Ingenious Review

A game that I initially tried because there was an iPhone app for it was Ingenious (and if you notice from the picture, I actually had the Travel Edition).

Ingenious is an abstract spatial reasoning game. The game is played on a hexagonal shaped board in which players alternate placing pieces that are two hexes put together (like hex dominoes). After the first placement (in which players must place next to the symbols built into the board), the pieces can be placed anywhere on the board, but will primarily be placed next to other pieces with matching symbols. Once a piece is placed, you score points based on how many of the corresponding symbol are connected to the newly placed piece in each of the five lines beginning at the new tile (not going through the other half of the tile). If the newly placed tile causes the active player to score 18 in any of his colors, he can immediately place again. If not, he draws a new tile and then the other player takes his turn. Play goes on like this until no more tiles can be laid; at this point, whichever player has the highest number of points in his lowest scoring color/symbol is the winner (yes, it is by Reiner Knizia, in case you were wondering by this mechanic).

Let's begin with the paragraph that is in each of my spatial reasoning reviews: I don't really know how to express what I like about these games. I think other people had this issue, too, which is why they termed these games "abstract". So, if the rest of this review seems more like "rambling" (even more than normal) than it does "concise thoughts", you'll just have to get over that.

I really like how the placement of pieces works in the game. Especially because you can use pieces both offensively and defensively (and I imagine if I get better at the game, I'll be able to use them as both at the same time). You can use the pieces offensively by placing a color next to pre-existing tiles of the same color - this scores points and continuing the line of colors, but this also leaves it open for your opponent (or you on a future turn) to be able to score even more points. You can also play defensively by cutting off a long line of a single color by placing a different color at the end of it. However, then nobody will be able to score that line anymore. The ideal situation is to be able to place your tile in such a way as to be able to score the long line and then have the second half of your tile block off any future scoring of this line (preferably while scoring it's color, too). That would prevent your opponent from being able to easily earn points in one of the colors - which would then probably turn out to be his lowest scoring color.

Another thing that I like about Ingenious is the "Ingenious bonus". This is where you get to place two tiles in a row if the first tile caused one of your colors to finally be 18 points (the highest score on a specific color). Having 18 points in a color doesn't really help you in the game - after all, if a color has it's maximum number of points, then it won't be your lowest, and so it won't be the one that scores. However, with the Ingenious bonus, it is just rewarding enough to tempt you into scoring extra in that color. If I have a color that is around 15, I will start looking to get the Ingenious bonus in order to be able to go again - I'm not convinced it helps me very much strategically, I just really like getting to go twice in a row.

A final pro that I will mention is that I really like scoring based on your least valuable color.  Whereas I have seen this mechanic in other games, it seems to work the best in Ingenious.  Because of this mechanic, each player must make sure that they don't simply ignore one color.  More specifically (since each tile only has two colors on it) they must make sure that they don't ignore one color for too long.  You will probably not evenly place your colors throughout the game - you just have to make sure that as you place them you are planning ahead to where you will be able to score points on your other colors.  And one thing that helps in this (that I haven't mentioned yet) is that if you don't have any tiles matching the color that you have the least points in, you can discard all of your tiles and draw six new ones at the end of your turn.  This helps prevent the "score based on your lowest value" mechanic from causing you to lose simply because of what you draw.

I can't really think of any specific cons for Ingenious. I enjoy the game, but not quite as much as some other spatial reasoning games. I think this is really when my inability to speak in a very intelligent manner about the genre comes into play. I like the game, but there is just something about it that I didn't like quite as much as some of the others; and that's why it won't get quite as good of a score. However, don't hear me saying that it's not a good game, because it definitely is.

I'm sure that there's a lot more that I should say about the game, and that I'm not doing it justice by any means, but honestly I don't really have much more to add to this review. One thing that I will note is that I'm not a fan of the Travel Edition - I don't recommend buying it unless you actually intend to play it while traveling. The pieces are very small and it is a nuisance to try to pick them up. I didn't factor this into the score, though, since it is about the edition that I have and not about the game itself.

Overall, I give Ingenious an 8.0/10. It is a very solid abstract spatial reasoning game that I will continue to play. I still prefer Dvonn (which is growing on me more all the time), Yinsh, and Abalone, but Ingenious is a very solid title that I plan to continue playing for quite a while (though I did go ahead and replace my Travel Edition with the full-sized version).

Repello Review

Another intriguing looking game by Mindtwister USA (makers of the fabulous game of Pentago) that I had the opportunity to play was Repello (which for some reason they don't seem to sell through Amazon).

In Repello (the first game I've played by Mindtwister that doesn't involve twisting the board) the object of the game is to score points by knocking pieces off of the board. This is possible because every piece "repels" every other piece - but you (as the active player) get to choose which piece gets repelled, and which piece stays. To start your turn, you move your piece one space in any direction (and leave behind a round black disc from your pogo-stick looking marker). Each square on the board has a number on it, and after your initial single-space movement, you continue moving by this many more spaces. If you run into a wall, then you "bounce" back in the opposite direction (or at a 45 degree angle if you come at it diagonally). After your move is completed, you must check to see if any two pieces on the board are adjacent to each other. If so, you must move one of them directly backwards from the piece it is adjacent to - if there are several pieces adjacent to each other, you choose the order that the "repelling" occurs in. After this initial "repelling", you again check for adjacent pieces, and you continue this process until the board is in a "resolved" state (no two pieces are adjacent) - this repelling is how you knock pieces off (to score points). Play continues in this manner until each player's pogo-stick marker is out of black discs. At that point, the game is over, and players score points for each of their discs.

The first pro to Repello is that it is incredibly chaotic. The game starts off (and can end) a bit slowly, but there is a peak in the middle of the game where a player will push pieces all across the board. Since each turn adds another disc to the board, the game is setup so that there will be adjacent pieces at some point. And after several of these pieces have been left behind (and before too many of them have been knocked back off) there will be some turns in which a player may wind up moving 10 or more pieces. These turns are great, and they are really where some players start to get a major point advantage in the game.  This is also the most fun part about the game - "I'm going to move here and see what happens..." <five minutes later> "Ok, I'm done!" (after scoring 5 points).

The next pro to Repello is that it is really kid friendly. I can see people of any age playing the game, as the rules are simple enough to teach to kids (I would guess) as young as 6-8. What's more, kids may actually have more fun than adults with this game, as I could see them just enjoying the actual playing of the game, and so they would play it quickly (see the con below for how it works with adults).

The final pro that I will mention is one that I was the victim of the first time I played - you can knock off other players. Specifically, when you knock off other players, you get to steal a disc from their pogo-stick, and you also get to steal a disc that they had previously collected (such as that gold disc worth 5 points). This adds to both the fun and the strategy of the game; the fun because most people will enjoy knocking their opponent off, and the strategy because once you have collected valuable discs you need to make sure that your opponent cannot knock you off. However, after you are knocked off, you get to return to the board in one of the "green" (starting) tiles - and then you get to resolve all conflicts before making your move. This essentially gives you two opportunities to knock things off of the board! So, whereas it is not good to be knocked off (you lose a turn and a disc), you can really gain quite a few points when you come back on the board.

Now for the cons... ANALYSIS PARALYSIS (having so many options and/or so much input that you take forever to make a decision). Criminey, gee wilikers, and holy schnikes, Repello may as well have invented Analysis Paralysis! When playing with strategic minds, most of what you will see when playing the game is people sitting in their seat pointing at the board and counting to themselves. Each turn you have 9 different directions that you can move, and then you may have dozens to hundreds of combinations that you can do with repelling the pieces back and forth. In fact, you have so many options that when you finally do find what appears to be the "best" option, you then go back and ask yourself, "crud, now how did that start?" What makes this even worse is that you can't really do any of this until your turn starts because your opponents will quite possibly change up the entire board - and will at the very least change where they are located (which could mess with your entire chain). (I mentioned earlier that this is kid friendly. I don't think that they will deal with this as much, as kids are more likely to just play and see what happens.)

