Board Gaming · Review for Two · Two-Player Only

Review for Two: Circle the Wagons

Thank you for checking review #69 by Cardboard Clash. My aim is to focus on reviewing board games and how they play for two people and, on occasion, how they play for one person. Because my wife is my primary gaming partner, a lot of consideration goes into finding those games that play well with 2 players, and we typically prefer to find those games that do not require a variant (official or otherwise) in order to play it with just the two of us.

**Note: a review copy of the game was provided in exchange for an honest review.

An Overview of Circle the Wagons

 

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

Gameplay differences for 2 Players

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

Rules Rating

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

My Thoughts

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Thoughts

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Board Gaming · Review for Two

Review for Two – Temporal Odyssey

Thank you for checking review #68 by Cardboard Clash. My aim is to focus on reviewing board games and how they play for two people and, on occasion, how they play for one person. Because my wife is my primary gaming partner, a lot of consideration goes into finding those games that play well with 2 players, and we typically prefer to find those games that do not require a variant (official or otherwise) in order to play it with just the two of us.

**Note: a review copy of the game was provided in exchange for an honest review.

An Overview of Temporal Odyssey

 

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

 

Gameplay differences for 2 Players

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

Rules Rating

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

My Thoughts

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Board Gaming · Review for Two · Two-Player Only

Review for Two – Liberation

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

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

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

An Overview of Liberation

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

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

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

Gameplay differences for 2 Players

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

My Thoughts

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

Board Gaming · Review for Two

Review for Two: InBetween

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

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

An Overview of InBetween

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

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

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

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

Gameplay differences for 2 Players

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

My Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Board Gaming · Review for Two · Worker Placement Month

Review for Two – Argent: The Consortium

Thank you for checking review #64 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 Argent: The Consortium

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Argent: The Consortium is a game designed by Trey Chambers and was published by Level 99 Games in 2015. The box states that it can play 2-5 players and has a 60-150 minute play time and a BGG weight rating of 3.82.

The time has come for the selection of a new Chancellor at Argent University of Magic, and you are among the likely candidates for the job. Gather your apprentices, ready your spellbook, and build your influence, while secretly discovering and competing over the votes of a limited Consortium of influential board members. Only the one who is able to fulfill the most criteria will be claim the title of most influential mage in the World of Indines!

Argent: The Consortium is a cutthroat worker-placement/engine-building game of manipulation and secrecy in which the criteria for victory are secret and the capabilities of your opponents are constantly changing. You’ll need to outwit the other candidates, use your spells at the right moment, and choose the correct apprentices to manage your plan.

Argent: The Consortium is a European-style game that minimizes luck and focuses on player interaction and strong core mechanisms that allow new strategies to emerge each time you play.

The designer keeps an updated Official Errata/Typo/FAQ thread on BGG.

 

Gameplay differences for 2 Players

You have 9 room tiles, set in a 3×3 square. Each player begins with 7, instead of 5, mages that they draft from the start of the game. Great Hall A and Dormitory are not able to be used. Infirmary Side B must always be used. All other aspects of the game remain the same.

Quick Take on the 2nd Edition Rules/Errata

This fixes three things that really enhances the overall experience:

  • This replaces the 1st edition mage figures/bases/flags with new pawns that have badge rings which attach to the base of a mage.
  • The first tiebreaker for a voter is a player with a Mark on that voter. If both have a mark (or neither do), the next tiebreaker is the higher Influence.
  • In a 2-player game, the 2nd Most Influence and 2nd Most Supporters voter cards are removed.

It is hard to say which is the biggest change, but I suspect many will point to the first two as being essential changes. Some might have preferred being able to win voters by blitzing the Influence and gathering as much of everything as possible, but this change allows the player who takes the time to know what is being voted on to get the edge in a close contest. The figure change, while not affecting any rules, took away one of the most disappointing aspects of the 1st edition game.

