Player Avatar
I Am What I Am

The Superfly Circus

gamer level 1
236 xp

Use my invite URL to register (this will give me kudos)
profile badges
recent achievements
Follow another gamer by clicking "Follow" after reading a review or viewing their profile.
Gamer - Level 1
Gamer - Level 1
Earn Gamer XP to level up!
I Own a Game!
I Own a Game!
Mark a game that you own by clicking the "Own It" button on a game page.
I'm a Real Person
I'm a Real Person
Select an avatar via the edit profile page

Show others what games you like best. Navigate to a game page and click on the "Favorite" button.

Go to the Dungeons & Dragons: Castle Ravenloft Board Game page
41 out of 46 gamers thought this was helpful

I’m starting to realize something about myself and my reviews, and it’s quite enlightening. I’ve come to understand that what sets me apart from other reviewers is that I actually play a lot of a game before reviewing it, generally; at least 3 times per game, and almost always with different people. Many other reviewers seem to think that an opinion can be formed by a single play, and many reviews are rife with assumptions and, in many cases, errors. Maybe that’s why I have almost ten thousand reads of my article (that I can track) over the entire internet with all of my syndication partners. I’m truly happy to have you as a reader, and it’s because of you guys and gals that I put my life on hold for 4 to 6 hours every Sunday to review games for you fine folks in order to help you sort the chaff from the wheat.

Let me begin this review by noting that I initially thought this game was mediocre at best, and that it didn’t have much in the way of compelling gameplay. I thought it to be too mechanical, with many other dungeon crawl games being far superior and thus found myself wondering why I would want to purchase a game like this with such other, better, games out there on the market. Then, like a bottle of Smirnoff to the head, it hit me. I had an epiphany of epic proportions regarding Ravenloft that changed my mind entirely, and now I realize that this game system is far superior to almost all of its peers in the genre. It’s not because of the bits, although the bits are tip-top. It’s not because of the mechanics, really, because they are fairly bland and a little wonky at first. It’s because this game has such an amazing host of possibilities in creating scenarios and has such an open architecture that you can create, and are encouraged to, add house rules to it that are scenario-specific.

I don’t know why I didn’t see the beauty of this game in the first 15 plays. I think it’s because, to be fair, the built-in scenarios are really not that interesting, and they do not take advantage of the mechanic that I have discovered in scenario building which really is what makes this game such a ******* gem among the ore that’s out there today. I realized on Saturday night that by stacking the decks in a specific order, you can create an incredibly compelling narrative within the game and create a true D&D-worthy adventure for you and your friends to participate in that evokes strong feelings of fear, terror, and ultimately, supreme satisfaction. My only regret is that I didn’t realize this until so recently.

I know, I’m putting the cart before the horse. You’re asking yourselves, “Pete, what the heck are you talking about? You haven’t told me jack about the game yet, so how can I understand what you’re talking about until you frame the former comments in a context I understand??” Well, let’s get into that, shall we?

The concept of Castle Ravenloft, from a 10,000 foot perspective, is that up to five noble adventurers are compelled to head to the land of Borovia, which is home to Castle Ravenloft, roost of the dread vampire Count Strahd. This “world” was envisioned back in 1983, in an Advanced Dungeons and Dragons module named ‘Ravenloft’. Anyhow, this update of the theme has adventurers roaming the catacombs of Castle Ravenloft in search of adventure and riches beyond imagination, although they generally will find nothing but vile beasts and death.

It’s an atypical dungeon crawl in that it has Space-Hulk style interlocking tiles that are mostly placed in a random order, meaning the game is different every time you play it. Every aspect of the game is set up from the scenario you choose to play, where certain items are listed to be in play or certain tiles pulled from the stack and placed at key locations. Generally, a ‘goal’ tile is placed nine to twelve places deep within the random tile stack, and when the players reach that goal the endgame begins. There’s no scoring in this game, and it’s an Ameritrasher’s dream in that there are only two states the game can end in, which are total victory and the utter destruction of the heroes.

The box is very large in depth but the standard bookshelf design as far as length and width. Inside are a virtually endless sea of chits, unpainted plastic miniatures, a boatload of cards, and a ******** of incredibly well produced interlocking dungeon tiles. Also within is a very, very short rulebook and an equally miniscule adventure guide, which serves as the blueprint to play scenarios which do little more than get you accustomed to the concepts of the game. While not precisely telling you so, you are compelled to want to create your own scenarios, and this is where the game’s true shine emits from. Suffice to say that the art is very nice, and while some people call it bland, it is not so in my humble opinion. The cards themselves do not have much art on them at all, and there are no magical weapons depicted anywhere, really. There’s no shiny armor.

The cards are, in fact, all text-based, with the exception of the monster cards which have a hand-drawn image of whatever creature that the card represents. While some see this as a shortcoming, I think that it leaves things to the imagination, which is par for the course with D&D, so it’s actually quite thematic to have omitted the pictures. Anyhow, everything is of the highest quality regarding construction, and you will certainly not be disappointed.

My only beef with the entire box is that the miniatures are unpainted versions of existing Dungeons and Dragons Miniatures Game minis, and I’d have rather paid 100$ for the game with painted minis than have to try to go out and source them from a singles retailer or paint them myself. That, my friends, was a typical Wizards “F You, Consumer” move that should not be easily forgiven. So, in response to that, “F You, Wizards.” The smart play for them would be to release a “Ravenloft Upgrade” package for $50 that has all of the miniatures for the game in it. I would jump on that like a recently-released inmate on a prostitute. I’ve always liked Wizards, and Ravenloft hasn’t changed that, but this again makes me wonder who the **** is driving the sales force over there.

Anyhow, the setup is completely determined by the scenario you choose to play out of either the book or your head, depending on how much effort you wish to put in. The common factors, though, come down to each player picking a character and selecting the skills they wish to use for this game. The skills are cards from a character-specific deck which have three classes of powers.

Two of the powers, the ‘At-Will’ types, are essentially your hand-to-hand or ranged weapon powers that you can use over and over again. The other cards, though, are generally one-time use powers that may be recovered by winning the ability to do so through a lucky treasure down the road. Each player also gets one Treasure Card at the beginning of your game, which may or may not be helpful. In all cases, though, the “dungeon tile” stack gets placed within reach, and a starting tile of some sort is placed in the play area, with each players miniature put thereon.

There are several stacks of cards which need to be set out and shuffled: the Treasure deck, the Monster deck, and the Encounter deck. There’s another deck as well, the Adventure Deck, but that is generally reserved for cherry-picking certain items out of if certain scenario-based actions happen. Personally, I like to shuffle that deck right into the Treasure deck for general consumption because the Treasure deck is mostly comprised of very small one-time boosts where the Adventure deck is where most of the weapons and “items” that you’d want to actually carry with you are located.

Gameplay consists of each player taking their two actions, which are either to move and attack, attack and move, or move twice. Once they’ve done these actions, if they are on a tile that has an open edge and they are standing on that edge, they add a new tile. If they are not standing on an unexplored edge, then they pull and resolve an Encounter card, which are ALWAYS very bad news.

Also, if a player pulls a tile with a black arrow icon on it when they pull a tile, they place that tile and then pull an Encounter card. In all cases, though, when a new tile is pulled, a player must pull a Monster card, place the miniature on the skull pile icon in the newly placed room, and place the Monster card in front of them as they now control that monster. After you’ve resolved the Encounter card, Tile pull and subsequent Monster card, or both, you must then activate any monster types you control, in the order you pulled the card that controls them.

