Thoughts From The Gameroom

The ramblings of a Euro-gamer from South Dakota

Archive for the ‘board games’ Category

My Newest Fascination

Posted by sodaklady on September 18, 2015

I know I’ve been gone from here for a long time but I’m still playing games–it’s just that nothing has wowed me enough to trouble writing about it. Until now.

Fretwork owl No, not my new fascination with the scroll saw. This is a BOARD GAME blog!

I’m talking about Kickstarter, the crowdfunding site where many new and innovative board games can be found. For the last couple of years, I was feeling that I had seen all I needed to in the board game community, either because it felt too much like the same old thing or it didn’t interest me more than games I already own. Then I found the fun in being part of a Kickstarter campaign, trying out a homemade Print & Play version, commenting on the rules, waiting and watching to see if and when the goal(s) would be met. It’s all very exciting and a little bit addictive.

I’ve seen some new ideas (and clever twists on old ones) come out of the minds of dedicated board gamers who would otherwise not have their games see the light of day. I like supporting these young visionaries even though I know it will be months before I have a game in hand to play–and in some cases, never, because it can be a bit of a gamble. Disappointment is part of the package deal sometimes.

My most recent backing is for Masamune: Shining Forge Academy.  This is a deck-builder where the deck you’re building will be used to fend off attacks in a tower-defense form of play. The art style of the game is Anime and it’s fabulous–beautiful with a dash of cute. Here’s part of the description to whet your appetite:

Masamune is a game for two to four players, and takes place over the course of an academic year at Masamune Shining Forge Academy. As a pupil at Masamune Shining Forge Academy, you and your opponents will start the game with identical 12-card decks. Over the course of the game, you will forge sentient weapons called Chibis and teach them powerful special techniques to defend the Academy from attacking monsters. Alternatively, you can use Chibis to gain more powerful cards and bolster your deck.

If you have chosen to ignore the crowdfunding bandwagon, I understand–it involves risk and patience. Funny, I don’t think of myself as a risk-taker and I definitely don’t qualify as a patient person, but there you have it: sometimes you jump feet first into something because it touches you in a way nothing else does. I’m presently waiting for my copy of Tiny Epic Galaxies to arrive and it’s like Christmas a couple of months early.


Posted in board games, Game-related Thoughts | Tagged: , , | 3 Comments »


Posted by sodaklady on March 28, 2014

Remember when I wrote about keeping Memoir ’44 set up on our class-top table, ready for play whenever we were? Our two cats were disconcerted with the glass top so never even thought about bothering it.  Fast forward to the present day and a new kitty, R.J., who is just turning 2 and full of pent-up, where-the-hell-is-spring energy. She is NOT afraid of falling through a piece of glass and has discovered how much fun army men are.

A game of Memoir plus the Air Pack expansion was set up, ready for the Utah Beach battle. It had been patiently waiting for several days when I stepped on something barefooted and, on retrieving said something, found it to be an artillery piece! And it had been slightly chewed. Damn. When I set it back in its bunker, I also saw I had a man missing. O.k., where is he? Did he run away, the coward? Or had he been taken prisoner when he stepped out to take care of some personal hygiene?

Hoping it was just a fluke and she was bored with them, I put the artillery piece back.

I know you’re thinking what a dumb thing to do, and you would be right. The next day, just before bed, I noticed the board again was missing artillery–this time, both of them. When I hunted around the general vicinity, I found nothing but two tiny wheels lying on the carpet like limbs torn from a scarecrow. I set them on the board like an homage to their fallen body and went to bed. Only after I was in bed did I consider the one piece on the board that was more valuable than one man or one artillery piece…the Storch plane! No, she was having too much fun with the man and machine to see the plane hanging over the airfield in its stand. It will be alright.

Again, I was proven to be a complete imbecile. It was indeed gone from the battlefield when I checked the next morning. Right!! We need to find these missing pieces, especially the one-and-only-one Storch. Flashlight and yardstick in hand, I started with the one inch gap under the couch. This is a favorite toy accessory, in case you don’t know cats. Push something into hiding, then fish it out again; repeat until you push it too far to reach then find something else to play with. Ah, there’s the missing man and an artillery piece. But I couldn’t see too far and, of course, I had help…R. J. wanting to see which of her toys I had found. Hmm, a flash drive. Wonder how long that has been under here?

