Board Gaming · Top Ten List

Top 25 Games: #10-6

We’re into the territory where the best of the best begin to reside. These are, 100%, games I would always say “yes” to playing if the opportunity were to arise. Including this surprise appearance by the #10 game here, which got a small bump last month when I got in another play of it as a 2-player game and was reminded of how much I liked the game and got to see how differently it can play based on player count and familiarity with the game.

Previous installments:

#25-21

#20-16

#15-11

***

#10 – Nations, published by Lautapelit.fi. Designed by Rustan Hakansson, Nina Hakensson, Einar Rosen,  and Robert Rosen. 1-5 players.

This game was lower on the list, and then I played the game once again right before I ran my rankings one last time. And boy, did this game benefit from that recent play, which served to remind me just how much I enjoyed this one. While I could lament about the MSRP of this game ($100), the honest truth is that the gameplay probably is worth that price tag even if the components themselves are not. And now I can confirm that this one plays solidly as a 2-player game, which was yet another reason for the gentle nudge up the list.

I played a LOT of Civilization II on the PC in my younger years. One of my earlier purchases was the Fantasy Flight version of Sid Meier’s Civilization which, while good, was never able to deliver the experience I was looking for in a civ-like board game. Combat was uninteresting and most of the early game was exploring the map while the rest was just spamming up whichever track could lock in a faster victory. This game is far more interesting, with a diverse range of cards that you’ll see a fraction of in a 2-player game (yay replay value and inability to depend on Card X to appear, forcing you to adapt your strategy to what is there rather than what you know is coming).

It also happens to have a mild worker placement aspect on your own board, and I use the term loosely. But you still assign those workers there and reap the benefits and penalties of said spot. You have to manage a few spaces for upgrades on your board while also juggling your resources efficiently. This is a Euro gamer’s Civ game, and I absolutely love it after a handful of plays. I can’t wait to dive into the solo mode on this one, and to get this to the table with my wife. I think this would be one she’d enjoy and completely dominate at, much like she did with Sid Meier’s Civilization.

#9 – Argent: The Consortium, published by Level 99 Games. Designed by Trey Chambers. 2-5 Players.

Fun fact: I’ve been writing this list backwards (#6-#10) and a theme for #7-9 could easily be “games I absolutely love but my wife does not”. And that is best exemplified in this game right here, a game she should absolutely love but does not. Yet. I’m still holding out hope that she can be converted if she gives it another chance now that I have some 2nd Edition upgrades in the box. Everything about this game should be right for her: worker placement, its like Harry Potter, ability to interfere with your opponent directly. And, truthfully, I know the one hangup that killed it for her: the end game scoring.

But that is what sets this game apart. You have 10 voters, only 2 of which are common knowledge. Over the course of the game you’ll hopefully be placing down marks, which let you see the voter card underneath that mark and will provide you information about one of the scoring conditions in the current game (such as most Mana at the end of the game, or most Knowledge tokens, etc.). There is an Influence Track which looks like it should be victory points, but it isn’t. It is used to gain Merits, but also importantly to serve as a tiebreaker if you both have the same number of X on a voter. First edition rules it was simply the higher influence wins the tie. I think she’ll enjoy 2nd edition a little more, which makes the 1st tiebreaker go to whoever put down a mark on the voter’s card and the influence be the 2nd tiebreaker if necessary.

This game is big. And long. It ramps up and become ridiculous as you gain better spells and max them out. Yet a round could end in a few turns, because it ends when all of the belltower cards are taken. The game has replay value, as each mage character has two sides, and there are six different ones to choose from. Every generic spell power has two sides. Every tile for the board has two sides. You can mix and match and play this game dozens of times and never have the same experience. And I absolutely love it. Easy enough to teach how to play it in 15 minutes, deep enough to take a full game to truly understand the game’s scoring and how to maximize your progress toward objectives. This game can appeal to both the Euro and Ameri-gamer camps in equal measure. Play this game. It is worthy of at least that. One play. That may be all it takes to hook you like it did for me.

#8 – Race for the Galaxy, published by Rio Grande Games. Designed by Tom Lehmann. 2-4 Players.

There was a moment in time when this was probably my #1 game. You have to rewind back to 2014, a very early time still in my gaming growth. My wife and I played this probably 20-30 times in the first few months we owned the game. This game was what got me into solo gaming, as I wanted more…more…more. It remains a game I love dearly, even though it rarely hits the table anymore, as I’ve found a new solo love that consumes that attention and my solo gaming on this one made it so my playstyle ruined the game for my wife. You see, in order to beat the Robot in solo you have to get an engine going fast. Really fast. So you start to see combos that are not overpowered, but are efficient enough to end the game before a larger engine can take off.

Part of me still regrets playing this one solo, as she used to love the game. She’s won the last few times we’ve played, but I still see that reflexive cringe if I mention the game. This game offers a lot of fun, synergistic combos, some interesting action selection mechanics (especially with 2-players!), and a great multi-use card system. I haven’t expanded beyond the first expansion, and that was primarily for solo mode. And, to be honest, the game hasn’t really needed anything beyond that. I will probably pick up the new Start Worlds promo at some point, but this is a gem of a game right out of the base box. Don’t let that iconography scare you away from experiencing an outstanding game and a true classic.

#7 – Oh My Goods, published by Mayfair Games. Designed by Alexander Pfister. 2-4 Players.

This game came out of nowhere and swept its way up my list. The game reinforces everything that I already suspected: I like engine builders which is something you can see repeated on this part of my Top 25 list. This game simply clicks for me in ways I still don’t understand. I can see those combinations and what I need to keep and build in order to use those production chains. I tend to fall behind in the early game and then roar back to life for a strong end of the game. Unfortunately, I think this game is destined to follow the same cycle as Race for the Galaxy and become a game my wife won’t willingly play very often.