Each monster has a specific script that it follows, and this is simply the most brilliant boardgame AI system I’ve ever seen. It’s far superior to the Dungeon Twister 2 AI method, although it is similar. In short, each monster has its own personality, and the monsters were all done very, very well. This mechanic alone will be copied by all other dungeon crawls, if we’re lucky, because this was the one stand-out design triumph that I noticed from play one to today. It’s, simply put, flawlessly designed and executed.

Another Dirty McNasty aspect of the game is that the Encounter cards almost always attempt to mercilessly curb stomp the players by placing traps into the dungeon, causing very bad events to occur, placing “auras” into play that affect all players and in some cases all monsters, or generally enact some other form of *******. The word “Encounter” doesn’t normally mean “something very bad is about to happen to you” in life; I mean, you could “encounter” a beautiful woman who wishes to perform sexual favors on you, right? Not in Ravenloft. Bad stuff ALWAYS happens when you have an “Encounter”.

Maybe it’s just the fact that stunning, nymphomaniacal women don’t generally hang out in a vampire-haunted crypt, but either way, I dread pulling these cards, to the point of irrational terror while playing the game. In all the failures I’ve had, Encounters were the prime target of my ire postgame because they always seem to just plain ‘hate on you’ at every turn. So, yes, I am man enough to admit that I hate, and I do mean HATE, Encounter cards. Hate them. Oh, do I hate them. Grr.

Traps, as I noted before my minor rant, can come about by the hated Encounters (grr…) and these are generally one of the nastier varieties of nastiness that the Encounters can cause. They’re nasty because they always come into play right where you’re standing, and the fact that you’ve pulled them means you’ve already taken your turn and are about to have to resolve the traps, along with the monsters, so you’re about to get messed up in a major way. These lovely traps are fireballs, spears, crossbows, smashing walls…all kinds of bad stuff. The good news is that on players’ turns, they can attempt to disarm them by a die roll, and if you’ve played the ‘Rogue’ character, you have a 75% chance of success in doing so. Traps are activated just like monsters, luckily, so only one player will activate it, and most traps only affect players on that tile during activation, although a few have a ranged effect.

Combat with monsters is all resolved by playing one of your power cards, and every single aspect of the game is resolved with a D20 roll, so this is no different. The short version is that you roll the D20, add your power’s modifier, add any treasure modifiers, and compare against the enemy’s armor cl***. If you equal or exceed that, you hit him for the set amount of damage listed on the card. If you hit the enemy hard enough to exceed its hit points, it dies. You keep the monster card, which is taken from the controlling player, and it earns the hero team an experience amount as listed on the card. The player who dealt the killing blow also gets a Treasure card for their trouble.

Speaking of Treasure cards, I should explain why I’m not a big fan of them. Most of the treasures in the game are not treasure items, but rather helpful effects that can do things like heal a character a little, or allow you to look at the top three Encounter cards and rearrange them to your liking. There are a few “+1 Sword of Ballbusting” type items, but most of the real goodies in the game are in the Adventure Treasure deck, which is a separate deck altogether that generally isn’t used. My advice to you is to take that deck and mix it into the regular treasures, because it really feels more like an adventure when you find cool stuff. The other aspect is that the Adventure Treasure deck has a different back, so it will be known when a cool treasure is about to be found. What I like to do is take that card and place it under the next monster that is pulled, and when that monster is pulled, the slayer takes that card as his treasure in lieu of pulling from the Advenure deck.

Experience points are of an odd sort in Ravenloft. They can be used, when five are amassed, to cancel an Encounter card or to level up a character. These experience points are shared among the entire team, so they build up fast, and are spent even faster. To level up a character from level one to level two, the player who wishes to level up must roll a natural 20 on any roll they make and may spend five experience to do so. This is the weakest mechanic in the game, and as such you will not see this happening more than five percent of the time, statistically. The bump you get from leveling up is pretty much a one armor cl*** point boost and a couple of hit points, with one additional special power being revealed. The physical difference is that you simply flip your cardboard character sheet over to the opposing side, and now you’re a level two character. There is no level three, so once you’re boosted up, that’s that.

Now that you understand the basics of how to play, let’s explore my initial point about Ravenloft. The magic of the game, in my opinion, is that it is so open ended that it leads you to the proverbial water and lets you drink as much, or as little, as you wish to. You can play an out-of-the-book scenario, or you can craft amazingly intricate, immersive scenarios to play. You can use random tiles, cards, and cookie-cutter rules, or you can have all hundred-and-fifty-or-so cards and all forty tiles in a specific order with scenario-based rules for each tile to make this a true-to-D&D adventure of epic scale. It’s a grand sandbox to spill as much or as little blood into as you wish, and for those of us who are creative enough to see the merit within this system, this game is phenomenal.

I will be publishing a scenario that I came up with on Saturday Morning, which is a 2-part adventure, and even as simple as it is, it’s far more engaging and challenging than the out-of-the-box scenarios which might lead you to believe that the game is less interesting than its potential enjoyability truly is. Keep an eye out for it here or on, if you’re interested.

The long and short, in closing, is that this game that I initially thought was a short-sighted epic failure turned out to be one of the best, most immersive, dungeon crawls I’ve played to date, and I’ve played a ******** of them. Don’t let your first couple “learning” plays dissuade you, and once you’ve got ten games in and really, really understand the game’s core concepts, pace, and flow, try to come up with some bad-*** scenarios on your own that fit your expectations and group’s style. That’s what makes this game magnificent, really. I just wish I hadn’t publicly scorned the game so much, because now I look a little bit like an asshat for it. Honestly, though, that’s what makes me a decent reviewer: I play the subject game a lot, and I’m not set on an opinion until I feel I know the game well enough to review it. And sometimes, I need to have an epiphany.

What Makes Castle Ravenloft An Amazing Summer Home:
* Theme drips from this game like urine from a kid who has seen a vampire
* The simple core rule set makes this approachable and learnable in a very short amount of time
* The art, while not DaVinci, is quite nice and appealing
* The sandbox architecture of the game makes this an amazingly agile game system

What Makes Castle Ravenloft Look Like A Poop-Filled Outhouse:
* ***, Wizards? You already had the molds and small Chinese hands to do the painting…why are the minis unpainted???
* There has not been an AEG/Alderac-style aftermarket “painted miniatures” pack released to fix the aforementioned oversight
* The Treasure deck is mostly loaded with worthless items and one-time-use ****


What a great game! I wish I’d seen the light earlier, but I had been so indoctrinated by other dungeon crawls that I overlooked the sandbox aspect. The only downside, which really isn’t that big of a deal, is that the game ships with unpainted miniatures, which it should not have. This game should be an auto-buy for anyone who even thinks they MAY like dungeon crawls. It can actually appeal to a person who only likes Euro games as well, because the mechanics are so simple that even a Container disciple could get the game without blowing a circuit and having to chant “Tikal, Tikal, Tikal” to save them from flipping the light switch on and off seven times in a row to save the planet from imploding.

4.5/5 Stars


It’s a home-brew scenario that retains ALL of the rules in the rulebook while creating a narrative, almost RPG-style, adventure.

Go to the Space Hulk page

Space Hulk

74 out of 83 gamers thought this was helpful

Every once in a great while a game comes along that transcends time and space, and manages to transport the player into the universe the game resides in. Right through the looking gl***, down the rabbit hole, and into a world of the designer’s making where you find yourself gritting your teeth as your heroes face insurmountable odds and are staring death in the face at every turn. Any game that gives you this experience is clearly a cut above the rest, but to do it over and over again throughout hundreds of plays, well, that’s simply bloody brilliant. You just don’t get anything like that these days, normally, but out of the abyss was recently pulled such a work of sheer brilliance and timeless perfection that I felt it my duty to make sure that every one of my readers knows that this game should not be passed up for any reason. The game is the 3rd edition of the one, and the only, Space Hulk.

