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Tom

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Go to the Pandemic page
Go to the Ticket to Ride: Europe page
Go to the Love Letter page
Go to the Patchwork page
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Go to the Pandemic: The Cure page
Go to the Targi page
Go to the Takenoko page
Go to the Pandemic: On the Brink page
7
Go to the Lost Cities: The Card Game page
79 out of 86 gamers thought this was helpful

Lost Cities is another of Reiner Knizia’s two-player only games. My edition is one of the Kosmos 2 player line. It has some similarities to Battle Line, as both games have players facing one another and placing cards in columns. The gameplay is easy and quick, and most anyone can grasp the rules in a couple of minutes. The endgame scoring can be a bit tedious, but not terribly so.

The cards and a narrow board make up the components, and they are of good quality. But for some inexplicable reason, Lost Cities’ cards are oversized. It makes them more much difficult to shuffle than a standard deck. I find that card size matters. The small cards of Takenoko, Elder Sign, and Ticket to Ride are often criticized for their poor handling characteristics. Oversized cards are marginally better than the minis, but just a bit. Why not make them the size of regular playing cards?

Gameplay is simple and straightforward, but it is not especially thematic. Players must choose from among five “expeditions” to fund. They may pick from five colored suits of cards, and play them in ascending order in columns marked by the play board set between the two players. On a player’s turn, he plays or discards one card and draws another. When the draw deck is exhausted, the game ends. Players then tally their scores. Each started expedition costs a player 20 points, so it is critical that the sum of a player’s cards total 21+ points. Otherwise, an expedition can result in a negative score.

“Handshake” cards can be played as a multiplier for the point value of an expedition. But they must be played before any numerical cards are played. A player can multiply the subtotal (the value of the numerical cards minus 20) of his expedition times two, three, or four by playing one, two or three handshake cards. Using the handshake cards is a gamble, because negative scores also will be subject to the multiplier. A low scoring expedition with four handshake cards can result in a huge scoring deficit.

Lost Cities is a staple of introductory, two player games. It serves as a good filler game that is perfect when time is short. Players can play three rounds (a good number) in about 15-20 minutes. Setup is quick and easy, and most anyone can understand the rules of play. The game is inexpensive and occupies little shelf space. Along with Battle Line, Lost Cities is a light, fun card game for two from Reiner Knizia.

9
Go to the Patchwork page

Patchwork

45 out of 51 gamers thought this was helpful

Much has been written about Patchwork (2014), and the game is enjoying rave reviews at online game sites and retailers. I had not played one of Uwe Rosenberg’s games prior to experiencing Patchwork, but I had been eyeing another of Rosenberg’s small box, two-player titles – Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small, for months. Looking at Patchwork’s box cover, with its muted earth tones depicting a quilted section of fabric, it would be easy to assume the game within would be as dry as dust. But that is not the case; Patchwork is an excellent two-player game. It has quality components in a compact box, and the instruction booklet is clear and detailed. Games take about 20 minutes, and Patchwork is easy to learn. I think gamers and non-gamers would enjoy Patchwork.

Players work to fill their nine by nine boards with various shaped patterned pieces, and they must do so before the game ends. Setup is quick. Each player gets a square board and five buttons. Then they place the time track board in the middle of the table, and arrange the patch pieces so they encircle the time track. And lastly, they place the large pawn behind the specified starting patch. Players can purchase one of the three patches ahead of the pawn counting clockwise. When a player purchases a patch, the pawn is moved clockwise to the space vacated by the purchased patch. The timer is a shared two-sided board that has five single square patches along its path. The square patches are claimed when a player’s marker lands on or passes the space where a patch rests. Also along the timer path are printed images of blue buttons. When a player passes or lands on the button spaces, he gets “income” based on the number of buttons on his quilt. Buttons are the currency of Patchwork.

Each of the quilt pieces has icons depicting their cost in buttons and in time. This is an ingenious concept, as it forces players to make impactful decisions on every turn. A player must decide which patch, if any, to purchase on his turn. If a player chooses not to purchase a patch, he can move his token along the time track until it is one space in front of his opponent’s token. Then the player gets one button for each space he moved. Some patches cost one or two buttons, but they have a higher time cost. Others may cost up to 10 buttons, yet have a time cost of just one or two. Paying a higher time cost moves a player’s marker further down the time track. And the game ends when each player reaches the end of the time track. This seemingly simple game can evoke a fair amount of analysis.

Then there is the business of filling the nine by nine boards. The patch pieces come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and they must be placed immediately after being purchased. Sometimes irregular gaps may be harder to fill as the game progresses. A seven point bonus token is awarded to the first player to fill a seven by seven space on his board. Final scores are tabulated by subtracting two times the number of empty spaces on a player’s board from the total number of buttons the player has at the end of the game.

Patchwork plays so quickly and is so enjoyable that I have yet to play just one game per sitting. It is light enough to play at a relaxed pace, yet is competitive enough to be exciting regardless of the game’s outcome. I could see this game eclipsing Jaipur or Targi as my favorite two-player only game. Patchwork is a true delight, and it is a bargain at around $25. Who could have guessed a quilting themed game would be so much fun?

8
Go to the Pandemic: In the Lab page
54 out of 61 gamers thought this was helpful

Pandemic: In The Lab (2013) is the second of three expansions for Pandemic. I played the base game about a hundred times before adding the first expansion – On The Brink. Now I don’t play without it. So would In The Lab be as enjoyable as the base game and first expansion, or would it just be overkill? I took a chance and obtained a copy. After more than a dozen games, I find that like In the Lab. It alters the game more so than On The Brink, but most of the alterations are good.

The components of In The Lab are on par with those of the first two Z Man printings. There is an additional board that is about half the size of that of the base game. The new board represents the lab itself. While the lab board takes up more table space, it truly adds a biochemistry feel to the game. There are new roll and event cards, and there are amended role and epidemic cards. The new cards add fun and versatility to the game. And the new rules allow several modes to play, including solo and team variants.

By combining elements from the On the Brink expansion with the base game and In the Lab, there are nearly than a dozen ways to play Pandemic. The new components blend seamlessly with the existing ones. The rules and components allow players to custom tailor the game to their desired difficulty and game duration. In The Lab includes some attractive 3-D vials in each of the four base diseases plus the purple “mutation” from On the Brink. Everything fits neatly into the excellent insert, but the additional board prevents the box from closing completely.

The board is adorned with diagrams of organic compounds, and there are five “petri dish” spots for collecting, mixing, separating, and cultivating colored cube “disease samples”. The Pandemic series excels at making logical, ergonomic game boards. The base game has marked sectors on the board for draw decks, discards, infection rate marker, cured disease markers, and outbreak marker. The Lab’s board is equally intuitive; every card and cube has a specific spot on the board.

Gameplay with In the Lab differs in that it divides players’ attention between the two boards. And cures now require the presence of disease cubes, as samples must be processed through the cycle of petri dishes before a disease is cured. I have found that my Pandemic winning percentage has dropped significantly since adding In the Lab. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as I enjoy the puzzle-like nature of the game. The Lab challenge requires players to be at a research station in order to perform “lab actions”. That means that at least one player should remain at or near a research station as the game progresses. Perhaps having three or more players (or having two players assume more than one role) would better distribute the work of collecting and processing samples.

I have thoroughly enjoyed Pandemic and its first two expansions. The game is challenging and fun, and my wife and I love to play it and share it with others. Pandemic: In the Lab feels as though it completes the game for me. While I don’t think it is as essential as On the Brink, In the Lab is very good. The added modes, roles, and challenges will keep me playing for years to come. Now I have to find a new coop that my wife likes as much as Pandemic… THAT will be a Challenge.

8
Go to the Carcassonne: The Castle page
45 out of 51 gamers thought this was helpful

Carcassonne: The Castle (2003) from Rio Grande Games is a great two player variant of Carcassonne, one of the classic gateway games. The Castle plays in about 30 minutes, and it is fairly easy to learn. It differs from regular Carcassonne in that it uses a scoring track made up of connected pieces that form an irregularly shaped castle wall. Play area is limited to the space within the walls. Tile placement is more flexible in The Castle, because only roads must be aligned. All the other features –houses, castles, and markets, can be arranged as players choose.

As in Carcassonne, players have a set number of markers called “followers”. The followers are placed on features within a tile (houses, roads, castles, and markets) as a tile is played. Once placed, followers are fixed until the feature they mark is completed. A feature is completed when it is fully enclosed by the outer wall or any non-like feature. Once complete, players score their feature and advance their marker along the scoring track. Once the scoring system is understood, Carcassonne: The Castle is intuitive and quickly paced.

Additionally, there are small bonus tiles that are placed face down at specific points along the scoring track. The bonus tiles allow features to be worth extra points or allow a player to advance his marker five spaces on the scoring track. Bonus tiles are claimed when a player’s marker ends its movement on the space the bonus tiles occupy. This means a player can try and complete features that yield the correct number of points to ensure his marker lands on a space with a bonus tile. Some forums I have read cite that the bonus tiles (particularly the “Market” bonus) have too much influence on the outcome of the game. I have dozens of plays of Carcassonne: The Castle, and I don’t think the bonus tiles negatively impact the game.

Another clever element of The Castle is that it rewards the player with the largest house, or “keep”, at the end of the game. The player with the keep that occupies the greatest number of tiles gets a scoring bonus equal to the largest empty space (number of squares) in the play area. This component becomes critical near the end of the game. If a player suspects he will have the smaller keep, that player may deliberately place tiles to split large empty spaces in the play area. An area with two by seven spaces, for example, gives 14 points to the player with the larger keep. That same area can be cut by playing two tiles to form two areas of three by two spaces. The bonus for the larger keep would then be reduced to six points, and the bonus scoring gap lessened by eight points.

Carcassonne: The Castle is a fine two player game. The rulebook is clear, and the components are good. The game is light enough to be played while enjoying conversation, yet it requires some strategic planning and decisive actions. The two player limit makes The Castle less flexible than regular Carcassonne, which supports up to five players. If you like Carcassonne or enjoy two-player gaming, the small variations of Carcassonne: The Castle make the game fun and worthwhile.

