Cardboard East's 31 Best Asian Board Games at Essen 2019
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We're finally here, Essen Spiel 2019! What a year it has been! 2018 had some solid games from Asia; passtally (analog lunchbox, Japan) still hits the table. However, 2019 has been one of the best years for Asian board games. I've been more excited about the games from the east than by those of the west. I had planned only to make a single Top 10 list, but there were just too many gems out there to not mention. These games are not in order of how good I think they are, but in the order, I would like to play them--the BGG ranking system. This means some kid games and family games got bumped down the list a bit. They are excellent games, but I personally prefer something slightly heavier. Here are Cardboard East's Top 31 Asian board games available at Essen Spiel 2019!

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Best Asian Games of 2018 I got board games stacked like the Himalayas at CE HQ. I hiked through every rulebook and explored every game. Here are the cardboard gems from East!!

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1. Board Game: Formosa Tea [Average Rating:7.61 Overall Rank:3528]
Board Game: Formosa Tea
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No. 1 - Formosa Tea (Taiwan Boardgame Design, 5-C122)
Players : 2-4 , Time: 40-90 minutes


Over the past 13 years, I've gotten to play countless prototypes from Asia. Formosa Tea wasn't just the best Asian board game prototype I had ever played; it was one the best Asian board games I had ever played as well. The game revolves around one central question. Gather tea leaves for yourself but aid your opponents in processing their tea OR process your tea ahead of your opponents so they can aid you when they gather tea leaves. However, you then have to ask yourself how quickly you need to process your tea. Process it quickly and sell substandard tea for a little money, or process it slowly and sell premium tea for a lot of money. Not enough? Add in some variable player powers, variable round goals, a variable weather track, a tech track, fantastic art, and a unique theme that strongly ties the game together, and you have a worker placement game that will stand the test of time. Formosa Tea will continue to endure long after others have crumbled into dust. Easily one of the best games of the year and a must-purchase at Essen 2019.
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2. Board Game: Dadaocheng (Second Edition) [Average Rating:7.06 Overall Rank:7964]
Board Game: Dadaocheng (Second Edition)
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No. 2 - Dadaocheng 2nd Edition (Taiwan Boardgame Design, 5-C122)
Players: 1-4, Time: 45-60


Dadaocheng 1st Edition has a special place in my heart. It was the first Asian board game that I ever enjoyed playing, and I still enjoy playing it today. Naturally, when Huei told me of the 2nd Edition, I was immediately intrigued. In Dadaocheng, there is a communal puzzle area where you rearrange and flip tiles. Getting a 3 or 4-of-a-kind produces resources that you can use to fulfill contracts, purchase buildings, or even trade opium. It's an excellent puzzle/engine-builder hybrid. The 2nd Edition introduces personal warehouses and shipyards where resources advance up several different tracks. 2nd Editions with significant rule changes are a rarity in the Asian board game scene; however, Dadaocheng 1st Edition has definitely earned it. The new game board is incompatible with the 1st Edition, and the upgrade kit won't be available outside Taiwan. Dadaocheng 2nd Edition maybe the only way for you to experience one of the best games to have ever come out of Taiwan, but it'll be worth it.
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3. Board Game: Soulaween [Average Rating:7.09 Overall Rank:9041]
Board Game: Soulaween
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No. 3 - Soulaween (Play With Us Design, 5-L110)
Players: 2, Time: 15-30 minutes


As early as January, I said Soulaween would be one of the best games from Asia this year. It was, and it still is. The underworld theme is fully fleshed out onto every single one of the components and builds a strong narrative that ties the whole game together. Soulaween has that "it factor" that will make passers-by stop, watch, learn, and yearn to game. Throw in the added online comic "Soulaween: Behind the Scream" and the video series Soulaween is based on (Deathigner), and it's easy to get swept away by the depth of Soulaween's charm. The art is great. The tactile feel of the components is excellent. Yet neither of those is Soulaween's greatest strength. Soulaween is the 10-minute portable abstract game you've been looking for. I doubt I will ever play Hive again. Soulaween has such a low entry point; anyone can play. I've battled against players from ages 7 to 53. Everyone quickly understood how to play the game, the strategy behind the game, and wanted to play Soulaween again and again and again. I even hosted an impromptu Soulaween tournament at a bar; it's that infectious. Get your copy at Essen and join the craze that's been sweeping Asia.
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4. Board Game: Orchard Ocean [Average Rating:6.90 Overall Rank:9656]
Board Game: Orchard Ocean
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No. 4 - Orchard Ocean (Japon Brand, 4-D100)
Players: 3-4, Time: 60-90 minutes


