W. Eric MartinUnited States
In that spirit, I thought I'd talk about my hit of the show for BGG.Spring 2023, which ran May 26-29. That game is Mind Up!, a card game from Maxime Rambourg and Catch Up Games that I played eight times on a review copy with all player counts from three to six. I wrote about Mind Up! in February 2023, noting that it has "a simple premise and lots of interactivity", while adding "Sounds like a recipe for what I want to see on the table!" — and that expectation was resoundingly met.
For reference, let's look at a six-player game that's one turn into a round:
To win, you want points. Over the course of a round, you collect seven cards. My first collected card above is pink; if I get more pink, those cards will go in the same pile, and if I collect a new color, it gets placed in the next column over. At the end of a round, each card is worth points based on where it's placed — in this case, 3-4-1-5-2 points per card — with bonuses and minuses affecting the sum.
On a turn, you all play a card from your hand simultaneously, then you arrange those cards in order from low to high underneath the cards already on the table, then you collect the card above the card you played. The played cards become the targets for the next turn. After six turns, you place the last card in your hand into your collection. Score those cards, then pick them up because those seven cards form your hand for the next round! After three rounds, whoever has the most points wins.
Everything about this design clicks for me:
• You can explain the game in a couple of minutes.
• You interact with others directly by competing for items in a common pool.
• You generally know what others want — if they have green on the 5 card, they want more green! — giving everyone clarity about other players' goals...which informs your own decision.
• You feel the impact of having more or fewer players at the table, so player count is meaningful rather than merely being an indication of how many components are in the box.Playing with three gives you more control, but fewer card options
• Your action matters twice, determining which card you collect now while creating a target for next time, whether one to avoid or pursue.
• You start in a fog that disperses over the course of play; no new cards enter the game, so while initially you know only that the deck contains cards numbered 1-60, after the first round you've seen all the cards, you know which colors are plentiful and which are short, and (in theory) you know all the numbers in play. (**Correction below)
• You don't really know all the numbers unless your memory is far better than mine, so you're forced to act from intuition rather than calculating the perfect move.
• You are repeatedly surprised, both positively (which makes you feel good about your choice for that turn — "I'm smart!") and negatively (which you shake off because the "luck" of who played what just didn't fall your way — "Maybe next time!").
• You build toward that final card play, ideally ending on a high note. (Again, "I'm smart!")
• You shuffle the scoring cards each round — for example, this round they're 5-4-2-1-3, then they're 1-5-2-3-4, then 3-1-2-4-5 — which affects how you play your hand and heightens the lottery feel of the game.
• You end at just the right time, late enough that you get to use knowledge learned during play, but not so long that you feel like you're repeating yourself.
6 nimmt!, Wolfgang Kramer's classic card game from 1994 in which players each play a card from their hand simultaneously on a turn, after which the cards are lined up, with players hoping that their card doesn't land in the wrong spot.
What was interesting is that some players said they liked 6 nimmt! and enjoyed Mind Up! just as much, if not more, and some players said they hated 6 nimmt!, but enjoyed Mind Up! despite the similarities. I think those latter feelings come from two elements. First, in 6 nimmt!, scoring is all negative. The best you can hope for on a turn is playing a card and having nothing happen to you. It's a game of avoidance and (ideally) schadenfreude, whereas in Mind Up! you collect a card each turn that (almost always) adds to your score. Sure, you might have wanted the blue for 5 points, but you got an orange for 3 points that bears a +1 bonus, so that's almost as good.My best round of the show: 39 points
Second, the cards cycle in Mind Up!, giving you additional reasons for deciding what to play when. Perhaps only two purple cards are present in a three-player game, and you have one in hand that you can play now, then likely collect next time to fill your 1 slot. That increases the chances of the other cards you collect landing in more valuable spots. Of course that plan might not work, but you can still make such plans, especially if you can also track some of the numbers in players' hands. I could recall the three or four lowest and highest cards so that helped a bit in terms of assessing whether I might get sniped or when it was safe to play a particular card to grab something on the end of the row.
I mentioned a lottery earlier, and Mind Up! very much feels like you're gambling. You play the odds that your card will end up in the position you want, akin to playing a slot machine and hoping for three cherries. Sometimes you play the 21 in a six-player game, and it is unexpectedly the highest card played — which creates a nice "How did that happen?!" moment — and sometimes you hit perfectly, prompting a clenched fist "Yes!" before you grab your treasure.Three-way tie, which Michelle won by having the largest score in the final round
Scores in a round have ranged from a low of 18 to a high of 41, but they're often relatively close, giving you the feeling that one big score in the final round can still propel you to victory.
I was slightly misleading earlier when I said everything about this design clicks for me. I've yet to play with the optional objective cards. The game includes 14 such cards, and you can lay out a new one at random each round or leave out multiple ones for the entire game. I understand that variability is a selling point for publishers, but so far I feel like I'm getting all the variability I need from the base game and don't want to add unneeded distractions.
Here's a sampling of the objective cards from the English rulebook:You don't use objective cards bearing the same letter
Note that despite the existence of an English rulebook from the publisher, currently only a French edition exists, having been released by Catch Up Games in mid-May 2023. Many titles from this publisher have been licensed for release elsewhere in the world, so perhaps it will show up in different editions down the road.
I brought only a few games with me to play at BGG.Spring 2023 — after all, we have a library on site with several thousand games that attendees can borrow — and I'm grateful that Mind Up! was one of them as I got to share it with many people and (I hope) helped them have a good time.•••
Additionally, he pointed out something I missed in the slim rulebook: "Players are actually supposed to draw a new card at the beginning of round 2 and 3. It hampers the players who could really count all cards, though I feel it doesn't negate your point that you do have a clear idea of which colors are numerous or not in play. I totally see how the variant of not drawing a card is interesting to give a bit more control."
Inadvertently, for Mind Up! I have replicated a variant for 6 nimmt! in which you use only cards numbered from 1 to 10x+4, with x being the number of players. This gives you complete information about the cards in the game, allowing you to track everything that's been played if that's your jam.
I'm fine with surprises and playing the odds, so as much as I already like the game, playing with all of the rules will probably be better, both for the spice that comes from swiping a card that an opponent didn't think could be swiped and for potentially higher scores in each round, giving players more hope for a comeback and greater odds of reaching the end of the line in a 3-1-2-4-5 layout.
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Archive for Game Previews
Mon May 29, 2023 7:00 am
- [+] Dice rolls
Earth, Kiri-ai: The Duel, Tokaido Duo, Scram!, Rauha, and In the Footsteps of Darwin: Games Played at GAMA
17 May 2023
already covered Disney Lorcana, and here's a round-up of everything else:
• Maxime Tardif's Earth from Inside Up Games seems to follow in the footsteps of Terraforming Mars, Wingspan, and Ark Nova in giving players a metric ton of icon-laden cards and saying, "Have at it!"
To begin, everyone selects a couple of starting cards that affect hand size, etc., then you start taking turns. When you're the active player, you take one of four possible actions, and everyone else takes a lesser version of that action, then everyone activates all of the cards in their world that match the color of that action.
As in all such games, you want to maximize what you're doing while not giving others a chance to build, but in at least the first few games, you're probably barely looking at what others are doing because you are overwhelmed with puzzle parts that require your attention.After the first few turns
You need money to put out cards, and you want growth to place mulch and plants on those cards, and those elements all spiral into one another as cards let you transform plants into money, mulch into cards, etc.
The game has random shared goals akin to Trailblazers, which I covered here, and you can play on friendly mode in which everyone scores the same for reaching a goal or antagonistic mode in which points drop for each subsequent player who completes a goal.
Note that I'm probably not using the right terms for anything in all of these descriptions, but the gist of what I'm saying is what matters.My final board
When someone fills their 4x4 card layout, you complete the round, then score points for a bunch of things: played cards, plants on cards, compost, personal goal cards in your layout, completed goals, etc. Earth seems tailor-made for those who like optimizing a hundred opportunities for scoring as every turn gives you options for what to keep, what to play, where to play, what to spend, and so on.
