Board Gaming · Review for Two · Two-Player Only

Review for Two: Circle the Wagons

Thank you for checking review #69 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 Circle the Wagons

 

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Circle the Wagons is a game designed by Steven Aramini, Danny Devine, and Paul Kluka and was published by Button Shy in 2017. The “box” states that it can play 2 players and has a 15 minute play time and a BGG Weight Rating of 1.73.

Gameplay differences for 2 Players

There are no differences, as the 2-player experience is the core experience packaged in the game.

Rules Rating

The rules are simple, laid out well, and makes for an easy-to-teach game. There is a little vagueness about the scoring of territories at the end, and a few key things (such as what happens in a tie) are missing. It would also help if there was a small section to clarify some of the scoring cards. Overall, a solid rulebook with marginal room to improve, mostly through including a little more explanation.

My Thoughts

The most incredible part of this game is the selection mechanism in the game. Seriously, I love this aspect so much. On your turn you can select any card available in the circle of cards; however, every card you skip over immediately goes to your opponent to add to their tableau. Really want that card with 3 cattle on it? Take it now and your opponent gets those two cards you skipped. Sometimes it is worth it. Other times it is a questionable decision. And part of me really wants to open a game by picking the last card…just because it’d be fun.

 

Mixed in with that above point comes the most important decision the 2nd player will get to make: where Player 1 begins on the circle of cards. I really enjoy this idea, as this decision could have a strong impact on how many cards they get before they even get to take the first turn. Which seems really weird, when typing that out, but it is so true. This is a nice touch to offset the “disadvantage” of being second.

Building rules are straightforward. There is no rotating of cards, no tucking of the new card underneath an existing card (I wish you could tuck, though!). It simply has to be adjacent in some fashion, whether touching or covering an existing card in your territory. The simple rules for construction allow you to simply dive into the meat of the game without worrying over complexity.

 

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All 18 cards in the game have a different scoring condition on the back. I think we’ve used all 18 at some point in time by now, but I can’t promise that with any certainty. Sometimes they have some minor synergy, allowing you to compete for several in trying to accomplish one of them well. Other times they seem to work against each other, to where you can make progress on one but not much on the other. The goals are varied, some of them quite clever, and they all help make each play feel fresh and interesting.

There are six different terrain types, spread across (18 cards x 4 territories per card)… 72 different territories. There also happen to be 6 different symbols that appear on those territories. The terrain matters every game, the symbols may matter in some games. I like that there is variety built into these cards, not just the scoring mechanisms. What you need for one game might vary wildly from what you need to focus on in the next one. However, you’ll always want to have at least half a mind toward building a large terrain for 1-2 types.

This game, like every Button Shy game, wins on portability. It comes in a literal small wallet, which I rarely notice having in my pocket when I take it with me. The game takes minutes to set up, plays and scores in under ten minutes, and can be reset in a minute or two. So not only is this perfect for being portable, it is also lightning-fast for playtime. Huge wins for that, making this the game I’ll slip into my pocket any time we head out and there’s a chance to game.

This game can be taught to a new player in minutes. Literally. I had about 5 minutes at Gen Con after playing Liberation with Jason Tagmire, and he was able to teach me the game AND we played a round of it in that window of time (and yes, I won! Revenge for that loss in Liberation!). Yet in spite of the small set of rules and quick gameplay, this one is FUN. Genuinely fun enough that I want to play again and again when finished with a round.

This isn’t a massive table hog, but you’re going to need a fair amount of table space to have the 3 scoring cards, the circle of 15 cards to draft from, and room for both players to build their town as they gain the cards. So while this doesn’t need a massive space to play the game, it does need a moderate space to comfortably play the game.

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As mentioned in the rules review above, there are a few things that simply aren’t mentioned. In a 2-player competitive game, leaving out a tiebreaker baffles me. Ironically, it was our very first game against each other that ended in that tie! Thankfully, BGG held the answer and my town was smaller, granting me the victory.

It isn’t a dealbreaker by any means, but some will complain that this game has no method for keeping score. Yes, it could have included a small pad for scoring, but I imagine that would have inflated the cost by quite a bit. I personally find that a Magic: The Gathering Life Tracker app works perfectly in this situation for tallying up scores at the end. It can be easy to lose track of what your score is across the 9 scoring mechanisms.

Final Thoughts

 

Sprawlopolis was a game that took the board game media by storm in 2018. Every single review I saw of the game was positively glowing, and my own review held it in pretty high regard. It was definitely a good game packaged in 18 cards, and I loved the win/loss condition being tied to the scoring mechanisms exclusive to that setup. And therefore the burning question on my mind was: which game would I prefer, Circle the Wagons or Sprawlopolis?

And the answer is definitely Circle the Wagons, for reasons that have everything to do with our preferences as a couple. We’d rather compete than cooperate in a board game, and therefore our tendency will always be to take a competitive game if all other things are equal. There are great things about both games, and reasons to love both. One could very easily enjoy them both and have them existing in the same collection because they scratch very different itches.

I love the quick playtime of this game, coupled with the extreme portability. I don’t notice it in my pocket – something I can’t say about a game in a mint tin. I love that it takes less than a minute to get set up and ready to play. I can teach the game, including scoring for a specific setup, in well under 5 minutes. It takes a minute or two to reset for a new game. All of those are strong positives.

Which is why we have played this game nearly a dozen times already since it entered our collection at Gen Con.

The cleverness of the game comes from the card selection, and the tough decisions it can create. It can make you feel great when choosing a card 5 down the line and watching your opponent realize they need to place all of those cards, in order, without messing up their plans. A game can end abruptly with one bold selection, tossing every plan out the window. There are several ways to win, as we’ve had victories where almost no points came from territories and victories where almost no points came from the three scoring cards.

This game is wonderful for what it sets out to accomplish. It may never make a player’s #1 game spot, but I find this is the game I’ll reach for first to toss in my pocket if there’s a chance we’ll be eating out or have downtime somewhere. To be able to play a game with meaningful decisions in 5-10 minutes and the game literally fits unnoticed in my pocket…that is a feat worthy of including in the collection.

For those keeping track, this is the third Button Shy game I’ve reviewed so far and, if you don’t own a Button Shy game yet, any of those three (Circle the Wagons, Sprawlopolis, Liberation) would be excellent choices as a first game to introduce you to the wonderful games they produce.

