Deadwood (Fantasy Flight Games, 2011)

Dates played: 05/23/20-05/25/20

Basic details: 2-5 players; 30-60 minutes

Gist of the game: Knowing there’s gold in them thar hills, you send your cowboys into Deadwood to, ahem, “annex” buildings and collect money. The player with the most money at the end of the game wins.

To start the game, the Town Hall, Sheriff’s Office, and Church tiles are placed on the board, as is the Sheriff token, which always sits at the intersection of 3 tiles. The remaining building tiles are sorted by symbol and placed in stacks. Four random tiles from the first stack are drawn and placed, along with the saloon, in the 5 starting plots on the board. Five wanted posters per player are placed in a pool, and the money tokens, cartridge tokens, pony tokens, and dice are played in a supply. Each player receives the 9 cowboys in their chosen color, $5, a pony token, and a cartridge token. One cowboy of each strength (1-3) are placed face up in front of the player with the remaining cowboys going to the supply. The area in front of the player is their Ranch. Ranches are open and can be seen by all players. Players roll dice to determine who goes first.

On your turn, you must take 1 of 2 actions: head back to the ranch by removing one or more cowboys from the board and returning them to the play area in front of you, or hit the town by placing a cowboy at a building on the board.

Players take turns until the end of the game is triggered by 1 of the following conditions: a) the train station is placed on the game board; b) there are no more wanted posters in the pool; or c) any player runs out of cowboys.

When hitting the town, a cowboy cannot be placed at the abandoned mine, a plot without a building on it, a railroad tile, or at a building with a cowboy of the same color. If placed on a tile with an opposing tile, there’s a shootout (described below). If a cowboy is alone at a building, they annex it. Each building triggers different conditions when they are annexed, including possibly the placement of railroad tiles or additional buildings.

A shootout occurs in 9 steps: 1) the new arrival takes a wanted poster out of the pool (full disclosure: we never remembered to do this); 2) the defender can choose to flee by discarding a pony token and moving their cowboy to the abandoned mine; 3) if the defender stays, the attacker says whether they are going to use a cartridge. Only one cartridge may be played per player per fight; 4) the defender says whether they are going to use a cartridge; 5) players take a number of dice equal to the strength of their cowboy (1, 2, or 3); 6) an additional die is taken if a cartridge is used; 7) the number of dice each player has is compared and the player with the most dice rolls a number of dice equal to the difference in numbers of dice. If any dice have a 6, the other cowboy is killed and is moved to Boot Hill, from hence they cannot return. If any dice have a 4 or 5, the other cowboy is wounded. Two wounds kill a cowboy. After the shootout, all wounded cowboys are healed; 8) if the other cowboy survives the initial showdown, both players now have the same number of dice. They roll dice one at a time until a cowboy dies or they run out of dice; and 9) if the defender is killed or flees, the attacker annexes the building. If both cowboys survive, the attacker must flee to the abandoned mine and the defender retains control. If both cowboys die, no one controls the building.

Once the game end is triggered, the current player finishes their turn. Even if a player has no living cowboys, they may still win the game by having the most points. Points are calculated by adding all the money together and subtracting the amount required for the number of wanted posters a player has (more posters non-linearly cost more money). The player with the most points wins.

Color commentary: There wasn’t much gunslinging in the first couple playthroughs, only a few shootouts, all instigated by M. It’s a little annoying that you almost always have to consult the instructions to figure out what to do when a building is annexed. Each building tile does have an illustrated guide as to what happens, but those diagrams don’t always make sense. Having to constantly refer to the manual made it hard to keep a steady cadence to the game. Maybe making player guides or something would help. Perhaps this will be a craft project I undertake at some point.

The fact that you cannot move a cowboy directly from one building to another (unless annexing a building allows it…but I think only one or two do so) creates interesting strategic opportunities in terms of when and how many cowboys to bring back to the ranch at any given time.

The shootouts all basically revolved around the bank, which comes with a $5 and 1 wanted poster payout. The $5 is a big deal, and wanted poster is easy enough to get rid of because anyone can place a cowboy on the church (which lets you discard a wanted poster upon annexation) without having to worry about a shootout at the church.

Thoughts from M: I haven’t been able to develop any real strategy, aside from trying to annex the bank as often as possible, as well as annexing the church to unload wanted posters. The Dance Hall gives you a dollar and lets you remove up to 2 cowboys in the same turn, which a) provided me with some quick cash and b) let me avoid having all my cowboys out of commission when I pulled them back to the ranch. Petra left the Dance Hall open when I left each time, letting me play it for several turns in a row, generating a steady stream of money and cowboys. That only happened in the 3rd game, though. In general, I found myself getting too focused on a multi-step course of action I could take and missed better opportunities that opened up because of Petra’s actions. The artwork is cool, though, and it stayed fresh over the course of repeated play throughout the weekend.

