Oct 242014
 

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Timeline by Frédéric Henry is a simple trivia game with a twist! Players try to map out a series of cards in the order the occurred relative to each other. Maybe you don’t know the exact year that an invention was made, but maybe you’ll know whether it was before or after the invention of fireworks!

Timeline works well from 2-8 players and lasts around 15 minutes! It’s a fun one to play while waiting for an order at a restaurant!

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Oct 232014
 

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Garden Dice is Doug Bass’ debut 2-4 player family game, which was crowdfunded on Kickstarter. In Garden Dice, my family and I have found an interesting and well-crafted game of farming and harvesting food! Rolling the dice to take your turn is very simple; and the spatial elements of moving pieces on a grid is what sets this game apart. Players are trying to water seeds, harvest plants and avoid those pesky birds!

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Oct 222014
 

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Lost Cities has become the classic in 2-player games that work great for couples! It’s based on a simple card mechanic where players take turns playing one card at a time into various “expeditions”. The trick is that cards may only be placed on a card of the same color, but a lower value. Very tight gameplay without too many frills, and surprisingly beautiful art! The math at the end of each round is a little heavy-handed, but it certainly doesn’t take a way from the fun. Play it before dinner and let us know what you think in the comments!

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Oct 212014
 

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It’s not rare for me to like a game. I like lots of games, tons of games. I have so many games I like I rarely get to play as many as I’d like in a given month, week or game night. So imagine my dismay at finding yet another game to like. It’s a good, no… it’s a great problem to have. Lanterns looked good to me before I ever got the preview copy, that’s why I was a backer from day 1. The rules are tight, the game looked fun and I really loved the theme. So rather than bury the lead any more, here’s the quick scoop. This game is really good for a 20-30 minute game. Good enough that I have no problem recommending it. In fact, I’m going to make a comparison in a further down that may surprise you. Enough! On to the review.

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Lanterns is a tile laying, color matching, set collection game for 2-4 players, which takes about 20-30 minutes to play. I don’t know what the ages are officially but I can say without hesitation that my 8 year old wiped me off the table. Twice. And the second time I was really trying to win! It comes with 35 lake tiles, 56 small-sized lantern cards, 30 dedication tokens and 24 favor tokens. It’s on Kickstarter right now, and has 14 days left, with two stretch goals already met.

By way of disclaimer, I was sent a prototype to review, and all components are not finished game quality.

Game play

This game really has only three things in it you’re trying to do, but it lends itself to a decent amount of strategy for a 30 minute game. First, each player has three lake tiles – representing the lanterns of different colors floating on the water. The last action you’ll take on your turn is to place one tile, resolve the effects and then draw another tile. This continues until all tiles are drawn and placed, which causes the game to end.

As players place tiles, they collect sets of lantern cards matching the colors on these tiles. They can then dedicate sets of lanterns and exchange them for dedication tokens – points. Here’s how this works during your turn.

First, players can choose to use favor tokens they acquired in previous turns. Players get these by interacting with lake tiles that have platforms on them (the center tile in the image above). Two favor tokens can be used to exchange one lantern card for another. Why would you do this? Because you’re striving to collect sets of lantern cards.

If you have four of a kind of any of the seven different colored lantern cards, you can ‘dedicate’ them and collect the top red dedication token. If you have three pairs you can collect the top blue dedication token. If you have one of each of the seven colors, you get the top green dedication tokens. These tokens each start with 8, 9 and 10 respectively and the numbers go down as players obtain them. This is what you use to get your end-game points.

Lastly on your turn, you must place one of your lake tiles. It has to be adjacent to another lake tile (one starts the game off) and this allows you to collect a lantern card based on the color facing you. That’s kind of cool. Each other player also collects a lantern card based on the color facing them – that means that every turn, each player gets to do something, which is always a good thing in my book. If you happen to match any two colors (white with white say) even if that color is not on your side of the tile, you also get a lantern card of that color. That is where the bulk of the strategy comes into play. You want to help yourself as much as possible but also face the fact that every tile you play also helps your opponents in some way. If you place a tile with a platform, or place a tile adjacent to another tile with a platform, you get to collect a favor token.

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My Thoughts

Here’s that comparison I promised. While the mechanics are a bit different and feature a directional component, this game very much reminds me of Splendor in complexity, strategy and that general feeling. I know, right?

