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10
Go to the T.I.M.E. Stories page

T.I.M.E. Stories

18 out of 18 gamers thought this was helpful

T.I.M.E. Stories is a bit difficult to classify. Is it a board game? Kind of, but it’s not strategic or tactical, with few mechanics and moderate luck. Is it a roleplaying game? Possibly a very light one, but there’s no leveling outside of finding items and no character customization. Is it a storytelling game? While the story is definitely the selling point, there’s a lot more going on than a standard choose-your-own-adventure. So what classification fits it best? For me it’s video game. I left the digital game world behind a decade ago so my references are dated, but this is much closer to my PS2 favorites – well-known titles like Resident Evil and Silent Hill (the Asylum scenario included with the base game is particularly Silent Hill-y) as well as lesser-known games like Fatal Frame and Shadow of Destiny (my all-time favorite video game, and like T.I.M.E. Stories built around the central theme of time travel). The following is about the game system, with no scenario spoilers.

Observed Set-Up and Play Time
Set up of any T.I.M.E. Stories scenario takes 2 minutes – you place the board, dump some tokens around it, place the scenario’s deck and you’re off. However, character selection – which is part of set up in other games – is moved to gameplay here, and it can cause games to start a little slow as you analyze options and build a balanced team. Play time varies – the number of actions players can take in the game is determined by a given scenario’s “temporal units” (TUs), and while the board supports up to 60 TUs, scenarios can use as little as 25. A 25-TU scenario takes around an hour for one “run” (you’ll almost certainly need more than one run to complete a scenario), while a 60-TU run could go well over two hours. When you factor in the number of runs you’re likely to need to complete the story, you’ll be spending around 5 or 6 hours total – but they’re easily broken up over several game nights.

My Learning Curve and Teach Time
T.I.M.E. Stories is light on mechanics, so it’s easy to pick up quickly. The rulebook is primarily concerned with making sure players understand movement and skill check rules; most other rules are spelled out on the cards that make up scenario decks. The rulebook is digestible in around 30 minutes, and you’ll be error-free in your first game. Teaching is similarly easy, requiring only a summary of movement and skill check rules picked up from the rulebook. Around 5 minutes with a new player and you’re ready to start.


Group Sizes and Dynamics
T.I.M.E. Stories is playable with 2, 3 or 4 players, and I’ve covered each player count in the first three scenarios. Surprisingly, I’ve found it plays equally great at each. The rulebook gives you pause by stating that the game’s intended interaction will work much better with 4 than fewer, but I’ve found that to be false. With two players you’ll be managing two investigators apiece; with three you’ll be managing one (playing with one fewer investigator than other player counts), but you’ll get a well-balanced bonus that evens things out. You’ll obviously have fewer people to brainstorm with in a 2-player game, but I didn’t find that to be detrimental at all.


Objectionable Material
Without getting into specifics to avoid spoiling anything, T.I.M.E. Stories is not for children or pre-teens. In addition to time travel, horror is the constant theme through the first three scenarios – and it can get pretty close to R-rated. Pictures on cards are rife with scary imagery, while written materials can be very adult. While the rules could be easily digested and followed by an 8-year-old, I won’t be playing this with my kids until they’re 15 or so (and a decade between playing a scenario will be necessary as you’ll need to forget everything before trying to replay).


Comparable Titles
The two closest comparisons for T.I.M.E. Stories I’ve come across are Agents of SMERSH and Tales of the Arabian Nights. While each of those titles are decently-replayable choose-your-own-adventure games with hundreds of pages of options allowing you to piece together different stories every time you play, T.I.M.E. Stories has exactly one path – and you’ll need to expose at least 80% of the story to complete a scenario. It’s a zero-replayability game, but I find it much more engaging than other storytelling games.


There is almost no middle ground for T.I.M.E. Stories – outside of Legacy games, there’s nothing you can purchase that will get fewer plays, which we can all agree is a bad thing. However, I’ve yet to find another game as engaging when you’re in it. When you fail a run, you will think about nothing else until you get to attempt the next run. You’ll work on solving puzzles for hours between play sessions. And when you unravel the mystery to get to the end you’ll feel genuine accomplishment.


About Replayability
Unlike Legacy games, you’ll do nothing to harm or otherwise change any of the game materials in T.I.M.E. Stories. Theoretically, you could finish a scenario with one group and begin playing with another. But it doesn’t work that way, as the “game” is in trying to graduate from “wandering aimlessly around talking to weirdos” to piecing together the correct path of rooms to visit and objects to collect to get to the end in the allotted time. Once you’ve learned this – as well as the solutions to all of the puzzles you’ll encounter along the way – you’ll remember them for the foreseeable future. If another group were to attempt to play it with you involved, it would be cheating. So you play for 5(ish) hours, then you put it away until the next expansion comes along – and you pay another $20 for that new scenario (just a new deck of 120 to 150 story cards). If being completely captivated (and borderline obsessed) for 5 hours is worth $35 to you ($20 for each additional 5 hours), T.I.M.E. Stories can’t miss. If you’re less worried with story/theme, and prefer mastering game mechanics through dozens of plays, this is a definite pass. Overall, T.I.M.E. Stories is one of the best cooperative games I’ve played, and one of my favorite games ever.

9
Go to the Kings of Air and Steam page

Kings of Air and Steam

116 out of 119 gamers thought this was helpful

Way back in 2013, with the seeds of dominance in the pocket-game arena just beginning to take root in his mind, Tiny Epic Scott Almes designed a full-sized gem in Kings of Air and Steam that seems to have become an afterthought for its pint-sized siblings. But for me, Kings of Air and Steam is the one Scott Almes will be remembered for, a truly unique hodgepodge of mechanics with terrific artwork, ample replay value and the ability to move from a tight-quarters competition for limited resources to a sprawling, room-for-everyone transit builder where the ******** plans will shine the brightest at the whim of the players.

Observed Set-Up and Play Time
There are 7 modular board tiles in Kings of Air and Steam, but they aren’t designed to be set up randomly. The rulebook will lay out the tiles for you based on player count and desired “tightness” of the board. Set up takes the same amount of time with 7 tiles or 3; you’ll be arranging them and placing starting goods on the board, then arranging player boards, cards, train depots and zeppelins. It takes a good 15 minutes to get everything ready – much more for the first game, when you’ve got all that rulebooking and cardboard punching to do. The rulebook is a fairly easy read, but you’ll have to check back in with it for a game or two. The publisher’s 90 minute play time estimate holds true for 4 player games; 2-player games can be completed in around an hour, while 6- or 7-player games are likely over 2 hours (I haven’t played with more than 4, but while the game has several simultaneous actions to limit additional time there are still several things that must be done one player at a time).


My Learning Curve and Teach Time
I would classify Kings of Air and Steam as a “just-above-gateway” level game – it’s not difficult to learn, and it doesn’t take long to understand the best strategies. Astute players will figure out the optimum approaches after only a game or two. But that won’t hinder replay value – there’s still satisfaction in building your freight network, and the competition is great when all players understand their priorities. It takes around a half-hour to teach all of the rules to a newcomer – there’s many things you can’t leave for “when they come up during gameplay”, so teaching is pretty front-loaded.


Group Sizes and Dynamics
I have played Kings of Air and Steam with 2 to 4 players, mostly made up of Casual Gamers. It was definitely a hit with them, although they didn’t like all the rules I had to explain ahead of time. My greatest regret with this game is that I haven’t been able to play with 6 or 7. It seems like it would be outstanding at that count, as the actions that are taken simultaneously should keep it from getting too long, and the board would become a bustling expanse of rail networks. Unfortunately, when I have that many players together they always want to play lighter party games.


Objectionable Material
There really isn’t anything objectionable to the game. There are variable player powers, and one of the groups specializes in thievery – but that’s as adult as it gets. A smart ten-year-old could probably play and enjoy Kings of Air and Steam, but I would think there’s too muich going on to try it with a child much younger.


Comparable Titles
It’s funny that @Granny compared this to Ticket to Ride, as I always thought of this as a step up from Settlers of Catan. I do agree with all of his comparisons to TtR – there can be as much frustration in Kings of Air and Steam over somebody filling a city you need as there is in TtR when somebody takes a route you need that seems to serve no purpose to them just to block you. But it reminds me of Catan a little more because of the rush to collect resources and place your depots close to where those resources produce. Where this improved on Catan greatly for me was the foresight of the resources – there are no dice to role to determine what’s producing (here everything produces in equal amounts), but instead a change in value of resources at the beginning of each round that will have you either adjusting your plans to get the most valuable stuff, or sticking to your strategy and making do with a little less money this round.


I get to play Kings of Air and Steam a lot less now than I’d like to – it’s one of a dozen or so games that I’ve had for over a year that I still get really excited to play. I continue to long for the day that I get to play this with 7 players. One small quibble I have is with zeppelin size – they are huge, and while that looks cool, the bases are much too big for the spaces on the board. Because of the shape of the bases in relation to the shape of the spaces, one corner of the zeppelin base will always overlap into another space. But the bigger problem is that, per the rules, more than one zeppelin can be in the same space at the same time – which is impossible with the size of the zeppelins. You have to cram two side-by-side, each straddling 2 spaces, and hope nobody else needs to move into any of those spaces. Not that big of a deal, but a small annoyance (until 3 zeppelins want to occupy the same space – then it’s a big deal.) This is a great game – one that anybody who appreciates some strategy in their (near) gateways should own.

7
Go to the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game: Skull & Shackles (Base Set) page
120 out of 122 gamers thought this was helpful

I was interested in the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game when Rise of the Runelords was released, but I decided not to invest in it because it seemed evident that this game takes a lot of time… time I really didn’t have unless I was willing to play it to the exclusion of everything else. When a family emergency kept me stuck at home with my toddler for 14 days a few months ago, with nobody to play games with or even talk to, I was restless for something I could play solitaire. I immediately ordered everything I could get for PACG (now onto the Skull & Shackles set) and dove into it obsessively every time my little guy went to sleep. My playing slowed down quite a bit when life returned to normal, but not because I want to play it any less! Here are some opinions.

Observed Set-Up and Play Time
It takes a decent amount of time to get through the rulebook with an understanding adequate to actually play the game – for me it was around 2 hours before I dared brave playing. Several mistakes were made that first game, and it wasn’t until game 3 or 4 that I was adhering to all rules. Even though the components are mostly cards (there’s 5 dice also, but that’s it), it still takes a little time to get everything ready for that first play. In addition to unwrapping the cards, you’ll need to separate them into types – and there are a LOT of different card types. It will take a good 30 minutes to set the game up the first time; that reduces to about 10 minutes on future plays. The stated play time of 90 minutes can vary widely between scenarios – some are finishable in 45 minutes, while others take the full 90.


My Learning Curve and Teach Time
As mentioned, the rules took a good 3 or 4 games before I had the hang of them. Getting decent at the game takes much longer. I put together several 2- or 3-character teams and started running them through the introductory scenarios only to have them die by the 3rd or 4th mission. I learned some valuable lessons on the importance of having a varied team with different specialties (rather than loading up on fighters) and making sure the right characters are in the right locations based on what’s likely to be drawn. As for teach time, this is the only game I’ve played where I can’t weigh in – I have never played with others, and thus never had to teach it.


Group Sizes and Dynamics
Another area I can’t weigh in, as the group has been me, myself and I (or as my multiple personalities like to call themselves – Oloch, Lem and Valeros). However, I can see that this would be an outstanding cooperative game to play with anybody who likes dungeon crawlers or exploration-heavy games… and games that stay with you for months while you work your way through them. This should be a big hit with Power Gamers.


Objectionable Material
Due to content and gameplay, this isn’t a game for children. It’s difficult, with rules that will never be labelled “simple”. There are a bunch of Monster cards that have mature, scary (to a child) illustrations. And while there’s no gore or violence depicted directly on the cards, it’s pretty inescapable that you’re constantly fighting everything you come across.


Comparable Titles
Thematically this is a close tie to its Pathfinder ancestry – you’re swapping deck-building mechanics and cards for dense rulebooks and DMs, but it will certainly scratch the same itch. And while deck-building is a big part of the game, this isn’t at all like deck-builders. This game stays with you for 35 to 50 hours while you work your team through the whole story. The only game that has given me a similar feeling is Arcadia Quest – while it is competitive and miniatures-based, both games have you building strength through exploration and monster-slaying, and both let you grow through multiple game nights and make your characters something more than pawns on a board. Both Arcadia Quest and PACG are fantastic for us would-be Power Gamers who don’t have long stretches of available time to truly be Power Gamers.


Skull & Shackles had a lightning-quick rise from purchase to Favorites for me. It gives me a chance to work long hours at developing my group of adventurers… but rarely requires me to give that time in more than one-hour increments. The story is fascinating, the characters are varied (particularly if you purchase the Character Add-On Deck or Class Decks)… and most importantly, the game is very challenging. And in case this wasn’t evident – this is one of the best solo experiences out there.

8
Go to the Hanabi page

Hanabi

177 out of 185 gamers thought this was helpful

As I was working my way through purchasing titles in Boardgaming.com’s Cooperative Explorables Collection I focused on heavier/longer games and ignored the smaller/quicker games. But as my admiration for Antoine Bauza grew from positive experiences with his “bigger” games I decided I should check out Hanabi. I like my filler games to be relatively think-free and I like my thinking games to be more epic, so I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about a 30-minute-or-less filler that requires much thinking and remembering.

Observed Set-Up and Play Time
Ah the beauty of the simple filler. There are 11 tokens to punch out of cardboard when you receive the game… but that’s all there is save the cards (only 50 of those). The rules are as easy to grasp as you might hope. Anybody will be able to start their first game of Hanabi 15 minutes after opening it. Games tend to take right around the 30-minute advertised length.

My Learning Curve and Teach Time
For such a “small” game, Hanabi is quite thinky. It takes several games with the same group of players to truly get on the same page and begin mastering the game… and when you play with a different group you start from scratch to some extent in getting familiar with how you’ll approach the game. Your game of Hanabi is scored between 0 and 25 at the end of the game to objectively rate how you did; for the first handful of games my primary group played together we scored in the high teens. After 5 or so games we were able to regularly score in the 20s (although that elusive 25 still evades us). But if I play with a few first-timers, I’ll be right back down in the mid-teens again. It only takes about 5 minutes to teach Hanabi to a newcomer.

Group Sizes and Dynamics
Hanabi supports 2 to 5 players, but I’ve only played with 3 or 4. This isn’t really a game I want to pull out for 2 player or 5 player nights (at 2, I like things either more tactical like Summoner Wars or Krosmaster: Arena or less thinky like Dragonheart or Ascension; at 5, I want to play something big). Oddly for a game that revolves around talking and interaction, this is a very anti-social game. You can literally only say one of two things for the entirety of the game: “these cards are color X” or “these cards are number Y”. Anything else is cheating.

Objectionable Material
Thematically, Hanabi is simply building a firework display. It’s a charming little game built around a pretty universally liked thing. It could be a useful teaching tool in instructing a child on the importance of teamwork, but it requires patience and thought that might be missing in a 5-year-old (who otherwise could play, as you need only color and number recognition). If you can get them into it, the designer’s recommended playing age of 8 sounds about right. However, an 8-year-old may not be too eager to sit down for a 30 minute thinking session.

Comparable Titles
Hanabi is the only cooperative small-box card game I know of… but there are a bunch of good small-box competitive card games that are as easy as Hanabi to get a new group going on. The best of these may be Love Letter, an equally charming and Japanese-themed game-in-a-pocket with plenty of quick but strategic decisions to make (I have the Kanai Factory edition – the Tempest edition won’t share the same Japanese setting). If you like to keep your games in your pocket, Hanabi trumps Love LetterHanabi’s box is about half the size, even though it has 3 times as many cards. A few other games I’d recommend in the competitive card game that can fit in a pocket category are Crazy Creatures of Dr. Gloom (a fun little monster-breeding game for 4, and definitely more interesting than Hanabi or Love Letter for children) and Tschak! (a dungeon-and-monsters themed game with a pocket-sized board that plays really well with 2 or 4 players, but not so great with 3).

