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Game Preview: Wayfinders, or Connect the Island Dots

W. Eric Martin
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My SPIEL '19 previews continue, this time with a look at Wayfinders, a 2-4 player from Thomas Dagenais-Lespérance and Pandasaurus Games.

Wayfinders will likely remind you of pick-up-and-deliver games with which you are familiar or possibly collect-resources-then-build-stuff games that you know as it blends those two game genres into one tiki-fuelled, island-hopping environment.

On most turns of the game, you'll place one of your five workers in the one of the resource hangars, possibly segregated from your fellow players as in the image below and possibly in the same ones. Resources come in five colors, with those colors matching the five colors of islands. How convenient that all is! It's almost like you're playing a game instead of actually managing an inventory of resources ahead of a Polynesian excursion...


On the right, two turntables and a microphone pair of headphones


On your non-worker placement turns, you collect goods from the hangars equal to the number of your workers in that hangar, specifically the good (or goods) closest to the exit, no matter your place in line. You slide those goods out into your collection of stuff on the table, then you move your plane around the islands — orthogonally only, mind you, due to airspace restrictions — with you needing to pay a resource matching the color of the island if no one has established an airstrip there. (If anyone has established an airstrip on an island, which is indicated by a player's hangar being present, then all players can move onto this island at no cost.)

If you want to place one of your hangars on an island, you must pay the 1-4 resources depicted at the bottom of the tile, after which you place a hangar in the lowest empty slot. If you establish a hangar after someone else did earlier, you pay these resources to them because you're a follower who must pay tribute to trendsetters; if you're the first to establish a hangar, then you pay the bank and hope that someone else will follow in your path.


The dark green player color is somewhat absorbed by the surroundings


Some islands give an immediate bonus of 1-3 random resources from the bag, some provide a permanent bonus, e.g., using green resources as whichever color you wish, and some grant you a special way to score points at game's end — and these are the ones you need to focus on should you want to win the game instead of simply moving a tiny airplane across cardboard squares for 20-30 minutes.

Those first two types of islands earn points, but they're worth 1-5 points with a fixed value; the latter type of island scores based on how well you meet the condition on it, such as placing your hangars in a horizontal line or on blue islands or on islands surrounding this island. They're limited in value only based on the random layout of the tiles and how well you can abuse them over the course of the game. If this game has only two blue islands, you might want to skip that blue-multiplier to focus on something else; if six blue islands are present, well, how close are they and what does it cost to establish hangars on them and are those goods available.


Place tiles adjacent to one another only if you want to make gameplay difficult


You can always use two matching goods as a joker for a missing color, but anyone who does that consistently is simply moving a tiny airplane across cardboard squares for 20-30 minutes instead of trying to win.

I've played Wayfinders three times on an advance production copy from Pandasaurus Games, one with two players and twice with three, and I quickly learned that my typical approach to game-playing is less than optimal for this design. You can't simply wing it and see what happens, but instead need to figure out from the get-go which islands might provide the most points and what path you might follow to place hangars on them and which permanent bonuses might help you along the way and where you might place hangars instead should you not want to hand over four resources to an opponent who will then use them to fuel their own growth in the future.

The resource market isn't huge, so you can't plan long-term there, but instead need to have an overall island-hopping plan that you then adjust on the fly based on what other players take and what gets dropped into the troughs as replacement resources. The final round of the game begins as soon as someone places their eighth hangar on the board, so you don't have a long time in which to make things happen, so get moving!


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Tue Sep 17, 2019 4:00 pm
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Game Preview: Dim Sum Jam, or Fast Food

W. Eric Martin
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SPIEL has always been my favorite game convention because of the vast range of titles available. Convention organizer Friedhelm Merz Verlag notes that SPIEL '19 will have more than 1,200 exhibitors from 53 countries, and while other conventions I attend — particularly Gen Con — have been expanding their international presence, none of them come close to SPIEL.

