Today, I review the game that gave birth to the microgame/pocket game craze:

image by BGG user edbolme

image by BGG user edbolme

Love Letter is a game designed by Seiji Kanai that was originally published by Kanai Factory and Japon Brand.  AEG picked it up for the US, and it was that pickup that really launched the game’s popularity.  The game is for 2-4 players, and takes 20 minutes to play.  The idea of the game is that you are trying to deliver tokens of affection to the princess, but you have to use the people around her to make sure she gets yours and only yours.

The game itself only comes with 16 cards and 13 red cubes (as well as four reference cards, the rules, and a nice velvet bag to carry the game in).  You shuffle up the cards and remove one, then deal one card to each player.  On your turn, you draw a card, then play a card.  Each card will do something different based on its type:

  1. The Guard allows you to pick one other player and try to guess the card they have.  You can’t name Guard.
  2. The Priest allows you to look at the card of another player.
  3. The Baron allows you to compare hands with another player.  The player with the lower value is out of the round.
  4. The Handmaid protects you from others until your next turn.
  5. The Prince allows you to choose someone to discard their card and draw a new one.  You can choose yourself.
  6. The King allows you to trade hands with another player.
  7. The Countess does nothing.  However, if you have the King or a Prince in your hand with the Countess, you must discard the Countess.
  8. The Princess does nothing.  If you discard her, you are out of the round.

A round continues until all but one player have been eliminated, or until all cards have been drawn.  At that point, the player with the highest valued card left in their hand wins the round.  The round winner gets a token of affection (red cube).  You then start a new round.  The first person to a certain number of cubes (4 in a 4-player game, 5 in a 3-player game, or 7 in a two-player game) is the winner.

COMPONENTS: As I mentioned, there are very few components here.  Sixteen cards and thirteen cubes, and that’s everything you need.  The cards are very well illustrated in the style of the Tempest games (more on that in a moment), and are good quality.  The Princess was apparently designed by a twelve-year-old since she’s kind of falling out of her dress.  Also, the Prince looks like Brad Pitt.  Or Robert Redford, depending on what generation you’re talking to.

My favorite component in the game is the velvet bag.  It’s quite lovely, and makes an attractive carrying case for such a small game.  Saves me having to find a baggie or make a tuck box.  There are editions that come in a box that do not have a bag, but I suggest finding a bag.

THEME: AEG’s version of the game was set in the Tempest universe, a shared world they were really trying to push that year.  The theme is not strictly necessary, but they were able to fit it into their theme pretty well – the Princess’ mother was arrested in a previous title, so her wooers are trying to comfort her.  The original version was just a random kingdom.  But now, AEG is licensing the game out and all kinds of weird themes are popping up – Legend of the Five Rings, Adventure Time, a Wedding edition, Munchkin…this should prove that the theme isn’t terribly important to the game.

MECHANICS: Love Letter is a very stripped down role selection game.  You have two roles in your hand, and you choose one of them.  It’s not the same as the role selection in Puerto Rico, but each character you play has ramifications on the game.  It can be a tough decision sometimes.  The roles are all fairly well balanced – the Priest is the only one I think is kind of useless, but all others have some good strategies associated with them.

The other big mechanism in the game is player elimination.  Yes, you can be knocked out of the game.  However, the game is so short, you’ll be right back in it for the next round in no time.  So it’s not really an issue.

STRATEGY LEVEL: For so few cards, there’s a surprising amount of strategy in the game.  You are going to be subject to luck.  There’s nothing worse than being caught by a random guess with the Guard on the first play of the game.  On the other hand, there’s nothing better than catching someone with a random guess by the Guard on the first play of the game.  Beyond that, there’s deduction elements as you try to logically figure out what someone else has to determine if you can get away with a Baron, or maybe making them discard their hand with the Prince.  Or, if you have the Countess, sometimes it can be advantageous to discard to make people think you have a Prince or King.

The big thing that keeps you on your toes in the game is that one card is removed.  So you know something isn’t in the deck, but you don’t know what.  This makes it a guessing game, but one that you can logically figure out and play the odds.

ACCESSIBILITY: This is an easy game to learn.  You can teach it in a couple of minutes, and everyone will understand.  It’s very accessible, and one I’d probably put easily in the Gateway category.  It looks nice enough, particularly with the velvet bag, that you could also consider it as a good Bait game.

REPLAYABILITY: This game is very replayable, which again is kind of shocking considering how little is in the box.  It plays quickly, which helps.  Plus, the inherent uncertainty of the distribution means that people will happily play up to 13 rounds in a row (which is the maximum length of a game), and may even want to play multiple games.  A lot of replayabilty here.

SCALABILITY: Love Letter plays with 2-4 players.  I really like the game with 4, but 3 works well too.  The 2-player version is also fun, but it’s a little different since three extra cards are taken out of the deck.  These three are revealed, so both players know they aren’t available.  It adds an interesting layer, but I think I still prefer to play with more players.

FOOTPRINT: I think I’ve made the point already that this is a very small game.  It takes up hardly any room in storage or on the table.  This is definitely a game you can play in some pretty tight spaces.

LEGACY: Love Letter launched the current microgame craze, which honestly has gotten a little out of hand.  The games are cheap to produce and fairly trendy, so I think a lot of substandard titles are getting out there.  Still, I think Love Letter has earned its place in the pantheon of influential games, especially since it’s just that good.

IS IT BUZZWORTHY? Yes.  If you haven’t played, do.  It’s fast, it’s simple, and it’s surprisingly deep for its tiny size.  And it only costs $10.  Thanks for reading!

With Spiel 2014 going on right now, let’s look at a Eurogame from five years ago:

imaqge by BGG user binraix

imaqge by BGG user binraix

Alea Iacta Est was first published in 2009 as #5 in alea’s Medium Box line.  alea is the publisher, with Rio Grande publishing in the US.  The game was designed by Jeffrey D. Allers and Bernd Eisenstein, is for 2-5 players, and takes around an hour to play.  The phrase “Alea Iacta Est” is Latin for “The die is cast”, and it makes sense because this is a dice game set in ancient Rome.  Players are all trying to be Caesar and trying to gain the most fame.

The game comes with 40 colored dice, eight for each player.  You also get five cardboard buildings (Templum, Senatus, Castrum, Forum, and Latrina), 19 Senate tiles, 25 Province tiles, 36 Patrician tiles, 30 Fortune tokens, 30 reroll chips, and a start player marker.  The game is set up differently with different numbers of players.  You’ll always use the Senatus, Castrum, Forum, and Latrina, but you only use the Templum in 4-5 player games.  Also, the Forum consists of up to five puzzle pieces.  With two players, you use the first piece (showing three columns) and the end piece (which has one column and a solid right edge).  For each player above that, you add one puzzle piece.  Each player gets eight dice in their color, and one player gets the start token.

On your turn, you roll all of your dice, then choose some to place in one of the five buildings.  There are different conditions to enter each, and each does something different for you.

  • The first person to place in the Templum adds one die of any value and takes a Fortune token.  The next person adds two dice that add up to more than the original die and takes two Fortune tokens.  The third person adds three dice that add up to more than the two dice and takes three Fortune tokens.  And so on.  On a later turn, you can add on to dice you already placed, but you only gain one Fortune per die you added.  At the end of the round, the player with the most dice in the Templum can keep two of their tokens, and everyone else can keep one.  Fortune tokens are valued 1-3.
  • To place in the Senatus, you add a sequence of dice, such as 2-3-4 or 5-6.  You could even add a single die if you wanted.  The only rule is that you can’t add a sequence that is already there.  You can add to a sequence later, or you can start a new one if you wish.  At the end of the round, the player with the longest/highest valued sequence draws three Senate cards, chooses one, then passes the other two to the player with the second best sequence.  In a five-player game, the final card goes to the third best sequence, and in a two-player game, only the best sequence gets a card.  These provide extra secret scoring opportunities for the people who hold them.
  • To place in the Castrum, you add a set of identical dice, like 3-3-3 or 4-4.  You could even add a single die if you wanted.  As with the Senatus, you can’t add a set that is the same as a present set, and you can add to a set later or start a new set.  At the end of the round, the player with the largest/highest valued set gets first choice of Provinces – there is one per player available.  Then the second best chooses, and so on.  Provinces will score the points printed on them at the end of the game, or one less if no Patrician is allocated there.
  • In the Forum, you can either add a single die or two dice that add up to five (1-4 or 2-3).  The lower dice go to the front of the line.  If there are other dice of that value, the new die goes in front, pushing the others back.  It is entirely possible that dice will get pushed into the Latrina if there’s no space in the Forum.  The owner of the die at the front of the line gets first choice of Patricians, which get allocated to locations.  Patricians not allocated to Provinces at the end of the game score zero points, otherwise they score what is printed.  Each Province can hold one man and one woman of its color.
  • You’ll hardly ever willingly go to the Latrina, unless you’re out of options.  However, every die in the Latrina gets you a reroll token which can be spent to reroll any dice you just rolled that you choose, or can be saved until the end of the game for points.

