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Ben H

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Go to the Race for the Galaxy page
Go to the Summoner Wars Master Set page
Go to the Race for the Galaxy: The Gathering Storm page
Go to the Heroscape: Game System Master Set page
Go to the Heroscape page
Go to the Summoner Wars Master Set page
70 out of 77 gamers thought this was helpful

Anyone who knows this game and has looked at my profile and seen how I feel about Heroscape (it’s the best) will not be surprised to see I give this game a perfect 10. It is very similar to ‘Scape, using cards instead of minis, with a few interesting differences I’ll comment on later.

In this two player game the players each use one of six “Factions,” or armies, made up of a deck of cards. Besides the six different Faction decks, all of which are new to the Summoner Wars line, the game comes with two heavy folding boards with a grid on each where the cards will go, plus assorted dice and markers.

You set up your army according to the instructions for your particular faction. All factions have their “Summoner” and all start with a wall and soldiers of various types in play.

During the game you will draw the cards from your chosen faction deck into your hand and, sometimes, play them on the board as critters who will fight on your behalf, sometimes you will cast them as spells with some effect, and sometimes you will simply discard the cards into your “Magic” pile.

Like in Heroscape, some of your soldiers are “common,” and you can have any number of them, and some are Champions, and you can only have one of each of them. Some attack from range, some must be adjacent, and so on. The mechanics of movement and combat are very simple and well described in the rules. The game ends when a player’s Summoner, who is sort of like a Champion but in this way also like a king in chess, is destroyed; that player is the loser.

When you want to cast a spell, which means either (a) summoning a critter, as I said, or (b) casting some other kind of spell, depending on your faction, you will take cards from your magic pile and put them in your discard. The fancier the spell, the more cards you have to move from your Magic pile to your Discard.

The game plays fast, normally in about half an hour. There are six different factions and each one has a significantly different play style from the others; the Mountain Vargath are straight ahead bashers, and the Deep Dwarves generate lots of Magic and have some powerful spells. Try them all.

There are a couple interesting differences from ‘Scape, besides the obvious lack of massive, modular terrain and miniatures.

This game is really balanced around making competitive armies, where Heroscape is not. Heroscape is designed for scenario play, and for mixing and matching to make armies. Summoner Wars is very finely tuned to keep each deck balanced against the other decks. It is really a testament to Colby and his Playtesting crew that, with all the attention this game gets, there is no emergent superior faction.

Second, set up and take down are both very fast, which is nice.

One last word about the box & insert: the box is *huge*. There is room for the six decks in the insert and room for all the other factions that have ever come out for Summoner Wars, too. It fits on my shelves with my other games – it’s not Rise of the Valkyrie big – but it’s up there. Maybe as tall as Ticket to Ride but bigger around than Castle Ravenloft.

Also you can play with four players. I tried once and don’t especially recommend it; I thought it drags, but your mileage may vary.

Easy to Learn

Really 2p only

That’s it. We love theme and we normally play 2 player in our house, so this is right up our alley.


Go to the San Juan page

San Juan

113 out of 120 gamers thought this was helpful

In San Juan, you build a city worth the most points you can. There is a single deck of cards from which all players draw, and each card represents (among other things) a building. Once any player has constructed 12 buildings, the game ends and the players tabulate whose buildings are worth the most points.

Sound like a deck builder?

It’s not.

Those familiar with Race for the Galaxy will see something familiar in that description immediately and the games are often, rightly, compared, but for those not familiar with RftG, here are a few things both games have in common:

1. You have a hand of cards. Each card says right on it what it costs to build. The Victory Statue, for instance, costs “4” to build. In order to pay the construction cost, you must take that many cards from your hand and put them face down in the discard pile. So cards are both potential buildings *and* the cash you must use to build them. You have to decide which will be the one you build, and which you will sacrifice to do the construction.

2. Some buildings produce goods, which you can trade for more cards in your hand. The “Coffee Roaster” allows you to put a good of one type on it, and each good is symbolized by a card taken from the top of the deck and put, face down, on the producing building. Later, when you trade that good, it goes directly to the discard pile. So the cards can also be these goods.

3. Each turn is composed of several phases. Build, trade, produce, and so on. You don’t do every phase of each turn, instead, you take turns picking which phase you will do. If you want to trade, you will have to pick the ‘trade’ phase when it’s your turn to do so, or perhaps your opponent will pick ‘trade,’ in which case you can piggyback your own trade(s) because when one of you picks a phase you all get to do it.

4. The person who picks the phase also gets a little boon for doing so. If I’m the one who picks the ‘produce’ phase, everyone gets to produce a good on one production building (Indigo Plant, Coffee Roaster, Silver Refinery, Sugar Mill, and so on), but the person who selected ‘produce’ gets to produce a good on a second production building as well. Each phase has a similar boon for the guy who picked it.

Buildings are all worth some victory points toward your final score and most also have some handy little power as well. Some are production buildings, giving you goods for trade, others give you some bonus like an extra card every time you trade goods.

