Onirim (Z-Man Games, 2015)

Date played: June 24, 2020

Basic details: 1-2 players (cooperative); 15 minutes

Gist of the game: In this game, you are traveling through a dreamscape and need to find 8 doors before the dream ends. Obtain all 8 doors before the deck runs out and win. Have an empty deck when you need to draw and you lose.

To get a door, you must either play three cards of the same color in a row or, upon drawing a door from the deck, discard a key card of the same color from your hand.

You begin the game with a hand of 5 cards that includes neither doors nor dreams. On each turn, you play or discard a card, draw your hand back up to 5, and shuffle any cards you put in your limbo pile (such a door that you didn’t have a key for) back into your deck. If you discard a sun or moon card, play proceeds as normal. If you discard a key card, you trigger a prophecy. To carry out the prophecy, look at the top 5 cards of the deck, discard 1, and put the remaining 4 cards back on top of the deck in any order. If you draw a dream (nightmare in the base game) card, you must resolve it immediately. To resolve a nightmare, you must do one of the following: discard a key card; place a door card you’ve acquired in the limbo pile; reveal the top 5 cards of the deck and discard all except door and dream cards, which are placed in the limbo pile; discard your whole hand and draw a fresh hand the same way you did at the beginning of the game, with door and nightmare cards going into the limbo pile until you have a hand of 5 dream location cards.

If you play 3 cards of the same color in a row (but no two cards of the same symbol placed next to each other), you get to search the deck for a door of that color. There are 4 colors and 8 doors, 2 of each color.

In a 2-player game, each player must acquire 4 doors, 1 of each color.

There are also 7 expansions built in, each involving the addition of a new set of cards and new objectives beyond just collecting the 8 doors.

Color commentary: This is a fun game, and I’m really enjoying the aesthetics of the Oniverse with its Jean-Michel Basquiat-esque artwork. It’s a pretty light game, though it ultimately involves a tremendous amount of shuffling (every time you put your limbo pile in, after finding a door, etc.), possibly an excessive amount. Like, it felt like equal parts playing and shuffling, and still I would see runs of like 3 nightmares in a row every time I shuffled (and every time I saw them, I separated them, only to see them again the next time I shuffled).

This game is more portable for 1 player than 2, though depending on the public space it might still be a little large (wide) even with 1 player. There’d be no problem at a 4-top, but it might be a little cramped at a 2-top. Because the total width ends up divided between partners in a 2-player game, a 2-player version might work better at a 2-top than a 1-player would. That said, compared to something like Catan or even like Machi Koro, still very portable.

Every expansion appears to make it more difficult to win the game. One expansion, for instance, requires you to earn the doors in a specific order. I wish they added something besides additional difficulty, because they all look incredible, but I like winning, and they all seem like they would decrease the chances of doing so by moderate to extremely large amounts.

Thoughts M might have had if he had played: This may come as a surprise, since I never comment on the artwork of games, but I also enjoy the abstract boldness of the Oniverse games. A lot of the game is luck, in terms of having the right cards at the right time to make a run of 3, but there’s a definite strategy involved when choosing what action to perform when resolving a nightmare. If you only need 1 more door and your hand isn’t helpful, it’s probably a smart move to discard your hand. Unless it’s the very beginning of a game, you probably don’t want to put a door in limbo because of the dwindling number of cards in that color to earn it back. Discarding a key if you already have both doors, or even just one of a color, is a potentially good call, and keeping a key card on hand even after earning both doors of that color as a kind of nightmare insurance isn’t a bad idea. Discarding 5 cards from the deck is a real gamble because that grouping may have the cards you need, and also increases the nightmare-to-location ratio since nightmares don’t get discarded if they’re drawn as part of the 5. Nonetheless, if you have a hand that is going to work for you for at least one door and you don’t have a key you can discard, discarding from the top of the deck might be the best choice.

This Game Goes to Eleven (Gamewright, 2018)

Dates played: June 22-23 & June 25, 2020

Basic details: 2-6 players; 20 minutes

Gist of the game: Each player begins the game with a hand of 3 cards. The top card of the deck is placed face up in the center of the play area (if it’s a 0 or 11, another card is drawn to begin play). Players take turns placing a card (numbered 1-9, 0, and 11) on the pile, announcing the sum of the cards, and drawing a new card. If a player places a card to make the sum equal to 11, they give the stack to another player. If they play a card to exceed 11, they take the stack. At the end of the game, the player with the fewest cards wins.

There are 2 special cards: the 11 card and the 0 card. The 11 card automatically brings the pile to 11. This can be countered by a 0 card, which then requires the person who played the 11 card to take the stack. If the 0 card is played on a normal turn, the sum of the pile is set to 0.

