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Fuzzus

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Go to the The Resistance: 3rd Edition page
Go to the Blokus page
Go to the Lords of Vegas page
Go to the Fiasco page
Go to the One Night Ultimate Werewolf page
Go to the Concept page
Go to the Splendor page
Go to the Dead of Winter: A Crossroads Game page
10
Go to the Codenames page

Codenames

53 out of 61 gamers thought this was helpful

Codenames is a party word game that seems very basic at first glance. 25 cards with a single word on each of them are arrayed in a 5×5 formation on the table. There are two teams, red and blue, and each team has one Codemaster who sees a card that maps out the 5×5 grid in blue, red, neutral, and one assassin square. The Codemaster gives a one-word clue that applies to as many of the 8 (or 9, if their team went first) colored squares on the grid as possible and gives a number; for example, the clue “cold: 3” could be used for the words “freeze,” “winter,” and “shoulder.” The Codemaster’s team tries to guess as many of the words as possible, but if they guess a neutral square or one of the other color, their turn immediately ends and the other team’s Codemaster gives a clue. If a team guesses the assassin square, they immediately lose the round.

It’s super-easy to learn and fun to play for the first few rounds, but you expect that it will get old pretty quickly. But it doesn’t! Somehow, Codenames is fun to play again and again, for both hardcore and casual gamers, and the only thing that stopped us on our first night playing was that people had to go home because it was too late. If we were all ten years younger, we’d probably be playing into the wee hours of the night, and the sun may well have caught us still shouting and laughing.

Codenames’ presentation is pretty solid, though the theme of the cards being the code names of potential agents doesn’t bring a whole lot to the game. There are PLENTY of word cards (two-sided so you don’t have to bring out a new set every time!) and the agent chits are cool-looking and, in a particularly nice bit of inclusiveness, double-sided with a male agent on one side and a female agent on the other.

Codenames looks like the kind of game that would be fun once or twice and then collect dust on your shelf, but I’m sure we’ll be bringing this little gem out at parties for a long, long time.

9
Go to the Splendor page

Splendor

66 out of 73 gamers thought this was helpful

With a nod to Atticus653 for noting elegance in his title first….

Elegance is a refined simplicity, a simplicity that belies the amount of work and design that went into making an object — like, say, a gem. An elegantly cut gemstone may seem almost natural in its final shape, despite the jeweler’s delicate craft and fine eye.

So it is with Splendor. It’s so simple, so natural, so elegant that it barely feels like a game. When I first laid it out and prepared to play, I thought, “That’s it? That’s what all the hype is about?” Splendor seems simple to the point of being boring. However, it’s anything but.

In Splendor, you play a Renaissance jeweler looking to earn the prestige and recognition of the world. Play is, surprise, simple — on your turn, you can either take some of the multicolored gemstones, buy improvement cards that “produce” gems on your turn, or reserve the improvements to buy for later (and get a wild card gem when you do). Buy improvements with victory points (“prestige”) and buy certain arrangements of improvements to attract nobles to your tableau. The first player to 15 points wins. That’s it! Usually my mechanics paragraphs go on way longer than this!

While I keep using the word “simple,” elegance is what keeps you coming back to Splendor. I can’t tell whether it’s because of the simplicity or in spite of it, the game grips you hard. There’s a surprising amount of variance in the strategic choices you can make: do you buy a lot of cheap improvements to build a strong economy early on, or do you save up the gem tokens to buy more expensive ones with prestige attached to them? Do you focus on grabbing high-value top-tier improvements, or attracting nobles to your tableau? Games are over relatively quickly — long enough to feel meaty, but fast enough to leave you wanting more. Building your tableau of improvements, making smart acquisitions, and stealing cards out from under players all feel great.

Splendor’s presentation is simultaneously strong and a little weak. The art on the improvement cards is well-done, but it’s repetitive and lacks character. The theme, such as it is, feels very mechanical and not fleshed out in any way. However, the components are very high-quality, especially the poker-style chips used to represent the individual gems, which have a somewhat surprising heft to them that makes them feel valuable. Presentation is a mixed bag, on the whole, but the gameplay is fun enough that I don’t really miss a strong theme.

Splendor surprised me with its mix of simplicity and addictiveness. It’s a refreshingly elegant entry in a field of often overwrought, mechanically dense games. It’s fast becoming a favorite of mine, and I feel comfortable recommending it to almost any game group.

10
Go to the Fiasco page

Fiasco

67 out of 74 gamers thought this was helpful

Fiasco is not your typical board game, inasmuch as there is no actual board. It’s also not a typical RPG, as there is no systemized combat, mathematical character creation, or dice-rolling to resolve situations. Fiasco is, above all, a storytelling game, where you and your friends assume the roles of ignoble characters who get drawn into bad things that go way, way over their heads…but still think they can handle it, until everything inevitably falls apart. There is a very sparse system involving four six-sided dice per player (two “good” dice and two “bad” dice — the book says white and black dice, but we played with purple and red), but the vast majority of what occurs with in the game will be generated on the fly between you and your group, building characters, a story, a “tilt” (twist between the game’s two “acts”), and an aftermath, all within a couple of hours. You each play out scenes as your characters, two scenes per act, and are rewarded dice by other players if you choose to Establish a scene, or you can choose to Resolve a scene, which gives you the die you want, but lets everyone else at the table plan out your scene for you.

Fiasco’s a game I’ve been wanting to play for a long time, ever since Tabletop did a Fiasco episode. It took me a long time to buy the book (yup, the entire game is one relatively thin paperback book) because I always thought that my normally mathy, strategic group group of gamers wouldn’t enjoy a game that was nigh-100% roleplaying. To my very pleased surprise, I was totally wrong. I sat down with four friends last weekend (at least one of whom had never roleplayed before), and we went for it.

The story we generated was amazing. I played a preacher, embezzling from his church, whose estranged brother had killed their parents in an insurance scheme and was now turning his eye towards my character. There was an accountant getting too close to the truth of Reverend Alton’s embezzling, a wealthy serial widow who’d accrued a fortune marrying through five husbands she met in the church, and a simpleminded bumpkin who did lawns and other handyman work around town, his goodhearted ways upending more than a few carefully laid schemes…when he wasn’t at home in his trailer surrounded by a giant colony of feral cats. It ended in laughs, tears, and uproarious fun.

There will almost certainly be a lot of hesitation and trepidation when you first start playing Fiasco. Players will be reluctant to offer ideas, or step into their characters, or play pretend with each other. Fight your way through it; it’s very worthwhile. What you’ll find after the initial ideas (seeded by rolling the mass of dice of all the players and consulting the playset while drafting the dice) is that the story takes on a life of its own, and the decisions will either become obvious, or someone at the table will generate a brilliant idea that pushes it forward. Of course the handyman would take the stones that the reverend requested from the widow’s backyard! Of course the widow would find out that she was being fleeced and demand the reverend marry her so she could get her money back, and more! Of course the accountant and the reverend’s brother would end up combining forces to benefit from his death! Players will become invested in their characters, loving and despising them at the same time. Finally, the little wagon you’ve all assembled together will go sailing over a cliff, on fire, and you’ll all look over the cliff and high five each other over how awesome it was. There are some things that we played a little wrong, though — my character got nothing but bad dice, which we assumed would mean a bad ending, but in fact stacked the ending in his favor, so that his aftermath went far better than everyone else’s. If I’d been more familiar with the system before we played, I believe it would have been a little more balanced.

