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Paladin

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4
Go to the One Night Ultimate Werewolf: Daybreak page
28 out of 33 gamers thought this was helpful

It’s Saturday Night at the Paladin’s Love Shack and we’ve got guests over for a party. The Lady went and invited one-too-many people, or two-too-many or even three-too-many, and now we can’t play any six-player board games. What’s a gamer with a gaming itch to do?

Oh, wait! Good thing I love hidden role games!

There’s no question that The Resistance has become the favorite Mafia-style game of accusing and murdering your friends, thanks to its no player elimination mechanics and short play time. But more and more hidden role games keep popping up lately, from Bang! to Moriarty’s Machinations to Mascarade.

True party games, these can sometimes accommodate ten or twelve players, ensuring that nobody has to sit it out or watch from the sidelines — unless the game’s mechanics include the dreaded elimination.

But despite all the really cool themes and innovations out there, something just feels visceral and perfect and classic about playing a good game of Werewolf, despite the fact that, about five minutes into the game, someone is immediately lynched and eliminated.

But wait — I can play Werewolf in a single round, with no eliminations?

Yes, you can. We all can. The game is called One Night Ultimate Werewolf and it has a sister game slash expansion, called Daybreak.

In One Night, players go through one round of actions to gain clues about each others’ roles, and then there is a single “Who’s the Werewolf?” discussion followed by an execution. If a werewolf is killed, the villagers win. If a villager is killed, the werewolves win. It takes about ten minutes — longer if you’re silly and set the app to allow each player 30 seconds for their action. No, seriously. Don’t do this. 15 seconds is plenty.

Much like the seer or hunter or child in classic werewolf, nearly a dozen different characters with special abilities are tucked into this portable box. Each is beautifully illustrated in a cartoon style that really pops, and printed on heavy, sturdy card stock for easy and silent manipulation of character cards when other players have their eyes closed.

Included are a few other tokens, like a shield to designate who the sentinel defends or artifacts that the curator randomly drops on a card, for no reason other than laughs and “because it’s funny”.

Werewolves get to recognize each other, as usual. The Alpha Wolf, if there is one, can turn another player into a werewolf — to his detriment mechanically, so I have no idea why.

Other roles allow you to look at cards, trade cards, protect or sabotage cards, and a variety of actions that, ultimately, give you very little information about your opponents or the location of the werewolves except by an incredible stroke of luck.

Oh, and you’re playing with the village idiot role? He goes last, and shifts everyone’s card except his own one place to the left or right. So any investigating you did could very well be for naught.

One Night Ultimate Werewolf: Daybreak gave us a lot of laughs for the two short rounds we played. Half the laughter was at the ridiculous background “music” selected for round two, which was howling, snarling, angry wolves that drowned out the narrator in the app. Oops, guess I should have tested it first!

But other than the laughs, it delivered only confusion and chaos for my group. When the time came to argue over who to execute, the most normally-vocal players were silent and dumbstruck.

So, should you try or buy this game?

When you consider that there’s no information gathering at all in the classic Werewolf party game, I will cheerfully agree that this is a step forward. It shakes up the roles and even werewolves won’t know if they’re actually a werewolf, when it comes time to string someone up.

But with so many other options out there these days offering a hidden role experience that allows for deduction and coercion, a game where you roll the dice, cross your fingers, and hope you’ve just ganked a werewolf has no place.

Much like Cards Against Humanity or the upcoming, obnoxious Exploding Kittens, I’ll classify this as more of a novelty than a game. Break it out when you want some laughs, and put it away after a round or two of mind-boggling random finger pointing.

Light hidden role & “deduction”, classic party game. Not recommended — skip it and grab Bang! Dice instead.

7
Go to the King of New York page

King of New York

26 out of 28 gamers thought this was helpful

First, let’s quickly do a nutshell recap the well-loved fan favorite, King of Tokyo.

You’ve got four options in the original: beat up another monster, heal yourself, collect points, or save up energy for cool powers that relate to those three things. Toughed it out in Tokyo for a whole round? Here’s a minuscule amount of points — why aren’t you beating up monsters?

But that’s the appealing part of King of Tokyo. It’s easy to learn, plays fast, and is accessible whether you’re a hardcore gamer just looking for silly, cartoon-monster fun, or a novice that until recently thought Uno and Scattergories constitute modern tabletop gaming.

Arguments and outright brawls over who gets to play Cyber Bunny aside, there’s a lot of bang in that box for your 6-person dinner parties or break room gatherings. Non-gamer friends will stop by more often and drop hints that in exchange for the delicious chips and dip they brought over, maybe you can break out that monster game with the fancy black and green dice.

And then came King of New York.

King of New York is the gamer’s version of it’s younger sibling. It’s full of semi-thoughtful decisions, careful-ish planning, and “Oh no, I didn’t mean to do that!” moments.

What’s so different about IELLO’s redux of this dice-tosser?

First of all, the board is separated into five boroughs, with Manhattan playing the role that Tokyo once served as the central “mountain” each king wants to stand upon and beat his or her monstrous, scaly or furry chest.

That’s right, folks: all monsters get to hang out on a board through the entire game now, and not lounge at the fringes on your dining room table until it’s their turn to take the throne.

Also, the dice! Gone are the 1’s, 2’s, and 3’s that would pop up on your dice and elicit a mighty yawn from your lips as, instinctively, you’d reach out to re-roll them. Was that triple 3’s?! Who cares — rolling numbers is lame!

Welcome to the party your new friends: Celebrity, Destruction, and Ouch!

Celebrity is the new stand-in for those victory point numbers, taking the form of a star. Alone, a star is worthless, but roll three and you score a single point — but also the ability to get a victory point for EACH star rolled on future turns. If someone else happens to roll three stars on their turn, though? Too bad for you, pass that ”Superstar” card over!

Destruction looks like a broken building, and that’s exactly what it’s used for. Stacks of tokens occupy each borough with a value of 1 to 3, and using the indicated number of Destruction results obliterates a building, allowing you to reap the rewards of Victory Points, Health, or Energy — but also summons the military! Each tile flips into jeeps, jets, or tanks in response to your flagrant disrespect for public property. The good news? You can use your Destruction results to smash them for victory points, too!

Just don’t roll an “Ouch!” Just one of these will cause all of the military in your borough to open fire on you, causing one point of damage each. Two “Ouch!” skulls? You and a monster sharing your borough get an Air Strike Back Massage. You rolled three skulls?! Every military token in the city looses its volley of carnage on every single monster. It’s going to get messy.

This is a solid sequel. If you don’t like the new characters — which frankly I don’t, because they’re a huge stretch from the classics like The King, Gigazaur, and The Kraken — you can very easily substitute in your favorite characters from the original. Characters are still purely aesthetic, with boards that include a spinner with 12 Health and 20 VP.

Should you try or buy this game?

If you loved King of Tokyo enough to have played it even a handful of times, then yes! New York adds evolving and dynamic elements to the playing field, as monsters now have more ways to score Victory Points and more ways to take damage — Manhattan isn’t so appealing when there are two jets, a jeep, and a tank firing at anyone who rolls a skull!

If you played the original and found the formula of wounds, heals, and points a little to repetitive, head to a friend’s house or board game cafe and give this one a try — it’s especially entertaining with a group of 5 or 6.

8
Go to the Cyclades page

Cyclades

54 out of 61 gamers thought this was helpful

I love 4- or 5- or 6-player games. Playing a game with a group of gamer geeks is tops on my list of Things To Do On Saturday Evening. And Thursdays, too. Okay, listen – if I had the option, I’d have 3 to 5 friends over and play board games every night of the week.

But more and more often, I find that grown up life forces game night to be cancelled, or only one person can show up, or someone moves away and the number of friends close enough to drop by dwindles. And it’s becoming more necessary for me to find games that play really well with just two players, whether they are designed to be 1 v 1, or scale down from larger player counts.

A lot of 4 to 6 player games don’t support two players at all, and others require a few extra rules to be tacked on during play to make it work, and more often than not the extra rules make the game drag. I’m looking at you, Belfort.

Sure, I can play small box games on the coffee table to get my fix on a quiet night at home with The Lady, but sometimes I don’t want to. Sometimes I crave the satisfaction of way-too-many components clattering onto the table, and a wealth of cardboard tokens sifting through my fingers. Most two-player games just don’t offer that sort of gratification.

But today, my friends, I’m here to bring my fellow gamer couples hope.
Yes. I’m finally getting to the review. Relax.

Cyclades is an area control war game that plays up to five players, but scales incredibly well down to two! Yes, there is a 1/8th page sidebar that adds in supplemental rules, but these essentially boil down to “You get to play twice every turn.”

When you break open the box for the first time, the components are intimidating. Lots of sturdy tokens for buildings, prosperity, and coins. Three different decks of cards, and an entire second board, other than the map, for tracking monster movement and which deities you’ll be making use of in a given round. Those plastic miniatures to represent soldiers and ships? There’s different sculpts for each player. No fooling!

