Renegade Initial Thoughts

Renegade (designed by Richard Wilkins and published by Victory Point Games) was Kickstarted in August 2017 and has recently shipped out to backers. From the Renegade game page on BGG, the game is described as “an abstract-euro thematic deck-building game for 1 to 5 players.” That is a bit to process so cruised over to the  Victory Point Game website and found something a little easier to comprehend. Victory Point listed Renegade as  “a solo/co-operative cyberpunk deck-building game for 1 to 5 players.”  These two descriptions sum up my thoughts on the game after my initial three plays. The game may seem very complex at first but the play is fair simple and straight forward after you get the terminology down. There is still a bit of nuance during the game that allows opportunities for making minor rule errors. Even though I made errors, it has left me wanting to explore more of the game.

 

Disclaimer of possible bias!

I’ve learned of Richard Wilkins (aka Ricky Royal) via his YouTube channel, Box of Delights. Like many people, I was introduce to him via his excellent playthrough of Mage Knight. His clear delivery of the game rules along with the “talk-through” of the strategies made the videos a great way to learn both the rules and some strategies for the game.  It may be telling but I have since sold off my copy of Mage Knight due to the complexity and book keeping that was required. This might be heresy to some solo gamers since Mage Knight is held in such high regards but it wasn’t a game for me. I spent more time tracking things and looking up rules than actually playing the game. I was excited when I heard that Ricky had created a game and that was being published by Victory Point Games via a Kickstarter campaign. The game recently shipped out to backers and will be available through retail in the coming weeks (July 2018).

 

Theme

The theme grabbed me when I heard about the game and looked into the Kickstarter campaign. Cyberpunk is more up my alley than a fantasy theme. You are playing as a hacker (one of the Renegades) who is battling against one of the Super Massive Computers (“SMC”) that has taken over the population of Sapporo via neural implants. The Renegades will jack into the network in order to survive a series of countermeasures that the SMC throws their way. The SMC makes things difficult for the Renegades by placing sparks, flares, firewalls, and guardians throughout the network which limits the actions the Renegades can take. The win condition if fairly simple: Renegades win the game if they are able to survive all the countermeasures.

The theme of the games comes through strong in the cardboard components. The network is made up of a collection of five servers. Each of these five servers are comprised of a unique layout of 6 hexagons. During the game setup, the servers are laid out on the table to build out the network. The SMC is represented has a card that lists unique setup and gameplay rules. This is one spot where rules mistakes may happen since there are 5 SMCs included with the game. Keeping track of the unique rules for the SMC is something that I overlooked a couple times during my plays. Each SMC has a difficulty rating that aligns to how many sparks are places each turn as well as the number of countermeasures the player will need to survive to win the game. The countermeasures come in three flavors: copper, silver, and gold. The countermeasures are objectives for the player to complete by the end of the round. At the end of the round, the countermeasure is evaluated to see if the player passed or failed. Depending on the outcome, the player may get a benefit or penalty. It may be possible to win the game without achieving any of the countermeasures, but I would imagine that compounding penalty after penalty would railroad you to game loss conditions fairly quickly. The SMC places countermeasure tokens that represent sparks, flares, firewalls, and guardians throughout the network that hinder or even block what actions players can take. These items propagate throughout the network each turn and during the evaluation of the countermeasure. This feels like a great representation of how computer viruses spread and frustrate users when infected. Each Renegade has a unique skill and deck of starting cards that represents the tools, information, and software they have at their disposal. There is opportunity to upgrade these via the Hack Shack. The Renegades of limited capacity so for each new upgrade card, the player will have to discard one card that was used to buy it. As a result of these details, the cyberpunk theme comes through magnificently.

 

Gameplay and the Decisions

After three plays of Renegade, the BGG description that billed Renegade as “an abstract-euro thematic deck-building game for 1 to 5 players” is easier to understand. Players aren’t just interacting with the their deck of cards and trying to build an engine to buy victory points. There is work that is required to take into account the board state as well as the current countermeasure card. Each Renegade has a starting deck of card of 15 basic cards. These cards produce the resources needed to carry out actions or make purchases of the improved cards. The resources are  limited compared to other deck building games. Players do not bank resources and then spend from that pool during their turn. Instead players, pay for the action (or purchase) by discarding cards that generate at least the required number of resources. Let’s say I want to carry out an action that costs 3 resources. To do this I discard two cards that each generate 2 resources. Great, I’ve generated the 3 required resources and have 1 left over. That extra resource is lost and cannot be used to pay for a future action or purchase. Losing these extra resources forces players to figure out how to most efficiently get things done in the game. I found myself trying to squeeze every action or purchase out of the five cards in hand. I’ve had a great turns where I achieved the countermeasure objective, but it felt tarnished because I was inefficient in carrying out actions.  This type of puzzle is what keeps me coming back for more.

