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Game Preview: Doodle Dash, or Faster, Pussycat! Draw! Draw!

W. Eric Martin
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Board Game: Doodle Dash
Doodle Dash, one of the debut games from Norwegian publisher Chilifox Games, isn't a flashy design that delivers a BRAND NEW GAMING EXPERIENCE the way that most titles are marketed. Instead this game for 3-7 players from the design team Fridtjof Buvarp, Maija Buvarp, Pauline Buvarp, Åsmund Svensson, and Eilif Svensson delivers what it promises — a quick-playing, drawing-based party game — in a clean and efficient manner that doesn't overstay its welcome.

In the game, each player takes turns trying to guess what everyone else has drawn. You draw a card facing away from you with that card listing seven items, give a number from 1-7, then avert your eyes while everyone else races to draw whatever person, object, name, or title you chose. As soon as someone finishes their drawing, they grab the golden cylinder to indicate their firstness. The next player to finish grabs the die and keeps rolling it until either everyone else has finished their drawings or they roll the lone STOP sign on the die, which forces everyone else to stop drawing immediately.

The cylinder holder reveals their drawing first, and if the guesser identifies whatever the thing is, they each score 1 point. If not, the die-holder reveals their drawing, scoring 1 point along with the guesser if the latter can now identify the thing in question. If not, all other drawers reveal their images, with each of them scoring 1 point along with the guesser if the ID is finally made.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
What's this?

The challenge of the game is obvious: Drawing quickly makes it difficult to draw clearly, so how much do you want to lean one way or the other? What's the essence of the object from your point of view, and can you draw that in such a way that the guesser will identify it...and can you do it before someone else does?

Sometimes that essence is surprisingly common, and I imagine such drawing experiments already take place in sociology classes to record how people represent different objects.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
Cats must have three whiskers!

The other challenge that comes with weighing speed over specificity in your drawing is that — depending on the object in question — the second revealer has an advantage over the first since the guesser now has two images to ponder and compare. What might have been unclear from the initial scribble now comes into focus, although sometimes you really need to see ALL the remaining drawings before you know what the object is.

And sometimes even those images don't help when certain drawers misread the card in question or depict something other than what was written. In the image below, for example, only the image in the lower left really matches what you're supposed to guess.

From gallery of W Eric Martin

I've played Doodle Dash three times on a review copy from Chilifox Games, once each with 3, 4, and 7 players, and the game does what it's trying to do. The experience was more enjoyable with the largest crowd, mostly because it was fun to see what people drew, whether you were guessing or not.

Sometimes the objects had a singular "correct" way of being drawn, akin to the drawings of "cat food" above, as when everyone depicted a telescope the exact same way. In those cases, the game was about pure speed rather than about trying to decipher what was important to depict, and I found those rounds less interesting since I wasn't interpreting what to draw, but simply trying to push an image out as quickly as possible. I like that type of challenge in Pictionary when two teams are going head-to-head, but I think that's because you're drawing in front of the guessers and responding to them in real time, modifying your image on the fly to lead them to the answer; in this game, you whip out the drawing and that's it.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
I learned that I cannot draw a horse

For more on the game and how it compares to three other quick-drawing party games, check out this video:

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Mon Sep 20, 2021 1:00 pm
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Game Preview: Azul: Queen's Garden, or Planting Groups of Greens

W. Eric Martin
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Board Game: Azul: Queen's Garden
On the Tuesday prior to Gen Con 2021, publisher Next Move Games gave a tiny bit of info about a new entry in the Azul game line from designer Michael Kiesling, namely that a fourth title would be added to the series before the end of 2021 — Azul: Queen's Garden.

Turns out that Next Move would also have a single copy on hand at the con to show to the media, and Candice and I were able to play most of a game during our appointment time with Martin Bouchard.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
Non-final components

As with all of the other Azul titles, the heart of Azul: Queen's Garden is making smart choices when drafting new elements to be added to your personal scoreboard.

The first difference that stands out in this game is how you draft those elements. In the other titles, you lay out five, seven, or nine factories that you then populate with four colored tiles from a bag; in Azul: Queen's Garden, you create four stacks of five, seven, or eight(!) landscape boards and place one stack in the center of the table at the start of each of the game's four rounds.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
Non-final components

You then place four tiles on the top of this stack. Tiles come in six colors with six different symbols on them, with three copies of each color+symbol combination (think Qwirkle); each symbol represents a number from 1-6, with the tree being 1, the bird 2 for its wings, the butterflies 3, and the bell flowers 6.

The start player chooses only from these tiles, selecting either a color or a symbol, then taking all tiles of that color/symbol — except that you cannot take the same color/symbol combination more than once in a single turn. (If two yellow trees are present, for example, you take only one of them.)

If after a player has taken their turn, the topmost landscape board doesn't have four tiles on it, place it to the side, then draw four tiles from the bag and place them on the revealed landscape board. Thus, the first player doesn't have access to everything that will be revealed in a round, and all players face the dilemma that if they remove something from the topmost landscape board, they will give (probably) better choices to the next player. A bit further on in a round, you'll see something like this:

From gallery of W Eric Martin
Non-final components

Once all the tiles have been removed from a landscape board, it's flipped over to reveal a single colored symbol in one of its six spaces. This board can be drafted along with tiles when you draft a particular color or symbol so long as you don't take a duplicate.

All of the tiles and boards you draft must fit into your reserve area, which can hold at most twelve tiles and two boards. If you would overflow your reserve, then you can't draft whatever you had planned to draft.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
Tile reserve — full!

Instead of drafting, you can choose to place a single landscape board or a single tile on your board; when you place a tile, it must go on a board, whether on your starting board or a landscape board that you've added.

To place a tile/board — henceforth called "elements" — you need to discard a number of elements equal to the value of the symbol being placed, similar to how in Azul: Summer Pavilion you must discard tiles equal to the numbered space that you want to cover, and those elements must all be the same color or the same symbol as what is being placed. The element that you're placing counts as one of the things being discarded, so a tree pays for its own placement cost since a tree has a value of 1.

As when you're drafting, when you discard elements to pay for a placement, you cannot duplicate a color or symbol. In the image below, for example, I'm planning to place the dark green 6/bell tile by discarding the six items at the bottom of my reserve: three tiles (including the tile I'll place), one board, and two jokers. I cannot use the landscape board with the dark green bell on it since I'm already "paying" with a dark green bell.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
Non-final components

You start the game with three jokers, and a joker can be any color/symbol combination. As in Azul: Summer Pavilion, you can gain more jokers by surrounding certain features on your game board: one joker for surrounding the central starting fountain, two jokers for surrounding a bench or statue, and three jokers for surrounding the gazebo on a landscape board.

