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Board Games

I’d Rather Be Building (Or “What is a Euro Game?” and Why I Love Them)

I can appreciate most kinds of games. I like family-weight games, push-your-luck, social deduction, set collection, route-building, tactical combat, and drafting, just to name a few. I am starting to really enjoy party games and even area control- a game mechanism that has been my Achilles heel for some time now.

Euro games, however, are some of my absolute favorite. Not a specific mechanism, many titles in the Euro game genre feel similar and historically have similar themes: the production, trading and exportation of goods. Agricola, and Power Grid were the first two of some Euro style board games I played and now stand alongside others like Murano, Concordia and now Clans of Caledonia as my favorites.

Murano by Inka & Markus Brand; published by Lookout Games & Mayfair Games

 

 

Euro games are called as such because of where they originated; back in the mid to late 1900’s when many American game designers were making games about conflict and war, European designers were mainly focusing on themes about production

“Euro game” is a general term for games which are typically economic or in which players typically are all building toward something rather than attaching each other or destroying something. Typically different resources must be managed and there are often times limited actions (opportunities) to get them. Although it may occasionally be very obvious that you have no way of winning, you’re almost always technically still in the game.

Power Grid by Friedemann Friese and Rio Grande Games

Generally speaking, Euro games tend to focus more on balance between mechanisms and strategy as opposed to theme. Many “thematic” or “American” style games tend to have a high level of output randomness, which at random elements that occur when a player does something. Euro games have some input randomness (players must learn to adapt to a random element such as a card draw or dice roll, but know that their choices will result a set outcome. This is not true for every title but it is generally the case in the vast majority.

To sum up, Euro games almost always have the following characteristics:

  • Resource management
  • No player elimination
  • Minimal “output” randomness
  • Focus on balance of strategy & mechanisms as opposed to focus on theme

Clans of Caledonia, designed by Klemens Franz; published by Karma Games

However, the game is changing. There are more and more games that don’t fit either of the classes molds of Euro or thematic. Many titles are taking a middle ground between the two. One such example is Blood Rage, a game which at first glance looks like a more thematic American Style game, however mechanically it is very balance between different strategies, some of which have nothing to do with winning battles. This is something that sets it apart from many games that are more focused on theme. Although blood rage is still more focused on its thematic elements, it is a blend of euro-style games and what we would think of a classic Conquest Style game. Another fantastic example are two titles by Red Raven Games: Above and Below and it’s sequel, Near and Far. Both are Euro-style games through and through, however they both also integrate series of choices which give them a “choose-your-own-adventure” feel. These are fantastic Euro games that I would highly recommend for those looking to introduce their friends or family love narrative to the genre of Euro games.

Above and Below by Ryan Laukat, a one-man designer/artist/publisher of his company (Red Raven Games)

Whether you are attracted to more complex, crunchy Euro games like Vinhos, hybrids such as Blood Rage, or more narrative-focused games like Near and Far, there are many things that most people will love from this genre given the right experience. I’m not a master fisherman but with a quick Google search I found that one of the most versatile lures is spinner bait. A good Euro game is like that- if you know how to use it catch just about anything. Likewise, if you know how to teach it well, just about anyone can learn to play and enjoy Euro games. If you’re on the other end and have never tried a Euro game I highly recommend it- you’ll probably love it way more than you think.

Board Games

Betrayal at House of the Hill – A Perspective

You find yourself standing in a long hallway. The air is dusty and dry, and a silence takes hold as the center of attention. The house seems abandoned and empty, but you only see several closed doors and a tall staircase in the hallway. As you turn around to leave, the front door is locked. You and your companions are trapped, but maybe there’s a way out somewhere in the house. You set out to explore, but will soon discover one of your friends is not who they say they are…

Thus begins one of my favorite games of all time, Betrayal at House on the Hill. You and your group are faced with a haunted house and must explore it to find a way out (if there is one). What you and your characters don’t know, is that one of you is a traitor. This game comes in two parts, both of which have their own twists and turns.

Image result for Betrayal At House On The Hill

Now, you may wonder right now why am I talk about a game that came out in 2004 with a 2nd edition that came out in 2010. Simply because there’s so much to this game, it’s taken me this long to play all of it. This includes its one expansion (6 years after the remake), and a D&D spin-off which actually added improvements to the core game (I’ll get to this later).

https://i.imgur.com/zOpbvET.jpg

Later this year in October we will be treated with a Legacy version of the game. A version where the haunted house changes with the choices you make over decades of the story. I am SO EXCITED.

