Review: Good Cop, Bad Cop

goodcopbadcopboxIf you’ve perused our site much, you know that we love hidden role and bluffing games – The ResistanceCoup, Sherriff of Nottinghamyou name it (well, don’t name One Night Ultimate Werewolf). So, when I heard that Good Cop Bad Cop was like ‘Coup meets Bang!‘, I was definitely intrigued. Now that I’ve got a few games under my belt, where does this game fall in what’s becoming a crowded genre? Here’s a reminder of my scoring categories:

 

Components – Does the game look nice? Are the bits worth the money? Do they add to the game?
Accessibility – How easy is the game to teach, or to feel like you know what you are doing?
Depth – Does the gameplay allow for deeper strategies, or does the game play itself?
Theme – Does the game give a sense of immersion? Can you imagine  the setting described in the game?
Fun – Is the game actually enjoyable? Do you find yourself smiling, laughing, or having some sense of satisfaction when it’s over?

 

gcbcintegrity_cardsComponents: First, let me note that this is the second edition, which comes in a Jaipur / Citadels size box, not the very small original edition. There’s plenty of room for everything, but still a simple but useful insert to separate the cards from the large, cardboard gun tiles and reminder / first player tile, which also come with very helpful plastic stands. There’s also a couple of cardboard ‘Wounded’ tokens, but that’s it. For an MSRP of $20, this is a steal. There’s not much stuff, but what’s there is done excellently, with a fantastic rulebook and a fun, cartoony art style. Hats off.

 

Accessibility: This is only a 10-20 minute game, and it’s relatively simple to play. I think it took me about three minutes to explain, and we were up and running. The small points of confusion are easy to catch as you read the rules – you aim a gun at the end of your turn as a separate step if you have one (setting up who you’ll shoot next turn – maybe), and playing Equipment cards is not an action. Other than that, the first player marker has a reminder of your available actions and the turn sequence, which is incredibly helpful. I don’t think we had any rules questions during our games, which is pretty incredible. I’d say this could very easily be someone’s gateway game, especially someone who has played Mafia / Werewolf.

 

Depth: I’m not sure where I fall here. This basically a far, far superior version of Bang!, but it’s still a fast-and-loose game full of action cards and desperation moves – it’s not the thinky semi-logic puzzle of something like The Resistance. So, I don’t think I’d be any means call it a game of skill where the more experienced player will win, but you do feel like you have more than option available to you, especially in the early turns, and that your decisions do matter. You can also have crazy situations where the other team has far more players than you, or other players change your allegiance, and so on – so this is more of a roll-with-the-punches kind of game.

 

Theme: I think the artwork here is great, keeping the theme alive but from being too serious or gory. I also think the equipment cards do a great job of incorporating the theme with mechanisms. The other central mechanisms don’t make much sense theme-wise – why would I drop a gun? I guess you can make arguments about the three possibly-changing loyalty cards in the sense of how much someone leans one way or the other…. But when you put it all together, you do have a game that coalesces into something that reminds you of those old cop TV shows with sudden surprises and lots of laughs.

 

Fun: I went into this comparing to Resistance for whatever reason, and it’s absolutely not that. This is much more in the spirit of Bang!, except it’s a far, far better game, even if only because it lasts a proper 10-20 minutes. On top of that, though, there’s much more deduction and rationale for decisions, but still lots of excitement and tense moments. “Shoot him! Shoot him!” Another nice thing about this game is that we can bust it out with four people (unlike The Resistance), and it’s still pretty good. I’ll be hanging on to this one, and I’m eagerly looking forward to the Bombers & Traitors expansion.

 

If you wish Bang! was shorter and had more deduction, or if you wish The Resistance was far more swingy and full of action cards, I absolutely recommend Good Cop Bad Cop.

 

Rating:

4star

4 out of 5

Review: Parfum

parfumboxIn 2010 (back before the Kennerspiel des Jahres existed), though Dixit pulled out the Spiel des Jahres victory, Eurogamer types were drooling over Fresco from Wolfgang Panning, Marco Ruskowski, and Marcel Süßelbeck, which was an SdJ nominee and won the German Game Prize. The latter two are back with Queen Games for Parfum, a dice-and-tile family game about making and selling perfumes. That’s an awesome, original theme, but does the gameplay do it justice? Here’s a reminder of my scoring categories:

 

Components – Does the game look nice? Are the bits worth the money? Do they add to the game?
Accessibility – How easy is the game to teach, or to feel like you know what you are doing?
Depth – Does the gameplay allow for deeper strategies, or does the game play itself?
Theme – Does the game give a sense of immersion? Can you imagine  the setting described in the game?
Fun – Is the game actually enjoyable? Do you find yourself smiling, laughing, or having some sense of satisfaction when it’s over?