I know many of you hate Games Workshop for what they did to their fan base by writing letters of “cease and desist” en masse like an indigent forging stolen checks for cheap liquor all around town. I understand the reasons that many of you may despise them like a bee sting to the *******, but this is not a valid reason to preclude you from acquiring a copy of this game, even if you have to sell a lung to do it. Space Hulk may be the single greatest board game ever made, and the 3rd edition is a work of art that is both a beauty to behold and is far less a game than an experience. Any game that has the ability to make you care about the characters as if you were personally related to them and cause you to sweat profusely from its intense, maddening feel is just too amazing to p*** up simply because the guys who produced it have a bunch of overzealous, cockweasely barristers. You just need to shed your nerd-rage and get a copy, and that’s that.

Allow me to get into the history of Space Hulk briefly before getting deeper into this latest iteration, to provide some perspective on how this all came about: Twenty years ago in 1989, Games Workshop produced a game that would forever change the way that people viewed wargames, and it was magnificent. It contained a level of quality that was unrivalled at the time for a stand-alone board game, containing myriad interlocking modular tiles that were amazingly illustrated, even by today’s standards, and a mountain of plastic soldiers and aliens that surpassed anything on the market then and is easily on par with the best games available today.

Space Hulk’s box had the tagline of “Man Versus Alien In Desperate Battle”, which is without a doubt the single most bad *** tagline for a game ever. Better yet, it was completely true to the gameplay. Although complex both in theme and interactive mechanics, the game was actually quite easy to play, with rules that were completely ahead of their time in effective and elegant simplicity as well as tactical accuracy. The concept was simple: Space Marines were to board a derelict, giant conglomeration of parts that were equally spaceship and celestial body, called a “Space Hulk”. These Marines’ mission was to embark upon a righteous and glorious campaign to rid the Hulk of a terrifying scourge; a seemingly infinite horde of alien horrors, the Genestealers, and to recover any alien technology.

These missions had the undermanned Space Marines plodding along narrow corridors with far too many entries and corners to effectively defend, facing Genestealer aliens who craved nothing more than to claw open the Marines’ armored suits and tear their throats out just to hear a last dying gasp of, “Emperor, why have you abandoned me?” The sheer level of intensity when a line of Genestealers is moving forward was enough to make the toughest gamer sweat, and that alone made it unique, and what made it the masterpiece it was.

Two expansions were released shortly after the initial printing of Space Hulk, both of which changed the game substantially. The first was called “Deathwing”, which focused on bolstering the Marines capabilities via new weapons, and more importantly, with the inclusion of a new character, the Librarian, who was equipped with arcane powers. The expansion also included expanded rules as well as a new set of missions which really provided a unique new scope to the game. The second expansion was called Genestealers, and had new Genestealer forces called Hybrids, as well as expanding the game via a complete package of psychic combat rules.

During the time before the 2nd edition of Space Hulk was released, both the White Dwarf and Citadel Journals magazines expanded the game even further with some new rules and scenarios. Much of this was later reprinted along with a good deal of new materials in what became the Holy Grail of Space Hulk, the much sought-after compendium called “Space Hulk Campaigns”, which was a hardcover publication initially in 1991 and was later reprinted in paperback in 1993.

Fast forward to 1996, and out came the 2nd edition of Space Hulk. It was again a visual masterpiece, with highly detailed miniatures and a new array of even better looking tiles, but the rule changes made in this version were so massive and actually took quite a bit from the original recipe that it was largely used by the owners only for the upgraded art, tiles, and models while continuing to play with the 1st edition rules. I mean, they even changed the tagline, which was a move of the highest level of stupidity I can imagine. That being said, the artwork was a great improvement over the already exceptional original, so it sold reasonably well, but then died on the vine despite a large, rabid fan base.

Finally, after a tremendously long 13 year hiatus, the 3rd edition of Space Hulk was released in September of 2009, and it’s simply the best iteration of what is arguably the best board game ever made. The miniatures are beyond compare and put even the best models that Fantasy Flight has to shame. Instead of each faction having identical models, almost every Space Marine is completely unique, as are the Genestealers. Although the models are the best that I have ever seen in my 26+ years of gaming, the modular tiles are, without reservation, the most utterly superb game artwork ever envisioned by man. They’re masterfully embossed, with the space separations and thematic artwork raised several 32# paper thicknesses higher than the depressions. To top off the embossing, the glossy tiles are amazingly well drawn and absolutely give you the feel of a dark, desolate, abandoned freighter. In short, everything in this new edition is truly in a cl*** of its own and should be viewed as the metric by which all other games are judged. The rules took a step back to the original 1st edition, with many of the 2nd edition rules being relegated to the scrap heap of history, but new rules were added as well, making this game as close to perfect as I can imagine.

Now that you know the history of Space Hulk, let’s move onto the components. When you crack open the game, you’ll be met by what feels like hundreds of 9×11 sheets of markers, terrain tiles, some very cool looking dice, an hourgl***, and the best part, several sprues of plastic figures that hold untold legions of Space Marines, Genestealers, and some campaign items such as a small robot, a chalice, and a fallen Marine on a throne. Although none of the models are painted, they are of the highest caliber of sculpting and are reasonably easy to assemble, provided you’ve had even a pittance of experience in your lifetime in the art of building models.

There are also two books within; one is the rulebook that explain the mechanics of the game and the other is the campaign book that walks you through the missions, in a narrative and exciting format, complete with illustrations that show you exactly how to assemble the portion of the hulk that you’re planning to cleanse. On the back of one book is an excellent quick reference guide that helps resolve almost every possible query you might have during play, and the other book contains a portrait of each of the Marines, perfectly painted, as a guide to use should you decide to paint your troops. The box art is astoundingly good, and along the edges reside photos of fully painted Genestealers should you elect to paint them as well. If I recall, there’s even a reference on which precise paints and inks to use in order to duplicate the magnificently painted sculptures.

It is very difficult to explain what the object of Space Hulk is due to the “sandbox” nature of the game system, so I’ll discuss the game in generalizations. The tiles are laid out in either a prescribed configuration or one of your own design, and the players mark the entry points for the Marines, the entry points for the Genestealers, and the objective which the Marines are attempting to fulfill, depending on the scenario chosen. All of these points are indicated via the wonderful markers provided within the game, and if the scenario calls for finding a specific item, you may place those models in the appropriate area.

The concepts of the game are essentially unchanged from its first iteration, with the Marines starting their assault in a predetermined room or rooms, and the Genestealers starting out as “blips” on the Marines’ scanners, indicated by blip tokens which the Genestealer moves in lieu of models. This mechanic allows the Genestealer player to move forces without revealing how many individual units of its forces are represented by the circular blip marker until a Marine views it directly within its line of sight. When a blip is seen by a Marine, the Genestealer player immediately reveals it and places the indicated number of models in the adjacent spaces. Further, while the Genestealer player can take as long as they want to plot and execute the insidious plan of wanton destruction upon the Marines, the Marine player is limited in the amount of time that can be spent on any given turn by the included sand timer, giving a level of tension and urgency that is not often found in wargames.During their turn the Marines can perform certain actions, such as moving, turning, and firing upon the enemy, where the Genestealers are limited, mainly, to moving and attacking Marines that are adjacent. Marines have ranged attacks, but up close and personal the Genestealers are simply unstoppable. If a Marine gets attacked by a Genestealer, the odds are very, very slim that they’ll survive, which again adds to the incredibly tense feel of Space Hulk. This forces the Genestealer and Marine players to play completely different strategies, and adds to the already limitless replayability by allowing players to switch sides between matches and get a completely different experience.

