Patchwork – Competitive quilting for two

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A game about quilting. That kinda threw me for a bit but everyone and their sister were raving about it so I had to find out for myself. Turns out, everyone and their sisters were right.

Patchwork is a game for exactly 2 players, ages 8+ and plays in about 30-45 minutes.

How to play

Thankfully this game involves no actual sewing because the last time I tried that I ended up in the ER with a sheepish grin on my face. You’ll find Patchwork to be a bit different than your average game in both set up and play. To begin with, each player will take a Quilt Board representing their as of yet not started sewing project. The Quilt Board is divided up into a number of 1×1 squares. They’ll then take 5 Buttons (the currency in the game) and a Time Token.

There’s a third board in the game which is the central Time Board. Players will each place their Time Token on the starting space of the Time Board. Now, the most fun setup can really begin. There are a whole bunch of Patches – shaped, Tetris-like tokens – that you’re going to arrange randomly in a (fairly large) circle around the Time Board. Locate the smallest Patch (a 1×2 square Patch) and place the wooden Neutral token between that and the next patch, going clockwise. Each of these Patch tokens will have a little tag image on it that will show a number next to a button to indicate how many Buttons they cost, and a number next to a timer icon, to indicated how many spaces on the Time Board you’ll move your Time Token if you choose that Patch.

Lastly, you’ll lay out the special 7×7 bonus token and place the five special 1×1 patches on the Time Board.

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The first thing you should know is that Patchwork doesn’t necessarily alternate turns. The player who’s Time Token is furthest back on the Time Board will get the next turn, which could (and will) mean players take multiple turns in a row.

On your turn, you can do one of two things. Advance your Time Token to the space just after the other player’s Time Token on the Time Board and get yourself some buttons or take and place a Patch on your Patch board.

In the first option you’ll receive as many buttons as spaces you’ve moved to get past the other player’s Time Token – advance three spaces, get three buttons. And that’s it, since the other player’s Time Token is now behind yours, it’s their turn. Remember, Buttons are currency in this game.

If you choose to take a Patch, you’ve got to follow these five steps. First, the patch must be within three patches in front of the Neutral Token you placed amidst all those patches in the game setup. Second, you’ll move the Neutral Token to be next to the Patch you’ve chosen. Third, you pay the number of Buttons indicated on the patch (some patches are free). Fourth, you will place the Patch you just bought on your Quilt board. Last, you move your Time Token on the Time Board the number of spaces indicated on the Patch token you just placed on your Quilt Board.

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Some of the spaces on the Time Board have some special powers on them. There are five Special Patches, which are 1×1, leather looking Patches. These can only be gotten off the Time Board, and you only receive them if you are the first to move your Time Token onto or past them. The second special power are the Button icons. If you move past a Button icon, you then receive Button tokens! Look at your Quilt Board – many (but not all) Patches will have graphics of buttons sewn into them – count each individual button and take that many Button tokens.

When you’re placing that patch on your Quilt Board, you have to follow a few simple rules too. You can flip or turn the Patch any way you like as long as it fits entirely on the board and doesn’t overlap any other Patches. That’s where the Tetris aspect of the game comes in.

Finally, there’s a special 7×7 token – the first player to fill in a 7×7 grid completely on their Quilt board receives this token and scores an extra 7 points at the end of the game. Speaking of which….

End of the game and scoring. The game ends when both player’s Time Tokens reach the last space on the Time Board and players determine their scores. Add up the number of Button tokens you have left, and subtract 2 points for each empty 1×1 spaces on your Quilt board. That’s your score. If you had for example 11 buttons left and had managed to snag the 7×7 token, you’d start off with 18 points. If you had six empty spaces (6*2=12) you’d subtract 12 from 18 and end the game with 6 points.

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Why you should play

Answer this question truly and honestly. How many games in your collection have a sewing or quilting theme? Now how many games in your collection with this theme are really engaging, allow for some interesting and thinky strategy, have just a bit of a puzzle aspect to them, allow you to build something of substance during the game, and are extremely well balanced?

Patchwork checks all of these boxes and does so in a really compelling way. You’re looking ahead in the Patches portion of the table to see where the Neutral Token will next fall, while trying to calculate how many spaces forward you want to move to get more Buttons and maybe grab that 1×1 patch you need to fill in your 7×7 grid so you can finally get that extra points token. You’re opponent is doing that very same thing too, and perhaps plotting a way to take two turns before you’ll get your next so that the Neutral Token will skip over that one Patch you really need.

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It’s a lot of fun and sometimes a little frustrating in that good “oh, I can’t believe you just did that to me!” kind of way. I’ve enjoyed quite a few games while waiting for another friend to show up or between my wife and I or Luca and I. Patchwork hits that sweet spot of a 2 player filler game that doesn’t overstay it’s welcome and still offers a complete gaming experience. It’s what I’d expect from Uwe Rosengberg who’s designed (among many, many wonderful games) another tight, small game I love, Bohnanza.