Cardboard East awarded passtally (analog lunchbox, Japan) the best Asian board game of 2018, so naturally, this year, I was eager to get my hands on any new analog lunchbox game. Dazzling Diceline (their earlier 2019 release) offered an interesting take on dice drafting, worker placement, and tile placement. Players were given a wide road to victory with several lanes to swerve. The combos were brutal to build, but exhilarating to execute. Alas, it also shoved a spoonful of salt in your mouth. DRRRYYYY! Now that your mouth is shriveled and dehydrated, analog lunch box won't be giving you just a glass of water, but an entire ocean! (of saltwater...) Orchard Ocean! You want theme? Now you're a fruit farmer building a farm on man-made islands in the ocean. Be careful what you wish for, I guess. In Orchard Ocean, you'll be drafting island tiles and then placing them in your tableau. You'll have production tiles that produce fruit, but you'll have to put those production tiles near your market tiles to sell the fruit, but you won't be able to because the order the tiles come out is slightly random, and you're later in turn order, so you'll have to draft the turn order tile, so you'll have a chance to get harbor tiles that redirect your trade routes so that your production tiles can get fruit to your market tiles, but you forgot to get workers to work those production tiles and market tiles, so now they're not producing, and you can't build the tile you bought because your engineering meeple is on the wrong island, so you'll have to build it somewhere else, and wait... what... the game is over??! Sounds like a maddening maze of delicious decisions on the ocean! While the player count is a bit restrictive, it's nice to see a publisher being honest with their game without slapping together a two-player variant with dummy players. If you want to know more, give the rulebook on BGG a look over and see if fruit-producing logistics on the ocean is for you.
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5. Board Game: Moon Base [Average Rating:7.12 Overall Rank:7124]
Board Game: Moon Base
J Bernardo
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No. 5 - Moon Base (itten games, 4-J120)
Players: 2, Time: 30 minutes


If you have never heard of the Japanese publisher, itten, I strongly recommend you immediately head to their booth. They're the most exciting design team in Japan right now as their designs push the definition of what board games are and should be. You may have heard of their little dexterity game, Tokyo Highway, as it was picked up by Asmodee last year. While a bit divisive in its gameplay, Tokyo Highway's table presence and charm are undeniable. Itten continues this tradition with their latest game, Moon Base--a two-player abstract game that celebrates the 50th anniversary of the first lunar landing in 1969. WOW! Moon Base is by far itten's best game to date; however, you won't see its clever design until you've played through your first game. Players are essentially taking turns placing rings on the moon in a tight area majority game where players are vying to create the longest and tallest moon bases. (That's why the title font is ridiculously cool.) What you won't realize is that EVERYTHING matters in this game. How and where you place your rings matters. Which rings you choose matters. Which rings you do NOT choose matters. The order in which you choose your rings matters. Even what player color you select at the very start of the game, MATTERS! It's as bizarre as it is beautifully brutal. My only complaint is that I wish they had included tokens for scoring (similar to Catan's "longest road" card). They went the extra mile (or 384,400 km) with the first player marker though--the planet Earth. Perfect. Absolutely, perfect. Everything about this game demonstrates why I love exploring Asian board game design and the unique stories they tell. Get. This. Game.
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6. Board Game: Rumble Nation [Average Rating:7.33 Overall Rank:3484]
Board Game: Rumble Nation
J Bernardo
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No. 6 - Rumble Nation (Hobby Japan, 4-G113)
Players: 2-4, Time: 20-40 minutes


2019 has been a great year for Japanese games. The main reasons are Improvement of the POLIS and Rumble Nation. Not only have both these games won the "best of market" award in the past (Tokyo Game Market), they have both gotten massive upgrades in the art department. Sadly, only one is making it to Europe this year. Rumble Nation (originally called Tenka Meidou) is an area control dice game that plays as smoothly as it does quickly. Roll 3 dice and then allocate your troops or pull a strategy card. That's it. Rumble Nation is the epitome of the Asian board game gem: a 5-minute intuitive teach, meaningful gameplay, and interesting decisions. Japanese games can be incredibly hard to get your hands on, even here in Asia. Trust me when I tell you, this is one gem you don't want to let slip through your fingers.
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7. Board Game: Electropolis [Average Rating:7.33 Overall Rank:3468]
Board Game: Electropolis
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No. 7 - Electropolis (Taiwan Boardgame Design, 5-C122)
Players: 2-4, Time: 60 minutes


Electropolis (Homosapiens Lab, Taiwan) is a solid tile-laying city builder. While the art might be too uninspired and straightforward for some, I love the clean look and appreciate the clarity it brings to the game. It feels a little bland at 2, does really well at 3, and SINGS at 4. The components are all top quality, and both the tiles and cloth bag look and feel great. But what makes Electropolis stand above so many of the tile-laying city building games that came before it?

(1) Every round, you draft for tiles and tile placement/VP cards. You can select fewer tiles but can go earlier to select a card. (cards tell you where you can place your tiles and help score you VP or Public Opinion) OR you can select more tiles but choose your card later, which would give you less control over where you place your tiles. This is probably the most interesting decision in the game, but unfortunately, it only happens eight times a game.

(2) Tile management. Tile interaction is paramount. Power plants produce power, which is points in the game. BUT you need energy tiles so the power plants can produce power. Power plants do produce power (+VP), but they also produce pollution (-VP). Pollution can make you lose A TON OF points. BUT if your public opinion is higher than your pollution, you won't lose any points.