You’ll turn the pages of the rulebook with trembling fingers, and look to your scowling significant other, who really doesn’t want to spend three hours learning how to play this game.

“But look,” you’ll say triumphantly, holding aloft the glossy pages like a fisherman hefts a trophy bass. “This rulebook is but 8 pages of VERY large font text! And two of them are maps that show starting territories! Perhaps this won’t be such a chore!”

And it won’t be! Because turns in Cyclades boil down to a few bookkeeping adjustments such as shifting which mythological monsters will be available to aid players in a given turn, collecting gold for each cornucopia on islands you control, and then determining which mighty members of the Greek Pantheon will be available to accept your offerings in a given round. These require some quick sliding of cards into new positions, counting icons and dealing out coins, then shuffling up some hefty cardboard tiles and laying them onto the Offering Board. This takes perhaps thirty seconds. Trust me, your partner or game group will be impressed at the ease with which this step is performed.

Now it’s time for player turns. First there’s an auction phase, where everyone bids each other up using hard-earned gold until each player has the support of a deity behind them. You can choose Ares if you want to buy troops or march troops to war, Poseidon to build a fleet of boats to bridge the gap between islands, Zeus to call upon priests that will discount your future auction bids, or Athena for the integral philosophers that will be key in building the great metropolises that you need to win the game.

If you’re poor or stingy, you’re going to get Apollo. He gives you a really tiny amount of gold unless you’re basically already facing doom, but he makes one of your islands a little more prosperous in the future. Basically, the consolation prize deity. But hey, he doesn’t cost you anything to use!

After the auction, each player will take the actions his chosen benefactor provides, from buying buildings — you need one each of four types to build a metropolis, and two or three metropolises to win the game — to hiring troops and boats, to marching your minions across the isles to conquer new lands, whether occupied or not. You can also spend gold to summon mythological monsters like the Cyclops or Kraken, or noble defenders like the Centaur. Easy iconography reminds you quickly what the monsters do after a few plays.

The action economy in this game is fascinating, as any given action except for purchasing monsters can only be performed by acquiring the proper deity during auction. If you want to move your troops across your boat bridge to an opponent’s island, you’ll need to draft Ares and you’ll need to pay an additional gold coin for the privilege of moving them.

Combat is simple and Risk-like. Roll a six-sided die that’s numbered up to 3 (no huge, swingy number differences that allow for over-abundant luck, or lack thereof), add your number of troops or defenses, the loser removes one unit or each player loses a unit in a tie. Repeat until only one player’s units remain. Either side can retreat between rolls of the dice, if they’re too chicken to tough it out.

Area control will give you more resources, which you’ll use to make offerings in auctions, which will allow you to expand your area of control — in a smooth, easily-flowing cycle until someone places their final metropolis on the map and emerges victorious.

My only complaint about the game, mechanically, is the need for boat bridges. Moving troops from one end of the map to another doesn’t involve placing the models on or next to ships and moving toward a destination, but instead requires a line of connected boats from one isle to the next in order to transport soldiers. Mechanically this is sound and works well, but thematically and aesthetically it’s a bit silly.

So, should you try or buy this game?

The auction mechanic makes Cyclades unique in the way it presents action options, in that you must earn the right to perform your preferred action. Auction results also determine turn order, which can be vital when particular, highly-desired monsters appear on the board and are up for grabs. Auction and Strategic Area Control don’t often go hand-in-hand, but the combination really works here.

If you’re a heavy war gamer, skip this one. The combat element is a soft facade for simple area control with a small amount of randomness.

For strategy gamers that enjoy direct interaction and in-your-face play where your decisions directly affect opponents, and where your decisions will count — because there’s never a turn where you don’t make some significant decision — this is a must have.

Medium-weight, very easy to learn and teach. Highly recommended.

9
Go to the Twilight Imperium (3ed) page

Twilight Imperium (3ed)

53 out of 60 gamers thought this was helpful

What can be said about Twilight Imperium (the Third Edition, of course) that hasn’t been said in the nine reviews preceding mine? What extra bit of advice and overview can I provide, to really tell you what you need to know about this monster of a board game?

Probably not a lot.

But I’ve got fresh eyes and a heart that aches to play this epic beast of a gaming experience again, despite a recent 12-hour session. So I’m going to try.

What’s it all about?

Pick your favorite Science Fiction franchise and name a few of your favorite elements. The diplomacy and exploration of Star Trek? The subterfuge and tension of Battlestar Galactica? The weird alien species of Farscape? Twilight Imperium‘s got it.

You play one of the many, many races vying for power in a crumbling galactic empire, gaining special abilities and advantages and technologies and even a unique flagship — if you WANT all of these things. From your home world you and your fleet of ships embark upon a long and exhausting campaign to expand across the stars and become the new, rightful rulers of the galaxy.

Throughout the game players receive objectives — some public and available to all, some secret and specific to a player. The completion of objectives earns the player Victory Points. The first player to a predetermined number of Victory Points — or the player with the most points when the “Game Over” objective is revealed — is crowned Emperor.

I’ve heard it’s complicated — How do you play?

At first glance, the three rulebooks, one supplemental setup document, and one twelve-page FAQ and errata document may seem like too much to absorb. There look like a lot of rules — and there are.

The beauty of Twilight Imperium, however, is that most of its rules are entirely optional and only serve to enhance the game. Want racial technologies to provide additional distinction for each player race? Add it in! Not really interested in additional shock troops, tanks, or laying down explosive mines in space for unwary intruder spaceships? Leave them out!

At its core, Twilight Imperium is actually a few very simple mechanics and elements, most of which are spelled out on each player’s race sheet or cards: Activations, which include moving units and conquering planets and systems as well as unit production; Strategies, which enhance your turn by allowing the development of technologies, resolution of political agendas, or a plethora of other interactive options; Objectives, which require focus on a task at hand over and above the instinctual territory expansion; and of course Space Battles, where fleets of ships and armies of ground forces clash in Risk-style battles to determine who controls territories.

Does sitting down for a game of Twilight Imperium require a little bit of homework? Absolutely. Watch some tutorial videos, read through the non-optional core rules, and even play through a mock round or two with two friends ahead of time.

Does it require eight, ten, or twelve hours to complete a session? Yes. It’s going to devour an entire day, especially the first time you play. Warn people ahead of time. Make sure there’s plenty of snacks and beverages. Set aside a time to order food delivery, and keep playing when you’ve got pizza or take-out container in-hand.

Is it worth it? Yes. So much yes.

Fifteen Pounds of components.

Sorry, I can’t translate that into metric. But it’s a lot for a board game. Basically two newborn infant human babies worth of game. That’s considering, of course, that you’ve neatly arranged or hastily jammed the core game and both expansions into the original box.

What kind of components come in such a heavy box, you ask?

Mountains upon mountains of thick, heavy cardboard tiles containing star systems, hazards, and home worlds. Building a map of the galaxy is a fun little game in and of itself if you’re home alone on a Saturday night … I’ve said too much.

Cards — of the miniature variety. I can’t imagine how much this game would weight if the cards were standard-sized. Planet cards and Objective cards and Political cards and Action cards. Production references, technology decks, mercenaries, ambassadors and spies. Without a doubt I’m forgetting a few!

A standard variety of punchboard tokens representing command actions, fleet sizes, trade goods, fighters, ground forces, mercenaries, racial leaders, and more.

The best part, of course, are the beautifully-sculpted spaceship units ranging from troop tansports, to the mighty dreadnought battleship, to the all-too-familiar hemispherical, planet-shattering War Sun. The models are plentiful and, with both expansions, provide enough units for eight people to play in eight different colors. Good luck finding a table big enough for eight players, though!

Denouement.

When you call over four, or five, or seven friends for a game of Twilight Imperium, it won’t be an afternoon of light-hearted dice-rolling and card-dealing. While it may scare some people away, cracking open a game of this scope is a commitment. It’s going to be a long, involved campaign each and every time this box hits the table — and the best word I can use to describe it is an experience.

First time players all, my group met just after noon on a Saturday afternoon and we muddled through two full game turns before things became intuitive and made sense. Everyone had a play style in mind and nobody understood the necessity of striving for Objective goals. Twelve hours later my Lady, who focused her game on Trade and Diplomacy, working WITH other players and making deals instead of engaging in grueling and destructive space battles, emerged as the victor.

Twilight Imperium uses the word “epic” on its box. I normally reserve that word for instances in which it is appropriate, and in this case I believe it is well-used.

Should You Buy It?

To experience Twilight Imperium at its best, at least one of the two expansions (Shattered Empire) is definitely needed — see Tips & Strategies on this site for reasons why.

If you’re the kind of gamer that sees something piques your interest and has plenty of cash to drop on a whim — of which I am too-often guilty — and the idea of galactic conquest really rings your bell, you’ve probably already made up your mind just by browsing websites and internet photos and YouTube videos. This is a Sci-Fi geek’s dream game, in which you can become the bizarre, expansionist alien race you’ve always wanted to be; whether war-mongering, peaceful and diplomatic, or shrewd and sneaky.