8
Go to the Flash Point: Fire Rescue page
76 out of 83 gamers thought this was helpful

Flashpoint – Fire Rescue is a cooperative game for one to six players. It has a broader spectrum of difficulty than other coops I have played. The “family”, or beginner, version is almost too easy, while the “heroic” level is very tough to win. Flashpoint allows players to introduce new elements of the game separately without diminishing gameplay. The design lets players ease into the advanced game one or two steps at a time. Components like hazardous materials, hot spots, and vehicles can be brought into play as players’ skills advance. The built in graded complexity along with several optional expansions should keep Flashpoint’s replay value high.

The components of Flashpoint are good, but the game’s insert and packaging are lacking. All the markers, cubes, and figurines come packaged in plastic bags that must be ripped or torn to get their contents. So one must toss all the components into the box, or get some baggies, boxes, or other organizer to keep things in order. The cardboard insert has an opening in the center that is about one third the size of the box. Everything will fit, but it is tight. I would have preferred a molded insert that used the available space more efficiently. The artwork on the two -sided board is serviceable but a trifle bland and underwhelming. The instruction manual is a bit vague regarding some of the symbols and icons on the board. But the six by eight grid system for placing smoke and fire using dice is intuitive and clear.

Gameplay is straightforward in Flashpoint. As in other cooperative games, players can choose from several “roles”. Each has some special ability or action that will help players contribute to the team and be successful during the game. On his turn a player may move, extinguish smoke and flames, rescue victims, or perform other actions. Players must recue a set number of victims before the structure collapses to win the game. The “victims” are represented by “Point of Interest” tokens placed face down on the board. Oftentimes, a player may move through a structure toward and unknown point of interest only to find a blank token. Blank tokens represent ‘false alarms”. Their inclusion is clever and works thematically to suggest the confusion and chaos of a real burning building. There are additional challenges and hazards like hot spots and hazardous materials. And there are vehicles, a fire truck and ambulance, which can be used to further aid in the firefighting and rescue effort.

While the negative events in Flashpoint aren’t quite as compelling or elegant as those in Pandemic, Flashpoint’s explosions and spreading of fire do create tension and excitement. The dwindling lot of damage markers indicates a building collapse is imminent. This creates a dilemma for players, as they can spend actions chopping through walls to expedite a rescue. Doing so hastens the depletion of the damage markers. When the last damage marker is placed, the building tumbles, and players lose the game. Players may also lose if they are unable to save the required number of victims. I like the variability of difficulty built into Flashpoint’s design. Depending on the experience of the players, they can dial in the desired level of difficulty they choose.

Flashpoint: Fire Rescue is a pleasant and entertaining game that plays in about 40 minutes. It is easy enough for non-gamers to grasp but substantial enough for seasoned gamers. The game is well supported with several available expansions. I have logged 20 plays of Flashpoint with both two and three players, and it works well with either number. The game flows smoothly, and there is not much downtime between turns. Flashpoint is sufficiently distinct from other disaster coops to earn its place on my game shelves

7
Go to the Elder Sign page

Elder Sign

65 out of 72 gamers thought this was helpful

As I enter my third year of modern board gaming, I find there are an ever expanding number of titles I want to play. I keep adding games to my wish lists, and new ones appear. It’s nearly impossible to purchase, learn and play, and store every game that interests me. The more I discover about my gaming preferences, the more I yearn to try additional titles. My gaming circle seems to gravitate toward cooperative games, so I am especially inclined to try any coop that plays well with small groups and in under an hour. Elder Sign (2011) is hardly a new release, but it is new to me.

I have read many reviews of Elder Sign, and most are favorable. The recurrent knock on Elder Sign is that it is a luck filled, dice chunking affair that is too easy to win. After more than a dozen plays, I have found that the odds of winning are quite favorable. This is particularly true with certain investigators. And that is an issue with many cooperative games, as some “roles” seem to have distinct advantages. Most games designers address this issue by directing players to randomly choose their roles at the beginning of the game. Random distribution works, if enforced, but how many players adhere to this approach? Once I familiarize myself with a game, I find that I pick one or two roles and use them every time I play.

So how does the game look and feel? The many components look great. The artwork on the sturdy cards is gorgeous, and the small bits and markers are printed in vibrant colors. Especially neat is a large clock face, which serves as a timer players advance three hours at the end of each turn. The only components that seem lacking are the player tokens themselves. They are roughly two centimeter, flat squares that are hard to distinguish from one another. I would have preferred colored pawns that matched colors on the player investigator cards, but that’s a minor quibble. The custom dice are solid feeling and clearly etched in easy to read contrasting colors.

Gameplay is fairly straightforward in Elder Sign. One to six players choose an area of the museum (represented by six face-up “Adventure Cards”) to explore, and then they must complete tasks printed on the cards. The tasks are rows of symbols that correspond to those on the player dice. Players roll the dice and try and collect a die for each of the symbols in the task. When the desired roll is not achieved, the player must discard one die and try again to roll the desired task symbols. If a player exhausts his supply of dice and or cannot complete the tasks, he fails the adventure. Failed adventures penalize a player by causing him to lose health and sanity. If a player’s health or sanity reaches zero, his character is devoured. Additionally, failed adventures may result in the appearance of monsters and doom tokens. Completed adventures give players rewards including spells and weapons to help them tackle tough adventures and trophies to be exchanged for health and sanity restoration or for Elder Sign tokens. Some adventures also reward players with Elder Signs.

Players must collect a specified number of Elder Sign tokens before the doom track is filled, or the Ancient One awakens. The game includes eight Ancient Ones of varying strength and difficulty, and each has its own mode of attacking players should it awaken. So far, I have only awakened the Ancient One once, and I lost the game badly. Watching the doom track fill with tokens adds a real sense of tension and impending doom. Also included in gameplay are Mythos cards. They appear at the beginning of the game and each time midnight comes. Mythos cards usually cause some negative event like having a monster appear or adding a token to the doom track. They bolster the eerie, supernatural theme of wandering after hours in spooky Arkham Museum.

Elder Sign is a good, but not great cooperative game. The horror theme is easy to embrace, and rules are straightforward. Most of the game’s components are very good. And, given the number and quality of the cards, bits, and pieces, the game is a great value. I suspect there are ways to make the game more difficult without altering play. The simplest idea might to begin the game with two to four tokens on the doom track, or lock one of the dice for a portion of the game. Then the Ancient Ones would rise to create real challenges for players.

9
Go to the Pandemic: On the Brink page

Pandemic: On the Brink

57 out of 64 gamers thought this was helpful

Expansions can be tricky. If they alter the original game too much, they can spoil the mechanism that made a game so appealing in the first place. And if they don’t provide freshness and add variety to the primary game, expansions might not seem worthwhile. It’s a delicate balancing act for sure, and quality and substance of expansions varies greatly.

Pandemic has been a wildly successful and popular cooperative game, and it currently has three expansions available. The first of those is Pandemic: On the Brink, and it is excellent. I had only played the base game, and I was eager to try the one of the expansions. But, I secretly worried about tinkering with the game I loved so dearly. I have played Pandemic more than 150 times during the last 11 months, and I still enjoy it thoroughly. Two weeks ago, I obtained a copy of On the Brink, and it is a welcome addition to my collection.

Pandemic: On the Brink is exceptionally well done. Beginning with the box itself, the artwork perfectly complements that of the base game. The edition I bought has a great insert that holds everything from the base game and the expansion perfectly. All of the new pawns, cards, markers, and petri dishes fit the new insert flawlessly. I put all my components (including the board) into the new box and placed the original box in a closet.

The expansion includes seven new roles with specific and unique abilities. Each role has a reference card detailing the role’s abilities and a matching pawn. Surprisingly, the colors of the new pawns are easily distinguished from the seven included in the base game. On the Brink has three new modes of play. And players can choose to play either of them separately, or play two or more of the new modes at the same time. Among the new ways to play are the Virulent Strain Challenge, The Mutation Challenge, and The Bio-Terrorist Challenge. Also included in the expansion is a seventh Epidemic card that allows players to increase the difficulty of the base game in its original form.

And is if that were not enough, Pandemic: On the Brink has several new Event cards that extend the game and give players more options. For a truly unique gaming experience, there are blank Role and Event cards that let players create their own characters and events. Lastly, there are the nifty purple disease cubes and the thematic yet useful petri dishes. The petri dishes are so much nicer than the small baggies included with the base game.

I have yet to find an expansion that I would consider absolutely essential, but On the Brink comes closest to being indispensable. It blends seamlessly with the base game, and its design allows players to ease into new modes of play. I have tried all the variants except the Bio-Terrorist Challenge (which is best for three or more players), and I am quite pleased with the new gameplay. My apprehension that the expansion would negatively impact my favorite game was unfounded. Pandemic: On the Brink is a delightful addition to Pandemic. It more than justifies its existence with loads of lovely components, new modes of play, and a near perfect box insert. I couldn’t reasonably ask more from an expansion.

7
Go to the Archaeology - The Card Game page
54 out of 61 gamers thought this was helpful

Archaeology-The Card Game by Phil Harding and published by Z Man Games is a light, quick game for two to four players. It works well with all player counts, is easy to learn, and is a bargain at $10-$12. Setup is easy, and the game plays in about 20 minutes. Kids as young as eight or so should be able to grasp the concepts of Archaeology in no time.

The game is exceptionally portable with its roughly 5″x 4″x 3/4” box. The components consist of 87 cards and a rule booklet. Setup begins by separating Artifact cards from the Map, Sandstorm, and Thief cards. Then five Artifact cards are placed face up to create the “market” and stacks of three, five, and seven Artifact cards are placed around a reference card in a thematic “pyramid” shape. Next each player receives four cards as a starting hand. Finally, the Map, Sandstorm, and Thief cards are shuffled into the remaining Artifact cards. The resulting deck becomes the “dig site”, and the game is ready to play.

