Flashback Friday – TMNT Pizza Power Game

It’s the late 1980s. He-man, Transformers and G.I. Joe have been supplanted as the most popular cartoon and action figures of the time and little kids everywhere – myself included – were running around shouting ‘Cowabunga Dude!’. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was the hottest property around and they were plastered onto absolutely everything.

Shirts, mugs, fridge magnets, books, you name it and you could get it with the turtles branded all over it. Board games didn’t miss out either as shown by this fantastic example

In this game, you play as one of the four turtles and move around the board trying to be the first to defeat three bad guys. When you encounter one you use the battle flipper and dice to see who wins. The flipper is missing in this copy so we haven’t actually been able to test it out yet. I keep meaning to make a replacement so we can but haven’t got to it yet. Since I can’t tell you how it plays I’ll just leave you with some pictures to enjoy instead.

If the front of the box didn’t sell you, maybe the back will!
It’s not easy being…a strange shade of brown
Mmm Pizza
All your favourite bad guys from the cartoon are here – Krang, Shredder and…punk? Looks like Rocksteady to me!
The good guys are there too, and at least they have the right names!

If I ever get a chance to try it out I’ll come back and update the post. The artwork was just too good not to share though. I want to play it purely for the nostalgia value, which is a common theme with these flashback friday posts.

Until next time!

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Potion Explosion, 2nd Edition

We’re big Harry Potter fans in this house, so when a game comes along that lets you brew magical potions we had to give it a go.

In Potion explosion, players are trying to gather ingredients to complete magical potions. Each potion had a different level of difficulty based on which ingredients it needs, and the harder it is to complete the more points it’s worth. Whichever player has the most points at the end wins.

Getting ingredients doesn’t involve opening dusty bottles full of weird smells. Instead you you have a dispenser full of glass marbles that randomly fall into five rows. Each marble represents an ingredient and on your turn you get to remove one. If that makes two or more others of the same colour touch, you get to take those as well, and so on. They make a satisfying ‘clink’ when they smack together and it’s a lot of fun when you manage to set off a chain of collisions and collect a pile of ingredients in one go.

Let’s say that you need blue and black marbles to complete your potion. If you took the black one from the middle row the three blue would touch and you’d get those too, and you can see there’s a black just at the top of the dispenser as well that would roll down and touch the three black marbles at the bottom as well, giving you five black and three marbles from that go. Kaboom! Ingredients galore!

You may not need that many, but you might be able to store them for later or if the other players are working on potions that need them you have just denied them the easy move.

You can work on two potions at a time in your little laboratory, and you can store some extra ingredients for later in case you need them. There’s a total of eight different types of potion, and even within the same type they need different ingredients so you need to keep an eye on what is coming up on the stack and plan your collecting around that as well as on what’s in front of you now..

Once you’ve completed a potion you can ‘drink’ it. The game is a whole lot more fun if this involves you picking it up, taking a swig and making the appropriate sound effects, but basically it just means you activate it’s special effect.

Each of the eight types have a different effect. One lets you take a marble of each colour from the bottom of the dispenser, one lets you use any colour of ingredient in your flask in a potion, another lets you steal all items from another players flask. You can chain these together as well to help you complete more potions. Once that’s done you turn them around to show that they have been used, but the points from them still count at the end of the game.

We’d had our eye on this game for a while, but there were reports of the cardboard dispenser in the first edition breaking so we held off until we heard that they were releasing a new version. The only change in the second edition is that the dispenser has been replaced by a plastic one.

The game pieces are made of thick cardboard and there are no printing errors that I’ve noticed. The artwork is fun and consistent and fits the theme perfectly and the addition of proper old school glass marbles really adds something to the game that plastic marbles wouldn’t have. There’s even a bag of spare marbles included in case you lose some. The box is solid and the rule book is clear and helpful.

We did find an issue and I’m not sure if it’s a problem with the overall manufacturing or just our copy, but the new dispenser has a drawer at the back that is meant to let you store the marbles when not in use. There seems to be some additional plastic on ours that means that you can’t open it. I’ll try and fix it at some point but it’s a bit disappointing that it was shipped out like this.

