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Topdecker

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Review 8 games and receive a total of 380 positive review ratings.
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Go to the San Juan page
Go to the Flash Point: Fire Rescue page
Go to the Thunderstone Advance: Towers of Ruin page
Go to the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game: Rise of the Runelords (Base Set) page
Go to the Talisman page
Go to the Star Realms page
4
Go to the Sentinels of the Multiverse: Vengeance page
15 out of 27 gamers thought this was helpful

I am not going to mince words too much… I got this expansion as a gift and I am sorely disappointed in it.

This expansion takes the game and changes it so that your team of heroes is fighting a team of bad guys. As a result, all of the villains are too weak for normal play (where one villain must face a team of heroes) which effectively lessens the value of this expansion, especially when it is your first and only expansion.

It annoys me to own a boxed expansion and still only have 4 villains to use with the regular rule set. Additional villains was what I _really_ had wanted in an expansion – new rules, not so much.

Of all the expansions for Sentinels of the Multiverse, this should be the last one you consider. The altered play order, intentionally impotent villains, and lengthy rule book all feel like a slightly different game – which is probably how they should have sold it.

7
Go to the Yardmaster Express page

Yardmaster Express

14 out of 15 gamers thought this was helpful

When you first get Yardmaster Express, you get to marvel a moment at the packaging. The outer-sleeve for the box is slick and glossy and is a tight fit for the game box it is protecting. Once you slide the outer-sleeve off, it reveals a game box with a magnetic clasp that opens to reveal the components.

I have the Kickstarter version, so your contents may be a bit different. You’ll see a deck of cards wrapped in plastic, a wooden first player token, a cloth bag with the game logo, the rules, and a caboose expansion which is a small set of cards that is also plastic wrapped. All of this fits into what is essentially a double-sized card box and it is well laid out and considered. The component level is surprisingly high.

The game itself is very simple and very fast to play. It can handle up to 4 players, but it might be best with two. Anyhow, a shared hand is dealt, with one card for each player in the game. The active player then draws a card – so in a two-player game, there would now be three cards. You choose a card and attach it to the end of your train.

Attaching the train is where the rules get as complex as they will be. You can attach a card if it has the same color or the same number. If none of the cards meet that criteria, you can flip the card over to turn it in the a low-point value wild card.

Once you have played a card, you are done and you pass the remaining cards to the next player. Play continues until a set number of cards are on the table (7 in a 2 player game, 6 in a 3 player game, and finally 5 cards in a 4 player game).

Scoring is pretty easy – just add up all the numbers on the cards. Whomever got the longest run of unbroken colors adds the length of the run to their score – and this is often the difference maker.

The play time can be under 10 minutes once everyone knows the rules. As you add players, you add time. To me, the game feels a bit more random with 4 players since so many cards are taken by the time it returns to you. It also takes longer to play a game with more players. Two or three players seems to be the sweet spot.

There is a bit of room for gamers to make some choices, but towards the end you will often find yourself wishing for a lucky card draw. Knowing when to flip a card and set yourself up for connecting any card is probably the biggest choice to make in the course of a game.

If you want a super light-weight fast playing filler game, Yardmaster Express is quick and easy.

9
Go to the Star Realms page

Star Realms

124 out of 131 gamers thought this was helpful

Star Realms

If you were to mail order Star Realms, the first surprise that you will get is how small and portable the game is – it fits in a single triple-thick deck box. Small and almost pedestrian, you can easily fit the game into the palm of a single hand or tuck it into a pocket to carry.

We are often asked to believe that good things might come in small packages, and weighing in at only 128 cards, Star Realms is indeed a very small game. If you were to compare it to most other deck building games, it is not even the size of a small-box expansion favored by other titles. So does something good come in this little box?

Introduction to Star Realms

Each player starts with the same amount of authority (life or hit points if you prefer) and reducing your opponents authority to zero is the goal of the game.

Star Realms starts with a simple concept. You get 5 cards every turn except the first turn, and you have to play them all – there is no cost associated with playing a card. The real goal of the game is to improve and expand your card pool until your resources overpower those of your opponent.

Your cards do one of three things: they can place a ship, they can place a base, or they can place an outpost. Ships are temporary and go to your discard pile at the end of the turn and they represent the bulk of your combat and economic power. Bases are permanent structures and typically lend small advantages to you. Outposts are bases that must be destroyed before bases or the player can be attacked.

The cards are divided into 4 major factions. When you have two or more cards from the same faction in play, this often activates a special power on each card. Since outposts and bases satisfy the need for an ally, they are frequently the important element in taking an early lead or winning a fast victory.

