Space Lion

I like Space Lion. I liked it when I played it PAX East last year. I’ve liked it as I’ve played the various head to head and 3 player modes. I think it’s a really cool semi-asymmetric bluffing/placement board game. There’s one catch though: Space Lion doesn’t actually exist yet.

Space Lion is currently running its Kickstarter, and with 70 hours left, they are incredibly close to hitting their funding goal. They’re just under $15,000 of the $16,000 they need. So if anything about what I’m describing sounds cool, check out the Kickstarter here. And if you’re the sort of person who would never back a board game without playing it first, there’s a Tabletop Simulator version here, and a Tabletopia version here.

So yeah. I think it’s cool, and if you stop reading this article right now to just go play the game, or look at the Kickstarter, I’d consider that a win. But if you want to stick around, let me talk about why I like Space Lion.

Or just click this image to go straight to the Kickstarter.

I’m not gonna cover the full rules of the game, but I do want to go over them in brief, so I can explain why I like it. You start by picking an army, and then choosing a commander. Each army has 7 unit cards, with strength values of 0-6, and one of those units can be swapped out for an upgraded version. While it won’t have a higher strength value, it will have stronger abilities.

On the left, the default version. On the right, the upgraded commander.

At the start of each round, you fight across three battlefields. Each player takes a turn where they deploy up to four units, placing them face down onto one of the battlefields. Each battlefield starts with a base for each player on it. Once everyone has deployed their units, you flip up your cards and the first player to deploy chooses the order in which battle are fought. If you have less total strength than your opponents in any battlefield, your base on that battlefield takes a point of damage. Take two points total and that base is destroyed, meaning that any future losses you take there deal damage straight to your home base. Run out of health, and you lose. (And for anyone going “Wait wouldn’t the first player have an advantage?” don’t worry, the first player token switches between rounds.)

There’s one big thing here, though, that I haven’t covered, and that’s how your army actually works. You actually start the game with all 7 of your cards in your hand. There’s no randomness, or drawing from a deck. You have all the tools.

Instead, you’re limited by your deployment choices. If you deploy one card to a battlefield, even if you lose the fight, you’ll get that card back in hand. But if you deploy two or more, those cards are exhausted for the next round of placement. Trying to force a push with your 6 strength and 5 strength units in one lane means that next round your opponents know that there’s simply no way for a single facedown card you’ve played to be stronger than 5.

There’s a lot of I’ve left out here, but this tension of “Where do I commit to putting pressure?” and “What can I afford to give up for the future?” is why I like Space Lion. It’s not super rules dense either, which means you can focus on those choices, instead of trying to keep a million different systems in your head.

Also, like I mentioned above, this is a semi-asymmetric game. While each army has the same strength values, their actual playstyles and abilities vary quite heavily. The Leon Army can upgrade all of their units to the more powerful commander versions, and also has a nuke. The Castell Army can place degrees on various battlefields, giving them permanent bonus or adjustments in those arenas. The Enerhiya builds a pool of energy and other resources they can spend to trigger effects, but also to power up their giant mecha. And my personal favorite, the Vacuus function as a sort of twilight zone version of the other armies, with many of their units being warped or twisted versions of units from the other armies.

The normal marine moves itself around, but the corrupted marine moves your opponents’ units!

I think this is a decent, if brief, overview of Space Lion, and why I like it and want to see it as a fully physical game. Hopefully this article got you interested enough to check it out. If you’re looking for folks to play with, Solis Games has a Discord server here where you’d be able to find a play group. Maybe I’ll even see you there.

Disclaimer: I’m not not associated with Solis Game studios in any way. Kickstarter is a pledge platform, not a pre-order platform. Crowdfunding can be risky. I’ve backed the Kickstarter because I think it’s a cool game, and I want to see it be a full thing. Also hoping they’re not annoyed at me for ripping images from their game for this article.

PAX East 2022 – The Board Games Post

A look at the board games I played at PAX East, 2022.

While PAX East doesn’t focus on board games in the same way as Gen Con, or PAX Unplugged, they’re still there! Despite having a smaller presence, PAX East’s tabletop sections stays open late into the evening. So let’s go over the fun board games I played at PAX East.

Disclaimer: This list is no particular order, but I have listed bigger/released games closer to the bottom of the list. I played Dominion. It was fun. But it’s been out for 10 years, it doesn’t need top billing.

