This year’s GenCon was apparently chock full of great new games.  Today, I’m going to take a look at two unrelated games that both were pretty big successes at this year’s Con.

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

King of New York is the sequel to the popular 2011 game, King of Tokyo.  This second offering from Richard Garfield and IELLO Games takes the system in new directions while still remaining familiar.  The game is for 2-6 players, and takes 40 minutes to play.  You are a monster menacing New York, and your goal is to either rack up the most points or be the last one standing.

The game comes with eight dice, a board, 66 cards, 46 effect tokens, 6 new monsters (with dials and stand ups), 45 building/unit tiles, and 50ish energy cubes.  In the beginning, each player takes a monster (Drakonis, Mantis, Captain Fish, Kong, Sheriff, Rob, or any monster from the base game or expansions).  Each player sets their dial board to 0 VPs and 10 health.  Each player chooses a borough of New York to place their monster – Staten Island, Brooklyn, Queens, or the Bronx.  Each borough can hold up to two monsters at a time.  Additionally, there are building/unit tiles spread around the board.

On your turn, you roll six dice.  You then keep whichever ones you want and reroll the rest.  You can do this one more time, and then you’re stuck with what you have.  You’ll then resolve the dice based on the symbols showing on each face.  There are six faces:

  • Heart: Heal one point per heart by increasing your health dial.  It can’t go over ten, unless you have a card that allows it.  If you’re in Manhattan, you can’t heal.
  • Lightning Bolt: Gain one energy cube per bolt symbol.
  • Claw: If you’re outside of Manhattan, you attack the monster(s) inside Manhattan.  If you are in Manhattan, you attack all monsters outside of Manhattan.
  • Star: Rolling three of these gains you the Superstar card, which is worth a point plus another point per star beyond three you roll.  From that point on, every time you roll a star, you get a point.  If another player rolls three stars, they take it from you.
  • Building: Destroy building tiles or unit tiles in your borough of value equal to the number of symbols you rolled.  This will gain you a reward.  Destroyed buildings are flipped and become military units.  Destroyed units are discarded.
  • Skull: If you roll one, each military unit in your region does damage to you.  If you roll two, each military unit in your borough does damage to you and another monster unfortunate enough to be there.  If you roll three, all monsters in boroughs with military units take damage, and you get the Statue of Liberty card.  This gives you three points, which you lose if someone takes it from you.

After resolving your dice, if there’s no one in Manhattan, you enter Lower Manhattan.  If there is someone in Manhattan, you can move to any other borough.  Going to Manhattan gets you a point.  If you’re still there at the beginning of your next turn, you get a point and an energy and move to Midtown.  Remaining there gets you two points and an energy, and you move to Upper Manhattan.  From there, you’ll be getting two points and two energy every time.

Also after resolving your dice, you have the opportunity to spend energy on a card.  These give you special advantages that you can use throughout the game, or possibly a one-time use.  The game ends when someone gets 20 points, or when all but one player have been eliminated.

I love King of Tokyo.  It’s a very fun game.  And I’ll admit, I was a bit skeptical of KoNY at first, wondering if it was just a big reskin of Tokyo.  However, there seem to be enough interesting changes to justify its existence.  It seems to amp up the destruction level, allowing you to go after buildings as well as monsters.  I’m kind of glad they did away with the numbers, which seemed to encourage more of a points strategy – I always have someone that is just trying to roll numbers, not going after anything else at all.  This one has one chance with the star, but is also able to open up buildings and some possible extra pain.  I think this is probably a more aggressive game, but still not a directly confrontational system.  I know Richard Garfield has said King of Tokyo was designed out of a desire to have a fighting game where you couldn’t pick on anyone.  This seems to take that to a new level.  So I’m really looking forward to getting to play this, hopefully sometime in the near future.

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

Sheriff of Nottingham began its life in 2006 as Hart an der Grenze, published by Kosmos.  This year, a new edition is being published by Arcane Wonders as the first game in the Dice Tower Essentials Line (which basically means Tom Vasel likes it).  It was designed by Sérgio Halaban and André Katz (with Bryan Pope developing the AW edition), is for 3-5 players, and lasts about an hour.  In the game, players take turns being the Sheriff, and trying to stop people from smuggling illegal goods into Nottingham.  When you’re not the sheriff, you will be a merchant that is trying to do the smuggling.

In the box, you get 216 goods cards (legal, contraband, and royal goods); 110 gold coins; a Sheriff marker; five merchant stands; and five merchant bags.  Each player begins with a merchant stand and a bag (which is an envelope with a clasp), as well as 50 gold and six goods cards.  Two discard piles are created, and the player with the most actual money on them becomes the first Sheriff.

There are five phases per round – market, loading, declaration, inspection, and the end of the round.

MARKET: You may set aside up to five cards from your hand, then draw back up to six.  You can draw from the top of either discard pile, or you can draw from the face down draw pile.  Set aside cards go on top of one of the discard piles.  This is done in clockwise order.

LOADING: Each player selects 1-5 goods from their hand, and places them in their bag.  Once your bag is closed, you can’t change your mind.

DECLARATION: In clockwise order, each player looks the Sheriff in their eyes and tells them what is in their bag.  You can only declare legal goods, you can only declare one type of good, and you must declare the exact number of cards in your bag.  So if you have three chickens and a silk in your bag, you would say that you have four chickens.  Or four breads.  You can’t say you have three chickens, and you can’t say you have silk because that’s contraband.

INSPECTION: After everyone has declared, the Sheriff can decide to inspect any of the bags.  The Sheriff can threaten the player whose bag he is inspecting, and that player can offer a bribe to avoid inspection.  This negotiation can go back and forth, but eventually the Sheriff must either let the player pass, handing the bag back and accepting any bribes; or inspect the bag.  If you pass, you put legal goods face up on your market stand, and keep contraband face down.  If the Sheriff inspects and you were telling the truth, the Sheriff must pay you a value equal to the penalty on your legal goods.  If you were lying, all legal goods you told the truth about are allowed into market.  The other goods are confiscated (discarded), and you have to pay the penalty of the discarded cards.

END OF ROUND: Pass the Sheriff marker, and all players draw back up to six cards.  Once all players have been Sheriff twice (three times in a three-player game), it’s over.  Cards in hand are discarded.  Reveal your contraband cards, and add up the value of all goods, plus your remaining gold, plus any bonuses you may have received.  The player with the highest points wins.

This is a pure negotiation game, with lying encouraged.  In fact, you’ll probably have to lie at some point.  It’s just a question of timing.  Bribes can be used, and I can see how that can get pretty heated.  It seems like it will be a very interactive game, and probably really needs the right group to succeed.  No Robin Hood in this one (that I know of), but it’s good to have a game that examines the scurrilous nature of the Sheriff.  I’d be interested to try this one out sometime as it looks like a pretty fun game, but it remains to be seen if it would be something I really enjoyed enough to want to play over and over.  Thanks for reading!

