Games for Two

Random jottings on our experience of playing games, mostly together.

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January - It’s a Wonderful World plus expansion and the Exit Advent Calendar

Wishing you all a belated happy new year, we’ll get straight on with the reviews.

It's a Wonderful World - 19 plays

From gallery of MattNManda


Having enjoyed many games of 7 wonders online a friend suggested this as something with similarities that worked well for two. Their previous recommendations had been excellent so we gave it a try, though we had not been tempted when we looked previously. The game is set in the future and places you as the head of one of up to five competing dictatorships.

As an aside, for those who like 7 Wonders but want something for two players, there is 7 Wonders Duel which we have tried but not enjoyed, finding it has too much direct conflict in that the other player’s cards can be destroyed, and that matching military strength feels like a mandatory action.

Rules

In the centre of the table is a board with five piles of resource cubes. Grey, black, green, yellow and blue in order from left to right, representing production, military, science, money and prestige. There is a separate supply of red krystallium. cubes as well as tokens for generals and financiers. All players are given a starting card showing some income of various resources, either the same for everyone on one side or unique on the other.

Like 7 wonders this is primarily a card drafting game, though played over four rounds. Each round everyone begins with a hand of seven cards (ten in the two player game) takes one and places it in front of them then passes the remainder to the next player. This is repeated until everyone has taken seven cards, discarding the remainder. Cards are passed in alternate directions each round.

Once everyone has their seven cards they decide what to do with them. All cards show a cost in different coloured resources then at least one of end game points, resource income, a one off build bonus such as a neutronium cube or a financier and a type of resource that may be gained by discarding the card. Some give a number of points multiplied by the number of financiers, generals or buildings of one type, encouraging specialisation. The decision that needs to be made for each card is whether to discard for the shown resource or to place in your build area. Cards placed in the build area remain there until built by placing the required resource cubes, they cannot be later discarded for resources. Occasionally sufficient resources are gained by discarding cards that they are built immediately. Once built the resources are removed and the card placed above the starting card. Krystallium, financiers and generals are required to build a small number of cards. Krystallium can act as a substitute for any other colour.

Next the production part of the round generates resources in order from left to right. As each commodity is generated players total up production and gain that many cubes, the player with the most gaining a bonus general or financier token. Importantly adding cubes of one colour may cause a card to be built, immediately adding to production of other resources later within the same round. Any cubes that cannot be placed on a unbuilt card are placed on the starting card. They cannot be later moved from there to cards being built though can be traded for neutronium cubes at a rate of five to one.

At the end of the fourth round all incomplete cards are discarded and points totalled. Financiers and generals give one point each, which may be multiplied by some end game scoring cards.

Opinion

Components are mostly a large number of cards, which are a large tarot size, nicely and uniquely illustrated and have clear symbols. We decided to cover ours as they are shuffled a lot and have cubes placed on them, though this is by no means essential. Cubes are small clear plastic and familiar from many other games. The central production board is a good thickness. A helpful round token is provided which clearly shows the alternating pattern of card passing. Chips for generals and financiers are very thick. While the art is great the theme is very thin, it is really just about gaining and placing cubes on cards. We try to make the most of the theme by saying “I’m buildiing a submarine/moon base/ark of the covenant” though we refer to the resources purely as a colour of cube.

It has been taking us around forty minutes to play with two, though it shouldn’t be much slower with more as almost all actions are simultaneous. There is a nice ramp up to the rounds as greater production leads to more builds and more production. Timing of completing cards can make a big difference as there are only four rounds and newly built cards potentially generating new resources within the same round. It can be tempting to put far too many cards into production and end up getting little built in early rounds. On the other hand it is important to have somewhere to put all the new cubes that are generated, as otherwise they can only be used for neutronium. To be efficient requires a mixture of builds and discards, with some difficult decisions over what to keep.

The game can be a little AP prone and slow as there can be a big points difference between having the right amount and one too few resources. In the later rounds especially it is almost necessary to plan the entire production cycle as the cards are drafted, ensuring there sufficient discards of the right colours. So initially it seems like quite a light, simple game but can require quite a lot of thought. It might be less calculating at higher player counts as there would be less possibility of thinking what cards are likely to return in the draft. The rules remain very simple and the game seems easy to pick up and teach.

The game is fundamentally the same each time, but the random distribution of cards and what is drafted makes each game feel quite different. The more advanced cards are unique while many more basic cards have multiple copies, so it is often possible to use the same engine building techniques while aiming for quite different end goals. There appear to be multiple strategies for victory, there being no colour of building that is always more powerful. Several cards give points for all buildings of one colour, which can multiply significantly.

We have been really enjoying this and it has continued to be played after the initial excitement. We find it quite intense due to keeping track of production versus build requirements, and find it a game we can easily get engrossed in. We did add the expansion after fairly few plays, partly our of enthusiasm and as it offered greater variety, though we feel it would have also been fine with just the base game.

Summary

Good Points
Simple rules with emergent strategy
Components and art are very good
Lots of variability and different routes to victory

Bad points
Can be slow and AP prone, though likely less so at higher player counts

In summary a resource optimisation and drafting game that works well for two

It's a Wonderful World: Corruption & Ascension - 10 plays

From gallery of MattNManda


We got this expansion fairly soon after getting the base game, feeling it would add variety though mostly just because we have been enjoying playing. This expansion extends the game by adding additional cards and ways to score, not fundamentally changing the game. It also supports seven players, up from five in the base game.

Rules

Components are mostly a new deck of cards with different backs which are included in the draft by taking some from the new deck and some from the base game cards. The numbers of cards depend on player count but are 8 and 4 in the two player game. The draft is still to select seven cards so for two players five will be discarded. There are additionally more starting cards, three point general and financier tokens and sufficient cubes to allow the game to be played with seven rather than five. Lastly there is a large wipe clean board and pen which can be used for final scoring instead of the paper pad. It also adds rows for ascension scoring.

The ascension part of the new cards come in a few types, some of which are simply new variations on existing categories, such as new 25 point cards which consume a large number of resources. Notable are those that give end game points for sets of two rather than one card type, for example points for each set of one military and one factory building. There are now scoring cards for all categories of building, whereas the base game was missing any that scored for factories.

Corruption cards produce additional resources and are cheaper to build than similar base game cards, but balance this with negative production usually of one resource, to represent that lost to corruption. Helpfully the reduced production is not required to exist, so the penalty can be avoided if a category currently has zero production.

Opinion

Components are as good as those in the base game, the art being consistently excellent. It is helpful that the new deck has very different card backs making them easy to separate. The wipe clean board is really good and much easier to read.

The new cards give a lot of interesting choices, corruption being a good way to kick start the economy but can provide too much of a drag later on. The 25 point cards can be worth building, but tend to need to be started early in the game so that production buildings can be geared towards them. The cards which score for sets of two categories have been very popular with us, it is rare that we play a game without using at least one each.

While the cards can still be somewhat random there are a lot to draft from so there are always good choices as long as you are prepared to adapt your strategy. Having a fixed number of the new cards in each hand is a great innovation which avoids them taking over the game or being randomly rare.

We feel this expansion has added a lot more variety and different strategies, we are unlikely to ever play without it. Even with new players the additional complexity is minimal.

Summary

Good Points
New ways to score and build your economy
star: Great components and art, especially the scoring board
star: Innovative addition of new cards to the draft

Bad points
Nothing comes to mind.

In summary a well thought out expansion that improves the base game without over complicating it.

Exit: The Game – Advent Calendar: The Mystery of the Ice Cave - 24 plays

From gallery of MattNManda


We’ve played quite a few exit games in the last year so when we heard about the advent calendar we felt it might be a nice run up to Christmas. Luckily we got this in mid November just before it became difficult to get hold of in the UK. Having completed it here are our spoiler free thoughts.

The first thing we noticed is that the box is huge, this being necessary as there are twenty four doors which each contain one or more cards as well as what the rules refer to as mysterious objects. The cards are slightly smaller than usual but it all adds up to a lot of space. The box is brightly illustrated with a snow scene and ski slalom flags. There is a short rule book which also contains a hint and solution system for the puzzles. In the Exit series hints are usually a deck of cards but here they are shown by folding back a page of the book progressively more for each hint, which we found somewhat easier to use as it couldn’t get out of order.

Unusually for an Exit game there is a in depth story. Every day there is a page or two of narrative to be read before the next door is opened and a puzzle solved. We found the story a little contrived but also amusing and quite characterful. There are even a few references to Dinner For One, the English film that is traditional to watch in Germany at Christmas.

There is no code wheel, instead three strips with numbers 0-9 are cut out and threaded through slots in a card. When an answer to a riddle is found the strips are slid and then the whole thing turned over to show arrows pointing from the current door to the next door. The result is then checked by comparing symbols on the strips with those printed on the doors. If correct then the number of the next day is written on the provided snowball.

We enjoyed the story and wide range of inventive puzzles. It gave us something to look forward to at the end of each day. The story helped join together the twenty four separate plays. Some puzzles only took us two minutes, others twenty and a couple we ended up using the hints - from our reading online many others had difficulty with the same riddles. We found the turning over of the solution strips worked well to avoid us accidentally guessing the right answer, even up to the last day or two when there were only a very few remaining doors.

There were a few things we liked less. Several of the puzzles required peering in the doors at very small pictures contained within, making it difficult for more than one person to look at once. In many cases we resorted to using a tablet to photograph the pictures so we could zoom in and both see. It is quite destructive, even more so than regular exit games. We decided at the start to try not to destroy anything which itself became an interesting and creative puzzle; it is certainly possible but requires about ten pages of photocopying. We found the font of the story book a little challenging at times. The pages of the book were perforated so they could be removed each day, we folded them back instead which resulted in the book slowly self destructing.

Overall we are divided about whether we would get another should one be released next year. It was certainly engaging and looked forward to each day, but some of the size issues with the puzzles became rather frustrating by the end.
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Sun Jan 23, 2022 8:12 pm
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Review of 2021, the year of online gaming

It’s the time of year to write a post containing lots of numbers and form some views about which were our favourites. We don’t buy anything like every new game that comes out so we are not going to attempt to decide on which was the best new game of 2021, only what new to us has been enjoyed most. We prefer to play games many times and we play for a lot of our leisure time, logging 999 plays (1193 including expansions) of 160 different games (up from 130 in 2020) 95 of which we played 3 times or more. This is an average of around 3 per day - we play something almost every day, and occasionally five or six. We log all the games we play, including those online with turn based games that take several days logged on the day we finish. If we play with expansions then those are included. If we play the same game twice back to back then those are counted as two plays.

What has increased the number of different games this year is playing a lot of new games online, mostly on boardgamearena but also Yucata. We are not currently playing games with others in person so online has been a great way to keep playing with friends. Online has also meant we play with friends more often as it lowers barriers by avoiding travel and needs less organisation. We have also begun playing turn based games spread over a week or two, especially for longer games such as Underwater Cities that has been played online much more than in person. A couple of games we played online we later purchased, Lost Ruins of Arnak and Dice Forge, plus Race for the Galaxy that we re-bought. We initially felt Dice Forge would be overly fiddly in person with the dice manipulation, but find we much prefer the physical game as rolling real dice is more satisfying. The other couple of dozen new games tried out online haven’t been to our taste so it has worked well as a way to try before we buy.

Our H-Index for the year is 15, the same as 2020. As usual we break down our H-index into two lists for shorter and longer games based on whether they take more or less than 45 minutes for two, so the short games don’t swamp the larger ones. This year a five games on these lists including our most played game are not owned by us and only played online - these are marked with a *. We also don’t own Azul, Saint Petersburg and 6 nimmt! which almost made the list having been played eight times each. New to us games are marked with a +.

Short - H-Index of 13 (same as 2020)
- 7 Wonders* 79 plays
- Cascadia 35
- Sagrada 28
- Luxor* 28
- Exit: The Game – Advent Calendar: The Mystery of the Ice Cave+ 24
- Splendor* 22
- Trails of Tucana+ 21
- Habitats 19
- Canopy+ 18
- Sushi Go!* 15
- Bandido+ 14
- The Butterfly Garden (Second Edition)+ 14
- Calico 14

Comparing this list to 2020 only Sagrada, Habitats and Calico remain, though we still own all the games from last year’s list and they are still being regularly played.

