Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Four Games For Holiday Family Gaming

Christmas time is coming... and I will inevitably be asked by friends who are a little less obsessed with board/card games than I am what new (or new-ish) games I would recommend to them for holiday times with family.

You, gentle reader, now get to benefit from my need to answer that question. I present for your consideration four games that could be the key to a lovely evening with friends and family this Christmas season.

Just One

The winner of the Spiel des Jahres (Game of the Year) in Germany, this is a simple cooperative game of clue-giving (think Password)... except you do it as a group. And, most importantly, no clue can match. 

The game plays 4-7 folks... but it's probably best with 6 or 7. My play with a mixed age group (young teens & adults) actually went pretty well.

Team Play

A partnership game for 4 or 6 people... it's a rummy variant with card drafting and passing cards to your partner that plays in about 30 minutes. I find it completely addictive. 

I think it's best with 4 - less downtime - but it works just fine with six players.

Rhino Hero Super Battle

Yes, it's a kids dexterity game from a company best known for creating beautiful kid games... but it has been a hit with every group of adults I've played it with. Imagine combining building castles out of card (only easier) combined with whimsical art and a competition to be the hero highest up in the great building you participate in creating.

It maxes out at four players... but always attracts a crowd of folks who want to play (or just want to watch the silliness).

Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale

A roll'n'write game that can be played by 1-8 players. In roll & write games (well, technically, this is a flip & write game) you roll dice or flip cards to determine what each player is going to write on their play sheet. In the case of Cartographers, you are mapping a fantasy kingdom - trying to satisfy certain points goals by building the right kind of kingdom. 

There is some interaction with the monster cards (that let you write on the paper of the person next to you)... but it's a relatively gentle game that's a delight to play - especially when you use colored pencils to make your map extra special. 

Monday, December 09, 2019

Mark's Bundle of 2019 Essen Game Thoughts

This post was written in mid-November... thus, I have not just gotten home from a weekend of post-Essen gaming in "real time".

Just got home from a fantastic weekend of gaming (Thursday evening through Sunday afternoon) with friends… enjoying a truckload of new games straight from Essen. (OK, so not really a truckload, unless it was a small hand truck being pulled by a guy on a moped. Still, 32 new games isn’t a bad weekend – especially when you get to play them with great people.)

Here’s my ‘hot takes’… organized by day. (Disclaimer – the majority of these are based on one play, though under excellent conditions with experienced gamers and a rules teacher who had read the rules ahead of time and/or played the game previously.) There are some thoughts about games I didn’t get to play at the end as well.


The “Essen games only” rule of this particular gathering didn’t kick in until Friday morning… so I had the opportunity to play Giant Azul (which is made me feel like a small child – dang, those pieces are huge) and an unpublished prototype from Bezier Games.

Cloaked Cats: Code 777 for children… that’s over-simplifying it, but this is a deduction game for kids & families. The cards in your hand determine what clues you’ll give and/or force out of other people. My only complaint is that the striped cats are sometimes tricky to see in the artwork. (BTW, I was horrible at this game… no surprise.)


Lux Aeterna: Played this solitaire real-time space adventure a couple of times… winning both times on “easy” setting. You pick up four cards, quickly assess them and assign them to one of four positions, then execute the good (and bad) stuff. Your job is to keep the space ship alive and not fall into a black hole. I like the art style but the rules could use a slight tuning and I don’t see it holding my interest for too many more games.

Mandala: Two player game of set-collecting… very abstract. Simple to play but I want more theme in my games. Note: board is a printed tea towel… I could feel the Ragnor Brothers smiling from across the sea.

What Came First?: Simple party game that was performing at its best (I think) with just 3 players. Bid 1-3 chips on which thing (Doritos or Pringles?) happened first. If you know the year for sure, you can “go big” to gain extra points. Find out actual answer, score, lather, rinse, repeat.

Kakerlaken Sushi: The first of two times I would be talked into playing the newest member of the Kakerlaken (cockroach) game family. Cross the easiest form of the dice game Bongo with an Arriba-like grabbing game… I was decent at it but I don’t play these kind of games much any more unless I’m at a weekend gathering. If you like these kinds of things, it works very well.

