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Richard Malena

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Go to the 7 Wonders page
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Go to the Pathfinder: Core Rulebook page
Go to the Dungeons & Dragons: Lords of Waterdeep page
Go to the Dungeons & Dragons: Lords of Waterdeep page
73 out of 80 gamers thought this was helpful

Wizards of the Coast’s Lords of Waterdeep came as a complete shock to me when I first heard about it. A Euro-style game from my favorite hack-and-slash enablers? I wasn’t really sure they could pull it off. Then again, with the decades of focus they have had creating a variety of mechanics in both Magic and D&D, I shouldn’t have been surprised by how they were able to synthesize the pureness of the Euro gamestyle in a simplistic way that lets you dive right into the fun and entertainment side of things.

I freaking love it.

“What’s there to love?” you may ask. Plenty.

1. Variance. In each game, you play a different Lord of Waterdeep, with a different focus. Some are concerned with matters of Piety and Combat, and others focus on Skullduggery and the Arcane. These distinctions automatically give people different overall goals in the game and limit the possibility that players will be competing for every single quest and placement. Various quest types need different adventurers (what do Fighters know about Piety, anyway?), so players are forced to spread out around the gameboard. There are very few buildings that are of greatest benefit to every player at the same time each round.

In a game like Puerto Rico, if every player decides on a shipping strategy at the beginning, it can be tough for anyone to ship efficiently. In this game, your options are pre-defined. Of course, how you choose to meet your goals is still up to you…

2. Competitiveness. As victory points are given every turn a quest is completed, a player’s score will increase in spurts throughout the game. Which means that “first place” switches hands many times throughout the game. While some players may lag behind, I have yet to see a game where I knew who would win before the end of the final round. Every single time, it takes revealing the Lords of Waterdeep at the end of the game to determine the winner. As long as players are invested in playing the game strategically and efficiently, every game can be a close one.

3. Accessibility. Every single time I teach this game to new players, they play a single round and then hardly ever ask for help again. The actions and goals are so easily defined that people learn this game fast, and are making solid strategic decisions on their own within ten minutes. Last time I played, the newest player won, and I had to fight to take second against some other relatively new players.

4. Fun. The pieces are bright, shiny, and well-designed. Finishing the quests gives you that surge-of-victory feeling multiple times within a single game. Late game, there’s that tension that comes when you silently beg everyone not to put their meeple in the specific spot you want… I could go on and on. This game never ceases to entertain me. There aren’t any times I wish I was off playing something different. I just love it.

Play this game. That’s my end recommendation. Play this game, and then make other people play this game. Especially for those who aren’t familiar with the worker placement genre of games, this is too much fun to miss.

Go to the The Settlers of Catan page
122 out of 132 gamers thought this was helpful

It occurred to me that I’ve reviewed the Cities and Knights expansion, but not the core game itself. Which is a shame, since Settlers is the game that brought us to the promised land, away from Interdimensional Risk and Drunk Candyland, and to a place where games are good and fun all on their own merits. It’s a game that holds a place in our history, and every single gamer in the world should play it at least once.

Settlers was one of the first games I ever played to hold to the Fun Ideal: Every player should play until the end of the game, and should have fun throughout. While some games left you so far behind that you couldn’t win, there was satisfaction to be gained in the process of building right up until the end. No one was ever eliminated. In their next game, they could have a goal of “Doing better than last time.” It was a game where you had standards that you could actually improve on. You could create meaningful strategies and fine tune them over time. This was a breathtaking change from most games I’d played up until then.

As a teacher of a Games and Game Theory class, I make sure to always play this game right at the beginning of the semester. The game is easy to pick up, and players have to make choices quickly. If they play this game three times, by the third game, I can already ask them to evaluate those decisions. Did they design a strategy that was meaningfully different than other players? What is your favorite way to win this game? In just a simple little package, Settlers delivers very different results here. And once you tack on the expansions, this game is brilliant.

While I prefer to play Catan with the more complex Cities and Knights rules, Settlers of Catan has stood the test of time as a gateway into better gaming. Find the games you like in the world, but make sure you try this one. For all the games that came after, it’s like we all owe Settlers just a bit of our gaming experience.