So let’s get right into it. Drum roll please!

1. I ripped this image straight from the Space Lion site, and 2. Pretty sure this is a concept box, even if the art is somewhat finalized.

First up, we have Space Lion! It’s an asymmetric bluffing/placement game. At the show, I only played the demo which used a single army. The full game is supposed to include four armies, if I remember correctly? The general gist is that you have a hand of cards, which are your units. Each round, you and your opponents place cards face down at various locations, and after placement is finished, you flip them up. Whoever has the highest unit value wins that battle, and the goal is to destroy the opponent’s base. While this sounds simple, I’ve completely skipped unit abilities, exhausting units, and the fact that each army is supposed to play differently.

Unfortunately, the game isn’t actually out yet. There was a Gamefound campaign running, but it was canceled. Still, if you’re interested in the game, there’s hope! The creators announced they were taking the lessons they learned from the first campaign and planning to try another at some point. If that all sounds interesting, you can sign up for their mailing list here. I hope it succeeds, as it was one of my favorite games from the show.

Another unpublished game is Small Time Crooks. I found this one in the Unpub hall. If you’re not familiar with Unpub, it’s a small area where you can play test board games in various states of development. The games can vary quite highly in their levels of completeness. You’ll find folks looking for publishers sitting next to a first prototype of a hand made deck of cards.

Small Time Crooks though! It’s a hyper-lite GM-less RPG? The mechanics are pretty straight forward. You have a character, and you have a randomly generated target to rob. The target consists of a series of random rooms. Each room contains a skill check, which you make via dice rolls.

I’m honestly not sure how well it would work with multiple players, but the demo was neat. I think it’s worth keeping an eye on. And if you want to do that, here’s the link to their website. My notes say that they’re planning a Kickstarter at some point in 2022? Weirdly enough I could never find who is actually making the game.

Update: You can also find them here, on Twitter! Thanks to the Unpub hall for pointing this out for me.

Leaving the indie and unpub space, let’s head over to a game that had its own massive booth.

Calling Dice Throne an incredibly polished “Push-Your-Luck” dice brawler is underselling it a bit, but it feels fairly accurate. I only played a single 1v1 game, but it worked like this: each player picks out a character to play. The character determines the starting health, energy, hand size, and most importantly, your attacks. Each attack consists of a matched pattern of dice rolls. On your turn, you have three sets of rolls. After each roll, you can choose which dice you want to reroll, and which to keep. The end result is that you’re generally trying to roll specific patterns to inflict damage, while using your own abilities to keep yourself alive. You can also use your hand of cards to modify dice rolls, and upgrade your abilities.

It’s very polished, and the two characters I saw seemed pretty different. I didn’t rush over to buy a copy afterwards, but I’d play it again. Also, the game box is massive, and I’m not sure I have space for it. Like, much bigger than other board games.

Of games I played though, the last one is one I owned: Dominion.

A deckbuilder like Tanto Cuore, Dominion is over 10 years old and is the OG of OG deckbuilders. There’s not much I can say that hasn’t already been written about, but let me summarize it anyway. Each player starts with a deck of cards, and a shared market. The market consists of 10 of 21 non-starter cards, and also a few more. Your goal is to spend the currency you get from you hand to buy cards from the market and add them to your deck, and improve your deck’s efficiency, so you can buy victory point cards. But as victory point cards only give VP at the end of the game, you want to avoid buying them until you have to.

Overall, it’s a very solid game, and playing it with someone who hadn’t played before gave me a solid appreciation for how well it’s held up all these years later. It also gave me a sense of nostalgia for a time 10 years ago. Y’know, back when you could just go places, the world wasn’t falling apart, and my parents weren’t divorced!

How time flies.

In any case, that’s what I played at PAX. This was only a microscopic sample of what was available, but as I tend to focus on video games while at East, it’s all I have to write about today.

Oh, and I also played lot of MTG, but that might just end up being its own post.

PAX Unplugged 2021 – Day 3

I can’t think of anything clever to put here. PAX was fun.

It’s day 3. One of the things I enjoy about PAX (and conventions in general) is the chance to do things I might otherwise not. Sometimes this takes the form of playing games in genres I’m not as interested in. Sometimes it takes the form of doing something completely unrelated.