Kiri-ai: The Duel is the debut title from U.S. publisher Mugen Gaming, with this two-player game apparently being a reimplementation of Kamibayashi's 曇天／斬合 Legend from 2019.
In the game, you and the other samurai start at opposite ends of the dueling area, each with a hand of identical cards. Each round, you program two cards from your hand by placing them face down on the table, then you each reveal and resolve the first card, then reveal and resolve the second card.
With the cards, players advance or retreat in relation to the opponent or strike high or low, attempting to cause damage. You need to be a certain distance from the opponent to use each strike, and the movement cards are double-ended, giving you options for how to use them. The first card you play each round is set aside for the next round, so you each now have information about what the other player cannot do. Strike your opponent twice in order to win.Image: Mugen Gaming
I played Kiri-ai: The Duel twice with CEO Ai Namima-Davison, with one game ending after only a few turns and the other having us parry and move almost in synch for at least a dozen turns. I took fencing in college, and this game has that feel of measuring the opponent, anticipating, and pre-countering.
Kiri-ai: The Duel includes a set of unique action cards, and for more variety you can deal some of these to each player, leaving others out of play, thereby giving you imperfect information about what the opponent holds. These cards can be used only once and do not circulate back to your hand, unlike the regular action cards, so use them with care!
Tokaido Duo is a two-player-only version of Tokaido from Antoine Bauza and Funforge that I first covered one year ago to the day! Tokaido Duo will debut in the U.S. at Gen Con 2023 in August, with North American retail availability coming later in August.
As in the original game, in Tokaido Duo you score points in multiple ways, and you want to have more points than your opponent. What differs is that instead of moving only a single figure on a linear path and jumping ahead as far as you wish to grab something, the distance you travel is now specified by a die roll, but you have three figures available for movement. Games are often about managing restrictions, so here Bauza has effectively reversed the restrictions from Tokaido.
As the active player in a round, you roll three dice — one for each type of figure: artist, merchant, and pilgrim — then choose one die and use its value with your matching figure. The opponent chooses one of the remaining two dice, then you use the third die.
The merchant walks on a linked network, picking up goods at central locations, then selling them by visiting coastal locations that specify how much they'll pay for which item. Every ten coins transforms into a gold brick that fills one of the scoring slots on the merchant card. Max out the merchant, and that triggers the end of the game.
The artist moves through fields around this network, revealing tiles (i.e., creating works) based on the number of figures in surrounding spaces, then giving away the art one by one by visiting a field that matches the lowest tile. The more you give away, the more you score. Max out the artist, and that triggers the end of the game.
The pilgrim circles the fields, ideally seeing torii gates and greenery because it scores the sum of these items (gates multiplied by greenery). When you max out one of these two categories, that triggers the end of the game. (The pilgrim can also pick up bonus tiles that modify actions and do some other stuff.)
In my first game of Tokaido Duo, my opponent seemed like he wasn't paying attention and let me draft the merchant die over and over again, hitting 45 points in no time. (You score for all three of your figures.) I wanted to play again immediately for more of a "real game", and my second opponent was a little more confrontational, but I once again maxxed my merchant and won. Hmm. Ideally I can get this game to the table again before too long. I like the system, but I need to play someone who's also looking at what I'm doing...
Scram! is a card game for three, four, or six players from Ted Alspach and Bézier Games that will debut at Gen Con 2023 in August.
Scram! falls into a similar bucket as Cabo and Silver, two earlier Bézier releases, in that it's a golf-style card game in which you want the fewest points possible. Where it differs from those games is that with four or six players, you compete in teams, and your team needs to have the lowest score to win the round.
Each player starts with three face-down cards and two face-up cards. On a turn, you can swap the top discarded card for a card in your tableau or draw the top card of the deck; you can then swap this card for a card in your tableau or discard the drawn card to use its power. Card powers let you look at cards, swap cards, share info, etc.
Alternatively, when you keep a card, you can discard all cards (minimum two) of the same number from the tableaus of you and your partner(s), but if you're discarding face-down cards, you have to correctly identify those cards or be penalized.
If you think your team has the lowest total, you can call for the end of the round, but each other player takes a turn before you compare totals.Me vs. two Bézier reps
In the three-player game, one player starts with a larger hand size and they take every other turn in the game, with the players on the opposing team alternating turns. I played Scram! once with four, then again with three, which had a very different feel given the flow of the game.
In the Footsteps of Darwin by Grégory Grard, Matthieu Verdier, and Sorry We Are French is "smooth".
Here's the central game board: On a turn, you draft a tile from the column or row where the ship is located, then you move the ship clockwise 1-3 spaces depending on the location of the tile you picked. Fill the empty space with a new tile from the deck. Do this twelve times, then count your points.
Each player starts with one guide — the tokens in the upper left — and you can spend a guide to either move the ship one space in either direction prior to drafting or flush the current line of tiles in front of the ship and draw new ones.
When you take a tile, it goes into a specified location on your personal board. People go in the left column, while animals go into a 4x4 array with the columns representing the continent and the rows the animal type. If you fill all four spaces in a row or column, you score 5 points. If you place a tile on top of another tile, you draft an endgame scoring tile. If you draft a tile with a guide or compass, you take those tokens from the central board.
At game's end, you tally stuff: visible points on tiles, 5-point bonuses, endgame tiles, and the sum of compasses multiplied by visible scrolls (12 points in the image below). Stacking stuff can cost you points or scrolls, but ideally you're making up for the loss with better endgame scoring.Yay, newts and North America! Boo, where'd Australia go?
I played In the Footsteps of Darwin twice with four people, and the design is like the Platonic ideal of a Eurogame. Each turn you have three choices, albeit with a guide giving you a few more, and you make the best you can of what's available. You're mostly focused on your own growth, but sometimes you do consider where you're placing the boat for the next player and how it might benefit them.
The two-player game would make each choice matter more for both of you since your choice would then determine where the opponent might leave the boat for you.
Rauha (pronounced "ROW-uh") from Johannes Goupy, Théo Rivière, and GRRRE Games is a card-drafting game for 2-5 players, and I got (sort of) half of the game played before we had to pack it in for the evening.
The game lasts four rounds, with each round lasting three turns. Each turn, you pick up the cards from your left or right as indicated on your player board, choose one, place that card in any space on your board or in the central discard area, then return the remaining cards.
After this, you resolve the column or row indicated by the avatar token surrounding your game board. (In the image below, I've already placed my first card, and the leftmost column will be resolved.) Some spaces on the board give you money or points, others let you convert something for something. You can gain spore tokens that activate spaces extra times. If you create a line of three colored symbols or weather icons, then you receive the matching deity tile, which gives you an immediate bonus.
We messed up the timing of how cards are resolved, so we didn't play correctly. Multiple players can form a line of the same color on a turn, and the deity passes from one player to another, with all of them getting the bonus, but only one of them ending up with the tile.
This matters because after three turns you have an intermediary round with deities providing bonuses once again and spore tokens triggering bonus tile actions. Players also compare their water holdings, scoring points based on their relative strength.
You need to maintain a flow of money so that you can pay for cards, although some are free.My board at the halfway point
It's interesting to see game elements or details repeated across even this small range of games, with Rauha and In the Footsteps of Darwin both lasting twelve turns and allowing you to stack items on your board, with Earth having a different type of stacking. Darwin and Earth have you build in a 4x4 grid. Kiri-ai: The Duel and Rauha have you choose and resolve cards simultaneously.
Vegetable Stock from Zong-Hua Yang and Taiwanese publisher Good Game Studio. Dan King had a copy and insisted I should play, so we met and ran through four three-player games in roughly a half hour.
The game is incredibly simple. Set up the initial value of vegetables, with something at 0, something else at 1, etc. In each round, deal out one more card than the number of players. Each player drafts a card, then the remaining card bumps up the value of the depicted veggies by 1 for each occurence on the card. If a veggie is maxed out at 5 and would go up, it crashes to 0. After six rounds, everyone scores points based on the value of what they've collected. High score wins.
