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.


Carcassonne iterations (Z-Man Games)

Versions played: original Carcassonne (Big Box): 2017
Carcassonne Safari (standalone): 2018
Carcassonne Amazonas (standalone): 2016

Dates played: April 21 (Safari), April 25 (original), April 26 (Amazonas)

Basic details: 2-5 players (6 with the Big Box); 35 minutes

Gist of the game: Players take turns placing tiles adjacent to existing tiles and placing meeples to earn points both along the way and at the end of the game. The player with the most points wins.

In the original, tiles have cities, roads, monasteries, and grass. In Safari, tiles feature bush, trails, baobab trees, and savanna. In Amazonas, tiles have the Amazon, tributaries, villages, and jungle. In all cases, tiles you place must have edges that match the features of the tiles you’re placing them next to (e.g., city to city, savanna to savanna, jungle to jungle).

Each of the standalone versions seem to have some extra little dynamic. Safari lets you construct watering holes, though the baobab trees function largely like monasteries in the original. You don’t score it until you get all 8 surrounding tiles, and then you get the “prize”: 2 more watering hole tiles, rather than points (in the original, monasteries score 9 points — one for the monastery itself and 8 for the surrounding tiles). Amazonas adds the Amazon River, which has caimans and piranhas that you use for immediate scoring when the tiles are placed, but also little boats on the river that you move whenever a boat icon appears on a tributary you have a meeple on or whenever you don’t place a meeple on a tile on your turn. More on this below.

By placing meeples strategically, players can earn points for cities, roads, and monasteries (original); bush, trails, baobab trees, and watering holes (Safari), and tributaries, villages, and jungle (Amazonas). These score upon completing during the game itself, allowing players to get their meeples back to be placed again. At the end of the game, incomplete features are also scored.

Color commentary: We played Safari first, and it didn’t go terribly well. M was overwhelmed by the terminology and the mechanics of meeple placement and scoring, and that was without playing with the ranger, which I couldn’t figure out quickly and we opted to do without. Safari also comes with an elephant meeple! But it was only used for the scoreboard, which was really disappointing.

Playing the original was much more successful, though, and thoroughly enjoyable. The original version was one of the first games I learned to play attending board game nights when we moved to Kentucky, and it holds a fond place in my heart because I really, really liked it, but didn’t yet know that tile laying games were an entire genre of game (that may be among my favorite genres).

Amazonas is not for the faint of table. it has more tiles (and some bigger tiles) than the others, and because of the vagaries of the river, ends up pretty sprawling (~4 feet. We probably should have put the leaf in our table for it). It also felt less enjoyable than the others, though I’m having a hard time rationalizing why. The expansive nature of the game made it harder to know when/where to place meeples. It was also hard to remember to move the boats down the river when not placing a meeple. Moving the boat functionally operates as a counter, which we are notoriously lousy at remembering. We were also tied on the river a lot, so didn’t really benefit from the river scoring in-game. Though on further consideration, there might have been fewer ties, but since I didn’t place meeples on the Amazon tiles, I should have advanced my boat. I probably should have done that before scoring the river, so I suppose I would have scored many more points than I did, because I also had a spate of 5 or 6 consecutive river tiles. Placing little hut meeples in the jungle areas rather than people meeples was kind of cute, at least.

In summary, I love the original, and am excited about exploring some of the original expansions that come in the Big Box M got me as a gift a couple years ago for my birthday now that he knows how to play, too. The standalones can be fun, but it seems like there may be variation in just how enjoyable they are.

M’s thoughts on the game: There’s a lot of randomness to it, and I haven’t been able to think of an overarching strategy so far.

(P here: At this point, M also mentioned something about counting tiles, in the spirit of counting cards in poker or blackjack, which seems like it’s taking the game a little too seriously, so we’ll just move on).

(P here again: He has reiterated that knowing all the possible tiles and being able to check off what’s been used and what’s still left might be the smartest strategy, and that blackjack players may especially enjoy the game.

Toward the end of the game, it’s better to focus on setting yourself up for end-of-game points for incomplete features. There is a strategic use of meeples early on to ensure you get them back soon enough to make reasonable use of them again, but it’s also hard to know how quickly you’ll be able to close a city, for example. Toward the end of the game, you definitely want all your meeples out there earning for you. In this case, monasteries might be a way to go, especially if you can build them in areas where they’re already partially surrounded.

This phrase “want all your meeples out there earning for you” raises the potential for some grittier Carcassonne standalones. I love the TV show The Deuce from HBO, and I’m imaging mob turf, pimps and prostitutes, and porn empires. Get Z-Man Games on the horn, stat!



Fantastic Factories (Metafactory Games, 2019)

Date played: April 24, 2020

Basic details: 1-5 players; 45-60 minutes

Gist of the game: Players compete (against each other in multiplayer mode or against “the machine” in solo mode) to build the most efficient factories in the least amount of time to improve their industrial output and overall prestige. Goods and prestige earn players points, and the player with the most points at the end of the game wins.

To set up the game, contractor and blueprint cards are laid out in communal piles with 4 of each card type face-up and their respective decks to the side as reserves. Each player also receives 4 blueprints to form their starting hand. Players get 4 dice of the same color and a board to track their activities.

Play proceeds across several rounds, with each round having a market phase and a work phase. In the market phase, players choose either a blueprint or a contractor from the communal areas. To choose a blueprint, players simply pick one (though there’s some strategy here. I bet M will have some thoughts about that), place it in their hand, and replace it from the deck. To choose a contractor, players must discard a blueprint that matches the tool symbol of the contractor (tool symbols are on tiles placed above the contractors). Contractors function as immediate actions and are then discarded and replaced from the contractor deck.