The benefit of this variety is that you find things that you might not ever see on retail shelves at game stores, with one example of this being Dim Sum Jam, from designer Liu Xiao and Hong Kong publisher Broadway Toys. I met with Broadway's Michael Lau at Gen Con 2019, and he gave me quick overviews of this title and the company's version of Guess Club, both of which will be for sale at SPIEL '19 along with their new versions of 10 Days in the USA and 10 Days in Europe.

At Gen Con 2019, Lau met with publishers to see whether anyone would be interested in licensing these games, but he worried that Dim Sum Jam might be too culturally specific. For me, though, the look and setting of the game is part of the appeal. Part of the reason I play games is to experience new things, things that are not part of my existing life, so I appreciate Dim Sum Jam for being something aimed at an audience that's not me, while simultaneously being a design that I can enjoy no matter where I grew up.




In terms of gameplay, Dim Sum Jam is a real-time co-operative game in which players try to deliver food dishes to customers with the overarching goal of feeding the VIPs since they could destroy your reputation should they badmouth you online. Every other customer you serve is secondary, although you'd never state that in public.

Your restaurant serves seven dishes, and you have seven tables, with each dish having tokens numbered 1-7. Each table starts with regular customers who want four dishes. The starting player places a dish on any order card, but the number on the dish token that they play determines the table where the next player must play, with that player's token then determining where the subsequent player must play, and so on. You're racing against time, with you being able to flip the sand timer only after supplying all four desired dishes to a table. Instead of flipping the timer, you could acquire a tea token, which serves as a joker item that can get you out of a jam if someone directs you to a table where you don't have a matching dish.

Once the VIP card comes out, your goal is to finish serving them before you run out of "regular" order cards — because the VIPs quail at the thought of being served after everyone else, I guess — and before you receive three complaint tokens for either running out of time or not having a desired dish for a specific table.

I've played Dim Sum Jam six times on a review copy from Broadway Toys, and I have more to say about the game in the video below:


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Mon Sep 9, 2019 10:18 pm
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Game Preview: Spies & Lies: A Stratego Story, or Nostalgia by the Numbers

W. Eric Martin
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Stratego was one of the mainstays of my gaming youth, with my brother and I playing the game on a fairly regular basis. I have no idea what I'd think about the game today as I haven't played in decades, but I know it's been in print consistently since my youth, with many spinoff titles and variations having been released since that time. (Also, you can play the game one-handed, so I'm not sure why that tagline was ever used.)

The newest such title in this game series is Spies & Lies: A Stratego Story from designer Don Eskridge and Dutch publisher Jumbo, with this game embodying the feeling of Stratego, while not playing anything like it.

In brief, you're trying to keep the double agent on the opponent's side of the board. If you can place it on their flag, great — you win instantly — but more likely you'll have to be satisfied with having it closer to them than you at the end of three rounds.




In each round, you lay down four character cards from your hand into four mission fields. The cards are numbered 1-10, and the cards must be played in ascending order from left to right aside from the #4, which can be played anywhere. Once you do this, you'll reveal an intel card that forces you to mark cards that are in certain numerical ranges (again, other than the #4, which you can mark or not as you wish).

Players then take turns guessing which card the opponent played. If you guess correctly, you gain infiltration points and the opponent's card is neutralized; if you're wrong, the power of that card takes effect, and all ten cards have different powers.

The game has a few more details — the powers of the characters, of course, as well as a deception marker that gives you another way to mess with the opponent and win infiltration points — but the heart of the game reflects the Stratego I remember: You're building a secret line of characters and hoping to outthink or outguess the opponent so that you gain the long-term edge in the battle. I've played four times on a review copy from Jumbo, and it's amazing how well this design captures that essence of the original game, while also being something new. For more details, watch this overview video:


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Fri Sep 6, 2019 1:00 pm
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Tom Lehmann Talks at Gen Con 2019: Dice Realms, New Frontiers: Starry Rift, and Res Arcana: Lux et Tenebrae

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After many delays due to me focusing solely on SPIEL '19 and little else, (almost) all of the game overview videos that BoardGameGeek recorded at Gen Con 2019 are now live on our BGG Express YouTube channel, specifically in a Gen Con 2019 playlist that's 174 titles long! (I say "almost" all of the videos because we still need to publish those that feature RPG titles.)

