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Kevin W

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Go to the Innovation page
Go to the Space Cadets: Dice Duel  page
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Go to the Blokus page


79 out of 86 gamers thought this was helpful

A territory-holding abstract that’s great & better with more than 2 players should be enough reason to pique one’s interest, no? If not, then let’s open the door:

Enter Blokus, where crystalline polyominoes of red, green, blue, and yellow vie for a place to belong – solid piece clicking upon solid piece, trying to fit in a world that’s just too small for the four of us.

In a 4-player game, each player starts with a pool of 21 pieces of their color. The pieces consist of polyomino shapes (specifically, all free polyominoes composed of 1 to 5 squares) – as seen in and popularized by Tetris. To start, each player picks a corner of the 20×20 board and places any piece that occupies that corner cell. Play proceeds from then on, turn by turn, and each player places a new piece, any new piece, from their pool.

The catch? When placing a new piece of your color, the piece must :
-connect with an existing piece of your color by the corners,
-and must not come in adjacent contact with any existing pieces of your color.
The above link is a great illustration of the catch at work (image by user “WRS WRS” in BoardGameGeek, all rights his). And of course you may not try to fill in an occupied cell.

Eventually the board fills up until no one else can place a new legal piece. For every piece they have left, players get -1 points for every square in them (e.g. a 2×2 square piece = 4 squares, -4 points). No pieces left? +15 points for you. The last piece you placed was the single square piece (the “monomino”)? +5 points for you. Player with the most positive score wins the game.

(Note : for 2p game, each player controls 2 colors. For a 3p game, each player controls 1 color, and the fourth color is a dummy that the three players take turns controlling on its supposed turn. Blokus is generally best played by 2 or 4)

Teaches in less than 5 minutes, very easy to pick up, and amazingly eye-catching and attractive, Blokus is a very very accessible abstract. Hence its frequent designation as a family game or a gateway game. But there is amazing depth in Blokus not apparent in its pretty colors.

Every piece placed down becomes increasingly consequential as the game progresses, as they determine possible future placement paths and available space – resulting in a highly territorial game where the demand to expand and the defensive instinct to block other colors from encroaching pristine territories you have designated for your future pieces strike a balance.

Your choice of pieces matter, and the choice of orientation with which to place those pieces matter even more. As space is consumed guessing other players’ priorities matter – will they expand that way or consume that reserved space next turn? Is using the single-square piece to sneak past this barricade right now worth it? Or should you just take another route to save the single-square piece for a future, safer encounter? Or better yet keep it until the very end for a +5 boost to your points?

That being said, how much it burns your brain is entirely up to you. It is very possible to play the game purely on instinct and have a great time making your way through, blocking other players on will, and painting the blank canvas of a board with your color as you do. The game allows you to have that joy in the same game as heavier strategizers.

Indeed a table of 4 will very likely contain a good mix of both types, and there is territorial fun to be had on all sides either way. A player performing poorly does affect the game as the board becomes free-er for everyone else. But after a game or two players quickly catch on to the meta-strategy, easily solving the problem.

The learning curve is a gentle, inviting slope – but one that never stagnates to a dead-end as even veterans are always on their toes, faced by numerous fresh possibilities. It is, in fact, very hard to come up with a similar end-board twice if not done on purpose. Even when playing against the same players who always go for the same strategy, switching the relative positions of the players go a long way towards creating new balances and equilibrium. Replayability is very high.

Hard to have a “bad game” as no luck is involved (it’s an abstract). Unless 3 other players gang up to block you that is, but that’s a meta problem more than it is a game problem. If that is a definite no-no for you, the 2-player game is unaffected by diplomacy and brings the strategic element up by multiple notches, something that is likely more to your fancy and works amazingly well though makes for a different experience than a 4p game.

Fantastic solid crystalline pieces, and a board where the pieces click firmly. Pieces are durable and highly attractive. Board is spacious and occupies just the right size as a table centerpiece. Not too small and not too large, the right balance between portability and a magnificent haptic experience.

The board starts with a dull grey but ends with a splash of vibrant colors from all the pieces, and gives you a certain satisfaction knowing that you helped paint this canvas into a work of art. Always pretty to look at and fantastic to admire. For this reason Blokus is additionally a plus in helping to attract and ease up friends & family into modern boardgaming.

