Review for One · Review for Two

Review for One and Two: Everdell

Thank you for checking review #123 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 copy of the game in exchange for an honest review. All opinions remain my own.

**Second Note: I lost a LOT of photos that have been taken in the past few months. So I have only a few on here, but I will be editing in more soon!

An overview of Everdell

Everdell is a board game designed by James A. Wilson that is published by Starling Games. The box state it plays 1-4 players and has a playtime of 40-80 minutes.

Within the charming valley of Everdell, beneath the boughs of towering trees, among meandering streams and mossy hollows, a civilization of forest critters is thriving and expanding. From Everfrost to Bellsong, many a year have come and gone, but the time has come for new territories to be settled and new cities established. You will be the leader of a group of critters intent on just such a task. There are buildings to construct, lively characters to meet, events to host—you have a busy year ahead of yourself. Will the sun shine brightest on your city before the winter moon rises?

Everdell is a game of dynamic tableau building and worker placement.

On their turn a player can take one of three actions:

a) Place a Worker: Each player has a collection of Worker pieces. These are placed on the board locations, events, and on Destination cards. Workers perform various actions to further the development of a player’s tableau: gathering resources, drawing cards, and taking other special actions.

b) Play a Card: Each player is building and populating a city; a tableau of up to 15 Construction and Critter cards. There are five types of cards: Travelers, Production, Destination, Governance, and Prosperity. Cards generate resources (twigs, resin, pebbles, and berries), grant abilities, and ultimately score points. The interactions of the cards reveal numerous strategies and a near infinite variety of working cities.

c) Prepare for the next Season: Workers are returned to the players supply and new workers are added. The game is played from Winter through to the onset of the following winter, at which point the player with the city with the most points wins.

My Thoughts

External image

 I enjoy a good worker placement game. This one is pretty solid overall in design, with the ramp up in workers gradually across all seasons of the game. I like that there are spaces that are closed, supporting only one worker at a time, and ones that are open which can hold any number of workers. Depending on the cards, there are spaces that randomly come into play to add either 3 or 4 more action spaces (and at 4 players, each has 2 spots to place on). And certain cards, when placed into a player’s tableau, have action spaces. You go from hoping to get to do more than 2 things in the first season to having a ton of options and extra “actions” via cards later in the game and it provides a very satisfying progression.

 The other half of this game mechanics come from tableau building via cards, and here is where the real spotlight shines for me (because I’m that kind of player). You get to hold up to 15 cards which, again, at the very beginning feels impossible to accomplish since you might get 1-2 cards if you are lucky in that first season. Part of this comes from the clever design where getting the appropriate Structure into play can allow you to bring its paired Creature into play for free on a later turn. That makes it fun to seek out pairs, and to hold Structures in your hand to drop down if/when its partnered card appears in your hand or the Meadow. Perhaps more important are the effects of the cards, with a good number having an effect that triggers when played and, after the first and third seasons, will all trigger again automatically thus encouraging an early focus on those types of cards. Yet others will give you benefits any time you build a certain type of card, and some will score extra end-game points based on types of cards. Some cards open new action spaces to use, some of which can be used by your opponents at a cost. And other cards will allow you to build other cards at a discount later in the game. Very few games have a constant feeling of increasing power. Everdell nails it perfectly.

 Resources seem abundant and scarce at the same time. There are ample places to get resources, and tons of cards that will help you get more resources into your pool. Yet you will often find yourself needing to spend several actions to get what you need to play a card, or get creative with discarding a load of cards. This is great because it never feels like you can just buy any card you need, yet it also never feels like a card is completely out of reach. Even if the single printed space for pebbles is taken, there is a way around that restriction without needing to wait for them to vacate the space. The push-pull for resources is harsh very early, feels like it opens up mid-game, and then feels difficult to accomplish again in the final season as you are pushing to score as many points as possible while trying to find a way to play this card you just drew that could be worth a lot if you get it out.

 The fluid flow of the game is one I wasn’t so sure about going into the game, but I find I really like it. What happens here is that a season doesn’t end at the same time for everyone. It is an action you take on your turn to Prepare for Season, which is when you get more workers, retrieve the ones you already placed, and more. Which means that it is entirely possible to never have it line up to where you have a worker ready to claim a key 1-worker space unless you try to time your seasons around the blocking opponent, adding an extra layer of interesting intrigue into the gameplay. Not only that, it means the game might end for me far sooner than it ends for you. This was what I was concerned with, but since the turns are fast and most players end up finishing in a close timeframe, it has proven to be negligible – especially in a 2-player game. We haven’t had a game yet where it has been more than 5 minutes to wait while the other person finishes out their final plays.

 The game has a hard limit of 8 cards in your hand. This seems odd at first, and it really is unusual. The rules don’t allow you to draw that 9th card, even if you are supposed to. You can’t draw it and discard down to 8. You can’t discard ahead of time as part of that preceding action. You must already have enough room in your hand to accept all of the cards you are about to draw, otherwise you stop completely once the 8th is in your hand. While this makes it incredibly difficult to dig through the deck for more cards, there are still ways to make use of those extra cards you don’t want or need. The most obvious choice is to discard them at a 2-cards for 1-resource ratio using one of your workers. It isn’t a bad trade-off, although I never like spending said worker to accomplish this as there is always something else I need done that requires the worker. And in the final Season, there are spaces where you can discard cards for points, with the highest point spaces able to contain only one worker so first-come, first-serve.

 The offset the hard limit of cards is the presence of the Meadow. This has 8 face-up cards at all times, and anyone can freely pay to play a card from there on their turn. Also, as your second Prepare for Season action, you’ll get to take 2 of the Meadow cards into your hand (assuming you aren’t maxed out in your hand…). This Meadow of cards is great, except when you buy a card only to see the card you wanted flip up and your opponent immediately plays it (or draws it, if they hit that prepare action) leaving you hoping to draw into a much harder-to-find copy of the card deeper in the deck. No, that hasn’t ever happened to me. Why would you think that?

 The game plays fast at 1-3, and is easy to get to the table. I love it at 2, and I hope that comes through here. However, I do want to briefly touch on the solo play of the game. It is HARD. Why? Because the opponent blocks off spaces on the board, spaces on the cards, and blocks increasingly-more cards in the Meadow. That is dynamic enough. But they also gain a card at random from the Meadow (d8 roll) whenever you play a card. Those cards are worth 2-3 points per card, AND when things go wrong it’ll also help them score some of those Basic Events if you haven’t claimed it already when you do a Prepare for Season action. The AI is simple to pilot, the hallmark of a good solo system, and provides a strong challenge. You’ll hear a gripe here shortly about the solo experience, but as a whole I appreciate the game’s deliverance of a challenging opponent in a meaty experience that only takes about 45 minutes to set up and play.

External image

 I am not necessarily against extraneous components, but I am also a firm believer that components are merely chrome. Some of them can be more functional with improvements, but I have never been one to seek after deluxified games and pimped-out table presence. Shoot, half the time I can’t even be bothered to use a playmat with a card game or even to sleeve all my beloved cards. So take it with a grain of salt here when I say this game is unnecessarily overproduced. Not to the point where it gets a ridiculous MSRP based on what comes in the box – that I have no issue with at all. I do have the deluxe version of the game, and I don’t deny the feel of metal coins and wooden discs is good. The bits (which are the same in the retail version) are really good in quality. But that forsaken tree. Yes, it is cardboard. But it adds nothing other than a “wow” factor designed to make players ask what the game is. And I get that, kudos for those involved with finding a cost-effective 3D structure to “integrate” into the game. But my biggest issue, apart from the annoyance of everyone oohing and aahing over the tree to interrupt gameplay in public, is that it moves a pretty important piece of the game onto an elevated, flat surface to where it is not as easy to reference. Those Special Events, which you’ll see soon how much I love, become either forgotten or force players to stand to remember what on earth the cards they need to find actually are.

