Nightmare Productions

Cover to Trick or Treat Studios edition

2 Plays (4 Players)

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

Making movies, auctions, and Reiner Knizia. You really only need a sprinkling of two of those things to have me interested, yet Nightmare Productions possesses all three in spades. That’s why this one earned a spot among my most anticipated games of 2022; particularly because I’ve never played the older editions of Nightmare Productions (Dream Factory, Hollywood Blockbuster, Hollywood Golden Age, Traumfabrik, etc.).  This one is yet another beloved Knizia classic that has been around for decades and aged quite well.

The only thing that has changed about this fresh reimplementation is the theme.  Where previous editions feature classic actors such as John Wayne and Audrey Hepburn, or parody names such as Leonardo Dicapuccino and Steven Iceburg, this version trades out the pop culture references for the horror genre.  Actors are replaced by creatures, guest stars are replaced by monster cameos, camera crews are replaced by spooky locations, and special effects are replaced by deadly props. Where pop culture can so quickly be outdated or tiresome, I find that I vastly prefer this new theme and more lively presentation.

Players act as competing production companies seeking to make the best (or worst) movies.  You’ll have three film strips in front of you with spaces that require specific tile types to complete — a director here, a creature there, two props together, and so on.  When a movie is complete, the film strip and tiles combine to give you a star total indicating the quality of your movie.  More stars means a better movie, and you’ll plop a rating marker on your film to show both how it compares to rival movies as well as how many points it’ll score at the end of the game.  Bonus points will be awarded to the first movie or best movie that is made in each sub-genre (such as creature features or paranormal flicks) as well as the all-time best casting or worst film.  These awards are what bring some crunchy, competitive strategy to the table.

Now that I’m two plays in, the main thing that keeps coming to mind is how this one compares to the eleven other Knizia auctioning games I’ve tried. In terms of exploring a single genre or mechanism, twelve is a heck of a lot of designs for one creator to crank out. Yet I can look at each of these titles and testify that they are both unique and enjoyable.  That’s why Reiner is the king of auctioning games.

While it doesn’t feel derivative, Nightmare Productions still reminds me of Medici. In either case, you’re progressing through a series of auctions divided into multiple scoring rounds.  Each auction, you’re bidding for a winner-take-all set of stuff using your own points (money counts as points in Nightmare Productions).  It’s your most classic style of auction, bid increasingly higher amounts in clockwise order until all but one player passes. Any stuff that you win gets slotted into the available spaces of your personal area, and that collection contributes to a larger competition for scoring bonus points between rounds and at the end of the game.  But where the winner’s bid in Medici simply evaporates into thin air as their point marker plummets down the track, the winning bid in Nightmare Productions actually gets split evenly between the auction losers.

Slotting your winnings into your player area is also far more nuanced in Nightmare Productions.  Each strip has an optional cameo space that can be filled to boost your star count.  Some spaces are easier to fill, as they accept multiple options (location/prop/music/director).  Some tiles are wild “contracts” which can be placed anywhere.  And creatures and cameos contribute to turn order priority during the drafting phases sprinkled throughout the game.

All that said, the simpler mechanisms of Medici actually make for a more dramatic game.  Nightmare Productions has nearly all of its tiles displayed on the board face up, allowing players to plan their strategy carefully and methodically for an entire round.  Meanwhile, Medici is more loose and suspenseful as each player decides when to stop revealing cards to be put up for auction — cards that can either cause a spike or a plummet in the set’s value.  The other key difference is that once a player fills a film strip in Nightmare Productions, they simply grab another one and keep going.  In Medici, once you’ve filled your boat board, you are completely out for the rest of the round and must watch in agony or glee as the remaining cards come out of the deck to be auctioned off without you.

Although it’s interesting to compare Nightmare Productions and Medici, I would not say that one is objectively better than the other. Those who prefer a more zesty theme with increased considerations will gravitate toward Nightmare Productions. Those who delight in more highs and lows with a constant, underlying tension will opt for Medici.  I’d say in either case, you can’t go wrong.

Prognosis: Good

Nightmare Productions, Trick or Treat Studios, 2022 — box and components (image provided by the publisher)

Zombie Mania

Box Front

1 Play (4 Players)

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

Dice and zombies—the ketchup and fries of board gaming.  And who better to trust a set of dice to than the mathematician who has over 130 published dice rolling games under his belt?

With Zombie Mania, a 2014 game now back from the dead thanks to publisher Trick or Treat Studios, Reiner Knizia invites us once more to enjoy chucking a fistful of dice.  Much like Pickomino (aka Heckmeck), players take turns rolling a bunch of dice and setting some aside after each roll until they choose to stop or bust.  Also like Pickomino, you’ll need to roll a very important side if you want your results to mean anything.

