Board Gaming · Game Design

Advice to New Game Designers

I took to Twitter a few times in the past weeks to seek some advice from current game designers. After all, now that I’ve been bitten by the design bug, I want to try and avoid some of the same pitfalls that others may have encountered along the way. I wanted to soak in their wisdom, as much as possible in the character limit that Twitter restricts (although some completely ignored Twitter, such as the wonderful and prolific Tom Russell from Hollandspiele). But rather than hoard their advice for myself, I thought it would be a fun thing to pass it back to the community as a whole.

Also, at the end, I am sharing the game I’m currently working on along with the other game ideas that have come my way. The massive project in there will be a slow undertaking, which is why there are some smaller and a mid-range design in there to keep things progressing.

So here is the advice that I was given for a new designer, courtesy of these great designers:

 

From @tomandmary

Everyone’s process is different, sometimes radically so, so good advice is of necessity going to be idiosyncratic & might not apply to your “friend”. (Bad advice, like “find the fun!” abounds and you don’t need my help finding it.) That said…

I don’t tend to start serious work on a project until I have a reasonably clear picture in my head of what I want the game to be and to feel like. Then I start working on it, and I keep working on it until it looks and feels like that picture.

I design wargames, which depend on historical research. The best advice I can give about that is to avoid going into the research phase looking for mechanisms or things to jot down. Too often you end up distorting further research to fit those things…

… it’s better to let it simmer for awhile, so that when it’s time to start putting together mechanisms, you’ve already got a good grounding in the topic and can now go deeper as needed. And that being said, only go as deep as you need to at that point;

if each turn represents a year, you don’t need to track what was happening week-to-week. A big problem with first time wargame design in particular is that the designer tries to cover details that aren’t appropriate for the game’s scale.

IMHO, strong game design has a focus and a point of view, looking at its topic through a particular lens (e.g., in the case of one of my games, looking at the American Revolution thru the lens of supplies/logistics).

Two final pieces of advice, the first of which sounds goofy and useless: design the game that only you can design.

The second piece of advice is either very, very good or very, very bad, and that is not to be afraid to be weird, idiosyncratic, even off-putting. It’s very, very good in that it made me a full-time game designer. Very, very bad in that it probably doesn’t work for most others!

From @WeirdGiraffes

Don’t be discouraged if something doesn’t work or isn’t great to start out with. Don’t focus too much on how things look, things will most likely change a lot as you iterate. If you keep at it, your game will be great, but it could take a lot of time!

From @erik_a_sunden

Try to make a prototype as soon as possible, rather than pondering on the idea too much. It is so valuable to be able to play with the game bits and it will make the progress rate increase by so much!

From @AwithoutP

And if the game is big, playtest small chunks on their own. That way, when it breaks down, you know if it’s Chunk A, Chunk B, or the interaction between the two.

From @Level99Games

Build a roadmap to make sure you remember what the original concept, vision, and desired play experience is. It’s often easy to get lost in mechanics and forget what experience you were trying to create once you get into prototyping.

From @ReflectiveTree

Don’t worry about starting off too complex. In fact, go for it. Make it as complex as you possibly can, then whittle away at that mass of complexity until you find the sculpture in the marble.

From @SeventhSonGames

Get your idea into prototype form as quickly as possible so you can get it on the table in front of others. A LOT of time can be wasted between initial design and this step.

From @rf_seattle

There is no one process for designing a game. What works for others may not work for you. What works for one game may not work for another. Even the best advice from amazing designers will need to be ignored or flipped around at some point.

From @anarchytabletop

I am the only game designer I know who does big upfront design. All of the others tend to iterate quickly.

Designing a game is similar to writing a novel/novella for me. Most of the same ideas apply. I imagine it might also be similar to a making a painting or a sculpture. Two ideas come together in my head, and they propagate more ideas. I create space for them and feed them energy.

Then I get to work developing them.

From @Gregisonthego

Make the game you love! It may lead to / spin off into something else, it may not be marketable, it may be a sprawling mess, but something pushed you to get into design, and you gotta roll with that thing.

From @PhongOdin

Read three blogs: James Mathe’s, ‘s and they’re all chock full of great information.

From @asislavender

Write things down and save older iterations. You never know when yoy want to revisit an idea. Also bring in friends to playtest as soon as you get a prototype working. Even if it’s not for the whole game.

From @Dravvin

Prototype it a soon as you can. Ideas that are great in your head can be awful on the table!

****

And now for my design concepts. These are all in the pre-prototype phase with code names in quotations to represent initial concept titles. Hopefully at least one of them sounds interesting to you. Let me know which one(s) you’d be most interested in. Would you be interested in design updates as blog posts?

 

1. Monster Hunters – (1-4 players) A deckbuilder game with a worker placement mechanic. You are one of the hunters working to defend a town from monster attacks. Each “level”, so to speak, would have three monsters to face, each having their own small deck of cards they play from at the end of the round (think Sentinels of the Multiverse), except only one starts in play and more get added over time. There are progress markers for both players and the monsters, representing the successes of the hunters/the growing threat of the monsters. If the monster threat grows too fast, the players could be facing 2-3 monsters at once instead of the one. Players move from area to area, doing actions to improve the cards in their deck by recruiting allies, finding equipment, or gaining events (discarded cards can be placed in any order, the deck isn’t shuffled much like Aeon’s End). Players win by killing all three monsters, at which point they can thin down their deck to a preset number and advance to the next “level” (three total in the game). Monsters win if all hunters are dead, if the town is too damaged, or if the threat grows too far once the third monster appears.

