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TechieMoe

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Review 21 games and receive a total of 2270 positive review ratings.
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8
Go to the YINSH page

YINSH

5 out of 5 gamers thought this was helpful

INTRO
I was introduced to this series of Kris Burm games through the first game, GIPF, and I was very impressed by the high quality of the pieces and the addictive, simple nature of the games. YINSH is the fifth game in the GIPF series, and it’s probably my favorite after GIPF itself.

GAMEPLAY
Every GIPF game has a sort of “theme” to it – not from a flavor standpoint but from a gameplay one. GIPF was about pushing, DVONN was about jumping, and YINSH is about flipping.

Each player has a set of 5 rings, a white set and a black set respectively. There’s also a collective pool of blue-bordered, double-sided discs with white on one side and black on the other. The board consists of a hexagon of intersecting lines, similar to GIPF.

Players take turns placing rings at these intersection points on the board until both the black and the white player have placed all 5. The goal of the game is to remove three of your own color rings from the board. You do this by moving the rings in a straight line and leaving a trail of five discs in your color.

On your turn you’ll drop a disc inside one of your rings (with your color facing up) and then move the ring in a straight line across the board. You can move any number of spaces over empty points on the board or over discs. You cannot move a ring over another ring however (even if it’s yours). If your ring passes over a disc, that disc gets flipped to the opposite color.

When you’ve managed to either place or flip 5 discs in a row that are your color, you can remove one of your rings and place it in the scoring area on your side of the board. Do this three times and you win – but beware that as you remove rings you’re also limiting your possible moves on the board.

BUILD QUALITY
I picked up the Rio Grande Games reprint of YINSH, having owned the original Don & Co. version of some of the other games in the GIPF series. I was worried that the reprint would not have the same high quality pieces as the originals, but thankfully those worries were unfounded.

The clacky pieces feel the same as the Don & Co. games, which is great. They’re something akin to Bakelite, so they’re slightly heavier than your standard ABS plastic. The game includes a canvas drawstring bag that holds all the components. The board is a solid quad-fold design that’s adequate but not particularly heavy.

My only complaint about the Rio Grande print of the game is that it comes in a HUGE box. The Don & Co. version came in a box roughly the size of Scrabble or Monopoly – long and thin. The Rio Grande box is much deeper and has a very large insert that’s completely unnecessary for the size of the components inside. It’s a small gripe, but one to consider if you have limited shelf space.

FUN FACTOR
I’m a fan of abstract strategy games, and the GIPF series is probably my gold standard for the genre. YINSH holds up well against its siblings. The games are quick and sometimes brutal, the pieces feel significant in your hand, and the strategy can have you really pondering your moves for a while.

I think the real fun emerges after your first half a dozen plays, as you get the basic moves down pat and start working on more advanced strategies. When I realized I could block my opponent’s ring movement by sticking one of my rings at the end of a long line of discs, it was a eureka moment. I look forward to more of those in the future.

3
Go to the Codenames page

Codenames

18 out of 18 gamers thought this was helpful

INTRO
I generally agree with the consensus on boardgames that have massive positive feedback. Even if I don’t enjoy the games myself I can see why others enjoy them and recognize that the game is a well-made example of its genre. This game is a rare case of I just don’t get it. With all the attention Codenames has received from the 2016 Spiel des Jahres Awards, I think it’s important to give a different opinion.

GAMEPLAY
Codenames is a party game where you split into two groups and designate one person per group to be the “spymaster.” It plays up to 8 if I’m not mistaken, so two groups of four, and the game is such that people can pretty easily drop in and out between rounds.

The game consists of a series of cards laid out in a 5×5 grid. Each has a single word on it. The cards are double-sided and there’s a lot of them, so no two games are likely to be the same. The spymasters get a square card and a plastic stand that identifies which cards in the grid are “agents” for the blue or red team, and one gray marker for the “assassin.”

On his/her team’s turn, the spymaster gives a clue that matches one or more of the word cards on the board that corresponds with their team’s agent. For instance, if the red agents are on LEMON and APPLE, the spymaster might say “Fruit, 2.” The red players now have to talk it out and point to one of the cards that they think matches. If they’re correct, it’s marked with their color and they can guess again.

If the players get it wrong, their turn is over. If they choose the assassin, their team loses automatically. A wrong guess can make the game go very quickly. There’s also room for interpretation in some of the cards. A card like ORANGE could be a color or a fruit, for instance, which is part of the strategy for the spymaster.

BUILD QUALITY
You get a large deck of cards and a smaller set of cardboard tiles that are used to overlay those cards when you mark the blue/red team operatives. The word cards are pretty thin, and the included sand timer was sufficient but not terribly sturdy. There’s a tiny plastic stand for the spymaster’s key card that holds it upright.

FUN FACTOR

This game fell completely flat with me and my group. We tried playing it several times and most of the game felt like just sitting around waiting for the spymaster to come up with a clue. Using the sand timer helped a bit, but we just weren’t having any fun. There are a dozen other games we would prefer to play when we’re tired, inebriated or just otherwise want something light. Ascension is our go-to at the moment, but we also enjoy a rousing game of Cards Against Humanity when we just want to sit down and laugh. I’m not saying your group won’t enjoy Codenames – just that it’s far from a guaranteed hit. Thankfully at the price point I’ve seen for it you’re not out a lot if it fails.

Codenames relies very heavily on the right group of people for it to work. If you’re the type of people who enjoy lots of table banter, trash talk, and whatnot this will probably work for you. If you’re setting up a game at a house party where folks will need the ability to sit down and leave on a whim, it’s good for that. It’s been a huge hit for a lot of people, judging from its other reviews. My friends are mostly euro/strategy gamers, so perhaps we were just too polite? The down time was spent in awkward silence, which didn’t translate into fun for us.

7
Go to the Aton page

Aton

41 out of 46 gamers thought this was helpful

INTRO
I stumbled across Aton quite by accident – it was sitting in a pile during a flea market sale at my local game store marked down to five bucks. I recognized the publisher (Queen Games) for making some fun games in the past and the Egyptian theme intrigued me. I figured for five bucks (less than some cups of coffee) it would be worth a gamble. It turned out to be well worth the asking price.

GAMEPLAY
For all its talk of warring Egyptian gods and their priests, Aton boils down to a pretty simple abstract strategy game between a red player and a blue player. You’re racing to either be the first to get 40 points, or the first to achieve one of several instant-win conditions. You do this by placing discs of your color inside the four temples.

The official English version of the rules can be found here, at Rio Grand Games in case my explanation confuses you. It may look daunting at first, but once you have a game under your belt it will go by very fast.

Each player gets a corresponding deck of cards with repeating numbers one through four and a pile of marker discs in your color. You each also get two thicker discs – a white one to represent your once-a-game “mulligan” ability, and one of your color to mark points on the progress track.

Each turn you simultaneously draw four cards and choose which card you want to put in each of your four cartouches (action slots) on the board. Each cartouche does something different, and the highest card value isn’t always the best. If none of your cards are what you want you can trade in your white token once per game to discard and redraw. Once you’ve placed all four cards face-down next to their numbered slot, both of you reveal your cards at the same time starting with the first cartouche. I’ll go through what each one means below.

In Cartouche 1, you simply compare each other’s cards and the player with the higher value card gets points. The points you get are equal to the difference between your card and your opponent’s, multiplied by two. For instance if I play a four card and you play a two, the difference is 2. I get four points for that play, and I mark them with my taller marker on the track along the edge of the board. Ties give no points.

Cartouche 2 is more complicated – it determines who gets to take their turn first in the next two steps, and the number of counters you’ll get remove in step three. This time the player with the smaller number wins the ability to go first. However the number of counters you get to remove from the temples equals the value of your card minus two. This means that if you place a two card, you cannot remove any discs. If you place a one card (making your number negative), you have to remove one of your own discs!

Cartouche 3 determines which of the four temples you’ll get to work with. You can place and/or remove from all the temples up to and equal to that number. For instance, a two card lets you work in temples 1 and 2, whereas a 4 card lets you work in any of the four. When you remove discs from the game board, you place them in the Kingdom of the Dead (the square track of heiroglyphs along the bottom of the board). This acts as a timer. It has ten spots, and when all of them are full the discs go back to their respective players and you score based on what the board looks like right then.

In Cartouche 4, the card you play determines the number of counters you get to place in the temple(s) you chose in step 3. You can only place in empty spots, and if you can’t place all of your counters the extras get placed in the Kingdom of the Dead.

As I said before, scoring happens every time the Kingdom of the Dead track fills up. You take back the discs of your color from the track and then score based on where your other discs are in each of the temples. Every temple has a different scoring condition which I won’t go into (see the rules link above). Aside from the individual temple scores, many of the spaces in each temple are worth points. Black, blue and green tiles have point values as well as the tiles with numbers (+1, +2).

At the end of scoring, you check to see if either of you have met the instant win conditions (there are four, plus the overall 40 points condition). If neither of you have, then you each remove four of your own counters from the board (picking at least one per temple if possible) and the round restarts with a new hand of four cards.

BUILD QUALITY
The board is actually a quick little game in itself – it comes in six puzzle pieces of thick, sturdy cardboard that you assemble before you start. This has a couple of practical benefits over a traditional folding board – there’s no bowing at the seams so it always lays flat, and it allows the box to be physically smaller.

The discs are standard quality for most European style games I’ve played. I wasn’t all that impressed with the cards to be honest. They’re slick-finished and tiny. At least the borders are white, so they won’t show wear as quickly as a darker graphic (I’m looking at you, Rose King). The box is on the smaller side, but strangely deep. I feel like it could have been half that depth and still held everything just fine.

FUN FACTOR
This game took a couple of plays for me to really understand the strategy of it. It’s a race with multiple win conditions. Most of the games I’ve played came down to just one turn being the difference between one player or the other winning. There’s never been a runaway winner, which I appreciate. It’s tense to the very end and every round counts.

It has elements of luck, so it’s more of a luck-mitigation kind of game where you have to determine the best tactic for dealing with the hand you’re dealt. You also have to decide pretty early on which of the various victory conditions you want to work for. Do you go for quick points? Dominate one temple? Try to spread yourself out and capture the green lines of all four? Based on your first couple of hands your whole endgame might need to adapt.

This is a nicely-made abstract strategy game with theme-appropriate artwork that probably no one near you has heard of. It’s a shame, because as far as two-player abstracts go it’s one of the better ones. The upside to that is you’re likely to find it on a clearance shelf or at a deep discount, like I did. Pick it up. It beats a bad cup of coffee.

9
Go to the Race for the Galaxy page

Race for the Galaxy

48 out of 54 gamers thought this was helpful

INTRO
Race for the Galaxy is one of my favorite card games. I’ll admit – the first time someone introduced me to it, I wasn’t convinced I’d like it. The box looks pretty bland, and the cards are filled with lots of cryptic icons that don’t mean much the first time you look at them. It took several how-to videos and a couple of starter games before I really understood what was going on.

DON’T RUN AWAY JUST YET! This is a VERY fun game that can go quickly when everyone at the table knows the rules. I’ve successfully taught it to many people who also said they enjoyed themselves. Let’s give this a try.

GAMEPLAY

Despite what you might have heard, Race for the Galaxy is actually not a complex game – the part that takes some learning is the iconography on the cards. Play goes in rounds, and you’ll get to perform a number of different actions each round to purchase and play cards, draw more cards, and earn victory points.

To start, everyone picks a random starting world (they’re marked with colorful numbers in their corners 0-4) and places it in front of them. Then everyone draws six cards and keeps four for their starting hand.

Every player also has a small deck of phase cards numbered one through five. At the beginning of a round, each player chooses what phase they want to perform and plays that card face down. Once everyone has played their card, they get revealed.

Phase cards are arranged in ascending numerical order, and every player gets to perform that phase action if they can – BUT the person who played the specific phase card gets a special, bonus ability as well. If two players play the same phase, that phase action is still only performed once, but BOTH players get to use the special ability on their cards.

There are five phases to choose from – Explore, Develop, Settle, Consume and Produce. Each phase card has a special ability, and two phases (Explore and Consume) have a duplicate card you can choose with an alternate ability. I listed phases 4 and 5 out of order because one depends on the other.

EXPLORE (I) lets everyone draw two cards from the deck, and keep one for their hand. If you play the Explore card, you also get to do one of two things depending on which Explore card you choose. Explore +5 lets you (and only you) draw SEVEN cards instead of two, but you still only keep one. Explore +1/+1 lets you draw three cards and keep two.

DEVELOP (II) lets everyone play development cards from their hand (they have diamond shapes in the top left). To play a card you have to pay for it – by discarding the number of cards inside the diamond.

SETTLE (III) lets everyone play planet cards from their hand (they have circular shapes in the top left). To play these you have to discard the number of cards inside the circle, UNLESS the number is red. These are military worlds that have to be conquered. To conquer a world you have to have military strength equal to or greater than the number. Military strength comes from settling specific worlds.

PRODUCE (V) lets everyone place a face-down card from the draw deck on top of any worlds that can produce goods (a colored square next to the roman numeral V). Some worlds have a halo around their price circle. These get a face-down resource card immediately as soon as you settle them, but they don’t get one during the PRODUCE phase unless you have certain other planets or developments.

CONSUME (IV) lets you sell cards that you put on top of your planets during the PRODUCE phase. That means discarding them and gaining other cards or victory points, depending on what abilities your settled planets and development cards give you for that phase.

Once every player has performed whatever action they wanted during every phase that was selected, everyone gets their phase cards back, discards down to ten cards if necessary, picks the phase they want to play next and lays it down face-down for the next round. The game continues until either all the VP tokens are gone or one player has settled or developed twelve cards.

I know I said the game wasn’t complex and then just threw a bunch of terms at you. It’s really not bad. I highly recommend watching a couple of videos from Starlit Citadel or the Dice Tower (the review with Ryan Metzler does a fantastic job). Seeing the cards and their symbols really helped things click for me.

BUILD QUALITY

Race for the Galaxy is a card game, and the cards are very nice quality with a linen finish that’s stood up to a lot of shuffling from my group. I was very disappointed in the victory point chips, however. They’re sturdy enough cardboard, but the graphics on them are ugly and they don’t feel significant in your hands.

I ended up replacing the VP tokens with acrylic gems – small clear ones for 1VP and larger blue ones for 5VP. You can pick these up cheap at any craft store in the floral section (they’re called “vase fillers” or “scatters”). I feel like it gives the game a little more tactile point system, more like Ascension.

FUN FACTOR

I can’t stress enough how much I enjoy playing this game. Drawing cards from the deck with no idea what I’ll get does feel like exploring. Building an engine of production planets that I can use to sell off cards for victory points is very satisfying. Trying to do all of this before my opponent puts down their twelfth card keeps me on my toes every turn.