Time to move on to phase 2 because I WILL find the Storch! Now this couch is a sleeper sofa, and nearly as heavy as a real artillery piece so I wasn’t going to try moving it. That means it’s come to opening this beast which hasn’t been opened in probably 20 years. Dust bunnies call the area hiding just under the couch back Nirvana.

After vacuuming and fighting to get the bed unfolded, I was ecstatic to find the second artillery piece and the Storch, still in its stand! I felt like throwing a ticker tape parade but I’d already done enough cleaning up on this matter. So I just put the plane in the box for safe-keeping, and laid a light piece of sheeting over the rest of the board, held down with some weightier nicknacks. And crossed my fingers.

Only one thing remained to do. Get the cat out from under the couch so I could put the bed back.

Utah Beach scenario restored but notice the two poor little wheels lying next to the artillery pieces. Sad.

Utah Beach scenario restored but notice the two poor little wheels lying next to the artillery pieces. Sad.



Posted in board games, Humor | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

Food For Thought: Gaming With A 10-year-old Non-gamer

Posted by sodaklady on November 21, 2013

My daughter is dating a man with a 10-year-old son whose gaming experience, aside from video games, consists of Sequence. At least he has experience using his mind, and is learning gaming etiquette such as cheating is not allowed and how to be a graceful winner and loser.

Last weekend they were all to come over for the day but his dad unexpectedly had to work for a few hours so Cori brought Kaidan over and we showed him some games. I gazed with glazed eyes at all my gamer games, searching for some good choices for a youngster with no experience with such things. I finally grabbed Blokus Trigon and Tsuro, easy to teach, easy to understand.

Image by ealdrich


Image by merc007



These both turned out to be a good match and were played twice each.

The concept of Blokus tiles being placed only at points of the triangles caused no trouble once he saw it in action. We encouraged him to use his most “obnoxious” pieces (Cori’s term) early, and helped with finding spots towards the end.

Tsuro worried me at first since you’re given 3 tiles to choose from and I was afraid it would slow him down unbearably, but it didn’t. But I don’t think he was thinking ahead as we gamers are wont to do and that’s fine for a beginner. I chose to force him off the board earlier than I needed to, testing an important gaming skill–losing gracefully. He didn’t seem to mind and stayed engaged while Cori and I finished the game. He wanted to try again and this time, he and Cori tied, both facing the empty space once all the tiles were laid. Well done!

He wanted to see what else I had so back to the game shelf to find something else appropriate. Oh, yes, dice have not been rolled! I brought out Can’t Stop and Hey, That’s My Fish!  Can’t Stop is a game we’ve had since my kids were little so it was nice to see another generation pushing their luck. This game was also a hit and played twice, then again when his dad showed up. It is also the game that made me stop and realize the difference between a 10-year-old gamer and a 10-year-old non-gamer.

Image by Kirk Bauer

  It took Kaidan quite a while each time he rolled the dice to combine the four dice into two sets of two and come up with what numbers he could use that turn. At first I thought he just needed to work on his math skills but then it hit me: the pips are unfamiliar to a non-gamer. Whereas we look at the arrangement of little dots and immediately see “5”, he had to take the time to count them. How strange! You’d think they’d teach pips in school, wouldn’t you? 🙂


Hey, That’s My Fish! is a great family game, combining a spacial element with a simple movement system, and adding cute little penguins as well. Now if it would just set itself up!! It’s a simple game with enough depth to be a family game and a gamer’s filler game. No dice, no tricky corners to deal with, and no early elimination. We played twice and the second game was close.

Image by spearjr.

I hope he had a good enough time with these four games to be willing to play some more. This leads to me look at my game collection in a new light and since he isn’t experienced with these concepts, I can’t depend on the age suggestions on the boxes. Let me show you what I mean.

I chose two games from my collection, which seem like good candidates at first glance: Yspahan (ages 8+), and Aquaretto (a family friendly game) BTW, I don’t own Zooloretto which is why it isn’t up for consideration.

Yspahan sent up danger flags just from looking at the back of the box. Look at all the boards, each with choices to make and rules to remember.

