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Fletch

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Go to the Magic: The Gathering page
Go to the Dominion page
Go to the The Settlers of Catan page
Go to the Catan: Cities & Knights page
Go to the Kingsburg: To Forge a Realm page
Go to the Agricola page
Go to the Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle page
9
Go to the Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle page
10 out of 10 gamers thought this was helpful

I’m biased (I helped build the initial engine prototype Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle is built on), but I’m confident in saying that this game is the absolute best game out there for teaching non-gamers how to play a deck-building game.

Without going into spoilers, the HP:HB is built to play out in seven games (think chapters) that incrementally add new, more complex mechanics. Game 1 is incredibly basic and works as an entry-level tutorial on how turns work. Each of the following games adds a few new mechanics and ramps up the challenge.

Since the game is fully co-operative, there’s little reason for novice or non-gamers to feel intimidated; any over-the-shoulder advice offered by more experienced players is always intended to help all players. This takes away any hesitation new players might feel about whether they’re being taken advantage of.

The Harry Potter theme is perfect for bringing players into the game. Each of the villains, heroes, and purchasable cards is designed to mechanically behave the way anyone familiar with the Harry Potter world would expect. This makes the first experience with the game feel immersive, and allows the mechanical procedures to blend into the background, quickly putting new players at ease.

Experienced deck-building game players will likely want to cut straight to Game 3 or 4, since 1 and 2 are specifically meant to teach players what a deck-builder is in the first place. As far as games for mixed crowds go (family gatherings on holidays, game nights with strangers, etc.), Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle is a fantastic way to initiate new gamers into the fold.

7
Go to the Rumpelstiltskin page

Rumpelstiltskin

49 out of 57 gamers thought this was helpful

At risk of writing a review longer than the game itself…

I’m a friend of the inventor (Nate Heiss), and my wife and I got to play Rumplestiltskin in it’s infancy at his kitchen table. It was great then, and it’s great now.

Rumplestiltskin is simple and fast, but still has plenty of challenge, much like AEG’s other hit, Love Letter. There’s a fun mix of deduction, bluffing, reading of your opponent, and luck. Once you have a feel for the ways the card actions interact, you’ll begin to find quick little combos to help manipulate your deck and zero in on your opponent’s secret name.

6
Go to the Qwirkle page

Qwirkle

100 out of 109 gamers thought this was helpful

Qwirkle is a great game for introducing non-gamers or casual gamers to something a little more strategic, and is fantastic for bringing young players into the fold. There’s been plenty written on this page about that, and I agree with just about all of it. I do have one small problem with it though, and it’s one that the rules book almost addresses… then doesn’t.

When playing with more aggressive gamers, it’s very easy to create situations that significantly lock up the board early on, making play incredibly difficult and often “grindy”.

Early in the game the first time I played it (which I must admit I waited waaaaay too long for), the other player and I discovered that in a two-player game, by creating an intersection of the same set, it is possible to limit the remaining playable pieces to an incredibly small subset of all the remaining tiles. For example, if the game begins with a row of the blue square, the red square, and the yellow square, the next player can jam the board by placing two other squares of different colors intersecting the red square. This creates a situation where the only legal plays are at the ends of those three-tile lines, and those plays MUST be squares, which by then have likely all been played out from the players’ hands. The game stalemates into a “trade-go” pattern until somebody gets one of the remaining 11 non-red squares from the set of 90-odd tiles still in the bag.

Much of the imagery that comes with the game (including the image used on this very page) seems to imply that there should be a consistency to the arrangement of color lines versus shape lines (“colors go East/West, while shapes go North/South”). Human behavior naturally trends towards this gestalt as well, as we’re psychologically hardwired to try to find and create organized structure in things — it’s comforting to us. The rules don’t require us to play this way though, and in fact actually present an example diagram where something like this has happened (http://iloveboardgames.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/Qwirkle-Rules.pdf) . The problem lies in getting through the jams when this happens early in the game, and said jams are pretty easy to force.

8
Go to the Dungeons & Dragons: Lords of Waterdeep page
48 out of 56 gamers thought this was helpful

This is one of those fantastic “board-to-digital” game translations where the digital may possibly surpass the original.

Lords of Waterdeep is basically a puzzle within a game; “how do I string this goal into that goal, then keep the ball rolling?”. On a tabletop, it’s easy for things to go sideways, as multiple players can usually piece together what your plan is. In app form, it’s much harder for table talk to ruin your scheme. Playing Waterdeep solo in app form simply shifts the focus of the game from a social experience to a logic puzzle.

Adding to the puzzle experience, the fact that the app circumvents the original’s setup and teardown just expedites your next game. The computer rarely takes more than a few seconds to evaluate a turn, and you can finish an entire game in around 30 minutes (sometimes less). As such, it’s a great “solitaire” time-killer game for your phone or tablet.