Be warned however, for such a small box the game ends up taking up quite a bit of space! It’s those Patches you’ve got to spread about. There’s a whole bunch of them! Other than that extremely minor thing I don’t have much in the way of criticism – rather I’m still pleasantly surprised that a game with a quirky theme is so much fun.

 

Three Ring Circus: Bruges

Three Ring Circus: Bruges

Bruges is a card game from ace Euro game designer Stefan Feld. It will keep 2 to 4 players occupied for around an hour by placing you at the heart of 15th Century Bruges, in a battle for victory points.  This is done through various types of building; houses, canals, reputations and employment of the widest range of people ever seen in a game*

I think I visited Bruges as a child, clearly, it didn’t leave much of an impression on me. For me Belgium was all about two things; my dad driving our Chrysler Avenger on the Spa race track, (the straight is a public road), and eating frites with mayonnaise at the roadside.  Any country that serves quality chips from the verge is tilting at greatness and I salute them for it.

Bruges

Also tilting at greatness is this game. It has all the hallmarks of a good European strategy game:

  • Colourful board, delightfully depicting a city in forced perspective.
  • Cardboard tokens for money and resources.
  • Wooden meeples in two sizes!
  • Cards.
  • Edge of the board scoring track.
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Bruges at the end of a fine game.

The only thing lacking is wooden cubes, but I still give this 5/6 on the Euro-conformity(™) scale with a bonus point for including two deck shoes. Overall the quality of the components is excellent.  My only quibble is with the colour choices. The games uses five colours; blue, red, brown, yellow and purple. In low light I find the brown and yellow, red and purple hard to distinguish. Knowing what the colours are is essential to this game and I would think this is a serious impediment if you are colour blind.

Setup

Getting everything organised is a little bit involved and falls into the sort of time range that allows a friend to make you a cup of tea, and possibly bring a slice of cake too.  There are money, threat, canal and fountain tokens to deal with, as well as some meeples.  We’ve speeded the process up by separately bagging up everything that each player needs.  Finally the huge stack of 165 cards is sorted into 5 stacks. Stacks equal to the number of players are used and divided equally between the two deck shoes.  

The play is the thing.

On the face of it, playing Bruges is straightforward enough.  The turns go like this:

  • Draw cards from the two decks until you have five.
  • The start player rolls the dice.
  • Everyone plays a card from their hand in turn.  This continues until each player has played four cards.
  • Check for majorities on reputation, canals and people employed.
  • Start player token moves clockwise and back to the card draw.
  • Carry on until one of the card stacks are depleted.  This is the final round.

So far so good, but the devil is in the detail.  This game immediately throws two hurdles at you, “What do I do?” and “What is the smart thing to do?”.  

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The decisions start early and easy. Drawing face down cards split between two shoes. There are five different colours of cards and at the early stages the colours aren’t too important. As the game goes on you will have formed a plan and those colours become more important. Ultimately you will be silently cursing the deck for not coughing up a yellow when you need it most.

The dice roll is simple enough: 1 & 2s are summed and this is the cost of moving up the reputation track.  5 & 6s rolled, generate threat markers matching the dice colour ,and are distributed. Get three threat markers of the same sort and you suffer the various consequences.

The real decisions come in your hand of 5 cards. Each card has a unique power when hired and housed, but they also can be used in 5 other ways:

Building a canal.

Exchanging for money.

Exchanging for workers.

Building a house.

Removing a threat token.

These actions are all colour coded too. For example, discarding a card for money ,gains you the cash amount equal to the pips showing on the dice that matches your card colou1gbr, while building a canal needs a card matching that stretch.  

The whole game is about working out the most effective use of your hand to pull in victory points.  Typically our two player games see us finishing grouped around 55 points mark and usually not too far apart.  A few points dropped can definitely make the difference between winning and losing.

When I start playing I generally have some sort of strategy formed by my starting hand of cards.  It could be building up a large pool of citizens in my tableau or going all out for canal building to pull in the bonuses for completing its full five stages.  This doesn’t often last long as I will be reacting to what cards come into my hand and the threats that build up in the game.   

Each hand becomes a benzedrine fuelled spider’s web,  (http://www.trinity.edu/jdunn/spiderdrugs.htm) of possibilities and layering and betrayal.  Five cards, four to use, six possible actions and then the order of play make for many choices.   

Playing with Three

Until recently Bruges has been almost always a two player game. This is something it excels at, but it plays well with three and four too. Turns come around quickly with the occasional bogging down when all those possibilities overwhelm you.

How easy is it to teach the game?

For a long time I was scared of teaching this game. When I tried it with a few friends it turned out to be not as hard as I thought.  Once the card actions are explained there isn’t too much else to cover. Less experienced gamers might well need a assisting through the first round.

