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Subject: Dominant Species -- a Gamer's Game (or how I learned to stop worrying and love the bits) rss

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Mike Clarke
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This is my first review on Boardgame Geek even though I have been here since its inception and have been playing board games since I was six-years-old.

I'm NOT going to review the game play. That's been done several times already. Rather this is a review dealing with some of the criticisms which might make you reluctant (like I was) to pick it up.

People have complained the components aren't thematic, that the board is too plain, the tiles are too thin and their artwork too simplistic and that the cards and the element tokens make the game play too random.

I was intrigued by the game, but these criticisms made me postpone buying it until there was only one copy left in my area. However, faced with the prospect of waiting until March, I took the plunge and bought the last copy.

So let's have a look at the components and the knocks against this game. I'm going to start with the board not because it's been criticized, but because it's been overlooked, taken for granted. Yet it's pretty damn special.

First, it's a beast. Easily the thickest board of any game I own and I own 80 games. It's a monster. It fills the table. I have a leaf table and the table is not quite entirely flat. Traditional big boards (Arkham Horror) kind of bend up and leave little spaces under the board at certain spots.

But not this board. No, this monster hugs the table by sheer dint of its own weight.


Now THAT's a board by mclarke34, on Flickr


When I took it out of the box, it was a little stiff and one end didn't go down all the way so I sort of pushed it into place. It still was raised slightly and then right before my eyes it just sort of settled down as if to say....hmmmmm.....ahhhhhhh.....mmmm......TAAABBBLE.

Did I mention it was heavy?

This is a board that wants to be on your table and looks like it belongs there. In fact it could be so large as to be a problem on most common dining room or kitchen tables, but it's not.

Why? Well because everything you need to play with including Dominance Cards, Game Tiles, Worker Placement etc...is all on the board. You don't need much room off the board. Just a place for your animal display card and the cubes in your gene pool. That's it! Everything else is on the very large and very heavy game board.

The photographs don't do the board justice. It is exceptional in every way right down to its wonderful satiny and textured finish.

Others here have reported the finish makes it water repellant as well. Thankfully I haven't had to test that out yet, but I can see where it could be true. (One reviewer said he spilled his soft drink on it and none of his friends can see a stain)

How thoughtful is that?!

So Check/ Board definitely NOT a problem.

In fact it's the best board of any game I own and I know that's not usually the GMT way. Twilight Struggle for instance is thin cardboard I hold down with a large sheet of plexiglass.

By the way I don't have a problem with the GMT board in that game either but for entirely different and thematic reasons that also apply to the bits and tiles in this game and which I'll get into...right now.

Here's the thing about the tiles. Yes they're a little thin, but they're very, very sturdy. Because they're a little thinner, they don't create a huge pile when they're sitting in their three slots on the board ready to come onto the map.


Dominant Species 2 by mclarke34, on Flickr


Thinner also makes them easier to shuffle. If I have any complaint at all about them, their lack of weight makes them easier to slide around when you're placing elements.

But they still hold the board very well and they look good on the table. As the game progresses, you don't come back to them all that often. They just sit there with their stuff on them (which also give them weight) and so it's not much of an issue.

Did I mention they're quite sturdy?

This to me is an extremely minor criticism that will only be an issue to people with poor motor skills and even less patience. (You know who you are!)

However, I understand from reading Chad in one of the forums here that the tiles will be a little thicker in the second printing. I myself am quite happy with them just the way they are. Those of us with the slightly thinner tiles will be holding the original version of this masterpiece.

The artwork on the tiles fit the overall sleek and minimalist design of the game. They're evocative of desert, tundra, jungle, sea, wetland and forest without being distracting. This is no minor point and is also why the bits are plain as well.

This is a complex game with a lot going on and these components allow you to assess the situation on the board at a glance without getting lost on a “busy” board. It wouldn't work as well for game play purposes to have really ornate and distracting artwork confusing the positions of the players.


Dominant 6 by mclarke34, on Flickr


Yeah your species are cubes and you're claiming dominance with cones but they feel exactly like species in a desperate struggle for survival. The game is dripping with theme. It practically oozes out of the box .

