Mina's Fresh Cardboard

Where I discuss my game buying addiction and love affair with freshly-printed cardboard. I dislike randomness and love high strategy. I play daily with my partner, Peter, who is always ready to win, but mostly ready to lose. Don't worry. He loves it! :)
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In Which the Blood of an Englishman is Injected with Solarium! * New Reviews for SOLARIUS MISSION & BLOOD OF AN ENGLISHMAN * First Impressions for AEONS END, TRAMWAYS, PANDEMIC IBERIA,AIRLINES,BACKSTAGE, NOCH MAL!, VALE OF MAGIC, LIGNUM, & FOUR SUSPECTS

Milena Guberinic
Canada
Toronto
Ontario
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Hi Friends!


This week was a HUGE improvement over the previous one! Thank you all for your kind messages and comments! They have meant more to me than you will ever know. heart

Not only have I been feeling better this week, I also got to be GEEK OF THE WEEK! This has been a huge honor thanks to
Raf Cordero
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Bolingbrook
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! Thank you!!! If you'd like to ask some random questions, you still have a couple of days to do so! You can do that here if you feel so inclined.

Without further nonsense, I present to you...GAMES!!!!! ALL OF THEM!!!!

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What's New?




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The Overview


In Solarius Mission, you and your friends take on the roles of brave, dice-wielding space explorers who are trying to upgrade their ships, develop technologies, build space stations, complete missions, colonize planets, and generally explore the heck out of space!

You start the game with a basic spaceship and some basic storage and dice abilities. Each turn, you select one action die from a rotating action-selection wheel that determines the number of bonus resources you have to pay/you gain for selecting that die. The action you take is related to the color of the die, with black and yellow die providing one of two types of resources and the blue and brown die either providing their respective resource or allowing you to upgrade your resource storage abilities or upgrade dice values, which come into effect when determining the action points available for resource-based actions.

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Player board

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The map


After this main dice-based action, you may take one of a variety of supplementary actions. Some involve moving your spaceship around the galaxy and building space stations, completing missions, and colonizing planets. Others do not involve your spaceship. Instead, they allow you to gain tech cards, play tech cards, or add upgrades to your ship.

At the end of the game, you gain points for MANY different things, including ship upgrades, colonized planets, completed missions, upgraded dice, unlocked storage spaces, etc. You also lose points for planets you've committed to colonizing but failed, missions you've committed to completing but failed, as well as extraneous space junk you've taken on by selecting more flexible alternatives for your dice.

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Building bonuses

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Mission/tech cards

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Action dice wheel

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Stations


The Review


Played prior to review 8x






1. Pretty
I very much enjoy the retro sci-fi aesthetic of Solarius Mission. It doesn't look like every space game out there and I appreciate that. The little plastic ships are also a nice touch in what is otherwise a very "cube-pushy" game.

2. Fast playing
Solarius Mission takes surprisingly little time to play given its depth and complexity. You can get a two-player game done in 45 minutes.

3. Unique dice-based action selection
A number of dice-based action selection games have been published in the recent past. The designers' own, La Granja, as well as Grand Austria Hotel and Lorenzo il Magnifico immediately come to mind because they are my favorites. However, Solarius Mission sets itself apart from the others by its unique lazy-Susan-style spinny dice wheel!

The dice wheel is particularly pleasant when playing with two players because the available dice don't change much from turn to turn. Only one player removes only one action die before your turn comes around, so you have a relatively good idea about how to valuate the actions against each other. With more players, there would be more turnaround and perhaps a bit more randomness...

In addition to making for a happy two-player experience, the dice wheel gives you a lot to think about. You have 4 actions available to you and given the fact that you have a total of 16 dice actions to take over the course of the game, you have to ensure that you get the most out of each die you select. You get bonus coins or fuel for selecting dice that have been rotting on the wheel for a while, but those dice typically allow you to perform weak actions. Over time, they become more attractive. Deciding when to strike isn't easy.

The dice wheel also forces you to consider the combination of dice available and the likelihood of getting the dice you need on your next turn when deciding which die to select. There might be a die with a particularly powerful action you don't need and one with a weak action you do. Because the game gives you multiple things to do with resources, you might be tempted to take the more powerful action over the less powerful one just because you can convert the resources you gain for multiple ends, including completing missions, building stations, and converting into coins/fuel. Of course, this type of decision making is inherent in any dice-selection game, but with the wheel, you don't know which die will become available next, so you have to a) make an educated guess and b) take a risk. Your dice selection will be largely influenced by tactical considerations, as you try to make the most of what the wheel presents to you in order to feed into your overall strategy.

4. Unique multi-layered tech upgrades
Solarus Mission is filled with techs! But the techs I'm referring to here are your dice and their associated resource slots. Not only do you have to upgrade the dice themselves to increase your ability to perform more powerful actions associated with those die colors, fulfill planetary colonization requirements, and potentially gain points from the dice themselves, but you also have to push those dice further up their tracks in order to reveal a sufficient number of resource slots to be able to complete point-giving missions and stations.

I love the interaction between the die values and the ability to perform their associated actions, as well as the resource slots. The blue and brown dice are particularly important in this department, as they are the ones that allow you to directly manipulate the resource slots and die values, but the other dice can come in handy as well because you are able to use one die as a die of any color once per round.

Ultimately, the interactions between the various functions of the tech dice and their locations on your resource/tech mat is a neat feature of Solarius Mission and one that makes it stand apart from others.