The design doesn't give you a huge amount to think about or plan for, but it's a quick dose of fun when you can squash a veggie's value and tank an opponent, and you get a lottery-style buzz in the later rounds as you hope for certain cards to appear. C'mon, broccoli!
- CABO (Second Edition)
- 曇天／斬合 Legend (Donten no Kiriai Legend)
- Vegetable Stock
- Tokaido Duo
- In the Footsteps of Darwin
- Kiri-ai: The Duel
- Ted Alspach
- Antoine Bauza
- Théo Rivière
- Zong-Hua Yang (Bob)
- Maxime Tardif
- Johannes Goupy
- Grégory Grard
- Matthieu Verdier
- Kamibayashi (カミバヤシ)
- Bézier Games
- Good Game Studio
- Inside Up Games
- Sorry We Are French
- GRRRE Games
- Mugen Gaming
Wed May 17, 2023 7:00 am
- [+] Dice rolls
More Details on Disney Lorcana from GAMA Expo; Plus, I Played It!
10 May 2023
The title that drew the biggest crowd — and that was available only on one night — was Disney Lorcana, the trading card game from designers Ryan Miller and Steve Warner and publisher Ravensburger that will descend upon the United States and select other countries like a money vacuum starting in August 2023 with its debut at Gen Con.
Twice during the trade fair, Miller gave a 45-minute presentation on Disney Lorcana to game store retailers for an overview of the game line, how it plays, and what Ravensburger is doing to support retailers' efforts to sell the game, such as giving them a two-week exclusive sales window for the first six sets of Disney Lorcana that will be released through the end of 2024. (With the first set, local game stores will be able to sell it starting August 18, 2023, while mass market stores must wait until September 1.)Ryan Miller at GAMA Expo 2023
Yes, Ravensburger has a LOT of Lorcana lined up, although probably not enough given the frothing interest in this game. Miller acknowledged that even though they knew there was an audience for the game, the excitement over card reveals at D23 in September 2022, not to mention every other reveal or announcement, led them to increase production — although perhaps still not high enough.
Half the questions from retailers were about the potential of orders being allocated or whether Ravensburger still expected to run short of product...which is like asking whether your U.S. supermarket will run short of hot dog buns on the fourth of July. You won't know until the day arrives! I'm sure that Ravensburger has a "Magic Mirror" card somewhere in Lorcana, but that is a fictional device intended only to grade one's fairness.
Miller declined to answer many questions because they all dealt with future releases (e.g., how many cards will be in each set) or announcements that are clearly still to come ahead of the August debut (e.g., what formats will exist for organized play (OP) programs). He did mention that retailers who host OP programs will receive promo cards to be distributed to players as desired. He stressed that ideally OP will be the least cutthroat possible given Ravensburger's aim to pitch this game to a wide audience. Make it a welcoming experience! Give players a reason to come back! (Miller mentioned early in the talk that he began his career in organized play and retail for the Wizards of the Coast stores in the 1990s.)
Miller noted that the booster packs will contain two rares, thereby giving players more value — then followed that up by mentioning that the game has five rarities: common, uncommon, rare, super rare, and legendary. The two rare cards come from the latter three categories, and each booster pack also contains a foil card, which may or may not be rare. So much to chase!
Despite my assumption that Disney Lorcana would be a two-player game, Miller and Warner clarified that the boxes likely won't have a player count as a game can theoretically support any number of players, although Warner cautioned that he wouldn't go above six.
Why does the game work with varying player counts? Because your goal in the game is to be the first to collect 20 lore, and lore doesn't come from a limited pool, but is available to all who quest for it. Let me give an overview of how to play:
Disney Lorcana contains six types of "ink" — think color in Magic: The Gathering — and each player creates a deck of at least sixty cards of only one or two inks. At GAMA Expo 2023, Ravensburger had preset decks, and I ended up playing someone with the same sapphire/steel deck, so I didn't see as many cards as I would have liked to. Each player starts with seven cards in hand and can discard and refill their hand once.
At the start of your turn, you "ready" "exerted" cards, i.e., turn horizontal cards upright, then draw a card, then play. You can play one "inkwell" card face down to be used as ink. Characters (such as "Beast" and "Maleficent") and items are all inkwell cards, as denoted by the thick gold circle in the upper-left corner. Actions (such as "One Jump Ahead") and songs are not. This card is now out of play the entire game, but you can use the ink from the card to put items, characters, actions, and songs into play. Exert that card, and you get 1 ink. The ink cost to play a card is in the upper-left corner.
When you play an action or a song, carry out the effect, then discard the card. (A song is an action that can be played by paying ink or by exerting a character that costs at least the listed amount of ink.)
When you play a character or item, put it into play, then ignore it until your next turn. Items typically have ongoing effects; characters might have an "enters play" effect, a "questing" effect, or some other power.
When you start a turn with characters, you can choose to send them on quests. Exert them, and you receive the amount of lore listed on them from the bank. Alternatively, you can exert a character to challenge another player's exerted character. In this case, each character does damage equal to their strength to the other character's willpower. When damage on a character equals its willpower, discard that character.
If you run out of cards and need to draw, you're out of the game.
To keep things moving at GAMA Expo, Ravensburger asked players to end a game when someone collected 10 lore, so my demo game was not "a real game". Of course, I was also playing with cards I had never seen before with rules that were only half explained in an incredibly noisy environment after not sleeping for 24 hours, so yeah, the situation was not ideal. Designer Jason Matthews stealthily captured my bafflement in this shot:That's no moon...
After a few turns, I realized that I had goofed in not playing a "ramping" action early, that is, an action that would have let me play a second ink on the same turn. (I didn't initially understand how the card worked, and I had a second one in hand that was equally non-useful.) My opponent and I did lots of tit-for-tat actions, challenging characters that had gained lore in order to eject them from play, and my opponent never had any items, so the Beast special ability was meaningless — but the same was true for her with her Beast since we had the same deck.
In any case, I can see what the designers are aiming for. You can focus on growth and questing to try gain lore faster and outrace others, and they can try to beat you at that game or be an attack deck that punishes you for every quest. Sure, you got lore once, but now I'm pounding that character and they're out. I'm sure a wider variety of approaches exist, but I didn't get to see much of the other cards on display.
I have no clue how well Disney Lorcana will be at drawing new players to CCGs. Game play is relatively straightforward, but that statement is coming from someone who learned Magic in 1993 while working in a game store. Learning how to play the game from scratch is another matter, and the presence of organized play programs in stores throughout the U.S. and Europe will likely make a big difference in how many on-ramps exist. We'll see!
Wed May 10, 2023 7:00 am
- [+] Dice rolls
My mother-in-law, for example, was thwarted by Fuji Flush because she couldn't understand why she'd want to play one card over another; the rules were simple, yes, but the gameplay was so abstract that she had no throughline to direct her toward a goal. She froze staring at the numbered cards, not wanting to make a wrong play and having no idea what would be right.
By contrast, HerStory from Danielle Reynolds, Emerson Matsuuchi, Nick Bentley, and Underdog Games has a straightforward goal that players can latch on to immediately: Create a "book" containing the stories of various women throughout history. Ideally you'll score more points in the process than others and win, but if nothing else, you will have a book to hold as something you created, similar to how players get jazzed about creating a farm in Agricola despite less than 1% of them being jazzed about creating a farm in real life.
Every action in HerStory drives you toward that goal. On a turn, you:
• Draft a resource token from the central board and place it on your desk,
• Reserve a person card, taking them from the central board, placing them on your desk, and scoring 2 points, or
• Spend resources to move a person card from the draft area of your desk or from the central board into your book, scoring the points indicated on the card.
That's it! When someone has placed an eighth card in their book, you complete the round, then tally points to see who wins. (As for the "book", each person card has a biography on its back, so you can flip over all the cards you've played to read about all the women you've profiled.)