There’s the main player board with special rules on where you can place your pieces. The Caravan track where you can score points, or give points to an opponent, so you have to balance the good with the bad. Under that is the main board used to decide which actions you will take. Lastly is the player’s personal board with buildings you can build for points and special abilities. Oh, and let’s not forget the cards you can acquire which also give you special abilities when used. This is just way too much for most 8-year-olds and even a lot for non-gaming adults. Heck, sometimes it makes MY head swim.

This is definitely out–not even on the list for the future.

Image by Gary James

Then there is Aquaretto, part of the Zooloretto family of family-friendly games but recommended for 10+ rather than the 8+ that Zooloretto states on the box.

On closer look at the rules, it seems like a game we could build up to, especially if we start with the parent card game, Coloretto, to acquire the skill to assess the loads on the trucks.

There are fewer areas to make choices in compared to Yspahan, but still plenty to keep track of for a new gamer, like managing your depot and watching other players’ zoos and depots. The hardest part, I think, would be seeing the best way to use your coins and where to place your workers. Thinking ahead to end-game scoring seems like something you acquire with experience so some of the workers won’t even make sense until he sees how they affect things a couple of times. I think 10+ is a fair recommendation provided the 10-year-old has had experience with such games.

For now, I hope the four games we’ve already played will see more play in the future. And I want to try Coloretto, Forbidden Island and Ticket To Ride as they seem the most likely next steps.

Posted in board games, Game Night, Game-related Thoughts | Tagged: , , , , , | 3 Comments »

The Agents

Posted by sodaklady on July 11, 2013

This blog has been the means for meeting new people on occasion and the most recent is Saar Shai. He wrote me asking if I’d like to try out the card game he’s working on which has a secret agents theme and dual purpose cards. He hit on two of my weaknesses: card games and cards with more than one way to use them. I said yes and was soon in possession of 90 cards and 8 pages of rules.

The Agents is a 2-5 player game which revolves around a secret agency that is breaking down so the agents need to band together in factions to survive. The theme is so well integrated into the game, you could tell a story about the events as they happen. I know this is important to a lot of gamers and I think those people will be pleasantly surprised at how well a simple deck of cards can handle theme.

The point cards, regular agents and Free Agents cards. Beautiful artwork in my opinion. Noir-ish.

The point cards, regular agents and Free Agents cards. Beautiful artwork in my opinion. Noir-ish.

The basic play of the game involves playing agents from your hand into factions which you share with your right- and left-hand opponents. With two players, there are two separate factions between you. The agent cards have abilities on the bottom and points  at the top. When you play an agent, it can be placed either facing you so that you an use its ability, or facing your opponent so you get the points. Whatever you face towards your opponent, he will get, so there is a balancing between making points and maneuverability within and between the factions.

The cards include 24 point cards which are dual sided with 1 point on the reverse side of 2 points, and 5 points opposite 10 points. This is an easy and efficient way to handle points for a card game, just be careful not to turn them over accidentally.

The 42 agent cards each have abilities and these will provide plenty of room for both planning and quick-thinking reactions to your opponents. The Master of Disguise lets you take an agent from a faction and replace it with one from your hand, the Undercover operative turns a non-adjacent agent, and the Gunner kills any non-adjacent agent but that’s o.k., because the Paramedic revives any agent. That’s just a sample of the 12 abilities on the regular agents. These agents can also award points in the form of 1/2 arrows along the sides of the cards. When the arrows are matched with another card the points go to the player the arrow points toward.

Along with the regular agents, we have Free Agents which do not belong to any faction but are played in the middle of the field then discarded. Each of the Free Agents also have points and abilities just like the regular agents but they are not limited to targeting your left or right hand opponent. There are 7 Free Agents including the Engineer who switches agents within the faction, the Interrogator who steals an agent from an opponent, the Hacker who turns an agent in your other faction, and the Sleeper who you can play at any time to prevent an action someone else played.

There are also Mission cards which will determine how the faction it is assigned to will score you points. There are 11 different missions such as Bloodbath, which will score you 3 points if there are 2 adjacent dead agents in faction; Reinforcement will net you 4 points if 2 agents of the same type are facing you; Virus where you steal points from other players; and Man Down which will award you points for every dead agent in the faction. Vicious, maybe but being a double naught agent is a dangerous game. (Nod to Jethro from The Beverly Hillbillies.)

