Review for Two · Two-Player Only

Review for Two: Targi

Thank you for checking review #120 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 Targi

Targi is a board game designed by Andreas Steiger that is published by Kosmos Games. The box state it plays 2 players and has a playtime of 60 minutes.

Theme and overview:

Unlike in other cultures, the desert Tuareg men, known as Targi, cover their faces whereas women of the tribe do not wear veils. They run the household and they have the last word at home in the tents. Different families are divided into tribes, headed by the ‘Imascheren’ (or nobles). As leader of a Tuareg tribe, players trade goods from near (such as dates and salt) and far (like pepper), in order to obtain gold and other benefits, and enlarge their family. In each round their new offerings are made. Cards are a means to an end, in order to obtain the popular tribe cards.

Gameplay:

The board consists of a 5×5 grid: a border of 16 squares with printed action symbols and then 9 blank squares in the centre onto which cards are dealt. Meeples are placed one at a time on the spaces at the edges of the board (not including corner squares). You cannot place a meeple on a square the opponent has a meeple on already, nor on a square facing opponent’s meeple. Once all meeples are placed, players then execute the actions on the border squares the meeples are on and also take the cards from the centre that match the row and column of the border meeples.

The game is predominantly scored and won by playing tribal cards to your display. These give advantages during the game and victory points at the end. Usually cards are played (or discarded) immediately once drawn. A single card can be kept in hand but then requires a special action to play it (or to discard it to free the hand spot for another card). Each card has a cost in goods to play. Goods are obtained either from border spaces or from goods cards.

The display (for scoring) consists of 3 rows of 4 cards that are filled from left to right and cannot be moved once placed (barring some special cards). There is also a balance to be found between the victory point score on the cards themselves (1-3 VP per tribal card) and in the combinations per row (a full row of 4 identical card types gets you an additional 4 VP, and a full row of 4 distinct card types gets you 2 VP).

The winner at the end of the game is the player with the most victory points.

My Thoughts

 This game provides incredible brain burn. It won’t seem like it at first, but there is more to this game than the average game because there is a huge spatial aspect to the game. Your workers are placed along the borders, and the points where your workers “intersect” in the center of the grid of cards will give you 1-2 additional actions to execute that round. That in itself is really clever. However, the ruthlessness of being unable to place a worker across from your opponents’ workers means the grid of cards shrinks quickly. Which means your first placement isn’t necessarily on a card you want the action for, but rather to hopefully lock down the center card you are banking on this turn. But, oh no, your opponent unwittingly (maybe) just put their worker on the other card you needed to make that perfect intersection, so now you’re trying to figure out how to salvage the rest of this turn without ruining your attempt to get that card next round instead. This is the brilliance of Targi.

 The set collection aspect of the game adds a great layer of decisions into what you are choosing for actions. You are strongly incentivized to fill a row with 4 cards of the same type, as that is an extra 4 points. However, failing that you want to get a row of 4 unique card types for 2 points. Anything else is a wasted opportunity for bonus end-game points in a game that is often tight enough to where even 2 points can make all the difference. Neither of those sets are easy to collect, and there will be times when you seriously consider whether or not to take that card which will ruin said collection you are working toward, since you only have 3 rows to work with.

 There are three great spots on the outer board that are worth mentioning, because they open up flexibility and, at times, some push-your-luck. First, there is an action space which will let you move one of your central cylinders to an open central card that round, meaning it is a valuable place to go when your opponent blocks you out of a row or column you really wanted – assuming they don’t mark that very card you wanted. Second, there is a space which allows you to take the top Goods card off the deck. This is a strong risk-reward play, but it can provide a great feeling when it gives you a coin for the gamble. Last is the space which lets you take the top Tribes card and either buy it immediately, add it to your hand, or discard it. However, there are several reasons this can be risky because…

 You have a hand size of 1 for the Tribes cards. If you have one in hand, you need to use the space on the board which allows you to play or discard that hand card, otherwise you’re going to have to buy or discard any Tribes cards gained until that card is gone from your hand. And with only one space to play/discard that card, it is entirely possible your opponent may block you out from using that spot on the turn when you wanted to play the card, forcing you to pivot your entire plan. Anyone claiming worker placement games have no interaction has clearly never played Targi, because there is constant interference in this one with such a tight board and limited actions per round.

 There is a neutral piece that moves around the outside perimeter, advancing 1 space each round. This is great for two reasons: it is the timer for the game (although players CAN trigger it early), and it blocks one space from placement each round. In addition, the four corners contain Raid spaces where players immediately lose either goods or points and then the piece advances to the next space. So while there are 16 cards making up the border, it’ll really be a 12-round game at most with up to 4 penalties paid – which can be a lot less forgiving than you’d think. This game can be TIGHT.

 A “board” made of cards where the center 9 cards are constantly changing definitely creates a dynamic game experience. However, it also creates the issue of needing to remove and replace cards constantly, alternating which type of cards goes into that spot (i.e. if the card used/removed is a Goods card, a Tribes card replaces it). These cards are initially placed face-down as the actions are resolved for both players, and then flipped to end the round. Okay, fine. Except that’s a lot of placing and flipping over the course of the game, and if you have even the slightest ounce of perfectionism in your body you will get a nervous tic every time a card slides askew from the others. A small board or playmat to place the cards on might be a nice way to “deluxify” the game experience and help provide a small amount of control to the layout of cards. I learned the hard way in our first play, when I had the cards tight together. Ever since there has been a nice cushioned gap in every direction.

Final Thoughts

Targi is one of those games I always hoped to try because it was a 2-player worker placement game – something I know is up my wife’s alley for gaming. I expected a game that was extremely overhyped, because I’ve heard numerous times just how excellent Targi is as a game. No game, especially one so small in size, could be that good, right? Let’s just get this out of the way now: Targi doesn’t hit the expectations from word of mouth. It exceeds them. This little game is, somehow, even more impressive than I had been led to believe.

At its heart, Targi is just like most worker placement games: you put out workers each round to gain resources which you then convert into points. It adds set collection, which also isn’t that uncommon to worker placement games. It doesn’t allow you to place a worker where your opponents are, just like many other worker placement games. So what is it about Targi that sets it apart from so many other games?