I’ve played both games an equal amount of time and I’ve gained equal enjoyment from them both. Lanterns makes a nice pattern during game play which makes it visually appealing. It does have the tile laying aspect which appeals to a certain set of gamers just because it is what it is. Strategically your using pattern matching to plan ahead and acquire the sets of lantern cards you need to collect to turn in for points. Sounds fairly simple, but ends up with a bit of complexity as the game goes on. I found myself holding my tiles up in front of me and turning them about, looking for the perfect match to help me the most and benefit my daughter the least. I failed in that, but had a great time doing it. This might lead to a bit of analysis paralysis in those who are prone to such things, but nothing like a lightweight euro would.

Bottom Line

I like this game, as I said at the beginning of this review. I like it enough that I’m actively planning on playing it more. It’s a great filler style game, which would be perfect for my occasional lunch time work group. also great for a game or two before my kids have to go to bed. At $24 shipped to the US, China and Hong Kong, $33 shipped to Canada the pricing is not outrageous. For US and China/Hong Kong backers it’s downright affordable. The expected MSRP is $30.  It is a Kickstarter campaign so backers will have to wait until June of next year (barring delays) to receive it. Foxtrot Games did deliver one successful Kickstarted game last year, less than a month off from their initial date. You can find the rules online as well (PDF).

I very much enjoyed this game and my daughter’s already reserved a play of it during our upcoming Extra Life event – it’s one that I enjoyed so much so that I’ll let my status as a backer speak for itself. I’m getting this one!

And the winner is....

And the winner is….

 

About Ben

I'm a geek. A nerd, a dweeb, whatever. Yes I owned garb, yes I still own medieval weaponry. And yeah, I could kick your butt in Mechwarrior the CCG. I love video games, role playing games, tactical board games and all forms of speculative fiction. I will never berate someone for wanting to be a Jedi and take everything Gary Gygax ever wrote as gospel. Well, all of this but that last bit.

Oct 212014
 

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Today I’m talking about Guillotine from designer Paul Peterson! Guillotine is a lovely, fast-paced card game that plays from 2-5 players. Players try to chop off the heads of nobles during the French revolution. It is a great filler game with a cartoony style! Pick it up and let me know what you think!

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Oct 202014
 

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Hi! I’m Ed Baraf and I’d like to introduce Edo’s Game Reviews! Today we’re kicking off this series of episodes – since I’ve recorded a bunch already, we’ll do one a day for every weekday into early November and then post them as they come!

I’m doing a series of short reviews about games I love – just 2-5 minutes.
Let me know if you have suggestions for improvements, game recommendations, or just to say hello!

I’ve also started doing a few Kickstarter Previews and Guest Review spots!
Want to send me a game to look at? Want to be a guest? Just shoot me a note!

Sep 052014
 

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Available today from both The Game Crafter and DriveThruCards – Zombie – Shambling and Hungry!

This is my 5th card game! Originally inspired by a friend who suggested I take Ninja – Silent but Deadly and rather than an assassination game, do a zombie infection style game. I really liked the idea but wanted to make this more than 20 cards that you could use to infect friends. So I built another game around and you’ve not got two games in one handy deck.

Zombies – Shambling and Hungry: Use these zombie cards to simulate a zombie outbreak at your next party or family gathering! Sit yourself down for a fast and furious game of zombie dominance!

In this game each player takes the role of a shambling and hungry zombie, trying their best to get to the front of the zombie horde where they’ll have the best chance at a juicy bite from one of those still living. Each zombie player will do their best to rid themselves of other nearby zombies (game cards) by pushing them back or foisting them onto other zombie players.

The first player to break away from the horde by discarding all of their cards wins!

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Zombies – Infection: Each deck of Zombies: Shambling and Hungry comes with 20 Infected cards. They are used to infect your friends, who in turn can and should infect other friends! Use as many Infected cards as there are players. One person becomes Patient Zero, and starts off with 8 Infected cards. They then try to infect others! A the start of the game, only Patient Zero can infect other players. All players should agree on a time limit for the game – it can be an hour or until the end of an event

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Purchase the game from The Game Crafter for $13.99 and receive it in a nice tuck box with the rules printed out and available as a download. Or purchase it from DriveThruCards for $8.99 (with an optional plastic card case for $1.00) and receive the cards without the tuck box and have access to the rules as a PDF.

I also had a two week long contest going on via Rafflecopter to give away two copies of the game. This morning, the winners were chosen!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

About Ben

I'm a geek. A nerd, a dweeb, whatever. Yes I owned garb, yes I still own medieval weaponry. And yeah, I could kick your butt in Mechwarrior the CCG. I love video games, role playing games, tactical board games and all forms of speculative fiction. I will never berate someone for wanting to be a Jedi and take everything Gary Gygax ever wrote as gospel. Well, all of this but that last bit.