Fiasco is a little intimidating. It feels like it asks a lot of its players, and for the socially anxious, it can be terrifying. But it is so rewarding to move past that and create this organic, crazy, fantastic story. When you play Fiasco, you need to put the idea of “winning” out of your mind — you “win” Fiasco by building something amazing with your friends, and I cannot recommend it enough.

9
Go to the Dixit page

Dixit

49 out of 55 gamers thought this was helpful

I come from a hardcore gamer background. I’ve optimized statistics in tabletop RPGs. I’ve calculated strategic moves for maximum efficiency. I’ve stared across a table as I bluffed, trying desperately to control the quaver in my voice and the motion of my eyes (okay, I’m not the best bluffer). I’m good at quick calculations, snap tactical decisions, and a near-encyclopedic knowledge of rules.

And it’s kinda refreshing to play a game that doesn’t use any of that.

Dixit is simple, whimsical, emotional, and a little magical. It’s a party game of the imagination, where almost anything goes and there’s never a “right” way to play. Ultimately, it’s about connecting with some (not all!) of your fellow gamers, about whispering secrets to each other in plain sight, and about the feeling you get when those connections are validated.

Play is simple: each player receives a hand of six (beautiful, high-quality) large cards, each with a unique piece of art. There’s no words and no numbers; every card is nothing more than a picture, and usually a strange one at that. The active player says a word — or a phrase, or does something, or sings something, whatever they want — and lays down a card from their hand face-down. All other players follow suit, trying to match a card from their own hands to the active player’s chosen self-expression. The cards are shuffled and turned over, and all non-active players use numbered chits to vote on the card they believe to be the active player’s. If all or none of the votes are for the active player’s card, the active player receives no points, and everyone else receives 2 points (plus a bonus point for every vote their card received). But if some guess accurately and some don’t, the active player (and those who guessed the correct card) gains 3 points (with inactive players again receiving a bonus point for every vote their card received). Play continues to 30 points. It’s so simple, it’s barely a game.

And yet…and yet…people come alive when they play it. I’ve watched hardened strategy gamers and casual first-timers alike rack their brains as they stare at the colorful cards in their hands, and then break into a wide smile just before making their play. A friend of mine had a card with a picture of a hand holding a torch rising from (or descending into?) the ocean, and he chose to whistle the theme from the Terminator movies, because that card reminded him of the ending to Terminator 2. I was the only player at the table who recognized what he whistled, so I was the only one to pick his card. We fist-bumped over our tuned-in communication as we collected our three points. Players take advantage of in-jokes, of shared experiences, of pop culture references, and sometimes just pure emotion. Play one game of Dixit; I promise you that it’s very easy to be won over by its simple, human charm.

The presentation is excellent. Cards are very high-quality and the art is evocative, dreamlike, and whimsical. The version I have has a board that’s half scoring track and half rules for the game. The player tokens are colorful wooden bunnies — I don’t get the reference or reason behind the bunnies, but they’re distinctive and they make me smile, so that’s good enough. My only complaint about the game is that there are not very many cards, so within a few games you’ll start seeing art recycled again. I am, however, looking to address this complaint by picking up one of the (many) expansion packs available.

Dixit is a strange communication game in that it doesn’t encourage perfect communication. You want some players to get the idea of your expression, but not all of them. It wants you to be abstract, surreal, sly, or just plain sideways about how you convey your chosen art, and in doing so, it scratches a strange itch that you never quite knew was there. It sounds strange, but when you talk about Dixit, words just won’t quite do. Play it — you’ll understand!

9
Go to the One Night Ultimate Werewolf page
65 out of 72 gamers thought this was helpful

Werewolf, which sprang from a game called Mafia, grew out of a popular misinformation/political party game played at conventions. I’ve never played in such an environment, but during one particular massive gaming weekend, we played a version of Werewolf that we ended up enjoying. However, since the starting number of players for that version was 8, and it didn’t really get good until 12 or so, my little group doesn’t get the chance to bring it out very often.

Enter One Night Ultimate Werewolf, a little game I caught wind of that promised the same kind of political fun in a 3-10 player package. Intrigued and always on the lookout for deception games, I picked it up in anticipation of our most recent gaming party.

Our first play of One Night Ultimate Werewolf (henceforth 1NUW, because no way am I typing all that over and over) didn’t go very well. We used the quick start guide for five players and were left with a feeling of “that’s it?” After another round that only went slightly better, I exchanged two of the Villagers for the Minion and Insomniac, and the fun factor of the game exploded with the influx of new information.

It’s important that you put the idea of “normal” Werewolf games out of your mind. As the title implies, this game takes place over one night, and at daybreak, very few players at the table will be 100% sure of their role. After cards are dealt out (the players know what cards are in the deck, and there are always three extra cards left in the center of the table), all players check which character they are, and then, at the narrator’s direction (more on that later), they close their eyes. Each role wakes up at a different time during the night by the direction of the narrator, and then performs their allotted action. Once all roles have awakened and gone back to sleep, the narrator directs everyone to wake up, and the discussion phase begins.

While you know what you went to sleep as, during the night, characters like the Robber and the Troublemaker move the role cards around, and characters like the Seer and Insomniac get to look at other cards or their own, and the three face-down cards in the middle add an additional layer of uncertainty. During the day, the players use the known information to unravel the puzzle of who’s who, the villagers trying to sniff out the werewolves as the werewolves and their minions try to circumvent suspicion. At the end of the discussion period (we did 5 minutes), a countdown ensues, and at the end of the countdown, everyone points at another player at the table as their vote for execution. Team Werewolf (Werewolves and Minions) wins if no Werewolves are executed, but Team Villagers (everyone else) wins if any Werewolves are executed. If there are no werewolves, the villagers win if all villagers receive the same number of votes, ensuring no one is executed.

The uncertainty about your own role after waking up is a strange feeling and takes some getting used to, but after a few plays you see that that’s part of 1NUW’s charm. No one at the table has perfect information, and you absolutely must communicate with your fellow players to try to piece together what happened during the night. Lies and chicanery abound, accented by genuine ignorance and misunderstanding. Accusations and defenses are presented under the urgency of the clock, and the final simultaneous vote means you can never be completely sure which way someone will vote until it actually happens. 1NUW creates a fantastic atmosphere of paranoia and intrigue, and though it may take a few plays to get into the spirit of the game, it’s well worth it once you do.

The presentation of 1NUW is top-notch. The “cards” are thick cardboard chits with colorful, cartoony depictions of the roles. Like other iterations of Werewolf, a narrator is required, but the creators of 1NUW have kindly provided a free phone/tablet app that fulfills that role incredibly well. The app itself is no slouch, with options like male voice or female voice for narration, background noise to cover the movement of players, adjustable volume, and support for the expansion (which we did not have). That level of investment in their product is recognized and greatly appreciated.

