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I’ve played one of the Spiel des Jahres nominees this year.  And though it lost out to Camel Up, I still want to give a review for

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

Splendor was designed by Marc André and published by new company Space Cowboys.  The game is for 2-4 players and lasts around 30 minutes.  The basic idea is that you are gem traders, trying to trade up to gain the best gems and thus the most prestige.

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

The game comes with 10 noble tiles, 40 poker chip gems, and 90 cards (three levels).  In the beginning, you lay out four cards from each level deck, as well as choosing as many noble tiles as there are players plus one.  Players start with nothing.  On your turn, you have four options:

  • You can take three gems of different types (there are five types – diamond, emerald, ruby, sapphire, and onyx).
  • You can take two gems of the same type.  You can only do this if there are at least four of that type available.
  • You can reserve a card by taking it into your hand.  This also gains you a gold token, which is wild.
  • You can buy a card from the display by paying the indicated cost in gems.

As you play, you’ll be building up cards in front of you.  Each one shows one of the gem types in the corner.  This symbol gives you a discount on future purchases – if you have two emeralds, you can knock two green off the price of any future cards you buy.

If, at the end of your turn, you have correct number of gem cards in front of you that match the set on a noble tile, you gain the noble tile, which is worth an extra three points.  Some gem cards also have points.  When a player gets up to 15 points, the current round ends so that everyone has had the same number of turns, and the player with the most points wins.

COMPONENTS: The components in this game get a lot of praise, and I agree with most compliments.  The cards are nice quality, and have different backs so you can easily tell which belongs in which row.  For people who are color blind, there’s also 1-3 dots.  The gem icons, too, are color-blind friendly – each gem has a different shape so you can tell them apart.  The noble tiles are pretty good quality, but this is the point were color-blind accessibility breaks down – the required discounts to earn a tile are just colored squares.  I suppose you could mock up a cheat sheet to know which one needs which gems, but the publishers didn’t help you out.

The majority of praise for these components goes to the gem chips.  They are not the cheapo plastic chips you might expect, but some real high-quality poker chips.  They are dense, there’s some heft to them, and they are fairly large (a little over 1.5 inches in diameter).  Space Cowboys could easily have used cardboard tokens, or even little plastic gems, but instead chose to go with these chips.  I’m guessing they’re going to be more durable, especially since you are constantly collecting and trading them in.  They definitely add to the tactile nature of this game.

I also want to applaud the insert for this game.  The chips all have their own slot (with a shallower one for the gold since there aren’t as many).  These slots have an indentation on the edge so you can easily get your fingers in.  Also, the compartment for the card has three dividers for the three decks, much like the dividers in Dominion.  This holds the cards in place whether the box is lying flat or on its side.  It’s far preferable to the standard card sized compartment that allows the cards to go everywhere in transit.  The only place I’ve had a problem is with the tile compartment, which just holds them all flat and doesn’t hold them in place.

The art in the game is fairly nice, but I find it to be a little dark.  I’ve mentioned before that the cover makes this game look more sinister than it is – the guy kind of looks like Jafar, and there’s a woman looking suspicious over his shoulder.  Also, I’m not crazy about the bright yellow box.  But the art is definitely good.  Overall, I give the components in this game a big thumbs up.

THEME: In Splendor, you are gem traders, trading in the gems you collect for materials and prestige.  But really, the theme is irrelevant.  You are never going to say “I’ll trade in these five sapphires and these three emeralds for this ship, which also gives me a discount the next time I spend emeralds, as well as increase my prestige by two.”  You’ll say, “I’ll trade in five blues and three greens for this card with a green discount and two points.”  Nor will you say, “I have four onyx and four rubies.  Now this gentleman who looks like Henry VIII will visit me and increase my prestige by three.”  You will say “I have four black and four red.  This angry dude is mine.  Three points.”

I suppose you could say that Splendor is a commentary on the nature of capitalism.  You begin with nothing, and by collecting gems and trading them in for incrementally better items, you can build yourself up into prosperity.  As you acquire more and more materials, materials will become cheaper, and may even be given to you without paying anything.  The rich get richer, and the wealthier you are, the more respected you will be.  This could spark some fascinating debates as to the validity and sustainability of such as system.

Or you could just have fun with the game as it is.

MECHANICS: Splendor is an economic game with a set collection mechanism.  As you play, you’ll be acquiring the right combinations of gems to trade in for cards.  The more cards you have of a type, the cheaper future cards will be.  The discount system in place helps keep the game moving despite the limited number of gems – there’s absolutely no way you’d be able to afford cards from the top row without them.

Cards are officially acquired by paying gems.  However, you can reserve a card at any time.  This serves several purposes.  First, you get a gold gem, which can be used as anything.  Second, you ensure that you will get that card.  Third, you ensure that no one else will get that card.  It’s a nice addition that adds more strategy to the game.

The nobles also add an interesting element.  They come to you automatically once their condition is met.  Each one has a configuration of gems, and everyone will be trying to collect the necessary ones.  This means that some gem cards will be in high demand.  In every game I play, it seems that one gem is more scarce than others.

Overall, I’ll say that the mechanics of this game are very simple, but are very clean and function well.  From the two different ways to acquire gems to the two different ways to get cards off the board, every action works well, and there is none that seems more important or powerful than the others – all will have their purpose and strength.

STRATEGY LEVEL: This game has a lot of strategic depth.  To be sure, there is luck in the game – you can’t predict which cards will come out, and there’s no way to plan for everything.  However, you can always pick a card or two from the top row and build to that, or try to maximize your ability to get nobles.  You can usually tell what other people are going for on the first turn of the game by the gems they take, and it typically takes three turns to claim your first card.  There’s also some push-your-luck as you determine how long you want to allow a card to be available as you rack up gems – every turn it sits out there is another turn that someone else might snatch it.  So while there is luck, there’s still a lot of strategic decisions to be made.

ACCESSIBILITY: I find Splendor to be an extremely easy game to pick up.  There’s only four actions, and choices don’t need to be agonized over.  This is a game I would classify as a gateway game – simple rules, plenty of strategy, and quick playing.  I’d recommend this both for gamers and people just getting into gaming.  I’ll hopefully be trying it on my parents next week – they’re the real test of accessibility in a game.

REPLAYABILITY: Because of the ever-changing market, I think Splendor has a lot of replayability.  There’s always going to be new combinations of gems to try, and different nobles are in every game.  After a lot of plays, it may start to feel like you’ve been there and done that, but I anticipate a lot of play before it wears out its welcome.  Also, it’s one of those games that you want to just set up and start again once it’s over, so that’s a good thing too.

SCALABILITY: Splendor plays from 2-4 players, and I think it plays very well with all numbers.  There are two reasons for this.  First, there are limits on the number of available gems – 4 with 2 players, 5 with 3, and 7 with 4.  This keeps the game very tight, and certain gems will constantly be scarce.  Also, the quickness of play virtually eliminates the downtime problem that plagues a lot of turn-based games.  You can only do one action per turn, so you really need to work out a plan in advance.  You can be thinking about this during other people’s turns, and while a plan might get shot down, there’s always something to do.  So yes, play well with 2, 3, and 4 players.

FOOTPRINT: Splendor is not a huge game, but you will need some space.  There are three card rows (four cards each), and you’ll need storage space for the gem chips and noble tiles.  Additionally, each player needs an area to keep their collected cards on display – the only hidden information is what cards you have reserved, and anyone paying attention will know what you took.  But you should be able to play it on a normal sized table, maybe even smaller.

LEGACY: As I mentioned, Splendor did not win the Spiel des Jahres this year.  I can’t speak to the other nominees, but I would say Splendor did not win simply because it might not appeal to families the way a camel racing game would.  Remember that failure to win the Spiel des Jahres is not an indicator that a game has failed – Puerto Rico famously lost out on the SdJ in 2002 to Villa Paletti, and look where they both are now.  I do think Splendor succeeds as a gateway game, and I think it’s a very good one.  Time will tell if it achieves the level of other classic gateway games like Ticket to Ride or Carcassonne, but it’s definitely a great one for the moment.