This adds a good deal of tension to the tile drafting because there will be tiles that you will NEED to get; however, you can't just always go first. You will need to go last and get a lot of tiles eventually because you lose points for every empty space in your city.
If this isn't enough for you to, at the very least, head over to the TBD booth to demo this game, I don't know what is.
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8. Board Game: Power On! [Average Rating:6.58 Overall Rank:12334]
Board Game: Power On!
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No. 8 - Power On! (Taiwan Boardgame Design, 5-C122)
Players: 2-4, Time: 30-50 minutes


This is the BEST card game to come out of Asia this year. How can you not love what is essentially Power Grid: the Card Game? Wait, Jay. Power Grid: the Card Game already exists. Well, I'm telling you to throw it in the trash because Power On! blows it out of the water. You may notice that the artwork looks extremely similar to Electropolis; well, that's because they're both from the same publisher, Homosapiens Lab. In Power On!, players are building power plants (coal, natural gas, nuclear, and green) to generate power for cities (VP). Players will take turns buying, building, and powering their plants. This requires some clever card management, but by now, you're wondering how this game stands apart from other card games. Let's talk about that carbon tower. Every time a player powers a coal or gas plant, they'll have to stack carbon hex-shaped tokens to the carbon tower. Don't let that tower fall though because not only will the other players have to lose a card from hand, you'll have to lose your next turn. How tall does that tower get? 10cm? 20com? What about 25cm? Did I mention that you don't just have to stack carbon hexes one at a time, but you can add those tokens in any orientation you want? There's a mounting tension that hovers over the table as carbon emissions get higher and higher and higher. The hilarity of watching the carbon tower collapse on your opponent's turn is deafening and turns this simple card game into one of the best gaming experiences of the year.
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9. Board Game: Jigūan: The Eastern Mechanist [Average Rating:6.70 Overall Rank:9970]
Board Game: Jigūan: The Eastern Mechanist
J Bernardo
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No. 9 - Jiguan (EmperorS4, 4-C102)
Players: 2-4, Time: 45-90 minutes


What would an Essen Asian board game list be without mentioning EmperorS4? EmperorS4 has not 1 but 4 new games this year, and all of them are solid games. EmperorS4’s in house designer Eros (Round Hose) has outdone himself in this mid-to-heavy euro about building mechanical beasts. There’s a lot going on in this game: acquire the right gears, build mechanical beasts for different warlords, amass blueprints, develop your game engine, combo off special contracts, and even win an airship! The art for this one leaps off the table. EmperorS4 never ceases to amaze me with their art. Euro gamers will feel right at home with this one with the combo chaining; however, the gameplay moves so fast that it keeps the game interesting. Unique player abilities give decent replay value, and the gear/blueprint mechanic adds a good amount of puzzly depth. While there isn’t much player interaction outside of resource denial, the game’s fast tempo keeps players engaged. While I feel Trial of the Temples’ I-slice-you-choose resource mechanic is more interesting than any single mechanic in Jiguan, the overall presentation and speed of Jiguan speak to me more. Mechanical bears and airships are a great touch too ?. Definitely grab a seat at the Essen demo table for this one. A solid euro with a solid theme!
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10. Board Game: Shadow Rivals [Average Rating:7.08 Overall Rank:11288]
Board Game: Shadow Rivals
J Bernardo
Taiwan
Taipei
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N0. 10 - Shadow Rivals (Moaideas, 5-A123)
Players: 2-5, Time: 30-45 minutes


Taiwanese publisher Moaideas found its stride and voice in 2017 with Tulip Bubble, Mini Rails, and Liberatores. In 2018, Cardboard East ranked Symphony No. 9 as the 5th best board game to come out of Asia. This year, Moaideas continues its tradition of making gamer games for gamers with the 2-5 player card game, Shadow Rivals. In Shadow Rivals, you will be leading a crew of eight uniquely skilled thieves to steal the riches from the most extravagant parties of the wealthy elite. Each player beings with the same eight thieves; however, each thief can later be upgraded to one of their three unique forms. This means there are 32 unique card powers for players to explore and exploit, and some can be ridiculously powerful--radically changing the game state. Keeping a tight leash on these extensive card powers is the simple gameplay mechanic of "play a card draw a card." How Moaideas has squeezed all this into 30 minutes is quite an impressive feat. The iconography for card powers can be quite intense, but the player aids do a good job of getting players fluent and up to speed. While the anime art may not be everyone's cup of tea, the mechanics behind the game pack quite a punch. I'm a massive fan of Lupin the 3rd, and Shadow Rivals does an excellent job of putting you in the middle of a heist movie. I would argue that Shadow Rivals does an even better job of being a Lupin the 3rd game than the actual Lupin the 3rd game. While you're at the Moaideas booth, go ahead a grab their 3 best games: Mini Rails, Tulip Bubble, and Symphony No. 9. All 3 are Cardboard East approved! I should also add that Shadow Rivals comes with Holofoil cards. Holofoil cards! That's pretty awesome.
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11. Board Game: Walking in Provence [Average Rating:6.93 Overall Rank:6021]
Board Game: Walking in Provence
J Bernardo
Taiwan
Taipei
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No. 11 - Walking in Provence (EmperorS4, 4-C102)
Players: 2-5, Time: 20-30 minutes


