Tag Archives: Written Review

Dungeon Command: Sting of Lolth – A Written Review

Review #39 – For All Your Board Game News and Reviews Visit 2D6.org!

Dungeon Command: Sting of Lolth By Chris Dupuis, Peter Lee, Kevin Tatroe, and Rodney Thompson – Art By Kerem Beyit, Daarken, Jason Engle, Dan Scott, and Ben Wootten – Published By Wizards of the Coast

Aliszandra stared down her nose at the pathetic male standing before her, barely paying attention to his rambling about the ‘possible dangers in the cave ahead’. She was a chosen high priestess of Lolth she cared little for a few insignificant surface dwelling humans spotted heading for the same cavernous complex. The visions from her goddess were telling her untold riches would be found in the ancient abandoned Duergar city and if some filthy humans would happen to get in her way, so be it… they would make tantalizing sacrifices to Lolth. Aliszandra’s delicate hand moved faster than the naked eye could see backhanding the drow male and sending him sprawling to the ground where he lay stunned from the unexpected blow. “SILENCE!” she hissed between clenched teeth her patience obviously worn thin. “Take your miserable hide, the drider, and a few spiders and bring me those humans!” Her voice then turned soft as she added “Alive I might add, I could use a few… play things to entertain the rest of us this evening”.

Valnar held his hand up to his compatriots as he signaled for silence. Caverns were always treacherous and sound had an odd way to travel but unless his ears deceived him that last muffled sound was a grunt of pain. Rhynseera had warned him this abandoned dark dwarven city was bound to be guarded by ‘something’ she just couldn’t scry exactly what that ‘something’ was. No treasure was worth losing his life or the life of his loyal guards over. Valnar quietly motions for the War Wizard and the Dwarven Cleric to take point while the Dragon Knight and Human Ranger cautiously advance deeper into the complex…  

* * * * * * *

Dungeon Command is a small scale fantasy based skirmish level tactical miniatures game for 2-4 players that uses pre-built or custom war bands. The game is played on double sided interlocking battlefield tiles representing a “Dungeon” or an “Outdoor scene” that is placed before the game starts to form the battlefield. The Battlefield Tiles come in 2 sizes, 4×8 and 8×8 square grids used for determining movement and range. Each team has a “Morale Level” based on the Commander chosen to lead the war band (usually in the low to mid teens), Morale can be raised by finding the treasures placed on the board before the game starts or playing order cards and Morale can be lost by losing units or having units “Cower”. When a player loses all their Morale or ends their turn without a unit on the battlefield the game is over and a winner is declared.

In a unique twist, the game does not use dice, instead opting for one time use “Command Cards” that grant your units additional abilities such as extra attacks, dodges, ripostes, and the ability to move across the board. Don’t panic though while it sounds weird at first Dungeon Command has done an amazing job mixing a little bit of Magic: The Gathering with Dungeon Twister to create a memorable game play experience.

What’s In The Box

Dungeon Command comes in an 11.5”x9”x3” clamshell design box that includes a fantastic molded insert that holds all the games components in a nice clean manner.

The first thing about the game box that will grab your attention (besides the more unique clamshell design) is the decision to use thin cardstock for the box itself. While at first the collector in me frowned upon this, my more environmental side realized that the molded insert was more than durable enough to hold the box shape even when stacked on the game shelf so I am actually happy about the less wasteful decision.

The molded box insert does a fantastic job of holding all the miniatures in place and there are compartments for the tokens and cards (with the card compartment large enough to snuggly hold the cards even after sleeving them).


12 prepainted plastic miniatures

1 Full Color Rulebook

1 Molded Storage tray

2 large double-sided battlefield tiles

2 small double-sided battlefield tiles

2 Commander Cards

60 cards:

– 12 Creature cards (one for each miniature)

– 36 Order cards

– 12 D&D Adventure System Board Game Cards

68 Die-Cut Pieces:

– 30 Damage tokens

– 6 Treasure Chest markers

– 12 Treasure tokens

– 4 Morale and Leadership markers

– 8 Creature identification tokens

– 8 Miniature identification tokens

All of this gaming goodness can be yours for $39.99 but of course some astute crystal ball scrying could save you a few Menzoberranzan gems.

Battlefield Tiles: Dungeon Command is played on a game board made up of interlocking tiles. Each tile is double sided with one side representing a dungeon complex and the other representing an outdoor area. The tiles are thick, full color, and actually contain extra graphical flourishes such as cave entrances, magical circles, skeletons, walls of brambles and more. The tiles loosely interlock with each other and are also cut to match the Dungeons and Dragons Adventure System Board Game tiles allowing them to be fully interchangeable. If only more companies had this kind of forward thinking. The tiles are designed to be placed in various different layouts creating different game boards each time you play. The tiles from my copy of Sting of Lolth are still pristine after numerous plays, without any sign of warping.

Die-Cut Pieces: The cardboard tokens are made out of thick durable cardboard. The art is a nice touch and the numbers on the tokens are very large and easily legible. There are also some nice extra touches for example the 50 points of damage and the 10 points of damage tokens are different sizes easily making them distinguishable at a glance. The chest markers and treasure tokens use a different font again aiding in easy identification. Nice touches all around and good design decisions.

Cards: The cards are very nice. Anyone who complained about the more reserved use of art in the Adventure System games will be more than happy with these cards. Each card has full color artwork that I believe is actually original artwork. All of the artwork is very thematic and matches their respective faction very well; Drow cards show spiders/spider webs and a general darkness matching that evil race while Heart of Cormyr cards depict more “heroic” surface dwelling action. The cards are separated into 2 different decks with each deck having a different back which again assists in easy clean up at the end of a game. The cards themselves use a nice easy to read font on top of a nicely contrasting background and occasionally include some nice thematic text and even quotes from the “Commanders” the players will be playing. One additional very nice touch is a small image of the miniature that goes with the creature card in the lower right hand corner making it very easy to learn which card goes with which miniature during the first couple early learning games. The cardstock on the cards appears to be in the middle range, not the thickest I have ever seen in a game, but definitely not as paper thin as some games I own. I would put them at just ever so slightly thinner than your average current market Collectible Card Game. Since these cards are not shuffled often (generally only once per game) you really don’t need to sleeve these cards unless it is just something you are inclined to do. After a dozen plays the cards are still holding up very well without any signs of wear or tear. As a final note, the cards are numbered and have a set symbol on them should you choose to customize your war bands yet occasionally want to play with the original prepackaged war band. There is one error though, card 6/36 “Faerie Fire” does have a misprint incorrectly listing it is a level 1 Command Card. Errata has indeed confirmed it is actually a level 2 card.

Commander Cards: Each faction pack comes with 2 unique Commander Cards with different statistics and special abilities. These cards are made of the same card stock as the game box, have full color artwork depicting the commander, easily legible game play information, and they each include minor game mechanic reminders on them reducing reliance on repeatedly returning to the rule book when trying to learn the game.

Miniatures: Each Dungeon Command faction pack comes with 12 pre-painted soft plastic miniatures. The sculpts are fairly well made with some embellishments like insignias, armor details, and the units name on the bottom of the base. As stated the plastic used is the softer malleable plastic which adds to the longevity of the miniatures where you will have little fear of spider legs or swords breaking. The downside to the softer plastic though is that while the sculpts are nice they do not hold the finer details that the harder plastics and metals can.