So I mentioned above the cheating, and this is probably the only drawback to Hanabi. Hands-down, this is the easiest game on Earth to cheat at. Since you’re playing cooperatively nobody is incented to call out a slight bending of the rules… and that slight bending may be the smallest of groans or a nearly-involuntary twitch of the eye, but it will have a huge impact on the game. Simply inhaling when somebody is about to discard a card can tell them they shouldn’t discard that card. It can have a several-point effect on the end of game score. To play properly, you (and your teammates) need to concentrate throughout the 30 minutes of playtime to make sure you use no physical “tells”. It’s probably a lot to ask of people who thought they were sitting down to play a lite filler game. But I have 2 people I’ve mastered playing it with, and we have a lot of (thinky, not laughy) fun playing this 3 or 4 times in a row to chase that elusive 25.

10
Go to the Alien Frontiers page

Alien Frontiers

94 out of 96 gamers thought this was helpful

When I got into board gaming I read a lot of subjective articles ranking writers’ opinions of the “best” the hobby has to offer. The two names I saw most frequently residing at the top of these lists were Power Grid and Alien Frontiers. I spent a lot of time looking into both games; I ultimately decided that Power Grid was not for me (I do “economy” professionally, so I want nothing to do with it leisurely), and that Alien Frontiers, while most certainly for me, was a game I’d have to work up to. I threw it onto my Wish List and forgot about it for 6 months. When I felt I was ready to tackle something as “daunting” as worker placement (I was very new to boardgaming at the time, so even mechanics I’d now deem simple seemed too complex), Alien Frontiers was out of print and going for over $100 on eBay or Amazon. I was finally able to get my hands on it a few months ago when the new printing became available. So is it among the best gaming has to offer?

A quick disclaimer: everything in my review pertains to the most recent edition of the game (the 4th edition, funded on Kickstarter in 2013 and released to retail April 2014). This combines the contents of the original base game with the contents of the Upgrade Pack (domed plastic colonies, plastic miniatures for the Field Generators and dock cover chits for 2 and 3 player games), and includes awesome tuckboxes to store all the parts. It also contains a 2-sided board – one side identical to the previous editions, the other with “rocket dice” shaped docks to work with Game Salute’s rocket dice to be released later this year.

Observed Set-Up and Play Time
The only “putting together” you have to do when you first open Alien Frontiers is assembly of the tuckboxes and organization of the parts into them. It’s a task that takes around 10 minutes. The rulebook is straight forward – particularly if you have prior experience with worker placement games. I started my first game around an hour after opening the box, and it lasted around an hour and a half. Setting the game up for repeat plays is simpler than some other worker placement games – no more than 10 minutes work. My games – whether 2, 3 or 4-player – have always taken between 1 and 2 hours.

My Learning Curve and Teach Time
If you have prior WP experience, getting good at Alien Frontiers does not take long. You really just need to get comfortable with the available Alien Tech cards and develop a strategy around managing the board. If you have no prior WP experience, your first handful of games will be dicey. My first WP game was Lords of Waterdeep, and most of my decisions were pretty embarrassing for the first 4 or 5 games. Teach time is relatively quick, even when teaching to somebody who’s never tried worker placement. Alien Frontiers is so elegantly designed that the board itself – while highly thematic – manages to cram in most of the instructions for the game in logical symbol-based form. No more than a half hour is required to teach someone as long as you are already familiar with the game.

Group Sizes and Dynamics
Of every game I’ve played, this one feels the most classification-proof to me. The only tough sell may be to power gamers, but they should be able to forgive the shorter playing time given the thematic immersion (although I’m sure they’d prefer Eclipse). My friends who hate Euros love it because they’re playing a science fiction game; my friends who hate theme-heavy/mechanic-light games love it because they’re playing a real Euro. Unfortunately, until the new edition’s expansions make it to retail (supposedly end of 2014) I can only play with 3 others. The bigger my gaming circle gets, the more I appreciate games that can support at least 6 players – and right now, Alien Frontiers is limited.

Objectionable Material
There is nothing above a PG rating in Alien Frontiers, but it’s not a game I could see playing with a child. While extremely thematic, the “science fiction” is more 60s B-movie than Phantom Menace, and I believe only adults appreciate B-movies. The game mechanics and strategies are also a little advanced for children, and there is no way I can see to “dumb it down”. I would tab this exactly at the 13+ manufacturer’s recommendation.

Comparable Titles
There are two titles that immediately grab me as comparisons to Alien Frontiers: Kingsburg and Euphoria. Kingsburg is definitely the gateway game that would lead to the other 2, and is likely to get shelved once you’ve graduated – even with the expansion, it’s got far fewer options than the others, and a flimsier theme. But Euphoria is real competition for Alien Frontiers. They are both thematically and strategically rich, and they use the same means to mitigate the randomness of dice rolling. Euphoria is the more complicated game, but I prefer Alien Frontiers overall. You can’t go wrong with either, but Alien Frontiers flirts with gaming perfection.

Alien Frontiers – particularly this stunning 4th edition – has proven well worth the wait. I’ve played it several dozen times in the few months I’ve owned it, and don’t see it slowing down any time soon. The theme catches you in a manner that few Euros can, and the experience will only get richer when the rocket dice become available later this year. This is a game that everyone should have in their library.

7
Go to the Rampage page

Rampage

86 out of 88 gamers thought this was helpful

I’ve become somewhat of an Antoine Bauza completionist, so it was inevitable that Rampage would become my first attempt at a dexterity game. I’ve never had an outright dexterity aversion; it’s just that I like board games that make me think, and I’m always worried that flicking negates thinking. While this is a far cry from anything resembling strategic, I was pleased to find that there are bunches of decisions in Rampage… the flicking just makes you adjust your plan much more often than normal. I’d call it dexterity for the thinking gamer.

Observed Set-Up and Play Time
Good grief does this take forever to set up. You have to “build” the city by using 90 meeples as support for the 7 buildings on the board. It probably takes longer than it sounds like it would. And getting the game ready for the first play can take an eternity if you want to use the stickers for the meeples (there are 6 color meeples, each representing a different kind of townsfolk – the stickers actually make the pieces look like “the elderly”, “superheroes”, etc.). Even if you leave your meeples unstuck, you’ve got stickers to apply to the monster game bits (body piece and foot piece) and automobiles. Oh… and the board has several pieces that need to be permanently affixed as well. I had to have the meeple stickers, so my first game took around 3 hours to set up. At least the rulebook is a breeze: as has become a staple of Bauza’s games, it’s perfectly laid out and informative. You’ll only need 15 minutes to understand gameplay. My games have definitely taken longer than the advertised time. They usually run around 45 minutes.

My Learning Curve and Teach Time
There really isn’t a learning curve to Rampage. Anybody will immediately understand that they need to move to buildings, try to destroy them, then feasting on the inhabitants. It does take about 10 minutes to run through the rules, as the 3 “attack” options are only available depending on your proximity to buildings or cars. There are also variable powers, and it’s important the new player understands theirs before beginning.

Group Sizes and Dynamics
Rampage is limited to 4 players, and as is probably the case with most dexterity games, sits squarely in the “casual” category. Everybody I play with has an appreciation for casual games, so it’s been a hit with all of them. But it will not suffice for a hardcore power or strategy gamer. And unfortunately the 4-player limit can make it less accessible for some groups than the similarly-themed King of Tokyo.

Objectionable Material
This is silly cartoony fun. It is about monsters eating people, though, so some parents may take umbrage. I am not one of those parents. As long as there’s no weapons, blood or realism I’ll force it on my child as early as possible. I would think a 5-year-old would have a blast with this, but you’d probably want to play without the variable power cards.

Comparable Titles
Rampage is really just a dexterity version of King of Tokyo – I enjoy both, but probably have a slight preference for the later. There’s also Smash Monster Rampage, a neat-looking but overly-pricey game funded on Kickstarter about 8 months ago that’s currently 4 months past due. Other than its tardiness, I don’t know much about the game. And the flicking-discs portion of Rampage makes it akin to Catacombs – a flicking-only dexterity game that looks so insanely awesome I went all-in on its recent Kickstarter campaign even though it’s of a genre I’m not crazy for.

I always keep a mental ranking of my preferences for Bauza’s games – I’m just anal-retentive like that. Rampage is a good game, but “good” puts you near the bottom of that list. It’s certainly no Ghost Stories, Takenoko or Hanabi, and probably on-par with Tokaido (believe it or not, I’ve yet to play 7 Wonders – the only one you can buy at mass retailers!). While I absolutely hate setting it up, Rampage is a bunch of fun to tear down.

8
Go to the Fantastiqa page

Fantastiqa

176 out of 180 gamers thought this was helpful

Deck builders seem to be everywhere. Except for a rare few (those that integrate deck building into a larger board game like City of Iron or the recently-launched-on-Kickstarter Rive), they all play very similarly. When a “standard” deck building game is faced with a saturated market a unique theme to set it apart is a huge advantage. This unique theme is the reason to seek out and appreciate Fantastiqa, a game about exploring a Chronicles of Narnia-style new world armed with nothing but household tools. Don’t worry… those standard household tools have magical powers in this whimsical land!

Observed Set-Up and Play Time
The rulebook leaves a lot to be desired. Considering there are only a few twists on the normal deck builder design, this should have been much easier to read through and comprehend. I spent over 2 hours reading and re-reading before I could teach and play – this is as long as City of Iron took me, and that’s a much more complicated game. Set-up (both initial and repeat) takes around 10 minutes. The time it takes to play the game is determined by you: during set-up you choose one of 8 “quest goals” to use for the game – these set the number of quests a player needs to complete to claim victory. With the lowest number, the game can be played in around an hour or a little less. With the highest quest goals, the game can last well over 2 hours.

Group Sizes and Dynamics
The “play area” for Fantastiqa is small. 2-player games are perfect, leaving room for each player to move around; 3-player games get a little crowded, but still work well. At 4 players, the board is so crowded that the only official rules are “teams of 2”… which is not my favorite way to play 4-player games. There are a bunch of decisions to make each turn (which monster do I try to tame? (there is no “slaying” in this game; everything is peaceful); which statue do I visit? Do I target an opponent’s hand, or work to build mine? Do I take a flying carpet ride now?), but the randomness inflicted unto the game by the shuffle of the Creature, Artifact and Quest decks of cards makes this less-than-ideal for strategy gamers. Strictly social gamers won’t like it due to thinkiness and the restrictive player limits. But everybody else should really enjoy it.

Objectionable Material
If I gave grades to games in this area, Fantastiqa would earn the highest marks. While this is a game with a theme, artwork and complexity to appeal to adults, there is not one single thing you would shield even the youngest child’s eyes or ears from. I mentioned before that you’re taming the wild beasts you encounter rather than fighting them – if you succeed (with items such as tin pails, brooms and magic wands), they join your cause and help you complete your quests. Even the quests are cute – bring 3 of good x to location y to heal creature z from whatever ails it. I can’t recommend Fantastiqa enough if you’re looking for a tier 2 deck builder to play with a child. There is reading involved, so I would guess the manufacturer’s 8+ age recommendation is about right.

Comparable Titles
I’m unaware of any game resembling Fantastiqa thematically. And while it utilizes a more standard deck building mechanic than a game like City of Iron, it does have a handful of attributes that differentiate it from other deck builders. While most other deck builders have a pool of available cards everybody can choose from, in Fantastiqa you have to encounter a card on your “path” to attempt to claim it. You actually have a cardboard standee to move about the board while you tame the beasts you encounter. While there is nothing like it, I would lump Fantastiqa in with Thunderstone Advance and Heroes of Metro City as more-complicated-than-normal deck builders.

Nowhere in here was I able to fit in my favorite aspect of Fantastiqa: the components (I really box myself in with these categories!). They are the best. Of all games. I have yet to encounter such pristine materials elsewhere: the 6 wooden pieces are the best I’ve come across; the cardboard parts (pre-punched) are thick and flawless; the linen-stock cards exceed any I’ve seen. Just looking at the game is enjoyable. And while I’m an admitted sucker for deck builders, Fantastiqa belongs to the handful I would recommend highest for overall gameplay and fun.

8
Go to the Ancient Terrible Things page

Ancient Terrible Things

99 out of 101 gamers thought this was helpful

Dice games are not my favorite, but I have plenty of them in my library and play them frequently. They’re great to break out when non-gamers want to play something, and the best of the genre can keep the board-game obsessed among us entertained. When I saw pictures of Ancient Terrible Things (unfortunately well after its Kickstarter campaign) I knew I had to have it. The artwork looked original and creative, and the theme looked just generic enough not to feel too “Cthulhu-y”. After a month of cramming in play after play, it has surpassed King of Tokyo as my go-to dice game (I still prefer Quarriors to anything else with dice, but that’s more deckbuilder than dice game to me).

Observed Set-Up and Play Time
There are a couple of sheets of die-cut cardboard to handle when you break the box open, and they’re pretty poor quality. The cardboard bits are thick and look nice, but they are easily damaged when separating. I’m careful, but I have a handful of tokens that are peeling at the ends because of this. There are also 8 stickers to apply to wooden player markers – be careful when doing so, as I matched the background sticker colors to like-colored wooden markers, and this is incorrect. There are two wrapped decks of cards to open and organize. Finally, the rulebook is well organized and easy to read. You’ll have the board set up and ready to play within an hour of opening the box. My first game was 2-player, and took the advertised 60 minutes. It’s common to finish 3- and 4-player games in around an hour as well.

My Learning Curve and Teach Time
Your speed at mastering Ancient Terrible Things will depend on your answer to one question: have you played Elder Sign? And the time you’ll have to invest in teaching someone else will depend on whether or not they’re experienced with Elder Sign. To put it bluntly, Ancient Terrible Things is about as close to a facsimile of another game as you can get without smacking an IP skin on Monopoly. If you (or the person you’re teaching) have played Elder Sign, it shouldn’t take more than 10 minutes to walk through turn movement and the handful of unique aspects to the game. If you’re seasoned at Elder Sign, you’ll be a master of Ancient Terrible Things on your first play. If you have never played Elder Sign, you’ll figure out all the do’s and don’ts of pressing your luck with the dice in a game or two.

Group Sizes and Dynamics
Ancient Terrible Things scales really well between 2 and 4 players. You will have a little wait between turns in a 4-player game (around 5 minutes), but it’s fun to watch others attempt their die rolls and hope they don’t gather the resources to buy the one artifact you had your eye on (the “Swag” available for purchase in the game either helps boost your end-of-game victory points or increase your control over your dice… and “Swag” is what they call it in the game… that’s not a word I’d use on my own). When you build a game nearly exclusively around dice, you’ve pigeonholed your target audience as “Casual Gamers”… but as with King of Tokyo, I believe this game will be enjoyed by any and all classes of gamers. It’s light, fun and consistently exciting.

Objectionable Material
While more lighthearted than other horror-themed games, Ancient Terrible Things is still a horror-themed game. There are illustrated monsters, weapons to buy and human villains trying to harm you for selfish means. While dice games can be great for introducing youngsters to games, the aforementioned “Swag” cards – necessities for staying competitive – are entirely reading dependent. I don’t think this will work for children under the age of 10.

Comparable Titles
The similarity to Elder Sign can’t be overstated… but the good news is that it’s the superior game (by a wide margin in my book). The physical board goes a long way to helping you believe you’re exploring unique locations, where Elder Sign always makes me feel like I’m merely trying to roll the matching die faces on a card. Additional dice are much harder to come by in Ancient Terrible Things, creating a real challenge when deciding where you’ll go next. And while I know a few vocal people on this website disagree with me, Elder Sign is the easiest co-op I’ve ever played. Simply being a competitive game makes Ancient Terrible Things a much harder win, and I prefer board games that challenge me.

As I mentioned at the top, Ancient Terrible Things has entrenched itself as my dice game of preference. It’s got all the dice-rolling excitement of King of Tokyo with a surprisingly original (for a board game) theme. I’ve seen people classify it as a “Cthulhu” game, but other than the “Terrible Thing” tokens – which display tentacles – there is little Lovecraftian about it. You’re a group of explorers travelling down a river in the rainforest in search of answers or profit. Like Lovecraft’s fiction, you may go insane on your quest. But you also may be hassled by a professional pugilist who’s presence in the rainforest gives more questions than answers… or you may fall into man- or nature-made traps littered throughout the jungle… or it may be the voodoo priests that get you. It’s very cool.

