designed by Aaron Dill, John Kovaleski, & Sean Sweigert, published by Gale Force Nine
Players: 3-6; Playing Time: 90 min.; Good for: fans of the “Battlestar Galactica” game who don’t have three hours, ex-CIA; people who like semi-coop games.
Defend the United States against terrorist threats, or try to topple the country from the inside! Based on the Showtime TV show, this semi-cooperative game has players taking on one of three hidden roles: an agent, a political opportunist, or a terrorist mole. Each round begins with terrorist threats advancing, activating, resolving (if necessary) and appearing. Then the players take their turns: you have actions that you must take, and actions that are optional. First, you must you must take the “lead” on an existing threat, and then play two intel card secretly under two of the active threats on the board. These cards can either aid or hinder the resolution of that particular threat. In addition, you have optional actions where you can send in agents or soldiers to eliminate a threat or to peek at the cards underneath a threat to determine what’s going on there. Or even gain assets to help you. The terrorist mole wins if ten terrorist plots succeed, while the other players will win if they thwart ten plots.
Clever card-driven crisis resolution steps feel reminiscent of “Battlestar Galactica,” and since you are forced to play cards, you may play bad cards into a threat and seem like a mole when you’re not. And since the opportunist gains points for actually sabotaging events, it makes the game even trickier. Since the game is based on contemporary events and the cards feature CIA “dirty tricks,” be ready for awkward questions if you play with kids: “Dad, what’s extraordinary rendition?”
One Line Verdict: Tense game-play, long odds, and clever hidden roles asks you to bring this game into the light.
Review by Paul
“Bottom of the 9th”
designed by Darrell Louder and Mike Mullins, published by Greater Than Games (Dice Hate Me Games)
Players: 2; Playing Time: 5-20 min.; Good for: Baseball fans, couples, and armchair quarterbacks (to mix sports metaphors)
The game is tied, with two men on, two outs, and a full count. You stare into the eyes of the opposing batter, and you’re on your last legs. What do you do? Find out in this two-player game that recreates, well, the bottom of the ninth inning. The home team wins if they score a runner while the away team wins if they get three outs. Players begin with a “stare-down” where the pitcher chooses a pitch using two wooden disks and the batter tries to guess that pitch using the same method. Successfully guessing the pitch will give the batter an advantage, while outsmarting the batter will give the pitcher the same. Then the pitching player rolls dice to determine how well the pitch turned out, randomly determining a ball, a strike, or even painting that elusive corner. The batter responds by rolling a die, the number indicating a strike, a foul, or a hit, and even the type of hit. Players play through each pitch like this, with the pitchers earning fatigue with certain pitches and the batter trying to CRUSH THAT PITCH.
The best part of this game is the way they use game mechanics to capture the feeling of the batter-pitcher duel. The picking of the different pitches, the way the dice offer randomness, the way contact works, and the way pitcher fatigue is built in: all nicely done, and yes, really feels like baseball in a box. The fact it only recreates half an inning also makes sure it doesn’t wear out its welcome. Did I mention unique player powers for each batter and pitcher? A lot of game in a little box, and quick enough to lose two or three games to your son, who doesn’t even watch baseball, in an evening.
One Line Verdict: Don’t leave this one on the bench, especially if you’re a baseball fan. Even if you’re not, pick this up as a great two-player experience.
Review by Paul
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.
“Thurn and Taxis”
designed by Andres Seyfarth & Karen Seyfarth, published by Rio Grande Games
Players: 2-4; Playing Time: 60 Min; Good for: Mailmen, Eurogamers, and fans of “Ticket to Ride”
Return to the thrilling days of yesteryear as you compete to build the finest postal system in Bavaria and its surrounding regions! Each round, you must draw a card showing one of the cities on the board. Then, you must play a card down in front of you to either continue a route you already started, or if the city doesn’t link to your current route, discard that route and start a new one. Finally, you can score your current route by placing a postal house on the cities in that route: either a house in every city in one province, or a house in one city in every province the route passes through (more complicated than it sounds). Score point chits for building in all the cities in a province, or having one city in all provinces, or having routes of different lengths. Finally, collect carriages for building longer and longer routes. When the level 7 carriage is built or when a player uses up all his postal houses, the game ends, making sure all the players take an equal number of turns. Add up all the points scored from the bonus chits and carriage, minus the number of remaining cities, highest score dominates Bavaria and the mail!