Play begins with the first player taking one card from the dig site and placing it into his hand. He may chose to trade any number of cards in his hand with those in the market. Cards are traded at a 1:1 value ratio, and the trade value is clearly marked on each card. A player may also choose to take a set of matched cards and “sell (them) to the museum”. This means the player places the cards to be sold in front of him. But, a player cannot add cards to or take cards from a set that has been sold. They are now his to score at game’s end, and they cannot be lost or stolen. The values of a given set of matched cards increases exponentially as the number of cards in the set increases. But there are events which can cause a player to lose one or more of the cards in his hand.

The Sandstorm cards cause each player to drop half the cards (rounded down) from their hand. And the Thief card allows the player who drew it to take one card from one of his opponents. The presence of Sandstorm and Thief cards make it risky to try and collect a large set of cards. The press your luck nature these cards create adds tension and excitement to the game. Even with the Thief cards, the game is not confrontational in nature. The player who draws the Thief has to blindly pick from his opponent’s hand, so he cannot target a specific highly valued card.

The third and last non Artifact card is the Map. When a player draws a Map card, he may keep it, trade it in the market, or use it to take one of the three stacks of cards that comprise the pyramid. With one, two, or three Map cards, a player may claim the three, five, or seven card stacks. Map cards are rare, but using them to grab a few extra cards can be a game changer.

Play continues until the dig site deck is exhausted. Then players make their final trades, and sell their cards to the museum. The player with the greatest number of points is the winner. Archaeology-The Card Game is a relaxing filler in a compact package. It would make a fine family game, yet it plays well with two. It shares some elements of Jaipur and Rummy, but it is distinctive enough to consider adding to one’s collection.

6
Go to the Cypher page

Cypher

46 out of 52 gamers thought this was helpful

I am a loyal fan of Love Letter, and I have logged nearly 200 plays. So I was delighted to find Cypher, also from AEG, in late 2014. The two games share many features. Most notable are the clamshell packaging, soft velvet storage bags, and a handful of cards. Both games are quite portable, easy to learn, and very inexpensive.

Cypher has much more of its instruction booklet devoted to the game’s theme and “back story” than Love Letter. There are several pages devoted to Cypher’s history and purpose. They explain how the existence of a future world depends on the security and integrity of a computer network called “Nexus”. “Cypher”, an artificial intelligence that has hacked into Nexus, is the antagonist in the story.

The setup and gameplay of Cypher are quite simple, and the game works for 2-4 players. On his turn, a player plays, draws, passes (to another player), and discards a card. As cards are played, their effect(s) must completed immediately, even if the effect is negative to the player who plays the card. The cards have point values, called “influence”, ranging from 0-9. Cards played are kept in front of each player and totaled at game’s end.

The game’s end is triggered when a player plays the “Cypher Anomaly” card or when the draw deck is exhausted. After the trigger, each player gets one more turn, and the player with the most influence (total points) wins. Games take just five to 10 minutes to play, so it is easy to play several games per sitting.

I think Cypher suffers from its association with Love Letter. I suspect far more people have some familiarity Love Letter than do with Cypher. Its charming simplicity makes Love Letter accessible, unintimidating, fun. While Cypher shares some of Love Letter’s family traits, it lacks Love Letter’s straightforward appeal. I also find Cypher’s dark, futuristic theme to be less alluring than Love Letter’s domain of Tempest.

8
Go to the Lanterns: The Harvest Festival page

Lanterns: The Harvest Festival

104 out of 111 gamers thought this was helpful

Just looking at its components, you might guess Antoine Bauza designed Lanterns: The Harvest Festival. It’s vibrant colors, Asian theme, and artwork depicting a bamboo eating panda are reminiscent of Bauza’s Hanabi, Tokiado, and Takenoko. But Lanterns was designed by Christopher Chung, and it offers a fresh approach to tile laying games.

Thoughtful design is evident in nearly all the components of Lanterns. The jumbo tiles, well written instruction booklet, and beautiful artwork on the cards demonstrate the designer’s and producers’ commitment to creating a quality product. Lanterns looks and feels like a high grade production. The game scales very well, as players remove discretely marked pieces for games with fewer than four persons.

Gameplay is simple and straightforward. The object is to score points by collecting “dedication tokens”. Dedication tokens are earned by collecting various sets of cards. The cards come in seven colors, and players try and collect them in one of three combinations. They are four of a kind, three pairs, and one of each of the seven colors. The Dedication tokens are set up in stacks of diminishing point values (like the goods tokens in Jaipur), so getting sets early in the game is best.

Players play “lake tiles” around a central “start tile”. The lake tiles have four sections (sides) of illustrated lanterns in seven colors that correspond to those on the cards. When tiles are placed, one of the sides faces each of the game’s players. Each player receives a card of the color of the side facing him on every turn. The person who plays the lake tile can earn additional cards by laying tiles so that one or more of the colored sides matches an adjacent side on an existing lake tile or tiles.

There are special lake tiles called “platform tiles”, and they have a square image printed in the center of the tile. When a player plays a platform tile or lays a tile adjacent to a platform tile, he gets a wooden “favor token”. Once per turn, a player may trade two favor tokens plus one card for any card of his choice. The race to grab as many valuable dedication tokens can make for a strategic and competitive game. Placement of one’s tiles is particularly important late in the game, as only dedication tokens are totaled for scoring. Prudent, timely tile placement can help ensure a player isn’t left holding several cards at the end of the game.

Lanterns: The Harvest Festival is a light, fun tile laying game that plays in about 20-30 minutes. The components are well made, and the sturdy box is not grossly oversized for its contents. I can relax and enjoy light conversation while playing Lanterns, and short games mean multiple plays per sitting. Priced in the $25 dollar range, Lanterns: The Harvest Festival is an excellent value and a fine game.

7
Go to the Hooyah: Navy Seals Card Game page
99 out of 106 gamers thought this was helpful

How much does theme really matter in gaming? Do some games create an immersive experience that makes players feel they are doing something more exciting and adventurous than rolling dice or collecting cards? I think the answers will vary from one gamer to the next. But if a game is sound and has good mechanics, theme is less important. I like Splendor, but when playing I don’t feel like a gem merchant or miner. The diamond and sapphire chips are really just white chips and blue chips, but I still love the game.

Hooyah: Navy Seals Card Game is a game that has lovely thematic elements everywhere except the gameplay itself. It is, at its core, a cooperative set collection game. Players choose from one of ten roles, and each has a unique ability. One player assumes the role of the Lt Commander, and he is the game leader. Players must complete five tasks, called “ops”, then complete one of five “missions”.

Completing ops and the mission requires that players collectively obtain the required number and color of a group of cards. There are two numbered cards in each op. The sum of the numbers on the two ops cards is used to set the timer. The timer is used as a player turn counter. Each time a player takes cards from the draw deck or from a diminishing number of face up cards, the timer is reduced by one. When the timer reaches zero, players lose a health token with each addition draw. If any player loses all his health tokens, the game ends in a loss.

As gameplay progresses, the Lt Commander can “call roll”. That means that each player tells the group how many of a specific color of the required cards they have in their hand. It is a cooperative game, so players have an incentive to share pertinent information. It works a bit like the sharing and memory element of Hanabi, but Hooyah seems a bit less restrictive. Once the Lt Commander feels the group has enough cards to complete the op, players play the number of required colored cards.

After the five ops are completed, players must have the cards required to do the mission phase of the game. The mission is usually a specific number of three different colors of cards. That’s essentially it. Get as many of the five different colors of cards, and hope the group has enough to fulfill each op and the mission.

Hooyah: Navy Seals Card Game is an attractive game with good looking components and a very useful box insert. It plays 1-4 players, and games last 15-20 minutes. I find it relaxing when compared to other coops, and sometimes that is good. Don’t expect a deeply thematic experience with this game. If you approach Hooyah as a light, cooperative set collecting game, you wont be disappointed.

8
Go to the The Builders: Middle Ages page
40 out of 45 gamers thought this was helpful

The Builders: Middle Ages, from Asmodee, is a surprisingly fun game in a tiny metal box. It is truly portable, as all of its components are contained in a roughly five inch square, two inch deep tin. The components are square “building” cards, rectangular “worker” cards, and plastic gold and silver colored coins. The game supports two to four players, and it plays quickly with two.

Players begin an with “Apprentice” worker card and 10 money units. Gold is worth five, and silver is worth one. The worker cards have clear icons that show the worker’s skill value and his cost to play. The higher a worker’s skill level, the more expensive his labor. But the most skilled workers complete construction phases more quickly. There are four distinct “skills” that each worker may have – stone, wood, tile, and knowledge. They are clearly marked in distinctly colored icons along the side of the worker cards. On a player’s turn, he can take any combination of three actions of his choosing. The actions are take a building card, take a worker card, assign a worker to a building, or take coins from the bank.

Structures require a certain number of skill “credits” to construct and complete. Completed structures yield victory points, and more currency for future projects. The first player to 17 victory points wins. The structure cards are designed so that the skill points required to complete them align with those on the worker cards. Simple structures may yield 1 victory point and five to six coins, while more complex buildings can produce eight victory points and 20 coins. Most structures require the employment of more than worker. But once a structure is complete, players return the workers to their hand. As the game progresses, players have an increased number of workers at their disposal, so they can complete specific buildings more efficiently.

The Builders: Middle Ages has some similarities to Splendor, which is among my current favorites. The card drafting, set collecting, tableau building mechanic will be familiar to those who have played games like Splendor. A player must use his actions efficiently in order to be the first to 17 victory points. Most of the games I have played have been close, so maximizing every turn is essential. At less than $15, The Builders: Middle Ages is a super value. It is deep enough to keep players thinking, but light enough to play at a relaxed pace. And it can be stashed in the smallest of places for travel.