The next con is that the rules are not quite as clear as I would like in a few instances. For example, I'm still not entirely sure what all the rules are when a player runs out of discs on his piece. If, for example, one unfortunate player (me) has been knocked off the board several times, does his turn get skipped once he is out of pieces to leave behind? What about if he gets knocked off the board - does he get to come back on the board? I believe that the instructions do talk about these things, but it wasn't in clear enough language that we were confident that we were playing it completely correctly.

Overall, I give Repello a 7.5/10. I thought that it was fun, unique, and interesting. However, the Analysis Paralysis can cause this "30+ minute" game to take an hour and a half or more when I play it, and I think that this causes the game to drag a bit more than I would like. If you like spatial reasoning games, this is definitely one that you should consider - and if you have kids that like chaotic games, this can deliver there as well. 

I would like to thank Mindtwister USA for providing me with a review copy of Repello.

Legend of Drizzt Review

Dungeons and Dragons Legend of Drizzt board game in play

One of my very first reviews (I believe it was actually my second overall review) was of Castle Ravenloft. I enjoyed the game, but felt like it had limited replayability. Now that Wizards of the Coast has made two more Dungeons & Dragons titles, I was willing to try again - this time with Legend of Drizzt.

In Legend of Drizzt (just like in Castle Ravenloft), you are playing Dungeons and Dragons as a board game. This means that the scenarios and monsters are preset, but it gives you the opportunity to play with all of your friends without any of them having to run the game as the GM. Each player takes on the role of a hero and the players collectively attempt to accomplish the goal of the scenario (beat the big dragon, recover the treasure - you know, something heroic). Each turn, the players are able to move twice, or move and attack (or attack and then move). After doing this, if they are adjacent to an unexplored edge of the board, they can reveal a new dungeon tile (and a monster). If they don't explore, then they have an encounter (which never ends well, especially if you are near volcanic vents). Finally, the active player must move all of the monsters that he controls. Play continues like this until one of the heroes has died or until the heroes have accomplished their mission.

The first thing that I like about Legend of Drizzt is the same thing that attracted me initially to Castle Ravenloft - I enjoy that I am able to take part in a nice role-playing adventure without all of the setup time. Compared to a normal campaign of Dungeons and Dragons, you can very quickly start (and play) a game of Drizzt.  And yet, though the game is brief compared to a normal campaign, the scenarios are very well done and I did not feel like the lack of a GM made the game any less enjoyable.

The next thing that I like about Drizzt is that you can customize your character, and that there are several characters to choose from - including some characters that are villains in some scenarios and heroes in others (I thought that this was a nice touch). There are significantly more heroes than players allowed in a game, which means that if you play the game repeatedly, you can use different characters each time. In addition, you are able to customize the attacks and "powers" that your character has each game, which allows you to even play the same character differently and tailor him to the scenario that you are playing.

A third pro that I think is interesting about Legend of Drizzt is how monster control works. On a player's turn, he controls all of the monsters that he has revealed on previous turns. However, so that you don't have to keep track of which instance of a given monster each player revealed, if there are several copies of a monster on the board (such as a Spider Swarm), the player controlling that monster will have to activate each copy of it on the board. So, if you are not paying attention to some of the smaller monsters, you must be careful that you don't allow too many copies of them out on the table, or else they will start activating very quickly! Whereas this is a fairly minor rule, I thought that it was a nice touch to the game.

The final pro that I will mention about Drizzt relates to the replayability issue that I had in Castle Ravenloft - I really like that they have added different kinds of scenarios. Now, instead of each scenario being strictly cooperative, some scenarios are team based, some are cooperative, and some are even competitive! The monsters that are encountered are still the same, but these different scenario types completely change the strategy with which you play the game - thus allowing the playing experience to stay a bit more fresh.

However, with that said, I still felt that the replayability of the game was a bit lacking. My biggest problem with Drizzt was that you are experiencing the same encounters and monsters every time through the game. Yes, there will be some games where you don't encounter one specific type of monster, but in essentially every game that we played, we ran into the same Feral Troll, Spider Swarm, and Hunting Drake. The scenarios are nice, and I do honestly like them, but the problem is that every scenario involves fighting through the same handful of monsters until you either die or get to whatever aspect of the scenario sets it apart from all of the others. Either way, 75% of the game deals with fighting the same grunts as in every other scenario.

The only other real con that I had for Drizzt was the opposite of the first pro that I mentioned. I really like that you can quickly pick up and play a short scenario of Dungeons and Dragons - but the cost in terms of gameplay is that your character will not really develop very much. None of the heroes are able to level up beyond level 2 (and often don't even get that far). This means that you won't have the satisfaction of the character truly becoming "yours." He will still feel like the out of the box character that he was at the beginning of the game.

Overall, I give Legend of Drizzt a 7.0/10. Adding the different kinds of scenarios helped address my largest problem with Ravenloft, and so it helped my score to go up a full point over what I gave to Castle Ravenloft! If you enjoyed the previous games in this series, then I fully believe that you will enjoy Drizzt as well. If you have been curious about the series, then I would recommend that you play them - they are definitely worth playing! I would simply recommend that (if possible) you play them a couple times before deciding whether you want to invest the money into purchasing your own copy.

For a second take, check out this Review of Legend of Drizzt on Play Board Games. And, if Legend of Drizzt sounds interesting, you might also want to check out Talisman Revised 4th Edition, Mage Wars, and Game of Thrones Living Card Game.

I would like to thank Wizards of the Coast for providing me with a review copy of Legend of Drizzt.

Jin Li Review

A game that I had never heard of was called "Jin Li". Then, a tornado blew up my house and lots of people sent me games. One of those people, David MacKenzie of Clever Mojo Games, sent me Jin Li. As I was looking for a new game to play, I asked myself "hey, what's that weird little game in the canvas zipper?" And thus... I found friendly fish.

In fact, the fish in Jin Li are so friendly that they want to touch each other (not in the dirty way, pervert - these are good, wholesome fish!). Instead, they just like being near the other fish. Because of this, they will reward you with their form of currency called "victory points" if you are able to get them adjacent to each other. Specifically, each turn you can move one of your fish and place a stone, or you can jump over a stone. You cannot jump over more than one stone or another fish. We call those things "cheating". However, if, after moving your fish, it is adjacent to other fish, then you score one point for each fish that is adjacent to the fish you just moved. Keep doing this until one person gets enough "victory points" to escape the fishbowl. Wait, these fish like each other... they don't want to escape. Oh well, the game is played to ten anyway.

The first thing that I like about Jin Li is that you only score on the fish that was just moved. If this weren't the case, I think that the game would be broken. After all, if your opponent moves his fish next to you, then at the end of the next turn you are still next to him. However, since it is only the fish that was just moved, you have to find a way to move and still be adjacent to the other fish. And there might be pesky stones in your way.

The second thing I like about Jin Li is the pesky stones that might be in your way. If it weren't for the placing of the stones, the fish would easily swim next to each other in peace and bliss forever (though you would punish them by leaving them in the game box (canvas zipper), since the game wouldn't be any fun). The stones, however, are the key element in thwarting what your opponent (and his fish) want to do. Stones can be used to both help your fish move more quickly (if a single stone is in front of you) and to block your opponent from moving (if multiple stones are in front of him). The stones combined with fish placement and the fact that you cannot jump over an opponent's fish all combine to make for an impressively strategic game with ridiculously simple instructions.

The main "con" to Jin Li is that it is a filler game. I won't ever go meet up with any of my friends simply to play Jin Li. I used to live 5 minutes away from the game store where I played most of my games; it would take about as long to get to the store as it would to play through a game of Jin Li. I really enjoy the game, but it is by all of my definitions a filler game that I will play in between longer games.

