Game Buzz: Abyss

With GenCon looming around the corner, there are a number of games that are really capturing people’s attention.  One of these is Abyss, by Bruno Cathala and Charles Chevallier.  The game is being published by Bombyx, and features this guy on the cover.

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

Surprisingly enough, there are actually five different covers you could get for this game:

image by BGG user Najak

image by BGG user Najak

Just from the cover art alone, I am instantly intrigued.  And that’s probably the point.  But to get some more detail, the game is for 2-4 players and takes around 45 minutes to play.  In the game, you are trying to gain the most influence to buy votes from the Council and become King of Abyss, an underwater kingdom.  The game comes with 20 Location tiles, 35 Lords cards, 71 smaller Allies cards, 50 plastic pearls, 20 Monster tokens, 10 Key tokens, a score pad, and 5 Shell plastic cups.  Each player game begins the game with a pearl, and six Lords are revealed and placed face up on the board.  A location tile is also revealed.

On your turn, there are three steps to take, which must be done in order – plot at court, take one action, and control locations.

PLOT AT COURT: This is an optional step.  You may spend one pearl to add a Lord to an empty space on the track.  You can add as many as you want, you just have to pay a pearl each time.  You cannot do this if there are no empty spaces or the Lord deck is empty.

TAKE ONE ACTION: There are three action options, and you must choose one of them.

  • Explore the Depths – For this, you reveal cards from the exploration deck one by one and add them to the exploration track until you take one.  There are two types of cards – allies and monsters.
    • For allies, you must first offer the opportunity to purchase it to your opponents.  In turn order, they can either pay you in pearls (an increasing price based on how many have been bought this turn) or pass.  If no one purchases the ally, you can either take it for free (which ends your exploration action) or put it on the exploration track (which allows you to draw another card).  If the card is placed on the fifth and final space of the track, you take the card and a pearl.
    • For monsters, you either fight or continue exploring.  If you choose to fight, you win automatically and gain a reward based on the threat level.  This ends your exploration action.  If you continue exploring, place the monster on the track and draw a new card, increasing the threat level by one.  When a monster is defeated, the threat level drops to one.  If a monster is placed on the fifth space of the exploration track, you defeat it and take a pearl.
    • At the end of exploration, all ally cards on the exploration track are moved to the council based on their color, with monsters placed in the discard pile.
  • Request Support – For this action, you can take all cards of one color in the council into your hand.
  • Recruit a Lord – Each Lord requires an exact number of ally races to be turned in, often including a specific ally.  They also require a certain value, which is added up from the allies.  You can use pearls instead of allies, but you must use at least one of each required ally.  If there are fewer than three Lords after recruiting, you also gain two pearls and refill the court – otherwise, it is not refilled.  Lords are worth influence points, and give you some special abilities based on their guild, which are either applied when recruited or are semi-permanent:
    • Soldiers aren’t worth many points, but are useful for messing with your opponents.
    • Farmers have no powers, but are worth lots of points.
    • Politicians will affect the lords themselves.
    • Mages are useful for collecting more allies.
    • Merchants give you pearls.
    • Ambassadors help you gain control of locations.

CONTROL LOCATIONS: As you play, you will collect keys, either through recruiting Lords or fighting monsters.  As soon as you have three, you must claim a location.  Take one of the available face up locations, or draw 1-4 and choose from those.  All that are not chosen get placed face up to offer more choices to future claimants.  If you use the key belonging to a Lord, the powers of that Lord will be unavailable for the remainder of the game.  Key tokens are discarded.

After following these steps, your turn ends and it is the next player’s turn.  The game ends either when a player recruits their 7th Lord, or when the Lord track cannot be completely refilled.  Once this happens, the active player finishes and everyone else gets one more turn.  Then you score points from locations, Lords, the strongest Ally you control in each race, and the monster tokens you hold.  The player with the most points wins.

This seems like a fairly straightforward game.  The action choices are limited, and it seems that you’re working from several angles to try to accomplish the end goal, which is scoring points.  The Lord seem to be big in giving you advantages, and of course locations give you bonuses.  Overall, I think this looks like a pretty fun game.

But oh my goodness, the art.