Longer games - H-Index of 10 (identical for three years)
- Lost Ruins of Arnak+ 19 plays
- Roll Player+ 19
- It's a Wonderful World+ 17
- Paleo 16
- Roll for Adventure+ 16
- The 7th Continent 14
- The Castles of Burgundy 13
- Wingspan 13
- Back to the Future: Back in Time 11
- Carpe Diem 10
- Catan* - 10

Only Wingspan, 7th continent and Carpe Diem remain from last year’s list, though several from last year are just off the bottom at 9 plays such as Obsession. Only one from the list of last year has left - Paris: New Eden.

The new to us games we have enjoyed the most are Lost Ruins of Arnak, The LOOP, Cascadia, It’s A Wonderful World, Roll Player and Canopy. Of the games we have had much longer, Castles of Burgundy has definitely had a recent resurgence getting a lot of online play as well as in person. Wingspan continues to be a favourite as is Obsession and of course Sagrada. The games we are looking forward to at present are mostly expansions, such as that for Paleo, though we continue to look for interesting new and old games - feel free to make suggestions.

We still haven’t quite achieved our golden thumb, having had that as a long term goal last year, though at 85 reviews are getting slowly closer. We have begun a facebook page where we write about what we have played that day, it’s still early days but we are hoping people will share what they have been playing too. Here’s to lots of gaming for everyone in 2022.
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Fri Jan 7, 2022 4:01 pm
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Games with fifty or more plays

This month we are writing about all the games where we have logged fifty or more plays. Fifty feels like somewhat of a landmark, and means the cost per hour of entertainment is very low. We begun logging plays in 2018 which some of these games pre-date, in which case the actual number may be much larger. While we have written many reviews we tend to have written about only a third of the games we have played and mostly newer ones so many of these have yet to be covered in depth. Here they are in ascending order of plays.

We are continuing to write our daily short post on Facebook, feel free to follow us there.

Obsession - 50 plays

Guide your family of 19th century gentry to be the the most prestigious and well connected in Derbyshire. One of our favourites and the game that prompted this post. This has lots of theme and plays quite differently each time due to the variability in guests and available improvement tiles. We have recently been playing online over video call with some friends who only have the base game, which is still a great game but has made clear just how much it is improved by the expansion.

Board Game: Obsession

It's been quite fun to see how often this picture we took a couple of years ago keeps popping up on BGG.

Tides of Time - 55 plays

A two player only competitive card drafting game that creates a huge amount of depth in only eighteen cards and twenty minutes. It initially feels like there is one winning strategy and overpowered card, but with practice there are many paths to victory. This is a very cheap and small game so great if money or space are an issue. While there is some hate drafting it doesn’t feel at all like a mean game. We had this from some time in 2016 so plays are likely much higher.

Pandemic - 53 plays

The classic cooperative game of curing disease, we have over the years enhanced this with expansions as well as trying out most of the spin offs and the excellent fan made campaign mode. We also have a part finished Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 campaign which has been ironically stalled for the last two years due to the real pandemic. It took us a numerous plays and the help of the couple we are playing Legacy Season 1 with to get the hang of this and our first win, while now we can reliably win even with the difficultly increased by Pandemic: On the Brink. We haven't reviewed this yet, though have reviewed Fall of Rome and Rising Tide.

Villagers - 57 plays

A relatively simple, card based engine and tableau building game (Games for Two Mini Review). We bought this after watching many people at our board game club enjoy it. It gives a reasonably wide variety of different routes to victory, with a fair amount of luck in whether or not the right cards come out. We have mostly played this with two players, though recently we have been enjoying this with three on Yucata.

From gallery of MattNManda


Archaeology: The New Expedition - 59 plays

A simple set collection and push your luck game (Games for Two Mini Review). This was unavailable for a few years so we grabbed a copy as soon as this new edition was printed. Play is light hearted and we each have our favourite objects to collect. There are fun moments when a sandstorm or thief arrives at just the wrong time. Mostly played with two this also works well with more as it is quick and easy to teach. Another great game in a very small box.

Railroad Ink: Blazing Red Edition - 60 plays

A small and simple roll and write game played many times as a two player filler, mostly with the meteors added for some unpredictability. It gives several simple but interesting choices each round, ending at the ideal point where it is just not quite possible to get everything complete. Recently we have been playing this over video call and now only tend to play roll and writes with larger groups.

Wingspan - 62 plays

The modern classic game of bird based tableau and engine building (expansion Games for Two Mini Review). Drawn in by the box art we were fortunate to pre-order the first edition and have been regularly playing ever since, adding the expansions as they have been released. We like the theme and the variety of powers and synergies in the cards. After many plays we feel we can see past the initially obvious strategy of laying lots of eggs so now every game is different. We feel the Wingspan: Oceania Expansion has improved the game, mitigating some of the luck and engines to be built more quickly.

From gallery of MattNManda


Escape: The Curse of the Temple - 62 plays

A real time dice rolling game to cooperatively escape a cursed temple before the ten minute timer runs out. This is the only one of our real time games with over fifty plays, helped by it being short enough that we usually play twice back to back. Mostly played with two this is great, but even better when four or six join the chaos. It has a blend of both trying to make progress while not letting anyone else get stuck, and it feels quite different each game. We have several of the extra sets of tiles which adjust the difficulty to suit the player’s familiarity.

Habitats - 77 plays

A tile laying game of creating ideal habitats for wildlife and sometimes satisfying visitors (Games for Two Mini review). Animal themes are popular with us, and this has simple rules, is fast and is easy to play when we are feeling a little tired. Variable goals and scarcity of the four habitat types keep this interesting. This was quite difficult to get hold so we bought a copy from Spain, though we now have both the expansions via Kickstarter, the first of which has been included 54 times.

From gallery of MattNManda


Kingdomino - 84 plays

A very quick and simple tile laying game based on dominoes but with more interesting scoring. Mostly played with two using the 7x7 variant this is another game to fit into a short period of time as well as helping us with our times tables! We haven’t been tempted by the newer variations, it feels like they might be over complicating a very streamlined game. We did try Kingdomino Duel (Games for Two Mini Review) but prefer the original.

Oceanos - 87 plays

A colourful undersea adventure with set collection, push your luck and engine building elements with an over the top production with huge tiles to create and upgrade your submarine. This is the only game on this list we have traded away, it having eventually become stale. A great family game from which we definitely got good value, it doesn’t appear to be as popular as it deserves.

The 7th Continent - 94 plays

The epic cooperative game of survival and exploration. Each of these plays is a session of around an hour or ninety minutes. We enjoy the tension between finding the key locations to solve the curse while not running out of cards and failing to survive. The success and inventory systems give a good mixture of randomness, push your luck and control. We have played the majority of the curses from the two boxes, some of which are definitely better than others. We have tired of it a little and it is getting played less, though unlikely to leave before we have completed all the curses.

Kanagawa - 108 plays

A relaxing game of collecting paints and knowledge, using these to create the most balanced artwork (Games for Two Mini Review). For a long time we played two rounds of this just before going to bed. It is quick, restful, well presented and nice to look at, though luck can play a fairly large part.

From gallery of MattNManda


Codenames: Duet - 113 plays

A cooperative game of giving one word clues to the correct words out of many in a grid. We usually play three rounds, though we are very poor at this and one win a session is a good result. Half of these plays are with Pictures rather than words, which we find even trickier.

Mystery Rummy: Jack the Ripper - 187 plays

A rummy variant that adds theme and special cards that allow gaining more cards, checking the discard pile and other rule breaking actions. The only out of print game in this list we have had this for getting on for twenty years, it still gets played from time to time. This pre-dates logging but has a correct number of plays due to us keeping our scoring paper in the box. Unfortunately this led to us logging over one hundred plays on one arbitrary day which BGG appears not to approve of, so we aren’t ranked at the top of the most logged plays.

Sagrada - 204 plays

A dice drafting game of creating a window that best satisfies several competing goals, with the limited aid of tools. We find this quite restful as well as an interesting puzzle. It’s often played twice in a sitting, the two games usually feeling quite different due to dice randomness and changing the goals and tools. It does suffer slightly from ambiguous rules and we have house ruled it by reducing the dice pool for two players and the amount of points for private goals. Around a third of logged plays are with the Sagrada: The Great Facades – Passion expansion.

Uncounted Entrants

These are games that have been in our collection a long time prior to logging, so while they aren’t quite at fifty yet, they have certainly passed that mark by an unknown amount.

Race for the Galaxy - 6 logged plays, likely some hundreds

The card game of space exploration and domination, mostly played with the Race for the Galaxy: The Gathering Storm expansion. At a time when we had very few other games we played two hands of this almost every evening after dinner for most of a year. We really like the range of possible strategies, multiple card uses and trade offs in using cards as currency. We did tire of it and traded it away but having replayed it on board game arena recently re-bought this.

Port Royal - 40 logged plays

A push your luck game of nautical staff hiring, repelling boarders and contract fulfilment (Games for Two Mini Review). Another late evening game this is light and often creates a few amusing moments and tense finishes. For a small, cheap game it has a lot to offer.

From gallery of MattNManda


The Castles of Burgundy - 36 logged plays

The classic euro game of optimal tile laying. This was our first more complex game after gateway games like Ticket to Ride. We both have favourite strategies but there is enough variability to keep this feeling fresh. This still gets frequent plays, recently via boardgamearena.

Dominion - 22 logged plays

The classic light deck building game. Most plays have been with the Dominion: Prosperity expansion which adds a lot of variety as well as nice metal tokens. Another early purchase that was played many times over several years, this has had fewer plays of late but having almost traded it away have recently rediscovered how much we like it.

Lost Cities 12 logged plays
A two player only, set collection and push your luck game with lots of interaction. We’ve had this well over a decade and played it so much we covered the cards as the fraying around the edges was becoming an issue. We like tension between waiting to collect a large set of one colour but not wait so long that helpful cards have to be given to your opponent.
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Wed Dec 22, 2021 2:24 pm
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November - Quick Takes

We haven’t completed any reviews this month, though we have logged 103 plays (87 without expansions) which is perhaps better! Starting this month we are trying out writing a brief daily update on what we are playing, on a new Facebook page @BoardGamesForTwo. We felt it might be interesting to write shorter snippets between these longer articles. It’s early days and we are feeling our way with what to write. Feel free to join in and let us know what you’ve been playing or what you think of our latest acquisitions.

Nothing has left the collection this month, while we’ve gained several. The Kickstarter Exhibition: 20th Century arrived and has been played a couple of times. We also gave into the hype and bought the Exit: The Game – Advent Calendar: The Mystery of the Ice Cave, so we have been eagerly awaiting December 1st. Our preordered Terraforming Mars: Ares Expedition has had two plays so far, it seems like an interesting combination of Terraforming Mars and Race for the Galaxy. Talking of which, having recently played Race for the Galaxy on BGA this has become the first game we have ever re-bought after trading away, having played it some hundreds of times around a decade ago. Are there any games you have ever re-purchased?

We’ve played a lot of new games lately, most of them on BGA, 7 Wonders getting the most plays this month even though we don’t own a copy. There have been several however that we have disliked sufficiently that we won’t play them enough to write a proper review, so we thought we would instead write some brief first impressions.

Once Upon A Forest

Drawn in by the forest and animals theme and the whimsical title we tried this on BGA. Unfortunately for us we didn’t first check the rating on BGG. 5.0 is impressively poor given games begin with 5.5. The game consists of building trees in a very restrictive fashion while forcing the next player to ruin their trees with awful cards. It takes a huge amount of effort to earn one point collecting just the right amount of several animals, which can be wiped out in an instant with a forced play. Very mean and all the choices felt obvious.

Dice Hospital

A kickstarter that we passed on which a friend wanted to try out, our preconception was that it was fiddly and overly analytical. Having played it once we both found it incredibly frustrating, there never being enough staff or hospital improvements to avoid leaving patients on trollies in the corridor, and often futile as it was clear a patient was never going to be healed enough to get them out of the door before the turns ran out. In most games the result of a poor turn feels bad in an abstract way, but letting people get ill and die felt too dismal. We started to wonder if it was intended as a satire on the underfunding of health services. BGA did remove the fiddlyness of turning many dice up and down one pip, but for us it remained overly analytical and not fun.

