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Other Games / Pathways game
« on: March 08, 2022, 08:48:47 PM »
It’s been a while my friends! I like what you’ve done to the place!

In a previous post Dan graciously offered me to share a project I’ve been working on and a little bit of what I’ve been up to. I hope this post is appropriate. 

A good part of that time has been publishing and designing my first game called Pathways.

Covid has been brutal on the lives of many people and it has certainly shaken us up in one way or another. Sometimes challenges can also present opportunities and that is what happened in 2020.

As it happened I had most of 2020 off work since we were asked to clear out our holiday bank. Great, lots of time off and nowhere to go! I guess I’ll make the best of it!

With that free time I started walking 5 - 8 kms a day (3 – 5 miles). It was on these walks I put my mind to the idea of design. It’s always been in the back of my mind but never took it to seriously.

If I were to entertain the idea I wanted to start with something that wasn’t too complex and for me I narrowed that down to dexterity games or abstract games. Of course it isn’t as easy as that.

I have several games in both genres and I focused on what I liked (or didn’t like) with these style of games. With dexterity I prefer stripped down games like Crokinole and Carrom over larger thematic games like Flick ‘em up: Dead of Winter. Great game but I like the simple head to head challenge of a quick set up and play.

I like but don’t love abstracts. I’ve played a lot and what I don’t like are the one that end in dead-locks where who ultimately loses is the player who makes the first mistake. Of course this is just a personal preference and not all abstracts are like that and it isn’t to say those are bad games.

As I pondered all this, I had a wacky idea, could you mix the two genres, dexterity and abstract? It seemed pretty ridiculous. The two have very little in common other than both generally being theme-less and stripped down game design.

So I tried to take it quite literally; what if one were to flick a disk across a chessboard?  But, what would be the point of that? Without any resistance other than that from other disks there didn’t seem to be much of a point.

Looking at dexterity game design what I realized, there are usually some sort of impediments in play for both players. Think of the posts in Crokinole or the magnet balls in Klask, (a game I highly recommend by the way).

Back to flicking across the chessboard; how could I introduce an impediment as described? Add posts to the board? Somehow create divots in the board? It wasn’t making much sense until I focused on the idea of divots. Which brought me to; what if the chessboard pattern on the board were holes and as disks fell into the holes they would create new flat surfaces that would make follow up shots easier?

There it was; create a board with holes in a chessboard manner with the goal of getting from one side of the board onto the other. I was excited to see if I could fashion such a thing. I went home, made a template on graph paper and manually drilled 49 holes into a piece of board I found around the house. I dug out some Crokinole disks and set to try it out.

There is much more to the story than that but if you at all remember me when I was previously active here, I can be long winded so I won't go into the gory details of game development, just to say it was quite a journey!

Well here we are, almost two years later and the project is about to launch on Kickstarter, (March 15th). I am using that platform as intended; without funding this project likely won’t happen, even though I put a lot into development.

Special thanks to Dan and the other admins at CarcC for the opportunity to let you know what I have up to!

If this at all seems interesting, check out the links and hopefully I’ll be able to one day challenge you to a game of Pathways.

All the best, franks

My previous CarcC review for The Voyages of Marco Polo was on Nov. 16th, 2017. Since then we’ve played 22 games and it’s obviously become a top favourite.

Box cover of the base game.

What follows are impression-reviews and overview of the three separate expansions for the game. All the new aspects these bring into the base game are modular and can be combined as desired. I won’t go into an in depth descriptions or high analysis but I’ll highlight what has stood out for us.

The New Characters: (2015)
The first mini-promo - this should still be available at

BGG listing photo

This is a single punchboard sheet that contains:
•   4 New Characters
•   4 New Contracts
•   1 Small Town Bonus tile
•   15 Gift Markers

The stand out feature here, not surprisingly, is the new Characters. They vary in their ratings as to who are considered as the ‘best’ characters in the game and the added choices are a nice addition to the mix.

The new character, Gunj Kököchin*, is generally considered one of the stronger choices in the series so far. Her ability has two dice action spots on her player tile that only the owner can use. These give the abilities of gaining bonus resources and the even more powerful ability to travel one spot on the board without using a movement action space on the main board.

*A 13th-century Mongol princess, betrothed to an allied Khan in Persia, by the great Mongol Great Khan Kublai. The Khan she was to marry died before her arrival so married his son instead. Marco Polo gave an account of the princess’s travel to Persia.

Gunj Kököchin
This is one of my wife’s favourite characters to play and achieved her personal high score of 92 points.

This mini expansion also includes, The Gifts. These are little ‘treasure’ tokens of either, goods / resources and or bonuses that can be gained (from a pile or a draw bag) in various ways throughout the game. It’s had some criticism for its random element; one time likened to the Dice in Stone Age. I think these concerns are a bit hyperbolic. While it adds a bit of randomness, I quite like reaching into the bag of gifts/treasures not sure what you’ll get; they are usually helpful though not always an outstanding benefit. While the main game is exalted for its elegant and tight design there is still lots of innate randomness in the placement of the City and Town bonus cards. I’ve seen the random set up effect the game in favour of players that happen to need to be on a given path with a better combo of bonuses. Anyway enough about that, I like this little expansion all the way around.

‘Gifts’ tokens – draw bag not included


Agents of Venice: (2017)
The first full - boxed expansion

As the 13th century draws to a close, Venice is known around the world for its famous bazaars

The main features of this boxed expansion are a new sideboard of Venice, (another way for players to explore) and the Companions Module, where players gain temporary benefits. On top of those two main features, the box includes components for a 5th player along with some added wood resources.

There are also 6 new contract tiles that have super high values. These are just shuffled with the tiles of the base game and of course there are a variety of new Characters, each with interesting abilities.

All available characters from the base game and expansions
There are now a total of 18 to choose from and an almost endless ways to explore the game. If your thing is variable player powers, this games for you.

The Venice board sits on the side of the main board and is easy to incorporate into the game; it’s also an easier way to get travel bonuses. I say ‘easy’ but this still takes one of your precious few action dice and in a 2-player game only one person is able to travel on this board in a turn, (barring a couple of specials abilities that can mitigate this).

Traversing the Venice board for bonuses

The other main feature of this expansion is the Companions. Special tiles are laid out at the bottom of the main board and are accessible to all players. To take a companion, a player would have to commit one of their die then chose one of the six available tiles. One can then use that ability but only on the turn in which it was taken.

Companion bonus tiles - publisher photo

Wanting to explore this aspect of the game and the expansion, I chose one of the included Characters, Papa Gregorio X*. His special ability is to take a new Companion of his choosing each round, (without needing an action). All players have access to Companions and its possible to have more than one companion in a round. The Companions give you temporary and fairly powerful specials abilities, like paying less to travel and a way to gain a good amount of Gold that otherwise doesn’t come as easy, (just to name a couple). With him I’ve been able to achieve some of my best scores in the game and finally broke the 100 pt mark. So far the Companion module seems to have the biggest impact in game play, in my mind, in a positive way.

* Papa Gregorio X - As soon as he was elected in 1271, Pope Gregory X received a letter from the Mongol, Great Khan Kublai, remitted by Niccolò and Matteo Polo, (also featured characters in the game), following their travels to his court in Mongolia. Kublai was asking for the dispatch of a hundred missionaries, and some oil from the lamp of the Holy Sepulcher. The new Pope could spare only two friars and some lamp oil. The friars turned back soon after the party left for Mongolia. The two Polos (this time accompanied by the young Marco Polo, who was then 17 years old) returned to the Mongol Empire and remitted the oil from the Pope to Kublai in 1275. (Wikipedia)

I’d especially recommend the ‘Agents’ expansion for players that are already familiar with the base game. It doesn’t add that much more complexity but it does add a fair bit more to consider on each turn. The game is prone to AP, (analysis paralysis); at the best of times and with the expansions this could be an issue.

I would also add, if you like or prefer the tight nature of original base game this might not be for you. So far we’ve found this expansion makes it a little easier to get points and resources, while giving you more to think about. While I love the original game, I don't mind easing the stress. For our play style I like addition of this expansion.