Zombie Mania is all about rolling pairs to get the job done.  Pairs of tombstones, pairs of buildings, pairs of zombies, etc.  Apparently being undead comes with the side effect of loneliness.  If you want to be able to do anything on your turn, your 8 dice need to roll at least 2 tombstones.  Once you have your pair of tombstones, you’re free to start clearing your player board of zombies.

Rolling a pair of single green zombies or single blue zombies lets you get rid of one zombie from your board.  Rolling a pair of double red zombies allows you to clear two zombies from your board.  Normally, these evicted zombies end up in the graveyard (a discard pile) unless you roll a pair of buildings which allows you to instead pile those zombies on another player’s board.  Finally a pair of x2’s will double the amount of zombies you can get rid of.  But remember, you can only get rid of zombies if you have a pair of tombstones among your dice results.

You’re not limited to a specific number of rerolls.  Rather, each time you roll your dice, you must set aside at least one zombie die.  The moment you don’t roll any zombies is the moment you instantly bust—your turn is over.  But each die has a 50/50 shot of rolling a zombie, so it’s possible to push your luck quite far while you aim to assemble the best pairs of dice. Notably, this rule can result in an awkward turn fizzle-out when you still need one more tombstone for your results to mean anything but you only have 1 die remaining that you can roll — meaning that even if you successfully roll a tombstone with the last die, you automatically bust because it is not a zombie. I’m not a fan of this special case scenario, but it happens infrequently enough (and turns are fast enough) that it’s not a huge deal.

Just like all Knizia dice games, the tough decisions are enshrouded within what appears to be a massive luckfest.  Which dice do you keep… how many do you reroll?  Do you play it safe or risk it for the biscuit?  

The way a player travels down these subtle branching paths will determine whether they look like a lucky fool or a fool down on their luck.  As always, it’s an enjoyable journey to take and to watch others take.  Yet with Zombie Mania in particular, it’s possible for this traveling group to find themselves stuck in an endless loop—trapped less in a Zombie Apocalypse and more in the Twilight Zone.

You see, the game ends when a player starts their turn with zero zombies on their board.  That means that on their previous turn, they kicked out the remaining zombies and then watched with glee as all of their opponents failed to send a zombie back their way.  Yet our first play of Zombie Mania proved that nailing the leader with a zombie (and thus stopping them from winning) is exhaustingly easy to accomplish.

Although you need 6 of your 8 dice to churn out a specific combination in order to nail an opponent—a pair of tombstones, a pair of buildings, and a pair of zombies—we managed to do this again, and again, and again, and again, and again.

I believe I was the first player to clear my board of zombies.  It’s a little bit fuzzy, as all of us cleared our boards multiple times as we played a twisted version of hot potato with the few remaining zombies that didn’t end up in the graveyard.  Collectively, we probably cleared our boards 20 times.

At the time players started clearing their boards, we were probably 15 or 20 minutes into the game.  From there, it was another agonizingly long 15 or 20 minutes of sending the zombies around and around from one empty board to the next.  Although it’s unlikely, it’s theoretically possible for this game to go 2 or 3 or 4 or who knows how many times longer than it should.  It reminds me of the Isner v. Mahut Wimbledon match of 2010 where the poor saps played 11 hours of tennis across 3 days because neither athlete was able to win two games in a row to seal the victory.  Professional tennis tournaments, including Wimbledon, have since amended this rule to prevent matches from going on too long.

I’m honestly surprised that Reiner didn’t address this potential endless loop issue during development.  One simple rule could have done the trick.  Something like: collect a token each time you clear your board; if you have cleared your board 3 times, instantly win the game.  That’s probably a house rule I’ll have to shoehorn into the game next time we play.  The silver lining here is that I genuinely do want to play Zombie Mania again, just not with the undying ending ?.  If you can manage to look past that plot hole or fill it in yourself, then it’s still a rather enjoyable dice chucker. 

Prognosis: Fair*

*house rules required

2022 Edition contents

Transatlantic

Cover design

1 Play (4 Players)

I’ve heard gamers describe certain games as spreadsheets, but never has this sentiment rang more true for me than with Transatlantic.  If you ever wondered what Concordia would be like if it was combined with Microsoft Excel, then look no further.