My Thoughts

 This is my kind of worker placement game, because it has some serious player interaction and it isn’t simple a points/efficiency race. Yes, there is some of that in the game, but this is a satisfying blend of euro gaming and the thematic flavors of Ameri-style gaming. And rather than feel like a game that tries and fails to cater to both crowds, this one swings and hits a home run. At least for me, and for most people I’ve played this with. It opens the door to a lot of niche gamers that might not be interested in one or the other half of that style, and could be that bridge that unifies rather than dividing those camps.

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 Replay value. Those two words I like to utter a lot, and honestly there is a good reason for that. A game like A Feast for Odin, which is one of the Uwe Rosenberg big box games, is massive and impressive. However, every single game is played out in an identical fashion in terms of what you can do and how to accomplish them. The variety there comes from trying different tactics and, being creatures of habit, we tend to fall into the same routines that end with similar results. Enter Argent: The Consortium. The voter cards change every game (except for two of the 12), making the scoring conditions ever-changing. You never use all of the room tiles to construct the university board, which is great in itself, but then consider each of these tiles has an A and a B side. The magic power cards, which are tied to each of the colored mages you can use as workers, have A and B sides, making it so you can vary the powers of your workers from game to game. And each candidate board has an A and a B side, so even if you don’t choose a different one from the 6 available you’re able to change that experience based on your personal starting powers. Add in the drafting of your starting pool of mages at the start of the game and your head could be spinning from the variance available. And let’s not even mention the three decks of cards which you’re buying/recruiting from over the course of the game and how that add randomness (the only randomness to appear during the game, everything else being part of setup). You could probably play this every day for a year and end up with a different experience based on the parts and pieces for every single play.

 Adding to that experience is the potential scarcity of resources on a given setup. For instance, the last game I played there was no location allowing you to gain marks (apart from choosing to take that over drafting a supporter on the Council Chamber location. So there were very few ways to get marks outside of learning spells or taking supporters/vault cards that provided a way to get those. One of us had a lot of those, and so she had a ton of marks out. I like that there can be a scarcity, making it so you need to try varying strategies based on the layout each game.

 The rounds have player-determined ending conditions, which is a nice addition here. It has nothing to do with passing, or running out of workers. Instead, there are 3-5 Bell Tower cards and, for an action, you can take one of them. They provide things such as Influence Points, Mana, Gold, or the First Player Token, and so there is benefit to taking one of them. However, the real reason is to bring about the threat of the round ending because once that last Bell Tower card is taken, the round ends. Even if you’ve still got 2-3 mages to place, it is done. So players can all ignore them while doing action after action, or players can accelerate the end of the round to trigger the room resolutions sooner. I love this.

 Speaking of the room resolution, I also like that this is a worker placement game where most of what happens is at the end of the round. The sequence of the rooms matters, as it starts from the top and goes left-to-right then top-to-bottom (like reading a book). Something you need to consider when placing workers, as that gold you need to make a buy might not be in your possession until after that buy card activates.

 But there is consolation to be found in two places. First, if you place a worker you cannot (or choose not) to activate when the time comes, you can gain 1 Influence Point. So even if you don’t plan well, you can get something. Or if that 1 IP is essential to a future action, you can always opt for that. The other consolation comes when your mage is wounded and is sent to the Infirmary. It no longer gets to take an action, but you immediately gain either 2 gold, 1 mana, or 1 Influence Point (at least on Side A of the room…I forget Side B). So even when things go wrong, you get something. Just not necessarily what you want or need.

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 The 2nd edition fixes so many small things, but they all add up to an amazingly-better experience. And that is what this review is focusing on, is that new experience. The mage minis are wonderful, and I don’t miss the old style of workers who had to snap onto a base which would get a token slotted into the back. The tiebreaker change is a welcome surprise and it makes the experience a lot better at the end of the game. If you have 1st edition, I highly recommend making the upgrade if you can. At the very least, make that one rule change. It flips the game in the right direction.

 This game can have some sharp elbows. Like, really sharp as I found out last night in our game with a friend. I had a round (Round 3) where only two of my mage workers activated spaces, one of them not on a space of my choosing due to a spell that moved them. Sure, three of them got me a small benefit in the Infirmary, but it was very small consolation by the end of that round. It tore down my efforts and put me in a massive hole to where I never fully recovered, ending with just 2 voters and one came by sheer luck. It all depends on who you play with and how they feel about dishing out the brutality. Some players will beat you down mercilessly and then continue to kick you long after you’ve been suppressed. If that is someone you play with, and you have issues with being on the receiving end of that, then you might dislike the game. But most players will walk a middle ground, doing some wounding/banishing/moving of your workers without taking it too far.