In this case, it’s the second one: painting miniatures. After trying to line up at the free painting zone, realizing how slow the line was, and leaving yesterday, I showed up earlier today. While waiting in line, I ended up chatting with a dude and his boyfriend, and asked him to play a game of Knights of the Hound Table with me. Despite being the person teaching, I got absolutely demolished before the floor even opened. After thanking him for playing, I headed over to the free painting zone, picked out a Space Marine, and sat down.

This isn’t a painting blog, so I won’t be going in depth on this. The short version is that: 1. Unsurprisingly, since I haven’t done this in years, I’m not currently very good at painting. 2. Despite that it was very relaxing. 3. The lady sitting next to me was very good at painting, gave me a bunch of helpful tips, and also finished in about half the time, with her Space Marine looking twice as good.

After this, I ended up browsing the show floor for a bit. My partner who came to the show with me had played in a game of Kids on Brooms the previous day, and really enjoyed it. I picked up a copy of that, and also a copy of Cats of Cthulhu. Then, after talking myself out of purchasing too much other stuff, I wandered back over to the Unpub Hall.

In the Unpub Hall, I found Privateer. It’s a drone piloting tactics game, and I really enjoyed it. It also had my favorite components of anything at in the Unpub hall. While I didn’t play a full game, I was really enjoying what I saw, and I’m going to keep an eye on this one. It’s made by TimeSpacePlace, and they told me they’re planning to have a tabletop simulator version of the game up at some point in the next year.

The last game of the day I played was a demo of Skytear. It’s a MOBA inspired miniatures board game, and while I didn’t quite mesh with it, it does have one really cool thing I want to quickly talk about: how it handles the concept of creep waves. (This next part is going to be a bit inside baseball for folks who don’t play MOBAs, so apologies in advance.)

Because Skytear is a miniatures game, the default assumption would be that creeps would be their own set of miniatures that spawn at the Ancient/Nexus, and then walk out into lane. This would require a lot of miniatures, effort, and extra movement. Skytear doesn’t do that. Instead, it has a “Capture Point.” It’s a little token that indicates where the creep wave currently is, and at the end of each set of rounds, it gets moved toward one of the towers, based on a variety of factors that simulate who’s applying more pressure to the wave. Then, new sets of creeps spawn in on this marker. It’s an incredible implementation of the system, and I really like it.

And that ended up being the last demo of the day. I wandered the show floor, grabbed some presents for friends, and headed back to the hotel. I really enjoyed PAX Unplugged. It was my first in-person convention since the start of lockdown, and I really appreciate the fact that everyone attending seemed committed to wearing masks, and following the safety rules. While we’ll most likely want to wait a few weeks to see how things turned out, I hope that this means that life can return, at least a bit, to normal.

PAX Unplugged 2021 – Day 2

In which our narrator sleeps in, and then goes to the Unpub hall.

Day 2! AKA Saturday. This was my lightest day of the show. Not because the show floor was any lighter, but more because I was up past midnight the night before playing some two-headed giant sealed Magic: The Gathering with friend and occasional Gametrodon contributor, Max Seidman of Resonym. Of course, he got up the very next day, and went to work his booth and demo games for the remainder of the day… so… hmm.

I might just be weak.

By the time I got to the convention center after making the arduous trek all the way across the skybridge, I’d decided to spend a majority of the day at the Unpub hall. For anyone reading this post who hasn’t heard of Unpub, it’s a room where folks show off their unpublished board games and game demos. Polish levels range from “The Kickstarter is next week” to “I have never shown this to anyone I’m not related to.”

The first game I played was Arachno-Bump/Bounce, a fairly simple board game that according to its designer is targeted at families. It falls heavily into the second category of the above of being very new to playtesting. (That’s not a bad thing, it’s just a literal assessment.) In this game, you’re all spiders on a big web trying to capture as many flies as possible by moving around, and prevent your opponents by bumping them. I’d say that right now it has some problems, but honestly, what prototype doesn’t? Hopefully a few days of exposure to the general population of con goers will let the dev collect some good feedback and understand that players are ruthless fucks information. (To be less metaphorical and prosaic: right now, it’s very difficult to score points, the game heavily rewards aggression, and it also has room for accessibility improvements. But again, THIS IS A PROTOTYPE. These are all things that can be fixed.)

