Jungle Rumble

Jungle Rumble boxThe game: Jungle Rumble by Eros Lin, Nightsorrow Chou and Zeldaaa Ling, published by ErosGames in 2013.

Elevator pitchPuerto Rico action selection meets Agricola farming and feeding in a small box with cute kittens.

What’s in the box? The small box is packed with field tiles, kitten tiles, action tiles, cardboard food tokens and wooden bits for water ways, stores and gold. The components are quite decent for such a small game, and the artwork is cute and idiosyncratic. The box is just the right size – except for the English player aids, which don’t fit in the box without folding.

What do you do in the game? Expand your kitten tribe, feed the cats by collecting food and building and irrigating fields and score points by selling food and gold to shopkeepers. These are the main point sources. The game plays like Puerto Rico: there are five action roles available (collect gold, build fields, build water ways, collect food, recruit new workers), and you choose one. The active player gets to do the action several times by flipping worker tiles to sleepy side. The other players can follow and do the action once, or rest: collect one food or wake one worker.

Once a round is over, the unselected roles get a food token, and the starting player passes to the next player. The workers are an interesting twist: they tire, and need sleep after working. If you use all your workers, you won’t be able to leech from other players roles. Also, waking up the kittens costs food: one is free, more costs food.

You also need to feed your cats: two food per kitten. Initially this is a restriction, but it’s easy to build enough fields and water ways to provide enough food for your tribe. This feeding mechanism brings to mind Agricola, but is not nearly as strict.

Lucky or skillful? There are no random elements in the game, just chaos from player actions. An experienced player should be able to win almost always.

Abstract or thematic? The kittens are certainly cute. The farming theme is fun, but not particularly deep. It works, though.

Solitaire or interactive? There’s no direct conflict between players, but as in Puerto Rico and other similar games, best players will consider what actions other players need and want.

Players: 2–4. More is merrier. The two-player game doesn’t shine. The turns go A-B / B-A / A-B, when A-B-A / B-A-B / A-B-A would probably be better.

Who can play? Official age recommendation is 12+, but my 8-year-old son (who plays Agricola) could handle this just fine. For me, Jungle Rumble is probably mostly a family game or a filler for gamers. The game isn’t particularly deep.

Length: This is a quick game, 30 minutes or so, even with four players.

What’s to like: Cute kittens; Quick, compact gameplay; Compact box; Familiar, well-tested game mechanisms.

What’s not to like: Slightly confusing rules; Narrow decision tree.

My verdict: Jungle Rumble was recommended to me as a fun little filler that scratches the same itch as Agricola, just in a lot more compact form. To me the Puerto Rico comparison is even more significant. The game is cute and fun, but seems a perhaps a bit simple: a large part of the fun in Agricola is the wealth of possibilities and variety of actions. Jungle Rumble doesn’t have quite that wealth.

However, the game packs a decent amount of interesting play in a small box and a short timeframe: growing the fields to support a large tribe, getting the gold to create that tribe and making sure your shopkeepers get as much gold as possible are an interesting challenge. I’m not sure if the game is a keeper for the long run, but I’m quite sure I’ll get enough play out of this game in order to justify the purchase.

On the scale of EnthusiasticSuggestIndifferent or AvoidJungle Rumble gets Suggest.

Atlantic Triangle

Mindwarrior Games is a new Finnish board game development house and Atlantic Triangle is their first game, done in cooperation with Tactic. It’s a sleek-looking game on the topic of triangular trade, which means the players are actually slave traders! Not a very politically correct theme, but it’s fairly abstract. However, there are actual slave tokens, and no talk about colonists or anything… Finnish folks might want to read my Atlantic Triangle review at Lautapeliopas.

Looks good, with usability issues

Atlantic Triangle boxThe game looks pretty good, but has some usability issues. I’d say the designer hasn’t done lots of board games. At certain points form has won over function. Nothing dramatic and the game is fairly easy to play, but some things could be done better. The rulebook is pretty bad for such a simple game.

It’s a dicefest. Ships move by rolling dice and moving from point to point. Collect stuff from Europe, take it to Africa, exchange for slaves or ivory. Take slaves to the New World, exchange for local goods, bring them back to Europe for money. Ivory can go straight to Europe from Africa while guns from Europe can skip Africa and go straight to New World.

Supply, demand and pirates

There’s a simple simulation of supply and demand. Each port in Africa and New World can take two goods, before it’s full and stops trading until it’s emptied with an action card. Europe has a table for goods, so that first good sold of each type sells for 4, the next for 3 and the last for 2. This can also be emptied with a card.

There are pirates, too, who block movement and may sink ships. If you arm your ships with cannons, you can go hunting for pirates and score points that way. The main way to score, however, is to build fortresses on Atlantic islands and the ports.

Victory points come in form of cards. Each is worth one point in itself and belongs to a nation, and you also score one point for each nation you have. So, the required 10 points takes 5-8 cards. A bit of luck there, but it’s not bad, I think it’s a decent element of surprise.

Verdict

It’s not very good. The beginning of the game had us all filled with excitement and happily moving our ships along the sea routes, but it turned out the game is very slow. I was kind of expecting the game to take about 45 minutes, maybe an hour, but after 30 minutes we all had one victory point card, maybe two.

