Tag Archives: Martin Wallace

Mythotopia – A Written Review




When A Few Acres Of Snow came out and I could pretend to be Daniel Day Lewis, keep mumbling about Ken-Tuck-Eh, and ridicule my opponent by repeatedly calling him Grey-Hair – all while playing an engaging conflict heavy game of Dominion on a board, I was smitten. When the rumblings of a broken strategy surfaced, and were later verified, my heart was broken and the game quickly became marred and corrupt. It was like my sweet kid Timmy grew up and became a twisted and loathsome punk and all I could do was kick him out of the house and sever my ties. When Mythotopia was announced it was with guarded optimism that I began to pick up the pieces and my new prodigal son, Jimmy, could be ushered in to fill the void.

While A Few Acres Of Snow had a fantastic French-Indian War setting, Mythotopia espouses a kind of low-fantasy similar to A Game Of Thrones. You will see the occasional Dragon, Runestone, or Army marching via portal, but the touches are small and overall it feels like a somewhat gritty Medieval conquest game. The setting itself folds into the background so that the deck-building mechanisms can take center stage.

The mechanical evolution from its predecessor is intriguing to say the least. It still bears that Dominion heritage where you have a deck comprised of location cards corresponding to your territories supplemented by additional special cards. You have a standard hand of five cards and can take two actions on your turn, typically fueling these choices with card play. Cards are played for either a resource symbol in the top left corner, to perform a special action listed on the card, or for the location on the card in order to stage an Invasion or build a structure there.




Players find themselves launching attacks into neighboring territories, acquiring new improvement cards, and laying down infrastructure in territory they already possess. The idea is to gain victory points which are awarded typically by building cities/castles/roads and by taking provinces. One particularly neat aspect is that both the improvement cards and roughly half of the victory point condition cards are randomly drawn at the beginning of the game. This ensures each game will play out somewhat differently mimicking the Dominion Kingdom card approach. This also dovetails with the design philosophy of starting players with a completely random set of Provinces which provides for a typically spread out and somewhat exposed layout allowing for quick friction and varied strategy game to game. This seems to be the primary fix to the broken strategy in A Few Acres Of Snow and it does seem to work remarkably well.

What I found particularly interesting was the gentle refinement present in the cards and actions available in Mythotopia. In A Few Acres Of Snow the gameplay was sometimes clunky yet this was overcome due to the genius of the design and wow factor. It also was afforded more leeway due to being a historical wargame as opposed to a more general strategy game with a wider audience. Here we see a much smoother flow to the game as you no longer need to play specific cards to generate economy or jump through hoops to play simple actions. You simply play a card with a coin on it and you can buy a new card, or you throw down a card with army symbols and can add troops to one of your territories. Combos and room for clever play certainly still persist as things haven’t been dumbed down and long-term strategy coupled with tactical card play is present and strong. Still, things run a touch smoother and much more fluid making for quick and enjoyable turns that keep the game constantly moving.




Invading in Mythotopia retains a similar feel to its lineage as you build up troops in a Province until you are able to maintain advantage and declare an End of War action at the start of your turn. This is one of my favorite elements of the design as it feels like you are laying siege and engaging in an extended military campaign. The cost-analysis decision point is also interesting as committing multiple armies to an invasion over several turns can be costly in terms of actions and tying up units. If you and Matt are engaged in a prolonged battle Ben and Jeremy may be sneaking ahead by acquiring new cards and building up cities in their Provinces. Yet, this is not an overriding deterrant as taking an opponent’s Province is a 6 point swing between you two. There is also always a number of neutral provinces with a static defense affording you options in who you wish to push the offensive against, although attacking Droab’s static defense is never quite as satisfying as burning Ben’s castle to the ground.

There is a tremendous amount of depth in this design due to the process and swirling strategic considerations around the thinning of one’s deck. This was another culrprit in really allowing the broken strategy in A Few Acres and it’s a core tenet of Deckbuilding so it’s no surprise to find this a core element seething below the surface of the design. The thought process in determining what to trash in this game is not nearly as easy as one would think due primarily to the fact that you are required to play a location card to stage an invasion or to build in that area. Thus, if you chuck two vital areas from your deck you won’t be able to stage an attack from there or add the VP generating cities or castles. You can manipulate the situation by building roads between adjacent Provinces, which allow you to substitute a location card for another in the road network. This is one of the strongest additions Martin has brought to this system as it adds a strong level of advanced play where you attempt to massage the layout of your kingdom and attain maximum flexibility. This is absolutely fantastic and looks to perfectly meld with the game’s gentle yet extremely long mastery incline.