I love that there’s so little down time. Everyone gets to do something in every phase simultaneously. By the time you’ve completed your actions it’s time to pick the next phase, and sometimes that’s so quick you barely feel like you’ve had time to think. The “race” feel of the game came through strong for me.

It’s very portable too – the main deck will fit into a single UltraPro deck box, and you can keep track of points with a scrap of paper if need be. Pretty much any reasonably sized flat surface works as long as you have enough space for everyone to put out their twelve cards.

If you’re willing to sit down in front of a how-to and play a couple of learning games with your friends, I think you’ll find a lot to like with Race for the Galaxy. It’s quickly become a regular staple at my gaming table.

8
Go to the Thunderstone Advance: Numenera page
50 out of 56 gamers thought this was helpful

INTRO

I was very late to the game with Thunderstone Advanced. I wasn’t aware of this game’s existence until a year after it went out of print. Now that I’ve played it, I’m very sorry AEG decided to discontinue the game and I hope that they’ll consider a new edition or sell the rights to another company to continue producing it. It’s a very solid, high quality game that deserves a longer print run. If Dominion can do it – so can this. But enough of my soapbox. What about the game?

GAMEPLAY

Thunderstone Advance: Numenera (TAN) is a uniquely themed but still backwards-compatible version of Thunderstone Advanced, which itself is a revised version of Thunderstone. Confused yet? Don’t be. All this means is that the cards from Thunderstone Advanced work with Numenera and vice versa. Numenera just adds some additional features and a neat pseudo-scifi feel to their cards.

TAN is a deck-building game, which means all players start with the same deck of twelve basic cards. On your turn, you draw six. These are used to either purchase more advanced cards from the Village or defeat monsters in the Dungeon. All cards are discarded at the end of your turn, including the ones you purchased/defeated. When you run out of cards to draw, you shuffle your discards. Your deck now includes the acquired cards, and you can use them in future turns. This is the basic idea of a deck-builder.

Some cards give you attack value, some give you gold, and some give you light. Still others give you special abilities. The board is set up with stacks of hero, weapon, spell and villager cards that make up the “Village” and monsters that make up the “Dungeon.” The Village cards are static and available the whole game (unless you run out). The Dungeon cards are shuffled and revealed as monsters are defeated.

The concept of “light” is unique to Thunderstone. As monsters come out of the dungeon, they’re placed in boxes on the board called ranks. Each rank has a darkness value associated with it. If your heroes don’t have a light source, they get a penalty on their attacks which grows the deeper you go into the dungeon (cards in higher ranks). You can purchase cards that add to your light value like torches or fire spells. If your light value matches or exceeds the darkness – you suffer no penalty.

If you’re familiar with other deck-builders like Dominion or Ascension, you will be immediately comfortable with TAN. However, there are some things that TAN does differently. First – when you defeat a monster you gain experience tokens, which can be used for a number of things. Regular Thunderstone Advanced has one color of XP tokens (gray), but TAN has a veritable Fruity Pebbles assortment (red, yellow, blue, and gray). All colors can be used to level up your heroes, but each individual color lets you do something else as well. You might be able to add a point to your light value, discard or draw a card, or remove a disease card.

Another unique aspect of TAN are the very large setting cards. These are optional and offer a little different mechanic where each player rolls a d20 (included with the game) before their turn. The outcome alters the game in some way. About half of them are bad (like gaining a disease card) but others will let you pull desirable cards from your deck into your hand or give you other bonuses on your turn.

The artwork is a little different in some cases compared to the parent game. Thunderstone Advance: Numenera pulls its flavor from the Monte Cook roleplaying game of the same name. The weapons and spells are more science fiction than high fantasy, but the heroes are all standard RPG tropes. Combining these with regular TA won’t be particularly jarring, in my opinion.

BUILD QUALITY
I can’t say enough about how well made this game is. The board is thick and double-sided, offering two different dungeon setups (Dungeon and Wilderness). The cards are beautifully illustrated and have a durable linen finish that will stand up to many reshufflings.

The blue velvet pouch that holds the XP tokens and d20 is nicely embroidered and feels good to draw from. The box has a good insert, foam placeholders and large bookmark cards to keep everything organized. Everything about this game speaks to high production value. You may shy away from spending $60USD+ for a box full of cards, but believe me they’re worth it.

FUN FACTOR
As a fan of both Dominion and Ascension, I was worried that TAN would be overshadowed by them. Thankfully, it’s unique enough that it gets equal play on my table – especially when I don’t have a bunch of friends over. The solo game of TAN is more interesting and strategic for me than Ascension’s, which is a good selling point despite the fact that Ascension is a much quicker game to setup, play and take down. I get a deeper strategic feel from an hour-long game of TAN than a half hour game of Ascension. Neither is better or worse – they just scratch a different itch.

The strong theme for TAN gives it a very different feel than Dominion as well. It’s still a game about gathering victory points, but you can easily forget that when you’re feverishly building your party of heroes and agonizing about not having enough light to delve deeper into the dungeon.

In short – if you’re a fan of deck builders and can find a copy of Thunderstone Advanced: Numenera or its parent game, buy it. It’s an excellent lesser-known gem in my collection and it would probably do very well in yours.

8
Go to the The Stars Are Right page

The Stars Are Right

54 out of 61 gamers thought this was helpful

INTRO
The Stars Are Right is a competitive puzzle game from Steve Jackson Games (makers of Munchkin). I only mention that for name recognition, because the game has very little in common with its more popular cousin. Where Munchkin is a game about fast paced backstabbing, TSAR is a slow-burn thought experiment that will fascinate some gamers and alienate others.

GAMEPLAY
Two to four players take on the role of cultists attempting to summon creatures, minions and (eventually) Elder Gods for their cause. They do this by rearranging the very stars in the sky to build the proper constellations listed on each creature’s card. Each card also has a point value, and the first cultist to raise 10 points worth of cards wins the game.

The game consists of a draw deck and a 5×5 grid of square cardboard tiles with a specific star pattern on both sides. The pattern on the opposite side can be seen in miniature at the corners of each tile so it’s not necessary to flip them. This grid makes up the “sky.”

On your turn, you play cards that give you the ability to shift the sky into constellation patterns that match the creatures in your hand. Once a creature is played, you can use its ability on later turns without having to arrange the stars first. You can change the sky in three ways – by flipping a tile to show the opposite side, swapping two tiles with one another, and shifting an entire row by one tile.

The more complicated the constellation required to play a card, the more points it’s worth. Elder God cards are obviously the hardest to summon, so the game allows you to summon minions to help. Minions are associated with specific Elder Gods, and they can be used to simplify the constellation needed to summon them – if you’re willing to sacrifice the card to do so. For instance, Hastur might need a specific sequence of five stars to be raised, but every minion of Hastur has one star pattern on their card (the bottom left corner of the circular picture) that can be subtracted from the needed constellation.

Strategy is always changing in this game, because you might be able to arrange the sky to your liking for one turn only to have it shift completely by the time your next turn comes around. The sky is less volatile with fewer players, obviously, but the game runs a lot shorter because of it.

BUILD QUALITY
The game consists of a deck of cards and a couple of stacks of thick cardboard squares that make up the constellations in the sky. The cards are pretty typical Steve Jackson (read: Munchkin) quality, which is to say they’re typical glossy card stock that are susceptible to scratches over time. The sky tiles are very sturdy, like the heavier coasters some bars pass out. They’re heavy enough that they will stay where you put them on the table with very little shifting.

FUN FACTOR
I enjoy this game very much, but it’s a tough sell among my gamer friends. The game is cerebral and can be kind of slow with new players who aren’t sure about their moves. Player interaction is surprisingly low for a Steve Jackson game, so people more used to Munchkin may find it off-putting.

Hardcore strategy gamers may not like that there is hidden information in your opponents’ hands, and that the board can be quite volatile. It requires you to constantly adapt your strategy since any of the other players can mess up your planned constellation between one turn and the next. All that being said – if you’re a fan of the Cthulhu mythos and competitive puzzle games, you will find a lot to love about The Stars Are Right. It strikes a nice balance between purely casual and purely strategic gameplay that can be very fun for the right group.

9
Go to the Battle For Souls page

Battle For Souls

51 out of 57 gamers thought this was helpful

INTRO
Battle for Souls was my first introduction to game author Robert Burke. I picked this game up on an impulse from CoolStuffInc, and it’s had a place of honor in my collection ever since. I was pleasantly surprised at how solid and enjoyable the game play was, as well as the very evocative artwork it uses.

EDIT – Apologies for all the asterisks…BGG’s forum software doesn’t like the traditional term for the opposite of heaven.

GAMEPLAY
Battle for Souls is a two-player card game where each player takes on the role of either Heaven or *hell, trying to influence souls over to their side. Souls are worth victory points, and once all souls have been reaped the player with the highest number of points wins.

Players have a number of weapons at their disposal in the form of decks of cards. Each deck has a corresponding good or evil version. I’ve listed the decks below, but the most important one is the largest – your Sin or Intercession deck. I’ll explain in more detail further down.

Angels/Demons – These are powerful cards that you can earn by bringing your influence up to seven and reaping a soul. They give you one free influence to a certain type of soul each turn. You can have multiples in play but only use one at a time.
Virtue/Temptation – These are the heart of the game. Color coded and associated with a particular deadly sin or virtue, you play these to gain influence or purchase relics.
Holy/Unholy Relics and Sin/Intercession- single or multi-use items and events that can be purchased with influence or by playing cards from your hand, they allow you to exert influence in special ways.
Single Point Cards – If you have one pair of matching cards you can play them to purchase a single victory point. These can sometimes win a game for you, so don’t ignore them!

During setup, four soul cards are laid out between the players and given dice with 1 neutral influence on them. As influence is gained for one side or the other, the die moves to the “heaven” or “*hell” side (up or down) and gets its number increased or decreased. When a soul has 4 or more influence for one side or the other, it can be reaped and taken for points. A soul with more than 6 influence is automatically reaped for that side and that player gets to draw a special Angel or Demon card.

The main way to exert influence is to play Sin or Intercession cards from your hand. Your Sin/Intercession deck has color-coded cards that are associated to a particular deadly sin or virtue. These correspond to a particular sin or virtue on each soul card.

On your turn, you draw a hand of 5 cards and play them similar to poker hands (pair, two pair, full house, etc) with one interesting difference – having a hand of all different colors lets you do special things. Three, four, or five different colors give you increasingly more powerful abilities.

There is one other type of card in your Sin/Intercession deck – reap cards. Reap cards can be played as a separate action on your turn. Reap cards clear the play area of souls. Souls with 4 or more influence go to their respective player, but any other souls are cleared off and put into “purgatory,” essentially taking them out of play. This is a good way to prevent your opponent from getting more than 6 influence, or get rid of souls that don’t have the sins or virtues you want.

BUILD QUALITY
The first thing that struck me about Battle for Souls was that the box was solid. The corners don’t flex at all, and the whole thing felt like it could be used as a melee weapon. The insert is one of the best I’ve seen, aside from maybe Forbidden Island. It has nice cubbies for the dice and all the card decks with plenty of room for expansions. Sadly, none have been released thus far and the likelihood of more seems less and less as time goes on. I did pick up one expansion from the BoardGameGeek store that gave me a Holy Hand Grenade item.

The cards have a durable linen finish, but are flexible enough that they shuffle easily. The dice have custom faces with arrows that tell you which direction to turn to increment the number, and the 4, 5 and 6 faces have icons indicating they’re ready to be reaped.

The only part that I thought felt cheap were the little gold cubes you can use for counters. They’re pretty standard, cheap tokens that aren’t thematic or particularly interesting. Also, although most of the game uses classical paintings with depictions of heaven and *hell on them (with references to the original painting), some of the souls have photos of Kickstarter backers. This wouldn’t be a big deal if they matched the theme better, but the obviously amateur photography really sticks out against renaissance paintings.

FUN FACTOR
I have yet to introduce this game to someone who told me they didn’t like it. The gameplay is simple and familiar to anyone who’s played poker, and the theme is interesting and well represented with the classical artwork on all of the cards. I’ve played it dozens of times and it’s very well balanced. Neither player ever wins by a landslide – it’s usually a one to five point lead that does it. This keeps the game tense to the end.

It’s worth a note that some people may find the concept that one of the players has to play the side of *hell and demons/devils to be disturbing. I don’t recommend this game for those people. You can play the game solo, using just the angelic deck, but you’re missing out on some very fun player interaction if you do.

6
Go to the ZÈRTZ  page

ZÈRTZ

43 out of 49 gamers thought this was helpful

INTRO
ZERTZ is the third game of the GIPF Project, a series of abstract games that feature simple-to-learn but complex to master game concepts and durable Bakelite components. Each game in the family has a theme. The theme for ZERTZ is jumping.

GAMEPLAY
ZERTZ takes place on a constantly shrinking game area made up of a hexagon of circular discs with holes in them. Each turn, a player must place a marble on an unoccupied disc and then remove one of the discs from the outside edge of the game area. If two marbles are next to each other and there’s an open spot (think jumping rules in Checkers) the player MUST make the jump.

A player wins by capturing certain combinations of marbles: 3 white, 4 gray, 5 black, or 2 of each color. The game area shrinks a little each turn, and marbles that are cut off from the discs surrounding them can be captured en masse.

There are a number of strategies you can try, and after your first game you’ll likely develop a favorite. You can try to isolate and capture marbles by removing certain parts of the board, force your opponent to capture marbles of the wrong color, or deny them a color (if it appears they’re going for all white, for instance, you can capture the remaining white and block them).

BUILD QUALITY
Ever since I bought a copy of Hive I’ve fallen in love with Bakelite game pieces. They’re heavy and have a nice clacky sound when you set them on a table or against each other. They are also ridiculously durable. I admit, one of the deciding factors for me when purchasing ZERTZ was the idea of having a bunch of Bakelite marbles to play with.

All the games in the GIPF line have nicely made Bakelite pieces and ZERTZ is no exception. There’s no board to speak of, so you could in theory stick this game in a drawstring bag and play it on the beach if you so desired.

FUN FACTOR
Although I love the simplicity of ZERTZ (and its relatives GIPF and DVONN), for some reason this game isn’t as interesting to me as the others. It’s fun enough that I’ll hold onto it and pull it out once in a while, but the concept just doesn’t grab me as much as GIPF. However that’s entirely a matter of taste, so don’t let me discourage you!

If you’re a fan of abstract strategy games or just love playing with Bakelite, you’ll like ZERTZ. It’s a solid entry to the GIPF line of games.

9
Go to the Star Fluxx page

Star Fluxx

99 out of 106 gamers thought this was helpful

INTRO
I own several flavors of FLUXX from regular to Monty Python to Cthulhu, but Star is the one that my game group keeps coming back to. It combines trademark-distinct versions of characters, locations and items from Star Trek, Star Wars, Doctor Who, Firefly and others to make a fun sci-fi themed amalgamation.

