Advent reviews: Snowdonia

I used to live in Wales. So last year, when I heard that Snowdonia was about to come out at Essen, I asked a friend to buy it for me. It’s not the greatest worker placement game of all times, but I like it.

What kind of game is this?

In Snowdonia, you play contractors building a railroad up the Snowdon Mountain in Wales. You need to clear rubble, lay track and build stations in order to create the railroad.

At the beginning of the game, you lay out station cards around the edge of the board, and put cards between them, representing the amount of track that needs to be laid to get from one station to the next. As you lay track and build station, you will place cubes on the parts you have built, earning you points at the end of the game.

As in all worker placement games, the main focus of the game is placing the workers on spaces on the board to carry out certain actions: Collect resources, clear rubble, lay track, build stations or trains, take contract cards and a few others. Each round, you will place first one worker, then another, on the board. Once you have a train, you can pay a coal resource in order to place a third worker. When all workers have been placed, the workers will be taken off again, going from the first action space and continuing onwards. As each worker is taken off the track, the player may perform the action connected to that spot. This means that actions are always performed in a certain order, making it possible to gather resources, convert those resources into track and then lay that track on a space that was just cleared – all in the same round.

There is a finite supply of resources that are drawn from a bag each round. The bag also contains white cubes are laid along a track. This will make certain actions occur – spaces will be dug out, track will be laid and stations will be built (representing, I believe, other contractors). All of this will have the effect of progressing the game towards its end – particularly if players are stockpiling resources.

One important way of scoring is by way of contract cards. Each contract card gives you points for having achieved certain goals at the end of the game: digging a certain amount of rubble, laying so much track or building so much station. Each contract also gives you a special prover that you can use once in the game.

The contract cards also determine the weather – which affects the amount of digging track-laying you can do each action (rainy, muddy ground means you can’t work as fast, while fog prevents you from digging or laying track). There are three possible kinds of weather: sunny, rainy or foggy. You will have three discs out, showing the “weather forecast” for the next three turns. Each round, you will move  the discs up the track, then fill the lowest space on the track with a disc corresponding to an icon on the back of the top card in the contract pile.

The game ends when you have built track all the way to the last station. Points are earned from contracts, track laid and station built, and from certain train cards.

How many people should you play this with?

The game box says 1-5. I have tried with 3, 4, and I believe I’ve played it with 5. I think 4 is the sweet spot. 3 is fine, and I think 5 was fine as well. I’m a bit hesitant to recommend playing it with 2. The solitaire game is a game unto its own; I don’t think I would play that at all – mostly because I’m not much of one for solitaire games.

What do I think of this game?

The game is not perfect, but it has a charm that I like. The mechanics are pretty simple, but it forces you to gamble on whether someone else will remove the rubble you need to lay track, and whether the game will build that track you are saving up to build next round.

Another thing I like about it is its pacing and rhythm. The rhythm of placing and removing workers almost feels like a train in motion. The way the game completes sections of the board can be very frustrating, but it paces the game and drives it through a conclusion. Not least, it means the end of the game is not ultimately controlled by any player – if players try to stall, the game will force the game to end. This limits the number of points you can gain in the end, and makes for a very tense last couple of rounds.

The game comes with two different sets of stations. There are two expansions out, featuring a total of three different train lines to build, each with their own special rules. The Daffodil Line has you fill canals and gather daffodils, while Jungfraubahn and Mt. Washington has you set off dynamite. I haven’t played with either, but it sounds like fun ways to mix it up.

Snowdonia is probably not the smoothest and most ingenious worker placement game, but it is a nice and enjoyable game.

A few interesting things to note

  • This is a game about building a train line – but it is not a train game the way that Ticket to Ride or Trains and Stations may be a train game. It is a construction game, and you just happen to be building a train line.
  • This game has a lot of interesting ways of forcing players to act. Hoarding resources will make the game bring out more random actions, reducing the potential points each player may gain.
  • One worker placement particularly distinguishes from all others by the specific ways of placing and removing workers. In Snowdonia, you are putting your workers in a particular order – you know what will happen before and after, and that makes removing them both  very quick, but also interesting, as you depend on the decisions of the people before  you.

Advent reviews: Revolution!

I am no big fan of Munchkin. Sure, the images are nice and the game has loads of funny references, but I am not overly fond of the gameplay, which will often fail to end when you think it will, and end only when someone tries to gain their tenth level after everybody has exhausted their means of stopping them on the previous two or three people to try to win the game.