PARKS

Another theme that attracted us, this is a game we had considered in the past though we were always unsure at how good it was with two. This is a basic pick up resources and buy cards game with some light blocking interaction and tension between going slowly and taking more actions or moving quickly and getting better bonuses. We felt there wasn’t enough interest for the length of the game and found it dull, though it might better for families. The BGA interface didn’t help, it being difficult to see the symbols if zoomed out or all the relevant cards without lots of scrolling if zoomed in. The card art might make the game better in person, but we prefer the more interesting gameplay of Cascadia.

On to December, when we should hopefully complete at least one review if the advent calendar doesn’t wear us out .
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Tue Nov 30, 2021 6:20 pm
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October (just about) - Seize the bean and Canopy

A friend has been suggesting they would very much like to see us do a board game video as well as writing this blog. We’re really not very keen as we don’t like the idea of seeing ourselves on YouTube. We might be happy to do a podcast as a less difficult option. A nice thing about writing is it is much easier to do fit round all the other nice things we do and doesn’t impinge on game playing time. Video and audio rehearsals and editing sounds like it takes a lot more effort. We ourselves like to consume all three, short videos for a quick overview then reading for more detail and to find out about releases many months ahead. Podcasts often make for a good bedtime story! Do you prefer video or audio, or is the written word just more attractive?

Arrivals for this month have been the excellent It's a Wonderful World on the recommendation of a friend, they also suggested Dice Forge which we played online then happened across cheap second hand. Departures are Foothills (Snowdonia is more fun and no longer), Seize the Bean (see below), Biblios: Quill and Parchment and Unlock!: Exotic Adventures (both reviewed previously) all of which were not to our taste. Also our much loved copy of Oceanos that we had played 87 times and tired of, though we certainly had our money’s worth and hours of fishy fun.

Canopy - 12 plays

From gallery of MattNManda


This is a Kickstarter that caught our attention because of the theme of plants and animals in a rainforest, its primarily two player which is comparatively rare and the ecological approach to manufacturing. Players are competing to create the best rainforest environment with a mixture of trees, animals and plants.

Rules

Everyone begins with one card showing a tree trunk. A deck of seed cards is shuffled and put to one side. The much larger main deck is shuffled then divided into three roughly equal parts, one for each of the three rounds. Three “new growth” card pile markers are placed in between the players. Each round is begun by dealing one card to the first growth pile, two to the second and three to the third.

On their turn players look at the first pile and decide either to take it, or pass on to the next pile, adding a card to the pile just passed. This is repeated until a pile is taken, replacing it with one card from the deck, or if all piles are passed a random card from the deck is taken. When the deck runs out players lose the option of passing the last pile and must take it. Once all piles have been taken the round ends.

When taking a pile any animals, plants, seeds, fire, disease or weather are placed in front of the player. Tree trunks can be added to an existing trunk to make a taller tree or used to begin a new tree. Any tree canopies must be used to complete existing trees or discarded if none are available. Plants and animals are placed in matching groups. Animals come in pairs of which one will give a special power to be used at most once per round, such as being able to pass a pile and leave some cards behind.

At the end of the each round cards are scored and various interactions take place. Some animals will have a special effect. Seeds will allow seed cards to be drawn and selected, fire cards giving a greater choice. Fire and disease are harmless when single but two causes the player to lose two plants or animals, with three or more resulting in all players losing one. Any newly completed trees are scored, with points on some trunks and height giving points depending on the canopy. The tallest tree yet to win an award will gain a few points. Plants score in sets, some reward three or more, others odd numbers and one giving positive points for up to two but negative points for three or more. Weather cards give points for pairs of sun and rain. Only trees and animals are retained between rounds, all others are discarded.

At the end of the final round animals are scored, more points being gained for a pair. One player gets a bonus for the forest with the most completed trees. Highest score wins.

A more advanced set of plant and animal cards is provided which can be individually swapped out with those in the base set. These provide some more complex and strategic options as well as some take that.

Opinion

The game was manufactured in a more eco friendly way, for example it arrived in a brown paper wrapper rather than shrink wrap. The box is nice and small, containing a good cardboard insert which holds the cards and tokens. The cards are good quality and nicely illustrated, as is the box and drawstring bag which avoids having any plastic for keeping the scoring and animal tokens. The cards have mostly clear symbols and where there is text it is easy to read. The rules are a couple of fanfold sheets, we haven’t needed to refer to them since the first couple of games, except for the order in which the end of round scorings are performed.

When we first got this out we felt the pile of cards was huge, must be for playing with four and would take ages. In practice turns go by very rapidly and with one to three cards being drawn each turn the pile empties quickly. It takes around twenty five minutes to play which feels right for the amount of game. We have only played with two, through rules are provided for a four player variant. It does take a while to shuffle between games as most if not all of the tree trunks will have been separated, animals and plants grouped together. Variability comes from the different plants and animals than can be swapped in and out of the decks, but mostly in the randomness of what comes out when and which cards are grouped together in piles.

We’ve found the mechanism of passing and adding cards really fun and engaging. It can be hard to decide whether a pile is good enough to pick up or best left until later, or too good to leave your opponent. One pile may initially look awful with several threats but then through repeated passing be balanced out with some good cards, or vice versa. There is further push your luck with the threat cards where two will harm your own forest while three hurts everyone equally. There is some possibility to be mean, for example filtering out a high scoring canopy, the second of a pair of animals or at the end of round making sure your opponent gets cards that will hinder them. It is broadly indirect, as long as the leopard is not included, and all harmful cards can be beneficial in the right circumstances so we haven’t found it a problem - we are generally very adverse to direct conflict games.

Our plays have been really enjoyable. It’s a good, well balanced two player game without direct conflict, which is a comparative rarity. The forest and animals theme is always going to be popular with us.

In one game there was this really tall tree, though sadly topped with a zero point canopy rather than a game winning times two!
From gallery of MattNManda


Summary

Good Points
Eco friendly production with nice art
Several interesting decisions every turn
Play is brisk
Forest and animals theme

Bad points
Can have a mean streak

In summary a light and ecologically produced two player game about ecology

Seize the Bean - 3 plays

Board Game: Seize the Bean


This is a Kickstarter we backed in 2018, arriving in September 2021 after three years. We were thinking that our taste might have changed so much that we would sell it unopened but having re-watched some old videos decided to give it a try first. The game is set in Berlin where players compete to have the best coffee shop, as determined by the most five star reviews. Resources need to be gathered, the shop upgraded, customers attracted and supplied with coffee and cake.

Rules

Each player receives a coffee shop board on which the hype track is set to two, two barista meeples and four friends and family cards which are shuffled to form a personal draw deck. They receive enough coffee beans and milk to serve these initial customers. In the centre of the table three decks of cards are created by combining several customer type decks, shuffled and four of each turned over to form a market and discard piles named the city. There are cards for customers, equipment upgrades and theme upgrades, the customer cards being referred to as the city. Piles of a number good and bad reviews are created depending on player count. There are resources of coffee beans, sugar and milk.

The game is played over several rounds. Each begins with taking turns to perform two actions using six worker placement spots on personal boards. On the left are locations for collecting more supplies of coffee, milk and sugar. On the right customers can be taken from the city and added to your discard pile or the shop can be upgraded in two ways. Firstly to improve resource collection locations on the left and second to improve the upgrade locations on the right, giving a level of engine building. Upgrades often provide more of the same thing or many other types of bonus such as raising the level of hype, gaining good reviews or looking ahead in the city decks. Having three identical or five different shop upgrade symbols on the same side of the shop gains an instant bonus and five end game points.

Next a number of customers equal to the level of hype are drawn to form a queue, adding to any left over from previous rounds. Players take turns to serve the next customer in their queue. Each customer can be served twice, requiring a number resources which in some cases may be reduced by a matching shop upgrade. The left option must be done first, which activates their special ability and sometimes also gives a good review. The right option is optional and usually gives more good reviews. Special abilities depend on the type of customer, for example cyclists deliver more goods while musicians make customers happy which may result in them staying in the queue for next round. Further abilities may generate walk in customers who rather than joining the discard pile are added directly to the queue. By chaining together the abilities of multiple customers a much longer queue may be served.

All these happy customers then cause more people to come to your shop through word of mouth. All of the customers in line and the shop upgrades show a symbol for the type of customer. Word of mouth attracts any customer in the city matching one of these symbols.

Any customers marked as happy generate a good review and remain in the queue. Unhappy customers, those who did not receive their mandatory left hand order generate a bad review, they will also go to your discard pile unless you have several bad reviews when they will leave to the city discard pile. All other customers are removed from the queue and added to your discard pile, which is only shuffled once the draw pile is exhausted. The last card in the central card decks are discarded and the lines moved across to add a new card.

The hype track on the player board goes to a maximum of five, any advances beyond that instead gain an additional good review.

Rounds continue until the good reviews run out, then the round is completed and final scoring takes place. Points are gained for good reviews, lost for bad reviews. Customers are separated by type and the player with the most of each category gains an additional point for every customer of that type.

The box contains many other sets of customer decks with a huge rule book of expansions which change the game to add variety and additional complexity if desired.

Opinion

We played the Kickstarter edition, without the additional plastic cakes that were an add on. The components for this game are excellent. Each coffee shop is a double layered board representing a real coffee shop, with the back giving an introduction to the shop and founders. Resources are resin coffee beans, sugar cubes and milk cartons, which apart from their diminutive size could be easily mistaken for the real thing. Cards are good quality and smaller, which is a good thing as the game already takes up a lot of table space. Resources can be displayed and kept in some nice drawstring bags though we found for the coffee beans this didn’t really close tightly enough to avoid them spilling in the box. The card art is functional, amusing and thematic though in our opinion is not up to the standard of the rest of the components. The review tokens nicely emulate real website reviews, providing a little more thematic immersion. Like a lot of Kickstarter games we have played it does suffer from a number of what we feel are overly small symbols, particularly those for the shop upgrades. There are a lot of symbols and we had to repeatedly look some up in the rule book. There are reminder cards for those on the different sets of customers, but not the common symbols on starter guests and coffee shops. The rule book was well explained with lots of examples, though it might have benefitted from a quick start guide.

As with a lot of games played with two the card market could be somewhat static. This limited options for attracting a wide range of customers by word of mouth, sometimes resulting in a monoculture of customers, making neither them nor the player happy. We contemplated thinning the decks by removing those with duplicate powers or moving more at the end of each round.

It feels rather like we guess working in a coffee shop might be. There is some tension created by not knowing who might walk in the door next and whether you have the wares to please them, along with a good feeling when it all works out, everyone is happy and customers start flooding in.

We found the game to feel over long for the depth and interest, there being many turns per round and each requiring a number of sub-actions. Players can have very different numbers of customers each round that can result in a fair amount of down time. We only played with two and would not wish to play with four let alone the six player expansion. We would have become more fluent with further plays but the game didn’t hold our interest enough to be chosen over alternatives. We did not try any of the expansions, having read some of the rules and feeling they didn’t fundamentally alter the game.

As we played we were reminded of several other games. It has the feeding customers causing chaining of multiple actions and down time from Grand Austria Hotel. We also felt it had the fiddlyness, many small actions per turn and movements to and from the resource piles of Sierra West. Unfortunately those are both games we didn’t like for exactly these similar reasons, which meant we rapidly concluded regardless of how good it might be, this was not a game for us. You may like this game more if you enjoy creating card combinations and combo chains, or the theme is appealing.

This may well be a great game, but for us a combination of length, downtime, multiple small actions per turn and fiddlyness meant it didn’t get chosen over other options. At least the current hype level is aptly high so it was easy to trade away.

Summary

Good Points
Lovely components
Lots of variety in customers and upgrades

Bad points
Fiddly with many small actions per turn
Felt long for the level of depth and interest

In summary a nicely presented thematic game that was not our cup of tea
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Sun Oct 31, 2021 9:55 pm
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September part 2 - Underwater Cities and Llamaland

Another couple of reviews before the month ends.

Underwater Cities - 8 plays

From gallery of MattNManda


Underwater Cities is a euro game by Vladimír Suchý where players are competing to build the most impressive underwater city network, the game being set in a future where all land space for human habitation is full.  It’s been out for a couple of years but we only got it in the winter of 2020.  We are fans of Pulsar 2849 by the same designer but were initially put off by reports of a very long play time.  We later created this poll to get player’s views on the actual length which was enough to reassure us.

Rules

There is a large shared board in the middle of the table.  Each player has a personal board where their underwater network will be placed, starting with only a single habition dome in one corner.  Everyone receives a few starting resources of kelp, steelplast, science and credits depending on player order.