9
Go to the Takenoko page

Takenoko

54 out of 61 gamers thought this was helpful

Takenoko is surely the most relaxing and peaceful game I have ever played. I recall the early 1990s when compact disc sales were booming, and the Phillips Label issued scores of discs with lovely art and catchy titles like “Mozart For Meditation” and “Beethoven at Bedtime”. The performances and recordings were beautiful, and they served their suggested purposes well. Playing Takenoko makes me feel like I do when I listen to those classical recordings. Win or lose, it is nearly impossible to be tense or overburdened while playing Takenoko.

The components of Takenoko are as attractive as any I have ever seen. Even the box and its useful insert are lovely to behold, and the instruction book is colorful and clear. The game’s pink, yellow, and green tiles and coordinating bamboo sections transform an empty play area to a pastel wonderland. Add the small but well detailed Panda and Gardener figurines, and this game is loaded with visual appeal. The theme of growing, irrigating, and fertilizing beautiful bamboo plots is easy to embrace.

Gameplay is simple and straightforward, and a newbie can learn the basics in minutes. Takenoko does a great job of balancing luck with well planned decisions by giving players one action based on the result of a six sided die roll and two actions of their choosing. The goal is to complete seven to nine (depending on the number of players) objective cards. There are three distinct types of cards, and each has a goal and point value. Goals include the panda (eating certain bamboo sections),the gardener (growing specific bamboo stalks), and the “plot” (getting a certain pattern of hex shaped plot tiles).

The first player to complete the predetermined number of goals gets a two point bonus card, and the other player(s) gets one more turn. The player with the most points wins the game. Takenoko plays in about 30 minutes, and it works well with two to four players. And although I have lost more games than I have won, I still love this game.

Takenoko is a perfect light to medium game that works well as an introduction to tile laying and worker placement. The game couldn’t be less intimidating, and its aesthetics will attract players who might otherwise skip it. Antoine Bauza has a winner here, and I am curious to know how his follow up game, Tokaido, compares. I suppose Takenoko could be played competitively, but for me it is too sedate for that style of play. I find to be as relaxing an experience as a game could be.

8
Go to the Mr. Jack page

Mr. Jack

22 out of 26 gamers thought this was helpful

Mr. Jack, from Hurrican Games (2006,) is a quick two player game of skill, deduction, and a bit of luck. Given the game’s notorious titular character, Mr. Jack is surprisingly light hearted and tame. The suggested age of nine and up seems about right, and games last 20-30 minutes. The components are quite nice, and the illustrated instruction book is clearly written.

Setup of Mr. Jack involves unfolding the board and placing eight hex shaped “lamppost” and “manhole cover” tiles on set spots on the board. Eight colorful wooden character discs are placed on their specific starting places. Finally, a clock token is set in the start position, and two cardstock “barricades” are placed at two of the four possible escape routes where Mr. Jack might flee. If Jack manages to leave the city before being caught, he wins the game.

Players then choose whether to play as Jack or the investigator. The turn order system is well designed. The first player makes one move, and the other player makes two consecutive moves. Then the first makes the last move of the round. So the pattern of the first round is 1-2-2-1. The order reverses after each round, so round two would play 2-1-1-2. The clock token advances after each turn, and one of the lights is removed after each of the first four turns. If Jack’s is not named by the investigator by the end of the eighth turn, Jack wins. But if the investigator correctly identifies Jack, then the investigator is victorious.

The primary method of ruling out guilty vs. innocent suspect characters is the character tokens’ proximity to light (lamppost tiles and a lantern). Immediately after the players make their moves, the investigator asks if Jack is visible. The player playing Jack uses a two sided card to indicate whether Jack is next to a lamppost or in the path of the lantern. If Jack is “visible”, the two sided card is flipped to the side depicting a lighted Jack. Otherwise, the card is turned to indicate Jack hidden in the darkness. Based on the jack player’s report of Jack being lighted or in darkness, the investigator can rule out all characters in (or out) of the light.

There are also “Alibi” cards collected after a certain character action. These cards each rule out one of the seven innocent characters. One strategy for the person playing the investigator is to move the unknown characters in and out of lighted areas. Each of the eight characters has specific movements and actions, and players can use them to gain advantage over or block their opponent. Although the mechanics of Mr. Jack are quite simple, the game can become an exercise in tactics.

Some reviews have cited that the game is a bit unbalanced, as it favors slightly the investigator. I have not yet noticed an disparity in the two roles, but repeated plays may prove otherwise. With the quick play time of Mr. Jack, we normally play two or more games per sitting. We alternate playing Jack and the investigator, which would offset any inequity in the roles.

Mr. Jack is a good game with quality components and clever mode of play. The character and alibi cards are some of the thickest and sturdiest I have ever seen. The only minor quibble I have is with the artwork of the board itself. The streets and thoroughfares are a drab gray color that makes other features like manholes and structures more difficult to distinguish. Mr. Jack is fun and challenging, and it is distinctive enough to justify its place in my collection.

8
Go to the Pandemic: The Cure page

Pandemic: The Cure

131 out of 139 gamers thought this was helpful

I am an unabashed Pandemic devotee. It is, by a narrow margin, my current favorite game. I have yet to play any of the expansions or Pandemic: Contagion, but I recently acquired a copy of Pandemic: The Cure (P:TC). I don’t think it will ever replace the original, nor do I think it strives to do so. P:TC is a fine standalone, and it functions quite well.

The most striking feature of P:TC is the dice. There are 85 of them! How many games can make that claim? Quarriors by comparison, has 130, and Roll For The Galaxy 111. The custom dice that make up the bulk of the components to P:TC are lovely to behold in their 11 distinct colors. The 48 Infection dice appear to be standard six sided die, but they are far from it. Each has only a couple values of pips, and a medical “cross” symbol appears on one side of each of them. The players have seven different role cards from which to choose (or select randomly). Each role card has a color coordinated pawn and matching set of unique dice.

Player dice have a variety of symbols that represent the actions a player may take on his or her turn. Like most cooperative games, each of the roles has special abilities that makes them useful in different situations. All the die results are positive except the “biohazard” symbol, which causes the infection rate to increase. That, in turn increases the number of infection dice put in play during the infection phase of the game. Players can reroll any result other than the biohazard, so the press your luck element is evident in P:TC.

The infection rate and number of outbreaks are cleverly tracked with a brightly colored peg and hole ring made of sturdy plastic. The center of the ring serves as the “treatment center” for disease die treated from any of the six “regions” that encircle the multi function plastic ring. Players must keep tabs on outbreaks and the infection rate as well as the number of infection dice in the draw bag (which is made from sturdy fabric). If the draw bag is ever emptied, or eight outbreaks occur, the game is lost. Players win by finding cures (rolling “13” or greater with a number of treated and collected dice) for each of the four diseases.

Another element of P:TC is the use of “Event” cards which give players certain advantages. Event cards are purchased using dice from the CDC tile (those dice that resulted in the medical cross symbol). The rules are clearly detailed in a well written instruction booklet, and a new player can learn the basics in minutes. The game supports 2-5 players, and most games last less than 30 minutes.

P:TC is a fun game. Regardless of one’s familiarity (or lack of) with Pandemic, P:TC works. Other reviewers have cited the lack of a game board and how it detracts from the overall experience. I tend to agree. The map on Pandemic’s board gives it coherence and clarity that P:TC lacks with its modular setup. P:TC doesn’t give me the sense of impending doom I get late in a game of Pandemic. Die rolls mean randomness, and some may shy away from the game because of the luck factor. But P:TC is a fast paced, fun game. It is lighter but more abstract than Pandemic. I enjoy P:TC despite it feeling more like rolling dice than curing diseases. It is an attractive and welcome edition to my collection.

8
Go to the Battle Line page

Battle Line

64 out of 71 gamers thought this was helpful

Do any sort of online browsing or research of board games, and the name Reiner Knizia will likely appear frequenty. He is listed as designer on a number of games, including this one. Battle Line isn’t new, but I only recently acquired a copy. It’s a two player card game that is easy to learn and takes 15-20 minutes to play.

Though the game is fairly compact, the setup requires a moderately wide but shallow table space. Nine pawns (called “flags”) are arranged in a line between each of the two players. Players start with a hand of seven “Troop” cards which are numbered 1-10 and in six different colors. The goal is to capture a majority (five) of the flags or three adjacent flags. On a player’s turn, he plays a card by placing it in front of one of the nine flags. The he draws a Troop card or a “Tactics” card (more on that below) to replenish his hand.

A player wins a flag by creating the highest ranking set of three cards on any given flag. The game feels a bit like playing nine “mini hands” of Poker simultaneously. Three cards of like color and consecutive number beat three of a kind and so on. But that’s really an oversimplification of the game, as players must choose which set to collect and which of the nine slots to pursue the collection. Often a player will get two cards of a powerful set but never collect the third card, so the game stays tense until the end. It’s a good idea to print a cheat sheet showing the five possible three card sets and their hierarchy.

The 10 Tactics cards add variety and versatility to the play of Battle Line. Some of them act as wild cards, while another allows a player to take a card from his opponent. And perhaps the best part of the Tactics cards is that they are not essential to the game. I treat them like a mini expansion and play them as often as not. I can set them aside for a lighter game or to more easily teach the rules to a newbie.

I really enjoy Battle Line, and I expect it will see a lot of table time at my house. It is stimulating enough to keep my attention, but light enough that I can make casual conversation with my opponent during gameplay. Playing Battle Line is a perfect way to unwind at the end of the day, and I seldom play just once per sitting. I play games to relax, to escape the chaos of the workweek, and simply for pleasure. Battle Line meets each of these requirements.

6
Go to the Zombie Dice 2: Double Feature page
15 out of 21 gamers thought this was helpful

Zombie Dice was one of the first of the newer games I purchased.
It was cheap, easy to play, and offered mindless fun. But after a
dozen plays or so, my interest started to wane a bit. There just
aren’t enough choices and variations to keep the game fresh and
exciting. So I bought Zombie Dice 2: Double Feature, an expansion
with a B-movie horror theme.