The paint jobs range from simplistic (a Drow humanoid doesn’t require much paint variety beyond black and… less black) to pretty decent about on par with a “Dip Method” paint job. A hobby painter could (and easily can if so inclined) paint better but honestly the paint jobs are a nice touch and sometimes it is nice to just open up a game, toss the components onto the table, and just start playing without miniatures nagging me to whip out my paint brushes (cough)Super Dungeon Explore (cough). I am more than happy with the included paint jobs because I know I can easily pull out my paints and spruce them up quite easily; I most likely will eventually do so when I start building war bands to keep units from the same faction controlled by different players more distinct. The miniatures are the same scale as used in the Dungeons and Dragons Role playing game and the Adventure System games making them 100% interchangeable.

Rulebook: The rulebook has 15 full color pages including game play examples, a table of contents, and even a turn summary on the back page. The rulebook does a fantastic job of breaking down the components including a full page allotted just to describing the cards themselves (not that they are difficult to understand mind you). The rulebook is made out of standard paper though so expect it to tear easily if you are not careful. Aside from the use of standard paper though the rulebook is very nice and lays out the game rules very well in a logical easy to follow manner. The final page of the rule book includes directions for 3 or 4 player free for alls or team based games and rules for building your own war bands from scratch.

Components and Presentation Verdict: 9.0/10 – Overall the components are nicely done in Dungeon Command. The figures are painted, the cards have nice artwork, and even the Battlefield Tiles are nice to look at with additional artistic flourishes. Aside from the fact that the Battlefield Tiles interlock very loosely and a single erroneous card I cannot find anything about the components to complain about.

How Does It Play?

Dungeon Command is a small scale skirmish level war game where each player takes control of a small fantasy war band that will slowly grow in power as the game rounds pass. Players will gain treasures and fight the opponent but the eventual goal is to either remove all your opponents units from the board or drop their Morale to zero or lower forcing them to retreat from the battlefield. Morale is gained by finding treasures but lost by having your units defeated. On a players turn they will Move all their units and usually perform only one action but Order Cards let players occasionally do other things such as attack multiple times, move units on the board, heal allies, and even prevent damage. After moving, players will have the opportunity to add more allies to the battlefield if their Commander has enough Leadership to control the additional forces. Players must use resources wisely though for each Order Card can only be used once and Creatures removed from the battlefield do not come back.

Can you lead your War Band to victory or will they suffer crushing and humiliating defeat at the hands of your enemies!

Component Breakdown

Before I break down the game components there are a few mechanics that need to be explained:

The most important thing is that used Creature and Order Cards are NOT shuffled back into a draw deck, when all your cards are gone, they are gone.

Tapping: If you have played Magic: The Gathering this mechanic should be very familiar to you. Many games actually use the mechanic but refer to it as “Exhausting”, “Rotating”, or even “Bowing” cards. Tapping is a simple mechanic used to signify when an action has been performed and is represented by turning the activating card sideways 90 degrees. Many actions require a creature to be “Un-Tapped” to perform and in turn “Tap” the creature after the action is performed. All creatures controlled by the active player are Untapped at the beginning and again at the end of the active players turn.

Standard, Minor, and Immediate Actions

Every single Order Card is classified as a Standard, Minor, or Immediate Action.

Standard: Most actions are standard, often an attack of some sort. A creature you control can take a standard action only during your Activate phase and only during that creature’s activation. Taking a standard action taps the acting creature. Each Creatures basic melee and/or ranged attack is also classified as a Standard Action.

Minor: These represent quick actions, such as drawing a hidden blade, drinking a potion, or setting up for an attack. A creature you control can take minor actions at any time during its activation, whether it’s untapped or tapped. There’s no limit to the number of minor actions a creature can take during its activation.

Immediate: Immediate actions are usually responses to other actions. They can be played on any player’s turn. Taking an immediate action taps the acting creature.

Creature Card: The creature cards (and hence the creatures themselves) are the heart of Dungeon Command. Each miniature you control will have a matching Creature Card (even if you have multiple similar miniatures they each need a matching card in your creature deck).  Each Creature Card is broken down as follows – The upper left hand corner will list the Creatures Level which denotes what Order Cards that Creature Can use. For instance a Level 5 Creature like this Umber Hulk can use any Order Card of level 5 or under (but miniatures can assist each other to temporarily raise their current level to use higher level Order Cards). Underneath the Creatures level will be one (or more) statistics which will be very familiar to anyone who has played Dungeons and Dragons. They are Strength (STR), Dexterity (DEX), Intelligence (INT), Constitution (CON), Wisdom (WIS), and Charisma (CHA). As with level, Order cards have a matching statistic for example the Umber Hulk has the statistics of STR and DEX, so an Umber Hulk can use any Order Card level 5 or under that uses Strength or Dexterity. So while the Umber Hulk could use Deep Wound (level 1 DEX) it could not use Faerie Fire (Level 2 INT). Next under the Creatures Statistics is a Sword in a circle (melee attack) and possibly a Bow and arrow in a circle (ranged attack). Next to each symbol is how much damage that creature does every time it attacks and is not blocked by an order card (range is next to the listed damage for ranged attacks). Creatures always do the exact same damage and always hit for that listed damage unless modified by Order Cards played by the attacker and/or defender. The upper right hand corner lists how many Hit Points the Creature has (all damage and hence Hit Points in Dungeon Command so far is listed in multiples of 10). The very bottom of the Creature lists the Creatures Speed (how many squares the creature can move on its turn). The rest of the card is dedicated to any possible special abilities the creature might have and under its name will be some keywords that interact with Order Cards. There are also colored symbols on the bottom left of the card that are used if you plan to play a 2 player game using only 1 faction box.

Damage Tokens: Damage tokens are placed on Creature Cards to represent damage taken and come in 10 and 50 point values (there are more than enough included with the game).

Order Cards: If Creature Cards are the heart of Dungeon Command then the Order Cards are the soul of the game! Order Cards come in 3 varieties each with their type listed under the cards name. Those varieties are Minor, Standard, and Immediate matching the 3 Action Types. The upper left hand corner matches Creature Cards listing the level of the Order Card and the matching Statistic (STR, DEX, INT, etc). Below the artwork is listed what effect the card has when played and any possible requirements for playing the Order Card. Like Creature cards the lower left hand corner has a colored symbol used when playing 2 player game using only 1 faction deck.

Treasure Chest Markers: Each faction pack comes with 6 Treasure Chest Markers and 12 Treasure Chest Tokens. The Treasure Chest Markers are numbered 1-3 on one side and are randomly placed face down on the Battlefield, when a Miniature lands on a Treasure Chest it is flipped over and replaced with a number of Treasure Chest Tokens. As a Standard Action a Creature can claim one of the Tokens if they are on that space, doing so raises that teams Morale by one point.

