Board Gaming · Review for Two

Review for Two – The Climbers

Thank you for checking review #38 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 copy of this game went “on tour” and we were one of the spots on that tour. A copy has not been provided, as we are paying the shipping to send it off to the next location. The below opinions remain our own based upon our impressions and reactions to the game.

An Overview of The Climbers

The Climbers is a game designed by Holger Lanz and has been republished by Capstone Games’ Simply Complex line. The box states that it can play 2-5 players and has a 45 minute play time.

The Climbers / Die Aufsteiger is an easy-to-learn, all-wooden, 3D strategy game with beautiful components, which include 35 colorful blocks of different sizes, a climber pawn for each player, a blocking stone for each player, and a short and a long ladder for each player. Starting with all the blocks in a random tower, players move a block and then climb up the tower gradually — without ladders for small steps up, and with ladders for larger climbs. Blocking stones keep the block in place and unoccupied for one round, but you can only use your blocking stones and each ladder once during the game. The winner is whoever gets to the highest point first when no one can go higher for one round. You can only climb onto surfaces that are the same color as your climber or beige (a neutral color any climbers can use).

Setup and gameplay for 2 Players

The game sets up and plays the exact same regardless of player count, which is one of the things I like about the game (more on that later). Either have one person, or work as a group, to construct the initial “tower” out of the blocks. The two tallest pillars stand up to form the core of the structure, and there are only a few requirements:

1) All of those two tall blocks must be covered, including the tops and all sides.

2) There can be no overhanging blocks.

3) There can be no blocks that form bridges over gaps.

Apart from those few rules, the construction of the initial structure is pretty wide open. You could house rule things, such as not having the same color appear in consecutive locations (providing someone a quick path up if they use that color) or having the colors for each player chosen at random after the structure is built.

The object of the game is to be at the highest point on the structure when no other players are able to move upward. During a player’s turn they may move their climber (never diagonally or downwards) to a block of the same color or the neutral color, so long as the block is on the same level or 1 higher (about head-high on the climber pawn). They have a one-time-use small ladder that can allow them to move onto a 2-high block, and a one-time-use large ladder that can allow them to move onto a 2, 3, or 4-high block from their position. Each player also has a one-time-use blocking disc that will prevent anyone from moving onto, through, or moving a specific block until it gets back to that player. The other thing a player may do is to move or rotate exactly one block that is unoccupied on the structure (and is also not buried under other blocks, nor can it be the block most recently moved by a player).

Turns are fast, simple, yet complex in a “race” to be the person to reach the highest point on the structure when no one else can move.

My Thoughts

The Climbers is a game that catches the eye when it is on the table. Everything in the box is wooden and colorful, and the 3D construction of the structure makes this stand out when compared to many other board games that are flat pieces of cardboard with some cubes or meeples. While there isn’t anything fancy about the game, it really grabs the attention of people when it is set up on the table. The choices of color in the game are also great.

This game is about as easy to jump in and explain as you could hope for. The rules overhead is really minimal, allowing you to fast-forward through long explanations and get to playing the game. I was able to read the rules within 10 minutes of my wife getting home and taught her that night. It played well, with no need to refer back to the rule book. I enjoy longer, more complex games, but I think we both appreciated being able to pick up and jump right into a game without spending a ton of time going over how to play.

The one-time-use nature of your three items are where the majority of your strategy comes into play. I’ve seen new players use them all right away to take an early lead, and I’ve seen players store them until a situation where nothing else can allow them to advance. Deciding what to use, when, and how, are some of the more interesting choices to make.

Call me crazy, but I love that this isn’t a game that you can just sit down and play. Literally. This game is usually spent standing up, walking around the table to see the entire view of the structure before deciding on your move for the turn. This can be avoided with a lazy susan, of course, but for some reason I actually enjoy playing the occasional game where I don’t have my butt planted in a chair the whole time.

One of my favorite things to do is to let a new player build the structure before explaining any of the rules of the game. It is fun to see how they go about piecing everything together, which can provide some really interesting puzzles for the early game. It was much better than letting my wife build it for our second play, where she had set herself up with a nice purple pathway up the side of the structure. Which I had to work hard to disrupt early in the game in order to keep up with her initial advancements.

This game isn’t the best with two players. In fact, it might play its worst with just a pair of people. In spite of this, the game still provides a fun and exciting experience in most games. It really is player-dependent as you could theoretically both build up on opposite parts of the structure and not actively take pieces that your opponent needs in order to advance. We’ve had a game where it was literally two towers and it was a matter of seeing who ran out of a 1 x 2 piece to move first. Yet most games we’ve still been in each other’s way often enough to make it not feel like a solitaire puzzle/race.

The pieces are all really standard in shape. Imagine a stair-step style of piece with two different colors, or some other funky shapes pulled from the range of polyominos in a game like Patchwork. Because you’re going to be using either 1×2, 2×2, or 2×4 pieces (or, if you dig enough, those massive 2×6 ones), you can plan effectively for what you need. And, most often, it is a matter of fighting over the use of those 1×2 pieces in order to avoid using ladders, especially in the early game.

I wish there was the inclusion of the “official” variants that Mr. Lanz had designed, such as being able to use the ladders as bridges. That would open up the possibilities over the course of the game and make for an interesting decision when it comes time to use those ladders. It would also make it so you could jump to an adjacent tower with your long ladder and reap the benefit of someone else’s hard work. If they add to the rule book on the next printing, this would be the one thing I’d like to see included. Not because the game needs those to be great, but because the inclusion of them will add variety and additional plays for many gamers.

Final Verdict

This game was placed on my radar initially thanks to Edward Uhler at Heavy Cardboard. After all, if the guy rates this as his #1 Thinky Filler game of all time, a listener should be expected to take notice. So when I had the chance to become a stop along the path for this game, I knew I needed to take advantage of the opportunity. I didn’t really have any idea of what to expect prior to playing this game. And, to be perfectly honest, I was in love with this game as soon as the first play ended. And that was with 2-players, which is clearly not the ideal count for this game.

This is very much a game that sets up fast, plays relatively quickly, and cleans up easily. The type of game that you want to keep around for those night when you want a fast game. And while I don’t think this is the best thinky filler out there for 2-players, nor do I think it plays close to its best at two, I still have to admit this is a very solid experience with two players. The state of the tower changes only a little between turns, making it so you can really map out a progression upward. Until your opponent takes the block you were counting on and uses it in their own path going up. Which inevitably happens because there are only so many of the 1 x 2 blocks to go around that have the color you need in the place you need.

The real reason, though, that I would recommend this game for your collection is because of how much better it plays with 4-5 players. This is a fun and enjoyable game as a couple, yet we all have those times when family or friends want to get together. And it can be a challenge to find that game which they might be willing to try out. This game is one that anyone can grasp and do well at. There is ample strategy to be found in the simple mechanics of the game, yet it is approachable in a way that even Ticket to Ride, Carcassonne, and the other “Gateway” games are not. Gamers and non-gamers can equally enjoy this game, and it is easy to get them involved right from the start with the construction of the playing area. So while this might be a game that rarely hits the table for us as a couple, this is the game I’d reach for first when we’re hosting another couple at our house. It’d be the first one I’d want to take to a family gathering. It’d even be one of the first I’d think to take along to a game night, because it has a table presence that will get people watching and welcome in those who don’t view themselves as serious gamers yet.