During our Gen Con and SPIEL livestreams, we typically don't feature prototypes so that we can highlight as many new releases as possible, but sometimes we make exceptions — such as when designer Tom Lehmann makes one of his rare trips to Gen Con and offers to provide an early look at three titles that we know the BGG audience wants to see.

The largest of these designs is Dice Realms, a huge standalone game from Rio Grande Games that features modifiable dice along the lines of RGG's Rattlebones and Roll for the Galaxy: Rivalry. From what I've heard, this game will be the largest item ever released by Rio Grande, with multiple insert trays to make the game playable with almost no set-up. Here's an overview:




Lehmann also gave previews of expansions for two existing games, with one of those expansions being New Frontiers: Starry Rift. The current plan is for this expansion to be packaged without a box since the components are all cardboard and the items can fit within the New Frontiers box.




The other expansion that Lehmann featured was Res Arcana: Lux et Tenebrae, a 2020 (or earlier) release from Sand Castle Games that will allow for games with up to five players, while also adding other material to the base game.


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Thu Sep 5, 2019 1:00 pm
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Game Overview: FILLIT, or Tiling with Tokens

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My wife Linda and I have hosted exchange students on and off since 1999, initially just as something to do and nowadays to give our son a temporary sister who can transmit a broader sense of the world to him. (There's more to it than that, but I'm grateful that his knowledge of world cultures at age ten far surpasses what I knew even at age thirty.)

A side benefit of these hosting efforts has been the discovery of unexpected gaming partners, with the games often serving as a tool that can connect people who otherwise can't communicate effectively. (I'm not the gabbiest person when not on camera, and many students have had limited English abilities or have taken a while to make friends their own age, playing games with surrogate dad on evenings and weekends until that happens.)

Our newest exchange student comes from Thailand, and Lisa's conversational English is limited, but she's been an eager player — as long as I choose titles with minimal rule sets that I can demonstrate as much by doing as by explaining. The biggest hit so far as been FILLIT, a 2-4 player abstract strategy game from Ryo Nakamura (中村 良) that was first released in Japan by radiuthree in 2018. Japon Brand is bringing the title to SPIEL '19, and I've played nine times so far, with Lisa being an opponent in all games across all player counts.


Team game


Your goal in FILLIT is simple: Place all of your tokens on the board first. On a turn, you do two things in either order:

• Move your pawn in a straight line on the board until it hits a wall, a stone, or another player's pawn, placing one of your tokens on each empty space that you moved on. If another player's token is on a space that you moved across or stopped on, then return that player's token to them and replace it with one of your own.
• Move one of your stones to an adjacent space on the game board. If that space is occupied, whether with a token, a pawn, or another stone, swap the contents of the two spaces.

Players keep taking turns until someone wins. You adjust the number of tokens in play based on the player count, and with four players, you play in teams of two, with each of you having a pawn on the board but only two colors of tokens. (The game board is double-sided, with a miniature board on one side in case you want to play a complete game with two or three players in only five minutes instead of 10-15 minutes.)


Three-player game


Gameplay is simple, right? Make a move that maximizes the number of tokens that you place — except that you need to play defense against opponents who are doing the same thing. The more that you can block them with your pawn or stones or force them to retrace steps they've already taken, the better your chances of winning.

The early stages of the game — that is, the first two or three turns — can be simple since you're starting with an empty board and multiple options for movement. Lay down three or four tokens on fresh ground as if you're back in Crush Roller from decades past or dropped into Splatoon today, then you start butting heads with the enemy, undoing their work to claim that ground for yourself.

Over nine games, I feel that I've gotten better at playing, but evidence of that isn't present in the video below. In some games, a few of your stones feel useless, having been pushed to the edge to divert an opponent's movement, but then abandoned after that. At other times, you're forced to make a move to block an opponent or push tokens back into their reserve in order not to lose, then another, then another, and eventually the stones run out, the dam breaks, and you lose. I don't know whether that's just the nature of the game or me not making the best moves that will keep more options open in the future. Time will tell...