The Secret Paths of Marco Polo: (2018)
Mini-expansion - Easter promo HiG, (Cundco)

•   16 Secret Path cards
•   One Character Card
•   One city bonus marker
•   Instruction cards

Publisher photo

Secret Paths my Photo
English rules are included, with great quality cards.

As a basic game play review, one of the main goals of the game is to traverse the map board to get destination bonuses and complete destination objectives. It takes precious time to get across the board to arrive at large and small city destinations.

When I first read the description of short cuts between routes I was concerned this could impede the integrity of the base game. These cards do give nominal short cuts that can improve your travels … IF … and only if the situations falls into place.

Both game boards, (base game and Venice), set up showing routes, small city bonus tiles and large city bonus cards.

The only way to get these cards is for the Secret Path bonus tile to appear randomly on the board. There are more bonus tiles than small cities at set up so it might not even show up in the game. The bonus tile that activates the Secret Paths could show up anywhere on the board and there are some far off destination where you might not even get to in a game.

If you are able to activate the bonus tile by visiting that city you are then able to draw one of the 16 available Secret Path cards at the start of each turn and at the beginning of each following round. You can use this Secret Path at anytime (still using an action) and there is no limit on the amount of these cards you can have in your possession.

Looking at the available cards, these ‘short cuts’ destinations tend to already be fairly close to each other. They might only save a few movement spaces but these can have impact in a tight game. As well, you can move back and forth between these destinations.

As you draw a card and depending where you are on the map board, the card you draw might not be of much use. The designers knowing this would likely be an issue, give you the option to sell cards to a discard pile for the resource shown at the top left of each card. This way you will get a bonus either way.

Sample Secret Path card and newest Character

We’ve only had a chance to play with this set a couple of times and while it didn’t affect my games at all, my wife was able to draw a number of the Secret Path cards throughout the game. She did use a couple of those cards for a helpful short cut and sold the other cards to get a good number of resources. With little experience this seems an innocuous inclusion to the game and Karen enjoyed the inclusion of the mini expansion.

A neat thing about all of these expansions, they come with Characters that incorporate the added features of the new aspects to the game. In this case, the newest character, Andrea De Longjumea* gets two Secret Path cards at the start of each round. He can keep one card, each round of the game. This might be the best way for this mini expansion to shine but with so many great characters already to choose from, he might only be worth the occasional novelty play. I did seen one post on BGG where the author thought that this was a useful character to play, (We have yet to try him out).

* Andrea De Longjumea – A 13th-century Dominican missionary and diplomat, one of the most active Occidental diplomats in the East, (from Wikipedia). Each of the, now 18 characters, are based on actual historical figures.


To wrap this up!

I enjoy the immersive elements these expansions add to the game, so they are easy inclusion for us. The added variability gives new paths to explore and keeps the game fresh.

One point on the negative side, this is now a bit of a beast to set up. It takes a good 15 minutes, to get it all out on the table and slightly less to put it all away.

Full set up with some added flair

I’ve managed to get all the expansions in the base game box, except for a few components. Because we mostly play with two, I’ve taken the other player resources out of the main box and now store them in the Agents of Venice box. Of course I’m taking extra space in the base box with sleeved cards, metal coins and a few other pimps.

Custom resources I’ve added to the game

Once again, I recommend playing The Voyages of Marco Polo and if it’s a hit with you and your group, consider adding the expansions along the way!

Other Games / 42 - A Trick taking game
« on: January 09, 2018, 09:47:11 PM »
The Ultimate Answer to Life, The Universe and Everything!
Who could resist the Hitchhikers guide to the Galaxy reference  8)

Want to play a game of Dots? (AKA Texas 42 … or we just call it Dots!)

That was a common question with a close group of friends around my college years, (many, many moons ago). This only gets out once in a while now but is still one of my all time favourite team and trick taking games, end of!

In an earlier CC post, (Decar’s - Do you dream board games), I recalled that I was teaching Decar and Danisthirty the game 42 in a dream. I wanted to share more about this game I enjoy.

What follows is a more detailed game overview than a regular review, while sharing my thoughts on the game. The post is on the long side  ::)

This game is played with a standard Double Six Domino set and I understand it’s considered the national game of Texas. In regards to its origin and according to a contribution on Wikipedia, this was developed in Texas as an alternative and a response to religious stigma at a time when card games were seen as a less than desirable past time. >:D

The following is the way I was taught the game and might vary from canon. From what I understand while the basic game is fairly static there are some variations especially in scoring and bidding.

This is a team game where players sit across from each other. In a standard set there are 28 Dominoes. The tiles are mixed face down on a table and each player takes 7 dominoes.

There are there are 7 possibilities for Trump - from a set of Blank featured dominoes to Sixes.

Image credit -

The double of any set is always the strongest Trump. If Blanks were Trump, the blank/blank tile is the strongest, then the blank/6 – blank/5 – blank/4 - blank/3 - blank/2 - blank/1.

There is one more possible set one can bid on and that is what we called ‘No Trump’ or more commonly referred to as ‘Doubles’. If you have a large set of Doubles in your hand you can lead them but in this case, as mentioned, there is ‘no trump’ they just lead as they are. This is usually a more challenging bid to pull off.

Occasionally you can find yourself with a good set of doubles in your hand, (though this would be an incredible exception)!

The games start with a bidding phase.

Bidding start with the lead player for the round and moves around the table clockwise. The most you can bid is 42, which is also the highest you can score in a single round.

According to most on-line rules the minimum bid is 30 points but we were taught an easier version where the lowest bid is 26 points. I think this encourages new players to get involved and take a chance on a bid. Experienced players are less timid to take big risks especially when they’ve developed a good partner. It is amazing what you can do with a relatively mediocre hand. At the same time losing a bid is not a good thing as the opposing team gets double the points they score.

For example the starting player bids 26, then bidding moves around the table clockwise. The next (opposing) player passes. Now the bid moves onto your partner, this is the first opportunity for non-verbal communication that can happen between partners. He might judge by the number of your bid (or non-bid), as to whether he should let you take the lead or take it from you or if he thinks he has the better chance. The bidding process can be a way to communicating there is some value in our hands.

Back to our current example, our partner decides to bid 31 then the bid goes to the last of the four players. Considering his hand he decides to pass. That third player (our partner) now wins the bid and leads the round.

At this point he declares sixes as Trump. He can lead any Domino in his hand whether it is trump or not. As with many TT games players must always follow suit. If players can’t follow suit they can always slough off a domino or add point counter to your partner’s hand, (described next). Doubles are usually a strong lead as well. Without trump the next strongest dominoes are doubles.

Lets look at how you score points and strategic bid numbers.

Each hand that you win is worth 1 point. In addition there are some special scoring Dominoes. Any single Domino that equals a 5 or a 10 is worth that many extra points to the hand.

Five/Blank = 5 points
Three/Two = 5 points
Four/One = 5 points

On top of these:

Five/five = 10 points
Six/Four = 10 points

These are the ‘make it or break it’ dominoes in a round.

If you’ve got one of these counters in a round you are trying to protect this from being called out into an opposing players hand and conversely you are trying to assure these end up in the tricks that you take.

Back to bidding

With a 26 bid you could lose 16 points (26+16=42) and still make your bid. You could possibly lose one trick or hand that also had one 5-point and one 10-point counter, (plus the one point for the trick) and still make the bid.

With a 31 bid you could lose one 10-point hand, (plus the 1 point for the trick) and still make your bid.

One step further with a stronger hand, one could bid 36 meaning you could lose one hand that included a single 5-point counter. In our games these were common bid points, (26, 31 and 36), other than taking a bid away from another player.

Again there are variations in scoring; we were taught what you score is what you get. In our example above the team that bid 31 scored exactly 31 and the opposing team scored the other 11 points, (again scores will equals 42 points).

