Review for Two · Two-Player Only

Review for Two: Targi

Thank you for checking review #120 by Cardboard Clash. My aim is to focus on reviewing board games and how they play for two people and, on occasion, how they play for one person. Because my wife is my primary gaming partner, a lot of consideration goes into finding those games that play well with 2 players, and we typically prefer to find those games that do not require a variant (official or otherwise) in order to play it with just the two of us.

**Note: The publisher provided a copy of the game in exchange for an honest review. All opinions remain my own.

An overview of Targi

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

Theme and overview:

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

Gameplay:

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

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

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

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

My Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

Review for Two · Two-Player Only

Review for Two – Imhotep: The Duel

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

Thank you for checking review #119 by Cardboard Clash. My aim is to focus on reviewing board games and how they play for two people and, on occasion, how they play for one person. Because my wife is my primary gaming partner, a lot of consideration goes into finding those games that play well with 2 players, and we typically prefer to find those games that do not require a variant (official or otherwise) in order to play it with just the two of us.

**Note: The publisher provided a copy of the game in exchange for an honest review. All opinions remain my own.

An overview of Imhotep: The Duel

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

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

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

My Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

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

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

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

Review for Two · Two-Player Only

Review for Two: Skulk Hollow

Thank you for checking review #116 by Cardboard Clash. My aim is to focus on reviewing board games and how they play for two people and, on occasion, how they play for one person. Because my wife is my primary gaming partner, a lot of consideration goes into finding those games that play well with 2 players, and we typically prefer to find those games that do not require a variant (official or otherwise) in order to play it with just the two of us.

**Note: The publisher provided a review copy in exchange for an honest review. All opinions remain my own.

An overview of Skulk Hollow

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

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

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

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

The Foxen Heroes wins the game by eliminating the Guardian.

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

My Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

Button Shy Games · What's In Your Wallet?

What’s In Your Wallet? #1 – Seasons of Rice

As announced earlier this week, I’m taking a new approach to my blog for the majority of the posts. Yes, reviews will still be coming. I have a small backlog of review copies I need to hit upon, and I am still receptive to checking out others in the future. However, most of what I want to do centers around feature articles that I try to revisit every month (if not more often in some cases). And so to kick them off, I’ll begin my focus on a company whose games are small in size but are bigger on the inside with their gameplay: Button Shy Games

***

When it comes to gaming with a baby in the house, my wife and I have found Button Shy’s wallet line of games to be a lifesaver for our gaming habits. Because these games are 18 cards and packaged in a small wallet, it means they typically are quick to play, easy to learn, and take up little space on a table (mostly). One of the more recent titles that funded on Kickstarter is Seasons of Rice, a game where you’re competing to see who makes the best rice paddies over the course of a wet season and a dry season.

This game checks so many boxes for us as a couple beyond the small and portable size and the quick gameplay. It has two phases of card drafting, making it so players are continually making decisions both about what they need and what they don’t want their opponent to have. It has the building of your paddies, making it feel almost like Carcassonne but you’re each making your own area – and the point bonuses, and restrictions, keep things interesting. For example, you get exponential points for making a larger paddy…until it gets too big, to where the points flatline at a slightly reduced rate. Too often have I planned what I thought was a perfect paddy to maximize the points, only to find that I forgot each building in there increases the size and so now I’m one step too high and suffering for the misstep. The game also has variable player powers, adding either new ways of scoring points or abilities that allow you to break the rules of the game somehow – this keeps the game fresh even when you play it five times in one day like we have.

Here’s a little more on how this game functions:

Seasons of Rice is an 18-card game where players will be Cambodian farmers expanding their rice paddies to ensure the most bountiful of harvests. Players will be drafting cards and placing them into their expanding Landscape area to close off Paddies in order to score the most points by the end of the game.

CHOOSE YOUR ANCESTOR WISELY

The very first thing you get to decide in a game of Seasons of Rice is who to use as your Ancestor, which will provide unique scoring conditions for the game. With 18 of them in the game – of which you choose between two each game – there are a lot of variations on how you might decide to build your Rice Paddies. For example, choosing Pally as your Ancestor will let you score double the points when closing a Paddy that has nothing inside of its boundaries. On the other hand Chantrea would provide 2 points per farmer located in an open Paddy at the end of the game. Those two choices could lead you to draft and place cards in very different ways. The other card is used to being the player’s Landscape.

DRAFTING IN THE WET SEASON

Players will each get 7 cards dealt to their hand for the Wet Season. Then two cards are simultaneously chosen by each player, one to go into their Landscape and one to go into the common area of Dry Season cards. After this section, players pass their hand to their opponent and the process is repeated until both players have one card left in their hand.

EXPANDING YOUR LANDSCAPE

As cards are built into the Landscape, attention must be paid to the solid brown lines (Paths) that form the borders for Paddies. Cards must always be placed orthogonally adjacent to at least one other card in their Landscape, and there are dark lines (Furroughs) which break each card into grid-like sections. These Furroughs allow cards to be built off-center from an adjacent card if desired, so long as at least one Furrough is orthogonally adjacent to an existing Furrough.

