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QWERTYmartin's Unabridged Insights On Play

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A question of style: picking from the board-game chalkboard

Martin G
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Over at his sporadically-updated (like I can talk) but eminently thought-provoking Big Game Theory, Oliver is ruminating on what we mean by ‘styles’ of game.

Mezmorki wrote:
What got me launched on this was, as I said, trying to organize my own games into some logical buckets and groups. Call them styles of games if you will. I started thinking about what's going on in my brain when I walk over the game shelf to pick something out. What am I asking myself? Typically, I'm asking about the overall feelings and mood I'm looking for. How interactive is it? How long does it take to play? How brain burning is it? Do I want to laugh and socialize while I play? Or contemplate in relative silence?
I contributed a bit to the discussion but then serendipitously came across an article in the magazine that comes with my monthly craft-beer box: “Hung up on Style: Style has always been a useful roadmap, but are today’s craft brewers taking us on unwanted diversions?” which prompted some further thoughts.

Lily Waite wrote:
There’s no doubt that the beer world is more vibrant and creative than ever before. Brewers, faced with increasing competition and fewer ways to impress an ever-more crowded marketplace and stand out from the pack, are becoming more inventive and pushing more boundaries.

While drinkers are spoilt for choice with this glut of creativity, there is a risk that intrepid exploration beyond stylistic boundaries simply merges into homogeneity; what were separate and distinct styles are at risk of mushing into similarity. It begs the question: do styles even matter anymore? How important are they to brewers, and do drinkers pay heed?
Substitute beer for board games and brewers for publishers and this sounds a little familiar, right?

The article goes on to explain that the modern concept of beer styles dates back to 1977 in Michael Jackson’s “The World Guide to Beer” and that these styles went on to be precisely codified, primarily for the purpose of separating beers into different competition judging categories. Might have saved us some trouble in the Golden Geeks over the years eh…

Quote:
The idea of a framework of categorisations for the vast spectrum of variation within beer is a hugely useful one. The frame of reference that a codified language gives is so ingrained through decades of use that we’d fail to cope without it. For example, just try ordering a session IPA at the bar without using the words ‘session’ or ‘IPA’.

Within this web of meaning styles afford us, styles offer other benefits than the ability to name beer. “They are a great teaching tool for consumers. I remember when I had my first witbier in 2006 and I instantly fell in love with wheat beers. I did research to find out what other beers were like that which had me jumping into hefeweizens and other Belgian styles. Beer styles are excellent guides to discovering beer.”
This is key for me as a beer consumer but not obsessive. When I’m choosing a beer to try from a menu of 20+, I look to something like this:

From gallery of qwertymartin

The Hoppy Poppy sounds delightful

There are a couple of quantitative measures; perhaps Alcohol by Volume and International Bittering Units are the equivalents of player count and length as criteria for a first whittling-down (I’ll not bring up the ever-contentious ‘weight’ here!) but what I really want is some idea of what the whole thing is going to taste like. Sadly we can’t take a sip from a board-game taster glass or order a flight.

The style and description columns on the chalkboard provide that information in a concise way and importantly they’re experiential, not mechanical. Home-brewers might want to know the details of which hop, malt and yeast were used, the temperature it was mashed at and more but most of us just care whether we’re going to like the taste.

Similarly, I rarely find that knowing a game features delayed-action-worker-placement-with-two-half-hitches tells me much about how it’s going to feel. That’s why BGG’s new(ish) game mechanic classification seems more relevant to scholars and budding designers than players.

From gallery of qwertymartin

I mean seriously, that's like a third of it

So what are the ‘elements of style’ in board games? What would be put on our board-game chalkboard? Like Oliver, I think the big ‘schools of design’/subdomains (Euro, Ameritrash, wargame, abstract etc.) are too broad for this purpose. Loving Tigris & Euphrates (it is a Euro damnit!) doesn’t mean I’m also going to enjoy Castles of Burgundy.

Here are a few I think about, alongside the aforementioned player count and length, when picking out a game:

1 Type of interaction: how much do the other players factor into your plans? Cut-throat blocking and destruction, or gentle co-existence as we tend our parallel gardens?

