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cody.raak

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9
Go to the Munchkin page

Munchkin

81 out of 90 gamers thought this was helpful

MUNCH – KIN
[noun]
1. a child or small person (origin: the “Munchkins,” depicted as a race of small childlike creatures, in L. Frank Baum’s 1900 work,The Wonderful Wizard of Oz)
2. a classification of role-playing gamer who prioritizes game objectives such as loot and experience points over character development and narrative quality
3. a light card game designed by Steve Jackson that mimics and parodies classic role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons in a simplified dungeon crawl, where players – i.e. “Munchkins,” impish adventurers out for their own advantage at the expense of their fellow party members – draw “door” cards, resolve what they encounter, and win “loot” cards, until one “Munchkin” advances to level 10 and wins the game
4. a family of card games expanding the original game into several genres and themes, e.g. Super Munchkin

[adjective]
5. describing a number of board and card games transposing the artwork and characters of the original card game into new iterations of other existing games, e.g. Munchkin Loot Letter

How I Discovered Munchkin and Fell in Love with It
I was introduced to the Munchkin card games through the Munchkin Booty variant by some friends, and had a great first game. The card artwork was cheeky, and the puns and allusions on the cards hooked me. It was exactly my sense of humor, and at first blush, this game quickly joined my newly-formed Top 5 list. I bought the Munchkin Deluxe box for my birthday, hoping that the original game would scratch my growing itch for D&D. I love the little “Munchkin” miniatures and the dungeon map board that replaced an improvised level counter system: they made the game feel more like the large-scale RPG experience I craved. I loved looking through the cards and laughing at the artwork and concepts.

My Growing Dissatisfaction
But once I played it once or twice, I quickly became disenchanted:
– The game excels with larger numbers, so 2-player games with my wife were lackluster at best.
– The game demands a “take-that,” backstabbing, kind of play that is only really possible with certain combinations of cards, making the group experience frustratingly limited.
– The game promises a high replay-ability because of its wide variety of combinations for randomized character creation: races, classes, weapons, armor, etc; but as funny as the equipment cards are, they rarely add to the experience of play unless players really exercise their imagination, and much of the equipment is sold for levels without ever factoring into play.
– The game’s familiar dungeon crawl theme suggests a large-scale party dynamic, but actual play is usually very short and individual – one player flips over a monster from the “door” deck, resolves their combat, draws that monster’s amount of “loot” cards, and the next player goes.

Why I’m Only Now Writing a Review
I love this game’s theme, and its wit, and its art. I want to love this game’s easy-to-teach mechanics and RPG concept.
But this game has been collecting dust for a number of reasons:
– The theme is very nerdy up front, and when I try to explain it to non-nerd/non-gamer friends and family, they usually opt for something more accessible and concrete (usually either disease- or train-related…).
– Hoping to add variety and rejuvenate the game, I bought a number of expansions, paying probably twice the cost of the original game. There are now so many cards that players rarely draw even a fraction of them, and the work involved in sorting and selecting an appropriate number of cards that offer an enjoyable play experience far outweighs the actual play time.
– The rulebook is terrible. It over-complicates what should be a simple game by trying to address all the potential hiccups and squabbles without actually resolving any of them.
– Most of all, the stuttering pace of the game is very distracting. The game usually starts very slow, as players develop an understanding for play and try to work out how they’re supposed to relate to the other players in their “party.” Play continues slowly for four or five rounds, reading the cards out loud and laughing, exploring how much a person can do with what they have. By the time those dynamics are familiar, one player has reached level seven or eight, and becomes a target for the other players’ interference. The pace ramps up suddenly, leaving some people way behind and advancing one person to level nine: that last encounter before level 10 drags on and on as everyone throws their last possible wrench into the game, and all of those wrenches – wandering monsters, curses, and other disadvantages – take forever to resolve, and still that person usually comes out the winner.

My Conclusion (TL;DR)
Munchkin frustrates: I want to love this game, because it promises so much to a nerd who is far, far away from his college D&D group a long time ago. That’s why I rated it so high after first playing! But “Munchkin” is as “Munchkin” does. Just like my friends who ruined the quality, story, and characters of our D&D encounters by trying to go out alone or screw everyone over for XP, Munchkin delivers exactly what it promises: purposeless backstabbing, truncated and overly simplistic play experience, and mounting tension between players only out for themselves. I would now rate this game at only a 5. I want to love this game, but I cannot any longer. I give up.