This game provides incredible brain burn. It won’t seem like it at first, but there is more to this game than the average game because there is a huge spatial aspect to the game. Your workers are placed along the borders, and the cards in the center where they intersect will provide 1-2 more actions to execute for 4-5 total per round. Clever, but still not special. However, the restriction to prevent you from placing directly across from an opponent is what elevates this from small worker placement game to mind-melting puzzle. This is the brilliance of Targi. This is what sets it apart from most vanilla worker placement games, and what makes it an incredible experience that sets it up as one of the absolute best games to play with 2 players.

When I get the itch for a worker placement game (which isn’t often, since they almost always end in defeat against my genius wife), this is one of the first games that will come to mind going forward. It is quick to set up, plays in well under an hour, provides incredibly crunchy decisions, and has a fast teardown time. Even more importantly, it has a moderate table presence, meaning it isn’t a game that needs a ton of real estate to play. It probably isn’t the best coffee shop game to take along, although the small box is nice, but it does work fine on almost any sized table.

All in all, Targi is easily one of the best new-to-me games I have played this year. And I’ve played some really amazing gems, even in the 2-player only market with hits like Bushido, Skulk Hollow, and Exceed Street Fighter making it to my table this year. Don’t make me have to choose which one is best – I’ll be struggling with that come June when I refresh my Top 100 (where I expect Targi to easily place on there somewhere). If you haven’t tried Targi and you like thinky 2-player games, this is definitely one of the more unique and worthwhile titles to add to your collection.

Review for Two · Two-Player Only

Review for Two – Imhotep: The Duel

A quick note: I am collected data from folks on their top games to play with 2-players. Not necessarily 2-player only games! Essentially, send me a message with up to your Top 20 games, ranked in order, and I’ll enter them into my spreadsheet. I am collecting data on this until 12/14/2019, and shortly after that I will begin unveiling the results. Currently I have nearly 50 lists, and the more we can collect the more accurate we can represent the People’s Choice Top 100 Games for Two. You can find more details here: https://www.boardgamegeek.com/article/33412597

Thank you for checking review #119 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 Imhotep: The Duel

Imhotep: The Duel is a board game designed by Phil Walker-Harding that is published by Kosmos Games. The box state it plays 2 players and has a playtime of 30 minutes.

The competition of the builders continues in Imhotep: The Duel!

In this game, players take on the roles of Nefertiti and Akhenaten, one of Egypt’s most famous royal couples. Game pieces must be cleverly placed so that players can unload the most valuable tiles from the six boats. While this is happening, each player builds their own four monuments in order to gain as many fame points as possible.

My Thoughts

 The 3×3 grid may be reminiscent of tic-tac-toe, but it is used in such a clever way that I think 3×3 turns out to be the perfect size for what they are trying to accomplish here. Because you each have four workers, it will never be completely full. And most of the time you won’t even have all four workers out at once, since there is a constant ebb and flow of people on the board (more on that next). I like a nice, tight space where you can continuously have your best plans thwarted in clever ways by your opponent.

 The game is simple, since you can either place a worker onto a space, or unload a boat (technically the blue action tokens provide a third option, usually some enhanced version of the two core actions). And each space on the grid connects with two of the six boats out there, meaning your worker is never fully locked in on which boat they help unload – only which tile position on said boats. Unloading is restricted only by the need for at least two workers to be in that row/column for the boat – but you also don’t need any of the workers to be yours in order to trigger said unload action. So this opens up the tricky play opportunities to try and slow down, or deny, your opponent the tiles they are working hard to set themselves up to gain. Since those workers will come off the board and need to be replaced, any time you force them into the unload they don’t want to take, you are slowing them down. And if you have at least one worker out in that area, you’re gaining something in return each time. Will they likely replace the key worker on the spot they really need for their next turn? Probably. But it might open up one of the spaces you needed also, making it totally worth doing.

 The blue action tiles are the only tiles which do not go onto one of your four boards. However, they are arguably the most important tiles to target because they allow you to either break the rules (such as unloading a tile off any boat, or swapping the position of two tiles on a boat) or to take more efficient actions (such as placing two workers in one action, or unloading two different boats). Depending on when these tiles come out, they can either be used tactically to gain a strong advantage during a key sequence of turns, or they can be stockpiled for a point each at the end of the game.

 Apart from those action tiles, there are four other types of tiles that all are sought after for different scoring aspects. Not only do they differ by type, but the side of each board you use changes how they are scored. Because there are a limited number of each of these tiles, and for the most part they are open information on what a player has gained, you can get a sense of what you and your opponent really needs and plan accordingly. This allows you to not only optimize taking what you need, but also potentially taking tiles you don’t need in order to deny them to your opponent – or making sure a boat unloads to discard a tile they need.

 If you are against games with negative player interaction, this game might have enough potential take-that opportunities to sour the experience for you. Granted, every step of it is based on choices you are making, but if one player is being cutthroat in their play it can feel bad for the other player. However, that is a player choice, not the fault of the game. It allows you to be as gentle, or as ruthless, as you would like. Which means this game should cater strongly to most gaming pairs. Just know what to expect based on the player sitting across from you.

 I do wish that some of the tiles were removed at random (apart from the three placed on the dock space, which may or may not come out). Some players prefer perfect information, knowing that X number of Y tiles will come out over the course of the game and can plan accordingly with their strategy. I, on the other hand, like when at least a small amount of information is imperfect (such as in Hanamikoji) and you must carefully try to adapt your plans as things are revealed. Personal preference here, and it doesn’t stop me from absolutely loving this game when it hits the table.

Final Thoughts

Imhotep: The Duel may or may not be like its predecessor – I cannot tell you how closely the two games align with each other. However, I can speak about the experience that came from this 2-player game and, quite frankly, it is really fun. I wasn’t sold, when reading the instructions, about the 3×3 grid for worker placement and everything but it all turns out to be a fine-tuned system with far more player interaction opportunities than I would have believed. With some clever timing, you can very much interfere with an opponents’ plans before they come to fruition, setting them back a turn or two on something they were working toward. Of course, it isn’t a forced thing and you can play and enjoy this completely as a pair of carebears, but for those who like a little meanness and the ability to interfere with an opponents’ plan…this will be a pleasant surprise.

The game moves along at a quick pace. With a small supply of workers and two primary choices of actions, it is bound to be a punchy pacing for the game. Yet within the simple mechanical confines there are riches of decisions to be made. Like the aforementioned aspect where you can play mean or nice, you can also base your decisions around what your own plans are, or play based upon what you see your opponent doing and try to capitalize on their action selections. After all, any time they can select an unload action where you have at least one worker, you put yourself a little further “ahead” – which might only be the appearance of advancement, but it is still a rewarding feeling to get something from their turns.

