Grab your passport and cinch up that mask, kiddies, because for today’s article we’re going on a little trip east. Ok, it’s really east. But hey, at least the in-flight movies look decent!
Floating Floors – Kickstarter
This game is heavy on dexterity, so you’ll definitely need quick hands and steely nerves. Before playing, make sure that you complete some stretches and warm-ups to prep your digits. I recommend some light shuriken throwing. Players start by choosing to play as either the white ninja of light or black shadow ninja. They then take turns placing pages of their opponent’s bansenshukai, or ninja training manual, along the outside of the starting board. Then during their turn, players will balance 3×3 floor boards on variously-shaped jutsu tokens to create a path for their ninja to reach their bansen. But Jenga this is not. The jutsu tokens come in a variety of shapes and the ones available to you are randomly determined by at the beginning of your turn. Anyone can balance a square on a square, but a square on a pyramid? Slightly more difficult.
All of this emphasis on manual dexterity absolutely tracks with the ninja theme, but remember, ninjas had to be mentally dexterous as well. Being alone in enemy territory meant you had to be a quick thinker who could use your surroundings to your advantage, and Floating Floors puts even more emphasis on this facet of ninjadom. Each 3×3 floor board is divided between white and black spaces to match the colors of the two ninjas. The white ninja can only travel on white spaces and vice versa. Ninjas can place jutsu of their color on an otherwise impassable space to allow them to move through it. A true master of tabletop ninjutsu can also use jutsu to help balance his tiles or lay a trap for his enemy by overbalancing spaces the enemy might wish to use. And even once you get to your bansen, it’s not so simple as just picking it up. First, you must show true mastery of balance by picking up and rotating that floor without it toppling. And you definitely don’t want that to happen. Whenever a player causes a floor to tumble, their opponent gets to rearrange the whole board as they see fit. Ouch!
Harakiri: Blades of Honor – Kickstarter until Dec. 14
Where Floating Floors is as light and quick as ninja feet, Harakiri: Blades of Honor is a heavy, sprawling epic of a dungeon crawl. But in a very, very good way. To say that this first publication from Synergic Games is ambitious would be an understatement. Set in a mythical Japan-adjacent world, this game has everything that fans of the dungeon-crawler genre want in spades.
For those of you who’ve read my articles before, you know I love me some minis. And this game has them. Some really big ones. The biggest tops out at 170 mm, but 100 mm is not uncommon. And they all, big and small, look so, so good.
But while miniatures are a plus, it’s the mechanics that make the game. And whooo boy does Harakiri have some great ones. For starters, it is much grander in scope than a lot of dungeon crawlers. The game starts with an adventure phase where characters are exploring the world at large. During this phase, players choose paths with varying degrees of danger on a huge world map. As they move, they will discover quests and have encounters on the road. Some of those quests will require the characters to explore specific locations at which point the game’s “camera” will zoom in. The world map goes away and is replaced by a more standard looking set of dungeon tiles.
Harakiri also does a great job of keeping players perpetually guessing, increasing the immediate enjoyment but also ensuring infinite replayability. In addition to the random encounters mentioned above, the combat system also does some really interesting things. For starters, players can never tell what a monster is going to three different tiers of monster actions. How low-level minions will fight is affected by oracle cards, making them either more passive or more aggressive. Mid-level underbosses aren’t affected by oracle cards, but their actions are determined by a die roll with each number having an entire set of actions associated with it. And bosses get even more options thanks to a boss action deck with each card having an entire set of actions associated with it.
And it’s not just the monsters that keep this game ever fresh. Each character comes with potentially hundreds of options at a player’s disposal. The characters are upgradable, of course, with the ability to gain new abilities and equipment, and upgrade their stats. But players must also choose whether to go with multiple quick attacks or bank it all on their characters heavy attack. There’s also a fun “yin/yang” mechanic. Each die comes with some pips that are black and some that are white. If your die roll shows both black and white pips, your characters yin and yang ability activates. The game is already funded and I anticipate many, many stretch goals, so if you’re a dungeon crawl fan, I’d go to Kickstarter right now.
Spring and Autumn: Story of China – Gamefound until Jan. 5
This last one’s for the history buffs because whereas Harakiriis set in a fictional Japan, Spring and Autumn is grounded (mostly) firmly in the real history of China. The game comes from Mr. B games and uses a streamlined version of their popular Hellenica system.
But instead of ancient Greece, this 1 to 4 player 4x game is set in China c. 800 BC. At this time in history, China had become a nation splintered by civil war, and you will play as one of the factions vying for control. Doing this means you must be the first to complete 3 public works to show the nation what a capable leader you are.
This is done in a way that will feel familiar to a lot of 4x players which makes it pretty easy to pick up. Players have to budget action cubes which they will use to improve their regions and grow in power. Options include improving your settlements and researching new technologies and philosophies. But of course, it wouldn’t be a 4x game without the ability to improve your military so that you can go out and conquer your neighbors by land or by sea. And don’t neglect your region’s commerce or your opponents will quickly outmaneuver you, as commerce allows you to get more action cubes. Oh, and somewhere in this busy schedule, make sure to find time to honor your ancestors to improve your standing among the rest of the players. Plus, you know how mom and dad get when you don’t check in.
Clearly this game rewards a careful planner with an eye for detail, but “The best laid plans of mice and men” and all that. Yep, this game loves to throw in a healthy dose of chaos. Due to your constant warring and scheming, China has been thrown into a state of chaos that grows every turn. When the chaos is too high, it spills over into the game in the form of revolts, barbarian invasions, and sometimes even dragons.
In my defense, I did say that this was mostly grounded in real-world China.
by Zane Messina