Two by Two…


“Animals on Board”

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.

Like Westworld, but Without the Robots.


“Bang: the Dice Game”

designed by Michael Palm & Lukas Zach, published by dv Giochi & Asmodee

Be the last man (or woman) standing in this Wild West duel. At the beginning, each player is assigned a role: sheriff, outlaw, deputy, or renegade, with each role having a different goal to win the game: the sheriff and his deputies have to survive the withering gunfire of everyone else, while outlaws win when the sheriff is eliminated, or the renegade wins when she is the last one left alive amid all the carnage. All roles are hidden, except for the sheriff. Then players are given a unique character with a special power to help when the lead starts flying. Players take turns by rolling dice (up to three times via the old Yahtzee mechanic) and then resolving the actions on the dice: shooting, healing (with a swig of beer), blowing yourself up, or maybe even calling down Indians to deal damage to all. Run out of life points, and you’re sent to Boot Hill (that is, you are eliminated), but your team can still win! Whoever is left (according to your win conditions) wins the game!

Plays quick and easy with the hidden roles adding a layer of strategy that keeps the game interesting and makes people really mad when you start shooting the members of your team. The quick play keeps the game moving and getting eliminated less sad and boring.

One Line Verdict: Strap on your six-shooters and draw (or roll, in this particular case) for a fun, quick-moving hidden role game that doesn’t require all that talkin’ and negotiatin’.

Paperback Writer…



designed by Tim Fowers, published by Fowers Games

Can you write the Great American Novel in this clever word-based deck-building game? Play cards from your hand with letters on them to form words: letters used to form words will give you “money” to buy more cards with more (and sometimes better) letters or with special powers to add to your deck. Then as you draw those letter cards, spell even better words, and use that money to get even better cards or, more importantly, purchase the all-important point scoring cards, which are brightly designed pulp novel covers. Because those actually help you win the game. Just remember, you need vowels in order to actually spell words and sometimes, when you draw five consonants, you just sigh and wonder if you should playing this game in some Eastern European language instead.

Wild cards help you spell words and you usually get a few each draw, but the occasional wild draw of all vowels or all consonants can be frustrating. A very different and fun way of doing a word game with some fun art and challenging mechanics.

One Line Verdict: Great upgrade for those who love Scrabble, or an alternative for those who hate it, and at least a lateral move for fans of deck-building.

To the Brink


“13 Days: The Cuban Missile Crisis, 1962”

designed by Daniel Skjold Pedersen & Asger Sams Granerud, published by Jolly Roger Games and UltraPRO

Stare your opponent and bring the world to the brink in this recreation of the Cuban Missile Crisis! Basically “Twilight Struggle” –lite with dual use cards, play influence onto different battlegrounds, try to avoid nuclear war. Each round, players choose a secret objective out of three for that round: maybe to build up on one of the DEFCON tracks, or to control a certain battleground. Your opponent knows which areas you may be going to, but not the one you actually chose. Players then use the historically accurate cards for either Command, placing down or removing influence markers, or for their special power. But be careful, you can play a card designated for your opponent for the command, but she will get the special power, which will most likely wreck you. Score the round, move the score marker between the two sides and repeat three times and try not to blow up the world in between!

The hardest part is aggressive play leads to raising your DEFCONs and the last round is mostly players desperately trying to lower DEFCON and not blow the world up. So, in many ways, historically accurate.

One Line Verdict: Bring the world to the brink with this great, zero-sum two-player game. Plant flowers instead of you feel otherwise.

Once in a Blue Moon


“Blue Moon City”

designed by Reiner Knizia, published by KOSMOS

Rebuild the Ruined City of Blue Moon! At least that’s what the box says in this area control game where you play cards to rebuild different buildings in different districts of, well, Blue Moon City. Each district requires a certain number and color of cards: on your turn move your pawn to that space and then turn in matching cards to place a marker on that district. Earn crystals, dragon scales, and cards from the district you helped build as well as from completed surrounding districts. Or use the special powers on the various cards to move the dragons or help you in your building task. Use crystals to build the obelisk at the center of the city: but be careful, the different pieces of the obelisk get progressively more expensive. First to put four (five or six, depending on the number of players) blocks in the obelisk wins! Just make sure you don’t burn all your cards in one turn: it takes a while to get them back as you watch your opponents blow by you.

Modular board keeps the game fresh; the board movement adds a nice tactical feel to your overall strategy; and multi-use cards inject just enough options in this challenging and clever area control game.

One Line Verdict: An oldie (in boardgame years) but a goodie. Take at least one visit to this fantasy city.