2. “Out of Gas” – (1 Player) Tentative name stemming from the Firefly episode that inspired the theme. Solo sci-fi game where you are injured and regain consciousness in your ship to find that you’re locked in the back part and all life support systems here have been shut off. There is a limited supply of oxygen, you’re bleeding out, you need to find a way to regain heat before you freeze, and there are some goons you’ve got to get even with who have commandeered your ship. This will combine the excellent deckbuilding design of Friday and add several levels of resource management, movement throughout the ship, tough decisions to make, and all leading up to one big battle.

3. “The Battle of Hattin” – (1 player) A historical wargame recreating the historical Battle of Hattin (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Hattin). It would be fun to dive into the history of this, and challenge myself to come up with a solo wargame that can be played using either 9 or 18 cards (see the microgame contests that are held annually. I missed the official timeframe for the 9-card contest, but that shouldn’t stop me from trying this out!

4. “Viking Raiders” – (1 player) A semi-historical game representing Vikings landing on the shore and raiding into the countryside/towns. You have multi-use cards to let you move/interact as you raid in deeper onto the map. It would borrow an element from Clank in having plunder on spaces of the board to try and gain, and the further you go in the higher the value but also the greater the risk in making it back to your ship. There will be “guards” patrolling the paths whose movements are dictated through a very small deck of multi-tiered cards that increase in threat as the deck gets reshuffled and serves as the timer. I’m thinking something like an 18-card microgame here, or another candidate for a Mint Tin design as this could conceptually be done with a few cards and some cubes.

5. “Wreck-It Ralph” – (1-2 players) Not going with this as a name, but as a placeholder name for the poll. A twist on your typical dungeon crawl game – instead of being heroes fighting monsters to level up, you are monsters invading towns and fighting heroes to level up. Beyond this initial twist, I haven’t given any thought to the design or system, but it could be fun to do in a small format (mint tin design, perhaps?)

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Board Gaming · Review for Two

Review for Two – Valeria: Card Kingdoms

Thank you for checking review #48 by Cardboard Clash. My aim is to focus on reviewing board games and how they play for two people and, on occasion, how they play for one person. Because my wife is my primary gaming partner, a lot of consideration goes into finding those games that play well with 2 players, and we typically prefer to find those games that do not require a variant (official or otherwise) in order to play it with just the two of us.

**Note: A copy of the game was provided in exchange for an honest review. The below opinions remain our own based upon our impressions and reactions to the game.

An Overview of Valeria: Card Kingdoms

Valeria: Card Kingdoms is a game designed by Isaias Vallejo and was published by Daily Magic Games. The box states that it can play 1-4 players and has a 30-45 minute play time and a BGG weight rating of 1.95.

The land of Valeria is under siege by hordes of monsters. You and your fellow Dukes must recruit citizens and buy domains to build up your kingdoms and slay the foul creatures that lurk in the surrounding lands.

Valeria: Card Kingdoms is a tableau-building game for 1-5 players and will feel familiar to deck-building fans. The cards you buy can work for you on your turn and on all the other player turns, as well. On your turn, roll two dice and activate citizen cards with the result of each individual die and the sum of both dice. Other players will simultaneously activate their citizen cards based on the roll. Next, take two actions from the following: slay a monster, recruit a citizen, buy a domain, or take 1 of any resource. The player with the most victory points at the end wins the game.

Setup and gameplay for 2 Players

To set up the game, players create a row of 5 Monster stacks, two rows of 5 Citizen stacks each, and a row of 5 Domain stacks. This forms the center supply, and when a number of stacks equal to 2x the number of players are empty (exhausted), that will be the likely trigger for the end of the game.

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Each player receives 2 Duke cards and selects 1 to keep. These cards provide end game scoring and should be kept secret. Each player also receives a starting Peasant and a starting Knight card.

The game is played over a series of rounds. Each round follows the same pattern:

meeple Roll Phase – The Active Player rolls two dice.
meeple Harvest Phase – The dice activate citizen cards with the result of each individual die and the sum of both dice. All players take their resources at this time.
meeple Action Phase – The Active Player takes two actions from the following: Slay a Monster, Recruit a Citizen, Buy a Domain, Take One of Any Resource.
meeple End Phase – The Active Player passes the dice to their left.

The game ends when:
sauronAll Monsters have been slain OR
sauronAll Domains have been built OR
sauronThe total number of Exhausted stacks is equal to twice the number of players (4 in a 2-player game)

My Thoughts

It goes without saying that the artwork in this game is beyond amazing. I’ve come to love The Mico’s artwork so much, and this game is no exception. Things are vibrant and the citizen cards somehow manage to give an impression of personality through the artwork on these cards. This is the sort of game you could just sit back and look at after setting it up.

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The rules for this game are really simple and laid out well. Designers and publishers should take notice of how this one is done and use it as an example of how to get a player from opening the box to playing the game in a little amount of time. The thickness of the book actually comes from suggested setups, the solo and 5-player variants, and other additional content. The rules themselves are concise and straight-forward. The only real vagueness is that it doesn’t clearly state an exhausted card should go out when a monster or domain pile are empty. My first plays were with it being just for citizens, which really made the game drag on forever.

There are two aspects that set this as the best roll-for-resources game I’ve played: every citizen gives different rewards for rolling the number on your turn vs. the number being rolled on someone else’s turn, and the fact that you gain something even if you don’t trigger any citizens. These things help keep players engaged, and at least give you the sense of making forward progress even when the dice hate you. Gaining for the individual dice, as well as the sum, is another helpful boost.

I love the scaling of monsters in each pile. They grow in threat and reward, and there is a great reason to focus on plowing through monster after monster. They are varied and I like that they are keyed to each environment/area so you might have varied piles.

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This game is so variable with its setup that you can make it where no two games played are identical. I love having the ability to get variety in what is available, from the citizens to recruit to the monsters you face to the dukes you have for scoring. Everything is really modular, which also speaks to how easy it would be to apply expansion content into the game.