Last August, I did an edition of The Eleven where I talked about how artists are the unsung heroes of board games.  And I honestly believe that, despite the name of a big designer like Bruno Cathala being attached to this game, most people are going to get it because of art like this (images from BGG user hazgaard):




I have to give a big round of applause to Xavier Collette, the artist for this game who has previously worked on Dixit games.  From what I have seen in Abyss, I can’t wait to see his future contributions.  Overall, I have to say that while I think this is a solid design that I AM looking forward to playing, mostly I just can’t wait to see it in person.  Thanks for reading!

Buzzworthiness: Hanabi

Another day, another review.  Today, it’s for

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

Hanabi was originally published in 2010, designed by Antoine Bauza.  ABACUSSPIELE’s 2012 German edition won the Spiel des Jahres in 2013.  R&R Games publishes the English edition.  The game itself is for 2-5 players and takes around 30 minutes to play.  The basic concept of the game is that you are fireworks manufacturers.  However, there has been a mishap and all the fireworks have gotten mixed up.  The big show is about to start, and you have to get everything back together or it will al blow up in your collective faces.

The deck consists of 50 cards – there are five colored suits (red, green, blue, white, and yellow) that are numbered 1-5 (with three 1s, two 2s, two 3s, two 4s, and one 1 5 in each suit).  There is an additional rainbow suit included in the game, but that makes the game much more difficult.  Additionally, there are eight time tokens and four fuse tokens.  At the start of the game, each player is dealt a hand of 4-5 cards (depending on the number of players).  And here’s the twist – you may NOT look at your cards.  You pick them up and hold them so you are looking at the backs.  That means everyone else can see your cards, but you cannot.

On your turn, you have three options.  First, you could give one piece of information to a fellow player.  This information could be about a number in their hand (this card and this card are both 3s), or it could be about a color (this card is blue).  You must give them complete information – if there is more than one three in their hand, you must point out both.  The player receiving the information can orient the cards any way they wish to help them remember.  Giving information costs a time token, which is discarded to the box.  If there are no time tokens left, you cannot do this.

Another option you have is to discard a card.  This is placed in a face up discard pile so everyone knows what is no longer in play.  This action allows you to retrieve one time token from the box.

The third and final action possibility is to play a card.  You select a card and place it in the play area.  In order to be a legal play, it must be the next card in sequence for its number.  If it’s a blue two, there has to be a blue one already present.  If it’s a white one, there has to be no other white cards out.  If it’s a yellow five, 1-4 have to be in play.  If the play was legal, the card is placed on its sequence.  If not, the card is discarded and you lose a fuse token.  If you lose three fuses…well, remember the San Diego fireworks show from a couple of years ago?

If you discard or play, you’ll end your turn by drawing a new card.  Play continues until the last card from the deck is drawn, then each player gets one more turn.  Assuming you haven’t blown yourselves up by this point, you see how many cards you got in play, and that’s your score. 25 is perfect, 21+ is pretty amazing (and better than I’ve ever done), 16+ is a good score, 15 and lower is bad.

COMPONENTS: This is a small box game, and only comes with the sixty cards and 12 cardboard tokens.  The cards are of good quality, and are each illustrated with fireworks.  Additionally, since there’s a heavy reliance on color, symbols directly underneath the number in each corner help distinguish the cards.  The cardboard tokens are pretty good quality.  It may seem odd that they felt the need to include four fuse tokens since you only need to lose three to lose, but the fourth shows a boom to let you know you’ve lost once revealed.

I should mention that ABACUSSPIELE came out with a Deluxe edition of Hanabi last year that had Mahjong style tiles instead of cards.  It was significantly more expensive, but made it so you didn’t have to hold your hand anymore.  It also eliminated the firework illustrations, using only symbols on the tiles.  I like the small nature of the game, and don’t mind holding the cards, though you could always repurpose some Scrabble racks for the game.

THEME: On the surface, I think Hanabi has a pretty good theme.  There aren’t many firework games out there, and this is a clever way to bring it in – rather than mixing ingredients, you are trying to separate them before it is too late.  However, you’re not going to be thinking about it much while you play.  You’re going to be thinking in terms of numbers and colors, not in terms of fireworks.  The fuses probably give the best sense of theme as you don’t want things to blow up in your face.  It’s just that nothing else going to immerse you in that theme – not the cards, not the time tokens.

MECHANICS: Hanabi boils down to a group set collection game.  You are trying to form five sets in order, generally coming from a place of no information.  This means that the set collection has a element of deduction to it.  The major difference between this game and a lot of others is that you cannot look at your own cards.  However, you do know the distribution of each card type, and can make deductions based on what other people have said.  A lot of times, what you do NOT say is just as important as what you do say.