Buzzworthiness: Rattus

The 14th century was the time of one of the deadliest pandemics in human history.  Over the course of about six years, half of the population of Europe died.  So, let’s make a game about it!

image by BGG user Nekrataal

image by BGG user Nekrataal

Rattus was originally published in 2010 by White Goblin Games (Z-Man in the US).  The game was designed by Henrik and Åse Berg, plays with 2-4 people (more with expansions), and takes around 45 minutes to play.  During the game, you are trying to build your population and avoid the ravages of the plague, but you just can’t save everyone.  Only the person with the most population on the board when the game ends is the winner.

In the box, you get a map of Europe divided into 12 regions.  You also get 80 cubes (20 in each player color), 6 class cards, 49 rat tokens, and one plague marker.  To set up, you randomly place the starting rats in different regions of the board, then randomly place the plague piece in one of those regions.  In turn order, each player will get an opportunity to place two cubes in a single region; then, in reverse order, each player will place two more cubes in a region.

On your turn, you will place cubes and may possibly take a class card and/or use special abilities.  These can be done in any order.  To place cubes, put as many cubes as there are rat tokens in a single region (there can never be more than three rats in a region).  To take a class card, you simply take any class card (even if someone else currently has it) and place it in front of you.  It will stay in front of you until someone takes it.  You can have multiple classes, and you do not have to take one during a turn.  Each one has a special power:

  • King – You may move one cube from a region containing no rats to the palace area.  This cube is now safe, and cannot be removed from the board.
  • Knight – You can move the plague piece up to two regions instead of one.  If you wish, it also counts as two people for counting purposes.
  • Merchant – You can move up to three cubes from one region to a neighboring one.
  • Monk – You can move one rat token from one region to a neighboring one.
  • Peasant – You may add one additional cube to a region when adding.
  • Witch – Look at two face down rat tokens on the board, then switch them if you wish.

These powers can be used once per turn.  Once you’ve finished moving cubes and claiming class cards, it’s time for the plague to spread.  Move the plate piece into a neighboring region.  If that region has no rat tokens, nothing further happens.  If it has one, place a new rat token in a neighboring region.  If it has two or three, place two rat tokens in neighboring regions, either together or split up.  You then reveal any rat tokens in the affected region, and resolve them.  Rat tokens give a number (2+, 4+, etc.) that tell you how many cubes must be present for the plague to affect the region.  There are then a number of symbols, and any eligible player then must discard a cube from that region for each symbol.  Symbols either affect one of the six classes, or whoever has the majority, or all.

The game ends when either one player has placed all 20 cubes on the board or when all the rat tokens have been used up.  At this time, all regions suffer one more round of plague, and the game is over.  Whomever has the most cubes remaining on the board wins.

image by BGG user EndersGame

image by BGG user EndersGame

COMPONENTS: I would say the components in Rattus are largely unremarkable. I don’t mean they’re bad – they’re quite functional for what they are.  But they don’t really stand out.  Your population is represented by cubes, which you place out on a fairly bland map of Europe.  The plague piece itself is a black pawn with a little hat.  The character cards (which is kind of a misnomer since they are really oversized cardboard tiles) are well illustrated with the person, and also have a symbolic description of what the character does.  The symbols on the characters could be clearer – I usually have to look at the rules to double check that I’m using them correctly.

Everything is a really good size in this game.  The board isn’t huge, but it’s just big enough that nothing feels cluttered (that is, until you get to higher player counts).  The character cards are big enough that you won’t have trouble telling what they are from across the table.  And the rat tokens manage to fit all pertinent information in a small amount of space – there’s never trouble telling what the plague does to a region.

Overall, these components are fine.  Not necessarily anything to write home about, but definitely a case where the publisher emphasized function over form, and it all works well.

THEME: The Black Plague is one of the darkest periods of time in human history.  A deadly disease obliterated half the population of an entire continent, and there was nothing anyone could do about it.  This was the 14th century, they didn’t know NEARLY as much about medicine as we do now.  And so it’s a little odd that, seven centuries later, we’re simulating it in a light-hearted family game.  I wonder how the victims of the plague would feel about that.

That said, it’s not like you’re having to actually kill anyone, or do anything to clear away the bodies (I’m not dead yet!).  Using cubes really abstracts the theme out.  You also have to suspend some disbelief as it’s not really realistic that you’d be able to direct how the plague moves.  However, the random way cubes leave the board is a reasonable representation of how the plague just hit everyone.  It might even be a good springboard for some discussion about that topic.

MECHANICS: Rattus offers some interesting twists on some familiar mechanisms.  Area control games are very popular, and while Rattus IS technically an area control game, the entire board is the area you’re trying to control.  People familiar with the mechanism may look at the map and think that they need to have majorities in areas.  To an extent, this is true…you definitely want as many cubes as possible on the board at once.  However, the presence of rat tokens makes that a risky maneuver – having a majority gives you an extra chance that you will lose a cube.  The different regions basically serve as a way to get your cubes on the board, but you want to gather them as safely as possible.

The process of placing your cubes is fairly easy to grasp – one per rat token.  This provides a strange impetus to go into plague-afflicted regions.  If there are three rat tokens in a zone, you can place three cubes there (four with the peasant).  However, once the plague is sent to that region (as it inevitably will be), you’ve got three rat tokens to sweat through.

This game also falls into the role selection category.  Players are choosing different roles to give them advantages.  Most role selection games have players choosing roles that will be theirs for the remainder of a round, meaning that those roles are unavailable to other players.  In Rattus, roles are always available, even when in front of someone else.  The powers are all useful at different times – they’re all pretty well balanced.  The rat tokens help provide a check on the powers since the more you have, the more likely you are to lose cubes.

The arc of the game is basically a push-and-pull, trying to manipulate the plague into taking out your opponents while getting as many of your people as possible to safety.  The endgame can be pretty climactic as you reveal all rat tokens left on the board to see who is going to get knocked out of contention.

Overall, the game is very simple to learn, and doesn’t have a ton of things to keep track of from turn to turn.  It works very well.

STRATEGY LEVEL: There is a lot of luck in this game.  There’s no two ways about it – the rats provide a ton of chaos.  However, it’s all about playing the odds.  You want to limit your roles, and try to have the plague hit regions where your opponents have a lot of cubes, or conversely, where you have few.  The numbers on the rats go from 1+ to 6+, so a region with six or more cubes has a higher risk of getting ravaged by the plague (if symbols don’t match, you’re safe).  If you have one cube in an area, you have a much better shot at not getting hit, though it’s by no means a sure thing.