 Which brings us to the only real negative I have with the game: the Special Events and the impossibility of accomplishing them. I’ve played a reasonable sample size of the game with 6 plays under my belt, and I have seen exactly one fulfilled. That amounts to 1/24 achieved. The problem? The deck of cards is too thick and the likelihood of seeing the two cards you need, much less obtaining them both, is far slimmer than you would expect. At least it has been the case so far. Combine this with the limitation on drawing that I praised earlier, and you have a formula for disaster in trying to accomplish these Special Events. Also keep in mind you need to place a worker there after getting the cards, too, in order to claim the event. It is an exercise in futility that shouldn’t be a factor. And in a multiplayer game, it is fine. I have no issue in us all failing spectacularly – although if one person accomplishes a Special Event it can be a huge boost for them. The issue shifts when we get to the solo experience, where Rugwort scores all of the ones you didn’t accomplish. They might as well gift-wrap him those precious points.

Final Thoughts

Everdell had a bad first impression for me. It was a sour taste that I simply couldn’t get out of my mouth: that tree was clearly 100% visual gimmick. Even worse, it made those Special Events difficult to reference during the game because they were on an elevated plane. It was around midnight after a long day at a convention, and I grew tired of everyone stopping as they walked by to comment about the dang tree. It was not the most conducive way to play the game for the first time, and all of us were learning the game. Yet it was enough to make me interested in playing the game again, in spite of reservations about the scarcity of pebbles.

The tree remains a gimmick, and most of the time pebbles are still a commodity that is difficult to obtain in quantities high enough to buy all of the constructions you are wanting. However, my irritation overall faded into the distance as the game itself became the focal point for my attention. You go from feeling like you can do nothing in the first season of the game to having a maxed-out tableau of cards which, hopefully, have at least a few synergistic triggers that maximize your final turns of the game without needing to do as many placements of your workers. Everdell is a hybrid of a game between a classic worker placement, such as Agricola, and a tableau/engine builder, such as Race for the Galaxy. And while it isn’t as good at either of those areas as the big-hitters mentioned, the merger between the two gives Everdell something of a unique, refreshing offering as a game experience.

And that combination makes this game darn-near perfect as a fit for our personal collection, because it takes her absolute favorite mechanism (worker placement) and combines it with one of my favorites (engine/tableau building). This is a really fun game that we’ve thoroughly enjoyed and will continue to explore (I’ve even heard that the Pearlbrook expansion helps…) but it isn’t our primary go-to gaming experience. At least not yet, although I could definitely see it becoming a staple in our rotation as we dive deeper into the game.

The biggest offender comes in the form of those Special Events. You would think they shouldn’t be that difficult to achieve at least one in a game, yet I’ve seen it happen exactly once. Part of that is because of a misprinted card which, had I known at the time, I could have accomplished a Special Event but chose to toss the needed card because I didn’t know it was the needed card. Anyway, the big issue here is that the stack of cards to draw from is so freaking massive. Not even kidding. Yes, most of the cards have 2-3 copies in there that you can draw. Statistically speaking, you should see most of the 8 required cards for the Special Events during the course of gameplay regardless of the player count. But it just doesn’t play out that way, and trying to dig for a specific card isn’t entirely possible because you have a hard cap at 8 cards in your hand. Already have 8 when you need to draw a card? Tough luck, you don’t even get to draw that card. It is a clever twist, sure, but frustrating because you have to first spend an action to discard cards in order to draw cards to search for the item you need.

All in all, Everdell is a delight to play in spite of the frustration of those Special Event cards…unless you are playing the game solo. After all, in a multiplayer game you are all on the same footing if those cards never do come out for someone to lock in the combo, and even if you do get lucky enough to pull it off you have to spend one of your worker placements to claim the space. But in the solo game against Rugwort the Rat, he scores points for every one of them you do not accomplish. I suppose it is probably designed that way to give him that small boost to his score to make things competitive, but that still makes it feel bad when you finish a solo game and not a single pair appeared all game. As impossible as it sounds, my solo play didn’t even see both the Husband and Wife come out, just several Husbands and Farms. You are going through about the same amount of deck, thanks to Rugwort’s gaining a card anytime you do, and he punishes shenanigans like the Crane because he ultimately gains 2 cards while you sacrifice the Crane to gain into the 1 card. That changes the way in which you value certain actions, and creatures like the 0-point Postal Pigeon suddenly becomes a high risk-reward play.

As a while, Everdell is a game we’re going to keep in our collection for a long time. It offers a fast gameplay experience with a moderate amount of setup and teardown time, but is easily one of those games that can be pulled out on a worknight and enjoyed. Its table presence delights my toddler son, and I have a feeling one of our cats is responsible for a missing Red Squirrel meeple that I hope we’ll find in the next few months as we move into a new home (I am about 60% sure it was there when I unpacked everything and set out the colors for my wife to choose when we got around to playing it…) – if not, I guess we still have 4 playable colors and we rarely need even that many player accommodations. The game has beautiful production, exciting gameplay, and really simple rules that allow you to just dig into exploring new strategies and combinations during gameplay. That is the hallmark of a great game, and one I’m extremely glad to have in our collection.

Review for One

Review for One: Pathfinder Adventure Card Game Core Set

Thank you for checking review #122 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 copy of the game in exchange for an honest review. All opinions remain my own.

An overview of Pathfinder Adventure Card Game: Core Set

Pathfinder Adventure Card Game: Core Set is a board game designed by Chad Brown, Keith Richmond, Aviva Schecterson, Mike Selinker, and Liz Spain that is published by Paizo Publishing. The box state it plays 1-4 players and has a playtime of 90 minutes.

enlarge imageExternal image

Your Adventure Begins Here!

Belhaim’s tower has just collapsed, its wizard is missing, and local kobolds are whispering the name of a long dead draconic nemesis. And that’s just your first day in town…

This complete cooperative strategy game pits 1 to 4 players against monsters, perils, and traps as you become the heroes of Belhaim. As the town’s new champions, an unending world of adventure awaits. Choose your character’s class; build a deck of equipment, magic, and allies; and explore lethal locations as you journey through an exciting fantasy tale. As your adventures continue, your characters add remarkable gear and breathtaking magic to their decks as they gain incredible powers, all of which they’ll need to challenge more and more powerful threats.

This set includes the storybook and cards for The Dragon’s Demand Adventure Path as well as a modular core for infinite scenarios that allows you to control the difficulty and speed of play.

The Pathfinder Adventure Card Game Core Set includes:

440 cards featuring a wide array of powerful weapons, magical spells, protective armors, versatile items, helpful allies, and divine blessings to help you face a host of vicious monsters, dangerous barriers, vile scourges, and perilous wildcards
12 character pawns representing Pathfinder’s iconic character classes from the classic human cleric Kyra to the new goblin alchemist Fumbus
A complete set of 5 polyhedral dice
63 colorful tokens for tracking scourges and secondary objectives
1 4-page quick-start guide
1 32-page rulebook
1 24-page storybook featuring The Dragon’s Demand Adventure Path

My Thoughts

enlarge imageExternal image

 The overhaul of the game, from the card design to the mechanics to the player experience, is all apparent in this box. I wanted to start here, not because it is relevant to new players to the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game but rather because I can attest to the entire package being reconsidered by Paizo. I’ve played several of the other entries (more on that expanded upon in the Final Thoughts) and there are similarities here to make it feel like the same familiar game, yet so much has been tweaked in positive ways to make this an impressive, new entry into the game system. Whether you enjoyed it or not, if you’ve played the game in the past then you should check out the new one (unless you absolutely hated the original, as it is still the same at the heart).