7
Go to the Chaos Marauders page

Chaos Marauders

80 out of 82 gamers thought this was helpful

Like many board game aficionados, a game’s ability to make you earn a victory is a rather large factor in its overall value to me. I shouldn’t be able to play a game for the first time against old hats and sneak away with a win unless they really took it easy on me. I want to feel like I’ve learned from game to game until everything clicks and I can compete. It’s usually a pretty big red mark against a game if I can master it but still have a rookie wipe me out due to a lucky string of randomness. Chaos Marauders is nothing but random… but I enjoy playing it anyway. It’s just too silly to not have fun with, and I won’t let myself become so curmudgeonly that I can’t appreciate it for what it is.

Observed Set-Up and Play Time
Chaos Marauders is an awesome game to have delivered in the mail and play the very same night. The contents are limited to a deck of 110 cards, 16 plastic cones in a zip lock, 1 die and 4 player boards (basically, a long sheet of card stock built for holding 12 playing cards side-by-side). There is no prep time to the materials, and the rulebook is easy (there is an additional instructional booklet included that outlines the exact rules of particular cards… this is a little harder to read through, but it’s unnecessary to do so before playing). From the first, you can have the game out of the box and set up in 2 minutes. Game time is very hard to predict; I’ve had numerous 15-minute games and just as many 45+ minute games. It should never take more than an hour, even if the cards fall in a way that prolongs the game as much as possible.

My Learning Curve and Teach Time
Chaos Marauders is teachable to literally anybody (gamer or not) in under 10 minutes. There is really no learning curve to speak of… the thing about a game this random is that there is no point in wasting brain cells on strategy. Sure, you can think long and hard on one and do your best to implement it. But the next player can (and will) draw one card that completely throws every one of your little plans in the dirt and laughs at their tears. Cards are such bullies.

Group Sizes and Dynamics
This game can be played with anybody… but that doesn’t mean it should be. By definition, it’s too random for strategy gamers and too light for power gamers; but these classifications do a particularly poor job in Chaos Marauders’ case of determining who will enjoy it. While any strategy or power gamer you know may have a blast with it, anybody (gamer or otherwise) that takes winning too seriously will be awful to play with. There’s one particular guy we occasionally play games with that tends to get overly sulky when he loses and overly exuberant when he wins. We played this with him and he was getting destroyed – heading into what proved to be his final turn, I would say he had around 100 points while everybody else was between 600 and 800 (point values are huge in this game). He pulled one random card that let him wipe out the points of the player sitting at 800 while catapulting himself to over 1000, and ended the game (not because of the points, but because it completed his 3rd battle line). The rest of us – who are used to the game and this kind of random dumb luck – laughed about it. But he started gloating like this was his master plan, and still talks about his amazing victory to this day. If you tell him the game is random, he gets flushed and rattles off a list of obvious tactics he employed (in his very first game) that the rest of us just couldn’t see. I will never play this game with him again… and I suggest you avoid playing it with people like this. I’ve also seen this guy get upset about losing a game of Zombie Dice.

Objectionable Material
It’s technically a war card game, so some illustrations are carrying fantasy weaponry or piloting machines of destruction. But these are goofy animated orcs, and there’s such a tenuous link to reality that I can’t find it objectionable. There are no images of violence or blood on the cards, and you don’t really “attack” each other – you just mess with each other’s battle lines and occasionally roll the die to see which one stays intact.

Comparable Titles
It’s pretty hard to pinpoint a game that shares anything mechanically with Chaos Marauders. While there are other war or battle card games they usually involve taking actions against your opponents, where this game focuses exclusively on building your battle lines (with occasional “take that!”s as a byproduct). While Chaos Marauders is not a deckbuilder, it may best be likened to Ascension (and the 50 deckbuilders that are similar to it). Four players sit around building out their hand/battle lines by claiming cards from the center of the table, and once in a while an opposing player gets a card that causes you to lose a construct/warrior. Thematically, I think of Chaos Marauders much like the Red Dragon Inn series… there is no alcohol involved here, nor a plethora of fantasy races, but the orcs from CM would be at home visiting the Red Dragon Inn after a day on the battlefield.

Random is not my thing, but I simply laugh too much while playing Chaos Marauders to be put off by it. It isn’t one of my favorites, but even after a year of regular play I am never chagrined to see it hit the table (you do need a whole table… while the box is approximately 7” x 4” x 1”, a four-player game takes every inch of my 4’ x 4’ dining room table). I would definitely avoid paying MSRP for it (there isn’t nearly enough in the box to validate the $25 price tag on Fantasy Flight’s website), but you can frequently find it under $10 as a clearance item online, and it’s worth grabbing then.

7
Go to the Euphoria: Build a Better Dystopia page

Euphoria: Build a Better Dystopia

165 out of 175 gamers thought this was helpful

Stonemaier Games took Kickstarter by storm in 2012/2013, setting the new standard for how board game campaigns should be run (this isn’t hyperbole – Jamey Stegmaier’s library of blog posts on all issues Kickstarter are regarded as holy text for any creator trying to run a campaign without the luxury of a mega-publisher behind them). Euphoria was the second of their projects (the first being Viticulture), and raised an obscene amount for a non-miniatures offering. It’s a worker placement game with an amazing theme seamlessly integrated and a whole bunch of gameplay goodness going for it. Here are some of my opinions on it.

Observed Set-Up and Play Time
While gameplay is quite smooth and breezy, set-up is anything but. There are bunches of different wooden pieces, cardboard pieces and cards to separate and arrange prior to playing. In fact, when you first open the box it’s a mess. The box itself lacks any kind of insert – you just throw all your stuff in randomly (I’m not sure if this is the same with the Deluxe or Premium additions). There’s a bunch of plastic bags provided for you to use to separate the different bits, but there weren’t enough for me. When I open my copy now, I’m greeted by 20+ separate baggies containing parts. That’s usually a pretty big buzzkill, but the game is so fun I try to ignore it. In direct contrast to the disheveled box is the rulebook; while it’s no easy read due to the amount of material to cover, it’s well organized and likely as concise as possible. It took me about 2 hours to have the first game ready to go; after that, it takes about 15 minutes to set up. The advertised play time might be a little off for a 5 or 6 player game, but not by much… while there are constant decisions to make, there’s not too much others can do to curtail your plans. This can keep the analysis paralysis to a minimum.

My Learning Curve and Teach Time
By the end of one game you’ll have the rules down as well as a fair amount of strategic depth. Euphoria isn’t a game that you stew on and hone your general approach to through your first 20 games. You’ll know everything you need to know to give winning your best shot by your 3rd or 4th game. Teaching it to others isn’t easy, though. The way I’ve been able to handle it best is to run through the thematic first then go through the rules of each “turn”. At that point, I’ll start playing and let new players pick it up as we go. This takes about 30 minutes. I’ve tried explaining things in detail for an hour, and I just get a bunch of blank stares and “that doesn’t make any sense”s.

Group Sizes and Dynamics
Euphoria supports 6 players out of the box, and works great with that many. This is (unfortunately) a rarity, and very appreciated. But some people just don’t like worker placement games. If you have somebody in your group that hates Euros in general and worker placement in particular, but never seems willing to try one, this might be your best shot at convincing them. The theme is so ingrained and dominant that they may not notice… and it can’t hurt that you’re placing dice instead of meeples.

Objectionable Material
If you play the game without telling the story, there is nothing objectionable. But there is something decidedly mature about portraying a totalitarian regime and giving the players the choice to work within or rebel against it. Oh yes… one of the more clever embellishments of the game is the “ethical dilemma” cards – at any point in the game a player may use their ethical dilemma and announce whether they are rebelling or conforming. It’s usually more valuable to conform (you automatically place one of your 10 authority tokens – placing all 10 wins the game)… but it just feels wrong. I can count on one hand the number of times players in my dozens of games have chosen to conform. That’s how you know the theme works and is being received by the players. It really would lessen things greatly to avoid “telling the story”. In any event, it is a complicated game and probably not one that you’d pick for a child before 12 or so.

Comparable Titles
Euphoria borrows the dice-as-workers core of Kingsburg with only subtle modifications. While Kingsburg (and most other games) favor high dice rolls, Euphoria generally favors low dice rolls (you want to keep your workers ignorant, and the face of the die represents their knowledge). If you ignore theme, though, the two games can feel pretty similar (Euphoria is certainly more complicated). There’s also a little Lords of Waterdeep here, in committing your resources to open new buildings on which your workerdice may be placed.

Euphoria should be a staple of any Euro gamer who has trouble interesting their friends in lighter-themed fare. I love the game, but there are a few drawbacks I wasn’t able to work in above that I want to mention. While it doesn’t distract from gameplay for me, some of the dice are completely misshapen. This is quite odd… you can place them next to each other and see that one is shorter than the other, or oblong instead of square. They also avoided creating enough wooden resource pieces for the game by including a “multiplier” board – if you earn 3 of the energy resource, you would take just one of the corresponding bits and place it in the “x 3” section of your multiplier board. While I understand this helps a small publisher save on costs, it is definitely more confusing than just grabbing 3 of the necessary resource. And the “storage system” is really awful. Just throwing a bunch of baggies in loose with the board makes me feel uneasy every time I pack it up.

9
Go to the City of Iron page

City of Iron

173 out of 178 gamers thought this was helpful

I love deckbuilding games. Even the ones I don’t like. I have fun playing any of them. I think it’s a very cool, relatively new breed of game, and I eat it up. But I can see the limitations of this type of game. They aren’t just prone to randomness; they ARE randomness. If games aren’t fun for you unless you can closely tie victory or defeat to your performance, deckbuilders are definitely not for you. Or rather they WEREN’T for you. Enter City of Iron.

Observed Set-Up and Play Time
There is a sharp contrast between your first game and future games of City of Iron. In addition to the normal annoyances/pleasantries of cracking open a fresh box (punching cardboard (4 or so sheets in this case), unwrapping decks of cards), getting through the rulebook is an onerous task. It’s not the longest rulebook – 17 pages of content – but it’s pretty difficult to comprehend. With other deckbuilders, I’m usually able to read every other sentence and fully understand the rules (Ascension took me 15 minutes), but City of Iron is just so different (read: complicated). I read and re-read, shuffled back and forth between pages to try to piece it together. The rulebook certainly could have been better-written and organized, but it’s all there once you parse it. Then you move to the game… and you stumble around blindly, making error after error and curse the rulebook as you search for clarity. All told, I was well over 2 hours with the rules before setting up the table, and the first game took over 4 hours. But come game 2 the rulebook was a thing of the past, and I could focus on this beautiful and engaging game. The advertised time of 2 hours is about right for a 3-player game, with 2-player games running a little shorter and 4-player games a little longer. Set-up is always cumbersome: you need to organize/arrange/build several different decks of cards and arrange cardboard bits over the playing area (this is an entire-tabler). Game preparation always takes me 20 minutes.

My Learning Curve and Teach Time
Like many games with frustrating rulebooks, teaching others is much easier. Don’t get me wrong – they will look at you like “this doesn’t make any sense” – but the “why” will click quickly when you start playing if you get the “how” down beforehand. I’d allot 30 minutes to run through the rules basics with a new player. Mechanically, the learning curve is but one game… but strategically it’s much richer. The way this game “builds” a deck is very different. You start with a pre-determined 4 cards (only 2 of them in your hand), and these are all you have until you purchase new cards out of your reserve. Do you purchase Citizen cards to enhance your building and exploration? Or do you purchase Military cards to conquer territories? Do you forgo building your deck at all this round to save up for a particular brick-and-mortar building? Regardless of route, your decision is driven by resources – you amass the victory points necessary to win by having the greatest access to resources, and your cards (or lack there-of) exist only to maximize your resource-gathering ability. But what type of resource do you go after? Do you try to monopolize cheaper/more abundant resources? Or try to hit pay dirt with one or two rare resources that your opponents can’t nab? And I haven’t even mentioned that you can use your money to bid for turn order each round if you choose. Or Science. That’s a thing too. There’s an insane number of routes to victory here, and only properly executing on a sound strategy will get you to the promised land. I’d say the strategic learning curve is dozens of games.

Group Sizes and Dynamics
I’ve had to force this game on everybody. Even with the steampunky theme and awesome art, my friends would rather re-play old favorites than jump in to something new that’s this complicated. But once I force them, it appeals to nearly everybody. There is a heavy Euro game here… but it’s theme rises above all… and deckbuilding is its principal mechanic. I’ve converted the Ascension and DC DBG freaks in my group, and found a card game that the fiercest strategy gamers can appreciate. But this is definitely a stretch for casual or social gamers. There’s a lot of thinking and planning going on, and it only supports 4 players.

Objectionable Material
There is a military aspect to the game that can’t be ignored – the military deck has a gun on it just to make sure you know exactly what it is, and exactly what you’ll be doing with it. And if you utilize a strategy based around it, there’s little doubt that you’re invading and conquering sovereign townships. But there isn’t any direct violence. There’s no coarse language or adult themes on cards. It even manages not to objectify women (HOORAY! This is shockingly hard to find in board and card games with beautiful art… women are equal and powerful here, but not “eye candy”). Finally, the game is not as reading-dependent as other deckbuilders; words are kept to a minimum on cards and symbols are utilized as much as possible. But I still couldn’t see playing this with a child under 12 or so. It’s just too hard to grasp, and the “thinking” necessary too demanding.

Comparable Titles
City of Iron is the most evolved deckbuilder I’m aware of. If your entry-level/gateway deckbuilders are Dominion, Ascension and DC, and your tier 2 deckbuilders are Thunderstone and Legendary… this is probably tier 4 or 5 (yes, I left tier 3 unoccupied… such is the distance between City of Iron and common deckbuilders). The only deckbuilder I’d place near City of Iron in the deckbuilding hierarchy is Fantastiqa, but they are remarkably different games with only the deckbuilding mechanic – and hard-to-follow rulebooks – in common.

If you like complicated card games or Euros, City of Iron can’t miss. Don’t be scared off by the “deckbuilder” label… this is how you make a deckbuilder for strategy gamers. Not only do you look through every card and decide which go into your active deck, but you get to decide the ORDER they go in. There is literally no shuffling in this game. If you lose, you have only yourself to blame.

7
Go to the Hive page

Hive

94 out of 97 gamers thought this was helpful

I really don’t play abstract strategy games. I have a few, but they rarely hold my attention more than a few weeks after I purchase them. I know how to move each of the pieces in Chess, but never cared to play it enough to figure out any kind of strategy. The same could be said for Checkers – such an easy game in comparison, yet I’d lose to any 8-year-old I’d play against. But I was pretty hopeful that Hive would be different, so I purchased it shortly after its appearance in our weekly Explorable Favorites last November. Is this the abstract strategy game that will finally hold my attention?

Observed Set-Up and Play Time
The game is ready to go immediately upon opening, and the rulebook can be devoured in under 15 minutes. It is so easy to get Hive to the table. No board to set up. No cards or cardboard bits to prepare. Just two mirrored sets of 11 oversized domino-style pieces to separate and you’re off. Even if you and your opponent are prone to analysis paralysis, it’s unlikely a game of Hive will reach the advertised 30 minutes – my games tend to last around 20 minutes.

My Learning Curve and Teach Time
You will be able to teach Hive to a new player in under 10 minutes. Then you will be able to destroy them. While the rules learning curve is next to nothing, the strategy learning curve is quite steep. Like Chess, it will take you dozens of games to start seeing all the possibilities and planning for moves 10 turns in advance.

Group Dynamics
Several of the people I play games with won’t play Hive with me. For some it’s the complete lack of story inherent to abstract strategy games that turns them off; for others, it’s not wanting to feel stupid. This is by far the greatest setback of games like this… unless you’ve played the game less than your opponent has, it’s pretty hard not to feel mentally inferior if you lose (particularly if you lose handily). There is absolutely no luck involved, and the only variables are experience and skill. I have one person I regularly play this with and one other who will occasionally play with me. Everybody else gave it a shot but prefer anything else.

Objectionable Material
Hive is objection-free. There is also no reading involved, and I see no reason why this couldn’t be offered as a Checkers alternative to a 6-year-old. You would need to try to lose to keep them interested, though.