 

parfumgameComponents: Although there aren’t that many components in the box, they’re of extremely nice quality. The game is mostly tiles, but there’s also some cardboard chits, fifteen dice, and the central board. I really like how the perfume bottle tiles flip over to form bottles, and the little wooden flacons (it’s a real word, even though WordPress doesn’t believe me) are super cute. I generally dislike how all of Queen’s games look like the same washed-out tannish yellow as their boxes, no matter who the artist is, but I actually found myself quite enjoying the art on this one. The $49.99 MSRP is about normal for what you get. Nothing to complain about here.

 

Accessibility: This game is so simple that I had to read the rules again to make sure I understood. It’s at the point where gamers are going to be confused by the fact that they expect there to be more than there is. For example, I thought for sure there would be competition over grabbing the dice, but you actually put them back at the end of your turn for the next player to use. The lack of any kind of endgame scoring also makes the game very simple and clean, although maybe somewhat to its detriment in the next category. I think this is a true gateway game that you could teach more easily than any of the classic examples – Ticket to Ride, Carcassonne, or Settlers of Catan.

 

Depth: Gateway games are a tricky thing. This is a great introductory game that new gamers will easily sink their teeth into, but ideally there’s an “extra layer” for veterans to mull over. For example, if I teach someone Ticket to Ride, I still have a lot of interesting decisions, and can even just give myself an extra challenge with an early, aggressive ticket dive. While this game hits the right spot for newbies, the game is very simplistic. I feel like the dice are very underutilized – they’re basically just a skill check to see if what you want to do is possible to do. You can reroll or turn them with water tokens, but there’s nothing clever about them – no interesting faces, no cool ways to manipulate them with special powers, nothing. There’s also nothing clever at the end of the game – I expected there at least to be bonuses for collecting customers of certain colors, or having the most icons of a certain ingredient on your completed perfumes, since that’s all in front of you at the end of the game. New gamers won’t see that layer missing, but the veteran teaching them might be somewhat bored.

 

Theme: The theme of this game is really what makes it tick. I’ve never seen a game with a theme even close to this one, and it’s really original and attractive. I’m not sure what water and flies have to do with distilling perfumes, but that’s probably just because I’m ignorant. The mechanisms of the game are otherwise very thematic, in my opinion. Different customers come to the shop wanting different things, but you have to somewhat predict what’ll be in fashion, and assembling your perfumes is both tactically and aesthetically awesome, as are the little wooden flacons. This is by far the best part of the game.

 

Fun: The more games I play and review, the more I realize the… finitude… of board gaming. Most games are just derivatives of the others, and if you see people’s favorite games lists, it’s often full of games from their early gaming experiences. When you’re completely uninitiated, you just become amazed at some of the cool things going on in this hobby, but then you realize later that there a lot of games just like the one that you thought was so incredible. The point being, a new gamer might love this game after being sucked in by the theme, and that’s awesome! But the best gateway games have something for the veteran too, and this game is missing that, I think. However, this would be a great game to teach new players, and it’s about time we saw more themes that might appeal more specifically to women. (I’m not trying to be sexist there, but the opposite – I think if we have games about traditionally male-dominated hobbies like football, then we should have games about traditionally female hobbies also.) Anyway, all that to say that this is a great gateway game, but one you might not find yourself coming back to later down the road.

 

Parfum is an excellent gateway game, but it’s missing that extra level that keeps you coming back once you’re deep in the hobby.

 

Rating:

3star

3 out of 5

Review: Nations: the Dice Game

nationsdiceboxA while back, a game called Nations stood to to take Through the Ages’ place as a shorter, leaner civilization game, much like Eclipse tried (and succeeded, in my opinion) to do against Twilight Imperium. We can argue all day long as to whether Nations succeeded in that regard, but we can’t argue that it was certainly a success otherwise, climbing to the Top 40 on BoardGameGeek. And, inevitably, success leads to a dice version of your game! So now we have Nations: the Dice Game, from Rustan Håkansson, who is only a quarter of the team that brought you Nations. It seems like early opinions on this game are split – where do I land? Here’s a reminder of my scoring categories:

 

Components – Does the game look nice? Are the bits worth the money? Do they add to the game?
Accessibility – How easy is the game to teach, or to feel like you know what you are doing?
Depth – Does the gameplay allow for deeper strategies, or does the game play itself?
Theme – Does the game give a sense of immersion? Can you imagine  the setting described in the game?
Fun – Is the game actually enjoyable? Do you find yourself smiling, laughing, or having some sense of satisfaction when it’s over?