With some games, you have to wait for your newly purchased card to cycle through your deck. Renegade has address this issue in a couple ways in how players are upgrading their deck. The first thing is that newly purchased cards go directly into your hand. This means that you can immediately play the great new card you just purchased. Another thing that improves the ratio of basic to upgraded cards is how you purchase from the Hack Shack. When you purchase a card from the Hack Shack, you must remove one card from the game. This card must be one of the cards you used to buy the new card. This means sometimes it may be beneficial to overpay by using two or three cards in order to remove a weaker card from your deck. This is a great way to thin your deck and keep those upgraded cards cycling through your deck. The intriguing thing about this game is you start the game with 15 cards and will end the game with 15 cards.  But at the end of the game, the 15 cards you have will be a significant improvement over your starting deck.  Another mechanism that helps with managing your resources is the ability to save 1 card from your hand for your next turn. This is in addition to the five cards you will draw at the end of your turn. This flexibility gives you another thing to consider when planning out your turn. Do you take a turn with little less impact in order to set up an awesome next turn. Each round has the players going through their 15 card deck through 3 turns. This means players may be able to track which cards have come out in order to plan for these smaller less “impactful” setup turns. I don’t tend to track individual cards, but it’s pretty easy to remember if your hands have been heavy with one resource. That may indicate you won’t have much of that resource left in your draw pile. Knowing this may lead you to hold onto a card if you plan on using the resources for actions in the future turn. All these tweaks make it feel like you are truly crafting your deck and able to optimize it to the objectives at hand.

The countermeasures are a unique addition that help force different strategies throughout the game. In the box, there a total of 21 countermeasures (7 of each level: copper, silver, and gold). Based on the SMC you are confronted with, you will face a minimum of one of each level. More advanced SMCs may have you face multiples of each level.The countermeasures are get progressively harder as you move from copper to silver and then from silver to gold. The Renegades have 1 round (which is made up of 3 turns) to fulfill the objective. The objective must be met at the end of the round. Even though the objective may be met by the second turn the SMC will be placing sparks that may counteract the work the Renegades have done. It is worth noting that the countermeasures scale based on the number of players. The fact that achieving the objective is not a win condition may drive the Renegades to focus on upgrading cards versus taking action. This will occur when countermeasure seems insurmountable and the Renegades see the countermeasure as a lost cause. I see this as investing in the future in light of some short term pain. The countermeasures also impact the end of game scoring which will indicate how well the team of Renegades performed. Having the choice to pursue the countermeasures adds to the breadth of options available each turn.

 

Final thoughts

I’ve really like each of the plays that I’ve had of Renegade. The game comes with a tutorial SMC with a companion walkthrough in the rulebook. This is a great way to learn the rules as you play. I learned the game by buzzing through the rulebook as well as watching the playthrough on Ricky Royal’s Youtube channel. Check them out here. I jumped right into the game and bypassed the tutorial SMC. This is where the amount of rules tripped me up. I had a great time playing the game, but there were minor things here and there that I either forgot or misplayed that impacted the game. This may be due to the fact that I had watched a the playthroughs so much and quickly read the rules. The rules are well laid out and walk the players step by step through each phase of the game. In future plays, I corrected this movement errors but then made another error on how many SMC resources to place each turn. Again, this is something that was explained well in the rules but I failed to execute. On the third game, I got most the rules correct with minor one that was listed on the SMC. The rules are there but between the rulebook and the SMC cards there is some overhead in ensuring that you are carrying out each action correctly. Like many games, things printed on cards overrule what is included in the rulebook. I have played games before where missing a rule here and there too away from the fun of the game. This is not the case with Renegade. I want to play this again soon to see how well I can do against some of the harder SMC. I fault myself for the rule errors since I was excited to take my turns so I sped through the SMC’s actions which is where all my missteps were. The rules may seem complex since there are 5 different resources the players have as well as 2 kinds the SMC utilizes. Once you get through a few turns, the actions all make sense and you realize how simple the actions truly are. At this point, the game transitions to the  “solo/co-operative cyberpunk deck-building game for 1 to 5 players” that Victory Point describes.

I also bought the two booster packs that were offered during the Kickstarter campaign but I have even opened them. One pack has more cards for the Hack Shack while the other pack has a new SMC and new countermeasure cards. I won’t be adding these to the game until I’ve played through Renegade enough not to screw up the rules. Overall, I have enjoyed my plays of Renegade and look forward to getting it to the table again.

 

Powering through to the end with Ex Libris

Ex Libris is the first game of 2018 that got 10 plays. When I added Ex Libris to my 10×10 Challenge, I had played it a couple times with 3 people and another handful of times solo. I loved the theme so much. I was an avid reader when I was younger and the theme really connected with me. I liked the additional effort for the team to include the various puns on the book bindings. Even though the theme won me over, the game play was just okay. I added the game to the 10×10 Challenge knowing the game was on the keep or sell bubble. Based on the 10 plays, I expected to finally resolve how I felt about the game.