Comparable Titles
Chess is a really good comparison for Hive. They both focus on unique movement between the piece types (Hive has 5 unique pieces (up to 8 with expansions) compared to Chess’s 6) and capturing your opponent’s King/Queen Bee. The principal differences are the lack of board and “outward” approach in Hive (in Chess you start on the outskirts and move in; with Hive each player starts with a piece touching their opponent’s and branches out from there). I have a STRONG preference for Hive over Chess. This may be because Hive isn’t many centuries old, so there’s far fewer players out there that can make me feel like an idiot. It’s certainly due to the drastically lower playing time. And I probably like bugs more than medieval-type stuff. Another game that is likely quite similar to Hive is Arimaa. One abstract strategy game is enough for me, but if and when I want another one Arimaa may be it (I think it’s out of print, so there will be some mark-up to track it down).

While it doesn’t make me want to rush out and expand my selection of strategy games, I am very happy to have Hive in my collection. It is outstanding fun, and gives you a great opportunity to flex a little brain muscle. It’s also quite easy to knock out 3 or 4 games on those low-key two-player nights. I would definitely recommend that experienced players try not to win when playing with less-experienced players lest you run them off like I did. Let them get up to speed and confident before you hammer them.

9
Go to the Letters from Whitechapel page

Letters from Whitechapel

129 out of 134 gamers thought this was helpful

Letters from Whitechapel is the ugly duckling of my game collection. It’s the only 1 v. Many game I own. It’s the only historical, non-fiction game I own. It’s the only crime-themed game I own. And most notably, it’s the only deduction-driven game I own. There’s good reason for it: none of these are things I like. But something (or somebodies – specifically you guys) told me I would love this game anyway, and diversity is grand… so here we are.

Observed Set-Up and Play Time
Like 90%+ of board games, there’s some cardboard to punch when you open her up. But it’s not much – just one sheet I believe. Everything else is ready to go; the rulebook is the only thing standing in between you and a night of fun making your brain hurt trying to out-think your friends. The rulebook is great; you’ll need to spend 45 minutes reading every word, but it’s intuitive and you’ll have no problem summarizing the rules immediately to the rest of your group in 15 minutes. I really appreciate that. This leads us to the play time problem. Specifically that it is incredibly erratic. The published estimated play time is 90 minutes… this is possible with an early bust. It’s also possible to get lucky on night 1 or 2 (the game is played over 4 nights) and finish the game in under an hour. But it’s more likely that every decision is agonized over until Jack makes his escape 3+ hours later. I make it a rule not to break out Whitechapel unless I have 3 hours available, and risk the annoyance of finishing in half that time.

My Learning Curve and Teach Time
The aforementioned teach time of 15 minutes works whether it’s gamers or non-gamers your teaching the game to. There is nothing complicated about the rules of the game. You won’t have much of a learning curve for playing error-free and sans rulebook either; you really won’t need to look at it again after your first game. However, Whitechapel requires a decent amount of intelligence to play (or at least to enjoy playing). You need to be thinking and observing during every single second of the game, and fine tune your ability to recognize the most probable of your opponent’s multitude of options. A game probably can’t teach you critical thinking and deduction; if you don’t have a modicum of ability in these areas, Whitechapel may just make you feel stupid, and none-too-eager to play again.

Group Sizes and Dynamics
For a game that makes you think so much, Whitechapel is incredibly easy to get people to play. I’ve played it with many different types of players and none disliked it… but it was best liked by the Social gamers. This game also works really well for non-gamers. It passed my “mom and dad” test with flying colors, and it trails only King of Tokyo on their to-play list during their quarterly cross-country visits. Regardless of who I’m playing with, it’s always several hours of enjoyable repartee mixed with occasional (hilarious) arguments.

Objectionable Material
Yeah, it’s got that. For a game with no graphic images – or images of any sort, really – there is plenty of thematically troubling material acting as a barrier for playing with children. The Jack the Ripper story isn’t suitable for young minds… he’s a monster far too real to brush off as fairy tale. You could, however, pretty easily homebrew a story around the pawns on the board and use all of the pieces, but I’m not the creative type. If you come up with something that works for children, nothing about the game pieces would prevent playing a variant with a 10-year-old. They’ll just need to ignore the names of the victims and dates of their murders scattered all over the board.

Comparable Titles
There are a few other Jack the Ripper games, but the biggest threat to Whitechapel’s Jack throne seems to be Mr. Jack. As a two-player-only game it serves a very different market than Whitechapel, and its playing time (30 minutes) puts it into a much lighter strata. Haven’t played it though, so can’t recommend one way or the other. All sorts of dungeon crawlers utilize the 1 v. Many framework of Whitechapel but the mission for the “1” in those games is never to run away as it is here. And there are many great social deduction games, such as The Resistance, that offer quicker, though not necessarily lighter, games if you’re only interested in that facet.

Despite its uphill battle against my personal likes and prejudices, Letters from Whitechapel is a game I love to play. The worst thing about it is the difficulty in budgeting for time… but once you’ve got it on the table and begin hunting or hiding from your friends it’s non-stop tension and fun until the final bell.

There are a few other things to be mindful of. First, playing as Jack is incredibly tense. I have a handful of games as Jack under my belt, and I literally tremble with tension for hours on end while I listen to the “investigators” deducing my plans. If you struggle with anxiety as I do, you may prefer playing for the good guys. Second, in my 20-something games Jack has lost only twice (at least 5 different people have played Jack in my group). The game offers great balancing tools via alternate pieces and rules if your group finds the game lopsided in favor of either side, but I find it psychologically damaging to allow my team to play with a “handicap” to give us a better chance, so we pretty much just accept that Jack is likely to get away (as the non-cardboard version did) and enjoy the ride.

7
Go to the Tokaido page

Tokaido

109 out of 110 gamers thought this was helpful

I work in corporate finance and constantly wrestle with high blood pressure and anxiety. One big drawback of making board gaming my principal hobby is that leisure time can frequently bring additional tension and stress. It can be rough trying to unwind from a long day by playing one of your favorite games with family or friends, only to have that pain in your chest kick back up because somebody just blocked your only route to completing a 20-point card in Ticket to Ride. Enter Tokaido, the most laid-back and peaceful board game I’ve played.

Observed Set-Up and Play Time
I’ve mentioned in my reviews of a few of Bauza’s other gems that I find his rulebooks to be the easiest (and quickest) to comprehend. You’ll only need 20 or so minutes with it to play your first game error-free. There is some cardboard to punch – 4 or so sheets of it – but you can have the parts preparation and rulebook done collectively in 40 minutes, with a beautiful, unique game prepped and ready for the first turn on your table. Even from the first, you’ll find games falling in the advertised 45 minute to 1 hour range – regardless of number of players.

My Learning Curve and Teach Time
Teaching game play to a first-timer will take about as long as leaving it to the rulebook. Learning curve is a little different… this game defines unique. There are no dice, but the game is more luck than strategy. Anyone who doesn’t win the game can look back over their path and say “if I had done THIS instead…”, but your alternate move would have changed the actions of all other players from then on, making it impossible to piece together how you would have attained the extra 3 points needed for victory. The only sound strategy of substance – playing to your character’s inherent strength – is evident from game 1, so I would say there isn’t much of a learning curve.

Group Sizes and Dynamics
I don’t know how you can dislike Tokaido. It will be out of the wheel house of strategy or social gamers, but it’s just so laid-back and engaging that I’d expect them to like it anyway. My friends who fall in those categories still enjoy playing. Many deeper games only play up to 4; Tokaido’s 5-player design makes it a great fill-in when you’ve got one-too-many.

Objectionable Material
Along with Bauza’s Takenoko, this is the least objectionable game I’ve ever touched. From a birds-eye view, some could try to nit-pick it as a capitalist theme… but there are many paths to victory that either ignore money (such as taking panorama pictures and visiting hot springs) or use money earned for non-capitalist pursuits (donating to the temple). While you can spend your turns accumulating money, only the souvenir-and-expensive-meals route emphasizes it. Tokaido is really well balanced between all options… you can win one game by hitting each of the hot springs and the next by meeting the most travelers. And the game is symbols-based, so you might be able to chop a few years off the suggested age for child introduction.

Comparable Titles
By far the closest kin to Tokaido is Takenoko. They have absolutely no game play elements in common and different artists, but they manage to look and feel similar thematically. I find Tokaido to be the more relaxing, who-cares-if-you-win option for the nights when it’s imperative that I unwind, and Takenoko the more strategy-dependent, lightly tense race to the finish line for nights when I’m down for a little competition.

I like Tokaido for all the ways it’s different than other games. But I don’t love it. Among Bauza’s oeuvre, it trails Takenoko and Ghost Stories in my eyes. It is beautiful, light… almost impossible to get worked up over. But often you’ll be looking for a game that makes you plan and execute superior to your opponents to achieve victory, and Tokaido is not that game . What is it? A peaceful unwinding. The perfect antidote to a stressful day.

9
Go to the Krosmaster: Arena page

Krosmaster: Arena

201 out of 208 gamers thought this was helpful

I find it particularly hard to apply a rating to Krosmaster: Arena. On the one hand, it is as fun to play as any game I’ve encountered… on the other, I paid an insane amount of money for that experience. If I hadn’t spent so much – and many sane-minded people wouldn’t – the game would be nowhere near as fun, strategic or re-playable. Those are pretty important qualities to sacrifice in keeping total cost reasonable. More on the value of the “extras” appears at the end, as well as in the discussion item I posted a few months ago.

Observed Set-Up and Play Time
There are sheets upon sheets of cardboard bits to punch and assemble (yes, assemble… trees, bushes and crates have to be put together; the crates need to be glued to stay assembled) when you first open the box, and the rulebook – while quite thorough owing to the playable tutorials mentioned in this site’s review – takes an eternity to get through. First go through, you’ll take an hour or two to get the board ready to play… but you won’t be touching that board for 5+ hours as you play through the learning tutorials. While I do like the idea of playable tutorials (particularly to make the tedious task of learning a complex new game fun), I absolutely hated it here. They’re way too slow in introducing new mechanics, and they are no fun at all. The early tutorials take around 10 minutes to complete, but the later ones can take an hour. Once you’ve graduated to the game proper, setting up the board’s bits and pieces can be accomplished in around 10 minutes… but once the game is expanded you’ll want to introduce a drafting mechanic, and drafting can take a half hour alone, depending on how quickly your group can make decisions that affect the entire game. My typical open-the-box to first-move time is around 40 minutes, which eclipses even Arkham Horror for tops in my collection. Game play time varies WILDLY… I’ve had 30-minute blowouts, and 2+ hour strategic standoffs. I really like this about the game, but when you combine this with set-up and draft time, it can make it so that Krosmaster: Arena can only be considered when you’ve got 3+ hours to play (and there’s always the possibility you’ll find yourself done in a little over an hour).

My Learning Curve and Teach Time
Learning curve is quite steep on Krosmaster: Arena (you couldn’t have suspected otherwise with all the mention of playable tutorials, could you?). If you completely throw out the tutorials and learn the game from just reading the rules, it will still take a few hours (and much rulebook citing) to hammer down movement and action mechanics as well as the common character powers. But that’s just the start… this is a game where the player with the superior strategy ALWAYS wins… and to be that player, you need to put a lot of time and concentration into the game. Note that there are dice, but they really only serve to speed up or slow down the game, and I’ve never seen them play a role in the outcome. Once you reach 20 or so hours of game time, nobody with under 5 hours will be able to beat you (when I’m playing against first-timers I purposely put together the weakest teams possible… but still end up winning). Paradoxically, it’s only once you’ve reached 20+ hours of play time that you’re going to be able to teach the game to a newcomer reasonably swiftly (and accurately) – I can teach it to somebody in around 30 minutes, which is a huge improvement from learning via rulebook. My suggestion would be to learn the game at the same time, and at the same speed, as a friend or 2 that will be your primary opponents… this way, everybody stays invigorated and there’s no heavy favorite.

Group Sizes and Dynamics
The theme is super-cute, the miniatures are remarkable and the gameplay is incredibly smooth and polished… but this game will only appeal to tactical gamers. I only have one person in my group who loves tactical games, so 90% of my Krosmastering comes against her. I love tactical games but hate war games, so this is a rare treat for me (hence my willingness (stupidity?) to dump so much cash into it). This is NOT a game night game unless you have 3 or 4 copies and you’re running a tournament… this is a game to play when you’re with one other person (or 2 or 3 for team play) and you’ve got some brain cells to burn. The non-tactical gamers I’ve played this with have no desire to play it again.

Objectionable Material
There is a miniature in the base game that clearly has blood dripping off her hands, and she’s depicted on the box art howling at the sky with said blood prominently displayed. Other characters in the expansions who share her mold (yes, miniature molds are refinished and repainted up to 3 times) have some blood effect as well. It’s kind of hard to call the violence “implied” when it’s so in-your-face. Whether graphic or not, the game is far too complicated for youngsters anyway. I would think that 13- or 14-years-old would be the earliest a child could get into it. One cute note: due to the adorable miniatures, this WILL become a target of attention for the youngest of children. My 17-month-old saw me fiddling with the miniatures several weeks ago and had to have one, so I let him play with a duplicate Oscar Kass that I had (these things are far too fragile for a toddler, so don’t let them handle one unless you have a duplicate). I told him his name was Oscar, and now my son screams “OSCAR!” every time he sees him. In fact, he calls ALL small action figures Oscar now. So Krosmaster: Arena produced one of my son’s first 20 words.

Comparable Titles
Krosmaster: Arena is a new, novel twist on tactical games… but it is soundly a tactical game. It bears more in common with Summoner Wars, Heroscape and Chess than it does any game with a similar theme. One game comes quite close to Krosmaster: Arena in theme – Super Dungeon Explore – but it’s a dungeon exploration game with little else in common. That changes this summer when Season 2 of the Krosmaster board game world – titled Krosmaster: Quest – comes out. It is a dungeon exploration game that should feel a lot like Super Dungeon Explore.

I can tell you that Krosmaster: Arena has made it into my nearly-impossible-to-crack top 4 favorite games to play, and I’m sure it will be staying there. In fact, right now it’s #1 (although time will surely drop it 1 or 2… you can’t keep Sentinels of the Multiverse down for long). It is a perfect 10 game in my books. But that experience did not come from the base game you can buy for $60. All-told, I’ve spent over $850 to build this “perfect” game… and for me, every penny of it was necessary.

First comes the resin terrain and summons… you can pick this up during a Kickstarter campaign (2 Krosmaster Kickstarters in the last 9 months, with another one on the way in May) or email Japanime Games – they’re willing to sell many of the promotional items directly to consumers (when they have them in stock), but won’t release them to retailers. Either way, it’s expensive. Japanime sells these for $125; when they’re out of stock they can go for $200 per set on eBay. There are 36 items in the set, including replacements for ALL cardboard parts from the retail game. This is not optional to me – the trees, crates and bushes look so much better than the cardboard versions (the cardboard looks awesome by the way… that’s how great the resins are), and the base game really suffers from summoned creatures being small cardboard pieces so this fixes the problem (it’s much better to put out a Tofu or Gobball miniature when summoned than a flat piece of cardboard on an otherwise 3D board).

Next comes the less-important game enhancements: real metal coins (two types in the game – small “Kama” and large “Gallons of Glory”) to replace the cardboard versions; colored, translucent etched dice to replace the black-and-white painted dice (these are in different colors so that each team’s dice can be easily identified); and much larger character cards. While not as expensive as the resins, these aren’t free – you can grab them from Japanime Games when in stock for around $50; possibly double on eBay when out. I call these upgraded parts “less-important” simply because they are not imperative… but they still boost the game significantly. No more squinting to read small text on your character’s spells, and the upgraded dice are my favorite custom dice save Seasons.