Can complexity be scaled?

No, you’re in at the deep end here.  

Can you handicap other players? Do you need to?

We’ve not considered handicapping. Scoring mainly takes place at the end and it just doesn’t feel right to do so.

How likely is your child to flip the table halfway through?

There could be table flipping, but it’s pretty unlikely given scoring happens at the end.  I struggled to convince my son to play Bruges. He was adamant that he wasn’t going to try it and in the end it was playing another Stefan Feld game, Rialto, that persuaded him.  

What do I think?

I have owned Bruges for a couple of years now and it sits very comfortably in my top five games.  It seems to have everything; great board and card art, incredible variety and plentiful decisions to make. Definitely one to try.

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*Probably.  I didn’t research this.

New York 1901 – Building the Big Apple

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New York 1901 is one of those games that immediately strikes me as a perfect introductory game to modern hobby boardgames. In other words, a ‘gateway’ game. It’s not without it’s flaws though – mainly in the rule book. A while back this game made a huge splash but then the fervor died down and of course that’s when I got a copy. I think this is a good time to take a second look though – if you’re at all the kind of gamer that has newer players and would like to get them deeper into the hobby, you’ll want to take a look at this one. It’s also wonderful for a lighter evening of gaming if you’re not into burning your brain but are into a bit of strategic puzzle solving with this fairly forgiving title.

New York 1901 is published by Blue Orange games and designed by Chénier La Salle for 2-4 players, ages 8+ and plays in an hour or less.

How to Play

As you might have guessed, it’s 1901 and you’re in New York! A fledgling builder looking to take the city upwards towards a more modern day skyline. This game takes a little bit from Ticket to Ride, a little bit from Tetris, combines them with some card drafting and comes out with a nice, eminently playable game.

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First, you set out the game board, which is divided into five Districts, each represented by a different color. Each District is divided into 13 territories which come in two sizes – 2 space territories and 3 space territories. Dividing all this up are five important streets, which will be relative at the end game for scoring. There’s also a scoring track around the outside of the board à la Ticket to Ride, which not only tracks scores but also shows when certain in-game things are unlocked.

Each player will choose one of four different colors and then get their 18 skyscrapers (cut-out cardboard chits), their 1 starter building, 4 plastic workers, their King token (which looks like a trophy) and their score tokens, which are decently formed little Empire State Buildings in the player’s color. Every player also gets three action cards – you’ll be able to use them once each during the game, or save them for one bonus point each unused card during the end scoring. Player’s skyscrapers come in three flavors, bronze, silver and gold. Generally speaking, they’re worth more points moving from bronze to silver and then to gold.

Each player gets or chooses a character card – this determines where they’ll place their starting building on the board. Each of those five streets are also represented on a card – three of these are dealt out at the start of the game. The person with the largest number of skyscrapers on each street at the end of the game will score five bonus points. There’s a deck of Territory cards that remind me a bit of the train cars in TTR. There’s one card corresponding to each territory on the board. These are shuffled and the top four dealt out in a line next to the deck, called teh Open Market. These are available during each players turn. Players will place their starting building, and remove one Territory card that matches the color/size of the territory that their starter building now occupies.

In the game there are also four Legendary Skyscrapers. These are put to the side of the board and will be available to all the players. Each player may build only one during the game and they’re worth extra points.

You’ll also have a chance to deal out one of the Bonus Challenge cards (if you’re not playing the beginner setup). These cards offer a chance to score additional points by completing the conditions on the card – either during the game or at game’s end, depending on the Bonus Challenge you draw.

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During a players turn, they can do one of two actions.

  • Expand
  • Demolish

Once you’ve chosen one of these actions, you then Build.

Again, you’re going to find a game that’s fairly simple at heart but has some complex strategies and thoughts going into it based off of these two actions. Let’s delve deeper.

Expand: As any good land baron is want to do, you’re going to expand your empire. If you choose this option, you’ll start with your four plastic workers. If you have one available (i.e. not on the board) you can take any one of the four face up Territory cards in the Open Market. You then place a worker on a Territory on the board that matches the color and shape represented on that card. The card then goes to rest on your character card for the rest of the game.

When you claim a territory, it becomes part of your estate and no one else can take or touch it.

Now you can Build if you wish to but it’s not mandatory (though you’ll often want to). To do so, take one of your available skyscrapers (again, available meaning not already on the board) and place it on a territory occupied by one of your workers. There are some rules you’ll need to follow when it comes to building. Skyscrapers must fit entirely on your estate, if you’re looking to build anything other than a bronze skyscraper, you’ve got to have scored enough points to do so. Six points is enough to unlock silver skyscrapers and eighteen points will unlock gold skyscrapers. These are also marked right on the scoring track so you can easily see when you’ve reached them. Skyscrapers must touch a street or a park, they may be built across multiple territories and districts and do not need to completely fill the territories they’re built on. You also can’t build one building on top of another.

