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Artem Safarov

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Go to the Viceroy page


13 out of 15 gamers thought this was helpful

Concepts as simple as pattern building and colour-matching appear in games frequently. Viceroy, a strategic game of creating a conceptual “pyramid of power” in a fantasy world aces these in a very satisfying way. In the process, however, it kind of forgets what games are meant to be and the end result limps, rather than soars over the finish line. How come? Put on your best puffy shirt and let’s find out!

How it works:
The players play the role of powerful nobles competing for influence in a very loosely-defined fantasy world. They do so by recruiting different characters from an eclectic mix and adding these to their “pyramids of power” – patterns assigning relative importance their hirelings get in the ambitious organization that you are building. Kind of like a fantasy org chart (how exciting is that? Org chart!).

You need to pay for these by gems, the game’s currency, that come in four different colours. The higher on your pyramid you want to place a hireling the more it costs.

Each character card provides a reward based on which level you build it on. The rewards are things like magic, technology or straight victory points. At the end of the game these contribute to the final score in different ways (e.g. magic is hard to get going but can score you a million points, military can subtract points from opponents etc.).

This is the game’s foundation (pardon the pun) and also its dullest, most math-heavy part. Two unique systems add to it in unique ways. First – in order to get new characters you need to bid on these from an available pool of recruits. You use the same gems as for purchasing to identify which character you’re going after. The trick is if both players bid on the same character – they have to discard their bids and bid again.

Threats and negotiations are common here as nobody wants to let an opponent have a character they really need, but wasting a gem to interrupt someone’s bid is not ideal either.

The square cards that comprise your pyramids also have coloured markers on their top corners and the bottom middle. If, putting together the two cards on the lower level and one on top, you manage to make a full circle – that scores you a gem right away and some additional points at the end of the game.

The game runs for twelve rounds of bidding followed by building phases. Afterwards, in a shocking twist, the player earning the most points at the end of the game is crowned the winner

How it feels:
Before we answer that question – let’s focus on what it DOES NOT feel like. And that’s building a fantasy empire. The majority of the game comes down to a simple calculation of maximum benefit based on what you can afford. The characters’ titles and images have almost no bearing on their effect and the wildly varying art styles fail to establish a consistent theme, ranging from steampunk to sword and sandals fantasy. The quality of it is also all over the place – some pieces are of fantastic quality – evocative and gritty, while others seem to belong on a cheap romance novel cover. The women characters in particular are mostly of the scantily clad variety.

The gems, extremely simple as they are, look very appealing, almost three-dimensional and the colours are rich and vibrant. It is strange to admit this but such a simple element of the game’s look ends up its defining feature. Completing a circle by placing a matching colour on top of a carefully prepared foundation feels rewarding.

The game falls squarely into the “multiplayer solitaire” category where for the majority of its duration you are looking only at your own pyramid, only occasionally glancing at your opponents’ to check if there are any obvious things they are collecting that you should be blocking. The interaction does not truly develop though and the dynamic of playing with others is mostly reserved to the very end when you tally the scores.

The bidding teases exceptional dramatic potential as the reveal of the bids always feels like something special is about to happen, yet it is almost always is anti-climactic as opponents just end up going with their picks. Viceroy plays 2-4 and the interaction does increase in 3-4 player games but the duration grows significantly as well. The math-heavy nature of the bulk of the game makes it vulnerable to analysis paralysis that drags already static-feeling gameplay to a crawl. Two-player games, by contrast are done in a compact 40-50 min time.

Viceroy, therefore, is best to be taken and appreciated for what it is – a static, low-interaction math puzzle with uneven, yet mostly appealing art and interesting mechanics that produce some satisfying spatial thinking (that ends up being more satisfying than the point calculations that comprise the bulk of the decision-making). It will disappoint those looking for a fantasy experience, despite featuring select knockout art pieces, as the theme feels largely pasted on.

However, if you enjoy the math and spatial thinking, have a fair amount of table space and are looking for a low-interaction, low-competition activity with some notably satisfying moments – Viceroy will be a solid game to bring to the table once in a while. I know I like the gems enough to keep it in my collection.

If you enjoyed this review consider visiting Altema Games website for more neat board game materials.

Go to the The Grizzled page

The Grizzled

14 out of 14 gamers thought this was helpful

War. War never changes, or so Fallout intros have been telling us for the past twenty years. What about it never changes exactly? Is it the heroics, the explosions, the glorification of sacrifice that brave men and women go through? Or is it the broken lives it leaves behind and the attempts to put these back together through friendship, love and a sense of community? The Grizzled, a title suggesting a scar over a painful wound, lands squarely in the latter category and scores an emphatic victory in doing so.

How it works
The Grizzled is a cooperative game for 2-5 players, playing the roles of French soldiers attempting to survive the horrors of World War I. Each round a certain amount of cards is dealt and the players have to take turns getting rid of these cards, meeting increasingly restrictive conditions. The cards represent either external challenges faced by the soldiers (terrible weather, gas attacks) or trauma and injuries they withstand over the course of the war.

The game places restrictions on how many challenges of the same kind the players can take and how many traumas a soldier can withstand before succumbing, so you have to constantly weigh what cards you can / should play. The more cards you keep, however, the more cards are added to the supply you need to go through for the win. If you manage to get rid of all the cards in the supply without losing any of your soldiers – you win!

Following every round, the players have a chance to “support” one of the soldiers by offering a cup of coffee and a heartfelt talk. This allows getting rid of some of the negative effects, freeing up some of the restrictions for following rounds.

How it plays
A defining characteristic of The Grizzled is that no game-specific communication is allowed, so you can’t give out clues like “hey guys, don’t play any more trench assault symbols” or “let’s all support Jenny because she’s got the most traumas”. This does wonders in getting rid of the “alpha player” problem that makes many co-op games playable by one person who always knows what everyone else should be doing.

The rules with their quirky game flow and the understanding of restrictions can be a bit slippery to grasp. This is not because of complexity but rather an inexplicable feeling of this game being different. This may make the first couple of games confusing, but not make these drag out as most will fit comfortably in a 30-min window.

The game is relatively hard, getting into the “brutally difficult’ territory with higher number of players. It even comes with a “harder” level of challenge that I had zero interest of exploring because the base game is in no danger of being a cakewalk.

The “no game talk” has an interesting side effect of discussing what happens not from a game mechanics perspective but from a storytelling / role-playing angle, which is welcome. It also results in many terrible French accents being deployed as the players bemoan the fate of awkward-looking mustachioed warriors.

How it feels
The note about the terrible French accents might make you think that the game is humorous in a way. It is not. When you look at your soldier, demoralized, wounded and terrified of snow because it reminds him of that terrible first mission – you will not be in the joking mood. The art, disarming in its off-balance sincerity and willingness to depict flaws and shortcomings, only adds to this. It is ridiculous, yes, but poignant in showing that the only way to get through all the horror surrounding these folks is embracing this awkwardness and a cup of coffee passed to you by a friend. It truly nails this poignant depiction of a difficult subject and manages to result in a game that is both uplifting, light-hearted and tragic in the stories it tells.

Is it a good game though? Mechanically – I’d say it’s alright. You are managing risks, you are calculating when to give a stirring speech to help your friends get rid of a particularly troublesome card in their hand. You are trying to strategize whom to support and are rushing to the end of the supply deck before you are overcome by the many dangers of war. It is truly nothing special on its own, but infused with the melancholy of its theme and art it really creates a special experience. Knowing that the illustrator who did the art for this game, Tignous, was one of the victim of the 2015 Charlie Hebdo shooting, steeps the game even further into disarming sadness.

So will you enjoy this game? It is unlikely to satisfy those who are looking for a robust strategic experience or a rich social interaction. It is likely to confuse those new to games and looking for a casual experience. It does occupy a unique niche providing a neat balance of heart, brains and courage that few wizards can offer. It is unlikely to become your favourite game but it offers enough consistent charms to warrant a place in a collection. If not to offer a reliably alpha-player-free quirky co-op experience than to remind you that war is good for absolutely nothing.

Enjoyed this review? Consider visiting Altema Games website for more neat board game materials.

Go to the The Kids of Carcassonne page
7 out of 7 gamers thought this was helpful

“Roads go ever on and on” – Bilbo Baggins

As the board games hobby becomes increasingly popular, the demand for games that are accommodate the youngest audience grows. It is no surprise that a modern classic like Carcassonne would be among the first to receive this treatment. How does this simplified version stack up against its cherished predecessor? Let’s chase after that chicken for a while!

How it works:

My First Carcassonne (previously known as Kids of Carcassonne) is intended for players as young as 4. It uses large, chunky tiles that only have one element on it – roads. Some tiles have termination points on them – a road going into a building or towards a courtyard. When a road “terminates” at both ends it is considered to be finished. Most road segments will have a little kid figure on them, belonging to one of the four players’ colours. When a road is finished – players may put one of their seven large chunky meeples on that tile. Whoever gets rid of all their meeples first is the winner.

The components are nice and big and unlikely to be misplaced by mischievous younglings. The tiles are chunky and don’t slide around easily as kids try shuffle them around trying to find best placement. It is a robustly crafted game that caters to its audience. The art, cartoony in style, is somewhat busy and far from the quaint greens of the base Carcassonne, but the bright colours and the fun scenarios of kids chasing after goats and chickens adds to the game.

How it plays:

The game accommodates 2-4 players with an expected age of 4. My son started playing it when he was three and had a great time with it. Because the only element on the tiles are roads – all tiles are compatible and there is no “wrong” way to put a tile, minimizing frustration. The rules are also simple to grasp, though developing an effective approach might take the smallest kids some time as they grasp it. Great thing is that the process of figuring it out (hopefully with some gentle adult guidance) is not frustrating as it’s a good engaging time regardless of whether the kid is winning (clearly, mileage will vary depending on kids’ temperament).

The decisions are bite-sized and because there are no wrong ways to play a card – the wait time is easy. The game goes 10-20 minutes and adult supervision are required only if players are 3-4, with older kids able to play by themselves.

Will my kid like it? Will I?

We had a great time with My First Carcassonne and it is one of the staples in our collection. It is not a particularly engaging game for adults but the fun of playing together more than compensates for it. The games can drag a bit, especially with more players, resulting in loss of patience for younger kids. If you know that the attention span is a concern – I suggest playing with a few less meeples to start. I can’t say how well the game plays with older kids but I imagine it would be too simple for them to enjoy (though “supervising” a group of younger kids might be a fun responsibility!).

The game teaches spatial reasoning, with deciding how to place a tile so that it connects to roads where your existing figures are or so that the game is closed. Some minor math is involved as you count number of figures of each colour on a closed road or a number of remaining meeples.


My First Carcassonne is a really simple game that teaches key core concepts of taking turns, winning and losing. It also provides necessary life lesson of what a meeple is. While it won’t blow your or your kid’s mind – it is an approachable stepping stone to get your kid comfortable with games as an activity, paving the way for the more advanced fare in the future.

If you enjoyed this review please consider visiting the Altema Games website for more neat board game materials.

Go to the The Undercity page

The Undercity

12 out of 12 gamers thought this was helpful

Down in the titular Undercity – a setting for Iron Kingdoms games, mad alchemists concoct pungent elixirs, trollkin and bodgers sharpen their rusty blades, huge steamjacks whir into motion and an ominous threat is rising. You are invited to play out a series of adventures in this rich world with a bunch of dice and extremely detailed miniatures. Will your experience be as good as the grotesque art promises? Strap on your gas mask and load your magelock pistols – we are about to find out!

How it works:

The Undercity is a cooperative tactical adventure game for 2-4 players. It comes with four playable characters and a series of seven scenarios forming a campaign. The board is set differently for each scenario, using cardboard terrain tiles and miniatures to create environments where your adventures will take place. The game comes with a dozen types of monsters and new ones join the fray every turn. It is up to your characters to fight off the hordes while striving to fulfill each scenario’s unique objective.

After each character’s turn, the monsters get their own go, activated according to cheat sheet that lays out their internal logic (e.g. “makes a ranged attack if there’s a hero within 1 space, moves towards heroes otherwise”). Once an objective is fulfilled the heroes are victorious and can move on to the next scenario. If all heroes have been defeated or a loss condition has been reached – the heroes lose and the scenario has to be replayed.

How it plays:

Each game features either 3 or 4 characters (if played with 2 players – each controls 2). Each of the playable character is very unique both in their own right and in terms of being different from other options. There is a knife-throwing, grenade-chucking alchemist, a little goblin-like creature and his huge pet steam-powered robot, a deadly sorcerer with an enchanted pistol and their fearless leader – a towering, regenerating troll-like warrior.

Characters gain experience between successfully completed adventures and can buy new abilities, customizing and empowering the character. The map also contains triggers for small side quest cards that contain either other items to discover or small additional stories to explore.

All action resolve with rolling a bunch of dice, determined by your character’s abilities, making reliance on luck a big part of the game. In addition to base abilities of each character they receive a deck of Feat cards that are regularly drawn that can activate additional unique effects that help you bash heads.

Each session, lasting about 2 hours, is preceded by a page-long, well-written intro that sets the stage for the adventures to come and flesh out the characters. The story deals with investigating attempts to smuggle and use a harmful substance that creates a new dangerous type of enemy. It is best described as functional and not getting in the way. A more critical assessment would be boring and entirely forgettable.

The game really focuses on tactics and offers a good, very social opportunity to plan and execute together. Dice rolls can provide both moment of despair and joy – whether reliance on randomness is a good thing or not depends entirely on the player. The game does offer several ways to manipulate / mitigate the rolling so it is not all blind reliance on chance.

Will you like this game?

The games usually start off with a great deal of excitement as you get submerged into the amazing setting (The Undercity is a very interesting place that I want to explore more in better-written stories). You get a new set of abilities, new enemies to face and there is usually a good sense of challenge and eagerness to try your mettle. The game, however, overstays its welcome and not in a good way as many of the battles become tedious due to lots and lots of rolling versus continually respawning enemies.

While there are several action options available – these do end up getting tiresome towards the second hour of playing, especially if things are not going well and you feel the scenario will need to be replayed.

The rules are another weak point of the game. Both the structure of the rules and the way these are described could have been made easier and more approachable. The logic of monster’s activation for example, while not complex, is written in a way that was difficult to remember and constant references to the cheat sheet and rulebooks were necessary even towards the last games of the campaign (nearing 10th play). Things are further complicated by custom rules that exist for specific scenarios. Keeping it all in mind, while planning your tactics does get a little confusing and in my experience – detracts from the enjoyable action and the immersive setting.

The component quality is uneven. While minis (unpainted resin, finely detailed) are of very high quality – the cardboard and cards are flimsy and scuff/get deformed easily. I found that to be a disappointment for an expensive game. The exceptional art on the cover and cards creates an expectation of a premium product and the cards and tiles just do not live up to it. The art on the board and tiles is blander, but serviceable and does not get in the way.

The game is of medium difficulty, providing a good challenge that does not feel unfair. However, in pursuing the game’s objectives – the players rarely feel like they have the luxury to explore the side quests available. This made me feel like we missed out on a whole aspect of a game because it did not make sense to risk defeat for it.

Ultimately, the Undercity is not a bad game by any stretch of imagination. Despite its flaws I had an enjoyable time playing through the campaign and was looking forward to new challenges. While I am not compelled to immediately play another campaign (far from it) – it will stay in my collection because I do want to go through it again, focusing more on side quests and trying different character development options.


The Undercity offers a tactical combat with excellent minis and wonky rules in a fantastic setting. If you don’t mind loads of dice rolling and a banal story but are excited by lots of action, original characters and their customization – this is a game for you. Those looking for tight rules, involved plot, deep strategy or quick games should look elsewhere.

If you enjoyed this review please visit the Altema Games website for more board game materials.

Go to the Codenames page


14 out of 14 gamers thought this was helpful

Codenames, the current #1 party game, has taken the board game world by storm. A seemingly simple word game it made a home for itself in a ton of collections and was a serious contender for many game of the year awards. What made it so special?

How it works:

The game is played with 2 teams of 2-4 people each (though nothing mechanically prevents larger groups). 25 cards with abstract words are laid out on the table. One player within each team is chosen as the “Spymaster” – the two (one from each team) receive a “cheat sheet”, showing which of the cards belong to your team, which are the opponents’. There are also neutral cards and one “assassin” that makes you lose the game if ever selected. The Spymasters’ goal is to make their teammates (huddled on the other side of the cheat sheet) pick all cards belonging to their team before the opponent picks all theirs. The Spymaster gives clues to help their team guess and coming up with the clues is where the meat of the game is.

A clue has to be a word that would associate with one or more words on the table. (So for example if you’re trying to make your teammates guess “Alien”, “Moon” and “Telescope” you could say “Space”. Don’t worry. It’s never that easy). You are only allowed one word and the number of cards you want your team to guess. The team then picks cards based on the clue – if you got it wrong – your turn is over. If you accidentally picked the “assassin” – you just lost the game. Whichever team picks all of their cards first is the winner.

Ostensibly there is a spy theme to the game but in most cases it is forgotten as quick as it becomes obvious that it’s completely unnecessary to enjoying the game.

How it plays:

It plays amazingly well. Unlike most board games, Codenames does not impose a complex system of rules to master on players. Such systems, while enjoyable once learned, often stand in the way of the initial enjoyment of the game. Codenames doesn’t have such an obstacle. What you get is a simple framework to flex your wit, intelligence and vocabulary. The game is learned in minutes and engages people throughout its short, 10-20 min duration. In fact – most times I put Codenames on the table it would be played 3-4 times in a row as every member of the team gets a chance to be the Spymaster.

While children might very well enjoy this game – it did not strike me as a particularly great option for the younger crowd (perhaps those 12+). It might be good as a developmental exercise but its prime purpose is clearly entertaining adults. The experience it provides is a good mix between being fun and offering a challenge for your brain. There are some quiet pensive moments, some loud arguments, some high-fives or groans of disbelief as your team make the inevitable far-reaching conclusion to pick the assassin card.

How it feels:

The strength of codenames is its versatility. It will find a spot in many a collection because it fits so many roles. It is light enough to not scare off inexperienced players (or even those who just do not play games). It is very thinky (though not in the usual way that board games make you think) that it is enjoyable even if you are a seasoned veteran. You can play it once or twice as part of a larger game night between chunkier options or you can focus in on a tournament or a series of matches (with rapidly escalating tensions).

In fact, the worst thing I have to say about Codenames is that it may cannibalize the table time from other games in your collection. It is so approachable and so easy to play that people might default to it a little bit too often. I know I found myself a little frustrated when game suggestions are met with “can we just play Codenames instead”.

But that’s not to detract from the game. The game comes with a great variety of cards (that are double-sided for convenience) and the replayability is near-infinite. Compare it with something like Dixit, which forms strong associations between a particular game component and a potential word. In Codenames the association that you have to make is not with a single word but rather with a combination of words some of which might be not on the table, some of which you might need to avoid (because they belong to the other team). The web of logical connections behind this approachable exterior is near-infinite. Which is easy to understand once you look at the designer’s name. Vlaada Chvaatil is known for heavy, complex euros with tons of moving parts. In Codenames (which I consider to be a triumph) he managed to maintain all the enjoyable complexity while taking out all the “work” usually involved in getting to the good stuff.


This is a rare game that I consider a “must have” in most collections. Unless your interest lies exclusively in strategic non-party games. Codenames will become a mainstay in your collection, offering hours of fun with different groups in different scenarios.

If you enjoyed this review please visit Altema Games website for more neat board game materials.

Go to the The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game page
64 out of 72 gamers thought this was helpful

It is not breezy. The lore is rich and detailed and getting to know its beauty involves lots and lots of reading and commitment. There is lots to remember and you might find yourself going back to refresh your memory to make sense of things. But if you make the effort, if you allow the fascinating, genre-defining world to engulf you – there is no two ways about it. You will love Lord of the Rings and the above applies as much to the Living Card Game as to the books.

How it works:

LOTR LCG is a cooperative customizable card game (because of the endless possibilities for expansions it is labeled as a “living” card game). Each game is a scenario that is played out in Middle Earth as 1-4 players embark on a selected adventure. The core set comes with three such adventures of varying difficulty.

Each player begins by selecting three heroes that will comprise their team. Heroes belong to one of the four Spheres – different fractions that offer distinct sets of abilities. For example, the Tactics sphere focuses on combat, while Lore is more about healing and obtaining additional information. Heroes represent a mix of well-known characters from the novels (Aragorn, Legolas, Gloin) and original ones that fit very well into existing narrative (you could meet them in other FFG games – like Thalin or Eleanor). Each hero has a set of RPG-like characteristics as well as unique special abilities.

The players then have to construct their deck. Initially the pre-made decks from the core set function very well, but eventually you become comfortable enough with the rules that you will want to mix and match cards from different spheres to create a custom powerful deck. The player cars represent allies you can bring with you on adventures, items to outfit your adventurers or events that help you or hinder your enemies. The “feel” of the cards fits very well with their respective spheres – e.g. the sphere of Spirit will have allies that are great explorers and events that allow players to avoid or deal with hazards they encounter while travelling.