This game is the first in the Capstone’s Simply Complex line, and I think they really hit upon an excellent flagship game with The Climbers. This is the perfect game for every board gaming collection, which is not something that can be said lightly. But it truly is that defining game that can unify a diverse group of players and satisfy those who want a simple game as well as those who seek a complex game with some strategy. I can’t wait to find out what Capstone decides to push out next in their Simply Complex line!

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

Board Gaming · Review for Two

Review for Two – Crazier Eights: Camelot

Thank you for checking review #37 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.

**Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of this game in exchange for an honest review.

An Overview of Crazier Eights: Camelot

Crazier Eights: Camelot is a game designed by James Wallace Gray and is self-published. The box states that it can play 2-4 players and has a 10-30 minute play time.

Setup and gameplay for 2 Players

This game sets up in a simple fashion: you shuffle the cards, flip the top card to start the discard pile, and then deal 7 cards to each player. On your turn a player draws a card and then is able to play a card and to discard a card, in either order. Played cards are either one-time effects (which go to the bottom of the discard pile after use) or they are Assets, which stay in play in front of that player (they have ongoing effects). Discarding a card requires the card to either match the color or number of the card on top of the discard pile.

Play continues around the table until one person has depleted their hand of cards.

My Thoughts

I’m a sucker for anything Arthurian, so that immediately drew me in for both this version and my previously-reviewed Avalon version. I really enjoyed the artwork and the names of some of the cards. While there were generic names for a few things (which do fit in thematically), there were also a lot of recognizable characters and places from the Arthurian lore. Any fan of King Arthur will enjoy this aspect of the game, although the artwork can be enjoyed by those who know nothing of King Arthur. This version also contained many more of the “traditional” characters from Arthurian lore: the ones that come first to mind when you mention King Arthur.

The game is very simple to teach, with a rules explanation taking 60 seconds. This allows you to grab new players into a game without a long, lengthy rules overhead. All exceptions are found on the cards themselves, and those are relatively straightforward in what they allow you to do. A player who has not played Crazy Eights is not at a disadvantage.

I have found there is a part of me that can appreciate smaller card games like this one (and its Avalon version) and The Fox in the Forest, which take a deck of cards and allows you to do something simple, yet more complex than what you’d get with the standard deck of cards. The essence is simple: draw a card, play a card, discard a card. But the text on the cards, with each one being different in some way, is what elevates this above the simplicity of a card game.

This game has the feel of a Fluxx game combined with a card game, but it is far less chaotic than Fluxx. The goal remains the same throughout, and there is a clear path to get there. There is some randomness in there, but it never feels like you’re winning or losing due to blind luck (which is something I’ve definitely felt while playing a Fluxx game).

The quality of the final version of the game, in terms of cards, was beyond my expectations. I had mentioned, in my Avalon review, that this was an issue in the prototype but could have been something that would be fixed by the time it was in a final version. I’ve held the final version of both the Camelot and Avalon versions in my hands and, rest assured, they are a great quality that do not demand to be sleeved instantly. However, if you are a compulsive sleever, you will need to get a different box for storing the game as there will not be room.

In my review of Avalon I was disappointed in the lack of numbered cards in that deck, Too many cards were either multi-colored or multi-symboled which made it feel a little too easy at times. This version takes that negative and blows it away, providing a far more solid experience. This is, of course, the set that would be recommended to begin with and the ideal situation is to add Camelot and Avalon together and play using both. While Avalon was able to function on its own, the Camelot version is the superior stand-alone product and will provide the real Crazier Eights experience that one might expect to find.

I had mentioned the theme as a nitpick in my Avalon review, claiming that apart from the name and the artwork that there wasn’t really any real tie between the powers and the cards. Some of them, I felt, required some creative imagining. Well, the designer blew me away by writing a pair of posts where he dove into that topic and demonstrated how the card powers themselves were thematic. Yes, sometimes you still really have to stretch the imagination to make that connection on the fly, but after reading these posts I gladly concede the point to him. The designer did a great job at working to put as much theme as you possibly can onto an Arthurian-version of Crazy Eights.

Read those posts:

Final Verdict

Overall, this game fits nicely in a niche category of games: small, portable, fast, easy games with a small footprint. These games are valuable to have in a collection, both because they are great for taking places (such as a restaurant)and perfect to play in those windows of time when you might only have 10-15 minutes to spare. There are many games that can’t even be set up in that amount of time, much less played to completion. And so that is an area where this game shines.

It shares striking similarities with two games in particular, merging the traits from two of them while discarding the random nature of one: Crazy Eights and Fluxx. This makes it a game I’d rather play over either of those, as it offers more than the deck of cards and a bit more stability to win conditions over Fluxx. This isn’t a game I’d pull out on a regular basis, but neither is Fluxx and so it fills that niche nicely in my collection. This quality was strengthened with the play of the Camelot version of the game, solidifying it into the collection alongside Avalon. Ideally, getting them both is the best way to go in order to bring out all of the fun combos and a whole varied spectrum of numbers to take in consideration.

If this game didn’t have the Arthurian theme, it probably wouldn’t appeal to me as much. There is not a lot to set this apart from other games, and it doesn’t do anything particularly well or innovative. It is a nice game that doesn’t take long to play and is easy to teach. This is a game I can have my wife toss in her purse when we leave the house, something to play at family get-togethers with gamers of all types, and a game that would function as a filler during a game day. There are many games to choose from which could fill those same needs, making it hard to advocate this over any of those others.

However, if you are a fan of the original Crazy Eights or of King Arthur, this would definitely be worth considering. Grabbing this by itself is a very inexpensive option, and tossing on the Avalon version as a pairing still makes this a very reasonably-priced game. It definitely provides a fun experience while playing it, so long as you don’t mind games where you need to read the card’s text in order to see what it can do. If you wanted to like Fluxx, but hated the random changes it enforced, then you might really enjoy this game.

You may order Crazier Eights: Camelot and find detailed rules and explanations at

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

Board Gaming · Review for Two

Review for Two – Lignum (Second Edition)

Thank you for checking review #36 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 this game was provided in exchange for an honest review. The below opinions remain our own based upon our impressions and reactions to the game.

An Overview of Lignum (Second Edition)

Lignum is a game designed by Alexander Huemer and is published by Capstone Games. The box states that it can play 2-4 players and has a 90-120 minute play time.

Starting with a limited amount of resources and workers, you set out to run your lumber mill as efficiently as possible. Savvy investments and proper planning will ensure that your mill will be the most profitable. Be cautious, however, for competition is fierce! You will need to secure the best cutting areas, make use of limited contract workers, and continually update and replace your equipment. Your competitors are not the only thing to worry about as you will also need to store enough firewood and food to survive the harsh winters.

Lignum is a strategic optimization game that portrays the logging industry in the 19th century. Each round, players travel to the nearby forest, picking up tools and hiring workers along the way. After felling timber, players must decide how to transport their wood to their sawmills and if the wood should be processed or sold immediately, all the while optimizing their entire processing chain.

