Board Gaming · Gaming Recap

February 2020 Gaming Recap

Buckle in folks, this is a long one. There are plenty of games to check out, and stats/rankings at the beginning and the end of this post. Don’t feel guilty if you just skip to the games of interest and/or those rankings and lists. I don’t blame you. This is a LONG post, one I’ve worked on as games have been played throughout the month. But what better way to encapsulate the thoughts on the games I play? Some of you might enjoy this. I hope you do. Let me know! Ultimately, though, this is as much for me to collect my thoughts as it is for you to enjoy reading them. So without any further ado…

“Top 10” of 2019 Releases, Alphabetical Order

I’m not quite ready to announce this as a final list of top games of 2019. There are at least two games I really want to try for the first time, but here’s a glimpse at what is likely to make the cut. Regardless, all of these are likely to get a few more plays before an official “winner” is announced, as I’m itching to play all of these more.

Antinomy
Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale
Marvel Champions: The Card Game
Pax Pamir (Second Edition)
Peloponnesian War
Pipeline
Res Arcana
Roam
Skulk Hollow
Watergate

Top 5 “Expansions” of 2019: Alphabetical
Bushido: Rising Rage
Exceed: Street Fighter (aka Exceed Season 3)
The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game – Shadows in the East
Res Arcana: Lux et Tenebrae
Thunderstone Quest: Barricades Mode

Ranking the New-to-Me Games in February
1. Empyreal: Spells & Steam
2. Watergate
3. Sekigahara: The Unification of Japan
4. Meltwater: A Game of Tactical Starvation
5. Peloponnesian War
6. Fire & Axe: A Viking Saga
7. Noria
8. Ahead in the Clouds
9. The One-Hundred Torii
10. Leaving Earth
11. Tokyo Highway

February Games Played Recap

Ahead in the Clouds

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This little game from Button Shy Games is a clever resource generation game for two players (although expansions make it play 1-4). It took a little time to wrap our head around how it operated, and a misprint in the rulebook didn’t help matters. But once we figured the game out it flowed really well. My wife is great at games with resource generation and fulfilling objectives through them, so it was no surprise that she completely obliterated me in the game. The outcome was never really in question, and we did both enjoy this one and look forward to getting it back to the table some more in the future.

Anachronism

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I’ve been exploring old, dead CCGs and this was a highly regarded one from a lot of folks. I played it a few months ago for the first time and was delighted to get some more plays of it with a friend. The game is so fast, simple, and very tactical in nature. There is some luck involved, but it isn’t exclusively a luck fest. Games take 10-15 minutes, and the cards are incredibly well made. This might just be my favorite CCG to date, and being non-randomized in packs with a deck size of 5 cards makes this an easy one to collect and play time and again. I’m pretty sure my wife would think it is “fine”, but I probably will still try to teach it to her at some point in time because I’ve got an itch to play the game.

Arboretum

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This game became an instant classic in our household last year, and is the most-played game we own since it hit our collection in 2019 (not counting my solo exploits in the LotR LCG). And with good reason, because this game is quick to play yet is full of tense, agonizing decisions almost every step of the way. Balancing the need to play cards into paths, holding the right cards to try and score the paths you need at the end, holding cards to thwart your opponents from scoring said paths, and having to discard a card which can be scooped up by your opponent if they want it…well, let’s just say there are few games that make my brain hurt in as short of a playtime as this one. This is the quintessential thinky filler for us.

Banned Books

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This little wallet game packs a fun experience, at least for the English major in me. I love the concept of being literary characters trying to fight to reverse the banning of their book. The mechanics are pretty darn smooth in the game, and it flows quickly. It presents tough and interesting choices along the way in terms of when to trigger actions, the order to trigger them, when to just flip cards or move them along the line, etc. It is a game of balance that I did horribly at this month, coming short both times due to Stamina loss. But this one will definitely continue to hit the table as a solo experience I greatly enjoy for the timeframe it covers.

Broom Service: The Card Game

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We absolutely love Broom Service, regardless of player count. It is one of those interesting, unique hybrid board games that offers just enough interesting decisions to make it a welcome hit on the table. So of course we picked up the Card Game version – admittedly, I was more interested in the promos for Broom Service. The card game takes the fascinating Brave/Cowardly mechanic and spins an entire 20-minute experience around just that. And it works well enough, providing a fun filler to close out an evening of games. I think we’ll always prefer the board game version of Broom Service, but this is definitely a keeper for those times when we want a quick game with a handful of other folks.

The Castles of Mad King Ludwig

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I’ve been a fan of this game from the first play, and every time it gets back to the table I remember exactly what I love about it. I’m yet to play with anyone who dislikes the game, but I also carefully avoid introducing it to our one gaming friend who actively dislikes “building games” because this is very much a building game. And that always provides an enjoyable sensation by the end, seeing the castle you’ve constructed. Even when I play poorly and come in last, like I did when we taught it to a friend this month (#goodteacher), this game is a pure joy. The auction/bidding mechanic is one of my favorite parts of the game, something echoed in another of my favorite games: Isle of Skye. If you haven’t played this one yet, it is definitely worth checking out.

Circle the Wagons

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Even though I love the 2-player version of the game more, I really dig the Lone Cowboy expansions (I have them both, giving me 9 cards total to try!). The rules modified here are really simple and the most challenging part can be determining which territories are the most predominant for the “opponent”, since they only score their 3 most abundant types. Which almost always scores more than my 6 combined, since they don’t play by the same rules. I feel like I need to get far better at risk-reward decisions around the circle, as I’ve suffered far more losses than wins in the solo play of this. Not quite to Sprawlopolis level of pitiful, but pretty darn close. This is the one wallet game I would choose to keep if I could only retain one Button Shy title in my collection, even though it isn’t my favorite overall of their games. This one is simply perfect for what it provides.

Empyreal: Spells & Steam

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One of my most anticipated games since the end of 2018 has finally arrived and let’s just say I couldn’t be more pleased with the final product here. The game has production value that is out of this world, a fantastic and simple set of rules, and immense amount of replay value without any need for hundreds of maps to accomplish that replay value. This game is everything I want in a pick up and deliver game, and reaffirms my belief that Level 99 Games is the most underrated publisher in the industry. They have so many enjoyable, replayable games in their catalog and they will continue to dominate my Top 50 of all time. Odds are really good that this game will make a strong rise after some additional plays, too. I didn’t back the game to get the expansion as part of the package, but a local gamer did get the As Above, So Below expansion and was kind enough to loan me the Automa cards to try it out solo. And boy, it is a smooth and simple solitaire system – my opponent had the unfortunate placement early on to where it drew too many “dead” placement cards, placing a hard cap on its deliveries throughout most of the game. Even so, it was a fun and fast solitaire experience that will hit the table more – and convinced me that I probably should also pick up said expansion at some point for the solo deck…as well as the Purple player components for my wife to play with!

Everdell

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This one returned to the table for a match against the evil rat, Rugwort. After playing with 2-3 players, the solo experience was the final piece of the puzzle I was looking to include when preparing for a review of the game. And I shouldn’t have been worried, as this solo experience provided a nice, challenging loss for me in a very narrow game. It still suffers from one of the main issues I have with the base game experience, which I discussed in depth in the review: the special event cards. That is a really thick deck of cards, and even with getting through a fair chunk of cards each play I have only seen one game where a special event has been accomplished. The problem in solo play? Rugwort gets points for each of these you don’t score…which is pretty much money-in-the-bank for him.

Fairy Tale

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An old game in our collection, and one of the longest tenured games for us. It doesn’t get pulled off the shelf often enough anymore, but is still a delight every time it hits the table. My wife wanted a short game to play at the end of the night following the brain burn that learning Noria caused for us at the table. The simple gameplay, the easy drafting of the cards, and the interesting scoring mechanics make this a welcome treat every time it gets played. It’ll never be our most-played or favorite game, but I don’t foresee it ever leaving our collection either.

Fire & Axe: A Viking Saga

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This game is one I’ve wanted to play for years. It was rumored to be among the absolute best Viking-themed games on the market and I am a complete sucker for Viking themed games. The problem: 3-5 players. We try to avoid owning games that cannot play 2, but I had a chance to get this last summer from a local guy for $20 and pounced on that chance, thinking we’d eventually get to try it. Eventually finally arrived this month, as a friend came over and requested to play something we hadn’t ever played. This fit the bill perfectly, especially since this friend (who hates building games) enjoys pick-up-and-deliver games. I think my wife even got over the presence of dice in here, as at the end we all talked about how enjoyable the game was and I think we might see a repeat of this one next month as we get in some more plays. I’m not sure if it is my favorite Viking-themed game I’ve ever played, but it definitely is up there among the best. My wife really wishes it could be played at 2, which is an equally good sign. This one is going to join the A Game of Thrones Board Game and the Broom Service Card Game as permanent additions to our collection that require 3+ players, a rarity on our shelves.

The Honor of the Queen

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You may not know this little solo game, and why should you? It is my first game design and, as yet, unpublished. I worked hard on it and had it mostly in a good place last year, but something was bothering me about the game. The feedback was mixed on the chit-draw system for testing so I needed to change it. That meant either going with dice rolls or making a deck of testing cards. I wanted to maintain the chance of automatic success and automatic failure, but wasn’t sure how to do that with dice apart from radically changing the values on all cards. I had a revelation at the end of the month and now things are updated to include rolling 2d6 and subtracting the lower result from the higher. This gave me the spread of numbers I wanted (0-5 as possibilities, with 0-2 being the most likely) and allowed double 1’s and double 6’s to fill the desired success/failure rolls. Give it a week before you check the game for the 2.0 files and rules to be uploaded, but I definitely welcome you to try the game out if you’re interested! It is a page of 9 cards and 3 pages of rules, all ink-friendly! And I submitted the new version off to a publisher. Fingers crossed! Let’s keep the design momentum going and get a 2-player game wrapped up in March…

Hostage Negotiator

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A friend loaned me his copy of Hostage Negotiator, which has everything released in there, so I could try the game out. I talked about it last month, and set it aside thinking there was a small chance I’d try it again before returning the game. And, well, I happened to notice that Crime Wave was deeply discounted at my FLGS to where it would be difficult to pass by. So I resolved to try my friend’s copy one last time before deciding if I wanted the game or not, and I tried to figure out what was only from the Crime Wave expansion and use that content. In spite of the dice rolling to pass/fail testing, this is a quick and fun game that I genuinely enjoy getting to the table. And then I pulled it out once more a few nights later, running through base game cards and had such a run of bad luck for two games in a row that it never once seemed like I had a prayer of success. Which, ultimately, saved my wallet from a bad investment. I’m glad I played the game, and would gladly do so again. But if I want a dice-chucking fast solo game, I’ll turn to Hoplomachus.

Jorvik

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A classic Feld game with a fresh look and theme. I’ve loved The Speicherstadt from the first play of the game, but the theme and appearance left me wanting. Jorvik had been on my wishlist ever since I learned of its existence, but it took forever to finally get around to acquiring it for my collection. We finally tried out the game at 2 (I’ve previously played 3-5) and I finally got to include the expansion board and cards from the original (already included in Jorvik!) and, well, I’ll never want to play without the extra stuff. And this game is so tight and cutthroat at 2 that it is a sheer delight to play. Plopping down that meeple where you have no intention of buying a card, purely to make your opponent either pay more or have to forsake the purchase of that card, is so wonderful. And it happens all the time at 2. Cards become pricey quick, even with only 2 players, because you have 4 workers to spread out among 6 cards (3 if playing without the expansion). Auction/bidding games rarely work with 2. I can think of only one other that has left a strong impression (Biblios) as being great with 2. And I think I officially can go on the record to state that Jorvik/Speicherstadt is my favorite Feld game so far. That should give you an idea of where this might fall come June when I refresh my Top 100…

Leaving Earth

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This game was highly recommended to me as a solo game, and I’ll admit I was a little curious to try it out. Once I read through the rules and watched part of Heavy Cardboard’s solo playthrough video, I had a good handle on what to do for the game. And I was genuinely enjoying myself in the game, having a solid plan from the start on how to achieve victory via a series of Moon-related missions and sending a probe out to orbit Mars. And then I landed on the Moon with a Probe and discovered the Moon wouldn’t be able to allow landing at all so my collection of a sample wasn’t going to work any more. This left me in a predicament, as the Moon presented a ton of my points and, after running the numbers, the only path to victory required me to collect a sample on Venus instead for the biggest chunk of points. It took a lot of planning. Figuring out how to make a trip there and back without needing a bajillion rockets. FIred a probe off and started working toward that Mars orbit, trying to get them to coincide for victory around the same year. The probe arrives at Venus and, wouldn’t you know it, can’t land there, either. Hours invested into the game for my first play to run into the end result of an unwinnable game regardless of how well I planned or executed. Unwinnable situations are fine in a shorter game, because you can reset and try again with hope for a better scenario. But a game this math-heavy, taxing on the brain for all the planning, and a multi-hour journey…only to find out there was no path to win…. Yeah, hard pass for me. I’m just glad I was able to borrow this before considering a purchase.

