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Billie Wrex

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Go to the Incan Gold page

Incan Gold

8 out of 15 gamers thought this was helpful

Originally released as Diamant, Incan Gold is a re-implementation of the same theme and mechanics with a few different cards added. Incan Gold, as you might’ve guessed, is set in a South American temple, with the players as explorers seeking rare treasures. It’s a push-your-luck game, with the explorers having the option to return to camp with the treasures they have found or continue on further into the temple. The risk factor comes in the form of various hazards such as poisonous snakes, cave-ins, and even weird, creepy lookin’ zombies. Once you come upon the same hazard twice, everyone still in the temple is set off runnin’ back to camp scared out of their wits and leaving all their treasures. It sure hurts to have accumulated a nice sum of gems worth a hefty amount of points, especially when someone’s already returned to their camp with a respectable sum themselves.

Incan Gold also adds an element of bluffing that Diamant presumably didn’t have in the form of Artifacts. Each level of the temple has an artifact that’s shuffled into the deck. Each artifact is worth a good chunk of points, but only one person gets it. If more than one explorer leaves at the same time, nobody gets the artifact. The mind games really add a lot of fun to the game as it puts even more weight on the decisions the players make. Incan Gold plays very fast, always five rounds, and you’ll probably find yourself wanting to play multiple games in a row.

Go to the Hanabi page


69 out of 98 gamers thought this was helpful

Hanabi is quite the interesting little game. Its theme is unique amongst games, having you and the other players work together to make the most wonderful fireworks display possible using numbered cards of five different colors. It also stands out from other cooperative games in that players start off with no knowledge of what is in their own hand. You’re only allowed to look at the backs of your own cards, and it’s up to the other players to give you hints as to what colors and numbers of fireworks are available to you. You then have the option to discard or play a firework card, hoping it was the right one.

It’s a simple game of deduction, forcing you to keep track of every card that’s been played or discarded and figuring out what’s left through process of elimination. It’s a fun, light game that’s a good filler while setting up something bigger, and there’s not really any way to ‘lose’, per se, you just might not achieve a perfect win. The only other downside is that the quality of the cards is kind of low, the edges already getting some wear as soon as I got them out of the box.

Go to the Pandemic page


56 out of 63 gamers thought this was helpful

Matt Leacock seems to really like cooperative games. Having also designed Forbidden Island, which, incidentally, is a great introductory co-op game, Pandemic is an excellent step up despite being the older sibling.

In Pandemic, four deadly diseases have broken out across the globe, and it’s up to you and a team of up to three other crisis response members to cure all four illnesses, keep them at bay, and maybe even eradicate them. If you’ve already played a few games of Forbidden Island, you’ll find yourself familiar with a lot of how Pandemic plays. Each player has a limited set of actions they can do, such as cure a ‘cube’ of a disease, fly to a different city, or provide information to other players, and then they must draw cards from a Player deck which provide them with other cities to travel to or extra actions they can take. They must then draw from the Infection deck, which shows which cities have become vulnerable to a particular disease. The Player deck, while providing new opportunities, also carries risks in a number of Epidemic cards which increase the rate at which infections spread.

Like any good, stressful co-op game, there’s plenty of ways to lose in Pandemic and only one way to win. In order to win, players must work together to cure all four diseases. However, Pandemic features lots of in-game time limits. If the Player deck runs out, you lose. If at least any one pile of Disease cubes runs out, you lose. If the Outbreak counter reaches the skull and crossbones–can you guess what happens? On the easiest setting, Forbidden Island feels way too simple, especially once you’ve played a good number of times. Not so with Pandemic. The game still presents a dire challenge even on easy mode, and it keeps players on their toes and thinking several moves ahead. You’ll probably find yourself losing several times because of one poorly thought out decision a few moves back. “If only I had done this instead,” might as well be Pandemic‘s catchphrase. Nonetheless, the game is still plenty of fun even if your team isn’t doing so well. It’s rewarding to learn from the mistakes you made and do better in another playthrough, and one of the elements of the game I really appreciate, similarly to Forbidden Island, are the built-in, adjustable difficulty settings, which encourage multiple games to see if you can accomplish the goal this time.

