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First Take Fridays - Villainous Merchant Tribes in Gloomhaven: A Dark Story header

On First Take Fridays a number of authors around Meeple Mountain give short first takes on games that are new to us. This week it’s Villainous, Dale of Merchants Collection, Rise of Tribes, Founders of Gloomhaven, and Dark Stories.

Founders of Gloomhaven – Philip Chen

I’m a fan of Gloomhaven, so the name Isaac Childres first drew my interest. I backed Founders of Gloomhaven on Kickstarter but clicked the support button not based on name. Rather, I saw an interview where Childres mentioned that one of his inspirations was a computer game called Factorio. Factorio, for those unfamiliar, is a real-time strategy (RTS) game. I grew up playing classic 90’s RTS games! To say the least, I was excited to hear that Founders of Gloomhaven had some of its inspirational roots in one of my happy places.

What did I find when it arrived? A complex, fairly heavy logistics game with elements familiar to me from RTS-games: placing buildings, building roads, tech trees, and optimization. I’ve played the game twice at this point, once with 3-players, once solo. The first thing to note: both the 3p and solo experience were great but are rather dissimilar. They feel like different games utilizing the same components (obviously mechanics overlap). The two and three player games differ from the four-player game as well in that you play with neutral resources. All of us who played agreed that playing four players to eliminate the neutral “player” is probably ideal.

Will I play it again? I can’t wait to try the four-player game. I am also curious about the two-player game (even with its neutral resources). As for the solo game, it is a pure optimization puzzle which I look forward to improving my play in. This game is heavy. The rules are not complex on the surface, but a few points (placement rules and the consequences of the trickle-down points mechanism) are challenging to grasp. This is NOT Gloomhaven. Other than the theme, which is appreciated but light, there is no connection between the games. If you’re looking for Gloomhaven 2, wait for the expansions. But, if you like heavier games, enjoy logistics puzzles, or RTS games I highly recommend you look to Founders of Gloomhaven.

★★☆☆☆☆ Ease of Entry
★★★★★★ Excitement Pre-Game
★★★★★★ Excitement for Rematch

Read more from Philip Chen

Villainous – Jesse Fletcher

When I first heard about Villainous, like a number of hobby gamers I was skeptical. Simply carrying the Disney IP engendered a bit of suspicion on my part because I had not yet seen a Disney game that wasn’t just an existing game with Disney characters slapped on it. Then the reviews started coming in; people were calling it an actual “gamer’s game.” Given that my fiancée and primary gaming partner is a huge Disney fan I decided to take a chance on it and give it a shot.

In Villainous, each character takes control of a classic Disney villain like Jafar, Ursula, or Prince John. Each villain is trying to accomplish their own personal goal while thwarting the others. For instance, Jafar wins by unlocking the Cave of Wonders, obtaining the magic lamp, hypnotizing the genie, and returning to the palace. Prince John wins simply by starting his turn with 20 power tokens, the primary resource in the game.

Villainous takes some surprising cues from more “gamerly” games like Smash-Up and Scythe. Players move around their own specialized player board, selecting actions, and managing the balance between gaining power and using it. Helpful “villain cards” from their own personal deck let them advance their evil agenda. Players can also benefit from “fate cards” drawn from their opponents’ decks.

Surprisingly, I really enjoyed this game. It’s definitely on the lighter side, despite its modern game mechanics. It does have a good bit of those two naughty no-no’s for pure Euro-gamers: luck and “take-that.” But you couldn’t  call yourself a Disney villain if you didn’t do some evil deeds here and there, right? I’m pretty eager to play it some more, at least until I’ve played all the villains. Since each villain has a unique objective with unique decks, I’m excited to experience all of their collective criminal capers. Villainous gets two animated thumbs up from me.

★★★★★★ Ease of Entry
★★★☆☆☆ Excitement Pre-Game
★★★★★★ Excitement for Rematch

Read more from Jesse Fletcher

Rise of Tribes – David McMillan

Rise of Tribes is a pseudo dice-drafting game about growing a tribe and expanding across the continent. Each player begins with 2-4 tribe members in play and another 16-18 in reserve. Central to the game is an action board that is pre-loaded with 3 dice that each show different faces (sun, moon, and a blank).