The factions and their strengths are thus:

The Blobs – Green. The Blobs are unique in that they have no Outposts and and five bases. They do have a wide selection of ships, with some of the strongest combat vessels in the game. They have modest card drawing powers, some deck thinning capabilities, and are the only race that can destroy cards that are for sale.

The Machines – Red. The Machines the masters of deck thinning and even have an outpost or two that will help thin your deck. They have six different outposts with one of them acting as a ally wild card which can be very powerful indeed. They also have a ship capable of cloning another ship that you have played, so the Machines often fit neatly into decks and are perhaps the most flexible of the factions. The Machines also have ships that can destroy outposts and bases as an ability – no lost combat points and they make an excellent foil to opponents that have invested heavily into bases.

Star Empire – Yellow. The namesake of the game is adept at card manipulation. Most of the ships either allow you to draw an additional card or they force your opponent to discard one – and early in the game, losing a few points of purchasing power can be very telling later. For combat, The Star Empire relies a bit heavily upon having other Star Empire cards in play.

Trade Federation – Blue. The Trade Federation is excellent at making money and it is the only faction that can restore lost authority – they are basically wealthy healers. They only have a few ships that can attack directly, but they can act as the core economic engine for your empire while buying you time to expand and grow.

The most common powers that ship and bases provide are:

Draw another card
Force a discard by your opponent
Allow you to destroy a card in your hand or discard pile (deck thinning)
Gain funds
Gain combat strength
Gain Authority

Turn Summary

A turn is conducted by playing all of your cards. You total and spend your funds by buying new ships or bases which are immediately placed in your discard pile. You total and spend your combat by eliminating bases or outposts and by reducing the authority of your opponent if no outposts are in play. You then draw a new hand of cards and your turn is over.

That is it.

Yeah OK, there are a few other little things like scraping cards or activating non-automatic special abilities, but it all works like you think it should – it is printed on the card. Star Realms is gloriously clean of rules and turns flow very nicely.

Did good things come in a small Star Realms box?

Star Realms hits on all marks. It is inexpensive at $15, it is easy to teach, fun to play, and plays quickly. It has meaningful choices to make and you get the sense of building your armada as your deck gradually improves.

I give Star Realms my highest recommendation. I enjoy playing it and I greatly admire the design of the game.

5
Go to the Tokaido page

Tokaido

42 out of 54 gamers thought this was helpful

Tokaido is a timeline game. This basically means that you cannot occupy the same spot as other players and you cannot go backwards. When you turn arrives, you must move and you can move to any spot down the road between yourself and the nearest inn.

My problem with the game is that there are rarely meaningful decisions to make. You will almost always want to minimize your distance from the pack which maximizes the number of turns (and potential for rewards) along the road. You might shift one or two spaces to get something you really want, but you can only do this a time or two and anything more is probably folly.

I realize that the game is supposed to be a relaxing walk down a beautiful trail, but I don’t care for the trail or the final destination. The core mechanic is just too restrictive and I finish the game feeling like the it was the game that played me.

8
Go to the Ghost Stories page

Ghost Stories

112 out of 119 gamers thought this was helpful

Initial impressions: When you first get Ghost Stories, anticipate being overwhelmed with an abundance of icons. A lot of games are going this way to defeat language dependence and translation problems and it adds some difficulty to your first few plays.

Translation problems appear to be in the manual as it fails to explain some key areas. This game is absolutely easier to learn if download a sequence cheat-sheet, watch a “how to play” video, and THEN read the rules.

Game play: Once you work through learning the game, the game play is really something that you have to experience to fully understand. The game starts and seem like it will be manageable, but very, very quickly you find yourself making chains of complex decisions in an increasingly hostile gaming environment.

The players quickly become surrounded by ghosts – and these ghost take away your options and hinder your ability to combat them. Things often go from bad to worse and priorities are always shifting.

Pros: Challenging game play, with a sweet mix of luck and non-luck blending to make a game that most players can enjoy.

Grade A components. The miniatures are nicely rendered and the game tiles are very heavy and solid.

I cannot think of a game that is similar in game play and very few exert the amount of pressure that Ghost Stories exerts so easily.

Cons: Occasionally a player, blue in particular, can get tapped to constantly perform the same task over and over.

The game can be very difficult and perhaps feel too much like how I survived Ghost Stories rather than how I beat Ghost Stories.

Rule book isn’t the best – getting cheat sheets and FAQs are mandatory.

