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Braden

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Go to the Sheriff of Nottingham page
 
Go to the Codenames page

Codenames

12 out of 15 gamers thought this was helpful

We have played over 20 rounds of Codenames in the last few weeks, no joke. Enough said. =-) We’ve played with family, with friends, with kids, with elderly folk, with single people, with married couples, with liberals, with conservatives, and a bunch of combinations of each. This game is such a blast and engages everyone. Party games often instill varying levels of engagement based on interest, age, type of game, education level, etc. Not so with Codenames. This type of variety actually enhances Codenames and increases the level of fun.

Essentially, you have two teams: red and blue. You have one Spy Master for each team. The goal of the Spy Master is to get her team to guess each of her team’s spies for the victory. There is a grid of random, single-word noun cards on the table, visible to everyone. The Spy Masters then have a secret corresponding “code” grid which tells them which cards are associated with which team’s spies. Then the guessing begins. Without any hints or insinuations (that’s actually really hard!), the Spy Master gives a single word clue with a number (to tell how many word cards she is associating with that clue). One at a time, the team then guesses the words. If they guess right, mark it down and keep guessing. If they guess the other team’s spy, the other team gets the benefit and the turn is over. If they guess an innocent bystander, nothing happens, but the turn is over. If they guess the assassin, game over!

Being Spy Master is actually a lot harder than it seems but is so fun! You need to concoct a single word that would lead your team to guess as many code words as possible. Seems easy, but you need to be very aware of your opponent’s code words and especially aware of the assassin. You’ll find more conservative, risk-averse players will got for only one or two code words per turn (slow and steady). I’m very reward-sensitive, so I say “go big or go home!” But I’ve also been burned by that strategy. =-)

When you’re on the team and not the Spy Master, be sure to listen to everyone’s opinions. So often the loudest or pushiest player would convince the team to go one way when the quiet, 10-year-old kid would be spot on. You also need to be very conscientious of a clue’s intended meaning. Does the clue “duck” refer to ducking one’s head or an actual duck (the animal)? Does “cool” mean chilly or awesome? Or, if the Spy Master is really good, does it refer to both meanings?

I hope Czech Games comes out with an expansion to the first version soon because at our rate, we’re going to hit 50 games in no time at all. =-) I dub this as my highest-rated party game at 9.5. It’s virtually flawless. The only downside plays into how awesome of a game it is: there are a lot of code word cards included (which can, of course, be shuffled and mixed up), but with how much we want to play, we have blown through the cards quickly.

 
Go to the Tiny Epic Kingdoms page

Tiny Epic Kingdoms

12 out of 13 gamers thought this was helpful

First of all, Tiny Epic really is tiny! The box is about the length of my hand. But don’t be deceived! There is a boatload of fun packed into this tiny little box. I consider this series the ultimate “travel” game series. Normally when we pack up games for a game night or just heading out to family’s house, we have several canvas bags stretched to their breaking point with just a few standard box size games. Not so with Tiny Epic! Our diaper bag alone could fit four or five of them. It’s the perfect “grab-and-go” game.

Now on to the game itself. Essentially, you play as one of many warring factions intent on impeding others from progressing while investing in your own kingdom’s expansion. It’s an exciting balancing act throughout the game. The starting player takes one of several actions (movement, progression, or trade). All subsequent players may take that same action or collect resources from their meeples throughout the kingdom.

Battles and alliances are awesome! When an occupied space is invaded, a battle ensues. Attacker and defender each have a dice with 1-11 and a white flag. Hidden behind their hands, they select an amount to invest in the battle. The higher number wins. The catch? Both winner and loser have to pay the amount they selected (blech!). The loser then pays food to retreat, or he dies if he can’t retreat. Now, the infamous white flag. If only one player selects the white flag, he loses but doesn’t have to pay a battle cost. If both players choose the white flag, an alliance is born. Both players stay and reap the benefits of that space. Now, if those two battle again and both select white flags, the alliance remains intact. However, if at any point one of the players selects a number higher than the other, the entire alliance is broken and that player then takes over all spaces they previously shared. So fun!