The time tokens are the way to keep the game tense, and provide a limit to the amount of information you can give.  And just to let you know, they go FAST.  You’ll find yourself at some point having to make the decision to discard or play just because you’re out of time tokens and cannot give more information.

Hanabi is cooperative, and the biggest complaint most cooperative games have is that there’s the potential for one person to take over and tell everyone what to do.  You do not have that problem here.  It’s against the rules.  You can’t tell other people what to say or do, you must let them figure it out for themselves.  You have to practice your poker face in this game – that guy across the table from you is about to play his red 5 when the highest card on the board is a 2, and there’s nothing you can do about it.

The last thing I want to talk about here is the scoring.  Some people have said that Hanabi is more of an activity than a game, mostly because your are just trying for a good score.  I contend that the ability to lose makes it a game, even if that loss doesn’t happen often – I’ve never “lost” the game, but have had some poor showing in terms of score.  The fuses add that little extra tension to make this game that much more difficult.

Hanabi is a simple game to teach, with only a few possible actions every turn.  They all work well together, and provide for some smooth and challenging gameplay.

STRATEGY LEVEL: The strategy in Hanabi is unique simply because of the nature of the game.  In a typical cooperative game, players can put their heads together to come up with a plan.  Not so here.  In Hanabi, you are on your own, and you have to come up with the best possible move with no help from others.  Likewise, when you get a clue, you have to determine the meaning of this clue.  For example, you were just told that you have a 1 in your hand.  You don’t know the color, but you do know that there are currently four 1s out on the table.  Do you have the fifth?  Should you risk playing it?  Or should you discard it to recover a time token, knowing that if you’re wrong there are two copies of that 1 elsewhere.  The game has lots of internal strategy and deduction.  Luck does play a role in what everyone draws, but you at least have most of the information at your fingertips.

ACCESSIBILITY: Hanabi is a pretty simple game to learn, but there is the barrier to entry of not really being able to talk about how to play with your teammates.  You can’t ask for advice.  Fortunately, the ease of the rules means that people should be able to figure things out for themselves, but there is a definite logical component to the game.

REPLAYABILITY: This is a very replayable game.  You’re going to have a different set of circumstances every time, and the way people respond to those circumstances is going to change a lot.  If you ever get tired of the regular game, the base box includes a sixth set you can add to ramp up the difficulty even more.  So yes, lost of replay value here.

SCALABILITY: The game plays with 2-5 players.  I’ve never played with fewer than 4.  I like having a bunch of people, but I also suspect it might be a little easier with fewer.  I would imagine it might be a very different game with just two.  Take it as you will.

FOOTPRINT: This is a small game, and doesn’t take up much room.  You can play just about everywhere (I wouldn’t suggest it on an airplane – I don’t think they’d like the talk of blowing up).  You just need space for the played cards and discards.  The tile version probably takes up more space since your tile aren’t in your hand, but still not much.

I have to mention that there are members of my game group that advocate a variant they call Hot Tub Hanabi.  It’s Hanabi in a hot tub, presumably with protected cards.  Take that as you will.

LEGACY: Since this game won the SdJ last year, it will forever be looked at in that context.  It’s certainly one of the smallest games to have won the award, and I think it’s the first cooperative game.  It’s a unique winner in almost every respect, and is a good representative of the trend towards small-quick-and-deep games.  As a family game, I’m not sure it’s the best since there’s so little interaction, but I think it is one of the best games to have won the award in recent memory.

IS IT BUZZWORTHY? Yes.  Hanabi is a great game, and one that I think everyone should try.  It may or may not be for you, but I do think everyone should give it one shot.  Thanks for reading!

Kickstarter Blitz #7

Time for my monthly Kickstarter Blitz, where I look at some of the gaming related projects currently on the crowd funding platform that interest me.  Ten projects for your consideration this month:


image by BGG user Loophole Master

image by BGG user Loophole Master

Zombicide: Season 3 (Raphaël Guiton/Jean-Baptiste Lullien/Nicolas Raoult, Cool Mini or Not) is the third iteration of the insanely popular Zombicide series.  The first game funded with $781,000, which at the time was a record for tabletop games.  Season 2 got over $2.2 million, which now holds the record.  Season 3 is currently at #5, and rising.  Zombicide is a cooperative zombie game using a modular board and some very detailed zombie minis.  The Season 3 pack includes a new standalone game (Rue Morgue), as well as an expansion (Angry Neighbors) that can be used with any set.  There are new characters, new zombies, new mechanics, and even team rules that allows you to play against your fellow survivors. I’ve never played the original Zombicide, though I would like to give it a try sometime to see what all the fuss is about.

