Inside the Box: Here I Stand, Second Printing

July 16, 2012

Inside the Box is an in-depth look at the contents of a board game. It covers the quality, quantity, and aesthetic value of what is found inside the game box.

Here I Stand (HIS) was originally released in in 2006 by GMT Games. Four years later, the second printing came out, and recently I was lucky enough to get my hands on a copy and have been largely impressed by the value of the contents. It currently retails for $85, but can be purchased for much less through the usual channels. HIS, like its sequel, Virgin Queen, is a card-driven game of war, diplomacy, discovery, and religion.

As with all GMT games put out in the last few years, the 3 inch deep box is incredibly sturdy and heavy. Upon opening it, I realized I was getting a lot of material! 4 counter sheets,  a rule book, a scenario book, a fully mounted game board, two decks of cards, dice, two player’s aid sheets, two sheets for sequence of play, and six power cards. 

Wow, that’s a lot of gaming stuff!

Of course, I am able to compare it against the first printing on my game shelf, and I am impressed by the choices GMT made. The most visually appealing elements are the new mounted board and the thicker counters. There is a lot of text on the board, but it is all easily readable. Also, there are several charts that are fit on the board, which means less supplementary charts lying around like in Virgin Queen. No more putting plexiglass over this gorgeous game–you can just setup and enjoy. I also appreciate the thicker counters. I remember punching the counters in the first printing and having some tear at the corners–no problems this time around.  

I am also very happy to have a completely updated rulebook in my hands. Unfortunately, GMT decided not to go to a color copy, but it’s not that big of a deal. The scenario book also has rules for how to play the two-player variant, which originally came out in C3i magazine some years ago and had to be purchased separately. The two-player diplomacy deck has also been included right out of the box, which is a huge bonus. I feel like I’m getting a lot of goodies for just a modest increase in pricing.

An example of a card from the two-player diplomatic deck.

Another excellent addition is the turn sequence sheets. There are two of these (full color), and they include a multiplayer side and a two player side. No matter what version of the game you use, you’ll find them helpful, as they provide a convenient chart on which to lay out the various cards and game pieces that are added to the game turn by turn. This was one of the biggest hassles of the first printing–separating out the deck and pieces and trying to figure out what came in when. Now you can just lay it all out on a side table and refer to it once you wrap up a turn. Simple and effective. This is another case of GMT listening to its customers, as I think they figured out everyone was downloading turn sequence aides on Board Game Geek anyway.

The new turn sequence sheet.

Here I Stand, second printing, is a great example of how GMT’s production values have improved over the years. They’ve also included enough new material to make this worth picking up for people who own the first edition. With a mounted map, thicker counters, and a useful turn sequence aide, the game is pleasing to the eye and a blast to play. And now…with a nice looking board, people will definitely be eyeing this from across convention halls all over the world.

Inside the Box: Virgin Queen

July 9, 2012

Inside the Box is an in-depth look at the contents of a board game. It covers the quality, quantity, and aesthetic value of what is found inside the game box.

Virgin Queen (VQ) was released in May by GMT Games. I was lucky enough to get my hands on a copy recently and have been largely impressed by the value of the contents. It retails for $89, but can be purchased for much less through the usual channels. VQ is a card-driven game of war, diplomacy, science, discovery, and religion. It is a monster like its predecessor, Here I Stand (HIS), both in terms of complexity and playing time.

As with all GMT games put out in the past two years, the box is sturdy and colorful. The cover paintings, an official portrait of Queen Elizabeth I atop The Decisive Action with the Armada off Gravelines, catches the eye, as does the subtitle: The Wars of Religion.

Opening up the weighty box, you’ll find…well, a lot. Five full sheets of counters, 134 playing cards, a sturdy game board, six half sheet ruler cards, two 8.5 x 11 reference cards, four 8.5 x 11 supplementary sheets with various trackers on them, a rule book, scenario book, and ten dice. Whew. I’m familiar with HIS, but this game has got a lot more moving parts. It’s going to take me a while to figure out how to even bag and store this thing. 

A huge amount of game stuff.

All together, I would say the components are a big step up from GMT games before 2010. The mounted map is gorgeous, the cards are thick and glossy, and even the cardboard counters are thicker than they used to be (by about 33%).

Left: Counters from the first edition of HIS. Right: An equal number of counters from VQ.

One new addition in VQ is royals, who you can marry off to each other in the diplomacy phase (frankly, this is awesome and hysterical). I was interested to learn each royal has its own card instead of a cardboard chit. The front side includes game information and a portrait, while the back tells you their historical fate.

Be still, my beating heart.

