Friday, August 27, 2021

Accurately Handling The Word of Truth (Part II)

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”

And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”

He said, “Go and tell this people: “‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving.’ Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes.[a] Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts,
and turn and be healed.”

Isaiah 6:8-10 (NIV) 
"Those who have served through the ages and have drawn inspiration from the Book of Isaiah, when the Lord says: “Whom shall I send? Who shall go for us?” The American military has been answering for a long time. “Here I am, Lord. Send me. Here I am, send me.”"

President Biden- August 27, 2021 (transcript source)

Almost exactly a year ago I wrote a post admonishing former vice-president Mike Pence over his misuse of Scripture. It seems only right that I do the same today.

I get it. I understand rhetorical flourish and echoing classic passages of literature to evoke emotion.

But we as followers of Christ are called to "be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth." (2 Timothy 2:15, NASB). What President Biden did yesterday is not accurately handling Scripture.

David Cassidy (a pastor and author) summed up my feelings brilliantly last night in a Twitter thread:
1. Isaiah 6 has profoundly impacted me & countless others with its staggering vision of God’s call & grace for the called. 

2. I revere our military service men & women and honor their dedication & sacrifice. 

It is dreadfully wrong to confuse those 2 forms of service. Stop it.

Don’t turn our military into holy warriors on a mission from God. Don’t apply a prophet’s summons to serve God with a summons to serve a country - any country! Politicians & Public servants in all parties - PLEASE STOP USING SCRIPTURE AS A PROP OR TO PROP UP YOUR FOLLY.

Tonight I mourn these losses. I mourn that more might be necessary. I mourn surrender to terrorist organizations. I mourn churches, sisters, & brothers under threat. These words from Isaiah do apply - “The nations are like a drop in a bucket, like dust on the scale.” Isaiah 40:15


I wanted to come up with something wise and convicting to close this post with... I wanted to turn on my "pastor mojo" and finish with marching orders to my fellow followers of Christ.

But I'm tired. So tired of watching Biblical truth being used as a prop... by both political parties.

So, I once again leave you with this.
Pray always. Pray in the Spirit. Pray about everything in every way you know how! And keeping all this in mind, pray on behalf of God’s people. Keep on praying feverishly, and be on the lookout until evil has been stayed.

Ephesians 6:18 (VOICE)

Note: the original version of this post said that David Cassidy is retired... I was wrong and he gently & kindly corrected me - so I corrected this post. 

Friday, August 06, 2021

Imperium Classic and Imperium Legends: A Dual Review

It isn’t exactly writer’s block – I mean, I can still write emails, witty Tweets, and even work on other board game reviews. But whatever it was… well, is… I’m finding it darn near impossible to write coherently about Imperium: Classics and Imperium: Legends. (I have, no kidding, had a nearly blank Google Doc open on my laptop for two days – taunting me with its white expanse of nothingness.)

It’s not the game(s), either – I’d count myself as a big fan of both boxes of this wonderful game system. I’ve certainly played it enough – two times with 3 players and nine times using the well-thought-out solo system.

I think the problem – ok, MY problem – is that the game system is a tasty amalgam of game design ideas. It’s not New Shimmer (“New Shimmer is both a floor wax and a dessert topping!”) but it packs in the game mechanics: deckbuilding, resource management, tableau building, asymmetric factions, multiple game timers, keywords to differentiate similar actions… whew, I’m exhausted just typing all of that into the review. 

Let me try a different way to describe the game – using theme as the anchor. Each player is leading an ancient civilization from barbarian nation to sophisticated empire, working to achieve the most Progress (victory points) in a variety of ways, often dependent on the unique structure of their civilization’s multiple card decks as well as the cards they have drafted from the market.

How Imperium Works

Without going into excruciating detail (which I’d be happy to do if I were teaching you the game in person, but which I find to be an interminable bore in board game reviews), here are the basic concepts that undergird this game system. 

The Civilization

Each player has a deck of cards that represent their civilization: leaders, accomplishments, technologies, territories, potential unrest, etc. They are (usually!) divided into the following piles for play purposes:
  • Your power card – which is your base civilization card (and will also act as the top of your stack of cards placed into your history)
    • Power cards are double-sided with different powers… you can choose either side at the start of the game and are locked in for the rest of the game.
  • Your ascension card – this is the card that marks the difference between the barbarian phase of your civilization and the empire phase.
  • Your nation deck – which sits on top of your accession card and drips a new card into your draw deck each time you need to shuffle it.
  • Your development cards – which are cards that are purchased once you’ve become an empire to add powers and scoring to your deck.
  • A state card  – which lets everyone at the table know whether you are barbarian or empire… and serves as a nifty place to hold your action & exhaustion markers.
  • Your draw deck – your initial deck of cards… plus all the other cards that come your way!
Note: I say “usually” because certain civilizations “break” the rules – some have additional cards added to their tableau to begin the game, some don’t have an accession card or a nation deck… or even development cards.