Go to the Ticket to Ride Pocket page
122 out of 130 gamers thought this was helpful

I purchased Ticket to Ride for iOS one day when a friend and I were sitting in a theater waiting for the show to start. Instead of checking Facebook and watching those terrible ads, we were able to blast through a game of TtR in record time! We had tons of fun, and it was clear that the people behind us were absolutely jealous. The game plays just like the board game version, and we could be terribly snarky to each other while we created our railroads to victory. My experience suggests that this game has no flaws, and if you love the board game, you will also love this version.

A week later, I received a request to join a game with the same friend. That game dragged on for days, as we attempted to weave our turns into the frenzied daily routines. Since individual turns are so short in TtR, I was never satisfied having just one. I would sit, hoping my friend would play her turn so I could do something, anything else. Alack and alas, it was not to be.

Depending on how you choose to play the game, TtR Pocket is either my favorite or my least favorite board-to-iOS translation.

Imagine waiting in line at PAX or Origins. The event you want starts in twenty minutes, but you didn’t pack your games. Tell your friends to break out the smartphones and get to playing. Or maybe the pizza is just taking forever to show up. Play TtR Pocket. Ticket to Ride is an amazing game, and you are only doing yourself a favor by playing it when you get the chance. Finish your game in a short amount of time and go about your busy day.

However, if you are preparing to play a game against friends from across the country, I want you to think about the process of loading up this app simply to draw one Wild card. And then waiting half an hour to place two trains. And then half a day to draw two cards you don’t actually need. And after thinking about this process, consider any other alternative.

Again, TtR Pocket is a great little game. Just make sure you play it in the proper context!

Go to the Wiz-War page


44 out of 46 gamers thought this was helpful

The first edition of Wiz-War was a staple of our college gaming nights. It allowed us to be purely competitive in a creative and malicious way that wargaming just couldn’t compete with. I’ve encased my friends in hallways filled with solid blocks of stone. I have stabbed them to death with my Wizardblade. And I have wasted their counterspells with weaker attacks like Waterbolt, all the while grinning at the Sudden Death attack just sitting there in my fist like a pair of Aces in the hole. Likewise, I have lost that game in so many frustrating ways, it defies imagination.

Because of how good Wiz-War was, we created rules to play a similarly competitive style of D&D. I have friends who are consumed with the evil mashup of Wiz-War and RoboRally. We are addicts, which has led to this game hitting the table many, many times in the years since college.

The mechanics of the game are simple. You are a wizard, and you are trapped in a dungeon with a few other wizards. Each of you have two treasures. Your goal is to capture two treasures not your own and place them on your home square. Alternately, you may just destroy your competition. On your turn, you may move a few spaces and play a single Attack spell, provided you have the right line-of-sight. Easy.

However, for me the fun has always come from the Neutral cards. There’s no limit to how many of these you may play in a turn, and these cards do wild things to change the gameboard. Some will summon walls or bushes or monsters. Others will allow you to rotate portions of the game board, creating new passageways to get you to your goals. The amount of havoc and chaos you can create will leave your opponents in tears. Right up until you walk behind them and find the perfect Attack card to turn those tears into the need for revenge.

The second edition of Wiz-War has thankfully fixed a few of the issues found in the first edition. By dividing the spells into six schools of magic, only three of which are ever in a given game, the game gains variety and alleviates some of the tedium of always having the same spells. Many of the rules have been clarified, although there are still plenty of arguments to be had with a few of the cards. Furthermore, to simply say that the components have been upgraded is an understatement. They are amazing now, and give the game a much more structured feel. However, the greatest and most important change seems to be on the limit of chaos you can cause at any given time.

In this edition, you have a certain number of cards in your hand. When you play an item in front of you, giving you a static benefit, this counts as one of the cards in your hand, leaving you with fewer spells to choose from. Unlike the first edition, however, now every static effect you place on the board also counts as a card in your hand! This means that over time, parts of the game board will slowly reset to their initial conditions, as players decided that a lonely Thornbush on the wrong side of the board isn’t worth only drawing four cards a turn.

This is an excellent game for players who are in the mood for chaos and creative spite. As such, it isn’t a game for everyone! I wouldn’t really recommend it as a family game, because this game is certainly dark. And while it is quite strategic, I wouldn’t recommend it to wargamers, as it is so continuously chaotic. But, if you have a group of friends who every once in a while play an Evil D&D campaign, or argue for the sake of arguing, or who love to hop onto Modern Warfare 3 for the sole purpose of pwning each other and laughing, then this game might be for you.

