Board Gaming · First Impressions · Worker Placement Month

First Impressions: The Gallerist, Vinhos, Lisboa, and Vital Lacerda

They say there is such a thing as love at first sight, and in the gaming realm there could exist a possibility to have love at first play. I was fortunate enough, this weekend, to sit down and play my third Vital Lacerda game: The Gallerist. It reminded me, yet again, how impressive Vital’s games are to play. There are so many layers within the simplistic set of decisions placed before the players. Complexity in his games do not come from understanding the actions, but how it all intertwines with the mechanisms in order to get things humming along and churn out the objective you’re trying to accomplish. I’ve seen that struggle in action in all three of these games I’ve played and, sadly, to date I have played all three of these games exactly one time.

Trust me, it will not stay that way much longer.

I have 3 Lacerda plays, yet it is enough to cement him as a top designer for me. Perhaps even enough to lock in the #1 designer spot. In an era where we have a plethora of new games being released weekly, and kickstarters churning out almost daily for games, I am finding more and more that I want to just hunker down and replay the magnificence that is a Lacerda game time and again. The shiny and new isn’t calling to me as strong. Even the behemoth that is Gloomhaven lost its siren song this weekend, propelling Lisboa back to my #1 wish list location.

Not because it is the newest of his games available right now, but because it is arguably his best so far.

His games all contain a lot of layers to them, and they all seem to have some small aspect of worker placement in them. In some, like The Gallerist, it is a pretty big component. Even in Vinhos, the movement of your worker to select your action is a key aspect in terms of actions available and the cost to use them. And so it is only fitting to write my impressions on his games I’ve played, even though I’m stretching all the way back to November of 2017 for Lisboa. Trust me, its impression has never left.

First Impressions on The Gallerist

In terms of theme, this one didn’t really excite me going into the game. Then again, none of his games hit on my favored fantasy or Medieval themes so I know that shouldn’t affect things. But it did, and I wasn’t really excited to play this game apart from knowing it was a Lacerda game and is highly esteemed by a lot of people I know. So when a friend, who owns a ton of games I want to try, mentioned he’d be gaming Saturday, I made sure to clear time to be there at the start. I gave him the freedom to choose any game from the extensive list, and he picked The Gallerist. In spite of the theme, I was excited simply because of the designer and the experience I had with Vinhos and Lisboa. Going into the game, I watched Rodney’s wonderful video to get a handle on the rules and be ready to run away with the game.

First things first, that running away was an epic fail. 4th place out of 4, partially due to poor play early in the game and partly due to a severe lack of collector meeples for the early part of the game. Combined with a player who, even 3 hours into the game, had to ask things like what kickout actions he could take every single time it happened. He made the game drag on just a little too long, but not even that could spoil the lasting impression of the game. The game followed me long, long after I left the table. It still is stuck inside my head, beckoning me to return and play it again.

The worker placement aspect on this one is simple, as there are four spaces to move between (three you can choose on a turn) and each space contains only two actions to choose from. There are bonus kickout actions you can take when another worker goes to your spot and bumps you out. This has no impact on your placement there, as you’ve already done your action. It just provides a bonus. And there are some small actions you can do before and/or after your main action. Simple. Yet oh so complex in the execution.

I spent most of the game scraping for tickets, scraping to pull meeples into my gallery, and then scraping for money. I had value. My objectives were on track to be met. Yet everything took longer because I didn’t build an engine first. It didn’t help that every time I pulled a White collector, it got pulled right back by one of the two players who always seemed to find ways to get more tickets when they needed them. By the time the game fully clicked in how it all worked, I knew the mountain before me was impossible to scale in time. Yet that last half of the game, in spite of constantly needing to find ineffective plans to accomplish what I needed, I had a lot of fun puzzling things out and seeing where I should have focused earlier and how that would affect me now. The loss was 100% on me, and I will plan better and play better the next time.

Considering it was a game that didn’t excite me with the theme, I had way more fun than I could have expected. The strong worker placement in this one makes it likely to be the most successful game to get my wife to try. I think with 2 players it will be more interesting in some aspects, as there are fewer markets to claim tokens from and stiffer competition for points. The assistants will be even more critical to unlock, as you’ll have far more opportunities to leave one behind when moving in order to get that bonus knockout action.

My mind is spinning from the game, more than 72 hours later., and I love it. This game cemented Vital Lacerda as a top designer for me, providing those crunchy, brain-burning euro games that I long to play.

First Impressions on Vinhos (Z-Man Edition)

The one Lacerda game I own, thanks to a math trade earlier this year. The box is beat up pretty bad, but what’s inside is good enough to provide the experience I need. Early on in my game researching, I knew that this and Viticulture both existed and heard them frequently compared to each other due to the implementation of the theme. Let me tell you, that is where the comparisons should end. Yes, they are both about wine making. Yes, they are both very excellent games. But no, they do not provide the same experience. Not even close.