There is one exception to this scoring total. As mentioned above, if we hadn’t made our bid in the example and only collected 30 points, the opposing team broke that bid by scoring 12 points; in this case that team would double those and score 24 point, (we get zero).

It is possible for an opposing team to score all 42 points and double the score to 84 points. I’ve heard it’s happened though I’ve never seen it.

For our sessions we would agree on a point threshold, like 500 points, for a round. Again I’ll stress that some of the scoring rules I’ve seen on-line are not the same as we played.

Lets take a deeper look at the random draw in the photo above and my thoughts on what I see.

As I look at this hand, while it’s not that strongest, I see two possibilities.

The 3/3 – 3/5 – 3/4 isn’t bad, I have three of the top four counters, (missing the second highest 3/6 and the 3/2 (which is a 5 point counter), these could be an issue! Basically I have three of the available seven trump in my hand.

Past that, in my hand there are the two highest Blanks – blank/blank and blank/6. I’ve seen good players take a bid with just two trump but the rest of this hand is weak with three bad leads, (the double 3’s are a nice support).

Still I would be tempted to bid a low amount but would need my partners help!

Let’s take a peak at what my partner drew!

Remember what I said about taking a bid with just two trump! This is where you have to have faith in your partners draw! Had I gone with Blanks as trump I’m sure we would have eased into a winning round. Of course there is no table talk so we have no idea what we’ve got. My partner meanwhile sees the three blanks in his hand but they are on the low end.

He is stronger in 1’s but is missing the 1/1. With the 10-point counter in his hand as a possible bad lead. This is a better support hand than a bidding hand.

Let’s wrap this up with some closing thoughts.

The best way to play is with a regular group. If you are at all a fan of Trick Taking games and if you could muster up 4 players I would highly recommend it.

When looking for a Domino set look for thick dominoes that sit side up nicely. An accidental shake of the table can send your hands scrambling to save the sight of falling dominoes. Because of this I’ve developed lightning quick reflexes and have swoop them onto my lap before your eyes move up the table  ;D

As mentioned, I don’t played as much these days, though it does come out at work. One of the tactile things I enjoy most is the lovely clacking sound of the Bakelite chips as they get shuffled on the table, (always use a table cloth, the nice clack becomes a not so nice clatter if its not on cloth). I much prefer these to wood set but they certainty work.

Look for a new set or dominoes that aren’t scuffed. Marked dominoes (like marked cards) can give away what is in a hand.

There are some on-line and mobile APP’s that can also give you a good idea of play, (note that there might be differing scoring variants).

I’ve seen a strategy book available on Amazon and while writing this, along with a credit, just ordered a copy of, Winning 42: The Strategy and Lore of the National Game of Texas (Fourth Edition).

However popular this game is in the south there isn’t much in the way of instructional Youtube videos. This is one of the few that I’ve seen.

Let me know if you have any questions and hope you get the chance to try this someday!

If you do get to play, may you draw a perfect hand – if so make sure to bid 42

Have you played 42? What is your favourite trick taking game and why?

Sharing this with you lot is a dream come true  ;)


Other Games / ‘Best’ games of 2017 – join in!
« on: December 15, 2017, 09:26:40 PM »
Top 10 lists are a-plenty at this time of year so here’s a chance to share your all time - top ... or most played ... or ‘new to you’ games for 2017, (or beyond). 

This is an open list so don’t feel you need to have played the newest hotness, (and there plenty of those on 2017). Don’t have 10? The count can be as many or few as you wish. You can even go past games if you prefer, maybe contribute your best gaming experiences of the year. Either way, feel free to join in.

I’ll start things off with our favourite played games of 2017.
My list isn’t really in a particular order but the remarks kind of speak for themselves. I submitted a few reviews here on CC so that might spoil the list a bit  ;)

Grand Austria Hotel – 31 plays (in 2017). 38 plays total.
Most played game in 2017, for good reason, my wife and I love this game. Though it partially a dice based game, a big draw is the satisfaction of chaining card combinations that gives a good feeling of progression and fulfillment in the game. 

Vikings – 30 plays. (New to us in 2017)
This saw much more play earlier in the year. It was our go-to for many, many weeks. For variety we’ve played a little less often lately. A nearly perfect game for my wife and I. It plays great with two and relatively quickly. The Roundel is a nice novelty and implemented well into the game. There is great variety that lends to binge plays. Add a little bit of tile laying to make any Carc addict happy.

Quest for El Dorado – 4 plays (New to us in 2017)
This is new to the rotation but just love it so far. I have a review coming on this just need to polish it off. I’m not the biggest fan of just card based games and don’t haven’t a lot of experience with deck builders. This one seems to be a near perfect fit of deck building and board game. It’s been a hoot to race along the variable board, balancing turns between moving and slowing to build your deck.

The Voyages of Marco Polo - 7 plays (New to us in 2017)
Look for my recent review around these parts. This is a challenging game in the vein of Agricola, not in any of the mechanisms between the two but the stress to get all that you want to get done. May not be for everyone but a highly rated, brilliant game design nonetheless. The more I play the more I like it.

Flamme Rouge – 5 plays (New to us in 2017)
A deck management race game. Though not a deck builder this scratches a similar itch to Quest for El Dorado. It’s a great, light, quick fun game. Most requested game with the lads at work lunch group, (unfortunate not so much with the girls at home).

Century: Spice Road - 19 plays (in the last 4 months) (New to us in 2017)
Another hit at home and work. It fits in the similar game space as Splendor and as I’ve said before, in no way is this a Splendor killer for us. It’s just nice to have this in the rotation for variety. I think part of the allure for me is the balance of building nice card combos with the right amount of hand management to keep things interesting.

Alhambra – 5 plays. (New to us in 2017)
Another title that has gone over well at home and at work, easy to get to the table and a very good game for 3-4 players. It is a nice blend of simple set collection and the spatial aspect of tile laying.

Fresco – 4 plays (New to us in 2017)
These plays have been very enjoyable. There is just enough going on in the game, with interesting mechanics to keep it interesting until the end. A great mid weight Euro, worthy of its accolades!

Cinque Terre – 6 plays in 2017 (17 total plays)
Another perennial favourite, especially for my wife, this and Grand Austria are her absolute favourites.

Agricola (full revised edition) – 4 plays (New to us in 2017)
Agricola Family edition – 2 plays in 2017 (10 total plays)
Agricola All creatures great and small - 2 plays in 2017 (13 total plays)
I’m lumping these all together. My wife and I finally graduated to grown up Agricola in 2017. We started with ‘All Creatures’ and it’s still my wife’s preferred way to play. She doesn’t mind the family edition but hasn’t been overly fond of the big game. I consciously introduced the game over time in this manner in hopes she would warm up to the full version but sadly that hasn’t totally happened. I have a work pal that wants to get plays in but it’s been a challenge to get together outside of work. Here’s hoping to more plays in 2018.

Honourable mentions:
Lords of Waterdeep – (12 plays in 2017) we’ve dusted this off lately only to remember why we’ve played this game so many times in the past. Still a great, great game.
Carcassonne – A shocking (only) 7 table plays in 2017. These have all been mega games that play for almost 3 hours! Regardless, we still love this game and I expect it to always remain in my all-time top tier. (I get much more play on IOS. it is my most played game in that format.)


Designer: Simone Luciani, Daniele Tascini
Artist: Dennis Lohausen
Publisher: Hans im Glück, Zman, etc.
BGG Rank: Over all 37 – Strategy 29 (as of this publication date)
BGG Weight (Complexity): 3.19 / 5
Play time: 40 – 100 min.
Mechanism: Dice Rolling, Variable Player Powers, Worker Placement, etc.

More of a good thing …

One of my all time favourite games is Grand Austria Hotel. I mention this because these two titles share a common co-designer in Simone Luciani. These two games are also credited as 2015 releases but if my memory serves correctly, Marco Polo just predated the two. I’m also sure I had Marco Polo before purchasing GAH but somehow that made it to the table much sooner than Marco Polo.

