Review for Two

Review for Two: Burning Rome

Thank you for checking review #88 by Cardboard Clash. My aim is to focus on reviewing board games and how they play for two people and, on occasion, how they play for one person. Because my wife is my primary gaming partner, a lot of consideration goes into finding those games that play well with 2 players, and we typically prefer to find those games that do not require a variant (official or otherwise) in order to play it with just the two of us.

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

An overview of Burning Rome

Burning Rome is a board game designed by Emil Larsen that was published in 2018 by SunTzu Games. The box states it plays 2-4 players in 15-30 minutes.

Burning Rome is a quick tactical card game about leading your ancient armies to victory over your enemies.

The game involves:

Deck-construction – Build an army from a roster of 54 different units, generals, tactics and auxiliaries.

Tactical card placement – Deploy your units on the battlefield to maximize their damage and defenses.

Special abilities – Use tactics and unit abilities to manipulate your deck, stats and mechanics.

Can you neutralize the enemy’s war elephants? Do you prefer slow advance in all columns or will you imitate Hannibal’s outflanking maneuvers? These choice are just the beginning – as your armies’ strengths and weaknesses are tested in combat.

Game modes:

Ancient battles – Put yourself in the shoes of history’s greatest generals in some of the most iconic battles of the ancient world.

Quick battles – Master your deck-construction skills and fight short intense battles with other players using any faction at your disposal.)

Burning Rome was created to simulate historical accurate synergies and plausible confrontation between soldiers and armies of the ancient era. Developed by a military mindset to be enjoyed by regular gamers.

My Thoughts

 The gameplay for Burning Rome makes it fall firmly into filler territory, with matches usually lasting in the 10-15 minute range. This allows Burning Rome to be the game that can be pulled out when pressed for time – such as while waiting for people to arrive at, or for a game to end during, a game day – or played with multiple battles in a single session. Its fast setup and reset also encourages this, assuming you are not modifying decks between games.

 The strongest thing about Burning Rome is the number of cards contained in the box. Each side will use roughly 15 cards for a game, and there are over 200 cards in the box (divided among four distinct historical factions) to provide a ton of opportunity to construct and tweak unique decks to use for each game. The deck construction rules are fairly easy to understand and follow, making it simple to progress into making your own decks for the battles.

 The game is a quick and easy teach, with low rules overhead. That makes this game easy to get to the table with new players, as well as easy to pick back up even if it has been months between plays. A lower barrier to entry means this can have a wider appeal and in theory could enable it to hit the table more often.

 For those not inclined to construct their own decks, there are plenty of opportunities in the Ancient Battles booklet to use a variety of decks against each other. So even if you cringe at the idea of making a deck of your own, there is plenty of value and gameplay to be found in here.

 The card quality and artwork is fantastic. Enough said about that, right? You’re getting a good product for your purchase here.

 Conflict resolution is simple, adding the attack values on one side and comparing them to defense values on the other. Players can usually tell at a glance where they stand at each skirmish line, and a limit on units for each line helps make sure that no one area dominates the other. However, since there is a limit on units and those units never get destroyed, placing a unit in the wrong location can mean the difference between victory and defeat. And if your opponent gets out a card you have no answer for in your hand, that one skirmish can lead to devastating effects.

 The abilities on cards are interesting, and have several types of abilities that can appear. They are useful, yet once you deploy another unit in that skirmish line that ability gets covered up. This means you need to give some consideration to how to order your troops, as the top-most unit also uses a different set of attack and defense values than the troops below them. But not being able to adjust the order of the troops can be detrimental, especially if you need that unit to be among the covered units for the better stats while keeping the better ability uncovered.

 The game is far too tactical for what I would have expected in this box. Especially considering the amount of variability it offers with deck construction. Yes, I know, the game’s description tauts it as a tactical gameplay but I had hoped for at least a little more strategy in the game. Units are rarely able to be redeployed, nor can they be reordered to uncover buried abilities when necessary. It becomes a challenge to get the cards you need, if they aren’t drawn in your opening turn or two, and the game ends far too quickly to make any changes necessary to adapt to your opponent if they get an early advantage. Thankfully the games are always relatively fast, allowing for a quick rematch after a brutal defeat, but too much is able to be decided within the first two rounds between placement and the cards you draw into your hand.

Final Thoughts

Burning Rome is one of those games that is hard to pinpoint my exact thoughts about. On one hand, I love the concept, the artwork, the rapid playtime, and the ability for deck/faction customization. On the other hand, in order for this game to shine it requires that deck customization for a game that will play in 10-15 minutes. Unfortunately, that investment falls short of the actual gameplay results, providing a game ripe with opportunity and potential that fails to live up to what it could have been.

The randomness in the card draw, even with such a small deck, has led to games where one side runs away with things long before the other side can get to any of the key cards. Because the game is so short, much of the battle is decided by that opening hand of cards. There is too little time to pivot and recover from a poor start, and little freedom to adapt to your opponent’s strategies and deployments. This makes the game almost entirely tactile, and dumping a ton of bodies out onto the board to overwhelm an area or two can be difficult to overcome.

And this is where the deck construction is supposed to step in and help fill in that gap, allowing players to adapt between games and shape theoretically balanced decks that can be designed to counteract your opponent’s preferred strategies and strengths. Yet the gameplay is too fast and furious, while also being furiously dependent on the right card draw, to really encourage players to dive in so deep. If you could, rather than drawing a random card, take any card in your deck then it might make things a step in the right direction. After all, a battle general knows their armies and tactics and can deploy troops as needed to make the right strategies play out. Altering that one aspect, and thus eliminating the randomness, would make this game far more interesting and encourage deeper exploration from its players. It would likely increase the playtime by a fair chunk, not only because of the added decision of what card to pull into your hand but because it would discourage the dumping of armies strategy since the opponent would then have all of the information and could counteract accordingly.

For such a beautiful presentation with a great premise, Burning Rome fell short of what I had hoped to find in the box. However, it is still a game I did enjoy for the short time it was on the table each time. I always wished it had been a little longer for playtime, a sign that I was eager for more, but I also found myself wishing there was just a little more involved for long-term strategy rather than being a wholly tactical skirmish. However, if the idea of lightning-fast skirmish battles and the deck construction with an ancient warfare theme are appealing to you, then you may find Burning Rome to be catered more toward your personal tastes. It is by no means a bad or flawed game, but rather one that delivers an experience that was different than what I hoped to discover in the box.