Commander Card: The Commanders are the leaders of the war bands and are not represented by a miniature on the Battlefield. Each Commander has a unique special ability, a Creature Hand Value (how many Creature Cards they keep in hand), Starting Order Hand (how many Order Cards they draw at the beginning of the game), Morale (lose all your Morale and you lose the game), and finally Leadership (how many Total Levels of Creatures they can control on the Battlefield at once). Of all the statistics on a Commander Card, Leadership is one that deserves special mention. Your leadership determines how many units you can have on the Battlefield at any time. The total Level (found on the upper left hand corner of every Creature Card) of all Creatures you control on the Battlefield cannot surpass your Leadership Score. For example if you have a Leadership of 7 you could have a level 6 and a level 1 Creature out or 3 level 2 Creatures and a level 1 Creature. Your Leadership Score raises 1 point on every one of your turns though so you will slowly be adding more (or more powerful) creatures to the Battlefield (dead Creatures DO NOT count towards your Leadership, only living Creatures do).

Setup is pretty quick and easy:

Set up the Battlefield.

Randomly place Treasure Chest markers in their respective spots on the board.

Choose your Commander.

Shuffle Your Order and Creature Card Decks separately.

Place the markers at the starting point of the Morale and Leadership Tracks on your Commander Card.

Draw your starting Order Hand.

Draw your Creature Hand and deploy Creatures onto the Battlefield whose total levels are equal to or less than your Leadership Score.

Draw Creature Cards to refill your Creature Hand.

You are now ready to begin playing!

Rulebook Turn Summary.

A turn is divided into four phases, which must be taken in the following order.

1. Refresh: Resolve start-of-turn effects, un-tap your creatures to ready them for action, and draw 1 Order card.

2. Activate: Activate your creatures, one at a time, in any order you choose.

3. Deploy: Increase Leadership by 1 and place new creatures on the battlefield.

4. Cleanup: Resolve end-of-turn effects, draw back up to your Creature hand size, and un-tap your creatures to allow them to respond to enemy actions.

The most important thing to remember is that your Creatures Un-tap at the beginning AND end of your turn so they can play Immediate Order Cards on other players turns. It is important to remember especially in a 3 or 4 player game they only Un-tap on their controllers turn NOT every players turn.

Each Miniature can move its speed on its turn even if it is Tapped and moving does not Tap a miniature.

The game also includes rules for Multiple Order Cards (last in first out), terrain (those pretty graphics on the battlefield can actually occasionally impede and/or hurt creatures), Special movement (flying, burrowing, shifting, etc), adjacent enemy miniatures impeding movement, assisting (to use Order Cards on lower level Creatures), Line of Sight and Cover/Dodging, and even Cowering (a mechanic where instead of taking damage a Commander can sacrifice Morale to save a Creature… the catch is if you lose all your Morale you lose the game making it something to use very sparingly).

The game ends immediately when any player’s Morale reaches 0 or below. Also, if any player ends his or her turn with no creatures on the battlefield, the game ends at that point. The player with the highest Morale is the winner. (However, you cannot win if you caused the game to end because you had no creatures on the battlefield.) If several players are tied for Morale, then the winner is the player with the most total Levels of creatures on the battlefield. If there is still a tie, the game ends in a draw.

A sample game might look something like this:

It is a few turns into a 2 player gaming using only 1 faction pack. It is Aliszandra’s turn and she currently controls a Drider, Drow House Guard, and a Drow Assassin totaling 10 levels (out of her current 10 Leadership leaving 0 points unspent).  Kalteros controls an Umber Hulk, Shadow Mastiff, and Drow House Guard which are all quickly closing in on Aliszandra’s forces. Aliszandra un-Taps all her Creatures and draws an Order Card getting “Near Miss” – Prevent 20 damage and un-Tap this Creature. The Drow Assassin currently has the card “Vial of Poison” – add +30 damage with next melee attack equipped. Aliszandra notices her House Guard is 9 squares away from the Umber Hulk so she moves her House Guard 6 spaces, plays “Stalk” to shift behind the Umber Hulk, plays the minor action “Faerie Fire”- Anytime target creature takes damage add +10, and then taps to play “Piercing Strike”- Melee attack for +10 damage cannot be prevented. The Umber Hulk gives out a grunt as it loses 40 hit points leaving it with 60 hit points.

Next Aliszandra charges 11 spaces with the Drider, Taps, and plays “Deep Wound”- Melee +10 damage and target bleeds. Kalteros isn’t about to let his Umber Hulk die without a fight and plays “Near Miss”- Prevent 20 damage and un-Tap this creature. The Umber Hulk still takes 10+10 damage from Faerie Fire, for a total of 60 damage so far this turn, and is now bleeding (loses 10 hit points at the start of each turn) but un-Tapped.

Aliszandra is out for blood and finally moves her Drow Assassin 5 spaces and then plays Shadowy Ambush in an effort to end the Umber Hulks life (what’s a little overkill between Drow, right?). Aliszandra is hoping Kalteros doesn’t have any defensive cards as she announces a total of 60 points of damage. Kalteros frowns as he watches his Umber Hulk slump to the cold stone floor and Aliszandra grins because her Assassin still has “Vial of Poison”. Kalteros is now down 5 Morale for losing a level 5 creature.

Aliszandra’s Deploy Phase begins and she raises her Leadership 1 point but doesn’t have enough Leadership to add any Creatures to the Battlefield. Finally Aliszandra performs her Cleanup Phase, making sure to un-Tap all her Creatures, and then ends her turn.
It’s now time for Kalteros to even the score some with a little card called “Sneak attack” and “Stalk”.

Simplicity Of The Rules: 8.75/10 – I must admit that I have been playing Dungeons and Dragons in its various incarnations since the mid 1980’s and up through 4th addition so the rules really did click for me (they do after all pay homage to the 4th Edition Rules). Movement, shifting, assisting, even the statistics seemed like old hat to me. Having said that I can see some of the concepts taking a game or 2 to get all of them down without forgetting some minor details for example stopping movement any time you are adjacent to an enemy unless you have a card or power (shifting) that states otherwise. Speaking of cards they might cause the greatest confusion due to one rule “Any rule on a card trumps the rules in the rulebook”. Overall though after a game or 2 the rules are really easy to remember and play.

Daddy Why’s This Guy Got A Sword In His Belly?

A s a father of 2 future board gamers, a large concern of mine is how secure am I in letting my eldest son play and or rummage through a game box. Granted, BGG and board games themselves very clearly tell you a minimum age, they don’t tell you exactly why that minimum age was chosen. My hope is to arbitrarily tell you why I think this age range was chosen for this game and then hopefully give a few ideas I might have for a game to make it easier on the young ones. Finally I will close with what seems to be the “sweet spot” for number of players and if the game has solo rules I’ll comment on those too.

Dungeon Command lists as a card based miniatures game for 2-4 players (as long as you have enough faction packs) ages 12+. It requires hand management, Action Point allowance, and strategy to play well. The artwork is very high fantasy including Dark Elves (Drow), mythical beasts (Umber Hulk), and an arachnophobes worst nightmare (lots of spiders). Some of the images are on the slightly violent side (but less so than Heart of Cormyr) such as the “Sacrifice” card depicting an unclothed subject having liquid poured over their body by a Drow Priestess. Overall the artwork isn’t blatantly gory or anything along those lines but it does depict a few images of humanoids getting the business end of a blade and Umber Hulks are not about to win any beauty pageants any time soon. The full color artwork is detailed and the image usually covers about 2/5ths of the card so it will be very hard to hide it from younger eyes. The game itself can be on the slightly more complex side requiring proper timing, minor mathematics, and future turn planning and strategizing to get the greatest advantage you can from played cards.