On your turn you can do any two of four actions:  1. Play an agent, 2. Re-activating a Command on a card that is already on the table, 3. Buy an Agent or Mission card from the decks using points to do so, or 4. Switching Missions. I would rename Switching to Retiring Missions since that is essentially what you are doing, discarding a Mission from a faction or from your hand to draw a new one and put it in your hand. After playing a card, the ability of the agent is used, points are awarded if a Free Agent is played, then a second action is taken. At the end of your turn, you receive points from the factions and missions. Then the next player in clockwise rotation takes his turn. The first player to 40 points is the winner. Simple.

But don’t let “simple” fool you, this game has a lot going on within its simple rules, set up, and turn sequence. It’s fun, clever, thought-provoking and, dare I say it…evil. Oh, yeah, if you don’t like direct confrontation, go somewhere else. This is a war of sorts, and some of us are gonna die. But all in good fun. Even when you lose, you have to admire the nice moves your opponent made which caused your demise.

This game is now on Kickstarter so get over there and check it out. The rules are available on The Geek as well as a print and play version that you can make yourself.

Posted in board games, New Game, Reviews | 3 Comments »

Gentlemen, start your engines. A review of Thunder Alley

Posted by sodaklady on March 1, 2013

We like race games, all kinds of races and all kinds of game mechanics from the quick and fun GMT Formula Motor Racing to slow and analytical Bolide; from dog sledding in Snow Tails to escaping pirates in Cartagena. Thunder Alley caught my attention when it was announced for GMT’s P500 list and I proceeded to follow the designer’s blog and subscribed to the game page.

This game has had quite a life already and it hasn’t even been printed. From the P500 where it lagged, to Kickstarter where it perished, and back to GMT with a guarantee to be printed this summer thanks to a contribution from a fan, it has several laps under its belt before the race even started.

The files section on Board Game Geek contains a Print and Play version for 2 players, which is the basis for my review. It contains the simple oval track, the Race Cards, Event Cards, and lots of chits representing your cars, damage markers, lap points, and place trophy points.

The two main things that separate this race game from others are that you control a team of three to six cars, depending on the number of players (2-7); and when you activate a car, it often affects many cars, including your opponents’.  This doesn’t sound like a big innovation and in truth, I couldn’t grasp how it would feel to race with these rules– what made it fun or special. That’s why I finally put together the PnP version to try it out myself.

This is the Dover short oval track.

This is the Dover oval short track.

The board shows a simple oval with an inside track that is used only as the pits. Pitting occurs at the end of each game round no matter where you are on the track. This is a simple way to handle pitting and works very well although not totally thematic for those who are anal about such things.

The player mat for each player's team also has a handy reference for damage results and End of Turn Sequence.

The player mat for each player’s team also has a handy reference for damage results and End of Turn Sequence.

Each player has a player mat to keep track of the damage for each of their cars. The damage can be either permanent or temporary, the latter being the only kind that can be fixed during a pit stop. The cars are two-sided, gray and white backgrounds so you can keep track of which cars have been activated on a turn.

Thunder Alley cards

The Race cards contain various pieces of information. At the top is the title of the card shown in a particular color which denotes the type of damage taken when that card is played. In the top left corner are two numbers, the larger is the number of Action Points used on a turn, the smaller is used only when leaving the pits. In the center is an icon to show the type of movement you’ll be using on the car you activate this turn. More on this later. Some cards have text which applies when you play this card, and at the bottom is the Team Bar which is used to choose starting positions at the start of the game and to settle any ties. Simple and very useable cards but I’d personally like to see the movement arrows reflected at the top left so it can be seen when the hand of cards are fanned.

Each round begins with dealing cards to players, one more than the number of cars they control. Then players take turns, starting with the owner of the pole position car, playing a card to activate one of their cars and continuing around until all the cars have been activated. Then you perform the end of the round sequence which is:  determine the Leader, perform Pit Stops, determine first player (the lead car), and remove any lapped cars (ouch! Keep up!)

The movement mechanic is the heart of the game, of course, and is like no other game I own or have played. It is quite simple and very effective.