GAMEPLAY
FLUXX, for those of you who haven’t played other versions, consists of a single deck of 100 cards. Each player starts with three cards in their hand. The basic gameplay has you draw one card, and play one card each turn.

The cards you draw allow those rules to change. There are several types: Keepers, Creepers, Goals, New Rules, Actions and Surprises. Goals are how you win the game – they usually require that you have two or more Keeper cards in front of you that match the goal. Creepers are undesirable cards that usually keep you from winning, even if you match the goal. New Rules can change just about any aspect of the game from the number of cards you draw or play each turn to how many goals can be active at one time. Actions and Surprises let you interrupt things that are happening in the game, like canceling a new rule or stealing cards.

The interesting thing about FLUXX for me is how every so often, you’ll find yourself forced to let someone else win. A “Play All” rule means if you have a goal in your hand that fits someone else’s Keeper cards you have to play it. Due to the random nature of the goals and rules being drawn, games can vary wildly in length. It’s not really a game of strategy, since you can’t plan past your own turn most of the time.

BUILD QUALITY
Normally build quality doesn’t matter for card games. Most commercial card games have decent quality cards. Star FLUXX cards are a little on the flimsy side compared to some other games I have. They don’t have that cross-stitched linen feel that I prefer and the laminate is very thin. On the positive side, they shuffle very easily. For a mass-market, non-collectible game you can pick up most places for about ten bucks, it’s not really that big of an issue.

Looney Labs likes to put out little single-card expansions for a dollar or free at conventions and game stores. These come in the form of a large postcard with the card attached either with perforations or peel-off film. The latter gives the expansion cards a little bit of a sticky feel and they’re not as easy to shuffle in. My “Robot Doctor” mini-expansion card is like this.

FUN FACTOR
Star FLUXX has a recurring place at my game table as something to play while waiting for food at a restaurant, or when only a few of your friends have shown up for game night and you want to kill some time. The theme is well-used and there’s enough different shows and movies referenced that no one should feel left out if this or that pop culture vehicle is not “their thing.”

8
Go to the Cthulhu's Vault page

Cthulhu's Vault

42 out of 48 gamers thought this was helpful

INTRO
I backed Cthulhu’s Vault on Kickstarter on the artwork alone. I was a little worried, having backed “pretty, but boring” games before. Thankfully, this one turned out to be a very fun, surprisingly immersive game that my group pulls out regularly.

GAMEPLAY
Cthulhu’s Vault is a shared story-telling game told through cards. Each player has a hand of large, square cards that represent elements of the story – people, places and things from the H.P. Lovecraft universe. They also each have a Great Old One card face down in front of them. The game is played in two phases – the build up and the final confrontation. Each player’s secret goal is to play cards to earn enough tokens to raise their god, which the other players then band together to defeat.

You start by drawing a random card, and the first player begins the narrative using whatever is on it. All the power tokens are turned face-down and shuffled into a pile beside the card. On their turn, each subsequent player lays down a card and explains how it fits in and furthers the story. Depending on the card, you may get to draw Investigator and/or Cultist tokens and add them to your pool. Each of the cards has a bonus icon on it so if the next player matches that icon they get extra tokens. The number of tokens necessary to raise your Great Old One (and the strength of the god when they appear) varies depending on the number of players.

Once the first player announces they have enough power tokens to raise their elder god, the remaining players draw Investigator character cards and do battle. Order of attack is determined by a battle deck, and health is tracked using the same tokens you collected in the story phase. Play continues until either the other players are devoured or they kill the elder god! (Spoiler alert: we’ve almost always ended up devoured.)

BUILD QUALITY
The Kickstarter version of the game comes in a very nice black tin with cubbies inside for all the various sized cards and tokens. I have mixed feelings about it. Although the tin is nice and the cubbies are snug – they’re a little TOO snug, and cause you to have to be creative in how you store the tokens because there’s just not quite enough space in the tin for it all. The author has mentioned that for the retail release he’ll be going back to regular cardboard (I assume with more space) for everything.

The cards are good, durable stock and the tokens are very nice varnished wood. They feel like they could take a beating, which is good because during gameplay and when being stuffed in the box after the fact they get tossed around a lot. You have a deck of regular-sized playing cards for the investigators and battle deck and larger, square cards for the story. They all fit comfortably in the tin as long as you don’t want to sleeve them.

FUN FACTOR
Much like games such as Gloom and Dixit – the enjoyment you get out of this is all in who you take to the table. If you have a group of friends who are more interested in the mechanics of the game (such as matching the icons to get bonus tokens) but aren’t particularly good story tellers, the game is going to fall flat. If however you have friends who like the idea of building on previous players’ stories and making something Lovecraftian and weird with lots of cool twists – you’re going to like this.

This is a Lovecraftian game, so the investigators will have a hard time beating the Great Old One most of the time. However since the focus of the main bit is telling an interesting story, you’ll probably not mind going out in a blaze of glory after the adventure you’ve created together unfolds.

8
Go to the GIPF page

GIPF

33 out of 38 gamers thought this was helpful

INTRO
I picked up GIPF at my Friendly Local Game Store after someone recommended it to me on BoardGameGeek. I’m a fan of Hive and its “simple to learn, hard to master” game style. This game did not disappoint.

GAMEPLAY
GIPF is the first in a series of abstract games (all with unusual names) that can be played individually, or combined together. The theme of this game is pushing – you and your opponent have a pool of Bakelite discs (one set is black, the other white) that you place on the hexagonal board, always starting from a point on the outside edge.

As new pieces are added, they push previously-placed pieces forward, forming a line. If four of the same color of pieces are in one line, the whole line is removed from the board and all the pieces (of both colors) go to the player who completed it.

The goal is to capture enough of your opponent’s pieces that they can no longer place a piece – either by capturing all of them or diminishing their supply so they have all their pieces on the board and none in their pool.

It’s a very simple concept that you would think wouldn’t be all that interesting – but it hides a surprising amount of strategy. Depending on where you place your discs, you can disrupt your opponent’s lines or force them to take their own discs back. You can also force a stalemate of alternating colors so neither of you can recover them. As my group played more, our strategies became more sophisticated.

BUILD QUALITY
The game board itself is thick cardboard that folds in four much like what you see in Arkham Horror/Eldritch Horror. The pieces are made of Bakelite. It’s heavier and more ceramic feeling than the more common ABS plastic. I fell in love with Bakelite through Hive, and GIPF pieces are very nice despite being much smaller. They have a circular groove on top and a ridge underneath to make them easier to stack.

FUN FACTOR
Don’t let the mid-1990’s box art dissuade you – this game is actually quite fun! There isn’t a “theme” to speak of, so if you prefer your games to have a story this one isn’t for you. If however you like a game you can set up and play in about half an hour with lots of thought and strategy I highly recommend it.

10
Go to the Call of Cthulhu 6th Edition page

Call of Cthulhu 6th Edition

95 out of 104 gamers thought this was helpful

INTRO

I’ve had the core rulebook for Call of Cthulhu 6th Edition by Chaosium for a while now, and due to scheduling conflicts I only recently got to play through a game of it. Most of my roleplaying experience thus far has been with Pathfinder RPG and various versions of Dungeons & Dragons, so it’s refreshing to play something that’s not high fantasy or concentrated almost entirely on moving miniature game pieces around a gridded mat.

GAMEPLAY

There are many different flavors of the Call of Cthulhu RPG, each corresponding to a particular time period. All of them deal with monsters and cultists of the Call of Cthulhu Mythos, originally created by H.P. Lovecraft and then expanded upon by many other authors over the years. Lovecraft actively encouraged this, and the mythos has benefitted from it greatly.

The most popular flavor is set in 1920s America, usually somewhere in or around Arkham, Massachusetts. There are adventures that happen everywhere on the globe, but this time period seems and setting seems to be the one most people like to go to because it’s both familiar enough and exotic enough from our time to be interesting.

There are also flavors of Cthulhu set in the 1990s (Cthulhu Now, Delta Green) and the future (CthulhuTech), but they all use the same basic rule set (Basic Role Play or BRP) you get with the core rulebook from Chaosium. This consists of creating an investigator with a set of stats for particular skills, investigating mysteries presented by the Keeper (GameMaster/DungeonMaster) and rolling primarily 10-sided percentile dice to see what happens.

Unlike Pathfinder RPG or modern versions of D&D – there are no miniatures, and whether you use a physical map to explore a location is entirely up to the person running the game. Sometimes the whole game is done entirely in the players’ minds. This can be great if you’re into “theater of the mind” games, and it allows each player to come up with their own vivid and horrifying interpretation of the scene the Keeper presents.

Also different from PFRPG or D&D – dice rolls aren’t a matter of just “success/fail.” You roll dice against your skill level and try to roll under (1 being an automatic success, 100 being an automatic fail), but these don’t come up nine times out of ten. Usually you’re rolling to see how well you succeed or how badly you fail at doing what you want. Consequences can range from “You discover a vital piece of arcana in the trash that lets you control that Shoggoth down the hall!” to “You broke your leg trying to jump to the next building’s roof. You’re now moving much slower and the Star Vampire looks hungry.”

The main focus of the game is investigation rather than combat. You’re presented with a mystery and given a setting in which you can search for clues. Sometimes it’s an old mansion, sometimes it’s a creepy town, or in my case our entire party woke up with amnesia in a hospital with an eerie feeling that something was off.

The monsters and cultists you run into in Call of Cthulhu are often extremely powerful, much more so than your character, so avoiding combat all together is usually the preferred tactic. Also, even looking at some creatures or horrifying events will reduce your sanity points. Lose too many of those and you start to hallucinate, lose more and you go insane (effectively making your character unplayable for the rest of the scenario). Insane characters can get psychiatric help between games, or you can just roll up a new one.

It’s worth noting that Call of Cthulhu can be played with as few as two people – a Keeper and an Investigator. Some RPGs have minimum player requirements that prevent this, but think about it logically – there are lots of lone-wolf investigators out there in the real world. Why not?

Also, the buy-in for playing Call of Cthulhu is extremely cheap compared to some RPGs. Very little is needed other than paper, pencils/pens and a handful of dice. Only one person in your group really needs the Core Rulebook, and the rules are so simple you could probably just borrow one until you have the rules down. There’s not a lot of “let me look that up” in Call of Cthulhu.

FUN FACTOR

There’s a lot of freedom in this game for a creative Keeper to make very interesting scenarios, and since Call of Cthulhu has been out for over thirty years there’s mountains of pre-written scenarios available for it as well. I loved that it was so much about taking on a persona and thinking and acting in the way they would in the situation.

We had one tense moment in my game where one of our players was holding the elevator door open so the last of our party could get in while a shambling monster closed in on us. The rest of us essentially ganged up on him and let the elevator door close before a tentacle could shoot our way and yank someone else out – leaving one player alone with the creature to die a horrible, screaming death. The Keeper commented that it was the most interesting way he’d seen players handle that situation, and even the guy who died said, “That was pretty cool.”

If you’re a fan of “roleplaying” rather than “roll playing,” or if you’re just looking for a palette cleanser between your favorite D&D game nights, you could do a lot worse than Call of Cthulhu. The gameplay mechanics are quite simple and easy to learn, and the world is so rich with possible encounters that you’ll never run out of mysteries to investigate.

7
Go to the Marvel Dice Masters: Avengers vs. X-Men page
25 out of 28 gamers thought this was helpful

INTRO
I stumbled across this game at my FLGS on a routine trip. They had a table of merchandise they had just got in and not put on the shelf yet. Immediately the brightly color box art and *tons* of dice caught my eye. “What’s this?” I asked.

“Something that will sell out in an hour. If you want it, buy it now.” I talked to them about it and it sounded like a dice-builder similar to Quarriors, but with Marvel characters. Let me say up front that I’m not big into superheroes, comic books, or dice/deck-building games. I have a severe allergy to collectible games after being off the Magic: The Gathering wagon for five years (got my chip and everything – it’s right here on my shoulder.)

I looked up the game online and most copies of the starter set were selling for $30USD+. I asked if the MSRP was $29.99, and they laughed. “Half that – it’s $14.99.” At that price, even if I hated it I knew I could flip it on Craigslist to someone who would enjoy it and at least make my money back. So I bought it. The next day I returned and played a marathon of it with one of the employees. We had a blast.

GAMEPLAY
I’m not that familiar with “builder” type games, but after some explanation I started to get the concept. Basically you start with a pool of resources (in this case, plain black-and-white “sidekick” dice) and you roll for the opportunity to either attack/defend (if they come up on the pawn side) or purchase new dice to add to your pile (using the appropriate resource sides).

Every turn you draw four dice from a dice bag, so having more powerful dice in your pool increases your chances you’ll draw them and get to do more damage. Each player starts with 20 health (the demo game in the instructions reduces this to 10 for brevity). Your goal, much like most dueling games, is to reduce your opponent to zero.

Each player has a collection of hero cards and matching hero dice that can be “purchased” if they roll enough resources on their turn. If you roll a hero die you can “field” it by paying the resource cost and use it to attack or defend against your opponent. Once dice are used up they go back into a pile. You keep drawing four dice at a time until you run out – then you dump all your used and newly-purchased dice into your bag and redraw.

BUILD QUALITY
I was surprised at the number of things you get for an entry price of $15USD. You get 44 small dice (13mm, I think) of various colors and designs, one red and one blue dice bag made of a Tyvek-like paper material that’s pretty durable, the rulebook, and 38 cards.

The cards have three different versions of several Marvel heroes – mine came with Spiderman, Thor, Beast, Captain America, Iron Man, The Hulk, Storm, and The Human Torch. I’m not sure if all the starter sets come with the same heroes, or if it’s random. From what I gather, the “boosters” you can buy come with a new hero and two associated special dice. The artwork on the cards is great – exactly what you’d expect from a comic book company. There are also several cards for generic moves you can purchase that stay available for everyone during the game. They have special dice too – red, blue, green and yellow.

There are quite a few choices in cards, so the replay value is pretty good even with just the base set. You can choose a different variant of each of your heroes and a different pool of common moves, giving you a decent number of unique combinations. Also, there are no hard and fast rules for who has which characters – so you can trade those out between games too.

Now the downside – although you do get a good quantity of things for your money, the quality is precisely in line with the price point. The dice are very small and several of mine had some wonky painting on one of the faces. It wasn’t enough to take away from my enjoyment of the game, but it’s clear these are mass-produced to be cheap (the boosters are MSRP $0.99USD). The card stock is very thin and bends easily. I sleeved mine after the first game.

FUN FACTOR
I hate deck-building games with a passion for being boring. Oh boy, I get to take this card now. Your turn! That being said – Marvel Dice Masters managed to hold my attention much longer than I expected. Part of it is the tactile addition of the dice, and the brightly colored pips and symbols that match their characters. There was a lot to stimulate me during the game, and the turns went quickly enough that I was never stuck in limbo while my opponent agonized over what cards (in this case dice) to buy or use.