As well, you start the game with a little bit of the three resources in the game (marked with cardboard counters):
  • Materials 
  • Population
    • Both of these are used to power various action cards and some scoring cards
  • Progress
    • This is a fancy name for victory points – but it’s important to note that some civilizations have development cards that cost Progress

The Market

The center of the board contains a strip of cardboard that shows where all the cards in the common market are placed.
  • Civilized cards – which are primarily used once your civilization is an empire
  • Uncivilized cards – a rich variety of cards with powers that (mostly) work at any point in your growth
  • Regions – locations that can provide resources for your civilization as well as places to garrison (hide) cards you aren’t needing in your deck
  • The Common deck – which, in addition to the card types listed above, also include Tributaries… smaller nation states that can assist you in building up your civilization
  • Unrest – the “Curse” cards of the game system – they both clog up your deck and lower your Progress score 
    • If the market runs out of Unrest cards, the game immediately ends via Collapse… and the civilization with the fewest Unrest cards wins.
  • Fame  – a set of cards awarding great power and many Progress points – leading up to the King of Kings card
    • When the King of Kings card is activated, the end of the game is triggered.
  • There is also a place for exiled cards – and there are some civilizations and cards that get cards out of the exiled pile.

A Player Turn

Each turn, a player can choose one of three ways to complete their turn:
  • Activate – the most common turn type, where they take up to three action and use up to five exhaust abilities
  • Innovate – where a player discards their entire hand and then break through to obtain a civilized, uncivilized, region or tributary card 
    • Don’t worry – I’ll explain the keyword lingo (aka “break through”) in just a minute… suffice it to say that a breakthrough is the least problematic way to get a card from the market
  • Revolt – similar to Trains, where you spend a turn returning all of the Unrest cards in your hand to the Unrest pile in the market
Following that choice, a player does their “clean up”:
  • Adding a progress point to a face-up card in the market
  • Clearing their action & exhaustion tokens
  • Discarding any number of cards
    • This is important – you don’t have to hang onto cards if doing so will keep you from getting the cards you need out of your deck.
  • Refilling their hand to five cards
    • If refilling their hand means they need to reshuffle, barbarian players add the top card of their nation deck to the discard pile and then shuffle
      • If they add their ascension card, they flip over their state card to Empire
    • Empire players can purchase any development card in their stack on a reshuffle, spending materials, population, and possibly Progress in order to put that card in their discard pile.

Types of Cards

In addition to the card types mentioned above, many cards have extra symbols to denote their particular role in the game:
  • Some cards are marked with Barbarian or Empire symbols, which tell you that they can only be played while your civilization is in that mode.
  • Some cards have a sword emblem, which designates them as an attack (and thus other cards can be used to block or mitigate that attack).
  • Cards with an infinity symbol can be played into your tableau (the game system calls them “pinned”) – while cards without an infinity symbol head off to your discard pile once played.
  • Some cards have victory points on them – either a specific amount or some kind of formula for obtaining points based on their location at the end of the game or other things you’ve accomplished (number of cards in your deck, amount of materials, other cards with certain symbols, etc.).


There are a number of keywords on the cards that have to be learned (and, sometimes, re-learned)… 
  • There are two ways get Civilized, Uncivilized, Tributary, and Region cards from the market – each with its own keyword.
    • Break Through For – allows you to take cards from the market into your hand without also taking an Unrest card… and additionally enables you to flip cards from the common deck until you find the correct type of card you’re looking for
    • Acquire – allows you to take a visible card (and the Unrest card it is paired with) into your hand
  • Cards move in a variety of ways – each of which has a keyword.
    • Pinned cards can be abandoned – in other words, sent to your discard pile.
    • Pinned cards can also be recalled – in this case, they are returned to your hand.
    • Cards in the market can be exiled – unless they have a token on them (which keeps them safe from being sent to the Great Beyond).
    • Cards can be put into your history – where they no longer are a part of your draw deck but still count for scoring at the end of the game.


After all players have had a turn, the Solstice occurs. Some pinned cards have Solstice powers and/or penalties which must be resolved before the next round of turns begin. 