10
Go to the Viticulture page

Viticulture

133 out of 140 gamers thought this was helpful

Viticulture is a strategic worker placement game for 2-6 players, played over the course of many “years,” each divided into the four seasons.
– spring: players select their “wake-up” position to determine the year’s turn order, and collect their respective position’s bonus.
– summer: players place workers to build structures, plant vines, welcome visitors, offer tours, etc.
– fall: players draw either a summer or winter visitor card.
– winter: players place workers to harvest fields, welcome visitors, make wine, fill orders, train staff.
The game ends when one player reaches 20 points (earned a variety of ways), and everyone plays until finishing the year. The winner is whoever has the most points at the end of the year. (Interestingly enough, most games play only to seven years.)

What I love
I had not played any strategic worker placement games (I knew of many and had read up on most of the popular ones) before playing Viticulture, and I will say this was a great introduction to the mechanic. There are meaningful choices during both worker placement seasons (summer and winter), with enough flexibility that the game is not repetitious and enough strategy that the game has a direction. Each choice has weight for the game, and there is very little, if anything, superfluous about the game.

The components are gorgeously illustrated and well-crafted. The various tokens in front of each player are well-designed and sturdy, and cleverly fitting with the winemaking theme. The small, clear counters for crushed grapes and bottled wines are one of my wife and my favorite components. Another example of the clever design: the turn order markers are small roosters, which is perfect because the symbol for Tuscany’s trophy DOCG Chianti Classico wine is a black rooster in a red ring. The decks of summer and winter visitor cards are beautifully illustrated and conceptually clear, featuring portraits of the Kickstarter backers and giving recognition of their support. And like serving espresso gelato in a fine china bowl, the box expertly holds and stores all of these prime components.

What I love most, though, is that this game scales well. I first played with four, and have since played a 6-player game teaching both couples, and several 2-player games with my wife. This is a fantastic two-player game. Most of the two-player games we’ve come across feature a “take that!” system that does not make for a great evening of entertainment for our marriage. Viticulture is much more conducive for an evening of slow, engaging, constructive play.

What I Dislike
Very little. A few of the options on each player’s board seem a bit superfluous (build a tasting room to gain a point for giving a tour; build a windmill to gain a point for planting a vine), but they fit the theme beautifully, and they increase the immersive play, so I don’t mind.

One of the things that bothers me aesthetically is the presence of the “uncertified” classification of visitors in both summer and winter visitor decks. For example: the “Teacher” trains one of your workers for a discount and allows you to use that worker this year; the “Uncertified Teacher” does the same thing, but you can’t use that worker until next year. This is a perfectly valid card and a great strategy and a fair play and a well-executed component concept, but aesthetically I dislike these cards because I feel guilty for using them as I strive to build a reputable, above-board vineyard. Silly and insignificant as this is for the game, I can’t get over it. When I play, I am immersed in the world of the game, and decisions like these matter aesthetically. I would rather not encounter this element; and yet, I recognize that this element adds a realism to the vineyard world the game creates, and I am impressed all the more.

Recommendations
My wife – who favors and excels at strategic games – loves this game. I am not a strategic player, and I love this game. Our friends who introduced this game to us are connoisseurs of board games of all kinds, and this quickly became one of their favorites after only one play.

Casual gamers will love its design and feel and clarity; social gamers will love its ease of play and relaxed pace that allows for good conversation over their favorite bottle of Chianti or Trebbiano.

There’s also room at this table for power gamers because order of actions within the seasons, and the players’ turn order overall, become very important (especially the fewer players there are).

A couple notes for family gamers: this is a competitive game, but without any overt “take that” feel: great for our family! There is no objectionable content in this game, except the nature of the theme in general: you’re in the business of producing and selling alcohol. With all of this in mind, and considering that the numerous components are quite small, I would recommend this for the pre-teen to adult members of your family.

Salud!