Go to the Chrononauts page


51 out of 53 gamers thought this was helpful

Chrononauts is a great little game by Looney Labs that lets you play a time traveler, fighting against other time travelers to create your perfect timeline. Maybe you want to collect the Mona Lisa and a little dinosaur pet named Alice, or maybe your goal is to prevent major assassinations throughout history. Once you’ve done the right things to make time your own, you win!

The game board is a series of two-sided cards, each detailing an event that actually happened in our history, with a different possibility on the reverse. By using Reversals, you can flip them over, sending ripples throughout the timeline and flipping a series of future event cards. Patch cards then allow you to rewrite history based on these new possibilities.

Each game, you choose from a unique character and a unique goal. Each totally bizarre character needs to modify and patch the timeline twice, and each goal requires you to have a collection of three Artifacts. All of these patches and artifacts are in the action deck, which also give you access to gadgets and other wild effects. On the other hand, if you can ever manage to get a hold of ten cards at once, you are considered so powerful that the other travelers give up. With three very different win conditions, this little game actually has a great deal of strategy involved.

One significant problem with this game is that each character is looking for very specific cards in the deck. If you don’t happen to draw them, or if they’re down at the bottom, winning can be a painful task. However, game play is interesting enough that you can have fun just messing with time, even without getting close to victory. Since patching the timeline lets you draw from the deck, changing the game is definitely helpful to whichever strategy you choose.

I’ve played this game a few times, and each instance has been a lot of fun. Whether or not I win, getting to save the Hindenburg or start World War Three and cause endless paradoxes always keeps it interesting. I would recommend Chrononauts to anyone looking for a fun, random game, but needs more structure than Munchkin or Fluxx. This is not a pure strategy game in any sense, but it is a ton of FUN!

Go to the Pathfinder: Core Rulebook page
63 out of 70 gamers thought this was helpful

[DISCLAIMER: I’m a long-time role-player, and I can’t write this review without a nod to the history of the D&D Franchise. This game is about much more than just one company and one author. I really wish I could write a review that could do it justice, but I will certainly try! -Ark]

When Wizards of the Coast took over the D&D line in the late 90’s, they came out with version 3.0 under the new d20 system, a brand new rule set that was focused and easy to understand. It allowed for mountains of customization and choice in the game through the Open Game License, free rein for third party companies to publish material within the d20 system. After gaining an immense fanbase, they took it to the next level by publishing 3.5, an update to the core rules that was again wildly popular.

A few years later, WotC decided to move things in a new direction by releasing 4th Edition, a game that seemed to emulate the mechanics of MMO raid systems. Many players wanted to stick with version 3.5, and each of these players were very fortunate that Paizo Publishing decided to update the core classes and rules in a game called Pathfinder, sometimes called D&D Version 3.75 or 3.X.

It’s difficult to review a game that has been around for as long as D&D, so let’s look at what makes Pathfinder different from 3.5.

At it’s heart, Pathfinder is a game about telling stories. Players work together to journey through an adventure defined by the Gamemaster. In order to do so, Players create characters that act through dice rolling. Pathfinder uses the d20 system popularized by WotC, which boils down to rolling a d20 and adding bonuses to beat a difficulty rating.

Players have their choice of over fifteen character classes, each with a variety of archetypes that affect their strategies and abilities, and, unlike previous versions, every one of these is available as a character concept right from first level. More importantly, within the hundred of core ideas you can choose from, there are feats and skills and spells and abilities and companions that allow you to customize your character even further. Prestige Classes are still around, but there are far fewer of them, and they are much less important that the core classes, which have been updated and given many more options and abilities.

Pathfinder is a game that takes effort to master. There are so many options that the learning curve needed to get to a fun and interesting character concept sometimes requires careful study and reading. But there has never been a time when I didn’t think this work was worth it.

If I could only play one game, it would probably be Pathfinder. I have spent more worthwhile evenings wrapped up in a great story than playing any other game I can name. I’ve played warriors and archers and wizards and priests and swashbucklers and archivists and dark summoners and spies and so many characters I can hardly even list them all. The rules here are clear and allow me to play with people from across the city and the state, in home games or convention play through the Pathfinder Society.

