Oct 082016

“Trapped in the prison of her own mind, Ren has only one chance at survival; her psychic friend Feth must reach into her unconscious to help guide her home. One player controls the deck of memories, while the other can communicate only through the placement of cards. Only by working together can they save Ren before the Ravens come to feast on her heartbreak and devour her memories whole.” The Ravens of Thri Sahashri is a tarot-sized, 2 player, cooperative card game with some legacy elements thrown in for added spice. In the game you alternate between playing the psychic Feth and the terminally unconscious Ren. Feth will build a tableau of cards for Ren to choose from and, communicating only through card play, will help guide each other through hidden and relived memories.

The Game

In The Ravens of Thri Sahashri one player takes the role of Ren, young girl in a coma and the other player takes the role of Feth, a young psychic with the ability to reach deep inside her subconscious and bring her back. This interaction between the two players centers around the Feth player setting an array of cards out for the Ren player to have the best chance at completing sets of cards.


The Atman. Each card has to have at least one shaded area overlapping another shaded area. Shaded always overlays shaded and unshaded always overlays unshaded.

Each game of Ravens is made up of three “dreams.” At the beginning of the first dream, the player taking the role of Ren, will draw four cards and place them face down in a column in front of her. These are her Heart Cards and only she can see them. Each card has a numeric value of 1-5, one of five colors, and shaded areas (meant to represent the hurdles or blocks to Ren’s memories). Then each round of the dream, the player taking the role of Feth will draw cards from the central deck to build an Atman in the center of the play area. This Atman (or True Self) represents the fragments of the Ren’s memories. Ren can then choose one card from the Atman and place it in next to her heart cards. The hearts cards represent a poem (a dodoitsu — or poem with four lines of 7, 7, 7, 5 syllables). Ren can work to complete one line at a time. Only moving to the next line when the previous one is complete by a set of cards adding up to 7 (or in the case of the last line of the dodoitsu, 5). When Ren chooses a card of the same color as her heart card she may reveal the heart card for Feth to see. This is important information as it helps guide Feth in creating an Atman for Ren to choose from.


Ren’s Four Heart Cards with one completed line of 7 and another partially completed (but revealed because the same color was pulled from the Atman)

As they work towards completing the poem, ravens begin to emerge from the deck. There are five ravens in the deck (one for each of the five colors of cards — red, blue, yellow, purple, green) and each are hungry enough to devour Ren’s hard earned memories. So, instead of discarding unused cards at the end of a round or dream, cards of a corresponding color to a revealed raven will be placed below the raven — a memory to be devoured at the completion of the dream. To counteract this, Feth can attempt to help Ren relive a memory by combining a block of same-colored cards in the Atman whose value equals 7. When this happens, a raven of the corresponding color is chased away, the cards sent to discard, and Ren reveals any of her heart cards that match that color. This provides Feth with important information about which cards he should add to the Atman and allows Ren some additional help at the end of the game. Those Heart Cards revealed due to a relived memory can be used in the third dream, where Ren needs to complete one line per round or lose the game.


Feth’s drawn memory cards and two reveled ravens.

Play continues like this for the cycle of the dream. Feth will draw memory cards from the deck and add as many as he can (wants) to the Atman in the center of the play area with the rest being discarded or devoured by Ravens. Ren will then choose one card to add to her evolving poem or to discard. The dream ends once all four lines of the poem are completed and the heart cards revealed match the colors of the cards in the Atman.

At the end of the dream any heart cards revealed due to a relived memory are kept aside in Ren’s score pile. All other cards in the poem, heart and Atman are discarded or devoured by ravens. Any cards devoured by ravens are removed from the game, all revealed ravens remain in play and you deal up a new dream.

During the third and final dream, Ren must complete one line of her poem on every turn or lose. However, she can use the relived memories that Feth revealed in previous dreams to add to her poem and help her out.

Then and only then do you consider yourself victorious. I’m not sure if it is immediately obvious from the description but this game is exceedingly difficult. It is meant to be played in silence without any advance planning or discussion so expect a long line of agonizing defeats before claiming victory. As an added bonus, there are three sealed envelopes which add a legacy element to the game. I have not opened any of these envelopes yet but I understand that they make some minor rules changes and (hopefully) some additional story elements.

The Review

In playing “Ravens” two games immediately come to mind — Hanabi and …and then, we held hands. Similar to Hanabi, the core of this game is using your partner’s tells to help guide your actions through the game. So, in this sense, both games provide a puzzle to be worked out through non-verbal communication and empathy.  

In …and then, we held hands, players also were meant to remain silent while they played. However, I’m not a fan of how removing the social element makes any game feel, so I recommend that while all pertinent communication should be through the selection and placement of cards, light conversation and banter is acceptable. The theme of the game is not thick, so don’t worry that talking takes you out of it. In fact, to learn the game, I recommend playing a round (or an entire dream) out loud and allowing your partner to hear how you are planning and thinking and then going into silence. It is like playing a learning game with an open hand.