 

Components: Much like Nations, the first thing you’ll probably note is the $50 MSRP dice tag. While it’s a lot for a dice game, this game has a ton of different components, and oodles of custom dice. And it’s not out on a limb alone: the most recent similar game, Roll for the Galaxy, has an MSRP of $60. I didn’t really care for Nations‘ look and it’s recreated here, but it’s recreated easily and faithfully. All of the iconography is very clear and I do really like the dice – good size, easy to read, and they feel good in the hands. Setup and tear-down is very easy. I’m not blown away, but I also don’t have anything to complain about. Oh, wait, I have one complaint: I wish this had been called Dice Nations. The logo could still imply its relationship to Nations, without people feeling like it’s a cash-in on Nations or that they need to play Nations first.

 

Accessibility: I think if you teach this to gamers who haven’t played Nations, you’ll have absolutely zero problems, and you could probably use it as a gateway game for the uninitiated. I actually think the game is a bit too simple for its intended purposes. For example, the events have been scaled down all the way to where you can just “cash in” swords or food for points, and that’s it. The abilities on the tiles are also of few very types, and very simple. It might take one play-through to get the phase order and timing issues right (some phases are in reverse player order), but overall, this is a very simple game for its type.

 

Depth: I just can’t decide exactly where I fall here. The central mechanisms of this game are great, but they’re under-utilized. The tile abilities aren’t varied much and are somewhat uninteresting, and more importantly, you have very few ways to tinker with your dice. You can spend a reroll chit (if you have one) as your turn and gain more of them later, but there are no clever ways to change your dice around or do interesting things with them, other than being able to pitch an already-used die when buying a blue building. That would be okay, except for the fact that some of the rolls are very uninteresting. For example, swords can be used to satisfy events, for turn order, and to buy certain tiles, leading to tough decisions. But on the other hand, food, books, money, and stone each serve exactly one purpose. You can use two dice with any face showing as a semi-wild (they can’t become swords or books), but there’s just so much more that could have been done, even without making the game that much more complicated. For example, some tiles cost money and some cost swords – it would have been easy to make some cost food or books. There are decisions to make on your turn – when to grab a tile or risk spending your turn building or re-rolling, choosing which tile to take or give up, anticipating your opponents, etc. – but it could have been a lot more. Speaking of which, I can’t believe there are no unique player powers on the game boards – one of the great features of Nations.

 

Theme: I never felt that Nations was a very thematic game, and it’s pared down even more here. But, much like Nations, you do get a nice sense of growth as you gain more tiles, especially as you grab more and more dice. In games like this, I focus more on interesting combos and interactions than the theme, anyway, but I didn’t find much of that here, either.

 

Fun: I did enjoy playing this game. I love chucking dice, and I thought the game had some interesting decisions. However, I feel like the game is too pared down from Nations, and hampered by its simplicity. It would benefit greatly from an expansion. As it stands, though, it doesn’t hold up to the other “gamery” dice releases of recent years. It’s not a bad game by any means, it’s a good one and I enjoyed playing it – but it’s not a great one, and probably not one I would go out of my way to play. I could see an expansion making it amazing, but I’m not sure I want to wait around on that. I imagine huge fans of Nations (I enjoy it, but it’s not one of my favorite games of all time) are going to enjoy getting that vibe again here in a shorter amount of time.

 

Nations: the Dice Game is a good, solid game, but I wish the abilities and mechanisms were a bit more fleshed out.

 

Rating:

3star

3 out of 5

Review: Onward to Venus

Early in the year, I was accidentally sent a copy of Onward to Venus I had originally declined. I’m generally not a fan of Martin Wallace’s games (except for the excellent A Few Acres of Snow), and I had never even heard of Doctor Grordbort. But, since the game was already here, I figured we should go ahead and give it a go. Many months later after I should have written this (whoops), the game is still stuck in my head. In a good way or a bad way? Here’s a reminder of my scoring categories:

 

Components – Does the game look nice? Are the bits worth the money? Do they add to the game?
Accessibility – How easy is the game to teach, or to feel like you know what you are doing?
Depth – Does the gameplay allow for deeper strategies, or does the game play itself?
Theme – Does the game give a sense of immersion? Can you imagine  the setting described in the game?
Fun – Is the game actually enjoyable? Do you find yourself smiling, laughing, or having some sense of satisfaction when it’s over?

