Empire Builders (not trains)


“Imperial Settlers”

designed by Ignacy Trzewiczek, published by Portal Games

Play as one of four ancient races: barbarians, Romans, Japanese, or Egyptians. Each race gets their own personal deck of specialized buildings, as well as having a common draw pool of more standard cards. Begin the round by drafting cards from a common pool. Using your resources, build buildings in your civilization, or use those cards to make “deals” and produce more resources for your burgeoning civilization. Or, simply raze the card in your hand for an instant hit of resources. But be careful, any resources that aren’t spent are lost at the end of the round. Production is key to this game: get stuff, buy stuff, get even more stuff, and earn enough points to win the game! Or lose, because you just got a lot of dudes and not enough stuff.

Deeply satisfying game as you ponder all your different strategies: do I build this building, or do I use it to make a deal? Which buildings should I raze in order to build this other, more powerful building? Or do I just raze this card and take the quick resources? So many choices, so many paths to victory. Not for those prone to analysis paralysis.

One Line Verdict: Make a deal and settle into this game!

Choo-Choo-Cha Boogie…Take Me Right Back to the Track, Jack!


“Ticket to Ride: First Journey”:

designed by Alan R. Moon, published by Days of Wonder

At last, a “Ticket to Ride” game designed specifically for kids! Fewer routes which all more or less connect to each other SOMEHOW, so you’re never quite cut off, yah! On your turn, draw two cards at random each time instead of choosing from face up cards, or play cards down to claim a route.   Win by earning six tickets through connecting designated cities and even earn a special ticket by connecting your line from Coast to Coast!

In the end, you have a TTR game that’s still fun, and somehow, just as cutthroat. Choose your routes carefully though because you may place all your trains and not be able to complete enough tickets to win.

One Line Verdict: All aboard for a game that adults and kids can play together…unless you hate regular “Ticket to Ride,” then just keep walking.

Stick-It-To-’em Dungeon


“Order of the Stick Adventure Game: The Dungeon of Dorukan”

designed by Kevin Brusky & Rich Burlew, published by APE Games

A game based on the popular stick-figure web comic about fantasy adventurers. Move into a dungeon, place a room down which may result in some special rules, meet a monster, but your opponent chooses the monster from their hand, add up bonuses, solicit help from other players, avoid “Screw This” cards from other players, roll the dice, defeat the monster (hopefully), and collect loot. Wash, rinse, and repeat until you defeat the dreaded lich Xykon! Plays a lot like Munchkin but with a build-it-yourself-board, but which lasts a little too long. Plus, because the other players choose a monster from their hand, they could totally mess you up.  Which happened to me.  A lot.

If you like Munchkin and the snarky humour of the “Order of the Stick” web-comic, this would be great. If you like neither, then not so good.

One Line Verdict: For a small slice of fans, indeed. All others keep moving past this particular dungeon.

Dead Men Walking


“The Walking Dead Card Game”

designed by Wolfgang Kramer, published by Cryptozoic Entertainment

A re-theming of the excellent “6Nimmt” with zombies. The players all simultaneously pick a card from their starting hand of 10 cards, reveals it, and each player then plays their card into one of four rows, starting with the lowest number first. Your card is placed to the highest number it is closest to. If you place the sixth card in a row, you end up taking that whole row of cards. Each card will have between one and six bullets on it: the more bullets you collect, the worse off you are. Gasp in horror as all four rows fill up with five cards and just pray that your opponents will take rows before you…and oddly thematic as you see hordes of walkers slowly build up as cards are placed down and more and more bullets show up…Three rounds later, the person with the least number of bullets wins!  There’s also a hero mode where you try and TAKE the most bullets, but that one seems lame and tacked on.

Great for people who like “6 Nimmt” and zombies (or walkers, if you prefer). Great even for people who don’t like the latter.  But the pictures on the card might be too scary for the little ones.

One Line Verdict: solid game, tacked on theme, but still fun because the core game is great.

Evolve This!



designed by Dominic Crapuchettes, Dmitri Knorre, & Sergey Machin, published by NorthStar Games

Help your species survive in this Darwinian adventure! Play cards to give your species different traits, or discard cards too grow their population or body size. Traits will range from the defensive, to the symbiotic, to the dangerously carnivorous.  Then feed your burgeoning species food which become victory points. But be careful: you and the other players seed the watering hole at the beginning of each round, so make sure there is enough food to sustain your population, or purposefully create a food shortage to winnow everyone’s numbers. And watch out for predators…But once you fall behind in this game, because you draw new cards equal to the number of species you have, it is very hard to catch up. And that Alpha Predator can really, really wreak havoc on a bunch of poor herbivores.