All this is just to say you will probably want to keep the game in the 10+ crowd and keep it away from younger board game geeks. Again the game isn’t overly intentionally being dark or gory it is just high fantasy and it comes with those typical clichés.

Family Friendliness Verdict: 7.0/10 – The game can make a great family game for families with kids approaching the teen years especially with its scalable player count and customization of war bands increasing replay value. This isn’t Heroquest though and there really isn’t a way to sanitize it for younger eyes without gutting the core system. If you are looking for a game to play with the 7 year olds stick with the Adventure System games for now.

Game length:

For all the potential complexity of the game it actually plays pretty quickly with your average 2 player game (after set up, etc.) clocking in at about 30-45 minutes tops. Even a 4 player game (using only 2 faction packs, sorry I don’t have a 4th faction pack yet to test with each player using a full faction pack) can end in 60 minutes or less (45 minutes still being more common to be honest). The game also does a fantastic job of scaling well with 2, 3, or even 4 players and while 3 player games would occasionally lead to preying on the weak (if you are leading in Morale it is best to kill whichever player has the least Morale to bring the game to an end and gain victory). A 4 player game mitigates this slightly though making this game best with 2 or 4 players depending on your group’s bloodthirstiness, yet I would not turn down a 3 player game if one was offered.


* Great looking game components including pre-painted miniatures

* Great potential for expandability especially with future faction packs and customizable war bands

* Fairly quick playing skirmish level game

* Fairly logical rules that are easy to grasp after a game or two

* Cowering mechanics (while I didn’t cover them in great detail they add a certain level of strategy to the game)

* Powerful card combo’s but I have yet to find an unbeatable strategy

* 14 plays and it still feels balanced

* 2 sided Battlefield board offering game variety (and I like the environmental hazards on the Battlefield board)

* Morale mechanics making the game more strategic versus just blowing up all your opponents miniatures

* Does a fantastic job of doing away with dice

* The 2 current Factions play quite differently


* The longevity of the game system will hinge on how balanced future faction packs are

* First time players might want to make a printout listing all available actions so players don’t forget game mechanics (Dodge seems to be a common culprit)

* Some card combos are deadly if you do not have a counter for them allowing instant kills (admittedly only a con if you are new and are not expecting it)

* Diceless playing might turn some players off

* The randomness of your starting forces might be a negative for some

But Is It Fun?

Wizards of the Coast has done an admirable job creating a skirmish level game that is strategic, customizable, and plays well with 2-4 players. The components are well made using thick cardstock, painted miniatures, fantastic artwork on the cards/double sided Battlefield, and even the insert is made extremely well and holds all the games components. There is some great potential for expandability and customization in this game. Faction packs can be mixed and matched to create war bands, there are at least 5 faction packs we know of and I am sure there will be a 6th announced within the next few months. The 2 faction packs so far play differently but feel balanced; Cormyr relies on slow moving, heavy hitting, damage absorbing, turtling forces and Sting of Lolth brings fast moving (the Drider can move up to 12 spaces with the right Commander), hit and run, hard to hit (Uncanny dodge can stop any one hit no matter how much damage it does – Yes even Killing blow), Creatures and Order cards.  I have yet to see a blowout victory between the 2 faction packs and that really says a lot about the games balance so far. It will be interesting to see how future customized war bands keep the balance though, while I don’t foresee anything obnoxiously unbalancing yet I am leery of some combinations (Shadowy Ambush and Giant Spiders seems interesting…). Time will tell if customized factions will continue to be balanced and if they fail to be I am sure house rules or just pre-built factions will still provide balance and entertainment.

The game plays quickly for what it is, my original concern was that it would be a 2 hour game (much like Dungeon Twister). I was pleasantly surprised when I noticed games taking 30 minutes on average to complete. I also like the interaction of the Order Cards and the bluffing they can create. Do I risk hitting a creature with Shadowy Ambush when I see my opponent has a couple Order Cards in hand? Do I hit them with a small attack and hope they Tap so then I can lay into them with a heavy hitter later? There is definitely planning that goes into every action.

I really like the inclusion of the Cowering rules they add a bit of a gamble to your strategies that you really appreciate after a few plays. Do I Cower and hope I can get a few treasures to make up for the lost Morale? Do I let my Creature die knowing that my Creature reserves are finite and will run out eventually? I think the Morale rules do a great job of preventing the game from becoming a long boring slog, knowing I can lose not because I am out of creatures but because a few of my really powerful monsters were destroyed really makes me consider my moves and the possible ramifications of sacrificing a Creature. The Order cards do a great job of adding variety and strategy to the game. I really do not miss rolling dice in this game the cards make the game feel less random and more strategic. Also the Order Cards provided with the 2 factions really counteract each other well, a Dragon Knight using Killing Strike on the surface may seem powerful, yet Uncanny Dodge stops it dead in its tracks. I actually love the “Bluffing” that can be created from the order cards. If your opponent has cards in their hand then they have the potential to mess up your plans… or do they? You just don’t know what cards they have in their hand. You really need to be strategic with your use of Order Cards, even when on the defensive, and tossing out cards without rhyme or reason will lead to a quick defeat.

As a faction “Sting of Lolth” is designed as a fast moving war band that specializes in deceptive hit and run tactics. As of now Sting of Lolth has the highest potential movement with the Drider able to move 12 full spaces if you have the correct Commander leading the war band. Even the more middle range units such as the Giant Spider are able to move 9 spaces and use quick hard hitting cards like “Shadowy Ambush” for 50 points of damage. Sting of Lolth also has cards that do damage over time such as “Faerie Fire” which causes the target to take + 10 damage any time they are hit until dispelled and “Deep Wound” which continues to damage the target each round. Also worth mentioning is “Piercing Strike” a level one card that makes the next attack add +10 damage and become unblockable, combine this with “Faerie Fire” and “Vial of Poison” for some truly devastating lightning strikes. Range with the Drow faction can also be deceptive with Order Cards that let Creatures move before and after attacks makes it difficult for your opponents to ever know if you are in range to attack. The Drow currently have the most powerful defensive card in the game “Uncanny Dodge” prevent all damage from 1 attack. Add to all this Order Cards like “Scheme” which can be discarded to draw 2 more Order Cards and Sting of Lolth becomes a very devious faction that should never be underestimated. Any time I use this faction I make sure my opponent knows I have 2 Order Cards in my hand the bluffing of that alone can unnerve opponents. It helps if I grin deviously at the same time…

There are a few caveats to the game system though. The game is playable with 2 players with only a single faction pack but it really doesn’t do the game justice. It is almost akin to playing Dominion with the same basic 10 cards every time you play, fun at first but eventually you will long for the full potential you know the game possesses.