Color commentary: This is a super light, really enjoyable game. The quick playtime means you can play multiple games without getting bogged down. With my penpal in mind (looking at you, JB!), who, in pre-pandemic times enjoyed playing games with friends at bars and in similar social settings, I should note that this game is extremely portable, in multiple ways. First, the box itself is not especially large (6×9?), and could be made smaller by putting the cards into a deck box, which means the game could easily fit in a pocket or even a small purse. Second, it doesn’t take up a lot of table space: you need room for a draw pile, play pile, and each player’s accumulated cards from having to take piles.

Thoughts from Micah: This is a fun game that’s light on strategy. The best move I can think of is to carefully use the 0 and 11 cards. If you’re a little more conniving, as I aspire to be, you could also count cards to know what’s still in play and what’s been exhausted. I think this game probably plays just as good at 2 players as more, which is refreshing, since sometimes the dynamics change considerably. More players would introduce an element of strategy concerning who gets piles dumped on them, unless you play with the guitar pick variation, which basically ensures that every player gets a roughly equal number of piles (first player starts with the pick, and they get the first over-11 pile. Pick then moves to second player, who gets second over-11 pile, etc.) and thereby removes that element of strategy. Playing with the pick probably makes the game even more similar in terms of 2 player vs. multi-player. This is easily one of my top 5 filler games, below Kingdomino but ahead of Guillotine.

Colt Express (Ludonaute, 2014)

Date played: May 25, 2020 (reasons it took us a month to post this remain unclear)

Basic details: 2-6 players; 40 minutes

Expansions played: Horses & Stagecoach (2015)

Gist of the game: A group of bandits tries to rob the Nice Valley Coal Company’s payroll, guarded by a marshal, in transit via the Union Pacific Express, but only 1 bandit will succeed in becoming the richest.

Each player chooses a character, which comes with a character card, 10 action cards, and 6 bullet cards, as well as a $250 sack of money. The value of this sack of money remains hidden from your opponent, because as you rob more and maybe have to forfeit riches, the total value of your holdings will change.

Each train car has prescribed loot, and the marshal and a strongbox are situated in the locomotive.

Four round cards (as in, period in which all players take a turn, not the shape) are drawn at random, as is 1 train station card, which is placed at the bottom of the stack, so that there are 5 rounds total. Each round card specifies the number of turns that will be taken that round and how cards should be played on each turn (face up, face down, simultaneously, etc.).

The first player begins the game with the round cards in front of them. Players are numbered according to their order. Odd players place their bandit meeple in caboose. Even players place their bandit in the next-to-last car.

Each turn in a round has 2 phases: schemin’ and stealin’. At the beginning of a round, players shuffle their deck and draw a hand of 6 cards. The first player draws the top round card and places it where everyone can see.

In the schemin’ phase, each player must either play an action card onto a common deck or draw 3 additional action cards from their deck into their hand. In the stealin’ phase, the first player takes the common deck of action cards and flips it over, revealing the cards one by one in the order they were played in order to perform the bandits’ actions. Actions include moving in between train cars, moving to the roof or floor of a train car, firing a gun, throwing a punch, picking up treasure, and moving the marshal.

To end the round, each player shuffles their 10 action cards and any bullet cards they’ve been hit with (either from another bandit or from being in the same car as the marshal) back into the deck. The next player becomes the first player and receives the remaining round cards.

The game ends after 5 rounds. Each player adds up the value of their loot. The player who shot the most bullets (has the fewest bullet cards left) is named Gunslinger and receives $1000 for the honor. The richest player wins.

In a 2-player game, the train is assembled with 4 cars (instead of 1 per player) and each player chooses 2 characters. One bandit is placed in each of the last 2 cars. Bandits retain their bullet cards and $250 loot token, but action cards are combined into a single deck of 11 cards (duplicate cards for each bandit are removed, as is one move-the-marshal card). Two-player games are also played using the expert variant. At the end of the schemin’ phase, players keep cards in their hand that they want for the next round, discarding all bullet cards and cards they’re not interested in playing the next round. During the stealin’ phase, the performed action is placed on the discard pile (instead of back into the deck) while bullet cards players receive are placed on the top of the draw deck. At the beginning of each round, players draw their hand up to 6 cards. Each time the draw deck is depleted, the discard pile is shuffled to form a new deck.

Bullet cards basically limit the options available to a player during the schemin’ phase by taking up space usually reserved for action cards.