After rolling, the buildings are resolved in the order I just gave.  The start player marker passes to the left and a new round begins.  After the fifth round, Patricians are allocated to provinces and bonuses are scored.  The player with the most points wins.

COMPONENTS: The dice in the game (called cubic luck bringers on the box for some reason) are plastic, and measure about half an inch wide.  They are small, which is good because you have to roll eight at once.  The colors are fairly easily discernible to me, but I don’t know how a color blind person would do with them – there’s blue, brown, gray, green, and gold.  In addition to the dice, there are the five cardboard buildings, which are all fairly solid, and a bunch of smaller tokens.  The reroll tokens are pretty small, but the others are a good size for what they are.  The included insert in the game is very generic and does not fit what comes in the box at all.  I threw mine out almost as soon as I first opened the box.  But that means you’re going to have to come up with your own storage solutions.

The art in the game is kind of cartoony.  Not silly, just not overly serious.  There aren’t really any jokes in the art, other than the Latrina is full of people sitting on the toilet.  And even that is fairly tastefully done – if you didn’t know that the Latrina was a toilet, you’d think they were just sitting around.

Overall, the components in this game are very nice.

THEME: There’s not much of a theme here.  They did make an effort to tie the theme to the gameplay – making offerings to the temple and trying to outdo previous offerers; building “roads” for the Senate; putting together armies in the Castrum to conquer provinces; trying to have the most influence in the Forum to attract the wealthiest Patricians; and going to the Latrina to gain knowledge as it was a social time.  However, you don’t think about it too much as you play.  It’s nice to tie everything together with certain concepts, but in the end, you’re placing dice and trying to come up with the most valuable tiles.

MECHANICS: Alea Iacta Est is a dice allocation game.  You roll the dice, then choose where to place them.  The allocation aspects here are similar to Kingsburg, where you are rolling your dice before assigning them in groups rather than one at a time (though you can assign one at a time).  You have eight dice, which initially gives you a lot of choice, but as your dice decrease in quantity, you’ll often find yourself wishing you had done something else.

I’ve been growing to seriously dislike the mechanism where everyone gets the same number of turns.  However, I think it works fairly well here.  You can keep an eye on a person’s dice pile and try to not get caught with too many left over when the round ends.  Hopefully, it’s not unexpected that a round will end.  In my first games, I had everyone just keep going until they had all used their dice, but I think this way works better because it really emphasizes resource management.

There’s some area control here as you’re trying to get the best reward from each building.  There’s also set collection as you try to get the right Patricians for the right Provinces.  But it’s the dice allocation that really drives the game, and it works really well.

STRATEGY LEVEL: Despite the inherent randomness of having a dice game, there really is a lot of strategy to be had here.  It’s often particularly tough to decide what to do from your first roll.  Do you just put a die in the Templum and see what happens from there?  How long of a sequence should you put in the Senatus, or how big of a set in the Castrum?  When should you start trying to get in the Forum, knowing everyone after you is just going to try to push you out?  Should you just accept a trip to the Latrina for the reroll token?  And most importantly, how hard should you push to get first choice?  Is someone going to take what you need if you’re not first?  For a dice rolling game, there is a lot of strategy present.

ACCESSIBILITY: This is not a tough game to learn, but it’s definitely one that I think is a little beyond new gamers.  There are some foreign concepts here, particularly the dice allocation aspects.  I’d say that it’s a very good choice for a next step game.

REPLAYABILITY: The randomness of the Patrician and Province tiles, as well as the way the dice roll help increase the replayability of the game.  However, games can still tend to feel like each other.  It’s not a game I want to play all the time, but I don’t mind playing every now and then.

SCALABILITY: This game plays with 2-5, but I tend to think that more is better.  I’d rather player with 4 or 5 than 2 or 3 simply because you get to use the Templum.  The five player game can drag if people have serious AP, but the game is generally fairly quick.

FOOTPRINT: This game doesn’t take up a whole lot of space on the table.  The five buildings aren’t huge.  Each player needs some space to put their stuff as they collect it, but you really don’t need to allocate anything until the end of the game.  So I think this game would be OK on a smallish table – not a tiny one, but it doesn’t have to be too big.  Oh, also leave room for rolling dice.  Or roll in the box.

LEGACY: Alea Iacta Est is a pretty good dice allocation game.  It’s very Euro in nature, but has a lot of good and unique ideas that separate if from something like Kingsburg or Alien Frontiers.  So I think it’s worth having even if you have those others in your collection.

IS IT BUZZWORTHY? Yes.  It’s a highly strategic dice game that is pretty fun.  It has good interaction as players try to outdo each other, and lots of decisions to be made about how to distribute your dice.  I do recommend it.  Thanks for reading!

On Thursday, the biggest game show in the world opens – Spiel, held annually in Essen, Germany.  Every year, a ton of games get released, and it’s hard to sort them all out.  So today, I’m providing you with my second annual ESSEN PREVIEW SPECTACULAR!!!  I’ve combed through the Essen preview list at BGG, and picked out a select few games that I’m interested in.  Actually, I have 55 games on my list.  I’m not going to go into a lot of depth on these.  I’m just going to mention most of them with a comment or two.  I’ve picked out 11 that I want to talk about more, so I’ll provide some more background on those.  So, let’s get started – this list is organized by publisher.  (I will mention that there are several games not included on this list because I’ve already talked about them on the blog, such as Castles of Mad King Ludwig)

  • 2F-Spiele: Friedemann Friese usually has some very interesting things to look at, but his company isn’t really putting anything new out this year.  There’s a 10th anniversary edition of Power Grid, as well as a reprint of his 1997 game Fresh Fish.  I don’t know much about Fresh Fish, but I know people have wanted a reprint for a while, and now they’ll be getting one.
  • AEG: AEG is coming out with a couple of games I’m interested to know more about.  Empire Engine is a pocket game from Matthew Dunstan and Chris Marling that uses gear cards as players try to collect resources and defend themselves from attacks.  Planes (David Short) has an obvious graphical tie-in to AEG’s successful Trains from a couple of years ago, though it is a completely different game (you just know Automobiles is forthcoming).  This one is all about boarding planes rather than route building.
  • alea: alea usually does their big releases at Nüremburg, but this year, La Isla from Stefan Feld is coming out at Spiel.  It looks like typical Feld – very busy, lots of ways to score, and probably a very good game.
image by BGG user W Eric Martin

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

Aporta Games: Doodle City is a game by Eilif Svensson and Kristian Amundsen Østby.  It’s a city building game where players are building a network of roads on a map that is essentially a 5×5 grid.  The catch is that they are drawing the roads and buildings in the game.  This is done through dice rolling – you roll a blue die and some white dice, then everyone chooses one of the white dice.  Using the white die for the row and the blue die for the column, you draw a road.  You may score for crossing a hotel or shop.  At the end of the game, the player who has scored the most points wins.

I really like when games use drawing and writing as mechanisms.  This one looks like a very simple game to learn, and with good decisions to be made when choosing dice at the beginning of each round.  There’s also a solo variant.  This is definitely one I’m interested in learning more about.

  • Aza Chen: Kaiju is being self-published by Aza Chen, a designer from Taiwan.  It’s a dice rolling game that uses the box as a dice tower, has players doing silly actions, and tracks wounds by actually drawing them on the arms of the slowest players.  Sounds fun.
  • Beautiful Disaster Games: Assault on Doomrock is a game I’ve been watching since it was called D&D&D.  It’s a cooperative adventure game that is kind of tongue in cheek,  It looks fun.  It was successfully funded on Indiegogo earlier this year.
  • Blackrock Editions: Haru Ichiban is a Bruno Cathala design that pits rival gardeners against each other, both trying to use the wind to create patterns of lilypads.  This is mostly on the list because it looks quite beautiful.
  • Blue Orange: Blue Orange has a few cool looking games coming out, including Dragon Run from Ludovic Barbe and Bruno Cathala – it’s a push-your-luck treasure hunting game where you are trying to outrun the dragon you just robbed.  Also, there’s Wakanda by Charles Chevallier, a 3D game where players are trying to build totem poles.  Both look very nice.
  • Bomba Games: Amber Route interests me simply because it was an app first.  I have it on my iPad, and enjoy it, though it is fairly luck based.  I originally thought the board game came first, so we’ll see how it translates to the physical realm.
image by BGG user liga

image by BGG user liga

Cranio Creations: Dungeon Bazaar is a game designed by Paolo Cecchetto, Simone Luciani, and Daniele Tascini.  It’s a game for 2-5 players that is all about selling equipment to heroes about to go adventuring in a nearby dungeon.  The twist is that you, the merchants, have a deal with the dragon and thus have a vested interest in keeping him alive.  I haven’t read the rules yet, I just like that concept.  I enjoy looking at standard themes in a new way – it’s kind of like what Dungeon Lords did by taking the perspective of the bad guys.  The other thing that causes me to take notice of this game is that Luciani and Tascini were the designers of T’zolkin, a very popular and innovative game.  The pair, plus Lorenzo Tucci Sorrentino, have another game coming out from Cranio called Soqquadro, which is a pick-up-and-deliver party game.  Both look good, and I look forward to hearing more about them.