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Review for Two

Review for Two: Crusaders: Thy Will Be Done

Thank you for checking review #87 by Cardboard Clash. My aim is to focus on reviewing board games and how they play for two people and, on occasion, how they play for one person. Because my wife is my primary gaming partner, a lot of consideration goes into finding those games that play well with 2 players, and we typically prefer to find those games that do not require a variant (official or otherwise) in order to play it with just the two of us.

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

An overview of Crusaders, Thy Will Be Done

Crusaders, Thy Will Be Done is a board game designed by Seth Jaffee that
was published in 2018 by Tasty Minstrel Games. The box states it plays 2-4 players in 40-60 minutes.

Move your knights, erect buildings, and go crusading to spread the influence of your Order. When the Orders get too strong, King Philip will become nervous and disband all Templar orders, ending the game.

Crusaders: Thy Will Be Done uses a combination of rondel and mancala mechanisms. Each player has their own rondel, which they can upgrade over the course of the game, that controls their action choices during the game. Your faction gives you a special power to control your rondel, and the buildings you erect will help you form a strategy.

My Thoughts

 The real star of this game, for me, is the rondel mancala mechanism. It provides room to plan ahead, especially as you try and eek out the actions without wasting excess power on them (which can be quite challenging to do!) while at the same time making sure the next few things you want to do are getting enough action power allocated for when you need them. It is fun and brilliant at the same time, and I really enjoy this aspect of the game more than anything else about Crusaders.

 A rare thing to mention here, but this game is such a breeze to teach. The rulebook is clear, and the choices you have are all relatively straightforward. It takes about as long to teach as it does to set the game up, which is in the 5-10 minute range. There is something to be said for a game that lacks rules bloat, allowing the mechanisms of the game to leap into the spotlight.

 Another rare mention, but the components in the retail version were impressive. Thick wooden components for the buildings and knights. Really thick cardboard for the tokens and influence and player rondels. It was enough to be something that caught my attention while unboxing and punching out the game. I don’t even know what the deluxified version adds, but this is a rare game that honestly comes in retail with excellent components all around.

 The player mancalas aren’t printed on the player board, which is great because it opened things up for some new approaches here. Not only is there the ability to upgrade a slice of the rondel, making that space have two actions instead of only one, but it also allows players to tinker with different layouts (either to where everyone uses that layout, or so that everyone has a different layout). It was a small decision, but one with a big impact on the game.

 I like the bonus tiles on the map for buildings, providing either discounts or extra influence to specific buildings. Even more, I love that these are randomized every game. And yet even more, in a 2-player game there are a good number of territories that have two of those tokens on there. Nothing is more satisfying than building a building at -1 cost and gaining an extra 3 influence.

 The unique player powers are something that I really love here, as it gives everyone a different approach toward the game. Some are as simple as boosting a specific movement and adding or removing action tokens, while others change the way a player can redistribute those action tokens after using an action. I have a hard time believing they are all balanced, as some feel stronger than others, but it definitely makes things fun and interesting for the individual player.

 You’re never going to have enough time to accomplish everything you desire. In two of my games, I didn’t even get a Tier 4 building out. It is frustrating to have the game end suddenly, yet at the same time it is the ideal time for it to end. Like any good engine builder, you want the player to get to that max potential and have a turn or two of efficiency. Not half the game. So while this game does engine building right, you may get frustrated by being so close (and yet so far) from something you planned to execute early in the game.

 Set collection in this one is not as pronounced as I expected, although it may be more noticeable with 4 players. You are trying to have the majority in each of the three enemy tokens. I’ve found that every game has at least one, and usually two, of these are tied for the most which means those players get a smaller amount and there is no 2nd place scoring. With two, it is likely that you’ll tie on one, and each player takes a different one, meaning those points are essentially a wash. It also motivates you to not completely ignore things, though, as up to 15 points could be a critical swing in scoring.

 While the game scales well enough at all player counts, even having a new map just for the 2-player game, it becomes far too easy in that 2-player game to witness each player just working their own tasks. The map is large enough still that you never need to compete for the same territory, the pool of points is small enough to trigger the game’s end long before either player has peaked their engine, and most things take several rounds to build up to so even if your opponent is poised to take a territory and drive up the strength of those enemy tokens, you have ample time to either react before they execute or modify your plans slightly to take a path that is equally beneficial. There is some interaction, but it completely depends on the players and whether you want to each pursue your goals and the best at doing it wins, or if you want to actively try and swoop in their path to frustrate their plans. If you hear area control and think you’ll be fighting the other players, you’ll be in for a major disappointment.

Final Thoughts

Crusaders, Thy Will Be Done is a game I immediately had an interest in upon the game’s announcement. I love Medieval themes, and the Crusades are a pretty significant event during that period. Unfortunately, the game’s theme does not come across as being a significant part of the game, even though the flavoring is all there. It is a euro game with light area control and some set collection sprinkled in for flavor, but most of what you are doing in this game does not feel like crusading. However, this game does have some really solid mechanisms, the aspect of a game that is far more important in terms of it hitting the table again and again.

I’ve played Trajan, which does something very different with the rondel mancala, and have found that I enjoy them both. This is definitely a more straightforward approach, lending itself to quick turns and a lot less analysis paralysis than Trajan. The asymmetric factions provides minor tweaks that can significantly alter the gameplay in fresh and exciting ways yet could also make it feel like a loss or win happened due to having a more effective power. I haven’t played the factions enough to know they are balanced against each other, but from what I’ve witnessed there are definitely some that feel better and more efficient than others.

At its heart, this is an engine-building euro game with a light splash of “dudes on a map” to get some area control feel in there. You are definitely competing for spaces and for taking off those enemy tokens, yet there is only so much you can do to interfere with your opponent. It isn’t like you can go in and ransack that castle they just spent a few turns building up to placing on the board. Nor is there much you can do, other than drive the “price” up on the token’s strength, to slow them down. Which is perhaps why this game reminds me of engine builders like Race for the Galaxy or Oh My Goods!. I’m not trying to destroy what you are doing, but rather find a way to do things more efficiently than anyone else at the table. Considering Race and Goods are both Top 10 games for me, that actually could be considered a good thing about this game and why it feels like a game I’d never want to part with.