You will want 2 faction packs to create more varied and larger Battlefield layouts using more Creatures per side and more Order Cards. Granted the game is a good value at $40 per faction pack it will be an $80 minimum investment to really get the most out of the game. Eventually you will want to customize your factions but as of now that requires the purchase of a 2nd or even a 3rd copy of a faction pack even if you own a chest full of miniatures. Order Cards are not sold separately and I hope Wizards of the Coast corrects this oversight. Your average player will need 2 faction packs for the Battlefields but beyond that they would really only need a pack of Order and Creature cards to really get into customization.

The overall longevity of Dungeon Command will hinge on future faction packs. Wizards of the Coast will have to work hard to avoid the perils of faction bloat, where each new faction is more powerful than the last (I don’t see it happening but it would be detrimental to the overall game experience). So far the balance is there, if they can keep the factions interchangeable and balanced they will definitely have a winner on their hands.

There is some randomness to the game, from random starting order cards to random starting creatures, occasionally you might get a starting hand that is not optimal for the strategy you want to play. Strategy plays more of a role in the game than luck of the draw though and luck of the draw has yet to cause any landslide losses. To be honest I like games that offer a little randomness and would have enjoyed Dungeon Command less if it used the same starting Creature and Order cards every time you play.

The game does have quite a few rules that could have used a few summary cards for those first early learning games. Granted after a couple games this isn’t as much of an issue and the rules become easy enough to remember. Finally there is no getting around the diceless gameplay I personally like it and think the Order Cards are a fantastic alternative to the randomness dice create but I can appreciate that some people just crave the randomness of dice in their games. I would say give the game a try before you make a final opinion about the diceless game play, the game just might surprise you.

Overall Final Game Verdict: 8.75/10 – Dungeon Command is a fun skirmish level game with customizability, strategic decisions, and a great fantasy theme. Wizards of the Coast is really continuing to surprise me with some fantastic game designs lately and Dungeon Command is no different. I do hope they eventually release the Creature and Order cards for separate purchase, between Heroscape and the Adventure System Games; I have more than enough plastic to field customized war bands but not enough cards. I am looking forward to future faction packs and would like to humbly put in my vote now for an elemental faction.


Cross promotions are a wonderful thing and Dungeon Command definitely stepped up to the plate here. Ignoring the fact that the miniatures are fully compatible with the Dungeons and Dragons role playing game Wizards of the Coast also added cards to make all these miniatures fully compatible with the Adventure System Board Games. Sting of Lolth comes with cards to add more monsters to oppose your adventuring party…

Heart of Cormyr brought you allies and Sting of Lolth brings you… pain. With 12 new Monster Cards to add to your Adventure System games, while they don’t add anything that hasn’t been seen before they do add variety and a reason to use painted figures with your Adventure System games.

These Monster Cards are compatible with all 3 Adventure System games and add variety to the random encounters

The dungeon side of the tiles from Dungeon Command are about 95% compatible with the Adventure System tiles allowing you to either create a larger Battlefield for Dungeon Command or alternately the Dungeon Command tiles can be used as a “Final Battle Room” for the Adventure System games. The only minor issue I had is that the double sized tiles from the Adventure System “Legend of Drizzt” do not line up perfectly with the large Battlefield tiles from Dungeon Command. The single sized tiles all connected quite easily though (as you can see from the included photo).



VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
User Review:
Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)

Top 10 Most Disappointing Games of 2011

I’m feeling a bit surly, as is my penchant on occasion. Also, I’ve been told it’s a cop out not to do negative reviews. (I write and record reviews and post them here and elsewhere on the internet). So, here is my rant-ish slam on some of the games in 2011 that several people worked very hard to bring to us. I’ll add 10. If anyone else wants to add more, feel free to do so!

San Juan Box Art

Number 10          Mansions of Madness:

I have never actually played this game, but for a while it was constantly set up at my FLGS. I  haven’t seen a game cause so much frustration and angst in a long time. I won’t go into all the issues as I’ve read a little up on them, and talked to some of my gaming group about it, but I don’t have first hand experience.


Number 9 Yomi

It could be that I don’t understand this game. I’ve tried it a few times now, and it’s just random rock/paper/guessing, with tons and tons of overwrought special abilities. Also, the full game is $100 for like 500 cards. Weak.

Kingdom Builder

Number 8 Kingdom Builder

Wanted to like this. Thought I liked it about half way through my second game. Then I ended up not liking it at all after my third game. Basically, it boils down to, “Which scoring card is the best? OK, do that.” And then I play on auto-pilot.

Caylus Box Art

Number 7 JAB: Realtime Boxing

This game isn’t really that “bad”. It’s just not fun after two or three plays. After that, it’s basically “been there done that”.

Tigirs Box Art

Number 5 Barons

I think the main let down for me here, was that Glory to Rome is so good, and this one is just very very very average. It is VERY luck dependent, but so is any card game right? Well not quite. This one seemed to be entirely driven by card draw, leaving me wanting for anything meaningful to do on my turn.

Number 6 NightFall

Very overrated in my opinion. The mechanisms feel clunky to me, and the sink the leader, gang up on player XYZ element ruins it. It’s not good at all with two players either. You can instantly get so far behind in a two player game, that there is no coming back.

Cargo Noir

Number 4 Cargo Noir

Horrifying. This game is so un-fun. It’s a very very basic auction mechanism that takes way too long to play.

Go play The Boss instead.

Letter's from White Chapel

Number 3 Letters from Whitechapel

Go play Scotland Yard instead. This is almost the exact same, but takes way too much time. It’s just covered up with a bunch of chrome. This game is “fair” with two. But really, you could just gussy up Scotland Yard and keep the same the good mechanisms from Scotland Yard without all the fiddly rules of Whitechapel.

Caylus Box Art

Number 2 Star Trek: Expeditions

Wow. This game is so anti-theme. Stay away from this one. You basically run around a planet trying to get a “number”. Ugh.

Tigirs Box Art

Number 1 Quarriors!

By far the most disappointing game of the year for me. I think if this game wasn’t being touted as “Possibly Game of the Year” when it first came out, I wouldn’t have been as disappointed. I gave this game an honest shot.

However, a game (even a filler) that has zero meaningful decisions is not a gateway game, is not a light game, and is not a filler. It’s just a bad game. There is good filler out there. To me this game was all about two words “Dice Building”. So it was a marketing stunt, in my opinion. A very well produced marketing stunt, but one none the less.

~ Joel Eddy

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
User Review:
Rating: 3.3/5 (25 votes cast)

Eaten By Zombies!

Eaten By Zombies

Warning: Before we begin, I have one statement I wish to get off my mind.  All the times I have played this it was a two player game. This limits my interaction and does not allow me to see the play in larger groups, and it also didn’t allow me to see the zombie effect when a player dies and becomes a zombie. That is the trouble of arranging sessions to close to Halloween. People have things to do and get ready for the holiday. I also missed out on the competition due to a large group fighting for certain swag, since swag piles have a limited number of cards (five to be exact).


Eaten by Zombies is a deck building card game with a slight twist. In the process of building your deck of useful cards called “swag” and the stumbling blocks unknowing victims of your successful kills the “zombies”. All of these cards form the draw deck in what the game calls the “Shelter”. You start off in good shape in your Shelter, and continue to enter the world looking for useful items for your earthly survival. Sounds like a common problem you might have when facing a Zombie Apocalypse doesn’t it? The dilemma is that going outside puts you into direct path of the Horde (The deck of Zombies that are drawn to from groups that attack you). If you’re going to survive you need to act fast!