As a side note, I’d recommend getting the second edition (pictured at the top). It comes with upgraded components and two additional crisis response member cards that add new ways to play.

Go to the Android: Netrunner page

Android: Netrunner

32 out of 37 gamers thought this was helpful

I was hugely into trading card games as a kid. Pokemon, YuGiOh, Magic: The Gathering, and a myriad of others that never really took off, I was into all of them. But as I grew older, as I started to understand more the concept of money, I felt like I was being wasteful. How much money had I spent on all those booster packs looking for one card and getting a bunch of copies of cards I already had? How many did I throw away in my ignorant youth?

Now, I’m not disparaging those that still enjoy those games. Money means different things to different people, and if someone finds joy in TCGs, no harm done to me. But if you are like me, and you want something to scratch that TCG itch without the large monetary investment, I highly recommend Android: Netrunner.

Unlike most TCGs, Netrunner plays asymmetrically. One player takes the role of the Corporation, a financial organization with its own unique ideals and agendas. Their opponent is the Runner–the easiest way to describe this person is as a criminal hacker. Both sides have roughly the same goals: the Corporation must advance its Agendas, and the Runner must steal them from the Corp. As soon as one player reaches seven Agenda points, they win and the game is over. In order to achieve this goal, the Runner installs Programs, Hardware, Resources, and Events which help them break through the Corp’s defensive firewalls, known as ICE, to reach and access their servers and rob them of their Agendas. Besides ICE, the Corp also can make use of Assets, Upgrades, and Operations in order to protect their Agendas or kill (“flatline”) the Runner.

In many ways, Netrunner plays very similarly to most other TCGs. Players can use one of the starter decks provided in the Core Set (there are seven), but are also encouraged to build their own custom decks and come up with their own strategies. With the rise of tournaments, this introduced a meta element to deckbuilding that many TCG players will also find familiar. For someone with a history with card games, it’ll be pretty easy to get into.

However, Netrunner also stands out in many ways from standard TCGs. What drew me to it were primarily two things: its asymmetricality and its Living Card Game structure. Technically, all you will ever need to play is one Core Set. If you want more cards, Fantasy Flight Games–the publisher–releases a Data Pack once a month, each containing a fixed set of 60 cards. So all you need to do then is see what cards are in which Data Pack, decide what Pack fits your needs best, and get that Pack. I personally appreciate this structure a lot more as I don’t have a lot of money to spend on card games, and don’t want to be burdened with a bunch of cards I don’t want.

The other aspect is its asymmetrical structure. The Corp and the Runner play in very different ways, which makes for way more deckbuilding fun and a huge variety of strategies. This structure also strengthens the thematic element of the game. Netrunner is super tied into cyberpunk and sci-fi lore, with tons of references to ideas familiar to fans of those genres. The flavor text and the way so many cards play is hugely satisfying to me as someone who really likes a strong theme tying together everything in a game. It’s incredibly fun and easy to get into the role of the rebel, underground Runner trying to take down a corrupt Corporation, or in the mindset of a multi-billion dollar Corp trying to spread its ideologies and get rid of those pesky hackers, even if it means killing them.

Now, some people think the game favors either the Corp or Runner. Personally, I don’t think that’s the case. I’ve played as both sides, and find it’s largely the strategy I use and the amount of bluffing and mind games I take advantage of, with a small dash of luck on top, that determines who wins. I’ve gotten tons of enjoyment out of both kinds of decks, ****, even when I’m losing. It’s a solid, well balanced game that doesn’t get old even after marathon sessions. With tons of different internal factions, it feels like there’s an endless amount of analyzing and strategizing to be done, and if you’re into that, Android: Netrunner is an obvious choice.

