Cardboard Kondo

My wife and I play through our board game collection and make sure the games we keep still spark joy! (House rules NEVER spark joy.)

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Lost Cities: Roll & Write, Cubitos, Quacks of Quedlinburg, Hallertau

David Taranto
Canada
Victoria
British Columbia
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Microbadge: I survived National Novel Writing Month 2014!Microbadge: PansexualMicrobadge: Concordia fanMicrobadge: Level 02 BGG posterMicrobadge: Silver Board Game Collector
Lost Cities: Roll & Write

Lost Cities is a great 2-player card game by Reiner Knizia, that became a 4-player board game, that then, I think, became a smaller 4-player card game? That is now a dice game?

Anyway, in Lost Cities: Roll & Write, players are trying to extend expeditions of 6 colors as far as they can go into the jungle, finding bonuses and other relics to steal along the way. On their turn, the active player rolls all 6 dice - 3 d10s number 0-9, and three six-sided dice with the expedition colors on them. The active player chooses one number color pair, and the other players use the remaining dice to make a combination that suits them OR cross off a campsite on their camp track. This camp track MAY be worth points at the end of the game, but players filling this track all the way lose all their camp points and may be forced to stop playing prematurely. There are bridges halfway along each expedition that grant extra bonuses to players who cross them first, as well a space to use a 0 to establish an investor that can double your bonus (or penalty) for your progress along that particular expedition.

That’s right, like the Investors, Knizia has borrowed more from the game’s namesake, particularly that starting ANY expedition starts as a points LOSS, not a gain, and you have to make enough progress through the jungle to break even and turn a profit in points. If you aren’t going to reach that point, it’s just not worth it to start.

I don’t remember how the game ends - I think it ends when all the bridges are built? Or all players reach the top of their Camp tracks? Something like that. I think those are the two possible ways. This game honestly didn’t make that big of an impression on us when the genre is so crowded. You could definitely do worse than this one (like, say, Ganz Schon Clever, in my opinion), but you could definitely do much better too.

Verdict: A fine game, but Did Not Spark Joy

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Cubitos

In Cubitos, players are curating a collection of dice to get faces to activate abilities and move their piece along a racetrack round by round. Miss a roll and bust and earn a consolation prize, but stop at the right time and you can go ZOOMING ahead of your competition and spend the rest of the game hedging your bets and coasting to a win!

That’s our experience with Cubitos, a push-your-luck dice fest where the rich keep getting richer from the designer of Mystic Vale. Unlike Mystic Vale, though, busting multiple times actually BENEFITS you instead of getting one additional to purchase with at a time. Other than that, this game is far less interesting than that one.

Verdict: Does Not Spark Joy

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Quacks of Quedlinburg

I’ve not been a big fan of Wolfgang Warsch, mostly because (as I mentioned earlier) I think Ganz Schon Clever is boring and The Mind is not a game, particularly not worthy of the hobby’s highest honors.

That said, I respect that other people enjoy them and disagree with me. And I admit that my bitterness toward him isn’t fair. One day I will try The Mind, but today, nor tomorrow, is that day.

With THAT said, I thoroughly enjoy Tavens of Tiefenthal, and with that easing the way I also recently, finally, tried Quacks of Quedlinburg.

And hey, big surprise, I really enjoyed it! In fact, both my partner and I did.

In Quacks, players are healers of dubious effectiveness who are brewing potions for points. It plays out like a kinder, gentler Mystic Vale as players draw chits from a bag and fill a spiral track that will give them victory points and money for more chits the further along it they fill. However, if too many of the wrong chit are drawn the player busts, and must instead choose EITHER points OR money. If you buy chits, you have an interesting choice to make too - you can buy MORE chits, thus diluting your bag of the bad ones, OR you can use your money to buy BETTER chits of certain types, which means you haven’t diluted the bad in your bag as much and you aren’t quite as likely to get the ability you want because you’re hedging on the STRENGTH of that ability over the FREQUENCY of it.

As far as interaction goes, there’s a reward for getting further along your track than anyone else in a given round, and there’s also a finite number of chits of each ingredient type so once they run out you’re out of luck.

There are enough points of interaction and interesting choices to make this one an engaging time and doesn’t feel like a complete luck-fest.

Verdict: Sparks Joy, Summons Issued

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Hallertau

We don’t really like Uwe Rosenberg games. Well, most Uwe Rosenberg games. Agricola is too tough, Patchwork is too light, Le Havre is too railroaded (there’s names for the dominant strategies in the game. It’s railroaded.), Glass Road wasn’t that interesting to us. I personally LOVE Caverna but wish there were some more interesting mechanisms for making the copious tiles available to mix up the strategies from game to game. We both enjoy New York Zoo as a tense board-filling animal-breeding race. (I think we both like Barenpark better, but NYZ is still in our collection too.)

My partner’s biggest problem is that Rosenberg doesn’t usually take the actual ecology of farming into account, particularly in Caverna where slashing and burning and clear cutting are just things you can do despite being not very good for the farmland or forest.

So when I heard that Hallertau is all about crop rotation, both of our eyebrows went up.

I don’t remember how many rounds of Hallertau there are. 9? 12? 8? Something like that. It doesn’t really matter. The gist of the game is you go out to a worker placement board with 20 spaces, and these spaces are the same for all player counts if I’m not mistaken. Each space has three spots where people can place their workers. The catch here is that between rounds, some number of these spaces based on the number of players will have the worker on their most expensive taken spot removed, opening it up for the next round of play. In this way, the worker placement spots have a bit of lying fallow, just like the fields on a player’s board will refresh nutrients if it lies fallow at the end of a round!

Also in each round, players will have an opportunity to contribute goods to the community, marching five or six smaller tasks to the right of their community board and sliding a big honkin’ community hall behind when all the last task advances. This allows players to earn some extra income or points or something.

Finally, the gravy of Hallertau (to spice up the meat and potatoes) are cards. Four decks of cards, to be exact. These cards have costs and give you some one-off or ongoing benefits, and you’ll get several of them over the course of the game, including many that you won’t be able to play at all or can’t work into your strategy, and even though there are a few cards that allow you to pay unplayed cards to complete, there’s no guarantee you’ll draw those either. It kinda stinks.

Which is too bad, because the other parts of Hallertau are quite a nice little puzzle. We just don’t think it’s worth acquiring when a third of the game breaks it more than makes it.

And that’s it, really. That’s all I think needs said.

Verdict: Does Not Spark Joy

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That's all for this week! May 2022 see the end of this pandemic.

Continue staying safe and healthy, everyone.

Thanks for reading.
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Mon Jan 3, 2022 6:41 pm
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Royals, Pret-a-Porter

David Taranto
Canada
Victoria
British Columbia
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Microbadge: I survived National Novel Writing Month 2014!Microbadge: PansexualMicrobadge: Concordia fanMicrobadge: Level 02 BGG posterMicrobadge: Silver Board Game Collector
A couple oldies but goodies this week: 2014 and 2010!

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Royals

Royals is what I like to call a “Ticket to Ride-style game,” which means players draft cards of various colors from an open market and that market refills, and then play sets of those cards to place pieces on a map. China/Web of Power/Iwari uses this mechanism as well, but to an area control effect and not a route-building one. Royals is pretty close to that, but whereas that other series gives you both regional and route influence, Royals gives you regional and TITLE influence, for pretty much no thematic reason.

Why do you care if you have the most Dukes? Why is that worth an award separate from the one for Princesses if Princesses are more valuable overall? I guess the diminishing returns for the less-valuable titles is what counts here. Actually, now that I’m thinking about this, it borrows a bit from In the Shadow of the Emperor as well, a thoroughly beige and astringent game about navigating the politics of the Holy Roman Empire (which is very obtuse and it did a very good job of modeling, even if it is an incredibly heteronormative system).

Anyway, in Royals you can take some cards and play some cards to put cubes on offices in various European powers - England, France, Spain, and Germany, represented by red, blue, yellow, and green coats of arms, respectively. Each region has a few major cities, and each major city has two or more offices based on the proportional amount of power concentrated in that area. The more valuable an office, the more cards of the matching color you need to play, from 2 all the way up to 8 (for a King). There are bonuses for being the first to claim offices in each city in each region, for all the offices in one region, and there are also ways to overthrow someone and claim an office from them. However, the prestige of holding an office doesn’t go away - cubes are never removed from titles. Once you get credit for having had one king you don’t lose that, your opponent just gains one cube on kings as well, and you have to fight for another king to take that majority back. Also, you get credit at the end of a round (when the deck runs out and is reshuffled) for having the most influence in a given city or region, and bonuses are granted for those in the form of chits. The game ends once the deck runs out for the third time and a final scoring is done, including giving the tiles for titles to the player(s) (the tiles are two pieces that hook together - in case of a tie for most the tile is separated and flipped over so each player can see exactly how many points that title is worth to them instead of doing any math). All the points from chits/tiles are added up, and most points is the winner. Pretty simple.