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Mon Sep 2, 2019 1:00 pm
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SPIEL '19 Game Preview: Bloom Town, or Town-Building Like There's No Tomorrow

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Not content to license their games to others, designers Asger Harding Granerud and Daniel Skjold Pedersen have founded Sidekick Games to put more of their creations onto the market, starting with the SPIEL '19 debut of Bloom Town, a tile-laying, town-building game for 2-4 players.

The fundamentals of Bloom Town are simple: Each turn, place one of your two building tiles in hand on your personal game board, score points for the tile, then pick up a replacement tile from the town square board.

The complications start once you get into the details, such as your replacement tile being dependent upon where you played the building tile on your turn. Cover a tulip bulb on your board? Then you must pick up the tile from the tulip bulb space on the town square board. Want a different tile? Then you need to play somewhere else, possibly earning fewer points now in exchange for a more desired tile for the future.


My son Traver models with the not-yet-published Bloom Town;
note my lopsided town, which led to a quick end to the game


Each type of the five building tiles scores a different way, but on your first turn or two, they're all the same: terrible. Everything is worth only 1 point when played on its own, but you need to start somewhere in order to build toward more profitable scores in the future, with offices powering the value of future offices and the same being true of subways. (It's easy to peel back the scoring to make sense of it all. The first subway station placed in a town is a huge expense with little immediate value since you have only a single station, so the subway train will just sit there and look pretty. The real value comes from your ability to add additional stations so that more inhabitants of the town can use transit to get where they need to go.)

Two scoring tokens for each type of building are shuffled into the draw piles, and when the second scoring token of a type comes up, everyone scores for that type of building in addition to whatever they scored initially. You also re-score one of the building types in your hand at game's end, so it pays to specialize as long as you can get hold of another such tile later.

Whether a building type will score or not thanks to a second scoring token is mystery, however, since the game ends when two or three supply stacks are exhausted — and in my experience that always happens sooner than anticipated, with players often having planned out another turn or two only to find the game at an end. More thoughts on my five playings of Bloom Town on a mock-up copy from Sidekick Games in the video below:


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Fri Aug 30, 2019 1:00 pm
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Game Preview: Blokus Dice Game & UNO Dice Game, or Roll-and-Writes Go Mass Market

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At Gen Con 2019, the U.S. toy and game giant Mattel gave a sneak peek at a quartet of roll-and-write games coming out in November 2019, all of them based on games currently residing in the Mattel catalog. I'm not sure whether this represents peak roll-and-write — although I suppose that would be Roll to the Top! — or whether this is just another example of what the game market is today, with more of everything all the time from everywhere.

I've played the UNO Dice Game from Emmorie Jossie a couple of times, and it feels UNO-y without playing anything like UNO. On your turn, you roll all the dice, with one optional re-roll, trying to create chains of dice connected by color or number so that you can fill your grid first. A pair of wild dice let you match anything, while +1 and -1 faces let you add additional spaces to an opponent's grid or remove their most recent number. Can't be an UNO game without the opportunity for jerkery....

The Blokus Dice Game from Brian Yu mirrors the feeling of its parent game, with everyone trying to fit as many of their squares into play as possible. Unlike in Blokus, however, in Blokus Dice Game everyone is playing on their own board, and everyone places pieces of all four colors instead of just one.


Results from our first game


On a turn, the active player rolls a number of dice equal to the number of players still in the game, then everyone drafts a die. You then pick a piece from those available in the row that matches your die, then you draw it in your grid; if it's the first piece of a color, you must cover one of the four corner squares, and if not, the piece you're drawing must touch a square of the same color diagonally (and cannot abut that color). If you've used all the pieces matching the number on your die or you don't like any of the pieces that are available, you can cross out one of your three Xs, then choose any unused piece.

After drawing a piece, you pass your marker clockwise, getting a different color to draw on the next turn. The challenge of the game is that pieces of different colors can nestle against one another, while pieces of the same color can't, so you effectively have four growing tree branches that will interlace on a two-dimensional plane, ideally leaving space for each branch to grow past one another — but in practice you'll draw only three or four pieces of each color before you run out of room.

