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Go to the StarCraft: The Board Game page
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9
Go to the  Star Wars: The Queen's Gambit page

Star Wars: The Queen's Gambit

34 out of 36 gamers thought this was helpful

There are two axioms which have prevailed in modern culture: first, that games based on franchises are slapdash low-quality cash-in products, and the Star Wars prequels were a shadow of the former glory of the mythos. And so it was that games like Epic Duels and The Queen’s Gambit languished on store shelves at discount prices, and eventually faded as the films ran their course. Now out of print, these games have enjoyed a resurgence among gamers who realized too late that there was quite a bit of charm in these titles. I purchased both through secondary markets and consider them “holy grail” items in my collection.

Star Wars: The Queen’s Gambit re-creates the multi-layered climactic battle of Episode I, with Gungans battling droids on the open plains, the Queen staging an assault to take back her palace, and two proficient Jedi crossing sabers with the sinister Darth Maul, while Anakin weaves his way through spaceships and plot devices to power down the droid army.

Anyone familiar with Richard Borg’s Command and Colors system (employed at the time in Battle Cry) will see a strong resemblance in this design. The board is divided into sections representing each battle, with the novel second and third floors of the palace rising above the table on supports, and the game pieces are all placed in pre-assigned positions. Each player – one as the Republic forces, one as the Trade Federation – has two stacks of cards, one to manage the Gungan battlefield and space battle, and one to manage the palace battle and Jedi fight. From your hand of ten cards, you select four and place them face-down in a pile, then each player takes turns resolving them from top to bottom. Resolving the card means moving and shooting each of the units listed on the card, for one battlefield or the other. Shooting is done with custom-faced dice with hits and misses, and for the defender, blocks.

Most of the pieces in the game are generic droids, gungans and palace guards. The palace and Jedi sections have named characters from the film. Destroying any of these major units, or clearing an entire hex of Gungan battlefield units, gives the player bonus cards to play on the next turn. This tends to favor the droid army, since only Darth Maul gives a bonus to the Republic player, and the droids have a significant advantage in firepower on the Gungan battlefield. On the other hand, the space battle section consists only of Anakin rolling dice to move along several spaces to the droid control ship, with the droid player throwing up roadblocks when he can. This section serves as a timer of sorts for the game, since all the droids shut down when Anakin reaches the ship. That means everybody but Maul, and that means the game is over if Maul gets destroyed. The game ends for either side when the field gets whittled down to the last three units standing, including the two Viceroy pieces who just sit there doing nothing.

The components are a major factor in my affection for this game. Molded plastic droids and palace guards piled so high I had to get a box to keep them all organized. All the important spaces are clearly marked on the board(s), including where to pre-set all the pieces. Each side has “helper” boards showing the relevant stats for each type of piece. And of course, all of it is docked out in official Star Wars artwork.

I find this works quite well for an asymmetrical game. The droids have superior force of arms and benefit from drawing out the game. The Republic army can double-team Darth Maul and push Anakin to knock out the droids and turn the tide. When each player replenishes his hand at the end of turn, he can take from either or both of his decks, to shift his focus as he chooses, but they both must still keep an eye on all four battles taking place. Dice battles always have the chance to go horribly wrong for you but it tends to balance out over the length of a game, and certainly over multiple plays.

While newer games have come along with more sophisticated or more polished mechanics, this game has all the right ingredients to be a favorite in my collection. If you can get it to the table, or find a copy of your own, it certainly has my recommendation.

8
Go to the Ground Floor  page

Ground Floor

23 out of 24 gamers thought this was helpful

Tasty Minstrel Games found its way on my radar with Eminent Domain, an elegant blend of deck-building and role selection, with a hook that always pulls me in: a space theme. I missed the initial Kickstarter campaign for that game but it found its way into my collection quickly. It’s one of several titles from that company that I have enjoyed, so I did not pass up the chance to fund a campaign for the economic game Ground Floor. It arrived last week and found its way to the table in short order. This game was certainly worth the wait.

An econ game of this sort features a lot of different kinds of resources that need to be managed. The two principal forms of currency are money and “info”, and most actions in the game will require both. Your company will generate supply cubes, either to trade for immediate benefits or put on the market for consumers to buy. The main board sports a job market track, where the cost to hire new employees will fluctuate over time, and a “popularity” track that acts as a turn order feature. There is also a space for Economic Forecast cards that give a general range of how many consumers will be in the market, and how much the job market will fall, for the round to come. The main resource you’ll be managing, however, is time: a stack of markers that will grow as you hire employees and be placed around the table to run your business.

Each player starts with a main board that serves as his “ground floor”; a rooftop for the building that denotes a small, unique bonus; a single employee (yourself) with some time markers; some “info” and a supply cube. The game runs in three stages of three rounds apiece, or nine total. You begin by receiving income and hiring new employees, if desired, and in the meat of the round, placing and resolving your time markers. The round ends with a maintenance phase that sets up the board for the next round.

The way these effects resolve depends on where you place your time. Markers placed on your player board resolve immediately and tend to have small benefits, but markers placed on the main board resolve in a later phase of each round. The main board is where big gains are made, but they are also highly speculative; it’s not unusual for markers to go unused on the main board, leaving the player unable to make important gains like gathering info or selling their products on the market. The main board also contains a set of floors and Tenant Improvement tiles, that build up your building and provide Victory Points and various other bonuses. These tiles come out in stages, with income bonuses coming early and big endgame points coming in the later rounds.

The production quality of this game is fantastic. All of the boards and tiles (and currency) are thick and sturdy, and all the player pieces are brightly-colored wood pieces. The artwork is a bit subdued, but appropriate to the theme, and all the pertinent game information is on clear display. Of particular note, the ground floor of the player board has an odd-shaped cutout in the top, and the floors and rooftops are cut at angles to create an angled, 3D-style perspective of the building. It may or may not be necessary but it’s a great piece of chrome and a creative way to display information.

Early plays of this game have shown an embarrassment of riches when it comes to options. There are many ways to pull in money, work the popularity track, upgrade your business, and they all feel important. On the one hand, that means more plays will be needed to get a good feel for where to place priorities. But with a variable stack of economic cards, and the new gameplay options that came as Kickstarter rewards, I have no compunction about bringing it back to the table over and over again.

8
Go to the Forbidden Island page

Forbidden Island

56 out of 59 gamers thought this was helpful

One of the things I’ve enjoyed most about discovering the modern era of board games has been cooperative gaming. Having everyone work together is a refreshing departure from the competitive norm of winner-take-all gaming, and is much better at fostering communication at the table. I would recommend many such titles for any number of reasons, but Forbidden Island has a good combination of factors that makes it a strong recommendation for family or “gateway” gaming.

The game “board” of sorts is actually a collection of named tiles, comprising an island where the players will move their characters about, trying to reach certain tiles that hold ancient treasures. Meanwhile, cards revealed on each turn will flood and eventually sink those tiles, causing the team to scramble to collect all four treasures and get back to the helicopter before getting sunk themselves. People who have played Matt Leacock’s other cooperative design, Pandemic, will recognize familiar mechanisms employed: players will have the option to move their pieces around the board, “shore up” tiles that are in danger of sinking, and perform various other actions, mostly dictated by the special power unique to their character.