Role-Playing Games aren’t for everyone, so I understand if this just isn’t your thing. However, if you are a fan, then you owe it to yourselves to try out this system. I just cannot recommend it highly enough.

Go to the Dixit page


40 out of 45 gamers thought this was helpful

Often, I will finish playing a new game and find myself wanting to try it out again. Maybe there are strategies I began to see that I needed to flesh out, or maybe I didn’t get a good enough impression of one of the mechanics. The game is good, but I need another go-round.

Dixit, on the other hand, we didn’t want to stop playing. Ever. Someone reached thirty points, and we just kept going around the circle. The experience was beautiful and captivating and intelligent and interesting and amazing and I can’t recommend it enough.

Dixit is very similar to games like Balderdash or Apples to Apples, but puts a clever and interesting twist to each of them. Whereas both Balderdash and Apples to Apples are focused on the written word, Dixit is based on a deck of cards covered in outstanding artwork, and a spoken phrase or word or emotion. The Storyteller chooses one of the cards in their hand, places it face down on the table, and then says a phrase out loud (I recall “Treguna, Makoidees, Trecorum, Sadis Dee!” was one last night!) and each player then chooses one of their own cards that could fit the same phrase.

The phrase is extremely important, and most of the fun of the game. It must be enough of a hint that someone picks up on it, but not everyone. Each player picks the card they believe fits the phrase best, and the Storyteller scores points based on how many people pick theirs. However, if EVERYONE picks it, or if NO ONE picks it, the Storyteller gets no points and everyone else gets two.

So, imagine that on your turn as the Storyteller, you have a hand of five cards, each a single piece of artwork, and your goal is to create a phrase that will allow a few of the people at the table to guess which card is yours, but not everyone. It requires you to be clever and subtle and creative. There are few games I could name that allow for this sort of game play.

I loved playing this game, and I was happily surprised at every new card I drew. The cards are beautifully done, and I’m extremely happy with the construction of the game in general.

My only regret is that once I learn all the cards, some of this “new car” feeling might be lost. You’ll understand if you’ve ever finished all the decks in Apples to Apples. However, I expect that this will take games and games for me to remember them all, and I hope for a series of amazing experiences until then.

This game is perfect for anyone who enjoys Apples to Apples or Balderdash or Wits and Wagers, or any of that style of game. Furthermore, it’s perfect for anyone who loves looking at artwork and thinking about the story of all the characters in the piece leading up to this one compelling and captivating moment.

I think that means it’s perfect for everyone.

Go to the Pathfinder: Beginner Box page
207 out of 217 gamers thought this was helpful

The Pathfinder Beginner’s Box is, hands down, the simplest and most robust introduction to the rules-heavy world of tabletop role playing that I have ever seen. Consider it the middle ground between board games like Descent, Hero’s Quest, or Warhammer Quest, and the full-on rules madness of regular Pathfinder. It’s magic, I tell you. This is a game I will be buying for kids during the holidays.

Before even getting into the rules, it’s important to note that the components are amazing. The cardboard figures feature full-color artwork, and the books themselves are filled with illustrations and diagrams that make things easy to visualize. I wish every game I played had that much detail! It does come with a set of dice, but you’ll still want your own. That’s just how we gamers roll.

Pathfinder took the D&D 3.5 rules and made them better in every way. Here in the Beginner’s Box, they take these rules and break them down into just the most important ones. The core mechanic is clearly on display here (roll 1d20 and add bonuses to get the highest number you can), and it is very easy for anyone to catch on within a round or two. During the course of an adventure, even brand new players will get comfortable with the rules and start creating real characters as they play.

For those who already know RPG’s, it’s important to note that you simply aren’t allowed to do the crazy complicated things you can in the regular game. For example, Attacks of Opportunity don’t exist, and anything which would provoke them in the new game just aren’t possible. For veterans, this is admittedly frustrating. Then again, this game isn’t designed for veterans.

If you (or your kids!) have ever been interested in trying out tabletop RPG’s, there is no game that I could give a higher recommendation than this one. One of the greatest hindrances to bringing new players to Pathfinder is the learning curve. With the Beginner’s Box, we have a clear gateway, and players will be picking up the Core Rulebook in no time.