More games should integrate a rondel mancala mechanic, as I absolutely love that mechanism in both Crusaders and in Trajan – even though they are pretty different in execution. That is the feature of this game which helps to set it apart from the pile of games in a collection, and the one that provides an excellent puzzle each and every turn. Combine that with lightning-fast turns and game length at 2 players and this is something we could easily play a best-of-three of during a week night…something I hadn’t expected. That 40-minute play time isn’t accurate, at least not when I’ve played with 2. I taught the game to a friend and we still finished in about 30 minutes with that teach. The second game went closer to 25. In both games we felt equally confident that we were doing well. In both games there was a 20-point gap at the end between our scores.

All in all, this is a game that is going to remain fixed in my collection for years to come. The gameplay is fresh and exciting and has me itching to play it again and again – something I am coming to value more and more as the Cult of the New continues to sweep over the hobby and gamers appear to play a game only a few times before moving on to the next new hotness. This has the appeal to hit the table regularly, both with 2 players and with more.

Review for Two · Two-Player Only

Review for Two – Haven

Thank you for checking review #86 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 Haven

Haven is a board game designed by Alf Seegert that was published in 2018 by Red Raven Games. The box states it plays 2 players in 30-45 minutes.

The mystical forest has been home and haven to beasts, spirits, and forgotten gods for thousands of years. While the Haven Guardian slumbers, a nearby human village has grown into a city, hungry to control the powers of the forest. Can the forest creatures discover enough potent lore to defend their ancient home from the oppressive city — or will the city use this lore to power their machines and turn the forest against itself?

The battle for Haven begins!

In Haven, you and your opponent battle for control of a mystical forest. The Haven Guardian, spirit of the forest, sleeps deeply and can no longer protect its kingdom. One of you controls the city in an effort to master the vulnerable forest using “stone lore” and machines. The other plays as the forest and its creatures who defend their home with the aid of “leaf lore” and forest spirits.

To obtain the power needed to oppose your enemy, you must send seekers to compete for the lore controlled by elementals, ancient beings who bestow the lore on those who seek it. Seekers also engage in combat for control of shrines on the board, scoring you bonus points if you occupy a majority of shrines surrounding forest havens. When one type of lore is depleted or one elemental has left the board, the Haven Guardian awakens and the player with the higher score masters the forest — or defends it from harm — and wins the game.

My Thoughts

 Asymmetric games are always going to catch my interest, and this one does it well enough. There are a few differences on each side in terms of the card distribution, and these are where the differing of strategies comes into play. Especially since you’re resolving for two things with every battle: weaponry for control of the Shrine being fought over and Lore for control of the Lore Token. The City is favored in weaponry for overall distribution in their Seeker deck and wins ties for that category, while the Forest has a stronger Lore base available and wins ties for that category. While both are important to secure end game points and bonuses, it is good to go in knowing where you are stronger so you can focus your strategy overall around that aspect.

 This game rewards planning ahead, as there are three different decks to draw from for each player, and all of them are important in different ways. Because you must play an Offering at the end of each turn, that becomes the biggest choice after the first few turns, as it will become mandatory to draw an Offering card if you have none in your hand. And if you wait until your hand is empty and take that draw at the end of your turn, you will forfeit control of where you play an offering or will possibly need to spend both draws on this deck in hope of catching the offering you want (or avoiding the one you really need to delay). Couple this with each Offering deck having three “play immediately” cards in there, one for each elemental, and those Offering draws could potentially trigger the resolution of an elemental now instead of at the end of your opponent’s next turn.

 Speaking of resolution, I like how the other player (usually) has the chance to react on their turn before a triggered elemental resolves. Generally you’ll have time to see the lines getting drawn on all three fronts as the turns go back and forth, and have one last chance to steal one or both victories when your opponent drops that third Offering down.

 Speaking of resolving, there is another great element at work here because the loser of the combat gets to choose the next Haven that elemental will move to. Even better is the opportunity to keep one of your Seeker cards in play at that Lore Token if you end up losing both the combat and the Lore resolutions. In a game where actions are few on your turn, being able to keep a card out as a consolation prize can be really critical for winning the next resolution there.

 Another great design here is that Seeker cards are played face-down at a Lore Token when played from your hand. You almost always will want to play them from your hand to have this fog of war effect, but that means one of your two draws (or both draws) will need to be from that deck to maintain that pace. Which means you aren’t drawing other cards. You can always spend an action to place the top Seeker card from your deck into play, but you must announce the Lore Token they are placed onto beforehand, and the Seeker is placed face-up. Which leads into…

 The Lore Tokens have numbers on them, which you might think are their victory point value. You’d be wrong, as each token is only worth 1 point (but the higher sum on Tokens collected at the end for each type will get bonus points). That number is the maximum Lore value you can have at a Lore Token battlefield on your side. Which makes playing a random Seeker a risky move at times, as a Lore Value that is too big could possibly leave you in a position to lose it all.

 As per the norm with anything by Red Raven Games, the artwork on here is phenomenal. Seriously, this is a game that is simply good to look at.

 The Lore Power cards, in general, are hit or miss on their usefulness. They come at a pretty high price, since you not only need to spend a draw to take one, but then also spend an action on a future turn to play one. Drawing a Lore Power means you are seeing fewer Seeker cards in your hand, or risking a future turn where you might be forced to play whatever Offering card you draw blindly. This payoff is acceptable when you draw a Lore Power that is useful to your situation – but there are definitely times when they simply sit and clog a hand for most of the game waiting for that “right time” to use that action and it never comes. I love them in theory, and I am glad they are part of this game, but sometimes the better play is going to be to draw another Seeker so you can have more choices and play them face-down onto the Lore Token.

 Minor nitpick here, but the Elemental Standees can be annoying because they can make it easy to miss seeing another Shrine location adjacent to a Haven. I’ve had this happen several times already where I thought a resolution was to ultimately gain control of a Shrine and a Haven and been wrong.

 I feel like the Havens should all have an odd number of Shrines attached to them. The ones with 4 Shrines are by far the hardest to complete, because you need to claim 3/4 of the Shrines in order to get that Haven. This means that the end of the game typically has 4-6 of the 10 Havens actually under a player’s control, even though all but 2 Shrines have been claimed.

Final Thoughts

Haven is one of those games that you cannot figure out which is more appealing: the stunning artwork or the brilliant gameplay. This game is delightful because it contains them both, all packaged into a tight 2-player experience that plays in 30-45 minutes. That makes this a prime candidate for a game night during the week when we are pressed for time, as we often are these days, or for a best-of-three challenge because we’re almost always looking for a repeat play once the first match is finished.