The individual turns are simple and fast-moving…once you resolve what everyone gets from the die roll. You get to take two actions, from a small list of actions. It is a little like multi-player solitaire at that point, since what you do on my turn doesn’t necessarily affect what I can do on mine unless you recruit the last citizen in a pile, or purchase the domain I wanted, or kill the monster I was hoping to slay. If you like quick and simple player turns, this is a good one to look at. But if you want a lot of interaction, just know that outside of the dice rolls it might seem lacking.

The game runs a little longer than it should. Unless a player focuses hard on a specific pile, it is usually a gradual approach to depleting enough piles to trigger the end of the game. In a 2-player game, the only possible trigger is 4 exhausted piles because there are more monster and domain piles than the required number. You’d think that would make things go fast, but oftentimes it can be a challenge to build up for a big attack or purchase because there are only two players, so there are several turns spent “gathering” the necessary resources.

The abilities on the citizens vary. Some are really, really good. Some are okay. Others are situational enough that they tend to be the last ones purchased (whether right or wrong, that Alchemist just doesn’t get enough love!). I understand that some of the better ones are going to be 7+ because there is less chance of rolling those numbers than 2-6 (since you use both the numbers rolled individually and the sum of those numbers to trigger citizen abilities). It is just funny how there is a collective sigh when the Peasants trigger again and again.

Setup time is a bear. It never seems like it should be, since everything is organized with tabs in the box, but it will take a bit of time. The good news is that most of the cards don’t shuffle, saving some of the potential setup time. I imagine that it grows even more with expansions, much like a game of Dominion could, depending on the setup you want to go for. You’ll end up with a 4 x 5 grid of cards on the table, which also can take up a bit of table space.

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This is more of a “it’s me” complaint, but the whole roll-for-resources system makes the game feel like it minimizes your chance to plan effectively. Yes, you can buy certain citizens to increase your odds. Especially since you gain for each number rolled and the sum of those numbers. But it still boils down to chance. Too much chance for me, and it may feel that way to other gamers. If all I need to accomplish my task is for X to be rolled, but it takes seven rolls for that to happen, you’ve effectively fallen further behind the other player(s) in the game. This is also part of why the piles tend to exhaust slowly: you need to cover as many numbers as you can, buying 1 of each before really looking to stack up on a specific number.

Final Thoughts

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I really struggled to grasp my feelings about this game. On the one hand, I have discovered that I am really not a huge fan of the roll-for-resources system in a game. It was what drove me to hate Catan. It was something that convinced me to stay far, far away from Machi Koro after one play. It is a game I should absolutely say “nope, not for me” based on that alone.

Yet this game is easily the best implementation of that system. It does keep you engaged during everyone’s turns, although by the end it gets borderline ridiculous with the potential for stuff being earned by the entire table. I played it once with four, being the “banker” so to speak for the resource tokens, and never again. Even when the dice hate you, there is still a consolation resource you can earn and turn into buying new heroes in order to boost future turns. But it still suffers from the same problem as any roll-for-resource system: when the dice favor one player, it presents a runaway leader situation. And there is little you can do about it.

I think that, had the game actually played in the advertised 30-45 minutes, it might have been enough to propel this into a “I’m okay with this game” category. But every game, even solo, felt like it lasted about 30 minutes longer than it should have. Maybe it was just that no one ever went all-in with a specific citizen, or power-rushed through monster stacks, or purchased domains like crazy. All three end-game triggers always seemed to be on the verge of triggering, yet by that point usually one of us was trying oh-so-hard to end things because it had overstayed its welcome.

There is a lot of good in this game, and I know there is a right audience for the game. If you enjoy Catan or Machi Koro, this is arguably a better game with a similar flavor and a whole ton of variety. Family gamers and those who are seeking non-traditional “gateway games” to introduce newer players to the hobby should give this one a lot of consideration as well. This was definitely more of a not-for-me game than a “this is a bad game” situation. There is a ton of expansion content out there for the game that promises to add even more fun and variety to your experience, and anyone who enjoys the game will likely want to expand the content in the box to keep things fresh and variable for a long time.

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Hopefully you found this article to be a useful look at Valeria: Card Kingdoms. If you’re interested in providing support for Cardboard Clash so I can continue to improve what we offer, check out my page over on Patreon: http://www.patreon.com/CardboardClash.

Check out more of our reviews at the following Geeklist and be sure to let me know what you thought of this game.

https://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/220300/cardboard-clas

Board Gaming · First Impressions · Solo Gaming

First Video + Questions for Solo Gamers/Game Developers

Calling all game designers. My blog, Cardboard Clash, is going to focus exclusively on solo gaming during the month of May. I’m looking to increase awareness to the great variety of games out there. If you have a solo game (either a game designed exclusively as a solo game, or one that has an official set of rules to play it solo) you’ve designed that is available, even as a Print & Play, please email me at cardboardclash7@gmail.com. Still designing that solo game? Shoot me an email, too, as I’d love to help generate some excitement for that game. At the very least I plan to do a post sharing a plethora of games out there for solo gaming. I’d also be very happy to host an interview or some other special feature post about games or designers. Let me know if you are interested!

Additionally, those of us (like me) who haven’t designed games but enjoy playing solo games, I want to feature you, too. I thought that it’d be awesome to kick off May 1 with a post where a lot of people answer these two questions:

“Why do you play solo board games?”

AND

“What do you enjoy most about playing solo board games?”

Feel free to leave comments in here, or PM me on BGG (dtwiley), or shoot me an email at cardboardclash7@gmail.com with your answer to those questions. If you have websites/social media accounts other than your BGG username you want listed, feel free to include that as well.

Hopefully in May I’ll review some games you’ve been wondering about, provide some fun interviews, and also give a shoutout to a ton of solo games out there either already available or currently in development.