Oregon Trail games (Pressman Games)

Dates played: May 16 and May 23, 2020

Variations played:
Oregon Trail, 2016
Oregon Trail: Hunt for Food, 2017

Basic details: 2-6 players; 30-45 minutes

Gist of the games:

Oregon Trail
Self-described as collaborative, everyone cooperates to have at least one person survive the trek to Oregon in order to win.

The game comes equipped with trail cards, including a starting card for Independence, MO, and an ending card for Willamette Valley, OR, 2 forts, 2 towns, kind, gentle trail cards that simply move you along, rivers that you have to ford (with an element of chance via die roll), and trail cards that require you to draw a calamity.

To start the game, players receive 5 trail cards and a number of supply cards dependent on the number of players (5 for a 2-player game). The remaining supply cards are divided by type (e.g., food, medicine, oxen). Supplies remedy calamities.

On the first turn, the starting player must play a trail card. After that, players may play a trail card or a supply card on their turn. The trail is laid in groups of 5 cards, with the entire thing ultimately taking about 3 feet (so you need to have some length real estate available on your play surface).

If a player plays a spacebar card, they draw a calamity card and follows its instructions. The calamity card may affect just that player or the whole team, and may be immediate (e.g., snake bite) or time-bound (e.g. broken wagon). If a wagon breaks down or oxen die, no new trail cards are played until the situation is remedied or everyone dies because it can’t be remedied with the resources available. Players can trade 2 supply cards for a specific supply card of their choice (or 2 players can go in together, contributing 1 card each).

When a player dies, up to 2 of their supply cards can be willed to other players.

The game ends when at least 1 player reaches Willamette by completing the 10th stack of 5 cards, or everyone dies.

Oregon Trail: Hunt for Food
The goal of this game is to cooperate to collect 600 pounds of meat before everyone dies. If at least 1 person survives and you collect 600 pounds, you win. This game can be played as a standalone game or as an expansion of the original Oregon Trail game described above. If you survive this game, you can carry food and supplies back to your wagon in the original game and continue your journey. However, if you’re playing it as an expansion and you die in this game, you’re dead in both. Fun aside, this box contained a set of 4 coasters that looked like the most recent iteration of floppy disks (alas, not the giant Apple IIE disks).

This game comes with hunting cards, which include obstacles, calamities, animals, and clearings, and supply cards, which include things like crutches, a compass, clean water, medicine, extra bullets, etc.

To set up, 4 supply cards are placed face up in the play area, with the remaining supply cards placed in a stack.

Hunting cards are placed in a 6×6 grid with each pile containing 3 cards. Each player gets a die, and the hunter standee is placed on a stack (the instructions recommend not starting on an edge) and the 1st player rolls the die to determine both the number of actions the player must take as well as the furthest away card (in a straight line, not on a diagonal) the player can flip. Actions include flipping cards, moving the hunter, and shooting animals to gather meat.

The goal of flipping and moving is to clear a path without obstacles between the hunter and animals, enabling you to shoot them and gather their meat. You can move the hunter from stack to stack (but around, not through, obstacles, not even flowers). If the hunter passes through a clearing, remove that card from play (revealing another card that has to be flipped or a permanent clearing when the last clearing card has been revealed).

If a player lands on an abandoned wagon, they can select a supply card of their choice and then flip the card horizontally so that it becomes an obstacle.

To shoot at an animal, you must have a clear path (no unflipped cards and no obstacles) or be on a stack next to the animal. Shooting costs 1 action and 1 bullet token or card. Each player then rolls their die to see if they successfully kill the animal and gather the meat. Every player must meet the die condition to be successful, and dice stay in play even if their owner dies. If an animal does not die, players vote as to whether to try again, using another action and another bullets token. Successful dice from the previous attempt are retained.

To win, you must have at least 1 survivor and 600 pounds of meat. There are 3 ways to die: have the hunter trapped by obstacles, all players have died from calamities, or you have used all bullets (12 tokens and 4 supply cards).

To integrate with the original game, you can stop the original game at any time by vote to go hunting. You can stop hunting at any point (even if you’re trapped by obstacles) and return to the original game, taking animal and supply cards you’ve earned with you. You can trade 200 pounds of meat for one food card from the supply or use meat as you would food. You can trade 400 pounds of meat for any supply card (the equivalent of 2 200 pounds of food cards). When returning to the hunting game from the original game, place the hunter on an edge stack and begin again. If a player dies in the hunting game, they are also dead in the original game, and vice versa.

The same number of dice remain in the hunting game even after players die, and all must still meet the win condition to kill an animal (i.e., a 4 player game will always have 4 dice).

