Here are some quick reviews of all the games I’ve been playing lately. I will periodically move these titles down to the full A-Z list found HERE. I am using the following Board Game Geek rating guide to give these a score on how much *I* like these games, but all this is just, like, my opinion, man:
- 10 – Outstanding – will always enjoy playing.
- 9 – Excellent – very much enjoy playing.
- 8 – Very good – enjoy playing and would suggest it.
- 7 – Good – usually willing to play.
- 6 – Ok – will play if in the mood.
- 5 – Mediocre – take it or leave it.
- 4 – Not so good – but could play again.
- 3 – Bad – likely won’t play this again.
- 2 – Very bad – won’t play ever again.
- 1 – Awful – defies game description.
With that in mind, here are the most recent games I’ve reviewed!
- Pairs (8) – Super fast (5 minutes) game of trying not to get two of the same card from a deck with 10 tens, 9 nines, 8 eights, etc. Every turn you have to take a card, wipe your tableaux and take the lowest card at the table (the goal is to have the least points). You can teach it in seconds, and play it anywhere (with large groups too), and, considering the price, this makes it an auto include in most game collections.
- Dixit (9) – New players will usually say “oh, this is like Apples to Apples/CAH,” but, importantly this game of selecting a surreally illustrated card from your hand is not judged on a vaguely subjective definition of “which is funniest,” but instead on the ACTUAL choice of describing your card in just vague enough terms that at least one but not all the players will guess it, makes this a better game by miles. Still just as accessible to new players as all the Cards Against Humanity clones, but all around a far more satisfying experience.
- Swivel (10) – This 1970s “body action game” is as ridiculous as it looks (four people swivel their hips to try to swing a pendulum connected to their waists with strings in order to knock over pins), but, surprisingly, it is actually a really fun game once the novelty wears off. There is just something unique and satisfying about getting the pendulum swinging back and forth with enough precision to only knock over your color of pins–all in all, possibly my best ebay gaming purchase ever.
- Dominion (8) – The game that started the whole deck-building craze is still one of the better ones. Sure, there are some poor graphic design choices (especially with making money all look the same), and the theme is pasted on, but the card mix is a good combination of simplicity and interesting powers. Endgame usually devolves to who had a chance to buy the most provinces, (I rarely see the game end on empty stacks) but overall this one still hasn’t found a way to outstay its welcome.
- Château Roquefort (9) – Ostensibly this is a kid’s game, but it’s great for adults too. This is basically a multi-leveled labyrinth with a few extra bells and whistles (and some not insignificant memory elements). It’s actually a fantastic game that doesn’t just look amazing (the levels of the castle through which your mice hunt for cheese give a really cool 3d effect), but also gives a really flavorful experience. A winner for all ages!
- Saboteur: The Duel (7) – This actually captures the feel of playing Saboteur quite well for a two player game (impressive considering how specific to large groups the original is). Everything works quite well in the two player version, from the acts of sabotage, to the construction of your tunnels.
- Splendor (7.5) – Simple game of “draw chips” or “spend your drawn chips to buy cards that give you fixed chips for the rest of the game.” There is some ticket to ride tension in the decision to draw more chips on your turn while hoping your opponent doesn’t draw a card you were hoping to buy, but mostly this game is about slowly chaining your fixed chip cards into better and better cards in the most efficient manner possible. It’s fun, and has a nice presentation, but the more I play, the more I suspect the game is not as good as it seems.
- Takenoko (7) – Very cute game of placing bamboo tiles to create an expanding garden and then moving a gardener around to grow the bamboo, and a panda around to eat the bamboo. The presentation is amazing (especially the wooden, segmented bamboo columns), and the gameplay is quite fun, however balance is a little off in the scoring cards. Some are far harder to achieve than others, and in late game situations, certain cards are almost trivially easy to complete. Still fun, but, without the great presentation, I doubt it would hit the table all that much.