  • Czech Board Games: McJohny’s is a cooperative party game about serving customers at a crab shack.  It seems like a pretty funny little game from what I can tell.
image by BGG user Jajina

image by BGG user Jajina

Czech Games Edition: CGE always has great games coming out, even when Vlaada Chvátil’s name isn’t attached.  This year’s offering is Alchemists, a game designed by Matúš Kotry.  This game is currently my most anticipated for the show, partly because of CGE, and partly because it just sounds cool.  The basic idea is that you are mixing ingredients to find new potions.  This is done via a smartphone app – it scans the items, mixes them, and shows you the result.  The rules of alchemy are randomized each time so you won’t be able to “solve” the game by memorizing combos.  You are trying to figure out the rules of alchemy as you go so you can make the best combos later.  As the game goes on, you will be foraging, transmuting, and testing through the use of action cubes.  After six rounds, the player with the most points wins.

There has been a bit of a flap about needing a smartphone app to play this game.  I think it’s a silly argument – if board games don’t embrace digital technology now, they will be crushed by it later.  This is not like something like Golem Arcana, where the smartphone app pretty much plays the game for you.  This is just a randomization tool.  A moderator can also be used instead of the app, but they aren’t playing so it’s not ideal.  So I’m looking forward to hearing more about this…hopefully rules will be uploaded soon.

  • Deinko Games: Korean company Deinko has a couple of games I’m interested in.  7 Kingdoms is a pocket game where players are trying to claim different cards to score points – the theme doesn’t look terribly in depth, but it does seem like fun.  DoReMi is a music game that has a speed element – we need more music games, so I’m definitely interested in this one.
image by BGG user W Eric Martin

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

Feuerland Spiele: The publishers of Terra Mystica and Glass Road are back with another title from Uwe Rosenberg (also to be published by Filosfia and ZMan).  Arler Erde (aka Fields of Arle) is a 1-2 player worker placement game that is kind of autobiographical for Rosenberg – it’s set in the region his parents came from.  The game lasts for nine half-years (summer and winter), and each half-year has three phases – preparations, where you set up the round; work, where you place four workers on the game board; and inventory, where you take stock of your belongings.  There are fifteen different action spaces to use when placing workers, and they are different for each half year.  After the ninth half-year, add up your points to see who won.

I’ve been more and more interested in Rosenberg’s games in recent months.  I wrote him off for a while because I didn’t really care for Agricola.  Since then, I’ve played Bohnanza, Mamma Mia, Space Beans, Le Havre, and At the Gates of Loyang, and loved all of them.  So he’s someone I want to keep an eye on.  This game looks like it has potential to be a good push-and-pull two player battle – from what I hear, it’s pretty tough.  Looking forward to learning more.

image by BGG user W Eric Marting

image by BGG user W Eric Marting

Fragor Games: The Lamont Brothers always have some cool game coming out at Spiel, and they are always extraordinarily popular, selling out of their limited supplies very quickly.  Dragonscroll is this year’s offering, and the first thing they released about the game (other than the title) is this picture of Fundor the Fiery.  The game itself is a pick-up-and-deliver tile laying game where dragons are competing to write the most illustrious story through completing tasks.  Throughout the game, you’ll also be raining fireballs down on your opponents using the “flaming tower of death” to determine where they land.

Fragor Games are nothing if not creative.  The games overall have been kind of hit or miss, but they have such high quality bits and are such limited productions, they are extremely popular.  They’re always worth a look, especially since most of them never make it past their Essen run.  Some exceptions to that include Shear Panic, Snow Tails, and the recently Kickstarted second edition of Poseidon’s Kingdom.  The bits alone make these game worth checking out, and they’re always unique, so I am always interested to see what is there.

  • Granna: Ufofarmer is a memory set collection game where you are trying to abduct farm animals in identical sets of three, or sets of three unique animals.  It’s a kid’s game to be sure, but it looks like good silly fun.
  • Grublin Games: I talked a bit about Waggle Dance in Kickstarter Blitz #6, but it’s coming out at Essen.  As a recap, it’s a worker placement game with bees.  Sounds like a lot of fun.
  • Homosapiens Lab: Blood of the Werewolf is a Werewolf style game where no one knows who they are, but others do.  It’s like Werewolf meets Hanabi.  Sounds interesting.
  • Horrible Games: Co-Mix is a storytelling game where you are dealt some cards that are different panels and have to arrange them into a comic page, following a plot.  I don’t know how much of a game it is, but I like the concept as an activity.
  • HUCH! & Friends: Kamisado Max and Kamisado Pocket are two new editions of Kamisado, one of my favorite abstracts.  Max is obviously a big version of the game, with a 10×10 instead of 8×8 grid.  Pocket is the travel version.  I still don’t have the original – need to get that.
  • Japon Brand: There’s some great stuff always coming out of Japan, and Japon Brand is bringing it to Essen.  This year, here are some of the titles I’ve been interested in: Colors of Kasane (Hinata Origuchi) is all about trying to make the most beautiful kimono possible.  Kaleido (also Hinata Origuchi) is all about designing a kaleidoscope.  Rolling Japan (Hisashi Hayashi) is about filling the prefectures of Japan with different colored dice.  Looking forward to hearing more about all of these.
  • Kanai Factory: Seiji Kanai is world famous for Love Letter, so there’s always interest in his stuff.  Secret Moon is a sequel to Love Letter, but more of a Werewolf-style game in a short time frame (10 minutes).  We’ll see if it takes off.
  • Korea Boardgames CoAbraca…what? is a spellcasting deduction game where everyone knows what you can cast except you.  This hidden-to-you mechanism is becoming more and more prevalent, and this one looks like a pretty good family game.
  • KOSMOS: KOSMOS is a pretty big German publisher that usually has good stuff.  There are a couple of their games I’m looking at this year: 7 Steps is a 3-D abstract that has players placing discs to block columns.  Jäger und Späher is one of the company’s famous two-player games, this one about being hunters in the Stone Age.  Both look nice, and I want to know more.
  • La Mame: From the original creator of Coup comes Melee, a micro-wargame where players are trying to capture opposing castles.  With the popularity of Coup, I’m sure this will get lots of attention.
  • Legend Express: Age of Soccer combines ancient mythology with soccer. You’re trying to build a team with help from the gods, and defeating other teams in the game.  I like the concept, we’ll see how it does.
  • Libellud: In addition to another Dixit expansion and Lords of Xidit, Libellus is coming out with Loony Quest.  This game uses drawing as players are trying to replicate outlines to avoid obstacles.  It sounds fun.
image by BGG user W Eric Martin

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

Lookout Games: Lookout has been a force in the gaming market since the release of Agricola back in 2008.  The company made news last year at Spiel when it was announced that they had been purchased by Mayfair.  They’ve got several games coming out this year, but the one I am most interested in is Patchwork, a two-player title from Uwe Rosenberg.  The idea is that players are trying to build the most aesthetic patchwork quilt.  Patches are randomly placed in a circle, and each player has buttons to spend on them.  On your turn, you can purchase one of the next three patches or pass.  There’s a time track mechanism in place – this means that, depending on the size of the patch, you may take multiple turns in a row.  Passing places you in front of your opponent on the time track, but also gains you buttons.  You also gain buttons when you pass certain points on the time track.  When a player reaches the end of the time track, they are finished.  You lose two buttons per blank square on your board, and the player with the most remaining buttons wins.

This is kind of an abstract game, but one with a very good theme.  Quilting is not a theme that gets used very much, and that in itself makes the game attractive.  I also really like time tracks in games, and that elevates this above what might otherwise just be multiplayer solitaire.  So this is one I very much want to hear more about.

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

Ludonaute: The European fascination with the Old West continues in Christophe Raimbault’s Colt Express, a 2-6 player train robbery game.  This is an programmed action game where players take turns either putting cards into a shared action pile or drawing new cards to their hand.  Once a preset number of turns have occurred, the deck is flipped over and the cards are resolved in the order they were played.  You could move your bandit, change floors, move the marshal, shoot an opponent, rob the car you’re in, or punch another nearby bandit.  After the fifth round, the player with the most money from loot and shooting others is the winner.