Instead of drafting or placing, you can pass, and the first player to pass takes the "1" marker, loses 1 point, and will be the starting player for the next round. When all players have passed, players score points for features on their board based on whatever is highlighted on the central scoring board. In the image below, for example, you see that dark green, blue, and tree elements on your board are each worth 1 point. (The central scoring board is double-sided, so you can use either side in a game.)

From gallery of W Eric Martin
Non-final components

At the end of four rounds, you score points for each group of 3+ elements on your board that share a color or symbol. The left-hand column on the score board above helps you track and score each element in turn, and your score for a group is the sum of the values for the elements in a group. For example, if you score a light blue group that has a tree, butterflies, and bell flowers, that group is worth 10 points since the tree is 1, butterflies are 3, and bell flowers are 6. You cannot repeat a color or symbol in a group, so the maximum number of tiles in a group is six, and you score 6 bonus points whenever you do have a group of six. "Qwirkle!"

Ideally you place elements so that you can score them for the color, then score them again for the symbol. You can see an example of this two images up as I have a group of bell flowers and a group of light green tiles, which means the light green bell flower tile will score twice for me — 12 points total — at game end, in addition to scoring 3 points for me at the end of round four when that symbol scores. Similarly, the light green bird will score twice for the light green group and the bird group...but a bird is only 2 points, so that's not quite as much of a buzz.

This write-up doesn't cover every detail of gameplay, such as you being able to pay 6 points to grab a blank landscape tile and add it to your personal board, but now I've mentioned that as well, so hmm. In any case, ideally this write-up gives you a feel of what to expect when Azul: Queen's Garden debuts at SPIEL '21 in October 2021 and when it debuts in retail outlets prior to the end of 2021. Note that the components shown here are not final as Next Move Games in tweaking colors and other details prior to going to production.
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Fri Sep 17, 2021 8:01 pm
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Game Preview: 7 Wonders: Architects, or Building Wonders Anew

W. Eric Martin
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Board Game: 7 Wonders: Architects
As large and active as BoardGameGeek is, I think many people forget that the universe of game players dwarfs the BGG userbase, and in general that larger universe has a more casual relationship with games than BGG users. They don't want to spend a lot of time learning how to play a new game, and they don't want to feel stupid when they play something for the first time, and they are fine with a higher degree of luck in the games that they play.

7 Wonders: Architects was designed with this audience in mind, as noted by designer Antoine Bauza when the game was announced: "As I get older, I play more games with my family than a gaming group. This got me thinking about games that are welcoming to newcomers and can be enjoyed by friends and families."

To show you what Bauza has in mind, here's an example of the game in play:

From gallery of W Eric Martin

You are me, the player in the lower right, and on your turn you can choose the top card of three decks: the deck to your left (which is associated with your wonder), the deck on your right (which is associated with my right-hand opponent's wonder), or the deck in the center of the table (which is associated with no one). So your choices are:

• Take the mystery card in the center.
• Take the blue card worth 3 points, after which your turn ends.
• Take the yellow card with a coin that counts as a wild resource, which means it matches your scroll, thereby giving you two scrolls, which means you must complete the next level of your wonder, which is worth 3 points and gives you the bonus ability of taking the top card from any deck at the table — which means you can still grab a blue card worth 3 points, netting you 6 points total for the turn. That seems like the choice to make!

With this short description, you already know what a turn is like — choose one of three cards — and what two colors of cards do. What other card types are in the game?

From gallery of W Eric Martin

• Dun cards are resource cards, which come in five types. As soon as you're able to complete a level of your wonder — and the cost to do so varies from 2-4 resources, either matching or different as depicted on each level — you must spend the resources to do so. You must build from the ground up because you have not mastered the art of levitation.

• Green cards are science cards, and each card bears one of three icons. As soon as you collect two matching icons or all three icons, you must discard those cards and take a progress token from the center of the table, whether a face-up one or a mystery one. Some tokens are worth points, some give you bonus card draws each time you meet the right condition, and some give you a unique power.

• Red cards are military cards. Some show only a shield, and some show a shield with one or two horns (as with the one depicted above); if you take one of these latter cards, then you flip one or two of the octagonal conflict tokens to the red attack side. When all of these tokens are red, you compare your military strength (i.e., the number of shields you have) against each of your neighbors. For each neighbor you are stronger than, you score 3 points. (In a two-player game, such as the one above, you score 3 points for outranking the other player and 6 points if your military strength is double theirs.)

When someone has completed the fifth level of their wonder, the game ends at the end of their turn, then everyone tallies their points to see who wins.

You now know 93% of the rules to 7 Wonders: Architects, and if we had been sitting at the table together, we would already be through the first few rounds of the game. This is part of what Bauza means by "games that are welcoming to newcomers" — a game that you can learn as you go without having to download all of the information ahead of time, which is what is required to play 7 Wonders. (I know some people claim that 7 Wonders is a breeze to teach, but I think they're underestimating how much a new player needs to absorb so that they don't pick up their hand of cards and freeze.)

From gallery of W Eric Martin

What else do you need to know?

Blue cards come in two types: 3 points and 2 points+a cat symbol, and when you take one of these later cards, you grab the cat totem from whoever has it. When you have this totem at the start of your turn, you can peek at the card on top of the central deck before drawing your card for that turn. In a two-player game, control of the totem is vital because it gives you an edge on the other player since both of you are drawing from the same three decks. With more players, the cat totem moves more frequently and someone might snatch the cat away before your turn even comes around again.

From gallery of W Eric Martin

The value of many cards is situational, depending on the number of players in the game, which wonder you're building, and how far you are along in the game. In the image above, I'm the player closest to the camera, and I can choose mystery, 2 points+cat, or a shield — and while normally I might not care about a shield, four of the five conflict tokens are red, which means we'll like have a scoring soon, and if I don't take the shield, then the player after me might take it (since we share that deck), which means they would score 3 points off me instead of me scoring 3 points off them.

One additional consideration in this case is that military cards with horns are discarded following a scoring, while those without horns stay with players until the end of the game. In this case, I wouldn't be triggering the scoring myself, and I'd be halfway to matching the strength of the player to my right to keep them from scoring off me in the future.

That said, I have two progress tokens: one gives me a bonus draw from one of the three decks if I take a scroll or glass resource, and the other gives me a bonus draw if I take a wood or brick resource. (Apologies for the glare!) If I draw from the middle and get one of those resources, I'll then have a bonus draw, which means I could still grab the military card. Should we take a chance on getting two cards this turn, or go for the sure thing rather than potentially having the military used against us?