Another issue is that the box insert isn’t great. The potions are an odd shape and even though the rule book shows you how to store them we find that they tend to fall out and end up loose in the box even when stored horizontally. We ended up putting them into ziplock bags which does solve the issue but I’d have liked to have seen some more effort go into the design here.

Setup is a pain too. You’re only meant to play with six of the eight potions at a time so some sort of clever dividers to keep them separate would have greatly helped. Even if you’re careful to separate them out when packing up, they all get mixed up by the time you want to play again because of the insert problem.  Because the dispenser takes up a lot of space they seem to have crowded everything else together without too much thought.

Once you get past the few issues mentioned above, you’ll find that there’s a really fun game here. While it does look like a kids game, and I’m sure that older kids could play with no problem, it has enough depth that we really enjoy it ourselves. In some respects you will get out what you put in – get into the spirit of things and add your own sound effects to the action and it’s far more entertaining than without them.

We’ve played multiple times with two players and it works really well. Most of the time you’re working on your own potions and not interacting with the other player that much so there’s no hint that anything is missing from the lack of more players. More players should be fun though, as it gives you more flasks to steal from and a higher turnover in the dispenser. The game is not so heavy that it discourages conversation and it only takes about half an hour to play with two.

I’d rate it 3.5/5, with points lost due to the design and manufacturing issues.

Shuffle Cards – Connect 4

As a child I had the original Connect 4. I distinctly recall the blue plastic frame with the feet that were impossible to get in and the bright yellow and red playing pieces.

I remember playing countless games with family and friends and really enjoying it. Somewhere along the way though the frame broke and the rest of it went to the great game cupboard in the sky. I never bothered to replace it as an adult, knowing that it wouldn’t have the same appeal now.

Even though I’d outgrown the original, I was intrigued when I saw that they had released a card based version of the game, and at $8 on sale I grabbed it. It doesn’t resemble the original game that much once you start playing it but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad game.

It comes in this little plastic case, shown below. There’s a whole range of these card games based on their famous big brothers and they all come in similar cases. I have a few and I’d expected the plastic clip to have broken by now but it’s held up pretty well. The sticker peels up at the edges though and at some point I’l either have to glue it down again or tear it off.

Inside the case is a set of mission cards and a set of tiles. The cards are quite flimsy and the tiles are the same thickness as the cards, not a nice solid cardboard like in Carcassonne or Cacao. There’s also a tiny rulebook. I would have liked a bit more quality but even at full price these are only around $20AU so you can’t expect too much.

To play, each player gets two mission cards and then takes turn laying out the tiles trying to make the pattern that matches their mission. if you complete a mission you take another and continue until someone has finished four of them.

The tiles either have a four coloured dots, a multi-coloured dot indicating that it’s a wild, a blank, or one of three action symbols – the plus allows you to play that tile over an existing one, the minus lets you remove a tile and the rotate symbol lets you spin an existing tile to help you complete your missions.

The mission cards are straightforward. You either get four of the same colour in a row like in the original game, going in any direction, or a square or L shape of four. If you completed a mission that the other player also has they get to claim it as well so you need to watch what they are trying to do and avoid finishing yours if it will give them the win.

Every game we’ve played has been really fast, under 10 minutes to complete four mission cards. There’s just enough strategy with taking the spots the other player needs or removing their tiles to make it competitive, and it’s actually a lot of fun.

You could teach it in a few minutes and the small packaging means it’s a good travel game. The rules say that if you want to make it more competitive you can play with the mission cards face up, so you can see what the other player is going for and block them, and that could be fun too.

The few things I don’t like are the low quality components, it would have been far nicer with thicker tiles, and I think there’s too may tiles with blanks and actions compared to the ones with just four coloured dots. Other than these minor complaints I’m happy with it for the price. I’ve only tried it with two players but we’ve probably played 10+ times given it’s over so quickly. It’s a decent filler game at a low price.