The coolest thing about this game, I think, is that you are playing on a 3-D train.  Not a board, an actual cardboard train with two levels that you move around.  I like the idea of how actions are played into a common deck and then resolved in order – it’s a little like a time track in that order of resolution will get shifted around.  Also, as with most programmed games, I’m sure there’s going to be some mass chaos involved.  This game looks like a blast.

  • Matagot: Matagot always has interesting stuff, and this year, I’m most interested in Korrigans, a game about trying to access a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow.  It looks beautiful, and the theme really catches my eye.
  • Mercury Games: The Walled City: Londonderry & Borderlands is a city building game where players are building neighborhoods on one of two maps.  It looks very nice, and is something I’d like to check out.

image by BGG user Mindwarrior_Games

Mindwarrior Games: Realm of Wonder is a 2-6 player game about taking a journey through a world with spinning continents.  The board is made up of three spinning discs, each smaller than the other to create a circle on the board.  In each round, you will collect magic points based on stuff you have.  Everyone will then simultaneously play a movement card, then will individually (starting with the slowest player) cast spells.  Then you move.  During the game, you will be battling monsters and other characters, building forts, rotating the board, and trying to carry out the King’s quest.  If you are the first to enter the castle with a Victory disc for completing the quest, you win.

Most of my interest in this game is purely superficial.  The art looks great, and I love that the board actually rotates.  I haven’t read deeply into how the game plays, but it has simultaneous action selection, which I tend to enjoy.  Definitely one I’m looking forward to hearing more about.

  • Moonster Games: Chosŏn is a thematic sequel to Koryŏ, a game from last year I quite enjoyed.  Apparently gameplay is similar – play characters with special abilities and try to achieve majorities to gain access to those special abilities.  Looking forward to learning more.
  • PD Verlag: Antike II is basically a new edition of Mac Gerdts’ Antike, which is a game I really like.  Some rules have changed, but I’m glad to see the game coming back.
  • Pearl Games: Deus is a new game from Sébastien Dujardin, who previously co-designed Troyes and Tournay.  This one is a civilization building game where you’ll be constructing buildings as you try to receive the help of the gods.  It has a really nice look to it.
  • R & R Games: Spike is a new game from Balloon Cup designer Stephen Glenn.  It’s a pick-up-and-deliver train game where you’re trying to expand your rail network.  My interest in this is mostly due to the designer – I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do with what on the surface sounds like a standard train game.
  • Ragnar Brothers: Steam Donkey is a game I know next to nothing about, other than the title is awesome.
image by BGG user W Eric Martin

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

Repos Productions: 7 Wonders: Babel is the latest expansion for Antoine Bauza’s 2010 hit 7 Wonders.  It’s actually two modules, the Tower of Babel and the Great Projects of Babel.  In Tower of Babel, players begin the game by drafting laws that change the rules of the game.  As a fourth action during the game, you can discard your card to place one of these tiles to put the rule into effect.  It will stay in effect until covered.  In Great Projects, players are trying to construct buildings, with a random one chosen at the beginning of each age.  These buildings are the same colors as the cards you play, and when you play a matching card, you can also pay a participation cost to work on the building.  If all participation tokens have been taken at the end of the age, the project was a success and everyone gains rewards based on how much they helped.  If participation tokens are not all taken, the project fails, and anyone who did NOT participate takes a penalty.

7 Wonders was a game I thought got a lot better with the Leaders expansion.  I’ve played with Cities once, and liked it, but I didn’t think it was as big of a boon to the game as Leaders.  This one looks like it will do a lot for the game – the Babel tiles in the tower version and participation costs of the Great Projects both look like they will add something pretty new to the system.  So I’m looking forward to giving it a try.

  • Schmidt Spiele: Adventure Tours is a game from Seiji Kanai where players are playing cards to try and gain the right equipment and explorers to go on an adventure.  Sounds fun.
  • Stronghold: Kanban: Automotive Revolution is a new game from Vital Lacerda, designer of Vinhos and CO2.  You are a manager of an automobile assembly line, and are trying to improve parts to secure your future with the company.  It looks fun.
  • TF Verlag UF: Canopy Walk is tile laying game where players are trying to cross over a treacherous jungle to get to a rare source of red diamonds.  Kind of abstract, sure, but I think it looks like a fun two-player game.
image by BGG user W Eric Martin

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

TIKI Editions: Gaia is game designed by Olivier Rolko that is all about creating a world.  It’s a tile-laying game where players are taking turns playing or drawing a card.  If you play a nature card, you’ll take a corresponding land tile and place it.  If you fulfill an objective, you’ll be able to place a meeple.  If you play a life card, you’ll either be able to place animals or a city.  Cities must be fed with animals, and can contain one of your meeples.  If you place all five of your meeples, you win.

This looks like a very simple game.  I’m not exactly sure how well it will play, how much randomness will come into it, or how the objectives will change things. The advanced game adds some player interaction as you can steal cities or play power cards like lightning or earthquake.  I was initially attracted to this game because of the cover which has a very cool art style.  And I still think it is worth a look, I just don’t know if it will grab me once in play.

  • Treefrog Games: Martin Wallace games are always worth a look.  He’s got a couple coming out this year.  Mythotopia is a deck-building game set in a medieval fantasy world that draws its mechanisms from A Few Acres of Snow.  Onward to Venus is an empire building game set in the world of the Doctor Grordbrot graphic novels.
  • Ystari: Witness is a deduction game based on a Belgian comic strip called Blake and Mortimer.  It’s cooperative and each player has some of the information.  They share it via whisper with a neighbor, who then must share their own information plus the other person’s information with the next person.  Sound inefficient?  That’s the point.  Each player will individually answer questions about the case, and you’re ideally trying to get 12 points.  Sounds chaotic and not very replayable, but I love the idea of the game and it’s probably a good party experience.
image by BGG user W Eric Martin

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

Z-Man: Pandemic: The Cure is a dice game based on the popular Pandemic board game, a franchise Z-Man seems to be determined to milk for all it’s worth.  This one was designed by Pandemic designer Matt Leacock, so it’s got that going for it.  On your turn, you roll the player dice that go with your pawn.  This will result in an action symbol or a biohazard symbol  If it’s an action symbol, you can reroll it or take the action.  You can’t reroll biohazards.  Possible actions include flying to any location, sailing to an adjacent location, treating diseases, or collecting samples.  Biohazards increase the infection rate.  You can give samples to any other player in your region, and try to find a cure by rolling collected samples to try to get a result of 13 or more. If you do, the disease is cured.  At the end of your turn, you draw, roll, and place infection dice.  If you discover all four cures, you win.  If the infection track reaches zero, or you have eight or more outbreaks, or if you run out of infection dice, you lose.

The Cure seems like a very good dice-based implementation of Pandemic.  It is going to add even more randomness to the game, but in a way, that’s thematic since it’s difficult to predict what viruses will do.  I like that this isn’t just Pandemic Yahtzee, but really seems to be working hard to make the game feel like Pandemic.  So it’s one I’m very interested in playing.

And that’s the preview!  Spiel is going to be fun this year…wish I was going to be there.  Thanks for reading!


Back in August, I wrote about Bait Games, aka games you can use to bring people to the table.  In September, I wrote about Gateway Games, aka games you can use to introduce people to the hobby.  This month, I’m going to look at Next Step Games, aka games for people who are starting to move into more complex games but aren’t quite ready for the heaviest games of the hobby.  This is a fairly nebulous category, and there’s a lot that could be included.  Here are my eleven suggestions.

image by BGG user a_traveler

image by BGG user a_traveler

7 Wonders is a 2010 game designed by Antoine Bauza and published by Repos Productions.  The game is a 2-7 player civilization building that utilizes card drafting as its main mechanism.  The game is played over three ages, and at the beginning of each age, you receive a hand of seven cards from that age.  You’ll select one of these cards, play it, and pass the remainder to the player on your left (or right in Age II).  Once everyone has played six cards, the age ends.  After the third age, the player with the most points wins.

There are seven different types of cards in the game, and each has its own unique flair.  The brown and gray cards are resources that you use to pay for other cards.  You can also pay two coins to a player on your left or right to use one of their resources.  The gold cards usually have to do with money – giving you more, or a discount on resources from your neighbors, or even giving you points.  The blue cards are straight point cards.  The red cards are military, and at the end of each age, military strength is added.  If you defeat your neighbor in military conflict, you get points.  If you lose, you lose a point.  If you tie, nothing happens.  The green cards are science cards, and give you points based on the sets you create.  Finally, the purple cards (which only appear in Age III) are guilds that give you a special way to earn points, often using items belonging to your neighbors.