I like the press-your-luck aspect in this one, which is only as big as you want it to be on some rounds. You set your worker, and how well they will work, after seeing just half of the market. That half can be as small as 2 cards or as many as 10+. Every card is multi-purpose, which is another thing I love. This game has all of the delightful heaviness and brain burn of a medium Euro game, but it compacted into a deck of cards which makes the setup and teardown fast. The game is easy to explain, apart from the production chains, and can go from on the shelf to playing in 15-20 minutes with a teach included. And it will often finish in under an hour per play. This game put Alexander Pfister on my radar, even moreso than Isle of Skye, as a designer to watch. It is utterly delightful and a game I absolutely love to play and need to get the expansion to add solo play into the mix.

#6 – Hanamikoji, published by Emperor S4 and Deep Water Games. Designed by Kota Nakayama. 2 Players.

It isn’t easy to put this one at this spot. The game is deserving of more, of making that final cut into the top 5. But the games ahead of this one simply cannot move. If I could make a 5a. and a 5b., this one would slip right into that slot.

But I can’t and therefore I will not.

It amazes me how many agonizing decisions you are given every time I play this game. you have four actions per round. They are the same four actions, and each can only be done once. You’re never going to have perfect information. Four of the cards you see in your hand over the course of the round will finish on your side of the board. Three will go to your opponent’s side. Two will be removed from the game, and your opponent won’t know which cards they are. One will come out at the very end and be on your side, but your opponent won’t know which card you selected until the end of the round. So much imperfect information that provides incredibly challenging decisions throughout the entire game. I love this game so much and the challenge it packs into a small footprint and a simple decision space. I get delighted when I teach a new person and I realize the game has clicked because they are letting out agonized sounds while trying to determine which action to choose and which cards to play. The game is as graceful and elegant as a geisha, and deserves to be in every collection. Unless you never play games with 2 players. For a 15-minute experience, this is always going to be my #1 go-to game.

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Board Gaming · Digital Review

Digital Review: BattleCON Online

Today I’m going to do something a little different than usual. There is no denying that we’re seeing a boom in the amount of board games that are going digital. While I don’t prefer to play games in a digital format (I’d much rather have the human opponent at the table and touch/feel the components), there are a few that I do play more often than others. And when Brad from Level 99 Games mentioned I could review BattleCON Online, I wasn’t sure how that might fit in with my personal playing preferences.

Let’s start by saying this won’t be in the format of my typical review in the sense that I won’t be giving an overview of the game or how to set up/play it. Instead I’m going to dive right into some pros & cons for the Online version of the game and wrap up with my final thoughts. And look for at least one digital review to appear each month (hopefully) as I tinker around in the realm of apps or Steam-based versions for your games.

***

+++Note: You can look at my review of Trials and apply many of the comments on that game to the Online version. Rather than rehash those same things, I’ll focus on what applies exclusively to the Online version.

+ The game has built-in timers, both on number of rounds and some countdowns associated with how much time you get to make decisions. These both help the game move along and fall into that 20-30 minute range without overstepping to the 45-ish mark. I really enjoy the speed of the match itself when playing because it never feels like it runs too long.

+ The AI opponent option is a great thing to use when you just have a brief amount of time or if there isn’t an available opponent. Or to get better with a character (or even just familiarize yourself with them before using against someone else). This was a recent addition, and one I really like having in there. I just wish you earned coins by facing the AI, apart from getting those small achievement goals for bonus coins.

+ There are a good number of characters available, and a host of them that could still be added. I’m not sure how many are planned to be unlocked at the start, or which ones might be the first characters you can use (it recently changed to a new set of 4, which surprised me in a good way). But you gain the currency to unlock by playing matches against other people and/or accomplishing one of three current objectives (such as Spend 30 force, or Deal 60 Damage, or use a Specialist 3 times, etc.) to get bonus currency. As long as the characters remain “free” to unlock, this isn’t a bad thing. It’d be nice to be able to use any of them against something like a Training Dummy, just to know before unlocking a character whether you like their style, but you can see info about the character and their cards and draw some conclusions that way.

+ This game helps with some visual elements, showing you the combined stats of your cards being played and showing the spaces your attack could hit. This takes some of that guesswork out and helps you make sure you make better plays. It doesn’t always help me – I still make mistakes – but I believe I make fewer mistakes on that front. Most of the time. It also takes care of any upkeep you may have, which helps progress the game right along.

+ The music, the voices and sound effects, and the animations all make this game come alive. It feels even more like a fighting video game, but without the button-mashing or combo memorizing. This has a toe in both worlds, tabletop and video game, and will hopefully help unite players in both of those realms. Some of those themes will stick in your mind, and it is fun to hear how some of the characters sound.

+ The best thing about the Online version of BattleCON is the community associated with it. There is a really strong, dedicated core of players who are willing to play and, in many cases, provide some feedback afterwards on how to more effectively use that character. I recently got obliterated with my first play as Marmelee and got a significant set of recommendations on how to more effectively use her, which turned out to be much better when I put it into practice. If you have any interest at all in playing BattleCON Online (BCO), joining its Discord community is the best move you can make.

+/- Tying in with that, the most effective way to get a match is to hop on Discord and mention you’re looking for a match. This may change when it gets a wider official release, but just idly waiting for a match could take over half an hour. Pinging the Discord, though, could get you paired within minutes.

+/- But beware: finding a match could get you paired with someone about 100 tiers above your current skill level. There is nothing wrong with that – I am a firm believer in you learn through losing at games – but some people might get frustrated and/or put off from that experience. Especially when a match becomes one-sided. Add in the fact that certain characters do better or worse in specific matchups, and this could easily snowball if you are on the wrong end of the character matchup AND playing against someone with a lot more experience.

– A big thing I noticed with this is that it runs a little on the slow side. It might be completely on my own machine as the cause here, as I have a computer that isn’t designed for online gaming, but I suspect that at least the initial opening/loading screens and the Victory screen after a match are both slow outside of my own computer. It isn’t a deal-breaker, but the delay is quite noticeable. I also get random pauses during a match when selecting/revealing cards but it is brief and I suspect more a result of my own machine for those. Just know that it won’t be lightning-fast through everything like you’d expect from a PS4 game or anything.