5. Neat multi-use card system
Mission and tech cards are two sides of the same card, meaning that you have to choose between gaining a tech upgrade and adding a point-generating mission to your board every time you play a card! This often creates a lot of tension, particularly because the cards themselves are not exactly plentiful or cheap to acquire.

6. Not enough time!
Solarius Mission is one of those games that gives you LOTS to do and doesn't give you nearly enough time or actions in which to do it. Action limitations encourage focus and efficiency and force you to make some very difficult tradeoffs. You have a grand total of 16 dice actions over the course of the game! And in these 16 actions, you have to make resources, use those resources to complete missions and build stations, play tech and mission dice, upgrade dice and make space for resources...There is a lot to do! Of course, the "bonus" actions you are able to perform help you get things done, but the game nevertheless remains a tight and intensely challenging affair. As you become familiar with the game and come to see the ways it provides you with a relatively high level of flexibility when it comes to getting things done, the constraint becomes less of a factor, but never goes away.

7. Constraint and flexibility
Solarius Mission is a tight and unforgiving game that makes you feel like a slug in a straitjacket but at the same time gives you multiple ways to accomplish the things you want to accomplish. Being resourceful and clever about manipulating the various options given to you in the game is instrumental to finding satisfaction in it.

By way of example, the basic way to make resources in the game is to select a die of the color of resource you're after and receive the number of resources equal to the number of pips shown. However, you can also explore planets to receive resources instead of colonizing them, you can convert money to resources, etc.

You are also able to increase the number of pips you have at any time by spending money! And tech cards can give you additional flexibility by giving you additional pips or resources or other effects!

8. A number of strategic paths to follow
As I mentioned above, Solarius Mission is a game in which you will never be able to do everything! You have to focus! That said, the game gives you plenty of ways to make points, which means you can pursue a slightly different path every time. You can focus on planetary colonization, mission completion, space station building, etc.

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soblue


soblue 1. Scripted opening
Although you are faced with a different setup and different tech cards in each game, the game tends to play out similarly in the beginning every time. This could be a bit of group think, but there just doesn't seem to be much you CAN do early in the game with your "bonus" actions other than to move your ship and see what's under the nearest planet...

soblue 2. Quite a bit of hidden information, which can make for a significant luck factor
I don't like a lot of hidden information and randomness in my strategy games. It's like putting fruit loops in coffee! It just doesn't work! Not for me anyway. Solarius Mission is on the borderline of annoying to me when it comes to the amount of hidden information in the game. Had they stuck in one more piece of randomness, my head would have been spinning. I'm happy with the game as is, but I understand that some people might find it a bit frustrating.

So where is all this randomness? First, you have face-down space stations that are revealed round by round. The space stations give you bonus points when you colonize planets or build other things beside them, so they are important. You are fighting for every point you can get in this game and an extra point from building beside a space station can make or break you! So, having these randomly revealed throughout the course of the game can be somewhat problematic. I realize that this is meant to encourage interaction between players and fighting over the space stations that have been revealed, so I can live with it, but it's not my favorite thing.

Second, you have the face-down planets to colonize. Some are easy to colonize, but reward you with a small number of points and others are much more difficult to colonize, but reward you with a few more points. The issue here is the colonization bonus. You get a bonus of 2 or 4 points for colonizing planets of 3 or 4 colors. If you happen to get very unlucky and end up revealing nothing but harder-to-colonize planets or planets whose colonization requirements don't align with your existing plans, you are at a disadvantage as compared to someone who happens to get a bunch of easy-to-colonize planets.

Third, you have the tech deck. Similarly to the planets, tech/mission card draws can be a boon or a "screw you" when it comes to points depending on whether you get lucky or unlucky. If you happen to draw a card that features resource colors you are able to get easily due to having upgraded those dice and resource slots, good for you! If not, boo.

Fourth, you have the action dice! You are randomly drawing dice out of a bag! Not only are dice colors relevant to determining the type of action you can take (and you can only change the color of a die once per round), their values are relevant to determining how powerful the action you take is. Of course, the just-rolled die is slightly nerfed by the fact that you have to spend a coin or fuel to take it, but if you happen to get unlucky (particularly in the final round) and miss out on a die that would allow you to complete a mission or planetary colonization requirement, too bad. And sometimes, you will have to take a chance and hope that you will have another opportunity to take a particular die...an opportunity that may never arise.

None of this is to say that I dislike the game for the level of randomness involved, but it is to warn those who are obsessive about control that there are some things in this game that you just won't know and won't be able to fully control. It's an amazing game, but there are one or two fruit loops in this coffee...

soblue 3. Production
Personally, I don't see too much of a problem with sticker dice, but they seem to be anathema to most people, so sticker dice soblue

Now, I didn't actually have to physically sticker all the dice included in the game, so I am a bit spoiled when it comes to all the sticker dice hate business, but I would definitely not be pleased with having to put stickers on the huge number of dice that come in the game, so perhaps I can get on board the sticker hate after all!

The second production-related issue is the fact that you have to literally GLUE things together! To get the lazy-Susan wheel thingy to work, you have to GLUE the pieces together and the pieces are things you could easily end up throwing out because they look like garbage. So...problem.

The third production-related issue is the fact that the wheel thingy doesn't stay together. Even after you've done all the requisite glueing, it just spins on top and comes apart...