There is strategy in where you place your cubes, and strategy in where you move the plague piece.  But the best source of strategy in this game comes from the roles.  It’s critical to know when and how to use them.  The king is great for getting cubes to safety so they never disappear.  The witch is great for finding rats and trying to position them to your advantage.  The monk is good for getting rats out of a danger zone, and the merchant is great for getting cubes out of a danger zone.  The knight is good for attacking someone across the board, and the peasant gets cubes out much quicker.  Knowing when to use them, and how to use them together, is critical.

ACCESSIBILITY: Rattus is a very simple game to learn and understand.  The subtleties of the strategy may be beyond you at first, but you can at least be playing quickly.  I would say this is a pretty good gateway game, though maybe a bit on the more complex side.  Maybe a next step.

REPLAYABILITY: Because of the different ways you can use the roles, as well as the distribution of rats, each game will play out differently.  However, those differences aren’t always noticeable, and games can feel the same.  The interaction between players helps to increase the replayability, and the game is fast enough that I don’t think people will mind playing it again and again.  Plus, it has a fairly fast set up – you just have to randomly distribute 12 rat tokens.  The expansions add more boards, roles, and rats, which definitely increases the replay value.

SCALABILITY: This is a 2-4 player game, with more players possible in the expansions.  I don’t think it plays well with two – you aren’t bumping into each other as much, making it easier to avoid the plague.  It may be a little less chaotic, but I happen to like the chaos in this game, so I prefer it with more players.

FOOTPRINT: Rattus is a relatively small game.  The board is not huge, though it is just big enough to fit everything.  The roles are on big tiles, but they still don’t take too much space.  This is a game that could be played on a fairly small table.

LEGACY: I don’t know a lot to say about Rattus’ place in the pantheon of games.  It’s fun, and it takes a different look at role selection and area control.  I don’t know how revolutionary it is, but I like it.

IS IT BUZZWORTHY? Yes.  It’s a fun, quick game that can be used to start off a night, and provides some good strategy among the chaos.  If you don’t mind a lighthearted look at the Black Plague, I’d recommend you check it out.  Thanks for reading!

Buzzworthiness: Kingsburg

This week’s review is of a classic dice allocation game:

image by BGG user tanis

image by BGG user tanis

Kingsburg was designed by Andrea Chiarvesio and Luca Iennaco, and was originally published in 2007 (Fantasy Flight first published the game in the US in 2008).  It’s a game for 2-5 players that takes around 90 minutes to play.  The game is all about trying to build up your province for maximum prosperity, all the while keeping an eye on the hordes of goblins, demons, and barbarians that will attack after each year.  The game comes with a large board, 15 colored player dice, 6 white game dice, 15 player discs, 60 goods cubes, 85 building tokens, 20 “+2″ tokens, 5 province sheets, a royal envoy pawn, a season marker, a year marker, and 25 enemy cards.  Each player gets a color, and puts a disc on the score track, soldier track, and turn order track.

The game lasts for five years (what?!? I thought the box said 90 minutes!!!), and each year follows the same sequence.  First is the Aid from the King phase, in which the player with the fewest buildings receives an extra die for the spring (tied players all get a good of their choice).  There is then a spring production round, in which all players roll three dice.  The player with the lowest total will go first, and the player with the highest total will go last.  Players will take turns placing at least one die on one of the 18 advisors.  The total on the dice must equal the number of the advisor you’re influencing, and there are modifiers you can use to change the result.  You can’t place on an advisor that already has a die or dice on it.  This continues until all players have placed all of their dice (or can no longer place any more).  You then resolve the advisors in order:

  1. Jester: Gain one point.
  2. Squire: Take one gold.
  3. Architect: Take one wood.
  4. Merchant: Take one gold OR one wood.
  5. Sergeant: Recruit one soldier, marked on the soldier track.
  6. Alchemist: Transmute one type of good into the other two.  So gold becomes wood and stone, wood becomes gold and stone, and stone becomes gold and wood.
  7. Astonomer: Take a good of your choice, plus a +2 token.
  8. Treasurer: Take two gold.
  9. Master Hunter: Take one wood and your choice of gold or stone.
  10. General: Recruit two soldiers on the soldier track, and peek at the enemy for the year.
  11. Swordsmith: Take one stone and your choice of gold or wood.
  12. Duchess: Take two goods of your choice, plus a +2 token.
  13. Champion: Take three stone.
  14. Smuggler: Pay one point to take three goods of your choice.
  15. Inventor: Take one gold, one wood, and one stone.
  16. Wizard: Take four gold.
  17. Queen: Take two goods of your choice, gain three points, and peek at the enemy for the year.
  18. King: Take one gold, one wood, one stone, and recruit a soldier.

Once resolved, it’s time for a building phase, where players can spend resources to build structures that will give them certain advantages in the game.  You do not have to build.

After the spring building phase, it’s time for The King’s Reward.  The player with the most buildings gains a point (tied players all get the point).  There then follows a summer production round, which is just like the spring production.  After resolving advisors and building, it’s time for The King’s Envoy to be assigned.  The Envoy goes to the player with the fewest buildings (ties are broken by goods, but further ties mean no one gets it), and allows you to place on an already influenced advisor once during the next three production seasons.  Next is the fall production season, which is just like spring and summer.

Everything changes in the winter.  You get one opportunity to recruit more soldiers, with each costing two resources.  You then roll a die to see how many reinforcements the King sends to everyone, then reveal the year’s enemy.  All players whose defense exceeds the number on the enemy gains a small reward.  All players who have less defense than the number on the enemy card suffer a harsh penalty (which is often worse than the reward is good).  Players who tie get nothing, but also lose nothing.

Play continues for five years, with enemies getting steadily tougher.  After the fifth year, the player with the most points wins.

COMPONENTS: Kingsburg is a very attractive game.  The art is really nice and does not distract from the game play at all.  The board is laid out in a very logical manner, with the advisors set up in a kind of pyramid.  There’s also a track so you can keep track of the season, another for the year, another for turn order, another for soldiers, and another around the board for score.  The symbols are all fairly easy to follow – gold, wood, and stone are all represented by icons showing the actual item.  The soldiers are represented by a shield and crossed swords behind it, goods of your choice are represented by bags, VPs are represented by flags, and the ability to peek at the enemy for the year is a weird little pink flame thing.  These symbols are present on the buildings as well as the advisors.

The building board features four rows of four columns each.  Each building has some text and symbology to remind you of their special abilities.  It’s well laid out.  The building board itself pretty thin, made out of cardstock, and tokens will easily slide around on the glossy surface if you aren’t careful.

The dice in the game are fairly lightweight.  They are made of wood, and are in different colors to correspond to the players who control them.  The dice I roll always seem to roll really low, which may be a problem with the physical components rather than my dice luck.  I have heard other people comment that certain dice in each copy never seem to roll as well as others.  In my copy, it’s the black dice, which happens to be the color I always play with.  Seriously, people think I’m joking when I say the dice hate me in Kingsburg.  The last game I played, I got over 11 over my three dice one time.