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

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

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

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Board Gaming · Review for Two

Review for Two – Temporal Odyssey

Thank you for checking review #68 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 Temporal Odyssey

 

Temporal Odyssey is a game designed by Chris Solis and was published by Level 99 Games & CGC Games in 2018. The box states that it can play 2-4 players and has a 20-45 minute play time and a BGG Weight Rating of 2.50.
Temporal Odyssey is a drafting battle card game about dueling time travelers for 2 and 4 players. Draft from the past, present, or future, and enlist legendary heroes and creatures to fight by your side. Group your characters to get them to share their abilities, using this both offensively and defensively. Regroup often to adapt to the situation. Rewind time to prevent your own death but be careful — each time you must suffer judgement from Lovox the god of time. Destroy your opponent’s stability and deliver the final blow to banish them from the timeline and win the game!

 

Gameplay differences for 2 Players

There are no differences, as the 2-player experience is the core experience packaged in the game.

Rules Rating

Overall, this was not a difficult game to learn and teach. The rules are straightforward enough to grasp after two readings with minimal questions. There are some areas in the rules that are contradictory and/or needed clarification, and there is an official FAQ with those corrections; thankfully, many of those are very minor involving setup. However, I really dislike the format of the large sheet folded up, as it is a hassle to unfold it and find the space to look at it and try to find what you’re looking for. A small 4-8 page rule booklet would have been much better, allowed more examples, an index to help find specific concepts, and more. That is the biggest detriment is trying to find what you need when searching to answer a question: there is a lot of space to look through to try and discover that answer. 7/10 rating on the rules, as it can be taught from with relative ease but isn’t great for referencing on-the-go and for the errors in the rulebook.

My Thoughts

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 This game does something so wonderful that I rarely see in this style of game: it gives you access to wildly powerful cards and you can play any of them on the next turn after you acquire them. There is no holding a card until you get X lands out, or have a resource match, or whatever blocks a game naturally places on power cards. You can draft a card on your first turn that makes you do a double take before laughing manically at what is about to hit your unsuspecting opponent. The game skips over the slow build-up to power and lets you dive right in, letting the crazy cards and combos fly.

 

 There is a common thread among all six travelers, as they have identical powers, they each have a tower, an ally that has some HP and attack, an ally with shield that can pull a card from a timeline deck, an artifact, and three spells. Those spells are the difference between them, apart from the element on the artifact, and that is a good thing. Each traveler is different due to their spells, yet similar enough that you aren’t at a disadvantage when playing a new traveler. This provides enough asymmetry to give flavor without making that asymmetry a barrier to learning for players.

 I love that there are effects on units that can spread to the unit they regroup with. This opens up ways to mitigate damage, retaliate when attacked, and much more. A lot of times the Regroup phase provides the most important decisions you can make in terms of what units to pair together and which should be in the front and which in the back. It adds a layer of tactical strategy to the experience that would otherwise be missing from a game like this.

 

 Adding into the Regrouping phase, there are units you obviously want to have behind another unit so they cannot be targeted with attacks. However, any unit you attack with has to be at the front of a grouping, meaning you need to weigh the decision to attack against whether you need to defend that unit. A miscalculation here, as I discovered this week, can be very costly in the end. It wasn’t the power of his cards that cost me the game, but my own decision to attack with my traveler rather than trying to use my other units to take out his threat.

 Turns are simple. You have four AP to spend (there are a few exceptions) on your turn. Spells, Artifacts, and units have an AP cost to bring them into play. Cards brought into play cannot be used to attack. Some cards have an ability that can be triggered by spending AP. You use the other side of the AP token to indicate attacks. Most turns will be playing a card and doing 1-2 attacks or abilities. Then you regroup the units and draft three cards from a single time period deck (more on that next!) Simple turns, which keep the action flowing fast and help make it streamlined to play cards and resolve attacks.

 There is drafting in the game. Oh, how I love me some card drafting. In this one, you do that at the end of your turn, choosing one of the three decks (Past, Present, or Future) and take the top three cards. One you select to place in your hand, one you discard permanently from the game (Banish it), and the other returns face-up to the top of the deck. Yep, face-up. Excellent decisions to be had here, as you are considering what you want, what needs to be removed, and what you want your opponent to see is available on their turn. Such a clever decision here, and it is probably my favorite part of the game.

 I love the artwork and the graphical layout in this game. The team behind this did a fantastic job overall, and I was pleased to hear that a good number of the characters in here are also in Chris Solis’ first game: Terrene Odyssey. Added to that, the theme of this game is incredible, and is the hook I’ve used at the start every time to raise my opponent’s interest before diving into how to play the game.

 I almost “finished” this review without mentioning one of the other interesting and important things in this game: Instability. If your traveler gets knocked out while you have 3 Instability, you lose the game. So Instability is a bad thing, inherently. However, they have actions on there which you can use (I think they are all one-time use) to gain an edge during the battle, allowing you to lean into the damaging effect and capitalize upon it. You also gain a symbol on that Instability card, helping you to boost your spells and abilities until the point where you use that card for its effect. This is a clever thing to add into the game, and one I really enjoy.

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 Anyone who has been reading my reviews for a while will know what comes next: replayability. Six travelers to choose from, each of them containing unique spells and an artifact in their unique element. Three different time periods of cards, each of those containing only three out of six factions. This means you could, without any extra work, play two games in a row and have a completely new setup of factions in every time period deck to play with. Learning the cards in those decks so that you know what to try and find during a game will take several plays, at which point a lot of strategy layers can open up for players.

 Which leads into the fact that this game really rewards the experienced player. Sure, a new player can compete against a skilled one. Heck, I played this against the designer and it was down to the wire with me losing the turn before I would have finished him off. It has layers of strategy and tactics that take many games, and a knowledge of what cards are in which factions, to unlock and use effectively. This is a good thing, and also a bad thing. If you want to be great, you need to play it. A lot. But you also need to play it a lot to be great at it. Yes, I meant to say it that way. It is a lifestyle game, just like several others that Level 99 Games has in their catalog (BattleCON, Exceed, Pixel Tactics) so that should come as no surprise. If you have a group of people willing to play regularly, this is a great game for that group. But if you want to pull it out for a game every 6-9 months and want to do well…that may be difficult.

 The card stock on this leaves something to be desired. I am not a habitual sleever of games, but this one may need to be the exception in my collection. For a game I want to play dozens of times in the coming months, I would hate for these cards to wear out quickly. Thankfully, there is ample space in the box for sleeved cards and, presumably, future expansion content.

 The player aids…they have the same information on both sides. I don’t understand the reasoning for this, but it is a disappointment. The other side should honestly contain the various keywords that appear on cards, such as Stunned, and what they do. Especially those keywords that do not get defined on the bottom of a card. Also, they leave off the start of turn phase where you resolve Start of Turn effects, discard AP tokens off cards and regain a pool of 4 AP, and exhaust all spell cards in play.