No board game can hold its theme through the graphics on the board alone. The game lives in your imagination How often have we embraced the next great, new, good looking game only to learn it's just another pretty, but empty picture -- yes I'm talking about you Days of Wonder and you too Reiner Knizia!

Dominant Species lives in your imagination where it delivers an engaging and memorable experience though its GAMEPLAY which is second to none. What a startling and original concept that gameplay should be the foremost consideration in a board game.

Despite its simplicity Dominant Species is definitely not print and play. It's a professional looking and high quality board game.

And now a word on the game's so called randomness.

Much has been made about this due to the Dominance Cards or the way in which Elements (the food you feed on) are pulled from the bag.

Well guess what. This is a game about life. Life, 90,000 years ago with the world on the verge of an Ice Age. And life as we all know is unpredictable....stuff happens. And in the time period we're playing in....stuff is really happening and it's happening fast.

Do we really want a perfectly predictable game about life that ignores its highs and lows....the desperation of the struggle for survival or the euphoria of making it against all odds?

So yeah maybe there's a heatwave (you're not getting your Elements from the Bag) and its drought and the animals you need for meat aren't as plentiful. Maybe it's fall and there's lots of seeds and nuts around...or maybe it isn't and there aren't.

Was that a cold snap (Dominance Card) that killed all the amphibians in that lake when the tundra froze over?

The game materials quote Charles Darwin. It's not the species (dare I say gamer) with the greatest strength or the most intelligence that survives. It's the one that's best able to adapt.

So yeah that's the bloody game. And yes you have to adapt and guess what? This game gives you the tools to do it.

Problem is you have to see deep into to the game to discover them all.

That's why gamers keep thinking and talking about this game long after it's over in much the same way you'll see chess grandmasters debating moves long after their games are over.

The cards are powerful, but NOT unbalancing. They apply to different situations and its up to you to manage YOUR situation to benefit from them. And while powerful, they are not THAT strong.

There is also room for several Dominance Actions so many players can access these cards on the same turn. True only one can get the first one, but if that's an issue the cards are there for all to see and there's time to do something about it.

The perceived randomness of the cards are a red herring. They're only mildly powerful. The true randomness in the game, is in the element pull from the bag.

I've already dealt with that thematically. In terms of game play, there are ways of managing that, but it's not obvious right away.

And that's a good thing. Any game I can figure out on my first three plays is a game I'll likely never play again.

So to those complaining about the randomness or the luck factor I say, "learn how to play the game better." I also say "enjoy the ride!" It's a roller coaster.

This game will tax your memory and exercise your brain in a way that speaks to why we fell in love with boardgames in the first place.

Well the good ones anyway.

It feels like a game for grownups It's a serious theme (an epic struggle for survival) played on an equally epic board).

It has a professional quality feel to it. It's why you hear people here say I hear all your criticisms and you make some good points...but I like the game anyway. They just can't put their finger on it because this game is more than the sum of its parts.

It's an experience.

Maybe it's the GMT stamp. I'm not a war gamer although many moons ago one of my first boardgames was Avalon Hill's Tactics II (before I discovered Magic Realm).

But I'm finding these GMT guys, well, they know how to make games. They know how to take a complicated theme, explain it well (the clearest, most well written and overall best damn rulebook I've ever read) and turn it into an experience you can absorb the first time you sit down to play it.

Yes that's right. For all its complexity this game is easy to understand and play.

In summary, Dominant Species is a game for gamers by gamers. It's my second GMT game and I couldn't be happier. It's the only game I have ever rated a 10. (Twilight Struggle's a 9 for me. Most of my others are sevens with a few eights)

I'll be stunned if this game doesn't win an award.
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Chad Jensen
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Dominant Species is a game for gamers by gamers.

Indeed!

Thank you for the very kind review, Mike. I'm glad you're having fun with this beast.
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Jeremy Salinas
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The overall thematic "look" has always been my biggest and really only complaint that's caused me hesitation in procuring a copy. I might have to pick this up and give it a proper treatment as I have the other games I have Reviewed via Video. Decisions decisions.....

Jeremy D. Salinas
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David McGregor
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Drakkenstrike wrote:
The overall thematic "look" has always been my biggest and really only complaint that's caused me hesitation in procuring a copy. I might have to pick this up and give it a proper treatment as I have the other games I have Reviewed via Video. Decisions decisions.....