Aug 272014
 

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Let me open this review by saying that I’m not much of a lover of trick taking games. My wife’s family plays a lot of Hearts and I’ll play with them but given the choice to play a card game with a standard deck or something neat and different, with card text and player interaction, well I’ll go in that direction just about every time.

Except this time. Diamonds is the exception to my personal rule and is one of those games that I find myself setting aside time to play. Now, lets dig into this game and find out what sets it apart from the many other trick taking games out there, and why you don’t want to leave this game on the floor in the dark.

Overview

Diamonds is a game designed by Mike Fitzgerald and published by Stronghold Games. The ‘Podfather’ Stephen Buonocore, who’s appeared on Indie Talks several times and who also happens to be the one in charge at Stronghold Games was kind enough to send off a review copy to me.  It plays with 2-6 players, ages 8 and up and takes about 30 minutes to play. The game ships with 60 cards in four suits, 110 small diamond crystals, 25 large diamond crystals, six vaults, a rule book and six player aid cards. Diamonds will have an MSRP of $24.95 and will be available September 10th.

This game takes the concept of a simply trick taking card game, stands it on it’s head, makes it beautiful and so much more strategic and ‘thinky’ than any other game in this genre that I’ve played. Each player is dealt 10 cards, which range in numbers from 1-15 and have four suits – diamonds, hearts, clubs and spades.  Each player also gets a cardboard standup ‘vault’ and three small diamond crystals, which are placed next to the vault in what’s called the player’s ‘showroom’. The player to the left of the dealer opens the game by playing a card with what will now be the leading suit. Each player after that plays one of their cards in that same suit until every player has played a card. The player who put down the highest number card in the opening suit wins that hand, thus ‘taking the trick’. So far, it’s just like every other trick taking game, right? Well here’s where Diamonds peels off it’s humdrum, stodgy old suit, throws on the dance gear and gets funkier than 1970’s John Travolta on a near frictionless dance floor.

First off and most importantly to me as someone who doesn’t enjoy standard trick taking games, every player in this game will get to do something cool at least a few times with every hand. And by cool, I mean score points and actually interact with the game. Each suit has a specific action tied in with it and you’ll get to use these actions a lot during the game. What this does to a simple trick taking game is two-fold. First, it gives everyone a much greater chance to score points (as we’ll see just a few paragraphs from here) and second it adds a layer of real strategy which you’ll see emerging only after a few play throughs. Here are the suit actions:

  • Diamonds – Take a small diamond crystal from the supply in the middle of the table and add it to your vault.
  • Hearts – Take a small diamond crystal from the supply and add it to your showroom.
  • Spades – Take a small diamond crystal from your showroom and add it to your vault.
  • Clubs – Take a small diamond crystal from another player’s showroom and add it to your showroom.

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At the end of the game, any diamonds in your vault are worth 2 points each. Once placed in your vault, Diamonds cannot be removed. Any diamonds in your showroom are worth 1 point each, and can be affected by game play. The small diamond crystals represent 1 diamond, the large diamond crystals are worth 5 diamonds.

Game Play

The game is played in a series of rounds, between 4 and 6, depending on how many players there are. Once each player is dealt 10 cards and any remaining cards are set aside, the dealer then gets to decide how many cards will be passed this round. They can choose 1, 2 or 3 cards. Each player selects these cards and passes them to the player on their left.

Now we’re going to open the first round with the player to the left of the dealer playing the a card. This card will determine the lead suit (Diamonds/Hearts/Spades/Clubs).  Say it’s the 12 of Diamonds. The player to the left then must play a card of the same suit. If they can play a higher card (the 14 of Diamonds say) they have a chance to win this trick. After each player places one card, the player who ends up playing the highest card of the lead suit takes the trick. They take the cards of the lead suit and get to do the suit action. So again, if this lead suit was Diamonds, they’d take a diamond from the supply and place it into their vault. All of these cards they’ve taken then get placed face down in front of them for later use. This player will then lead with the first card once everyone’s played their card.

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Here’s where it gets interesting – sure the winner of the trick gets to take their suit action after everyone’s played a card, and they get to keep a bunch of cards (will get to those shortly). But – there’s a way for other players to take suit actions before the trick is finished. If a player cannot follow suit because they don’t have any of those cards in their hand, they can play any card of any suit they do have. As soon as they play that card, they can then immediately take that suit action. Looking at the list of suit actions above, this allows for players to do interesting things to themselves and other players when they can’t follow suit. No more throwing away those cards, because this ain’t your grandfather’s trick taking game. This simple change is brilliant really, and this is where a lot of the strategy gets layered on.