Finally, the rulebook states that if you take an action die depicting 3 resources, you have to take a space poop, but there is no icon to indicate this...

soblue 4. Rulebook stinks!
Thankfully, it doesn't LITERALLY stink, but the Solarius Mission rulebook leaves something to be desired. The layout of the book made it unnecessarily difficult to learn the game and the constant repetition of certain pieces of information over others (pieces of information that were not necessarily particularly difficult to remember) overshadowed other pieces of equally important information. What's more, the rulebook uses the term "turn" interchangeably for "turn" and "round," which left Peter at a complete loss when first learning the game. He had quite the time trying to separate "player turn" from "turn." Bottom line: STINKY rulebook!

soblue 5. There are more "bonus" action options than "regular" action options, which feels very strange
This might be another rulebook-related criticism, but the fact that there are more "bonus" action options than "regular" action options and that there is literally a little tree diagram for the bonus actions that branch in "with travel" and "without travel" directions confused me to no end when first learning the game. Perhaps if more descriptive terminology had been selected for the actions (like "dice actions" and "non-dice actions"), the process would have made more sense to me. As it is, it took longer to process than strictly necessary.

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Final Word


Solarius Mission is a special game. It combines a unique mechanism for dice-based action selection with a spatial movement/building mechanism, upgrade-able tech dice, and fun card combos! It stands apart from the rest of the 2016 crop of games by doing something different - action dice wheel + upgrade dice! It pulls you in different directions, but doesn't allow you to pursue them all, which creates the most delicious of conundrums! Despite the negatives, this is one of my favorite games of the year!

MINA'S LOVE METER heart heart heart heart LOTS OF LOVE


Board Game: Solarius Mission


***




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The Overview


Blood of an Englishman is an asymmetric two-player card game that is thematically based on the Jack and the Beanstalk story. One player takes on the role of Jack, who is trying to climb the beanstalk and steal 3 different treasures from the giant, while the other player takes on the role of the giant, who is trying to get his Fee, Fi, Fo, and Fum cards in order in order to scare Jack away.

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Setup


The game starts with 5 separate beanstalks that each consist of 10 cards. Each turn, the giant is able to manipulate the front of the beanstalks either by moving 4 adjacent cards at the end of one stalk to another, by moving two cards from the end of any stalk to the end of another, or by eliminating one stalk card from the game. Jack is able to make 3 small moves, moving cards from the back to the front of stalks and adding stalk cards to his own personal beanstalk. To climb the beanstalks, Jack must acquire 6 beanstalk cards of ascending values and top each with a unique treasure.

The game ends when one player accomplishes the character goal.

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The Review


Played prior to review 6x






1. Small and portable
Nothing more than a tiny deck of cards, Blood of an Englishman is portable and travel friendly. Now, you won't be able to play it on an airplane tray table unless you're on one of those super duper monster flights with giant Donald Trump sized tables, but you can easily play in the airport.

2. Fast
Blood of an Englishman won't take much of your space or your time. The clever "pruning" of the game space ensures that the game doesn't go on for too long despite its tug-of-war-ish nature. You can play this in about 15 minutes.

3. Tense
Tiny and fast-playing games can be as tiny and fast playing as they like, but it they give you nothing in return even for the tiny space and time investment, they are still soblue. Good news! Blood of an Englishman is a tiny investment in space and time (and $$$), but it gives you a HUGE payoff in tense decision points, replay value, and fun.

First, the game is tense. It is essentially a race, as the first player to fulfill the character (Jack or Giant) objective wins the game. And because every decision you make affects not only your progress towards your own goal, but also your opponent's progress towards their goal, every decision is filled with a huge amount of tension. When playing as Jack, you have to focus on trying to acquire the lowest-valued beanstalk cards to ensure that you are able to build 3 stalks AND focus on trying to keep the Fee, Fi, Fo, and Fum cards buried in the stacks. When playing as the giant, you have several tactical options at your disposal for dealing with pesky Jack's pursuit of low-valued stalk cards and treasures; you can destroy the low-valued stalk cards or bury them.

4. Highly replayable
You can play as Jack. You can play as the Giant. And playing as each character is quite unlike playing as the other. Like any asymmetric game, Blood of an Englishman comes with an inherently high level of replay value, as you are faced with mastering what are effectively two different games.

And like a fine wine, Blood of an Englishman improves with time...or in this case, experience. As you become familiar with how each character operates, you become better able to keep your mind on the two games that are happening at once and the game becomes more of a controlled battle of wits.

5. Fun
If you find a head-to-head battle of wits fun, Blood of Englishman is sure to satisfy. It's a relatively light and fast-playing game, so it's not something you will (or at least I don't) take too seriously. And dark though it may be, it is set in a fairy tale world, which further adds to the sense of "lightness" and fun. The art could have been a bit lighter, but that's a story for a different section of this review...

6. Thematic
Blood of an Englishman may seem quite abstract, but it is well themed. Now, don't go thinking this is one of those uber theme games! No! It's not! However, when you are playing as Jack, you do feel like a little creature, fighting to make small bits of headway against a lumbering giant. You feel nimble and light thanks to your ability to perform many small actions.

As the giant, you are able to perform one "large" action each turn, which makes you feel slow, but powerful.

Ultimately, Blood of an Englishman is no theme-lover's fantasy, but the actions fit the characters nicely, which achieves at least some sense of thematic immersion...more than the average little card game.

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soblue


soblue 1. Art direction is bleh
This is a tiny deck of cards and games that are nothing more than tiny decks of cards should look vibrant and beautiful and inviting. Blood of an Englishman? Not so much. It's dark and dreary and woefully sad. Art is a subjective matter and I'm sure people will enjoy the art in the game, but when I play a game set in a fairy tale world, I want to see magic. I don't see magic. Meh.

soblue 2. Setup could theoretically make the game easier or harder for one side?
This is theory and conjecture and quite possibly nonsense, but because this game depends so heavily on the arrangement of cards, the arrangement could potentially favor one side over the other. I'm sure this has been playtested up and down and doesn't pose a significant issue, but it does strike me as potentially problematic one time in a million...