Solo movement is just as it states, you activate one car and move it using the Action Points on the card. It takes one point to move to an adjacent empty space, straight ahead or laterally (sideways); two points to move sideways when that space is occupied; and three points to move forward if you must push a car that is in front of you. If you push a car laterally, it moves into the next lane unless it is already in the inmost or outmost lane, in which case it is pushed backwards one space. Doesn’t that sound like racing?

Draft movement involves a line of cars linked forward and backward to the activated car. The whole string of cars move the allotted movement points, including any cars that are picked up in front of the line as it moves. You can move laterally only at the start of movement, spending movement points as you do in solo movement; once you start forward, you must keep going forward in a straight line until all movement points are used.

Pursuit movement is rather like pushing the line of cars you have linked to in front of you. Like Draft movement, you can only move laterally at the beginning of your move. Not being a race fan in real life, this felt like the least thematic part of the game. Come on, if the car in front of me makes a break for it, I’m going to stick to his tail if I can, right? Maybe that’s it, the cars behind are just not able to keep up.

Lead movement is the final type and is just as it sounds, leading the string of cars that begin the movement linked behind the activated car. Unlike Draft and Pursuit, you can zig and zag through the pack however you wish provided you have the action points, and the cars behind you will follow your actions exactly. This really feels like finding the whole in the pack and making a break for it.

Damage (or wear) on a vehicle slows it down, the more damage, the less movement points you can use. If you activate a car that already has 6 damage markers, it is eliminated.

At the end of the race, points are awarded for the Position each car finished, one point for being the lap leader at any time, and an extra point for leading the most laps. After adding the points for each car on your team, the player with the most points wins and does a victory lap around the table, finishing with a couple of donuts if they still have tires.

We were captivated by the game in almost no time at all. It’s simple to grasp, offers a challenge but isn’t brain-burning, gives you the thrill of a real race without all the noise and fumes, and most importantly…it’s fun. There’s the feeling of racing that I can’t explain effectively, something that doesn’t come through by simply reading the rules and understanding the concept. It can only be understood by doing–by seeing the movement of cars and changing of positions that you caused with a simple turn of a card.

If you can’t print your own version or see a demo somewhere, then take just trust me on this: if you love racing or racing games, you should try this game. I’m pretty sure you’re going to love it.

Posted in board games, Do-It-Yourself Games, Reviews | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

Suburban Blight

Posted by sodaklady on February 16, 2013

Back in the ’90s I was hooked on a computer game called Caesar, a city building game with a Roman theme. I loved seeing the results of building different buildings and working to keep my citizens happy. I played it over and over, trying different setups.

That should make a highly-rated board game that people compare to such computer games as Sim City and City Tycoon a decent option for me and my husband so I finally got a copy of Suburbia by Ted Alspach.

Image by Walt Mulder. Suburbia at Essen 2012

I don’t mind the stark graphics on the tiles because everything is clear, easy to see, and easy to understand. I’m not thrilled with the color scheme on the population score board, but it’s useable. The boards are marked so as to aid you in setup, which is always nice in my opinion.

The game play is very simple: Pay the price on the tile you want plus any extra shown above it on the Real Estate Market Board, place it in your borough of the city, then adjust income and reputation as shown on the placed tile, any adjacent tiles that are affected, any non-adjacent tiles that affected, and any tiles in someone else’s borough that are affected or that affect the tile you just placed. Oh, wait, that’s simple in theory but annoying in practice. My husband said it felt like work. Then you receive your income (or not) and population increase (or decrease) as shown on your player board. Lastly, shift the building tiles below the Market board and add a new one to the left side.

Since the newest tiles are more expensive due to the added cost on the Market Board, your choices will often be limited to the cheapest two or three, maybe four tiles. I found the choice offered very little tension or angst most of the time. During our first game, I kept thinking, “I’d rather be playing London.”

The main goal of the game is to increase your population but if your city grows too fast, you could be in big trouble. You start the game with zero income and one population. Reputation gives you people every turn, but every time your score marker crosses a red line on the population track, your reputation and income decrease by one. You can actually end up paying money rather than getting an income, and losing population instead of gaining. This is a means to keep players from running away with scoring too easily but it seems that every time I’d manage to increase my reputation, I’d cross a line and lose it again. Annoying.