What makes Betrayal one of my favorite games is how much it has to offer in stories it tells. There 50 scenarios (known as Haunts) in the base game and 50 more in the expansion, with Baulder’s Gate having even more. Each one makes the game unique to that night (don’t tell me you play this during the day like a wimp).

The best moment of each Haunt is having a different person become the traitor and revealing the true nature of the friends you have. The mistrust and doubt among the closest of friends is an experience I have seen few other games have. This makes me want the Legacy version even sooner.

So let me talk about that for a second. Legacy games, if you’re unfamiliar with them are board games with a story arc (with spoilers) that spans multiple plays of the game. The one that comes to mind (and best in my opinion) is Pandemic Legacy: Season 1. This game starts just like the original Pandemic, but very quickly begins to evolve into a game that is unique to you and your friends. Pieces change, stickers are added, characters get deeper backstories, and a full story is unveiled.

If Betrayal Legacy takes these hidden mechanics, ever changing rules, and character development into the game of Betrayal at House on the Hill, I will be enthusiastically pleased and won’t stop recommending it to everyone I talk to. Apologies to the significant others of my friends, we will be taking some time to complete this, maybe more than once.

There hasn’t been much that has been shared so far (and as far as I want to know to avoid spoilers), but I will ultimately be speculating these next parts. What I do know is that Betrayal Legacy will take place over many decades. *Speculation begins!* Characters will have their own cards and thus own stats, powers, faults, and/or what else the game might throw at us. The first game will likely be similar to a game of regular Betrayal, but the Haunt you encounter will be very limited. What I would love to see in this Legacy game would be an element we haven’t seen before in Legacy games. Maybe an app that tracks your decisions like a TellTale game or a QR puzzle where each square is put in place with your choices. There’s so much that board game can do now with technology that I expect to see Legacy games take them into account, but that’s another blog post.

For now, I love Betrayal. It’s a classic and a staple in my collection. Each group of friends I play with act in completely different ways. Each card drawn adds a unique twist to the story we craft and that’s without our decisions affecting future play-throughs. So I hope that even if you’ve had a bad game of Betrayal or if you’ve never played for the fear of it not being great, TRY it. Try it with new friends, with strangers who might become friends, or even try it as a date night (can confirm, not the worst idea).

Board Games

Roll Player One Play Review

Here’s an interesting concept for a game: you build a character for a fantasy role-playing game. You are given a race and class. You acquire traits, equipment and tweak and customize your stats to optimize your character. Even your character’s alignment between good and evil, lawful and chaotic matters.

Then, your take your character on daring adventures…or not. You build and customize your character, and that’s the game (seriously). I’m being completely serious. Roll Player is a medium-weight strategy game with all the fun of creating your character but without any of the burden of adventuring.

When we got about a third of the way into our first and only game so far of Roll Player, I was deeply concerned that I was going to lose interest. I had heard many good things about Roll Player, but didn’t realize that the games contains a strong puzzle nature, which is typically not my jam. However, the implications of what you’re doing in the game are thematic enough that it easily held my attention until the end.

Players are given a race and class. The former affects your end-game scoring and the latter grants you an ability. There seems to be a good number or options for both so that will keep the game fresh for a decent number of plays, and more importantly for me, there is already at least one expansion that adds more variety of content. Players all roll some of their dice one at a time and begin placing them on their stats- this is going to have give them limitations, options, and strategy choices for the last 70% of the game.

Then, each round, the first player will draw dice from a bag, roll them and sort the dice on the initiative track lowest to highest. Each player will draft a die, determining turn order when purchasing an item from the market. However, before you purchase an item, each player will take the die they drafted and place them in their stat rows, using the abilities for that particular stat (these stat abilities are ignored during the initial die placement phase). The stat ability actions allow players to modify and move their dice as you might expect.

Players choose equipment in turn order. While some equipment grants extra scoring opportunities and some give you abilities, all are beneficial in their own way. Many items have an alignment modifier that happens when you purchase it, while skills affect your alignment when used. Your character’s alignment of good versus evil and lawful versus chaotic also affects end-game scoring. Each alignment card is different and forces the player to consider this when purchasing items and skills.

