designed by Peter Mariutto , published by Freshwater Game Company
[Note: this is a prototype submitted to the reviewer by the publisher in advance of their Kickstarter campaign, which can be found here].
Players: 2-6; Playing Time: 30 min.; Good for: Abstract game fans, people who like bright colors
Outwit your opponent in this duel to make the world’s ugliest checkerboard. Well, actually, to score the most points by laying down tiles to form different patterns on the board. Tiles feature four colors, two different colors on each side, and players take turns placing tiles on the board. The only rule is that matching colors cannot be put next to each other (basically opposite dominoes). Players thus use these orthogonal placements to form patterns simple patterns like “the line” and “the x” or more complex patterns like the “big w” to score points for the shape in that color, as well as bonus points. The game ends when the last tile is placed and the person with the most scoring cards wins! Or you simply go color-blind from all those colors on the board…you can do that too.
Like other games of this type, the key is figuring out the best placement that will allow you to score points but to prevent setting up your opponent. The fact that the tiles are double-sided with different colors AND that you can put tiles on top of previously placed tiles allows for some brain burning strategies. But getting a cascade of different shapes when scoring points can be pretty satisfying. But with so many choices, it can also promote some crippling tunnel vision.
One Line Verdict: Abstract fans will probably enjoy this, but if you struggle with too many choices, you might want to stick with Qwirkle.
“Card City XL”
Designed by Alban Viard, published by AVStudio Games
The Quick Summary: With the cards at your disposal, you are in charge of building the highest scoring city. With a crafty card drafting system, where the first player creates small decks of partially hidden cards for other players to choose from, “Card City XL” requires some long-term planning to optimize your town by fitting the best cards within a 5×5 or 6×6 square. You can place cards to grow your city, but optimal card placement can allow some districts to develop by themselves and grow without actually using cards from your hand! The key feature of the game is that it comes with 240 different ways of playing. Some of them are pretty similar, just easier versions of the same game, but it does have a lot of possible variations.
A lot of potential variety when it comes to winning conditions and objectives.
Many different levels of difficulty.
Will appeal to both casual gamers and more strategic gamers.
Comes with a solo variant that allows you to try to create your own metropolis.
The nice combo of tile placement and organic growth of your city makes for interesting decision-making.
The many different levels and winning conditions can be confusing at first glance.
A good insert to store the cards would have been nice.
Solo variant only measures your success based on your score. You can’t lose. You simply compare your score to the chart in the rulebook.
The size of the city, once you reach a certain amount of cards makes it very hard to manage. You need a BIG table (or a lot of moving your city around) for 3-4 players games.
Keep it or leave it? This is a keeper since the more hardcore gamer can be satisfied because of the long-term planning required and it will also attract more casual gamers (just lower the difficulty).
designed by Jacob Fryxelius, published by Intrafin Games/Stronghold Games
The Quick Summary: You are in charge of a corporation who wishes terraform Mars and dominate it in the process. By building up your corporation, you will have to implement projects, plant forests, create oceans, and increase the planet’s temperature to make it hospitable to future colonists. A strong mix of tile-laying and engine building mechanics.
Very fast. A solo game can be setup, played, and stored in 45 minutes. Time increases with more players, but set up and take down is still very fast.
Very good theme: you get the feeling that you are actually terraforming Mars.
Multiplayer is very fun. A nice mix of strategy and planning with a little take-that.
Can be played solo. The solo option makes for a very tense and tight game. It’s NOT easy.
Not many tokens to deal with. Resources cubes are used to represent many different things, depending on where they are placed.
Easy to understand. Rulebook is well-designed.
Projects cards are so numerous they can be hard to shuffle. It’s a THICK deck.
Component quality is below average. Cards are thin, many resource cubes are chipped, and the player mat only needs a slight bump to mess up your current production levels.
Keep it or leave it? Totally keep it. The engine building aspect of the game is very entertaining and the theme fits very well with the mechanics. I can play this with my wife, a casual gamer, and with more hardcore gamers.