I’m not really a zombie fan, but I had to talk about this one because of its sheer popularity.  Cool Mini or Not has hit upon a highly successful formula – zombies plus awesome miniatures equals big bucks.  I think it will be interesting to see where this system goes in the future.  The project ends Sunday, so check it out.

  • End Date: July 27 @ 2:00 PM CDT
  • Goal: $100,000 (funded)
  • Estimated Delivery: February 2015
  • To Get A Game: $100 for Rue Morgue, $150 for game plus expansion
image from Kickstarter project page

image from Kickstarter project page

Battle for Hill 218/Sector 219 (Darwin Kastle, Your Move Games) is actually two games –  Battle for Hill 218 was originally published in 2007, and Battle for Sector 219 is its sequel.  From what I can gather, they’re both essentially the same game, just with different units and different themes (218 is a World War II game, 219 is sci-fi).  The basic idea is that the Hill (or Sector) is a card in the middle, and each player has a base on either side of it.  On your turn, you draw two cards and play two cards.  You’ll play a card anywhere on the grid (other than on the central card) so that you can trce a supply line all the way back to your base.  Cards can then attack, destroying anyone in their way.  If you ever occupy your opponent’s base, you win.

I heard a lot about 218 when it first came out.  It seems like a predecessor to the current microgame trend with only 53 cards in the game.  It looks like a pretty good tactical game that two people can enjoy.  The art they have revealed for Sector 219 looks pretty spectacular.  They’re already funded, and the campaign ends Sunday.

  • End Date: July 27 @ 4:28 PM CDT
  • Goal: $3,000 (funded)
  • Estimated Delivery: November 2014
  • To Get A Game: $12 for one, $20 for both
image by BGG user Pattonandy

image by BGG user Pattonandy

Speakeasy (Andy Patton) is a social deduction game in the tradition of Werewolf and Two Rooms and A Book.  It is playable by large groups of people (10-30), and involves trying to figure out who is on your team (the Mob or the Feds).  A Moderator sets up the game by selecting roles and giving each player three point cards and a password.  The password should be dropped into conversation to identify yourself to your teammates.  Roles have special powers printed on the cards.  As you play, you are trying to collect point cards (which can also be spent on power cards), names/roles/passwords of the opposing team, and who the rat of your team is (the rat has loyalty to the other team).  The game lasts an hour (timed), and at the end of that period, the team with the most points wins.

Social deduction games are fascinating to me.  They seem to be very popular even though you really don’t know anything and often have to get really lucky to succeed.  I usually like them, with Werewolf being an exception (I hate the way player elimination is used in that game).  This one seems to be taking the genre into a much more involved place.  Not only is it a lot longer than the games usually are, it’s also got more set up (the moderator has to line everything up before hand, including who is getting what) and more information to collect.  Still, it seems like an interesting concept, and I’ll be watching to see how the game is received once released.

  • End Date: July 29 @ 6:00 PM CDT
  • Goal: $30,000 (funded)
  • Estimated Delivery: March 2015
  • To Get A Game: $25
image from Kickstarter project page

image from Kickstarter project page

Aquasphere (Stefan Feld, Tasty Minstrel Games) is a new 2-4 player game from one of the hottest designers out there right now, Stefan Feld.    Players are leading research teams in an underwater station trying to gather as much data as possible, and more data than the other teams.  The board consists of six round sectors around a central hub that contains four tiles.  Players also have their own board.  On your turn, you program a bot, or carry out a bot’s programmed action.  To program, you’ll move your engineer along a path to one of two spaces in your headquarters, then place a bot from your supply to the corresponding space.  To carry out the action, you’ll move your bot to the space occupied by your scientist.  Actions include expanding the lab, taking time markers (which can help your scientists switch sectors or give you a different action than you would take), take crystals, catch octopods, place a submarine, take a research card, program a bot (you can never have more than two programmed bots).  After all players have passed, there is an intermediate scoring.  After the fourth tound, there is a final scoring and the player with the most points wins.