Your hand and your cards in play will vary widely from one game to the next, so there’s not really going to be one winning strategy. You might win one game with a bunch of Silver Refineries but find that strategy impossible for one reason or another in the next game, which you win by building a bunch of statues and a couple other buildings which give you a fat bonus for having statues.

There is plenty of replayability here. The cards will tend to repeat after awhile, though; even if the strategies vary from game to game the cards will soon become very familiar. The game also plays quickly, in about 20-30 minutes for the 2 player game.

I recommend this game for those looking for a game that plays in 20 – 30 minutes and is a card game but also has a sprinkle of “gotcha.” I also heartily recommend this game to those who, like myself, really like Race for the Galaxy but struggle to find people *cough* *suckers* willing to sit still long enough for me to explain how to play.

**** Comparison to Race for the Galaxy incoming: ****

There are a couple very important ways in which this is *not* Race for the Galaxy, with which it is often compared. And which I would, truth be told, prefer playing.

First of all, Race for the Galaxy is *much* deeper. There is much more variety in that game and many more paths to victory. This game plays much easier and I wouldn’t hesitate to teach this game to anybody; it just isn’t as much of a punch in the eye as RftG. So it’s not as deep as RftG, *but* it is much more of a crowd pleaser. And it almost scratches the same itch, so it’s a good one to be aware of, if you’re a fan of RftG.

Second of all, the phase selection process is different in a very important way. The phases are laid out in the middle of the play area for all to see. If I pick ‘produce,’ we all produce, but only I get the bonus. And that can be terribly important. If I see your strategy likely depends on a trade of a couple goods, I can submarine you by selecting ‘trade’ myself. Even if it’s not ideal for me, I might have completely undone *you* by denying you the boon I guessed you were anticipating.

Unlike RftG, there is a *significant* “Gotcha” factor in this game. You may not see it or use it, depending on who you’re playing with, but it’s not something to be overlooked in the right group.

Go to the Hey, That's My Fish! page
43 out of 47 gamers thought this was helpful

Hey, That’s My Fish! is a wonderful little family friendly game that plays great with 2 or 3. It appears to handle 4, too, but I haven’t tried that yet.

For your $12 you get a small box with 60 little hexagon cardboard tiles, each one depicting ice and 1, 2, or 3 fish. You also get 4 adorable little penguin minis in each of 4 colors.

The game play is fast and smooth. You lay out the 60 little tiles randomly in alternating rows of 7 and 8. Then you take turns placing penguins (4 each for 2 player, 3 each for 3 player, 2 each for 4 player) on 1-fish hexes. After the penguins are all placed, you take turns moving them. Penguins move, queen-like, as far as they wish in straight lines, stopping only for opposing penguins or voids in the ice. After you move a penguin, you take the hex it had been standing on and add it to your score pile.

So at game start the network of hexes looks more or less like:
. . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . .

After you move from your hex you take the tile you’d been standing on, thusly, where the “-” signifies a void:

. . . . . . . .
. . . – . . . .
. . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . .

And after taking a bunch of turns the board starts to look like this:

. . – . . – . .
. – . . – . – –
– . – . – – – .
. – . – – . . .

And penguins get separated from each other and trapped on different bits of the ice, each trying to gather as much fish as possible while using the board-destruction mechanic to isolate the opponent’s penguins on small ice-islands.

The two player game is very abstract and chess-like. After the initial harvest of some of the tiles the game very quickly turns into a battle to limit the opponent’s available space, constantly seeking the zugzwang that will force your opponent to move backward instead of forward.

The three player game is very different and much more friendly to my 8 year old. There’s a lot more give and take with opponents not coordinating in any meaningful way, so you have more space in which to harvest the more valuable tiles before it becomes time to look for ways to clip your opponent’s wings.

So. I have two kids: a 12 year old intense gamer, and an 8 year old who is just not that interested. They both like this game, which is a big plus in my book. And it plays very fast, maybe 15 minutes for the 3 player, which is also a big plus because you know how it is finding time to do anything.

The downside is the little cardboard chits are annoying. They’re small, and there are a lot of them, and they aren’t much to look at. And setup takes awhile, though not as long as some others have suggested.

For $12, it’s just silly not to have this game. In this price range there’s Zombie Dice, which gets old fast, Bang!, which needs a lot of people and a lot of time, Forbidden Island, which is coop and needs a lot of time, and Fluxx, which I despise. So at this price point this might be the most complete game I own.

Go to the Risk 2210 A.D. page

Risk 2210 A.D.

142 out of 151 gamers thought this was helpful

First, a word about the “Risk” I played 25 years ago as a teenager. The board was static, with familiar choke points, and the flow of the game was very predictable and boring and only suitable for games of 3 or more.

Now, fast forward 25 years. The Kid tells me he wants to play Risk and I’m dreading it. (a) I do not have a single pleasant memory of that game (“Take Australia” being the principal memory) and (b) we normally have only two players.