At every junction of the game there are decisions presented to the player that can add up to serious consequences. Deciding what unit card to deploy and to which of the three elemental fronts, or whether to gamble on one from the top of the deck, can have incredible impact on the tactical and strategic outcome of the game. Deciding what two cards to draw, and when to take those Offering cards in order to maintain some decisions about which is played at the end of your turn, is such a crucial choice each and every turn. Having those three decks remain separate, rather than all shuffled together, is part of what provides these tough and meaningful decisions. Add in the timing of resolving each battle for the Elemental, combined with the light area control flavor from the board, and you have all the ingredients for a memorable game.

There is a delightful balance of everything in Haven. Not balanced as in one side versus the other, although they definitely feel like there is a tight balance there, but balance regarding how everything interlocks together. Most frequently a game as ambitious as this, with a smattering of a few mechanisms into the gameplay, has parts that either feel bloated and unnecessary or parts that feel underdeveloped to the detriment of the gameplay. My experience so far with Haven is that everything meshes together so well to provide a fun, memorable, and unique game that I cannot wait to get back to the table once more.

In an era of Marie Kondo auctions flooding the marketplace as people evaluate the bloat on their shelves, Haven stands strong with a few other games in my collection that are remarkable and highly unlikely to ever be cut from my collection. This game holds a high spot on my list of 2-player only games, especially given the reasonable footprint and quick yet engaging play time for Haven. And let’s not forget the incredible Ryan Laukat artwork, which only enhances the entire package of the experience. This game is almost as far from the chopping block as a game can be on my shelf, and is surprisingly my favorite Alf Seegert game to date – an honor I expected Fantastiqa to hold – all of which should testify to how much I truly enjoyed this game. If you are on the lookout for a great 2-player game, this is definitely one to consider and is among the best games released in 2018.

Review for Two

Review for Two – Millennium Blades

Thank you for checking review #84 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 Millennium Blades

Millennium Blades is a board game designed by D. Brad Talton Jr. that was published in 2015 by Level 99 Games. The box states it plays 2-5 players in 80-120 minutes.

Millennium Blades is a CCG-Simulator — A game in which you play as a group of friends who play the fictional CCG “Millennium Blades”.

In this game you will build decks, play the meta, acquire valuable collections, crack open random boosters, and compete in tournaments for prizes and fame. The game takes you from Starter Deck to Regionals in about 2-3 hours.

Multiple games can also be chained together to form a Campaign, going from Regionals to Nationals in game 2 and from Nationals to Worlds in game 3, with each game introducing ever more powerful cards and higher stakes, but also resetting the power of the game so that each player has a fair chance to win each ‘season’ of the campaign.

The game draws heavily on Manga/Anime inspiration for its art, and parodies Magic: the Gathering, Yugioh, and many other collectible games.

At its heart, it’s a commodity trading game, except that instead of cubes or stocks, the things you’ll be buying, selling, and speculating on are trading cards that can be used throughout the game in periodic tournaments. By trading wisely, playing the market, working together with friends, building collections, and winning tournaments, you’ll secure points and become the Millennium Blades World Champion.

The game features a system of card pods, where you will play with about 400 of the base game’s 600 cards every game.

My Thoughts

It shouldn’t be possible for a self-contained game to emulate the experience of a CCG, yet this defies all expectations. I’ll dig a little into each aspect after this, but they all work together to provide a comprehensive experience that has completely replaced any desire to dive back into a collectible card game. That makes the money spent on this game worth its weight in gold, as far as I am concerned, as it is far better to throw my money at a fixed product than at randomized boosters.

The abstracted process of opening booster packs is done well here. Sure, we all know that a deck of competitive cards is probably going to have a mix of common and uncommon cards that complement those super-powerful rare cards. But they made the right choice here to make it where you’re seeing the rare card in the pack that you purchase. Not all rares are made equal, making it almost like you’re building a good blend of those types of cards. In fact, they have a great representation among each set, making it so you can get an idea of what you might pull from that pack and, if you learn to read those icons on the pack, you’ll also have an idea of the odds of getting that card you want from the set. The process of buying and “opening” these packs is done really well, and it also has plenty of room for those who want to learn the card pool in order to make even better choices while seeking the right cards for your deck.

The timed portion of the game was the thing I was most skeptical about going into the game, but it turns out that it adds the right amount of tension and excitement to the process of collecting cards and building your deck. 20 minutes sounds like a TON of time, but it flies right by when broken down into the 7 minute and 6 minute segments. Add in new cards, trying to figure out what combos you have, seeing what sort of cards you may need, starting a collection, and then purchasing cards…well, there is a lot to do in those real-time sections. I’m yet to feel like I didn’t have enough time to make everything happen, but I also have never had so much time left that it felt wasteful. I think they nailed the precise timeframe in here, and honestly this is the time when players are their most engaged because everyone is busy working with what is in front of them. If it was turn-based instead, this part would be such a slog that it would make the game take forever.

While it is arguably the weaker component of the game, the tournament is still an interesting aspect of Millennium Blades. There are several strategies that can be pursued in constructing a deck, and with the multiplayer game there is plenty of opportunity to react to your opponent for the next tournament. If they have a lot of card flipping effects, you’ll want to keep things that unflip your cards or protect your cards. If they clash a lot, you’ll want things that focus on bonuses during a clash or have higher star values. Because there are three tournament phases, each with a full deckbuilding segment in between, there is a lot of table meta going on where you try and determine if your opponent is going to keep their winning deck mostly in-tact, trying to patch on some stronger cards for that same strategy or if they are going to bring something completely new, since they know that you are likely to build a deck to stop the one that just won in that tournament. This is one of the most fun aspects that takes place over the course of a game – and if you play regularly with a group you’ll develop your own meta just like you find in a regular CCG group.

Just like there are multiple deck types that can be built for the tournament, there are also multiple paths to victory outside of the 2-player game (which is essentially just first to win 2 out of 3 tournaments) since there are points awarded for money, tournament ranking, collections, and more. This makes it so that even someone who isn’t as good at building amazing deck combos can play and enjoy the game, feeling as though they aren’t necessarily at a crippling disadvantage if they lose every tournament.