The scenario you picked will dictate the make-up of the deck you are playing against as well as victory conditions. The game itself consists of a cycle of players sending their characters to explore, making progress towards the current goal, encountering hazards and enemies along the way and overcoming these through wit and combat. Each obstacle card – be it a perilous location or a nasty Warg, create a certain amount of Threat and you have to overcome that threshold by sending adventurers to explore. Fail and the threat can overwhelm you – each player has a counter that rises with each unsuccessful quest, higher threat making you susceptible to negative effects and eventually causing you to lose.

You have to be careful not to over commit characters to exploration though – you have to keep some available if you want them to fight off the baddies. You start with just your heroes but each turn they generate a certain amount of resources that can be used to bring into play cards from your hand, expanding your options and growing your team, allowing you to take on tougher challenges.

As you progress through the stages of the quest by defeating monsters, finding objective cards and exploring locations – you get ever closer to victory. If you manage to achieve the win condition of the scenario you are playing (which can be as simple as defeating a monster or as complex as finding an object and exploring wilderness) – the players win. If your threat reaches a certain level or all your heroes are dead – the game is lost and other brave souls will need to give it a shot another day.

How it plays:

There are two distinct ways to play the LOTR LCG. One is a simple game with pre-constructed decks – just pick a sphere and begin playing. The other invites you to customize your decks and mix heroes from different spheres, thinking about how their respective powers help each other. This is a much more in-depth approach to the game and you can easily spend a good 20 minutes planning and deck building before even starting a game.

The “simple” way to go works quite well for the times when you want a quick game, but the customized decks are more powerful and if you want to tackle the harder scenarios – you will want to give that a shot. At least the introductory scenario in the core set is perfectly playable without the deck building and lots of enjoyment can be found even without going into the deep end.

The core set claims to be fit for 1-2 players but there is no objective reason for it not to be playable with 3 or even 4, if everyone sticks with a single Sphere. The game’s complexity does increase with more players as you have more effects to keep track of, so beginning solo or with two players is advisable.

Solo games go very quickly, often fitting into 30 minutes, especially for the less complex scenarios (or ones so brutal they just kill you outright). More complex games featuring more players can easily stretch into the 90 minutes maximum game time – it all depends on the scenario you are playing. With the three scenarios contained in the core set it is only likely with 3 or 4 players.

The flow of the game depends greatly on the familiarity with the mechanics. There is usually a lot of intricacies to take into account and it takes some time to get a hang of everything and double-check that your reading of the rules is correct. The player interaction comes mostly through discussion of who does what and how well you are going to be able to handle the hazards before you. While not technically a part of the game – this interaction does engage players in a shared experience and at no point does the game feel like a group solitaire. It does, however, work very well as a solo option, even if it reduces the range of options available to you and forces you to create teams that can do everything as opposed to spreading the responsibilities across several players.

The alpha player problem is also not particularly strong – the cards players have are not visible to others and the number of suggestions that to make is limited. Analysis paralysis is not really a problem because most of the time everyone does their thing simultaneously, so it’s not like you’re waiting for the other player just to take your turn.

The flow of the game, unfortunately, is sometimes interrupted by an intricate entanglement of the rules that requires clarification before a certain sequence of events unravels. Experience with the rules helps smooth these over, but expect to keep the rulebook handy first dozen or so games.

How it feels:

Exactly like reading Tolkien. You keep wondering if all this reading is worth the effort and then something so awesome happens that it does not leave a doubt in your mind – yes, it is totally worth it!

The basics of the game may appear over-mechanical in their execution but after playing a few games you start “getting” what story elements are transmitted by abstract notions of “progress tokens”, “shadow cards” and “engagement checks”. The game is built on a sequence of tiny little systems that intertwine with each other, creating a rich variety of scenarios they can depict and tactical options to tackle the obstacles.

Furthermore, by tweaking each of these tiny sub-systems, a game can change, sometime dramatically, and the system smartly uses these changes to tell a story. For example in one scenario, the heroes sail on a boat along a river, while a growing horde of monsters chases them along the shore. That means that the orcs will not be able to attack you for this stage but once you clear it and hit the shore at the beginning of the next one – you will have to take on all of the baddies at once!

However, I hesitate to call LOTR LCG and elegant game. There is A LOT to it and I can honestly say that players have to be comfortable with complexity to tackle this one, especially if custom deck-building and further expansions are of interest. This limits the audience for it, but those who do stick with the game will be rewarded with rich engaging stories in a beloved world.

The difficulty of some of the scenarios can also be significant and players should be comfortable with a healthy number of defeats, some due to an uncontrollably ****** card draw. There are ways to mitigate it in game, but sometimes things will go terribly, rocks will fall and everybody will die – be prepared for it. If luck as a factor is a deterrent for you – steer clear. Finding that approach that finally cracks a scenario that felt impossible does make for some triumphant fist-pumping, that much I can tell you.

A word on structure:

While I think LOTR LCG is a very good game – it is certainly not for everyone and I hope this review explains why. However, the Core Set of the game offers a great way to dip your feet and get a good feeling of whether you would like it or not. If you don’t – you can stop right there and if you do – there is lots and lots (and lots and lots) of expansion materials available – to date there are 62 additional adventures you can buy, each introducing new heroes and player cards that you can use to help you with the old scenarios and the new. The game keeps growing, justifying the “living” name, and there is a vibrant community around it. For example, I highly suggest visiting the Tales from the Cards blog for tactical advice and guides on both playing and purchasing the expansions. It can certainly get pricey, but you can be sure to get significant mileage out of every purchase.

Fantasy Flight Games, offering excellent fan support, even has an online hub to track your best scores and gaming stats.

A word of thanks:

I have to admit that the complexity and level of abstraction in LOTR LCG initially left me lukewarm. I have to offer my sincere thanks to my friend @Cyberman for inviting me again and again to return to this wonderful world that I am now fully committed to. Thank you, Eric!

In Conclusion:

The LOTR LCG rewards those who are willing to put in the effort. If you enjoy Tolkien’s works and appreciate an in-depth, multi-layered game that is highly customizable – give it a shot. Manage your expectations and at worst you’ll play a game you don’t particularly enjoy and at best – will open a whole new gaming universe that you will spend many hours enjoying.

Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this review please consider visiting Altema Games website for more neat board game materials.

Go to the Artifacts, Inc. page

Artifacts, Inc.

47 out of 53 gamers thought this was helpful

Treasure hunting is dangerous business – ancient temples, rolling boulders and all. But even after you do discover that rare scroll or gem – there is still the matter of making sure it ends up in the right place! Artifacts Inc. hands you the responsibility of acquiring artifacts in 1920’s and then selling these to museums and collectors to ensure your firm earns the most prestige in the field. From using dice as workers to making you dive for treasure there are lots of cool twists to this one – let’s dig in!

Oh and apologies for the title. That was uncalled for.

How it works

Each player starts with a basic set of cards – some of these provide adventurers to send for artifacts, others – ways to obtain new artifacts, buy new buildings or sell existing items. There are also central cards – museums and traders that are available to all players. In order to use any given building a player must place one of their dice on the building’s action space. The trick is that different buildings have different prerequisites to dice that can be placed there. Some are fairly easy (a roll of 2 or higher), some can only be used with dice that rolled a high number.

Sending your dice on expeditions yields artifacts that you can then sell (activating museum/trader buildings) for money. Money can in turn be used to buy more building cards, expanding your options, opening up more challenging and rewarding expeditions, giving you extra dice or allowing you to manipulate the rolls or score extra points based on card layout.

Buying more buildings earns you “prestige points” that ultimately win you the game – the kicker is that museums (that you sell artifacts to) provide a significant bonus to your prestige at the very end of the game. This bonus is based on “selling record” of each player. This mechanic, along with a couple of alternative scoring options, adds a great twist to the end-game point calculation.

How it plays
Each player’s turns start with rolling all of their available dice and then assigning them to available buildings. The dice and the cards are all done in a fitting brown-hued faded style, fitting well into the theme. The little wooden cubes representing the artifacts that you collect represent a lost opportunity to breathe more life into the game – these are bland and, frustratingly, there is often an insufficient number of them to cover routine in-game situations.

Since players go one at a time – down time can become an issue. It is less noticeable early in the game when the options are few, but as choices grow, so does the potential for analysis paralysis. The game plays 2-4, but the down time with maximum number of players is enough to significantly disengage those waiting, especially since there isn’t a lot to do during others’ turns. Three players seems to be the sweet spot as playing with two becomes a little too predictable and wait times in four player games are too long.

The advertised playing time of an hour is about right. The game design pushes it to a pretty quick resolution once the economic engines the players build whir into motion. The experience playing it is certainly more of a quiet, thinky affair – those looking for interaction and sociability should look elsewhere.

How it feels

The random nature of dice means that at the beginning of every turn you have to figure out how to spend your available dice in the most efficient way to advance your agenda. This is a neat exercise – the card requirements are varied, so it doesn’t feel as if the game is entirely luck-driven. The success is figuring out what to do with what you have, not simply rolling high. There are some extreme cases where truly terrible rolling will lead to people not enjoying the game though.

Every turn thus becomes a micro-puzzle and these are very enjoyable as you are collecting ancient scrolls and gems, selling these to museums and trying to place your buildings so that the adjacency bonuses score you extra points. There are multiple ways to acquire prestige and figuring out what makes most sense given your roll and your buildings is challenging but not overwhelming. The race to gain the museums’ favour provides pleasant (if limited) feeling of competition.

The game is on the lighter side of medium in terms of complexity – there are a few things to remember but the logic of scoring points is very obvious and the potential appeal of Artifacts Inc. is limited more by its’ lack of interaction than its complexity.

Artifacts, Inc. works best for 2-3 decisive players who want a smart experience that makes them adapt to ever-changing situations. Combined with an appealing design and a playing time that doesn’t drag out – it is a solid option especially if player interaction is not a high priority. A well-realized theme and excitement of dice rolls without completely being chance-driven round out the game’s appeal.

I was a Kickstarter backer for Artifacts, Inc. and it has certainly left me with a feeling that I received a quality product – happy I could contribute to its’ success. It has found a valued spot in my collection.

If you enjoyed this review please consider visiting Altema Games Website for more neat board game materials.

Go to the Patchwork page


124 out of 131 gamers thought this was helpful

Combining things effectively can be tough. Like fitting several eccentric shapes in a small square. Or mixing several mechanics in gameplay for a rewarding yet brisk experience. Underneath Patchwork’s cozy, appealing presentation, there is a great multitude of gears whirring into motion with each turn. The game does an exceptional job satisfying both those who just want to sew cutesy patches onto a blanket as well as those who want to dig deep into the gears to find out what makes this complex mechanism tick. So what makes this small box a must-own for a gaming couple?

How it works:

You and your opponent (the game is strictly two-player) are competing at the high-stakes activity of quilting. Each of you starts with a blank 9×9 board that you need to fill, to the best of your ability, with patches, laid out in a circular pattern between players. The patches are reminiscent of Tetris pieces carrying the most tacky wallpaper patterns you can imagine. Each has two costs in time and buttons. (That is right, the game’ currency is buttons and saying “button income” for an unknown reason is utterly hilarious). The total time is limited for both players and is represented as slots on a track where both players’ pawns are marking their progress. Buy a patch, pay the price in buttons, and move your pawn up on the time track. Whoever is behind always gets to go (much like in Tokaido, another elegant design). Some patches grant you additional button income, granted at predefined points of the time track.

The players take turn sewing on patches (or skipping their turn, effectively exchanging time for buttons) until they run out of time – at that time they are penalized for any empty spots on their quilt and whoever has the most buttons at the end is victorious.

How it plays:

Patchwork is a part of Uwe Rosenberg’s small-box two-player game series (2p versions of Agricola and Le Havre being the others). It is a breeze to learn, set up and play, as the rules are highly intuitive and the presentation inviting and clear. The games fit comfortably into a tight 20-min slot and both players remain engaged and entertained throughout. The decisions you are presented with are bite-sized (you have at most four options you could potentially choose your turn) and that keeps analysis paralysis at bay. It never overstays its welcome; on the contrary, it lends itself very well to repeated plays due to the brief playing time.

The pre-defined player count allows it to focus on a very specific kind of a gaming experience and deliver it with excellence; however, this does limit the cases in which you can get it to the table.

How it feels:

It is easy to underestimate Patchwork for its simplicity. If you start thinking about it – there are several systems in play – you have a limited amount of time so you have to use it wisely. You have to know when to invest buttons and when to save up, including the timing of income points on the time track. You have to cover as much of your quilt in patches while making sure you are leaving yourself options for placing future ones. You can try to get the bonus points for completely covering a 7×7 square (giving you some leeway on your 9×9 board) or just focus on leaving as few blank spots as possible. Each decision that you make, while small, can potentially be weighed against three or four levels of consideration – do you go for an expensive small patch that will get you many buttons? Or a bigger weirdly-shaped piece that will cover a good area but will eat up a good chunk of your time?

The absolute beauty of Patchwork is that you can think as hard (or not hard) about it as you want and still enjoy it. At no point do you feel overwhelmed, but if you do want to put in the extra effort – the game rewards you for it.

The same is true for player interaction – quilters willing to put in the extra effort can study which patches would most benefit their opponent and work to block those. Or you can not worry about it and just hum to yourself while satisfying your obsessive need to have a neat and tidy quilt with no gaping holes. At no point does the game feel cutthroat, however and it is a very pleasant experience overall. There is no luck factor whatsoever so the game produces a calm and confident feeling of being fully in charge of your own creation.

In Conclusion:

If you have a regular gaming partner (most applicable to significant others) – I would suggest you put Patchwork on your “must own” list. It does not make anyone feel bad and instead invites people to enjoy it at the level where they are comfortable. Somehow, perhaps due to the tranquil theme, the losses never result in bruised egos (although your mileage may vary depending on personalities). A good way to engage those newer to the hobby and a rock-solid option to have for some impromptu weeknight gaming. Highly recommended.

Happy quilting!

If you enjoyed this review please visit Altema Games website for more neat board game materials.

Go to the Ticket to Ride: Europe page

Ticket to Ride: Europe

53 out of 60 gamers thought this was helpful

After the phenomenal success of the 2004 Ticket to Ride, expansions were all but guaranteed. Days of Wonder did not disappoint, producing Ticket to Ride: Europe in 2005. The game carefully maintains all the light appealing gameplay that made the original so popular while adding component upgrades and a few new mechanics to keep things fresh. While not all additions are welcome the overall game, combined with an exciting new map is a definite improvement and sure to extend the enjoyment you get out of the railroad laying competition.

What’s new:

It’s worth saying that the heart of Ticket to Ride is very much preserved – you have a map with major cities connected by railroad tracks. Claiming each track requires discarding colour-matching cards, allowing you to place your train cars on the route. Routes bring you points and help you complete your “tickets” – assignments of connecting two specific cities. Set collection and a choice between building up resources and being first to claim routes are still the major parts of the game. At the end of the games the tickets you complete bring you extra points and the incomplete ones detract from your score. Days of Wonder did not see a need to mess with success and the core structure of the game remains unchanged.

The game accommodates 2-5 players just as the original and its’ duration remains unchanged providing an experience that’s light but substantial in terms of time. It still says 30-60 minutes on the box but from experience 60-90 is more like it.

What does change is the map. You are now laying tracks under the mountains of France and across the fields of Ukraine – from the Baltic Sea in the north to the Black Sea in the south. The map is appealing, functional and as useful in brushing up on your geography as ever. In an interesting decision the names of all cities presented not in their anglicized version but the way these appear in the corresponding language. So you will have Wien instead of Vienna and København instead of Copenhagen. It is an interesting decision and adds flavour, though it does take a bit of getting used to.

The cards depicting different types of train cars receive an upgrade – these are now poker-sized – an increase from the mini-sized cars of the original game. The change is welcome as the bigger cards are easier to handle and add clarity, though it does increase the game’s footprint by a tiny bit.

The tickets are now of two types – normal and long. Every player starts a game with a single long ticket that requires a connection of two far away cities and is worth a significant number of points. This gives players a long-term mission to work towards as the completion of this long route is likely to take up the majority of the game.

Three new additions are featured in the game rules themselves. First and most welcome, Days of Wonder added a new physical component in stations – small plastic buildings to be placed on the map. Placing one into a city requires discarding a small number of matching cards and it allows you to use another players’ route originating from the city as your own. All unused stations are worth points at the end of the game. The change is awesome in that it opens up lots of new possibilities and avoids frustrating situations where you were blocked from completing a ticket because all routes were already taken. Sure, there is a cost to using these but it is a change that significantly improves the playing experience and is very enabling.

Another change is ferries – certain routes (going over water) have a requirement that at least one (or more, depending on the route) cards you play be a wildcard locomotive. This is a light but interesting addition, forcing players to really hunt for those wild cards and making it more appealing to use a double action to take a face-up one. Overall it has a very small impact but is a welcome quirk nevertheless.

And then there are tunnels. Certain routes (ones going under mountains) might require you to use more cards than the route normally requires. A player picks up three top cards and if any of those correspond to the colour of cards that were played to claim the route – the player has to use an additional number of cards equal to the number of matches. If the player doesn’t have additional cards, their turn is cancelled. This change is intended to add tension and a bit of risk management to the game but what it ends up doing is the opposite of what the stations accomplish – it prevents you from enjoying the game by erecting artificial obstacles in your way. Those looking for a challenge might welcome this change, but for TtR’s key audience of casual gamers – I think this is not a good addition.

In conclusion:

Ticket to Ride: Europe is a definite (but small) improvement over its classic predecessor. It works equally well as a standalone game for those who have never played another TtR and as a small next step for those who got a little tired of the original. It is not a complicated game and one where luck plays a significant role so it’s unlikely to be a centerpiece of your gaming night, but it will work great for families as well as a side attraction for the more experienced crowd. The theme is as effective and appealing as ever. That being said – if you own and occasionally enjoy the original there is really no rush for you to get your hands on this particular version.

The component upgrades improve the experience, majority of rule tweaks enhance the game and the map is good at subtly teaching geography. I would suggest to skip the original and to go straight to this one for most gamers. Just ignore the tunnels and you’ll be chugging along in no time!

If you enjoyed this review please consider visiting Altema Games Website for more neat board game materials.

Go to the Imperial Settlers page

Imperial Settlers

134 out of 142 gamers thought this was helpful

Imperial Settlers from the accomplished polish designer Ignacy Trzewiczek is a game that has a lot going for it – high quality cutesy visuals, smart system of modeling an ancient civilization and a rewarding feeling of your plans coming to fruition. The game may seem to have universal appeal, however its true complexity becomes apparent by midway point and threatens to overwhelm the less experienced. It is a good game that knows its audience and doesn’t bother reaching beyond it. Grab a shovel and come along – let’s explore and take a closer look!

How it works

Two to four players compete as leaders of ancient civilizations sending settlers to a newly discovered land. Their outposts will grow and (hopefully) prosper as the players expand in search of resources and glory. Each player plays one of the four ancient civilizations presented (brownie points for reversible male/female leader portraits!). A vertical cardboard base forms a foundation from which your settlement will grow as you produce and spend resources (the usual fare of wood, stone, food, people and military).

The most important resource in the game and the true meat of Imperial Settlers are the location cards. These represent the different buildings that the players encounter and can be used in different ways – cheaper options (pillaging) allow you to sacrifice the cards while more expensive (building) allow you to add the cards to your empire, reaping long-term benefits.

Most actions in the game require a player to have resources and a game round goes until each players has depleted their resources. At the beginning of the new round every location in the empire produces more resources and the process is repeated for five rounds. Victory points (representing glory) are awarded for building locations and using specific buildings’ abilities – whoever scores most after five rounds is the winner.

There is also a workable solo variant that is rewarding, useful for learning the ropes and can be a fun “light” way to enjoy the game when you have no one to play with.

How it plays
The game focuses in on building an economic engine – you are trying to use the resources you have to build up more ways to produce resources and then use these resources to produce victory points. There is a great variety of ways on how to go about it, but that’s the crux of the exercise.

Note the “great variety”. There is truly a ton of options – each civilization gets a small deck of cards unique to them and can also access universal buildings available to everyone. The game starts of briskly enough as your production means are meek and first couple of turns is about maximizing what you can produce on a tight budget (hint – it’s not a lot). The turns go quickly, however all of that changes once your empire grows to even medium size.

With more options come additional considerations and analysis paralysis is not far behind. This is less noticeable with two players but with higher player counts the down time becomes an issue. It doesn’t help that the cards, while beautifully illustrated, have lots of tiny text. In my experience this led to players “losing” their strategy and having to re-locate the cards they wanted to use, provoking further delays.

This will be much less of an issue for experienced gamers of course. The game’s adorable graphics and breezy start might make it seem like a good lighter option, whereas in reality Imperial Settlers is a decidedly medium offering, tipping slightly towards the heavier end of the spectrum.

With practice games do fit in the advertised 45-90 min playing time, however the game is a pretty intense exercise and does not leave you with the immediate desire to play again. The games tend to not be very social as there is little interaction outside of the occasional raid to take out an opponent’s key building.

How it feels
The impressions of Imperial Settlers will vary greatly based on a player’s comfort with complexity. Experienced gamers thrive on the rich variety of options and are able to make quick decisions to keep games lively. Newer participants in my experience get bogged down by the choices, growing frustrated and not enjoying the game as much.