Not ready to drop a few hundred bucks on a board game you’ve never played, and not sure you’ll even enjoy a game that could take half a day to play? Most aren’t.

That’s why my recommendation to most gamers out there is going to be this: Find a friend of a friend, or buddy up with someone at your local gaming store that owns and plays this game regularly. Or sign up for an 8-hour slot at Gen Con if you’re really desperate — though keep in mind it’s going to kill a large chunk of your convention time!

Ultimately when it comes down to Buy or Don’t Buy, the results are very polarized:

Do you get bored after a few hours of playing a single game? Are Sci-Fi and Space Opera just not your bag? Do strategic miniatures war games leave you cold?

Answered “Yes” to any of the above? Avoid this game at all costs. Agree to watch a group play for a single game turn and then, ninety minutes later, slip away when everyone is glaring at each other during the Political debate.

Do you often play long, drawn-out games of Axis & Allies, Talisman, or other board games that most sane people would wash their hands of after the fourth hour? Have you marathoned at least one television series that features aliens and starships in the distant future for an entire weekend? Are you thrilled by the very idea of conquering a vast galaxy of planets with your fleet of heavily-armed and technologically advanced space cruisers, or by carefully plotting others’ downfall with back room dealings and hefty bribes?

I’m sure I heard a few resounding shouts of “Yes!” to all three of those questions. To you, my fellow space-nerds, I say: Go buy it. Right now.

8
Go to the Ghost Stories page

Ghost Stories

131 out of 138 gamers thought this was helpful

Antoine Bauza. The name conjures to mind such fascinating and eclectic games as 7 Wonders and Takenoko. I’ve heard Hanabi is interesting, too. How is it, I must wonder, that one game designer can come up with so many unique, abstract concepts for games that are each so individually different in mechanics and theme, while all being so much fun?

I was recently invited to try Ghost Stories with three friends. It was already late — the tail end of a long game night, and most of the other guests had gone home. But I’d heard great things about the demon-slaying monks of Antoine’s abstract little village, and steeled myself for a few more hours of snack-munching, beverage-swilling, and cooperative gaming.

Spoiler: I was not disappointed.

The Premise, the Goal, and the Summary

A new review format? Oh, yes I am. I’ve watched too many videos where the reviewer told me the mechanics of the game for 12 minutes without telling me the goal or victory conditions of the game. Let’s get that out of the way first, along with a little exposition on the game’s theme.

Ghost Stories is a game wherein the players take on the roles of mystical monks, who are defending a village from the onslaught of a powerful demon and its horde of vicious minions. The powerful demon is hoping to defeat the defending monks and retrieve an even more powerful demon‘s ashes from the burning, plundered wreckage of the village. After that, the big, bad demon is resurrected and plunges the world into eternal darkness.

Your goal, as the village’s defenders, is to fight off wave after wave of demon and ghost and creepy crawly, enduring the onslaught with the help of your companions and a few stalwart villagers. If you and your companions, or even just one of you, can outlast the forces of darkness, then victory is yours and it’s time to buy the first expansion!

That’s right. This is a fight-’til-the-end survival game. And it puts Castle Panic to shame.

When it comes down to it, this is a very difficult game for the players to defeat — and that’s something I personally love in a cooperative. Without teamwork, without planning your strategy a few moves ahead, and without making the most of your resources, your monks will fall in a brilliant blaze of glory. And then you’ll want to set it all up and play again.

There are two- and three-player rules, but I have found Ghost Stories really lacking if the full compliment of four players aren’t gathered around the modular board, cheering each other on and biting their nails at every unlucky roll of the dice. With so much going on (and there’s a lot going on) it’s difficult enough to keep track of your own monk.

An absolute must-have for cooperative gamers. Just don’t let the dreaded Alpha Gamer take over.

Okay, Enough Exposition! Let’s Set This Puppy Up!

Are you ready for one of the most modular, non-dungeon crawl cooperatives you’ve ever laid eyes on? There are so many setup options in Ghost Stories that while laying down the board and passing out tokens won’t take you forever, you’ll be hemming and hawing for a bit over which Ultra Cool Power to utilize this time.

The Village is a lovely little place, with an apothecary, a shrine, and other friendly villagers and vendors to aid in your battle against the legion of demons descending upon you. Nine tiles in total, these get laid out in a random arrangement prior to play, and then surrounded by each monk’s player board.

Player boards themselves are two-sided. Will you choose the power of Flight this time, or perhaps the ability to produce any magical token you’d like each turn? Or select the power of immunity to curses. Each power is useful in its own way, and will be very important at some point during the game.

Finally, pass out health tokens, combat bonus tokens of each monk’s appropriate color, and then shuffle up the Deck of Demons — making sure to place the Big Boss Demon within 10 cards of the bottom of the pile. You’ll need some preparation time before you take him on!

Draw your first demon and you’re ready to go.

Nobody Likes Nine Paragraphs of Rules Explanation

You’ll have a rulebook to tell you how to play, but here’s the cliff notes.

On each monk’s turn, a demon is drawn from the deck and placed on the board of the player whose color it matches — i.e. a red demon goes on the red monk’s board. If that player’s board is full, he loses health, but no new demon appears.

Some demons have special abilities that trigger, like tormentors that apply curses or haunting ghosts that advance toward the village and, if they reach it, destroy the villagers and any assistance they can provide you. These villagers and their resources are essential to victory, so letting the haunts get through is a no-no!

Each ghost has a color-coded number of dots on his corner. Monks can attempt to exorcise the demons by rolling four custom dice and matching the number of dots on the demon — supplementing those rolls with colored tokens, earned by defeating tougher demons or gained via special abilities and villagers.

Players choose whether to take their turn exorcising demons, or rushing across the village to acquire special resources such as Buddha statues, which can be used as “land mines” to destroy ghosts that appear in their board space.

Turns continue in this fashion until either the demons or the monks are the last man standing. Usually it’s the former — so there’s good reason to celebrate if the monks win the day.

A Box Full of Demons, Kinda Like Pandora’s

The component list for Ghost Stories isn’t the kind you’ll drool over, but it’s on par with some great board games. You get multi-colored monks in day-glo plastic as your avatar pawn, creepy black wraith miniatures to show the position of moving haunts, a set of custom dice to roll for curses and exorcisms — and then a half-hour’s punching worth of cardboard!

With cardboard tiles for each lovely, scenic village location and evocatively-neon player boards, and tokens for a slew of mechanics not covered in this review, you’ll be buying a box of snack-sized sandwich bags just to keep it all sorted.

My favorite component, however, is the deck of demon cards. Each demon card is eerily beautiful in its creepy illustrations, and should probably not be stared at for too long, just for sanity’s sake.

Should You Buy It?

I really feel like Ghost Stories scratches a lot of gamer itches: it’s got very solid cooperative play, is awesome for strategy gamers, and can be played in just about 90 minutes on your first attempt — then the advertised 60 minutes once you’ve got the hang of the rules.

Great for small parties of four looking to blend it with a night of Wiz-War, Settlers of Catan, and Survive for a four-player extravaganza. Just make sure to get a few other games in first, because once Ghost Stories hits the table you’ll find yourselves determined to defeat those demons — or pass out face-first in the onion dip at 3:00 AM while trying.

Definitely worth a buy, and up the alley of every gamer I’ve ever shared a table with.

8
Go to the Archipelago page

Archipelago

39 out of 41 gamers thought this was helpful

Oh boy, Another Cooperative Game! …Isn’t It?

Let’s get this out of the way right now: Archipelago claims to be a cooperative game, where the players try to achieve one of several hidden goals before all Heck breaks loose and the natives rebel, bringing ruin to your carefully-constructed island society.

In the rules, bribes to determine turn order are encouraged. Player point-scoring goals are kept secret. The fact that each player scores his own set of victory points makes this a clearly competitive game. Sure, you’re all competing against the increasing unhappiness of your, er … “native workers”, but you’re also trying to outscore your “teammates”.

Everything about Archipelago is competitive.

But if you like competitive games, and go into this one knowing that you’ll be trying to outscore your allies — and maybe even playing against a secret native sympathizer — then this game is great!

Your Objective, Should You Choose to Accept It

While the gameplay of Archipelago is anything but simple, the end game goal is simple enough to understand: Everyone has a different goal, but also the same goal.

Okay, that’s confusing.

At the start of the turn, you’ll receive a card that tells you a condition that ends the game. If the natives haven’t rebelled when any one of those conditions are met, the players all technically win the game. As a team. Yeah, right.

Oh, and if the natives rebel, based on how hard you work them and other factors, you all lose.

The real victory conditions, and competitive play, come from point-scoring conditions on the same cards. Did you gather the most ore? Build the most towns? Points! Whoever ends the game with the most points, unless those pesky natives rise up against you all, is the not-really-the-winner-because-we’re-claiming-this-is-a-cooperative-game. Whew, long title.

There’s a Lot of Pieces in Here. Do We Have a Few Hours?