 

Also, speaking of solo games, I played Unbroken for the first time last night (twice, actually). And rather than continue to make excuses as to why I can’t make a video yet with my iPod, I decided to go ahead and start a YouTube channel and throw up my first video where I expressed my first impressions of Unbroken. Check them out here: https://youtu.be/2E-9P5C5LSU

Board Gaming

Board Game Giveaway for the Monster Huntress book release (Ends 4/21/18)

MH Square Banner

If you follow me on Social Media, you may have already heard that I have a book releasing on 4/21/2018. My publisher, when she realized that I am big into board gaming, decided to throw in a fun contest/giveaway where up to 3 board games will be given away based on how Day One sales conclude for the book (all preorder sales count toward this). Because I know I like winning board games, I thought you might be interested as well. So here are the games that could potentially be given away:

  1. Dungeon Roll (if we reach 100 sales by the end of 4/21/18)
  2. Castle Panic (if we reach 400 sales by the end of 4/21/18)
  3. Lords of Waterdeep (if we reach 900 sales by the end of 4/21/18)

Entering the contest is simple, and is outlined below:

  1. Go to the Facebook event for the Monster Huntress release. (Link: https://www.facebook.com/events/2052224081714312/) and select that you are “Going”.
  2. Invite your friends to join the event.
  3. For every person who selects you as the person who invited them in the poll (pinned at the top of the event under the discussion tab), you will get an entry to win the board games.
  4. While no purchase is necessary, preordering a copy of Monster Huntress on Amazon (special prerelease price of only $2.99, which you can get here…link: https://www.amazon.com/Monster-Huntress-Young-Book-ebook/dp/B07BW9T1LP/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1523474497&sr=8-1&keywords=monster+huntress+david+wiley) will help push us toward more games being given away. If you’d consider buying me a coffee if we met in person, then equate this as a way of buying said coffee.

 

Curious to know more about the book? You can read the first three chapters over at my author website: https://authordavidwiley.wordpress.com/books-stories/monster-huntress/first-3-chapters-of-monster-huntress/

If you have any questions, don’t hestitate to leave a comment or send me a message. Thank you, in advance, for any who help me to completely obliterate these sales goals!

Board Gaming · Review for One · Review for Two · Solo Gaming

Review for One & Two: Fire in the Library

Thank you for checking review #47 by Cardboard Clash. My aim is to focus on reviewing board games and how they play for two people and, on occasion, how they play for one person. Because my wife is my primary gaming partner, a lot of consideration goes into finding those games that play well with 2 players, and we typically prefer to find those games that do not require a variant (official or otherwise) in order to play it with just the two of us.

The Kickstarter is still live for a few more hours! http://www.fireinthelibrary.com

An Overview of Fire in the Library

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Fire in the Library is a game designed by Tony Miller & John Prather and was published by Weird Giraffe Games. The box states that it can play 1-6 players and has a 15-30 minute play time.

Fire in the Library is a press-your-luck game in which players must try their best to rescue books and accumulate knowledge. The game is played in rounds with a variable turn order in which earlier players have more risk but a higher possible reward. Everyone starts with tools to help mitigate their luck or change the probabilities for their opponents! Gain more tools when your luck runs out or if you take the safe route and exit the library before things get too risky. Hurry, as the game ends immediately when any one wing of the library completely burns.

Take your chances, be the bravest, and save books in Fire in the Library!

Setup and gameplay for 2 Players

Recommended play has an “AI” player, so take the first three turn order cards and put the others in the box. Seed the bag with 7 red cubes and all white/black/yellow/purple cubes. Set the 10 remaining red cubes aside. “Build” the library by making the stacks of book cards in descending order, so the smallest value of each color is on top. Place your meeples, and the AI meeple, by the score track. Shuffle the tool cards and deal two to each human player and flip the top three to form the “market” of cards. Setup is now complete!

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There are four phases to the game. In the first phase, going in order of lowest score to highest, each player selects a turn order card. This will determine both what order a player takes their turn, but also how safe or risky their turn will be. The AI player will always select the highest-available turn order card when it is their turn to select.

The next phase is the saving books phase, where the player pulls a cube at a time from the bag, placing those cubes on the left-most empty space of their player card. A player can stop saving books at any time and move to scoring books, or they can press their luck and try to save more books. If the player either places their second red fire cube on the card or has to place a fire cube on a risky space, their time saving books is at an end and they skip the scoring books phase and go into the fire spreading phase.

If a player voluntarily stops saving books before placing any books on a risky space, they will score points for each book saved (the values shown on the top-most card of that book’s color) and will get to take a tool from the market.

If a player stops saving books after placing one or more books onto risky spaces, they score points for each book saved PLUS the points on the turn order card printed beneath the last risky space with a book on it (ranges from 2-8).

If a player goes into the fire spreading phase, then sections of the library burn. The top-most card is removed for each section matching books they have on the turn order card. If a player pulled only red cubes, then the card with the lowest burn value is removed.

When it is the AI player’s turn, flip the top-most card of the tool deck. The banners at the top indicate which sections burn, causing you to discard the top card of those decks. Then, there are small circles located next to the tool’s name. Those are the color of books the AI saved this turn. They will score points for each color of book shown, plus any bonus points from a risky space (i.e. if they saved purple, yellow, and white and had the 1st Turn Order Card, it would be as though cubes were on the first three spaces and thus they’d score the 4 bonus points under the 3rd space).

At the end of the round, the card with the lowest burn value is removed. Play continues until one section of the library is completely burned (no cards left in that pile).

Changes for 1 Player

Instead of a Turn Order card per player, use all six. At the start of each round, select a card that has not already been used. Take your turn as normal. The AI goes after you and will operate similar to the AI in a 2-player game, except it scores 2 bravery points for every book beyond the first saved on its card. At the end of the round, set aside the Turn Order card used. You can’t use it again until all 6 have been used.