The real star of the show comes from the multiple tile types and how they are all used in different ways along your “player board” area. With four different sets to collect, each interacting in different ways, makes this a really interesting puzzle of figuring out how to value the tiles available – and how to value what your opponent is trying to gain. And with an A side and a B side to each of the four boards, there is a really drastic change in approach on some of these when you change sides. Suddenly what you used as a strategy in the first game might be a suboptimal approach in the second game because it scores very differently now. And I absolutely love that aspect.

This game is exactly what I look for in a dedicated 2-player title: quick setup/teardown, high replay value, “thinky filler” status, and a playtime that clocks in at around 30-40 minutes which enables multiple plays in one evening if desired. Imhotep: The Duel is an excellent game when considered on its own merits. You might be intrigued because of the experiences you’ve had with regular Imhotep and, again, I cannot tell you how it compares to that (yet). But don’t hesitate to pick up this game, because it is an above-average 2-player game that will be a welcome visitor onto my table any time someone requests to play it with me.

Review for Two

Review for Two – The Bladesmith: Mint Tin Edition

Thank you for checking review #117 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 copy of the game in exchange for an honest review. All opinions remain my own.

An overview of The Bladesmith: Mint Tin Edition

The Bladesmith: Mint Tin Edition is a board game designed by Adam Higginbotham and Rylie Hilscher that is published by Logos Games. The tin state it plays 2-4 players and has a playtime of 10-20 minutes.

The Bladesmith Mint Tin Edition is a game that fits completely in a mint tin. It is played in 10 to 20 minutes. It is a worker placement game with Meeple rolling. You actually roll a meeple much like you would roll dice. The goal is to gain Handle and Blade cards to complete knives. There are also artisan tool cards where you can upgrade your blade to a better blade such as Damascus, Hamon, and Acid Etch. If you put your worker into the market, do you have the opportunity to trade cards with other players or even steal a handle or blade card from them.

My Thoughts

 I really dig the theme of making knives. Would I prefer swords? Of course. But this one works as a unique theme where you make handles and blades that you craft into finished products. This could have easily been a handful of other themes, which some might claim makes this a “themeless” game, but I champion their choice on this front.

 Turns in the game are often fast, keeping the pace of the game moving at a nice clip. That is a great value for something compact enough to take on a dinner date, as you don’t really want to be mid-game when your meal arrives. It also helps this to work as a palate cleanser between gamers or as an opener/closer game for a group of people who are looking for something quick to get to the table.

 Setup and teardown time are, as you would expect, relatively short for this game. When you have a portable, fast-playing game the last thing you want is to spend more time setting it up than you do playing the game itself. The quick time will help it to be a last-minute impulse play game, whereas others in the mint tin category (looking at you, Micro Brew), have a pretty lengthy and involved setup time to get playing.

 Everything that comes later will be focused on the 2-player experience, which is the lower end of the player count for this game. And it certainly feels like a game that gets better with more players. However, I want to talk for a moment about the solo mode developed for the game, because it “fixes” many of the issues I have with the 2-player experience. Why? It trims the decks. It makes rolling a side meeple a punishing thing, making it a more integral part of the game than just having it equal a 2. It makes the standing meeple roll even worse, as both are trimming the decks. However, it also incentivizes the player to collect Artisan tools, allowing them to add a removed card back into its deck. It is fast-playing and has a lot of good strategy along the way. My only wish? It had a loss condition instead of being just a beat-your-score. But man, this is a great 10-minute solo filler.

 The meeple rolling aspect of this game is clearly what is supposed to set the game apart. And sure, for a novelty mechanic it does accomplish that goal. However, more often than not the result of said roll has minimal impact on the game. The chances of rolling a 1 on the meeple feel almost as high as rolling a standing meeple, as it tends to end up on its side more often than any other result which makes the regular 2 a very standard result. Getting a 1 is rarely enough punishment for a poor roll, nor is the standing meeple significant enough to impact gameplay because you’re usually planning on going elsewhere anyway.

 I like the shared pool of meeples used by the players, and I like that they block the location. I love that you can’t just place it back where you took it from unless you roll a standing meeple. However, in a two player game it can lead to some frustration because you need to try and plan ahead, picking up the meeple on X and placing it elsewhere so you can use X next turn – and then your opponent simply goes back to X, making it so you need a perfect roll to try and use the space you need to. Rinse and repeat. And a clever opponent, if they know you need the item from X desperately, will avoid giving you that item if you try and circumvent things via the market. Because you have a small hand limit, and finishing turns over that limit forces you to play a card and potentially remove another card from the game, having several turns trying to get that one resource you need can be especially frustrating because it can be intentional denial by your opponent.

Final Thoughts

There is a lot in the game, mechanically, we enjoy as a gaming couple: worker placement, set collection, and a small bit of take-that to help set the opponent back a turn or two. Turns are fast and the game is very portable. Setting the game up takes very little time, and tearing it down is just as simple. By all accounts, this should be a game we’re excited to revisit again.

But we’re not. Not really.

Yes, the meeple rolling mechanic is an interesting concept, but it rarely impacts gameplay. Most of the time you’re deciding where to place the meeple under the assumption that you won’t roll a standing Meeple. Most of the time you’re getting 2 cards rather than 1 so it feels like it is an arbitrary way to get people excited about placing workers in a very small footprint of spaces. Sure, there are exciting moments when I happen to pick up a meeple, hoping for a perfect roll and get it so I can place it back where it came from – but those are the exception rather than the rule for the game.

The greatest sin this game commits, though, is not being interesting enough. There is very little variety in the decks, as the cards range from 1-3 points, and getting that perfect set to upgrade the blade only improves it to 4 points for the blade. It feels like our decisions never truly matter along the way because we’re building around the same number of blades and getting close to the same number of points. If she happens to get a few more 3-value handles than I do it’s likely a done deal unless I exploit the Market action to steal cards. With more players it might feel like a more tense game, but with two it boils down to who gets the marginally better components as most of the cards end up getting pulled since the game timer is literally when ⅔ of the decks are empty.