While Roll Player feels much more like a puzzle than I expected when I first heard about it, I thoroughly enjoyed playing it and would be happy to do so again. I typically do not enjoy very mentally taxing puzzle style games, and while Roll Player is fairly middle weight, it does give the players some strategic options. Do you focus on putting your character, collecting traits, or getting your alignment in the right place? My gut tells me it is fairly difficult to work all of these aspects perfectly, but it sure is fun to try. In the end, you can say something like, “I created a lawful evil Halfling with a full suit of light armor.” Thinking about the thematic implications of Roll Player is very fun and at the same time it’s a game where efficiency is key, and that’s not a bad thing in my book. I look forward to playing a Roll Player again in the near future, and would recommend it for almost any type of gamer. I’m conservatively giving it a 7 out of 10. If you like puzzle style games I’m giving it a +1, and another +1 if you enjoy RPG’s or character building. Give Roll Player a try for a refreshing break between tabletop RPG sessions!

Board Games

Cha-Cha Chihuahua Review

Gaming for parents with young children is HARD. We want to love our kids and spend quality time with them and at the same time help our children learn important skills. Board games also just have a way of teaching important skills that sometimes nothing else can.

At our recent Customer Appreciation sale the other night I was looking for a sixth game to buy (I’m a little obsessed, I know) and I thought it might be smart to pick up something that I can play with my three and a half year old daughter. She has somewhat enjoyed Candy Land, Uno, Rhino Hero, and a couple others but most importantly she just likes to play with the fun and cool pieces that come in a lot of modern board games.

I’m walking by our children game selection, made up of mostly HABA and Gamewright games, and I see Cha-Cha Chihuahua. This was one of those games I pre-ordered for the store that I knew next to nothing about except only that it has cute, dancing Chihuahuas on the box cover and the price point is good. What I didn’t realize until I went to buy it, however, is that the game includes about 25 small Chihuahua figurines that have a great toy aspect to them.

Gameplay is incredibly simple: your goal is to have as many Chihuahuas on your colored dance floor when the supply run out. On your turn you draw a card, which will either give you one of the following actions:

  • Take a Chihuahua and put it on your dance floor (front paws on one color, back paws on another), then stand up and imitate the dance moves that the dog is doing on the card…that part is VERY important
  • Two Chihuahuas (one to you and one to the player with the fewest) also, don’t forget to dance!
  • Cha-Cha Chow – take a Chihuahua from another player
  • Sleepy time card- if you have a Chihuahua on a square that matches the color of the bed, place one in the Nap Shack
  • Nap Shack card- use it immediately to take all Chihuahuas from the Nap Shack and put them on your dance floor OR keep it to use on a later turn instead of drawing a card for the same effect

…And that’s it: simple color recognition, and although not necessarily memory, but a slight amount of looking to see what colors of beds have been drawn and avoid placing a dog on those colors, if possible. I’ve only played this with my daughter as a two-player game but I bet my tail it would be better with three or four players.

Three and a half is a tough age for gaming. Although yes, my daughter can play a lot more than what she could a year ago, she is smart enough to easily understand the rules and become quickly bored with no-skill games like Candy Land, and yet not be able to grasp the slightest bit of strategy & tactics in games anything beyond that. However, for us, Cha-Cha Chihuahua is a huge win. The game is colorful and both the figurines and the Nap Shack are very attractive for kids. The rules are as simple if not more so than Uno, yet are more accessible for kids. In our second game my daughter actually drew her card several times and didn’t need to be reminded what to do, and that is an awesome feeling as a parent! My daughter loves this game and actually got really upset when I had to put it away after only playing it once for the second time. As the parent, I actually had a ton of fun playing this with my daughter. I was never bored and the game moved quickly enough. The only negative part of the game is that the Chihuahuas have a very large head, and while I wonder if it was intentional to make them slightly difficult to place, they tend to fall over a little too easy. Otherwise I think this is a great kids game for that 3-5 year old age range at a great price of about $16 MSRP.

Cha-Cha Chihuahua reminded me that there are some great kids games out there and that I don’t have to leave my kids behind as I enjoy participating in my favorite hobby. I give Cha-Cha Chihuahua an 8 out of 10.

Board Games

The Networks Review

One of my favorite 80’s movies is UHF, staring “Weird” Al Yanchovic. Here’s the premise, Al’s wealthy uncle gives him his failing UHF TV station, only for Al to find out later that his uncle has a gambling problem. To prevent losing the station, Al must make the TV station profitable by developing new shows, developing stars and securing ad contracts.