Color commentary: 

Oregon Trail
1st game: We made it through 16 of 50 cards before we both died. I died first of dysentery. M contracted measles and then his oxen died. We blew through our supplies quickly because I had nothing but spacebar (calamity-drawing) cards and M lost a couple supply cards in an attempt to ford rivers. Nonetheless, the game was fun. The only real strategy may be when to use supply cards (for example, M would have only died of measles when a 2nd measles card was drawn).

2nd game: On his first turn, M drew a calamity card that gave him a deadly snake bite. We made it a total of 11 cards before I got cholera that I couldn’t cure because I had no medicine supply cards. Probably the only way the game even comes close to 30 minutes is with 6 players. I think these two games took about 5 minutes each.

3rd game: 11 cards in, M drowns trying to ford the river. We came across a town on turn 8 and I got the medicine I needed to cure my measles, but M’s death leaves me with no supplies. I fear for my future. This game creates the first convincing imperative I’ve seen for reproducing at or above replacement levels. Someone must survive the trip to Oregon! On my first turn after M’s death, I was able to fix a broken axle through a lucky die roll. On the next turn (card 13), I came to a fort and drew 2 supply cards. I chose oxen and clean water because oxen seem handy and I’m prone to cholera. On card 16, I came to another fort. On card 18 I died of a snake bite, incurable even though I had stocked up on medicine at the fort. Nonetheless, 18 cards was the most successful trip we had.

Oregon Trail: Hunt for Food
1st game: The dice only have numbers 1-4, though they are 6 sided. There are 2 each of 1 and 2, and 1 each of 3 and 4. It wasn’t calamities that got us in this game. We ran out of handy bullets and got surrounded by game we couldn’t shoot. (Ok, I got lost and died in the wilderness because we didn’t have a compass to help me find my way back). We presume the bear M couldn’t shoot ate him, and then the rabbits and squirrels that were also by him. We did manage to get 200 pounds of meat fairly easily, but then didn’t have any luck after that, eating through our bullets really quickly. It’s actually not clear if animals count as obstacles or if you could move through them to other cards. We did a lot of recon to scope out where it might be safe for the hunter to move. 

2nd game: Because there are more 1s and 2s on the dice, we decided to try to mostly hunt animals requiring those values. Of course, having decided this, we were confronted with a bounty of squirrels and rabbits, each requiring 3s and 4s. Then M died of dysentery. And that wasn’t even helpful in terms of hunting, since his die has to stay in the game. There seems to be a tension between success in the original game and success in this game, as more people make you more likely to have someone survive to Oregon, but much less likely to hunt successfully. However, we did manage to get 400 pounds of meat (a bear, bison, deer, and some rabbits) before running out of readily available bullets and then getting trapped by obstacles and a bear. Also, it’s really lame that flowers are an obstacle. Really? There’s no way to pass through them?

Thoughts from M: 

Oregon Trail
There isn’t much strategy to this game, but it was a fun exercise that celebrates the good old days, before Ron Howard ruined the country, when measles and broken arms weren’t seen as bad things, but rather as the opportunity to grow more robust and virtuous. I immediately ran out and personally gave this game to every non-social-distancing American and Confederate I could find! Also, the art isn’t 8-bit-esque enough, although this is because I got the game confused with Boss Monster. Listen, I didn’t play video games as a kid. Instead I read comic books and watched TV. This is why I don’t care if Mario can get his cart somewhere, I am constantly shocked by how little people know about Harvey Kurtzman, and am perplexed by the how many people have never seen High Noon.

Oregon Trail: Hunt for Food
This is a low strategy game, but it is a lot more fun than the high strategy game of tic tac toe! The game has quality art.

Revolver 2 (Stronghold Games, 2012)

Dates played: May 9 and May 10, 2020

Basic details: 2 players; 45 minutes

Gist of the game: It’s 1894, and the residents of Malpaso face the possibility of a raid by General Mapache and his gang of outlaws. To help protect against any such raid, the villagers turn to Padre Esteban (actual priestly status is unknown) and his hired gunfighters. Money for the guardians is obtained through a poker tournament outside of town. After the tournament, Esteban and the guardians cross the Los Quantos Bridge back to the village, though they are being followed by Mapache and his raiders. When the raiders arrive at the newly fortified village, an epic battle ensues, culminating at the Abandoned Silver Mine. The Mexican Army is en route, but it’s unclear whether they will be able to arrive in time to prevent the massacre of everyone in the village.

Each player takes a role, either of General Mapache or Padre Esteban and the guardians (hereafter referred to as Malpaso). For the Mapache player to win, they must kill all of the guardians. The Malpaso player can win in two ways: if Padre Esteban survives the last turn at the Abandoned Silver Mine, or if they remove all the tokens from the Mexican Army card, heralding the arrival of the Mexican Army and the rescue of the village.