8
Go to the Dutch Blitz page

Dutch Blitz

19 out of 20 gamers thought this was helpful

That’s the most basic description I can give Dutch Blitz: group Solitaire, on speed. I am half-Dutch by blood, and if you’ve had the opportunity to meet any Dutch people, it becomes pretty clear pretty quickly that we’re proud of our heritage. Dutch Blitz — or Nertz, as it’s also called among us — is a chance to prove who’s the quickest, and most circumspect, Dutchman among us.

Set Up
The base set includes four decks of cards, identified by four symbols — plough, pail, pump, carriage — on their back, each with four color-coded “suits” — orange, yellow, blue, green — of values 1-10 on their face. Each player takes one deck, shuffles, and lays three cards — called the “Post” piles — face up in front of them; ten cards (face down, with the top card face up) are counted into a “Blitz” pile to the right of the “Post” piles. The remaining cards are held in the players’ hands, face down.

Play
When everyone is ready, players turn cards from their hands 3 at a time over onto the table in front of them onto a “Wood” pile. The top card on the “Wood” pile and the top card on the “Blitz” pile can be sorted onto the players’ own “Post” piles in descending order by number, alternating boy-girl, boy-girl (Orange and blue cards have pictures of Pennsylvania Dutch boys; green and yellow cards have pictures of Pennsylvania Dutch girls), or onto the common, color-specific “Dutch” piles in the center of the table in ascending order. If it sounds familiar, it’s because the game plays like Solitaire. The game is over when the first player finishes sorting their “Blitz” pile of ten cards onto the other piles. But the winner is the player who sorted the most cards into the center “Dutch” piles; the first player to finish gets a bonus 10 points, and the other player(s) subtract their remaining “Blitz” cards from their points.

Overall Impression
Because it’s essentially Solitaire, you can play Dutch Blitz with a standard deck of cards for each player (each deck must be discernibly different enough to keep track of points at the end of the game) and removing the face cards (Jokers, Jacks, Queens, and Kings). In fact, this is how I learned the game, so it was actually a bit difficult to get used to noticing the difference between the Dutch boy and the Dutch girl (the images are too small and too similar at a quick glance), after being used to alternating red-black, red-black. But the great thing about buying this edition of the game is that the decks are prepared, color-coded, and uniform in appearance.

Games are best played with 3-4 players. 2 works okay, though it is easier to get stuck without playable options available. 5-6 works (with the expansion), as long as the table gives everyone room to play in front of them and reach across to all the “Dutch” piles.

Games go fast. It becomes challenging to see all the options available and all the cards to be sorted and what everyone else could be playing, and then play your cards to help yourself and not others. I don’t do well with the multi-tasking required, and my wife usually beats me. And there is definitely a dexterity mechanic to this game: hands are forfeit when two people need to get their cards on the same “Dutch” pile.

That being said, there is a great deal of luck involved, in how the cards are shuffled: there can be lulls in play where no one has any options for a few hands; some games go fast because one person’s “Blitz” pile was perfectly arranged; and some games take quite a while because all the ones are buried. Still, there can be strategy used: someone who knows how to play can watch the table to get their cards out before someone less aware, and still stall the win until they get more of their cards into the middle.

Recommendations
I would recommend this to pretty much any gamer:
Family – Yes, absolutely. The simple combination of colors and numbers makes it easy for most children older than 7 or 8. Of course, if your family boasts more than 4, you’ll need the expansion.
Strategy – Yes, maybe. Like I said, there’s a fair amount of luck in the draw of the card, but there’s also plenty of opportunities to strategically play from the draw onward.
Social – Not really. There is very little personal interaction between players because the call for concentration is so high during game play.
Avid – Yes, absolutely. Games are easy to learn, easy to teach, and play pretty quickly, and that means more time for more rounds, or other games.
Casual – Yes, absolutely. Quick, simple, colorful, and gripping.
Power – Yes, maybe. There is a small feeling of conquest as you clear your “Blitz” pile faster than others, and hear their moans of frustration and sighs of despair that can be quite satisfying.

9
Go to the Get Bit! page

Get Bit!

16 out of 21 gamers thought this was helpful

I first saw Get Bit! played by Wil Wheaton on his Geek & Sundry podcast TableTop, and thought it looked fun. This past week I had a chance to play it with some friends at our friendly neighborhood game store, and I was proven right!