This is sort of the basis for The Networks, originally released in 2016 by Formal Ferret, recently getting a wider release here in the US. The Networks  looks much, much more complicated at first glance than it actually plays. I’ve only played it twice, yet I completely understand the game and could easily teach others how to play. It is, objectively speaking, a truly middle weight game. This would be a great game to teach your friends or family after introducing them to Catan, Carcassonne, Ticket to Ride, or possibly even something like King of Tokyo. 

This game does something that I absolutely love in Euro-style (economic, resource-management style) games: your Victory Points represent something very thematic and somewhat tangible. The player who has attained the most viewers for the their TV network will win the game. Viewers are gained by developing shows, typically starring the right stars and supported by ads. Landing ads will give you an immediate cash bonus, but will usually continue to give you more money at the end of each season. Turning your network into a profitable economic engine is important, but not a stressful part of the game in my opinion. As the game progresses, shows will either gain more viewers or decline and eventually go to your reruns pile and gain viewers for one final season.

 

All this sounds really complicated, right? Here’s the beautiful part of The Networks- the basic mechanics and options on your turn are incredibly simple. On 90% of your turns, you’re just going to take a card. That’s it…seriously. Take a show card and develop it, take an ad or star card and put it into your green room (to save for later) or immediately attach it to a show. There are also pink network cards, which either grant you an immediate bonus or allow you to play it at the end of a season (round) or hold until the end of the game to gain extra viewers. There’s a few other subtleties such as gaining bonus viewers and card draws for acquiring your third and then fifth show of a genre, or making sure you have your TV shows in the correct time slot for maximum viewership. Also, knowing when to pass for the remainder of the season and drop in budget to gain money and/or viewers is a important, but very enjoyable part of the game. However, those aspects of the game become much more apparent after starting to play the game.

There are a couple minor negatives, however. First, the card quality is not the best. I do think for a $50 game MSRP, you’re getting a good value here. There are a lot of cards and although you’re probably not going to need to sleeve them, it might be to your benefit if this is one you’re going to play at least five or six times a year. Also, in my second game, we tried some of the “interactive” network cards. After the game we decided that we would only play with about half of those interactive cards; several of them were incredibly powerful and, in our opinion, too punishing for whoever you play them on for a game that is all about action efficiency. For example, someone could potentially lose a star that is going to gain them 10+ viewers over the course of 3 seasons. We decided to pull out those few cards, however, and just not play with them in the future.

The Networks is a game that I could play many times year and would be happy to introduce to new people to the boardgaming hobby. For an economic/resource management style game, it’s incredibly thematic and fun. There’s a healthy amount of stress as you’re hoping that other players don’t take the cards you want, but it’s not as stressful as something like Agricola, as you can usually make just about anything work and you won’t be penalized too harshly if you don’t get what you need. Finally, and possibly most importantly, the show, star and ad cards in this game are hilarious. The entire game is chalk full of satire. It’s as funny as something like Munchkin but has way more substance. I really enjoyed pairing my shows with specific actors and reading them in “movie guy” sort of voice. For, example, “coming this September, “that guy who always dies” starring in American Samurai Warrior… sponsored by Reflux Orange Juice!” Overall, I think if you’re looking for a fun, hilarious, and yet intriguing middle weight game that you can teach just about anyone, I highly recommend The Networks. I objectively give it a 7.5 out of 10. If you’re a big fan of the movie UHF and/or satire I’m going to give it a +1, and if you’re a fan of Euro-style/economic games, I’m giving it another +1 (for me, it’s a 9.5).

Board Games

Ex Libris Review

Renegade Games is on a roll and they really hit their stride last year alongside their other 2017 releases such as Sentient, Clank! In Space, Castles of Caladale, and The Fox in the Forest. Who knew that a publisher as new as Renegade could release so many good games and climb their way near the top so quickly? Ex Libris is no exception.

In Ex Libris, each player builds their own fantastical library. You’ll collect historical and reference texts, fantastical fiction, monster manuals, books of magic such as potion recipes, etc., and even books about the dark arts. There are several scoring categories at the end of the game, but sufficed to say you’ll basically want to build your library somewhat in alphabetical order, but receive points based on how large and diverse your library is. One genre of books is in high demand each game and one is banned, each category earning you extra positive and negative points, respectively.