Summary: Ghost Stories makes games like Flash Point and Pandemic seem friendly and almost cuddly by comparison. This game can be beaten, but you inevitably come away feeling like you and your friends just barely pulled off a magnificent victory.

I personally have never finished a victory alive, and I have won three times, but always find myself taking one for the team. My current record is 4 losses and 3 wins.

In terms of solo play, you can get this game for Vassal or as an iOS app – sorry, no Android app yet :(. I’ve never won a solo game, but it does have a set of rules for doing it.

8
Go to the Sentinels of the Multiverse page
25 out of 27 gamers thought this was helpful

If you are familiar with Sentinels of the Multiverse, the first thing that will strike you about the app version of the game is how faithfully both the imagery and rules have been implemented. The art has actually been nicely expanded, with the locations being more detailed and most villains have alternate art.

Considering presentation and user interface, SotM is top notch at all levels. It is a lovely game, with crisp, clean graphics, and the user interface is consistent and friendly to use. The only annoyance is that in order to read cards, you have to zoom into them, but this is handled very nicely indeed as they intelligently allow you to play the cards from zoom and advance through other cards as well.

Playing the game is fun and friendly. The rules are all cleanly implemented and nary a book keeping error will happen which is nice given this game’s propensity for modifiers. There are opportunities to allow the game to decide how to allocate damage or healing which can be a nice time saver. The only niggling bit here is that it would simply be nice if there was a central place to look to see all of the modifiers in effect – as it stands now, I believe you have to step through cards and mentally arrive at what could just be shown.

In terms of stability, I found that the game was much more reliable once the page-style animation was turned off in the options. I am using an older Galaxy Tab 10.1 and it was crashing quite a bit until I disabled this option. Prior to disabling this, I suffered multiple crashes, with one being epic in the sense that my tablet turned completely off – something that I have not seen in three years of using this tablet.

The biggest downside is that this app is tablet only. There is just too much to display, I suppose, and it takes a tablet to play it. I’d still give it a try on a phablet…

All in all, SoTM is an excellent app that will almost certainly improve as time marches on and expansions are released.

9
Go to the Samurai page

Samurai

17 out of 18 gamers thought this was helpful

Samurai, by Reiner Knizia, is a 2-4 player game where players vie for control of three factions – Samurai, Priests, and Peasants. Control of towns is done via tile placement and each player draws and manages a hand of tiles through-out the game. Once a town or village is completely encircled by tiles, it is scored. Once the final town or village is scored, players compare their totals for each faction.

Once you start playing Samurai, you will very quickly realize that this game is actually very, very easy to play. The rules are brief and extremely streamlined and clean. As the game progresses, the turns gradually slow down as each player weighs the increasingly difficult options that they have available. Samurai is a tribute to the design skills of Mr. Knizia – simple to play, yet deep in strategy, it is everything you might want in a board game.

Samurai plays best with 3. When playing with two, moves are bit too obvious and luck is a large factor, while with 4 there is a bit too much chaos. But with three players, Samurai really shines – especially since there are three factions that the players are trying to gain a majority in.

Pro’s
+ Plays quickly (45 minutes)
+ Easy to learn
+ Excellent component quality
+ Good brain burn – but your options are reasonably limited

Con’s
– Ties happen (might be a plus for some)
– Players prone to analysis paralysis can turn it into a 90 minute game
– Luck has some impact, especially in 2-player games

This is one of my favorite games and I enjoy it for it’s evolving pace and increasing complexity. It is fun to watch as the board slowly compresses and scoring starts to happen – I do try to win, but I enjoy how the game evolves as well and don’t mind losing.

This game has been out of print for sometime, but is available on both iOS and Android devices. For iOS, look for “Reiner Knizia’s Samurai” and on Android, look for “Shogun Hex.” The latter does not have fast units, so it is not a full implementation, but instead a very close relative.

8
Go to the Flash Point: Fire Rescue page
114 out of 121 gamers thought this was helpful

Flash Point is a very well designed and nicely implemented cooperative board game that supports 1 to 6 players. I initially purchased the game because it allowed solo play while playing all the way up to 6 and it has not disappointed.

Flash Point is played on an 8 by 6 grid – and this grid is constantly referenced by rolling a d8 and a d6. Dice rolling is a primary mechanic and I find that the randomness is well suited to an environment filled with the chaos that is fire – the smoke, heat, limited visibility, and unexpected are all very well represented due to the unpredictability introduced by the dice.