 Two small, but impactful, changes to the game are the inclusion of standees for your character (replacing a card that would go by the location) and the inclusion of effect cards with tokens. Each player has a colored set of tokens, and if you are suffering an effect such as Frightened or Dazed, you place your token on that card until it is resolved. This allows you to easily see what your effect is and who has been impacted by it, and that adds a nice little touch.

enlarge imageExternal image

 More improvements to discuss here! First, I love the dividers that come to help organize the cards. This system works far better than what they had for the original game (which, admittedly, did functionally work) to keep things organized between games and to grab what you need as you need to draw certain card types. Second is the mechanic where some cards have an Ambush keyword, forcing you to encounter the card if you come across it while looking at the stack of cards in the location. This makes items and abilities to look ahead a little riskier, as you could end up with an encounter you aren’t prepared to face.

enlarge imageExternal image

 As always, this game scales really well at all player counts (I haven’t played at 4 yet, but I can’t imagine it being any different). More players mean more locations to cover, and fewer actions per player to defeat the task. But it also means you can divide and conquer really effectively and cover ground quickly. Yet even with one character, trying to get through and close 3 locations is doable and enjoyable. There is enough time to proceed with some level of caution, but not enough time to be lax in exploring through things.

 I love a feeling of character progression, and this game retains a system of growth for characters. After each scenario you’ll get to modify your deck with cards gained throughout the scenario, making your deck a fluid set of cards that conforms to a specific allocation of cards. And being able to earn points to upgrade your character’s stats or abilities is really fun, and a great way to encourage using the same character over the course of a narrative – until they die, at least. Because death is permanent, especially as a solo game, meaning there is always some level of risk-reward as you tackle challenges.

enlarge imageExternal image

 This game is the perfect solo game on nights where I am craving something with meaningful decisions and fun adventure but don’t want to dedicate an entire night toward the game. The game plays quickly, and honestly the setup is a little longer than I’d usually prefer (I ditched Legendary years ago for that very reason: the setup didn’t align with the gameplay experience). Yet this game possesses the adventure, a linear progression of story, and character growth to make me want to come back for more. The box claims a 90 minute play time. I can set up, play, and tear down in around 45-60 when going solo. Sometimes even shorter, depending on the run of luck (in either direction).

 The one thing that has always been a sticking point for the game has been the dependency on die rolls. Yes, there are ample ways to modify these…provided you have the right cards. But my most recent game is an example of how things can snowball out of control. The early game had one really bad roll that moved me to a random location and left me with a debilitating condition that couldn’t be cleared until I closed the current location I was parked at. Every time I encountered a Monster I had to roll 1d4-1 and take that much damage prior to the encounter, with no chance for reduction. Let’s just say the first three encounters all made me discard 3 cards out of a hand of 4, dropping me to a very dangerous level of “health”. The second-to-last card in the deck was the Henchmen, allowing me to finally close the location and carry on with almost no room to take damage or really to spend blessings or allies for extra explorations. Luckily, the rolls went my way from that point and I narrowly escaped with a victory, but it definitely showed how swingy and luck-dependent this game can be at times – especially in the early adventures as your deck and character remain close to their starting state.

 It isn’t the game’s fault, but this one almost demands to be sleeved. Not just because it is heavily card-based, but because you are making decks of cards that are only about 10-20 cards large. There are times where you will need to shuffle and reshuffle mid-game. And I find that sleeved cards work the best for shuffling small quantities like this. Something to keep in mind, regardless of whether you are a compulsive sleever or not – you may find this game benefits from it either way, meaning you’ve got an investment in 500 or so sleeves on top of the price of the game.

 I get it, most people have hordes of polyhedral dice in their collection. Technically all they need to supply is a single set of dice for the game, as you can simply reroll dice and add together. Except then you need to perfectly remember those values, as you are adding them all up at the end. The best solution overall would be for four sets of dice to be in the box: one per potential player. It isn’t like these are premium dice, after all.

Final Thoughts

enlarge imageExternal image

I’ve had a long history with the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game, and much of it has followed an on-again, off-again trajectory. It was a game that struck many of the right notes for me, dating back to when I discovered it through the app on a tablet. What followed from there was obsessively playing the app for a while, then not installing it on my new device later (due to space concerns at the time), playing the physical game (dabbling through early scenarios in the first three sets, playing anywhere from 1-3 players), getting the app back (and finding much of it was now closed behind a paywall), obtaining the entire Wrath of the Righteous set and then parting with it…and so it goes on. It was a game I wanted to love. So much of it paired well with what I enjoy in solo games.

And then the new Core Set came out for the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game. I was cautiously optimistic, because it sounded like a pretty heavy revamp of the game system and updated appearance to the cards. And yes, many of the core mechanics are kept in-tact for the updated version of the game. It still feels like the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game. Yet at the same time, it feels remarkably fresh and innovative comparatively. I’m not even sure that I can accurately convey how that contradiction is possible, but it is definitely an improvement over the original. Almost like how the Original Star Wars trilogy was improved initially when George Lucas made some slight modifications, adding in a few deleted scenes and touching up some of the visuals with the better effects available in the 90’s.

Perhaps my favorite change to the game comes from the story book for your adventures. It seems like such a small, silly thing. You were probably expecting me to mention the standees for the characters, or the organizer cards, or even the condition tokens. But no, it is all about the story for me. This elevates the game experience to another notch. It isn’t the only great improvement here. The cards themselves are well-designed, things feel like they have been strongly considered and the game is down to a solid, core experience that is welcome for both newer players and returning veterans (I probably fall between those areas, since I’ve played a decent amount of the older game but never came close to finishing any single adventure cycle).

If you have always wanted to try this game, there is no better entry point for your money than this new core set. It has everything you’ll need to get started, and ample space to expand your collection as its gameplay hooks you. And if you are like me and enjoyed the original sets, even in a limited exposure, but never fully plunged in than this is the set to try out. It takes the things they learned across four cycles and implements things in a way that removes a lot of rough edges while maintaining a great core experience.

Review for One

Review for One: Run Fight or Die: Reloaded

Thank you for checking review #121 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 copy of the game in exchange for an honest review. All opinions remain my own.

An overview of Run Fight or Die: Reloaded

External image

Run Fight or Die: Reloaded is a board game designed by Richard Launius that is published by Grey Fox Games. The box state it plays 1-4 players and has a playtime of 20-40 minutes.

Back from the dead and better than ever! Run Fight or Die: Reloaded is a revamped and refreshed edition of the Richard Launius game Run Fight or Die.

In the game, you play a hero trying to survive wave after wave of zombies coming straight for you! You play as a unique character with your own character traits including a minor, major and super combo. You’ll need them to fight off the zombies move closer to you every round. You run from location to location, searching for weapons and survivors in a desperate attempt to stay alive. Survivors may bring new skills to help you in your desperate fight for survival, or in some cases, new challenges to overcome. You’ll also need them along if you want to win as every survivor provides you victory points.

This streamlined version removes several decks from the original game, including the Fleeing deck and Event deck. Players rolls six dice instead of five and there are now different combos to mitigate against tough zombie-filled rolls. Additionally, players can now use followers to soak damage coming in from zombies.

The game ends either when one player dies, the Town Line comes out of the locations deck, or when the Mutant Zombie has been put down once and for all. Whoever has the most leadership points among surviving players wins.

Run, Fight, or Die: Reloaded is a frantic first person experience for 1 to 4 players (will play up to 6 with the 5/6 player expansion).

My Thoughts

External image

 I love that this game presents more difficult decisions than you would expect from a dice chucking, yatzee-style mechanic. There are always zombies appearing and advancing, so you need to balance between advancing through locations, finding new items/followers to handle the threats better, and clearing the zombies that are at the front of the line. Every round has some risk of danger for taking damage, so it is rare to have a round where you can completely ignore the zombies. And every Zombie die face rolled gives you one fewer die to make a dent in the oncoming threat. For sure quick turns, there is plenty of room to make meaningful decisions – even when they are partially dictated by random die rolls.

