designed by Yves Touring, published by Z-Man Games
Use dice to build buildings in this clever little dice-drafting game. Each round, players will get a secret blueprint for building a small building composed of six dice. Roll the dice, and choose one to add to your building. Numbers indicate if you can build on top of existing dice, so put low numbers on the lower levels. Colors indicate different building materials. Following the blueprints is actually optional: you score extra points if you do. After all six dice are placed, buildings are scored; points are awarded depending on material, dice face, and placement. VICTORY points are then awarded for first and second place buildings, as well as for completing runs or using the same material or building high towers or having the same number dice. Three rounds, add up the victory points. Best plan: carefully choosing between maximizing your building points and end round bonus victory points. Worst plan: not following the blueprint and not getting the end round bonus.
A tricky little dice-drafting game that offers lots of strategic decisions that is the perfect length. Just hard enough to get you thinking, but light enough to serve as a filler.
One Line Verdict: Just the right length and very satisfying.
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 Theo Riviere, published by Iello Games
Travel through the sea of clouds as steampunk pirates! Collect crew, treasures, and rum in order to amass the most points. Each round, the first player will look face down at a designated loot card: she can take it, or leave it. If she does, she adds one card to that loot stack and looks at the next loot card. Same decision, and repeat one more time for good measure. If she refuses all three cards, she can take the top card off the deck. The next player now does the same, but if the previous player left cards, they have more to look at and potentially take! But be careful, there are plenty of bad cards out there, and you can collect sets of items, but the first few of each item are almost always negative points! Oh, and you fight every once in awhile. Count up your points at the end of your voyage and rule the Sea of Clouds! Arrrrr.
Peeking at the loot is fun, but the turn progression seemed odd: you change start player and move the ship after every player has a chance to look at the loot, but the way player changed seemed harder to keep track of than it should. Light, fun, easy choices. But, if you don’t collect those sets, either because you passed on them or thye got snatched before you can even get them, you can seriously lose. Like me.
One Line Verdict: A must-stop for steampunk pirates, but others may want to keep sailing.
designed by Florian Flay, published by Z-Man Games
My vote for one of the most ridiculous titles I’ve ever seen…but a clever sci-fi themed co-op where you fight off invading alien hordes in several different scenarios. It even has a three-dimensional board with raised platforms for multiple level combat! Roll dice to allocate actions, trade among players, activate special abilities in your rooms, and blast the multitude of rampaging aliens to satisfying bits. The aliens are simply programmed through cards to move and attack, and it’s up to you and your team to maximize your own dice in relation to their actions. It’s like a complicated puzzle that you need to solve. A complicated puzzle to avoid your horrible, brutal deaths from withering alien attacks.
A good game for fans of the equally punishing “Ghost Stories” where success is both hard-won and satisfying. But that name…oh, that name…
One Line Verdict: Join the fight! Much more intellectual than the theme and title suggest.
Can you escape with the troll’s treasure? A simple action selection/deduction game that fits into a teeny, tiny box. The starting player looks at the troll who has a number between 5 and 11 (roughly), and then places a number between one and five face up. The higher the number, the greater the reward, but also greater the risk. The next player decides to either put a number down blind, and double their reward, or they can peek at the troll and make a better decision. If the total is higher than the troll’s number, then it will catch you! What is your opponent doing? Are they a jerk who will get you snatched by the troll? Probably.
Definitely a clever game with a pretty basic mechanic. Almost pure bluffing, and there is room for strategic play, but that fact isn’t apparent right away. And it feels pretty light.
One Line Verdict: Don’t bother with his Troll too much. Unless you like trolls. And bluffing.
designed by Jun Sasaki & Goro Sasaki, published by Oink Games
Go diving for treasure in this small-box Japanese game. Roll the dice and travel deeper into the ocean to pick up scoring chits. But be careful: everybody shares an air supply and the more chits you have, the faster the air goes and then the slower you go. Do you keep going for that one more turn to pick up a higher value chit? Or do you turn around and hope to make it back before the air runs out? If you’re me, you just sink and die every time. The winner got two chits and won by a point. That’s a tight game.
But it’s a fun game: a simple and challenging press-your-luck game that really makes you say, “just one more step…”
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.
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.