 

otvcards Components: I’m talking about the non-deluxe version, but the components of this game are still great. In fact, I think I prefer the cardboard units (with information on them) to wooden pieces, and the huge planet tiles, the cards, the small-but-great-feeling dice – everything about this game has a great, quality feel to it. The MSRP of $50 was actually surprising; I expected $60. I’m not sure what else to say here. Usually I have small gripe, but I can’t think of any. GREAT!

 

Accessibility: Usually, it’s such a tight line between streamlining a genre and sucking the fun out of it, that games fall too far one way or the other. Martin Wallace is known for making complex games, but here he somehow manages to take the space genre and streamline it considerably while keeping the fun intact. I grokked the whole game and easily explained it from a couple times through the very good rulebook, which is clear with just the right amount of conciseness, explaining important details as needed – and it’s also humorous, without the humor detracting from the rules. Even in our first game, I don’t think we had any rules mistakes or misunderstandings. Now, it might take a game or two to fully grok strategy – getting a sense of when Crises may happen (not that often, apparently), how the timeline of the game goes (only three rounds!), and so on, but the game is short enough that you could play two in a row on a big game night.

 

otvplanetsDepth: One thing you’ll quickly find in this game is that this is a true throwback to the space games of old. The cards are ridiculously powerful, and do mean things like make your opponents discard at random, do clever combat tricks, and so on. Dice rolls can also really screw you. This felt like the a space-game version of the early days of Magic, except with the refinement of today. So, while some people might think the game is way too lucky or devoid of strategy, I never felt that way – I loved every second of it. There’s a constant tension because you never know quite what kind of insane cards your opponent has in hand, but at the end of the day, you still feel like you can blame yourself for whatever calculated risks you took. This game plays quickly and furiously; it’s not a “thinky” 4X game like Eclipse – but there’s still plenty of strategy for sure.

 

Theme: I have to say, I was originally a bit put off by the art of this game. I’ve always been more into fantasy than science fiction, and the sci-fi I know and love is more Star Wars and less of the classic science fiction. And obviously, I’ve never read the source material. However, the game really drew me in to its universe the best that it could, with everything down to the font chosen and the style and dry humor of the rules adding to the experience. The mechanisms for the game were fantastic for this too – the somewhat indirect way that you are racing for money and victory points but still fighting each other, and the fast-and-loose old-school cardplay, just made this an incredibly unique experience that you won’t find elsewhere in 2015.

 

Fun: I may have just had low (well, no) expectations from this game, but I was quite impressed. I can see why people would have strikes against it – it seems like a relic from a bygone era, where maybe the game isn’t balanced down to every last move so that no one can run away with it, or whatever. But it’s tense, exciting, chock full of theme and big moves. And that’s the kind of stuff that got me into gaming in the first place. I can only imagine how much more awesome it must be for people who enjoy the source material.

 

If you know what you’re getting into, Onward to Venus is an excellent game of space combat.

 

Rating:

4star

4 out of 5

Review: Spyfall

spyfall_boxAt the end of last year, I suddenly heard a ton of buzz about a party game called Spyfall, by Alexandr Ushan. I found this strange for a couple of reasons. First, it’s very rare for a party game to be such a big deal among hobbyist board gamers. Second, it was published by Hobby World, and my initial two impressions of their games were middling (World of Tanks: Rush) and terrible (Berserk: War of the Realms). Despite that, Spyfall has now reached U.S. shores, thanks to Cryptozoic Entertainment (which was also a surprise). Does it live up to the hype? Here’s a reminder of my scoring categories:

Components – Does the game look nice? Are the bits worth the money? Do they add to the game?
Accessibility – How easy is the game to teach, or to feel like you know what you are doing?
Depth – Does the gameplay allow for deeper strategies, or does the game play itself?
Theme – Does the game give a sense of immersion? Can you imagine  the setting described in the game?
Fun – Is the game actually enjoyable? Do you find yourself smiling, laughing, or having some sense of satisfaction when it’s over?

 

spyfallcardsComponents: The only things in the box are the rules, and over 200 cards, with about 30 corresponding plastic baggies. Playing the game involves taking one baggie of cards and dealing one out to each player, and there are no components otherwise (you need a timer of some sort, but just use your phone). I sort of like the fact that it comes in such a little box (the same size as recent two player games like Patchwork, Targi, Lost Cities), since it helps keep the MSRP down to $25, but on the other hand, I had every intention of sleeving the cards, but there’s no way they’ll all fit back in the box if I do that. I do have one large complaint about the components, and that’s the fact that there’s no list of locations for each person, which is a necessary part of the game. Beginners are going to catch spies just because they’re eyeing the rulebook to try and guess the location. After you’ve memorized most of them, it’s not so bad. I’ll probably print off reminder cards, but since this edition has extra locations, I’ll have to wait until someone makes a new set for this edition. This could have been easily solved just by having the backs of the cards have the location list instead of just saying “Spyfall”. That’s a huge oversight, but otherwise, the components are just fine.