There’s another game, also made by Steve Jackson Games, that I much prefer, even though this game might also not end when you think it will: Revolution! (and yes, the exclamation mark is part of the title).

What kind of game is this?

In Revolution! you play agitators in a colony on the brink of revolution. Throughout the game, you use certain… assets… with certain members of society to gain what you need: support in the general public; influence in powerful institutions such a the church, the plantations and the army; and resources to gain more …assets… with which to exert more pressure.

Mechanically, this is a double area control game. On the board are representations of several powerful groups within the colony – a plantation, a tavern, a fortress, the market. Each has a number of spaces for cubes and an associated point value. Whoever has the most influence cubes on a group at the end of the game takes the points.

Influence cubes are placed using a secret bidding mechanic, the second kind of area control I mentioned above. At the beginning of a round, all players reveal how many of each of the three different kinds of resources they have: money, blackmail and force. They will then place a screen in front of their player board, and secretly put their tokens out on the board to bid on the different characters. When everybody is done, all players lift their screens, and you determine control of each character in order from top left to bottom right. Control is determined first by resource quality, then by quantity: one force beats any amount of blackmail, while one blackmail beats any amount of gold. At the same time, one force and one blackmail beats one force. Some characters, however, are not susceptible to susceptible to certain assets. The general, for instance, ignores force (but not blackmail), while the innkeeper cannot be blackmailed, though he bows to force.

The characters will each gain the player who wins them some combination of support (victory points), influence and tokens for next round. A few has special effects, like switching two cubes or replacing any cube with one of your own.

At the end of the round, you take stock of all your tokens. If you have less than five, your “secret benefactors” give you gold so that you have at least five tokens to use to bid with. The game ends when all influence spaces have been filled.

How many people should you play this with?

This is a game about getting in each other’s way. It is fun with three, and probably easier to strategize, but the real game, in which you get in each other’s way all the time, doesn’t start till you’re four players.

What do I think of this game?

This game hurts my brain – but I really like it. It’s very stimulating, trying to figure out where you can bid, and how not to be outbid, but also not to bid too much. I’m not always very good at the game, as it varies a lot, depending on the people involved. This also makes it a game that beginners win surprisingly often, as they don’t always play how you expect them to, throwing you off course.

I like this game, not just for its core mechanics, but also for its pacing. I feel like interesting things are going on, right up till the end. A clever play can swing a 4-3 lead in one area and 3-2 in another into a 2-5 loss in the first and a 7-0 lead in the other. And because the end of the game is very dependent on player actions, you may think the game will end, but because of people tripping each other up, it goes on for a few more rounds – just in time for the board to shift decisively.

The game has a great game design, and good components to boot. I would probably recommend getting the expansion, adding another area, more characters and two more player – but it isn’t really necessary. The game is good on its own terms.

A few interesting things to note

  • You might think that allowing players to keep resources from characters they bid for but didn’t get would could serve as a catch-up mechanic. I thought so. But when we tried it (it’s a variant rule) I quickly discovered that I was wrong. In fact, the result was that the people who won some characters would gain resources while at the same time not losing anything from characters they bid on – while people who got little would at most keep what they had but would never gain more.
  • This game relies a lot on psychology. One player gets an early lead on an area? It is quite possible that nobody ever challenges him, just because “Oh, he’s going to get it anyway!”
  • It is very easy to get too focused on winning areas. I’ve seen people win by almost only using the “printer” character, giving them ten points they can’t  ever loose – as opposed to the fortress, which gives them 55 points that they can loose, and which requires around 10 cubes to close.

Advent reviews: Ca$h’n Gun$

Today, I’m gonna tell you about one of the silliest games in my collection, and one that comes with some rather useful props: Ca$h’n Gun$

What kind of game is this?

In this game, you play a bunch of stereotypical gangsters. The gang has just pulled of a heist, and are now back at the base, splitting the loot… but you know, Lotus didn’t really pull her weight, and El Toro is a bit of a jerk – plus, fewer people to split the loot with means more for you… hey look, I’ve got this gun, here. Hmm… are there any more bullets in this gun?

Ca$h’n Gun$ is all about Mexican standoffs. At the beginning of the game, you get a character stand, a foam gun and eight cards: five “clicks” (meaning your gun’s  not loaded), two “bangs” (meaning you’re going to shoot) and one “bang bang bang” (meaning you’ll shoot fast). Each round, a stack of money cards are revealed and put on the table. The cards come in $5,000, $10,000 and $20,000 denominations. At the end of the round, you split the money the best way you can between the people still in the round, leaving over anything that can’t be evenly distributed between that number of players. So if three people have to divide 3 $5,000 dollar bills and 2 $20,000 dollar bills, they $5,000 each and leave the remaining $40,000 for the next round.