My Thoughts

The artwork. Oh my, I love Beth Sobel’s artwork so much! She first hooked me with Herbaceous, and I’ve been pleased ever since. I’m 99% certain she’s my favorite board game artist, and I always enjoy looking at her art. They also happen to make fantastic photographs to share on Instagram. And the art is just going to get even better, as the Kickstarter has unlocked unique art on a lot of the library cards. That means the flames grow as those card decks deplete, something I think is really cool!

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The turn order cards are great because they give you different incentives. If you get the 1st player card, then you’ll want to press your luck over and over to try and maximize your points. The 5th player card, on the other hand, is relatively safe and rewards you with a guaranteed tool whether you fill the card, stop early, or draw two red cubes. They also become really important near the end of the game, as the game will end immediately when one of the library piles are emptied. The simplest phase of the game can have a big impact on how you play your turn, and can help to offer ways of catching up to the rest of the players.

Tool cards are what make this game a great press-your-luck game. They are a reward, depending on your turn order card, for ending your turn early. They are also a consolation prize for pressing too far and losing your chance to score points. These cards range from ways to stop burning (and go back to collecting books), placing cubes on each turn order card before selecting them, to saving books to score again at the end of the game. There are a lot of great reasons to like these tool cards, and the effective use of these cards can help players leap back into the midst of the scoring action.

The AI system for the game is simple, yet vital. It serves two very real purposes: setting the bar for points scored and speeding along the end-game trigger. Sure, you could reduce the number of library cards instead based on player count to emulate one of those two factors. But you wouldn’t prevent the “I’ll play it safe and keep this one book for 3 points” tactic. Suddenly that AI is scoring 12-20 points on some turns and puts the pressure on to press-your-luck to keep up. After all, this is a press-your-luck game. There isn’t much difference between the AI used in a 1-player and the 2-player game, and both are extremely easy to operate. Which is exactly what you want when operating a non-player portion of a game. The best thing it can do is be user-friendly and fast.

The rulebook is easy to understand. I’ve started to watch this more frequently, as I have spent a little time helping to proofread rulebooks. Therefore I greatly appreciate a rulebook that I can read through a single time and walk away without any questions about how to play.

While it has no real relevance on the gameplay itself, I do really love the theme for this one. I envision being back with the Library of Alexandria, and all those books. Of course we need to save them! Historians would love to have a chance to go back in time and save those scrolls and books.

The points go up as the game progresses, but so does the chance of pulling red cubes. You’ll never add more book cubes into that bag, although there are some tools that could remove a few of them until the end of the game. But over the course of playing, you’ll add in 10 more red cubes. Which suddenly makes it a lot closer to a 50/50 chance of pulling a red cube during your turn. Thankfully, the cubes you pull do go back into the bag at the end of your turn. I couldn’t imagine going 6th and seeing a whole lot of books on everyone else’s cards.

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There is a catchup mechanism in here, at least kind of. Points increase. If you’re not scoring well, you are likely collecting tools. That means you can get to where a turn could net up to 50 points and average around 25-30. So even if you’re falling behind, you can leap back into the midst of the scoring race. Unless you play against someone with ridiculously good luck, like one of my local gamers. He tends to win about 85% of the games he plays, no matter who he plays with and how unfamiliar he might be with a game. A guy like that will probably never draw a red cube, and there isn’t a darn thing you can do to keep up with something like that.

The game does automatically progress, and the AI really helps that with 1-2 players. It is worth noting that with 3+ players there is a chance it could run really long if people are never burning. This is a filler press-your-luck game and it has a certain amount of time it should take on the table. Once you creep over that 30 minute mark, it starts to overstay its welcome. It won’t happen all the time. It might not even happen often. But this game could feasibly last close to 20 rounds if no one burns.

That feeling when all you seem to pull is red. Oh man, it really stinks. This isn’t the game’s fault. It rewards you with tools that should, in theory, help you do better on future turns. But nothing is worse than Red Cube -> Red Cube -> Use the Bucket, return to saving books -> Red Cube -> Use the Slingshot, return to saving books -> Red Cube. There goes all of your hard-earned tools, back to square one with nothing to show. And then the next player pulls nothing but books. A few of those turns in a row for you can really suck the fun out of the game.

Final Thoughts

I first came across Weird Giraffe Games on Twitter back when Stellar Leap was being designed. It stole my attention as I watched Carla post pictures of the game and talked about her design process. I knew it was a game I’d enjoy, and I was so thankful to play a small part in testing the solo system for that game via print & play. But libraries, well, those are really my thing. I am an author and I’ll always want to save books. Fire in the Library intrigued me from the start because of the theme, but I tempered my expectations. I’ve never been a big fan of press-your-luck games and knew my wife felt the same (but more extreme – she hates dice, after all). But then I saw the Beth Sobel artwork (she’s my favorite artist, I think!) and that sucked me in more. Reviewers I follow started to get copies of the game and the raving impressions poured out on social media. Suddenly I knew I had to at least try this one out, and was only too happy to say “yes” when Carla asked if I wanted to get my hands on a prototype for a review.

I am rarely the type of player who favors the aggressive playstyle needed for a game like this one. I am more of a defensive-minded person, and it showed the other night when playing a round against my wife. Her and the AI were rows ahead of me in points, partially from unusually bad luck at draws and partially from stopping early to get some tools. Yet even I felt a thrill when I filled the 1st Player card up and leapt ahead of them both in one perfect turn. The lead didn’t last long – I ended in last place – but that one turn was demonstrative of why this game is successful. No matter how bad your early turns are, there is still hope because those books increase in value and those tools can help you to claw back into the race. For a press-your-luck game, it excels at making a player remain invested regardless of score.