And Then It Ends

Imperium can end in a variety of ways:
  • Once the main common deck is empty
  • When one player manages to purchase all of their development cards
  • When one player triggers the King of Kings card at the bottom of the Fame deck
  • Or some other oddball ending scenarios involving the Vikings, the Arthurians, or the Utopians
Once the end of the game is triggered, the current round is finished and one final round of turns is played (including resolving Solstice instructions). 

Then you count points and the player with the most wins. (Tied players share the victory – which, although I know is not everyone’s favorite way to resolve a tied game, makes complete sense in the context of the wildly asymmetric civilization decks that use resources in vastly different kinds of ways.)

As I noted earlier, there’s another way for the game to end – with the collapse of all civilizations when the Unrest deck runs out. The game ends immediately and the player with the least number of Unrest cards wins. In case of a tie following a Collapse, a normal scoring occurs between the tied players to determine the winner.

Last minute note: someone (way to go, hutchies!) on BGG has created a scoring app for Imperium. I haven’t used it yet, but it looks like a great way to ease some of the scoring burden of the game.

Mark Has Thoughts…

It’s going to take a few plays of this game to move on from concentration on your civilization to keeping an eye on the whole table… but once you reach that point, you’ll quickly find that this is not “multiplayer solitaire”. (An aside: I hate that description of most games that it is applied to – in the vast majority of instances, players just haven’t figured out what they need to pay attention to in order to thwart their opponents.) In Imperium, you’ll want to avoid actions that give “aid and comfort” to your enemies – unless, of course, they help you do something wonderful. As well, it’s important to track how opponents are doing on collecting materials and people – if they’re already awash in materials, it doesn’t hurt to give them some more. On the other hand, if they don’t have much to work with, why make it easier on them?

One of the early mistakes we made when playing was over-fulfilling the victory point payoff of certain cards. A number of cards in the game provide Progress (aka “victory points”) based on how much you have of something – 1 vp for every 10 cards, 2 vp for each tributary, etc. The game caps the points you can get from this kind of cards at 10 victory points each – so if you’re going to receive 1 vp for every 2 materials, you don’t need to bank 30-40 materials. 

Another early mistake is forgetting the option to Innovate – dumping a substandard hand to grab a particularly important card from the market not only gets you the card you need/want/desire as if it was the One Ring itself… but it also increase the spin of your deck, allowing you to more quickly get your higher value nation cards into play. (Note: some civilizations don’t want to advance as quickly – so, in the words of Hill Street Blues, “Be careful out there.”)

Because of the asymmetric nature of the various civilizations and the variable nature of the market row, you cannot assume that a particular strategy (rushing the Fame deck, spinning your deck quickly, conquering regions, etc.) will work each time you play. In some cases, strategies that were brilliant with one civilization will be trying to fit a square peg into a round hole with a different civilization. (Note: this is one of the selling points of the game system to me… you cannot “auto-pilot” your way through these decks to victory.)

The rule we missed the most often should be easy to remember – not only because it’s a simple action (at the end of your turn, put a Progress token [aka victory point] on one of the cards in the market), but because it is a way to influence your opponent’s decisions about which card to take or exile. It’s not a rulebook issue – it’s clearly stated in the rules and on the back cover of the rulebooks in the summary. I have no idea why this particular memory hole happened. (I would blame old age, but both of my sons did it as well and they are 20 and 16 years old.)

Solo Play

One of the things that caused me to put the Imperium boxes on my birthday list was the promise of a robust solo play system – and David Turczi (who is specifically credited on the cover of the solo play rulebook) delivered.

Each civilization has its own AI set of tables. Five slots are set up and numbered (with provided cardboard counters).The die included in the game (only used for solo play) is rolled and that eliminates one of the slots (or doesn’t – sixes are not a friendly roll in solo play)… and then the remaining cards are revealed and dealt with in order. 

Impressively, each AI civilization retains a good bit of its character… for example, Egypt accumulates materials in the early going, uses them to attract hordes of population, and then, if conditions are right, converts those masses into Progress. 

In the meantime, the player civilization is running by the exact same rules as the multiplayer game – allowing you to learn the ins and outs of the various decks as well as consider different tactical and strategic decisions.

There is also a simple way to vary the difficulty of solo play… and even a campaign mode in the solo rulebook.

My only complaints about solo play? Putting the charts for resolving the AI behavior in the rulebook rather than providing them as large cards. Thankfully, a BGG user (props to DocZagreus!) has taken it upon themselves to fix this problem and posted files that do just that. The other issue is that the Qin charts needed to be changed – and the files I just linked to have the changes needed!  

Those Pesky Questions Everyone Asks

Q: How long does it take to play?

