Brendon's Odd Duck Collection
Brendon Soltis
United States
Worcester
Massachusetts
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There are games I own or have played that I really really like -> love, but it is extremely hard to get to the table because folks in my game group or my friends aren't too keen about. Now I know, not everyone in a group will like the same games and I think we are pretty open to play almost any game if someone else is really enthusiastic about it.

I have decided to capture the list of games I love but find it hard to get to the table with my group and friends as my Odd Duck games. I can't help what games I really like to play and I can't help what games are not as popular. I will update as I play these games more, talk about the games, and add more games to the list. Well, without further delay, here it is:

Antarctica
AquaSphere
Brew Crafters
Captains of Industry
Chimera
Fish Cook
Five Cucumbers
High Treason: The Trial of Louis Riel
IKI
Linko!
Matcha
Tessen
Valley of the Kings
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1. Board Game: Antarctica [Average Rating:6.33 Overall Rank:3901]
Brendon Soltis
United States
Worcester
Massachusetts
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Last Played: 11/3/17
Total Plays: 6

My Rating: 8/10

Antarctica was one of those games that pulled me in from the cover of the box. The theme was very refreshing: scientific development in the arctic. The components were kind of funky in a good way, utilizing standees which gives the board a neat 3D view at the end of the game. When I first played the game, I was unsure about how I felt. I have the German version, so the first issue was trying to get through translated rules. The second issue was the wonky scoring, which always catches first time players off guard.

Here is why I really enjoy this game: I find the large roundel mechanism in games very intriguing (other games that use this mechanism: Versailles, IKI). It is a pretty simple and fast game overall - move and build a building or use a building. I will always suggest it for a strategy game that can be played in under one hour.


Game Report 11/3/17

The first night of Carnage Con up in Vermont, my partner and I broke out Antarctica while waiting to go grab dinner. Two player is always an interesting game, because as a player, I have to decide what territories to fight over - because if I am going to lose the area anyways, I might as well not put any more buildings or people to increase my opponents score. In addition, I can plan it out so I get three turns in a row which can be extremely powerful! It seemed pretty close until the very end and I backed myself into a corner where I could not build any of the available buildings... needless to say, that was the swing that my partner needed to take the game!
 
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2. Board Game: AquaSphere [Average Rating:7.29 Overall Rank:415]
Brendon Soltis
United States
Worcester
Massachusetts
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Last Played: 10/21/17
Total Plays: 4

My Rating: 8.5/10

AquaSphere is on of Feld's less revered games but I think this is a gem. This is actually the first Feld game I ever played and the game I played the second time I ever went to a public gaming meet up - so obviously, there is the nostalgic aspects I still cherish. When I was done playing AquaSphere for the first time, I realized there is a whole genre of strategy games that can challenge and stretch my thinking and problem solving.

AquaSphere is particular uses a disjointed prepping and executing system which makes the choices interesting to me. On a turn, players can either program an action (to take on a future turn) or take an action (programmed on a previous turn). With a max of two programmed actions, the game requires the player to plan their actions carefully while trying to manage their limited resources. While I never really feel restricted by the resources allowed, time always seems scarce. I really enjoy the fact that you can build up your personal science station to be able to hold more resources and get special abilities. The one harsh mechanism that gets new players is the black crystals. During mid-game scoring, a player adds up their total round score and counts that amount out on the score track. If their score marker will pass a laser, they must pay a black crystal in order to claim any more points. If not planned correctly, a player can lose a HUGE amount of points.