The snap-together robots are sturdy, awesome, playful components, the cards are simply and artfully designed, and the game’s overall swim-or-“get-bit!” concept is simple enough for most kids to understand and enjoy. We’re really excited to get this for our nephews!

What I Love
I love that this game can be as luck-driven or as strategic as a player is able to make it. I am not a strategic player, so I just have fun with the basic strategy (lay small numbers the first round, and progressively larger cards each turn) and the ensuing mayhem. I love the nonsense of a Lego shark chomping off bits of robots.

Why I Only Give it a 9
This game is nearly perfect as it is, but I’ve had enough after a game or two. It’s great as a filler between games, while someone is putting away a complicated game and getting the next one set up. This is how Wil Wheaton presented Get Bit! in TableTop, and I think that’s right. However, I’m sure this will quickly become the new Uno for my nephews, and I will quickly have to eat my words. Or my robot.

9
Go to the Tokaido page

Tokaido

43 out of 49 gamers thought this was helpful

Read all the other reviews, and you’ll see the absolute consensus is that this game is beautiful. It cannot be denied: from the six or so decks of beautifully illustrated miniature cards, to the player tiles and color-coded tile tokens, meeples, and point markers; from the theme-saturated symbols integrated throughout the game, to the clear and various play objectives, this game is an aesthetic wonder.

How Tokaido is Played
Players line up at the first inn, in Kyoto, and players proceed to the next desired tourist location on the road to Edo, the player furthest behind always taking their turn next. Along the road there are inns, and once a player reaches the inn, they wait until all the other players join them. Besides the inn, where players can buy meals, the other tourist locations include hot springs (for bathing), temples (for paying tribute), shops (for purchasing souvenirs), farms (for earning money), and 3 different scenic lookouts (for viewing screens of panoramas of either the sea, the mountain, or the paddies). The objective of the players is to have the most successful tour of the scenic road from Kyoto to Edo.

Why You Should Play Tokaido
This game is very easy to play — no dice, no really gainful strategy-based competition, no rivalries — and equally easy to teach (I had never played, but read many reviews and watched playthroughs, and I taught my wife and another couple in about 10 minutes, referencing the well organized and easy-to-navigate rulebook). Set up is also easy, because the insert in the box conveniently and expertly holds the beautiful, high-quality components.

Best of all, while this game is a competition to find out who can have the “best” tour of the Edo road, it really does feel like you all are touring together. If you have ever toured in a large group, you know that it can make the vacation much more fun, but you do sort of find yourself competing for the better pictures, the better meals, the better experiences. The same is true here. This is all the strategy there is: to have the better vacation experience among your group. My wife loved this game, and she is typically the better strategic gamer between us. While this game obviously appeals to the casual and social gamers among us, the strategic gamers and power gamers should absolutely give this a try, if only to enjoy the mini vacation that they would experience.

One Last Note
This is a truly unique game. Just like Pandemic opened my eyes to a new kind of board game experience in cooperative gaming, Tokaido has done the same thing: that a game could simulate a beautiful tour along Japan’s fabled Edo road was something I had not expected. Just like a truly great vacation, after playing Tokaido it demands to be played again, if only to see and taste and enjoy and buy all the things you missed the first time.

5 stars on all counts. I prematurely rated this game a 9, and would now give it a full 10+.

9
Go to the We Didn't Playtest This At All page
50 out of 56 gamers thought this was helpful

Most of the previous reviews for this game are spot on. This game is a revel of randomness and surprises and hilarity. The objective is simple: to win. If you lose, you have not won; if all others lose, you have won; if everyone loses, no one wins. (Also, should a player gain 15 points — or 10 purple pony points — they win.) The rules are equally simple: each begin with a hand of two cards; the first player is selected as randomly as possible; a turn begins by drawing a card, and ends by playing a card and following its instructions. And so on.

Seriously. You just read the cards.

I agree with other reviews, 3-6 players is best (less means games are too short, more is too chaotic). This game is definitely for the Family, Social, and Casual Gamers among us, but if they can suspend their need for higher thinking and domination, my Strategic and Power Gamer friends have found this game to be a riot.