The game itself is very well-designed – the four factions each have a very unique playing style to it – the Barbarians are able to muster great hordes and threaten their neighbours while the Romans build efficient bureaucracies, obtaining multiple bonuses from related buildings. Seeing your empire grow in front of your eyes is satisfying (even though the table space does become an issue towards the end of the game). The different factions seem to be well-balanced and are all fun to play.

The game does suffer a bit in that an outcome can be determined in the first couple of turns. If one of the players is able to get a much stronger production going early on – catching up is hard and watching someone rack up the points while you flounder is not pleasant. Because the options available are semi-randomly determined – bad draws can lead to rare frustrating scenarios. Overall though, the luck factor is more enjoyable than bothersome – majority of the time you are in control as long as you can keep track of all your twenty buildings’ abilities.

Imperial Settlers is not for everyone, no matter how approachable it may look. Keep this away from your less experienced friends and the game’s complexity will not turn into a negative. For those who thrive on crafting intricate economic engines for maximum efficiency – Imperial Settlers will offer an engaging, chunky experience that will leave you wanting to play something lighter afterwards.

If you enjoyed this review please consider visiting Altema Games website for more neat board game materials.

Go to the Tokaido page


55 out of 62 gamers thought this was helpful

What was the last time you went on vacation? How do you judge how successful it was? The souvenirs you’ve collected? The sights you’ve seen the people you’ve met? In Tokaido – a tranquil, drop-dead gorgeous board game from Antoine Bauza – all of these things matter. But the most important thing – both in this amazing game and in any vacation you take – is the experience itself. Just how much joy did you get out of your time? Let’s hope your vacations approach the amount of sheer positivity this game imparts on players! Put on your geta and your best kimono, we’re going on vacation in Japan!

How it works:
Two to five players take the roles of travelers in feudal Japan, undertaking the journey from Edo to Kyoto. The journey is represented by a horizontal map of the trail with all the points of interest marked on it. Stopping on these points offers the opportunity to enrich the traveler’s journey – by relaxing in a hit spring, buying souvenirs, meeting the locals or stopping to paint the gorgeous views. Each of the several available activities offers its own mechanism of scoring points, representing the overall “worth” of the journey you’ve made. Some (like painting) are free and some (like donating to a temple) require money – the game’s only resource. Points add up on a score track running along the path on the game board.

The movement between points is extremely simple – the player who is the farthest behind always gets to go. That means you are always figuring out a balance between getting more actions and making sure you get to use the stops that offer the things you really need.

Once the trek is complete and all the players arrive at the destination, points are tallied up with a few achievement cards going to leaders in certain categories. As tradition dictates – the player with the most victory points is declared victorious.

How it plays:
A few words should be said about the visual presentation of Tokaido. It narrowly beats out Concept for the “board game most likely to have been designed by Apple” award. By that I meant that the design is airy and spacious with lots of white space and beautiful iconography. There is no in-game text and it is quite easy to pick up and understand. The beautiful visuals set the tranquil tone of the game from the get go and that only gets further emphasized once the game starts.

The decisions that the game offers are very simple but meaningful and the game never feels sluggish even with five. While it works very well with three to five, the two-player option (that adds a third neutral pawn that is used as a blocker of desired locations by both contestants) feels ever so slightly awkward. The games are quick mostly wrapping up close to the advertised 45 min play time. Experienced players playing lower-player count games will easily be able to fit a game in a half-hour slot.

The gameplay itself always feel easy and streamlined – a feat that combined with the gorgeous aesthetics makes Tokaido likely to be a frequent visitor at your table.

How it feels:
Tokaido aims for a very specific kind of gameplay – a purely positive one. There is not a single effect in the game that can result in a negative consequence for a player. It’s all about maximizing your score by visiting locations most advantageous to the strategy you have selected. This is a kind of a staple for Bauza games and a very enjoyable one. In my experience I have never seen anyone be frustrated by a game of Tokaido no matter how poorly they did (full disclosure – the person who does poorly is usually me).

While the decisions ultimately hinge on math and probability – the game never feels like a math puzzle thanks to strong theme integration. Instead it is quite fun to judge whether it makes more sense for you to go ahead and visit a spot you really need even if it means that others will get to take more turns because of it.

The game can feel quite light on decision-making. It’s a great thing for newer players and those looking for an experience that falls decidedly on the light end of game complexity. For veterans looking for chunkier gameplay filled with multi-turn strategies, lots of player interaction or complex engine building – Tokaido will likely feel overly simple. It would still work as a great in-between option for game nights thanks to its brief duration and breezy setup and teardown.

Ultimately – Tokaido ends up being a really enjoyable game. What it lacks in complexity it more than makes up for in the completeness of its presentation. The lack of player interaction is not noticeable when you are enjoying yourself this much. Even the static nature of the game is not an obstacle to replayability – using different characters, each with their unique ability and playing against different people, adjusting to their strategies, makes the game surprisingly robust on repeat plays.

With his ability to reliably produce games that are likable and approachable yet smart and engaging – Antoine Bauza is basically The Beatles of board game design. Tokaido is an excellent addition to his repertoire, showcasing his love for the culture and history of Japan and putting his sublime design skills on display. It is a great achievement – a game so light, inviting and universally appealing that it is highly unlikely to gather any dust on your gaming shelf. This journey comes highly recommended.

If you enjoyed this review please visit Altema Games website for more reviews and board game materials.

Go to the Onirim page


60 out of 68 gamers thought this was helpful

The realm of dreams does not become the topic of games too frequently. Board games especially with their focus on the tangible and the tactile seem a strange fit to tackle the amorphous fleeting nature of what our subconscious produces while we sleep. Onirim by Z-Man games gives it a shot and aces the aesthetics – not an easy task by any stretch of imagination. The game stumbles in the mechanics though as the gameplay tends towards simplistic abstraction instead of fully exploring the wonderful world the game creates. Shall we dive deeper? Close your eyes and welcome to Onirim.

How it works:

You are a wanderer lost in a labyrinth of dreams. Your journeys took you too far down the rabbit hole and now you need to find a way out before the nightmares consume you. Onirim is a solo game with a two-player co-op variant where the players work through a deck of cards aiming to collect a certain number of Door cards to leave the labyrinth.

There are a couple of ways to obtain the doors – either by building a sequence of cards of the same colour in the “path” you are laying out or having a specific key card on hand when you randomly draw a card from the deck to replenish your hand. Not all cards are positive – some are Nightmares that daze and confuse, forcing you to lose progress or wasting precious time. If you manage to obtain all the doors – you win and you get to wake up. If the deck runs out before you are able to do that – you lose and you are stuck in the labyrinth forever.

How it plays:

The game is basically a puzzle that forces you to weigh your strategy in pursuing the slow but reliable way of obtaining doors (laying out a pattern of cards) vs. counting on a lucky draw that would score you a door in a much easier way. Another interesting decision point comes when you draw a Nightmare card. It sets you back but the way that happens is up to you – there are a few ways to deal with it and this selection makes you consider your progress and pick the least of several evils.

The mechanics of the game are very simple and reminiscent of traditional card solitaire in their extreme abstraction. While some decisions are interesting – most have an obvious answer. This makes the game go quick and uneventful. On one hand it makes Onirim a solid (if unspectacular) choice for a quick solo option. On another – it fails to produce memorable moments and fully engage you. The games involve lots of shuffling (and it really helps that the cards are glossy – easy to do so) and most are over in 20 min or less.

The two-player variant seems to be more an afterthought and does not provide particularly engaging interaction. The game was clearly meant as a solo offering and works better that way.

How it feels:

Onirim wins the “components match the theme” award for me, easily beating any other game in that regard. The crude, abstract artwork with the menacing pointy-eared, yellow-eyed Nightmare figure clicks on a very subconscious level and draws you in to the wonderful world these visuals create. Even the interior of the small box is amazing – strange diagonal flaps mimicking the Nightmare form, the rich velvet insert to hold the cards, the inexplicable wooden Nightmare figurine inside (I still have not found a use for it but it is awesome). The artwork on the cards also fits the perfect surreal format – drawn as if by a child but with a vivid feeling and mood behind each card – every physical aspect of the game contributes to the strange world that the creators tried to dream up.

The game amazes you in that it creates this world that you believe you can get lost in – you are now ready to immerse yourself in the game to escape this labyrinth! And that’s when the game lets you down. The mechanics it presents you with are much too abstract and never strengthen the connection to the theme. The decisions are simplistic and it can feel that things are just happening to you as opposed to you driving the narrative. It offers a quick tight solo gaming experience but compared to its competition in this genre (Friday easily comes to mind) it loses out in richness and engagement level.

The second edition of Onirim in stores now comes with seven (!) mini-expansions that you can mix in. Unfortunately these did little to improve the experience for me. Strangely the mechanics for these add new elements to the game and then focus the players’ energies on removing these new elements to basically bring the game back to the original difficulty.

In Conclusion:

Onirim seduces players with its gorgeous presentation and innovative theme but under-delivers on what one expects. It is still a nice light option if you want a quick game, but this dream is more of a snooze than a power nap.

If you enjoyed this review please consider visiting the Altema Games website for more neat board game materials.

Go to the Sheriff of Nottingham page

Sheriff of Nottingham

98 out of 108 gamers thought this was helpful

You’ve seen the situation a countless times in movies and books. A merchant is at the entrance to medieval city with a wagon of wares. A surly bailiff stands in the way. What is it that you are bringing in? Apples you say? These don’t look like apples… Tense negotiations ensue with threats, bribes and flattery all used generously. A nervous glance to the side and the charade is up – bags are emptied and fines (or worse) apply. Sheriff of Nottingham aims to capture this scene and succeeds marvelously, only to forget to reward the players for the most adventurous and fun way to play.

How it works:
Three to five players act as merchants trying to get goods to their market stalls in a city. In their way stands the Sheriff – a role that rotates between the players. The Sheriff is in charge of examining the goods before they get to the stalls. The thing is – while bringing in chickens or cheese is a perfectly legitimate business – the crossbows or mead just cost way more. So it can be tempting to try and pad your sacks with some highly illegal goods. Only thing is that if you are caught with these – you certainly do not get these to your stall and have to pay hefty fines for even trying.

Each turn a player puts a certain number of cards from their hand into a small felt bag and declares what type of a legal good is in there. The Sheriff then has a choice – he either lets the goods through (and these are added to the merchant’s stall) or inspects the bag. There is some risk to the Sheriff – if the contents of the bag match the description exactly, the Sheriff looks foolish and has to pay up. However, if there were undeclared, or even worse – illegal goods in the bag – Sheriff gets to collect penalties and all undeclared goods are discarded.

The game encourages negotiation, including bribing the Sheriff with money, goods or future favours. Merchants can even goad the Sheriff into opening someone else’s bag if the desire. The opening of the snap-on bag has a satisfying finality to it – once it’s open, the negotiations die down immediately.

At the end of the game each player receives points for the money they have and the goods they have collected. Illegal goods are worth significantly more points. Those who collect the most (or second most) of a certain legal good are crowned as King or Queen (King of Cheese has a ring to it, don’t you think so?) and receive a hefty bonus to their score. The player who collected the most total points is the winner.

How it plays:
Fun. Oh, Sheriff of Nottingham is so much fun. The incredible art on the components helps so much in bringing the situation alive. Before you know it, the players who would not come close to roleplaying if their lives depended on it, are speaking in character, praising the fine quality of their chickens. The game is so crucially connected to the social interaction that takes place during the negotiation that it is completely impossible to not get into it.

The game is quick to learn and the turns are not bogged down by extensive analysis paralysis as there is a built-in time limit for decisions to open the bag. The game itself does last a solid hour, but it’s an hour that flies by – the realization that the last turn is approaching invariably comes as a surprise.

Newer players can jump into the game relatively easily. It is not difficult to get into but being good at it is another matter entirely. Even if you thought you were being the smartest crossbow smuggler in the land, the final scoring is likely to give you a rough awakening and all because of…

How it feels:
Oh, the scoring… For a game that revolves around a fun, breezy premise of bribing a corrupt law enforcer, Sheriff of Nottingham gets awfully bogged down in numbers once the last turn is finished. There are a lot of numbers to keep track of. Specifically, the calculation of King/Queen bonuses for most legal goods can often make the calculation of the final score harder than it needs to be. But that would not be a serious concern all in itself.

The worst part comes at a point when you realize that the person who won is not the one who was pulling out crazy deals or smuggling in awesomely illegal sexy silks. It is most often the merchant who played safest, not exposing themselves to the risks of smuggling. The game’s scoring appears to reward the safe playing style both through Sheriff penalties for opening an “honest” bag and for significant bonus points for King/Queen title at the end. There are exceptions, of course, but the predominant general experience I had is that slow and steady wins this race.

This is a shame, really. The lying and the bribery and the smuggling are all so entertaining and engaging that you want to do these a lot, but the risks you run far outweigh the potential benefits. There is a ton of very exciting stuff taking place but it is best not to do that if you want to do well. Many people are still able to have a great time with the game because the process is indeed exceedingly entertaining. But for those who want to direct their actions towards a goal – this will be a serious drawback.

The components certainly add to the enjoyment of the game, with the definitive sound of the bag being opened carrying lots of significance.
The game also manages to achieve lots of fun without the sort of anxiety you are going to experience in other bluffing games like Resistance – a healthy level of ridiculousness in art will do that.

It should also be noted that players who generally prefer planning and analysis to social aspects of gaming will likely not fall in love with Sheriff, though it’s a game with very broad appeal.

Sheriff of Nottingham provides a phenomenally engaging gameplay for players who dig the social interaction. Inexplicably, its scoring mechanism aims to shoot itself in the foot (knee?) with a crossbow bolt of rewarding a very safe play style. It is recommended to players for whom fun is more important than victory. If that describes you – prepare to describe just how amazing your artisanal cheeses are!

If you enjoyed this review please consider visiting Altema Games Website for more neat board game mateirals.

Go to the Harbour page


134 out of 143 gamers thought this was helpful

This particular generic fantasy harbour is filled with activity – giants loading huge crates of livestock onto ghost ships, enormous octopus chefs offering their clients delicious sushi, copper automatons whirring into motion to turn oaks into lumber. The air is alive with the calls of seagulls and the salty sea mist. If you pay close attention though – you can sense another smell – a smoky one. That would be brains burning as players strive to predict which goods will be in demand so that they can stockpile and sell it, staking their claim to victory. Want a tight, tense game that makes you think several turns ahead? Welcome to Harbour.

How it works:
The players are competing entrepreneurs in a fantasy harbour, trying to sell goods on a constantly fluctuating market. Selling provides money, allowing players to purchase buildings. These buildings are worth victory points and once one of the players purchases four, there is a final turn and the game wraps up – whoever collected most victory points is crowned the winner and is given a key to the harbour by a giant sentient kraken that lives offshore.

Each player has a single worker that they assign to an unoccupied building each turn. The buildings, represented by regular-sized cards, each have unique effects – either providing resources or manipulating the market. Each character card has a kind of a slider on the bottom – placing resource markers on different positions denotes how much of a given resources you currently have. Those familiar with Scott Almes’ previous Tiny Epic series will recognize the system right away.

The market card shows the current values of each of the game’s four goods (a rather unexciting set of cattle, fish, wood and stone). The higher the value – the more of a good you need before you can ship it. Once a player feels goods are ready to ship – a worker is assigned to a “ship and build” action, all resources shipped are discarded and a building can be purchased, as long as its cost can be covered by the price of shipped goods.

Following this, the market is adjusted – all goods just shipped become cheaper, while goods that were not shipped increase in price. A purchased building is still available for visiting (though a payment to the owner is now necessary) and a new “neutral” building is added from the deck.

How it plays:
The game works for one to four players and is prone to moderate to heavy analysis paralysis, which can come as a bit of a surprise, given the game’s compact format and lighthearted theme. Most of the analysis comes down to predicting the future state of the market, so that you can maximize the efficiency of your own selling (having an excess of a good does not help you – if you have five fish and you sell it – even though you only needed three – the rest is gone as well).

The fact that decisions that has to be made on each player’s turn are bite-sized (only one worker assignment) help mitigate the over-analysis problem to some extent, but it is still there. Even though the game can be reasonably interactive – it is wise to spot and thwart your opponent’s plans – this interactivity is very passive and playing Harbour is not a very social experience.

Two player games fit within 30-40 minutes, with higher player counts going up to an hour. The game feels quite different depending on the group size. Two-player format seems to be the best fit – focusing on one opponent makes for the most meaningful competition. In three and four player games, the planning becomes significantly more difficult – turning this game into either a gong show where people resign concrete planning and just go with the flow; or a total brain burner where you try your best to understand how much wood is going to cost three turns from now. There is also a solo version where you play against a hapless training dummy, but it really lacks the tense competitive feel of playing against a person. The dummy does not offer much of a challenge at all, however it is a good mode to learn the game for the first time.

How it feels:
Harbour leaves you with a strange, conflicted feeling. On one hand – it is a very smart little game with meaningful decisions and ability to interact with others by anticipating and foiling their plans. On another – there is a decided lack of excitement. The effects of many buildings seem equivalent and the abundance of “take any resource” effects leads to a kind of a complacency. Where in Lords of Waterdeep blocking access to a desired kind of adventurer is a major strategy – you would not do well trying this in Harbour. Given that getting what you want is always possible – it comes down to eking out an advantage in how you get it. Finding small benefits of doing things a certain way is rewarding, but certainly not exciting.

Somehow, despite a seeming variety in available buildings, all of them end up feeling very much the same. The same cannot be said for the rich selection of character roles that come with the game – the special abilities and difference in “default” action that they offer are interesting and offer a rich potential for replayability.

Amidst all this serious thinking that you are going to be doing, the cheerful silly art on the cards will help lighten the mood somewhat. The humour in these is very good and is a definite strong point of the game.

Harbour is a good game – very compact, appealing in presentation, tightly designed, offers interesting choices and balance. Yet somehow, amidst all of these – the fun is not there. If your taste in games lies with the smarter offerings, geared towards planning and optimization – you will enjoy Harbour. If, however, you seek excitement and chance – you should probably cast your anchor elsewhere.

If you enjoyed this review please consider visiting Altema Games website for more neat board game materials.

Go to the Takenoko page


61 out of 72 gamers thought this was helpful

Sometimes an experience just clicks. Every single aspect of it seems to be a drop filling a perfectly clear pond that reflects the sun just right. You are not going to look at what is at the bottom of the pond, think what it is that makes it so beautiful, or ponder (sorry) if you really wanted to be by this particular body of water. It will leave you completely satisfied – nothing extremely memorable or desire to immediately do it again, mind you – just a feeling that the time there was spent in just the right way. Want this experience in board game form? Get in the zen mode and break out the bamboo. You are about to play Takenoko.

How it works:

In Takenoko two to four players play the roles of nobles at the court of Emperor of Japan, taking care of a gift from China – a giant panda, which acts as kind of a game’s mascot. You will build gardens from, grow bamboo and feed the panda in an attempt to fulfil three types of tasks that score you points.

The modular game board is built of pastel-hued hexagonal tiles with very nice illustrations of bamboo gardens. Under certain circumstances, these tiles grow bamboo, represented by stackable wooden pieces that are used to represent different height of the plants. Finally – pre-coloured finely detailed miniatures represent the ever-anxious Gardener who grows the bamboo and the source of his anxiety – adorable giant panda that devours the plants.

On their turn, players may add new tiles, dig irrigation canals to make sure plants are watered or move panda or the gardener growing or eating bamboo. Each player starts with a few task cards and new ones can be acquired throughout the game. Each turn starts with a roll of a chunky wooden die that customizes each turn in some manner by offering variable weather effects – for example the hot sun may give you an extra action or rain could make bamboo grow on any space you choose. The players take turns until a certain number of tasks are complete and then points are calculated to determine the winner.

How it plays:

There are a few sub-systems at work in Takenoko, all interacting with each other – the building of the fields, which grow the bamboo, which you then feed to the panda. Getting the interconnectivity can be a little tough for new players, but the immensely likable components help get over that. It cannot be overstated – the pastel fields, the glossy bamboo, the excellent miniatures – this is among the most inviting games to play, even if its’ rules are firmly medium in terms of complexity.

Even if higher-scale strategy can be difficult to grasp from the get-go, the bite-sized decision of each round are not and the game gets going in a lively and dynamic manner. Each turn is rewarding in some way as you see the gardens expand out from the initial hex, bamboo sprouts shooting upwards and the panda growing fat and happy.

The die adds in welcome elements to the proceedings both in terms of the variability (each one of your turns is slightly different based on the roll) and excitement – a desired outcome in an uncertain situation can feel triumphant.

The fact that other player’s actions can help you complete your tasks add an extra motivation to pay attention during the turns of others, however waiting for your chance to actively make decisions can get a little long in a four player game. The game can last a bit longer than the advertised 45 min duration and most of it is a very light and enjoyable affair with some good planning opportunities. A rare game does drag towards the end, but the veritable forest of bamboo you have probably grown by that point will make you so happy – you will most likely hardly notice it.

How it feels:

Takenoko is built on a series of solid mechanics that has every player try to maximize the benefits of their actions in order to complete their tasks as fast as possible. All throughout there is a sense of steady progress that is rewarding and encouraging. The game achieves this feeling of tranquil curiousness on what is going to come next, while making it practically impossible for you to feel like you are really falling behind or had a terrible turn.