 Setup and teardown time for this game is quite a task at times. It isn’t the worst game we own for this, but with everything in this box it requires a decent amount of time. The insert that comes in the box isn’t horrible, but it definitely is a game that required bagging right away. What it desperately needs is an officially-licensed insert from a company like Meeple Realty. If one exists, I’m not aware of it. But it really, really needs to exist in order to assist with the time it takes to get onto the table and the organization when it comes back off the table.

 This thing is a beast on the table, something to be aware of. It takes far more real estate than you’d expect with all those cards, boards, pieces, etc. Especially if you have more than two at the table to play this one. So if space is a concern, be aware that you’ll need plenty of it.

 The player aids. Really, did they need to be a single box-sized thin slip of paper? Not only does it feel like it could rip easily, but this thing is huge. With a game that already will dominate most of the space on a table! Disappointing is the word to use here, as this could easily have been reduced into a smaller booklet, or at least folded in half and put on something a little thicker.

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Final Thoughts

 

This was the first game that Mina’s Fresh Cardboard really sold me on (the second big must-buy because of her is still not in my collection, sadly), and I’ve personally been delighted with the game ever since our first play. Unfortunately, my wife was left bitter after the first two games, primarily because of the Influence Track as the tiebreaker for scoring the voters. It took nearly 18 months to convince her to try it again, this time with the 2nd edition rules/components and a 3rd player to help bring a greater feeling of balance to the table in order to make the experience more pleasing.

And that play of the game…she enjoyed the game enough to want to play more. She couldn’t remember what she hated so much about it, and that is 99% of the battle. Now there won’t be such fierce resistance to the idea of replaying the game. I think it helps that they changed the tiebreaker to giving priority to marks first.

My opinions on the game have never waned, as you saw if you paid attention to my Top 25 that was revealed in June. It is a Top 10 game for me, and would possibly be Top 5 if my wife enjoyed the game more. I’m holding out hope for her, as it took at least 15-20 plays of Kingdom Builder to finally win her over on that one to where it is among her favorite games.

This is worker placement at its finest, as it has some excellent player interaction coupled with an insane amount of replay value. Seriously, I think you could play this game a hundred times and have a hundred different setups between the candidate sheets, the university board tiles, the mage powers, and the consortium voters. Add in the swath of spells, supporter cards, and vault cards and you’re going to get some fresh experiences along the way. So if you rate your games based on longevity over time, this game will deliver in spades. This isn’t your standard worker placement fare, with predictable paths where you see who plays best in their sandbox. This game can be gritty and grueling, evoking a beautiful worker placement game.

Yet it is far from perfect. I would argue it plays best mechanically at 3-4 players, although I don’t mind the 2-player game with the revised ruling. Players who dislike having conflict and confrontation will inherently dislike some aspects of this game because it thrives on that interaction. The game also takes up a LOT of space on the table. Not quite a Firefly: The Game (with expansions) or War of the Ring level, but it is pretty sizable. The player aids are massive, being a single sheet that is the size of the box. There are five of them, but at that size they add to the immense amount of real estate this game wants to claim.

Some day I hope to get to play a 6th round epic mode of the game. I want to pick up and try the two published expansions (Summer Break and Mancers of the University), especially the latter since it adds in a new type of mage. Regardless of my wife’s perspective on the game and whether or not it eventually changes to where the enjoys the game, it is one I am going remain happy about having in my collection. Even if it only comes out 1-2 times a year to be played with the right group.

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

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

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

Board Gaming · Review for Two · Worker Placement Month

Review for Two – Keyper

Thank you for checking review #63 by Cardboard Clash. My aim is to focus on reviewing board games and how they play for two people and, on occasion, how they play for one person. Because my wife is my primary gaming partner, a lot of consideration goes into finding those games that play well with 2 players, and we typically prefer to find those games that do not require a variant (official or otherwise) in order to play it with just the two of us.