At the end of the round, once 10 tricks have been taken, the players flip over all of the cards they’ve collected when they’ve won tricks. Then, in this order, the player with the most Diamonds takes a Diamond suit action, the player with the most Hearts takes a Heart suit action, then Spades and finally Clubs. If a player finds themselves not taking any of these suit actions because they’ve not won enough tricks – they still get to do something. They then immediately take two Diamond suit actions.

All of the cards are then collected, shuffled back into the deck and the next round begins. Once all of the rounds have been played through, players add up their points. Diamonds in your vault are worth 2 points each, diamonds in your showroom are worth 1. The player with the most points wins.

There’s a nice variant for two players, where each player plays 2 cards for every trick. I’ve played this variant a number of times and it works. There are also team play variants and ‘perfect’ game variants. A Perfect Diamond game is one where you know every card that’s going to be played. In a standard 3 player game, you’ll deal out 30 cards and put the other 30 aside. In a Perfect Diamond 3 player game, you’ll remove the 10-15 cards of each suit, leaving 30 cards which you’ll then deal out. Each player knows what cards will be available before the game starts. I’ve tried the Perfect Diamond variant and it changes game play a bit, but I prefer the more random style of play. I’ve not yet tried the team variant for 4 or 6 players.

Components

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Here’s something you’ll probably not hear much when it comes to trick taking games – but the components in Diamonds are top notch, beautiful to look at and thoroughly fun to play with. The cards are wonderfully designed with an art-deco style that makes full use of a new printing process which allows shiny metallic ink to be used, and it’s used to great effect. The cards look great! The diamond crystals are nice and chunky (very similar to those found in Ascension if you’ve ever played that) and add a really neat tactile element to the game. You’re not just collecting points, you’re hoarding Diamonds! The vaults are functional, folded cardboard of a decent stock and work well to hide your Diamond collection from other players.

Conclusion

Bottom line, I really enjoy Diamonds, much more than I thought I would. It’s a simple enough game that I taught my 8 and 11 year old kids to play it and they grasped the basics immediately. It’s complex enough that after five or six plays, we’re all still figuring out strategic ways to play cards so as to take advantage of immediate suit actions in an order that will benefit us most. With the chunky components, the hidden and untouchable diamond vault and the beautifully designed cards this game drew in my kids like they were crows seeing something shiny. I say that in all honesty, they flocked to the table when I opened the box. Other adult players were able to show a little more restraint but were also attracted to the neat components. During the game, it makes a big difference that everyone has a chance to do something and score some points. You’re not just throwing away cards that aren’t in the lead suit, you’re using them as strategically as possible. It doesn’t hurt that in doing so, you’re building up a literal hoard of plastic diamonds.

It’s nice that the game really does play in 30 or so minutes with 4 players or less. I’ve not tried it with 5 or 6 but suspect it wouldn’t go all that much longer. I hesitate to call this a filler game because it’s got a bit of complexity to it and it feels heavier than a trick taking card game. Maybe it’s the components, maybe its the neat use of suit actions but playing Diamonds for 30 minutes gives me the feeling of playing a chunkier, heavier game. With that in mind though, it does work well as a start of the night or end of the session game. It also works really well as a family game, or something to bring out when you’re playing with non-hardcore gamers. My in-laws got a real kick out of it! With a $25 price point this game has a lot of attraction not only as a great, quick game, but as something I can give as a gift to others without breaking the bank.

That’s the pro portion of the review. The cons? Honestly, there aren’t many! If you don’t like card games at all you’ll probably not be this far down in the review. The box does designate this as a Pocket game, which it’s really not unless you have insanely large pockets so there’s that. Also, with any game that comes with small, relatively sharp plastic bits, don’t leave the Diamonds on your floor if you value your ability to walk. In the case of an apocalypse of some sort, I’d take this game with me because I could play it to relieve stress and also use the Diamond crystals as decent caltrops, should I need them.

I’ll finish up with this – it’s a solid, fun, fast, trick taking game with an unexpected and simple but brilliant twist on the trick taking mechanic. It’s the first trick taking game I’ve ever played where I’ve wanted to play it two, three or more times in the same night.

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About Ben

I'm a geek. A nerd, a dweeb, whatever. Yes I owned garb, yes I still own medieval weaponry. And yeah, I could kick your butt in Mechwarrior the CCG. I love video games, role playing games, tactical board games and all forms of speculative fiction. I will never berate someone for wanting to be a Jedi and take everything Gary Gygax ever wrote as gospel. Well, all of this but that last bit.