Jeremy D. Salinas
Drakkenstrike's Components Breakdown Video Review Series in HD


I know its all very abstract but seeing that board full of cubes and cones up there just fascinates me. I know different strokes for different folks but the look of this game, coupled with the theme, is what sparked my interest.

I love the colors.

Exceptional review!
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Warren Smith
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Drakkenstrike wrote:
I might have to pick this up and give it a proper treatment as I have the other games I have Reviewed via Video. Decisions decisions.....

Jeremy D. Salinas
Drakkenstrike's Components Breakdown Video Review Series in HD

Is this a foreshadow of good things to come? I hope so! Your components breakdowns are terrific, drakkenstrike.
Only this time I've got the jump on you... for once you won't be stretching out my wishlist (and my wallet) because I already own/play/love DS. Ha! Take that, sucka.laugh
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G. Gambill
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Well, I was waiting for the holiday break to write my review of this game, but now I don't have to. You have summarized all of my feelings and rebuttals about the criticisms of this game. Well done! I could not agree more with you. I have also found that this game is VERY easy to teach, not just because of the rulebook, but because it is so intuitive. The theme is spilling out of the box (maybe that's why they made it so darn think, just to contain the theme!) This game, IMO, is bound to be a permanent resident in the top 50, if not higher.
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Rob Bradley
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mikecl wrote:
The perceived randomness of the cards are a red herring. They're only mildly powerful. The true randomness in the game, is in the element pull from the bag.


You are dead on with this statement. I have seen games won and lost on those element pulls.
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Mike Clarke
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Chad Jensen wrote:
Quote:
Dominant Species is a game for gamers by gamers.

Indeed!

Thank you for the very kind review, Mike. I'm glad you're having fun with this beast.


You're only too welcome. This is the game that motivated me to write my first review in 10 years here.

Once I got it, I couldn't believe how unwarranted (at least for me) I found much of the earlier criticism that initially gave me pause. So I had to say something.

You as a game designer and GMT in general are firmly on my gaming radar now in a way you guys weren't before.

So thank you Chad for an excellent game. My desire to purchase more games has been quelled for now.

The rest were like Chinese food...a day later I'm hungry again. This one's a meal.

I'm not going to need another game for awhile.
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Diz Hooper
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Thanks for writing a great review. I also felt that the criticisms were too harsh for this game. This is one of those games that you can't stop thinking about after you play it and you just have to get it back to the table again. Unfortunately, I'll have to wait another two weeks before I can play it again!
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Christian Holmes
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Thanks for the review!

I have been interested in getting this game, but held off from preordering it, so I am one of those that will have to wait till March. cry

Your review has made me pine for it just a little bit more now!!!
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Tom Grant
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Good review. I agree, the graphics are not really an issue, unless you have zero imagination, or a fetish for purely representational art. If you're focused on the game, there's zero confusion about the terrain, and there are no tarted-up graphics to create visual overload.
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Great review thanks. I think your pictures really brought out how striking the game is without being fussy, which would ruin a game this complex I think. GMT are producing very nice boards which lay very flat and no creases.
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Well, Dominant Species may have Random "elements" (in the general as well as specific sense), but at the start of each turn there are NO surprises (other than what your fellow players may do).

Contrast this with Age of Empires III. Colonizing is a bear-too few soldiers and you waste them when too many natives appear. Too many soldiers and a wimpy colony isn't worth the payout and the soldiers and placement could have been better deployed elsewhere.

Dominant Species-again once the turn starts you KNOW what tiles are available for wanderlust, which elements are there for the taking via adaptation or abundance. So then the choice comes down to what do YOU want to do and how much of a price to pay (via placing an action pawn or placing a pawn early versus elsewhere).

Not quite a ten (a very solid 8) due to length, but quickly rocketing up the 'must play this anytime' pantheon inhabited by El Grande, Railroad Tycoon, etc.
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Mike Clarke
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Normally length is an issue for me too. And I can't say that it isn't here. I can only get it to the table on weekends.

However for me there are two kinds of time...subjective and objective.