IS IT BUZZWORTHY? Yes.  From the stellar components to the quick and easy gameplay, this game hits all the right notes for me.  It doesn’t burn your brain, but still provides a nice puzzle to solve as you try to race towards your fortune.  I highly recommend it, and hope you get a chance to check it out.  Thanks for reading!

It’s always a big deal when Days of Wonder releases a new game.  They don’t do very many, and they tend to go all out on their releases.  They’ve had some huge hits – Ticket to Ride, Memoir ’44, Small World – but in recent years, their games have not been as well received overall.  Still, everyone is always hoping for another big title for the company.  This year, they’re coming out with what is being billed as their first gamer’s game:

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

Five Tribes is a new game designed by Bruno Cathala that will be premiering in limited quantities at GenCon.  The game is for 2-4 players and takes around an hour to play.  The Sultan has died, and his sultanate is up for grabs.  Players are trying to maneuver the five tribes in order to gain enough influence to take control of Nagala.  It’s a worker placement game, though Bruno Cathala actually calls it a worker displacement game.

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

The game comes with 38 wooden camels, 6 turn markers, a bid order track, a turn order tack, 90 tribe meeples, a bag, 12 palm trees, 10 palaces, 30 tiles, 22 Djinn cards, 96 gold coins, and 54 resource cards.  In the beginning of the game, the thirty tiles are laid out in a 5×6 grid to form the Sultanate.  Three meeples are drawn from the bag and placed on each tile.  Each player gets a set of 8 camels and a turn marker (in a two-player game, each player gets 11 camels and 2 turn markers), as well as 50 coins.  Each player’s turn marker is placed randomly on the bid order track, and the player in front goes first.

At the start of a turn, each player (in bid order) places their piece on the turn order track and pays the indicated value.  The turn order track has three zeros, then a 1, 3, 5, 8, 12, and 18.  So if you really want to go first, it’s going to cost you.  If you don’t care, you don’t have to spend anything.

Now, in turn order, each player takes their actions for the round.  First, you move your turn marker to the first empty space on the bid track – not only are you going first in the turn, you’ll be the first to bid next round.  You’ll then choose a tile that has meeples on it, pick up the meeples, and start dropping them on adjacent tiles.  This is a mancala type mechanism – the next tile you drop on is adjacent to the one you just dropped on.  You can’t go diagonally, and you can’t backtrack (though you can make a loop).  The last meeple you place must be the same color as at least one meeple on the last tile.  You can never end on an empty tile, though you can pass through them.

Once finished with movement, take the last meeple you dropped plus all meeples of the same color into your hand.  If this empties the tile, place a camel on it – you own it and will score at the end of the game.  The meeples you hold in your hand allow you to do actions:

  • Yellow (Viziers): Keep them for points at the end of the game.
  • White (Elders): Keep them for points, though you can spend them for Djinns throughout the game.
  • Green (Merchants): Put them back in the bag and take a matching number of resource cards from the face up line, starting at the beginning and not replacing what you took.
  • Blue (Builders): Put them back in the bag and gain coins equal to the number of blue meeples you returned times the number of surrounding blue valued tiles.  Slaves can be discarded to increase this multiplier by one.
  • Red (Assassins): Put them back in the bag, then remove one other meeple to the bag.  This could be a meeple on the board or a yellow or white meeple in front of an opponent.  If you empty a tile with this action, you gain control of it.

Next, you can do a tile action.

  • Oasis: Place a palm tree on this tile.
  • Village: PLace a Palace on this tile.
  • Small Market: You may pay three coins and pick a resource card of your choice from the first three available.
  • Large Market: You may pay six coins to take two resource cards from the first six available.
  • Sacred Places: Pay two elders or an elder and a slave to take a Djinn from those visible.  Elders go back in the bag, slaves are discarded.

The last thing you do on your turn (if you want) is sell merchandise.  You discard a number of different cards from a suit and collect money based on how many you turned in.

Once everyone has taken a turn, there’s a clean-up phase.  You replenish the resource cards and Djinns, and then start the bid again.  When a player runs out of camels, or there is no more possible meeple movement, the game is over at the end of the current round.  You then score (using included score sheets) 1 VP per gold, 1 VP per Vizier plus 10 VP per opponent with less Viziers than you; 2 VPs per Elder; VPs from Djinns and owned tiles; 3 VPs per palm tree on owned tiles; 5 VPs per palace on owned tiles; and the sum of VPs from each set of different merchandise.   The player with the most points wins.

So what do I think?  This is definitely the most stereotypically Euro of any game Days of Wonder has come out with – a weak theme, lots of wooden bits, very little luck, and lots of ways to earn points.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but people expecting DoW’s usual fare may be surprised.  I think it looks pretty interesting – I like how it works with the mancala mechanism to both determine what action you can take and to create a moving city atmosphere (I think that’s the most thematic thing involved here).  It’s also quite different than what Stefan Feld did in Trajan, which is nice to see.

I’m definitely interested to see how this game turns out.  It looks like something I’ll enjoy.  I wonder if the amount of meeples on the board might overwhelm someone at first, but overall, I’m looking forward to it.  Hopefully someone I know will be able to grab it at GenCon, but even if they don’t, it should be out in September.  Thanks for reading!

LINKS:

The Spiel des Jahres and Kennerspiel des Jahres awards were announced yesterday.  And the winners are…Camel Up and Istanbul!  So that means I’m 0-2 this year since I picked Splendor and Rococo.  Still, they both seem like decent selections, though both are on the lighter end of their categories.  Hopefully, I will eventually get to play both.  But for now, I think it’s high time I review the SdJ winner from 2011:

Qwirkle - image by BGG user Toulose

image by BGG user Toulose

Qwirkle was designed by Susan McKinley Ross and originally published by MindWare in 2006 (Schmidt Spiele released the SdJ winning version).  The game is an abstract color/pattern matching game for 2-4 players that takes 45 minutes to play.

Qwirkle comes with 108 wooden tiles, each showing one of six shapes in one of six colors (there are three of each color/shape combination).  At the start of the game, each player draws six of these tiles, and the player who has the most matches of one type (color or shape) will take the first turn.

On your turn, you can lay down any number of tiles that either have the same shape OR have the same color.  You can’t lay down identical tiles.  As you put the tiles into play, you’ll be building a kind of crossword puzzle, and building your row off of tiles that are already down.  So if there is a row of red-greeen-blue-yellow circles, I can lay down a green star-square-cross perpendicular to the green circle.  I could not add a green circle to the row I just added.

Once your tiles are in play, you score them immediately.  You get one point per tile in each new line you just created.  Sometimes it’s possible to make several lines with one move, and you’ll score each of them individually.  If you ever get a Qwirkle (six differently-colored tiles of the same shape OR six differently-shaped tiles of the same color), you’ll score 12 points for that line.  Afterwards, you’ll draw back up to six tiles.

The game continues until no more tiles can be drawn and one player has used all tiles from their hand.  The player who went out first scores six bonus points, and the player with the most points wins.

COMPONENTS: The components in this game consist of the 108 wooden tiles and the cloth bag.  That’s it.  The tiles are pretty lightweight, and are illustrated with one of the six different shapes – square, circle, diamond, cross, X, or star – in one of the six different colors – red, orange, yellow, green, blue, or purple.  The shapes are pretty easy to differentiate, but the red/orange and blue/green can be easily mixed up in the wrong light.  By its very nature, this is not a very color-blind friendly game.  Other than that, the tiles are great.

The bag that comes with the game is large and fits all 108 tiles nicely.  You can use it to carry around the game without even having to bother with the box.  It’s excellent quality as well.  So, except for the color scheme, I give the components in Qwirkle a thumbs up.

THEME: There’s no theme here.  It’s an abstract game where you’re comparing shapes and colors.  I’m sure you could retheme the game – maybe use Norse gods and give them each special powers – but who would want to do that?  (I kid – Volüspa is nothing like Qwirkle except in the way the board builds.)