The components for this game are splendid, especially for the price. The game comes in a decorative tin with a raised design on the lid. The board tiles are thick and sturdy, and the game comes with four molded plastic treasures for the players to hold: completely superfluous but a great bit of chrome for purposes of theme.

Speaking of theme, this game is swimming in it (no pun intended), and it’s a great hook for gaming with family and friends. The rush of exploring a remote island for lost treasure and desperately trying to avoid the pitfalls and survive, is something straight out of Indiana Jones. The special powers for the characters make great sense within their job title, and give the players something to think about when trying to work together. And the increasing rapidity of the sinking tiles really drives the game to a climactic finish as well as keeping the game short.

People who want a game that’s longer or more challenging might approach Pandemic or Flash Point: Fire Rescue first. But for its lightness, Forbidden Island is fun, engaging, occasionally raucous, and at a price point under twenty dollars, the overall value of the game is tremendous.

8
Go to the Dominion: Hinterlands page
21 out of 27 gamers thought this was helpful

Hinterlands is about as apropos a name as one could conjure for this set of 26 oddball cards. If there is a running theme for the effects in this set, it’s things which happen at the time you gain the card. Most of the impact that has on overall Dominion strategy is short-term: what benefit do I get by picking this up right now, separate from the general question of how do I use this card later in my deck.

As a result, I often end up looking at this expansion, not in the usual terms of “how can I use these cards to create cool combos with each other”, but “what would this card or that card do combined with other sets”. A good example is Silk Road: Worth 1 Victory Point for every 4 Victory cards in your deck. That might get you a couple points but usually not much, since Victory cards slow down your deck. But tossed in with Intrigue cards like Harem, Nobles, or Great Hall, and suddenly it’s worth a look.

So in the long run, I recommend this expansion, but with the qualifier that it is best enjoyed by the collector who already has several other expansions in their library.

7
Go to the Ticket to Ride page

Ticket to Ride

56 out of 62 gamers thought this was helpful

Over the years I have come to fear and gently loathe rail games. It’s not that I dislike them per se, it’s just that these games – particularly the Martin Wallace variety – are brutal, unforgiving brain-burners. Every move must be planned meticulously, every dollar spent sparingly, and there’s a good chance you can work your tail off for three hours only to come in a distant fifth place. Alan Moon, however, designs games accessible by the whole family, and his game Ticket to Ride is none of those things.

At its heart, Ticket to Ride is more of a set collection game than a pure rail game. Players collect cards depicting trains of different colors, and if they have the right number of the right color, they can cash them in and place their trains on a track of that color, connecting two cities and scoring points. They also have a small hand of “destination” cards, naming two cities that the player can connect for bonus points, though the player loses points if they take the card but don’t make the connection.

The components are pretty basic – plastic train cars to place on a standard size board. The colors for the most part are bright and contrasted for easy identification. The cards, however, are small and somewhat thin, and won’t stand up to a lot of abuse. Our boardgaming club gave the cards in our copy a pretty good working over, but we ordered a replacement set from Days of Wonder and refreshed them.

Because the rails are built through set collection, the game is much easier for novice players to get into, and most of the strategy in this game is in deciding which colors to hold to try and build, and how your routes can help you and/or block your opponent’s efforts.

This is not a game I see at the table often, but only because our group leans toward heavier fare. The game is enjoyable, and a good way to develop interest among people whose board game experience ends at Battleship and Connect Four.

8
Go to the Power Grid page

Power Grid

75 out of 80 gamers thought this was helpful

Power Grid was my first exposure to games that genuinely employ economic principles (Monopoly et al don’t really delve into the good stuff), and it was a great way to start. The game has almost no chance involved in the mechanics, it gives everyone a chance to be competitive throughout the game, but against good players it can be brutally demanding.

Money is the single most important resource of the entire game, yet ironically makes no difference at all in the end, except as a tiebreaker. A game round begins with players bidding on power plants that can power a certain number of cities and require a certain number of various fuels: Coal, oil, trash, nuclear. In the next phase, players take turns buying the fuels they need; fuel resides on a track that shows the price to purchase, and while plentiful fuels are cheap, scarce fuels escalate in price. Classic supply/demand. The next phase has the players expand into new cities on the board, paying money both to place their piece there and the “connection” cost to their existing cities. Lastly, the players expend their fuels to fire their plants, powering some or all of their cities and collecting money for their efforts.

This flow of gameplay illustrates the supreme importance of money: you need money to spend on the plant you buy, the fuels you buy, and the cities you buy, and your ability to power those cities determines how much money you collect for your next turn. So at the beginning of your turn you effectively have to plan your entire turn in advance to make sure you don’t bid 40 on a plant worth 25 and then have no money to expand your empire in the third phase. Botching this planning can cost you an entire round sometimes, and losing a round puts you way behind in most competitive games. So the game works hard to keep things fair and balanced for everyone but is not afraid to punish you if you screw up too badly.

The best description for the components is utilitarian; the fuels are all different shapes and colors of wooden bits, which is nice, but the game plays with paper money and the colors on the board are rather subdued. This game was built not to sit there and look pretty but just to be played and played and played, and it works. A huge plus for the game is a new set of power plants to mix and match with the originals, and a ton of new maps to change up the strategies being used; France for example has a much larger nuclear market, and Korea has two fuel markets divided by North and South.

Power Grid is a gamer’s game: relatively easy on the rules but deep in gameplay, low on chance and high on challenge. And as a game for teaching basic economic principles it is one of the best.

8
Go to the Battleship Galaxies page
37 out of 40 gamers thought this was helpful

My first exposure to Battleship Galaxies was to stumble across it at the 2011 Origins. Upon approaching it and getting a first look at the box, my first reaction was literally: “oh… Battleship… OH! Galaxies!” I’m a sucker for space-themed games, and with yet another new twist on an old game (see also: Sorry Sliders, Yahtzee Free-for-All, Risk Legacy), I couldn’t help but be intrigued.

Despite carrying the branding, there is actually very little of Battleship left in Galaxies; it borrows as much if not more from Craig Van Ness’ magnum opus Heroscape. The game comes with a book full of scenarios the two players use to establish a fleet of spaceships to be used, the layout of the board, the winning objectives and other conditions for the game. The ships come out onto the board occupying one or more hexes and moving along those hexes to traverse the board. The player has a broad scope of options for when to bring out his ships, how to position them strategically, when to move into weapons range and go after the enemy, and so on. The players also have a deck of cards that add new crew members, upgrades and other benefits to use to their advantage.

The one key piece of nostalgia brought over from classic Battleship comes in combat; the player rolls two dice, one containing letters and the other numbers. He calls out his result: D-7, which the other player consults a chart for his ship to see if that coordinate hits the ship or not. Hitting a ship will drain away any shields it may have, then damage it up to a point where it is considered destroyed. Each player has a variety of ships from snub fighters to capital ships, with varying levels of shields, hit points, movement speed, firepower, bonus effects, and so forth.

However thin the thread to classic Battleship, this game hits a lot of points that I like in games: a space theme, variety in play pieces, great sculpted miniatures, methods to mitigate some of the chance found in rolling dice for combat. I look forward to playing through the full breadth of scenarios and coming up with some of my own.