But I’ve heard of this version, bearing the names of Designers Rob Daviau and Craig Van Ness, the two hobby giants who also brought us Heroscape. And it says you can play with two, and we had B&N store credit to burn, so Risk 2210 joined our collection.

So we take it home and open the box and here I will compare it to Risk:

1. The map is very similar. Land bridges connect Africa and South America and Alaska and eastern Asia, just like in the original. There are, however, also territories in the water, for instance, a chain of them connecting southern Africa, India, and Australia. You don’t colonize the water territories at game start, but they provide terribly important flexibility to break up the rigid structure of the familiar Risk map. Another terrific change is that, at the beginning of every game, four land territories are randomly selected from the deck and marked as “destroyed lands,” off limits. The game changes dramatically just based on which are those four.

2. Plus there’s the moon. You can go to the moon, attacking it relatively easily once you have the resources at your disposal, but it’s very difficult to defend. Very fun, and wild.

3. Your army is composed of robot-looking things and some commanders. You start with the Land and Diplomatic commanders; Nuclear, Space, and Naval commanders can be purchased with energy tokens. The energy tokens, which you get as income just like your armies, can also purchase cards. There are cards associated with each commander and you can only buy those commander’s cards if you have that commander in play. Most of the commanders give you some combat bonus, too.

Plus the space stations…

Anyway. Most important, for my household anyway, was…

4. There is a solid 2 player variant. You set up the map as I described and basically install a third power randomly, taking some water, land, and lunar territories from the draw deck for it. The third power sits in those territories, 3 armies in each, and the 2 players battle around and through it.

The two player game, which only takes about 90 minutes, is fun and balanced. I might have preferred it just a hair to the 3 player variant even; it’s close…

I can’t recommend this game highly enough for those looking for a Risk playable for 2. I would have loved Risk Legacy, which makes me drool, but that’s for 3+.

The one thing that bugs me is the cards can be *very* swingy. Your master stroke will be completely undone if your opponent is holding the one right card.

Go to the Yomi: Complete First Edition page
42 out of 43 gamers thought this was helpful

This is a fantastic 2 player card game.

Each player draws cards from his deck and plays, from his hand, an attack (rock), dodge/block (paper), or throw (scissors). Winning a faceoff gives you an opportunity to do damage or to draw more cards to refill your hand.

Inside there is a very practical insert cradling 10 decks, two play mats, a few tokens to track health, and the well-written instructions. The ten decks each have a different fighter, most of whom are human, but some of whom are, well, not. A giant panda, for instance.

The art, theme, and mechanics all remind me of Street Fighter 2 and other arcade games from Back in the Day. Each of the ten decks plays distinctly from the others. The more you know – about your opponent, about your deck, about your opponent’s deck – the better you will be able to predict his next move and play the correct counter.

And *that’s* what this game is about: guessing your opponent’s plan and trapping him.

No review of this game would be complete without mentioning the art. It pervades the game: the box, the mats, the boxes of each deck, and each card has its own artwork. The Panda’s 9’s are different from the Artist’s 9’s.

Each deck is also its own set of traditional cards, they are numbered and marked with the four suits of a traditional deck of cards. Why you would play poker with these cards I couldn’t guess, but it’s a nice touch.

A weaker opponent will find himself terribly frustrated with this game. You *have* to be able to assess what your opponent is going to do, if you blindly over and over make the obvious choice a superior opponent will make your temper start to flare.

Anyway. In conclusion…

The ten decks give you as much variety as you could want. The art is gorgeous and the theme is well delivered. The instructions are well written and the game is easy to learn.

The single biggest problem with this game, without doubt, is availability. The edition pictured here, the 1st Edition set of ten decks, appears to run a hefty $100, and individual decks appear to be available for about $10 each.

Not cheap, though it should be plain enough from this review that I think there’s a lot going on in here. Recommended, if you can track it down & get it for yourself.

Go to the UNO page


36 out of 44 gamers thought this was helpful

Uno is a card game in which the cards have numbers and colors. The goal of the game is to get rid of all the cards in your hand by playing them, one at a time, on your turn.

It’s sort of the inverse of a trick-taking game: You can only lay your card down if it matches the number or color of the card that’s already down, or if it’s one of a couple different Wild cards. If you can’t lay a card down you have to take one from the deck. Once you are down to one card in hand you say “Uno” out loud and then, I suppose, people will try to saddle you with extra cards.

Comparing it to Fluxx, which is another card game accommodating large numbers of players with very light rules:

It doesn’t quite have the novelty. As others have said, you could almost play this with a regular deck of cards. With a couple house rules, you could *exactly* play this with regular cards. You can’t do that with Fluxx, which has its adorable fluffy artwork and dynamic rule system.

It doesn’t accommodate people coming in and leaving as easily. The redeeming quality of Fluxx, in my opinion, is that it accommodates players dropping out & coming in. Uno doesn’t do that.

It does, however, reward careful play, unlike Fluxx. If you handle your cards carefully (and the game is not too huge), you can push things in a direction so that you’ll have a good chance of being able to win.