Final Word


Blood of an Englishman does everything well! It's an easy-to-learn, quick-to-play, highly engaging and challenging, and portable game for anyone and everyone! If you enjoy a fast-paced, tense battle of wits, Blood of an Englishman is sure to satisfy. It certainly pleases me greatly and continues to improve with each play!

MINA'S LOVE METER heart heart heart heart LOTS OF LOVE


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***


First Impressions




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I have been looking forward to getting my fingers on Aeons End since the Kickstarter project was launched! Shadowrun: Crossfire is one of my favorite games ever and deck-building co-ops without the silly LCG business attached to their descriptions are few in number, so I had high hopes for Aeons End! A co-op, deck-building, non-LCG, variable turn-order, no-deck-shuffling (enough qualifiers!?) game with a tonne of characters and an awesomely beautiful world!? SIGN ME UP!

In Aeons End, you take on the roles of intrepid heroes defending the city of Gravehold against hordes of attacking monsters! In each game, you face a unique monster with a unique set of abilities and in each game, you take on the roles of a different set of characters and because both the monsters and characters act so differently from one another, each game feels very different from the previous one.

Because Aeons End is a variable-turn-order game, the first thing you do each round is to flip the turn card that determines whether one of the players or the monster takes a turn. On a player turn, you may first use any or all of your prepared spells on your enemy and then can take any number of actions using the cards you have in hand. You are not allowed to discard any cards, but you can always arrange the cards you've played in any order prior to discarding. Your actions include things like using gems to buy new cards, activating a partner's spell without exhausting it, using gems to activate your character's special ability, etc. Spell abilities generally allow you to punish the baddies and their minions.

The baddies like to do a lot of punishing of their own! Each turn, they unleash all their minions and powers revealed in previous turns and they do some new bad stuff, which can include punishing you, the players, or punishing the city of Gravehold.

The game ends either when Gravehold has been reduced to 0 life or when the baddie you are up against has been reduced to 0 life.

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Aeons End is 1) innovative, 2) highly variable, 3) beautiful, and 4) incredibly challenging and satisfying.

Between the variable turn order, the lack of deck shuffling, and the combination of tower defense with deck building, the game has a lot to offer for those seeking something "different."

Aeons End is innovative and every session feels like a wholly new game. The monsters behave so differently from one another and some modify the win/loss conditions. Typically, you lose when Gravehold dies, but the Glutton, for example, doesn't touch Gravehold. Instead, he consumes the card market and you lose if he eats up all the cards before you kill him!

The characters themselves are also very different from one another, as each starts with a unique ability and character-specific card, as well as a uniquely composed deck and portal configuration.

Finally, the game comes with 42 different market cards (I'm including the expansions that came in the KS version) and you'll only use 9 of these in any given game!

Aeons End is also tense and challenging, with each of the games we've played so far ending either in a loss or a near loss! The victories feel all that much sweeter as a result!

Right now, Aeonss End is at the top of my list of game obsessions. I just can't get enough of trying the various character and monster combinations! I look forward to playing the heck out of this and writing a full review in the very near future! Maybe even next week!

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Market cards

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Characters and their special cards

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As far as I'm concerned, THIS is the definitive version of Pandemic. Yes, Pandemic Legacy was the most amazing experience, but I will never play it again. Yes, the base game of Pandemic does have a gazillion expansions. I realize this. HOWEVER, Pandemic Iberia adds just enough extra stuff without overwhelming me or forcing me to fiddle around with too many options and decisions about HOW to play the game (which is what happens when trying to decide which expansion modules to include when playing regular Pandemic).

So how does Pandemic Iberia differ from Pandemic? First, it's pretty! Super pretty!!!!

Second, it is more challenging. You can't simply fly from place to place because flight has yet to be invented. Not only that, but you can't even zip from place to place by rail because you are also responsible for building that! In fact, you have an additional action - build rail! That said, you can move from one port city to another, but that only allows you a very limited degree of movement.

In addition to the rail building and greater restrictions on movement, you have two new challenges you can include in the game. I would recommend using one or both for maximum effect.

The first is the patient challenge. In this challenge, the cubes no longer represent disease, but patients. For each hospital in play, the closest patient of the same color moves one space towards the hospital each round. Once four patients are at a hospital, an outbreak occurs!

The second is the disease challenge. This challenge gives each disease an identity and a nasty unique characteristic! You can choose to play with one or more disease characteristics. We played with malaria (black), which resulted in two black cubes being added instead of one when infecting. It also resulted in a horrible loss for us.

Pandemic Iberia isn't just Pandemic; it's Pandemic improved! It definitely differs sufficiently from base Pandemic to warrant its inclusion in any Pandemic fanatic's collection! For those who are less fanatic about Pandemic, I would recommend this over vanilla Pandemic if you want a variable and slightly more challenging experience without having to buy expansions. Plus pretty!

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***




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Tramsways! I was super excited for this game because it's by Alban Viard, whose games I love and adore!