When the money has been revealed and examined, everybody selects a bullet card and puts it face down in front of them. When everybody has selected a card, somebody counts down from three, then everybody points their gun at one of the other players. When everybody has had a moment to survey the situation, there’s another countdown, after which everybody can decide to “chicken out”, take a “chicken out” token and withdraw from the round.

The people still pointing at somebody will then “pull their trigger”. First, anybody with a “bang bang bang” card turns over their card, and shoots whoever they were pointing at. Then everybody else reveal their cards and shoot. Anybody who got shot takes a wound token for each wound and are out of the round. Finally, the remaining players split the loot.

The game continues for eight rounds. A player who receives their third wound is dead and out of the game; otherwise, the winner is the player with the most money at the end of the game.

There are two advanced components that you can play with in the game. The first is a secret power: each player will draw a card showing a special power they have this game. Some are revealed immediately, while others can be revealed during the game when the player wants to use it, or it can be saved for endgame scoring.

The second is a traitor mechanic: one person is a police informer, who must secretly contact the police three times before the sixth round, then survive till the end of the game. If they pull it off, they win, otherwise, they lose – even if they had the most money and were still alive at the end. Trouble is, they can only inform if they are part of loot division.

How many people should you play this with?

The box says four to six players. It works with four, but I would prefer five or six, just for that tense, chaotic, everybody’s-pointing-at-everybody feeling.

What do I think of this game?

This is a fun, short game. It’s not super strategic, but can be very tense, and is full of second guessing each other – trying to figure out who you should point at, and whether the people pointing at you put one of their precious bullets in their gun this turn. It is a great filler, and also one to play with non-gamers.

The game can be a bit bland in the long run, though. The special powers help, and they are a great addition, that I would wholeheartedly recommend playing with – maybe not if it’s the first play-through for a significant section of the people playing, but otherwise.

The police informer variant is ok, but no more than that. It seems extremely difficult for the informant to pull it off without revealing himself, and staying alive after calling the police for the final time is exceedingly difficult. It’s also rather unrewarding that the money you assemble is useless. It’s a fine variant, but I won’t be making it a stable of the game. If I wanted a traitor game, I’d be playing The Resistance, Ultimate Werewolf: Inquisitor, or one of the many other games that does that far better.

A few interesting things to note

  • The guns are great to use as props for other things. Unfortunately, most versions have orange pistols, instead of the black ones that were in the first version of the game. Such a shame.
  • There is usually a very particular progression in the game. At the beginning, everybody is pointing more or less at random, but as things progress and some people get loads of cash while others get grudges, patterns definitely start to evolve.
  • The patterns that evolve are of course obvious to both parties. This means you will have to start double guessing each other, not least concerning the loading of guns. “Well, he probably knows I’ll load my gun and chicken out, so I shouldn’t load it and waste a bullet. But wait – is he going to think I wouldn’t load, and so not chicken out, in which case I should definitely load my gun? Hmm…”

Advent reviews: Geiger Counter

Today, we look at the first roleplaying game of the advent reviews. It’s been a while since I played this, but I have had loads of fun with this, so I remember it fondly.

What kind of game is this?

In Geiger Counter, you play through a survival horror film – the kind of film where you start out with a big cast of characters that are slowly killed off by some horrific thing that haunts them – an alien monster, a creature from beyond, a zombie horde, fate or maybe a maniac killer with a mask. You do this is one sitting of about four hours.

You start off brainstorming a rough concept for the film and the threat – the game calls it the “menace”. At this point, the concept for both should be vague, but you should have an idea of the setting, and what the monster is and isn’t – “it’s got inhuman intelligence, but no overtly supernatural powers”, for instance. Then you brainstorm some character concepts and some secret agendas, then you make your characters by pairing a concept and an agenda.

The game comes with an integrated warm-up exercise: making a trailer for the film. Going round the table, everybody narrates a shot from the trailer, until it fades to the title of the film – which you will then agree upon.

Then you start the film from the beginning, playing scene by scene. Each scene has one player as the director for that scene, framing the scene by telling us where we are, who’s there and what is going on. In the beginning, the game tells players to avoid framing a scene with themselves in it. The other players will play their own characters as well as any supporting characters necessary. When the director calls “cut”, the scene is over and the player to his left directs the next scene.