2018's Walking in Burano has held up well over the last year, and Walking in Provence looks to do the same in 2019. While WiP has completely different mechanics than WiB, it holds its own and proves the dynamic duo of Wei-Min (design) and Maisherly (art) work beautifully together. This time we're walking in Provence, France--home of the breath-taking lavender fields. Players will be drafting cards, building their landscapes, maneuvering their meeples (the mysterious girl from WiB and her trusty drone), and taking pictures of the gorgeous scenery. While I wasn't expecting much from what's basically a card-laying game, the scoring system of the game adds a lot of depth to the card play and the drafting. Sunflowers must face the draw deck, lavender fields must remain completely horizontal or vertical, and your meeples can only move to clear spaces. You won't be able to win without hate drafting a little bit, so don't forget to keep an eye on what your opponents are up to. The game is filled with little easter eggs, too. Geishas (from Hanamikoji) have opened up little shops in the village. Aliens (from Planet Defenders) are making crop circles. The EmperorS4 office dog even makes a guest appearance. All these little things add up to make Walking in Provence a delightful gaming experience with ruthless hate drafting. I'm now a big fan of the Walking Series and can't wait to see where this mysterious European tourist goes walking next.
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12. Board Game: T-Rex's Holiday [Average Rating:6.84 Overall Rank:8884]
Board Game: T-Rex's Holiday
J Bernardo
Taiwan
Taipei
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No. 12 - T-Rex's Holiday (Taiwan Boardgame Design, 5-C122)
Players: 2-8, Time: 15-20 minutes


This is the BEST roll and write to come out of Asia this year! T-Rex's Holiday (originally called Tyrannosaurus's Holiday) is from designer Wang Yu (Majolica, 2018) and published by Blue Magpie Games. Oddly enough, it's also the best cat-themed Taiwanese game at Essen this year. On your turn, you'll roll 3 adorable custom cat-themed dice. You'll first select 2 dice to be publically used by everyone, and then you'll reveal the last die for everyone to use. LOL. This simple little twist of being able to be vicious to your opponents propels this above all the other roll and writes from Asia this year. Of course, it helps to have your player sheets to be filled with cats, cat tunnels, cats, cat house, cats, cat food, and even more cats. While the box cover is a bit deceiving, don't let that deter you from this excellent roll and write. I do wish there were more sheets and layouts for variety, but there's something to be said about keeping things nice and simple.
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13. Board Game: Geometric Art [Average Rating:7.04 Overall Rank:9409]
Board Game: Geometric Art
J Bernardo
Taiwan
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No. 13 - Geometric Art (EmperorS4, 4-C102)
Players: 3-5, Time: 10-30 minutes


Being a child from the 80s, I grew up with Nintendo. Having a neighbor who owned a video rental store (slash video game rental store) was Shangri-La for a kid like me. I wrote my first reviews about 8-bit video games, and Anticipation was by far one of my favorite games. How dare you make fun of my horrendous 8-bit tastes! Antici-

Geometric Art blends roll 'n write & party game into its own unique style. Players will roll dice, draw only using the shapes shown, and will have to guess each other's drawings. There are rules for a competitive game, but the co-operative ruleset is my jam--a perfect game to end the night. Not enough interesting decisions to make this the main event of the evening, but more than enough laughs to close the night with and annoy your neighbors. The artwork is clean and straightforward. I love love love how there are people on your canvas board, looking and judging your art. Great with kids and those looking to find more ways to express their artistic side in the realm of gaming.

-pation was an awesome game!
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14. Board Game: MeowMeow Mia [Average Rating:6.83 Overall Rank:13064]
Board Game: MeowMeow Mia
J Bernardo
Taiwan
Taipei
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No. 14 - MeowMeow Mia (Taiwan Boardgame Design, 5-C123)
Players: 5-10, Time: 30 minutes


This is the BEST Asian party game available at Essen this year. For a long time, there were only a handful of good social deduction / traitor games: The Resistance (Avalon), Shadows Over Camelot, and... a few others. Over the years, I've played dozens of them and none really popped out at me. I wasn't expecting much from MeowMeow Mia (the second cat game on this list), but WOW was I wrong. This game holds its own and is one of the best social deduction party games not just in Asia, but in the market today. In MeowMeow Mia, the Meowfia have taken over Cathattan (that was painful to type) and will be smuggling five major shipments into the city soon. The Pawlice Force (hey, I didn't write the rulebook) have worked hard getting an undercover agent in the Meowfia. Every round the Pawlice Officer asks each Meowfia member, "Where are the drugs going!?" (Everyone sounds like Batman to me.) The Pawlice Officer then checks one of the four districts; he's right!! Rats!! (Would cat crooks really say that in that context?) But how?! Well, the undercover agent and the Pawlice Officer create a secret sign language code that the only they know. Will the agent be able to telegraph the code without getting caught? WOW. MeowMeow Mia has that witch hunt atmosphere down solid. Those Meowfia members will be scratching at each other's throats within seconds. I absolutely love this game. Now, these games aren't for everyone, and you may run into trouble with an incredibly shy person being the undercover agent; however, I have been surprised before at the lengths some people have gone. Faking an itchy nose. Getting snacks. Drinking a drink. Infernal Affairs is one of my favorite movies, so playing Infernal Affairs the board game puts a grin on my face. The art and components are all fantastic as well. If you're interested in this genre of game, I cannot recommend it enough. Just keep the puns to a minimum.
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15. Board Game: Nine Tiles Panic [Average Rating:7.04 Overall Rank:2352]
Board Game: Nine Tiles Panic
J Bernardo
Taiwan
Taipei
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No. 15 - Nine Tiles Panic (Oink Games, 5-D100)
Players: 2-5, Time:15 minutes