The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game

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My favorite solo game of all time. I have more plays of this game than the next 4 games combined. It is always fun getting this to the table, even with my ~30% win rate in the game. I decided to continue playing through quests in order of release, although that will soon come to an end since I am missing most of the Dwarrowdelf Cycle – I played through the second and third quests from Khazad-Dum using an unrefined Ranger/Dunedain trap and sidequest deck that has too many cards and I think runs just 1 of every card in there to try and get a feel for which cards should stay and which should go. Playing through earlier quests helps me to appreciate the maturity of the design that happens, as some of the quests are just ridiculous with the tricks they have or the very narrow requirements. However, these two have been pretty fun and enjoyable. My loss in the third quest was probably more a problem of my deck (not drawing into allies after the first round and getting no traps beyond 1 in my opening hand) than an issue with the quest itself. More plays to come this month…

Lords of Waterdeep

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This game is very much a classic worker placement game, and it was refreshing getting a chance to experience it again. This was my first play without the expansion included in the experience and it definitely changed the game flow. The board was extremely tight with 5 players (I’ve never played with fewer than 5, either! Something I need to change eventually when we get the game for our own collection) but we all knew the game so things flowed extremely well. We all pursued our unique strategies and ended up clustered relatively well along the scoreboard at the end, which is something that felt good to see. Every time I play this walk away wanting to play it more often, which means we definitely need to get around to picking this up soon.

Meltwater: A Game of Tactical Starvation

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Oh boy, did this game come out of nowhere. I hadn’t heard a thing about the game until my wargaming friend mentioned it about a month ago. He kept repeating the name with satisfaction, as if that was all that should be needed to interest a player. And sure, it has a unique name. Hollandspiele is full of games that are unique in name and in gameplay. From that perspective, this was a perfect fit for their catalog. We had some initial issues in missing a key rule because it was mentioned under the components (bizarre place for a critical concept) but once we figured that out and started over, the game was great. Lots of planning and adapting to a shrinking map. Plenty of room for being mean to your opponent: after all, you win by being the last one with units still on the map. Delightfully easy rules to parse, which opened the way for the gameplay to shine. I don’t think it is my favorite Hollandspiele game, but this one is a game I’m going to be excited to play more and might just be one to teach to my wife…and I’m fully aware I’ll lose playing against her, too. This might be the best hidden gem of a game I’ve encountered for quite some time.

Millennium Blades

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It had been too long since this one hit the table. My wife isn’t a fan of card games and, well, this is very much a card game plus. A friend of mine requested to learn the game, since he owns it but felt overwhelmed on where to begin in terms of sorting, etc. on what he had. So I brought out my copy and we played using the recommended Store setup with the modified rules from Collusion to separate out the Core Set into its own stack. As anticipated, the first tournament played was a one-sided affair as it can be a challenge to know how to value things going into your first ever tournament round. However, from there it swung hard in his direction and he built a monster of an 8-card deck that obliterated me in the second tournament and just barely outscored me in the final tournament. I have never been happier to have been a #goodteacher in a game, and afterwards we both felt like we had played a nice, heavy game. He compared the brain burn to what he gets after an 18XX game, even though this is a very different, unique game to play. Hopefully he enjoyed it enough to want to play it more, and this one cements itself again as one of my absolute favorite game experiences to get to the table.

Mystic Vale

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This game was an instant favorite for me years ago when a friend introduced it to me. And 18 bajillion expansions later, this is still a top-tier game for me. I picked up the new Nemesis expansion on the last day of February, which was an auto-buy for me since it introduced a way to experience solitaire play of the game. For some reason no one else delights in the towers of cards as much as I do with everything mixed together, so this will allow me to get this game to the table a lot more. With 13 different opponents of varying difficulty and two sides to the AI selection board, this is going to have a TON of replay value. I still need to pick up that Harmony expansion that was released last year to “complete” my collection – minus a promo I’m missing – and I still have a row to fill in this Conclave box. I can never get enough of this game, even when it all goes horribly wrong for me like it did last night. I really enjoyed the smooth AI opponent to face, and the new Level 4 advancement cards plus the Titan Leaders add enough cool things for anyone to want to grab this expansion even if they don’t want to play it solo.

Noria

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This game intimidated me to no end. I was in love with the art and the idea of the game since I heard it announced, and I finally got a copy of the game late last year. And I danced around learning and teaching the game far too often to where it just needed to get played. The rules themselves didn’t seem to be too brutal, but the unique layout of the rules combined with the very spatial aspect of the action wheel made it one of those that simply wasn’t going to fully click until it hit the table. And yes, the first 3-4 rounds had us all asking questions and verifying how things should flow. But a funny thing happened – about halfway through the game we no longer hit those snags. The issues with turning the wheel subsided (mostly), and we were able to just enjoy the gameplay. All three of us had very different strategies, and the scores were reasonably close overall all things considered. And I think we all have thoughts on what to do differently, especially in the first half of the game, when it gets played again. I have a feeling this will be one that we return to another time or two this month, along with Empyreal.

The One-Hundred Torii

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This one came in the mail unexpectedly, as had the past two Pencil First Games titles (Heroes Welcome and Skulk Hollow, the latter of which you might have noticed is one of my top 2019 titles! I strongly recommend that to anyone looking for a 2-player asymmetric game). This one appeared to be a lighter, tile-laying game experience with fantastic components and artwork, and I brought it out several nights in a row with the intent of playing it solo if I had time. After several non-plays, I finally got it to the table as a solo experience. While I misplayed one pretty big rule, forgetting to give the AI an extra bonus tile when they got double Torii tiles, I did enjoy this quick and lighter game. It’ll scratch an itch that my wife should enjoy, similar to what Seasons of Rice provides but in a little longer and deeper format from that. It is one I could see being a staple for nights when we want to play a game but don’t want anything too complex as a nice way to competitively pass the end of an evening. And I’ll definitely give the solo another run or two with the correct rules this time before passing judgment on that aspect, although I think it’ll stick around more for the multiplayer experience.

Paper Tales

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I picked up the expansion around Christmas time and finally got a chance to try it out with the solo mode this month, facing off against the Lich King. I was initially dismayed by its score, as it easily surpassed my typical scores. However, there were some key cards into the mix from the expansion that helped me to raise my own “bar” for scores, especially since I started off the game with a Relic of War and focused on pumping that up whenever I was able. It gave me just enough to topple the Lich King in a fun, easy-to-use solo system that plays really fast (just like the base game). It was a great challenge, and has me looking forward to some rematches soon!

Pathfinder Adventure Card Game: Core Set

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You probably saw the review, but if you didn’t you can find my full thoughts on this game there. This is easily my favorite version of this game, as the look and feel of the game is fresh yet retains the positive aspects I enjoyed. It is still dice-dependent and you rarely feel overpowered to where success is guaranteed, providing both tension with every test and swingyness as a factor to overcome. When it goes well, this is one of my favorite solo games to play. When the dice roll consistently horrible, it can still feel crummy in losing. I wish it set up a little quicker, but the game plays at a nice pace and I love the integration of a story booklet.

Peloponnesian War

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This one is a hard game to place. Right now, it is sitting around the middle of the “month” experiences for new-to-me games because it is going to require more time diving into the game system and trying out a little more of what it has to offer. I’ve run through the introductory walkthrough turn and then a few rounds from the beginning, but haven’t played a game out to completion yet. Which means this game has all of the potential in the world to move up that list in the future, but is going to be very limited because it requires both time and space, and some days I just don’t have enough of one or the other in order to get a full play of it in before it needs torn down. So far my impression is cautiously optimistic toward a really fascinating solitaire experience from GMT Games. Forcing you to switch sides in the battle if you are doing too well, but not well enough to win, blows my mind in the perfect sort of way. If you go hard for the win and fall short, suddenly you are having to dig out of the hole the other side was placed into by your own aggressive efforts. You want to bring the war to a successful, early ending, and the better you do at accomplishing that the stronger your score. This might be a dark horse candidate for game of the year. That’s how much potential I see in this one. However, I’m not sure if I will ever get a chance to play it to completion – I’ll be looking to see if any of the other scenarios are shorter than the 10-round campaign.

The Perfect Moment

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It was the perfect moment to play this game. I was stuck in a hotel room with a sleeping child and no one else. I needed something to rescue me from the boredom that would fall upon a normal person. So I pulled this out for my second and third solo plays of this, and it went WAY better than the first time I tried to wrap my head around the game. Granted, the first time was months ago when in the hospital while my daughter was dealing with issues, so that might have been the issue on that first play. This game is challenging in all the right ways, and I fell short both times. I realized when the first game was ending that I was making it harder on myself because I was only focusing on the Paradox and trying to match that rather than including the Plan in my hand. Sadly, I did worse on the next play…so this is going right along with all of the other Button Shy solo experiences: I lose, lose, lose. Late in the month I finally got my wife to try it out against me and, well, it didn’t fare any better for me. It took her some time to wrap her head around the game, which isn’t surprising, but once it clicked for her the game flowed well. She liked Ahead in the Clouds, which we played first, more than this one but I am confident we’ll play this more in the future.

Res Arcana

**This appears to be the ONE game I played this month that I failed to take a picture of…**

This game continues to impress me every time it hits the table. It had been far too long since my last plays of the game (how had it been since September!?) and that won’t be an issue before the next plays of this one. The first expansion was picked up around the holiday season and integrated seamlessly into the core game, adding extra Mages, Artifacts, and more. It also limits the number of Monuments put into play, and overall provides a nice, tight experience with no real need to explain any additional rules apart from the presence of the Scrolls. This game is fast, fun, and has plenty of room to slow down an opponent’s engine if you get the right cards and want to use them. I’m not saying this replaces Race for the Galaxy by any means, but it definitely is in consideration for the best Tom Lehmann game I’ve ever played – and that says a lot, since Race for the Galaxy is probably still a Top 20 game for me overall. I love having the personal deck of 8 cards, and trying to figure out how to potentially build a functional engine from those cards (depending on when you draw them, of course!). My downfall this play was not getting anything that generated Essences in the opening turns, and I was stupid for not digging actively to get those cards out – that put me about 1-2 turns behind the curve, which is a lot in this tight engine builder.

The Rose King

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This one just had a review go live, so if you want more detailed thoughts be sure to check that out. Ultimately, this was the Kosmos title I expected to need to find friends to play as I assumed my wife wouldn’t really dig the abstract theme. Turns out I was wrong, she not only wanted to play it but wanted to play it several times in relatively quick succession. This game is extremely simple, plays relatively fast, and has room for some clever curse-inducing maneuvers along the way. Trying to decide when to use your limited, powerful moves to flip an opponents’ piece is important, as is trying to manipulate the board position for placement. There’s a lot of good strategy in here and I’m glad she enjoyed this one!

Sekigahara: The Unification of Japan

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This was another game that had been on my radar for years, but I never had an opportunity to try it out. Block wargames appealed to me from the perspective of a “fog of war” effect, and I’ve enjoyed hidden information games like Stratego, or more modern ones like Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation. The game took a while to get going, as setting up and diving through the rules was interrupted by random folks at the gameday who were drawn toward the board and the blocks upon it. Once we got underway, things began to flow well with only a few rules needing referenced as we came across situations. This one has quite an interesting mix of concepts going for it, as you not only get towering stacks of blocks that your opponent can only guess at the power of, but you are also limited by your hand of cards. Moving efficiently requires using cards from your hand, but if you want to bring a block into play during a battle you need a card of that symbol to marshall that force. All in all it had an interesting ebb and flow to the game experience, and it was a really tight push-and-pull affair. My Tokugawa forces took an early board advantage that was lost mid-game, but then reclaimed in the final rounds as the other side turtled up inside their fortress. I think we both have ideas of new strategies to attempt the next time we play, and this is definitely a game I cannot wait to play a second time. What more do you want from a first play, right? I’m hankering for a rematch…even though I was ultimately victorious.

Thunderstone Quest

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This game had been in my collection for far too long without getting played. First, I didn’t realize at the time that I needed the (then) upcoming Barricades expansion to play it solo. Second, I just never could get it played – I even set it up 3 different times to play with my wife and ended up putting it away before we could play each time. Well, that streak of failure ended this month with a solo play of the Barricades mode. And boy, was it FUN. I love deckbuilding games so much, and this one is no exception. There is so much tension with the boss and the destruction of areas of the town. I played one key thing very wrong, spending half the game with Festering Wounds remaining in play upon receipt (In my defense, the rulebook mentions the wound cards and right after that talks about Curses. I saw the “this card goes into play in front of the player and remains there until removed” and assumed it was still on the Festering Wounds so that made life REALLY difficult until I checked again when about to get slapped with 4 more cards. Oops. Well, my revenge on that Spider Queen should go much better the next time I challenge her. And now I also know to try and make sure at least one of the 4 market cards generates light, as needing 6 to reach the boss was the only reason I didn’t win in spite of the handicap. This one should hit the table quite often over the course of the rest of this year.

Tiny Towns

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I taught this one to my wife recently at our FLGS and, well, it didn’t go well for her in any of those games. So when we were back to play games at that same store this month, she wanted a revenge game to try and redeem herself. And I genuinely felt like I was positioning myself to do well, but ended up getting cornered and had one too many bad colors in a row to pull things off. Ultimately, I had two choices of where to put my 2nd to last cube, and based on the next color I chose wrong and it locked me out of the game and let her very comfortably defeat me. I really enjoy this one and will gladly replay it any time we’re there, although I’m not convinced we’ll want this one in our collection.

Tokyo Highway

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After the Tiny Towns defeat, we were needing something simple to play and I couldn’t resist trying a new game that I had seen and heard about. The rules were extremely simple, making it an easy one to explain. And, well, there were a lot of things going against this one. The table we were on wasn’t exactly the most stable surface. My wife was exhausted, and she didn’t even want to stand to try and get better angles for placement. And my hands were far from stable while making key placements. Ultimately the table proved to be the deciding factor as she placed her winning move. It was a fun experience that I don’t feel any need to try a second time. Would I play it again? Sure, I would gladly do this before jumping into something like a party game. But it definitely isn’t one I’ll ever crave to try again even though I am really glad I got the chance to try it out.