Three to four hours is a long time objectively but it sure doesn't feel like three hours. I guess time really does fly when you're having fun.

Chad has suggested a variant that involves eliminating certain Dominance Cards to shorten the game

Like you, I've downgraded ratings for games of this length, but I'm not going to do it for this one.

For me, it's about as perfect as a game can get. And that's not to say there won't be others, but as you point out they're rare.

I now have my eye on another Jensen creation: Urban Sprawl. (I'll probably get it).

I have also pre-ordered Alien Encounters (a much lighter game) and am considering Mansions of Madness (when it's released) because I'm an Arkham Horror fan.

I'm also a fantasy fan and have been looking over Middle Earth Quest but for now I'm going to put all that on the backburner while I have fun with this monster of a game.

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I've never understood why people downgrade a game for length which is purely a personal factor that is independent from how good the game is. I would rather play a 10 downgraded to an 8 for length for 4 hours than an 8 rating for 2 hours, they are not the same to me.

I suppose it is the wargamer in me, several hour games is not an issue as long as it's a good game. If it's a bad game 5 minutes is too much. Game length is completely irrelevant to how good I think a game is.
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Anjohl wrote:


Too bad about the publisher though...$79.99 for a $39.99 value euro will hobble the game's market.

RGG could have gotten this to market for $40 without resorting to Chinese made components, or GMT's BS pricing model. It also wouldn't be out of print 2 months after release.


Which seems, nevertheless, to illustrate the point that people were willing to pay whatever they paid and the game still sold out. Sounds like success to me. shake
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Ryan Metzler
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Anjohl wrote:
Chad Jensen wrote:
Quote:
Dominant Species is a game for gamers by gamers.

Indeed!

Thank you for the very kind review, Mike. I'm glad you're having fun with this beast.


Too bad about the publisher though...$79.99 for a $39.99 value euro will hobble the game's market.

RGG could have gotten this to market for $40 without resorting to Chinese made components, or GMT's BS pricing model. It also wouldn't be out of print 2 months after release.


Strange that at it's $79.99 price point, this "$40 value" euro sold out...seems to me this makes it a $79.99 value euro.

Its out of print due to demand exceeding supply. For that reason it is being reprinted. Apparently the cost was justified as they sold all of the supply. Your logic on supply and demand seems to be all messed up.
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Chad Jensen
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RGG could have gotten this to market for $40

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I would rather sell 3000 copies with $20 profit on each than 500 with $40 profit on each.

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This game will be completely forgotten in a year

One wonders where you get your "facts" from. Did you pull these numbers from a box of Cracker Jacks? Can you list your authoritative sources or should we just take your word for it?
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Curt Carpenter
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Anjohl wrote:
RGG could have gotten this to market for $40...

RGG wouldn't have gotten this to market!

Anjohl wrote:
This game will be completely forgotten in a year...

That's hilarious. What's your definition of completely forgotten? Like the rank will fall from eighty-something to nintety-something? If anything the rank will only go up (toward 1) after the reprint, given the way the ranking biases toward number of raters.
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Ryan Metzler
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Anjohl wrote:

Care to make a wager on that? I have $100 that says the game falls below 300th within 24 months of the next reprint. I will honor any takers who are willing to PM with their email so we can exchange personal info to ensure accountability.


Are there 24 months in a year now?
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OK Jason, will take the bet. I have added an appointment 28 months from now to my outlook calendar to check the rankings and a link to this thread. Don't worry about trading details, I'm not going anywhere.

But really, you got yourself in trouble here by arguing from a point of weakness.

You rip on GMT's price.....for a game that is sold out
You rip on GMT's marketing...For a company that continues to grow
You claim Dominant Species will be forgotten because of these reasons...but somehow these reasons didn't stop Twilight Struggle.

In reality, the smallest cost of the game is cardboard. A game that you enjoy is worth Thousands, and a game that you dislike is worth pennies regardless of the quality of components vs. MSRP.
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Mike, this was an excellent review. I'm sorry the thread seems to have been hijacked. It's a shame, because it detracts from the review, which was quite well thought out and written. Everyone is, of course, entitled to their own opinion regarding economics and marketing, but these discussions may be better off in another forum perhaps.