Flashback Friday – Star Trek TNG Interactive VCR Board Game

Welcome to the very first Flashback Friday post. This week we’ll dig deep into the cupboard and take a look at Star Trek – The Next Generation – Interactive VCR Board Game.

Back in the early 90’s there were quite a few games released that added a video element to a traditional game. Nightmare and Atmosphere were probably the most well known examples.

This particular example is based around Star Trek TNG and was released in 1993, which is when I got it. It’s managed to move house with me a couple of times and the box is showing some wear but inside it’s all in almost new condition because it really hasn’t been played that much and not recently.

You can even see that a bunch of stickers and comm badges were provided but never used. The tri-fold board in the background shows the design of the USS Enterprise NCC-1701-D where players move around as they play, and you’ll also need a TV with a VCR to play the video – if you can find one!

Inside the box are three types of cards, a pile of Tricorders and isolinear chips, phasers and character markers as well as a spinner. There’s also some plastic tubes for placing players in stasis. For younger readers that black thing in the middle is a VHS tape. it’s what we used to store video before Netflix was around!

To play, you start the one hour video and then start playing. The concept here is that a rogue Klingon (played by Robert O’Reilly who also played Gowron in the series) has hijacked the Enterprise and you have an hour to save the ship. You play the game like a normal board game where you roll and move, picking up cards and following their actions.

The goal is to collect all five Isolinear chips available before the hour is up and before any of the other players do so. The design of the tricorder and these chips is actually very clever and they slot nicely into the side as you get them.

As you land on certain squares or when prompted to by the video, you have to draw an action card and do what it says. The designs use elements from the TV series and keep well in theme.

The video itself is quite badly acted but the actual game can be quite fun, especially 20+ years later even just for the nostalgia value. It’s not something that’s going to appeal to non-trek fans but for someone like me who is a fan it’s a lot of fun.

Scattergories

After writing my review of Codenames : Harry Potter my mind turned to Scattergories because I experience a similar feeling of brain-strain when playing.

For those who aren’t familiar with it, it’s an older game that was first published in 1988 and is now sold by Hasbro. Being older doesn’t take away from it being quite challenging though and it’s one we enjoy quite a lot.

Inside the box there’s a multi-sided dice with a letter on each face, an egg timer, a stack of cards listing a variety of categories and a pad of sheets to write your answers on. There’s also some cardboard holders to hide your answer sheet from other players but those are optional. The rules are inside the top of those cardboard holders.

To play, you each take an answer sheet and one of the category cards. There’s multiple copies of each so that everyone can have their own.

Someone rolls the dice and turns over the egg timer. You then get until the timer runs out to write up to three items per category onto your answer sheet. They must start with the letter shown on the dice.

Once the timer runs out you get a point for each valid answer. If you managed three items per category for all twelve categories you’d get 36 points. You can also have answers with multiple words starting with the same letter eg “Pickled Peppers” and that would be worth two points.

It sounds easy, but it’s amazing how blank I find my mind going when I have to think of Three Terms of Measurement starting with the letter L. Litre, Light Year and League are all valid, but when you’re staring at the page they don’t come easily to mind.

Some letters and category combinations are much easier than others. If you roll M you’re have a much easier run than if you roll O. I think the most I’ve ever scored was about 18, most of the time it’s more like the 11 or 12 range and I’m lucky to fill in all the spots. Other’s I’ve played with have mentioned the same problem. You know the answers but trying to remember them under pressure is tough.

Because there’s multiple lists of categories and you could end up with any letter combination with them there’s a lot of replay value in this and there’s almost no setup or teaching time it’s a good one to play with non-gamer friends

It’s a fun and quick filler game that can actually be quite challenging and also frustrating, but in a good way.

Codenames – Harry Potter

Codenames : Harry Potter is the latest installment in the Codenames game series. This one is designed specifically for two players unlike some of the other versions and is based around the Harry Potter world.

It’s a cooperative game where you work with the other player to identify the positions of the Order of the Phoenix members before you run out of time while also making sure that you don’t encounter a death eater. You get less attempts to guess than there are order members so you have to be clever and try and give clues that can identify multiple cards at once.