Play proceeds through certain events, like the poker tournament, 3 battlefields determined by who wins the poker tournament, the Los Quantos Bridge, Malpaso (the village), and the Abandoned Silver Mine. There are also additional cards that accompany some of these battlefields (additional guardians can be obtained at the first 3 battlefields, “Dynamite the Bridge” for Los Quantos Bridge, and “Gatling Gun” and “Collapse the Tunnels” for the Abandoned Silver Mine).

The first 3 battlefield cards are determined by which player wins the poker tournament. The poker tournament can also confer additional advantages on players based on the cards they play, regardless of whether they win.

The Malpaso player starts with 7 guardian cards (6 + Padre Esteban), and can obtain up to 12 more during the first 3 battlefields. Each battlefields has a specified number of turns. On the first three battlefields, each turn is accompanied by additional guardians. Some of these turns are optional, with the Malpaso player determining whether to use them or not.

The game proceeds in turns, with each player taking their entire turn before passing to the 2nd player. The Malpaso player starts the game. Turns are divided into 4 phases: a) advance the turn marker (Malpaso player only), b) draw 2 cards, c) play cards, and d) attack (Mapache player only). When drawing cards, there is no limit to hand size.

To play cards, players may have to pay a cost, which is done by discarding the indicated number of cards from their hand. There are 3 types of cards: firepower cards (played on one’s own side of the battlefield), blocking cards (played on one’s opponent’s side of the battlefield), and effect cards that are discarded once the effect is taken immediately.

The Malpaso player can play a maximum of 3 firepower cards. Mapache has no firepower limit, and can also play up to 2 blocking cards on the Malpaso’s side of the battlefield, which count toward the Malpaso player’s card limit. The Guardians player can still play effects cards even if they’ve reached their 3 battlefield card limit. Some cards also have bullets (Mapache) or powder kegs (Malpaso) that can be discarded at particular battlefields for certain outcomes (blowing up the bridge at Los Quantos Bridge and collapsing the tunnels at the Abandoned Silver Mine for Malpaso, using the Gatling Gun at the Abandoned Silver Mine for Mapache). At the Mine, Mapache can use the Gatling Gun to basically mow down the guardians. They can use the Gatling Gun once for each bandit they have at the Mine, expending a value of 1 ammo for each use to kill an equal number of guardians.

During attack phases of each turn, total firepower is compared: firepower cards for Mapache, and firepower cards + battlefield defense for Malpaso. If Mapache wins, the guardians suffer a casualty. If Malpaso wins, a token is removed from the Mexican Army card.

The game ends when one of the win conditions has been met.

Color commentary: Welcome to the 2nd installment of Old West month! We’ve been putting off playing this game for a long time because opening the box and looking at the components was really intimidating. The fact that there are so many specific components make the set up seem daunting (there are general decks for each player with 62 cards each, 19 guardian cards (7 to start, up to 12 additional obtained at the first 3 battlefields), 9 battlefield cards (though you only play with 6), 3 battlefield-specific cards, 2 poker tournament reference cards and 2 decks of 6 cards for that (though you only play with 5), the Arrival of the Mexican Army card, 14 Mexican Army tokens, 11 extra life tokens, 4 guardian power tokens, and 9 Mapache power tokens. Plus a turn marker.

Actually playing wasn’t that complex though, once you realize that a lot of the cards have very specific purposes at very specific times. We played 2 games, taking turns with each character. In the 1st game I played Mapache, and I played Malpaso in the 2nd game. I won both times, though M put up valiant defenses both times.

Because the poker tournament provides additional effects beyond just the 1st 3 battlefield cards, there’s some strategy as to what cards you play, and whether your goal is to win hands or simply get specific cards out there to gain their effects, since effects are gained regardless of who wins.

I don’t think it’s especially likely that the game will ever be won by removing all the tokens from the Mexican Army cards. While Malpaso can draw cards that remove tokens, and some guardians remove tokens, Mapache can add tokens, and other guardians add tokens when they are killed. The game starts with 12. In my game as Malpaso, I pretty aggressively went after the tokens, but between the various additions, I ended up with I think 7 left, although I know I removed more than that over the course of the game. Stupid Mapache and my dead guardians kept adding them back.

I think I had sufficient cards the first game, as Mapache, but I was perpetually hand poor as Malpaso, having to make gut-wrenching decisions about what to discard based on cards M played or when some of my guardians were killed. M seemed to have a glut of cards practically the entire game until the very end, when he almost certainly could have used more options.