1NUW takes a little getting used to, but once your group understands the roles and the timing and gets the idea of how to do the discussion phase, the game becomes a lot more fun. It’s a short game, a decent palate cleanser, but meaty enough that you’ll play it over and over again. If your group is at all interested in political, deception, or logical games, 1NUW is most certainly worth the investment.

8
Go to the Geek Out! page

Geek Out!

49 out of 55 gamers thought this was helpful

I have a confession: I’m a geek. Chances are, if you’re reading this on a board gaming site, you’re a geek too. So let me ask you this: when you’re in a group with other geeks, what are your favorite things to do? If you said “brag about my knowledge of geekdom and get into impassioned arguments about minutiae” — and you know you did — then Geek Out is a fantastic game for you.

Geek Out is a trivia game that — wait! Come back! I promise it’s not that bad! — a trivia game that includes the entire spectrum of geekdom. Forget questions about the cause of the Crimean war and the name of Louis XIV’s dog, the categories for this game are Gaming, Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Comics, and Miscellaneous. The starting player rolls a die and the player to her right reads the question of the category shown on the die (or, in the event of a blank face, the category the starting player chooses). All questions are posed in the form of numbers, e.g., “two characters from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise.” The starting player accepts the bid or bids higher, and once everyone else at the table passes, the last bidding player tries to give enough answers to meet their bid and win the card. If they cannot, they receive a penalty chip worth -2 points.

Naturally, this spawns some fast and furious nerd-contests. We often found ourselves biting off more than we could chew; it’s very easy to bid confidently and then find yourself struggling for those last two or three answers. But when you drastically overbid, find yourself in a situation you don’t think you can manage, and then end up pulling it off anyway? The feeling is amazing (wooooo, 25 Final Fantasy characters in under a minute, baby!).

Besides showing off your geek knowledge, Geek Out also lends itself to…shall we say, “lively” discussions. What exactly constitutes a “franchise?” Do cyborgs count as robots? Does “film” include both movies and TV shows? Do Youtube videos count as TV shows? All these questions and more came up before we even made bids, and we all made impassioned arguments about silly little things. And let’s face it, isn’t that part of what’s so much fun about being a geek?

Despite being an extremely fun trivia game, Geek Out does have some fairly significant flaws. The audience is limited — though the categories do stretch deeply into all subsets of geekdom, those with extremely specialized knowledge or very little geek knowledge will find themselves twiddling their thumbs for much of the game, only able to bid on a few of the questions that come up and often eclipsed by other mega-geeks at the table. From a scoring standpoint, many at the table complained that -2 points felt like a harsh penalty for not being able to complete one’s bid. I thought it was meant to discourage overbidding, but I do have to admit that those -2 tokens stack up a little too quickly.

Finally, the presentation is not great. Geek Out looks like a generic trivia party game, the cards feel flimsy and cheap, and there’s nothing to the game except cards and a die. All this being said, though, the creators obviously put a lot of thought and love into the game: there are TONS of cards, and the questions drill very deeply into geek culture (there were a few things that no one at our table of five hardened and lifelong nerds even recognized). I wish that passion for the content translated itself better into the presentation, but I also wish I had a pony, and I don’t hear any hooves in my backyard.

If you have a group that loves geeky things, and especially one that prides itself on how geeky it is, then Geek Out is a ton of fun. The bidding mechanic sets it apart from other trivia games, and the dedication to things we nerds love make it a pretty special game. That being said, be aware that some of your players may feel left on the sidelines, and that’s no fun for anyone.

8
Go to the Coup page

Coup

64 out of 71 gamers thought this was helpful

Set in the world of The Resistance (one of my favorite games), Coup takes a very simple collection of 15 cards and game mechanics and turns it into an advanced class on intrigue. When do you lie? When do you call your opponent’s bluff? Time is very limited and the political landscape of the dystopian future is cutthroat — often literally.

Usually I jump straight into the mechanics, but I have to say this first: Coup is beautiful. The Resistance never really drew me into its world on a level beyond “vaguely sci-fi corporate megalopolis,” but Coup does it in five pieces of character art (there are three of each character in the deck) and one currency chip. From the emo-punk minimalist Assassin to the neo-Elizabethan Contessa, the art of Coup ignites my imagination and gives real weight and heft to the dystopia setting. The cards are heavy stock and feel nice in your hands, and the hexagonal cardboard currency chips feel appropriately futuristic. I even dig the shiny silver box! Coup is a very small game, but they really nailed the presentation on this one.

Mechanically, Coup is a very simple game. There are a limited number of actions and reactions you can make, usually dictated by the cards you hold in your hand (two to start, and one if you lose influence in some way). The catch is simple: you can do these actions and reactions at any time, regardless of the cards in your hand. Of course, your opponents have the right to challenge any move you make, and if you cannot reveal a character capable of that move from your hand, you will lose influence, dropping to either one card or out of the game entirely. But, should they call you out and you do have the character that enables that action, they will be the ones to lose their influence.

Coup games are fast and excellent filler. With multiple players, it can sometimes become a drawn-out web of lies, but usually a game is over in under ten minutes. Despite its somewhat intimidating learning curve (the game looks very complex to a new player), the quickness of the games means most players will learn the system well enough to be fairly adept at the game in less than 30 minutes. And though there is plenty of logical information to be gleaned from the moves and countermoves of the Coup aristocracy, much of the game comes down to reading your opponents’ body language, expressions, and playstyle (though admittedly, the iOS version of the game is still pretty fun).

Despite all that, the limited number of options can sometimes make you feel forced down a path once you’re familiar with the game. Someone piling up currency with a Duke? Steal with a Captain. Steadily taking the safe 1-per-turn income? They’re scrimping and saving to pay their Assassin. Of course, they could always be lying, but I apparently play with a very honest group, judging by the abysmal success rate of my challenges.

Political and social games — bad as I may be at them — are my favorite genre of games, and Coup fits very neatly into the microgame slot of the genre. It’s a quick and dirty struggle for control of a darkly elegant world, and it’s always welcome at my table.

10
Go to the Concept page

Concept

46 out of 52 gamers thought this was helpful

As a video gamer, I’ve always had trouble with open world games like Skyrim or the GTA series. When I’m given unlimited free rein and the ability to go anywhere and do anything, the sheer scope of the possibilities — and the fear of things I might be missing out on — contracts in on me to create a weird kind of claustrophobic feeling, paralyzed by the sheer number of choices. You may recognize this same sensation from your local ice cream parlor.

Yes, I’m going somewhere with this.

My family played Pictionary for a long time, and it eventually wore thin. Given the ultimate, terrifying freedom of a blank page, it’s easy to lock up, to feel unable to express the idea on the card because there’s no guidelines or structure to that empty white space. Concept is similar to Pictionary in that it’s a communication game, but where Pictionary gives you too much freedom to handle, Concept provides you with a very open structure in which to convey your message…and ends up better for it.

