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Matt Sutherland

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Go to the Summoner Wars Master Set page
Go to the Star Trek: Catan page
Go to the Lost Cities: The Card Game page
Go to the Mage Knight Board Game page
Go to the Macao page


25 out of 25 gamers thought this was helpful


In hobbyist circles there seems to be a constant dialog around theme and game mechanics. Some feel that a great board game – by definition – must be organized around an immersive theme. Others feel that this isn’t a necessary component, and that being tied to a theme can limit a designer’s freedom to develop innovative mechanics. For my part, though I think it is true that emphasizing a strong theme necessarily places limits on the otherwise abstract elements of game design, strong mechanics are still possible when placed in the hands of a cable designer – Vlaada Chvátil who designed Galaxy Trucker and Mage Knight comes to mind. That being said, there’s nothing wrong with freeing oneself from the trappings of a strong theme, and placing most of the focus on great mechanics, which is what the designer of Macao – Stefan Feld – usually does. To be sure, the immersion factor is still there, but it rests in the “machine” rather than the theme, which is what fans of the classic euro most enjoy anyway. Will you feel like a 17th century adventurer seeking his fortune in the ancient near east trading city of Macao? Not so much.


The components are of decent quality. You get a quality (thick) game board. The player-specific components, though of thinner-than-I’d-prefer card stock, seem to be holding up well. The little colored wooden cubes are something my wife particularly likes. Finally, the game uses hobbit cards, which would really be annoying but for the fact that there’s no hand management (holding of cards in your hand) needed. The artwork is what you’d expect, effectively casting a veneer of generic theme that elevates the enjoyment of the game above what it would be for a pure abstract without distracting from the interesting mechanics.


In the game you’ll be rolling dice to determine the resources (cubes) to be used for the current turn as well as turns to come. Five dice of various colors will be rolled, and each player will have an opportunity to pick two of those dice to translate into the number and color of cubes to be distributed on a “wind rose”, a nifty devise which determines the resources a player will have in a given round. The actions one can take are varied…they include, 1) Activating People, Building, and Office cards (drafted into your tableau at the beginning of each round) that – depending on the type – have various effects throughout the game, 2) purchasing goods tiles from the main board that can later be sold at various ports, 3) Moving your ship on the main board to reach those aforementioned ports, 4) Moving your player marker on the “Wall” to either obtain or maintain first player status, and 4) Using activated cards to trade in cubes for different colored cubes, or to buy gold which can be used later to buy victory points. The only action where cubes are not used to do something is the actual buying of victory points with gold coins, the exchange rate for which is determined by the initial offering of cards at the beginning of each round. Whew!

Luck vs Strategy

There is luck involved in what cards will be in the offering at the beginning of each round, and the player that is ahead on the “Wall” will have first pick of that offering. This is a big advantage in the sense that it makes it easier for the first player to pursue and, perhaps, stick to a specific strategy early in the game. However, even if the first player remains the first player, there are counter-strategies to whatever strategy is being pursued, so it’s not necessary to get into a “wall war”. Obviously there is also luck involved with those dice rolls, but it doesn’t effectively sway the game in any decisive way since the players are drawing from the same pool and have significant control over how those cubes are allocated to their individual wind rose. Though one’s way of playing will be somewhat directed by the cards drafted, there remains enough choices for deep strategies to emerge after multiple plays.

Fun Factor

On the first play, one may find the number of choices (and paths to victory) overwhelming, so it starts off as feeling like a heavy game, and that feeling of “I don’t know what I’m doing” will be there. However, the first play won’t be a write-off. By the end it will have its hooks in you, and you’ll want another go at it. The second game is much more enjoyable and you’ll start pursuing specific strategies, avoiding the big mistakes that came out of the first experience. One of the fun aspects is the opportunity for great combination moves with the cards that are activated, whose abilities can be used once per turn. Pulling off great moves, especially later in the game when there are more resources, is rewarding.


Short play time – no more than an hour for the two player version
The mechanic of rolling dice to determine the type (color)/qty of resources and even the round on which they’ll be used, is unique and enjoyable.

Like many Stefan Feld games, the balance struck among the many things to do lead to multiple paths to victory. Exploring those paths is great fun.


The planning out of your wind rose and taking of actions, with the given dice rolls and myriad choices before you, can lead to indecisiveness. It’s not really a problem for a 2 player game, but it may make a 4 player game drag on.

Some of the cards are considerably more powerful than others, though this aspect is somewhat mitigated by the difficult combination of cubes needed to activate them.

Go to the Elder Sign page

Elder Sign

149 out of 159 gamers thought this was helpful


I’ve had my eye on this game for some time now, and was recently able to pick it up with some birthday money. I’m not really into Lovecraftian horror, but the idea of rolling dice to resolve cards got me interested. Right, it doesn’t take much beyond dice to get me interested in a game.

You’re an investigator, and the object of the game is to find enough Elder Signs to seal off a monster (called the Ancient One) to prevent its awakening and entrance into, and subsequent destruction of, the world. You’ll do this by – eh hem – rolling dice. If sealing an Ancient One away with Elder Signs is not exciting enough, or perhaps seems like a cop-out, you may also have the opportunity to get into the ring after an Ancient One’s grand entrance, in which case, you’ll wonder why you didn’t take a lighter case.


Of course Fantasy Flight has lifted the bar high for great-quality components. Since the game involves a lot of dice-rolling, this area of the components is very nice. Rounded corners , deep etchings, and just a solid, polished feel make them a pleasure to roll. This area in particular makes a big difference for overall gameplay.
The high quality of art on the various types of cards is also what you’d expected from F/F.