Whereas Viticulture is about working through the seasons to plant and harvest grapes and then make and sell wine, this one is almost more about presenting wine for the fair three times during the game. The process of getting the wine is far more streamlined here, with each round producing more wine automatically. So you don’t have to micromanage as much, but instead focus on what to do with the wine you get and gain more vineyards to get more wine production going on.

This game has a set number of rounds, which means you know exactly how long the game will last. 6 years, with 2 actions per year being taken. Yep, you read that right. Vinhos is played out over the course of 12 actions. But Vital being Vital, there are ways to do way more over the course of the game depending on how you manage what you are given. It also helps having a vineyard in place from the get go, making it so you can focus in other areas as needed.

It still boggles the mind that you get 12 actions in the game. Yet this is a heavy and satisfying puzzle that gets presented, and the actions you’ll choose are affected by the action you last used, the current round, and what your opponents have chosen. Why? Because an action is free only if it is adjacent in space to your last action and if there is no round marker or opponent on the space. You have to pay to jump your marker to a non-adjacent action, pay to place it where the round marker is at, and pay to place it where an opponent is located. And boy, is money ever tight and crucial in this. There is a bank action here which is probably the hardest space to wrap the head around, and is the one space dropped off the game in the revised Deluxe version of the game. I’m still not clear about whether I love or hate the bank space, but I’m glad it is in there for these first plays.

I love that the wine has three different uses: selling for money, exporting for victory points, or using it during the fair at the end of the third, fifth, and sixth rounds.

The fair adds in some really curious elements into the game that I appreciate. It has its own scoring track, which applies just to the fair but has its own serious value to players during the fair time. It is also the key to unlocking addition actions via the experts on the track. Having watched a video for the revised version of the game, I really like the changes made to this entire system and the use of tiles instead of that static track at the top. However, either version opens up options for additional actions gained through wine experts and some bonus scoring through them as well.

All in all, I liked Vinhos but I didn’t love it to the level I have with Lisboa or The Gallerist. I know part of it was the situation, rushing in a 2-player game at the end of the night with both of us having a rough idea on how to play. And then he stopped tallying points the second he was convinced he lost due to some crafty final turn decisions on my part…which I could tell frustrated him since he had been counting his victory for several turns. It’ll shine more in a more relaxed play session, and even moreso if I upgrade to the Deluxe version (something I now intend to do, especially if I teach it to my wife and she enjoys the game). And since it is the game currently in my collection, it is also the one most likely to see the table first.

First Impressions on Lisboa

I have to reach back to November of 2017 for this one, but that shouldn’t be as big of an issue as you’d think. That’s because this game has stuck with me ever since that play, being the game I’ve longed to own and play again. It first caught my attention via listening to Heavy Cardboard review the game. Honestly, without that I may never have tried a Vital Lacerda game (yet), so I have them to thank profusely for these impressions. I actively sought someone who would teach and play the game, and one game night I was able to set up a 3-player game.

Except the person bringing the game had played once. Months before the play. And he had never taught it. So the first hour or so was the three of us flipping through the rulebook and player aids and getting things set up and trying to understand the game. The next hour was full of some fumbling attempts at building an engine to get us to what we wanted to accomplish. And then, gloriously, it all started to click for me. Much like The Gallerist above, about halfway into the game I started to see how things were connected and the brilliance in there. Yet I had veered in some unproductive directions early that forced me to take a while to correct. But man, oh man, I was in love.

Vital says this is simply play a card, draw a card. And he isn’t wrong. But there is so much that happens between those steps as a result of the playing a card that it makes the game interesting and so very enjoyable. Since it has been too long, I can’t speak to specifics as well on this one in terms of the game’s play. And so, sadly, this is going to be the shortest of the impressions left here. I loved the game. The artwork and components were fantastic, even playing the retail version of the game. The tucking of the cards either on top or the bottom of the player board provides some really interesting decisions because a card tucked provides one benefit, but using them to visit the noble pictured (or for the decree pictured) provides a different set of actions you can accomplish. Being able to position yourself to follow another player’s action is critical, and the joint venture to clear the disaster in the city area so you can benefit more when building shops add an interesting layer of majority scoring that I’ve noticed appears in all of his games I’ve played so far.

I made the mistake of telling my wife that the VP in this game are wigs. That convinced her not to buy it for me back in December. We’ve both missed out on plenty of plays of a game that, undoubtedly, we would both enjoy having in our collection. It remains the game I want the most in my collection, and I cannot wait to play it again. I pray that comes sooner rather than later, as this one stands out in my mind as being the best overall Lacerda game with its solid integration of mechanics and theme.