Gameplay in 7 Wonders is extremely easy.  It’s the variety within the cards that, I think, pushes this game into next step range.  There are a lot of symbols to take in, and a new player to the hobby won’t necessarily be able to process everything going on.  Strategies may be beyond them, and there’s some confusing concepts – you’re ONLY competing with your neighbors, scoring is kind of wonky, and how to pay for cards may be baffling.  But for a player with some experience, this game is a very good next step into the wider world of gaming.

image by BGG user sparky123180

image by BGG user sparky123180

Cosmic Encounter originally came out in 1977, published by Eon and designed by Bill Eberle, Peter Olotka, Bill Norton, and Jack Kittredge.  The current version was initially published by Fantasy Flight in 2008.  In the game, players are different races from across the galaxy that are competing to be the first to place five foreign colonies.  On your turn, you draw a card from the fate deck that lets you know who you’re attacking.  After you dedicate ships, each player can ask for allies.  Players then choose a combat card from their hand and reveal, with the higher number winning.  Every player on a winning attack side lands a foreign colony on the attacked planet.  Every ally on a winning defense side gets a reward in the form of cards or ships.  Every losing player loses their ships to the warp.  If you win your first encounter, you get a second (but that’s it).  Victory is awarded to the first player(s) to land five colonies.

The big thing that really pushes Cosmic Encounter into next step territory is the racial abilities.  Each race has its own special powers, and is able to bend the rules accordingly.  The secret to the game is figuring out how best to use your power, as well as how to manipulate your opponents.  It’s a strong negotiation game.  There’s a lot of luck and randomness in the card draw, but shrewd play can mitigate that.  The game is a lot of fun, and not overly complicated.  It can be tough to grasp for a new player, so I’d definitely wait until they’ve had some extra experience.

image by BGG user Purple

image by BGG user Purple

Galaxy Trucker was initially published in 2007 by Czech Games Editions, and was designed by Vlaada Chvátil.    It’s a 2-4 player game that is all about building ships and trying not to die.  The game plays over three rounds, and each round has two parts – build and journey.  The build phase involves grabbing parts from the center and trying to fit it into place on your ship.  There are cabins for astronauts, life support for aliens, cargo holds for goods, cannons for defense, engines for speed, batteries for power, and shields for protection.  Once building is done, you enter the journey phase.  This consists of flipping over cards one at a time and resolving them.  You could find a planet full of goods you can pick up and sell at the end of your journey.  You could find an abandoned ship that could get you money.  You could find an abandoned station that could get you goods.  You could hit open space, allowing you to fire your engines and try to pull ahead in the race.  You could hit a meteor storm, which could damage your ship.  You could meet pirates, or slavers, or smugglers, all of which are really bad for you if you don’t have enough cannons.  You could enter a combat zone, which will be trouble if you are in last place in particular stats.  You could also find other special events that are never any good.

If you make it to the end of your journey, you get money based on what place you finished, as well as money for goods and having the best looking ship.  You have to pay for any parts you lost.  After the third round, if you have any money left, you win.  If you have more money than anyone else, you are more of a winner.

I wouldn’t say that Galaxy Trucker is complex.  When building your ship, there’s a lot that you have to think about so that you don’t fall behind in certain categories.  But once you get it, the game is quite easy (to play – not easy to do well).  That initial barrier to entry is quite daunting, and that makes it an ideal next step for me – I think a completely inexperienced gamer will run screaming when confronted with this.  Even after you’ve played some, this type of game still might not be for you, but at least you’re more ready to face the challenge.

image by BGG user cambridgeganes

image by BGG user cambridgeganes

Glory to Rome is a game by Carl Chudyk and Cambridge Games Factory that came out in 2007.  An updated black box version was released in 2012 to respond to complaints about the art in the original.  The game is for 2-5 players, and is all about rebuilding Rome after the great fire of 64 AD.  On your turn, you either think (draw cards) or lead.  If you lead, you choose a card representing one of the six roles in the game (Patron, Laborer, Architect, Carpenter, Legionary, Merchant).  Each other player can then choose to think (draw cards) or follow (play a card matching the led role).  Each role allows you to do certain things.  Laborer allows you to take cards from the pool and use them as materials for building later.  Patron allows you to take cards from the pool and use them as clientele – each client gives you an extra action of that type when it is led by anyone.  The Architect and Carpenter each allow you to start a building from your hand or add materials to one that is already begun – Architect takes material from your stockpile, Carpenter takes material from your hand.  The Legionary allows you to demand materials from other players.  The Merchant allows you to put materials in your vault for points at the end of the game.

The game is over once the draw deck has been depleted, or all in town guid sites have been taken, or a building meets its end condition (there are two in the game).  The player who has made the most points from completed buildings and materials in their vault is the winner.

Glory to Rome is a fairly complex game.  It’s going to take a while to really get your head around it.  But once you’ve got it, it’s not that bad.  It does have a barrier to entry, and if you don’t have any experience in role selection games, you might struggle even more than an experienced person was.  I think it’s a great next step for someone looking to get into heavier games – if you can get the hang of this, you’re ready for anything.

image by BGG user tanis

image by BGG user tanis

Kingsburg first came out in 2007 (and I’m just now noticing how many games on this list came out in 2007 – must have been a good year for next step games).  It’s a 2-5 player game designed by Andrea Chiarvesio and Luca Iennaco that is published in the US by Fantasy Flight.  The game has a medieval fantasy theme where players are trying to build up their part of the kingdom in preparation for the hordes of baddies that will hit at the end of each year.  Each round represents one year of time, and contains three productive seasons.  Before each season, there’s a bonus phase where the player with the fewest buildings (or most in the summer) gets a bonus.  In each productive season, players roll their three dice, then take turns allocating them out to different advisors.  These advisors can give you points, resources, soldiers, or modifiers.  After the productive season, players can turn in resources to construct buildings, each of which gives a bonus to the player.  In the final season, some raider will attack, and players with enough defense will gain a small bonus.  Players with not enough defense suffer a larger penalty.

There are five total years in the game, and each year play out exactly the same, with the raiders gaining in strength each time.  After the fifth year, the player with the most points is the winner.

The thing that makes Kingsburg a good next step game for me is the dice allocation process.  It can be a little daunting to try to decide where you’re going to place your dice – am I going to use the 3 and the 4 to influence the 7, or should I use the 3 this turn and the 4 next time?  The game is not complex, there’s just a lot going on.  I have seen this used as a gateway game with some success.  However, I tend to see it more as a good next step game to open up doors for more complexity.

image by BGG user Ceryon

image by BGG user Ceryon

Notre Dame came out in 2007 (here’s another one!).  It was designed by Stefan Feld and was published by ales.  Players are turn-of-the-15th-century Parisians competing for influence and prosperity.  The game lasts for nine rounds.  At the start of each round, players will draw three cards from their personal deck, choose one, and pass the other two.  They choose one of those passed to keep, then pass the other, keeping the final one they get passed.  Players then take turns playing one card, which corresponds to an action on their borough.  They will end up playing two cards, with the third not being used.  The actions you can take include taking cubes from your supply, gaining coins, or gaining points.  You can also try to reduce the rat track (plague is a serious problem in this game), move a caravan around the board for extra points, or make a contribution to Notre Dame for extra prosperity.

At the end of each round, each player has the opportunity to hire one personality.  After this, rat tracks advance.  If your rat track gets too high, you end up losing points and cubes.  After nine total rounds, the player with the most points wins.

I love Notre Dame as a next step game.  It is a little complex to introduce to newbies (in my innocence, I tried it once – never again), but not so complicated that intermediate players can’t get it.  It also serves as a nice gateway to some of the heavier Stefan Feld games since it has numerous ways to get points, pain from the rats, and (let’s be honest) a pointless theme.  But it’s one of my favorites, and I think it should be sought out.  Unfortunately, I think it’s currently out of print, but I would imagine that it will be back, particularly the current interest in all things Feld.

image by BGG user Aarontu

image by BGG user Aarontu

Power Grid is a 2004 game designed by Friedemann Friese and published in the US by Rio Grande.  In the game, you are trying to supply as many cities with power as possible.  Each round of the game follows a certain sequence.  First, there is an auction for power plants.  Each power plant is powered by a different resource and can power a certain number of cities.  Once each player has gotten a power plant (or passed), players take turns buying resources.  This is done in reverse order – last place goes first.  After this, each player may build, adding their buildings to cities around the board.  The final thing that happens in a round is that you turn in resources to power your plants and your cities, collecting money based on the number of cities you powered.  When one player has 17 cities in their network, the game is over, and the player who can power the most cities wins.

