Hovel Con 2020 Wrap Up

Given that this was all a lark, it was remarkably successful and pretty fun (Camp Pinetop frustration aside). We played 6 unique games (5 of which we had never played before) for a total of 12 different plays. We dedicated a lot of time to each other and to playing games, and we definitely played way more than we do in the typical month, and sometimes over a couple of months. I think I might have a natural tolerance level, as I was getting kind of fatigued by the 29th. But I’m glad we did this, and depending on the convention situation in 2021, or perhaps regardless of it, I think it’s something we’ll think about doing again. It was a great opportunity to make a concerted effort to learn new games, and because we didn’t really have any other obligations any of the days, learning even a couple new games in a day seemed manageable, which often isn’t the case during a regular weekend.

M’s thoughts: Well, the first annual Hovel Con has come to an end, at least for us. The event was full of thrills and joys that made it a success beyond our wildest fantasies and allowed us to live out our dream. And for that, we thank America, other countries, and, most importantly, a pandemic for keeping us holed up. We did it for you, baby!

May the spirit of Hovel Con live on throughout the year!

Petra’s Hovel Con Top 3:
1. Wingspan
2. Parks
3. Camp Pinetop

M’s Hovel Con Top 3:
1. Babel
2. Godzilla – Tokyo Clash
3. Wingspan

Camp Pinetop (Talon Strikes Studios, 2020)

Date played: November 29, 2020

Basic details: 1-5 players; 60 minutes; competitive; solo mode included

Gist of the game: You are the leader of a troop of woodland creature campers who are exploring the great outdoors. Over the course of the game, players will collect patches and advance their ranks. The first player to reach the highest rank ends.

To begin the game, each player receives 4 campers, 4 mastery discs, 1 rank token, and a player board in their chosen color, as well as 12 achievement patch tokens. Players place their rank token on the Possum area of their player board (the lowest rank).

Map tiles are divided by color and a number of cards of each color, based on the number of players, are chosen and shuffled into a deck. The deck is then laid out as a 3×4 or 4×4 grid, depending on the number of players.

The mastery cards are shuffled and 4 are revealed and placed, 2 on either side of the map grid. Remaining mastery cards will not be used during the game.

Supply cards are shuffled and dealt. In a 2 player game, the first player receives 5 cards and the second player receives 6. The remaining supply cards are placed by the map grid and 2 supply cards are drawn and placed on either side of the supply deck.

In turn order, each player places one of their camper meeples on a map card. If a player places their camper on an occupied card, that player must give the player already on that map card a supply card of their choice.

On their turn, players may perform 1 of 4 possible actions: a) draw 2 supply cards from the deck, the face up cards, or a combination of both. Only one of the face-up cards can be a wild card. If at least 3 of the face-up cards have the same symbol at the start of their turn, a player may discard the 3 matching cards and replace them from the deck. The player’s hand size is determined by their scouting rank, and they may not exceed that hand limit at the end of their turn (but may have more than that number during the course of their turn). Until they receive a particular achievement patch, face-up cards must be drawn from the same side of the deck. b) draw one card and move one camper to a new location orthogonally adjacent to their current location. If they take a face-up card, it cannot be a wild card. If a player moves to a map card that is occupied, they must pay a supply card of their choice to the other player(s). c) gain an achievement patch. To do so, players move their camper to a new map card, causing them to cross over a patch on their way to the new tile. That patch is the one that the player gains after paying the supply cost. Once the player pays the supply cost, they place the achievement patch token on the right side of their player board. The player gains the power listed on the achievement patch (some have an immediate effect, others last for the remainder of the game). d) place an additional camper on the map by discarding a pair of supply cards with the same tent color. The tent color determines what map cards the camper is eligible to be played on.

To advance in ranks, players must meet the requirements for the number and type of achievements they must have. There are 3 possible combinations for each rank, but a player only needs to meet the requirements of 1 combination to advance. Once a player has the required achievements in their possession, they must immediately advance their rank on the player board. For the final 3 ranks, players will have to upgrade achievement patches to the advanced level by either meeting requirements for that patch again or by completing a mastery card.

During a player’s turn, if they meet the requirements for the mastery card, they earn or upgrade one of the achievements specified on the card. A player may only accomplish each mastery card once.

The game ends immediately when a player achieves the highest rank.

Color commentary: This game has surprising depth given the theme and artwork (cutely woodland creatures being cutesy). M in particular suffered a considerable degree of analysis paralysis on each turn. Wingspan might have caused him less anguish than this game did. M graciously let me win the first game, which we didn’t count toward our official tally, by not moving my campers from their current spot when he unlocked a badge. I had things set up to advance 2 ranks in 1 turn by taking 2 specific turns. I had gotten my upgrades out of the way early that game. In future games, I focused on diamond achievements, which were the most costly, but basically let you use any card as wild for a particular supply, and when upgraded, made cards cost 1 less of a particular supply. Doing this let me get more achievements faster, and also let me get my upgrades taken care of. There’s also room for a lot of variety here in terms of having 12 different map cards for each color, but only using 3 at a time. There are 12 mastery cards, but only a few of them seem especially useful for our strategies, as many of them require having multiple campers on the board and having those multiple campers be on the same map card. Using just one camper worked fine for me for most of the games we played.

Thoughts from M: This game has great artwork, and is a lot of fun. Advancing slowly through the ranks for most of the game seems advantageous because you can keep a higher hand limit. Moreover, because of needing upgraded achievements, only the second rank, Skunk, is especially hard to avoid, because for Skunk you only need 2 of any type of patch. I’m not sure if it makes sense to focus on one winning condition or wait a while to leave yourself more flexibility and openings, since there are 3 possible ways to advance to each rank. This game was a bit of a brain burner, and while I really enjoyed it, it was very frustrating as the more effort I put into coming up with a winning strategy, the worse I did. It became comical by the end.