All that being said, the true magic of the game is in two mechanics that set the bar for all games that followed: The overwatch mechanic and the command point mechanic. Overwatch is a special game condition that costs a Marine a certain amount of action points to initiate and allows a Marine to take a shot at a target any time that anything comes into that Marine’s line of sight, as well as any time something within that line of sight moves or takes any other action. The downside of overwatch mode is that if a Marine rolls doubles while taking shots, his gun jams. At that point, he must use the other mechanic, command points, to clear the jam and continue firing, provided he has command points remaining.

This simple mechanic adds a level of tension to the game that is unparalleled in any other game I’ve ever played, and is incredibly well executed. When a Genestealer is rushing toward a Marine and his gun jams, the Marine player will truly become panicked at the prospect of his Marine being torn to pieces, invoking true emotion, which is rare at best in a boardgame. It’s simply a cut above any other tactical combat mechanic I’ve ever seen.

The other interesting mechanic, the command point system, is a randomly assigned amount of extra actions that are allotted to the Marine side that can be used at any time to perform any legal action. This can be used during the Marine’s turn, or alternatively, to interrupt the Genestealer player’s turn. This mechanic gives the Marines a tactical advantage, but the overwhelming advantages granted the Genestealers due to their infinite supply of units and unlimited turn time are still formidable at best, and downright insurmountable at worst.

In short, this game is amazing, groundbreaking, and has a legacy that is simply unrivalled in wargames both modern and classic. If you don’t own this game, you need to, and if you think you won’t like it, you’re probably going to be pleasantly surprised.

Things That Make Space Hulk The Sistene Chapel Of Boardgaming:
*Overwatch is a marvel of game design and provides a level of pure intensity that is simply unequalled
*The art, components, models, and every single bit within the box is absolutely of the highest possible caliber of design, manufacture and execution
*The theme is so strong in this game you may actually have dreams of walking the catwalks and corridors of a Space Hulk
*The rules and mechanics are so well explained in the rulebook that one play will be enough to have you completely understand the game
*Every single decision you make is important and relevant to the outcome of the game
*The luck factor is definitely in Space Hulk, but it’s not just a dicefest in Chanceland

Things That Sadden The Emperor:
*The MSRP of the game is USD$100.00, which is a **** of a lot of money
*The Marine player usually loses, which can disenchant the simple-minded
*Games Workshop makes this, and they are being a bunch of ********** lately

This is to boardgames what Biz Markie is to beatboxing. It is the Muhammed Ali of squad-based tactical wargames, and as I said before, I believe it to be one of the best games ever made. If you’re a complete eurolitest that has a genetic predisposition to hate dice, theme, and fun, you may not enjoy this game, but I hear farming is nice.
5/5 Stars

Go to the Small World page

Small World

46 out of 53 gamers thought this was helpful

What, you ask? Why is Smallworld the “7-Up of European games”, you ask? Because, like 7-Up claims to be, Smallworld is light, bubbly, and refreshing. Smallworld will never win any awards for being a triumphant example of tight, highly strategic boardgame design, but it sure as [beep] has for being light, easy to learn and play, and most importantly, fairly fun. It’s games like Smallworld, though, that I have the most difficulty writing about because the game itself has no major flaws that would allow me to desecrate its good name, but on the other side, myself and the folks I’ve played this with are not exceptionally keen on it either. In short, it’s a game with merit, a neat “mixed-up Mother Goose” mechanic to keep it fresh, but it’s not something I would pine for or beg to get to the table. The only downside of the game is that Smallworld propagates racial genocide, which hasn’t been in vogue for a while in Europe, or so I hear.

The concept of the game is that the players each play a race, or several races, of randomly drawn creatures with the sole desire to take over the world as best they can in a limited amount of time. The name “Smallworld” is derived from this concept, because the world is simply too small for everyone. Each race has its own racial special power, and to add to that, each has an additional, randomly drawn power. Further, each race and special power has a number of troops associated with it, and thus the amount of troops any given race/power pair has varies with the random draw, allowing for exceptional balance across the game. Each player takes turns placing troops or redeploying troops, all the while expanding the scope of their dominion. Eventually, though, the players’ newly formed empires will recede, and the players have the option, at that point, to stop using that race and begin again with a new race. The game is made up of rounds, and at the end of each round, the players earn Victory Points (VP) based upon their level of control of the world, and at the end of a set amount of rounds, determined by the player amount, the game ends with the most dominant player winning the game.

The component and art quality is really quite good, and although the art direction is a bit on the caricature, cartoony side for my tastes, the theme is consistent and very suitable to the game. All of the components are of good quality cardboard, with the exception of the exceptionally well-designed troop tray, which is made of plastic and has a nice cover to stop the natives from escaping, of which there’s 186. Other components consist of two double sided boards, a bazillion VP chits valued at one, three, five, and ten. Then there’s the meat of the game, which is made up of fourteen racial banners and 20 special power badges, along with a gaggle of special chits which can be used with some of the power badges during gameplay. There’s also a turn marker made to look like a 2-D crown, and a special die for use during some attacks. All in all, there’s a crapload of stuff packed neatly into the little Smallworld box, and all of it looks very nice indeed. Finally, there’s the game manual, which is very understandable and well laid out, and six player references.

Setup is a little more complex than other games, and takes a little longer than one might expect for such a light game. First, a board needs to be selected and flipped to the correct side, based upon the amount of players in the game, with the turn marker placed on the first turn on the turn track. Next, shuffle the race cards and select five of them randomly, and place them on the board in a column, and in the order you chose them. Although the game calls the race cards, “racial banners”, this is a political year, so I’m calling them race cards specifically to attempt to get you to tell other players on the table that they’ve played the race card when they use their racial powers in game. Yes, I digress. Anyhow, do the same thing with the power badges, which physically dovetail with the race cards to create one new, unified race card with an associated power. Once you’ve got five complete race cards, make a stack of the rest at the bottom of the column, as when one is used, a new complete race card comes into play at the bottom of the column. In essence, at the beginning of the game, you’ll have six races to pit against one another, with the sixth being the last of them and sitting on a stack of the remaining completed race cards. This acts to hide the identity of the racial mixes so you can’t plan racial jokes in advance, such as, “How the [beep] are the Dwarves Mounted? Who’s short enough to get behind them while they’re bent over?”

Now that you’ve got the race cards sorted out, you’ll need to get into “Capitol Hill”, which is what I call the tray where all the races are intentionally segregated for the purposes of being pitted against one another later, and get out the “Lost Tribe” tokens to place them on their respective places annotated on the map by the Lost Tribe icon. Finally, hand out five VP tokens to each player, and you’re ready to start your fascist, imperialist aggression against your friends or relatives. There’s some token-placing which really seems like a waste of time, such as placing mountain tokens on spaces that depict mountains, but really, if the *ed board has a picture of the mountain on it, why the [beep] do I really need to place a big token shaped like a mountain, with an illustration of a mountain, on it? Total redundancy, because as far as I can tell, and as many times as I’ve played it, you can’t destroy the mountains, so this is a serious [beep] design choice. Anyhow, let’s skip that and just move onto how to play.

To begin, you need to select the first player, which is done by determining who has the pointiest ears. I’m not making that up…it’s in the rules. Assuming someone is more Vulcan than the rest, that green-blooded monster must pull a “Jesse Jackson” and choose a race card to play. To do this, one can simply take the first race card in the column, but if the person has some sort of bigotry against that particular race, they may choose any race they wish in the column, but as a penalty for being an unabashed racist, they must place reparations, in the form of a VP token, on any race card that lies above the one they chose in the column. Next, they must move all of the race cards up one space to fill in any gaps made by the player’s selection, which exposes a new race card for exploitation. As noted before, each race card and mated power badge has a value placed on it, and you simply need to add the two values together to get your starting army size, and once you’ve done that, simply head to Capitol Hill and snatch that value’s worth of the troops of your race.