The second edition of Lignum also includes the “Joinery & Buildings” expansion. In this expansion, players can visit two additional locations along the supply path. Players may now acquire special buildings that give them unique, special abilities for the remainder of the game. Additionally, players can acquire joiners to help generate more income each round; if those joiners are supplied with the appropriate wood, players can earn extra money at the end of the game!

Setup and gameplay for 2 Players

There are only a few changes in setup for this player count. The starting wood supply in the center will have (2) firewood placed on four of the spaces and (3) firewood placed on the other two spaces, along with a player’s token going onto these two spaces so that each player will cut in a (3) wood area for the first round. The tokens placed along the track each round will consist of (2) X tokens, (2) rafts, (1) cart, (1) sled, (2) food, (1) money, (1) saw, and (3) random orange “building” tokens. These are randomly distributed throughout the empty spaces around the board track each round, and the big inclusion would be those X tokens which essentially shrink the board by two spaces.

Six bearers, eight cutters, and three sawyers are placed on their respective places on the board. Two task cards are placed face-up, and four planned work cards are used. If using the Joiners expansion, six random building tiles are also placed face-up along the board.

The game is played over the course of two years, with each year being broken into the four seasons. Spring, Summer, and Fall are all played in an identical manner. Players start by secretly selecting one of six areas where they will cut wood that season, revealing them at the same time and putting those tokens in the associated area. If there is food in the area, they get that food immediately – however, if two or more people select the same area the food is divided equally with any leftover remaining on the space. After that the players take turns moving their foreman around the board along the numbered track, taking the action associated with the space. This ranges from taking the token on the space and getting its reward (or putting it in their supply), hiring workers, planning work for future seasons, gaining tasks that provide a bonus at the end of the game if completed, and buying/selling goods.

After that comes the cutting phase, where players use their woodcutters to chop wood in their chosen location. The first player to reach the end of the track cuts first, etc. so if two players chose the same spot there is strong incentive to jump ahead in the previous phase in order to cut the desired wood. That cut wood is placed on the player’s supply area of the board. Then players can assign their bearers to transport the wood from the supply down to either the cutting or the selling area of their board. Then, players can assign sawyers to cut the wood (but they need a 1-time use saw token per sawyer) and either place it into the firewood storage space or into the selling space. Players then can assign wood to task cards, sell wood for money, and then wood remaining in the sale area advances one step along the drying track.

In winter, a lot less happens. Each player takes a wood of their choice and adds it to their supply. Then, they can use their colored meeple to either cut two firewood, transport wood from their supply to the cutting/selling area (but only if they have a sled), or to cut one piece of wood. In the second year only they can then assign wood to a task card. After that comes the time to pay the required food and firewood to feed and heat, which is determined by a 1st Year and a 2nd Year winter card chosen at the start of the game. Any wood or food that cannot be paid will cost 3 money per unit the player is short. Loans can be taken to help pay this debt, but must be paid back (with interest) at the end of the game.

After both years are played there is one final selling phase and then players tally up their money. The player with the most money will win.

My Thoughts

 I’m all for variability in a game, and this has ample changes to allow a fresh experience from play-to-play and, to an extent, even within the game itself. There are five different Winter cards for each year, each card having two different sides. So your amount of food and wood will change each time you play. The task cards only have a few out at a time, and those only change when a person buys them. There is the variable reseeding of the forest areas between rounds. There are only a certain number of the planned work cards used each game, and only a certain number of the buildings used from the Joiners mini-expansion. And then, round to round, the position in which the tokens appear will be different. So there is a lot of freshness to be found even at the round level in optimizing your path in order to grab what you want first or get to the end before your opponents so you can cut first.

 The planned work actions are a fantastic mechanism in the game. There are only a few available for the game, so you can’t always count on a certain strategy being available but you’ll know from the start what you can use. These can be really powerful, such as getting food when shipping wood down the river. Food is usually in short supply, so any action that can provide food is a great one. You have three tokens to use, allowing you to plan either one, two, or three seasons in advance to use that action. But each season you can only use this space once, meaning you if you want to do two of the actions in the same season you need to go there two seasons ahead of time and drop a 2, then next season go and drop the 1 on the other card you want to execute. But some cards don’t do anything if used in winter, and if you’re like me and accidentally ship your logs down river in the Fall with a planned work action they won’t arrive until the Spring rather than the Winter because the river freezes in Winter. It is certainly possible to ignore the planned work and do well. It is also possible to do a little bit of it, using just your 1 token to plan for the next season. But this system rewards those players who are able to think 2-3 seasons ahead and plan accordingly. And I love that!

 The worker placement aspect of this game was what initially got me interested, as you are all traveling along the same 18-22 spaces on the board. Some spaces, such as where you hire workers, have enough space for everyone to stop there. Many of the spaces hold only one foreman, and most of them have a 1-time use token on there which means the first person to stop there gets it. Which means if you stop there, someone else is able to jump ahead of you, which brings about the internal debate on whether you need that item on the way or if you need that one six spaces down the path to make sure no one else takes it. You can jump ahead as far as you’d like with your move, but once you go there you can’t travel back. If you’re a fan of aggressive play, you can go as far as to take a spot you know the other person needs in order to force them to buy that food they are short on, and so forth, but at the risk that they might leapfrog you and get to that spot you really wanted. It all works magnificently, especially since the tokens will appear in a different location each turn, meaning that food you need might be near the very end and so you really have to agonize over when to start jumping ahead and how far you need to go to be sure to get that spot.

 It is a process to chop the wood, move it to the cutting area, and saw it down into the more useful pieces. This makes me appreciate the whole process, but also provides a great set of mechanics in the game. You need various numbers of each type of worker, although you may not need all of them on a given round. There are ways to be more efficient with moving the wood, although some come at the cost of a delayed delivery. You also have to provide saws for the sawyers to use, making it even more costly to do. You also have your colored meeple to account for, which I forget to account for more times than not and end up overspending. Did I mention that hired workers are only there for that season, which means every season you need to hire more if you want to do that action again! I really enjoy this aspect of the game.

 Money = victory points. And unlike a game like Five Tribes (which uses money as points), they final scores are usually low. Our average scores are 57-58 with the absolute highs coming on our last play: 69 for me and 80 for her. Most come around the 45-55 range, which means that every dollar usually counts. I haven’t won a game yet, but my first two games were lost by a combined total of 3 points. Yes, 3 points. You try telling me that my bad habit of hiring a worker I don’t need wasn’t a difference maker. This game forces you to be thrifty because it is not only a challenge to make money, but your essential actions of hiring workers, buying food, and buying saws all cost you money. Want a task card that can score you 18-23 points? It costs you money. Want to use a planned work action that someone else is already on? It costs you money! You start with 5 money, and for the first few seasons you’ll over between 0-10 pretty regularly. After all, it is quite the process to get that wood cut, moved, sawed, dried, and sold for a big profit! All of which feels like it pays off at the end of the game.

 The Joiner mini-expansion is an easy expansion to include. I left it out for our first two plays to learn the base game and understand it. After playing with the expansion, though, I see no reason to ever leave it out. Even when teaching new players, because it honestly does not add to the complexity of the game while opening at least one path to higher scoring. And a player, like my wife did, can completely ignore the expansion content and do just fine. It adds two more stops along the path. Easy to add, easy to learn, and it definitely enriches the game. Do yourself a favor and just learn it with your first game. You won’t regret it, as it adds in seamlessly.