In the box you get a couple of large stacks of playing tiles, plus another one of the guide cards. There’s also a pile of 15 Order of the Phoenix tiles for marking cards as they are identified and a single Death Eater tile.

You also get a pile of time turners and a decent rulebook, as well as a pad of missions that you can use to add some variety to the base game if you want to later on.

You play by laying out a five by five grid of tiles that have either words or pictures from the films on them. You can use either all words, all pictures or a mix of the two.

We found that mixing the pictures in made it easier as there was more information in them that you could use to give a clue on. You also place a stack of time turner tokens out on the table.

Next you take one of the double sided guide cards and place it into the plastic stand so that each player can only see one side. Without using any words shown in the grid you then have to give the other player a clue that helps them select the right tile. You can see in the picture that there’s 10 red squares and 3 black on my side of the card.

You need to get the other player to pick the cards that are in the red positions while not picking the black ones. Their side of the card will show a different picture. Some of the squares may be the same, but some that you have marked as death eaters may be marked as order members on their side which limits how much you can guess based on elimination of what you see.

You can see in this game that there’s cards with the words Hedwig, Hippogriff, Dobby and Mrs Norris on them all marked as red on one side of the guide card.  On your turn you are allowed to give a one word clue followed by a number indicating how many cards it relates to.

In this instance you could give individual clues like “owl, one”  but in this game the clue given was “creatures, four”.  This let us mark four cards at once which really helps you to win. If you only gave a clue that let a single tile be selected on every turn there’s no way to win.

Every turn you take a time turner token from the pile that was set out at the start of the game, and if during a turn the other player correctly identifies a member of the order of the phoenix, you place a red tile on that square as well.

If you manage to correctly identify all of the fifteen order members before the stack of time turners runs out you both win. If you run out of time turners or encounter a death eater the game ends in a loss

This game was a gift from someone who knew we loved both Harry Potter and board games, but it’s not a game we’d have bought for ourselves. We’d never played a cooperative game before and we’d watched video reviews of the original Codenames game and not found it that interesting but we decided to give it a go.

I’m pleased to say that it was much better than I’d anticipated.  It’s quite hard to think of clues that let the other player eliminate multiple tiles without that clue also making them pick a Death Eater or a blank tile. You have to be really careful not to say a word that’s on any card, not just the ones you want them to pick, and with the pictures you have to look really closely to make sure your clue doesn’t match one of those.

Some of the pictures that are furthest away from you on the table can be hard to see properly while being clear for the other player so you have to take your time and really know what every card shows. In the example game we used the “Creatures, four” clue but there was actually another creature shown very small in one of the other pictures and we’re lucky we didn’t pick that by mistake.

One thing I did notice is that you really have to be a fan of the Harry Potter series to be able to play this effectively. There’s a lot of very specific scenes shown on the picture sides and on the word sides you need to be able to determine if something is a spell or a potion or a magical creature to help you create your clues. We both are so were fine, but even then there were a few tricky ones.

One of the other clues used was “aquatic” to try and get the other player to pick both the Golden Egg and Lake tiles. If you didn’t know that the Golden Egg had to be held underwater to reveal the clue to the next Tri-Wizard task then this clue wouldn’t work. it’s hard enough making clues fit multiple cards without not knowing the subject enough to be able to give ones like this.

I find it a bit taxing on my brain thinking of clues that can fit multiple tiles so it wouldn’t be something I’d get out as a filler but it was enjoyable enough that we’ve already played four times since getting it for Christmas. Overall while it’s not a game I think we will play a lot it will stay in our collection.

 

Baba Yaga

Woooooooo! Avoid evil spells, gather witches and effectively use large seaside birds on your way to victory in this light card game from Gamewright.

Gamewright isn’t a publisher I normally give much time too. Their range is mostly targeted at a younger audience and doesn’t usually appeal to me but we picked this one up a couple of years ago when  browsing the shelves at the local game store just because the box and description caught our eye.