I love the physical game size. I love the game length (about 30 minutes). I love the game variety (i.e., many factions to play with, many ways to win, each game can be very different than any game before it, etc.) which lends itself to great replay value. I especially love the psychological aspect of the battles (what’s your opponent going to do?). I love the simplicity of the gameplay (takes no time at all to learn). Throw in the capital cities, crags, water, ruins (I love the ruins!), and the optional but awesome exploration tokens (included), and you’ve got a great game packed into a tiny box. Overall, I give it a solid 7.5.

 
Go to the The Werewolves of Miller's Hollow page
47 out of 53 gamers thought this was helpful

If you love the social, murder mystery, “who-dun-it” type party games, Werewolves of Miller’s Hollow is as good as it gets. You get the best of both worlds: the fun and intrigue of a “Mafia-esque” game with the haunting theme of a village under attack by a crafty band of werewolves.

The game master sets the scene: a quaint little village, maybe early 19th century New England. The townsfolk are a simple people, concerned with the day-to-day operations of keeping up with their crops and farms. One afternoon, a group of school kids runs down to the stream just on the outskirts of town to catch frogs. Suddenly, a scream splits the still air as the children scamper up the hillside to the safety of their parents’ embraces. They point trembling fingers at the woods by the stream while words like, “Dead!” and “Blood!” barely escape their quivering voices. The adults run down to the stream to find a villager lying propped against an old oak tree…torn open with open gashes covering his body from head to toe. What could have done this? Someone barely breathes the word, “Werewolf.” The hunt is on!

Now each player gets randomly assigned a role. The lowly villager is the most difficult as they have no special abilities to assist in their hunt. On their side, however, is the powerful seer who gets to peek at one player’s role card during each night phase. The cunning witch also sides with the villagers whose powers allow her to revive or kill a player once per game. The skilled hunter can take a last dying shot at another player before his heart stops beating after a vicious werewolf attack. The sneaky little girl gets to peak at the conniving werewolves as they decide who their next unlucky victim will be. But beware! Each of these skilled villagers must not expose their true identities to the masses as they would become the werewolves’ next meal! The waters are muddied further by a sly cupid who ties two hearts (and fates!) of his own choosing together in a Romeo and Juliet bond of love…in life and in death! Add many more characters and nuances with several expansions.

The villagers win if they kill all the werewolves. The werewolves win if they kill all the villagers. The two lovers win if they both survive! Werewolves hunt at night, and the villagers lynch a suspected werewolf during the day. Prepare your best poker face and your most cunning persuasion skills to stand even a remote chance of survival!

10
Go to the Lords of Vegas page

Lords of Vegas

106 out of 114 gamers thought this was helpful

Lords of Vegas has been our latest “rage” game (what I call those games that completely take over all other games for a certain amount of time and that I lay in bed devising new strategies to play better next time). It is an incredibly dynamic game of strategy, mind-games, muscle-flexing, scheming, and of course, luck! The uber-conservative will not win nor will the extremely aggressive. You need to find the right balance of each (which changes each game depending on who you play with and how the game plays out!) to pull off the elusive win.

The turn mechanics are very simple: Take over a new lot. Get paid by vacant lots you own. Get paid by casinos. Get points by being the boss. Take your actions. Done. Clean and simple, just how I like it. The money grossed is used to take one of four actions: 1. Building on a lot you own, 2. Sprawling onto a lot you don’t own, 3. Remodeling (meaning changing the color of your casino), and 4. Reorganizing (meaning mixing up a casino’s power structure!). Remodeling and reorganizing cause some very tense, even heated moments as you vie for control of ever-expanding casinos. I’ve bruised my fist many a time slamming it on the table when my hard-earned investment goes right out the window. But just as many times I’ve pumped my fist when a well-devised risk pays off massive dividends!

I am a reward-sensitive person, essentially meaning that my genes make me love the thrill of high risk/high return! This game is that outlet for me. There is a high risk/reward component that is a blast. Manage it well (as you would in Vegas!) and you’ll find yourself at the top of the food chain. Mismanage the risk/reward paradox and you’ll crash hard. Have an extra risk/reward itch to scratch? Once per turn, you can also straight up gamble at another boss’s casino!

Favorite moment: when I own a single, hapless tile in a large casino and the two leaders are in a heated battle to become boss. One of them pays a fortune to reorg and guess who the lucky new boss is? Me! Hahahaha!

Most frustrating moment: when I’m one of the two leaders in the situation above.