Gameplay feels modeled on Splendor and Century: Spice Road, which was a solo design from Matsuuchi. You get stuff to pay for things, then you pay for things, with some of those things providing bonuses.
In HerStory, the stuff you get is research, with the four icons representing interviews you've conducted, material you've read, and so on. If you pay for a card exactly, that is, if you spend only the exact resources required with no research wasted while completing your profile, you earn 3 bonus points.
In my experience over six games, some on a review copy from Underdog Games, the dangling promise of extra points sends a lot of players chasing after a fleeing dog. The thinking, of course, is that you're going to spend tokens anyway, so why not spend the right combination of tokens to get extra points? If I take a token I don't need, I can spend it on something else later, right?
But the tokens always depict 2-3 icons — sometimes with a matching pair but never with three of a kind — so putting together the precise cost with nothing extra can be challenging. Twice during the game you can clear the tokens and lay out new ones, and that's another dangling promise that can (possibly) harm you more than simply overpaying and getting on with things.
Person cards have a point value from 0-10, with most of them having a power. The image above shows the eight I had in a winning game, and they're a good sampling of what you'll find on the game's 120 cards:
• Harriet Jacobs and Susan La Flesche Picotte function akin to the cards in Splendor, giving you research icons to spend on all future cards, while being worth 0 points on their own.
• Wu Zetian is worth only 2 points, but she effectively pumps up every card worth fewer than 6 points (including herself!) by 2, so I earned a bonus 14 points with her in this game.
• Those bonus points and low-value cards helped with other powers that I had, with Cleopatra giving me 1 point each turn that I started in last place and Barbara McClintock letting me keep one spent research token if I were in last. (Other cards have a bonus power that triggers if you're not in the lead.)
• Shirley Chisholm also tied into this "lead from behind" approach by being worth 6 extra points at game's end if I weren't in the lead.
• Caroline Herschel didn't do much for me since I had only one card without a power, but that's on me, not her.
• As for Lorraine Hansberry, she's straight up 8 points.
The face value of these eight cards is only 19 points, with endgame bonuses of 22 points — which is only 41 of the 68 points I scored. If you reserve a card, you earn 2 points, presumably for calling dibs and committing to someone, so at most I scored 16 points for reservations, which makes 57 points...which means Cleopatra scored me at least 11 points...unless I earned bonus points for exact payments, and I don't recall at this point whether that happened.
The HerStory design is clean in terms of the goal and what you can do on a turn, then the details can muddy the waters. Are 0-point cards like Harriet Jacobs worth the cost? Maybe! Depends on when you get them and what other cards you have and which cards opponents want to collect. Some cards give a bonus based on the number of icons in your collection, for example. Barbara McClintock is worth only 1 point, but she (potentially) lets you keep six tokens for future use, which means you'd save six turns — and what's the value of a turn?
The 2-point drafting bonus suggests that a turn is worth 2 points since you're spending a turn to do nothing but reserve a card that you might otherwise acquire directly from the market in the future, but I haven't tracked the number of a turns taken in a game, so I don't know for sure. If nothing else, I think the 2-point drafting bonus exists so that you can do something meaningful on the final turn (or turns) of the game if someone else is finishing their eighth card.
Sometimes, though, gameplay is straightforward, and a "dumb" strategy is the path to victory. In the image above, I started by drafting Frida Kahlo, who gives bonus points when you write a chapter, that is, put a card in your book, with seven or eight symbols — and those chapters are often powerless cards that are worth a lot of points — so I wrote about Frida Kahlo, then concentrated on high-value cards with at least seven symbols. Boom, that's all I needed.
Well, sort of. I also needed other players not to take those cards, and before that I needed those cards to show up in the market. In a game with four or five players, the market is changing regularly, so if you want a specific card, you should probably draft it; if you care less and need only a powerless card or a card with icons or a low-value card, you can probably avoid the draft and buy directly.
When I played a two-player game, however, the market felt like it was barely budging. You could wipe the board of tokens, sure, but the cards were in place until one of you took them — and if neither of you cared for a card, that space was locked until game's end. The two-player game felt less satisfying because of this, but I think that's partly because I didn't anticipate this lack of flow, so I made poor choices at the start of the game.
I played HerStory three times at home with gamers and three times at a game group with a wider range of players. The gamers (who were all men) thought the puzzle of being efficient was fine, if familiar, whereas the group players (who were mostly women) were more engaged with who was on the cards they acquired, sometimes reading them during play instead of waiting for the game to finish.
For more thoughts on the game and more examples of card powers, check out this overview video:
Mon Apr 17, 2023 7:00 am
- [+] Dice rolls
Great Western Trail: New Zealand, or Sheep, Ships, and Gold, Oh My!
20 Mar 2023
Candice HarrisUnited States
Great Western Trail: Argentina was an exciting release for many, including myself, in 2022. It introduced some really cool, fresh new twists to Alexander Pfister's fan favorite Great Western Trail, which I covered in detail in a SPIEL '22 Preview post. Playing and loving Argentina had me beyond excited and very curious about what to expect with Great Western Trail: New Zealand, the final release in Pfister's Great Western Trail trilogy, which Eric originally announced in February 2021.
In February 2023, my face lit up with a big smile when I read that Plan B Games (eggertspiele) "shared a smidge of detail" about Great Western Trail: New Zealand in one of Eric's posts. I was on vacation at the time, but as soon as I returned, I jumped at the opportunity to chat with Isabelle from Plan B Games to get a rundown of what to expect in Great Western Trail: New Zealand, one of my most anticipated releases of 2023.
Coming in at a similar complexity level to GWT: Argentina, GWT: New Zealand adds even more new twists than we saw in Argentina, but still retains the essence of Great Western Trail. In GWT: New Zealand, you and up to three other players take on the role of runholders (owners of sheep stations) on the South Island of New Zealand. You'll move your runholder along a trail up to the top of the board to Wellington. Along the way, you'll perform actions that give you various ways to earn victory points. Each time your runholder reaches Wellington, you deliver sheep to a local or foreign trading post, which may also be worth victory points. Then your runholder continues movement back at the start of the trail at the bottom of the board. At the end of the game, you’ll score victory points from a variety of components you acquired during the game and any points marked with your color on the game board and the sea routes board. The player with the most victory points wins the game. If you’re already familiar with GWT, all of this should sound very familiar, aside from the sheep and lack of cattle, so allow me to highlight some of the new elements you’ll experience in GWT: New Zealand.
Great Western Trail: New Zealand has four types of workers you can hire in the game. You have shepherds to help you acquire better sheep cards, craftsmen to help you build those glorious private buildings, sailors to move your ship on the sea routes board, and sheep shearers which help you shear your sheep and earn money based on their wool value. This is basically a second delivery option you’ll have since the sheep cards not only have a breeding value, but they also have a wool value. Now you’re probably wondering where the engineer is in all this. Surprise! There are no engineers, trains, or train stations in GWT: New Zealand. I'll let that sink in for a minute...
Rails to the North expansion. Now you can sail your ship around on the sea routes board with the help of your sailors. Along the routes, there are several harbours, each of which either allows you to place a storehouse or one of your player discs if your ship is on its associated water space. As always, when you place one of your discs, you unlock some cool treat. Storehouses are also on your player board and can be unlocked in any order, but you only unlock storehouse bonuses when you’ve removed two storehouses next to each other on your player board.
Delivery in Wellington seems to be more streamlined in GWT: New Zealand compared to Kansas City and Buenos Aires. As usual, you'll gain income and place one of your discs onto a trading post based on the breeding value of your unique types of sheep cards, but when it’s time to choose tiles from the foresight area, things are a little different. There are only four foresight tiles: two "A" tiles which will either be workers or hazards (rockfalls or floods), and two "B" tiles, which are new bonus tiles.
Speaking of bonus tiles, another big change in GWT: New Zealand is the way the game ends. It's no longer triggered by the worker market filling up. Instead, the end of the game is triggered when you place a bonus tile onto the last space of the bonus tiles market during a delivery in Wellington.