What is Tramways? It is a deck-building/route-building game in which you first bid for the right to add one of the two (when playing with two players) cards on display to your deck and then play the cards from your hand to take a total of 3 actions per round. Each card has 4 action slots and you can play each card for one action for free, but must take on stress (i.e. negative points) for each additional action you take. The thing is, you will HAVE to take some stress because one action is frequently not enough. The fact that you only draw cards at the end of a round of performing actions means that you have to maximize the effects of the cards you have in hand for the 3 actions you get in each round. So what are these actions? Cards allow you to build rail lines, upgrade rail lines, build buildings, upgrade buildings, and transport passengers from one building to another. You get a point for each link you own that a passenger traverses and you get points for links you've completed at the end of the game. You lose points for stress.

That's obviously a hugely simplified summary of the game because every action you take has additional requirements and transporting passengers may give you a bonus depending on where they end up, but it should suffice to give you an idea of the type of game we're dealing with here.

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After one play, Tramways left me lost and confused. The game is both simple and complex (as Alban's games tend to be) and though I understood how everything worked, I couldn't understand how to get everything to work together. After the second play, everything came together, but despite the appealing hand/deck management and route-building logistics, a few things about the game just failed to please me.

First and foremost, there is a lot of randomness here. You are given some random starting cards that determine your starting buildings and available actions and get to select an extra one from a set of 4. Also, the cards available for bidding during a round could leave you at a disadvantage when it comes to being able to upgrade buildings and/or rail lines at all. If you happen to get one of these cards in your hand at the start of the game but another one doesn't become available over the course of the game, you're at an advantage. Then there's the deck shuffling business that results in a random assortment of cards in your hand each round. Of course, your hand limit is quite large, so you end up drawing your entire deck into your hand early in the game, but random card draw can screw you later on. Because you are so dependent on having the right combination of cards to do anything in this game (for example, you can't just play a card and build a link between two buildings - you have to play the card and the destination), having the right combination of cards in hand is vital.

That said, I have enjoyed my Tramways experiences. I enjoyed the race for links and the competition for buildings, which are few in number. I enjoyed the spatial planning of your rail network. And I enjoyed how swiftly the game played. I certainly look forward to trying additional setup configurations and facing new logistical challenges. Perhaps I will become better able to see the reasons for some of the design choices that haven't quite clicked for me yet after another session or two...

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***




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Airlines is impressive! Look at it! You are literally playing with little plastic airplanes! You are putting the plane pieces together to create super long, phallic airliners , and loading luggage meeples on and off of them!!!

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I know what you're thinking. "TOTAL GIMMICK!" *eye roll* Am I right??? It may seem like a gimmick, but Airlines isn't a gimmick; it's a great game!

Airlines is a card/spinny thing (NOT a rondel, but I have no idea what it actually is, so let's call it a spinny thing...a lazy Susan perhaps? ) game in which you play one or more cards from your hand each turn. Each card features a special effect and every card features a similar set of general effects. Special effects can be permanent (buildings), which include things like gaining an extra point for each passenger of a specific color you unload, gaining extra points for unloading passengers of different colors, and being allowed to unload passengers of colors not depicted on your general action, and they can be immediate, which include things like playing extra cards, drawing cards, constructing building cards without paying costs, etc. General effects include gaining a point, picking up passengers, dropping off passengers, and improving your airline by building a new airport or improving your airliner by adding a new section to an existing airliner or starting a new one. The trick here is that the number of airliners you have constructed determines the number of general actions you get to take. Because you start the game with a single, basic airliner, you only get one general action. There's a great tension between extending existing airliners in order to accommodate more passengers and building additional airliners in order to gain additional actions.

Airlines is definitely more than a gimmick. Having only played once, I have yet to form a perfectly solid opinion about the game, but I can say that I very much enjoyed the combo-rrific wonders I could achieve by stringing the special and general effects of cards. I also loved the tension between building multiple airliners (in order to gain additional general effects every time you play a card for its general effect) and building one or two very large airliners (in order to more efficiently transport passengers for points). I can't wait to play again!

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***




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Shakespeare was one of my favorite games of 2015, but it didn't have quite enough variety to keep me playing constantly. Backstage promised to fix that.

Backstage adds to Shakespeare

a) New actors

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b) New objectives, and

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c) Backstage cards! Backstage cards allow you to make use of the action discs you do not bid

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Backstage is a tiny expansion (a tiny deck of cards that fits in a tiny, throwaway box) that makes a huge contribution to the base game. Backstage cards are an easy addition to administer, as all you have to do is draw 4 cards each round, but they give you so much more to think about when deciding how many discs to bid. Because you have a new "backstage" set to outfit and this set can only be outfitted using backstage characters and because some characters allow you to take specific actors from the actor deck and others allow you to take set and costume dressings from the discard pile, backstage character powers can sway you to bid far fewer action discs on "regular" actions than you would otherwise. When deciding how many action discs to bid, you are now thinking not only about the tradeoff between 1 VP and an extra action, but also about the tradeoff between "regular" and "backstage" actions.

The new actors and objectives are nice, but Backstage cards are what makes Backstage shine!

From gallery of milenaguberinic


From gallery of milenaguberinic


***




From gallery of milenaguberinic


Noch Mal! Apparently, this means, "AGAIN!" in German because you'll want to play it over and over again!

Despite its exclamatory title, Noch Mal! is a relatively generic and supremely light roll-and-write game in which the dice determine the color of spaces and the number of spaces that you must cross out on your player sheet. That said, it's oddly addictive! Hence the title?

Each round, you roll all the dice! The start player selects one color die and one number die and removes those from the pool. Then the other players select a color and number. Everybody crosses out the EXACT number of boxes of the color selected, with the caveat that all boxes must be in the same area and that they must be orthogonally adjacent to previously crossed out boxes. The first player to complete a column, scores the higher number of points for the column and everybody else scores the lower number of points. The first player to cross out all boxes of a color scores the higher number of points for the color and everybody else scores the lower number of points for that color. The game ends when one player has eliminated all boxes of 2 colors.