Feld is not known for his themes, but let’s give some credit for this one being something different.  I don’t know how much a hand he had in it versus the publishers, but it’s different.  It’s worker placement with a “programming” element – I don’t think it’s much like RoboRally programming, just ordering bots around.  The art looks really nice, and it’s Feld, so you know it will be a brain burner.  I’m sure fans will be all over this one.

  • End Date: July 31 @ 10:12 AM CDT
  • Goal: $30,000 (funded)
  • Estimated Delivery: December 2014
  • To Get A Game: $40

image from Kickstarter project page

Unpub is not a game, it is a community of people involved in the creation of games – designers, publishers, artists, retailers, even players.  It was originally founded in 2010, and holds an annual exposition where people come together, playtest games, and attend seminars about the business.    The next event, to be held in February of 2015, is their fifth, and is moving from Delaware to the Baltimore Convention Center.  The Kickstarter campaign is to help fund the new venue, as well as to keep costs as low as possible for event organizers without increasing costs for attendees.  They also want to have a presence at large cons like GenCon and PAX.

I think Unpub is a great idea.  It’s a time for people who are passionate about games to come together and help each other in the process of creation.  If you’re an aspiring designer, it seems like this is the place to be.  So if you’re interested in supporting the campaign, go check it out.   There are a number of pledge levels, and you can get anything from a dice bag to a T-Shirt to some published games that made their debut at Unpub (VivaJava: The Coffee Game, Mars Needs Mechanics, Compounded, Tessen, Maximum Throwdown, etc).

  • End Date: August 1 @ 10:59 PM CDT
  • Goal: $4,000 (funded)
  • Event: February 2015 (other rewards delivered in March)
  • To Get A Dice Bag: $20
image by BGG user KrisWattsalpoag

image by BGG user KrisWattsalpoag

Switching Tracks (Kris Gould, Wattsalpoag Games) is a train game featuring double sided track tiles that act as switches.  It’s a pick-up-and-deliver style game where you are delivering goods to different cities around the United States.  The map has tracks already built, with locations for switch tiles to be randomly placed in the beginning.  On your turn, you first refill any empty cities with goods or demand disks, then flip one switch for every switchman token you have.  This means you’ll either turn it over or rotate it.  You’ll then run your train, moving it up to a number of cities as your speed.  In each city, you can either pick up a good and/or deliver a good.  You can’t change directions during a move.  After running your train, you can do one upgrade to your speed, length, or switchmen.  At the end of your turn, you can fulfill one contract – discard the right combination of goods and take the contract.  This also gains you an office that will give you special abilities as you spend its activation disks.  Once a player has at least five contracts (with at least one green, one orange, and one purple contract), they win.

Wattsalpoag (which is an anagram for With All This Talent Sitting Around Let’s Put Out A Game) has been around since 2–6, and has published some well respected games, like Jet Set, Buccaneer Bones, and A Fistful of Penguins.  This one looks like a pretty standard pick-up-and-deliver game, but with the added twist of having a modular track set up.  It seems like there’s a strong puzzle element in the game as you try to figure out the best way to get your goods delivered and get what you need to claim contracts.  The game is having a very difficult time getting funded, but there’s still over a week, so we’ll see.

  • End Date: August 3 @ 1:06 PM CDT
  • Goal: $22,000 (not funded)
  • Estimated Delivery: December 2014
  • To Get A Game: $39
image from Kickstarter project page

image from Kickstarter project page

Casual Game Insider Magazine got its initial start on Kickstarter two years ago.  The aim of the magazine was to bring more attention to casual games, which they define as games that last under an hour, take less than ten minutes to set up and teach, have light strategy, and are accessible to all.  They successfully funded their second year, and this year are back with the aim to get wider distribution.  They have signed with a distributor, and are confirmed to be on shelves in Barnes and Noble, which is pretty cool.  Barnes and Noble is one of the biggest stores to carry our type of games, and were doing it before Ticket to Ride and Dominion started showing up in Target.  So to have that magazine nearby to help people know what they’re getting into would be a really nice step for the hobby.

Some say print is dead, and they might be right.  Others might say that magazines are out of date before they even come out, and all the information they can give is easily accessible online.  But, I think Casual Game Insider is going to be a great tool for the non-obsessive side of the hobby, and will help to be a gateway to the larger world of gaming.