The card’s artwork is not really my flavor but it is certainly quality and well done. My perfect version of the game would drop the amine style completely and pick up some French surrealism. I feel as if I mention this often but Dixit cards makes every game better. There is a potential story to tell in Ravens and including artwork that allowed for some interpretation could add an extra storytelling element to the game. Imagine if every line in the poem could be interpreted to actually mean something!

The Rub

The Ravens of Thri Sahashri is everything I wanted …and then, we held hands to be, but wasn’t — an experience game which provides an actual experience plus some narrative and story. If you are partnered with a person friendly to gaming or a gamer themselves, then this is an easy purchase. If you are just starting in two-player games or gaming, then perhaps Hanabi is better first step but Ravens should come right after. For a quick 2 player game, it does take up a ridiculous amount of table space.

About John Pappas

I'm John ~ a short, mustachioed Library Director of a small branch library outside of Philly. I'm a father, geek, librarian and zen practitioner. I wear glasses, play board games and tend to read pretty much anything that comes across my desk. I organize and host three gaming groups at my library ~ The Golden Gamers (65+), Tabletop Gaming at the Library, and a Game Design Guild. The name of this column "Roll for Fire" comes from my love of Flash Point: Fire Rescue [ and cooperative games in general] and the desire I have to watch it all burn down.

Oct 032016


Alas, I am once again forced to play another game with stunning artwork and quality components. I must have done something right in a past life. Here you’ll find a quick to set up, fairly easy to play card game that features some neat mechanics.

Karmaka is a card game for 2-4 players, by Hemisphere Games and takes about 30-60 minutes to play.

How to Play

This is a brief summary of the rules – it’s entirely possible that I’ll miss a few of the once-case rules or whatnot.

Shuffle the deck of 64 cards. Place the Karmic Ladder in the center of the table and drop your player tokens smack dab on the Dung Beetle. Yup, the Dung Beetle. Now you create the ‘Well’ (main deck of cards) with those 64 game cards. From this well of cards you’ll deal four cards to each player which becomes their hand, and 2 cards face down which becomes their starting deck.

On your turn, you’ll draw one card from your deck (if available), and play one card from your hand. You can play these cards in one of three ways.

  1. To your Deeds.
  2. To your Future Life.
  3. For it’s Ability.

That’s it! That’s your turn. Players keep doing this until they die. No, seriously. It’s okay though, with Karmaka, you’ll be reincarnated in a turn. Now let’s get into the meat of the game.


If you play a card to your Deed’s pile, you’ll be doing it for the score. Each card is worth 1, 2 or 3 points. If, when you run out of cards to play and you shuffle off this mortal coil you have enough points (4, 5, 6 or 7) you can reincarnate at the next level of being.  Levels proceed as follows: Dung Beetles, Snakes, Wolves, Apes and finally, transcendence and the win. If you die without having enough points to move upwards, you’ll receive a Karmic Ring which is worth 1 point when scoring.

There is a trick though, there are four colors – red, green blue and ‘mosaic’ (wild). You must pull your score only from one color in your Deeds pile, adding any Mosaic cards to that color.

That’s the Deeds pile. There’s also your Future Life pile. You may play cards face down towards your Future life. When you run out of cards to draw and play, you’ll reincarnate – whether you have enough points or not to proceed to the next level, your Future Life deck will become your new hand. If there are less than six cards, you also draw cards from the well, face down into a new draw deck until your hand and your deck equals six cards. If you have six or more cards, you’ve got yourself a big hand.

Then you can play cards for their Abilities. Each card has an ability on it They may allow you to add extra cards to your hand, or Ruin one of your opponents Deeds (put it in the discard pile) or even peruse the discard pile to add cards to your hands. There are quite a few abilities but as with all things karmic, what comes around, goes around. If you play a card for it’s ability it goes into the Ruins pile (again, the discard pile). Here’s the catch though, your opponent may choose to snatch that card from the ruins and place it into their Future Life pile, to use against you.

That’s the game. When you have not more cards to draw or play, you die and are reincarnated. You score your deeds and move up the Karmic Ladder or grab a Karmic Ring if you can’t move up. Then you take your Future Life pile as your new hand, draw so you have at six cards if you have fewer and go around again. There are a few extra rules and play variants for 3-4 players.

Why you should play

Simple on it’s surface, Karmaka actually has a lot going on. You don’t want to extend your life too long by building up your hand to a massive size through your Future Life deck. You have to be careful what you play in your Deeds pile as other players can do things to this – and to your hand as well. Trying to time when you’ll die and reincarnate is fairly important, as well as holding on to that one card you want to play when your opponent dies and essentially misses a turn.