Game Report 10/21/17

I convinced my friends to get AquaSphere to the table and we played a rare four player game. Like I mentioned in the description, one player got badly burned by not having a crystal during mid-game scoring... this put him effectively out of the race for first place. I did well for most of the game but lagged on the last round in gaining points through area majorities and trying to uncover more of my board. The other three players (including me) ended up close in scoring together, which I like in a strategy game. While I did not win, I went for technology I never have before before which was pretty cool. Looking forward to the next time I can pull this one out!
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3. Board Game: Brew Crafters [Average Rating:7.50 Overall Rank:579]
Brendon Soltis
United States
Worcester
Massachusetts
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Last Played: 11/5/2017
Total plays: 7

My Rating: 9/10

Craft beer fascinates me and I love going to breweries to try new brews from small companies. That is partially why I was first attracted to the game - the theme. In a world of farming, trading in the Mediterranean, generic fantasy and scifi tropes... beer production seemed novel. While I do like Agricola and games similar, I think Brew Crafters maintains the tight resource management without expanding the player choices too much over the game. From the outset, there does not seem to be that many choices (worker placement spots) and paths to victory (brew beer and sell it), but the nuances come in with your personal brewery, technology, and staff.

Players have the opportunity to hire skilled workers which usually gives the player a special power or a special bonus. in additions, there are many different upgrades a player can add to their brewery AND technology they can upgrade. This gives each player and play through a unique feeling - this game I am monopolizing on malt but next game I could be getting major reputation for using the brewpub or the next game I could be infusing all my beers with hops... Amazing. I love all the paths I can take from game to game and how urgent I feel to produce beer and make money before the year's end.

Game Report 11/5/17

I played a fast two player game with my partner at the end of Carnage Con in Vermont. We were both pretty tired from the weekend so i don't think our decision making was that great BUT we did have a good time exploring different strategies - I went with the yeast technician and lab while my partner spike operation costs to attract more people to visit the brewery. All in all, a fast and fun two player game!
 
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4. Board Game: Captains of Industry [Average Rating:7.13 Overall Rank:2648]
Brendon Soltis
United States
Worcester
Massachusetts
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Last Played: 8/18/2015
Total plays: 3

My Rating: 8/10

The first time I played Captains of Industry, I disliked the game. I thought one player (who played before) controlled a couple markets without challenge, in particular the intelligence market which is used to upgrade technologies. This cause a HUGE unbalance in scores at the end of the game and soured my first impressions. But I somehow got into a second game of Captains of Industry and I used my previous play experience to make sure players did not go unchecked in certain markets that were valuable to lead to an advantage to get majorities in markets. The game felt more balanced and I had a great time playing. By my third play, I had grown to really like this game. The different pathways to victory, the choices of technology, and the ability to undercut your competitor with pricing, forcing others to buy your products rather than theirs.

One reason why I think this game fell out of the spotlight (besides the riveting theme) is the variable length of rounds. After each player has a turn, a deck of cards are shuffled and a certain number are flipped over. If a certain number of those cards are city cards, the round ends. If not, the round continues and players can take more turns. Actions by the players (like the purchase of real estate) can make it more likely for the round to end, but it is up to chance. I have seen super short rounds and rounds that seem like they will never end. I actually like this feature because it does impact some player choices if you think the round is likely to end and when the round does not end, it might not have been the most efficient choice. But similar to markets... sometimes they are hard to predict.
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5. Board Game: Chimera & More [Average Rating:7.60 Overall Rank:7673]
Brendon Soltis
United States
Worcester
Massachusetts
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Last Played: 12/27/17
Total Plays: 3

My Rating: 8/10

Tichu is one of the bet known and widely played ladder climbing games. Because of it's popularity, a tournament and competitive culture grew up around the game which has kept me away from learning it (I own it but it is in shrink wrap). I tend to like ladder climbing games as they are "trick-taking-like: in their nature and challenges the players to manage their hand effectively while predicting how well they are going to do. The main ladder climbing game in my gaming life is Chimer, a specifically three player only game. In a recent printing, Chimera and More, the designer expanded the game to play either three players or five players. I love having games that fit specific niches and odd player counts is one of those niches.