As soon as you can't place a piece, you're out of the game, and you remove a die from play. Once everyone is out, you count the number of empty spaces, and whoever has the lowest number wins.

I've played Blokus Dice Game five times on a review copy from Mattel, and it feels much like Blokus, but with a co-operative edge since you're trying to make all four colors play nice on your 9x9 grid instead of cutting off opponents to carve out space for yourself. All the meanness of the game is pushed into the drafting of dice, with you trying to stick others with bad choices so that they have to use Xs or use the tiny pieces early in the game to stay alive. You don't have to play mean, of course, but blocking others is still the point of the game, so don't feel too bad about it...


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Mon Aug 26, 2019 9:04 pm
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Game Overview: Super Cats, or Feline Finger Fighting

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My role as BGG news editor and database manager sometimes consists of me throwing games into the database with the expectation that we'll hear more about the game later — then the game vanishes from a publisher's schedule and you hear nothing about it because the game was small or not highly anticipated by a huge number of people.

Such was the case with Sentai Cats, a 3-6 player game that IELLO had announced as a late September 2017 release as part of its mini games line. The game design was credited to "Tokyo Boys", a group that consists of Antoine Bauza, Corentin Lebrat, Ludovic Maublanc, Nicolas Oury, and Théo Rivière, with the nickname coming from their fondness for visiting Japan and attending Tokyo Game Market.

As far as I know, the title never appeared in print, and now new French publisher GRRRE Games has released the title under the name Super Cats.


Moving into phase two


Game play is super simple: Players simultaneously throw a number of fingers from 0-5, and the person with the highest unique number of fingers visible receives a reward, with the lower numbers getting better rewards. Your goal in the first half of the game is to flip over your five "regular" cat cards to reveal their "super cat" incarnations.

The first player to do so fights Robo-Dog in the second half of the game, with everyone else working against this player. Players once again simultaneously throw 0-5 fingers each round, with the super player removing a number of cards from Robo-Dog equal to the number they threw — but only if no one else matched them. If they were matched by one or more players, then they must flip that number of cats back to their normal sides. If all the cats are normalized before all the cards are removed from Robo-Dog, that player loses the game and everyone else wins; otherwise, that single player wins.

I've played Super Cats five times on a review copy from distributor Blackrock Games, and the game is as straightforward as it sounds: Throw fingers with everyone else, then do it again, then keep doing it until you either win or lose. Believe it or not, I go into much more detail about the game in the video below:


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Fri Aug 23, 2019 1:00 pm
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SPIEL '19 Game Preview: Similo, or Let the Characters Clue You In

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If you've played Mysterium, then you're already 70% of the way toward learning how to play Similo, a co-operative card game from Hjalmar Hach, Pierluca Zizzi, and Martino Chiacchiera that Italian publisher Horrible Games will release in two editions — Fables and History — in late 2019. These editions play independently, but can also be combined into a single game.

Each edition consists of a deck of thirty characters, with lush artwork courtesy of Naïade. If you're the clue giver in the game, you look at one character in secret, then shuffle this character with eleven other cards and lay them out in a grid.

You want the other players to identify your secret character, but since games exist only thanks to obstacles that make normal activities much more complicated than they need to be, you can't simply tell others which character to choose. Instead you'll take a hand of five character cards, then play one of them next to the grid as a clue, with this card played vertically if it's similar to your character and horizontally if it differs from your character. The other players will bicker amongst themselves for some time, then choose one character to remove from play. If they haven't removed your character, then you refill your hand to five cards and lay down another character card as a clue, whether vertically or horizontally — but this time the other players must remove two cards instead of one.


Trying out Similo at Gen Con 2019 — so many blues clues in hand...


In the next rounds, assuming your secret character hasn't been removed, the other players must remove three cards from play, then four. If all has gone well, only two characters will remain in play. You'll then reveal one more clue, and (fingers crossed) your fellow players will remove the final fake and leave only your character behind.