 

Accessibility: Well, this is a party game, and it’s easily explained. A random deck is pulled out, one person is dealt a card that just says “Spy”, and everyone else is dealt the same location card – so everyone except the Spy knows where we are. Players take turns asking each other completely freeform questions, trying to suss out who the Spy is, while indicating that they know the location without giving it away. Each round lasts at most eight minutes, so it’s very easy to just play a few learning rounds. The rulebook has a convoluted scoring system that we don’t use and never will – it’s more fun to just play round after round, almost like how we never keep score in Telestrations. Our only point of confusion was when someone stops the clock to accuse, if the Spy can “interrupt” and make a guess if he thinks he’s about to be caught (we ruled you can’t, which I’m pretty sure is right). I don’t think it’s even unclear in the rules as much as it was one of our desperate Spies trying to sneak. This is perhaps one of the simplest games I’ve ever played in terms of rules – however, it does require some creativity to play well, and people who can’t think and respond quickly might have a hard time with it.

 

Depth: No other party game is this challenging! But it’s not a taxing, difficult kind of challenge – just one that requires cleverness and sneakiness, and it’s hilarious when someone messes up, so you never feel like the game is “difficult”. However, there are all kinds of strategic moves, both in how you ask questions (hint: “yes/no” questions are pointless), how you decide what to do as the Spy (I had a game where I was totally in the clear and made a bad guess when I think I could have stayed hidden), and much more. The closest is maybe Dixit, but this requires you think much more quickly. I’ll also mention that in terms of both theme and depth, you should absolutely use the roles on the cards. Sometimes we had players shifting between a made-up persona and thinking about their own real life experiences, which got confusing – but embracing the role on the card makes it more strategic, and also more thematic and fun.

 

Theme: This is actually somewhat role-playing, I suppose, or as close as I’ll get to it. In that sense, it’s highly thematic, although maybe a bit nonsensical that the spy doesn’t know where he is. And as mentioned above, embracing the roles also heightens the theme in the game greatly. I really enjoy the spoofy, cartoony artwork also, although a few of the cards are a little risque (but if that’s a problem, you can just remove those locations). The more I’ve played, the more a different kind of theme has developed: there’s been some hilarious meta-gaming as questions are reused in funny ways from round to round and game to game. I love it!

 

Fun: Despite my complaints about the components, this is easily one of the best party games – in fact, one of the best games – I’ve ever played. This is on the same level as classics like Telestrations, Time’s Up!, and Say Anything – and perhaps even past those. It took maybe an hour to go from me introducing the game to laughter-induced crying, more than once. I don’t know how long it will last, but for right now, if I want to play a party game, this is the one I pull out. I’m even tempted to bring it out over playing classic hobby strategy games, which is atypical for me. It’s just that good.

 

Spyfall is easily the best party game that’s come out in years, and right now is my pick for the best game of 2015.
Rating:

5star

5 out of 5

 

Review: Traders of Osaka

Back when I first discovered BoardGameGeek, I remember Traders of Carthage from designer Susumu Kawasaki being one of the many, many games I skimmed across while plundering the vast depths of BGG’s database. For some reason, the game’s art just didn’t look that appealing, and the game was out of print, so I didn’t give it a second look. However, the game is back with a new look and a new theme as Traders of Osaka, again from Z-Man Games. Almost 10 years after its initial release, does the game hold up? Here’s a reminder of my scoring categories:

 

Components – Does the game look nice? Are the bits worth the money? Do they add to the game?
Accessibility – How easy is the game to teach, or to feel like you know what you are doing?
Depth – Does the gameplay allow for deeper strategies, or does the game play itself?
Theme – Does the game give a sense of immersion? Can you imagine  the setting described in the game?
Fun – Is the game actually enjoyable? Do you find yourself smiling, laughing, or having some sense of satisfaction when it’s over?