An important part of the game is the building of the Menace. Each scene featuring the menace adds one die to it, until it reaches the maximum, eight dice. When it reaches eight, the fight against it begins in earnest – from then till the game is over, the players can reduce the menace by one die by defeating it in a showdown.

Speaking of dice, there is a very simple conflict system in the game. If I recall correctly, you roll all of your dice, then use the two highest dice, and compare them to your opponent. The first two times you lose, you gain a condition – the third time (as far as I recall) you die. You have two dice to begin with, but can pick up more on the map.

The map, I say? Yes, an important part of the game is keeping track of the map. Everybody should have a token to represent them. In the middle of the table, you should have a big piece of paper, on which to draw a map of the location. Whenever you set a scene, you move the tokens of the involved players, so that you can always see where somebody was last seen. On the map are also some dice – a few single dice, a couple of pairs and one group of three. When you draw a location onto the map, you may put one of these groups of dice in that locale. Later on, players in that locale can define what those dice represent – something that will help them against the Menace.

Elimination of player characters is an important part of the game. To get the “survival horror” feel, you need quite a few players dying. This is not as important in this game as in many others, though, as an important part of your experience as a player is framing scenes and helping scenes along. Whenever someone dies, one of their two dice goes to another character, making that character stronger against the Menace.

The game ends when either all the players are dead, or when the Menace is defeated. At this point, there will usually only be one or two characters left alive.

How many people should you play this with?

I would say five to seven. You need five to have the ensemble feeling, but at eight, it’ll be a while before you are on the screen again.

What do I think of this game?

This game is a favorite of mine. It’s easy to play, even with beginners, and it usually rewards you with a great story with very little fuss, and in a limited amount of time. It’s also good, because it makes everybody be both player and GM. It teaches framing, and it gives you some very simple yet efficient story telling tools.

The dice mechanics are very simple, and that can sometimes make them feel a bit clunky – but they are simple and fast, and that’s what they are there for. The map is a great visual aid, and it helps everybody get on the same page.

In short, Geiger Counter is a go-to game for me when I am going to play for one session with a group of people with limited or mixed experience with story games and indie games.

A few interesting things to note

  • This is a good game to teach scene setting. Everybody has to do it, but it’s not so dramatic to do it. In general, it’s a good game to teach story gaming.
  • The game instructs players to make a cutting motion with their fingers when they want to signal to the director to cut the scene. A simple, efficient way to give the director cutting power, but also let the others have a say.

Advent reviews: A Study In Emerald

I recently received a game that I Kickstarted called A Study in Emerald. The game is derived from a short story by Neil Gaiman, which in turn is based on the Sherlock Holmes story called A Study in Scarlet, but with elements of H. P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos. The story is great – but what about the game? Well, lemme tell you my opinion after two games.

What kind of game is this?

A Study in Emerald has you play major actors in the underground world of politics, conspiracies and assassinations in a fin de siecle Europe ruled by Great Old Ones from the Cthulhu Mythos. Mechanically, the game is a mix of deck building and Area Control, with some hidden identities thrown in for good measure.

The game is played on a board with fields representing major cities in Europe (plus North Africa and Washington). The cities are connected by transport lines, and will have a small pile of cards connected to them. Each player starts the game with one agent, named after a weekday, six influence cubes and a deck of ten basic cards.

You will also receive a secret identity card, telling you whether you are a Loyalist or a Restorationist – in other words, for or against the Great Old Ones. Now, your identity will tell you what you should do to gain points. At the same time, it is also important to find out who is on your team. At the end of the game, you count out all the points – and then the player with the lowest number of points AND EVERYONE ON THEIR FACTION (unless everyone belongs to the same faction) will be eliminated. The remaining player with the most points will then win. This means you won’t want to close the game until you know the player with the lowest number of points is not on your faction.

Each turn, you can play two actions per turn, spending actions to put influence cubes on a card or city field (there are cards associated with each city), claim cards, move agents, play special actions from cards and a few other types of actions. You can only claim a card with your first action, and only if you have more influence on that card than anybody else – influence meaning cubes plus agents in the city. You must also have at least one cube on the agent. This means you must stake a claim to a card, then wait a round to claim it. In that time, all the other players can counter your stake – if it’s important enough for them. Whenever you claim a card, you add it to your discard pile.