I admit – I’m sorely tempted to find a game store in my area that still has any of the 99 cent boosters for this game and pick some up. The guys at my FLGS weren’t wrong, though – it’s very popular, perhaps due to the price point, and I’ve not been able to find the boosters anywhere near me yet. Hopefully Marvel/WizKids will ramp up their print runs to meet demand and eventually reach the ubiquity they have with HeroClix and other collectible lines.

It’s collectible, so I’ll have to temper my enthusiasm to avoid getting into the “one more booster” mentality I had with Magic. However if there’s one thing I can say positively about the way Marvel/WizKids approached this game – it’s that the base game and boosters are priced appropriately low for what you get. You don’t have to buy boosters at all and you’ve got a fun game for $15USD. That’s a win, IMO. Your mileage may vary.

EDIT:: I wish I could give a medal to Budgie for his tip about discovering the printable play mats for this game! I played at the store on one of the Marvel-branded ones and it helped me understand the game a lot, but they were so expensive. Problem solved. Thanks Budgie!

5
Go to the Myth page

Myth

142 out of 150 gamers thought this was helpful

INTRO

A buddy of mine bought MYTH after supporting the company’s other Kickstarter, MERCS. We were both excited at the prospect of a board game that boasted the same depth in exploration and character creation as D&D but in board game form. (The actual D&D boardgames are a lot of fun, but they’re a different kind of game.)

After finally getting a group of 4 together and sitting down to play, I don’t see myself buying this game or suggesting we play it again.

GAMEPLAY

MYTH is a dungeon crawler at heart. Each player has a rectangular game board that represents their character. They choose a class, a matching mini, and some starting items (depending on the quest/campaign you’re playing).

The game tries not to take itself too seriously, which I like. You start out with really awful weapons and armor (“Lucky Stick”, “Pot Lid”) and there are quests with names that reference Monty Python and a host of other things. Each of your items and abilities are represented by cards. You have a randomized ability deck you draw from and item cards you lay out on your board.

Exploring is done via several dual-sided game boards. Each has a row of icons along the bottom edge. The icons are basically your GM. They tell you what treasure is in the area, how many enemy spawn points (Lairs) and some information about quests that I didn’t understand, honestly.

The game is very cooperative and American-style, with many rounds and sub-rounds that allow the players to plan out a strategy to take down the swarms of foes that spawn on the maps. At times it looks really bleak, but most of the enemies die with one hit.

Every “hero phase” each person plays cards that represent their hero’s abilities to attack, defend, or buff the party. At the end of the round you discard all your played cards and the cards left in your hand down to 1 card and redraw. I played a caster which meant some of my cards were “ongoing” and stayed in play the whole game. There’s some strategy there because you can only have so many cards in play at a time.

If you play an attack card, you roll d10s and count your successes (anything above your enemy’s “Target Number (TN)”. If you’re a D&D player think of that as AC. You also roll a certain number of special d6s, or “Fate Dice.” If your fate dice match your character’s favored icon, you get special buffs.

The enemies and their abilities are described on cards. Pretty much everything is handled with cards, meaning you can play this one without a GM/Keeper even with two players. There is also a solo variant, but I didn’t read up on the details. I got really bogged down by the rulebook.

The game has probably one of the steepest learning curves I’ve run into for a board game. It’s simpler than learning D&D or Pathfinder RPG for the first time, but we’re talking Eldritch Horror levels of complexity here…or worse. I took a solid hour reading through the rulebook before our first game and even then our host had to explain a lot of it.

BUILD QUALITY

The game comes with lots of interchangeable thick cardboard map tiles, well-sculpted and detailed miniatures for all the heroes and monsters (pre-assembled!) and a ton of cards. The deck quality was good, but not exceptional. They were thicker than the cards included in the D&D boardgames, which was nice. The box had cubbies for everything too, and I’m a big fan of cubbies. I can’t fault the quality of the components for my lack of enjoyment.

FUN FACTOR

I love tabletop RPGs. I also love boardgames. I generally keep the two separate, unless the game is different enough (Wrath of Ashardalon, Legend of Drizzt) that it really is a totally different experience.

MYTH feels like it’s trying to be an analog Diablo-style game. The components are good, there’s a good number of quests and campaigns included in the box, and it plays without a GM. These are all good points – but something about the game just didn’t grab me. It felt like it straddled the line between full-on RPG with minis and board game with card mechanics.

I didn’t enjoy it all that much. It’s one of those games that I’d probably play again if someone else suggested it, but I don’t see myself pulling it off the shelf of my own volition.

1
Go to the Fluxx The Board Game page
71 out of 78 gamers thought this was helpful

INTRO
I’m a big fan of the FLUXX line of card games. They’re fast, simple to learn and have a great sense of humor. Given my enthusiasm for the source game, I figured a board game based on the concept would be fun. It turns out I was wrong.

GAMEPLAY
The game is played on a three-by-three board of tiles, each with four different symbols on them. Everyone starts in the center tile and moves out to the surrounding squares on their turn.

The purpose of the game is to get two of your three tokens onto the right symbols to correspond to the current goal. This should be familiar to players of FLUXX. Instead of having Keeper cards in front of you to win you have to physically move your token to the right spots.

The twists are that the board is constantly changing. You can play cards to rotate the tiles or move them to different spots on the table. Needless to say, the game board doesn’t stay a 3×3 square for long. You can also play cards to bump other players’ tokens back to the beginning or to other (presumably less desirable) locations. Some cards let you “warp” from the end of one tile to the opposite side of another tile.

You also have a peg board with pegs to keep track of what rules are in play. This was probably the only positive thing I can say about the game – it’s both necessary and useful, considering how many bizarre rules are involved with the inclusion of the board.

BUILD QUALITY
You get lots of fiddly bits with this game. There are nine cardboard tiles with various pictures on them that make up the “board.” Each player gets a set of tokens of a different color and shape – red (pawns), blue (meeples), yellow (cubes), and green (cylinders).

You also get a deck of cards, with some familiar (goals, actions, rule changers) and some new (leapers). Each player gets a card with their color and pawn type on it to cut down on confusion.

The pieces are generally well-made, except for the pegs you use to keep track of the rules. They are just a *little* bit too long, and tend to fall out of their holes mid-game.

FUN FACTOR
I did not enjoy this game at all. It seems to appeal to the same kinds of people who like “We Didn’t Playtest This at All” – fans of randomness for the sake of randomness. If that’s your kind of game, by all means pick this one up.

I didn’t feel that the board game really captured the cohesive play style of the card games, it just used the name for brand recognition. The game pieces are fiddly, the rules seem to be purposefully confusing, and the concept is just too weird and abstract for me to grasp. I understand that the creators wanted to make something that was both somewhat familiar but also new and fresh, but it just didn’t work for me. The card games are a great example of simplicity and fun. The board game is anything but.

7
Go to the Ghost Stories page

Ghost Stories

123 out of 130 gamers thought this was helpful

INTRO

I found out about Ghost Stories both through the “explorable cooperative” list here on BoardGaming and through my recommendations on Amazon. I asked about it at my local game store and the owner gave me a wry smile. “It’s a beast,” he said. “Know what you’re getting into.” Turns out, he was right.

GAMEPLAY

In Ghost Stories, you play a team of Taoist monks attempting to hold off invading hordes of ghosts from entering your town and resurrecting the evil lord Wu-Feng. Each color-coordinated monk has a two-sided game board with a different special ability you choose before the game.

The town consists of nine square tiles, placed randomly in a 3×3 grid. Your player boards go on all four edges (yes, even when you play solo). Each tile has a villager and a special ability your monk can use when they’re on that tile. Some abilities have costs – like making you draw another ghost or roll the curse die.

Like most cooperative games there is one way to win and many, many ways to lose. If all the monks die (have 0 Qi tokens) you lose. If 3 villager tiles become haunted, you lose. If you run out of ghosts before you banish Wu-Feng, you lose. The only way to win is to exorcise the incarnation of Wu-Feng when it shows up in the deck.

Player turns have two phases – Yin and Yang. During the Yin phase, the ghosts on a player’s board get to move or use their abilities. If the player’s board is full (has 3 ghosts already) he loses a Qi token. If not, he draws a ghost card and the ghost goes to the board matching its color.

::TIP:: The first time I played this was a two-player game. When you do this, the other two colored player tiles are “neutral,” meaning they don’t have a monk associated with them, but they still get a limited turn. Any ghosts on the card get to move, but you don’t have to draw a ghost on a neutral card’s turn (rulebook page 9). We did this wrong and got overrun way too quickly.

If a monk is standing on a tile next to a ghost, he can try to exorcise it by rolling the Tao dice. Each ghost has a color and a number of symbols on the top left. This is the number needed to get rid of them. The monk either matches it by rolling the right colors, or combining rolls with tokens of the right color. Exorcised ghosts are discarded.

There’s more to the game, but I’d recommend looking for YouTube play through videos to get all the little nuances. It helped us immensely, as the rulebook isn’t the most concise or descriptive.

BUILD QUALITY

In terms of build quality, Ghost Stories falls squarely in the “good, but not great” category. The tiles for the players and the villagers are nice and sturdy (as are the tokens), but the ghost deck feels thin and flimsy. Also, the miniatures for the ghosts and monks just look cheap.

Maybe I’ve been spoiled by minis from Fantasy Flight or the D&D boardgames, but the miniatures in this game really looked like something I could pick up for a nickel from a bin at a toy store. There was no detail to speak of on the monks, and the ghosts were just “meh.”

The version I bought is a multi-lingual release, and the English version of the rulebook isn’t as clear as it could be. Some of it just reads awkwardly. Imagine Yoda reading rules to you – “The Blue Taoist may request twice the villager’s help.” For a simple game, this wouldn’t be a problem. Ghost Stories isn’t simple. The rule book could definitely benefit from a revision.

Also, many people on BoardGameGeek have complained that their Tao dice (the white/gray dice with colored dots on them) have come out of the box sticky. Sadly, I was no exception. The dice felt like they had some sort of glue or leftover sealer on them. It wouldn’t be a big deal if the game didn’t rely so heavily on fair dice rolls – sticky dice just don’t bounce correctly. I contacted Asmodee customer service to see what they could do. UPDATE I have a new set of dice coming in the mail. Thanks, Asmodee!

It’s not all doom and gloom, though. The artwork on the tiles and cards is very cool and the entire game is extremely colorful. It makes a real visual impact when it’s all set up.

FUN FACTOR

Ghost Stories is extremely strategic. Yes, a lot of the game relies on lucky die rolls, but you can just as easily win or lose from bad strategy decisions. You’re going to have to invest some time studying the game before you can effectively play and beat it. This isn’t a game you can win accidentally on a round of lucky rolls. Some players may be turned off by this.

Like a lot of cooperatives, it is playable as a solo game. This lets you try out strategies before you get together with your buddies and try to maximize your chances at winning. The number of ghosts scales for the number of players. As a solo game, I enjoy it about as much as Elder Sign. I’ll pick it up on a rainy day, but it’s not something I look forward to doing every night.

Okay, so I’ve been pretty hard on the game so far. Let me just clarify something – I *really* enjoy playing Ghost Stories. It’s a very interesting and involved cooperative game with lots of replay value and a great, fully-explored theme.

Sure, my success rate so far is 0 for 4, but I don’t feel as though my losses were the result of cheap game mechanics designed to “get” the player. I think of Ghost Stories like some of the NES games I played as a kid – hard, but beatable with enough practice.

If you’ve explored all you can explore in Forbidden Island, wiped out all the viruses in Pandemic and you’re itching for a new cooperative challenge – this is your game. You’re going to spend a lot of time trying to master it, die a lot, but have a good time regardless.

4
Go to the Frag Gold Edition: FTW page
14 out of 16 gamers thought this was helpful

INTRO

Considering most of my collection consists of Steve Jackson’s card games (Munchkin in particular) I was a little confused when the local Steve Jackson rep at my game store decided to demo FRAG for us one weekend.

FRAG is essentially a first-person-shooter game on a board. There’s not much more that needs to be explained – it’s that simple of a concept. The “FTW” expansion adds a new game board, new tokens and a couple new weapons cards. I’m just going to talk about the base game in this review, as FTW doesn’t change much about it.

GAMEPLAY

If you’ve ever played or watched someone play an FPS game on a console (Halo, Quake, Call of Duty, etc) then you know what to expect from FRAG. Players choose a colored token, draw a set of starting weapon and armor cards and then “spawn” their pieces on the board.

You move your mini around the board (they look like tiny, generic space marines) and try to attack people by rolling a certain number of standard 6-sided dice. Depending on the weapon card you’re using and the armor card your opponent has equipped, your attack may frag (kill) the person or may just wound them. You also have to keep track of ammunition.

There are pre-drawn spawn points for characters and gear, and the map has lots of corridors, open areas and rooms. Some of the rooms have gauntlet-like twisty passages for cover and one-way doors. There are also acid traps that cause damage when you walk through them. The main game board is two-sided and you can get new boards.

The game plays pretty quick and simply – you pick up items and shoot at whoever is closest to you. Different weapons have a different blast radius, so there’s a chance you can hit two people at once. Fragged players lose their gear (and leave a numbered bloodstain token), then respawn randomly at the numbered points on the board from a die roll. You can walk over the blood stains and pick up the dead player’s equipment. The first person with five frags wins.

BUILD QUALITY

The board is sturdy, but I’m not sure about the quality of the cards. The version we played had all the cards in thick sleeves, which either means the owner just liked to take care of his stuff or they were flimsy and needed protection.

The tokens were representative of the theme, but nothing special. If you’ve seen one space marine you’ve seen them all. The game comes with six d6 dice, but our SJ rep had several sets so each player could have their own to roll.

FUN FACTOR
This one is heavily dependent on the players. I never really enjoyed FPS games much. I have played my fair share and I think I’m qualified to say that FRAG distills the FPS formula quite well into board game form.

That’s probably why I didn’t enjoy it – I felt like I was playing a board game version of Halo or Quake Arena. There were no missions, no story to speak of, just players running around killing each other and picking up gear.

If you want to get a bunch of buddies together with a case and play a simple “slaughter the other guy” game around the table then by all means, this is your game. I just don’t see the draw for anyone else.

9
Go to the Space Hulk: Death Angel – The Card Game page
169 out of 177 gamers thought this was helpful

INTRO
I found out about Space Hulk: Death Angel through the “explorable cooperative games” list here on the site. I had seen it before at my local game store, but it had a tiny box and was priced kind of low so I wasn’t sure if it was any good. After reading some reviews, I finally picked it up. I’m very glad that I did.