8
Go to the Star Trek Expeditions page
42 out of 44 gamers thought this was helpful

In mid-2010, WizKids acquired a license to publish games in the Star Trek universe. One year later, Star Trek: Expeditions was unleashed upon the Origins hordes. For fans of Star Trek – in particular the 2009 J.J. Abrams effort – there is a lot to like here. For gamers there is a serviceable co-op which, like many Knizia games, kind of boils down to a math exercise.

The player(s) can pick up one of four characters – Kirk, Spock, McCoy or Uhura – and move them around to different areas of the game board planet, or beam them up and down from the Enterprise. The planet has missions to challenge the player and artifacts to collect. Aboard the Enterprise, characters can heal or take the ship into combat against a Klingon vessel in orbit. The object is to move through three branching phases of three different storyline tracks and rack up as many points as possible, before the ship is destroyed or the game timer runs out.

As a WizKids game, one would probably expect Clix to be involved somehow, and sure enough, the box has miniatures for each of the characters, the Enterprise, and the Klingon ship. The Clix for the ships note their firepower and shield strength, and for the characters their strength in the three different types of missions they have to solve: command, science and operations, I believe. A lot of the pieces on the board are thick cardboard and the regular cards for the crew seem sturdy enough; this game will endure regular wear and tear pretty well.

This game has a lot of qualities that hit my soft spots: co-operative gameplay, Trek theme, good bits. But I’m also reminded a bit of the Fantasy Flight game Marvel Heroes. I broke that game out for my small gaming group one night, spent an hour stumbling through the rules and another hour through the first round. Typical Fantasy Flight. But the thing I remember was one player in particular going, when do we get to punch stuff? Well, you don’t, really; you just put your pretty miniature on the board, we play some cards and you roll those dice to punch. He was deferential but didn’t seem overly impressed.

Expeditions doesn’t suffer from the intricate rules or extended gameplay of Marvel Heroes; if anything, it’s exactly the opposite: quick to learn and easy to play. But some hardcore Trekkies may be wondering, well, when do we get to do Trek stuff? Well, if you’re role-playing this game heavily, you’re looking at it. Technically the cards say you’re trying to prevent civil war and the Klingons are trying to sabotage their entry into the Federation and all this, but in reality, when you sit down to the game, you’re going: okay, this is 19 in science, Spock adds 10 to his die roll, +2 bonus for Analysis, I have these blue crew cards for 4 more, and if I need it, I can go down Clix to add 1 more. Let’s try this!

This is more of a gentle warning to some that playing an adding game may not feel as dramatically thematic as other games, and that most of the Trek is in the pieces. For me, that didn’t take much away from the game: I still like it, and I am still ready to play it whenever someone wants to sit down with it.

8
Go to the Alien Frontiers page

Alien Frontiers

64 out of 71 gamers thought this was helpful

Alien Frontiers is wonderfully simple and elegant territory development game that uses dice as the chief means of producing the resources needed to expand your dominion. If you’re thinking that could be a one-sentence description of Settlers of Catan, you’d be right. But Alien Frontiers plays quite differently, and almost every difference works for the better.

Each player has a number of “ships” represented by standard six-sided dice in various colors. A turn consists of collecting your available dice, rolling them, and then assigning the results to different stations on the board. By placing dice of certain values – or in pairs or threes or straights – that station gives one of a variety of effects: providing or trading resources, building ships and colonies, taking technology cards, or raiding your opponent’s stash. That makes this more of a worker placement function (a la Caylus) than rolling for production. The game proceeds one player has placed a certain number of colonies, and the highest score wins.

The components for this game are great, especially for lovers of science fiction. Not only is the game board laid out with artwork depicting space stations orbiting a colonized planet, but the regions of the planet are named after legendary science-fiction authors like Bradbury, Asimov and Heinlein. There are distinctly-shaped wooden bits for the resources and colonies, and even the cardboard bits are solid. About the only thing missing are plastic space ships, which you can always just drop in the box on your own to complete the set.

The elegance of this game lies in the fact that the gameplay itself is simple – it can be learned in one to two game rounds at most – but the number of options available, combined with the tension of having to cope with the results of your roll and sharing space with the other players, gives this game a considerable amount of strategic depth. One area where it shines over Catan, is that the technology cards are numerous and have a much wider variety of powers. In particular, the ability to manipulate or re-roll your dice is a big plus in my book, when dealing with dice-based games.

This game scratches a lot of the right itches for me: space theme, simple gameplay with strategic planning, short-to-moderate play time (four players, nine colonies, two hours tops), nice bits, dice manipulation, good player interaction without massive screwage. Highly recommended.

7
Go to the Yggdrasil page

Yggdrasil

69 out of 75 gamers thought this was helpful

Yggdrasil is a cooperative game for up to 6 (!) players and steeped in Norse mythology. While people will be missing the unique visual design Kenneth Branagh brought to the big screen, in favor of more traditional artwork, fans of the film will be tickled to see Thor and his compatriots – Odin, Heimdall, and so forth – locked in combat against the likes of Loki and Hel storming the gates of Asgard, and sending Vikings out in combat against frost giants. This game is tough, and demands brutal efficiency, but it is very mechanically sound and offers a nice tribute to the lore wrapped around it in theme.

The characters in Yggdrasil are represented only by the oversized cards taken by each player. The game board itself serves only to convey the status of the game; they player does not move a piece or place a marker when he takes an action, he simply does it. Each character has a unique power that lets him take an extra action, or grants a combat bonus, and so on. Each turn begins by flipping a card from a deck full of monsters; the card moves that monster forward on the Asgard track and has an effect detrimental to the players’ efforts, wasting actions or speeding up the game or making it harder to gather Vikings to fight, things of that sort. Monsters further up the track are harder to defeat and having too many past certain key points on the track will lose the game. The player then gets to choose three different actions from among the various stations on the tree Yggdrasil. In short, it consists of collecting Vikings and forging weapons to help you fight the monsters and push them back down the track, with a sort of side quest to battle frost giants to try and collect huge bonuses later in the game.

The components in the game seem a bit inconsistent; the cardboard pieces for the Vikings and Elves and various baddies are all nice enough, and the lack of character markers is forgivable since it’s not that hard to keep track of only three actions for less than 30 seconds. But the stations on the board are marked by runes, and while the artwork does assist in communicating intent quite well, it is difficult to distinguish the stations based only on the runes, which actually is what the frost giants use for their effect. Also, as nice as the character cards look, they seem way too big considering the only pertinent information they convey is the name and power for the character. It can be used to hold weapon cards and Viking/Elf tokens but that’s not required and they don’t take up a lot of space anyway. It just seems… superfluous.

The gameplay is nice and tight and gives several great points of tension in decision-making. There are just the right amount of actions where you feel like you’re making some headway but you always just need to do that one more thing. The various islands have different ratios of Vikings to fire giants, causing a conflict of how far to move the Valkyrie up the track versus cleaning or seeding or drawing from a bag further down. And of course there is the question of which monsters to “allow” to remain and which ones need to be sent back right away.

I am a fan of co-operative games as a whole, and Yggdrasil is no exception. It’s fun, engaging and challenging; another great addition to the host of quality titles Z-Man has been publishing in recent years.