Woah! Woah! Woah! Why did nobody tell me Nine Tiles Panic was Men in Black the board game!? Aliens. Hamburgers. Hamburger-loving aliens. Agents in black suits running around with sci-fi ray guns. UFOs invading a small town. Random children aimlessly wandering a town currently being invaded by hamburger-loving aliens. Pugs. These are a few of my favorite things! Nine Tiles Panic is a re-release of the original 2015 Oink Games release, Nine Tiles. The original played somewhat similarly; however, it was more of a themeless abstract without a narrative to hold the mechanics together. This new release blows the original right out of the water. I would recommend selling your first edition and replacing it entirely with Nine Tiles Panic; I did. In NTP, players are designing a 3x3 grid of double-sided tiles as quickly as possible while trying to complete the three objectives to the best of their ability. I'm usually not the biggest fan of real-time games. Surprisingly, Nine Tiles Panic bulldozed through all of my dislikes, charmed my pants off, and left a smile on my face. (That was an odd chain of metaphors there.) The new art direction and theme of the second edition successfully weave a straightforward narrative around the fast, frantic, and kinetic gameplay and keeps it all snuggled close together in one tight package. While it doesn't give players enough interesting decisions to make it the main course of game night, it's perfect as an appetizer or dessert. It's easy enough for kids to enjoy, but challenging enough for everybody to play. One of the best oink games to date, and easily one of the best board games to come out of Asia in 2019!
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16. Board Game: Art Decko [Average Rating:7.62 Overall Rank:7712]
Board Game: Promenade
J Bernardo
Taiwan
Taipei
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No. 16 - Promenade (Taiwan Boardgame Design, 5-C122)
Players: 2-4, Time: 45-60 minutes


Promenade has become my go-to art-themed game. Promenade has all the deep and tense decisions from Modern Art without all the frustration and math from bidding and auctions. Gamers can dive into and explore the complex world of art dealing in under an hour without having to worry about all the mechanisms in The Gallerist. In under an hour, players shrewdly manipulate the market value of their Impressionist art by building and exhibiting their growing private art collection. Promenade is an economic deck-building game that feels less like a deck-builder and more like commodity speculation and stock manipulation. On your turn, you can draw more cards, buy more art, buy gold, or hang your art in a gallery. While none of the five types of paintings (landscape, abstract, seascape, animal, portrait) are worth much at the beginning of the game, players dictate their worth and value through their actions in the game. The biggest negative I have with the game is the graphic design. The impressionist art (all painted by the designer himself) is fantastic. The graphic design of the cards, player boards, and game boards look a decade old in design, which is a real shame because Promenade is something quite unique. The economic momentum in Promenade is fast, addictive, and best of all, interactive. Sure, you could exhibit a red card from your collection, but you'll also be increasing the market value of every red card in the game, and you know your opponent has at least six red cards already. Do you really want to help them? In short, build a business, exploit public demand, ruthlessly outmaneuver opponents, and orchestrate your rise to power and prestige. In the world of art collecting, the gulf between prominence and destitution is a fine art.
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17. Board Game: Ocean Crisis [Average Rating:7.07 Overall Rank:7282]
Board Game: Ocean Crisis
J Bernardo
Taiwan
Taipei
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No. 17 - Ocean Crisis (Shepherd Kit, 5-E112)
Players: 2-5, Time: 30-60 minutes


In a market that is so overloaded with new games that people speculate whether or not there is a bubble, it is super refreshing to find superb niche board game publishers like Shepherd Kit. With a strong focus on producing high-quality educational family-friendly games, Shepherd Kit has been making a name for itself for several years in Taiwan with its "toy kits". Since 2015, they have been experimenting with board games. Paleolithic (2018) received positive reviews from critics and gamers for its simple yet clever gameplay. Ocean Crisis (2019) continues this success and has made Shepherd Kit one of the Asian board game publishers to keep an eye on in the years to come. Ocean Crisis is a co-operative family game where players build routes to access game-saving super abilities, clean the river, clean the beach, and even on occasion, save a dolphin. Ocean Crisis may be a family game, but like any good co-operative game, it's hard--especially if you're not paying attention to the garbage clogging up the river. Thankfully, the game comes with ways to scale the difficulty. Ocean Crisis has become the current benchmark I measure all family games by. Is this family game good? Is it as good as Ocean Crisis? There is a ton of replayability with Ocean Crisis as it comes with several modules that shake-up gameplay: ghost nets, oil spills, crabs, dolphins, whales, sharks, and more. If you're hunting for family games at Essen, make Shepherd Kit your first stop.
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18. Board Game: Guess Club [Average Rating:7.04 Overall Rank:6456]
Board Game: Guess Club
J Bernardo
Taiwan
Taipei
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No. 18 - Guess Club (Broadway, 4-C102)
Players: 2-8, Time: 20-30 minutes


I host a monthly board game language exchange meetup, and Guess Club has been a smash hit with both English and non-native English speakers. Each round, a category is picked (i.e., Taiwan), and players will each write down ten words related to the category. On each player's turn, they play a card or make a wager. If they play a card, any other player who wrote the same word plays it face up, and the wage marker goes up. If you make a wager, you're gambling on which space the wage marker will end on at the end of the round. Winner takes the pot of money at the center of the table. Sounds simple? Perfect. Guess Club isn't about impressive new mechanics; it's about getting into each other's heads (and gambling your way to victory). Guess Club is only three rounds long, but each of those rounds is an explosion of laughter, cheers, and boos. Debates and mockery may follow as to how your word could possibly be related to the chosen category. Guess Club works much the same way Wits & Wagers does. You're not betting on what you know; you're betting on what the group knows. I remember crying the last time I played due to laughing so hard. While the deck of suggested categories is useful, it isn't really needed. The cardboard coins are... functional. The heart of the game is in the cards, and thankfully both the player cards and the player cardholders are excellent. It scales well, but with this type of game, the more players you have, the better the gaming experience will be. Guess Club is an excellent ice breaker and is (what SUSD often say) everything gaming can be.
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19. Board Game: Colorful Treasure [Average Rating:6.84 Unranked]
Board Game: Colorful Treasure
J Bernardo
Taiwan
Taipei
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No. 19 - Colorful Treasure (Taiwan Boardgame Design, 5-C122)
Players: 2-4, Time: 20 minutes