GAMEPLAY

Space Hulk: Death Angel is set in the Warhammer 40K universe, which just gives a little flavor to the game. You don’t have to know anything about Warhammer to understand the premise – you’re a battalion of heavily-armored space marines tasked with clearing an alien infestation out of a derelict ship (the eponymous “Space Hulk”) one floor at a time.

Because your marines are in huge, unwieldy armor, you can only move through the station’s many tight corridors in a single-file line, attacking enemies on your left or the right. This sets up the main gameplay mechanic.

You explore the ship by rolling a custom die and drawing cards. Space Hulk is a Fantasy Flight game, so there are obvious similarities to their other dice-and-cards titles like Elder Sign. More on that later.

You can play this one by yourself or with up to 3 other people. The number of marines and locations scales accordingly. Your goal is to move through each location and clear out one of the two “blip piles” (draw decks of aliens) that sit on the left and right side of your line of marines. Once either one is empty you move to the next location, until you reach the final area – which spawns a boss alien.

Players choose their squads from a color-coded deck. Each squad has two marines and three action cards. In a 2-player game you control two squads a piece, or four marines per player.

Your marines line up randomly top-to-bottom. The top four face left, and the bottom four face right. Order and facing can change throughout the game. Each location has specific terrain features (air vent, dark corner, long corridor) that you place next to the marines according to the icons on the current location card. Aliens spawn from these points.

Each turn, players choose one of their 3 action cards to play for each squad they control. If you had Red Squad and Gray Squad, you’d pick one action for each, and put a token on that action. This reminds you next round what you chose, because you can’t perform the same action twice in a row.

You can attack, support or move/activate. Attack means rolling the die and hoping for a number with a skull on it (1-3). Support actions vary depending on the squad, but it might mean an extra attack or special defense. Move lets you turn your marines to face the other direction or move them up or down in the column order. Activate is used for doors, control panels or other special cards that let you interact with them.

Once the marines are done, the aliens attack any marine directly to their left or right. Defending players have to roll a number greater than the number of attacking aliens, or they die and get removed from the game. The column of marines shifts up or down to fill in the hole. Finally, you turn over the action deck which spawns more aliens and gives some other nasty effect.

If you’re familiar with Elder Sign, this game will make sense pretty quickly. Just replace “action deck” with “Mythos deck” and think of the locations as rooms. Death Angel can be just as unforgiving, too.

You’re going to die a lot more often than you succeed. Although there is a good amount of strategy from choosing tactics and moving marines, it all ultimately boils down to lucky/unlucky dice rolls. If that isn’t your style, consider yourself warned.

BUILD QUALITY

Fantasy Flight is known for high-quality games, and Death Angel is no exception. The decks are sturdy matte-finished like the “tarot” cards in Elder Sign and the tokens are thick cardboard. The box holds everything nicely, despite it’s size. There’s a lot of game in that tiny box.

There is one pretty major flaw in the production quality, though – the manual is very poorly-written. It introduces complicated terms early on and says “go to this page for an explanation,” so it forces you to do a lot of skipping back and forth. The steps aren’t explained clearly and the gameplay examples don’t help. The only good thing in the manual is the quick-reference guide on the back, and it’s only helpful after you learn how to play.

I recommend reading through it once just for familiarity and then watching a gameplay video on YouTube. Seeing it played really helped things “click” for me. It’s not as complicated a game as the manual makes it sound.

FUN FACTOR

Once we figured out how to play it, my group really enjoyed Death Angel. It’s tense, quick to set up and the theme is well-explored. Our first game was about an hour and a half, and we only won because we fudged a some dice rolls along the way. (For a learning run-through I don’t consider that a mortal sin.) I look forward to seeing how it plays with different numbers of players.

Also, since the location deck is randomized each time there’s a good bit of replay value to the game. The corridors will never look exactly the same from one game to the next. There are a couple of inexpensive booster packs that add more cards as well.

If you’re a fan of dice-rolling card games with good themes – and don’t mind dying more often than winning – this is an excellent addition to your collection. It certainly doesn’t hurt that it’s half the price of some of its Fantasy Flight siblings, and the box fits in the space of a paperback book.

9
Go to the Forbidden Island page

Forbidden Island

88 out of 95 gamers thought this was helpful

INTRO

Forbidden Island was the first cooperative game I ever played, and it’s still one of my favorites. I grew up playing competitive kinds of games (and still enjoy them), so the idea of working together against a hostile game intrigued me. I can’t think of any better title to introduce new players to the concept – and it’s extremely inexpensive to boot.

GAMEPLAY

In Forbidden Island, you play as explorers trying to collect the island’s four treasures and make it back to the helipad to escape. Trouble is, the island is gradually sinking into the sea. In between your turns, parts of the island will flood. If left untended, they’ll sink and become impassable. You have to carefully plan your actions each turn to keep important sections above water and assure you have a viable escape route.

Each player gets a job, randomly drawn from the Job Deck. Optionally you can let everyone pick a job – but I find it’s more fun when you don’t know what you’re going to be. Every job has special abilities unique to it. The Pilot can move straight to any place on the island without having to waste moves walking there, the Diver can move across open water (tiles that have sunk and been removed), the engineer can shore up two flooded tiles for one move, etc. Players have a little wooden pawn that color-matches their job, and each one starts in a different but specific location.

The island is represented by a series of 24 square tiles with location names on them. One side is in full color, and the other is washed out. The tiles start color-side-up, but as you draw locations from the Flood Deck they flip to the washed out side. If a location is already flooded when its card is drawn, it sinks (gets removed from the game). When a tile is removed, you also remove its card – so the flood deck gets smaller and smaller as you go along. Sunken tiles are gone for good, but flooded tiles can be “shored up” (flipped back to the color side) by player actions or special cards.

Players choose three actions per turn – move around the island, collect treasures, or shore up flooded tiles. After your turn you draw three cards from the Treasure deck. To pick up a treasure, you need to get three matching treasure cards and move to a tile that has that treasure’s icon. Each treasure only has two locations it can be collected, so if both of them sink, you all lose.

Hidden in the Treasure Deck are “Waters Rise” cards, which raise the water level counter and make you have to draw more flood cards between turns. If the water level reaches the top, you all lose. You also get “Helicopter Lift” and “Sandbag” cards that can be used at any time without using an action.

There’s a good sense of urgency to the game, between the shrinking flood deck, the rising water level and your limited number of actions per turn. Things can get tense when you’re only one or two tiles away from being cut off from the helipad, or the last treasure location is about to sink.

BUILD QUALITY

I was pleasantly surprised at the high quality of the pieces for this game, especially considering how little I paid for it (around $15USD at my local Barnes & Noble). The game comes in a sturdy, colorful tin with excellent little cubbies to keep everything secure. The cards have a durable matte finish and the island tiles are drink-coaster-thick. Even the plastic treasure tokens are solid and look like they can take a beating. The box takes up very little space too, so it’s a good one to bring to a friend’s house.

FUN FACTOR

You might think that a game with so many ways to die would be depressing, but Forbidden Island manages to keep it all lighthearted and fun. This is probably one of the easiest cooperative games I play, so I like to pull it out for people who are new to cooperatives or just gaming in general. It’s not as long as something like Pandemic, the rules are simple, and everyone usually gets the hang of it pretty quickly.

Since the configuration of the island changes every time (and so can the jobs) there’s a lot of replay value here. You shouldn’t have much trouble at the easy difficulty, but I’m still challenged by Elite even after dozens of play-throughs. Cooperative games by their nature encourage talking and sharing strategy, so this is a good social game – just be careful not to dictate to new players.

It’s easy to let one experienced person “suggest” the best course of action to everyone. I’ve caught myself doing this. It’s much more fun when everyone gets a chance to pick their path – even if it’s the “wrong” one. Take it as a challenge to work around less experienced players’ choices instead.

6
Go to the Chez Geek:  House Party Edition page
14 out of 14 gamers thought this was helpful

INTRO

Chez Geek is by Steve Jackson games, makers of Munchkin. It’s a card game about roommates with menial jobs trying to get food, get paid, get high and get…”nookie.” It goes without saying that this isn’t a kid-friendly or elderly-parent-friendly game (unless your parents were hippies). Just FYI: I have the “House Party Edition” of this game which includes two small expansions, which has a lot of cards. I’m not sure how many were included in the base game.

GAMEPLAY

The goal of Chez Geek is to accumulate “slack points.” You do this by playing cards that represent food, activities or items. You can also accumulate (or lose) slack by having different people visit your room or your opponents’ rooms. The game includes a small deck of jobs, a huge deck of activities and items, a single six-sided die, and a pile of numbered chips that help you keep track of your scores.

Everyone gets assigned a random job from the deck at the beginning of the game. Each job has a salary, a certain amount of free time, and a slack goal. This is the number you need to win. You might be a fast-food worker, a tech support guy, a lawyer, or even a drummer. Usually the ones with higher salaries have less free time and vice-versa.

You all get five cards to start, and after your turn you draw up to a maximum of six. On your turn you can play cards on yourself or other people. Your salary and free time determine what you can do. If your job gives you a salary of three, you can “go shopping” and play as many item or food cards as you want, as long as their total cost is less than or equal to three.

Free time works the same way – you can spend your free time equal to or less than what your job card allows. Some activities cost no money (like the “nookie” cards) and some cost both free time and money (“go to a sci-fi convention”). Every card you play has a slack rating. Each turn you can shop (play as many item/food cards as you want) and use your free time (play activities).

As a separate action you can also send bad people to other rooms, or try to lure good people to yours. You roll a die, and on a 4 or better the good person comes to your room. Some people move around depending on other factors (like the room with the most booze or weed). Bad people require no checks – they just show up wherever you send them.

Like other Steve Jackson games, on other players’ turns you also have a chance make everything go horribly wrong for them. You can cancel activities, play cards that make them discard items or food (such as the “Visit from Parents” which makes the target discard all their booze and weed cards). If another player has a job with a very low slack score (making it easier for them to win), you can play a card that gets them fired. The options for messing up your opponents are pretty broad.

Because of the liberal mention of booze, weed, cigarettes and “nookie,” I don’t recommend this game for young kids or particularly conservative players.

FUN FACTOR

With the right group or the right amount of alcohol, this game can be hilarious the first few times you play it. Unfortunately for me, the jokes got stale after about the fourth play-through. I wasn’t much of a party/drug/booze/“nookie” person in college so it’s only fun to pretend for so long. That being said, the gameplay is different enough from Munchkin but still retains the Steve Jackson Sense of Humor (TM).

6
Go to the Super Munchkin page

Super Munchkin

15 out of 15 gamers thought this was helpful

INTRO

Munchkin is the signature game of designer Steve Jackson. It put him and his company on the map, and it’s had very broad appeal. It was the game that got me into board and card games, and new flavors of it come out all the time. Super Munchkin was one of the earliest themed sets of Munchkin cards, along with Star Munchkin. It’s all about superheroes, villains and over-the-top comic book powers. The “gameplay” section below describes *every* version of Munchkin, so if you already know the game, skip to the “Special for this Version” section.

GAMEPLAY

All Munchkin games play pretty much identically. They’re so similar you can mix the cards together from almost any set and they’ll work. Every set comes with two decks of cards (doors and treasures) and one six-sided die. The goal of the game is to reach Level 10 before anyone else. You gain levels several ways – combat, using special “Go Up A Level” cards, and selling your treasure.

Everyone starts as a regular human (or munchkin) at Level 1. You get four cards from the door deck, and four cards from the treasure deck. If you have any armor, weapons, classes, races, or special items you can use, you put them down immediately in front of you. If you still have more than five cards in your hand, you have to discard to five.

Items, armor and weapons have bonus numbers on them, like the “+2 Broadsword (only usable by females).” These get added to your level when you fight monsters. You can wear one piece of armor, one headgear and one footgear at a time. You can use as many weapons as you have hands (usually two, but there are extra hand cards!) Weapons tell you if they’re one or two-handed on the bottom.

On your turn you kick open a door (draw from the door deck) and handle whatever comes out. If the card is a monster you either fight it or run away. To run away you roll the die and hope for a 5 or 6. Otherwise the “bad stuff” listed on the monster’s card happens to you.

You fight monsters by having a higher combat score than them. Every monster has a level above their name (“Level 8 – Gazebo”). Your combat score is whatever level you’re currently on, plus any equipment or special items you’re using. You have to beat the level of the monster – you lose on a tie unless you have a special card that tells you otherwise.

If you beat the monster, your level goes up and you draw as many treasures as the monster’s card says. Some treasures have money values on them. You can trade in any number of these that add up to 1,000 or more (sorry, no change!) and buy another level. You can’t buy Level 10, though. You must win that last level through combat.

After your turn, you don’t just sit idly by. You can use certain cards against the other players to make them lose combat, lose gear, lose levels, and have all sorts of other horrible things happen to them. With a “Wandering Monster” card you can even toss on extra monsters that they have to fight on top of the one they drew.

SPECIAL FOR THIS VERSION

If you’ve played Munchkin before you’re probably just curious what’s different about Super Munchkin. The theme is superheroes, so all the cards are comic-book appropriate. You have Powers (like Munchkin Bites) but also “Origins” which you can play on other people or yourself. I haven’t encountered many of these so honestly I’m not clear on how they work. They’re always positive, though, unlike traps (“curses”). You can have a sidekick, which works like minions in the other Munchkin games. Some sidekicks you can “sell” like Items, but you can only have one active sidekick at a time.

FUN FACTOR

I’ve played most of the themed Munchkins, and this one isn’t my favorite. It’s cute, and the theme works – it’s just not a stand-out flavor in my opinion. It doesn’t change the gameplay of regular Munchkin at all (unlike the more drastic changes in Munchkin Apocalypse). It’s Munchkin with superheroes – nothing more, nothing less. Like other reviewers, I found the balance in this game to be heavily in the players’ favor. You get lots of bonuses very quickly, especially if you don’t have very many players. Games can go pretty quick. I plan on trying out the expansion “The Narrow S-Cape” and I’ll amend this review when I do. I want to see if it evens out the difficulty like the “Pants Macabre” expansion did for Munchkin Bites.

EXPANSION UPDATE I bought and mixed in the “Narrow S-Cape” expansion. It adds a new class – The Brain, and new items – capes. Unlike other gear, you can wear as many capes as you want. I still feel like the game really needs more players to be balanced. For this one, the 3-6 rating isn’t just a suggestion.

5
Go to the Ticket to Ride page

Ticket to Ride

44 out of 53 gamers thought this was helpful

INTRO
I was introduced to Ticket to Ride by my friend’s father, who is really big into both model trains and board games. It was a natural progression for him. I’d seen the Tabletop episode with it, so I was familiar enough not to be confused when he pulled it out one evening after dinner. Although not my favorite, Ticket to Ride remains one of the only European-style games I’m willing to play.