Petra’s rating: 8/10
M’s rating: 5/10

Godzilla – Tokyo Clash (Funko Games, 2020)

Date played: November 28, 2020

Basic details: 2-4 players; 45 minutes; competitive

Gist of the game: You are a kaiju, battling other kaiju to be Japan’s foremost monster. (M here: Godzilla is always the foremost monster and if this game does not end in that result, it merely reflects the fantasy nature of board games.) You destroy buildings and vehicles to gain energy and use that energy to attack other kaiju. You can throw trains, battleships, tanks, and even other monsters at your opponents. Eventually, the humans will deploy the oxygen destroyed (as they’re wont to do), ending the game. The most dominant monster wins.

To set up, the center tile is placed in the middle of the play area. Other tiles are randomly selected and then configured according to the number of players. For 2 player games, 6 additional tiles are used, with players 1 and 2 starting on opposite sides of the city.

Next, buildings are placed in designated spots on the board. The damage track is placed within reach of all players, and the oxygen destroyer is placed on the start space of the damage track. Two event cards are selected and placed in spaces at the top and bottom of the damage track. The setup instructions for each event (in terms of what vehicles to place) are carried out. Buildings and vehicles provide players with additional energy when they are destroyed.

Players choose their kaiju and place them in their starting position. Players place their kaiju mat in from of them and place an energy cube on the 2 space of the energy track. Players shuffle their kaiju deck and place them face down to the left of their kaiju mat and draw a hand of 5 cards.

The game is played across rounds. Each round has 4 phases: a) the oxygen destroyer phase (only begins in the second round); b) action phase; c) refresh phase; and d) event phase.

In the oxygen destroyer phase, the oxygen destroyer is moved one circle along the damage track.

In the action phase, players take turns using actions until all players pass consecutively. A player may play a kaiju card by paying its energy cost. Players do so by moving their energy tracker down the energy track by the cost of the card. Players cannot play cards if they cannot pay the energy cost. Once played, players resolve all the card’s effects and then discard it. Each card indicates the energy cost, the card’s power (move, attack, or defend), the card’s effects, and the dominance value. To use a card to attack, a player’s monster must be in the same space as the attackee or within the appropriate ranged distance for a ranged attack.

If using a target to carry out the attack, players then choose which one they will use. After choosing a target, the player decides whether to throw or damage it. Vehicles can only be thrown. Ranged attacks only deal damage and cannot target vehicles or buildings, only other kaiju. When throwing a target, the attack value is also the maximum distance the object can be thrown. Targets must be thrown in a straight line. When throwing a vehicle, players choose a space within the range for the vehicle to land and destroy the vehicle and a small building, large building, or another vehicle in the space where the target will land. If another monster is in range, the player may throw the vehicle at the kaiju to deal 1 damage and destroy the vehicle. When throwing a kaiju, players move the thrown kaiju in a straight line up to the maximum distance until it hits a large building or another kaiju. Players then also destroy up to one small building or vehicle in each space the thrown kaiju moves through. If the thrown monster ends in a space with a large building, the building is destroyed. If the kaiju lands in a space with another monster, both receive 1 damage.

When destroying buildings and vehicles, players gain the benefits shown on the underside of the building or vehicle. Large buildings are more valuable and are removed from play for the rest of the game. Large buildings can provide players with: a) 4 energy; b) 2 energy + 1 card; c) 2 energy + a discarded card placed on the top of their kaiju deck; or d) 2 energy and a peek at any one opponent’s top card of their kaiju deck. Destroyed small buildings go on the damage track. Vehicles and lighting generators are moved off the board, but may re-enter play during an event phase.

To deal damage to a monster, the other player can choose to defend using a card in their hand. If the attack value is less than or equal to the defense value, nothing happens. If the attack value is greater, the player wins the attack. The defense value is subtracted from the attack value and the attacking player takes a number of cards equal to the difference from the target’s kaiju deck. The card with the highest dominance value is taken as a trophy and placed face down in the trophy pile. The remaining cards are discarded in the opponent’s discard pile. If all drawn cards have a dominance value of 0, no trophy is taken. After dealing, any other attack card effects are resolved. After attack card effects are resolved, defense card effects are resolved.

To use a discard action, players discard a kaiju card and apply one of the effects from the kaiju mat.

Players can also decline to attack or discard, passing intsead.

After all players have consecutively passed, players can discard or keep any cards in their hands before drawing up to a hand of 5. The player with the King of Monsters card (the player who was the first player in the round or who attacked the previous King of Monsters) draws a hand of 6 cards. Any special kaiju abilities or enhancements can also be activated in this phase.

In the event phase, both event cards are activated in their assigned order. Usually, vehicles still on the board are moved or new vehicles are placed on the board.

After the event phase, players check to see if the game has ended. If the oxygen destroyer marker and the small building tokens have passed each other, the game ends. If the oxygen destroyer has not passed, or is adjacent to a small building token, a new round begins.

If the game ends, each player tallies the value of their trophies. The player with the King of Monsters token gains an extra 2 points. The player with the most points wins.

Color commentary: The small kaiju figurines are pretty neat, and I think the oxygen destroyer mechanic is pretty neat — the humans will tolerate some level of destruction, but won’t abide by having the entire city completely destroyed before trying to bring an end to the monsters. At least with 2 players, the only real interaction was by using attack cards and throwing vehicles at each other. No occasion really arose to throw one another’s kaijus. The multiple event cards and tile layouts allow for differentiation and randomness between games, which will help keep it fresh across plays. In general, though, I thought the premise was more interesting than the actual execution, but the idea of throwing vehicles and other monsters and destroying buildings and such is a fun one.