Lastly… most importantly… most expensively… you need to get the rest of the characters. The base game carries only 8 of the 42 available Season 1 characters. All 42 of these babies are drastically different and change the game to suit their attributes, but if you use the same 8 each game (and you’ll have to if you only have the base set) your games will change only subtly due to team configuration. This gets old very quickly. Of the 34 non-base characters, 26 are easy-to-get (not to be read “cheap”)… they are available in 8 expansion packs you can find at Amazon, your favorite online store or possibly your FLGS for $20 to $25 apiece (4 characters per expansion, so $5-$6 per character). My advice: do not buy Krosmaster: Arena if you don’t plan on picking up at least 3 or 4 of these. The last 8 Season 1 characters are promotional characters… unlike other promo items, Japanime Games does not sell these. Instead, they give them away at conventions, tournaments, or (most conveniently) during Kickstarter campaigns. Buying these on eBay is not advised; some are available for $10, but others go for $70+. The promo characters are not as important as the proper expansions.

If you are a tactical board game lover just dying to dump $250 minimum into a new game, you will not find a better way to spend your money than Krosmaster: Arena. If you’re not that very specific person, grabbing the base game will just tease you or leave you unfulfilled after a few dozen games. I happen to be the former, and I couldn’t be happier. But I have to knock what would have been a perfect “10” score down a point because of how restrictive the cost makes the game.

10
Go to the Ghost Stories page

Ghost Stories

238 out of 243 gamers thought this was helpful

A funny (at least to me) note about the title to the review: I was planning on reviewing Ghost Stories for the past several weeks, and I was going to title the review “The Definitive Horror Board Game”… but a few weeks back @Hokken titled his review of Eldritch Horror nearly identically. I haven’t played Eldritch Horror (I’m pretty burnt out on anything Lovecraftian), but I’ve played every other horror-themed board game I’ve gotten my hands on… and Ghost Stories is the pinnacle for me.

Observed Set-Up and Play Time
Ghost Stories has two huge benefits going for it when you open the box: there is only a few sheets of cardboard to punch (and many of the punched pieces are large), and the rulebook is incredibly concise. Game play is by no means simple, but I’ve noticed that Antoine Bauza has a real penchant for being able to explain a unique (and sometimes complicated) game in a 4- to 8- page, easy to read rulebook (Takenoko and Tokaido being other examples). You can start your first game 30 to 45 minutes after opening the box – a fraction of the time needed for other immersive horror games like Arkham Horror, Mansions of Madness, Zombicide or Zpocalypse, and right in line with less-immersive games like Elder Sign. My first game took 2 hours (and it was a relatively “quick” defeat, judging by the number of cards left in the deck when we died), and I’ve never been able to finish Ghost Stories in less than an hour and a half, let alone the publisher’s advertised time of 1 hour. It may play faster as a solo game… I have yet to try it this way.

My Learning Curve and Teach Time
To tackle the easy one first, teach time is pretty reasonable. The movement and action mechanics take no time at all to comprehend, and the special rules regarding Haunters and Tormentors are easy to grasp. But you will have to spend a chunk of time explaining all of the symbols. The game board and cards are entirely symbols-based (AWESOME if you want to teach the game to a pre-reader, although the graphic card images might scare them), and there are a bunch of different ones. It shouldn’t take longer than 30 minutes to teach this to a newcomer. Learning curve is much more difficult to assess… You’ll have movement and attack mechanics, as well as the general flow of the game, down after one play; but it takes an eternity to eliminate mistakes from your decisions. And it’s really hard to assess how much you’re improving when every single game results in defeat. I’ve beat this game twice in 25 to 30 attempts. Both wins were 4-player games, so it may be a balance issue with fewer players, but even the two 4-player wins were VERY close to defeats. Arkham Horror (or any other co-op I’ve played) is easy to win in comparison. My litmus test for co-op difficulty has been to compare a game’s “beatableness” to trying to beat the Chairman (with advanced rules) in Sentinels of the Multiverse… this is the only game I’ve found that’s harder.

Group Sizes and Dynamics
Unlike Bauza’s other games, I can get anybody in my group to sit down for Ghost Stories (their loss on the others, as every game I’ve tried from him has been fantastic). The board is beautiful, mechanics unique and cards graphic… it has something for everybody. And one great equalizer among those I play games with is that we’re all suckers for co-ops that make you EARN your win. People who don’t like horror themes enjoy it, as do people who don’t like co-ops or those that prefer hardcore Euros. A very easy game to get to the table, and without the time restrictions of the aforementioned immersive horror games.

Objectionable Material
This one is tough. If Ghost Stories were a movie, it would be PG-13… but we’ve had a lot of PG-13 horror movies in the last decade that would keep pre-teens awake at night staring at their closet doors (if any of you saw Mama… Mama was horrifying… and targeted children to boot!) There are no guns (or weapons of any kind save the batons held by the miniatures) in the game, and no violence. The work your monks are doing to rid the city of ghosts is akin to the containment boxes used by Peter Venkman and his crew. But the cartoon images on the cards are straight out of J-Horror nightmares… there’s otherworldly demons, messed-up looking children, seductive women, re-animated corpses… nearly every card image would be scary to anybody who hasn’t been desensitized to it. While much of the game could be appreciated by a younger gamer, I doubt I’ll let my son get to this one before he’s 12 or so.

Comparable Titles
I’ve already listed a handful of games that either fit the theme or feature the same designer (and this definitely feels like a Bauza game). But more than those games, Ghost Stories bears a strong resemblance to co-op classics Pandemic and Forbidden Island, as the point of the game is to get to the locations ghosts appear at and deal with them before things get out of control (you even flip board tiles that become haunted much like Island’s sunken tiles). If you are a fan of Bauza’s other games, Pandemic or Arkham Horror, Ghost Stories has a great chance of becoming one of your favorites.

So why is Ghost Stories the best horror game (to me) out there? It has all the elegance of a rich Euro game… with component quality beyond wooden meeples. It has one of the most popular themes among board gamers… without the occasional “clunkiness” and time consumption other immersive horror games exhibit. It’s a co-op game that can appeal to the harshest strategists and tacticians due to its insane difficulty. Every corner is rounded; every surface smoothed. You will lose, but you won’t be punished or frustrated by it. A game everyone should try, and my new litmus test for cooperative games.

10
Go to the Bruges page

Bruges

197 out of 201 gamers thought this was helpful

I made the decision to purchase Bruges based solely on this website’s review and picture of the game set-up (the two user reviews that precede mine weren’t available at that point). Being a toddler in the board gaming world, I knew Stefan Feld’s games were favorites among Euro lovers but I’d never played one. I did, however, know that I loved Lords of Waterdeep, and from what I’d read Bruges sounded like a logical “next step”. I’ve played it obsessively for the last 6 weeks, and these are my impressions:

Observed Set-Up and Play Time
There is a decent amount of first-time preparation involved with Bruges – several sheets of cardboard to punch, two card holders to assemble and an intuitive but imperative rulebook to read line-for-line. I was close to an hour and a half of work before beginning the first game. Repeat plays actually take a surprisingly long time to set up as well, owing to the excellent but time-consuming card mechanic. To prepare for each game you must separate the entire stack of cards into 5 equal decks (33 cards apiece), then shuffle as many of those 33-card decks as there are players in the game together (i.e. 66 cards for a 2-player game, 99 cards for a 3-player game, etc.). You then take this new deck and split it as evenly as possible into 2 decks… so in the 3-player, 99 card example you would have a 45 card deck and a 44 card deck. The remaining cards (in a 3-player game, the other 66 cards) get shuffled together and set aside to serve an end-game function. It’s actually an awesome system… but makes it so that Bruges takes at least 15 minutes to set up for each play. My games have taken about 25 minutes per player.

My Learning Curve and Teach Time
Bruges is a strategy-rich Euro, so you’re nearly always learning. As such, it’s a game where a newbie will have little chance against a vet, and it really doesn’t have a great mechanic for keeping that vet from “running up the score”. As far as simply learning gameplay rules, everything here is so intuitive that 1 game is sufficient to get all of the dos and don’ts down. But teaching can be a little difficult – for a 1-hour game, there’s a lot going on. If you’re a clear and concise teacher, you’ll be able to impart the game onto a first-timer adequately in around 20 minutes. If you’re an occasionally confusing and rambling teacher (as I am) that first-timer may be better off with the rulebook.

Group Sizes and Dynamics
I cannot get certain people in my group to play theme-light Euro games, and Bruges is unsurprisingly an impossible sell to them. While this is, of course, their loss, I feel like they’re being deprived of a memorable experience and never stop pushing it on them (to no avail). I am lucky to have 2 people to play with who cherish a game for its mechanics and overall fun factor, and this has become a favorite for the 3 of us. Make sure those people are in your group, and Bruges will be a huge hit.

Objectionable Material
Unless there’s something I’m just not thinking deeply enough on, Bruges is an objection-free game. But it is no child’s game. Plenty of reading and nothing “cool” about the theme, it will be hard to get a 10-year-old to sit for this one. It could benefit from a Bruges Junior (a la Catan Junior), but lacking that game’s sales figures, this is a pipe-dream.

Comparable Titles
If you’re already a fan of Feld’s games, this will be right in your wheelhouse. I plan on picking up a few titles from his back catalog due to my fondness for Bruges. As I mentioned above, the theme is not far from Lords of Waterdeep… but the gameplay is radically different. This is a great next step from any entry-level Euro – a little more complicated and deep, but not too weighty to require years of board gaming experience before attempting.

Bruges is a study in contrasts; the theme is unlikely to engage most gamers in any meaningful way, but the gameplay itself simply can’t be topped. Your liking or disliking of the game will depend largely on how much you require theme to keep you engaged. I love theme… it sells otherwise mediocre games to me, and gives me some enjoyment out of them. But at the end of a game night, my one and only hope is that I had fun. I have more fun with Bruges than any game save 2 or 3 of my all-time favorites. I can also state that Bruges is my favorite competitive game (the aforementioned “2 or 3” being cooperative) and favorite Euro. If you relish direct conflict in your competitive games, however, Bruges is very light in this regard (a plus for me). There are only 2 or 3 things you can do to affect your opponents directly, and they’re correctly classified as “minor inconveniences”, not “major distractions” (which I’d consider, for instance, mandatory quests in Waterdeep). This may seem like a few large qualifiers, but if you appreciate extremely fun, original game mechanics and “I do my thing, you do yours” competitive games, welcome to Mecca.

8
Go to the Dragonheart page

Dragonheart

166 out of 172 gamers thought this was helpful

Dragonheart was not high on my wish list because games supporting only 2 players are pretty restrictive. But I’d read many positive reviews for it (including everything written on this site)… so when Fantasy Flight put it on clearance for $10 I scooped it up immediately. Since purchasing, I’ve consistently played Dragonheart at least 5 times per week, easily ranking it as the best return-on-investment in my (admittedly meager) board game library.

Observed Set-Up and Play Time
All set-ups, whether your first game or your hundredth, take less than 1 minute (there is nothing to do upon first opening the box other than removing two decks of cards from their wrappers). The rulebook is 4 pages total and very easy to understand… no more than 10 minutes required before your first game, and you really won’t need to reference it again. And the games play faster than advertised… my first probably took the stated 20 minutes, but we’re frequently done in 15 minutes now.

My Learning Curve and Teach Time
One slight against Dragonheart is that there may be no learning curve for you. There is really only one strategy (try not to play cards if there’s a high probability that your opponent will score off them on their next turn, but otherwise play as much as you can), and smart gamers will recognize it instantly. Even slower gamers will grab this by the 2nd or 3rd game at the latest. Everybody should be an expert and on an even playing field by the 3rd game; from then, randomness (and the occasional mistake) dictates the victor. Teach time is awesome… if it takes you longer than 5 minutes to teach a first-timer the comprehensive rule set for Dragonheart, you are not a good teacher.

Group Sizes and Dynamics
Ah, the big red mark on an otherwise great game. While any gamer type will have fun playing Dragonheart under the right circumstances, it is very environment-dependent. If you’re having a game night, the 2-player restriction effectively eliminates it, even as filler for players bounced from an elimination game. And this isn’t a 2-player game others might enjoy standing around watching… it’s really only interesting for the participants. This is a game for a quiet night at home with one other person. Fortunately, most of us have those nights several times a week… and Dragonheart is a game that can really appeal to even the most reluctant board gamer.

Objectionable Material
Nothing objectionable… no reading necessary to play… the perfect game to serve as a child’s introduction to the hobby. The game design is intuitive and basic, and all cards are distinct. If your child can play matching games, he/she can play Dragonheart. My son will be playing this by the time he’s 4. I’m very excited.

Comparable Titles
Dragonheart should be cataloged foremost as a filler game. Its quick playing time and simplicity rule it out as a “main course” game. But most filler games I’m familiar with are dice games… probably the closest comparison I can make would be Love Letter, another 15 minute card game. While Love Letter received outstanding reviews, I haven’t played it and can’t weigh in. Love Letter does support 4 players, so it trumps there.

In an ocean of filler games I consider Dragonheart to be the great white shark. For me it does not get old. I have had several 2-player game nights ruined as we’ve planned to warm up on Dragonheart then move on to something meatier… only to end up playing Dragonheart 4 or 5 times and running out of time to play anything else. If you have just one game in your library that works only on those nights when there’s just 2 of you, I suggest making it this one.

7
Go to the Mice and Mystics page

Mice and Mystics

283 out of 293 gamers thought this was helpful

In the first 8 months I owned Mice and Mystics I attempted to start it 3 times to no avail. All 3 attempts were playing Chapter One, and none were successful. Unfortunately, they also weren’t fun. But when you pay this much for a game you give it some rope, so a month ago I sat down with a group of 3 friends and made plans to play this game together once or twice a week until we got through all chapters included in the base game. Having done so, I’ve worked up some level of appreciation for the game and feel comfortable passing on my experiences to you.

Observed Set-Up and Play Time
I have several games that take an eon to set up, and this is right up there with Arkham Horror at the top of the curve. Initially there is much cardboard to punch, so your first game will take a few hours to set up (including a careful read through the rulebook). Repeat set-ups take at least 15 minutes; there’s set tile formations depending on the chapter, special cards to fish out from their respective decks, particular tokens that will or won’t be used in the chapter. And the games are quite long to start – easily 2 hours for your first handful of games, with the rulebook as your constant companion. Even with experience, I don’t think I’ll be able to whittle this down to a one-hour play time.

My Learning Curve and Teach Time
The learning curve on this fella is pretty steep. While several mechanics will feel familiar, the ones that were new to me – such as the initiative track – take getting used to. I got nowhere in my first 3 games, but that certainly has something to do with them being spread over 3 or 4 months. Once we sat down and focused on a bigger campaign we were able to set the rule book down by Chapter Three or so. Overall play time to that point was around 10 hours. The game can be taught reasonably quickly provided someone with experience is overseeing things… 15 to 20 minutes should be sufficient, and a decided improvement over learning from the rulebook.

Group Sizes and Dynamics
As mentioned previously, my substantive experience with this game came with the same group of 4… I would classify two of us as “avid” gamers, one as “casual” and one as “family”. I think we all enjoyed the game equally, but I do feel that this game’s real target audience is the cross-section of board gamers and role-playing gamers. It’s not as complicated as a role-playing game, but possesses many of the qualities fans of the genre appreciate. As none of us are into role-playing games, we all liked Mice and Mystics but didn’t love it.

Objectionable Material
I think the vast love being given to Mice and Mystics comes from its kid-friendliness. It’s like reading your child a bedtime story, but one they play instead of doze off to. There are knives, tense moments, a sorceress… nothing Disney hasn’t prepared a 5-year-old for with their G-rated fare. While the game is highly reading-intensive, an adult can handle all of it and spare their child that limitation. When I play this with my son (when he’s around 5, I would guess) I will probably get much more into it than playing with a group of adults.

Comparable Titles
Games lying in that role-playing/board gaming hybrid zone will be comparable, but most of these are rather adult where Mice and Mystics is designed with youngsters in mind. Within my collection, Mice and Mystics plays like a much denser Zombicide… both have variable board set-ups, roughly 8 included missions in the base game and nice miniatures. But with Zombicide I will constantly make my own boards… throwing together tough tile layouts, setting difficult objectives and sadistic door and spawn-zone placements, completely ignoring any narrative or story… I don’t feel like I can do that with Mice and Mystics. With this game I’m either replaying a chapter I’ve played before or waiting for a new one. That works OK, but it’s nowhere near as re-playable.