Despite some comparisons that have been made between these games, they feel different to a large degree. The most obvious comparison is the use of dice. Where in GAH dice are much more of drafting and action selection. The dice use in Marco Polo is more closely related to Worker placement, for the most part you roll dice and assign those dice to a space in a worker placement fashion. I suppose there is another similarity in collecting goods for contracts in MP and collecting goods for orders in Grand Austria. Both games do have intense decisions and working with tight resource management.

I do have a review here of Grand Austria Hotel:

So what’s Marco Polo all about … (enter usual comment here, that this is not intended as a full, rules included, review. I will only highlight important features to give a summary view of the game and our experience).

The top of the board features the travel map area. You will visit cities and leave trading posts. The spaces also open up many special bonuses. The lower half of the board features the main action spots. The board is a little busy to look at in the beginning but that gets easier as you play.

In this game you are Marco Polo or one of his associates in trade and transportation. There are two primary factors in the game: Traveling between cities and towns along trade routes and filling contract orders.

As mentioned Travel is a major part of the game, you will move along the map to collect bonuses and open up new action spaces.

Travel selection part of the board. Here you place dice, pay money and move your Meeple on the top portion of the board. Each action spot has a required amount of die that need to be placed to take that action. In this case the travel area requires 2 dice. The numbers that you chose determine how many moves you can take and the cost of the move on the chart. Anytime you place multiple dice in this game, you take the action of your lowest die. High rolls are not always needed nor necessary. In this photo, yellow can move two spaces on the map and has to pay 7 coins to do so.

There are also Goal cards in the game that are very similar to routes in Ticket to Ride. They will have routes that you want to complete for points at the end of the game.

The other major factor in the game is contracts. When these contracts are fulfilled there is an immediate reward and the player to get the most contracts at the end of the game will gain a 7 points bonus.

There seems to be a fine balance in the game; do you focus on visiting cities on the map or do you put more attention on gathering goods for those lucrative contracts. Of course the likely best course is a delicate balance of the two within a very tight timeline.

Available contracts or orders are placed at the bottom of the board. In this shot you can see blue took the 6th contract, (with a 6 die he can chose any of the visible contracts and can also chose to take two). The cost is on the left with the reward pictured on the right of the contract cards. He also took a 2 level move action, in the middle of the board and finally was able to place a die and take an action on a bonus card from a city he had visited.

The Bazaar, in the centre of the photo is the main spot where resources can be gathered, (Gold, Silk, Pepper and Camels).
In the photo, I placed my blue die on the Camel resource line and gathered 6 Camels. Another player can use the same spot but pays a penalty of coins equal to the value of the die they place on top of the spot. For example if a player placed a die with a 4, they would pay 4 coins to take the same action, (they would then gather 4 Camels). The Black die above the Bazaar are possible bonus die that can be bought or earned as bonuses. Of course there are many other choices in the game, again, I am just focusing on the main play elements.

Nice wood bits.
Component quality of the game is very good, as is usual for HiG and Zman productions.
I’ve added small square containers that fit nicely in the box and make for quick set up / tear down.

This is your personal player board area, where you keep: Money, Dice, Resources, Trading Posts, Route (Goal) cards, contracts and finished contracts. Your personal dice pool is rolled and will be placed on the board to take your actions.

The variable player powers are a stand out feature of this game and maybe the most talked about element.

Each character that you can play has outstanding special abilities that gives this game a strong asymmetrical feel. It will be fun to explore more of these roles. We used the standard set up for the first game as suggested in the rules. I had Raschid ad-Din Sinan and my wife took the suggested roll of Matteo Polo.

Raschid has, what might seem to be, the game breaking benefit of making his dice faces whatever he wants them to be! How can you lose … well I found a way, or better to say this shows the amazing balance in this game where I ended up just losing by 10 points.

My wife and I were tied going into the final scoring and where I put extra focus on Travel my wife put extra focus on contracts, and she just squeezed out the win. Matteo’s special ability is to get an extra die for the entire game and to pick up a new contract every round, (possibly saving the use of an extra action).

In our second play we switched characters and played with Johannes Carpini and I chose Niccolo & Marco Polo. Johannes has the incredible and apparently divine ability of bilocation! On the map board he can transport from Oasis to Oasis anywhere on the map! Normally, traveling is a relatively costly endeavour that takes precious turns.

With Niccolo & Marco you can get two lovely renaissance Meeples, that can travel the map board, instead of the usual one. You are able to split your move allotment between the 2 pawns, this is a big assistance on the map portion of the board.

Though we were better prepared to play this 2nd session, the end of this quick game caught up to us. Our scores were quite a bit lower than the first, I scored 61 to my wife’s 49. I am sure we will try more new characters next time around.

As mentioned this game is quick. On top of limited actions you only have 5 fixed rounds before the game ends. Planning ahead seems to be important part of doing well in the game. You will likely leave the game wishing you had at least one more turn!

A further comparison to Grand Austria is the game weight and complexity. On BGG these are rated almost equally. Despite the fact that there isn’t any earth shattering new concepts in Marco Polo, I still found that there was a fair amount to take on for the first game. I will say the initial learning curve is well worth effort. After that first play you should really be good to go!

It also takes some time to understand all the iconography on the cards … I swear, our true universal language will just go back to solely using pictographs … maybe that’s not a bad thing  :white-meeple:

Full 2 player set up.
This can take a good amount of table space!
The cloth bag, cups and coins are not included in the game!

Always like to substitute metal coins into a game!

In the end, though there is some innovation in the dice mechanic and player powers, this is another conglomeration of Euro game elements. In my mind, this is in no-way a criticism. Maybe that is the best feature of a good designer, they can use the Euro game toolbox to come up with a better mousetrap or a better game.

I don’t see many negatives here but there is a lot to consider during the players turns and analysis paralysis could be an issue for some players. Regardless the game plays quick enough and definitely doesn’t outstay its welcome.

This one hits many positive notes for my wife and I. We have left feeling we want to play more, as soon as possible, to see if we can do better in our next play and to try some of the other game characters.

It’s too early to say if Marco Polo would equal or surpass our admiration of Grand Austria Hotel, regardless we look forward to more Voyages into the world of the spice trade!

Parting shot

This game did not disappoint and look forward to having this in the regular rotation!

Other Games / Fresco Big Box (image heavy)
« on: October 07, 2017, 02:47:01 PM »

Fresco: Big Box (2014) Basic game originally published 2010 - Spiel Des Jahres Nominee

Designer: Wolfgang Panning, Marco Ruskowski, Marcel Süßelbeck
Artist: Oliver Schlemmer
Publisher: Queen Games
2-4 players (BGG – best with 4 players)
Playing Time 60 minutes
BGG - Weight / complexity rating: 2.64 / 5
Current BBG ratings  - Overall 225 / Strategy 163 / Family 27

Primary Mechanisms: Set Collection / Simultaneous Action Selection

Along with Carcassonne I’m a fan of what might be deemed as Euro games. I like getting the ‘standards’ or classics to the table. Though this is not an old title it certainly has that traditional Euro game feel. This title checks the box for a standard Euro troupe of an historical setting with mostly familiar mechanisms.

“In Fresco, players are master painters working to restore a fresco in a Renaissance church.”

Collect paint cubes to restore the Fresco and score points

Loads of cubie goodness. These are your coloured building blocks to uncover (restore) the ceiling.

Saying all that and now that I have had a good number of this style of games under my belt, some of these titles can feel a little flat. Our first game of Fresco left me just a little frustrated, knowing that I didn’t quite have it all in hand. Though the flow was smooth and we barely made a rule mistake, I knew there was more to be discovered in this game. I’ve now played 3 games, each as two players – with two different opponents. I was much more comfortable in my second game and had a much better lock on the game after the 3rd play.

Full two-player set up of base game and first 3 mini expansions. All components are very good quality!
Each player has two screens for lots of hidden information; coloured cubes you have collected, money and your action selection screen that gets revealed in its time.

Nicely printed screens with colour pallet and paint mixing information.

Second screen with turn order reminders and the important action selection board.
Send your apprentices out to do their daily tasks!