**Note: A review copy was provided in exchange for an honest review.

An Overview of Keyper

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Keyper is a game designed by Richard Breese and was published by R&D Games/Starling Games in 2017. The box states that it can play 2-4 players and has a 90-120 minute play time and a BGG weight rating of 3.52.

Keyper is a game with high player interaction for two to four players played over four rounds. Each round represents a season: spring, summer, autumn and finally winter.

Each player starts the game with their own village board, a mini keyp board, 12 village tiles, a keyper (waving meeple) in their player color, and a team of eight multi-colored keyples, including two white keyples. Each differently colored keyple is a specialist in one activity: the brown keyper is a woodsman, the black keyple is a miner, the orange keyple a clay worker, etc. The white keyples are generalists who can represent any other color.

Keyper is a worker placement game. (Keyper is the eighth new title in the medieval Key series of games, with Keydom, the second in the series being widely recognized as the first of the worker placement genre of games.) What makes Keyper special is that when one player places a keyple on a country board, another player can join them with a matching colored keyple on the first player’s turn to the benefit of both players. In this way some players are likely to have played all their keyples before others. All keyples have the potential to work twice. If a player has played all of their keyples, but another player still has some, then on their turn the player with no remaining keyples can lay down one or more keyples on the country board they have claimed or in their village board to secure additional resources or actions. It can therefore be doubly beneficial to co-operate with your fellow players, although Keyper is not a co-operative game in the usual sense of the term.

The country boards are also noteworthy in that they can be manipulated and folded at the beginning of summer, autumn and winter to show one of four different permutations of fields for that season. A player will chose the one to suit their strategy, often hoping that another player will complement their choice. Certain fields on the country boards are available only in certain seasons, e.g., raw materials can be upgraded to finished goods only in spring and summer after which you can only convert using tiles in your own village. Gem mining occurs only in autumn and winter.

A player’s strategy is likely to be influenced by which (seeded) spring country tiles they acquire and by the particular colored keyples they have available in the later seasons. Different combinations will encourage a player to develop their farm or village, help with their shipping or mining activities, and prepare for the seasonal fairs. Players constantly need to evaluate whether or not to join other players, when to claim a country board, whether to play on their own or another player’s country board, when to use their own village, and whether to create a large or small team of keyples for the following season. The winner is the player to gain the most points, usually through pursuing at least a couple of the different strategies.

In addition to the theme and mechanisms, Keyper has similar traits to the earlier Key games: Game actions are positive and constructive, not destructive; player interaction is through the game mechanisms not direct, and like Keyflower, the previous game in the series, there is a lot of player interaction.

A special English-language Kickstarter edition of Keyper with “character” keyples and keypers will also be released.

 

Gameplay differences for 2 Players

Only two changes occur for the 2-player game: there are only two boards in the central area, and each player begins with 9 Keyples instead of 8 (the additional one is randomly selected from four possible choices: Brown, Green, Black, or Orange)

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My Thoughts

 The flippy boards sound like a gimmick. They look and feel like a gimmick. But let me assure you, those boards are a great enhancement to the game because they allow each player to make sure what actions/resources they NEED for the turn are available (if possible). The planning for your next season begins right here, with the selection on those boards. Sometimes you fail horribly, like I did in my last play when I had literally no way of converting cubes into cylinders and had to spend half the round getting to where I could build a building in order to do that to fulfill a fair tile. Other times, it helps ensure you can get what you need…you just need to make sure you save the Keyples to execute those actions. This is a unique part of the game, and it steals a bit of the show.

 There are a lot of animals. A LOT of animals in here. Plus a ton of resources. While organizing these might be a bit of a bear to tackle, there is no shortage of quality components in the box. If you’ve always wanted wooden chickens, deer, or goats then you’ll love them in here. If you like colorful gems, they’ve got it. I’ll be patiently waiting for the Meeple Realty organizer for this game to exist (or Broken Token, of course) to help contain them all and make the setup and teardown quicker…but man, it is great seeing all the stuff in this box when it is on the table.