This game is pun-tastic. Seriously, between the names of the sets, the artwork, and the individual card names…this is going to win the heart of anyone who has any inkling about the items contained in the game. And odds are, there are at least a few sets that speak to you pretty well. I’m not expecting any to top the Lightning Bug set for me, as this loyal Browncoat loves that ‘Verse created by Joss Whedon. Adding to the tongue-in-cheek is the usage of stacks of cash for the game currency. Nothing feels more accurate than tossing down five thick bundles of cash to get the one pack that might just have that perfect card for your deck. For a seriously good game, it has a really light-hearted approach that I find appealing.

The store stack is hilarious. Literally a massive stack of cards that is impossible for any human to shuffle properly. I like the towering stack, but I hate trying to shuffle it. Not to mention tearing it apart at the end of a game. That is why I tend to use the same stack for several games in a row, so that I don’t have to sort things back out as often.

There is so much stuff that goes into the game that it makes precise planning nearly impossible. That tower of market cards? Highly unlikely you’ll get through much of it, even over the course of 3 deckbuilding sequences. If you had 5 players, maybe, but not with 1-2. Which means even if you know what sets are in the market and what cards are in each set, there is no way to guarantee you can get the card you need for that combo you are aiming for. That is both a strength and a negative in this game, even though this appears as a negative. There is a high level of randomness in what you’ll purchase, regardless of how well you know the game. However, that is also a good thing because it forces you to adapt and build unique strategies around what you DO have rather than what you wish you had drawn.

Final Thoughts

Millennium Blades is the game I never knew I always wanted. I’ve spent periods of time in my life pursuing collectible card games, always enjoying the thrill of opening new packs and trying to piece together an effective and cohesive deck – but every time I’ve soured on them due to the insane release schedules and the buy-in that would be required to feel remotely competitive. The collectible card games price me out as a player, and that is where this excellent game steps in to provide exactly what I need: the simulation of those experiences without the quarterly spending of hundreds of dollars to chase the last cards needed to complete a collection or finish the engine of a deck. This game is delightful in scratching that same itch in a way that you simply don’t expect going into the game – even after hearing word-of-mouth vouching for the CCG simulation experience.

Normally I am not a fan of real-time aspects of games, with Galaxy Trucker being the one game that managed to do it well enough to draw me into the game. I wasn’t sure how I would like that in this one – but it turns out I shouldn’t have been too concerned. It is honestly the star of the show in terms of gameplay. Nothing is more exciting than that first 7 minutes of trying to look through your first batch of cards, see potential combos, look at what is currently possible from the market, throw down stacks of cash, and then reveal the cards you just purchased. WIthout a timer this part could drag on forever. Often times the length of the segments feel just right – other times it feels a little too long (which you can always end it early if all players are ready). While I wish the tournament phase was a little meatier in the decisions, it still provides a fun and interesting experience and there is plenty of room for unique deck playstyles among all players. The tournament as it is now is perfect for the level of involvement you’ll already have in this game – anything more would cause so much analysis paralysis can probably would be a detriment to the overall gameplay experience to all but the most hardcore Millennium Blades players.

It is no secret that I enjoy a lot of the Level 99 Games titles. I’m yet to encounter a game of theirs that I actively dislike, and many of their games are among my top games. I’ll never turn down a chance to play BattleCON, Exceed, or Pixel Tactics against another player. Argent: The Consortium remains my favorite worker placement game and a top-10 game for me. However, Millennium Blades might just be my favorite game produced by Level 99 Games, and that is saying something right there. It definitely is their best game overall, providing an experience that is unrivaled by anything on the market short of plunging into a CCG. And consider that you can get this game and everything released for it for about the price of two boxes of your standard CCG cards. That’s likely less than it would cost to complete a set of cards from one cycle of those CCG games, and you’ll get an all-in experience that is sure to delight.

Whether considering the witty puns that litter the card pool, the amazing artwork of Fabio Fontes, or the solid mechanics of the game – everything in the box delivers in the right way. I do wish there were more competitive modes for just 2 players, and I wish there were more bosses out there for solo play, but even with what I have now I would be content to revisit this game time and time again in my collection. And with one more massive expansion on its way in Collusion (coming to Kickstarter this month!), that is sure to expand this game to a point where I’ll never need (but will still want) more content no matter how many times this hits the table.

Board Gaming · Review for Two · Two-Player Only

Review for Two – Holmes and Moriarty

Thank you for checking review #83 by Cardboard Clash. My aim is to focus on reviewing board games and how they play for two people and, on occasion, how they play for one person. Because my wife is my primary gaming partner, a lot of consideration goes into finding those games that play well with 2 players, and we typically prefer to find those games that do not require a variant (official or otherwise) in order to play it with just the two of us.

**Note: The publisher provided a review copy in exchange for an honest review.

An overview of Holmes and Moriarty

Holmes and Moriarty is a board game designed by Brad Lackey and Joshua Tempkin that was published in 2018 by Escape Velocity Games. The box states it plays 2 players in 30-45 minutes.

“… If a detailed account of that silent contest could be written, it would take its place as the most brilliant bit of thrust-and-parry work in the history of detection.”
-Sherlock Holmes to Dr. Watson in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Final Problem”.

Professor Moriarty is almost ready to enact his nefarious plan! Sherlock Holmes suspects that something is about to happen, but he doesn’t know the details. As Moriarty’s crimes set the final pieces into place, Holmes desperately searches London for the clues he needs to foil his nemesis. London’s greatest intellects go head to head in this intense battle of wits!

Holmes & Moriarty is an asymmetric two-player drafting game in which players take on these iconic roles. Over a series of hands, players try to win “cases” by drafting crimes and clues drawn from Conan Doyle’s stories. Players mark their winning positions on the scenario board. If Moriarty can score three in a row, he can activate his master plan for the win! If Holmes can foil Moriarty’s plans, he wins!

—description from the publisher

My Thoughts

 This game has a clever decision in having each player play out cards face-down in two rows and having the card in one row be key for Holmes and the other be key for Moriarty. It opens things for some interesting decisions that need to be made in terms of where your stronger cards should go – not only to try and win the contest in that case but also to be able to mark on the board where you need.