A relatively straightforward game without a whole lot of picky rules, but lots of ways to sabotage your opponents. Or play cooperatively. Or it’s just an arms race to see who gets the biggest, baddest predator first.

One Line Verdict: Truly, the survival of the fittest.  All others need not apply.

Analog Video Game



designed by Eric M. Lang, published by Cool Mini or Not

Based on the tough-as-nails video game. You and your fellow adventurers fight strange monsters through simultaneously selecting different tactics and weapons cards. However, the monster gets first strike and will most likely kill all of you. But if you survive, damage the monster, take its blood echoes (which are your victory points as well), and if you kill it, everyone who participated gets a trophy as well. But be careful, if you are killed and you didn’t “bank” your blood echoes, you lose those points! You can upgrade your cards with more death-dealing weapons, some which even mess up your opponents. Fun, quick, with a little bit of deduction…what will my opponents do, and can I kill this thing?…and yes, wildly swingy.

Great sense of player interaction as you balance between hurting your opponents and keeping them around to help you. Pretty quick and easy to learn: almost a filler.

One Line Verdict: Not quite a killer game, but definitely has its moments of tension and surprise.

Shields Up! I said, “Shields… AAAGGGHHHH”


“Space Alert”

designed by Vlaada Chvatil, published by Czech Games Edition

Try to survive the dangers of space in this real-time programming game. Threats in the form of random space debris and alien ships will hurtle towards your from space and aliens will try to take you from inside your ship! Fire lasers, raise shields, increase power to your different ship systems, control kill-bots, and launch fighters to deal with these threats. But this is a programming game: play your cards in advance in a 10 minute real-time round, and then execute them one at time in the execution to see what actually happens. Maybe you guessed right. Or maybe you’re just hanging out somewhere watching your ship slowly fall apart.

Trying to keep track of one crew member’s actions is hard: doing two at the same time in the 10 minute time limit is well-nigh impossible. But with a full four, it is a frenzied blast.

One Line Verdict: Sign on for this voyage for some fast, tense, space-faring action.

All the Fun of “Magic the Gathering” Without Actually Having to Play It.


“Millennium Blades”

designed by D. Brad Talton, Jr., published by Level 99 Games

A board game that simulates the buying, selling, trading, and playing of collectible card games. Using stacks of paper money (to make you feel rich), buy and sell fun cards with great parodies of popular franchises and try to build the best hand for use in the upcoming tournament. Buy from the main marketplace, or sell the card on the secondary market, or trade cards for more powerful bonus cards.  Collect cards for fighting, or even keep cards for your collection and earn bonus points.  All this takes place in a slightly frenzied 20 minute, real-time trading round.  Then pick some cards to fight in a tournament!  Do this for two more rounds, with ever more powerful cards appearing.  Trade, fight, rinse and repeat. Most points earned from collecting cards and placing in tournaments win! But mostly stare at the cards and try to build a good deck with combos that make sense and watch the whole thing get undone anyway by your opponents during the tournament.

So much variety in this game with all the different parodies of famous franchises.  So much symbology as  you try to put together a small tournament deck that actually makes sense in the limited time allotted.  It’s almost overwhelming, but you really get to live out your fantasy of buying and trading all those CCGs!  Oh, wait, not your fantasy?  Never mind.

Zen Turf War



designed by Jordan Goddard & Mandy Goddard, published by Renegade Game Studios

Get your Zen on in this gorgeously illustrated card-game of flower building.  Build flowers by playing cards in a clever circular pattern. Each round, place up to two petal cards to build up to five different kinds of flowers of five different sizes.  Then claim those complete flowers as points. However, you can also “control” flowers through adorable little bug guardian tokens. Control lets you take a five-point token or to upgrade your abilities.

Don’t let the cover fool or zen aesthetic fool you: best comment about the game isn’t even mine, but from my son: “it’s a pretty game for what amounts to a brutal turf war.”

Play the Pax Romana



designed by Mac Gerdts, published by Rio Grande Games

Build your trade empire during the height of the Roman Empire. Using a hand of cards, send your traders out, collect resources, and sell those resources to buy more cards that gives you better versions of those beginning actions. In other words, build a more powerful deck of cards.  The resources on the board are randomized at the beginning of the game, so you never know what each city will have. Like “Settlers of Catan” on steroids: more decisions, less randomness, and at times, achingly slow at the beginning as you watch your opponents range across the Mediterranean and you barely get out of Italy.

Quite the brain burner as you try to maximize your very few actions.  One of these games where it seems like there’s always more to do then you’re able.  But fun.  Still fun.