The expansion includes three new dice and a brief but clearly
written instruction booklet. Each of the die is distinctly colored
and easily separated from the 13 base dice. The instructions
offer three variations of play, and each involves the substitution
of one or more of the base game’s dice for one, two, or all three
of those from the expansion. The game doesn’t change much with the
expansion. There are just new symbols on the dice that offer a
couple of new outcomes. It helps to keep the instructions close
to quickly check what each new symbol indicates.

Like the original, Zombie Dice 2: Double Feature is inexpensive
and simple fun. The expansion can hardly be called essential; It
does not significantly add to or detract from the straightforward
play of Zombie Dice. If you truly like the base game, the extra
dice are worthwhile and offer a few new options. This set
would make a great “add on” to an Amazon order requiring $35
for free shipping.

8
Go to the Carcassonne page

Carcassonne

53 out of 61 gamers thought this was helpful

Games like Ticket to Ride, Settlers of Catan, and Carcassonne are often labeled as “gateway” games. They are games you bring out for friends and family members whose gaming experience consists of Monopoly, Scrabble, Battleship, and the usual toy department fare. So the gamer gets an opportunity to introduce a wonderful hobby and pastime to the uninitiated. It’s a big responsibility, and the right game is critical. Carcassonne is one of the best vehicles for showing newbies that there is life after Milton Bradley and Hasbro.

A gateway game not be overly long or overly complex, or else it may be intimidating or off putting. It should be visually appealing and have quality components. Most importantly, it should be fun to play. Carcassonne meets or exceeds all these standards. The toughest thing about learning and teaching Carcassonne is scoring. Some scoring is done during the game, and some is completed at the end of the game.

The best part of Carcassonne is its simplicity. Place tiles so their features align with like features. Fields, roads, and cities are connected and claimed for points. Carcassonne teaches economic risk and reward with “meeple” management. Players have a finite number of resources and must and must carefully manage them while maximizing point production. I love the choice Carcassonne forces. Should a player press his luck and make his city larger but risk leaving it uncompleted, or finish it early for guaranteed points? The lessons are useful in more complex games and in life itself.

Carcassonne has loads of expansions and different themed editions like “South Seas” and the “Winter Edition” with snow and gingerbread men. There is even a new base edition with updated artwork and two expansions. What’s not to like about Carcassonne? It plays in 30 minutes and supports 2-5 players. No matter how you recruit new game lovers, doing so is a service to each of us. Carcassonne is a great place to start a lifetime of gaming.

8
Go to the The Rivals for Catan page
28 out of 31 gamers thought this was helpful

Rivals For Catan is a two player update of the out of print Catan: The Card Game. Prior to my trying Rivals For Catan, I had zero Catan experience. The theme and concept were entirely new to me. The game comes in a compact box that holds the components fairly well, although the plastic insert is not optimal for oganizing the stacks of square cards. The game is well designed; It has an introductory “Base” set of cards and three “Mini Expansions”. The base game is recommended for the first few games, then players can add one, two, or all three of the expansions. Each of the expansions has a distinct emphasis and character, and they give Rivals a ton of replay value.

Rivals contains a detailed instruction book that fairly thoroughly explains setup and game play. There is also an online interactive tutorial that is quite helpful. It took me a couple of plays to understand the cards, the die symbols, and turn sequence. The cards that make up a player’s principality (his area of control) have resource symbols that indicate how much of each resource (like gold or wool) a player has. Players can spend resources to expand their principality and gain victory points. Keeping inventory of one’s goods uses a clever system like that of the monster tokens in Castle Panic. Players turn their square cards 90 degrees to add or subtract goods as they earn, spend, or trade them. Goods are acquired by rolling of two six sided dice.

There is one regular die, and its numbers correspond to one of six resources. A second die has symbols that have players complete specific actions. Dice rolls mean randomness, and it can be frustrating trying to get a specific roll for a needed resource. A nice twist in Rivals is that both players gain resources on each turn. It helps keep income flowing, and it encourages both players to be engaged during their turn and their opponent’s turn.

The base game is played to seven victory points, and the full games go to 12. Games take 30-45 minutes, and the time passes quickly. I separated my game’s three expansions and placed rubber bands around each stack. That way I can easily choose which of the expansions I want to play, and they don’t slide around in the oddly shaped box insert. The cards are a bit thin, but their artwork is quite nice. The dice and two marker tokens are of good quality. I like Rivals For Catan, and I recommend it to anyone seeking a light to middleweight game for two.

9
Go to the Targi page

Targi

123 out of 132 gamers thought this was helpful

I have been buying and playing “gamer games” for just under two years now, and I have enjoyed the process. I am thankful I checked out alternatives to Monopoly, Risk, Life, and other toy department staples. Since I began to play “better” games, I have discovered things that I like and things I don’t like in games. The wealth of material available on the internet makes finding good games easier than it has ever been. I recently purchased Targi, a two player only game from Z-Man Games.

Targi is a worker placement game that uses a “board” made up of 16 fixed border cards and nine ever-changing center “goods” and “tribe” cards. A “robber” pawn is placed on the first tile, and he moves one space at the beginning of each turn. The robber commits a “raid” on the corner tiles, and players must give up goods at each raid. Players alternate placing their three pawns on one of the 16 border cards. When each players’ pawns are placed, they use the vertical and horizontal coordinates to see where the paths of their pawns intersect. They then place two markers on the goods or tribes card at the point of that intersection. It’s a mechanic similar to Forbidden Desert’s horizontal/vertical part location tiles.

Next one player resolves the cards his three pawns and two markers occupy. He can choose any order in which to resolve his cards. That’s important, because one card may give a player a good he needs to purchase another card later in the same turn. So, say a player’s marker occupies a tribe card that costs one date, one salt, and one pepper to play, but he is short one pepper. If one of his pawns or markers grants him a pepper, he can take the pepper first then buy the tribe card with his goods.

Most of the tribe cards give players special privileges that are good for one turn immediately, at game’s end, or permanently. A player’s tribe cards are collected and placed in a 3 by 4 grid. Certain arrangements give a player additional victory points at the end of the game. The game ends when either player reaches 12 tribe cards or when the robber pawn reaches the sixteenth border tile. The player with the most victory points wins the game.

There is a lot going on during the game. A player must continually scan the goods and tribe cards to see which cards would most benefit him, and he must monitor his (and his opponent’s) ever evolving collection of tribe cards. When shifting focus from the board to one’s tribe, it is easy to overlook one’s tribe cards’ special abilities or bonuses. I find that Targi demands a player’s attention if he hopes to do well. It is not difficult, but one has to keep up with several aspects of the game simultaneously.

I like Targi, and at this stage in my gamming experience its difficulty level is just right. I love the game’s box size; it is perfect for what is inside. The components are good but with a couple of minor exceptions. The border cards could be more substantial. Since they aren’t moved during gameplay, I would like to have seen the border cards printed on something like a Carcassonne tile. Additionally, the color of the robber pawn is not distinctive from that of the white pawns. More than once I have mistaken him for one of my pawns. A little paint or a sticker would help make the piece more easily identified.

Targi is a fine game for two players wanting a mid-weight worker placement experience. Games last 45-60 minutes. I suspect I will grow to like Targi even more as my play count increases. Z-Man Games has several 2 player only releases, and all appear to be of high quality. I will likely check out more of them in the near future.

5
Go to the Phase 10 page

Phase 10

49 out of 55 gamers thought this was helpful

I first played Phase 10 over 20 years ago. At the time, I thought it was pretty clever with a novel concept. The card game requires players to complete 10 specific sets (phases) of cards. The first player to do so wins the game. Phase 10 is not a bad game, and it is not without merit. It’s like Yahtzee with cards instead of dice. Be the first to get all of the required sets, and win the game.

Phase ten is quite simple to teach and play; kids as young as eight should grasp it. It takes a bit longer than a round of Uno, and games with several players tend to drag a bit as players await their turn. I try and use games like Uno and phase 10 as teaching tools. Anyone who has played either of these department store card games can learn more sophisticated cards games like Coloretto, Love Letter, or even Dominion. The latter are no more difficult than the former, they are simply lesser known (to non-gamers anyway).

I have said in prior reviews that playing games is good for board gaming. If I can get one or more persons to sit and play a card or board game, I have the chance to make them a serious board game fan. Phase 10 is far from my favorite, and it is very seldom played at my house. But, it was engaging and fun when I played it long ago. I play better games now, and my tastes continue to evolve as I do and have done.

7
Go to the Castle Panic: The Wizard's Tower page
74 out of 81 gamers thought this was helpful

Castle Panic might be the perfect family game. It’s co op, so the incentive to teach and assist younger players is high and a benefit to all. Castle Panic is also so cleverly designed with its concentric rings surrounding the castle walls. The objective and threats could not be more clear. So after dozens of plays, I bought The Wizard’s Tower.

Castle Panic: the Wizard’s Tower greatly ups the chaos and difficulty level of the game. That is good, but there’s a catch. Since the base game is so easy to grasp, I found that the youngsters were a bit overwhelmed with their game’s newfound complexity. For kids and families, it’s a bit like hopping onto a familiar carousel and finding that it is running at double speed. The tame, family ride is now a white knuckle thriller.

For adults and more experienced gamers, The Wizard’s Tower is a no brainer. The addition of several new monsters (some with four or five hit points), fire, and mega boss monsters make the expanded game tough. The additional cards and “Wizard’s Deck” also give players more potent attacks. And the game lasts about 50% longer with the expansion.

All of the components to The Wizard’s tower are discretely marked to distinguish them from the base components. So it is easy enough to return to the base game for newbies or those seeking a relaxing game. I find that one almost needs two copies of the base game. Combine one of them with the Wizard’s Tower expansion, and keep one as is. Then you can go to your game shelf and decide whether you want the regular or “extra strength” version of the game.