All in all, this game proves something that is easy to forget: making a compact, portable game is a difficult task. It either is resigned to fall into the category of filler, or has to fight an uphill battle be to something exceptional. Sometimes, with the success of Button Shy Games, it is easy to forget that these smaller microgames aren’t easy to make because many of them just feel too distilled because of the restrictions. That is certainly the case here, as this game has a lot of promise and potential it fails to deliver upon. I absolutely love the theme and an expanded version of this, with more locations and variety in the actions available, could make this a sleeper standout title. But as it stands, this will be a game we wouldn’t mind owning but might only get played a time or two per year to get it back off the shelf, rather than a game we’re thinking ahead to the next play. And maybe with more players it is an absolute home run, but as a couples’ game it falls just a little too short for us.

However, as a solo game that I can grab when I need something fast – and a game I can also use as a filler for 3-4 players, it fits perfectly on my shelf in a size that should make it easy to hang onto for those occasions when it is warranted.

Review for Two · Two-Player Only

Review for Two: Skulk Hollow

Thank you for checking review #116 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 Skulk Hollow

Skulk Hollow is a board game designed by Eduardo Baraf, Seth Johnson, and Keith Matejka that is published by Pencil 1st Games. The box state it plays 2 players and has a playtime of 40 minutes.

THE GREAT RETURN
​Over generations and generations the ancient woodland of Børe prospered and grew. The world was bestowed with great spirit, which lifted the animals of the land to new heights. Unfortunately, over the years these clans lost touch with the spirit of the land and faction warring developed. The Foxen Kingdom of Skulk Hollow in the South, The spiritual Red Pandas of Cupboard in the North, the Mischievous Mice of Multon in the West, and the colony of Blackheart Bunnies in the East. As skirmishes started breaking out across the continent, lives lost, there was a monstrous shake and then The Great Return. No one quite knows why, but the Guardians have risen – but not the kind, life-giving Guardians of spiritual legend. Dark, ferocious, versions that are now attacking all the kingdoms of the land.

OBJECTIVE
In Skulk Hollow, two players take the roles of either a towering behemoth of a Guardian trying to eliminate the clans of foxes who have been causing havoc on the countryside, or a band of foxen heroes out to vanquish the evil beast that has been terrorizing the land and reunite the four kingdoms of Børe.

The Guardian wins the game by either eliminating the Foxen King, or by gaining enough Tribute.

The Foxen Heroes wins the game by eliminating the Guardian.

GAMEPLAY
Skulk Hollow is a 2-player, asymetric, tactical combat game. Player use action cards to move their units, summon, and use special abilities. Taking down a guardian requires the Foxen player to leap onto the Guardian player board and take out different parts of the character.

My Thoughts

 The first thing that impressed me about the game had absolutely nothing to do with the game itself. The contents inside the box were incredible, with a functional insert containing a tuck box for each of the four Guardians and a tuck box for the Foxen Heroes. Everything is held in the box really nicely, giving it an internal presentation that I am coming to appreciate more in my games, even if it means a slightly higher MSRP, because I know it will all be stored well. Bonus: the tuckboxes even hold the cards if they are sleeved with just enough room to keep the associated Guardian meeples in their respective boxes. Because some gamers are going to be interested in knowing that information.

 The Guardian meeples tower on the main board, but I really love the presentation of their own unique “side board” where the Foxen Heroes will be climbing and trying to destroy them. This is the show-stopper aspect of the game, and what will win many gamers over because it, honestly, is really cool. The only way it could have been better? If the Guardian figures were made to be upright/elevated with small ledge platforms where the heroes climb, making it go onto the vertical plane for the players as well.

 Tying in with the above, I really love that the Guardians lose abilities as those parts take damage. It makes the Guardian have to be able to adapt their strategy around the damage they are taking, and it forces the Foxen Heroes player to consider how to strategically approach disabling the Guardian. For instance, the first Guardian recommended for use if Grak, and he has a ranged attack called Gaze. Obviously, you want to get rid of his attack that hits Foxen folk on adjacent spaces, but to do that you need to Jump twice up to its area, and then deal it 4 damage (which, of course, is the most required for disabling out of his features). So do you rush for that, hoping to stay ahead of the Guardian’s own Mend ability, or do you methodically remove his other, smaller and more circumstantial moves first and then close in on the Gaze?

 Did I forget to mention that the path up to certain parts follows white dotted lines, making it so you can’t just automatically reach anywhere you please? Not only that, but there is a limit to the number of figures per space. Going back to Grak, his Gaze can only have one Foxen Hero on there attacking it at a time. If he manages to remove that person, that means actions spent moving someone up to that hard-to-reach location to start damaging it again.

 I think I love mutli-use cards more than anything in board games. Yes, even more than deckbuilding. It opens up flexibility to the player and makes them face decisions every turn. It isn’t just a “well, this is what I have so I guess I’ll do that” approach to the game. In particular, most of the time the card will have a movement and some form of power to use. Some cards have two action choices instead, which are nice when you don’t need movement. And there are two aspects of the game that complement the dual-action card system nicely, allowing players to remain in control of what they are going to try to accomplish.

 There are two ways to break the usual “I play a card to do X” routine. First is to Prepare, which uses an action to draw two more cards. Why is this important? Because you aren’t bound by an arbitrary hand limit. You have a hand minimum, which you’ll draw back up to each turn, but never have to discard down to. In fact, even if you have more cards in hand than that draw amount, you’ll still get to draw a card for free at the end of the turn which helps you to cycle your deck to the cards you need. Second is the Power system, which appears on cards and has you Gain Power. Those little cubes are gained during your turn and then, at the end, are allocated to any open Power Cube spot on your characters. For instance, the King of War can hold two of them. A Thief can hold one. But the Archer cannot hold any. So what do they do? On a future turn (so not the turn you play the card to get the cubes), that character can spend a cube to, as a free action, do any one of their available actions (usually movement, some sort of attack, and for Foxen Heroes a leap). So playing 3 cards this turn to get 5 Power does nothing for you now apart from cycle those cards out of your hand, but as soon as your next turn that could be 5 extra actions on top of the 3 you start with each turn – leading to some really massive shifts in the game. But because they can’t be immediately used, that means the opponent can have a chance to react, taking out as many characters with cubes as they can.

 The board is small, a 3×3 grid. You might think this should be a bad thing, as it really restricts strategic maneuvering of your Foxen troops or isolating single targets as the Guardian. However, the game isn’t about massive battles, but a fierce skirmish between a monstrous titan force and the small woodland heroes trying to fend it off. Having a smaller map ensures the action is fast and tense, as there isn’t much chance to just have characters sit back and watch from the sidelines. It is a strength I’ve seen in other games, like Hoplomachus: Origins, which is where I first came to appreciate the smaller battle map because it cuts out turns of “Move, move, move” that are usually characteristic of the opening turns in a game like this. A Foxen hero could, realistically, be onto the Guardian within their first turn and dealing damage by the second. That makes this exciting from start to finish – why have a first turn that doesn’t really matter, in the end?