Which is a good thing.

Still, it feels like a card game, along the lines of Crazy 8’s or Go Fish. If that’s not for you, skip this one. There’s just not much to it.

Go to the Hive page


74 out of 83 gamers thought this was helpful

The bits in this game are hefty bakelite hexagons, each one depicting a bug. There’s one bee, there are a few spiders, a few ants, a couple beetles, and so on, black ones for one player and white ones for the other player.

On your turn you either lay one of your tiles down, connected to the rest of the other tiles, or you move one of the tiles already placed. Each piece moves in a different way: the spider moves three spaces, the grasshopper leaps over a row, straight in any direction, and so forth.

There is no board; you just lay the tiles next to each other on whatever surface you’re using.

The goal is to trap your opponent’s Queen Bee, the bee piece, surrounding it with your pieces and, perhaps, your opponent’s as well.

The game is frequently compared to chess for good reason: there are sets of distinct pieces that move differently from each other and the game is *very* abstract.

It has a few major advantages over chess, though, and I write these words as a chess player of many years. First, it plays very fast. There are only so many pieces in the bag and you go through them fairly quickly. My games normally last about 20 minutes, sometimes faster, sometimes not.

Second, this game does not feel broken, like chess does. Chess is thrice plowed ground: between computers and centuries of learning, there just isn’t much unexplored territory.

Third, this game is much more accessible for non gamers.

Yes, there is still wonder and excitement and there is much to cherish about chess. And I still love it and play when I can. But in my little world of 2 player abstract games, this is normally #1 now.

Go to the Heroscape: Game System Master Set page
94 out of 101 gamers thought this was helpful

Heroscape is not really a kid’s game. By which I mean, it’s not a game only for kids.

But it *looks* like one, and the eye candy is definitely there for children of all ages, so having a kid around is a good incentive to pick this bad boy up.

If you are lucky enough to get what’s linked here, the original Rise of the Valkyrie Master Set, the first thing you will notice is how heavy the box is. This box is *loaded* with stuff. There is so much stuff in this box that you will need to track down the specialized instructions necessary to put it all back in the box, if that’s where you want to keep it. No, I’m not kidding, and it’s a *big* box.

You will open the box and see a bunch of good looking prepainted minis but what may be most interesting to you is the mountain of “terrain,” or interlocking tiles showing hexagons of various colors. Single hexagons of water; double hexagons of sand; seven hex pieces of stone and twenty one hex pieces of grass, and countless others. You may find yourself building terrain battlegrounds before you even read the directions.

The minis look great and you will immediately see robots, dinosaurs, WW2 era soldiers, orcs, and a dragon. This game pulls from everywhere. Expansions include cowboys and ninjas and zombies and pretty much anything else you might find in an action novel.

The directions include a section for the “Basic” game and a section for the “Master” Rules. Don’t bother with the Basic game. It’s dumb and even an 8 year old can handle the advanced stuff.

The rules are straightforward. Each of the minis has an associated card which tells you how the mini behaves on the battlefield. How far it moves each turn, how many dice it rolls when attacking, how many when defending, how much it costs to include it in your army, and so on. There are limited battlefield effects: There is height advantage, you do have to stop when walking through water. There is not flanking or first strike or facing or firing arcs unless so indicated by the special ability on a card.

Play proceeds in “rounds” of 3 turns each. You will have four order markers, numbered 1-3 and one of them marked X. You will place them on the cards associated with the minis you’re using in that battle and, one at a time, you will play your 1 order markers, then your 2, then your 3. The X doesn’t get played; it’s just there to make your opponent guess which of your order markers is where. After you’ve both played your 3’s, reset your order markers, roll to see who goes first for the next round, and start over with the 1’s. Games can be kill ’em all or have other objectives.

It is possible to play this game with just this Master Set, if you are lucky enough to find one, and it is also possible to play with just the Swarm of the Marro Master Set. Or you can track down the terrain and some units without every buying *anything* NIB; it’s all out there for you. I recommend for all your Heroscaping needs, including talk about the rules, customs, and where to find a tournament (!) near you. I highly recommend the tournament scene. I used to do M:tG and chess and would never return to either of those circuits; these tournaments are awesome.

There is still a *lot* of ‘Scape available on the open market, just not so much at a store near you. Besides the Master Sets there are a bunch of expansions and all kinds of awesome. At the community a couple projects are developing customs with existing minis from other games that fit seamlessly into the Heroscape canon to keep the game dynamic, though to be honest the game is plenty dynamic enough with the countless units and terrain variations already out there from “official” sources.

Follow eBay closely; check Craigslist, and so on. It’s out there. Get it. Enjoy.

Go to the Zombie Dice page

Zombie Dice

27 out of 31 gamers thought this was helpful

Rating: 6

Zombie Dice is a push-your-luck game.

