. Should any hunters find Dracula, or should the Count find them, they will engage in a brutal fight for their lives.”

Quick Game Overview

Learn How To Play

Watch Fury of Dracula Played

Fury of Dracula 3rd Edition Review

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