Most actions are carried out by playing a number of cards from your hand. Almost all cards have a couple of symbols that can count as resources when played as part of an action. For instance, when you want to assassinate another agent or a Royal Person (Great Old One), you must play a certain number of bombs from your hand.

Now, what you want to achieve depends on your allegiance. Restorationists are the simplest. They want to control cities, they want to kill Royal Persons, they want to incite rebellion and they want to control certain key agents. The Loyalists, meanwhile, want to control cities, protect the Royal Persons, cause a World War, put zombies or vampires on the map and kill Restorationist Agents. Some of the Loyalist scoring options are depend on certain cards, and won’t be available in every game.

The game ends when one player gains a certain number of points, when the players cause a War or a Revolution, or when a Restorationist player is eliminated.

How many people should you play this with?

I have tried this with four and five players, so I don’t know how it plays with two or three players. It might work fine at low numbers, particularly with three – but I’ll have to try it out. Both four and five are fine – though I like the idea that a four player game might be four of one faction and one of another.

What do I think of this game?

This game suffers terribly from having a bad rulebook. A lot of things is not very well described, and that has made my first two play-throughs less fun than they could have been. This is compounded by the fact that the game is rather complicated with loads of interlocking systems, so it can be difficult to make a snap judgement on how to interpret an ambiguous rule.

Despite that, I’ve mostly enjoyed the game both times. It seems like a rich game with a whole lot of variety and loads of options. The mix of area control and deck building (plus more) is very interesting, and I like how you will have to fight for the good cards when they come up. It’s a good halfway point  between Dominion, in which you have several stacks of the same card, and something like Ascension, in which you just have to grab the best card available. Plus, even in the rare occasion when there’s no interesting card out, there is usually something else you can do – like get more cubes or maybe assassinate someone.

It is also a game with a rich opportunity for storytelling. Sherlock Holmes tried to assassinate He Who Presides in the New World, but Ravachol was a double agent, and spoiled the plan. It is more difficult to assassinate someone in Berlin than in Madrid, which obviously means that the security of the Spanish is more lax than that of the Prussians. Many of the actions you can take will have those possibilities for telling a story through the game, something certain other games do less well – a frequent criticism against Dominion is its lack of theme and storytelling.

A major element of the game – and a controversial one – is the way the secret identities work. In my first game, I was ahead, and the other player on my side, who had the lowest number of points, plainly stated that he felt no need to try to gain points, as that would permit me to close the game and win. This meant that I had to force him to gain points in order for me to be able to close the game and win it. In the second game, meanwhile, I was last, and the guy in the lead worked with me to prevent the Loyalist scum from winning. This provided a very different play experience. I think that if you want to get the best experience from this game, you must go into the game thinking that it is more important for one of your side to win than for you to be high on the score  list.

All in all, I enjoy the game a lot. It is very different, and it feels very meaty – there is a lot going on in this game, and each game will most definitely be different. If I could just get an errataed rulebook, I would be  very satisfied.

A few interesting things to note

  • The origin of the story of this game goes through Arthur Conan Doyle, H.P. Lovecraft and Neil Gaiman – quite a providence!
  • The way the loyalty deck is set up, you might have everybody in a two or three game on the same side. In that case, the losing faction won’s be eliminated, as that would eliminate all players. If you have one person belonging to a different faction than everybody else, though, the dynamics of the game changes. That player will win if he can just make sure to score more points than any one of the opponents, meaning that it might actually be easier for a lone wolf.

Advent reviews: Bausack

A lot of games are boring to watch. People pushing little cubes about? Yawn! Bausack (or Bandu, as I think it’s also called) is different. In this game, you are creating towers of sculptural beauty. And often, you can cut the tension with a knife.

What kind of game is this?

In Bausack, you have a bag of wooden pieces in different shapes. Some rectangular, some squares, an egg, an egg-cup, a lime wedge – all sorts different shapes. Apart from those, you have some little crystal pieces that represent currency.

The rulebook comes with at least four different games to play. The most basic game is this:

All the pieces are put in a pile in the middle of the table, and each player takes ten beads. Each turn, the current player selects a piece from the pile. He will then auction it off by saying either: “I want this, and I will pay [number] beads for it”, or “I don’t want this, and I’ll pay [number] not to have it.” The first bid can be zero, something that will be necessary as the game goes on. Then he passes the piece to the person on his left. In the first kind of auction, each player can increase the bid, or pass. The piece will go to the player who made the highest bid when everybody else is out of the round. That player will pay the beads he bid. In the second type of auction, the piece will be passed around until someone passes. Everybody else will then pay their last bid, and the passing player will have to take the piece.