 The game’s rules are simple and explained really well in the rulebook. This is one easy to pick up, set up, and play all in one quick sitting – something that is rare to find sometimes in this hobby, even when considering small-box games. If this is something that appeals to you (and let’s face it, the biggest barrier to a game being played is often the rulebook), be reassured that this is done quite well. I never encountered anything during gameplay that wasn’t clearly answered.

 Even though the solo experience is a beat-your-own-score type (unless you play the solo campaign…more on that below), since there is a loss condition that could end your game prematurely this game is of the good type of beat-your-own-score games. I always appreciate something more added in than a “do better” style of condition. Having an early losing condition isn’t quite as good as objective-based solo play, but it does make it a little better.

External image

 As a whole, the game does a good job of evoking a sense of impending threat. The hordes of zombies will never stop, and rarely slow down. Which means most turns you’ll be looking at least 2-3 zombies to kill or take wounds from. And wounds are a fast track to instant death on this game, although getting some followers can certainly help. Yet even there comes some risk, as a fair number of followers do bad things if they take wounds or die. Fans of shows like The Walking Dead, where you watch characters trying to scrape by with what they can for as long as they can, will feel that sense of desperation at finding a way to survive one more round. Unfortunately…

 That sense of desperation doesn’t come around often enough. At least in my plays so far, it has been my experience that most rounds are spent doing a little of everything and keeping the worst of things at bay. Yes, there are occasional rounds where I’ve got 9 zombies to deal with somehow this turn, but those are the extreme exception. Even the mutant zombie, when he appears, turned out to be an annoyance to juggle rather than a “I need to deal with him now or I’m going to lose” situation. There is tension in the game. Unfortunately, it isn’t as prevalent as I had hoped and, sometimes, that tension only comes from being on the wrong side of random chance via dice rolls.

 Let’s talk about the elephant in the room on this game: the solo campaign. If you backed the game on Kickstarter, you already have everything you need to play the campaign. However, if you pick this up via retail, half the rulebook is dedicated to an aspect of the game you cannot experience unless you go spend another $9.99 on their website to get the components (of which, only two decks of 15 cards are really essential) needed to play the solitaire campaign. Is it worth that price? I can’t weigh in on that. Yes, it makes the solo experience much better overall. And yes, bringing it to a total of $60 MSRP isn’t a dealbreaker on the game. Yet I know I was miffed about the necessity, and stubbornly tried to refuse to do it. However, I do have a solution to propose! I think they should reach out to the PNP Arcade to make available the solo campaign items as a PNP file for a small fee. I’d rather drop $3 and print the stuff out and try it tonight than spend $10 plus shipping and wait for it to arrive. Odds are, if you like it you’ll later

External image

splurge to get the high quality components anyway. Without the campaign, this game is fine for the solo gamer. But with the campaign, it gets elevated to a higher level because it adds something extra to the experience that makes it unique from a multiplayer experience.

 The insert in the box is so-so. It has a ton of space for zombie minis (far more space than needed). It has spots to hold cards, which I appreciate. But it won’t hold the sleeved cards, which I know some gamers will really hate. The mini cards, when sleeved, won’t fit back into the card slot so they are bagged instead. There is enough space in here that they could have made it hold sleeved cards, and had trays in there to hold the individual types of tokens. The insert isn’t bad enough to auto-trash, but there are definitely ways it could be improved to make it more useful.

Final Thoughts

Run Fight or Die: Reloaded is, at its heart, a fun romp through wave after wave after wave of zombies as you roll yatzee style with dice. If you enjoy games like King of Tokyo, Elder Sign, Dice Throne, etc. then this game is definitely going to be up your alley as well. What it sets out to do, it accomplishes well. There are plenty of things the game provides to make it a fun experience for the gamer, even if in essence it becomes quite repetitive. Getting the risk/reward factor with visiting new locations and with finding new followers is always a fun, yet sometime heartbreaking, experience. Getting that follower to allow a re-roll of a Zombie die each turn is a huge boost, while getting an Infected follower can increase the challenge provided by the game. Being able to adapt on the fly, and to make solid decisions about which dice to keep from your initial roll, makes this game exciting.

External image

If it feels like I’m talking in circles a bit, I probably am guilty of that. This game isn’t really my cup of tea most of the time, although there are a few exceptions (I like Dice Throne a fair amount, but none of the others from the above list). I’ve genuinely enjoyed my plays of this game, but it hasn’t really done enough to stand out in a way to make me love the game. Kind of that space where I don’t love it – the game is fun and enjoyable but I simply don’t feel a need to own it. I’d gladly play it if the game was on the table and they needed another player, but I wouldn’t actively seek out a play of the game, either.

I had hoped the solo campaign would push the game experience over the edge. And yes, I do like that they added in here. It is half the rulebook and spans four “scenarios”, all of which can easily be played in a single session. And it involves moving across the “map” 4 times, each time facing a different challenge while trying to avoid being killed or having the map get overrun with zombies. It adds some interesting things such as Trauma cards, which limit what you can do in some way until you find certain things in the game. Yet even that boils down to random luck (as does much of the game). I appreciate the removal of scoring points/beat-your-own-score system for solitaire play, making it most likely that I would replay that solo campaign if I wanted to play this one again. It is done well, fitting the game that exists rather than reinventing something completely new. And for that, I applaud the folks that worked on it.

Yet overall, this game is average – maybe just above average – which is unfortunate considering how many games are out there and how many new games are being released each year. A game really needs to stand out, especially as I look to maintain a smaller collection in 2020 and beyond. I’ve enjoyed the game, and am very glad I was given a chance to play and review the game, but it isn’t a game I would purchase because it simply isn’t the style of game I’m looking for on my shelf.

Review for One · Solo Gaming

Review for One: Dragon Keepers

Thank you for checking review #118 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 copy of the game at the cost of shipping in exchange for an honest review. All opinions remain my own.

An overview of Dragon Keepers

Dragon Keepers is a board game designed by Catalina Lacerda and Vital Lacerda that is published by Knight Works LLC. The box state it plays 1-6 players and has a playtime of 10-40 minutes.

In this fantasy universe, each player is the chief of a tribe of dragon keepers, defending the dragons from attacks by the evil hunter. The hunter wants to see those cute dragons dead, but must get past the dragon keepers. The keepers belong to different tribes but together they have the common goal of protecting the dragons. The keepers use magic in their duels with the evil hunter.

Dragon Keepers was designed by Vital Lacerda and his youngest daughter, Catarina. Says Vital, “She is the one who knows a lot about dragons and I could have never been able to do this design without her.” Dragon Keepers has two different games in the box:

KEEPER GAME: 3–6 players | 10–15 minutes | ages 6+
In this competitive mode, the hunter rolls dice to attack the dragons and the players choose which of the attacked dragons they want to defend. The game ends when one player manages to heroically defend three different dragons or if one dragon gets three hits. The winner is the player with more successful defenses.

DRAGON GAME: 2–4 players | 20–40 minutes | ages 9+
In this cooperative mode, the keepers work together to defend and train the dragons so that they attack the hunter. Players can take four different actions: Defend, Cure, Train and Attack. Those actions are limited and they need to cooperate and organized as a group to manage to stop the hunter’s attacks during the game. The players lose if a dragon is killed by the hunter, or if the battle event deck runs out. The players win if X dragons (where X is determined by the difficulty level) manage to successfully attack the hunter.

My Thoughts

 For a game that I expected to be a light dice-chucker…there are a serious number of thoughtful decision points in here. True, every round will involve rolling 1-6 dice for the Hunter. But that is the first thing that happens, and it tells you which of your six dragons are being targeted for the round, and you get two actions to try and minimize the harm to your dragons and try and make progress toward having all six dragons trained & successfully attack the Hunter. It is a challenge, especially since your pool of action tokens is limited, you have two of each color dragon card (in a solo game) to choose from before resting – meaning you can’t just repeatedly use the same dragon, and you can’t train a damaged, or targeted, dragon.