The nit-picky con to Jin Li is that the "board" (which appears to be a mousepad with the playing area screen-printed on it) does not like to lay flat.  Neither do the instructions.  I think that this is because they spend most of their life rolled up inside the canvas zipper.

Right, the instructions all fit on a single page.  So I should stop before my review of the game winds up being significantly longer than the instructions.

Overall, I give Jin Li an 8.5/10. It is a very nice little strategy game that is a great way of passing time when waiting for other games to be played. I would recommend that everyone go out and buy it but, unfortunately, it is not easily (cheaply) available in the United States. It is (as far as I know) only printed in Spain through Nestor Games. However, there is an iPod/iPad/iPhone version available for $0.99. I bought it and I have really enjoyed it - I would recommend you check it out as well.

Like abstract games?  You might also read my reviews of Abalone, Dvonn, Pentago, and Rise.

I would like to thank David MacKenzie of Clever Mojo Games for sending me a copy of Jin Li along with several boxes of other games from his personal collection to help rebuild my collection and to give to the people of Joplin after the tornado. Thanks, David!

Multiplayer Pentago Review

So, as those of you who have followed my site for a while know, I really enjoyed playing Pentago (see my review here). Because of this, I was quite intrigued about Multiplayer Pentago.

Multiplayer Pentago is the same as Pentago - play one, spin one, try to get five in a row. However, instead of only being two player, it can be played with up to four players (or on two teams of two). In addition, instead of only having a 2x2 grid, now the gameboard is a 3x3 grid - adding 5 new sections that can spin.

Now that you know the game, I'm not going to really re-iterate the pros and cons, because they're really the same as in the original. Instead, I'll discuss the differences with the basic game of Pentago to give you a better feel of which one you might prefer.

First, Multiplayer Pentago gives you more ways to win. In the original game, you could be sneaky. So sneaky, in fact, that your five in a row could be spread out across three different tiles. However, if you're that sneaky player in Multiplayer Pentago, you can spread it across four tiles! Plus, the simple middle lines can now spread across three different tiles, making a three in a row on any given tile much more dangerous - it can now be expanded in either direction.

Next, you have the simple fact that you can play the game with more people. I like this feature, and I've enjoyed playing with both three and four players. Three players has an interesting dynamic in which, if one player is leading, the other players can both stop him. Instead of being only one "spin" away, two players can easily join forces to spin the other player's pieces in the wrong direction. However, you can also get caught in a situation where one player keeps blocking the player in front of him - just to let the third player's strategy go undefended (this is the player that gets to win). Four player's dynamics feel more like the basic game, but you have to watch out for so many more connections!  When defending, though, you have help - if you don't see a five in a row coming, some of the other players might (or they might all be fooled! This happens too).

I also really enjoy the team aspect of Multiplayer Pentago. At first I didn't think that I would ever bother playing it. However, I think that it really is a fun way of playing the game - it can also be helpful if you play with a couple of people that don't have as much Pentago experience. For example, I have forced (ahem, "sweetly convinced") my wife to play Pentago quite a bit - so she's good at the game. We invited another couple over to our house and pulled out Multiplayer Pentago. It worked quite nicely for me and my wife to each pair up with a member of the other couple to form balanced teams. (And our house rule is that you can't talk to your partner; they just have to see the strategy. This prevents the player with more experience from basically just playing both turns, thus keeping the game more fun for all involved.)

The main place where I feel like the original Pentago may be better is in it's design - the original game was a great combination of sleek look with built in portability. Whereas I think that both games have a nice looking design, I think that the original Pentago just has a classic simple beauty to it. Plus, with the snap on lid (at least in the copy that I have) it is much easier to carry around - and with a much smaller footprint in my car (or bag).  (Though, to be fair to the Multiplayer Pentago when talking about design, the double-sided pieces have grown on me.  Instead of having four different kinds of pieces, there are still two - green/yellow pieces and blue/red pieces, and each player plays with his color up.  It's a nice little touch.)

Overall, I give Multiplayer Pentago an 8.5/10. It's Pentago - with more options. I still don't think that people will get together just to play it (hence the 8.5 instead of 9.0), but I think that when people get together and start playing Multiplayer Pentago, they will enjoy it. And now, they'll feel less exclusive while doing so!

I would like to thank Mindtwister USA for providing me with a review copy of Multiplayer Pentago

Lord of the Rings: The Card Game Shadows of Mirkwood Expansion Review


Now that all six installments of the "Shadows of Mirkwood" expansion to Lord of the Rings: The Card Game have been released, I figured it was time for me to write a combined review. This review will cover all six expansions, which include: The Hunt for Gollum, Conflict at the Carrock, A Journey to Rhosgobel, The Hills of Emyn Muil, The Dead Marshes, and Return to Mirkwood. Since this review is of an expansion, I am going to assume that you are familiar with the basics of Lord of the Rings: The Card Game, and if not, feel free to check out my review of it here. Also, since I've already covered the pros and cons of the basic game, this review will focus more on themes of the expansion set.


Isn't this the real reason that you're interested in buying expansions? You're curious who Fantasy Flight is going to come up with? Well, here's a cheat sheet of the heroes that were released in this wave (in the order that I find them in my box, not in the order they were released): Bilbo Baggins (green), Prince Imrahil (purple), Dain Ironfoot (purple), Frodo Baggins (blue), Boromir (red), and Brand son of Bain (red).

Bilbo Baggins
So, here's the next important question with heroes - are they worth using? Actually, I found this to be a surprising "yes." Like with most cards in the game (other than Gandalf), it really depends on what kind of deck you're building and what scenario you are playing. For example, one of my favorite decks is a Green/Purple deck that allows me to draw a lot of cards and then have the resources to play them. Biblo fits in quite nicely in this deck (his ability allows the first player to draw an extra card) - unless there are lots of bad treacheries and fighting, because he only has two hit points.

I also really like that Fantasy Flight was able to add heroes that I was unfamiliar with. When I opened the first couple of packs from this expansion, I received Bilbo and Frodo Baggins. I thought to myself, "Gee, I guess this is the hobbit wave - here come Sam, Merry, and Pippin." But, then, I was pleasantly surprised with people that I was unfamiliar with. This means that Fantasy Flight is investing a lot of time into the lore of Middle Earth (or making things up and tricking me). Either way, it means that they have a lot of ideas and plan to keep this game fresh.

Deck Building

Do you have an obsessive need to have the best possible deck? To fill this need, do you have to buy all the new cards when they come out? Were you as annoyed as me when the base set did not contain three copies of each card, thus forcing you to buy several copies of the base game to build the deck that you really wanted? Then rejoice!! Fantasy Flight fixed my biggest complaint about this game! Each of the expansions contains three copies of each card that can be used for deck construction - a full "play set." This means that you only have to buy one copy of each pack, and you can build whatever deck you want!

With that stated, there were a few overall themes in these sets.
Songs are the cards that allow you to build better cross-colored decks. They each require a neutral resource, and there are four different types - corresponding to the different colors. Each song can be played on a hero, and it gives that hero another resource symbol - suddenly your Purple hero's resources can be used for Purple and Green (or whatever other color, depending on the song you play). These were critical cards, and I'm glad that they released them in the first expansion instead of waiting on them.
This wave really focused on the Red cards being Eagle related. There are several Eagles released - both unique and non-unique, and there are also many cards that work well with the Eagles (cards that let you search the top of your deck for Eagle cards, etc). Whereas I was quite hesitant about the Eagles when the wave started, by the end of it enough Eagle cards had been released that I feel like a solid Eagle-themed deck could be built. Also, there are several good Eagle cards (like Landroval) that can be used to improve a Red deck regardless of whether it is Eagle themed.