I could sit here and wish for less randomness, but that would make this game lose its identity. Taking the right tools, when you can, will help to mitigate some of that randomness. You can score when other players burn. You can slingshot a fire cube to another player’s card. Pressing your luck too well will keep you from getting those valuable cards, allowing those playing it safer, or getting burned by the cube draws, to have a chance to claw back in.

The artwork in here is fantastic. The gameplay is perfect for the timeframe of this game. The AI is smooth and easy to pilot much like the Automa from Viticulture. My wife hates using automated players but, even though she’d prefer to play without it, didn’t have much to complain about at the end of our games using it. It definitely has a place in here, forcing the players to keep up with a pace while also helping to cycle through those library cards. And involved about 12 seconds of work to operate that AI player’s turn each round, which is perfect for solo players.

At the price point they are listing this at on their Kickstarter, Fire in the Library is a downright steal. My wife and I are definitely not the usual intended audience for a game like this, yet we found ourselves enjoying this one. It is a game I wouldn’t mind having in our collection as an option for those times when we want a 15-20 minute game. And it is the perfect starter/finisher/filler during a game night, as it plays fast and doesn’t take long to setup or tear down.

They are down to less than 48 hours left on the Kickstarter for this game, and you don’t want to be kicking yourself later for missing this one. If you aren’t one of the 2,059 backers (at the time of this writing) who are currently backing this game, then what are you waiting for? This undoubtedly plays well at all player counts, as I’ve played 1-3 and see no reason why it wouldn’t also excel with a larger group. Even if this isn’t your type of game, it offers enough to make this a press-your-luck game worth owning.

The Kickstarter is still live for a few more hours! http://www.fireinthelibrary.com

 

Hopefully you found this article to be a useful look at Fire in the Library. If you’re interested in providing support for Cardboard Clash so I can continue to improve what we offer, check out my page over on Patreon: http://www.patreon.com/CardboardClash.

Check out more of our reviews at the following Geeklist and be sure to let me know what you thought of this game.

https://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/220300/cardboard-clas

Gaming Recap

Gaming Recap Q1 2018

Last year I did a monthly tracker of the games I played, breaking it down to keep a tally on win/loss vs. my wife and in solo gaming. This year I am taking a much more relaxed approach, going with a quarterly breakdown of the games played. Be sure to drop a vote in the poll at the end where you can see my math trade acquisitions and help me decide what should hit the table first.

Q1 Games played:

170 Total Plays, 70 unique games, 29 new-to-me games (italicized below)

Husband/Wife Record:

Me – 18 Wins, Nicole – 20 Wins

Quarters

Lord of the Rings: The Card Game

Dimes

Final Fantasy Trading Card Game

Nickels

Charterstone
Kingdom Builder
One Deck Dungeon
Scythe
Sentinels of the Multiverse
Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King

Others (in alphabetical order)

1960: The Making of the President
30 Rails
7 Ronin

878: Vikings – Invasions of England
A Feast for Odin
Above and Below
Albion’s Legacy
Android: Netrunner
Arboretum
Arkham Horror: The Card Game
Ars Alchimia
The Castles of Burgundy
Century: Golem Edition
Codenames
Reiner Knizia’s Decathlon
The Draugr

Eight Minute Empires: Legends
Elevenses for One
Endless Nightmare
Fields of Agincourt
Fire in the Library

Firefly: The Game
The Game
Get Bit!
Guilds of London
Hanamikoji
Harvest
How to Rob a Bank
Hunt for the Ring

Imperial Settlers
In the Year of the Dragon
Innovation
Islebound
Keyflower
Lord of the Rings
Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation

Lords of Waterdeep
Mage Knight Board Game
Mystic Vale
Neverland’s Legacy
Odin’s Ravens (Second edition)
Oh My Goods!
Outpost: Siberia
Patchwork
Police Precinct
Race for the Galaxy
Raiders of the North Sea
The Ravens of Thri Sahashri
Rococo
The Ruhr: A Story of Coal Trade
Sagrada

Sellswords: Olympus
Sherwood’s Legacy
Star Realms
Terra Mystica
Terraforming Mars
Ticket to Ride: 10th Anniversary Edition
Tiny Epic Galaxies
Utopia Engine
Vast: The Crystal Cavern

War of the Ring (Second Edition)
Yokohama

Progress on the Games I wanted to play in 2018 (In order that I enjoyed them):

4/20

Keyflower
Rococo
Arboretum
Terra Mystica

[b]Games acquired in math trade (vote in the poll to help determine which I should read the rules for first!):

(Hop on over to the post on BGG to vote, or leave your answers as a comment!

Poll
Which game(s) from the math trade should I teach my wife first?
Lord of the Rings: The Duel
Lord of the Rings Dice Building Game
Vinhos
Among the Stars
The Castles of Burgundy: The Card Game
Mr. Jack Pocket
Orc
Box
Sow
Spy
Vikings Board Game
Notre Dame
Coal Baron: The Great Card Game
Rivals for Catan
Caesar and Cleopatra

0 answers

Board Gaming · Review for Two

Review for Two – Charterstone (Spoiler-free)

Thank you for checking review #46 by Cardboard Clash. My aim is to focus on reviewing board games and how they play for two people and, on occasion, how they play for one person. Because my wife is my primary gaming partner, a lot of consideration goes into finding those games that play well with 2 players, and we typically prefer to find those games that do not require a variant (official or otherwise) in order to play it with just the two of us.

An Overview of Charterstone

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Charterstone is a game designed by Jamey Stegmaier and was published by Stonemaier Games. The box states that it can play 1-6 players and has a 45-75 minute play time with a 2.79 weight rating on BGG.