From gallery of W Eric Martin

I've played 7 Wonders: Architects six times on a review copy from publisher Repos Production, twice each with two, four, and five players, and the winning scores have varied widely, as has the components making up the winning player's score.

In the case above, the player went all-in on Rhodes, used two science cards to grab the perfect progress token, then hit military regularly to score a bunch of points, while also constructing multiple levels of the wonder to end up with 52 points. In other games, a player has had 15 points in blue cards along with wonder points or multiple progress tokens that either provided points or drew extra cards, which sped building and ended the game before others really got going.

For more on the game, you can check out the videos below to see all the bits in the box — which includes my conjecture as to why this is a $50 game in the first place — and discover more examples of gameplay, while experiencing the "learn while playing" method described above and learning the powers of various wonders.



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Thu Sep 16, 2021 7:00 pm
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Game Overview: The Crew: Mission Deep Sea, or Life's Full of Tough Choices, Isn't It?

W. Eric Martin
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Board Game: The Crew: Mission Deep Sea
Board Game: The Crew: The Quest for Planet Nine
I have written a lot about The Crew: The Quest for Planet Nine, starting in November 2019 and continuing in December 2019, and the only reason that co-operative trick-taking game from designer Thomas Sing and publisher KOSMOS stopped hitting the table was thanks to a disease that kept crews from gathering in real life to play. (We have since resumed playing the game on Board Game Arena, while chatting on a group phone call.)

When The Crew: Mission Deep Sea was announced in November 2020, I assumed the game would be more of the same, yet with a twist...but how would Sing twist such a simple format to create something new? Now that I've played 18 times on a review copy from KOSMOS with three and four players, I'm happy to share the magic of that twist.

The base gameplay of The Crew: The Quest for Planet Nine and The Crew: Mission Deep Sea is the same: You have a deck of 40 cards, with four colored suits of cards being numbered 1-9 and one white trump suit being numbered 1-4. At the start of a mission, you deal those cards evenly to all players. Whoever receives the 4-trump is commander, and they lead the first trick. Players must follow suit, if possible, and whoever plays the highest card in the led suit wins the trick, unless someone plays a trump, in which the highest trump wins the suit.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
The original

Your challenge each game is to complete tasks, and in The Crew: The Quest for Planet Nine those tasks are mostly represented by a smaller deck of 36 cards that consists of four colored suits of cards numbered 1-9. These tasks are drafted by players, and in the case above my challenge is to win the pink 3 in a trick, which should be straightforward given my hand. The fifty missions in The Crew present lots of wrinkles in this formula — collect these cards in this order, collect this card last — but many of the missions have a similar feel to them since the tasks focus on individual cards.

For The Crew: Mission Deep Sea, the task deck is now much larger — 96 cards — and each card has a difficulty level on the back based on whether you're playing with three, four, or five players. A mission will have a difficulty level (along with other possible wrinkles), and you draw and reveal task cards until their sum equals that difficulty level, with you skipping any cards that would make the level too high. As an example, here are the two cards we had in a four-player game for mission #7, which has a difficulty level of 6:

From gallery of W Eric Martin

These two tasks differ a lot from those in The Crew: The Quest for Planet Nine, and they are representative of many of the tasks in The Crew: Mission Deep Sea in that they present the table with a holistic challenge that plays out over the entire hand instead of being something that is mostly the concern of a single person. I was commander for this game, and my hand had only three cards that weren't yellow or green, so I took the "win a trick with all cards <7" task as I thought I'd be able to contribute better to the completion of the other task by voiding the non-green, non-yellow cards from my hand, then throwing in yellow or green as needed.

The challenge of that "green=yellow" task, of course, comes from multiple players needing to void themselves in various suits — which will differ for each player — so that we can end up with 2 green/2 yellow OR 1 green/1 yellow/2 other stuff in a single trick that is won by the player holding the task. That's a lot of hoops! And along the way we need to ensure that I can win a trick that completes my task, so we need to play out high cards and submarines at the same time that we're trying to get the colors in the right arrangement.

Instead of giving players single-target tasks, The Crew: Mission Deep Sea presents the team with larger challenges that create a unique Venn diagram for each game based on whichever tasks come out. The task deck still contains a few low-challenge tasks such as "I will win the green 6", but it also has "I will win exactly three 6s", which involves everyone far more than the single-card task — and should both of those tasks be in play, but in the hands of different players, well, that would add an additional twist for players to overcome.

Other task cards that provide more holistic, game-long challenges are:

• I will win exactly one pink card and one green card.
• I will win all four 3s.
• I will win no yellow or green.
• I will win a trick that contains only odd-numbered cards.
• I will win as many tricks as the commander.
• I will win more yellow cards than blue cards.

We started a four-player game at mission #1 with that final card, and while it's a simple challenge, you need to play through the entire hand to ensure that you make it. The commander might win one trick or several tricks, which means you have more openness in how to play out the hands as long as you keep the goal in mind. (And should that task have come out at the same time as others, the simpleness of that challenge would intersect in different ways with each other task.)

Here was another pair of task cards that came out:

From gallery of W Eric Martin

Okay, so winning as many pink as blue is the same task as the one above, but now another player must win an 8 with a 4...which also means you need to engage in off-suit shenanigans, but in a different way than before.

Needless to say, I'm a fan of this new release as it requires the same spirit of working together with others, but overcoming these challenges seems to require you to connect on a broader scale rather than just not getting in one another's way. You can communicate in the same way as in the first The Crew, with you revealing a non-trump card and indicating whether it's the highest, lowest, or only card of that color in your hand, but what you need to communicate isn't as straightforward as in the earlier game. Often you're not even sure what to communicate until several turns have passed and you see — based on the cards that have been played — a possible avenue for you to contribute to one task or another.

I talk much more about the game and reveal many more tasks in this overview video:

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Mon Sep 13, 2021 1:00 pm
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Game Overview: Hammer Time, or My Hammer Awesome

W. Eric Martin
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Board Game: Hammer Time
In July 2021, I posted a tweet about Hammer Time, a game from designers Scott Huntington and Shaun Graham and publisher HABA, that perfectly summarizes what's going on:


Do I need to say more? I'm not sure, but just in case, here's a bit more:

Each player has four mine cart cards, each showing 4-6 gems. On a turn, you hit the box with the hammer, after having rotated it in whichever way seems optimal, and as long as you don't knock off more than eight gems, you take any gems that match those depicted on your topmost cart card and fill those spaces, with white gems being jokers. Return any other gems to the top of the box. (If you knocked off 9+ gems, return all of them since you're a brute and not worthy of claiming anything.)