Thoughts from M: This game has all the chaos and fun of a good Godzilla movie. Unfortunately, I have no idea what a good strategy is. Some vehicles, especially tanks, can sap your energy if they end up in your tile or adjacent to your tile, so perhaps focusing on destroying those would be helpful, although they would also get replaced later in the game once there are a sufficiently low number of them currently on the board. Actually attacking your opponent doesn’t seem very efficient, and requires quite a bit of energy. So you need to constantly be destroying things to gain energy to try to attack your foe, which thematically makes sense, I suppose, but does limit the meaningfulness of the interactions in what is at least in part designed to be a combat game. Still: there’s a Godzilla miniature, and the game very accurately captures the flavor of the real Godzilla et al. franchise.

Petra’s rating: 4/10
M’s rating: 7/10

Wingspan (Stonemaier Games, 2019)

Date played: November 28, 2020

Basic details: 1-5 players; 40-70 minutes; competitive; solo mode available

Gist of the game: You are a bird enthusiast trying to attract and entice birds into your nature preserve. Birds create and extend chains of combinations within their habitat, and each habitat focuses on one aspect of the growth of your nature preserve. The player with the most points at the end of the game wins.

To start the game, each player receives a player mat, 8 action cubes in their chosen color, 2 random bonus cards, of which they choose one, and 1 of each type of food token. The remaining goal cards are shuffled and placed face-down in a draw deck. 3 birds are placed face up in the display and the draw deck set aside within reach. The goal board is laid out. The green side of the board involves more direct competition, providing more points to the player with the most of that thing. The blue side involves less direct competition, and all players can earn a maximum of 5 points for each goal. The goal tiles are shuffled and 1 goal tile is placed random side up on each blank space on the goal board. The 5 food dice are rolled. Next, players keep up to 5 of their cards and discard the others, discarding a food token for each bird they keep.

The game is played over 4 rounds with each successive round containing 1 fewer turn than the round before it, so that in the first round players take 8 turns, while in the 4th round each player takes 5 turns.

On each turn, players take 1 of 4 possible actions: a) play a bird from their hand; b) gain food and activate forest bird powers; c) lay eggs and activate grassland bird powers; or d) draw bird cards and activate wetland bird powers.

When playing a bird, players choose a bird form their hand and place an action cube at the top of the column in which they will play the bird. The player pays any corresponding egg and food costs. The bird is placed on the leftmost available spot in the appropriate habitat and the action cube is moved to the left side of the “play a bird” row. If the bird has any “when played” powers, they are activated and the player may use that power if they wish.

When gaining food and activating forest bird powers, the player places an action cube in the leftmost open spot in the “gain food” row of the player mat and gains the amount of food shown on the spot from the birdfeeder dice tray. At the start of the game, the food dice are rolled. That stock of food is depleted until no food remains or all remaining dice show the same food, at which point the food dice can be rerolled. When choosing food dice, the player removes the dice from the birdfeeder and gains the matching food token. Players always gain 1 token per die. If the spot where the action cube is placed shows a card-to-food bonus, the player may discard a bird card from their hand to gain an additional food (taking another die from the birdfeeder). Then, any brown powers on birds in the forest habitat are activated from right to left. The player does not have to activate all powers, choosing to use some but not others.

When laying eggs and activating grassland birds, players must place an action cube in the leftmost open spot in the “lay eggs” row of the player mat and lay that number of eggs. To lay an egg, the player takes an egg token (all egg colors are perfectly interchangeable) and places it on a bird card that has space for it. The number of eggs a bird can hold is indicated on the bird’s card. Eggs can be placed on any combination of birds so long as the birds’ egg limits have not been reached. Any eggs beyond all birds’ ability to hold them are simply lost. If the spot where the action cube was placed shows a food-to-egg bonus conversion, players can pay 1 food token from their supply to lay an additional egg. Brown powers on grassland birds are then activated from right to left.

To draw bird cards and activate wetland birds, players place an action cube on the leftmost open spot in the “draw cards” role on the player mat, and draw the number of cards indicated from either the face-up bird cards or the bird deck. There is no hand limit. If the spot with the action cube shows an egg-to-card bonus conversion, players may discard an egg from a bird to draw an additional card. Brown powers on wetland birds are activated from right to left. If a bird is chosen from the face-up display, it is not replaced until the end of the turn.

When all players have played all their action cubes, the round ends. All action cubes are removed from the player mat. The end-of-round goal for that round is scored, using one of each player’s action cubes as a score marker, thus leaving them with 1 fewer cube for the next round. All face-up birds in the bird display are discarded and replaced. The first player token shifts to the next player.

At the end of the 4th round, birds on the player mat and bonus cards are scored. Players also receive 1 point for each: egg cached on a bird, food token cached on a bird, and card tucked under a bird. The player with the most points ends.

The European expansion adds more birds and end-of-round actions for birds (we played with this expansion). The Oceania expansion adds more birds and also nectar as a new type of food, along with end-of-game actions for birds (we did not play with this expansion, but will next time!).

Color commentary: This is a really interesting game that forces you to think very carefully about short-term vs. long-term gains and which to maximize at any particular point. Being able to think out the next several turns at any given time is helpful. You can get points from each end-of-round bonus, but each round offers points for different things than you get points for at the end of the game, and the 2 sets of goals may not overlap much. Additionally, being able to cache eggs is especially valuable at the end of the game, but also makes playing new, possibly valuable, birds easier as well. Not all the personal bonus cards were helpful in a practical sense, because of needing several birds to qualify for a small number of points. I definitely consistently earned more points from the end-of-round bonuses than the end-of-game bonuses.