The Gatling Gun at the Mine can be a huge boon for Mapache. When I played Mapache, I had like 5 bandits at the battlefield and a whole bunch of ammo, so I spent a couple of turns just absolutely decimating the guardians. This was made easier by the fact that M had no powder kegs, and couldn’t collapse the tunnels When M was Mapache, he was still able to do a fair amount of damage with the Gun, but I was able to collapse the tunnels once, taking out 4 of his bandits, and then place a limit on the total number of bandits he could have at the battlefield to 2, at which point he also had no ammo left and couldn’t beat my defense count of 14 (2 Artillery Cannons and worth 6 points each and 2 defense points from the Mine itself). The good Padre and two of his fellow gunmen survived the showdown, no thanks to the Mexican Army, which had gotten stuck in mud and in an avalanche at various points in the game.

Thoughts from M: Most people don’t know this, but I was once a feared and fearsome gunfighter who murdered hundreds of men without regard to their race, creed, color, tribal affiliation, gender, age, or whether I was being pad to kill them. It was a good life till Will Kane showed up (Petra here: we had a long, painful debate about this and whether it would be necessary, but since I’m the one actually typing this up, I would like to clarify that Will Kane was Gary Cooper’s character in High Noon, a classic 1950s Western that was an allegory for the McCarthy Era, and possibly Everyman, which may or may not have made it a double allegory?)

Anyway, I thought this previous experience would give me an advantage, but it didn’t. Alas, after I lost the game as Malpaso, Petra did not think that a duel would be an appropriate way to social distance.

Still, the game reminded me of my earlier, better, days and was lots of fun. I suspect the game will often come down to a big shootout at the Abandoned Mine, which is lots of fun, but perhaps there is a better strategy that involves more incremental victories and a more gradual but sustained wearing down of the guardians.

Addendum based on more experience: When we played the 2nd time, I was saving up for a big showdown at the Mind, but it didn’t work out. It might have otherwise, but Petra had a super lucky hand (Petra here: which was in itself lucky, because I used 2 of the 3 cards in my hand to collapse the tunnels, and then one of the 2 cards I drew on the next turn limited M’s battlefield size, leaving me with 2 cards and no other options, as M had limited my own battlefield size to 2 cards). So the Gatling Gun did work wonders, knocking out most of her remaining guardians, but I only got to use it once because of my own unlucky hand.

51st State (Master Set) (Portal Games, 2016)

Date played: May 8, 2020 (in the interest of full disclosure, it was not a full game, the reasons for which will become clear below)

Basic details: 1-4 players, 60-90 minutes

Gist of the game: In this post-apocalyptic hellscape, your goal is to create a new state (really, city) by gaining territory and thwarting your opponents. In multiplayer mode, your opponents are obviously your fellow players. In solo mode, you play against a “virtual player” which follows the same steps each round. Each player (but not the virtual player) controls a faction.

Play proceeds across several rounds, with 4 phases in each round. In the Draft/Lookout phase, players reveal the top card of the connection deck and draw new cards to place in their hands (this part occurs twice, once beginning with the first player and once beginning with the last player).

In the Production phase, players gather goods via their faction board, any deals they have struck with locations, and production locations. Goods take the form of cards, victory points, contact tokens, and resources (guns, workers, gas cans, bricks, cogs).

In the Action phase, each player takes a turn and play proceeds to the next player until no player can take another action. Possible actions are to build a location, make a deal, raze a location from your hand or in another player’s city, use a card action, use a faction board action, use another player’s open production location, take a Connections card, and play a Connections card. Once you pass, you cannot take another action, but nor can other players interact with your city, whether to raze buildings or to use open production lines.

There are two ways to build a location. You can construct a card from your hand, spending the appropriate number of grey contact tokens. Locations are placed in separate rows by category: production, feature, and action. Players can also develop a location by choosing a card from their hand and in their state that share a type, spend a brick, discard the location already in the state, and replace it with the card from their hand. Grey contact tokens are not needed when developing a location. Production locations produce their goods immediately, and some locations provide a building bonus.

To make a deal with a location, spend the appropriate number of blue contact tokens, and place the card under your faction board so that only the deal portion of the card is showing. Deals provide the given good every Production phase.

To raze a location from your hand, spend the appropriate number of red contact tokens and take the goods shown in the spoils section of the card. To raze an opponent’s location, spend the appropriate number of red contact tokens, and take the specified spoils. The opponent gets the goods specified in the deal section of the card. The card is then flipped face down (but could later be developed).

To take an action from a building card or faction board, spend the appropriate goods and place them on the card (so you don’t use that action again).

To send a worker to an open production location, place a worker on that card and take the specified goods. The player who owns the location gets a worker from the general supply.