Eaten by zombie is an unusual and different approach to the zombie genre.Yeah sure, there the same elements like other zombie games,  picking up an old crowbar and smashing your zombie neighbor’s  head in like a ripe melon, but this time you have to be careful cause beating the undead like a cave troll has its complications.  This means their bodies stack up in your shelter (deck), and if you draw a handful of zombies you’re dead, “oh, I mean sooooo dead”.

Starting Hand:

Each player starts with 5 hide cards, 5 big sticks cards, and 2 sandwiches sandwich cards. 

The Horde:

The game starts where you only draw one Zombie and that means the threat level is at one, oh but be careful because the longer you’re around the zombies will slowly start to know your existences and the threat level will increase. Every time you run through the entire zombie deck and reshuffle, it increases the threat level by one which makes you draw and play more zombies in your turn. It is like if you’re giving away your location every time you head out from safety. The Horde consists of a combination of zombies. There are two numbers on the zombie cards. One is the strength of the zombie in its upper left hand corner , and the other is the attrition number which appears on a street like sign on the lower left which is the zombies speed or attrition the number you have to consider if you fail to win against the horde.  The zombie Horde breaks down like this 5/ one strength zombies, 4/ two strength zombies, 3/ four strength zombies, 2/ six strength zombies, and finally 1/ eight strength zombie. This is the arrangement for a two person game, and of course adding more for more players.









Swag piles:

The game has three consistent swag piles used in every game: Good Book (+ 2 draw card), Binoculars (+ 2 flee), and Rifle (+2 fight card). Then players randomly draw two more swag piles for each player playing.

Game Play:

Basically you start your round by drawing a zombie card (one for each threat level). Then you have to decide if you wish to fight or flee. Some cards have red stop signs like big stick to fight with and can be tallied to see if you tie or beat the zombie’s strength.  You fight each zombie in the horde one by one because later in the game opposing players can add zombies to the horde from their hand, but are limited by the attrition number which can never be lower then the total number of zombies in play (thus a zombie with an attrition of one can never be played). You fight the closet zombie first which is the latest played zombie. If you fight and win you add the zombies to your discard pile and you begin to draw them into your hand in later turns. If you flee and are successful you don’t have to take the zombies into your hand, but you do lose cards from your hands to half the value of the total attrition.

Here is where the strategy comes in. Fleeing reduces total number of cards in your shelter, while fighting increases the total number of cards but in a negative way.  Failing to do either makes you lose the attrition value of all the zombies in the horde. Of course fighting you only lose attrition value to the zombies you didn’t kill. In either case of failing the horde simply runs away.  I guess they are no longer hungry once they have ripped off sections of your fresh flesh.

The Swag cards:

The game is greatly influenced by the different swag cards. There are 22 random swag cards that greatly range in action and ability. Some are a little more powerful like the Thompson Machine Gun that can do damage to the entire horde, but then  gets lost if you used it without additional ammo, Or Grandma’s  Pantry which is a versatile card to give you a fight/flee/draw card options.

Eaten by Zombies! makes you reprogram your brain when thinking in terms in the deck building world, and takes a departure of the idea of putting recently bought swag into your discard pile. Here you stick it right in your hand to be played next round. It is difficult to purchase powerful combos (like the Thompson Machine gun and the box of ammo it so desperately needed) because they are virtually out of reach financially, but you can save a card in your hand (you never discard cards from your hand if they are not used). So you can make that dream combo that you have been desperately waiting for all day.

Ohhh, do you see what I see?
Sometimes all you need is the good book to save the day.

The Good:

I liked the art by the designer Max Holliday & illustrator John Huerta, and putting the game into the 1940’s was a good move to increase interest with its historical flare. I didn’t mind the color bursts behind most items because it was part of the era, and once again the art direction was spot on. Some people evidently find it disturbing to see zombies slipped into the common post card images of the time period.  I thought that was what gave the game its advantage and wanted more.

John Boy contemplating his next kill.

There is something satisfying about seeing zombies in a “Leave it to Beaver” setting that gives this game a sick anti -wonder bread wholesomeness. It’s like taken John boy out of Walton Mountain and suddenly he becomes a bad ass avenger, and is racking up kills shooting the Baldwin sisters in the head because they were up all night eating Ike’s brains before the early morning daylight.

The game does well drawing upon Americana sentimentality. The game can easily transport you into the time period, and mindset that the designer wanted you to be in while playing. The cross with the theme and good art has a natural element of joy in their interaction. It was kind of fun to look at the cards and think about old photo’s and stories from your grandparents.


The Bad:

Where I thought the game was lacking was the playing mechanics. Most decisions seemed obvious and can make game play less enjoyable. The game by design made the decisions for you like running or fighting because it was right there to see in your hand.

I struggled with having items that are more powerful but have the same cost as other swag (unless we are simple talking about  the limiting factor of only having five swag.) Once again why would you buy the good book (draw +2) when you could buy box of Ammo (draw +2 and +1 bonus fight for each gun your using) for the same cost.

Adding zombies to your opponent’s horde was simply a no brainer because you wanted your opponent to fail.  Granted if they flee successfully then only the zombie farthest away gets discarded (the zombie played first in the horde), but most of the time it seemed obvious to figure out if your opponent was able to run away from the horde. I can imagine the risk would be even larger if the game had a greater number of players.

We would have liked to see more of a risk for putting more zombies into circulation. The only possible exception was up a tree (which gave you a +4 to flee but kept the zombie horde in tack for the next player) but if that card is not in play then “no worries for loading up the horde with zombies” because it will highly unlikely to come back to haunt you.  Also the zombie threat level consistently increased on the second players turn and we couldn’t figure out if this was because how the game was designed or just coincidence.

Losing half the attrition value in swag for a successful flee seems odd because you could usually purchase the cards to pay that penalty (that reality happened too much for us) and then you just quickly discard them again. During our play sessions this was usually the case and my gaming group seemed to think this was a wasted action of game play.

Finally, the rule book was a little bit of a mess. Redundant and confusing at times, and I found that rules rewrite and simplifications of regex on BGG to be extremely invaluable for a reference.


We thought the limiting factor of strategy  in “Eaten by Zombies!” left game play at the  worthy game stage. I think with adding more cards in future expansions to increase strategy and complications could make this an awesome one. Theme carries this game a long way, and we wanted the playing mechanics to support it. The game started slow but then quickly ends around threat level three with a mass of unstoppable zombies. Newer game mechanics like placing cards directly into your hand and loss of cards to attrition will set this game apart from its other deck building cousins. But weather these new game mechanics will turn out to be successes will be up to you the players.  Hard to say if these will be deemed a striking hit and improvements to the genre.

~ Kevin Wenzel

P.s. In case you need more information about preparing for the inevitable Zombie Apocalypse check out the Center for Disease Control and Prevention information sheet on this topic.