Go to the Love Letter page

Love Letter

61 out of 73 gamers thought this was helpful

Love Letter is a pretty small game. It’s comprised of 16 cards and some tokens in a small velvet bag. It’s meant to be one of those games you learn quickly and take out in-between larger games while things are being set up or just for some mental downtime. Now, in Love Letter your goal is to get your, well, love letter, to the princess before anyone else. You’ll have to contend with rival princes, priests, guards, and even the king himself. Players draw a hand of one card, drawing and playing one each turn to try and eliminate rivals each round. In the end, it becomes a game of keeping track of what others have played and using probability to guess what cards are left. When the deck runs out or all except for one player is eliminated, the player left or the one with the highest scoring card wins the round, and a ‘token of affection’ from the princess. Depending on the number of players, winning is determined by the number of tokens a player has.

Thematically, Love Letter is really quite impressive. Everything ties together and makes sense–if you’re enthusiastic, it might be easy to get into the role of a suitor aiming for the heart of a princess. But this is definitely a downtime game that doesn’t require much thought to be put into it. There’s no real strategy, just accounting for what’s already been played. And thus, I don’t know if I can truly say I have fun playing it. It’s a mild distraction at best, something to do with your hands while waiting for a larger game. It’s cute.

Go to the Smash Up page

Smash Up

24 out of 26 gamers thought this was helpful

Smash Up is freaking fantastic. There, that’s it, that’s my review. Okay, but no, really, I was reserved about it at first and was very pleasantly surprised. Smash Up is a game built around combing any two of different 20-card faction decks to try and take over bases and score the most victory points. What lies beyond its simple rules and presentation is a whole lot of strategy and variety that has kept me up into the wee hours of the morning.

Set up is easy. Depending on the number of players, place Base cards down. Each Base card has a number in the top left that indicates at what point value it will ‘break’ and then be scored for victory points. Each base also has a unique ability that will affect what a player can do at that base and in some cases how points will be scored.

Each player gets two faction decks consisting of Minion and Action cards (the base game comes with eight factions) and shuffles them together. Minions are played on Bases and have the Power value which is what is used to break a Base. For example, a Base card with a breakpoint value of 12 will need Minion cards on it with a combined Power value of at least 12 in order to break the base and then score it. Most Minions will also have another ability, and, like Action cards, these are pretty self-explanatory. Some abilities are used once, when a Minion or Action is played, or are ongoing and apply whenever the appropriate conditions are met.

Now, a little more explanation on scoring a Base. Besides a breakpoint value, each Base has three victory point values. When a Base is scored, the player whose Minions have the highest combined Power value win first place on that Base and get the corresponding amount of points. Second and third place get points according to their respective place as well. The Base is then discarded and replaced with a new card from the Base deck. The first player to get to 15 victory points wins the game.

Now, the best part about Smash Up is trying out different combinations of factions. How will the Wizards work with the Dinosaurs? What about combining Zombies with Robots? Each faction has a distinct personality to it and way of being played and, well, smashing them together to see what happens is fun as ****. While you do end up getting certain favourites and some combinations could end up a bit overpowered, there’s always an incentive to try a different pairing of decks. Ninjas in particular are hard to use and I want to play more to see if I can get the hang of them.

While being chaotic is certainly part of its charm, it can be off-putting to some folks though. Although it’s a simple set-up, with more than two players there can start to be a lot to keep track of in terms of where your Minions are, what ongoing abilities might be in play, and how many points all these Bases have left before breaking. Half the game is spent just calculating points.

As well, 15 victory points just makes the game end way too fast and doesn’t let folks get a good feel for how their combined factions function together. My group’s had to institute a house rule of 25 points to make a session of Smash Up truly satisfying.