2 Complexity vs elegance: simple to learn or lots of phases and exceptions to run through before we get started?

3 Player investment: does the enjoyment of the game come mostly from competition and strategizing to win? Or does it offer different pleasures like co-creating a narrative or making each other laugh?

4 Randomness: are the players constantly forced to adjust their plans in response to unpredictable events? Or is it more about who can look the furthest ahead and optimise their long-term strategy?

In another stroke of serendipity, just after reading Oliver’s post I came across this designer diary from Peer Sylvester, on his new game Polynesia.

He concludes:

Quote:
I'm quite happy with the result of the Polynesia design, which reminds me of King of Siam in the sense that it's a very deep game with a small rule set and a sixty-minute playing time with a lot of interaction and nearly no random factors. They play completely different, mind you, but I daresay that if you like one, then you probably like the other as well.
I think we could just about squeeze the bolded portion on a chalkboard and it covers most of my above points too. I share Peer's confidence that I would enjoy the game based on what I know about my taste.

Let’s throw the discussion open! What does ‘style’ in board games mean to you and what do you want to read on your chalkboard? Mine’s a hazy IPA, cheers!
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Mon Aug 24, 2020 2:50 pm
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What's in your crate?

Martin G
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Over on his blog, John posts his response to an earlier challenge set by Demetri and Cindy: The Milk Crate Challenge

Quote:
She was thinking about how efficiently she could pack games into a single uniform container for folks with limited space, or people who travel a lot. Eventually she settled on this:

The humble milk crate. Cheap, durable, readily available. Ours were 16.5" long, 13.5" wide, and 10.5" tall. You'll likely see them offered in various sizes and that's fine. The fun is in trying to make it work. The rules of the challenge are as follows if you'd like to try it for yourself:

- The boxes must fit in the crate.
Otherwise what's the point? Sliiiight peeking above the plastic is permissible, but piling additional boxes on top that would fall out easily is not.

- Games must be packed in their ORIGINAL boxes.
We both love our Quivers, but that's a topic for another day. This also means you may not shove boxes within other, less efficient boxes.

- Include a broad range of genres.
Imagine you were bringing this box to a retreat or gathering of some kind. People there may enjoy all sorts of experiences. Provide variety.

- Pick games you actually like.
To some this may contradict the above, but don't pick games you wouldn't actually play.
Seems like a fun challenge, so here's my effort. I used an IKEA fold-out box with very similar dimensions. You can also think of this as the 'one Kallax shelf' challenge!

Big-box

Tigris & Euphrates
Ra

Because, you know, Knizia.

Medium-box

Pax Porfiriana
Race for the Galaxy (plus one expansion, all in an expansion box, sue me)
Innovation (annoying that I don't have the small-box version!)
Scrabble
Codenames
Mandala
The Crew
Senators

Quite a bit of meat in small boxes here.

Single/double-deck box

For Sale
Tichu
Biblios
6 nimmt
Mamma Mia
Cribbage (deck of cards plus board)
Haggis
Love Letter
Hanabi
Khmer
Pairs
Fuji Flush
Eggs of Ostrich
Voodoo Prince
The Mind
Sticheln

These decks of cards can be used for countless other games too!

Bagged

Perudo (and the dice will come in handy too)

There's a little bit of recency bias (The Crew, Senators, Mandala) and if Babylonia wasn't so damn big it would have gone in too!

That's 27 games in total, and they'd keep me busy for a long time. What would yours look like?
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Tue Aug 18, 2020 4:07 pm
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Don't end up with a stinky finger! Using a language model to generate board game descriptions.

Martin G
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At work recently, I've been investigating developments in the field of language modeling. Ever-increasing computer power has allowed researchers to train their models on *vast* quantities of text from the internet, books etc. allowing them to predict more and more accurately which word will follow another in a given context. This is the technology behind the predictive text on your phone, Google's new search feature that highlights the answer to your question on a web page, and bots that write news articles that look like they're by journalists.

The models also allow you to generate text that imitates a particular style. And it turns out it's actually pretty easy to play with them at home, using someone else's computer power. I used these two Google Colab notebooks made by Max Woolf. They allow you to supply a file with some text you want to mimic, fine-tune the pre-trained model and then spit out new examples.