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
User Review:
Rating: 5.0/5 (2 votes cast)

Magic Realm A Review

Magic Realm


Magic Realm designed by Richard Hamblen and publish in 1978 is a true classic in every sense of the word, an epitome of boardgaming at its heights, an epitome that not many has had the chance to experience. The game takes you to a fantasy world, you get to choose one of 16 avatars to represent you as you face the myriad of challenges that will confront and challenge your character and your planning skills. The theme and typical character classes are all that will be familiar to those uninitiated in this game, because what shines most about this game is the game mechanics all of which are unique in our beloved hobby.


Lets start with the components & setup; the game comes in a large flat box full of counters and tiles. The biggest component in the game is the hexagonal tiles that make up the map. These tiles are initially placed by the players to create a unique map for every game. These tiles are double sided, with a normal side with valleys, mountains, caves, forest and then its respective enchanted side, which supply a specify type of magic energy to energize various spells.

Original tile set in play

Then there is the setup board, where all the monsters, treasures and spells that are currently not in played are arranged and ready to be used. The way the monsters are presented is quite innovative. The physical size of the counter represent the size, combat strength and vulnerability of the monster.

Karim’s fan-made setup board

There is no way anyone can summarize the rules of this game in an even long review, but the game flow in its most basic form is: You beginning the game by choosing your own victory conditions, these are represented by treasures, spells learnt, fame, notoriety, gold in differing proportions, these are gained by looting and defeating opponents, monsters & denizens. The proportion of each is your choice and will help define the direction of your character in the game and in turn how each game will play out. Every game is different, the magic realm is a dynamic and impermanent place.

Each turn represents a day in the magic realm and the game lasts as long as you want, usually this means 1-3 months. During each turn, everyone writes down the actions you want to do in the beginning of your turn, the obvious choices are move, trade, hire, enchant, magic, loot, search & hide (there are others), then you enact these actions in the next phase, then you basically repeat this until the end of the month. There are other parts to this turn sequence like weather and see which monsters are active and prowling during any one turn but to explain it all is beyond the scope of the review, needless to say every facet of adventuring is taken into account and elegantly represented in the turn sequence.

One thing of note is the rulebook, its voluminous indeed and in its original incarnation is very difficult to understand and this has given the game its undeserved reputation of difficult to learn. There is an unofficial 3rd rendition of the rules that make a lot more sense and I find it a very enjoyable read. There is no doubt there are lots of rules to learn but most make logical sense and aren’t very difficult to remember. Like Chess, the rules are not difficult but the game is very hard to master. Once you’ve a few games under your belt and are grounded in the game flow, then everything else should start to fall into place… then you will notice the many many subtle nuances that belie every rule.

You will notice how every mechanism, every roll of the dice, every choice is counterbalanced and meaningful. The one thing that stands out the most is how every decision you are faced with during the game is meaningful and strategical, even though dice is involved in the use of various tables, random choices will inevitably lead to failure. Every choice must be weight against the probability of it occurring favorably and weight that against the possible unfavorable outcomes and other choices you could have made instead. The number of choices available to you is simply dazzling, the strategies you can employ numerous. Unlike may other fantasy games, every character in the magic realm plays out totally differently, sure they use the same rules & stats but because of the intricacy of the rules of the game, even a seemingly minor difference between characters will have drastic consequences in what you can and cannot do in the magic realm and hence impacting your choices.

An integral part of the game is combat, where would a fantasy game be without it. The unique combat system deployed in the game is its absolute strength as well as the reason for the game’s relative obscurity. To have it explained to you in person is simple enough, but to read and learn it from the rulebook is very tiresome and confusing. Once learnt you will discover how integral it is to the strategic options you have been making throughout your turn. The brilliance of the combat system isn’t just how the combats are resolved but how the tactical aspect of combat is integral to the strategic world that are apart of the turn sequence. The combat isn’t just an isolated mini-game, each combat must be planned in advance fought on your own playing field during the planning phase of your turn, any surprise combats will surely mean your doom.

The infamous conceptually difficult combat sheet where combat is played out. The counters displayed here are fan-made

Combat like every mechanism in the game is miraculously blended with narrative as well as logical possibilities. As the opponents face off on the combat sheet, you are armored (or not) and the monster will take a swipe at you, will it be a slash, jab or an overhead bash or will it change strategy, you don’t know but apart from that all other information is open and hence open to planning. The first round of combat’s advantage goes to the creature with the longer reach, whilst in the latter round speed takes precedent. Even before the first swing, you need to have analyse what attacks will be effective in hurting your opponent. Are you strong enough to cause sufficient damage to your opponent? Are you fast enough to prevent an undercut that will automatically hit you? If you are hit will the monster get through your armor? Do you have hirelings to aid you and how will they be deployed? How should you maneuver to avoid an enemy blow? Are you fast enough to maneuver from the enemy in the first place? What spell should you cast? Is your choice combat action fast enough to hit the monster first or will the monster get the first free swipe? Will you ambush with a missile weapon whilst hidden or should you use your underlings to lure the monsters to take the damage. These are just a few of the strategic choices you’ve to make before you enter combat, the game is lace with just the correct amount of randomness to make most combats unpredictable, but not so much that make your actions feel meaningless and at the mercy of the die roll. The game manages both to be deterministic and full of surprises, which indeed is a difficult balance to achieve!

After killing monsters or at certain sites on the map you can loot for treasures and spells, and even then you are face with many dilemmas. One of the most unique mechanisms that drive the game is how the dice is read. Yes, how the dice is read! Instead of the total of two dice as is the usual norm, in magic realm, you throw 2d6 and you only read the bigger number. So if you roll a 5 & 4, the result is a 5. This means that bigger numbers are are more likely and to get a (1) you need to roll snake eyes (1 & 1)! This mechanism has many interesting effects during the game. For example, treasures are kept in stacks, to loot a treasure site, the result of the dice roll determine which treasure you take from the stack. The number rolled results in you taking the treasure counting from the top of the stack down. For example, if there are 4 treasures in a stack and you roll a 6 & 5 which reads as a 6, you get no treasures as there are no 6th treasure in the deck, to get anything you need to roll a 4 or lower. So you see, as the treasure stack get smaller, the number you need to roll get smaller as well and it becomes less likely you’ll get a treasure…. The BIG treasures are always on the top of the stack which makes them very hard to get and you will have to waste many turns you can ill afford to get them.

Time is of the essence in the game, to attain your victory conditions you set for yourself at the start of the game before the last turn of the game is very difficult. You will initially die a lot in the magic realm, poor decisions and unnecessary risks will leave many dead, requiring a restart. Once you get better, you will die less and less and I’ve found the game so delicately balanced that many games end up as nail biters.

The narrative of this game has no peers, to get any stronger will require a Dungeon Master. But unlike a game of D&D, this game tells its story via the game’s mechanics and your characters battles, actions and treasures & spells found. The stories the game can tell is unending and every game I’ve ever played have ended with many memorable moments.

In the last game I played as a sorcerer, we were playing with the development rules where our characters start off with only very limited powers and we have to level them up. Initially the sorcerer has no spells and can’t learn any and start of really weak and as you can imagine, I was playing the thief at the beginning, avoiding combat and looting whilst hidden, I got very lucky at the dragon’s lair and stole a powerful magical sword. With the money from selling some of the other treasures I found, I hired some knights and hence armed with the sword and with a group of lackeys (troll fodder) it was time for some payback. My sorcerer became a ranger of death, killing many tough monsters in melee. A rather unpredictable outcome when I first chose to be a magic user. It is these surprises, the organic nature of the game that draws me in. The magic realm comes alive during play and I find myself losing all tracks of time. The game length is variable depending how many months you play, and the number of players present. A typical month with two players will take 2 hours and a campaign of 3 months could take up to 6 hours.

