designed by Satoshi Nakamura, published by Z-Man Games
Card-drafting? Set collection? Cool anime inspired fantasy art? All plusses, adding up to a neat little game that plays quickly with some neat strategies with the different card effects. Each round, players will get five cards, and then draft five cards. With their new hands of five cards, players will play cards one at a time in front of them, but they only have to play three. Cards are played for points, but some powerful cards will cause cards to flip. Flipped cards don’t score in the endgame, which occurs after four drafting and four playing phases. The key to the game is drafting scoring combos: some cards are “friendly” with other cards and require them to score, while others require a majority or type. Lots of scoring options transforms this into a next level “Sushi Go.” And watching players misread the text is always a hoot.
Multiple scoring options and wide variety of card effects really makes this a next-level card-drafting game. The visual style is a bonus. Well, for fans of anime maybe.
One Line Verdict: Don’t hesitate to enter into this gorgeous fantasy realm and leave the Sushi (Go) behind!
designed by Christopher Chung, published by Renegade Game Studios
Create beautiful floating lantern displays and win the favor of the Emperor in this gorgeous tile-laying game. Players start with three lake tiles in their hand. You collect lantern cards as you lay the multi-colored tiles around the lake. Each player will collect a lantern card that matches the direction that they are seated around the table. Earn bonus cards by matching lanterns of the same color to tiles already on the table. Score points by dedications: turning in lanterns in different sets (four of kind, three different pairs, or one of each color) at the beginning of your turn. Earn favor tokens by placing lake tiles next to special platforms on some tiles, and use those tokens to trade in lantern cards for the colors that you will need. The player with the most points from dedication tiles after all the tiles are placed wins!
Tricky tile-laying strategies as you try to maximize the cards you get while avoiding giving your opponents the cards they need as well. Time your actions carefully, as you can only score points at the beginning of the round with your dedications, and the amount of points you earn from dedications decrease with each dedication. Another game of seemingly great beauty and serenity that ends up in cut-throat action as you watch your opponent invariably dedicate one turn before you can.
One Line Verdict: Simple and elegant gameplay allow for complex strategies in this beautiful game.
designed by Wolfgang Sentker & Ralf zur Linde, published by Stronghold Games
Fill your ark with animals…in everything but pairs, because that Noah guy has already claimed that concept. Animals are drawn randomly and placed into a large group at the beginning of each round. All except one are placed face-up with one mystery animal to make things more interesting. On your turn, you can either split a group into two smaller groups, or claim a group and place it on your ark. Splitting a group earns you a food crate; loading animals onto your ark costs you a number of food crates equal to the number of animals you are bringing on board. Once you claim animals, you are out of the round, and the other players continue splitting or claiming. At the end of a round, new animals are placed for the next round, or someone has ten animals on their ark and the game ends with scoring! Herds (groups of 3,4, or 5 of the same animal) will give you 5 points per animal, single animals will give you the points printed on the card, while pairs are discarded without scoring. Most points win!
The key is splitting the groups: do you split to form a herd? Or make a non-scoring pair? Or do you mix things up with the face-down animal? And, of course, other players can’t see what you loaded into the ark already. A very clever use of the I-split, you-choose mechanic with great components: durable ark pieces and great artwork.
One Line Verdict: Don’t miss the boat on this one in this fast-playing, little cousin to, oddly enough, “Zooleroto.” Which is also about animals, but without the apocalyptic theme.
designed by Kristian Curla, published by Portal Games
Can you conquer the bizarre world of Lovecraftian mythos in this two-player, card-drafting, engine-building game? Begin by drafting one card from your hand of five and place it into your tableau in front of you before passing your hand to your opponent. Each card scores different points based on different conditions in your tableau: maybe you will score points for the majority of a certain symbol, or simply score for each symbol of that kind you have in your tableau. Or go for the big points by drafting Nyartholep, who requires one of each of the five symbols in the game. Or you can collect madness for an end-of-round scoring bonus. But be careful, collect nine madness tokens and you automatically lose! Three rounds are played, with one card left over from the previous round to help you in the next. Most points after the three rounds wins…unless you go mad by collecting nine madness tokens! Be careful, if you leave a card with madness in front of you, things escalate pretty quickly. As I found out the hard way…twice.
Card-drafting stripped down to its purest form: with two players, players quickly know what is available and it quickly becomes almost tactical as you try to develop the best combo for your hand while trying to prevent your opponent from developing theirs.