Final Thoughts on Vital Lacerda

I hesitate to name a favorite overall designer, as there are a few who I am yet to be disappointed by. Yet Vital has already climbed into the ranks of those who are my must-play designers. His name would definitely be given a lot of consideration if I were to choose a designer as a favorite, and at the end of the day he might just earn that nod for a few reasons:

  • His games are mechanically simple yet have layer upon layer of complexity. There are only a few actions to be aware of, yet what you can do within them is where the games come to life and this provides a rich and rewarding experience that sticks with the player long after they leave the table.
  • Reiterating that last sentence: all three times I have played a Lacerda game, I have been left thinking about the game for weeks afterwards. Because there is so much to do, much of it in the player’s control, there are a lot of ways you can consider adjusting your approach in order to explore a new strategy and become more efficient for the next play.
  • Vital is a solo-friendly designer. While I am yet to attempt any of his games as a solo experience (since my version of Vinhos does not have it), I really appreciate this aspect and my understanding is that these games have equally satisfying solitaire experiences in the box.
  • Player interaction exists in his games through following of actions, kickout actions, penalties to go to the same place as a player, area majority scoring boards, and more in his designs. This isn’t just a “play in your own sandbox and see who does better” type of euro game. There comes motivations to pay attention to what others are doing and to vie for certain actions and areas first.

And while it doesn’t reflect on Vital’s design work directly, this is also a great notch in his favor:

  • His games have ridiculously high production quality. Eagle-Gryphon is doing right by Vital with how they manufacture the games right now, and you can be sure you are getting great value for the massive, expensive box. There is value in the box beyond just what the game experience itself provides (which, arguably, is worth the price tag on its own).

So I’m looking forward to my next Lacerda game. Maybe it will be this week/weekend at Gen Con. I sure hope so, whether it is trying a new game of his or revisiting one of these three that I’ve already experienced. Regardless, Vital Lacerda has cemented his status as a must-watch designer. Be sure to check out the campaign for his newest game, Escape Plan, which looks and sounds amazing. Plus, it gives you a chance to pick up one (or all) of these three games in their Deluxe Kickstarter version (plus expansion for The Gallerist) if you’re looking to add any of these to your collection.

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/eaglegryphon/escape-plan-by-vital-lacerda-with-artwork-by-ian-o?ref=nav_search&result=project&term=escape%20plan

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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

***

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

Ex Libris Giveaway

Board Gaming · Review for Two · Worker Placement Month

Review for Two – Raiders of the North Sea

Thank you for checking review #61 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 Raiders of the North Sea

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Raiders of the North Sea is a game designed by Shem Phillips and was published by Garphill Games, and later by Renegade Games. The box states that it can play 2-4 players and has a 60-120 minute play time and a BGG weight rating of 2.57.

Raiders of the North Sea is set in the central years of the Viking Age. As Viking warriors, players seek to impress the Chieftain by raiding unsuspecting settlements. Players will need to assemble a crew, collect provisions and journey north to plunder gold, iron and livestock. There is glory to be found in battle, even at the hands of the Valkyrie. So gather your warriors, it’s raiding season!

Aim of the Game

The aim of Raiders of the North Sea is to impress the Chieftain by having the most Victory Points (VP) at the game’s end. Victory Points are gained primarily by raiding Settlements, taking Plunder and making Offerings to the Chieftain. How players use their Plunder is also vital to their success. The game ends when either only 1 Fortress raid remains, all Valkyrie are removed, or all Offerings have been made.

 

Gameplay differences for 2 Players

There are no differences in setup or gameplay on this game based upon player count. The end game triggers also remain the same, regardless of player count.

My Thoughts

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 The first thing that I fell in love with in this was the use of worker placement. You will never have more than one worker. You place a worker, execute the action, then remove a different worker from the board and execute the action on the space it left. That mechanic right there is sheer brilliance, allowing you to plan ahead and to react tactically to moves your opponents make. This functions so differently from the standard “place all your workers then bring them back” approach that it feels genuinely refreshing every time I play it. I hope more games find ways to use this approach, because it is a really fun and interesting twist on the genre.

 Three colors of workers are in the game, each one capable of going to specific spaces on the board. This aspect works really well with the above worker placement mechanic, allowing you to swoop up that white worker they just retrieved from a raiding space (for you, no doubt) and placed down in the bottom section. I like the progression here, and that the black starter workers have a benefit with the money generation space. It almost is enough to tempt me to keep one around all game. Almost. I like the approach taken here, and the fact that they don’t have powerful abilities is perfect. This approach is just right, opening up higher spaces on the board that require more resources to raid.

 Artwork by the Mico is so fun and uniquely his that I absolutely love the life he brings to the games. It is a flavor all of his own, and it is stamped firmly upon this game. I couldn’t tell you if I prefer him or Beth Sobel, but they both are guaranteed to catch my attention with their artistic work.

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 Valkyries are the best resource I have ever seen in a game, hands down. Not only are they thematic as can be (okay, I wish they weren’t a black skull but I get it needed to be a similar shape to the other resources to help randomize drawing from the bag in setup), but they provide a big struggle for the player in terms of when to take a space with a Valkyrie (or worse, multiple ones) since it will cause them to lose some of the cards they paid to recruit. But those Valkyrie can be worth a lot victory points at the end of the game, and there is quite the swing in points if one person gets them and another ignores them. This can especially happen in a 2-player game where there is less rush to compete for spaces on the board.