My favorite Eagle cards are Landroval and Radagast (who isn't actually an Eagle). They're both expensive, but they're both worth the cost. Landroval is able to save a hero as it is destroyed (I believe this is the only effect currently available in the game that allows this). Radagast collects resources like a hero, but his resources can only be used to pay for "Creature" (currently Eagle) cards. These cards are both incredibly useful, and I can see them being used a lot through the rest of the expansions.
The theme around many of the new Blue cards was Rohan. Similar to the Eagles, Blue gained more and more cards that were either Rohan characters or that supported Rohan cards. I'm not convinced that there is quite enough power behind the Rohan cards that are currently released to make an effective Rohan themed deck, but I must confess that I haven't tried. I have spent most of this wave enamored with my Purple/Green deck (Steward of Gondor is, by far, my favorite card; I also love the Sneak Attack/Gandalf combination), so I will leave off the discussion of Rohan for someone more qualified.


If we only ever had the basic three adventures, this game sure would get boring, wouldn't it? Not to mention, it would be simple to build a deck that could win consistently, especially with all the new heroes and deck cards. Fortunately, each new set came with a new adventure.
The Hunt for Gollum
The concept behind this scenario is that you are searching for clues to find Gollum. This really fleshes out the Objective cards that are only used in the base game in the hard scenario. Throughout the scenario, you will need to find various Clues about where Gollum has been hiding. If you don't find Clues, then you will not be able to quest in the last stage of the adventure. And yet, the more Clues you expose, the harder the enemies become. I like this scenario, and I think it is surprisingly challenging. For whatever reason, however, it seems the most fiddly to me. I have played it around 5-7 times, and I hardly ever remember to do each little card action ("at the start of the quest phase...", "after successfully questing...", etc).
Conflict at the Carrock
Do you like fighting? Then this scenario is for you! Honestly, this is the scenario that I have played the least, because it seems like it works best with multiple players (and I have played the game a decent amount two or three players, but much of my gameplay has been solo). You start the game with four names Trolls just waiting to puch you in the face once you get to the second phase of the quest. What's worse, in the first phase of the quest the treacheries are absolutely atrocious! Your heroes can become "Sacked!" which makes them completely useless... and can instantly kill them if a certain other treachery comes out. This is definitely the hardest scenario of the six, but it is quite rewarding if you win. The key (from what I've seen) is to get to the second quest phase quickly, keep your threat down, and kill the Trolls off one at a time.
A Journey to Rhosgobel
This could also be known as the "Quest to Save Wilyador." The goal of this scenario is to protect and heal Wilyador (an Eagle). This I think is the most creative, and possibly most enjoyable, scenario of all the ones I have played. Eagles and Ranged characters are crucial, as many enemies will only be able to be blocked by characters with these traits. To put you on the clock, however, Wilyador receives two wounds at the end of each turn. Fortunately, there are Objective cards that can be used at the end of the game to heal Wilyador by five wounds each. I recommend that you have some other cards (Green) that can help his healing process along as well, because if you do not completely heal him at the end of the game, then you will lose.
The Hills of Emyn Muil
I have heard more complaints online about this scenario that any of the others. This is a single quest phase scenario (that requires only 1 quest point on that phase), but you must have 20 victory points and no Emyn Muil locations in play in order to win. This scenario is really fairly simple (it is mostly questing and traveling to locations), especially if you have the Northern Tracker (or several of them) in play. I will agree that this is probably the least enjoyable scenario to play, but I wasn't really disappointed with it. I am glad that there is a different flavor to each scenario.
The Dead Marshes
Ah, Gollum. This is his first appearance. Specifically, you have captured Gollum, and he is doing his best to escape. This introduces a new concept called the "Escape Test." Every so often, Gollum will attempt to escape, and you will be forced to attempt an Escape Test to see how successful he is. These work similarly to questing, but certain cards will have "Escape: X" on them instead of using the Threat amount on a card. If Gollum does ever escape, then he shuffles back into the Encounter Deck. And then the game goes on until you can find him again! (I don't recommend letting him escape.) This really is an interesting new feature to the game, and I like it theoretically. Unfortunately, I get bored when games force you to draw a card that is shuffled somewhere in a draw pile in order to win. So, when Gollum escaped from me, I did eventually win, but I was somewhat bored by the time he finally came up.
Gollum Number 2
Return to Mirkwood
Welcome back, Gollum! This time you have (somehow) broken Gollum's spirit, and you are dragging him along with you. Unfortunately, you have to keep Gollum alive, which means committing a player to Guard him. This person is too close to Gollum, and needs to be careful not to listen closely to him - and this is represented by having his Threat raised by three instead of one at the end of each turn. There are also a lot of Treachery cards and Shadow effects that try to harm (and kill off) the player guarding Gollum. This was another one that I enjoyed, and overall I was quite happy that each of these scenarios really had a different feel to them.


Overall, I give the Shadows of Mirkwood expansion a 9.0/10. I was quite happy with them, and I really felt like they expanded every aspect of a game that I already loved. If Fantasy Flight keeps this up, I can see myself continuing to play this game for quite some time.

Rise! Review

Rise! board game prototype in play
Note: This picture is of a prototype copy of Rise!  Final copies may look different
An interesting game that I saw on Kickstarter was Rise! So, after they asked me if I'd be willing to check it out for them, I gladly obliged.

In the great world of Nameless Land, an epic battle raged on between the fearsome Blue Horde and the epic Red Minions (who were disparagingly referred to as "Brown Blockies" (because in my prototype they look brown). In this epic struggle, the two sides sent their round (did they eat too much, or are the a race of round aliens? You'll have to decide for yourself) peasants into the war zone to secure areas where they could build their alien landing pads. (I guess we went with aliens... maybe they should be Pyramids... wait, no! I have it! Blocks of shrinking size! This is the beauty of abstract strategy games.) But while building, these multipurpose round peasants must both fight off opposing round-ites and build their own blocks! They need three Pyramids before the epic destruction of their empire, their world, their universe, and this website! Oh no!!!!!

Ok, so really... Rise! is an abstract strategy game. The goal of the game is to build 3 towers - each tower consisting of 3 levels. Simple enough? The game is played on a growing hexagonal map and to construct a tower, you must have a hex surrounded with your pieces (and the center must be empty). At this point, a stage of the tower is automatically created, and each turn that you still have your pieces in place the next stage of the tower is built. Each turn consists of two actions. Here are your choices: place a new piece adjacent to one of your existing pieces, move a piece, remove a tower piece (rarely), "jump" a piece (capturing an opponent adjacent to you), place a new land tile, sacrifice two pieces to place one anywhere on the board, or sacrifice two pieces to remove any single piece of your opponent. Players alternate turns until either one player lost their last piece (I've not seen this happen) or one player has three towers completed.

What to say about Rise! Well. First of all, I must admit that Rise! has a different feel than any spatial reasoning game that I've ever played - and I've played a ton of them (after all, I even self-deemed this month "abstract strategy month"... though I noticed that no other sites bothered to join me). It's good when a game brings a fresh new feel to a genre. There are familiar elements - jumping, moving, building maps, but I've not seen them all together in a way that feels similar to Rise!  Kudos to Crash Games for coming up with something innovative.

Now that I've mentioned a pro, I'm going to mention my biggest con - then I'll just move on to rambling about the game. Let's be honest for a minute. My first game of Rise! was horrible! Afterwards, I thought to myself, "Well. That sucked." (Yes, I can be quite profane like that when I'm thinking to myself.) Here's why: we didn't interact. In Rise! it is critical to be adjacent to your opponent. If you look at how a hexagonal "circle" is built, when a person is able to encircle a single hex (and then places a piece in the center), he has an impenetrable fortress - it cannot be thwarted by jumping, because each piece has a defensive piece behind it. This leaves the option to sacrifice two units to remove one of his to break the circle. Well, if you are not in a position to fill in that newly formed gap, then you have three options: first, sacrifice two more pieces to fill it in; second, take it and allow your opponent to take it right back (costing yourself two pieces for the cost of one of your opponent's actions); third, give up and cede the tower to your opponent. This is not something we realized going into the game - so we spent too much of the beginning of the game playing in our own areas. So, when one of us started building a tower, there was absolutely nothing that the other player could do about it. It was horrible, and we didn't see the point to the game. But then we decided to try again (this is also called "giving my free review copy of a game a fair shot") - and this time we rushed at each other to make sure we stayed in position. And then the game got interesting!