5er Finden: HABA does a pattern search game that is really enjoyable. Roll the dice then quickly find Tetris-like shapes that incorporate all five symbols on your personal mat. Outline them with a dry erase pen… and when you’ve got 5, flip the timer for everyone else. I liked it.

Die Crew: Do not be surprised if the copy of this at BGGcon this week is dog-eared from near constant play. It’s a cooperative trick-taking game that is really enjoyable. Die Crew (The Crew: was in near constant rotation this weekend – I personally played 3 different times… and can’t seem to find my way past Mission 7. (Other OG members have written about this in their Essen reports… and I’d expect to see a full review coming up soon.)

Electropolis: One of my highlights of the weekend… a relatively simple drafting/city-building game that still offered some really nifty twists. You draft from a circle of tiles… where you have to take the appropriate number of adjacent tiles. You know how many to take based on where you chose to end up in the turn order – go later & get more tiles or go early & get a couple that you want/need. Placement is determined by an action card that you draft with your tiles. I would love to play it again and see how it goes with 2 players… 4 was great – our game was just over an hour.

Ab durch die Mauer: This is right in Zoch’s wheelhouse… cool mechanic (magnets and rotating board lead to ghosts floating through the titular walls) coupled searching for costume cards for your ghost. Went just a little too long… would work best with 8-11 year olds, I think – the frustration level of your ghost traveling all over the board without your control would overwhelm some smaller kids.

Qwixx on Board: Take regular Qwixx, which I enjoy. Add a board that the active player can use to move on to cross off yet another space and move along to earn a few extra points. It sounds goofy, but I really liked the extra decision it added. I hope Gamewright will release a copy of the board to put in my nice Qwixx Deluxe box.

Age of Dirt: A Game of Uncivilization: Imagine, if you will, Stone Age if the guys designing it were junior highers who had just been given their first dice tower. That sounds like a snarky complaint, but we really had fun with this prehistoric resource-gathering game where sending cavemen out to harvest stuff doesn’t always mean they’ll show up. They can get stuck in “The Passage” (the dice tower) and appear at some later time. The invention cards are pun-filled and offer the “rock star points” you need to win the game. It ran right at an hour, which is about right for the weight of this game.

Fast Sloths: I understand it’s a game about sloth racing… but with five players it didn’t move quite fast enough to feel like a race. There are a lot of opportunities for clever plays and the game is mechanically sound – but there wasn’t a spark. I’d like to try it again with fewer players to see if I like it better with less waiting between turns.

Bubble Tea: Speed pattern building game with over-produced bubble tea shaker for dice cup. And that pretty much covers it.

Dust on the Wings: Beautiful production – but the game play is Five Tribes without any special powers and/or reasons to play more than once. Possibly my least favorite game of the weekend.

Dawn of Mankind: Prehistoric civilization creation… I liked the aging mechanic and the variety of ways to chase resources, points and innovations. There’s also nice variability in the action layout. I’d like to play it again with a different mix of actions.

Era: Medieval Age: I’m a big fan of Matt Leacock’s “Roll Through…” trilogy of games: Roll Through the Ages: Bronze Age, RTtA: Iron Age, and Chariot Race (on which I was a playtester). I had high hopes for Era… and though the components are gorgeous (with the exception of the base board which should have had the icons darkened), the gameplay does not live up to the previous incarnations of the system.

Nova Luna: I love Uwe’s Patchwork… and I adore Corne’s Habitats – in theory, combining those two games should be a winner. The problem? They’ve shucked all the theme and character out of Habitats, leaving just the placement mechanic. If you like abstracted placement games, this is excellent… but it left me cold.


Coloma: The Wild West meets worker placement with an interesting action selection system and LOTS to do. It moves at a nice pace (even with six players) and the presentation is very good. I actually put it on my BGG Secret Santa wishlist… though I wonder how often I’ll get to play it. (Our first-timers six player game took 2.5 hours – I think a second game would clock in right at 2 hours.)

Kauchuk: Using rubber bands & a peg board for area control (in a stunning variety of modes) is genius. I want to clarify a rule (how big an area can you surround with completed areas and claim?) and I’m not in love with the cardboard scoring track – but I’d be more than happy to play again.