You are the zombie chasing the humans, trying to eat their bra(aaaai)ins. Reach your hand into the canister & pull out 3 dice. Roll them. Got a brain? Good. Got a shotgun blast? Not good. Got a victim running away? Keep chasing. Keep going on your turn, rolling 3 dice, until you (a) stop and get a point for each of your accumulated brains, or (b) get a total of 3 shotgun blasts and you get nothing.

The three different color dice have different ratios of brains:shotgun blasts.

The challenge is calculating how hard you can, or must, push your luck every turn to get to a total of 13 points.

The game components are simply the heavy cardboard canister, its tight fitting lid, and the 13 dice inside. The dice are high quality and the artwork, such as there is, is gore-free and family friendly.

This game is a ton of fun with a bunch of kids. It’s probably also fun for grown ups who have had a martini or three, but I haven’t tried that yet. I don’t recommend it for those looking to fill a significant block of time; it’s just not meant to be played that way.

You’ll play a couple times, maybe 20 minutes total, and be ready for something else.

Go to the Scrabble page


61 out of 68 gamers thought this was helpful

If you found this website you sure as heck know what Scrabble is.

Two to four players take turns laying letter tiles to make words. Different letters have different values and some locations on the board enhance the value of words or letters placed on them. The winner is the one who gets the highest score.

That’s it.

It is, to my mind, the king of word games. The challenge is to take your letters, organize them into a decent word (“wall”) and find a better one (“seawall,” using all seven letters) and finding the perfect place to put it.

The game works best – and *only,* consistently – when both players have comparable skill levels and expectations for how the game will go. I can’t play it with my kids because we are playing two different games. I’ll be wondering if I can use the word “quahog” and my kids will be happy to come up with something age appropriate for a 6th or 3d grader.

Playing with another adult still presents the potential for paralysis-by-analysis. I take a long time on my turns. I know I shouldn’t, but it’s how my brain works, and it’s asking a lot of my wife, who is not an especially patient gamer, for me to think forever about whether I should use “colors” instead of “coloring.”

So. For the right pair it’s the best word game in the world. If you have gaming style or vocabulary mismatches in your game group, be prepared for this one to gather dust.

Go to the Guillotine page


54 out of 61 gamers thought this was helpful

In this light card game, players take turns collecting heads from the guillotine during the French Revolution.

There are two decks: the noble deck, and the action deck. There’s also a little model cardboard guillotine with an executioner standing next to it. You set up the cardboard (doesn’t do anything, but it’s funny) and deal a row of twelve nobles for that day’s slate of executions. Different nobles have different values – King Louis is worth 5 points; the P i ss Boy is only worth 1 – and some of them trigger effects.

Players take turns using action cards from their hands to try to get the most valuable collection of nobles into their own stash. When the row of twelve is gone, deal another twelve for the second day. After the third day of twelve, the game is over.

Cards from the action deck and the nobles themselves can affect the value and the order of the nobles in line, and play moves *very* fast.

The Guillotine page on the website gives a decent idea of what the art in this game is like. It is *extremely* light and silly. There is no gore. There are images of blood, but they are so cartoonish it is silly. I play with my 8 year old girl and she *loves* it, I think because the art is so entertaining. She isn’t normally a game player.

Neither, for that matter, is my aunt in New York, and she loves this game too. So do my various game-playing relatives.

It’s light, fast, and family friendly.

Recommended for:
Gamers looking for a filler game (~20 – 30 minutes.).
Gamers who play with non-gaming kids.
Gamers who play with non-gamers.

But not for:
Gamers who need something deep.
Gamers who have no patience for cartoonish art.

Go to the Dungeons & Dragons: Castle Ravenloft Board Game page
39 out of 45 gamers thought this was helpful

Castle Ravenloft is a game set in the Dungeons & Dragons fantasy universe.

The first thing you will notice is the box is *heavy*. Inside you will find nearly one billion bits for various things. Chits, tiles, minis, cards, and an insert with a few large compartments for storing it all.

The bits in this game are fantastic. The heavy cardboard tiles you will use for constructing your ‘dungeon’ are of the highest quality, the artwork is good and thematic, everything is well written and polished. The instructions are fairly well written – not the best ever, but fairly well written – and there are a few scenarios included to guide your play.

Each player controls a hero going through the dungeon. The players take turns taking some action with their respective heroes, fighting a monster and/or exploring the dungeon, and then taking a turn with whatever monster(s) are also running loose and often revealing some trap or other unpleasant effect. Each hero and each monster is represtented by a high quality (unpainted, but high quality) miniature from the D&D line of miniatures.

The different missions have different goals. The first mission, easily played solo with just one hero, calls for the hero to escape from deep within the dungeon before the evil vampire Strahd catches up to him. Other missions call for the hero(es) to get certain magic items, or guide villagers through the dungeon, or defeat certain monsters. The internet is, of course, loaded with fan-made scenarios as well.

This is my favorite solo game. The mechanic requiring the player to physically take the role of the dungeon – drawing trap and encounter cards, manipulating the monsters according to the instructions in the rulebook – almost makes me feel like there is another player at the table, in a way that adding blocks to the map in Pandemic does not.