Colorful Treasure is the BEST kids game from Asia this year, and the BEST memory/pairing game I have ever played. Players travel the world exploring ten wonders of the world for fortune and fame. Where's the tilt, Jay? How is this different than any other flip-2-cards-and-see-if-they-match game? Unlike most memory games, players don't wildly guess what cards to flip; they DEDUCE what cards to flip. Each of the ten wonders only has five cards: three gems whose colors are on the backs of the cards, one diamond card, and one key/chest card. Players flip over two to three cards. Diamond cards score you a diamond and a card. Unlocking a chest (owning a key & a chest) allows you to steal a card or diamond from another player. Regular gems are scored in the regular euro game set collection fashion. The slight tilts of giving players information on the backs of all 50 cards, key/chest card hunting, and always getting at least one card on your turn bring so much interaction to the gameplay. Players quickly go from friendly competitors to RUTHLESS treasure hunters. There are even milestones players can score if they're the first to collect X amount of gems or travel to X amount of countries. My students LOVE this game! The cards are decent, but the components that really (and literally shine) are the diamonds. The publisher could have used chits. Thank you for not! Instead, we're treated to ten chunky diamonds that are bigger than a d6. The game box is even a treasure chest. YES! I love it when publishers go that extra mile. Stealing others' diamonds is a bit take-that, but as our younger gaming buddies haven't developed their sense of delayed gratification yet, I think the instant feedback is fine. It adds a nice interactive element of risk versus reward. You can go for the diamond strategy all you want, but I'm coming for your loot! There won't be many copies at Essen, so be sure to grab this one before it gets plundered by the masses!
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20. Board Game: Frenemy Pastry Party [Average Rating:6.28 Overall Rank:13771]
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J Bernardo
Taiwan
Taipei
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No. 20 - Frenemy Pastry Party (Mizo Games, 5-I109)
Players: 3-6, Time: 15-30 minutes


Ponzi Scheme. Guns & Steel. Flow of History. These don't sound like the games the designer of Frenemy Pastry Party would have on his portfolio, except they are. Jesse Li is a bit of a legend in Taiwan, and everyone talks about his games or what game he's designing next. It came as quite a shock when his latest game appeared to be a simple party/card game. But as the great Zen Master once said, "We'll see." In Frenemy Pastry Party, players attempt to bake cakes. Of course, you can't just win by baking cakes yourself. Your enemies have to help you. You bake the cake; you get points for the cake but not the ingredients. However, if you help your friend bake their cake, you get points for the ingredients--just not the cake. This simple tilt allows for this game to almost feel like Cosmic Encounter: the Card Game, but instead of colonizing the cosmos, you're baking blueberry banana chocolate cakes. I know; I know — tough call that one. What follows is a quick game of mistrust, backstabbing, false generosity, and suspicion. Quite impressive for a simple card game. Frenemy Pastry Party works well for all ages. On your turn, you draw some ingredient cards, or you attempt to bake a cake. Of course, you'll also have to keep track of who's helping whom, by how much, and who's stockpiling what ingredients. Wait! We haven't talked about unique player powers yet. Friendly Pastry Party has this too, but it's only for scoring more points if you've scored more ingredients of a certain kind. While it sounds a bit boring, it does add to the deduction and suspicion in the game. After all, if Tommy is hoarding blueberries to score more points, you hardly want to ask him for more blueberries. (He'll just score more points that way, remember? No? You were counting cards, right?) Frenemy Pastry Party is a super solid card game that just happened to come out in a year with other great card games, so it's easy to get lost in the mix. Don't make that mistake. And don't be fooled by the crazy adorable animals on the box cover. There be knives behind their backs, and they ain't for cutting up cake.
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21. Board Game: Towers of Am'harb [Average Rating:6.24 Overall Rank:13830]
Board Game: Towers of Am'harb
J Bernardo
Taiwan
Taipei
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No. 21 - Towers of Amharb (Moaideas Game Design, 5-A123)
Players: 2-4, Time: 30-45 minutes