Go to the Risk page


49 out of 52 gamers thought this was helpful

Every gamer I know has an opinion about Risk. Some of them love it for the nostalgia it inspires, or for how it fills their need for simple world domination. Others hate it for its unmercifully random die rolls, or for the endless tedium that reminds them of Monopoly. Whichever boat you fall into, you just can’t forget your first time playing Risk.

At its core, Risk is a simple game. You try to conquer the world by destroying your friends. Risk is the archetype for any of these games, and as such, has some of the simplest methods. You don’t have different kinds of troops. You can’t gain a significant advantage except for having more troops than your neighbor. There are no secrets that will change the fundamental nature of the game.

More than most games, Risk can call itself a pure information game. The pieces are all out in the open and everyone can create similar strategies. In fact, it’s the parts of the game that are random that make people furious.

The dice: You get one die for each troop you have in the conflict. Defender can have a max of two, while attackers get three. However, defenders win ties. This leads to the “divinely protected” scenario, where a single defender keeps rolling 6’s, wrecking your amazing strategy by pure, dumb luck.

The cards: The cards represent military escalation, but you had to get matching sets of three. Sometimes, you would match on your third card. Sometimes, the fourth. In rare cases, you actually needed five. Again, through dumb luck, your escalation is held back through no fault of your own.

Risk is a game that needs to be played, but it certainly has its flaws. Because it is such a pure game, there are many variants out there to make things a little better during play. If you have never played this game before, you NEED to, if only to understand gamers a little better. Just remember that you can take out your anger at the game on your friends as you march towards total world domination. GOOD LUCK.

Go to the The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game page
69 out of 96 gamers thought this was helpful

A group of gamer friends and I decided to sit down and try this game out. We’ve all been playing and designing board games for years, so we have a lot of experience in learning and explaining new games. I want to attempt to convince you of this experience, because after reading the rules and eventually “winning” the game, I still don’t know how to play Lord of the Rings.

The game started out nicely enough. We laughed about giving our heroes titles and planned out synergies between our events and abilities. Then, we went on a quest. During the course of this quest, it is fair to say that we were brutalized. Damage flooded the board and our threat levels went directly up above forty. Nothing could stop the horde of evil from destroying the lands of dwarves, elves and humans.

With sadness in our hearts, we began the next round by calling in some allies. Immediately, we sent a billion people on the quest, breaking it in our rage. Through the luck of the draw, no new monsters were added, allowing us to easily break up the ones already on the board. We gained momentum. Next turn, we finished quest two. We “won” the game on turn four.

I have absolutely no confidence in this “win” because I still have no confidence that I understand those rules. The level of arcane abstraction needed to play this game may not be available to mere mortals. For this reason, I’ve read that tutorials exist on line to teach you how to actually play the game. In my mind, this is a failure of game design.

Not all games need to be intuitive, but LotR:tCG goes too far in the other direction. The game has a pile of stages, each with different arcane rules, and each requiring you to manage your resources at the beginning of the turn. I’m sure that we would understand this game by the fourth playthrough, but I didn’t have any fun on the first… why would I try it a second time?

I do not recommend this game to people who want to sit down and play a fun game. I do not recommend this game to people who want to play a CCG. I think I could actually only recommend this game to rules-lawyering sadists… you could study this game for hours and hours and then make your friends suffer in your wake. Needless to say, this game is not for me.

Go to the Elder Sign page

Elder Sign

86 out of 94 gamers thought this was helpful

Elder Sign is the newest in the Call of Cthulhu Mythos series of games (Arkham Horror, Mansions of Madness), and while it keeps some of the same ideas and goals as the other two, it dumps the heavy, time-intensive style for something that is entirely simple and fun: dice rolling.

Like Arkham Horror, your team is attempting to keep one of the Elder Gods from waking up by finding enough Elder Signs to keep them out of the world. You do this by investigating locations, which also gives you perks like finding Common and Unique Items, Spells, or Allies. In fact, if you’ve played Arkham Horror, these cards will feel perfectly familiar to you. It is the goal of your team to use abilities to their fullest potential and to help each other to beat these locations.