 The spell cards are a great addition to the game, oftentimes providing useful and essential abilities to help swing things in your favor, such as training damaged dragons, removing damage, or allowing rerolls of attacks. You can play one per dragon card/action token you put out, meaning you can use up to 2 per turn. Two of your four actions will give you new spell cards, taking one from the discard pile or from the top of the deck (both of which are face-up). However, that deck is also your game timer! Which means you’re punishing yourself by avoiding the draw from the discard pile. And since taking a spell card doesn’t read as being an optional reward, you might even be forced to speed up the game timer if you choose the wrong combination of actions. It allows some really tense decisions.

 There are a ton of ways to make the game more, or less, challenging. I find the “minimum” difficulty for solo mode (I believe it is Hard) to be a very strong challenge. It requires you to train and successfully attack with all 6 dragons, skipping over the easier versions where you only need to accomplish this with 4 or 5 dragons. How does it get harder? Making weak fireball die results count as misses, and making it so you need more hits on the Hunter. Also…

 The Shadow Hunter variant is brutal. Basically there are four different Hunter cards that are shuffled into the spell deck (Pandemic style, putting one in each quarter of the small deck). In the normal game, when they appear they are discarded and a die is permanently added to the Hunter’s die pool, meaning he’s going to be doing more from that round onward. That’s a challenge in itself. The variant makes it so each Hunter card does an additional effect as it comes out, which cranks the challenge up by a lot. I want to use this variant more, but I need to actually win a game first…

 The artwork is a huge win on this game. I absolutely love it. It can certainly be a subjective thing, of course, but this is the sort of game that I would see and immediately want to know more about.

 I like that there is incentive to deal damage to the Hunter as quickly as possible, because for every 3 Fireballs you hit him with, you can remove a die from his pool. This helps to offset the gradual ramp in difficulty, making it more likely the dragon you need to use is able to be selected. Because, again, if they are damaged or targeted by the Hunter they cannot be trained. Which means sometimes what you need to do gets trumped by figuring out what you can do instead.

 Let’s circle back to planning in the game. Not only do you need to manage your choice of when to use certain actions and activate/protect certain dragons, but you also need to keep in mind when to take your Rest round. Because you are forced to do it if you’ve played 6 cards (you play 2 per round, so every fourth turn is potentially a forced rest) where the Hunter rolls his dice but all you do is take all of your cards and tokens back into your hand/pool. Because the Hunter’s roll happens first in the round, you can see what is incoming and try to decide whether to play cards or to take the rest. I absolutely love that degree of planning. So why the half star? Because luck. I’ve had rounds where I felt like the right move was to press the advantage and take the forced rest. My dragons would be in good shape at the end of the current round, and barring a roll of X, I won’t lose. And then I flip a spell card and it triggers a hunter. And the next card is a hunter. And now they are rolling 2 more dice than I expected and, sure enough, three of those roll the same color dragon to make me lose even when I shouldn’t have been in a losing position. It doesn’t always happen. Nor does it happen often. But it can and will eventually happen that the 1-in-X chance of a perfect storm causing you to lose will come around

 The dragons each have their own special power, which is fantastic. However, it can be a challenge to remember which powers they have. It isn’t indicated on their untrained side, and even on the trained side it is iconography. To find out what they do you need to refer to the back page of the rulebook, where it provides better details. I would have liked 6 cards, one for each dragon, that I could place next to each dragon in the circle. Or 1-2 cards to have as a reference in front of me, outlining what each dragon’s special ability would be. Because it can be a challenge to remember. The same goes with the Shadow Hunter variant, where you need to open the rulebook to see what they do. Printing it on the cards, or having a separate 4 Hunters with that text on them, would have been a helpful addition. Neither are bad, but missed opportunities. No one wants to pull out the rulebook mid-game when it can be avoided..

Final Thoughts

Dragon Keepers is a light game on the surface but it contains a surprising number of decisions that run far deeper than expected from the box. I should, of course, not be surprised at this because it is a game co-designed by Vital Lacerda. Even a game like this is rich with decision points that have little to do with the randomness of the dice that are rolled. In fact, I would argue that the dice are (most turns) a non-factor overall in terms of their randomness because you get to see what the Hunter rolls prior to selecting your actions for the turn. Thus when you are making decisions, there is no randomness involved until you go to have your dragon attack the Hunter, and even then most dragons are rolling multiple dice and there are spell cards to help mitigate the random factor.

Did I mention that this game is far more difficult than anticipated? I am currently winless still in the game after a half dozen attempts, although I’ve had two games that were oh-so-close. One, the timer ran out on me by one turn. The other, I just needed a successful recovery round to close things out on the following turn (hopefully) and the Hunter capitalized. In none of my plays have I felt as though everything was hopeless, or even that random chance ruined me. Even the loss to the Hunter’s good roll, I could have rested the round before when I saw that the Hunter’s roll was a “safe” one for me to rest during.

And that is what I really love about this game. In spite of dice being rolled every turn, I always have control of my fate in the game. A bad decision is always what I can point back to, whether it is not Training quickly enough for all six dragons, or not taking the right token as a reward for Training, or taking a Spell card off the main deck instead of the discard pile, accelerating the game timer, or delaying a rest that I know I’ll need to take to try and maximize the plays from my hand (but then leaving me in a very prone position). It all falls back on me, and my need to play better.

You might wonder, since I’m heaping such strong praise on Dragon Keepers, why it is missing from my Top 20 Solo Games that was just posted. What a keen, observant reader you are! Yes, it isn’t in that top 15% of the solo games I’ve played, but it just narrowly missed that cut. Had the list been a Top 25, you would have found Dragon Keepers right where it belongs, as a really strong and not-at-all-light solitaire experience. It makes me think in all the right ways, yet is short enough that I can sit down and knock out three losses in about an hour. And eventually that Hunter will fall to all six of my dragon attacks, and I will be victorious until we have The Hunter Strikes Back to the tune of upping the difficulty. Or adding in the Shadow Hunters variant which gives the four Hunter cards in the deck a special ability when they appear rather than just adding to the Hunter’s die pool. And then the losing can commence once more.

And I will enjoy every minute of it.

Review for One

Review for One: ELO Darkness

Thank you for checking review #114 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. All opinions remain my own.

An overview of ELO Darkness

ELO Darkness is a board game designed by Tommaso Mondadori and Alberto Parisi that is published by Reggie Games. The box state it plays 1-4 players and has a playtime of 45-75 minutes.

ELO Darkness is a complete customizable card game in which two players (or four in the team vs. team mode) fight against each other in an epic MOBA-inspired arena.

Each player controls a 40-card deck representing a team of five heroes (divided into five different classes). Players can delve into the deck-building aspect of the game by customizing their own Team and play style. Heroes can be picked through an initial draft mode in which players alternate selecting among 30 different characters.

The unique aspect of the game is the interaction with the board, which adds an interesting tactical aspect as well as a strong thematic feeling to the concept of the card duel.
No dice are involved in the game. Randomness is limited to the draw and is mitigated by the Farming and Backing phases in which players can manage their hand and retreat from their position on the map in order to draw more cards from their deck.

Hero cards can be used for multiple purposes: they can be played during combat or they can be discarded in order to gain Experience points and gold used to buy and upgrade powerful items during the game.

Combat takes place every turn on each Lane and is determined by a simultaneous action selection mechanism and a back-and-forth phase in which players take actions like playing Gank cards or activating combos and special abilities.

In addition, to increase tension during the match, there are also objectives (monster cards) that player can conquer through a simultaneous resource bidding occurring during specific turns.

The final goal of the game is to invade the opponent’s base on the map, destroying the enemy towers and breaking through one of the Lanes on the board.