Much like Pictionary, in Concept, you’re given a word or phrase on a card to communicate to your partner(s). To attempt this communication, you’re given a large white game board with a huge variety of abstract symbols (all very colorful and pleasing to the eye) and markers of five different colors — the green question mark for the main concept, and then red, yellow, blue, and black exclamation marks for subconcepts. Every color also has small “supporting idea” cubes to flesh out the concept and subconcepts further. For example, for the clue “Tower of Babel,” my friend put the green question mark on the symbol for “building,” then green cubes on symbols for “book” and “religion.” He then put a yellow exclamation point on the arrow on top of a rectangle, indicating it was large (and stacked some yellow cubes for emphasis), then put a black exclamation point on the “quote” symbol and a black cube on the “spiral” symbol, which can stand in for madness or insanity.

In this way, you work to convey the concept to your team, and it makes for an amazing amount of fun. You’ll be desperately scanning the board for just the right symbol, stacking subconcepts and concept support cubes, agonizing over how to just make them understand! Similarly, trying to figure out the concept it great fun — everyone is shouting and laughing and alternating flashes of brilliant insight with hilariously wrong dead ends. You’ll know the struggle is real when you successfully convey “Mr. Potato Head” as “toy plastic / older man / plant round brown under ground / head” — which I successfully managed to pull off.

The rules are a little unstructured as well, but as far as I’m concerned, that’s okay. This is one of those party games where the experience is everything, and you’ll find yourself tossing aside the score tokens just to play a few more rounds. Every card has three sections (easy, hard, and challenging) with three concepts in each section, so you’re never at a loss. The board and pieces are clean and brightly colored with a well-designed minimalist kind of vibe. The concept icons are embedded into a large expanse of bright white, and the whole presentation feels very clean and sleek while maintaining a sense of heart and soul.

If I have a gripe about Concept, it’s mostly in the way that some people play it. It can be difficult to use the main concept/subconcepts/support cubes system, but using it skilfully is vital to effective communication. There are also a few concepts that I wish would have made it onto the board; e.g. “good” and “evil” would come in handy. But again, that’s part of the fun: taking all these abstract images and pulling them together to convey the greater concept. If you’re given too much, what’s the point?

As a fan of words and ideas and a sometimes-writer, I love Concept. All the friends I played it with — mathematical, rational, logical thinkers — loved it as well. It is very easy to learn, but extremely difficult to master. It’s also the most fun and (unusually for its genre) rewarding party game I’ve played in a very long time, and the sheer number of cards with nine concepts each make for immense replayability. Highly recommended for any and all game groups.

9
Go to the Sid Meier's Civilization: The Board Game page
58 out of 65 gamers thought this was helpful

This is the board game based on Sid Meier’s award-winning series of civilization-building games for the PC. If you haven’t played a Civilization game on the PC before, go ahead and give it a try! I’ll wait.

Did you notice how it’s now two weeks later and you’re muttering to yourself about the most efficient path to space flight, or cursing Gandhi for being a peaceful AI who always rushes to nukes? The Civilization games are some of the most compelling and addictive games in history, and the board game does a fantastic job of capturing everything that made them great and encapsulating it into a tabletop game.

Now, that means complexity. Civilization has a LOT of cardboard. It’s all very high quality and well done, but it is so much to take in! We’d played before, and we still had to keep the manual handy to refresh ourselves. Often. We sat down to play it fairly late on a Sunday evening, and eventually I had to remind my compatriots that if we took the time to read and perfect all the rules, we would be there all night long. So we dove in, and completed a three-player game in two and a half hours. Not bad, considering how much reading we had to do during the game!

There is a lot to manage and think about in Civilization, but the turn structure itself is very easy. I strongly recommend paying a lot of attention to the setup and then playing a few practice turns — you will learn an awful lot by doing the actual play. The systems are deep and intricate, but the beginning is rather accessible and it builds on itself very logically. You can win in many ways, either via culture (complete the culture track), science (be the first civilization to discover space flight), military (capture another player’s capital city), or economics (reach the highest number on the currency dial). Keep those goals in mind as you play, choose one, and work towards it.

The nagging problem with Civilization is its combat system. It is awkward, unintuitive, and difficult to succeed in without significant technological or numerical advantage. On top of that, the final deciding factor, the combat bonus, is influenced by buildings and great people all the way across the map, giving the militaristic player (at +8) a big advantage over my economics-driven civilization (at a meager +2). Combat usually feels frustratingly one-sided, and you can usually predict the victor before it even begins.

Aside from the combat issues, Civilization is a vast, deep, and fun empire-builder that captures the essence of what made the PC franchise so great. The learning curve can be very steep, especially if you’ve never played the eponymous PC games, but if you stick with it, there are plenty of layers of very good gameplay to be had here.

7
Go to the Bruges page

Bruges

68 out of 75 gamers thought this was helpful

The first and most obvious thing you’ll notice about Bruges is that it was very lovingly crafted. All of the character cards are unique in name and artwork, and though some abilities do repeat themselves across different characters, there is a myriad of possibilities. Though it looks a little confusing at first, Bruges is charmingly simple to play — it’s just a bit deeper than it appears on the surface.

Though the (again, very beautiful and well-made) board seems crowded and complicated, there are very few ways to actually score in the game: influence, canals, houses, character worth, and some character abilities. Every card has some utility, whether it’s for the character’s ability, using it to hold off a fire or flood or other disaster, building a house with it, or just discarding it for guilder (cash), there’s never a dead card in your hand. However, the interplay of abilities and colors mean that you need to draw, choose, and plan very carefully to maximize the impact of your cards. It is a VERY Euro game.

However, that attractive feeling of building your beautiful section of the city is also the game’s central problem. In the game we played this weekend, one of our players played the Loadmaster, which allowed him to gain victory points equal to twice the number of his canals (4). Every turn we helplessly watched him garner 8 VPs for one measly blue worker. Even though I had (and liberally used) the Arsonist and Mountebank, I couldn’t burn down enough houses or plague enough characters to kill the Loadmaster, and he finished far ahead of everyone else. I know that spreading abilities across so many characters is challenging, but with very few options to actually attack other players, a broken character like the Loadmaster can make the game very not fun for those who don’t have an equally broken card.

Also, there’s the Puppeteer. Uggggh. That creepy smile, and that puppet, and that hairstyle….you’ll see.

Bruges is a gorgeous game with a lot of head and heart put into it. It is an excellent game, but losing to a single too-powerful card (and my natural inclination towards American-style games and away from Euros) gave the fun I had playing it a bit of a hit.

Also, the Puppeteer. Just…uggggh.

7
Go to the Agricola page

Agricola

32 out of 37 gamers thought this was helpful

Seriously. Get comfortable with the idea. When you sit down to play Agricola, you will have visions of finishing with a full farm, all the livestock, plenty of fields of wheat and vegetables, and a big, comfortable stone house filled with a large family.

It’s not gonna happen.