This is a game that uses route building, resource management, and auctions to accomplish its goal.  It’s usually a pretty tight game – the catch-up mechanism that allows last place to go first keeps anyone from running away with it.  It usually takes a few plays to really grasp the strategy, but it’s all fairly straightforward.  I think it’s a little advanced for the new player, but certainly not the most complicated game out there.

image by BGG user Werbaer

image by BGG user Werbaer

Puerto Rico first came out in 2002 from ales and designer Andreas Seyfarth.  It’s a 3-5 player game where you are trying to build up your settlement in Puerto Rico.  In the game players take turns being the governor.  The governor is the first to choose a role and carry out its effects.  All other players then get to carry out the role’s effects, though they do not get the same bonus as the chooser.  Once the role has been resolved, another player chooses a role.  This continues until all players have chosen a role,, at which point the governor passes and everyone returns their roles for a new round.

There are seven different roles in the game.  The settler allows you to add a plantation tile (or a quarry if you chose the role).  The mayor allows you to gain colonists to work on your plantations.  The builder lets you purchase buildings that will give you points and bonus abilities.  The craftsman produces goods at occupied plantations that also have an occupied production building.  The trader allows you to trade goods for money.  The captain allows you to ship goods for points.  The prospector gives you free money, and no one else can take that action – it’s effectively a pass with a cash bonus.

When the colonists run out, or when someone has maxed out their buildings, or when the VP chips run out, the game is over.  The player with the most points wins.

I’m mostly including this game because it was my next step game.  Shortly after I discovered Settlers of Catan and the wider world of gaming, I started looking around for what other games I should add to my collection.  Puerto Rico was number one at BGG at the time, so it was a natural choice.  I got it, learned it, and loved it.  I still do – I think it’s a model of clean game design and a classic Euro.  I know there are complaints that people have “solved it”, but that’s not the crowd I want to play with.  I think it’s a great next step game to open someone’s eyes to the broader world of gaming outside of what they already know.

image aby BGG user Siegfried

image aby BGG user Siegfried

Seasons was a 2012 release from Libellud and designer Régis Bonnessée.  This 2-4 player game is about a magical competition where players are trying to conjure up crystals.  The game begins with a card draft – each player has a hand of nine cards, selects one, and passes the rest.  From the eight they receive, they select one and pass the rest.  This continues until you have kept nine cards.  You will then divide the cards into three three-card stacks – one for year one, one for year two, and one for year three.  Play then begins in the winter season of year one.  The first player rolls the winter dice, and chooses one to keep.  All other players also choose one to keep.  There will be one left over.

After everyone has chosen a die, the players individually resolve their turn.  Dice will allow you to collect crystals, collect energy, draw a card, gain crystals, increase summoning power, and/or transmute energy into points.  You can also summon cards on your turn, but only if your summoning gauge allows you to.  After everyone has taken a turn, check the leftover die to see how far the season track advances.  If the season remains the same, the next player rerolls the current season dice.  If the season changes, the next season’s dice are rolled.  If the year changes, players will take their next stack of cards into their hand.  After the third year, the game is over and the player with the most crystals wins.

I notice that this is the third game on this list that uses drafting as a mechanism.  I think drafting is a more advanced mechanism because, in order to do it well, you need to know how the cards work and how to make them work together.  This takes a play or two in Seasons to really get the hang of, but it’s not terribly difficult once you’ve got it.  The game also includes a dice drafting mechanism that makes it really fun.  I think this is a great next step game that can even be graded in its next-stepness – there are three levels of play, and you can choose which one suits your group the best (including a no-draft variant with the cards).

image by BGG user Mavericius

image by BGG user Mavericius

Suburbia was published in 2012 by Bezier Games.  It wa designed by Ted Alspach.  This game is all about building a community into a major metropolis.  The game is for 2-4 players (with a solo variant), and involves placing hexagonal tiles in your personal area.  On your turn, you buy a tile from the market.  This can be a park, school, factory, or one of the tiles that will be up for purchase.  You can also always take a tile and flip it over to place it as a lake for free.  Each tile you place will have an effect on your income and/or reputation.  At the end of your turn, you collect or pay money based on where your income marker is, and then adjust your population based on reputation.  As you increase population, you’ll be crossing red lines that reduce your income and population by one.  This serves to keep someone from running away with the game.  The market then adjusts – if the cheapest tile wasn’t taken, it gets discarded, then all other tiles are shifted down and new ones are drawn for the expensive end.

The game ends when the “1 More Round” tile is revealed.  Finish the current round, then play one more round beginning with the start player.  Players will then check their secret objectives, as well as the main objectives to score bonus population.  The player with the highest population at the end of the game is the winner.

On the surface, Suburbia is a pretty simple game.  Buy a tile, place it in your neighborhood, collect.  The thing that ups the complexity when compared to a tile-laying game like Carassonne is that every tile does something unique, and many of the tiles do something different based on what is adjacent to them.  So you have to think a lot harder about what you’ll take and where you’ll go, or you’ll end up with a negative income and a slowly decreasing population, and there will be nothing you can do about it.  The strategy in the game is pretty complex despite the fairly simple gameplay, so that’s why I think it makes a good next step game.

image by BGG user vittorioso

image by BGG user vittorioso

The last game on this list is Village.  Initially published in 2011, this Inka and Markus Brand design from eggertspiele won the Kennerspiel des Jahres in 2012.  It’s a worker placement game where you are putting workers in various areas to put your family members.  Once at an action space, you take a cube so you can take advantage of that space’s benefits –  harvest grain, grow your family, sell goods at the market, craft items, advance in the council chamber, travel to distant lands, or go to church.  When all cubes have been taken from the action spaces on the board (including plague cubes), the round ends.  But this is not a game where your meeples exist in a time vacuum.  Time passes, and some of your family members will die throughout the game.  Hopefully, they will be able to be entered into the Village Chronicle and not just buried in an unmarked grave behind the church.  When the Village Chronicle or graveyard is full, the game ends immediately, and the player with the most points is the winner.

Village has a number of novel mechanisms, including the taking away of cubes in order to do things and the cycling of your workers.  It uses some standard worker placement rules, but uses them in a very fresh and different way.  The game is not overly complex, but definitely more of a thinker than, say, Lords of Waterdeep.  That, to me, makes is a really good next step game.

So there’s my list.  As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts – what are some games you like to use as the next step?  Let me know, and thanks for reading!

A quick review for you today:

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

AttrAction is a 2012 game that was designed by Jeff Glickman, and published by R&R Games.  The game is for 2-5 players, and lasts 10 minutes (if that).  The game consists of 25 magnets and a bag.  All you do to set up is scatter the magnets around a playing surface, each one far enough from any other so that they don’t accidentally stick together.

On your turn, you take one magnet from your hand.  If you have none in your hand, you can use one one the table.  Flick it towards any other magnets on the table.  If any magnets stick together as a result of this flick, you claim them (if two clusters are created, you only get one).  Once all magnets have been claimed, you see who has the most.  They win.  You can play as many games of this in a row as you want.  And you will.

COMPONENTS: The only component in this game, really, is the magnets.  The bag is just a carrying case.  The magnets are generally round, though kind of irregularly shaped.  And they are super strong.  When they cluster together, you know it because they make a very loud CLICK.  They also will sometimes repel each other, which can be maddening and a lot of fun.

THEME: The only theme I can find here is “how magnets work.”

MECHANICS: This is a dexterity game.  All you’re doing is flicking magnets around and trying to create clusters.  In a sense, it’s a set collection game since you’re going for having the most magnets, but that’s reaching.  It’s all about the flicking.

STRATEGY LEVEL: There’s no real strategy here.  Try to collect as many magnets as you can.  Flicking hard doesn’t always work since the magnets will repel if the wrong side is out.  There might be some strategy in how you line up your shots, but really it comes down to skill.  And some luck.

ACCESSIBILITY: This game could not be easier.  I wouldn’t play with little kids because they might eat the magnets.  However, I would play with just about anyone else.  It’s a fantastic bait game.

REPLAYABILITY: This game is so fast, you’ll knock out several rounds in a row without even noticing.  It’s very replayable, primarily because the magnets are so cool and the game is so easy.

SCALABILITY: This game is for 2-5 players, though the number of magnets per person goes down the more people you have.  I see no reason why you couldn’t just get several sets and play with as many people as you want to – except there might be a lot of waiting around if you have 50 people playing with 10 sets.

FOOTPRINT: This game takes up hardly any room in storage, but will take up a whole table in play.  I wouldn’t play on a table where you’re worried about scratches.  You also should be careful about WHERE you store it.

LEGACY: I don’t know a whole lot of magnetic games.  This and Rattlesnake, that’s all I know of.  I haven’t played Rattlesnake, so this is the best magnetic game I’ve played.

IS IT BUZZWORTHY? Yes.  It’s a lot of fun.  The magnets are awesome, and the game is easy enough that anyone can play it.  There’s a sequel, Hearts of AttrAction, that has heart shaped magnets.  Otherwise, it’s the same thing.