To take a Connections card, spend 2 workers. To play a Connections card, simply perform the action on the card. Connections cards provide goods when played.

In the Cleanup phase, you can use any location storage abilities to save goods. Otherwise, all goods are discarded back into the communal piles. Between rounds, you only keep goods in storage and the cards in your hand. Any remaining face up Connections cards are discarded. The first player shifts across rounds, rather than remaining the same player the whole game.

In solo mode, as mentioned above, you play against a “virtual player.”

In the Draft/Lookout phase, you reveal the top blue and red Connections cards from their decks. Draw the top 4 cards from the top of the deck. Choose one for yourself, randomly select one for the virtual player, choose a second for yourself, and give the remaining card to the virtual player. The virtual player also receives an additional card from the top of the deck.

The virtual player does not receive any goods during the Production phase, but you do as normal.

You are always the first player, and take the first action each Action phase. When you raze a location in the virtual opponent’s state, it is discarded rather than remaining as a ruins.

On the virtual player’s turn, they will first try to claim a Connections card. Doing so earns them 2 victory points. When there are no more face up Connections cards, the virtual player will try to attack, up to 3 times. The virtual player stops attacking and passes once they raze one of your locations. For the virtual player attack, reveal the top card of the deck. If its location types do not match any location in your state, the attack fails. Repeat the process up to 2 more times, on separate virtual player turns. If a location type does match a location type in your state, raze that location. The virtual player receives 25 victory points, and you receive the deal payout for having it razed. If the card that should be razed has a shield on it, you can discard the shield instead of razing the location.

You can interact with the virtual player with some modifications. If you send a worker to one of their open production facilities, they gain a victory point instead of a worker. Nor does the virtual player receive goods from razing locations.

The game ends once a player reaches 25 victory points. When this happens, you complete the current Action phase as normal and add 1 victory point for each location in the state for both you and the virtual player. If you have more victory points than the virtual player, you win. If you win, you can compare your score to a scale and achieve various titles (mutant at the lowest end to grand master at the highest).

Color commentary: First, as a solo game, this falls outside of the theme for the month.

This game is garbage as a 1-player game. I played like, 3 rounds before giving up. The virtual player probably has an advantage anyway because they automatically get two built locations per turn (and maybe you can only build 1, or none), and to give them a 3rd makes it incredibly unlikely that you will win. I don’t need a guaranteed victory, but it’s no fun to play a game when it’s a foregone conclusion that you’ll lose.

Also, it’s way too much to keep track of. Taking turns in the action phase is hard to keep track of, because it seems like the attacks by the virtual player should be a single turn since they automatically do it up to 3 times, and remembering to even give the virtual player a turn is also difficult because once they attack 3 times or successfully attack, you basically get unlimited uninterrupted turns. Moreover, there’s a chance that even if you gain the red contact tokens needed to raze a location in the virtual player’s state by taking the red Connections card, you won’t actually get a chance to attack. If you take the Connections card as your first action, the virtual player will take the blue card as their first action. Then, for your second action, you would have to play the card to get your tokens. On the virtual player’s second turn, they’re already attacking you. IF that attack fails, on your 3rd turn you can raze a location in the virtual player’s city. Oy.

I think it’s probably better, and perhaps even fun, as a mulitplayer game, but the solo mode was so unenjoyable I don’t know when or even if I’ll actually try to play it as a multiplayer game.

Thoughts M might have had if he had looked through the box: I could do without the vaguely sci-fi theme. Post-apocalyptic is fine, but do we really need a “mutants union” faction? New York, Merchants Guild, and Appalachian Federation are fine, in principle, but some of the art is, again, weirdly sci-fi. The individual on the New York faction board appears to be a cyborg, maybe? Why can’t we just have the nice, wholesome post-apocalyptic ambiance of Mad Max: Fury Road? No need for monsters or artificial intelligence. The hellscape can be awful enough with regular people who may or may not drive porcupine cars and/or be basically perpetual blood donors. No need to get weird about it.

Carcassonne: Gold Rush (Z-Man Games, 2014)

Date played: May 3, 2020

Basic details: 2-4 players; 35 minutes

Gist of the game: As another of the Carcassonne standalone spinoffs, Gold Rush stays pretty close to the spirit of the original while adding a twist. Features in Gold Rush (and their original analogues) are prairies (grasslands), railroads (roads), cities (like monasteries, ish, but score differently), mountains (cities). Gold Rush also features the ability to place/move tents into unoccupied pieces of mountain to earn mining tokens that score at the end of the game. There are only 4 meeples plus the tent, so players need to be more strategic than in other versions of Carcassonne in placing their meeples.