The game is played over ten rounds.  Each round players have three action markers which are placed on a number of action spots on the shared board.  The number of spots and their purpose varies between the 1-2 and 3-4 player sides of the board.  Variously they allow building domes, tunnels between domes, collecting resources, placing buildings or upgrading them.  The spots are divided into three coloured sections, red, yellow and green.  All spots can only be used once per round except for an always available one that gives some money and cards, plus one only used in a four player game that allows one player to spend money to reuse an already activated spot.  Buildings come in three types, desalination plants that produce money, labs which generate science and kelp farms that produce kelp, all built using  the resource they produce.

The other main components are several decks of cards, one for each of the three eras of the game.  Players begin with a choice of six from the first era though discard down to three before the start of every turn.  Each turn one card is played and at the end a new one drawn, various action spaces may also provide more draws, giving more choice for next turn.  Many cards have immediate effects similar to those for using an action spot.  Some give end game points, permanent special powers or production bonuses, while others are action cards which are kept in front of  the player and then activated later by various action spots to give further benefits.  Most importantly the cards come in the same three colours as the action spots and the benefit is only gained if the colour of the card matches the action spot otherwise it is discarded, as it also is when using the always open action spot.  Yellow spots are powerful but the cards weak, while the green spots are weak but the cards strong, with red somewhere in the middle.  Further “Special” cards can be obtained by using one particular action spot.  These are limited in number and more powerful than regular cards especially where end game points are concerned.  They do however require one to three credits to be paid when played.

An optional component are government contracts, these are three randomly determined mid game goals giving a few points or a free building to the first player to complete the requirements, usually having a number of upgraded structures.

At the end of the fourth, seventh and tenth rounds production occurs.  All of the buildings and tunnels connected to your network produce resources and potentially points.  Upgraded structures produce additional resources, pairs of buildings giving a further bonus.  Upgraded desalination plants give access to the biomatter resource.   Biomatter can be used as either kelp or steelplast, or in the construction of symbiotic domes which unlike regular domes give points during each production.  All connected domes then consume one kelp, not having enough requires spending biomatter or points.  After prodution the next era begins, changing the deck of cards that are drawn from and giving everyone three cards from the new deck.

Around the outside of your board are three randomly allocated metropolises representing surface cities the underwater network can be connected to.  Building tunnels to either of two of these gives immediate or production bonuses.  The third gives end game points if a condition is also met, for example having many domes.

Player order for the first round is determined randomly. In subsequent rounds it is decided by how far each player moves up the federation track the previous round, moves being gained from some action spots and cards.  Moving up the track can also give bonus resources and points.

After the tenth round production comes final scoring.  Points are gained for end game scoring cards, metropolises’ and points for each dome, with more points being gained for domes surrounded by a wider variety of buildings.  Remaining resources are sold and all money converted to points.

The game comes with a variant on the other side of the player boards that gives further depth.  Some of the building, tunnel and dome spaces require additional resources to be built though give boosts to production or points.

Opinion

The components for this game are quite variable in quality.  The domes are two colours of plastic and stand up nicely on the player boards.  Buildings are small plastic cylinders which are good.  Upgrading buildings is represented by stacking two cylinders on top another, which can be easily knocked over.  Cards are average quality and have fairly varied artwork, all the symbols are clear and special cases explained with text on the cards so it has been rarely if ever necessary to refer to the rule book.  The player boards are thin.  Resources come in denominations of one and three.  Unusually the threes are the shape of three of the singles stuck together so can be easily confused.  The rule book is clear and has examples of scoring and a number of tricky cases with helpful illustrations.

We have played this with both two and three, both of which work well, we have yet to try four.  We slightly prefer the 3-4 player side of the board, perhaps because with three it is less crowded.  All our three player games have been online, initially using tabletop simulator and more recently using Yucata.  Games on Yucata are rules enforced which has helped as has playing turn based with the game spread out over a week or two, this has possibly become our favourite way to play as it gives lots of thinking time and the game length doesn’t matter.  We are likely to only ever play with four using Yucata to avoid downtime.  Game length for the two of us is a little over an hour, which matches the poll results.  Games with three have been around an hour and forty minutes.

Matching the card colours with actions spaces creates lots of interesting decisions, both in which cards to keep and tension in whether to take a spot early before someone else does or wait for the right card to turn up and risk missing out.  Only a few times a game it will be worth discarding a card.  The cards very a lot and there are tradeoffs between immediate rewards and those with production bonuses or powers.

After the first couple of games we found this to be good but not amazing, then through repeated plays and especially online when we could play with three we came to really like it.  It is usually a good sign for us when a game grows in enjoyment rather than being immediately great as such games often lose their lustre after a few plays.  There appear to be many paths to victory with lots of space to try out different strategies, though the environment of every game will be different due to available cards.  The level of interaction suits us, there are no attacking cards though it is important to keep an eye on your opponents to guess where which action spots they may block next. Government contracts and the limited supply of end game scoring special cards create some small tension without becoming the key focus.    This is very much a game of getting small amounts of points from many sources rather than many points from one goal, the strongest goals only being about ten percent of the total.

Some people have compared this to Terraforming Mars but we haven’t felt this beyond the theme of people living in domes.  A friend has likened it to a much more easily accessible and less punishing version of Agricola.

Summary

Good Points
 Interesting and difficult choices every turn
A huge variety of cards, goals and powers
 Some interaction, without direct conflict

Bad points
 Components are somewhat mixed, and some easily knocked over

In summary a deep and interesting euro game with an unusual theme.

Llamaland - 4 plays

From gallery of MattNManda


Llamaland is a game by Phil Walker-Harding, a designer whose games we are very fond of.  Combined with the animal theme this sounded like very much our thing when we read about it in the spring, our preorder arriving in late September.  As well as Llamas the games is themed around building terraced landscapes in a cartoon style ancient south American civilisation.

Rules

Setup is to place five piles of polyomino tiles each of five squares in size in the centre of the table along with three types of resources (corn, potatoes and cacao) and coins.  Each player receives a square board of four squares a side, along with four scoring markers in their own colour and three foundation tiles of one square.  Three types of cards are laid out.  LLama cards come in three colours matching the three resources showing a number of points from five to twelve.  Each type of llama card is shuffled then a number are drawn according to player count and placed in ascending order of points so the highest is at the top and all points values can be seen.  The deck of cards showing people are shuffled and four put out in a row next to the deck. Finally a number of scoring cards depending on player count are displayed.

All tiles and starting board have some squares showing fields and some showing the resources, coins or villages.  On their turn players take one tile and place it adjacent to or on top their starting board or previously placed tiles, gaining any resources covered.  Tiles may not be placed so they overhang or are not completely supported by the table or existing tiles, nor may the same shape be placed exactly atop itself.  The foundation tiles may be used to fill any gaps though the resource covered by the foundation is not gained.  Any previously placed llamas may not be moved and block placing a tile underneath.

Covering a village gains the player one of the people cards, the display then refilling from the deck.  These give special powers such as the ability to trade one resource for another or gain an additional resource when gaining two of the same type.

Once per turn four resources of one type can be traded in for the top matching llama card.  As well as the card this gains the player a wooden llama which is immediately placed on a field.  Two coins may optionally substitute for a resource, any number of times.  Players may not end their turn with ten or more resources, either having to discard or spend the excess on a llama.

Once per turn a scoring marker may be placed on a scoring card or moved from one card to another.  Cards give points for various conditions such as having five people, four corn llamas or several llamas on a certain height of tile.  Each has three spots for three different amounts of points with only one player permitted per spot, only two of the spots being used in a two player game.

Play continues until only one type of llama card or only four tiles remain, then the round is completed and the scores totalled.  Points are mostly gained for scoring cards and llamas with a small residual for remaining resources and coins.

Opinion

While the cards are a little thin all the other components are very good quality.  In particular the tiles are very thick and the llama meeples rather cute.  All the symbols are easily understood and  the rule book is both short and clear.  Art is in a cartoon style, we found it quite attractive.  When the game is finished everyone ends up with a unique terraced hilly landscape covered in llamas which makes it feel worth playing on its own.  The box could have been a little more helpful for storing the tiles shapes separately, such as the cardboard insert used in Barenpark.  Many plastic bags are provided but they are too small for storing the tiles.

The game has some similarities with Gingerbread House by the same designer, in that it is symbols converted by a tile that are gained, the limit of ten resources and the way resources are traded in for scoring cards.  Llamaland feels looser as the board can be expanded to suit rather than being limited to three by three, though is simultaneously more difficult because the tiles are fairly large and getting them to tessellate over several levels can be much more tricky than two square tiles.  Because all the llamas cost four resources and there are many opportunities via the people to trade one resource for another it doesn’t have the same problem as Gingerbread House where a player can have a large set of resources but nothing to spend them on.  The games are of broadly similar weight overall, though we feel Llamaland is probably less AP prone.  For the present we are happy to keep both in our collection.

Variability comes from the randomness of the symbols on the tiles, the people plus the scoring cards.  Additional tactical variation is created by the random distribution of llama values, one type can be clearly more valuable or reward early birds much more than latecomers.  The scoring cards have a fair amount of variety, providing helpful goals that are fun to attempt.  For example getting two llamas on the fifth level is really rather tricky and well worth the eighteen points.  There is often a tension between making the land bigger by adding more base level tiles but gaining nothing this turn and making a tall pile to get the most valuable llamas first and then getting stuck.  Gaining llamas is good for end game scoring but they get in the way of further tile placement which adds to the tile placement puzzle and helps avoid anyone getting too far ahead.

We have only played with two which takes about twenty five minutes.  More players shouldn’t fundamentally change the game though turns might get a little slow depending on how well people can plan ahead with tile shapes and be prepared to accept the inevitably less than perfect layouts.    It differs from most polyomino games in not requiring shapes to fit a template, though by allowing arbitrary expansion it does take up quite a lot of table space.  While it has some race elements it feels quite relaxed, certainly much more than Bärenpark, perhaps because there are so many different things to be racing for that players may not be competing for the same things.  The ability to move scoring tokens creates another interesting layer of decisions.  There is a tension in whether to place tokens early and find the hill doesn’t evolve in the right way or place late or move the goals that won’t be scored and risk the best scoring spots on each card having been taken.  With two there are enough cards for all but one scoring token to be placed on highest level, who mostly leads to it not being worthwhile to move them.  Overall we have been really enjoying the game.

Summary

Good Points
 Thick tiles and cute llamas
 Simple and challenging at the same time
 Lots of table presence and a unique landscape at the end

Bad points
 Takes up lots of table space
 Lack of a good way to store the tiles in the box

In summary an interesting and attractive puzzle, with added llamas
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Wed Sep 29, 2021 8:59 pm
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September reviews - Cascadia and Unlock

It’s been time to help out with the parish magazine again so we haven’t written quite as much this month.  The weather has been kind so we have been playing a lot of games in our very small summer house. The lack of table space changes which games we pick so the huge Intrepid hasn’t been played much more, while Cascadia (reviewed below) has.  When we started writing the only new game since last time is the arrival after three whole years of Seize the Bean. We were thinking that our taste might have changed so much that we would have sold it unopened but having re-watched some old videos decided to give it a try - after three plays we are unsure.  Then in the last couple of days Streets, Llamaland and Canopy all arrived, we’ve played two of the three and really enjoyed them. Do comment and let us know what you have been playing this month.

Cascadia - 25 plays

From gallery of MattNManda


This was a Kickstarter that we backed due to similarities to Habitats and Calico, the latter by the same company.  The theme of creating ecosystems for wildlife was a definite attraction.  The name Cascadia refers to a geographic area in the North West of North America in which the wildlife and terrain types in the game are found.

Rules

This is a tile and token laying game.  Tiles are hexagonal and show one or two of five landscape types plus symbols matching one to three of the five animal types.  Tokens represent the five animal types and can be placed on tiles showing a matching animal symbol.  To begin with each player has a large tile in the shape of three of the regular hexagonal tiles and no animal tokens.  In the centre is a display of four tiles paired with four animal tokens. 

Each turn one pair of tile and token are taken.  The tile must be placed adjacent to any existing tile, landscape types do not need to match.  The token can be placed on any tile, new or existing, that shows the matching symbol, or discarded if none match.  The tiles that contain only a single landscape and animal type are keystone tiles, placing an animal on these gains a leaf token.  Leaves can be spent to take any tile and animal from the display.