There are 100 building tiles in the game but each game uses only 49-67 of them placed in three stacks with an end-game tile mixed into the bottom 10 of the third stack. That’s a lot of replayability. Add into that, 20 Goal Tiles, some known by all the players and one that each player keeps hidden. This adds to the replayability, too, but can be frustrating as well. Also, it feels a little like it was added on just to add something extra, a secret scoring that would give hope to those dawdling at the back of the pack.

Most of the things I’ve griped about are things that many, many others have not experienced. It’s a clever game with neat interactions between the buildings, and also subtle interactions between the players. But in the end, my husband and I just could not find the FUN in it. And therein lies the secret to a well-loved game: fun.

Posted in board games, New Game, Reviews | Tagged: , | 3 Comments »

Autumn is here. It’s Game Time!

Posted by sodaklady on September 27, 2012

Summer always seems too busy, and too tiring, for games. But it gave me the chance to discover gaming on the iPad! Even when you’re busy, you can take a couple of minutes to take your turn at several very good games. I am currently enjoying several games of Carcassonne, which I was talked into paying the exorbitant amount of $10 and it was worth every penny! Every little touch, such as the chat and the option to see what tiles remain in the draw, adds to the ease and enjoyment of the game. I also am playing Summoner Wars and patiently awaiting new factions to try out; Le Havre is kicking my butt since I was only vaguely familiar with it before the purchase; Ticket to Ride Pocket; Lost Cities,;and the oh-so-fun-and-frustrating Disc Drivin’. But enough of that–on with the board games!  (The links here are to the Video Game Geek game page, when available.)

Now that I’ve finished canning beans, making pickles, and freezing applesauce, there’s time to think about board games again. I recently bought Castles of Burgundy after finally making it through a video review of it. For some reason, I had a hard time getting interested enough in most of the reviews to watch more than a couple of minutes, and I couldn’t get into reading the rules at all, but my long-time Geek Buddies assured me with their ratings and comments that this was a game I should try. And they were indeed correct.

I set up a 2-player game to play solo, working through the rules so I could easily teach Richard the game, and after only a couple of turns knew this was fun! I love rolling dice but they are so unabashedly evil to me that I usually want to throw them across the room at some point in the game. Not so with Burgundy. You have several choices of what to do with your roll as well as “Workers” to help you adjust the count if you need to.  Any roll can be used to get you more Workers, and they are worth points at the end of the game so are always a useful commodity. There are tough choices in how you attempt to build your estate, and the game comes with several different estate layouts to keep the game from becoming the same old thing.

Castles of Burgundy

Castles of Burgundy

Speaking of dice, Richard and I have been playing Wurfel Bohnanza (the Bohnanaza dice game) whenever we have 20 minutes of so to kill, like between lunch and get-up-and-get-back-to-work. This is a light, quick, fun dice-roller so don’t let the bad rolls get to you. Roll the dice, set at least one aside as you try to fulfill the orders on your card, then roll again. Oh, wait! Those other players who seem to be just waiting around to take their turn? They need to be paying attention because if you roll what they’re looking for, they can use it to fill their order, too! This is a good little filler for people who can’t help but love to roll dice.

Wurfel Bohnanza

Wurfel Bohnanza

Another new-to-me game that I’ve had my eye on since it’s debut at Essen 2010 is Matin Wallace’s London. This is basically a card game but the board map adds another way to earn points at the end of the game. The premise is the rebuilding of London after the fire of 1666 so the cards (which represent buildings, for the most part) are divided into 3 groups to keep the theme running in chronological order. You must use a card from your hand as payment for another card that you wish to build. This, as in San Juan, can be cause for some tough decision-making. Now balance making points with making money, throw in the Poverty Points (which are bad, as you can guess) and you have a game that is an intensely satisfying experience. Yes, it may take longer than you had planned– 1 1/2 to 2 hours– but it’s the type of game my husband and I enjoy. We also love the crayon rail games (Martian Rails, British Rails, Eurorails), so if that helps you set the atmosphere, so be it.

London board game

London. I like the colors and style of the map, but others have been less than enthusiastic.

