As you decide which of the year’s top games to pick up from holiday sales, don’t neglect board game deals! Here are another trio of games I tried recently including a space-themed deck builder and another D&D big box adventure.
Eminent Domain looks like a mix of Dominion and Race for the Galaxy at a glance and after playing a game, I think that’s a fair summary. Each player starts with a deck of cards from five roles: survey (drawing new planet cards), warfare (attacking planets to take them over), colonize (settle planets to bring them under your control), produce/trade (generating and selling goods), and research (gaining rule-changing technology cards). On your turn, you pick both an action and a role card. An action is when you play a card from your hand and simply do what it says while roles are much more active. You choose the role you want to activate on your turn, which all other players can take part in. If they decline, they draw a card. As the player who chose the role, you will get a bonus like drawing more planets to pick from while surveying or gaining extra military strength when attacking a planet. Simply put, the player with the most victory points, typically gained through conquering planets but also received through technology and other bonuses, wins.
The game is not nearly as symbol intensive as Race for the Galaxy and has a great mechanic in that you do not discard your hand at the end of your turn. Between keeping your hand and drawing when you decline to take part in a role, you can build up your hand for big combination turns. Similar to the two games I mentioned, you’ll need to react to other player’s turns and try to anticipate what will come next. If you think someone else is going to choose the produce role before your turn, you can set up for a turn of trading in goods instead of producing yourself and waiting for full lap around the table. My play involved a small expansion that gave each player slightly different starting decks along with a special power which I liked a lot. It forced everyone to play in varying ways instead of going after the best generic route.
I really enjoyed Eminent Domain. My four player game took about 90 minutes. The starting role cards were pretty cool — one player didn’t start with a deck at all and but was able to quickly craft exactly what he wanted while the rest of us slowly built around our cores. You should try to pick a strategy fairly early and stick to it, though. I decided what I wanted to focus on too late so it was hard for me to colonize the planets I had with such a small pool of colonize action cards. I’d like to play Eminent Domain again whenever I can.
Ten piles of cards representing ten ages, from the Stone Age through modern times, make up Innovation, a card game for two to four players. Each card is a technological advancement like the wheel, combustion engines, or nuclear power and are used in multiple ways. Playing a card in front of you will add a number of about eight different symbols to your pool. Cards come in five colors which stack on top of each other. Most cards come with an ability called a run that can be activated on your turn and, similar to Eminent Domain, other players can take part in the ability. For example, a card may be activated off of the green leaf symbol. Anyone, including enemy players and your partner if you are playing a 2v2 game, can use that ability if they choose to as long as they have at least as many green leaf symbols showing on the table as you do. It’s important to see what abilities players are using frequently, how they are impacting you, and what kind of symbols you might want to get down on the table quickly. There are ways to spread your stacked colors of cards as well, giving you access to previously buried symbols, but only the abilities of top cards can be used.
The increasingly numbered piles typically represent more powerful cards. When you draw a card, you’ll draw from the least valuable pile closest to your best card. On your turn you can also tuck a card underneath a stack or add it to your score pile, which isn’t actually the way to win. Score just lets you buy achievement cards, which cost five, 10, 15, etc. You can also grab achievements by being the first player with one of each color card down, three of each symbol, and so on. The first player/team with a majority of the achievements wins.
Innovation is a neat game that seems far more complicated than it actually is. I was worried at first, but after three or four turns around the table I felt like I had a handle on it. The game can snowball pretty hard if one player begins drawing from a higher pile than everyone else, which leads to him drawing from an even higher pile sooner, and so on. It’s also easy to get sandwiched between two players that can all but nullify you, leaving your teammate to try and do it all on their own. If it came to the table again, I’d be down to play.
Wrath of Ashardalon
Big box D&D games are favorites in my group and Wrath of Ashardalon is no different. Similar to Legend of Drizzt and Temple of Elemental Evil, Wrath of Ashardalon is a D&D game complete with classes, monsters, treasure, traps, and bosses. We played adventure #12 out of 13, which made things fairly difficult. There seemed to be a lot more options for healing in this game than in the other D&D games I’ve played, which ended up being a good thing. I played as a cleric that allowed me to heal someone close to me after landing a hit along with a few single-use powers to heal the team. There were also more “if you hit do X, else do Y” actions in this game than in the others. We ended up using all of the healing surge resurrection tokens before finally downing the physically enormous boss.
Certain encounter cards acted as environmental effects, like drawing two treasure cards instead of one and automatically discarding the higher valued item, which was a nice mix up. We also managed to draw a mini boss that spawned five extra monsters when we already had three monsters on the board, a situation that took some serious planning to wriggle out of. I enjoyed Wrath of Ashardalon more than Temple of Elemental Evil, especially since Temple is meant to be played as a multi-game campaign. Legend of Drizzt is still my top pick of the bunch, though.