- One Night Ultimate Werewolf (10) – Werewolf is a great, classic hidden role game despite having some GLARING issues (mostly the player elimination, too many boring villagers, and a dearth of real information in the early rounds). ONUW fixes both of these problems by reducing the game to a single round, giving everyone a role, and making all roles provide real information as to who might be what. Even better, the clever app eliminates the need for a moderator. If you’ve got 10 non gamers up for a silly experience play, Werewolf. In all other situations, One Night is going to be the game you are looking for.
- Spyfall (8.5) – Unique hidden role game where everyone at the table gets a card with the name of the same location, except for one person who is the spy and has no idea where everyone is. Then, players take turns asking each other questions about where they are until either the spy is found out, or the spy guesses where they are. The goal then is to make your questions vague enough that the spy can’t figure out where you are, but specific enough that the other players don’t think you are the spy due to your nonsensical question. A lot of fun, though there is a serious issue in that new players won’t have all the locations memorized, and only the spy would intently study the single sheet of locations in the middle of a round. We usually work around this by handing everyone a paper with all locations on it, and having everyone look at their paper (whether they need to or not) a few times during the round to give the spy a chance to see some options.
- Codenames (7.5) – Clever word game where you give your partner a one word clue to get them to guess as many of your 8 secret words from a grid of 25 words on the table (with 8 other words in the grid belonging to the other team). It’s a cool idea, though having 25 words out there can often make it hard to do really clever plays without inadvertently getting your partner to pick a wrong card that also fits your one word clue.
- The Lord of the Rings: The Search (4) – A game where Frodo and Sam race each other across a randomly generated map of “Middle-earth” collecting treasures and trying to be the first to reach the randomly generated location of Mount Doom (bring a ring of power with them provides an insignificant amount of points and is not a factor in the strategic decision-making). Jokes about the dire implementation of theme aside, there really isn’t much of a game here. It all works well enough, but it mostly boils down to a plodding sequence of place tile, move pawn, collect points, repeat–with rare situations cropping up where clever movement or strategic play will be rewarded.
- Ubongo Extreme (9) – Upgrading the standard Ubongo Tetris shapes to hexagons significantly increases the difficulty here. Still very playable (especially on the easy side), but the winner on the four piece side will probably be the person who lucks into placing their first piece in the right spot.
- Kemet (9) – This seems like a lot as you set up the huge array of technology improvements, cards, plastic armies, and various chits–but there is a fairly straightforward game under all the chrome. The brilliance of the design is evident in how all the moving parts connect so fluidly without feeling fiddly. The tech tree progression is really cool, the battle map never feels needlessly punishing (and rewards aggression–an important part of modern game design). If I had a complaint, it is that the game often feels truncated…the low victory point win condition can have the game over before you know it!
- Magic Maze (8) – Very clever real-time maze-race where each player can only move the four pawns on the board in one of the four cardinal directions (along with a couple of special powers). Thus, all players have to work together to maneuver the pawns through the maze to various checkpoints before the sand timer runs out. The timer adds just enough tension that you will find a calm, ordered analysis of the evolving board state can be very tricky to achieve without the other players glaring at you until you move the yellow pawn north for them (the twist to the game is that no communication is allowed). Very fun, though this is a disaster when playing with players of differing skill levels.
- Battle for Rokugan (8) – Fairly simple, bluff-heavy mechanism of playing hidden chits of varying power levels to battle for control of provinces and groups of provinces in a fantasy eastern-themed map. It is all very efficiently done, and quite cheap to buy (though the cardboard-only presentation, while it looks nice, can be a bit hard to read on the fly), making this a success in the realm of short, light “wargame-ish” games.
- Dream Factory (8.5) – This polished Knizia auction game is distinguished by its closed system economy and the brilliant theme of auctioning contracts for stars to fill up the movies your studio is trying to make. Though, the theme is only fun if you are an old movie buff and have the original Traumfabrik version (or a custom version like myself). It’s hell of a lot more fun to make Casablanca staring James Stewart than it is to make Berris Fueller’s Day at Work starring Eddie Smurf like you’ll be forced to do in the new editions.