In fact, Takenoko seems absolutely intent on not letting any sort of negativity seep into the game. Specifically – players do not see the tasks of others and so it is impossible to try to meaningfully impact the ability of others to achieve their goals – all you have to do is try to make the best of your own. In my opinion – this is Takenoko’s greatest weakness – in carefully avoiding any conflict in its perfectly pastel world, it managed to remove practically all interaction. You are simply given the situation as the previous players left it for you at the beginning of your turn and then can further affect it to meet your goals.

At the end of each game there is a feeling of satisfaction, but not excitement – you never feel that there was that deciding turn when you should have done something else or when others have seen through your cunning plans. Ultimately – it is a deeply satisfying, intricate, very well produced multiplayer solitaire.

You could try to divine the others’ goals by their actions, but it is not a particularly effective strategy as the game’s intended way to play is obvious. It certainly does not make the game bad –Takenoko is a very solid, very pleasant offering that will work really well for people who are seeking to avoid conflict in their games. However, from the perspective of a competitive game – this particular panda just does not have much teeth.

In conclusion:

Takenoko has loads of universal appeal and a gameplay that makes you think and relaxes you at the same time. Thanks to its consistent art style and top-notch components it is a pleasant and interesting game to play. The excellent presentation and gentle nature make it a great choice to introduce newer players to medium complexity in a safe and welcoming way. But if you are looking for a game to interact meaningfully with people you play against – look elsewhere. This panda does not quite have the teeth for competition.

If you enjoyed this review, please visit Altema Games website for more neat board game materials.

Go to the Small World page

Small World

56 out of 63 gamers thought this was helpful

The ever-hungry pillaging halflings have just occupied these hills only to be driven out by the berserk dwarves looking to reclaim their lost mines. Are they going to be able to keep control of it or are the flying amazons going to swoop in to steal their territory? Hilarious fantasy race depictions get multiplied by a variety of special powers to create a multitude of conquest scenarios in Smallworld – a light strategy game perfect for your tablet.

How it works:

A map of a fantasy land lies before you – it is divided into a series of regions – lakes, fields, mountains, forests – many with special features like underground tunnels or magic deposits. Two to five players play as rulers of a series of fantasy cultures that aim to conquer and hold these regions, scoring points to become the most prominent civilization after a predetermined number of turns.

The races are created from two components – the base race and a special power – so that your elves can be either of a forest variety, seafaring or perhaps able to tame dragons. The race/power combinations are randomized for every game, giving the combinations of 14 races and 20 powers a ton of potential outcomes.

The race and power determines special rules that apply either in terms of scoring points (forest races score extra for occupying a forest) or for combat resolution (heroic cultures are resistant to conquest). It also determines how many tokens corresponding to your chosen race you get, so more powerful races like dwarves will be less populous while the vile ratmen have nothing going for them except for the fact that there is a ton of them.

The players then take turns spending their tokens to conquer regions – more or less tokens may be required for conquest of special terrain (mountains) or regions containing defenders from other civilizations. A small bit of luck is represented in that the last conquest is aided by a die roll that can allow victory even with insufficient forces. Once the conquest is finished, troops are re-distributed for best defense, the player scores points for the regions they occupy and the turn goes over to the next player.

The game inevitably comes to a point where your civilization reaches a point where it’s spread too thin and further expansion doesn’t make sense – then it’s time to put a race in decline and pick a new one from the constantly renewed selection available to all. The tokens of races in decline get turned over and lose most of their special powers, however continue to score points as long as they hold down their regions.

How it feels:

Smallworld is all about two things – calculated conflict and keeping a multitude of effects in mind, introduced by the crazy mix of races and powers (I think peace-loving wights are my favourite). The conflict was always very well rendered in the physical form of this game, but the bookkeeping could turn messy. This is where the digital implementation truly shines. The technology neatly takes care of all the things you would need to memorize like keeping track of how many tokens you have left or how many you need to conquer this region with all the factors in play or how many points you score at the end of the turn.

The effect of the multiple effect in play was usually that the game would overstay its’ welcome a bit. It would be especially harmful since sometimes the winner would be obvious a few turns in advance. The digital version in contrast plays extremely fast and is super satisfying in solo mode, playing against 1-4 competent AI opponents. It really helps the game’s longevity that strategies for games with lower or higher player counts are very different and you need to adapt to what your opponents are doing.

The graphics are extremely pleasant – you might not have a lot of action on screen, but whatever is rendered is beautiful and a pleasure to look at. The presentation and interface are generally strong points of the game, running fast, having options to skip viewing AI turns and generally offering a smooth and enjoyable experience. The information on all the races and powers is presented in an accessible way, so are numbers of tokens required to conquer a region. The technical implementation truly gets top grades for this one.

In addition to playing against the AI you can test your mettle against other human players either through pass and play or through online games. The pass and play functions very well as there is no hidden information in the game. The online play decreases the game’s dynamic flow and is less enjoyable, but gets the job done.

The base game gives you ton of variability with combination of 14 races and 20 special powers – for a few bucks more in in-game purchases you can unlock expansions broadening the options even further.


All in all – this is a very successful conversion of a board game into a digital format – it does not lose anything from the core game experience and streamlines the gameplay greatly. Compact, very appealing and easy to learn – Smallworld is a great dose of board gaming to take along on your favourite tablet.

Smallworld 2 is available for iOS and Google Play for around $8.

If you enjoyed this review please visit Altema Games website for more neat board game materials.

Go to the Dixit page


35 out of 40 gamers thought this was helpful

“All children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist once you grow up” – Pablo Picasso.

How about you, dear reader? Have you grown up or does the fire of unbridled imagination burn in you still? The answer to this question is a single most important determinant if you will love Dixit to pieces or will want nothing to do with the silliness. I certainly hope it’s the former.

How it works:

Three to six players get to compete in describing and interpreting highly abstract pieces of art, distributed on Tarot-sized cards. Each turn a player comes up with a description of one of their cards – a single word, a phrase, a quote. Each of the players then finds a card from their hand that best matches the description.

Cards are mixed up and laid out with each player but the “leader” voting on which was the original image that inspired the description. The goal of the “leader” is to make sure his description is clear enough so that at least some people guess the right card, but not so clear that everyone gets it right. Other players get points for correctly guessing the original card or for others picking theirs.

The game goes until an arbitrary limit of 30 points is reached by one of the rabbit markers representing each player.

This description sounds dry, right? You bet! And then you look at the cards…

How it feels:

My reviews normally has a middle section of “how it plays” but I will forego it this time, mostly because what you feel playing Dixit is much more important. These cards, how can I describe them? Let’s say take the deranged creativity of Dali, add cozy whimsy of James Christensen and then multiply it all by the piercing childish sincerity of the Little Prince. Kind of like that. Each card shows something completely absurd – flying ships, inflatable castles, sentient clouds, trees playing soccer – but rendered with such loving care that it emits palpable warmth.

At first you think it is next to impossible to make your cards match others’ descriptions but soon you recognize that it is the emotion behind each description that you are trying to address and the cards speak that universal language fluently. Sadness, happiness, joy, doubt – so many complex emotions hide behind these images. I’ve seen reactions to the cards being flipped open range from uncontrollable laughter to wooow, to pensive looks into nothing or silent nodding.

It lets your imagination roam as you are coming up with a creative, non-obvious way of how to describe that couple dancing atop a waterfall and sometimes what you come up with will surprise even yourself. Guessing the correct card is also fascinating as you try to get into a specific mindset and figure out what that specific person would put down for that description.

Dixit truly engages people and it has been an absolute hit with several different groups I have introduced it do. The enjoyment is not purely internally aimed – the social interactions stemming from the discussions of the cards are engaging and entertaining. Children, especially those with a creative bend, have a great time with it and it is amazing in that it transcends language barriers with ease. An average game lasts for about half an hour and usually immediately leads to a next one.

The one drawback is that the variety in the base 84 cards you see is not endless and it might become somewhat repetitive. Lucky for you there are several expansions out, each adding a new deck of 84 cards to the base game, sure to prolong your enjoyment of this gem.


I usually strive to make my reviews more objective, but this game defies objectivity. I love its’ spirit, its’ approach, its’ art and how it makes me feel and think. It brings back that artist inside that Picasso was talking about. If you want to stretch your creativity, get in touch with your inner child, or just have a really fun time – I strongly suggest you give Dixit a try.

If you enjoyed this review please visit Altema Games website for more board game materials.

Go to the Sushi Go! (Second Edition) page
107 out of 114 gamers thought this was helpful

Sometimes less is more. And I’m not just talking bout size, as there were enough good things said about Tiny Epic series. The unassuming Sushi Go! from Gamewright spots a minimalistic game design with cute theme and adorable art. Packaged in a neat tin box, it delivers tons of fun in fast-paced, easy to pick up game with a winning charm and universal appeal.

How it works:

Three to five players are competing in assembling the most impressive collection of adorably rendered sushi on their plates. The game consists of three rounds – each round the player starts with a certain amount of cards in their hands. On their turn, each player puts down one of the cards from their hands and passes the rest of the cards to the player on their left (a mechanic most will be familiar from 7 Wonders).

The cards score points – there are eight types and each has its’ own unique scoring mechanic. Sashimi for example will score you ten points but only if you play three of these during a round. Dumplings on another hand give you points that grow the more of these you play in a round. Not all cards are scored at the same time – for example all pudding played is left for dessert (of course!) and points it provides are calculated at the end of the game. Finally, chopsticks don’t provide any points on their own, but rather allow you to play two cards on a future turn instead of just one.

After a round is done (all cards were played), the scores of all players are counted up and recorded (unfortunately no scoring pad is provided with the game). After the third round the results are tallied, the dessert result is applied and whoever finishes with the most points is the winner.

How it plays:

The game rules are extremely simple and you can explain these without difficulty even to novice players. The different scoring mechanisms are conveniently illustrated on each card, serving as a useful reference.

The games themselves go very quick, especially after the first round. You are basically trying to maximize the amount of points you are going to score by picking which combinations of sushi you are going to go for – are you going to try to go for the high-scoring sashimi cards and take the risk that someone else is going to prevent you from collecting a set of three? Or play it safe with the trusty low-scoring unfortunately named nigiri for guaranteed points?

There is certainly very few opportunities for analysis paralysis and this simplicity serves the game very well, keeping the game moving gingerly. The competition aspect of the game is very indirect, mostly limited to maximizing your own score, while occasionally playing cards to prevent opponents from getting something they really want.

The game works equally well with three to five players, without much of a difference in game dynamic. There is a two-player option introducing a dummy player that provides an adequate substitute, but is not as fun as playing it with the intended group sizes. While the official number of players caps at five, it is conceivable to play with six, adjusting the number of cards dealt each round. It will be less balanced but in all honesty precise balance is not the reason you should be playing Sushi Go!

The game certainly does not overstay its’ welcome, wrapping up in a tight 15 minutes, placing it squarely in the light filler category.

How it feels:

In a word – great. The art on the cards is absolutely impossible to resist and immediately sets a positive tone for the game. You try feeling negative when there are little adorable tempura smiling at you from the card! The light mood of the game combined with the excellent art direction really hit the spot in making sure that Sushi Go! is a highly enjoyable experience – you might not be giving your brain the workout it gets during Terra Mystica, but you are definitely having fun.

The gameplay itself is also brisk. The fact that each round will contain a different set of cards due to completely random shuffling creates many unexpected scenarios to adopt to. Now sometimes it ends up feeling not fair, for example if you really need that third sashimi but there is simply no more in this round. Or you get a hand full of maki rolls that you can’t do much with. But the round is over so quickly that you are never left to dwell on these.

There is a good balance of figuring out how to score most points for yourself and watching for what others are trying to do in order to foil their plans. Expert players might try keeping track of the cards in all the hands as you see them through a few turns to devise the most efficient strategies. It is definitely a very light game though, dependent on the luck of the draw, so those craving s heavy euro will be getting a raw deal.

In Conclusion:

Sushi Go! sets a very modest goals for itself and absolutely aces these. It is a very affordable (under $15), kid-friendly game that feels fun and goes quickly. For a game about scoring points it manages to not devolve into a math exercise and it also introduces players to the card drafting mechanic used in more complex games (hello again, 7 Wonders). I would absolutely recommend you add this game to your collection – this likable filler will work well both as a break for experienced players and a starting point for new ones. I have to warn you though – by the end of three rounds you will be craving a delicious sushi roll!

If you enjoyed this review please visit Altema Games website for more reviews with photos and other cool board game stuff!

Go to the Tiny Epic Kingdoms page

Tiny Epic Kingdoms

28 out of 29 gamers thought this was helpful

Can something tiny truly be epic? This postcard-sized box stakes a claim that yest it can. And boy, does it deliver on that promise. Scott Almes, the designer, managed to pull off a magic trick of his own, creating a game that lasts less than an hour, takes minimal table space, yet feels robust and involved, packs tactical depth and flexibility. After the dust settles and the victor is crowned – it is a very satisfying and complete experience in a familiar, well-rendered fantasy world.

How it works:

Each player represents a fantasy kingdom, populated by a race of creatures vying for supremacy in the region. Each fraction starts off on a terrain tile, containing five regions. Fraction’s population is represented by small (and therefore adorable) meeples placed in regions.

There are three resources – food, magic and iron – the amount of these you have is represented by kind of a slider mechanic where the location of a tiny (and therefore even more adorable) wooden token indicates how much of a resource you have.

Every turn, the active player may take one of the available six actions – you could either spend resources to grow your emprire, research magic, or build up a wondrous Tower, trade resources for one another or move your meeples around. The amazing thing about Tiny Epic Kingdoms is that each turn is shared by all players – the starting player only determines what kind of action is taken.

Other players may either do the same action or forego that opportunity to collect resources, receiving these from regions occupied by their meeples.

Movement of meeples can take them from one terrain card to another – when two meeple share a region, a war takes place. The ingenious battle mechanic sees two combatants secretly commit resources to the battle, indicating the amount using a die (dice are not actually rolled). The amounts are revealed and the victorious player gets to keep control of the region. Commit too little and you risk a defeat. Commit too many resources and your reserves are depleted, opening you up for a potential costly counter attack. Or, if you’re feeling diplomatic – forge an alliance so that both you and your opponent can collect the resources from any given region. Or, you know, pretend that you’re going for peace and fund a war effort anyways. You can always say it was independent militants and you had nothing to do with it.

Building a tower, growing your population and researching magic ultimately grant you victory points. Magic, in addition to victory points also introduces unique race-specific bonuses as you achieve arcane mastery. Once a player reaches a threshold in any of these three areas, the game is over and the player with the most victory points, shockingly, is crowned winner.

How it plays:

Once the tiny components are laid out and you place your tower and spellbook markers down on appropriate cards, the game commences. The fact that every player gets to do something on every turn minimizes down time and keeps everyone constantly engaged. It is practically always your turn, which feels great.

The game works with two to five players, excelling, as expected, at middle ranges of 3-4. The games last a little over the advertised 30-min duration, but never feel like dragging out. Increased comfort with the game’s rules and decision making also speeds things up.

The game offers an incredible flexibility, in the amount of conflict players want to have. It is perfectly possible to go through an entire game without a single battle as competitors are seeking to utilize resources most efficiently. On another hand, the combat mechanic is extremely smart and simple and not using it narrows the game experience somewhat. Those looking for a lot of confrontation can certainly find it, though funding frequent war efforts is not a cheap endeavor and this might set a fraction back.

The race that you play also makes every game that you play a little different, nudging you towards a strategy that would be most effective. The Dwarves, as expected, are master builders, while Orcs excel at warfare. Thirteen races included in the base edition of the game offer a good variety. The fact that there also many different terrain cards adds replayability. While the variety is excellent given the simple mechanics of the game, it is not endless and playing this game too much may stretch it beyond it’s impressive limits.

How it feels:

The game leaves you truly amazed at the scope of what it is able to represent with these tiny tokens and a few cards. You genuinely feel as if you are orchestrating a rise of a fantasy kingdom and seeing your meeples spread over the mountains, fields and forests is deeply satisfying.

The decision making is split between long-term planning and adapting to what your opponents are doing. The decision on when to collect resources is always a hard one as you are constantly weighting your ability to do things that score victory points with having enough resources to do so. On top of all that you are always on the look out for potential conflict, having to keep a reserve in case some of your neighbors get too uppity. That’s quite a lot to consider and to give you plenty of space to strategize.

The game rules are not complex, yet there is a lot going on and I would not recommend it as an introductory offering – its’ beauty is in its’ surprising depth. The Magic advancement also introduces quite a bit of factors to keep in mind, fleshing out a robust base system. Speaking of fractions, these feel slightly off balance as some of the fraction powers appear more or less powerful. I do not have large enough sample size to make conclusive assertions, but the feeling of precise balance is certainly absent.

The combat system, with its one-decision approach manages to be magnificent in how many factors go into that one single number you decide on. Really, I can’t say enough on how elegant and involved it is, you just need to experience it.

It is tricky to recommend a best way to play this game. On one hand it certainly lends itself well to multiple plays – it is relatively short, every game is different due to mix of races and terrain cards, you can try multiple strategies. However playing it too much can leave you burnt out and emerging patterns of play may expose the replayability limits.


I would highly recommend Tiny Epic Kingdoms to intermediate and expert gamers who are looking for an affordable, compact, smart and varied game to supplement (but not lead) their game nights. Especially so if you are a fan of fantasy kingdom building games such as Master of Magic or Age of Wonders. Do not overplay this tiny gem and it will provide you lots of interactive, engaging entertainment.

Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed this review. Please visit Altema Games website for more neat board game materials.

Go to the 7 Wonders page

7 Wonders

46 out of 51 gamers thought this was helpful

7 Wonders is a smash hit civilization building game from French designer Antoine Bauza. Much like the titular wonders it is truly monumental in its’ achievement – a game that accommodates up to seven players, has substance and still fits within half an hour. Mixing luck of the draw with solid tactical planning and eliminating down time it is a masterfully designed game that is easy to pick up and hard to grow tired.

How it works:
Two to seven players pick one of the seven ancient city-states to bring to greatness, corresponding to the classical Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Not only does the game aim to entertain, it also carries certainly make you remember that it is Babylon that houses the Hanging Gardens etc.
The game consists of three decks of cards, each corresponding to an Age and played in sequence. For each Age the deck is dealt to the players and every turn the players play one of the cards and pass the rest to their neighbor. The cards themselves are the structures comprising your city state – these either allow you to build more structures or score you victory points in the end of the game.

The game is truly a “point salad” – there are seven (of course) ways to score points and different types buildings work in different ways contributing to the total. Culture buildings like temples and palaces give a direct linear bonus, the yield of scientific buildings starts slow and grows exponentially the more you have. Each building has a cost in resources – your civilization must either produce enough resources or be able to buy it from neighbors who do, adding a neat trade element. The neighbors mechanic also applies to warfare – you compare military strength at the end of every Age to determine who scores or losing points.

Last option is to use a card to build up civilization-specific Wonder, granting unique bonuses and adding character to each of the seven options presented in the game. The game goes on until all three decks are depleted and the points are tallied up. Whoever ends the game with the most points claims the glory of victory.

How it plays:
The single greatest achievement of 7 Wonders is almost total elimination of down time. Whose turn is it? Everyone’s. All the time. Try to keep up! This elegant mechanic moves things along at a brisk pace and while light to medium analysis paralysis is possible, it rarely interferes with the dynamic of the game.

The game features a fairly steep learning curve – its’ smart iconography is not immediately obvious in some cases and new players will be referencing the manual frequently as slight changes in a symbol’s position will change the mechanic it represents drastically. The way your actions contribute to victory is also not very clear in the beginning (especially to those with little experience in point-salad games) and so a first game risks being a glorified tutorial. It is at this point that you risk losing a new player who decides that what they just had inflicted upon them is little fun and too confusing.

The enjoyment, however, takes hold with the first meaningful game. The game moves briskly and offers sufficient interaction opportunities as you try to point out the plans of opponents who are getting way ahead with their science or are shocked and appalled to learn that your peaceful neighbor has just invested in war elephants.

How it feels:
7 Wonders is all about choices – each new hand passed on to you presents a new selection of buildings and you have to build the one that makes most sense considering your available resources and existing structures. There is a variety of strategies available and experimenting with the different mixes of culture, military, science and commerce is great fun (as any red-eyed Civilization fan will tell you at 4 am).

One of the game’s great strengths is that the victory point collection never becomes a droll math exercise. The evocative artwork, the simple and logical connections between buildings, the one-at-a-time choices all combine to keep decision making at the thematic level. It rarely devolves into a point calculation that drains away the fun to some extent.

The game automatically and non-intrusively provides increasing complexity levels – beginners will be treating each hand as a unique choice and focus only on their own civilization. More experienced players will be able to take into account the actions and tactics of other and may be able to plan for the time when their current hand makes a round and comes back to them.
Despite the military aspect, the conflict in the game is restricted to competing and not direct confrontation. While its’ fun being outraged at Babylon’s new fondness for fortifications, it rarely feels that it is a direct dig at your chances of success.

The game works well across different player counts and mid-sized group games stick closely to the advertised 30-min playtime, keeping things dynamic and brisk. The shorter duration also means it is great for multiple plays.