It’s like a next level “Ticket to Ride” with the card-play driven route building, but with easily the most esoteric theme in all boardgaming. The Bavarian postal system in the 16th century? C’mon? Really? However, the press-your-luck aspects of building the route and chasing your opponents for the points makes for difficult decisions and tight gameplay: do I try for the longer routes to end the game, or the quick short routes to maximize points? Choose wisely, but still lose by two points. Ugh.
One Line Verdict: Push past the theme and pick up this great little gateway to complete your Spiel des Jahres collection. After all, when you control the mail…
designed by Sam Mitschke & Randy Scheunemann, published by Steve Jackson Games
Players: 3-6; Playing Time: 10-25 Min; Good for: Kids, cat-fanciers, people who like filler games.
Have you seen Simon’s Cat? He gets into all kinds of mischief in an animated webseries that I knew nothing about until I found this game. In it, players try not to take “messes,” or tricks. After all the cards in the deck are dealt to evenly to all the players, the player with the Cat 3 (or Cat 4) will start the round by placing it in the middle of the table. Players will then attempt to follow the previous card played down by either color or number. If you can’t follow, you take the “mess.” Play until the hands run out, and the player with the most messes will take a Simon card, the grumpy-looking owner of Simon’s Cat. Keep playing rounds until someone takes three Simon cards: they take the blame for all the mischief going on!
A very basic “trick-taking” game where you try to avoid taking the tricks. Differing number of cards in each “suit” – each illustrated by a different charming picture from the webseries – provides a bit of strategy to which you cards you end up playing to avoid taking a trick.
Otherwise, it’s kinda like UNO, but with an end.
One Line Verdict: Charmingly illustrated and a quick-filler, but not terribly creative or notable. Put this particular cat out.
Review by fasttrackxf
“Too Many Bones”
Designed by Josh and Adam Carlson, published by Chip Theory Games
The Quick Summary: You are a Gearlock (a tech-savvy mix of goblin, elf and gnome) going out for adventure. By dealing with different encounters you will gain skills and improve your stats to finally face the final boss of the adventure. You have a limited amount of days to achieve enough progress points to be allowed to face the boss. They call this a dice builder RPG, and it’s pretty much right on.
- Very high quality components (neoprene game mats, plastic cards).
- Great feeling of really developing a character.
- Many different bosses with different game durations. One game can last from 45 minutes to 2.5 hours.
- If you take the time to read the stories on the cards, you get a nice RPG feeling.
- Dice! Many, many dice! Each Gearlock comes with it’s own personalized dice that represents its skills.
- Very nice dice-rolling mechanic where you need to make choices (can’t use all your skills all the time!).
- Can be played solo.
- Combat and health system that uses poker-like tokens is very original and works very well.
- The rulebook isn’t optimal. Many rules aren’t clear or are only present on the summary sheet. I had to watch a video to understand better the flow of the game.
- Randomness of rolling dice can be a negative for many, but you know what you get when you buy this game!
- Nothing! Except maybe the price and limited distribution (only via the editor’s web site).
Keep it or leave it? Definitely keep it. This game is a masterpiece for its art, component quality, and gameplay. Very good potential for replayability and a good challenge.