I told you this would be a short one.  Thanks for reading!

We interrupt your regularly scheduled blog for a blatantly self-congratulatory post.

On October 4, 2010, this blog was born.  That means that today, the blog is four years old.  It’s been my tradition since Year One to mark this occasion with a review of where Boards and Bees has gone in the last year.

Since my last annual review, I’ve published 99 posts, making it my second most prolific year.  This includes 39 reviews, 28 game previews, 11 editions of The Eleven, 9 Kickstarter Blitzes, 4 posts about my journey into NaGaDeMon, 3 miscellaneous posts, 2 con previews, 2 Spiel des Jahres previews, and a post-holiday gift guide.  Views have increased for me this year by 50%, which is always good to see.

The big thing that happened to the blog this year is that it almost imploded.  In November, I kind of burned out.  I had been working on game previews and catching up with all the Essen stuff that was coming out, and I found that I just didn’t care anymore.  A lot of the games I write about are ones I won’t get to play, and I found that I was starting to write about stuff I didn’t care anything about.  So I ended up trashing the post I was working on and disappearing for a while.  I used the time to rethink what I was doing, and ended up reworking my vision for the blog.

One thing I decided that I wanted to do was more reviews.  So, I set a goal of 50 reviews for the year.  I’ve been doing one a week, and have kept to the schedule pretty well – 39 down so far, 11 to go.  Most of the reviews have just been of games in my collection, though I have done a few of games I’ve played and enjoyed.  I also have done a couple that were sent to me (thanks again to Tom Jolly and Level 99 Games).  As such, the number of previews I was doing in the form of Game Buzz drastically decreased – 28 over the last 12 months versus 71 from the previous 12.  That’s not to say I wasn’t doing plenty of previews – I started doing a monthly Kickstarter Blitz to talk about games currently funding.  This turned out to be a pretty big thing for the blog.  Instead of focusing my energies into an in-depth rules explanation of one game I may or may not turn out to be interested in, I can just do a surface review of a bunch of games that people might want to look deeper into.  This format has started to creep into my Game Buzz posts – recently, I’ve been trying to cover a couple of games at a time in my Game Buzz posts.

Within the reviews, I’ve pretty much used the same format – a brief overview followed by analysis of several relevant categories.  I wanted to experiment with some other review styles, but I’ve only done two that were outside the box – my review of The Duke was done in a courtroom style, and I did a SHOWDOWN! comparison of Pizza Box Football and 1st & Goal.  Part of this is because I’m having to do reviews too quickly for me to be terribly creative.  One a week doesn’t lend itself to new styles without some advance preparation.  I’ve been trying to do another Meeple’s Court review for Rampage, but my ideas aren’t working, so that’s on hold for a while.  In 2015, I plan to scale back the reviews, maybe to two a month.  This will let me think some more about what I’m doing.

The Eleven has been continuing pretty well.  It continues to be a good series for me.  I’m currently in the middle of a miniseries I’m unofficially calling “How to Make a Gamer” which will get me through the rest of the year.  I do plan on having Season Three beginning in January – still have plenty of ideas for lists.  And I plan to continue the Kickstarter Blitz for a while – it’s turning out to be a lot of work, but it’s providing me some data on how quickly projects are being released.  Or not, as the case may be.

As for what else the future holds – I’m not sure.  I’ll probably take a couple of weeks off in December again to recharge.  I’ve thought about trying to do some more session reports, and maybe some interviews.  I also had an idea for a new series, but it will take some coordination with another person, so I don’t know if it will happen.  If you have any ideas for features you’d like to see, please let me know.

One thing I like to do is look back over the year that was and add some new posts to my Hall of Fame.  In order to make the Hall of Fame, you have to be among the top 11 most viewed posts of the year that isn’t already in the Hall.  You can see the 33 previous additions to the Hall by clicking on the links for Year One, Year Two, and Year Three.  But without further ado, here are the newest entries:

11. Eleven Dexterity Games (February 11, 2014)

image by BGG user toulouse

image by BGG user toulouse

The only appearance of The Eleven on this year’s list.  This gathered a bunch of dexterity games that I have played and like a lot into one list.  Dexterity games continue to be an underappreciated genre, and I think the popularity of this list proves that it’s a group of games that should be taken more seriously.  Another note about this list – I accidentally included twelve games.  I caught this just before it published, but rather than scrap something, I made Rampage a bonus twelfth item.

10. Steam Park (November 5, 2013)

image by BGG user TheSeer

image by BGG user TheSeer

This game was getting a lot of buzz from people thinking it should have been nominated for the Spiel des Jahres this year, or at least should have gotten a recommendation.  Having not played it yet, I can’t really speak to that.  However, I did think that it looked interesting then, and still would like to try it sometime.  Trying to shoehorn a steampunk theme into an amusement park game seems silly, but the game does seem really solid.

9. Tash-Kalar: Arena of Legends (October 25, 2013)

image by BGG user kreten

image by BGG user kreten

Of course, I am a complete Vlaada Chvátil fanboy, so I was very excited then.  I am still very excited to try this game, I just haven’t been able to yet.  The one person I know who has a copy hasn’t been to our game night in a long time.  Now there’s a second edition coming out with upgraded components, so maybe I still have a chance.  This did seem to be a polarizing game – people either loved it or hated it – but I still think it looks pretty great.

8. Rampage (September 1, 2013)

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

This dexterity game (soon to be renamed Terror in Meeple City) is all about destruction.  You flick monsters around and eat meeples.  It’s a blast.  Despite the convoluted scoring and debates over licensing, the game has become pretty popular.  I own my own copy now, and enjoy it a lot.  It’s a lot of work to set up, but a lot of fun to break down.

7. Coup (May 2, 2013)

image by BGG user T Worthington

image by BGG user T Worthington

Indie Boards & Cards’ reprint of this deduction microgame was rethemed in their popular Resistance universe.  It was very successful, even spawning some expansions.  I’ve gotten to play this once, and thought it was decent enough.  It plays quickly, so the elimination aspect isn’t a big deal.  It is pretty heavily dependent on luck, but then, so is Resistance.

6. SHOWDOWN! Ultimate Werewolf vs. The Resistance vs. Shadow Hunters (November 30, 2012)

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

The oldest item on this list.  This was my third SHOWDOWN!, and the first one with three competitors.  I stand by my pronouncement that Shadow Hunters is the best game of the three, but people wanting to compare The Resistance and Ultimate Werewolf is probably why it lands on this list.

5. Two Rooms and a Boom (July 31, 2013)

image by BGG user seanmccoy

image by BGG user seanmccoy

This social deduction game probably would have fit well into the SHOWDOWN listed above.  I probably still would have given it to Shadow Hunters, but 2 Rooms would have beaten out The Resistance and Ultimate Werewolf, in my estimation.  It’s still very dependent on luck, but I think the sheer variety and ability to play with massive amounts of people (and no elimination) is a big draw.  The Kickstarter campaign that ran last fall should be fulfilled by November.

4. Dead of Winter (February 7, 2014)

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

There hasn’t been a game in a while that was more anticipated than Dead of Winter.  It was originally supposed to come out last winter, but got delayed and was finally released in August.  I’ve played it twice now, and it truly is the best zombie game I’ve ever played.  Definitely worth all the hype.  Expect a review soon.

3. Pandemic: In the Lab (August 22, 2013)

image by BGG user Happykali

image by BGG user Happykali

This second expansion for Pandemic made me upset since it was only released to be compatible with the new edition.  It does look good, and I would play it if presented with the opportunity.  I just wish they hadn’t brushed off the first edition fans so easily.

2. Marvel Dice Masters: Avengers vs. X-Men (March 8, 2014)


The most recent item on this list.  Quarriors was a success for WizKids, but I think a lot of people were skeptical of taking the system and transforming it into a collectible game.  Those doubts were cast aside when the game sold out immediately, and WizKids had to order several more print runs to satisfy the demand.  It’s not exactly like Quarriors, and has some huge fans out there already.  I haven’t played it, but maybe someday.

1. Mascarade (September 9, 2013)

image by BGG user faidutti

image by BGG user faidutti

My most viewed post of the last year, and also my fifth most viewed post of all time.  I think one reason it went over so big is that it was widely unavailable for a long time.  It’s a party game that offers a lot of unknowns, and people have been responding to it.  I’ve played once, and enjoyed it.  It’s something I think my wife would really like.

It’s nice to be able to review these stats every year and see how much the blog has grown.  I’m looking forward to trying out some new stuff in the year ahead, and I hope you’ll join me.  Thanks for reading!

PS: For the record, here is the complete list of my 11 most viewed posts of all time.