To play, you may place your tokens on any space adjacent to water on your first turn, to represent a hostile invasion by sea. This is only on your first turn, as you can move your troops from owned territories to adjacent spaces in later turns. Anyhow, to take a territory, simply place two tokens on an empty territory as an occupying force, plus one token for virtually any other token in the space, such as a mountain, a Lost Tribe token, or an enemy token. There’s a ton of these little special tokens, but the rule is pretty hard and fast regarding the cost of a conquest, so it’s a pretty pedestrian matter to figure out how many troops are required to place in a potential conquest. In some sort of strange homage to Ameritrash, on your last declared conquest, you may roll a specially pipped die that has zero through three pips on it, and add that value to your attack value.

If you conquered an unoccupied space, nothing happens other than the fact you’ve occupied a space, but if an enemy or neutral territory was taken, that player sends one of their defeated tokens back to Capitol Hill and the rest are normally redeployed into one of their owned territories at the end of the current player’s turn. After spending all of your tokens, you can then redeploy your own guys to reinforce your territories to further expand your influence. At the end of your turn, you tally up the amount of territories you control, plus any racial or power badge bonuses, and take that amount of VP tokens. That, in short, is all there is to playing Smallworld. Well, almost.

As I noted earlier, when your race essentially runs its course, you may put them into decline. This consists of simply flipping over all of the tokens of that race to their dark side and removing all but one of those tokens from each occupied territory. Then, you remove the power badge from the race card, mercilessly stripping any power from the newly-subjugated race, and finally, you flip their powerless race card to the darkened side. Doing this costs an entire turn, and once you’re done putting your race into decline, you score the territories as you normally would. These powerless tokens, while not able to be deployed or used in any manner, still score points for the ruling player until they are conquered or until the same player puts yet another race into decline at some point in the future, where they’re arbitrarily removed and thus have failed as a viable gene pool. On your next turn, since you do not have an active race, you simply draw a new race as you did on your first turn, hoping this race will fare better than the last.

Now, that’s really all there is to Smallworld. It’s a very, very simple game, as I said initially, but that doesn’t mean it’s not full of strategic choices, because it is. It’s almost a wargame, except that it’s actually an area control game masquerading as a wargame, in my opinion. There are a lot of really neat pairings for race cards and power badges, and some make for interesting and fun “master races” that are generally more powerful than most, such as the Commando Amazons, which only require one token to occupy a territory due to their Commando power badge, start with 10 troop tokens, and get to play 4 additional troop tokens per turn for the purposes of conquest but which are removed at the end of your turn. The balance between the power badges and races is actually really well done, though, so there’s not much in the way of Kingmaking, so to speak.

Now that you’ve learned about the basic gameplay and what the game’s about, let’s talk about the all-important fun factor. There’s not a game that’s quite like this out there, with so many neat little qualities all stuffed into one package, but at the end of the day, I just didn’t have all that much fun playing it the first or any subsequent time, and neither did anyone I’ve played this with. I’m not saying it’s bad or boring, so save your nerd rage for someone else, but I am saying that it’s just not a super-compelling game. I like the fact that it’s a pretty short game, playable in under an hour in almost all instances, and I also like that it’s got very few rules, so it’s easy to learn and play.

The problem is that it’s pretty redundant, and the choices allowed you on any given turn are pretty much obvious; there’s no “masterstroke” plots within plots you’re going to pull off. Further, the endgame is pretty anticlimactic, with one guy usually saying, “yep, I won” and that’s about it. El Grande, Cave Troll, or any number of games do Area Control better, and there’s a bazillion games that do wargame better. There’s a bazillion games that do variable player powers better, too. There’s just not a lot that seem to pack them all into one little package, and do it so pretty, so it’s clear that the game has a lot of merit. It’s just not for me, that’s all.

There’s a bunch of expansions out for Smallworld, too, that have a bunch of new races and powers, and the latest one I know of has evil Necromancers or something and a new, bigger Capitol Hill tray that will hold all of the original races as well as all of the expansions. [beep], that must be the U.N. Building.

What Makes Smallworld Bigger Than Elvis:
– Neat art and a wonderful theme
– Brisk gameplay and easy rules allow a low barrier to entry for everyone, including the “Powerful Bilt Yoot Fa’Merica”
– One of the best chit trays, ever
– It allows you to be an overt racist without offending most people at the table

What Makes Smallworld Smaller Than El Vez:
– It’s not incredibly compelling, and a bit on the repetitious side
– Fiddly as “The Devil Came Down To Georgia”
– “Jack of all trades and master of none” game design

The fact that it’s sold incredibly well and is way, way up in the charts indicates that it’s a good game, and I’m here to tell you that I agree with that assessment. I think the game has some merit, but it’s just a lot on the dry, repetitious side for me. I guess the best analogy I can put out there is that it’s a fairly cut-throat pseudo-wargame for people who like Eurogames and don’t dig Ameritrash-style wargames. There’s lots of player interaction, which is great, but all I can say is that I just really didn’t like the game all that much. I’d play it if I was at a buddy’s house, and I’d be fine with it, but I know that I’d be wishing I was playing Cosmic Encounter instead. I recommend that you either try Smallworld, or research the * out of it, before taking the plunge, because you and I both know your OCD will make you buy all the expansions too, and that’s another $80.00 on top of a $40.00 price tag, and if you don’t like it, you’ll kick yourself.

3.5/5 Stars

For those of you interested in Smallworld, go ahead and check it out at Days of Wonder’s site here:

Go to the Lost Cities: The Card Game page
34 out of 37 gamers thought this was helpful

I’m the kind of gamer that loves virtually all games, be they tabletop, video, or otherwise. One could classify me as an Equal Opportunity Gamer, I suppose. That being said, I truly have a passion for tabletop games that are set up for two players as I, enviably, have a spouse who also loves games, and with two little demon-spawns running around, it’s in my best interest to get games that don’t need a legion of gamers, foaming at the mouth, or two hours, to play.

I recently had an opportunity to purchase Rio Grande Games’ “Lost Cities” on the cheap, and although I am not a huge Reiner Knizia fan, the price was right and a quick two-player game will certainly see more playtime than a game like Risk. When the package arrived, I was absolutely underwhelmed by the art, although I was hopeful that the theme was not the standard painted-on fare that Knizia is known for.

I cracked the box to find a small, rectangular play board with five colored rectangular areas, and 60 numbered, oversized cards in five suits each, carefully packed in a quite sturdy plastic, blow molded card holder. I was immediately and woefully unimpressed with the card artwork, and the fact that the cards are about as large as a moleskinne notebook didn’t help. Seeing as I paid for it, I figured I had better give it a go anyhow.

After perusing the rulebook, which thankfully was very concise and quite diminutive, it was apparent that the theme is, as I suspected, an afterthought. This game could’ve been about constructing torture devices or exploiting Mexican labor on a building jobsite, and it wouldn’t have changed a thing, and probably would’ve been more exciting. The lack of a strong theme isn’t truly a detractor from the game itself, but paired with the bland artwork, I was thoroughly bummed that this game was so simple looking. I soldiered on, regardless.