And the final new addition which we’re really enjoying is the expansion boards for Ticket to Ride, India and Switzerland. These are tight boards which are good for 2 or 3 players, and each have a little twist to the basic rules, of course. Switzerland has tunnels; lots and lots of tunnels. If you try to build a tunnel line, you also turn over 3 cards from the deck. For each one that matches what you played to build that stretch of rails, you have to play another card. You don’t lose the cards you played, but your turn is over with nothing accomplished. There are also some Destination Tickets that are more generic, giving points for connecting a specified country to any other country on the edge of the board or a specific city to any country. The points vary depending on how hard these connections are to manage.

Ticket to Ride

Ticket to Ride maps, India on this side, Switzerland on the back.

India is more standard in its tickets and rail-building, with the exception of Ferries. Ferries are water routes that have one or two spots on them which must have a Locomotive to fill. And there is an additional end-game scoring for “mandala”, which means “circle” in Sanskrit. Every ticket you finish which has at least 2 distinct continuous paths qualifies for a bonus; the more tickets which qualify, the bigger the bonus. This is a clever variation because of how densely populated the map is, and it may be my favorite so far.

So with the leaves falling in the yard, and the squirrel gathering walnuts from the trees out back, I’m hoping to find the time and inclination to do more writing here. And Essen is just around the corner, friends!

Posted in board games, iOS board games, New Game | Tagged: , , , , | 3 Comments »

Game Day: Doing it Old-Style (mostly)

Posted by sodaklady on May 21, 2012

Our tiny group has taken a bit of a turn lately. Dave has been plagued with various problems, including working 7 days a week! so Mike has brought his nieces (Sabrina, age 10 and Samantha, age 13) along with him. He has been honing their gaming skills for years and they enjoy a variety of games including Caylus and Power Grid.

Sunday Mike brought Talisman and Cosmic Encounter with him. These are two older games, Talisman being around since 1983 and Cosmic Encounter since 1977. Both of these games have been reprinted by various publishers to keep them available for the fans.

I brought out Cartagena (2000), Tsuro (2004) and Bohnanza (1997). Again, these games have been around for a fair number of years, Tsuro being the baby of the bunch at only 8 years old.  I also had to play my current favorite, Kingdom Builder, just today nominated for the 2012 Spiel des Jahres (German board game of the year award).

So what keeps some of these older games in the forefront of people’s imaginations? What makes them classics, worth reprinting years after they were first introduced even with the plethora of games coming out each year? Sometimes, I think, it may just be nostalgia. Talisman and Cosmic Encounter were many gamer’s introduction to board games; their Monopoly, as it were. And that seems an apt comparison to me because the amount of randomness and lack of control, not to mention the time it takes to play Talisman, is very similar.

As for Cartagena, its cleverness surprises me every time I pull it out. Play a card to move forward; move backwards to receive more cards. Simple. But managing your cards and where you leave your playing pieces at the end of your turn are the goals to succeeding in this game. People who figure out these two points will enjoy this game, people who can’t be bothered will never understand.

Bohnanza is a great game for a group of rowdy, extroverted people ready to haggle and trade. Again, a simple concept– you must not rearrange your cards in hand– results in a fun and memorable game unlike anything else. I can understand this being a classic; it’s great for families, serious gamers looking for something light, kids playing something without supervision, and drunks out for some laughs. Those last two are quite a bit alike, actually, aren’t they?

Personally, I’d rather play a lot of these older games in my collection than almost anything released in the last 3 or 4 years. How many games being released this year will become the new classics in 10-15 years? Will Kingdom Builder have a cult following, yearning for another expansion or a fancier version with better bits?

As far as game day went, we had a great time. Well, except for Cosmic Encounter, which I just do NOT get. I’d rather play The Farming Game!

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Wil Wheaton hosts a game of Small World

Posted by sodaklady on April 3, 2012

If you haven’t heard, Wil Wheaton has started a video series called TableTop that is simply sitting in on a game with him and some friends. How entertaining could that be? That was my first impression on hearing of it, but today was the first episode which featured Small World by Days of Wonder, and I thoroughly enjoyed my time playing voyeur at a gaming session.