A Game That Blows Itself Up



designed by Kane Klenko, published by Renegade Game Studios

Work together to defuse the bombs that threaten your ship! In this cooperative dice-drafting game, cards represent bombs. You defuse them by placing the dice drawn from a common pool in whatever combination the cards requires: maybe a certain color or a certain number placed in a certain order. But be careful, you are working with your fellow players and you all draft from a common pool: don’t leave a player without a dice they can use or they will pay a penalty. Oh, and did I mention this was real-time with a 10-minute time limit? Frenzied action as players shout out what they need, what they can work with and what definitely doesn’t help them. Unfortunately, you will usually end up in the last case.

Basic, intuitive rules drive the action and the tension ramps up pretty quickly. A fun app also adds great thematic atmosphere to the whole affair.

One Line Verdict: Fans of real-time cooperative games should beam up to this one. Others watch the ship explode from a safe distance.

The Next-to-Last Samurai



designed by Nicolas Sato, published by Iello

Battle your enemies for supremacy on the battlefield in medieval Japan! In this card game, cards representing different battlefields are laid out between two different players; thus requiring players to win on two different fronts. Your units are represented by different cards and these units have different numerical values and different special powers. Cards are placed either face up or face down (depending on the type of unit) next to each battlefield, which also have special conditions that can affect how the battle plays out. Players alternate placing units, trying to outsmart both players. After all units are placed, the total values of units are compared, battlefields are scored, and the winner, with the most points is crowned! Generally not the person who got their most powerful unit wiped out by a lucky guess on the part of their opponent (that would be me).

Lots of strategic decisions to be made between all the powers, the battlefield conditions, and the fact that you have to fight two opponents. A little like the old classic “Schotten Totten”/”Battle Line” only without poker hands and a little gimmicky.

One Line Verdict: If you liked “Battle Line,” join this fight! More lateral move than next level, though.

No Ewoks Need Apply


Risk: Star Wars Edition

Designed by James D’Aloisio, Austin Rucker, & Craig Van Ness, published by Hasbro

Yes, it’s by Hasbro, but that’s okay: a fast-moving, card-driven, dice-chucking recreation of the Battle on Endor on three fronts: fight in space, advance towards the bunker on Endor, and fight the duel between Luke, Darth Vader and the Emperor. Each turn players pick three cards to play which allows them to take actions on one of the three fronts. The Rebel player controls the Millennium Falcon and squadrons of X-Wings, B-Wings, and Y-Wings which offer different attack values. The Empire has TIE Fighters and the mighty Super Star Destroyer at her disposal, not to mention the sector-smashing power of the Death Star. Advancing on the Endor and duel tracks earn the winning player extra cards to play during their turn, perhaps changing the tide of battle in their favor. The Empire wins when all the attacking Rebel fighters around Endor are destroyed; the Rebels win when they advance to the end of shield generator track and destroy the Death Star!

The cards provide just enough strategy as you try to figure which scene to advance on, and the dice provide just enough randomness so the Death Star doesn’t toast your entire fleet. Admittedly, after several plays the Empire has never one, but that’s movie accurate, right?

One Line Verdict: The Force is strong with this game for a quick, light re-creation of this epic battle.

Mo’ Cthulhu, Mo’ Madness


“Tides of Madness”

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.

Up, Up, and Away…



designed by Aaron Weissblum, published by ABBA Games

Travel the skies as a steampunk adventurer as you attempt to collect the most valuable treasures! Players take turn being the captain of an airship: they roll the dice to determine the hazards – from lightning to fog to storms – and then the passengers decide: does the captain have the right cards to avoid the obstacles? If no, bail out now and get whatever rewards there are from the ship is currently at. If yes, everyone left on board sails on and sees if the captain actually does have the cards to save the ship from certain doom. If he doesn’t have the cards, the ship crashes and everyone on board dies and gets nothing and those who bailed out have a hearty laugh while savoring their treasure. Then the cycle begins from the beginning of the path. If he does have the cards, the ship sails on to the next lucrative stop and those on board laugh at those schmoes who had so little faith and bailed out early. Then the next player becomes captain and those left on board make the same hard choices. Special action cards also mix up gameplay and make those decisions just a tad bit harder. Stay or go? Or just make the wrong decision every single time and watch victory dissipate like the clouds surrounding the ship.

Part bluffing (on the part of the captain) and part press-your-luck makes for a fun, interactive game with great tension. The 3D cardboard airship also makes for a great visual.

One Line Verdict: Definitely climb on board and sail these clouds.