 There have been other reviews whom voiced concern about only one side being exciting to play, and so I figured I should address that in here as well. For me, I think both sides are very compelling, even though one of them reuses the same deck of action cards and has the same victory objective every game. However, the choice between the four Foxen leaders makes a drastic difference in how the game can play out, especially when facing someone like Apoda who can drop damage to Foxen characters on her character board. Between the difference in leader approach and the Guardian you are facing, there is enough difference here to make them a fun and engaging side to play. Just because the Guardian side is more exciting doesn’t mean the other side is bad, or unfun, to play as. It just has far more novelty, much like my initial reaction to playing as the Cave in Vast.

Final Thoughts

Skulk Hollow is one of those rare games that come along and blindside you with how refreshingly fun it can be. It is not a perfect game – no game is without some blemish – but it is exactly the sort of 2-player asymmetric experience that I can’t get enough of when it hits the table. It is a game I want to cry out about from atop the mountaintops, heralding the coming of this great hit from Pencil 1st Games that needs to be in any and every collection if you ever find yourself playing a 2-player game. It is that good, in my opinion, and has instantly become the game to beat in my highly contested list of 2019 2-player releases.

While the biggest issue in the game is that one side offers more variability than the other, I find that there is still enough variety to make the Foxen Heroes fun and engaging to play. Not only does the leader you choose alter things, but the Guardian you are facing will also require very different tactical approaches to defeat them. If you try to just use the same strategy, you may find that you’re losing more games than you will win, which is why the Foxen Heroes remain a fun side to play – while everyone will still secretly want to play as the massive Guardian.

So much consideration went into how to make this game play out effectively, and it shows. The double-use action cards make sure the player always has options, usually holding movement in one part and an ability in the other (although not always). That provides a flexibility to allow players to use cards in the ways they need them. And by restricting everything to card use, it ensures players cannot simply spam their strongest attacks. Careful planning, clever use of cards, hitting the right timing, and being prepared for your opponents’ likely counter-move are all present here in the game. And it plays out delightfully.

Perhaps the moment it all clicked was my first play as the Foxen Heroes (I started on the Guardian side as Grak), and realized the power behind Gaining Power. Storing those cubes for use on a future turn is POWERFUL, because that lets you use the action you need. However, it puts a giant bullseye on the Foxen who is carrying a cube, because they have that flexibility of a free action of their choice as soon as the next Foxen player turn. Cards not going your way? There’s a way around that – it just takes a little investment now to pay off later. And then realizing that every Guardian except Grak also can gain power…talk about a mind-blowing moment that opens it all up.

I will sing the praises of this game, not because I’m being pressured to do so in any way but because this is a top-tier game in my collection. I was ready to crown the game after just playing three rounds of the King of War vs. Grak battle. And let’s just say it gets even better beyond the recommended starting battle, part of why this game is so highly regarded by this reviewer. If you haven’t heard about Skulk Hollow yet, you are in for a real treat because this is one really good game. I like gathering resources and turning them into points as much as the next gamer, but sometimes what you really want – especially in a 2-player game – is a battle of wits played out among two very distinct factions as you try to outmaneuver your opponent. And then, when the dust clears, you can swap seats and play it again but reverse the roles for a completely different player experience. Which means you can play this 32 times without playing the same exact side on the same exact match-up (4 different Leaders vs 4 different Guardians). With so many games getting “recycled” after a play or two, it is refreshing to find one that begs to be played often, and is fast and fun enough to be played several times in succession every time it does get to the table.

Review for Two · Two-Player Only

Review for Two – The Legend of Korra: Pro-Bending Arena

Thank you for checking review #112 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 The Legend of Korra: Pro-Bending Arena

The Legend of Korra: Pro-Bending Arena is a board game designed by Sen-Foong Lim and Jessey Wright that is published by IDW Games. The box state it plays 2 players and has a playtime of 30-45 minutes.

Based on the fan-favorite Nickelodeon animated series, The Legend of Korra: Pro-Bending Arena is a two-player competition of wits, tricks, and speed as players take control of Republic City’s favorite sport.

Focusing on the rivalry between the Future Industries Fire Ferrets and The White Falls Wolfbats, The Legend of Korra: Pro-Bending Arena has two players each taking control of a team, drafting card decks for their benders, then playing cards to place elemental tokens around the board in an effort to overwhelm their opponent. As in the show, pro-bending matches are a game of push and pull, with an objective toward being the team that has either advanced the farthest forward, or completely knocked their competitors out of the ring.

The game play of The Legend of Korra: Pro-bending Arena is closely modeled after the popular Pro-bending sport featured in the first season of Avatar: The Legend of Korra. As such, the game is designed for 2 players, each controlling a team of 3 benders: earth, fire, and water.

The objective of the game is simple: be on the other team’s side of the arena when the game ends and you will be victorious, or dominate the competition, pushing all their benders off the back of the arena to end the game immediately and claim the championship as yours!

My Thoughts

 The game does a good job of capturing the essence of the Pro-Bending matches shown in the cartoon series. There is some excellent back-and-forth, and teamwork really does help make the dream (of winning) work in this one. There are a lot of little movements and decisions that go a long way toward making this game come alive for fans of the show, and those touches are noticed and appreciated. A friend of mine, who is a much bigger fan of the show than I am, even commented on that fact after we first played this.

 I really like that you get the opportunity to answer your opponents’ previous turn. The key to this game is paying attention to what your opponent is stacking into their deck and trying to create situations that their bender cannot escape easily. It takes a clever bend of creative defense and aggressive offense to do well in this game, along with a splash of luck in the card draw.

 The Chi system is nice because it provides a currency for upgrading your deck as the game progresses. It encourages a nice blend of cheaper and more expensive cards, as you’re unlikely to purchase everything that comes up and you don’t want all of the expensive cards to appear too early – each round a card will flip out and potentially cover the cards beneath it for that bender.

 The other nice touch they had with how you gain cards is that they are separated by bender, and so you can flip out more Water cards if you need a specific card, or avoid the Fire cards if you need to save up a turn or two in order to get that pricey card into your deck. This offers the player some freedom and flexibility to plan around things as the board state shifts and progresses during the course of a single game.