Next up was Territory CG, an LCG. I managed to scrape out a win here, either because the dev I was playing against was going easy on me, or because I top-decked a massive one-copy-allowed-per-deck dragon right as I needed it. But regardless, I was victorious! This game was unlike Arachno-Bounce in a number of ways. For starters, they have a website! And estimated prices! And they already have a playable version of the game on Tabletop Simulator! I might try to rope a few more friends into playing this with me. One round is really not enough to get a good sense of an LCG, but I applaud the effort, and the also the part where I don’t have to sell my kidneys in order to afford a card game.

This brings us to the last game of the day: Wingspan! It’s not an Unpub hall game. It’s actually been out for a while. It’s won fancy awards with German titles, and it’s rank 22 on Board Game Geek at time of writing. Wait, you find yourself thinking. Is he just using awards and other secondary features of the game to get out of having to actually describe the mechanics and gameplay? Is he not going to touch on the game’s themes, engine building mechanics, and other aspects?

Yes. That is exactly what I’m doing. Also, I got kicked out of the convention hall before I could finish. Because it was midnight.

Return tomorrow for DAY 3!

PAX Unplugged 2021 – Day 1

Like regular PAX, but in the dark.

Each day for the next 3 days, I’ll be recapping my PAX Unplugged experience.

I’m writing this while chilling in my hotel room on Saturday. I’m also writing it on my phone, so I’m gonna blame that for any problems or text issues, as opposed to my own ability.

Ed Note: Now I’m editing it on my computer post con, so uh, that excuse doesn’t work anymore.

Friday started off with a bit of a struggle to get into the building, but once I was in, lines were quick and easy. PAX Unplugged is enforcing masks and a vaccine check this year, so you have to get a little black wristband to enter. I haven’t seen any issues or folks being jerks about masks, so hopefully this signals some sort of path forward for big conventions. Realistically, we’ll want to wait a few weeks to make sure a NYCC doesn’t happen here.

Okay, so games. I started off by playing Robot Quest Arena by Wise Wizard. It’s a neat 2-4 player arena combat deck builder. It’s not out just yet, and while a few of the interactions were a bit hard to remember, I enjoyed it. Trying to edit links on Mobile sucks, so here’s the Kickstarter page. The short version is that you build up your deck while also moving a little robot around on a grid, and scoring victory points primarily by damaging and knocking out other bots. One big thing I enjoyed is that the game doesn’t ever eliminate players. Instead, when you get knocked out, you just come back in right at the start of your next turn. It’s nice to see a combat game without elimination, but where getting hit and knocked out still feels meaningful.

Next up was Knights of the Hound Table, by We Ride Games. This game is also a deck builder, but with a very different vibe. Instead of battling robots on a grid, you’re leading an army of dogs to battle. I was interested enough after the demo I played at their booth that We Ride Games loaned me a test copy of the game that I need to remember to return to them tomorrow, hopefully after playing it tonight.

Ed Note: While said night game never happened, I did end up playing it, and getting a copy. There will likely be a full review at some point in the near future.

My last two games were right next to each other, but we’ll go through them one by one. First was Valiant Wars. It’s a head to head push your luck deck builder. (Yeah, there are a lot of deck builders this year.) The oversimplified description of it is that you flip cards out at the same time as your opponent until you either choose to hold and use the cards you’ve currently drawn to buy units, or bust by flipping up two of a card called a Dark Omen. It’s interesting, but I didn’t get a chance to play the full game, so I don’t have an opinion on it quite yet. While it’s already out, I’m linking to the Kickstarter page, mostly just to match the other games I’ve linked to.

Finally, the last game of the day was Iconoclash. It’s by Quinn Washburn, the same fellow who made Valiant Wars, and it’s a Smash Bros style board game. While I played a full round, I feel like I’d really need to play a few more to figure out how I feel about the game. I believe the version I played is a prototype of something headed to production shortly. Frankly, I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t love it.

As far as I can remember, that wrapped up all of Day 1 of PAX Unplugged. Did I do other things? Yes, but they weren’t game related. And as much as I’d love to write some sort of love poem to the food of Reading Terminal right next to the convention center, I’m not sure that really meshes with the tone of this blog.

Day 2 approaches! Tomorrow.