The artwork is beautiful and there’s an opportunity for at least some education, as each bird card presents some information about the bird, even if in stylized fashion.

I’m really glad the game was good, thus retroactively justifying the expansion and upgrade purchases I made before playing the game. There is a downside to the expansions, though. There are so many bird cards (hundreds), and you don’t see that many during a game, so it would take several dozen plays to play with all the cards at least once. The variety is nice, and increases variety and replayability, but there’s so much variety that I think a lot of it will go unappreciated over time.

Thoughts from M: The food dice are super nifty and aesthetically pleasing. I wish I could think of other uses for them. And the birdfeeder dice tower was also a nice touch. The game is complicated, though, and there’s no single clear strategy that would work every time. The game is dozens of optimization problems to be solved at any given moment. Also, I like realistic games, that reflect the real world. That’s why I enjoy Camping with Sasquatch, or playing our Godzilla-themed games, or games where apes have to keep down humans hell-bent on war. But birds? BIRDS?! Everyone knows that birds aren’t real, and this game is just a step too far into the fantastic. If they could use the same mechanics with a more believable subject, I do believe I would rate this game higher.

Petra’s rating: 10/10
M’s rating: 7/10

Babel (Z-Man Games, 2013)

Date played: November 27, 2020

Basic details: 2 players; 25 minutes; competitive

Gist of the game: You are a monarch utilizing tribes to build the highest temples. Your opponent has the same goal, and may also try to undermine your efforts and destroy your temples. The player with the highest temple value at the end of the game wins.

To set up the game, the board with the quarry and 5 construction sites is placed where both players can access it. Each player takes a level 1 temple card (temple cards go up to level 6, with a decreasing number of cards available for each higher level). The remaining temple cards are shuffled and placed in the quarry space on the board. The nation cards (5 nations total: Assyrians, Medes, Sumerians, Persians, and Hittites) are shuffled and placed in a draw pile near the board. The first player takes 3 cards and the second player draws 5.

Nation cards allow players to perform actions during their turn. They also have a unique ability. Each nation also has a color that corresponds to a construction site on the board.

On each turn, players perform 3 phases in order. First, they draw 3 nation cards, shuffling the discard pile if the nations deck is empty. Second, players take actions in any order, as many times as they wish (except only 1 migration per turn). Actions are moving a player’s building pawn from one construction site to another by discarding a card with the color of the construction site to be occupied; playing a nations card at the current construction site so that all played cards are visible to both players; constructing a temple by taking a temple card from either of the 2 stacks that get created and placing it at the construction site with the player’s building pawn (temples must be constructed in order from level 1 – level 6. The construction site must have at least as many nations cards present as the new level of the temple. Once the temple level is constructed, nation cards can be moved or destroyed without affecting the temple); migrating 3 nation cards from one construction site to another (nations can be the same or different from each other, but only the 3 most recently played cards at the site they are being moved from); or using a nation’s special ability when 3 or more identical nation cards are grouped together at the same construction site. To use a special ability, the player’s pawn must also be at the construction site where the special ability will be used and the 3 identical nation cards must also already occupy that construction site. Assyrians can destroy a temple, Persians can skip a temple level, Hittites can steal a temple level from the player’s opponent, Sumerians can cause all of the opponent’s nation cards matching their own mostly recently played nation card at that construction site to defect to the player’s side of the board, and the Medes force the opponent to discard all cards of a chosen Nation at the construction site. Instead of using their special ability, a player can also use nation cards to force their opponents to discard half their hand (rounded in favor of the opponent). Finally, the players draws 2 temple cards from the temple deck and places then in the temple stack closest to them, such that the lowest temple level is placed on the top. Only the top card of a stack is available to players on their turns, but they may take from either stack when building their temples. If the player ends their turn with more than 4 nation cards in hand, they must tell their opponent how many cards they hold. Play then passes to the next player.

The game ends when one player’s temples have a value of at least 15 AND the other player’s temples have a value of 9 or less. If the other player’s temples are worth 10 or more, the game enters the end phase. Once in the end phase, the game will end immediately if one player’s temples are valued at 20 or more OR if one player’s temples are valued at 9 or less, as through stolen levels or destruction. The game also ends immediately if the temple deck is exhausted. In all cases, the player with the most valuable temples wins.

Color commentary: This game is an oldie from the Hendriquist game vault. We bought it when we lived in Lansing and haven’t played it since we moved away from Lansing in 2017. (That is becasue Petra does not like to play it. -M) For the first game, we were basically even for the entire game. We house-ruled what happens when the temple deck runs out. M took his last turn, built to a level 6 temple to tie me and then destroyed one of my temples for the victory, 19-7. M also won the second game, 15-8. I won the 3rd game. M tried to eliminate my temple destroyers but only got 2 of them at a particular site, so I was able to bolster another batch of them and /destroy one of his temples to get him below 9 points and then build a level to have exactly 15 points at the end of my turn, for a final score of 15-6.

There is some luck to the game, such as card draws and what temple values happen to be showing at any particular moment, but there’s also plenty of room for strategy. It’s also hard to remember exactly how some of the special abilities operate, particularly the “change camps” and “desert” abilities, where cards get moved from one player to another or discarded, so I feel like we were checking the rules a lot, but it was still a really fun game, and it’s unfortunate we took a 3 year gap from playing it. (Yes, very unfortunate. -M)

Thoughts from M: I remembered really liking this game, but as we set up and reviewed the rules, I couldn’t remember exactly why I liked it so much. After the first game, I definitely remembered why. There are lots of things to keep track of and you benefit from acts of cruelty and viciousness, which is what I specialize in. If I’m going to betray my republican (as in, in favor of democracy and republics without monarchies) instincts and play as a monarch, I may as well embrace the worst that the system has to offer. (Petra required me to indicate what republican means here as she thinks very little of you, our dear readers. Please keep that in mind when you are debating which one of us to send money to.)