As I mentioned in the intro, Noch Mal! is a super light roll-and-write game. However, you do have a few things to consider when playing, which means it is going straight into my light gaming repository. Because the game ends when one player has crossed out all boxes of 2 colors and the color rewards are generally higher than the column rewards, the game pulls you to try to complete colors. However, you can't exclude columns from your plans because they can be lucrative sources of points, so you're constantly trying to align your color chasing with your column chasing and keeping an eye on your opponents to determine which columns/colors you stand the best chance of completing first.

One thing I did not enjoy about Noch Mal! is the fact that it is possible to have wasted turns in which you can literally do nothing. This is something that generally happens in these roll-and-write games; your decision space generally becomes so constricted later in the game that you can have turns in which you can do nothing. So, my complaint is not a damning condemnation of this game in particular, but a mere report of something I dislike about this type of game that just so happens to appear here. Of all the roll-and-write games I've played, Avenue is the one that manages to maintain the broadest decision space throughout the game. That said, Avenue is not exactly a roll-and-write game due to its lack of dice, but the cards fulfill a similar role.

The race, the luck pushing inherent in dice games, and the challenge of aligning column and color scoring make Noch Mal! a neat dice roller for anyone and everyone. I can't wait to introduce it to my sister and mom. I think they'd really dig it! And want to play again and again!

From gallery of milenaguberinic


***




From gallery of milenaguberinic


Mystic Vale is a great deck-building game, but variety is the spice of deck building and the base game just didn't have all that much of it. This is where The Vale of Magic comes in!

The Vale of Magic expansion simply adds more of the stuff already in the base game of Mystic Vale - more Vale cards and more upgrade cards! Many of these allow you to acquire points, which means that if you decide to play exclusively with expansion material (which you can do because there is so much of it), your game will be quite short. Ours lasted about 15 minutes! It was hilarious! So, I wouldn't recommend playing exclusively with the expansion material. Mixing everything together is probably ideal. Because even some of the 1-dot upgrades allow you to gain points, the point acquisition starts early and games end early.

Ultimately, if you enjoy Mystic Vale, this is a good addition. More variety. Slightly shorter game. Good.

From gallery of milenaguberinic


From gallery of milenaguberinic


***




From gallery of milenaguberinic


I was very excited about trying Lignum for a very long time. In fact, I had been waiting for well over a year. Since Essen Spiel 2015! And I finally did! And?

Lignum is a game about logging. You move your single worker down an action selection "road" that allows you to collect loggers to cut wood, shippers to ship the wood, millers to mill the wood, tools for those dudes, gain contracts, convert items to coins, and a few other things. It's basically an action selection game with a "road" of actions you can only follow in one direction and in which you have to contend with other players' selections. Jumping ahead on the track means you will lose out on actions, but jumping ahead can be necessary if you MUST have a certain item.

After the action selection bit is over, you have to allocate the workers you've gathered to perform their wood cutting, processing, and shipping tasks. Then, you have to sell your wood and dry wood to increase its value and fulfill contracts.

The game ends after two years (8 rounds).

The game can be played in basic, advanced (contracts), and expert (contracts and planned works) modes. We played in advanced mode, which includes contracts you can fulfill using wood you cut and dry throughout the game.

From gallery of milenaguberinic


As I mentioned in the intro, I was very eager to try Lignum. I had high hopes. And my hopes were not met with satisfaction. I know I'm going to get a lot of hate for this, but I very much disliked Lignum. With two players. The game is probably better at a higher player count because the action selection track is tighter and there is more tension, but with two, there was just a lot of work without enough tension. You are doing the exact same thing each round without much of a sense of progress. Cut wood, transport wood, mill wood, dry wood, get some money. Over and over again. And the re-seeding of the action track with a bazillion little tokens each round is annoying as heck. For me. I just don't have the patience for it in this case. I'm sure that many people will enjoy this game for its woodsy weirdness, but it just felt like a lot of work without anything new or exciting to me. Oh well. You can't win them all.

From gallery of milenaguberinic


***




From gallery of milenaguberinic


Four Suspects is a highly suspect game. Designed by Kristian Amundsen Østby of Escape, Automania, Doodle City, and Avenue fame and published in JAPANESE by テンデイズゲームズ (Ten Days Games), the game is a strange cultural hybrid. It comes beautifully packaged and produced to replicate a Japanese novel. The rulebook even features a short story to serve as a backdrop for the game!

Predictably, Four Suspects is a game of murder, mystery, and deduction. The two-player version of the game differs very slightly from the regular version, but I will have to describe the two-player version, as it's the only one I've experienced.

Your goal in the game is to identify the two alibi cards that have been separated from the rest at the start of the game. You and your opponent each receive a set of 7 alibi cards and split these into two piles (one of 3 and the other of 4 cards). Alibi cards have 3 features - a person, a place, and a time. Each turn, you ask your opponent a question about the number of times a particular feature in one pile of cards repeats. For example, you can ask, "How many alibi cards in pile x show 6 o'clock?" The catch is that you can't ask about any old feature! Each turn, you have two feature cards to select from and each shows a feature and the number of aspects you can ask about. So, a card showing time + 2 would allow you to ask how many cards in a pile of alibi cards contain 6 o'clock and 12 o'clock cards. These feature cards become currency you can later use to recruit helpers, which allow you to bend space and time, taking double turns, deceiving your opponent about the number of cards with a feature you have, etc. The latter is very important because if you have 2 or more cards with the feature being asked about, you have to reveal one.