7 Wonders gets so many things right that it is impossible not to recommend it. It might need an experienced player to explain things to newbies, but the learning curve is not particularly high. With its’ solid decision-making, appealing theme, right mix of luck and skill, short duration, civilized competition it makes for a wonderful game. Give 7 Wonders a shot and you will love seeing your city flourish from the first clay pit to the torch proudly held by the Colossus of Rhodes.

If you liked this review please visit Altema Games Website for more neat board game materials.

Go to the Mascarade page


84 out of 91 gamers thought this was helpful

Social games often make players try to guess others’ hidden role while hiding or misrepresenting their own agenda. Mascarade, a card game featuring phenomenal art and great potential for laughter-inducing confusion, throws a wrench into this by making it so that you are not even sure what your role is. Bluffing, memory, deduction, luck and renaissance intrigue blend for fun that grows more hectic as the player count increases.

How it works:
The intentionally misspelled Mascarade is a card game for a wide variety of groups, accommodating anywhere from two to whopping 13 players. Players take part in a masked party, each assuming a role of a renaissance figure – kings, queens, witches, thieves and so on. The goal of the game is to collect a certain amount of gold. Each character has their own way of collecting gold or affecting other players in one way or another. A king would collect gold from the “bank”, while a Bishop takes money from the player who currently has the most coins. The range of abilities is broad and interesting, with each character’s ability fitting its’ role well (the Thief steals money from nearby players; the Fool wreaks havoc by forcing people to exchange hands etc.).

The trick is that you cannot look at your card, so the absolute certainty in the kind of card you have is a rare and valuable resource. Further complicating things, players can exchange cards with each other or pretend to do so in an attempt to throw off the calculations of others. You may also spend a turn to look at your card to get some solid information. In order to use a character’s ability you claim to be that character – even if it is a blatant lie. You are only caught if another player contests your move by also claiming to be the character you called out. In that case, all contesting players open up their cards (offering a sanity-saving glimpse into what the roles currently are) – those who lied have to pay a gold penalty. The game proceeds until one player is able to collect a certain amount of gold, giving him victory.

How it plays:
Mascarade is a joy to look at – the illustrations on the cards are phenomenal and it is truly a shame that these masterpieces are face down for most of the game. The cardboard components are solid and durable. It is imperative to keep the cards from being damaged or marked in any way – being able to differentiate between them ruins the game. If you sleeve one game in your collection – this is it.

The games go quick, keeping to the advertised playtime of half an hour with small and medium groups. The pace is fast and there are plenty of laughs all around as players try and fail to remember the locations of the cards. A good memory will serve players well in this one, as those who are able to follow the roles are the ones who do best. The social aspect of this game is somewhat reduced – while you may bluff talking about your plans and actions, memory, deduction and probability management play a larger role.

Because of the reduced social element – it is not necessarily a party game and reliance on memory and logic does not mix all that well with adult refreshments. It works great for larger group of people who are not averse to stretching their brains a bit.

How it feels:
The design of Mascarade achieves a great mix of confusion and ability to plan. The ability to switch cards (or only pretend to do so) hands players some control over information in the game and it is managing this information that becomes crucial.

The abilities of different characters mix together in very interesting ways and the games are quite different based on which characters are used. The different combinations to try make the game very replayable and will allow groups to find mixes that work best for their tastes. The abilities are not very easy to internalize though and a first play through is usually a wash, only allowing players to memorize the abilities. It is not hard either though and once everyone is on board the game flows very nicely.

The lack of information and clarity ends up being intriguing rather than frustrating and building your plans on maybes and what-ifs is great fun, especially once the cards are revealed and no one is who they thought they were.

The ability to plan and control information slips away as the player count grows and for groups of ten and up the game becomes a chaotic free-for-all of bold lies. Not a bad experience, just a different one. The game is much more balanced and measured with five to seven players.

There are a few caveats to properly enjoying Mascarade – you need a group that is large enough yet not too large, is willing to plan and strategize and at the same time does not get hung up on their plans being blown to pieces. There is a small steep learning curve too, but once you memorize the abilities – the amount of fun this game will give you is great. Those who like this game’s unique blend of uncertainty and strategy will absolutely love it, so if that sounds like your cup of tea – give it a shot.

If you enjoyed this review please visit Altema Games website for more reviews and board game materials.

Go to the Elder Sign: Omens page
62 out of 69 gamers thought this was helpful

It is not always easy to translate a physical game into digital format, especially in the compact size of a mobile device. Fantasy Flight Games struck gold with their app version of the Elder Sign board game, successfully capturing both the tense horror atmosphere of the original and transposing the exciting dice-rolling into a seamless touch-based experience. Hovering around $4 and available for iOS and Android, this is a great app to add to your phone to itch a board gaming scratch on the go.

The game itself is set in Lovecraftian mythos – an alternative version of the 1920’s with heavy infusion of the supernatural and the interdimensional. Great Old Ones – ancient beings of unimaginable power are lurking beyond the thin veil of reality and are struggling to break through. An old museum, filled with relevant artifacts, threatens to become a portal into our world. Should the ancient evil awaken and step into our world – destruction would surely follow so a ragtag team of investigators come to the museum to solve the mysteries it holds and prevent the Great Old One from manifesting.

The game consists of a series of adventures – at each point of time you have six to pick from. A player has six green “glyphs” – dice-like components that generate one of six random results, symbolizing the results of investigations – peril, lore, terror etc. You “conjure the glyphs” (read “roll the dice”) and then use the results to match these up to the “tasks” – required combinations to complete the adventure. If you are able to complete all the tasks of the adventure – you succeed and are rewarded, otherwise you fail and suffer the consequences.

While that may seem like an entirely luck-based exercise, the game actually has a fair bit of strategy and probability management. Certain abilities allow you to manipulate the results of your “rolls” changing one results to another or retrying an unlucky roll. Certain items allow you to either get additional glyphs/dice or save past rolls for future use.

There is a fair bit of diversity in the game – base offering comes with four Great Old Ones, each with their own challenges and difficulty level. You can challenge and you can select your team of four from a group of seventeen investigators. The adventures you will face are randomly drawn and varied. There is a lot of game here for just $4.

The game features excellent mood-setting art and the interface is intuitive and easy to learn.

If you are familiar with the board game – know that the app uses the rules almost exactly the same way with only a couple of notable exceptions. One – it completely removes the board game’s mechanics of battling the Ancient One – once they awaken. It is a welcome change as the idea of fighting Cthulhu with a tommy gun never quite seemed right to me. Second change is that glyphs “saved” using spells can only be used in current adventure, not reserved for future ones. This change unfortunately reduces spells’ efficiency and does a small disservice to the game as a whole.

One of the Elder Signs: Omens greatest strength is how easy it is to turn it on, play a couple of adventure and then leave it until later. This episodic nature really lends itself well to the hectic way you might be playing on a mobile device. At the same time if you have more time to kill – you can definitely play a more dedicated game. A full game will take about 20 minutes. At this point the game is strictly single-player with no multiplayer options.

Once you grow tired of the base game – the three excellent expansions available for $2-3 each do a magnificent job of broadening the game’s horizons. While these do add your regular “more items, investigators and adventures” – each presents a unique campaign that takes your team to different locations for unique (and very tough) challenges. These are highly recommended.

Whether you like Lovecraft, the Elder Sign board game or just looking for a cool new app on your phone – Elder Sign: Omens comes highly recommended, sure to help you kill some time in a tense and engaging way.

If you enjoyed this review please visit Altema Games website for more board game materials.

Go to the Yggdrasil page


68 out of 75 gamers thought this was helpful

Yggrdrasil is a barely pronounceable cooperative game set in the rich world of Norse mythology. The theme is well realized and the mechanics are inventive, yet the stuttering flow and over-reliance on chance holds the game back from true greatness. Despite its’ flaws, it is a challenging, compact game that will help you practice pronouncing the name of Thor’s hammer in advance of the next Avengers.

How it works:
Yggdrasil is a name of a gargantuan ash tree that, according to the Viking mythology, connects all the worlds in existence linking the worlds of men with the dwellings of the gods in the halls of Asgard. In this game, the halls of Odin are under attack by the six mythical evils, including the trickster god Loki, the daemonic wolf Fenrir and the world-eating serpent whose name I am not going to inflict on you. All six attempt to break into the gods’ palace and if they are successful, the game is lost.

The players take the role of the gods (base game comes with six to pick from) such as Thor, Odin or Freya. They have to fight off the invasion using legendary weapons forged by dwarves and employing the souls of worthy Viking warriors to aid them in their battles.

The game takes place on a lavishly illustrated game board, showing the sprawling giant tree with the several areas where players can take actions. Each turn, one of the six enemies advances and triggers their unique harmful effects. The player then has three actions to respond. The actions involve battling the intruders (with a victory pushing them back) or preparation for future battles.

The battles require a player to fuel their power using “good” souls – trusty Viking warriors harvested by Valkyries from the worlds of men. Each of the four worlds is represented by a cloth bag containing a mix of “good” Viking souls and “evil” Fire Giant souls. Using one of their actions, a god can send Valkyries to a world to look for worthy souls – a player blindly fishes out three tokens from a bag – any “good” ones can be used and any “evil” ones are returned.

The gods’ battle prowess can also be enhanced by visiting the Dwarves to forge mighty weapons, giving bonuses against specific opponents or visiting Elves to enlist their aid in battle. Finally, a die is rolled for every combat, adding a variable bonus to your power (or as the case may be when you really need it – not adding anything at all).

There are several ways to lose the game – either one enemy goes to the very end of the 8-step track leading to the halls of Odin, or you let a set amount of enemies close enough to the palace of the gods. If you go through the entire enemy deck keeping the evil gods at bay – you are victorious.

How it plays:
Yggdrasil is an exercise in risk management – the more time you spend preparing to fight, the higher your chances of success as you equip yourself with mighty weapons and gather allies. However the enemies become more powerful as they advance – wait too long and the challenge will become insurmountable.

The most reliable way to boost your fighting chances is to recruit the Viking souls and to do that reliably you must manage the contents of the four bags – the four worlds of men where you can send your Valkyries for posthumous recruitment. The game offers several interesting ways to help you do that – you can either add “used up” Vikings back to bag to increase your chances of drawing what you want, or to randomly take several tokens from the bag and discard any “bad” souls, thus decreasing chances of recruiting a dud. The game also has a way of preventing you from focusing on just one world – the world-eating serpent may make it inaccessible and all your efforts lost, so you have to diversify your actions.

There are many things to take into account as you play Yggdrasil – the relative positions of the enemies, each god’s equipment and special abilities and availability of Viking or Elf souls.

The game accommodates one to six players and its’ difficulty grows the more players are involved. The games are relatively quick – low-player games are over in just over an hour, going up to hour and a half if you have four or more players. Given its’ co-operative nature, the game is prone to over-controlling alpha gamers spoiling the fun by trying to be in charge. There is no in-game player interaction, further making the game feel like a multi-player Viking solitaire. Discussions, while fun, may take too long, robbing the game of some of it’s’ flow.

The luck factor, present mostly in the form of a devious die, is strong as a series of good rolls may replaces planning and preparation. The game is reasonably challenging and new players can expect to lose more than they win, especially early on.

How it feels:
Yggdrasil is a game that sets up very high expectation with a rich theme and gorgeous board, but does not quite live up to these. The gameplay flow is frequently interrupted by player discussions, that can lead to some light analysis paralysis – it doesn’t drag out the games, but makes the game feel less dynamic. With its’ reliance on controlling probability and at the same time being dependant on good rolling – the game is decidedly more analytical than you would expect from an offering with Thor hammer-smashing a giant serpent in the face.

The game’s end, especially victories do not feel especially satisfying as you are just running out a deck of cards, while at the same time losses can leave you feeling powerless. There is a point where it becomes clear you are in no position to win and the game does not offer too many opportunities for catching up.

There is definitely more good than bad though – the game’s many systems click together well, creating many unique and interesting possibilities. For example defeating several of Loki’s minions – Ice Gians – unlocks pieces of powerful Runes – put one together and you receive an extremely powerful benefit, bringing great excitement and boosting your chances at victory. The soul-collecting mechanic is clever and works well. The cruel die’s whims can be mitigated to some extent. The names on the cards help bring the rich world to life.

In Conclusion:
Yggdrasil will satisfy fans of Norse mythology and those who like the thrill of not being in complete control of their destiny. Engrossing theme, inventive mechanics and a cohesive system make it a solid game. Uneven flow, a higher than expected level of abstraction and over-dependence on luck may detract from its’ appeal for some though.

Recommended for small groups of advanced gamers looking for a reasonable challenge or as a solo game to be enjoyed with a mug of your favourite Viking mead.

If you enjoyed this review please visit the Altema Games website for more reviews and other board game materials.

Go to the Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small page
25 out of 25 gamers thought this was helpful

Creating a game that is short and simple, yet complex and rewarding is no easy fit. Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small carries a title that is a bit unwieldy and long but behind this deceptively awkward name hides a gem of a game that is tight, quick, challenging and makes you want to set up again as soon as you are done.

Where it comes from:
All Creatures is a spinoff of the base Agricola – a beastly worker placement game from German designer Uwe Rosenberg that represents a major milestone in designer gaming. Released in 2007 and still occupying lofty #4 on, that simulation of running a farm became known for very little dependency on chance, a plethora of choices and giving you grey hair from worrying that you are not going to be able to feed your family.

All Creatures is a 2-player only spinoff that focuses solely on the animal breeding aspect of the original. It comes in a small box good for travelling, has a very manageable footprint and is over in 30-40 minutes.

How it works:
The game consists of a game board with several action spaces for collecting resources, building structures and obtaining animals. Each player has three pawns to assign to these spaces to take advantage of their effects. The resources are represented by smaller wooden pawns, while the animals are realized as charming meeple-like figures of sheep, pigs, cows and horses.

Each player has their own plot of land that they use to construct buildings or build fences around their land. Fenced-off pastures and buildings can house a certain amount of animals. Improving buildings increases the number of animals these can accommodate. Having at least two animals of the same type produces more “babies”. At the end of the game the animals score you points based on how many of each kind you have. Whoever scores the most points after eight rounds of play is the winner.

How it plays:
Two-player only. Non-expandable board with just 16 action spaces. Sure makes it seem like a restrictive game. It comes as a wonderful surprise that with such a small array of options, Agricola: All Creatures offers players many viable strategies, each with pros and cons, requiring adjustments to the actions of the other player, requiring planning and foresight. The game strikes an excellent balance of presenting you with a choice of a few actions that make sense – rarely do you find yourself with nothing beneficial to do or with an overabundance of choice.

The turns go quick and it is rewarding to see your empty plot of land populated with livestock and buildings. While the beginner players will be mostly focusing on their own farm, sabotage is also possible. If it is fairly clear that your opponent is stockpiling wood in order to build a ton of fences – blocking the action space allowing them to do so is a sure way to ruin their plans.

The game delivers on its’ advertised short running time even for inexperienced players. The games feel brisk, engaging and fun and the scoring is quite simple, taking up only a couple of minutes.

How it feels:
The game flows beautifully, allowing you to meaningfully plan and strategize without being a math exercise. It will take a couple of plays to be comfortable with the game – to get a good understanding of how scores are calculated so that you can play to maximize your result. Because of the total absence of luck – there is some opportunity for very uneven victories, making it a little hard on the newcomers.
The conflict in the game is never overt or confrontational, lending the game a nice peaceful pace, especially combined with the serene farming theme.

The scoring, while simple, allows several paths to victory, leading to interesting experimentation and honing of strategy, making your playing style grow and evolve with every game. However, because it is not a large game – after repeated plays it will get somewhat repetitive as patterns of play become clear and obvious. The game has plenty to offer before this threshold is reached though and expansions offer welcome variety once you grow overly familiar with the base game.

The uncomplicated rules and scoring makes Agricola: All Creatures a good fit for newer players, while variety of strategies will engage veterans. The animal meeples shall be loved by all.

In conclusion:
Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small is an excellent product – it is a reasonably large game in a tiny box. Its’ parts come together for a smart, engaging and variable gaming experience that will especially be enjoyed by gaming couples. The compact format makes this a great travel game for your next trip with a significant other.

If you enjoyed this review please visit Altema Games website for more reviews and board game materials:

Go to the Lords of Waterdeep: Scoundrels of Skullport page
128 out of 135 gamers thought this was helpful

Following up on the success of Lords of Waterdeep, Scoundrels of Skullport is a two-part expansion that increases the maximum number of players to 6 and offers very different ways to enhance the base game. One expansion, the Undermountain introduces increased use of intrigue cards as well as complex and extremely rewarding quests. The other, Skullport explores the darker side of the game and adds a key new element to the game – Corruption. While the quality of the two expansions is not even, the package as a whole provides a solid addition to the base Lords of Waterdeep making a great game even better.

How it works

The expansion, slightly smaller than the original Lords of Waterdeep, allows you to add either one of the new modules (Undermountain and Skullport) or both of them at the same time. Each of the modules comes with a new auxiliary board that provides additional spaces for agent assignment, new set of buildings, quests, intrigue cards and three new Lords cards with victory conditions specific to the expansion.

You can either pick one module to add and shuffle in all the components, or add both at the same time, discarding a certain number of cards from the base game to keep things manageable. In order to play with both expansions at the same time, you have to use the “longer game” option that increases the duration of the game by giving each player an extra agent right off the bat and making it possible to play with 6 people instead of 5.

To accommodate the increased player count, the game includes a new faction (Grey Hands) with 6 agent meeple as well as an extra meeple of colours in the base game.

The game with both expansions in takes roughly 30 min longer than the base game, clocking in at 1.5-2 hours. This time requirement increase moves it squarely into the “feature game” territory in terms of length and complexity.

What it changes

The two options provided by new modules are very different.

The Undermountain is most reminiscent of epic-level campaign in a Dungeons & Dragons world. The stakes are higher. The abilities are higher. There are crazy quests that award you with 40 points (the base game maximum was 25). Intrigue cards fly left and right as new locations make it easier to both acquire and use these. An interesting new mechanic has players assign extra resources to different spots on the board so that the next time the space is used – it yields something extra in addition to the regular rewards. Ultimately, it adds variety but also creates a sense of wild swings in game balance.

The Skullport module adds two new boards. One contains the new action spaces, all of which provide much higher rewards than those in the base game. The setback is that these actions also saddle you with Corruption – a new negative resource represented by small blue wooden skull tokens. At the end of the game the players are penalized for each Corruption token, they have and the penalty size depends on how much corruption was accumulated by players as a group.

The corruption mechanic adds a strong new dimension to the gameplay. New cards and buildings allow you to both get rid of corruption by repenting your sins or donating to charity or to take on more corruption for short-term rewards. The game benefits from the change as players consider whether it is worth getting their hands dirty to get ahead – it adds another layer of strategy to the already rich base game.

In conclusion:

This expansion has a unique effect. First – it is not a mandatory addition (unlike Wizard’s Tower for Castle Panic). The base game, balanced and quick still stands strong as a worthy offering and sometimes you will want to experience just that, especially when playing with new players.

Adding just the Skullport expansion turns it into a new game – one with more risk management, darker tone and slightly more backstabbing. It is richer; more involved and requires a bit more of an investment of time and concentration.

Finally, throwing in both new modules at once creates this epic-level experience with a ton of options and things to consider. It lasts a reasonably long time and ventures far from the compact format of the original, but offers an even more variable and exciting gameplay.

The weakest part of the expansion comes in the form of only adding the Undermountain expansion. Without as significant of an addition as the Corruption mechanic, it feels cumbersome, adding complexity without the reward and throwing things off balance. Pass on that option.

As a whole, if you enjoyed the base game and it left you wanting more – this double expansion is a must buy. It provides you lots of flexibility in how you want to enjoy this fantastic game.

If you enjoyed this review please visit Altema Games website for more reviews and other board game materials:

Go to the The Resistance: 3rd Edition page
28 out of 32 gamers thought this was helpful

How do you know whom to trust? Can you rely on your ability to call a bluff? The statistical chance of them being the good guy based on the information at hand? The knowledge of how your friends act when they’re nervous? The Resistance is a social game that puts all these skills to a test, resulting in a tense and exhilarating contest of bluffing and deduction that fits nicely within half an hour and ruins any trust that existed between 5-10 people.

In a distant dystopian future, exactly the one we’ve seen in Fahrenheit 451, The Matrix or Equilibrium a small group of resistance fighters are plotting the downfall of the oppressive Big Brother government. A series of undercover missions should do the trick, but government spies have infiltrated the Resistance and they aim to sabotage any attempts to damage the regime.

How it works
In Resistance each player plays the role of either a Spy or a Resistance member. The game consists of a series of missions – each mission requires a certain number of people. A rotating “team leader” selects the team for the job and then all players vote on team composition. If the majority approves the team – a mission commences – each player on a mission receives two cards – “success” and “fail”. Loyal Resistance must play success, however a spy on a mission may play a failure card instead. The cards are shuffled (so that it is unclear who contributed which card) and revealed. If no “fail” cards were played – the mission is a success and is scored for the Resistance. Otherwise – the mission was compromised and is scored for the Spies. The first side to either succeed on or sabotage three missions wins the game.