As soon as you build a skyscraper, you score the number of points printed on it. You’ll then replenish any cards taken from the Open Market and your turn is over.

Demolish: Here’s where you replace one or more of your already standing skyscrapers with something newer and worth more points (hopefully!). To demolish a Skyscraper, you must build a new skyscraper of a later generation – that is, where bronze was you can build silver or gold, where silver was you can only build gold. You return any demolished buildings to the game box – they’re done for the game. Also, if your new building leaves any of the previously occupied territories completely empty, you must place a worker on those territories. If you can’t place a worker, then you can’t use the Demolish action this turn.

Now you must build – and that means replacing your demolished buildings with a new one following the rule above. Once you’ve done that, your turn is over.

Those four fancy Legendary Skyscrapers? They count as gold buildings and one can be built by each player instead of their normal gold buildings. Once you’ve built one of these, place your King Token on it so you can remember who it belongs to and know you can’t build any more of them.

Remember those three action cards you were dealt? They also can come into play during your turn. There’s the Construction Boom which allows you to build an additional building on your turn, the Market Shift where you can remove the four Open Market cards, shuffle the deck and then re-deal them and the Land Grab card, where you can gain two territory cards rather than just one.

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That’s the whole game! The only thing left is to end it and score. As soon as one player has only four unbuilt skyscrapers or there are only 3 cards left in the Open Market and the deck is empty, the game end is triggered. The player who triggers this completes their final turn and every other player gets a last turn and then we score.

You’ve already been scoring your skyscrapers as the game moved along. Add to that one point for each unused Action Card, get any bonuses from the Bonus Challenge cards, and get five points for each player who’s got the most buildings on the three Streets of New York cards.

There are some alternate setup rules for 2 players but they’re not anything like some games where there’s a phantom third player or the entire game changes.

Why you should play

This game is, at it’s core a fairly simple gateway game. There are a few concepts in here which may be a bit challenging for those completely new to modern hobby board games but I don’t think they’re insurmountable at all. I realize after looking back at my post and it’s length that it may not seem that way – what is important to note is that there are those concepts and mechanics which take a bit of explanation. When the game actually kicks off and the players are building away, it flows quickly and smoothly, with each turn taking perhaps a minute.

What this game has to offer that other so called gateway games don’t though is a very tense, very strategic level of play for people more familiar with it. It can be a real challenge figuring out which of those two actions is the best for you right now and then implementing them without being blocked by other players. The Tetris-like puzzle aspect of the game, while not overwhelming or the entirety of the strategy, is also a blast. It’s hard to beat that feeling of actually building something in a game. In the hour or so it takes to play this, win or lose, you still feel like you’ve accomplished something and that’s a very rewarding feeling.

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The game isn’t without it’s flaws but most of those exist in the rule book, not the rules or mechanics themselves. It took me three plays and three different versions of the rules to finally play this game correctly. Ultimately what saved me was this set of rules uploaded to BGG by the designer, Chénier La Salle. They make everything far, far clearer than the original rules and turned the game from a bit of a head-scratcher, kind of fun experience to a real, challenging, fun, tense game.

Now that I know how to play, the game is a heck of a lot easier to explain – I can teach someone to play in 10 minutes tops and we’re off and running. I do think like many games this one rewards multiple plays but it’s one I plan on playing multiple times with some of the same folks so I’m okay with that. This is, I think a great opening game for a game night, a great convention game and perfect for events like my Extra Life game day where I can show people how to play without actually playing myself. Not that I wouldn’t mind a playing! My nearly 11 year old daughter very much enjoyed this one as well so I suspect It’ll continue to see time on my table.

Fly Casual – a review of Risk: Star Wars Edition

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Note: This is a review of the Black Edition of the game, which comes packed with higher quality everything. Game play is the same with either version. 

Some games are destined to be modern classics for hobby game enthusiasts. Risk… is not one of those games. One could argue the ‘classic’ part of the argument I suppose. Risk: Star Wars edition – based off of the hard to find and very expensive Queen’s Gambit though is a bantha of a different color. This time Hasbro hit it out of the park with this tight, 2 player game that is thematic and, well, good.

Risk: Star Wars Edition – 2 (or 4) players, ages 10+, plays in about 45 minutes.

How to play

As always, this isn’t a deep dive into the rules. I’ve purposely not gone over every single rule here in this summary.  Also this review game play wise is for either the standard or Black edition of the game but the pictures will reflect the Black edition and hot damn do they look good.