The very first time you play this game, you will crawl through the setup if nobody has ever played before. You will read sections of rules several times over, take back actions, and throw your arms into the air, frantically pacing the room and sweating bullets.

Calm down. That’s part of the game.

Archipelago is not a casual gamer’s game; it’s one of those animals that you break out on a Saturday afternoon and commit to a few plays together, with all the laughs, tears, and bodily threats that come with a civilization-building board game.

Player turns vary in order from round to round. There are at least half a dozen boards to track triggered events on, and the number of available player actions will give the most seasoned of power gamers analysis paralysis. Once you get rolling, though, all of the population and exploration and resource-gathering options come together for a really fun gaming experience.

It’s Like Christmas Every Time We Play

There are so many cards, land tiles, and other punchboard goodies in the Archipelago box, you’ll be finding new surprises every time you play. Unless you’re one of those gamers that feels the need to read every card in the box before or after the game. If you’re that player, you’re probably not interested in surprises, anyway.

Lots of laser-cut wooden pieces include meeples, boats, settlements, and scoring/event trackers. There’s also more cardboard tokens than you can shake a bamboo pole, or whatever your native islander equivalent of a stick might be, at.

Should You Buy It?

Friends, I included this in the first paragraph, and in the title for goodness sakes. But I’m going to reiterate: Don’t pick this up expecting a traditional cooperative experience.

Aside from the deceptive play style of Archipelago, I really think that this is a deep-thinking and strategic game. It requires foresight, planning, and more than a bit of luck and tenacity to achieve success, whether you’re “competing” or not.

If you’re just looking for a quick-playing family game, or a friendly cooperative, give this one a pass. If you enjoy the rush of economic power and a rewarding pat on the back that comes with deciphering a complicated, but well-designed set of rules, give this one a shot.

7
Go to the Ingenious page

Ingenious

26 out of 28 gamers thought this was helpful

Sometimes the Lady and I have guests over that don’t want to play games with a heavy theme. They’re not interested in controlling ghouls or tritons or sorcerers while playing Small World and they don’t want to sit at a table full of people doing their best pirate impersonations during a round of Scallawag!, no matter how easy the game is to learn or how much fun it might be.

For those wet blankets I break out a little gem called Ingenious.

An Abstract Strategy Game? Let’s summarize.

You’re a gamer; that’s why you’re here. You know that games like this one are, essentially, competitive puzzle solving. In Ingenious your goal is to line up hexagonal tiles of the same color/shape, playing one per turn and building on the other tiles already played in a very dominoes-like fashion, until you have the highest low score.

Other than the scoring system, which takes a few minutes to wrap your head around, this plays very easily and is intuitive to learn, even for your non-gamer friends.

Sometimes a person’s turn can be slow and ponderous as they evaluate all of their options, which can make this either a complex and competitive game full of defensive strategy and carefully-planned plays, or a quick game where players drop their tiles and accrue points as fast as possible.

Dump the Box on Your Table and Play!

Setup involves unfolding the board, shaking up the bag full of random hexagonal tiles, and distributing a tile-holder tray and score card with markers to each player. Game on!

As I understand it, there is a mass market version of Ingenious that uses cardboard hex tiles instead of plastic ones. That may require some board-punching. If you’re going to pick up this game, I encourage you to find the longer-lasting version with hard plastic pieces for an extra ten bucks. It’ll be worth it after you’ve played the game a few hundred times.

Getting Your Game On — an Abbreviated Guide

Players get six tiles, each one a pair of connected hexagons with a colored shape on each side. Shapes are simply for the colorblind — all stars are yellow, rings are purple, etc. One tile is placed on the board each turn, with the goal being to connect to as many of the same color as possible, radiating in a line from each side of the played piece.

Your score card has one track for each of the six colors on it, and each one goes up to 18. If you get a color to 18, you absolutely must scream the titular “Ingenious” at the top of your lungs. Then you get another turn.

When there’s no more room to place tiles on the board, which is designed to be one of three different sizes, depending on the number of people playing, the game is over. Of your six rows of points, the only one that matters is your very lowest — i.e. if you scored 18 red, 16 orange, 18 yellow, 13 green, 5 blue, and 14 purple, your final score is 5. The highest low score is the victor, and gets to rub it in everyone’s face for at least three minutes while putting tiles back in the draw bag and preparing for the next game.

What You Get in This Bright Red Box

Mentioned above, there is a mass market edition of this game with cheaper-quality components and a lower price point. I can’t give you the rundown on that version, but here’s what you get in the super-ultra-deluxe, Big Spender version:

Lots and lots of plastic tiles, stored in a really sleek fabric bag. These components are made to last, and the bag has lots of space for shaking tiles around and stuffing your hand deep, deep inside to get the perfect random tile from a deep, dark corner within.

Scrabble-style tile holder trays, to keep your opponents from seeing what you just might play next, and a score card for each player that includes six rows of 18 points. Oddly enough, I’ve seen two versions of this card in the deluxe edition game: both sturdy cardboard, one with peg holes and colored pegs, the other flat with colored cylinders to place along the track. There doesn’t seem to be a way to tell which type of score card you’ll get with your copy, but the hole-punched version with pegs keeps your score tokens from sliding all over the place when one of your friends inevitably bumps the table.

The board. Very sturdy cardboard stock, quadruple-folded, that’s going to last you for many hours of play time.

To Buy, or Not To Buy? That is the — Wait, I think I already used that line in another review.

Very few gamers are going to sit down for an entire evening of Ingenious. It’s certainly the type of board game you break out for a casual gathering with a few friends, surreptitiously guiding them down the dark and deadly path toward becoming a true game-loving nerd.

This game is easy going and relaxing to play, as there’s no time limit and no speed involved. It’s easy to teach, which lends itself to being a great opening choice for a small party or in between longer, more complex games. Definitely a buy for the casual gamer that wants a simple pick up game, or for the avid gamers that enjoy a variety of options on their shelf.

8
Go to the Myth page

Myth

143 out of 156 gamers thought this was helpful

The first word to fill my brain and escape my mouth when the UPS guy delivered the monstrous, 21.5 lb. package containing MYTH: “Wow.” And that’s without the plethora of add-ons unlocked during their Kickstarter campaign.

You didn’t Kickstart this beast? That’s OK. It will be available at your local gaming store, or at online retailers, or at a convention near you soon enough!

But what is MYTH, and should you even bother hunting down a copy? I’m glad you asked, as I’ve bumped this long-awaited dungeon-crawling cooperative miniatures game to the front of my review list just for you.

The Dirt, The Skinny, The Whole Enchilada; How do I sum up this game?

If you’re looking for amazing components (don’t worry, I’ll get to those in detail later), unique combat mechanics, diverse characters that each play differently, and a wide variety of objectives and quests that play differently from game to game, then look no further! MYTH has it all, and then some.

Upon opening the box, it was difficult to wrap my head around just how much there was to it. Power cards, the Darkness Board, Quests, Traps, Mini-Bosses, Treasure Coins, Lairs — all of these elements, and more, combine into a hulking monster of a game that, quite frankly, many gamers are going to need a few hours to pick up on. Despite the family-friendly and absolutely incredible artistic style, I don’t get a “casual family game night” vibe from MYTH.

There is very little structure to gameplay when it comes to “dungeon” map layout, which monster types are encountered, and the resolution of a play session. Quests are randomly drawn during play, and can sometimes feel like a secondary goal that follows “Kill all of the monsters and grab the loot” in priority.

As a story-telling game, this falls into the vein of being a game where the story is, for the most part, what the players make of it. If your group is keen on deep plots and weaving exciting, coherent tales and are happy doing so on their own, they’ll love this. If they just want to kill monsters and build an ever-more-powerful hero to kill increasingly-difficult monsters, this will be right up their alley, too.

That’s the beauty of MYTH, I think: it can appeal to all sorts of dungeon crawl gamers, no matter the level of immersion they desire. Just don’t expect the game to provide detailed scenario setup guidance (at least not yet!)

Does This Thing Take an Hour to Set Up?

The figurines are pre-assembled and the decks of player cards are shuffled in play. Tiles are laid down as you progress through the environment, rather than constructing a carefully-diagramed floor plan.

Other than reading the rules, planning your session, and choosing your characters, the setup time after punching out seven million cardboard tokens is pretty minimal!

Gameplay — the Brief Version?

Normally I’ll do a quick rundown on gameplay, but that’s just not going to happen here. The mechanics for MYTH are deeply involved. For the sake of a complete review, however, let’s talk about some of the unique gameplay concepts.

Player turns: Each character gets a small amount of movement per turn, and a deck of cards that contain their available actions and powers. These are unique to each hero type, and each has it’s own awesome flavor that doesn’t carry over to any other character! The results of your actions are affected by whether or not you’ve moved this turn, and other factors such as Rage for the Soldier or available Arrows for the Archer. Using TOO MANY powerful actions adds power to The Darkness, which brings us to the Monsters’ Turn!

