Bärenpark (Lookout Games, 2017)

Date played: February 24, 2019

Gist of the game: You are creating a bear park, complete with green spaces for visiting humans, houses for the bears, and bigger bear enclosures. The park features four types of bears, including honorary koalas. Place tiles on your board to gather more tiles for future use. When you fill a board (and you’ll have a total of four during a game), you get a bear statue. Bear houses, enclosures, and bear statues bear (get it?!) points, while the green spaces help you fill stray tile slots that get left behind by the bigger pieces. One spot on every board cannot be filled except by a bear statue when all the other spots are filled. Once the first person fills their fourth board completely, or no player can place a tile, the game ends. The player with the most points wins.

Color commentary: Ok, first, this game is practically perfect, because it a tile-laying game AND features bears! I’m having a hard time imagining a game that could have a more auspicious set of starting features. And, as an added bonus, it also features my favorite aspect of German games:

IMG-1458Yes, ladies and gentlemen, this is a bag of bags for the various components. And unlike Power Grid, which gave us a seemingly random number of bags, Bärenpark came with exactly the correct number of bags for the various components. 

While you can technically place your additional boards (unlocked with special spots on each board, including the first) in any location fully adjacent to at least one other board so long as it is not below the entrance to your park, I worked exclusively left to right, so that my four boards formed a line. I did this all three games. Now, it could be because my broad spatial reasoning is such that I easily get lost in restaurants and other enclosed spaces, but I was having a hard time envisioning what building my boards out in other directions would look like. On the other hand, constructing them the way I did gave me a horizontal Tetris board, where I do much better (seriously, if you ever need help packing a bunch of stuff in your car, let me know. I’m a pro at this). M adopted this strategy after the first game, and his scores went up markedly (though he also changed his strategy which, as I type this, probably made a bigger difference, since I had no idea what he was doing in the first game). M says he had no idea what he was doing in the first game. Also M remains unconvinced that this is the four-board-long is the best strategy, but none better have come to him.

I also liked the feature where the first of the bear houses you take have the highest points and you work down to the lowest number of points. In a two-player game, you had three houses each of the four bears. There were three enclosure pieces per bear, worth 6-8 points (with points escalating with difficulty of playing the piece). Also, green spaces came in 1 (toilets), 2 (playground), 3 (L-shaped river), and 4 (food street) spaces, so they were pretty handy for filling spots. The last piece I played in the last two games we played were rivers. There was a run on toilets the first game, but not in any of the subsequent games. I enjoyed this game a lot, and am looking forward to playing it again.

Kingdomino (blue orange, 2017)

Dates played: February 21, 2019 & February 23, 2019

Gist of the game: Use domino tiles to construct a 5×5 (3-4 players) or 7×7 (2 players) kingdom. Tiles are constructed as dominoes, with two domains per tile and adjacent tiles must share a domain (water, wheat, cave, forest, etc.). If you cannot make an adjacent play, the tile is discarded. Some half-tiles have crowns, which will give you points when all the tiles have been exhausted. The player with the most points (combination of number of crowns and size of domains, that is, how many like-pieces are connected).

Color commentary: There’s a mechanism to call dibs on the next round of four tiles that I’m convinced we’re not executing correctly, but M insists we are (or at least are executing correctly enough). For the sake of our marriage, we modified the rules a bit so that in a two player game, Player 1 chooses the first tile, Player 2 chooses tiles two and three, and Player 1 gets the leftover tile as their second piece. M calculated that otherwise, the player who got to choose first always won the game.

Given my affection for Carcassone, Takenoko, and Tsuro of the Seas, I might just be a sucker for tile-laying games, but after we got the dibs-calling order sorted out, I like this game a lot. Pre sorting out, I was a little stabby.

The shuffling of the tiles between games and the dibs-calling means that there are a lot of possible combinations of kingdoms, so I feel like this is going to have a lot of replay potential. M has requested that we just keep it on the table so it’s ready to go at a moment’s notice. Not even Groo received this honor, so you know he must be a true fan.

Playing this makes me want to introduce M to Carcassone (we have the Big Box at our disposal), though, and go on a tile-laying binge.

Groo: The Game (Archangel Studios, 1997)


Date played: February 22, 2019

Gist of the game: Players construct towns using resource dice (a la Catan dice game) to build buildings and construct armies. A special die indicates which town Groo, that beloved barbarian buffoon, wanders to each turn. On their turns, players discard, draw back up to 5 cards, optionally launch an attack, role the dice for the construction phase, share any leftovers with other players, and draw back up to 5 cards again. Event cards (that must be played immediately), wild cards, and Groo Effects cards (playable when Groo icons come up on the resource dice, mainly to thwart your opponent) add some additional variety to the game. First player to 7 victory points (obtained through buildings) wins.