7
Go to the Race for the Galaxy: The Brink of War page
26 out of 30 gamers thought this was helpful

The Brink of War is the third expansion for Race for the Galaxy. As with the other expansions, it adds a host of new cards that expand various strategies within the game, and adds new components that players may or may not like to include. I don’t think the game is brought to the point where it has too much going on, but I do think this latest expansion really pushes the line.

The contents are similar to Rebel vs Imperium: you get four new start worlds, 44 new cards, and five new goals that round out the various strategic paths in the game. There is also a new type of point that can be earned in the game: prestige. Prestige points are worth victory points at the end of the game, but they can also convey some nice bonuses to the prestige leader, and each player can spend a prestige once per game to use a kind of super-card for their phase selection. In some ways, prestige can help make takeovers easier, but still not enough in my estimation to bother with takeovers at all. It just bogs down the game too much for too little return.

Bottom line is that if you don’t want the prestige mechanic at all you’ll basically need to pass on this one, since it’s not optional in the way that goals and takeovers can be excluded without trouble. But I’m happy enough with prestige, and with a huge deck, six player gameplay and tons of starting worlds to choose from, this is a great way to round out an existing collection.

7
Go to the Race for the Galaxy: Rebel vs Imperium page
26 out of 30 gamers thought this was helpful

Rebel vs Imperium is the second expansion for Race for the Galaxy, significantly expanding the military component of the game and adding some iffy rules for conquering other players’ cards.

One big plus over the first expansion is the stack of new cards: over forty in this set. Also, the Rebel and Imperium keywords get a significant upgrade, meaning that military is no longer just a singular strategy but has several different branches one could take. There is also a sixth set of player cards, further expanding the number of people you can seat at once. There are also a lot of new six-cost developments meaning a lot more end-game scoring options. It’s even feasible now to combine two or more, if you’re fortunate enough to have two that work well in tandem with your tableau. Several new starting worlds round out the bunch.

The game also comes with some new goals and some new pieces for the solitaire “robot” board. The game also includes a pile of new components for use with the newest game mechanic: takeovers. It is now possible for a player with sufficient military strength to “conquer” a card belonging to another player. It is so difficult to achieve, however, and the rules surrounding the conditions so convoluted, that my playgroup never plays with takeovers included. Never. The game works just fine – or better – without it.

Although the takeover aspect seems kind of hit-or-miss with players, the expansion is pretty much worth it for the extra cards and goals included, and of course for the extra player cards. Regardless of what additional components you leave in or out of the game, more cards is a good thing with Race.

8
Go to the Race for the Galaxy: The Gathering Storm page
30 out of 33 gamers thought this was helpful

The Gathering Storm is the first expansion for Race for the Galaxy, but it’s not the kind of expansion you would expect for a card game. At first blush, a new owner might feel ripped off when opening the box and finding less than two dozen actual game cards inside, including four new starting worlds and a replacement for the original Gambling World. The rest are phase cards for a fifth player and blanks to create your own. But there are a number of other components in there that help to expand the game as a whole beyond the simple(r) card play of the base game.

Probably the biggest new addition is the stack of cardboard known as goals. Some goals are earned mid-game by the first player to accomplish one of various tasks. Others are end-game goals for the player with the most of something or another. All of them award bonus points; most of them have a diabolical way of drawing a player off his long-term strategy to chase after a little extra boost. Be careful how hard you pursue these.

One of the more controversial additions is the solitaire board, referred to as a “robot” against which a single player can match wits. What’s clever is that the board comes with a small handful of variable components adjusting the robot’s play style to his starting world. However, the gains made by the robot don’t seem to match up with the normal flow of play, and a robot with a production engine seems to cream me every time, even on the easiest setting.

Some other minor additions, aside from the aforementioned fifth player card set, include a variant for 2-3 player drafting, which may provide some relief to the players who grumble about the game being too tactical based on a random draw.

Overall, this expansion is worth the purchase despite the relatively few number of new cards; the new elements it adds really round out the game and make it more complete

8
Go to the Race for the Galaxy page
53 out of 57 gamers thought this was helpful

Race for the Galaxy is a relatively heavy card game from Rio Grande, but once a player gets his head around the game, it offers a fairly deep play experience in a relatively short amount of time.

The driving mechanic in the game is role selection, a la Puerto Rico. Players have cards representing six different phases of a game turn wherein the players can draw cards, build up the empire in their tableau, and produce resources for points, cards and other bonuses. Each player selects a phase in secret and reveal their choice simultaneously. Each revealed phase is carried out in a pre-determined order, with each player allowed to play the phase, but the person who selected it getting an additional bonus. Any phases not selected by at least one player is not carried out at all that turn.

A brilliant aspect to this card game – and one that it shares with its spiritual sister, San Juan – is the way it handles the money, resources and buildings found in a board game. In Race for the Galaxy, the cards act simultaneously as the buildings in your territory, as currency in your hand, and as resources to be harvested for various gains. This means that on any given turn, you are deciding which cards you want to build, and which cards you will have to sacrifice in payment. There are a lot of other aspects to this game that give you various tactical and strategic choices – such as military, various types of goods, windfall profits – too numerous to mention in this short review. But at its base, Race is about choosing which phase to play on a turn, and which cards to hold or spend in the short term, to further your long-term strategy.

The game has a few points which are a mixed blessing. One primary issue with the game is the large number of rather cryptic icons up and down the card. Learning these icons represents something of a barrier to entry, but they are important to learn, because they serve as a good substitute for loads of card text, and because they are consistent and organized by phase, a learned player can tell at a glance what his various cards do for him. Also, while there are several winning strategies, each player must build with the cards he draws from a large common stack. Some cards he desperately wants may be far down the deck, or in the hands of a sly opponent. For some, this means a lack of true strategic planning in favor of turn-by-turn tactical play. In my opinion, there is a fair balance of both, whereby you can look for cards that have a compound effect when paired with others, but you have to be flexible in developing your long-term game in the context of your short-term assets.

This game maybe a little too heavy for the faint of heart, but for an avid gamer who is not afraid to invest the time to learn, I think he will get more out of the game than the time and energy put into it.

8
Go to the Dominion: Cornucopia page
25 out of 30 gamers thought this was helpful

Cornucopia is the fifth expansion for Dominion, and the second small-box expansion after Alchemy. It’s a little more difficult to put a solid finger on this set than others, because the variety of the cards is so wide. But then, that’s what this set brings to the game: it has variety, and while there are many cards in Dominion that reward you for having certain types of cards in your deck, Cornucopia rewards players for building a deck with a lot of variety.

As mentioned before, this 13-card set has a little of everything: a new defense card, a new treasure card, a new victory card, three new attack cards, and the buzz of this set is the card that uses extra components: tournament. A lot of effects have the condition of holding one specific type of card, or for having as many different types (or just different cards) as possible. These kind of effects can have players scrambling all over the table for the cards they need to trigger these powers.

The production value on this set is the same as the ones that came before; still no awesome Thunderstone-style storage solution. The changes to gameplay are not such that it demands to be included in the way Prosperity or Seaside might be, but it is the kind of set when one or two sneak into a random setup, you say oh cool! that will totally make a good combo with this other card!