I don’t have the greatest sample size, but both of our three player games came in at about 90 minutes… while my multiple solo plays run somewhere between 65-80 minutes.

Q: I read on the ‘Geek that it’s not good for four players – what do you think?

First, remember that just because somebody wrote something on BGG and someone else said “yeah, me too!” doesn’t mean that God inscribed it on stone tablets and sent it down with Gaming Moses to reveal to the rest of us. 

Second, as I noted earlier, I haven’t played Imperium with four players. My guess, with players who don’t dither (friends don’t let friends play this kind of game with people who have AP), the playing time will end up slightly over 2 hours. I think there’s enough interesting stuff going on to warrant that, but your mileage may vary.

Q: Really, how different are the boxes? Isn’t this just an expansion that gives you the same set of common cards?

Actually, no. Both boxes contain eight different civilizations… and the common card pools share some similarities but have major differences:
  • The 8 Fame cards, 11 Tributaries, and 14 Regions are unique to each box.
    • OK, almost – there is literally ONE Region card that is a duplicate in resources and powers… but it has a different name & different art.
  • The Civilized decks share 10 cards – but have 5 cards that are unique to each box.
  • The Uncivilized decks share 11 cards – but have another 11 cards that are unique to each box.
The rule books (both multiplayer and solo) are identical in each box – and cover both boxes worth of material. They also include instructions for playing civilizations from different boxes against each other… which primarily means you have to look for Tributary cards with the same name as civs in play and replace them with a random Tributary from the other box.

Q: Do the sleeved cards fit in the organizers that came as part of the game?

I am the wrong person to ask about sleeving cards – but I did some poking about on BGG and it looks like the original insert is not conducive to premium level sleeves. 

Q: What’s the one add-on thingee you’d love for the Imperium system?

Well, besides the aforementioned printed solo cards (which I’ve already taken care of) and an expansion with more civilizations (which I have no control over), I think a GeekBit set of resource tokens would be awesome. Just sayin’. 

In Conclusion

While I wish that there didn’t have to be errata for a game so new out of the gate, I appreciate the hard work of the designers and Osprey Games to keep up with those issues.

And with that out of the way, I’ll go on to gush about how much I’m enjoying Imperium. I like the odd but compelling artistic design, I think the iconography makes sense once you’ve spent a little time with it, and I find the decisions challenging and interesting. I also applaud the inclusion in the rulebook of summaries and difficulty ratings for each of the decks. (I don’t care how much of a gamer you are – your first game should not be with the more difficult decks. Seriously, you have nothing to prove.)

The Imperium game system is shaping up to be one of my top finds of 2021… I’ve reached 11 plays in just over 3 weeks, even with each play taking 60 minutes plus. I find myself wanting to jump into another game as I’ve been trying to write this review – because, as much as I enjoy writing for the Opinionated Gamers, I love playing a really good game. (Plus, I need to figure what tactical errors I made with the Greeks the last time I played… a pitiful showing.)

Finally (in an unsolicited plug), the high quality of the solo system makes me doubly excited about the impending release of Undaunted: Reinforcements from Osprey Games! 

This review originally appeared on the Opinionated Gamers website.

Thursday, August 05, 2021

Classic: What's Your Name Again?

This post was originally written in January 2000 - I've substantially revised multiple times... including today.

May of 1983... outside my dorm (Penland Hall) on the last day of my freshman year at Baylor University. I'm trying to burn off the end of a roll of film before I hop a shuttle bus to D/FW airport and my plane home for the summer. I happen on a guy from 2nd floor who's loading his car... and, for some bizarre reason, ask to take his picture.

Tim (the aforementioned guy) tells me now that he wondered what kind of idiot would take a picture of someone he hardly knew. I just kept thinking that I could get the roll developed quicker if I used up the film. So, I've got this odd picture of a guy standing against his Berlinetta in a parking lot with a very quizzical look on face... as if to say, "Hurry up and take your stupid picture... I want to start driving home."

Fast forward to June of 1990... on the platform of Shady Oaks Baptist Church where I'm waiting in my tux for Shari to appear. Standing next to me is that same guy - Tim Formby, my best man.

Fast forward again to October of 1996... in a hotel room in Forrest City, Arkansas. After a night of boardgaming, Tim and I stay up late discussing the ideas & dreams that will become the church @ hickory hollow.

And I've still got that crazy picture of him... and it reminds me that none of us know what role people will end up playing in our lives. We don't have a clue. (And that ought to cause us to think twice about how live out what we believe in front of 'strangers'... hmmm.)