The Tower of Brahma. The Tower of Hanoi. The Lucas' Tower. I had never encountered a game inspired by the famous mathematical puzzle until I came upon Towers of Am'harb (ToA). Not only is ToA Moaideas' first big-box game, but it also takes place in the Lovecraftian universe. Hello, my name is Jay, and I love the Lovecraft. Moaideas went all out for their first big-box game: modular map boards for replayability, big wooden cultist meeples (colorblind-friendly), thick white cardboard tokens, wooden tower pieces, double-sided player boards, eight unique player powers, and Cthulhu even haunts your game box cover at night. (He glows in the dark. All hail, Cthulhu!) There are no heroes or investigators in this game. Everyone is in a doom cult, worships a Great Old One, and wants to bring about the end of the world. Can I get an Amen? It sounds harsh to say, but I think opting for the brightly colored pieces clashed with the theme. While keeping the components bright and colorful adds clarity and function, I just prefer my Lovecraft to be a bit more on the darker side (with a tentacle or two). The overall art design is fun and playful, but the unique gameplay is silent and savage. Using the Lucas Tower to unlock areas of the island to summon your cultists creates an intense chess-like atmosphere. The area control and resource management are as tight as they are frustrating; especially when you realize you haven't been planning ahead properly. The eight unique player powers (or cosmic powers of the Great Old Ones) add the right amount of fun, zeal, and zest to every game--though the cosmic powers do feel a bit too balanced. Though Towers of Amharb is lighter than most of Moaideas other games, it's still a very solid entry into their catalog. Now, if you'll excuse me, my cult and I have to personally bring about the end of the world. All hail, Cthulhu!
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22. Board Game: Raid on Takao [Average Rating:6.54 Overall Rank:14774]
Board Game: Raid on Takao
J Bernardo
Taiwan
Taipei
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No. 22 - Raid on Takao (Mizo Games, 5-I109)
Players: 2-6, Time: 60-90 minutes


Raid on Takao is the BEST story-driven game from Asia this year. Mizo Games is known for their highly thematic games: a family desperately trying to survive the bombing of their city (Raid on Taihoku), a post-apocalyptic Taiwan where brave warriors fight to prevent the genocide of the LGBTQ community (Dare to Love), animals slowly dying from massive deforestation (Run Animals, Run!), or six time travelers trapped in 1937 Taipei, one of which is an anthropomorphic capybara (The Tales of Ki-pataw). Take that boring euro game about trading in the Mediterranean! Raid on Takao continues this tradition as the people of Takao struggle to survive the bombing of the city. Sounds familiar? That's because Raid on Takao shares a lot of similarities with Raid on Taihoku; it should though being the spiritual sequel of the game. I won't go into the detailed differences here, but it's safe to say that Takao is the better game.

Raid on Takao, despite its serious theme, is quite a relaxed game. There is tension in the game-A LOT. Every round the city is bombed, and traveling around the city becomes more and more difficult and expensive. But Raid on Takao's strength isn't in its tight co-operative game mechanics; Raid on Takao's real strength lies in its RICH STORYTELLING. It feels less like a co-op game and more like a TRPG. Your characters aren't one-dimensional tokens on the board; they're detailed characters with relationships, hopes, and dreams. These characters are put through the crucible of war, and their lives are forever altered. Their fate is in your hands.

I can't imagine playing this game without roleplaying; weaving the narrative feels as important as the gameplay. You'll be gathering resources, scavenging for food, resting to heal, and trying to accomplish your personal goals. Completing your goals (which isn't easy) upgrades your actions; failing them fills you with regret and hinders your actions. Not only does the war haunt their dreams, but your failure to achieve their dreams haunts them as well. The story that unfolds is moving and permanently affects your character and their future actions. It can be soul-crushing. Five scenarios with eight characters doesn't feel like it adds replayability in a game so much as it adds chapters to an endlessly unfolding story. These locations aren't fictional, either. They're real places, and you can read about them and how they were affected by the war in the rulebook. Raid on Takao is the action-based story-telling game with some tight co-op mechanics that you didn't know you were looking for. Get to Essen in the morning, head to the Mizo Game booth with some coffee, and get these characters through hell and back.
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23. Board Game: Board Game Cafe Frenzy [Average Rating:6.43 Overall Rank:10901]
Board Game: Board Game Cafe Frenzy
J Bernardo
Taiwan
Taipei
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No. 23 Board Game Cafe Frenzy (The Wood Games, 5-E112)
Players: 2-5, Time: 30-60 minutes


If you love trick-taking games and auction/bidding games, then Board Game Cafe Frenzy is the game you've been waiting for your entire life. Citie Lo (designer of last year's darling, A Pleasant Journey to Neko) melds these two genres quite well. In the first phase of the game, players are bidding on cards. In the second phase of the game, players use these cards to play tricks and hopefully build the best board game cafe possible: best wifi service, most space, best food, biggest board game selection, and the happiest customers. There are a variety of strategies to pursue, enough free actions to bring flexibility to your strategy, and a big enough card pool to ensure a ton of replayability from game to game. The art design is cute. The graphic design is clear and intuitive. The white cardboard components look clean and feel nice. But what about the gameplay? DUDES, THERE IS A TON OF STUFF GOING ON IN THIS GAME. That BGG weight rank of 1.5 is laughable; I give this game at least a 3 on the weight scale. I highly recommend that you play the "short game" variant, your first few times; it streamlines the bidding phase and goes straight into the trick-taking phase. If you've never played the game before, you have no idea what each card is worth, which makes bidding on them in the first phase of the game a bit ridiculous. For the life of me, I don't understand why the "short game" variant isn't the standard game and why the standard game isn't the "advanced game" variant. This is NOT a gateway game--at all. This game is strictly designed for gamers. The trick-taking phase can also be REALLY confusing as turn order changes after every trick is collected; I'm not a fan of this. We had to include dice to help us keep track of turn order. (Using out-of-box components to make a game more playable doesn't sit well with me, but it does happen. *cough* Terraforming Mars *cough* plastic overlays *cough*) If you can get past the fiddliness of the turn order always being in flux, there's a solid game here filled with strategic depth and high replay value. Board Game Cafe Frenzy isn't for everybody. Gamers new to our hobby beware. Gamers looking for that next level trick-taking game rejoice! There are a ridiculous amount of engines to build and combos to trigger and chain. Board Game Cafe Frenzy isn't a game that is going to hit my table a lot, but I've enjoyed my plays of it and look forward to exploring more of the combos hidden within the cards.
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24. Board Game: Iberian Rails [Average Rating:6.98 Overall Rank:4710]
Board Game: Iberian Rails
J Bernardo
Taiwan
Taipei
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No. 24 - Iberian Rails (Monsoon Publishing, 5-H103)
Players: 2-5, Time: 70-90 minutes