Our first play through was fairly simple – build up a good Deeds pile, throw a card you don’t care about it on top (the order doesn’t change) so that if you get attacked it’ll hit a card you don’t mind losing and then pop off to reincarnate and do it again. Towards the end though, when trying to scrape up the 7 points to transcend and win, we realized that you can do a lot in the earlier game to set yourself up for the later game.

What you play to your Future Life pile can be critical, as is snatching up nasty (or highly beneficial) cards your opponent plays for their Abilities. But don’t just grab every single card they play, when they play it – it may be worth it let that card get buried in the Ruins, hopefully never to be seen again.

Later plays actually slowed down by five or ten minutes as we gave some though to what may happen in our next life.


The components, though simple – a few cardboard punch outs, wooden player tokens, a small player board and cards, are all of very high quality. Wonderful, moody art makes every card something to look at. The cards aren’t linen finished but are decently thick and shuffle well.

Personally, I think this game plays best with 2 players. The 3-4 player game works and is certainly playable and enjoyable but as a two player, thinky card game Karmaka shines. This is another game that’s found a home on my shelf and I’ll certainly be playing more of it.

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.

Sep 252016


Hailing from a centuries old tradition of cooking inspired dexterity card games, Wok on Fire is quite the little gem. That first bit isn’t true either but I’ve always wanted to write something like that. Here, you have a game that’s just 58 cards in size, including the player aid/scoring cards. Set for 2-4 players, the game takes less than 20 minutes to play and is good for people aged 8+.

The premise is this: All players are chefs, laboring over a fiery hot wok. With our spatulas we compete with each other to stir-fry, pick and plate the choicest ingredients. Our goals are to make the most complete and desirable meals – failing that we’ll settle for some great meats or collections of memorable spices. Worst case scenario, we end up scooping gobs of green peppers and broccoli – the stuff of nightmares for kids around the world.

How to play

Setup is pretty darned easy. There are 50 ingredients cards. Shuffle them all together. There are four Spatula cards – each player gets one, those not in use go back into the box. There are also four Player Aid cards – one goes in front of each player. If there are less than four players, the player aid cards are still used – as these define the edges of the shared Wok. Other objects (the edge of a round table, a few game boxes or in on memorable case, my cat) can also be used to define the limits of the Wok. This is important during game play.


One player takes 24 of the 50 cards in the deck and spreads them around the play area (your Wok) face down. The other 26 cards are placed to the side as your supply of ingredients. Then play begins.

Each player will have three phases per turn. Stir Fry, Pick and Chop. In the Stir Fry phase, you take your Spatula cards an flip over at least one card in the Wok. Do this twice. Cards must actually be flipped to qualify as really being stir fried. This should expose a bunch of cards (or hide others).

In the second phase, the Picking phase, you must pick one ingredient, and may pick up to two (depending on what’s visible or not). Certain ingredients, like Chicken or Green Peppers allow you to pick all of the face up versions of that card, for better (chicken) or worse (green pepper).

In the Chopping phase, players take the supply deck and ‘chop’ two more ingredients into the Wok, by flipping the top card off of the deck with a downward, chopping motion and saying “Ha!” (At least, that’s how we do it).

The Picking phase is really the only phase of the three that doesn’t involve some dexterity. Flipping can take skill, particularly if you’re trying to hide less savory ingredients and reveal more desirable cards. Chopping can be interesting as well – you can cover up existing ingredients causing your opponents to try and Stir Fry them back into view. Cards must have a least one corner and the center image visible for you to pick them. Unless it’s Chicken – you can always make a guess that something is chicken. If you’re right, you get a tasty meat ingredient. If you’re wrong, back in the wok the card goes.


Ingredients stir fried or chopped out of the Wok remain outside the Wok until the next player’s turn, where they are chopped back in. A practice I don’t encourage while actually cooking.

What’s the purpose of all this – besides making a delicious cardboard meal? Why – the card combos of course! At the end of the game players will arrange their cards into the most favorable combinations with full meals scoring tons of points and combos of meats, spices and sets of ingredients scoring points based on the number and variety of cards. Get to many of the less desirable ingredients and you’ll be subtracting points too.

Play continues until the Supply deck is empty and then players pull out calculators or napkins and start working out their score.

Photo credit: Natasha Tadisch

Photo credit: Natasha Tadisch

Why you should play

Wok on Fire is a very quick, fairly easy game to play provided you have the space to flick around a bunch of cards. The game itself is quite fun and is reminiscent of Sushi Go but with a dexterity component. It can be fairly quick but doesn’t involve a lot of players getting in each other’s way – speed isn’t an issue so much as accuracy is.

We very much enjoyed this aspect of the game. Scoring is a little fiddly though, as you look at the image above. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing but we weren’t expecting as complicated a schema as there is. What we found was that in our first few games, scoring took almost as long as the actual game itself. In later games however, we realized why the scoring is they way it is, and this is important. You can actually employ a good deal of strategy in your Stir Fry and Chop phases keeping the scoring in mind. Suddenly our games were a bit slower – more in line with the 20 minutes listed on the box.