GAMEPLAY
In Ticket to Ride you play as railroad barons attempting to build the most routes on a map of the United States. Alternately, you want to try and get the longest continuous route as well because there are bonus points at the end for the player who achieves it. You get point values depending on the length of your route (measured in train tokens). Play ends when the first person gets down to their last three trains. Then everyone gets a final round before points are tallied. Highest wins.

You start out with a hand of cards (each with a different colored train engine on it) and three train tickets. The tickets describe a route, such as “Quebec to Chicago” and a point value. If you are able to make this route by the end of the game, you get those points. Longer routes are worth more. The downside is – if you can’t connect those cities you lose that many points in the end. You can choose to keep all three tickets or discard down to one. It’s a gamble.

Players choose a color, and everyone gets a pile of trains in that color. The possible routes on the map also have colors, and some are gray (meaning any color). These have nothing to do with the color of your train, but rather the color of card required to build the route. For example, you need three yellow train cards to build on a yellow train route. There are also wild train cards that have rainbow trains. Obviously they work with any route.

Each turn, players can do one of two things – change out cards or lay down trains. They can only perform one of the actions per turn. You can draw two cards from the draw deck (which is facedown) or swap two cards in your hand from a rotating pool of five cards that are face up. You can build a route (lay down trains) if you have enough cards that match the route’s color.

BUILD QUALITY

The board is sturdy, the little train pieces are well-made and the cards are durable. My only real complaint about the game is that the cards themselves are tiny. They get lost in an average adult’s hands. Think of your average business card – they’re smaller than that.

The artwork on the board and the cards is very well done. It fits the theme and it’s very colorful. There’s a minimum amount of reading involved (none, really – everything is color-coded) so the game is pretty accessible to young kids provided they know how to add. With an adult to handle their points, that’s not an issue.

FUN FACTOR

Here’s where my opinion differs from most people. I don’t find this game particularly fun. It’s less fiddly than Monopoly or Risk, but it falls squarely in that same category of “games I’ll play, but never ASK to play.” The concept is solid, the game is pretty, but the gameplay is very shallow.

There’s only minimal strategy involved, basically confined to whether you hoard up your cards and build a huge route or try to block off strategic smaller routes against your opponents. It all boils down basically to “draw a card, place some trains, wash, rinse, repeat.”

There’s also no real player-to-player interaction. Sure, you might hear a curse or two when you block off someone’s planned route but at its core Ticket to Ride is a race game, where you’re really only competing with the game. Everyone does their own thing until it’s over.

Personally, I prefer games where I’m actively engaged with the other players. I wouldn’t turn down a game of Ticket to Ride in the future, but I won’t buy a copy for myself or make any special effort to play it.

1
Go to the We Didn't Playtest This At All page
49 out of 55 gamers thought this was helpful

INTRO

I bought this game blind on the recommendation of my friendly local game store owner. Usually he’s spot on, so I didn’t feel bad just picking it up with no research beforehand. As it turns out, everyone gives bad advice sometimes.

BUILD QUALITY

It seems like the publishers of this game purposefully made it look and feel cheap and poorly-made. If that was indeed their goal, bravo. It looks worse than the print-and-play version of Cards Against Humanity I made a while back. The box was warped when I bought it, and the cards felt flimsy and cheap. The fonts were practically Comic Sans (one card actually was in Comic Sans…that was the joke).

GAMEPLAY

The best comparison I can make with WDPTAA is that it plays similarly to FLUXX – you start with two cards, and each turn you draw one, then play one. Like FLUXX, games can end very quickly and the things the cards ask you to do are often very silly.

Unfortunately for me, I didn’t enjoy WDPTAA like I do the various flavors of FLUXX. The win conditions are so arbitrary and random that there’s no real strategy to the game at all. Someone might win by playing a card that says “You win because you’re the only player with red hair.” or they might win by default because someone else forgot they weren’t allowed to touch their nose.

I can’t say enough how completely random and strange these cards are. One card told me to touch my nose and slowly count to three. When I was done, anyone also touching their nose was out. Another card said the same thing, except anyone NOT touching their nose was out. I lost on that card because someone else had played a card forbidding us to point at each other (or ourselves)…thus I pointed at myself and lost.

The game says it’s for 2-10 players, but it will only last longer than thirty seconds if you have 3 or more. This is not a good 2-player game because players get eliminated far too quickly. With 2 players, you’ll spend more time reshuffling cards between games than actually playing.

If arbitrary silliness is your idea of a fun game, grab some vodka and have at it. I just found the concept far too random and absurd for me. It just wasn’t fun. It was like playing Simon Says with a three year old who keeps changing the rules on you.

6
Go to the Gloom page

Gloom

37 out of 42 gamers thought this was helpful

INTRO
Like many of you I first heard about Gloom through Will Wheaton’s YouTube show Tabletop. The group of people he gathered for that game were great storytellers and they really did a good job of selling me on how much fun it could be with the right people. I had no idea how necessary that last part was until I’d played it myself.

GAMEPLAY

Gloom is a macabre card game where each player takes on a family of five people, each with their own particular quirk. Throughout the course of the game, you’ll play cards to make bad things happen to your family and good things happen to the other players. The goal is to torture your family members until their self-worth score is as low as you can get it, and then kill them.

Other players will try to raise that score or kill off members early to keep your score high, because the player with the lowest self-worth score in the end wins the game. The game ends when all the members of one family are dead. It should go without saying that this isn’t a game for everyone.

The artwork is very much in the style of Edward Gorey, and the things that happen to your characters are usually alliterative (“Pestered by Poltergeists,” “Mocked by Midgets,” “Ruined by Rum”). Despite the dark theme the creators have done a good job at trying to ensure this is a silly game, not to be taken seriously.

BUILD QUALITY

This usually doesn’t enter into the equation with card games. Card stock is pretty standard. However the cards that make up Gloom are transparent plastic which allows them to be stacked on top of each other and still see the underlying card. It works quite well in-game. Not to mention the cards themselves shuffle very easily since they’re slightly more flexible than regular playing cards.

FUN FACTOR

This game relies heavily on the people you play with to make it fun. The game mechanics by themselves are average and not terribly interesting. Where the game really shines is when you have a group of people who make up back stories for their family and come up with interesting reasons for playing cards on them and the other players. This is a double-edged sword, because in my personal experience I have yet to find that one awesome group. Usually there’s one or two people who really get into it and the rest just play the cards straight without any explanation.

Gloom also requires you to have a macabre sense of humor to keep it from being downright depressing. The whole concept of torturing and eventually killing everyone in your family isn’t exactly Saturday morning cartoon upbeat. Couple the dark theme with unenthusiastic players and it can be a recipe for disaster.

BOTTOM LINE

I enjoyed the first few times I played Gloom, but the folks in my regular game group tired of it quickly. After a string of boring and depressing games with the wrong group of people I’m a lot less likely to pull it out. If you have a gaming group full of creative types that like to weave a story on the spot – get this. Otherwise consider other games that will let you “just play” without being tedious.

4
Go to the Power Grid page

Power Grid

50 out of 57 gamers thought this was helpful

INTRO

Power Grid is responsible for very nearly turning me off to tabletop games in a single sitting. I was pulled into a game when my group met at someone’s house and the host decided unilaterally to pull this out. Full disclosure: I find Euro-style games extremely tedious and boring, so if you’re a fan of resource gathering and managing little wooden fiddly bits, take this with a grain of salt.

GAMEPLAY
Power Grid is a Euro-style resource management game wherein you take on the role of a power magnate trying to build out as many power plants to as many cities as you can and control the market in your areas of influence. Each turn you all bid for new plants (maximum of 3), upgrade your existing ones or just hold onto your money for buying resources.

Depending on the type of power plant you have (coal, nuclear, oil, trash) you can then purchase fuel for that plant. Only fueled plants give you money in the final round, so it’s good to stock up. Nuclear powers the most areas, but the fuel (uranium) can get expensive. Wind plants require no fuel but usually have a very low number of areas they can power. You have to balance your money, powered areas and fuel.

You then pick where you want to build your plants on the map, paying a different amount depending on the phase of the game (earlier phases cost less money). Finally, you get paid for the number of areas you were able to power and the whole round starts over again.

Bored yet? I sure was. There’s lots more that goes into each phase, such as determining player order (which changes every turn). If you really want to know the little details you can download the rules off the Rio Grande Games website. It didn’t help that when I played this, I played it with the full complement of six players, two of whom spent forever deciding what to do on their turns. The bidding portion took up much longer than I thought it should as well. It took all my strength to give it a chance and sit through a whole 2.5 hour game without gnawing my arm off.

BUILD QUALITY
Everything about this game is well-made, from the sturdy board down to the little fiddly wooden tokens. The fonts were clear and the style fit the theme very well. I can’t complain about the quality of the game itself. It will stand up to some abuse.

FUN FACTOR
This isn’t a game for me. I felt horrible by the second turn and it only got worse. It must have showed, because the host asked me several times if I was feeling sick. When I realized Power Grid was a resource management game, I groaned and muttered something about hating Euros. They kind of joked with me after it was done, asking if I “still hated it.” That was a resounding yes. This game was just no fun at all for me. I saw no redeeming qualities that would ever make me want to play it again, much less purchase a copy for myself. Your mileage may vary.

8
Go to the Love Letter page

Love Letter

60 out of 67 gamers thought this was helpful

INTRO

I picked up Love Letter at the suggestion of my friendly local game store owner. He assured me that despite the fact it came in a velvet pouch and featured princesses that it was a fun game. It didn’t hurt that it’s extremely portable and very inexpensive to boot.

GAMEPLAY

Love Letter is a game of elimination, played in several rounds. You play suitors trying to get your eponymous “love letter” to the Princess before the other players. You do this with 16 cards that represent different people in the royal court. Each person has a special ability and an influence score. The higher the influence, the closer that person is to the Princess. (The Princess herself is a card too – with the highest score in the game.)

Everyone is dealt one card to start each round. On your turn you draw another card, and then discard one of them face-up in front of you. Generally speaking, you want to discard the lower numbered person and keep the higher because whoever has the highest influence at the end of the round wins a token. There’s a different number of tokens required to win depending on the number of players.

I say “generally speaking” because there’s actually a lot of strategy to this game. Sometimes you don’t want to discard the lower card because it would tip off people at the table that you have something higher. There are only a certain number of each type of person in the deck, and everyone gets a little reference card telling them how many along with the special abilities of each card.

For instance, if you discard the Countess (influence 7) then the rest of the table knows you have one of three people – the King, the Prince or the Princess herself. The Countess can’t be caught with the King or Prince (a cute mechanic) so you have to discard her, and if you’re the Princess you must discard your other card or lose the round. This lets the other players guess your person and possibly knock you out.

Playing a Guard card let you guess who other players have in their hand. They’re the easiest way to knock someone out. You can theoretically play these and make a wild guess to win. They’re the lowest scoring card in the game, so it’s always best to play them.

There are a number of ways to win and lose a round. If another player guesses the card in your hand, or wins a “compare hands” card check, you’re out. The round continues until all but one player is eliminated or you run out of cards. In the latter case, whoever has the highest influence card wins.

BUILD QUALITY

The game has decent quality cards, and the velvet pouch has held up to a lot of abuse from being thrown into bags, boxes, or whatever I had handy. It’s a very portable game. I sleeved the cards for my deck just for added durability. My only real complaint about the components are the “tokens of affection,” which are really just tiny red wooden cubes. Everything else in the game matches the theme quite nicely, but these just seemed too abstract. I’ll likely replace them with tiny hearts or something more representative in the future.

FUN FACTOR

Considering this a game about love and court intrigue, I didn’t expect to like it. I’ve played it several times with different groups (including all men, and a night with my parents) and it went over well with everyone so far…once they played a hand or two. The mechanics are quick to pick up and there’s plenty of room for back-stabbing and competitive play.

I got my copy for about ten bucks, so the return on investment was great. This isn’t a particularly deep game, but it does make a great pick-up-and-go romp on trips or in between other longer games.

3
Go to the Phase 10 page

Phase 10

48 out of 54 gamers thought this was helpful

INTRO
I was introduced to Phase 10 at a friend’s house as an in-between, “change of pace” game after Ticket to Ride and before Elder Sign. She and her family had played the game for years, and I was completely new to it. I knew it existed – I’d seen it hanging next to UNO at Target, but I’d never played it. After a nearly two hour ordeal, I wish I were still oblivious.

GAMEPLAY
Phase 10 is a trick-taking round-based card game where you build your deck and try to come up with the right combination of cards to complete your current “phase.” There are ten of these and they might say “3 of one color” or “A sequential set five cards long.” You count up points at the end of each round and you’re scored like golf – points are bad, less is better. You get a point value for each card remaining in your hand.

The folks I played with had been through this game so many times they were actually pretty bad at explaining the rules. They just “knew” certain rules by heart. I was tossed into the deep end, so to speak, with them trying to explain rounds, phases, point values, what the special cards did, and all sorts of minutiae that had my head spinning before our first hands were dealt.

If you like old-fashioned, traditional card games like gin, rummy, canasta, bridge or cribbage – this is for you. If like me you need something OTHER than “traditional” to hold your interest – run for your life. It only goes downhill from here.

The game lasted almost two hours, and I was ready to rage-quit by about the second round. Games like this just bore me to the point of anger. There’s no point to them, IMO, other than collecting cards to do some seemingly arbitrary thing.

It was also frustrating for me because as a new player my scores were generally very high (which is bad), and by about the third or fourth round the more experienced players were so far below me in points that I had no chance of winning. It became a waiting game of “are we done yet?”

BOTTOM LINE
This may just be a case of “wrong game for me.” Phase 10 has been around for a long time so obviously someone enjoys it. I just find abstract, trick-taking card games to be extremely boring. This is very much that kind of game, so your enjoyment will hinge on that.

9
Go to the Pathfinder: Core Rulebook page
71 out of 80 gamers thought this was helpful

INTRO

I’m not going to do a full-on review of the Pathfinder RPG, since others have done it many times over. Rest assured, I love it and it’s a wonderful game system. I want to talk specifically about the Core Rulebook by Paizo in this review.

WHAT IS THIS BOOK?

If you’re new to tabletop RPGs, I very strongly recommend you pick up the Pathfinder Beginner Box first before buying this book. It gives you an excellent, easier-to-swallow tutorial of how to play the game along with all the pieces and tutorials for a step-by-step welcome into the Pathfinder world.

The Core Rulebook is a reference book. It has exhaustive rules describing just about any scenario that might happen in the game, from character creation rules to combat rules and how you interact with the environment. Everything is presented in a well-organized, indexed fashion with great flavor artwork spread around and helpful diagrams.

If you ever decide to start up your own Pathfinder group, or go to an organized game like Pathfinder Society (which I find very fun and highly recommend!) you’ll want a copy of this book handy just to make sure you’re playing things right. Usually if you’re meeting with an established group someone at the table will already have a copy. Also – if you’re not keen on the physical book you can get the Core Rulebook in PDF for very cheap ($9.99USD last I checked) directly from Paizo.com.