The Up! expansion takes Lords of Vegas to a whole new level…literally. Instead of playing on just a flat plane, you build your casinos vertically to increase their returns, make them more difficult to be taken over, and paint a bigger target on your back! This expansion also allows for 6 players instead of 4.

Overall, this game is so much fun. It’s relatively quick, simple in construct, has an incredibly high replay value, has a fantastic balance of strategy and luck, is completely consuming…and has an awesome game board with chips, dice, and cards! Tell me, what more could you ask for? I give it an extremely high 9 out of 10.

 
Go to the Caverna: The Cave Farmers page
106 out of 118 gamers thought this was helpful

Not often does a game skyrocket as quickly to the top 5 of my all-time favorite games as did Caverna after playing it a grand total of…one time! I’ve since played many times, and I am in love.

Caverna has the perfect amount of variations to win. Do you focus heavily on planting and harvesting crops along with breeding animals out in the open? Do you concentrate your valuable (and limited) actions to dig deep underground, creating caverns, ore mines, and even a rare ruby mine? Do you invest heavily in weaponry to reap the awesome loot that comes from high-level weapons? Do you horde rubies to instantly turn them into valuable goods? Or do you plan a coordinated, balanced strategy to maximize your return on investment? I’ve seen every one of those tactics win.

Here are a few random and fun small-scale things that I love about Caverna that will be particularly intriguing to those who have played Agricola: the dogs can “watch” sheep in open meadows without a fenced-in pasture; you can store a single donkey in each underground, unfurnished cavern; there is some randomness embedded with the harvest (you don’t always know if there will be a harvest or not); you can store a single boar in a forest space with a stable; lastly, you can convert animals and harvested grain/vegetables into consumable food immediately! There are many other reasons why I prefer Caverna to Agricola, but these are just a few.

Another awesome aspect is the furnishing of caverns. Don’t overlook them! Once you build a cavern, you can “customize” it to suite your particular strategy and reap many benefits immediately, over several rounds, or at the end of the game. For example, one furnishing gives you one coin per two sheep at the end of the game. Another gives you one ruby for each of the next several rounds. Another gives you discounts on subsequent furnishings or pastures. There are many combinations of furnishings that can provide powerful enhancements to your gameplay.

Set-up and take-down are a bit of a beast. There are, as I count it, 43 different types of playing pieces, tiles, boards, cards, and tokens for a grand total of 851 individual items (not including the cards) in a 9-pound box . But don’t let that deter you! It is well worth it. The gameplay itself moves along at a good pace, and after a couple of games, you can keep the time under the estimated 30 minutes per player.

Overall, I give this game a resounding 9.5 out of 10. I’ve never given a full 10 before (I’m saving it for that one special game!), but this is as close as I’ve come!

7
Go to the Student Bodies page

Student Bodies

116 out of 130 gamers thought this was helpful

I fully admit, I love zombie horror games. Student Bodies takes a fresh new twist on the many classic, co-op, shoot-’em-up zombie games out there. You play as one of several high school students in a zombie-infested school. Here’s the catch: you’re already bitten! The clock is ticking for you to race across the hall to the science lab, find your antidote, and make your way back to the exit, shoving your fellow classmates aside (and hopefully into a zombie!) along the way. The winner makes it to the exit first, locks the door behind him or her, and gleefully skips away with his life while the other students get eaten alive.

Here are several aspects I love about this game: it’s different every time. The main hall, science lab, and exit each have a set of setup cards used to determine where zombies, corpses, and obstacles will be placed once you enter that room (can’t plan ahead!). It makes for a very fun variation each game. I also love the corpses strewn about the school. Turn them over to reveal nothing, to collect a valuable item, or get bitten by a sleeping zombie corpse! If you’re almost dead, I wouldn’t take the risk, but that’s just me. I also love the make-shift “weapons” which are much more realistic than other games. Remember, this one isn’t about killing hordes of zombies, it’s about escaping with your life. These weapons (that could be found in virtually any high school) include a lock and chain, a trophy, an aluminum bat, a bocce ball, and more. I also love the knock down aspect. Essentially, when a zombie attacks a player, the zombie either misses, bites the player, or knocks him down. If the player is knocked down, the next time a zombie attacks, no dice is rolled, the player is automatically bitten. The variety of action cards is also very impressive. There are normal action cards to be played on your turn, fast action cards to be played at any time, and reaction cards to be played when the trigger event occurs (usually when something happens against you). There are many fun, real-world scenario actions (like a duck and roll reaction card or a get up fast action).