Agricola is a VERY Euro-style game. It is brainy and mathy and there’s not a whole lot of player interaction. Even the basic game is somewhat tricky to learn, and once you add in the cards, the complexity goes through the roof. You have to balance your choices very carefully, and there never seems to be enough time to get quite everything you want. Didn’t build those fences early cause you couldn’t find the time to gather wood? Sorry, nowhere to put those pigs. Didn’t till fields until near the end? Not gonna grow enough crops. Didn’t have quite enough family members to bake bread? Your family has to beg for food this week. Agricola is hard, and dense.

If you enjoy this challenge, there’s fun to be had in carefully planning your moves and watching your farm grow. There’s also extreme frustration when someone swipes the clay that you needed to finish your house, or takes first player so that they can add to the family before you can. But, speaking as a dedicated American-style gamer who loves light games and is easily frustrated by Euros, there’s few games that are more satisfying to win than Agricola. It’s been years since I won with the aid of cards that let me grow vegetables and wheat like crazy, and I still talk about that game!

Speaking of the cards, it has to be said: many of the cards are terrible, nearly to the point of uselessness. And some are so amazing that not basing your strategy around them would be insane. If you somehow end up with all of the former and none of the latter, then you’re in for a long game of watching beautiful, highly-developed farms spring up around you while you poke the ground with your Poking Stick.

If you are looking for a light, fun, beer-and-pretzels with the gang experience, stay away from Agricola. But, if you find satisfaction in very deep, super-crunchy gameplay where absolutely every decision matters, then Agricola is definitely a great place to find it.

7
Go to the Smash Up page

Smash Up

23 out of 27 gamers thought this was helpful

Smash Up has one of the greatest base concepts in gaming: take two popular groups and smash them together, combining their tropes, cliches, and characteristics in an attempt to dominate the other players! WILL your Zombie Wizards be dominated by my Dinosaur Pirates?! CAN any of us survive the unstoppable onslaught of the Robot Tricksters?! HOW will we manage the invasion of the Ninja Aliens?!

Once you get past this most badical of concepts (“badical” is not a typo), however, the gameplay is a little underwhelming. If all the players aren’t already familiar with the game, it runs long — very long. Even experienced players playing new factions seem to take a while to read the cards and plan their strategies. This may be due to the particular dynamics of my group — I play with human computers who are inclined to spend a lot of time calculating — but it can make the game drag.

It’s also frustratingly easy to end up with a hand full of Action cards, leaving you with no Minions to use to break bases — or a hand full of Minion cards, with no Actions to do cool and tricky things. I’ve had quite a few dead turns where I had no Minions in hand and Actions that were either worthless or had no legal targets. Combine that with the length of time it takes to play, and there’s a lot of staring at the top of your deck desperately hoping to draw something useful.

Another issue is that the factions are somewhat imbalanced. I feel like Robots and Wizards are the strongest factions by far, and Pirates and Aliens have very little going for them. Factions with strong card drawing abilities seem to have an overwhelming advantage over those that don’t.

For all the flak I’m giving it, Smash Up can be a lot of fun. It’s cool to break bases with massive Dinosaurs, or slow down your enemy with sneaky Ninja poisons, or play four actions and three minions in one turn as the Wizards (see? Little overpowered). The last game I played was the closest ever, with the four of us in a dead heat all the way up to 12+ points (first to 15 wins). There were clever plays and complete ********, unlikely victories and crushing defeats, all the things you want in a great game. The art is fun to look at and the themes are strongly represented.

Ultimately, the time investment and imbalance of the factions makes it feel like an unpleasant mix of heavy and light, with a steep learning curve and very slow play. The theme says “light peppy fast-paced action,” but the gameplay quickly bogs down to “slow plodding strategy with too much of a luck factor.”

IMPORTANT NOTE: This review considers the Smash Up base set ONLY. We have not yet added any expansions, which I expect add a great deal to the game.

5
Go to the Castle Panic page

Castle Panic

62 out of 71 gamers thought this was helpful

Castle Panic was one of the first few games my group picked up, and I was the one who pushed for it…again, due to seeing it on Tabletop. I’m afraid Wil Wheaton and co. might have steered me in the wrong direction this time. While Castle Panic is plenty of cooperative fun for families — our inimitable Gaming Captain has gotten good mileage out of it with his two boys — adult gamers will quickly find themselves bored with it.

The game is simple: attackers come at your castle in three colored arcs that form a large circle, at the center of which rests your keep. You and your fellow players draw cards that attack certain colors and areas of the arcs, using them to hold off goblins, trolls, orcs, and other nasty baddies who are coming to knock down your walls. Once your walls are all down, they invade your castle, and you lose.

The central problem with Castle Panic is that once you know the cards in the (rather small) deck and realize that you can trade with your comrades, it’s just a simple matter of predicting where the monsters will be on what turn and trading appropriately. There’s an aspect of the game where the player with the most kill score is the Master Slayer, but we never really played that way. Our first few games were fun and tense and we lost, but then we won! And won again! And again. And again. And again. The risk and danger were well and truly squeezed out of the game by the fourth or fifth play, and my group (of admittedly pretty hardcore strategy nerds) was bored.

If you’re looking for a fun game to play on family game night that will get your kids involved and teach them a little forethought, then I would recommend Castle Panic. If you’re a grown-up gaming group of strategy gamers and math nerds, then you should look elsewhere for your cooperative kicks.

9
Go to the Small World page

Small World

28 out of 32 gamers thought this was helpful

Small World is a lighthearted, cartoony fantasy game where multiple civilizations vie for control of the territories on the board. Every race has its own special ability (e.g. Trolls build troll dens in the territories they conquer, increasing the defense of whoever holds the territory by 1) and is paired with a random special ability (e.g. Merchant, where each territory your active race holds at the end of your turn yields 1 bonus coin). Holding territories increases your supply of victory coins, but no civilization lasts forever — eventually, your civilization will decline, and the territories you have claimed will be left barely defended. But fear not — just grab the next civilization in the queue and continue your plans for conquest! The game ends when a turn counter reaches the number of turns mandated for the number of players.

Small World’s mechanics are mostly simple to grasp, and the rulebook is very good about predicting your questions and answering them, but the In Decline mechanic takes a little work to wrap your head around and the sheer number of race/ability combinations (plus the vagaries of geography) means the strategic implications take time to sink in. There’s a lot to chew on here, but the game walks a delicate balance between simplicity and complexity and manages to pull it off. Small World is simple enough to learn, but rich and deep enough that you’re always finding new wrinkles to it and new tactics to master. The reinforcement die, which you can use to potentially add up to 3 reinforcements to your last attack in your turn, adds enough of a luck factor to spice things up and bring some suspense to the table, but only rarely causes the entire game to turn on a lucky roll.

The board is large enough that each player can take over unoccupied lands for some time, but eventually, you will have to mix it up — whether you need to hem in some unruly Elves or tear up a civilization’s unguarded rear flank with your newly-risen race of Tritons. It is possible to win without skirmishing with other players or even going into decline, as one of our players proved in our first game, where his Merchant Elves held a span of 5 or 6 territories relatively uncontested, steadily churning out 10-12 coins a turn until the end of the game.