Final Thoughts

I love BattleCON so much. I actually played this before I got a review copy of Trials, and the learning game and a match against the Training Dummy were enough to raise my excitement. So when I had a chance to also get a physical copy of the game, I had to pounce on that! The game does a great job of teaching the basics and managing those small details that are easy to be confused by or overlook in person for those first games. I like the speed of the individual matches, and as long as I plan in advance I can get the game loading early so it is ready when I want to find a match.

I’ll probably still always prefer the cardboard version of the game, but that is more of a “me” thing than anything. When I don’t have someone to play against in person, I have a really fun way to get some matches played. It lets me try characters I don’t own, which can help me decide upon the next set I want to try and pick up. And, since I believe this is still in Beta form and getting updated regularly, everything about this will continue to get even better.

Yet if BCO didn’t change at all from the form it is in today, it would still be something I would recommend to anyone who love BattleCON or is interested in the game. The music, the voices, and some of the animations really make a great game come alive in a new way that provides a fun and fresh experience. And the availability of playing with others around the world, of a variety of skill levels, makes this even better.

There is organized play for this which can help you to earn points. There is a sheet in the Discord for filling it out – I haven’t used it myself yet because I need to know my opponent’s number to submit the form. It hasn’t been important enough for me to try and figure that out yet, and some people won’t care at all about the organized play and possible rewards. I mention this to point out that it exists, and it sounds like a great thing to get excited about. I plan to figure it out on my own eventually, hopefully before the current season ends on June 30th, so I can possibly get the first tier of rewards between my plays of this and my teaching players the physical game…

 

Board Gaming · Review for Two · Two-Player Only

Review for Two: BattleCON: Trials of the Indines

Thank you for checking review #59 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.

**A copy of the game was sent for review purposes. Opinions remain our own.

An Overview of BattleCON: Trials of the Indines

BattleCON: Trials of the Indines is a game designed by D. Brad Talton Jr. and was published by Level 99 Games. The box states that it can play 2 players and has a 10-45 minute play time.

BattleCON is a board game that brings the tactics, strategy, and ferocity of 2D fighting games like Street Fighter to your tabletop. Each BattleCON Fighter features a Unique Ability–a combat subsystem designed specifically for them, giving them a never-before-seen fighting style that you will have to master, and that your opponents will have to play around.

Trials is a new medium-sized box in the BattleCON series, containing 10 new fighters, each with a complete range of all-new skills and abilities.

Trials is the fourth box in the BattleCON series.

Setup and gameplay for 2 Players

Each player selects one of the 10 fighters in the set and takes their tuckbox which will have their specific cards (including the base cards universal to all characters), the character’s standee, a reference card (which is given to the opponent), and any special token or card powers that might be unique to that character. Place the standee for each character on the board on the spaces marked with the red/blue dots. Players will then select a base and a style to go into their first discard pile and select another pair to go in their second discard pile (the cards have recommended ones marked for these!). Each player takes 20 life and 2 force and are ready to begin.

During a turn each player will secretly select a base and a style card and place them face-down in front of them. Once both players have made this decision, it moves to an ante phase where (in turn order), the players can ante in some temporary boosts to power, priority (speed), or stun guard (and some characters also have their own unique special tokens or cards that can be anted at this point). Once both players pass consecutively, the players reveal their combinations and compare priority. The player with the higher value becomes the first player for the beat. If there is a tie, the players CLASH and have to select a new base to replace the current base card. If it is still a tie after that, the process is repeated until they are either out of base cards to play or until one player wins priority. In the case of the former case, the beat ends and they move to the end of the beat without taking their turns.

Starting with the first player, each player resolves any Start of Beat effects. Then the active player does any Before Activating effects, makes their attack (factoring in range), resolves any Hit effects, and then resolves any After Activating effects. Then the reactive player does the same thing so long as they did not get stunned. If you take damage greater than your Stun Guard for the round, then the reactive player loses their actions and does nothing for the beat.

Finally both players (in turn order) resolve any End of Beat effects. Then they cycle their discards, bringing the leftmost pair into their hand, shifting the remaining pair on the board over one space, and putting the cards they just played into the right-most space on the board. Each player will gain one force token (two if they have 7 or less life) and play proceeds to a new beat. The game continues until one player is out of life.

My Thoughts

 The mechanics of this are simple yet the depth within the game makes it complex as well. You’re choosing two cards to pair together to try and damage your opponent, avoid their attacks, or boost power for a future beat. However, the dynamics within all of that space is mind blowing. Not only does that apply to the game in general, but every single character in this box is unique in ways that makes it so a one-size-fits-all tactic is difficult to execute.

 Which is why there is a point here regarding the characters themselves. They are 100% unique in their gameplay. I have played, or played against, all ten of them in the box and it never felt same-y. The best feeling is, of course, finding that character that is YOUR character. I enjoyed seeing a buddy of mine find it when playing Burgundy XIII. I felt it myself when playing as Amon, which happened to be the same exact match.

 The artwork on the characters is outstanding. I’ve instantly become a fan of Nokomento’s art, which happens to be featured in a good number of Level 99 Games titles out there.

 The ante phase can be interesting, even though a decent number of times it might just be both of you “passing” to get to the reveal. You ante to boost your Priority, which tells me you really want to go first. Or that you feel like your number is a hair too low and so I could probably ante back to maintain my order. But you might also be trying to get me to waste my own force. This becomes even more interesting if you have two characters who have special things they can ante into play. This phase is just a step in the process some of the time, but I love the times when you feel like that decision to ante or pass really matters. And few things are worse than anteing up a ton of power and priority only to have them gleefully reveal that Dodge card…

 The lore in the whole Indines universe wants to sweep my imagination away. There are nuggets to be found in the game, particularly the Character Guide book, but I really wish there was more. I would 100% read a novella about pretty much any one of these characters, or anything placed in that Indines world. There are tidbits dropped in the Level Cap podcast, but it’d be better if they did something similar to Greater Than Games’ The Letters Page, at least for delivering lore content. But this solidifies to me that I really want to write for Brad and his Indines world.