Everything is humming along great and the mechanisms are flowing like fresh Dr. Dre beats when all of the sudden the rhythm drops out and you careen off the road into a fiery death. I’m exaggerating slightly but the one glaring flaw in this release that everyone is talking about, for good reason, is the End Game. The protracted End Game takes up about 40% of the total play time and can feel excruciatingly drawn out if your expectations are not properly set. How the end is triggered is that players are earning VP tokens off of several cards throughout the game. Once 4 cards have been emptied of all their tokens, the player who is in the lead can declare the End Game action but only on their first action (much like ending a war). All battles are resolved and if the person who declared the action is still winning the game is over and he’s taken the trophy. If, however, after resolving battles he would not be in the lead then he is not allowed to declare the End Game action. On its surface that sounds fine but if you start to analyze the different ways to interact with this final sequence then things begin to unravel a bit.

Cyclades is a fantastic Matagot release that sits among my favorite titles. One slight issue with that game however is that near the end gameplay shifts to this kind of gamey procedure of forcing players to stop assessing their options and instead to take actions simply to deny the victory from another player. Mythotopia’s end game is this but protracted from a 10 minute sequence into one that can last 30-60. It’s not game breaking and doesn’t completely ruin the experience but you have to shift your mindset and adopt a new focus. You basically adopt this new strategy of tearing down the leader by launching or maintaining an invasion, while simultaneously trying to further yourself and eke out another point or two with your second action. The game ultimately ends when a round goes by with no one able to take out the leader, which is easier to come by with less players as there are less participants to nip at your heels and claw into your backside.

So Jimmy’s finally here and he’s kind of a Harvey Dent. The majority of gameplay is spectacular and game of the year material while the opposite portion is a bit clunky and tedious. Overall I think there’s a lot going on here and ton of depth to sink your teeth into without requiring too heavy of a ruleset. Jimmy won’t be cast off like his kin but he still isn’t quite perfect.

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Onward To Venus – A Written Review



Designer:            Martin Wallace

Publisher:           Treefrog Games


Onward To Venus is a weird one for me. Before stepping up to the plate it already had two strikes against it as I’m not an enormous Martin Wallace fan and I also loathe all that is steam punk. But damn, look at that cover. The absolutely fantastic and spellbinding artwork of Greg Broadmore smothers the entirety of the design in such an appealing and gripping facade that I couldn’t do what D.A.R.E. taught me to and just say no.

This is a broadly Ameritrash design and a bit of a departure for Wallace as it’s pretty damn unique and doesn’t quite feel like anything else I’ve played. The main mechanism is kind of a blend of worker placement and dudes on a map and despite the awkwardness of the explanation it runs very smooth. Players take on the roles of one of our planet’s first world nations and take to the stars attempting to colonize, conquer, and poach from our galaxy. You move military units planet to planet where they remain in orbit – workers ready to be sent to their sweatshops.




Tiles are drawn randomly from a bag each turn and used to seed each of the planets. These tiles form the bulk of the game’s opportunity and require you to move one or more of your units from orbit down to the planet’s surface to claim. Grabbing these tiles allows you to hunt big game (gain victory points), draw cards (useful resource), construct factories and mines (gain currency each turn), and deal with Crises.

In a vacuum the rote tasks you perform on your turn can seem dull; acquire troops, construct buildings, pick up tiles for resources, and spread to adjacent planets. However, the superb color and underlying vibrant world gives off a spark that elevates these tasks and provides a thematic context that makes for very satisfying interaction. You feel your empire spreading, terraforming, and laying waste to alien fauna. You’re throwing down cards to wield a brutal Moonhater laser or Lazoplod 3000 mechanical walker. It’s quirky and fun in a unique atmosphere framed up in an equally unique mechanical framework.




The most interesting element of Onward To Venus is the Crisis track that each planet possesses. Crisis tiles may come out with the beginning of turn tile draw and if enough mount they may cause planets to collapse under political revolution, organize under piracy, or even launch an invasion force toward Earth. These tiles can be dealt with by taking an action and spending military units, but some of them can require multiple pieces and greater attention than you’d desire. Unfortunately, they also seem to trigger somewhat infrequently so this phenomenal aspect is only seen in glimpses and pieces and always kind of leaves you wanting more.