For being a simple game, it certainly has some cool little facets. Figuring out which majorities to fight for or chits to race for is an interesting blend. Seeing what comes out of the market to steer you is one thing, but the more cards you take -openly- the more information you give your opponents about what your plans are, so maybe you draw from the deck instead, but then you’re at the whim of the cards! It’s not every day a majority game works well with two players, but I definitely think this one does since there are SO MANY majorities to compete for! Especially where there are four regions and neither player can race for every title in every region all at once like you’d see in a 3 or 4 player game.

We liked it! It’s a solid title that offers a simple ruleset and enough tactical space to keep us engaged. Definitely fills that weeknight length slot but also fills the kind of crunchiness we like. This one sort of flew under the radar when it came out because it looks so drab, but the mechanisms in here definitely outshine the game’s trappings.

Verdict: Sparks Joy

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Pret-a-Porter

Pret-a-Porter was first published back in 2010, back even before Lords of Waterdeep (2012), one of the more well-known thematic worker-placement games. It’s a board game about haute couture and fashion shows. If you’re an anime/manga fan, absolutely think of this as Paradise Kiss: the Board Game. It takes place over 12 rounds, one for each month of one year, and every third round is the seasonal fashion show where you show off the collection you’ve been working on and sell the pieces for massive money and some extra prestige. There are other things you’re judged on, too - how much reputation you’ve gained, the quality of your work, things like that. Ultimately, though, at the end of the game your money is points, plus some extra from the VP track.

Worker placement spots follow the Snowdonia school of thought, where everyone assigns all their workers first and then they resolve top to bottom, left to right. The spots can get you Contracts that give you some temporary bonus abilities that get less good over time, Employees and Buildings that give your more abilities but will cost you money every round, clothing patterns to make outfits with, and several spots to purchase materials in different colors to fulfill those patterns, with varying costs and ways to make sets to purchase. One allows you to buy as much of one color as you want, and another lets you buy one of as many different colors as you want, for example.

That’s really about it. It’s a pretty barebones game that is made entirely by the uniqueness of its theme, one that has only been seriously implemented otherwise in Rococo. I think Rococo is a better game, but the old version is long out of print and the new version is overproduced and overexpensive.

It’s a nice novelty to have around, but it’s been awhile since we played it now and as we eye the games we have vs the space we have, it’s looking more and more to me like a little bit of extra fat we could trim off. When I saw it in a local math trade, I wanted my partner to play it more than I wanted to own it. Still, it’s a nice lighter recipe-fulfillment game, with some nice choices about what actions are worth waiting on to get that other thing that will make other actions in the game so much easier down the road. It might fit that elusive “good for a weeknight after work” weight/length game niche that we like.

I don’t know. We’ll see if it survives if/when we do another quick cull pass.

Verdict: Sparks Joy (for now)

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Mon Dec 13, 2021 8:02 pm
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Round House, Galaxy Trucker, Shakespeare: Backstage, Bunny Kingdom

David Taranto
Canada
Victoria
British Columbia
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Microbadge: I survived National Novel Writing Month 2014!Microbadge: PansexualMicrobadge: Concordia fanMicrobadge: Level 02 BGG posterMicrobadge: Silver Board Game Collector
November has been a real trip, literally. Well, not in the stumble and fall literal way, but in the traveling a great distance literal way. My grandmother passed away on Halloween, the woman who is emblazoned in my mind as the source of any love of sports or games that I have. My mother has that torch too, but my grandmother was her mother. And so many Sundays of my life were spent at her house. So I flew across the continent to her house, where my mom now lives, and we carried on the atmosphere of joy and safety that her home always provided throughout my life.

Knowing how many times my mom has played Pandemic solo, and “keeps score” for the progress of every game she plays, I figured it would be a good idea to get her some new solo games for her to pass the time. We went to the local FLGS I used to go to there and we picked up her own copy of Under Falling Skies (she’s an old-school Space Invaders player), and Baseball Highlights 2045 (the solo mode is SO EASY and SO FUN), and she picked up a copy of Agricola for herself because she loves building fences and breeding animeeples. I opted for that one over Caverna because I know Agricola has a pretty cool solo campaign mode she might be able to get into. (I also generally decry Agricola as being too constrained, but I had a lot of fun teaching her the 2p game. Go figure - we grow and change sometimes!) We also got her a copy of Just One to keep at the house for family, including someday soon, hopefully, my 5 year-old niece.

We also picked up a couple new games that I’ll get around to writing about over the course of December. November, however, also belongs to National Novel Writing Month, NaNoWriMo for short, and I’ve spent the rest of the month after my return writing my little heart out. That said, with 18,000 words to go until I reach my target, I’ve finished the first draft of the story I set out to write so I’m turning to you, dear blog readers, to bloviate my way to the finish line.

Not all at once, of course.

Now, let’s get to some games!

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Round House

This game was basically Viscounts of the West Kingdom before Viscounts even existed. Players take turns moving their family leaders clockwise around the titular Round House, and every revolution completed gives a player an opportunity to score some points based on how many other things they were able to accomplish over the course of said rotation. Assistants are recruited and sent out to make the more basic resource gathering/selling/order-fulfilling actions more powerful once, and some can even be made into Elders that will grant permanent bonuses to those actions.

The game ends after a number of completed revolutions based on the number of players, and then you add up the points along with some end-game set collection and that’s it!

We really enjoyed this one. Emperor S4 isn’t particularly known for heavy euro games, but this one fits nicely into their oeuvre of Asian-designed games. From Taiwan to Japan, this publisher never ceases to bring a good time to the table, and Round House is no exception. The art is vibrant, even if the board looks a little busy while you’re first figuring out how the different rooms in the Round House connect.

Oh, and the Round House itself is an actual historical type of building utilized by the people in a specific region of China. It’s cool to see someone from that part of the world actually involved in bringing their history to the hobby.

We love to see it.

Verdict: Sparks Joy

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Galaxy Trucker

We were REALLY late to the party on this one, but we’re sure glad we came!

We’ve tried it with 2 and with 4, and we really enjoyed them both. WIth more players some of the decisions regarding the event deck that the players’ ships must contend with definitely get more interesting tactically. Either way, it’s fun.

To condense the game in a nutshell, it’s played over 3 (or 4!) rounds, where the players simultaneously draft tiles from a central pool in real time to add engines and habitation and weapon and storage modules to their spaceship. After everyone’s finished (there’s some timer shenanigans to keep it snappy), the ships are checked for certain tile placement constraints (there aren’t many, and they’re all pretty thematically laid out in the rulebook) and they’re run through a gauntlet of challenges that range from alien attacks to derelict ships to asteroid fields. Crew disappears, goods are snatched up, and pieces of your ship are obliterated until whatever (or whoever) is left, if anyone, sputters across the intergalactic finish line. In subsequent rounds, the ship blueprints get bigger and the challenges in the event deck get tougher.

This one absolutely lives up to its reputation. It’s really chaotic and random, so if it doesn’t sound like it’s up your alley, it’s probably not. For us, it sounded like a good time for a low-stakes kind of game that doesn’t drag itself out, and we were absolutely right.

Verdict: Sparks Joy

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Shakespeare: Backstage

This was one of the other things I managed to find, miraculously, during our little Vancouver vacation back in August. We finally got it to the table in late September.

I knew from my own experience that this deck of cards completely rounds out the experience of the base game, especially with two players where there never seemed to be a good time or reason to -not- just take as many actions as possible.

This is because Backstage makes the action bid from Shakespeare a delicious choice - the tokens you DON’T use to bid for actions are instead used to activate or purchase cards from the Backstage deck. These cards can give you access to the set/costume scraps from previous rounds, give you temporary access to Gold elements so you don’t have to pay up the nose to claim them later, extra actors… there’s a lot of cool stuff back there!

Anyway, we enjoyed Shakespeare fine as is, but Backstage elevates into something memorable.

Verdict: Sparks Joy

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Bunny Kingdom

Wow, I really have a big backlog of new games to go through!

Okay, so this is another September game. I’d heard about it years ago, but the theme and the “just a card drafting game” completely turned me off. We were able to try it out at a board game cafe and I was really blown away. The bet-hedging -seems- really random because every card for the board has exactly 1 card that lets you play there? But then again, this is a card-drafting game, so you are getting the spots that other players are -passing- on, because they -don’t- want them, and if they’re the ones -you- want, they probably aren’t the ones -your opponents- want, so they end up entering your hand!