The display is refilled from stacks of tiles and a bag of animal tokens.  Should at any point all four animal tokens in the display be identical they are automatically discarded and the display refilled.  The same can optionally happen once per turn should a player find there are three matching tokens. Once everyone has had twenty turns the game ends and is scored. 

Points are gained for both animals and landscapes.  Scoring criteria for animals are shown on one of four (or five with the KS promo) cards for each species.  All the scoring cards for each animal differ while having similar characteristics, for example hawks need to be spaced out and have line of sight restrictions, fish are in lines not groups and foxes want to be surrounded by a diversity of life.  Scoring for landscapes is one point for every tile in the single largest area of each type plus a small bonus for having the most compared to other players.  One point is gained for any unused leaves.

Opinion

Tiles are chunky cardboard while the tokens are painted wood with animal images printed on top.  Cards are rather thin though nicely illustrated as is the box.  Overall the components are very good and it is nice the animals are printed on the wooden tokens rather than requiring lots of stickers.  The rule book is clear and there is a detailed guide to all the scoring cards, though the print is very small.

We have played this with two and solo, both work well.  The solo mode comes with a series of challenges using different combinations of scoring cards and goals, making it more varied than a simple beat the score.  We found after a few plays that with two players the random sample of animals from the bag could give skewed sample such as their being no bears, that we felt made it randomly impossible to complete some goals.   We assume that with four, players could see what everyone else was removing and adjust their strategy.  We removed eight of each animal, so there are twenty for each player plus twenty more which is what there is with four players, and felt that this greatly improved the experience.

This may just be our style of play but we have felt that some of the scoring cards are not entirely balanced between each other if the sets are arbitrarily mixed, our evidence being that by swapping out one card we get significantly and consistently different total scores.  This can either be viewed as a problem or as a meta game where part of being successful is in deducing which animals will be most valuable for a given set of scoring criteria.  The sets of cards with identical letters do seem to work together very well, as likely do the sets in the solo challenges.  The four sets of scoring cards A-D increase in complexity so player’s can find a level which suits.  We have found the D set slowed the game too much and prefer mostly B’s.

There is a nice tension between getting ideal arrangements of animals, creating large areas of landscape types and in keeping your placement options open for whatever may be available next turn.  Around twice as many points are gained for animals than landscapes, but both scores are usually close and both are important. Collecting leaves from the keystone tiles can also make a difference, sometimes making the difference between victory and defeat.  Spending a leaf to take any combination can means spending a point so is not an easy decision.  The randomness of the tiles and animals keeps the game feeling different every time, there also seems to be room for choosing a strategy at the beginning though such plans rarely remain intact very long.  The choices can be made quickly most of the time, it being possible to look ahead during other’s turns.  Occasionally it does slow down and it could drag with some more AP prone players especially at higher player counts.

We have enjoyed this greatly which has contributed to it getting played so many times in the short time we have had it.  It takes around twenty minutes so we usually play it twice in a row.  It has some similarities to Calico, the previous Kickstarter from the some company.  So far we prefer Cascadia, we find it freer and more open, less calculating and exacting, perhaps due to there being no set area to lay your tiles.  Scores have mostly been very close and it is not obvious until the end who is ahead.

Summary

Good Points
 Nice components, everything is clear and attractive
 Lots of variation
 Very easy to learn, with emergent depth
 Flows very easily and quickly with non AP players

Bad points
 Not all combinations of scoring cards seem equal
 We felt the draw bag needed a little adjustment for two players

In summary a fun and interesting tile drafting game with animals. definitely a keeper given we’ve played it 25 times in less than a month!

Unlock!: Exotic Adventures - 1 play over four sessions

Board Game: Unlock!: Exotic Adventures


Having greatly enjoyed several of the Exit and Adventure Tales games we thought we would give the unlock series a try and traded an Exit game for Unlock Exotic Adventures.  Here are our spoiler free thoughts, based necessarily on a single play through.

There are three entirely separate adventures in the box with different levels of difficultly.  The simplest is helping a sleeping child with their nightmares, medium is helping Scherazade tell a tale in the world of the Arabian Nights while the most difficult is a return to the Lost World of Arthur Conan Doyle.   There is also a very small training adventure to help with learning the rules.

Rules

Components for the game are a deck of numbered cards per adventure and an app which runs on a phone or tablet.  By default the app runs a one hour timer to give the feel of a real escape room, though this can be disabled if desired.  The start card shows a scene with several ringed numbers which are objects that can be interacted with by revealing the card with that number.  More scene cards may be found later.  Some cards show a lock which requires a four digit code to be entered into the app.  Others are machines which activate mini games in the app.  Some adventures come with additional paper components.

Objects can be found which are either red or blue and can be combined with an object of the other colour by looking in the deck for a card of their summed numbers. Not all numbers are present so only some combinations are permitted.  Many puzzles or object combinations when performed incorrectly give a penalty either directly in the app or by a card requesting the penalty button be pressed, this makes a noise and deducts one to three minutes from the remaining time.  Hidden numbers can be found within the pictures of many cards which permit revealing further cards to aid with the adventure.  After most of the cards in the deck have been used the end of the story will be reached, hopefully before time runs out.  Should the adventurers get stuck, card numbers can be entered into the app to gain hints or solutions.

Opinion

The decks of cards are nicely illustrated and the symbols and colours used for card types are clear.  The rule book was well written and the introductory scenario helpful in getting started.

We found several things in our play thorough that interfered with our enjoyment.  We found the hidden number system a frustrating, uninteresting puzzle, requiring us to scan every corner of the card art for numbers that were sometimes only a few millimetres tall; we had to use a magnifying glass (not supplied) and even then some were hard to see.  This was awkward with two and felt like it would not scale up to the suggested maximum of six players.  Receiving a time penalty and often a sarcastic message on a card every time an incorrect answer was entered made us more reluctant to experiment with the environment and not fun, we disabled the timer as a result.  We found the puzzles to be not very inventive or novel compared to those of the Exit series.

With the other escape games we have played we have used the hints when stuck then when the answer is revealed almost always found it made sense and felt we should have worked it out.  With this game several made no sense to us even when explained and seemed to require completely arbitrary leaps not supported by the information given.  With other games we have been quite happy to spend longer than the suggested play time working out the puzzles, with this we got through all of the first two adventures then decided to stop part way through the third as we were entirely disengaged.  We found the idea of the stories interesting but the implementation was something we really didn’t enjoy.

Summary

Good Points
 Good rules and introduction
 Nice art and settings for the stories

Bad points
 Penalty system punishes experimentation
 Puzzles didn’t make sense to us even when the answer was known
 Spotting tiny details with a magnifying glass

In summary, for us a disengaging and unenjoyable experience
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Fri Sep 24, 2021 7:11 pm
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August reviews - Arnak, Roll Player, Boomerang

This month our collection has increased by a few.  The arrivals have been a couple of Kickstarters, Cascadia and Intrepid both of which we have been playing in the last week - we’ve enjoyed both.  We also bought Boomerang reviewed here.  Out was our very old copy of Starship Catan which we had lost interest in.  We still have half a dozen games on our pile awaiting new homes.

A new innovation for us has been in playing turn based games on BoardGameArena and Yucata, meaning we have several games being played at the same time with different sets of friends and each game lasting around a week.  We started with simpler games such as 7 Wonders and Sushi Go! and having enjoyed it have now moved on to The Castles of Burgundy and Underwater Cities.  We’ve found it quite addictive checking our email several times a day for new turns.

Lost Ruins of Arnak - 8 plays

From gallery of MattNManda


This game has been on the hot list for a while, though when we first looked at it probably six months ago we were unsure it would be good for two or that turns might be too long for our tastes.  When it was added to boardgamearena.com this massively lowered the barrier to trying it out, we watched a ten minute rules video and the website stopped us making mistakes.  We began with a three player game with one of our regular opponents.

Players take the role of Indiana Jones style archaeologists exploring and researching a fictional island containing ancient technology and terrifying guardian monsters.

Rules

There is a large shared board and a small personal board for each player.  At the bottom of the main board are five camps, above which are a number of potential archaeological sites, eight of level one and four of level two on which exploration tokens are randomly placed.  The research track shows a number of symbols and bonuses, each player having a magnifying glass and book to show their progress.  At the top of the board is a marker for the current round, between two displays of cards.  On one side is the one artefact that has been discovered, the other shows has five pieces of equipment.  There are five currencies, money, compasses, tablets, arrow heads and gems, in order of value.  Players begin with a few coins or compasses depending on player order.  Players also receive six cards from which they draw a starting hand of five, and two archaeologist meeples.

All cards show a travel icon, either boot, boat, car or aeroplane.  Many also show a number of end game points, fear cards being worth minus one.  Four of the starter cards show a boat or car as well as a coin or compass with a lightning symbol meaning they can be discarded to gain that resource.  The other two are fear cards which only provide a boot.  Players take turns to perform any number of small actions showing a lightning bolt then a single main action, for which there are several options.

Equipment cards can be purchased using money.  They are placed on the bottom of your deck to come out in a future round and give better options than the starting cards, such as gaining two money, exchanging money for goods, goods for improved goods or simply better travel icons.  Artefacts can be purchased using compasses and are played immediately giving some fairly powerful effect.  Should they be re-used in a future round then a cost of one tablet needs to be paid.  As cards are bought those remaining are slid towards the round marker and new ones drawn.

The magnifying glass and book markers can be moved up the research track by paying the goods depicted between spaces.  The magnifier gives small bonuses for progression such as a compass but with the possibility of lots of end game points at the end of the track.  The book must always be level or behind the magnifier, giving more powerful bonuses including gaining assistants or multiple compasses.  Reaching the top of track with the magnifier unlocks the gaining of temple tiles, worth two to eleven points and gained by discarding sets of resources.

Assistants are hired from a selection of three piles and placed in one of two spots on a player’s board.  They give lightning bolt actions such as gaining a compass, money or travel icons and can be used once per round.  They can be upgraded giving larger benefits which also refreshes them.

Camps can be visited by discarding a card with a boot and placing a meeple, gaining a number of resources.  Camps have one or two action spaces depending on player count. Dig sites can be discovered by paying three or six compasses for levels one and two, discarding the necessary travel icons and placing a meeple.  This gain one or two exploration tokens on the site which give a small immediate bonus and three end game points.  The site is then revealed from a face down stack gaining the player the depicted resources, which will be better than those gained at the camps.  A random guardian is also placed.  In future rounds meeples can be placed at these sites to gain the same resources by paying only the travel cost but no compasses.

Guardians all show a number of resources that must be expended in order to defeat them, this has to be done while an archaeologist is at the site.  When the defeat action is taken the player takes the guardian token, keeping it face up.  Each provides a one off bonus such as destroying a card or free travel as well as end game points.  If a guardian remains undefeated then on a future round any player may visit the site to gain resources and optionally confront the guardian.

On the player board are four locations showing one to four points.  As an optional immediate action these points can be discarded by covering them with a previously gained exploration token, gaining additional resources.  The points on the exploration token are not lost, only those printed on the board.

The round ends when all players pass.  Any archaeologist at a site with a remaining guardian gains an additional fear card, then all meeples are taken back.  Any cards remaining in hand can be discarded or retained for a future round, then all their played or discarded cards are shuffled and placed on the bottom of each player’s draw pile.  Artefact and equipment cards adjacent to the round marker are discarded, the round marker moved and new cards drawn.  As the rounds progress there are fewer equipment and more artefacts in the display. 

At the end of the fifth round the game ends and proceeds to final scoring.   Players gain points for the cards they have purchased, guardians defeated, progress on the research track and any temple tiles, losing points for every fear card.  There are no points for remaining resources.

Opinion

The components for the game are very good indeed.  Art on the cards and board are very colourful and attractive, though without making any of the symbols difficult to read.  The main board is huge and the tiles for guardians and dig sites quite large.  There is a smaller separate board provided for the resources, assistants and starting locations for the research track but we have not yet used this as it would make reaching all areas of the board too difficult.  Valuable resources (tablets, arrow heads and gems) are chunky plastic while the compasses and money are cardboard.  This is definitely a game that would benefit from a box insert to speed up set up and tear down, though we will wait until we are sure we can get one that will fit the expansion.