The prosperous Kingdom of Greengully, ruled for centuries by the Forever King, has issued a decree to its citizens to colonize the vast lands beyond its borders. In an effort to start a new village, the Forever King has selected six citizens for the task, each of whom has a unique set of skills they use to build their charter.

In Charterstone, a competitive legacy game, you construct buildings and populate a shared village. Building stickers are permanently added to the game board and become action spaces for any player to use. Thus, you start off with simple choices and few workers, but soon you have a bustling village with dozens of possible actions.

Your journey through Charterstone’s many secrets will last twelve games, but it doesn’t end there. Your completed village will be a one-of-a-kind worker-placement game with plenty of variability.

Setup and gameplay for 2 Players

Each player takes their individual charter’s box and removes the components. Place the resource tokens and coins in close reach of the board to form supplies. Shuffle the objective deck and the advancements deck and put those on the respective boards and flip over cards in the remaining spaces on those boards. Roll the charterstone die until it comes up with the color of a player in the game, who is the start player.

Setup, at least in the beginning, is a breeze. Don’t worry it grows from there. As does gameplay, but at the beginning of them game it follows this:

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During your turn you place one of your two workers on the board to trigger the action of the space, or you take all of your workers back to your supply. If you place a worker on a space where another worker is located, it “bumps” that worker back to that player’s supply. This essentially gives them an extra move before having to spend a turn to recall their workers, so while you aren’t blocked out of the space you give them a benefit to use the space.

There are three things that trigger the movement of the progress token (which is the clock to trigger the end of a game): building a building in a charter, unlocking a crate, or fulfilling an objective. The only other way that this advances is if a player is out of influence tokens at the start of their turn. In each of these cases, the marker will advance by one space.

Influence tokens are spent completing objectives, building buildings, unlocking crates, scoring on the reputation track, meeting quotas, and (eventually) as costs to use some buildings. They are a limited resource (12 per player), and serve as the key resource to manage as they are typically gone once spent.

Once the end game is triggered, players will fulfill the guidepost then move into scoring additional points based on their placement in the reputation track, earning glory, increasing capacity, and more.

The winner from game to game does not determine the overall campaign winner (so winning the majority of the campaign games does not necessarily equate to winning the campaign)

My Thoughts

This is one jam-packed box of stuff. Opening it up for the first time gives a feeling of money well-spent because there are sooooo many things in here. Charter boxes with six different player pieces, a Scriptorium with coins and resources, an index with over 400 cards, and several special tuckboxes (including an archive for cards that are no longer needed as you progress). People like to complain about the MSRP of Terraforming Mars and the quality/amount of things you get in that game. For the same price, this game delivers the goods. And they are all really good in quality. I don’t know how Jamey can pack all this in here and sell it for under $100, but I am sure glad that he can! This may be the game out there that provides the best value for its MSRP in terms of content inside the box.

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I really love that the winner of a game isn’t necessarily the one who gets to scratch off and make the decisions on the guidepost cards for each game. Those guideposts usually have two choices listed, and the person to decide is the player who did best at the individual criteria (which changes every game) such as “have the most resources”. My wife got to choose on probably 10/12 of those guidepost cards, and so that was really cool to see her get to make those choices even during my early streak of victories.

The artwork on here is outstanding. I really enjoyed the look, not just of the characters that you control but also of the cards, the buildings, the board itself. This is a visual masterpiece of a game, and I am utterly disappointed that I can’t share much of it with you because of spoilers. You’ll enjoy the process.

Finally there is a legacy game that plays 1-2 players and isn’t Pandemic. I wanted to play Seafall, but it is 3+. She has no interest in Risk, because we’ve had a really bad Risk experience (it’s all about those dice!). Neither of us were impressed with Pandemic itself, and she’s not a fan of cooperative games in general anyway. So when I heard there was a legacy worker placement game, I knew this was the one. And boy did it deliver. There were exciting moments to be found, and some things that really impressed me as we unlocked some special stuff in there. The legacy experience of this one set the bar high. That packed box is full of great things to enhance the experience and gameplay.

There are benefits to winning games. You get more glory (stars marked on the box) which can help you unlock start-of-game bonuses faster. The loser(s) of a game increase capacity by one, which lets you keep more items after the game. That is a really good balance there, and it started to really level the playing field toward the end of the campaign. My early victories helped me grab things to start, yet I couldn’t keep much at the end of a game. My wife, on the other hand, started most games with a plethora of things and was able to use that to her advantage (and come back to win the overall campaign due to some really strong performances in the final games!) It feels very balanced because of this, something I really appreciated.

There is a certain level of satisfaction in constructing and unlocking things in this game. You’re transforming the map as you build new things, and bringing out new cards (sometimes buildings, other times new rules and other goodies!). The game experience is enhanced with every progression made, regardless of who unlocks it or which charter it is placed into. While the early games can feel bogged down from stopping and unlocking crates and reading the new rules, it is something that does slow down (eventually) as you get most of the rules into play and focus on just unlocking better stuff.

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Speaking of the unlocking, I like how every player’s color has several “forks” built into the content. You unlock a crate and you might get two new buildings. Now you have to build them and then unlock them, and thus you are faced with a decision of which to unlock first. Which then gives you more things, providing even more options to build and unlock. This means that your game of Charterstone, even with 6 players, may not play out the exact same as mine. With 2, this is especially true.

Building in even more on the above, there is something called capacity. You start with 1 in everything for capacity, which simply means that at the end of the game you can keep 1 coin, 1 resource, 1 card, and 1 “mystery” thing that will be unlocked later. So remember how you unlock a crate and get two buildings. If that triggers the end of the game, you can keep at most one of those. Which means the other gets shuffled into the advancements deck for anyone to draw later. So your stuff isn’t necessarily going to remain your stuff. Which is part of the beauty of the game, because you aren’t tied down to what is your color’s stuff. However, it also means your opponent may get to build/unlock your top-tier stuff later in the game.