In the work phase, players roll their dice and place them in the player board, activate cards, and build cards, in any order.

To build a card, you must discard another blueprint with the same tool symbol, as well as pay the resource and energy costs.

To place workers, you choose which dice to place into each of the three areas of the worker board (mine, generate, research) and immediately take the action associated with the area. In the research area, players receive 1 blueprint for each die placed there, of any value. In the generate area, dice with values of 1, 2 ,or 3 can be placed and provide that number of energy tokens (e.g., placing a 1 die and a 3 die will get you 4 energy tokens). In the mine area, dice with values of 4, 5, and 6 earn you one resource token each (e.g., placing 3 dice with a value of 6 will get you 3 energy tokens). If you have matching dice in the same area, you get 1 (2 matching) or 2 (3 matching) extra of that thing.

Once you build a card, you can activate it based on the recipe at the bottom of the card. You pay the costs (blueprints, resource tokens, and energy tokens, mostly) to the left of the arrow to receive the benefits to the right of the arrow. Each card can only be activated once per turn, but cards can be activated on the turn they are built.

Once all players have completed the work phase, they must discard town to 12 total tokens (energy+resource) and 10 blueprints in their hand.

Game end is triggered when a player has manufactured at least 12 goods or built at least 10 buildings. At this point, the current round is finished, one last round is played, and then players score their factory towns. Players with the most points (manufactured goods + prestige points indicated on buildings) wins.

In solo mode (what I actually played), you compete against a machine, basically constructing a factory town for them based on dice outcomes. The number of cards the machine starts with can be varied based on desired difficulty. I recommend reading on, because there’s a little plot twist coming up at the end of all this.

The player’s turn proceeds as normal through the market and work phases. For the machine’s turn, one die each of green, blue, red, yellow, and purple are rolled. The value of the green die determines where the machine gets a building from (communal area or reserve deck). The other dice determine how many, if any, goods the machine produces. For each color, if the value of the die is less than or equal to the number of buildings of the same color in the machine’s play area, a good is manufactured.

The player triggers the game end in the same way (12 goods or 10 buildings), whereas the machine can only trigger game end through goods. The player’s points are calculated normally. The machine gets points for the number of goods, the number of buildings, and an extra point for each monument (a special type of building). You win if you get more points than the machine.

Color commentary: really like the player boards. They remind me of the player boards in Sagrada, where you physically place dice in the indentations, and make me actively happy to interact with.

The game end mechanic reminds me of Power Grid, where different phases of the game are triggered by conditions on the board, which is kind of fun.

SPOILER: I played this game three times, and got at least one thing wrong each time, sometimes to hilarious effect. I also realized just now, as I am typing this blog post, that I also scored the machine incorrectly. I don’t think it would have mattered, though, because of the other mistakes I made. I definitely always gave the machine goods incorrectly. I think I was thinking give the machine goods if the die was greater than or equal to the corresponding building color, rather than less than. Nonetheless, I will present my notes about each game as I played. I’ll then re-emphasize my errors at the end and let fake M weigh in with some thoughts.

In general, it still feels weird to play for the machine, although this seemed more akin to Bottom of the 9th than Villagers. Maybe it was just more straightforward.

1st game: I used the easiest difficulty (2 cards). The game end was triggered after 3 rounds (the machine gained 4 goods each round because I only had one building of 3 colors, which were then always guaranteed to produce goods, and only 2 buildings of the last color, so still very likely to produce cards. I wonder if giving more buildings to the machine to start the game is actually better because you’re more likely to have multiples of colors, decreasing goods production. I also thought points were given based on building prestige and energy tokens, so I was stockpiling energy tokens but not as concerned with goods. I don’t know that this would have made a huge difference in practice, as I never had in my possession that many goods-generating options.

Score: Machine 234896298732659285725, Petra 16 (or something approximate. I didn’t think to make note of the score until the second game.)

NOTE: This was basically all incorrect. All of it.

2nd game: Realizing I made some mistakes in the 1st round, I gave the machine 5 buildings to start (the “insane” setting, but clearly “easy” didn’t work out very well). I also realized I had been giving the machine buildings from the deck when I should have been giving them buildings from the communal cards. Oops. The game lasted longer than 3 rounds before triggering game end, though.

Score: Machine 20, Petra 16

NOTE: I was still allocating goods to the machine incorrectly.

3rd game: Correcting still other mistakes from the 2nd game, I tried one more time. This time, the game lasted the longest of any of the three games. In this game, a lot of my buildings could produce goods, but I was always short on resource tokens, which prevented me from building all that many buildings. So of the three games, this game ended with my having by far the most goods and by far the lowest prestige.

Score: Machine 24, Petra 18

NOTE: In light of continuing to play the machine goods-production-mechanism backwards, I’m actually impressed with how I fared in games 2 and 3. Overall, each game was much shorter than the estimated 45 minutes. I think I’d like to try again sometime and manage to play correctly. I also think this would be a fun game to play with M, as there’s competition, but not a lot of thwarting.

Thoughts M might have had if he had played, and played correctly: I think there’s definite strategy to how you play the machine’s cards that you have control over (when the green die has a value of 1-4). Probably the best strategy is to stack one color as much as possible. So you sacrifice a good per turn for that color, but might be able to keep to a minimum the number of goods you dole out for the other colors (e.g., if you have 7 blue buildings, you’ll always have to provide a good for blue, but if you have only 0 or a few of each of the other colors, even 1 will be more than 0, so you won’t have to place goods). You could also favor giving the machine monuments, which will spare you goods, but the trade-off there is that monuments usually have much higher prestige scores. Also, based on *ahem* interpreting the machine’s dice correctly, starting the game with 2 cards is definitely a good way to go. Even better if they’re of the same color!