This is not a set I would recommend getting ahead of most of the full-size expansions but for players gathering a good collection of cards to use in their games, it is a great complement to the other sets.

9
Go to the Dominion: Prosperity page
66 out of 72 gamers thought this was helpful

Prosperity is the fourth expansion for Dominion, and really ups the ante with more powerful cards and more power to attain with them. This set competes with Seaside for my favorite, and probably wins that fight.

The first big addition in this set is the upgrade to both Treasures and Victory cards, adding a Platinum and a Colony to the mix. Before, players would agonize that they had 7 coin yet again, and had to buy something that was not a Province. Now that there are a couple more cards that cost 8, the Platinum is 9, and the Colony is 11, players will agonize that they have 10 coin yet again, and have to buy something that is not a Colony. In short, 10 is the new 7.

Also, nearly half the Kingdom cards in this set are Treasures, meaning not only that you’ll have a lot more options to stockpile money, but these Treasures also have abilities similar to action cards, that take effect when you play them in the Buy phase. So now, what coins you play, and the order you play them, can be something to pay attention to.

This set is designed to ramp up the power to help people hit 9 and 11 more easily, and so there are a few cards that feel like amped-up versions of older cards, e.g. King’s Court is a Super-Throne Room, or Expand is a Super-Remodel. All told, this can make for some very fun combinations.

This is a must-have set for any fan of Dominion; the cards are a lot of fun and if you have a good mix of cards, you can create some really crazy combinations.

7
Go to the Dominion: Alchemy page

Dominion: Alchemy

24 out of 26 gamers thought this was helpful

In contemplating the impact of Alchemy, the third expansion for Dominion and the first “half-sized” set with only 12 new Kingdom cards, I can’t help recalling Penn and Teller’s scene in Fantasia 2000: “It’s your kid’s birthday, and you just shelled out 50 bucks to watch a guy pull a mangy rabbit out of a flea-bitten hat… You think it must be some kind of trick. And you know what? You’d be right!… This is what real magicians laughingly refer to as ‘stage magic’… ALL ARE ILLUUUUUSIONS.”

That’s kind of the feel I get from playing with this set. The main addition this set brings to the game is the use of a new Treasure card called Potion, and most of the cards in this set require a potion as at least part of the cost to buy. In effect, it creates the new tension of having enough potions to get the cool powers on the Alchemy cards, but not so much that it undermines the actual money you need to buy other cards, particularly victory points.

The cards themselves are a mixed bag, mostly good powers, but also, nearly all of them grant extra actions. So playing with this set pretty much ensures players will be playing a lot of cards on their turn. The one card people are most likely to grumble about is Possession, which allows you to control the next player’s turn and steal a lot of his benefits for yourself, then giving him another, regular turn.

I know a lot of this sounds like I’m down on the set; I actually like playing with the set, especially when we get in the mood for doing some power-chaining, and most of the cards do really cool things. It’s just that the idea behind the potion gives the illusion of a whole new avenue for gameplay, when the reality is it just kind of forks some of the cards off a little bit to the side.

9
Go to the Earth Reborn page

Earth Reborn

36 out of 39 gamers thought this was helpful

Z-Man has published a wide variety of games over the years, covering a wide variety of themes and mechanics. But no one was more surprised than I to see a big-box miniatures strategy game at their Origins booth. I walked out that same day with a copy in hand, and don’t regret the purchase in the least.

The game has a number of pre-built scenarios, and something I don’t recall seeing in other games of this type, an engine that allows players to build custom scenarios to spec. The core of the game is that players select orders from a “hand” of tiles, drawing from a limited pool of action points to use them, moving their characters around the board, interacting with the terrain, collecting items, and most of all, fighting their opponent’s figures.

The first thing the player will notice upon opening the box is that it is chock full of pieces, an Ameritrasher’s dream. Dozens of double-sided cardboard terrain pieces of every shape and size can be interconnected in various ways to form a modular game board. Several beautifully sculptured miniatures rest in the box. And there are cards and cardboard bits and even custom-face dice everywhere. Observation 1a, at least in the initial unboxing, is that the publisher provided a molded plastic tray to hold all the pieces but declined to instruct on how to store the pieces. They claim it is kind of like a mini-side-game to figure out how the pieces go in the box; I claim it is a big unnecessary headache, and went to their website to get the solution to their… “puzzle”.

The second thing they’ll notice is that the game comes with a huge book of rules. On its face, the game seems very complex, and in some ways it is. But there is a lot of consistency and repeated themes within the rules that make everything kind of flow together. More importantly, the nine scenarios in the scenario book are designed to teach a couple pieces of the rules at a time, so that the player can start with a very simple game, and by the time he gets to the end, has a complete mastery of all aspects of the rules. This is a brilliant way to teach the game in pieces, and I wish Fantasy Flight would take a lesson from them.

This is not my favorite game to play, but there’s no particular reason that is so. Everything you would ask the game to do, it does so elegantly, and I have a LOT of fun playing it. There are few downsides to the game at all. It really just boils down to my personal taste: a preference for card-based combat over dice, cooperative games over cutthroat, and shorter games over longer ones. So while the game is not for everybody, if you are the kind of person who likes big games with tons of pieces and lots of strategic combat (and I like all those things), Earth Reborn is a real winner.

9
Go to the Dominion: Seaside page

Dominion: Seaside

28 out of 32 gamers thought this was helpful

Seaside is the second full-size expansion for Dominion, with over two dozen new cards to add to the mix. This is one of my favorite expansions, and is better than Intrigue in almost every way.

The key new addition in this set are the orange “duration” cards, which have an effect on the turn you play it, and then stay on the table and give you a bonus effect on your next turn. There are also a number of cards that can really help you ramp up your money fast. So while Intrigue gave you a lot of actions to chain together, Seaside helps you line your pockets quickly.

The production values on this expansion are essentially the same as the other sets: good but not great components, and okay but not beautiful artwork.

This set really ramps up the fun factor among my group of players, and we’re always happy to see an orange card come up in a random drawing. And we’re not at afraid at times to hand-pick a couple as well. Having cards that players specifically look for in a game really speaks to how much better the game is with these cards included.

8
Go to the Dominion: Intrigue page

Dominion: Intrigue

34 out of 37 gamers thought this was helpful

Intrigue is the first expansion to Dominion, and the only one to have the necessary starter cards to stand alone from the base game. In addition for expanding the game up to 6 players, the new cards offer a variety of new strategies for the game.

The biggest addition in the game are cards of dual-types, mostly cards that are victory points but also have money or an action as well. There are also several new attack cards, and several cards that negatively impact one opponent but not all, and therefore are technically not attack cards. The set also has cards that reward you for having other cards in your deck that you might not normally seek to buy, spreading out the purchasing strategy and pushing the game more towards the three-depleted-piles end condition, and not always the depleted-Province condition that ends so many regular games.

Some players do not like the low/subtle interactivity in Dominion play, and those players will like a set like this more than most. People like me prefer to focus on efficiency and building combos, and don’t really care for the way a card like Tribute will mess with your deck and you can’t even play a blue card in defense. But there are enough new things to do in this set that disliking any one expanded strategy probably won’t throw you off the set as a whole.

There’s not much to say about the production values for this game that can’t be said for the base game. Quality is good but not fantastic, artwork is okay but won’t dazzle you.