MECHANICS: Qwirkle is a game that is all about tile placement and pattern matching.  You have to be able to visualize the different patterns already on the board and figure out how to make the tiles in your hand work for you.  By not allowing you to put the same tile in a line, the game creates a puzzle that builds as the game continues.  This is not unlike Scrabble, where you’re building words off of what is already in place.  And like Scrabble, the ability to create multiple lines at once is going to be the key to success.  The mechanics of the game are very simple, as in many great abstracts, and make way for the crucial strategic decisions to be made.

Scoring in the game is fairly straightforward – one point per tile in the line.  This can get a little confusing if you’ve scored multiple lines, but still not too bad.  The ability to score 12 with a Qwirkle helps add some tension to the game (more on that in a moment).

STRATEGY LEVEL: The luck factor in this game can be high.  What you can do depends on what you draw from the bag.  You can choose to nuke your hand and start fresh, but that costs you a turn when you do it.  And it’s not a guarantee that you’ll get what you need.  The best thing to do is to make the best move with the hand you’ve been dealt.  A lot of times, that means trying to recognize where you can make multiple small lines instead of trying to just make the big ones.  There’s also some luck-pushing as you might want to hold off on extending a line to 5 – you’ll get 5 points for it, but you’ve just opened the door for someone else to swoop in and score 12 with the Qwirkle.  So pay attention.

Another thing to pay attention to is the tile distribution.  There are three copies of every tile in the game.  If you’re waiting to make a Qwirkle or avoiding giving someone else a Qwirkle, and all three necessary tiles are already in play, you’re wasting your time.  These bits of information will also help you form your strategy.

ACCESSIBILITY: This is probably one of the single most accessible Spiel des Jahres winners of recent years.  I was rooting hard for Forbidden Island that year, but I can’t deny that this game is probably easier for the whole family to get into.  Kids will get it easily as they just have to know their shapes and colors.  Adults will get into it easily as they find the strategic possibilities in the game.  It’s a game that non-gamers and gamers alike will find enjoyment in.

REPLAYABILITY: Qwirkle is a very replayable game.  The board will always build differently.  Despite being relatively minimalistic in its design, the game offers a wide variety of options with every turn.  And those options will increase every turn – there can be some serious lag at the end of the game as players try to find that optimal spot for their last remaining tiles. (Hint – as in Scrabble, you’re usually not going to get more than 2 or 3 points in the late turns, so don’t waste too much time)  If that lag affects your desire to play multiple times, then replayability might be an issue.  However, it doesn’t bother me as much as in some games.

SCALABILITY: This game is for 2-4 players, and I find that it plays pretty well with any number.  You’re going to have much higher scores with two as you’ll be playing more tiles, but I think I actually like it better with four.  There’s less you can plan for as the board keeps changing, but it keeps you on your toes.  With a limited selection of tiles, the likelihood that someone will ruin your plans is less than in some other games, but it is there (and sometimes feels like it happens more often than it should).

FOOTPRINT: Qwirkle comes in a 10.5″ x 10.5″ x 2.75″ box, which is smaller than a Ticket to Ride size box.  It’s about the same dimensions as my Alien Frontiers box (though not quite as deep).  As I mentioned, you can just use the bag to carry it around, which makes it more portable.  Once in play, the game will need some space.  Tiles are 1.25″ square, which means a full line of six tiles will be 7.5″.  And with a bunch of lines going on at once, this can easily grow out of control.  Players usually stand their tiles up in front of them rather than hold them in hand, so you’ll need space for that as well.  It’s best to play on a large table, or even spread out on the ground.

LEGACY: Qwirkle already had a reputation for being a fun abstract game that everyone could enjoy when Shmidt Spiele released it in Germany and scored the SdJ win.  I predicted that Forbidden Island would win that year, and I still would have given it to that game.  However, now that I’ve played this game, I have no problem with it winning.  I think it has everything they want from an SdJ winner – it’s easy to learn, quick to play, and has a lot of strategic depth.  It’s certainly one of the committee’s more inspired choices.

The game often gets compared to Scrabble, and you can definitely see the influence.  The games have a similar structure.  It’s much easier to come up with shape and color combos, however, than to build words.  The luck of the draw feels less punishing in Qwirkle as you’re not having to spell words with a bunch of I’s, a Q, and an X.  I definitely like Qwirkle more – not nearly as frustrating.

IS IT BUZZWORTHY? Yes.  It’s simple to learn, and has a lot of depth.  I enjoy it, and highly recommend it for anyone.  Thanks for reading!

With the announcement of the winners of this year’s Spiel des Jahres and Kennerspiel des Jahres coming on Monday, I wanted to use this edition of The Eleven to look at the recommendations by the jury for this year.  These are games that, for whatever reason, are not up for the main awards, but are notable enough to warrant a mention.  I did this last year when there were eleven recommendations (and thus enough to fill out my list), but this year there are only nine.  So this list will include two extra recommendations from me – games from the last year that I think should have been on the list.  On with the show!


There are five recommendations for the Spiel des Jahres list this year:

image by BGG user edbolme

image by BGG user edbolme

Love Letter is a game by Seiji Kanai that was first published in Japanese in 2012 by Kanai Factory (later AEG in the US).  Pegasus Spiele released the German version in 2013.  The game is for 2-4 players and takes 20 minutes to play.  It is the game that kicked off the current microgame craze.  The game has 16 cards and 13 cubes.  Each player is dealt a hand of one card.  On your turn, you draw a card and play a card.  Each card is a different role that allows you to do something, and your goal is to have the highest valued card possible remaining in your hand once all cards have been drawn.  The guard (#1) allows you to try to guess what someone else has, eliminating them if you are right.  The priest (#2) allows you to peek at someone else’s hand.  The baron (#3) allows you to compare hands with another player, with the lower value eliminated.  The handmaid (#4) means no cards can affect you until your next turn.  The prince (#5) allows you to make someone discard their hand and draw a new one.  The king (#6) allows you to trade hands with someone else.  The countess (#7) does nothing, but must be discarded if you get the king or prince.  The princess (#8) also does nothing, but if you discard her, you are out.

Once all cards have been drawn, the player with the highest value in hand wins.  Alternately, you can win by eliminating all other players.  You get a token of affection, and play again.  The first to 7-5-4 victories (with 2-3-4 players) is the overall winner.

This is the only one of the SdJ Recommended games that I have played, and I wholly support its inclusion.  I didn’t really expect it to get nominated as some did, mostly because of Hanabi’s win last year.  However, I’m very glad it’s getting recognition - it is a fantastic game, especially for something so small.

image by BGG user duchamp

image by BGG user duchamp

Potato Man was designed by Günter Burkhardt and Wolfgang A. Lehmann that was published by Zoch Verlag.  This is a trick-taking game for 2-5 players with a potato theme.  There are four different colors of cards, and each color has a different distribution of numbers.  The game works like this – one player leads with a card, and then each other player plays one.  The difference between this and most trick-taking games is that you can only play a color that has NOT been played rather than following suit (in a five-player game, one color can be played twice).  Whoever has the highest number wins the trick, and takes a potato sack card that matches the color.  These will be your points.  Now, red has the highest numbers, but the highest cards in the game have an evil potato on them.  The evil potato can be defeated by Potato Man (yellow), who otherwise has the lowest numbers in the game.

When a player can’t play because they don’t have the color they would have to play, the round is over and players tally their scores.  You play as many rounds as there are players, and the player who has the most points is the winner.

This looks like a really great trick-taking game.  It has a really good twist on the traditional trick-taker with the requirement of playing different colors.  There’s also some push-your-luck as you’re trying to save some of your best cards – once the potato sacks of a color are gone, you can start taking special gold five-point sacks.  There’s a limited amount of each, however, so you can’t wait too long.  The art looks very cute and fun.  It looks like a great recommendation, and one I’d really like to try out sometime.