Transatlantic is all about buying ships and using them to transport stuff across the ocean.  Each ship is represented by a card with 6 numbers and 1 color.  You read that right—6 functional quantities and 1 functional flag color.  These cards are arranged on an ocean spreadsheet as if someone had clicked “Sort by Year.”  From there, it’s just a mix of formulas embedded into the sheet where players take turns plugging in variables and watching the results spew out gradually larger numbers.

Just like Concordia, you cycle through your initially symmetrical hands but then slowly diverge as you add more cards from the market.  One card makes you money, another scores you points, another lets you buy stuff from the market, another let’s you copy an opponent’s last card, and yet another lets you pick up all of your played cards so you can do it over again.  One thing is for sure: nobody needs to point out that these games come from the same designer.

But rather than navigating a map, staking your claim on regions, and triggering production in those regions, here you are simply buying some ship cards, slotting them into ocean columns, collecting some bonuses based on “greater than” formulas, placing coal cubes on those cards, and then spending the cubes back off of those cards to earn some money so you can do it all over again.  For 2 hours.

Any sense of thematic immersion that Concordia possesses is tossed out here in favor of numbers, numbers, and more numbers…  This boat’s speed is 15 while that boat’s speed is 14.  This ship can hold 400 passengers, while that ship can hold 600 passengers.  This ship costs 50 pounds, while that ship costs 40 pounds.  This ship was built in 1875, while that other one was built in 1876.  This ship pays out 20, but that other one pays out 30.  In the words of Robo-Colonel Sanders, “It’s number-licking good.”

Transatlantic reminds me of a modern day screen addict—one who is so swallowed up in social trends and internet media that they fail to develop a personality of their own.  I feel as though I’m playing a Concordia husk supported by a spreadsheet skeleton.  With the impending release of Crossing Oceans—the 2022 sequel to Transatlantic—one can only hope that this swapping of husks from Concordia’s card cycler to Imperial’s rondel brings more life to this nautical monotony.

Prognosis: Poor

Transatlantic

Puzzle Strike 2

Puzzle Strike 2 cover

1 Play (4 Players)

Oh boy.  Let’s just rip that band-aid right off and get straight to the pain:

Puzzle Strike 2 somehow manages to take every design and publishing philosophy that I hold dear and crash it to pieces, much like the gem crashing of its theme.  It’s impressive how audacious it is, really.  In other words, this is the most un-me game that I’ve played since Unstable Unicorns.

Straight out of the gates, Puzzle Strike 2 presents itself with an art style that makes my eyes bleed.  The cartoony neon rainbow explosion here is the equivalent of filling a 2-liter with all of the slurpee flavors at 7-Eleven and drinking the entire container in 3 seconds.  While your brain is still screaming from the sensory overload, you’ll remove the lid to find a massive, battery powered, light-up fairy wand that looks like my 3-year-old snuck it out of her toy chest and crammed it into the game box when I wasn’t looking.  But no, that wand is indeed an intended board game component.

From there, you’ll be playing a hybrid of solitaire deck building mixed with wand-wielding King of Tokyo mixed with take-that Candy Crush where the objective is to make your opponents bust while you survive the onslaught of incoming gems.  Your player board features a column where various colored gems drop down into, and you’ll need to rearrange them and crash them efficiently in order to keep this tower from hitting its deadly threshold.  

Much like Tetris, clearing gems off of your board will send them over to your opponents for them to deal with.  And as players upgrade their decks they’ll be executing even more deadly combos until somebody can’t clean up their incoming mess.  Yet for a game with such a confrontational objective, the player turns have never felt more solitaire.

In a 4-player game, you’ll spend most of your time watching your opponents work through the puzzly solitaire challenge of whittling down their gem stack and blocking incoming gems.  With increasingly bigger board problems and increasingly larger hand combos, the downtime only gets worse as the game progresses onward.

Downtime is only the first red flag that tells me Puzzle Strike 2 should have probably been an exclusively 2 player design.  The second red flag comes in the form of the end game: once one player busts in a 3-4 player game, the remaining players take one last turn to determine the winner.  This turn is essentially players flexing their last hand as much a possible, and whoever gets the best combo on their turn wins the game.  So the objective is to not be the first person eliminated, and then hope you luck into a good hand for your last turn.

The third red flag comes in the form of the stated playtime of 20-30 minutes.  That may be true for a 2-player game, but it’s a downright lie in a 4-player game which plays closer to an hour or more.

Where the game doesn’t seem to respect itself in terms of a realistic player count, an honest play time, reasonable game components, and more, I struggle to respect it as a participant.  