Of course, I've got to belabor my point for just a moment... every person you meet is an "eternal being" (in other words, they will live forever, either with God or without Him). Simply put: you have never met an "average" person... each one of us matters to God. It's about time we started living like it... waiters, checkers, the guy in the next cubicle, friends, the girl who drives like a maniac... all of them... an eternal being. Wow. (Credits to C.S. Lewis for putting this idea in my head.)

There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations - these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit - immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. (C.S. Lewis from The Weight of Glory)

I think that's true of churches, too. Chances are pretty good you didn't know what to expect when you walked in the doors of the church you attend. Oh, sure, you can read the website & look at the promotional materials, but that isn't the same as being smack dab in the middle of the experience.

Chances are also pretty good that your impression of your church has changed... some for the worse, some for the better. I've had both experiences - the stunning realization that there's a group of people who love Jesus and will live that out in how they pray for you, care for you, and just show up in the midst of grief and pain... and the thundering disappointment when fear and frustration convinces people into abandoning their beliefs in the interest of "making the church healthy again".

But, with all that, here's what I'd love for you to do... take a minute & ponder this statement: you've never been in an "average" church.

Really. Think about it! If none of us are average people - if we're each special, created with purpose & destiny, then the churches we are a part of are stuffed full of non-average people. And those churches are filled to the brim with purpose & destiny!

Now, your church may not feel like that this weekend. That doesn't mean it's not true - it just means it could be buried under a load of other junk: useless traditions, outdated methods, cultural imperatives that mask the truth of the Gospel. So it's time for you to start a revolution - to value each person in each pew (or chair or couch or whatever) as people created by God who have the potential to change not only your life but the lives of people around the world.

Tuesday, August 03, 2021

They Say It’s Your Birthday! – A Plethora of Gaming Impressions

Well… between a great sale at Miniature Market in mid-June, Father’s Day, my birthday, and a Kickstarter finally delivering, my already overly-large game collection became – ahem – larger. 

More importantly, my birthday “party” was to road trip to West Virginia with my older son, Braeden, and spend a long weekend with my good friend (and fellow OG writer) Ted Cheatham playing board games and eating Jane Cheatham’s delicious cooking. 

What follows is my quickie recap of the games we played… some old, some brand new – but all enjoyable due to the company! In addition, I’ll add some notes about additional plays of other games played in the week or so since the trek to Charleston.

And, because I understand some of you just won’t every word I’ve written, I’ll add the box cover picture of my favorite new-to-me game from each day.

Wednesday (not actually at Ted’s)

Marvel Champions: The Card Game

My sons and I fought bravely (but badly) against Drang & the Brotherhood of Badoon… it was fun to bring out Rocket Raccoon, Groot, and Gamora as characters. However, their pre-set decks need some fine-tuning. (Good thing I’m aware of Marvel CDB… a great database of decklists!)

Undaunted: Normandy

Just the first scenario… but both Braeden and I were impressed with how clean the game design is and how much fun it was to play. It reminds me a bit of War Chest, but with more random elements and greater flexibility. A second play with my younger son, Collin, reinforced my excellent first impression. I’m very much looking forward to the Reinforcements expansion box coming later this summer that will add solo and four player elements to the game system. (Note: I feel this way despite losing both games to my evidently much more battle-savvy sons.)

Thursday (at Ted’s after 6 hours of driving)

Great Western Trail

My first play of this was really enjoyable (it doesn’t hurt that I won) – though it may be a little long for me to regularly get it on the table, it’s going on my wishlist with the new edition coming out later this year. (We played with the Rails to the North expansion – which added some complications I’m not sure are entirely necessary.) Now that I’m OK with this ‘bigger’ Pfister design, I may have to break down and try Maracaibo. 


Very clever nominee for the Kennerspiel this summer, this prehistoric co-op went well. It is a crowd-dependent game – the inability to cooperate and sacrifice in a group would doom the experience – but we managed to fight off the hordes of wolves, build a stone circle, and save our people from extinction. Braeden liked it enough that he bought himself a copy to take back to college!

It’s a Wonderful World

I’m closing in on 30 plays in 2021 of this card-drafting civ builder – thanks in good part to my younger son (Collin) and I playing through both expansion campaigns. (I wrote a review on the OG of the Wonderful World expansions that you’re welcome to read.) This was a “back to basics” game (as Ted hadn’t played before) in which Braeden edged me out for the win by two points. (I’m not bitter, I promise.)