We’d carefully flip in just the right way, and happily chop cards face down over important ingredients we knew our opponents could really use. So yes, the scoring can be a little bit of work at first but after a few plays, the end game is a presence throughout the actual game – directing us to try and aim better and make smarter choices in picking cards.

The one real complaint I have about this game is the box. It looks great, colorful and fun. It took us about five minutes of wrangling to get the darned thing open though. The top fits so snugly over the bottom that gravity just can’t do it’s thing. Forcing the box made me wary that I’d rip a corner (I didn’t) but it’s a tight fit. It’s getting better with repeated openings. Other than this issue, the game is well made, with nice linen finished cards and a neat take out menu/rule book.



If you’d like to add an additional challenge, I can suggest adding a cat into the mix while playing on a bed, as we did.

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.

Feb 182016

TotalCon begins this TODAY!  If you haven’t pre-registered don’t worry. You can get your ticket on site. There are heaps of games, events, panels, and fun to be had.

This year I will be in attendance with Troll in the Corner owner & Indie Talks host Ben Gerber. Ben, as a Guest of Honor, is running a few events and is also sitting on a slew of panels. Be sure to look at Ben’s Schedule to see what he is doing.

If you are coming to TotalCon this year, I’d love to meet you.  Below you can find my public con schedule.  Just look for the tall guy wearing either a black or gray Wargaming Recon t-shirt. If you like us on Facebook you will be able to see a photo of me during the con to make it easier for you to find me.

Friday February 21

1-3pm Arrival/Stairs of the Immortal: Duke Crestfaul and the Lightess/Small Board and Card Games: Big Fun!

Hoping to arrive for 1pm.  If I make it in time and if there is still space I’m hoping to play either in Guest of Honor Jay Libby’s Stairs of the Immortal RPG or Guest of Honor Ben Gerber’s Small Board and Card Games event.  Don’t play many RPGs so it’d be nice to try something different and although I own a copy of Love Letter I’ve never played it.  No matter what happens it is sure to be fun.

3-5pm Meander

This is a great time to visit the vendor room and then walk around taking photos.  There’ll be a lot of people playing games and fun stuff happening.

5pm Dinner

I’ll be dining in Pike’s Peak with Guest of Honor Ben Gerber. If you see us don’t be shy, feel free to come up and say hi!

6-7pm Perusing the Con

There are numerous events I need to pop by. You can find me visiting:
Guest of Honor Peter “Blix” Bryant’s Blixapalooza in the lobby.

7-11pm Convoy to Malta

Convoy to Malta is a War at Sea event (GMed by Dan Eustace) in the minis room.  Dan has taken the standard War at Sea game as created by Wizards of the Coast and he’s enhanced it with resources, info, and ideas from the excellent Axis & Allies ForuMINI online community.  Dan’s events are always a blast.  If you’re not playing in anything at 7pm you should try to get into the game.

11pm Podcast the Day’s Events

When I return to my hotel room I am recording my thoughts on the day.  With luck I may even be able to edit and release the recordings from the con, for your listening pleasure.  This will most likely be a LIVE recording you can watch on YOUTUBE!  Should warn if you watch the live recording I may be imbibing alcoholic beverages so it will be for mature audiences only.  The actual podcast episode will be safe for all per usual.

Saturday February 22nd

9am Breakfast

A guy has to eat. The hotel serves a good breakfast buffet. This is a good way to meet other gamers and catch up.  Feel free to have breakfast with me if you’d like (everyone pays their own way).

11am Writing for RPGs (Auditorium)

Industry guests discuss the process of writing for a roleplaying game.  The panel is moderated by Jenn Gerber.  Looking forward to learning a lot about the writing process.

Noon-2/3pm Lunch/Family visit

My wife and infant daughter are coming to visit and check out the con.  My wife has never been to TotalCon before and there’s a lot of people who want to meet the baby.

1-5pm Hanghai Hustle

GM Mike Paine is running his Hanghai pulp wargame.  After my family leaves Mike said he’ll make room for me to play even if the game is half over.  Mike is one of the GMs I ALWAYS look for at a gaming convention.  YOU.  NEED.  TO.  PLAY.  THIS.  GAME.

5-7pm Riding the Rocket TSR’s First 5 Years

Guest of Honor Tim Kask discusses the first five years of TSR’s existence covering how they made Dungeons & Dragons and hopefully Chainmail too.

7pm Dinner

Consider this an informal meetup.  Any who wish to can join me for dinner at the hotel restaurant Pike’s Peak.  Everyone pays their own way but we can have a meal and discuss the fun at TotalCon.  If you see me don’t be shy, feel free to come up and say hi!  Please try to connect with me BEFOREHAND so I can be sure everyone is together before going into the restaurant.  Makes it easier on the restaurant staff.

