Wooly Wars (Lui-Meme, 2002)

Basic details: 2-4 players; 30 minutes; competitive

Date played: April 29, 2021

Gist of the game: Players take on the role of shepherd, placing tiles to create villages, forests, and safe pens for their sheep. The player with the largest safe enclosure at the end of the game wins.

To begin the game, the village fountain is placed in the middle of the table. Each player randomly receives a question mark tile without the color being revealed to anyone. Once the player has the tile, they may look at their designated color, but this information should not be shared with any other player. Each player then draws a hand of 4 double-sided landscape tiles.

On the first turn, the first player places a tile with a village edge next to the village fountain and then draws one tile back into their hand. If they do not have a tile with a village edge, they do not take a turn and play passes to the next player. Tiles must orthogonally match the tiles they are being placed next to, so that only sheep are placed only next to like-colored sheep, woods are placed next to woods, etc.) On future turns, players take a number of tiles equal to the number of adjacent edges they match with their tile (i.e., if a tile borders 1 tile, the player takes 1 replacement tile; if they place a tile touching 2 other tiles, they draw 2 replacement tiles; etc.).

At any point in the game, a player may choose to reveal their secret color. They then place their question mark tile sheep side up on the table and draws new tiles accordingly. Also at any point in the game, players may announce that they are placing a wolf and/or a hunter. They announce the number and type and play them in that order. Wolves are placed in wooded areas and threaten sheep until a hunter tile is placed on top of them, negating their effect. Hunters may also be placed in the woods preemptively, to protect against wolves.

When there are no more tiles available to draw, players continue placing tiles until they can no longer do so or they choose to stop. The first 3 players who, during their turn, opt to place no more tiles receive bonus points for their tactical decision. When all players are done placing tiles, the game ends. Players score 1 point for each sheep in the biggest enclosed field of their color that is not being menaced by a wolf. The player with the highest score wins.

Color commentary: This is like Carcassonne with sheep and a twist, and I love it. Tile-laying, color-matching, and adorable animals in sweaters. That checks three boxes right there.

We made the game semi-cooperative by trading tiles a couple of times, including me trading away a hunter that was ultimately my downfall, as it allowed M to play the only tile left that could have closed his pen (and that also happened to have a hunter on its opposite side) while also having the opportunity to neutralize a wolf I may or may not have previously placed there to menace his sheep.

There’s an interesting strategy trade-off between building your own pen and trying to interfere with someone else’s probable pen, especially before you know their color. The wolves also add a take-that element beyond closing off other players’ pens, as the wolves have the potential to completely negate even the largest pen if there’s no hunter to keep them at bay.

The double-sided tiles also make it interesting and add more choices, and I find myself wishing that Carcassonne had double-sided tiles. I didn’t realize that there was something that could make Carcassonne more perfect, but if there’s anything, it would be this. It just creates more possible combinations and keeps the game more dynamic.

Thoughts from M: Given the amount of geometry in this game, I was shocked how much I like it. There’s some definite spatial reckoning as you try to construct your pens, so it was a challenge, but a pleasant one. There’s also some interesting potential for misdirection, because in order to protect the identity of your color, and thus prevent other players from actively seeking to thwart you, you have to be very intentional about appearing erratic and maximizing your potential enclosures before you reveal your color.

Petra rating: 9/10

M rating: 6/10

Set a Watch (Rock Manor Games, 2019)

Date played: April 25, 2021

Basic details: 1-4 players; 60 minutes; cooperative

Gist of the game: A group of adventurers, having recently slain a dreaded monster, are now confronted by the possible reincarnation of that monster. The adventurers must visit the various locations where this reincarnation might occur and defeat any ancillary monsters as well as any respawned hellbeings and prevent the whole world from being traumatized by the creatures.

Players play as one or more adventurers (there are always 4 adventurers regardless of player count) trying to stop all of this from happening. On the way to any location, 3 of the 4 adventurers will go to fight while the remaining adventurer stays at camp and attends to tasks to help the group out. [Note from M: or maybe they’re worthless layabouts. It is hard to keep track of them when you are in a battle for your very survival.]

There are 6 possible adventurers (I think the Kickstarter edition has 8, because that’s what our package had, although the instruction manual refers to there only being 6) and 4 are selected for any given game. Each adventurer has a player board and 5 ability cards unique to them. Each adventurer will battle using either 6- or 8-sided dice.

A creature deck with at least 1 Summon card is created, with the difficulty level of the game flexible and based on the number of Summon cards in the deck. Summon cards spawn an Unhallowed Creature, which tend to be a bit more powerful, so the more Summon cards, the more Unhallowed Creatures, the harder the game. A location deck is also prepared, with 8 regular locations plus a final location. The remaining locations are set aside as an unused locations deck which may be utilized using some Camp actions.

At the start of each round (9 rounds total), adventurers will roll their dice and determine who is going to remain in the camp and who is going to go off adventuring (“on watch”). The adventurer in camp can allocate their 3 dice in some combination to chop wood (increase the number of monsters revealed at a time); scout ahead (draw and rearrange the top two cards in the creature deck, which might include putting the creatures at the bottom of the deck); check map (die value of 4 or more) (draw a card from the locations deck and unused locations deck, placing one on the top of the locations deck and the other at the bottom of the unused locations deck); heal (die value of 6) (refresh 1 exhausted ability of any adventurer); or equip (swap one of the player’s ability cards with one of their unused ability cards). Adventurers also refresh an ability of their choice upon entering camp. Each adventurer also has a special task they can perform at camp using a die of any value. Each adventurer will go to camp twice during the game.