Over 100 years ago, trains represented the pinnacle of technology. Rich and poor could both travel at the same speed across vast distances. Today, train games have a tremendous following: from the heavy and complicated 18XX games to the gateway classic, Ticket to Ride. Iberian Rails uniquely stands out among the crowd as it successfully blends the euro mechanic of role selection (Puerto Rico, Libertalia, Carson City) and a cube rails game (Chicago Express, Irish Gauge). Players do not take turns in Iberian Rails. Railroad Companies take turns. In the first phase, CEOs draft one of the characters available this game. In the second phase, CEOs either: (1) build track and expand their empire, (2) holds an open auction for company shares to increase the company's funds, or (3) holds a closed auction for company shares to increase the CEOs funds. This is not a gateway game; Iberian Rails is a mid-heavy rail game that is beautifully brutal. Having CEOs take turns instead of players can be confusing for some; especially since some players may have multiple turns one round. (Though the Mafioso character can change things up.) Money is hidden in Iberian Rails, so auctions bring a lot more tension. (Especially as a well-timed Inspector can rob you blind.) Iberian Rails is a love letter for fans of cube rail games and Imperial; it brings a lot of innovation to the genre and a lot of replay value with two maps, 15 well-developed characters, and more fantastic art from David Cochard (Codenames: Pictures, Alchemists, Dungeon Petz). While it can feel like the character you need the most is more often than not unavailable, I was amazed by how well the character abilities play off each other. The Nephew steals shares. Hotelier gets you in the hotel game quickly. Don Quixote kills an entire round of gameplay. There are a ton of strategies to explore in Iberian Rails for those gamers up to the challenge (and delight) of heavier games. While at the Monsoon Publishing booth, be sure to check out Warriors of Jogu for a well-designed asymmetrical two-player game of bluffing and area control.
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25. Board Game: Trial of the Temples [Average Rating:7.06 Overall Rank:6223]
Board Game: Trial of the Temples
J Bernardo
Taiwan
Taipei
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Wargame? Eurogame? Ameritrash? Asia!! Check out Asian board game reviews at CardboardEast.com
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No. 25 - Trial of the Temples (EmperorS4, 4-C102)
Players: 2-4, Time: 30-60


Trial of the Temples is the third installment in the Ragusa Series (Mystery of the Temples, Realm of Sand). While not my favorite game from EmperorS4 this year, Trial of the Temples is the most innovative of their 2019 releases. There are two phases in the game (four condensed to two for this review). In the first phase, players take turns playing their archmage meeples on a circular temple track. That sounded incredibly boring, but it's one of the best mechanics from 2019. You gain all the resources on the temple track from the archmage on your left to the archmage on your right. In other words, I-cut-you-choose. How greedy should you be? How greedy are your opponents? Should you play it safe? Should you take the first player slice? Should I put my archmage on this temple to get this amazing bonus or cheat out farther to get a bigger slice? These are all the questions swimming around in your head during this brief moment in the game, and I love it. The second phase of the game is where euro gamers will feel right at home: play with this sudoku-style puzzle in front of you, trigger powerful combos, trade resources, mitigate luck with a magical resource, and move up on one of the three trial tracks. The three trial tracks provide another neat level of player interaction as players may leapfrog over each other as they advance up the tracks. Why pay for this expensive step on this track when your opponent can pay for it, and you can skip it entirely? I don't think the second phase is boring; it's NOT. It's a well-designed euro game that's better than most. The first phase is just so fascinating; it disappoints me that I only get to experience this I-cut-you-choose mechanic four to five times throughout the game. I would have liked to have seen the I-cut-you-choose mechanic explored a bit more and used more in the gameplay. I don't think the 3.0 BGG weight ranking is entirely accurate. I would give this game at most a 2.0 on the weight scale. That's not a bad thing; it's a good thing. Trial of the Temples doesn't try to be a big heavy euro game. It does what it does and does it extremely well. I would classify this halfway between a gateway game and a gateway + game. If you're looking for a slightly more complicated game with a truly innovative mechanic and solid euro gameplay, Trial of the Temples is a perfect fit for you. Oh my God, I haven't even talked about the components yet. Gorgeous--as always! Maisherly keeps killing it with her art direction and graphic design. Trial of the Temples is a pretty game and will turn heads at your game nights, making all the other games at game night jealous and talk trash behind Trial of the Temples' back. Board games have feelings-even the hot and sexy ones. Be sure to check out all the other hot and sexy games at EmperorS4's booth this year. Tell them Jay sent you and get your hands on some sexy promos.
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