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To start, set up the TIE Fighter looking board which is pretty neat in and of itself. The center board will feature the Death Star smack dab in the middle surrounded by a whole lot of TIE Fighters and Rebel Fighters. Either side (the wings of a TIE-Advanced) are dedicated to either Luke and Vader or the forest moon of Endor. Then players decide who’s going to be the Rebellion and who will be the Empire. On the Rebel’s side of the board, a number of fleets of X, B and Y wing fighters and the Millennium Falcon are organized around the Death Star while more fleets are held in reserve on tabs that attach to the main board. On the Imperial side, a whole ton of TIE fighters are set up along with the hefty Executor class Star Destroyer.

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Not pictured: I may or may not be actively salivating.

What you’ll see once you’ve gotten the board set up is that there are really three intertwined but different games going on at once. In the center is the Death Star, surrounded by Rebel and Imperial fleets. On one side of the board is the Shield Assault area. This represents the Rebels attempting to take down the shield generator on Endor. On the other side you’ve got Luke versus Vader – representing the iconic clash between the new Jedi Luke and the seasoned Sith Lord Vader.

Coming along with all this each player also gets their very own deck of Order cards. Once shuffled each player draws six cards into their hands. Order cards let each player choose one of several actions. The Empire may choose to attack with the Death Star and take out some Rebel ships, or use Force Lightning to ruin Luke’s already sketch afternoon. The Rebel players are often given the choice of attacking with ships, attempting a run on the shield generator or having Luke take a shot at Vader.

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Once each player is ready to go, they both choose 3 of their 6 cards and place them face down on the table.

Each player, starting with the Rebels, flips over the top card on the 3 card stack and chooses one of the orders on that card to play. Once played, it goes face up into your discard pile.

If you can’t play what’s on the card, it just gets discarded.  After each player has executed (or failed to execute) all 3 orders, 3 new cards are drawn and the next turn begins. Once the decks are depleted, the discard pile is shuffled and forms a new deck.

The Empire wins the game by destroying all of the Rebel ships. The Rebels win the game by destroying the Death Star. Here’s the big, bold HOWEVER. The Shield generator has to be taken out before the Rebels can even attempt to attack the Death Star. At that same time fleets of ships are maneuvering and attacking each other and the Death Star is taking out whole swaths of Rebel ships while the Rebels are fighting to take down the shields and Luke and Vader are confronting each other too. The fight between the two is to the death – unless Luke can successfully redeem Vader. Ship to ship and ship to Death Star combat is ruled by the roll of the dice, with different ships being more or less effective.

If Luke is destroyed, the Empire gets some bonus cards. If Vader is destroyed, the Rebellion gets some bonus cards and if Vader is redeemed, more bonus cards are in order for the Rebellion.

Why you should play

This game takes everything you love about Return of the Jedi, compresses it into 45 minutes of game play with some really stressful decision making (in a good way) and stays on theme the entire time. It’s challenging with both players managing three different fields of battle and once you get the hang of it, the whole thing works surprisingly well!

Who doesn’t want to sit on the bridge of a Mon Calamari cruiser and direct the entire freaking Rebel fleet in a massive attack on the Death Star? Or sit in your strangly lumpy metal throne and cackle evilly while that very same Death Star blows up the entire Rebel Fleet? Oh hey, you’ll also be coordinating a ground attack and a light saber duel.

If that’s not good enough for you, I should also mention that the Black Edition comes with just a ton of miniatures too.

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The game has a lot of tight, meaningful choices and scenarios where you’ve got two or three good options and are forced to pick just one. Assaults between ships and the Death Star are determined by die rolls, and of course the cards you draw determine what orders are available. There’s certainly a random, perhaps slightly chaotic side of this game but I don’t feel like this detracts from the game play at all. Many of these rolls, particularly towards the end game, are of the stand up and fist pump variety.

It can be easy, especially on the first play, to lose track of the side boards (Luke vs Vader and the assault on the shield generator). It’s very important for both sides to pay attention to these though and the will become apparent towards the middle and end of your first game. Without lowering the shields, the Rebel ships will be slaughtered. The loss of Luke or Vader can deal real blows to both sides by providing a pretty decent advantage to the other.

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Now this is not a high strategy, brain straining euro-style game. Nor is it a carefree, chaotically random dice chucking game where your strategy doesn’t mean diddly. It’s something of a hybrid of those two states. Your decisions do matter and without a solid strategy you won’t win the game. But you can expect to be thwarted by the occasional card draw or die roll too. It is also a Hasbro game so don’t expect FFG level minis. The TIE fighters and Rebel ships are the same Risk plastic we’ve come to know. The Black edition does come with some nice metal Minis and a handful of tiny plastic storm troopers.

For the price, I think you’re looking at an extremely good 2 player, head to head game that really bears no resemblance to classic Risk whatsoever. If you go into the game expecting a bit less than an hour and some light strategy and dice chucking, you’ll come out of it very satisfied. The game plays well with 10 year olds and adults. There’s also a four player variant but I’ve not tried this. I’m very impressed with the game itself – apparently a reworking of the Queen’s Gambit which I’ve not only never played but never even seen.