Villagers (Sinister Fish Games, 2019)

Dates played: April 21 and April 22, 2020

Basic details: 1-5 players; 30-60 minutes

Gist of the game: You are founding a new, post-plague (accidentally timely) Middle Ages village. Because of the plague’s destruction, you’re facing some real labor shortages. Down-on-their-luck refugees (ok, this is getting a little uncomfortable) come flocking to your villages because you have a steady grain supply capable of feeding a growing population. Your task is to use these new potential residents to the village’s benefit. To succeed, you need to find villagers whose skills are compatible with your existing entrepreneurs while simultaneously increasing the food supply and the ability to build new dwellings in town.

In 2-5 player games, the player with the most gold at the end of the game wins. In solo mode (described here), you need more gold than the heinous Countess, the last living relative of a tyrannical monarchy that used to rule and who is still committed to oppressing the villagers.

To set up the game, lay out the 6 starter villagers in a row that will be referred to as “the road.” Above the road, create stacks of cards so that there are twice as many cards as people (in solo mode, 5 cards per stack). The First Market Phase card (stage 1 scoring) goes under the second stack and the Second Market Phase card (end game scoring) goes under the 6th stack. Each player gets a Founder villager card to start play and 5 cards in their hand.

Play proceeds over several rounds of drafting (choosing face-up and face-down villagers from the road and stacks) and building (placing villagers in your village). Players draft a minimum of 2 villagers and one additional for each food symbol they have in their village, up to a maximum of 5 villagers. To update the road after everyone is done drafting, villagers are discarded from the face-up cards if necessary (depending on number of players, gold is used in particular ways and cards discarded in particular ways based on gold status), and then replaced. There is discrepancy in the instruction manual as to whether these cards are replaced from the deck (the “reserve” or from the stacks, beginning with the left-most stack (i.e., stack #1).

Building works the same way, with players placing between 2 and 5 villagers in their village.  Players may discard up to 3 cards from their hand each build phase to add basic villagers to their hand (Hayer, Lumberjack Miner), who do not count toward the build limit. Villagers may form production chains, where prior cards are needed to play current cards (e.g., the Carpenter card requires a Lumberjack). Cards may also require other cards to “unlock” them. Players with the particular unlocking card are paid gold either by the bank or other players, depending on who needs the unlocking card (if you need it and have it, the bank pays you. If you need it but someone else has it, you pay them. If you have it and someone else needs it, they pay you).

After the building phase is complete, if one of the Market Phase cards has been revealed, resolve the Market Phase by dispensing gold according to card guidelines. Some cards give no gold, some cards give gold during both Market Phases, and some cards give gold only during the Second Market Phase.

The Countess is simulated by a marker card and two decks of event cards. When you draft a villager, you also place a face-up villager into the Countess’ village. Because she’s evil, she doesn’t pay attention to padlocked villagers or production chains — every villager counts separately. Mind you, if the Countess has an unlocking card you need, you still have to pay her. She just never pays you. The build phase is the same in solo mode as it is for multi-player mode.

After the build phase, there is an event phase in which you resolve events from two event decks (Summer before the First Market Phase, Winter afterwards until the end of the game). You start the game with one event card face up. After the first turn, the number of event cards you play is determined by the amount of gold shown on your villagers’ cards. Event cards are discarded as they are resolved. When all events are resolved, the Countess receives an extra villager from the deck. Market phases are resolved after event phases.

In solo mode, players are given the Joker, who can be used once to immediately discard an event.

Color commentary: In general, I don’t know how I feel about literally playing two roles, even though the Countess has extremely simplified mechanics. You’re still keeping track of two hands.

I definitely played it supremely incorrectly on the first try by taking cards from the right-most stack instead of the left-most to replace face-up cards, which seemed like a weird dynamic at the time because it meant that the 2nd Market Phase card was revealed long before the First Market Phase card. Nonetheless, I clearly can’t routinely keep left and right straight, so even though it seemed almost certainly wrong, I couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong. It’s also unclear how to keep cards in your hand to be able to trade for basic villagers (drafting but not building with particular villagers, maybe? Because you put the villagers back in the stacks, there’s always a chance you’ll get them again, and it’s guaranteed if you’re playing solo). I just kept drawing cards from the deck as necessary to make sure I always had 5 (the starting hand size), because I also sometimes built villagers from my hand. The instruction manual is contradictory on how to replace face-up cards, so I just picked the first set of rules and stuck with it. I prefer replacing road cards from the stacks because I am risk-averse and am not keen on drawing the face-down cards, and if you keep replacing face-up cards from the deck, it will take a very long time before you take anything from the stacks, and even then you could still mostly force them to be revealed before you take them. The event cards (or at least the summer cards, because I never actually played any turns after resolving the First Market Phase because the Second Market Phase card has already been revealed because I was doing it wrong) were interesting because they often gave the Countess cold before the Market Phases. It was a very fun game on the first play-through, even with its unresolved questions.

I played (more) correctly the second time and lost badly, in large part because the Countess doesn’t keep production chains, so a part of cards that has a card worth 20 coins build on a card worth 10 coins for me (so 20 coins) gives her 30 coins. And I made some strategic blunders in allocating cards to the Countess, so she got that combination of cards early on, giving her those 30 coins in both Market Phases, which in itself basically guaranteed her victory. The game was still fun, though I still have questions about replacing the road and keeping cards in your hand. And I also forgot to switch to winter events after the first Market Phase. I did eventually, but it took another couple turns. And the cards were not different enough in premise to make up for the additional, and I would argue unnecessary, complication of changing decks.