 There are only two spells for each of the three time period decks, and they are always mixed in there. In a game with this much replay and variability, that aspect is slightly disappointing to me. I’m sure there is a reasoning behind it, as maybe having more spells unbalanced the game (a tongue-in-cheek statement for sure about a game that makes players so powerful from the start that they can feel like the game is unbalanced…even though I would argue it is pretty well balanced overall since both players typically achieve that feeling).

Final Thoughts

This game’s greatest weakness is also its greatest strength: things ramp up quickly via unapologeticly powerful cards and combos. This is the game that skips over the slow build-up that most card-driven games (whether dueling games like Magic: The Gathering or deckbuilding games like Dominion) start players off at and jumps feet-first into the depths of madness. And whoa, that is FUN. There are few games where, after drawing the first three cards off a deck, your opponent’s eyes get wide and they giggle with glee at the sheer magnitude of the card they select. And while that may signal bad things for me as a player, I know that I can get the same kind of power with my next draw, too. In a game where so much feels powerful, nothing truly ends up being that overpowered.

Except maybe Zane the Ender, who finally ended me in a game where he appeared because I focused too much on the thrill of my own newfound power instead of realizing I could get taken down in a turn. And that was on me.

There is a solid amount of variety in the box, as you will use only one of the six travelers and only 3 of the 6 factions for each time period with each game. I wish there was more variety in the spells for each period, but I imagine that is something that could come in a future expansion. And this game is definitely primed for some future expansions in the form of new travelers, new spells, new instability cards, and new factions for each time period. And, honestly, I’ll probably buy them all.

It is fun to find a game that unashamedly lets players feel powerful from the start. I absolutely love that about this one, and find it to be the most charming aspect of Temporal Odyssey. It could have followed a more traditional approach with a slow burn to power, making the game stretch out longer and taking the teeth away from cards. I’m glad it didn’t. I have enough of those kinds of games, and sometimes you just want to throw power around like you’re Thanos and you’ve collected all of the Infinity Stones. There aren’t enough games like that on the market right now, and this one is a refreshing change from the norm.

That approach won’t appeal to everyone, of course. Some people prefer the slow burn where they forge together a long-term strategy to outplay their opponent over time. This game absolutely has the potential for wild swings, but overall there is still a lot of room for tactical movement and interesting decisions to give players control over how things unfold. Most of the time it will be the better player who wins, not the one with the luckiest draw, but it also allows everyone involved to be having fun as they see what mind-blowing power they can unleash next.

If you enjoy games where you duel against an opponent, this is definitely one you should check out because it strips away the fat and serves a healthy dose of powerful fun. Games are fast and furious, and are quick enough to set up and reset for the next duel. And you’ll want to move into that next match, making a best of three or a best of five bout with your friend. At a time where I’m ruthlessly culling my collection and questioning the value of every game on my shelf, this one will survive on the merit of the gameplay it provides and the memories it will inevitably form as it gets played over and over again with my friends.

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

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

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

Board Gaming · Digital Review

Digital Review: Sentinels of the Multiverse

Welcome back to my 2nd digital review. In case you’ve forgotten the preface before my BattleCON review, here it is again:

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

As I will mention later, my loss on being unable to use a code is your gain. I’m actually going to give away two codes: one for Google Play and one for Steam. To enter, leave a comment below telling me who your favorite hero is (or who you think it might be) in the Sentinels of the Multiverse. Be sure to also let me know which of these you’d like to enter for – it can be for both, but I would hate to pick someone to win who cannot use the code.

I’ll use Random.org to select the winner on 9/5

**Also note: This game is part of a Humble Bundle deal. Grab a copy on Steam while it is cheap! I’ve made the timeline on the contest a little short to accommodate the bundle, so you can get it still once this contest ends.

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

+ This game takes one of the biggest detriments of the physical game and solves the problem for you. The math, the remembering what effects are active, the tracking what triggers when…all of those things are managed by the game itself so you can focus on taking down villains without all that extra legwork. This is especially key for a solo player, as it can be easy for one person managing 3-5 characters to overlook things.

+ Gameplay on this is, inevitably, faster than playing the physical version of the game as well. Not only are tasks automated for you, but things like reshuffling and searching through a deck for specific cards are also accelerated greatly. The game also helps identify potential targets for abilities, making it easier to figure out what can be affected when using One Shot cards, abilities, etc.

+ The music is fantastic on this. I love the soundtrack with each level, as well as the sound effects that go with this game. It really adds to the experience overall with the game, and is something I want to incorporate into physical plays of the game. My friend did this once already when playing in Omnitron IV and, whoa, it was really awesome. Kudos to the composers of the soundtrack!

+ The artwork on this is equally amazing. This game setting as a comic is very suited to a digital format, and it really comes through in this presentation. I love the art and presentation on the cards in the physical game, but this immerses you on a whole new level in a way that is quite delightful.

+ The game has the ability to rewind a little. Did your card not do quite what you expected? You can backtrack. Some players might use and abuse the system, even though it only goes back a short distance, but I find it is great to help prevent misplays, misunderstandings, and general accidents which can happen in a digital format. Like forgetting that you take damage against Omnitron because he has a Device out that hits you whenever you draw a card. Oops, shouldn’t have played that Draw 2…rewind.

+/- There is a lot to unlock. Unfortunately, you have to pay to unlock it all. I’d love if there was a way to earn at least some of it through play, such as getting X achievements to unlock some of the smaller expansion materials. For someone who wants to own everything, it isn’t that much cheaper than purchasing a good chunk of the physical game to play.

-One of the things I really dislike about the digital version of games that require you to read text on cards is that you need to pull up each card to read what it does. Until you know the game well enough, you will be doing that quite a bit. It isn’t a big deal, as the app doesn’t time you, but I frequently have to pause and go revisit an environment or villain card to see what on earth it is doing. That is the nature of a digital game, and with time this wouldn’t be such a big issue as you know the cards better.

– My phone couldn’t use the app, so I could only test out the Steam version of the game. I tried using a code that was supplied and it would never let me redeem it. The Play store didn’t flag it as being incompatible, but I wasn’t about to pay extra to find out. That is unfortunate, though, because I really wanted this to be something I could play on the go. This probably won’t apply to you, but I would definitely check specs before downloading to be sure.

Final Thoughts

I really enjoy playing the digital format for Sentinels of the Multiverse, as it definitely speeds up the process of playing the game and provides an overall ease to managing the flow of things. All of that bookkeeping and tracking how many times you’ve targeted things and how much damage is boosted or reduced…it all “vanishes” when playing this. At least the task of doing it vanishes, allowing the upkeep of the game to get out of the way so a player can enjoy the experience of the game.

This also makes it a lot easier to manage several decks at once, since it takes no extra space and there is no chance of mixing up cards. All you need is a way to interact with what is on the screen and you are able to play the game…no table space or other humans required. You can save the Multiverse one battle at a time digitally.