The standard version doesn’t feature quite as many miniatures but is available for an MSRP of $30. The Black edition is sleek and well packaged, has more minis and is available for an MSRP of $50.

If you get either version of the game, I’d highly recommend downloading the rules summary sheet found on BGG.

The Ravens of Thri Sahashri

“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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Onitama – a relaxed, fun chess-like game that isn’t anything like chess

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I tend to look at my board game collection as an investment. Not in the monetary sense but more in the sense of time well spent or time that could be well spent. I’ve got games in my collection that I have not yet played and probably won’t play for a year or two. Why? Because I think they’d be a great fit for my almost 11 year old and me when she’s a bit older. Or that they’d work really well with some friends who I just haven’t been able to get together to play games with. Others are there because I could see myself playing them now and for years and years to come. Onitama fits into all of these categories.

Onitama is a game by Shimpei Sato, published by Arcane Wonders, for two players ages 8+ and playable in 15-20 minutes.

How to Play

The actual rules for Onitama are easily fit on to a single printed page. It’s not terribly complex in execution. The strategies and tactics that you’ll find yourself employing while playing however are anything but simple. Here’s the first comparison to Chess – there’s just a few pieces and a board consisting of 25 square spaces (compared to Chess’ 64).

Players unroll the board, which is printed on a play mat, and set up their pieces. Each player gets one  Master piece and four Disciple pieces. There are also 15 different movement cards, of which five will be used every game. The Master piece is placed on that player’s Gate (the middle of the 5 spaces closest to that player) while the four Disciples are placed on the two spaces on either side of the Gate.

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Shuffle the movement cards and deal out two to each player. Flip over the top card of the deck to determine who goes first – each movement card has a colored icon to represent one of the two players – blue or red. This fifth movement card will be placed next to the starting player’s right side of the board. The movement cards are each named after a (real or fictional) animal and show one black space and several lighter spaces. The black space represents the current location of the piece you’re moving. The lighter spaces represent spaces relative to the starting space where that piece will end it’s move.

The starting player selects one of their movement cards and executes the move on it. They then take this card, slide it up to their left hand side of the board and take the fifth movement card placed to their right side of the board.

The second player does the same, and play moves forward with a continuous exchange of just-used movement cards.

If either the Master or the Disciple pawns ever end their movement on a space occupied by an enemy pawn (either Master or Disciple) that enemy pawn is knocked out of the game. Players can move through their own pieces while executing a move but cannot end their move on one of their own pieces.

Play continues until either one player’s Master is removed from the game or your can position your Master pawn on an opponent’s gate (which is the middle space on the row closest to that player).

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Why you should play

Onitama is one of those rare games where I don’t just play it. I play it four, five, six times in a row – generally against the same opponent. I could easily burn an hour or two playing, resetting and playing again. It’s wonderfully addictive, easy to teach, always the same basic game but constantly different as each game unfolds. No two games really play the same when you’re only using a third of the available moves in each game and those constantly change with a shuffle.

This game is one that I love playing now. My daughter enjoys it but hasn’t quite gotten the hang of it – as she gets older though I can see her mastering this more and more. I can also see myself playing this game essentially for the rest of my life. Once you get the hang of it, you really want to spend more time with it so you can start to master it. That’s where I just can’t escape the Chess comparison. There’s a lot going on and you have to think several moves in advance. On the surface it’s simple, deep into the game though it’s really a match of wits with your opponent and game play can get very complex in the back and forth. So it’s not Chess, even though it shares some qualities.

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The components are beautiful, from the box that houses the game right down to the individual cards and pieces. The artwork is minimalistic but elegantly so and clearly reflects the spirit of the game. The theme is, well, about as appropriate as that of Chess. It’s a fight you’re entering into with each game but it’s an elegant fight.

I’d say that Onitama would make a perfect opening game except I think I’d find myself playing it a whole bunch and having it turn into one of the main courses. It is a great lunch time game if there’s two of you. Once you have the basics down (which takes one play) you can get 3-5 games into an hour, depending on how much long and your opponent think during your turns. While this game is no longer in the ‘new hotness’ category, I’d highly recommend picking it up if you haven’t already and have a place in your collections for a two player game.  This is a game that I can see myself playing for as long as I play games.

 

Please – consider donating to my Extra Life campaign. 100% of the funds raised goes to children’s hospitals. Thanks!

What comes around goes around with Karmaka

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

You’re Fired – the game that (mostly) fired Love Letter

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You’re fired – a phrase that come pre-weighted with a lot of assumptions. It could be the end of your career, or the end of a TV show, or something that happens to older board games when they’re replaced by newer board games. In this case, it’s all of that mashed into one card game! Here we have a fairly light filler that hits all of the same check boxes as Love Letter but hits them with a bit more force and adds a few extra check boxes as well.