Another interesting new twist is that mid-way through each game, you'll flip half of the neutral building tiles over and they'll have a different action/effect. Plus, there's a new pathfinder track you can work your way up to unlock beneficial bonus abilities. For example, you can increase your movement one step, which is helpful because you'll only be able to unlock one additional step of movement on your player board in this version. Also, if you hit a certain level on the pathfinder track, you ignore paying black/green hand fees on hazard tiles and your opponent’s private buildings.
These are just some of the exciting new changes you can expect in Great Western Trail: New Zealand, in addition to the adorable sheep cards, and lush green game board. I haven't played it yet, so I can't comment on how it feels and plays out, but I am loving the sound of all of these changes and I can’t wait to play it!
Mon Mar 20, 2023 7:00 am
- [+] Dice rolls
Game Preview: General Orders, or The Spicy Two-Player Worker Placement War
15 Mar 2023
Candice HarrisUnited States
War Chest and the Undaunted series, I consider David Thompson and Trevor Benjamin to be a top notch designer duo; I'm automatically interested in anything with either of their names on it, and it's an insta-buy when I see both of their names together on any board game. Thus, I'm incredibly excited to share some details on General Orders: World War II, a new, two-player, worker placement wargame, which will be available from Osprey Games in Q4 2023.
General Orders: World War II combines the dynamic tactical gameplay of a traditional wargame with the cut-throat decision-making of worker placement games. As an added bonus, it's very accessible and plays in under an hour. Let's face it, they had me at "worker placement wargame", but I'm appreciative that I got the opportunity to virtually hang with David and Trevor to actually play a game of General Orders on Tabletop Simulator.
In General Orders, you and your opponent each take on the role of a general competing in two different World War II theaters – the alpine terrain of Northern Italy and the islands of the Pacific. Each game is played over a series of rounds, where you alternate deploying/placing commanders (workers) on the board to take actions, and then after both players are out of commanders and/or have passed, you recall your commanders from the board and move on to the next round. You win the game immediately if your opponent loses control of their HQ land area. Otherwise, at the end of the fourth round, the player with the most victory points on land areas they control and supply wins.
General Orders includes a double-sided game board, beautifully illustrated by Alex Green, which allows you to play two different game modes, either Alpine or Island. The Alpine side of the board represents the mountains of Italy, and the Island side represents the islands of the Pacific. The Alpine game mode is recommended for your first game, so that's what David set up for our game together. Meanwhile, Trevor watched from the sidelines and provided some entertaining commentary as we played.
The map on the board has a bunch of land areas – hex spaces and a few double hex spaces – separated by solid black borders. Each space has one or more icons representing actions you can take there, and some spaces have pink star icons which are victory points you score at the end of the game if you control that land area. There are also spaces with a section to place an area bonus token, which gives the controlling player access to some helpful special ability.
Players start the game with a bunch of troops (discs) and five commanders (hexagonal cylinders) in their reserve, along with troops on the board. The game is fairly abstract considering we don't represent specific countries, but instead we are simply the blue faction and yellow faction duking it out in a tug-of-war struggle to control a crucial World War II battlefield. Therefore, players can come up with whatever narrative they feel as the play each game.
Before you start the game, you flip the round marker to determine which player starts with the initiative and gets to go first. On your turn, you place one of your commanders from your reserve into an unoccupied action space and resolve the action based on its symbol. Then your opponent does the same, and you alternate taking turns until both players pass, typically from not having any commanders left in your reserve.
Control and supply are important concepts in General Orders and should be defined before delving into the actions. You control a land area if you have troops in it, and a land area is in supply if you control it and it's connected to your HQ land area through an unbroken line of areas you control. In order to perform most actions, you must have a supply path back to your HQ, so a key strategy is to try to interrupt your opponent's supply line, while you also protect your own.
The Advance action, which is available on just about all spaces of the Alpine map, is how you move troops into a space where you don't already have troops. When you Advance, you place one of your available commanders into the area you wish to move into, and then you can move one or more of your troops from adjacent/linked areas that you control and supply. However, you cannot take the last troop from a land area, so at least one will have to hang back. If you moved your troops into an area controlled by your opponent, you resolve a land conflict.
The Barrage action allows you to bombard an area up to three areas away by rolling two dice and then removing troops based on all of the hits you rolled. There are custom six-sided dice in the game that have a blank side, four sides with 1-hit, and a 2-hit side. Don't worry though, there's actually minimal randomness in this tense, "little" strategy game. This is only one of two occasions where you actually roll dice.
When playing on the Alpine board, there's also a Paradrop action where you can place two troops from your reserve into any area on the board except the 2 lake areas that have a "no-paradrop" symbol. Similar to the Advance action, if you end up with your troops in an area controlled by your opponent, you resolve conflict.
Resolving land conflict is very straightforward, just like the actions in this game. First, the defender rolls one die and removes a number of attacking troops equal to the total rolled. Then, if any attacking troops remain, both players simultaneously remove troops from the area until at least one player has no troops in the area. There are occasions when the attacker will swoop in and take over an area, other times when the attacker is unsuccessful and the defenders hold the area, and even some battles when both players are completely annihilated and that area is left uncontrolled. I'm sure you're wondering why the attacker wouldn't just bring in enough troops to make sure they control the space even if the defender rolls a 2 and kills two troops before the battle attrition occurs. Sounds like this is a good time to mention something spicy about General Orders.
In addition to the map actions I've mentioned so far, there are also two actions available on the support board, which is a small board next to the main game board. The Reinforce action allows you to place a number of troops from your reserve into land areas you control and supply, such that there are no more than five troops per land area. There are two action spaces for reinforcing: one allows you to add six troops, and the other allows you to add five. Each player can only take each support action once per round, so in this case it's always best to take the "six troops" space if it's open. It seems like such a slight difference, but placing that extra troop can be crucial. This is an action you'll want to do every round, and hopefully beat your opponent to the optimal action space too.
The Plan action is also available on the support board, and it also comes in two flavors. The first Plan action space allows you to draw two cards from the operation deck, while the other space only allows you to draw one card, but you get the initiative, if you don't already have it. This is the only way initiative changes throughout the game, so it's always a tough decision whether you want to go for two cards, or gain/maintain the initiative. After all, this is a worker placement game, so turn order can be super important.
When I mentioned the spice, I was referring to the operation cards in General Orders. I think this game would be great if it didn't have these cards, but it's so much spicier with them! There are thirty cards included in the game, some are specific to the game mode you're playing (Alpine/Island), but the bulk are played in every game. Each card clearly explains its effect and when it can be played. Or alternatively, you can discard any operation card to re-roll all dice whenever you're doing something that involves dice rolling. Not only is the variety of cards awesome, but it's also great that the operation cards are flexible and give players more than one way to use them.
There are Ground Assault cards that allow you add up to two troops from your reserve after the move in step of the Advance action. There are Mobilize cards that allow you to place up to two additional troops when you take the Reinforce action. I had a lot of fun surprising David with Anti-air cards when he paradropped his troops into spaces I controlled. Anti-air cards allow you to roll two extra dice for your defensive roll before battle attrition when resolving land conflict. If I recall, he dropped in four troops to an area I controlled with only one troop, and I surprised him playing an Anti-air card, then I made what I'll refer to as a "skilled roll" and rolled 2-1-1, which killed all four of his troops before the battle popped off. It was a glorious moment!
There are also Blitz, Ambush, Artillery Strike, and Counter Attack cards which all have different, useful effects. Perhaps what's even better than the cards themselves, is your opponent not knowing which cards you actually have and conversely, you not knowing what they have. It lends itself to lots of mind games and moments where you'll be stressed and sweating, or trying to make your opponent feel that way.