In any case, the player who took the piece in the end will now have to add it to his or her construction. Each construction can have no more than one piece touch the table. All other pieces will have to be built onto that foundation piece. This will make the constructions more and more elaborate, and more and more unstable, until they crash. The last player with a tower still standing wins.

Two of the other versions:

In Pile’em High, the player with the tallest tower wins. The current player can either auction off pieces to have for himself, or to give to another player. In the second kind of auction, the affected person can request that the person who gave them the piece put it in their tower – if they fail, their own tower is considered out.

In the Tower of Bable, all players are building the same construction. Each round, you take a piece and add it to the construction. The player just before the player who makes the tower fall gets a point. The first player to five points wins.

How many people should you play this with?

3-6. You can play it with two, I think, but you won’t have very good auctions. I would probably prefer 4-5, as you will have players enough for interaction, but not enough to drag it out long.

What do I think of this game?

I love Bausack, though I’m not very good at it. There’s a lot of tension in the game as you try to add another piece to your rickety tower. Also, the towers you can make are just incredible – you learn things about friction you never knew!

One trap I always falls into is building a boring tower. You can play this game to win, but it’s not nearly as satisfying as is taking some chances and building a crazy tower. One of the advantages of the Pile’em High-version is that it requires you to build a crazy tower.

The pieces are really nice, and they are nicely varied. The beads are ok, but to be honest, they could be anything. They are just there as counters.The important thing is the many very different building blocks. And they are just perfect!

A few interesting things to note

  • How ten tokens are actually a good amount. It means you can secure the pieces you need or avoid the ones you don’t want, but the game doesn’t turn into an auction game. It is a building game with an auction component, not the other way around.
  • How you can be forced to take whatever your neighbour gives you – and that can be a really interesting challenge.
  • How the two parts of the game means there is something for the more creatively, steady handed person, as well as for the more strategic player.

Advent Reviews: Article 27

Article 27 is a game about the UN Security Council. I bought it on a whim last year – I’m interested in the whole international systems thing, but the name and theme of the game sounded like it might be a heavy, dusty game. It turned out to be pretty much the opposite.’

What is this game?

In Article 27, you play one of the permanent members of the UN Security Council. Now, the name of the game refers to the part of the UN code that says that a resolution must have a majority for it in order to pass, and that it cannot pass if any of the permanent members vote against it. This means that permanent members vote “no” by abstaining, while a “no” vote is a veto. Knowing this, it should come as no surprise that the game is all about negotiating a resolution, and trying to get people to vote for your proposition, or at least not to veto it.

During the game, the players take turns being the Secretary General. In a 4-6 player game, each player will be Secretary General once, in a 3 player game, each player will be Secretary General twice. The Secretary General has five minutes to try to put together a resolution that will be able to pass – that is, a majority must get enough out of it to vote for it, while no one can dislike it enough to veto it.

So, what do players get out of a resolution? Three things: Players will receive or lose points for which of five issues are part of a resolution. At the beginning of the round, each player will draw five tokens from a bag, placing them on fields that mark out the points the player will gain if that issue is passed this turn: +5, +3, +1, -2, -4. You can draw several tokens with the same issue. This means that you could theoretically have five identical tokens, though you will most often, you will get a variety of tokens with one or two copies. You might still get both plus and minus points for the same issue though.

There are a few more points available. The Secretary General gets five points if they can pass a resolution. Also, each player has a hidden agenda that they want passed throughout the game. Each issue token will carry one of these hidden agenda tokens, meaning that you might have an interest in passing an issue, even if it doesn’t get you any points.

Finally, there are bribes. Players can use their points to bribe each other to do certain things: Put a certain issue in the resolution, vote for a resolution,  even veto a resolution (which is a way of splitting the cost of vetoing). Bribes are offered by putting coins together with a token representing your country on the other player’s playing board. This board has spaces for all the different kinds of bribes you are likely to be making throughout the game. Then, after voting, players get any bribes they honoured, while they return any they didn’t live up to.

The game continues until all players have been Secretary General, then you score the secret agendas, and count your points.

How many would I play this with?

The more the better. I would say that five is probably optimal, but six is great too. Three is ok, but you don’t really get enough negotiation around the table. You need a few more players to spice it up.

What do I think of the game?

I really like this game. It’s a real “me” type of game: hidden agendas, negotiation, silly voices – what’s not to like? The game is pretty simple, but I feel there is plenty to negotiate. The artwork is very silly, but in a way that evokes roleplaying your country.