The essence of the game is that you and your opponent play as explorers, tasked to explore 5 ancient ruins on someone else’s dime, and in order to do this you have to build a deck of cards under each colored expedition space on the board by placing cards, on your side of the board, in sequential order. It sounds simple, but this is complicated by the fact that each color has three “investment cards” which depict the player making a back alley deal with some sinister art-collector investors, and these act as multipliers to your final score. There are tough decisions to be made both initially, and as the game progresses.

The gameplay itself essentially consists of playing a card onto an expedition or discarding a card onto the board, and finally, taking a card from the draw deck or from a card that was discarded onto the board. All in all, gameplay mechanics truly don’t get much simpler than this, but the decision making process itself is more challenging than one would expect. The random draw factor is the real “X Factor” here, and this is further hampered by the fact that if you discard a card to the board hoping to get a better card from the draw, you may allow your opponent may snatch it out from under you, helping them and leaving you sad and dejected.

The game immediately ends once the last card has been taken from the draw pile, and you tally your scores. This was hands-down the least fun part of the game, not only because I lost miserably every game we played, but because it involves some math, which is only fun to those who would rather be solving quadratic equations for “N” than playing games.

The short version of scoring is that any expedition you’ve started requires you to immediately take a -20 point hit, to cover the initial cost of funding the expedition. If you played investment cards on an expedition, but have no numbered expedition cards on top of it, it multiplies your investment loss. Conversely, if you did have some expedition cards on top of the investment cards, you subtract your initial “-20 investment” then multiply the sum of the cards to get your score for that expedition. This can be tedious, as you potentially have five expeditions to score, so if you are a little high, or failed math in grade school, you may be at it a while. Suffice to say, a pencil and some paper are good things to have when playing this game.

The good news, though, is that I found this game to be enjoyable. The gameplay is brisk, and you can expect to finish one round in about fifteen to twenty minutes. The rulebook recommends that you play three rounds and tally the scores to declare a winner, but we preferred to play single-round games sequentially to avoid having to remember calculus during the scoring. All things considered, we thought the game was fairly fun, albeit sterile. Despite my nitpick that the theme was absolutely irrelevant to the game, and even despite the bad card art, this is a game that we will likely play again.

Things I liked:
*Concise rulebook that can be read during one session on the can
*Two player game, expandable to four
*Brisk, easy to understand gameplay, that lasts 20 minutes a round
*The theme, while painted-on, was passable and made sense

Things I detested:
*The art was less attractive than “Bazooka Joe” comics, by several orders of magnitude
*The scoring, although not really that hard, was a pain and not intuitive
*Oversized cards were simply not necessary and not conducive to shuffling

A decent, fun two-player game that you can use as a filler, or to play if you only have a half an hour to do something other than watch an episode of Matlock…again.

3/5 Stars

Go to the Pandemic page


41 out of 49 gamers thought this was helpful

Unfortunately for the consumers of the world, there are only a few games on the planet that are considered to be true masterpieces. Some would evidence Space Hulk, others might note Agricola, both arguably worthy of the title of Masterpiece. That being said, they are lonely at the top as very few games exude such excellence that they are universally lauded as the best board games of our time. I am very happy to report that I have indeed found one of these near-perfect games, and I felt a sense of duty to report to you the magnificence that is Pandemic.

Z-Man games has produced Pandemic, a work of art that transcends the seas of tripe that exist in the tabletop gaming industry and thus I will state, without equivocation, that it is likely one of the best games ever made. I’m actually a little *ed at Z-Man Games for this, because they seem to have recently developed and dispersed their own insidious plague which has clearly infected me; I have been stricken with the inability to resist buying their games!

The thesis of the game is that you and your compatriots are working to stop the world, as we know it, from succumbing to four plagues that threaten us. As one of five types of main character you and your colleagues must travel the world, putting down brushfires of infection and curing the diseases before time runs out. The game has almost no luck to it, meaning that every decision that you and your fellow saviors of man will make affects the outcome of the game, and ultimately will determine if mankind falls to its microbial nemeses or survives the viral storm. The key to abolishing each disease is to have a player trade five city cards of one of the four plague colors at a research station for the cure to that colored disease. The trick, though, is that humanity can only survive if all four plagues are extinguished by finding their cures before the players run out of the finite supply of city cards.

The box itself is quite small, typical of many European games, and has art that I would not consider to be incredibly good, but passable. Once you crack the box you’re met with a cornucopia of wooden bits and several cardboard chits that represent everything from character pawns, plagues, research centers, outbreak counters, and cures. Further, there are about a hundred cards that represent cities, epidemic outbreaks, player identifiers, and events, not to mention the well thought out player reference cards to help each player remember their options. A very well written rulebook with pictures and explanations accompanies the package, and reading through it once is all it will take to get you ready for your battle against human extinction. Finally, the included gameboard that depicts the planet’s cities is quite well illustrated and organized, with spaces for counters and card piles depicted within.

The game begins with the players selecting their character types from the five available, which range from the Medic, who can cure all infections of one variety in the city they currently reside in, to the Researcher, who can share cards with others, breaking one of the game’s rules. The rules state that you should randomly select your roles, but in my experience the game is more fun when the players consciously choose which warrior of science they wish to utilize against the swarms of disease. Once the players have chosen their champions, they place their corresponding pawns in Atlanta along with the first research center in the game, the CDC Headquarters. Each player takes an initial hand of two to four city cards, depending on the number of players, and they are almost ready to begin.

Now, as stated before, this game is about the fall of humanity and thus the world is already beginning to falter in the face of the viral menaces. Once the board is set up as indicated above, the first player chooses 9 cards from the infection deck, which is essentially a deck that has one card representing every city in the game, and places one, two, or three cubes of the appropriate color plague on the indicated cities, infecting them. Once all of the unlucky cities are infected, the cards from the infection pile go into the infection discard pile, and the game can now begin with the first player taking their turn.

Each player’s turn has three phases: Take four actions, take two cards from the city card pile, and then take a number of cards from the infection deck, subsequently infecting the indicated cities. Actions available to the players range from simply moving to an adjacent city, using one of the city cards in their hand to travel to other nonadjacent cities, curing diseases within the city, creating a research center, giving a card to a colleague, or curing a plague. Each player’s role has special abilities associated with them that break some of the game’s main tenets, which is likely the single most important aspect of the game. Getting stuck with crappy role mixes in two-player games can be the difference between mankind surviving the pandemics or becoming massive piles of worm food.

As noted, players can always expend an action point by moving to an adjacent city, but they can also use their cards to travel over long distances for that same action point expenditure. The tradeoff is that using a hand card deprives you of that card, which may be crucial in curing one of the plagues. Examples of expending the cards are that if you have the card that represents the city you’re currently in, you can travel anywhere in the world by using the card or you can build a research center there. Alternatively, you may travel to any city that’s represented by a card in your hand for that same one action point. The cards are finite, so every card you spend goes to the discard pile and is permanently out of the game, forcing each player to make very tough decisions on how to best use their cards. This is amplified by the fact that you cannot arbitrarily trade cards with other players, and you have a hand limit of seven cards.

Once you’ve taken your turn, you must take 2 cards from the draw pile of city cards, which contain a single copy of every city in the game as well as some special event cards that can be used at any time to help your cause. These cards range from allowing you to rearrange the infection deck to allowing you to travel anywhere on the planet, and are of the one-time-use variety that are gone forever after use. If you already have six or seven cards in hand when your turn ends, you must discard down to seven cards after taking the required two cards into your hand. Making sure that this never happens is an important point, because once you run out of a certain color of city cards, you cannot cure that disease, and thus humanity is doomed.