The goal of the game is to be the first to identify the two murders (i.e. the two missing alibi cards) and you can make your guess at any time, even during your opponent's turn. If you're right, you win. Otherwise, whomp whomp.

Four Suspects is a neat game. If you enjoy deduction, this one does the deduction thing quite nicely and functions surprisingly well even at its lowest player count. You have to keep in mind the composition of two alibi card piles belonging to your opponent, which effectively simulates having to think about two opponents! Plus, you have to guess not one, but TWO alibi cards, which makes for possibly an even greater challenge than when playing with more players!

Aside from working well with two players, Four Suspects just works well period. It presents you with an engaging deduction puzzle and gives you ways to manipulate that puzzle through the special characters. The fact that you can't reuse a character you have already used until somebody else takes it from you means that you have to be careful about when you take them, so they aren't in constant use! Overall, I look forward to more plays of this game! So far, so good!

From gallery of milenaguberinic


From gallery of milenaguberinic


***


What's Not So New But Still Exciting?


Key to the City: London
I have a "thing" I do when I'm playing games and some games are more liable to induce this "thing" than others. Key to the City - London is very good at inducing this "thing." What is she going on about!? I'll tell you! I'll tell you everything! I'm sure I'm not alone in having favorite "things" to acquire in games. In Key to the City - London, I HAVE to get the Globe Theatre. No matter what! It doesn't matter whether it's conducive to my strategy or not, I need it! Well, in this game, I not only got the Globe, but also all the rest of artsy London! THAT is how I play this game! I build my ideal London!

From gallery of milenaguberinic


From gallery of milenaguberinic


Avenue
Avenue! Great light fun for when you are in pain and fever! I still won! Handsomely! Goes to show you how well "planning" can pay off!

From gallery of milenaguberinic


From gallery of milenaguberinic


Kodama: The Tree Spirits
Kodama! Another great piece of light fun for when you are dying of pain and fever! In fact, this is one of my favorite pieces of light fun when dying of pain and fever! I simply adore seeing the tree I've created at the end of the game! Perhaps it's a simple pleasure, but the simplest pleasures are the most pleasant when you're unwell.

From gallery of milenaguberinic


From gallery of milenaguberinic


New York 1901
NY 1901 is another game that was on my list of favorite relaxing games and another game that we played when I was quite unwell. It was one of the few things I could handle.

From gallery of milenaguberinic


Clank!: A Deck-Building Adventure
I have so much love for Clank! This particular session was quite unlike any of our previous ones! The dragon was very vicious and kept attacking! Our previous clanking missions had ended with both of us largely unscathed (or perhaps it was just me!? ), but this one left us at death's door! Both Peter and I were at one life when we escaped the dungeon! Peter was first to do so, which left me chasing him like a maniac! I find it so funny how

This was also the first time we used the "alternate" side of the board, so perhaps that had something to do with how different the game felt, but I was pleasantly surprised by this development! Can't wait to play more!

From gallery of milenaguberinic


From gallery of milenaguberinic


Kingdomino
Kingdomino! We played with all the two-player and general variants! The two-player variant in which you use ALL the tiles and the scoring variants in which you get bonus points for having your castle at the center of your kingdom + not throwing away a single tile vastly improve the game! You have so much more to think about! I very nearly made a grave error that would have left me with a lopsided kingdom, but managed to recover! Losing that 10-VP bonus in a two-player game can mean the difference between victory and defeat and it definitely would have in this case!

From gallery of milenaguberinic


From gallery of milenaguberinic


The Oracle of Delphi
Delphi! Love this Feld! It has jumped to the top of my Feld favorites because it is so different from the others. To me, it harkens a return to the "old" Feld, the slightly more streamlined Feld. You still have your salad, but it's not a point salad due to the race nature of the game.

In this game, we decided to set the game up randomly rather than go with the first-game setup, as we had been doing for our first few games. Peter got a head start when he received a starting tile that allowed him to discard one of his goals. That put me on high alert, so I was trying to be as efficient as possible and ended up getting to Zeus first, but Peter would have gotten to him on his next turn! It was a super tight game!

From gallery of milenaguberinic

I have a soft spot for mermaids...perhaps something to do with my being a Pisces?

From gallery of milenaguberinic


Pandemic: The Cure + Pandemic: The Cure – Experimental Meds
I was feeling quite horribly on Monday night and only wanted to play easier games. Pandemic: The Cure was the second (after Mystic Vale) easy game we played. We had only played with the Experimental Meds expansion once before and I was eager to try it out again.

This game proved how very random this game can be. In our first game, we had little trouble curing the diseases, including the new purple people eater disease. In this game, we couldn't seem to make anything work! The game started horribly and just went from bad to worse. As the Quarantine Specialist, I was able to prevent disease from being added to my region and move from region to region quite easily, but despite these superior superpowers, I felt completely impotent. I just kept moving from region to region, trying to delay the inevitable. This helped us stay alive, but we ended up losing to the purple people eater disease. Don't forget. Never mess with the purple people eater disease. It's dangerous stuff.

From gallery of milenaguberinic


From gallery of milenaguberinic


Kepler-3042
Kepler is not an easy game, but it's not horribly complex or difficult either, so that was our third game for Monday night. By the time we were halfway through the game, my face was burning and I felt exhausted, but I pushed through.