I enjoy Mice and Mystics – it’s going into the growing pile of games I’m really excited to pull out when my child is of-age. But it pains me that I’m more likely to play a game like Zombicide – with its ultra-violence, gore and guns – than a comparatively wholesome game like Mice and Mystics. If I was more into role-playing games I’m sure that wouldn’t be the case, but the “sale” of Mice and Mystics to me is the story, and once you know it, you’re left waiting for the next expansion.

8
Go to the Dungeons & Dragons: Lords of Waterdeep page
105 out of 108 gamers thought this was helpful

I could write a glowing and accurate review of Lords of Waterdeep in just one sentence: it is a gateway game that’s so good it doesn’t feel like a gateway game at all. But as helpful as that sentence seems to me, I’m guessing most of you won’t agree. So let’s burn some wordage:

Observed Set-Up and Play Time
Waterdeep takes a good five to ten minutes to set up each play, but the good news is that it comes ready-to-go (only requiring you to remove parts from wrappers), so your first play takes no longer than the others. The instruction manual is well written and helpful, and can be navigated in around 30 minutes. But the first game does take some time, and you’ll check back in with that rulebook repeatedly. My first game was 3-player, and it took around 1:45… but by game #2 we were within the publisher’s advertised time of one hour.

My Learning Curve and Teach Time
I feel like I improved at Waterdeep through my first five games, but after that it’s been status quo. The game is pretty marginal on luck, and involves ample strategy… but an astute gamer should be able to piece it all together in a handful of games. I have taught this game to as many people as I have any other game, and it’s quite simple. It takes no longer than 10 minutes to give them the tools they need to play, and the game is balanced such that they probably won’t suffer a discouraging blow-out loss. Games that are designed like this – both elegant and simple – can be played so much more often than games you dread trying to explain to a first-timer.

Group Sizes and Dynamics
The base game plays up to 5 (the expansion can get this to 6), but I haven’t loved my couple of 5-player games. I think Waterdeep hits its comfort zone in the 2- to 4-player range, and shines at 3. My non-gamer friends have loved it – I think they feel like they’re accomplishing something by playing a difficult “non-mainstream” game and fully understanding it. And people who like board games will find loads to love here. The one lukewarm response I’ve gotten was from a “theme-means-everything” friend who enjoyed the game but would rather be playing anything with zombies, monsters or superheroes.

Objectionable Material
I struggle to categorize anything in Lords of Waterdeep as objectionable, but it is a “mature” game. It’s propelled by a story of coercion and underhanded political dealings. People who should be governing together plot against one another and sneakily try to “better” their peers. I wouldn’t want to explain these things to a child, even though they could grab the mechanics by 10 or so. It should be a fun theme to throw at a teenager taking their first class on government, though!

Comparable Titles
As much as it may be doing Lords of Waterdeep a disservice, the group of games I pocket it against are Settlers of Catan, Ticket to Ride, Carcassonne… the classic gateway games. And it smokes ‘em all. Easier to teach, more fun to play… what more could you want? It also shares the basics of worker-placement with games like Le Havre and Agricola… but those games are more challenging to get into than Lords of Waterdeep, and you’ll have a restricted group you can play them with.

I’m at a point where I begrudgingly play most gateway games, but Lords of Waterdeep consistently remains a game I get excited to play. That has everything to do with the fact that I don’t feel like I’m playing a “simple” game at all… I feel like it’s weighty, that my decisions matter and that my experience should give me an edge over my opponents. At the same time, I don’t recoil at the thought of running a new player through the basics because I know I won’t be fielding a hundred questions on points of the game that I feel should be common sense. It’s just great all-around.

7
Go to the Ticket to Ride page

Ticket to Ride

125 out of 129 gamers thought this was helpful

When I made the decision to get into board gaming I submitted myself to the mercy of those that came before me, relying entirely on internet board gamer’s user reviews and feedback to dictate my gateway game purchases. Ticket to Ride and Settlers of Catan were the two that I went with despite misgivings about my interest level in them. In both cases there’s a “period piece” theme going on (I avoid anything set before 1970 when it comes to other forms of entertainment), and Ticket adds to that an automotive motif (I have no interest in this). But the masses persisted, so I went along. Here’s my experience.

Observed Set-Up and Play Time
Ticket to Ride comes relatively ready-to-go out of the box. There are no cardboard pieces to punch, only cards to remove from their wrappers and easy directions to read through. Anybody should be able to play this game within 20 minutes of opening the box. My first dozen games were all 2-player, and none reached an hour in play time. In general, games take about 20 minutes per player. The most cumbersome administrative task of the game is putting it away… you’ll have 45 trains per player to get into their individual bags and cards to sort and store.

My Learning Curve and Teach Time
While I felt I had Ticket mastered in well under 10 games, a very smart person in my gaming group took an astounding 18 games before realizing the benefit of holding cards and not playing individual segments as soon as you get them. On average I guess we can say it takes between 5 and 15 games to master. And the game can be taught to a complete newb in 5 minutes easily.

Group Sizes and Dynamics
None of my board gaming friends get excited to play this game anymore. This really only gets played with family and casual board gamers. It’s kind of odd, as this game gets tense and competitive as quickly as any game I’ve played and strategy always trumps luck. The more people you play with (up to 5) the more antagonistic the game will get, so keep that in mind if you’re playing with parents or children.

Objectionable Material
Ticket to Ride is as unobjectionable as games come. There is no violence or adult material, no graphic images or mature themes. In fact, there is very little reading required to play the game. It can be played with a child who can’t read simply by showing them which cities on the board they need to connect. This will be an early introduction game for my son, likely when he’s around 4 (there are still a bunch of small trains a child could choke on).

Comparable Titles
There are so many good train games out there: Railways of the World, Steam, Trains, Age of Steam, Railroad Tycoon… not to mention the plethora of other full Ticket to Ride games which introduce different mechanics and need to be considered separate from the original. I’m pretty certain every one of these games are better than Ticket to Ride, but I’m unlikely to try any of them because Ticket is about all the train game I need (as I mentioned, not a fan of the genre). If I’m going to play a train game it may as well be the least-complicated, easiest to learn option. My one potential future train-game purchase is the brand new Trains and Stations… I would normally avoid it, but it’s by the designer of Quarriors! and Chaos in the Old World, and that guy can do no wrong by me.

If you’re looking for an easy transition into board gaming, there are few easier than Ticket to Ride. Easy to pick up and more than enough to make you want to get deeper into board gaming. If you’re an established board gamer who somehow hasn’t played Ticket yet, you’re probably better off with any of the titles I mentioned above. One thing that dampens it for me is that this is (by quite a large margin) the game most likely to cause a loud/childish outburst in my house, occasionally including the uprooting of the board (and the million pieces on it). It gets so tense and competitive in the second half of the game, and every single move an opponent makes that hinders you will feel like a personal affront. It’s for this reason more than any lack of strategy/abundance of simplicity that Ticket to Ride comes out once a month at most in my house. One other warning… don’t play the game without the USA 1910 expansion. It’s not really fair, but you’ll have to spend this $15 to get the regular-sized cards to make the game playable, as the miniscule versions included in the base game won’t suffice.

8
Go to the Ascension page

Ascension

89 out of 90 gamers thought this was helpful

There are so many deckbuilders on the market that choosing one to start with can be overwhelming. While theme probably plays the biggest role in this process, if you end up playing one that feels “pasted-on” (cough*DC DBG*cough) you’ll likely realize it immediately and your experience can be ruined. So while theme dominates this genre of game, I felt much more secure making my selection based on seamlessly integrated gameplay and quality components. Such was my path to Ascension, maybe the most beautiful game in my collection.

Observed Set-Up and Play Time
Playing Ascension for the first time involves spending 15 minutes with one of the easiest and direct rulebooks out there and removing 4 or 5 decks of cards from cellophane. That’s it. Deckbuilding itself is quite easy to grasp, and once you get one it’s very easy to apply that knowledge to the others. In general games take about 15 minutes per player (the great solitaire option can be finished in 15 minutes!), and my first game took at most 40 minutes (2-player). Repeat set-ups take around 5 minutes.

My Learning Curve and Teach Time
If you have experience with other deckbuilders there is very little learning curve. I had played Marvel: Legendary, DC DBG and Quarriors prior to buying Ascension, and I knew all I needed to know of strategy going in. You’ll still sacrifice a game or two getting a handle on Ascension’s unique traits (races, hero v. construct), but you’ll be going full-bore by game 3. If you haven’t played a deckbuilder before it may take 10 or so games to grasp everything enough to build strategy. I have taught this game to someone who had never played a deckbuilder in about 10 minutes. She beat me by her 3rd or 4th game. Again, really easy to pick up.

Group Sizes and Dynamics
Without an expansion, Ascension only plays up to 4 (in fact, my copy came short 2 Apprentices, so it’s been limited to 3 players). I find it equally enjoyable as a solitaire, 2- or 3-player game, and I’m sure it scales smoothly to 4 players. There’s plenty of strategy and plenty of randomness, but it’s gone over well with everyone I’ve introduced it to. I will add that people who are more comic-book-fan than board-game-fan seem to enjoy it but prefer the comic book titles. I do not understand these people.

Objectionable Material
Ascension is a medieval-themed game, so guns and bombs are absent in favor of kid-friendlier swords and magic. Also, as with most card-based games, violence is completely implied/off-screen. But the artwork on the monster cards will certainly be scary to very young ones and the game is reading-intensive, so it’s probably not ready to be introduced to a child until they’re 7 or 8.

Comparable Titles
Ascension (like all deckbuilders) owes its existence to Dominion. But unlike most deckbuilders Ascension improved on Dominion’s recipe. Thunderstone appears to be very similar to Ascension, but adds a move-between-locations mechanic. Both Marvel: Legendary and DC Deckbuilding Game feel like direct rip-offs of Ascension (the changes they make are minimal and distractingly obvious), and there are countless other differently-themed deckbuilders. But only a few, like Nightfall and Tanto Cuore, look interesting to me.

This game has it all… it’s fun, quick, non-complicated but strategic, and the artwork is beautiful. As far as board game artwork goes, I would put Ascension up against anything. While I am personally more drawn to comic book or horror themes than medieval themes, this is such a superior product to those offered within my preferred wheelhouse that it has easily become my favorite deckbuilder. In fact, it trails only Sentinels of the Multiverse as my favorite card game of any kind. One note of detraction… at just 200 cards, it needs an expansion sooner than later to stay highly re-playable.

7
Go to the Arkham Horror page

Arkham Horror

221 out of 232 gamers thought this was helpful

More often than not Arkham Horror is the least rewarding, least fun game I regularly play. But I keep playing, and when pressed, would state that I like the game. I never grumble when others want to play; in fact, I get rather excited while spending a half hour setting it up. Yet there’s always a point, usually around 2 hours later, where I recognize that I would rather be playing anything else. I never learn my lesson, and go through the exact same wheel of emotions the next time it comes out. Perhaps that is Arkham’s ultimate gift to us.

Observed Set-Up and Play Time
If we were grading board games on a curve for set-up and play time, Arkham Horror would be the curve-buster. You’ll need a good hour to punch and organize all the cardboard pieces the first time you play… and if you’re teaching yourself, get ready to spend hours with the rulebook before playing the first second of the game. Repeat plays do not get much better – you’ll always need a half hour to set up, and that rulebook will remain entrenched in your hand for your first 5 or 10 games for constant citing. And play time? The publishers state 2 to 3 hours, but you’ll need to be very experienced to hit those numbers. My first game took 10 hours, and it took me around 10 games before I could play this in 5 hours or less. Trust me… it will work MUCH better for you if you learn the game by playing with someone who already knows it well.

My Learning Curve and Teach Time
It is so much easier to teach Arkham than it is to learn it yourself. This piece of vital information is the crux of my plea above. If you are self-teaching as I did, get ready for 50 or so hours to become passable. Of course, those 50 hours only encompass 5 or 6 games – how frustrating is that? On the other hand, I have taught this game to everyone I play games with; it takes me no longer than 15 minutes of lecture before we can play, and they get to take their turns in the comfort of knowing I’ll correct them on any rule they break. I have suffered for the betterment of my people.

Group Sizes and Dynamics
Given how complicated the game is, I am always surprised at how easy it is to get others to play it. I don’t know anybody who scoffs at the suggestion to play Arkham. The role-player in my circle absolutely loves it, as does anybody with a proclivity towards horror. The only thing that keeps anybody I know from jumping into a game of Arkham Horror is lacking the requisite 3+ hours to do so. I will limit all games to no more than 5 players… it easily supports more, but working cooperatively with that many people, on such a complicated game to boot, will turn this into an all-nighter.

Objectionable Material
There’s monsters, guns, witchcraft… very adult game. But there’s one aspect I find highly objectionable even excepting that my children won’t play this until they’re adults – the source material. I love horror and literature, but I am no Lovecraft fan. He was a racist; unable to keep his opinions out of his work, and racism is one of life’s unpleasantries I won’t suffer. I do judge the game on its own merits, but even the brilliantly-designed game can’t cover all the racisms of the source material.

Comparable Titles
Anything with Cthulhu… and seemingly every game has a Cthulhu version. But that’s just theme… there is little like Arkham Horror mechanically. It’s a unique and very deep game, well-honed since its origin in the late 1980s. I’m inclined to group it with highly strategic, epicly-lengthed games like Twilight Struggle and Twilight Imperium. It has a radically different theme than these games, but I imagine completing it feels just as rewarding.

I have very mixed feelings on Arkham Horror. There is so much to admire here; so much fun to be had. There is also so much to denigrate; so much frustration. Now that I’m fully knowledgeable I’m happy to play it a few times a month – but getting to this point was a herculean task. If you’re considering getting into this game and take only one thing from my review make it this: do not attempt to teach yourself. Do not buy it to learn it and get your friends into it. Just find someone, somehow, to teach it to you. I’m glad I can have fun playing the game now, but I would take back the 50+ hours invested in getting here if I could.

8
Go to the Forbidden Island page

Forbidden Island

205 out of 209 gamers thought this was helpful

Forbidden Island was the first cooperative game I purchased (or played for that matter). I was intrigued by cooperative games, but felt I needed something on the light side to ease my way into it. From everything I read on this site it seemed like Forbidden Island was quite easy to pick up but provided some level of increasing challenge as you develop your skill at the game, so this became an easy decision. It has remained a staple among my favorite games, and this is how I recall my experiences in the early-going:

Observed Set-Up and Play Time
This is an insanely easy game to get out of the box. There are cardboard tiles, but they are pre-punched and ready to play. Cards and treasure miniatures are organized and stored nicely in the packaging, so your first play is as easy to set up as your hundredth. And the instructions are very easy… to this day, Forbidden Island may be the only game I’ve self-taught where no mistakes were made with the rules in the first play-through. All told, reading of the rulebook and first play set-up should take under 20 minutes, while repeat game set-up takes around 5 minutes. Games themselves rarely last beyond the advertised 30 minutes.

My Learning Curve and Teach Time
Well, that first game taught me the most important strategic lesson… protect Fools’ Landing (the helicopter pad)! Losses have been rare since then, so the learning curve must not be too steep… however, I do feel that I continually improved through the first 20 to 30 games. I have taught this game to 4 or 5 friends or family members, and it never takes longer than 10 minutes.

Group Sizes and Dynamics
Forbidden Island can be just as fun with 2 or 4 players, but the higher player counts increase the challenge of the game. Unfortunately, while it has been quite easy for me to get 2-player games going, it can be a hard sell when I have enough people around to play a 4-player game. At that headcount, we’re usually looking for something a little meatier and longer. The few 4-player games I have played have been great… down to the wire and tense. There is a whole lot of interaction and pre-planning with Forbidden Island, and I find that there’s more communication going on with 4 players in this game than in most other non-social games.

Objectionable Material
There is nothing touchy or “adult” about Forbidden Island and its theme other than the possible stretch of creating questions of what’s making the water levels rise on Earth. If conversation with a child went that route I could see the answers being disturbing to them… but that really depends on the parent and the way they handle it. I personally have no worries, and this will be one of the first real games I introduce my child to. I’m hopeful that can occur by the time he’s 5.