That’s a shame, because it seems like a lot of thought and effort went into crafting the many asymmetric starter decks and market cards.  And I’m sure that some folks will enjoy it’s zany antics, particularly as a 2-player dueling game.  But even if you cast all of my surface complaints aside, I still prefer dueling games and deck builders where the player interaction is the focal point rather than a turn-by-turn solitaire puzzle combo contest.

Prognosis: Hopeless

An asymmetric deckbuilder for 1-4 players full of miracle turns, magical gems, 
and a Scepter of Power that tests your greed.

Resist!

Resist! Cover

3 Plays (1 Player)

I don’t often seek out solo games, but sometimes I stumble across great ones.  This is true of Trailblazers which we took on as a publishing project before I tried and got hooked on the solo modes.  It’s also true of Resist!, which comes from a team up of designers behind many solid games including Undaunted, Mandala, Switch & Signal, and more.

Resist is a cleverly thematic deck deconstruction game of playing as the underground resistance in Spain nearly 100 years ago.  You start with a band of 12 Maquis and 3 Spies (junk cards) forming your deck.  From there, you’ll be drawing 5 cards and selecting a mission to take on with that hand.

Your cards are large—tarot sized—because each Maquis card features a “hidden” side and a “revealed” side with their own unique attack value and action.  The revealed side of each card is more powerful, as it represents the Maquis blowing their cover and making one last stand to help the cause of the resistance before they presumably flee or are captured by the oppressive Spanish ruler.  In other words, if you play a card as hidden then it will cycle back into your deck through your discard pile.  If you play a card as revealed, then that card will be removed from your deck entirely (unless another card’s action allows you to pull a revealed card back into your deck).

The cards that you play, whether hidden or revealed, must combine to an attack value that is greater than the chosen mission’s defense value in order to succeed in that round.  On top of that, each mission will have 3 or more facedown enemy cards that only become revealed when you commit to the mission (or you can flip them early with some Maquis planning actions).  These enemies add further headaches to your short-term objectives and long-term success unless you can take them down as well. 

Just like all of my favorite solo games, there is a push-your-luck element here.  The risks and rewards come in the form of selecting a specific mission as well as deciding when to end the game entirely.  Each round you’ll try to string together the best Maquis actions such as drawing extra cards from your deck, sniping or chasing off enemy cards, adding more Maquis to your deck, and pushing your attack value above the threshold as you try to avoid several losing conditions and take back control of Spain.  Your deck will quickly shed revealed Maquis cards and even slowly gain more Spies (junk cards) and at some point you’ll need to call it quits.

If you can manage to accomplish enough missions, those mission points will add up to a Minor Victory, Victory, Major Victory, or clean sweep of Spain.  And it’s definitely not an easy feat to even win.  My first attempt at the game ended in an epic failure, and my second attempt resulted in me barely squeezing by with a Victory.

This 30-minute challenge is compelling and unique enough that I’m happy to have backed and played it.  But as a hobbyist who strongly prefers player interaction in my gaming, I would quickly lose interest in Resist if there was nothing more in the box to keep me coming back.  Once I’ve seen all that a solitaire game has to offer, and especially once I feel like I’ve overcome the general challenge, then I typically lose the hunger to retread the same ground.  Fortunately, the designers (Trevor Benjamin, Roger Tankersly, and David Thompson) have gone the extra mile by including 8 standalone scenarios in the box beyond the standard game.  This ensures that I have several more interesting challenges with unique rulesets to come back to, and I’ve only scratched the surface of those.

Prognosis: Good

Spies are deadly.
Image provided by Dan Thurot of Space Biff

Carnegie

Box Front Carnegie by Xavier Georges (design) and Ian O'Toole (art). Masterprint 27.

2 Plays (4 Players)

Ahh yes, efficiency Euros.  One of the great pillars of board gaming.  Where cubes are resources and resources are points and points are life.  You know, the more efficiency Euros I try, the more I ask myself why I didn’t just play my proven favorites like Brass or Sidereal Confluence or Hansa Teutonica or Eclipse or Great Western Trail or Pipeline instead.

Those who have followed my first impressions posts have heard me blather time and time again about how lots of efficiency Euros blur together into the same bland flavor.  This flavor often lacks spicy interaction, potent strategies, and unique textures—where the playing payoff doesn’t measure up to the effort required to learn what is ultimately a recycled experience.  

Yet every year tends to release at least one or two efficiency Euros which stand out and rise above the rest…  Euros that aren’t forgettable, that feel refreshing and exciting, that reward repeated plays and respect the investment of the players.  If I had to bet on a strong contender for best efficiency Euro of 2022, then my current pick would be Carnegie.