In the Horses & Stagecoach expansion, the stagecoach is placed to the right of the locomotive during setup, with a strongbox and a meeple holding a shotgun placed on top of the stagecoach. A flask of whiskey is placed inside each non-locomotive train car. A number of hostage cards equal to the number of players minus 1 are drawn and placed face up to the left of the locomotive. New round cards are shuffled in with those from the base game (but have some different symbols, so they can be differentiated). The marshal gains an additional 3 bullet cards. Each player gets a ride action card and a horse meeple. Bandit meeples are placed after the “Horse Attack” is played out.

In the Horse Attack, bandits can choose which train car they start in, except for the locomotive or stagecoach. Each player hides in their fist either their bandit meeple (or meeples, if 2 players) or horse. The contents of everyone’s hands are revealed simultaneously. Players with their bandit in hand place their bandit(s) in the caboose. These players then place their horses outside the caboose. Those players who displayed their horse proceed to the next car and repeat the process until they place their bandit in the car of their choice and the horse next to the car. After this, the horses belong to no particular bandit.

The ride action card is played during the schemin’ phase like any other action card. If there is at least 1 horse alongside the bandit’s car, they ride the rose. They can jump on the horse from inside the car or the roof of the car. They can then move their bandit up to 3 cars, either forward or backward. At the car where the bandit stops, they jump inside the train car. Bandits can also jump into the stagecoach. When a bandit enters the stagecoach, they must take a hostage, which is placed next to the player’s character card. The hostage gives extra money at the end of the game, but may have stipulations that affect gameplay, like being able to draw fewer cards per turn. Bandits can only have 1 hostage each.

The stagecoach is considered adjacent to the train cars for punching and shooting purposes. A bandit on the stagecoach can shoot any bandit on a train car roof and vice versa.

To get the strongbox away from the shotgun meeple, a player must punch the shotgun. When punched, the shotgun abandons the stongbox and is moved to the roof of the traincar next to the stagecoach.

If a bandit ends their movement in the same place as the shotgun, they receive a neutral bullet (as opposed to player bullet) card and must move (but not to the stagecoach).  A bandit can move across the shotgun’s position, but still receives a bullet. The shotgun blocks line of sight on roof cars, affecting the ability of a player to shoot other bandits.

At the end of the round, the stagecoach is moved one car toward the caboose. If the shotgun has been moved to the train, he is also moved a car to remain even with the stagecoach.

Whiskey flasks are a new kind of loot that can be played up to 2 times and can be played instead of an action or drawing 3 cards. Regular whiskey flasks (there are 5) let a player draw 3 cards and then also play an action. The old whiskey flask (there is only 1) lets a player play two action cards in a single turn).

Color commentary: THERE ARE 3D LOCOMOTIVE AND TRAIN CARS YOU GET TO ASSEMBLE. AND IF YOU PLAY WITH THE HORSES & STAGECOACH EXPANSION, THERE’S A 3D STAGECOACH AS WELL. The meeples are also shaped like gunslingers with guns blazing. And in the Horses & Stagecoach expansion, the horse meeples really look like little horses! And a bandit meeple actually fits into the divet in the horse’s back! Honestly, getting to assemble the all the vehicles was really fun, and they add a great tactile dimension to the game.

Some rounds have actions that occur at the end of the round, which add new twists to the game and tweak the action somewhat. These aren’t the easiest to interpret, and we definitely had to consult the instruction manual every time.

I think M might have liked the game more than me (Western month was his choice, after all), but it was a lot of fun and is definitely worth replaying. It’s unlikely we’ll play it as anything other than a 2-player anytime soon, but it seems like multiple players would add a new dynamic as you might start each round over with a fresh deck instead of the game operating more like a traditional deck-building game in that regard. It would also be nice to have 2 of each action per bandit, instead of the single action you get in a 2-player game (e.g. being able to move Doc between 2 cards instead of just one).

Thoughts from M: The bandit meeples have guns! They’re adorable! In general, the game has excellent animation-influenced artwork.

Shooting is a neat feature because it really can make life a lot more difficult for your opponents. Having to place the bullet cards on top of the deck means that they’re likely to draw them at the start of a round, meaning that they just have worthless cards and would have to sacrifice an action to try to get better ones by drawing 3 more cards instead of doing something with a bandit. However, even drawing more cards is no guarantee, because you might end up drawing old bullet cards that have been shuffled in.

The base game is a lot of fun, and the Horses & Stagecoach expansion adds fun new dynamics. There’s also a Guillotine-esque element to the game, because the best strategy is to do the best you can at any given moment rather than trying to think ahead a few turns, because, for example, you could be planning to shoot a bandit in the next car, but if you’re playing actions facedown on a turn, the owner of the bandit may move the bandit before you can shoot it, effectively wasting your shot. Grabbing treasure whenever possible would be the dominant strategy, as would combining punches (which force a bandit to lose some treasure) and nabbing treasure.