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

Sanssouci is a tile-laying game designed by Michael Kiesling and published by Ravensburger.  The game is for 2-4 players, and involves trying to build the best garden.  Each player has their own garden board, and on your turn you’ll be playing a card to take a tile and place it in your garden.  Everyone has their own 18-card deck, and you’ll have two cards in hand at a time.  The card you play determines the tile you can take.  The tile is then placed in the corresponding space of your garden.  After this, you can move a nobleman to score points.  After refilling the board and your hand, it moves on to the next player.  After the 18th round (i.e. after everyone has played their entire deck), the game is over and the player with the most points is the winner.

Garden tile-laying games aren’t new to me.  Alhambra won the Spiel des Jahres back in 2003, and I am a big fan of The Hanging Gardens from 2008 as well.  This recommendation is not exactly exciting me, but I think that there’s a law that there has to be at least one mention of a game by Wolfgang Kramer and/or Michael Kiesling.  And in the absence of Kramer this year, Kiesling it is.  Who knows, maybe it’s great – I love Kiesling’s Vikings game, so maybe this one is equal amounts of awesome.

image by BGG user Camdin

image by BGG user Camdin

SOS Titanic was designed by Bruno Cathala and Ludovic Maublanc, and was published by Heidelberger Spieleverlag.  This game, for 1-5 players, is a cooperative game about trying to save people from the sinking of the Titanic.  A booklet showing the Titanic is placed, and columns of cards are dealt beneath it in stacks of 4, 6, 8, and 10.  The only face up card in these stacks is the top one.  On your turn, you can move passengers around so that they are in descending sequence with other passengers of their class (5-4-3, for example).  If you have a 1, that’s a lifeboat, and the sequence can be built up on top of that – this is a survivors group.  Then you must either play an action card or set up a rescue.  To do a rescue, you draw as many cards as you want to, play one into a line or survivors group, and discard the rest.  If none of the cards can be played, you discard them all and flip a page of the Titanic booklet.  When the book runs out (or when all passengers have joine a survivors group), the game is over and you score based on how many you saved.

This is solitaire.  Seriously.  Call it what you will – Klondike, Patience, computer time killer – this is the traditional solitaire card game with a theme added to it.  OK, so you don’t have action cards in solitaire, but still.  I do like that they’re trying to evolve the system, I just can’t imagine how cooperative solitaire is much fun, especially with up to FIVE PEOPLE.  As a solo game, I think this would be great.  I’d probably have more to say if it was a nominee, but it’s probably a fine addition to the recommendations.

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

Voll Schaf (aka Battle Sheep) was designed by Francesco Rotta and published by HUCH! and Friends (originally from Blue Orange).  The game was first published back in 2010 as an abstract called Splits.  The theme was added for the 2014 edition.  Each player controls 16 sheep tokens which begin the game in one large stack on the pasture.  On your turn, you move part of your sheep stack move in a straight line any number of spaces, leaving at least one behind.  You can’t move through other sheep.  When you can’t move any more sheep due to being at the edge of the pasture or being surrounded by other sheep, you’re done.  Once no moves can be made by anyone, the player who controls the most board spaces wins.

This game gives me a significant Hey That’s My Fish vibe.  True, it’s sheep not penguins, and tiles aren’t leaving the board.  However, it has that same area control aesthetic – block your opponents so you can get to more spaces.  Another difference is that, rather than having individual pieces, you’re moving stacks around and leaving pieces behind.  That seems like it will offer very interesting strategic possibilities – how many do you leave behind, where do you want to go, and so on.  So while it seems on the surface to be like HTMF, I think it’s probably different enough to merit its inclusion here.  Besides, they always like to recognize at least one abstract, so why not one with a really family friendly theme?


There are four recommendations for the Kennerspiel des Jahres list this year:

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

Amerigo is a game designed by Stefan Feld that was published last year by Queen Games.  The basic (unessential) theme is that you’re building trade routes and settlements in South America.  The game utilizes the cube tower, also used in Wallenstein and Shogun (two other Queen titles).  The game is played over five rounds, each with seven phases.  At the beginning of each phase, you drop the cubes in the action space for the current phase in the cube tower.  The colors of cubes that come out indicate the action choices you have, and the largest number indicates how many action points you have to spend on one action.  These actions could be to move ships, load cannons, take land tiles, score progress points, build land tiles, buy production tokens, or change player order.  After the seventh phase of each round, players must face the pirates, losing points if you fail to defeat them.  After the fifth round, the player who has scored the most points wins.

Stefan Feld had a banner year last year.  He had four games come out, and all were fairly well received.  Amerigo was the last one released, and was probably the most complex of the games.  As with most Feld games, it looks like it has a pretty weak theme, but that’s not why they get played.  It seems like a unique use of the cube tower, and so it looks like a great game for the recommendation list.  Besides, I think the same law that stipulates a Kramer and/or Kiesling game be mentioned also stipulates something by Feld.  So here it is.

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

Blood Bound is a social deduction game from designer Kalle Krenzer and published by Heidelberger Spielverlag (Fantasy Flight in the US).  The game is for 6-12 players, and is all about two warring vampire clans trying to capture the other’s Elder.  At the beginning, each player gets a character and knows two things – to which clan they belong and the clan to which one of their neighbors belongs.  On your turn, you either attack another player (who will become the next player) or pass the knife to someone else.  If a player is attacked, they can see if someone else will take the wound for them – otherwise, they reveal their clan affiliation or rank.  Once a player receives their fourth wound, they are captured.  If they were the leader, the capturing team wins.  Otherwise, the team of the captured player wins.

I love social deduction games.  This is not one I’ve played, but it sounds pretty interesting.  You’re trying to find out who’s on your team, but more than that, you are trying to find the other team’s leader.  The ability to take other people’s wounds adds some negotiation elements to the game.  With the popularity of games like Werewolf, The Resistance, and Coup, it stands to reason that a representative of the genre would be recognized.  I don’t know if it’s the best choice for a recommendation from the genre, but it’s definitely something different.

image by BGG user AEGTodd

image by BGG user AEGTodd

Guildhall is a game designed by Hope S. Hwang and published in 2012 by AEG.  Pegasus Spiele released the German edition.  You’re trying to form the most productive guildhall, assembling workers from various professions to gain more and more prestige.  Each player has a hand of cards that consists of six different professions – Assassin, Dancer, Farmer, Historian, Trader, and Weaver – in five different colors.  On your turn, you can do one of three things – play a card, discard any number of cards and draw up to six, or use a completed chapter to claim a point card.  Played cards go into your guildhall at the end of your turn, and you can’t have any duplicates – if you already have a red Weaver, you can’t add another one.  Each profession does something different – the Assassin takes cards out of other players’ guildhalls, Dancers allow you to draw cards, Farmers give you VP chips, Historians allow you to dig through the discard pile, Traders allow you to trade cards with other players, and Weavers allow you to take cards from your hand and place them directly in the guildhall.  Once a chapter has one profession in five different colors, it is completed and can be used to claim point cards.  The first player to 20 points wins.

This is the only game from the Kennerspiel list that I have played (and even reviewed).  I think it’s a fantastic game, full of surprising strategies and that feels completely different every time.  It’s very minimalist – there are only six roles – but it’s amazingly deep for the simplicity.  It’s one I’m glad to see getting more love.  Very glad to see it on the recommended list.

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

Russian Railroads was designed by Helmut Ohley and Leonhard Orgler, and was published by Hans im Glück (Z-Man in the US).  On the surface, it’s a railroad game, but it’s more about worker placement than traditional train game elements like economics or route-building.  The game lasts 6-7 rounds, and in each round, players will take turns placing their workers on various spaces of the board.  You can extend your tracks; build locomotives; build a factory; industrialize your network; gain a doubler to double your score for a track; gain roubles (money); gain temporary workers that must be used in the current round; hire an engineer; or change the turn order.  Each action costs some of your workers.  Once all players pass, the round ends and a scoring occurs.  After the final round and scoring, the player with the most points is the winner.