Wil starts by introducing the game and its theme as well as his opponents for the day, then does an excellent job of summarizing the rules.  As the game gets going, you watch what feels to me like a typical game session with trash-talk, back-stabbing, silliness, cussing (it’s bleeped, so don’t worry), and lots of laughter. The half hour show, which I didn’t expect to watch all the way through, was so much fun I didn’t realize the time had flown past.

I highly recommend setting aside a small part of your day to check it out at

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Kingdom Builder

Posted by sodaklady on January 31, 2012

Kingdom Builder box coverI’m not a fan of Dominion so when I bought Kingdom Builder, I wasn’t looking for the next awesome game by Donald X. Vaccarino; I was looking for a lighter, fun game with lots of re-play value. Did I find that? Yes. Emphatically yes.

The game is for 2 to 4 players, age 8 and over, with a play time of about 45 minutes. If you’re a fan of Dominion and think this is another deck-builder, it’s  not, in any sense; nor is it card drafting or hand-management as you only get 1 card at a time; nor is it area control, worker placement or pick-up and deliver. There are no stocks to invest in, no trading or betting or bidding. The mechanics listed on the Board Game Geek page is “route/network building” and that’s close but still misses. You’re just making points the best way you can manage given 3 random cards that set the parameters, and four random abilities provided by the map layout. And that, it turns out, is more than enough.

Kingdom Builder boards

Here are the 8 boards that come in the game. You can't build on the grey mountains at all, and only on the water with a special ability chit.

On your turn you show your card and place 3 of your wooden houses (settlements) on that type of terrain, adjacent to previous houses if possible. The “adjacent” rule is very important, limiting where you can go and possibly making your opening move a critical one. If you have built next to a location where the various ability chits are placed, you can use each of those abilities once each turn either before or after building your settlements. Then you draw a new card. That’s it; that’s your whole turn. Doesn’t sound like much, does it?

The secret is in which locations with their special abilities you build next to.  The abilities are:  place a new settlement on a desert (yellow) hex, move a settlement two hexes in a straight line, move a settlement to the terrain type on your card, place a new settlement on the edge of the board, place a new settlement on  a grass (light green) hex, place a settlement on a hex of your terrain card type, move a settlement to a water hex, and place a new settlement at the end of a row of three or more of your settlements.

Kingdom Builder location summaries

These nice location summary cards are placed next to the boards as reminders.

When you add 4 of these abilities to your placement options, it can open up your choices nicely. But if you choose poorly, you can find them totally useless in helping you achieve points as dictated by the scoring cards drawn for this particular game.

There are 3 scoring cards (out of 10 that come with the game),  dealt randomly each game. You can be trying to place settlements adjacent to mountains or water, on many horizontal lines or vertical lines, or adjacent to castles and locations. You may be trying to create one very large settlement area or as many areas as you can. Maybe you’ll have to build settlements in each of the four map sectors, or connect locations and castles. Sometimes the combination of scoring cards work together but sometimes they are such that you have to choose which ones to concentrate on.


Kingdom Builder scoring cards

Here are the 10 scoring cards with lovely artwork.

When a player puts his last settlement on the board, that triggers the end of the game–scoring occurs at the end of that round. You add the points you earned for the three scoring cards, and three points for each castle next to which you placed a settlement. The winner is the player with the most points, of course. In case of a tie, you’re all equally brilliant!

The components are nice, as you would expect from Queen Games. The colors and artwork are clear, making it easy to see across the game table, and the cheat sheets for the locations’ abilities are a nice addition. I like that the back of each map board has a score track, making it useful as well as eliminating the need for VP or money tokens to keep score.

Each time I’ve played, I’ve had a good time even if I lost. Although the game is simple in theory, there’s a puzzle-like aspect to finding the best way to accomplish the goals set out by the scoring cards. How do I get across the board or build many small areas when I am required to place adjacent if possible? Which ability tile is going to help me the most? Where should I start when I want to make one long horizontal line but the board is full of rivers?

Kingdom Builder score boardThe game may take 45 minutes to play, but it doesn’t feel like that much time has passed because the turns are quick for the most part. There is very little confrontation except when someone builds in your way, which could be on accident or deliberate, depending on the people with whom you’re playing. Around here, you can assume it’s deliberate!


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