Monster turns: The bad guys don’t NECESSARILY get a turn every single round — they are triggered when “The Darkness” builds up enough points based on player actions, and then SWARMS of them get to attack in unison. Monsters have pre-determined movement and actions based on their type, and these actions rely on criteria such as heroes’ Threat levels, proximity, or Power type.

Dungeons: You get many, many sturdy cardboard tiles that depict a number of different environments, each of which includes symbols that SUGGESTS how many Monster Lairs, Traps, or encounters such as quests the players might find in the area. Layout of the tiles is chosen in any fashion the players like — from randomly grabbing a tile out of the box to pre-planning the “story” you want to tell.

Will the heroes fight their way through the giant insect-infested forest only to discover that the graveyard is being plundered by savage orcs? Or will they march into the palace of the Orc King determined to liberate his magical sword, only to discover that their target has been eaten by an insectoid monster with one thousand legs?

Okay, But Really — What About the Components?

In the words of The Lady when I opened this box: “Holy. Moley.”

Everything in the box is HIGH quality, from the character and monster miniatures to the environment tiles to the tiny equipment cards. There’s no buyer’s remorse from me or feeling that I spent too much on the game, as it is packed full of awesome bits and pieces.

Maybe you’d like over forty plastic, fully-assembled miniatures; five heroes and an assortment of evil minions, plus two enormous “boss” figurines — a huge undead warrior and a giant insect.

Cards! Lots of cards! A deck of cards for each hero, plus decks for “The Darkness” and for the monsters. Treasures, quests, merchants. You have a big table to lay this all out on, right?

The obligatory cardboard tokens for environmental hazards such as debris and traps, which will have to tide you over until the sculpted plastic proxies for these arrive. Luckily, even the cardboard chits are beautifully illustrated and of amazing quality.

Dice. Bright, beautiful, orange dice with ten sides. Use the right abilities and get the right gear, and you’ll be rolling handfuls of these bad boys at a time! Also, a custom die with the various power source symbols — another facet of play in this intricate and detailed system of rules.

Should You Buy It?

This game is a dungeon crawler, through and through. I really believe it will appeal to role players and hack-n-slashers alike, and that fans of the medieval fantasy genre will find something to love if they’ve got a few hours to dedicate to this game.

Definitely not a game you grab off the shelf and decide to play a quick and casual game of after dinner on Wednesday night, but a solid option when a bunch of friends are coming over for Board Game Night, and all want to play an epic cooperative adventure.

Casual board gamers: Skip it.
Hardcore dungeon delvers: This is the game you’re looking for.

8
Go to the IncrediBrawl page

IncrediBrawl

23 out of 24 gamers thought this was helpful

I backed IncrediBrawl on Kickstarter because, well, I back pretty much everything on Kickstarter. This is a full-blown addiction, people. I may need a 12-Step program just to keep my wallet from being bone dry by summer.

Anyway — IncrediBrawl.

Springer-style Final Thoughts, in reverse order

Once you’ve mastered the rules, which takes all of your first play-through of this game, IncrediBrawl is a fast-paced and light-hearted game that’s a lot of chaotic fun for two or four people. Games play quickly and don’t drag on, thanks to very simple mechanics and a relatively low victory point (called Glory in this game) target.

While the rules allow for three people, I found that the mechanic to make this number of players work gave the First Player each round a bit too much control.

Definitely recommended as a filler game, or as a gateway game for your less game-inclined friends to garner a little bit of interest in what can be found out there beyond the usual name brand card games. The adorable cartoon art and the clever characters and card names will get nearly as much attention as the gameplay itself.

A Quick Rundown on Gameplay

Each player gets an identical deck of cards containing a vast array of trope characters, from princesses and dragons to samurais and astronauts. Each of these characters has one of three types and a level. Most have a special power that activates when they are played, when they win a battle, or when they lose a battle.

During each round players select a character from their hand of cards and play it secretly on the table. When all players have chosen their card for the round, everyone reveals what they chose. In a four player game, opponents across from each other battle first and then the remaining two characters duke it out; in a three player game the rotating First Player determines which characters will do battle first.

The three character types are Physical, Natural, and Energy, and battles play out instantly in a Paper-Rock-Scissors-style match. If there are matching types, the character with the highest level wins. The winner of the brawl receives a victory point.

Of course character powers affect the outcome, sometimes allowing a player to change his opponent’s type or perhaps allowing the character to gain a Glory even after he loses a battle. There are also Location cards that might change the battle parameters each round and Power-Up cards that add a bit of extra chaos to the mix with their widely variable effects.

What do you get for Thirty Bucks?

Four player decks in four different colors. The cards are of great, durable quality but mine curled a lot by the time I’d opened them. Nothing a few shuffles and plays of the game shouldn’t fix.

A deck of Location cards, identical in quality to the character decks. A bit more variety in the location abilities would have been nice.

Cardboard Glory tokens and six tokens representing the three character types. A six-sided die to replace the type tokens was a stretch goal during the Kickstarter campaign, and I wish it had happened — these tokens are used to select a type randomly for a few character powers and cards, and would be a lot quicker and simpler to use than tossing the tokens into a hat or bag and going through the process of a blind draw.

The box that the game came in was falling apart in my mailbox. I don’t know if this is poor quality production or the fault of the United States postal service, but it luckily does not reflect the quality of the actual game pieces.

To Purchase, or Not To Purchase? That is the Question.

Unfortunately I don’t know how much replay value one can expect out of a game that is almost entirely random in outcome. There’s the slightest modicum of strategy in abilities and Power-Ups but, ultimately, you’re just hoping that the other guy chooses an Energy-type character when you’re laying down your Natural-powered Kraken.

Luckily it’s got a pretty low price tag and should provide enough fun between longer games that it’s certainly worth throwing down a few dollars and giving it a try.

If you like fast-paced, easy to learn card games — and if you’d like to have a few giggles at adorable cartoon robots slugging it out with equally-adorable cartoon pirates — you’ll definitely get a kick out of this one.

Similarly, if you want to play a game with someone that’s not rules-savvy or just dreads the thought of reading through a 32-page, tabloid-sized book of rules, grab a copy of IncrediBrawl. The simplicity is well worth the buy.

7
Go to the Scalawag! page

Scalawag!

37 out of 38 gamers thought this was helpful

If you’ve played Bang!, you know the premise of Scalawag! — they even share the same exclamation point in the title.

Summing It Up Right Away

Scalawag is a bluffing game about action economy, with a touch of memory thrown in. It has a High Seas theme that will excite the pirate fans at your table, and a very cutthroat, competitive play style to match. Assault the players on your left and right, sinking ships and keelhauling crewmen until you’re the last man or woman sailing the Seven Seas.

Able to support play for up to 8 players out of the box, this is a great party game with lots of table talk and player interaction. It’s a free-for-all brawl to sink each others’ ships or slay each others’ crews by default, but 6- or 8-player games have the option for team play.

Here’s the Short Version of How To Play

You get one action per turn, chosen from a list of actions on a very handy card in front of you that also tracks damage to your ship. You also get a hand of three cards representing your crew. Players can use actions for all sorts of things that damage opponents, protect their ship, or gather tokens that let them take more difficult and expensive actions.

Your crew reduces the cost of certain actions, depending on their role. You’ve got Navigators, Marines, Mutineers, and a plethora of other sailor-types to help you out — but nobody else knows what characters comprise your crew!

When you take actions, you declare any crew that are assisting the endeavor. You’re allowed to lie through your rotten pirate teeth all you want! If someone suspects you’re bluffing, they call out “Scalawag!” and you reveal that you have the crewman, or you don’t. If you were bluffing, you take damage — if you weren’t, the player that made the accusation takes it.

Last player standing is the winner.

What You Get in the Box

Cards. Pretty nice quality, but nothing mind-blowing. The art is black and white — er, black and yellow — and pretty much line art, but it really fits the theme well and isn’t too cartoony.

Tokens. Track your compass points and damage to your ship. Cardboard punch-outs that will take you a few minutes, and small, plastic baggies to store them in. Would have been nice if the box had a compartment for them.

A custom die that is used only in play with very few players.

Should You Buy This Game?

If you like Bang! or Coup or Werewolf/Mafia-style games, you’re going to absolutely love this one. Yes — go buy it right now!

Bad at bluffing? Don’t like cutthroat competitive games? Absolutely hate pirates? You should still find a friend with a copy or visit a convention and give Scalawag! a try. You might find yourself pleasantly surprised.

7
Go to the Risk: Legacy page

Risk: Legacy

60 out of 67 gamers thought this was helpful

We could throw around words like “classic” and rehash the rules for RISK — but you’re on BoardGaming.com right now. That means you’re very familiar with the tried-and-true (and, let’s face it, often boring) board game known as RISK.

RISK: LEGACY, though? That’s a whole new animal — and a delicious one at that. Sorry, vegetarians.

Let’s focus on what’s new and exciting in the world of RISK, and how you and your friends can invoke a devastating war that changes a world forever.