Watergate

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Last month I played some nice Card-Driven Wargames: Twilight Struggle and 13 Days: The Cuban Missile Crisis. I greatly enjoyed them both, and then I met Watergate. There was a lot of buzz around this game last year and, honestly, it is 100% merited in this case. Watergate is good. Really, really good. It has a theme that, like 1960: The Making of the President, my wife would have zero interest in trying. Yet since this is a short enough game, I wonder if I could convince her to give this one a try. After all, I love Capstone titles and this might just be the best they have right now – in a small box designed exclusively for 2 players. The board is deceptively small, so you feel like victory is easy to obtain as the Journalist, yet it proves to be just right in size to allow for aggressive blocking, and there are so many cards that mess with your best-laid plans to make this a perfectly delightful little title. Spoiler: this is definitely in the running for the best 2019 game.

Next 3 Reviews
Empyreal: Spells & Steam
Shadowrift: Boomtown
Traveller Customizable Card Game

2020 Husband/Wife Record

Him: 13 Wins (+5)
Her: 15 Wins (+10)

Next 3 Games to Teach My Wife
Thunderstone Quest
The One-Hundred Torii
Lisboa

Five Games I Want to Try Soon
Maracaibo
Commands & Colors: Medieval
Mombasa
Falling Sky: The Gallic Revolt Against Caesar
Three Kingdoms Redux

Next 3 Acquisitions
Helionox: Deluxe Edition
The Great Heathen Army
Pipeline

2020 Five & Dimes (Games with 5+ Plays)
Arboretum (5)
Circle the Wagons (5)
Hostage Negotiator (5)

10 Best New-to-Me Games of 2020
1. Empyreal: Spells & Steam
2. Helionox: Deluxe Edition
3. On Mars
4. Watergate
5. Sekigahara: The Unification of Japan
6. Meltwater: A Game of Tactical Starvation
7. Age of Steam
8. Peloponnesian War
9. Fire & Axe: A Viking Saga
10. Twilight Struggle

Best Releases of 2020
1. Empyreal: Spells & Steam
2. On Mars

Best Expansions of 2020
1. Mystic Vale: Nemesis

Board Game Lists · Board Gaming · Wish List

Fifty Games or Expansions I’m Excited About

My wife wondered the other day why I’m not excited about board games. Well, the short answer was that I didn’t want to exhaust her by talking extensively about hundreds of games. But that got me to thinking, and by thinking it led me to coming up with a list of games, broken into three categories: games I haven’t played, games I’ve played at least once but she hasn’t played yet (with two exceptions, but neither were played just the two of us), and expansions I’m excited to try in games we’ve played. And so, here is the list. And many of the comments are written here directed at her, but I thought all of your might just enjoy reading along.

New-to-Me
1. Blackout: Hong Kong – Let’s kick this off with a run of games from one of my favorite designers: Alexander Pfister. This game isn’t really a theme that draws me in, but it is a heavier game design by Pfister that got really solid reviews last year. We’ve enjoyed plenty of games where the theme isn’t grabbing, and this one should deliver a really solid experience. It has a rondel mechanism, and rewards clever and careful planning – something we’ll both enjoy.
2. Broom Service: The Card Game – This one is in our collection and will be a harder one to get played, not just because it is all card-based but also because it needs 3-6 players. But it is a quick player that focuses on the Brave/Cowardly mechanic from the board game and it sounds extremely promising.
3. Maracaibo – Do I want to play this because it is a Pfister game or because it is being published by Capstone Games? I’ll probably never be able to answer that definitively, but this game was very recently announced and shot onto my “must play” radar. Sailing around the Caribbean delivering goods and taking actions? Yep, that sounds like our kind of game in a nutshell.
4. Mombasa – No surprise here, this is part of my “Play every Pfister” campaign, and this is another one of the bigger games he’s designed. I think this one should be a nice fit for us, with some area control on the board for locations combined with an interesting action selection mechanism.
5. Newdale – There isn’t much information on this upcoming release yet, but it is a board game set in the Oh My Goods! World. I absolutely love Oh My Goods, and having a board game instead of a card-based game might just mean this is one my wife could enjoy as well.
6. Tybor the Builder – This game is a smaller Pfister game, and I know it is very unlikely my wife will like this one. Why? Because it is card-based, set in the same world as Oh My Goods!, and is a card drafting game. Oh yes, I expect her to hate it as much as I expect myself to love it. And hopefully she’ll suffer through a single play of it before it joins some of the other games in my “only play this with others” pile.
7. Empyreal: Spells & Steam – I’ve come to accept that I’m not likely to be a train gamer, and I know my wife will never be interested in those 18XX games. However, this takes train games and puts things into a fantasy setting with special powers, great art, and a production value that is through the roof. If there is a train game for the two of us, it would be this one.
8. On Mars – The newest Lacerda game takes things into space for a game that is going to be infinitely more interesting to me than Terraforming Mars. Honestly, that’s all I need to know about this to have it high on my list. New Lacerda = Interested. But honestly, we’ll be developing a colony on Mars and go from needing to travel often to Earth for supplies to being able to mostly self-sustain on the red planet. It sounds like an excellent Lacerda game.
9. Kanban: Automotive Revolution – I’m admittedly not excited about the theme, but that could be said about nearly every Lacerda game out there. And I was even less excited about the theme in CO2 and turned out to really love it. So there’s good hope that I’ll fall in love with yet another Lacerda game. After all, I am yet to meet one I don’t like. And this one has a super-clever twist on worker placement and the resolution of the actions that I think we’ll enjoy.
10. Le Havre – This is the one big box Rosenberg game I’m most eager to try out. It doesn’t play quite like any of his other titles, something I think is really interesting. Yet there should be enough similarities that it feels like we’re playing an Uwe game, even if it isn’t just another spin on the farming theme.
11. Architects of the West Kingdom – This is the same designer of the North Sea games, and set in Medieval Times. It provides yet another twist on worker placement that is pretty universally praised right now. If there is a game to dethrone Raiders of the North Sea, it might be this one. Or it might just share the glory. But really, this entered my list because:
12. Paladins of the West Kingdom – The second game in the West Kingdom series, and this has a theme that I am genuinely excited about. Sending out Paladins to build buildings, recruit monks, and spread faith throughout the turbulent medieval landscape. Yep, that does sound like my kind of game in a nutshell.
13. Pipeline – This game is one of the hottest games right now and probably with good reason. This one is a Capstone release and it has some nice building of pipelines combined with action selection and attempting to be efficient with your economy. This is our kind of game through and through.
14. Star Wars: Armada and Legion – Okay, hear me out on this one because I know you aren’t going to be excited. Massive ships flying around the table, locked in epic space battles. Unique movement tools that make it so bigger ships have a harder time making turns – something you need to plan for in advance. You almost always trounce me in battle/skirmish games, and I have no doubt it’ll happen here. And this one is supposed to be really, really good. Added: Legion is the smaller units battling it out. Vader, Luke,Han, Leia, Jyn. And I now know this one is exceptionally good.
15. Edge of Darkness – This game is supposedly what the designer of Mystic Vale wanted to do first, but the publisher chose to start with the smaller deckbuilder. This game uses the same card-creation concept, but with a massive board game to go along with it. So while it will seem similar to Mystic Vale in a small way, it sounds like overall this is its own unique, massive, epic game that you’re more likely to enjoy.
16. Harry Potter Trading Card Game – This is the one and only card game I’m putting here that I want you to try, and that’s because it is a competitve Harry Potter game. That was made prior to the movies, so it is all around the books with unique art for the characters. Unfortunately, it never made it past the 2nd books.
17. Res Arcana – The designer of Race for the Galaxy made a new game and it sounds so amazing – we’ll be mages gathering magical essences and crafting artifacts to summon dragons or conquer places of power. It’s probably more up my alley than yours, but I think we’ll both enjoy this one and the interactions it provides between players.
18. Mage Wars Academy – Okay, you probably won’t like this one, but I think it is really clever. And maybe Mage Wars Arena will be more to your taste, because it has a board, but this version will give us a taste for the core gameplay first in a shorter package before diving into something longer. This one promises to be really interesting at the very least, and I need to try it with someone not prone to a bunch of AP…
19. Shadows in Kyoto – A short little 2-player game set in the same theme as Hanamikoji but so very different in gameplay. Some hidden movement combined with conflict, this game should be the perfect thinky filler in any collection.
20. Teotihuacan: City of Gods – I’m still jealous you got to try this first. You enjoyed it, and therefore I need to try it. End of story.
21. Paper Tales – Yes, I know, card drafting. You don’t prefer card games. Well, there’s enough board games mixed in that I can be excited for a few card games, too. Plus the cards we’re drafting are used to build buildings, to battle each other, and more. So there’s some fun aspects you’ll enjoy – allowing you to crush my hopes and dreams of finding a game I’m excited for that I can consistently win.
22. Merlin – I mean, it is an Arthurian board game so that should be enough, right? This one is by the guy who designed Castles of Burgundy, which means there’s a decent chance you’ll enjoy it at least a little. The clever twist here is we’re moving knights and Merlin to activate actions – but any player can move the Merlin figure around the circle.
23. Stronghold: Second Edition – The Battle for Helms Deep in board game form, essentially. Okay, so it isn’t a LotR game, but it sure feels like it could be. And it looks like it will be incredibly amazing to play. I’ve been wanting to get my hands on this for a long, long time and now that we have it, I just need to find an excuse to teach a multi-hour game.
24. Skulk Hollow – Two player game where one is controlling the heroes of Skulk Hollow and the other is controlling a massive Guardian that has woken up. The game looks incredible, and the variety to choose from in here will make for at least a few really fun and interesting plays to try all four main heroes and all four Guardians.
25. Fire and Axe: A Viking Saga – Unfortunately we need at least one friend to enjoy this game, but it is supposed to be the best of the viking games out there. Raiding, trading, and settling territories all happens, just like you’d expect from a pillaging horde of Vikings. And you know how much I like Viking themed games…

Replay
1. Port Royal – My wife is probably rolling her eyes at this one, provided she remembers our first play of this game. It is very much a lighter press-your-luck game, but I really enjoyed that first play and have been itching to see how it plays at 2. Plus there is an expansion that adds a solo story mode, which cemented this as a must-try.
2. The Gallerist – I could put every stinking Lacerda game in this section, as I always want to replay them. This is the one my wife would enjoy the most, I think, as it is as close to a worker placement game as his designs come. Plus I need to redeem myself after a remarkably pathetic showing in my first play.
3. Ora et Labora – This remains my favorite Rosenberg game in spite of the single play. It takes worker placement, adds the rondel of resources seen in Glass Road, and integrates some of the most interesting gameplay I’ve seen in any of his designs. This game can be extremely mean, something that I think I’ll regret once she plays this one.
4. Wasteland Express Delivery Service – I’ve been itching to try this one again, as we don’t do enough pick up & deliver games and this could join Broom Service and Firefly as a trilogy of games that are all really different from each other but provide that same mechanical approach.
5. Concordia – This game is supposed to be amazing with two players according to the founder of Capstone Games, and I enjoyed my first obliteration enough to want to try it again. Just not with a group of people who have played the game many times. This one has some interesting resource management and scoring mechanics that could make it really stand out.
6. Star Wars: Rebellion – This is supposed to be the Star Wars equivalent of War of the Ring: a big, epic game that captures the scope of the movies. And my first play wasn’t that great, since it was playing on teams. But I’ve always had an eye on this as another massive 2-player game that we could really enjoy playing several times a year.
7. Pandoria – The most recent addition to the list, as you likely know. This one was a ton of fun, with some tile laying and some really clever ways to be mean to your opponent. It has a theme we’ll enjoy, and spells and buildings will spice things up with each different play of the game.
8. Thunderstone Quest – Yes, I know, it is deckbuilding. But there is so much more going on in this game that I hope you’ll enjoy playing it as well. Because at some point you’re not so worried about upgrading your deck as you are about adventuring in the dungeon. Which is where this game really shines, I think, and will help it seem like something more than just an ordinary deckbuilder.
9. Nations – This is the civilization game I think you’re going to enjoy because it has some elements that remind me of worker placement. It is fun, has plenty of interaction, and will play out differently every time it hits the table. It reminds me a lot about that Civilization board game we had years ago, yet plays absolutely nothing like it. Such as there is no map to explore – everything comes from cards you buy and how you allocate your workers and resources.
10. Hoplomachus: Origins – This one you might absolutely hate, but it is fast and very tactile in play. And a whole lot of fun, controlling gladiators in an arena. Let’s throw on Gladiator in the background and play a dozen games of this, because we’ll get in a lot of plays before that movie is over.
11. Omen: A Reign of War – This game has a system similar to the fighting we enjoyed in Haven, where we’re playing cards to one of three locations in order to try and trigger a battle. Like Haven, there is a lot of fun back-and-forth in this game, and since I only have the base game right now you don’t have to worry about expansions getting mixed in. Yet.
12. Bushido – Oh yes, this is a clever game. Yes, there are dice. And yes, you’re rolling them every turn. But the cleverness comes in the cards you take early on and how you implement those to your advantage. Trust me, this is a quick dice-roller that has a lot more involved than you expect.
13. Tash-Kalar: Arena of Legends – This one doesn’t look like much, but it has some really clever gameplay that made me enjoy my first play of the game. We’ll be deploying units, summoning stronger units and monsters, and trying to earn quest points while also attempting to slow down the other player.
14. At the Gates of Loyang – A Rosenberg game that isn’t worker placement – but does have some farming aspects to the game. I know it sounds like a contradiction, but this clever game has some great card drafting that sets up the turns to plant and harvest vegetables, sell them to markets, and try to move up the point track by spending that hard-earned money.
15. Roll Player – This game is like Sagrada, but about 100x more interesting and has a lot of good decisions. There is a lot less rolling of dice, and every turn offers ways to manipulate some of your dice in some way. This is one you’ll probably enjoy, even though it has a very big bag of dice…only a few are rolled each turn!