The color and narrative behind each of these Crises is perfect. Each of the planets in the game possesses its own Crisis track that worsens as anguish mounts. Several planets move towards open revolt, destroying factories and mines on the planet. Others head towards military response to the egregious Earth imperialism and if things get worse enough, they push on the home world causing massive destruction. This adds a very small yet very intriguing semi-cooperative touch that doesn’t ever get in the way, but has the potential to really emphasize unique and crazy story-lines.

In addition to the fantastic Crisis system, the unique player factions offer a gentle guiding hand towards initial strategy which has the additional bonus of providing for ample color.  Each player is dealt a hand of faction specific starting cards that they augment throughout the game via a single public draw deck. Cards allow you to perform special actions or add to the combat strength of your army.  These cards pack a tremendous amount of setting into the game in a clever way as you’re playing specific characters of note in the universe or utilizing setting appropriate unique technology.  When you play a card it kind of feels like a descriptive footnote to the proceeding narrative and I really enjoy this even-handed element.




While I love the ensuing narrative and artistic touches throughout the design, Wallace really nails the flow of gameplay and keeps things crisp and snappy. Players perform a single action on their turn, keeping the pace always brisk and everyone always involved. This also causes gameplay to hold up remarkably well from 3-5 players, never stalling or stumbling upon itself. Smooth as a glider on a crisp wind, the game keeps rolling and color keeps unfolding.

I have certainly emphasized the thematic nature of the game but it’s worth discussing the small Euro touches that leave fingerprints throughout. One item that has potential to cause much chagrin is the fact that you cannot actively combat other players unless the game gives you explicit permission. The only way to attack is to grab a Tension tile which must have been placed on the would-be battleground planet in the tile draw phase. Furthermore, if the Tension tile is nabbed by another player, you will find the opportunity missed and be stuck with a possibly large fleet looking for war and left with nothing but intergalactic tumbleweeds. I don’t take issue with this at all, having fully embraced titles like Cyclades and Mage Knight which give you restricted options and force you to make do with what opportunity has been afforded.  This functions more like a feature in my view as it has a clear effect on strategic planning and management of resources.

With Onward To Venus Martin Wallace has crafted a streamlined and simple strategy game that packs depth and underlying tension throughout. It leans upon Ameritrash stylings and does a great job of rewarding behavior consistent with its premise by incentivizing spreading out and venturing into the far reaches. As players spread their units across multiple planets and allow themselves more opportunity to grab a variety of tiles, strategy opens up and evil machinations can be hatched to outwit your foes and seize the day. This is a beautiful game that plays quite a bit different than the dregs of the common cardboard and an adventure I’m thrilled to embark on again and again.

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Another Damn Civilization Game



4th game of the spielbox Wallace Edition.

Once more, dice determine the available player actions. 3 dice are thrown, the players get rerolls for abilities or money and tokens are placed in the corresponding boxes. These are emptied beginning with the #1 box up to #6. Every token allows for an action. Either taking resources (black piece or new token for a player), placing a token on the civilization track or moving a token on the track.
The civilization track has 30 space, it starts with reading / writing through different developments. Once a player places a token in the 30th space the round gets finished and victory points get tallied. Points are received from the track, per 3 black tokens, coins or playing pieces.
A player can have up to his maximum of 26 tokens on the track. Once a token is on the track, a new token can be placed adjacent to it. Different spaces give different abilities to the players, like re-rolls, victory points or resources. Some spaces have a cost to use them, like War, which allows the removal of a token from another player.

DAR (review at end of playthrough)

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Automobile (Video Review)



Automobile is a 3-5 player game that bears a modern setting when compared to most of Wallace’s releases. Players are competing in the U.S. auto industry in the early 20th century, purchasing factories that turn out low-, medium- and high-valued vehicles, starting with the 1893 Duryea and moving through history from there.

Each player knows a portion of the market demand each round and must make his purchasing and manufacturing decisions based on the information. Players can fund distributors across the country, but if they don’t supply distributors with vehicles to sell, they go bankrupt, taking your investment with them. Alternatively, players can drop the prices on their cars to move their market share, or even temporarily improve sales rates at the cost of research. Special action spaces are available that give a player a one-turn special ability with the actions provided by Ford, Durant, Kettering, and others some what related to their actual business history.

As newer models make their way onto the market, they sell at the expense of the older models. Older factories give inefficiency cubes as time passes, encouraging you to keep pace with technology.

To get money, you need to build cars with your factories, but if you build more than there is demand theylose not only the money spend to make them, but gain inefficiency cubes that hurt them for the rest of the game. Whoever manages their car factories the best over this 120-150 minute game will win.

~ Mayfair Games










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