  1. 7 Wonders Wonder Pack (4/18/13)
  2. Dominion: Prosperity (11/17/10)
  3. Small World Underground (6/17/11)
  4. Eleven Artists You Should Know (8/11/13)
  5. Mascarade (9/9/13)
  6. The Hunger Games: District 12 Strategy Game (3/12/12)
  7. Pandemic: In the Lab (8/22/13)
  8. The Future of Dominion (4/1/11)
  9. Marvel Dice Masters: Avengers vs. X-Men (3/8/14)
  10. Dominion: Cornucopia (6/13/11)
  11. Dead of Winter (2/7/14)

Review time!

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

Sheriff of Nottingham is a game that was originally published as Hart an der Grenze by KOSMOS in 2006.  This Sérgio Halaban/André Zatz design was recently republished by Arcane Wonders, with Bryan Pope developing it.  The game is part of the Dice Tower Essentials line – actually, it currently IS the Dice Tower Essentials line.  The game is for 3-5 players and lasts around an hour.  In the game, players take turns as the Sheriff, attempting to catch smugglers trying to sneak illegal wares into Nottingham.  However, you’re also very corrupt and susceptible to bribes.

The game comes with 216 cards, 110 coins, a sheriff marker, five merchant stands, and five bags.  Each player begins each round with six cards.  Each round, a different player will be the Sheriff and all others will be merchants.  Merchants may first discard some cards and draw new ones (either from the discard piles or draw stack), then load their bags with 1-5 cards.  You give your bag to the Sheriff and tell them what is inside – three chickens, four apples, etc.  You must tell the Sheriff the correct number of cards, and you must tell the Sheriff one and only one type of good.  So you may have three chickens and two apples in the bag, but you can say five chickens.  Or five apples.  Or five bread.  Lying is encouraged in the game.

The Sheriff then has a decision.  He can choose to send you on your way, meaning that you put all goods from the bag in your merchant stand.  This means everyone will know if you lied – legal goods are placed face up, and contraband items are placed face down.  The Sheriff can also challenge your bag, meaning that he doesn’t think you’re being honest.  At this point, you can try to negotiate.  Offer bribes, try to reason, call his bluff, whatever.  On another player’s turn, you can still get in on the action to try to sway the Sheriff one way or another.

If the Sheriff takes a bribe from you, he must return your bag – he can’t take your money AND search your bag.  He’s corrupt, but not THAT corrupt.  However, if he chooses to search your bag, one of two things can happen.  Either you were lying, which means you pay him the penalty for all goods you were dishonest about (they get discarded and you keep all goods you told the truth about); or you were telling the truth, which means HE pays YOU the penalty for all goods in your bag.

After each player has been the Sheriff twice (three times in a three-player game), tally up your points.  Bonuses are awarded for the most and second most in each legal good type.  The player with the most points wins.

COMPONENTS: There are a lot of cards in this game.  216 goods, including 144 legal goods, 60 contraband goods, and 12 royal goods (which are still contraband).  A lot of these cards are duplicates, and this is by design.  I have heard complaints that there are too many cards in the game, but I disagree – in the five-player game I played, we almost (but not quite) went through every card in the game.

The bags are made of a felt type material, and look like little envelopes.  They are just big enough to fit all of your cards, and have little plastic clasps to snap them closes.  When playing, I was in constant fear of ripping one of them off, but it didn’t happen.  I don’t know how likely it is, just exercise caution.

The cardboard in the game is good quality – good coins, good Sheriff marker.  The game also comes with a plastic insert to organize your discard piles.  There are two discard piles, one kept on each side of the main draw pile.  You can discard into either pile, and you can draw from any of the piles.  The only caveat is that you must always draw the top card.  If there’s an apple you want sitting under a silk you do not want, you have to take the silk first.  While ultimately unnecessary, I would say that the insert really helps to keep everything organized in a game that might become a mess without care.

To sum up – no complaints at all from me about the quality of components.  They’re all top notch.

THEME: Sheriff of Nottingham has a fairly weak connection to its theme.  The Robin Hood mythos is very rich and highly prevalent in popular culture, but this game doesn’t really address it that much.  Sure, the Sheriff is corrupt, that works.  But it really could have been any corrupt official (in the original, you’re a border agent).  The art on the cards keeps a connection with a marketplace, and that is all good thematically.  It’s just that not much is done with the story of the Sheriff.  Robin Hood isn’t even in the game (though one of the merchants could be Robin).

On the other hand, this is a game that definitely lends itself to roleplaying.  You can adopt a character as the Sheriff.  You can use your character as a merchant as you try to convince the Sheriff of what’s in your bag.  So in that sense, the theme is good.  I think Nottingham was chosen for its familiarity, it just implies more story than is present in the box.

MECHANICS: The major mechanism in play during Sheriff of Nottingham is negotiation.  It is almost pure negotiation – you have to use whatever means necessary to convince the Sheriff to let your bag go pass.  Of course, there are times you do not want the Sheriff to pass you over – i.e., your bag is full of legal goods you were honest about.  In this case, you may want to try to convince the Sheriff indirectly to open your bag – get some extra cash on the side.  This push and pull makes the game very interesting – if it was just a case of the Sheriff opening or not opening your bag, the game would be kind of dull.  But since the Sheriff also has something to lose, the game becomes much more tense.

Once you get your goods into the market, the game is a set collection game as player try to have the most (or second most) of a type.  And so the discard and draw at the beginning of each round becomes extra important as you are trying to seed your hand with those cards that will help you get the best sets.  But that is really secondary to trying to see just how much you can sneak past the Sheriff.  The contraband offers more risk, but much higher rewards.  Also, a number of the contraband goods give you special abilities – for example, there is one that allows you to force someone else to discard goods from their market.  There’s another that you WANT the Sheriff to find because he will have to pay you anyway.

Mechanically speaking, this is a fairly simple game to understand how to play.  It’s the nuances of gameplay that make it interesting.

STRATEGY LEVEL: The big strategy point in this game is how you handle the negotiation aspects.  Are you going to lie through your teeth?  If so, how much?  Are you going to waste time bringing in apples when an opponent looks like they are going to run away with it?  How much contraband do you dare put in your bag?  How much will you use to bribe the Sheriff?  Are you going to try to convince him to open your own bag by trying to convince him to pass it over?

There is luck in the game as you get random cards at the start of each round.  However, this is mitigated by being able to discard and draw from face up or face down piles.  It’s also mitigated by the ability to lie.  Still, you will have to cope with the fact that you aren’t getting enough chickens to get even second place, or you’ve only got contraband in your hand.  That’s when you have to decide where to go next.  This makes the game quite strategic.

ACCESSIBILITY: As I’ve mentioned, this is a very easy game to learn.  The biggest barrier to entry, I think, is just the nature of the game.  It’s a game about lying.  You have to lie.  You will not do well if you JUST tell the truth during the game.  That’s not to say that it isn’t fun to tell the truth.  Telling the truth may get you some extra cash from the Sheriff, especially if you can convince him that you’re lying.  Which, I suppose, is lying about lying.  So if that bothers you, you should probably stay away.  If not, this game is a blast.

REPLAYABILITY: This is a game that has inherent replayability built into it.  The cards never change, but there is infinite opportunities for negotiation.  Because of different styles, every game plays out differently.  I’ve played twice now, and the first one featured a guy who seemed to get nothing but bread.  And he kept giving bread to the Sheriff.  And when he did, it would invariably be the truth – a lot of Sheriffs lost a lot of money that day.  In my second game, everyone was playing relatively honestly – not a whole lot of contraband came out.  However, one guy was very suspicious of everyone, and we had one round where he thought everyone else was lying.  We were all telling the truth, and he lost a lot of money.  These kinds of stories are going to come out of every game session, so there’s a lot of replayability.

SCALABILITY: This game plays from 3-5 players, but I tend to think that the more you have, the better.  I bet up to six would also be fun, though there aren’t pieces for it in the game.  Beyond that, the game might get a little long – it’s 8-10 rounds now as it is.  I haven’t played with three, but I hear that it’s more fun when you have more people.  Which makes sense to me.

FOOTPRINT: Sheriff of Nottingham doesn’t take up a whole lot of space.  You need room for your market stand, and to lay out the goods you have collected next to it.  The discard pile and draw pile are compact with the insert included.  But that’s all the table space you need.

LEGACY: Negotiation offers a gaming experience unlike any other – it’s a form of human interaction that you just can’t get from computers.  And this is one of the best negotiation games I have played.  The genre makes me nervous since I don’t see myself as a good negotiator.  But I usually have fun with them.

IS IT BUZZWORTHY? Yes.  If you don’t have a problem with the lying aspect, give it a try.  It’s a lot of fun, and I look forward to getting to play again.  Thanks for reading!


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