If you haven’t read my reviews yet, I like to sum it up first

That’s my format. It saves all the typing of “TL;DR” or what-have-you.

RISK: LEGACY brings a brand new play style to an aging and decrepit board game. It is a bridge between classic board gamers that cleave to the dusty old boxes on their shelves, and the modern age gamers that want something a little more fluid and interesting.

In this sealed, component-packed box you’re getting a finite number of sessions of fun, but each of those sessions has potential to be very, very entertaining. You’ll trigger events that change the composition and setup of the world from game to game, and find yourself with available options in later games that you didn’t have to start out.

Basically this is a customizable game of RISK that evolves and adapts as you play. If you like RISK and enjoy campaign-style games, pick it up!

Setup and How do you play it?
…combined into one traditional nutshell flavor.

Just like RISK. Really. You place your armies in mostly-randomly-selected territories, and then roll dice — now able to be enhanced with bombs that you acquire during play — to duke it out in hopes of World Domination™. Whoever wipes out everyone else (or fulfills their missions first) wins the round.

Unlike classic RISK, you get multiple armies to select from; from the barbaric, savage tribesmen to the power suit wearing techno-soldiers. Each army gets a cool ability, which selected from TWO abilities available during the first game. Basically, it’s all about options AND choices. When you make a choice in RISK: LEGACY, there’s almost never any going back.

Certain occurrences in the game have special effects that alter the game board or play style completely, and these occurrences come in small envelopes that add new cards and stickers to the game, or large, sealed compartments that add BIG surprises and options to your campaign (no spoilers, I promise).

Whoever wins the majority of games in 12 sessions is the winner, and ruler of your world!

What kind of components did they stuff in that heavy box?

So many. I love this box. You don’t even get to see everything right away — you have to earn a lot of the components and upgrades to your game. You might finish all 12 games in your campaign, and never open some of the envelopes or compartments! Don’t worry, though; you and your friends will engineer that “use three bombs in one battle” just to find out what’s tucked away under that strip of cardboard. It’s irresistible.

Each of the armies has it’s own plastic units, and the game comes with a plethora of stickers, cards, and tokens to customize your world. Overall, a box packed full of really quality materials.

Should You Buy It?

Listen. Here’s the thing: Do you and your friends like playing RISK? Can you convince four of them to get together and play this regularly? Would they each be willing to throw in $10.00 (or your local equivalent) for several gaming sessions worth of fun?

Yes, yes, and yes? Do it. Pick it up, or order it online, and commence the struggle for World Domination™.

If you don’t like competitive games where the rewards for winning carry over from one session to the next, aren’t a fan of war games where you mercilessly wipe out your friends or make deals to kill them last, or just don’t want to play a game that lasts for more than an hour, you’ll probably want to skip this one.

Epilogue

I’ve got three copies. Two of them are complete. My name isn’t on the victory line of either. Still love it.

9
Go to the Survive: Escape from Atlantis! page
36 out of 41 gamers thought this was helpful

…actually, beware of giant squid. Don’t even buy them. (That’s a little sneak peek at the Giant Squid Expansion Pack, which you shouldn’t purchase — or at least don’t buy it and combine it with the Dolphins & Dive Dice expansion).

Am I getting ahead of myself? Let’s backtrack a bit.

Thirty Years Ago

…or close to thirty. I guess, for me, it was closer to 25.

This game was released in 1982. I remember playing it on a regular basis with my mom and my dad at age 8 and having a blast. We probably didn’t play by the exact rules, to be honest — we likely looked at our meeples’ point values mid-game, or at least my Old Man allowed me to do so.

Anyway, I have no idea how popular this Parker Brothers game was in the 80’s, but I remember that I loved it. When that volcano tile flipped and we all made an eruption noise, then counted our survivors’ point values, it gave us incredible amounts of enjoyment.

Thirty Years Later

Back in December, on this very website, Survive: Escape from Atlantis became an explorable favorite. The name rang a few bells and, upon reading the reviews, I suddenly remembered the hours of entertainment I’d experienced as a young’un! I leapt to the internet and placed an online order; the box (and two expansions that didn’t exist in my youth) arrived in less than a week and I sat the lady down to play!

The Summary

Let’s not beat around the bush: This game is tons of fun. There have been reviewers that don’t like how cut-throat it can be for a family game. A valid concern, but not the game’s fault. If you’ve got little ones that aren’t ready for you to eat their meeples with a shark or big, purple sea serpent, don’t play this game with them.

Sure, the label says “8+”. I definitely believe that an 8-year-old can play this game, as I played it at that age as well! But in today’s world where we protect our youths against competition and rivalry, softer parents might be advised to break out a cooperative board game or Candy Land, where strategy isn’t a real factor.

For those of us looking for the kind of game where you literally throw another player to the sharks, you are in for a treat! Herein lies about 45 minutes to an hour of tossing your opponents into the ocean, feeding them to flesh-hungry sea-dwellers, abandoning them on the shore of an exploding desert island, and obliterating their ships that are on the way to a safe haven!

It’s good, clean fun, y’all. And it’s competitive. Involving a little bit of memory, a little bit of luck, and a lot of drive to survive, this is a fast-paced race to save your meeples that will always end in laughs and excitement for the next time it hits the table.

Setting Up the Island

The game board is comprised of hexagons and the central area has an outline. Build your “island” with hexagonal tiles that represent mountains, forests, and beaches — you can take turns placing tiles, work in tandem to create a masterpiece, drop the hexes randomly into place, or anything in between. Leave one space in the middle for a sea serpent. Place four more sea serpents (scaly, purple buggers that smash ships and devour swimmers) in designated locations near the four corners of the board.

Players take turns placing meeples, one per tile. In a 3- or 4-player game you get ten meeples or “survivors” with different point values — most are worth 1 or 2 points (they “carry treasures” if you’re into story) and a few are worth 4, 5, or 6 points. Get a good look at these point values before you place your pieces! Once they’re on the island, there’s no peeking until the game ends.

Now take turns placing two boats each in hexes around the island. You’ll probably want to put them near your highest value meeples, but beware! If you’re too obvious about your highest-value survivors, your opponents will use whales and sharks and sea serpents to sink your ship and eat your precious pawns, costing you lots of points in the process!

A nutshell? Let’s squeeze the game mechanics in there!

Move your meeples or boats or pawns or survivors three hexagons per turn. That can be three pawns moving one hex each, or one pawn moving three hexagons. You decide! You can move individual meeples or, if you’ve got control of a boat by filling the majority of its THREE seats, you can move seafaring vessels with these three movement “points”.

If a survivor is swimming, he can only move ONE hexagon per turn. He’s pretty slow. It’s a big ocean.

Move those survivors and their escape boats toward and onto one of four “safe” islands at the four corners of the game board. The more pawns you move to these islands, the higher your potential for end-game points.

Now flip over one of the many hexagonal tiles that makes up your island, and remove it from play. If there’s any beaches, you have to toss those first. Then forest, and FINALLY mountains. There’s a volcano under one of the mountain tiles. When your friend flips that — or when you flip it, you unlucky duck — the game is over. The other tiles all have other special effects, such as dolphins moving swimmers greater distances and whirlpools annihilating any pieces on the board around them. Survive: Escape From Atlantis is a rough world!

Roll a custom die covered in fins and flippers and monsters and move the corresponding sea creature its allotted number of hexagons. You can use this to get the beasties AWAY from your own escaping meeples, or to bring them closer to devouring your opponents.

Whoever escapes the sinking, exploding island with the most points worth of meeples when the volcano is uncovered, wins the game!

Brad Pitt Wants to Know ‘What’s In the Box?’
…or “Game Components.”

Other than the board, you get some really nicely-crafted pieces in this box. The 1982 version of Survive! that still sits on my shelf after holiday retrieval from the parents’ house contains plastic shark fins, whale tails, and bright green sea serpents with tiny, plastic survivors and slips of printed cardboard to represent boats. The production values were great, for 32 years ago!

Survive: Escape From Atlantis is Stronghold Games’ way of saying “Sure, your components were sexy, early 80’s — but we’re going to make them better!”

Survivors, boats, shark fins, whale tails, and sea serpents are made of what I assume to be laser-cut wood. They are polished and beautiful, though I’d prefer the sea serpents to still be green and not a dark purple. The terrain tiles are thick, sturdy cardboard; even better than that, though, the three “levels” of tiles — beach, forest, mountains — are of varying thickness and stand at the lowest, middle, and higher heights on the game board, respectively. When you begin the game, it definitely gives the impression of a deserted island with a topography all its own!

Should You Buy It?

Okay, honestly: Yes.

Buy this game to play with your significant other on a lazy Sunday afternoon. Buy this game and grab the 5- to 6-player expansion to play with your buddies on game night. Buy this game to play with your kids and, for goodness sakes, teach them sportsmanship and strategy.

This box contains an hour’s worth of fun at a time. No matter who you’re playing with, you’ll laugh, you’ll groan, and you’ll get caught up in the Escape From Atlantis.