Be the first brave explorer to find the mysterious lost temple in this…wait didn’t I already write this review? Oh, but this is a tile-laying game and there are multiple temples to get to. Race your explorers to their matching temples in this clever little tile-laying game that feels a bit like bingo. One player places her stack of tiles face down, and each turns draws a tile and calls out the number of the tile drawn. The other players find that tile, and everyone places the same tile somewhere, anywhere on their own personal game board. Or, players can discard that tile to move an explorer a number of tile spaces they’ve already played on the board equal to the number of road spaces that lead off the tile. Score points to be the first to lead your explorer to each of the temples, or by picking up diamonds gold nuggets that appear on certain tiles. The person with the most points when the tiles run out wins!
In essence, everyone has the same tile to place and their explorers and temples are start in the same place, but the real strategy shows up when you decide what to do with tile: do you place it down to build your path? Or do you discard it to move? Or do you keep it for the gold, even though it gives you good movement? Simple gameplay and lots of choices makes this a great family game.
One Line Verdict: Yet another trip into a jungle? But a different one with new scenery. Grab your hat and go already!
designed by James Ernest and Mike Selinker, published by Mayfair Games
Journey back to the beginning of the Strip and wheel and deal your way to become the only Lord of Vegas! (Not on the box. Maybe they should use this). Players vie for victory point supremacy by owning lot, building casinos, making cash to convert into larger casinos and swallowing up their smaller rivals. Each round players will draw a card representing one lot on the board and one of the five casinos. Then they get ownership of that lot, money if they have casinos of that color, and victory points for the total size of that casino of that color as well. They then take as many actions as they can afford: build a new casino, sprawl an existing casino and take over an empty lot, remodel a casino to change the casino color, gamble to make some extra spending dough, or even re-organize the dice on the casino tiles to change who the boss is, and who ultimately controls that casino and scores those points. Most interestingly, the game offers open negotiations among players for nearly everything in the game to really mix things up and give that the game that freewheeling vibe of Old Vegas. The true Lord of Vegas is determined when the “Game Over” card is drawn, everything is scored on more time, and the player with the most points comes out on top!
With its use of randomly drawn lots determining ownership, the game resembles Z-Man’s “Chinatown.” While that game emphasizes the importance of negotiation more, the extra mechanics here offers paths other than negotiation. In fact, the freewheeling nature of the negotiation is almost under-emphasized, being the next to last section in the rules. Nonetheless, there are plenty of deals to be made as you trade, consolidate, and hope you guessed right about the next payout.
One Line Verdict: For players looking for a game that is equal parts luck, strategy, and negotiation. Just like going to Vegas…not really.
Race to build the grandest pyramid for the dying pharaoh in this small box game from Japan’s Oink Games. Each round, a lead builder will roll the dice allowing players, one at a time, to draft different shapes in order to build their pyramid. Choose from a rectangle, a big triangle, a little triangle, and a square in order to complete your pyramid, from base to capstones and following the rules for laying tiles But be careful, the square also represents the pharaoh’s life, and if you take the last square, you automatically lose the game for killing the pharaoh. Likewise, make sure you actually complete your pyramid before the pharaoh’s life runs out. The player who scores the most points (length of pyramid x height of pyramid – the number of capstones) wins and has the honor of having a moldy, dessicated mummy reside in their grand creation.
A potentially simple and elegant tile-laying game is hampered unclear scoring rules for the endgame. The definition of different legal placements for the tiles feels unclear at times and turned the game from strategic tile-laying into, “I don’t think that counts as legal” arguments. Sometimes less means more, but here less just led to confusing. And definitely one of the most brutal instant lose conditions out there.
One Line Verdict: Great concept with flawed execution; leave this one buried in the desert sands.
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 Francois Gandon, published by Days of Wonder
Become the master planner as you build your very square city district. Each player has a separate 4×4 player board, and on your turn, use one of your four architects to choose a tile from the main planning board. The architect number determines two things: first, the building you get from the main board, and then the district on your own board you must place the piece. Build power plants to power your district, apartment towers to gain residents, parks to absorb pollution, and retail to keep your residents shopping! But make sure everything balances out: each extra power or resident counts as negative points! After four rounds and (hopefully) sixteen tiles, calculate the points: each building scores differently, the most points win! And just a pointer, diversification is a good thing.
The architects make it seems like you are constrained choice-wise, but there are so many options: not good for the analysis paralysis prone. And there’s a Expert game too! The very definition of “elegant” gameplay.
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.
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.