7
Go to the Coloretto page

Coloretto

63 out of 70 gamers thought this was helpful

I just got my copy of Coloretto (Rio Grande Games), and it’s a delightful surprise. The cards are brightly colored (what else?), and they are printed on nice card stock that feels good in my hands. The cards are slightly smaller than standard playing cards, but with nearly 90 cards in the deck the size is fine. Additionally, the colors are distinct enough to tell one from the other. Setup is simple, and the game scales well from two to five players. I also like the two sided scoring reference cards, as each side provides a different strategy with different goals and rewards.

Game play is quick and straightforward; but there is plenty of strategic potential too. Even in a two player game, players must choose either to take guaranteed (but fewer) points or try for more points and risk drawing an unwanted card. There is some luck of the draw involved, and the press your luck opportunity is present too.

Scoring is scaled similarly to Ticket to Ride. Groups of one to six cards are collected and scored from one point for a single card of one color to 21 points for six of the same color. But players can’t over diversify, as only three color sets are scored. Colors outside of the three focus colors are deducted from a player’s score at game end. Like the unfinished tickets of Ticket to Ride, players loose points for having colors that don’t fit into their chosen set of three. It’s a simple compelling game that can be enjoyed by players as young as eight or so. A two player game takes about 15 minutes. There is no objectionable material in Coloretto, and no reading is required. If you are looking for a light filler that is fun and a bargain at $10-$12, Coloretto is an excellent choice. It’s enjoyable, thought provoking, and just different enough from other card games to earn a spot on my gaming shelf.

6
Go to the Coup page

Coup

98 out of 111 gamers thought this was helpful

Okay, I will admit it; Love Letter sparked my interest in small, portable card games. I read several good reviews of Coup, and I picked up a copy. I should have looked more closely at those reviews, however. Most of them mention “bluffing”, but I paid them no mind. Bluffing is a concept I understand, and I “get” the idea. But the execution is where I stumble and fall. I don’t see things as black or white; I think there are infinite shades of gray. But when I play a card or board game, I try and do what the rules and components of the game dictate.

Without bluffing, the game of Coup is just mechanical and dry. Love Letter works so well for me because the cards dictate a player’s actions. There are choices to make, but each card’s abilities and limitations are clearly spelled out on the card itself. Honesty about one’s hand is essential in Love Letter. Coup’s cards also define each rolls’ abilities. But a player can say he has any card he chooses, so the makeup of one’s hand doesn’t seem to matter. Maybe I have played too many rounds of Love Letter.

When I look at my hand and see a “Captain” and an “Assassin”, I have difficulty invoking the powers of a “Duke” or n “Ambassador”. I can’t explain why I struggle with bluffing. The rules permit and encourage it. It is really essential to the game! Why do I struggle so with the concept of bluffing..? I am no literalist; I am no saint. But something in my constitution and my thought processes keeps me from being able to enjoy this game. There is nothing wrong with the game of Coup, but it relies on a mechanic I cannot embrace. The cards and their artwork are first rate, and the instructions are clearly written.I simply can’t pretend I have a card other than the cards in my hand. Coup, It’s not you, it’s me. I promise.

7
Go to the Scrabble page

Scrabble

61 out of 74 gamers thought this was helpful

I first played Scrabble with my paternal grandmother. I was about eight or nine, but I remember when she upgraded to the Deluxe Edition with its turntable base and tile pockets to keep things neat and tidy. I have many fond memories of playing Scrabble with the “grown ups”. Today, cell phone and tablet users play “Words With Friends” with real friends or random opponents. I suspect most people with internet capable devices have played “Words With Friends”, and that is a good thing. Playing games, even electronic versions, is stimulating and good for gamers.

Among the advantages of electronic editions of games is that only legal moves are permitted. Too often in Scrabble, players may dispute the validity of a word. And so, the dictionary consultation is the go to fix. The wood tiles on cardboard and neat tile stands make the physical game a pleasant tactile experience. No app can replicate it. Scrabble is a perfect game for relaxing and or socializing. The game doesn’t demand strict attention, and there is no heavy strategy.

There is an unavoidable randomness of tile draws, and the board can get crowded at the end of games. There are also the dreaded “Q” and “Z” tiles; it’s often tough to place them within the confines of the existing tiles on the board. I haven’t bought a new copy of scrabble in years, but my edition has held up through scores of plays. Scrabble should be required playing for everyone (at least a game or two). It is one of the first games I remember playing, and it undoubtedly nurtured my interest in casual, social gaming.

6
Go to the Bears! page

Bears!

61 out of 68 gamers thought this was helpful

Bears is and easy to learn family dice game. Its camping theme is fairly appealing and easy to embrace. Players all roll their dice together, and they try and pair their results with dice from the common “camp” dice. The game includes four handy reference cards that use simple icons to show which die combos to pair. The first player to complete pairing all of their dice shouts “bears!” Then, scores tallied. A round of Bears is quick, and the scramble for the camp dice can be chaotic.

Other reviewers have pointed out the problem of players inadvertently flipping dice as they frantically grab from the common pool. I too have experienced this, but it is not enough to detract from the game. Dexterity and speed are essential to win at Bears. Adults playing with young children may want to “handicap” themselves to avoid runaway games. I like Bears as a quick filler. It gets my family together interacting and laughing for a few minutes now and then. If you do have young children and wish to include them in game nights, Bears is a good place to start. It will likely develop motor and spatial relationship skills in young minds too.

5
Go to the UNO page

UNO

10 out of 12 gamers thought this was helpful

Have you ever met anyone over the age of say, 12, who didn’t know how to play Uno? It’s a game, like Life or Monopoly, most people played in their childhood. Uno is very easy to learn, and it’s harmless enough for even young children. It has a mechanic that I dislike in games – the “screw you” play. Too often, a player gets his hand down to one or two cards, and his opponent drops a “Draw Four” card. That makes the game go on too long, and it is wildly unpredictable. Strategy is almost non existent in Uno, since no amount of plotting or planning can predict the “Draw Four” or color changing “Wild” card.

There are gamers (and people in general) who love the idea of smashing their opponents. They strive to win, and to do so overwhelmingly. Oftentimes, Uno forces this action. Each player has an equal chance of getting a “Draw Four” card which must be played eventually. Something inside me just doesn’t like the punitive actions in games like Uno or Sorry. I guess it is just the way I am wired. I don’t like to punish or be punished while engaged in board or card games. And although I won’t be disappointed if I never play it again, Uno is a 44 year old game that will probably be around for decades more. It is inexpensive and available practically anywhere.

7
Go to the Apples to Apples page

Apples to Apples

57 out of 80 gamers thought this was helpful

I first heard about Apples to Apples about eight years ago on a radio ad. I picked up a copy and was impressed with the novel concept. I like the “blind rating” where a player acts as judge of the other players answers. It’s a really good idea, but newness fades quickly. And Apples to Apples is a party game; you need several players for a good game. I have played with a group of six, and we had a great time. Some of the cards and words make for hilarious and absurd comparisons. But after playing several rounds, it just seems the same. The replay value is just not there on this game.

Apples to Apples is like the film you enjoy viewing but don’t necessarily want to own on DVD. It is a game I would rather have borrowed than bought. Apples to Apples is good, but not good enough to make the regular game rotation. I gave it a 7 based on my six player games. With fewer players it’s a 5 or 6. Apples to Apples stirred my interest in adult games, and I appreciate that. It might be best to have a “community copy” of the game to be shared among friends and family. It is worth a play or two, but it’s not a game I long to play.

10
Go to the Pandemic page

Pandemic

53 out of 60 gamers thought this was helpful

I play board games for a number of reasons – social interaction, mental stimulation, and to relax and unwind. But the most important reason I play games is for fun they provide. At this point in my gaming life, I like games that are cooperative (or at least not overly competitive), last 45-60 minutes, and give me fun and excitement. For now, Pandemic meets these criteria. I like everything about Pandemic! Even after dozens of plays, Pandemic excites me; I even enjoy the setup.

I like planning a strategy early in the game to minimize outbreaks. I love working as a team to maximize each players’ roles’ strengths, and I am continually surprised at how the direction of game can turn so quickly. There is a randomness to both the Player Deck and Infection Deck, but it is offset by the real choices players face on nearly every turn. Even the mechanisms that work against players, like “outbreaks”, are logical and add to the difficulty and tension in the game.

The game has 48 cities and four diseases, so there are a finite number of combinations. But Pandemic remains fresh and exciting to me. I have not played with either of the existing expansions, but both are highly regarded in gaming circles. And I have read there is a third expansion due in 2015, so the possibility for new adventures continues to grow. I look forward to trying each of the expansions.

I would like to see the designers do something like Days Of Wonder has done for the Ticket To Ride series, and offer a larger map with additional cities and cards. It would help with some of the more congested areas of the existing board. And it would give experienced players new cities to infect and treat. Pandemic is a fantastic game. It is easy to learn and to teach, and the theme is easy to embrace. I smile each time the game hits the table, and I know the expansions will keep me smiling and having fun for years to come.

7
Go to the Hey, Thats My Fish! page
11 out of 13 gamers thought this was helpful

My only real criticism of the tabletop version of Hey, That’s My Fish was managing the ever shifting hexagon tiles that make up the board. The Android app solves that problem beautifully. There is no setup or cleanup time, and there are many options to keep things fun. One to four human players can play against each other, provided they share a device, or play a computer opponent. The program is quite intuitive, and the rules and goals of the game are clear.

I like programs that show a player all possible legal moves. It is instructive, and it insures proper scoring. A game of Hey, That’s My Fish takes less than 10 minutes, and it’s tough to play just one game. It’s a clever game with a surprising amount of strategy involved. I usually prefer the tabletop version of a given game over an electronic edition. I like the social interaction involved, and I enjoy the tactile feel of handling real cards and components. But Hey, That’s My Fish may be better as an app version. The best elements of the game are preserved, and the fiddly aspects of the tabletop are a non factor. That’s a big plus.