Of course, this is a very basic recap of the game.  I haven’t played it, and I haven’t really studied the rules at all – it’s a pretty heavy game, the heaviest on this list.  It’s gotten rave reviews since coming out, and has already risen into the top 50 games at BGG.  It seems that it’s a lot heavier than what they are looking for for the award, much like T’zolkin and Terra Mystica last year.  I’m glad that it got some recognition despite its weight – always good to see a great game get some award love.


And finally, here are my two recommendations for games I think merited attention…let’s call it the Spiel des Jesse:

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

Forbidden Desert is my recommendation for the Spiel des Jahres list.  The game was released in 2013, designed by Matt Leacock and published by Schmidt Spiele (Gamewright in the US).  I might be wrong in my estimation, but I think it was released too late to be eligible last year.  Still, it go no love either year, and I’m putting it on my list because it’s a great cooperative game.  Like its older siblings Pandemic and Forbidden Island, Forbidden Desert is a cooperative game where you’re trying to win before a threat overwhelms you.  This threat takes the form of a sandstorm that moves around the board throughout the game.  You’re searching the desert for parts, and on your turn can move, clear sand, pick up parts, or explore the face down tile you’re on.  After your turn, the storm moves, and there’s the potential for you to die of thirst or get buried under sand.  If you collect all four parts of the flying machine and return them to the launchpad, you will escape and win.

I reviewed this game a while ago, and I expressed my love for it.  I like it better than Forbidden Desert, which did get nominated for SdJ in 2010.  It’s more complex for sure, and that’s why I like it.  It probably would fall right between the SdJ and KdJ, so I don’t think it would have gotten nominated.  Still, I think a recommendation is warranted, so here it is.

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

Lewis & Clark is my Kennerspiel recommendation.  This game also came out in 2013, and was designed by Cedrick Chaboussit.  Ludonautre is the publisher, with Asmodee distributing in the US.  It’s a worker placement/deck building game about discovering the Western part of the US.  Each player starts the game with a deck of six cards, all in your hand.  On your turn, you can either send a Native to a location on the board, or you can play a card from your hand for its effect.  This card must be activated, and you can either use the back of another card to activate it, or add Natives to the card.  As you play, you’ll be recruiting new characters for your deck and advancing along a path to the West Coast.  The first player to make it to or beyond Fort Clatsop at the end of their turn is the winner.

I’ve gotten to play this game once, and really liked it (despite the fact that it’s really long with five players).  It does a great job combining worker placement and deck placement as your workers can either go to the board or be used to activate cards.  Your cards too can be used for activation, and since you have to pay if you have too many Natives, you have to find a balance.  With the nominations of Concordia and Rococo, there probably wasn’t room for another game that used this form of deck building, but I still feel that it would have been a great recommendation.  So I’m recommending it.


There’s the list.  Chime in if you have any additional recommendations.  Thanks for reading!

I’ve gotten to play a friend’s copy of this Kickstarted game a couple of times now, so I’m ready to do a review of

image by BGG user onekccs

image by BGG user onekccs

Spurs: A Tale in the Old West is a game by Ole Steiness and Sean Brown that was just recently published by Mr. B Games.  This is a 3-5 player game (with a possible 6-player expansion) that takes 90 minutes to play.  A successful Kickstarter campaign (which I talked about in my first Kickstarter Blitz) raised $23,902 on a $16,000 goal, and the game delivered right on time.

Spurs is a game set in the Old West (obviously), and the object is to gain the most fame points.  Players start out with their cowboys at different places on a map.  There are four different types of terrain – badlands, plains, forests, and mountains.  Also positioned around the board are three different towns.  The board is seeded with eight different challenge tokens.  Each player has a character with its own ability, and begins the game with a bag of bullets and some money based on turn order ($0 for first, $5 for second, $10 for third, and so on).

On your turn, you roll 2-3 red dice (based on your characters movement speed), and use two of them to determine how far on the map you can move.  You can move as many steps as you want up to the chosen number, and can stop where you want.  Some outlaws and animals won’t let you move through their space without stopping to fight.

If you stop in a space with a challenge token, you’ll stop and resolve it.  You know what you’re getting into when you stop as all tokens are face up (though they are face down until placed).  Here’s what you might see:

  • Cattle – You roll dice and have a certain number of moves to group all the cattle together on a separate board.  Once you run out of rolls, you collect $5 per cow that is next to at least two others.  You can also choose to just rob the rancher for $15 and take a wanted poster.
  • Horse – You try to break a horse, taking several rolls to ride it around an enclosure and not run into anything.  If you succeed, you keep the horse, which adds one to your movement until you sell it or it gets stolen from you.
  • Animals – You can try to hunt an animal by pulling three bullets out of your bag, hoping to pull a number and type indicated on the tile (such as two rifle bullets).  If you succeed, you get the animal, which you can sell at a town for money and fame.  If you fail, nothing happens unless the tile shows a red bullet – if that’s the case, you get wounded if you fail.  A wound is a red bullet that goes in your bag.
  • Outlaws – These work just like the animals.  Fight ‘em, then take ‘em to town for your reward.
  • Desperados – Draw an indicated number of Desperado cards and fight them one at a time, pilling bullets for each one.  A reward is listed on the card, which you collect immediately.
  • Gold – Pull an indicated number of nuggets from a bag.  If any of them are gold, you can sell them in town for $15 each.  Any that aren’t gold get put back in the bag.  However, after you draw, you’re going to have to fight Desperados (even if you don’t get anything).

When a challenge is fully resolved, it is removed from the board and an event card is drawn.  This event tells you where to put a new token, as well as giving an event.

If you land on a space containing another player, you can fight them.  You’ll both simultaneously draw bullets from your bag (get it? DRAW!!!) until you get two of a type you specified at the start of the duel.  The first one to get them and slap the table wins the duel, gaining a fame point (or two if you beat someone ahead of you in points).  If the loser had Wanted posters, you get $20 for each one.  You can also steal half their money, a gold nugget, a piece of equipment, an animal or outlaw they are carrying, or an escorted stagecoach.  If you steal, you’ll get a Wanted poster.  Shooting a man is OK in the Old West, but by gum we do NOT steal.

If you head into town, there are several options, each of which you can do once on your turn.

  • Sheriff – Turn in your outlaws for the ransom on the card.
  • General store – Sell your animal pelts and horses.  You can also buy equipment cards.
  • Doctor – Draw two free tokens from your bullet bag.  If either are wounds, discard them.  Otherwise, you can pay $5 per wound to get rid of them that way.  You can never have more than three wounds in your bag at a time.
  • Saloon – You can buy a round of drinks for $40, which earns you a point.  In fact, you can buy as many rounds as you want for one point each.  Whether you do or don’t, you can also choose to draw a saloon card which could give you another opportunity to fight or earn cash and points.
  • Bank – This is only present in one of the towns.  Here, you can sell your gold OR, if you’re feeling daring, rob the joint.  Robbing gets you a wanted poster, and basically consists of try to get two of a certain type of bullet in three draws.  The bank starts with $15, and may earn more as the game goes on.

When one player reaches a predetermined number of points (10 for a short game, 20 for long), the game ends.  A bonus 2 points is awarded to the players with the most money, bullets, and wanted posters.  The player with the most points wins.

COMPONENTS: Most of my complaints about this game are going to come from this section, so I’ll start with the good.  This game comes with some nice cowboy minis with plastic bases to differentiate them from each other.  From looking at the Kickstarter page, I thought the cowboys themselves would be different colors, but they are all gray.  Which is fine, Im glad there are different colored bases.  The character sheets are nice and big and do a good job giving you all of your pertinent information.  The art used through the game is nicely thematic.  The bags re also decent quality – certainly better than those used by WizKids.  The cardboard bullets are serviceable – they are printed on one side of a rectangle so you can’t tell by feel what you are grabbing.  The black back also means that you may have an extra step to flip it over when you pull it out of the bag, which adds to the tension.  One of the Kickstarter stretch goals was for wooden bullets, but that wasn’t achieved.