 You can play this game and do well without paying attention to other players. You can have a great experience even if you intentionally avoid taking the things they need. However, your game will get better if you take note of their needs and try to disrupt them. Our last game as lost because I didn’t realize she had her wood set up to be able to pick up and score two additional task cards in the final seasons of the game. Her three completed tasks blew past my one task + triple joiner combo and I didn’t see it coming. Don’t want a multiplayer solitaire game? Good, because this is a game where paying attention to the other players can make a big difference. I would gladly have spent one money to prevent her scoring an extra 20+ from that last task card!

 I need to find a way to have myself not be the banker in this game, as I could see it really slowing things down in a game with more players. I’m very interested in the new insert that Meeple Realty just announced for the game, as it might make the distribution of money/wood/food an easier process. The game is a bit fiddly, but never in a way that really detracts from the game experience. If anything it adds to the experience of seeing the wood progress from area to area, and going from cut wood to sawed wood, etc.

 If you dislike a game where feeding and heating are a mandatory requirement, a mechanic seen in games like Agricola, then you won’t be a fan of it here. Overall, this never feels out of place, however, it definitely has a chance of slowing you down in your money-making engine because you need to get wood for year-end heating while also getting wood to sell for profit. You need food, and there are only two spaces each season that get food tokens and two spaces in the wood-cutting area that get food cubes added per placement card. It can become a hard thing to gain, making you have to consider purchasing food in the Fall rather than lose 3 coins per food you are short. So while it is a requirement each year, I did find it easier to accomplish overall than Agricola.

 Let’s face it, the color scheme of the game isn’t spectacular unless you really love browns and greens. The board and components don’t pop when on the table but, as far as I am concerned, they don’t have to. The color schemes make sense in terms of the theme. But if you need a pretty-looking game than this one might end up leaving you disappointed.

 On behalf of my wife: she doesn’t like how long the drying process takes. See, before the wood gets to the spots where you can sell them at an added profit, it has to take a season to advance to a spot that is the same as when it enters the selling area. So that wood you need to get to the +2 area for your task card really takes 3 seasons to get there. As for me, I think this is fine as it stands but my wife wasn’t a big fan of that initial “add no value” drying space. I think she should just get some huts and then she can zoom those right along as she pleases.

Final Verdict 

This game has hit me in a way that few games accomplish. I fell in love with this game from the first play, and I can’t stop thinking about Lignum. I am pretty sure that, if I had no restraint on time, this is the game I’d be pulling out almost every time someone asked what game I wanted to play. And I am still trying to wrap my head around the full scope of strategy that this game has to offer.

There is so much going on in this game, yet it all ties together in a manner that feels like it should be easy. I still find myself failing in my attempts to plan work effectively, wishing I had a certain token still available or choosing to do an action in the wrong season so that I don’t reap the rewards in time. Yet rather than being a source of frustration, this actually has me excited to try again and do better the next time I play.

Victory in the game has eluded me, something that could be a source of frustration as well. Yet I find myself enjoying the experience even when I lose. Most of the time I don’t lose badly – my first two games I lost by a combined total of 3 points – but the last game we played I got crushed by her clever planning that I didn’t see coming. I obliterated my previous high score only to watch her take things a notch above even that.

Lignum is that perfect game that provides a fulfilling game experience, although I’d always be willing to reset and play again after finishing. This is the sort of game to play when you only have time or the desire to play one game. I’d gladly travel to a game day to play this and nothing else and consider it time well-spent. It plays reasonably well for the timeframe – our latest game took around 90 minutes for the two of us – which means it could even be played on a weeknight after the little one goes to bed.

It can be hard to read through the positive excitement written in many reviews out there, so let’s be completely transparent for a moment about Lignum. I’ve played a lot of great new games this year. I’ve reviewed three dozen games so far and, looking at that list, I’d put this above any one of them. Yes, even my much-loved Kingdom Builder and my newer-loved Mystic Vale. Both of those games will appear on my year-end Top 10 list, but neither will be as high as Lignum. There is a very real chance that this game is in my Top 3. It is that excellent of a game.

Edward at Heavy Cardboard likes to state “Theme schmeme” and I agree – don’t let a lack of interest in woodcutting put you off from a game that is excellent mechanically. There are a lot of great, tense moments throughout the game. This is one that, when it hits the table, leaves me feeling satisfied. It plays well with two, and we’ve tried it with three and enjoyed that experience as well. I imagine it scales just as fine with four, being a great game to add to your collection because it can be used for any of the advertised player counts.

If you like euro games and either enjoy heavier games, or want to try something that is mechanically different than an Uwe Rosenberg game but similar in weight, this would be an excellent choice. I’ve played two excellent games from Capstone this year, and this one secured them as one of my top publishers. There are other games they produce that don’t play 2-players, but I intend to at least play, if not own, them all at some point in time.

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

Board Gaming · Review for Two · Two-Player Only

Review for Two – Codenames: Duet

Thank you for checking review #35 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 this game was provided in exchange for an honest review. The below opinions remain our own based upon our impressions and reactions to the game.

An Overview of Codenames: Duet

Codenames: Duet is a game designed by Vlaada Chvatil and is published by Czech Games Edition. The box states that it can play 2 players and has a 15-30 minute play time.

Codenames Duet keeps the basic elements of Codenames — give one-word clues to try to get someone to identify your agents among those on the table — but now you’re working together as a team to find all of your agents. (Why you don’t already know who your agents are is a question that Congressional investigators will get on your back about later!)

Setup and gameplay for 2 Players

From the game’s description:

To set up play, lay out 25 word cards in a 5×5 grid. Place a key card in the holder so that each player sees one side of the card. Each player sees a 5×5 grid on the card, with nine of the squares colored green (representing your agents) and three squares colored black (representing assassins). Three of the nine squares on each side are also green on the other side, one assassin is black on both sides, one is green on the other side and the other is an innocent bystander on the other side.

Collectively, you need to reveal all fifteen agents — without revealing an assassin — before time runs out in order to win the game. Either player can decide to give the first one-word clue to the other player, along with a number. Whoever receives the clue places a finger on a card to identify that agent. If correct, they can attempt to identify another one. If they identify a bystander, then their guessing time ends. If they identify an assassin, you both lose! Unlike regular Codenames, they can keep guessing as long as they keep identifying an agent each time; this is useful for going back to previous clues and finding ones they missed earlier. After the first clue is given, players alternate giving clues.

My Thoughts

Let’s dive right in, shall we? This game, in spite of its cooperative reshaping, remains the game that so many people have come to love and enjoy. At its root, this is still a version of Codenames. However, its most brilliant twist comes in the key card. What you see as an assassin on your side might be the clue I need you to guess on my side. That throws people off so hard when they are trying to guess a clue, and I love seeing that happen. It is a struggle to wrap your brain around the idea of picking a word that you are convinced will make you lose. Bravo for this change.

The components are all of the same quality you found in the other Codenames games. The cards are nice and durable, the tokens are a good cardboard, and everything is built to be played often. The box is a little oversized compared to what it needs to be, but this could probably hold another version or two of Codenames in one box for those who like to condense and save shelf space.