 Multi-use cards are always a thing I enjoy. In this game, most of what you’re likely considering is the cost to recruit them and the ability they can provide for your group. Since you’re limited to 5 in play as a maximum, there comes a point where you need to be selective. Thankfully, those Valkyrie can help you cycle out cards that lose usefulness (such as ones that might provide benefits from raiding Harbours) so you can modify your group strategically as the game progresses. However, don’t underestimate the value of playing a card at the Town Hall location! Some of those abilities, although one-time use, can really help you get ahead or catch up to your opponent.

 Dice are a negligible component in the game. You can recruit a team of people with really high strength, and complement that with a lot of time pumping up the Armory, to where you are going to get points when raiding the higher spaces regardless. Or you can play it a little riskier, going through with just enough to get the space and hope the dice help you get a few additional points along the way. I appreciate it being able to cater to both crowds there, and that there are higher rewards in VP for those who can hit really high attack values.

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 I haven’t done it yet, but this game can be played in sequence with the other two in the North Sea Trilogy to make an overarching gaming experience. How cool is that? I can’t report on how it works or how well it plays, but I plan to eventually. Regardless, more games should have something like this, to where you can string them together in a small campaign of sorts that can be completed in a single game day.

 There are three ways for the game to end, something I really like. However, in a 2-player match, it has only ever ended when 5/6 Fortress spaces were raided. The same was true in a 3-player game we’ve played of this. We’ve come close on Valkyries before, as we both tend to try and max out those points (me moreso than her in the early game) but have never cleared them all. And we haven’t even come close to wiping out the stack of tiles, since you need to trade in resources to get those and sometimes those resources are better used in other places. So while I like the idea of three ways to end the game, I imagine that those other two really come into play with the full player count rather than with 2-players.

 The game can feel same-y after multiple plays on the board. Sure, there are small things that change: the resources on each space, the tiles you can gain at the Long House, and the cards you’ll draw into your hand. But, ultimately, you’re doing the exact same thing every time with minimal variance. That is the biggest downfall in so many worker placement games, where it becomes repetitive. If you like a fresh experience every play, this isn’t going to provide that (at least the base game alone). However, even within this weakness of the genre there is enough in the game to where you can make strong tactical plays to squeeze out points more efficiently than your opponent in order to win the game.

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 The game as a whole gets repetitive within a single game experience, too. Get money to recruit cards. Gain provisions. Go on a raid and pay provisions/resources/cards. Repeat, this time needing more of everything to go higher on the board. While the game is fun and exciting, there is a lot of repetition even as you get further into an individual game. That is its biggest weakness, as the spots that you go to outside of the town are all one-shot spaces. So you’re spending about 75% of the game cycling through the same handful of spaces in order to go to a single space up above.

Final Thoughts

There should be no surprises about my thoughts if you saw my Top 25 Games. This game appears there, and I see no reason why it won’t be there for the long-term as I gain expansions for this game and add the rest of the North Sea Trilogy into my collection. The unique approach to worker placement in this is a refreshing change from the others, and I’ll admit I love the theme and the artwork enough to give this game a slight boost beyond what it might otherwise earn.

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The base game here is really good. There’s no way around that. I’m excited whenever I get this game to the table. I’m even more excited to pick up the solo variant at some point so I can play (and revisit in a review!) the solo experience for this game. I’m looking at the various expansions out there and trying to determine which one I should pick up first to expand and enhance the experience…knowing full well that my wife is almost never a fan of expansions. I’m thinking Fields of Fame, since it adds enemy Jarls which should make things more interesting in trying to raid.

The progression arc in this game is enjoyable, even if it is predictable. How you approach building your engine is what makes this game fun, just like any deckbuilder or engine optimization game out there. The wrinkle comes with those Valyries, a resource that you shouldn’t completely avoid because of its end-game point potential but comes with a heavy cost in losing part of your team of Raiders. This is the aspect of the game that really shines, even moreso than the worker placement aspect, because it is where you gain some variety.

Do I want more people to recruit? Yes, so that the deck dilutes and you can’t count on getting 2-3 of X in order to reap a ton of benefits at a certain part of the game. The team you choose to hire, and the raiding spot sequence you choose, can make or break your chance of winning this game. The game’s mechanics are balanced on the edge of a knife, as you’re going to earn a lot of the same points in the same places. The difference comes in those smaller details. And that is something I really, really appreciate. It enables a veteran to be able to see that ideal path while also allowing for newer players to keep it a close game and potentially spoil the best-laid plans and steal a win.

If you like worker placement, you definitely need to try this game. If you like engine building, you should try this game. If you hate optimization games, where the more efficient player will win more often than not, then it might not be quite right for you. But this game I definitely cherish having in my collection, and I look forward to getting all of the North Sea line of product eventually on my shelves.

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Hopefully you found this article to be a useful look at Raiders of the North Sea. 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 Raiders of the North Sea. Be sure to enter to win!

Raiders of the North Sea giveaway

Board Gaming · Interview · Worker Placement Month

Interview with Dan Hallagan, Designer of Obsession, and GIVEAWAY!