Every time I play Kepler, I find something new to appreciate. This time, I was struck by how differently the goal cards made the game feel. I had the "terraform 1 alien world" goal and found myself pushing that tech track much further than in previous games. That also left me doing the production thing a lot more! It was fun, but I didn't really know where my head was by the end of it because fever.

From gallery of milenaguberinic


Roll Player
I am quite obsessed with Roll Player! I adore how quickly and easily it plays and yet how much you are given to think about! And though the game doesn't feel all that thematic to me while playing, it does allow me to "build" something (in this case, a character), which is my favorite thing to do in games! In this game, I built a lunatic Halfling bard who was also the chosen one! And had a full set of chainmail! Oh so much fun!

From gallery of milenaguberinic


From gallery of milenaguberinic


Inis
Inis is climbing up the list of my favorite games of the year. I wasn't sure about it at first, but each session has pushed it up in my love scale.

In this game, I managed to achieve TWO winning conditions (6 sanctuaries and 6 territories) in the same round, which left Peter with nothing to do but concede. He could have tried to take one of the conditions away from me, but I would have been left with the other. I felt so clever when I managed to achieve that because I actually planned it! I thought this game was quite random at first, but the more I play, the less I feel that way. Of course, I doubt I'd feel the same way about the 3+ player experience...

From gallery of milenaguberinic


From gallery of milenaguberinic


Lorenzo il Magnifico
Lorenzo is back!

This time, I had a set of helpers that weren't particularly conducive to my typical all-blue strategy, so I went with a bit of everything, largely ignoring purple. Peter went much more heavily into blue because he is convinced that I always win because I go blue. Well, I still won and he went more blue than I did, so .

From gallery of milenaguberinic


Great Western Trail
This was the worst scoring game of GWT for both Peter and me. Ever! Worst scores! I have no idea what happened! One of the reasons for our poor showing was likely the lack of high-valued cattle on the market. ONE level 5 cow showed up and I snagged it. The rest were mostly 3s. Of course, both Peter and I love to make points with cows, so when our favorite point source was neutered, we flailed and struggled to make up for it elsewhere. It would have been a good idea to follow the potentially equally lucrative building route, but the builders were on strike as well, so I guess the setup was a perfect storm for a poor showing . It was still a fun game and it was interesting to experience the variety of challenges the setup can throw at you!

From gallery of milenaguberinic


From gallery of milenaguberinic


Papà Paolo
This was our second game of Papa Paolo and Peter COMPLETELY forgot how to play! COMPLETELY! I had to explain the game to him all over again from scratch. Thankfully, it isn't a complex game and it takes about 5 minutes to thoroughly explain.

I went for money and free ingredient upgrades and those paid off tremendously! I had control over the bidding business because Peter was in a financial hole. Money is power! At least when it comes to pizza!

From gallery of milenaguberinic


From gallery of milenaguberinic


From gallery of milenaguberinic


A Feast for Odin
Odin! It was a very bad idea to try to play this while exhausted! Of course, my exhaustion figured into my sad final score .

My goal in this game was to exploit my animals as much as possible. In the first round, I used only two action spaces and both were animal-related actions. I kept using the expensive spaces because why not!? Peter is very stingy with his dudes, so he remained first player throughout the game, but I ran wild on the high-cost spaces. I feel like their cost is justified by the bonus occupation card draws/plays they give.

Ultimately, I did manage to win, but my score was significantly lower than the previous time we played. I went from 145+ to 111 or so...sads. Oh well. Peter was more sad because his cheapo strategy is not working .

From gallery of milenaguberinic


From gallery of milenaguberinic


4 Gods
This game is so confusing!!! It keeps toying with my emotions! The first time we played, it just left me lost and disoriented; I didn't know what to think! The second time we played, I felt quite good about it; I enjoyed the game for what it was (chaotic real-time fun). This was the third time we played and it left me back at square one - lost and disoriented. I felt like I was doing quite poorly in the game and after the kingdom majorities were computed, my gods were indeed quite low on the scoring constellation. But after the territory bonuses were awarded, Peter's gods were left in the dust. And at no point in the game did I feel like I was intentionally counting or paying very careful attention to the number or size of my gods' territories relative to Peter's. All I was trying to do was to seize majorities, which I failed to do...I think I must continue to play this game more. I find it incredibly compelling, but I also find it incredibly frustrating because I feel like I have so little control . It's a strange combination...Perhaps I love it. Love is confusing like that!

From gallery of milenaguberinic

Left in the dust

From gallery of milenaguberinic


***


Fresh Cardboard


1. D6 Shooter - "Fast-paced, press-your-luck, Western dice game" Cool! I received a review copy and look forward to trying it out!
2. Arkham Horror: The Card Game - Finally!!!!
3. Russian Railroads: American Railroads - Another finally! Thank you to
Gary Chumbley
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4. Scythe: Invaders from Afar - OMG! Expansion for one of my favorite games of the year and one of my favorite games EVER!!!! AND WITH PURPLE CHARACTER!!!!!!! BEST!
5. Beasts of Balance - Balancing fun!? Why not! This will be a perfect game for family fun and laughter time!
6. Dungeon Alliance - I'll be doing a KS preview for this game by the designer of my favorite deck-building game ever! This is another deck-building game, but it's also a dungeon crawl! I love sci-fi and fantasy pretty much equally (I love escaping from reality and I don't discriminate when it comes to where I go ), so I'm totally on board with a fantasy escape! I can't wait to see what Andrew has created this time!!!! SUPER excitement!

***


Next Week...


Look forward to full reviews for Roll Player and something else! And some more first impressions!

***


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