Adding another layer to this are the bonus cards for end-game scoring that you can draft, for the largest region, or scoring points per each spot of a land type, or collecting sets of scoring cards that score off of each other, that kind of thing.

I don’t know, it’s not a super-complicated game, but we enjoyed it! Myself moreso than my partner. I would happily play it anytime, but she wasn’t impressed enough for us to summon it into our collection.

Verdict: No Summons Issued

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The verdict in the trial of the men who murdered Ahmaud Arbery came down today, the week after the Kyle Rittenhouse verdict. It’s amazing how two cases, which essentially come down to the same concept (white guys show up with guns to protect a neighborhood from black guys and get trigger-happy) end up two different ways. I know that’s a drastic oversimplification, but it’s not incorrect. And it’s also safe to say that in both cases the presence of those “good guys with guns” escalated the sense of danger so much that -their- only claims are that they were trying to defend themselves from the people who were trying to defend themselves! It’s way easier to claim self-defense when you’re the one who’s still alive. And yes, one of Rittenhouse's victims survived to testify. I guess it goes to show that those of us who live under these laws don't understand just what they all encompass, or what our rights actually are, because they sure aren't "whatever you want to do because this is America." Like you can't just hunt down a black man and kill him because he's jogging in your neighborhood where there had been a rash of break-ins. What happened today was true "vigilante justice."

Anyway, once again, thank God for citizen journalists, whoever’s got the camera capturing it all, whether it be onlooker or perpetrator.

That’s all for this week. Lots more to come. Thanks for reading.
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Thu Nov 25, 2021 5:08 am
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Cascadia, Imperial Steam

David Taranto
Canada
Victoria
British Columbia
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Microbadge: I survived National Novel Writing Month 2014!Microbadge: PansexualMicrobadge: Concordia fanMicrobadge: Level 02 BGG posterMicrobadge: Silver Board Game Collector
I could apologize for the lack of blogs over the last few weeks, but it’s been kind of a brutal last month or so and I needed to take care of myself. I’ve been trying to get things off the ground as a fiction writer and had about four blows come at me over the course of September and it’s been rough time getting off the mat.

If nothing else, letting y’all know about some of the newer games I’ve been playing will at least get my fingers on my keyboard again.

Let’s go, shall we?

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Cascadia

Calico was a big tile-laying hit last winter, both for us and for lots of others. A designer from that one teamed up with Brotherwise Games to bring out Overboss, in their Boss Monster Universe, where instead of just drafting tiles you instead draft a tile-token pair. It added an interesting and not-too-difficult wrinkle to the decision on top of the

Here comes along a further evolution - Cascadia - by a different designer but still shares a lot of elements of these other two games.

Each turn, a player drafts a hexagonal tile with some terrain types on it as well as a “habitat” circle where an animal can live, and paired with the tile is an animal token that may or may not align with the habitat they drafted.

This terrain tile must live in a player’s area, expanding around a central tri-hex tile they received at the game start. The animal may or may not have a place to live, but you want to place it if you can because each animal has a few different possibilities for scoring based on where they are in relation to each other or other animal types around/between them.

The terrain on a tile also matters because at the end, players get points for their biggest group of tiles of each type, plus a bonus for having the biggest group among other players. Whoever has the most points after the tiles run out wins!

For me, Cascadia fell pretty flat. We already have Calico and Overboss, and playing basically the same game AGAIN with a different theme on it just didn’t appeal to me. Would I reach for this over the others? What, you want me to actually judge this game based on its merits? How dare you!

The potential advantages of Cascadia are these:

Variability - Unlike Overboss, where you have to swap out the tile/token deck for the specific terrain types in the game, you will ALWAYS use every animal and every terrain type. The variability here is implemented more like Calico, but feels specifically like Tiny Towns where you only have to randomize cards that tell you how each animal scores, and that’s it for the bulk of the game’s setup. It’s so simple, just like the game play.

Theme/art - If you’re a biologist, as we found out via another game patron - the theming on this one isn’t going to make ANY sense to you. However, if you casually like animals and nature this will work, and if you like Beth Sobel’s art (and who doesn’t?), you have her work to look forward to on this one. (As for me, a guy with two cats who grew up in the NES/SNES era, the cats of Calico [also by Beth Sobel!] and the 8-bit art of Overboss are more charming)

Lack of Constraints - there are VERY few placement rules, just incentives. Each tile tells you what can live on it. And instead of trying to fit your new pieces into a frame like Calico or Overboss, you can expand in ANY direction with EVERY tile you take! No more building yourself into a corner! Which is great if that was your complaint about the aforementioned games, but while I find that constraint frustrating I found the complete point-salad freedom of Cascadia... boring? Effortless? Which I suppose there’s a time/place for. I introduced a couple coworkers to more involved games with Calico, and I could see this one being even more accessible.

As someone who owns Calico and Overboss and enjoys the themes and challenges within, I absolutely don’t feel the need to add this to my collection. If you do or don’t, your mileage may vary. Just -how- frustrating do you find those other games? Or other grid-filling games like Sagrada or Azul? And if you always wanted to build your own personal Carcassonne where no one can shoehorn in on your farms or cities and really challenge your scoring, Cascadia is the game for you.

Well, that’s not entirely fair - the competition for biggest group of each terrain DOES have you looking at your opponents’ boards a little bit, as well as trying to figure out what kind of animals they’re going after and how much you’re going to try to chase them on it. But these decisions are hardly unique to Cascadia.

But my job here isn’t really to convince you to buy or pass on it, and I don’t think I’m going to do that for our household either. My partner really enjoyed it! I was meh on it. So I guess that means:

Verdict: Hung Jury

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Imperial Steam

One of my partner’s and my favorite games is Lignum, and after six years designer Alexander Huemer has published his sophomore effort, Imperial Steam, via one of my favorite publishers, Capstone Games.

In Imperial Steam, players are taking actions (2 in the first round, increasing to 5 in the 4th and onward) to gather resources (wood, stone, iron, coal) and build track from Wien (Vienna) in central Austria to Trieste in the south on the Adriatic Sea.

Getting your resources, however, is a real chore unto itself as the game doesn’t make acquiring them in great quantities at all easy. They come in slow trickles from your factories (which take judicious track lays and timing to get on the board) or the market, which allows you to buy one good RIGHT NOW and a limited number of goods to put on order for the start of next round. This choice feels particularly akin to the wood movement methods in Lignum, and seeing it here is a hint of familiarity in a game that is mechanically so different yet strategically so similar.

Interaction is not very high in Imperial Steam, but what’s here is just enough to be meaningful even if it is mostly optional. Players can end up being… inconvenienced when building track in a connection if another player has already built that connection and the building player has to pay those players 10 bucks each, turn order matters because contracts - much like in Capstone’s Pipeline - are VERY limited and first-come first-served. And finally, there are cities where players can deliver goods from their factories for an influx of cash, but those opportunities are limited and never refresh once used. For this reason, sharing networks should be done at your peril, but you absolutely want to nudge your way over at some point because there is a juicy opportunity for a second player.to score a bunch of points at the end of the game that the other player building that city isn’t allowed to take! Will that be enough to be the difference in the game? Maybe. Those opportunities can be worth about 100 bucks apiece, and I beat my partner by about 200 in our first game.

One of the really fascinating things about this is the relationship between players and these “Hub” cities - the Hubs are also the bigger cities with populations that are full of people looking for JOBS! However, each city has its own influence in the region, and you can only recruit from a city if your company’s influence is at least as strong as its influence! These values are determined at setup, but can also be modified - as players deliver goods to them, their influence grows and can put their workforce out of your reach if you aren’t careful about keeping up! (But that’s an action, and you only get five of those per round! Can you afford the time to include boosting your influence in your plans?!) The number of Hub cities you have more influence than at the end of the game is worth money during endgame scoring, but as long as you didn’t short yourself actions and didn’t have something THAT much more lucrative to do (we didn’t), you’ll be able to use your last action and the surely-adequate amount of cash on hand to pay your way up the influence track and max that value out.

The other aspect that really stood out to me was the Share system this game implements. Shares are not new in games, and especially not new in Capstone games. In Imperial Steam, players don’t have shares as tokens or pieces of paper -- what they have are a track for the current share value of their company (with two ways to boost it - use a precious action and spend some of your precious influence to do it, or use one of your precious bonus upgrades from city resource tokens to boost it!) and a parallel track that fills up with Investor tokens, which you can ONLY acquire when you take on an endgame contract, which requires you to build a specific set of factories by the end of the game and reserves some of your trains’ carrying capacities for the DURATION of the game! So those resources you needed to store to use to build track to get to the factory spots to build the factories to fulfill your contract? Their spaces are GONE, and you need more.