The length of this game is a good one – perfect to get in several plays on a night after work or even to get a round or two in during a lunch hour. Add in the fact that you really only need a handful of the components to play a few rounds and that can make this both portable and playable in those windows of opportunity that arise for gamers. Being a cooperative game designed for 2 players, it also tends to be less loud than a full game of Codenames, making it something you could even play at a restaurant while waiting on your meal.

The time tracker is an interesting, and challenging, mechanic. I definitely think it is necessary in a cooperative game – otherwise you’re just playing until you win or hit an assassin every time. The campaign (below) throws in a few wrenches, making it so only X number of turns can end in a wrong guess before you “lose”. It also forces you to get creative with your clues, because there are not enough turns to give all 1-word clues and win. This can lead to some frustrating situations where you need to give a 2-3 word clue but nothing pairs together by any stretch of the imagination.

When you hear the word “campaign”, you might start to get some impressive and grand ideas about what that will provide. Prior to the game’s release, I heard about them developing a campaign mode and it raised my excitement for this game. And what they have is certainly a functional campaign, complete with a map and locations to try and win under varying conditions. Some places are easy, others would be incredibly difficult. It isn’t what I was expecting, as all it does is mix up the number of tokens you use to track time and how many of those can be spent on wrong guesses and still have you win. But you, like me, might find it to be less-than-interesting.

Part of the fun of Codenames is playing with a large group of people and working with a diverse set of viewpoints and interpretations. This can lead to some wild clues, crazy reasoning for guesses, and many other memorable moments. This can be played with more than two, being possible to play on teams, but the core concept of a 2-player Codenames has the possibility of losing some of those moments that made Codenames so great as a party game. For instance, if you sit down to play this with your spouse then you are playing with someone you know fairly well. You can give clues that no one but they would understand. You can read body language that nobody else could interpret as they agonize over a clue to give or a word to guess. Dropping the player count removes so many of those great dynamics that it simply doesn’t always feel like Codenames. Much like Super Mario Bros. 2 was the odd game out of the NES Mario games because of its unique approach, this one could be that Codenames game that just never becomes a huge hit for you because it presents completely different dynamics. It won’t feel that way for everyone, but it runs that risk. There are great things to be said for exploring new options and player counts for a game like this rather than sticking to just a bunch of rethemes like Disney and Marvel. Some people will really, really love this one. Some people might really dislike it. Most will probably fall somewhere in the middle there. Which leads me to…

Final Verdict

This one is ultimately not a game that fit well for us. I enjoyed my few plays of Codenames well enough, but I am far from being a person who plays and enjoys party games. In fact, I haven’t been back to a certain FLGS game day event ever since I was roped into playing a whole bunch of party games because it was the opposite of what I was looking for in a game day. But Codenames was the exception to that rule, and I was really interested in how a 2-player only version would work. The concept of a campaign really interested me.

My wife tends to like some of the lighter games on occasion, and it seemed like Codenames might be a fun change from all the other light fillers on our shelf. It really surprised me at how good she was at the game, as well as how much she enjoyed many of the core Codenames concepts. However, she’s gone on record before as preferring to play a game where she is trying to defeat me, not work together. Some cooperative games she has come to enjoy as of late, but this one was not one of them.

I don’t know how the regular Codenames game plays at two, but our consensus after multiple plays of this was that we’d both prefer the standard Codenames over the Duet version because we’d rather compete in this game. There are some excellent things this game does, and I really love the twist with the assassins and how each side of the key card is different. Other couples may find this to be the ideal game for them – someone like Rahdo, who loves playing a game with his wife where they have to be a team, will be the perfect pair of gamers for this version of Codenames.

If you really like Codenames and want a unique way to play with fewer players, you might want to check this out. If you enjoy, or prefer, a cooperative game then this is one you won’t want to miss out on. It retains enough of the Codenames flavor to make it a good, solid entry into the Codenames line.

This is best expressed by one of the ratings on Heavy Cardboard’s 6-point rating system: “It’s not you, its us.” Essentially, this is a good game. Probably even a great game. It will get a lot of great, glowing reviews and will deserve those. But it won’t get them across the board, because this simply isn’t the game for us.

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

Board Gaming · Review for Two

Review for Two – Portals and Prophets

Thank you for checking review #34 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 prototype of this game was sent to me in advance of the Kickstarter campaign in exchange for an honest review of the game. The Kickstarter launches on November 1st, and a link to that will appear here once it goes live.

An Overview of Portals and Prophets

Portals and Prophets is a game designed by Andrew Harmon and is published by Harmon Games. The box states that it can play 2-5 players and has a 30-60 minute play time.

The year is 2200. The Alpha and Omega time travel company is looking to hire a tour guide and you are on the short list. For your last test, you and the other finalists will be sent back in time to prove you are the best candidate to lead future time traveling expeditions. Players will score points by experiencing biblical events. The player with the most points at the end of the game is the winner.

Portals and Prophets is a Bible themed set collection and hand management game that features difficult and meaningful decisions. You must decide which events to attempt to witness, how to manipulate the time capsule to benefit you, and how to plan your travels so that you arrive to locations at the right time in history to experience events.

With a setup time of less than 2 minutes, and a perfect blend of simplicity and strategic depth, Portals and Prophets is a game all ages will enjoy.

Setup and gameplay for 2 Players

The setup for this game does not change based on player count. Each player gets three Genesis cards, there are five revealed Old Testament cards on the board, and three portals are placed onto the map.

On a player’s turn, you get to do four actions, in any combination, from this list:

a) Move a space
b) Score a card (if you are in the right location and within the proper date range)
c) Draw a card (either from the face-up stack or a face-down from the top of a deck)

There are also fuel icons on some cards, and you can discard a card as a “free” action to increase the fuel gauge by the number of icons on the card. You can discard more than one card, but only one card of each fuel color. The fuel gauge is vital, as it ranges from Low-Full with 1, 2, and 3 in between. The number which the marker is by determines how far around the current round you can visit. For example, if the gauge is at 2 and the round is in the 10th century, you can score a card in the 12th-8th centuries (+2/-2 from the current date). When the gauge is at FULL, you can score any date range on the card, provided you are in the right location, and at the end of your turn the fuel drops back down to LOW.

You will be traveling around the map, collecting cards, and trying to score cards by being on the right place around the right time chronologically. Cards will not only score the points printed on them, but there are two additional methods of scoring at the end. You will get 10 points for every set of five colors you have scored, and there are six different symbols printed in various combinations on cards (such as Ancient, Miracles, God Speaks) where the player who scored the majority of cards with each symbol will get 7 points.

The game ends when one player has scored their third New Testament card and the round has ended (all players get an equal number of turns).

My Thoughts

Not only is this a Christian game, which is a rarity in itself, but it is also a surprisingly good one. There is a lot of depth to a game that is short on rules and quick on explanation. There are many variables to consider, such as dates on the timeline, physical location that you need to visit, the collection of sets of all five colors, the desire to win majority in as many symbols as you can, and maximizing your use of the fuel gauge when it is getting high. There is plenty of game here to keep everyone engaged and provide a great experience.

The use of the portals, which can either be placed as you desire or in the recommended locations mentioned in the rule book, is a key element in maximizing your scoring potential. Drafting cards from the board that are located near portals provides an advantage and is something that should always be considered. The portals also make it so the map feels a bit smaller at times, since you can leap across huge tracts of land.