Adding Expansions
1. Great Western Trail: Rails to the North – I’ve heard from reliable sources that this takes Great Western Trail and cranks the experience to 11. Considering that GWT is a top-10 game for me already, that can only bode well for this excellent game. I love the idea of enhancing the railway along the top, adding more interesting decisions into the mix.
2. Isle of Skye: Journeyman & Druids – These two expansions add so many great things to the base game. Journeyman might be the more interesting of them, adding a personal player board and tracks to move along…plus a pawn that moves through your kindom to activate things. The Druids seems more streamlined to integrate, adding a 2nd buying phase with Druid tiles that can add special powers.
3. Argent the Consortium: Mancers of the University – This takes my favorite worker placement game and adds a ton of smaller modules to integrate into the game freely. But the real reason I can’t wait to use this is to try the new school of magic: Technomancy. It might be a long time before I ever try every little module in this game, but I’m always looking for an excuse to get this one played again.
4. A Feast for Odin: The Norwegians – This is a big expansion for an already big game. I’m hesitant to even try this one, as it adds two more animals to collect and breed for points – something she already excels at. But it adds more islands, more actions, and different start buildings which should improve an already enjoyable game in our collection.
5. Explorers of the North Sea: Rocks of Ruin – I mean, it adds Purple as a player color. It adds three new building types, a bunch of new tiles to explore, and player boards. I’ve heard it takes the base game, which was fine, and makes it a much more interesting experience. And I can’t wait to see if that is true or not.
6. Raiders of the North Sea: Hall of Heroes & Fields of Fame – I have a special large mat for the game so I might as well use it all, right? These add mead for new quests and enemy Jarls to add in extra threats as you go along. As much as we enjoy the standard game, everything I hear about this is glowing in terms how what they provide to the game experience. We might be playing with only one of them to start, but we’ll have them both eventually.
7. Mystic Vale: Harmony – Yes, I know. “We have enough Mystic Vale already”, right? Not possible. The best thing about this expansion? I don’t think it adds any new mechanics, just gives more variety of cards to buy, leaders to choose, and amulets to start with. Which is exactly what I would want right now from an expansion.
8. Seasons: Enchanted Kingdom & Paths of Destiny – We have the second of these already, and while I know you’ll never be super-excited to play Seasons…I really enjoy the game a lot. That one adds a new die to roll and more approaches to try to the game. While the Enchanted Kingdom expansion primarily adds more of the same: cards to choose from when playing the game.
9. Haspelknecht: The Ruhr – This expands everything in the base game, adding variety to the branching path of upgrades…something the base game desperately needed. Plus two new modules to integrate into a game we already both enjoy playing.
10. Keyflower: The Farmers & The Merchants – Yes, one of these does add more variety to the boats used in the game. As well as adding in farm building, growing wheat, and breeding animals. Which is going to play right into your strengths, unfortunately.

Board Gaming · Review for Two · Two-Player Only

Review for Two – Omen: A Reign of War

Thank you for checking review #109 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 Omen: A Reign of War

Omen: A Reign of War is a board game designed by John Clowdus that is published by Kolossal Games. The box state it plays 2 players and has a playtime of 30 minutes.

You are a child of Zeus poised to conquer all of Greece, but first you must prove your worth to the gods, as there is another who contests your claim. To determine who shall rule, gods have devised a contest and lent their most powerful forces to both sides of the conflict.

Omen: Reign of War is a head-to-head strategic card game where you compete to gain the favor of the pantheon of gods, and prove that you are the rightful heir of Zeus. Powerful forces of antiquity and legend are at your command as you raze and pillage cities, strategically manage your resources, and eliminate your rival’s forces. Choose your battle strategy with rules for standard and draft play, and expand your war with other, fully compatible, games from the ‘Omen Saga’!

Omen: Reign of War
– Head to Head demigod battles for supremacy of ancient Greece.
– Tactical battle card-game where every unit has its own unique abilities and uses.
– Definitive Omen Saga gaming experience and endlessly expandable.

My Thoughts

 The first phase of the game made me sit up and take notice right away. You can take 3 in any combination of cards from the top of the deck or coins to begin your turn – that’s standard enough. Coins are needed to play cards, and cards are needed in order to have any units to deploy into the three cities in order to earn victory points. Nice decision point, right? It gets better. If you take all coins or all cards here, you get an extra one. Suddenly you have an incentive to go all-in at the start of your turn. But if you have only 1 coin and 1 card, for instance, is that worth the all-in, or would you be better served to divide between the two? What is normally the least interesting step in a game (draw cards/gather resources) is suddenly a critical decision point each and every turn because you’re never going to feel like you have enough cards nor coins for most of the game.

 Unit deployment is simple, as you pay gold equal to the card’s cost and place it from your hand into one of the three city locations. You’re trying to gain the majority of power in a city, to gain a nice 2 VP token upon the resolution of that city. And there are a delightful variety of units: Soldier units are placed into a city and usually have an effect that triggers upon deployment. After that they are essentially their stat line, providing power as you try to trigger the city into a war-torn state. Beasts are fun, because you can deploy them into a city – they usually have a LOT of power – or pay and discard them for the printed effect on the card. And let me tell you, it isn’t always easy to determine which is the better approach during the game. Oracle units are interesting ones because they don’t add much to your overall power in a city, but they add an effect that will trigger every single turn so long as they remain in play. Heroes have abilities that can be used outside of your Surge (deployment) step of the game, but they also contain a Treasured keyword that gives you 1 VP if they are in your hand at the end of the game. And Spirit units have two options under their Deploy ability, and you choose one when playing them to a city – or you can pay their Invoke cost and discard them to use both abilities.

 Some units have the Colossal keyword on them, which is a cool thing in the game. Essentially it means that the card counts as two units – and Kolossal Games has provided tokens you can put on a card to help remind you that a unit is Colossal. This means you can up the unit count with fewer cards, and they usually have some nice power level to them. However, once a war-torned city resolves the victor can only keep one unit in that city. Which means if you win with a Colossal unit on your side, it is for sure hitting the discard pile. On the other hand, if you lose a city you can keep two units, meaning you could keep that Colossal unit (and nothing else) on your side, giving you a strong start to win that city on your turn since you’re staying close to triggering the city again.

 The offering step in the game is another great spot, because each card has a gold value, a combat value, and an offering value. And while you may be tempted to play the cards for their attack value in order to win cities, or to trigger their effects, you could also discard a card during this step on your turn to take either gold or cards in the card’s offering value. Those weak Oracles? Yep, they have pretty solid offering values. And in a game with such tight economy of cards and coins each turn, sometimes the best play is to toss that good card so you can do something of value on your next turn.

 I love the change by Kolossal Games to make the city cards into tiles. Each of the three cities has four tiles randomly placed on them, face-down. When you win a battle in a city, you get the top tile – if two cities are empty of tiles is one of the end game triggers. In the older version it was a card that went to your hand and there was no hand limit. Here there is a hand limit of 5, but these don’t clog your hand. Rather they are worth 2 VP at the end of the game…but they also have a wonderful ability on the other side and you can use one of those on your turn – but once a tile is used it can no longer be used for that ability again. Not only that, but the tile remains flipped over and now that 2 VP tile is worth just 1 VP at the end of the game. In a game where scores are often under 20 (my experience so far), that extra point can be absolutely critical.

 There are six feat cards a player begins with on their side – also not in their hand – with an objective for the player to try and meet. Once you are able to meet that objective, then you can flip that card over during your Feats phase of the game and it scores you 2 VP. If a player flips five of their six feats, that is the other end-game trigger. I like this system, especially since there are indirect ways you can react to an opponent making progress on some of them.

 The game comes with several easy-to-use variants in the rules. Not only that, but it can be mixed-and-matched with other expansions for the game. That could be argued as a negative point almost, because you’re not going to want to stop with just the base game. I know I won’t be, because this is a really, really good game. One of the best 2-player only games I have played.

 So much of the game revolves around the city spaces and getting them into a war-torn status. This part reminds me of Haven, another 2-player game I absolutely love, in that you’re deploying units on your sides until a threshold is met. Typically until there are either 5 units total in that city, or 3 units on a single side. The key difference is that this will trigger at the end of the current turn – whereas in Haven it would be at the end of the opponent’s next turn. I’m a little disappointed, because it means you have no chance to counter what your opponent did on their turn if they triggered the war-torn city – and why wouldn’t they unless they would win it? This means you need to try and think ahead, seeing what area they are vying for and decide to either try and drop units there to win it first, or place your strong units in another city spot.

Final Thoughts

When you immerse yourself in the 2-player gaming circles there are games you inevitably hear mentioned time and again as titles to check out. Many of them are absolutely worth trying out, and a select few of them are so incredibly good that you have to instantly play it more times, even if you had other plans for the games you would play that evening. Omen: A Reign of War was one of those games I had always heard mentioned but brushed it aside as a game I’d get back to eventually. Then last year Kolossal Games launched a Kickstarter to republish the game under their lineup, and it placed the game back on my radar even though I didn’t have the ability to back it on Kickstarter at the time. And so it sat in my wishlist until I saw a really good price – and one came for the 2nd Edition of the game with its first expansion during a BGG Auction. I bid on it, won the auction, and was delighted when the box arrived. I knew just the friend to play it with, and took a handful of 2-player titles I wanted to try out that night.

We opened the evening with Omen – his choice, based on the aesthetic of the box – and what followed was a fantastic game. Followed immediately by another play of the game. That night I left knowing I wanted to get the newer edition, and I left this one in his possession. Two weeks later we got back together for another gaming night and he told me about all the people he had taught it to in those two weeks, and we played it again that night. Ever since it has been pulled out every time we get together – even if it hasn’t always hit the table to get played – and that will continue into the foreseeable future. Why? Because this game is really, really fun. I had no regret taking birthday funds and picking up a copy of the newest version of the base game, either, so now we both have a version of Omen.

Spolier alert: The upcoming Heir to the Dunes box is really good, too – more on that in a week or two!

Omen: Reign of War has everything I look for in a 2-player game experience: tight gameplay, simple ruleset, engaging mechanics, tense decisions, strong player interaction, fast setup. It checks every box on the list for me, and has the added benefit of alternative game modes (such as drafting – I love drafting!) that I intend to explore in greater depth. It has the ability to add in small expansions and combine the larger boxes in ways to make unique experiences every time. But even if you only pick up the base game, a $30.00 entry point, you’ll have a damn good game on your hands that will get played many times before it runs a risk of getting stale.

Board Gaming · Review for One · Solo Gaming · Spring of Solitaire 2019

Review for One: Roll Player

Thank you for checking review #93 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 review copy of the game was sent in exchange for an honest review.

An overview of Roll Player

Roll Player is a board game designed by Keith Matejka that is published by Thunderworks Games. The box states it plays 1-4 players in 60-90 minutes.

Mighty heroes don’t just appear out of thin air — you must create them! Race, class, alignment, skills, traits, and equipment are all elements of the perfect hero, who is ready to take on all opposition in the quest for glory and riches.

In Roll Player, you will compete to create the greatest fantasy adventurer who has ever lived, preparing your character to embark on an epic quest. Roll and draft dice to build up your character’s attributes. Purchase weapons and armor to outfit your hero. Train to gain skills and discover your hero’s traits to prepare them for their journey. Earn Reputation Stars by constructing the perfect character. The player with the greatest Reputation wins the game and will surely triumph over whatever nefarious plot lies ahead!

My Thoughts

 The “AI” system in this is really simple and intuitive, and it makes sense on how it functions. Sure, I wish it was a competitive player option to try and defeat but at least it takes the market and makes your drafting decision on the dice matter: do you take the lowest value rolled to make certain you can purchase the card you need from the market? Do you take the best die to round out a needed attribute score and risk losing the market card you’d benefit from the most? Maybe you go for the middle one, getting some money and accepting the 50% chance that the market remains in-tact. The answer, surprisingly, is different from round to round.

 This game is surprisingly fast to get to the table. Setup takes a matter of minutes, the only long part comes from taking out a few cards from each half of the Market deck – assuming you do not consider the rolling and placement of your six starting dice as part of setup (I wouldn’t, since you are making game-critical decisions at that point). This is a game that comes in a big box but can get to the table with ease due to the quick setup and teardown time.

 Every game is going to play out a little differently, because you’ll have a different race, class, alignment, and backstory card combination. So you will have different goals in terms of stat scores, dice placement, and more depending on what you are given to start the game. I appreciate the shifting focus, so that a prevalent “always go after X” strategy does not really occur. Plus with the removal of 14 cards from the Market each game, you can never bank on those to pan out, either.

 There are a lot more ways to mitigate dice rolls, or use poor ones to your advantage, than you might anticipate from a game with so much rolling of dice. That was quite the pleasant surprise, with there being a ton of manipulation through placement in each stat line, along with a bunch of market cards that can help to either use more manipulation or potentially reward you for having a stat or two in a lower threshold.