This is a really polished presentation of the game in digital format. I love how intuitive this makes things, and helps players cut down to the core of their experience. Some players don’t need to know how a thing functions, just see the end result. And so those players will greatly enjoy the damage being factored for them, and the environment and villain turns being automated by the game.

However, if you don’t understand something there isn’t really an easy way to know why. I still don’t completely understand Omnitron because I haven’t taken the time to really look at both sides of his card to see when he flips and what he does on each side. Because I don’t need to know – he just does his thing and sometimes it really sucks for the players. That isn’t a game problem, but it is something I find happens a LOT for me when I play app versions of board games: I can’t fully learn the game because too much is automated, skipped over, and/or is difficult and slow to open and read every single thing.

This app is excellent for those who aren’t sure if this game is going to be for them, as it allows them to get a taste for the flow of the game and the mechanics of playing as the heroes before needing to worry about handling upkeep, etc. But at the same time, it can be annoying to have to stop and “open” every card to where you can read, for the 7th time, what exactly it does before deciding to play a different card in your hand for the 7th turn in a row. This makes me appreciate the physical version so much, as it is a lot easier to read and reread the cards in my hand and on the table.

I prefer the physical, but that is because I am yet to find any app-based board game that I like to play moreso than the cardboard version. However, I definitely can recommend this as a very good implementation of Sentinels of the Multiverse, and I look forward to picking up the expansion packs (slowly) so I can face down more than just the base game villains and play as more than the base game heroes.

****

As alluded to, my loss on being able to use a code is your gain. I’m actually going to give away two codes: one for Google Play and one for Steam. To enter, leave a comment below telling me who your favorite hero is (or who you think it might be) in the Sentinels of the Multiverse. Be sure to also let me know which of these you’d like to enter for – it can be for both, but I would hate to pick someone to win who cannot use the code.

I’ll use Random.org to select the winner on 9/5

**Also note: This game is part of a Humble Bundle deal. Grab a copy on Steam while it is cheap! I’ve made the timeline on the contest a little short to accommodate the bundle, so you can get it still once this contest ends.

Board Gaming · Review for One

Review for One – Sentinels of the Multiverse

Thank you for checking review #67 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 Sentinels of the Multiverse

 

 

Sentinels of the Multiverse is a game designed by Christopher Badell and Adam Rebottaro and was published by Greater Than Games in 2011. The box states that it can play 2-5 players and has a 30-60 minute play time and a BGG Weight Rating of 2.50.

A mad scientist holds the world hostage with his terrifying inventions. An alien warlord from a far away galaxy brings his limitless army of bizarre minions to conquer the planet. A giant rampaging robot cuts a swath of destruction across the coast, destroying major population centers. And who will stand in their way? A team of heroes, all with impressive powers and abilities stand between the world and the forces of evil. Will you help them? Answer the call to protect the multiverse!

Sentinels of the Multiverse is a cooperative, fixed-deck card game with a comic book flavor. Each player plays as one of ten heroes, against one of four villains, and the battle takes place in one of four different dynamic environments.

Each player, after selecting one of the heroes, plays a deck of 40 cards against the villain and environment decks, which “play themselves”, requiring the players to put the top card of the appropriate deck into play on the villain and environment turns. On each player’s turn, they may play a card from their hand, use a power printed on one of their cards in play, and draw a card from their deck. Each round starts with the villain turn, continues clockwise around the table, then concludes with the environment turn. Each villain has various advantages, such as starting with certain cards in play, as specified by the villain character card. Play continues until the heroes reduce the villain to 0 or fewer HP, or until the villain defeats the heroes, either via a win condition or by reducing all the heroes to 0 or fewer HP.

Gameplay differences for 1 Player

Technically, even when playing solo there should be a team of 3-5 heroes facing the villain. So the real difference here is how many hero decks you are willing to control during the game. I find 3 to be a nice number for making a balanced team, although I’ve gone as high as 5 in the digital version of the game (review on that coming soon…). By controlling all of the heroes yourself, there are some serious benefits and detriments that pop up.

The benefit comes from an ease of coordinating a strategy among the team of heroes. This allows you to tackle some mighty challenges that could otherwise get thrown off with imperfect information and imperfect coordination. It also allows you to make that perfect pairing without personal preference for heroes getting in the way of the ideal match-up.

The drawback is keeping tabs on what you have in each hand as you go. Some characters can end up drawing a ton of cards, forcing you to try and remember everything you’ve seen so far.

My Thoughts

 This is the superhero game I wanted when I first discovered Marvel Legendary a few years ago. As a fan of the superhero genre, this delivers the experience I would want and more. The base game provides ten unique heroes, each feeling different to play as than the other ones in the set. It provides four villain battles that can, and most of them frequently will, push your team to the limit. Each villain operates differently as they work toward their own dastardly plan. The only tragedy is that there aren’t real comics featuring these characters, bringing their stories to life.

 

 However, there is the next best thing (apart from this game, of course): The Letters Page, a podcast where the creators talk about an aspect from their created game and dive deep into their background, the major events in their story arcs, and answer questions from players of their game. There is such a rich and deep history, and the storyteller in me can’t get enough of these.

 I want to emphasize here: every single character, villain, and environment deck in the game feels unique. As you branch out into expansions you’ll get some with similar strengths (i.e. several characters who are really good at hitting things hard) but how they accomplish that can vary wildly. Even in the base game, there are a lot of character combinations that you can run against each villain and environment pairing to get a different challenge each time.

 The gameplay on this is simple in structure: Play a card, use a power, draw a card. I love the simplicity of the game, and how MOST turns are that straightforward. Certain heroes can break that mold, but rarely in a way that really bogs down and ruins the flow of the game. Even the environment and villain turns are pretty easy to navigate, as they involve resolving start of turn effects, playing the top card of the deck, and resolving any end of turn effects.

 The game scales well based on Hero count, which is a great strength and also why it wouldn’t be ideal to play with fewer than 3 heroes (damage that is H-2 becomes 0, for instance, which is not the intent. The baddie should almost always hit when the card intends for it to hit). When playing solo, any combination of 3-5 heroes will play well for you because the enemies scale in power with the number of heroes.

 Even when a hero is knocked out of the fight, they aren’t completely out. I love the idea that they still can help support with their reverse side. Is it as interesting as playing cards from your deck? No. But this solves the problem of player elimination in a game that will frequently exceed the advertised 30-60 minute time printed on the box.

 I am putting this as a strength here, but some might view it as a negative (my wife might be one of those…) – every card in every deck will tell you what it does. Some are simple in the effect, while others have a fair amount of text. Everything you need to know is self-contained on the card, but you’ll have to do a lot of reading of the cards. Not just your own, but the villain and environment cards as they surface, too. And the villain card itself. There is a lot to track, which excites me as a player as it adds layers to the gameplay. But there will definitely be those who see this and run far away in the other direction.