Miyabi: Puzzle-y game of building Japanese gardens from HABA… not really a game for kids – it’s got some tricky decisions and you can paint yourself into a corner. On the plus side, it’s enjoyable and (no surpise with HABA) has big chunky tiles for you to build up your garden.

Pictures: Cross Codenames Pictures with a variety of oddball ways to communicate the correct answer (sticks & stones, 3×3 colored pixel grid, shoestrings, etc.)… and what you get was actually an enjoyable party game for 3-5 players/teams. I think it might have a limited number of plays in the box (due to the number of cards and the sameness of the challenges) – but those would all be really enjoyable plays. This would be a great choice for holiday gaming with non-gamer family.

6 nimmt! Brettspiel: I’m a long-time fan of Tanz der Hornochsen, the previous 6 Nimmt! board game… so I wondered both (a) what’s different, and (b) does it work? Happy to report there are differences (mainly the addition of action cards and the shortening of the game by eliminating buying new tiles) and that they work like a charm. (Sadly, the relatively tasteful manure/poop jokes are gone… part of the bizarre charm of Tanz.) I honestly prefer either of these to the original game (which is good but more abstract) or the numerous variant decks (which complicate the game unnecessarily.)

Kushi Express: Speed dexterity game of making sushi out of 4 plastic blocks and two cloth pieces of “bacon” and “cheese”. I am awful at this… but it does photograph quite nicely.

Point Salad: Reminded me of King’s Breakfast a bit… inoffensive but I don’t need to play it again. Pretty much standard set collecting.

The City: I’ve played the German version of the The City 91 times… and Jump Drive (the Race for the Galaxy re-implementation of The City) 72 times. I’d call myself a fan. So this play with new English language edition was a treat – Tom Lehmann (the designer) has re-balanced some of the cards and added a few new ones. I don’t like the art (too pastel) or the graphic design – both of which make it harder to read the game across the table than the original Amigo version. But the game still works like a charm… and it’s really nice to have an English version available.

The Artemis Project: A six round engine builder of settling Europa (the ice moon of Jupiter)… it’s primarily a dice placement game that is reminiscent of Jeff Allers’ Order of the Gilded Compass/Alea iacta est games – only with more random events and sci-fi theme. I enjoyed our three player game but need to try it again with more players to see if it has more “sharp elbows” at those player counts.

Suburbia Collector’s Edition: Did I spend a lot of money on a box that is big enough (and heavy enough) to generate its own gravitational field? Yes. Was it worth it? Oh yeah. The new tiles are gorgeous, the bits are wonderful, the tower is silly but keeps things organized… and the sliding tray for tiles and Gamer Trayz for storage are top notch. (And I won.)

It’s a Wonderful World: A slightly more gamer-y 7 Wonders-ish card draftign game of civilization building. The major difference is that you’re drafting a set of cards that you then use as resources (discarding them) or construction (building them). We were just over 30 minutes with 2 players… but both Dan & I are “play by the seat of your pants” players. I saw other games with more players that lasted nearly an hour – which indicates that the game proceeds at the pace of the slowest player. Good news: it worked just fine with 2 players “out of the box”.

Silver: I know that lots of folks like these games… and the prototype deck I played had some crunchy tricky goodness in it. But I’m not the right audience for this one – while still acknowledging I’m in the minority here.


Robin von Locksley: Uwe Rosenberg designing in the mold of Patchwork and his classic card games, rather than in Agricola/Caverna mode… and it’s very, very good. Great two player set-collecting game that involves the knight movement from Chess and a variable race track. I need to find a copy of this one!

Expedition to Newdale: I’ve never played Oh My Goods! (which Newdale is a thematic continuation of)… but if this game is any indication, I’ve been missing out. This was just the right side of think-y production engine building with interesting board play decisions and (bonus!) a campaign system that tells a story. The box actually contains 8 different boards and cards that are seeded into the deck as the story moves along. 4 players landed right at 2 hours… I’m wondering if it will work as a 2 player game for my younger son & I.