 Gameplay is highly addictive. I received a wave of games for the Spring of Solitaire series, and since the first play I always pause long to consider pulling this one out – again – when I am looking at games to play. Coupled with intuitive rules, a moderate table presence, and a quick setup/teardown, this is a game that is bound to get repeat plays both solo and with others.

 This game suffers from the opposite of what I feared to find in a game like Call to Adventure. I imagined this was a game with mediocre mechanics (because I’m inherently biased that way toward dice games, if I’m honest) and a theme that sounded cool in practice but required a lot of open imagination from the player to be great. And while you could argue about the theme being replaceable, all of the elements in here certainly make you feel like you are crafting a D&D Character – except I never rolled those great of stats across the board. And the mechanics are, surprisingly, what makes this game stand out.

 While there are ample ways to manipulate dice in the game, it still boils down to being a dice game and having several other elements of chance that can impact your score: the set collections in the market, since you cannot be guaranteed all of them will come out, and what color dice are pulled each round. Need a blue die in the final three rounds to finish your backstory? Tough luck unless a blue die is pulled from the bag – of which you have 9 “chances” it will be blue and not one of the other five colors. The point difference between all 6 on the backstory and only 4-5 can be huge – and it is often those final ones that are the hardest to nail down.

 The solo game is a beat-your-high-score style of solo game. I usually loathe those and avoid repeat plays, but this one has a strong enough set of mechanics and fun to make me want to revisit it. Yet that will eventually wear thin, making the game destined to be one I pull out from time to time but never really a staple in the rotation. I hear the expansion cranks up the solo experience and adds a win/loss, among other aspects, and so there is no doubt I will be picking that up in the near future to enhance the Roll Player experience.

 I want a little more variety in here. More market cards – although 7 of each half are removed at the start of the game in a solo play. Backstory cards that might dictate 2-3 of the colors in some attributes and none in others. Attribute goals that have some middling and/or low stats rather than all 14 or higher goals. Alignment cards that let you trigger an attribute ability at the end of the game instead of scoring points. Wanting more stuff isn’t necessarily a bad thing – by wanting more it is clear I enjoy the game, but I fear it will get stale with just the base game after a dozen plays or less.

Final Thoughts

There are a lot of things about Roll Player that, on paper, should turn me off from the game. I am not a fan of dice rolling – although there is drafting from the rolled dice here. I am definitely not a fan of “beat your high score” solitaire modes. I played the “close kin” game, Sagrada, once as a multiplayer game and it didn’t impress me and, therefore, I sort of ignored all of the buzz around Roll Player. I figured it wouldn’t be my kind of game.

I could not have been more wrong. While this is still not a perfect solo game for me, it was one of my early favorites among the review copies secured for the Spring of Solitaire. Not only that, but it sounds like the expansion adds everything I would want to see in the solo game to crank it up into an experience more in-line with what I would typically enjoy.

This game offers a lot of fun and interesting decisions. Yes, there are times when the dice can place you into situations that are not ideal, but there are so many ways to adjust and mitigate and adapt to those situations to where it never feels like a factor. Sure, you might get into a spot where you need a specific color and/or number rolled in the final turn or two – but careful preplanning can help make it so you aren’t painted into that corner or, at the very least, where only a point or two hangs in the balance.

With so much variety in setup between the player board, class, and alignment it helps every game feel fresh. I wish the market had more variety of cards – although you do take out 7 cards from each half as part of setup. I understand it is balanced to make it possible to collect full sets of armor, but I’d rather have the strong variety making you try to capitalize on what comes out rather than hold out for a specific card or combo. That remains my biggest nitpick with the game, beyond the desire to have something more than a high score system (which the expansion corrects!)

Roll Player is near perfect for what it sets out to be. This game is super quick to set up and tear down, and I can clock in a full game – from box to table to box again – in about 30-40 minutes. That is an outstanding gameplay time for a game that delivers a meaty enough experience to not feel like a filler game. This is also one that I have high hopes that my wife will enjoy, making it the rare dice game we both like to get to the table on occasion. If so, it will be in good company alongside The Castles of Burgundy in that category on our shelf. The fact that I hope, and expect, it to reach the same “status” as that Feld masterpiece should tell you a lot about how I feel about Roll Player, and it will only get better with expansions.

Board Gaming · Review for Two · Two-Player Only

Review for Two – Holmes and Moriarty

Thank you for checking review #83 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: The publisher provided a review copy in exchange for an honest review.

An overview of Holmes and Moriarty

Holmes and Moriarty is a board game designed by Brad Lackey and Joshua Tempkin that was published in 2018 by Escape Velocity Games. The box states it plays 2 players in 30-45 minutes.

“… If a detailed account of that silent contest could be written, it would take its place as the most brilliant bit of thrust-and-parry work in the history of detection.”
-Sherlock Holmes to Dr. Watson in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Final Problem”.

Professor Moriarty is almost ready to enact his nefarious plan! Sherlock Holmes suspects that something is about to happen, but he doesn’t know the details. As Moriarty’s crimes set the final pieces into place, Holmes desperately searches London for the clues he needs to foil his nemesis. London’s greatest intellects go head to head in this intense battle of wits!

Holmes & Moriarty is an asymmetric two-player drafting game in which players take on these iconic roles. Over a series of hands, players try to win “cases” by drafting crimes and clues drawn from Conan Doyle’s stories. Players mark their winning positions on the scenario board. If Moriarty can score three in a row, he can activate his master plan for the win! If Holmes can foil Moriarty’s plans, he wins!

—description from the publisher

My Thoughts

 This game has a clever decision in having each player play out cards face-down in two rows and having the card in one row be key for Holmes and the other be key for Moriarty. It opens things for some interesting decisions that need to be made in terms of where your stronger cards should go – not only to try and win the contest in that case but also to be able to mark on the board where you need.

 The problem with a game having cards numbered 1-16 is that a hand of high cards is always going to be better than a hand of low cards. However, there are two things this game does to offset that lucky hand of cards. First, it makes you swap hands after placing two cards for the case. That means you’re giving your opponent a chance to use what you didn’t – and you also will see some of those opening cards back again. The second thing it does is have a wrap-around effect where the highest numbers can be defeated by some of the lower numbers (1 can beat 14, 15, or 16, 2 can beat 15 or 16, 3 can beat 16)

 The game immediately feels unbalanced, with Moriarty taking early victories and placing out tokens on the board. But then you get two rounds in and realize suddenly the Moriarty player needs to narrow their focus on what cards they win with, meaning it is harder for them to score meaningful victories. Every game I’ve played has seen the Holmes player come roaring back in a strong way to make things interesting and place the outcome in doubt.

 The box has a nice magnetic close, and top flap is repurposed for the spatial map for this game. It could have easily been a thin piece of cardboard – and one could argue it would be more convenient that way – but I happen to like that extra touch in this small game.

 There is incentive to win big in a round, as players gain bonus placements if they fulfill certain conditions. Moriarty wants to win the majority of cases each round for bonus tiles – although those bonus ones are placed by the Holmes player. Holmes wants to win his aligned case cards to get extra tiles out to block the Moriarty player. This layer of asymmetry adds a nice touch.

 This game is relatively easy to teach, as most gamers will have some familiarity with trick-taking card games and with the spatial aspect that resembles tic-tac-toe. The most difficult concept I’ve had with this has been the difference between the two rows being played, which one is important for each side, and how only one of those has the wrap-around effect while the other will have a trump suit. The comfort of some of these familiar mechanics will make this an easy game to teach to newer gamers while demonstrating a stronger depth of strategy that modern board games will provide.

 I don’t know what sort of game I was expecting on this one but, like Holmes: Sherlock and Mycroft, this is not the Holmes game I was looking for. While it definitely feels more thematic in ways than Sherlock and Mycroft, this still could have any number of themes substituted in without missing much of a beat. I love the theme and the concept in this game. It has all sorts of potential, and sounded so amazing from the description. Maybe I set my expectations too high, or maybe I should have taken a closer look at the actual gameplay on this one. Sadly, the biggest problem this probably has is that it simply isn’t a good fit for my gaming tastes, something that makes it inevitably suffer in spite of its strong points.

Final Thoughts

Holmes and Moriarty is one of those games that, if I was a bigger fan of trick taking games or other more standard card games, could be a stronger hit. I can appreciate all of the cleverness in the game, just as I do for a game like The Fox in the Forest or Custom Heroes, but it’ll never be a game that I think about pulling off the shelf to play because it is not my type of game – something I’ve only recently come to terms with. Did I appreciate the game? Absolutely! Have I enjoyed my plays of the game? Without question. But is this game for me? Unfortunately, no matter how great the theme is and how well they did the mechanics of this game, it is not for me.

This game is clever in ways I definitely appreciate. There is a really solid design in place, and this game can serve as an excellent way to bring more traditional gamers to explore the modern board game scene. This is a fast and enjoyable 2-player experience that presents a ton of crunchy decisions.

I love the asymmetry in the game, and how each side functions in very different ways. It has a clever balance where Moriarty feels powerful really early and then the edge shifts sharply to the Holmes player as the game goes on. Having the cards get played into two different rows, each being resolved in a different way, is brilliant. There is so much that is worthy about this game that, for the price and the size of this one, it is absolutely worth taking a shot on the game. If you enjoyed games like The Fox in the Forest, or have fond memories of playing games involving numbered cards, this one might really suit you well.

Board Gaming · Review for Two

Review for Two – Obsession

Thank you for checking review #81 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 review copy of the game was provided in exchange for an honest review.

An overview of Obsession

Obsession is a board game designed by Dan Hallagan that was published in 2018 by Dan Hallagan. The box states it plays 1-4 players in 30-90 minutes and has a BGG weight rating of 3.17.

You are the head of a respected but troubled family estate in mid-19th century Victorian England. After several lean decades, family fortunes are looking up! Your goal is to improve your estate so as to be in better standing with the truly influential families in Derbyshire.

Obsession is a game of 16 to 20 turns in which players build a deck of Victorian gentry (British social upper class), renovate their estate by acquiring building tiles from a centralized builders’ market, and manipulate an extensive service staff of butlers, housekeepers, underbutlers, maids, valets, and footmen utilizing a novel worker placement mechanic. Successfully hosting prestigious social activities such as Fox Hunts, Music Recitals, Billiards, Political Debates, and Grand Balls increases a player’s wealth, reputation, and connections among the elite.

Each turn, players choose a building tile representing a room or outdoor space in and around their 19th century British country house. The tile chosen dictates the event that can be hosted and the guests to be invited. Players must carefully plan, however, to have the proper staff available to service the event and support guests as needed. The reward for success is new investment opportunities, permitting further renovation of the estate (acquisition of more valuable/powerful building tiles), an increase in reputation in the county, an expanding circle of influential acquaintances, and a larger and highly-trained domestic staff.

Throughout the game, a competitive courtship for the hand of the most eligible young gentleman and lady in the county presents specific renovation and reputation objectives. The player who best meets these objectives while accumulating victory points will win the hand of the wealthy love interest and the game.

—description from the publisher

Differences for 2 players

There are fewer tiles seeded into the bag for a 2-player game. Only 3 monuments are used total, one copy of each blue building is used, and all tiles that do not have a solid black dot by the Reputation value are removed from the bag. There are also fewer servants to hire: 4 footmen, two valets, two ladies maids, and one underbutler.

My Thoughts

 Let’s start with the thing that first interested me in Obsession: its theme. I get it, not everyone is going to go nuts over the 19th Century time period, the literary-inspired box, or the period-appropriate photos on the cards. It might even turn some people away from the game. My wife’s first words, when she saw the box, was that it looked boring and dumb. Yet it is this very quality of the game that makes it stand out from the crowds of zombies and Lovecraftian-themed games that oversaturate the market. The theme sets it apart, rather than being something that caters to what is currently trendy.

 And I’d be a horrible reviewer if I didn’t mention how thematic a lot of the game’s mechanics are. You host events in the rooms you’re adding to your estate, inviting family and guests to attend. You need to make sure one of your servants is there to make sure the event is in order, and some guests require additional support from valets of ladies maids so having a vibrant, diverse staff pays off. Those valets and maids, however, can’t be out there entertaining every time – in general the servants you use this turn will be out of rotation for the next turn, but will be back to your pool on the following turn. There’s a lot of great intertwining of mechanics with the theme that went into the design of Obsession, something Dan Hallagan should be commended for.

 I love the process of growing my estate, and the simple decision in the design that encourages players to continue that growth rather than spam the same room or two all game. When a building is used for the first time to host an event, it is flipped over to the side showing a rose in the corner. The first thing this does is usually adds victory points to its overall value – which means that purchasing a tile is sometimes only worthwhile if you intend to use it before the end of the game. This means that a strategy of just buying tiles for the sake of buying a ton of tiles isn’t necessarily a winning one as they can start at 0 or a negative value before that first use. The second thing that happens is that, in most cases, the buildings cost more guest cards from your hand to play again while giving smaller rewards from the room itself. So instead of getting 5 reputation from 2 cards, you’re getting 4 from 3 cards. And while using more cards isn’t necessarily a bad thing (as they give you benefits, too when used), there’s another key ingredient:

 You’re going to have to pass and skip a turn at least once in this game. You get 12 actions, and one of those goes to “nothing” but taking cards back into your hand. It actually isn’t a bad action, but it won’t flip those precious buildings to make them more valuable. You can only go so long before you run out of people, or worthwhile people, to invite to events. I’ve even had a game where I passed twice. But all is not lost when you pass – not only do you get those cards back in hand, but you get some money or you can wipe the building market…

 Money is tight in this game – at the very least it FEELS tight most of the time. Buildings cost from 300-800 pounds, and have modifiers ranging from (I think) -200 to +400. Most guests that provide money give around 100-200 pounds when you use them, and most buildings that provide money give 200-300 pounds. Most of the time, you’re treading just above water. I don’t think I’ve finished a game yet with any money, because it is just that tight for spending. It makes those decisions on what to purchase, and when, even more important.