 The problem with a game having cards numbered 1-16 is that a hand of high cards is always going to be better than a hand of low cards. However, there are two things this game does to offset that lucky hand of cards. First, it makes you swap hands after placing two cards for the case. That means you’re giving your opponent a chance to use what you didn’t – and you also will see some of those opening cards back again. The second thing it does is have a wrap-around effect where the highest numbers can be defeated by some of the lower numbers (1 can beat 14, 15, or 16, 2 can beat 15 or 16, 3 can beat 16)

 The game immediately feels unbalanced, with Moriarty taking early victories and placing out tokens on the board. But then you get two rounds in and realize suddenly the Moriarty player needs to narrow their focus on what cards they win with, meaning it is harder for them to score meaningful victories. Every game I’ve played has seen the Holmes player come roaring back in a strong way to make things interesting and place the outcome in doubt.

 The box has a nice magnetic close, and top flap is repurposed for the spatial map for this game. It could have easily been a thin piece of cardboard – and one could argue it would be more convenient that way – but I happen to like that extra touch in this small game.

 There is incentive to win big in a round, as players gain bonus placements if they fulfill certain conditions. Moriarty wants to win the majority of cases each round for bonus tiles – although those bonus ones are placed by the Holmes player. Holmes wants to win his aligned case cards to get extra tiles out to block the Moriarty player. This layer of asymmetry adds a nice touch.

 This game is relatively easy to teach, as most gamers will have some familiarity with trick-taking card games and with the spatial aspect that resembles tic-tac-toe. The most difficult concept I’ve had with this has been the difference between the two rows being played, which one is important for each side, and how only one of those has the wrap-around effect while the other will have a trump suit. The comfort of some of these familiar mechanics will make this an easy game to teach to newer gamers while demonstrating a stronger depth of strategy that modern board games will provide.

 I don’t know what sort of game I was expecting on this one but, like Holmes: Sherlock and Mycroft, this is not the Holmes game I was looking for. While it definitely feels more thematic in ways than Sherlock and Mycroft, this still could have any number of themes substituted in without missing much of a beat. I love the theme and the concept in this game. It has all sorts of potential, and sounded so amazing from the description. Maybe I set my expectations too high, or maybe I should have taken a closer look at the actual gameplay on this one. Sadly, the biggest problem this probably has is that it simply isn’t a good fit for my gaming tastes, something that makes it inevitably suffer in spite of its strong points.

Final Thoughts

Holmes and Moriarty is one of those games that, if I was a bigger fan of trick taking games or other more standard card games, could be a stronger hit. I can appreciate all of the cleverness in the game, just as I do for a game like The Fox in the Forest or Custom Heroes, but it’ll never be a game that I think about pulling off the shelf to play because it is not my type of game – something I’ve only recently come to terms with. Did I appreciate the game? Absolutely! Have I enjoyed my plays of the game? Without question. But is this game for me? Unfortunately, no matter how great the theme is and how well they did the mechanics of this game, it is not for me.

This game is clever in ways I definitely appreciate. There is a really solid design in place, and this game can serve as an excellent way to bring more traditional gamers to explore the modern board game scene. This is a fast and enjoyable 2-player experience that presents a ton of crunchy decisions.

I love the asymmetry in the game, and how each side functions in very different ways. It has a clever balance where Moriarty feels powerful really early and then the edge shifts sharply to the Holmes player as the game goes on. Having the cards get played into two different rows, each being resolved in a different way, is brilliant. There is so much that is worthy about this game that, for the price and the size of this one, it is absolutely worth taking a shot on the game. If you enjoyed games like The Fox in the Forest, or have fond memories of playing games involving numbered cards, this one might really suit you well.

Review for Two · Two-Player Only

Review for Two – Anthelion: Conclave of Power

Thank you for checking review #82 by Cardboard Clash. My aim is to focus on reviewing board games and how they play for two people and, on occasion, how they play for one person. Because my wife is my primary gaming partner, a lot of consideration goes into finding those games that play well with 2 players, and we typically prefer to find those games that do not require a variant (official or otherwise) in order to play it with just the two of us.

(**Note: This game is live on Kickstarter! Be sure to check it out if this sounds interesting to you: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/239309591/anthelion-conclave-of-power)

An overview of Anthelion: Conclave of Power

Anthelion: Conclave of Power is a board game designed by Daniel Solis that was published in 2019 by Button Shy Games. The “box” states it plays 2 players in 20-30 minutes.

The sun is setting on one of the most devastating battles the Pocket Universe has ever seen. After years of fighting, it is becoming clear that this war will not be won on the strength of military victories alone. The leaders of the Dynasty and the Liberation turn their attention to some of the most influential figures in the galaxy to strengthen their cause. Who will be able to consolidate their power, gain new allies, and turn old foes to their side? Who can form a Conclave powerful enough to gain control of the Universe?

Anthelion is a game for 2 players who choose two unique special character abilities on their turn to manipulate the locations of the characters in play. Players seek to pull characters from all factions, good, evil and neutral to their side of the table (their Conclave), or push unwanted characters to their opponent. The player that can amass ten points of influence by getting enough characters to cross all the way to their side of the table will be declared the winner.

My Thoughts

The gameplay in this is an interesting tug-of-war between the two sides. In almost all aspects this game is equal, as there are very few Petition actions that are exclusive to a specific faction. Obviously there are faster paths to the ten stars than others, and most plays will likely see each side focusing a little harder on their specific faction since those offer an extra star when brought into their Conclave. But they are not limited to those decisions, which opens the game up for some really interesting gameplay.

The powers on the Character cards are all unique, making this a game about tactical decisions based on who is available and their current location. There is room for more strategic arcs in the game, but much of the tempo will be dictated by what is available at the moment rather than who you’re hoping to see appear.

The artwork in this game stands out on the table. It is everything I want in my Space Opera version of a board game, and it helps make every character in the deck feel like they have a deep, unique backstory to tell.

There’s a lot of decision space contained in the 18 cards in this game, which was one of the things I really liked about Liberation when I played it last year. Most people expect a light, simple filler game when hearing about these smaller game sizes, but this one definitely delivers an extraordinary amount of meaningful decisions among the small components and footprint of the game. This requires a little more space than Liberation, but this will go well alongside it as a game I always want to take with me when I am on the go.

A small decision in the rulebook is really key: you cannot completely undo the previous player’s turn. It is possible to get in an endless loop of moving the same person or two back and forth, but this key rule helps to prevent this from happening. The board state is always going to change, at least a little. You can undo some of what they did, but never their entire turn. Which also opens up the key decision: which of their moves do I counter, and what progress would I like to accomplish myself to provide them with the same type of difficult decision?