Now for the bad, and these are mostly aesthetic choices that I’m grumpy about but can’t really fault them for using them.  First off, the game uses paper money.  I know it’s a cost saving thing, but I hate paper money and would probably replace it with poker chips in a heartbeat.  There are some very tiny cardboard chits used for marking your score and for horses and cattle.  They’re just very small and annoying, and I might replace them with cubes.  Also, the game makes use of tiny cards, which I never like.  The event cards are a good size and do a great job giving you information, but the Desperados, saloon cards, and equipment cards are all that tiny type that are impossible to shuffle.  I know they’re commonplace in games, I just don’t like them and wish they could have been bigger.  Again, a cost-saving thing.

I can forgive all the issues above.  However, there are two other problems with the game that I can’t look past.  For the sake of staying thematic, let’s call them the ugly.  First of all, while the board does a great job differentiating the different terrain types – badlands, plains, forests, and mountains are all easy to tell apart – the irregular spaces of the board are separated by this brown line that blends in perfectly with some of the terrain types, specifically the forests.  You have to get really close to the board to see where the border is, and that’s just bad planning.  Make the lines in the darker regions lighter – they need to stand out more than you need everything to look uniform.

The other thing is the direction dice used with the horses and cattle.  These have arrows indicating which direction you can move your animals.  They are blue dice with black type, and impossible to read from any kind of distance.  Terrible choice – the print really should have been white.

Overall, I would say the components aren’t terrible, but they’re really not anything to write home about either.  This is definitely not a game that will get by on its looks.

THEME: The Old West is a very rich theme that has inspired countless movies, books, TV shows, and tourist attractions.  Yet, it doesn’t seem to be very big in board games.  The games that do use it tend to have it as a background to the mechanics in more of a Eurogame style.  Spurs, on the other hand, would not exist without its theme.  Everything in it is designed to give you the experience of being a character in the Old West.  Time and time again, you’ll find yourself speaking with a Western twang, or roleplaying your character, be it Lawman or Bandit or Hunter or Pioneer.  There are Wanted posters, shootouts, saloons, horses, bears…everything you’d want in a Western game is here.  This is one of the most thematic Western games I’ve played.  Granted, that’s a short list, but I’ll even go as far as to say it’s one of the most thematic Western games I’ve heard about.

MECHANICS: With a theme as rich as the one you find in Spurs, it stands to reason that most of the mechanisms in place are there to move the story rather than for elegance.  This is apparent in the fact that movement is determined by rolling dice and moving.  Roll and move is kind of a dirty phrase in hobby gaming, but this is at least different from the Monopoly way.  You roll two dice and move up to the number, and if you have a high enough riding skill, you roll three dice and choose which two to use.  The dice are customized with horses, and only go up to three on each one, so you won’t go any further than six spaces (more if you have a horse).  There are different costs to enter different terrains, which also helps slow people down.  With large spaces on the board, you can still cover some good ground with six.  I think the roll-and-move is handled well, and doesn’t ever feel as swingy as it can in other games, primarily because you always have choices of where to go.

There is some pick-up-and-deliver in the game, as you have to take outlaws and animals back to town in order to get any rewards.  But you also have the danger that another player is going to come up and rob you.  Which leads to my favorite mechanism in the game – combat resolution.  Rather than rolling dice, this game has the innovative idea to have players draw bullets from a bag.  In addition to being a really great pun, this leads to some great moments of tension.  There are ways to mitigate the luck – you can get more bullets in town, and can even train your weapon so black bullets (misses) are replaced by rifle or pistol bullets.  You can also collect spurs that will allow you to add bullets or reroll.  Combat will be used throughout the game, whether against another player or fighting any NPCs.  I like it a lot.

The player powers are all fairly decent.  None of them seem particularly overpowered, and they generally help define your strategy from the beginning – the Lawman wants to catch outlaws, while the Hunter wants animals.  And so on.  Some of the characters can only roll two dice for movement, which seems a little unfair.  However, it’s not a big deal – they tend to be a little more powerful in other areas (bullets and powers).

The saloon cards provide opportunities to fight and make some cash.  A lot of them have entry fees, but sometimes you’ll be able to do something without paying.  The events generally give you more money for delivering to particular places.  The Desperados range from being fairly easy to very difficult, which makes sense thematically.  The horse and cattle collection processes are kind of random with the dice rolling involved, but generally are not too hard to do.  Again, you have an advantage in these with a higher riding skill.

The mechanics all work pretty well, and nothing feels overly clunky.  In fact, I think they integrate with the theme pretty well.

STRATEGY LEVEL: I don’t mean this as a criticism, but this really isn’t a game that you need to spend a lot of brain cells on.  The game is primarily theme, which means there’s a healthy dose of luck involved and there’s not really a lot of strategic opportunities.  There are certainly decisions to be made, but a lot of what happens is going to come down to luck.  That kind of goes with the territory in an American style game – you’re really there for the experience rather than the strategy.

ACCESSIBILITY: This is not a difficult game to get into.  The theme helps, and the mechanics of the game are simple enough that people can understand.  The rules can take a while to explain, but the game is fairly accessible.  I think the biggest barrier to entry is honestly the luck – someone with a bad run can easily feel shafted.  However, I’d say the accessibility is high.

REPLAYABILITY: With all the different roles and variable places the challenges pop up, I’d say this game has a pretty high replay value.  It may start feeling the same after a while, but I think each role gives you a different enough avenue that you can enjoy the game again and again.

SCALABILITY: I don’t think this game scales particularly well.  I have played it with six and with three.  My three-player game was a lot of fun. My six-player game was kind of drawn out and overly chaotic (admittedly, it was the first time for all of us).  The game is turn-based, and while turns don’t take a very long time, you still are waiting around with nothing to do (that is, unless someone comes up and declares a duel on you).  The more players you have, the more difficult it is to formulate any kind of plan as the board will likely be completely different at the start of your turn than it was at the end of your last one.  I’d say 3-4 is probably the best number for the game, and 5-6 might be more fun in a game where everyone knows what they are doing.

FOOTPRINT: There is a lot of stuff in the game.  You’ll need a lot of table space for the board and all the extra cards and chits.  Each player has their own player area and bullet bag, but you’re not really going to have a whole lot to keep track of yourself – just some spurs and whatever equipment you buy.  Still, you’ll need some space to spread out when you play this game.

LEGACY: If you look at the American West category at BGG, you’ll see that among the top games are Carson City, Homesteaders, Dice Town, Wyatt Earp, and Oregon.  All of these are more in the Euro style – Carson City is a worker placement game, Homesteaders is an auction game, Dice Town is all about trying to get the right sets to gain benefits, Wyatt Earp is a rummy game, and Oregon is all about tile placement.  You also get Bang!, which is a social deduction game, but generally, theme is not the most important thing in most of these games.  So Spurs comes in and fits into that niche – it’s an Old West game that feels like an Old West game.

IS IT BUZZWORTHY? I think it really depends on what you’re looking for.  If you’re looking for a thematic, fun, rootin-tootin cowboy game, then yes, you should check it out.  If you’re looking for deep strategy, I’d suggest something else.  My issues with the components aside, this is definitely a game I would recommend that you check out.  It’s a lot of fun.  Thanks for reading!