I’m sensing a snowball effect here, because this point ties into the above as well! While your opponent(s) are building your stuff in their charters, there is no real downside here because every space on the board is open for anyone to use. So let them build your new pumpkin building in their wood-based charter. That means they’ll have to come to your charter in order to gain said pumpkins in order to trigger the cost of that new, shiny building they placed. And if your worker happens to already be on that pumpkin space, it bumps them back to your supply which saves you an action.

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I am torn on how I feel about the bumping mechanism in the game. I really like, during the game, that every space is open to place my workers on. However, it never makes the game feel challenging in figuring out what to do. Even with more players, the board would never really feel restricted at any point. Sure, there would be a higher chance that bumping would occur with more players. And there are reasons why you would want to avoid doing that. I think if it was restricted to only your larger worker could bump people, that might have made your placement matter just a little more. Kind of like how you have to hold back and plan well on how to use the Grande worker in Viticulture. I don’t dislike the mechanism, but it does feel just a little too “nice” in a worker placement game.

The story is interesting but overall didn’t wow us. That may be partially due to spreading out the campaign across three months of play. I imagine if you binge-played the campaign in under a week it might feel like the narrative was stronger. It wasn’t bad, by any means, but not memorable. I’ve heard Pandemic Legacy builds a strong narrative, but I haven’t played it so I can’t compare the two. There were some nice touches along the way, and some interesting decisions that get made without full knowledge of how that will affect things. The campaign experience was memorable. I just wish the story was a little bit stronger to be on par with the rest of the experience.

The Automa. My wife hated them. They scored way too often and way too early, making it feel like there was no point in trying to win. We dropped them out after 3/4 of Game 3 (the first game we tried to implement them). They are easy to run and help you unlock things. They unlocked a ton of stuff in that 3/4 of a game. But they also ruined the fun factor for my wife because of their easy scoring. You may like the challenge. I look forward to it when I solo the other side of the board (once I buy a recharge pack, of course). But they do give you a sense of hopelessness in those early games when there aren’t many ways to form an efficient VP engine.

If you don’t like naming things, you will have some moments of frustration. My wife is one of those people – and some of the names she created for things reflect her lack of enthusiasm. I, on the other hand, relished the role of namer for things. There will be many opportunities to provide names that serve no purpose other than giving them a unique name. But hey, you could skip that and still be okay.

Maybe it was just us, but that archive box was way too small to hold everything by the end of the campaign. Small nitpick, sure, but with a game this spectacular (overall) you have to find those little things to complain about. My wife thinks I should just throw those things away. Maybe she’s right. At least about most of it. But it is nice that you don’t have to destroy the components, something that a lot of gamers might appreciate.

Final Thoughts

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Charterstone was our first legacy game we played, and I have to say that it was a really great experience. The storyline was good, although forgettable to my wife, and the gameplay itself was fantastic. Watching the charters grow and evolve over the course of the campaign was satisfying, and there were more than a few times that we would be more excited about unlocking new crates and building new buildings than trying to generate points to win the individual game. That speaks well to the experience of the campaign and the system Jamey designed.

And let me tell you, there are some fantastic surprises along the way when opening things. We had more than a few “what?” moments when things were coming out and being revealed. Game 9 was very memorable, although it would have been a lot more tense with the full 6 players. Every single time the crate would have us open a tuckbox, I knew we were in for something special.

My wife wasn’t a fan at first, but by the end she had warmed up. The early games saw us unlocking a host of rules with crates, so the time spent reading those new rules and adapting to them kept her from feeling immersed in the experience. However, that eventually slowed down enough to where most crates unlocked pure content without needing to add in additional rules and that is when she really got into the game. And our win/loss ratio, I think, reflects that change. I won a lot of early games, but she came roaring back at the end and obliterated me in Game 11’s score, making it the most lop-sided game we played. It was enough to give her the overall campaign victory, too, even though I won more individual games along the way. We both really, really enjoyed the experience.

If you’ve been on the fence about this as a 2-player game, get off that fence and plunge right into Charterstone. It is fantastic, even at just 2. We used the Automas for 3/4 of a game (Game 3) and then retired them and still had a fun and competitive experience. By the end of the campaign we still had a completely full board for all of the inactive charters, although things did unlock at a slower pace than if we had used the Automas. But there was nothing wrong with that, in our eyes.

We haven’t played yet with the board post-campaign, but after reading through the updated rules I am confident that it will provide a fun and exciting experience for many future plays. This is a difficult thing to discuss, just as it is a difficult game to review, as I don’t want to spoil a single thing for you. But rest assured, you’ll be able to get more than your initial 12 plays out of this game. It is a worker placement that I would put about on par with Lords of Waterdeep in terms of complexity (and we do enjoy some Lords of Waterdeep!). Because no space is ever actually blocked from use, this is a friendlier version of a worker placement game than Viticulture or Agricola. You’ll always be able to do what you need to, although it may benefit your opponent if you use a space they are on.

Overall, once again, this is a game I would strongly recommend to everyone. In terms of the overall experience, this is the best thing Stonemaier has produced so far. We’ve logged more plays of this than Viticulture or Scythe so far, although part of that was wanting to finish the campaign. But our plays won’t stop here, and I’ll eventually be picking up a recharge pack so I can test out the other side as a solo experience with a few Automas. Yep, it was fun enough that I’m wanting to do it all over again and, perhaps, make a few different decisions along the way. It won’t be the same experience, which makes this campaign one that can be replayed. So what are you waiting for? Go out and pick this one up. Fantastic game!

Check out more of our reviews at the following Geeklist and be sure to let me know what you thought of this game.

https://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/220300/cardboard-clas