Well, things didn’t go exactly as planned. Con of the North is a great local con in the Twin Cities that happens during President’s Day weekend. I’ve attended twice in the past three years. (The one year I missed I was busy vacationing it up in California).  I always run  game or two when I’ve attended in the past and this year was no different. I signed up to run a game of Ex Libris because this was the hot game when registration for the con opened up during the summer. What is a large gathering a boardgamers, without a math trade?? Well, I guess that is Con of the North. There was no math trade this year, but an auction/sale list that went up. I took this opportunity to list a bunch of games that I wasn’t playing. Ex Libris was not listed for sale upon my initial listing of games. After seeing quite a bit of activity on the sales front and playing another solo game of Ex Libris, I decided to list it for sale at what I thought was a higher price point. Low and behold, someone snapped it up within a couple hours.

Now I had a dilemma on my hands; I had a single play of Ex Libris in 2018 and I was selling the game in less than a week. Was I going to fail at my 10×10 Challenge because I’m selling one of the games. I thought about swapping out games but I didn’t feel that was in the spirit of the challenge. I knew I had 1 play scheduled at the con so I powered through 8 solo plays over the course of 2 evenings.

These plays that were essentially back to back  reinforced that I made the right decision to sell the game. Many of the games I keep around need to have some depth to their solo options. After playing the Ex Libris solo, I quickly identified the locations that I would discard first or the ones I would keep around for future rounds. This allowed me to control the public library better than if I just focused on my own library. This increased my win ratio in the solo game to near 75%.  The only way that Ex Libris increases the difficulty of the solo game is by discarding cards at the start of each round. The easy games may discard 1 cards and the master librarian may be discarding 5 cards.  Not a lot changing during the harder games.

I also found that I could  focus on the prominent works and shelf stability to deliver a win majority of the time. For those locations that allowed me to take multiple cards, I would just take the the prominent works. I would shelve books to maximize the score on shelf stability. By the end of the 8 games, I found the game to be something that could be played on auto-pilot.

The last play of the game was at the con the night before selling the game. This was a 4 player game that also showed why it wasn’t one of my favorite multiplayer games. The major complaint you’ll find for Ex Libris in any review, is the tiny print that describes what each location does. This was apparent as I was playing the game in the evening at a table in low light. Not only was the print hard to read, but in some cases the tiles did not give enough detail on what the tiles did. There are some tiles that only come out during multiplayer games, so I was unfamiliar with some of those which required reference to the rule book. The abilities of these tiles led to some interesting decisions, but the confusion around how many cards could be shelved was apparent. Some locations allowed 1 shelving, while others allowed 2 or even all cards received. The play was fun with the group but I wasn’t itching to play it again.

So to wrap things up, I finished the 10 plays I committed to Ex Libris, but I wouldn’t necessarily call them fun plays. At one point it felt more like a chore versus a reason to play the game. I’m sure many games would display their flaws during consecutive plays, but I think Ex Libris was not destined to be in my collection long.

Thoughts on Charterstone-Two Games In (No spoilers)

In the past couples weeks, I headed out to the local game center and played my first 2 games of Charterstone.  Don’t worry, I won’t be spoiling any aspects of the game. I had a rough idea of what I was in for since I had played Pandemic Legacy Season 1.

The first thing to jump out at me with Charterstone was not understanding how to play and how to win. Out of the 5 of us, only the game owner had done any reading on how Charterstone played. The game advertised that it would teach you the rules as you play.  That is exactly what we did; we worked our way through the setup steps and then looked at each other with a “now what??” look. This was in stark contract to my Pandemic Legacy Season 1 experience. With Pandemic Legacy Season 1, the group knew how to play Pandemic so we all knew the basics and the objective of the game. With Charterstone, I knew what actions I could take on the board, but I wasn’t quite sure why I would take 1 action over another. This persisted through the second game we played. I didn’t look through the rules at all so I’m relied solely on one individual to ensure that we are playing correct. The day after playing I did get an email highlighting a rule that we played wrong. The rule that we misplayed impacted all of us the same but made things harder than they needed to be. Before our next game night, I’ll check out the Watch It Played to get a good understanding of the basic rules.

The second thing that noticed was how quickly turns went. There were multiple times during the games where we lost track of who’s turn it was. Nothing like blank stares around the table when some says “Who are we waiting for?” We instituted the practice of “your turn” once you finished your turn. I attribute losing track of turns was due to the minimal actions spots available in the early games. Once we got that out of the way we sped through the rest of the games we played.

We ended up playing the first two games in approximately 3 hours. The second game we played really clipped along. Everyone at the table had a good understanding of how to collect the resources and then convert them to victory points through action spots. The games were overall fun, but definitely felt light a light euro at this point. The decisions felt very basic and straight forward during these first two games. I can only assume that as we start to experience more of the legacy portion of the game that the complexity will increase.

As of right now, I’m not running back to play the next game, but I am interested in seeing how it will develop.