Additionally, if the gems you knocked off match the current task card — knock off an odd/even number of gems, knock off 1-3/6-8 gems, knock off two black gems — then claim that card, which counts as a joker.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
SHINY!

If your cart is now full of gems or you can use claimed task cards to fill it, set that card aside and reveal the next one, returning all gems to the top of the box. If you've claimed your fourth cart card, you've probably won — unless someone else also claims their fourth one the same round, in which case you compare completed task cards in reserve.

Hammer Time is a concept game that challenges you to compete against others in a task that you would be unlikely to encounter in any situation other than a game. I mean, that's true for pretty much any game, but aside from Toc Toc Woodman, a.k.a. Click Clack Lumberjack I can't think of other games in which you're asked to dislodge game bits in just the right way.

I've played Hammer Time twice on a review copy from HABA with gamers who are far older than the suggested lower age limit of 5, and it works well for what the designers are trying to do. I offer more thoughts about the game in this overview video:

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Mon Sep 6, 2021 1:00 pm
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Game Overview: Dominant Species: Marine, or The Aquatic Species Smackdown

Candice Harris
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From gallery of candidrum
I'll never forget my first game of Dominant Species in which my friend AJ almost wiped out my entire bird species with a single action. Thankfully he didn't have the heart to go through with it, and my birds lived to see the end of the game. Beyond that slightly terrifying moment, I was totally enthralled playing Dominant Species, loving its refreshing blend of worker placement and area majority, and all of the resulting exciting player interaction.

Needless to say, I was immediately pumped when I first heard word of Dominant Species: Marine, especially the fact that it had the promise of hitting the table more often since it plays much quicker than its big cousin. GMT Games was kind enough to send me a copy so that I could dive in to see how it plays.

Dominant Species: Marine is a worker-placement, area-majority game from the late, esteemed, Chad Jensen and GMT Games in which 2-4 players take on the role of one of four aquatic-based animal classes — reptiles, fishes, cephalopods, or crustaceans — competing to become the dominant species by having the most victory points at the end of the game. Victory points can be earned in a variety of ways, but most often from area-majority scoring of terrain tiles on the game board.

Speaking of the game board, Dominant Species: Marine comes with a large game board that manages to temporarily transform your tabletop into a beautiful blue seascape thanks to Chechu Nieto's tasteful and vibrant artwork. Besides being easy on the eyes, it's well-designed and very functional, too. It's one of those games where after I learned and played it once, I've barely needed to crack open the rulebook since most of what you need to know is on the game board and player boards.

On the left side of the game board are slots for a rotating selection of evolution cards that players can snag when taking the evolution action. Then there's the action display on the right side of the board that has "worker placement" spaces for all of the actions you take in the game.

From gallery of candidrum
Set-up for a four-player game

The center of the game board is where you'll have your eyes glued for most of the game considering that most of the actions directly impact the state of the board. The board is initially set up with specific terrain and vent tiles that make up the "earth", which is the playing surface most of the game is focused on. As the game unfolds, players add new terrain and vent tiles to expand the earth and create more spaces where their species can thrive, and more importantly, score victory points.

Each player starts with three of their species (cubes) in the center coral reef tile, which also has one of each element type. Elements are what your species needs to thrive and survive. Each animal class starts with specific elements they need, but you can evolve your species and adapt them to new elements throughout the game.

From gallery of candidrum
Reptiles animal display
During set-up, each player receives an "animal display" player board that has a place for their trait card, a gene pool for storing species cubes, and a summary of every action, which is extremely handy when teaching and playing the game.

As for trait cards, each player chooses one of three that are randomly dealt at the beginning of the game. The trait card special abilities are super cool and change up each animal's abilities from game to game, unlike the original Dominant Species, in which each animal had a static, default trait.

Dominant Species: Marine is played over a series of turns (in reverse food chain order) in which each player either places one of their available pawns on a "fossil" action space on the action display to immediately take the corresponding action or retrieves all of their pawns from the action display. Aside from occasional interruptions from events being triggered and resolved, play continues in this fashion, from turn to turn, until the game ends.

Each player starts the game with a number (based on player count) of basic pawns in their player color, and players also have the opportunity throughout the game to gain access to special pawns by taking the dominance action when they are "dominating" one of the six elements (algae, worms, plankton, sponges, gastropods, and sun) in the game.

Basic pawns that you start the game with may be placed only in an empty, non-special action space that is after all of your previously placed pawns — after, meaning in a section of the action display below all of your previously placed pawns, or in the same section as your bottommost pawn, but in a space to the right of it. Controlling special pawns not only gives you access to to more "workers"; it allows you to ignore the basic pawn placement restrictions. You can place special pawns in any empty space including juicy "special pawn-only" spaces...and if that wasn't enough to "wet" your appetite, you can also place special pawns in spaces occupied by your opponents' basic pawns by bumping them off.

From gallery of candidrum
Food chain/
turn order track
At some point after placing pawns to take actions, you will want or need to pull your pawns back so that you can continue placing them to take more actions. Whenever you retrieve all of your pawns, your food chain cube slides to the right on the food chain/turn order track. Typically, you continue taking turns as usual, placing a pawn to take the corresponding action, or retrieving all of your pawns, but if all of the other food chain cubes are already on the right side, a reseed event is triggered and resolved as a result of your retrieval action. The reseed event refreshes (shifts and refills) elements and terrain markers on the action display creating fresh, new opportunities on various action spaces.

From gallery of candidrum
Action display in action
The flow of Dominant Species: Marine differs from many worker-placement games as players are generally placing and retrieving their pawns at different times from one other. There are no official game rounds, and you don't have to wait until you are out of pawns to take a retrieval action, so it can be very interesting to see how the action display evolves as players gain special pawns, bump each other off spaces, and time their retrieval actions differently. Sometimes an action space you need opens up as a result of an opponent retrieving their pawns, which could be very helpful to you. If you can anticipate your opponents' retrieval in conjunction with the triggering of a reseed event, you can position yourself to get first dibs on all the new goodies on the action display.

Now that you hopefully have an idea of how the game turns flow, allow me to highlight some of the actions you'll take on your aquatic quest to become the one-and-only dominant species. When taking actions in Dominant Species: Marine, your goal is to enhance your animal's survivability while simultaneously hindering your opponents and strategically positioning your species to score more victory points than your opponents. Considering most of the points you score are from area-majority scoring of terrain and vent tiles, it's pretty important to get your species cubes out on earth and make sure they are "thriving". Every single tile scores at the end of the game, plus there are lots of opportunities to score in-game points.