The game comes with basic (family) and advanced rules. The basic rules are good for learning the core mechanics, but I suspect that most players that enjoy the game will rapidly move on to the advanced rules. The advanced rules provide players with unique roles, improves the way that potential victims are placed, introduces hazmat problems, and opens up the rules regarding fire trucks and ambulances.

I’ve played a couple of very gripping, danger-filled roller-coaster rides of Flash Point and I’ve also had several games where we were in control and stayed in control almost from the start. My advice is to keep the difficulty high (more starting explosions) and to consider playing random roles. Cooperative games need pressure in order to remain engaging and well-organized, capable players need to take on more difficult challenges – where losing is a very real threat – in order to get the most out of Flash Point. Make your game memorable.

Likes:
It seems like there are always a few sudden surprises
No two games play out the same
Solo to 6 player
High quality components
Manual is well written

Dislikes:
Box needed to be a bit deeper
Early good play / luck can result in a boring play through
Fairly fiddly – each turn ends with a dice roll and placement of at least one token
Game is more “dangerous” with more players (you are stuck until your turn)

Plays best with: 3 or 4
Rating: a very solid 8 multiplayer, 7 as a solo game

If you like cooperative board games that play fairly quickly, Flash Point is definitely worthy of your consideration. If it turns out that you like it, there a long list of available expansions to add more depth and variety to the game play.

9
Go to the San Juan page

San Juan

13 out of 14 gamers thought this was helpful

San Juan is the happy wild-child of Puerto Rico. It has a bit more luck, but it plays in like 1/3 the time of PR and is done before it overstay’s it welcome.

The basic premise of San Juan is that you start with 4 cards in your hand and single, poor farm on the board. The starting player selects one of the roles and game play commences. The roles are:

Governor – starts a building phase and gets to build for 1 card less
Producer – starts production phase and get bonus production
Trader – starts a trading phase and gets an extra trade
Councillor – draws 5 cards and keeps one, every one else draws 2 and keeps 1
Prospector – draw a card, no other players get to draw

So the first play select a role and everyone acts on it. Then the second player selects a role and everyone gets to act on it, and so on until the round is completed. The player the selects the role always gains an advantage related to the role.

One a round is completed, the second player gets to select from all of the roles and the next round begins. Each go around is about building up enough cards to purchase the things that you need. The trick is that the game ends once someone has built 12 structures and the game is constant trade-off between quality and keeping up with the frenetic pace that the AI players seem to prefer.

San Juan is as much about denial of advantage as it is about seeking an advantage. For instance, you might notice that you can sell a single good – and no one else has anything to sell. That might be a good time to gain a small card advantage. The Prospector role is the ultimate me-me-me role, but the card advantage can be comparatively small to other actions.

In terms of interface and presentation, the Android version gets high marks for both. Watching cards being dealt about the table is a little overkillish, but it does help you maintain better knowledge about the real sequence of play.

7
Go to the Run, Fight, or Die! Zombie Horde Expansion page
8 out of 9 gamers thought this was helpful

The Zombie Horde Expansion adds some variety and altered mechanics to Run, Fight or Die!

You get a big pile of plastic representing three new zombie foes: the hulking Brute, the legless Crawler, and the speedy Runner. Each zombie is fairly easy to recognize and, as you play, you’ll quickly learn to casually identify them.

The Brute takes 2 points of damage – which must arrive as a single attack – to kill him. This makes him immune to bullets unless you get a card that increases bullet damage. He is a good target to run off the board.

The Crawler cannot be shot – too low to the ground, I guess. He is also a good run off candidate since he cannot be touched until he is in zone 1.

And then there is the runner. When zombies advance, he advances 2 zones, which means he is in zone one the first time he is moved.

I mentioned altered mechanics – well, really there is just one major change. Any time that you are instructed to place a zombie, you now need to draw a card. The card tells you the types of zombies to place – this is how the brutes, crawlers, and runners get introduced to the game. Crawlers are also sometimes introduced into zone 1.

Characters get some skill cards that allows players to make a minor customization to their character. You can opt to take 3 extra health, or you can take a skill. Skill range from getting one more re-roll, to being able to treat a single gun as a bat, etc.

All in all, I like it and recommend this expansion.

7
Go to the Run, Fight or Die! page
128 out of 138 gamers thought this was helpful

Run, Fight, Or Die is fun enough game where you press your luck through multiple re-rolls.

In it, each player takes a three tier game board (representing zones of nearness – close, medium, and long), populates the board with 9 zombies, and takes on the role of one of six characters that come with the game.