It’s a standard ‘draw 5 cards and do something with them’ style game where the aim is to selectively trade the cards in your hand with the cards on the table until what you hold equals four or less. It’s quite straightforward to learn and plays quickly but there’s enough strategy in it to make it interesting. We often use this as a filler game when we only have 15-30 minutes free and want to pass the time. It may also have some educational value as you have to do addition of your potion cards to be able to play the other cards but who wants to think about that?

It comes in a small format box, about two decks of cards wide and about 2 decks high. It’s a solid glossy cardboard and seems to be holding up well.

When you lift the top off, you can that there’s a rule pamphlet, a couple of promotional leaflets and the cards themselves set inside a plastic insert. The cards are standard playing card size and have a slight linen finish. They have stayed flat and aren’t showing much wear even after many plays.

The cards come with three different back colours. Most have a black back, and they are the ones you will use to form your starting hand and draw from. The other two are the Owl cards (blue) and Baba Yaga (red) cards. These are never drawn normally and can only be gained by activating the pelican spell card from the black cards. The owl can be traded for two baba yaga cards, while the baba yaga has a value of 0 so reduces the total in your hand.

I initially thought that having different colour backs was a bad idea because it meant that your opponents can see how close you are to winning but once you look at the spell cards you’ll see why it’s this way.

These are what the black cards look like. There’s a lot of potion cards with different numbers, a wild potion card that can be used as any number, plus four different spell cards. If you have a spell card you need to play it plus potion cards exactly equaling it’s point value to activate it.

Each of these does something different

  • Pelican card – when you play this, you can choose to either pick up a blue owl or red baba yaga card. I told you, large seaside birds play a big part in this game!
  • Garlic Card – you can play it at any time without needing to trade potions in for it to block a spell card.
  • Lost Wand – Make everyone but you return either an owl or baba yaga to the table and draw a random card from the draw pile
  • Cats – Take a baba yaga or owl from a player of your choice. Also good for losing friends or making your significant other mad.

Example play

The table gets set up like this, though this is a few turns in to show the two discard piles. During your turn, you can either play a spell card, or discard a card to one of the two discard piles and either take the top card from the other discard pile or the draw pile. The only time you can’t take a card from a discard pile is if it’s a spell card that has been activated rather than just discarded.

Because the other players can take the card you discard, you have to be careful with what and where you discard. Assuming that the other player discarded that pelican to make room for potion cards, you might try and pick it up to use it. On the other hand, you may want that 7 instead to activate an owl card next turn so you go for it instead.

Imagine you have these cards in your hand. You have a pelican and potions totaling seven so you can play it to one of the discard piles and take either and owl or a baga yaga

This is what your hand will then look like. You still need to draw three random cards from the draw pile so you have five again, but if you do the same thing a few times you’ll soon have a hand worth less than four and are the winner. You may instead decide to go for the owl card rather than the baba yaga knowing you can get 7 points worth of potions in your hand fairly quickly and then trade for two instead.

I really like the game. I know some other reviewers have said that there’s too much “discard one, pick up one, repeat” to it but I really haven’t found that to be a problem. You may have to change your strategy a bit based on what comes up in the discard piles and to slow the other players down but it’s always fast and I’ve found it really playable. We’ve only played it with two players and it works great there, I’m sure it would be fun with more as well though.

Sadly it seems to have been discontinued by the publisher but it’s still available online in a few places so it’s worth getting a copy while you can.

Cacao

Mmmmm Chocolate. Or more accurately, Cacao, which is the seed that gets ground up to make it. With a theme that ties into one of my very favourite things how could I resist trying this game out?

The game in question is Cacao, a tile laying game I got for Christmas this year. Designed by Australian Phil Walker-Harding who is also known for games such as Sushi Go and Barenpark, it’s for 2-4 players and published by Z-Man Games.

The first thing you might notice is that it looks a lot like Carcassone. The box is the same size and it’s also got the same size tiles and those little wooden people called Meeples in It . It’s not that surprising though when you consider they are from the same publisher. While there are some similarities in appearance the way it plays is quite different and in a lot of ways I like it better.