It was fun as a solo game, but I don’t know that I can see myself replaying it much, unlike Bottom of the 9th or Pulp Detective, say. There’s a lot to keep track of when you’re basically playing two different players, so I’m definitely interested in playing against M. Draft limits may be different between players in a multi-player game, whereas the Countess always drafts the same number of cards as you. Also, it wouldn’t have been enough to change the outcome, but not once did I remember to pay myself from the bank when I played padlocked villagers who were unlocked by other villagers I had. I did once remember to pay the bank when I needed an unlocking villager neither I nor the Countess had. What a sucker.

Thoughts M might have had if he had played: Solo mode is definitely too complicated with playing two characters and keeping track of event cards and changing event decks partway through the game. TOO. COMPLICATED. The artwork is great, though. It’s fairly simple, but that just makes it better. The cards have a lot of information without being overcrowded. And the box has placeholders that allow you to organize everything systematically so it’s easy to unpack to play again (Petra here: ok. I don’t know if M would really comment on this. But the organization made me super happy. You can even set aside the cards you need for 4-5 player games, which is nice because we will probably never need them and it’s nice to not have to keep a perpetual eye out for them).

I do think there’s an interesting dynamic where taking cards from the stacks introduces more uncertainty for your own hand, but gives you greater control over what you give the Countess (since she always receives face-up cards), and may also allow you to eventually discard some high-value cards (like the 10 and 20 coin cards) that you can’t use but also don’t want her to have.

I think the game is simpler in its multi-player version, and I’m interested in playing that, but probably never the solo mode.

Killer Bunnies and the Journey to Jupiter (Playroom Entertainment, 2008)

Dates played: April 12 and April 18, 2020

Expansions used: Laser Red Deck Expansion

Basic details: 2-6 players, 90 minutes

Gist of the game:  In this game, players compete to end up with the most points, accumulated through having bunnies in space, big carrot cards, and perhaps even the “magic” carrot (worth more points than regular carrot cards). To that end, you have two goals guiding you throughout the game. The first is to keep as many of your bunnies alive as possible while eliminating as many of your opponents’ bunnies as possible. To be in the running to win, you must have at least one bunny alive in space when the game ends. Second, you want to launch your bunnies into space and have them explore the solar system while collecting carrot tokens, which they can cash in for carrot cards by docking with Jupiter.

You start the game by setting aside the first two turns’ cards face down in “runs.” On each turn, you play the “top run” card, shift the bottom run card to replace it, draw a card from the deck, and then replace the “bottom run” card. So you’re always planning two steps ahead.

There are options for making the game more and less complex. We played the least complex version each time, where carrot tokens are placed in particular, specified places and the game ends when the last token is collected. There are mechanisms for the carrot tokens to be placed randomly across the board and for all tokens to be converted into cards by docking with Jupiter.

Ideally, players get bunnies and spaceships early on, allowing them to launch bunnies into space fairly quickly. Other cards include ground weapons, which can target bunnies that have not yet been launched into space, cards that may target either ground bunnies or space bunnies by requiring that they be given particular resources (or they get discarded), etc. Each spaceship has a little standee that goes on the board and gets moved around. Movement is based on dice, and which die you use is based on matching cards, features, add-ons, etc. of your ships and bunnies. There are mechanics for combat, which occurs when players occupy adjacent hexes on the board. The board is pretty substantial — it took up most of our table — and is divided into hundreds if not thousands of small hexes.

After each round, move each of the planets (Earth, Mars, and Jupiter) one spot clockwise. Bunnies launch into space from Earth, and to convert carrot tokens to carrot cards you need to sidle up alongside Jupiter. It’s not clear exactly what purpose Mars serves, or Saturn, which comes with the Laser Red expansion (and also includes another board segment with an additional 3 quadrants to add to the 9 on the original game board).

Color commentary: I realize most games are competitive, and that we’ve played mostly competitive games throughout this blog, but I was genuinely surprised to see that this game was competitive. Shouldn’t we all work toward space exploration together? Mostly, though, I think it’s because I’ve been playing games alone that are mostly cooperative if you play with someone else, and we’ve largely been prioritizing cooperative games for the past bit. Anyway.

In the spirit of Easter, we played our first game without any thwarting of any kind — no combat, no requirements to give the bunnies particular resources, etc. This was also due to the fact that the rulebook was lengthy and complicated; eliminating combat seemed like it would help us get the basic mechanics down. Also, the rulebook comes with a supplemental book that includes more detail about various cards that seems like should have been included in the regular instruction manual, because we had been playing particular cards incorrectly, but then the instruction manual would have been even longer, so I don’t really know. But games shouldn’t require you to read 50+ pages to be in a knowledgeable enough position to play. In this first game, we were also lousy about advancing the planet markers, which isn’t really surprising because we’re always terrible at advancing markers, but we did get better at it, and I don’t think we missed doing so on our second play-through.

You can launch as many ships as you want into space (so long as they have at least one bunny on board), but so far as we can tell, you can only move one ship at a time. M pulled a neat move where he figured out where Jupiter was going to be on his next turn, declined to move, and then was in perfect position to exchange his carrot token for a carrot card.

On our second play-through, we opted to allow thwarting, including combat if the opportunity arose. I tried to be aggressive early on, but we also both started the game with a bunny and our ship to be revealed in our first two turns (as recommended for beginner play), so by the time my ground weapon came up on my 3rd turn, M had already launched his bunny into space and the weapon was useless and just had to be discarded. We also killed a lot of bunnies by requiring that they be given particular resources that the other player wasn’t able to provide. I played two of these cards back to back, so M was able to save his bunny on one turn only to watch it die on the next because he spent so much money getting resources for the first go-around. In this way, M lost his last space ship, and went a solid 1/3 or more of the game without any bunnies in space. So even though he had gotten a carrot card and knocked my spaceship with a carrot token out of the game, I still won because he was no longer eligible.