Each individual character has different strengths and how you tackle the game might depend a little bit on character, but regardless there is going to be a lot of baseball bats, pistols, and firebombs used on zombies.

As part of your turn, you roll an event die (which is only rolled once) and you roll 5 action dice – or maybe 6 if you are told to. The dice fundamentally are used to generate killing power to reduce the number of zombies that you face, but they can also trigger events, move you to new locations, and help you find useful or perhaps worthless followers.

Which leads us to the goal of the game. You goal is to reach the town limits with as many followers as you can find. The followers help you score points. What are dead zombies worth, you ask? Not a thing. Zombies simply slow you down – or eat ya.

Each player’s turn is very fast, but even so, I personally will not be using the 5-6 player expansion because I don’t need the extra down time.

On a positive note, it has solitaire play and you basically play for points and try to set a new record. I find it fairly engaging and a nice way to spend 20 minutes or so.

8
Go to the Thunderstone Advance: Towers of Ruin page
95 out of 106 gamers thought this was helpful

Thunderstone Advance is a thematic deck building game with good solitaire support. It is not especially hard to learn, but has enough variety in cards and situations that every game will play out a bit differently – sometimes VERY differently – than previous games.

One thing that I like about Thunderstone Advance is that it is part of very well considered and constructed line of games and it shows in the balance and general smoothness of game play and the rules. This is the second generation of the product (Advance) and as such you benefit from the lessons learned from the original product. Overall, it is a very refined and hardy game system that plays nicely.

If there is an initial obstacle, it is usually a question of where or how do I start – what product do I purchase first? Thunderstone Advance: Towers of Ruin is a good starting point. You can later augment the set with Caverns of Bane, Into the Abyss, and Root of Corruption should you feel the need. Those expansions are all considered to belong to the same family / story arc which began with Towers of Ruin and getting them will simply add more variety and depth to Thunderstone Advance.

In terms of ownership, the first step of owning the game is to organize it. The box that I received had cards in fairly logical, lengthy runs and it was easy enough to organize. Then I decided to alter the order of the groups. Then I discovered that I had the cards on the wrong side of the divider. Anyhow, you can tweak and adjust and make it just like you want it – and the benefit to getting it right is that subsequent games will setup faster or slower depending on how well you’ve done organizing the game. The manual has card groups and an order which I suggest that you follow at first.

Once you’ve got it organized, now it is time to learn the game. You can follow the steps in the manual, watch some game play videos online, or mix and match as needed. I personally watched someone else play it and that gave me a better grasp of things so the rules read much more easily.

Game play is pretty simple. You have a hand of six cards. You can go to the dungeon and battle or you can go to the village and shop with them. Much less frequently you can take advantage of two other options, you can rest (remove a card from the game and discard your hand) or you can prepare (put as many cards from your hand as you wish on top of the deck and discard what you don’t need) which is often needed for the final fight.

You initially start with with just 12 cards and your hand is quite weak. The initial portion of the game is about strengthening your hand and you will spend the bulk of your time in the village while you find better heroes and arm them.

Eventually you will get a hand that is strong enough to pummel some hapless monster in the dungeon and you will then slowly start to flood your deck with defeated enemies. As the game goes on, you get more and defeated enemies in your deck and this acts as a throttle of sorts. By the time the Thunderstone bearer arrives, you might have to use the prepare options several times in order to rally enough strength to be victorious.

The game system keep constant pressure on you and the tension grows as the Thunderstone bearer approaches. I’ve had 20+ points leads slide away in the last 5 turns and I’ve had stunning successes. I’ve also had narrow losses, the kind where you go back and review how you managed to end up on the wrong side of the line.

For me, a very important aspect of the game is solitaire game play, and Thunderstone does a very, very good job here. It is now one of my favorite solitaire titles and I doubt if that will change any time soon.

7
Go to the Ave Caesar page

Ave Caesar

121 out of 159 gamers thought this was helpful

There are several versions of Ave Caesar, with the classic theme being that of a charioteer while a lesser known version is about racing futuristic jet cars (Q-Jet 21xx).

Regardless of the version, the game is very easy to learn and a game can be over very quickly with 15 minute games being common enough. This makes it a good filler game and, if you play one game of it, it is very likely that everyone will want to give it one more play which is a trademark of a superior game.

Hand management and knowing when to kick it can make some narrow wins very gratifying and close losses something to avenge.

As I mentioned, the game is quite easy to play and my daughter started playing it when she was around 8 year old. So it is also a solid family game.

Ave Caesar is currently out of print.

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