In the Watch phase, the current location card indicates how to adjust the campfire (and how many creatures are revealed at a time) and how many creatures will be dealt initially. That many creatures are drawn from the creature deck and placed in a line near the board. The appropriate number of creatures are revealed. Creature abilities are resolved in order based on any “reveal” conditions or “first position” conditions, depending on the card and the placement of the creature in the line. Players use their dice and abilities to combat and defeat the creatures.

Each creature has a value that must be reached or exceeded to defeat it. If defeated, the monster is placed in the graveyard. If, by the end of the round, there are undefeated creatures, cards are exhausted based on the damage dealt by the creatures and they are placed in a pile called the Horde, where they will wait to reappear at the final location. Once dice values have been assigned to defeat creatures, they cannot be reused, and the value of a single die cannot ordinarily be split between multiple creatures. Adventurers may also use an ability card. Players can allocate a die to an ability card to activate it (once per round) and/or exhaust it by using that ability a second time or for a first time without allocating a die. An adventurer cannot participate in combat if all their ability cards are exhausted at the start of a round, and should perhaps be sent to camp instead, if possible.

Once the line of creatures is clear (through defeat or placement in the Horde) and if the adventurers are not all exhausted, the round was completed successfully. In the final round, all adventurers go on watch; no one stays at camp. Creatures are added to the line as usual and then the Horde is placed face down at the end of the line without being shuffled (an Unhallowed creature will be the last card revealed). During the last round, monsters may be placed in a new Horde. Adventurers can win without defeating all the monsters in the final location so as one adventurer has one ability card left unexhausted after creature damage is dealt.

Players win by completing all rounds. Players lose if all players on watch become completely exhausted by the end of a round or if a Summon card is revealed and the Unhallowed deck is empty.

Color commentary: We tried, valiantly, to fight the horrid creatures (and not-so-horrid-but-still-mean forest creatures). I think we became exhausted in the 5th round following the activation of a Summon card and the invocation of an Unhallowed creature. I’m torn on how this game would work best: I feel like either as a solo game, where one player then controls everything, or as a 4-player game, where each player is only responsible for one adventurer. It’s fully cooperative, so table talk and open coordination is fine and allowed, but playing with 2 players still seemed like it made it more complicated to keep everything straight. I also wonder if playing exclusively with melee or ranged adventurers would make a difference, as it was also sometimes difficult to keep track of which dice could be allocated to which creature in the line based on who could attack just the monster in the first position and who could also attack the monster in the second position. Having the option of both created some interesting strategies, as some creatures have especially unpleasant first position effects, while others sometimes take the value of defeated monsters into their own health value, making it possible that you won’t want to just defeat the monsters in order straight down the line.

It was a kind of fun RPG-esque experience, though, which let you get some combat in that didn’t involve attacking another player but that also didn’t require a dungeon master, so that perhaps if you find yourself in a semi-new town in a pandemic without having yet had the opportunity to make any friends, and if your dwelling is too small to accommodate the presence of any friends even if they existed, you could enjoy the experience without all the pesky logistics of friends and space.

I thought that incorporating the box into game play as a partial board was interesting, though it would have been more convenient to have a playmat or something that provided a space for everything, instead of having some things nicely regimented and other things laid around the table as space allowed (which, admittedly, will differ based on table size, how many Lego creations are on the table, etc.), especially the game did take up a fair amount of space for being in such a compact box.

It also occurs to me, as M and I were discussing the game some more while he was reading through this post, that if the goal is to have fun, and winning makes the game more fun, there wouldn’t really be any barriers to simply adding more adventurers. The only real impediments would be managing to keep track of them all, recognizing that not everyone will get to camp twice (unless you wanted more rounds, though I don’t know if that would completely offset the more adventurers, since it would be that many more creatures overall, and the fact that the game already doesn’t come with enough dice for the Kickstarter edition, with only 3 sets of each kind of dice. The dice problem, at least, is easily overcome, and the others could probably be manageable if you were playing with several players and each only had to keep track of 2, as opposed to 1 player keeping track of 6 or 8 or even 2 players keeping track of 3 adventurers each, since, as I noted above, 2 sometimes proved to be a challenge.

Thoughts from M: This might be a fun game, but I would have to play it multiple times to find out, and I am not sure I want to do that after playing it once. (Note from Petra: M has since been informed that we have backed the sequel on Kickstarter based on rave reviews, increasing the likelihood that we play again to see if we’ll want to keep the sequel).

M rating: 3/10

Petra rating: 5/10

Hovel Con 2020 Wrap Up

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

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

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

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

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

Camp Pinetop (Talon Strikes Studios, 2020)

Date played: November 29, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Petra’s rating: 8/10
M’s rating: 5/10

Godzilla – Tokyo Clash (Funko Games, 2020)

Date played: November 28, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Petra’s rating: 4/10
M’s rating: 7/10

Wingspan (Stonemaier Games, 2019)

Date played: November 28, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Babel (Z-Man Games, 2013)

Date played: November 27, 2020

Basic details: 2 players; 25 minutes; competitive

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here to Slay (Unstable Games, 2020)

Date played: November 27, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Petra’s rating: 6/10
M’s rating: 6/10

Parks (Keymaster Games, 2019)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Petra’s rating: 9/10
M’s rating: 7/10

Hovel Con 2020

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