In the box you get;

  • A rule book (actually a few pages of rules and tile descriptions)
  • Four round scoreboards
  • Four wooden meeples
  • Three different coin denominations
  • A pile of sun worshiper tokens
  • A pile of wooden Cacao beans
  • 12 worker tiles for each colour meeple
  • 28 Jungle Tiles

The box, tiles and all parts are good quality and well finished and I found no issues with my copy. The meeples and Cacao beans are wooden which I always think is more appealing than plastic, and the box, tiles and scoreboards have a linen finish to them which makes them easier to handle and helps to deter marks. I did tear a little of the backing from one of the tiles while punching it out of the cardboard sheet it came from but a tiny bit of glue and it’s fine.

The rule book is split into a few parts, you get one for the gameplay and one describing what each tiles does. They come in two in two languages so you get four booklets in total. They were clear and we took about 5 minutes to learn the game and start playing.

The one thing I didn’t like was the size of them. When you open the box the first time the rules are on top of the cardboard sheets that contain all of the tiles and coins. Like most games, you punch these out before use. It probably saves money to make games this was and it does mean the parts aren’t loose in the box to get damaged in transit.

Once you have done this and put all the parts away in their proper spots you’d think the rules would sit properly back on top but they don’t. They’re just too big and while they fit, they sag in the middle. It’s a minor annoyance that doesn’t impact the game at all but it does seem like an oversight when everything else about the box seems well thought out. I think it could have been made smaller so that it would fit properly.

Below is a close up of the smaller parts. There’s the meeple (known as the water carrier here), the three types of coins, the sun worshiper token and the wooden cacao bean which is what you are trying to harvest and sell.

Then you get the worker tiles. Each player gets twelve of these in the same colour as their scoreboard and water carrier meeple and at the start of the game shuffles them, places them face down and picks up three into their hand. The other players can’t see what these are. As the game progresses the player picks one to play then draws a replacement from the pile. There’s multiple copies of the three different layouts shown below. When you place one of these tiles next to a jungle tile, you get to perform the action on that tile once for each worker shown on the side touching that tile.

The most common is the one worker per side, with the three on one side the least common. Working out when best to use or save each type is a big part of what makes the game interesting.

The other tiles are the jungle tiles shown below. There’s six different types, and a couple of variations of a few of them. From left to right you have the Cacao plantations, the marketplaces, mines, then on the top row is the temple and the bottom is the water, and far right is the sun worshiper tile. Each of these lets you either perform a specific action or score points.

The Cacao tile lets you collect one cacao bean for each worker icon you place that touches it. You can hold up to five at a time. These score you nothing at the end of the game so to get points for them you need to them place a worker next to a marketplace to sell them for gold coins. The double cacao plantation means you get two for each worker you place next to it. You need to be careful though, because there’s no point putting a 3 worker tile next to it and getting six cacao when you can only hold five.

The marketplace tiles let you sell cacao for the amount of gold shown on them. There’s more 2 gold markerplaces than anything else, and only one of the 4 gold ones, so careful planning is needed to make sure you get the best return for the cacao you have harvested.

The mines just give you the amount of gold listed on them. I don’t find it an overly interesting tile actually. I would have liked it to do a bit more, like score that amount for each mine you were touching to make going after them a worthwhile strategy.

The temple tile adds a bit of area control to the game. They score nothing at the time they are placed but at the end of the game the player with the most workers touching a temple gets six gold and the second highest gets three gold. Anyone else gets nothing and have wasted their workers. In the case of a draw you split the rewards. These are interesting to play with, you can use up a lot of workers trying to claim that six points that could be better used elsewhere, but you can also get a lot of points if you manage to take control of all of the ones on the board.