Comparable Titles
While I’ve only read its description, the “sequel” to Forbidden Island, aptly titled Forbidden Desert, sounds a lot like a reworking of the Island mechanics with a little added depth. I look forward to trying it. And of course, no review of Forbidden Island would be complete without a nod to its ancestor Pandemic, a much more challenging and adult game with the same “spread out and save” core conceit and different-behaving characters.

So, why has a game that is so frequently tagged “easy” remained in my good graces? Primarily because it’s the most scalable game I’ve encountered. There is brilliance in the water level meter, where you simply start the game at a higher flood level once you become more advanced. On the “Legendary” level you can play an absolutely perfect strategic game and still lose because of an unlucky shuffle… but you have no shot at all if you don’t play a great strategic game. I stumbled on the real mind-blower of this game’s greatness on the tips page here (thanks @dragontrainer)… there are official variant tile layouts other than the original square, all of which make the game MUCH more difficult. These layouts have increased the life of this game a hundredfold. A little embarrassed I never thought to alter the original layout myself, but thrilled that I’m getting so much life out of such an inexpensive game.

8
Go to the Takenoko page

Takenoko

139 out of 143 gamers thought this was helpful

I am a sucker for games with great mechanics that integrate seamlessly with their theme, and from what I’d read it was evident to me that Takenoko would be one of these rare gems. My concern was that, with such family-friendly/cute story and parts, I would have a hard time getting my friends in their 30s to play this with me… they love their zombies and superheroes, and usually prefer playing bad games with these themes to playing great games with PG-rated themes. This is a crew that would pick DC DBG every day of the week over Dominion, so I was worried it would be tough to get Takenoko on the table…

Observed Set-Up and Play Time
Considering the decent amount of small parts, the game is surprisingly spry in getting from its first open to play-ready. There are a handful of cardboard sheets to punch, but everything else is ready to go in baggies. And the instruction manual is super-simple… maybe 15 minutes to read it cover-to-cover. Add another 20 minutes for box opening and initial set-up, and you’re ready to play your first game in just over a half hour. Set-up time for replay is around 5 minutes, and the advertised play time (45 minutes) is spot-on, whether your first game or your 10th, whether 2-player or 4.

My Learning Curve and Teach Time
Although light-to-medium, this is a strategy game through and through, with little to no luck. While there is a die, all 6 sides are roughly equal and randomness only comes from the timing of your rolls. As a strategy game the most veteran player will typically have the advantage. The basic game mechanics are pretty easy to have down pat after one game; from there your “learning curve” is just making sure you have as much experience with the game as your opponent (also, avoid opponents in Mensa). Really easy game to teach as well… my brother was ready to play his first game with me after 10 minutes of instruction.

Group Sizes and Dynamics
Ah my biggest fear realized… I have 2 people who will always play this with me, but the rest of my group still prefers lesser games with heavier violence or nerd chic. You win some, you lose some. But when I can play it with those that appreciate it (both pro-Takenoko players in my circle favor Euro games) we have a great time. Fortunately I can get them together once or twice a week, so this game gets played that often. It’s better with 3 (or 4) players, but is plenty good with 2.

Objectionable Material
No. But due to the strategy and thinking involved you’ll probably need to wait until your child is 10ish to introduce this game.

Comparable Titles
There is nothing like Takenoko. The best I can do is pin-point a few games that share a small facet with it… for instance, Tokaido shares the heavily-Asian theme, cute artwork and one-of-a-kindness, and is insanely well reviewed. I expect to like Tokaido as much as Takenoko but haven’t played it (Takenoko won the coin-flip between the two for this month’s purchase). Games like Mage Knight – where the game board only appears as you explore – share that trait with Takenoko.

Overall, Takenoko is an awesome game marred slightly by the fact that it may be difficult to get your group to play it with you. It only plays up to 4 anyway, so as long as you have 2 people who appreciate Euro games and/or family theme you’ll be set. But you may find yourself in my shoes, where you’re stuck longing for Takenoko as you slog through another derivative deck-builder with pasted-on theme.

6
Go to the Elder Sign page

Elder Sign

215 out of 224 gamers thought this was helpful

Elder Sign really appealed to me as a means to experience the Arkham Horror theme and atmosphere without the Arkham Horror time commitment and abuse. As much as I’ve made myself appreciate Arkham Horror, under the best of circumstances I’ll find time to play a complete game once or twice a month. Elder Sign seems designed to slide comfortably into those one-hour weeknight timeslots where its big sister can’t be considered. And due to time constraints alone I tend to play it more than big sis… these are the impressions it’s made on me:

Observed Set-Up and Play Time
Even as the “simpler” game, there are tons of small pieces here; several pages of cardboard to punch on first opening and several separate decks of cards to wrangle. But the rulebook is concise and helpful, so my first game started around 30 minutes after opening the box (this was a solo game, so there was no rules explaining to be handled). That first game was won in under an hour, albeit with a few mismanaged rules. Once comfortable, the game takes me about 10 minutes to set up and under an hour to play, whether that’s alone or with 4 others.

My Learning Curve and Teach Time
It takes one game to fully understand all of the rules and nuances of Elder Sign… maybe one additional game to understand how to best utilize spells and items. After that there is no learning curve. And the game can be taught to others in less than 10 minutes. This is a simple game wrapped in the cloak of a complex one.

Group Sizes and Dynamics
I have played Elder Sign solitaire and with 1 to 4 other players. I’ve played it with people who like dice games and with others who do not. Their reactions varied between liking and tolerating Elder Sign, but nobody absolutely loved it.

Objectionable Material
This game is just not suitable for children. Ignoring the weapons and monsters, it (as well as all Arkham-themed titles) is essentially a period-piece game. It can be quite charming if you fully wrap yourself in the 1920s setting, but that’s not going to interest a child. I would say this shouldn’t be on a parent’s radar until their child is old enough to read Lovecraft themselves – probably early teens.

Comparable Titles
This game is the board-game equivalent of Kevin Bacon – you can tie just about any game to it in some way or another. Comparably-themed games include Arkham Horror, Mansions of Madness, Call of Cthulhu LCG, Fluxx Cthulhu, Smash-Up: The Obligatory Cthulhu Set… this is well-trod material. If you’re fully invested in the story of the game (i.e., you can pretend those face-up cards are actually rooms in the museum that you’re exploring for clues) it can run close to dungeon exploration games. And above all it is a horror-themed dice game like Zombie Dice or Cthulhu Dice (again with the Cthulhu!)– although quite unique here in that it’s cooperative. In fact, it’s the only cooperative dice game I’m aware of.

I play Elder Sign about once a week, but mostly as a solitaire game for nights when time is limited and I have no one to play with. If I have a group this is quite low on my list of games to bring out. It just doesn’t immerse me like Arkham Horror does. I’ve read countless reviews on this website by smarter gamers than I that condemn a game for “pasted-on” theme… I think that’s what we have here with Elder Sign. But that’s not the biggest problem with it; this is the easiest game I have ever played. I’ve never lost. I’ve never even gotten to a battle with an Ancient One. 30 or so games, many with brand new players constantly making errors… still have all the Elder Signs to seal the big baddie away before it wakes up. One very lonely Friday night I played for 3 straight hours – with only one investigator (Sister Mary) – and locked away every Ancient One in the game as a campaign. 8 Ancient Ones and a bag full of monsters, and I was able to keep one little nun alive through all of it. And we criticize Castle Panic for being too easy?

8
Go to the Seasons page

Seasons

161 out of 163 gamers thought this was helpful

There are 20 of them, and they are stunning. Seasons utilizes such a unique dice mechanic – one that completely removes the typical randomness that dice bring with them – that even dice-haters could forgive the game and judge it on its larger merits. Here are my thoughts through 20 games:

Observed Set-Up and Play Time
There are a few sheets of cardboard to punch when you first open the box, claiming 10 of your precious minutes as their own. Outside of that, you’re only restricted by the rulebook. And it is very easy to read – probably the cleanest and most useful that I’ve been exposed to. All told, you’ll be playing within 30 minutes of opening the box. Set-up is quite easy, as the dice and deck of cards are the most cumbersome accessories… which is to say there is nothing cumbersome about Seasons. Games take between 45 minutes (2-player) and an hour and a half (4-player).

My Learning Curve and Teach Time
Seasons isn’t a game to be mastered in five go-rounds. It takes time to learn the nuances of the power cards; time to understand the flow of the game to correctly place stockpiles of cards for later in the game; and most importantly, time to figure out powerful card combinations, which become the key to beating experienced players. Even 20 games in, I am so far from “mastering” the game that I’m only certain to beat complete newbies. As for teaching those newbies: I find Seasons to be that strangest of beast where newcomers are just as well off learning from the rulebook as they are from an experienced player. I can train somebody effectively, but it’s going to take the exact same 20-25 minutes the rulebook will take, and that player will be equally prepared for their first game.

Group Sizes and Dynamics
I don’t consider Seasons to be light fare, meaning this isn’t a game I would throw out in a room full of people with no interest in board games. It’s not too complicated for them, but requires sophistication to appreciate. I would simply be wasting their time, and I don’t enjoy playing games with people who aren’t invested… but when you’re with a fellow gamer this is a lot of fun. It’s just as brisk and engaging a 2-player game as it is a 4-player game. Within that very small, designer-induced range, the game scales perfectly. Better to play with one locked-in player than coercing 3 reluctant souls.

Objectionable Material
Seasons is PG-rated fantasy. There are cute and not-so-cute creatures and objects to summon, but nothing that treads anywhere close to violence, nothing that will make a child scared of what’s under the bed. That said, I can’t see a child having any fun with this game. The illustrations on the cards are akin to the animations they’ll love, but the game is geared toward thinking and planning with minimal action. I would introduce this to a pre-teen who already likes board games.

Comparable Titles
Thematically there are many similar games – anything that revolves around a wizard-type earning prestige or glory through the creatures they summon, such as Summoner Wars, will feel the same. But there is nothing like Seasons’ game play. The interplay of dice, cards and tokens is seamless and novel.

If you’re like me and appreciate a fresh and creative new game mechanic, Seasons is an absolute must-own. The dice are indescribable… you have to hold them in your hands to fully appreciate them. While games like Quarriors package flawed dice in order to make the price more reasonable, the publishers of Seasons spared no expense in making them flawless. But most importantly, the game is fun… without that, all the original mechanics and custom dice in the world couldn’t save it. Seasons is a game I’ll be playing every week or two for years to come.

9
Go to the Quarriors! page

Quarriors!

170 out of 177 gamers thought this was helpful

I purchased Quarriors less than a month ago and I’ve logged around 25 plays in that short time. I normally give a game longer to sink in before writing a review, but I’m so obsessed with this one that my opinions have become fully-formed pretty quickly:

Observed Set-Up and Play Time
Being a first-of-its-kind game, you’re pretty strapped to the instruction manual to walk you through set-up… but a prior understanding of deck-builders really greases the wheels. The game took little time to unbox (this only involves taking cards out of cellophane and dice out of baggies). The rule book is concise and well written, and even includes some humor to keep you from getting too grumpy. All told, my first game was starting around 30 minutes after opening the box, and lasted another 30 minutes. Once comfortable, set-up takes 5 minutes and games run between 10 and 45 minutes (the top end for a 4-player game only).

My Learning Curve and Teach Time
Quarriors can be taught to a deck-builder player in 10 minutes, and I have taught someone who has never played a deck-builder in 25 minutes. Both kinds of players were completely competent on the game mechanics during their first play-through. In a nutshell, this is very easy to pick up. Learning curve is a little trickier; by game 2 or 3 I had a rock-solid strategy down pat (note that this strategy – readily available in the “Tips” section of this page – may be the game’s ONLY rock-solid strategy, which will surely turn off some), but I’ve played around 10 games with another really smart gamer (although not a deck-builder player) who hasn’t seemed to figure it out yet. He obviously isn’t checking this website too often!

Group Sizes and Dynamics
I have played numerous 2-, 3- and 4-player games… all were equally enjoyable (note that this page lists number of players at 1 to 4 – there are no included solitaire rules, and I’m not sure how you would do it, so I’m guessing this is a typo). I have a few deck-builder-averse friends who happily jumped into Quarriors and enjoyed it. Another only really likes co-op games, and Quarriors has become her favorite competitive game. Perhaps the easiest target audience I can find for this game is fans of King of Tokyo. They can immediately identify with the attack-your-friends-through-dice theme and don’t notice that you’ve got them playing a “builder” type game (they also may to be easier to beat, because culling may be a foreign concept to them).

Objectionable Material
Like many great games, violence is the driver of Quarriors’ conflict. But also like many greats, nothing is implicit and there are no graphic images. However, there are still somewhat scary images for very young players and a need to read the benefits of particular dice that make reading comprehension a prerequisite to playing the game. This is a game that can be introduced to an 8-year-old… much younger than the publisher’s stated age.

Comparable Titles
While Quarriors is currently a one-of-a-kind game (that won’t last long… I recall reading that the publisher is slapping a Star Trek skin on it and releasing it as a different game), it has a completely “been there, done that” theme… any game that places the player as a wizard-type conjuring entities to battle other players is telling the exact same story. For instance, recent games like Seasons and Summoner Wars deploy drastically different game mechanics to reach the same ends. While the custom dice and unique mechanics are novel, we have the same novelty with Seasons and King of Tokyo. Overall, Quarriors feels like a comfortably familiar, radically different game. Somehow.

I thoroughly enjoy deck builders, and the exchange of cards for dice seems quite logical to me. While I have a love/hate relationship with dice, Quarriors falls strongly on the “love” side. Anything with dice is subject to some randomness, and Quarriors does a noble job of reining in that randomness. It is possible that a good strategy can come up fruitless, but it won’t happen often. Another compliment for Quarriors: 25 games is typically when I start getting the itch to grab an expansion if I like the game… not so here. I am completely excited for my next game, even though I fully understand the 10 creatures (with 3 variants of each) that may be involved in it.

7
Go to the Small World page

Small World

156 out of 163 gamers thought this was helpful

I happened upon Small World through a literal “gateway” experience… not from another, more accessible game making me interested in digging for weightier options, but from a gateway game literally pointing me to Small World and saying “you buy this now!” That game was Ticket to Ride. It contains a devious Days of Wonder sales pamphlet inside the box, and said pamphlet has Small World prominently displayed on the cover and on the first several pages. Of course, my feeble mind was no match for Days of Wonder, whose subtle mastery of mind control has yet to be understood by us lay-folk. Here are my experiences with the game I was coereced into buying:

Observed Set-Up and Play Time
Opening the box and preparing for play is a several-hour process. There are sheets upon sheets of cardboard to carefully punch (and I do mean carefully… the art on the pieces will rip off if you move quickly), and the rulebook, while well-written and reasonably brief, will need a thorough reading. After those few hours, the first game (for me, a 2-player game) took around 45 minutes with nary an error made. Follow-up games take around 5 minutes to set up and 45 minutes to an hour to play depending on the number of players. It’s simple, effective and fun from the first game, but holy cow cardboard.

My Learning Curve and Teach Time
The learning curve to the game itself is pretty small… one play-through should do it. But you really only become fluent at Small World when you no longer have to reference the wonderful skill/race sheets to understand how your new race will behave. If you’re using the base game with no expansions, it will probably take around 10 games for you to experience every race and skill and be able to know what they do immediately upon seeing them. To teach the game, I take 15 minutes before starting to slowly run through the basics; then we’re off.

Group Sizes and Dynamics
For some reason I have a very hard time getting non-gamers to play Small World with me. I would expect that the light theme and cute artwork would make this appealing… I am apparently mistaken. The biggest group I’ve managed to corral for a game was 4 players, all fairly adept at designer game play.

Objectionable Material
Small World is light fare, but at its essence is about conquering and dominating. These aren’t tenets to use as a foundation for your child. However, it is possible that point is lost in their minds behind simply wanting to “beat your Troll with my Amazon.” While there is no visual depictions of violence or use of adult language, and even the potentially scary monsters (ghouls, skeletons, etc) are animated comically, I would probably wait to introduce this to my kids until they are around 10.

Comparable Titles
First and most obviously, this game is an evolved descendant of Risk. It also has a bit of a distant cousin in Smash Up, a card game that allows you to combine two unique sets of abilities together and see how you fare (in Small World, a race and a skill; in Smash Up, a combination of two monsters). But in general, Small World is akin to the multitude of area control games currently available. It differentiates itself through its fantasy theme, providing respite for those of us who have had enough of war games yet enjoy the occasional conquering of a region.