6
Go to the We Didn't Playtest This At All page
50 out of 57 gamers thought this was helpful

This is the kind of dumb that works perfectly in two-minute bursts. It’ll frequently take longer to shuffle and deal the cards than it will to play the game. The winners might just as easily be chosen at random. For all that makes it sound mediocre though, it works as a fun, dumb little activity.

Unlike something like Killer Bunnies, which can take hours to no satisfying conclusion, We Didn’t Playtest This never overstays its welcome. It may not keep your crowd satisfied for much more than 20 minutes, but those 20 minutes will typically be full of senseless, pointless fun for the sake of senseless, pointless fun (and isn’t that the whole point?). And, as pointed out by Fuzzy Wendigo, nobody has to walk away feeling ashamed of the grotesquely offensive joke “the cards made them play”, i.e. CAH.

If you like Flux but want something with a bit less rules contortionism, try this one out. It will be dumb, but sometimes dumb is exactly what you need.

9
Go to the Disney: Eye Found It! page
39 out of 45 gamers thought this was helpful

I worked on the game (did the preliminary artwork and layout — all six feet of it), so I’m biased, but kids don’t have that angle and they love it. Truth, cross my heart and hope to bash my knee.

The board itself is an instant draw, like a giant Where’s Whats-his-name filled with 12 different Disney worlds. Each world has hundreds of tiny things for players to find, called for throughout the game by the deck of cards. For the most die-hard of Disney Parks fans, I made sure there were plenty of “hidden mickeys” throughout — I challenge you to find and post your favorites here!

Gameplay is cooperative, making it a great game for families with kids of different ages and skill levels. The parameters for what counts in the picture searches is subjective, so it can lead to some great creative reasoning (in play testing it, I once watched a 3-year-old girl circle Sulley from Monsters, Inc. as a cat, on the well-argued grounds that Boo calls him “Kitty”) and a player-friendly balance that keeps young kids really happy.

WonderForge has also expanded the Eye Found It games line with a Card Game version of Disney Eye Found It, a DreamWorks Animation version, and a Time Travel edition.

7
Go to the Telestrations page

Telestrations

86 out of 93 gamers thought this was helpful

People have been playing the classic game Telephone for years (and likely something similar but differently titled before the invention of the telephone). Telestrations puts a new twist on the game by asking players to draw the word or phrase they’re trying to down the line. By changing the medium of the information from an aural/verbal form to a visual form, the creators of the game have built a system that allows up to 8 of these phrases to be in transit at once. This ramps up the payoff at the end of a round considerably; in Telephone you’d only get one garbled message each time you played, but with Telestrations you’ll get one for each player.

The components of the game are adequate; several other reviewers here have commented on how easy it is to build a “DIY” version on your own, and their suggestion is fair, to a point. The flip-book construction of the drawing pads is a fairly key component to how Telestrations is played, and not so easily replicated on a single dry-erase board per player. Overall, the pieces are what they need to be; functional, though not overly fancy. The markers are subject to wearing out, and the boards may gather marks that just won’t go away. Very few players will mind though – these are things you’d expect from the materials at hand, so they’re easy to forgive.

My only strong criticism of the game is that it really suffers from the “one weak link” syndrome that all “think-alike” games are prone to. Since each word or phrase is being filtered through every player at the table, having one player who either just lives on a wildly different wavelength from the rest (or who just wants to spoil things in general) can completely kneecap the experience. It only takes one pre-teen who decides that “Meatball” isn’t as much fun a secret word as changing it mid-stream to “The Invention of Hugo Cabret” would be to have everyone at the table left puzzled and deflated by the end. The real joy of the game comes from seeing the subtle misunderstandings in the process of passing the messages at the end of a round. You may find that a player who tries too hard to have fun for themselves will ruin the fun for everyone else.

All in all, Telestrations is a great casual/family/party game with no losers (only mostly-winners) that should keep your group entertained for quite a while.

8
Go to the Blokus page

Blokus

63 out of 72 gamers thought this was helpful

While not a “Perfect Lunch Table Game” (a trend I look for), Blokus passes a significant test for social game nights: it holds up to food/drink spills and greasy fingers. I can’t speak to whether the plastic Blokus are or are not dishwasher safe, but I can attest to the fact that four somewhat distracted guys with hands covered in pizza and wing sauce can not, without intent, ruin the components of this game. When a Salad Spinner and some dish soap can completely refresh a game, that’s something special.

Which says nothing about how enjoyable this abstract strategy game is — and it is enjoyable. Blokus is a game of spatial expansion. Players use Tetris-like plastic tiles of varying sizes and configurations to spread out and claim board space. Unlike similar tile-placing games, in Blokus you’ll be touching your tiles corner-to-corner rather than edge to edge. This makes the game both visually beautiful and tactically innovative; because no two pieces of the same color will ever form a water-tight blockade, players can weave their placed tiles through and around those of other players.