- Warhammer: Age of Sigmar (7.5) – Despite this being one of the most expensive games I own, the actual gameplay has a few serious issues. Somehow it is both too simple and too complex…the base rules have been simplified to the point that there is very little maneuver to be done beyond wasting a turn of attacks to retreat/try to claim a different objective. Some of the simplifications don’t make great thematic sense (ranged units really shouldn’t be allowed to shoot while engaged in melee with another target). Additionally, the fact that terrain essentially only has an effect on where you can move is disappointing. On the other side of the coin, the ridiculously long sheets of special powers for each unit, many of which affect other units, make remembering to use all the special powers for your army very hard, and understanding the special powers of your opponent’s army almost impossible. That said, these are probably the best miniatures in the business, making anyone that likes painting an easy mark for the Games Workshop machine. And, I suppose, it really IS fun to roll a giant handfull of dice as you bash away at your opponent with a perfect attack. Thus, I’ll always be happy to play this one despite the flaws.
- Hunt for the Ring (7) – Two-part Scotland Yard style hidden movement game structured around getting Frodo to Rivendell. A bit more elegance in some of the mechanics would have been appreciated as balancing all the moving parts feels rather unwieldy at first. Also, at first glance, it seems the shadow player will have their work cut out for them corrupting Frodo. That said, the theme positively hums, the game is a beauty to behold, and the War of the Ring “Frodo is in the wild” ambiguous movement mechanic is a nice twist on the hidden movement genre.
- Machi Koro (6.5) – This game takes the basic Catan mechanic of getting resources depending what you roll on a dice each turn and then adding on a clever twist of “leveling up” to rolling two dice at a point of your choosing. This lets you get the better powers at higher numbers but also has the side effect of making your lower number (1-6) powers not as useful. It’s a very elegant and reasonably fun mechanism, but it will quickly wear out its welcome as you are still just taking a one in six shot of getting money every turn. The only benefit of all the randomness is that it will slightly slow down the game’s real runaway leader problem.
- 7 Wonders: Duel (10) – Fantastic 2-player version of Seven Wonders that is probably even better than the original game. The drafting is replaced by a new computer-Mahjong style method of unlocking cards (full of deep tactical thinking), everything else has been tweaked to shine in 2 player mode. Seriously, this is one hell of a game, reasonably simple for the amount of depth, fun and positively nasty, and full of agonizing decisions.
- Château Roquefort (6+) – On the more complex end of things for children as you have to manage 4 action points, coordination of your team of mice, and remembering where the cheese is, but this can be a real winner too because the theme and presentation is so strong. Worth a shot with kids to see if it grabs them, if it does, they will have an absolute blast trapping you in the dungeon under the board.
- Catan Junior (5+) – This takes out enough of the more complicated elements to make a great game for kids (though the 2d6 bell curve is definitely missed). Presentation wise it is a knockout, but as for the gameplay, there are plenty of better options for kids.
- Ugah Ugah (5+) – This is just another Yahtzee/King of Tokyo/etc game where you get three rerolls and all that to get a final array of dice for points. Honestly, there are enough twists (moving cavemen with some dice, bones which autolock as nothing) that this is actually a pretty good variation on the style. I like this one quite a lot, and it works great for kids too.
- Octo (3+) – Pretty random dice rolling game where you are trying to get three good rolls in a row. It doesn’t seem like a lot of play-testing went in to this one as it can be super easy to bust turn after turn with even average luck. There is promise here (especially with the potential for making a song with your final set of cards), but the game as written is not the best.
- Don’t Be Greedy (4+) – A simple push your luck game of drawing cool gems out of a bag for your treasure chest, most of which are blank, but some of which have sad faces. Young kids might have trouble grasping the rule that a sad face on your opening draw won’t end your turn, but otherwise, this is a hit with most age levels.