Like a true ladder climbing game, there is an amount of points a player needs to get to in order to win. How do you do that? Well, when all the cards are dealt out, players in turn order enter a betting phase. They are betting points saying they will win the hand (i.e., play all of their cards before their opponents) Whoever wins the bid gets three extra cards to add to their hand and depending on the bid amount (20, 30, or 40) the other two players may exchange 0-2 cards. This creates the partnership aspect - now the two players are essentially on the same team for the round trying to go out before the player who won the bid. How do you get rid of cards? By playing sets or straights of cards. The lead player determines the type played and each other player must match that type but play a higher rank (e.g., if the lead player plays a 4 card straight [1-4] the next player has to play a higher 4 card straight [2-6]). There are traps (4 of a kind which act like trump cards) and the Chimera Flight, which beats everything and cannot be beaten to mix things up! If the player who won the bid goes out first, they get double their bid in points. If one of the other player goes out first, the player who won the bid losses the bid in points while each other player gains points. There is also other minor point scoring along the way.

I love this game because it requires very thoughtful and strategic hand management before the round starts and players have to use that information to bid points. AND players must respond tactically to how other players play cards, traps, and the chimera flight. A wonderful game that I will keep in my small card game collection for a while.
 
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6. Board Game: Fish Cook [Average Rating:6.96 Overall Rank:3586]
Brendon Soltis
United States
Worcester
Massachusetts
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Last Played: 9/19/2015
Total Plays: 3

My Rating: 8/10

As I was pining through the many different games out there, I was particularly interested in games with unique or different themes. This one, although somewhat satirical in nature, was about restaurants buying ingredients at market and then cooking yummy looking dishes for income! I heard from a review, it's a pretty cool little economic game so I thought I would try my hand at creating my first print and play game. I actually spent a lot of time on this as I cut every card out by hand, punched all the tokens using a hex-punch, painted the coins (which are below par components ), and built the box insert.

So what is great about this game? Well, for starters, the market is always fluctuating and has a great way it responds to supply and demand. This makes certain recipes easier to create or harder to create based on the demand. And you can purposefully buy ingredients to hike up the price for your opponents. But beware because if you are not careful, your opponent can end the buying phase before you get all of your ingredients. Then of course, it is fun to fulfill recipes and get paid for them. I think the fun comes in evaluating the worth of an ingredient against the payout of the recipe. Sometimes it is hard to evaluate a "good buy" or not. Although it is possible to lose money, the game is not harsh and I have never seen someone go bankrupt. I think I want to try and get this to the table more this year but use poker chips instead of the coins I made...
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7. Board Game: Five Cucumbers [Average Rating:5.89 Overall Rank:5000]
Brendon Soltis
United States
Worcester
Massachusetts
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Last Played: 12/9/17
Total Plays: 7

My Rating: 7.5/10

I love trick-taking games. In high school, my group of friends used to play Hearts non-stop. When I got into modern board gaming later in life, I always fell back on the classic mechanism of trick-taking. I think I enjoy it so much because there is definite strategy in hand management and it takes a lot of skill to be able to look at a hand and decide if it is a winning hand in any capacity. The same goes for Five Cucumbers - it maintains the simplicity of a classic trick-taking game and provides a unique challenge.

In Five Cucumbers, the tricks are meaningless, except for the final trick played. This changes the game to have a larger emphasis on hand management. The player who takes the last trick gets cucumbers equal to the number of cucumbers on the card they play. Once a player has more than five cucumbers, they are eliminated from the game. The clever mechanism in the game is that every player after the person who leads the trick must play a card of higher value than the highest card played OR the lowest card in their hand. Sometimes players do not have a choice but sometimes it might be a strategic move to throw away the low card in order to preserve a high card needed closer to the end game. A random gem I found as I was searching out fringe trick-taking games - a definite keeper!