 I always appreciate games that have language independence, and for the most part the effects on the cards are intuitive to remember. I didn’t find myself needing to reference them often, and when I did the explanations were easy to find, coupled with great visual examples in the rules, and were simple enough to explain without much issue. These are the layers of polish many games tend to lack, so it was refreshing to find a game which has this as a strength.

 Speaking of polish, this game has one of the better rulebooks I’ve encountered. It has a ton of visual examples in here to show how things work, which makes this rulebook larger than it needs to be to explain the rules. I was expecting a dense game when I first saw how thick it was, but really the game mechanics are simple and explained exceptionally well.

 I love that there are moves that are “illegal” in the game and run the risk of getting a foul for the bender. They are usually really powerful and can help you to press (or obtain) the advantage, but at the risk of being caught and, eventually, disqualified from the game. This is a really cool concept, and mirrors something you’d expect to find as a part of real Pro-Bending competition.

 I personally struggled to figure out which bender was whom every single time I played the game. Once they get ringed and on the table it is easier to tell which fire bender belongs to which side, but since it lacks any card art with said bender in a pose matching the mini, I had to look in the rulebook every time. And since the benders aren’t that “distinct”, they could really be anyone (something I’ll expand more upon in my final thoughts)

 So much of the game is mitigation of the current situation to where it can drag. You might have 4-5 rounds in a row where neither side is taking a hit because they can perfectly escape whatever situation was presented to them. And while it always feels great to escape unscathed, it makes the game feel overly long at times – the one true criticism I have of the gameplay. Which is only compounded near the end when, if “time” is out you’re rolling the foul die to see if the game is called by the ref or if play continues. 3-4 extra turns can be a huge difference maker in the game, something that feels sour when it costs you the match (and something that feels great when it lets you steal a victory).

 Nitpick time here. I understand the double-sided tokens and how they could save on costs and the usefulness of them. And even having the water and fire being a similar shape isn’t a deal breaker. However, the different sides on these tokens aren’t distinct – especially on the water tokens. If you can’t tell at a glance if a token is yours or the opponent’s token, the game creates a possible barrier. Not to mention this is likely a really big problem for color-blind players and accessibility. Having the sides visually different would have helped, as the color difference isn’t really spectacular.

 There are only two teams produced for anyone who didn’t back the Kickstarter. More on this in the final thoughts section, but it really stinks that there aren’t ways to obtain more teams to have the added variety to the game.

Final Thoughts

The Legend of Korra: Pro-Bending Arena was a game I had relatively low expectations for when it came across my radar. I was assuming the game would be a lackluster, but enjoyable, game based upon an IP that I found interesting. My wife and I love watching Avatar: The Last Airbender, and I’ve enjoyed the episodes I’ve seen so far of The Legend of Korra – even if I do need to get back to finishing that first season. What I discovered in this box was an extremely fun and tense game that has endless replayability…for some people.

My one and only real disappointment with this game is the fact that the game contains only the two teams. Yes, there are cards to mix up your decks from play-to-play, but they still remain the same two teams duking it out every time it hits the table. But those who had the funds and the willingness to back the game on Kickstarter – well, they had a lot more teams and, by extension, way more variety. And I want it so bad, which is a great sign. The game doesn’t need those extra teams, but I have the desire to get everything for this game. And I am sad to have to wait for the day in which I see someone parting with their Kickstarter edition of the game in order to make that happen. I’m not even saying I need the minis – forget those! Just give me the extra cards. I can have the teams be whatever fits the game – I’m not afraid to have the Korra mini represent someone else. Give me the variety and I’ll be a content consumer of this game for life.

Because ultimately this is a game I really, really enjoy playing. It has a nice variety of cards in there to mix up the gameplay, and both teams feel different to play. There is a nice push-pull system within the gameplay that I find myself liking a lot, even if most turns are trying to puzzle out how to keep your people safe AND put your opponent in a tough situation. It is that slow and methodical attempt to enhance your own deck while staying in competition long enough to do something that makes this game really fun and exciting. It is simple, looks nice on the table, and I have never finished a game and felt disappointed in the time spent playing the game. It hits on everything I look for in a 2-player dueling game and does it extremely well.

And the only thing that holds it down in my Top Games list is that darn lack of extra teams. Seriously, IDW, give me the cards and I’ll be a happy bender.

Review for Two · Two-Player Only

Review for Two: Bushido

Thank you for checking review #112 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: I was provided a copy of the game for an upcoming event I am running at a local convention (Cardboard Caucus, October 25-27 in Des Moines, IA) but upon playing it I had to bump it up enough to get a review.

An overview of Bushido

Bushido is a board game designed by Pedro Mendoza that is published by Grey Fox Games. The box state it plays 2 players and has a playtime of 20-30 minutes.

Bushido is a game of dueling martial artists, testing their training against one another. One shall prevail and prove their techniques superior. The other will return to studying until they are strong enough to win.

Players begin with a card draft which represent the training of their fighters.

After training players play a series of round wherein they play technique cards from their hands, or change their guards, in order to create a pool of combat dice which they hope to use to strike their opponent or defend their attacks.

In this game damage escalates quickly so players must be able to block, evade, and strike simultaneously to try and keep the momentum of the encounter in their favor.

The game ends when one warrior has bested the other.

My Thoughts

 For a game involving 4+ dice being rolled most turns, this game feels like you make a lot of meaningful decisions throughout. The opening two phases of the game, each of which only happens once, might seem like the one area where you make all of the choices available and that randomness should take over from there. But it honestly never feels that way. Sure, there are turns where randomness swings things in unexpected ways, but those are usually the exception rather than the rule. Most turns have a surprising balance between luck and tactical planning. Knowing when to play each card, when to boost card effects or use tokens, and when to change your Guard are all critical decisions that can strongly impact the game.

 For a game with symmetric beginnings (each player has the same life total and same pool of weapons), Bushido is surprisingly asymmetric. This all comes from the Technique cards which players draft at the start of the game. These techniques help to mold the capabilities of the player, providing specific abilities they can access as well as determining a key portion of their dice pool. Five cards can’t possibly make a big difference, right? Wrong. They change everything. A game of Bushido could feasibly be won or lost from the start based on how the drafting goes. Being able to choose from a pool of 4 cards each drafting turn is excellent, providing a reasonable number of options without being overwhelming. And when you see how many cards aren’t even revealed each game, you’ll understand just how much replay value is in here…because no two matches are going to play out the exact same.