 All characters have the same set of bases, plus one character-specific base. While the flavor shines through in the styles, I want to take a moment to appreciate those base cards. Even the long range characters have some smaller range attacks. Even the short range characters have long range attacks. They can all dodge. They all have ways to get Stun Guard, to play something with decent power, or decent priority. It prevents them from being forced into a sour situation where they simply can’t accomplish anything – so long as you account for the two beats where the cards are cycling.

 And that card cycling system is perfect for this game. I can’t spam an attack over and over. I can’t dodge endlessly until I get enough force to drop my finisher. I can’t just sit back and blast you from across the board. I have to not only adapt to what I don’t have, but also plan for what I might want or need in a beat or two. The fact that a fighting game has long-term strategy that you can employ still baffles me in a good way. I love it, and having to account for it when trying to choose my cards.

 Overall the rules for the game are fine and functional. However, there are omissions that could lead to some frustration. My first few games, I thought that the Character’s special powers that could be ante’d had to be paid for just like the tokens. It wasn’t until I played BattleCON Online that I started to question this and, eventually, learned the right answer. The component listing was also a little iffy, as I struggled to place a few of the tokens in the right place because nowhere in the book did it mention that the staff went with Kimbhe or that these four tokens I had leftover went to Lucida. And what about resolving a Clash? Do the cards you replace go back to your hand or do they cycle in the discards? 97% of what you need to know is covered, but it is those few instances, some of them not even specific to a single character, that are missing in here.

 There can be quite the steep learning curve for the game, as you will benefit from knowing the character you are playing as and the one you’re playing against. This is a game, since there is no luck, where a skilled opponent should win the vast majority of the time over an unskilled one. If you dislike a game where there is a steep learning curve, and where you might get thoroughly thrashed for your first dozen learning plays, then you might be turned off by this aspect of the game. But if you can find at least one person of a similar skill level who is willing to play with you, both of you will benefit from that practice.

 One player with Analysis Paralysis might make this game drag. Two players with it definitely will make it drag. The decision of the combination to play can feel so overwhelmingly critical, especially late in the game when both players are jockeying to finish off the other. The other thing that can make a match run long? Stupidity and/or miscalculations. I’ve been guilty of them both. I’ve made dumb plays that, as soon as I flipped the cards, I realized were really bad decisions. I’ve flipped cards thinking I’ll be in range and find out that I’m 1 space too close or far to pull off my attack. A few rounds of whiffing is funny at first, but it can make it feel like the game drags on a little too long. 20-30 minutes per match is the sweet spot, but far too often I’ve been involved in ones that creep up to that 45 minute mark.

Final Thoughts

I was never very good at the arcade-style fighting games. I was a button masher, because I simply had no patience to try and learn all the special combinations to execute the right moves at the right times. I could usually luck my way through some tough match-ups, but I would never get progressively better at the games.

Thankfully, there is no button mashing necessary in BattleCON. You get all of the wonderful elegance of those fighting games in tabletop format, and all of your moves are unlocked and available for use…apart from that brilliant “cool down” system in here. It levels the playing field, so to speak, and makes it more about being able to read and adapt to the board state as well as learning how best to function with each different fighter in the box.

This game is 100% fun right out of the box. Seriously, some of my best board game memories in the past month have come from this game and the laughter that can ensue. It is increasingly hilarious to state the names of your chosen combination in a fun voice, especially if you’re both getting into that aspect. It is fun to see both of your carefully-laid plans get foiled as you reveal cards and both move out of range so your attacks fail. It is epic to be beaten down to 1-2 life and come back to drop that last 10-12 off your foe to “steal” the victory when on the brink of defeat. Fun. Fun. Fun.

There is definitely a skill curve in this game, as you simply won’t know how to effectively pilot a character until you’ve played them a few times. Additionally, you won’t know how to counter a character until you’ve played them, or against them, a few times. And even then, you have to account for a person’s personal playing style. They might make choices you don’t expect because you’d play Combination X and they put out Y instead. This is a game of playing your opponent as much as it is playing your own game, and that makes it a brilliant design.

Had I played this game before my Top 25 was created, this would definitely have made an appearance on the list. It is in there right now, although I couldn’t tell you where or what game dropped off to make a place for this one. But this is a fantastic addition to my collection. Nearly everyone I’ve taught the game has expressed both a desire to play again and a desire to pick this game up for themselves. And with four boxes out, and a big release coming in July on Kickstarter, this is definitely a game to consider putting on your own radar.

Players who dislike direct conflict and the process of tearing down your opponent will not really enjoy this game. Nothing against Rahdo, but this is a game I don’t think he would play and that is a shame. Because as much as I like playing in a sandbox to build my own engine while my wife does the same in her sandbox, there is definitely a time and a place for a fun, beat-’em-up style of game. I can’t speak to others out there, but I played Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat and Soul Calibur growing up and this is everything I could want out of a game inspired by those. I’m beyond happy with the contents in this box, although I highly doubt it’ll be the only BattleCON title that will enter into my collection. Because while I don’t need more characters, I need more characters.

And that is a good sign for the game. I could play this box alone a hundred times and still enjoy using these ten fighters. But since they all play so differently, I really want to see who else is out there and find that one character that is so my style that I’ll play them like I play Fanatic when I bust out a game of Sentinels of the Multiverse.

***

Hopefully you found this review to be a useful look at BattleCON: Trials of the Indines. 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 · Review for Two

Review for Two – Herbaceous Sprouts

Thank you for checking review #58 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.