On a player’s turn, they roll the two remaining dice and then add these to two of four possible actions that allow them to grow their tribe, move tribe members around the board, gather resources, or gain cards which provide victory points and/or ongoing benefits. When a die is placed into the leftmost position of an action, the rightmost die is pushed out and the action is performed based upon the remaining die faces. Double suns get you a boosted version of the action while double moons get you a lesser version. Otherwise, you take the basic action. It’s a race to 15 points. Whoever manages to reach that goal first wins the game.

In my first game, we played with two players. The first few rounds of the game were pretty conflict free as we worked to increase our numbers. It quickly became apparent, though, that one of us was going to have to make the first move. That’s when the floodgates opened. The race was on! There was a lot of push and pull, but my wife emerged victorious in the end.

While the game was enjoyable overall, we both felt that the experience would have definitely benefited from more than two players. As it was, neither one of us was really able to budge the other from their well-defended locations. I look forward to playing again with a full complement of players.

★★★★★★ Ease of Entry
★★★★★★ Excitement Pre-Game
★★★★★★ Excitement for Rematch

Read more from David McMillan

Dale of Merchants Collection – Andrew Holmes

Dale of Merchants Collection is the latest game in the Dale of Merchants series and fully compatible with the previous games. This series of deck building and dismantling is packed full of charm and interesting decisions and DoM Collection is no different, adding 8 new animalfolk decks, 55 character cards and a whole heap more.

For our first game we selected animalfolk decks based on the species we liked most: the Wealthy Tuataras (who provide access to gold), the Fickle Giant Pangolins (whose dice move cards around the game) and the Lively Slender Mongooses (who are more powerful during the day than at night). We each also had a beginner-friendly character card – ‘Kahanea the Tuatara Banker’ who provides a piece of gold every turn and ‘Sachqar the Scarlet Macaw Manager’ who allows the player to increase their hand size by one card.

The new decks are great fun. The day/night element of the Mongooses is especially interesting, making timing of plays all the more important. The character cards added another level to the game but really it felt like we were only dipping our toes into the water by using a couple of the basic characters. We finished the game and were immediately looking through the character deck, excited to try out some of the more out-there abilities. That sums up the experience: a great game that left us keen to explore the rest of what the Collection has to offer.

The Dale of Merchants Collection Kickstarter campaign is currently live, and a full review will follow on this site shortly. Make sure to read my full review of Dale of Merchants to get my take on the base game.

★★★★★☆ Ease of Entry
★★★★★☆ Excitement Pre-Game
★★★★★★ Excitement for Rematch

Read more from Andrew Holmes.

Dark Stories – Ashley Gariepy

Similar to games like The Mind and Concept, Dark Stories (also known as Black Stories) falls in the “Is it a board game or an activity?” debate. This game is a series of 50 murder mysteries for players to solve. Each mystery is written on a double-sided card: the front paints the story for the players while the back has the answer to what happened. One player acts as the Riddle Master (who reads the back of the card) while the other players are the detectives. Detective players must ask the Riddle Master “yes” or “no” questions to attempt to solve the mystery. Was it dark? Were they alone? Did she have a pre-existing medical condition? With each question answered, the detectives creep slowly to the answer, even if they don’t know it.

I recently played Dark Stories with my brother while on a day trip. He doesn’t play many board games, but he was so interested in this one. Over the day we went through 8 stories, often doing a few back-to-back. We played on our drive, while we dined at a restaurant, and while we relaxed on the beach.

If you like logic puzzles (or weird ways people die), Dark Stories is definitely a game I recommend checking out. It is often quite difficult and the solutions are pretty complex, but it feels so satisfying to stumble upon an answer through a series of really good, absurd questions. Unfortunately this game is out of print so if you stumble upon an inexpensive copy, be sure to buy it. I’ve been carrying this game around with me virtually everywhere I go. It is the perfect gam-ivity for road trips, camping, hiking, or just lounging around.

★★★★★☆ Ease of Entry
★★★★★☆ Excitement Pre-Game
★★★★★★ Excitement for Rematch

Read more from Ashley Gariepy.

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Andrew Plassard

Andrew Plassard

I like big games and I cannot lie, you other gamers can’t deny. That when a euro walks in with a shiny new case and a rule book in my face, I get pumped. Hi I’m Andrew and I like heavy euro games with a side of player interaction when necessary. I think board games are the best way to force me to think in different ways while having fun and hanging out with my friends.

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