See what I did there? With the bold?

Epilogues and Expansions

The lady and I added in two expansions after several fun-filled plays of this game: Dolphins & Dive Dice and Giant Squid.

The base game involves some strategy in maneuvering your boats and swimmers. It’s okay to end your turn two spaces from a sea serpent, because he can only move one space if your opponents roll for control of him.

Dive dice add a level of chaos and unpredictability to the game that, for us, was unwelcome. Dolphins took away the “Move a swimmer 3 spaces” effect for a dolphin pawn that protects a swimmer from other sea creatures. Frankly, I’d rather have the movement.

Giant squid pop up at the same time as whales and eat your survivors that are still on land. As soon as a whale is added to the board, essentially, so is a giant squid that instantly kills one of the escaping meeples. Combined with dive dice, this means giant squid are bouncing around the board, chowing down on your brightly-colored wooden pawns all willy-nilly, and you just can’t plan for it.

If you’re looking for Euro-style strategy and a fun, competitive game, just enjoy the base set for a while. If you want chaos and for the tides to shift uncontrollably from turn to turn, it won’t hurt to add these two expansions in.

6
Go to the SET page

SET

106 out of 113 gamers thought this was helpful

One of the most fascinating things about sitting down with a new, unfamiliar gaming group is learning all about the types of games they like to play and how their tastes coincide with or vary from yours. The lady brought me to meet some of her friends recently, who were having a board game party. She thought I’d fit right in.

We walked into the apartment to discover a deck of cards already laid out on the table, with various shapes and colors and patterns across them. Once we’d all exchanged greetings, put buffalo chicken rangoons in the oven to cook, and settled in, I was introduce to SET.

Final Summary First

SET is the kind of game you’ll either love or you’ll hate. It requires sharp, quick analytical skills to notice patterns in a random assortment of cards — and to do so before the other players at the table.

Basically, if you are a left-brained person you will absolutely excel at this game. If you’re right-brained, maybe not so much.

This isn’t a social game at all. The room goes silent as soon as the cards are dealt, as players begin scrutinizing the available cards in an effort to find the next SET. There are occasional moments of congratulatory praise and dismayed wails of being a moment too slow to see a set, but it’s not a game for table talk and friendly chatter.

Game Setup

There’s a deck of cards. Each one has one of three shapes on it, in one of three numbers (single, double, or triple), in one of three colors, in one of three patterns (solid, striped, blank outline). Twelve of these cards are dealt to the table, arranged three rows by four rows.

Setup complete!

Gameplay in a Nutshell

Players inspect the cards and search for a SET: three cards whose four variable either match, or are all different. It’s hard to grasp at first, but through the first play becomes more and more clear.

When a player finds a SET, he or she calls “Set!” and takes the three appropriate cards. Obviously this is where the speed factor of the game comes in, as you want to acquire the most obvious SETS before your opponents do.

Three cards are dealt in place of the removed SET and play continues. If the group agrees that there are no SETS within the twelve cards available, three more may be added to the arrangement.

When all cards have been dealt and the players can find no more SETS, the game is over. The player who acquired the most SETS wins.

Should You Buy This?

For a group of gamers who like a quick game that sharpens your analytical skills and gives your left brain a little bit of exercise, this is probably a must-buy. It will make a quick filler game between your intensely intellectual rounds of Aeronautical Physics Trivial Pursuit – Genius Edition.

A right-brainer like me hopes it never hits the table again, to be honest. I didn’t have much fun, despite picking it up in short order and being able to spot the admittedly easiest SETS. Don’t buy it if you like lazily drinking beer and making sophomoric jokes during your games.

Epilogue

We played a second and third round, which we turned into a drinking game. When someone called out “Set!” and their selection turned out to not be a correct SET, that person was forced to drink. I think there’s real rules for a player that incorrectly calls “Set!”, but ours were better.

After the smart-brain people had their fill of pattern matching, I introduced them to the worlds of King of Tokyo, Castle Panic, and Scalawag! Minds were most definitely blown for these novice gamers.

7
Go to the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game: Rise of the Runelords (Base Set) page
106 out of 113 gamers thought this was helpful

A few weeks ago I took a trip to a nearby game store with my buddy, who had been describing “an RPG card game” that he’d heard a lot about. I suggested it was probably the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game and, once we arrived at the shop, he excitedly confirmed it. He then shelled out the MSRP for it, which made me cringe, and we headed back to his place to play.

There were four of us for that first mid-week work night of play, which saw me digging through the rule book and online FAQs, laying out stacks and stacks of cards, and instructing the other players on the turn sequence. It was a lot to absorb. Once we felt comfortable with game play, we packed it up and planned for a 6-hour game day on Saturday to play through the first official adventure, “Burnt Offerings”.

With background narrative firmly in place, on to the review. While the details are below, I’ll go into my overall summary and feelings on the game first.

Summary First

Touted as a great stand-in for an RPG and a wonderful story experience, I am sad to say I simply did not get that vibe from this game. Each adventure is made up of multiple scenarios, and each scenario has a paragraph or so of story flavor text on its back. There is also an overall adventure story on the main adventure card. If you’re looking for a deep plot and an exciting story about the various encounters other than “you explore the Throne Room and encounter a horde of Ancient Skeleton Henchmen,” then you’re out of luck unless you’re the type of gaming group that adds narrative and flavor text on your own.

That said, the mechanics are incredible: a system of modified die rolls and target numbers, supplemented or hindered by cards. For deck-building enthusiasts this must be Nirvana, acquiring new, more powerful cards during play and tweaking your character’s deck of abilities for optimal play from scenario to scenario.

As a story and theme-driven gamer, I was hard-pressed to give this game a 7. It felt more like a 6. But the lady seemed to have a great time and had the opportunity to ask all sorts of questions about Paizo’s Pathfinder lore, which the already-initiated in the group were pleased to answer, and the team work involved and really interesting mechanics certainly bumped this up a rating.

On to the details.

Game Setup
…or “Holy moley. So many decks of cards.”

Every player gets a deck of cards to represent his character and abilities, drawn from several different types of cards such as Spells, Weapons, Armor, Items, Blessings, etc. These must be selected or located from multiple decks of cards during setup.

The adventure itself is made up of a Blessings Deck (and discard pile) that doubles as a timer (you get 30 turns as a group, no matter how many players there are), and several Location Decks and their associated discard piles. Location decks, like characters, are made up of different types of cards that include benefits such as new treasure or spells, as well as monsters and other obstacles.

Gameplay in a Nutshell

Characters move from location to location and explore the Location decks via their plethora of cards. Burning through too many cards is not a great idea, as your deck of cards also counts as your health. You must draw up to your maximum hand size at the end of a turn and if you cannot draw a card, your character dies.

A location is “closed” when a henchman is discovered within, defeated, and a specific challenge or condition is met for that particular location.

A “boss” or villain card hides within one of the locations, escaping from that location to another for as long as other locations are open. Failing to defeat the boss allows him to flee and not only causes damage, but also removes rounds from the Blessings Deck timer.

Those Pretty, Pretty Components

The art on the cards is lifted directly from the pages of Paizo’s line of Pathfinder books, typically from artist Wayne Reynolds. They are beautiful, but really the only component involved in this game. Very typical TCG-grade cards.

You also get a set of dice. They are blue.

Should You Buy It?

If you’re looking for an RPG experience without a game master, or to weave an epic tale of swords and sorcery with a few friends, then no. Don’t even look at the price tag. To be quite honest, you should be playing an RPG if that’s your goal. But there are a lot of other games out there that put forth a bit more effort in the story that unfolds as you explore the world and do battle with the forces of evil. They just don’t always have sound mechanics.

If you are looking for a game with an interesting challenge system and a new gameplay format unlike anything else you’ve played, and if you enjoy deck building, then you should absolutely buy it. You will love every moment from peeling open the individually-cellophane-wrapped decks and looking at the treasures hidden within, to choosing new feats and character abilities (such as a larger maximum hand size, extra bonuses to your die rolls, etc.) that improve your chances of success in higher-tier adventures.

Post-note

While I realize that my opinion is in the minority on this game and it has gotten ratings of 9 or 10 and “amazing” from most others, I encourage you to rate this review based on whether it contains useful information, and not the fact that you love it and I don’t.

I find that often I have a very different view or opinion of a game than another reviewer, but that their information is sound and would definitely be helpful to someone else looking to purchase a game sight-unseen. I will always up-rate those reviews, because they give valuable insight to someone who is on the fence about a game they’ve heard about. I urge everyone else to do the same, and not down-vote reviews based purely on your objection to someone’s honest review of a game.

6
Go to the Ooga Booga page

Ooga Booga

22 out of 23 gamers thought this was helpful

New Year’s Eve board game parties are the tradition in my circle of friends, and on the eve of 2014 my friend broke out a small, circular tin can full of circular cards. Even the packaging conveys a feeling of silliness, and the name of the game warns you that you, and your friends, are about to be in stitches.