Overall, I think the components in this game are very nice.  I might change the player boards to make them have a little more traction, but other than that, everything is great.

THEME: When this game came out, there were not a lot of Eurogames with fantasy themes.  This one broke some new ground, and now we see them everywhere.  The theme here is kind of generic – you’re building up your empire in preparation for enemy attacks at the end of each round.  In fact, if not for these enemies, this game could just be a standard medieval theme.  That little extra twist helps open the game up to new audiences that might not try it otherwise.

MECHANICS: Kingsburg is a dice allocation game.  That means you roll the dice, then assign them to different places in order to gain certain advantages.  It’s kind of like worker placement, though your “workers” are variable from round to round since they must be rolled first.  The randomness of this dice roll is mitigated by the number of modifiers you can potentially get (+2 tokens are readily available, and certain buildings also allow you to change what you roll), as well as being able to split the dice and combine them in different ways to influence your preferred advisors.

There is a heavy dose of resource management in this game as well.  Throughout, you will be collecting resources – wood, gold, and stone – and trying to spend them in such a way that you will help your kingdom out the most.  Another resource you’ll have to keep track of is your defense.  You can build structures to increase your protection, but you’ll probably also want soldiers.  Getting soldiers costs you dice, and will be hotly contested, especially in the later rounds.

The yearly enemy attack is in place to force you to think about defensive positioning, and possibly distract you from other paths.  Early in the game, the enemies are fairly easy to defeat, but they do get tougher as the game goes on.  One aspect of the enemies I find most interesting is that the benefit of defeating one is not as good as the penalty is bad.  For example, defeating the first year goblins might get you one wood.  However, LOSING to those same goblins will cost you a wood, a stone, a point, and a building.

It’s nice that the game follows the same sequence from year to year, and even has three production seasons before you hit the baddies for the round.  The Aid from the King and King’s Envoy are good catch up mechanisms, while the King’s Reward gives some nice bonus points for someone concentrating on building.  The rounds tend to flow smoothly, with a nice climax at the end with the reveal of the enemy.  Overall, the game flows very smoothly.

STRATEGY LEVEL: There is a lot of strategy in Kingsburg.  Though the central mechanism involves rolling dice, there’s still the determination of where you want them to go.  Do you use that 4-5-6 on the 15 and get one of each resource, or do you try to get three soldiers (the 4-6 and the 5)?  Or do you use the 4-5 to get one wood and one stone, then use the 6 to turn the wood into gold and stone?  Of course, you can look at other people’s dice, see what they’re trying to do, and try to get in their way to meet your own ends.

The buildings provide an interesting extra level of strategy.  There is no interaction between player buildings, but you can give yourself certain advantages by building wisely.  Some people will build all of the military strength they can.  Others will go the economic route to make things cheaper in the long run.  Still others will go for straight points.  There are many paths, but all seem to work well.

There’s also some strategy in holding back on your building.  Getting that extra die or the King’s envoy can be huge, while the King’s reward is only a point each year.  So you might want to not build as quickly as some other players, lying in wait to strike.

While there is luck, there’s still a lot of strategic opportunities.  The game is well balanced, and this is evident in a game I played a couple of years ago where all three players were tied at the end.  We had to go to the last tiebreaker (resources) to determine the winner (it wasn’t me – I came in third of all tied players).

ACCESSIBILITY: Kingsburg is not an overly complicated game, but it’s also not one I would recommend to people who have never played hobby games before.  I see it as a good next step game – once someone has dipped their toe in the ocean of gaming, this might be a good place to take them next.  There’s a lot going on, and while it’s all fairly intuitive, I can see it being pretty overwhelming for a complete newbie.

REPLAYABILITY: Because of the multiple paths to victory, and inherent luck of the dice rolling, there’s some good replayability in the game.  However, I can attest that it does tend to feel a bit samey after a while.  The advisors never change, and the buildings never change.  The expansion apparently ramps up the replayability (I’ve never tried it, so I can’t say).

SCALABILITY: Kingsburg is a game that I think plays quite well with all numbers.  With two, there’s not going to be as much bumping into each other, whereas having more increases the tactical decisions of where to place your dice.  I tend to like it with multiple players, but I think it does well with all numbers.

FOOTPRINT: This is a pretty big game that needs quite a bit of space.  The board is 22 inches square, and has storage places for all tokens and resources.  But then, each player has their own building board and needs a place to roll their dice.  So I’d suggest a medium to large table.

LEGACY: When Kingsburg came out, there weren’t a lot of Eurogames that had a) heavy reliance on dice, or b) a fantasy theme.  It was one of the games that, I think, turned the tide and started producing more of the hybrid games we see now – it’s a resource management game with dice and monsters.  It still stands up these seven years later as a great example of how to really make the two poles of gaming work together.

IS IT BUZZWORTHY? Yes.  I think Kingsburg is a great game that everyone should try.  As always, your mileage may vary and it won’t necessarily be a game for you.  But it’s a great example of how dice allocation works, and is a fun and beautiful game on top of that.  Thanks for reading!

The Eleven: Bait Games

This month on The Eleven, we’re going to look at Bait Games.  This term, I believe, was introduced by Scott Nicholson to describe games that are used to lure people to the table.  Games are  visually appealing, easy to teach, and quick playing.  They are games that can be set up on the table before an event, and when someone comes over to say “What is THAT?!?”, you have something ready to teach and play at a moment’s notice.  So here are eleven games I would classify as good bait.

image by BGG user kaylex

image by BGG user kaylex

Animal Upon Animal is a children’s game that is published by the German toy and game company Haba.  It was designed by Klaus Miltenberger, and was originally published in 2005.  Each player has a matching set of seven wooden animals – a monkey, a snake, a penguin, a sheep, a lizard, a hedgehog, and a toucan.  There’s also a die and a wooden crocodile.  At the start of the game, the crocodile is on the table, and a player rolls the die.  This will determine what happens.  They may need to stack one or two of their animals on the existing pile (which animal might be their choice or an opponent’s).  You may be able to give an animal to another player to place.  Or, you may be able to place an animal next to the crocodile, extending the surface area of the pile.  If you knock any animals off, you have to take two into your hand.  The first player to successfully get rid of all animals is the winner.

This is a very easy game that is very visually appealing – the wooden animals are really cool.  This is primarily a children’s game, but it is very engaging and challenging for all ages (the box claims that it’s good for ages 4-99…so if you’re 100 or older, you’re out of luck).  The die roll may introduce some extra luck into the game, but it’s a dexterity game, so people with a steady hand will excel.  But even if you don’t, the collapse is very satisfying, and doesn’t take as long to set up again as, say, Jenga.  This is some very good bait, check it out.