The mechanic at your disposal is a pool of dice. In order to beat a location, you must roll a certain number of specific faces of the dice. For instance, each dice has a single black skull on it. Some locations may require two black skulls to complete, along with a terror, a scroll and three clues. If you can roll all of these, you investigate successfully and take the rewards. If you fail, all of the dice are removed and given to the next player, who must then start fresh. Items allow you to access extra dice with slightly different faces.

Once you’ve played a single turn, you are suddenly a master of the game. Elder Sign is easily accessible because the mechanic is so simple. I felt bad for people demoing this game, because it was just so easy for people to pick up. New players can easily start making strategic decisions as early as their second turn.

And yet, to say this game is just a mashup of Zombie Dice and Arkham Horror is unfair. While this game is simple (and seemingly easy to win!) it does require some strategy. There is some dice manipulation involved, and certain characters can make your chances much more successful. It is often more helpful to gain items and allies than to just try for an Elder Sign every turn.

I would say that this is an excellent game for new and old players, but I wouldn’t recommend playing it three times a row in one night. I would also recommend this to the player who dreams of Arkham Horror, but can’t get friends to commit… Let this be your gateway!

Go to the Ascension page


41 out of 48 gamers thought this was helpful

I had a chance to play this game a few times at PAX, where it had quickly become one of the most talked about board games in the building. While I love Dominion, I was not impressed with Thunderstone, so I wasn’t quite sure what I’d have on my hands. But, it turned out that Ascension is a great little game! Quick and easy to learn and play, yet still containing a few strategic decisions for gameplay.

Unlike Dominion, Ascension is a fairly random game. Every turn, the center of the board is filled with a selection of cards that you can spend your resources on. If you choose to buy cards, you put them in your discard pile, as deckbuilder players should already expect. Each of these cards are worth victory points that will add to your final score. However, there are monster cards in the same array for you to attack. Killing these exiles the monsters to the Void and gives you some victory point tokens, which don’t fill up your deck at all.

I tried a purchasing-heavy strategy that only began to work as the game was ending. I was stomped by a monster-killing deck and beaten soundly by the hybrid deck. C’est la vie. But, most importantly, after a single game, I was able to see all these strategies and immediately start to evaluate them. On the other hand, each strategy comes down to “what’s the best thing on the board right now?” which makes it difficult to create flashy combos.

The learning curve on this game is fairly low, making it a great gateway for new gamers. I can see how it would become tiresome without some expansions coming along, but this is a game I could have fun with for some time before jumping back to the myriad possibilities of Dominion.

Go to the Zombie Fluxx page

Zombie Fluxx

46 out of 64 gamers thought this was helpful

I will go on record as saying that I do not like Fluxx. I think the game is just too random, and I have never played a game where someone did not choose the Troll method (This game will never end! All shall suffer!) because winning was nigh unto impossible. Winning just comes down to luck.

That being said, I enjoy playing Zombie Fluxx a ton! The game adds extra goals that let you win by doing things. Things like killing zombies, which is the hallmark of any good zombie game. By using weapon cards, you may be able to clear out some of the incoming horde, netting you a win. This allows you do much more than just hold on to keepers and dream of a winning goal.

Is it still random? Yes. This is not a game for strategists. But, if Fluxx isn’t quite your thing, you should try this one out for a fun distraction in between marathon sessions of A Game of Thrones.

Go to the Race for the Galaxy: The Gathering Storm page
48 out of 56 gamers thought this was helpful

This expansion is so necessary, it should be part of the game itself. It adds plenty of useful cards to the deck, which help set up the storyline of the world the designers have created. Almost as importantly, it allows for a fifth player. Since my groups often run 4-6, this makes it possible for RftG to be part of our regular rotation.

TGS also adds smaller goals to the game. By, for example, being the first player to be able to produce one of every good, they get a few extra victory points for the end of the game. Some of the other ones are goals for whichever player has the most of something by game’s end. These goals make it easier for players to have something to do when their overall strategy isn’t working out so well! The victory points aren’t worth more than a fully powered 6-cost development, but they certainly help.

More than any of the other expansions, The Gathering Storm helps make Race for the Galaxy a truly great game.

Go to the Dungeons & Dragons: Castle Ravenloft Board Game page
39 out of 68 gamers thought this was helpful

WotC has done some interesting things with this series of dumbed-down-4E board games, but their first installment didn’t quite get all the way into the perfectly playable category. Fortunately, they quickly fixed their mistakes with the sequel, Wrath of Ashardalon.