 Until you know the decks and how they operate, you can get stuck in some bad situations. The game doesn’t tell you not to bring a team of The Visionary, Tachyon, and Absolute Zero against Citizen Dawn for your first game. You’ll likely get crushed, as The Visionary and Tachyon aren’t known for dropping a lot of damage (they have some ways, but that isn’t their focus) and Absolute Zero is an absolute beast to effectively play (which is why I have a strategy guide for him!) and Citizen Dawn is arguably the most difficult villain in this box to face. One really bad first play could ruin the experience enough that it never sees the light of day again. Thankfully, many decks are fairly intuitive and can find some ways to work together with whatever other heroes they pair up with so the horrible situations are few and far between, but there is definitely going to be a learning curve on how to best use any of the heroes and to know what cards are in their decks.

 While there is a lot of replay value in the box, it is limited at the same time because this game benefits from variety. There is a ton of expansion content you can pick up to expand the game, and you’re going to want to eventually pick them up. If you’re looking for a one-time purchase that you can be happy with for a hundred plays, you can certainly find that with this game. But odds are you are going to want to expand after a dozen or two plays, especially playing solo and controlling 3-5 characters. You’ll get the hero experiences a lot faster than if you always play this with others.

 This game’s greatest strength can also be considered its greatest weakness: everything is unique. Playing as Legacy a few times does not prepare you to play The Visionary’s deck. Fighting against Baron Blade does not prepare you to fight against Omnitron. There is a steep learning curve on how to effectively pilot each character’s deck, as well as how to fight against each villain and how every environment deck interacts with said villain. It will take many, many plays to get to a point where you can intuitively construct a strong, well-rounded team to handle the exact challenges that said villain and environment pairing can throw at you.

 If there was one complaint that I would wager on hearing, it would be that this game is “fiddly”. I don’t find that to be the case, but I know enough about the term to understand that a player who dislikes having to do upkeep, move cardboard pieces around, and remember to trigger beginning of turn and end of turn effects might find this game to be an unfavorable experience. I have never found the task to be too challenging, and the game includes some excellent cardboard reminders you can place on cards for effects that they have triggered. Also, d10 are a godsend for tracking HP values on cards, as they allow you to see quickly who has the lowest/highest HP. They don’t come in the game, but are the one investment that will definitely help with some of the upkeep on the game.

Final Thoughts

This is one of those weird games to define for me, personally. I love this game and the superhero theme that it perfectly executes. This is everything I could ever want from this type of game, and one I will always enjoy playing. But I doubt it will ever be among my absolute favorite games (read: Top 5), even though I really, really enjoy the game. And I can’t really put my finger on the reason why. Maybe I haven’t experienced it enough yet, having only about a dozen non-digital plays (and another 6-7 digital). I don’t have all of the characters and combinations available, nor have I mastered every character I do own right now.

This is a game I’ll pull off and teach to any who are interested and willing. I have a friend who I regularly watch the Marvel films with, and he’s the first on my list of friends to teach this game to. It is a game I know my wife will never love, despite her willingness to watch superhero movies, due to its cooperative nature and the amount of text reading this requires in a hero deck. And I’m okay with that – thus why the review is from the solo perspective rather than 2+. But I have played it with more, and it provides a fun and interesting experience at all player counts. I prefer 1-3 as the range for players, as the rounds move faster. I would be hard-pressed to play at 5, unless they are all experienced, just because of how bogged down it can become.

Yet this is a game I really enjoy having in my collection, as I love throwing together a few heroes and clashing against a massive villain. I doubt I will ever find a character I love to play more than Fanatic in this game, but I have not met a hero deck I couldn’t at least appreciate playing (even if there are some I definitely do NOT play well…I’m looking at you, Tachyon). The lore behind this game is mind-blowing, and I want to jump out there and start writing short stories about some of these events (or side events that never “appear” in the card game) that are talked about on The Letters Page podcast. With the release of Oblivaeon into the hands of players, the card game has reached its conclusion in terms of content so now is a great time to dive in – you can pick up the box that appeals most to you in terms of the heroes you want to play.

So while this may never be a Top 5 game overall for me, it definitely has earned a place as a Top 5 solo game for me and is one I enjoy just as much when playing with other people. Almost every battle feels epic in a good way, especially after that first round or two where your team of heroes has already lost half of their health and you see no possible way of winning. Until you begin to chain together some impressive cards onto the table, gaining power to hit back hard and take those threats down.

My biggest gripe with it, as a solo game, is that I win too often. Yet it does a great job of making every victory (well, almost every victory) feel like a hard-fought and hard-earned victory. And while I know my wife will never become a convert to the great experience of Sentinels of the Multiverse, I look forward to the day when my children are old enough to play this (with some help reading, perhaps) with me and we can bond as superheroes taking down Baron Blade before he can pull the moon into the earth. And then make our own stories about our favorite heroes and heroines from the game…

***

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

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

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

Board Gaming

Only 52 Games…

There is a mentality in the board gaming industry that we need more games and the newest games. Letting go of a game that never gets played is frequently a challenge, as we like to cling to fond memories of that time we played it and the game was a blast.

I’m partial to this mentality at times, too. I’ll never forget experiences such as my very first play of Shadows Over Camelot, but that doesn’t mean I need to add it to my collection (it’d be a really poor addition, actually, since it needs at least 3 players, is cooperative, and have a traitor mechanic). So often I hear people mention they have X hundred games, whether that is 100+ or 400+, or some number along the massive spectrum that creeps ever higher. And that got me thinking a few weeks ago: what if you could only keep 50 games? Or, for the sake of making a nice annual number: 52 games, to make it so you could play one game every week and get through your entire collection.

And so I sat down and started to form natural groupings of 5, filling games into those slots. While I wanted to do a massive reveal, going 5 games at a time and talking at length about them, I really just need to get this out there to stimulate conversation such as:

What games am I missing on this list that I should consider?

What would YOU choose if you could only have 52 games in your collection?

And, as is only fitting, after I made the list of 50 games I have played some more new games which are fighting to earn a place on this list. Root, I’m especially looking at you…

And so, with no further ado, here are the 52 games I would want in my collection right now if I could cull it down to that number (and add in those games not yet in my collection…) plus a short statement of how they made the list. Please note that this list can and will be likely to change, however, this was an excellent challenge to try and determine which games would make it into the collection still if this happened. Not surprisingly, a few games I have/want for my soloing purposes didn’t make the cut, as I have an ideal solo game at #2 here and I think I would rather fill the collection with games she’d enjoy with me. Also, apart from the first five, these appear in no particular order.