 The Cabinet of Curiosities is a tile in this game. It is Narnia, and I must buy it every time I see it. Dang it Dan, but you make me have to buy this tile every single time it comes out…and I’m yet to fail to get it when it appears! It is easily my favorite thing in the whole game.

 I enjoy the balance you need to have in order to do well. You want to get a bigger estate, but to use it effectively you also need to gain more guests to invite to events. But in order to use those buildings and guests you probably are going to need to increase your reputation some. And once you start getting more reputable rooms, you’re going to need even more guests, and those more reputable guests are going to demand servants to assist them. Which means you probably need to hire a bigger staff at some point. You’re definitely doing a little engine building, which is one of my favorite things to do in a game.

 The objectives are varied and interesting. I like having secret objectives, and getting 3 of them over the course of the game to score. However, the “easier” ones such as 1VP per Prestige Room in your estate are too undervalued in points. The most valuable ones tend to involve getting 2-3 specific rooms in your estate, but there is no guarantee you’ll see them. The last game I played, we saw all but 7 tiles from the bag and I needed one of those seven tiles (from the start) but it never appeared. That potential for 10+ points never surfaced. The game prior to that, I wiped the market twice in the final three rounds to finally get the two rooms I’d been waiting for to appear in the market. I think I probably broke even, having spent 8 reputation and a passing turn in order to make those market changes. Even when I actively try to avoid taking more than one of those cards, sometimes you just get dealt really crappy objective cards compared to your opponent. Nothing is worse than spending a ton of effort to get those 10 points, or impractically miss them, and then see your opponent getting even more points for collecting servants or hording money.

 I state this solely for those who keep their inserts: this box lid does not close with the insert in there. I haven’t been able to remove it yet as I haven’t pulled out my baggies for sorting yet, but I cannot get this box to close properly no matter how I try. I’m relatively certain it’ll close once that insert is gone, though.

 Perhaps my biggest gripe with this game, even though it is delightfully thematic in a way, is that the rich get richer in this game. I’ve seen it play out two different times, once a 2 players and once at 3. If a person gets one or two key buildings (such as a monument), they can win more than their share of those VP cards. Not only that, but the game rewards the person who gets the most of those VP cards (because let’s be honest, the person with the highest combined VP on the building types needed is almost always going to be the one who was winning most of them along the way) by giving them another 8 VP at the end of the game via one of the Fairchild cards. I would rather see, especially in a 2-player game, one player get a VP card and one get the Fairchild until the next courtship along the way. At least then there’d be a chance to keep up along the way.

Monuments feel way too powerful. Yes, they cost MORE money than the spot they are on. But they give a boatload of VP, almost assuring a victory in that category if needed for the Courtship. Nothing is worse than seeing your opponent wipe the market just once in the game, but happen to see a monument pop into the market and they can afford it and swipe that building without contention. And let’s not even talk about the bonus of gaining a Reputation on every. Single. Player. Turn. It feels so broken, and it is disheartening when your opponent gets a monument first because that adds to their advantage in several key areas. Again, the rich get richer here.

Final Thoughts

A week ago, fresh off playing the game with my sister, I was ready to herald Obsession as a potential best game of 2018. It still might earn that honor since there is yet to be a standout game for me, but it has a longer road to climb after my last play where there was a 60-point difference in a 2-player game. I got steamrolled in a bad way, and that play showed just how important the right set of circumstances can be to this game. For a game that doesn’t feel random, it has a relatively high amount of it tucked into the nooks and crannies of this game. Casual and Prestige guests are blind draws off the top of their respective decks (with few exceptions, which may allow you to draw 2 and keep 1) and their benefits can range wildly. If you happen to draw all low-point guests who provide you with the same things as most of your hand, you’ll do really well in one area but struggle in others. You’ll see 7 different Objective cards and keep 3 during the gameplay, but some of them are dependent on getting specific buildings (which may never appear) or specific colored buildings (which this game isn’t going to reward that specialization over the course of the entire play). The Fairchilds are going to want a specific type of estate focus every quarter of the game, but you only know the current quarter’s focus. Someone can eek ahead because there were 2 green buildings to buy and they happened to get the one that flips to a +3 rather than a +2 and thus get those extra VP and add a Fairchild to their hand for the next quarter.

I could keep going on here, but you get the point by now. I don’t need a game of perfect information – some randomness can add a lot of fun and variety to the game. But when you can look back on a single play and see where every lucky break went the same way then it can be discouraging. Was it an anomaly? Perhaps, but that’s twice where the 1st place player won by 40+ points in my 6 plays of the game. That’s far too high of a percentage so far, and lends me to be cautious toward what this game can hold.

Yet when luck doesn’t trample the players, Obsession brings about a fun and delightful experience. You have some great decisions right out of the gate, such as whether or not to try and get the bonus money and reputation at the two Fairs or keep the 3 VP tile. Trying to figure out how to maximize your one play per round – with 12 rounds of actions across the standard game – is a fun puzzle as long as you don’t play against severe AP opponents. The tiles flip after use, usually giving more VP and making the usage of that tile less appealing (higher cost or diminished rewards, usually) and so that encourages players to make purchases and use those purchased tiles rather than just repeat the same cycle.

Theme is all over in this game, from the delightful meeples to the literature-inspired box to the various guests and their photos and text on the cards. Put on a kettle of tea, play some 19th century music, and revel in the time period that the game tries successfully to evoke. You don’t even need to be a literature buff like myself to enjoy the thoughtfulness that went into making things thematic throughout the game’s appearance and mechanics.

It has a fun solo mode that I need to play a few more times before speaking intelligently about how well that experience goes, but it might provide the best experience out of all the player counts in the box because it gives you several known milestones to overcome from the start and places some pressure on the player to be aggressive in their approach.

Ultimately, this game is one I look forward to exploring more in the future. I was sad, when it was on Kickstarter, that I didn’t have the ability to back the game. It has mostly lived up to every expectation I had of the game from the first time I saw its Kickstarter page – and hopefully with more plays I’ll see the steamrolling victories happen less frequently and can enjoy the package this delivers. While I did get a review copy of the game, I’ll put it this way: If I could travel back to last year when it was on Kickstarter, armed with the experience and knowledge I have of the game so far and with the money available to back it in my bank account, I wouldn’t hesitate for a moment to back the game. It is a good game, probably even a really good game. It has the potential to even be a great game, especially if the solo mode lives up to those first impressions. While I’m not ready to crown this one yet as the best game of 2018, it definitely stands up there as a legitimate contender for that honor.

Board Gaming · First Impressions

First Impressions of Millennium Blades Solo

**Note: The game I played of Millennium Blades was in no way a complete experience, as I only have Set Rotation and a few mini-expansions in my collection so far. No base game was used – but, honestly, the game was able to be played in a complete enough manner to really get a taste for what it offers. I was able to sub in some tokens for the bundles of money and the sell markers and it worked effectively enough to get a taste of the game. There happen to be enough cards in the box to make a full market deck, although I suspect there are a LOT more Core Set cards in the base game that add a lot more accessories.

Magic: The Gathering was one of my first entries into modern board gaming. I had a regular group of guys in high school that I would get together with and we’d spend our weekends playing games of Magic, sessions of Dungeons & Dragons, and dump hours into games on the Playstation 2. I loved the thrill of opening packs and seeing what new powerful cards I could build decks around, I loved building new decks to test out against my group, and I loved trying to take under-valued cards and seeing if I could find combinations to make them work. But eventually high school ended, we all went our separate ways, and Magic: The Gathering left my life.

Last year I found myself immersed in Star Wars: Destiny, and it instantly rekindled both the love and hate I have for these styles of games. Love because there is a thrill in opening packs and finding a great new card to build around and to spend time dreaming up possibilities for card/deck pairings. Hate because it becomes both a time and money sink. Eventually the release cycle’s aggressiveness scared me away from the game and I moved on from Star Wars: Destiny. Early in 2018 I fell into that same dance with the Final Fantasy Trading Card Game. It was a great game, one I still really enjoy playing, but I found I just can’t justify trying to build a collection to be competitive – and the need for real opponents in order to test decks and get better made my skill progression curve quite glacial. It was hard to play more than once or twice a month, and a CCG really needs at least weekly gaming sessions to test and improve decks, and the ability to buy the latest and greatest sets of cards to keep up with what other players will be playing.

Which is why I absolutely am convinced I am going to fall hard for Millennium Blades because it eliminates virtually everything I hate about the CCG scene while embracing the best aspects of that hobby. The buy-in for everything in this game so far is quite reasonable, even at full MSRP from the publisher ($212 for the base game, Set Rotation, all the mini-expansions, and a playmat), when compared to what I heard of people spending for a single cycle of cards in Star Wars: Destiny ($400) – and there has been a cycle out about every 3-4 months since that. There’s a new expansion planned for Kickstarter in early 2019, and that’s still likely to make this cheaper than a single buy-in for one complete cycle of any CCG out there apart from maybe Dicemasters. To play solo, you really only need just over half of that ($80 base game + $40 Set Rotation expansion) – and you’ll end up with such an incredible amount of card variety that it will make your head spin just thinking about it.

But the buy-in alone isn’t the real reason to be a fan of Millennium Blades after a single play as a solo exercise. Set Rotation adds in four bosses to face, each with their own unique deck containing a deck box, 4 accessories, and 8 cards. They will use 2 of those accessories (randomly chosen) and you’ll slowly get to know what those are and can somewhat plan around their deck’s strategy. You can freely look at their 8 cards, but 2 of them won’t be played and you’ll never know what order they will come out – so you can’t completely plan for that, either. Yet had I looked just a little at the boss’s synergies during my 20 minutes of building, I would have seen that he was almost guaranteed to flip each and every card I would get into play. My initial deck plan went right out the window within 2 cards, and I was left scrambling to make lemonade from the cards I didn’t sell or Fusion during the deckbuilding phase.

But I’m getting ahead of myself, because one of the real stars here is that deckbuilding phase! In a non-solo game you’ll do that full phase 3 times, but in the solo game you get just one shot at building that deck (which is broken into two 7-minute phases and a 6-minute phase). This is where you can buy cards (you start with $30, and new cards cost from $3 to $6), sell cards (you can sell at most 4 cards, which are worth from $1 to $9 that I saw, with the average being $4-6) so you can buy around 8-16 cards to add to your starter deck and the other 15 cards you get over the course of the building phases. From all of that you need to figure out what 6 cards you are likely wanting to play, plus a deck box to use and up to 2 accessories to bring, for your match against that boss.

The catch is that cards are blind buys. You know the set they belong to and how much they cost, but you have no idea what cards are underneath. Which is where the longer meta comes in through learning the cards in the sets and where combinations can come from in order to make smarter decisions – which will never come to you in the first play. It is generally a safe bet to buy cards in the same set, as there is often some overarching synergy you can find, but you can also trade 5, 7, or 9 cards of the same “rarity” for a special, powerful promo card that can bring your whole deck together or just provide something powerful to hold back for an emergency.

If this all sounds like a lot – it is. Yet that is what delights me about the game. There is a massive card pool (the base game alone apparently has over 700 cards) of which you’ll use a hefty chunk every time you set up the market. The thrill of the blind buys – and seeing how you can or cannot make that card work with what you’re aiming for – is something close to mimicing that blind buy of packs in a real CCG. The limitation on how much you can purchase, how much time you have to buy and sell, and to piece a deck together is what makes this a crisp package. From setup to teardown (if you maintain the market after the game ends) can be done in under an hour solitaire, and there are ways to string together a gauntlet of boss battles (and a mini expansion that expands those bosses) which will give strong legs to this game.

It scratched every itch I hoped for – and I’ve spent the past 12 hours (apart from when sleeping) constantly thinking back to the game, the clever cards, the decisions I could have made differently, and how to best the boss the next time I face him. The experience has stuck with me ever since the final card was played and the scores tallied, and that is what I want out of a game like this. I want to be theorycrafting card combinations and exploring strategies, finding out how to best make each starter deck work efficiently and analyzing the various sets of cards that can come out. That’s something you don’t get in modern board games very often, but is very much a part of the CCG scene. And so if I can get that CCG experience without breaking the bank account, that is an all-around win.

This might be the best game in the Level 99 Games catalog. It has a good chance of becoming my favorite game in their lineup. It won’t appeal to every gamer, and can’t possibly be recommended for every gaming group or even every solo gamer.

But for those who are seeking a blend of modern with the format of a CCG – and who want their bank account to remain in tact while doing so – this is a game that I think will have a strong appeal, and one I can’t wait to dive back into in order to see if these powerful first impressions hold up after a dozen plays.

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

Review for One and Two – Shadowrift

Thank you for checking review #80 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 review copy of the game was provided for what had been planned as a deckbuilding month. With the medical time spent on my daughter since September, than plan went by the wayside.