It works well at all player counts, we have played with two to four.  With four most of the dig sites will be discovered so by the end of the game there will be a lot of choice.  With two we explore around half the sites.  There is scaling for bonus tiles on the research track - with more players there is a little more competition - and also for the base camps at the bottom of the board.  Having played with more we found with two players the market can be rather stagnant and as only half the dig sites are explored there can be much less choice of available resources compared with three or four. We have experimented using the solo automa as a third player to open a slightly wider set of sites and churn in the market for artefacts and equipment.  So far we found it works well for the sites, assistants and creates competition on the research track, it however didn’t buy very many cards, though overall we are likely to continue playing this way.

Variation between plays partly comes from randomness in the cards in the display, these can significantly alter strategies and there are many more than are required for each game.  The guardians and dig sites produce random benefits and challenges.  The research track is identical each play though on the opposite side of the game board is a different track which requires the rescuing of assistants from dig sites - we have yet to play this.

It is a relatively tight game with a lot to attempt in only five rounds, there is a significant ramp up towards the end.  It can be important to take actions in the right order as the resources for one may then be used in the next.   It’s also important to check that after gaining enough compasses for exploration that sufficient travel remains - in early games it was quite easy to accidentally find one archaeologist couldn’t be played due to a lack of a card.  It helps to remember that two coins will buy a plane.  It can be quite easy to find you are one resource away from a significant bonus, this can make the game a little AP prone especially in the final round.

Comparing the BGA implementation to the real thing.  The online board can be a little small, especially the icons on the research track and assistants, everything can be hovered over to magnify but this slows the game.  During one turn there can be several steps of gaining resources from immediate actions and then spending them, which in the physical version either needs to be kept track of mentally (though that may cause mistakes) or requires several steps of passing them round.  The online version has the advantage of taking care of all this housekeeping, and avoiding fitting it back in the box!  Overall we much prefer the physical version as it makes the most of the art and it gains more atmosphere.

We enjoyed our first play on BGA a lot, enough that we played it again with two players twice more over the next few days.  We then bought the game and played it a few times in person with two players as well as online with four.  We have even pre-ordered the expansion, so it is fair to say this is staying.  It is a game where not everything can be achieved, giving a feeling of wanting to replay it to do better next time and have that one more coin for the big bonus.  The revealing of the sites and guardians as they are visited creates a moment of excitement as well as opening up the board.  We have found it possible to win by defeating guardians, going up the track or a mixture of both which gives variety in what players can choose to do as well as responding to opportunities.

Summary

Good Points
 Nice artwork and components
 Lots of variety and each game feels different
 Works well at all player counts
A good online implementation

Bad points
 Card market can be rather stagnant with two players
 Can be a little AP prone and slow, especially near the end

In summary a really enjoyable game that works as well online as it does in person

Roll Player 13 plays

From gallery of MattNManda


We bought this after seeing it described as having similarities to Sagrada, which we have now played almost two hundred times.

The game is based around character generation for roll playing games such as Dungeons and Dragons.  For those unfamiliar this means generating values for six ability scores such as strength, wisdom or charisma by rolling six sets of three six sided dice then assigning a total to each.  The character is completed by giving them a class such as a wizard or fighter, a race such as elf, human or dwarf and a backstory to explain their motivation for adventuring.  There is no actual adventuring, just the creation stage.

Rules

Each player receives a character board depicting one or the available races.  The two board sides are identical except showing male and female art so the player can freely choose.  Boards have eighteen holes, three per characteristic to hold a die plus spaces for other cards.  Many races will have small adjustments to the scores printed on the board, such as being stronger or less charismatic.  Players also receive backstory, alignment and class cards which are placed on their board.

A bag holds dice in seven colours.  The first player is chosen then players in order draw six dice, roll them and place them in any spaces on their board, building from the left.  Five gold are received plus two for every yellow die that is drawn.

The winner is the player who creates the best character, which is the one that best matches the cards they have been dealt.  Points are all gained at the end of the game.  Class cards all show a colour and a different number of points for reaching a certain score against each of the six characteristics, for example one point for being over 14, two points for 16 or 17 or four for exactly 18.  Alignment cards give between +3 and -3 points for moving the alignment marker to different locations on a three by three grid.  Backstory cards give up to six points for having specific colours of dice in depicted locations on the board.  One point is also gained for every die matching the colour of the class.

Each round one more die than there are players are drawn and rolled then placed in ascending order on a row of initiative cards showing numbers from one upwards.  Below these are an equal number of market cards.  In player order a die is drafted and placed on a character board, then cards may be bought from the market in order of initiative - so taking a low number gives first choice.  Choosing not to buy allows one card to be removed from the market for two gold.  Drafting a die from the middle of the initiative row gains one coin while taking a yellow die gains two gold.

The drafted die is placed in one of the free places on a character board, building from the left.  Each characteristic row has some benefit for adjusting the new or existing dice when one is added, such as swapping, flipping to the opposite side or re-rolling, or causing the alignment marker to move.  Filling a row gains one gold.

Market cards come in a wide variety with a variable gold cost.  Some give ongoing powers such as discounts or extra coins for filling a row.  Others give end game points for multiple dice of one colour or value, or having a characteristic that is particularly low or high.  A few give pure points.  Some are skills which can be used once a round to move the alignment marker one space for a benefit such as more gold or adjusting dice.  Armour provides a small degree of set collection and gives bonus points for particular class colours.  Market cards come in two sets, one each for the early and late game with appropriate mixes of powers.

Play continues with the first player rotating until everyone fills their character sheet, then all the points are totalled and the winner decided.

Opinion

Dice for this game are chunky and colourful.  Art on the boards and cards is colourful and fits the generic fantasy theme - some games are criticised for using this theme but in this particular case it is ideal.  All the cards are unique.  The boards have helpful cut outs for dice placement and having male and female sides is a nice touch.  Overall the components are great.

We have only played with two.  There would likely be more interest in initiative order with more players, and there would be more choice in the market.  Discarding a card your opponent wants has been a regularly used tactic.  There is interaction in the drafting and market but this feels to us like a game without direct or regular conflict.  The game takes around forty minutes for us two, though much of the time is in working out where best to place die on a character board which could be simultaneous  with more players.  It feels a little heavier than an introductory or family weight game due to the many competing ways of scoring.  It is quite similar to Sagrada or Calico in that it is drafting and placing to fulfil multiple simultaneous scoring conditions that it is not practically possible to fulfil all of.

The variety in races, market cards, boards, backstories and alignment means it is very unlikely to play exactly the same way twice.  Scores have always been very close, usually within one or two so it would only take a few different dice or cards to change the winner, though one of us does always win so there is definitely skill as well as luck.  Apart from our first couple of games we have played with the Monsters and Minions expansion which we feel significantly improves the game by giving players another option for turns when there is nothing attractive or affordable in the market, as well as expanding the number of cards offered each round.  It can take multiple turns of discarding cards to make enough money to buy a single powerful card, which with the base game can make the market phase less interesting.  Choosing and placing dice can suffer a little from AP as there are many factors to consider.

We have been enjoying our plays so far.  It will be interesting in future to try it with more people, as long as they are fairly quick decision makers.  We have found it fun to read out the flavour text on the scoring cards, for example to find the character is a devious wizard who guards a portal to another dimension.

Summary

Good Points
 The theme fits the mechanisms and gives the game character
 Nice dice and components
 Plenty of variety
 A different optimisation puzzle each time.

Bad points
 Can be little AP prone

In summary a characterful dice arrangement game slightly more complex than Sagrada

Boomerang - 3 plays

From gallery of MattNManda


We picked up the original edition of this small roll and write as a bargain on eBay having happened across a review.  Players are tourists visiting Australia to see the sights and animals, collect random objects, play sport and throw boomerangs - as you do .

Rules

Players each receive a small printed sheet from a pad showing a map of Australia divided into seven states with four tourist sights per state.  A deck of cards with one for each of the twenty eight sights is shuffled and seven dealt to each player.  Everyone simultaneously chooses a card and places it face down, then they pass the remainder to their left, choose again, placing this second card face up.  Drafting continues until all remaining cards are played face up, then the first cards are turned face up and the round is scored.  This repeats for five rounds then the winner is determined.

Each card shows several symbols and numbers that score in different ways.  In the top left of the card is a number from one to seven used for boomerang scoring.  If the number on the hidden first card is lower or equal to the number on the last card then the boomerang has been caught, scoring the number on the first card.  So choosing a low number gives very few safe points while scoring six or seven is much less likely.

Some cards show a random item - flowers, a tin and a chilli for example - each with a small number of points.  These are simply added up at the end of the round, though points are only scored if the total is higher than the previous round otherwise zero is scored though this does mean the next round will definitely score.

Native Australian animals such as kangaroos and koalas may be shown.  Some are common and only worth a few points, others are more rare and can score up to nine.  All only score if there are a pair, providing lots of opportunities for keeping an eye on your opponents and taking their animals.

Most cards show one of four activities which can be scored once in the entire game.  Each round any one set of symbols can be scored, with more points for more matching symbols.

Finally each card shows one of the tourist sites indicated with a picture, colour for the state and a letter of the alphabet (plus a couple of symbols to make up the 28).  All those visited in the round are checked off on the player’s map and will gain a point at the end of the game .  A bonus three points are gained by the first player to visit all four locations in each state.

Opinion

The game consists of a nice thick pad of player sheets, twenty eight rather thin cards and some short pencils in a small box.  On the plus side it is easily portable, on the minus side the colours of some states are rather similar and it is difficult to see pencil marks on the coloured states of the map.  The art and symbols are functional - we have the impression these may be better in the second edition.

Up to four players are catered for.  So far we have only played with two.  After a couple of games of being frustrated by not being able to finish sets we added a third dummy player who drafts a random card each turn.  We find this significantly improves the game by giving access to to wider variety of cards and some randomness to what will boomerang back to your hand.

Each game takes around twenty minutes, probably the same regardless of player count as everything is simultaneous.  It has some interaction, most turns there is not an obvious choice with several scoring opportunities to trade off, both in gaining points for yourself and denying them to your opponents.  There is some luck in completing the states or gaining pairs but the level feels appropriate for a short filler.  We’ve enjoyed our plays so far and are looking forward to introducing others to it.

Summary

Good Points
 Simple intuitive rules
 Short and portable
 Some interaction

Bad points
 Thin cards and difficult to read marks on the map

In summary a bonzer filler (apologies to any Australians who may be reading).
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Mon Aug 16, 2021 3:58 pm
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July - Rising Tide, Kompromat, Wingspan Oceania

This month has seen a return to playing a few longer, more competitive games after a long period of mostly cooperating.  We’ve been dusting off some favourites like Altiplano, Pharaon, Pulsar 2849 and Dinosaur Island.  This may have been inspired by our trying out Lost Ruins of Arnak on board game arena at the start of the month, liking it enough after three plays online to buy a copy.  We’ve now played it six times so will likely be writing a review next month.  The other changes to our collection have been in swapping Exit games.  Reviews this month continue our series of Pandemic variants, a small card game of duelling spies and the latest expansion to the behemoth that is Wingspan.

First here is a picture of a rare perfect game of Habitats where every animal is happy.

From gallery of MattNManda


Pandemic: Rising Tide - 4 plays

From gallery of MattNManda


This is the second of the Pandemic variants we have played recently, the first being Pandemic: Fall of Rome.  In this version players are developing sea defences and drainage in the Netherlands over the last couple of centuries, creating new land and making it safe for a rising population, which is much more exciting than it might sound.  We live in East Anglia which was drained and reclaimed by the same Dutch engineers, which interested us further in the theme.  Though all our local dikes are spelt dyke we have here kept to the spelling used in the rule book.

Rules

A large board shows a map of the Netherlands divided into many regions as well as the North Sea and Zuiderzee.  A few areas are marked as high ground which can be moved over but play no other part in the game, the rest of the map being low lying.  Regions are grouped into four different coloured areas.  Along the borders all of these areas a dike can be placed.  At the start of the game fifty wooden dike markers are placed on an indicated subset.  From a supply of clear blue cubes representing water some are added to a few marked low lying areas and the two seas.  The board also contains a track that shows the sea level which begins at 2.  All player pawns begin in Delfland.

