Sellswords: Olympus

Greetings All,
Thank you for stopping by for this lovely review by The Husband of Sellswords: Olympus. We here at Living by the Board were lucky enough to receive a review copy of Sellswords: Olympus and since my husband is such a huge fan of the game and supernaturally good at it (unless I’m just supernaturally bad at it… I am.) I let him take the reins on this one. I hope you enjoy! It was quite a fun long-winded review!!
2 Players
10-15 Minutes

Alright people, let’s preface this review with a little transparency. Sellswords: Olympus is the psudo-sequel to Sellswords. And I LOVE Selllswords!  I am (around) THIRTY victories, and ZERO losses at this game!  (Can you feel my “victory air hump” through your electronic devices, loyal readers?) So, let it be known, I went in to this review with annoyingly high expectations, and a ravenous lust for a new entry into this revered (by me at least, shut up!) series. So, Imma fanboy all over this review.

Alright, this is usually the point in time when I draw the most ire when I’m trying to articulate how to generally describe how to a game of Sellswords actually plays. So, for all my Japanese Role Playing Game aficionados out there, this game plays like a mega sized, ultra refined version of Triple Triad from Final Fantasy VIII. For all of the rest of regular people out there, Sellswords is a card drafting/head-to-head card placement game.  …Was that confusing? I feel like that was confusing. I am heavily reliant on people being Final Fantasy fans to understand my pitch. Okay, let’s restart. I’ll go a little more in-depth to explain.
Sellswords is played over the course 2 rounds, where you fill a 5×5 grid with 2 sets of cards (1 for you, 1 for your opponent.) I bet you’re saying to yourselves: “Disembodied voice in my head, 5×5 equals 25…but 6x2x2 equals 24.”  Well, there’s a neutral card placed on the board known as “terrain cards” that cause effects (or affects) across the whole board. At the beginning of a round, you (and your opponent) draft 6 cards, round robin style, and get ready to place cards.
Each card is doubled sided, red for one team and blue for the other, this helps to distinguish which cards have been claimed for which team.  Every card has several bits of easy to understand information on their faces.  First is the name of the card (in the upper left hand corner.)  Next are the combat numbers (which are on top, bottom, left, and right edges of the card.) Next, there is a special, card specific, ability (more on that later.)  And lastly, there is an ability type icon, which indicates when/how the card’s specific ability is used.
Let’s explain “combat numbers.”  The numbers bordering your cards can be used directly to assault your opponents cards by comparing the combat values of the sides of the two cards that touch.  For instance, says that my opponent laid a card out had every side bordered by the number “5,” and I have a card that has three sides that all have the number “4…” but it has one side that is a number of “6.”  I would place my card so that the “6” was touching any side of my opponent’s card.  That’s it, at its core it does little more than high numbers to low numbers…until you start factoring in some WILDLY strategic gameplay elements.  First and foremost, you can place cards on the grid facing ANY direction.  So, you could place a card down with its feet facing up, or it’s head facing to the left or right, et cetera  It opens up a PLETHORA of depth in gameplay.  So, if your combat number is greater than your opponent’s when playing your card, you would flip the card over (to your color) denoting that you have beaten that card, which will add towards your score at the end of either round of play.
Alright, terrain cards are neutral cards that you place on the center of your 5×5 grid, that (mostly) effects/affects both players. The effects range from awarding extra points at the end of a round, to just being an elaborate place holder on the grid..  Now, abilities work similarly to terrain card, except that they work in favor of the person playing that card.  The effects of these cards vary so very dramatically, that’s it’s hard to explain without dedicating a whole paragraph JUST to properly illustrate the wide variety of excellent abilities at your disposal.  So, I’ll let you all find out on your own after you procure at least one of these excellent titles for your own collection.
At the end of both rounds of play, you calculate your score based upon how many cards you out on the field, and their formation.  For instance, having a large number of cards in a single row or column of the grid will net you more points than having the same amount of cards scattered all over the grid.  This method of scoring leads to many, MANY tactical decisions on placing your cards across the grid, and I personally love it.
On to the theme and aesthetics!  The theming of the two games differs greatly, insofar as the first appears to be largely concerned with Norse mythology, and Level 99’s existing gallery of characters.  Whereas Olympus deals with (you guessed it!) Greek mythology.  Though, I must say Olympus does a vastly better job of embodying its theme.  All of the cards in the Olympus deck actually deal directly with its theme (Hercules, Perseus, Achilles, et cetera,) and the first Sellswords felt like only it’s terrain tiles had anything to with the Norse theme.  And, though a minor touch, all of Olympus’s cards have a laurel wreath bordering their combat numbers.  I don’t know why, but that tickled me somethin’ fierce when I first saw it….I’m a simple man, gosh darnit.
Let’s take a moment to talk about the cons of these games.  To be honest, this con exists in darn near every Level 99 Games title I can think of off of the top of my head, that infuriating rulebook!  Let me specify, the rules are actually fairly well articulated, and decently laid out for ease of use.  HOWEVER, every time you have to consult with the rulebook it’s like having to unfurl an antiquated road map.  It’s a single sheet of paper folded in on itself again, and again, and again…Is this day and age, it just feels like there has to be a more effective way to package your rules, Level 99 Games, jeez.
Alright loyal readers, that was my in-depth review of (in essence) both “Sellswords” and “Sellswords: Olympus.”  They both have virtually identical gameplay.  But, sometimes it the minor touches that you come to truly revere in a game.  Both titles have great chibi-esqe, anime inspired art. Both titles use great card stock, and have a fine finish.  But I tell you this, for all of the similarities, Sellswords: Olympus is just one notch above its predecessor. Art and graphic design, despite being in the same motif as the first, simply is more aesthetically pleasing this time around.  Font is easier to read, theme is very prevalent the newer title, and the terrain titles and abilities were simply more interesting than on the first go through.  In retrospect, it’s as though the original Sellswords was almost like the skeletal model of this dueling system, and Olympus was the next logical (refined) step.  Faceless denizens of the interwebs, as much as it pains me to say this…I think the sequel actually outstrips the original in every way, if only by a little in some distinctions.
Look readers, I’m not here to tell you how to spend your money…wait a friggin’ minute…YES I AM!  BUY THIS FRICKIN’ GAME SO THEY’LL MAKE MORE!  I cannot recommend this more, and I look forward to lording my unbeaten streak over my family for years to come.