**A prototype of the game was sent for review purposes. Opinions remain our own.

An Overview of Herbaceous Sprouts

IMG_1052

Herbaceous Sprouts is a game designed by Eduardo Baraf, Steve Finn, and Keith Matejka and was published by Pencil First Games. The box states that it can play 1-4 players and has a 20-30 minute play time.

A FLAVORFUL DICE GAME
Everyone has a green thumb when playing Herbaceous Sprouts. Unwind while enjoying this beautiful and thoughtful game of collecting seeds, using tools, and growing sprouts in the community garden. Gather your seeds and tools from the shed, but don’t take too long or your friend might become the Head Gardner first.

OBJECTIVE
Become the Head Gardener by collecting herb and flower seeds and using your garden tools to plant in the community garden and scoring the most points. Each round, gardeners take turns collecting herb and flower seeds (represented by dice) which they place and save in their wheelbarrow, as well as tools (represented by cards) which they use to plant sprouts. Players can plant quickly for low point spots, or push their luck saving their seeds for premier spots in the garden.

—description from the publisher

Setup and gameplay for 2 Players

img_1141.jpg

Each player takes a Wheelbarrow Mat and the 15 Sprout Tokens of their color, along with a reference card. Place the Rival Sprout tokens by the gameboard. Put all dice in the Seed Bag and mix them up. each player takes 2 dice, rolls them, and puts them on the die spces on their board. Shuffle the tool deck and remove 10 cards back to the box without revealing them. Finally, place the Lemonade Card and the Tool Card Deck near the board.

Reveal 3 tool cards from the top of the deck, pulling dice and rolling them for each card and placing them in the appropriate space.

Regarding gameplay, I honestly can’t put it better than they have it listed on the game’s description on BGG:

GAMEPLAY
Herbaceous Sprouts is played over a series of rounds, each with a different Lead Gardener. When the last Tool Cards are used, the game ends the final score is tallied.

Each round has three phases:

  • Phase 1: Preparing the Tool Shed
  • Phase 2: Picking and Planting Seeds
  • Phase 3: Clean Up

PHASE 1: Preparing the Tool Shed
This phase is performed by the Lead Gardener of the current round. They set up the Tool Cards and Seed Dice for the round.

PHASE 2: Picking and Planting Seeds
In this phase, all players take turns picking resources from the shed and planting in the community garden. Starting with the Lead Gardener and moving clockwise, each player takes a turn.
Each player performs the following steps, in this order:

A. Take a Tool Card & Seed Dice from the Tool Shed
B. Add Seeds to the Wheelbarrow
C. Perform Special Actions
D. Plants Herb and Flower Seeds

PHASE 3: Clean Up
Players set up for the next round, or proceed to End Game scoring.

—description from the publisher

With 2 players, the final unchosen card each round will dictate where a Rival Sprout token is placed. It will show an area of the board and a numerical value to indicate where that token is placed. If there are multiple spots of that value shown, it is placed in the one worth more points.

Changes for a solo game

Setup is the same as a 2-player game, except in addition you Take the Gardener card and shuffle the deck of 9 Rival Cards. You get 10 turns, and each turn the Gardener card alternates between the Master Gardener and the Assistant Gardener. During the Master Gardener turns (the odd numbered rounds) you draw a die from the bag, roll it, and put it in your wheelbarrow. Then at the end of your turn, you place Rival Sprouts tokens on both spots indicated at the bottom of the two cards you did not take.

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During the Assistant Gardener turn you start by revealing a Rival Card to show which card they choose and place the Rival Sprout token according to that card. Then, tuck the Rivals card under your playerboard like a Sprout Pot. Finally, take your turn like normal.

If you score higher than the Rival, you win.

My Thoughts

 My first play of the game was solo and it started off on the right foot for me with the Rival Sprouts and how that populates the board as you play. This was not only a clever solo mechanism, but it also applies to 2-3 player games to help fill that board faster and to block those premium spaces over time. This solitaire version of the game is 100x more interesting than the one in standard Herbaceous (which isn’t a bad solo mode for that game, but rarely one I would reach for) and it really impressed me with what they executed here. This isn’t a game that plays 2-4 and you can kinda play a tacked-on solo mode. The solo play in itself is worth the investment.

 The dice in the prototype box were standard sized dice, but I hear that the actual final product will have Star Wars Destiny-style of dice in there. If that is true, then this becomes a huge boon for the game as those are fun and chunky dice to roll. Some people like different things, but if you like rolling dice at all you’ll enjoy those dice. Regardless, the dice in this game never really felt like they imposed a ton of randomness upon the game. Partially because they are almost always useful, partially because there are plenty of reroll possibilities to obtain, and partially because there are actions that can change die sides. My biggest fear in the game turned out to be a nice aspect rather than the dreaded random factor to negate any skill.

 While this game is very different mechanically from Herbaceous, you’ll still find some comfort in the familiarity of the artwork, and the need to collect pairs, sets of the same herb, and sets of different herbs as you go through the game. You just are collecting dice with those faces rather than herbs, and selecting said dice off a tool card rather than flipping a card at a time off the top of a deck.

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 Tool cards are fantastic in this game. They range from having no special actions (but 3 dice) to having a horde of special actions and no dice. I appreciate that there is one additional card available each round, so that the last player to select isn’t stuck without making a decision. I also love that the card not chosen will be used to place a Rival Sprouts token on the board (except in a 4-player game), adding an extra layer of consideration when taking a card (almost like the decision on what dice to draft in Seasons). The player actions on the cards range from outstanding most of the time to situational, yet they are all important at certain points in the game.  Did I mention the tool card deck is also the game timer? Oh yeah, it is…something I also like seeing.

 I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the artwork here. It is Beth Sobel art. That sentence alone should be enough to tell you it is going to be good. Seriously, she’s easily one of the Top 3 artists in the industry right now and her work always blows me away.

 This game scales extremely well, thanks to those Sprout Tokens. This isn’t some fancy automa system, but its simple elegance works. It is easy to operate, takes no additional time, and no additional thought on the part of the players. Without those Rival Tokens, the board would be too wide-open and you could take your time storing up for that perfect high-score combo of sprouts. That pressure of knowing the deck could place a sprout there first is a nice added tension.