11pm Private Event

I can’t speak about this but please know it has the opportunity to open quite a few doors for Wargaming Recon.

Sunday February 23rd

11am Open Gaming

I’ll be around to game for a bit. Got a game you’d like to play? I’m also bringing some board/card games to play. Maybe I’ll pack X-wing minis too

Noon Adios

Homeward bound.

About Jonathan J. Reinhart

Jonathan J. Reinhart is an editor of Troll in the Corner where he writes about wargaming. Jonathan also is the owner of the Wargaming Recon podcast. He has been gaming with miniatures since 2000 and playing board games from a young age. He's played a myriad of games such as: Warhammer 40k, Warhammer Fantasy, Warmachine, Starship Troopers, Axis & Allies: War at Sea, Flames of War and Warlord Games' Black Powder rules. War at Sea and the Black Powder rules are his current go-to games. Jonathan enjoys casual, fast, fun, and group board games. Sitting Ducks Gallery, Zombie Dice, Guillotine, Pandemic, and Carcassonne rank high on his list. He is a retired local politician with a B.A. in Politics & History, which provides a useful background for historical gaming. A casual World of Warcraft player, he became a Kingslayer as Viktrious the Blood Elf on 4/23/11 and followed that up by slaying Deathwing on 5/9/12.

Feb 022016


Button Shy Games has taken the next step in cardboard ninja evolution and launched Ninja: Silent but Deadly on Kickstarter as part of their line of wallet games! I highly suggest, no, I insist that you check this out! You can own this game for just $8.

Ninjas! Their very name conjures images of black clad, highly trained assassins. Now, the mystique and power can be yours to use as you see fit.

Perfect for a game night, casual party or other social gatherings. Hand out one “You Lose!” card to every player. Each player has until the end of the game session to slip their card somewhere where another player will be forced to find it. Amongst other cards of a game currently in play, in their chips or what have you. Be creative! And don’t get caught! When a ninja card is found by another player, that player is out. The last player standing wins.



This is the simplest game I’ve ever developed. You can teach someone to play it in 30 seconds or less. Interesting enough, this is also one of the must fulfilling and enjoyable games I’ve ever created! I’ve had games of Ninja that have lasted a few minutes and I have on going on three years now. It’s up to you how long you’re going to play and how elaborate you’ll allow yourself and your gaming folks to get!

Button Shy Games have a great, fast 10 day campaign lined up for Ninja with some wonderful stretch goals and the ability to add on other games in their wallet game series.


If you’re reading this article, there’s a good chance you’re already familiar with the game as it existed in it’s print on demand form. Well now it’s better real, fantastic art by a real artist! Easy to carry around packaging and the ability to print it out right now and see for yourself! Here’s our chance to bring this fun game to life!

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.

Sep 222015


Airship Challenge is a race game for 2-6 players, ages 8+ and takes 20-30 minutes to play.


The Year – 1899. The challenge – Your tandem team of dirigibles, racing through canyons, valleys and the open air, must field at least one airship that is the first across the finish line. It’s the first ever Airship Challenge!

Players are owners of Dirigible Manufacturers in this grand age of steam from an 1899 that never was! To highlight the latest in steam technology and lighter than air travel you have organized the first annual Airship Challenge.

How Airship Challenge 1899 Works

Got to run my first live game of Airship Challenge 1899! Of course I immediately changed some of the rules and we restarted. It was a 2 player game, me against my 9 year old (who won in the end). I also only had to scratch out 50% of the text on 1 of the tokens, which may be a new record for me in the first live playing of any game I’ve designed.


Each Owner has ships represented by colored pawns. Each player has 2 ships in their fleet. One player should take all of the ships in their hand, shake up the pawns and grabbing them randomly one by one place them in a line on the table. The first pawn on the table represents the pole position to start off the race.

Each player then places one Minor Tail Wind token in front of them. This creates the beginning of the race conditions in your game.

Place the rest of the 48 hexagon tokens into the bag, and shake it vigorously. Then the first player draws two tokens for every player, plus one extra token. (Tokens could also be hexed shaped cards)

These tokens are placed on the table where they are easily reached by everyone. The player to the left of the first player begins the draft by picking 1 token and placing it face down in front of them. The draft goes around the table until every player has 2 tokens. The last remaining token is put back in the bag.

These initial tokens form your hand of 2 tokens. At the start of the game, savvy players will know what each other player has in their hands. Your hands however will change rapidly during the game and it’s up to each player to decide which of the three race conditions in their hands they’ll encounter.

The first player then begins the game by drawing 1 new token from the bag. After looking at this token, they then choose one of the tokens in their hand and play it. Tokens must always be played touching at least one other token. When that token’s action is revealed, it triggers every other token it is also touching. Tokens triggered in this way do NOT trigger other tokens they are touching.