However, I will disagree with my formidable fellow reviewers on one point: there is a method to the madness here. There are families of cards that employ certain kinds of actions.

Forced Choice: These cards — like “Battle!” (Rock-Paper-Scissors), “Presents!” (accept the present, or refuse it?), “Cake or Death” (yes, the Eddie Izzard sketch), “Numbers” (on 3, show a number between 1 and 5), and “You Win!” (literally, you win…if…) — demand all or certain players to choose. The card uses the results of players’ choices (or identity, or clothing, or the weather…) to determine the consequences: Victory! Defeat? Playing on…

Hand/Game Alteration: Some of these cards will allow you to steal another player’s card (“Penguins” or “Ninjas”), or take another turn (“Bomb”, which also creates a sort of countdown, because if four “Bombs” are face up, everyone loses), or remove certain pronouns from players’ speech for the duration of the game (yep…“They”, “You”, “Me”), or just plain silliness (“Poke”).

Attack/Defense: The remaining cards can either be played in front of other players, who will lose the game if said card remains there at the end of their next turn (these cards range from such delights as “Dragon” and “Arrowed” — a couple Homestar Runner references, there — and “Black Hole” and “Lasers”), or played to reverse or counter attacks and consequences (like “Spite” or “Science” or “Zoom!!”).

I also own the expansion “We Didn’t Playtest this Either”, and it’s more of the same, adding variety and more jokes to the game.

In the end, this game is light, fast, unpredictable, and fun. Knowing these family of card actions doesn’t really help or hurt your playing. It’s explained in a sentence, sets up in seconds, and plays through in minutes. Its replay value is very high, because there are multiples of each card, each with different win/lose/play consequences. The cards are simple and straightforward. “We Didn’t Playtest this At All” fits in easily as a great filler while we set up more complicated games like “7 Wonders” or “Dominion”. I rate this game easily a 9 for its quick wit and quick play. Try it!

9
Go to the 7 Wonders page

7 Wonders

97 out of 104 gamers thought this was helpful

7 Wonders has already been well and fully reviewed here by others, and it is rightly enjoying quite a bit of well-earned popularity. When I was introduced to this game by friends this past summer, I was instantly hooked. It offers several unique features to gameplay, most of which others have already described in their reviews.

What I Like
Theme is important to me, and the look and feel of 7 Wonders is excellent. The game is played in three Ages; each Age has its own deck of cards, which are dealt out to the players. Cards fall in different color-coded categories: Green for Sciences, Blue for Culture, Red for Military, Yellow for Commerce, Brown and Grey for Resources. Players take turns of one action–build a card, sell it for 3 coins, or develop wonder–simultaneously, making the game move quickly. While this may lead players to think the game is highly individual, players pass their deck of cards to their neighbor (clockwise for Ages I and III, counterclockwise for Age II), making interaction very important. Paying attention to what your neighbors are doing on their turns is vitally important for scoring and resources. I love all of the components of this game. There is a great deal of variety in the way cards are helpful and the way cards are scored, keeping games interesting and leaving players completely unsure of who is ahead and who is behind.

Where I Struggle
This game looks complex. Beautiful, but complex. Cards sprawled and stacked every which way, strange tokens given and exchanged, too many colors, too many options, a huge glossary of unique language. I have tried to explain this game several different times, and short of taking 10-20 minutes to read new players the included “Quick Rules” sheet, I have still only found a quick trial game to be the best explanation and orientation. Even then, I find that people are intimidated by the sheer volume of the little details of the game, even though it plays quickly.

Recommendations
– I have played this game with my wife, and the 2-player variant rules are not complicated: add a third player that you alternate playing for. A little clumsy, but still enjoyable. I have played this game most with 4 players, and it works great. I have played it with groups of 6 and 7, and it scales well all the way up. The only issue there, of course, is having a table large enough for everyone to spread their cards up and out.

– Resource cards are vital to building wonder in this game, and building Age III cards requires a steep increase in resources from the Age II cards: either build a lot of resources the first two Ages, build yellow Commerce cards to help reduce the cost of trade, or build Age I and II resources that form chains to Age III cards.

– Resource cards may disappear in Age III, but Guild cards are introduced. These cards are well worth building during your turn.