As you might imagine, the challenge of the game is figuring out which card to give as a positive or negative clue, and what to remove when presented with said clues. In some ways, this game is a mash-up of the previously mentioned Mysterium and the party game Whozit? that I covered in this space in July 2019. In that latter game, one player describes how well two characteristics match their secret character, then everyone else tries to remove all other characters in order to score the most points. Similo replaces the text descriptions from Whozit? with evocative images and escalates the tension by increasing the number of fakes to remove after each clue.

I've played Similo ten times on advance preproduction copies from Horrible Games, with the History version proving tougher for me as my knowledge of history is worse than my knowledge of fairy tales. Hmm. You can combine the two versions of the game, with all the characters in the revealed grid being from one set and the clue cards that you present being from another set. My fairy tale character is not like Abraham Lincoln, so should you eliminate the Big Bad Wolf (since he's hairy), The Giant (since he's tall), or Tinkerbell (since Abe sprinkled Mary with fairy dust on Saturday nights)? You can imagine lots of other Similo sets joining this line-up in future years, giving you many more mash-ups to ponder...


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Mon Aug 19, 2019 1:00 pm
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SPIEL '19 Game Preview: Cloaked Cats, or Spotting Kitty's Spots

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Cloaked Cats, a deduction game from Connor Reid that HABA will debut in Germany on August 21, 2019, doesn't feel like it has anything novel compared to other deduction games, but I say that only in the context of someone who's played lots of deduction games.

Tthe kids who I introduced the game to, on the other hand, demanded to play it again immediately, then again until we played four times in total — then my son wanted to play twice more the next night. To quote James Nathan from his review of Across the United States:

Quote:
There’s nothing new going on in Across the United States.

It’s not a game that you can point at and say it does this new thing. It has this twist.
Have you heard about that new train game, but where the other thing happens?
It’s like X, but with Y.

And I love it.
It’s like infrastructure maintenance for board games, and I’m here for it.
Cloaked Cats — which is titled Club der Tatzen, or "The Paw Club", in German — bears this same description, but with "deduction" in place of "train". Each of the 2-4 players starts the game with three characteristics, with the nineteen characteristics in the game being five poses, eight colors, two body decorations (stripes and spots), and four accessories. The game includes forty cat cards, and each card has 3-4 of these characteristics, such as these:


What characteristics can you deduce from what's marked? (prototype materials)


You start with three cat cards in hand, and on a turn you place one of these cards into play, then all players mark the card with a colored token if at least one of their characteristics is visible on the card, then you optionally guess a characteristic held by an opponent. If you're correct, they reveal that card and give you one of their tokens, which counts as a point for you; if not, you give them one of your tokens. End your turn by refilling your hand to three cat cards.

Players keep taking turns until someone has revealed all three of their characteristics, then you finish the round so that everyone has the same number of turns (but with players only being allowed to guess without playing a card), then you tally points, with each unrevealed characteristic card and each token of an opponent's color being worth 1 point.


Lots of whiffs when playing with only two


Cloaked Cats feels like many other deduction games because every guess — whether correct or not — potentially ricochets into another player gaining enough information to make a correct guess of their own. If you and I both mark a cat card with three characteristics, then I know you have B or C since I have A — unless I have both A and B in which case I have you nailed, but at the expense of exposing myself to retaliatory fire.

Sometimes the cards work against you, as in the game in which each of my three starting cat cards bore a different one of my three characteristics. Whatever I played would reveal me, but I had to play something. In practice, though, having one of your characteristics revealed isn't necessarily terrible because you'll continue to mark cat cards that bear this characteristic — and if that cat card just happens to have one of my characteristics that's still hidden, well, that bit of knowledge often remains in the background thanks to what's been made public. Sometimes you're pushed to make a guess because you can feel your options for safety running out, and you know that if you don't end it, you'll be the one fully revealed next.

I've played Cloaked Cats nine times on a prototype copy from HABA with all player counts, and while it doesn't offer any "gee-whiz" features to advertise on the box, it delivers a solid, quick-playing deduction experience with kids as young as six reveling in their correct guesses, especially when an adult sits in the role of guessee...


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Sun Aug 18, 2019 5:00 am
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