Anyway, I’m veering off. You get investor tokens from your Contract too, people who are picking up what you’re throwing down and willing to pay you like the sharks on Shark Tank (or the dragons on Dragon’s Den)... but they want a share of your profits to do so. Selling a share to an investor is a Free Action you take whenever you want, so long as you have Investors on your track at or above your share value. Each time you sell a share, you move the topmost investor token to a different holding area and take money equal to your current share value. Once your investor track falls below your value, you can still keep selling shares, but only if you use- you guessed it - one of your precious Actions in the game to INTENIONALLY LOWER your share value to your investor level. The really nifty bit of it is this - for every investor you sell a share to, you take your final score and REDUCE it by 10%, and there’s NO way to buy your shares back. This means if you decide to sell to 10 investors, you are completely out of luck - selling %10 of your company to 10 people leaves you with ZERO percent!!! How are you even still making decisions for this thing?

So yeah, between the hub cities and their growth and relation to your influence and the share mechanism and how it ties into your contracts and final score, Imperial Steam offers plenty of wrinkles to a formula that feels like it otherwise could have been Just Another Soulless Euro.

Verdict: Sparks Joy

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That’s all for this week! Thanks for reading.
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Tue Oct 26, 2021 2:08 am
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Mind MGMT, Cryptid, The Captain is Dead

David Taranto
Canada
Victoria
British Columbia
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Microbadge: I survived National Novel Writing Month 2014!Microbadge: PansexualMicrobadge: Concordia fanMicrobadge: Level 02 BGG posterMicrobadge: Silver Board Game Collector
It’s Collaboration Week here at Cardboard Kondo! Not intentionally, it just happens to be part of the new games we got up to lately.

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Mind MGMT

We ended up playing this three times over the course of the week! Mind MGMT is a 1 vs all hidden-movement game based on a comic book series of the same name. That IP is its way in to a genre that already has established favorites like Letters from Whitechapel (which I played once and did not enjoy from a mechanism standpoint NOR a thematic one), Fury of Dracula, Scotland Yard, Clue: the Great Museum Caper (which I used to play ALL THE TIME!!!), and That Greek-themed Game Where You Have to Find The Golden Fleece? I think? I don’t remember its name but I played that one a few times and it was pretty good.

Anywho, Mind MGMT is one of Those Games. One player acts as the Recruiter for Mind MGMT, a sinister(?) organization trying to recruit people in their psychic espionage warfare thing. They’ll do this by passing over three of sixteen Feature icons on the board, of which there are two on each space. The Recruiter also has four Immortals on their side, who have two icons of their own that they can use to Recuit when two are on spaces that match the same icon.

The other players are Rogue Agents trying to stop the Recruiter from achieving their goals by guessing what the Recuiter’s features are to remove them from the game, and trying to get information from the Recruiter about features on the board they’ve visited to track them down and ultimately catch them before time runs out. When the Recruiter and their Immortals have recruited 12 people or the time track runs out without the Rogue Agents capturing the Recruiter, the Recruiter wins.

If you do/don’t like the games Mind MGMT is similar to on mechanical grounds, you already know whether or not it’s for you. Will this do anything to change your mind on that? Probably not. If you have one you like, will it find its own place in your collection? Probably not? I can’t say, as I don’t own any other games like this besides the much, much longer (and richer imo) Star Wars: Rebellion. That said, it can be difficult to get to the table, so Mind MGMT is a great way to get the same kind of flavor of experience on the table more often.

Verdict: Sparks Joy

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Cryptid

This is yet another game in the vein of things like Search for Planet X, or Tobago, or even the original Clue. In Cryptid, each player knows one clue about where some mysterious creature is located, from terrain types, to distances from terrain types, distances from structures, the negation of each, etc. By asking each other questions (“suggestions” from the Clue side of things), you try to suss out what other players’ rules are and the first player to figure out all the rules together and make an “accusation” at that one hex on the map wins.

The cool thing about this one is how much variability is in a limited number of components. The fact that in the deck of setup cards and clue booklets (each of which has 90+ clues) there are easily over 100 unique scenarios when you take all the player counts into account, means this has legs, and probably enough legs to make a repeat scenario, if it appears, somewhat difficult to track.

I personally like that this one feels different from Planet X in that you aren’t trying to figure out the same rules, but are trying to directly figure it out from each other. It makes it feel more direct (but not mean!) in terms of player interaction. For my partner, however, I think Planet X is too good. It’s really cool with two (though the rules for that are online only) and also works well with more. Time will tell on this one, but it is DEFINTIELY in the “more of a gamer’s Clue” ilk of board game.

Verdict: Sparks Joy (for now?)

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The Captain is Dead

Following provincial health guidelines, I joined a local gaming friend for some games this past weekend! The first thing we played was a game of The Captain Is Dead. This is a turn-based co-op game somewhere between Forbidden Island and Damage Report (does anyone else remember Damage Report? lol) where players act as crew members of a spaceship trying to keep the ship functioning and power up its warp engines to escape an alien attack.

As far as mechanisms go, most of these co-op games are pretty much the same - spend some action points wandering around and keeping everything from exploding while doing something else to solve a problem and win. If you want that, but in space, you could do worse than this one (like the largely unbeatable aforementioned Damage Report).

Verdict: No Summons Issued

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And that’s all for this week!

All I want to remind us of this week is that some personalities just don't mesh. I don't think there's anything wrong with that, it's just that some of us aren't made to get along with each other and it sucks a little bit.

Oh, and if you want to stop supporting a troubling figure who triple and quadruples down on hateful rhetoric, you have to go all the way and stop perpetuating that figure's cultural significance by not using words like, say, "muggle" in everyday parlance. Or eating their chicken, regardless of how good it tastes.

Thanks for reading.
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Tue Sep 21, 2021 4:53 pm
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Praga Caput Regni, Coffee Traders (yet again), Lords & Ladies

David Taranto
Canada
Victoria
British Columbia
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Microbadge: I survived National Novel Writing Month 2014!Microbadge: PansexualMicrobadge: Concordia fanMicrobadge: Level 02 BGG posterMicrobadge: Silver Board Game Collector
Lords & Ladies

Basically, imagine Settlers of Catan as an Austen/Downton-Abbey-esque card game, where instead of Cities you’re building a family tree and instead of Longest Road and Most Knights you have Most Gossipy, Most Staff, and Most Generations. The game is over at the end of the round in which a player reaches a certain victory point threshold

That’s all I really have to say about how to play it! It even has fecundity dice rolls to make babies. lol

What it DOESN’T have, however, at least in the printing we played, is blatant heteronormativity! Who’s to say how or why the babies exist? Or where they came from? Explicitly stated in the rulebook is a Modern Variant where the genders of the suitors don’t matter, since they really don’t matter from a mechanism standpoint anyway. Maybe the child is from a previous marriage before the wife died and the husband realized he liked other men?

Rigorous adherence to “history” in games often erases any visibility, let alone value, to a queer family member as they linger at the edges and dead ends of family trees. I’m glad this game both gives them an opportunity to be worth having around (every child is worth victory points, regardless of their ultimate matrimonial state) and lets us play around with the Absolute Truth that yes, queer folx existed in the 19th century and yes, they were in prominent families, and yes, sometimes they contributed to the continuation of their family lines.

As far as the game itself goes, we don’t enjoy it because of the fickle nature of the “fecundity die” (cards have a “fertility value” and you must roll below the sum of the pairing’s values in order to produce a child), though you can mitigate this, and the “take-that” nature of the gossip cards. They even involve having to team up on your opponents? Because one gossip card is a rumour, but a second accusation is confirmed as true and affects your staff and/or family tree. Also, as a racing game, it has a “hunt the leader” type of atmosphere that just grinds the endgame to a halt.

Verdict: Does Not Spark Joy - No Summons Issued

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Coffee Traders

As the third time I’m talking about it on this blog, I’ll keep this brief. I finally got to play this 2p with my partner and she enjoyed it! I also enjoyed it, and I particularly enjoyed the style of bot that this game uses to simulate a third player. It’s easy to “run” as it has no flowcharts and uses unused contracts in the game to tell you where it builds/trades between player turns.

Verdict: Sparks Joy

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Praga Caput Regni

In Praga Caput Regni, players take action tiles from an action wheel in order to contribute to the beautification, construction, and fortification of medieval Prague. The game’s not too heavy and a point salad, but the iconography is clear and informative here so players can get the hang of what to look for and what to plan for pretty easily.