You can either randomly or specifically choose the character you want to play. Each character card has their own weakness and strengths, along with special abilities. Characters come with a max level of “Sanity” and “Stamina”, which if depleted to zero, causes the character to be “devoured”. The player whose character is devoured can pick a new character; however, all equipment is lost. The center of the game revolves around rolling dice to match their faces to “tasks” on one of the six Adventure cards in play, which are meant to represent locations/events inside the museum at Miskatonic University, a well-known locale in the world of Lovecraft. There’s a lot of variety to the different Adventure cards (48 in all). “Resolving” a card by matching the tasks yields all kinds of items/benefits (including Elder Signs) that can help you win the game. Also, the cards you do resolve become “trophies” which can be traded in for resources at the permanent “Entrance” location (10 trophies yield an Elder Sign, by the way). The passing of time, which yields good and bad events, is represented by a nifty clock that progresses 3 hours at the end of each player’s turn. Mythos cards are turned over when the clock strikes midnight that render “immediate” and “lingering” effects. Usually the immediate effects are bad, and the lingering effects (lasting a whole day) are a mixed bag. Oh, and everyone keeps their eye on the Doom Tracker, which if filled up, signals the failure of the investigators to seal away the Ancient One, thereby ushering in its awful entrance into our world…then it’s show time!

Fun Factor

Umm, yeah, this game is fun – make no mistake. However, the game is fun more for the mechanics than for a strong theme connected to them. I can play this with my 7 year old son (I don’t let him read the flavor text) and he doesn’t get creeped out and have nightmares, for example. Besides the general mechanics often not making sense with what you’re supposed to be doing in the game world, part of the weakness of the disconnected theme can be attributed to the lack of a board. You’re going to a lot of locations, but they’re represented by only a little art and flavor text on the upper part of the adventure cards, and those cards occupy/replace the same 6 spaces in front of you throughout the game. I really don’t pay attention anymore to where I am in the museum…who cares? This really doesn’t bother me, as I didn’t buy the game to have a Lovecraftian experience, and am even a little relieved for how weak the theme comes through (my son can play!) as I normally don’t want to spend an evening playing a gloomily –themed game.
The thing that surprised me is that even though you’re rolling dice like crazy, which suggests a high degree of randomness, decisions do feel relatively important. Assessing what you might be able to accomplish with a given set of Adventure cards, given your resources (stamina/sanity and items) presents interesting decisions. Don’t get me wrong, you ARE going by your gut in many cases (what have I been rolling recently?), but there are tactics to use that will certainly increase your chances of beating the game.

What can I say, it kind of captures the excitement of gambling. Taking a risk by going for that difficult Adventure card, and somehow pulling off a great final die-roll that wins it just feels great!

And the filling up of the doom track (revealing the Ancient One) definitely conveys that final stage/big boss feel. It’s like a cool little mini game tagged onto the main one. Really, if the game just ended after the doom track was filled, it would still be a cool.


With a few minor exceptions, the rules are easy to pickup

Gorgeous components/game art

Nifty mechanics lead to varied tactics for completing tasks

Lots of variety in the adventure and character cards

It isn’t creepy (theme not strongly tied to gameplay)


For all its great artwork, the theme doesn’t come through very strong, which can also be a plus (see above)

Too many essentially duplicate item cards (just different art)

Go to the Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game Starter Set page
67 out of 74 gamers thought this was helpful

I like Star Wars, but am not a diehard fan. And, this would be my first foray into the “boardless” miniatures game market.


This is Fantasy Flight, folks, so you can expect beautiful components. I was surprised to see just how much cardboard is in here! Great dice, nice chits, quality movement templates, and nifty little dials (to determine maneuvers) for your ships round out a satisfying unboxing. Much has been said about the detail/quality of the miniatures. They seem very nice to me, and they add a cool factor to a game that would otherwise suffer from game mechanics that I suspect are a too simple for the hardcore miniatures gamer. The nice instruction booklet is well-implemented, and even has a handy Quick Reference on the back cover. There’s also a 2 ply quick start sheet which will help you get your first game started fast.


The game round, which consists of 4 phases (Planning, Activation, Combat, and End – clean up) are simple and streamlined enough to keep the action going at a good pace. Clearly F/F is trying to strike a good balance between having enough choices to keep things interesting, while ensuring the game appeals to a large audience (I picked up my copy at Target). Of course combat is naturally the most engaging part of the game. Both attack and defense dice are rolled to determine if damage cards will be taken. Normal points of damage are represented by using the topside of damage cards. Critical hits require the player to use the faceup side and resolve the effects indicated. The various ways you can suffer damage really mix things up.

Fun Factor

As far as the core set goes, this is pretty fun, but I don’t think there’s enough variety in the ship cards, upgrades (or ships for that matter) to last many plays before things start getting stale. That being said, this is ONLY the core set, and with all the expansions coming out – some of which will probably add to the rules – I imagine the game will evolve into something pretty great. Judging the core set alone, I would place this in the category of a strong filler.

Great components, especially the miniatures
Feels like Star Wars
Nice damage system

Price point (yikes)
Rules are a little too simple for my taste

Go to the Earth Reborn page

Earth Reborn

68 out of 121 gamers thought this was helpful

This game has top-notch components, deep and varied mechanics, and near-infinite replayability – a potential box of fun like nothing else I own. Does anybody want to buy mine? I played this once with my wife and we LOVED it, and never played it again… Long setup, and long playtime unless you devote consecutive evenings to it. But it’s ok. This game has such a cool factor that it scratches an itch just by messing with the components and dreaming about playing it…very satisfying so far. 😉

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