My idea for training text was the new, 85-character, user-submitted descriptions that have been popping up on BGG game pages in the last few weeks. I've written a couple of these myself, and they have a particular style that I thought might be quite successfully learned by the model.

I scraped the descriptions from the 500 most-rated games in the BGG database and uploaded these to the notebook. After a bit of experimentation with the settings (I needed much *less* training than the defaults to avoid it just parroting back exactly what I'd supplied), I came up with something that worked rather well. Or at least I think so. I'll let you be the judge...

Some I genuinely had to check weren't just in the training data:

Use gems, shields, and attack the hero in this popular strategy tower-building game.

As you progress through your trade missions, you must acquire tech to connect destinations.

Compete against others to gain space stations & control asteroid belts.

Defend an ancient temple against a formidable enemy, the Tamauk!

Out-think your opponent and race to climb the tallest building in this classic!

Move each tile as fast as you possibly can to win this unique board-less party stealth game!

Be the first to divest your assets in a deal that will collapse during the market crash!


Others are close but there's something a bit off:

Place your men on high alert to pillage cattle, pillage cattle, and gain glory.

It's strange being out alone. Someone stands in the path of you or your opponent. Will you find peace or... perish?

After Eridani wins Egypt, King Tut (Tutor!) and his friends must conquer the Earth in this sequel to the 2014 Egyptian sci-fi epic.

Use a criss-crossing fantasy tomorailer network. Expand as you see fit, until you get to a spot you can't find!

Become a banking acrobat and earn all the profit you can with small amounts of cash.

Become the complete Hoodrat and repeat your quest to attract dragonflies.

Send out the best team of wizards you can find to battle aliens and Mongols!

Research roads, build roads, get roads and get paid.

Place flowers, dice, bake, chase after your idols and win big.

Roll dice to foil the plans of your adversary! Your deck can hold 4,000—but hopefully not more!

Assert your martial prowess as you race to stave off cancer!

Race to identify the lone wolf and escape the city in this appallingly difficult game.

Send your assistants through the shops of Istanbul as you race to sell curries, while simultaneously trying to sell hot dogs to everyone!


Some are a little weirder:

Do not work as a team to rob a brothel. Release the rich ones and run out the clock. Then come back empty-handed!

Pass the sushi round or stack the deck to keep everyone from peeling off their bottoms.

Pass the sushi round with unique curries and a side of chips for good luck.

Play fantastical roles by transporting your arbitratorous>Botanicula to deliver delicious iced tea.

Use innkeepers to bring safe drinking water to your wealthy friends and family at one o'clock in the afternoon.

Assert your martial prowess as you propagate your race's DNA, utilizing unique mating strategies.


*gulp*. This one made me laugh out loud:

In this app-guided foot jog, complete the steps with your partner but don't end up with a stinky finger.

While this one made me think the model might be approaching sentience:

Science wonders why the human race can't unite to avert a pandemic.

Science really does.

And that's just a few highlights! How long before it can write the rulebooks too...
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Fri Jul 24, 2020 9:42 am
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1000!

Martin G
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A very pleasant introduction to The Rose King on yucata.de last night with

Chris Marling
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racked up my 1000th game rating, after about 13 years of logging them. I also hit 6666 logged plays.

I'm pleased to see that about 2000 of my plays have gone on games that I've played 50 or more times, and a bit under 500 on games I've only played once.
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Fri Jul 10, 2020 11:51 am
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New to me June 2020

Martin G
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The playingcards.io site has given me a way to try out some of the Japanese trick-takers I've been reading about without massive shipping fees or having to physically proxy a copy. And I've taken full advantage with four different ones by Taiki Shinzawa (新澤 大樹), co-designer of the excellent Maskmen, all of them very interesting!

American Bookshop Card Game - 5 plays -  8 
First Published 2019
Board Game: American Book Shop


This one's the simplest and feels like it could be a Knizia. The crux is that tricks end early if the total value of cards reaches 15, with the player who breached that total taking the cards. If you stay below 15, it's high-card wins as normal. The dickishness comes in because you only score positive points for cards in suits you have the (sole) majority of, everything else is negative. Brilliant!