Though the Big Box was launched in 2014 with a Queen Games Kickstarter, I picked it up some time last year, (2016). This set contains all expansion and mini expansions, (Queenie’s) for Fresco that have been released to date. This will add a good long life to the game. As suggested by many reviewers, we incorporated the first three mini expansions in our first plays, (these are also available in the basic – non-Big Box edition). I won’t go into that detail here. I agree that these make the game feel complete and very well rounded. I have read through the many other mini expansions and will add the odd one in when we are more familiar to the game. I would like to try the Glaziers or the stained glass window expansion next. It seems to round out the theme and is well regarded by experienced players.

Main game board. Not all elements are described here

Though this game incorporates some standard mechanism like Set collection, there are some standout features that are nicely incorporated. The first is the wake up track or by it’s proper term, the Hostel, (where your apprentices would billet). We’ve experienced this in Viticulture but Fresco used this feature before that game came around. Right off the bat this is a bit of an agonizing choice as going first is really helpful in a round.

Choose your starting order!
Getting up early makes most anyone cranky but that’s what it takes to get first picks!
Example: getting up at 5:00am moves you three notches down on the mood track (pictured below) and while you get first pick at the market (for paints), you pay full or even inflated market prices. How badly do you want to go first in a round? In my experience it is good to go first or early!

Starting points for your ‘morale meter’ or the Theatre as it’s officially called in the game, (going to the theatre improves your mood). Move your marker up the track and new assistants want to work with you. Move it down and one of your workers could refuse to work that day! Note; this isn’t the best photo because it doesn’t show the full track.

Once players have decided their turn order and have made adjustments to mood, players are now ready to choose their actions for the round.

This is the action selection board, (right).
There are 5 actions your apprentices can take and you can take up to 3 of the same action.
The number of apprentices you use in a round can vary by your place on the mood track.
The first action is buying paint at the market.
The second action is to restore a tile of the Fresco
The third action is used to do private portraits, (mostly used to generate money – this won’ be fully explained here). This is also expanded on with one of the first 3 basic expansions.
The 4th action is to mix your paints. Players can transform coloured cubes into ‘higher grade’ colours in hopes of achieving high value Fresco tiles.
The 5th available action is used to improve your position on the mood track.
Important note! The photo here is of Leonardo’s action card in play. He has the pleasure to appear in each two-player game. Yes, this is one of those ‘dummy player’ games where it is necessary to control a 3rd player. Don’t just run screaming at that thought! This is an excellent implementation and has been very well received by the 2-player community – check out further BGG reviews for confirmation.
While Leonardo’s choices are fairly static, it adds another fun strategic element to the game. Each player in turn order gets a chance to control Leo. This is great when it’s your turn! He’s also not a complete dummy! Leo has a pawn on the score track and will lead for the 1st part of the game, making everyone else feel like the dummy! Again I’m not going to go into to full game detail here. This is to give you a basic idea of the game and my initial impressions.

So far and overall this is a challenging and tight game. The choices are meaningful and a bit difficult at times. The incorporation of the Dummy player with two-players is expertly handled and adds even more tension to the decision-making. This game can be a challenge for those AP (analysis paralysis) prone players, (like me), as one considers and looks forward from the choices you need to make. Though turns can play quick, I’ve found our games to take well over an hour.

Close up view of the market at the top of the game board. If players commit their apprentices to this action they can select paint tiles. To do this they pay the described amount (on the wake up table), select the paint swatch from the market and turn those markers into the actual cubes that you keep behind your player screen. For example: if a player committed two apprentices to the market and he woke up first he can select two swatches from either of the three market stalls. This player chooses the large green cube and the large orange cube in the 3rd market. He pays for those tiles and collects the actual cubes. That market is then closed and all the tiles from that market are put back into the draw bag. This market replenishes and is different every round!

This game surprised me in its simplicity and there is a solid game here with meaningful decision-making. The simplicity is more in the learning of the game and the actual turns. It’s your choices that really drive the game and give it depth. I suppose it shouldn’t have been too much of a shock when one looks at the respectable BGG ratings for this game. My brief description of the game here might seem overwhelming at first but this really is a straightforward game, especially if you’re an avid Euro gamer.

The Big Box has a very ‘nice’ molded insert – which I promptly ditched for more practical storage. Thought the insert had component slots it was still a struggle to make it fit and just didn’t seems practical. There isn’t a guide in the game on how to use the insert though some fine folks on BGG have done that on behalf of Queen games, (look in the BGG file section). With my desire to include the plastic containers for easy set up, I was better off taking out the insert. There is plenty of room in the Big box.

The plastic containers are not included but fit nicely in the box. Two cloth bags are included in the game and I have them stuffed with most of the base game components and the first three mini expansions.

Other Games / Caverna: Cave vs Cave - photos, mini review and impressions
« on: October 01, 2017, 11:56:44 AM »

Designer: Uwe Rosenberg
Artist: Klemens Franz, Uwe Rosenberg
Publisher: 999 Games, Crowd Games, Lookout Games, Ludofy Creative, Mayfair Games
Playing time: 20 – 40 minutes.
BGG - Weight / complexity 2.41 (/5)

This is just a summary of the game and my impressions after a few plays.

First off I wanted to mention that Caverna still sits on my ‘wall’ of shame and has yet to hit the table. I still have hopes of that happening one fine day.

Similarly I played the two-player, Agricola: All Creatures Great and Small well before I ever got Agricola to the table, (and still kind of prefer the smaller iteration, though I do enjoy the full game).

I’ve previously mentioned that I’m an Uwe fan boy and this new title doesn’t disappoint. If anything, Uwe seems to be refining some of his designs to be concise and more economical.

That kind of sums up this game in a not shell, economical, not only is the game reasonably priced due to its striped down components but the design is really bare bones. Though I have seen positive reviews I still wasn’t sure the game would deliver. So far, I am enjoying the experience.

The game is really dead simply. Buy Tiles (rooms), add them to your cave, (player board). Each tile has a point value. Those points are added to your gold value and the player with the most point’s wins! In this game you are not farmers but Dwarves trying to get ahead in your own little world. Of course there is a little bit more to the game than that but that is it in a nutshell.

Full game set up

Like ‘Gric (and I’m sure Caverna), you use other goods in the game to collect said tiles. The other resources are Gold, Emer (AKA Wheat), Flax, Stone and the ever present Wood and Food.

Food is a primary requirement to build or furnish the cave with a tile. There is usually another cost of resources to actually place the tile in your tableau, (like wood or stone). Once the tile is placed it also serves an ongoing bonus when other certain actions are taken.

Resources are tight in this game. The parent Caverna is usually described as being wide open and not as tight as Agricola but to me Cave vs Cave is much more like my experience of the ‘Gric series of games. Actions can also be really tight. Some Action tiles are very scarce, if another player chooses that tile before you get a chance you might not be able to take that specific action until the next turn.

The economy is also brilliantly realized in the simplicity of components. Where All Creatures still has a load of components, (that fit into a small box,) this has been simplified with only one of each resource that is moved along a track to keep count.

Player board.
Note tiles that are placed face down. These need to be excavated and uncovered before rooms can be built to take their place. Tiles that are excavated on the player boards are moved to the available tile area for both players to buy if possible.

Though the primary mechanism on BGG is worker placement you don’t have workers in this game, instead you choose an action tile from the Action board and take it off the board for that turn. I would describe this as an Action Selection mechanism but then I’m not a game designer, so what do I know!?

The Action board is the heart of the game. The tiles above of the action board are the available rooms or features that are available to purchase. The face up tiles on the action board is the available actions at the start of the game.

Sample of rooms or furnishing tiles available at the start of the game:
The cost and cave placement requirement is mid area of the tile.
Building these features not only gains the points at the end of the game for the upper number in the shield but you can also gain the bonuses featured on the bottom of the tile through the game, (this is not explained here – see full rule set).

The action board is also the timer in the game. Each round a new tile and action is uncovered. Play goes on until all the actions are turned over.