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

AttrAction is a game designed by Jeff Glickman and published by R&R Games that features 25 magnets that are spread all around the table.  On your turn, you choose a magnet on the board (or in your hand if you have any) and flick it.  You are then allowed to pick up any magnets that stick together as a result of this flick (but only one set if multiples are created).  Once all magnets have been claimed, the player with the biggest stack wins.

This game is all about the magnets, and people are going to hear them before they see the game in action.  The magnets are really strong, and come together with a loud CLICK.  Of course, if you come at the wrong polarity, your magnet you flicked is going to veer off in the wrong direction and you will say bad words.  This happens to me ALL THE TIME.  When it’s all said and done, this game lasts five minutes (if that), and you WILL play more than one at a time.  This works really well as bait – you might say people are attracted to it.

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

Ca$h ‘n Guns originally came out in 2005, but the box you see here is from the 2014 reprint by Repos Productions.  The game was designed by Ludovic Maublanc, and plays with 4-8 people.  The idea is that you are a gang of criminals splitting up the loot from some big heist.  However, there’s no honor among thieves.  In each of the eight rounds, players will choose a card from their hand (CLICK or BANG), then everyone will simultaneously point foam guns at each other.  If you have a gun pointed at you, you can either choose to back away or stay in.  Everyone then reveals their card, with BANGS wounding the player being aimed at.  Anyone that did not back away or get shot then gets to split the loot, with players taking turns choosing one of the cards involved.  The player with the most money at the end of eight rounds wins.

This is definitely a game that will catch people’s attention.  If you’re walking through a convention center and see a bunch of people pointing foam guns at each other, you’re going to be intrigued.  (I will say that the original edition had orange guns, but the guns in the second edition are black, so exercise caution in where you play it.)  There’s deceit and bluffing involved throughout, and it’s fun to see where all the guns are pointed every time.  Every time I’ve played, they’ve mostly been pointed at me in the first round.  It’s a game you can really get into, and there’s usually a lot of Reservoir Dogs references going on.

image by BGG user toulouse

image by BGG user toulouse

Dexterity games are prime candidates to be bait, and Crokinole is the king.  This 19th century game is played on a round board, and can either be played 1-on-1, or in two teams of 2.  The goal is to be the first to score 100 points.  On your turn, you’re going to flick a disk.  If there is nothing on the board, the disk must end in the center ring or it is taken off.  If there are any pieces belonging to your opponent(s) on the board, your shot MUST hit one of theirs, or it is taken off.  If a disk goes in the center hole, you remove it and place it to the side.  Once everyone has taken  all of their shots (12 in a two-player game, 6 each with 4), you score.  Pieces on the line are removed to the next lower region.  Pieces that went in the center hole score 20, pieces that ended in the center ring score 15, pieces in the middle ring score 10, and pieces in the outer ring score 5.  Whoever scores the most points is awarded points equal to the difference.  Alternately, you can play a best-of-whatever match so scores don’t look so lopsided.

Crokinole is a very attractive game that you can just keep set up.  It’s easy to figure out – take turns flicking your disks, try to score more points than your opponent(s).  The game is very fun, and had a nice charm to it.  The downside is that boards are ridiculously expensive, but believe me, you’ll get your worth out of playing them.

image by BGG user l10n0fjudah

image by BGG user l10n0fjudah

Incan Gold was originally published as Diamant in 2005, but this is the 2006 version (now published by Gryphon Games).  In this Alan R. Moon/Bruno Faidutti design, players are delving into different levels of an Incan temple to try to collect as much treasure as they can.  On each flip of a card, every player must decide whether they are going to go further in, or if they are going to leave.  If you leave, you get to keep all treasure you have collected in the round so far, plus you divvy up any treasure that was left over on the path between you and anyone else who left that turn.  If you go further on, you’ll see what the next card is.  If it’s treasure, you divide it equally among people still in the temple, leaving any remainder on the card to be picked up later.  If it’s a hazard, nothing happens…as long as it’s the first time that particular hazard has appeared.  If a hazard appears a second time, everyone still in the temple loses everything they have collected during the round.  After five rounds, the player who has collected the most treasure wins.

This is not the flashiest game on this list – it’s primarily cards, with some plastic rocks representing the gems.  There are some cool tents included in this edition, but it’s not the components that are going to draw people over.  It’s going to be the shouts of dismay when a second hazard appears, or the cheers of joy when a single person gets a 17 treasure all to herself.  They’ll learn the game easily, and because of the five round structure, you can jump in at any time and have just as much of a chance of winning as anyone else.  The more the merrier.  I think this is great bait.

image by BGG user Steverino

image by BGG user Steverino

Jungle Speed originally came out in 1997 from designers Thomas Vuarchex and Pierrick Yakovenko.  In this speed game, the object is to get rid of all of your cards.  You take turns flipping one card over from your personal deck until a pattern is matched.  At that time, the two players who matched are considered to be in a duel, and must simultaneously reach for a totem in the center of the table.  Whoever gets it gives any cards they have played to the loser, who puts them on the bottom of his deck (along with all cards he has played).  There are some special cards (all flip, all grab, and color match), and you have to be careful because a lot of patterns are VERY similar.  Once a player has successfully gotten rid of all cards, they win.

This is a very fast and frantic game, and will attract people to your table with the shouting and constant cries of anguish because of mistakes or being too slow.  The totem is a pretty cool component (and I’m really glad I have a wooden one instead of the rubber one included in the most recent copies).  The cards are unique, and this game is a blast.  A must if your are building a collection of bait games.

image by BGG user henk.rolleman

image by BGG user henk.rolleman

Loopin’ Louie is a rare mass-market game that has caught on with hobby gamers, partly because of its bait appeal.  Originally released in 1992, this Carol Wisely design involves a battery-operated crop-duster buzzing farms to scare the chickens.  Each player has a plastic arm which they use to try to bounce Louis away from their chickens, which are represented by little disks.  If Louie’s plane hits a chicken, the disk will drop.  Each player has three, and the last player standing is the winner.

This game is a ton of fun.  It’s pretty brainless, but it tends to be pretty loud.  It’s fun to play, it’s fun to watch.  It’s a kid’s game, but you will mostly see adult gamers with this these days.  You should always play with four people, and you can play a bunch of games in a row since it’s so quick.  Perfect bait.

image by BGG user laiernie

image by BGG user laiernie

PitchCar is a flicking race game where players are trying to get around a track.  This Jean du Poël design came out in 1995.  It’s really simple – you set up a track, then players take turns flicking their disks around the track, trying to be the first to cross the finish line.  If you go off the track, you go back to where you were.  There are curves, rails, and jumps throughout.

The visual appeal of this game is what makes it god bait.  You can set up the track any way you want, and the more expansions you have, the longer and more complex you can make it.  Your cars are disks, and they really fly if you’re not careful.  I know I always end up on the floor when playing.  This game leads to a lot of cheering, bad mouthing each other, and is really appealing to passersby.  It’s excellent bait.