7
Go to the The Magic Labyrinth page
16 out of 18 gamers thought this was helpful

I bought this one for my son a couple of years ago, and I was as excited to check it out as he was (maybe even more so). The idea of a path hidden beneath the play area with players trying to follow that path intrigued me. I really like the theme of Labyrinth, and the quality of the components and artwork is good. Players set up a series of heavy cardstock partitions on a plastic grid to make up the maze in Labyrinth. Then a square game board with a corresponding grid is placed atop the lower grid. Players blindly draw tokens from a bag, and each of the tokens represents a treasure location on the board.

Two to four players begin the game in separate corners of the board. Pawns have a strong magnet that attracts a metal ball below the board, so pawns must be slid along a player’s chosen path. Lifting the pawn (or bumping into a partition) will cause the ball to drop and return to the player’s starting corner, which means the player must reset his pawn in the corner and begin the path again. It is quite challenging to remember the path and where the partitions are set.

I recommend starting with just a few of the partitions, as a difficult path will become frustrating to new or younger players. There are more than enough of the partitions to make simple or highly complex mazes. When a player collects five treasures, the game ends. Labyrinth is a novel concept in a lovely package. The replay value for my family has been just average, but it is a fun game worthy of a few plays.

6
Go to the Dungeon! page

Dungeon!

64 out of 71 gamers thought this was helpful

In 1984, I got a TSR copy of Dungeon from a bookstore. My friends and I played it and loved it. 30 years later, I saw the reprint and had to get it. I had remembered this one being so fun, and I knew I would love playing it with my family. The new game looks great, but it just wasn’t all I remembered it to be.

The board is lovely, and the cards are small but attractive. The pawns are cardboard cutouts on cardboard bases. I miss the plastic figurines from my first version. With the board being so bright and attractive, I would like to have seen better pawns and larger cards. Dungeon might benefit from a deluxe reprint, and I would be willing to pay a bit more for it.

The game itself is a straightforward “dungeon crawl”, and it is very easy to play. The trouble with the game (that I don’t remember from my youth) is that it is tough to beat monsters higher than level three. And since the fighting mechanic involves rolling two six sided dice, winning or losing battles is highly random (and sometimes difficult). When we play, my playing partners usually run through levels one and two, grab the needed gold points, and sprint to the exit. There is little incentive to move to the higher levels and risk loosing all your loot for the chance to get one large, valuable treasure.

I don’t have my TSR copy for side by side comparison, but I suspect the game hasn’t changed much. I think issue is that I have aged 30 years, and my outlook and expectations have evolved tremendously. It is still fun to see the familiar monsters and treasures like “black pudding” and the “jade idol”, and my kids seem to like the experience. I have very fond memories of playing Dungeon, and perhaps it paved the way to my appreciation of better games today.

5
Go to the Dino Hunt Dice page

Dino Hunt Dice

10 out of 15 gamers thought this was helpful

Steve Jackson’s 2010 release, Zombie Dice, is a fun, simple filler. I am not sure why 2012 saw the release of Dino Hunt Dice. It is a cheap, lesser rehash of Zombie Dice. Dino Dice has smaller than standard dice, and the icons are not nearly as distinct and easy to ready as those of Zombie Dice. I know that there has been a zombie craze for some time, but I don’t recall a recent increased interest in dinosaurs.

The game works as a filler, and it is inexpensive. Dino Hunt Dice lacks the quality feel of its predecessor, so why choose it when Zombie Dice is clearly better. Maybe some folks don’t like zombies.

6
Go to the King of Tokyo page

King of Tokyo

27 out of 32 gamers thought this was helpful

King of Tokyo, with its big shiny box and Godzilla movie artwork, really screams “buy me..!” Great reviews on several gaming sites sealed the deal for me. I had just begun to get serious about board gaming when I bought King of Tokyo, and I guess I should have done more research. The game should be fun, and it can be with four or more players. But one of the key selling points for me was the little “people” icon in the upper left corner of the front of the box that said “2-6”. More than 95% of my gaming is two player, and very rarely do I play with more than three.
I will admit that I perhaps should be more sociable and work with larger groups, but the game says it supports two players.

Two player King of Tokyo is just awful. It’s a race to 20 Victory Points, and that makes for a 5-10 minute game with two players. And with two (or three), it is just too easy to amass 20 points to worry with the special cards, which are neat but perhaps a bit unbalanced. Some of the cards can make a player nearly invincible, and that can make the game very lopsided.

I played King of Tokyo with five players just once, and everyone seemed to enjoy the game. Some have criticized the player elimination factor of the game, and no one wants to be the first player knocked out of a game. Perhaps if I had played more games with four or more people, I would have liked the game as much as others have.

I liked the custom dice, and the monster standups looked good, but I would have preferred figurines to the flat cutouts. The green “energy cubes” were also attractive and useful scorekeepers. The instruction booklet was well written and clearly illustrated.
But the player monster cards were a missed opportunity. They look great with their shiny artwork, but functionally, they fall short. Each has two wheels with numbers and symbols that show through small cutouts in the cards. They are a clever and easy to read way of keeping up with players’ monsters’ stats. But the wheels are so loose; it’s easy to spin them unintentionally. Just handling the cards can make the wheels turn, and I don’t know how they slipped through the production and printing process.

Gamers like different games for different reasons. Some like intense, three hour campaigns, while others like light, quick games. Some play party games that support 10 or more players, while others like solo and two player games. I picked up King of Tokyo hoping it would be fun for my two player game nights. I wish I had explored it more before my purchase. For four or more, it rates a 6.5 or 7/10, but otherwise I would pass on this one.

7
Go to the Forbidden Desert page

Forbidden Desert

56 out of 68 gamers thought this was helpful

Forbidden Desert (2013) followed Forbidden Island (2010) and Pandemic (2008). Given its pedigree, Forbidden Desert should be superb, but for me it was just “good”. Perhaps I expected too much, or maybe it was too similar to the other titles. Each of the three games has players who work together to complete four objectives (find cures, treasures, or pieces of a flying machine) before losing in any number of assorted ways. Despite the similarities, each has a distinctive theme, and all warrant playing.

I find, however, Forbidden Desert is my least favorite of the Leacock cooperative games. The components are lovely and of good quality, and the tin box holds the components well. The instruction booklet is clearly written and illustrated, and setup takes just a few minutes. I like the shifting tiles that make up the board, and the coordinate system used to find the four flying machine parts. Forbidden Desert lies somewhere between Forbidden Island and Pandemic in difficulty and accessibility.

Like its predecessors, Forbidden Desert has distinct role cards that list each adventurer’s special ability. And like the other games, certain combinations of adventurers are better than others. The sand pile concept was not as engaging to me as disease cubes of Pandemic or the sinking tiles of Forbidden Island. I am not sure why, but the piling sand markers seemed to be and annoyance rather than a fun challenge. I just didn’t feel the same sense of urgency and tension clearing sand as I did treating diseases or shoring up flooded regions of an island.

Again, maybe the four objectives to win while managing chaos theme has run its course with me. Most reviewers prefer “Desert” to “Island”; and it is more complex and more involved. My ranking of the three Leacock coops in descending order is Pandemic, Forbidden Island, and then Forbidden Desert. I own all three, but Forbidden Desert gets the least table time at my house. My family and I love coops, and I look forward to future releases.

6
Go to the Zombie Dice page

Zombie Dice

10 out of 15 gamers thought this was helpful

Zombie Dice is a simple, no frills game with 13 dice in three colors. The storage container doubles as a dice cup. Players blindly take three dice from the cup and roll them. The goal is to get as many brains as possible while avoiding shotgun blasts. Three shotgun blasts ends a player’s turn, and the first player to 13 brains wins. Players must decide whether to stay with a safe roll or “press their luck” and go for more brains. It is simple, easy fun.

Zombie Dice is a quick, portable game that can be played most anywhere. It’s an excellent value and is available at many mainstream retailers. There is not much strategy or substance involved, but that’s okay. The “brains and shotgun blasts” theme is basically harmless, rated PG fun that shouldn’t offend too many. This is a game that is pure filler; it is quick, mindless fun. Zombie Dice makes for a nice break from heavier games requiring serious thought and strategy.

7
Go to the Hey, That's My Fish! page
10 out of 10 gamers thought this was helpful

I found a copy of Hey, That’s my Fish at a local bookstore on a clearance table for just $5.00. I recalled the title from some game reviews I had browsed. I also saw the Fantasy Flight Games logo on the box, so I knew I couldn’t go wrong for five bucks! The components consist cardboard ice tiles and molded plastic penguin figurines. They are brightly colored and feel sturdy.

The biggest surprise was the size of the components. The box is roughly 12 x 12 x 2 inches, which would suggest it is an average sized game. But the inside of the box contains an insert which divides the box into roughly three equal sections. All the components fit into the center third of the box.

Setup involves arranging hexagon ice tiles in a roughly circular area. So I set up the hex shaped ice tiles, placed the penguins, and I was ready to play. The game is easy to learn, and it requires a fair amount strategy in trying to get the most fish. No reading is required, so even young players can enjoy Hey, That’s my Fish. The game takes 10-15 minutes and supports 2-4 players.
The design is simple and effective, but one frustrating aspect of the game is that players are required to remove tiles as they claim them. Often these tile are interior tiles, and they require care in lifting them without upsetting the other tiles.

The smallish tiles make keeping the game neat and tidy a chore. This is a rare instance where a digital version could be an improvement over the tabletop, and here is why. The “board” is continually changing, as players move their pawns and remove the tiles they claim. An electronic version would eliminate the unwanted shifting in the tiles.
Perhaps the original, larger version (out of print) of Hey That’s My Fish will be reprinted. I think larger, thicker, and heavier pieces would make the game work more smoothly. It is a surprisingly simple and fun game that would likely benefit components that were easier to handle and manipulate. I still enjoy and play my copy, and it only cost me five dollars. How can I complain?

7
Go to the Carcassonne (Android) page
12 out of 12 gamers thought this was helpful

Carcassonne for Android works well. I usually play against one of the many computer opponents, and each has a different skill level. It includes the River Expansion, which helps with replay value. A key advantage of a digital board game vs. a tabletop game is zero setup and cleanup time. I can play a game of Carcassonne in 10-12 minutes, and scoring is done by the computer. Another feature I like is that the computer shows all legal moves or tile placements.