Close up view of some of the action tiles.
The Excavate tile allows you gain a stone and remove one or two tiles from your board. These tiles get added to the available features to buy and opens up space to place those features in your tableau.
Undergrowth allows you to take an action available on you tableau (not explained here – see rule set) and gain 2 wood.
Cultivate is similar to Undergrowth but increases your Emer and Flax
Housework is the action tile that allows you to build or furnish rooms in your cave. The primary cost for this action is food.

So, in the end does one really need yet another game in the ever growing Uwe pantheon? Maybe not but what this delivers for me is a game that is easy to set up and play with meaningful decision making. It might not be too far a description to say this title is what Patchwork (played) is to A Feast for Odin, (also on wall of shame). I look forward to more play time.

I think there are several good plays in the box and there is already speculation that there could be mini expansions on the way. This could simply be added tiles, as was the case with ‘All Creatures’ or I could see adding other game features to the striped design in hopes of keeping game fresh.

My two plays have been close, a loss of 44 / 47 and a win of 50 / 47. Both these games were with other first time players. The first game was last weekend with a Pal at a local game Con and the other just last evening with my wife.

If there is one negative point on the game, while the resource track is a clever way to keep the overall came cost down, it can be a little fiddly when resources get bunched together, (like at the start of the game). This hasn’t been too bad to deal with but I do wish the tableau board were just a bit larger. The game includes alternate smaller cardboard tokens to replace the wood pieces but I would find them harder to distinguish on the board.

Some have said (including Rhado) that the game is too cut throat but I don’t see that. It is a competitive game and wouldn’t say this was any worse than most ‘worker placement’ games.

Misc. pieces.
The start / turn order player token.
Wall sections, that can be built in the cave area, (there are only 7 in the game).
The large cave piece is given to the player that is first to fully furnish their cave dwelling. It is two-sided and would allow one more room to be built.
The tiles with the Roman numerals are just used to keep track when players take many bonus actions in a turn, (this is not explained here – see rule set for complete game details).

Other Games / Century Spice Road - 1st impressions with photos
« on: August 27, 2017, 09:05:13 AM »
I finally received this title in a recent game haul and was happy to get it to the table

Not a Splendor killer by any means but fun game in it's own right.

Unfortunately this title can’t escape the Splendor comparison. In a nutshell for both games, one gathers resources (Spices or Gems) and turns those into points. I will only give a very brief description of the game.

My own cheat sheet. Spice cups are included in the game box.

CSR is even more stripped down in comparison to Splendor, (that isn’t complex begin with). This makes it a little easier to get to the table. It’s simple enough to learn and plays quickly, (we are already down to about 20 minutes).

Personal Spice Caravan card

Turns are very quick and there are one of 4 actions you can take:

Play a card: Play a trader card from your hand, (collect spice cubes).
Acquire: Get a new Merchant card into your hand.
Rest: Take all the cards you’ve played back into your hand.
Score: Purchase a point card

Merchant Cards

In a two player game the first to collect six point cards triggers the end of game. The point cards vary in worth (9 – 20 points if I recall). The final point count is achieved by the collected point cards, some of the higher value spice cubes left on your caravan card at the end of the game, (1 point each) and finally Gold coins, (3 points each) and Silver coins, (1 point each).

Point cards

In our 1st game when my wife collected her 6th card I had one more play. I couldn’t collect a card but I was able to get more spice cubes. When the final count was done I had 78 points and Karen had 72. I was able to take the game with higher value cards, spice cubes and coins. We have now played 3 games. Karen took the last game 101 - 94!

Coins. The colour tone is a little similar and I could see some issues distinguishing them in low light.

There isn’t much in the box but the quality is good. The game includes small plastic containers for the cubes, which is a nice touch. The metal coins are also a good quality. I think these might have been added to give some perceived value to the minimal amount of components. The card stock on the cards is a very a good, thick stock. There is a separate promotional place mat that is available directly from the publisher that looks nice but comes at too high a cost for the little it would add to the game.

Full set up for two players

I’ve played Splendor 100’s of times. I do not see this ever replacing that title. Regardless for us there is (barely) enough space on the shelf for both games.

Century Spice Road is a nice light game that I would be happy to play on a regular basis. All in all we are pleased with the investment.

Other Games / Palaces of Carrara - Review (images)
« on: April 26, 2017, 05:32:39 PM »

I remember seeing this title near the time it was on the BGG Hot list for its 2013 nomination for the Kenner Spiel Des Jahres. That would have been a time when I was much less familiar with the genre and it might have seemed out of my league at the time. Now a few years later and with much more experience in this gaming genre I finally decided to take the plunge on an import version of the German, HiG production of the Kramer and Kiesling title. With my newfound love of mid weight Euros along with the video play-throughs by Rahdo and Miwi this title looked promising.

Very simplified game play basics:

Players are 16th Century Nobles overseeing the building of fantastic period architecture using renowned Carrara marble.

There are only three actions you can take on a turn, Buy Marble bricks, Construct a building or place a Meeple (King) to Score a mid game feature. You can only do one of those actions per turn.

Players secure various grades of marble from a mine (Rondel) that values the goods at a scaled and varying degree.The marble is used to build various building designs in regional cities, each with their own demand on the quality of building.

The available buildings have differing values from a cost of 1 marble brick to 5, with the included expansion there are buildings with a value of 8.  (We used the included expansion in our initial plays.) When buildings are scored they could provide immediate Gold and / or Victory points and / or precious Objects.

Each game the players have many variable goal cards that set the end game condition and some scoring elements.

Available resources in the game are the already mentioned Marble, (small wood bricks in the game that come in 6 different colours), money, (which can be replenished from completed buildings) and Trophies (or Objects as these are called in the game), that are awarded for the design at their time of scoring, (these Objects are represented in quality wood tokens in the game). (Also note, in the photo that we pimped our copy with metal coins, they are not included in the game.)

Players take actions described above until the varying goal cards are completed. Then there is a final scoring to determine the winner of the game.

Initial thoughts after 2 plays with 2 players

So far, if I had to reduce my initial thoughts to a couple words, it would be that the game is too easy.

I have to admit that I enjoy games that have their inherent challenges against the game. However frustrating tight resources can be in many games these challenges can also keep me coming back for the fight.

Typical examples of this are feeding your people in Agricola or Stone Age and other games with super tight resources. I have not seen these challenges in this game. The Marble bricks aren’t that difficult to come by; the buildings aren’t that expensive or hard to buy. The objects seem to be the tightest resource but again not that difficult for a two-player game. Perhaps there’s the rub, this might be better at a higher player count. The BGG player rating does indeed rate this best at 4 but still has strong recommendation for 2 players.

A game like this ends up just being a race against the other player. With little interaction, it feels a little empty at this point. Hopefully these are only initial reservations or perhaps I just need to enjoy the race more!

The good stuff!

The game is quick!! That might seem like another tongue in cheek dig at the game but it really is a plus. It is fairly easy to get to the table.

I bought the HiG import version as this game had a very limited Zman printing. The production is very good, (as usual for HiG). The Rondel is well designed and pleasing. It works well in the game.

This is still a good mid-weight Euro that might be better suited to someone newer to the genre. There is nothing inherently wrong with the game but not enough to set this apart from other familiar titles. As of these initial thoughts I would prefer to play games in a similar range like; Vikings, Cinque Terre or Finca.

Update, after a 3-player game!

I held back publishing this review until I had a chance to try it with more players. That chance came recently at our work-lunch group. (Yes, it can play that quickly that I was able to teach the game to new players and we finished in just slightly over an hour.) The three-player game was much better. It gave me hope in the justification of the game purchase. Competition was stiffer with more players vying for bricks and buildings. I still feel another player would make it even more challenging, (but would add a little more time to the game).

So in the end if you are looking for a fairly easy mid-weight game at a higher player count that can play in roughly an hour this is might be worth looking at.