The water tile is another key tile. There’s only a few of them in the game and for every worker you place next to them you get to move your water carrier meeple once along the path on your scoreboard (shown below). At the end of the game if you haven’t gathered any water you’ll have to remove 10 points from your score, but if you manage to collect enough to move to the final spot you get an extra 16 points. This 26 point spread can make a huge difference in who wins and loses, but you have to be careful how you use the water. You can see that the first water you collect is worth 6 points, the next 3, then 1, 2, 2 etc. You will need to weight up if gathering water will score you more than another move would on each turn, and also keep in mind that if you can collect enough to get to the end those last few moves are worth 4 and 5 respectively.

The last tile is the sun worshiper tile. For every worker you place next to one of these you get to take one of the sun worshiper tokens. They are worth one point each at the end of the game if you still have them and you can hold up to three of them in total. They can’t be used until every jungle tile has been played. If you have any at that time you can choose to spend one and place one of the worker tiles you have left over the top of a worker tile you have already played, performing all of the actions for the surrounding tiles again. This can be a good way to collect more water or sell off any otherwise worthless Cacao you still have stored.

Example Playthrough

The game starts with the same two jungle tiles in the centre of the table every time

There’s also a stack of jungle tiles off to the side of the table with two available to pick from when needed. You can see the game set up below for two players, though you wouldn’t normally see the other players worker tiles as they’d be in your hand.

The first player get to pick one of the three worked tiles from their hand and where to place it. I love that the oldest player gets to go first because it’s rare in games that I do. In this example, the yellow player chose a worker tile with one worker per side. These are the most common and often less valuable tiles so it’s a logical first move when there’s only low value jungle tiles to place it next to. I kind of wish the start tiles were randomised as well as the game almost always starts with this exact same move, but I understand that it offsets the first player advantage too so it’s not that big of a deal.

Since the yellow player now has one worker next to the cacao plantation they get to take one cacao, and there’s also one next to the marketplace so they get to sell that cacao if they want to for 2 gold.

The next player gets to place their worker next to any jungle tile they want. The purple player actually gets more choices here, because they could have played into the space diagonally opposite to the yellow player and also collected and sold two Cacao, but instead they placed their tile in a way that they get one Cacao. This doesn’t sound that clever a move, except the rules state that if you ever create a space between two worker tiles like shown below you get to pick from the two jungle tiles that are face up and place it in the gap, performing these actions.

So the purple player also gets to do this. This lets them move their water carrier twice. It also lets the yellow player move their water carrier once and shows that you have to be careful placing jungle tiles because they can also benefit the other players. They then turn over another jungle tile to make sure there are two face up for the next players turn. It is possible to make a move that lets you place both of the available jungle tiles.

It’s now the yellow players turn again. They really want water, so play one of their valuable 3 worker on a side tiles there and move their water carrier up three spots. It benefits them in one way, but they created an empty spot for a jungle tile so have to choose one from the available jungle tiles to place into it. Since there’s no yellow worker on that side of their tile though it doesn’t benefit them at all, but it does benefit the purple player so they can either play something that doesn’t help purple that much, or they can pick something that really helps them on a future turn.

Play continues like this, forming a checkerboard of jungle and worker tiles, until all the tiles are used. You then count your coins, score the temples and water and whoever has the most points is the winner.

We’ve played this with both two and four players and found it was fantastic at both player counts.  At two players it’s really tight and strategic, and how you use each opportunity really makes a difference. A four it’s actually not quite as strategic as you can’t really play jungle tiles to your future advantage as well as the three other players have the opportunity to surround them before your next turn, but the area control aspect of the temples and the sun worshiper tokens become more important.

It’s a great game and we were able to teach it to friends who aren’t big gamers in about 5 minutes, and one of them won both games showing it isn’t hard to pick up. I’m really fond of Carcassone but this has quickly overtaken it as my favourite tile laying game and I think it’s actually a better gateway game because the scoring is much less complicated. The strategic element is much higher but still easy to learn. I’m looking forward to playing more of this as soon as I can.

Dead Man’s Draw

The blog’s first review is Dead Man’s Draw. It’s a neat little card game with a pirate theme.