I’m guessing my wife would love to see this culling happen, as this number of games would make a LOT of sense to her.

  1. War of the Ring (Second Edition) – Reasoning: Top 5 Game for me
  2. The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game – Reasoning: Top 5 Game for me
  3. Mystic Vale – Reasoning: Top 5 Game for me
  4. Lignum – Reasoning: Top 5 Game for me
  5. Kingdom Builder – Reasoning: Top 5 Game for me
  6. A Feast for Odin – Reasoning: Her favorite designer is Uwe Rosenberg
  7. Caverna: The Cave Farmers – Reasoning: Her favorite designer is Uwe Rosenberg
  8. Le Havre – Reasoning: Her favorite designer is Uwe Rosenberg
  9. Glass Road – Reasoning: Her favorite designer is Uwe Rosenberg
  10. Ora et Labora – Reasoning: Her favorite designer is Uwe Rosenberg
  11. Lisboa – Reasoning: My favorite designer is Vital Lacerda
  12. Vinhos Deluxe – Reasoning: My favorite designer is Vital Lacerda
  13. The Gallerist – Reasoning: My favorite designer is Vital Lacerda
  14. Dragon Keepers – Reasoning: My favorite designer is Vital Lacerda
  15. Escape Plan – Reasoning: My favorite designer is Vital Lacerda
  16. Azul – Reasoning: Thinky filler game
  17. The Castles of Burgundy – Reasoning: Thinky filler game
  18. Arboretum – Reasoning: Thinky filler game
  19. Oh My Goods! – Reasoning: Thinky filler game
  20. Harvest – Reasoning: Thinky filler game
  21. Ex Libris – Reasoning: Worker Placement is her favorite mechanic
  22. Viticulture: Essential Edition – Reasoning: Worker Placement is her favorite mechanic
  23. Keyper – Reasoning: Worker Placement is her favorite mechanic
  24. Keyflower – Reasoning: Worker Placement is her favorite mechanic
  25. Coal Baron: The Great Card Game – Reasoning: Worker Placement is her favorite mechanic
  26. Rococo – Reasoning: Deckbuilding is my favorite mechanic
  27. Aeon’s End – Reasoning: Deckbuilding is my favorite mechanic
  28. Core Worlds – Reasoning: Deckbuilding is my favorite mechanic
  29. Fantastiqa – Reasoning: Deckbuilding is my favorite mechanic
  30. Shipwrights of the North Sea – Reasoning: Game Trilogy
  31. Raiders of the North Sea – Reasoning: Game Trilogy
  32. Explorers of the North Sea – Reasoning: Game Trilogy
  33. Haspelknecht – Reasoning: Game Trilogy
  34. The Ruhr: A Story of Coal Trade – Reasoning: Game Trilogy
  35. Kohle and Kolonie – Reasoning: Game Trilogy
  36. Hanamikoji – Reasoning: 2-player only game
  37. Fantastiqa: Rival Realms – Reasoning: 2-player only game
  38. BattleCON – Reasoning: 2-player only game
  39. Liberation – Reasoning: 2-player only game
  40. Penny Rails – Reasoning: 2-player only game
  41. Argent: The Consortium – Reasoning: Heavy Euro
  42. Antiquity – Reasoning: Heavy Euro
  43. Trajan – Reasoning: Heavy Euro
  44. Nations – Reasoning: Heavy Euro
  45. Arkwright – Reasoning: Heavy Euro
  46. Root
  47. 878: Vikings – Invasions of England
  48. Middle Earth CCG
  49. Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King
  50. Empreal: Spells and Steam
  51. Three Kingdoms Redux
  52. Race for the Galaxy

 

Just missed the cut:

  1. Sentinels of the Multiverse
  2. 7 Wonders Duel
  3. Hero Realms
  4. Carthago
  5. Gloomhaven
  6. Pathfinder: Adventure Card Game
  7. Patchwork
  8. Blight Chronicles: Agent Decker
Board Gaming · Review for Two · Two-Player Only

Review for Two – Liberation

Thank you for checking review #66 by Cardboard Clash. My aim is to focus on reviewing board games and how they play for two people and, on occasion, how they play for one person. Because my wife is my primary gaming partner, a lot of consideration goes into finding those games that play well with 2 players, and we typically prefer to find those games that do not require a variant (official or otherwise) in order to play it with just the two of us.

**A prototype of this game was provided in exchange for an honest review.

((Check it out on Kickstarter: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/239309591/liberation-an-asymmetric-hidden-movement-game?ref=nav_search&result=project&term=liberation)

An Overview of Liberation

Liberation is a game designed by Jon Simantov and was published by Button Shy in 2018. The “box” states that it can play 2 players and has a 20-25 minute play time.

For hundreds of generations, the tyrannical Intercosmic Dynasty has ruled the galaxy with a titanium fist. Their power and reach is spreading, but so is word of their misdeeds. A band of resistance fighters known as the Liberation has begun striking at the Dynasty from a hidden base. Will you help the Liberation gain enough support before their secret base is discovered, or will the you wield the awesome power of the Dynasty to hunt down these traitors and bring them to heel?

Using a tiny deck of only 18 cards, Liberation plays out a miniature rebellion of galactic scale on your tabletop. An asymmetrical game of cat and mouse, the Dynasty player expands their web of power, occupying and exploiting planet cards, while the Liberation player strikes from the shadows, sabotaging the Dynasty’s hand and performing daring missions. The odds are long and the stakes are high. Can you stall long enough to cycle through the deck 3 times, earning enough support to topple the Dynasty, or will you scour the galactic map, tightening the noose around the secret base of the Liberation to attack and destroy them? The future of the galaxy is at stake!

Gameplay differences for 2 Players

There are none, as this is a 2-player only game!

My Thoughts

 

 You want tension in a game? This has it in spades. You never feel as though you’re safe as the Liberation, and you rarely feel as though you have enough time to find and attack them as the Dynasty. That is exactly the sort of balance you want to find in this sort of game. Every minute of the game is capable of gripping you and holding your attention firmly in place.

 

 I love asymmetry in games, particularly of the 2-player flavor. This succeeds better than most, providing different actions for each turn, different missions on the cards, and very different objectives to win the game. Both sides, when you play them, feel like they are starting at a disadvantage. Both sides, when you play them, will have you feel like the other side has the better and more powerful missions they can use on cards. I’d say this game was pretty successful at the asymmetry based on these reactions.

 It is a small detail, but I appreciate the idea to have the Dynasty choose their starting planet from their opening hand before the Liberation gets to choose their face-down base from their opening hand. This allows them to see where the early focus will be for the Dynasty and try to choose a planet that isn’t literally next door to the Dynasty. Unfortunately, I’ve been dealt a hand that had 2 adjacent and 1 within two spaces of the starting Dynasty planet. That opening hand sucked…more on that later.