How it plays
The Resistance builds on the principles of classic hidden role games such as Mafia or Werewolf but improves the formula drastically with two tweaks. First one is that there is no elimination in the game – every player has a chance to keep persuading others they are NOT a spy. It does wonders for keeping everyone engaged and taking an active part. The other one is a wonderful mechanic of fail/success cards that opens up a rich field for bluffing and misdirection on spy’s part. Do you go for the easy route – failing the mission but drawing suspicion? Or do you play along to garner trust of others? Analysis that Resistance members have to do is even more excruciating. While the Spies know who each player is, Resistance players are left to their deduction and trust in others’ reasoning. It creates an exhilarating environment of uncertainty and grasping at straws as you look for solid clues where there are few or none.

How it feels
The great thing about Resistance is that the most active participation is not through the voting or through playing the cards during missions. It is the deliberations and accusations that each player gets to indulge in that contain the meat of the game. The calculated uncertainty, the careful observation of others’ mannerisms and voting patterns – the game lends itself very well to a wide variety of playing styles. Those who like to think can find endless considerations to take into account while those who rely on hunches can find ample support for their theories (objectivity is another matter).

The game keeps each player engaged both through the discussions and the voting and it is equally enjoyable for both Spies and Resistance. It also succeeds greatly at delivering the entire experience in very manageable time – few games will go longer than half an hour.

The base game comes with a built-in “Plot Thickens” expansion that offers additional cards that introduce advanced complexity through unique card effects allowing more control of events in the game and exchange of information. These are great for when you got tired of the base Resistance, but the game is built on such a solid and flexibly foundation that it has great longevity even without these.

In Conclusion
Its’ greatest success is giving the spotlight to the players and only providing rudimentary game mechanics that allow people to focus on each other. Accommodating from 5 to 10 players and being such a breeze, this is a great social game that can organically become a memorable part of a fun party or a solid addition to a dedicated game night.

If you enjoyed this review please visit the Altema Games website for more reviews with photos and other board game materials:

Go to the Friday page


94 out of 102 gamers thought this was helpful

Friday is a super-portable uniquely solo-only card game with deck building mechanics. It describes the titular character’s efforts to teach Robinson Crusoe the necessary skills to get off the deserted island. Quick, tactical and challenging, it offers a good way to pass 20 minutes, but offers limited replayability.

You take the role of the local helping the shipwrecked Crusoe. Apparently you don’t like having him around and the best way to get rid of him is to help him get back home. In order to do that Robinson will have to learn how to shake off his weaknesses and effects of aging and to become smart, determined and brave. With the help of items he scavenges he will be able to overcome pirates (who in a surprise twist are the main obstacle to getting out) and return home.

The game features deckbuilding prominently – you start with a fairly weak deck representing the freshly shipwrecked Crusoe – weak, hungry and distraught, though with some focus and smarts with him. You go through a series of encounters that allow you to use your existing cards to face the hazards of the island – wild beasts, cannibals, expeditions to the ship wreck. Each encounter allows you to either gain a new card for your deck or to get rid of unwanted cards by losing life. Life is represented by chunky wooden tokens and is a limited resource.

The goal is to improve your deck by adding strong cards to it and getting rid of your weaknesses. Time is against you though as every so often Crusoe will get older, adding penalty Aging cards to your pool. Once you go through the encounters on the island three times in phases of increasing difficulty, you fight the final bosses of the game – two pirate ships – it is an ultimate test for how well your deck is constructed. If you survive both battles you are victorious.

The tactical decisions in Friday are meaningful and are mostly about how risky do you want to get with your life supply. Riskier plays will see you sacrifice it early to get a strong deck sooner while more cautious players might prefer keeping Robinson safer, if weaker.Luck of the draw plays a small role in the game so fans of planning will be pleased. Selecting which hazards to face is another interesting choice and is based on what you know about your deck’s current state.

Many cards have additional special effects that run the gamut from being very clear to somewhat confusing and these will have you checking the rulebook (of medium helpfulness) frequently.

While there is some theme to be found (e.g. searching a shipwreck gives you “Equipment” card that allows you to bring more cards into play for free) – it quickly gets lost in the brisk pace of the game. The theme does not feel pasted on but never emerges as a significant contributor to the enjoyment.

The game can get a lot like a card solitaire in that often there is a clear best thing to do and you are just going through the motions. Once you know what the deck can offer it is not particularly difficult to plan accordingly. Bad luck or aging cards can still sink you but at that point it’s out of your control. Because of this obviousness, Friday will become trivial quickly if you play it a lot.

The best use for it therefore is as filler or a game for solo travel – do not expect it to carry your game nights. And even with that approach use it sparingly or it will overstay its’ welcome at your table – several repeated plays are not suggested (which can be hard to avoid given the brisk 20 min play time)

It should be mentioned that the art of the game is rudimentary at best – if production values play a big role – this will detract from your experience as artwork is decidedly basic.

While not without its’ flaws, Friday is an attractive package – it’s quick, easy to pick up, proud of it solitaire status and offers some tactics, fast pace and a reasonable challenge. If the basic art doesn’t bother you and you don’t play too much of it too soon it can become a solid minor addiction to your collection and a trusty travel companion. Which would be only fitting, given the name.

If you enjoyed this review visit Altema Games website for more reviews and other board game materials:

Go to the Tsuro page


55 out of 62 gamers thought this was helpful

Among many games that offer increasingly rich and complex mechanics, Tsuro stands out in its’ almost meditative, austere simplicity. It always remains faithful to its simplicity, yet in the process provides a satisfying, quick and surprisingly interactive experience that serves as a perfect introduction to board games.

The game can be explained within minutes – there is a board with a six by six grid on it (and a gorgeous phoenix artwork). Players take turns placing tiles with intertwining paths (each has a hand of three to pick from) and moves their piece along the path these are on. Each plastic piece represents a standing stone with a stylized dragon carved into it. Any piece that ventures off the board is out of the game and a collision of two pieces eliminates both.

The game accommodates 2-8 players and the more the merrier. Smaller games allow more room to manoeuvre and prepare, while more players means more proximity and proximity always leads to attempts to get your opponent off the board with a well-placed tile.

Tsuro is easy to explain to children (and is a hit with younger audiences in my experience) and most games are finished within 15 minutes. It can, however, be as complex as you want to make it – one could potentially plan out the exact routes that get formed in the endless entangling lines, but planning too far in advance requires lots of spatial reasoning and might make the game drag.

It works best as a filler game, a break between heftier offerings or as a first game you show to those new to the hobby. The components are all visually appealing and the tactile sensation of moving your smooth piece along the curved lines rewarding in itself (until you realize you just got yourself into a dead end at least!).

Tsuro aims low but delivers everything it promises and would be a great fit in any gaming collection.

Go to the Eldritch Horror page

Eldritch Horror

92 out of 99 gamers thought this was helpful

Taking the Lovecraft theme that is one of the most frequently used in board games, Fantasy Flight Games managed to create something new and special – a co-op game of many subsystems that come together almost flawlessly to create engaging, coherent and suspenseful stories time after time after time. Put on your fedora hat and collect your occult research. We are going to save the world or have a blast trying in Eldritch Horror.

How it works
The game, gorgeously realized like all Fantasy Flight productions, takes place on a large world map with a couple dozen key locations connected by sea routes, railways and walking trails. One to eight players play the roles of investigators, attempting to stop a nefarious Great Old One – a terrible being of unimaginable power – from awakening / entering the world and wreaking havoc on our planet. Every turn players get to travel around the world collecting information and clues. Each player turn culminates in an encounter – a short scenario that takes place depending on player’s location. If you are in Istanbul – one of the several pre-determined Istanbul-specific encounters will take place. During these, players are often required to use their RPG-like attributes (Lore, Strength, Willpower and the like) to pass tests determining their success or failure. The tests use dice, introducing a large amount of luck dependency.

Once players finish their actions, certain game effects take place, introducing new obstacles like spawning monsters, bringing the Great Old One closer to awakening and so on. Players have a flexible but limited amount of turns to complete a set of three specific objectives (unique for each of the four Old Ones included in the base game). Completing objectives before time runs out wins the game. If the Great Old One awakens – the game goes into “final boss” mode, where players have a few last chances to win in very difficult circumstances. If these final attempts do not succeed – the players are defeated and the world is devoured.

How it plays
Eldritch Horror is a medium game in terms of complexity. There are quite a bit of options available to players, however most of these adhere closely to common sense and do not require memorizing arcane rituals (leave that to your characters!). A fair bit of attention is required to make sure you activate all the necessary effects during the appropriate phases of the game, but the effects themselves are streamlined and do not suffer from labyrinthine interconnections. There is a lot happening and it all feels right.

The twelve characters that come with the game are all interesting and unique, spotting a decent mix of gender/race representation. Characters are highly customizable – you can improve their abilities through in-game learning (a welcome RPG element), outfit them with allies and weapons and teach them powerful spells with unpredictable side effects. Finally, characters can take on a variety of mostly negative conditions that add a ton of flavour to exactly how disfigured/insane the struggle has left your hero.

While complexity is medium, Eldritch Horror is by no means a short game. With several players, it takes up to 3-4 hours. While these hours are well spent, the time investment might be off-putting to some. Solo plays can be breezy clocking in at 1-1.5 hours for experienced gamers. The game is extremely generous listing maximum amount of players at eight. In my experience, anything more than 5 leads to complete player disengagement due to down time. While there can be a lot of player interaction through joint discussion and planning – the character interaction is minimal as most characters will be going off on individual adventures and the game has precious few mechanics that reward in-game teamwork. This is one game where splitting the party is perfectly acceptable.

It is also worth pointing out that a certain understanding of the game is required to enjoy it. First games might be somewhat frustrating as new players are not yet able to meaningfully participate in discussions. The learning curve is not steep though and the story engrossing enough to not make it a chore.

How it feels
I have already listed several drawbacks of the game – it relies a lot on luck, it lacks character interaction, it can take a long time. In fact, you know what? Mechanically it is really not the best game out there. There are some balance issues too like disproportionate difficulty of some objectives. Ultimately, though, it does not matter.

What Eldritch Horror delivers is something more than a game. It is a full-blown experience. The many game components click together like gears in a complex mechanism, whirring the entire thing to life. Now and again, the components interact to produce amazing, almost cinematic scenarios – an expedition leader who specializes in getting teams together gets paranoid and murders his companions; a flying monster carries an investigator halfway around the world – convenient transportation but the character’s sanity suffers. The descriptive text is very good throughout, plunging you deep into the Lovecraft mythos, setting a solid dark mood.

You feel that the world is ending, that there is not enough time, that you fight against an overwhelming force and just might succeed if you are smart and lucky. Your characters become fleshed out and you always remember that time when you got locked up in prison when you crucially needed to be in Shanghai to close a gate. All the terrible things that happen to your characters – the injuries, the madness – is right there in the cards.

The game tells a story. And it’s such a robust storytelling mechanism that the stories do not get stale time after time. That in my mind is its greatest achievement.

When defeat is at hand, the Old One awakens and you understand just how dire the situation is and how unlikely your chances at success – the climax matches those of many films in intensity. It is too bad that victories mostly do not have the same payoff (rare as they are). Achieving all goals prior to the awakening of the big bad feels flat as opposed to the apocalyptic world-end encounters.

In Conclusion
I will acknowledge that the game is not for everyone. The reliance on dice will drive some euro fans mad as surely as staring into Cthulhu’s eyes. The initial learning might be challenging. Some balance issues are present. However, if you are in the mood for an engrossing experience that does not let go – try Eldritch Horror. The dark stories it will tell you will stay with you for a while.

If you liked this review find more board game materials over at Altema Games website .

Go to the Castle Panic: The Wizard's Tower page

Castle Panic: The Wizard's Tower

110 out of 118 gamers thought this was helpful

Castle Panic was a quick, light, easy co-op, ideal for younger gamers. While it offered simple and intuitive gameplay, the lack of complexity or challenge quickly made it lose its charms for more seasoned gamers.
The Wizard’s Tower expansion, released in 2011, aimed to address these shortcomings. The result is a game that is meaner, more involved and ultimately significantly more rewarding than the bland entry-level base offering. Let us take a look at how it goes about achieving this:

Same premise, new components. The basic premise of the game remains the same – defend your castle from monsters swarming out of the forest. Survive the onslaught with at least one tower standing and you win. The only difference is that now one of your towers is replaced with the titular Wizard’s Tower, allowing you to blast enemies with spells.

New Monsters – Gone are the harmless 1-hit goblins. Replacing these in a new fancy black cloth monster bag are a hosts of new creatures. These range from intimidating 4-hit Ogres to speedy Warg Riders to creatures who are immune to attacks at certain ranges. These mix nicely with the base game monsters to provide a rich set of challenges. It takes a higher degree of planning to figure out how to overcome these and the game is not shy about throwing you curveballs as your carefully planned attack falls apart because a new effect or monster just shifted everything on the board.

New Bosses – in addition to a couple new regular “boss monsters”, Wizard’s Tower introduces an entirely new class – Mega Boss Monsters. These are formidable creatures like Chimera or Dragon that have upwards of 5 hit points and move about the board in an unpredictable fashion. While the game comes with 6 of these you will only encounter three during any given game (adding welcome unpredictability). The mega bosses provide great sense of culminating threat that was sorely lacking from the bland base game monsters.

New Abilities – As long as the Wizard’s Tower stands players may use “discard and draw” action to pick up a Spell instead of a usual card. The spells are somewhat more powerful than Castle cards – most of these are extremely effective in specific scenario (e.g. a group of monsters in the same space). Spells range from direct attack to movement to rebuilding your castle to strategic sacrifices for great gains. These bring a lot of new strategies and excitement to the game. The Castle deck also gets several new cards added to it with some interesting additional effects (like changing the range or colour of a hit card or allowing other players to take turns during yours)

New Mechanic – the most significant new rule is ability to set things on Fire. Little tokens can be added to structures and creatures, damaging these over time. Fire is most often produced by either Wizard’s spells or fire-breathing mega boss monsters. It is a neat new mechanic that doesn’t dramatically shift the balance of the game.

Combined, these additions change Castle Panic significantly. It is no longer a cute game about bumbling goblins but a serious challenge requiring all of your cunning that you are most likely going to lose anyways. New abilities granted by the wizard’s tower make players more powerful, but the game’s difficulty increases by a wider margin. This increased complexity and challenge is reflected in the age recommendation as it is bumped from 10+ for base game to 12+ for the expansion.

For serious gamers this expansion is necessary addition. It will breathe new life into your enjoyment of Castle Panic if you played it a couple of times and then lost interest. Combining the appeal and intuitive rules of the original with the challenge and complexity of expansion brings the experience to a whole new level.

May your defences hold strong against the incoming horde!

Go to the Dungeon Roll page

Dungeon Roll

55 out of 62 gamers thought this was helpful

A party of adventurers delves into the dungeon for riches and glory. The classic (or tired as less generous gamers might say) premise gets a unique treatment in Dungeon Roll – a wonderfully compact dice game from Tasty Minstrel Games. The cool factor of the custom dice fails to translate into anything substantial, but the game seems to be perfectly content with that.

Dungeon Roll was a Kickstarter project that was an outstanding success in early 2013, collecting more than 15 times its’ original goal in pledges. One of the reasons undoubtedly contributing to this success was the physical presentation of the game. To start off it is tiny – the box fits into a palm of a hand, presented as a treasure chest (with a fitting Mimic option available as an exclusive). The game itself consists of a handful of cards, a few dozen small treasure cardboard tokens and most importantly – fourteen dice that act as the game’s mechanic basis.

The game is a competitive exercise for 1-4 players, where players attempt to outdo each other in whose adventuring party descends deeper into the dungeon and comes out with most treasure. The white dice represent the player’s party – it is rolled for every expedition. Then for every level of the dungeon black dice are rolled, representing the hazards that the party encounters and potentially the rewards it finds. Each white die can be used to get rid of one or more black dice (e.g. a cleric, represented by the grey hammer can get rid of any monster rolled on a black die or of all the skeletons rolled at once). Rolling matching sets on the black dice is therefore advantageous as it allows you to use your party members (white dice) more effectively. Black dice can also reveal positive finds like treasures (that score points) or potions (that return used party dice to the player). Finally, a dragon can be encountered – once a certain number of these results has been rolled a mini-boss like battle ensues, requiring significant commitment of white dice and providing significant rewards.

After clearing out any given dungeon level, the player faces a choice to either stop or keep going further to face another level. The further you descend the more points you score, however if you are unable to defeat all monsters on a level – you get nothing, resulting in a push-your-luck approach to decision making.

There are eight leaders to pick from, introducing unique benefits and somewhat customizing the gameplay. Many treasures collected also allow in-game bonuses – players can substitute these as bonus dice, use these to get out of tight spots, etc. Each player attempts three forays into the dungeon and whoever scores the most points based on dungeon levels conquered and treasures amassed, wins. The whole affair takes 10-20 minutes of light dice-rolling. and not a whole bunch of thinking.

The game’s original highly abstract approach to combat resolution, combined with the neat factor of the custom dice carries the first several plays, however the excitement fades somewhat quickly as even intermediate gamers will soon easily spot the one right move for any situation. This leaves the game to be a simple exercise of hoping to get multiples of the same result. Certain decisions still impact the outcomes – for example to use the treasures to get to a deeper level or to cut your losses and run, scoring points for the remaining treasures instead. However these end up being less strategic and more mathy, not doing the game any service.

There is no player interaction whatsoever as the game is basically a solo exercise that can be played by several people taking turns, further detracting from its’ appeal. However, the game does work very well as light solo filler – playing solo removes annoying down time and using the game as a time-killer rather than a main attraction of a gaming night sets a low bar that it clears.

All in all, due to the game’s low price point, compact size and attractive physical components – it should make a nice addition to most gaming collections. It will most definitely not replace your favourite game or lead to game nights dedicated entirely to Dungeon Roll though. Realistic expectations are key at enjoying this innovative but ultimately superficial light entry.

Go to the Mice and Mystics page

Mice and Mystics

151 out of 173 gamers thought this was helpful

Form and function rarely go hand in hand. One is always stronger that the other – brilliance of Carcassonne hiding behind simplistic graphics, gorgeous FFG components masking gameplay that is sometimes unwieldy. But in no game is the discrepancy is as glaring as in the imaginative, lovable but ultimately disappointing Mice and Mystics.

The high hopes start with the unique nature of the game. It is basically a mini roleplaying campaign that can function without a game master. Eleven chapters, each expected to last 1-2 hours gaming session. A story that progresses, engaging you with the characters through their journey, connecting past outcomes with current events.

Then there is the setting. In the most traditional fairy tale fashion an evil queen usurps a kingdom and banishes those loyal to the good old king to the dungeon. In an attempt to escape they use a ritual to transform into mice, kicking off the adventure that sees them escape, regroup and ultimately come back to triumph against the sorceress.

This rodent-eye view is realized in gorgeous detail through finely sculpted miniatures and beautiful map tiles. The game’s aesthetics are stunning, creating a unique mood, getting you ready for a great engaging fairy tale. You read the fittingly storybook introduction and chapter setup and on you go…

After the game spends so much energy setting up it offers you little in terms of actual gameplay. There is an inordinate amount of custom dice rolling, most of it for resolution of its’ simplistic combat system. As your mice battle endless waves of cockroaches, rats and occasional spiders, the routine gets old extremely fast. Your options are extremely limited and that is the game’s greatest downfall. The decision making is non-existent as the game quickly turns into a droll sequence of rolls, highlighted by use of special abilities, powered by the game’s cute “mana” – cheese. If opponents gain a certain amount of this “cheese” an encounter occurs, which most of the time is just more monsters, for more rolling. And so the strong points of the game – the story, the characters all of that gets lost and forgotten in a series of comparing how many swords and shields you rolled. Characters’ base options are limited to moving, hitting things or searching for equipment (most of which allows you to hit things better or become harder to hit yourself).

Perhaps this repetitiveness and simplicity makes the game more child-friendly, coupled with the cute theme. Children I’ve been exposed to have grown tired of the rolling quite soon, but the mileage may vary on that.

If a group is dedicated and patient enough, the story does develop and new additions introduced in later chapters (like the unique environment elements) help bring at least some variety into the game. However in my opinion these rewards are too far and few in between of the repetitive uninspiring combat to be a sufficient consolation.

And so the fantastic production and a bold story-driven approach fail to capture attention or imagination due to the weak underlying game system. While I applaud Mice and Mystics for its innovative approach – I cannot recommend it as a good game – for adults or children. The game’s success is very encouraging though as I definitely hope that it is but a first step in this direction for other endeavors. With more exciting mechanics and meaningful decision-making, amazing stories can be told through gameplay. I definitely look forward to these

Go to the Carcassonne page


61 out of 68 gamers thought this was helpful

No board game exceeds Carcassonne in the rules to fun ratio.

As city-builders in medieval France, players vie for creation and control of most impressive features of sprawling countryside – immense cities, isolated cloisters, winding roads and fertile farms. Control of each feature scores you points. Player with most points at the end wins.

Each turn a new tile is turned over with landscape elements and must be placed adjacent to existing tiles so that all elements match (e.g. roads continued, city walls linked, fields sprawling out). A meeple from a limited source is then placed to “stake out” the feature. Meeples stay on until the feature is complete, at which point they come back to supply.

While you can’t add your meeple to a feature someone is building, you can link your road/city with someone else’s to piggyback on their work, or even take it over entirely. This introduces a non-obvious but tense player interaction. So does placing a tile in a way that prevents your opponents from reaching their goal – blocking out their unchecked expansion of cities etc.