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

Rampage (soon to be renamed Terror in Meeple City) came out last year from designers Antoine Bauza and Ludovic Maublanc.  In this game, players are giant monsters terrorizing a city made of meeples, the little wooden pawns made famous in Carcassonne.  It’s another dexterity game (last one, I promise).  On your turn, you have two actions – you can move by flicking your paws disk; you can drop your monster on an adjacent building; you can use your breath to try to blow things over; or you can pick up vehicles and flick them across the board.  At the end of your turn, you can eat some meeples in your area based on the number of teeth you have.  You can also eat floors of buildings once they are clear of meeples.  When all floors are gone, the game ends and players score 10 points per complete set of different colored meeples they have eaten, two points per tooth belonging to other monsters they have eaten, one point per floor they have eaten, and individual points based on their character.

I think this game has more setup than any other game on the list (except maybe PitchCar), but it also has a lot of visual appeal and is really easy to learn and play.  The scoring is kind of wonky, but you don’t really have to pay any attention to that.  Odds are good that you won’t be paying attention until the end – you’ll just be trying to cause as much destruction as you can.  It’s a lot of fun, and will definitely draw a crowd.

image by BGG user Mr Penguin

image by BGG user Mr Penguin

Tsuro is a path-building game designed by Tom McMurchie and originally published in 2004.  The board consists of 6×6 grid of squares.  The outer squares have two hash marks on the outer edge.  Each of the 2-8 players gets a stone and three tiles.  Each tile shows a series of lines that are used to build a path.  Stone begin the game on one of the hash marks.  On your turn, you play a tile from your hand directly in front of your stone, and move the stone along the created path.  If your stone ever leaves the board or crashes into another, you (and the person you crashed into) are out.  The last player standing wins.

Tsuro is an incredibly simple game to learn, and plays very quickly.  There is player elimination, but the game is so fast, you hardly notice.  It’s a very beautiful game to look at as well, and the visual appeal will help bring people to the table.  It’s fast and fun, is easy to set up and break down, and is a perfect example of bait.

image by BGG user unfathomable

image by BGG user unfathomable

Finally, Word on the Street is a 2009 word-based party game from Out of the Box and designer Jack Degnan.  In this one, two teams are playing a kind of tug-of-war involving letters of the alphabet on a five-lane street.  On your team’s turn, you will draw a card, and you will get a category like “An animal that can weigh over 100 pounds.”  Your team then has 30 seconds to think of a word that fits in the category, then move the letters of that word towards your side of the street.  So, if you said “Hippopotamus”, you’d move the H once, P three times, the T once, the M once, and the S once (no vowels in this game).  If a letter ever goes off of your side, you score it.  The first team to eight letters wins.

Party games are often good bait, either because they are really funny and loud (like Telestrations) or because they have interesting gadgets (like Tapple).  Word on the Street can get loud, but it’s more of a thinky game.  The arguments will come from whether or not a word REALLY fits the category, or sometimes even whether it’s one word or two.  The thing that I think will really draw people to it is the bits.  It’s got a nice long board, and plastic tiles for the letters that show different street signs.  It looks pretty interesting, and makes you want to find out more.  Then you can reel them in.

Please let me know if you have any other games you like to use as bait.  There are probably a thousand good options out there.  You can also go check out the GeekList Scott Nicholson started for some more ideas (some of which are on this list).  Next month, we’ll take a look at what comes next once you have gotten someone to the gaming table.  Thanks for reading!

Game Buzz: GenCon 2014

With GenCon a mere week away, I thought it was high time I put together a bit of a preview.  These are games I’m interested in knowing more about.  This is far from a comprehensive list – for that, go check out the BGG GenCon guide.  And, since I’ve already talked about them, this list does not include anything about Lords of Xidit, Five Tribes, or Abyss (which happen to be three of my most anticipated for the show).  I’m also not including games that are there just for demo, with Kickstarters or releases scheduled for after the con.  This is a quick rundown, not a lot of detail, and is organized by publisher.

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

Arcane Wonders, publishers of the Magic-esque dueling game Mage Wars, are coming out with their second title, Sheriff of Nottingham.  It’s a kind of party game where players are merchants trying to sneak goods into the city.  Players will also take turns being the Sheriff, and get to decide what goes into the city, and what stays out.  This game is part of the so-called Dice Tower Essentials line, which means Tom Vasel likes it.  It sounds like it will be fun for people who like deception and negotiation in their games.

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

Asmadi is a good small publisher that tends to come out with some pretty engaging games – Innovation, for example, one of my favorites.  This year, they have four titles at the show, three of which will be for sale.  This includes Consequential (a Carl Chudyk/Chris Cieslik co-design that will be on Kickstarter at some point in the future), Heat (a small recently Kickstarted game), and the recently released Impulse (another game by Carl Chudyk – this is one I must play at some point).  They also have an abstract game called Equinox, which looks very interesting to me.  Players are drawing pieces from the same pool, but pieces have two sides – one white, the other black.  These pieces have special powers, and the object is to have the most of your color showing at the end.  Sounds pretty interesting to me, I’m looking forward to hearing more.

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

Bezier Games has been since 2007, but was primarily known for Ultimate Werewolf for a long time.  In 2012, Suburbia came out, and a lot of people (myself included) gained some new respect for them as a force in the industry.  They’ll be demoing owner Ted Alspach’s game Castles of Mad King Ludwig ahead of its release at Spiel this year, but their big GenCon release is a new game in the Suburbia line, Subdivision.  This game, by Lucas Hedgren, is a dice rolling tile placement game that doesn’t play anything like Suburbia.  However, with the respect that Suburbia has garnered over the years, it will be interesting to see how this one does in its wake.

image by BGG user ezeqiel

image by BGG user ezeqiel

Fantasy Flight hasn’t revealed anything it will have at GenCon, though you can assume there will be X-Wing and Netrunner stuff by the score.  It’s also presumed that Ignacy Trzewiczek’s The Witcher Adventure Game will be there.  This one is

based on a popular video game franchise that I know nothing about.  But it’s Ignacy and Fantasy Flight, which means there are a LOT of people interested.

Also, I want to speculate about something that may or may not ever even happen.  It’s not uncommon for FFG to be very secretive, then drop some big announcements of reprints, next editions, and big licenses at GenCon.  I’m going to say that, this year, I think they’re going to announce Android 2.0.  The original Android, which came out in 2008 and was designed by Daniel Clark Kevin Wilson, was not really an overwhelming success for the company.  However, the universe captured people’s imaginations, and with the mind blowing success of Android Netrunner, I think they’re going to want to redo the original.  If we don’t see it this year, I’m going to assume it’s coming sometime in the very near future.