 

Players acquire pieces of their library (bookshelf sections represented in card form) by sending out their assistants to various locations. This is what’s called “worker placement” in the modern board game world.  It’s a fun way of openly drafting action spaces, as once an area has been filled with assistants, no other player can place there. Most locations allow you to gain cards with books they can add to your library and/or shelve sections of their bookshelf from your hand. However, each location accomplishes this in a very different way than any other. So what’s different about Ex Libris compared to other recent worker placement board games? For one, each player has a special assistant, which when placed allows that player to take a special action or gain some sort of passive ability. Most of the location tiles actually change each round as one will move up and stay out while the others are discarded and new ones are brought in. Ultimately this means that in any given game of Ex Libris you’ll end up playing with most of the locations, but not all. You also won’t know when each one will be available; this is a refreshing change for people who’ve played a ton of worker placement games.

 

On to the magical elephant in the room: does Ex Libris set itself apart from the hundreds of other games with similar mechanisms? Short answer: yes it absolutely does, but maybe not in the ways you would think. First and foremost one of the best parts of the game is the titles on the books. The designer could have reused these titles. However, every book has a funny title depending on the category (color) of book it is. Some of the titles are absolutely hilarious and I can really appreciate the amount of time it probably took thinking of all these. Secondly, I can’t think of another game that combines worker placement with placing cards in this manner, and it works really well.

On to final thoughts! Overall, I think Ex Libris is a fantastic game. While using a lot of familiar mechanisms, the combination of said mechanisms are incredibly unique. Honestly, I have no complaints there- the core of the game is pretty solid. However, after at least three plays, there are a few things I wish were slightly different. First, I wish the game had less of an emphasis on shelving as many books as possible. Full disclosure, I’ve lost pretty horribly every time I’ve played. It’s not the fact that I’ve lost so badly that bothers me, however, it’s that it seems that the ability to shelve as many books as possible is going to usually trump meticulous placement of your books. To me, it feels like the lcoations where you can shelve multiple books get taken up pretty quickly, and if you can’t shelve three books most rounds you’re going to fall behind. If you just happen to be in a position where you can’t get to these spots it can be kind of frustrating, and often times turn order is a big part of this. This combined with some minor rules issues keep Ex Libris from being a truly exceptional game. However, I’ve only played it three or four times, so this could change with future plays. I’m hoping to revisit this one in a future Back from the Shelf article. Despite those complaints, I have really enjoyed Ex Libris. It’s an enjoyable middle weight game and I would happily play it many more times. I’m actually hoping to play it again so I can implement what I’ve learned from my previous losses and hopefully improve my score! Currently, I’m giving it a 7.5 out of 10. If you are a fan of the theme, and love literature or even the concept of building a fantastical library, or you love worker placement games, I’d give it a solid +1. Ex Libris has the potential to be a great “gateway” style game for many people who have played few modern board games. Give it a try!

Board Games

First Martians Review

One of the most anticipated 2017 board game releases was First Martians by Ignacy Trzewiczek. Consequently, one of the biggest disappointments by many people’s standards was also First Martians. That doesn’t go to say that First Martians doesn’t have its problems; First Martians is overly complex, with a rule set that is not streamlined. It is also, however, an ambitious feat of integrating technology (in this case, a companion app) into the core of a very complex game. There’s also a bit of history here. Robinson Crusoe is one of Ignacy’s earlier releases and is one that is very highly rated and loved by many fans. When First Martians was first announced, many people that thought Robinson Crusoe could be cleaned up looked to First Martians to be their savior. Sadly, this is not the case. If anything First Martians is even more unnecessarily complex than Robinson Crusoe and is a fitting tie-in to the current dialogue happening among people such as Elon Musk. Colonizing Mars, if even possible, will be a complicated process made possible only by the brightest of humanity. All this said, First Martians still manages to achieve something intriguing for those interested and dedicated enough to brave the Martian wilderness and the complex environmental and technological systems it takes to keep humanity there.