In general, the component quality is really good. The boards and the tokens are great, the sand timer is good, and the gavel that the Secretary General has is frankly just amazing. There is a problem with the contrast on the yellow tokens – you simply cannot see which secret agenda is on a token. I’m frankly a little surprised why they haven’t caught that and given the yellow tokens a black outline. For a high quality game, that’s a stupid mistake to make.

The game can be very cut-throat. Very often, the louder, more insistent player will gain more than the quieter players. This can lead to some surprising votes, when one player suddenly decides to veto or vote against a resolution.

And the game is not at all fair. You depend a lot on the way the tokens come up on the board – if you’re unlucky, there won’t be anything that will really give you points in a given round. This doesn’t bother me so much – to me, the game is about getting the best deals I can – but I can certainly see it as a drawback to many players.

All in all, Article 27 is a bit of a different game, and one I’m really fond of. It’s also a rather light game, and I would feel fairly comfortable introducing new players to it. And if someone doesn’t like it? Well, the game takes a maximum of five minutes per player, plus a bit of bookkeeping – so it’s not the biggest waste of time if someone turns out not to like it.

A few interesting things to note

  • That the designers added Germany as a sixth “permanent member”. This bothers me a bit, as it is highly unlikely that another European country would become a permanent member of the Security Council. It’s much more likely that any additional permanent members would be a BRICS country, or at least an African/Asian country, rather than a European country.
  • How you will most often not use all five minutes – but the consciousness of the time constraint will make you move the negotiating process along.
  • How the addition of a leader of the negotiating really moves it along. In some negotiation games where there is no leader, people can sit on their hands a little bit at the beginning, waiting for somebody else to make the first move. Here, the Secretary General will start out with a suggestion, moving the thing along.

Advent Reviews: Werewolves (of Miller’s Hollow)

Werewolves is the quintessential party game. I love playing it – unfortunately, it is difficult to gather enough people to play it.

What kind of game is this?

Werewolves is a funny kind of a game. It exists in many versions, and was played for a while without any commercially released edition. It was originally known as Mafia, and can also be found ind the guise of “Do you worship Cthulhu?” All that said, the version of the game that really made it famous was “The Werewolves of Miller’s Hollow”.

In any version, one player is the moderator. All other players receive a character card, showing whether they are a common villager, a werewolf hiding in the village, or one of a number of special characters, most of which are on the side of the villagers.

The game is played in a number of day/night cycles. Each night, the moderator tells everyone to close their eyes. When everybody has closed their eyes, the moderator tells the wolves to open their eyes and vote for whoever they want to eat that night. After the werewolves are done, a number of other characters can open their eyes, one at a time, in order to use their special powers – like the Seer, who will point to someone to find out whether they are a werewolf or not.

After the night phase, everybody opens their eyes, and the moderator tells them the results of the night: Who died, and what else happened? Then the players debate who they suspect of being a werewolf, and vote to lynch someone. The game ends when all the werewolves are dead, or when the werewolves overpower the villagers.

How many people should you play this with?

The more the merrier! I think a minimum for playing this is eight players and a moderator. But the game really shines when you have 10-15 players. This will make the game a fair bit longer, and the first player to die will be out for a fair while. This is unfortunate, but you can help it either by involving the dead players in the game, or by having them start a second game at some point.

What do I think of this game?

This game is so much fun! It hits a sweet spot between roleplaying and board gaming, and causes some really fun situations when everybody is slinging accusations back and forth. The rules are very light, and not very strict, but that is perfect for what the game is – not least because it makes it easy to bring new people into the game very quickly.

A few interesting things to note

How important artwork is. The difference in the feel between this version of the game and the one called “Ultimate Werewolf” is more or less just the artwork, and yet I much prefer Werewolves of Miller’s Hollow.

How fun it is to have a game you can customize so much. Each time, the moderator chooses a set of cards, which means none of the players can be entirely sure what’s in the pile. That keeps you on your toes.

Advent reviews: Dominion

Today, I’m reviewing a household favorite: Dominion. It’s no accident that we have all but one expansion for this game (nor is it an accident which one we haven’t bought). My SO in particular is fond of it, and used to play it extensively on the free on-line service, Isotropic. That service has sadly closed, and has been replaced by an inferior commercial version, leaving us to play only the physical game.

What kind of game is this?