I had a good friend of mine raise my awareness about Obsession when it was running its Kickstarter campaign. It caught my eye because the theme was unique and, with my background in English/Literature (including taking an entire course focused around Victorian Literature!), it was really interesting to me. So when I was thinking about worker placement games releasing soon, I really wanted to highlight this one. Thankfully, Dan was willing to answer some interview questions for me about the game, and has graciously offered to provide a copy to give away (see the bottom of the post and/or the Giveaways link at the top of the page to enter the contest). So here’s a little summary of info about the game, followed by his excellent interview.

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Obsession, designed by Dan Hallagan. Published by Kayenta Games. 1-4 Players, 30-90 Minutes. 3.60 Weight Rating on BGG.

Description from the publisher:

You are the head of a respected but troubled family estate in mid-19th century Victorian England. After several lean decades, family fortunes are looking up! Your goal is to improve your estate so as to be in better standing with the truly influential families in Derbyshire.

Obsession is a game of 16 to 20 turns where players build a deck of Victorian gentry (British social upper class), renovate their estate by acquiring building tiles from a centralized builders’ market, and manipulate an extensive service staff of butlers, housekeepers, underbutlers, maids, valets, and footmen utilizing a novel worker placement mechanic. Successfully hosting prestigious social activities such as Fox Hunts, Music Recitals, Billiards, Political Debates, and Grand Balls increases a player’s wealth, reputation, and connections among the elite.

Each turn, players choose a building tile representing a room or outdoor space in and around their 19th century British country house. The tile chosen dictates the event that can be hosted and the guests to be invited. Players must carefully plan, however, to have the proper staff available to service the event and support guests as needed. The reward for success is new investment opportunities, permitting further renovation of the estate (acquisition of more valuable/powerful building tiles), an increase in reputation in the county, an expanding circle of influential acquaintances, and a larger and highly-trained domestic staff.

Throughout the game, a competitive courtship for the hand of the most eligible young gentleman and lady in the county presents specific renovation and reputation objectives. The player who best meets these objectives while accumulating victory points will win the hand of the wealthy love interest and the game.

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  1. Let’s talk about the first thing I noticed when I saw Obsession’s box: it has the style of a Victorian novel that I might find in paperback form at my local bookstore. I absolutely love it! What inspired the 19th Century setting for your game? Are there any Victorian-era books, movies, or shows that helped to inspire the theme of this game?
  • As for the box, I did indeed pattern it after the “classics” version of a Jane Austen book cover in my library.
  • I grew up playing Dungeons and Dragons in the 1970s and 80s and stopped gaming as I moved on in life. About 5 years ago, a friend persuaded me there was a new breed of board game that was a cut above Monopoly. He recommended Dominion and 7 Wonders, which simply blew me away. I had no idea such games existed. My family also became addicted, with my sons dragging me in the direction of fantasy and space. My wife and daughter did not share an interest in such fantasy/creature/battle-driven memes, and so I conceived an idea to pursue a theme my wife and daughter did love: Pride and Prejudice and Downton Abbey. I split the difference between Regency and Edwardian England, settling at last in the Victorian 1860s.
  1. Obsession is your first published game listed on BGG. Was this game your first design, or have there been others that haven’t seen the light of day yet?
  • I first attempted a fantasy game (it is still a project), but when my brother (an avid gamer) heard of the Obsession concept, he insisted I pursue it. He believed (and I agree) that it filled a neglected niche in gaming: a heavier Euro with a romantic theme. All other such games we researched were lighter, and my family likes deeply strategic games.
  1. Let’s talk about the design process for a moment. What were some of the most challenging things that you ran into while designing the game? Did you hit any major snags during playtesting that made you have to overhaul any aspects of the game?
  • Oh my. I hit more major snags than I can count. The game as originally conceived in few ways resembles the production version of Obsession. Here’s a comparison between the earliest player board and the final one!

Obsession5Obsession6

  • The most challenging “mechanics” issue I faced was when I had to eliminate EVENTS from the game, which I felt were intensely thematic; events like illness, inheritance, war, favorable laws, fire, death, etc. The problem was they introduced too much randomness into the game; for example, the most skillful play could be devastated by a fire in the player’s manor house. The game really started to take off and reach its final form when I stopped taking major changes personally and focused on the “elegance” of the gameplay.
  • But the largest issue of all was that my prototype reviewed by Rahdo was judged during the crowdfunding campaign to be ugly. This was a hard blow for my ego. I had been so obsessed (pun intended!) by making the mechanics as elegant as possible, that I never thought to give my utilitarian design a facelift before the Kickstarter. After about 48 hours of denial, I reached out to the backers in the campaign and asked them to help me redesign the game completely. It was a difficult but powerful experience, and I owe a debt of gratitude for the support and advice from backers and for the refreshing optimism and sense of community one finds everywhere in the world of board games. Now Obsession is gorgeous; the box art just got recognized for its design, and the game got premium upgrade after premium upgrade, so much so that it now weights 6.5 pounds! Here are the custom meeples (the workers) that came about as part of that project:

Obsession4

  1. The theme has been heralded so far for its integration with the game’s mechanics. For a reader unfamiliar with the game, could you expand a little on how those tie together?
  • When I play other games, I do not like game mechanics that have no thematic basis. I played Panamax yesterday, and even though the theme is strong and unique in that game, most of the actions are completely arbitrary. It’s still a good game, but I think arbitrary mechanics jolt a player out of the theme. One purpose of playing a game is to be transported to a different time and place; clunky, non-thematic mechanics are jarring and hurt that experience. For Obsession, I created a 28-page Glossary which, in part, is designed to show the coherent connection between mechanics and theme. That Glossary includes a history of the love interests in the game and gives thematic reasons for all pieces, icons, and actions. Here is an example (excerpt) from the Glossary:

Obsession3

  1. Were there mechanics that you originally wanted in the game that had to be scrapped because they didn’t work well thematically?
  • The above referenced EVENTS had to be scrapped because they didn’t work well…but they were intensely thematic. I had another mechanic where dice were used to enable a player to host activities (you can see that in the “old” player board above); there was no reason for using dice (other than I love dice manipulation mechanics), and that mechanic had to go because the inherent randomness made no thematic sense. Here’s a prototype tile from that early design phase side by side with the final version:
  1. You’ve married two of our favorite mechanics into the game: deckbuilding and worker placement. Were those always planned to be a part of the game, or did they come about over the course of testing and design? Were there any other games out there that you looked toward for inspiration while designing Obsession?
  • They are favorites of mine, as well, and those mechanics have always been part of the game. However, I changed the deckbuilding from a blind draw (a la Dominion) to active hand management, and that turned out to be a revolutionary improvement. Also, I am proud that I think I’ve invented a worker placement mechanic: players must manage their workers (bulter, housekeeper, underbutler, valets, lady’s maids, footmen) so that they are available to provide service (placement) for both activities hosted and guests invited, and such workers are mandatory. Stated differently, you have a service staff that is busily about the maintaining the country estate and performing the usual domestic chores. These workers cycle in and out of availability. When an elaborate soirée is hosted, the player must manipulate the availability of their domestic servants so that the demands of something like a Music Recital or Grand Ball can be hosted with the style and elegance demanded by the Victorian social elite. So not only does a player place six different types of workers to obtain benefits, they must maintain the right mix of those workers and have them available at the right time…or social events cannot be hosted and reputation will suffer! Here is an example of the workers supporting an Afternoon Ride:

Obsession

  • Dominion inspired the deckbuilding and Stone Age inspired the worker placement on cards. Obsession has moved very, very far away from any Dominion-like mechanic, but the Stone Age mechanic is similar.
  1. Let’s talk solitaire play for a moment: was that always intended to be part of the game, or was it something added over the course of the Kickstarter campaign? I see there are varying levels of difficulty – is this a beat-your-own-score style of experience or is there a win-loss condition to overcome?
  • Honestly, it was added just before the Kickstarter campaign. I had no idea there was such a robust Solitaire community out there, but I learned quickly. However, when I made a move to add it, it was a natural. The central gameplay mechanic of Obsession is the hosting of events, which is an action that takes place independent of one’s competitors. As a result, Obsession naturally lends itself to solitary play. And once I perfected that, I had a wonderful tool for playtesting; whereas I usually had to round up playtesters, now I could bang out a half dozen Solitaire games to test a variation.
  • It is definitely a win-loss Solitaire game. You choose a Solitaire opponent, and that base score is augmented by events during the game. The player’s actions can lead to the Solitaire opponent being harder and harder to beat. It works very well.
  1. Thank you for your time! How can people learn more about you, Kayenta Games, and Obsession: Pride, Intrigue, & Prejudice in Victorian England?
  • My pleasure! Great questions, very insightful. Five tons (!) of games just made it onto two ships headed for the US and UK (EU), and they will reach port in about 5 weeks (ETA, ~ 9/24). Until that time, I am offering discounted pre-orders with fixed shipping. When fulfillment begins, the game will be available online. Details are at https://www.kayentapublishing.com/ and I am happy to answer any questions directly at hallagan@kayentapublishing.com. Thank you!

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Giveaway link:

Obsession Board Game Giveaway

Board Gaming · Worker Placement Month

Fast Placement #1: Snowdonia, The Manhattan Project, Tzolk’in: The Mayan Calendar, Alchemists, BarBEARians

There are more worker placement games out there than could ever be covered in a single month. Even with daily posts, the task would be impossible. So while there are more reviews still sitting in the pipeline, I’m going to have the two posts where I mention a whole host of games and why these particular worker placement games stand out to me as being worth looking into. These are games I haven’t had a chance to play yet, but are on my short list of worker placement games I really want to try.