While the theme here is as basic as… do stuff that wealthy entrepreneur Andrew Carnegie did… that doesn’t really matter once one dives into the stunning production and meaty mechanisms.  The standout elements here are two things:

  1. The timeline track where players take turns advancing an action marker to trigger the next event and activate the action for everyone.
  2. Your personal company board where you’ll add specialized departments, shift and train employees within those departments, and advance your project tabs which are satisfyingly slotted into your company board.

While there are plenty other features that create tension and competition between players (things like claiming project spaces on the map or department tiles from the supply or donation benefits first), the focal point of interaction is undoubtedly the timeline track.  While players start out with roughly the same setup, over time they’ll diverge depending on where they assign their employees and when they activate them.  Keeping track of your opponents’ current focuses and needs is critical to your success, as the action marker you select and the event you trigger affects everyone.  The key is to select the best option for yourself at the most inconvenient time for others.

Yet even when your rascal of a neighbor doesn’t adhere to your schedule, you can usually still make some satisfying progress on your strategy as long as you aren’t too careless with your employee organization.  Your company board displays four floors of departments—a healthy start of 5 basic departments surrounded by a convas of opportunities.  These departments are most comparable to worker placement areas where you can position up to 3 employees at desk spaces which, if occupied, will each allow you to take that department’s action whenever activated by the timeline track.  These departments cover Human Resources (positioning your employees), Management (expanding your company board and sending employees on game board missions), Construction (building a network across the US for bonuses and points), and Research & Development (improving your income and infrastructure).

The challenge of the game is adapting your strategy to the timeline track while forecasting the order in which your opponents will advance along it.  Carnegie demands forward thinking and careful preparations from its players, and then it generously rewards such behavior.  You’ll be sending out employees on missions—tragically evacuating your precious departments in the process—but if you time it just right then those relocated employees will act like magic beans that were planted on the game board and instantly grew into a towering income beanstalk overnight.  All this because you correctly predicted exactly which event someone would pick next.  Jack would be proud.

Although the game is long (up to 3 hours with 4 players), it fully fills that time with juicy Euro goodness.  I’ve come away from both sessions hungry to explore it further, and that alone elevates Carnegie high above it’s many competitors.

Prognosis: Good


Prognosis: a forecast of how the game will likely fare in my collection, and perhaps yours as well.

  • Excellent– Among the best in its genre.  This game will never leave my collection.
  • Good– A very solid game and a keeper on the shelf.
  • Fair– It’s fine. It’s enjoyable. But I’m not likely to seek it out or keep it around.
  • Poor– Really doesn’t fit my tastes; not one I want to revisit… but hey, that’s just me.
  • Hopeless– Never again. Run & hide. Demon be gone.

Article written by Nick Murray. Outside of practicing dentistry part-time, Nick has devoted his remaining work-time to collaborating with the world’s best designers, illustrators, and creators in producing classy board games that bite, including the upcoming Zoo Vadis by Reiner Knizia. He hopes you’ll join Bitewing Games in their quest to create and share classy board games with a bite.

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Tyler D

    Love Carnegie!

    On Nightmare Productions, the comparison to Medici is interesting, I need to play that one more. It felt a little too mathy to me my one play where Hollywood/Nightmare productions leans heavily into it’s theme, which is a nice change for an auction game. Another thing to note, Nightmare Productions/Hollywood plays really well at 3, some say it’s best at that count. I know Joel Eddy said he will only play it at 3. Where Medici is not good unless you have at least 4, better with more yet.

    Though at 3 count it’s competing with Ra… just too many good Knizia auction games, hah. Not a bad problem to have.

    I have the Spanish, Hollywood Golden Age edition of the game and it’s fun to see how starry eyed my older family members get when I pull it out.

    1. Nick Murray

      I agree, Nightmare Productions at least hides its math better.

      Ra is crazy good at 3p, but I could see Nightmare Productions being great at 3p as well.

  2. Scott

    I quite enjoyed my play of Hollywood Blockbuster but ended up giving it to a pal since the game lined up perfectly with everything he likes. I love closed economy auctions, and I’m looking forward to seeing how Orongo implements the same core concept in a different way.

    1. Nick Murray

      Closed economy games are always interesting in how they ratchet up the tension of when to blow your money and when to conserve it.

      I do find myself preferring limited auctions (Ra’s sun disks, Amun-Re’s auction tracks, Hot Lead’s hand management) or closed/secret auctions (Orongo, QE) over open auctions (Medici, Nightmare Productions) as time goes on. They tend to be more brisk.

      Orongo brings in an additional spicy decision of when to bid zero to replenish your personal economy. Great stuff!

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