Establishing a colony on Mars requires a lot of resources. Depending on the mission, you’ll need to build greenhouses and fill them with plants to build a food supply, increase oxygen and energy production, and upgrade your base. First Martians comes with various standalone missions, each with varying objectives. It also has two different campaigns, however, and one of them is even a legacy-style campaign (may only be played once, ever). The basic mechanics are fairly simple in comparison with the overall complexity of the game: to take an action, a player must place at least on of their action disks on an action space. You can press your luck by only placing one token, or guarantee success by placing both of your tokens there. Players may also combine their tokens to work together to attempt a task. When only one token is placed, you’ll roll a set of corresponding dice to see whether you are successful at the task, whether you became wounded while attempting the task, and whether your character had an an adventure while doing so. When a player has an adventure they will tell the game app as such and the app will give the player an option. Decisions like these will affect your character later in the game. The app tracks all of this and while it’s quite convenient and pretty slick if you think about it. There’s way too much to talk about here in terms of mechanics, but sufficed to say that while First Martians doesn’t feel incredibly thematic in terms of what your character is doing, it’s pretty cool to watch all the systems of your base degrade and the trouble this can cause a team. Different parts of the base’s various systems will become damaged, causing your team to take stress, burn through oxygen and food more quickly. Your team can swap parts between the various systems or fully repair a system, but that requires parts, which are usually in extremely low supply. If too many systems become inoperable your base will break down even faster.

Your team will also need to explore outward from your new Mars base for various reasons; some missions task you with collecting samples, which you must examine while in one you must lay cables from the base and eventually build an antennae tower in order to reestablish communications with Earth. Exploring the terrain of Mars is challenging and dangerous. In one mission we barely explored as far out as we needed to when on our way back the “Froggy” exploration rover broke. If we hadn’t completed our objective before Froggy broke, there’s no way we would have been able to repair it in time. If you like tough cooperative games with agonizing decisions, First Martians is a decent game to try out. This game is not for people who are easily discouraged, because it’s not if but when very bad things will happen. I also think that people who really enjoy working with computers have a better chance of appreciating First Martians.

First Martians uses a companion app to manage your mission on Mars. Although in this case, the game completely depends on the app, similar to Fantasy Flight Games’ second edition of Mansions of Madness. The app is a little clunky, although quite functional. There’s nothing super pretty or impressive, but it definitely gets the job done. It tells you what events have occurred and walks you through almost every step of the game if you want it to. In general, it makes a very complex game much more manageable for the average gamer. The app also tracks the completion of your objectives for each mission, and even allows you to save a virtual board at the end of a campaign mission so you can pick up where you left off at the start of the next one.

I decided not to get into the minutiae of every single mechanism that First Martians uses to try to kill you and your team members. Sufficed to say, this game is indeed complicated. To most of you this won’t mean anything, but if you’ve played some of the more complex modern board games out there, such as Phil Eklund’s titles like Greenland or even his more streamlined Pax Porfirianayou’ll know what I’m talking about, although First Martians is a decent step down from those in terms of complexity. On a 1-10 scale in terms of complexity, I’d say First Martians is somewhere between a 8 and 9. That being said, if you’re able to get through the complexity barrier, there is something pretty substantial here. There’s actually tons of content to work through, and most people will probably never experience all of it. While maybe erring too far on the simulation side versus accessibility, the Mars colonization theme is pretty strong, and I think that’s what will draw some people into the game; in that respect it does a phenomenal job. If you’re not into that theme, if you don’t like cooperative games, and especially if you don’t like complex games, First Martians is definitely not for you. Overall, objectively I’m giving it a 6 out of 10. However, for each of those following categories that appeal to you or that you enjoy, I’m giving it a +1. So, for example, if you are someone who wants a complex cooperative game with a realistic, scientific theme, I’m giving it a 9 out of 10. I’d highly recommend First Martians if you’re someone who falls into all those categories, but it’s definitely not for everyone. Additionally, It would work super well as a solo game so if you’re into that sort of thing I’d give it another +1. First Martians is far from a perfect game but it has the potential to be very satisfying for people willing to make the journey.

 

 

 

 

Board Games

One Play Review: Kokoro: Avenue of the Kodama

Usually when I do one of these One Play Reviews, I talk about a game after just one play because I know it may be a few weeks or even months till I get to play the game. In the case of Kokoro: Avenue of the Kodama, it’s a much different story. This quick review is going out now, just the day after I played it because I want people to know about this little gem as soon as possible.

 

Continuing their trend of small box games, Kokoro is one of the latest releases from Indie Boards and Cards, publisher of The Resistance (also The Resistance: Avalon), Aeon’s End, Flash Point: Fire Rescue, and Kodama: The Tree Spirits (which takes place in the same setting as Kokoro. Kokoro is a reimplementation of Avenue, a 2016 release that eluded me because like many good new games from a small publisher, it was out of stock everywhere before you could even blink and eye.