***Second Note: I didn’t know there was an upcoming Kickstarter for an expansion, but once I became aware of it, I played the game a few extra times in order to get this review up during the campaign. You can find the Kickstarter link here, and at the bottom of this review: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/shadowrift/shadowrift-b…

An overview of Shadowrift

Shadowrift is a board game designed by Jeremy Anderson that was published in 2012 by Game Night Productions and later rereleased with a 2nd Edition by Game Salute (this review is based on the 2nd Edition). The box states it plays 1-6 players in 45-120 minutes and has a BGG weight rating of 2.69.

Haven Town is facing total annihilation at the hands (and teeth) of a horde of monsters from beyond the Shadowrift.

You, the heroes, must band together to drive them back. To do this, you will need powerful spells, skills, attacks and loot. When the game begins, you are a basic hero; you can explore and fight. Luckily for you, Shadowrift is a deck-building game! You can buy new cards to add to your deck, cards that will define you as an adventurer and complement the strengths of your fellow heroes. Unlike other deck-builders, there is constant interaction with your fellow players as you figure out who will gain which benefit from the limited supply of townsfolk, offer their coin to help construct walls, and seek healing from anyone who’s learned such magic.

Shadowrift also features monsters that don’t merely sit waiting to be slain; if you leave them alone, they will rip Haven Town asunder. They’ll kill people, break walls, and kick your heroes in the face. Combat with them is intuitive (though frequently painful). For defeating a monster, heroes gain Heroism, a simple, consistent boost to their power that makes them better at anything they undertake. Since the monsters won’t stop coming until the last Shadowrift is sealed or the town has been built into a mighty fortress, you’ll need every boost you can take.

The second edition of Shadowrift features many improved mechanisms, including a revised system for how monsters choose who to attack (based on types of villagers, instead of specific people) and a new system for monster powers (making them much more dangerous). It also has a revised card layout and a great deal of new and improved artwork.

Differences for 1-2 players

For one player: Assuming one-handed play for solo, you have 8 Heroism rather than 1 per player, and during the Monsters Gain Power round they gain 3 rather than 1 per player. Additionally, the player gets two full turns after each Monster turn; however, the Town and Traveller lineups do change after each player turn. 2 Shadowrifts are added to the deck rather than 1 per player as well.

For two players: Monsters gain 2 power per round, 2 Shadowrifts are added to the monster deck, and 10 Heroism cards are used. Really, these are just based on # of players and in no way changes the rules of the game.

My Thoughts

This game was a novel approach to the deckbuilding genre long before it rose to extreme popularity. To put it into perspective, Dominion came out in 2008. This came out in 2012. It came out after Ascension (2010), Arctic Scavengers (2009), Eminent Domain (2011) and Thunderstone (2009), the same year as Legendary (2012), Fantastiqa (2012) and DC Comics Deck Building Game (2012), and before both Star Realms (2014) and Aeon’s End (2016). Compare it to the ones out before, and around the same time, and this one stands pretty tall in its uniqueness. Maybe only Fantastiqa can really compete in that sense. Shadowrift still provides a very unique deckbuilding game that can stand alongside those other names because there isn’t one of them that does the same thing as Shadowrift.

At first this game appears to be about fighting off hordes of monsters. Then it appears to be a town defense game. Yet it is both of those things while at the same time being neither of those things. Some games, when they try to be clever and incorporate too much, lose some polish in the final product. And maybe the 1st edition had some of that. But the 2nd edition of Shadowrift juggles the deckbuilding genre, multiple types of currency, hordes of monsters, and town defense in a way that I’ve never seen before. For an older game (relatively speaking), it is surprising to get such a breath of fresh air from this game’s approach.

There are a lot of combinations in the box. Yes, astronomical computations could be made. But essentially you get six monster factions to fight against using a set of 8 market cards of your choosing. Most people will probably play a monster faction a handful of times, realistically, before wanting to either move on or expand the game. But even there you have roughly 20-25 plays just in the base game alone. The nice thing with these market and monster-driven games is that they are easy enough to integrate expansions into without needing to really change any core rules.

There are three currencies in the game, and you start with just the most basic of them in your deck. You can spend 2 to buy coins, which are one-time use and can be spent in a variety of ways. The most difficult to obtain would be the magic symbols, which often appear on spells but then you get the decision, when it is in your hand, on whether to use it for the spell or for the magic symbol. This factors into what I’ll be alluding to shortly regarding the absence of deck thinning, making it essential to decide early how to fill your deck with cards. Nothing is more frustrating than always drawing the Seal you need to clear a Shadowrift and never having a Magic symbol to use its ability.

Another neat deckbuilding decision comes from the Epic symbols on some market cards. On a player round (players take turns simultaneously, meaning the order in which you play cards as a team can matter and so communicating as a team is essential to be as effective as possible) you cannot play more Epic cards than there are players. So in a solo game (one handed, of course) you can play only one. Draw a hand of 3 of them? Too bad (unless a specific villager is in the Town to let you play an extra one). These are often the most powerful effects, usually based around combat in some fashion. You definitely want them in your deck. But you don’t want JUST them in your deck. They add interesting decisions along the way as you play the game, something you’re going to hear me say more and more about Shadowrift.

The Town and the Travelers are what really gives this game flavor and makes it shine when compared to some of the other staples in the genre. At the start you have 10 villagers in the Town deck, each of which have some sort of effect when in the Town or an Aid ability the players can use (once) on their turn. There is also a slightly thicker Traveler deck, which will flip over two cards every round. Some of the cards are people you can buy into the town deck, usually costing Coins and/or Prowess (the generic resource). However, there are some red Infiltrator cards that, when flipped into the face-up Traveler spots, immediately go into the Town discard pile. Which means they get shuffled in the next time you need to shuffle the Town cards to refill those five cards (which happens every round). If you ever have 5 corpses and/or Infiltrator cards into the Town display at the start of the Heroes’ turn, you lose. This deck refills before the monsters go, who then go before the Heroes. Which means even getting out 3 of those red cards can signal danger if there are some monsters about to act and Kill some villagers. Lucky for you, most Infiltators have a cost you can pay to put them back on the bottom of the Traveler deck (which is also where dead townspeople go). It is a simple pair of mechanisms at work here, but they add such intriguing decisions: do you spend resources to buy cards for your deck, or do you add travelers to the Town, or do you try and remove those Infiltrators?

The monsters follow a very simple sequence once they enter play. Every town they advance one space and do what is printed for that space# on their card. Many times it is to Kill some symbol of villager in the Town display, which not only removed that Villager from the deck (it goes to the bottom of the Traveler deck), but it also adds a Corpse card in their place. Which not only thins out the useful cards in that Town deck, it also advances the odds of losing. Because you can see what monsters will do on the next space, you can plan ahead on which ones you NEED to focus on taking out. However, with just 2 attack in your starting 10 cards, you’ll need to “level up” your hero some before taking down the biggest of baddies…

We come now to the elephant in the room that I can already hear people begrudging this game over: there is no deck thinning mechanism. Yep, you read that right. There are ways to remove wounds and afflictions, both cards that enter your deck via monsters, but once you buy a card it is in there forever. Same with your starting ten cards. Bold move? Perhaps, and something no deckbuilder today would dream of doing. Yet it is slightly balanced from the Heroism cards you get from killing monsters, which not only counts as any 1 of the 3 resources, but also lets you draw a card immediately when you draw the card into your hand. There’s also some Might cards that are the cheap currency which allow you to draw a card, but remove themselves when used for anything but a keep-in-play trigger on an action card. Rather than begrude the game for what it lacks, this should be embraced as an interesting puzzle each round. Every card you buy makes it less likely you’ll draw every card in that deck, meaning it needs to carry its weight. Is that generic 1 melee damage worth adding to your deck, or should you just buy a coin instead for a future turn? This is one of the things that makes this game so darn interesting to puzzle out right now, because most deckbuilders you can take thinning for granted and race to remove those starter cards.

Getting the rifts closed is important in the game. With 1 or 2 players, you’re looking for two rifts that are added to a 20 card deck – one in the top 10 and one in the bottom 10. Another element of randomness, you see. However, you have a card in your starting deck that can place the top Monster card from the deck onto the bottom of that deck – and you can always see what the next card is coming off the deck (it is face-up) so you won’t accidentally throw that Shadowrift to the bottom. There are a few other cards that can help cycle those cards, too, letting you dig a little faster. I’ve seen both Shadowrifts only once, but I’m not a great player yet. It stinks that your rifts could be cards 1 and 22 off the deck, but it is great that you can help speed it along.

My first plays of the game felt like I was losing to the luck of random draw. And yes, that will always be a possibility. If you get a strong reaction toward knowing your game could end due to a bad draw, this one might leave a sour taste for you. However, the redeeming quality in here is that you can do things to give that Town deck better odds by buying new Travelers, eliminating Infiltrators as soon as you can, or preventing the monsters from Killing townsfolk. It is a lot to juggle, especially solo. I’ve heard the game is far easier at higher player counts, simply because you have more hands on deck to specialize and deal with the unique areas of the game. When playing solo, those resources are scarce enough that it makes every decision matter. And even when you are playing well, it still could end with 4 of the 5 cards flipping out red and the one monster that just got added happens to Kill the exact symbol that isn’t red. It can happen even if you only have 4 red cards in that deck. Early in the game, this doesn’t sting so bad. But if it happens when you’re nearing the end of a grueling, long fight…that could become table-flipping territory for some players.

Final Thoughts

When I looked at this game, my immediate thought was Aeon’s End plus Marvel Legendary. While it has some thematic and mechanical similarities to both, this game is nothing like either of those games, but is more like Legendary than it is like Aeon’s End.

What if I told you this game originally came out before either of those games?

Some older games do not age well. Others just take longer to gain popularity and hit their prime. I’m convinced that Shadowrift still has not “arrived” yet in terms of making waves, but it definitely should not be overlooked. This game provides a far more thematic approach to defending the town than you had in Aeon’s End. This game gives a greater challenge, and requires far less setup/teardown time than Marvel Legendary.

And boy, is this game a challenge. Not necessarily because of any heightened difficulty built into the game, but rather because you are trying to balance several things effectively. The obvious threat comes from the monster deck and the interactions brought about by the monsters traveling across the play area. Fighting them is essential, yet clogs the deck through wounds (usually) gained from battle. But if you overlook the travellers coming to town, you could find yourself filled with infiltrators and corpses and bring a premature end to your efforts, no matter how successful you are at fighting back the monstrous horde.

My first loss in the game was bitter. Not only was I doing a poor job at killing dragons, I was poorly managing the cards clogging up my hand and completely ignored the Town deck. It got overrun with bad cards, which meant sooner or later I’d see 5 dealt out to give me the loss. I felt like the game was impossibly hard and lacked good decisions. I tried it again against the same match, with the same market, and had much of the same results. Turns out the recommended starting game wasn’t a great starting one for winning solo.

But as I kept returning to the game and playing further, I started to get better at tracking my deck of cards and keeping an eye toward the Town deck. Have I perfected that balance? Hardly. In fact, I’d argue that I am quite a ways away from hitting that efficient stride after 6 plays of the game.

Which is something I really like about this game, because it makes you think in ways that other games in this genre don’t. Not only are there three resource types in the game, there are also two methods of attack. Resources can be spent to improve your deck, or to improve the Town deck, and sometimes to help cycle the monster deck. The game is more than just get buying power early to get attack power and then stop buying cards while you smack enemies around. The game is more than culling cards ruthlessly until you can play your entire hand for super turns every round.

And that is a breath of fresh air in a genre that, at times, can feel repetitive and stale. There’s a reason why Mystic Vale is my favorite deckbuilder: it takes the genre and does something fresh with it. Aeon’s End did the same thing with the breaches and not shuffling. But this game takes the deckbuilder concept and really makes you have to consider, every single turn, how your decisions will impact your long-term goals.

As a solo/co-op gamer, I hate high win percentages (looking at you, Sentinels of the Multiverse). My favorite game is sitting firmly at a 31% win rate after over a hundred plays, and that feels perfect. The wins in Shadowrift are coming for me eventually. And until then, I’ll enjoy having this hit the table as part of a rotation of games I definitely want to make sure I play every month.

As a reminder, the newest expansion is on Kickstarter right now. And yes, I am a backer. That should confirm things: I enjoy this game and it is in my collection to stay. https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/shadowrift/shadowrift-b…

Board Gaming · Review for Two

Review for Two – Fantastiqa Rival Realms

Thank you for checking review #79 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 Fantastiqa: Rival Realms

Fantastiqa: Rival Realms is a board game designed by Alf Seegert that was published in 2018 by Eagle-Gryphon Games. The box states it plays 1-2 players in 20-30 minutes and has a BGG weight rating of 2.50.

Victims of a curious card trick gone very, very wrong, you and a rival Magician find yourselves lost in a billowing sea of fog. When it dissolves, you gaze upon the immense emptiness of Fantastiqa, the legendary land of fabled beasts and fantastiqal quests, only moments before it is summoned into being…

And you are the Magicians who will summon it!

With nothing but a shared pack of magical cards, you and your opponent continue your competition by creating Rival Realms in Fantastiqa itself. Summon strange landscapes! Adventure through arcane regions! Find fabled beasts! Gather odd and awesome artifacts! The Magician who scores the most points for her Realm in these weird ways is declared the winner.

Rival Realms is a standalone game. You do NOT need a copy of Fantastiqa to play this game.

Players play cards from their hands to create Regions and to go adventuring in each of their Rival Realms. By collecting Adventure Tokens, players gain the assistance of Creatures and Artifacts which allow them to perform special actions that help them explore further. The player who scores the most points by creating and exploring Regions, connecting Regions of the same type, and by completing Quests wins the game.