WHAT THE BOOK ISN’T

The Core Rulebook tells you how to play the game, but it doesn’t give you adventures, scenarios or dungeon maps you can play through. That’s where Adventure Paths and Modules come in. The Starter Box has a small Adventure Path (Black Fang’s Dungeon) that you can run through to get a feel for what a game of Pathfinder is like, but the Core Rulebook is just rules.

Adventure Paths are available on Paizo’s website both in print and PDF format, and you can draw out the dungeons on graph paper or a 1inch-by-1inch gridded piece of poster board. Most game stores sell “flip mats” with all this on a surface that’s dry-erase friendly so you can reuse the same grid over and over.

You don’t have to buy any of this if you just want to play with an established group. Paizo’s website has lists of places you can play with a Pathfinder Society group and all you really need is a copy of this book, some dice and (maybe) a miniature for your character.

BOTTOM LINE

I don’t want to discourage people from picking up the Core Rulebook – it’s a very useful book with beautiful artwork and sturdy binding. I keep it handy and read specific sections to beef up my knowledge of the game between campaigns. However don’t pick it up thinking it’s all you need to start a dungeon crawl with your buddies. For that, you’ll need more. I think once you play through a game, either at a Society meeting or with the Beginner Box, you’re definitely going to want more.

9
Go to the Boss Monster page

Boss Monster

116 out of 126 gamers thought this was helpful

INTRO

I discovered Boss Monster at a tabletop meet up and immediately fell in love with it. The gameplay is simple, the theme is incredibly nostalgic for me, and the cards are very funny. Not bad for a company’s first ever product.

GAMEPLAY
In Boss Monster you play as, well, a boss monster at the end of an 8-bit/16-bit era video game dungeon crawler. Your goal is to build out your dungeon one room card at a time and kill off 10 heroes before your opponents do, or you sustain five hits and the heroes kill you.

Each round goes in phases. First, you reveal a number of heroes from the “town” (the pile of hero cards) equal to the number of players you have (2 players = 2 heroes), then you place a room card facedown to the left of your boss, so that your boss is the last room the heroes see. Everyone reveals their room cards at the same time.

Once the rooms are revealed it’s time to entice the heroes into your dungeon. This is the “bait” phase. Every hero has a treasure type that they like. Warriors like weapons, Mages like spell books, etc. Every room has a matching treasure type. Whoever has the dungeon with the highest number of that type lures that hero. In case of a tie, the hero stays in town for that round.

Each room card also has a health value. That’s how much damage you do to the hero as they pass through. Once the hero’s damage equals his life, he’s dead and you collect his soul (put him facedown so you see the rupee on the back of the hero card). Collect 10 souls and you win.

If the hero survives your dungeon and makes it to your boss monster with 1 health or greater, that hero goes under your boss monster face-up so you see the tiny blood drop on the bottom of the card. Five of these and your boss monster dies.

There are also spell cards you can use during specific phases of the game. They might remove a room from your buddy’s dungeon so he can’t beat the hero, or cause everyone in the game to discard all their cards. Some are particularly evil and let you resurrect a dead hero or give an opponent’s hero extra health.

BUILD QUALITY
The artwork for all the cards straddles the line between the NES and SNES, but it’s all full of pixelated nostalgia. You’ll see nods to other pieces of pop culture (the “Counterspell card” has a tiny pixelated Harry Potter and Voldemort dueling) as well as obvious video game references (“Father Brain”, “Robobo”). It’s a great tribute for an 80s kid like myself.

The only complaint I have about the game is that the coating used on the cards isn’t particularly sturdy. I’ve played my copy about a dozen times and the cards are starting to show significant scratches. They’re not to the point where it affects gameplay yet, but I’m concerned about the long-term durability of the deck. This game gets a LOT of play at my house.

FUN FACTOR
As I said, I play this game a lot. It’s probably just as popular as Munchkin on my game shelf, and that’s saying something. It’s easy to pick up and fun to play. Games last anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour depending on how many people are at the table and how many spells get played to keep someone from winning.

Great game, highly recommended. I look forward to seeing more (including the upcoming expansion) from Brotherwise Games.

::UPDATE 04-FEB-2014:: I’ve received the Tools of Hero-Kind expansion (which comes in a box that looks like a tiny Gameboy game) and it adds a whole new deck of items that the Heroes can use to cheat and/or power up through your dungeon. Definitely adds some more strategy to the game.

8
Go to the Pathfinder: Beginner Box page
62 out of 69 gamers thought this was helpful

INTRO

I had never played a pen-and-paper RPG in my life before I broke open this box. I was honestly a little worried that I wouldn’t enjoy it, but at the asking price it was a risk I was willing to take. Now that I’ve logged close to fifteen hours across several play sessions, I’m very glad that I did.

WHAT’S IN THE BOX?

The Beginner Box comes with a Player’s Manual, Game Master’s Guide, a set of high-quality cardboard standees with interchangeable stands of various sizes, several blank full-color character sheets and four pre-filled characters you can use right off the bat. You get a set of the standard RPG dice (d4, d6, d8, two d10s, a d12 and a d20). It also has a very large fold-out dungeon map of laminated poster board with an illustrated dungeon on one side and a blank parchment-colored grid on the other so you can draw in your own with dry erase markers.

You explore the dungeon using a cardboard miniature (there’s one for each possible combination of race and class, both male and female). There’s lots of miniatures for the monsters as well. They include all the monsters in the pre-printed dungeon and a bunch of other ones that you can use to create your own adventures. There’s a guide on doing that too.

It’s also worth noting that you can download an extra dungeon, new character classes and more instructional books in PDF from the publisher’s website (Paizo.com) for free, all specifically designed to work with the Beginner Box. It’s great bonus content.

GAMEPLAY
If you’re like me and you’re new to the “heavy” RPG scene, this box is for you. It holds your hand through every step of creating a character, learning about the dice and gives you a solo adventure that reads like a “Choose-Your-Own-Adventure” book to teach you the basic rules.

You can play through this immediately, without reading anything else or creating a character. It’s a very friendly introduction. I really got the impression that Paizo wants to welcome new players and stress the adventure aspect rather than scare them off with dry stat-grinding descriptions.

You don’t have to create a character for the big dungeon either – they have character sheets with iconic Pathfinder heroes already filled out and ready to go (Fighter, Cleric, Wizard, Rogue). The big dungeon has lots to do, and I’ve gone back to it several times with different characters to see how it would play out differently.

I won’t go into too much detail about how to play, since there’s lots of material on Paizo.com and other sites, but the basic game goes like this: one player is the Game Master (GM), and the other player(s) are the heroes. The Game Master reads the intro story for the dungeon and describes each room as the heroes move through it on the map, which is divided into one-inch squares. Each hero has a different speed, which lets them move their cardboard miniature a certain number of squares each turn.

Every room has different things in it, from monsters to traps to other obstacles (like a sheer rock face or a deep lagoon). The GM intros the room and the players then take turns saying what they’d like to do. There’s not a lot of limitation here – if you want to loot the bodies of dead goblins or sleep in their beds you can. The GM’s book tells him what happens if you do certain things, but he lets you discover them in your own way. Most things you try require you to roll certain dice to see if they succeed. Which dice are explained in the books.

There’s a sense of freedom in a pen-and-paper RPG that you don’t get in most games, especially tabletop ones. It’s a little daunting at first, so if you have a GM that can give you clues about things to do it helps move things along. Something like “that’s an interesting statue over there, why not take a look?”

BUILD QUALITY

Paizo is the publisher of Pathfinder, and I’d never heard of the company before this. They used to publish adventures for Dungeons & Dragons until Wizards of the Coast pulled their license. Their loss! Everything in the box is top-quality stuff, from the artwork to the thick, sturdy miniatures and the comfortable dice.

The books are magazine-quality glossy paper with full color illustrations. They’re bound like a video game strategy guide, with a heavy card stock cover. They can stand up to some flipping, and you’re going to do a lot of it. The guides are laid out very well with tables of contents and indexes for everything.

FUN FACTOR
Wow. I had no idea how much fun I would have with Pathfinder. The freedom it offers over other fantasy tabletop games is amazing. You really can do just about anything you want and the game rewards you for finding clever ways to respond. See a fire trap? Why not try crawling under it! See a magic fountain covered in runes? Try and decipher them!

I’ve played several full dungeon runs and a bunch of one-off scenarios downloaded from Paizo’s website and I’m very excited to see what kinds of adventures I can get into once my group “graduates” past level 5 into the full game. Even if you never spend another dime on Pathfinder and just pull out the Beginner Box to use the pre-rolled characters there’s still a lot of replay value here. I highly recommend it.

8
Go to the Eldritch Horror page

Eldritch Horror

52 out of 59 gamers thought this was helpful

INTRO

After playing through at least a dozen games of Elder Sign, I decided I loved the setting and story it told but I wanted something that went a little deeper. I looked around online and Arkham Horror came up first – it was the grandfather of the Call of Cthulhu games after all – but a lot of the reviews I read on it said the game was too fiddly and starting to show its age. Enter Eldritch Horror, the youngest Fantasy Flight entry into the Cthulhu mythos. I was keen to see if it could give me a deeper experience than Elder Sign but not bury me with game mechanics.

GAMEPLAY

I’m writing this as someone who has never played Arkham Horror, only Elder Sign, so I won’t compare to what I don’t know. Like Elder Sign, Eldritch Horror puts you in the shoes of a set of investigators trying to seal away one particular eldergod from H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos – the specific eldergod changes each time you play. Instead of going through different rooms in a museum, you travel around the board visiting major cities on each continent and picking up clues to solve mystery cards. Each elder god has a certain number of mysteries to solve before they’re sealed away.

Naturally you’re also fighting against time. Like in Elder Sign, certain in-game events cause the doom counter along the top of the game board to count down to 0. At zero, the eldergod awakens and you either immediately lose or you’re presented with one final mystery to finish them off. The awakened condition for Azathoth (the elder god I fought when I played it) is instant death, so I didn’t get to see what the “final mystery” might be.

To solve mysteries you draw a card and read a paragraph specific to your location. You do a dice check against one of your character’s stats using regular six-sided dice and you either pass or fail. Sometimes there are multiple checks on a card. I was a little disappointed at the simple dice compared to Elder Sign, but the rest of the game is plenty complex to make up for it.

As you play, gates will open around the world that need to be shut. Monsters spawn from these gates and need to be killed. Clues will pop up in random locations that need to be investigated. It gets pretty intense sometimes, but it’s a whole lot of fun even when you end up dead. Unlike Elder Sign, you can visit the bodies of dead/insane investigators and pick up the clues they left behind (with a dice check, of course).

Because most of the gameplay revolves around reading, the story has a lot more depth to it than Elder Sign. Every investigator has a back story, every mystery has specific clues and locations that are unique. I really felt like I was investigating something, rather than just playing a demented take on Yahtzee. Each eldergod has their own mystery deck and stories to tell, so the experience can be very different. The game really dug deep into its theme.

One complete setup, play through and takedown ran me about two and a half hours. We weren’t really keeping track though, because once we got the mechanics down the game sucked us in. The game plays 1-5 people, and the number of gates, monsters and events scales depending on that number.

BUILD QUALITY
Fantasy Flight is known for good, thick cardboard tokens and durable cards. This game is no exception. There are a lot of pieces to this game, and they’re all fine quality. My only real complaint is a common one – once you punch out all the pips and bobs and divide up all the decks the game box doesn’t really offer any good organizational options. I ended up pulling out my old stand-by: snack-size Ziploc baggies. I had to stuff a lot of them under the sides of the cardboard insert to get everything to fit, even though the box isn’t small.

FUN FACTOR
I wouldn’t take the time to set up a game this complex if it weren’t fun. I greatly enjoyed it, and like Elder Sign before it you can play the game by yourself so I see this taking up many Sunday afternoons at my house.

7
Go to the Coup page

Coup

84 out of 91 gamers thought this was helpful

INTRO

Someone in my gaming group brought this out as a quick icebreaker. After a confusing explanation of a very simple game, we all still managed to pick it up and have a nice time. Coup is a competitive card game about…basically lying through your teeth and trying to get away with it.

GAMEPLAY

In Coup, you’re trying to gain money and assassinate the other players. You accomplish this by lying, mostly. Everyone draws two cards and puts them face-down in front of them. The cards have one of five characters on them that each have special abilities.

The Duke, for instance, can use his turn to take three silver. With seven silver you can assassinate someone. The Contessa has the special ability of blocking assassination attempts. The Captain can steal silver from other players, and so on. If you have these cards, you can perform these actions or block other people’s actions when they announce them.

Here’s where the lying comes in – no one knows what characters you really have, so on your turn you can announce “I am the Duke, so I’ll take 3 silver and you can do nothing to stop me.”

The other players have to either make a guess based on what cards are visible or blind hunches to either call your bluff or let it slide. If they call you out and you’re bluffing, you have to reveal one of your two cards and it’s now unusable. If both your cards are revealed, you’re considered assassinated and out of the game.

If they call you out and you really are who you claim – they have to flip over a card. Either way, the person who wins can’t reuse the exposed card and redraws.

FUN FACTOR
I was surprised at how much fun I had with this. I played with a group of six, and for the first three turns everyone said they were the Duke. Eventually when that happens someone has to say something because you know things are fishy.

You don’t actually have to lie to play well or win the game. Not lying is a strategy too – you can kill off other players when they try to call your bluff. All in all it’s a very interesting, fast-paced game. I would suggest the bigger the group the better for this one.

9
Go to the Dungeons & Dragons: Wrath of Ashardalon page
138 out of 145 gamers thought this was helpful

INTRO
This game is intimidating on a shelf. The box is huge and heavy, and it comes with a pretty hefty price tag compared to something like, say, a new Munchkin expansion. I didn’t give it a second thought until after I played two awesome games of Mansions of Madness, which has a similar “minatures exploring a dungeon” theme.

I also wanted to see what kind of quality an officially-branded Dungeons & Dragons board game had in comparison to Fantasy Flight (the company who does the Arkham Horror games, among others).

GAMEPLAY
Wrath of Ashardalon is a cooperative game for up to 5 players. It plays just fine solo as well. Unlike some other games in this genre there is no need for one player to be a dedicated “keeper” or dungeon master to handle the monsters/traps. All those mechanics are handled with decks of cards.

You start out by picking one of 5 preset characters, each with a corresponding miniature, and choosing an adventure from the book. There’s 13 included with the base game and you can download more off the Wizards of the Coast website. The adventure book tells you what dungeon tiles, special miniatures or items you’ll need for your chosen scenario. There are TONS of pieces in the box, but you only end up using a third of them in any one scenario.