Industry Interviews – Cheapass Games, James Ernest interview!

Greetings All,
Today I get to bring you a great interview with Mr. James Ernest from Cheapass Games! My favorite game form Cheapass is Kill Doctor Lucky, although I am more partial to the card game version of the game. Kill Doctor Lucky is a great game and is best played with the maximum amount of players. Please check out the Cheapass Games site and their awesome free games section! Did you know that James Ernest wrote a book about juggling? Check it out! Enjoy!
1)Your gaming career started as a writer for Wizards of the Coast, during your time with them, when did you decide that you were meant for bigger things?
Honestly, nothing would have been bigger than a chance to work in Wizards R&D. Some very successful game designers have come out of that place. But my work for Wizards was mostly writing and graphic design, not game design. Wizards had a round of layoffs and a change of direction in 1995, and I took that opportunity to jump ship and (eventually) start my own game company. 
2)What was the inspiration for the name “Cheapass Games,” and your first game: “Kill Doctor Lucky?”
“Cheapass Games” was based on the idea that our games were cheap, our company was small, and we were proud of it! I saw a lot of smaller game companies pretending to be huge, but that just wasn’t my style. So we made a big deal out of how small we were, and the name “Cheapass” was part of that strategy.
The inspiration for Kill Doctor Lucky actually predated Cheapass by a few months. I had written a “mystery” story in College, where a detective grills a bunch of murderers in the front room of a mansion while their victim is still alive, and when the lights go out, they all murder him in a matter of seconds. In turn this was inspired by games and movies from the mystery genre, including “Clue” in both cases, as well as many others. 
One day while I was driving across town, the name “Kill Doctor Lucky” came into my head, and a nearly complete picture of the game wasn’t far behind. I had made a few board games already and this seemed like a perfect way to launch my own company, once I had failed to sell it to a few existing publishers. 
3)Kill Doctor Lucky was your flagship game, was it the first game you created?
I’ve been making games since I was very young. My first formal design project was in high school, when I wrote an abstract game (basically a chess variant) as a core element in a fantasy novel. I never finished the novel but my design partner and I thoroughly and enthusiastically finished the game. Before starting Cheapass I had also sold some games to Games Magazine, and had created several other board games and even a few trading card games.
4)How do you think the break in game production affected the company in the long run?
When we closed down (in about 2006) it was the right thing to do. I had too many employees, and too much inventory, and there wasn’t much for it but to spend a few years on hiatus. The break gave us a chance to reinvent the company, and for the world to invent crowdfunding. When we came back with a site full of free games in 2011, many of our customers hadn’t even noticed that we were missing. 
5)What did you do before your gaming career started?
I have part of an engineering degree, and I had a short career as a professional juggler. All of this leads naturally to a game publishing career. I guess. From 1984 to about 1993, my main business was promoting my own juggling act, and publishing an instructional book called Contact Juggling. I also did freelance graphic design and technical writing, as well as comic book writing and illustration. And the kind of odd jobs that jugglers have, like scooping ice cream.
6)What made you want to be involved in the gaming industry?
I saw the success of Richard Garfield and Wizards of the Coast and realized that game inventing could be a paying job. I’ve got a passion for entertainment and mathematics, and I’m not bad at publishing, so it took a while to make sense of it all but I think I was destined for this career for a long time. 
7)What is your favorite game in the Cheapass line and what is your favorite non-Cheapass game?
My favorite non-Cheapass game is poker, if you measure by hours spent playing. I learned a lot from Magic:the Gathering at a critical time in my career, but I also learned by watching that game’s imitators that I would rather create something new than make incremental changes to a thing I know. There’s less money in innovation, but it’s where I would rather be.
Of all the games I’ve invented, I am most fond of Tak, but that’s not technically in the “Cheapass” line… we put a “James Ernest” logo on that box. Other favorites are Lords of Vegas and Pirates of the Spanish Main, also not from Cheapass. My favorite CAG branded game might be Diceland, a quirky little game that never really got off the ground. 
8)Is your family also heavily involved with tabletop gaming?
My wife Carol is VP of Cheapass Games, so yeah. Our daughter Nora is fifteen, and she’s more of a console gamer than a tabletop gamer, but we will rope her into working the booth at Gen Con this year, and then she will either be hooked, or vow to escape at the earliest opportunity. Either way, we win.
9)Your company has some of the (in my opinion) best customer interaction out there, what would you say is the reasoning behind that?
Everyone will tell you that customer service is important, but I think our approach to it comes from a time when we didn’t have the budget for anything else. Our customers are our greatest advocates, and board games spread by word of mouth, so we figure that one happy customer can lead to many more.
10)For anyone out there that is hoping to be a part of the gaming industry, what would be your advice?
Nobody gets into this business for the money. Our industry is populated by people who have a deep passion for games and for gaming, and who create, promote, and sell games because they love it. If you feel like that describes you, then you can probably find a home here.
I hope all of you enjoyed this great, mini in-depth interview! I want to say thank you to Mr. James Ernest and Cheapass Games for this interview, it means the world to me that great companies like yourselves have time for us little guys. Until next time… Live by the Board.