Color commentary: I bought this game from the local comic book shop when I was a kid. I would go and buy Groo comics while my sister shopped the Magic: The Gathering selection. It wasn’t until I started dating M that I was informed that in addition to the marginal fame of Groo (variously published by Pacific, Eclipse, Marvel, Image, and Dark Horse), Sergio Aragonés is more notable for his decades-long contribution to MAD Magazine. This particular copy of the game is even more special to us because Sergio Aragonés spoke at Michigan State University a couple years ago, and we were able to get the box autographed (and impress him that we owned the game, and simultaneously disappoint him that we had never played it). This game was for you, Sergio!

M points out that the dominant strategy in Groo, like in Guilotine, is a strictly short-term strategy: make the best move in the moment, and don’t count on it carrying over across turns, certainly not more than one turn. I think the leftover-resource sharing is a neat mechanic, though is probably most beneficial to all players in a two-player game. That said, there’s enough chance in the game between the cards you draw and the dice you roll that there’s not much point in trying to plan ahead. We didn’t use the combat mechanic all that much, though it does provide the opportunity to strip your opponent of victory points. 7 victory points may also be a bit too few, at least in a 2-person game. We had plenty of cards left over (and have the expansion pack, also autographed!), so at least with just the two of us, there’s no real reason not to go up to 10 points and extend game play a bit.

While nostalgia may be a fairly large reason for my enjoyment of the game, it’s just complicated enough to stay interesting but simple enough to be true leisure. And no matter how simple the game, it will always be infinitely more complex than the inner-workings of Groo’s brain.

Tsuro of the Seas (Calliope Games, 2012)


Played: February 17, 2019

The gist of the game: The emperor sends you out to explore and make known that everything he can reach, he owns. As you sail along, your ship creates wakes that you glide along. Beware the giant monsters (daikaiju), though. If you said into one or one moves into your path, you’re dead. And if you get carried along by the wakes and drift off the edge of the board, that’s the end of you, as well. On each turn, players roll to see if the daikaiju move (they do if you roll a 6, 7, or 8; if they move, you then roll a single die and move each monster according to the directions on the monster tile). If the player survives their move, they place a wake tile and move to the end of its current path. Wake paths can intersect as players lay more and more tiles. The tile art is fine, but the art on the actual game board (mostly visible above) is amazing. M points out that the main strategy may just be to not make any obviously bad move, as there’s a considerable luck component, given the randomness of the daikaiju movements and the wake tiles you draw.

Color commentary: The main impetus for playing this now (which we got through the Lexicon online flea market last April) was to see if we liked the game, because I’ve backed a sequel on Kickstarter. One could argue that we should have figured out if we liked it before we committed to the sequel, and one wouldn’t be wrong, per se, but significantly less adventurous, right? Fortunately, it was a pleasant game. We were able to play three rounds before I insisted on writing this blog. We may play a few more rounds, or I may force us to learn another new game.

This is probably one of slightly-more-complex games we’ve collectively figured out the fastest. The daikaiju movement mechanic was a little confusing at first (the instructions kept mentioning a singular daikaiju, but the premise would really only make sense if you moved all of them), but we got that sorted out pretty quickly. I was consumed by jerk-ass daikaiju in fairly short order in our first two plays. The third game lasted significantly longer, and we got to experience intersecting wake paths (my paths intersected with M’s earlier tiles, and M intersected with some of my earlier tiles), which was a pretty neat feature.

The game can be played with 2-8 players, but honestly, the thought of playing with 8 stresses me out. M points out that each player would have a lot fewer turns, and the wake paths would probably intersect much more quickly. On the other hand, games with more players start out with fewer monsters, so they have that going for them.

Estimated game time is 20-40 minutes. I think our first two games probably lasted less than that, because as soon as someone goes off the board or gets eaten by a daikaiju, the other player wins. More players would probably extend the minimum game time. Our third game probably lasted a solid half hour.

And now, at M’s request, he would like the story told of his ship (olive green, in the lower right quadrant of the picture) in the third game.


He valiantly skirted the edge of the board and monsters several times. He intersected my previous wake path and managed to forge a new path forward, back toward the center of the board and away from certain doom. And then, on his turn, the daikaiju moved. When it became obvious what was going to happen to the ship, the musicians firmly planted themselves on the deck, playing their violins until the last. The daikaiju acted quickly, eating the crew in such a way that they did not suffer, but rather bravely followed the sextant to the captain’s quarters in the sky. After the daikaiju was done snacking, the other ship could hear “Taps” playing softly as the agitated sea whipped against its sides.