Other Games / Vikings - Board game (with photos)
« on: February 06, 2017, 02:10:47 PM »
Thoughts and impressions after 4, (two-player games)

Apparently we can't get enough of Vikings! They seem to even be more popular than Cthulhu, certainly in the board game realm.

I have owned the Zman edition of this Michael Kiesling title for a little over a year, (if memory serves), and have just gotten it to the table. I understand HiG is the original publisher in 2007, so maybe they were ahead of the curve on the Viking crazy with this one.

For me, this game goes toe-to-toe or tête-à-tête with Isle of Skye with 2 players! I have only played Vikings with two at this point, though I have played IoS with all counts. In both games you acquire tiles, (all be it in a very different method), then the tiles are placed on your own tableau for point scoring.

Game play basics: I’m not going into detailed game play descriptions in this review. The game centres on an enjoyable roundel mechanism of a tile market. There are variable costs for the randomized tiles and Meeples that are drawn and placed beside the pricing wheel. As tiles and meeples are bought the wheel can change its position thus revaluing the remaining pieces. This is a key point of the game mechanic and strategy.


The next, arguably the most important, game play mechanic and strategy is placing those hard earned tiles and Meeple into your player area. There are key decision points, (and accompanying rules), for placing those pieces. Those choices will make or break your game.

The various meeples represent differing skills and bonuses that are associated to them and their position of the tableau. The main ‘threat’ in the game are invading ships. These can cause havoc for the meeples in your play area but if you are able to block their advance, these can be turned around into various bonuses.

Theme: There is very little here that makes one feel like a Viking but the general art direction and graphic layout help to give it some cohesion. Expansion of the island tiles are as close as you can get to any kind of feeling that fits the theme. In the end the game itself will keep me coming back and not the theme. This isn’t uncommon in the genre of these games nor is it a real detriment, IMO.

Components – Meeples are great but I do have at least three Meeples that came with either a missing head altogether or the horns off their helmet, the pieces still do the job but there could have been better QC in this one that I got.

Full set up at start of game: Please note: we substituted metal coins from 'The Best Damn Gaming coins - Kickstarter (that we also use of Isle of Skye). The other modification here, we draw the island tiles from a bag rather than set them up at the top of the main action board. This saves set up time. We use a coin in their place, seen at the top left of the photo, to keep track of the round. The white draw bag came with the game and we added the second darker bag draw the Meeples 

Interaction and intensity: The biggest and arguably the only player interaction is in the tile selection. This is also the best tension in the game. It can be a little nerve wracking as the tiles and Meeples get placed, as you formulate your plans that will transfer into to your tableau and as you vie for the tiles/Meeples against your opponent. In fair comparison to Isle of Skye, I would say the tension in this similar phase of the game, is even more pronounced in IoS.

It’s one of those games where you have to work with what you’ve got. Though in the end the general feeling I was left with was one of accomplishment. The end of the game feels like it comes a little quickly but regardless of that I do think the play length is just right. It doesn’t overstay its welcome. I can see getting in a game in about 45 minutes once you've got the rhythm.

There is much more I’m going to leave out of this review other than to say we played with one of the two variants that come with the game, called the Progress version. We include the ‘Special Tiles’ in our first plays, (and wouldn’t play without them), for us these add a needed depth to the game and see it as relatively easy to incorporate. (They generally enhance game play bonuses that are already part of the game.)

The tiles near the top of this set up are the Special Tiles, not the draw stacks for the islands

In the end and importantly as a two-player game, it’s a toss up for me on my current preference of Vikings or Isle of Skye. I like both methods of attaining tiles; though IoS might be a little cleaner in that department and also with more direct interaction. As for the tile placement, IoS would also have a slight lead with a little more to think about. I also feel both games have strong strategic elements.

I don’t think one has to own both but in my mind they can stand on their own. So far in my experience the final scores might be a little more balanced in IoS. I need a few more plays of Vikings to get a better sense of that aspect. I’ve over accentuated the 2-player count in this overview because from what I’ve read on various BGG reviews, IoS might also be a better game at a higher player count of four people.

The BGG complexity/weight rating for this title, (2.54), which I think is a good representation. It’s quite easy to pick up though there are a few fiddly rules to keep in mind along the way.  Just as a point of interest Isle of Skye as a slightly lower rating as mentioned above at 2.27. Despite the small difference I think they are also on par for complexity.

My personal rating on this is a solid 8/10, with the same rating in my books for Isle of Skye.

If you’ve played Vikings, what are your thoughts of the game?

Other Games / Grand Austria Hotel (with images)
« on: December 11, 2016, 10:05:08 AM »
Grand Austria Hotel

A place I would be happy to visit regularly!

While I live in Canada I purchased this on the recent, and now ubiquitous, Black Friday promotion sales, (from a friendly Canadian on-line retailer). I had this on my want list since watching Miwi’s fantastic play through video.

We’ve now had the chance to play this game about a ½ dozen times and it has shot up, in the games I admire and want to play the most.

This is the product of a pairing of Italian designers with other great games to their credit, Simone Luciani, (Marco Polo) and Virginio Gigli, (Egiza).

At its heart, this could be simply described as a set collection game but with many moving pieces. BGG categorizes this just over a mid weight game with a complexity rating listed at 3.22/5.0. In my personal experience I think this is a little inflated. Again, while there is a lot going on in the game play it is really straightforward to learn.

But what’s it all about? I won’t go into an in-depth analysis but here are the basics:

You are proprietor at a turn of the century Hotel in the heart if Vienna vying with rival hotels for the favour of the Emperor, guests and politicians.

Set up of game board at start of game, (with and without guests at tables).

In the game players draft and fill orders for guests in their café in hopes that they stay and occupy a room in their hotel.

These guests come with various attributes or rewards, some would be more desirable than others for you hotel. As the guests make their way to their rooms there are several further opportunities for bonuses as you try to complete blocks of differing coloured rooms.

Sample player board at start of game, (note guests and room colours need to match. Here the red guest at the table needs a red room that isn’t ready for his arrival yet!).

The core mechanism is an action selection board that is driven by rolling a pool of dice. These will decide which actions are available in a round.

Action board. Sample roll of the dice, the die each show what actions are available in a given turn and how many of those actions you can take.

Some of these actions include:

➢   Gathering resources, (Strudel, Cake, Wine and Coffee – which will be served to the guests).

➢   Prepare rooms in advance for the guest’s occupancy.

➢   Movement on the Emperor’s favour track and collection of money.

➢   Hire hotel staff of varying abilities and assets, (an important feature in the game.)

A sample of the many available staff for hire and their attributes. The Iconography in this game is very well done and doesn’t take long to master.

The dice can play havoc with your plans are you try and build an engine. Adapting to those changes on the fly gives this game interest and replayability.

Another important aspect is the Emperor's favour. He’s a fickle character that you don’t want to get on the wrong side of. This feature also plays important role in the game, again at the expense of messing with other plans, (though it can also garner good rewards).   

The game boards have variable set up, from the series of ‘political’ bonus cards, the Emperor’s Bonus / penalties, to the player’s personal game boards themselves, again all adding replay value.

The game production is nicely done with good components and friendly artwork by Klemens Franz.

A few special guests make an appearance at the tables, with a visit from Brother Uwe and a self-portrait of the artist himself. Sitting down to some nice Strudel and Coffee.

I have only played this with two and it is the recommended count on BGG. See other reviews for perspective on higher player count.

This is a game of tight resources that creates, a mostly good kind of, tension as you play and plot for pieces to come together. To add to the tension players only have two actions per turn in a 7 round game. This ultimately leads to a relatively quick contest, where you might want to stay at the table and play another match. 

While this has a very respectable ranking on BGG, (187 Overall, 102 Strategy games), in my humble opinion and for my taste, think the title to be underrated. It’s a solid mid weight Euro style game that is approachable and rewarding.

Don’t let this full game set up scare you. While it can be a table hog, when broken down to it's core elements this is not an overwhelming game!

Have you played GAH? What are your thoughts on the game?