Whenever a Paddy is closed off (in other words, a completed Path encloses an area completely), the player will score points for the completed Paddy. It scores points based on size, with the best sizes being 3-5 squares, and also gains points per buffalo in the Paddy and for a set of Farmers enclosed within the Paddy. Ancestor Cards may provide additional scoring conditions during these scoring opportunities. However, if there is a gap inside the Paddy then it will always be considered as Open, even if it is closed off through traditional means.

AFTER WET COMES THE DRY PHASE

The next set of drafting comes during the Dry Season, which is the final phase before the end scoring on the game. Whoever is behind in points gets first selection of a card from the six that were placed in the communal Dry Season set of cards, and players then alternate taking a card from there and placing it in their Landscape. Once all of the cards have been selected and placed from here, the game moves into the Final Scoring.

WRINGING OUT THOSE FINAL POINTS

Most of the points in the game have already been accounted for by this point, but there are three key scoring triggers that happen at the end of the game. First, players gain a point for every closed Paddy in their Landscape. Second, players lose one point for every buffalo that is not inside a closed Paddy. Finally, players will score via any conditions that are end-game scoring from their Ancestors. The player with the most points has the honor of being the most successful at navigating through the Seasons of Rice. In the event of a tie, the player with the most Farmers is the winner.

Button Shy has a ton of great games for 2 in their line-up, and Seasons of Rice has quickly become one of our most played, and greatly enjoyed, titles in their catalog. This game will be shipping in October and November of this year, and you can still preorder the game on the Button Shy website.

Review for Two · Two-Player Only

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

Thank you for checking review #112 by Cardboard Clash. My aim is to focus on reviewing board games and how they play for two people and, on occasion, how they play for one person. Because my wife is my primary gaming partner, a lot of consideration goes into finding those games that play well with 2 players, and we typically prefer to find those games that do not require a variant (official or otherwise) in order to play it with just the two of us.

An overview of The Legend of Korra: Pro-Bending Arena

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

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

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

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

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

My Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

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

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

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

Review for Two · Two-Player Only

Review for Two: Bushido

Thank you for checking review #112 by Cardboard Clash. My aim is to focus on reviewing board games and how they play for two people and, on occasion, how they play for one person. Because my wife is my primary gaming partner, a lot of consideration goes into finding those games that play well with 2 players, and we typically prefer to find those games that do not require a variant (official or otherwise) in order to play it with just the two of us.

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

An overview of Bushido

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

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

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

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

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

The game ends when one warrior has bested the other.

My Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

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

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

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

Board Gaming · Review for Two · Two-Player Only

Review for Two – Omen: A Reign of War

Thank you for checking review #109 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 Omen: A Reign of War

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

You are a child of Zeus poised to conquer all of Greece, but first you must prove your worth to the gods, as there is another who contests your claim. To determine who shall rule, gods have devised a contest and lent their most powerful forces to both sides of the conflict.

Omen: Reign of War is a head-to-head strategic card game where you compete to gain the favor of the pantheon of gods, and prove that you are the rightful heir of Zeus. Powerful forces of antiquity and legend are at your command as you raze and pillage cities, strategically manage your resources, and eliminate your rival’s forces. Choose your battle strategy with rules for standard and draft play, and expand your war with other, fully compatible, games from the ‘Omen Saga’!

Omen: Reign of War
– Head to Head demigod battles for supremacy of ancient Greece.
– Tactical battle card-game where every unit has its own unique abilities and uses.
– Definitive Omen Saga gaming experience and endlessly expandable.

My Thoughts

 The first phase of the game made me sit up and take notice right away. You can take 3 in any combination of cards from the top of the deck or coins to begin your turn – that’s standard enough. Coins are needed to play cards, and cards are needed in order to have any units to deploy into the three cities in order to earn victory points. Nice decision point, right? It gets better. If you take all coins or all cards here, you get an extra one. Suddenly you have an incentive to go all-in at the start of your turn. But if you have only 1 coin and 1 card, for instance, is that worth the all-in, or would you be better served to divide between the two? What is normally the least interesting step in a game (draw cards/gather resources) is suddenly a critical decision point each and every turn because you’re never going to feel like you have enough cards nor coins for most of the game.

 Unit deployment is simple, as you pay gold equal to the card’s cost and place it from your hand into one of the three city locations. You’re trying to gain the majority of power in a city, to gain a nice 2 VP token upon the resolution of that city. And there are a delightful variety of units: Soldier units are placed into a city and usually have an effect that triggers upon deployment. After that they are essentially their stat line, providing power as you try to trigger the city into a war-torn state. Beasts are fun, because you can deploy them into a city – they usually have a LOT of power – or pay and discard them for the printed effect on the card. And let me tell you, it isn’t always easy to determine which is the better approach during the game. Oracle units are interesting ones because they don’t add much to your overall power in a city, but they add an effect that will trigger every single turn so long as they remain in play. Heroes have abilities that can be used outside of your Surge (deployment) step of the game, but they also contain a Treasured keyword that gives you 1 VP if they are in your hand at the end of the game. And Spirit units have two options under their Deploy ability, and you choose one when playing them to a city – or you can pay their Invoke cost and discard them to use both abilities.