This was my third play and my partner’s first, and we both enjoy it! I am a HUGE sucker for a game board with a moveable wheel on it (Palaces of Carrara, Vikings) and it’s used to great effect here as the action wheel. I also love an interesting choice, and the various slots around the action wheel have varying costs, either to the player for taking one further toward the “back” of the queue or to the player for -leaving- one further -forward- in the queue (as it becomes worth VP to the player who takes it!)

We also played Pulsar 2049 last week (same designer), and though these are both point salad games, the feel and core mechanisms in each are completely different (and completely engaging!). I’m not a huge fan of Shipyard or Last Will, and haven’t tried Underwater Cities yet (that price tag!), but Vladimir Suchy seems to be on a roll for us lately!

Verdict: Sparks Joy

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And that’s all for this week.

Finally, after the 20th Anniversary weekend of 9/11, I would like to reflect back on myself at that time and the years following.

As an American, of course I wanted to bring justice to the perpetrators, or those who empowered them. I knew we would eventually.

I loathed the thought of military service, though. I wish I was an activist who protested the war for oil, but I just didn't want to die. I knew I was a coward for it. Just like, as a conservative Christian, I was a coward for Jesus, too scared to lose my favorite friends by witnessing to them.

I hoped to find a better way for me to serve my country, in a way that I was comfortable with. I also found out in Uni that I had a heart murmur/enlarged heart that might have barred me from military service anyway? It didn't matter, ultimately.

What it did, though, was give me some level of compromised health. Which put me squarely at the front of the line for the swine flu vaccine in 2009.

Was it safe? I didn't know. Did it scare me? A bit. But that step into the unknown was the 1st time I felt like I was contributing. My getting it and being ok might help others who needed it. My getting it helped me not pass the flu to my family, friends, or neighbors. I did something to make my little corner of the world safer for the people in it.

For the first time in my life, I felt patriotic.

And that's how I feel now, getting vaccinated against COVID and wearing my mask. Every day when I put it on, I'm serving the country where I live and help keep it safe.

How did we not arrive at that messaging a year and a half ago? We won World Wars in our past by giving up metal and rationing foods for YEARS. And now, in 2021, we're where we are today because people think patriotism is "exercising your freedoms & killing ppl overseas" & not "doing your own part to protect the homeland and your fellow citizens."

Mask-wearing and getting a vaccine is not the full measure of devotion, but it's the least real patriots would do.

Thanks for reading.
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Mon Sep 13, 2021 8:50 pm
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Aquatica

David Taranto
Canada
Victoria
British Columbia
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Microbadge: I survived National Novel Writing Month 2014!Microbadge: PansexualMicrobadge: Concordia fanMicrobadge: Level 02 BGG posterMicrobadge: Silver Board Game Collector
Aquatica (x2)

The “environmental” bent continues with Aquatica. As it turns out it’s less (WAY less) environmental and much more merfolk/Zora (for the Legend of Zelda fans) flavored! Which was a big plus in my book, and our first that really deals with underwater fantasy.

Aquatica takes from the Concordia school of design, where you play a card and do what it says, then play a card later to let you pick all your cards back up. Instead of trading IN the Mediterranean, you’re trading and conquering UNDER the Mediterranean!

The cards in a player’s hand will primarily allow them to recruit new cards, buy locations, or conquer locations. Locations have a number of circles in their lower left hand corner with bonus actions or resources (tridents for conquering or coins for purchasing) that can be used from top to bottom. When a level is used, the card slides under the top layer of the player board until it is obscured and leaves the remaining ones visible. Locations can be added to a player’s score pile via a specific action once they have been completely slid to the top of their player boards.

The game-end is triggered when one of three things happen - a player accomplishes all four of the objectives/goals on the board, when the Location deck runs out, or the deck of additional Character cards runs out. Then, each player gets one more turn.

Locations are worth varying amounts of points, as well as additional Mantas, which are used to boost your actions or grant you extra ones. Goals are also worth points the sooner you accomplish them. Every card in your hand at the end of the game is also worth a point. Most points wins!

If you are at all familiar with recent games, play this with the “advanced” goals and the full complement of Royalty. The “basic” goals are indeed VERY basic, so much so that I managed to end the game 15 minutes after we started playing it. The “advanced” goals take a little more time to develop, and also seemed to roughly line up with the other game-ending conditions.

That said, we really enjoyed it! A faster Concordia with less setup is appealing to us, and the rules here are even more streamlined than Concordia’s already are. There’s no goods conversion here, just some fun Location juggling to try to work together a few key combo moments to push your little abilities engine over the finish line. The triple-layer player boards are cool if unnecessary (two layers would’ve been fine, but 3 lends it some stability) and the upwards-sliding of the Location cards is unique in my experience. This got the Dice Tower Essentials treatment, and I don’t think it didn’t deserve it. It’s a nice family-weight game that offers some room to grow and some gorgeous art that this mer/Zora-lover appreciated.

Verdict: Sparks Joy

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And that was the only new board game for us last week!

Remember-

If your bullying of a person on social media involves making fun of their appearance or body or mental capacities, you are saying to other people with those characteristics or conditions that you see that part of them as being worth ridicule.

No, it doesn’t matter what side you’re on or how worthy of ridicule your target is.

Insult a person for the things about them that are insulting, not the other things you don’t like. This includes, but is not limited to, their appearance (fatshaming, most commonly, but other features can get called out too), level of intelligence (either hurtful toward those with actual low intelligence or those who can’t speak), spelling/grammar capacities (classism - people might not have the same level of education or amount of time in a day to put into their work, and so on. Your high expectations might be higher than someone else's best effort.)

And yes, this goes for both sides. Because regardless of your side, you hurt the people on your own side with the qualities you ridicule your opposition for having.

Thanks for reading.
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Tue Aug 24, 2021 8:12 pm
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Quaycon 2021 - Day 2 + Beyond

David Taranto
Canada
Victoria
British Columbia
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Microbadge: I survived National Novel Writing Month 2014!Microbadge: PansexualMicrobadge: Concordia fanMicrobadge: Level 02 BGG posterMicrobadge: Silver Board Game Collector
Just to reiterate, not an actual con, but my partner and I in our hotel room a few weekends ago.

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Planetarium

In Planetarium, players are the cosmic forces that shape solar systems as they form. Different compounds - gases, water, rock, and metals - are forming in an “accretion disc” around a new sun, and gravity and chaos are bringing those elements to accumulate around four planetary cores, labelled A-D. Two of them will become gas planets, and two will become rocky planets. At the end of the game players will attempt to have maneuvered and developed these planets to meet certain end-game conditions they’ve drawn during play to score some extra points.

The rules and turns of Planetarium are incredibly simple - you can either move one element or one planet one space clockwise around the sun, along any of the possible lines drawn on the board in that direction (directly around, one orbit inwards, and/or one orbit outwards). If a planet hits an element or vice versa, the player takes that element and collects it on their player board in the proper planet’s quadrant. Then, the player can spend elements from a planet’s quadrant to play an Evolution card from their hand to that planet for points as well as to steer the planets habitable/uninhabitable status (something that some of the game’s Final Evolution cards take into account). The player puts the spent elements on the Evolution track, which acts as the overall timer on the game, then they draw their hand back up to five cards.

The game end is triggered when the Evolution track is full, then that player finishes their turn by playing as many Final Evolution cards (up to 4) as they can. Then every other player gets a full regular turn followed by their Final Evolution cards.

In a Battle-Line-esque twist, Final Evolution cards must be drawn by the end of the game to be scored, but they don’t score during the game AND they take up your five-card limit, meaning your usable hand will shrink over the course of the game and the pace at which you want to do that will depend on how quickly planets are evolving. It’s also nice that in order to score a Final Evolution card, a player must actually have contributed to the development of the planet they want to use and not just sneak in at the last second to capitalize on others’ work.

We’ve actually played this one twice, once at the “con” and once again at home. It’s a very tense race of a game with simple rules not unlike a game like Splendor where everything every player is doing matters.

Verdict: Sparks Joy

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Tipping Point

Anything science-related is pretty much going to be an insta-try for my partner and I. Tipping Point, which is basically CO2: the city-building card game, was no exception. We were drawn in by the theme as well as the box stating that the game itself was carbon-neutral. What we got when we opened the box was… functional?

In Tipping Point, your population will gain a new citizen every decade. Then, you will be able to use your city’s budget to buy a card from a central market and add it to your city. You must be able to produce enough food to feed everyone at the end of your turn, or some citizens will (not leave, but) die. The first player whose population can support 10 citizens before CO2 gets out of control or the final round of the game wins. If CO2 gets out of control or the final round occurs with no winner, then no one wins.