 Another key consideration that comes during the Training phase involves the different schools that the techniques belong to. Diversifying might give you a balanced approach to your cards, but it also has some limitations. Specializing in a school will allow you to Boost an attack by playing multiple cards from the same school, with each additional card used adding 1 Attack die to the pool. Which doesn’t sound like much until you see enough turns where 1 more damage could have been crippling to your opponent – and extra attack dice mean extra chances to roll the lucrative Torii symbol (more on that to come).

 It seems odd that you choose one weapon and that is the only one you use for the entire game. But it works brilliantly, and I can’t imagine the game functioning otherwise. Most duels between two fighters are done without a constant change of weapons, just differing tactics. And that really comes through in Bushido. The fact that each weapon functions with a differing effect, not only from weapon-to-weapon but based on your Guard, is remarkably clever and makes things interesting.

 There are three different dice, each with custom face distribution. If you want to deal damage, you want to roll red dice and, as a second option, gray dice. But if you’re rolling a blue…well, you can’t hit anyone with that. On the other hand, if you need to avoid damage you want to roll a ton of blue dice, maybe some gray…but red have no possibility for dodging an attack. They could have just made all dice balanced and one color, only varying the number rolled from the Techniques. Or made it so some faces are shown more than once but still contain every possibility on every die. But I like the decision here because it makes the drafting of cards, and the flowing between Guards, all that more important.

 The Guard system is simple yet brilliant. Your guard determines two things: the dice you add to your pool each turn and which effect on your weapon is active. But you cannot simply remain in the same guard all game unless the game is REALLY short. Why? Because each turn begins with a choice: play a Technique card or change your Guard. And if you cannot play a Technique card, you MUST change your Guard – which then lets you pick up your used Techniques. The Guard, as much as anything in the game, dictates the tempo on each side. Odds are someone in High Guard will be doing more damage because they roll two red dice. Most warriors in Low Guard are doing minimal damage because they are rolling a gray and a blue die – meaning only 1 of the 12 sides rolled from the Guard portion of the pool has a hit on it. Anticipating when to change your own Guard, and what your opponent is going to choose, is one of the key things in the game.

 One of the most exciting aspects comes on the Attack Dice. There is a Torii symbol on there, giving the player an option with each of these dice: to Focus or to Strike. Focusing will gain the player a Torii token which can be used later to reroll their choice of dice once (during their turn). Striking will allow the player to reroll that Torii die, plus one more red Attack die from the pool. Which means a player could potentially go from rolling 1-2 Attack die and end up rolling 7-10 of them on a lucky turn. It adds extra tension and excitement every time it happens – even if one side dreads seeing the chain of Torii unfolding on the table.

 There are only a few tokens, but they interact in a nice way. Tokens you gain go to a holding area, meaning you cannot use them this turn. At the end of the turn – after resolving die rolls and taking damage – they will shift to your pool. Rage tokens can be discarded prior to your roll to roll an extra red Attack die. Armor tokens can be discarded to reduce a hit on your hit track. And Torii tokens are discarded to reroll dice. There is no limit on the Rage tokens, but the weapon you choose determines how many slots you have for Armor/Torii tokens (from 2-4 slots) which means you cannot just load up on Armor and then go on the offensive.

 It feels like I’m gushing at this point, but really Bushido is that darn good. And one of the coolest parts – which I struggled to wrap my head around from the rules – was that my attack on this turn is registered onto your hit track, and so then on your turn you are trying to not only deal me hits, but also to get enough Dodges or use enough Armor to reduce the hit track on your board so you take less damage. The state of that hit track often encourages you to choose certain Technique cards to play, as you don’t want to roll all red dice if you’re sitting at 6 on the Hit Track. Because that hit track deals escalating damage, with 1 damage at 1 hit but 3 damage at 2 hits. And 6 damage at 3 hits. And 10 damage at 4 hits. Making 5-10 hits all instant death results. This is another part of the beautiful ebb and flow of Bushido, and part of what makes it memorable among other games out there.

 At the end of the day there is still a lot of dice rolling going on in the game, and if that bothers you then you still might have issues with Bushido. I imagine my wife wouldn’t find much joy in the game, even if the dice never once impacted her in a negative way, just because there is that random chance involved every single turn.

 The real issue here is direct damage. So much of this game is about trying to do more than your opponent can mitigate, but direct damage can ignore that and makes it so your opponent cannot even have a chance to avoid the damage. Because these effects are rare, of one side has them and can trigger it a few times in the game, that can be a significant advantage. I like the direct damage possibility in here, as it can help speed up the game, but at the same time it really stinks if you’re on the receiving end of it and have no answer of your own.

Final Thoughts

Sometimes you receive a game and it sits on the shelf waiting patiently for its turn to get played. More often a game might get that first play and sit patiently in line for it to get back into rotation for more plays in order to review the game. Bushido was not that sort of game. With simple rules to dive into, quick gameplay with a high level of interaction, and an amazing amount of fun in the box – Bushido is exactly the sort of game that I can get excited about. And the rapidity in which it hit the table, and the amount of enjoyment this game provided – well, neither of those were completely expected. Sure, I thought this would be a fun little 2-player dueling game. I expected it to be high on luck with a splash of strategy and tactics into the mix. And yes, there is certainly a level of luck in the game. But there is also a surprising amount of control you feel in the game, as though the decision you are making still matter regardless of dice doing what dice tend to do.

A lot of that has to do with the opening two segments of the game, where you are drafting your Techniques and choosing your Weapon for the game. There is a surprising amount of change that happens based upon what these six cards are for each player, and you get the opportunity to know and plan for both what you have on your side but also what your opponent possesses and can do. If they have one or two big attack cards, you’re probably going to try and save your best defensive card for after one of those attacks in order to minimize the damage taken. It is a tug of war affair between two duelists that, surprisingly, imitates the ebb and flow feel of what I expect such a duel would be like: impressive attacks that, to an ordinary foe, would render them helpless but are expertly avoided or minimized. Rinse and repeat.