– Many of the discussions, tips, and reviews have recommended specializing in one or two colors over playing the “jack-of-all-trades” route. It can be especially tempting to specialize in Military cards because they score after each round, rather than at the end of the game, and it feels like you’re ahead during gameplay. I would suggest moderation: a key Military card (just to keep up with your neighbors), several different resources (depending on your unique Wonder tile’s requirements, of course!), and one or two solid Commerce cards (I tend to skip these, and suffer for it in Age III, where my wife capitalizes on these), and then add Science or Culture on the tail end. I haven’t found any one strategy to win more than others: a chain of science cards can get you as many as 30+ points by the end, but their neighbor can get just as many by stacking up culture cards!

Overall, this is a fantastic game. I have played it a number of times, and we have come to also really enjoy the Leaders expansion – a few more options, a few more benefits, a bit more strategy. This is a fast, beautiful game to add to your game night, but be prepared for the challenge of teaching this game’s intricacies to new players. But don’t lose hope: the game itself will teach them what they need to know, if they stick with it. I find most people are eager to play again after their trial game, because it quickly endears itself.

4
Go to the UNO page

UNO

22 out of 23 gamers thought this was helpful

After playing about 40 games of Uno with my nephew over the past Thanksgiving weekend, I can honestly say this is not my favorite game, nor is it my first, or even second or third, choice for a game.

What I Dislike
The skill:chance ratio for Uno is about 20:80, which doesn’t explain why my 5-year-old nephew is able to demolish me at this game. While embarrassing in the extreme, I am also able to recognize that I undervalue the small room for strategy in the hands, where my nephew is able to see and maximize how cards can flow in a certain order. When he wins, he enjoys replaying his hand to show how well he laid his cards to get rid of them; when he loses, he insists on playing the rest of his hand to see how quickly he could have been rid of them. He gets it. Sometimes I miss it.

What I Like
Where others may consider the utter simplicity of this game to be a negative, I find it a relaxing break from other games with higher strategy. Rather than constantly discussing the rules or narrating turns, my nephew and I could talk about all kinds of things while we were playing. Most of all, I love that this game makes my nephew feel like a champ. Any time he wants to play more games, and feels successful at games, I’m thrilled. He beats me more times than I care to admit to, and I have never loved losing more.

Recommendations
This is a game for casual, social, and, probably most of all, family gamers. Power and strategy gamers have probably already figured out to avoid this game. Avid gamers could probably go either way: while thrilled just to be playing something with their friends and family (this is, after all, probably the number one gateway game out there), they probably also want to move pretty quickly on to something else.

9
Go to the The Settlers of Catan page
58 out of 65 gamers thought this was helpful

My family didn’t play many board games when I was growing up; what games we had were more “classic” games: Clue, Monopoly, Scrabble, Uno. When I went to college, some dorm-mates introduced me to Settlers of Catan, but it didn’t stick. A few months ago, I returned to the game and fell hard for it.

However, by now the vast collection of Catan games and expansions are either classic staples of most game nights, or sort of “old news” for people who have moved on to new games. Even though I’m late to the party, I still love playing this game when I can get anyone else interested.

What I Love:

I love the design of this game. The flexible game board of hexagonal tiles linked to resource cards and assigned random dice values are all brilliant mechanisms, making a game where the principle action in each turn is something as haphazard as rolling a pair of dice as strategic as possible. Initial and subsequent Settlement and Road placements become more and more important, rather than static and irrelevant. As a Social Gamer, I enjoy the impromptu interactions with other players through trading and debating why not to place the Robber on certain important tiles.

What I Dislike:

I am not a Strategic Gamer, so I often make poor decisions at the outset of the game, and pay for them throughout the game. This is frustrating for me, as it is for everyone. My wife has commented that there gets to be not enough elements to turns, and play can last too long.

Overall Impressions:

I really love this game as is. I haven’t tried any of the expansions, but I’m eager to see how they expand on an already great game. I enjoy the base game immensely, and my only real problem with it is that I came too late, and everyone else seems to be already on to the next thing.