You’re Fired – designed by Doug Levandowski and published by Button Shy Games. The game is for 2-4 players and takes about 15 minutes to play. My review is in two parts. The first part, How to play goes over the game play itself. If you’re just looking for my opinion skip over to the Why you should play section.

Disclaimer: I don’t get to put this here disclaimer up very often so pay attention. Button Shy has also published one of my very own designs, Ninja – Silent but Deadly. You should know that this in no way affects this review – I purchased this game myself before my own game was published.

fired

How to play

The goal of this game is to eliminate your opponents boss before they eliminate yours. Simple, right?

Each player gets one of four companies – and with that company comes 11 cards. Shuffle all 11 of these cards into a neat little deck. There are also a series of consultant cards in the game – this deck is shuffled and each player is secretly (face down) dealt two. These consultants are shuffled into your deck to make it a nice 13 cards in size.

You draw three cards to form your starting hand. If either player happens to draw their Boss card, they reveal the Boss, draw one extra card and shuffle the Boss back into their remaining deck.

On your turn, you draw a card and then play a card. These cards will most likely be Employees or Consultants. You play your card to the Break Room (discard pile) face up. Every card has some kind of effect on it which happens when you play it. There’s also an Unemployment Line area – this is where employees who have been Fired go.

drawplay

A few examples: The Manager. When you play the Manager, you fire a random employee from an opponent’s hand. The Manager can also be Reactive – meaning you can play this card when it’s not your turn. In the Manager’s case, if you’re Boss is about to get fired, you can instead play the Reactive ability of the Manager and said Manager gets fired instead. Which is, in my experience, entirely too realistic.

Some Employees effects are only triggered when they are Fired. Also, there’s the Boss. If the Boss ever ends up fired or played to your Break Room, you lose. If however an opponent tries to Fire your Boss and they fail (because maybe you have an unsuspecting Manager handy) you get to shuffle your Break Room cards and your hand back into your main deck and draw a new hand.

Photo Credits: Maurice Fitzgerald
Photo Credits: Maurice Fitzgerald

There are a few changes if you’re playing with 3 or 4 players – each time a player is eliminated (their Boss is fired/taking a break) the other players shuffle their Break Room and hand into their deck and draw a new hand.

Game play continues until only one player is left still employed

Why you should play

If you enjoy Love Letter – this is a lot like it but better. Why is it better? You’ve got more options, you’ve got several ways of recycling many cards in your deck, the Intern cards make every game different (and this works better than Love Letter’s taking 1 card and putting it aside). Sure, their’s player elimination but in a game that lasts fifteen minutes with most of the players being eliminated in the last five it’s really not a strike against it.

Now my family (for a wonder, all four of us) really do enjoy a good game of Love Letter. It’s fast, simple, easy to teach, easy to learn and plays in a very short amount of time. However, it was getting a bit stale for us. Then along came You’re Fired and suddenly we’ve got a game that’s just as fast, just as fun but employs a bit more of a strategic element and where it’s not all that common to knock someone out on the first turn just by guessing a card.

You’re Fired is still a light game but it manages to give you some important choices to make while you’re playing it where you’re not entirely at the mercy of another player’s single card. Those reaction cards are key to this. We as a family really like that.

Now this is a little bit of a “take that” game so keep that in mind if that’s not your style.screen-shot-2016-09-29-at-10-49-48-am

I can say that there’s really only one reason we’re still playing Love Letter at all and that’s this guy:

Other than our occasional forays into Joker territory though we’re pretty much sticking with You’re Fired. It’s just got better game play and is less reliant on only 16 cards being shuffled.

Islebound – beautiful and strategic with simple play but complex interactions and a strong finish. And cheaper than a $60 bottle of wine.

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Islebound by Ryan Laukat, published by Red Raven Games. 2-4 players, 1-2 hours.

I seem to be on a roll when it comes to playing beautiful games. Scythe, Heir to the Pharaoh and now Islebound. All of them are wonderfully illustrated and laid out – and Laukat’s latest is no exception. I very much enjoy the whimsical, broad stroke style that Red Raven games embraces! Here we have a bit of area control, some area movement, a neat modular board, a dash of resource management and a few tracks to go up or down on thrown in for good measure.

How to play

I’m not going to exhaustively re-write the rule book here so there will be a few things missing from this section. You should be able to get a real feel for setting up and playing though.

On first setup, the game looks a bit complicated and does take up a decent amount of table space. I’ll say this though, after the first few turns you realize that the actual game play is relatively intuitive. As with many of Laukat’s games, the simple play hides some fairly deep strategies, tough decisions and the ability of for your opponents to force you to adapt your strategy on the fly.