Other Games / Tiny Epic Quest Meeples
« on: October 24, 2016, 04:23:02 PM »
Thanks for all the suggestions - Meeplesource made the fork a little longer.  We canted to keep it inside the meeple's shape in case we ever wanted to make some wooden meeple.  That may need a serious round of fundraising though!

Speaking of which ... I saw this (see below) earlier today on BGG. Very awesome Meeps from the upcoming Tiny Epic Quest, (patent pending - on the accessories I guess). I understand the Kickstarter for this game is imminent.

News and Events / Carcassonne 2.0 The Tower - photo posted on BGG
« on: September 07, 2016, 03:31:35 AM »
I haven't seen the new box cover posted here, unless I missed it !!?

Other Games / Cinque Terre Board Game (a little image heavy)
« on: July 03, 2016, 06:15:41 PM »

By chance our first play of this game ended up being played, almost to the day, of my 20-year anniversary of a visit to Cinque Terre back in 1996. That visit was one of the highlights of a cross-Europe adventure.

Vernazza was my home base for my stay in the area.

The steep hillsides along the Italian Cote D’azur are dotted with vineyards, lemons and olive groves as the game describes. Walking along the trails to the villages gives a feeling of remoteness from the crowded cities in northern Italy.

This is a fairly brief overview of the game and not intended to explain the rules of play. There are some video play-throughs available that we found quite useful.

This game is very often compared to Ticket to Ride but I find this to be a good step up in complexity with more to keep track of.

The set collection mechanism is extremely similar to TTR, though the main mechanism in Cinque Terre is pick up and delivery. In the game you collect a series of produce cards to harvest or buy various crops along a route then deliver / sell them into the 5 villages to fulfill produce orders.

Board set up just after our first turn. There is a glut of Zucchini.

Another strong similarity to TTR is Produce orders (think routes) that need to be completed. The produce orders come in two varieties in the game.

Larger Produce orders, (think longest route). Players get one of these dealt to them randomly at the start of the game that they keep hidden until the end of the game. If these orders is filled they all score the same 30 points. If the order is unfinished there will be variable and diminished scoring.

Large orders have stars on the back and are kept in hand until the end of the game

There are also smaller and simpler Produce Orders that are open on the table that players race to complete. These are important factor in the game and when a combination of 5 regular (open) produce orders and/or MPV bonuses (described next) are claimed in one players pool, this is the trigger for the last round of play. Orders that are not complete at the end of the game will get negative points.

During the game players can score (MPV – Most Popular Vendor) points. These are scored if a player completes a row of goods sold to a given city. In the example below Karen collected the Corniliga MPV marker and placed into her play area.

These might be considered to be like the Longest Route bonus in TTR. Note: the MPV points can be scored during game play. 

Player’s tableau where they keep track of what produce is sold in which village

MPV - Most popular vendor bonus tiles

In the game set up there is a neat dice mechanism where a series of dice, for each commodity, are rolled to determine the value of the goods at a particular location. This adds a great amount of replay to the game.

Dice colours match the goods

Thoughts and first impressions:

The graphic design of the overall game, while pleasing and colourful, can at times be a little jarring. There seems to be a lot going on visually, (especially the scoring track).

There are a few quirky rules that were a bit confusing but after two games, I think we now have it down quite well.

We found our first play surprisingly brain-burny* with lots to keep track of. We played with open hands in our first game to help us along. *I have self-proclaimed 'brain burny' to be a Gamer Geek word.

With only a couple of game under our belt, we think this a brilliant game that deserves more attention. If you ever get the chance, give it a go!

Despite the glaring similarities to Ticket to Ride we feel this game stands strongly on its own.

Perhaps it’s no coincidence that the best way to access Cinque Terre is by train!

images are from publisher, mine or public domain, (as far as I can tell)

Other Games / Mouse Guard: Swords and Strongholds
« on: May 23, 2016, 06:01:43 AM »
I recently mentioned in, ‘I love the postman’ thread, the arrival of Mouse Guard: Swords and Strongholds, an abstract game for two players.

This had a successful Kickstarter run sometime back but that’s not where I came across it. I saw it while looking for potential items to add to an on-line order where I wanted to optimize shipping. I saw this in a ‘new arrivals’ listing and did some research on BGG and ultimately on Mouse Guards creators David Petersen’s, YouTube channel, where he has tutorials and play through videos with co-designer, Luke Crane.

Throughout the Graphic novel series the mouse adventurers are seen playing a game and the creative duo set out to make an actual game of the imagined drawings.

If you’re not familiar with the Graphic series, here is a snippet from Wikipedia:

Mouse Guard is set in a world of sentient mice that live in a medieval era, paralleling the same age in human history, though in their world there are no humans. Its stories revolve around a brotherhood of mice known as the "Mouse Guard" who have sworn an oath to serve their fellow civilian mice in times of need, including making safe passage for them through the wilderness and protecting them from predators.

In the game both players have four mice that are positioned on the board and move along at the intersection points. (The inside of a square can be occupied but only when a Stronghold cards is played.)

There are three types of cards that can be played on a turn, Swords, Strongholds or Diplomacy. Each has a unique function. There are 30 cards in the deck (10 of each type), players draw and keep 3 cards into their hands at all times.

On a turn players can make a basic move of one intersection point then (optionally) play a Sword or Stronghold card from their hand, (more on Diplomacy later). If they play a card they will get an additional action.

To play the Sword card, first make a single intersection move of one space in the desired direction then move an additional two intersection points in an L shaped manor, (similar to a Knight move in chess). At this point discard that card and draw a new one in hand.

Along the way and as you move a mouse it is possible to move another of your pieces or that of an opponents. If an opponents Mouse is moved off the board edge it is captured and removed from play. If you are able to remove all your opponents’ mice, you win the game. The other end condition is much more likely and that is to build a Stronghold on your opponents opposite end of the board in one of the two corner spots.

The second card to highlight are Stronghold cards, this is the only time one can move off the grid and occupy a centre of a square. This is a desirable position because the mouse is not easily moved from that spot.

A mouse can come out of a Stronghold (or be moved out by an opponent) if the Diplomacy card is played. In this instance if you play the card and move the mouse out of the Stronghold onto an adjoining intersection point, (he can then move one intersection point but cannot play a card on that turn.

The other function of the Diplomacy card is to switch places on the board of two opposing mice that are nearest each other. This can get you out of a tight spot quickly.

There are several exceptions and little intricacies that aren’t mentioned here but can be easily learned by the rules and tutorials. 

I should also mention that a captured mouse could be returned to the board if you have a set of the three different cards in your hand (and discarded on your turn). The lost mouse is replaced on your side of the board in any of the applicable start positions and you draw up to three cards once again.

My initial thoughts on the game so far:

With the random card draw this is not a pure abstract game but our first play showed it to be enjoyable and I liked the extra challenge of dealing with the cards you are dealt. I had at least two occasions in our game where all three cards were the same in my hand. Sometimes you have to make a bit of a side play just to get to the draw deck.

My wife and I are not strangers to Abstract games so took to this fairly easily. We quite often get into a stalemate kind of position but again the random card elements helps to mitigate this. The very few game play videos I watched looked to be quick games but our initial try took about 45 minutes and we had to reshuffle the deck. I was able to take the game in the end but only after a bit of a miss play from my partner.

All three cards are important but we found the Strongholds to be a key in the game. It mostly has a defensive posture as you measure keeping your side of the board safe from invasion and keeping you from being bumped from the board as you approach the opposite side of the board with the goal of placing a Stronghold in a corner.

Overall the game has a nice esthetic that keeps to the medieval theme. Though the box is nicely designed with a plastic insert to hold the cards, mice and board. I found the box to be one of those that are extremely tight and difficult to open. The insert is also very tight and the board is tucked under the plastic mold. I’ve opted for a more portable option as shown. As it turns out I have an extra Carc blue bag from a recent Cundco purchase. I also like to sleeve cards because I find them easier to shuffle and they also keep the cards pristine. 

I can easily imagine our beloved Carcassonne Meeples enjoying a game of Swords and Strongholds in their free time. 

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