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 The turns in general are fast, the action selection simple, and the game doesn’t present many opportunities for Analysis Paralysis to rear its ugly head. I like the fast pace, the quick play time, and the ease of setup and teardown for the game. There is elegance in simplicity, something that the original Herbaceous possessed and this somehow maintains, even with the addition of layers of depth and strategy beyond the original game.

 The flowers are a tough thing to pin down my feelings on. A single flower can be potted for 2, 3, or 4 points. There are 3 different types of flowers in there. To do that, though, you need both the flower and a trowel tool at the same time, or two matching herbs and a watering can tool. Both of these are situational, requiring two circumstances to be true in order to use them, which makes a tool card or a die with the trowel or watering can either VERY desirable or a trash action, depending on the current board state. The points in here are small, yet it feels like it takes a lot more to make this align for those points at times.

 There is a lot of dice rolling. You’re pulling out dice as the setup for each round and rolling them, then placing the dice on the cards. Some people might love it, some will hate it, but most will fall in between. If there are a lot of dice spots on the cards, especially with a higher player count, this can feel like it takes a while. Plus, it is extremely easy to bump a die on accident, either while placing it or while retrieving it. Or even while trying to grab a different card. Those big, chunky dice may help, but they could also make the problem worse by being easier to bump. It isn’t an issue often, but some might find it to be a detriment and wish for those boards Scythe spoiled us with…

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 There isn’t a score track, which would be really helpful. Whether that is a shared track around the outside of the board or if it is printed on the reverse side of the Wheelbarrow Cards, this is one thing more than anything else that I think this game could benefit from.

 Do you want to know how many players used a reroll in a 4-player game I taught? One, me. Twice, and that was only to see if I could get lucky and not have to use my pot. I appreciate the abundance (or at least appearance thereof) of opportunities to roll those dice again, allowing you to perhaps shift your luck when stuck with garbage. But so far, in practice, that ability does not get used very often with the people I’ve played with. So I kinda feel bad for the person who gets stuck with a tool card granting 2 rerolls and one granting 3 rerolls, especially if his board is already empty of dice. Which leads into…

 Hate drafting can totally be a thing in this game. Especially because you can usually see what other players are aiming for, and take that die they need or that tool they need, even though you don’t really need it right now. This isn’t a problem for some gamers, but I know it might be a deal breaker for others. Be aware of the play style of who you’re going to play with if this is something you really dislike in a game.

Final Thoughts

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My wife likes Herbaceous a lot. Way more than I ever did. But when they announced the dice version of the game, I knew it would be a hard sell for her. The hatred she holds for dice games can never be overstated. They are the epitomy of evil in board games to her, and so I initially wrote this off as a game we’d never want to play.

Big mistake.

I’m beyond relieved that I had a chance to get the prototype version of this game because it was able to easily exceed my personal expectations for the game. Herbaceous is a light press-your-luck filler with small room for strategy, but Herbaceous Sprouts is a much more interesting game with much better decisions to be made over the course of the game. Not only did the game itself surprise me, but the solo mode for the game equally impressed. It is clear the designers took some of the core of the game of Herbaceous and tried to come up with a really fun and clever game that is uniquely its own game. This isn’t Herbacous with dice. This is Herbaceous Sprouts. It is fun and exciting and everything I would want this 20-30 minute game to be.

And, honestly, there isn’t more I need to say about the game. If you want a game that is borderline filler with some great and interesting decisions, set collection, and dice rolling fun then this will do a great job of filling that niche on your shelf. If you want something more press-your-luck like Herbaceous was, or a brain-burning game than this game probably isn’t going to satisfy you. But it still sounds interesting to you, then I definitely can recommend this one.

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Hopefully you found this article to be a useful look at Circuit Breaker. 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 · Top Ten List

Top 25 Games: #15-11

Welcome back to my countdown of my top games. I was going to have this live tomorrow (Friday), but I have another post coming tomorrow that I think you’ll like. Therefore this gets bumped up by a day.

You can check out my previous entries here:

#25 – 21

#20 – 16

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#15 – 878: Vikings – Invasions of England, published by Academy Games, designed by Beau Beckett, Dave Kimmel, and Jeph Stahl. 2-4 Players.

The only game I have backed on Kickstarter, and it is likely to remain as such. Not because of any disappointment in the Kickstarter experience, but because I just don’t need to preorder and pay for a game months in advance. Especially if it is hitting retail afterwards. But this game has been anything but a disappointment. The base game itself is a little lighter than I wanted to find, but there is so much extra content in the form of mini-modules that I can mix & match to get the experience that I want from the game. I love the asymmetric win conditions for the sides and that one starts with forces on the map and the other comes in each round with raids. The game is light and fast enough that it can be picked up easily and played through in an evening after work, which is something I can’t say for a superior war game that will appear higher on this list. I’m a huge fan of the Viking theme, and this definitely plays out with some great historical flavor. If you like Vikings, or are even remotely interested in owning a war game, this is definitely one to consider checking out. It’ll be a part of my collection for a long, long time to come.

#14 – Raiders of the North Sea, published by Garphill Games & Renegade Games, designed by Shem Philips. 2-4 Players.

I love Vikings. My wife loves Worker Placement games. When this game hit my radar, I knew it was one we’d have to eventually check out and so I was really happy when Renegade Games released this in the States. It seems counter-intuitive that you will be playing a worker placement game where you will only ever have one worker to use. But it really works! You take the action when you place a worker, and then you remove a different worker to use the action of its space. Simple. But brilliant in both design and execution. I’ve heard nothing but great things about the expansions, and those will eventually be ones I need to pick up…after I get the rest of the North Sea trilogy into my collection (Explorers & Shipwrights). What is even better is hearing that an official solo mode is open for preorders now by Garphill Games (http://postks.tictail.com/product/raider-solo-variant), which is definitely something I need to obtain soon so I can play this one even when my wife doesn’t feel like playing a game.