LINKS:

My favorite game of 2012 was Seasons, a dice-drafting fantasy game set in the world of Xidit.  Now there’s a new game set in the same world, called

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

Lords of Xidit is a new game that is making its debut at GenCon this August.  It’s from Seasons designer Régis Bonnessée, and is being published by Libellud (I’m assuming Asmodee will be handling US distribution).  The game is for 3-5 players, lasts 90 minutes, and is a reimplementation of the 2002 game Himalaya.  Though it’s set in the same fantasy world (and taking advantage of more awesome art from Xavier Guennifey Durin), Lords of Xidit is a very different game from Seasons.  I’ve been looking forward to hearing more about it, and now that the rulebook has been released, here’s your preview.

image by BGG user TimofKings

image by BGG user TimofKings

Lords of Xidit comes with 70 Unit miniatures, 75 Sorcerers’ Guild Story figurines, 100 Bard tokens, 35 Gold Sovereign tokens, 39 City tiles, 6 Titan tiles, 5 Programming boards, 5 Order tokens, 5 Idrakys cutouts and bases, 5 Screens, 18 Score tokens, 2 Empty tokens, 3 Assessment tiles, 3 Calendar tiles, a Game Board showing the Kingdom of Xidit, a Dummy Player Board with three tokens, a Bastion, and a First Player token.  Each player starts the game with a screen, an Idrakys cutout (this is your hero representation on the board), a programming board, 20 Bard tokens, 3 Score tokens, 15 Sorcerers’ Guild Story tokens, and an order token.  Tokens are placed around the board in their various storage locations, and the city tiles are separated into two piles.  From these piles, five recruitment tiles are chosen to place on cities (along with five units), and five threat tiles are also chosen to be placed on cities.  You’ll then make a recruitment stack from five of the remaining tiles, and a threat pile with all others.  Beginning with the first player, each person puts their Idrakys on one city space (but not one containing another Idrakys).

This game lasts for 12 Game Years.  At the start of each year, players will use their programming board to issue six orders to their Idrakys.  This is done by using programming wheels, dials that will indicate the order and the sequence of the orders.  There are four order options: move, recruit, eliminate a threat, or wait.

Orders are kept secret until everyone is finished.  At that time, you reveal your programming board, and each player in turn order resolves their first action.  Actions are resolved in sequence until the last player has resolved their last order.  Here’s what might happen.

  • Move: You must move your Idrakys along the indicated color of road to a neighboring city.  There are three types of roads – red, blue, and black.  If you choose one, that’s the one you’re taking.
  • Recruit: If you are in a city that contains a recruitment wheel and chose the action icon, you must recruit.  Take a unit from the wheel and place it behind your screen.  You must always take the weakest unit present (Peasant Militia are the weakest, followed by Archers, Infantry, Clerics, and Battle Mages).  You also may only recruit one unit per year.  When a recruitment tile is empty, you remove it and place a new one on the board.
  •  Eliminate a Threat: If you are in a city with a threat token and chose the action icon, you must eliminate the threat (if possible).  You’ll need to use the indicated types of units to defeat the threat.  For succeeding, you can choose two of three types of rewards 0 gold for you, bard tokens for the board, or Sorcerers’ Guild stories to be built in that city (there can be no more than one SG in a city, and no SG can be more than four stories tall).  If you eliminate a threat, remove it and place a new one.
  • Wait: You pass the turn.

As you play, you’ll be replenishing the recruitment and threat tiles.  When the threat pile runs out and cannot be replenished, it’s time for the Awakening of the Titans.  The Slumbering Titan tokens are flipped to their Raging side.  Reinforcements arrive, and the Raging Titans become new threats.

After all of this takes place, the year is over.  At the end of the 4th, 8th, and 12th year, there is a military census, with the players having the most of each type of unit receiving a bonus.  After the military census of the 12th year, the game is over.  Three assessments occur, the order of which was randomly determined at the beginning of the game.  After each assessment, 1-2 players will be eliminated.  The three things that will be assessed are wealth (gold), influence (Sorcerers Guild stories), and reputation (bard tokens).  So you could have the most influence and reputation, but if you were last in wealth and that was assessed first, you lose!  The last player standing is declared the winner.

So, as I said, this game is completely different from Seasons.  There’s no dice for one thing, and no cards.  It’s a straight unit moving, set collection, programmable game.  Lords of Xidit has two of my absolute favorite mechanisms – programmed actions as you are planning six moves ahead; and being fed to the crocodiles as players can’t be last in anything or they’re going to be eliminated.  That final scoring looks very unique and climactic.  Wealth is kept secret, but you’ll know exactly where you stand with influence and reputation.

This is a game I’ve been looking forward to since I first heard about it, and now that I’ve read more about it, I’m even more excited to give it a try.  A lot of people who really like Himalaya are disappointed that it’s not a straight reprint, but it seems to me that this game is updating the system as Small World did for Vinci.  And that’s not a bad thing – bring in a new audience, streamline the rules, and build on the world started in Seasons.  I have to say, I also like the touch that Xidit is an anagram of Dixit, Libellud’s Spiel des Jahres winning party game.  It kind of brings things all together – I’d love to see Xidit Dixit sometime.

Anyway.  Really looking forward to this one.  Thanks for reading!

LINKS:

Happy July!  Let’s kick it off with a review of

image by BGG user Purple

image by BGG user Purple

Galaxy Trucker was first published in 2007 by Czech Games Edition (Rio Grande published it in the US).  The game was designed by Vlaada Chvátil, is for 2-4 players, and takes around an hour or so to play.  The idea is that you are a freelance spaceship driver hired by Corporation Incorporated to ship sewer parts across the galaxy.  You’ll do this by building your own ship out of these sewer parts.  I’m going to start this review with a rundown of how to play, so feel free to skip down a bit if you already know.

The game comes with eight spaceship boards, a flight board, 65 Cosmic credit tokens, 4 number tokens, 144 component tiles, 60 adventure cards, a II/III rules tile, 8 plastic spaceship markers, 40 astronauts, 8 aliens, 36 batteries, 56 goods cubes, 2 dice, and a sandtimer.  The component tiles are mixed face down in the center of the table, and each player starts with a spaceship – Class I for the first round, Class II for the second, and Class III or IIIA for the third (IIIA is slightly more advanced).

Each of the three rounds is divided into two halves, the building and the journey.  During the building phase, players will simultaneously be drawing tiles from the center and trying to fit them on their ships.  There are three types of connectors – single, double, and universal (three prong).  Single and double don’t match with each other, but anything can fit with the universal or with its own type.  You can’t connect into the blank side of another tile, but connectors can stick out into empty space.

As you draw, you’ll come across a bunch of different components:

  • Cabins – Each cabin can hold two human astronauts.
  • Life Support – When connected to a cabin, that cabin can hold one pink or brown alien.  Humans and aliens don’t share cabins, and you can only have one alien of each color on your ship.
  • Cargo Holds – Each box in a cargo hold can hold one goods cube.  Blue boxes cannot hold red cubes, but pink boxes can hold anything.
  • Engines – Each engine you have makes your ship faster by one.  Brown aliens increase your engine strength by two.  Engines must face the rear of the ship, and there must be at least one empty space immediately behind it.
  • Weapons – Each forward facing weapon you have increases your firepower by one, while each side or rear facing weapon increases your firepower by one half.  Pink aliens increase your firepower by two.  As with engines, there must be at least one empty space in front of a weapon.
  • Double Engines and Weapons – These obviously have double the strength of their single counterparts.  However, they only work if you have batteries.
  • Batteries – Each battery hold contains 2-3 batteries.  Batteries are used to power double engines, double weapons, and shields.  They are used every time the item in question is used.
  • Shields – Depending on the orientation, shields protect two sides of the ship.  If you need to use a shield, you must spend a battery.
  • Structural Components – These have no purpose other than to fill in gaps in the ship.

As you build, you can peek at some of the cards coming up for the journey.  Also, there’s a timer to help things keep moving.  I’m not going to explain these right now.  Once you are satisfied with your ship (or, more likely, are completely unsatisfied but can’t do anything else), grab a number tile.  This determines your position on the track, which shows how many flight days separate you and the leader.  Once everyone is finished, get your astronauts and batteries, and get ready for the second half of the round.

The journey basically consists of flipping up cards and seeing how you fare.