Time Palatrix - 3 plays -  7 
First Published 2019
Board Game: Time Palatrix


And this is the most brain-twisting! Tricks are played in batches of 3 at a time. While *playing* cards to tricks, you have to follow (if possible) the suit that was first played to that trick. But when *resolving* them after everyone has played three cards, that might not turn out to be the lead suit of the trick at all! e.g. three blues and an orange in a trick where blue was played first, but when resolving the player who put the orange down wins the trick before so they 'lead' the orange and the blues are all throw-aways.

Zimbabweee Trick - 2 plays -  7 
First Published 2019
Board Game: Zimbabweee Trick


Dois - 2 plays -  7 
First Published 2014
Board Game: Dois


These two are the most similar as they entangle each trick with previous ones, meaning you have to plan your run really carefully. In Dois the numbers and colours are on separate cards, of which you have one of each in front of you to show what you played to the trick. But you only get to play one card each trick, so you can only change either number or colour.

Zimbabweee doesn't have suits, just a Pairs deck (1x1, 2x2, 3x3... 10x10) and you have to follow number. But the tricks stack, so if you play 3 in the first and 7 in the second, that's 73. By the 12th trick you can hit the trillions! And the player who wins most tricks goes bust, High Society style.

Origin of Failing Water - 1 play -  6 
First Published 2005
Board Game: Origin of Failing Water


Another Japanese trick-taker, but not a Taiki. It's a bit like Palatrix in that you play the tricks backwards before resolving them forwards, but the lack of any follow rule in the playing meant less control and shenanigans.

Tea Time - 5 plays -  6 
First Published 2012
Board Game: Tea Time


This is about as complex a game as I can tolerate learning on BGA (i.e. not very complex at all!). It's not a bad little set-collection thing which amuses for the 10 minutes it takes.
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Wed Jul 1, 2020 10:24 am
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Q2 2020 review

Martin G
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Bristol
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Total plays: 139

Distinct games: 43

New-to-me games: 8

Dimes: 1 - For Sale (14)

Nickels: 9 - 7 Wonders (8), Race for the Galaxy (8), 6 nimmt! (6), Innovation (6), Tichu (6), American Book Shop (5), Codenames (5), Quirky Circuits (5), Tea Time (5)

Well, here we (still) are. I don't think I'd have predicted when I did the last of these quarterly reviews that I'd not have been under a roof other than my own house by the time of the next one!

Very little face-to-face gaming, just Quirky Circuits with Sarah and a few kids games with Effie. But my online gaming life has been fantastic! Tuesdays with the usual games night crew have kept going, with a mix of social games and favourites (plus 7 Wonders) on BoardGameArena. Thursdays I usually arrange to play something a bit meatier with friends I don't usually get to see often. And then there have been several fantastic trick-taking nights using playingcards.io (Games implemented on playingcards.io).

I've been saying for years that I'd rather be playing my favourites than learning loads of new games, and here we are!

Now a look at the collection.

Acquired: 4 - Quirky Circuits, Heir to the Pharaoh, Letterpress, Finished!

Removed: 2 - Onirim (Second Edition), Fresh Fish

Owned: 224

Unplayed: 3 - Heir to the Pharaoh, Res Publica, Uruk: Wiege der Zivilisation

Heir to the Pharaoh (which Nick sent me in return for Onirim) awaits the return of face-to-face game. The other acquisitions were intended for play with Sarah or solo (both in the case of Letterpress).

Best new-to-me: Quirky Circuits has been a lot of fun but the last month has seen me try four great trick-takers by Taiki Shinzawa (新澤 大樹), of which the best is American Book Shop.