Two decks of cards are prepared.  The player deck has two cards for each region plus a number of event cards depending on player count.  All players receive a starting hand then the deck is divided into sections and a storm card added to each and the sections piled up so storms are reasonably evenly distributed.  The first player is determined by who has the region with the longest sea defences.  The dike failure deck also has two cards for each region, these are shuffled and nine drawn and placed in a discard pile.  The first three cause the depicted region to be degraded three times, the second three degraded twice and the last three only once.  Degrading once means to remove one dike or add a water cube if no dikes remain.  Water then flows, meaning any region will have one water cube fewer than any adjacent region or sea for which there isn’t a separating dike - so a three cube region is surrounded by twos and twos by ones.  All players then take a character card.

Players take turns of four actions each.  The most common actions are to move to any adjacent region, remove one water cube from your current region, move to any port, or build a dike in your current region if it contains no water.  Dikes can be stacked with multiple between two regions.  A card matching your current region can be discarded to either move anywhere on the map, build a port (a small black building) or a pumping station (an orange windmill), or any card can be discarded to move to the depicted region.  Player cards can be passed between players for an action if both are in the depicted region.  A set of five cards of one colour can be discarded in a specific region in order to build one of the four hydraulic structures.  A hand limit of seven is enforced at all times.  Event cards can be played at any time to take a bonus action such as removing water, moving a pawn or building a port or windmill.

Hydraulic structures represent major milestones in the real history of the Netherlands.  Completing all four is how the base game is won.  As each is built they give a benefit such as removing cubes or building several dikes.  Building the Afluitsdike turns the Zuiderzee into a low lying region that can be moved across and have water removed.  The game is lost by running out of water cubes meaning the land is inundated or running out of player cards by being too slow.

After each player turn all pumps operate, removing one water cube from any region linked to the pump by at least one water cube.  Then two more player cards are drawn.  If a storm is drawn then the sea level track increases and the bottom card of the dike failure is drawn and that region degraded three times, the dike failure discard pile is shuffled and placed on top of the deck, the player does not receive a replacement card.  The sea level track rise may cause the two seas to move from two to three or even four cubes.  Once any storms are resolved a number of dike failure cards are drawn according to the sea level and each of those regions degraded once.  If any region were to receive a fourth water cube it isn’t added and instead one water is added to all adjacent regions, which can cause a chain reaction.  Lastly regions or seas with two or more water cause water to flow into adjacent unprotected regions as in setup.

Optional variants for winning conditions are included with the game, drawn from three options for each of the four coloured areas on the map.  These are to build the usual hydraulic structure, complete an area specific goal such as a pattern of dikes or absence of cubes in several regions, or a population goal.  Population goals give an additional action of discarding a card to place a population cube.  There can however only be three cubes of any colour in a region so adding water may cause the population to leave, if this happens five times then the game is lost.

Opinion

Components for this game are fine.  The water cubes are a nice colour but otherwise generic.  Dikes are square section wood sticks we have seen in many other games.  The wooden meeples are nicely shaped.  The board and cards are nicely illustrated, though as others have commented spotting where the borders between regions are can be a bit tricky at first.  Setting out fifty dikes does make setup a little time consuming, though it does give the other players something to do while the player deck is prepared.  All of the place names are Dutch, which has been a nice educational opportunity as a helpful local has produced a video on BGG pronouncing all the names, which we attempt to emulate - it is slow at first but after a few games the majority have become second nature.

We tend to run short of water cubes rather than time.  There is no equivalent of the outbreaks track in base Pandemic, causing the game to be lost due to too many floods, though with any more than a couple the cubes will be getting very short.  The water seems to flow across the map in a fairly natural way and fits the theme well.

We have been playing two hands each as that is our preferred way of playing all other Pandemic games with two.  We find with only two characters the maps tend to be a bit large.  There should be a lot of replayability with the optional winning conditions, so far we have tried all except the population goals.

While we haven’t timed our plays, our perception is that the game feels longer than regular pandemic and is more fiddly with more upkeep steps between each player turn.  Specifically rather than simply placing a cube and checking for an outbreak you have to find the unfamiliar named place on the map, then look for any dikes to remove instead of adding a cube, then water needs to flow - there are also the pumps to activate.  We have never got down more than about a half to two thirds of the player deck before winning, so presumably it could go on for much longer; whereas in base pandemic and Fall of Rome the clock is for us usually the limiting factor.  Overall it is on the border of possibly being over long for the depth of game, though having said that we do enjoy it and are eager to bring it back to the table.

Summary

Good Points
 A different theme that fits well with familiar mechanisms
 A chance to learn some Dutch geography and pronunciation
 A very different experience from base Pandemic

Bad points
 A bit fiddly in both setup and between turns
 Can feel a bit long

In summary and interesting and different experience which is our favourite Pandemic variant compared to Iberia and Rome.

Kompromat - 7 plays

From gallery of MattNManda


We had been anticipating this two player only game for several months as it looked interesting with indirect conflict, push your luck mechanisms and a fairly short play time.  An Essen 2020 release this remained difficult to obtain in the UK last year, likely due to brexit.  We managed to obtain a copy from eBay a few months later.  Was it worth the wait?

Players are spies competing for information and trying to become notorious though not too much.  The cards reinforce this by depicting scenes and equipment characteristic of James Bond and similar spy stories.

Rules
The game is played over one to six rounds.  The winner is the player with the highest score at the end of the last round, though the game may finish early if either player has nine or more notoriety points in which case they immediately lose.

Each round four cards are placed in a row between the two players.  Many cards depict a typical spy location like a hotel or airport and a number of points between two and five.  There are two sets of cards which have a set collection element, gaining 2-12 points for one to three cards.  Others show useful equipment for a spy like a stun gun, jet pack or vesper martini and a single point.  Counter intelligence cards show one to three points of notoriety though if these are placed then a second regular card is placed on top.

Players have a personal deck shuffled at the start of each round and kept in a face down deck.  These contain two cards which can have a value of one or eleven, one card worth one half and a number of other cards with values in between.  To start a turn, players turn up the top card from their personal deck and place it face up in front of one of the centre row cards.   They can then choose to stop or add another card face down having first looked at it but not shown their opponent, repeating this as many times as they choose.  The goal is reach a total of 21 without going over and bust.

This is repeated for four turns each until each player has placed cards against all four in the centre, after which the winner of each card is determined this being the highest total under 21.  Going bust gains one notoriety, getting exactly 21 gives the option to lose one.  Winning a card on top of a counter intelligence card gains the depicted notoriety.

At any point prior to scoring a previously won equipment card may be played.  These may alter the result for example by adding three or removing a face down card form an opponent’s stack, examining one set of already played cards or losing notoriety.  Once played equipment is exhausted though still adds one point to final scoring.

Assuming nobody reaches nine notoriety then at the end of the six rounds the points on all won cards including equipment are totalled along with one point per notoriety, the highest score winning.

Opinion

Components are a number of cards and some cardboard notoriety tokens in a tiny box.  The cards a nicely illustrated and very easily understood.

The game is all about pushing your luck, both in attempting to be near 21 and in gaining some notoriety for the extra points but not so much that you lose.  Scores are only around thirty, an extra five or six from notoriety can make the difference so the risk can be worth taking.  Cards are less evenly distributed than a regular deck with three sevens and only one of the other values from two to ten.  The addition of the half point card makes for some hilarious moments - surprisingly often a total will be 21.5.

Equipment makes for some interesting and occasionally hilarious decisions - ideally adding three to an opponents card stack will cause their 21 to go bust, though it can also lead to willing your opponent to play it on a stack currently at 18.  Similarly removing a face down card can accidentally convert a bust into a win, so perhaps best played on a stack with only two or three.

In some ways the game feels similar to Shanghaien (our review here) in that players are pushing their luck to compete for scoring cards all of which are used each game.  Kompromat feels more luck based as you don’t get to see the next card before making the decision to add it, whereas in Shanghaien there is always a choice of two values to place.  Shanghaien keeps the score interesting until the end as dirty tricks cards and the comparative scoring mean the points can radically change in the last round, whereas in this you can know you are a long way behind well before the final rounds.

We have mostly enjoyed our plays so far.  We find it needs to be played with a poker face and then for maximum tension and amusement during scoring turning over cards slowly in the order they were placed.  It takes 20-30 minutes for a full game which feels about right for the complexity level. It can be entertaining, but a run of poor luck or judgement can quickly lead to an obvious loss which is less fun.  We found it needs to be played a few times to get a feel for the values of the cards to get the most out of the game.

Summary

Good Points
 Nice art with thematic locations and equipment
 Significantly different from the card game of 21/pontoon/blackjack
 Usually generates a couple of laugh out loud moments each game

Bad points
 Can feel more luck than skill based
 Easy to get so far behind the game is lost well before the end

In summary a simple, fun two player push your luck game

Wingspan: Oceania Expansion - 5 plays

From gallery of MattNManda


We’ve had a copy of Wingspan since the first pre-order, have played it over fifty times and already have the European expansion so it seemed an obvious choice to get the second expansion.   We didn’t really do any research beforehand, we assumed it would be more birds and that would be good.  Now we have got it to the table a few times here are our thoughts.

Rules

There are several new aspects to this expansion, all of which can be optionally included.

Nectar is a new food type which represents various sugar rich foods that are found more abundantly in Oceania.  It can be collected from the bird feeder by using the replacement set of food dice.  It can be spent as a wild food or used to place a minority of new birds that have nectar as a requirement.  All nectar left at the end of a round must be discarded.  One nectar is gained at the start of the game in addition to the usual five total birds and food.

The new birds cover the additional continent and most have new but broadly similar powers as previously.  Some have a yellow power which is activated once at the end of the game giving a benefit such as playing an additional bird or caching remaining food.

There are some new end of round goals and end game bonus cards giving more variety but not anything entirely new.

The biggest change is the new player boards which are fundamentally very different.  Firstly the leftmost column from the original boards has been removed so that now it only requires one bird to be placed in order to gain two food or two cards, the first column allowing something to be discarded in order to gain an additional item.  The egg laying grassland row is slightly less powerful as additional birds are placed, only scaling to three eggs in the fifth column rather than four, though it does give more options for discarding cards and food for more eggs.  Many spaces now have options such as discarding food, eggs or nectar to refresh the bird card display or bird feeder.

Lastly there are points for nectar majorities in each of the three main rows of the player board.  Players keep any nectar played in these rows and at game end points are awarded for first and second highest nectar in each row.

Opinion

Components are of the same excellent quality as the base game, symbols remain clear.  There are a number of yellow eggs, a new colour.  Art on the new boards is much darker, we find this less natural looking and aesthetically pleasing - though perhaps this encourages us to cover it up with birds!

Initially we didn’t like the gameplay changes to the boards, possibly as they perturbed our practiced play style.  A few more plays in and we have come to much prefer them and are unlikely to reuse the originals.  The main difference is that it is much easier to get started and it no longer feels advantageous to begin by playing two birds in the woodland in order to gain two food - one in each row is fine as are many other possibilities.

The options on the boards to reset the feeder and card display offer a degree of luck mitigation, as does the use of nectar as a wild food.  Combining this with the easier start makes it feel much more like an engine building euro game, it being possible to create more synergies between birds and choose you own strategy rather than being dictated by what happens to come up.  The game feels looser as result which loses a little of the character of the original.

We disagree on whether the goals for most nectar in a row are a good thing for two players.  If one player ignores nectar then it can end up with a fifteen point bonus which is huge, though nectar is so useful that it is likely both players collect at least one in each row giving a more reasonable three point difference.  With three or more players the points should be more evenly spread.

The end of game has felt much more varied.  In the original it was common to lay eggs for most if nor all of the final round.  Because the egg row is a little weaker other options become attractive, such as running your food or card engine a few more times and placing more birds.  Yellow powers help by giving something do to with your otherwise left over resources, as do the options to discard cards for extra eggs.

Combined card decks are now very large, with ours sleeved we fill both boxes from the base game and European expansion with birds, the bonus and automa cards separated.  While the designers have been careful to ensure the proportions of cards for bonuses remain the same, the sheer size of the deck can mean that the random proportion that is drawn may skew the distribution, especially with two players even with the automa added to churn the deck faster.  Maybe this extra luck may even out the reduction from the player boards and nectar.  It may also make us more reluctant to add further expansions to the deck.

Overall we prefer the changed game to the original and are unlikely to go back.  If we were introducing new players we would use the changed boards as the easier start is likely more friendly to those unfamiliar with how the game plays.  It remains a favourite and that seems unlikely to change.

