The Game Crafter Special #3: Birds, Swords and PasscodesMay 8, 2019
Three new meeple-sized reviews, we are looking at three games currently on The Game Crafter in Bird Feeder Frenzy, Empire of Swords (and its expansion) and PASSCODE.
Bird Feeder Frenzy
Designer: Matt Worden
Player Count: 2-6
Note: A copy of this game was given to The Inquisitive Meeple from The Game Crafter for an honest review.
Bird Feeder Frenzy is a deduction style micro-game for 2-6 players, where each player will have a different bird and will be trying to collect as many seeds as they can. Set-up is a little different for each player count but the gist is this – every player will have a unique bird species card, and at least one other card. There will also be some “feeders” set up in the middle of the table (they are rows of cards) that have some faceup and facedown cards. Cards can either seed cards with the number 2-5 on them or critter cards. On a turn, a player can either look at any facedown card at a feeder and then place a card face-up at the end one of the feeder rows OR they can place a card face down at the end of the feeder row (but cannot peak a card). That’s it. Once all cards have been placed, you flip over all cards at the feeder. If there is a squirrel in the row, it takes the lowest number and leaves (there are two squirrels in the game, and both are treated separately) and if there is the raccoon it takes the highest card in the row. You now add up the seeds at the first feeder and divide that number by how many birds that are there. Any reminder points go to the first bird in line at that feed. So, for example, if the seed value at the first feeder is 13 points and the Blue Jay, Cardinal, and Sparrow were at that feeder. The Cardinal and Sparrow player would get 4 points and the Blue Jay player would get 5 points (they get the extra 1 pt remainder). You then go to the next feeder and score it, and so on. Play this X many of rounds, depending on player count and add up the round points, with the winner having the highest score.
When players with 4 or more players you only have your bird card and one other card to play but you have more feeders (3) to play to. If playing with 2 or 3 players you will have more cards to in your hand to play but have fewer feeders (2) to play to. Rules do differ a little about turn order as well when playing with 4-6 players, as a play goes clockwise and then counterclockwise for the play of the second card and if playing with 4 or 5 players you will play fewer rounds than 2, 3 or 6 player.
Before we go in further I will say I really like the remainder rule in this game, where the player that placed first at a feeder gets the remainder and with players having an equal number of turns as start playing, it’s a fair rule. I also need to make note that my plays of the game have been with the 2 and 3 player count meaning we have more cards to play but one less feeder to play to. Bird Feeder Frenzy is a very casual game if you are thinking this is a game with a lot of depth like say the current hit of 2019, Wingspan (another bird game) you will be disappointed. This is very much in vain of the microgames were saw a few years back, where players are trying to deduce something. This game definitely falls into the category of being able to play with anyone and could be used to introduce hobby games to nongamers. It doesn’t have much going on there. It’s which feeder should I put my birds at, where are my opponents placing their bird cards. From there it’s about adding seeds to your feeders and the mammal cards to opponent’s feeder. There is a little room for outsmarting your opponents, but not much. For example, if a squirrel is faceup at a feeder, you may assume I am going to not put my bird there since it will take the highest seed card, but maybe I want you to think that and I lay my bird there and the 4s in my hand down and end up collecting more points then you did at the other feeder. However, moments like that aren’t the rule but the exception, at least in my limited experience. Overall, Bird Feeder Frenzy could be a good warm up or cool down game for your group, but it most likely won’t be the main course even if you are game night is full of “fillers” and “micro” games. It’s not a bad game, and I play it with anyone that wanted to play a game, but it’s not one that I want to play two or three times in a row despite it being a shorter game.
If you are interested in picking up a copy of Bird Feeder Frenzy on The Game Crafter, you can do so by clicking this link: https://www.thegamecrafter.com/games/bird-feeder-frenzy
Empire of Swords (and Empire of Swords: Advance Techniques expansion)
Designer: Jon Merchant
Player Count: 2
Mechanics/Genre: Rock, Paper, Scissors
Note: A copy of this game was given to The Inquisitive Meeple from The Game Crafter for an honest review. A Copy of the expansion was given by designer Jon Merchant for an honest review.
Empire of Swords is an 18 card game that fancied art version of Rock, Paper Scissors with some extra moves (Parry, Disarm and Unblockable Strike) added. 2 players will divide the cards among them and then play until either one person get 5 hits against them OR until someone runs out of cards. Parry is interesting as it not only blocks but sets a player up to possibly getting an extra hit point against their opponent the next round. While Unblocked Strike may sound it would be overpowered, it really is the Disarm action card that causes the most trouble with the base game (more on that below). There is also an expansion to the game, Empire of Swords: Advance Techniques which adds more cards to the game, including a new type called “Quickstrike Card”, which can be played once per round (per player) that lets you do things like adding another card facedown to your attack region of the table for later use or draw extra cards or force an opponent to show some of their cards. When playing with the expansion players start out with 7 cards each, but endgame rules of 5 hits against you or running out of cards and you lose still apply.