Now I'm just going to talk about things that I think are interesting about the game. The first thing that I think is interesting is that, though the game is officially about "building towers", it is actually about controlling the board. The person with the most pieces on the board is probably going to win. He has options. He can sacrifice his pieces to clear out his opponent's most important pieces, and if needed, he can even sacrifice more pieces to take over that position. I've found that the best strategy is to focus on killing your opponent and then build towers. After all, who builds a tower without laying a foundation? The foundation in Rise! is the destruction of your opponent!

The next thing that I think is interesting is that there seems to be a tipping point in the game. There can be a back and forth struggle at the beginning, but at least in the few games that I've played, there is a point in which one player starts to run away with the game. And it's probably the player that has the most pieces. Because they laid a good foundation (see previous paragraph for ongoing joke. Now laugh. You're welcome. I never said it was "funny," so if you chose not to laugh, you should learn to be less picky about your humor).

As I stated before, it is very, very hard to break a circle that your opponent has started. In fact, it will always (unless I horribly missed something) cost you at least two pieces to attempt to break your opponent's in-progress tower. I find this interesting. Basically, I feel like it is the game telling you, "Well, then don't let them do that in the first place!" And, yet, if you are positioned well, you can actually do something about his tower. Or, if he sacrifices the pieces around his tower, you can even start destroying it (if you encircle it with your own pieces). At first I was annoyed that I couldn't break up my opponent's in-progress tower very easily, but as I kept playing, I realized that this adds to the strategy - you really have to work hard to prevent him from initially starting the construction.

Speaking of which, I think that the land placement adds an interesting element to the game. One of the things that the ever-growing grassy ice-flow allows is to easily jump your opponents (you can place a land tile behind him as a "landing place"). Another area where the land placement can affect the game is by one player forcing the other player to be the one placing all of the land. If I am able to get my opponent to place the land tiles (because he is trying to complete a circle, get better position, or whatever other reason) then I can often take advantage by gaining on him in number of pieces. Any action spent growing the board is an action not spent strengthening your position. And yet, at some point one of the players must make the board grow.

The final thing that I will mention about Rise! that I found interesting is that you really have to be careful to make sure that your "offensive" moves do not backfire. For example, if I have two pieces next to one of your pieces, but mine are at the edge of the board, it is a simple matter for you to take one of my pieces. Simply add a new land tile behind my piece and then jump over me. Poof! - my piece is gone. Of course, I'll probably use my next turn to place a piece back where I had one, and then to place a piece where your piece was. After that exchange, I have one more piece than I started with, you have the same number as you had before, and I'm in a better defended position. I'm winning because you went on the offensive! (If only school fights worked like this... "Johnny punched me in the face and then fell down because he broke his hand on my head.")

Overall, I give Rise! an 8.0/10. I debated this back and forth a bit, but I figured that if I had bought Rise! I would have been happy with my purchase. It is not my favorite spatial reasoning game of all time, but I think that it has a nice, deep strategy to it - and that the games will get better as you play it more. Plus, you have the opportunity to support it on Kickstarter until December 31, 2011, and help a fledgling game company try to achieve their dream! (As a note, I've given up on even pretending to care about every game that is on Kickstarter. There's no way for me to support all of them, and some of the ones I've wound up playing didn't necessarily deserve to exist. But you can get the basic game of Rise! for $20, and it's a solid enough game that I would actually recommend that you help out Crash Games.)

Like abstract games?  You might also read my reviews of Gipf, Ingenious, Dvonn, Pentago, and Jin Li.

I would like to thank Crash Games for providing me with a review prototype copy of Rise!

Quoridor Review

Quoridor board game

 An interesting little game that I classify as spatial reasoning is Quoridor

In Quoridor, each player controls a pawn that they are attempting to move to the opposite side of the board. They also control a certain number of "fences" that they use to block their opponent(s) from moving their own pawns across the board. Each turn a player can either move his pawn or place a fence. The only real rule about fence placement is that you must always leave a path for your opponent(s) to be able to reach his goal.

The first thing that I like about Quoridor is that a good player (I'm not one) can use his fences for both offense and defense. One way is pretty obvious - put fences in front of your opponent. However, once you become good at the game, you will be able to use your fences to protect yourself as well. There are very few rules, but one is critical - a path cannot be completely blocked off. Therefore, if you are smart with your fences, you are able to play your fences so that your opponent cannot play their fence as effectively as they would like. You do this by playing your fence so that if your opponent plays theirs in response it will completely block off the path. I wish that I were better at using my fence both ways, but, even though I'm not good at using mine like this, I like this aspect of the game.

Since my person rule is to try to not write a review longer than the rules, it's time for me to mention a con (and then stop writing - the rules are really short). The game can quickly turn into a race. Once all of the fences are placed, all that is left is to see who can get to the other side faster. This isn't a huge drawback, since the strategy is mostly in placing the fences, but it is somewhat anti-climactic once all of the fences are placed to just alternate moving pawns back and forth.

Overall, I give Quoridor a 7.5/10. It's not the greatest spatial reasoning game that I've ever played, but it is worth playing. If you like mazes and such, this is definitely a game that would be worth checking out.  I hope you're not too disappointed with the short review!

If Quoridor sounds like your kind of game, you might also want to check out Gipf, Brandubh, and Ingenious.

Quadrago Review

After absolutely falling in love with Pentago, I was interested in checking out other games by Mindtwister. Because of this, I asked to try out Quadrago.

In Quadrago, the goal is to get four pieces in a row. You are playing inside of a 4x4x4 cube which can spin in the middle. Each turn, you place a piece on one of the rods. Then, optionally, you may spin the middle 2x2 section 90 degrees (one "notch"). The first player to get four pieces in a row first - vertically, horizontally, diagonally, or a combination of these - is the winner.

The first thing that I like about Quadrago is that it is a gorgeous game. Not only are the pieces high quality, but the game also comes with a "box inside the box." Inside of the standard cardboard box is a wooden box which actually contains everything needed to play and could easily be set out on a coffee table or work desk. This is a wonderful game if you are someone who likes to place high quality wooden games around your home for decoration. And at the same time, the game is enjoyable and strategic - which helps quite a bit when a friend comes over and asks, "What's this?" You never want to have to answer with, "That's a game. It's called [I'm omitting the name here, but you know who you are, you crummy little game]. Let's not play it."

The next thing that I like about Quadrago is the three dimensional nature of the game. It is quite neat to have the ability to get your four in a row in so many different ways. You must pay attention to each layer, and placing each piece builds upon all of the previous strategy (or lack thereof) and affects the strategy for placing all of the upcoming pieces. As soon as you see that you're not going to win on the first layer, it may be time to start placing on the second layer and planning that assault - but make sure that you don't let your opponent win on the previous layer while you do this! (Yes, I did lose with the most basic four in a row on the first level because I was paying way too much attention to the second level.)

Third, I like the twisting element in the middle of the game. It isn't really as prevalent as in Pentago - I believe this is related to the twist being optional. However, it does add a new strategy to the game; more hiding what you're intending than winning through the careful twisting of the sections. Since there is only one twist-able section, and for the most part it can be placed where it needs to be in a single turn, the twisting seemed mostly like a hiding element.

Also, Quadrago is quite kid friendly - but this doesn't need it's own paragraph.  Unless it's a one sentence paragraph.  But I guess that last sentence messed that up.  Oh, and now that one... and this one....