In this way, each player can trigger between two and five tokens on their turn. They may trigger these in any order they choose but they must carry out the actions on every token triggered.

If, through the play of tokens any player is allowed to take a token from the table and place it into their hands, they must only take tokens that will not leave any other tokens unconnected. All tokens must be touching at least one other token throughout the game.


This allows for some fairly strategic play, where you end up with race conditions like mine (above) where I chose to trigger only two conditions many times, or like those of my daughter (below) who chose to trigger multiple conditions, multiple times.


When the last token is played, the race is over. Score the race in the following way:

  • A ship in 1st place = 5 points
  • A ship in 2nd place = 4 points
  • A ship in 3rd place = 3 points.
  • All other ships = 1 point.


Here are the immediate issues I’ve found and I’m always open to suggestions as to how to handle them or what a change I could implement to make the game better.

Tokens. First, in a two player game there were way to many tokens. My first initial change before we even started the game was as follows:

  • 2 Player games use 24 (of the 48) tokens chosen randomly.
  • 3 Player games use 36 tokens.
  • 4+ players use all tokens.

I would love to have an additional set of tokens say 2 of each, 3 different types for six total new tokens so that even 6 player games would have some variability over what was in the game or so that a six player game could use all of them and extend out for an additional turn.

Pawns. I really like the mechanic of the actual race – the pawns really don’t go anywhere, they don’t travel around a track or move around the table. It’s only their position that changes. This works really well in every aspect except that its, for lack of a better word, fiddly. They do tend to migrate slowly up and down the table, depending on which pawn is moving ahead of another. Were I a publisher spending money on this game I may consider some kind of sliding cardboard thingy which would facilitate this. When you’re acting on these pawns up to five times a turn, while that bit is quick, its still… fiddly. I’m thinking on this aspect now but would love to hear any thoughts or ideas on it.

Adjustment to player expectations. Lots of people see the nice, chunky race condition tiles and think “Ooh! We’re going to make the game board as we go along!” This isn’t the case in this game, you’re simply constructing a series of conditions through which your airships (and other players airships) may travel through. My 9 year old is very adaptable and ran with it and I was expecting it but I can tell from initial reactions and responses to the pictures I posted on line that most folks don’t immediately go to that. I think this can be managed simply by being very up front with how the tiles are used.

The Two Player Problem. The game, with two players, is enjoyable and interesting but there’s just as many pawns out there as I’d like to make it really engaging and to make it feel like each player is making a real, tactical decision every turn. Two solutions I’ve though of is either adding in 2 extra pawns of any color, or giving each player 3 airships to race with. Either way the total pawn count climbs to six – in the first solution there are two extra ships you’re just trying not to let get in front of you. You’d prefer they be in front of the other player however. In the three pawns each situation, each player is managing three ships and have to take into account the scoring (that a 2nd/3rd place combo will beat a 1st/4th place combo). I feel like the second solution is the better but I’m going to have to play it out to find out.

So there it is – the second game I’ve put together over the past few weeks!


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.

Sep 012015

GemPacked Cards is a card game based on an iOS app. Or is it an iOS app based on a card game? Either way, it’s a quick, overtly simple set collection game suitable for kids but with a bit of hefty strategy mixed in for us adults as well. You can find it on Kickstarter right now!


Eduardo Baraf, creator of such games as  Lift Off! Get me off this Planet! and The Siblings Trouble was kind enough to send over not only a physical prototype of GemPacked Cards but an invitation to spend some time with the beta iOS app as well. This review will focus on the physical iteration of the game but I’ll talk a bit about the app as well.

How to play GemPacked Cards

gempacked2(Stolen directly from the BGG page) During each round, players use the Gemino Pip Tokens they draw to try to acquire higher level Gemino Squares and Gemino Diamonds (worth victory points) or trade for Sun or Nova cards. All cards are played face up. When the last Gemino Pip Tokens are drawn from the starting pile, each player has one remaining turn before the round ends and players tally their score.

In more detail, at the start of a turn, a player draws two Gemino Pip Tokens, then takes any of the following actions in any order and as many times as they like:

  • Trade GPips for GSquares on the card grid (placing pips in the common pool)
  • Trade GSquares for GDiamond on the card grid (placing cards in the discard pile)
  • Discard GSquares for GPip equivalents from the common pool (placing discards in the discard pile)
  • Trade GPips for the Sun card or GSquares for the Nova card

At the end of their turn, the player refills the card grid from the draw deck one at a time. If they reveal any Action Cards, those cards are resolved immediately, starting with the active player, then moving clockwise around the table.

After the last Gemino Pip Token is drawn and the final player has a turn, players score their hands as well as Sun/Nova points. (GPips are not worth any points, but should be tracked each round as a tie breaker.) Whoever has the most points wins.

That’s how to play it but how does it play?