First, players set up the modular game board. There’s two sides to each of the 8 map pieces – one for beginners, the other for more advanced play. Once the map is set up, the play board goes into place and each player takes their own ship board.

On the game board (separate from the map) you’ll find a renown track, two stacks of Event cards, two stacks of Reputation cards, a stack of Renown tokens and three crew members. Not in the picture below (but visible in some of my other pictures) there’s also a diplomacy track. Certain in-game actions will allow you to add to your renown, place cubes on the diplomacy track, hire new crew, complete an Event or bolster your Reputation. All of this goes towards your total renown, which at the end of the game will determine the winner.

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On your ship board, you’ll find your three starting crew and spaces for them to rest, to store fish, wood and books (the three resources in the game) and a spot for your gold.

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You then lay out five building cards. The first two can be built for the price in gold and cost in goods listed on them. The last three cost one, two or three books in addition to their listed cost.

Here’s what each player does on their turn.

  1. Move.
  2. Take 1 regular action and any free actions.

That’s… it. Two things you can do. Okay, adding in the game play and you’ve got some actual meat in there but really if you can get that you do those things, you have the basics of this game down.

Moving: The map is divided into a series of regions. During your turn you must move up to the speed on your boat. You start off with a move of 2 but depending on which crew you hire can go as many as four regions in a move turn.

Actions: You must perform one action during this portion of your turn. They are: Visit the town, Attack the town (and attempt to conquer it), use Diplomacy to ally yourself with a town or Hunt for Treasure and earn your self some gold.

Here’s where the meat of the game is found. If visited, every town allows you to do something different, for a cost of course. Hire crew, get fish, wood or books, hire pirates, get some sea serpents, build buildings and more. Every crew member allows you to do more as well – move further, get more resources, add extra dice when needed to attack, do some physical work, or take care of some administrative tasks.

Each building also gives you bonuses – not only in renown, which will win you the game, but added resources or abilities.

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Some towns are susceptible to attack while others can only be allied with through diplomacy. There’s a neat track on which the players place cubes sequentially, with the higher value spots being further down the track. Various in-game things allow players to place cubes. Want to use Diplomacy to grab a nice town? Remove enough of your cubes to pay for it on that track.

If attacking is more your style, you’ve got to hire pirates and sea serpents to help out. Pirates are easier to come by but sea serpents can pack a bit more of a punch. Commit your forces and try to beat the town – do so and it’s yours.

Similar to Above and Below, the pirates and Serpents score you differing amounts of points (or no points at all) depending on how your die roll goes, adding a bit of chance to the mix. Doing things with your crew can also exhaust or hurt them – which means a trip to a port where they can rest and recover is probably in order.

If you take a town through attacking it or diplomacy, you gain a hefty amount of gold, and get to visit it for free (as long as it still belongs to you) for the remainder of the game.

While all of this is going on, players are building as well. The first player to reach 7 or 8 buildings (depending on the number of players) triggers the end game.

Once the game is over, players add up the renown from their buildings, renown tokens, their current location on the renown track and each gold is also worth one renown point. The highest total wins.

Why you should play

Hmm. First, there’s the ‘I’ve never met a Red Raven game I didn’t like’ factor. Second, the game is beautiful with great components and a pretty impressive price point for what you get. third and most importantly though – it’s good. It’s ‘set it up I again want to try something different this time!‘ good. The simplicity of the rules, the ease with which the iconography makes sense and the astoundingly wide variety of choices laid before you ever turn make for a very deep game. I’d be really surprised if any two games played extremely similar to each other – there’s just so much to do, and so much to react off of when your other players do something you were just going to do yourself! Do you pay the extra cost to do it too? Go elsewhere? Alter your plans a bit?

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If you’ve played Above and Below, you’ll be familiar with the look and feel of this game. It employs many of the same mechanics, has that same are style and weird beasties along with the humans you can play. Heck, it’s the same world – all of your crew members have their Above and Below alter egos on the flip side of their tokens so you can pop them into that game and use them as villagers. Sweet!

I’ve found Islebound to be just a little more streamlined than Above and Below, which is as it should be. Here we have a straight up, knock down, area control resource gathering strategy game, without the storytelling aspects of Above and Below. For that, I think this game fits in a similar niche but feels much faster. There’s still room on my shelf for both of them however, depending on my mood and if I’d like to explore vast underground caverns or a mystical archipelago.

The game started out a bit complex for us, took a nice ‘ahhh I get it!’ turn fairly quickly and then opened up and became much more than move/action/free action. This is a great title to showcase how fairly simple play can lead to very complex, long term decisions and strategy. Just don’t get married to your move three turns out because your opponents will be sure to muck up those well laid plans!

This game is a real gem. I’d be more than willing to bring it to the table when anyone requests it and I’ll be sure to bring it with me to the next bunch of game nights and conventions I’ll be attending because I want to play more!

 

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