In Kokoro, players simultaneously draw lines on a small white board, connecting sanctuaries to caterpillars and flowers, but also connecting those caterpillars and flowers to guardians in opposite corners of the board. Each round, a sanctuary card is flipped, telling everyone which sanctuary will be scored. Then, a path card is flipped, telling all players what path must be drawn (these paths must be drawn in the exact orientation as shown on the card and cannot be rotated). The players can draw these paths anywhere on the board and do not need to be connected to another line and/or the sanctuary being scored. Alternatively, players can peek at what the next sanctuary card will be in instead of drawing. When a fourth golden path card is drawn, the round ends and the current sanctuary is scored. Here’s the catch: each player must score more points on that sanctuary then they did on the previous sanctuary or they otherwise score negative points for the current one at the end of the game. This is a scoring system that highly encourages long-term strategy and careful play.
This is a fantastic game. First off, it is incredibly quick to play and very casual. Although there are excruciatingly tough decisions and basically no player interaction, the game encourages fun social interactions in a way that is explainable. It’s about like sitting around playing Bingo with friends, except that Kokoro actually has meaningful decisions and is fun. Also, Kokoro has a really low MSRP of $20 and plays up to eight people. Kokoro is a winner for me, and I think for just about everyone from casual gamers to more hardcore gamers alike. It also has new special scoring cards that the original version of Avenue didn’t have, an advanced player board, and obviously white boards and dry erase markers compared to pencil/paper like the original version. For the low price, small box, great art, and quick play time with a high player count, this is a huge success of game design. I’m giving it a 9.5 out of 10 and can’t wait to play it again!

Board Games

One Play Review: Vinhos (Deluxe Edition)

Have you ever wanted to play a game about winemaking? For most people, the answer is likely “no”. However, this is definitely a brilliant and refreshing theme for a board game.  Let’s face it, most themes in board games become reused many themes (fantasy, sci-fi, etc.). Vinhos is about as Euro of a board game as you can get, which is a term for games that generally focus on skill, balance, resource management, economic mechanisms, and have a lack of player elimination.

In Vinhos, each player builds vineyards and wineries on their estates to produce wine. They hire farmers and Enologist (wine scientists), and build cellars to increase the value of their wines. Wines from each region develop renown, and players can spend said renown cubes to add to the value of wine when selling or exporting it, or even taking it to the fair. Speaking of the wine fair, at the end of years three, five and seven, players will automatically have a chance to send a wine to the wine fair. However, players can spend an action to send a wine to the wine fair early, thus ensuring first choice of booth (which provides a benefit). Several things happen, but sufficed to say that going to the fair is fairly vital to the game, and is where players can earn a lot of victory points. Players recruit wine experts, but will have the opportunity to discard them during the wine fairs for extra victory points.

Vinhos is a pretty deep and complex Euro game- on a scale from 1 to 10 I’d give it an 8.5 (Catan being a 5). There is very little luck and a lot of managing resources and planning ahead. Do you produce a lot of lower quality wines earlier on in the game, or focus on producing one or two high quality wines to move up on the wine fair track, which can help you score more victory points later in the game as well. After only one play, it does seem entirely possible that players could do well in the game overall, but not specifically in the fair. To do this, you would have to really focus on exporting as many wines as possible, which score you victory points for having a majority of barrels in each track. It is an incredibly deep game- one that I could play at least four or five times a year and not grow tired of, even though most games are probably going to be a bit over two hours.

Overall, I had a lot of fun playing Vinhos. It is the type of game that I really enjoy, but it’s often difficult to find someone that wants to play with me. For me it has one of the downfalls that almost every Euro-style game has: the bonus scoring tiles, among other ways to score victory points, have very little thematic connection or tie-in. Most of the game feels very thematic- you’re choosing from the various regions (all which have their own special bonus) to build vineyards in, recruiting workers, and producing wine. But when you get to the scoring a lot gets abstracted you lose a bit of that thematic immersion often referred to in game design as “The Magic Circle. Again, though, this is a problem with the Euro genre as a whole. It exists in some of my favorite Euro games, such as Murano, and Agricola. Vinhos is a fantastic game, however, and the Deluxe Edition does not disappoint. It looks absolutely beautiful on the table, and above all things the box insert is super clever, with pockets that perfectly fit a lot of the tiles and a lid that holds everything in place. This is a game I’d love to play again, and in general I’d give it an 7 out of 10. If you like heavy Eurogames, however, I give it a +1 and furthermore, if the theme of making wines appeals to you, I’d give it another +1. To summarize, for someone who wants to play a heavy Euro and loves the wine making theme, it’s easily a 9 out of 10. Give it a try!