The random abilities ensure that no two games are exactly alike, and you are constantly seeking out new ways to win. The simple basic mechanics provide a solid foundation to build on, and there’s nothing quite as thrilling as taking a race you had dismissed a game or two ago and going on a brilliant run with them. If you’ve ever enjoyed any kind of strategy game, you owe it to yourself to give this one a try. You won’t be disappointed!

8
Go to the Tsuro page

Tsuro

54 out of 61 gamers thought this was helpful

In Tsuro, you take on the role of a flying dragon – how awesome is that?! The board is a beautiful backdrop of Asian art with space for 36 square tiles. Dragons start on the sides of the board and lay one tile per turn (from their hand of 3 tiles), then follow the path that the tile creates to its end. Each tile has 2 paths on each of its four sides, and you will find yourself executing loops, sharp turns, gentle curves, and straight lines. Dragons are eliminated when they are forced off the edge of the board or when they crash into each other. The last dragon flying wins!

Tsuro is elegant in its simplicity: lay tile, follow path. Anyone can pick it up and play instantly, but it takes cunning and foresight to move your dragon into an advantageous position while spoiling your opponents’. It’s not long before your tiles begin to interface with other players’, and you will cheer as you steer two players’ dragons into each other with a well-laid tile, then groan as the next dragon’s tile sends you careening off of the board. While it’s very possible to push yourself to disaster — either inadvertently or working your way into a corner with no escape — your demise will usually be brought about by another player.

Tsuro is an excellent game to play in short bursts, but it’s not the kind of game you can sit around the table with and spend an entire afternoon on. Excellent for light, quick fun, but not a game you can sit and play over and over for hours on end.

The game goes very quickly, and functions very well as a palate cleanser between bigger, longer games. While enjoyable to play and beautiful in its presentation, Tsuro is somewhat limited by its simplicity, and players looking for more in-depth gameplay may leave unsatisfied.

10
Go to the Sheriff of Nottingham page
88 out of 95 gamers thought this was helpful

I saw Sheriff of Nottingham played on the latest episode of Tabletop, and my interest was immediately piqued. I’m a big fan of political/bluffing games, and my group hasn’t been into them in a while. When I learned that one of our irregulars had actually got the game for Christmas, I urged him to bring it to tonight’s game night. I was not disappointed.

Right out of the box, Sheriff of Nottingham is eye-catching. The art is cartoonish, but lush and colorful and fun to look at. The cards feel very high-quality, the bags are bright gem tones, and the big cardboard standup of the Sheriff himself positively oozes unctuous greed and corruption. The games themselves don’t last too long — 30-45 minutes, depending on how long the players want to draw out the submission and inspection phases (and I do love to ham it up a bit as the Sheriff). The central mechanic is as varied as the people you play with, all of whom I trust just a little bit less after tonight.

The game is exceptionally simple: one player plays the role of the Sheriff, and the others are merchants who must declare their goods (cards) sealed inside of bags at his checkpoint. Merchants can smuggle contraband or just fudge the numbers on their legal goods in an attempt to turn a higher profit, but if the Sheriff decides to inspect the player’s bag and finds they have lied, that player must pay a fine to the Sheriff. However, should the Sheriff inspect a bag and finds the player has told the truth, the Sheriff must pay the player for the inconvenience. Of course, the merchant can bribe the Sheriff to look the other way…if the Sheriff agrees to the deal. This creates great, fun moments of tension as the Sheriff weighs whether s/he should open the bag, or accept the “processing fee” and wave the “honest merchant” on through.

There was a lot of shouting and laughter around the table, and a great time was had by all. Sheriff of Nottingham succeeds in what it sets out to do, and it does so with an elegant central mechanic and a gorgeous setting. Strangely enough, the game somehow gets itself out of the way and turns the focus completely onto the interactions between the players. I highly recommend Sheriff of Nottingham for anyone who enjoys bluffing, political, social, or party games, and I’d go so far as to say that it will be welcome in just about any gaming group.

6
Go to the Memoir '44 page

Memoir '44

59 out of 66 gamers thought this was helpful

When my friend and erstwhile Gaming Captain suggested that we play Memoir ’44 after dinner one evening, I was trepidatious. I’ve been a gamer for a long, long time, and I’ve killed nearly as many ***** as I have zombies. World War II as a gaming genre has become stale to me, and I don’t have much experience with wargames. But since it was just the two of us and I wanted to play something a bit meatier that night, I agreed.

I want to start the review proper with one sentence, and please keep it in mind as I go: Memoir ’44 is a good game. It is packed with replay value in the form of a very impressive number of maps and campaigns (all well fleshed-out with historical text explaining the actual battles the campaigns are based on). The production quality is high, and the rules are easy to understand. Setup and takedown are kind of a bear, but you’re playing a wargame — you knew what you were getting into. The combat is both simple and exciting, playing out through dice, with easily-explained rules for terrain and cover. There’s only one gripe I have with Memoir….but it’s a big one.

You are dealt a hand of command cards. Some of the cards have cool abilities and bonuses on them, but the map is divided up into three areas (left, mid, and right), and you can only do what the cards say. So if I have a promising assault going to the right side that I want to push through to completion, but I have no command cards that affect the right side in my hand, I have to find other things to do, even though I really want to take that town on the right side from those *able *****/Allies. This lack of full control of your forces is problematic, and while some might say it increases the strategic decisions you have to make, more often than not I find it annoyingly restrictive. I’ve made my strategic decision already, dang it — now let me do it!

Aside from that gripe (and of course, it’s just my opinion, your mileage may vary, it takes all kinds to make a world, but that’s an annoying mechanic), Memoir ’44 is a solid, fun two-player wargame that anyone can get into and play. Sometimes it feels a little short — you don’t have to kill too many units to win — but it did breathe new life into the idea of my Allied paratroopers storming the hedgerows or blitzkrieging my Panzer corps to victory.

8
Go to the Qwirkle page

Qwirkle

75 out of 83 gamers thought this was helpful

Qwirkle is very, very simple. Play tiles in a line — those tiles can either share shapes or colors. Add on to existing lines using these rules. Once you’ve “completed” a line with all six of the different colors or shapes, yell “Qwirkle!” and collect twelve points. It scores kinda like Scrabble, where one tile can be used in multiple lines, which adds a nice strategic positioning aspect for point maximization. It’s easy.

But…it’s easy for everyone else at the table too. And so begins a nicely-paced, very competitive game where qwirkles are made, blocked, and set up, and the winner is the one with cleverness, foresight, and just a little luck pulling tiles from the bag. Qwirkle is fun, quick, simple, and addictive, and this is immensely helped by the fact that “qwirkle” is just amazingly fun to say. Seriously, try it. Qwirkle. Qwirkle. Qwirkle qwirkle qwirkle qwirkle.

There is one minor annoyance that disrupts this otherwise enjoyable little game: the red and orange tiles, especially in low lighting, are often indistinguishable from each other. I imagine that colorblind players will also feel frustrated and annoyed by this game — the color palette of red, green, yellow, blue, purple, and orange will certainly cause problems for those with trouble distinguishing colors. It also caps out at 4 players, which makes it awkward for bigger groups.