Monster Expedition

Another Pfister game, set in the Carnival of Monsters “world”… but with much less mental overhead than Great Western Trail. I’ve described this dice game as Pickomino/Heckmeck im Brautweck with a slightly friendlier “bad roll” policy and, well, monsters. It’s a very good (if short) solo game… but works well with 2-3 players. I think it’s a tad long with 4, but my gamer friends here in Nashville thoroughly enjoyed it over the July 4th weekend at that player count.

Heist: One Team, One Mission

A battery-operated real-time puzzle for a team of players, trading resources back and forth and punching the button on their side of the cube when ordered. Winning releases a shower of gold (aka plastic) bars. One play was enough for me. 

Slide Quest

Remember those old wooden Labyrinth puzzles that challenged you to get the metal marble past all the openings? (Or, if you’re a Survivor fan like me, the similar puzzles used in immunity challenges?) Now, imagine adding some theme, what looks like a shrunken Little People figure with a ball bearing underneath him, and multiple players controlling the pitch and yaw of the “table”… and you have Slide Quest. We managed to complete 5 missions before we ran out of lives. If the boys were younger, I’d probably make sure we had a copy of this one in the collection.

Friday (at Ted’s house)


Somehow, I had never played this “classic” Kosmos two-player, so while Braeden slept on Friday morning, Ted & remedied that lapse in gaming knowledge on my part. Honestly, I’m not sure I see what all the praise was about – there’s a LOT of take-that action cards to juice up a pretty straightforward “collect stuff to buy victory points” game. 

Of course, playing this reminded me of playing Waka Waka (another game in Rudiger Dorn’s Jambo setting) at midnight at the Gathering of Friends… with a badly rendered Google translation and the mellifluous vocal tones of Warren Madden reading the rules to an increasingly confused Larry Levy (another OG writer) and I. The game – eh. The experience – priceless.

1911: Amundsen vs Scott

Ted & I only played the basic version of this historically based racing game… which means we only had to get to the South Pole. (The advanced version requires you to actually return to safety.) I like the asymmetric nature of the pathways and use of cards, but it’s not something I need to play again.


Braeden was still slowly getting up, so the two-player games continued. Dragonheart was another game I’d missed – though I’d heard a number of gamer friends talking about how much they’d enjoyed it. I was not sure what to expect… but it’s an excellent two-player filler game. It plays quickly (10-15 minutes max) and has some painful decisions (which good thing do I leave for my opponent while I try to hang onto these better cards?). I’d be happy to find a copy as it is right in my younger son’s “let’s play something short” wheelhouse.

Cosmic Cows

Maureen Hiron’s take on Yahtzee… yet another game I knew about but had never played. It runs a little long, but I found it charming and much more fun than playing straight Yahtzee. (The cow bits are very cute.) My thought on further reflection – I’d love for a travel version of this where the sliders are locked into the board – it would be a great “play anywhere” game.

Core Worlds: Empires

I’ve been a playtester as well as a huge fan of Andrew Park’s newest journey into the Core Worlds universe… so it was a real treat to introduce Ted to this sprawling worker placement game. (If you’re interested in more details, I wrote an extensive review earlier this year.) Ted and I tied – with the tiebreaker falling to him. 

This is the opposite of Dragonheart, though – it’s not a short filler but a long (slightly over 3 hours for 3 players) game with a good bit of reacting to the vagaries of the event cards and keeping yourself in position to take advantage of them. The game should be available late this year – and I’d recommend it highly to fans of the Core Worlds universe and folks who like think-y worker placement designs.


An older (2015?) cooperative tower defense game from Hobby World… the encircling card mechanic is a neat idea. Overall, though, it didn’t generate a lot of difficult decisions – the majority of best moves were relatively easy to see. (We won, but it was close.)


Braeden took a break, so it was back to 2 player games… and this very pretty abstract tile-laying game was an enjoyable 20 minutes. The sliding component of the game reminded me a bit of Tally Ho!… but combining it with normal placement makes for a very different kind of game. I would say that it could be difficult for some players to mentally deal with grouping by color (one player’s objective) versus grouping by species (the other player’s objective). I edged Ted out for the win… but it easily could have gone the other way.

Carnival of Monsters

I had really wanted to play this Richard Garfield design back in 2019 when it was released around Essen, but the only copy we had at the Post-Essen Weekend I attended was in German (and without English rules available online). That made the chance to play it with Braeden and Ted even more exciting… and I wasn’t disappointed, even with Braeden running away with the win.

This is one of the four drafting games we played over the weekend… and I really like all of them. In Carnival, the drafting of lands in order to capture monsters is an interesting twist. This one has gone on my wishlist… and not just because it partners nicely with Monster Expedition (see above). 