This game was a thrilling mayhem. While I love hard-core strategy games, I also love the chaotic bloodbath that you find in Student Bodies where players rely mostly on luck to win. It allows for a lighter, more reactive game which can be every bit as fun as the more strategy-heavy games. I’d also note that the artwork, while very impressive, is a bit gory for younger players or for the “faint of heart.” Overall, I give this a solid 7 out of 10.

9
Go to the Sheriff of Nottingham page
89 out of 97 gamers thought this was helpful

I love games that are fresh and new, those that don’t reuse the same mechanics as a hundred other games while only changing the theme. I also love games that pit players against each other and bring in a heavy dose of psychological warfare. Sheriff of Nottingham is just that. It is a surprisingly simple yet incredibly fun game of power, maneuvering, deal-making, and strategy where a quiet introvert can beat a type-A aggressor at his own game!

Play as merchants intent on bringing as many goods into the market as possible. Legal goods like apples, cheese, bread, and chickens bring a meager income while illegal contraband like pepper, mead, silk, and the coveted crossbow will rake in the coins…but at a substantial price if you get caught by the ever-present sheriff.

Here’s my thought on the strategy: on one end of the spectrum, you have players (usually those who are more conservative and honest at heart!) who stick to almost solely importing legal goods. They bring in a smaller yet consistent income. Beware of these kinds of players, however, because they will act the sweet, innocent merchant then turn around a 5-card sack of contraband! Can you tell I’ve been burned by them before? On the other side, you have the aggressive, get-rich-quick player who most often has at least a contraband or two in their sack but is willing to pay the Sheriff a hefty price to not take a peek. Each strategy works, but I’ve found that a good, unpredictable balance works best.

The artwork is outright impressive. The colors are vibrant and fun which makes for a beautiful game with very high-quality components. For me, this adds immensely to the theme and, ultimately, to my liking or disliking of a game.

The replay value is very high. The game itself changes moderately each time, but the most fun change is playing with different people. You’ll find yourself playing an entirely different game with a completely different strategy depending on the type of people you’re playing with. I’ve played games full of conservative people where bags are checked frequently and the winning score is relatively low. I’ve also played games with plenty of high-risk, high-return types who gamble for big gains (and big losses!). Usually, you’ll have a good mix of personality types which makes for a very fun, rounded game.

Overall, I give Sheriff of Nottingham a very high 8.5. This is an excellent game for all types of gamers, experienced or not. Those of us “game nerds” who love the intensely strategic games really enjoy it, but I also played with several very moderate gamers who absolutely loved it. Very well done!

 
Go to the Jamaica page

Jamaica

129 out of 140 gamers thought this was helpful

This is a race game on the surface, but there is a whole lot bubbling underneath that makes it a fun, dynamic, competitive strategy game. You need to manage several different aspects at once: resource management of food, gunpowder, and doubloons in your limited hull; movement to the optimal board spaces for your current situation; stockpiling enough resources to get by but not so many that you waste them; using up precious gunpowder attacking or defending; and much more. Race as your favorite plundering pirate to discover invaluable treasures, steal from your competitors, feed your crew, pay for port services, attack other ships, and curse your competition!

Each round consists of that round’s captain rolling two dice and selecting which to play for the morning action and which to play for the evening action. Then each player, starting with the captain, chooses which of their action cards to play to either move or collect a resource (food, doubloons, or gunpowder) based on the face-up number on each die. This is a very fun aspect of the game and necessitates some moderate planning ahead to see if any of your action cards have a movement to get you a treasure card or a particular resource that is running low in your hull.

As you travel around the map, you must pay food to travel on the sea and doubloons to land at a port. You have to be careful, though, because if you move to a spot where you can’t afford to pay, you must pay all you can of that resource then move back until you land on a space where you can pay everything…and then you have to pay that, too. See if you can use this to your advantage to land on treasure spaces at a very cheap cost!

Another fun feature that I love about Jamaica is how a battle is forced every time two players land in the same spot. A star rolled on either side is an automatic win. Do you use six gunpowder tokens to really ramp up your attack so you can steal that player’s treasure card or food tokens just to get blown away by a single star roll? Or should you play conservatively relying on the luck of the die?