In Wrath, the treasure cards are better (say, useful?), and the game itself is a little nicer. You will find yourself enjoying the game all the way to the end, and while it will still be a challenge, it won’t be the depressing and endless pile of suffering you face in Castle Ravenloft.

Did I just review Wrath instead of Ravenloft? Yes, I did. Why? Because it’s the version you should actually be playing.

Go to the Dominion: Cornucopia page
31 out of 37 gamers thought this was helpful

While I usually play Dominion with a small, streamlined deck, I have played against many people who want to pack all the cards they can into their deck until they can bridge while shuffling. For all those people, Cornucopia has arrived!

This expansion is focused around having a lot of different cards in your deck, giving you benefits for variety. And while that seems clunky, it adds mechanics that still allow you to get to the cards you need to keep buying Provinces and win.

The game changer in this set seems to be the Tournament. If it happens to be in, expect it to be the first stack of cards emptied. While tournaments are more of a long term strategy, the card itself is worthwhile and the eventual rewards are fantastic.

Even though this is not the right expansion for me, the mechanics they add to the game are impressive. I’d rate it right below Seaside and Prosperity!

Go to the Cranium page


33 out of 39 gamers thought this was helpful

Let’s be honest. You and a group of seven other people are hanging out and having a fun party when it starts to reach a lull. You need a game to liven things up. You already played Apples to Apples and you have too many people for Rock Band. What do you do next?

Cranium is a good fourth or fifth choice. It allows people to play charades and act and sing and spell and play with clay. The game itself is ridiculous, like Trivial Pursuit, but it’s completely secondary to the fun of seeing your friends do really stupid things to a time limit.

If you’ve never played this game, I’d say you’re missing out. It’s simple fun for a few hours and it requires very little in the way of skill. In fact, I’d say it’s more fun if you aren’t skilled! It isn’t a regular part of a gaming party for my group, but I’m never sad when it happens to show up.

Go to the Catan: Cities & Knights page
79 out of 89 gamers thought this was helpful

While Settlers of Catan has long been on the list of “gateway” games that grow quickly boring to experienced gamers, the Cities and Knights expansion adds enough depth to bring it right back onto the table.

A key problem with Settlers has always been the ramp up of expansion in the endgame. The first person to a city has a severe edge, as they start to gain double resources. In my experience, the first player to a second city is the game winner. Cities and Knights pushes back on this by adding Commodities, advanced resources you can only gain once you have built a city. Now, instead of gaining two stone on a turn, you would get one stone and one Coin. This slows the expansion down while allowing for some fun new options.

Gaining Commodities allows you to expand your civilization, which is the only way to get Development cards. Once you build up enough, you also gain a few special abilities, such as gaining a resource of your choice on any turn where you don’t earn anything. The development cards are varied and provide huge benefits, making them a very important part of the game.

Meanwhile, the Barbarians continue their inevitable series of invasions. Players need to maintain an army of knights in order to hold back the horde. If the Barbarians ever do invade, the player who contributed least to defense has one of their cities razed to the ground. On the other hand, the strongest military gains a victory point when the horde is repelled.

Cities and Knights adds a ton of new mechanics, allowing players to choose different routes to victory. Instead of the one-note race of regular Settlers, this expansion takes strategy and planning to win.

If you have ever wished to go back to those innocent days of Settlers but just can’t bring yourself to play such a simple game, then this expansion is for you.

Go to the Betrayal at House on the Hill page
42 out of 49 gamers thought this was helpful

Betrayal is an amazing game, capable of nigh-unto-endless replay with the same basic mechanics. The game takes almost two whole minutes to teach, and even new players are making their own decisions on what they want to do well before the haunt happens.

The game is a good exercise in guided chaos theory, because everything is random. Do you find a useful item or the room you are looking for? Does your super-sane priest fail to hold strong against a creepy, mumbly voice from the darkness? Will Ox Bellows think his way to opening the vault? The pure randomness ensures that every experience will be different, making it very easy to play two or three games in a row!

Because there are fifty scenarios for the haunt, not all of them are perfectly written, leaving it up to the group to muddle through some game adjudication. Eh, it’s fun to rewrite rules!