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 Specialized worker Keyples! Six of them, to be precise (and a 7th being wild, and an 8th being your specific Keyper). I love that using the matching colored Keyple on a space makes their action more efficient. Like, anyone can go and gather clay, but only the specialized (or wild) Keyple can get you an extra cube. This adds a ton of strategy into which Keyples you play and when, as well as whether or not you really want to join your opponent…

 Which leads me to the joining element. Hello player interaction! This game has it in spades, something that many worker placement games lack. In this instance, when a person places their Keyple on a central board, the players (starting with the one to the left) have the option to join in on that action until either a player joins, or all players pass on the option of joining. This essentially allows both players to do that same action, getting +1 of whatever the action is. However, the player joining must spend the same colored Keyple (or a white wild) in order to join. This mechanic is, arguably, the most critical one of the game and the part that makes the game really shine. Even with 2 players, it is an important consideration.

 The big reason why it matters is because the round will start to end when the final player has played their last Keyple. All other players get one last action after that. How, you may ask? Because when a player is out of Keyples, they can start to lay down Keyples on their own village board and/or the country board they claimed with their Keyper (more on that next). This allows them to take that action again, and if there are 2 Keyples on the space they can lay them both with that action to get another boosted action on that space. Huge. So very, very huge. So while you might think you want to collect a horde of Keyples to place, sometimes it is better to have fewer so you can lay down Keyples and take advantage of repeating some essential actions.

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 Those country boards (the flippy ones) begin each season without any “ownership”. Every player can always place on any of these boards. However, every player has a Keyper in their own color, and at some point in the turn you’re going to have to place it. However, it can only go onto the space with the outline of a Keyper on it, and that essentially claims that board for the player. At the end of the round, you’ll get every Keyple on that board. This will be the board you rearrange at the end of the round. AND it is the only board where you will get to lay down Keyples if you run out before your opponent. An early claim often leads to everyone else putting workers on the other boards and avoiding your board like it is full of the plague. Claiming too late, though, can mean you’re stuck with the board you didn’t really want.

 Gameplay in here is rich and rewarding. There appear to be many paths you can take, some of them dependent upon what building tiles appear at which time during the game. After a handful of plays, I still haven’t felt like I’ve really grasped the best strategies. I haven’t figured out how to effectively manage the shipping on boats, even though I netted 24 points via that last game (I still lost handily!) or even how to juggle the use of wheat. Replay value is something people want in games, and this one delivers via all those buildings, the order in which things will appear, and having a multitude of spaces available to place Keyples every turn. Animal shepherding appears to be an early optimization, but I’m sure it isn’t the only viable or an unbeatable strategy.

 In a 2-player game, building tiles that give points per Keyple of a specific color have a bit of a cap on them. Best case scenario, one of you got an extra of that color so there’s a chance to get 3 of them if they all end up placed on the same board. Further in that best case, you’ve upgraded the building to get 2 points per Keyple of that color. So you’re capping out, in a best-case scenario, at 6 points. Not a bad score, but realistically it’ll net you in the 1-4 range the majority of the time. Those tiles are simply better with more players, as there will be a capped potential of 8 points, and should be a lot easier to get 4-6 as a payoff.

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 This game could use a player aid for the building tiles. Many of the tiles become clear, after a few plays, what they are intended to do. However, having a quick reference sheet prevents a single person from having to grab the rulebook every time new tiles flip out in order to answer the “what does this one do?” question that arises. It also helps make sure that you aren’t giving away, by asking, what tile(s) you might want to select. I understand this player aid would be large in size, but it would be thinner than the rulebook. And at the very least allow you to have more than 1 place to reference that information, enabling multiple people to look as they want to see what things do.