In Tipping Point, you need to get to a balance of 10 food as fast as you can - that’s it. Does a building produce food? Buy it. Once you have it, you need to protect it. Or if it needs power, you’ll need to get a wind farm or something to activate it. All of those things require having money. And money? Often comes, in this game, at the expense of having things like Oil fields or other means of production which produce CO2, which you can’t make too much of or the game ends. If multiple players get to 10 citizens by the game end, then there are multiple winners!

Balancing what you get with what something costs and being selfish enough while being considerate enough is really where the game is, here. And you especially want to watch that CO2 production because the total amount of CO2 produced will also determine how many Weather events might happen during each decade. This is why I mentioned protecting your food sources before - a drought will decimate your crop fields if you don’t have the right other building, or forest fires will destroy their CO2 reductions unless a fire department is there to put them out. Other extreme weather might kill your Citizens unless you have Nurses and/or a Hospital to staff them, but the Hospital needs power and the Nurses need to be paid from your city budget every round. Climate change is costly!!!

Furthermore, carbon emissions are basically unavoidable on some level for the beneficial things you need. It’s a reality that the game doesn’t shy away from and something my partner appreciates the game doing.

There’s another facet here that we didn’t really use when we played - players can barter food for power or citizens or budget. Unlike some other games where trade and negotiation feels tacked on, achieving balance here is hard, and someone else’s excesses can seem to be tailor-made for your own deficits. There’s an interreliance here, but you can only do very limited trading until certain pieces of infrastructure are bought out of the market. This feels incredibly limiting and definitely affected things we would or could have done to stop each other’s citizens from dying.

There’s also a military element? Where a player can get soldiers and just invade other players’ tableaus to take their buildings? Maybe there’s a strategy around this, but we just don’t think it would feel good to play out, regardless of the reality of this happening. It just doesn’t feel connected to the rest of the game’s atmosphere of cooperation.

Overall, we thought this was fine mechanically. I thought many of the choices in the game felt too obvious to be interesting. And it just didn’t seem to be at its best (the building market doesn’t refresh very quickly) with 2. We’ll see how it does with more.

Verdict: On Recess

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Mystery of the Temples

We love Emperor S4 games. Realm of Sand, Sorcerers and Stones, and Hanamikoji/Jixia Academy are stalwarts in our collection. We acquired Round House to try, and also this one.

In Mystery of the Temples, players travel around a rondel of Temples and open spaces to acquire sets of gems and place them in their gem grids. When they arrive at a Temple, they can spend gems - in a connected line - from their Grid to break a Curse on that Temple and acquire a Rune card that “harmonizes” with some of the open spaces to give them a bonus. The first player to break 5 Curses triggers the endgame, and in addition to the points gained for each Curse broken, some additional points are earned at the end for the number of different Runes in a player’s possession as well as who contributed to breaking the most Curses at certain Temples.

That’s it for the game, really! It’s an easy one to teach. While arranging gems on your Grid isn’t QUITE as interesting as I’d hoped it would be (if the curses were one gem longer I think it would get really crunchy in a good way!), the racing element keeps you efficient and on-your-toes enough to provide some good tension. Will it hold up for us over multiple plays? Remains to be seen.

Verdict: (mostly) Sparks Joy

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And that's the end of Quaycon! Back home…

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Take a Number

Our copy of 6 Nimmt/Take 5 included a “special 2-4 player variant” called Take a Number that we decided to try.

We played one hand and put it away.

In Take a Number, the usual formula has been mixed up in a couple ways. First, instead of the 6th card taking a row, a row can be taken by either the 3rd (too fast), 4th (still too fast), or 5th (why???) cards are taken.

One of the cards you take is placed down in your special # Row, and added to the right hand side. If you have to put a card down there that is NOT greater than the card before it, like normal 6 Nimmt, you have to take your # Row and put it in a # Pile.

The rest of the cards you took from the main game area are returned to your hand for placement again later.

At the end of the game, when one player runs out of cards in their hand, players get 1 point for each bull in their hand and two bulls for each card in their # pile.

This sounds well and good, I imagine. It did to us. What we didn’t count on was the endless cycling of cards coming back to our hands over and over again. Sure, one gets put into our # areas every time we pick up and thus dwindles the total number of cards in play, but the repetitiveness of the cards we DIDN’T put there just wasn’t fun. It made the game a boring slog where every decision felt like it was made for us.

Now we just have this extra deck of cards in our Take 5 box that we’ll probably never use again taking up space.

Verdict: Did Not Spark Joy

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Under Falling Skies

Ever wish you could play Space Invaders by yourself offline? No? Why would you do that when the video game is right there and was here for decades first?

Because dice placement, that’s why!

And when the dice placement is as good as the dice placement in Under Falling Skies, that’s plenty good enough.

Each round, you roll five dice - two white and three grey - and place them in spots in your underground base, one die in each of your five columns. The more pips on the die the more powerful the action, BUT you must ALSO advance all invading alien ships in that column of the sky that same number of spaces! After you place your dice, the mothership advances and readies some more ships to attack you. When this happens there are some icons along the round tracker (some of which also appear in the sky) that are pretty simple to get the hang of.

The way the player wins is by completing their research track before either their city’s health runs out OR the alien mothership descends to the bottom of its track (which happens at least once per round). Research is conducted in Green rooms in your base, and often takes Power to activate the room. Power is generated in Yellow rooms, and you can fight back against the Aliens in Red rooms. You can also access deeper, better rooms in your base by advancing your tunnel-digger, which also takes power to activate and you place a die in front of its path up to a number of pips away, but you still have to keep the one die per column rule in mind!

There are some more nuances to the rules, some of which I haven’t even explored yet (the “full” game with robot dice, or the CAMPAIGN MODE?!?!?), but honestly, knowing just this about the game was enough to pique my interest before I bought it, and it absolutely delivered the fun. I played the introductory game on “normal” mode and won it with plenty of health and two Mothership advancements to go, but I’m hopeful between the interesting choices in the game already presents and the further challenges that await in the other modules that this is going to prove worthy of the Best Solo Game award it won from The Dice Tower this year.

Verdict: Sparks Joy

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And that's all for this week!

Remember, it's not the job of minorities to explain to you things you don't understand.

Google and verify. And maybe find a podcast or three to inform yourself.

For example, for something like, say, Great Western Trail, you could very easily find something like the show Black Cowboys. Or, perhaps, History is Gay's episode on transgender figures in the Old West (Episode 32: Stealing Horses and Hearts). Thinking that being inclusive about gender or skin color in a game about cowboys is about being politically correct instead of historically accurate is just plain ignorant of the facts and shows how biased our media (and hobby) has been over the last century, only letting white people populate these places in our own recreations of history.

Also, for board games depicting POC ranchers, there's the great dice-drafing set collection game El Gaucho, about South American cowboys (though the game is designed by a German designer, the theme was pretty innocuously applied in my memory. If this is wrong, I apologize and will revise my remarks. I should have looked at the game before I left for work this morning and thought of this game drop.).

Thanks for reading!
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Mon Aug 16, 2021 4:24 pm
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Quaycon 2021 - Day 1

David Taranto
Canada
Victoria
British Columbia
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Microbadge: I survived National Novel Writing Month 2014!Microbadge: PansexualMicrobadge: Concordia fanMicrobadge: Level 02 BGG posterMicrobadge: Silver Board Game Collector
Okay, so this wasn’t an actual con - my partner and I made it to Vancouver for a VERY long weekend and stayed by Lonsdale Quay, and we played MANY board games while we were there. While we don’t regret getting away, we do regret going out in public a couple of the times we did. Not everyone was as cautious or considerate as we would have liked, but alas. I’m also considering abstaining from unmasked game days with others for a couple weeks once we get home.

Since we played so many new-to-us games, I’m going to try to keep these entries as quick as I can!

Let’s get started-

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Taverns of Tiefenthal

I don’t like Wolfgang Warsch. I think he designs are mediocre at best and have gotten way more praise than they deserve. I’m all for other people thinking they’re great and getting a ton of mileage out of them, but they just haven’t been for me.

Except Illusion. I liked Illusion a lot.

And Tavens of Tiefenthal.

What Tavens is, is basically a Roll n Write without the pencil where you sort of have a different “sheet” you assemble on your player board with cards you draw from your deck that you build over time. You then draft dice to place at different locations on your board trying to earn and then spend beer (attracting new regular customers) and coins (hiring more staff) to fill out your tavern for the other rounds of the game. You can also upgrade your tavern with those coins, making your dice placement spots better, your seating area bigger, some staff permanent, etc.