Summary

Good Points
 Improved boards give an easier and more even start, and more options later on
Nectar mitigates luck with the bird feeder

Bad points
 Art on the boards is rather dark.
 For two the deck size can lead to a skewed distribution

In summary an expansion that mitigates luck and makes for a more even, euro game experience.
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Sat Jul 24, 2021 6:41 pm
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June reviews - Pandemic: Fall of Rome and The LOOP

Nothing left our collection this month, only The LOOP arrived and is reviewed here.  We have been getting back into playing more competitive games including a few that haven’t been played for several months such as Fields of Green and Sorcerer City.  The garden, going out for walks and the European championship football have been taking up some of our playing time, though we will likely still get around 80 plays this month.

The LOOP - 5 Plays

From gallery of MattNManda


We were intrigued by this co-op having seen it on the Gameslore (our FOGS) Facebook page and watched Rahdo’s review.  While being a little unsure due to not usually liking games with long combo filled turns we felt this might be agreeable due to cooperating rather than passively waiting for your turn.

The theme is that you are trying to stop Dr Foo from taking over the world using his amazing time travel machine to create duplicates of himself and rifts in time.  Players are special agents travelling the seven eras to fix the problems and complete tasks to defeat Foo.

Rules
In the centre of the table is a seven sided board with seven eras circling round in order from antiquity to Armageddon. In the centre is Dr Foo’s time machine, a tower which receives cubes in the top and randomly places them across three different eras.  Fitted to the outside of the board are seven tiles depicting missions to be completed, these starting face down and two being revealed at start up and at all times during the game.  Cubes come in two colours, red for rifts and green for energy, two and seven respectively being placed at start up. 

Each player receives a large character meeple and a matching deck of six starter cards.  Additional cards are available from the appropriately named Huge Deck, one being randomly placed next to a number of eras depending on player count.

A number of Dr Foo’s duplicates are also placed having been randomly drawn from a bag.  These have two sides, one depicting the era they should be placed on and the other showing Dr Foo and the era it needs to moved to in order to destroy it.

There are four game modes, rules here are for the first and simplest.  The fundamentals remain the same for all though each adjusts the rules slightly.

Players take turns, starting with a hand of three cards.  Firstly though there is the Foo phase, which places an additional duplicate and card from the deck.  Next a Foo card is turned up which depicts the era where Dr Foo will turn his attentions, the time machine is rotated towards that era then two rifts plus one for each duplicate in that era are dropped into the time machine.  This randomly spreads the rifts over three eras, each can contain up to three rifts but adding more creates a time vortex, this removes the existing rifts but destroys the mission for that era.

All characters have one free movement but all other actions are performed by using the cards.  All cards are different but typically allow moving one era, pushing a duplicate in your current era to an adjacent one, adding one energy or removing a rift.  All cards depict one of four dimensions, each character having a different balance.  One energy may be removed from your current era to perform a time loop, refreshing all cards of one dimension.  This can be done multiple times in one turn as long as energy is available, giving occasional huge turns and opportunities for optimisation, though it costs one additional energy for every subsequent loop which quickly becomes a limiting factor.  Cards of the black hole dimension cannot be looped though are typically more powerful.  One energy can also be spent to move one era.

Ending your turn on an era with an adjacent card allows it to be added to the top of your deck, these cards usually being better than the starting hands.  Matching the dimensions on new cards with those you already have gives potential for more powerful loops.  If the requirements for a mission have been met, such as performing a loop in every era or destroying multiple duplicates  on Dr Foo’s era, then ending your turn on the mission era allows is to be completed and removed from the board so it cannot be affected by vortices.  Completing a mission also gains all players an attendance bonus of a free additional card from the Huge Deck.

Play continues for seven turns with Dr Foo visiting each era once, after which Dr Foo steps up his efforts and two duplicates are added each turn.  Another seven turns later adds three duplicates and finally the game is lost as the world is overwhelmed.  The game is also lost if either four vortices or a second vortex in one era needs to be placed.  The game is won by completing four missions. 

Opinion

Components for this game are very good indeed.  The cartoon style art is very strongly themed and clearly a lot of love and effort has gone into the game.  All cards have unique art depicting an era appropriate and usually amusing artefact, while each character and the instructions are written in a fun style and contain lots of thematic and bizarre stories, while remaining easy to understand.    The board is clear and the cube randomising time machine is unusual and has worked well. The character meeples are huge, probably the largest we have seen.

So far we have only played with two and due to complexity haven’t felt like trying two hands each.  We have found that with two the mission to surround Dr Foo by having a player on both of the adjacent eras was unachievable as it required one player to happen to be on a random era that couldn’t be planned for, so we removed it.  One of the characters is themed around moving other player’s meeples and that also felt weaker, as do cards that interact with the eras of other players.  We have wondered about adding a randomly moving dummy to the board to help with these missions and cards.

The game comes with four modes each of which can be played at three difficultly levels, which should provide a good degree of replayability.  The rules indicating how each mode affects turns, whether making them harder to plan ahead or more complex to optimise.  So far we have attempted two of the modes and liked both.  The main step in difficulty is created by using super vortices which block players from ending their turn in a specific era.  The five playable characters are rated for complexity so there is further choice of level.  We consider this more complex than a family weight game and not for for casual players - like Pandemic with one of the expansions.

We played this four times within a week of it arriving which is definitely a good sign that we like it.  It feels very different to our other co-op games, the combination of deck building and combos being quite a change from the usual three or four actions a turn.  All cards are face up and all hands full at the start of each turn, so it is possible to plan a few turns in advance rather than being the luck of the draw.  That said it is common to have turns when it is not possible to remove a rift or a duplicate, when that is what is really required.  The time machine is fun to use and adds a bit of excitement and peril on the turns when one more cube on an era could cause a vortex.  Every turn has interesting choices, particularly in deciding when a loop is valuable enough to spend some of the available energy.  One of the modes introduces infinite energy cubes as a reward for destroying supa duplicates.  This means a first loop or move is always available.  When we first played this we misunderstood the rules and thought this meant we could loop continuously, later we realised that an infinite cube was still only one cube so a second loop still consumed an ordinary energy - the rules don’t make this clear.  Infinite energy cubes can still be used for some fairly amazing turns, such as when we destroyed nine duplicates to win the game.

Summary
Good Points
 Very nicely produced and themed with quirky artwork
 Interesting and different gameplay
 Fun puzzling out the best combos
 Long turns and downtime not a problem as it is a co-op

Bad points
 One mission and character seem less playable with two players, a dummy may help

In summary a quirky co-op a little bit different from the norm.

Pandemic: Fall of Rome - 4 plays

From gallery of MattNManda


Lately we have been playing a lot of cooperative games but have been more reluctant to play regular Pandemic even though it is a favourite. We felt a re-themed version might be a good option so bought both this and Pandemic: Rising Tide second hand.

In this Pandemic variant players are leaders of the Roman Empire, attempting to keep barbarians from sacking Rome and the empire failing into decline by forging alliances and fighting back the hordes.

Rules
Setup has similarities with base Pandemic, where items represent the same concept as the base game these appear below in brackets.  There is a large board depicting a map of Europe with Roman place names, each having one or more of the five barbarian tribe (disease) colours.  Reservoirs of coloured cubes representing the different hordes and legionnaire meeples are placed on the board.  There are two tracks, the decline (outbreaks) track represents the empire falling into ruin.  The invasion (infection rate) track is used to record how many revolts have occurred.

There are two decks.  The player deck contains cards for each of the locations on the map plus a number of event cards depending on player count.  Players receive a starting hand depending on player count. As in Pandemic these cards are divided evenly into piles and a revolt card shuffled into each pile so that they will appear roughly evenly throughout the game. 

The barbarian (infection) deck has two cards for each location.  Setup is not entirely random as in the base game.  Instead the five red bordered Rome cards are placed in the discard pile then the nine gold bordered starting cards are found and randomised to create the initial invasion.  Three cubes of the matching colour are placed for the first three drawn, two for the second three and one for the last three then all nine starter cards are added to the discard pile.  Each player receives a character card giving some special power then they choose a starting location from those in their hand and place their pawn and two legionnaires.

The turn structure is identical to Pandemic - players have four actions then two player cards are drawn and any revolts resolved, then a number of barbarian cards are revealed according to progress on the invasion track.  A few actions are the same - moving one location across land, giving or receiving cards when two pawns are in the matching location or placing a fort (research station) by discarding a matching card.  Players can move more quickly round the map by using a ship, discarding a card matching the colour of the destination.  Removing barbarian cubes is very different, firstly requiring legions to be present and then one battle die per legion up to a maximum of three is rolled, the result removing either cubes, legions or both, or triggering a character specific battle power.  Three legions can be moved whenever a pawn moves and new legions raised by visiting a fort, gaining three at the start of the game but decreasing to one as multiple revolts occur.  Legions can also be gained by being in a location where there are one or more barbarian cubes of a colour for which an alliance has been formed and discarding a card matching their colour.  As the game progresses and more alliances are formed this latter method becomes more viable than using forts.

Alliances (cures) are formed by discarding a number of cards matching the tribe’s colour while in a location where there is a cube.  The tribes require between three and five cards depending on colour, some tribes having more locations and therefore more cards, while others are more rare.  The game is won by for each of the five tribes simultaneously having either formed an alliance or having removed all cubes of that colour from the map.  Allied tribes do however continue to cause trouble and there is no equivalent to eradicating a disease.

When barbarian cards are revealed cubes are not always placed directly on the specified location, this only being done if there are already cubes there.  Instead each tribe follows a specific path of locations across the map, cubes being placed on the next empty position in the path.  This tends to lead to single cubes in a sequence of locations.  If barbarians to be are added to a location with legions then instead of placing the cubes one legion is removed for each as long as there is a fort or player pawn present.  If legions are ambushed without support then all are removed.  A city is sacked if more than three cubes are placed, which advances on the decline track and places a cube on every connected location. 

When a revolt is revealed from the player deck the invasion track is advanced, reducing the ability to raise legions at forts and increasing the number of barbarian cards drawn.  The bottom card of the barbarian deck is drawn, three cubes placed there and any sackings resolved.  The barbarian discard pile is then shuffled and placed atop the deck, so that the same locations will be drawn again soon. 

The game is lost if players take too long and run out of cards in the player deck, if Rome is sacked or if the end of the decline track is reached.

Event cards give one off special actions that do not consume one of the four actions on a turn.  Each has two options, a weaker version that for example removes a few cubes from the map or raises legions, and a more powerful option giving a greater benefit but causing the decline track to advance.

Opinion
Components for the game are very good.  Barbarian cubes are wooden, fairly large and coloured so easy to tell apart.  The legions are a different shape which helps them stand out amongst the hordes.  Cards are thick and reasonably clearly depict the migration routes.  The event cards are nicely illustrated and include all relevant rules, this does make the writing somewhat small.  The board is large and clear, all the place names are Roman which takes some getting used to and probably slows the game but is an educational opportunity!

We’ve enjoyed our plays of this so far, though we probably prefer Rising Tide and we’re unsure this will be a long term resident of our collection once the initial excitement wears off.  This feels more complex and fiddly to play than base pandemic, mostly because of the way the cubes more across the map rather than simply being placed where the card states, and having to work out which of the two migration routes for each colour is being followed for each card.  Removing cubes also takes longer due to rolling the dice.  While the dice do introduce some luck it feels fair and not entirely random, the dice mostly amounting to one cube being removed for each legion.

The events having two strengths is a really good feature, giving more interesting choices and thought over whether to play them immediately or save for a worse situation.  Similarly it creates interest that the different tribes of barbarians require different numbers of cards to create an alliance rather than always collecting five, making ideal hand management more tactical and likely to change during the game.

A good arc is created by the decline in recruitment as the revolts occur, causing a changeover to converting allies as the game progresses and creating evolving logistical problems in getting the legions to where they are most needed.  Recruiting barbarians also gives another good use for cards of allied colours, rather than these only being useful for movement.

We have been playing two hands each as we do with base Pandemic, having found it not to work so well with two characters as it is difficult to cover the map.  The disadvantage of four is that it takes a long time for each character’s turn to come round again, three is likely ideal.

Summary
Good Points
 A very different Pandemic experience
Nice components
Dice add tension and don’t feel overly random
A good arc and mix of strategy and tactics

Bad points
 Barbarian movement seems slower and more complex, especially at first
 Lots of rules, definitely for more advanced players

In summary a very different and more complex Pandemic
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Sat Jun 26, 2021 6:16 pm
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