The Speciation action allows you to add species cubes from your gene pool on your player board onto terrain and vent tiles on the game board. The elements that are currently present in the speciation section of the action display dictate which spaces you can add your species onto. You choose any one element on earth that matches the element type associated with the action space where your pawn was placed, then you place new species cubes from your gene pool onto any number of adjacent tiles. The number of species cubes you can place depends on the terrain type. For example, you can place up to four new species on ocean tiles, but you can place only up to two species on coral reef, kelp, or seagrass tiles.

To move your species cubes around on the game board, you can take the Migration action, which lets you move a number of your species cubes from anywhere on earth to an adjacent tile. The number of species cubes you can move is based on the action space your pawn was placed on.

From gallery of candidrum
I hinted above at the concept of "thriving" in Dominant Species: Marine. A species is considered "thriving" if it at least one element on the tile it occupies matches an element on its animal display. If your species isn't thriving, it's considered "endangered" and will be eliminated (removed from the game) if an extinction event is triggered. The abundance and adaptation actions are key to helping your species thrive.

The Abundance action allows you to select one of the available elements and place it on any open corner of a tile. If you have endangered species cubes on an earth tile, you could take this action to place an element that matches your species to make sure they are thriving. Like most of the action spaces with elements, the elements available for this action are randomly drawn from a sack during set-up and during reseed events, so you aren't guaranteed to have the elements you need.

Thankfully, the Adaptation action allows you to select one of the available elements and place it on an empty element space on your animal display, so your species can evolve to survive with more types of elements. This serves a similar purpose to the abundance action as it helps your species thrive more easily, but it can also help with having element dominance to gain access to special pawns.

Domination is the bottommost action that you can place a pawn on and rightfully so because it's very powerful, helping you gain access to the special pawns I've mentioned. When taking this action, choose exactly one of the six element types that your animal currently dominates and take control of the corresponding special pawn, which now gives you access to place the special pawn(s) you control on special pawn action spaces. In addition, you move that pawn's associated target marker up the VP track to the space that matches your domination value.

To determine your domination value, count the number of that element type that you have on your animal display and multiply that by the number of tiles on earth that contain at least one of your species cubes and at least one of that element. With this in mind, you can probably see how adding elements to your animal display via the adaptation action and getting more of your species out on more tiles can increase your dominance score. To dominate an element, you need to have a domination value only higher than the current target, not compared to other players, which differs from the original Dominant Species. Beware though, as your opponents can swoop in and take the domination action to dominate an element that you already did, and they would gain access to that particular special pawn, so ideally you'd go into the domination action with a score that'll be challenging for your opponents to beat.

The Wanderlust action allows you to select a new terrain tile from one of the three face-up wanderlust tile stacks and place it on the game board. As a bonus, you earn bonus points based on the number of adjacent tiles that are the same terrain type as the tile you're placing. Also, if there are any elements available in the wanderlust section of the action display, you can place one on any vacant corner of the newly placed tile. Then in food chain order, every player may move as many of their species currently adjacent to the newly-placed tile onto that tile.

From gallery of candidrum
Wanderlust tile stacks

Perhaps placing normal terrain tiles doesn't float your boat and you want to stir things up and create a bigger splash to impact the state of the game board. In that case, let me introduce you to the Tectonics action, which allows you to convert a terrain tile to a vent tile.

Similar to the wanderlust action, you can gain bonus points by placing the new vent tile adjacent to other vent tiles, and in this case, you remove and temporarily set aside all species cubes from the chosen tile. Then, of the cubes set aside, you place only one belonging to each animal back on the new vent tile. The rest are returned to their owners, but then you can place one of your species from your gene pool or even better, one of your eliminated species on the new vent tile. Thus, by taking this action you can clear off a bunch of your opponent's species cubes, then you'll end your turn having a majority on the new vent tile.

Vent tiles score only 1 point for a single majority, and if I haven't mentioned it yet, ties are always broken in food chain order in Dominant Species: Marine. So why on earth would you want to invest energy in vent tiles? Well, first of all, as I mentioned above, you can do it to wipe out a chunk of your opponents' species cubes, but even better, you can go for a vent tile strategy and try to gain the survival card and score bonus points when survival events are triggered.

If you have the most species on vent tiles when a survival event is triggered, you score bonus points based on the total number of vent tiles that are occupied by your animal species. Bonus points score as follows (quantity/VPs): 1/1, 2/3, 3/6, 4/10, 5/15, 6+/21, so the vent tile strategy can be viable if you play your cubes right.

I mentioned earlier how the reseed event is triggered on a retrieval action when all cubes are on the right side of the food chain track, but I haven't mentioned how the extinction and survival actions are triggered, which leads me to the evolution action.

From gallery of candidrum
The Evolution action allows you to score a tile matching the corresponding terrain type of the action space your pawn is placed on. The terrain tile options are randomly drawn from a sack during set-up and the reseed event, so there is a lot of variability here as with other actions that are based on randomly drawn elements. An evolution action is a two-step process in which you'll first score a tile, then possibly resolve an evolution card.

For example, if we were scoring the kelp forest tile (shown at left), the cephalopods (orange) would score 7 points, the crustaceans (brown) would score 4 points, and the reptiles (purple) would score 2 points since they are higher in the food chain than the fishes and would break the tie.

Your evolution card options vary depending on the action space your pawn is on. If your pawn is on the 3rd/3 space, that means you can choose one of the evolution cards in card slot 3 or lower. The evolution cards are all interesting, and during set-up you remove 10 of 34 without looking at them, so you never know exactly which cards are in play or when they'll be revealed. Many give you opportunities to score points and change up the state of the game board, and some of them have effects that impact the game while revealed in a card slot on the board. While "Adaptability" is in play, for example, you can bump opposing special pawns, but when someone resolves it, they would swap an element on their animal with a different type of element on earth.

From gallery of candidrum
From gallery of candidrum
Evolution card examples

After resolving an evolution card, the cards slide down to fill in the gap, then a new card is drawn from the deck. If the new card has an extinction or survival event icon, this would trigger the corresponding event.

There's also the Autotrophs and Depletion actions that can remove elements from earth, and the Regression action, which can protect you from having to remove elements from your animal display during reseed events. Then there's the Competition action, in which you choose a tile on earth that matches the corresponding terrain type and you eliminate 1-3 opposing species cubes. Since just about every action in Dominate Species: Marine is geared at maximizing player interaction, there are obviously some mean things that can go down, but I wouldn't expect anything less in a "survival of the fittest" board game.