My Thoughts

 I always enjoy a game that brings levels of customization to the gameplay experience, and this one has a ton of variety in the box. There are dozens of characters lending to hundreds of team combinations, not counting the generic Laner and Gank cards that you will be adding to the deck to flesh it out beyond that initial 25 you’ll get from the characters. While there are restrictions to how your deck gets constructed, there are still a ton of options to customize things for yourself.

 Which also includes the Items, a small aspect of the game (potentially) but one that opens up a lot of flexibility in how to boost and/or interact with cards when they are played. Bringing 10 items to purchase, 2 per character, can be a difference-maker in the game of ELO Darkness. They help give you an edge or advantage, something that you are always looking to gain when playing. Each item has two sides, and each character will only get to have one of the two items in play during the game – which means this is a nice little sideboard to tailor around your team toward possible situations.

 Artwork and component quality is really well done in this game. The one thing it lacks and would have helped was some sort of organization for the game, especially with the different cards. Some foam blocks, a handful of dividers, and a row to keep the cards would have made it a home run. But honestly, those are all optional things. Everything that DOES come in the game is done quite well, and for the most part the cards are easy to interpret.

 I love the track where you can see who has the upper-hand at any moment during a battle as cards are being played. It not only shows the difference in Influence between the two sides, but also how many “deaths” are at stake if that number doesn’t move closer to 0. This helps prevent frequent stops to recalculate who is at what value, etc. as cards are being played, and I feel like more games would benefit from some sort of track like this.

 The experience growth for each character is a neat concept, encouraging you to either really focus hard in one character to get them maxed out, or to spread your usage in order to get them all a small boost early on in the game. Both of them are interesting approaches, although you’ll need some ways to pull from your discard or to get a reshuffle quickly to take advantage of a leveled-up character since most of their cards will already be used by the time they get that boost.

 I like that there are three different lanes you fight across, meaning you need to consider carefully how to approach each round. Will you sacrifice those cards to defend one lane and prevent your opponent’s advance? Will you pump them into one lane to try and break through their defences and get closer to winning? Will you try to spread things evenly and hope to end up with more advantages than losses as a result? Not only does the decision of what card to initially deploy in each lane matter, but the order in which they resolve can play a big difference. And because you don’t know your opponent’s face-down cards on the other side, you are left guessing at where you may, or may not, want or need to focus your efforts.

 The solo AI opponent is interesting, because they have a relatively intuitive way of being played. And I think it was clever coming up with a way to have them ramp in challenge as the game goes on without needing to add extra decks of cards for the solo AI. However, I feel like they get too big of a boost too early, making it so that time after time I would go from barely winning battles to handily losing most battles.

 This is 100% a me thing, which I’ll expand more on in my final thoughts, but I really wish there was more variety in the individual character decks. Yes, there are a lot of unique characters in the game. But they each add 5 cards to your deck, of which you get 2 of one card and 3 of the other. I’m not the sort of player who, when I can add up to 3 copies of a card when deck constructing, will add 3 copies of every card in my deck. I usually run 1-2 for more variety within the deck and, thus, greater flexibility in my deck. Getting only 2 different cards from your character is a bit of a letdown for me, and has been from the day I realized that aspect of the characters.

 Probably the biggest issue I have here is with the rigidity of the system. Cards are tied to specific characters, and are either Laner cards or Gank cards. You have three Laner-specific characters, and they can only be played on their own Lane, unless they withdraw for the round (giving your opponent a free advance) and then they can be used as Gank cards. Okay, cool. But what if my Blue character doesn’t have any cards in my hand when I set my attacks to begin? I either have to play a generic Laner card or withdraw there. And then if I play said generic Laner card, I can no longer play that Blue character there, or elsewhere, even if I draw their card. This happens far too often. Or getting to a point where I’m drawing back up and get all Gank cards, meaning I have to withdraw in all three lanes (or only 2 if I am lucky). Or have all Laner cards of different characters and/or generic ones, meaning I have to hope my initial Influence is enough to win. I like that you can play the 2nd card style of the same character on the battle, but if you are unlucky enough to have the 3 basics of that character you’re stuck with just the one and two dead cards in your hand. I’m probably just really bad at the game and knowing what to play, when to play cards, and when to sacrifice progress on lanes or use cards for more cards. But every single game I have played in ELO Darkness has been a loss, against opponents or the AI, and every one of them happened because my progress died 100% because I hit a wall where my hand didn’t allow me to do anything to defend, attack, or react to the situations. Which means, ultimately, 100% of my games ended with at least some measure of frustration about how cards can be played and how often they can become dead cards in your hand.

 This game needs a player aid card for each player. If for nothing else than to have one side listing out the steps to a turn (with maybe a short reminder of what you can do), and the other side mentioning some of the more common keywords (such as Chain, Defense, and Assault) and what the five different spell tokens can do. Maybe then I would have to grab that rulebook less often, and might actually remember to use one of those two spell tokens when I need it instead of groaning in frustration when I remember they are there 2 turns later.

Final Thoughts

ELO Darkness is a game that my friend introduced me to. He was a backer of the Kickstarter, excited enough for the game to build a PNP of it early, and petitioned to get a review copy sent to this little reviewer of board games. And for his enthusiasm, I am grateful. Truly. However, after a half dozen plays of the game, most of them solitaire plays, I am left feeling conflicted about the game – and several others which I’ve been dancing around getting a review finished. But the time has come to bear down and just get my unfiltered thoughts out there, regardless of anything.

ELO Darkness is a gorgeous game. I love the artwork in there, and the deluxe edition of the game comes with some fantastic components. I really like the number of characters in the box, allowing complete freedom to customize your approach toward the game, especially when playing against other players who are on a level footing with you. The gameplay is relatively easy to understand, with a few small areas that can snag a player, but by and large this isn’t going to be difficult to get to playing the game and doing so competently. I’ve enjoyed almost every minute I have spent playing the game, moreso with a friend than solitaire.

So why do I feel such reservations toward the game? Why is this not a glowing, feel-good story about a small game by Reggie Games that I’m gushing over?

I’ve thought long and hard about those things. By all means, this should be the part where I’m giving it a glowing review – and for some players this is absolutely a game for them that they will love. There is definitely a really, really good game here that is well-designed. I’m not wanting to take away from that one bit, which is why I’ve put off this review for far longer than I should have. As you can see above, most of the points I make for this game are good things about the game. For me, personally, there are four things that I think detract it for me:

I don’t play MOBAs. I have never been a MOBA player and probably never will be. There are probably appealing aspects in here for those who love those games that are completely lost on me. Which makes me not the ideal target audience. That isn’t enough to make me not like the game, but it is something that could have helped me enjoy it more had my experience with MOBAs been different.
The solitaire aspect of the game has the AI ramp up far too quickly. I’m hitting the end of my deck and have probably blown all of my good cards by now to try and not only win on one lane, but to hold as much as I can on the other two while trying to break through. At the point where I feel my options are the most limited, they get a massive boost in power that inevitably becomes a challenge to overcome and makes the experience feel poor to me, personally. And this is from someone who genuinely enjoys challenging solo games.
There are too few cards that have the flexibility to be played when and where you need them. Nothing feels worse than getting to draw 2-4 cards during a battle only to get all Laner cards. Or drawing cards before setting the Lanes and getting all Gank cards. I’ve had too many situations where I have cards that are unplayable, costing me the game, which makes me think that to be successful in a solitaire game, you really need to tailor a team toward a very specific approach/strategy to win regularly. Which would mean most of the characters are useful to play around with only with another opponent.
Call it nitpicking if you want, but I have been disappointed since Day 1 of getting the game by the fact that each character adds 5 cards to the deck, and those are only two different cards (3 of one, 2 of the other). It adds consistency, sure, but it also lacks variety in the character’s toolkit and places them into very specific roles in how they can help you. You’re already bound to taking one character of each type and no more, which means you’re getting 10 unique cards in 25/40 cards in your deck.