#13 – Ora et Labora, published by Lookout Games, designed by Uwe Rosenberg. 1-4 Players.

Oh Uwe, what a magnificent game you have designed. How can I ever return to the recent designs of Caverna, A Feast for Odin, and others after playing this work of brilliance? What’s that, you say? It is out of print? Well, a Twitter exchange with Lookout Games has me really excited at the prospect of this hitting the shelves once more and this will become an insta-buy for me. There is resource management, building of your own personal tableau of structures on your board, a resource wheel like that in Glass Road (which also serves as the game timer), worker placement with two style of workers, a light take-that element where you can bribe another player’s worker to use them, and so much more. This game scratches every itch and burns my brain in the most delightful of ways. I played so horribly in my first game of this, but unlike some other games where that happened (I’m looking at you, Terra Mystica), this one left me excited to try it again and soon. Plan better, play better. And I need to do both of those when I get a chance to get a second play of this one in. This one definitely has a great chance at cracking my Top 10 with some more plays, which is also true about the next few games on this list.

#12 – The Ruhr: A Story of Coal Trade, published by Capstone Games, designed by Thomas Spitzer. 2-4 Players.

Haspelknecht was a surprise hit for me, so much so that I wanted to check out the rest of the Coal Trilogy being rereleased by Capstone Games. I knew they were all very different, and that Haspelknecht was the “lightest” of the games in that trilogy. What I didn’t expect, upon playing The Ruhr, was to discover that this was an excellent game that takes a mechanic I don’t usually like (pickup & deliver) and adds some really fun and interesting elements into the experience. This is the definition of a dice game that my wife and I enjoy: they are never, ever rolled. They simply are used to represent the value of the coal being transported down the river. There is some simple action selection in here, but it plays a key role in the gameplay. The components in the box, and the board upon setup, all feel overwhelming at first blush. This game is not my typical sort of game and I’m yet to feel like I am doing well at this one, especially since my wife grokked the game mechanics from the first play. I constantly miscalculate by a turn in this and end up wasting two turns to get back on track while she zips ahead and unlocks all those great actions/abilities before I can catch up. Yet throughout all of that, I constantly have fun with this game. It move surprisingly fast with two players, and I cannot wait to try this with more to see how that enhances the experience. And to try the flip side of the board and experience The Ohio! This game fills a spot in my collection that I wasn’t aware I needed, but I am grateful that it is on our shelf.

#11 – Lisboa, published by Eagle-Gryphon Games, designed by Vital Lacerda. 1-4 Players.

There are few games that make you sit up and take notice, but this game possesses that capability. I first heard about it via Heavy Cardboard, and we now know this game won their 2017 Golden Elephant Award. That is a huge statement for this game in itself. This has beautiful artwork on all of the components, from the board and player boards to the cards themselves. Unless you have something against the color blue, that is. The theme is super-interesting as you are trying to rebuild the city of Lisbon after it survived a multitude of natural disasters in a very short span of time.

But none of that matters once you sit down to play the game. I played in the worst of conditions: with two other people, one prone to serious AP and hadn’t played the game before and the other teaching the game but having only played it once and that being months prior. Not even joking when I say the first hour was just setting the game up and figuring out the rules in semi-independent ways. The next hour was painfully slow and clunky, as we fumbled our way into trying to understand what was going on and how to make it function. But then the third hour came upon us and it clicked. And wow, it took my breath away when I could finally see what was going on and how it all was interconnected. The depth of this one game is staggering, especially as a game that is, as the designer said, “just play a card and draw a card”. That playing a card part triggers several things, including the opportunities for your opponents to join in on the action by paying for it. Which doesn’t always happen, but is something you should plan to try and do as often as you can to get more done in the same number of turns. The cards can be used in different ways, depending on if you slide them under the top of your player board or tuck them underneath the bottom. I could keep going, but I won’t.

This game is large and unapologetic about how much complexity and depth is in here. It is the game with the highest rated BGG weight on my Top 25, and I definitely agree that this is the meatiest game on here. But if you like thinky euro games, this is one you don’t want to miss. I couldn’t justify the placement of a game I played 1 time in my Top 10, so here it appears. But, honestly, it is probably around #7 or so on my list after the next play, and a third or fourth could possibly crack the Top 5. Especially if the solo play in this is as good as advertised.

Twice I’ve had a chance to get this game and, stupidly, blew it. The first was in describing it to my wife and mentioning that the VP are wigs. Apparently she was going to get it for me for Christmas, due to my going on about the game, until that point. Then, after the holiday, I had almost $100 to drop on new games. Lisboa was what I should have purchased. Instead, I picked up two $40-60 games into my collection. I don’t even know which ones they were, but I do know they aren’t higher on this list than this game. So I’m still seeking that second play, waiting to confirm that this game has held up to every expectation lingering in my mind.

Board Gaming · Review for Two · Two-Player Only

Review for Two – Hanamikoji

For the second time on this channel I’m doing something different: video content! I have two videos here, one where I teach Hanamikoji and play through a round of it, and one where I gush about a Top 10 game (*spoiler alert!) that is going to be reprinted by Deep Water Games. This will probably be the norm going forward, doing some in written and some in video format.

Are there games I’ve reviewed that you’d like to see a video pairing like this for? Be sure to leave me a comment and let me know so I can plan my queue properly.

 

Board Gaming · Top Ten List

Top 25 Games: #20-16

Fun fact: there are 5 games on this list I’ve played exactly 1 time. Those first impressions were strong, and this portion of the list contains three of those games (with the other two appearing next week!). Several of the 1-play games came out higher on the rankings and I bumped them down a spot or two, giving preference to a game I’ve played more often in order to provide a better balance to how this list should be.