There is a fair bit of strategy in Carcassonne, a staggering achievement for the simplicity of the rules, but not an unlimited amount. It is beautifully simple, elegance of design exemplified. The player interaction is not aggressive but competitive, striking another fine balance.

The only tricky part comes in one specific part of scoring (namely farms) that takes some getting used to. It can be easily avoided though as most people will introduce the game without that particular element and add it in several games later. For some players even the farmerless version will be enough and that’s perfectly cool.

Carcassonne does not do well as a “feature” game for game nights – not enough meat there. It will not engage experienced players for extended length of time. Expansions attempt to add the complexity and whether these succeed is a matter of reviewing these products. The base game should be judged for what it is – a beautiful simple design approachable by anyone, enough to get people hooked on a wonderful world of modern board games.

I think all of us who enjoy the hobby owe a great deal to this game for its contribution to the genre and all the boardgamers it helped spawn.

Go to the Ticket to Ride page

Ticket to Ride

48 out of 54 gamers thought this was helpful

Everyone likes trains. The old-timey charm of the whistles, the rhythm of the wheels, the chugging of the engine harkens back to a simpler time. It is no coincidence then, that simplicity is the most salient feature of a board game that takes an exceedingly plain concept of set collection and crafts it into one of the most broadly appealing games you’ll find – Ticket to Ride.

The Setup
It is 1910 and railroad is the main form of transportation. The map of US and Canada forms the game board, cities interconnected by a colour-coded set of routes. Each player takes on a role of a rail-building tycoon aiming to successfully fulfill the most contracts in connecting specific cities.

Ticket to Ride is a competitive game for 2-5 players of 8 and up (arguably fits for even younger audiences) that plays in anywhere between 40-75 minutes.

The Gameplay
There are two ways to score points in the game – by building routes (longer individual routes score you more points) or completing “tickets”, connecting predetermined cities with one another (once again “tickets” for more distant cities are worth more). Trick is that any incomplete “tickets” at the end of the game force you to lose points so there is a good decision-making process weighting risk vs. potential reward – are you going to be able to connect Los Angeles and New York? It’s an awfully long way.

The routes are completed by discarding matching set of cards, coded in one of eight colours. Some routes do not require a specific colour but rather “any 6 of one type”. Some cards available for pickup are visible to players. Players take turn picking up cards (either blind or face-up), completing routes and picking up new tickets. Once one of the players gets close to using up all their trains, the game ends and points are tallied. The tycoon with the most points wins.

The Impressions
If you ever tried teaching board games to those new to the hobby you are familiar with the dreaded glazing over of the eyes; that look of doubt that appears once you mentioned yet another system that you’ll cover in detail later. There will be none of that nonsense here. The game’s mechanics are so simple and visual that anyone and I mean anyone will be able to start playing it within 5-10 minutes.

The game itself is simple and leaves much to chance. Some of the chance is the card draw, some of it in the kinds of tickets you get (especially mid-game it can be very beneficial to receive orders that you already almost satisfy thanks to existing network). Some of the chance comes in from other players’ actions – since tickets are not visible to others it is difficult to meaningfully block opponents and most of interference comes courtesy of chance. Which doesn’t make it less infuriating when you realize that long chain of green cards will now go to waste and you need to go around wasting several turns to ace your ticket and not lose points.

The game does not promote player interaction as the most effective approach is to focus on your own actions for maximum benefit. Down time after your turn is usually spent in mild anxiety that the route you’re about to complete is not taken by anyone else or that nobody snatches that face-up card you really want.

The game offers a very simple premise mechanically and those looking for a deeper and more engaging strategic experience will find it lacking. Yes, you can attempt to guess what your opponents are trying to do and consider that while making your choices for how to best optimize your move. But the game is obviously not meant for that and it shows. Lack of meaningful player interaction limits the strategic options further as you are mostly playing against a dynamically changing board – a challenging experience but not one that lends itself well to analysis and planning.

So what the game delivers is limited by definition, however it delivers it in an extremely appealing fashion. The train theme is very neat. The illustrations are simple yet pleasant and clear. The little train minis filling up the board make for an engaging visual of how the game develops. There is practically no text so reading apprehension is not an issue. It flows quickly and most games will finish within an hour. There is little intentional conflict so friendships are not ruined. It is custom-crafted to take away any objection one might have against trying a game.

The Conclusion:
Providing an experience lacking in planning, strategy and storytelling the game is unlikely to hold the attention of dedicated gamers for long. However, it is a fantastic introductory piece for children or adults who might be dashing for the door when you show them a box of Twilight Imperium. It can also serve as a solid light-medium filler on game nights, just not enough meat here to make it main fare on its own.

It is, however impossible to not come away with a positive impression of this neat little title. It might not reach for the stars but it provides a warm welcome to newcomers in the world of board games.

Go to the Space Hulk: Death Angel – The Card Game page
135 out of 144 gamers thought this was helpful

Not that the Space Marines scream, you understand. Genetically engineered and unquestionably loyal to the Emperor of the Warhammer 40K universe, these fighting machines fight and die with zeal and fervor – no regrets, no remorse type of an affair. A small squad of these heavily armoured warriors armed with chainswords, flamethrowers and psionic powers is deployed to a Space Hulk – a remnant of a ship floating through space. Heavy infestation of alien zerg-like Genestealers is reported. Your marines will have to move carefully through the claustrophobic corridors of the ruin, blasting aliens and most likely dying in the process to get to the final location that will contain the ultimate goal of your mission – an alien lair, a delayed self-destruction activation and the like. The game pegs your success chances at about 44%. Sound good? For the Emperor!

Space Hulk: Death Angel is a light/medium cooperative card game for 1-6 players of 12 and up that plays anywhere between 20-45 min.

Each player controls 1-3 squads of 2 marines (number of squads controlled will depend on # of players – e.g. in a 4-player game each player gets only one squad while in a solo game you will have 3 squads). Laying out these marine cards in a vertical pattern creates your battle formation – it serves as a spatial basis for the game, as terrain elements and aliens pop up to the sides of your column.

After the aliens spawn (likely accompanied by an ugly side effect that makes things harder for you) – your marines may react either supporting others, moving and interacting with environment or everyone’s favourite option – blasting things to pieces using advanced future weaponry. An elegant rule limitation prevents you from doing the same thing you did last turn, so you can’t just keep shooting, forcing you to vary your tactics. Each squad (base game comes with 6) has some sort of special ability associated with each of its three actions – so for example the fellow with the flamethrower will be able to target a whole group of aliens instead of just one, the marine with the chainsword will be able to slice up attacking aliens while supporting others and the psionic Lexicanum will be able to trap aliens in a forcefield.

You can also “activate” terrain pieces like doors, levers or fuel tanks locking aliens away, getting a temporary boost or destroying a large group (also risking your own life naturally). This provides welcome variety as “spray and pray” is not always the most effective tactic. All attacks are resolved by a single die roll and have a base 50/50 chance of success. “Support tokens” received through others helping you and auxiliary game effects allow you to reroll these as well as defense rolls.

Defense? That’s right, if any aliens survive your turn phase they attack, trying their darnedest to chomp through your marines’ armour. Surprisingly, their chances are pretty good – even a single alien has a 1/3 chance to slay a marine. More aliens – more chances for a lethal outcome. If your marine anticipates the attack (is facing the right way) – support tokens (mentioned above) can be used to reroll potentially lethal results. But you’re always short on these and that die can be truly cruel, especially since it goes not 1-6, but 0-5 for that added difficulty :).

This sequence repeats until you clear out all of the aliens on the current location and then you travel to the next one. Each game features 4-5 stages that you have to get through in order to win. If you survive until the last stage and are able to fulfill the win condition – you are victorious!

Not that you have to worry about it too much though. This game is HARD. Wait, not hard, Robinson Crusoe is hard. This is unforgivingly brutal, especially after you realize just how easily your marines become Genestealer chow. The game throws many nasty surprises at you and you will fail. A lot. My personal win rate currently stands at 10% and after I finally got that win I’m kind of hesitant to approach it again. As the named marines fall one after another you feel a bit of a helpless frustration – was there something you could have done to save Brother Claudio or are you just a terrible die-roller?

In this unforgiving difficulty lies the nature of the game. On one hand it provides for a definite challenge. You will not win this game on first or second try. It will definitely make you work for your wins. But you will experience a certain level of frustration over your poor dice rolling that leads to defeats. Luck plays a significant role and no matter how much you plan and strategize – sometimes you’ll need a clutch roll. This will not sit well with some people.

However, the brutal and sudden mortality of your marines goes very well with WH40K feel – they are both ****** and vulnerable at once. Their trek through the tunnels relayed to you via the palpable claustrophobic sense of impending danger that you feel for every new alien spawn you draw. Every success is greeted with a fist pump. A win is an event to celebrate. These aliens are not your usual mooks – the danger they emanate is real and the feeling of accomplishment you get for winning is way more than anything I got out of Pandemic.

The game is basically a solitaire re-purposed for multiplayer though. The best experience I had was playing solo and introducing artificial intrigue for several players does not work. You’re supposed to discuss what you’re going to do but not spell it out exactly – confusing? yes! More players just dilute the planning and it’s very prone to quarterbacking as experienced veterans can easily become over-controlling of newbies’ characters.

It is, however a great solo game and very compact – perfect for travel. If you want a solo experience with a lot of challenge – this is a game for you. For a more light-hearted (actually having a chance to succeed!) experience – seek elsewhere. If you are averse to dice deciding your fate – this vessel is also not for you. Fans of WH40K will not be disappointed with appropriate atmosphere and flavour text. Those looking for a meatier experience can try the full version of this – minis and everything, although the brief duration of this one is a definite strong point.

Because this game is somewhat polarizing I can’t give it too high of a score but because it does what it does really well – I can’t go too low as well. Know what you’re getting into, be ready for glorious death and eventually triumph will be yours.

For the Emperor!

Final grade: 7/10

Go to the Mansions of Madness (1st ed) page

Mansions of Madness (1st ed)

42 out of 48 gamers thought this was helpful

You’re in a middle of nowhere, your car broke down, the rain is starting to come down and the humongous mansion looms over you – only sign of civilization around. As you enter, the house groans, boards creaking, invisible gust of air stirring the curtains and the door slams shut behind you. Coming here was a terrible mistake.

Mansions of Madness is a horror-themed investigation adventure based on the works of H.P. Lovecraft set in 1920s US. One player is the Keeper, acting as a Game Master running the scenario, introducing complications and obstacles for investigators to overcome. 1-4 additional players each have one character that they are responsible for who try to achieve their goals (which mostly modestly consist of getting the **** out of there alive).

Game comes with a set of gorgeous double-sided tiles that create the maps of the mansions with all the creepy cellars, studies and nurseries that you would expect. There are five scenarios that come with the base box (more are available through expansions), each with a unique mansion set-up. Furthermore each of the five scenarios has a little multiple-choice customization that tweaks certain aspects of each adventure, introducing some limited replayability. For example – did the owner of the house commit suicide or was he murdered? The customization affects placement of clues that gently direct the flow of the story as players explore the dark corners and echoing corridors.

The setup should be mentioned separately and is a burden. The Keeper is responsible for picking out only the cards related to the scenario in play and populating the board with these in a very specific order. Given the fact that the flow of the game is thrown off significantly if you mess something up – this takes a while. A Keeper would be well-advised to prepare all the cards in sequence in advance so that these could be laid out quickly. Otherwise players are in for an unpleasant wait before the fun starts.

Adventures provide the Keeper with some colourful descriptions that can be read aloud to set the mood. Once the action is under way – characters can start exploring, picking up items and clues, encountering monsters and attempting to keep their sanity. Keeper on the other hands triggers all of this unpleasantness using his own limited resources.

Combat is handled in an interesting way – for every attack a card is randomly drawn that determines what kind of a check would need to succeed in order to damage the monster. There are different sub-sets of these attack cards so you’d be looking for a different type depending if you are bashing that witch’s head in with an axe or blasting it off with a shotgun. Monsters, likewise, draw their cards on their attack, introducing a variety of ways in which they can mangle you.

The Keeper doesn’t have to physically kill the players though – insanity from finding chopped-up body parts in the cupboards or visions of bawling children in mirrors will render your character insane shortly and when that happens characters are susceptible to the worst things that the Keeper can throw at them.

Each character has a basic set of RPG-like attributes that govern how well they do in shooting/fighting/avoiding attacks/keeping their wits. All actions are resolved with a roll of a d10 with low being best. Sometimes character need to solve spatial puzzles like restoring an old painting or re-connecting old wiring in an old room. These are very nifty but fit poorly into the gameplay and break up the flow.

As time ticks away, event cards introduce new complications that ultimately result in the revelation of victory condition for both the keeper and the players – at that point the race to the finish starts with each side trying to pull of a win. A cataclysmic “everyone loses” is also possible.

All in all the game offers an extremely rich experience with many interesting mechanics and a tense atmosphere. The Keeper and their level of preparedness and ability to lead a game plays a huge role in the ultimate enjoyment of the game. The game design is anything but elegant with the many systems not interacting particularly well, so that makes rulebook checks frequent. The heavy impact of luck – if you roll really really well the threat may never materialize is a bit offputting.

This game works great as RPG-lite. It’s a one-shot adventure that lasts about ~2-3 hours that accommodates rich storytelling and building up the sense of dread. However, those looking for a more compact and streamlined experience will be disappointed by the disjointed nature of the game’s many sub-systems. It’s a shame, since there are many truly original aspects of the game that deserved better integration. As it is – the target audience for Mansions of Madness is narrow and those looking for a more manageable and compact experience fighting Cthulhu’s minions should look to Elder Sign as an option.

Go to the Elder Sign: Unseen Forces page

Elder Sign: Unseen Forces

44 out of 45 gamers thought this was helpful

Since this is a first review for this game on the site I went into a fair bit of detail. It presumes familiarity with the base Elder Sign.

Elder Sign: Unseen Forces was released two years after the original tale of using awesome green dice to seal away Ancient Ones in a creepy old museums.

All in all it is a fairly unobtrusive expansion that enhances the game gently as opposed to reinventing it. It adds variety in terms of adventures and effects that take place during the game, offers new characters and enemies of varying interest, successfully fiddles with the purchasing mechanic and most importantly – adds a new mechanic with more custom dice. Let’s be honest here, it was all about the dice to begin with, so having the black and white added to the standard set of green, yellow and red is very exciting.

So let’s take a look at each addition in detail:

1. Cursed/Blessed Mechanic . New effects (either through success/failures in adventures, Mythos cards or item use) can impart on characters the state of being Cursed or Blessed. If you are blessed – you add a white die to each one of your rolls – it acts as an extra green die in all respects. It is a very powerful power-up as it gives you one more powerful reroll and more dice to score the results you need. Being cursed on the other hand adds a black die that negates one other die roll with the same result, thus effectively reducing your dice pool. The effects cancel each other out, so if a cursed investigator becomes blessed – the curse goes away. Curses appear as “punishment” for many of the new tasks and monsters, while Blessings can be obtained through some of the new item cards or purchased at the Chapel for 8 trophies. The balance here shifts a bit towards the white die as there are more opportunities to become blessed and it provides a more constant benefit. Becoming blessed early greatly improves your chances of long-term success, although it’s wise to remember that the blessing goes away if you fail an adventure.

2. New Ancient Ones. There are four of them and they are wonderful. Not only are they tougher than the average baddie from the original box, some of them bring in interesting new effects, like The Eater of Worlds who makes every failed adventure disappear and not be replaced, limiting your options with each setback and winning if the entire board is consumed. Abhoth, master of monsters spawns a new tough monster each turn and the game is lost if the players allow all three of them to exist on the same midnight, so it really forces some tough decisions and risk-taking.

3. New Adventurers, Allies, Items and Spells : There are eight new adventurers in total and while some of these feel interesting and powerful (like the Crocodile Dundee look-alike who can turn a yellow die into any result) – others fall short (Gaining one extra trophy per adventure is just not all that exciting). Some have interesting but limiting powers like getting a clue every time you defeat a monster. Additions here are uneven and just ok. Same can be said for the additional spells, items and artifacts. The three new allies are interesting and make you want to invest into getting them.

4. New Adventure and Other World Cards : Importantly, some of the old cards have been reprinted and replace existing ones, fixing previous errors. New additions do not provide too much excitement as it’s mostly more of the same, adding effects to bring the new cursed/blessed mechanic into play. Some of the new cards, like “The Visiting Antiquarian” that locks up both your red and yellow dice are pretty brutal. Overall these additions offer some variety without rocking the boat.

5. New purchasing rules : Fantasy Flight Games have made an important decision to ban Elder Sign purchase for trophies (as that led to some anticlimactic game finales). Furthermore, the “Entrance” card was broken up into four distinct locations – an Infirmary for healing up, Chapel for blessings, Souvenir Shop for purchasing items, spells and allies and Lost&Found for trying to get something for free. The number of purchases in Souvenir Shop has been increased to two. In addition with ability to pay to get blessed – this raises the relevance of trophies making the in-game currency useful. Certain effects can now also “close up” any of the shops, limiting characters’ ability to heal for the remainder of the adventure. This is a neat twist that adds tension.

6. New Mythos Cards: These are used to up the difficulty of the game as the new ones are much more likely to bring in monsters or Doom Tokens into play. For players looking for a real challenge, there are nine additional “Master” mythos cards with truly terrible effects (e.g. spawning four monsters at once) that really up the difficulty. New mythos cards is a strong addition to the game.

In conclusion: Unseen Forces expansion does not revolutionize the gameplay of Elder Sign, but brings a welcome increase in difficulty and variability that is enjoyable for the most part. The most notable change – the curse/blessing mechanic adds to the game nicely, providing additional depth and options without overcomplicating things. While it is an enjoyable expansion that definitely makes the game better it left me feeling that more daring steps could be taken for higher payoff. Both in terms of deviation from the original and increasing the difficulty – more would be welcome. As it stands – it will not convert any of those who were not fans of the original but will provide enjoyable additional content to the fans of the base game.

Much like the original, Elder Sign: Unseen Forces is a co-op game for 1-8 players (wait times become quite tedious with 5+) that plays within roughly 1.5 hours. Suggested for fans of light gameplay, custom dice and Cthulhu mythos. Heavy emphasis on luck, cooperative nature of the game and inability to strategize much might turn other boardgamers away.

Go to the The Walking Dead Board Game page
57 out of 64 gamers thought this was helpful

If blasting zombie brains is your thing and learning complex rules is not – this game is definitely for you!

Based around the premise of the gritty AMC series, this game for 1-4 players starts off cooperative but may turn competitive as players turn to zombies and start hunting their former allies for their delicious brains.

A board consists of a series of spots, some having special effects like easier combat or no threat of zombie attack. Players roll and move in an attempt to visit all four corners of the board. After each move a player resoles an encounter (which most of the time is a zombie fight). Combat is resolved with a simple die roll, that players can enhance by playing cards from their hand. If the player loses – zombies munched on one of your non-player character allies. If you didn’t have any allies – you’re dead.

It’s quite a simple premise that really does not present much of a game system – a very basic roll and go, followed by a “roll as high as you can” combat – greatly luck-based and not permitting for much strategy.

However, somehow all together it is not terrible. It doesn’t quite reach for gaming greatness, but the gameplay is fast and fun, the sense of danger ever-present and the feeling of overwhelming odds and time running out is true to what you’d expect of a zombie survival story.

The switch to a role of zombie brings a nice twist to the game, introducing some variety. The bonuses received from visiting the corners and the order in which you go for them add a little depth (do you grab a car first so that you can go farther or visit a police station to get some extra guns?).

Best of all the game is tough and presents a real challenge (mind you, overcome mostly by rolling really well as opposed to brilliant tactics). This results in a solid challenge that introduces some replayability, although experienced gamers are sure to grow tired of this one pretty soon.

It’s a good game to ease those new to the hobby into the fold and might be perfect as a gateway game for teenagers. Don’t expect much and get into the zombie mood and you’ll have a good time with this.

Go to the Chaos in the Old World page

Chaos in the Old World

28 out of 29 gamers thought this was helpful

Bias disclaimer – I love Warhammer. The grey morality, grim atmosphere of the setting, the constant moral struggles of fighting pure and absolute evil with methods that are just a tinge less brutal – all of it makes for a rich and dark word. And – did you know? It always rains.

In this (highly) competitive 3-4 player game each player gets to act as one of the four well-defined unique Chaos Gods – the brutal Khorne, the power-hungry Tzeentch, the traitorous Sllanesh and the pestilent Nurgle. Before you, etched on cured human skin stretched on gnarly bone hooks, lies the map of the Old World. You play for who gets to inflict the most suffering onto unsuspecting peasants and gain supremacy among your peers.

Turns consist of deploying your demons and cultists onto the regions of the map and playing spells. At the end of each turn, conflicts are resolved with a simplistic battle mechanic and depending on which minions survive, players get to spread their corrupting influence. When any given region contains a certain amount of corruption – it is desoltated and all players who contributed score a certain amount of points.

Game victory is determined either through pure number of victory points, or through achieving unique goals specific to each Chaos God. For example Nurgle, the god of disease and decay seeks to corrupt the areas that are most densely populated, while Khorne the Blood God draws his power from massacres inflicted by his demons.