The game, in our first plays, has the ability to overstay its welcome. Once both players are within striking distance, it becomes a slow push and pull to try and be the first one to get that 10th star without opening it up for your opponent to get there first. With more plays, this may get better as part of the issue stems from the cards themselves.

Yes, you may find an issue because every card is unique in what it can do. Which means you may spend a lot of time reading what everything does as you try and figure out what two actions you want to do. And then the board state changes and you’re back at square one of puzzling out the next turn. This game can cause AP in players. It will have pauses during those first plays while you familiarize yourself with the cards. But this game opens up in a great way once you get past those learning curves – making it play much faster overall and providing a better experience for both players. This isn’t a fault in the game, but something worth knowing when you go in. Those first plays will take longer than you want because of the reading. But with only 18 cards, you’ll get them down eventually and things will improve.

Final Thoughts

Anthelion: Conclave of Power is a game that impressed me from the first play. It contains so many excellent decisions in a tug-of-war style of game, which helps it to stand out from the crowd. I’ve never played Avignon: A Clash of Popes, but my understanding is that it uses some of the same core concepts from there but cranked to 11. If that is the case, I’m even more interested in trying Avignon than before because of how much I enjoyed Anthelion.

This isn’t just a filler to pull out when you need to pass the time at game night. This is a game you could sit down and play a few times with a spouse, or gaming partner, and feel satisfied that you played something which rewards strategic decisions. Like all Button Shy games, this one is super-portable and can be played almost anywhere – you’ll need room for a 5 x 6 grid of cards essentially, and most tables should be able to accommodate that.

While I wish there was more room for long-term planning and strategy in here, that doesn’t detract from the great experience found in this game. Anthelion: Conclave of Power has the power to stay on the table for repeated plays – at least once players are more familiar with the various cards and what they do. I’d like to think that two really experienced Anthelion players would make for a really interesting match in this one, each trying to edge in an advantage over the other player.

I was a day one backer for the game, and with good reason. If this game was the standard 18-card game with the plan for a single small expansion to ship with the game, that would be good enough to warrant adding it to a collection. But there are several expansions in the works for this game, and I truly cannot wait to see how each of them alters the game in meaningful ways. This game is helping to revolutionize the way I look at the potential of that 18-card design space and gets me excited to try more of the games in the Button Shy line of games.

(**Note: This game is live on Kickstarter! Be sure to check it out if this sounds interesting to you: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/239309591/anthelion-conclave-of-power)

Board Gaming · Review for Two

Review for Two – Obsession

Thank you for checking review #81 by Cardboard Clash. My aim is to focus on reviewing board games and how they play for two people and, on occasion, how they play for one person. Because my wife is my primary gaming partner, a lot of consideration goes into finding those games that play well with 2 players, and we typically prefer to find those games that do not require a variant (official or otherwise) in order to play it with just the two of us.

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

An overview of Obsession

Obsession is a board game designed by Dan Hallagan that was published in 2018 by Dan Hallagan. The box states it plays 1-4 players in 30-90 minutes and has a BGG weight rating of 3.17.

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 in which 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.

—description from the publisher

Differences for 2 players

There are fewer tiles seeded into the bag for a 2-player game. Only 3 monuments are used total, one copy of each blue building is used, and all tiles that do not have a solid black dot by the Reputation value are removed from the bag. There are also fewer servants to hire: 4 footmen, two valets, two ladies maids, and one underbutler.

My Thoughts

 Let’s start with the thing that first interested me in Obsession: its theme. I get it, not everyone is going to go nuts over the 19th Century time period, the literary-inspired box, or the period-appropriate photos on the cards. It might even turn some people away from the game. My wife’s first words, when she saw the box, was that it looked boring and dumb. Yet it is this very quality of the game that makes it stand out from the crowds of zombies and Lovecraftian-themed games that oversaturate the market. The theme sets it apart, rather than being something that caters to what is currently trendy.

 And I’d be a horrible reviewer if I didn’t mention how thematic a lot of the game’s mechanics are. You host events in the rooms you’re adding to your estate, inviting family and guests to attend. You need to make sure one of your servants is there to make sure the event is in order, and some guests require additional support from valets of ladies maids so having a vibrant, diverse staff pays off. Those valets and maids, however, can’t be out there entertaining every time – in general the servants you use this turn will be out of rotation for the next turn, but will be back to your pool on the following turn. There’s a lot of great intertwining of mechanics with the theme that went into the design of Obsession, something Dan Hallagan should be commended for.

 I love the process of growing my estate, and the simple decision in the design that encourages players to continue that growth rather than spam the same room or two all game. When a building is used for the first time to host an event, it is flipped over to the side showing a rose in the corner. The first thing this does is usually adds victory points to its overall value – which means that purchasing a tile is sometimes only worthwhile if you intend to use it before the end of the game. This means that a strategy of just buying tiles for the sake of buying a ton of tiles isn’t necessarily a winning one as they can start at 0 or a negative value before that first use. The second thing that happens is that, in most cases, the buildings cost more guest cards from your hand to play again while giving smaller rewards from the room itself. So instead of getting 5 reputation from 2 cards, you’re getting 4 from 3 cards. And while using more cards isn’t necessarily a bad thing (as they give you benefits, too when used), there’s another key ingredient:

 You’re going to have to pass and skip a turn at least once in this game. You get 12 actions, and one of those goes to “nothing” but taking cards back into your hand. It actually isn’t a bad action, but it won’t flip those precious buildings to make them more valuable. You can only go so long before you run out of people, or worthwhile people, to invite to events. I’ve even had a game where I passed twice. But all is not lost when you pass – not only do you get those cards back in hand, but you get some money or you can wipe the building market…

 Money is tight in this game – at the very least it FEELS tight most of the time. Buildings cost from 300-800 pounds, and have modifiers ranging from (I think) -200 to +400. Most guests that provide money give around 100-200 pounds when you use them, and most buildings that provide money give 200-300 pounds. Most of the time, you’re treading just above water. I don’t think I’ve finished a game yet with any money, because it is just that tight for spending. It makes those decisions on what to purchase, and when, even more important.

 The Cabinet of Curiosities is a tile in this game. It is Narnia, and I must buy it every time I see it. Dang it Dan, but you make me have to buy this tile every single time it comes out…and I’m yet to fail to get it when it appears! It is easily my favorite thing in the whole game.