One Line Verdict: Take this descent into madness again with this different take on the Cthulhu mythos.
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.
designed by Masao Suganuma, published by IDW Games
“Diamonsters” These cute little monsters want diamonds! A very quick and easy bidding game: flip a card, and try to win that monsters and add it to your collection by bidding with a card numbered 1-5. The same number card played by different players cancels each other out, and high number left wins, but 1 beats 5! Winner places the card she used plus the card she won into her face up “monster collection.” Repeat until one player has three of the same monster in her collection or has five face-up diamonds (which are printed on the cards). The winner of the round gets one plastic diamond piece. Repeat until one player gets five diamonds (or so, depending on the number of players).
More of a “what card do I think my opponents will play?” sort of filler, with surprisingly poorly written rules for the endgame. Because you take the monster you played and the one you won into your collection, there is some strategy. Not much, but some. Cute illustrations, giant box.
One Line Verdict: These monsters are easy to avoid. Unless it’s for like 5 bucks.
designed by Sergio Halaban and Andre Zotz, published by Arcane Wonders
Try to smuggle goods past the corrupt sheriff in order to stock your shopping stall and earn the most points. Easy enough: place goods and/or contraband in your bag (contraband scores much more points then the goods), and the bag to the player who is currently Sheriff and, give a number of goods and one true item. Bribe the sheriff to get him to look the other way and let the contraband through, of if you are the sheriff, try to convince people to make it worth your while not to look and bust their smuggling. Players take turns being the Sheriff and smugglers. So, there can be give/take dynamic as you bribe, cajole, and convince the other players to let you through. But when you can’t bribe/smuggle correctly nor guess when someone’s lying to you, you’re not winning this game. Like me, in this case.
A game all about social dynamics and the strategy of when to smuggle, when to bribe, and when to tell the truth.
One Line Verdict: Cut it out with a spoon. At least for me. But if you like bluffing games, it’s quite nice.
designed by Susan McKinley Ross, published by Mindware
The classic abstract game that’s basically Scrabble with colors and symbols. Tiles come in six different shapes and in six different colors. On your turn, place tiles crossword-style onto the main playing area, trying to get rows of either six of the same symbol in different colors, or six different symbols in all the same color. Earn points for each new row you complete, and a completed row of six earns you 12 points, a Qwirkle (shouting that out loud is optional)! Draw new tiles to replace the ones you placed, or if your tiles are complete garbage, skip your turn and replace as many tiles as you want from the draw bag. Play until all tiles are exhausted and the player with the most points wins!
Like Scrabble, but easier…but also harder because it takes a little bit to wrap your head around the color and shape matching. Opens up lots of spatial options. Like the ad for another boardgame once said: a minute to learn, a lifetime to master! Well, maybe two evenings.
One Line Verdict: No wonder it’s a classic, unless you don’t like abstracts, then you should probably pass on this one.
designed by Phil Walker-Harding, published by Kosmos
Build the wonders of Ancient Egypt, from pyramids to obelisks to temples and burial chambers. Place blocks on boats, and once a boat is full enough, sail that boat to one location. Unload and score points or get market cards to help you in later turns! Each location builds and scores differently: maybe you’ll stack blocks to form an obelisk, or put blocks pyramidally to build, well, a pyramid. But watch out: opponents can end up choosing where you sail your boats and scuttle your plans.
A pretty light game, with clear choices, but an interesting spatial component as you try to figure out where your blocks will score, and then realize it doesn’t matter anyway ’cause your opponent will just sail you to the last place you want to go. It’s almost press your luck: how long can I delay sailing to maximize my points?
Such a cute game with a little cute panda munching bamboo as you lay bamboo hexes and send the gardener to grow different color bamboo. Each round begins with the roll of the event die: get more actions, or double up on action or get move the panda or gardener for free. Then choose two actions to perform during the round. Choose a new hex tile to add to the garden, or move the gardener to grow bamboo, or move the panda to eat (collect) a bamboo shoot. Race to complete your secret objectives: having combinations of bamboo eaten, or grown, or hexes in certain patterns. Win the favor of the emperor and the player with most points from objectives win!
So very cute, but it can be so brutal and cutthroat as you work at cross purposes against the other players. It almost drove my son to tears because you can totally mess someone up quite unintentionally.