 Some units have the Colossal keyword on them, which is a cool thing in the game. Essentially it means that the card counts as two units – and Kolossal Games has provided tokens you can put on a card to help remind you that a unit is Colossal. This means you can up the unit count with fewer cards, and they usually have some nice power level to them. However, once a war-torned city resolves the victor can only keep one unit in that city. Which means if you win with a Colossal unit on your side, it is for sure hitting the discard pile. On the other hand, if you lose a city you can keep two units, meaning you could keep that Colossal unit (and nothing else) on your side, giving you a strong start to win that city on your turn since you’re staying close to triggering the city again.

 The offering step in the game is another great spot, because each card has a gold value, a combat value, and an offering value. And while you may be tempted to play the cards for their attack value in order to win cities, or to trigger their effects, you could also discard a card during this step on your turn to take either gold or cards in the card’s offering value. Those weak Oracles? Yep, they have pretty solid offering values. And in a game with such tight economy of cards and coins each turn, sometimes the best play is to toss that good card so you can do something of value on your next turn.

 I love the change by Kolossal Games to make the city cards into tiles. Each of the three cities has four tiles randomly placed on them, face-down. When you win a battle in a city, you get the top tile – if two cities are empty of tiles is one of the end game triggers. In the older version it was a card that went to your hand and there was no hand limit. Here there is a hand limit of 5, but these don’t clog your hand. Rather they are worth 2 VP at the end of the game…but they also have a wonderful ability on the other side and you can use one of those on your turn – but once a tile is used it can no longer be used for that ability again. Not only that, but the tile remains flipped over and now that 2 VP tile is worth just 1 VP at the end of the game. In a game where scores are often under 20 (my experience so far), that extra point can be absolutely critical.

 There are six feat cards a player begins with on their side – also not in their hand – with an objective for the player to try and meet. Once you are able to meet that objective, then you can flip that card over during your Feats phase of the game and it scores you 2 VP. If a player flips five of their six feats, that is the other end-game trigger. I like this system, especially since there are indirect ways you can react to an opponent making progress on some of them.

 The game comes with several easy-to-use variants in the rules. Not only that, but it can be mixed-and-matched with other expansions for the game. That could be argued as a negative point almost, because you’re not going to want to stop with just the base game. I know I won’t be, because this is a really, really good game. One of the best 2-player only games I have played.

 So much of the game revolves around the city spaces and getting them into a war-torn status. This part reminds me of Haven, another 2-player game I absolutely love, in that you’re deploying units on your sides until a threshold is met. Typically until there are either 5 units total in that city, or 3 units on a single side. The key difference is that this will trigger at the end of the current turn – whereas in Haven it would be at the end of the opponent’s next turn. I’m a little disappointed, because it means you have no chance to counter what your opponent did on their turn if they triggered the war-torn city – and why wouldn’t they unless they would win it? This means you need to try and think ahead, seeing what area they are vying for and decide to either try and drop units there to win it first, or place your strong units in another city spot.

Final Thoughts

When you immerse yourself in the 2-player gaming circles there are games you inevitably hear mentioned time and again as titles to check out. Many of them are absolutely worth trying out, and a select few of them are so incredibly good that you have to instantly play it more times, even if you had other plans for the games you would play that evening. Omen: A Reign of War was one of those games I had always heard mentioned but brushed it aside as a game I’d get back to eventually. Then last year Kolossal Games launched a Kickstarter to republish the game under their lineup, and it placed the game back on my radar even though I didn’t have the ability to back it on Kickstarter at the time. And so it sat in my wishlist until I saw a really good price – and one came for the 2nd Edition of the game with its first expansion during a BGG Auction. I bid on it, won the auction, and was delighted when the box arrived. I knew just the friend to play it with, and took a handful of 2-player titles I wanted to try out that night.

We opened the evening with Omen – his choice, based on the aesthetic of the box – and what followed was a fantastic game. Followed immediately by another play of the game. That night I left knowing I wanted to get the newer edition, and I left this one in his possession. Two weeks later we got back together for another gaming night and he told me about all the people he had taught it to in those two weeks, and we played it again that night. Ever since it has been pulled out every time we get together – even if it hasn’t always hit the table to get played – and that will continue into the foreseeable future. Why? Because this game is really, really fun. I had no regret taking birthday funds and picking up a copy of the newest version of the base game, either, so now we both have a version of Omen.

Spolier alert: The upcoming Heir to the Dunes box is really good, too – more on that in a week or two!

Omen: Reign of War has everything I look for in a 2-player game experience: tight gameplay, simple ruleset, engaging mechanics, tense decisions, strong player interaction, fast setup. It checks every box on the list for me, and has the added benefit of alternative game modes (such as drafting – I love drafting!) that I intend to explore in greater depth. It has the ability to add in small expansions and combine the larger boxes in ways to make unique experiences every time. But even if you only pick up the base game, a $30.00 entry point, you’ll have a damn good game on your hands that will get played many times before it runs a risk of getting stale.