I get it, some of those are 100% on my tastes or expectations about the game. They may not be problems for you, or problems with the game, but they are the reasons why I can’t gush about ELO Darkness. If the theme of the game appeals to you, and the strengths I mentioned earlier get you excited about the game (and I hope they do, truly, because there is an audience that can and will love this game), then definitely check this out. A lot of work and love has been poured into the creation of this game, and it is usually fun – the exception being in solo when things ramp up and I’m staring at a hand of useless cards that are going to cost me the game…three plays in a row with three different teams… – and is one I’d absolutely play again if someone asked me to play. So I suppose that is where I should leave things on this review, because saying more would just be beating that proverbial dead horse. I enjoyed the game. I wanted to like it more, but I have my own issues with the game that prevent it from being one I would love.

One-Player Only · Review for One

Review for One – Orchard: A 9 Card Solitaire Game

Thank you for checking review #113 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 prototype preview copy of the game, which is currently running on Kickstarter. All opinions remain my own.

An overview of Orchard: A 9 Card Solitaire Game

Orchard: A 9 Card Solitaire Game is a board game designed by Mark Tuck that is published by Side Room Games. The box state it plays 1 player and has a playtime of 5-10 minutes.

Orchard is a quick solitaire ’tile laying’ game that plays in under 10 minutes. The aim of the game is to harvest fruit (score points) by playing cards so that their fruit trees overlap other trees already in the orchard that bear the same fruit. The more trees you can overlap, the more fruit you’ll pick.

As well as the 9 double sided cards, you’ll need 15 dice (of 3 colours) to keep track of your increasing harvest, and 2 cubes to represent ‘rotten’ fruit. These allow you to lay a card that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to – but come with a points forfeit. So you must decide if and when to play them.

Orchard was the winner of the 2018 9-Card Nanogame Print and Play Design Contest.

My Thoughts

 This game is so simple. So easy. Which is what makes it such a clever game – you can pick it up and learn it in minutes. Maybe even less than a minute. Yet beneath that simplicity is an elegant game that provides far more challenge than you would expect to find in this box. After all, I mastered laying down tiles back in my Carcassonne days. I mastered laying cards in games like Circle the Wagons, Sprawlopolis, Seasons of Rice, Penny Rails, and many others. But this game is unique because…

 The challenge in the game isn’t to make the biggest Orchard. Or to get groups of identical colors (sometimes that makes this game more difficult when that happens!) together. No, the challenge here is to position things to where you can play parts of a card atop other parts of cards with matching colors/fruits underneath. But one good placement isn’t enough – to really reap the fruit you’re sowing, you need to be able to do it 2-3 times to the same fruit. Without screwing up too bad, because you can at most cover with a wrong fruit twice in the game – each time earning you a -3 to your final score and making it so that spot can never be played on again.

 There are 18 cards included in the box, meaning this follows the same solo pattern as games like Herbaceous where you use half the cards for the first game and then can immediately reset and play with the other half of the cards (and can compare to see which set you did better with). Since the cards are numbered, it also makes it so you can stack the deck in a particular order to make for interesting sequences – or to potentially reduce the challenge level.

 The penalty of the rotten fruit feels a little harsh. -3 points AND that space is forever blocked. That’s cruel and unusual punishment, forcing me to make suboptimal plays. I’ve run into the same thing in games like Agricola/Caverna where you’ll make horrible decisions just to make sure you can feed your people, because if you fail at that you might as well quit now because your score isn’t going to be good. In a game where most of my fruit still score me 1 point, it makes it so I really need to think twice before making a play that causes a rotten fruit. And most of the time, even when I think it is the right play, I end up with a pathetic score anyway. Which is probably a reflection on me.

 There is no win condition or loss condition here, just a beat-your-own-high-score. And I’ll certainly play this game in spite of that because it is fast and enjoyable, even if I’m going to “lose” a ton based on my low scores. But I really prefer games that offer at least some chance of losing. Something as simple as “if you need to place a third rotten fruit, you lose” would change nothing mechanically and give you that press-your-luck risk. Not that you’re going to want those rotten fruit anyway because of how punishing they are.

Final Thoughts

Orchard falls into a funky place for me, the same sort of location that Sprawlopolis by Button Shy Games resides in. Both are games that I enjoy playing, as they are fast, easy to set up and tear down, and provide a lot of good, fun replay value in a small footprint and at a great value. However, I am pretty sure I am one of the world’s worst players at both of the games, as most of the time my scores are relatively laughable. On occasion I will have a successful play, but by and large I resign myself to mediocrity of scoring. The one edge Sprawlopolis has would be the variable scoring conditions that come with a win/loss factor. But Orchard also has some good, interesting decisions to be made along the way which gives it something unique enough to keep them both.

Trying to position yourself to get a few 3’s or 6’s on those dice is the key to this game, and one I still am not even close to mastering. Most of the time I can get some 3’s and 1’s at the cost of a rotten fruit – which almost never proves to be worth that decision. There are a ton of spatial aspects to this game which are delightful, and it is extremely easy to pull this out on a whim and play a few games because of its short playtime and small footprint. It is a delight to look at, and at the price they want for this one – let’s just call it one of the best steals on Kickstarter right now. It is a game I will be happy to add to my collection, even if it only gets pulled off the shelf a few times a year it’ll have more than been worth it. And odds are it’ll get pulled off the shelf a lot more times than that because, even though I fail miserably at the game by the standards in the scoring chart, I’m having fun doing it. The puzzle of how to position myself for this turn, as well as to set up the next turns, is delightful. That feeling when placing a card that perfectly covers 5-6 fruit is incredible.

And all I need to play this against my wife is a second copy? Even at $24 this game is a steal as a couple’s game. One that I’ll really lose horribly at because, of course, it will all probably click for her after a play or two. It won’t be quite as portable as one of my Button Shy Games, but it will still fit perfectly in a pocket or two (or a purse, if she carried one), and it plays in the right amount of time to make it a great dinner date game to pull out while waiting for our food – or as something to play after we eat and we’re sitting there just sipping on our drinks and letting the food settle before leaving. It plays quick enough that it would be a game we could bust out even on the nights when we’re exhausted but insisting on playing a game before turning in ourselves.

In short, there’s not much more to say about this game. Whether you are looking at it for your solo collection, as a couple’s game, or to have it serve both purposes – I definitely recommend this one for just about any gamer out there. You won’t regret it, and you might just find Orchard consistently becomes one of your most-played games every year because of all the strengths it has to offer.

Review for One · Solo Gaming

Review for One: Chai

Thank you for checking review #111 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: This review and photos based upon a prototype version of the game. Final quality and components will vary from those in final production.

An overview of Chai

Chai is a board game designed by Dan and Connie Kazmaier that is published by Deep Aqua Games. The box state it plays 1-5 players and has a playtime of 20-60 minutes.

In Chai, you will step into the shoes of a tea merchant, combining tea flavours to make a perfect blend. Specializing in either rooibos, green, oolong, black or white tea, you will buy and collect ingredients to fulfill your customers’ orders.

As a tea merchant, each turn you will do one of the following:
Visit the Market – The player immediately receives a gold coin and selects a tea flavour tile (mint, jasmine, lemon, ginger, berries, and lavender), adding to their tea box. If the flavour tile is touching tiles of the same type these tiles are also taken. Payment (gold, silver, or a copper coin) is placed in the money pouch corresponding to the furthest-right column the tiles were in. Players cannot have more than 12 flavour tiles in their tea box at any time.
Select Additives – Tea additive cards (milk, sugar, honey, vanilla, and chai spices) are also needed to complete most orders. A player may conduct two actions in the additive area: selecting all of the additive cards of one type (with new cards drawn after the first action), resetting the visible cards, or drawing a card from the additive deck. Players cannot have more than 6 additive cards in their tea box at any time.
Reserve a Customer – A player may also reserve a customer card from the customer pool from the visible cards or draw deck. If drawing a visible card, a new card is immediately drawn faceup into the customer pool to replace the card taken. A player cannot have more than 3 unfulfilled customer cards at any time in their tea box. If a player has more than 3 cards, a card is discarded and placed faceup in the customer pool with a copper coin from the money pouch placed on top.
At the end of each turn, a player may complete a tea order from one customer card in their hand or visible in the customer pool. A base tea token, tea flavours and additives shown on the card are needed ingredients, and placed in an empty tea cup. The player flips over a tip and receives a coin bonus, moving the thermometer round tracker up one notch if all cups are filled.