Although it’s not always possible, I prefer not to play cards unless I can play three from the same nation, so as to not be inefficient. You often have to weigh the short-term versus long-term benefits. In the second game, Petra had one temple at 6 and another at 4. My building pawn was at the temple where she had 4, but I had 3 cards that would let me destroy a temple in hand, so by stocking up on my cards, I could easily discard a card to get to the appropriate construction site and then rain down destruction on her most valuable temple.

Petra’s rating: 8/10
M’s rating: 10/10

Here to Slay (Unstable Games, 2020)

Date played: November 27, 2020

Basic details: 2-6 players; 15-90 minutes; competitive

Gist of the game: You’re an adventurer, trying to bring heroes into your fold, fight monsters, and avoid being thwarted by your opponents. The first player to slay 3 monsters or build an adventure party with 6 classes of heroes wins.

To start the game, each player takes a party leader card (and because I pledged embarrassing amounts of money on Kickstarter, playmat, meeples, unicorn dice, and acrylic standee!). Each player receives 5 cards and a draw deck is formed. Three monsters are placed face up and the remaining monster cards form the monster deck.

On each turn, players receive 3 action tokens to spend (but cannot be rolled over across turns). There are three one-action-point options: drawing a card from the main deck; playing a hero, magic, or item card from the player’s hand (if a hero is played, the player may roll to use the hero’s effect immediately); and rolling two dice to play the hero’s effect. Players cannot use the same hero’s effect twice, even if the first roll was unsuccessful. For 2 action points, players can attack a monster, and for 3 action points a player can discard their entire hand and draw a new hand of 5 cards. Turns end when players are out of action points or choose not to spend additional action points.

Hero cards are played into players’ parties, and there is no limit on the number of heroes in a party. Item cards are played onto a hero. Positive effects can be provided to a player’s own heroes while negative effects can be played on opponent’s heroes. That is, you can equip another player’s hero with an item. Magic cards have a one-time effect and are then discarded immediately. Modifier cards can be used any time a player rolls the dice to manipulate the outcome of the dice roll. Modifier cards are discarded once they are played. Players can also modify opponent’s dice rolls. Players can play any number of modifiers at a time, and multiple players can modify a particular dice roll. Challenge cards are used to try to stop a player’s opponents from playing a hero, item, or magic card. When a player challenges another, each player rolls 2 dice. If the challenger wins, the other player must immediately discard the card they were trying to play. If the challengee wins, they play their card as normal. Modifier cards can be played in challenges. The card that the challengee is trying to play can only be challenged once.

Heroes and party leaders belong to 9 possible classes (party leaders can also belong to more than one class, but only one class at a time when contributing to the class representation of the adventure party). Party leaders, in addition to having a class (but not counting as heroes), also have a skill. Skills can be used any time its conditions are met, possibly multiple times per turn, whereas heroes’ effects can only be played once per turn.

To attack monsters, players must meet that monster’s party requirement in terms of number of heroes and possible class representation of the heroes. If those conditions are met, the player rolls 2 dice. If the dice (along with any modifiers) are higher than the monster’s requirement, the monster is slain. Low rolls meet with negative consequences, and middling rolls carry no effect. When a monster is slain, the player’s party gains a new skill for the rest of the game (listed on the monster card). A slain monster is also replaced by a new monster from the monster deck. The first person to slay 3 monsters or have 6 different classes in their party (including one of their party leader’s classes) wins.

Color commentary: The rules are pretty simple and manageable, making it pretty easy to dive right in without having to constantly refer back to the rules. In the first game, I came out with an early lead in party members, but ended up winning by slaying monsters. I only used 1 modifier card in the first game, when M was trying to fight a monster. I had very luck rolls in this game, whereas M mostly had unlucky rolls. M ended up sacrificing both his heroes (and I stole one), so I probably could have drawn a new hand (I ended up having pretty much nothing but modifiers, and even most of those were to harm an opponent rather than to help my own rolls) and tried to win using the party condition anyway, but the monsters provide a neat little thrill, especially with the risk of experiencing harm if your dice roll is too low. However, there were 134 cards and our card shuffler broke, so the first game in general was marred by inconsistent shuffling. I ended up with nothing but modifiers I didn’t need and the deck ended up literally stacked against M, with a hand full of items and challenge cards he simply couldn’t play.

I won the second game with a full party, and another bad run of cards for M. No monsters were slain.

M won the third game via party completion. He had another bunk hand to start the game, so we agreed to allow him to redraw his hand to be on more even footing (because constantly losing due to bad luck sucks all the fun out of the game, and we didn’t want that to happen to a game with so many bear options (all fighter cards were represented with bears, plus the bear party leader, bear meeples, bear playmat, and bear standee).

For people who enjoy “take that” dynamics, challenges and modifier cards are definitely the way to go. We don’t tend to like “take that” mechanics all that much, which made simply collecting the appropriate mix of party members slightly more appealing. I actually liked the monster combat a lot, and even without negative modifiers, there’s an element of chance. When we play again, I may focus more on monsters than my party. Then again, it probably depends in part on the cards I draw and what seems like the most feasible path to victory. The important thing is that the game can accommodate both “take that” strategies and strategies that want to avoid “take that” but still provide enjoyment. Avoiding “take that” tactics reduces the interaction between players, but if that interaction is just going be aggressive, I’m ok with that.