8
Go to the Castle: The Detective Card Game page
20 out of 21 gamers thought this was helpful

The maker of Castle: the Detective Card Game has managed to create a truly unique sleuthing experience for fans of detective-themed games and of the hit ABC television series Castle alike. My wife and I are long-time fans of Castle, so we especially appreciated the many layers in which the theme is integrated: on the surface, the cards and characters are beautifully designed with the “look” of the show, but it took us a few plays before we realized that we really felt like we were sitting at Richard Castle’s elite mystery writers’ poker table!

Replay Value: 4/5

It’s a small game: there are a total of 18 Suspects, and each “Episode” features 5 Suspects, so you burn through them pretty quickly if you play a “Full Season,” (as many Episodes as needed for one player to solve three Episodes). There is not much variety or difference between Episodes, except in what cards are drawn and played.

That being said, the right group could enjoy this game as a quick filler between larger games, or as a marathon of one or more Full Seasons. Fans of Castle will likely participate more eagerly, but knowledge of the show is absolutely unnecessary to play the game and enjoy it immensely.

Components: 4/5

The “discovery” element for the actual detective work is a set of 12 beautiful, weighty poker chips – 2 “Guilty” chips that end the Episode and 10 “Not Guilty” chips that implement a specific consequence before the Episode continues toward its completion. These chips are a really cool, surprisingly simple, uniquely fitting mechanism for gameplay.

These chips are assigned as randomly as possible to 5 of the 18 oversized, thicker cardstock Suspect cards. The figures on these cards are thematic silhouettes of such stock murder mystery suspects as “The Bullying Brother,” “The Cheating Spouse,” and “The Thieving Accountant.” While the Suspect’s identities are probably the shallowest level of the game’s theme, groups of Social and Family Gamers with creative storytellers will enjoy speculating about the Suspects and creating complicated cases tying these characters together. My wife pointed out immediately, though, that there is no stated victim. A curious vacancy, but another fun chance for storytelling, which is what Castle is really all about in the first place.

Each Suspect card requires a combination of 3 “Investigation” cards to be confronted. There are 90 Investigation playing cards (9 cards of each of the 9 different actions, with 9 “special text” cards), which are well-designed but quickly show wear around the edges if not handled carefully (sleeves might be in order). A player’s turn involves one of the following actions: drawing a card, discarding a card and drawing two cards, playing a special text card and following its instructions, or playing 3 Investigation cards to Confront a Suspect.

A fifth action is possible: each player plays as one of the 6 main characters of the series: Kate Beckett, Richard Castle, Kevin Ryan, Javier Esposito, Lanie Parish, or Captain Gates; and each player has a special ability to be used once per Episode. While players obviously work together to eliminate suspects to find the guilty party, this is not a cooperative game. I was actually surprised how little interaction there needs to be between players. Turns move quickly, and unless someone plays one of the special text cards or flips over a “Not Guilty” chip, players affect each others’ turns very little. Again, this can be seen to be either a theme-light component, or an opportunity to discuss other things than your turn, such as Castle’s mystery writers do around their poker table. Develop your case; hash out the story; tease your opponents for their latest pandering, pathetic mystery novel.

There are also 12 cardboard “Solved” tokens, which might be superfluous if only playing a single Episode as a filler game, but add to the fun poker feel of gameplay if playing a Full Season.

Easy to Learn: 5/5

The rulebook is only a few pages. A quick skim is sufficient to play the first round or two. The rulebook also offers a page of suggestions for increasing difficulty, and a variation that boosts cooperation. We were playing within 5 minutes, and our first Episode lasted maybe ten minutes. The second Episode lasted far longer, and we almost lost by reaching the end of the Investigation card deck. Gameplay is probably 80:20 in terms of luck:strategy, which will quickly frustrate Strategy and Power Gamers. There is also no deductive aspect to gameplay, which may mislead or disappoint gamers expecting a more thoroughly implemented detective theme.

Overall Impressions:

This game is both a great filler game or full game saturated with layers of theme, tons of fun for Castle fans and detective theme fans alike. When a player lays down the three Investigation cards necessary to Confront a Suspect, everyone tenses: will the Episode end? Will the Suspect be “Not Guilty”? If “Not Guilty,” what does that mean for continuing the case? It’s great fun, a cool-feeling game with simple, easy-to-understand mechanics, and very few components to manage.

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