The rules themselves are pretty simple, but it’s the kind of game that you learn gradually. There are strategies and sequences that will help prevent or limit incursions by opponents into areas of the board, but it will take many times playing through the game to get a feel for them.

One additional note regarding the rules: While two- and four-player games are fairly straightforward, the game plays a bit differently with three players. I recommend that when learning the game, you stick with an even number of players.

6
Go to the Love Letter page

Love Letter

60 out of 77 gamers thought this was helpful

I was pleasantly surprised by AEG’s Love Letter. When I was told “jump in, it takes about 20 minutes,” I was skeptical; just learning a game often takes that long. On top of that, I wasn’t sure I really wanted to commit even 20 minutes to a game of romantic intrigue.

I was wrong. The elegant simplicity of the game had me feeling up-to-speed in about two minutes, and the flow of the game does indeed lead to a nice, quick experience. The flavor, that of a courier’s attempt to properly deliver a love letter to the princess, is recognizable but not heavy-handed, and the strategy involved is engaging without diminishing the lightness and pace of the game.

The game plays as a series of simple actions — draw a card, play a card, follow one direction, and possibly eliminate a player from the round. The goal is to have the highest-valued card at the end of each round, and there’s a fair amount of luck involved in getting there, but some basic deduction along the way can improve your odds.

This is a great game for family play, particularly with families that enjoy light staples like Uno or Pass the Pigs. You won’t likely play more than two or three full games in a sitting, but as a way to bridge between other activities, Love Letter is an enjoyable way to fill some time with friends or family.

7
Go to the Zombie Dice page

Zombie Dice

15 out of 19 gamers thought this was helpful

I’m always on the lookout for solid games to play with co-workers at the lunch table. Ideally, these games are easy to explain, simple to set up, resilient to messy fingers, and small enough to not monopolize said lunch table (If this sounds familiar, it’s because I’ve reviewed other games here by these criteria). Zombie Dice comes very close to getting a perfect score by these measures, but falls short for one thing.

You’ll need a way to keep score.

That’s it.

Apart from the need for a pen and paper or some pocket change for tallying points, Zombie Dice is great for the cafeteria or lunch room. Like so many other “push your luck” games, it takes only a few seconds to learn the basics, and the components are compact and simple.

While there’s not a whole lot of strategy or player interaction to the game, its strength is in its humor and mild risk/reward tension. A full game will only take a few minutes to play through, and provide enough “wow” moments to keep players interested in going again as long as your lunch break allows.

It’s cheap, it’s fast, and it’s fun. Give it a shot.

7
Go to the Can't Stop page

Can't Stop

79 out of 93 gamers thought this was helpful

What makes a game a great “lunch table” game? It has to be easy to explain, simple to set up, resilient to messy fingers, and small enough to not monopolize said lunch table. Can’t Stop meets all four of those qualifications.

The gameplay is dead simple: roll dice and decide how far to push your luck. It’s engaging enough that everyone in range, whether they’re playing or not, will watch every roll to see if someone can close out a column or go bust — and when the latter happens, you can count on some noise.

With only a board, four dice and a few movers, there’s no set-up (or clean-up) to speak of, which makes getting a game going an almost instant proposition. The components aren’t particularly fancy, but they don’t need to be. They’ll survive getting knocked around or smeared-up by messy fingers. Drop it in the middle of the table, hand someone the dice, and go. Game ended too quickly? Just do it again.

There’s just enough strategy involved to keep it from being mindless, but not so much to create analysis paralysis. The mix of skill and luck keeps all players in the game, whether they’re first-timers or seasoned veterans, and the simple mechanics are easy to pick up just by watching a few turns, so people outside the game will quickly ask to join in later rounds.

If you have a relatively social lunch crowd, I can’t recommend breaking out Can’t Stop enough.

7
Go to the Magic: The Gathering – Gatecrash page
7 out of 8 gamers thought this was helpful

While all Magic sets are designed to function both as a resource for Constructed format deck-building and Limited format play, it’s tough for a set to hit both targets accurately at the same time.

Gatecrash, while fun in a Limited (draft, sealed) environment, is far more suited as a resource for building and rounding out your Standard and Modern decks.

The five-guild structure of the set forces five very distinct primary archetypes when building with only Gatecrash cards. In a Limited format, where you have access only to the cards in the specifically selected set(s), this tends to reduce flexibility in play styles. This narrowing of strategies is further amplified when you have a maximum number of cards you have access to, and are restricted to a relatively random subset of Gatecrash cards.

In simpler terms, Gatecrash wants to be played specific ways, and does the job less effectively when you can’t be as selective in choosing the cards to make those specific strategies work.