“Let’s play Ooga Booga!”
“…what?”

What’s it all about?

Ooga Booga is a memory game. Each circular card has a cave-painting piece of art on it like a yak, a campfire, or a feather (among many, many other items). Each also has a word printed on it — the “caveman” word for the depicted item. A few cards instead have actions, such as sticking out your tongue or banging on the table.

Players take turns playing cards in a line, with the new card covering up the text on the previous card, but not the picture. Each player, in turn, repeats the entire sequence of words, actions, and grunts “HA!” at the end of the string of words. When a mistake is made in the sequence, other players bang on the table and shriek “Ooga booga!” to penalize the error, then play starts fresh. Empty your hand to win the game.

It gets hilarious very quickly.

Learning Curve

This game took us 30 seconds to learn. There’s nothing complex about it.

Two possible advantages exist for players of this game, which turn me off from seeing it as a long-time source of enjoyment:

First, obviously, a player with a great short-term memory is going to excel at this game. I can’t remember what I ate for breakfast, but my friend remembers details of television episodes from the 1990’s. Players like me are going to be stumped by a string of 4 cards — meanwhile, players like my buddy will go through a ten-card string rattling off words like “Yaka pooka oogah cha maka wakka ha!” with ease.

Secondly, if you play this game often and pay attention to the images, it’s like learning a foreign language. Some word and cave painting combinations are easy to remember, others likely are easy to learn after just a few plays.

Should you buy it?

If you have a few minutes left before the pizza arrives and don’t want to be interrupted during your 4-hour session of Arkham Horror, or if you’ve had a few drinks and just want a fast-playing, mindless, silly game full of laughs with your friends, give this one a shot. It’s probably not going to become a weekly must-play favorite, but for the price it’s the kind of game that’s fun for an occasional play (when the guy that owns it has forgotten most of the word-image associations).

3
Go to the Mansions of Madness page
42 out of 48 gamers thought this was helpful

The first time I saw Mansions of Madness on a game store shelf, I drooled. Set in the Cthulhu mythos-drenched world of Arkham Horror and even using a handful of the exact same protagonist player characters, it looked amazing. I didn’t purchase it that day, though, opting for a game with a lower price tag.

About a year later I eagerly sat down to play with some friends and discovered that this wasn’t quite the game I was expecting.

Setup Time

The first thing to note in this massive game is that there are a finite number of scenarios, and one of the players becomes the storyteller, game master, or whatever moniker this game uses to describe the player that controls the monsters and non-player actions in this game (The Keeper, apparently). This, to me, is a black mark on Mansions of Madness–I have a score of roleplaying games on my shelf that allow that, and I sit down to play board games for the shared player experience, whether it’s cooperative or competitive.

That said, there are cards and tiles and tokens to be set up in a specific arrangement for each game scenario, and the storyteller is burdened with 100% of this work. In our single play-through, it took over 45 minutes.

Learning the Rules

It’s a Fantasy Flight Games game. I love FFG, but what can I say? Their rule books are absurdly long and detailed. We passed the rules around from turn to turn, stumbling through the storyteller’s chosen scenario and backpedaling several times when we discovered we’d done something very, very wrong. And this was with two experienced players out of five people sitting at the table.

I don’t want to sound like I’m burying this game–there were moments of fun sandwiched in the complexity, and I believe that, much like Arkham Horror, if this game is played often enough the rules will come much more naturally. Unfortunately, I believe the difference is that Arkham Horror is a fun, cooperative game with completely random elements throughout and has infinite replayability–especially with all of the expansions available! As far as I know there are no Mansions of Madness expansions, and the booklet of scenarios included is all she wrote.

Components

The game is beautiful. The miniatures, mansion tiles, cards, etc. are all of the incredible quality that many FFG fans take for granted these days. Certainly worth the price tag on the product.

A number of actual, physical puzzles are included with the game and must be solved during the scenarios. However: if your group is the kind that groans when the game master breaks out a puzzle during any other roleplaying game and spends an hour or two complaining about it, they are not going to like this element.

Ultimately, I suppose I was hoping for Betrayal At House On the Hill with the Arkham Horror characters and elements, and with FFG quality. That expectation, much like a highly anticipated horror film, probably contributed to my disappointment in this game.

Should You Try It?

If you’re looking for a game in the horror genre or Cthulhu mythos, especially if you like Arkham Horror, Elder Sign, and the whole slew of games in that franchise, and you’re down with having one of your group run the game and everyone else playing through a storyline RPG style–then yes, you’ll totally dig this game!

But if you’re looking for the unified group play style (rather than having an adversary in The Keeper) that comes with other games in this franchise, there’s a few other dungeon crawl board games I’d steer you in the direction of first.

10
Go to the Mr. Jack page

Mr. Jack

33 out of 35 gamers thought this was helpful

In the wake of weekend after weekend of two-player cooperative games and countless rounds of Council of Verona, the lady and I were looking for something competitive to play against each other. I texted my buddy Matt of Prettiest Princess Games and he threw a few recommendations for me to look up online, including Mr. Jack. At first Mr. Jack seemed like it wouldn’t quite be my bag, but lots of people were raving — so I bought it.

We sat down on a Friday evening, after she eagerly punched out all the cardboard tokens and cards and placed stickers on the wooden tokens that represent the game’s characters. I read through the instructions twice, and to be honest they win no awards for clarity. Maybe it’s just the English translation.

I decided to set up the board and learn the rules the old-fashioned way: by playing a round. Walking through step by step and not focusing on who was winning and how, we pieced together gameplay and strategy through trial and error. By our third game we no longer needed the instructions, except for setup (Gawd help us if we ever lose them — see Setup Time below).

Setup Time
There’s not a ton of pieces. But each piece–from characters and gas lamps to police cordons and sewer covers–are placed very specifically on the board, with certain lamps numbered to go into a certain space. I don’t believe I’ll ever be able to do this from memory. Despite that, it takes less than a minute to drop a total of 18 pieces into their starting spots, then the “Mr. Jack” player picks a random card to determine his character. Game on!

Learning the Rules
We scratched our heads a lot when trying to figure out how to start, but quickly picked up the rules in play via trial and error. Each character has his own ability to be used before, after, or instead of his movement — it took us three games to memorize these abilities and how they work, recognizing them by character name or an icon on the character’s card.

Replayability
We’ve pulled this game off the shelf on five different nights in three weeks, generally playing twice (once each as Mr. Jack and the Investigator) before moving on to another board game. I suspect that we’ll buy the expansion when it starts to get stale — which I can see happening pretty quickly, with the same starting layout and character abilities each time, altered only by luck of the draw order during play.

Overall it’s a fun, relatively quick game that a novice gamer can pick up and enjoy without hours of learning a laundry list of rules and strategic minutia. Give it a try if you’re looking for a game to play on lazy evenings with your significant other.

6
Go to the Dungeons & Dragons: Castle Ravenloft Board Game page
82 out of 93 gamers thought this was helpful

Recently my lady expressed interest in learning how to play Dungeons & Dragons, so that she could join us for one of our bi-monthly marathon gaming sessions. She’s a natural actress and there’s not a lot you can “teach” about the role-playing aspect of role-playing games, but rules and combat systems can be hard for a brand new gamer to wrap their head around.

Enter: Castle Ravenloft. We sat down on a lazy Sunday with some snacks, and music playing on iTunes, and played through a few quests.

Setup Time
There is much shuffling of cards and pondering over which character to play, and learning the powers of each character to start, but dungeons are built as you progress through an adventure (minus selecting a few quest-specific rooms and a number of tiles that will be in your Dungeon Stack). Monsters and encounters hit the table when you move into new areas.

Learning the Rules
This is a combat dungeon crawl based on the D&D 4th Edition rules, sans skills. It’s great for teaching someone the very basics of Dungeons & Dragons combat for any recent edition — 3rd, 4th, or Next — but has been simplified with fixed numbers and limited advancement. Each player’s turn consists of a few simple steps: movement, exploration, combat actions, and then monster activation. Monsters have very simple to follow rules that determine how and where they move, and who and how they attack.

The lady had played very few board games and not a single role-playing game in her life before we broke this game out. Despite the rules indicating that if one player dies, and cannot be restored due to lack of Healing Surges, the heroes lose, she insisted that she be allowed to carry on with the quest alone in true RPG adventurer style after my dwarven cleric bit the dust. It was great to watch someone with zero experience or knowledge of this type of game really get into the spirit and start making tactical decisions and suggestions within hours of dipping her toes into the genre.

If you’re looking to introduce a novice gamer into role-playing games for the first time and want to ease them into it gently, I’d recommend one of the D&D Adventure System games. The miniatures, heavy card stock character cards, poetically-named powers, and dungeon tiles make it very thematically appealing and tactile for beginners, and can introduce them to Dungeons & Dragons without the lengthy pre-game steps of rolling characters or learning a volume of rules.

Not really for experienced D&D players, though, unless you’re nostalgic about ol’ Count Strahd and his maze-like castle of horrors.

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