Plays everybody and checks all the boxes – satisfying aesthetics, strategy, accessible complexity, short playtime and low downtime. As an abstract it is themeless, but evokes “territorial conquest” and “strategic placement” as a resounding element very strongly though not in a heavy-Euro kind of way. Not cheap but not pricey either, easy and satisfying to get many plays and thus provides great game value for your money. A definite recommendation.

Go to the Sushi Go! (Second Edition) page
112 out of 122 gamers thought this was helpful

So you’re sitting down casually in a sushi bar with 4 other friends, looking to get a good fill late at night, when the chef announces the store’s about to close and he only has enough ingredients for 3 more rounds of dishes. You eye each other and raise your chopsticks as the chef unloads the first set of meals onto the bar’s conveyor belt..

In Sushi Go players draft meal cards over 3 rounds, trying to end with the most points at the end of the game. For those unfamiliar with the drafting mechanic, it means each player starts with a hand of cards, then plays one and passes the rest to the next player. They then receive a new hand of cards from the player previous to them, and choose another card to play then pass the rest again. This continues until all cards have been played and that marks the end of a round.

In the bar’s menu you can find :
-Egg Nigiri (1), Salmon Nigiri (2), Squid Nigiri (3) : worth a flat 1, 2, or 3 points each.
-Wasabi : playing this triples the point value of the next Nigiri card you get
-Tempura : every two tempura cards gives 5 points (1 card is 0, 2 cards are 5, 3 cards are 5, 4 cards are 10, etc.)
-Sashimi : every three sashimi cards gives 10 points
-Dumplings : more cards are worth more points :
— 1 card : 1 point
— 2 cards : 3 points
— 3 cards : 6 points
— 4 cards : 10 points
— 5 cards : 15 points
-Maki Roll : each card can have 1 to 3 rolls on it; at the end of the round the player with most rolls gets 6 points and the second highest gets 3 points; tied players split the points rounded down

There is also the Chopsticks, which gives no points at the end of the round (it is inedible). But while still drafting on any turn when you have Chopsticks in front of you, in addition to the one card you play from the current hand you can choose one other card in that hand and switch that with the Chopsticks you have, essentially pulling two cards from a particular hand that turn. Great move if all the lucrative cards are stuck in a single hand for that round. The Chopsticks card gets passed on to the next player with the rest of that hand, of course.

And finally there is the Pudding, which as a dessert does not immediately give points at the end of each round. Instead, unlike other meal cards and the Chopsticks, Pudding cards are kept across rounds and at the end of the three rounds (dessert time!) the player who hoarded the most Pudding cards gets 6 points, and the player with the least gets -6 points. Most total points after three rounds walks away from the bar most satisfied and wins the game.

Thoughts & Feel
Lightweight, fast, and very easy to teach and learn, yet is a drafting game that is still filled with meaningful decisions. Some measure of card counting can be useful to predict what other cards exist in a round, especially in a 4-5 player game where it takes more time before players get to see all the hands, and observation of what combos other players are going for is key as each round the cards are limited (may not have enough sashimi cards for two players trying to complete their set, for example). And yet the game is straightforward and simple enough that turns whiz by, so all of that consideration and decision-making never stops – here comes the next hand.

One round is enough for several sets or combos too, and so you’re often left in a good feeling of tension over which combo to pursue next. Perhaps you have several on the run – the Wasabi is still alone in your table, and so while waiting for the lucky hand that brings the Nigiri you need you’re building your Sashimi stack quietly. The next round, you saw a lot of Dumplings in your opening hand, and two or three more in the next hand – deciding that there is enough Dumplings to end with 5 at this round if you start early, you place a Dumpling card this turn – in doing so announcing to the rest of the table that they will have to compete with you if they go for a Dumpling strategy. Maybe they won’t take that hint and join in on the Dumpling bandwagon then, so you abandon early and go for Tempura and Maki Rolls instead.

You’re never left with an obvious choice, and each round and hand keeps you on your toes with interesting and deliciously agonizing decisions. Telltale signs of a good drafting game, really.

Art & Components
The cards are good quality and the illustrations are simple and exquisitely delectable. Cards are also color-coded in subtle yet distinguishable pastel tones, with concise and clear help-text in the bottom. But most of all is the heartwarming, cute sushi characters alive, bouncing, and smiling. Playing a game of Sushi Go full of 3 rounds of hands with the adorable critters coming and going, bellowing cries of “You took my dumplings!” aside it’s hard not to feel fuzzy and warm on the inside when all is said and done.