Overall, this is a very fun, pirate-themed game with incredible artwork and very high-quality pieces and boards. I give it a solid 8.

9
Go to the Camel Up page

Camel Up

23 out of 25 gamers thought this was helpful

I was looking for a fun (not just heads-down, deep-thinking), relatively short (30-45 minutes), interactive, simple game for up to eight players and came across Camel Up. After playing for the third time in one evening with our gaming cohorts, my wife said, “This is the most fun we’ve had with any game we’ve played in quite a while!” And I completely agree. It is witty, it is exciting, it is strategic, it is filled with luck, and it’s a blast.

There are five camels racing around the track. Each player is a bettor. One of four actions can be taken each turn: roll a die to move a camel, bet on the winner of that leg, place your oasis/mirage tile, or bet on the overall race winner/loser. That’s it…but there is oh, so much more! This is my favorite aspect of the entire game: if a camel lands on the space of another camel, the moving camel is stacked on top of the other and is then higher ranked than the first. If the camel at the bottom of a stack is moved, all camels on top of that camel move with it and remain ahead of the moving camel. If you think about it, there is a lot that this implies. It muddies up the relatively simple betting world and adds an incredibly fun twist. If a camel lands on an oasis tile, the player who laid the tile gets an Egyptian Pound (have the most at the end of the game to win), and the camel moves forward one space (and takes the lead if stacked). However, a mirage tile will move the camel back a space and underneath any existing camels. Use these tiles carefully to pull in a good stream of earnings while furthering or hindering camels depending on your bets.

Another really cool feature of Camel Up is the die-rolling pyramid. You put all five dice inside this pyramid at the beginning of each leg. When a player chooses to move a camel for his action, he takes the pyramid, gives it a little shake, flips it upside down, pushes the slider which only allows space enough for a single die to be released, then lifts it up to reveal the die. My 10-year-old nephew rolled almost every time because he thought it was so fun just to use the pyramid.

The most fun comes when all eggs are placed in one basket, someone flips over the pyramid to roll a die, everyone is muttering something like, “Come on…come on…yellow 2…yellow 2…,” followed by yells of success or groans of failure. =-) It is a very fun game which I give a solid 8.5.

 
Go to the Mr. Jack page

Mr. Jack

17 out of 19 gamers thought this was helpful

Mr. Jack just broke into my top three 2-player games of all time. Yes, it was that good. While the price is up there for a 2-player game ($43 MSRP but cheaper at some stores), it is well worth it. The game is very high-quality in every way (more to come), but as good as the quality is, the gameplay and strategy steal the show. Play as Mr. Jack or the Detective. Move in and out of light and darkness according to whichever is most advantageous at the moment. Take special care to utilize the character skills wisely or you may get burned (as I have many times!) by your opponent.

The artwork immediately caught my eye. The board is incredibly detailed with a fun, cartoonish, yet realistic feel. The character and alibi “cards” can barely be called cards because of how thick and sturdy they are. The characters aren’t just faceless tokens, there is character depth and storyline (bolstered by great background descriptions of each). The map itself is perfect to facilitate a balance of strategy and player advantage (with strength spots and weakness spots for each character which must be accounted for on both sides).

The gameplay is very simple in construct, but there are innumerable tactical plans which may change at a moment’s notice. The entire game revolves around the witness card. If Jack is “seen” (i.e., in the light), the witness card must indicate as such which then eliminates the chance that Jack is one of the “unseen” characters, and vice versa. These characters are then tagged as innocent. This goes until either Jack escapes the city, remains hidden through the eighth round, or until the Detective makes an accurate accusation. Sound simple? Not so fast. With each player “playing” the part of two of four randomly selected characters each round, a strategy of illuminating as many characters as you can that round may be quickly thwarted by your opponents moves. Then you add the character abilities on top of that. For example, John Smith moves a streetlight (and thus the illumination it provides). Sir William Gull can switch spots with another player (got me several times last game!). Or Sherlock Holmes can eliminate an option by drawing an alibi card. I won’t even get into the manholes, police cordons, or the failing streetlights. You’ve got to experience it for yourself!

Overall, this is one of the best 2-player games out there. It’s quick (20-30 minutes), there’s some luck but mostly strategy, replay value is very high, and it’s a blast! I highly recommend this one and give it a solid 8.5.

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