I also mentioned some spaces have victory points on them. Some of the VP spaces have bonus tokens too, so there is lots to fight over. If you don't manage to force your opponent out of their HQ within four rounds, then it's all about points. Our game ended after four tense rounds and it was anyone's game until a pivotal moment at the very end where I was able to prevent David from trying to take my victory points away from me while I was in the lead. We had such a fun time playing, and that was on Tabletop Simulator. I can't wait to play the physical version in person!...and I'm sure David will be looking for a rematch.
There aren't many worker placement games specifically designed for two players, and there certainly aren't many worker placement wargames to my knowledge. This makes General Orders stand out off the bat. After playing a game, I was really impressed with what I saw and how I felt.
First off, David explained the rules in about five minutes and we were off and running. All of the actions are straightforward and easy to understand, which makes this game very accessible. You can play it with just about anyone and have them into the game in no time. The excellent graphic design by Gareth Clarke helps a lot too. Then once you get going, it takes less than an hour to play, which is another nod to its accessibility.
The game itself feels tense and thinky. As we were starting our game, and I was thinking through what I wanted to do for my first turn in response to what David did since he had the initiative, Trevor said "the opening can feel chess-like", and I completely agree. If I do XYZ, my opponent may respond with ABC. You're always trying to think about what your opponent is going to do and it feels tense as the game develops. Then you also have the worker placement struggles. I need to do "this" and "that", but I can't risk them blocking that space. There's so much you want to do, but it's tricky figuring out the timing of when to do it because you don't want to miss out on an opportunity.
There were many moments when I felt my forces were weak, and I was nervous David was going to march his troops in, so I struggled with the tough decision to reinforce then, when I really wanted to secure another space. Then you are also always trying to find clever ways to cut off your opponent's supply, while also trying to protect your own. There is a lot at play here for a game with such simple rules.
I took a peek at the Island board too, and that game mode opens things up a hair more complexity wise and makes the game slightly asymmetric, plus it adds a few different actions, as well as aircrafts. So in addition to troops, you have aircrafts you'll be flying around and managing on the board. I feel like there was a lot of game to be explored with the Alpine mode, and the included Island mode is sure to beef up the game even more. It seems like it'll really have its own feel while packing more variety into the game box.
I think it's safe to say, the Undaunted duo has done it again. First they successfully created an awesome hybrid deck-building wargame with Undaunted: Normandy in 2019, and now they've created an awesome worker placement wargame. General Orders really evokes the feeling and tension of playing a 2-player wargame, with an added layer of tough worker placement choices. I thoroughly enjoyed my first play of General Orders: World War II and I'm already hype to play it more.
Here's the official announcement video from Osprey with some additional info and visuals on General Orders:
Wed Mar 15, 2023 7:00 am
- [+] Dice rolls
Sophia Wagner's Mada is a quick-playing card game that Swiss publisher Helvetiq debuted at SPIEL '22.
The game comes packaged in a tiny box ideal for travel and less than ideal for getting attention on store shelves. As with many card games, photos of Mada make it look flat and uninteresting. Cards with numbers...again? As such, I'll stick mostly to text and leave the visuals to the video that shows many examples of gameplay in a few minutes.
Each round in Mada, one player busts and scores nothing, while everyone else scores the top card of their discard pile. The closer you are to busting, the more you score...but you're also closer to busting, which is the primary tension point of the design.
The deck features cards numbered 1-13 that are worth 1-6 points as well as three special types of cards. On a turn, you either play, draw, or take a chance. When you play, place a number card from your hand on your personal discard pile; the number played must be equal to or higher than whatever is currently on top.
If you can't play, then maybe you can draw and get something playable, whether a number card, a lemur card (which lets you place the top number of your pile on the bottom, thereby giving you more room in which to play), a double lemur (which swaps your pile with another player's), or a scorpion, which forces you to discard a card from hand, giving you more room to draw in the future. (Your maximum hand size is three.)
If you can't play and you can't draw, then take a chance. Flip over the deck's top card and see whether you can play it. All of the special cards can be played this way, and maybe you'll get a number card you can play. Phew! You live until the next turn.
When someone can't play and chance works against them, everyone else scores the top card of their pile and discards the rest of it, while that round's loser discards all of their pile and any cards in hand they don't want, then the next round begins with the player on their left. As soon as a player has scored five cards, the game ends, and whoever has the highest score wins.Playing over Indian food at BGG.CON 2022
In general, Mada plays lightning fast because decisions are straightforward, but the game has just enough to it that your choices have an impact. You can take a chance early in a round with no cards on your pile and a full hand, hoping to draw something low and extend your life, that is, your playing time in the round, the number of turns you can play before dying. Maybe you land a 1 or 2, which means you can chance again next time; maybe you land a 12 or 13, and everyone else rushes to place a card on the table so that they can score when you will (clearly) go bust next turn...but then you play another 12/13 or you play a lemur to reset your pile, and suddenly everyone has put themselves in a bad position by jumping high in their pile.
Sometimes you play early in a round to have potential points on the board; sometimes you want to draw for a full hand to give yourself more time while others rise in their piles; sometimes you use the double lemur to swap to a low pile so that you can play cards; sometimes you use it to swap for a high pile because another player is likely to die on their turn.
Mada is a great example of why I love card games. Small choices on the part of you and other players combine with the randomness of the deck to create a mix of steady progression and high impact effects. You make meaningful choices, yes, but you're also playing the odds of what others can do and how the deck will treat you, with no certainty as to how things will turn out.
I've played Mada six times on a purchased copy with all players counts, and the only downsides have been slow players (which is an Eric problem more than a design problem) and the two-player game, which feels flat compared to playing with three or more. With only two players, one of you is crashing each round, so your choices seem simpler and less interesting, e.g., the double lemur giving you one option instead of many.
For gameplay examples and a sense of the game flow, check out this overview video:
Mon Mar 13, 2023 1:00 pm
- [+] Dice rolls
here — was not in the BGG database, and I kept waiting for someone else to submit a listing for it, but since they didn't, I've now done so.
Nigoichi is a party game for 3-6 players from designer Yusuke Sato (TimeBomb) and publisher Jelly Jelly Games, and it falls squarely in the Codenames / So Clover! / Cross Clues camp of you attempting to clue two words with a single word.
The game's title and box cover spell this out in terms that are not entirely clear to me since my Japanese knowledge begins and ends with numbers, but in general you have "Nigoichi", with "ni" (二) being "two", "go" (五) being "five", and "ichi" (一) being "one", and in the cover illustration you have 2 and 5 pairing up together as a couple, that is, as one unit. The anthropomorphic numerals each say a word, then they say the same word together. Their spirits have merged! Two things have become one! (The 1, on the other hand, is on its own, looking suspicious and trying not to be caught.)
This image represents gameplay perfectly:Quote:Each round in Nigoichi, your goal is to determine which word was not assigned to any of the players. More importantly, you want to make sure that no one votes for either of your two words!Now, the title = gameplay theory falls apart a bit because the game's Japanese name is ニゴイチ, which is pronounced "Nigoichi", except the second character is not 五 ("go", meaning "five"), but ゴ, which is still pronounced "go" while apparently meaning..."go". Instead of 一 ("ichi", meaning "one"), you have イチ, which is pronounced "ichi" and which means...? There's probably some wordplay going on with "goichi", but I don't have a clue — although I have learned that イチゴ ("ichigo") means "strawberry", so that's something.
To set up a round, lay out as many word cards as twice the number of players plus one, so eleven cards in a five-player game. Each word is assigned a number (e.g., 1-11), then each player secretly receives two number cards at random, with the final lone number being placed face down on the table. If you receive, say, 3 and 8, then you need to think of a one-word clue that links word #3 and word #8. Write your clue on your board.Sample round; I've written out the words below for easier reading
Everyone reveals their clues at the same time, then everyone tries to figure out which pair of words corresponds to each clue, with the long-term goal of figuring out which of the words was not assigned to any player. Once everyone has written their answer, reveal each player's pair of words as well as the lone number. If you guessed the answer correctly, score 20 points. For each player who guessed one of your words, lose 10 points.
After five rounds, whoever has the most points wins.