 

osakagameComponents: There’s not too much to this game, but what’s there is beautiful! The game is primarily a deck of cards, but also a pile of achievement tokens, two wooden pieces per player, and a small central board. Oh, and the awesome wooden ships! The artwork has this beautiful, simple look to it, and I love how the box and and board have this strong teal vibe. It’s definitely an inviting, modern look. It’s a small thing, but I also really like how they were smart enough to make the player pieces completely different colors from the goods cards – somehow, most games screw that up. The cards are an appropriately thick cardstock and shuffle well. The few cardboard achievement tokens are also very solid and don’t feel flimsy at all, and I love the wooden ships. $30 MSRP seems a bit high for a card game, but the tokens and board are necessary, so I think it’s actually priced just right. I do have one complaint here though, and it’s the box size. I literally have never owned a game with this box size. It’s too awkward and long, and I’m not sure the cards will fit back in if I sleeve them (at least not easily). I wish the game came in the box size of their 2-player line – Targi, Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small, and so on. Overall, though, good job here.

 

Accessibility: This game is very simple to play, yet somewhat wonky to teach. This is by no means the most complex game I’ve ever played, but for what it is, it has just a few too many extra little rules. When you’re explaining scoring, people think you’re almost done with the weird system, then you have to explain the rounding up by fives and their eyes glaze over a little. It’s also got tiny rules that are very easy to remember slightly incorrectly – for example, a player will remember he can insure goods, but forget that he needs a card with insurance icons of the same color as the good he wants to insure. It’s enough that we forgot a couple rules in our first game, but they weren’t huge. I might be a little overly harsh – part of it was just maybe that I’m not yet an expert teacher of the game, and as I teach it again, I’ll be sure to point out the easy ones to miss (like the aforementioned one, and the fact that you can reserve cards in the Market or the Farm). And it’s not that the game is complex, it’s just that for how smooth and simple the game is, it has a bit more rules than you expect. Yet, I still think this could be a pretty easy gateway game for most folks.

 

Depth: When I think of games where cards have multiple uses, I think of games like Pixel Tactics where the card has many different uses written or indicated on it. Yet here, Traders of Osaka packs quite a punch with cards that are just colors and numbers (I’m not considering the insurance icons because they have a 1-1 correspondence with the numbers). And only three different numbers at that! From those meager beginnings, Kawasaki has made a devious, clever little card game. I say “devious” because this game can be quite brutal, and you can lose your hard-earned goods if your opponents time it right. I don’t like that kind of negative interaction in games where it’s not expected, but it’s clear from reading the rules that this game is going to have that aspect to it. And it really heightens the tension of the game quite a bit.

Now, I do think this game is by far at its best as a 2-player game, to the point where I think maybe it could be rated higher and more popular if it was billed as 2-player only. It can happen in a 3- or 4-player game that before your turn comes around, a couple of subsequent moves by your opponents can completely change the game state, and possibly wipe you out of colors you were planning to sell without a chance to react. I would probably not suggest to play this game with 4 players, and even 3 players is a hair chaotic. However, with 3 or 2 players, it’s extremely interesting, tight, and tense, and full of room for risk-taking and clever play. And the game only takes about 30-45 minutes (the longer end for new players or including teaching time).

 

Theme: I guess the theme is shipping goods? I loved the artwork, but it’s a pretty stock “trading goods across waters” (although not the Mediterranean this time!) type of game, and the theme is just as lacking here as it is in, say, Jaipur or Sobek. I tend to be a mechanisms-first kind of guy as long as the art is good, so it didn’t bother me at all, but don’t go in expecting it to “really feel” like oriental trading (whatever that would mean, anyway).

 

Fun: I didn’t necessarily have low expectations for this game, but I thought it would be about average. I was pleasantly surprised – this is an excellent little game. The closest comparison I have is that it’s like if Jaipur was a bit more complex and a lot more brutal. Much like in Jaipur, you’re constantly trying to outwit your opponent’s moves as you take cards from the central row, but there’s a bit more to think about here between the reservation tokens, the Farm, and the movement of the ships. I guess I kind of view it as Jaipur and Sobek stuck together: it’s primarily a strategic game like Jaipur, but it’s got the negative interaction that gives Sobek its teeth. And since I love both of those games, that’s high praise. I think Traders of Osaka is somewhat hampered by its complex-for-what-it-is ruleset and its chaotic nature with 3-4 players, but overcomes those deficits to prove itself to be a really unique, interesting game.

 

If you like strategic card games, don’t mind a bit of viciousness, and wish games like Jaipur and Sobek had more going on, Traders of Osaka should be right up your alley. Just make sure to read the rules twice or watch an explanation video, and don’t play with more than 3 players.