I was also attacked by an alien ship that was brought into play by one of M’s cards (but in theory could have also affected his ships, depending on where the alien ship had ended up through random placement). Overall, I think thwarting cards added a lot to gameplay, but I might not have tried to kill off M’s last bunny in space had I realized he would go the rest of the game without getting another ship. Then again, I’m a sap, and should probably just be glad I was essentially handed victory. Even then, the second game definitely took a solid 90 minutes, and we weren’t even requiring that we exchange tokens for carrot cards — I had just ended up in the hinterland, and getting across the hypotenuse of the board to the other carrot token took a long time when I was just rolling a single d6 die at a time.

The artwork was pretty fun, and there were a lot of insidey jokes on the cards. For instance, with our decks/expansions, we have 10 carrots. Carrot 7 is named Jeri and looks like a Borg (Jeri Ryan played the Borg 7 of 9. Get it? Huh? HUH?!).

Thoughts from M: The artwork is tremendous. On the first round, the game was very confusing when described in the abstract, but made a lot more sense when put into practice. But. It was a very, very long instruction manual. The planets moving around was a neat dynamic, and could create some interesting strategies on where to position your ships and which ships to move on particular turns to intercept Jupiter with the least hassle.

In terms of playing with 3 different decks combined (the base game came with 2 decks and we added the 3rd, red expansion deck), it may ultimately be problematic because droughts of particular card types can be really, really long. So long.

Playing 2 turns ahead is interesting, because of the possibility of intervening events to negate a card you’ve played (like a card relying on bunnies being in specific places).

Unlike in some games, good luck is going to beat a good strategy every time. And even things involving random alien attacks on opponents may be worse than the status quo, so you have to weigh the status quo against a variety of possible alternatives.

Even though the second game ended up being less fun because of not being able to draw another ship, I do think that playing with thwarting cards made the game a lot more dynamic, fun, and interesting (in general. Not necessarily in practice, such as in the 2nd game).

Nautilion (Z-Man Games, 2016)

Date played: April 8, 2020

Basic details: 1-2 players; 30 minutes

Gist of the game: This game can be played with 1 player or as a 2-player cooperative game. It also comes with 5 expansions built in, which I’ll touch on below.

The villainous Darkhouse has sent their Phantom Submarine to capture the Happy Isles. You are the captain of a Nautilion submarine, and seek to infiltrate the Darkhouse’s base in the Abyss.

To set up, shuffle and place the 36 numbered (1-9) crew tokens in a path pattern of your choice. The instructions show a spiral and I started with a spiral (above), but it was too tight and I was moving to incorrect places and scrapped it for a clearer path design that will be shown below. Once you have the path placed, put the Abyss token at one end and the Happy Isles token at the other. Each token is a step of the journey. Choose a Nautilion submarine and one of its accompanying boards (each sub has 2 corresponding boards). Place the Grimoire card (which tells you how to use reserve tokens) and 4 reserve tokens in front of you. Place the Phantom Submarine on the Abyss token and the Darkhouse figure on the Darkhouse card, off to the side. Your Nautilion starts on the Happy Isles token.

Each turn has five phases:
1. The currents: roll 3 dice, rerolling if you wish and have the reserve tokens to do so
2. The plan: give 1 die each to the Darkhouse, the Phantom, and the Nautilion
3. The Darkhouse: resolve the Darkhouse die
4. The Phantom: resolve the Phantom Submarine die
5. The Nautilion: resolve the Nautilion die

The game advances based on dice resolution. If the Darkhouse die is a 3 or 4, you must discard a token, either from your crew or from your reserves. If you don’t have any tokens, though, nothing happens, but you probably won’t win the game.

Move the Phantom toward the Happy Isles the number of spaces reflected on the die and discard that token. If the Phantom reaches or passes the Happy Isles, you lose immediately.

Move the Nautilion toward the Abyss the number of spaces reflected on the die and take that token. From here, you can place your token in your Nautilion following placement rules (you can only play tokens in adjacent places once the first token is placed) or place the token face down in your reserve. When passing the Phantom, do not count its space toward the number of spaces you are moving. If you reach the Abyss with a full crew of 9 in their appropriately numbered berths, you win. Otherwise, you lose.

Color commentary: The artwork on this game feels like whimsical Jean-Michel Basquiat, which was unexpected and a little disconcerting. At a minimum, it’s not what I would describe as “conventional” board game artwork.

On my 1st roll in my 1st game, I rolled a 1, 2, 2. I gave a 2 to the Darkhouse and myself and a 1 to the Phantom. The Phantom moves one space and discards that token. I move two spaces and pick up the 5 token. On the next turn, I need a 2, 4, 6, or 8 token to be able to play it on my Nautilion board. The 5 token touches the most other spots (the other numbers touch only 2 or 3 other token values). On my next roll, my non-Darkhouse dice options are 2 tokens I can’t play (one of which is a 5), so will go in my reserve. Halfway through I realized that there were no more 1 tokens left, so I had already lost. I rolled a lot of triples, which didn’t allow for much strategic token taking.