The fuel gauge and time travel aspect is an interesting mechanism. I’m fairly certain there is no way to max out the fuel in one turn if it begins at LOW, meaning if you raise the gauge someone else will get to take advantage of it as well. It also may mean they get it to FULL before it comes back to you, making it a balancing act of trying to figure out when to use those cards for fuel and when to wait and try to let someone else bump it up for you.

As a Christian, I love the presence of Scripture at the bottom of each card. I love the vast array of events in the decks, ranging from the well-known such as the Birth of Jesus or the Parting of the Red Sea and going into more obscure characters and events. This will provide a learning experience for even the more mature Christians, as they may encounter and get to revisit some of the smaller stories and characters in the Bible. Although I have a weakness…every time Joshua Stops the Sun or Elijah Challenges the Prophets of Baal appears face-up I immediately grab them even when it doesn’t make sense to do so. I want to visit my favorite scenes!

In a loosely abstracted way, this game actually does succeed at providing a thematic experience. See the last point: I actually want to go travel to visit certain events as they come up in the deck.

It really surprised me as to how close the games ended up being for points. You would think the person to trigger the end would have a clear advantage in the game, but there are a lot of points to come from the set collection aspect. Which makes it important to not only pick cards for the point values listed on them, but also to grab cards that will mesh well with what you’ve already scored.

There are wild cards in the Old Testament deck, providing a boost either on a symbol or the colors to a player. They seem really powerful, especially the symbol cards because they not only add one to counting majority on that symbol, they also score the owner an extra point for each of that symbol they collected. These cards have been the deciding factor in a game.

Artwork is subjective, and the vast majority of it I really love. There are a few I’m not as crazy about, but the designer has told me there are some which are still being changed before the final production. So this was an issue with what I got but shouldn’t be an issue with the final produced product.

But the one area that everyone commented upon was the board itself. It is a simple map of the area, with various regions shaded in a color that matches the color on the card for that region. It makes a lot of sense for the color-coding on the board and it is usually appreciated during the gameplay, but it really doesn’t appeal to the eye for a first impression.

The New Testament cards are 100% blind draws. You’ll never know the card you are going to get, although you’ll always know the era in which it will be scored. You need to draw them early in order to plan for them, but if you are behind and racing to catch up then your draws could either make you really lucky (if they are all close together) or place the game out of reach (if they are very distant).

Each player gets 3 Genesis cards, and the rest are never to be seen during the game. I almost would prefer it if they got shuffled in with the Old Testament deck, allowing you the chance to get more of them, especially when you need one more Ancient symbol to boost your collection.

Final Verdict

I was initially interested in reviewing this game because of the Biblical theme. It promised to be a strategy game, and so I was more than happy to give it a try. When the game arrived, I looked at the board and the rules and was only lukewarm about the experience that I was going to be having with the game.

I’ve never been so glad to have my expectations exceeded.

This game isn’t going to provide a heavy, brain-burning experience. Yet there is ample room for depth and strategy in how you approach the game. Early decisions, even as simple as choosing your starting location, can have an impact on the gaming experience. A poor decision can leave you needing to travel for turns in a row in order to arrive where you need to be for a second scoring card. The presence of other players on the board, and where they end their turns, can force you to reroute for a round or two or to take a complely scenic trip through an area you don’t really need to visit. The multi-use cards provide incentive for grabbing something you might not need. The symbols and area colors provide set collecting, but only for those you score by the end. All in all, there is a lot more going on here than you first expect.

And increasing the player count increases the number of times you might get blocked, which is why some will really prefer to play with two. You can interfere, but not in drastic ways that could leave someone completely boxed in for a round or two. The board state will change, but not so radically that you can’t try and plan a few turns ahead. The fuel gauge will reach full, but not as often which will allow you to build upon and capitalize upon what your opponent has done.

There will be those who read the word “Bible” in the game’s description and move along without giving it a second glance. But if that word doesn’t scare you away, you’re in for a good surprise with this game. It plays well with two, provides an interesting experience for newer and experienced games, would make a perfect next-step game after a gateway game for newer gamers, and would be outstanding when used in a homeschool environment. Churches could place a copy of this in their kid/youth rooms and have it there for teaching and learning opportunities that will arise.

And even the common gamer, who isn’t looking to use this in any educational manner, will find that there is a surprisingly rewarding play experience in this game.

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

Board Gaming · Review for Two · Wargame Garrison

Review for Two – Night of Man

Thank you for checking review #33 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.

**Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of this game in exchange for an honest review.

An Overview of Night of Man

Night of Man is a game designed by Mark H. Walker and is published by Flying Pig Games. The box states that it can play 2 players and has a 60 minute play time.

Night of Man is a card-driven, tactical board game. Set in a post-alien-invasion-of-Earth universe, the squads, heroes, and tanks of Earth’s Militia battle against powerful aliens with enhanced power armor, hover tanks, Mechs, and spider-like robots.

In each turn gamers draw up to a four card hand and may play a card, sometimes more, in each impulse. The cards activate units to move, fire, assault, and use special powers, such as explosive rounds, telekinesis, and more. Special cards, such as critical hit or bullet storm, can also enhance a unit’s attacks.

Each turn continues until three end turn cards have been drawn. Players then choose one card from their hand to keep, the administrative markers are removed from the board, and a new hand is dealt to each player. The players use that new hand, or the card kept from the previous turn, to bid for initiative in the new turn.

Night of Man ships with numerous scenarios, as well as a point system that allows gamers to put together their own battles in no time flat.

Setup and gameplay for 2 Players

This one is a tricky one to describe the setup because each game will be different. There are a set of scenarios to play through, each one dictating the boards used, how they are laid out, the armies fielded by each side, and where they are placed (or enter the board when moved). They also dictate the number of rounds played, the objective for each side, point values for destroying units (if the scenario includes scoring), and how many “End Turn” cards need to be drawn before the round ends.

The one consistent is that the deck of cards will be shuffled and four will be dealt to each player. If an End Turn card is dealt, it is placed face-up and a new one is dealt. The players then each select one card to “bid” for initiative. The player whose card shows a higher value discards the card and goes first, taking their turn with three cards. The losing player keeps their card and will have four to use on their first turn.

On a turn, the player plays one card from their hand. Each card has two possible actions on there, and the player uses only one. Most actions are marked with a green icon, but there are red and yellow ones as well. Red are interrupts, so to speak, allowing you to play them on the other player’s turn. Yellow are able to boost your action, making it so you can play more than one card for the round. After the action on the card is resolved, the player may discard any number of additional cards and draw back up to four. If an End Turn card is drawn, it goes face-up in the pile and a new card is drawn to replace it.

The core concept is simple: move your units toward the enemy and then try to shoot them into oblivion. This is an underexaggeration, to be sure, but it gets the core premise across. Some scenarios involve trying to find an object or gain and maintain control of a certain area of the board. The interesting thing here is that when a unit moves or fires, it gets marked with a token indicating that action is done. Which prevents them from activating for anything else this round unless a card, such as Second Wind, is played to remove those tokens.

My Thoughts

The premise and the theme for this game is great. I love the idea that the aliens have come and subjected the Earth to their rule. One side is playing those alien overlords, while the other is playing the role of a resistance of humans. The aliens are, of course, well-armored and hard to kill. The theme was what drew me to this game in the first place, and it didn’t disappoint once I got the game.