Though I enjoy Quadrago, my main con is that most of the games seem to end in "Oh." Not, "Oh!" or "Ahhh!" Just "Oh." It seems like most of the games that we play end in someone simply not seeing something very basic that is right in front of their face. The three dimensional aspect of the game is a double-edged attribute. Whereas it really adds to the depth and enjoyment of the game, it also obfuscates (how's that for a five-cent word) the gameplay enough that it is simply hard to see what's going on. Most of the games that I have played have not ended in placing a piece and then twisting everything into place to win or trapping your opponent so that you can win no matter where they place. Most of the time they just end in someone placing the fourth one in an obvious straight line and their opponent didn't see it because of the pieces stacked everywhere.

Overall, I give Quadrago a 7.5/10. I debated giving it a bit higher, but I don't think that it has quite the addictiveness to it that Pentago does. I think this is because Pentago often ends in "Ahhhh!!!" whereas Quadrago often ends in "Oh." If you like beautiful games, "in a row" games, or are looking for a new game to play with your kids, it is definitely worth checking out - I think that there are people that will absolutely love Quadrago (people who are good at seeing everything going on in the game). But, whereas I think that everyone should play Pentago at some point in their life, I don't think that Quadrago will be a great fit with everyone.

I would like to thank Mindtwister USA for providing me with a review copy of Quadrago.

Blood Bowl: Team Manager Review

Blood Bowl Team Manager game in play

One of the games that I drooled over until I convinced my friend to buy it (thanks!) was Blood Bowl: Team Manager.

In Blood Bowl, each player starts with a team representing his race, and attempts to gain the most fans. The season consists of five weeks, and in each week there are a certain number of "highlights" which the players compete over. (Terminology gets confusing here. So, along with the game's instructions, I will call you (the player/reader) "managers", and the cards you play are "players.") Managers (you) take turns placing a single player next to a highlight that is either empty, or where they have already placed a player. When placing a new player, that player may be able to gain the ball, cheat, [attempt to] tackle his opponent [sometimes ending in falling on his face], and sprint. Once all of the managers have placed all of their players, all of the cheat tokens are revealed (which could help players, but could also get them ejected). Now, whoever has the most "star points" at each individual matchup wins the prize - but each manager collects a smaller prize for every matchup where he had players. These prizes can be Star Players, Team Upgrades, Staff Upgrades, or Fans. These upgrades can be used in all of the following weeks of the season (so it is best to get them at the beginning of the game). Play consists of five weeks, and at the end of the game, whoever has the most fans is the winner (just like in real sports - whoever has the most fans is the real winner, because they make tons of money regardless of if their team actually wins any championships).

The first thing that I love about Blood Bowl is the ability to upgrade your team. I'm that guy that loves sports simulation games, but doesn't actually play the actual games in them. I'll buy Madden and play Franchise mode - simulating all of the games, and just enjoying the trading, drafting, etc. that goes into running the team. I loved Football Mogul, and have played similar games for baseball, football, soccer, etc. This is really what appealed to me the most about Blood Bowl. The back of the box made me drool! I'm not a huge fan of improving your team in a deck building fashion, but it doesn't really detract too much from the game for me - especially since your new "Star players" are always placed on top of your deck instead of in your discard pile - it lets you immediately show off your new free agent signing!

The next thing that I like about Blood Bowl is that it scales well between 2-4 players. (Obviously, it does take a lot longer with 4 players than with 2, though.) You use a number of "highlight" cards (the cards you fight over) based on the number of players - 2 player, 2 highlights, and so on. This means that you are normally going to be fighting over 2 highlights (and possibly a tournament) regardless of how many people are playing. With more players, you occasionally have the opportunity to try fighting over a third highlight, but this normally stretches you so thin that you lose all of them. There's also not much sense of "ganging up" on players since each highlight can only have one player on either side.  Overall, it balances player interaction very well, and prevents much of the normal "everyone against the leader" gameplay that is in many other games. 

A third pro that I think is brilliant is a very minute rule in the game. After each person collects all of their booty at the end of each week, they take turns reading their new cards and their abilities to all players. This is really a trivial rule, but it is one that I think more games should implement. It cuts down on most (if not all) of the reaching across the table to grab each other's cards to see what they do. Brilliant! It's amazing how useful such a minor rule can be.

The last couple of pros that I will mention are that I like how the tackling works, and I like the different abilities that players have (and how this gives each race a much different feel). When tackling, you always have the chance of falling down. However, those odds are adjusted based on how big your player is compared to theirs - if yours is bigger, roll two dice and pick your result. If they're the same, roll one die. If yours is smaller, roll two dice and they pick the result (a die has 3 tackles, 2 misses, and 1 fall on your face). With the different factions, each faction seems to be better at different aspects of the game. Skaven are good at Sprinting, Dwarves are good at Guarding, Chaos get fans for injuring players (tackling a downed player - it removes him from the highlight). Plus, they included six races for a four player game. I love it when game companies provide you extra things out of the box to enhance replayability instead of always trying to force you to buy expansions.

Yet, with all that I love about Blood Bowl, there is one main con that I have about the game - it feels much longer than it should. When you read about the game, look at the game, and see the game, it looks like it should be about an hour long game. Unfortunately, it normally takes two hours (or more). There's not a lot of down time, so I'm not saying that the game drags on a long time and feels boring. It simply takes longer than you think it should - and occasionally you will feel that the game is dragging. Of course, the more you play, the faster you will be - since you'll be familiar with all the cards and rules, but it still seems like it should take an hour.

My other con, that I touched on earlier, is that I wish that they hadn't implemented the building of your team with a deck building mechanic. It doesn't really detract a lot from the game, but I think I would have preferred each team having "positions" (like in real sports), and when you get a new Star player, you are replacing the one in that position. This would also mean that getting a Star player isn't always beneficial - if you gain one for a position where you already have a star, then your new player doesn't help.

Overall, I give Blood Bowl: Team Manager an 8.5/10. I enjoy the game, and I am debating whether or not I need to add it to my collection!  It's hard to explain who all would like this game.  So, I guess I'll simply say - if you've been looking at this game and it looks appealing to you, go out of your way if needed to try it.  I think you'll find that it is a very good game, and, though it might not fulfill all of your wildest fantasies, you probably won't be disappointed.

If Blood Bowl: Team Manager sounds interesting, then you might also check out Star Wars Living Card Game, Race for the Galaxy, and Glory to Rome.

Lunch Money: Sticks & Stones Expansion Review

Now for a quick little review of a small card game expansion, let's talk about Lunch Money: Sticks & Stones.

As many of your should know (if you read my Lunch Money Review), I really enjoy Lunch Money - probably way more than anybody else, and definitely way more than I should. Because of this, I bought the Sticks and Stones expansion; but, also because I like the base game so much, I didn't bother incorporating the new cards in until recently. And, lo and behold, they added enough to the game that I should write about them. Instead of talking about pros and cons like normal, I will highlight some of the new cards (this is really all that changed) and tell you what I think of them.

Abandonment: this is probably the best addition to the set. In the original game when your opponent had Humiliations in their hand, there was nothing you could do about it but sit there and be sad while waiting for them to slaughter you. Now, you can play Abandonment and force them to discard their entire hand (and it can't be Humiliated). Definitely a nice addition to the game.

Backlash (which looks like "Backlask" in my set): this card is also awesome. It is a new defense card similar to Dodge/Block, but instead of canceling the damage, it reverses it and does it to the person who played the attack cards. This card is incredibly powerful, but aren't the powerful cards the ones that make the game fun? Another wonderful addition.

Tantrum: Deals 5 different attacks of power 1. Very fun... when played on others.  Much less fun when played against you.

Hippie: Name an opponent to be a "hippie" which lets all the other players attack them immediately - great in big games, pointless once it is down to 2-players.

Faster: Plays alongside a block/dodge to work for all the blocks and dodges needed that turn. This card is very important because of the addition of Tantrum and Hippie.

Imaginary Friend: After resolving your first attack, get a free basic attack. Sweet! what's not to like?