Likewise, halfway through the second game all the 2 tokens were gone and I had already lost below). Needless to say, these games were not taking anywhere near 30 minutes. IMG-2507

Thoughts M might have had if he had played: There’s definite strategy in allocating the dice (and maybe even sacrificing a token), but there’s also a huge luck component in the distribution of the tokens along the path. To have lost halfway through 2 consecutive games because particular tile values were already exhausted was disappointing. It was a fun and lively game overall, though, and maybe playing with multiple expansions at once would change the dynamics sufficiently that you’d be less likely to lose halfway through (P here: see below for bonus descriptions of the expansions).

Bonus content! Descriptions of the expansions, which can be played with one another in any combination:

Expansion 1: The Mages
Increases the path size by 9, but also requires you to acquire and place tokens labeled A, B, and C in the Mage’s cabin (i.e., board), in addition to the 9 numbered tokens you already need to acquire for your Nautilion.

Expansion 2: The Mercenaries
The size of the path increases by 9, and the Phantom can also acquire tokens. Additionally, instead of simply passing one another, the Phantom and the Nautilion collide and there is “combat” based on a comparison of the number of harpoons each vessel has (the 2, 5, and 8 tiles depict harpoons as part of their illustrations). If the Phantom has more harpoons, you lose the game immediately. If there’s a tie or the Nautilion has more harpoons, all the tokens on the Phantom’s board are discarded, that board is put away, mercenary tokens on the Nautilion are discarded, and one discarded token is placed in the reserve.

Expansion 3: The Reefs
Adds reef tokens (extras if you play this expansion by itself, enough to play with both Expansions 1 and 2 as well) adjacent to regular tokens alongside the path. If the Phantom ends its movement next to a reef, the reef is discarded along with its accompanying token. If the Nautilion ends its turn next to a reef there is a die roll before Phase 1 of a turn, which may impact whether the Nautilion moves at all on that turn.

Expansion 4: The Darkhouse
Add between 3 (easy) and 5 (hard) Darkhouse cards that must be resolved in a new Phase 0: Machinations before the dice are rolled in Phase 1 of a turn. Blue Darkhouse cards may help you, while red Darkhouse cards likely hurt you.

Expansion 5: Heroic Actions
Add the Heroic Actions cards to the game. You begin the game by revealing 3 cards with a deck of an additional 9. After you roll the dice in Phase 1 of the turn, you may play 1 or more of the revealed Heroic Action cards, but for each one you play, you must discard a token from the Nautilion. Additionally, to win, you must have all 9 crew and no revealed Heroic Action cards. Although it doesn’t say, my guess is that you don’t reveal a new Heroic Actions for each one you play, so why you need the extra 9 cards on standby is unclear. Nonetheless, playing with these cards requires a commitment to discarding 3 tokens from your Nautilion. Since I already can’t win a game because certain tokens run out too quickly, I don’t think I’d want to commit to getting rid of even more.

Santorini (Spin Master Games, 2016)

Date played: April 7, 2020 (with follow-up research on April 8)

Basic details: 2-4 players (though designed for 2; 3&4 player games have modifications); 20 minutes

Expansions used: Golden Fleece

Gist of the game: You’re a builder on the Greek island of Santorini. Your task is to construct beautiful buildings and be the first to arrive at the top of the 3rd level of a building. You can keep others from reaching the 3rd level by placing a dome on the building before your opponent can make it to the top.

To begin the game, players place their workers (one player at a time) on the game board).

On their turn, players move a worker to an adjacent space.  A worker can move up 1 level on a building or down any number of levels (i.e., you can move your worker from a level 1 building to a level 2 building, and down to the ground from a level 2 building, but not from a level 1 building to a level 3 building). After you move a worker, you build by adding a level (or placing the first level) to a building in a space adjacent to that worker. A building is “complete” once it has 3 levels and a dome. A player who moves to the 3rd level of a building on their turn instantly wins.

While the game can accommodate 4 players as teams, and has a modified version for 3 players, it is designed to be a 2 player game.

Color commentary: Ok. First, it is unclear what benefit having a “complete” building gets you, other than to maybe block an opponent from getting to that 3rd level, but this was largely a moot point because…

We did not have a game that the first player lost. Put differently, being the first player guaranteed a victory because first player gets to move/build first, and then alternating between that spot and an adjacent spot, you can quickly build your way up to a 3rd level and move there. We’ll return to this point shortly, but it definitely impacted our enjoyment of the game.

The game boasts that it is easy to learn, and indeed it is. The instructions suggest that you should play multiple rounds of the beginner game (no god cards, no expansion mechanics), but we live and play hard and after playing the first round in like 5 minutes decided to amp things up for the second game. God cards change mechanics of the game, whether it is what you can do in the move phase of your turn, in the build phase, during setup of the game, your win condition, your overall turn, or your opponent’s turn.

In this second game, I had Dionysus, who stipulates: “On your build: Each time a worker you control creates a Complete Tower, you may take an additional turn using an opponent worker instead of your own. No player can win during these additional turns.” M had Eros: “Setup: Place your workers anywhere along opposite edges of the board. Win Condition: You also win if one of your workers moves to a space neighboring your other worker and both are on top of Level 1 blocks.” Alas, God cards did not alter game play enough to make it any more enjoyable.

Feeling desperate now, we busted out the Golden Fleece expansion. In this expansion, you can place a little golden ram statue on the board. Any player adjacent to the ram can forego their regular turn and use the god card’s action. In this way, there is one god card per game rather than per player, and both players can in theory utilize the power. We drew the Siren card: “Setup: Place the arrow token beside the board and orient it in any of the 8 directions to indicate the direction of the Siren’s Song. Your turn: You may choose not to take your normal turn. Instead, force one or more opponent workers one space in the direction of the Siren’s Song to unoccupied spaces at any level.” M started this game with one of his workers next to the golden ram statue, which he used to move my pieces a few times. This did complicate things somewhat for me, but not enough to cause me to lose (and I was the first player).