I was able to get in a good number of 2 and 3 player games with one of my daughters and a few other friends. I’ll say this – as easy as the game appears, it’s just a bit strange to pick it up the first time and dive in. Keep in mind that I’m playing with an unfinished product and while the rule book was fairly polished other changes have and will happen before this comes to kickstarter.

Getting over that initial bit of head scratching with the simple solution of setting the game up and playing it, everything clicked together nicely. Both I and my 9 year old started the initial play together and about 2 turns into the game we both had our “ahhh that’s how this works” moment.

What we have here is a light set collection game based on colors and shapes. 2 and 3 player games all played in about 20 minutes which I think is the perfect space for a game like this. While appearing initially to be a pretty simple color match game, Ed’s decision to include both construction of larger, points worthy cards and deconstruction of these for smaller cards that may help attain other, richer goals is key. That’s the part of this that lets you get nicely creative and pull of moves and combos that are worthy of much weightier seeming games.


What I enjoyed most about this game was that, while everyone is constrained by the mechanics to build better, higher point cards, we can all go about it a little differently. One player will collect a set of Squares using one wild Pip and then break that down to other Pips they need to get to a much higher scoring Diamond. While others will go straight forward Pip to Square to Diamond and a third will do a combination of the two where they feel it’s necessary.

All of our games were fairly close provided each player had played it once. New players have a tendency to get slightly crushed while they’re getting a feel for the game but this may not be the case for everyone out there.


While I can’t speak to the final game as we’re playing with a prototype here, I can speak towards the art. GemPacked Cards is a cute game. I don’t mean cute as in “ooh look, a kitten!” I mean CUTE as in “Stop pouring baby animals on me!” Is this a bad thing? I think that depends.

It doesn’t bother me in the least and both of my kids (9 and 12) were all over the artwork while their voices went up several octaves with every exclamation. It doesn’t detract from the game at all for me but other’s who prefer the look of say, Chaos in the Old World may not be huge fans.

Clearly this game is aimed towards a certain audience and I think it hits that mark dead center.

Pencil First Games did a wonderful job components wise (and game wise) on Lift Off! Get Me Off This Planet (my review at the link) so if that’s any indication on how the components for GemPacked Cards will turn out I think we’ll all be happy.


The GemPacked iOS app (available at iTunes for $0.99) looks very similar to the physical card game but plays a bit differently. The app is a series of timed challenges in which you set out to meet certain goals. The implementation is smooth and graphically as pleasing as the card game. It’s not really my kind of app but luckily I have a 9 year old who thrives on games like this. She gives it an exuberant two thumbs up, Roger Ebert style.


It’s an interesting direction to go in where the app and the physical game look alike but play very differently. I personally have no issues with this but those who enjoy the physical game should take note that they won’t be getting the exact same experience digitally.

Final Thoughts

I like GemPacked Cards and would certainly play it again. The 20 minute card game (many call ’em ‘filler games’) hits a sweet spot in my current game playing style as I can squeeze in a game here and there when I time allows. I really enjoy smaller games that are easy to dive into but that reward multiple plays with interesting, unfolding strategies. GemPacked is one of those games.

I had to move my prototype copy along to another review and both I and my daughter were sad to see it go. We’re both looking forward to the day when the game is released so we can pick it up and get some more plays in!


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 152015
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“A group of poor explorers hoping to get rich quickly heads out to recover treasures from some undersea ruins. They’re all rivals, but their budgets force them all to share a single rented submarine. In the rented submarine, they all have to share a single tank of air, as well. If they don’t get back to the sub before they run out of air, they’ll drop all their treasure. Now it’s time to see who can bring home the greatest riches.” (From the BGG Store)

“Thief who crept to roost of monster-troll accumulated a huge gem. At that time it is finally trying to Hakobidaso jewelry, monster of signs is …. It is very Once found in the flesh-eating troll! Thieves is not that he found, and Candidate attempts as much as possible a lot of jewelry, it was the start each other tactics …” (From Oink Games TROLL via Google Translate).

A group of poor explorers. Unlimited riches. Untold Danger. Oink Game’s “Deep Sea Adventure” and “Troll” both play with these themes. They are quick to learn and play, have minimal components and look gorgeous on a shelf…but, despite the packaging, are they any good? Are these filler games worth picking up and tossing into your collection?

The Game:

Designer: Jun Sasaki
Publisher: Oink Games
Ages: 8+
Players: 3-6
Time: 20-30 minutes
Mechanics: Press Your Luck, Roll and Move

In Deep Sea Adventure, everyone begins in the submarine. A particularly nice piece of this design is the inclusion of the game timer (the air supply) on the submarine. The players share a full tank of air at 25 units and count down as the divers exert themselves salvaging the treasure lurking below. Trailing below the submarine is a series of tokens representing treasure of increasing worth as you move further from the sub. One a turn, each player rolls two dice (with pips varying from 1-3 on each dice equalling a total range of movement equalling 2-6 spaces (depending upon encumbrance). If you land on a ruin token, you can chose to pick it up and place it facedown in front of you. If the space’s chip was already picked up, you can choose to put down a chip on that spot. Then you decide whether you are heading back to the submarine or going deeper down.