Hide: Immediately play as many first aids as you want and then sit out a round where nobody can attack you - this is incredibly useful, especially in big games.  Of course your friends might call you a wimp (or something more vulgar) - but that's only if they get into the trash talking spirit of the game

Spank: Power 2 special attack that can only be played after a grab. This card seems really useless to me, and is by far my least favorite card from the set.

There are also other new cards including basic attacks, Wedgy, Chunk, Nuts, Time Out, Weird, 2-fer, and probably some others. The main downside to the expansion (which is also the main downside to the base game) is that you have to just learn what all the new cards do - there's no iconography or any other way of knowing what a certain card does other than looking it up in the rules repeatedly until you memorize it.

Overall, I give Sticks and Stones an 8.5/10 as an expansion. I obviously do not think that it is better than Lunch Money, because you can't even play it without Lunch Money. However, now that I have started playing with it, I think that I will keep Sticks and Stones mixed in with my Lunch Money set and keep beating the snot out of my friends in glorious new ways!

Tornadoes: Six Months Later

November 22, 2011 is the six month anniversary of tornadoes devastating the city of Joplin - so I figured it might be a good time to give you guys an update of what all has happened since that date.

The City
A lot of rebuilding has taken place.  Commercially, Wal-Mart, Aldi's, Walgreen's (two locations), Wendy's, Chick-Fil-A and several other stores have been rebuilt and are already open.  It's really amazing to think of some of these and how quickly they were rebuilt.  Chick-Fil-A was one of the fastest.  I believe that it reopened it's doors (after being completely leveled and rebuilt from the ground up) on September 1.

Most of the debris haul off has happened.  There are still pockets of debris around the city - such as St. John's hospital and Joplin High School, which I believe are both still standing in roughly the same condition as when they were initially hit.  The government helped pay for the Army Corps of Engineers to come and oversee this cleanup - specifically for the residential districts.  It was impressive to see how quickly the residential debris was removed.

Many people's houses have been repaired.  Not everyone by any means, but every day you hear about more people who have finally completed the last repair on their house - whether that is the windows, the carpets, the roof, the ceilings, or something else.  Construction crews are still backlogged between the repairs and the new construction, but you can see that progress is being made.  Speaking of new construction, there are several new houses that have been completed.  It's very odd to drive along a street that used to have a neighborhood on either side and see a brand new house standing every few streets (with nothing in between).

One area that the city of Joplin has done a remarkable job with is their public schools.  School was started on time!  The High School is temporarily located inside of the mall.  The Elementary schools have been shuffled around, but all Elementary students are still attending.  Something else that Joplin is doing is that they are busing in students who were relocated in the surrounding areas (I don't know if this is still going on, but I had heard that it was at one point).  If you were in Joplin public schools before the tornado, then you are allowed to stay enrolled in Joplin public schools now - regardless of what city you are actually living in at the  moment.  This means that kids can continue attending school with their friends, which I think is important.

The Games
So, a ton of you sent me games to keep after the storm, or to give to others that were affected.  I did my best to find great homes for them (sometimes that meant mine ; )  )!  If I were to estimate, I would guess that I received between 100-150 games after the tornado (ballpark guess).  I gave them away to everyone I could find that was affected and that I knew played games!  The distribution centers were all swamped with donations, and so they would not accept any from me (those of you that mailed games in, don't worry, they didn't turn these down).  My friends who run Hurley's Heroes had the same situation that I did, but with comics that were sent to them.  This hit the local news, and the Hurleys set up a day that they would open their doors and anyone could come pick through the comics that were donated and take any of them for free!  I strong-armed them into letting me give games away at the same time!  (It didn't take much convincing - they are very generous people.)  I gave away an estimated 25-75 games just on that one day (I don't really have a "record keeping technique").  My favorite quote from all of this was when I heard a lady that had grabbed 3-4 games say "this is going to restore game night at my house."  That was wonderful!  And, when I kept eavesdropping, I realized that her house was only a block from where mine was.  Hers must have been completely demolished as well.

In addition, for more "gamer" games, I asked around the game stores for who all was affected by the tornado, and I tried to give a handful of games to anyone that I heard about.  Some that I thought would have a broader (and specifically teenage) appeal I donated to the public library.  Finally, some of them were sold with the money going to tornado victims in various ways.  The bulk of those sold were in the quarterly auction held at Changing Hands Book Shoppe.  The proprietors of the store, John and Susie, were in what I consider to be the worst possible area in Joplin - the area in which your home wasn't completely destroyed (which allows you to either move on or rebuild), but their house was damaged incredibly badly; just short of being deemed "totaled."  The worst part?  They (like many others) had to live in their house while it was being repaired - or while they were waiting for repairmen.  The less publicized crummy part?  I'm sure that their business suffered and made very little money for the few months immediately after the tornado, since games are a luxury item.  So, after consulting with John, we decided that as a surprise to Susie we would sell in the auction about 5-10 of the games that were donated, and we would give the proceeds to them - to do whatever they wanted.  I wanted finances to be at least one thing that they didn't have to worry about.  Everyone present at the auction really stepped up their bidding on each of those items, and most of them went for almost full retail price!  It was great to get to bless John and Susie (after we tracked her down - she kept disappearing with tears in her eyes.  And, in case you're wondering, Susie was able to use some of the money to go down to Houston to visit her grand-baby.  I doubt that there is anything more exciting for a new Grandmother.)

My Family
So, my wife and I have had an interesting journey.  From May 23 - (approximately) August 1, we stayed with friends.  We bounced around a decent amount during this time, and even went down to Houston to stay with my best friend from college for a bit.  This was a very trying time for both of us, but I believe it was much harder on Anna than it was on me.  She struggled a lot during this time, as nowhere was ever home.  On August 1 (Monday the week of GenCon!) we were able to move into our friend's garage apartment.  It is quite nice, and more than anything, it was nice to actually have a place where we can stay, pay rent, and feel like we're not imposing.  He was gracious enough to leave it furnished so that all we needed to bring was a bed!  This really helped us, as it allowed us to wait until we knew what we were doing longer term before buying things like furniture.  This is where we are currently staying.

On December 15, we move to Philadelphia!  The most common question I hear is, "Why Philly?"  Well, first you need to understand that our plan was not to stay in Joplin long-term.  Both myself and my wife are from large cities, and we both missed the big city feel when living in Joplin.  We were planning on moving in two years, but after the tornado we decided to move those plans ahead instead of re-rooting ourselves in Joplin and making it hard to move later.  So, no, we aren't running from tornadoes or anything like that - the plan was to leave all along.  Now back to "Why Philly?"  Well, I like my job (most of the time).  I like the people that I work with (no qualifier).  I can do my same job with the same people from one of our offices that is located just outside of Philly.  I will take my laptop and resume work just as if nothing had changed - I'll simply be switching what part of my team is local and what part is remote.  We are quite excited about it - from each of our visits to Philly, the city seems amazing, and we're also ready to feel like we are staying somewhere more "long-term."  I'm also incredibly nervous and scared!  It's the farthest north I've ever lived, and it's also about 1,000 miles from what I'm used to.  The Northeast has a completely different lifestyle than the Midwest, and I'm both excited and nervous about that change.  For one, I'm planning on taking public transportation to work!  I've never done that!  (Oh, and I am looking for gamers in the Washington Square area of Philly - if you are one or if you know one, please drop me a note.)

Life gets crazy sometimes.  I'm very glad that my wife has been by my side through all of this, and hopefully I have provided her some strength, too.  We continue to both be incredibly grateful that we were on vacation when the tornado hit - some of our neighbors have told us that they are still having nightmares, and I would imagine that this will continue for quite some time.  I want to thank you all for the support that you sent me to help with the tornado, the games that you sent, the prayers that were raised, and just sympathizing with our city's pain.  Tons of people that I've never met also came to Joplin to volunteer - I want to thank them.  More than anything, thanks for caring about people that you have never met.  If nothing else, one of the main things I've learned through all of this is that, just because the news has stopped covering something, doesn't mean that the pain has stopped.

Now let's get back to board games!