It feels incomplete to comment on Small World without touching on the expansions, for they are many. There is a stand-alone companion game (Small World Underground) that plays identically but gives new races, skills and game board (complete with new land types); 3 expansions that simply provide new races and skills (Cursed!, Grand Dames and Be Not Afraid); one expansion (Tunnels) that allows you to connect the base game’s board to that of Underground; one expansion that changes the board to a Catan-style variable board (Realms, which includes Tunnels); one that attempts to add a story to the game through event cards (Tales and Legends); and one that allows an extra player to resurrect other players lost race tokens to use against them (Necromancer Island). I have used a good chunk of these (Underground, Tunnels, Realms and Be Not Afraid), and I feel that they add nothing to the game. Small World Underground is itself a good game… but it isn’t better or worse than the original, just a variation. And trying to connect the 2 boards through Tunnels is a disaster… I have given it 3 attempts, and it completely ruins the game for me. I purchased all of these within weeks of purchasing the original game, so it may be a case of “too much too fast”… but I wasted a lot of money on these, when the base game itself was sufficient.

7
Go to the King of Tokyo page

King of Tokyo

111 out of 116 gamers thought this was helpful

King of Tokyo was the second game in my library. I made the decision to make it one of my first purchases due to its awesome artwork, custom dice and novel game play (yes, it’s similar to Yahtzee, but creative in all the areas where Yahtzee is bland). While I played this game several times in the first weeks, as my library grew it got shelved. But King of Tokyo has been finding its way to my table again in the last month, and with around 30 plays to date I have formed some opinions:

Observed Set-Up and Play Time
There is almost nothing to getting this game set up, whether on initial open or repeat plays. Throw a few cardboard monsters on plastic stands, shuffle a deck of cards and go. My first play went flawlessly after 10 minutes of reading the rulebook… it was the same as being taught by an old pro. After 2 games you could throw the rulebook away, as you won’t need to reference it again. I have had a few 4+ player games go over an hour, but in general most games wrap up in around a half-hour. 2-player games can take 15 minutes.

My Learning Curve and Teach Time
Teach time is too insignificant to mention… so I won’t mention it, I’ll explicitly state it: “this symbol (claw) is attack; this one (heart) is heal; this one (lightning) is energy; these (numbers) are victory points… you need 20 to win, and you get the indicated number of points if you roll 3 like numbers. You can only attack monsters that AREN’T where you are, and nobody starts in Tokyo. The first person to roll the claw symbol takes Tokyo and the damage can begin. Energy buys you these power-ups (cards). You can’t heal in Tokyo. And go!” It is literally that simple. Being a dice game, there is not much strategy to it. As far as I can tell, the best strategy is “stay nimble… adapt with your rolls”. This makes the learning curve very small. However, I could be missing something… I’m probably no better or worse at it than I was during game 1.

Group Sizes and Dynamics
This is where King of Tokyo thrives or fails. The reason this was shelved after a month was that I was playing 2- and 3-player games… as a 3-player game, it kind of sucks… as a 2-player game, I detest it. Since I didn’t have 3 other people to play with, I just quit playing. But as my gaming circle has grown and I can now pull off 4 or 5 player games on a weekly basis, I gave this another shot… and it is a hoot. I’ve played it with younger(ish) friends and they dig it… I’ve played it with my parents, and it’s become one of the few board games they’re always willing to play. My mom won on her first play. I can’t believe I’m admitting this.

Objectionable Material
The monsters only attack each other, and these attacks are left to your imagination. I would say that means the material isn’t objectionable… it’s the player’s mind that may be. There is nothing graphic on any of the cards and the monsters are cartoonish. This will almost definitely be one of the first games I teach to my son… I would think he’ll be able to handle it by 5 or so.

Comparable Titles
Thematically, the closest cousin to King of Tokyo would be Smash Up. It’s another monsters vs. monsters attack fest, but without the dice (boo!). I was really excited to try Smash Up 6 months ago, but my initial negative experience with King of Tokyo put that on the backburner. I will probably re-prioritize it now. Another similar title is Quarriors… it shares the dice-and-monsters motif, but adds a wizard/summoning element. Quarriors will be my next purchase.

Overall, the King of Tokyo experience is highly tied to the size of the group playing it. If this game had only 2- or 3-player options, I would rate it a 5. But when you can get 5 people into it, you’d be hard pressed to find a more enjoyable board game. Since we all have the ability to play 2- and 3-player games with greater frequency than larger games, my overall rating falls in the middle.

6
Go to the Friday page

Friday

145 out of 148 gamers thought this was helpful

As is likely the case with many BG users, my eagerness to play games eclipses my ability to find people to play with. If I’m looking to play 20 games in a week, I’ll be lucky to find enough players for 10 of them. That leaves a gap I can only make up through solitaire games. I try to buy as many co-op games that can double as solitaire games as possible, but once in a while I’ll splurge on a game that can only be played by one player (“splurge” in the “allowing myself the luxury of…” sense, as these are typically very cost-effective games). Such are the circumstances that brought me to Friday, and here are the impressions it’s made on me through 30 plays:

Observed Set-Up and Play Time
When a box is this small (maybe 5”x5”), you know you won’t have much set-up to worry about. The one wrinkle could be a complicated rulebook; Friday’s is delightfully thin and straight-forward. I was starting my first game within 20 minutes of opening the box. That game took around 45 minutes, and while I won, that was only because I was badly mangling a few rules. Call it a casualty of not having someone around to bounce thoughts off of. Repeat plays have fallen between 15 minutes (usually swift loses) and 45 minutes (against more difficult Pirates).

My Learning Curve and Teach Time
Once playing under the correct rules (starting game 2), the losses piled up. As far as I can tell, “mastering” Friday means getting to a point where you can win 1 in 3 games. I’m really not there yet. I can’t imagine this game taking longer than 10 minutes to teach, as it’s easy to learn from the rulebook… but I have never taught another person a solitaire game, as that would defeat the purpose of getting them to play games with me.

Group Sizes and Dynamics
I guess I could describe myself… but I’ll save you that act of hubris.

Objectionable Material
This is such a neat little story. It’s a re-working of Robinson Crusoe told from the point of view of “Friday”, a prisoner on the island Crusoe finds himself shipwrecked on. The game removes the heavier themes of the novel (religion, cannibalism, etc.) and re-writes Crusoe as a bumbling idiot who must be taught the survival skills necessary to escape the island. Enter the player, assuming the role of “Friday”. There is nothing objectionable here, and I would relish the chance to teach this to my child if and when Robinson Crusoe becomes part of his school curriculum.

Comparable Titles
There are plenty of large-in-scope cooperative card-based games that can be played solitaire, and Friday really doesn’t stack up well against them. This is just 72 cards… they don’t change, and eventually you know everything the game has to offer. However, there are a few smaller-scope solitaire card games that look more interesting to me than Friday as well – Onirim and Urbion. I have tried neither, but the theme they share appeals to me now that I’ve worn Friday out.

This game hit my table during every spare moment of down-time I could find for the first month that I owned it… but it hasn’t been played since. It grabs you immediately and burns out just as quickly. If you tend to obsess over games like I do – where a new game becomes all you think about for weeks on end, and you capitalize on every chance to play it again – you are going to be done with this one pretty quickly. On the other hand, if you’re more patient and only pull Friday out weekly, you could get some mileage out of it. But one way or another, this was always going to become the least re-playable game I own.

8
Go to the Zombicide page

Zombicide

194 out of 199 gamers thought this was helpful

To me, Night of the Living Dead is an all-time classic. I also loved Shaun of the Dead and Warm Bodies. But nearly every zombie-themed movie that came between the 1960s masterpiece and the 2000s advent of the zom-com left a bad taste in my mouth. I approached Zombicide with a little trepidation, as the theme is very hit-and-miss for me. I’m happy to report that I have enjoyed my 30 or so plays; here is what I’ve found:

Observed Set-Up and Play Time
Lots of pieces here. While the miniatures, variable board and cards are ready to go out of the box, there are still several sheets of cardboard to carefully punch. However, the rulebook is pretty well-written and straightforward, and prior experience with any phase-driven co-op game makes this easy to pick up. All told, I was beginning my first game around 2 hours after opening the box. Competence came pretty quickly… the easier missions (oddly, not mission #2, which is the first real mission after the tutorial) were winnable within a game or two, and the more difficult ones could be tackled after 5 or so games. Easy to teach as well; even people who haven’t played co-op games have picked this up during the first game with me. It helps greatly that they can focus on their characters while I worry about opening doors, zombie spawning and movement.

Group Sizes and Dynamics
This game works as well solo as it does with 6 people, with one major rule change: regardless of the number of players you have, use all 6 survivors. It’s not too daunting to manage all 6 alone, and if you have an awkward number like 4 or 5 just have the most experienced players pull double duty. The rulebook states that 4 players should only use 4 survivors, but you will likely be zombie food before you can form a strategy. As for group types, I have only played this game with adults who enjoy board games. I feel like I will have a hard time recruiting anybody else for this unless they just happen to be zombie movie freaks.

Objectionable Material
Um… just a little. You can build Molotov cocktails. You can loot a car that literally has “PIMP” written on it for weapons sans serial numbers. There are brains and blood strewn all over the game tiles. The female zombies appear to have had less-than-reputable human vocations. But you weren’t planning on playing this with children after getting a peek at the box art, were you?

Comparable Titles
There are just too many zombie-themed games to list. You have your choice of dice games, co-op games and competitive games, nearly all of them with the word “zombie” in the title (the notable exception is Last Night on Earth, but they couldn’t resist putting “The Zombie Game” right on the cover). However, none have been reviewed better than Zombicide, and for good reason. This game is insanely re-playable and always challenging.

There wasn’t much reason for me to expect to like this game other than the rave reviews. The zombie genre has obviously moved beyond me. I’m one of the last hold-outs of the plodding, lumbering zombie purists, and Zombicide is built around the 28 Days Later style runners. But man is this fun. Even seemingly tedious aspects of the game – like hiding in a just-emptied building for 3 rounds to search for better weapons and trading them to other players so that everybody has a nice assortment – end up highly enjoyable. I can recommend this to anybody who has a high tolerance for horror and violence. I just wish I could play it with my kid sometime this decade.

8
Go to the Castle Panic page

Castle Panic

222 out of 232 gamers thought this was helpful

I picked up Castle Panic in order to start building up a library of child-friendly games to have on-hand when my kids hit gaming age. Of course, I’m not patient enough to wait for the aging process to prepare them, so I’ve subjected many adults to playing with me. Through roughly 50 games, here are my thoughts:

Observed Set-Up and Play Time
Panic was quick out of the box, as the 60+ cardboard tokens came pre-punched. A thorough read-through of the rulebook took around 30 minutes and initial board set-up around 5 minutes. Our first game took less than an hour. From game 2 on, set-up takes 3 to 5 minutes, and games never run longer than 40 minutes.

My Learning Curve and Teach Time
There is essentially NO learning curve to this game… and that is its biggest shortcoming. We easily won our first game, and effectively had it mastered by game 2. In fact, we’ve lost only twice (playing the fully cooperative version of the rules) in 50ish games, both times having “Draw 4 Monsters”, “Draw 3 Monsters”, the Goblin King and at least one “advance all monsters” token or Boss come out in the same turn (better stated, 12 of the 49 monster tokens get drawn at once). This will almost never happen, and a 96% success rate is far too high for a cooperative game. As far as teach time, I have had success teaching non-gamers (including my barely-attentive father) by jumping into a game without much discussion of rules. Just “I’ll go first… you take the same steps I do, and can only kill monsters with cards that match their ring and color”.

Group Sizes and Dynamics
90% of my games have been 2-player, with a few 3- and 4-player games sprinkled in. It is slightly more challenging with more players, but not enough so to put a win in doubt. All groups have consisted of adult family members and friends, and literally everybody I’ve played with loved it.

Objectionable Material
The preface of the game is killing monsters… while this obviously counts as “violence”, it is entirely fantasized and cartoonish. Even the implied violence is less objectionable than “Tom & Jerry”… although I’m not sure if children watch that anymore. I will have absolutely no qualms with introducing my son to this game as early as 4 years old. There is very little reading involved… matching colors and pictures should be sufficient to play the game independently.

Comparable Titles
While I’m sure there is a plethora of child-friendly games an adult would enjoy, only two others have crossed my radar: Forbidden Island and River Dragons. Island is completely different in every way save that both it and Panic are cooperative. I have not played Dragons, but being a competitive game, it too is quite different than Panic (they seem to be held in the same esteem).

I love this game. It was purchased to be learned and tucked away for a year or two until my son was ready to play… instead, it has been played twice a week by gaming and non-gaming adults. The game is far too easy, and I love a challenge… but for some reason I have a great time playing this anyway. And I understand the Wizard’s Tower expansion makes it much more challenging, so I will grab that if I tire of nonchalantly mowing down monsters.

10
Go to the Sentinels of the Multiverse page

Sentinels of the Multiverse

160 out of 164 gamers thought this was helpful

Sentinels of the Multiverse is my first card game. Being relatively unimaginative, games without boards and bright, shiny pieces were a hard sell for me. But I was successfully worn down by the abundance of effusive praise here and took the bait. Through 100-some plays, this is what I’ve found:

Observed Set-Up and Play Time
The first play took around an hour to set up. This involved removing decks from cellophane wrap and reading through the rulebook one time… the simplicity of it is pretty remarkable in hindsight. However, that first game lasted about an hour-and-a-half and was left unfinished (it was a work night, and for some reason I chose Omnitron and his game-high HP as villain). Since then, games set up in less than 5 minutes (unless you’re incredibly indecisive on picking your heroes) and are consistently played in less than an hour. I’ve had several games in the 30-minute range with both positive and negative outcomes.

My Learning Curve and Teach Time
I had the basics of the game down pat after the first play-through, but had I played that game to fruition I would have met an unfavorable outcome. It took around 5 games before I could confidently hope to win each game, and really only won about 50% of my games against these 4 base villains through the first 10 or 12 games. I have been successful in teaching the mechanics of the game to newcomers with roughly 10 minutes of preamble followed by one 45-minute game.

Group Sizes and Dynamics
I have played Sentinels with as many as three players… but well over half of my games have been solo. I have an absolute blast with this game as a solitaire game, easily managing 3 heroes against a revolving door of villains and environments. Provided you are playing with others at your experience level, the game is just as fun in a group. However, I do not enjoy it as much when I am playing with inexperienced players – these are mostly “sacrifice” games to get them up to speed, and you may end up “sacrificing” 10 games before that happens.

Objectionable Material
The base set of Sentinels has little objectionable to it. All violence is implied, not illicit, and all language is family-friendly. There may be a few frightening-to-a-young-child images in a few of the decks (I’m thinking Citizen Dawn’s cult members in particular), but my guess is that any child that may be frightened by them is much too young to play the game anyway. While there is nothing thematically that would prevent me from teaching a 5-year-old the game, it is so reading-intensive that I would guess a bright 8-year-old would be about the youngest you could go.

Comparable Titles
Sentinels has two titles in direct competition with it, DC Comics Deck Building Game and Marvel: Legendary. All three are superhero-themed card games, and these alternative titles have the benefit of using established properties with built-in fan bases. Chief among the differences is that both DC and Marvel are competitive games where Sentinels is cooperative. The Marvel game has the disadvantage of not allowing players to control single heroes as they do in DC and Sentinels (the player is instead a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent recruiting heroes to the cause). I have yet to find a review that doesn’t rate Sentinels favorably against these titles, but having played neither I can’t proffer an opinion.

Without hesitation I can state that Sentinels of the Multiverse is my very favorite game. Once you’ve mastered every enemy, pick up an expansion. Once they’re all mastered, switch to their “Advanced” settings. Even without purchasing an expansion this game is infinitely re-playable. And to me, it’s so much more impressive that the designers have done this without the use of an established property. Through this game alone, superheroes like The Wraith, Tempest and The Visionary mean as much to me as Iron Man, Batman or Rorschach. Well, maybe not Rorschach.

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