Nice review, keep them coming! I've done a few myself, and know the work that goes into them. Don't make us wait another 10 years for you to share some thoughts on another game. The reviews from users are some of the best, most useful content here on the geek.
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Chad Jensen
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ggambill wrote:
Nice review, keep them coming! I've done a few myself, and know the work that goes into them. Don't make us wait another 10 years for you to share some thoughts on another game. The reviews from users are some of the best, most useful content here on the geek.

I heartily agree.
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Anjohl wrote:
curtc wrote:
Anjohl wrote:
This game will be completely forgotten in a year...

That's hilarious. What's your definition of completely forgotten? Like the rank will fall from eighty-something to nintety-something? If anything the rank will only go up (toward 1) after the reprint, given the way the ranking biases toward number of raters.

Care to make a wager on that? I have $100 that says the game falls below 300th within 24 months of the next reprint. I will honor any takers who are willing to PM with their email so we can exchange personal info to ensure accountability.

Sure! That's the easist $100 I've ever made! PM sent.

But I feel kinda guilty for accepting this, so I will give you until Dec 31, 2010 to admit that your claim is ridiculous, and cancel the bet.
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Mike Clarke
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ggambill wrote:
Mike, this was an excellent review. I'm sorry the thread seems to have been hijacked. It's a shame, because it detracts from the review, which was quite well thought out and written. Everyone is, of course, entitled to their own opinion regarding economics and marketing, but these discussions may be better off in another forum perhaps.

Nice review, keep them coming! I've done a few myself, and know the work that goes into them. Don't make us wait another 10 years for you to share some thoughts on another game. The reviews from users are some of the best, most useful content here on the geek.


Hey thanks for that!

Here's the thing. I almost didn't buy it for some of the criticisms. Now I've played a lot of games and I got this game on Friday of last week, played it Friday night, Saturday morning and Sunday morning with friends and my wife.

That's only three plays but it was more than enough for me to know that I had an elegant, intuitive, competitive and highly thematic game that replicated the evolutionary struggle (hard to do IMO) without boring me.

The last time I had a good evolutionary game was years ago with an Eon prodcuts release called Quirks which was really cartoony (but good!).
(I've never tried American MegaFauna or any of Phil Eklunds's games).

Still the evolutionary process was player driven. Here it's determined randomly which is much more realistic. My wife doesn't like wargames although she will play Twilight Struggle with me but she loves this game even when she's PERMANENTLY losing bits to the box. And actually more often than not, she's making me permanently lose bits to the box. For some reason, she really "gets" this game.

I started writing down my thoughts on some of the critiques on my IPhone no less because I had this small sense of outrage that a great game like this risked being lost in all the noise.

Within a few days I knew I had enough material for a review so I took some pix with my Nikon D50 and Bob's your uncle.

Now I know there's no such thing as THE perfect game. Every game has its warts, but this is about as close as you can get. It's very engaging, it's deep, It's different every time. It's tough to master.

I'm a former rated chess player and I find this game is chess-like in its depth yet, like chess, so simple to learn a kid can play it.

However it IS ironic that the thread whose title is "How I stopped worrying....and learned to love the bits" is hijacked by someone who thinks the game is too cheap and ugly for its price point.

Maybe he should go back and read my review. The whole point of this thread is that it's NOT.

The board is thick. The bits are wood. The elements are glossy with a nice, likely water resistant finish. Perhaps it's the artwork and lack of animeeples that's bugging him, but the components are NOT cheap.

They are simple, as has been discussed to death, because the game is complex and you need clarity to be able assess the player's positions at a glance.

The tiles could be a little thicker and I understand why Chad still uses his little wooden playtest blocks to hold them down. But I dealt with that in my review.

When you pay for a board game, you're not just purchasing components. You're buying an intellectual property with all the blood, sweat, tears and playtesting that went into the design.

This game excels in that respect. Its gameplay is second to none. I for one do not feel cheated in the least and I know that most everyone here who has played it, with very few exceptions, feels the same way.

Are we right? Who cares? We're happy because we're having fun. And Chad's happy because his game sold out.

It's really kind of hard to rain on this parade.
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