The most dramatic aspect of the game comes in the form of a quantity of Epidemic cards, residing in the player deck, and when an Epidemic card is drawn it immediately causes the world to be hit by a wave of infections above and beyond the normal infection phase of the game. These epidemics are resolved before any other actions are taken, meaning that even after the epidemic card is resolved the player must still perform the subsequent infection phase. When the Epidemic is drawn, you first move the Epidemic track forward by one space. This track determines the number of cities that are infected after each player’s turn. Next, the player takes the bottom card from the infection deck and places three plague markers of the appropriate color on the affected city and then discards the card, not only causing another infection, but adding a new city to the mix of cards that are constantly under infectious siege. Finally, the infection discard pile is shuffled and placed on top of the infection deck, exponentially increasing the chance that a city that has previously been infected will be affected again.

The final action that a player takes before the next player’s turn is to draw an amount of cards from the infection pile, as determined by the epidemic track, and then infecting those cities. If, at any time, a city would have more than 3 infection markers of one color on it, an Outbreak occurs. This mechanism forces the player to place an infection marker on every adjacent city, as well as moving the Outbreak track down one space toward impending doom.

The game ends in victory only when all four plagues have been cured at research stations, but there are multitudes of ways to lose, such as when you run out of city cards in the player draw deck or when the Outbreak track reaches the biohazard symbol. This game does have a bit of an anticlimactic ending with the players breathing a sigh of relief once the last plague is cured, but the edge-of-your-seat feeling of the game is unparalleled in the overwhelming majority of games I have ever played.

At the end of the day, this is a very tough game that scales well from two to four players and is never plays the same way twice. As of this writing, there is one official expansion, On The Brink, which brings new mechanics into the fold such as a bio-terrorist and a fifth viral species that has different behavior than the previous four. Additionally, there are several fan-made expansions for Pandemic, including the Threat Level Six expansion and a very cool Zombie Apocalypse expansion that completely reworks the game. This is a must-have game for anyone who likes games, fun, or is in possession of any semblance of a normal brain. It’s simply one of the best games ever made.

Things I am completely impressed with:
*The game scales well from two to four players, making it equally hard with any group
*Although Analysis Paralysis is a real concern, the gameplay is quite brisk
*The simple rules and mechanics help keep the game approachable yet deep
*The replayability value is huge, even though the game itself is mostly static

Things I am not too keen on:
*The art, while acceptable, is certainly not great
*The difficulty level is quite high unless you have several smart people playing with you
*There always seems to be one player who knows everything and tells everyone else what to do

This is a brilliant game, executed flawlessly, and should be on every gamer’s shelf. Although it is not for everyone, anyone who likes smart games that have almost no luck component to them will enjoy this game immensely. If you’ve never played Pandemic, you’re absolutely missing out.

4.75/5 Stars

Learn more about Pandemic here, at Z-Man Games’ page:

Go to the Cosmic Encounter page

Cosmic Encounter

57 out of 65 gamers thought this was helpful

There are very few board game genres out there that elicit feelings of seething hatred and wanton destruction as those that include “diplomacy” or “negotiation”. There’s just something about a game that forces you to make tough decisions that WILL affect your friends at the table that can cause things to get ugly. Fun, but oh-so-ugly.

At any given point in the game you may be allied with everyone at the table, joined at the hip to stop the malicious onslaught of the evil “Mutant” horde or “Clone” flotilla. Before you know it you’re ready to jump across the table and stab one of your former “allies” in the neck with a pencil for blatantly drop kicking you in the sack, “with authora-tah”. Alliances of convenience, unabashed betrayal, and sneakery of the highest order…such is the game of Cosmic Encounter.

This game has been around in various iterations since the Seventies, which should speak to its staying power. It has been printed by no less than ten publishers, the best and most recent being the venerable Fantasy Flight Games. This latest version is loaded with high-quality cardboard bits, 100 stack-able plastic UFOs, and a slew of cards and “race sheets”. The game takes about an hour and a half to play, and seats three to five players at a time, which is a good thing because odd numbered crowds generally make people think twice before starting a brawl. In my experience, four to five players are optimum as three player games end up having two team up and bash the third to death. There can be shared wins in this game, meaning that if two players simultaneously meet the victory condition, they both win.

The concept of this game is really quite simple: you are a space-faring race in possession of five colonies in your home system. The object is to use diplomacy, negotiation, or sheer unrelenting force to expand into five foreign colonies. It sounds simple, but this actually as hard as cutting a bad tooth out of a rottweiler with a broken beer bottle. Which happens to be all fun and games until someone gets bit.

Once all the players’ races have been selected, the gameplay consists of several sequential phases that indicate the who, how, and what you get to do during a turn. First, a player will draw a colored card from the “Destiny Deck”, which indicates the color of the foreign race they’ll be assaulting next. That’s right, you don’t get to decide who you attack, it’s decided for you; which can make alliances very tricky. Next, you will indicate which foreign colony of the chosen color you’ll be invading, and how many ships you’ll commit to the fray by placing them on the stargate board.

Now that you’ve established the who and how many, the true fun of the game begins! At this point, the two players about to engage in battle can ask any number of players at the table to ally with them. Common tactics for asking include pleading, offering cards or use of special powers to help the allies. It can also include things like offering to get up and mix a Tom Collins for all allied players. Trust me, I’ve offered that, and worse.

Once the allies are selected, the attacker and defender both choose a card from their hand to play, and reveal them simultaneously. Generally, the higher card wins. There are some specific cards and powers that can change the outcome, such as reinforcement cards that any player may play to help one side or another. Once all cards and powers have been resolved, the winner takes their spoils, and the losers take their devastated forces to the proverbial “sin bin” of Cosmic Encounter, “The Warp”.

There is also a negotiation aspect to the game when it comes to the battle itself. If both the attacker and defender play a “Negotiate” card when they flip their cards, all allies go back to their home systems and the two parties have one minute to strike a deal of any kind, provided something changes hands. If no deal can be reached, they both lose three ships to “The Warp”. The rules specifically state that deals can be anything, so offering a ten dollar bill is not out of the question.

The spoils for the attacker’s side is that you take the planet as a colony; your allies may join you on the devastated planet bringing them closer to the five victory points needed to win. If the defender and their allies win, the defender gets to keep their planet and the allies get to draw some cards from the draw deck. With little exception, the only way to get new cards is to ally with a defending player – which is crucial. The opposing problem with that is that the only way to get victory points, meaning foreign colonies, is to either defeat a planet alone, or to ally with an attacker.

This is truly one of my all-time favorite games, and if you enjoy games that involve planning, tough decisions, trickery, and potentially having your wife tell you, “That’s SO messed up, Pete, you’re SO not getting any tonight”, this is certainly the game for you. If your wife is calling you Pete, and your name is NOT Pete, then it seems that you should not be playing games at all, and perhaps should seek council from a licensed therapist. That, and I am NOT the Pete she called you, I swear.

Things I liked:
*Great gameplay mechanics, quite a fluid experience
*No downtime as everyone is doing something
*High production values and extraordinary art, even for Fantasy Flight Games
*Incredible replayability, and an expansion set, “Cosmic Incursion” to boot

Things I detested:
*$59.99 MSRP is just too bloody high. There’s lots of bits, but this is not Descent: Journeys in the Dark
*The Fantasy Flight Games version is not truly compatible with other publishers’ versions

This is an outstanding game for three to five players, and every person who likes player vs. player games should absolutely, unequivocally own this game.