 

Rating:

4star

4 out of 5

Arcane Wonders Mage Wars Companion App Giveaway!

Hey everyone! Thanks to our awesome friends at Arcane Wonders, we are giving away a free purchase code for the iPad version of the Mage Wars Companion App! To enter, simply like our page and comment on this post about your favorite Mage Wars memory! Good luck!

Review: Kahuna

kahunaboxKOSMOS is now doing its own U.S. distribution, and in what I think is a very wise move, they started off with a lot of reprints of beloved classics, like Lost Cities and Ubongo. Another classic game of the seminal KOSMOS two-player line (Lost Cities, Balloon Cup, Targi, many more) is Kahuna. Originally released in 1998, Kahuna is a card game from Günter Cornett (also known for Hey, That’s My Fish!) that involves placing bridges between islands on a board to take control of said islands. Does it hold up to today’s standards, over fifteen years later? Here’s a reminder of my scoring categories:

 

Components – Does the game look nice? Are the bits worth the money? Do they add to the game?
Accessibility – How easy is the game to teach, or to feel like you know what you are doing?
Depth – Does the gameplay allow for deeper strategies, or does the game play itself?
Theme – Does the game give a sense of immersion? Can you imagine  the setting described in the game?
Fun – Is the game actually enjoyable? Do you find yourself smiling, laughing, or having some sense of satisfaction when it’s over?

 

kahunacomponentsComponents: I love when games are beautiful and simple, and Kahuna nails that. The game consists only of the central board, some wooden bridges and discs in two players, and a small deck of cards. The game’s art is very simple, but very pretty. The cards are very clear and have a helpful reminder on them of the number of spaces adjacent to each island. I also really like the box shape, which is the same as Z-Man’s two player games (Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small, Patchwork, etc.) It’s a bit thicker than the older Lost Cities box but the same heighth and width, which I like. I don’t see how they possibly could have went for an MSRP lower than $25, and they pulled that off somehow. Absolutely zero complaints here.

 

Accessibility: The central goal of the game – essentially, to score points by controlling more islands than your opponent – is very simple, as are the actions you can take on your turn. However, there are some subtleties that won’t make sense until you play – like the fact that you can take as many actions as you want and how that balances against drawing cards, and the fact that you can deliberately choose not to draw cards (why wouldn’t you, right?), and so on. I played a practice game on yucata.de to start, and I recommend doing the same. I got crushed, of course, but the strategy of the game made much more sense about a third of the way into my first game. It’s a very simple game to get started, but takes a while to get the hang of the rhythms of the card play.

 

Depth: Keep in mind we’re talking about the same two-player line that’s home to games like Lost Cities and Dragonheart, and that this game plays in about half in hour. Those caveats in mind, there is quite a bit of meat to chew on here. You have to carefully time your strikes – do you grab something early, or do you build a huge hand to do a big move? The key element of the game is that when you take control of an island, you kick off all of your opponent’s bridges on that island, which can cause a bit of a chain reaction. It can also be very brutal and mean! When I first read the rules and looked through the components, I didn’t expect much, but I was pleasantly surprised. There’s a lot more going on than in Lost Cities, for example, but not as much as in, say, Targi.

 

Theme: Well, I guess the theme is “islands”, but there’s not much else here. It’s got a beautiful aesthetic, but this is basically just a very nice-looking – in fact, deceptive-looking – area control game. If anything, the nice artwork belies just how in-your-face of a game this is. I don’t really care, here, though – I love a good card game and to me, it’s more about the cards, and nice art certainly isn’t a negative.

 

Fun: First off, games-with-spouse types be warned: as I said, this game can be quite punishing. It’s not the low interaction of something like Lost Cities; this has a fair amount of negative interaction. Balloon Cup / Piñata would probably be a better comparison. Even for me, someone who’s played tons of Magic and other “destructive interaction” games, it got just a little tiring just before the game was over.  If you like games like that, though, and have a partner to play them with, this is as solid as any other small two-player game I’ve played in the genre.

 

If you’re into small, short card games, and don’t mind when they’re highly interactive, then Kahuna is absolutely worth checking out.