A downside of the electronic version is the missing social aspect; most games are solo. One of the many reasons I play games is that I enjoy the social interaction with my playing partners. So even a great electronic adaptation of a game will likely seem a bit cold or sterile. Carcassonne for Android is a good value at $4.99, and being quick and portable makes it very worthwhile. I hope that other quality electronic adaptations of tabletops will be available soon.

7
Go to the Castle Panic page

Castle Panic

74 out of 84 gamers thought this was helpful

Castle Panic, along with Forbidden Island, were my first cooperative games. I love the concept of co ops, and it is fun to work together to achieve a goal. Castle Panic is easy enough for kids of seven or eight to grasp, and the theme of defending the castle from monster attacks could not be more clear. The layout of the game board is great with its concentric circles representing levels of proximity to the castle. Monsters move closer to the center at the end of each player’s turn, and their movement creates real tension.

Like the sinking tiles in Forbidden Island, walls and towers of Castle Panic are destroyed by monsters and giant boulders. Players share resources to protect the castle and attack monsters moving toward the it. Again, the objective is wonderfully clear. Each player can see the vulnerable parts of the castle. And they can rebuild and reinforce walls to save the remaining towers. When players survive the last attack, they win the game. As monsters are hit by player attacks, they lose hit points. Monster tokens are very cleverly designed. A monster’s status is maintained by rotating the triangular tokens. The rest of the components are attractive and durable too.

My family and I really enjoyed Castle Panic, and it paved the way for our interest in more complex games. Castle Panic doesn’t get the play time it did when new, but we do play a game every now and then. For co op play with younger kids, families, or adults simply looking for lighter fare, Castle Panic is great.

9
Go to the Splendor page

Splendor

61 out of 68 gamers thought this was helpful

There is a lot of recent buzz over Splendor on gaming websites and forums, and many have deemed it a top pick for 2014. There is good reason for this, as the game is excellent. The box artwork for Splendor is lovely, and the game is hefty. I feels like quality even with the shrink wrap in place, and so much of that weight comes from the marvelously chunky tokens. I don’t think I have seen or read a review that did not mention Splendor’s awesome tokens. But how is the game itself?

The theme in Splendor is merchants, markets, and trading, but the theme does not factor in the game much. Setup and gameplay are simple enough, and the rules are clearly explained in the tidy rulebook. The game involves the acquisition of gem tokens which are used to buy cards that will enable players to win the game. The cards are kept in players’ hands and allow players to get discounted cards of higher values. Higher value cards are worth a specific number of points. The first player to get fifteen points wins. The game moves quickly, and 20-25 minutes is a typical game time.

I thought I would enjoy Splendor, since I love Jaipur. I guess the merchant and goods theme drew the comparison, but that is where the similarity between the two ends. I like and play both games, but they are quite different from one another. Splendor seems more abstract, but it is still simple to learn and play. On any given turn, a player can take (purchase) one of the cards from the field of play. So the “board” is ever changing, and players must continually adapt their strategy to best use the available cards.

I love the way the game accelerates; players start with nothing and build an income producing hand in about 20 minutes. A player’s luck or fortune can change dramatically in just a few turns. Splendor is a welcome addition to my game collection. I expect it will give me exciting and intriguing play for some time.

4
Go to the Elder Sign: Omens page
58 out of 81 gamers thought this was helpful

Given gamers’ enthusiasm for Arkham Horror, Eldritch Horror, and Mansions of Madness, I was interested in trying one of them. Then I found that Elder Sign was billed as “Arkham Light” and could be played in less than an hour. I shopped for the board game, but bought the digital version for $4.99. I had high hopes for Elder Sign: Omens, and it has great graphics and features.

My chief complaint with ES: Omens is the digital dice rolling. It is incredibly difficult to “roll” the needed icons to complete tasks. Dice rolling is inherently random, but these dice seem rigged against the player. I quickly grew frustrated with repeated failures caused by my awful die rolls. There was very little decision making to be done. Just move to a site in the museum, and roll a diminishing set of dice.

ES: Omens is a lovely digital game, and the theme is great. I simply could not find any fun being killed by poor rolls of the dice. Given all the favorable reviews, I am sure this app has worked well for many players. I would still like to play the physical game, but the app just did not work for me.

Update…

I got the tabletop version a couple of months ago, and I am enjoying it. Since I read the rules and handled the components, I have a better grasp on how to play. The digital version now makes a bit more sense, but it is tough to win.

9
Go to the Ticket to Ride: Europe page
56 out of 76 gamers thought this was helpful

I fretted so much over Ticket to Ride. It was not whether to buy it, but rather, which version? There are four standalone versions and nine expansions (plus a card game)! I poured over online reviews and found that every edition seemed worthwhile, but each had some compromise or potential pitfall. “The USA edition is great, but the cards are too small” said many. “The Nordic Edition is the one to get, but only for 2-3 players…” said others. And the more I read, the more confused and troubled I became.

Then after much deliberation, I ordered Ticket To Ride Europe. It is my first Days of Wonder game, and it is a beauty. I can’t really find fault in this game. I have played with two, three, and four players, and each works well. The only minor quibble I have with Ticket to Ride Europe is the publishers’ use of the European spelling of many of the city names. I know it is the “Europe” edition, and I should not expect that the game cater to my American standard or preference.

It does, however, slow the gameplay as players search for cities like “Brest”, “Venezia”, and “Zagrab” on the huge board. Perhaps that is being too picky, and the map starts to take shape after enough plays. But I can’t help but wonder how that aspect of the game would be different with locations like Chicago, Denver, or Los Angeles in the US version. Is TTR Europe the definitive version? I guess it depends on the gamer and the size of his or her gaming group.

The upside of the Europe map is that learning occurs each time I search the map and locate a city. I am pleased with my choice of TTR Europe, and the many available expansions will ensure the game will stay fresh and exciting for years to come. I love the beauty and simplicity of this game. The quality components and replay value make this a very worthwhile purchase. I count TTR Europe among my favorites.

8
Go to the Forbidden Island page

Forbidden Island

54 out of 64 gamers thought this was helpful

Prior to playing Forbidden Island, I had never heard of a cooperative game. The idea that players would work together to win or lose intrigued me, so I bought Forbidden Island. Although I have since played deeper and more complex games, Forbidden Island was highly enjoyable though 40 plays or more.

I love the beautiful compents, artwork, and the tin that keeps all the pieces so wonderfully. There is much to like about this game, and its pricepoint makes Forbidden Island a great value. The sinking, disappearing tiles create real tension as players try to recover the four treasures and escape the flooding island.

I am delighted that I tried Forbidden Island, for it has led me to even more exciting and challenging games. Though my enthusiasm has waned somewhat throught the course of 40 or so plays, I still enjoy playing and sharing Forbidden Island with new gamers. If you are on the fence with this one, spend $15 and try it. You will likely be glad you did.

9
Go to the Love Letter page

Love Letter

60 out of 73 gamers thought this was helpful

16 cards and a red velvet bag, how can this possibly be fun? I have played 60 plus games of Love Letter in seven months, and each time I marvel at its simplicity and lasting appeal. A game with so few components should not have the fun factor and replay value that Love Letter has. If “value” were defined by enjoyment factor divided by cost, Love Letter would be the best game I have ever played. Games like Pandemic and Ticket to Ride may provide more depth and fun overall, but they cost three to five times more than Love Letter. And try packing Ticket to Ride in an overnight bag.

Using my value equation, I cannot think of a game that packs more into a tiny package for about $8.00. If you want a quick, simple filler that will be enjoyable and not become tiresome quickly, get this one. Love Letter continues to entertain and surprise me after so many plays. I am ready to pick up another copy, as my cards are starting to show some wear. And, that is a good thing.

5
Go to the Hanabi page

Hanabi

82 out of 99 gamers thought this was helpful

I am fairly new to gaming, so I am always looking for highly rated, affordable titles to play and add to my collection. I bought Hanabi from a local bookstore, and I was pleased with the price and the compact, attractive package. I had read (and watched on YouTube) many positive reviews for Hanabi, and I was excited to try it. The rules and object of the game are simple enough, and the game works for two to five players.

I played Hanabi with two, three, and then four players, and I felt I must be missing something. The game seemed more like a test of my memory than a strategy game. I found that no matter how much or how little information my gaming partners shared, I quickly forgot the makeup of my five card hand. I felt the rules were a bit vague as to how many clues or how specific the clues given by a player on each turn could be. But I soon discovered that it did not matter. Without notes or markers, I could not recall the colors or numbers of my outward facing cards.

Perhaps the problem is that my short term memory is lacking, but I just could not seem to find much “fun” playing Hanabi. Another potential negative are the muted color tones on the cards themselves. Color plays a huge role in the game, so sharper, brighter shades would help players better distinguish differences in the cards. The idea of reversed cards and cooperative play would seem to make Hanabi a perfect party game. I suppose it could be, but only for a select group highly focused of players.

9
Go to the Jaipur page

Jaipur

58 out of 65 gamers thought this was helpful

I have owned Jaipur about six months now, and my wife and I have played at least 40 games. I like the camels and markets theme, and the artwork on the cards and chips are first rate. Jaipur is easy to learn and to teach, as there are not many quirky rules. Setup takes a couple of minutes, as the six types of goods chips must be arranged in separate stacks in descending order of value. The setup is worth the effort, though, as it makes for great gameplay. Players must decide whether to buy early for the higher value chips, or wait and accumulate three or more cards for larger purchases and valuable bonus chips.

Jaipur has a near ideal mix of luck and strategy, and it is complex enough but never tedious. Even after dozens of plays, I still make time for Jaipur. I have yet to find a game that feels as fresh after 30+ plays as it did when new. Even the best games lose some of their luster after scores of repeated plays. Of the games I own, Jaipur has more plays than all but Love Letter. My wife is my primary gaming partner, and we love to play Jaipur.

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