 The rulebook is clear overall, but it is lacking on a few things. For instance, what happens if both players in a 2-player game place their final Keyple at the same time via a joining? Does the other player get another turn to lay down a Keyple, or does the round end? (Answer, according to BGG: they get that lay down, the person who did the initial placement of the Keyple does not) The winter fair tiles are double-sided and a player gets one at the end of spring if they completed the spring fair tile. Does the winter tile need to be selected onto a side now and locked in place? If you pick the side that has the summer & fall icons, does it replace the summer or fall tile you have, or do you have them both to complete? If you complete the summer/fall side, can you also complete the fall/winter side? (Answer on BGG: it sounds like you only complete one or the other, but no mention of where to place. It also sounds like you can complete several in one season) When you gain animals, do you need to have a valid place on your village board to place them at the time you get them, or can they sit off to the side so long as you have said place for them by the end of the season? (On BGG, it sounds like you don’t need the location as a strategy mentioned is to gain excess animals if needed to show at a fair, since that resolves before animals need to be placed onto a tile for the end of the round) Sadly, I couldn’t find answers to any of these in the rulebook, in spite of several attempts to find them. They might be in there somewhere, but lost in a spot that isn’t easy to find or worded in a way that simply didn’t make it clear enough to understand the intent. It was also difficult to find, on the fly, to confirm that the discounted building field space requires a minimum of 1 resource still paid. It is in there, but took some searching to find it.

Final Thoughts

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Simply put, Keyper is a keeper in the collection. It provides some interesting worker placement, including the ability to lay down workers if you place all of yours first. Joining actions is a key mechanism in the game, and even with 2 players that can be a really important aspect. Especially once someone claims a board. Those flippy boards, by the way, are really amazing to use. Some will not like them, and almost everyone will get frustrated by them a time or two, but it is a really novel approach to the game.

I feel like there are so many paths to victory, and that I am just starting to scratch the surface of strategic depth available in Keyper. That’s probably reflected by the fact that I’m yet to finish closer than 17 points behind my wife in the game, but that isn’t the focus here. Yes, I’m bad at the game. Like, horribly awful at it. Yet I have fun each and every time in the midst of failure. There is a lot of stuff in here, and a lot of game packed into four rounds (seasons). Honestly, this game might just fire Caverna: The Cave Farmers for me.

I wish the rulebook was a little better. I wish that some of the tiles were easier to look at and understand what they did without needing to flip through the rulebook. I even wish they had taken those back pages with the tile descriptions and made player aids out of them. Then you’d avoid the “what does this tile do?” question, cuing an opponent in to something you might be eyeing for your strategy. Since there is no penalty to not build a taken building, you can definitely play a little hate draft when selecting tiles. That’s something that a group of gamers will love, while other groups will really hate.

Overall, Keyper is a fun to play and (for me) a hard to master gaming experience. It is different enough from the only other Key-series game I’ve played so far (Keyflower) to convince me that both can one day exist in my collection because they scratch very different itches. This one falls in line with the heavier worker placement giants where you use workers to gain resources and use those resources to build your own little personal board of things that score points at the end. However, the execution in this is excellent and the parts making up Keyper are interesting and unique enough to make this game stand out in a crowded Worker Placement genre. If you like that mechanic at all, you owe it to yourself to give Keyper a try so you can see if it is a keeper for you, too.

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

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

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

***

Bonus: Starling Games is generously providing a giveaway for some Keymelequin promos for Keyflower, another game in the Key-series. Be sure to enter to win!

Cardboard Clash Keyflower: Keymelequin Giveaway

Board Gaming · Review for Two · Worker Placement Month

Review for Two – Ex Libris

Thank you for checking review #62 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 Ex Libris

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Ex Libris is a game designed by Adam P. McIver and was published by Renegade Games. The box states that it can play 1-4 players and has a 30-60 minute play time and a BGG weight rating of 2.47.

In Ex Libris, you are a collector of rare and valuable books in a thriving gnomish village. Recently, the Mayor and Village Council have announced an opening for a Grand Librarian: a prestigious (and lucrative) position they intend to award to the most qualified villager! Unfortunately, several of your book collector colleagues (more like acquaintances, really) are also candidates.

To outshine your competition, you need to expand your personal library by sending your trusty assistants out into the village to find the most impressive tomes. Sources for the finest books are scarce, so you need to beat your opponents to them when they pop up.