 I enjoy the balance you need to have in order to do well. You want to get a bigger estate, but to use it effectively you also need to gain more guests to invite to events. But in order to use those buildings and guests you probably are going to need to increase your reputation some. And once you start getting more reputable rooms, you’re going to need even more guests, and those more reputable guests are going to demand servants to assist them. Which means you probably need to hire a bigger staff at some point. You’re definitely doing a little engine building, which is one of my favorite things to do in a game.

 The objectives are varied and interesting. I like having secret objectives, and getting 3 of them over the course of the game to score. However, the “easier” ones such as 1VP per Prestige Room in your estate are too undervalued in points. The most valuable ones tend to involve getting 2-3 specific rooms in your estate, but there is no guarantee you’ll see them. The last game I played, we saw all but 7 tiles from the bag and I needed one of those seven tiles (from the start) but it never appeared. That potential for 10+ points never surfaced. The game prior to that, I wiped the market twice in the final three rounds to finally get the two rooms I’d been waiting for to appear in the market. I think I probably broke even, having spent 8 reputation and a passing turn in order to make those market changes. Even when I actively try to avoid taking more than one of those cards, sometimes you just get dealt really crappy objective cards compared to your opponent. Nothing is worse than spending a ton of effort to get those 10 points, or impractically miss them, and then see your opponent getting even more points for collecting servants or hording money.

 I state this solely for those who keep their inserts: this box lid does not close with the insert in there. I haven’t been able to remove it yet as I haven’t pulled out my baggies for sorting yet, but I cannot get this box to close properly no matter how I try. I’m relatively certain it’ll close once that insert is gone, though.

 Perhaps my biggest gripe with this game, even though it is delightfully thematic in a way, is that the rich get richer in this game. I’ve seen it play out two different times, once a 2 players and once at 3. If a person gets one or two key buildings (such as a monument), they can win more than their share of those VP cards. Not only that, but the game rewards the person who gets the most of those VP cards (because let’s be honest, the person with the highest combined VP on the building types needed is almost always going to be the one who was winning most of them along the way) by giving them another 8 VP at the end of the game via one of the Fairchild cards. I would rather see, especially in a 2-player game, one player get a VP card and one get the Fairchild until the next courtship along the way. At least then there’d be a chance to keep up along the way.

Monuments feel way too powerful. Yes, they cost MORE money than the spot they are on. But they give a boatload of VP, almost assuring a victory in that category if needed for the Courtship. Nothing is worse than seeing your opponent wipe the market just once in the game, but happen to see a monument pop into the market and they can afford it and swipe that building without contention. And let’s not even talk about the bonus of gaining a Reputation on every. Single. Player. Turn. It feels so broken, and it is disheartening when your opponent gets a monument first because that adds to their advantage in several key areas. Again, the rich get richer here.

Final Thoughts

A week ago, fresh off playing the game with my sister, I was ready to herald Obsession as a potential best game of 2018. It still might earn that honor since there is yet to be a standout game for me, but it has a longer road to climb after my last play where there was a 60-point difference in a 2-player game. I got steamrolled in a bad way, and that play showed just how important the right set of circumstances can be to this game. For a game that doesn’t feel random, it has a relatively high amount of it tucked into the nooks and crannies of this game. Casual and Prestige guests are blind draws off the top of their respective decks (with few exceptions, which may allow you to draw 2 and keep 1) and their benefits can range wildly. If you happen to draw all low-point guests who provide you with the same things as most of your hand, you’ll do really well in one area but struggle in others. You’ll see 7 different Objective cards and keep 3 during the gameplay, but some of them are dependent on getting specific buildings (which may never appear) or specific colored buildings (which this game isn’t going to reward that specialization over the course of the entire play). The Fairchilds are going to want a specific type of estate focus every quarter of the game, but you only know the current quarter’s focus. Someone can eek ahead because there were 2 green buildings to buy and they happened to get the one that flips to a +3 rather than a +2 and thus get those extra VP and add a Fairchild to their hand for the next quarter.

I could keep going on here, but you get the point by now. I don’t need a game of perfect information – some randomness can add a lot of fun and variety to the game. But when you can look back on a single play and see where every lucky break went the same way then it can be discouraging. Was it an anomaly? Perhaps, but that’s twice where the 1st place player won by 40+ points in my 6 plays of the game. That’s far too high of a percentage so far, and lends me to be cautious toward what this game can hold.

Yet when luck doesn’t trample the players, Obsession brings about a fun and delightful experience. You have some great decisions right out of the gate, such as whether or not to try and get the bonus money and reputation at the two Fairs or keep the 3 VP tile. Trying to figure out how to maximize your one play per round – with 12 rounds of actions across the standard game – is a fun puzzle as long as you don’t play against severe AP opponents. The tiles flip after use, usually giving more VP and making the usage of that tile less appealing (higher cost or diminished rewards, usually) and so that encourages players to make purchases and use those purchased tiles rather than just repeat the same cycle.

Theme is all over in this game, from the delightful meeples to the literature-inspired box to the various guests and their photos and text on the cards. Put on a kettle of tea, play some 19th century music, and revel in the time period that the game tries successfully to evoke. You don’t even need to be a literature buff like myself to enjoy the thoughtfulness that went into making things thematic throughout the game’s appearance and mechanics.

It has a fun solo mode that I need to play a few more times before speaking intelligently about how well that experience goes, but it might provide the best experience out of all the player counts in the box because it gives you several known milestones to overcome from the start and places some pressure on the player to be aggressive in their approach.

Ultimately, this game is one I look forward to exploring more in the future. I was sad, when it was on Kickstarter, that I didn’t have the ability to back the game. It has mostly lived up to every expectation I had of the game from the first time I saw its Kickstarter page – and hopefully with more plays I’ll see the steamrolling victories happen less frequently and can enjoy the package this delivers. While I did get a review copy of the game, I’ll put it this way: If I could travel back to last year when it was on Kickstarter, armed with the experience and knowledge I have of the game so far and with the money available to back it in my bank account, I wouldn’t hesitate for a moment to back the game. It is a good game, probably even a really good game. It has the potential to even be a great game, especially if the solo mode lives up to those first impressions. While I’m not ready to crown this one yet as the best game of 2018, it definitely stands up there as a legitimate contender for that honor.