Upgrading your tavern is also the main way you can earn Nobles, who are worth big points at the end of the game but don’t help your engine much; they make pretty stodgy customers. You’d think with all that money they’d buy more and tip better…

Anyway, for a push-your-luck deckbuilding game with some dice drafting that doesn’t really involve all that much player interaction it’s actually really fun! Choosing what to buy or bank or assign or prioritize best is interesting, and the crux here, I think, might be some monks that stop by that offer you a choice - you can either use them to advance on a monastery track to get bonuses that way, or they’ll let you ditch a bad “hand” of cards and draw again! Is it better to work with the devil you know and take the monastery track bump instead? Maybe!

The game also comes with several modules, and we included the ones recommended for “experienced gamers.” They definitely gave us some additional avenues to explore that I thought worked out quite well. My partner was able to leverage hers perfectly to squeak out a less-than-one-noble win, very reminiscent to the kind of point spreads between us we find in Concordia. An absolute cracker of a game that isn’t TOO much more than the sum of its parts, but it’s a jolly good time.

Verdict: Sparks Joy

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Biblios

I previously played this game once when I lived in Portland and had a pleasant experience. My partner has wanted to try it for a long time, too. I acquired it in a recent math trade, brushed up on the rules, and we gave it a go!

Biblios is a card game with 2 phases - in the first phase, players take turns drafting cards into a few different decks - one for each player, and one for the auction. On a player’s turn they draw a card, choose a person/deck for it to go to, and continue until all players plus the auction deck have gained another card.

Then, when all the cards are distributed, players take turn auctioning off cards from the deck one at a time.

The deck contains three types of cards - Gold cards, Goods cards (five suits), and Church cards. Gold cards are used to buy the other types of cards at auction. Goods cards are used for scoring and to buy Gold cards at auction. Church cards affect how much the Goods cards score by manipulating the dice for each suit.

Once the auction deck runs out, players reveal their cards in each suit. Whoever has the highest total value in each suit wins that suit’s die and scores its pips as points. Most points wins.

This was really fun, even with two! I’ve heard it wasn’t as good, but we liked it a lot. We had to read each other and our moves instead of purely counting cards, which probably would have made this game too predictable.

This one was definitely worth the hype we’d built up for it!

Verdict: Sparks Joy, even with two.

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Magnum Opus

Some deckbuilders make you choose a random set of cards that takes forever choose in the beginning or sort at the end. Some deckbuilders you just shuffle up a market of cards and there’s a row that just keeps refilling with new cards.

Magnum Opus is neither.

In Magnum Opus, players are rival alchemists trying to transmute mystical ingredients into the elusive Philosopher’s Stone. Every game the same market of eight ingredients randomly assigned to the ends of four rows and columns. The intersection of each row and column is randomly assigned a Discovery when they are successfully transmuted together, as well as a piece of Research or equipment that will help a player make their transmutation. The discovery can be anything from an experiment gone wrong, to new trade skills that let you ply your craft for coin, to other strange concoctions like a Heartstone or Mindstone that gives you additional abilities, to the knowledge of which three ingredients you need to create your Philosopher’s Stone.

Once an experiment yields its Discovery, that same combination will always yield the same result. This way, you can reliably add other cards to your deck not by paying coins for them, but by using your ingredients and transmuting them. You can also pay coins for them, but that cost is determined by the cost of the ingredients you would need to transmute them in the first place. Plus, not every discovery is in every game. This type of dynamic costing from game to game is unlike anything I’ve seen in another deckbuilding game released since (this was published in 2014). The rest of the game is a tight race to the finish, as piggybacking off of the progress of others is, I would say, key to victory.

Magnum Opus is paced just right, doesn’t overstay its welcome, and the blend of repeatable science with the chaotic wonder of alchemy is a recipe for a good time that will present something new to the players each time, even if the mechanisms themselves are pretty ancient by now.

Oh, and the rulebook is pretty awful. It isn’t as specific as it could/should be, but I think we figured everything out just fine. Also not sure what those Alchemist special abilities are for… they weren’t mentioned in the rulebook ANYWHERE, even in the list of components, so we just played without them.

Verdict: Sparks Joy

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Cerebria

What on earth is all the harumph about with this game?!? It was fine!

Then again, I also wasn’t the one tasked with reading the rulebook, and my partner was VERY invested in learning this one. Thankfully, it was worth the wait.

Cerebria has its players playing Spirits on the side of either Bliss or Gloom. With two players you have a few options for game modes to pick from, so we decided to just try it as the base game with two one-handed players (instead of each of us acting as two players at the same time).

Each turn, a player can take three actions from a menu of 9 (basic game) or 10. Each action is depicted graphically on the main board or your player board, and each one’s effects and/or costs can vary depending on the board state (for main board actions) or how you’ve modified/expanded your player board’s actions. In addition, each player has a couple free bonus actions they can do at some point during their turn.

Ultimately, players are trying to wield their influence on this pentagonal map to achieve objectives that score when specific events happen (a pool of Willpower tokens run out on the central board). Complete one objective? Add a small piece to the central tower (the personality). Complete two? Add a large piece. Large pieces are worth more than small pieces, and placing a large piece shortens the game by a scoring round. Once the public objectives run out, or a player needs to use a piece for scoring and can’t, the basic game ends.

That’s it. It’s an action menu area control game, where almost anything you do can score. The pentagonal board is split into five regions that can be controlled by Emotion cards, and between any two regions is a frontier, which can also be controlled by the same Emotion cards. Emotion cards are made more powerful when they have Essence tokens placed on them. Players can also build Fortresses to help bolster their claim in Regions. Some objectives score based on whoever controls more regions, or whoever controls more frontiers, or whoever has built more/better Fortresses, or whoever has cards in more regions, or more essence on cards, and so on.

Everything is tied together, nothing is as complicated as any other review I’ve seen has made it out to be, and it’s a nice tight battle with a dynamic timer that’s over before you know it. I’m really looking forward to exploring this one some more, definitely the advanced version where your Emotions can be upgraded, you can earn some consolation points if your majorities game isn’t quite the powerhouse it could be, and your Spirit has asymmetrical abilities. There’s also a co-op mode for two players, and we also managed to score a copy of the expansion which comes with some unnecessary but nonetheless snazzy miniatures as well as two additional options to play instead as Balance instead of Bliss or Gloom.

This is nowhere the difficulty of Trickerion or a Lacerda game. This belongs squarely in the same weight as a game like Inis. This is also a similar weight and price point to Scythe, but as far as I’m aware the designers of Cerebria haven’t, say, publicly questioned a family of color (and no one else) about when they were going to have the review of their game posted, or called out some reviewers that often publish balanced reviews, even of games they like, for posting negative reviews “for the clicks.” In fact, David Turczi even had his name removed from a game he was working on that he learned dealt insensitively with the prison industrial complex and even supported the termination of the game’s crowdfunding project altogether.

Also, I recall there being some attention brought to the mental health theme in Cerebria. As for me, someone who has been to therapy several times and almost definitely has either depression, anxiety, ADHD, or some combination of the above (therapy =/= a diagnosis), being able to embody the Spirit of anxiety (which I did) felt… almost therapeutic unto itself? It also doesn’t moralize on emotions. Fear has its place. Anger has its place. They are not bad in and of themselves. And happier emotions can be antagonistic when out of balance. And often when emotions get out of control they do feel like outside “spirits.” I don’t personally think there’s any harm in acknowledging any of this by gamefying it. Maybe it could even make it easier for some people to find words to describe how they’re feeling.

I don’t know. I’m not an expert on these things. But as someone that is almost certainly too burdened with ADHD and anxiety to be able to properly prioritize or deal with the stress of taking on a new mental health care system to get clinically screened for ADHD or anxiety, I found Cerebria a very comfortable space.

Verdict: Sparks Joy

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Robotech: Ace PIlot

You chuck some dice, trying to match symbols to crew members, and use those crew members to attack aliens in this 3x3 grid tray. The player with the most points when some of the tray’s beds run out wins. And that’s it, really? Bit of a yahtzee thing, not much in the way of strategy, just a little bit in terms of timing tactics but not a lot of meat on these bones. For a 20 minute game it doesn’t really need that much, but if you don’t care about Robotech you are not going to find much on offer here. Probably better for younger gamers? Or newer gamers. Not sure the nostalgia is going to get it to the table again (my partner has none while I have a lot) but it was fine for what it is.

Verdict: Dependent on nostalgia. If you have it, Sparks Joy. If not, Does Not. We’ll probably just keep it around because it doesn’t take up much space.

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Dilluvia Project

If you’re familiar with the Ghibli movie, I’ve had my eye on this one for YEARS as a sort of “Castle in the Sky: the Board Game.” Humanity has ruined the earth and the players are entrepreneurs contributing to the construction to a floating city to fly above it.

Dilluvia Project takes place over seven rounds, and each round is divided into three phases.