Last Aurora

On paper, this is a game I should like – a race across a post-apocalyptic Snowpiercer-like environment with card drafting and some clever resource/worker management issues. In practice, it felt processional and unbalanced. (A problem inherent with race games – once you get behind, the old joke applies – the view never changes. I’m looking at you, Rallyman GT.) 

My poor finish didn’t help my attitude about the game – I’m wondering if I’d feel different with more or less players and/or a better understanding of what trucks might become available. Still, I’m unlikely to try it again.


Still in the post-apocalyptic vein, we took on our third Pfister design, this year’s CloudAge. I really enjoy this game (you can see the review I did with Tery Noseworthy on the OG) but hadn’t yet been able to play it with more than 2 players. So, I set up scenario 3 and we worked to make the world safe for plants again.

Although I won, the scores were close – each of us was pursuing our own objectives and doing so in pretty successful ways. I still think the choices available in the game are interesting – and once you head down a particular scoring/development pathway, require you to make sure you are doing everything you can to keep the engine fed. I was struck by how I felt better resourced in the 3 player game versus 2 players (or solo!) – which makes me really curious about 4 player games!

Back to the Future: Back in Time

Ted and I ended the night by re-enacting the first of the Back to the Future films with the cooperative game Back in Time. If you’re familiar with the storyline, the game design does a splendid job of pulling all of those elements together – and the game itself is not a particularly easy co-op to win. I think the theme will appeal to non-gamers, but there’s some definite gamer-y sequencing elements (which dice? what order do I roll them in?) that could make it tough sledding for newbies.

Saturday (at Ted’s house)


I was completely unfamiliar with this lovely-looking game of collecting resources from around the airship… but it’s a really great design. The unusual components (a dual-sided staggered board that loops like Up the River/Marrakesh, the cards with holes in the middle so you can see the resources) lend an exotic air to the straightforward gameplay. Ted managed to beat me – but I’d happily play again. 

Reavers of Midgard

In early May, our local games cafe (the wonderful Game Point in Nashville, TN) hosted a board game flea market… and one of the items I picked up was a Kickstarter copy of Reavers of Midgard (which included extra cards and, more importantly, nifty wooden resource pieces). I’ve enjoyed each game I’ve played of this Puerto Rico-ish game of Viking lore… though I am wondering if the “focus on sea journeys” strategy isn’t weaker than some of the other pathways. I managed a win over Braeden (barely!) with Ted lagging a bit – but Braeden & I had both played before. Note: I also really like Champions of Midgard, which I think does many of the same things as Lords of Waterdeep without the difficult-to-read cards across the table.


We didn’t actually play Draftosaurus live – this simply marked the end of the fourth or fifth game I’d played on Board Game Arena. My impression now after multiple plays – meh. I like the idea of a simple drafting game, but the limiting factor of the die roll means large chunks of your control are illusory.

Imperium: Classics

I had just received this game for my birthday… and had fought my way through the well-written but jargon-heavy rulebook before we left. So, with the warning that this would be a learning game for all of us, we jumped in.

I’ll cut to the chase for this post – both Braeden and I were bowled over by how much we liked the design and play of this game. And that’s in spite of Ted winning! I published a review of the game system - both multiplayer & solo - on the OG a couple of weeks ago.

Fast & Furious: Highway Heist

Let’s be clear – I’m not a fan of the Fast & Furious film franchise. The stunts/special effects are awesome, but my impressions of the parts of the films I’ve watched are “lots of substandard acting to set up stunning action sequences.”

So the designers of Fast & Furious: Highway Heist distilled their game down to the “stunning action sequences” – and it works beautifully. We played the first scenario (stop the tank with your sports cars) and won with only a turn or two to spare. The ability to do cool stunts is baked into the system, as is the ability to have a fistfight on top of a car with a bad guy. (There are two other scenarios in the game – one involving a tractor-trailer heist and another with a helicopter!)

We all noted that it was essentially “Thunder Road: The Cooperative Game” – so you can only imagine my delirious joy when Restoration Games announced one of their new projects was Thunder Road: Vendetta. (Yes, I Face-Timed Braeden at college and showed him the logo almost as soon as the press call with Restoration was done. That’s the kind of dad I am.)


Still going with cooperative games, Ted brought out Menara – which is the Villa Paletti-looking image you see at the top of this post. I will say that while this isn’t really my kind of game any longer, it works really well and it isn’t easy to win. And we didn’t.