Game Report 12/9/17

I always suggest this one as a quick filler and usually people are enamored at the cucumber meeples. This session was in the middle of a larger game day and we just finished up lunch and we getting back to the game table. I took four cucumbers in the first two rounds and thought I would be eliminated first (in a five player game) but miraculously, I lasted and came in third place! I don't mind the elimination and actually with the time of day, it worked out for eliminated players to stretch out, walk around, and clear all that snow off their cars. The final two players did take a bit to finish the game, and truth be told, it is the one thing I do not like about Five Cucumbers. I have had many thoughts to house rule the game where there are two winners instead of playing it out head to head.
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8. Board Game: High Treason: The Trial of Louis Riel [Average Rating:7.33 Overall Rank:3057]
Brendon Soltis
United States
Worcester
Massachusetts
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Last Played: 3/10/18
Total plays: 3

My Rating: 8/10

I love two player tactical card games and I try to stay away from Living Card Games. So when I heard about a new historically based two player-card game, I was intrigued. I was even more intrigued when I heard about the theme: each player represents the council for either the prosecution or defense in the trial of Louis Riel. In my opinion, the systems of a court (presenting evidence, making arguments, swaying the jury, etc.) would and do make for an interesting game mechanically. On top of that, this is a lesser known event that pertains heavily to the struggle of First Nations folks in Canada. Well, it is lesser known in the US, maybe it is more widely known in Canada. Anyways, it is important to learn about and know how indigenous peoples were and still are oppressed by colonial governments. In this game, players can actually see what tactics were used to sway the jury in real life events.

The one reason I have a hard time getting this played is that the new player does not have a chance to win because they do not know the full scope of the cards, how they may impact the end game, and how valuable certain actions are. Consequently, it can feel swingy and unbalanced to new players. With knowledge of the cards allow players to be better strategists as they lay out their case and final statements.

Game Report 3/10/18

Almost exactly a year later at the exact same local convention (Granite Game Summit), I pulled this out with my friend Eddie and taught him the game. I think I did a better job at teaching Eddie this year than I did the previous year and I made sure to point out a lot of the powerful cards and what each side strength was. For example, the prosecution is really invested in farmers with speak English. Because of that, I think Eddie enjoyed the game even though he lost by a large margin in the deliberation phase. Without any jury actions, it is hard to have the 'last say' in sway of jury or aspects. And Eddie said he wants to play again - that is a win in itself!

This continues to be one of my favorite two player games and definitely one of the oddest two players that I own. The theme is compelling, the history is interesting, and it plays smoothly and relatively fast. This is a game I will continue to bring to conventions to spread the word, even if it is just by box cover.

Game Report 4/7/17

I taught a friend this game at the Granite Game Summit in NH. I wish we played it a second time because my friend felt the game was a bit swingy in the end game (final statements). I won (the defense) without even getting to jury deliberation. In a subsequent game with the same friend, I think it would have been a bit more evenly matched.
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9. Board Game: IKI [Average Rating:7.55 Overall Rank:1312]
Brendon Soltis
United States
Worcester
Massachusetts
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Last Played: 11/4/17
Total Plays: 1

My Rating: 9/10

After a single play, I knew I really liked this game. Let's talk about the theme first - you play as an entrepreneur in the Edo markets, opening different shops, training your shopkeepers, making money, and ultimately, scoring points. But beware! Fire will hit the markets in different years, destroying all shops in its' path. The artwork is delightful and the whole vibe of the game feels peaceful - even though this is a medium-weight strategy game.

The mechanisms of the game really intrigue me - a giant roundel where a single worker moves around to take actions. This reminded me of a game currently in my collection, Versailles. It has a similar feel where players are moving clockwise around the board to collect resources and build the palace of Versailles. My main issue with that game is how easy it is to acquire resources... it never feels tense and I always complete what I want to. In IKI, I never feel confident in the resources I have and it feels much more tight with money. In addition, you need to pay attention to the fire strength and year and really plan for the destruction of at least one of your stalls. Further, IKI has a very neat mechanism where your stall workers gain experience and retire - this is how you can build up your tableau in order to get more resources every round. The catch - other players must use your stall in order for the worker to gain experience.

I would love to play it more but with the limited print run, I am not sure I'll ever get IKI into my collection.