The game comes in a small box about two decks of cards wide and twice as high. Inside it you’ll find a rulebook and about 8o standard sized playing cards with a nice textured linen finish.  The box itself has a linen finish as well and is quite solid. It could have been about half the size if it wasn’t for needing to fit the rule book in but it’s still quite compact. The cards have held up well even after around 30 plays and aren’t really showing any wear. They shuffle well and don’t stick together.

The rule book is one of the better ones I’ve seen, with clear setup and play instructions as well as information on all of the possible variant cards. For the price the component quality is quite high and I haven’t noticed any imperfections in my copy.

The majority of the cards are numbered and have one of ten suits on them. These are the ones you’ll use when playing. The aim of the game is to collect as many points as you can by drawing cards one at a time from the face down draw pile and trying to get as many as you can without getting a duplicate.  You can either play it safe and bank the cards you’ve already drawn or keep going in hopes of scoring more points. In the normal game only the highest card in each suit is scored. The impression I got the first time I played it was that it was very much like Blackjack where you keep drawing cards until you go bust, but there’s a lot more to it than that.

Each of the ten suits has a special ability that is activated as soon as it’s drawn and placed into the play area. You can see what they are in the picture below. It can be a little tough to figure out how best to use them when you first start playing but after a few hands you’ll not need the cheat sheet cards and you’ll start to see how you can use them most effectively. For example, if you get a sword, you can take the top card from another players banked cards and activate it. You could use it to bring an anchor into play to secure the cards already drawn, or an oracle so you can see if you should continue to draw cards or stop.

The base game by itself is a lot of fun. Watching your hard won cards get taken or blown up by the other players is annoying but amusing at the same time. The winner is generally determined by luck more than skill but the way you use the abilities does matter. We’ve found it generally takes around 10-15 minutes per game making it great if you only have a little time. It only takes a few minutes to teach as well though the more you play the easier it becomes, I think we’d played about 5 games before we stopped needing the guide cards.

If you want a little more though there’s two options for adding to the game already in the box – traits and variants. The traits deck is a set of cards that change how each ability works, but only for the player who has that card. Each player draws two of these at the start of the game and chooses one to keep face up, discarding the other. It really changes up the base game as you have to rethink your strategy based on not only what you have but what the other player has.

The other option is to use the variant cards. You randomly draw one at the start of the game and it changes the rules of the base game. You can use these either by themselves or with the Trait cards to add even more depth to the game. We haven’t actually felt the need to use these yet as there’s enough with just the traits to keep the game interesting but it’s nice to have them as an option.

Example Playthrough

Step 1 : On your turn, flip a card over from the draw deck. There’s also a discard deck (not pictured) that contains all of the cards with a value of 2 to start with, that will increase any time you go bust and be used when certain suits are drawn.

This turn you got the anchor. It’s not actually any use to you coming out first as it can only protect cards to the right of it.

Step 2 : You decide to draw another card. it’s a chest. If you continue to draw and find a key you are able to take both the cards you have drawn plus the same number from the discard pile so you decide to press your luck a bit. If you decided to bank the cards instead you’d get to move these two into your bank area instead.

Step 3 : because you decided to continue, you take another card. You draw a kraken. This forces you to draw two more cards regardless of if you wanted to or not

Step 4 : You draw another anchor and because you already have one you go bust. You don’t get to bank any cards and they all get added to the discard pile. If you’d not had that first anchor though both the kraken and the chest would now be protected and you’d have been able to bank them no matter when you went bust. Play now moves onto the next player. When the draw pile is empty the game ends and you total up the highest card of each suit from your bank. The highest total wins.

Summary 

We’ve played it a lot with two players and once with three players. It’s fantastic at two player but scaled to three with no issues and I’m sure it can go higher as well.  It’s around $25AU and I highly recommend it.

The Journey Begins

I’m a big fan of games in general, but in recent years I’ve really become interested in board games, also called tabletop games. There’s tons of great games around but I created this blog specifically to focus on games that play well with only two people. I know a lot of people, myself included, often game only with their partner and it can be tough to find out how certain games are at the lower end of the player count. In here you’ll only see game reviews that I’ve tested with two players, though often they support more than that.