The game plays very well as a solitaire game, as mentioned, all the characters present a very different challenge and combine that with the ever changing realm, the strategic planning and narrative elements, you have a makings of a great solitaire game. The game only gets better with more players, with two characters it becomes a cooperative game where players team up to increase chances of survival, the interactions between players are intense as you choose the correct course for you adventurers to take. The game comes alive with 3 or more players, where conflict between characters can be introduced, the game becomes very competitive and diplomatic. Anything can happen in the Magic Realm.


This has to be the hardest game I’ve had to review, to try to distill the essence of this game in a short essay is not easy. This game is the result of genius, the Magic Realm comes alive through its game mechanics. In turn each and every game mechanic, many of which are unique to the boardgaming genre, results in a myriad of strategic decisions that will have a long lasting affect on the game’s outcome. The same said mechanics also blend seamlessly to create a powerful narrative which is what truly brings the game to life and takes this game to another echelon of gaming experiences. I know no other game, including videogames, that can create an experience quite like adventuring in the Magic Realm. There is also a strong community of liked minded adventurers online, some of which have created stunning pieces of expansions and addons to the game, enlarging the game-world and increasing the ease to play and introducing the game to a new generation.

I will give this game an 11 out of 10, because even among other 10 out of 10 games this game has no peer. If you want a truly unique and engaging gaming experience, I highly recommend trying Magic Realm.

+11 for simply the most engaging, thought provoking game I’ve ever play. Once the rules are mastered and learn, you’ll begin to appreciate all the subtle nuances that amazes you with its attention to detail, whilst still creating an amazingly balanced game. A must have game in anyone’s collection.

-0 apart from the learning curve that is made much less steep if you have someone teach you the game, there is nothing much I can fault about the game. The original counters could have been a little more informative and you need to look up reference tables to see certain counter values. This problem is largely solved by repeated plays and also fan made adaptations with more informative counters, but the original game is still very playable. I have the original 1st edition which as a few more counter errors than the 2nd edition, but I’ve had no problems in all the years I’ve play this game.

Description on the back of the box, not many games had an Avalon Hill Difficulty Rating of 9!

Promotional leaflet, Avalon Hill Propaganda!

~ Eric Lai

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
User Review:
Rating: 3.5/5 (2 votes cast)

Black Friday Review

Credits:  Designed by Friedemann Friese (Power Grid), published by Rio Grande Games.

Players:  2-5.

Time: about an hour – perhaps twice that for the first few games.

Complexity:  Very easy to play, but some of the mechanics take several games to get comfortable with. Rulebook is short but somewhat confusing at first.

Components:   Nice wooden markers, sturdy board, solid cardboard tiles, paper money.

Theme:  Stock market manipulation.  Try to drive up the price of your stocks and then cash out before market crashes!


Black Friday is, somehow, both like and not at all like the classic Sid Sackson game, Acquire.  With strategies like tricking or forcing your opponents to improve your best stocks or trigger events that will benefit your budding fortune, or buying a value stock that you plan to turn into massive piles of cash you might tell the other players “this reminds me of Acquire” – to which they nod assent.  The similarities are the basic market principles of buy low, sell high and understanding which players to entertain a joint venture with and which to reduce to financial ruin.  But the mechanics and flow of Black Friday really set it apart and make it refreshingly crisp – and addictive!

Click picture, then click again to see full-sized image.

The basic premise is that players build up wealth by trading stocks as the price goes up while also transferring cash from stocks (which can go down in price) to sliver (which cannot) before the market crashes and the stocks lose all their value.  Players alternate taking turns buying shares, selling shares, buying silver, or passing until one of their  actions triggers a price adjustment – that’s when we get to see who is rich and who is biting back profanity.  The price of silver continuously rises as the game progresses in a predictable way, so players must balance buying cheap silver early and allocating funds in stocks – which might tie up those funds for quite some time if the price doesn’t jump up quickly.  A shrewd player can estimate the trajectory of a given stock, but the pace of it’s rise and fall is fickle and subject to market forces beyond the ability of mere players to entirely predict.  Managing cash reserves through skillful pay and borrowing is important as well, as players running low of cash may also find their action choices limited to bad options – such as selling stock at a low price or passing at an unfortunate time if they lack the funds to buy any silver or stock.  

The primary tokens in the game are colored (green, orange, red, blue, yellow) briefcases which represent shares of stock for the different companies.  Each of the five stocks has the same number of shares based on the number of players in the game.  However, there is some random variation in which shares are initially available to buy and each player will start with 5 hidden shares which will remain unrevealed unless the player takes an action which allows other players to deduce their holdings.  The remaining shares are all placed in a hidden bag which represents the potential of the stocks to rise.  This might not sound like a big deal, but it turns out that determining what other players are really betting on might turn out to be worth a lot of silver!  In a game of 3 players, for example,  each stock will have 34 briefcases available.  Suppose that Yellow starts with 9 shares available for purchase, player one has 4 shares of yellow, player two has 3 shares of yellow and player three has 1 share of yellow.  With 17 shares of yellow accounted for only 17 are in the bag to start.  Suppose in addition that Blue starts with 4 available for purchase, and player three has 3 blue stocks.  Then the Blue stock has 27 in the bag to start and a much higher chance of increasing quickly.  Suppose in the first adjustment 3 shares of yellow and no shares of blue come out, then Yellow becomes an even worse investment and blue becomes an even better buy.  Trying to determine which players are holding which stocks based on their bidding will help inform how much a stock is worth – and if you should buy shares or not!

I have one complaint of the game, and that is that the rulebook doesn’t do justice to the simplicity of the mechanics.  The first time I played was with some other “serious” friends of mine who are no strangers to games and rules.  We forced ourselves through the first few turns without much enjoyment and with much consulting the rulebook and guesswork.  There was shrugging and grumbling about examples and flow of play and what was happening with the price adjustments – let alone trying to predict what was going to happen with the next one.  However, by the end of the game there were glimmers of the strategy and how things should work, so we played again.  And then we played again – and we continued to play this game for the better part of a weekend with increasing zeal.  Some additional cards can be added to balance out the slight advantage of acting first or second and as we added in these and began to get serious about bidding analysis and bluffing the mechanics of the game began to flow into the well oiled machine that we expect of classic games.  I now enjoy Black Friday even more than Acquire – and that is saying something!

I’d recommend Black Friday for anyone who enjoys market games (though if you’re like me you quickly abandon the paper money in favor of keeping track with a pencil and paper), bluffing or betting games, or any other games by Friedemann Friese.  I’d also say that if you can get comfortable with the rules (which you can after a few plays) this is a good game for mixed company of serious and casual gamers and groups where reading in English is a problem as there is nothing that the players have to read during the game and only four actions they choose from on their turn.

Happy trading!
George Birthisel
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
User Review:
Rating: 5.0/5 (1 vote cast)