This is the crux of your decision space in this simple game. Go deeper and pick up a ruin chip that is worth more or head back up and bank what you have in the safety of the submarine. The ruins tokens are worth more the farther you move away from the submarine but the deeper you go, the less likely you will make it back. This seems simple: Dive. Grab Points. Get back to the sub. However, the trick is finding the right time to turn back towards the sub. As people pick up more chips, they use up more air and time can start to move really quick. Now you are loaded with treasure and everyone else is as well. You are sluggish after some unfortunate and air is being sucked down faster than you can count.

And to make things worse, Vasily has been dragging two tokens slowly back to the sub and suddenly dropped one and sped right into safety and banked a bunch!

So the air runs out and you are still floating in the deep. Well, the automatic hitch activates and pulls you back up but you need to drop all the treasure in your possession. You score no points and those tokens are stacked in units of three and put at the bottom of the line. These stacks of three treasure tokens count as one token when it comes to movement. So a sack of three will only slow you down one pip on your roll rather than three. Anyone who made it to the sub with their treasure gets to flip them over and score.

If you failed to make it back to the sub, your colleagues will rescue you minus your treasure, throw you in a decompression chamber to get you into shape for the next dive. If you succeeded in returning to the sub you get to keep your ruin chips and flip them over as treasure. They will not count against your air in the next round.

The main mechanism of Deep Sea Adventure is roll and move. And it works just fine. Yes, you can be stymied by a series of poor rolls but the game is quick enough that you really aren’t dedicating that much time and most games will play shorter than the 30 minutes on the box. The press your luck mechanism of the game is drop dead simple — more you carry, the more oxygen you use up, and the quicker you run out of air to breathe. Thus, you are constantly looking to see how much other people are carrying and calculating how much you can afford to move in order to win.

Oink Games has an amazing line of cute, accessible filler games in the most adorable tiny little boxes I have ever seen (TROLL, In A Grove, Rights, etc). The art work and the components are always minimalistic. Not much on the artwork, the graphic design is crisp and clear. The gameplay simple enough to teach to anyone new to games. The game and the box it came in are beyond endearing. They are cute and engaging enough for its size. Will it satisfy every gamer’s appetite? No. But it provides more than enough tension to make it worthwhile as a filler. It really shines as a family or kid’s game though. And you can’t beat the simplicity of roll, move, and pick up treasure. Do I want to add a giant squid circling the ruins? You bet I do. Will I? Probably.
deep sea adventure

The Game:

Designer: Kouji Kimura
Publisher: Oink Games
Ages: 8+
Players: 3-6
Time: 20-30 minutes
Mechanics: Press Your Luck, Bluffing

In TROLL, you one of 3-5 crafty thieves in a lair of hungry trolls. These trolls have precious jewels and you only have a few days and your wits to escape with as many jewels as possible.

Each thief has a set of six tokens numbered 0-5 representing the number of jewels stolen from the Troll. Each troll in the troll deck has a number (3, 5, 7, 9, 11, 13, and 15). During the round, each thief will play one of their tokens. The first player (the scout) can look at the troll card to see the value and then plays a token. Then each thief, in order can either play it safe and look at the card and play a token face-up or be daring and place a token face down. When taking a daring action, the thief gets to place a x2 multiplier on the token to represent getting twice the amount of jewels if successful at their gamble.

Once everyone has placed their tokens, the troll card is flipped over and the player’s tokens are arranged from smallest to largest. The tokens are then added up according to the amount of jewels they planned to steal. If your tokens totals less than the revealed troll’s number, you gain the points on your token (with additional multiplier if appropriate). Then the person whose token totaled or exceeded the troll’s number gets captured and gets a -2 penalty. Any one after the woken troll escape getting mauled but they don’t score any points. After two or three rounds (dependant upon the number of players), the game ends and the player with the most points wins.

Troll gets the same high points for design, minimalist presentation and the cute box. However, the bluffing in this game is not particularly compelling. It feels more like quick arithmetic and guesswork than actual bluffing. And when you have something like Skull that does it better and even simpler, there isn’t much reason to bring this one out too often.

deep sea adventure (1)

About John Pappas

I'm John ~ a short, mustachioed Library Director of a small branch library outside of Philly. I'm a father, geek, librarian and zen practitioner. I wear glasses, play board games and tend to read pretty much anything that comes across my desk. I organize and host three gaming groups at my library ~ The Golden Gamers (65+), Tabletop Gaming at the Library, and a Game Design Guild. The name of this column "Roll for Fire" comes from my love of Flash Point: Fire Rescue [ and cooperative games in general] and the desire I have to watch it all burn down.