  • Open Space - Everyone fires their engines to try to get ahead/close the gap with the leader.
  • Planets - In turn order, players can decide to land on a planet and pick up the indicated goods.  This will push you back a few flight days.
  • Abandoned Ship - If you give up a certain number of astronauts, you’ll get some money.  You’ll also lose some flight days.  Only one player can take advantage of this.
  • Abandoned Station - As long as you have a certain crew strength, you’ll get a reward in cubes.  Again, you’ll lose flight days and only one player can do this.
  • Meteoric Swarm - You’ll have to fight through some meteors, which will come at you from the front, sides, or rear.  If it’s a small meteor, they will just bounce off your ship unless they hit an exposed connector.  In that case, you need to use a shield or you’ll lose the struck part. If it’s a large meteor, you’ll have to shoot it, or you’ll lose the struck part – shields can’t stop large meteors.
  • Smugglers, Pirates, or Slavers - You need to have a certain cannon strength, or you’ll lose cubes to smugglers, astronauts to slavers, or get shot by pirates.  Getting shot is bad – small shots can be blocked by shields, but large shots cannot be blocked.  If you do not defeat the enemy, they will move on to the next person in line.  If anyone beats the enemy, they get a reward, lose some flight days, and anyone behind them does not have to face the enemy.
  • Combat Zone - Several different conditions are shown, and whoever has the least in each suffers some sort of penalty.
  • Special Cards - There are three different special cards.  Stardust causes each player to lose one flight day per exposed connector.  Epidemic makes you lose one occupant from each connected cabin.  Sabotage causes one player to lose a random component.

After you’ve gone through all of the cards, the journey ends.  Players get rewards based on their order on the track, and the player with the fewest exposed connectors gets a bonus.  After selling your cubes and paying for any components you lost, you move on to the next round.  If, after three rounds, you’ve made any money, you win!  And if you’ve earned more money than anyone else, you’re a little bit more of a winner.

COMPONENTS: This is one of the first games Czech Games Edition published, and the high quality of components has become a hallmark of theirs since then.  The tiles are all well illustrated and made of quality cardboard.  The player boards are very clear in indicating where tiles can go, and have numbered borders to help you determine where random things happen.  The main board has a track for the journey, as well as spots for cards and a guide to how to score at the end of the round.  The track is an oval with triangles indicating each space, with no numbers.  It’s not a race track with a clear start and beginning, it’s more of an indicator of where everyone is in relation to one another.  The guide is preprinted for the first round, and a tile is used to cover it for the second and third rounds.

The game also comes with some very distinctive plastic astronauts that are your humans and eight plastic aliens.  The aliens are brown and pink, and you can easily tell which one does what – brown aliens work the engines (which are brown), and pink aliens work the weapons (which are pink).  Each player gets two ships, one for the journey track and one for landing on planets.  The batteries are translucent green cylinders that kind of look like Tic-Tacs.  And the goods are cubes.  I guess everything can’t be awesome.  The cubes certainly work, just a little bit of a letdown after the cool other pieces.

The three decks of cards are all differentiated by their backs (labeled I, II, and III).  They are very easy to understand, and well illustrated.  Overall, I think the components in the game are great.

RULES: I have to make a special category for this game to praise the rules.  Vlaada’s games usually have very entertaining rule sets, and Galaxy Trucker is no exception.  There are snarky comments throughout, and the game does a great job walking you through how to learn the game.  There’s no easy reference once you know how it all works, and that’s the biggest drawback of the format.  Nevertheless, the rules are awesome.

THEME: On the surface, it may seem that this is just another space game.  ˙owever, I find this game to have a certain charm that sets it apart thematically.  You are a spaceship driver who is building your ship out of sewer parts.  It makes sense that the best way to transport these parts across the universe is to build a ship out of them.  And then you fly.  The journey is fraught with peril, and you’re going to have a difficult time making it through in one piece.  However, there are opportunities to make extra cash on the way to make up for what you lose.

One hallmark of CGE games is their attention to detail in the theme.  Everything is explained, everything makes sense.  The theme serves the mechanics, but at the same time, the mechanics serve the theme.  Galaxy Trucker is a wonderful example of theme integration.

MECHANICS: There are a number of mechanisms in play during Galaxy Trucker.  There’s tile placement as you build your ship, and you have to pay attention to connections as well as to have the right distribution of parts to be successful.  There’s some pick-up-and-deliver as you are gathering goods along the way.  There’s some dice rolling to determine where meteors and gunfire hits.  There’s also a kind of time track in play as players are simply marking how far they are behind others.  How long it takes to get from one place to another doesn’t matter, only what position you are in when you get there.

The advanced game adds a timing element to the first part of each round (shipbuilding).  In the first round, you flip over a sandtimer when the round starts, and when the first player finishes their ship, they flip it again.  All other players now have until it runs out to finish their ships.  Each subsequent round adds another flip of the sandtimer.  This serves both to keep the game moving so some players don’t take forever to finish their ship, but the extra flips keeps someone from putting together a very minimal ship and making everyone else suffer.

The other advanced mechanism is the ability to peek at journey cards.  You’ll have eight cards from the current round, as well as four cards from each previous round in your journey deck.  Before building, you separate these into four piles.  Three of these piles can be peeked at while you are building so you know kind of what to prepare for.  However, there’s always an element of unknown because you can’t look at the fourth pile.

As I mentioned before, the mechanics and theme in Galaxy Trucker work very well together.  A lot of the mechanics grow right out of the theme, but as opposed to a lot of thematic games, I never feel like they are clunky or weighted towards someone with good luck.

STRATEGY LEVEL: One of the biggest complaints I hear about Galaxy Trucker is that the second half of the game is all luck, and there’s nothing you can do after the initial building phase.  It’s pretty much just sitting there and seeing what terrible things happens to you.  I couldn’t disagree more.  There are plenty of strategic opportunities in the journey – which planets to land on (or whether to land at all), how many engines to fire in open space, whether to use abandoned stations or spaceships, how many guns to fire to increase your cannon strength, and so on.

Clearly, most of your strategy comes in how you build your ship, and yes, there’s a lot of luck in what tiles you find.  And it’s also true that there is a lot of luck that can completely undermine your plans.  I played a game once where I build a perfect ship on IIIA – no exposed connectors, lots of cannons and engines, lots of cargo holds, plenty of astronauts and batteries…it was glorious.  The first card out of the journey was Sabotage, and because I had one less crew than my opponent, he came after me.  His first two attempts missed, but the third one took out the one tile in the center that connects the front to the back.  I lost all but one of my engines, most of my cargo holds, and both of my shields.  I fortunately was able to survive the rest, but kind of limped across the finish line.

This game can be very chaotic.  Bad things are going to happen, and there’s not much you can do about it.  There are strategic opportunities, but you have to know going in what you’re in for.

ACCESSIBILITY: Galaxy Trucker is not a difficult game to learn – as I said, the rules do a great job of stepping you through how to play – but it is a difficult game to get your head around.  I’d put it more in the next step category – probably not something to teach to new gamers, bt maybe something to introduce to people looking for a little bit more from their gaming experiences.  Just be mindful that this is a very unforgiving game, and it’s not going to be for everyone.

REPLAYABILITY: Because your ships will always be different and because you can’t predict what’s going to happen on the journey, as well as having three different ship types throughout the game, this game is endlessly replayable.  Throw in the expansions, and you’ll have new stuff to play with forever.

SCALABILITY:You can play with 2-4 players, and I think it works well with all numbers.  There’s no downtime to worry about, and the only thing that’s more difficult with more players is finding the right parts.  The expansions take it up to five players.

FOOTPRINT: This is a big game.  You’ll need a lot of table space for the pile of tiles in the middle, as well as space for everyone’s player boards.  With the expansions in the box, it can also be pretty heavy – not very portable at all.

LEGACY: Galaxy Trucker is the game that introduced me to the wonderfulness that is Vlaada Chvátil.  I still think it’s his best, but it’s also very different from all of his other games.  Of course, all of his games are different from one another.  I think Galaxy Trucker really brought a fresh perspective to tile laying and pick-up-and-deliver games.  It is kind of based on the mechanisms of Factory Fun, which I haven’t played and can’t comment on.  I can’t imagine it being as much fun.

IS IT BUZZWORTHY? Yes.  I love Galaxy Trucker, and have loved it since before I ever played.  It’s mass chaos, and is an absolute blast.  However, it is not a game that will be for everyone.  A lot of people won’t really go for the unpredictability of the system, and that’s OK.  For me, however, it’s a ton of fun that I highly recommend.  Thanks for reading!

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