Each player also gets a nice power card which explains all the actions he or she can engage in. I wish these had been a little thicker (perhaps as thick as the board?). However, they have a clean layout considering how complicated the game is.

Again, a lot going on.

I have only found three minor things to complain about with regards to the components of the game. First, there is a lot of dark text on the game board, which makes some of it hard to read. I would have preferred white text on the board instead. Second, there are a few cards in the main deck that have some pretty poor art on them. If every card was as bad, maybe it wouldn’t be so noticeable, but look at the English home card v.s. Scurvy:

Beautiful card…

…and clip art.

Last, the number of supplementary charts that you need to lay out around the game board is rather annoying. In Here I Stand, they managed to fit the turn track, VP track, New World map, New World riches table, diplomacy chart, and the Henry’s Wives table all on the main board. Almost nothing gets on the Virgin Queen main board, which leads to the marked increase in supplemental charts. You’ll need a monster of a table to fit it all on the table, that’s for sure.

The rulebook and scenario book are definitely as good at the Here I Stand ones, and again Ed Beach gets the rules right by making them procedural. For such a complex game, the rules are remarkably easy to understand. A big bonus is that both the rulebook and scenario book are in full color, which makes the examples much easier to read.

All in all, I would say this is a success in terms of its production. When this hits the table in my Church History class in March, my students are definitely going to be wandering over to check it out.

Inside the Box: Commands & Colors: Napoloenics: The Spanish Army

February 27, 2012

Inside the Box is an in-depth look at the contents of a board game. It covers the quality, quantity, and aesthetic value of what is found inside the game box.

Commands & Colors: Napoloenics: The Spanish Army is the first expansion in the latest iteration of Richard Borg‘s C & C system. Published by GMT, it retails for $55, but can often be found between $30-35 through the usual online sellers.

As with all GMT games put out in the past two years, the box is sturdy and colorful. The cover painting, a group of beleaguered Spanish troops around a battery of cannons, really catches the eye. The back boasts a playing time of 1 hour, which is, I think, rather optimistic. The only eyesore is a graphic of Napoleon with a transparent bicorn hat on his head. Whoops.

Opening up the box, you’ll find a bag of 210 unit blocks, colored blue for the French and a dirty yellow for the Spanish. You also get 3 sheets of unit sticks, a rulebook with 18 new scenarios, 2 National Unit reference cards (one with all the Coalition forces, one with the French forces), 2 unit reference cards in a new style, and 1 sheet of terrain hexes. (Secretly, I was hoping for a correction for the card “Give Them the Cold Steal,” but no such luck.)

The contents of this expansion.

All together, the components are a step down from the Napoleonics core game, unfortunately. There are three reasons for this. First, the muddy yellow color for the Spanish blocks was a poor choice. Compared to the rich brown of the Portugeuse, the bright red of the British, and the royal blue of the French, the Spanish army looks…well, pretty bad. Even a few more coats of yellow would have worked, but it looks like the paint is so thinly applied that the dark grain of the wood comes out and the effect is not pleasant.

Spanish and French blocks.

Second, a decision was made to include small identification symbols on some unit types. Grenadiers now have a silhouette of a bomb, heavy cavalry have a trooper’s helmet, and light infantry have a bugle. This seems to me unnecessary–each unit already has its name printed at the bottom of each block–and from a distance, these symbols look like smudges. Worst of all, in scenarios that combine the base and expansion sets, you’ll now have some units with symbols and some without, which will probably just cause confusion.

Third, the terrain tiles, square track, guerilla tokens, and victory banners, which all come from one cardboard sheet, are incredibly thin. GMT has stated this was a mistake on the printer’s part, one that they decided not to rectify. The result is some components that feel very cheap when you’re handling them.

The new terrain tiles (left) v.s. the old terrain tiles (right).

While these three definitely detract from the over quality of the product, I think the uniqueness of the Spanish army still shines through. Just glancing over the rules, I could tell these guys would be very fragile in the field and yet powerful because of the guerilla special ability. I am also very happy that GMT made the choice to include two kinds of player aids: I do not like the original style (which you still get here) because of all the flipping you need to do to get some basic information. The new style, however, is excellent. The new handout is just 1 double-sided sheet, and actually easier to navigate than the larger one.

The new charts (left) v.s. the old charts (right).

Overall, I’m feeling a bit iffy on this expansion from a components perspective. Unfortunately, it feels like a rushed product when you consider the cardboard thickness, the paint quality, and the strange unit symbols. The system is still great, however, and Mr. Borg’s design is strong. It’s just that the execution on GMT’s part leaves much to be desired here. Let’s hope they get the Austrian, Prussian, and Russian expansions right.