Those are relatively small flaws though, and the biggest factor going against the game is its….meme-yness. Luckily it’s mainly contained to its marketing and rulebook, and the gameplay goes above and beyond it making it easy to forget about, but man this is 2014. It’s important to think about how your game’s humor, especially in the age of the internet with memes coming and going in mere days, will become quickly outdated and embarrassing.

But anyway, Smash Up is a contender for one of my favourite card games. The eight factions contained in the base set is more than plenty to experiment with for a while, but I highly recommend looking into the two expansions, Awesome Level 9000 and The Obligatory Cthulhu Expansion, which offer eight more factions and victory point tokens to help keep track of things.

Go to the King of Tokyo page

King of Tokyo

37 out of 42 gamers thought this was helpful

Giant monsters. If I could be one, I would. If I could marry one, I definitely would. Unfortunately, I can’t do either of those things, so the next best course of action is to play as a cardboard one in a tabletop game. Duh.

Designed by Richard Garfield (designer behind Magic: The Gathering), King of Tokyo places you in the role of a kaiju fighting other kaiju for control of the city of Tokyo. It’s a fairly straightforward premise, and, luckily, a fairly straightforward game that doesn’t take too long to get the hang of and ends up being a ton of fun.

Everything about the game is endearing, even basic set up. There’s colourful little counters, cute little energy cubes (which my group has taken to calling ENERGONZ), a wonderfully illustrated deck of cards with different abilities, a small board representing Tokyo city and its bay, eight neon green and black dice (that feel light and, well, like toy pieces, BUT IT’S GREAT), and, most importantly, cardboard standees of each monster. This is easily the coolest part of the game. Each monster is obviously referential to the classics, and my group and I have all fought to be able to play as our favourite (mine is Gigazaur, because no ****).

Now, the rules are simple, but by no means does that imply that this is not a game filled with tension and excitement. All it means is that it’s a fantastic option for introducing friends to tabletop gaming and demonstrating for them how fun it can be. To win, a player has to either attain twenty victory points or be the last monster standing. Victory points are earned by either rolling point faces on the dice (in a manner similar to Yahtzee), by using certain cards, or by taking control of Tokyo. However, be careful if you choose to enter the city (or bay, depending on the number of players), because everyone is fighting to be the king, and you’re at your most vulnerable when in the fray. Other kinds of dice rolls allow monsters to attack each other, and when a monster outside of Tokyo decides to get aggressive, there’s only one target–you.

Easily one of the most important aspects of the game is the deck of power cards. This adds a bit more strategy to the game, and the right card can be the difference between life or death. Unfortunately, the tactical side is where the base game falls short. Basically, I’m glad I went ahead and bought the Power Up! expansion as well, because King of Tokyo just doesn’t feel complete without it. See, as cool as the monsters are, in the base game, they’re all essentially identical. There’s nothing that gives a player any reason to choose one over the other besides pure aesthetic preference. The expansion, besides providing a seventh monster, also provides a pivotal addition in the form of Evolution cards–decks of eight cards per each monster that give them unique abilities and, therefore, unique strategies for play. Now what monster you choose influences how you’re going to play. For example, Gigazaur’s deck is built for killing everyone, the Pandakai’s is all about building up a bank of energy cubes, and the King’s is getting and maintaining control of Tokyo. It adds a sorely needed bit of strategy that the base game’s deck alone can’t provide.

But besides that, I have very little to complain about when it comes to this game. The elimination aspect is take-it-or-leave-it, and largely depends on whether you’re okay with that kind of play. My group isn’t, so we adjust it so there are penalties rather than simply making people sit out and watch everyone else have fun. This actually ended up reinforcing how well thought-out the tactical element of the game is. Even if you’ve just been knocked out and have to start all over, playing smart can turn the tide in your favor without having to play a lot of catch-up. King of Tokyo is a great, tightly designed board game that also works well as an introductory (erm, “gateway”) game that has already become a staple in my collection. Because, really, giant monsters. Come on. Come ooooooooon.

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