5/5 Stars

Go to the Race for the Galaxy page

Race for the Galaxy

37 out of 42 gamers thought this was helpful

I’ve often thought that the science fiction genre was underserved in board gaming, and the games that do exist generally take several hours to play. I know we have games like Twilight Imperium, Ad Astra, and others, but I don’t always have an hour or five to try to take over the universe. What can I say, I’m a megalomaniac on a schedule. Well, luckily for sci-fi gamers, Rio Grande Games has put out a fast-playing card game that takes a novel approach to empire building, Race For The Galaxy. This game has body counts on a galactic scale, malevolant aliens, evil empires, noble rebels, and everything else associated with the sci-fi genre, but it only takes 20 minutes to determine the fate of the galaxy.

The game components include about 150 cards which are made up of action cards, world cards, development cards, and some extra cards for a 2-player advanced game. Further, there’s some nicely detailed summary sheets, a well organized and easy-to-read rulebook, and about 30 little chits to keep track of your bonus points. All components are of quite good quality, but the real stars of the game are the cards themselves. The art is breathtakingly well done, and the theme is smashingly adhered to throughout the game. I like the art reasonably well with most of the Rio Grande Games I’ve played, such as Mystery of the Abbey and El Grande, but this game really stands out as the best looking game they’ve ever made. It is simply outstanding. The illustrations are truly above and beyond what I expected, looking at the outer box, and it is so well organized, regarding the icons and information on the cards, that this is just an amazing card game.

The basic concept of the game is that the players are attempting to build up their galactic presence, scoring points for settling planets, overtaking military targets, and enslaving indigenous life forms. Now, while there is no specific verbiage in the rules calling you the Emperor of this spacefaring race, because I am a bit on the devious side I decided that players would be known as “Supreme Leaders of the United Terrestrial Systems”, or SLUTS, for short. It was either that or “Darth”, and I’ve heard that title is getting a little played out.

Anyhow, the game starts with the players receiving two starting planet cards and a hand of six random cards, of which one starting planet and two cards of each starting hand is discarded. Players are also dealt 7 action cards each, and these cards are identical to all other players’ action cards, aside from the color which represents their player color. Finally, each player then plays their starting planet in their tableau of cards on which you build an empire, discards the two excess, and the game begins. This tableau is essentially each player’s area where they place cards that have been scored and are active in the game.

As SLUTS, players select an action card, simultaneously playing the cards so that everyone’s selection is secret until the reveal occurs. There are seven unique action cards, which allow a game phase to take place that turn, meaning that if no player takes one of the actions, that phase will not be available to anyone that turn. This very clever mechanic forces you to look at your opponents’ tableau and note how many cards they have in hand throughout the game to guess which action they will select, causing them to potentially aid you while retaining your ability to select an action that will not be beneficial to your fellow SLUTS. Further, since all selected phases of play are available to all players, the player who actually chose an action to play receives a bonus for playing it, whereas other players may still use the abilities but are limited in how they can utilize them. Finally, the action cards are persistent in your hand, so once the turn ends you collect the card you played for future use in subsequent turns.

The seven action card abilities really come down to five types , the first being the two Explore abilities, which allow you to draw seven cars from the deck and keep one, or draw three cards and keep two, respectively. This ability is useful early in the game, but as your burgeoning galactic empire grows, you will have a multitude of avenues to grow your hand. It is also wise to remember that you have a hand limit of ten cards, so management of your hand is quite an essential ingredient to being effective SLUTS.

The third is the Develop ability, which allows you to place installations into your tableau by discarding the amount of cards from your hand that is indicated on the installation card that you’re looking to develop. These installations grant you varied powers, such as reducing the cost of developing new installations, providing you with bonus point chits if you meet certain requirements listed on the card, or increasing your military value. Many of these installations also carry a victory point value, so developing them also increases your total score towards being the dominant species in the universe at the end of the game when cards in your tableau are scored.

The fourth ability is the Settle ability, which is similar to the Develop ability in that allows you to play a card to your tableau, but instead of developing installations, you’re settling planets and establising colonies. Some of these planets are production worlds that will produce item cards such as Alien technologies and Novelty goods that can be traded for cards and bonus point chits, and some planets are militarily significant planets that require conquering. All of these planets generally have a victory point value printed on them, just as installations do, and thus these planets are another path to the righteous and glorious rise of your empire.

The one caveat to the normal use of the Settle ability is that military worlds are conquered rather than settled, and thus instead of discarding the proper amount of cards from your hand as you would to settle a production world, you simply need to have a military score equal to or greater than the defense score listed on the planet you’re trying to subjugate. Although you only need to declare that you are invading the world and subsequently adding it to your tableau, I prefer to envision a planet being glassed from space by dreadnaughts bearing massive batteries of high-order particle beam cannons, firing undulating streams of white hot plasma, resulting in the inhabitants being charred beyond recognition, their history and culture utterly destroyed. Maybe I’m just too imaginative, but the art on the cards really brings out the sadist in me.

The fifth and sixth abilities are the Consume abilities, which allow you to trade items for new cards or utilize these items to trade for bonus point chits and other special abilities derived through cards within your tableau. The Consume:Trade ability allows the former, and the Consume:2X ability not only allows the latter, but if you were a player that selected that action, your scoring of victory points can be doubled. The Consume:Trade ability is the most often utilized method of taking new cards into your hand, and the Consume:2X ability is one of the only ways to acquire the scoring chits, which increase your overall victory points. This is a key element of the game, as once the starting chit pool, which totals 12 chits per player, is exhausted, the game ends. It bears mentioning that if anyone selects a Consume action, unless you choose the Consume:Trade ability, you are forced to consume all of your items within your tableau using any card powers granted by cards in your tableau, which can stymie your plans to trade the items for cards at a later time with the Consume:Trade ability.

The final ability is the most pedestrian of them all, the Produce ability. This simply allows you to place item cards on each of your planets that produce goods, and this is done by taking a card, face down, from the draw pile and setting it on top of each of the production worlds in your tableau. The type of item produced is static, and based upon the type of world you have banked. As such, some planets produce expensive goods that provide you more cards than the less expensive goods, forcing you to really think about what you want to produce down the road when selecting planets for settlement or invasion.

As noted before, the game ends at the end of the current turn when any player takes the last of the victory point chits, but the alternate climax of the game occurs when any player places their twelfth card into their tableau. Some developments have variable victory points depending on the conditions listed on the card text, and as such you must do a hair of math to make sure to score yourself properly. You simply add your chits in hand to your installation and planet scores, and the player with the highest score truly becomes the “Emperor of the Known Universe“, or “Head SLUTS”.

Things I Absolutely Loved Beyond Compare:

*The game’s art is superb and draws you into the battle for supremacy in the universe
*With the varied cards and mechanics going on in the game, replay value is ridiculously high
*The speed with which you can rule as the One True God-Emperor makes this a game you can play two to three times in an hour
*There are currently 2 expansions in existence, “The Gathering Storm” and “Rebel Vs. Imperium” which provide you a boatload of new options and special abilities, as well as “The Brink Of War” expansion which releases soon
*At $23.00, this game is an outstanding value
*The space required to play and the small box size make this the perfect coffee shop/bistro game, playable anywhere, anytime

Things I Found Mildly Annoying:

*The learning curve with the symbology is a little steep, but playing one game through will be enough to make you proficient and hook you like crack…forever
*The game was not packaged with a laser pistol, blaster rifle, or lightsaber


This is an extremely fun game, and completely surpassed my expectations. The card art is incredibly immersive, and the simple, yet effective, mechanics make this a far deeper game than I would expect from a twenty minute takeover of the Milky Way. Two words define how I feel about this game: BUY IT.

4.75/5 Stars

To learn more about how to crush the galaxy under your anti-gravity boots, head to Rio Grande Games’ page:

And if you want to play it solo, for free, here’s the fan-made game download for both PC, and surprisingly, OS X:

× Visit Your Profile