Ultimately, Qwirkle is a quick, easy, fun game for players of all ages. I can heartily recommend it to those looking for a light gaming experience, especially family gamers.

……qwirkle.

9
Go to the King of Tokyo page

King of Tokyo

27 out of 31 gamers thought this was helpful

Richard Garfield must be stopped.

First, he roped me into an addictive little game called Magic: The Gathering back in high school. I shudder to think how much money I’ve spent over the years on Magic — and I’m not even a hardcore player, and have stopped and started many times in my playing career. I really can quit anytime I want to….I just have no control over when I start up again.

Richard has brought that same dark sorcery to the game table again, in the form of King of Tokyo. The game oozes charm, with bright colors, clever themes pulled from monster movies old and new, cardboard cutout monsters that somehow have fantastic character, and the radioactive-green oversized dice that you press your luck with every turn. It’s a very simple game that’s still a lot of fun for kids and adults alike, with high-quality components that are just plain fun to look at and touch, and man, is it ever replayable!

King of Tokyo has become our group’s go-to game. When we’re sitting around the table trying to decide what game we want to play, odds are that we’ll pull out King of Tokyo to play while we try to decide. And then once Cyber Bunny wins (AGAIN), well, we have to play one more round! And then that round was so close — I had 18 victory points before Alienoid punched me to death! Let’s go again!

There are, of course, some weaknesses in this mega-monster of a game. First, elimination is possible, so odds are you’ll have at least a few players turning into spectators the back half of the game. Second, it is very much luck-based, which is fun, but the real strategy buffs would probably rather play something else. Finally, some of the cards are so powerful that they warp the entire game, such as Wings (spend 2 energy and take no damage this turn) and Nova Breath (all your attacks hit all other players). These uber-cards can give the player who gets them a nigh-insurmountable edge, especially considering the attack mechanics that require a player to be in Tokyo to be targeted.

Regardless, Dr. Garfield (yeah, he’s got a PhD) has once again found a way to deliver pure, addictive fun to his players. When will this titanic monster of the gaming landscape be stopped? You guys will have to do it; for some reason, mine keep coming up hearts.

9
Go to the Lords of Vegas page

Lords of Vegas

108 out of 116 gamers thought this was helpful

Hardcore gamers have an iffy relationship with luck. Luck disrupts strategy. Luck takes the beautiful, crystalline mountains of game theory math and shatters them on a lucky dice roll or the draw of a card. My more mathy and logical friends lament that something should or shouldn’t have happened, that it was “pure luck.” And if you’re the kind of person that feels this way…..

….Lords of Vegas is going to drive you insane.

I’ve played the game maybe five or six times, and I’ve seen probability stretched and twisted and bent and outright broken so many times it’s ridiculous. My brother-in-law gambled $25M at a casino controlled by my sister, rolled double-sixes, and won $50M from her — every last cent of her money for that turn (and spawning an impressive marital argument!). But the very next game, a random card draw gave her control of his sprawling eight-lot casino. You can plan and scheme and strategize to great effect in Lords of Vegas, but luck is always going to be a factor. And really, that’s part of the charm of the game.

Playing Lords of Vegas is a lot like gambling in Vegas. You can be on top of the world one turn, see your empire crumble the next, and then ascend to even greater glories three turns later. It’s a roller-coaster ride of greedy expansionism, lucky payouts, and struggles for control via reorganizing, repainting, and rezoning casinos.

Every lot has a die placed on it that determines the amount the casino there pays, and similarly-colored adjacent casinos count as one large casino for the purpose of victory points….and only the boss of the casino (controller of the largest die in the complex) gets the VPs. However, anyone who’s willing to pay $1M per pip of the dice in the casino can force a reorganization — a reroll of every die in the casino, which can result in a new boss. I’ve seen a player with a single die rolling a six beat a player rolling six dice. Like I said, probability itself warps around this game, and stunning upsets somehow seem to be more usual than predictable losses.

There are a couple of small issues with the game: there’s no real come-from-behind mechanism beyond those swings of luck (though they definitely can let you come back). On top of that, while the cardboard casinos are pretty thick and sturdy, I did tear the bottoms of a few of them slightly while punching out their square centers.

The game is sheer fun, a solid strategic base combined with an exhilarating dollop of luck. Enjoy the ride, hang on, and make the smartest decisions you can to come out on top!

9
Go to the Dominion page

Dominion

64 out of 71 gamers thought this was helpful

Let me take you back a few years to the golden days of the early ’10s, when a little gaming group down in southeastern Louisiana was getting bored with LAN parties and D&D campaigns. “Meh,” we said to the DOTA clones. “Again?” we wondered aloud as we rolled up characters for another short-lived campaign. “Isn’t there something better,” we cried out to the gods of interactive entertainment, our polyhedral dice and keyboards shoved to the side in frustration, “or do we have to go…..outside?!”

Our erstwhile Gaming Captain suggested we try some board games. He’d been doing some research into those brightly-colored boxes, and it turned out they’d been getting pretty darn cool lately. I was trepidatious, to say the least — visions of eternal rounds of Monopoly and fun-once games of Pictionary danced in my head. But anything was preferable to returning to our options of old (and the dreaded fresh air and healthy exercise that might be found beyond our four walls).

So it was I found myself standing in front of a display at Barnes and Noble. I’d played a little Catan and Carcassonne courtesy of my sister, but I didn’t want to pick them up again. It was the first time I laid eyes on classics that I now know fondly: Pandemic. Alhambra. Agricola. Small World. But since, at the time, I didn’t know jack, I pulled up BGG on my rapidly-dying phone and looked up the scores for Dominion. “Huh,” I said. “It’s pretty good, apparently.” I left the store that day with the light-blue, somewhat disappointingly generic-looking box with some medieval-looking artwork on the cover. It took us some time to read and comprehend the instructions (new as we were to the entire hobby at the time), but eventually we shuffled the cards and set up…and fell in love with a game for the first time.

Dominion is a deckbuilding game with remarkable expandability and replayability. Our first few games we were like fawns learning to walk for the first time: long chains of Villages and Markets being played to eke out five copper for a Mine, but soon, we figured out that Gold was king. The variety of possible combinations of cards makes every game different (if you play randomly, as we like to), and between the many games we played that first weekend, we had long, impassioned arguments and analysis about strategies and gameplay. It was the first game that clicked for us, and it still holds tremendous sentimental value for me, as you can tell.

Unfortunately, it does eventually begin to wear thin. That bright blue box, a little faded and stuffed with love-scuffed cards, sits on our shelf, replaced by newer and shinier games for which it served as the vanguard. It watches over our table like a grandpa watching his grandkids play from his rocking chair on the porch, a little smile on his face as he dreams of the days of his prime. Dominion lit the fire for us, and we keep it burning almost every weekend, despite families, jobs, and life in general.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some shuffling to do.