As a coop game, again with the opportunity each player has to fight *as* the monsters, to *be* the dungeon with its traps and controlling the minis, this game allows some ‘gotcha’ resistance to the Alpha Male Menace that can occur when one strong personality is playing with others in a coop game.

I do wish the minis were painted but I understand that’s not realistic. Still, without paint, some of them look quite a bit like some of the others. And there are areas in which the rulebook is unclear, specifically when dealing with how the player controls the monsters, but Google Is Your Friend and the clear answers are out there.

This game is fantastic for those who want a mini fantasy solo/coop game. Plays fairly quickly once you understand the rules (and depending on the scenario) and scales well from one to four players. It may be able to handle more; I won’t hazard a guess.

I only wish my kid had some interest in coops… *sigh*

Go to the Thunderstone: Dragonspire page
41 out of 43 gamers thought this was helpful

Thunderstone: Dragonspire is a deckbuilder, which means the players each have a deck of cards and there’s a central pool of cards from which they can acquire what they need to improve their own decks. The goal in this type of game is to build the best deck, which will normally be the one to reach the win condition first.

In Thunderstone: Dragonspire, a standalone expansion of the Thunderstone franchise, your goal is to assemble a deck that is your fantasy adventuring party, by acquiring cards from the Village stacks. Those cards will be various types of weapons, food, and heroes, depending on what you’ve drawn at random from the many types of available village cards in the box.

If you aren’t going into the Village, you can go into the Dungeon, where there are monsters and traps and treasures, which will vary, again depending on which sets you drew at random from the box. Once you kill a monster it goes into your deck, giving you points toward victory but also, in an interesting twist, cluttering your deck.

The game includes a wide variety of village cards, including a varity of different heroes to be your champions, and a wide variety of monsters as well.

There are a few wrinkles I haven’t touched on here, more than in the base game: there are traps, and dungeon settings, and other features carried over from the base game like you need light to go deep in the dungeon and strength to carry heavier weapons.

Like Thunderstone, this game is absolutely dripping with theme. It’s fun, it’s thematic, and it can be replayed over and over with the game heading in different directions each time.

I wish it played a little faster; I can never get the games to go in the advertised 45 minutes. It takes us more like 70 minutes for a 2 player game and longer for more (which are almost always teaching games, which could be the reason they take longer).

The first thing you will see when you open the box is this game has a real storage solution, unlike the base game. There are dividers and foam blocks to keep cards organized and in place, and there’s room for this game’s cards plus the cards from all the sets that had come out before.

You will also notice little chits to replace all the XP cards, and you will also notice a stealth “Dragon Humanoids” divider card that has no associated monsters (They came out later, in a promotion. They’re cool, worth tracking down).

Between the two sets, if you need a good storage solution you should get this one first. The base game, without traps, treasures, dungeon settings and “Guardians,” is simpler. You really won’t go wrong either way, though.

For my comparison of Thunderstone to Dominion, check out my review of Thunderstone (hint: I don’t like Dominion as much).

Go to the Thunderstone page


39 out of 40 gamers thought this was helpful

Thunderstone on its own terms:

Thunderstone is a deckbuilding game, which means it’s in this genre where each player pulls cards from a central pool to increase the potency of his own deck, and in the end the superior deck should be the one to reach the win condition first.

Specifically, in Thunderstone you use the cards to build a fantasy adventuring party, composed of heroes and their equipment, by using the coin values of some of your cards to make purchases from the selection of ‘Village’ cards in the central play area.

If you aren’t going to the Village to beef up your party, you can go to the Dungeon and try to kill a monster from the Dungeon deck. The winner is the player who kills the most points’ worth of monsters.

If you kill a monster – and this is a critically important element of game play – the monster card goes into your deck, giving you some points toward victory but also cluttering your deck.

The box comes with a wide variety of monsters, heroes, and village cards, and every game is different from every other, depending on the monsters in the dungeon and the available heroes and equipment to provide for them. Some monsters are stronger than others; some a more difficult to defeat with magic, some more difficult to defeat with weapons, and so on.

With all the variables – the deeper you go into the dungeon, the more light you need; the heavier the weapon, the more strength, and so on – this game has a lot of replayability.

It plays fairly slowly, though, partly because the players are constantly fighting against the accumulating clutter – in the form of killed monster cards – in their own decks.

If I could get this game down to the 45 minutes it’s *supposed* to take, I would rank it higher. It takes my kid & me at least 70 or so minutes for a two player game, though.

Thunderstone v. Dominion

Still, if I had to choose between owning the base game for Thunderstone or the base game for Dominion, without question it would be Thunderstone. *So* much more replayable than Dominion, in my humble opinion.

My guess is, if you are going to be a cutthroat-type player you really need to be prepared to invest a lot of money in Dominion. If you have the base game of Dominion, and nothing else, you have the Chapel and the Witch and the precious few cards that will dominate most games you play. It’s only getting away from those cards that you can start mixing the game up with *other* dominant cards, from other sets, and the game (hopefully) opens up more.