First up is the Market Phase, where players each choose either end of a row or column in a 4x4 grid of tiles for their Zeppelin. Then each player, in order, purchases any number of tiles from that row, where the cost for each tile is the distance of that tile from their Zeppelin. Tiles have resources, or Aeros (coins), or special abilities, or end-game scoring conditions that players can use/strive for.

Then comes the Worker phase! The board has several worker placement areas, each with fewer spots for fewer players.

Personally, given the utter void of thematic naming, the icing on the cake here would be actually theming the game completely on the movie’s titular castle. Add some animals and robots to the gardens, hearken to the other ancient-looking architecture, and so on. But alas, we only have this. Still, the art alone already evokes the sort of da Vinci steampunk fantasy that Castle in the Sky’s opening credits inhabit.

Verdict: Sparks Joy, regardless of 80s anime nostalgia

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And that’s all for this week.

I think I said about all I have to say up front this week.

Get vaxxed. Keep your mask on. Keep up with the scientists. At this point, at least keep up with Republicans!

Thanks for reading.
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Mon Aug 9, 2021 8:41 pm
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Troyes Dice (again), Project L, Paladins of the West Kingdom

David Taranto
Canada
Victoria
British Columbia
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Microbadge: I survived National Novel Writing Month 2014!Microbadge: PansexualMicrobadge: Concordia fanMicrobadge: Level 02 BGG posterMicrobadge: Silver Board Game Collector
Troyes Dice (take 2)

I really enjoyed this the second time! My partner either enjoyed it more OR "solved" the game. More plays will be needed to determine which it was, but at least we're both interested to keep going with it until it lands in either camp.

Her concern is that the game is too much about doing whatever is cheapest available in any given round, reaching for more expensive dice only in the most obvious circumstances. She played it that way and coasted to victory. If the game is largely playable on autopilot, why would anyone need to play the game at all?

At least it's likely to show us different facets when different events and/or rolls of the dice happen every time. Again, it's VERY unlikely that even after two plays of such a randomized game we could have a solid opinion that sticks, and that dice wheel is just SO DARN GOOD that it's going to keep us intrigued for at least a couple more plays.

Verdict: Jury still hung

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Project L

Did you like Splendor or Century: Spice Road or The Builders? Did you like Silver & Gold or Ubongo? Well, if the answer to both is yes, Project L is RIGHT up your alley.

Players start the game with a 1x1 square and a 1x2 rectangle tile, and room for 4 “contract” cards that are made of two layers of cardboard, a backing and a cutout pattern that will be filled by said tiles. Of course, the patterns are bigger than what 1 single square and a 1x2 rectangle can fill. That’s where players’ actions come in!

On their turn, a player can take three actions - acquire cards, acquire new 1x1 tiles, upgrade tiles to the next tier (1 square -> 2, 2 -> 3, 3 -> 4 in their usual iterations), placing tiles onto the cards one at a time, and what they call the Master Move - placing one tile into ALL of your cards - which you can do once per turn.

When a card is filled with pieces, players are rewarded with a new free piece, and all the pieces used in the pattern are RETURNED to the player’s pool to be reused on other cards. This makes the game a race to an efficient set of tiles and making that set of tiles pay off as often and as quickly as possible.

The game ends as soon as the deck of black cards (which are worth more) runs out, but you can complete as many of the smaller-value white cards as you want. That said, you have to pace yourself and make the switch to completing higher-value cards when you think you can win the race the game presents.

The teach is simple, and I think our first game with 2 players took us 15 minutes? Tops? It was also a tense race the whole time and not having to count points the whole way (like the first group of games I asked about) was a nice load off the experience.

We liked it! My partner got it on an impulse and it definitely didn’t let us down. We’ll probably be throwing this into the weeknight rotation.

Verdict: Sparks Joy

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Paladins of the West Kingdom

We like Viscounts of the West Kingdom, and I also enjoyed the play I had of Paladins of the West Kingdom back in very early 2020. My partner, however, hadn’t had a chance to play it yet, so she gave it a try at a local board game cafe.

In Paladins of the West Kingdom, players are using various colors of workers (vaguely colored according to the same classes of actions in Viscounts) to perform actions on their individual player boards (MUCH like Orleans without the bag) to build buildings and advance their standing on a few metrics. The more a player specializes, the more they’re rewarded, but if they don’t diversify their approach, they’ll find themselves without the right amount of cred in the right metric to get things done.

Thankfully, the King has sent their Paladins to help! Each round, players will draw three cards from their own deck of twelve Paladin cards and choose one to boost their clout in some metric or another, supply them with two workers, and modify one of the actions they can take in the player’s favor by either making it less expensive or more rewarding. Of the other two cards, one will be placed on the top of the deck for consideration again next round (it becomes the first of the next round’s three) and the last goes to the bottom of the deck, never to be seen again (except for the first round’s card, which WILL be in the last round’s draw).

After seven rounds of gathering workers and spending workers and moving up tracks and occupying dwindling building spots for bonuses, the game ends!

We enjoyed this one. My partner said she enjoyed this one more than Orleans (at least partially because of the lack of luck since there was no bagbuilding element), but it didn’t make a unique enough impression to warrant bringing into our collection.

There may be some expectation that I’m going to talk about the actions of “converting” or “attacking” the invading(/threatening?) forces. I’m definitely not a huge fan of the “convert” action. Defending against attackers is just going to happen in turn-of-the-second-millenium Francia. The setting is so far back and the art so removed from reality that it’s easy to sort of dismiss it in favor of the mechanisms at play.

The Paladin draw is, like the dice wheel in Troyes Dice, an AWESOME facet to an otherwise pretty rote eurogame, and the rest of the experience just didn’t quite tip over into something that tipped us over into wanting the whole package. Still, you could do far worse than going with this if you’re looking to expand your collection!

Verdict: Sparks Joy, but No Summons Issued

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And that’s all that’s new for this week!

And remember,

Your sports team name is not core to its OR your identity. And “Guardians” is a better choice than naming your team after, say, the color of a piece of clothing. And it doesn’t hurt anyone. And the same PEOPLE are coming on and off the field every time, regardless of what they’re called.

Good on ya, Cleveland baseball. It’s about time.

Indigenous peoples deserve respect. They were here first, with civilizations and cultures all their own, before we Europeans kicked them out through nefarious treaties and genocide. The fact they got relegated in the Midwest and all points east to mascots like animals and articles of clothing tells you all you need to know.

But David, I hear you ask, what about Patriots and Sooners and 49ers and Pirates?

Those are -qualities- or -occupations- people can learn, not the very inborn identity of the peoples themselves.

And if you say “so and so is an Indian and they don’t have a problem with it, and besides, wasn’t the team named in honor of a really important Native American player?” Well, as to the former, if 2020 taught me anything it’s that no group is a monolith. You can find someone in any group that will agree with what you want them to think.

As to the latter, I urge you to search for an NBC Sports article from 2014 on Louis Sockalexis (warning: it references both Cleveland baseball AND the former name of the Washington Football Team as well as many other disgusting stereotypes that reveal what contemporary sports journalists REALLY thought of Sockalexis). To provide the barebones argument here, the name of the team was changed in 1915, but he was unable to find any mention of Sockalexis in any or all of the remaining documentation from that year. The writer also mentions that Sockalexis DID play a role in the team -formerly- being called, possibly derisively, the “Indians” during Sockalexis’s playing days in the late 1890s. So it was known as the “Indians” decades before it was officially renamed such, and also assumed the name officially on the heels of the Boston “Braves” winning the World Series in 1914 - the writer posits it could have partially been the Cleveland sports writers (who made the decision) jumping on the Native American nickname bandwagon. And what do you know - the Cleveland baseball team was known as the “Indians” during a time they were pretty decent and notorious (in NO good ways!) for having the first openly Native American player on it? Surely that was something memorable for people around the game to associate with Cleveland!

Not exactly an “honor,” even if Sockalexis was involved.

And the evolution of Chief Wahoo over the years into the caricature is even more disgusting. And as far as the fandom goes, painting your face bright red or wearing a headdress as a white fan is just disgusting. You can tell whose people and cultures have done the colonizing for centuries and who have been colonized - they still take without a second thought and assume everything is theirs and hurts no one.

Tell the thousands of kids ripped from their families and buried in unmarked graves outside the schools designed to steal and replace every shred of their identity and culture, only for you to put the headdresses your people stole from their heads to root for your own insignificant little sports team.

Get over yourself. Your blatant disregard for others and lack of compassion are showing.

And speaking of the Boston Braves, you’re on the clock, Atlanta baseball. And Chicago hockey. And Kansas City football.

Thanks for reading.
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Mon Jul 26, 2021 7:01 am
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