The game has a bit of a stuttering flow, as the many possibilities and considerations can lead to heavy analysis paralysis. In fact I would argue that at least one demo playthrough is required before players can meaningfully engage each other. Once the awareness settles in, however, the incredible richness of the game comes through.

The best thing about Chaos in the Old World is the highly individualized styles of play attached to each Chaos God through their personal abilities and goals. Moreover, their interactions with each of the opponents are also unique, leading to a complex and satisfying pattern of factors to consider before making your move.

It’s slower pace and necessity for strategic approach might turn some off – sitting down to play this is 1.5-2 hours for an experienced group. It has an element of luck present in battles that might frustrate some players. It is utterly inappropriate for children. It is rich in conflict so if you have people prone to being offended in your gaming group – beware.

Highly recommended for mature strategy fans though, especially Warhammer lovers as the game captures the setting in all its dark glory and leads to intense and meaningful decision-making.

The interplay between characters and a variety of cards at your disposal offer a rich (but not endless) replayability. The components, including the plastic minis are fantastic even by FFG standards (and that’s saying something).

Finally – if through a certain amount of turns no single Chaos God gains supremacy – the “good guys” win and the Old World is safe. But you’re not going to let that happen on your watch, are you?

Go to the Love Letter page

Love Letter

60 out of 67 gamers thought this was helpful

This game is the most fun you will have with a simple pack of 16 cards. The Japanese designer Seiji Kanai realizes a simple yet beautifully compact game model here that pits 2-4 players against each other in a race to obtain the favour of a princess by manipulating your way to get a court member to pass your love letter to her.

The deck consists of eight different types of cards each with a value and unique effect. Each player starts with a card and every turn they will pick a card and play one from their hand, leaving them again with one. Card effects are varied and either provide information about other player’s (or even your) hands or can force others out of the round by deduction or gambling. The player who remains until the end of the round with the highest value card wins.

It doesn’t sound like much, but I have found it to be extremely engaging and interesting. The game goes very fast and always makes you think. There is a certain amount of luck involved, but a mix of smarts and good timing is required for success. For a game that is over within about 20 min – it offers a great deal of excitement and depth. Because the rounds are so short all players feel involved as downtime is not a factor even with player elimination.

Best of all all this is realized in a tiny package (comes in a snazzy felt pouch no less!) that is great for travel and is extremely affordable (get more than one to be able to expand the number of players beyond the original 4). The theme is beautifully rendered and card effects are fitting to the roles they represent.

I recommend this game as a high-quality filler – a significant improvement over games like Dungeon Siege or Agent Hunter. The worlds of intrigue await – go ahead and woo the princess!

Go to the Castle Panic page

Castle Panic

148 out of 155 gamers thought this was helpful

A castle stands in a forest clearing surrounded by a ring of ancient trees. Greenskins are gathering in immense numbers in the woodland shadows, ready to launch an all-out assault. The players take on the roles of the defenders of the castle who must repel the invading forces at all costs before the keep is completely demolished. Sharpen your arrows and boil some oil – the siege is about to begin!

In this co-op 1-6 players use cards to handle wave after wave of monsters attacking their castle. The board is divided into three color-coded areas and three “ranges”, resulting in nine distinct locations where monsters can be at any given time. The players draw and trade cards that affect monsters in certain areas, while every round existing monsters advance and new ones join the fray. The fun is punctuated by special events like a giant boulder rolling out of the forest smashing everything in its way, or one of four boss monsters who bring up unique effects into the game.

The components are a highlight of the game – monster’s health is denoted by which end of the triangular token is pointing towards the castle at any given time – a great visual solution. Illustrations are good and the stand-ups of castle elements serviceable.

The game is extremely easy to pick up and requires minimal reading, resulting in a very easy introduction of new players (I’d argue that kids as young as 5-6 can grasp this game). The most natural way to play the game is as a straight-up co-op, which makes the game overly easy. The optional variants of competing for who kills most monsters or pitting one player against all others rarely see use.

The game offers a solid base experience, but nothing that will keep you coming back after several play-throughs. The challenge – the main driving force behind the replayability of co-ops; is just not there. It is a great way to introduce new players into the hobby though.

The Wizard’s Tower expansion brings many new and exciting features to the base game and improves the experience and the game’s longevity considerably.

Go to the Pandemic page


77 out of 95 gamers thought this was helpful

Cooperative style stands as a separate point in the board game resurgence – it is a culmination of the tendency to move away from conflict towards more peaceful competition and collaboration. While the genre has its roots in the 80s (did you know that’s when first version of Arkham Horror was publushed?), one of the games that really brought prominence to the true co-op is Pandemic. Strap on your hazmat suit and hold on to your Petrie dishes, we’re going to save the world!

How it works:
The world is on a brink of a terrible global epidemic, beset by four deadly diseases that area spreading rapidly. Players take on the roles of medical operatives and researchers who will criss-cross the globe working to contain and cure the infections. The primary resource players are working with are cards, each corresponding to a city. The cards allow player to travel, build research stations and ultimately – discover a cure once you collect five cards from the same group. The spread of the diseases is represented by coloured plastic cubes being placed on cities – players spend their actions travelling and curing, removing these cubes to avoid outbreaks.

After the player takes their actions to manage the threat, the game retaliates by making more infections pop up in random cities (also determined via card drawing). Any given city can only hold three cubes of a given colour – if another one is added, an explosion or an “outbreak” occurs, sending infection to all cities connected with the one experiencing the outbreak. Allow eight outbreaks and you lose the game. This can happen easier than you think, especially if players ignore an area and allow for chain reaction outbreaks, which can be truly terrible. A game is also lost if you deplete all the disease cubes for any given disease or if you run out of cards – so playing it too safe is also not an option.

Winning the game is achieved by curing all four disease by collecting a set of five city cards of a matching colour and submitting them at a research station. The cured diseases still pose a danger – infections of that type still appear, though they are easier to treat. Only be removing all cubes of a certain colour from the board is the cured disease completely wiped out and does not re-appear. Attempting to eradicate diseases may delay players and prevent them from achieving the primary objective, which is curing all four diseases before the world is overcome.

How it plays:
The simple and dynamic engine behind Pandemic functions very well, creating a great flow. Analysis paralysis is possible but unlikely as most of the time areas of priority are clear. The turns go quick and the ever present threat of pulling an epidemic card adds tension.

The players mostly interact through talking and discussion, trading cards is so hard to pull off that it is rarely a viable option (both you and person receiving the cars have to be in same city, matching the card you’re about to trade).

While some games, especially on harder difficulty, can be easily predicted as defeats, most times you can not guess the outcomes, as the game goes down to the wire. The playing time is very manageable, with most games fitting comfortably into the 45 min advertised – Pandemic does not take up an entire night.

The well-laid out rules are easy to learn and the down time is not daunting with the maximum number of players capping out at four.

How it feels:
The game is a great entry point as it has a very favourable ratio of rules complexity to enjoyment. Using only a basic mechanism, Matt Leacock, the talented designer behind Pandemic, managed to create a game that keeps you tense and engaged throughout.

The mechanics are not complicated even for new players and the reference cards provide handy reminders and new players can dive right in.

The game does lend itself too readily to the Alpha Gamer ruining the fun for others. Over-helpful suggestions by dominating players can really drain the enjoyment and sense of an active role out of the game. This limits the potential gaming partners somewhat.

The difficulty is modifiable and ranges from gentle to punishing, catering to your group’s level of masochism.

The game does depend quite strongly on the luck of the draw but the absence of dice might make it a good choice for people averse to chance. The unique theme of saving world from disease (ringing a bit too close to home now with the Ebola virus) is a strong point that works well for younger gamers.

Ultimately, the enduring popularity of Pandemic since its release in 2007 should hint at its quality and longevity. While you may move from the base game to other, more complex fare (including he many available expansions) – the original provides a fun, dynamic and tense co-open experience.


Pandemic offers a welcoming blend of tension and strategy in a collaborative environment. As long as everyone is mindful of sharing the decision making and the group finds the right difficulty for their taste – it is a great cooperative game that plays fast, keeps you at the edge of your seat and gets you thoroughly engaged. Learning a bit of basic geography while you’re at it is a nice side benefit too.

If you liked this review please visit Altema Games Website for more neat board game materials

Go to the Dungeons & Dragons: Lords of Waterdeep page
51 out of 57 gamers thought this was helpful

In this gently competitive worker placement game, 2-5 players take on the roles of Masked Lords of Waterdeep – powerful nobles who scheme and manipulate adventurers to achieve their goals. The setting is imported from the Dungeons&Dragons setting of Forgotten Realms and is littered heavily with references to canon.

The beautiful game board contains several active spaces where players can assign their agents to recruit a certain number of “adventurers” – wooden tokens of different colour. Obtaining correct combination of these tokens allows players to complete quests, scoring victory points. As the game goes on, new buildings become available, expanding the options for deploying your agents. Whoever has most points at the end of 8 rounds of play wins.

The components and the art are of high quality, adding to the experience of the game. The game does a great job of conveying most information about effects on the game board without the use of text. This makes the game very approachable to new players – there is an immediate connection between actions and consequences as you start to build up your teams of adventurers to complete quests.

The game flows quickly yet offers opportunities for strategical thinking – do you take what you need or block a building that your friend will want? There is also limited player interaction as you can play “intrigue cards” that allow you to affect other players either giving someone resources or taking these away.

The theme works great – it’s rich enough to please the fans yet the game works great if someone doesn’t really want to focus on the fact that they’re domesticating owlbears.

This game is great in that it offers a very universally appealing experience – good for gaming newbs/hardened veterans, good for fantasy nerds and for those who have no idea what a Beholder is. It is light, engaging, replayable and makes you think without giving you analysis paralysis.

The lack of player interaction prevents the game from being truly great – it does feel that you are all doing your own thing. Makes it a “gentle” co-op though – not many feelings are likely to be hurt over this one. The lack of tension in the scoring is also a bit of a drawback – I think attaching victory to achieving a certain score would provide for more exciting end-games.

Don’t let those minor criticisms take away from the overall quality though – LoW is a great and approachable game – it scales well for the number of players advertised and serves equally well as both a gateway into the hobby and a main event of a game night.

Go to the Forbidden Island page

Forbidden Island

83 out of 91 gamers thought this was helpful

In this light co-op players assume the roles of explorers on a sinking island, trying to collect the island’s treasures and make it out alive before the entire place is underwater.

Gameplay itself is good and light – you move about the island and try to coordinate card-trading with other players so that treasures can be saved. There are several roles in the game (diver, pilot etc.) each with their own special ability.

Every turn a part of the island goes underwater and the rate of submersion increases as the game goes on. This is my favourite part of there is real urgency in your race against the water rising, aided by the visuals of more and more island tiles disappearing from the board.

There are some critical moment where everyone is waiting for a card to be flipped that could make or break the game – there are still two tiles that will flood – is the helicopter pad (which is your only hope of escaping and winning the game) one of them?

Game plays fast and light, usually done in about half an hour. The difficulty is customizable and can accommodate everyone from beginners to masochists nicely. Components are of good quality and the art is very good and fits the theme well.

Due to its easy rules, exciting theme, cooperative gameplay and light duration – the game is great for younger players, being a solid way to introduce kids as young as 5 to the world of board games. Older crowds might not get too much repeated enjoyment out of it.

Go to the Ugg-Tect page


23 out of 25 gamers thought this was helpful

In this light party game players take on the role of cavemen erecting ancient monuments of great size and dubious purpose.

2-8 Players are divided into two teams – one becomes the architect and the rest are builders. The architect gets a card with an image of the monument utilizing the variety of building pieces that come with the game. Using a code system of primeval grunts and silly movements the architect directs the builders in arranging the pieces to form a monument. The architect uses an inflatable club to convey encouragement/disdain via smashing builders and/or himself on the head. The first team to finish gets the points, new architects and projects are selected and a new round ensues.

As you have probably divined from that description – the game is no Twilight Imperium. This is a party game through and through – it’s not conductive to serious competitive play, rather to just have fun, grunt nonsense and have a reason to hit each other with inflatable clubs.

That purpose it serves well – when used with friends after a few drinks it acts as a great addition to your night. Although it can’t accommodate more than 8 people (I’d say 6 is the optimal number) so large parties are out.

The components are solid and my 1-year old enjoys playing with the coloured wooden blocks as well as the inflatable clubs, which turned out to be a nice bonus 🙂

If taken for what it is, Ugg-Tect can add fun to your party but do not mistake it for a game that will be the centerpiece of your dedicated board game night.

Go to the Boss Monster page

Boss Monster

120 out of 137 gamers thought this was helpful

I picked up Boss Monster on a Boxing Day sale and was very excited to play it. The super-succesful Kickstarter campaign, the amazing throwback 8-bit art, a solid 7.0 on BGG – I was ready to be impressed.

In the game each player takes on a role of a titular boss monster in a 2D scroller, building out your dungeon to lure in and dispatch increasingly powerful heroes. Each turn you can expand your dungeon to become more attractive to heroes (and more dangerous). You will also get spells you can play to help yourself or hinder other players. Each hero that perishes in your dungeon gives you points, each hero that gets through deals you a certain amount of damage. If you take enough damage you die (yay, player elimination!).

While the mechanics of attracting adventurers to your dungeon and sabotaging other Bosses’ plans to do the same are fun – the game as a whole failed to generate much excitement with the two groups I tried it with. For such a simple-looking game there is a lot of information on the cards that players need to keep in mind and it is all presented in text format, making it hard to evaluate at a glance. The many “go through discards and select a card” effects grind play to screeching halts. The bland set of adventurers with no game mechanic differences was a letdown.

Finally, the game failed to establish any sort of flow. The phase where you have direct effect on the game (building your dungeon) feels like just setting up for the good stuff (the adventurers’ attack) – and when that happens – you have very little to do. Pretty much limited to re-reading your cards to make sure you didn’t miss one of the many effects. Spells included in the game alleviate this to a small extent, but not nearly enough to make the game fun.

While the great art style and heartwarming NES nostalgia will carry it through first couple of plays, ultimately the production values did not save this game from being a disappointment due to low player engagement/interaction.

Go to the Robinson Crusoe: Adventure on the Cursed Island page
118 out of 127 gamers thought this was helpful

If your idea of being shipwrecked on a deserted island involves enjoying the weather and sipping out of a coconut shell while idly waiting for a cruise ship to pick you up – this game will shatter these silly expectations with a heavy reality check.

In this co-op 1-4 players take on a role of survivors stranded on an island. The game comes with six scenarios each including the specific circumstances of your shipwreck and the goal you are trying to achieve. The variability of the scenarios offers great replay value as you are not going to be blowing through these.

The game is very complex with several mechanisms interacting to produce the outcomes – worker placement, resource management, ongoing card effects, a tech tree of sorts etc. Each player has two pawns representing their character’s efforts. These can be spent on :
– dealing with the consequences of adverse events from preventing further complications
– hunting (bringing into action a basic combat system)
– building (you can either construct inventions like knives, dams, pots or build up your shelter to protect your group from the elements)
– exploring (opening up new sections of the island or investigating locations of interest)
– or you can spend time resting/tidying up the camp which impacts your morale (despair will kill you as surely as an alligator in this game)

Depending on level of effort expended success is either automatic or you need to roll for it, introducing potential complications such as hurting yourself or an adverse event taking place.

In addition, each character has unique skills based on their class (Soldier, Carpenter, Explorer, Cook) that are fueled by “determination”, a resource that is governed by your group morale.

Each round you need to worry about having enough to feed your group as well as enough wood to keep yourself warm or sufficient shelter to ward away the elements. All the while you only have a dozen or so rounds to complete your scenario objective – if time runs out you lost, but don’t worry – the chances of you surviving that long are slim anyways.

The game has a TON of components of good quality and design. Art is minimalistic but appropriate thematically. Managing all of this will take some time to learn. The rules are not laid out in a good way and a photo guide on how to play is a big help :

It takes an above-average level of game savvy and knowledge of this game in particular to be able to plan effectively. Newer players can be easily overwhelmed by the amount of stuff happening at once and lack of clarity of the eventual impact of your actions. As a result the game is somewhat subject to “Bossy Veteran Syndrome”, however dice rolling and certain individual effects mitigate it to an extent.

If you do make an effort to learn and understand the game however, the rewards are great. The game tells a real story – it flows, has ups and downs (mostly downs), introduces realistic and interesting complications and creates the constant anxiety of how to best use the limited resources you have. It’s many systems, while they do not all gel in the most streamlined way, do combine to provide a very rich and complex experience. For example your characters can suffer wounds that are specific to body parts (that can later become more serious if a cure is not provided) – not many RPGs go into that level of detail, let alone board games!

The game is also punishingly hard. It does not shy away from throwing a real challenge at the players and a win will feel like a real accomplishment. Which is great in my books – in my opinions easier co-ops drain the fun away.

I would suggest this game to dedicated experienced players looking for a deep and rich game and not averse to arcane rules. People looking for a more casual experience will be frustrated and would not enjoy this. The stories you can tell once you get the hang of things are great – through a multitude of potential events/complications and different scenarios the game offers a ton of replayability.

Make the effort and all of the Cursed Island’s miseries will be yours to suffer through 🙂

Go to the Agent Hunter page

Agent Hunter

17 out of 24 gamers thought this was helpful

In this card game two players square off attempting to eliminate agents of an opponent.

Each has 10 cards (numbered 0-9) and puts down three cards in front of them face down. Players take turns guessing the numbers of the cards and receiving information on whether the actual number is higher or lower. Three times per game cards that are about to be guessed can be taken back into the hand and a new one placed face down.

This game did not engage me at all. I found it too math-focused (and I like math) with the theme pasted on. Not a lot of fun, not much excitement, just calculating probability of numbers being there.

If you are looking for a similar card game I would recommend the much more engaging Love Letter. If you’re looking for a two-player game – Dungeon Roll would be an improvement over this one.

Go to the Elder Sign page

Elder Sign

116 out of 126 gamers thought this was helpful

In this co-op game 1-8 players take on roles of investigators exploring an old museum filled with ancient artifacts to ward off the awakening of a terrible Elder Evil being.

The main game mechanic is rolling custom dice with the purpose of obtaining a series of specific combinations. Different in-game abilities allow you to modify rolls, save rolls for later, add dice and avoid obstacles. Each failure drains characters’ resources and time works against them as well – if they are not able to seal away the evil entity a final battle will ensue where players’ chances are slim at best.

The theme and the art are fantastic and immersive. The mechanic is good at supporting the theme – on one hand the die rolling makes it seem too luck-based, yet – all of your successes seem improbable and exciting when they do occur. (as mortals’ efforts against dark extraplanar deities should feel in my opinion).

The difficulty can vary quite a bit with some games resulting in cakewalks and others where you get demolished. Could be a little tougher for my liking as it’s the challenge that makes co-ops interesting.

The game claims to accommodate 1-8 players but I find anything over 4 to result in down time that leads to disengagement. Works great solo though. With 1-4 players the game is usually done within an hour – the pace is quite brisk. It’s quite approachable and can be taught easily.

The dice mechanic can be very appealing to some but offputting to others. Depending on players’ comfort level with this mechanic and affinity for games with rich character (and darker adult themes) – this game is either excellent or adequate.

I personally enjoy it immensely and would suggest it. Don’t forget to read out the flavour text!

Go to the Middle Earth Quest page

Middle Earth Quest

31 out of 32 gamers thought this was helpful

This game is not unlike the works of Tolkien that inspired it. It is deep, rich and completely immerses you in the world of Middle Earth but is a bit dense and could scare off those not willing to make a bit of an effort.

One player takes the role of Sauron while 1-3 others act as heroes of Middle Earth striving to stop Sauron’s plots from enveloping the world in darkness. The gigantic and gorgeous game board features a detailed map with interconnected locations.

As Sauron spreads his influence, populates the world with monsters and inflicts perils and corruption onto the players, they act to collect information, meet notable Tolkien characters and thwart Sauron’s plots.

Every side has a secret winning condition – it is selected from five possibilities, making for a tense standoff until the very end as you keep guessing what is it that your enemy is striving for. The variety of victory conditions offer great replay value to the game.

Heroes’ abilities are represented by cards and these cards act as a mix of travel options, combat maneuveres and hit points. These should be spent wisely as resting and recuperating gives Sauron time to advance his plots, which is to be avoided.

The game has several mechanics going, but nothing ever feels out of place as the combat, exploration and travel flows very well. Every rule is logical and once you get into the groove of things the game is quite brisk. You never have down time as each opponent’s action immediately makes you re-evaluate your strategy. Just don’t make an inexperienced player Sauron – that might lead to analysis paralysis.

Combat deserves a separate mention. It is all cards-based, no dice, and provides for fast and very tense experience. A surprising amount of strategy goes into it too, given just how quick it is.

The production values of the game are amazing – all illustrations are of highest quality and all minis are finely sculpted. It really adds to the enjoyment of the game.

The game is not a breeze by any means, but the 3-4 hours playtime on the box seems a tad long – we finished our first game in 2:45.

I highly recommend this game to all Tolkien fans as it brings Middle Earth to life. It is much more than a sum of its parts, resulting in a fantastic experience that makes you want to play again as soon as you’re done. Once you make the initial effort to learn it, the amount of fun you can have with this one is incredible.

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