 

Rating:

4star

4 out of 5

Review: Ubongo

ubongobox2Way back when I first started perusing BoardGameGeek, I remember seeing a lot of unique games that looked interesting, but I had never had a chance to play them – usually due to them being out of print. Ubongo was a game that certainly caught my eye, with its unique cover and Tetris-shaped pieces. Now it’s finally back in print here in the U.S., but in the meantime I’ve tried a variety of similar games like FITS and the excellent La Boca. Does Ubongo hold up, over a decade later? Here’s a reminder of my scoring categories:

Components – Does the game look nice? Are the bits worth the money? Do they add to the game?
Accessibility – How easy is the game to teach, or to feel like you know what you are doing?
Depth – Does the gameplay allow for deeper strategies, or does the game play itself?
Theme – Does the game give a sense of immersion? Can you imagine  the setting described in the game?
Fun – Is the game actually enjoyable? Do you find yourself smiling, laughing, or having some sense of satisfaction when it’s over?

 

ubongocomponents2Components: I’m very impressed with the components, especially given the relatively low MSRP ($40). The colors of this game are very unique and look really cool, and everything from the plastic gems to the puzzle pieces are loud and fun. Everything fits nicely in the box and is very functional. If I had any complaints, it would be that while the die icons are fun, it’d be much easier to just have the different puzzles listed as 1-6 on the player boards. It’s also somewhat of a pain to dig out brown and blue gems for the score track before the game begins, but I don’t know a better solution. Those are minor quibbles, though. These are top-notch components at an inexpensive price, and all of the pieces are fun for simply playing around, let alone playing the actual game!

 

Accessibility: This is a true gateway game, in the sense that the one page of rules is extremely simple. Each player will have a different puzzle in front of him or her, and the die roll indicates which puzzle pieces you must use (and use all of them) to exactly cover the shape on the board in front of you. Players are rewarded points in the order they accomplish this, although this does involve some randomly pulled VP gems from a bag (so that one player doesn’t necessarily dominate). There’s not much else to the game – it’s incredibly intuitive. However, the puzzles can be deceptively simple, or difficult. Our very first round of our first game, even after my time was up, I spent many minutes in between rounds trying to figure out the stupid “easy” puzzle and eventually finding myself feeling incredibly silly. Subsequent rounds didn’t have that problem, though. This is certainly the kind of game where some players will naturally be flat-out better than their counterparts, but the semi-random scoring can keep everyone involved, and the solitaire experience of the individual puzzles can keep people from feeling like they’re getting pounded by their opponents.

 

Depth: As I said above, some people will just have a naturay talent for this kind of game. Fortunately, you can somewhat handicap players by giving them the harder side of the player board while others use the easy side. Overall, though, the actual puzzles are a solitaire experience and you can’t really affect other players in any way, which is too bad. I’d be interested in some kind of variation where one set of puzzle pieces is in the middle of the board and players have to figure out which pieces they need and grab them before someone else does. It’s a more interactive experience than some comparative games, though, such as FITS, where everyone kind of sits quietly and thinks by themselves. The race aspect of Ubongo at least gives the players the feeling that they’re interacting as they race to be first. And I should mention that this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. One player said she liked this game for that reason over La Boca, because she always felt guilty when she and a partner would fail a puzzle in La Boca, and there’s no problem like that here.

 

Theme: I have no idea what Ubongo means or what the African theme has to do with Tetris, but that’s okay. I really like the loud and unique colors, and this is the kind of game where you happily take at face value that the theme is “puzzles.” And that’s a theme the game certainly does very well. I’ve said before that I’ll take a veneer of theme over no theme, because a themeless game still deserves aesthetic appeal, and I think that fits here as well. The pieces are all really great, especially the colored gems for scoring. The game’s theme might not make much sense, but it does shout “fun”.

 

Fun: I enjoyed this game quite a bit. You can kind of tell that it’s a pioneer of this genre of puzzle games by the lack of interactivity, but it doesn’t seem like we’ve really made much progress farther anyway. My preference is probably slightly towards La Boca for the third dimension and parternships, but several players disagreed with me, and I respect that. Everyone had a great time, and the game doesn’t come close to staying out its welcome – I could easily see playing it a few times in a row. It’s not a game for everyone, but puzzle- and Tetris-lovers are bound to enjoy the experience.

 

Ubongo holds up well as one of the pioneers of the puzzle genre, still providing exhilaration and laughter.

 

Rating:

4star

4 out of 5

Something a little different: The Resistance in Math Class

Hello everybody! Between a bruised tailbone (ow), a sinus infection, finals week, and heading to Canada for a conference, I’m a bit behind on reviews. However, I just had a paper published by PRIMUS (Problems, Resources, and Issues in Mathematics Undergraduate Studies) that was on using The Resistance in a discrete math course. We’re allowed to post our accepted manuscript on our institution and link to it for free, so it’s right here for you to check out! We’ll be back next week with the reviews, but until then, I’d love any comments you have on the paper and other ways to bring games to the classroom.