 10   6 nimmt! x6 (159 all-time)
 10   Babylonia (14 all-time)
 10   For Sale x14 (63 all-time)
 10   Hanabi x4 (76 all-time)
 10   Innovation x6 (87 all-time)
 10   Love Letter x3 (136 all-time)
 10   Pax Porfiriana x3 (87 all-time)
 10   Race for the Galaxy x8 (254 all-time)
 10   Tichu x6 (54 all-time)
 9   Circle the Wagons (46 all-time)
 9   Fuji Flush (61 all-time)
 9   Haggis x2 (18 all-time)
 9   Jump Drive x4 (138 all-time)
 9   Just One x3 (27 all-time)
 9   Northern Pacific (10 all-time)
 9   Perudo (78 all-time)
 9   The Crew: The Quest for Planet Nine x3 (15 all-time)
 9   The Palaces of Carrara x3 (29 all-time)
 9   Voodoo Prince x2 (18 all-time)
 9   Wir sind das Volk! x2 (15 all-time)
 8   American Bookshop Card Game x5 NEW!
 8   Codenames x5 (53 all-time)
 8   Coloretto x2 (25 all-time)
 8   Quantum (15 all-time)
 8   Quirky Circuits x5 NEW!
 8   Red7 (27 all-time)
 8   Texas Showdown x3 (15 all-time)
 8   Wavelength x4 (13 all-time)
 7   A Fake Artist Goes to New York (6 all-time)
 7   Can't Stop x2 (10 all-time)
 7   Diamant x3 (18 all-time)
 7   Dois x2 NEW!
 7   Dragon's Breath (10 all-time)
 7   Letterpress x2 (3 all-time)
 7   Lost Cities (6 all-time)
 7   Time Palatrix x3 NEW!
 7   Zimbabweee Trick x2 NEW!
 6   7 Wonders x8 (31 all-time)
 6   Chicken Cha Cha Cha x3 (5 all-time)
 6   Kingdomino x4 (7 all-time)
 6   Origin of Failing Water NEW!
 6   Tea Time x5 NEW!
 6   The Fight: We gonna fight them all! NEW!
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Wed Jul 1, 2020 10:02 am
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Black lives matter

Martin G
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I don't have anything like the platform in this hobby that some do, but I will say this.

If you say 'black lives matter', the only people attacking you will be racists. And I'd take that as a badge of honour.
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Fri Jun 5, 2020 10:07 am
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Creating custom card games on playingcards.io

Martin G
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I recently discovered http://playingcards.io, a really easy-to-use site where you can create a 'room' equipped with a deck of cards and share the link with as many players as you like (no login required). Movement is automatically synchronised between all players, so you can see cards being dragged around in real-time. You each get a 'hand' area too, and you can add named areas on the table to stack cards. If you've used Tabletop Simulator, think of this as a 2-D version.

But the coolest thing about it is the customisation features they've been adding! You can add new decks from a .csv file containing links to card images, so you choose basically any deck that you can create/scan images for. You can also resize decks, so you can easily use them to generate custom tokens too, and there are coloured pawns, counters and d2/4/6/8/10/12/20 spinners too.

Recently you've also been able to save an entire room layout (decks, positions of stacks on the table, counters etc.) which makes it very easy to share a customised set up for a specific game. For someone else to use it, they just create a new room as usual, go to 'edit mode', choose 'room options' and then upload the .pcio file.

From gallery of qwertymartin


So far I've made templates for:

The Crew: Quest for Planet 9: https://github.com/mcgriffiths/cardgames/blob/master/crew.pc...

Voodoo Prince: https://github.com/mcgriffiths/cardgames/blob/master/voodoo....

Texas Showdown: https://github.com/mcgriffiths/cardgames/blob/master/texas_s...

and I also made a generic deck (0-20 + blank, 8 colours): https://raw.githubusercontent.com/mcgriffiths/cardgames/mast...

which you can easily load up and then choose which cards you want and how many of each.

I wrote a bit of R code to generate these (rather basic) deck images so it's now very easy to create any deck that's just colours, numbers and one optional symbol.

Let me know if you try any of these out, and also if you have any requests or if you'd like me to give you a hand getting started with your own.

And please post any of your creations here: Games implemented on playingcards.io
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Fri May 15, 2020 2:10 pm
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New things to read from my geekbuddies!

Martin G
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A couple of things to plug from geekbuddies.