Rune Stones: My last game of the weekend… a beautifully produced Queen deck-building/deconstructing game. The theme is standard fantasy trope: collect creatures, use them to collect gems which you can turn into artifacts… which finally transform into points/rune stones (permanent powers). The game ran almost 90 minutes – which is too long for what’s there – but I think it might pick up speed quickly on a second play. Turns are very straightforward and the way in which you can un-build your deck to use powers on the cards is cool.

Didn’t Get To Play

I had three games I really wanted to try and didn’t get to:

  • Flotilla
  • Lockup: A Roll Player Tale
  • Megacity Oceania

They all look very interesting in their own strange ways.

The game I most want to try from Essen 2019 wasn’t at the event: Sanctum (from CGE). Both my oldest son & I have it on our Christmas lists.

Observed But Not Played

Some quick hits on games that were played around me but not by me:

  • Crystal Palace – long… very long.
  • Maracaibo – popular and well-liked… but had a long running time for first-time players
  • The Magnificent – the board is very murky looking
  • Cooper Island – cool-looking board… but very much “play your own game” except for worker placement
This post originally appeared on the Opinionated Gamers website.

Friday, December 06, 2019

Welcome to the Clank!-iverse

When we originally reviewed Clank! on the Opinionated Gamers website, I commented that the game “could well be the love child of Dungeonquest & Ascension.” Since I’m a long-time fan of Dungeonquest, that’s not a bad thing. (Side note: I don’t love Ascension with actual cards – but I’m addicted to the iPad app.)

The Clank! system is a melding of dungeon crawl/plunge and deck-builder… with the very clever “clank” mechanic binding the two together and acting a game timer and source of tension. The production is incredibly functional:

While there is a lot of witty color text, it’s small and doesn’t make the cards more difficult to read.
The graphic design of the cards is really smart – they have used consistent iconography and clear text instructions to make it easy to understand what the card does for you.

But I’m not here to talk about the base game – well, not all that much. My job (self-imposed, mind you) is to introduce you to the joys of the extended Clank!-iverse… up to and including the VERY recently released Clank! Expeditions: Temple of the Ape Lord.

As the Clank! games have been hits with my teenage boys, my gaming group and pretty much everyone who played my copy at Gulf Games, I’ve had plenty of experience with the game:

  • 54 plays of Clank!
    • 11 with Sunken Treasures
    • 7 with Mummy’s Curse
    • 6 with Expeditions: Gold & Silk
    • 5 with Expeditions: Temple of the Ape Lord
    • 2 with solo version on the Renegade Games app
  • 28 plays of Clank! In! Space!
    • 4 with Apocalypse
    • 9 with solo campaign version on the Renegade Games app

What follows are a number of short reviews that highlight what I think each of the expansions brings to the literal and metaphorical table… and, as you can see, my reviews are going to tend in the positive direction.

Clank!: Sunken Treasures

New stuff in the box: a double-sided board (two new maps); a bunch of water-related cards for the adventure deck, new cardboard tokens

Added rules & card types: in addition to the aforementioned water cards, there are a number of board spaces that are underwater – and require “scuba” gear and/or a willingness to take a wound to survive

Most notable addition to the system: A number of cards in this expansion add the ability to discard cards to gain something – this helps you dodge making clank as well as cycle your deck quicker… which leads to more interesting and powerful combos. (See my notes on combining expansions near the end of this article.)

Clank!: The Mummy’s Curse

New stuff in the box: a double-sided board (two new maps); a bunch of pyramid/mummy-related cards for the adventure deck, new cardboard tokens, wooden mummy & croc-a-dragon pieces, 4-sided mummy movement die

Added rules & card types: curses come into the game, both as payment for certain cards and a different kind of pathway payment… and there’s the whole “mummy hunting you down” thing

Most notable addition to the system: The mummy is probably the least successful mechanic added to any of the Clank! games… and it’s not a bad idea, but it just doesn’t seem to have all that much game effect in actual play.