Game Report 11/4/17

Carnage Con 2017. I enter into a three player game of IKI, I was the only player learning the game. As soon as we started I knew what strategy I wanted to pursue for that first game - fire fighting. Yes, I was the player that the others hid behind when the big fires hit the market. I also went with the fish because set collection is a pretty simple strategy for a first play through. I was pretty impressed with all the different ways to get points and the tension I felt with managing my resources. Turn order was more important than I initially thought because it determines how many spaces you can travel on the roundel. My playing experience with IKI was amazing! I would add this to my collection in a heartbeat... although with only one play, I need to see if it will hold up.
 
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10. Board Game: Linko! [Average Rating:7.02 Overall Rank:805]
Brendon Soltis
United States
Worcester
Massachusetts
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Last Played: 2/3/18
Total Plays: 33

My Rating: 10/10

Linko! is one of those games I would have never bought if it wasn't for a review of the game. The box cover is pretty horrendous in my opinion and I am not sure I would ever pick up the box. Well, I saw a quick review and it was on sale for half off one year so I took the plunge. It was actually a couple of months before I got it to the table but once I did, it became my most played card game in my collection.

In Linko!, players are trying to get rid of their hand in an almost Rummy style game. Players can only play sets of cards of the same number down in front of them. The catch is that if you played the same number of cards in your set as someone else previously, you snatch their cards. You can decide whether or not to take your opponents cards - forcing them to draw from the center deck - or give them the option of discarding them or picking them back up. On subsequent rounds players place their sets over cards already played, effectively protecting their cards from being snatched. This snatching mechanism provides a huge amount of strategy in a very simple game. The game ends when one player gets rid of their entire hand and each player scores one point for the number of cards down in front of them minus one point for every card left in their hand. The designer even released a duel variant for two players which works extremely well! I am always up for this game as a nice filler or a game to start or end a game night.

Game Report 12/31/17

New Year's Eve 2017. 3 hours before midnight and what hits the table? Linko! Like I said in all of my explanations of this game, it is such a simple and fun card game that is easily accessible to all people, feels like a classic card game, and has meaningful decisions each turn. This night, we played a three player game (I usually play the duel variant) and I experienced some very unique situations when it came to snatching. For me, the three player game was harder because there was more of an opportunity to be snatched AND more opportunities to snatch when I did not want to. I played cards much differently from the duel variant and thought the multiplayer experience was just as fun while bringing variety. A great game to end 2017!

Game Report 10/7/17

I played Linko! the duel varient with my father-in-law - he absolutely loves this game. This session proved that even by doing poorly in the first round, there is always a chance to come back in subsequent rounds. The score was tied at the end of three rounds even though I only scored 7 points in the first round.
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11. Board Game: Matcha [Average Rating:6.42 Overall Rank:3848]
Brendon Soltis
United States
Worcester
Massachusetts
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Last Played: 10/25/17
Total Plays: 15

My Rating: 9/10

I LOVE matcha tea. A couple years ago, I had the privilege of attending a traditional Japanese tea ceremony in Boston. It was a phenomenal experience - not just to learn about the magnificent tradition but to also take part and witness the making of the tea.I knew I was going to get this game regardless of the gameplay. The art is fantastic and the whole ascetic is on point. On top of that, Matcha is actually a really great two-player game I will be keeping around for a long while.

In Matcha, players are trying to collect sets of different items in order to make the tea (bowl, measuring stick, tea leaves, whisk, and water). A player will win once they collect one of each item or four of the same item. Players collect items by bluffing with partial information, using deduction to outguess their opponent. This works exceptionally well in this game as players can figure out what cards are most likely to be played and defend against those cards. A neat little game I would highly recommend for a gamer who plays a lot of two player. It also works as a great game when two folks are waiting for other gamers to show up.

Game Report 10/25/17

I was hanging out at a coffee shop with a friend and we decided to play Matcha... how fitting since I was drinking green tea. I taught him the game and he picked it up within five minutes. We played several rounds and it was a close match each time... but alas, my friend ended up being the better tea host, collecting the items he needed to make the best Matcha.
 