Overall, if you have a good group of Dominion players at hand, this is a must-buy to seat six at the table. If it’s not, I wouldn’t put it among my favorite expansions, but it has enough good cards to be worth the investment.

9
Go to the Dominion page

Dominion

52 out of 66 gamers thought this was helpful

The latest trend in board and card games is deck-building, a type of card game where players draft or buy cards to add to their existing deck, which allows them to do more and better things over the course of the game, generally building towards a pile of winning points at the end. While some games have done this in the past, the catalyst for this recent surge is Dominion.

There are three general types of cards in Dominion: cards worth points (which do nothing except be points), cards worth money (which help you buy more cards) and cards that do stuff. You use the do-stuff cards in order to get momentum on your turn, pile up some money cards to spend on buying more cards, and eventually start using the engine you’ve built to get the point cards into your deck.

In terms of production values, everything is good but none of it is mind-blowing. The art is a mixed bag but generally not going to stop you in your tracks; you’re more likely to notice art you don’t like than art you do like. The cards are sturdy enough but I’ve seen thicker, and I would definitely trust it to hold up better if it had the linen finish I’ve seen in a few other games. Light to moderate play is no problem; heavy or careless play and you’re taking your chances. The box, again, is adequate, but I’ve been using one as a master box to haul around my complete set, and it was clearly built to hold the weight of 500 cards but not necessarily 1500+. Also, the amazing dividers and spacers in Thunderstone put this to shame.

The abilities on the cards in this set are fairly basic, and mostly relegated to one or more of: +action, +card, +coin, +buy. This can have its drawbacks as people will get accustomed to this set quickly over repeated plays, and make the game feel a little thin and dry. But the twofold advantage to this, is that the base game is simple enough to teach you the system, and also to entice you to go after the expansions, where the game opens up significantly more.

Among my friends, this is a surefire way to spend a half hour or so in a solid, fun game and have a relatively fresh experience each time, with so many cards to mix and match.

7
Go to the Thunderstone: Doomgate Legion page
18 out of 21 gamers thought this was helpful

Do*ate Legion is the second expansion for Thunderstone, and essentially continues the upward pace set by Wrath of the Elements. Again, it expands the options for Hero, Monster and Village cards, but for better or worse, does not significantly change the core gameplay of Thunderstone.

As with Wrath, Do*ate adds another Thunderstone to fiddle with, and another Monster that grows progressively through the deck. It also adds Treasures, a kind of bonus card that pops up in the Dungeon from time to time. It’s nice to have something to pull people into the Dungeon, but I can’t help thinking that Traps (from Wrath) and Treasures should have been included in the same set to offset each other.

Like with Wrath, the excellent artwork from Thunderstone is carried forward, and the box comes with unrivaled packaging for sorting, storing and transporting combined sets of cards. And like Wrath, this is a good pickup if you like what the original has to offer.

7
Go to the Thunderstone: Wrath of the Elements page
24 out of 25 gamers thought this was helpful

Wrath of the Elements is the first expansion to the deckbuilding game Thunderstone. It does a good job adding variety to the base game but does not significantly improve things mechanically; the game suffers from many of the same problems with or without this.

The bulk of added content in this expansion is in new Hero cards, Monster cards and Village cards. Most of them just broaden the base of what’s available, but of particular note is the first Monster type that gets progressively stronger each time its type is turned up, instead of the normal, random distribution. Wrath also includes a second Thunderstone which can be shuffled into the deck with the first Thunderstone or by itself. Lastly, it adds Traps, an element that gets shuffled into the Monster deck to make it (even) more difficult.

The shining glory of this box is, well, the box. Wrath comes in a smaller box than base Thunderstone, but it is just the right size to hold two columns of cards along their long sides, with a complete set of dividers labeled for each card type, with art to match the box of the corresponding set. There are also several foam blocks to act as spacers and keep the cards upright. This is an invaluable method for storing and transporting the cards, and it’s a system from which other card games can take their cue. In fact, it’s rather shocking that, so far, no others have done this.

The same issues with random Monster decks potentially pushing all the hard ones to the top, never having the right combination of cards to hit the Dungeon, and/or an imbalance of available cards for the player count still exist; they are systemic and I’m not sure any expansion or single rule change can alleviate this issue. I recommended a change in the setup stacks which I believe helps, but only with part of the problem. Also, adding the Traps ramps up the difficulty without really giving the players something to compensate, which can be frustrating.

Having said that, this is still a fun experience, and players who like the general concept of Thunderstone can’t go wrong by giving themselves more Heroes and Monsters to choose from.

9
Go to the Battlestar Galactica: Exodus Expansion page
33 out of 36 gamers thought this was helpful

Like Pegasus, the Exodus expansion for Battlestar Galactica is a mostly-favorable collection of new components and new rules for the base game. In my opinion, this expansion does even more to improve the game than Pegasus.

As with Pegasus, there are several new characters in this set, which round out all the different role types nicely and evenly. The game also introduces a more advanced form of Viper that is more powerful than the regular “nuggets”. The big step forward, though, is the addition of the CAG title. The highest ranked political leader had the Presidency with the power to play Quorum cards; the highest ranked military leader was the Admiral and could nuke the Cylons and choose the distance of the next jump. Before, pilots would just go into space as required; now the powerful CAG title allows them more control over the space areas around Galactica. They also have the ability to “escort” civilian ships off the board, safe from Cylon attack.

The big new board in the set is the Cylon fleet board, which replaces the fleet cards in the Crisis deck. Now instead of going away and reappearing randomly, the Cylon ships simply migrate to the fleet board, and at intervals jump back to Galactica in the same configuration. This board gives the Cylons many more options to wreak havoc with the Cylon fleet, but it also removes some of the chaotic swings that came with the fleet crisis cards, allowing the humans a little more room to manage their defenses.

The new objective in the set is the Ionian Nebula, and it is tied to another added play element: Allies. Allies are small tokens representing major characters scattered throughout the ship. They can aid the players in various ways and contribute to the new good/bad Trauma Tokens accumulated by the players. The flip side to this is that as the players go into the nebula, they each undergo one final assignment which can add to or subtract from their good/bad total… and if they have too much bad Trauma (or good for the Cylons), they are eliminated from the game. Not executed: ELIMINATED. For the remaining round of play.

The production values on this set mirror its two predecessors; artwork and construction are every bit as good. The improvements made to gameplay are tremendous in most respects, but just as questionable in the parts that don’t work as well. Using our game group as an example, we nearly always play with the Cylon fleet board and the CAG title for pilots; these two aspects should always be played together or not at all. Conversely, we almost never play with the Nebula objective, and so the Allies and all bits that utilize Trauma are taken out. Like New Caprica, it adds wasted time to the endgame, and in an era when gameplay has evolved beyond Last Man Standing rules for most board games, player elimination in a co-op seems needless and harsh.

Despite the fact that we still play almost exclusively with the Kobol objective, we have taken the best parts of this expansion and paired it with the best of Pegasus to make Battlestar a very rich and satisfying gameplay experience. The fact that Fantasy Flight’s design allows for this modular form of expansion is a huge plus. If you loved BSG, complete your experience by adding this to it.