The counters are large and chunky and easy to maneuver and manipulate. Which is a good thing, because you’ll be adding them, flipping them, and removing them often. I couldn’t even imagine the headache this could have caused if the counters were really small. They also are clearly distinguishable on the board via color coding, and the artwork of the units and characters is done well. The board itself is a little bland art-wise, but the counters make up for it.

I love multi-use cards so very much. These are great because they not only make you choose between two actions on the card, but they also track the round’s end and are used in combat rather than dice. This might make it sound like you’ll be flipping that deck quickly, and you certainly can, but especially in that first round the deck goes one or two cards per turn. You’ll see a lot of repeated actions throughout the deck, especially Move actions and Fire actions, but there are enough to shake things up.

Combat is simple and dice-free. My wife is one of those who absolutely hates games that use a ton of dice. Her biggest rage during a game happened a few years ago playing Doctor Who Risk, and it was at that point that I knew I couldn’t play a game where combat relied solely upon who rolls better. This is a card-driven system for battle, which not only keeps things simple but also helps to flip through that deck. The modifiers used for range, etc. are relatively easy to grasp and follow, although the first few plays saw me triple-checking I had things right. The vehicles add complexity to the system, but not so much that it can’t be played. You’ll just be likely to have to check the process a few additional times the first play or two incorporating them into the mix. Something you’ll hear me mention often in this review.

There is no getting around it: this game is fun. And that, in spite of anything else, is what you want to find in a board game. Those first two scenarios are introductory, at best, and should be viewed as such. They are the equivalent of the first ten levels you gain in an RPG – meant to get your feet wet before introducing more complexity. The third scenario doesn’t add new rules, but it does provide a few new units and an objective for one side to chase. I’m halfway through this campaign and really enjoying the progress so far. I’ve seen there are other campaign packs, including a solo one, and those are very likely to enter onto my wish list.

The boards are folded in two and, at least with my copy, tends to not lay flat on the table as a result. This is a preference thing only, and worth noting, but it doesn’t end up affecting the gameplay itself.

The rulebook is hit and miss. I thought, upon first read, that it covered things well. And what it contains, it does cover well. But there are omissions throughout, such as what happens if enough End Turn cards are dealt into the opening hands to end the round, or what triggers the powers shown on the units’ counters (It was my third play when I noticed the small “Power” word on some of the cards and was able to make the connection). Or what happens when a unit is on fire from the Infantry’s special power? I’ve seen threads galore mentioning the Handler and his Spiderbots, and with good reason. The other thing I would have liked to see were more visual demonstrations of what was being explained. Blocks of text are great, but a small image (and there are some in here) would help to emphasize that and provide a quick go-to as a refresher.

And so I am torn on the use of cards to trigger the end of a round. Part of me wants to love it and proclaim the brilliance of this concept. It isn’t often that the game gets to a point where both sides can’t do anything (although the alien side is more likely to hit that point first) apart from toss cards and hope to draw a Second Wind or trigger the round’s end. So long as one side is able to do things, the round will keep going (it can end if both players pass consecutively). The variable round length is great in concept: there should be uncertainty in war about how long a battle will take. But what about when you draw all of the End Turn cards at the very start of a round? And if this happens a few turns in a row? On the reverse side, what if they all keep populating at the very bottom of the deck? This game could either run short or really long in those scenarios. I’ve had more games where rounds end super-early than running really long, but the chance is there and some players really won’t like that variable length.

The player aids provided are fine, but there were things that I found myself having to look up time and again in the rule book. So they are things I wish there had been an aid for, so that the finding of this information could have been a little easier. I had to look up what the various numbers on the counters represented, and there are two times when this really happened: the first few plays to get down the leg units, and then just when you get those few parts down the vehicles are thrown into the mix and double the numbers you’re looking at on the unit counters. The same thing goes with the cards. For the most part, things are easy to get down early but once vehicles come into play, I found myself checking and rechecking what the numbers were and when they were used. Finally, there are powers and abilities indicated by small icons on units. These are great, but I had to look those up repeatedly and found myself forgetting what some of them did. None of these three things are game-breakers, and they are all covered well in the rulebook, but I’d prefer not to flip through the book every time I need to reference these things. At least on the counter layout and the card layout.

Final Verdict

This is a game I really want to love, and I know with more plays and more exposure I can come to love the game. Right now I simply enjoy the game. It is a nice system, although a little more complex than I initially expected. There are a lot of things to remember, and if you can’t recall which number on the token represents the ABF or the HF, etc. then you’ll be grabbing the rule book often for reference. And that part is why I’ve hesitated so long in teaching the game to my wife. It isn’t bad in the first three scenarios, where you have all leg units, but the vehicles add extra layers and a lot more numbers become relevant. Which also makes more card abilities matter. Which means I need to have a good grasp on those things if I want to teach her in a manner that she can find enjoyable. Having me stop things to reference the rulebook every five minutes wouldn’t exactly be an experience she’d find to be fun.

I do enjoy a scenario system, and so I am glad this has that available to play. But it does also include the important skirmish system. This gives it life beyond the scenario plays, allowing each player to build and field a custom army to battle it out.

I’m still very early into my wargaming career, and I probably secured a copy of this about 6-12 months too soon. It was quite a jump from the Swords & Shields system from Stamford Bridge to this one. However, anyone who has a fair amount of experience with wargames should fare well when playing this game. And this game has been worth the effort I’ve put into learning things and I have no doubt it will continue to be rewarding.

The biggest headache will come from the text-dense reference sheet, no quick reference for what is shown on each counter, and those occasional things that aren’t explained well in the rulebook. Those things can usually be inferred based on how a player chooses to interpret things, but there will be questions that you simply can’t find a clear answer to. Which is always frustrating for a gamer.

Overall I have enjoyed Night of Man, and this is a game that I plan to play more times, both solo to sharpen my understanding of the rules and system as well as with my wife. I’ll need to be solid in my command of the game and what everything means if I want her to enjoy the next plays where we add more complexity and depth to the game. But I am confident this will be one we’ll both enjoy because we like games with conflict and where you need to use tactical maneuvering to be victorious. If you are just exploring wargames, this might not be the right purchase (yet), but if you’ve got a good command of consulting tables and modifiers, this game is definitely worth checking out.

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

Board Gaming · Review for Two · Uncategorized

Review for Two – Unearth

Thank you for checking review #31 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.

**Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of this game in exchange for an honest review.

An Overview of Unearth

Unearth is a game designed by Jason Harner and Matthew Ransom and is published by Brotherwise Games. The box states that it can play 2-4 players and has a 30-60 minute play time.

Long ago, your ancestors built great cities across the world. Now your tribe must explore forests, deserts, islands, mountains, and caverns to find these lost cities. Claim the ruins, build places of power, and restore the glory of a bygone age.

Unearth is a bend-your-luck game of dice placement and set collection. Designed by Jason Harner and Matthew Ransom, it plays in under an hour with 2-4 players. Each player leads a tribe of Delvers, represented by five dice (3 six-sided, 1 four-sided, and 1 eight-sided). Players take turns rolling and placing dice in an attempt to claim Ruins.