Differences for two players

None, as this is a 2-player only game, with a built-in solo mode!

My Thoughts

 The simplicity in concept cannot be understated here. You are trying to make three rows of 6 cards, going in ascending order. The deck contains 50 cards, numbered 1-50. In a nutshell, this is what you are fighting to accomplish. However, like any great game, there is far more to it than meets the eye. A game with just this exercise in ordering could be fun, but would lack staying power. This game, however, adds two major wrinkles (covered in the next two points).

 Simply filling your board with cards might be enough to end the game, but it won’t be enough to win unless your opponent gets stuck with a ton of negative points. Your other action available (besides placing a card out) is to adventure. You see, each player has a standee on their half and this standee can move to adjacent cards in their row, and to new rows across valleys (cards placed between the rows, half being on the mountain side and half on the valley side). An explored card is turned sideways, and can be moved across for free on future turns. To explore, you have to discard a card of a matching terrain type (or flip a token with the matching color). However…

 Those cards used to explore go into your opponent’s discard pile, which they can draw from (any card in there, not just the top one) at the end of their turn rather than the top of the deck. Which does two things, potentially: allows them to draw the numbers they might need to fill in a row, or draw the terrain they need to explore. The decision of what cards to use for your own exploring can be a critical choice to make, as you don’t want to gift your opponent with the perfect cards they need.

 Tying further into all of this comes the scoring at the end of the game, which is done in a remarkably clever way. There are six quest cards (more on those below) that reward the player who gains specific achievements first and awards 4-7 points, players lose points for every slot they didn’t fill with a card, players gain 2 points for cards in the same row that is adjacent to the same terrain, and 3 points for the same concept but from row to row, connected by valleys. So just rushing out cards to fill your board won’t net you a ton of points, you need to balance the exploring as well. But then you need to consider the placement as well, as matching terrain cards are 5 numbers apart but give extra points during scoring. But then they also require more cards of that terrain type to explore them, meaning you need to horde that terrain for a few turns in order to pull it all off. Clever, clever, clever.

 The tokens that can be earned via exploring should not be underestimated. Not only do the animal ones allow a substitution for using a card when exploring, but there are three gems and three artifacts. The artifacts are all different, allowing you to instantly move to a new location, reposition cards, or even take an extra turn. The gems are worth 1 point at the end of the game…but only if you don’t use them. And you’ll be tempted to at some point, as they allow you to take 2 cards from any pile to your hand, even your opponents’ discard pile. Or they can be used to move the raven onto a mountain, essentially making it a valley while he is there.

 Once you get the main game down (one play is likely enough), there are two ways to expand your fun: events and enchantments. Events shuffle a few more cards in the deck and, when the event is drawn, it is revealed and executed. The player then draws a replacement card. The enchantments alter fundamental aspects of the game, such as setup and gameplay, but is known from the start by both players. Both of these modular items are fun inclusions that add a little variety and randomness that players will have to work around.

 There is a solo mode for the game in the box – I’ve played it only once so far but it is an enjoyable puzzle as you race against the Raven. Look for a review of the solo mode in either December or early 2019!

 If you have a tiny table, this game will NOT be your friend. For a small, compact box…this thing needs a ton of real estate! You need room to make a 3 x 6 surface for cards, that is wide enough for them all to get explored (tapped), and have space for rows of mountains and valleys between them (thankfully, these are small cards). Then do it again for the other player. Could you play this on a pair of airplane trays? Yes, but only through creative stacking of cards being played. Very creative stacking.

 I like the raven in theory. He does something really helpful in making an impassible path usable. Or he lets you draw extra cards. However, we almost never use him! If those gems weren’t worth points at the end of the game, he’d be used often. But rarely is he an essential part of the plan, usually only coming into play to pull off a big move late in the game that is going to earn more points than the player is losing by using that token.

 I am all for clever flavor text. In fact, I absolutely LOVE the flavor text in this game. However, there is nothing to evoke the fun of the text on those cards. No special art or meaning, just the text on the cards at the bottom. And do you know what that means? It often goes unread and unnoticed. I understand the reasoning for the cards having no special art. But I think it was a missed opportunity here to add immersion that complements that flavor text.

 Player elimination is never a good thing in a game. This has a similar vibe, in that if a player cannot make a play on their turn they have to reveal their hand and pass. This removes them from the game, and the other player can keep on going until the game ends by either depleting the draw deck, placing the 18th land card, or passing as well. Should there be a penalty for painting yourself into a corner? Sure. Watching your opponent potentially play for 5+ more rounds with no pressure on the game ending is not the ideal punishment.

Final Thoughts

When I was at Gen Con this year, the Eagle-Gryphon booth was on my short list of stops that I had to make before I left, and it earned that for two reasons: I wanted to see Vital Lacerda’s Escape Plan and demo it if possible (I saw it, but they didn’t run demos) and to pick up Fantastiqa if it was there. The wonderful Mina’s Fresh Cardboard reviewed it so long ago and I fell in love with the game’s artwork, mechanics, theme, and literary inspirations. I hadn’t played it yet, but on the strength of her review I was ready to purchase that game with my very limited spending budget. Sadly, they did not have any copies of that game.

Happily, they had this there and I picked it up instead.

This game has served as my introduction to Alf Seegert as a designer, and it was a pleasant one. The game is simple at its heart, yet how everything flows together makes it as beautiful to experience as the art on the cards. Like Hanamikoji, the core of how to play is simple and it gets the weight, and depth, through the interactions and the strategy within the game. The star of the show, of course, is the clever way cards are discarded after spending them to explore – that in itself makes this game one I love to play because it makes you pay attention to what our opponent might need before you use a card. The last thing you want to see is them drawing turn after turn from that discard pile you’ve been fueling.

Which then ties into the Adventuring portion of the game, being one of the two actions you can take on your turn. You can explore as many unexplored cards as you are able to on your turn, so long as you do not double back to the same card. But wait, there’s mountains blocking your path across some of the board. Oh, and those cards you use go to your opponent’s discard pile. But there’s also tokens you collect via exploring (some of which can be used in place of a card for exploring), and a lot of the scoring centers around explored cards. So suddenly those cards in your hand have two purposes: the number or the terrain type.

And those are just a few of the layers of this onion you get to peel away, delightfully, as you play this game. Because there is rarely an easy, obvious decision to make. Every move can and should be considered carefully because it can have some lasting effects later in the game. Which leads me to one of my only concerns: a player prone to severe analysis paralysis might find this to make their brain explode in the same way it might while playing Hanamikoji. Those simple decisions are rarely able to reveal the perfect moves to make, and a person who needs to make THE optimal move every turn could stall out for long periods of time while trying to decipher what is that optimal move.

But for gamers like us, who play for fun and who enjoy those challenging decisions but rarely let them force us into long delays of quiet contemplation, this game will definitely deliver a delightful blend of tactical and strategic decisions within clever, yet simple, gameplay. I am always eager to play this game again, to add in some new cards that will affect the gameplay, and ultimately to pick up the small expansion and see how it alters the overall experience in this tiny box of fun.

Board Gaming · Review for Two · Two-Player Only

Review for Two – Professor Treasure’s Secret Sky Castle

Thank you for checking review #78 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 review copy of this game was provided in exchange for an honest review.

An Overview of Professor Treasure’s Secret Sky Castle

Professor Treasure’s Secret Sky Castle is a board game designed by Jason D. Kingsley that was published in 2018 by Level 99 Games. The box states it plays 2 players in 15-30 minutes and has a BGG weight rating of 2.00.

That dastardly Professor Treasure is at it again! This time, he’s stolen all the world’s treasures and hidden them away in a secret floating castle! As an intrepid treasure hunter, you and your friends have finally managed to track down the castle. However, another team of explorers is already here!

Professor Treasure’s Secret Sky Castle is a competitive puzzle game in which you and your opponent race to find keys, unlock treasure chests, and collect priceless treasures from around the world and history! Send out your team of treasure hunters, each with their own unique way to explore the castle. But beware! Your opponent will try to thwart your plans and grab the treasure for themselves!

—description from the publisher

Differences for two players

None, as this is a 2-player only game!

My Thoughts

 It will never be a favorite mechanism, but I really like the action programming in this one and how it is handled. Both players have the same 8 roles, of which 2 are randomly removed (potentially making both players using a different 6 roles). After the tiles are placed for the map, the players simultaneously break their cards into groups. The first player of the round makes 3 groups of 2, the second player makes 2 groups of 3. The the players take turns putting out a grouping at a time onto the board. I really enjoy this aspect of the game, and need more games with something similar.

 Pairing with the programming is that all characters have a determined order of activation, with the 1’s triggering first and ascending up to the 7’s. The first player’s card goes first when both players have the same card# in play. This adds a good, strategic depth to not only the placement of your cards, but also how you group the cards, when to put that group out, and more.

 I love that all 8 cards are unique in how they can be placed and what they do. Some are placed directly onto a tile and take that tile. Some are placed outside a column or row and can take any tile in that column or row. Some can shift tiles around, or thieve tiles as an opponent takes one. Since you don’t know up front what 6 cards your opponent is able to use in a round, the planning at the start can be an interesting game of trying to decide what to place and where with those first cards.

 Scoring in this game is far more intuitive than I expected from reading the rules. Since it is all done at the end of the game, there is no bookkeeping to do along the way. And since you keep the tiles you earn, there is no tracking it that way. There is also a pair of great player aids with how all three things score. Overall, well done.

 This game wouldn’t be as good without a measure of pressing your luck, and it comes here in the form of skeleton keys. You see, chest are worth a lot of points but need keys (1-4 per chest) to open them. Each key you have can be used once per round, which means if you need more keys than you have available you have to take Skeleton Keys to open that chest. Not only are they worth negative points (after the first one you take), but they become increasingly more impactful if you take too many (for instance, the 5th key would be worth -4 points, the 6th worth another -5 points) so you need to decide how aggressive you want to be on taking chests.

 This game could have been done using just cards. Given the production by Level 99 Games, it wouldn’t have surprised me to see all cards in there. However, the tiles in this box are fantastic quality and enhance the experience of building the map each round and the stacks made of tiles as you collect them is fun, too.

 Not enough good can be said about the artwork done by Fabio Fontes and Laura La Vito at Level 99 Games. There are big names in the board game art world, but these two (and Nokomento) are severely underrecognized as a whole. The art in this game is crisp and clean, and the graphical design is intuitive and complementary of the game design.

 This game has a little variety because you’ll only use 6 of the 8 cards each round and there is a good chance a few tiles won’t appear. But how I wish there was a little beyond that in this box – a few “advanced” roles to mix in after some plays, or more tiles than the exact number you’d need as a maximum. There’s a little room here to add a mini-expansion in the future, maybe adding 5-6 tiles of a set together where if you get 1-2 of them you lose points and move into some strong points if you get 5-6 of them.

 There is a small problem with the number of rounds in this game and the advantage it provides to the player who goes first. Since the first player in a round places their final cards last, they can make those last decisions with perfect information about what their opponent is doing. Granted, this requires grouping well and saving the right pair to place last, but this feels like a position of power. So with 3 rounds, the start player goes first twice in a game. Yet 3 rounds is the perfect number for the game, as it would get ridiculous (or really uninteresting) in a 4th round, and would end prematurely in the 2nd round. So while I don’t have a good answer for how to fix it, and it isn’t something that breaks/ruins the game, it definitely feels like the start player gets a small advantage over the course of the game.

 I hate the decision to have the rulebook to be a folded oversized sheet of paper, essentially. It isn’t really feasible to have it unfolded on the table while playing, meaning you need it folded up beside you and will need to unfold it to look rules up. I’d much prefer a small booklet, which would also be good for referencing things in an organized manner.

Final Thoughts

When I got my review copy at Gen Con, I knew only two things for sure about this game: it has an awesomely unique title and was produced by one of my personal favorite publishers. I also knew that my wife had yet to find a game (other than, finally, Argent: The Consortium) that she really liked from Level 99 Games. Enjoyed enough to tolerate? Sure, she hasn’t hated anything from Level 99 yet, but she hadn’t instantly liked any of them to want to play more. I’m happy to report that she really liked this one, an opinion that mirrors my own feelings about this game.

In fact, one of my favorite things about this game is that it uses a mechanic completely missing from our collection: action programming. I’ve played a very small handful of those games, and I think the only one my wife has tried has been How to Rob a Bank (leave me recommendations on non-cooperative ones to try in the comments, please!). So I was very interested in how this would pan out when it hit the table for us. This is a game that is going to exist in our collection for the same reason that games like Holmes: Sherlock & Mycroft do – they are games that will never be our favorites, but are unique enough and small enough that we’ll want to pull them back out several times a year for a game or three (likely a best-of-three series). For the price on this one, there is plenty of game to keep us coming back for years to come without it growing stale.

While it would be great to see some more variety in the cards or tiles, the simplicity of everything in here allows the game to get out of the way and open things up to strong, creative play. I knew this was a gem when, during our first two plays of the game, we were both complaining about moves the other person made…in a good way. You’re going to get in each others’ way, resulting from clever (or lucky) placement or selection. If we had our own “Glory to Rome” board, it’d get filled with tallies over the course of a best-of-three play of this one.

And really, that is what I want from a filler game: a game that fills a unique niche in my collection, has quick setup/teardown time, and provides a very thinky and competitive game experience against my wife. For the small box this comes in, at a great price point, this is a quality 2-player game from a company that puts out a lot of excellent 2-player games. While all of their games may not appeal to every couple, this one will have a more universal appeal than most.