8
Go to the Battlestar Galactica: Pegasus Expansion page
24 out of 30 gamers thought this was helpful

Battlestar Galactica is one of my favorite board games, and absolutely my favorite cooperative game. With plenty of material to draw from the television show, an expansion was almost inevitable. Pegasus draws from the second(ish) season of BSG and adds several new modular components to the base game.

Several new characters are added to the game, including Cylon Leaders, who are known to the entire group as Cylons but who have a hidden agenda which may or may not be beneficial to the humans, so their motives are still unclear.

One of the key additions to the game is the Battlestar Pegasus, a side board that has new locations for the crew to use. It grants some amazing powers like being able to execute a suspected Cylon rather than just throwing him in the Brig, or to ensure that the jump track continues to advance. However, the cost for these is also high, and while we nearly always play with Pegasus, we also nearly always use her as a shield against damage to Galactica.

Another big addition is a new final objective: New Caprica. Near the end of the game, a new side board comes into play in place of the Galactica locations. The goals change slightly as well: the humans now have a stack of civilian ships to prep and launch before they are destroyed, and the Cylons have some powerful tools to stall their progress. We have found this objective adds a level of complexity that stifles the gameplay and adds an hour to play time, and so we almost never play this objective.

All in all, this expansion has a lot of great new options added to an already-great game, and the fact that they are modular keeps things very flexible in terms of what your particular group may or may not like combined with the base game. If your group loves BSG, make sure to pick this up.

9
Go to the Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game page
51 out of 54 gamers thought this was helpful

Based on the (more recent) show of the same name, Battlestar Galactica is a game of team strategy, intrigue and suspense that comes to the table almost every time our gaming group meets. It’s faithful to the spirit of the show, but very accessible to those who have not watched.

Players take on a number of roles, mostly divided into military, political and piloting. They also take loyalty cards which determine if they are human or Cylon. In larger games, especially with the expansions, BSG plays more like a hidden teams game like Bang!, than a coop-with-traitor game like Werewolf or Shadows Over Camelot. The humans have an assortment of colored cards which have both a power they can use (generally) on their turn, and a numerical value which contributes to “skill checks”. Occasionally the players will be asked to add card secretly to these checks, where certain colors will count towards their goal and other colors will count against, allowing the tension of not having enough cards to pass and/or having the check sabotaged by a Cylon player.

The main goal is to survive long enough to advance the “jump track” and jump the human fleet closer and closer to their final objective, while managing a dwindling collection of resources, a persistent fleet of attacking Cylons and the constant skill checks, not to mention the looming threat of a traitor in their midst. The sublime twist is at the midpoint of the game, when a SECOND set of loyalty cards is distributed, meaning a player could have thought himself a human for half the game, then realized only later he was a Cylon sleeper agent.

The components for this game are great. The artwork is drawn directly from the television show, including a large number of stills featuring the various characters. The fighters around the base are small plastic ship molds, although the large basestars are cardboard punch-outs in the base game (this is corrected in the first expansion).

Gameplay flows nicely and generates a wonderful sense of tension throughout the game. Even with a large group, players can pass around Executive Orders to allow other players to take actions, and there are a number of skill checks throughout the game, so there is not a lot of down time between turns. This game carries a big advantage over the traitor aspect of Shadows Over Camelot, in that the Cylon can reveal his loyalty at a time of his choosing, and if he does so without being caught or killed, he gets a bonus. Also, the Cylons have a number of options available to play on their turn, meaning they are still interacting with the other players through the end of the game. The outcome of the base game is a little more prone to wider swings based on chance, but with expansions added, the vast majority of our games come down to the last jump.

If you like co-operative games, or if you like throwing a wrench into a team effort, or if you like sci-fi themed games, or if you just have a good-sized groups of sufficiently geeky friends, this game is not to be missed.

5
Go to the Ascension page

Ascension

38 out of 47 gamers thought this was helpful

I’ve seen deck-building games take on a number of forms since Dominion brought it to prominence. Some have gone for heavy theme, others have tried strategic venues. Ascension pretends at having theme but mostly provides a light experience with very little planning beyond the next turn.

Unlike many such games where there are stacks of cards from which to buy, ALL of the cards in Ascension are shuffled into one giant stack, and the top six are laid out in front of the players. The cards tend to have one of two forms of currency: either “money” dollars or “punching dollars”. The player can use his money dollars to buy other cards for his deck, or his punching dollars to punch a monster into the void. The card is then replaced with another from the huge pile and the player can continue buying and punching as long as his hand can afford to allow it.

In one sense, the player has more options available due to the freeform gameplay and no limits on actions taken. In another sense, the completely randomized large deck with only six visible cards and high turnover rate means that, especially in larger groups, the cards you see on the table now likely will not be there on your next turn. Also, while the non-monster cards are divided into four colored factions, there’s not a great distinction in the special powers on the cards, and for the most part they don’t stay out on the table long enough to have a cumulative strategic effect. The one exception is the Mechana faction, which a lot of them play to the table and give bonuses for being on the table, but any player with half a brain will stop you from racking up a large pile of these cards.

The end result is a largely tactical card game, where the bulk of strategic planning is the balance between building up your deck, denying other players their cards, and punching monsters to drain the pile of gems which count as victory points.

It’s not a bad game, per se, but its highly chaotic nature steers me towards other, better deck-building games.

7
Go to the Thunderstone page

Thunderstone

37 out of 40 gamers thought this was helpful

Thunderstone is one of the early returns on the new genre forged by Dominion, and attempts to take it out of the abstract deck-building experience and into a fantasy-themed dungeon crawl. The results are generally favorable, but mixed.

Players begin a game of Thunderstone with a small deck of cards representing basic soldiers, weapons and other items. These cards also typically have a value in gold in addition to their other attributes. On his turn, a player takes a hand of six cards and can either go to the Village, buying heroes, weapons and items to enhance his deck, or to the Dungeon, where his heroes can equip their weapons and use their items to defeat one of three available monsters. Defeated monsters go into the players deck for points (and occasionally other bonuses); if the monster defeats you, he goes to the bottom of the monster deck to (conceivably) come up again. This goes on until the Thunderstone – the mystic rock in the bottom third of the pile – is either claimed or passes through the dungeon unclaimed.

The game consists entirely of cards, no other components are added to the game even through the first handful of expansions. The box for the base game mimics the Dominion layout, but to Alderac’s credit, their expansions started using a fantastic storage solution that deserves to be emulated by all other deck-building games. The artwork is good in this set, and improves across expansions.

The gameplay is kind of a hindering factor for this game. It’s difficult to get the right combination of cards in hand to go after a monster, especially if they have certain immunities that are difficult to get around with the available cards. A randomized monster deck can potentially mean that one or more large monsters could come up early, and so hamper the development of a deck that, by the time a player is strong enough to fight it, they breeze through the second half of the game like it’s nothing. One way to avoid this problem is to fight the monster and lose deliberately, getting him to the bottom of the deck and out of your way, but intentional tanking has not really emerged among many players, who don’t seem to think the benefit is worth the cost. The game also uses the same setup for any number of players, which ranges from an embarrassment of riches for two players, to an epidemic shortage for five players.