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12. Board Game: Tessen [Average Rating:6.62 Overall Rank:5283]
Brendon Soltis
United States
Worcester
Massachusetts
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Last Played: 9/29/17
Total Plays: 12

My Rating: 8/10

TESSEN! is what you yell to start this wild game of speed and attacking.

I knew nothing about this game when I first bid on it in a charity auction. My main draw to the game was the artwork on the traditional Japanese artwork version (pictured). When it came in the mail, I opened it up to find a game style I don't particularly like: speed. I was never good at that classic speed card game and I was hesitant to try this one out. While it felt a lot like speed the first couple of plays, there are a couple of very distinctive elements that make Tessen jump into one of my favorite silly, fast, two-player games.

The first is the set collection aspect. In speed, you are looking for a few specific cards to go in your pile pulled from a common pool. In Tessen, each player has their own pool they are getting cards from and it makes set collection a little less about "how fast are you at grabbing the cards." Then there is the attacking/stealing aspect. If you throw a warrior at your opponent and yell attack, you could steal one of their animals, unless they throw a warrior and yell defend. I like this because it disrupts the task of set collection and could be used at strategic times. I am pretty sure I'll keep this in my collection until the cards wear out!
 
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13. Board Game: Valley of the Kings [Average Rating:7.08 Overall Rank:722] [Average Rating:7.08 Unranked]
Brendon Soltis
United States
Worcester
Massachusetts
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Last played: 7/08/2016
Total plays: 4

My Rating: 8/10

I like the idea of deck-building games but I really did not find a deck-building game I loved immediately. Dominion was fun and I don't get it to the table much - gamers seem to be over the Dominion fandom (maybe the culture of the new has something to do with it). Even though I find that game fun and other deck-builders fun, it was not until Valley of the Kings did deck-building really grip me.

What I love about Valley of the Kings is how players score points at the end of the game to win. Unlike Dominion where you simply need point cards in your hand, in this game, you need to have point cards in your tomb in order for them to score. To get cards in your tomb, you must take them out of your deck, depriving you of the card's special ability. So the hard choice is: put the card in my tomb to ensure that it scores OR I can keep in it my deck to use it's ability and hope I have a chance to entomb the card later. I love the deck management aspect and the timing of tinning the deck. It comes in a small box which proves a small box can pack a lot of game! Valley of the Kings has two expansions which I have not played but based on what I know, they seem to be just as fun.
 
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14. Board Game: VivaJava: The Coffee Game: The Dice Game [Average Rating:6.70 Overall Rank:1677]
Brendon Soltis
United States
Worcester
Massachusetts
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Last Played: 11/11/17
Total Plays: 20

My Rating: 8/10

Viva Java: The Coffee Game: The Dice game has way too many sub-titles. But I think the dice game is a very underrated roll-and-write race game. I absolutely love coffee so the theme drew me in and the custom dice got me to purchase the game. Players are competing to make the boldest (best) blends of coffee, develop super cool technology, and race to be the first coffee roaster to gain 21 reputation points. I actually really like the different paths to victory - you can focus on creating blends to incrementally gain reputation if you can hold on to the top spot. OR you can focus on researching to gain more special abilities (re-roll, flip-die, etc.) and if you max out the ability, it goes away but the player gets a handful of reputation. This could be a fast way to rush a victory.

I am not sure why folks do not seem too keen on playing this game. Maybe it is the race aspect because certain players can be left behind if their rolls are bad and they have no abilities to mitigate their rolls. But I stand by Viva Java as a unique and solid game!

Game Report 11/11/17

Like most of my games of Viva Java, this one was a solo experience. I played against the corporation that gets re-rolls each time they fail to make a blend. I find this opponent to be much easier than the one that gains extra flavor dice and prevents the player from researching a certain color of research. I did very well against the opponent company during the first game, but in the second game, they got control of the rainbow blend which they do not have to relinquish the rainbow blend when they make a feature blend. This feels broken... but it does add an incentive to take that blend away from the AI. Overall, an enjoyable experience of dice rolling!
 
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