Anyway, looking at the round above, we have the following words:
1 - panda
2 - tulip
3 - bus
4 - banana
5 - chair
6 - handkerchief
7 - superpower
8 - hamburger
9 - scissors
10 - dustpan
11 - butterfly
12 - fried rice
13 - computer
I'll note that we were scanning Japanese word cards with a phone, then writing each translation on a slip of paper. You could translate the entire game in this manner, although we did hit a few words that foiled the translator, similar to "ichi", I suppose.
The clues are:
Which clues correspond to which pairs of words, and what's the leftover word? Use the spoiler coding below to post your answers!Player boards for deciphering clues (l) and writing your clue (r)
Admittedly, this challenge doesn't quite match what you'll find in the game since you know the two words that correspond to your clue. If you had 9 and 10 and had clued "seamstress", then you would know that "dirty" is not a clue for "dustpan", whereas everyone else would not. (Also, that probably wouldn't have been a good clue.)
Nigoichi does exactly what I love in So Clover!. To quote my review of that game, you're "trying to generate clever clues and figure out the cleverness of others". The difference is that in So Clover! everyone creates their own puzzle of four interlinked words that other players then attempt to solve, whereas in Nigoichi everyone collectively creates a puzzle that everyone then attempts to solve.Sample So Clover! puzzle; which cards fit on the pegs in which orientations to match the clues?
In So Clover!, the solvers are challenged by the inclusion of a randomly drawn word card that's shuffled with the four word cards you did use. Sometimes the randomness makes the puzzle harder, and sometimes it's irrelevant. In Nigoichi, the randomness comes from the clues given by other players — which means the randomness isn't random at all, but meaningful. If you think you know which two words are clued by "punching", you can then "reverse engineer" the clue by saying, "If I had those two words, would this clue seem reasonable?" So Clover! sometimes works the same way, but now you're working with the cleverness of 2-5 other players — and they might not all be thinking along the same lines.
Here's another challenge for you:
1 - camera
2 - kangaroo
3 - horned beetle
4 - pumpkin
5 - turtle
6 - curry
7 - tomato
8 - deep fried
9 - shaved ice
10 - gum
11 - mouse
12 - hide & go seek
13 - trunk
Single words in Japanese do not always become single words in English, but your clue is meant to be only a single word! The clues for these words are:
I realize that I could, of course, play Nigoichi right now using cards from Codewords and pen and paper, but whenever I finally get back to Japan, this will be one of the games I'm looking to buy — even though I'll need to translate all of the words! — simply because I want to support a designer creating something that it so perfectly aligned with my tastes. And if a publisher licenses the game in English before that happens so that the word cards can be "held" by the anthropomorphic numbers as intended, well, so much the better!
Sun Feb 12, 2023 7:00 am
- [+] Dice rolls
Not That Movie!, by Silvano Sorrentino and dV Giochi; 13 Words, by Romain Loussert and Captain Games; and Fun Facts, by Kasper Lapp and Repos Production. Weird.
(Oneironauts from Oleksandr Nevskiy and IGAMES is another co-operative party game that dropped at SPIEL '22, but that title has a loss condition, so it's not quite in the same design bucket. Also, I haven't played it yet, so I can't say anything more than "It exists.")
In December 2021, I compared three similar party games — So Clover!, Cross Clues, and Crossed Words — and a year later I'm doing it again. Tis the season for party games, I guess...
Let's start with 13 Words, which is the most straightforward of the bunch. Lay out twelve double-sided word cards around the game board, place one card in the center of the board, give each player a score tracker/answer wheel, then designate someone as captain.
Each round, the captain and all other players use their answer wheel to indicate the word on the perimeter of the game board that they think most matches the central word. What would you choose here, for example?Choices in the first round for "Family"
More precisely, if you're not the captain, you're trying to choose the word that the captain will choose, but in practice you're judging that association on your own on the assumption that as a fellow human, the captain and you will think along the same lines. This will not always work, of course, since humans tend not to think exactly the same way, but this game wouldn't be much of a challenge if we did!
Anyway, once all the answer wheels have been placed down, the captain reveals their answer, and anyone who matches the captain scores 1 point. As long as at least one person matches the captain, the captain also scores 1 point. Thus, as a team you can score 0 points in a round (if the captain is a doofus and made a terrible choice) or anywhere from 2 to n points. You then flip the card that the captain chose into the center, pass the captain marker, and start another round:"Japanese" was the obvious choice for the first round, right?!
After eleven rounds, the game ends, with the final round giving everyone a 50/50 shot of being correct:
Funny thing, though, is that you often have a 50/50 shot of being correct no matter how many cards are on the perimeter of the game board — and sometimes your chances are even higher than that. In the image above from the second round, did everyone choose "Light" to match "Star"? What would possibly be a better choice? And now we've flipped over "Light" to reveal "Harbour"...and doesn't this round have a slam-dunk choice, too?
Each game of 13 Words — and I've played seven times with 4-7 players on a review copy and copies in the BGG Library — felt similar, with the early rounds having so many cards on display that you had either one sure-fire option or 2-3 decent options, with the remaining cards being noise at best. As the cards dwindled, the connections between words became more tenuous until you often felt like you were guessing randomly — barring the occasional obvious choice.
Codenames as in the early rounds of that latter game you're often giving a clue word that has a tenuous connection to many of the words on the table, then as spies are identified and choices removed, you start giving more concrete clues since the chances of hitting the assassin increase. Well, that's how I tend to give clues in Codenames, and part of the joy of that game is being able to creatively link things that would not normally be linked.
In 13 Words, on the other hand, you're not trying to be creative; you're trying to be obvious. You are punished for creativity, especially if you're captain. For some audiences, this feeling will be fine. At BGG.CON 2022, we cheered or booed with the revelation of each captain's choice, scored, and moved on, with some side talk over the game choices and no one really caring how we did. We spent time together, and that was that.
You might even think of the obvious choices as being a positive thing. Everyone gets to high five because you're all on the same wavelength. Go team! See this happen enough times, though, and you're like, well, duh, everyone's going to choose the dog when presented with the silhouette of a dog and asked to find a match. Where's the challenge in that?•••
Not That Movie! plays like 13 Words in that you're all ideally landing on the same answer each round. In each of the five rounds, you lay out ten movie title cards to create eight fictional movies, then reveal two review cards — one positive (blue), one negative (purple). Everyone then secretly chooses which movie they think most matches the reviews. What would you choose in this case?
Unlike 13 Words, in which scoring is set as soon as everyone votes, in Not That Movie! scoring takes place bit by bit. One player places a NOT token on one of the eight movies, saying "Not that movie!", and if everyone agrees that movie is a terrible choice — that is, no one has chosen that movie — then the NOT token stays color-side up and earns the team 1 point. If someone did choose that movie, flip the NOT token to its gray side.
The next player in clockwise order then places a NOT token, and this continues until either two gray NOT tokens are on the board or all seven NOT tokens have been placed. If all NOT tokens are color-side up — that is, everyone chose the same movie — then you score 1 bonus point, making 8 in total.
This movie-by-movie condemnation is more engaging than the all-at-once revelation of 13 Words, partly because whenever someone is outed (and others are stunned by their film choice), they lead everyone through their synopsis of the film in question to explain the connection — and that's almost always interesting, both for the synopsis itself and for how you viewed the movie behind that title.
Unlike Codenames or So Clover!, games in which you're challenged to be creative to help others make a connection, in Not That Movie! you're quietly creative, internally creative, looking at all the movie titles and coming up with associations for each one, sometimes only vague notions of this one being noir, that one anime, and the other one a period romance...but sometimes the whole movie just jumps to mind, whether for something obvious like "Chariots vs. Aliens" or for the harder to pin down, such as "The Lion Driver". (I'm imagining an invasive species that can only be tamed via ravenous lions that must be driven like buffalo from Tanzania to Gabon and our main character is a teenage dropout who cares for their aging grandmother.)