 There is a higher cost on the Dynasty actions, which feels really thematic. Their stuff packs a punch, but they can’t spam the actions apart from Recruit Spy. The Liberation has a lower cost, meaning they will need less to play cards, but that is because they aren’t occupying cities and therefore don’t have a tableau of cards to exploit. I’ve mentioned this several times already, but this manages to feel thematic and somehow balanced. The Liberation feels the advantage early in the game (usually) while the Dynasty ramps up in power as the game progresses (usually).

 Discards are face-down, hiding some information from those who are able to take absurdly good mental notes over the course of a game. Every card drawn by the Dynasty and every mission played by the Liberation provides some information for the savvy player to exploit in trying to narrow down the possibilities. I’m horrible at this, but others would be really good at tracking those things. The only saving grace comes in those face-down discards.

 The artwork for the cities, as well as the map itself, are fantastic. I’m not sure if this is final artwork or not, but I really like the look and feel of these cards during gameplay.

 The four cards making up the map are double-sided, and therefore the side showing and the cards they connect to will make for a different map every single time you play. Cities that are adjacent in one game might be on opposite ends of the galaxy in another. It is a small detail, but a critical one that enhances replay value and prevents a “always start on X city as the Dynasty” strategy from being emergent.

 A gamer who likes to be active and aggressive may find the Liberation side of the game to be a complete bore to play. I didn’t have the issue, finding both sides to be equally exciting to play. However, the Dynasty is clearly the aggressor of the game as their win condition requires that approach. Which will make them the interesting side to many players, simply because they control the tempo of the game with action while the Liberation is trying to dodge via reaction.

 This is courtesy of a friend I taught the game to, who raised the concern even before we started playing. The Liberation has an Evade action, which lets them return the base card to their hand and secretly put down that same card or an adjacent card as their base. His concern? There is no way to make sure the opponent plays honest here. I’ll grant him that point, and others might feel the same concern. But if you can’t trust your opponent to not cheat in a 20-minute game, that’s a player problem rather than a game problem.

 While the length of the game prevents this from being a dealbreaker, it is disheartening if the Dynasty has unusually good luck early in the game. I had a game end before we even finished the deck one time because he attacked the right city, which was within 3 thanks to Launch Fleet. Will it happen often? Probably not. Will it happen sometimes? Yep. Lucky guesses can end the game before it really gets going. Thankfully, it takes very little time to reset the game and it is short enough that it should be no issue to try again.

 This game needs player aids. Desperately. I felt that from my first play, and my friends have confirmed my own belief. Is it something planned? I don’t know, and I’ll gladly provide an update once I find out. But this game demands a reference to remember what exploit, directive, occupy, mission, sabotage, and evade all mean and the sequence of actions. One card for the Liberation, one for the Dynasty. If not cards, then extra sheets on the paper that the rulebook will be printed out on. Something more than the rulebook itself is needed here, for the benefit of the players.

Final Thoughts

I have played this game more times than I have played Star Wars: Rebellion. So many feel that is one of the best games ever made, thus its place in the BGG Top 10. However, Liberation manages to distill the overarching conflict in Rebellion into an 18 card game that you can play several times in one sitting. You could probably log in 6-10 plays of this in about the time it would take for two players to get in one round of Rebellion, and this one is ultra-portable and ultra-affordable.

Will it replace Rebellion in a collection, you ask? If you are that player who absolutely loves Star Wars: Rebellion, then it is likely you love the minis and the battles and the missions and everything else. So the short answer is no, it probably won’t “replace” Rebellion in most collections. However, this is that game you will definitely want in your collection to help scratch the Rebellion itch when you simply don’t have several hours to set aside and play the game. Both can easily exist in a collection because they don’t compete in terms of length or portability.

Now that the obvious is behind us, let’s talk about Liberation. This game is good. So very, very good. It has tension regardless of which side you are playing. The map is small enough that the Liberation can never feel completely safe, and as the Dynasty you always have this sense that those Liberation scum are right under your nose (and oftentimes they are!) if you could only find it. The deck makes the Dynasty feel like they have all sorts of time, until the Liberation goes and discards half of it with one card. And then the pressure is on, and desperation ensues. Everything builds up for one grand attack, launching superweapons. And then the Liberation manages to exploit two of the Dynasty’s occupied cities, setting them back a turn. And then they do it a second time, which is enough to allow the Dynasty only one shot before the game ends. With a gut feeling of two possible parts of the map, the Dynasty fires on one duo and misses, allowing the Liberation to secure victory and reveal the other city in mind was their base.

That right there happened in the last game I played of Liberation and holy smokes, it was amazing. Even in losing, this game is way too much fun. How this can happen without chits or resources or meeples simply blows my mind. This is a game that impressed me from my learning session against Jason Tagmire of Button Shy Games himself, and continues to amaze me with every play. This is the game I want to always have with me, so that when it is just me and one other person I can pull this out for a nice, tense 20 minutes of gaming. Every card’s ability, in the right situation, feels amazingly powerful, You’ll never be able to pull off everything you want to as the Dynasty, as the costs are high to launch your mighty effects, but you’ll always feel that growing sense of power and it is awesome.

The fear when you are the Liberation is high when you realize they can strike at any planet 3 away from one they occupy and that contains pretty much the entire map between all the cities they control. Simple turns with simple actions that lead to tense, exciting gameplay. For less than the cost of a fancy dinner. Skip the dinner for a month and get this game, then take this with you when you go to said fancy dinner. You don’t need a ton of space for this one, and it’ll be exactly what you want while waiting for ages to get your food. I can’t recommend this one highly enough. This one has earned the “keeper” status for my collection, and I look forward to getting many more plays out of the game.

***

((Check it out on Kickstarter: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/239309591/liberation-an-asymmetric-hidden-movement-game?ref=nav_search&result=project&term=liberation)

Hopefully you found this article to be a useful look at Liberation. If you’re interested in providing support for Cardboard Clash so I can continue to improve what we offer, check out my page over on Patreon: http://www.patreon.com/CardboardClash.Check out more of our reviews at the following Geeklist and be sure to let me know what you thought of this game.

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

Board Gaming · Review for Two

Review for Two: InBetween

Thank you for checking review #65 by Cardboard Clash. My aim is to focus on reviewing board games and how they play for two people and, on occasion, how they play for one person. Because my wife is my primary gaming partner, a lot of consideration goes into finding those games that play well with 2 players, and we typically prefer to find those games that do not require a variant (official or otherwise) in order to play it with just the two of us.