  • End Date: August 4 @ 10:00 PM CDT
  • Goal: $25,000 (not funded)
  • Estimated Delivery: October 2014
  • To Get A One-Year Subscription: $15 (PDF), $25 (print and PDF)
image from Kickstarter project page

image from Kickstarter project page

Core Worlds Digital (Andrew Parks, Stronghold Games/BrokenMyth Studios) is a campaign to bring the 2011 science fiction deckbuilding game to mobile devices.  In the game, players are building up a space empire by drafting cards into their deck, invading worlds, and in general trying to stay a step ahead of the competition.  The game lasts for ten rounds, with every two rounds introducing a new set of cards to play.  In the final rounds, players have an opportunity to settle the Core Worlds, which give them extra bonuses.  The player with the most points at the end is the winner.

I have played Core Worlds (the analog version), and I found it to be a very engaging take on the deckbuilding genre.  It works very well as a thematic experience, and as a turn-based game, I think it will work very well on mobile devices.  And the buy-in is not as much as it often is in the Kickstarted mobile games, so it’s got that going for it already.

  • End Date: August 6 @ 11:09 AM CDT
  • Goal: $20,000 (funded)
  • Estimated Delivery: December 2014
  • To Get A Game: $5
image by BGG user vanrydergames

image by BGG user vanrydergames

Hostage Negotiator (AJ Porfirio, Van Ryder Games) is a solo game that is all about…well…negotiating for hostages.  During the game, you’ll be playing conversation cards to simulate the tactics used to try and reason with the Abductor.  These are resolved by making threat rolls – based on the current threat level, you will roll a number of dice in an attempt to roll 5s or 6s.  You could gain or lose conversation points, gain or lose threat levels, increase or decrease the number of dice to roll, release hostages, or even get them killed.  After you’ve played all the conversation cards you want to, you’ll move to the spend phase where you can spend conversation points on new conversation cards.  Finally, during the terror phase, a card is drawn that tells you what the Abductor does and the negative effects it has on your game.  The game ends in victory if all hostages are out of the hostage pool, with at least half of them still alive, and the Abductor has been captured or eliminated.  You lose if more than half of the hostages are killed, the Abductor escapes, or you can’t draw a terror card at the appropriate time.

I like solo games a lot, and I’m always on the lookout for them.  I do think I tend to like the smaller ones, where there’s not a huge amount of set up and tear down, and you can carry them around easily wherever you go.  This seems like it fits that bill – not a whole lot of components, and some pretty quick and simple game play.  I don’t know how much luck will play into it, but there seems to be some strategy in the way you play your conversation cards, and that’s probably the secret to the game.  One I’d like to try out sometime.

  • End Date: August 10 @ 11:59 PM CDT
  • Goal: $5,000 (funded)
  • Estimated Delivery: February 2015
  • To Get A Game: $20
image by BGG user mr_bink

image by BGG user mr_bink

Trekking the National Parks (Charlie Bink) is a game about trying to visit as many of the 59 US National Parks as possible.  The board shows them all, and has paths in between each.  On your turn, you get two actions, and can choose between drawing a new trek card, moving from park to park, or claiming a park card.  Trek cards show an icon and a number, and you’ll draw from a face up draft line or the deck.  Movement is done by playing cards with a value that equals the number(s) on the paths.  As you land in parks, you will collect stones if they are present.  There are also airports you can use to move without playing cards.  To claim park cards, you’ll need to be in the indicated park and turn in cards that match the indicated combo.  Once all stones have been cleared from the board, or when all park cards have been drawn, the game ends after one more turn.  After awarding final achievements, the player with the most points wins.

When I first saw this game, I thought it would probably be an educational, probably trivia-based product.  Instead, I’m getting more of a Ticket to Ride type of vibe.  You’re not building routes, but the map and card draft give that feel.  It looks like it has a different style of play, while still maintaining that ease of entry – this is probably a gateway type of game.  I like the theme a lot – visiting all 59 national parks would be a fun thing to do, and this would help familiarize people with them all.  This is actually the game I’m most interested in this time, so I’m making it my PICK OF THE MONTH.

  • End Date: August 21 @ 1:59 AM CDT
  • Goal: $10,000 (funded)
  • Estimated Delivery: December 2014
  • To Get A Game: $65

That’s it for today.  It feels like a lighter month for projects that are interesting me, but that may be primarily due to GenCon coming up and focus being elsewhere.  We’ll see what it looks like in August.  Thanks for reading!

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!


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!


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