Most scenarios use 3 decks of cards – Monsters, Encounters and Treasures. You draw from them periodically to move along the game. You also have a stack of about a dozen shuffled dungeon tiles that you leave face down and draw as you explore.

You start out with a single dungeon tile where you stick all your adventurers. The tiles are divided into grids and each character can move a certain number of squares per turn. As you move to the edge of a tile you “explore” by drawing a new tile and fitting it into the board like a puzzle piece. The dungeon gets fleshed out one tile at a time. Tiles have random doors and walls on them.

Every time you add a new tile you have to draw from the Monster deck and add the corresponding miniature to a specific spot on that tile (a marked square). If you don’t draw a new tile, you draw from the Encounter deck instead. Usually this means curses, traps and other nastiness. Exploring is encouraged.

Combat is done with the ubiquitous 20-sided die. You roll, give damage, roll for the monster and take damage. This goes on until one of you dies or your turn ends. When you kill something its miniature is removed and the corresponding card gets put in the experience pile. All players can pull from this at any time to level up or skip an encounter.

At the end of a scenario a boss monster gets added to the dungeon and you fight it like all the others. I’m sure this sounds really dry by the way I’m describing it, but it’s actually quite interesting and tense, especially when you’re running from three other monsters in the dungeon and stumble onto the boss’s tile.

BUILD QUALITY

The cardboard pieces (of which there are many) are thick and sturdy. The dungeon tiles fit together snugly but still come apart easily, so there’s not much wear and tear at the connection points. The miniatures are nicely detailed, especially Ashardalon the red dragon. Your character and boss monster stat sheets are all thick cardboard squares so they can take a beating.

One thing I really appreciate is that there are cubbies in the box for just about everything. This is a detail lots of companies leave out. You can organize the dungeon tiles, cards, and miniatures in their respective cubbies and everything is well set up for your next game. Other publishers (e.g. Fantasy Flight) should really learn from this and emulate it. It makes setup and takedown so much easier.

FUN FACTOR

You’ll either like this one or hate it, depending on what kind of gamer you are. If you’re not a fan of heavy pen-and-paper RPGs with lots of pre-game setup and narration, Ashardalon is a good way to have a D&D dungeon crawling adventure without all the drudgery and dice checks.

Everything has been simplified. You play the whole game with just a single d20 die. Your characters can only level up once and you don’t get to make them up out of your head. The trade-off for the loss of customizability and depth is that this game is something you can pull out, set up, play through a scenario, and put away all in the space of an hour. It’s a fun, quick, relatively easy to pick up version of D&D.

As an added bonus, you can mix this game with Legends of Drizzt or Castle Ravenloft, according to the rule book. There’s potential for some very strange and interesting dungeons there, all without the need for pen and paper.

10
Go to the Mansions of Madness page

Mansions of Madness

41 out of 47 gamers thought this was helpful

INTRO:
I was both fascinated and terrified by this game at first. I love Elder Sign, and Fantasy Flight has a lot of games in the Arkham Horror universe. The concept of building out an ever-changing mansion and manipulating miniature creatures really appealed to me, but when I felt the box and looked at the sheer number of things involved I was intimidated. I ended up buying it for a friend of mine who loves all things miniature as a test.

GAMEPLAY:
The setup is daunting the first time, but once you’ve played through it the subsequent rounds go a lot faster. One player is the Keeper, and they control the creatures and weird stuff that happens to the other players (the Investigators). If you’re a D&D player, think of the Keeper as your GM. He tells the story and manipulates the situation to try and kill all the adventurers.

The basic gameplay has the investigators moving around the mansion, which is set up differently depending on what scenario you all agree to play. Most of the game is about uncovering clues and solving puzzles. There are actual physical puzzles, like picking a lock or rewiring a room that’s gone dark. They’re a neat added feature and a welcome skill-based challenge rather than just rolling dice.

Combat is something you do have to deal with in the game, but it’s definitely not the main focus. You might encounter lots of monsters (depending on your Keeper’s play style) or none at all. You can usually escape the room they’re in and there are items that let you block the door behind you (also a neat concept), so you’re never just stuck fighting turn after turn.

BUILD QUALITY
Fantasy Flight makes great, sturdy games with beautiful artwork. The details on the miniatures were quite nice. Everything had a solid feel to it. Overall it’s quite well made, but I did have a few minor complaints:

1. The miniatures didn’t really “snap” into their bases – they just sat on them with little pegs. This is necessary to fit them all back in the box…but it still bothered me.

2. The artwork was a little *too* dark in places, which made it hard to tell where a room was divided for movement.

3. Some of the cards are really tiny, and the print can be hard to read.

4. Once you punch out all the cardboard widgets it’s a real challenge to fit everything back in the box.

FUN FACTOR:
The first time we opened the game there were three of us, and we played two scenarios back to back. It took us roughly 5 hours, but a lot of that was learning the game. Still, we all agreed that it was a LOT of fun and we’d definitely sit down and play more scenarios as time permitted.

I had a lot of fun roaming around the mansion and solving puzzles. We (the Investigators) lost both times, but it was still really cool just to explore. It’s not one you can just pick up and play, but if you have a dedicated group you can invite them over and have it set up when they get there to streamline the process. I think it would be even more fun with the maximum 5 players (1 keeper, 4 investigators).

9
Go to the Qwirkle page

Qwirkle

74 out of 81 gamers thought this was helpful

INTRO
I picked this game up because I felt bad that my friend’s five-year-old daughter kept getting shuffled off to watch movies or play Wii when the grownups had their game night. I wanted to get something that wouldn’t bore the adults (Candyland, Operation, etc.) but also wouldn’t require the kids to have an adult play for them. Qwirkle hits both of those points with aplomb.

GAMEPLAY
Qwirkle sets a new bar for simplicity in setup. The whole game consists of a canvas bag full of 108 painted wooden blocks with 6 different colors and shapes. There’s a six page instruction booklet, but four of those pages are the same thing – just in different languages. It’s by far the simplest game I own, short of maybe a plain deck of cards.

You mix up all the blocks in the bag and everyone draws six. Whoever can make the longest line of all one color or all one shape begins the game. From there it plays a lot like dominoes or Scrabble. You play off the lines on the table for as long a line as you can. One block is one point. If you get six in a line, that’s a Qwirkle (12 points).

You draw when you’re done to get back up to six blocks, and you go until the first person runs out. Tally up your points, and that’s it. The hardest part of the game (and the only one that really requires an adult) is writing down everyone’s scores. The game can go by pretty fast once everyone gets the idea.

FUN FACTOR
You would think with such a simple concept it would be boring for adults, but it isn’t. I played my first two games with three adults and the aforementioned five-year-old, and everyone enjoyed it. For the kids, it’s just about matching. For the grown-ups it’s about blocking everyone else from making good moves, as well as matching. Wails and gnashing of teeth ensued, but we had a good game night and my friend’s kid didn’t feel left out. Win/win.

8
Go to the Elder Sign page

Elder Sign

121 out of 128 gamers thought this was helpful

INTRO:

I’m usually pretty intimidated by games that have a lot of pieces and complicated setup. Compared to some other Arkham Horror-themed games (I’m looking at you, Mansions of Madness) Elder Sign is actually quite svelte. The thing that finally pushed me to buy it was the idea that you can play it by yourself.

GAMEPLAY
Elder Sign is one part strategy and three parts luck. You complete the game by gaining “elder signs,” tokens you need to defeat the big monster you draw at the beginning. To do that you take on adventures (the six cards in the center of the game area) and roll dice to see if you can complete them.

The basic game mechanic is a demented version of Yahtzee. Each adventure needs a particular number and type of die to be completed (magnifying glass, tentacles, skull, or scroll). You roll to complete an objective, discard dice and roll again until you either win or run out of dice. If you lose, your character suffers life and sanity penalties, among other things.

I guess this is probably my main complaint about Elder Sign – it’s mostly chance. With a favorable card draw and good rolls the game is disappointingly easy. With bad draws and rolls it’s next to impossible. My average game time is around an hour and a half by myself, 2 or more with friends. That’s a lot of time investment to lose on a bad luck roll.

FUN FACTOR
Take that last section with a grain of salt. Elder Sign is still a whole lot of fun, even when you lose. The artwork is great, the stories the cards tell are really creepy, and there’s a good bit of replay with all the random monster and adventure cards. The fact that I can play it with or without a set of friends makes it even more likely that I’ll pull it out and play a few games on a dark and stormy night.

6
Go to the Munchkin Zombies page

Munchkin Zombies

13 out of 14 gamers thought this was helpful

INTRO:

I picked up Munchkin Zombies on a whim one night because I was playing games with a group and hadn’t brought my regular Munchkin deck. I ran to the nearest Barnes & Noble and looked for the most interesting flavor of Munchkin I didn’t already have (that’s getting harder lately). It was between this and Munchkin Cthulhu, but I figured for players completely new to Munchkin the madness aspect of Cthulhu might be too much.

GAMEPLAY
It’s Munchkin. You draw a card from the doors deck and either fight a monster or get treasures and items. This time around, you play as the zombies and the “monsters” you encounter are people. Your zombie can wear “armor” and use “weapons” but they’re stuff like “Angry Cat” or “Evil Eyes.”

Munchkin Zombies plays very easy compared to original Munchkin and some of the other flavors like Legends. Your zombie will pick up a lot of bonuses really quick. The people aren’t terribly difficult either (there’s no Level 20 Plutonium Dragon contend with). I don’t know if it was just bad shuffling or the game itself, but we found ourselves drawing a LOT of “gain a level” cards right at the beginning which made the game go by too fast for my liking.

FUN FACTOR
I love Munchkin and the basic mechanics of the game are all there. I’m not a huge fan of zombies in pop culture, so maybe I wasn’t the target audience for this one. It’s fun as a warmup game, and a decent intro to the idea of Munchkin if you don’t have the original deck lying around. I’ll probably use it as mix-in fodder for combination Munchkin games in the future, but I don’t see myself playing it on its own again.

EXPANSION UPDATE I bought and mixed in the “Armed and Dangerous” expansion. It doesn’t really add much to the game other than more cards. The variety of items and new people is nice, but it’s not one of those expansions that drastically improves or unbalances the game. I could take it or leave it.

4
Go to the Star Trek Deck Building Game: The Next Generation - Next Phase page
17 out of 21 gamers thought this was helpful

INTRO

I’m a huge ST:TNG fan, so when I saw this on the shelf for cheap at a used book store, I had to get it. Unfortunately, several hours and YouTube tutorials later I just couldn’t figure out how to play it.

I spent the better part of a week learning the basic concepts that were poorly described in the instruction book, which I guess assumes you’ve played the original version of the game and don’t need a primer on the basic play. When I finally sat down with a friend and played a couple of games from beginning to end, we both just decided it wasn’t worth it.

GAMEPLAY

I can’t really go into the depths of the game here because it’s pretty complicated. The idea is you draw cards from a goal deck and try to complete them for points. You play until someone gets the magic preset number of points (usually 200). To accomplish this, you buy character and equipment cards from the “starbase area” (a square of nine cards that gets gradually cycled and refreshed) using currency in the form of basic people cards (Ensign, Lieutenant, Commander). You also have a ship card that you can augment using cards in your hand, which is necessary to win the goals.

Pretty much every major and minor character from ST:TNG is represented here in multiple forms in the starbase deck. The goals are things pulled from the series and the movies (in the case of the Borg Queen campaign). It was fun to remember the episodes each card came from, and I felt like I *should* have enjoyed it more than I did.

BUILD QUALITY

The game comes with a little over a hundred standard-sized playing cards and some 20-sided dice that you don’t actually roll (they’re used to keep track of your ship’s hitpoints). The cards felt sturdy. The box has a bunch of gray foam inserts so if you want to add expansion packs it will all fit in the same box (a good design decision). Other than that, there’s not much to report. Cards are cards.

FUN FACTOR

Here’s what killed this game for me – it just wasn’t fun to play. I didn’t feel like I was out exploring the galaxy and fighting Romulan warbirds. I felt like I was drawing cards and collecting them, that’s it. It bored me. For a game this complicated with as much setup as it has, the game needs to be thrilling for me to pick it up again. As it is, it will likely stay on a shelf as a forgotten oddity. That’s sad, considering my love for the source material.

5
Go to the Munchkin Quest page

Munchkin Quest

64 out of 72 gamers thought this was helpful

INTRO

My experience with this game echoes that of other users who feel like it tries to hard to straddle the “casual” and “hardcore” audiences for board games. I love the Munchkin card games and one of their biggest strengths is simplicity. They’re usually fast, simple and funny. Most importantly – they’re easy for new people to pick up.

Munchkin Quest seems like it’s trying to emulate the very complicated D&D tabletop games the card game makes fun of – and it doesn’t do it very well. As soon as I opened the box I felt overwhelmed by the number of *things* inside it. You have three small decks of cards, health and move tokens (hearts and feet), player tokens, room pieces, door pieces, room markers, monster tokens and color-matched bases for them, and two kinds of dice.

GAMEPLAY

My first play-through took about 2 hours because neither I or my friend had played it before. It’s both similar and frustratingly different from the card game. I don’t mind admitting most of those two hours were spent reading (and re-reading, and arguing about) the instructions while trying to figure out how to play. We went through about a dozen turns before we realized how some of the game elements worked.

The basic premise involves exploring rooms (picking a random room tile from the box) and fighting monsters (drawn from a card deck and added to the board with little cardboard standees). Monsters you can’t beat stay in the dungeon and wander around in between player turns. This makes things interesting when you a level 20 Plutonium Dragon wanders into your room before your next turn.

After a dozen turns or so the dungeon board gets pretty big. It’s different every time, since the player designated the “builder” can place new rooms pretty much any way they want. All the room tiles have connectors in N/S/E/W directions.

After completing one game, I can see how it would be fun. It’s not a bad game by any means. It still has the Steve Jackson Sense of Humor (TM). I just much prefer the speed and variety of the card games. In the same time it took to set up, play and take down one game of Munchkin Quest we could have played five or six varieties of the card game, and personally I’d have had more fun.

BUILD QUALITY

The tokens are all pretty sturdy cardboard, but the room tiles and their doors didn’t *quite* fit together in some cases, and in others they fit too well and didn’t come apart easily. This makes me worry about long-term wear and tear as I can see the cardboard tearing after a while at the connection points.

The box comes with the Steve Jackson signature white piece of folded cardboard inside, which offers no organization for anything. We ended up separating all the tokens, cards and tiles into Ziploc baggies at the end of the game. It’s easy for everything to get jumbled together otherwise, making your next setup phase quite frustrating.

FUN FACTOR

Like I said, it’s a reasonably fun game. The dungeon-building mechanic is a neat new addition to Munchkin, as is the “roaming monsters” idea. The game feels like a tabletop version of Nethack or Rogue with all the new rooms and dropped treasure. I personally don’t see myself playing it much, though. Just too complicated to set up versus the cards.

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