Though note that it does come in a tin – some people don’t like that. When sleeving the cards the insert needs removal and the space left, though fits the sleeved cards, is an awkward size that leaves the sleeved cards rattling in said tin. You’d need to plug the gaps with foam or your favorite lining material. Thus if you sleeve your cards or you hate carrying tins you’d need an alternative portable solution or fix the tin yourself. Other than that it’s hard to come up with arguments against Sushi Go. Perhaps the only thing is that the game *is* light and thus gamers who have a taste for heavier/meatier fillers may find it wanting.

Finally, at the low price point it asks for, Sushi Go is a title of great great value. Definitely a favorite filler in my group, and for me personally is a choice “gateway” title to carry around to introduce my family and other friends into modern boardgaming. Besides, who doesn’t like sushi? How about rows of cute, smiling sushi?

Go to the Love Letter page

Love Letter

60 out of 67 gamers thought this was helpful

If you have any faint notion of how “Love” Letter works, you know the title is a lie. The game crams, in 16 cards and 2 choices per turn, an immense amount of game *and* “take-that!” moments unlike any other.

(+) The game is pleasantly simple to teach and pick up. Love Letter is played in rounds, and each round players start with 1 card. The remaining cards form the draw deck, minus 1 card taken out at random to provide statistical suspense. On their turn players draw 1 card, then choose which of the 2 to keep; the other is discarded. The discarded card’s effects then trigger, and after resolving it play resumes to the next person still alive.

Players win a round either by eliminating every other player before the deck runs out, or by having the highest-numbered card among all players still alive when the deck does run out. The first player to win a given number of rounds (varies with player count) wins the overall game.

As you can see the rules are plain simple, and all actual “game meat” hinges on the cards’ effects. A card-driven game, so to speak. What are they?
#1 : Guard – guess the number of another player’s hand; if you are correct, they are eliminated (you may not guess a 1).
#2 : Priest – look at another player’s hand.
#3 : Baron – compare cards with another player’s hand. The player with a lower number is eliminated.
#4 : Handmaid – you can’t be targeted by effects until your next turn.
#5 : Prince – force another player to discard their current hand and draw a new one.
#6 : King – switch hands with another player.
#7 : Countess – if the other card in your hand is the Prince (5) or the King (6), you must discard the Countess this turn; nothing else happens.
#8 : Princess – if you discard this card, you are eliminated.

There is only one each of cards 6-8 and several each of 1-7, but the point to note here is that in its entirety the cards’ effects and their interactions produce an ecosystem of hand deduction, card counting, bluffing (maybe), and a good amount of guesswork where players try to eliminate each other while keeping a high enough number for a possible endgame.

There is a good feeling of tension too in choosing to hold out with a higher-numbered card (which helps win a deck-drain round but rarely helps in eliminating other players) or keeping a lower-numbered card (which if kept until a strategic time can win the game via elimination, but will likely lose if the round ends in a deck-drain before you get “the golden chance” to use it).

(??) What about the premise of the game? The game is supposedly set up around suitors trying to wedge their way to gaining the Princess’ love. In a bout of romantic rivalry, apparently the best way to the Princess’ heart is to be the first to successfully deliver a given number of letters. And the best way to do that is to pass the letters to the palace’s various denizens. And well, hey! Some suitors may occasionally muster up enough courage and gusto to give it to the Princess herself; yes, that’s not so bad to do once in a while – say, in 1 out of every 16 love letters.

The theme is hard to make a sense of, feels thin and non-existent, and is very easy to gloss over as early as 2 rounds into the game. Depending on whether the theme was inviting to you or the theme had put you off this might be a bad or a good thing.

Suffice to say, though, there is real gameplay value behind the seemingly pasted-on theme – so regarding thoughts on theme don’t worry about not having the theme you wanted the game to feel like, you’ll still have a jolly good time. Or if you hated the theme, don’t worry about giving the game a try – you’ll find no hints or even a vague semblance of love or letters in the game at all. In fact it’ll feel more like “royal intrigue” or “race for the throne” than it is “palace romance”.

(+)Great wonderfully-illustrated cards and cubes/tokens packed in a neat velvet bag. High value for your money.

Replayability & Conclusion
It doesn’t last forever. Certainly, after many many plays you see yourself in familiar situations and set-ups. That being said, even after having burned through it by many nights of consecutive plays, the sheer lightweightedness and short duration coupled with the power to make a difference keeps it a very lucrative, worthwhile offer of deduction and take-that fun everytime it is proposed. Combo that again with the low price point and Love Letter is most certainly a strong recommendation for anyone’s collection.

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