Dominion, as I wrote in my review of that game, is similar to chess: In any setup, there are a few correct moves and a great host of incorrect moves, and any incorrect move can be unforgiving. Except that you’re not playing on the same board as your opponent, so there’s not as much interaction.

Thunderstone has more paths to victory, and also, to my mind, is more fun to teach, because I don’t have to choose to stay away from the Guaranteed Win that a newbie wouldn’t ordinarily be able to see.

Thunderstone is just as light, but much more thematic, much more fun, and much more fun to *teach*, than Dominion. As I said, I only wish it played a little faster.

Go to the Forbidden Island page

Forbidden Island

50 out of 57 gamers thought this was helpful

In Forbidden Island, the players take turns trying to collect four treasures off a sinking island. The goal is for all the players to get the goodies and evacuate from the Landing Pad before the island sinks beneath the waves.

The island is represented by sturdy cardboard cards laid out in a predetermined shape. The arrangement of the cards within that shape is determined by dealing the cards randomly.

Players take turns drawing from two other decks, one of which helps collect treasures – and sometimes raises the water level, imperiling the island – and the other deck floods some of the tiles. Players also move about the island, accomplishing different tasks necessary to get to the shared victory.

Different players have different abilities. The Engineer can shore up the island more efficiently than the others; the Pilot can move about more freely, and so on. The players win or lose as a team, hence the genre name ‘coop.’

Gamewright’s website says this game is for ages 10+. I played it with my non-gamer daughter at age 7 and she *loved* it. This is a fantastic game to play with kids and the difficulty level scales nicely depending on how you set it up.

Some people refuse to play coops. This game is not for them.

For anyone else, particularly those with children but really for anyone, this is a great, light, coop game. I prefer it to Pandemic, which I’ve long since given away.

Go to the Family Fluxx page

Family Fluxx

64 out of 73 gamers thought this was helpful

Not a big fan of Fluxx; there are other party games that are more fun. One of the few things that you can do to keep a little strategy in base Fluxx is manipulate the ‘Creepers,’ the special cards that, normally, keep people from winning.

Family Fluxx is the Fluxx without the Creepers. My kids never had a problem with the Creepers; removing them to make the game more family-friendly makes it lethally boring for me & even bland for the kids.

This game does share the advantage Fluxx has, though, and it’s an unusual one: It can accommodate players coming and going unlike anything else. New player? Here are three cards. You have to go? Ok, see you later, put your cards in the discard.

Go to the Fluxx page


30 out of 42 gamers thought this was helpful

The game begins with each player having three cards and a deck in the middle of the table, from which all players will draw.

“Draw a card, play a card.”

Those are the rules.

As the game goes on, new rules (and winning objectives) are added, changed, and taken away. The cards you play from your hand can be rules (“Draw 2 cards at the beginning of each turn,” “At the each turn discard down to 4 cards,” and so on), actions (“Draw as many cards as there are players and give a card to everybody,” “Discard all the rules in play,” and so on), Keepers (“The Tree,” “Ice Cream,” and so on), Creepers (bad Keepers: “War,” “Taxes,” etc.) or Objectives (normally related to Keepers: “If you have the Toaster and the TV, you win.”). On your turn you play a card, or more cards if the current rules dictate, and you can play any one of the card types. Rule cards change the rules, of course, but they can be changed again, and indeed probably will be.

The goal is to reach the objective in play with your Keepers. So if the current objective is “Toast: the player with Bread and the Toaster is the winner,” and you have in front of you the Keepers Bread and the Toaster, you win.

The game can be over in three turns, or it can go on interminably, and what you need to win is a ton of luck and a pinch of skill.

I find this game very boring, and I’ll play just about anything. The one thing it offers that most games don’t: it doesn’t make a bit of difference if a new player joins (“Here are three cards. Welcome to the game!”) or another one departs. Which is a nice feature, in a light party game.

Go to the Race for the Galaxy page
36 out of 43 gamers thought this was helpful

Not a deckbuilder, in that both players develop their hands from a central deck.

Each card in the deck represents any one of a number of different things: it can be a good on one of your planets, it can *become* one of your planets or developments, it can go into your hand and be used, from there, as a coin with which to pay the deployment cost of some *other* planet or development.

There are a lot of symbols and a lot of things to wrap your head around. This game is not for the faint of heart.

Despite its depth, though, it plays very fast once all the players (2 or 3, ideally) know what they’re doing. There are so many ways to win this game it’s ridiculous. Just when you think you’ve discovered all the ways a particular card set might go, you find yourself struggling, and sometimes succeeding, to win by pushing it in some other way.

The only real drawback I see is it’s very difficult to catch the leader. But the game plays so darn fast, under 30 minutes, I don’t mind, because I can start again soon.

Go to the Ticket to Ride: USA 1910 page
60 out of 70 gamers thought this was helpful

You have Ticket to Ride already.