- Carole (4+) – A very simple game that challenges kids to translate numerically coded taps for four different foods into pictures of the foods on cards. Surprisingly hard for kids, though, if you give them time, they might just take to it before they get bored with it. Adults, however, should avoid this.
- Slamwich (5+) – This is just Slapjack with a cute theme and a few extra bells and whistles–kids like it, and I suppose I don’t mind it. I’d advise playing without the “munchers”…they add almost nothing to the game for a bunch of unnecessary rules complexity.
- Sequence for Kids (3+) – This is still just Sequence, and as such, is VERY dependent on card draws. That said, the smaller board size and victory conditions actually makes for a much better game as it doesn’t overstay its welcome. Still very little actual choice to be had, but at least it’s good for very young children.
- The Little Prince: Rising to the Stars (5+) – Very good race game (following the new, only vaguely related, movie rather than the original book) that uses the Thebes-style “last place goes until someone else is in last” mechanic. It can be a little unintuitive for children to understand the value of slow play (hell, the overall strategy on this one is even fairly opaque even for adults), but otherwise this is a winner: short, beautiful, not toooo complex, and, above all, fun.
- Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries – It still irks me that, like Switzerland, you can’t use wild cards on the colored tracks. Forcing players to draw only the color of the route makes the game a little more susceptible to certain colors getting buried in the deck. That said, this is otherwise a great 2-3 player version of Ticket to Ride (and the super long route is a fun challenge, though, also swingy/risky).
- Ubongo Extreme Craxy Expansion – The four piece puzzles in Ubongo Extreme are a sweet spot for “really hard, but still playable,” so adding a 5th piece to the mix (as this print and play expansion does) honestly ups the difficulty too much. There’s really not a good way to logic this out, you just have to hope you get lucky with your initial placement. Fun for a lark, but definitely not recommended as a go-to for Ubongo.
- Codenames: Deep Undercover – You’d think an entire deck of dick and ball euphemisms would be a hit for Codenames, but due to the base game’s “don’t let them pick the opponent’s cards!” gameplay, having a whole expansion of similarly themed cards doesn’t work as well as you’d think…playable, but probably best shuffled into your regular cards.
- Beasty Bar: New Beasts in Town – Not really an expansion as much as it is a stand-alone game with entirely new animals. I actually really like a lot of them though they are slightly more complex (and, perhaps, less elegant) than the originals. Still very worth getting for the variety it can add.
- Krosmaster: Arena – Frigost – While the board is very fun (one of my favorite’s in fact–pushable ice blocks, if you can manage to set them up, are very satisfying for trick plays), the demonic rewards are ridiculously overpowered. Basically save up to 18 kamas and then whoever gets the most broken reward wrecks house. Fun for a laugh every now and then, but not recommended often. As for the miniature, Count Harebourg is fun enough, though his summons can be a liability (and he is a little too reliant on blue damage boosts to be a real powerhouse). All in all I prefer the promo version, Count Frigost.
- Krosmaster: Arena – Wild Realms – The models look great (as always) despite the usual re-skinned molds that always clutter up a release (though the center of gravity on the wolves is slightly off), and the mechanics are very fun. Track is a nice bonus, and Invasion especially shines–I’d thought it would be too tough get into the opponent’s territory safely, but there are plenty of opportunities for clever play with this mid to late game. The Jelly Kings are probably the highlight of the set for me–not only do the 3D summons come included, the abilities are all a lot of fun–with Mint King probably being my favorite for clever push/pull play. Groulagorasalar is another push/pull highlight with his very versatile power (and cool model), otherwise the set is a bit heavier on low level creatures that are interesting enough but fairly simple to play.
- Ticket to Ride: Switzerland – While the map is a perfect size for 2-3 players, the rule change for wild cards (they can only be used for tunnels, which, granted, cover half the map) leaves me a little cold. With no more wild cards for the half of the map that isn’t tunnels, the whole game becomes a lot more swingy as drawing just the right color is the only way to finish late game routes.
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