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

Flying Frog is always popular, and this year’s big release is Shadows of Brimstone, which is described as a fully cooperative dungeon crawl set in the Old West.  There are actually two versions of the game – City of Ancients and Swamps of Death.  The system was Kickstarted last year, and won’t really be available for general purchase yet.  However, it’s a massive game, and they’ll have enough there that I’m sure it will be talked about by a lot of people.

image by BGG user Funforge

image by BGG user Funforge

Funforge is a French company that has a lot of very well made, beautifully crafted games.  This year, they are continuing their relationship with designer Antoine Bauza to bring us Samurai Spirit.  In this cooperative game, players are samurai trying to defend their village from bandits.  It’s basically Seven Samurai: The Board Game, and continues Bauza’s tradition of designing games set in Far Eastern cultures.  Bauza’s a really great designer, and this looks to be a fun one.

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

IELLO is another French company, and one that made a big splash in 2011 with Richard Garfield’s King of Tokyo.  This year, we’re getting the sequel – King of New York.  This is a standalone game that uses the basic mechanisms of KoT, but adds some new stuff – specifically Fame, which gains you VPs.  I don’t really know a whole lot about the new game, but it adds more monsters, has a board with more districts (and everyone trying to fight over Manhattan), and power cards that are unique to KoNY.  Definitely one I’m looking forward to trying since I’m a big fan of the original.

Mayfair made their name on Settlers of Catan, and has been very successful with that and a lot of other games since.  While I’m not terrible interested in their other products, I am interested in this:

Cones of Dunshire is a fictional board game created, with Mayfair’s assistance, for the show Parks and Recreation.  I’m a big fan of the show, was excited to see them branching out into the hobby world (Ben played Settlers of Catan for his bachelor party), and wish I was able to be at GenCon for the live Cones of Dunshire event.  Hopefully, I’ll be able to see some highlights at some point.

image by BGg user Deithos

image by BGg user Deithos

Paizo Publishing started out as a Dungeons & Dragons fan company, then began publishing the Pathfinder RPG in 2008.  In 2013, they made a big splash in the board gaming world with their Pathfinder Adventure Card Game: Rise of the Runelords.  This year, the second base set, Skulls & Shackles, is coming out.  The system is based on bi-monthly adventure packs – you’re playing through a story with your characters, getting new scenarios and cards every time.  It’s more like a Living Card Game than a Collectible.  I’ve played the original Rise of the Runelords, and thoroughly enjoyed it.  I’ll be looking forward to hearing how the next set is going to be received.

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

Plaid Hat Games has been experiencing some delays with Dead of Winter: A Crossroads Game, but it should be out soon (if not already).  I wrote about Dead of Winter previously, but to recap: this is a “cooperative game” where players have their own agendas, and are working together to achieve their own objectives.  You only win if you have completed your objective, and there can be one-multiple-no winners.  There are zombies, but it seems that the game is less about them and more about the characters and story.  So I’m interested…I may even get to play BEFORE GenCon.  I’m also hoping that there might be some early looks at the upcoming SeaFall from PHG and Rob Daviau, but I haven’t heard anything about that.  We’ll see.

image by BGG user trzewik

image by BGG user trzewik

Portal is a Polish company owned by Ignacy Trzewiczek, and comes out with some very popular and well respected games every year.  This year, their big release is Imperial Settlers, which is based on a previous game (51st State).  In the game, you’re constructing buildings and sending workers there to collect resources and abilities.  The object is to score points.  It seems odd to me that they’re taking a science fiction game themed game like 51st State (which incidentally was the second game I ever talked about on this blog) and are making it into more of a Eurogame.  That seems opposite of the trend these days.  However, the game is getting a lot of good buzz, and I’m looking forward to seeing how it works out.

image by BGG user MadMoses

image by BGG user MadMoses

Posthuman Studios is a company I don’t really know much about. But Shinobi Clans catches my eye simply because it’s about ninjas. I don’t know much about the game, but it looks to be all about building a clan by drafting cards, then carrying out secret missions, all the while trying to thwart your enemy’s plans. It seems very ninja-ish in the things it’s trying to accomplish, and has some very interesting art that looks almost water-color. Will this become the ultimate ninja game? Time will tell.

20140804-134657-49617100.jpgRio Grande has long been a force in the game industry, but their influence seems to be waning a bit as more and more domestic companies are springing up to take over foreign licenses. They haven’t really had a massive hit since Dominion came out in 2008. But now, they are teaming up with designer Donald X. Vaccarino again to bring us Temporum. This is a time manipulation game where players are trying to alter the course of history in order to become stronger. The board will show the current path of history, as well as where it could go from here. It seems like a fascinating concept, and Donald X. is always worth checking out, so I’m looking forward to hearing more about it.

image by BGG user Mr Pouple

image by BGG user Mr Pouple

Space Cowboys burst onto the scene earlier this year with Splendor, and promptly got nominated of a Spiel des Jahres. Their next game, coming out at GenCon, is Black Fleet, a nautically themed pick-up-and-deliver game from designer Sebastian Bleasdale. You’re in control of three different ships – a merchant vessel, a pirate ship charged with robbing other players’ merchants, and a Navy ship charged with sinking other players’ pirates. Space Cowboys already has a great reputation, and add a quality designer like Bleasdale, and this becomes a game that is on my watch list.

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

Z-Man rounds off this preview. One of the things they’re doing this year is expanding their Pandemic line with Pandemic: Contagion, where you are playing the disease. I’m hoping there will be more information about Pandemic: The Cure (which is the Pandemic dice game) and Pandemic: Legacy, but no word yet. The one most people seem to be looking forward to is The Battle at Kemble’s Cascade, a board game that is a major throwback to 80s arcade games. That one should do pretty well.  I haven’t really looked into it much, but it’s got some good buzz so far.

And so ends my look forward to this year’s GenCon.  It’s probably a good thing that I’m not going – I don’t think my wallet could take the strain.  Thanks for reading!



Buzzworthiness: Dixit

I seem to be on an SdJ kick with my reviews here lately.  Today, it’s the 2010 winner

image by BGG user Dottot_Destino

image by BGG user Dottot_Destino

Dixit is a Jean-Louis Roubira design that was originally published in 2008 by Libellud.  The 2009 multilingual edition won the Spiel des Jahres in 2010.  Dixit is a party game for 3-6 players (more with the subsequent expansions and sequels) that plays in about 30 minutes.  In the game, players are taking turns being storytellers.  They describe a card from their hand, and all players try to figure out which card was being described.

Dixit comes with 84 oversized cards, 36 voting tokens (1-6 in six colors), 6 wooden rabbits, and a score track insert.  Each player is dealt a hand of six cards.  When it is your turn to be story teller, you will select a card from your hand and give a short phrase description of it.  You want to be vague, but not too vague.  The reason for this will become apparent in a moment.