**A copy of this game was provided in exchange for an honest review.

An Overview of InBetween

InBetween is a game designed by Adam Kwapinski and was published by Board & Dice in 2017. The box states that it can play 2 players and has a 20-40 minute play time and a BGG weight rating of 2.44.

InBetween is a game for two players, competing against each other to either protect or devour the inhabitants of Upsideville in a tug-of-war between the Human and Creature dimensions.

During a game of InBetween, the Creature player is trying to devour the inhabitants of Upsideville by drawing them ever deeper into its home dimension, while the Town player is trying to increase the safety of the inhabitants in the Human dimension until they are secured from the Creature’s depredations. Players take turns playing cards and using abilities that will draw the Characters further into their dimension. At the same time they are trying to increase their Awareness of their opponent so as to enhance a powerful one-time ability that may affect the game’s outcome. There are several routes to victory in InBetween; a player can win by drawing enough Characters into their dimension, or by increasing their Awareness to its highest level.

The fate of Upsideville is in the hands of the players. Will the Town and its people be able to win and walk peacefully once again around? Or will the darkness triumph, and the horrifying creature will walk freely between the alleys?

Gameplay differences for 2 Players

There are none, as this is a 2-player only game!

My Thoughts

 The turn structure is really simple, having you take one of three actions: play a card and possibly pay to activate its ability, draw back to five cards in your hand, or gain energy equal to the number of people currently flipped to your side. Easy choice, right? Except that the latter two actions can be seen as dead actions, making it so you don’t make any impact on the board state and allowing your opponent to get another play before you can react. But in order to do the most effective action, you want some of that energy to pay the activation on the card you play. And in order to get cards, most of the time you need to use that draw action. Trying to decide when, and how often, to draw cards and gain energy is a wonderful struggle.

 I love that you can see the path that the turn marker is going to follow, allowing you to plan ahead for placement to advance your own characters or to try and win a character to your side enough that your opponent gets nothing when the marker reaches that spot. Oftentimes I’m looking 4-6 characters down the line as I’m planning my turn out, trying to decide which actions I might want to try and trigger or which characters I definitely don’t want her to trigger.

 The player reference cards have everything you could want on there, and I’m coming to value a good reference card more and more in a game. This not only helps during gameplay while learning the game, but also serves as a nice refresher point when the game hits the table again after a period of time.

 Letting the town deck have equipment cards is a really nice addition. Thematically, of course the creature won’t be making use of things like shotguns, walkie talkies, etc. It helps give the town that feeling of having an edge, but there are ways the creature has of dealing with those cards as well. But I love few things in this game more than looking down at 2-4 equipment cards in play when I am the town and know I’m reaping the benefit of those effects long after paying the initial energy cost.

 The artwork is very evocative of the theme in this game. If you’ve seen the show Stranger Things, you’ll recognize and appreciate some subtle things on the cards that will remind you of the show. But even without that knowledge, a player gets a sense that one side is really creepy and disturbing and full of bad news. I really enjoy the enhancement that the art brings to the experience on this game.

 The push-pull mechanism in this game is simple yet enjoyable. In order to raise your awareness, you need to have a cube on the townsperson when the marker is on that character. In order to get that cube on there, you need to have them on your side of the InBetween state. However, you can easily offset what your opponent does by playing cards to move their characters back, making it so you need to decide whether it is better to advance your own “scoring” opportunities or try and prevent theirs. This provides great decisions and some tension along the way. Even more enticing is when the cube is advanced to the 2nd or 3rd space on the character card, allowing the player to raise awareness AND trigger the action on the character card. The one thing you never want to see is your opponent getting a cube to the 4th space, which makes them secured (if on the town side) or devoured (if on the creature side). That pretty much locks that character down for the rest of the game, although there are a few ways to offset that.

 The game is fast enough that we often play a best-of-three series. I love small box, thinky games like that where you’re finished fast enough to play again and fun enough you want that immediate rematch if you’ve lost.

 There are three ways the game can come to an end: a player reaches 6 awareness, a player gets 3 characters to the secured/devoured state, or there are 5 characters remaining of the 10. I love the concept of three ways of ending the game; however, I’ve never seen it get close to two of these endings. It has always been Awareness, and almost always with one player at 4-5 when the other hits 6.

 The game provides moments of dread when you see that the marker is about to hit a run of 2-3 characters that will boost your opponent’s awareness. Even worse is seeing you have no cards in hand with matching symbols or, as has happened, you have no cards or energy at this point so you need to simply pray that you get really lucky with a draw and can play something to survive. It provides tension, but it also feels just a little like you’re helpless to react. Ultimately, the result is “plan better” for the next game, which you’re almost always going to want to play again.

 A small nitpick, but worth mentioning. The only place that the name of the game appears is on the small side of the box. Not on the cover. Not on the back. I guess it does appear, in really small print, on the bottom side as well. But this really, really limits the marketing to the gamer who is trained to pick up the box, look at the cover and the back to see what the game is about. It takes some looking on this one. Not a dealbreaker by any means, as the art on the front and back are stunning and thematic.

Final Thoughts

When I heard about this game, it was advertised as Stranger Things in board game form. And there is no denying that inspiration for the theme likely was pulled from that popular series. That in itself should help this game sell copies, but is that theme the only star for this box?

Thankfully, no. There is such a great little game wrapped up in this small box that it feels like a shame that this isn’t getting more buzz. Then again, small box 2-player games typically fly under the radar as a rule and it truly is a shame. This delivers an experience that you’d want for the size and price of the game, providing an asymmetric experience with a serious tug-of-war element as both players battle over influencing the ten townspeople. I love the sense of dread that grows when you see a series of 2-3 townsfolk coming up that will increase their awareness if you don’t make the right plays and get the right cards for the job. And the sense of excitement when you manage to come out of that gauntlet and still be in the running to win the game, jockeying to return the favor in a few turns.

The biggest flaw in the game comes from the unlikelihood that it will end in any way except the 6 Awareness route. I’ve never seen it come close to ending any other way with the few people I’ve played against, and maybe we’re just really bad at the game. Somehow I don’t think that is the case, though.

While the town is more interesting to play due to the variety of cards, the creature has its own benefits with some powerful abilities they’ll see more often. But that is balanced further by the frequency of symbols – there are 7 different creature symbols but only 4 for the town. This makes it an interesting dynamic for the push-pull that happens for the circle of townspeople. I love how different these two sides feel, even though the goals are the same regardless of the side you play.

So if you like 2-player games with a little bit of a puzzle during gameplay, coupled with very direct interaction between the players and asymmetric sides, this is definitely one to check out. You don’t need to be a fan of the Stranger Things show to appreciate the game, nor is any knowledge required to play. This is a nice, tense game that could be categorized as being on the lighter side of thinky fillers, and is one I always look forward to getting onto the table.

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

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

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