Be sure to stick around until the end of this post, as there is a giveaway for some digital app codes for Galaxy Trucker, courtesy of Czech Games Edition

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Snowdonia, designed by Tony Boydell. Deluxe by NSKN Games, previously published by Indie Board & Cards and more. 1-5 Players

(Check out the new deluxe Master Set on Kickstarter right now! This game looks incredible, and is the way to get outstanding production value, expansions, and promo cards for a game that already has a ton of existing content out there. The price may seem steep at first glance, but the value based on what will be in this box is ridiculous and well worth every penny being asked: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/nskngames/snowdonia-deluxe-master-set?ref=nav_search&result=project&term=snowdonia )

Game Description from BGG:

The peaks of Snowdonia rise before you, encased in mist, their summits barely visible. The highest is Snowdon (Wyddfa) herself at 1,085 metres. The year is 1894, and the Snowdon Mountain Tramroad and Hotels Company Limited has been formed to build a branch line from Llanberis to the summit. You can scarcely believe it’s possible!

In Snowdonia players represent work gangs providing labour for the construction of the Snowdon Mountain Railway. Unlike other train games you will have to excavate your way up a mountain side, as well as make and lay the track, construct viaducts and stations. All this in competition with the weather of the Welsh mountains (and the game itself)!

You may be assisted by a train (though that’s not always best) and you’ll be able to collect essential materials from the Stock Yard. You will obtain special work contracts that give you bonuses.

Can you contribute more than the other players to the magnificence of the Snowdon Mountain Railway?

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Why it is on my list:

Honestly, this one is here based on the merit of Tony Boydell’s other designs that I have played. I’ve been impressed by the games he has put out, and this is the glaring hole in my plays of his games. Beyond that, I’ve heard excellent things regarding this game from solo gamers and from those who enjoy worker placement games. The theme is interesting, especially after we had such a great time with Coal Baron: The Great Card Game (minor spoiler for that upcoming review…) so I think we’d enjoy building railways in the game.

I’d be curious to know which expansions are considered to be essential by those who have played the game extensively. There are a ton of them, and truckloads of promo cards out there. Even more reason to back that Deluxe Edition on Kickstarter, right? And if that doesn’t appeal to you, there is a pretty good chance that there will be a plethora of Snowdonia on the secondhand market next year, probably right around the time that the deluxe delivers to its backers. Out of all of the worker placement games I haven’t played yet, this one is king in terms of games I really want to try soon. Maybe at Gen Con I can find a way to get in a game of this…

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The Manhattan Project, designed by Brandon Tibbetts. Published by Minion Games. 2-5 Players.

Description from BGG:

Global Power Struggle Begins
Which nation will take the lead and become world’s dominant superpower?

The Manhattan Project makes you the leader of a great nation’s atomic weapons program in a deadly race to build bigger and better bombs. You must assign your workers to multiple projects: building your bomb-making infrastructure, expending your military to protect it, or sending your spies to steal your rival’s hard work!

You alone control your nation’s destiny. You choose when to send out your workers–and when to call them back. Careful management and superior strategy will determine the winner of this struggle. So take charge and secure your nation’s future!

Additional description:

The Manhattan Project is a low-luck, mostly open information efficiency game in which players compete to build and operate the most effective atomic bomb program. Players do not “nuke” each other, but conventional air strikes are allowed against facilities.

The game features worker placement with a twist: there are no rounds and no end-of-round administration. Players retrieve their workers when they choose to or are forced to (by running out).

An espionage action allows a player to activate and block an opponent’s building, representing technology theft and sabotage.

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Why it is on this list:

Two words: no rounds. That in itself interests me, even though we’ve now played a few games (like Euphoria: Build a Better Dystopia) that have that same sort of format where you spend your turn recalling workers. This also screams of having more direct player interaction with the espionage action, which is something I like in a game. One of the many reasons that Argent: The Consortium is currently my favorite Worker Placement game is because of the ability to zap your opponent’s workers, after all.

While the theme itself has no appeal to us, a lot of aspects of the game’s mechanics speak to us as games. Low-luck, “mostly” open information…those speak well to the experience that we can expect with this game. There’s a reason that there have been sequels to this game, and we should start our Manhattan Project experience right and try out the one that started it all.

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Tzolk’in: The Mayan Calendar, designed by Simone Luciani and Daniele Tascini. Published by Czech Games Edition. 2-4 Players.

Description from BGG:

Tzolkin: The Mayan Calendar presents a new game mechanism: dynamic worker placement. Players representing different Mayan tribes place their workers on giant connected gears, and as the gears rotate they take the workers to different action spots.

During a turn, players can either (a) place one or more workers on the lowest visible spot of the gears or (b) pick up one or more workers. When placing workers, they must pay corn, which is used as a currency in the game. When they pick up a worker, they perform certain actions depending on the position of the worker. Actions located “later” on the gears are more valuable, so it’s wise to let the time work for you – but players cannot skip their turn; if they have all their workers on the gears, they have to pick some up.

The game ends after one full revolution of the central Tzolkin gear. There are many paths to victory. Pleasing the gods by placing crystal skulls in deep caves or building many temples are just two of those many paths…

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Why it is on this list:

Oh please, as if there is something more to this placement than those rotating gears! I’ve seen the game played. I’ve heard it talked about. Often. I’ve had local gamers tell me I need to play this and, well, it hasn’t happened yet. It needs to happen. I know it needs to happen. To add to the personal hype, Heavy Cardboard recently reviewed the game and had great things to say about it as well. All signs point to this being a game we’ll really enjoy with a mechanic that is going to set it apart from any game in our collection.