I think the problem is the slow flow of money. A complete loop on the trading triangle nets you 2-4 gold. You need 5 to build a fortress (and 10 to buy a victory card straight away, which is madness, because almost every fortress you build gets you a victory card). Even after you build an extra ship or two, money still doesn’t come rolling in, because when the ports start to fill up with goods, trading gets slower. Also, bad luck with dice and the increasing pirates make things slow. I spent many turns without getting any money at all.

With more money in the game — perhaps higher prices for the goods in Europe or other ways to make money — the game would advance much faster and be a lot more enjoyable. As it is, it’s just not worth playing. We had to quit our game after an hour or so, and nobody complained. At that point we had six or seven points and easily 30 minutes left in the game.

It’s not completely hopeless, though, and I know I fall flat out of their target demographic anyway. For someone who doesn’t mind long games that are light and luck-heavy and who gets a kick out of the excitement provided by dice (and for whom the excitement doesn’t completely dilute after first 30 minutes or so) this one’s a pretty good game. I’m fairly sure those folks exist in rather large numbers, too.

Atlantic Triangle
Ships leaving Europe for Africa and New World. Photo: Paolo Soledade (Soledade)

Race for the Galaxy

Race for the Galaxy box

Race for the Galaxy is one of the hot games right now. The fans — Brian Bankler, for example, his Tao of Gaming is a must read — are babbling about it a lot, and no wonder, as it really is an excellent game. I once said an ideal game would be a quick card-driven development game with a science fiction setting. Race for the Galaxy is all this.

Well, the theme of the game could be just about anything, as the cards and their functions don’t really connect. I don’t mind, but if you’re looking for a strong theme, this isn’t your game. At least the card art is quite neat and captures the generic science fiction theme well enough.

Production engines in space

Race for the Galaxy is a card-based development or engine game. Like in San Juan, players both build cards and use them as currency to pay for the cards they build. The goal is to get most victory points. Victory points are mostly scored by building cards, but there are also other means.

Each turn is split in five phases: explore, develop, settle, consume and produce. In explore phase players get more cards. Developments are built in develop phase and planets settled in the settle phase. Consume converts the goods on the planets to victory points and cards, while produce creates more goods.

Each player chooses one phase to do each turn. Only the chosen phases are played. Everybody gets to play every phase that is chosen, but the players who choose each phase get special benefits. In explore, for example, everybody draws two cards and keeps one, but the players who choose the action either draws five more cards or draws one more and keeps one more.

Planets and developments

Both planets and developments give bonuses for different actions. Planets may produce goods and both planets and developments can consume goods to produce victory points or cards. The biggest difference between planets and developments is different phases: planets are settled and developments are developed.

However, some planets are military planets and those are different. They aren’t paid in cards, but need to be conquered. Each player starts with a military rating of zero. There are cards that give military bonuses (and minuses) and if your military power is equal or larger than the price of the planet, you can play it for free. That’s an effective way to play worlds, but takes some infrastructure.

There are about 30 card powers and most cards have two or three different powers. That leads to a huge number of different combinations, and indeed, all cards are unique (there are two of some basic developments) even though powers aren’t. If you’ve played San Juan, that would mean that each indigo plant, for example, would produce indigo and have another power (or cheaper price).

Simultaneous depth

The play mechanism is based on simultaneous action selection: phases are selected and played at the same time. That can lead to fast games. With newbies, the game can easily take 45 minutes. Really swift players make it in 15 minutes, while most people will probably take between 20 and 30 minutes per game. That’s very efficient. Number of players doesn’t make a huge difference.

Race for the Galaxy is a deep game, but there’s a fairly strong luck element as well. Of course, better player will draw more cards and will succeed, but unusually good or bad luck can make or break the game. That’s the price for lots of variability and I for one accept it. Flexibility is more important than a set strategy, but some strategic thinking is necessary to win against competent players.

The deepness means that for most folks, it’ll take several games before they get the game. Experience with the cards is necessary and getting hang of the card iconography will take time. Once you get them, the icons on the card are very clear and effective, but it’ll take few games.

Overview

This all means that Race for the Galaxy is not a good game if you don’t want to give it enough effort. It’s just not very good for random, casual play. Someone who plays with lots of different people might find the game frustrating, as it is best played with experienced players. Then again, world is full of easy, welcoming games, so I don’t really mind. Instead I cherish this gem of a game, as there’s plenty of learn and new things to figure even after several games.

Another reason for disliking the game would be the lack of interaction. Race for the Galaxy is by no means a multiplayer solitaire game. Only newbies don’t care what their opponents do. However, there are only few things you can do to harm your opponent. Holding on to the key cards they need is one of the most direct actions. So, if direct interaction between players is your thing, look elsewhere.

To me, Race for the Galaxy was the best game of 2007. I’m a huge fan of San Juan, but from the first designer previews at Boardgame News, I knew Race for the Galaxy would be even better. I wasn’t disappointed: this is indeed a rare gem and easily in my all time top 10, after only ten games. It’s just that good.

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Portobello Market

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Caylus Magna Carta

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