Because of the dice factor, there is a chance that some games will run too long (either from poor attack rolls or stellar defense rolls) or will go to short (like the opening attack exploding through every attack die in the pool), most of the time it will be down to an exchange of 1-3 HP every few turns. When you are looking as 12 health, with no healing methods, that means most games are going to average into a length of time that, for Bushido, feels about right. While the dice rolling will likely prevent it from becoming my absolute favorite 2-player dueling game, it is definitely one of my favorites already. I’ve really enjoyed the game, and when it gets to the table I find myself wanting to play it several times in an evening.

At the end of the day, what more can you ask for out of a game like this? I wholeheartedly recommend Bushido, even to the dice averse, because it rarely feels like the dice have greatly impacted the outcome. Can it spoil the occasional turn? Absolutely. But rarely the entire match.

Review for Two

Review for Two – Omen: Heir to the Dunes

Thank you for checking review #110 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 the print and play files listed on BGG.

An overview of Omen: Heir to the Dunes

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

An ancient conflict is arising from the burning sands of Egypt. The heirs of Anubis and Horus gather followers and initiates for the war to come. Which side will prevail and gain dominion over the other: light or darkness?
Omen: Heir to the Dunes is the latest chapter in the Omen Saga . This standalone expansion is the single largest expansion since Omen: A Reign of War. It not only includes all new unit cards and reward tiles compatible with all games in the Saga, but also introduces factions and an all-new path to victory in the form of structures.

Omen: Heir to the Dunes

– A fast paced, head to head strategy card game set in the burning sands of ancient Egypt.
– Pledge your loyalty to Anubis or Horus and command your forces as you choose from multiple paths to victory.
– Quick to learn and endlessly expandable with additional games from the Omen Saga.

My Thoughts

 One of the nicest additions to this version of Omen is having the two Gods, and each player having the favor of one of those Gods. This adds a few elements that really help this version to stand out: a chance to draw a free card at the start of your turn, reducing the cost of your first aligned unit, boosting your neutral units when your god is favored, and the flipping of that favor card are all really awesome and interesting aspects of this game. They add asymmetric player status at the start of the game. While you’re still drawing from the same pool of units, suddenly there are units that help you more or, if you play them, could help your opponent in small ways. This enhances the strategic planning and adds interesting, tense decisions.

 The buildings are a more interesting approach than I found the feats to be in the base game. Certain units can be discarded for their build ability in order to take cards from the deck equal to their offering value and put those under a building. Once you start one building, though, you cannot place units under a different one until that building is complete. Not only that, but the building doesn’t flip when finished until the start of your turn, meaning toward the end you need to make sure it’ll be your turn again. There are a lot of points under the more expensive buildings, and these structures form a game-end condition much like the feats did.

 The rest of this game is pretty darn close to what the base game (A Reign of War) of Omen provided, which is a strength because that game system is so solid. Sometimes there is pressure to get innovative in ways that ultimately are poor decisions for the game as a whole. However, here it is a great thing because the core game of Omen is really, really good. Every strong point listed in my review of Omen: A Reign of War can be listed here.

 This version of the game has a solo mode in the rules. I haven’t played it yet, but from my initial impression after reading those rules it seems like it should provide a solid, fun experience. I can’t wait to try it out in the future, but even if that falls completely flat you can be reassured that the 2-player experience is excellent.

 This game seems like it would be difficult to gel well when mixed with other versions of Omen. And the rules tend to confirm that, suggesting adding just a handful of other units into the mix with this game rather than a full-blown combination of everything together. All of the things above which make this version stand out from the base game are also reasons why this doesn’t really play well with others. Can it be combined? Absolutely. Should it be combined? Maybe not.

Final Thoughts

Omen: Heir to the Dunes takes the base game system of Omen: A Reign of War and does some interesting things to make a unique and fresh experience. After our first play of the game, my friend and I started talking about what this did differently and comparing the two games and trying to decide if we liked one version over the other – essentially, asking whether we would need both in a collection or could stick to just having one or the other. And we both really enjoyed this experience and felt it did enough to deliver an experience that could co-exist in a collection. So even if you’re planning on being a game purist, keeping this as a stand-alone game without any desire to intermix this with the base game, you’re going to enjoy what comes in this box.

This probably wouldn’t be the first Omen game I’d recommend picking up. I’d still start with A Reign of War because it gives you the core experience. But this version adds a few neat mechanics. I love building the structures over the course of the game, even though there are times when it means sacrificing your focus on winning battles in the cities. There are a ton of points that can be scored through those buildings, if you’re willing to push your luck on committing to their construction. If you can pull it off, there are plenty of points to be earned via this method.

We also played this for the first time before I received my Kolossal version of Omen, so this was our first introduction to some cards which have a Treasured keyword. Essentially that means you get a point at the end of the game if they are in your hand, and for 90% of the game it is just another card – until you realize the game could end at any moment and so suddenly you need to weigh whether that card will get you at least one point by being played or if you should try and hold onto it even if that means taking a suboptimal turn. And sometimes the answer is easy to determine, but other times it becomes a “if I get another turn after this, playing the card is the best thing to do because I can get X on my next turn, but if my opponent ends the game on their turn then I’m giving them an advantage in points”. And since this game, like A Reign of War, tends to have smaller end scores that 1 VP could be really critical in determining who wins the game. And I was SO glad this was in the base game now as well in the Kolossal version.

But the real star of this version of the game comes from the dueling Gods, with each player representing a different God. This opens up so many great aspects such as flipping a card at the start of each turn and getting to draw it if it is aligned with your God, having a Favor card that flips when any player brings out a card aligned to the God not currently favored, having your first unit aligned to your God being discounted, and boosting neutral units if your God is on its favored side. Suddenly this game is very assymmetrical in its approach, and you get tough decisions on whether you should play a card favored by the other God. You may need to play those cards in a different order than you’d like simply because you don’t want the opponent to get a nice swing in power going their way. This is the aspect that makes Heir to the Dunes stand out in all of the right ways, meriting a spot on the shelf and allowing it to be played on its own.

The Kickstarter campaign for this game will be coming up soon (I don’t know an official date)< and I wholeheartedly recommend backing. Omen has already proven itself to be an outstanding 2-player game, and this installment is worth picking up for returning players. And Kickstarters also tend to be the best time to get everything for a game at the lowest price possible – something I’d like to be able to do myself. Because the beauty of Omen isn’t just the great 2-player gameplay in the standalone boxes, but also the ability to mix and match cards across sets for modular experiences. That sort of variety and replayability is what I crave in games for my collection, but even as a standalone experience this one stands up to deliver a great package.

And this is all without even trying the solo mode in the rules yet…