Like the previous list, these are all pretty equal in terms of quality of game. There is a small jump, I think, coming next week and then small jumps up after that. But really, this list could be fluid enough to where #20 could be #16 or even #24 at any given moment. You can be sure that if a game appears on this list today, I’d be willing to play it with minimal effort to convince me. Most of these games I’m craving more plays for, and would be the games I’d give strong consideration to pulling off the shelf to teach and play with someone.

#20 – Glass Road – Published by Mayfair Games/Lookout Spiele in 2013, Designed by Uwe Rosenberg, 1-4 Players.

This game blew me away. I thought I knew what an Uwe Rosenberg game was like. I had played Agricola, Caverna, and A Feast for Odin before I met this game. This is so radically different, mechanically, while also being nice and similar in a few areas to make it feel like Rosenberg. The action selection mechanism is brilliant, and the fact that you’re choosing 5 for the turn and playing 3…unless you can “follow” another player, is amazing. I love the resource wheel and how that mechanic changes and evolves as you take different resources. It was, after playing the game, easily my favorite game by Uwe Rosenberg. It was all I could think about for the rest of that game night, and I’m still thinking about it even now. I really need to play this one again, because it is so much fun.

#19 – Trajan – Published by Passport Game Studios in 2011, Designed by Stefan Feld, 2-4 Players.

I haven’t met a Feld game (yet) that I didn’t like, and this one stands atop the mountain as being the best of the Feld games I’ve played. There are still many more to try, but I think they will be hard-pressed to dethrone this one if I can get in some more plays. I really enjoy the personal mancala mechanic in here for your action selection. It presents some fun and interesting decisions and restrictions along the way. I love the time tracking mechanism in the game, and how it uses a different track for each player count. There appears to be many paths to victory out there on the board. My opponent, who taught me the game, claimed there was an unbeatable tactic and I managed to defeat him without following that path (it was close, though!). This was the hardest game out of all of these to place accurately on the list, as I feel like I’ve only begun to scratch the surface on this game.

#18 – Rococo – Published by Eggertspiele in 2013, Designed by Matthias Cramer, Louis Malz, and Stefan Malz. 2-5 Players.

The theme, admittedly, put me off from the game at first glance. I had seen it being played at my FLGS and was just like “meh” toward it. But then I found Heavy Cardboard and listened to their podcasts. While it was only as a reference point for the weight of a game, I kept hearing Edward mention this game on countless review episodes. I later found out it was a Golden Elephant nominee, which piqued my interest enough that it became a game I really wanted to try this year. And holy smokes, what a first impression this made! I’m in love with making suits and dresses now, and I made a special request for this one to be brought for my birthday gaming celebration. I really, really want a second play of this. It has a light deckbuilding element, but you get to select the cards from your deck that you put into your hand. But once they are used, they go into your discard and so you need to play the rest of your deck to get them back. There are three types of workers, and only certain ones can do the better actions, so managing that is critical. There is area control on the board to get bonus scoring. Recipe fulfillment. There are so many excellent mechanics at work here, and it just scratches all the right spots for me as a gamer. Sadly, it is out of print at the moment so it is hard to get a copy. But this is definitely worth seeking out.

#17 – Seasons – Published by Asmodee, designed by Regis Bonnessee. 2-4 Players.

This game suffers from the same problem as Terraforming Mars: if you don’t know the cards well, you’re at a disadvantage. Especially here, since you’re drafting all nine cards at the start of the game that you’re guaranteed to see/use over the course of the game. It seems strange that a card-driven game like this only gives you a guaranteed 9 cards, but it somehow works. There are ways to get more over the course of the game, and I like that you have to then take those 9 cards and break them down into groups of 3, dictating what year they will go into your hand. The dice are chunky and great to use. There is so much room for strong engines to be built with those cards, even when you get just 10-12 out on average. Every card feels overpowered in the right circumstances, which makes it fun. There is a fair number of take that cards, but you can easily play without adding those into the deck if that is something you don’t enjoy and you’ll still have a wonderful game experience. Unlike Terraforming Mars, this one never overstays its welcome on the table, making it a much more enjoyable experience overall every time it gets played. Every time I play this game I remember just how much I enjoy it, and this one benefitted from back-to-back plays right before I made the list. This one is fantastic, plays really well with two, has some great card drafting, strong engine building opportunities, interesting decisions almost every turn, turns move quickly, and involves some clever resource management along the way. It checks so many boxes that it can’t possibly miss this list.

#16 – Firefly: The Game – Published by Gale Force Nine, designed by Aaron Dill, John Kovaleski, and Sean Sweigart. 1-5 Players.

This game has fallen from my Top 10, and with good reason: the game hates me. It literally takes an active role in dealing my demise time and time again. Dead serious. Case in point: we were playing a 4-player game. I completed Goal #2 and had a sufficient crew to get Goal #3 finished and had about a 5 turn lead on the next two players. It took 2 extra turns to fly to Goal #3 due to Nav Card misfortune. Then I proceeded to go 0/5 on completing Goal #3, eventually losing to the next player to arrive who passed it on their first try. I almost always enjoy the game. As a Browncoat, this is a great immersion into the Firefly world. So many people I know love this game. I’ll rarely turn down a play of the game. But man, it is rough when everything goes wrong. This is that one game where things almost always go wrong for me. Some people might be turned off by the length, or the table space, or the setup/teardown time (that broken token crate is a godsend!), but if you are a fan of the show this is the game for you. Hauling cargo, completing jobs, just you and your crew in the Big Black of the ‘Verse. I’m really excited to try Firefly Adventures, as I think it might be the next great game using this IP, but this one will forever be a part of our collection. And if you ever want to win a game of this, just play against me. It’s a pretty sure thing that I’ll lose.

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Like last week, feel free to comment on the games listed, ones that surprised you, what you think you’ll see next week, or anything else of relevance! We’re one step closer to getting into the fun of that Top 10, but don’t overlook the other games being mentioned. These are all excellent games, and ones that are likely to remain (or finally enter) my collection for a long time.