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…