Jeff Warrender

Jeff Warrender
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of the excellent Jeff's World of Game Design has published a book! "You Said This Would Be Fun: What makes a game good and how to make a good game" will be a thought-provoking read if the blog is anything to go by, and it's available in paperback or epub form for a very reasonable price on Amazon. I'd already bought my copy before I was flattered to discover my name in the acknowledgements!

And Dan Laursen

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has finally () taken my advice and started a blog to host some of his super-smart commentary: Ought From Is. Dan came to my attention as a fellow Knizia-phile but the blog will focus more on how philosophy relates to board games. Promises to be fascinating!
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Mon Apr 13, 2020 10:09 am
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Q1 2020 review

Martin G
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So, that happened.

Total plays: 119

Distinct games: 54

New-to-me games: 11

Dimes: 1 - Jump Drive (16, all solo)

Nickels: 5 - Wavelength (9), Babylonia (9), Res Arcana (6), Khmer (5), Mandala (5)

It's been a strange one! Prior to all gaming going virtual, I had a great pub meet-up with long-time geekbuddy JamesT.

And now a look at the collection.

Acquired: 6 - Vollpfosten, Small Indigo Plant, In Vino Morte, Melee, King Chocolate, Spies & Lies: A Stratego Story

Removed: 3 - Karate Tomate, Blue Lagoon, Ticket to Ride: New York

Owned: 222

Unplayed: 2 - Res Publica, Uruk: Wiege der Zivilisation

The zero net-spend challenge went well with a few sales and some bargain purchases. I'm £11 for the year-to-date.

Best new-to-me: definitely Wavelength, which works really well virtually too.

New 10s: Babylonia is fantastic! Knizia's best in a long time.

 10   6 nimmt! (153 all-time)
 10   Babylonia x9 (13 all-time)
 10   Kingdom Builder (88 all-time)
 10   Ra (73 all-time)
 10   Tichu (48 all-time)
 9   Eggs of Ostrich (40 all-time)
 9   Elements x5 (47 all-time)
 9   Jump Drive x16 (134 all-time)
 9   Just One x4 (24 all-time)
 9   Mamma Mia! (26 all-time)
 9   Pairs (102 all-time)
 9   Senators (14 all-time)
 9   Taj Mahal (16 all-time)
 9   The Crew: The Quest for Planet Nine x4 (12 all-time)
 8   Codenames x3 (48 all-time)
 8   Coloretto x2 (23 all-time)
 8   Las Vegas x2 (15 all-time)
 8   Mandala x5 (8 all-time)
 8   Q.E. (6 all-time)
 8   Res Arcana x6 (32 all-time)
 8   Team Play (15 all-time)
 8   The Mind Extreme x2 (10 all-time)
 8   Throne and the Grail (22 all-time)
 8   Was sticht? (4 all-time)
 8   Wavelength x9 NEW!
 7   Bring Your Own Book (4 all-time)
 7   Codenames: Duet (3 all-time)
 7   Dragon's Breath x2 (9 all-time)
 7   Good Little Tricks (6 all-time)
 7   Hurlyburly (9 all-time)
 7   King Chocolate (2 all-time)
 7   L.L.A.M.A. x2 (21 all-time)
 7   Letter Jam (4 all-time)
 7   Letterpress NEW!
 7   Melee (3 all-time)
 7   Railroad Ink: Blazing Red Edition (16 all-time)
 7   Sissi!: Die Bohnenkaiserin NEW!
 7   Spies & Lies: A Stratego Story NEW!
 7   Stinker (8 all-time)
 7   Tajuto x2 NEW!
 7   Tulip Bubble (2 all-time)
 6   7 Wonders (23 all-time)
 6   Blitzkrieg! (2 all-time)
 6   Chicken Cha Cha Cha x2 NEW!
 6   Facecards (4 all-time)
 6   Gold Fever x2 (7 all-time)
 6   Happy Salmon (2 all-time)
 6   In Vino Morte x4 NEW!
 6   Medium (2 all-time)
 6   PUSH (5 all-time)
 6   Small Indigo Plant x3 NEW!
 6   Vollpfosten NEW!
 5   TEAM3 PINK NEW!
 4   Azul: Summer Pavilion NEW!
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Wed Apr 1, 2020 10:30 am
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