You have only a week before the Mayor’s Official Inspector comes to judge your library, so be sure your assistants have all your books shelved! The Inspector is a tough cookie and will use her Official Checklist to grade your library on several criteria including shelf stability, alphabetical order, and variety — and don’t think she’ll turn a blind eye to books the Council has banned! You need shrewd planning and cunning tactics (and perhaps a little magic) to surpass your opponents and become Grand Librarian!

Gameplay differences for 2 Players

During setup each round, one new location tile per player flips out so there will always be 2 new tiles to place workers on, in addition to the ones being added to the board at the end of each round (the lowest numbered tile from the two). The game plays until 16 books have been shelved, at which point one additional round is played and the game ends after that. There are also, on some location tiles, spaces that have 3p+ or 4p+ on them which cannot have a worker placed on there in a 2-player game.

My Thoughts

 Let’s start with the best part of this game: shelving books. Holy crap, I didn’t expect this to be so fun and puzzle-like and interesting. But it really, really is. And I’m really, really bad at it. Like, I can get it all in there and in order but I’m horrible at selecting the cards that, at the end, will score me points (more on that next). I have a friend who hates games with a “building” mechanism, and I’ll never get to teach this one to him because this is the part that makes the game shine. There are lots of fun games with spacial aspects, and this might be one of the best I’ve ever played. Better than Among the Stars or Fields of Green. Better than Carcassonne. Simple in concept, yet far more challenging in execution than I ever imagined.

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 The scoring in here is simple, yet it causes all kinds of frustration (of the good kind) by the end of the game. You know, from the start, what books are the favorite for all libraries, with 15 points for whoever has the most (9 for 2nd). You know what books are banned and worth -1 points per book at the end of the game. And you know which book is your own library’s favored book and worth 2 points per book at the end. All of that I can handle. But then you add in 3 points per book that you have the least of (not counting the banned ones) and that is where I fall flat on my face every time. Either this, or my preferred book, ends up lacking severely by the end. The last game I played of this? My lowest was 6. To put it into context, all other books (except the banned) had 12+. How that even happened, I don’t know. But I can’t seem to tell at a glance where I’m lacking, which gives me all sort of room to improve as an Ex Libris player. Plan better, play better.

 The restrictions on building your library are great, too. You can extend rows infinitely left-to-right so long as it is orthagonally adjacent to at least one book card. However, you can only go up to 3 rows vertically. Furthermore, starting at the top left and going left-to-right (like you’d read a book) your cards needs to be in alphabetical and numerical order. Which means not only does the A card need to come before the C card, but also that the C2 card needs to be before the C7 card. Thankfully, you can voluntarily flip a card before scoring, and it still counts to your stability points (1 point per card in your largest rectangular section of the library). Halfway through the game you’re guaranteed to get a card that you’d really like to shelve but no longer can (without the help of specific powers or locations) because you can’t place cards in the order needed.

 The concept of banned books being in here makes an interesting twist on the game. If you play a card that has a banned book on there, it will have you lose a point at the end of the game per occurrence of the banned book type. My wife actively avoids shelving any. I usually end up with 2-5, trying to outweigh the negative effect with ones that are beneficial to adding variety or strengthening the favored or my own objective type. It makes you think twice before taking that B3 card that would go really well between the B2 you’ve shelved and that B4 in your hand.

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 There are a lot of cards. I mean a LOT of cards. I can’t shuffle them in one go, I have to break them into stacks and do some fancy mixing between stacks as I go. This adds a ton of variety in what you’ll see, and also helps ensure you can’t guarantee seeing a specific card every single time you play. Small details like that make a big impact on the replay value of a game.

 I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the solo variant in the game. I’m usually skeptical going into these variants, as sometimes they feel tacked on at the end and fail to capture the brilliance of the core game. Fewer buildings are used and fewer special assistants are available, which is necessary based on the powers on each. I like that you have only a few rounds to accomplish everything you need in here. I like that it starts with a lot of buildings out, and after each round you eliminate 2 of them and add a new one to the mix. This has the opposite effect of the standard game, making it to where the options are more limited at the end (but you also get to choose which ones are discarded). The real beauty here is that every card discarded, whether from your hand or from the building locations, counts toward the opponent’s score. So you can do some clever thinking on what you toss from your hand and what cards you leave out on the board at the end of each round. Additionally, you can’t place more than 1 assistant on any town board (only your own), meaning you can’t use and abuse any one location each turn. Finally, there is a scalable difficulty in how many cards at the end of the round you discard off the top of the deck (from 1-7). Overall, the solo mode really impressed me and is something I might even enjoy more than the 2-player game!