As players take evolution actions and resolve evolution cards, eventually the "Asteroid" card will surface, and when someone plays it, they dictate which tiles and species are impacted by the asteroid. Then you continue taking turns until the next reseed event would have occurred, perform one final extinction event, followed by a final survival event, followed by endgame scoring. Each player earns victory points equal to the sum of the total spaces occupied by the target markers associated with their controlled special pawns. Then you score every tile on earth one last time. The player with the most victory points wins.

From gallery of candidrum
I've played four games of Dominant Species: Marine so far, all three- and four-player games, and, to me, both those player counts work great. My games ran 2-3 hours, but I always had at least one new player playing, so I can see that time trimming down further with experienced players.

The replay value seems great so far; every game has felt slightly different depending on how players interact with each other and the game board, in addition to the variety of evolution and trait cards. Some games had barely any vent tile activity, while others had a ton comparatively. It's also worth mentioning that the rulebook has quite a few variants to mix things up further, and also an alternative option for playing two-player games.

I really love the awesome player interaction and the tough decisions that stem from the pawn placement rules. It's almost like a rondel in which you often want to jump ahead to beat your opponents to a particular action space, but you don't want to sacrifice missing out on earlier actions and being inefficient with your pawn placement — or maybe you do jump ahead and just retrieve your pawns prematurely. There are tons of interesting choices, and they vary depending on how your opponents are playing, which is very engaging. Plus there's a whole 'nother brain twist that comes with the timing of when your opponents are going to retrieve their pawns and free up action spaces that you've had your mind on.

I appreciate how different Dominant Species: Marine feels from most other worker placement games. I also dig that it plays differently enough from Dominant: Species that, to me, it's worth keeping both in my collection. I have no doubt that I will likely get Dominant Species: Marine to the table way more often mainly because it plays quicker, but I'm a fan of both games.

Board Game: Dominant Species: Marine
Board Game: Dominant Species
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Fri Sep 3, 2021 1:00 pm
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Game Overview: A Gentle Rain, or Every Flower Blooms at a Different Pace

W. Eric Martin
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Let's take sixty seconds to run through how to play Kevin Wilson's A Gentle Rain, which was released in May 2021 by Mondo Games:

Board Game: A Gentle Rain

1. Shuffle the 28 lake tiles and place them face down.
2. Place a tile on the table. Each tile has four differently-colored half lilies, with eight colors being used in the entire game.
3. Draw a tile and place it adjacent to the previous tile so that the touching sides create a completed lily. If no edge matches, remove the tile from the game.
4. Keep drawing and placing (or discarding) tiles. If you place a tile so that you have four tiles in a square, then you can fill the hole created by the tiles with a blossom token that matches one of the lilies surrounding this hole.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
Like this!

5. If you place all eight blossom tokens before you have to draw a tile and can't, then your score is 8 + the number of unplaced tiles remaining in the stack. If you don't, your score is the number of blossoms you placed.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
Got it on the final tile for a score of 8!

That's it!

A Gentle Rain differs from almost everything else in Wilson's published catalog — and that's kind of the point. As Wilson tweeted in May 2021:


In fact, A Gentle Rain began as a print-and-play design that Wilson made available to various people in December 2013 as a holiday present. (Wilson has released several other designs this way over the years.) Here's an excerpt from that original PDF:

From gallery of W Eric Martin

As you can see, the chill approach present in the published version of the game was in place from the get-go, with Wilson pitching a meditative approach to playing the design, with your attention — your presence at the table — being far more important than whatever your score might happen to be.

My wife Linda and I took the same approach for a game event that we ran in mid-June 2021 (for vaccinated attendees) in which we had four copies of A Gentle Rain on hand, with 3-4 people playing at each table. We brewed tea in individual teapots that folks could bring home with them as a souvenir, and we served homemade lemon-lime cookies that are the most delectable I've ever had.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
The image from our Meetup invite

We swapped tables every game or two, and some of us broke off to chat and eat and drink between games, and the whole thing was a delightful event that ended with us giving away three of the four copies.

From gallery of W Eric Martin

I've now played A Gentle Rain eight times on a review copy from Mondo Games, both solo and with others, and the design is a small delight. I can't point to anything new or innovative in the design regarding how it plays, but the sensibility of how to play is novel, and it comes across almost automatically when playing, mostly because the design is so minimal. You place a tile — possibly in a good spot, but possibly not because who knows what's coming next — then you place another and ideally it all comes together.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
Ideal for small spaces

The only drawback to the publication — one that Wilson expects to be corrected in the next printing of the game — is that the blossom tokens are slightly too large for the holes created by the tiles, which means the blossoms sit on the tiles or push them slightly apart instead of nestling in as you would hope.

For more thoughts on the game and to see how well I play when filming at the same time, check out this overview video:

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Mon Aug 30, 2021 1:00 pm
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Game Overview: Iberian Gauge, or Causality, Action, and Reaction

W. Eric Martin
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Board Game: Iberian Gauge
Normally when you learn a game, the first playing or two are practice games in which you learn how the system works, how the consequences of an action roll out, and what the pace of the game is like — then you start playing for real.

I've now played Amabel Holland's Iberian Gauge a half-dozen times on the new edition from Capstone Games, and they all felt like practice games — and when I think about playing again, especially since I still haven't got the game to the table with five players, I'm sure that one will also feel like a practice run.

Part of the issue, I think, is that while I've learned a bit of what to avoid and how the parts interact, the game is essentially an improvisational play in which you are pushed onto a stage with others and told to start doing stuff. Do you want to buy a share of a railroad? Well, not buying any shares is a policy you could adopt, but ending the game with your $40 starting money isn't going to put you in contention for the win, so you probably should buy a share in one of the five railroads...but which one? And if you're the first to buy a share in a particular railroad, what should the starting share price be and where should the railroad start on the game board?

Once everyone passes on buying shares, each player can build one track per share that they own using funds from that railroad's treasury, with shares being built in order from top to bottom of the "share ownership boards", the order of which is the only random element in the set-up of the game. In the image below, you see that the white player can build one purple train, then the red railroad can have up to three trains built in order by the pink, the white, and the pink player, etc.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
Halfway through the game...sort of

A railroad receives funds in its treasury in three ways:

• A player buys a share at the current price.
• The railroad receives dividends at the end of a building phase for each of its unpurchased shares.
• Another railroad leases track from that railroad.