The game ends when five rounds of cups have been fulfilled. When the final order is completed, other players complete their last turn so that each player has played the same number of turns.
To score, players add up their victory points from fulfilled customer orders, and add their leftover money to this total. In 3-5 player games, additional points are awarded to the player(s) who fulfilled the most orders and most diverse tea recipes. Award ties are friendly with each winner receiving 5 points.

The player with the most victory points (from customer orders, money, and awards) wins the game as best tea merchant! In the case of a tie, the person with the least number of fulfilled customer cards wins. If still tied, the person with the least amount of money wins. If that does not break a tie, the victory is shared.

—description from the publisher

My Thoughts

 The first thing I noticed, even as a prototype, were the colorful and exciting components. I love the feel of the tiles, and I know that the final production ones are going to be even better. This game is great to look at and to feel as you’re moving things around. I question whether they needed to have such large cards (I think tarot sized?) but it does help make the artwork stand out. The only real issue is that the bag is too small for the tiles to all fit into, something I assume will not be the case with the final copy.

 I really like the concept of the market and how the tiles slide as you make each purchase, and how getting them to line up well can make your purchases more efficient. This encourages careful manipulation of the market, and in a multiplayer setting even makes for some serious interaction as you try to capitalize on the moves other people make – or ensure you don’t leave the next player with a great and inexpensive combination of tiles. Although I do wish the Chaiwalla would impact this (and the circle of ingredients) during his turn.

 The Chaiwalla is what makes the solo game interesting (more on the solo game itself later). All he does is take a card from the market after your turn. This means over the course of 10 turns in a solo game, you’re opponent has 10 scoring cards and, usually, you will have at least 2-3 fewer than that. Which is why it is a good thing he takes the lowest value of the three cards showing – which can be as low as 4 or as large as 13 in unusual circumstances. This creates a lot of tension as a player, because you need to figure out a way to score a card most turns, as well as consider how taking card X might impact what the Chaiwalla takes. Sure, you might be able to score that 5 or 6-point card this turn…but what if the other two cards are a 10 and an 11 and then a 9-12 flips out? Suddenly you LOST points that turn, essentially, by taking that small card. But if it flips out a 4, you’re further ahead. This is the point where the game in a solo play is at its most interesting.

 The rules of this game are really simple and the game is straight-forward in terms of gameplay. This is one that is easy to open and learn the day you get it, and it is going to be really easy to teach to other players. The way the solo rules are done are mostly intuitive as well, although I was confused enough to play without the Chaiwalla in my first play since it was listed as a separate thing from the solo rules. And maybe it is intended to have a standard solo beat-your-own-score meditative version as well as a try-to-beat-the-Chaiwalla variant in there. For me, only one of those versions would see repeat plays, especially since adding the Chaiwalla literally only does one additional thing each turn.

 Tying in with the above, each turn has three actions to choose from and you only get to execute one: go to the market to buy tea flavor tiles, select some additives from the additive wheel, or reserve a customer from the display and do one of three special action cards. Regardless of which you choose, you can always serve a customer at the end of your turn if you have the correct items to do so – but you can only serve one customer.

 Mixing in the entire deck of customers makes things interesting as you play. Most customers will require you to PAY a coin when serving them (and then you’ll likely get at least that back in a tip). Which makes it seem insignificant until you are in a spot where you need exactly X to buy those tiles you need to serve a customer, and X is exactly what you have for cash. Meaning you can buy those tiles but you can’t serve said customer this turn. However, if the customer is your color then you don’t have to pay that valuable coin! A small detail, but it adds a nice touch to the planning in this game.

 The special action cards are nice in theory. After all, it makes reserving a customer an action that doesn’t completely waste your turn. However, at least in a solo game, I find I rarely should use this action as it is almost always better to hit the market or grab some additives. Maybe I’m still learning the strategies for the solo game, or just haven’t had the right action out under the right circumstances. But so far this action of the three is the “forgettable” action – usually reserved only if there is a card I really want to make sure I can serve on a future turn and the Chaiwalla might take otherwise (or in the rare case that all three cards showing are high and I can find no way to serve any of them this turn, therefore this is the only way to hopefully get a lower value out for the Chaiwalla to take)

 The solo game without the Chaiwalla is the standard fare of optimization. You get 10 turns to score as many points as you can, with the optimal level being 60+ points. And since each turn you get to do one of the three actions, you are really only racing to make sure you can average 6 points per turn (which isn’t quite as easy as it sounds some games!). Without the Chaiwalla, the customer lineup can become stagnant with a bunch of cards that are either too cheap to be worth the turn or too expensive to fulfill without dedicated effort – something the market itself can suffer from with only one player taking tiles.

Final Thoughts

I need to apologize to the designers of Chai. They sent me this prototype about a month after their Kickstarter campaign ended, and I did play it once shortly after it arrived. In the midst of the chaos that followed, the blue box this game was packaged in failed to stand out on the shelf. So I forgot what was actually in the box for months, and it was only about a week ago when I realized this game was in there – after opening the box to see what this mysterious game was on my shelf. Because based on the box, it was a game I would have no reason to own.

And so I dutifully got this back to the table a few times. I remembered back to my first play and how unimpressed I was with that initial play. Well, it was because I misunderstood the solitaire experience, not using the Chaiwalla. And so it became a “score as much as you can in 10 turns” game, which is always a disappointment in a solo game. But this time, well, the Chaiwalla was implemented properly. Yes, there is still a beat-your-own-score approach in there but now there is an opponent to defeat as well who removes a card every turn (the lowest value). And holy cow did this open things up in a good way.

Sure, some turns are simple. I should do anything but take that 4-point order card out there because I want him to score only 4 points this turn. Because he is nabbing 10 cards over the course of the game, he’s going to get a lot of points. Which is why you might think twice when the time comes about taking an order card. Maybe you can fulfill that 8-point card this turn, but the other two showing are 11 and 12 points each. Odds are the next card to flip out will be lower than those, but what if it is another 12? Suddenly he’s getting 11 points, whereas you could ensure he only scores 8 this turn by doing something different.

And let me tell you, the worst turns are when you cannot fulfill an order. Because you know he’s gaining ground, because he needs a smaller average to score well with 10 cards versus the 7-8 you might end with. This tension right here is what made this go from a forgettable solo experience and turn it into something really fun. Because every decision you make could potentially set him up for more points, either during this round or the next round. Sometimes getting greedy will pay off, and other times you’re going to be wishing you had been a little more conservative. And this is where reserving cards can really come in handy, because you can set up to score that card later with no risk (during that turn) of boosting the Chaiwalla’s score.

All in all this game was quite enjoyable, far more than the first impression it left upon me. As someone who enjoys drinking tea, but never does it often enough to really call it a habit, I was curious about the game. Like many games, this one is a great game with others at the table. But if you are one who would pick it up with the intention of playing with a spouse or game group, as well as playing it solo, the experience from the latter will prove better than you’d expect upon reading the rules. It isn’t marketing itself as a heavy thinker of a game, but there are plenty of tense and interesting decisions packed into this vibrant package. And while you’re letting this review steep, don’t miss out on a chance to get the game still at Kickstarter pricing.