Le Havre Review

Some games you just hear so many good things about that you are forced to try them yourself. Le Havre was a game like that for me.

Le Havre is all about money. Whoever has the most money at the end of the game is the winner. Each round consists of seven player turns. Each player (on his turn) will move his ship to the next "supply tile", thus adding more goods to two of the "offer" piles. After this, the active player can perform a single action - he can either take all of the goods from a single offer pile, or he can move his piece to a building, thus performing it's action (you must move your piece - thus you cannot use the same building twice in a row). Other things that a player can do on his turn (that don't cost an action) include buying a building, selling a building, or repaying a loan. After the player has performed his action, play moves on to the next player. Once the seven player turns are completed, the round ends (notice that each player will not get the same number of turns each round), and the players are forced to pay a certain amount of Food (or take out a loan to cover the missing Food). Play continues with the next player's turn and the game continues until all of the rounds are played. After all the rounds are played, each player gets one final action (in which they make as much money as humanly possible and can use a building that has an opponent's piece in it). Finally, all that remains is adding up how much money a player has between cash on hand and value of buildings owned.

The first thing that I like about Le Havre is that all player's don't have the same number of turns each round. I don't think that I've ever played a game with this mechanic. Yes, it may feel a bit unbalanced if you don't get as many turns in a round where you are desperately trying to accomplish something. But, the game is setup so that each player has the same number of turns in which he gets an extra action, so the game does actually balance out fairly for all of the different players. Learning to capitalize when you have an extra action (or still manage to get enough food when you are short an action) is a key factor in winning the game.

The next thing that I like about Le Havre is that all of the options available to you for your action are good actions. The key is in finding which action is the best action. For example, there will be some turns in which you are able to collect six or more Fish (one of the goods, which also provides one Food) from the "offer" space. However, do you need six Fish? They help to feed your people, and that is crucial - but does having six Fish right now help more than using a building that allows you to get different kinds of goods? Or the building which lets you build more buildings? There are very few "bad" options - but whoever is able to capitalize the most on his opportunities will ultimately become the victor.

The third pro that I will mention for Le Havre is how carefully balanced the game (and even it's setup) is. The game is setup differently based on the number of players and whether you want to play with the "full" or the "shortened" version of the game. This ensures the balance of the game, and also ensures that the buildings that are needed appear in a timely manner. You can really feel the hours of playtesting that went into the game. And, speaking of different variants, I really like that you can play a "full" and a "shortened" version of Le Havre - and that both feel like good gaming experiences (you don't feel like you're playing a broken version of the "real" game if you play the shortened version). You can tailor which version to play based off of how long you want to play the game, but either game that you choose will still give you a high quality gaming experience.

The last (detailed) pro that I will mention is the option to both buy and build buildings. This is an example of Le Havre having "multiple paths to victory." (This means that players can have completely different strategies, and yet each strategy has a very valid chance of winning.) The buildings, as an example, can be built by a player who has done a good job of acquiring different resources - which can be challenging. And yet, a player who has done a good job of acquiring money (which is also hard) can just buy the building, and thus still gain the benefits of it (though without having an immediate net gain of victory points - buildings are never worth more victory points than their cost to purchase).

There are several other pros to Le Havre that I really enjoyed and could write about at length - but that would make this review much longer than I would like. So, briefly, I also like:
  • Food requires your attention, and yet doesn't have to be your only focus in the game
  • The Special Buildings (only used in the full version) help ensure a varied game experience
  • The "offer" spaces work well and encourage people to eventually take even less useful goods since they continue accumulating
  • The game components are designed well so that each "goods" piece represents two different "goods"
  • Forcing players to pay resources to use other people's buildings incentivizes acquiring buildings
  • Not being allowed to re-use the same building twice in a row forces gameplay to be varied
  • Being able to "block" use of a building by leaving your piece on a building is a nice mechanic

However, with all of that said, Le Havre has a glaring con: Analysis Paralysis. (This is the slang term for when a player has so many options that he can't decide what to do, thus horribly slowing down the pace of a game - and often annoying all of the other players.) I personally am normally not one to subdue to Analysis Paralysis, but I have found myself struggling with this in Le Havre. Early in the game there are only a few options, and thus there isn't much of an issue. However, starting about halfway through the game, there may be 20 or more options. And, do you remember that I said that all of the options are good options? This is really what causes the paralysis to occur. It's pretty easy to eliminate most of the options as "less good", but that still leaves 3-4 very good options that a player will have to decide between. Though each player is only performing one action on his turn, the amount of time to decide on that action may take quite a while to determine. Maybe we should play it with a chess timer... but then I'd have to get a chess timer.... which could be cool in itself.

Overall, I give Le Havre a 9.5/10. I debated only giving it a 9.0, but I do think that it deserves a 9.5. When I think about the number of pros that I am able to name for the game without really even pondering for very long (and the fact that the only con I came up with is "people think too long"), it's hard to not give it a score that is almost perfect. If you're a fan of games like Puerto Rico, Agricola, and Caylus, I would definitely suggest Le Havre.

Wyatt Earp Review

Wyatt Earp card game in play

A game that I bought last year while vacationing was Wyatt Earp.

Wyatt Earp is basically rummy with special cards. However, more specifically (in case you've never played rummy), here is what you do each turn... You may draw 2 cards from the deck or the one card on top of the discard pile. Next, you can play any number of cards from your hand (but only one Sheriff). When playing cards from your hand, the first time each "set" of outlaw cards is played, there must be at least three played (playing cards also puts reward money on the outlaws) - after that, you may play any number of them at a time. Finally, you must discard a card from your hand. This continues until the deck has run out twice or until a player runs out of cards in his hand. At this point, most of the robbers (based on what was played) are scored, with most of the money going to the player with the most "capture points" for that robber. Rinse and repeat (until someone has $25,000).

The first pro for Wyatt Earp is that it is a pretty fun, laid back game that basically anybody can play. (After all, you start the instructions with, "have you played rummy? Then you basically know how to play.") I like rummy; and so I like Wyatt Earp. It's not really a complicated game, but it can be fun to play with your non-gamer friends (and your gamer friends that need a break from strategy games).

The next pro for Wyatt Earp is the Sheriff cards. These cards are really what distinguish the game from rummy. Some of the things that Sheriff cards can do include: "hiding" your opponent's card set for a given outlaw, add points and/or money to an outlaw, draw extra cards, and ask an opponent for a specific outlaw card. These really do help the game, but do not really provide a drastic change - the primary cards that will be used include the "Hideout" (which hides an opponent's card set for a given outlaw) and "Wyatt Earp" (which counters "Hideout" or lets you draw extra cards).

Now for the main con for Wyatt Earp: the box is too big. Now, I realize that you're probably already thinking "really, that's it?" or "but this box is smaller than 90% of my game collection." You're right; however, compare it to a normal deck of cards. If I were to play Wyatt Earp without the Sheriff cards (we call this "rummy" - have you noticed a theme? In case you missed it, the theme is "Wyatt Earp is rummy"), then I would only need a standard deck of cards. A deck of cards is way smaller than Wyatt Earp (easily fitting in my pocket) and is also much more versatile (I can play Bridge, Euchre, Spades, Hearts, Pinochle, etc). Therefore, I'm probably not ever going to carry around Wyatt Earp - and since I don't carry it around, I'll never wind up playing it.

Now that I've typed all of that, I'm going to give up on this review. Hopefully you know enough about the game (it is rummy) that you can decide whether or not you like it (do you like rummy?). That's really the point of these anyway - to let you know whether you would like a game or not, and to let you know why I do or don't like it. Hopefully you have enough information to make that decision by now.

Overall, I give Wyatt Earp a 7.5/10. It's a fun game. However, again, I can play rummy with a normal deck of cards, so I'm going to wind up getting rid of my copy.

If Wyatt Earp sounds interesting, you might also check out Dixit, Glory to Rome, and Innovation.