 I’m a huge fan of asymmetric player powers, and I like that you get one assistant that contains a special power when placed. If every one of your workers held the power, some would be severely broken (I’m looking at you, Book Worm). Yes, some feel more situational than others. Some will always feel like they are cheating the system (because they all are, some are just easier to execute than others). The key is figuring out how to maximize your power’s potential. That is one of the puzzles I love about games, but I do know others may not like the feeling of imbalance in some matchups.

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 The worker placement aspect of the game is simply okay, at least to me. The problem is that you have a static number of workers, but the number of spaces you can place on grows every single round. So while the early game is nice and tight (even if a bit restricted), the late game is pretty darn wide open in a 2-player game. There will be some special assistant powers that factor into play here, but overall the worker placement mechanic is the less-interesting part of the game.

 While I like the dry erase scoreboard, the marker included in the box might as well be tossed. It doesn’t work well at all, and doesn’t last very long. This is easily solved by most people who have dry erase markers for other reasons, but if you don’t own anything dry erase you should be aware that the one in the box isn’t likely to last. Hardly a deal-breaker, but worth noting.

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 I get why there is a requirement to have the Diviner’s Hut as one of the opening locations available in the game. You need it to be able to wrest control of the first player marker. However, in a 2-player game, that means only one other location is available in the first round. Since the Diviner’s Hut has only one space, that means you have very few options. Depending on the other location, you could end up with a total of 2 spaces to place workers (such as if the Garbage Dump appears), making the majority of that turn be placing workers onto your own player board rather than out in the town. 3-4 players games probably don’t suffer as much, since you get a board per player, but here it really can lead to some uninteresting first turns in terms of locations available.

Final Thoughts

I’ve mentioned it briefly in my first ever podcast episode, and I’ll restate it here: this game’s theme could have definitely been designed with me in mind. Fantasy is my realm, a genre I have been reading since I was a wee child and writing for many, many years. And as an author of fantasy books, the library theme resonates with me greatly. Everything I knew about the game going into the first play promised to deliver a game experience that I would fall in love with.

It didn’t disappoint, although I am horrible at the game when compared to my wife’s ability. I enjoy pretty much everything about the game. The special assistants are varied and fun to use. The different locations provide interesting effects when going to them, and depending on when they appear they could make-or-break a gameplan. Unfortunately, in our last two games we didn’t get through the entire pile of them, so we can’t even count on seeing X location before the end of a game. That’s good and bad, as it hurts when you need that building but it also forces players to not build up a short-term plan relying on a specific location appearing.

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But the star of the game isn’t the worker placement. That part is fine, but nothing revolutionary. Where this excels is the building of your shelves in your library with the use of the cards you’re getting. Seriously. I thought this was going to be the tacked-on gimmick but this is where the game shines. Bonus points for those who read the titles of the books as they get and play the cards, because they are seriously amazing.

This game does so much right that it far exceeded every expectation I had going into my first play. What I thought was going to be an average worker placement with a cheap gimmick turned out to be an average worker placement with an intriguing mechanism that makes it stand out from a lot of the games in the field. Is it a better game than, say, Caverna? No, but it is definitely more interesting overall because of that shelving mechanism. It is one I’d like playing more often, even if it isn’t a game destined to shoot into the BGG Top 10. And if anything I’ve said at all has piqued your interest, then I highly recommend checking this one out.

And Renegade, if you’re looking to make some promo cards for this game…it’d be a dream come true to have my books appear as promo cards in here. A guy can dream, right?

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

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

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

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Bonus: Renegade Games is generously providing a giveaway for a NIS copy of Ex Libris. Be sure to enter to win!

Ex Libris Giveaway