When the designer of Empire of Swords, Jon Merchant, learned that I would be reviewing his game, he quickly reached out to me and asked that I reviewed it with the expansion and that it was the better version of the game. Jon went on to send me Empire of Swords: Advance Techniques to play with the base game. Why is this important to note? Simply put, the base game and the expansion really should be one game. The base game by itself, seems unbalanced, whoever has the “disarm” card (block and take/discard a card at random from opponent) will be most likely win the game, due to the other play having no ways to get more cards and they will lose by not having enough cards to play. The expansion though adds new cards including 3 types that let you draw cards either from the facedown deck or from your discard pile, so the “disarm” is not overpowered. Also of interesting note, the rules for the expansion are found in the base game and NOT in the actual expansion, making it feel like you should play with the expansion from the beginning. I think Empire of Swords, is a good first effort from designer Jon Merchant – my son who is 10 really really liked the game, but only with the expansion. I have to agree that you don’t want to play without the expansion. In fact, I strongly suggest the designer just merged the two into one game, and I have told him as much. Also, there are a few places the rules can be clearer, but most gamers should be able to get the hang of the game. Whose this game for? I think if you want a more advanced version of Rock, Paper, Scissors (games where you want to try to get into your opponent’s head) then you may really dig Empire of Swords (as long as it’s with the Advance Techniques expansion). In the end, my favorite part of the game is really cool art, though my 10-year-old seemed to really enjoy playing it, dubbing it “really fun.”
If you are interested in picking up a copy of Empire of Swords on The Game Crafter, you can do so by clicking this link: https://www.thegamecrafter.com/games/empire-of-swords and the expansion can be found here – https://www.thegamecrafter.com/games/empire-of-swords:-advanced-techniques-expansion
Designer: Christopher Westmaas
Player Count: 2-4
Mechanics/Genre: Hand Management
Note: A copy of this game was given to The Inquisitive Meeple from The Game Crafter for an honest review.
PASSCODE is a 20 card game that comes in a small tuck-box, in which players are working as secret agent hackers that work for DATAPOL trying to secure the passcode. In PASSCODE, players will be trying to be the one that holds the passcode card at the end of the round (when any player only has one card left) to score a point. First to score 3 points wins. In the game, players will play cards that have an action they must take, like take a random card from an opponent or switch hands, etc. If you think this sound familiar to another The Game Crafter game we recently reviewed, you are correct. This gameplay is almost an exact copy of En Passant just with a new theme, an extra ability card (copy the top card from the discard pile), different distribution of stuff in the deck (though I haven’t compared) and a better rulebook. There may be minor differences for example like PASSCODEs “Fileshare” action makes everyone take a card from another player, you choose left or right and En Passant “Bishop” version says the player on left (player playing card doesn’t get direction choice). Also in En Passant the player who starts with the King card announces they have it and is start player, in PASSCODE, you don’t know who has the PASSCODE card (unless you are playing 2-players) to start with. However, the overall experience and general gameplay is the same. En Passant was published on The Game Crafter in Feb 2015 with PASSCODE being published in March 2016, though it could really be just a coincidence, a case of “Multiple discovery” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Multiple_discovery).
Like En Passant before it, I do enjoy PASSCODE. It does allow you a few tiny decisions (for example choosing directions on the above-mentioned card) that En Passant didn’t. However, it also means someone could play the same card and reverse what you just did. Regardless of the version (since they play pretty much the same) we enjoyed our time with the game and end up laughing a lot as we play. However, with either version, I think in future plays we will play one round only instead of the first to 3 points as it can overstay its welcome that way. It doesn’t overstay its welcome we play two or three games 1 round game, instead of a single game that is may, for example, be 7 rounds long.
So what to get? Well, En Passant is much cheaper at $4.99 versus PASSCODE’s $12.99 and comes in an even more portable box – the hookbox verses the poker deck size box. Though as we noted in our En Passant review our copy didn’t come with the correct rules (or the rules for 2 and 3 players), so you will need to go online to find them (for example BGG or its official webpage). That said, the idea of the royal court, the cutesy art may go over better with those that want to play this game with families or non-gamers – say as a restaurant game. Also, the cutesy art of different types of royal court members may be easier for younger kids that don’t read or don’t read well to recognize (over PASSCODE’s artwork), it shouldn’t take long for them to understand what each one does. However, those that like to introduce this game to “gamers” may find the hacker theme and the stylized art of PASSCODE easier to pass off with their gaming group. Not only that but it adds a few minor options tweaks to abilities and a single new ability (that only shows up on one card) and players start out not knowing who has the hand with the PASSCODE card in it, though it doesn’t take long with all the swamping and reactions to start to deduce it. Overall, both PASSCODE and En Passant are great games and for fans of microgames like Council of Verona or Love Letter, and we recommend checking them out, just pick the one that you think best fits your family or playgroups tastes.
If you are interested in picking up a copy of PASSCODE on The Game Crafter, you can do so by clicking this link: https://www.thegamecrafter.com/games/passcode