Despite its flaws, there’s a lot of good stuff going on in this game, and for those who like it conceptually, they will find that the expansions help address some of these balance issues and add more punch to gameplay. In addition, I tend to house rule the cards to scale per number of players, which I feel really helps finalize that sense of balance. So this game in particular may frustrate players at first, but will reward those who buy into the system.

8
Go to the 7 Wonders page

7 Wonders

79 out of 83 gamers thought this was helpful

7 Wonders made quite a splash on its initial release, reminding people of the early days of Dominion, but playing more quickly with a direct draft instead of buying a deck of cards.

The game is divided into three Ages, in which each player gets seven cards to start. A turn consists simply of selecting a card to use and passing the rest around the table. A card can be bought for a price printed on the card, and becomes part of that player’s civilization; it can be used to build that player’s wonder; it can be discarded for three coins. On the sixth turn, players will typically select one of their two remaining cards to use, and discard the last.

The different card types yield different benefits: brown and gray cards are resources used to build other cards; red cards are military strength; yellow cards are commerce, sometimes helping players get resources, sometimes giving coins straight up; blue cards are raw points; green cards are science, giving points at end of game based on collecting sets; and purple cards appear in Age III as endgame bonus point generators. Success in 7 Wonders comes from knowing when you have an opportunity to specialize and cash in on combos coming to you and/or weaknesses in opposing civs, and when it’s better to diversify and pick up a broad base of points.

The components are of very good quality; the civ boards are solid cardboard, the cards are surprisingly large and clean in their design, and the extra bits for coins and military are functional if not noteworthy. The artwork is great, and while it can take a little time to learn the icons on the cards, they help keep the cards simple in their construction, and easy to evaluate at a glance.

The gameplay is low on interaction; most of your efforts will be in what cards and/or resources you deny your opponents by your decisions. But in terms of avenues for scoring points, there are several different ways to go about it, and a lot of them can work very well behind a sharp mind.

This is a great game to break out on Family Game Night, or among gamer friends when you want a quick filler. It does not disappoint.

8
Go to the Small World page

Small World

51 out of 56 gamers thought this was helpful

Small World is known in gaming circles as a re-theming of the classic game Vinci, but for many gamers, this will be their first exposure to the concept. This is a fun little game where players get to mix and match nifty powers in an attempt to kick their friends off the game board and scratch out as many points as they can.

The key component in Small World are the races; there are a number of different races like trolls and elves and wizards – typical cliche fantasy fare – each with their own special power. There are also a number of attributes – again with distinct special powers – that are randomly paired up with these races. So in one game you could have swamp trolls and seafaring elves, and in another game you could have seafaring trolls and stout skeletons, and so forth.

Each player works to procure a race from the handful that are available, place their tokens on different areas of the game board, and collect money at end of turn for areas they control. This money is then used later to buy other races, and at the end of game to determine the winner. The races’ special powers may make it easier to conquer certain areas, or give a bonus for others, or allow you better attacks against other players.

When a new race is bought, the previous race goes “in decline” meaning the pieces generally stay on the board but that race no longer uses its power. Mostly it makes opponents work a little harder to get what they need, while you are off with your shiny new race grabbing points elsewhere.

Overall, I like the components in this game; all the pieces are good solid cardboard bits, and the artwork looks great. One chief complaint is that the way certain illustrations blend can make it harder to tell what type of area you’re supposed to be looking at. This information should be clear to everyone at all times.

The gameplay is simple enough to teach newcomers in a relatively short span of time. The lighter nature of the game may turn off more hardcore gamers, but for people who just want some good solid fun and good player interaction, Days of Wonder tends to provide these in spades. Small World is no exception.

9
Go to the StarCraft: Brood War Expansion  page
34 out of 36 gamers thought this was helpful

Some expansions broaden a game by adding more components; others heighten it with new rules and options; still others clarify or fix some of the existing rules that didn’t quite gel, or improve the balance between different aspects of the game. This expansion does ALL of these things.

Each faction gets a new set of units, sculpted as beautifully as the base game, although with some editions the color match may not be exact. There are more planets, more cards, more strategic options, more upgrade paths, more distinction between the factions… this expansion is simply: more.

If you read my review of the base game a lot of the same comments – good and bad – will apply here, but to that I will add that after the first time playing with the expansion, I never went back. NEVER. You have the freedom to leave certain aspects of the gameplay in or out but in a general sense, this game is so complete with the expansion that to play without just reminds you of what you did not even realize was missing before.

9
Go to the StarCraft: The Board Game page

StarCraft: The Board Game

37 out of 39 gamers thought this was helpful

Starcraft is a deep yet raucous imitation of the video game by the same name, combining some of the best elements of many other Fantasy Flight titles.

The gameplay has a relatively sharp learning curve, but is a bit easier to grasp with some knowledge of the video game, and worth the investment once the light bulb comes on. The game begins with each player selecting a faction – with its own units, cards and special powers – and building a modular game board by connecting planets together. Players can occupy these planets to gain more resources to grow their military, conquest points toward victory, and other strategic advantages.

In the first phase of a game turn, each player takes it in turn to select one of three different order types – build, research, mobilize – and place it face-down on or next to a planet they occupy. This proceeds around the table until all players have placed four orders (each order type occurs two to three times); it also means that orders can stack up on a planet. This is critical to understand, because in the second phase, players go around the table resolving their orders by selecting one ON TOP of a stack and revealing it. This means that orders placed early can get buried and are usually among the last to be resolved. Most of the real gameplay takes place during this phase, as players build structures and units, research more tech to improve their attributes, and move on to other planets, fighting battles whenever two factions clash. The final phase is mostly bookkeeping, resolving end-of-turn effects and checking for victory conditions, etc.

Of particular note in this game is that the combat is card-based, rather than using dice or some sort of results table. Each faction has a combat deck that has some basic attack cards, and a “technology” deck that can provide bonuses in a number of different ways; either by allowing unit upgrades, providing bonuses to attack/defense, or by adding new attack cards directly into the combat deck. And while the attack cards are specific to certain units, each card has a “minor value” assigned, so that even if you are caught in a battle without the right cards for your units, you can at least use minor units as a fallback.

The components included in the game are for the most part top-notch. The artwork on the cards is strongly thematic, and the cards themselves are very clean and well-composed for conveying information. The game comes with nearly 200 sculpted pieces representing many of the combat units found in the video game. The interconnected planets provides a modular design that gives a different game experience with each play. One thing to watch out for: the plastic stands for air units can be a bit fragile, especially in older editions of the game where the air units shipped with stands attached. Handle with care. Fantasy Flight has, historically, been good about providing replacement stands to remedy this issue.

The upside to thematic rules is that they immerse the player in the franchise, and few publishers do this as well as Fantasy Flight. The downside is that they can become intricate and complicated, and Fantasy Flight tends to have difficulty conveying these rules in a clear, simple manner. This game is much better taught than learned from the book, and even then requires one or two plays before really grasping the game.

I have a hard time getting this game to the table, but among those who have stuck it out for a game have almost universally enjoyed the experience. If you have a handful of friends who like Starcraft or space battle games in general, and if you think they can survive the first game or two without throwing up their hands and walking off, the result will be a good core of players who will want to come back to this again and again. This is currently my favorite strategy game and for those willing to invest the time, energy and money, I cannot recommend this strongly enough.

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