Clank! Expeditions: Gold & Silk

New stuff in the box: a double-sided board (two new maps); new cardboard tokens, wooden giant spider and dwarf player pieces, and a completely unnecessary (yet delightful) Mister Whiskers standee

Added rules: both boards have neat twists (the spider webs and the gold veins) that change the game without adding any cards

Most notable addition to the system: the variety of the new boards

Clank! Expeditions: Temple of the Ape Lord

New stuff in the box: a double-sided board (two new maps); new cardboard tokens, wooden ape lord and adventurer player pieces

Added rules: both boards have neat twists (the gears on board #2 are particularly notable) that change the game without adding any cards; there are an interesting set of ‘campaign’ rules that link two games – one on each board – together

Most notable addition to the system: the gears

Clank!: the Renegade Games app

New stuff: this FREE app includes two modes…

- a multi-player mode that adds both scoring and a random event generator (based on in-game events)
- a solo mode for playing against the game

Most notable addition to the system: the solo mode is actually quite good… but my sons love the random event generator – either way, it’s free, so what are you waiting for?

Adding the Expansions Together

It is possible to stack the expansions – to make one giant pile of cards & choose the board you want to play. In practice, however, that means that there are some cards which are of limited use unless you’re playing with a particular board:

Any card that specifically deals with underwater stuff only applies to Sunken Treasures
Any cards that has you roll the Mummy die or take curses only applies to Mummy’s Curse
Each of the expansions include certain counters that don’t work with the other boards – whether they are things for purchase (diving equipment, ape tools, etc.).

All of that said, it’s not terribly difficult to cull out the problematic cards & counters to play with an expanded deck. Cards from the Sunken Treasures or Mummy’s Curse sets have an appropriate symbol (waves or pyramid) ghosted behind their text in the bottom half of the card.

Our experiences with this are actually pretty positive – we have tended to play a new expansion with the base deck to begin with and then add in the non-board specific cards on the second or third play.

Which One Should I Buy First?

So, let’s start with the biggest issue if you’re going to buy more than one of these expansions… you’re going to run out of room in the original box unless you throw out the very nice insert. My solution: save one of the “bigger” expansion boxes (Sunken or Mummy) and use it to store extra boards.

With that said, I like the cards added in Mummy’s Curse better than the cards in Sunken Treasures… but I like the board challenges on Sunken Treasures better than Mummy’s Curse. I don’t think you can go wrong with either set.

The Expeditions sets have more twists and nifty (but completely unnecessary) extra wooden bits… of the two, I think I like Temple of the Ape Lord slightly more, but that’s because I’m an Indiana Jones fan.

Note: none of these expansions (or the base game) were given to me as review copies – we have purchased all of them. I don’t regret any of the purchases.

Campaign Clank!

There are actually rules for a two game mini-campaign as a part of Temple of the Ape Lord (tokens you acquire in the first game enable you to better manipulate the gears in the second game). We’ve played it once and it works well.

But, thanks to the magic of the Interwebs, I was reading Frank Schulte-Kulkman’s excellent Essen reporting (check it out at Kulkmann’s G@mebox!) and he mentioned that he & his wife have home-brewed a set of campaign rules for using all the expansion boards. He’s graciously allowing me to share them with you!

The objective is to have the highest total score after all boards have been explored (ahem, looted). For those of you keeping score at home, that means you will get to play 10 games of Clank!.

If a player escapes the dungeon on his own (and is not dragged to safety by the townspeople), he gains one purchase point. This can be used to keep a cost 1 skill card in his starter deck for the next game.

Another escape adds another purchase point… and the player can either add a second cost 1 skill card or scrap the original “kept” card and keep a cost 2 skill card instead.

“Kept” cards which are trashed during gameplay do not return to the player’s deck – but the purchase points are available to them before the next game.

I can’t wait to try it!

Final Thoughts

All of these expansions add enjoyable twists to the game – but don’t substantially change the play of the game. If you didn’t enjoy the base game, none of these will likely change your mind. On the other hand, if you enjoy Clank! in its elemental form, you will enjoy any and/or all of these expansions.

Clank! In! Space! is a world unto itself – I’ll need to write a second Clankiverse in Space post to cover those games.

And, yes, I know that Clank! Legacy is on the way… and that there are sub-expansions connected to it – but I haven’t seen any of them yet. (Check back with me in a month or two.)

This post originally appeared on the Opinionated Gamers website.