P.S. Just because this is such a beautiful game, here are some more pictures. Enjoy!

 

 

 

Board Games

One Play Review: Scythe

Every few years, a board game comes along that is so well designed, it stands out among the hoard of new titles. I’m here to tell you today that Scythe, published by Stonemeier Games in 2016 and currently ranked #8 on Boardgamegeek.com, is one of those titles. This is also one of the few games I’ve played that, although I’ve only played once, I don’t feel like I need to play it more to accurately determine whether it is truly a quality game or not. Furthermore, event though there’s been a lot of hype over Scythe, I actually went into my first game with fairly low expectations.

As I play more and more games and grow older, I’ve learned that Area Control and Conquest style games (such as RISK) really are not my favorite genre. In fact, they’re one of my least favorites. I have come to enjoy them more recently if there are other aspects of the game that distract me from their core mechanics, but at heart I enjoy casual games and Resource Management style Euro games (see: Concordia). I grew up playing a decent amount of Sim City on the computer and I love that aspect of building up a city managing its various resources to keep it from toppling.

Scythe takes place in a post WWI alternate history setting with beautiful artwork. Players are given a faction board and an action board which are independent of each other and determine possible actions and costs for that particular game. The scoring system is somewhat complex but I felt like I understood it fairly well about halfway through my first game. Essentially, when the first player earns their sixth star (through various achievements) the end-game is triggered and players calculate points, which are based on the number of stars placed, the number of hex tiles controlled, resources, and built structures. However, your point multiplier for each category is your population. Although population can be a resource, it’s never a bad thing to have a high population because it increases the value of all your other scoring categories at the end of the game.

Play goes like this: on their turn the active player moves their pawn to one of the spaces on their action board. Then they take either the top action, lower action, or both. Some actions have a cost associated with them but some do not. The upper actions consist of moving your units, bolstering to increase military power, trading to gain resources, or producing resources. Lower actions include upgrading your possible actions to make the upper ones more efficient and the lower ones cheaper, building a mech, building a structure, or enlist (which gives you bonuses for when you or other players take a particular action). Your possible actions can even be expanded by moving one of your units onto the center hex of the board to gain a factory card. These factory cards typical give you powerful actions but come with a heavier cost, such as losing population or paying more coin than you would for a basic action.

Let’s talk about resources and combat. First, resource tokens always stay on hex tiles after they are produced. A player can move resources with their workers and units (mechs/leader character) but can only spend resources when a worker is present. A worker must also be present on a tile to produce a resource. Combat is simple and takes place when a opposing player moves one or more units into a hex where there is another player’s units. Players spend power and can play combat cards and compare, the winner gaining a star for their first two combats and the winner retreating to their base. This is one of the mechanisms that I love the most about Scythe, that you never completely lose your units. The winner loses popularity equal to the number of workers on the losing that are displaced by combat but keep any resources that were already in the hex.

In hindsight, I should have seen that I would love Scythe more. At its core, Scythe is a medium to heavy weight Resource Management game with a splash of conflict. In fact, I really feel like the game strongly discourages players to be overly aggressive but rewards you just enough to make it sometimes worth it. There are some incredibly interesting aspects of combat and interactions between players- you might stockpile a bunch of resources that are easy to produce and bait your opponent to attack you but also have a lot of workers in the hex, causing them to lose popularity if they attack you. There is just so much depth here, and although I have no idea if all the factions are truly balanced, I don’t know that it actually matters. There’s enough going on that players can’t math everything out and will keep each other in check as long as they learn to realize who is doing well. To sum it up, I think the most amazing thing about Scythe is it’s incredible depth and complexity, while being super accessible for new players and even gamers who have played little more than Catan or other medium-weight resource management games. The only minor critique I would make is that the scoring system is initially a little tough to wrap you mind around for new players. However by the end of their first game most people will have no problem. My first session lined up with many reports that I’ve heard in that any typical game of Scythe has around 2-3 conflicts for a four player game. If you like Euro/Resource Management games, you owe it to yourself to try Scythe. If you enjoy conquest style games such as RISK, you should give it a shot. If you just like incredibly well designed, streamlined games with amazing artwork, you have to play it. Scythe is one of the best board games I’ve ever played and I cannot recommend it highly enough. I give it a 9.5 out of 10.