Color commentary: Howdy, partners! Welcome to Old West month in the Hendriquist household. In addition to being a review of a game, this blog post kicks off our first attempt at a themed month, where we concentrate our attentions on games that fall within some category. A slight twist on randomization, it still narrows down the pool of potential games sufficiently that we’re saved from decision paralysis on any given day. And, lest you wonder, “are there really that many Old West-themed games out there?” let me assure you, there are a large number, and we have a healthy sample of them, to the extent that we might not be able to play them all this month, depending on how many we manage to play through each weekend.

I think this version of Carcassonne definitely required more strategy than the others, as I ran out of meeples quickly and only regained a few of them after fairly long stretches. The mining tokens added a neat dynamic that other versions don’t have, as they incentivized both finishing mines quickly before your opponents could come pilfer your tokens (you get any remaining tokens when the mine is closed off on all sides)  and moving your tent/taking tokens rather than placing meeples.

Thoughts from M: This game added a fun “gambling” twist, as you don’t know how much the mining tiles are worth until the end of the game. And even though there are fewer figures overall, the ability to easily move the tent makes for a nice change of pace.

Jetpack Joyride (Lucky Duck Games, 2019)

Date played: April 29, 2020

Basic details: 1-4 players; 30 minutes

Gist of the game: You construct a lab from four sector cards and then try to build a path through the lab using tiles, avoiding any obstacles along your way, usually rockets or flaming bar things.

To start the game, players choose 4 sector cards to construct their labs, all the tiles are placed in a community pool, and 3 mission cards are revealed.

In multiplayer mode, players simultaneously work to escape their labs, trying to earn coins and complete missions as they do so. Players do this for 3 rounds. After each round, players receive gadgets that help them earn more points and a new set of sector cards. The player with the most points at the end of the 3rd round wins.

Each round has 3 phases. The 1st phase is the Run phase. Players take tiles from the community pool and try to build their way out of their lab (4 cards horizontally arranged). The path of the tiles must start off the left-hand side of the first lab card and, to successfully escape, extend beyond the right-hand side of the last lab card. The path of the tiles must be continuous, with the first square of the previous tile adjacent to one or more squares of the next tile. Tiles may not cover obstacles, overlap, or extend above or below the lab cards. Players can remove tiles to build different paths, but must do so one at a time (remove a tile, put it in the community pool, etc.) and begin with the most recently-placed tile. The Run phase ends immediately once a player’s tile extends beyond the right-hand edge of the 4th sector card, when everyone passes because none of the remaining tiles can be placed in their lab in accordance with the rules, or when the last tile from the pool is placed in a lab.

Phase 2 is the Score phase. Players earn points for each coin they have covered with a tile, for each mission they complete, and for using gadgets. Players lose points if any of their tiles violate placement rules. After scoring, gadgets are revealed (1 card revealed for every player) and players choose their gadgets in ascending order of score (so the last-place player chooses first).

Phase 3 is the Cleanup, where tiles are returned to the pool, new mission cards are revealed, and players pass their lab cards to the left (or flip them over or take new ones depending on the number of players). The game ends after the 3rd rounds Scoring phase.

In solo mode, play proceeds the same way with a few variations: a) 2 of each tile shape are put back in the box so you start with 40 tiles instead of 50; b) 2 specific mission cards are removed from play; and c) 3 specific gadget cards are removed from play.

The Cleanup phase also has some variations: a) tiles are returned to the box instead of to the pool; and b) you deal yourself a new set of lab cards.

At the end of the 3rd Scoring phase, your final score is compared to the score table in the instruction manual for a cutesy phrase (from “Eat more Steakfries, then try again!” to “You’re Barry Houdini: The Lab Escape Artist!”)

There is another solo option to solve puzzles from a booklet. There are 50 puzzles total ranging in difficulty from very easy to very difficult. Puzzles specify 2 specific lab cards to create a mini-lab, a set of tiles to take, placement instructions for some of the tiles (only in puzzles 1-26), and gadget and mission cards, if applicable. To solve a puzzle, you begin your route as usual, with at least one square of a tile outside the 1st lab sector and exit the lab with at least one square extending beyond the edge of the 2nd lab sector, and you earn a specific number of points through coins, gadgets, and missions.

Color commentary: Rounds 1 and 2 proceeded just fine, with me racking up the coins and mission and gadget points. Putting the tiles back into the box instead of back into the pool created an interesting dynamic, though, because I ran out of tiles with all 4 sectors completely filled, but without escaping, as my last tile ended at the edge of the last sector, not beyond it. I ended the game with 76 points, which was the 3rd lowest category provided. As a result, I earned the slogan, “Heading Down to Strawberry Fields.” I suppose the scope of the scale suggests I didn’t do that great, but I feel satisfied. My 1st gadget earned me points in the 2nd round, but neither of my 2 gadgets earned me points in the 3rd round. I did pretty well on missions, too, though I think you can only accomplish a mission once, which limited my points potential in a couple cases.