After coming up with the description, each other player looks at their own hand of cards and selects one that they feel best fits the stated description.  The storyteller shuffles all of this cards with his own, then reveals them, marking each with a number.  The other players then try to decide which is the card the storyteller selected, and selects that number from their own set.  All players simultaneously reveal, and scoring happens.

  • If no one selected the correct card, all players (except the storyteller) get two points.
  • If everyone selected the correct card, all players (except the storyteller) get two points.
  • If some (but not all) selected the correct card, they each get three points, and the storyteller also gets three.
  • Each vote on an incorrect answer also scores a point for the person who played it.

So, as you see, your goal as the storyteller is to be just cryptic enough that some people can figure it out, but not everyone.  Here’s an example:


The storyteller gives a clue of “The world’s a stage.”  The other three players turn in cards, and they are revealed.  When the guesses are revealed, players A and B have said that it’s the picture of the stage in the woman’s stomach, and player C says it’s the masks.  As it turns out, it’s the masks, so the storyteller and player C get three points each.  Additionally, player C added the stomach stage, so she gets two extra points.

Play continues until the last card has been drawn, or when someone reaches 30 points.  The player who is furthest ahead on the score track wins.

COMPONENTS: The conversation about Dixit has to begin and end with the art.  The art is the game.  Marie Cardouat illustrated the cards in this and a number of other Dixit titles.  The art is very surreal, and each card is unique.  The pictures don’t really mean anything, it’s one of those cases where you make your own meaning.  There’s a lot you can get out of each card, and they’re big enough (about 12×8 cm) that all the detail is easy to see.

Of the other components, the cardboard tokens are nice enough and the wooden rabbits are pretty cool.  I do want to complain a little bit about the insert board.  It’s a good cost-saving idea, but it’s not terribly stable.  The spaces are a little on the small side so that several pieces can’t fit simultaneously, and if anyone bumps the box, the rabbits are going everywhere (I guess that’s thematic).  There is a box in the middle to store the components, and that stabilizes things a bit.  I think I’d rather just use a scorepad, however.  Later titles in the series started using a board.

THEME: There’s no theme in the game.  That’s not to say that you can’t come up with some good stories, there’s just no overarching narrative that holds things together.  The game has a surreal, dreamlike quality to it, so I guess you could say that was the theme if you wanted to.

MECHANICS: Ever since Apples to Apples came out in 1999, it feels like a lot of party games have imitated the “everyone gives cards to a judge” format.  Dixit puts a twist on it by taking away the inherent subjectivity of that approach.  The storyteller chooses a card from their own hand and other players add a card to the mix to try to throw the others off.  There’s no profit in choosing cards that you think are wrong – at best, everyone will think it is wrong and you’ll at least score two points; at worst, you’ll be wrong and are giving points to another opponent for choosing their card.  So you’re always trying to find the best thing.

At the same time, the storyteller can play to their audience.  If you have an in-joke with another player involving a giant teddy bear, and play the card with the giant teddy bear with a reference to that in-joke, you’ll be able to get that player to match up with you while others may be unlikely to.  Party games frequently have this meta-game aspect, it’s part of what makes them good for social situations.  At the same time, this is not going to be a riotous, laugh-out-loud type of game for you – it’s really a lot more introspective than a lot of games.

I like the way voting occurs in this game.  It’s all simultaneous, and it is done using tokens to lock in your answer.  This helps keeping people from changing their votes, or seeing what others have said before making their choice.  Also, scoring works a lot better than in many party games because it makes sense.  The storyteller is rewarded for subtlety, but is penalized for being too obvious or too cryptic.  The other players are rewarded for their ability to hoodwink their fellows, as well as to picking up on the hints of the storyteller.  It works, and I think it makes Dixit more of a game than most entries into the party game genre.

STRATEGY LEVEL: The strategy in this game is kind of subtle.  I already mentioned the meta-game aspect of the experience, and that will play into how you phrase your stories/sentences/word choices.  This is not a game where you will be talking out loud, motley because you don’t WANT everyone to do well.  I called it introspective earlier, and I think that’s a good description.  Your strategy will be done internally, and really you are trying to make the most meaning you can from some pretty abstract cards.

ACCESSIBILITY: Being a party game, Dixit is fairly accessible to a lot of people.  It is more intellectual than something like Taboo or Charades, but it should be picked up pretty quickly.  The toughest thing is figuring out how to word your phrases as the storyteller, and that may be a barrier for people.  And this is not really a bar game, nor is it a game for a kegger – this is really for the quieter, calmer parties.  Maybe even libraries or museums.

REPLAYABILITY: With 84 cards in the box, and more through expansions and sequels, there is a lot of replayability in Dixit.  The varied pictures are always suggesting new phrases to you, and you most likely won’t play the same way twice.  Different players will see different things, and you’ll be surprised how differently a card can be described from game to game.

At the same time, for me, this is not a game I want to play all the time.  I generally don’t like party games, and while I find this better than most, it’s one I only want to play occasionally.  If I play it too much, it does start to get quite old, and I start to get annoyed that I’m getting “bad cards”.  For the record, I don’t think there are bad cards, but I do reach a point psychologically where I just can’t think of anything for what I have, and I get grumpy.  In the end, I think I just prefer more strategy than Dixit has to offer.  But, I also know people who would play this all the time given the opportunity, so take that as you will.

SCALABILITY: You can play with 3-6 people, though the 3-player version is a variant.  Later titles in the line significantly increased the number of players, and that’s good since I tend to feel that the more the merrier here.  The more players you get, the more the storyteller benefits by having more chance that SOMEONE will pick up on their hints.  It also means there’s an increased chance that a LOT of people will get it right, so you need to be even more creative to limit the impact.  So, while it plays with 3-4, I wouldn’t want to play with less than five.

FOOTPRINT: Dixit doesn’t take up a lot of space.  The box is the scoreboard, though you can just use a piece of paper.  All the other space you need is space for the cards to be laid out during voting.  Therefore, it’s a game you can play in some tight spots, as well as in a number of different locations and circumstances.

LEGACY: The Spiel des Jahres committee does not often award party games.  However, in 2010, two were nominated, so I have a feeling that’s what they were looking for.  And I think it’s a fine choice, even if I was rooting for Roll Through the Ages that year.  I think it succeeds where a lot of party games fail in that it can actually be played as a GAME.  In fact, while most party games can be played as an activity without worrying about scoring, Dixit cannot.  The scoring system, while convoluted, makes you more aware of how to phrase things in such a way that not everyone can get it.  Plus, it’s one of the gold standards for the way art can be a central aspect of the game.

IS IT BUZZWORTHY? Yes.  It’s a pretty brilliant game that manages to combine some great art with a good gaming experience.  I would recommend this over most party games on the market.  It may not be the rowdiest of games, but it’s definitely worthy of its praise.  Thanks for reading!

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!


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