9
Go to the Betrayal at House on the Hill page
76 out of 89 gamers thought this was helpful

I bought Betrayal after seeing it played on Tabletop. I’m a fairly experienced RPG player, so the RPG-lite mechanics weren’t intimidating to me, but I mainly bought it because the flavor seemed great. As I was ringing up my purchase at the counter (and sucking my teeth at the fairly high price tag), I wondered if I was buying it based on the production value of the show rather than the game itself. Would there be interest in my group? Would the mechanics get old and boring?

I’m happy to report that we’ve played three games of Betrayal since I bought it, and they’ve all exceeded my expectations. Everyone was engaged and having fun — even our more casual gamers — and the spooky flavor hit just the right note. Every haunt made the game feel differently: the first saw my wife devouring us all with her pet dragon, the second had my poor character being sacrificed and married off to a ghost bride, and the third had our shrunken characters desperately trying to use a toy plane to escape the house — and the cat the betrayer had let into it. From fantastic to creepy to kinda goofy, all with special mechanics and rules for both the traitor and the explorers, the experience of each game was different, and it always ended up close (though the traitor won every game).

The problem with that level of complexity is mass. I spent a LOT of time punching out cardboard tokens and sorting them into small bags. I appreciate the level of thought and detail put into the game, but there is a cardboard token for everything. It might be just a tiny bit overdone.

Betrayal has proven itself to be surprisingly consistent in its fun and interest-grabbing for our entire group. It’s not one of our go-to games, but it’s certainly engaging enough to be pulled out once in a while. I don’t regret the purchase….except for maybe when the cat ate me.

9
Go to the Pandemic page

Pandemic

40 out of 46 gamers thought this was helpful

Pandemic is hard. Really hard. If you shuffle in all the epidemic cards, those four-colored bugs will kick your butt all over the cardboard globe (rectangular plane?) more often than not. You and your friends’ efforts will be in vain, and the world will fall to the pandemic again and again.

But when you win? WOOOOO!

Pandemic is flavorful and a lot of fun to play. It’s thrilling to race around the globe and develop plans for containing and curing the Four Cubes of the Apocalypse. A good team working together to make smart decisions will do far better than a ragtag team all trying to do their own thing. There’s a lot of randomness due to the cards — and due to the mechanics of the Epidemic cards, you can get into real trouble real fast with a couple of unlucky turns — but I feel this just fits into the flavor of the game. Sometimes when humanity battles nature, nature wins.

It does need to be said that the Epidemic mechanic is beautifully elegant in how it works. It’s a great simulation of disease and you’ll find yourself shaking your head in a kind of bewildered admiration as it totally wrecks you.

The biggest problem with Pandemic is one that a lot of co-operative titles share: there is usually a clear “best play,” and it’s very easy for alpha gamers to run the table and end up essentially playing the game themselves. It’s very hard to draw that line between discussing strategy and playing the game for other players. Be aware of it as your group sits down to play; it will make for a much better experience.

8
Go to the Love Letter page

Love Letter

60 out of 73 gamers thought this was helpful

Love Letter is about the simplest game I can imagine. The package I bought was a (very) small deck of cards and a tiny rulebook (mostly flavor text) in a velvet bag. It’s easy to carry in a bookbag, briefcase, purse, or pocket. A single round of the game takes five minutes — maybe ten, if you have some deep thinkers playing. You start with one card in your hand, and you draw one card and discard one card, playing the effect on your card. It is simplicity incarnate.

Despite that simplicity, the game is solid fun. The logic puzzle of the game is satisfying, and while you can often eventually deduce which card your opponents are holding, there are some times where you’re forced to make a guess, and the rush of taking that shot and actually making the right call is what keeps me coming back. Your options are very limited (you only have two cards in your hand when you make your choices, after all), but there’s enough room for a little deception and bluffing to keep things interesting. Sometimes you get taken out by an early lucky guess with a Guard or matched up against a Baron backed by the Princess, but it’s no big deal — the rounds end very quickly, and I find myself always eager to reshuffle and start the next hand.

Love Letter is a compact and attractive little palate-cleanser of a game: light and quick, but pound-for-pound a satisfying gaming experience. It’s a great anytime, anywhere game and a fun diversion during a larger gaming party.

9
Go to the The Resistance: 3rd Edition page
23 out of 28 gamers thought this was helpful

Before I even begin to get into the nitty-gritty of the review, it has to be said: I am terrible at The Resistance. I am the worst. I have the poker face of an 8 year old on Christmas morning. I can do the logical deductions just fine, but I trust way too easily. I can be clever about the role that I play, but I can almost never hide my true colors from the rest of the table.

And it is still one of my favorite games.

The Resistance is incredibly fun. From the moment the players open their eyes, accusations start flying, would-be orators speak nobly of loyalty to the eponymous Resistance, and fingers point like guns. My group has some ruthlessly logical players who do the best they can to turn it into a straight-up logic puzzle, but even they have to sometimes go with their gut instead of their brain.

We find that the “sweet spot” for The Resistance is in the 7+ players range, once there are three spies. At 5 or 6 players, it’s just too easy to ferret out two spies, especially with the help of the cards. I personally would prefer to play without the cards and have the only solid information be voting, but they do introduce some interesting wrinkles and abilities that make the game more tense.

The Resistance is an excellent, relatively bite-sized political/intrigue/bluffing game (compared to something like Battlestar Galactica). We’ll usually play the game for 30 minutes, and then spend the next 45 talking about our logic, our tells, spy strategies, and the like. It’s always a mark of a good game when it’s nearly as much fun to talk about it afterward as it is to play it. I highly recommend it for every gaming group.

10
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Blokus

64 out of 77 gamers thought this was helpful

When our inimitable Gaming Captain brought the battered Blokus box back from the bargain bin, my first thought was: “ugh. This looks like one of those cheesy, cheap little games my grandma used to get me for Christmas.”

And then we played, and fell in love instantly.

Blokus isn’t a deep game. It’s extremely simple to learn — the hardest part of it is the corner-to-corner placement of your pieces. As someone raised on Tetris, I still desperately want to make those blocks fit together. But the odd-seeming placement is the crux of what makes the game work: clever piece placement lets you sneak around your opponents and surround them just when they think they have you trapped. It rewards forethought and cleverness, and there have been many times when we’ve found ourselves analyzing the board with all the intensity and strategic gear-turning of a chessmaster.

It’s plenty of fun with our crowd. There’s a lot of room for “you magnificent ************ trash talk and grudges/rivalries between us (all in good fun), and it’s not uncommon for players to gang up to contain a perceived threat (usually me, of course). The lightness of it makes it easy for our most casual players to jump in and enjoy, but there’s enough strategic crunch to satisfy our diehard faction as well.

The only complaint I have is that if you’re not quick enough and clever enough, or you get ganged up on, you can be knocked out of the game fairly early, and it can be frustrating to watch the majority of the game being played out while you’re hemmed into your own corner with no moves left. But the game time is short enough that it’s not too much of a problem, and the times it’s happened to me I’ve been ready to come back for revenge as soon as the next game starts.

All in all, highly recommended as a flexible, light, and surprisingly strategic option.

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