There are also hero cards in the Golden Fleece expansion, which are not played in games with the ram statue (unclear why not, but we obey all instructions), and which give players a special ability once per game. These seem marginally more interesting, but we had already grown too bored with the game to play again when the basic strategy hasn’t been altered in any way.

I’d heard rave reviews of this game, and we ended the evening feeling like we must have been doing something wrong, so I went on Amazon in search of consumer reviews. One 1-star review noted that the game was very simple. The 3-star reviews were most helpful. A number of them talked about the game being chess-like in its strategy and presumably replay value, though others noted that gameplay could be repetitive and more like checkers than chess.

Still feeling confused and disappointed, I had a text conversation with my sister, who suggested that perhaps some of the strategy might be in worker placement at the beginning of the game, to prevent the first player from proceeding unimpeded. I experimented with this possibility the next morning while M was at work; I played both players. I deliberately tried to block in player 1, and while it seems like in this case player 1 might not be guaranteed a victory, there were still undeniable advantages to being player 1, and it still seems like an arms race (building race?) between only two of the workers, just like when we were un-strategically placing our workers to start.

I suppose that, if nothing else, this was a valuable lesson in playing a game before buying its expansions, which is a sad lesson for me to learn, because I really like the idea of having the expansions on hand when I start. On the other hand, buying the expansions with no knowledge of whether I actually like the game hasn’t produced all that many negative results, so maybe the lesson isn’t all that valuable. Also, I’m sending the game to a good friend to play with her tween, which makes it feel like less of a waste.

Thoughts from M: Why do I care? I don’t. The game board on its little rocky cliff and the set up are cool, but the game grants a pretty insurmountable advantage to the 1st player. Like tic tac toe, you just have to not mess up to win (or play to a tie, but you can’t tie in Santorini, and so Santorini is an even worse game than tic tac toe. By the way, I recently played tic tac toe with adults as part of a team building exercise and I was amazed by how many of them do not know the basic mechanics of the game.)

I do think this would be a much better game for younger children who are just starting to learn and think about strategy in games. For them, the first-player advantage and strategy of just moving back and forth between 2 spots on the board may not be so obvious, and the game might present more of a challenge and more enjoyment.

Machi Koro (IDW, 2012)

Date played: April 5, 2020

Basic details: 2-5 players (with Harbor expansion; 2-4 players with regular Machi Koro); 30 minutes

Gist of the game: You’re the mayor of a developing town. You can invest in various industries and reap the benefits of doing so, which will help you develop your city even further by providing you the capital to build key landmarks.

Each player begins the game with a wheat field (pays out 1 one coin when a 1 is rolled on anyone’s turn) and a bakery (pays out 1 coin when a 2 or 3 is rolled on your turn only) and 3 coins. On each turn, you roll one or two dice (depending on whether you’ve built your train station), earn income from the roll, and build industries or landmarks (1 total building project per turn). The first player to build a radio tower, amusement park, shopping mall, and train station wins.

Color commentary: Despite only having played it for the first time in 2018, this was one of the first new-generation board games we purchased for our collection, so there’s a lot of sentimentality attached, especially as M bought me the Deluxe Edition as a gift.

I don’t like vindictive cards in games like these, which hurt other players rather than thus affirmatively helping yourself at no cost to others (which is also why I refuse to play with the Witch in Dominion), so M and I agreed to forego any of the “6” cards which involved receiving money from other players rather than the bank, as well as the few other cards in the game that involves having the person who rolled the di(c)e paying out. This did open up a coverage gap, as the “6” cards that we did not play with were the only cards available that paid out when you rolled a 6, but it made me happier overall (plus M rolled more 6s than I did, so heh).

I also bought a playmat a couple Black Fridays ago (I think in 2018, a few months after we played for the first time), which made organizing the piles of cards kind of fun, and added a nice aesthetic touch. You’d have to ignore some of the markings (it marks spots by the header indicated the dice roll you need to benefit from the card) on it were you to play with expansion cards, but it would still work, especially since those markings end up covered up.

M won game 1. He had doubles and triples of some cards that gave multiple coins for primary industries, so he was able to get a coin lead that I couldn’t catch up to, and he was able to build his landmarks much more quickly than me.

I won game 2. I worked early on to get as complete of coverage as possible (no “6” cards, but cards covering 1-5 and 7-12), and made steady progress on coin and subsequently landmark accumulation. M says he got behind -which he clarifies to me means I had a lot more properties than him- and left a lot of possible dice rolls uncovered by card values, so he missed a lot of income-generating opportunities. Instead, he acquired 4 “8” card, which gave 3 coins to cards of a particular industry, and he had 3 of those cards, which earned him a whopping 27 coins in one turn. (M here: I figured the only way I was going to win was by getting incredible lucky, so I decided on an area to focus on and hoped for the best.) I only had one landmark left to acquire at this point before I would win, but those 27 coins let him build his most expensive landmark AND have change leftover to work toward his own final landmark. Thankfully, my next roll after this turn was not a 6, and I got the 1 coin I needed to build my last industry. Whew!

When looking on Board Game Geek to see what year Machi Koro was made, I see that there is a version we don’t have: Bright Lights, Big City, which apparently explores Machi Koro’s night life. We do have the legacy game, and I’m real curious how they turned a game like this into a legacy game. The nice thing about the legacy version is that once you complete all the legacy parts, you can infinitely replay the game from that end-point. I think some other legacy games you pretty much throw away when you’re done, which makes my acquisition/series-completionist-oriented heart sad.