Little Town

Recommendations from folks here on the OG and my long-time gaming friends in the L.A. area caused me to get Little Town… and I understand why now. Each game takes on its own personality (how mean are folks going to play? are we mixing buildings or essentially building our own very small villages?)… and each game is chock full of interesting decisions. My win here is likely due to my experience with the game.


After dinner, one more drafting game – this time, Hadara. First things first – the new cover is ugly and doesn’t do the game any favors. With that taken care of, the game itself is an interesting take on the pass & draft system of 7 Wonders and I liked that multiple paths to victory seemed workable. I’d love to play it again… but someone should blow up the current cover.

Saint Malo

I told Ted I’d never played Saint Malo… but when I put the game into my board game tracking app (BG Stats), I discovered I’d played it 8 years ago at the Gathering and wasn’t terribly impressed. (I guess this is what it’s like to get old.) Sadly, I’m still not impressed – it’s a perfectly playable roll’n’write, but it just doesn’t have much zing.

Wonder Woman: Challenge of the Amazons

The third of the Target-available cooperative games we played this weekend – and while it has a very interesting mechanic to foil the alpha player problem (players are dealt two cards face up – and with that information discuss their plans… then receive three more cards that only they see and program their 3 moves without discussion), the game itself is pretty generic. In order to include multiple villains and scenarios, everything is done with cubes that change identities based on a single large villain scenario card – leading to the same issue I have with Lords of Waterdeep – I don’t ask for a rogue, I ask for a “purple”. That low level of thematic engagement is, for me, off-putting.

Sunday (at Ted’s house… and then home)

The River

Another morning, another day for Braeden to sleep in. Meanwhile, Ted and I continued pulling games out that I hadn’t played. The River has lovely production, but Ted’s description of it as “Worker Placement 101” is spot on. It would be a good gateway to those style of games to non-gamers… but there’s not enough there for folks with more experience in the hobby. Note: I won this game, so this isn’t sour grapes.

Cupcake Empire

I loved the dice mechanic at the heart of this game – and the graphic design was pretty sweet (pun intended), including the multi-colored meeples. But the progress of the game was pretty processional. I do wonder if more players would balance out some of that feeling… we played with just two players… and Ted, no surprise, was king of the cupcakes.

Fleet: The Dice Game

Fleet: The Dice Game reminded me of Hadrian’s Wall… and that’s a good thing. (As some of you might remember, I wrote a very positive solo review of Hadrian’s Wall earlier this year.) What it does better than Hadrian’s Wall is player interaction… the dice draft offers interesting but not-overwhelming choices that don’t bog down the game. I’d be happy to find a copy of it and add it to my collection. (My fishing boat-heavy loss to Ted was by only two points!)

Dragonsgate College

I’d considered buying this totally not-Harry Potter themed game a couple of different times – and while I enjoyed our play of it, it’s got a little too much fiddly to make it really enjoyable. Which is too bad, as the theme (really, Dragonsgate does not = Hogwarts… at all) is well-done and there are interesting ideas in the design. This was Ted’s morning, as he bested both Braeden & I, but the scores were very close.

And with that, we hugged Ted & Jane goodbye and headed back to Nashville.

Later (at home)

Just a couple of quick thoughts on games that arrived that same week!

Era: Medieval Age

My first play of Era was a bust (back in 2019)… but a great sale on the game & expansion along with birthday money burning a hole in my pocket convinced me to give it another go. I’m now convinced that the base game is solid but that the expansion is a must-buy/add due to the greater variety of buildings and the cards. We’ve been having a lot of fun with it two-player and solo.

Terraforming Mars: Ares Expedition

My Kickstarter copy arrived almost as soon as we got home – and I’ve managed to play 3 games solo and one game with two players. I think, over time, you’ll be able to quickly check the resource board of other players and make decisions on the best actions to choose (a la Puerto Rico and/or Race for the Galaxy). The early going is pretty much multiplayer solitaire, though. I’m impressed with the way they melded the action system with the familiar Terraforming Mars elements… so it’s going to make an excellent travel game to scratch that TM itch. Given the time and the choice, however, I’m more likely to bring my TM Big Box to the table.

Final note: if you’ve gotten this far, thank you. More importantly, thank you once again to Ted & Jane Cheatham for their amazing hospitality – and to my sons, Braeden & Collin, without whom their dad would have played a lot less games in the last 15+ years.

A version of this post originally appeared on the Opinionated Gamers website - which you should be checking out on a regular basis, since it's one of the best sites out there for written reviews & board game commentary. (And I'm not just saying that because I've been on the writing staff since the beginning... ok, that probably influences my opinion a bit.)