Drink of the Month: August 2017

August is here, and that means the end of the summer. School starts up soon for the kids, and the days left on the beach are winding up.

But that’s OK, because we’ve got a popular drink that has the summer feeling but can be drank all year-long.

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Sex on the Beach

This is a popular drink at our table, one that is fairly easy to make. I had my first a couple years ago, and learned that I was making a variation of it one that I’ll save for another day. When gaming we sometimes give it the alternate name Sex on a Train- which is for Ticket to Ride fans but for the most part we stick with the common name.

What you’ll need:

Peach Schnapps
Orange Juice
Cranberry Juice
Cherry (optional)

How to prep:

Fill cup with ice. 1-2 method of vodka around the cup. 1-2 method of peach schnapps. Fill cup with orange juice leaving a little room, top off with cranberry juice and the optional cherry.

What’s it taste like?: It’s going to have a citrus flavor from the orange juice, with a hint of peach. The cranberry juice offsets it a bit but is usually overcome by the peach and citrus flavors. If you mix it right, you won’t even know there’s vodka in it! Of course, this all depends on juice and alcohol. Some peach schnapps are going to be less peach more schnapps, while some are the opposite. I mentioned before that it depends on what kind of juice you use too, so find your juice that you enjoy.

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Cuddles on the Beach

The virgin version of the Sex on the Beach changes the language so it’s, well, for virgin ears and taste buds. It’s mostly the same drink, but with some slight changes.

What you’ll need:

Peach Nectar/Juice
Orange Juice
Cranberry Juice
Cherry (optional)

How to prep:

Fill cup with ice. 1-2 method of peach nectar/juice. Fill cup with orange juice leaving a little room, top off with cranberry juice and the optional cherry.

What’s it taste like?: Similar to the Sex on the Beach but without the liquor. The peach juice is of course not going to taste the same as peach schnapps, but you’re miles are going to vary depending on brand and amount used. If you’re really feeling up to it, and it’s in season where you live, try using real peaches and a juicer or blender. I’m happy that I recently found the Simple brand has Peach juice now, so it should be a lot easier to find! I’ve not yet tried their stuff, but I plan to give it a go soon and make some interesting drinks with it.

Well, the summer is coming to an end and this year is going by faster than ever. As usual if you’ve never made a mixed drink for your table, give it a go at your next meetup! And remember: drink responsibly, stop cheating we know you’re doing it, and don’t forget to bring snacks.

  • The Bartender