I really, really liked this game. I enjoyed the tactile experience of the plastic tiles. I’m excited to try the multiplayer version because of the vehicles expansion, which gives you different tiles with more placement options (i.e., you can cover up obstacles without penalty). The instruction manual explains each mission in more detail to make sure you understand, which was nice, because I thought I had to be misunderstanding one of the missions, only to discover that I was interpreting it correctly after reading the slightly more detailed description in the instruction manual. I would definitely play this game again in both solo and multiplayer mode. I also tried one puzzle, which was also fun. Probably becomes less fun the harder they get, but then, I never liked challenges that much. Give me my easy victory and let me move on.

In the multiplayer mode, the time element (literally racing against other players to leave your lab first) might make it more stressful. Mostly, though, this game reminds me of my beloved Bärenpark, which has both tile-laying and puzzle-solving elements, a la Tetris. I also love that there are 2 solo options, and neither involves building a faux lab for a faux player. 

Also, randomly, the mission and gadget cards come in both a French and English set, which makes me feel a little cultured, even though I have no idea what the French cards say and just play with the English.

Thoughts M might have had if he had played: Having been deprived of Tetris in my childhood, I struggle with spatial games like this, although I do enjoy them. I just never beat Petra (P here: this is me taking advantage of the fact that I write for M on 1-player games. Mwahaha). It is a pity they couldn’t incorporate a bear theme with the jetpacks, though, which would have heightened the experience. I think because it’s a format I struggle with anyway, but I think I would prefer playing either the solo mode, where you don’t really win or lose, or play the multiplayer mode step-wise (everyone takes a turn together, but then waits until everyone is done to take the next turn), to remove the race element from it. You’d still have to be able to envision the lay of the board, or risk having to remove tiles, but it wouldn’t be a competition in the same way. The artwork on the gadget cards is fun, and it’s a pretty aesthetically-pleasing game in general.

Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective (Ystari Games, 2015)

Date played: April 27, 2020

Basic details: 1-8 players; 60-120 minutes (but playing badly takes significantly less time)

Gist of the game: In this game, you, alone or collectively, take on the role of Sherlock Holmes’ small fleet of street urchins. It’s your responsibility to help solve cases using your knowledge of London (including a map and directory), the local newspaper, and the leads you track down.

In solo/cooperative mode, your goal is to beat Sherlock Holmes in the efficiency with which you solve the case. You keep track of the number of leads you follow, and when you think you’ve solved the case, you answer a series of 8 questions worth up to 140 points. Sherlock Holmes always scores 100 points, though the number of steps he takes varies. You are penalized for each additional lead you need but rewarded for each lead less you needed. In competitive mode, the most efficiently correct player wins.

There are currently 3 games in this series. This one (the original) has 10 cases. Each case has a booklet with information about the case itself as well as what you discover from all the possible leads. Using information from your previous leads, the newspaper, the map, and the directory, you’ll choose your next lead and go to that spot in the booklet.

Color commentary: I played the Munitions Magnate case by myself. Let me say from the outset that for someone who really enjoys reading mysteries and watching Law & Order, I am catastrophically awful at actually solving mysteries. I needed 8 leads (one was free, and didn’t count in my final tally, and I didn’t take a lead I wanted to because I couldn’t find it in the booklet, though apparently it was there, so who knows what happened).

I did not start at the scene of the crime, which in hindsight I probably should have. Every Law & Order episode starts there, at least, and 20 years of television can’t be that wrong. It didn’t actually occur to me to go to the scene of the crime until step 5, though I did takes notes that helped me.

The questions at the end of the case are divided into two categories: questions about the case directly (who the criminal was, the motive, stuff like that), and questions about things you might have discovered as you followed leads (the identity of a mistress, something about a particular clue, etc.). By pure luck (ok, not pure…by 50% luck; there were apparently 2 possible culprits based on a particular clue; I only knew about 1), I did accurately identify the murderer, earning me 25 points. If we’re generous, I earned half the points for the next question, which dealt with motive, so we’re up to 37.5 points. I had no idea about either of the last two questions, as they were branches of the investigation I never got to. I was able to answer 1 question out of the second set of questions, earning me an additional 10 points. Wooo, 47.5 points! I took 3 more steps than Sherlock needed, so I lost 15 points, bringing my final score to 32.5 If we are less generous with the first set of questions and say no partial credit is available, I ended up with 20 points. Not great.

Thoughts M might have had if he had played: Sherlock was a cocaine addict. I can’t endorse such lifestyle choices by playing this game. Also, I don’t like mysteries.