The five strategies presented all have the potential to work in Sealed or Draft scenarios, but are notably weakened if key cards specific to each of those strategies are unavailable to you. And, as noted earlier, the set doesn’t have a ton of other archetypal options if your guild strategy isn’t panning out for you.

I don’t want to get into a card-by-card breakdown of the set — there are far better Magic analysts writing on far more specialized sites if that’s what you need — but the general takeaway is this: the mechanics and themes presented in Gatecrash can break down or become abusive very quickly in the wrong environment.

Extort is a fine mechanic in any two-player format, Limited or Constructed. However, in a multiplayer environment like Commander, Planechase, or Two-Headed Giant, the accelerated effect of hitting multiple opponents makes the mechanic exceptionally powerful exceptionally fast. This is not to say it shouldn’t be allowed, just that players need to be aware of how strong it is when a single mana can consistently and repeatedly gain two or more life for a player.

Conversely, the Simic Evolve mechanic tends to stall out and stagnate if you don’t get exactly the right subset of cards in your pool. It’s a mechanic built to exploit sequencing your plays in a very structured order. Unfortunately, Limited environments give you the least possible control over your access to that structured order. Without a consistent way to keep climbing the ladder of base creature sizes, or to put the counters you accrue to another use, your evolvers will typically gain one or two counters and then peter out.

Take all of this with a grain of salt; Gatecrash can absolutely be played in a Limited environment or multi-player formats, and I encourage you to try it. However, if you’re looking for a genuinely dynamic set for a draft, there are better choices — Innistrad or Innistrad/Dark Ascension for example.

2
Go to the Killer Bunnies: Quest - Blue Starter Deck page
90 out of 100 gamers thought this was helpful

But this one won that honor.

The simplest way to put it is that it was so infuriating on every level that by the time we got to the completely random ending, none of us ever wanted to see it again. I literally put it in the garbage and never looked back.

You might think the game had the wrong audience. It’s possible, but we had a wide range of player types playing, and not one of us enjoyed it.

The group I played with is pretty diverse. My father-in-law is a competitive gamer with a great sense of humor. My mother-in-law tends to skew more casual, but nearly always plays a strategic long-game. My wife is someone who tends to enjoy the ride with less importance weighed on the win. Her grandmother isn’t much of a gamer, but in this case served as a great “control”; she didn’t have any pretenses or expectations. And I’m typically open for any kind of game at least once. I design games professionally, so it behooves me to keep an open mind, try a wide range of game types, and play from different mindsets.

We opened the box, eager for the fun, rollicking experience I’d heard about from so many other gamers. I took a quick look through the cards, and was left a bit underwhelmed by the production values. The illustrations are okay but not great, but the choice of typeface is horrendous and difficult to read from across a table.

We took a read through the rules and found them confusing and often vague. Eventually we decided to jump in and begin playing with the rules at the ready for clarifications as needed — which turned out to be nearly once every time around the table. In most cases, even consulting the rules didn’t resolve our questions, so we’d make up a patch on the spot and keep playing.

Along the way we found that many turns were wasted with bad draws of conditional cards. Most of the time we’d have hands full of weapons and no bunnies to use them with (balance issues). In several cases, we found cards that were only relevant to such specific subsets of cards that they were completely unusable in 99% of game situations.

Our game lasted a little over two infuriating hours, at which point we reached the glorious and much-hyped (sarcasm font) revealing of the magic carrot (which sounds a lot like something that happens in a creepy guy’s basement, and was about as welcome). After so many agonizing turns of trying to build any semblance of cohesive strategy or flow, the winner is determined…completely at random.

None of your questions about the rules matter.

None of your efforts to understand them matter.

None of those dozens of brutally frustrating turns of “I draw, I do nothing” matter. Your winner is determined by whichever magical carrot gets drawn from a deck at random. You’d have done better to leave the cards sealed in the box and just roll for highest number. Thank you for playing, that’s thirty bucks and two hours of you life utterly wasted.

Since then, I’ve actually been assured by multiple people that the game is “kind of lame unless you’re stoned”, and I suppose that might have been the problem with our group; not enough drugs.

I’m baffled. Easily one of the worst games I’ve ever played.

9
Go to the Kingsburg: To Forge a Realm page
11 out of 25 gamers thought this was helpful

For the amount of variety in a single expansion, you can’t beat To Forge A Realm. From the army chits that fix a key glitch in the base game, to the ability to customize your city development chart, this is pound-for-pound the best board game expansion I’ve ever purchased.

While the new mechanics and options introduced in this expansion may not be as revolutionary as Cities and Knights is to Catan, the number of options available are fantastic. My friends and I opted for the full combo plate and dove head first into all of the new material at once. Ultimately, we found the event cards to be a little more than we wanted to deal with (so many other new strategies to try already), but even with what we felt was a miss, there were plenty of hits in the set to make up for it.

Do it. You won’t regret it.

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