Thoughts from M: I like that bears are so well represented in this game. It’s something you don’t see enough of in the industry, and I’m happy we found a game that seeks to remedy that. I think I like the game, though I’m not sure how much strategy there really is. There’s definitely a lot of luck involved in terms of what cards you end up with. I wonder if picking either monsters or the party and sticking to that goal is the way to go, as opposed to trying to strike a balance between the two.

Petra’s rating: 6/10
M’s rating: 6/10

Parks (Keymaster Games, 2019)

Date played: November 26, 2020 (inaugural game of Hovel Con 2020)

Basic details: 1-5 players (solo mode included); 40-70 minutes; competitive

Gist of the game: Players control two hikers who encounter and explore trails across four seasons. As the game proceeds, the trails change and become longer. On the trails, hikers will see nature’s beauty and perform an action when they arrive. Once they reach the end of a trail, hikers can spend tokens to visit various National Parks and earn points. The player with the most points accumulated from Parks, photos, and a personal bonus at the end of the 4th season wins.

To start the game, players receive 2 hiker meeples and a campfire that they will control during the game. The board is set up so all players can access it. The board contains Park cards (3 face up to start the game), canteen cards, 4 seasons cards (out of a larger selection of possible seasons, so you won’t encounter the same set of seasons every game), and gear cards (3 face up to start the game). Players receive 1 canteen each. A year deck is shuffled and 2 cards given to each player. Each player selects 1 as their personal bonus and discards the others.

The first trail is created by placing the trail head card on the far left and the 5 basic site tiles along with one advanced site tile shuffled together and laid out, followed by the trail end card.

The first player receives the first hiker marker and the 2nd (or next, for people playing with more than just one other person) player receives the camera.

The 4 seasons cards make up the 4 rounds of the game. Each season affects gameplay and a season ends when all hikers reach the trail end tile. To start the season, see how the season affects gameplay and resolve any immediate affects. Each season has a weather pattern, and starting with the second tile the weather pattern is laid out and then repeated on subsequent tiles until the trail end is reached.

The 1st player take the 1st turn, selecting one of their hikers to any site to the right of the hiker’s current location (no moving backwards). When the hiker lands on the site, the player performs the site’s action. Play then passes to the next player, who repeats the process, and so on, until the season ends. Hikers cannot land on a site occupied by another hiker, unless they use their campfire ability to do so. This extinguishes the campfire, which is not relit until the player’s first hiker lands on the trail end.

If a hiker is the first to land on a site with a weather token, the player takes the token into their supply as a bonus.

On basic sites, players do one of the following: a) gain a forest token; b) gain a mountain token; c) gain 2 sunshine tokens; d) gain 2 water tokens; e) draw a canteen card or turn in 2 tokens to take a photo tile and gain the camera; or f) (4+ player games) gain 1 sunshine token and 1 water token.

At advanced sites, players do one of the following: a) turn in any one token to gain a wildlife token; b) turn in any token to gain any non-wildlife token, repeatable once; c) reserve or visit a Park or buy a gear card; or d) turn in a water token to copy an action from another trail site occupied by a hiker.

Wildlife tokens serve as “wild” tokens and can be used in place of any other token to visit Parks, take photos, buy gear, or visit the river. They cannot be used to fill a canteen.

Players can have up to 12 tokens. If they end a turn with more than 12 tokens, they must discard down to 12.

When a player draws a canteen card, they place it face up with the water symbol showing. A canteen can only be filled with a water token gained that turn to take its action. To fill a canteen, players place a water token gained that turn onto the canteen instead of placing it in their supply and perform the canteen’s action.

When trading 2 tokens for a photo, players return any 2 tokens of their choice to the supply to draw a photo tile. Photos are worth 1 point each at the end of the game. After taking a photo as a site, the player takes the camera card. While a player has the camera card, taking a photo only costs 1 token instead of 2. At the end of the season, the player with the camera can take a photo at the reduced price.

Upon reaching the trail end, the player’s campfire is relit and the hiker is placed in the right-most slot of one of the available areas.

At the trail end, players may: a) reserve a park by choosing 1 of the 3 available parks or drawing the top card of the Parks deck. The Park is placed horizontally in front of the player, separate from any vertical “visited” Park cards. If the card was drawn from the display, a new card is drawn to replace it. When visiting a park later, players can visit their reserved park or draw one from the display; b) buy gear by trading in the appropriate number of sunshine tokens. All gear has an ongoing action and some gear has an immediate action; or c) visit a park by paying the appropriate token cost. The park is then placed vertically in they player’s supply area. The point value will be scored at the end of the game. When a Park from the board is visited, a new Park is drawn to replace it.

Once both of a player’s hikers are on the trail end, they do not take further actions that season. The last hiker on the trail is then moved to the trail end and chooses an action.

At the end of a season: a) the player with the camera may buy an additional photo for 1 token; b) all canteens are emptied, with the water tokens returning to the supply; and c) all hikers are returned to the trail head.

To start a new season: a) the trail tiles are shuffled and an additional advanced site is added to create the new trail; b) the top season card is put on the bottom of the season deck and the next card is displayed; and c) the new weather pattern is applied.

The game ends after the 4th season is completed. Points are tallied and the player with the most points wins.

Color commentary: The artwork in this game is absolutely gorgeous, and the way everything fits in the box precisely is a masterpiece in itself.

Typing out the rules, it feels like it will be a very complex game, but after the first couple turns, it feels pretty simple and intuitive. Gear cards can definitely help, as I purchased a couple that reduced the cost of some parks and let me use some tokens to replace others when purchasing a park, which definitely increased the number of parks I was able to buy. We had no use for canteens in the first game, and the more I think about it, I can’t really see a use for canteens in general, because you can only fill a canteen with water gained during that same turn. Because the canteen trail tile doesn’t provide a resource token as its action, the only way you would even earn such a water token would be through the weather pattern. Even if that happens to align, which of course is a chance in itself, then only the first player to encounter the tile would be able to purchase a canteen. That adds up to a generally unlikely possibility that you would be in a position to make use of the canteens.