If I were having a board game night for new players, this would go right to the start of the rotation. It is one of my favorite cooperative games, and given the option, I could play it all night long.

Go to the Dungeons & Dragons: 4th Edition page
52 out of 63 gamers thought this was helpful

4E lived up to the original D&D company name, TSR, or Tactical Studies Rules. This is a perfect game if you love the min/max, meta-heavy organization that goes into fighting a late-game raid boss in that MMORPG I got bored with. Roleplaying is a side note here as much as it is in that self-same MMORPG. Instead, the focus is clearly on combat, tactics, and rules. With EXCELLENT creature stat blocks outlining general function and strategy and perfect methods for balancing encounters and adventures, I was ready for this to take over my gaming lineup. Instead, I was instantly and familiarly bored.

I will say that the flavor text has improved. In 2nd ed, I swung my sword. In 3rd ed, I Power Attacked and swung my sword! In 4th ed, I “punctuate my scything attacks with wicked jabs and small cutting blows that slip through my enemy’s defenses.” But the flavor text also minimizes the personal thought that goes into an action, and, like I said, I got bored.

4E works as a system, but it doesn’t engage my brain in the way I want it to. It helps me kill raid bosses. It doesn’t help me play a fun game with my friends.

I had such hopes!

Go to the Race for the Galaxy page
33 out of 54 gamers thought this was helpful

I love playing this game. However, even as an avid gamer, it took me at least two playthroughs to figure out what all the cards meant and how to play the game. After that, it was at least ten more games before I could say “these are the coherent strategies.”

Given that you have gotten your mind around how the game functions, Race is one of my favorite games to play, ESPECIALLY the two-player variant, which adds a little more strategy and a little less chance to the mix.

One downside: I never remember the name of this game. If I tell my friends I want to play Race for the Future, they just have to shake their heads and be ready to take over the galaxy.

Go to the Forbidden Island page

Forbidden Island

50 out of 71 gamers thought this was helpful

Forbidden Island is usually one of the first “serious” board games I will show to new players. The easy setting is almost always a victory, mechanics are simple to pick up, and even new players can jump into the strategic discussions after two minutes. Then, once they are convinced that they have mastered the simple goals and rules of the game, I jump it up to not-so-easy, and they get stomped. From success to failure, all in the span of an hour, and they love it. Half the time, they want to leap in and win the third round.

This is how we build a legion of gamers.

Go to the Dominion: Seaside page

Dominion: Seaside

51 out of 61 gamers thought this was helpful

Seaside is really too much fun. Whether you are looking for keen attack cards, ways to streamline your deck, or packing for a single amazing turn, Seaside has cards perfectly designed for you.

The duration mechanic is amazing and useful for any player. Play an action and gain benefits this turn, as well as the next! It’s basically like having an extra, free use card in your hand next time. 5-cost cards like Wharf are fantastic, but even Havens will become part of your regular rotation. These duration cards also mean one less card in your deck while you are shuffling around for the perfect treasure combo.

Seaside also has Islands, which are victory cards that you can play as an action. The action allows you to take it and another card from your hand, and exile them to an Island for the remainder of the game. Line up an Island with another victory card, and your deck shrinks by two useless cards.

If you like Dominion, I don’t see how you could not like this expansion.

Go to the Dominion: Prosperity page
46 out of 79 gamers thought this was helpful

Dominion is an amazing game, and the Prosperity expansion just makes it that much better. In Prosperity, everything costs more, so there are higher value Platinum cards as well as higher cost Actions and Victory cards. Like the sets before, Prosperity also adds a new mechanic: treasure cards can now be actions or give extra benefits. Some of the treasure cards are actually my favorite cards!

Just like you hated getting a total of 7 gold before, now you will loathe getting to 10. I have a tough time playing Dominion and not adding this expansion in!

Go to the 7 Wonders page

7 Wonders

40 out of 68 gamers thought this was helpful

7 Wonders is an impressive game, just because it makes the drafting mechanic fun and worthwhile. Because the game is all about the draft, it is also simple to teach new players, as long as they are willing to learn what a series of tiny little arcane symbols stand for. Plus, it’s one of the few seven player games in the collection, which means it tends to come to the table often.

7 Wonders does get a little boring with replay, but as long as you space it out over time, this is a great little game that can entertain the whole table in a very short span of time.

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