Review by Sébastien
“Attack on Titan: The Last Stand”
designed by Antoine Bauza & Ludovic Maublanc, published by Cryptozoic Entertainment
Strap on your air-gear and defend the wall…wait, didn’t I already write THIS review as well? No, this is not the deck-building game, but a one vs. all recreation of a pitched battle between the Survey Corps and a single titan. Human players roll dice to get different actions: move on the 3D board, attack, or defend, all the while trying to get into position to execute the tactics that will fell the mighty titan. You can roll as many times as you want, but roll a titan face on your die and that die goes to the titan character to use one his special powers to wreak havoc with the humans: maybe eat a civilian or regenerate health. Meanwhile, the titan player chooses two attacks: one face up and one face down. The humans can then use their dice to neutralize the titan’s attacks or try and activate a tactics card. The titan wins if he kills a character, eats all the civilians (there are 12 to begin with) or destroys six cannons. The humans win if they finish off the titan. But much harder than at looks, as there are only two cards in the 8 card tactic deck that actually kills the titan!
Each character on the human side has different special abilities while there are three different titans to choose from. The 3D board looks cool and works thematically as players try to position themselves around the titan for the killing blow. Almost too easy with two humans, one titan: the humans only have fulfill two of three conditions on the powerful tactics cards to activate them. A higher player count would avoid this issue. Then again, if you roll three titan heads to begin with, not much is going to save you.
One Line Verdict: Is there room in a collection for two Attack on Titan games? Yes, yes, there is.
Designed by Josh & Adam Carlson, published by Chip Theory Games
The Quick Summary: Welcome to the world of pick-locking where you will compete with another player or against the game! While flipping and moving tokens, you will need to remember where everything is so you can sort them out in the right order to complete what is required by your cards. Doesn’t sound too hard, unless your opponent or the game decides to move everything around.
- Very high material quality, like everything from Chip Theory Games.
- Fast game (15-30 minutes).
- Can be played solo.
- There are many different characters that each bring a different skill or advantage.
- Rulebook is very hard to understand. Had to read it twice and watch two videos to get the feel of how the game works. The rulebook would benefit from pictures or schematics to better understand the flow of the game.
- Basically a memory-based puzzle, which is bad for me, but can be good for you.
- The pick-locking theme feels like it was just tacked on a game mechanic. You never feel like you are actually pick-locking a lock.
Keep it or leave it? For me it’s a big leave it. I received my Kickstarter copy, played with it, and put it on sale five days later. I recognize that for some people this will be an awesome game. The game mechanic and flow will attract many players, but for me it was a big failure.
Review by Sébastien
designed by Michael Kiesling & Wolfgang Kramer, published by HABA Games
Defend the kingdom from the rampaging fog creatures by collecting swords, magical herbs, gold, and bold companions, lots and lots of bold companions! Everyone starts with their 8-10 (depending on the number of players) on the top left corner of the board. Each turn, each player will draw two cards that will direct them to place one of the items (sword, herb, companion, gold, or fog monster) by grid coordinate (A-K, 1-10) on the board. Then players have two moves. They can move one adventurer twice, or two adventurers once. Here’s the catch: players can move their adventurers any distance down or to the right on the board, but they can’t move up or to the left. In other words, everyone heads inevitably to the bottom right of the board. Once an adventurer stops in a space, he will pick up the item in that space: swords and herbs help in combat, gold scores points at the end of the game, and companions will join the player’s meeple, forming a party that moves with that adventurer, making it easier to fight monsters along the way. Or he’ll fight a fog monster! Once the companions and swords run out, the game ends, and scoring begins!
Three different scenarios offer different scoring and different strategies, giving this game lots of different strategies, with the first scenario easy enough for kids, and the last is a clever area control game. Even though the same objects will always appear on the same space, the order that they appear is random from game to game and thus forces interesting strategic decisions, especially since your adventurers can’t go back or up once they pass a space. But invariably, someone just gets a massive army of dudes that end up chilling in the castle at the lower right of the board.
One Line Verdict: Gather your friends, the grand adventure awaits!
Review by Paul