I liked this game a lot. It felt relaxing to play, and I think I was lulled by the beautiful artwork and general construction. The resource tokens were shaped like outdoorsy things, and the 12 wildlife meeples were adorable. I think it took about an hour to play, but it didn’t feel like it took that long. I’m definitely looking forward to playing again at some point.

Thoughts from M: I really like the artwork. I don’t know yet what the best strategy is, and while the game felt overwhelming at first, it got easier and became a lot more fun as it went on. I think I had the hang of it by the end of the first season, for sure, which meant 3/4 of the game went fairly smoothly.

Petra’s rating: 9/10
M’s rating: 7/10

Hovel Con 2020

The combination of the pandemic and an interstate move meant that M and I were deprived of the April and October board game conventions we’ve grown accustomed to attending, so we decided to hold our own. Behold Hovel Con! Held in our too-tiny apartment over Thanksgiving weekend, Hovel Con features snacks and a large board game library from which to select new games to play. There were also numerous door prize opportunities, and as VIP guests, we even got some swag!

Funkoverse Strategy Game (Funko Games, 2019)

Basic details: 2-4 players; 20-60 minutes; competitive

Dates played: November 21 and 22, 2020

Expansions played: Harry Potter 100; Harry Potter 101; Jaws 100; Jurassic Park 100; Jurassic Park 101; DC Batman 100; Kool-Aid Man 100

Gist of the game: In a 2-player game, players choose up to 3 characters to play as a team against one another. Players place choose one of the two possible scenarios for their chosen map and then set up the map according to the scenario sheet, which will also specify the starting areas for each player. Players compete to win points, and the first player to cross the required points threshold (6 points if playing with 2 characters, 10 points if playing with 3) wins.

To play, each player chooses their characters and a single item (optional). Players receive the character card and any relevant status cards or tokens for their characters. Players take 2 ability tokens as specified on their character card. The map is set up as specified on the scenario card and player place their characters within their respective staring areas. Dice and point tokens are placed where both players can access them.

The game is played across rounds. Once every character has taken a turn, the round ends. To take a turn, players choose a character who has not yet taken a turn that round and take up to 2 actions with the character. The same action cannot be taken twice (we did not play according to this rule because we forgot about it. If anything it made the game more lively, so we may just house rule that option in the future). Characters have a set of basic actions: move up to 2 squares in any direction, including diagonally; challenge an adjacent rival; stand up an adjacent ally that has been knocked down; and interact with points tokens on the map. There are also a few special actions: use a character’s ability by spending an ability token; or use an item. If a character has been knocked down, the only thing they can do is use 2 actions to stand back up. Once the character’s turn is over, the player places an exhaustion token on the character card, and that character cannot take another turn in the current round. Play then passes to the next player, who repeats the process.

When all characters have been exhausted, the round ends. Players shift everything on their cooldown track down one number. Things that shift off the track (to below 1) return to play: characters return to their starting area, ability tokens are replenished, and item cards are returned to the character with the item. Exhausted tokens are removed from character cards, and the first player token passes to the next player. Players compare their scores at the end of the round. If the scores are tied, play continues until one player has more points at the end of the round. When that happens, that player wins.

To move a character, it can move to an adjacent or diagonal space, but not through rivals or obstructions.

Challenges allow characters to knock each other down and knock each other out. Every character can challenge an adjacent rival. When issuing a challenge, the player rolls 2 dice. When using an ability to issue a challenge, the player rolls the number of dice specified on their character card. The other player rolls a number of dice equal to their defense score. Th dice have faces for fighting an defense. If the challenging player has more successes, they win the challenge and the rival is knocked down, signified by literally placing the character’s Funko on its back. If a knocked down character is challenged and loses, the character is knocked out, removed from the map, and placed on the 1 space on the player’s cooldown track.

To use an ability, a character spends the appropriate ability token and places it on the cooldown track on the value specified on the character card.

Items can serve as abilities or traits, and some items have a challenge action associated with them.

There are lots of specific rules concerning line of sight and obstructions, but basically a character has to be able to see the rival to challenge it; characters can move through allies but not rivals to their final destination; and cannot move through obstructions, but rather has to travel around them.

Color commentary: This game is designed with near perfect modularity, such that any characters can be played in combination and on any map. I assume items are also perfectly portable, but we have not tried playing with items yet. There are only 4 scenarios total, repeated across the various map boards, but the luck component to challenges and the sheer number of possibilities means that there’s a lot of potential for replayability. I do think it’s a little disappointing that there are only 4 scenarios that just get repeated, but it seems like it might also be possible to create additional scenarios if you wanted.

In essence, this is a tactical combat game with delightful miniatures. Perhaps as importantly, everything can be organized into nifty containers from Harbor Freight (ok… maps are in a large post office mailing box while I figure out a better solution for them). The large number of possible characters and all the tokens to sift through made the first set of games kind of a hassle to set up. We spent a chunk of yesterday afternoon organizing everything, and setup was much easier.