Set the share price too low when you start a railroad, and it might not have enough funds in its treasury for all share holders to purchase track. Set the share price too high, and other players might not purchase shares, making you the only one building track — and if you don't connect to an urban location or major city each building phase, then the share price drops one level for each share owned by players, which can be a huge hit to you, although then the share price might be within range for others to purchase.

Not too low and not too high...but what exactly is just right? The answer seems to depend on the number of players in the game as well as what those players want. The intersection of your competing desires drives everything in this game.

Fail to build enough track or any track in the "right" places, and no one will lease from that railroad, denying it funds to ensure future growth. Ideally you can work two or more railroads to fund one another, as the yellow and blue railroads have started to do in the image above. Pass money from one pocket to another, with your hand being able to dip into each pocket to keep making urban and city connections to bump up dividends and share prices.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
In this game, red was more train station-building company than track-building company

The difficulty with doing this is that if another player is the majority shareholder in one or both of these railroads, then you're enriching them more than you through these efforts — and if you are the majority shareholder in both of these railroads, then why would anyone else help enrich you over themselves? You need this sweet spot of camaraderie in which ideally you and one or two other players are helping one another, but at some point you know that your interests will diverge and they'll start funneling money to a third railroad or building track to nowhere to waste funds before you can make the connection you need. If you're looking for a game in which you can pee in someone's Cheerios, Iberian Gauge is the game for you!

As I mentioned, all of my games to date on a review copy from Capstone Games have been with three or four players, and it often feels like someone is out of the running by the end of the first two rounds, which collectively consist of two share-buying phases and three track-building phases. Either no one joined that player in buying shares, which left them building on their own with a share price that spirals to the floor, or their railroad ran out of funds to grow in a meaningful way. I have seen instances of someone winning after I thought they were out, but I'm also open to admitting that I incorrectly assessed their position given how often I messed up in assessing my own position.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
Like strands of lights on a Christmas tree

Everything is in flux in Iberian Gauge because players can be flaky or their desires change based on whatever the current board position is. You do things because they seem good at the time, and only after the game is over can you say, hmm, I probably made the wrong choice there — yet if you had made a different choice, then others probably would have done different things, too, so who knows what would have happened?

The second half of the game is as long as the first — two share-buying phases and three track-building phases — yet because more shares have been purchased by the second half, each track-building phase takes longer and is more consequential. You can try to negotiate with others to collectively build in the "right" direction, but you're all wearing the same shirt and walking away from one another, so eventually those bonds will rip.

Despite each game feeling like an experiment, the tracks do seem to get built out in similar ways from one game to the next, with the north and the south of the game board being largely ignored. Maybe we haven't discovered a way to meaningfully use those areas yet, or maybe Holland has laid a trap for players, tempting them to do things that will never pay off. Something to experiment with down the road...

The only downside to the game — aside from intermittent feelings of hopelessness and stupidity and frustration — is that this edition doesn't contain enough $1 bills, forcing you to actively make change constantly, which is a distraction, or to use $100 for $1, which is what we've decided to do in the future, given that you don't touch the $100s until the final payout. Well, we don't, but perhaps we're playing poorly compared to what could be done.

For more analogies on what gameplay feels like and to see examples of share buying and track building, check out this overview video:

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Mon Aug 23, 2021 1:00 pm
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Game Overview: Get Bit!, or Chomping Your Way Through the Years

W. Eric Martin
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From gallery of W Eric Martin
With U.S. publisher Greater Than Games Kickstarting a new edition of Get Bit! for release in Q3 2022 (KS link), I dug through the Boardgame News archives to find my July 5, 2007 preview of the original edition of the game, which features notes on the game's creation from designer Dave Chalker.

•••

Publisher: Robot Martini
Designer: Dave Chalker
Players: 4-6
Playing Time: 10-20 minutes
Release Date: July 2007


Robot Martini's first titles have all been inexpensive card games in baggies, but Get Bit! marks the company's transition into full-color, full-price publications. Get Bit! includes 42 color cards (numbered 1-7 in six colors), 1 shark card, and 6 Dismembermen, who carry that quaint name because their limbs will be forcibly removed over the course of the game.

Yes, the goal in Get Bit! is to be the last one eaten by a shark, presumably because he'll be too full after snacking on your friends to do more than nibble off a couple of your toes. "Normally, I try to start a game with an idea of how a game is played, like 'this is a bluffing game' or 'this is a bidding up game with push-your-luck elements or whatever," says designer Dave Chalker. "In this case, I had a shark piece from Hawaii, some numbered cards, and some colored pawns. I put the pawns in a line in front of the shark, gave players the numbered cards, and voila, I had a game. Well, of course, I didn't have a PLAYABLE game, but many of the elements were there from the very first play."

To start the game, the players' Dismembermen are randomly lined up in front of a shark. Each player simultaneously reveals a card from 1-7 (or 1-6 or 1-5, depending on the number of players). Starting from low number to high, players hop to the front of the line: a 1 moves first, then a 2, and so on. However, if you play the same number as someone else, you don't move. After movement, whichever player is at the back of the line loses a limb, but as compensation that player picks up all of their cards and jets to the front of the line. (Fear is a great motivator!)

From gallery of W Eric Martin
Original cards from the Robot Martini edition

"We tried all sorts of permutations on the basic concept, and it was really Pow-Wow [a conference for game designers] that made me re-examine the whole concept," says Chalker. "Earlier on, there were different ways of showing that the shark had taken a bite out of you. Then everyone who played it started to make the suggestion of having some sort of hit points, which in retrospect was the obvious thing. So, after I got home, I dug out my box of LEGOs, sat on the floor, and sifted through to find six differently colored LEGO guys to replace the pawns. From there, the game worked, and the LEGOs were swapped out for plastic guys with easier limb removal, very similar to what comes in the final game."

"I have to give a big word of thanks to Kory Heath," adds Chalker. "He was helping me to show the game to publishers last year, and I had this really clunky set-up rule that stood out. He pulled me aside and said, 'In my games, if there's a rule that makes me cringe when teaching it, I know it's a bad rule.' So we worked on the set-up, and it's much, much easier to play and teach now."

If you lose all four limbs, you're out of the game, and the last player swimming wins the game. "With four players, you're a little more concerned with trying to figure out what everyone is going to play, but tying the person behind you is a bit more risky," says Chalker. "I don't know if there's a best number of players — my favorite is six, just to get as many people playing as possible."

Board Game: Get Bit!
Image: Peter Brichs

I've played the game once, and Get Bit! was ridiculously fun. Anyone who dislikes blind-bidding might dislike this game as well, but watching everyone disappear into the shark's maw was great late night fun, especially when you match the card of someone behind you in line, thereby keeping you out of harm's way and pushing them closer to doom.