Like many people, you love the game but do not like fussing with those tiny cards.

This expansion replaces all those cards with full size ones. The new destination cards make it a little easier for people to find cities, which helps when you’re dealing with children (or, as I realized last time I played, foreigners).

It also tweaks the values of a couple routes and adds a few other new wrinkles, including a bonus for “Most Routes Completed.”

If there is such a things as a “Must have” for a game, this is it.

Go to the Agricola page


50 out of 60 gamers thought this was helpful

Not for the faint of heart, Agricola challenges you to build a better farm.

It takes a long time, it’s complicated as heck, but it always feels like there’s something going on. And it *never* feels like there’s enough time to do everything you want. It does not drag, if you have the 90 minutes to invest.

Game components are little wooden blocks and cards for many different things and cardboard chits for various purposes and a bunch of big pieces of cardboard for various purposes. Set up takes awhile. So does take down. Draw a few cards near the beginning, then play the game by organizing how you want your farm to grow through various mechanisms.

Take turns performing tasks (“Gather wood.” “Make a Minor Improvement.” “Family growth.” and so on.) Plow and plant your fields. Gather and shelter your various animals. Once one of you has performed a task, it is unavailable for the other players for that turn. Once every few turns you must feed your family with gathered vegetables or grain or animals; if you’ve taken the time to build a stove or a hearth it makes this phase go much more smoothly.

The problem is there is just not enough time – only 14 turns – to build the perfect farm. Every turn is a scramble to accomplish just the one or two things you need to get by. The theme of this game is subsistence farming and that’s really what it is; every harvest phase is a struggle to feed your entire family.

God I love this game. I wish I had more time (and partners) to play it. It takes awhile to set it up and awhile to put it away and it takes a long time to play – 90 minutes for 2 players, add 30 for every additional player – but when you’re ready to up your game you can’t do better than this.

Go to the Ticket to Ride page

Ticket to Ride

39 out of 53 gamers thought this was helpful

A real crowd pleaser.

You get your secret destination tickets, and use different types of train cars to seize routes & complete as many tickets as you can to maximize your score.

*Very* easy to understand for people coming over from Monopoly/ Risk/ whatever, this is often my first recommendation to people looking to expand their game collections to include some of the good stuff.

Plays well from 2 to 5 players from the kids to the grandparents.

My one complaint, and it’s a little thing: The cards representing the types of trains are pretty small. I’ve gotten used to them, but with the USA 1910 expansion it turns out I never had to; it includes replacement full sized cards.

Go to the Dominion page


77 out of 84 gamers thought this was helpful

The godfather of deckbuilders, yes it’s fun to play, yes it’s easy to teach, yes it’s a good introduction to gaming in general and deckbuilders in particular.

The idea in this game, like in other deckbuilders that came later, is the game play is divided into your deck, your opponent’s deck, and a central pool of cards. In Dominion, the central pool of cards is divided into ten separate piles of Kingdom cards, Victory cards, and coin cards. When the game starts your deck is only ten cards, seven coins and three Victory cards. The game ends when three piles of cards from the central pool are empty, or when the one pile of Provinces – the highest value Kingdom cards – is empty.

On your turn you take your hand of five cards and acquire cards from the central play area; at the end of your turn you take what’s left of your hand and everything you’ve acquired and put it all in your discard. Then you deal yourself a new hand. When your deck runs out, you take your discard, which now includes various goodies you’ve acquired from the central play area, and deal yourself a new hand.

The cards in the central play area are selected, at random if you choose, from a larger number of available Kingdom cards that come with the base set. The Woodcutter gives you the opportunity to make a second ‘buy’ on your turn and a couple extra coins to do it with; the Village lets you play two extra actions and gives you an extra card; the Thief gives you an opportunity to steal a coin from the other players. And so on.

Like chess, it appears to me Dominion can be reduced to an almost scientific right/wrong way to play, particularly if you’re working with just the base game. Or not, if you make the choice not to work your brain too hard; it can be a fun casual game for people happy to play fun and casual.

In chess, you *can* open the game as white with pushing the King’s Pawn up two spaces, and you may even win that way sometimes, but there are better and weaker opening plays. The same holds true with Dominion, particularly when playing without the expansions. With any set of Kingdom cards, some will be *right*, and most of them will be *wrong.*

So it can get tiring to replay, because, for me at least, it’s not a huge amount of replayability. Again, with just the base set. There are a host of expansions; we have Dominion: Intrigue also, and that adds a lot to the base game.

It plays fast, it’s easy to understand and to teach, it’s fun to play. My 11 year old is very good at it and I have complete confidence I could teach my 8 year old if she was interested, which she’s not.

Works best for two or three players; it handles four. Five is too many.

I’m not saying this is a bad game. I’m really not. It’s a good game and we enjoy it, particularly with people who are relatively new to gaming. Plus it plays fast, which is a big advantage sometimes.

But it’s not my favorite.

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