The game’s elegant core mechanic is accessible to players of all skill levels. High rolls help players claim Ruins, while low rolls help players collect Stones. This opens two paths to victory: claiming sets of Ruins or using Stones to build Wonders. Delver cards help you affect your dice rolls or dice in play, and Wonders can grant abilities that impact the late game.

Setup and gameplay for 2 Players

The game sets up in a very similar manner to a game with more players, with three exceptions: ten cards are removed from the Ruins deck instead of five, there are four Wonder cards available (2 per player +2), and only four Ruins cards are revealed at a time instead of five.

The game plays simply. A player’s turn has two actions, one optional and the other mandatory. First, a player may play any number of Delver cards, which can do things such as change the value of dice rolls, modify dice values on current cards, reroll dice showing a specific value, and more. Then, a player must roll one of their five dice onto a Ruins card. They announce before the roll (unless they play a Delver card stating otherwise) what card they are rolling onto and place the rolled die onto that card. If the value on the die is 3 or lower, they take a stone off that card (or, if the card has no stones, a random one from the stone bag). Then, they check to see if the value of all dice on that card is greater than or equal to the “Breaking Point” on that card.

Once a card breaks, the player with the highest-valued die gets the card and all other players draw a delver card for every die they had on that card. Ties on dice are broken by taking the highest-sided die with that value, and the next tiebreaker would be to look at each of those players’ second-highest valued die. If there is an unbreakable tie, both players draw delver cards and the Ruins card is discarded.

Stones collected are placed in front of a player, and you earn a Wonder by creating a circle of stones with a space in the center (it’ll take 6 stones to accomplish this). Some Wonders require certain combinations of colored stones, and the best Wonders need all six to be the same color. Play continues until the Ruins have all been explored, including whatever appears for the End of Age card that is at the bottom of the Ruins deck.

Points are scored for each Ruins colored card (having 3 reds are worth a lot more than 2 reds, for example), having a set of each colored Ruin card, for Wonders built, and for having 3 or more Wonders built. The player with the highest score wins.

My Thoughts 

 This game looks great on the table. The dice aren’t special, but they are colorful. The stones, apart from the blacks, are vibrant in color as well and have great design in them. This is the kind of game that people will stop to look at as they pass by, because it really catches the eye.

 I really like that you are rewarded both for high and for low rolls in this game. High rolls help earn the Ruins cards, which are usually the primary source of points in a game. Low rolls get you stones, which can be a viable path to winning provided you can get Greater Wonders or special ones worth a point per stone of a certain color. Yes, the high rolls are usually preferred but it is nice that a low-roller can still feel competitive in this game.

 Tying in with the dice rolling would be those Delver cards. Each player has some to start, and they serve as an excellent catch-up mechanic because you get one for each die on a card that you didn’t win. These allow you to manipulate and reroll dice in some fashion, making your rolls more (or less) effective as needed or affecting what your opponent has out there. We’ve found this helps to keep scores close by the end of the game, as one player is able to use these to close that gap in points.

 How many board games do you see using d8 and d4 in there? Not that many, which is yet another way that this game does something unique to make it stand out. Everyone is used to chucking those six-sided dice for games, but there is something fun about tossing a d8 and satisfying about watching that d4 drop. Having one of each also gives you a way to try and shoot to break a Ruins card or to be nearly-guaranteed to earn a stone.

 I really love building with those stones. The spatial element takes this game and adds a new layer to it. And how you are building with those stones will determine the points potential coming from your wonder. Do you try and get all six of the same color for the high-scoring Greater Wonders? Do you try and make the right combination for one of the four specials? Or do you just nab Lesser Wonders and use those to supplement your points? This aspect takes what would be a fine game and makes it even better.

 Some of the wonders that get drawn aren’t useful over the course of a game. Most of the games we played there were 1-2 that might get snagged, but for the most part the focus goes on either Greater or Lesser Wonders. There are some that are really good, while others just don’t appear to be worth the effort it would take to earn them.

 I felt the same about the End of Age cards. Some are great, making you have to roll a ton of dice to earn that card and get a big batch of points. But nothing is worse than needing 1-2 stones and seeing the +1 to all die rolls card come out. Some of them are going to be cards you enjoy seeing come out to mark the end of the game. Others will leave you disappointed. I do appreciate the variety, though, rather than always having the same card appear at the end.

 Regardless of the Delver cards and the stones, this game is still a dice-rolling game at heart. That means, in spite of the ways you can manipulate things or get rewarded for low rolls, this game can still get swingy. The last game we played, I took the first 4 or 5 Ruins cards because she wasn’t able to roll anything above a 3, no matter which die she used. She wasn’t enjoying that experience, which is something you always risk encountering in a game where you roll dice for results. So, in spite of the great mechanics in there to supplement the dice, this is still a game that dice-haters might not enjoy.

 Tying in with the above, there are far too many moments in the game where it feels like luck is as important, if not moreso, than skill. Perhaps that might change if you could always roll first and then place the die, allowing you to adapt your decision based on what is rolled. But having to choose before rolling makes the luck factor increase. Most frequently the decision of which card to roll on it based on needing a certain stone color or that Ruins color to add to your set, not based on what else is actually out there for possibilities.

Final Verdict 

This game is one of those games I hadn’t expected my wife to enjoy. After all, the core of the game involves rolling dice, something she isn’t a big fan of. Her initial reaction, upon seeing dice, was to groan. Her first play was peppered with complaints about rolling the dice. But that ended by the time that first game finished. Much like Castles of Burgundy, another dice-rolling game she likes, there are plenty of ways to manipulate and modify dice rolls. There are even rewards for rolling low (and many times when you’re just as happy to roll a 3 as you would have been with a 6).

So in the realm of dice games, this one gets a seal of approval through the various methods in which you are rewarded for both high and low rolls, as well as the Delver cards and how those are distributed in a catch-up mechanism. The removal of cards from the Ruins deck makes it so you can’t be sure what quantity of each color you might see, especially in a 2-player game. That can make some colors really valuable if there are a lot of them to collect, while others become worth less since they are scarce. The stones and the wonders provides a nice building aspect to the game that complements the entire system well.

The biggest problem with this game is that it is just another really solid game amidst a plethora of other solid games. For those who love rolling dice, this is going to be a must-have. It is easy to teach, quick enough to play, and something that will easily find its way to the table time and again. Yet there is nothing remarkable about the game to set it apart from some of the other games that fill the same time frame.

This is not a knock on the game in any way, as we truly enjoyed every play of the game, but for our tastes this one isn’t likely to see a lot of replay. That is no fault of the game itself, but rather a fault of the overabundance of good games out there. Even though my wife doesn’t mind the dice so much in this one, I know she’d prefer a game that isn’t all about rolling dice. And if I’m going to pick a game she’s playing just because I want to play it, I’d likely pick something a little heavier on the weight scale.

Would I recommend Unearth? Absolutely, especially if you enjoy rolling dice. It is a very well-crafted game that features a nice and balanced system. Like any dice game, there will be times when someone rolls really hot and claims a ton of Ruins. That can’t be completely avoided, no matter how many Delver cards you possess. This is a game even the dice-averse can play and enjoy, although they may not want to play it often. It is a great game that everyone should at least seek out a chance to play it, because this game delivers.

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