Thoughts from M: I like the game a lot. There are strategies you have to commit to, but I don’t think there’s only a single good strategy. If you can do it early in the game, I think it’s probably helpful and wise to have full coverage of dice values, but if you miss that chance early on, being strategic about where you double and triple your efforts based both on absolute payouts and on the likelihood of potential dice outcomes can also provide big payoffs, as evidenced by game 2.

Godzilla Card Game (Bandai, 2019)

Date played: April 4, 2020

Basic details: 2-4 players; 30 minutes

Gist of the game: Using various characters from the Godzilla universe and action cards with “devastating effects,” be the first player to complete 5 quests or the last player to not be eliminated to win. You start the game with 5 “guardians,” and can lose the game by not having a guardian available when you need one and not having any cards left in your deck when you need to draw one.

Once players have their deck constructed (more on this below), they place the top 5 cards from their deck into a guardian pile, and take 5 cards into their hands. A token is placed on the “0” mark of the 21-point “Chrono Clash” counter (10 spots for player 1, 10 spots for player 2, plus a 0).

On their turn, players proceed through the following phases: untap any tapped cards, draw one card from their deck, and engage in a number of actions during the main phase of their turn. A player’s turn ends when the Chrono Clash Counter ends on the one spot or higher of their opponent’s side of the scale. This occurs by paying the “costs” of a card in order to “summon” that card. During the main phase of the turn, players may summon a battler card (Godzilla universe character) from their hand by paying the cost by moving the token on the Counter, play an action card by paying the cost, attacking an opponent’s tapped battler or guardian (tapping the battler and announcing the target), send a battler on a quest (tapping the battler and placing a card from the hand facedown on the battler. The facedown card then functions as a guardian for that battler, and if it is still there at the start of the player’s next turn, they gain 1 quest point), and activate a tap ability (I’m not sure what these are — I don’t think any of our cards had them). Battlers cannot be tapped/used on the same turn they are summoned unless they are summoned via sneak attack.

When a battler chooses to fight another tapped battler, the battler with the higher strength wins and the loser is discarded by its owner. If a battler fights a guardian (the opponent reveals the top card of their guardian pile), the guardian is always discarded, but the attacking battler is retained if its strength is greater than the guardian’s strength.

Every card has a series of icons to tell you how to play the card’s effects and abilities. Take Fairy Mothra, for example. IMG-2479
Fairy Mothra costs 3 spots on the Chrono Clash Counter to summon (Let’s say a player wants to summon Fairy Mothra on their first turn. They pay the cost by moving the Counter 3 in the direction of their opponent and their turn ends because it has passed their opponent’s 1 spot). It has a strength of 1, which won’t really be good for much in a real battle. If you wanted to pay a cost of only 2 (the mouth with a 2 on it), you could use Mothra’s sneak attack ability. In that case, Mothra would then attack immediately and then be discarded, regardless of the outcome of the battle. Mothra also has elusive ability (the running person icon), meaning that it can only be attacked by battlers that are also elusive. When it attacks (the green explosion arrow), the player chooses a battler (one of their own or an opponent’s) with a cost of 3 or more to destroy. Fairy Mothra also has a guardian ability, which is to choose a battler with a cost of 4 or more to destroy.

Color commentary: Today is M’s birthday, so I moved Godzilla up in the queue as a special surprise. Happy birthday, M!

Although we each just chose one of the color decks (M played with blue, I played with green), you also have the option of building your own deck. Each deck must have at least 50 cards, no more than 2 colors (green, red, blue, purple), and no more than 3 of any given card. There is also an optional jumbo deck you can play with, but it seemed confusing and we didn’t experiment with the jumbo deck in either of these games.

The icons probably make multilingual play easier (there were instruction booklets in 4 languages), but they were a little overwhelming at first because most of them can’t give quite enough information in the very small size they are allotted.

It seems like the most logical strategy is to eliminate your opponent by destroying all their guardians, unless you maybe make a pact not to, in which case you could focus more on quest points and fighting other battlers, which might be more interesting. Even in a 3 or 4 player game, it seems like eliminating opponents by attacking all their guardians would still be the dominant strategy, though you might form temporary (informal) alliances to knock out other players, like sometimes happens in Risk, for example. In these cases, maybe quest points would become more of a factor because you could balance between attacking guardians and doing other things.

I won game 1, in part because I got monsters out quicker and one of my battlers summoned additional guardians on each guardian attack, which meant M’s guardian pile diminished even more quickly than it would have if each battler had been limited to one guardian. I also had 1 quest point as the result of a fleeting experiment that went nowhere.

In game 2, M came right out of the gate with Monster X, which had a strength of 10 and the ability to take out 3 guardians at a time. The only thing that allowed me to cling desperately to life was that one of my guardians destroyed a battler of my choice with a strength of 3 or more when it got destroyed, which I used to take out Monster X. There were a few turns where neither of us had any guardians or any monsters and we were forced to start re-building our battlefield. M was the player 1 in this round, giving him the time advantage, and he won.

The box estimates that games will take about 30 minutes, but because of the guardians-only strategy we used, I think we played both games in well under that, even with repeatedly needing to look at the instruction manual to decode icons.

Thoughts from M: This is another game where I think the 2-player version leads to much more aggressive strategies than might be played in a game with 3 or 4 players.

I don’t think there’s necessarily a lot of strategy during game play itself, but you do have to be conscious of the order you do things in because your turn is over as soon as the counter moves to the 1 position of the other person’s half of the Counter.

There’s probably a fair amount of strategy in you’re constructing your own deck. Interestingly, you could not play with a purple-only deck, because there are only 33 purple cards. This doesn’t really make sense to me — why not have 4 ready-made decks people can play for an easy-start 4 player game?