And then there's absurdities like "Father Hole", which had us giggling like middle schoolers all round. (For a PG-rated version of "Father Hole", imagine that Mr. Nobody in Doom Patrol had managed to fold a piece of himself across multiple dimensions to spawn a new being. For other versions, I'll say nothing more.)Next on the marquee...
Each round in Not That Movie!, you confront three elements — the wacky movie titles, the reviews, and your fellow players' choices — and each contributes to the creation of your internal films, twisting what first comes to mind like a surprise reveal in a thriller when the villain is discovered to be the protagonist's secret twin that everyone thought had died at birth.
You also score points (or don't), but that's neither here nor there.•••
Fun Facts comes from the publisher of Just One and So Clover! — two other co-operative party games in which you shoot for a high score — but while those games inspire you to write something creative for your fellow players, this one focuses solely on writing...whatever.
In each of the eight rounds, players are presented with a question, such as the ones below:
Everyone writes a number — along with a unit of measurement, if appropriate — on a colored arrow that has their name on the obverse side of the arrow, then places their arrow name-side up. One player places their arrow in the center of the table, then the next player places their own arrow above or below this first arrow depending on whether they think their answer is higher or lower, then the third player places their arrow higher or lower than both arrows or between both arrows, and so on until all of the arrows have been placed. Finally, the first player can move their arrow where they wish in the row.
Players reveal the numbers on the arrows, then remove as few as possible so that the remaining arrows go from low to high. The team scores as many points as the number of arrows in the row, a value ranging from 1 to n. After eight rounds, you compare the team's collective score against a chart to see how well you did — a feature in each of these three games that all players shrug off because the result means nothing.One round's results (image: Trent Howell)
Note that in the image above you could have removed 43 instead of 37 or 75 instead of 64 — and this arbitrariness adds to the shrugging feel of the game because you often have little say on where you end up in the line.
When I announced Fun Facts in September 2022, I misinterpreted one element of the gameplay, minimal as that is. I had written this: "After everyone has placed their answer in the center of the table, you have the opportunity to move your own arrow — without touching anyone else's!" — but the "you" in that sentence applies only to the first player, not to everyone.
I had imagined that everyone would be adjusting their arrow repeatedly: "I'm on top." "No, I'm definitely higher than you!" "How'd I end up on the bottom? I think I'm middle of the pack." That is, you'd have some agency to pre-judge your standing amongst everyone else. Instead, if you're the second player in a round, you get one shot to place your arrow, then up to six other people push you around wherever they want.
I realize, of course, that I could choose to play by whatever rules I want, but when assessing how a game works, I prefer to stick with the rules to understand the intent of the designer and publisher — and here you're just kind of winging it.
A bigger concern with the design relates to the questions, which range widely from "party conversation" to "first date material" to "random fact that I'd never choose to talk about or care about how I compare to others". How long does it take me to shower? How much coffee have I had? When do I wake up on weekdays?
What are you, my parents?! Let me live my life, and leave me alone! (Now you can guess my answer for "How easily offended are you?")
We filtered out a lot of questions during the one game that we played because many of them seemed uninteresting. They're not generating conversations; they're creating trivia, and we'd rather spend our time in more interesting ways. The "rate yourself from 0 to 100" questions tended to be more interesting, but even those were hit or miss.
One person suggested that they were fine with players filtering out questions as they liked, while another suggested playing Time's Up!-style, with everyone drafting a question or two and contributing them to the deck in secret. Either option is fine, but I'd rather not have to play developer to make the game more enjoyable for myself.
One fun thing that did result from our game came from this question:
Our answers were all over the place regarding the number of M&Ms we could fit in our mouth, and we started researching online to see whether others had answered this question...then later that same evening two of us decided to answer that question for real:Guess how many M&Ms are in this glass:Spoiler (click to reveal)Sixty.
A female friend managed to fit the above M&Ms into her mouth, then I shot my shot and did 82, roughly twice as many as I had guessed. Now I've learned something about myself, something that I almost took to my grave when an observer joked that he should be filming my attempt for BGG Twitter in case I choked and died, thereby causing me to laugh and almost choke. Good times.
I wish more of the Fun Facts questions fit the model above, challenging you to question something about yourself, to think about a situation you might not have encountered previously, to perhaps inspire you to undertake that situation to see how you really stack up against others. Unfortunately, that type of question seemed barely present.
Oh, and is it just me, or does the Fun Facts box look like it's giving you the finger?
For more examples of gameplay and examination of how these games compare to one another, dive into the video below, which features me saying words and waving my hands around a fair amount:
Wed Dec 7, 2022 7:00 am
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Game Overview: Monolyth, or Actually It's One to Four Lyths Depending on the Player Count
05 Dec 2022
previewed Phil Walker-Harding's game Monolyth, which CMON had shipped to me with no advance notice of the game's existence.
If you read that earlier post, jump past this explanation of gameplay for an update on my thoughts about the game:Quote:Every player builds their own block of stones in Monolyth, using 3D polyominoes to create patches of particular colors, complete levels, and a structure that matches a pattern.I've now played Monolyth four times on that review copy, twice with two players and once each with one and three players. The game design fits the quite familiar model of an isolated multiplayer experience, one in which we draft things from a shared pool and (perhaps) compete to claim shared goals, but otherwise exist in our own bubble building our own thing with no impact on other players.
To set up, choose a structure card at random, then place it on the main board, along with the appropriate structure tokens, level tokens, and prophecy tokens based on the number of players. Place the crystal marker next to the main board, then draw twelve random polyominoes from the box and place them in a circle around the main board. The polyominoes come in five colors, and all 1x1 blocks in those colors are placed to the side.
On a turn, move the crystal 1-4 spaces clockwise, then take the polyomino in that space and add it to your 4x4 player board, with nothing placed outside that grid and no part of the polyomino hanging over an empty space; alternatively, you can remove this polyomino from the game and take a 1x1 block of the same color, then add that to your player board. In either case, draw a random polyomino from the box and place it where the crystal started this turn.
Instead of moving the crystal, you can choose a prophecy token from the main board and add it to a side of your player board. Each player board has four different colors around the four edges, e.g., blue, orange, black, and teal.Halfway through the game
When you fill all the spaces of a level on your player board, take the largest level token from the main board. If your construction fits the guidelines of the structure card, then you claim the highest available structure token.
Keep taking turns until someone has completed their 3D monolith, which is 4x4x3 in a 3-4 player game and 4x4x4 in a 1-2 player game, after which you finish the round. If a prophecy has been fulfilled, e.g., if you placed a 12 on the orange side of your player board and you have at least 12 orange blocks on that edge of your player board, then you score points equal to that prophecy token.
Sum the points of your structure token, level tokens, and valid prophecy tokens to see who has the highest score and wins.
Cascadia, which I covered in June 2022, is probably the best-known example of this experience from the past few years, but between my first and fourth games of Monolyth, I also found the shared drafting/isolated building pairing in Triggs, Queensland, Spots, and Village Rails. I will confess to groaning internally when Steph Hodge started explaining Village Rails at BGG.CON 2022 because I feel I've had my fill of this type of design.
This isn't to say the game designs are bad, mind you. In fact, I adore Triggs and will post more about it at some point. Rather, I often feel in such games that my opponents have been reduced to nothing more than an automated opposition. Village Rails, for example, uses the purchase system from Small World — pay a coin for each thing in the market queue that you skip — but without the interactive competition on a shared game board that makes my choice meaningful relative to what you're doing or how you could respond to that choice.
The design structure of Monolyth nicely pulls you in three directions, with your goals for structure, level, and prophecy interfering with one another and making it impossible to do everything — which means that it almost doesn't matter whether an opponent takes the optimal block from the choices available. As in Cascadia, your drafting choices in Monolyth might damage another player's ability to score points, but you're probably not choosing a polyomino with that intention unless it already furthers your own goals.
For more thoughts on Monolyth, watch me say and do things in this video:
Mon Dec 5, 2022 4:36 pm
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