The tactical combat part is important to note, because there were multiple pages spent on line of sight, and combat is resolved strictly through dice. It reminded me a bit of Memoir ’44 in that respect. I’ve seen chatter on board game discussion forums declaring that Unmatched and Funkoverse are in no way similar to each other, but I would argue they are. Combat is resolved differently, sure, but both games have: a) perfect modularity; b) a basic goal (points in Funkoverse, which can be gained in part through knocking characters out; defeating the hero in Unmatched); c) maps; d) nifty figures; e) high player interaction since victory can only really be gained by doing things to the other player’s characters. I suppose you could win a Funkoverse game by just acquiring points tokens over time, but that seems an unrealistic scenario, and unlikely that the other player would be following the same strategy. So, again, the combat mechanisms are different (cards for Unmatched, dice for Funkoverse), but the spirit of the games feels similar to me, which isn’t a bad thing.

Furthermore, I did thoroughly enjoy going shopping at Harbor Freight for our containers and then packing everything into them, as evidenced by the pictures above which showcase my handiwork. I am soliciting suggestions for map/cooldown track/booklet storage, so let me know if you have any ideas. The big challenge with the maps is that they come in two different sizes. Most of them are fairly narrow, but two of the base boxes came with wider maps, which eliminates a number of possible solutions. The search will continue.

On our first day of playing, we stuck with just the first couple Harry Potter sets. I played Voldemort, Draco Malfoy, and Belatrix LeStrange. M played Harry Potter, Ron Weasley, and Hermione Granger on the Forbidden Forest map. We played both possible scenarios for that map, “Leaders” and “Control.” “Control” had a definite 1st player advantage because once you move into a new control area, you can place a control token for free, but if you move into a location that already has a token, you have to use an action to flip it. So the first player can control an area on their very first turn, earning both a point at the end of the round for controlling any areas as well as a point for controlling the most areas, whereas the absolute earliest the second player would be able to flip a token would be in the 2nd round. The “Leaders” scenario sees players earn points for knocking each other’s characters out, thus favoring an aggressive strategy. Upon a debriefing of why I lost so miserably yesterday, M informed me that I seem to lack the killer spirit, and have basically lost every game scenario we’ve ever played that favors aggression as the dominant strategy. I’ll let him explain more below.

For our third game, we embraced the modularity. I played the Shark from Jaws and the T-Rex and Raptor from Jurassic Park. M played Batman, Hermione, and the Kool-Aid Man. We played on the South Beach map from the Jaws pack. For this map, we played the “Flags” scenario, which I won, despite M’s hard turn toward attrition less than halfway through the game, where he no longer tried to make it to my flag, and instead spent all his energy thwarting my attempts to be adjacent to his flag at the end of the round (moving your character from by the flag back to your starting area earned the most points out of the points-earning options).

Thoughts from M: Look. I’m going to say it’s a fun game, and you’re going to say I say that all the time, and I’m going say that you’re right, but also that if a game isn’t fun, what’s the point? Like most combat games, it rewards aggression, which is especially true when you have two players (I’ll comment more on Petra’s soft heart in a moment). The “Control” scenario we played rewarded rent-seeking, which I exploited whole-heartedly, but wasn’t as much fun as the more combat-based interactions we had in the “Leaders” scenario, where you basically the only way to earn points (aside from points tokens) was by knocking out each other’s characters.

As we were playing with the Harry Potter characters on our first couple run-throughs, I got to thinking. Why was JK Rowling so determined to relate the events of the books to muggle years? I mean, a huge deal is made about the final Battle for Hogwarts being in 1998. That naturally raises the question of what impact the rise of Tony Blair had on the wizarding world. Did Cool Britannia inspire Harry and friends? And then later did Blair did try to recruit them Wizards to fight in the War on Terror? I bet that would have really impressed Bush. And then were Death Eaters sent to Gitmo? So many unanswered questions. Someone should write a book about it. (Actually I did some research into this topic and found out that Voldemort was behind the death of Princess Diana, and now the entire Harry Potter universe must be viewed in a new light with me wondering if Dobby was tragically manipulated into fighting on the side of evil. Was he really a free elf? Was he?)

Now, in terms of Petra’s infinitely exploitable weakness… I mean, kind heartedness, I’ve noticed a trend in games like BarBEARian Battlegrounds and Unmatched, that when the situation calls for aggression as the only possible way to avoid losing by attrition, she will quite doggedly embrace getting ground down rather than engaging in aggression herself. And for that, I love her, both because it lets me win games and because she’s probably a better person than me.

M’s rating: 6/10
Petra’s rating: 6/10

Azul, Reef, Sagrada, Tiny Towns Head-to-Head-to-Head-to-Head

All four of these games are premised on constructing some kind of thing on a grid.

Reef and Tiny Towns construct on a 4×4 grid while Azul and Sagrada construct on a 5×5 grid.

Tiny Towns and Reef start with completely open grids and allow for pretty much completely open placement, though those decisions then create constraints on future opportunities.

Azul and Sagrada both begin with templates of sorts (though Azul has a more open possibility), which creates external constraints, both because of their patterns and because of external constraints like placement rules (can only place orthogonally adjacent, etc.)

I set out on this experiment to see if we “needed” to keep all 4, or whether they overlapped to such an extent that perhaps one or more might be dispatched from our collection. But they all play sufficiently differently that I feel like they are very different games that I might want to play under different conditions. Azul is more relaxing than Reef or Tiny Towns, which in some ways feel more stressful because of the internal constraints that you impose on yourself. I love the pattern-matching in Sagrada and Azul, and the essentially puzzle creation in Tiny Towns and the vertical component of Reef.

In short, if you’re into game collecting with the purported intention of playing, much like the pandemic has made us (ok, I’m making M complicit in this — this is essentially my rodeo that he willingly shows up to play in (M here: this is absolutely the case as I, of course, have zero books, comic books, or records that I have not read or listed to)), I think having all 4 in a collection is well-justified.

Here are our overall ratings of the 4:
Petra: Sagrada > Azul = Reef > Tiny Towns
M: Reef > Tiny Towns > Azul > Sagrada