(Fun post to share, courtesy of CGE: https://www.facebook.com/CzechGames/photos/a.431323206905142.91230.421376374566492/1366072243430229/?type=3&theater)

Okay, let’s be serious for a moment. Those gears are what make this game stand out, and even moreso when painted. Have you painted your gears? Let’s see some pictures of them! Also, tell me what we’re missing out on…maybe you’ll convince us to beg for a game of this even faster.

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Alchemists, designed by Matus Kotry. Published by Czech Games Edition. 2-4 Players.

Game description from BGG:

In Alchemists, two to four budding alchemists compete to discover the secrets of their mystical art. Points can be earned in various ways, but most points are earned by publishing theories – correct theories, that is — and therein lies the problem.

The game is played in six rounds. At the beginning of the round, players choose their play order. Those who choose to play later get more rewards.
Players declare all their actions by placing cubes on the various action spaces, then each action space is evaluated in order. Players gain knowledge by mixing ingredients and testing the results using a smartphone app (iOS, Android, and also Windows) that randomizes the rules of alchemy for each new game. And if the alchemists are longing for something even more special, they can always buy magical artifacts to get an extra push. There are 9 of them (different for each game) and they are not only very powerful, but also very expensive. But money means nothing, when there’s academic pride at stake! And the possession of these artifacts will definitely earn you some reputation too. Players can also earn money by selling potions of questionable quality to adventurers, but money is just a means to an end. The alchemists don’t want riches, after all. They want respect, and respect usually comes from publishing theories.

During play, players’ reputations will go up and down. After six rounds and a final exhibition, reputation will be converted into points. Points will also be scored for artifacts and grants. Then the secrets of alchemy are revealed and players score points or lose points based on whether their theories were correct. Whoever has the most points at the end of the game wins.

Flavor text:
Mandrake root and scorpion tail; spongy mushroom and warty toad — these are the foundations of the alchemist’s livelihood, science, and art.

But what arcane secrets do these strange ingredients hide? Now it is time to find out. Mix them into potions and drink them to determine their effects — or play it safe and test the concoction on a helpful assistant! Gain riches selling potions to wandering adventurers and invest these riches in powerful artifacts. As your knowledge grows, so will your reputation, as you publish your theories for all to see. Knowledge, wealth, and fame can all be found in the murky depths of the alchemist’s cauldron.

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Why it is on this list:

One content creator put this on my radar: The Board Boys Podcast. Their episode on the game introduced me to a game I honestly hadn’t even heard about before, and that was enough to convince me to give it a shot at some point. This game sounds so unique, from the use of an iOS app as a key component of gameplay to the points being based on reputation and theories (correct theories, that is).

Fantasy themes speak to me, and while I’m not too big on Alchemy this game promises to deliver an experience that will stand out from the crowd. Will it be a game we should own? That is hard to say – I could see the iOS and the theory-crafting being a huge miss for her even if I really enjoy it. But it is definitely a game that has my interest and needs to be played.

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BarBEARians, designed by Walter Barber and Ian VanNest. Published by Greenbrier Games. 2-4 Players.

Game Description from BGG:

BarBEARians is a simultaneous secret-action, dice-puzzle, worker placement game for up to four players. Become one of four clans of adorable bear-warriors out to build the best neighbearhood in the forest! Don’t expect this to be a picnic: your bears aren’t the only ones fishing for glory, so be prepared to ward off attacks from your furry rivals. By gathering resources, pillaging your neighbears’ villages, and developing your home turf, the tale of your clan will become legend. Are your bears worthy enough to be every cub’s bedtime story for generations to come? It’s time to gather your clan, bear down, and hold on to your honey.

(For a lot more, check out this page: http://press.greenbriergames.com/sheet.php?p=project_barbearians)

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Why it is on this list:

I’ll admit, this one is probably going to look like the black sheep of the lot here. That’s because it was a game I discovered by accident while looking into whether or not Grimslingers was a deckbuilding game (it isn’t) for my upcoming Deckbuilding Month. While looking through the rest of their catalog, I came across this cutesy-looking game about bears using worker placement, secret (and simultaneous!) action selection, and a little bit of dice rolling (which I won’t tell my wife about that until she’s ready to play…because it isn’t just a little bit but it is all done at the start so you know what you’ve got for the round) in the mechanics.

Words like glory and raiding stand out to me as being very Viking-like. In fact, you could probably replace the bear theme with burly Viking warriors and have the same game. While it will have some randomness due to die-rolls, this promises to provide a fast-paced, heavy-interaction game where you’re allocating your workers onto your home board spaces. If you want a family-friendly game where you’re working to raid your opponents, this one looks like it could be a ton of fun.

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Enter to win a redemption code for a copy of Galaxy Trucker’s app:

Galaxy Trucker App Codes