•••

P.S.: I've since played Get Bit! another handful of times, and this game seems like one that you should find on the shelves of a mainstream retailer like Target today. The rules are simple, and gameplay is intuitive. Chalker's initial method of introducing the game — place the swimmer in a row, give everyone cards, and say "Play one!" — is still how I'd introduce it to players today. Jump into the water and get going!

Sure, you're probably going to lose a limb or two to careless play, but the entire game wraps up in 20 minutes, so you can play again immediately and possibly do better, especially if you start paying attention to what everyone else has played so that you have a better idea of who might be playing what.

I'm iffy on the new look of the GTG edition with robot swimmers and a "great white-tanium shark", but perhaps that's because I'm old and want to stick with what I know. Kids these days don't respect the Dismembermen of the past!

From gallery of W Eric Martin
Promotional image from Greater Than Games
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Sat Aug 21, 2021 1:00 pm
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Game Preview: Collecting Criminals, Bribing with Bottles, and Scoring for Second Place

W. Eric Martin
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In June 2021, I previewed a trilogy of Reiner Knizia designs coming from new U.S. publisher Bitewing Games, with a Kickstarter project for those games suggesting delivery in mid-2022. Thanks to mock-up copies from Bitewing Games, I've now played all three games, so I thought I'd elaborate on gameplay beyond the more abstract descriptions of my previous post.

From gallery of W Eric Martin

Let's start with the 2-5 player card game Pumafiosi, a revised version of 2004's Rooster Booster. The game includes a nine-space ranking chart, with values on those ranks that range from 10 to -3. Each player starts with a deck of ten cards, with cards ranging in value from 1-55, but has only three in hand at a time.

Each turn, each player plays a single card in turn, then whoever played the second-highest card marks that card with a token of their color, then places it on a rank that is either empty or occupied by a card with a lower number; in the latter case, that lower card is bumped down a rank, and if a card is in that spot, the lower-valued card is bumped down again, etc. Each time one of your cards drops a rank, you receive 1 negative point. Players fill their hands to three, then keep playing, completing ten "tricks", after which players score points based on the value of the ranks that their cards occupy. (If you occupy no ranks, you receive 10 negative points.) Play three rounds in this manner, then whoever has the highest score wins.

Based on my single game of experience, Pumafiosi seems fairly random both in the individual tricks and in the larger question of how to compete on the rank chart. Each player has only three cards in hand, so you have limited options in what to play and often feel like you're winging it — although as the round proceeds, you have a better idea of which cards your opponents might play based on what's been played previously, assuming you can track played cards to some degree. In general, you want to win with the highest card possible to keep it from being bumped, but at the end of a round, you can possibly land a lower-valued card in an unoccupied top rank and have it stick when all the subsequent winning cards are even lower.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
Pumafiosi prototype art and components

In short, Pumafiosi is something of a wild ride, with surprise wins and losses on a scale both small (each trick) and large (the overall ranking). This description carries over to the other two titles in "The Criminal Capers Collection", which isn't surprising given that Bitewing is marketing them as a trilogy.

Hot Lead is also for 2-5 players, and each player starts with a hand of 11 investigator cards from a deck of cards numbered 1-55. A separate deck of 55 criminal cards is shuffled, with criminals coming in five colors, with cards valued 0-5 in each color.

Each turn, lay out as many criminal cards as the number of players. Each player then chooses and reveals an investigator card from their hand, with the owner of the highest revealed card claiming the criminal card closest to the deck, the owner of the next highest card claiming the next criminal card, etc. Lay out new criminal cards, and do this nine more times, with each player collecting ten criminals.

If you catch a fourth criminal of the same color, you discard all criminals of that color — and you might inadvertently do this since you receive 10 points for having a trilogy of criminals of the same color, which means you're incentivized to go deep, but you often lack control over what you might win. You also score points equal to the sum of the criminals in your collection, which incentivizes you to grab high numbers, with an added 10-point bonus should you have one criminal of each color, which incentivizes you to go wide.

As in Pumafiosi, in Hot Lead you're playing somewhat randomly at the start of the game, with only the 1 and 55 guaranteeing you a certain criminal card. Initially all that matters is nabbing high-value criminals, but by the third or fourth card, players start getting invested in colors — especially if you use an optional scoring element that gives 5 points to whoever first catches two criminals of a color — and you have a better idea of who is shooting for which cards. You still have no idea which numbers might win you a card, mind you, but you can make educated guesses and be surprised and laugh when your card barely edges out someone else to stick them with a 0. The game is about fun small moments, with a teaching time that barely tops 60 seconds.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
Soda Smugglers prototype art and components

Unlike the previous two titles, Soda Smugglers is for 3-8 players, and it features gameplay reminiscent of Hart an der Grenze / Sheriff of Nottingham, but stripped to the absolute core. Players are trying to smuggle soda into the country, and they also take turns being the customs agent who is trying to foil such smuggling, while possibly enriching themselves along the way.

Each turn, all the smugglers are dealt five suitcase cards, with each suitcase containing 0-3 bottles. A smuggler places two suitcases face down to represent what they're bringing into the country, then a third suitcase separately face down as a bribe to the customs agent, while discarding the remaining two cards. All players then reveal their bribes at the same time. The customs agent can accept 1-2 bribes depending on the player count, with the smuggler paying the bribe out of their stash to the agent, after which they reveal their suitcases and receive money equal to what's inside.

The customs agent can then inspect 1-2 suitcases, flipping them face up to reveal their contents. Finally, the agent can arrest 1-3 people. For an arrest, you reveal both suitcases of that player, and if they are carrying at least two bottles, the agent is paid from the bank for those bottles instead of the player; if the smuggler has 0-1 bottles, then the agent must pay 2 money from their personal holdings to the smuggler as hush money. After all the arrests have been conducted — and arrests, like all of the other actions, are optional — all the remaining smugglers reveal their suitcases and cash in.

Whether you're smuggler or agent, Soda Smugglers is all about bluffing and reading bluffs. Is that person putting out a large bribe because they want me to let them through and they're willing to share the profit? Should I let them jump ahead like that? Should I arrest them instead? Or are they making a large bribe because they want me to arrest them when they actually have nothing?! If you investigate and find a suitcase with 2-3 bottles, then you have a definite target for arrest — but if you as a smuggler never stash 2-3 bottles, then you're probably not going to win. The challenge isn't deep, and it's more about the "gotcha" moments than anything else.

For more examples of gameplay, check out this overview video:

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Mon Aug 16, 2021 1:00 pm
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