When biologists talk about a certain species or type of animal, they may refer to a “type specimen”, by which they mean the one used to define the type or kind of organism, and the yardstick by which you determine which other specimens belong to the same kind. Well, Dominion is the type specimen for the kind of game called a “deck-building game”.

In Dominion, each player starts with his own small deck of ten very basic cards. Throughout the game the game, players will add cards to their deck from a selection of cards, called “the supply”. In the supply is three types of money cards (gold, silver and copper), three types of victory cards (estates, duchies and provinces), one type of bad card (curses) and ten so-called “Kingdom cards”. The Kingdom cards vary from game to game, and includes some very different cards. Most of the cards are action cards that allow you to do things on your turn, like draw, play or buy more cards, but there are also special kinds of money and victory cards that change the way you buy cards or score at the end of the game.

The list of things you do on your turn is deceptively simple. On your turn, you:

  1. may play an action card from your hand.
  2. may play as many treasures as you want from your hand,
  3. may buy one card from the supply, depending on the money you have received from the action- and treasure cards you have played. Bought cards go to your discard pile
  4. put all played cards on the table, as well as any unplayed cards in your hand, in your discard pile, and draw five new cards.

…but of course it’s not that simple. Many action cards allow you to play more cards in your action phase, or they allow you to buy more cards in your buy phase, and so, you will often be playing five or ten action cards in your turn, before you play any treasures. Some cards allow you to do things to other players, while others allow you to react to things happening to you, even on other players’ turns. Many cards will tell you to “trash” (remove) cards from your deck, something that is an important element in many strategies.

The game ends when the most valuable victory card has sold out, or when three of the other piles of cards have sold out. Then you count all the victory points in your deck – the person with the most points is the winner.

How many people should you play this with?

According to the box, the game plays with 2-4 players – and I’d gladly play it with 2, 3, or 4 players. Playing with two players is in many ways a more strategic game than playing with three or four, but I would say it plays equally well with two, three and four players. You can also play it with 5 or 6, but I think I might recommend splitting up into two groups instead.

What do I think of this game?

If somebody asked me to point to a beautifully designed game, I might point to Dominion. The rules are simple, yet the depth of the game is immense. Despite the more than 200 different kingdom cards, all the cards interlock in neat and easily understandable ways. The designer of the game, Donald X. Vaccarino, has apparently stated that there is only one combination of cards that he would have prevented had he known of it. That is a testament to the thorough design of the game.

Playing Dominion can be very much a cerebral challenge. Even if you own all expansions and all 200+ different cards, each game will start with a set of ten different kingdom that you can use to construct your deck. As such, the main challenge in any game of Dominion is looking at the available cards, spotting synergies between different cards, and developing a strategy that will allow you to gain more victory points than your opponent.

An important part of advanced Dominion strategy is what is called “deck control” – controlling which cards are present in your deck. Adding a card to your deck means that card is more likely to appear in your hand, replacing other cards – so you must make sure each card is replacing less useful cards, instead of more useful cards. As such, trimming cards that are no longer useful can be a very strong move, as this improves the odds of drawing useful cards. 

All in all, for a 20-30 minute game, Dominion is a very deep game that has entertained us for many, many hours. The basic game is pretty simple to learn, but particularly once you start adding some of the more advanced expansions – like Dark Ages and Cornucopia – there is a lot of options to explore and experience with. But despite the multitude of different cards, the setup of the game limits the number of different cards you have to deal with at a time. While this game is definitely not for everyone, for those who like it, it contains hours and hours of gameplay.

A few interesting things to note

  • The game was one of five Mensa MindGames in 2009.
  • There are a few recurring themes throughout the expansion. Each expansion has at least one type of card that serves a similar function to the “Village” card of the original Dominon-box. Most of them have “village” in the title, like “Mining Village” or “Fishing Village”, while others are called “Hamlet”, “City” etc.
  • A number of expansions change the basic setup of the game. Prosperity adds another tier of money and victory cards (“Platinum” and “Colonies”) while Dark Ages changes the cards you start the game with, and some of the cards require particular cards be added to the setup that can’t be bought, but only gained in ways specified on the cards (“Spoils”, “Ruins”, “Mercenary” and “Madman”).

Advent reviews: Dixit

Dixit is one of my favorite games. Quick, engaging and beautiful, easy yet challenging, and full of creative juice.

What kind of game is this?

In Dixit, you have a deck of big cards, each with a different and very evocative piece of art on them. Each round, one player will select a card from their hand, give it a title (titles can be anything; I recently gave a “title” which was whistling a song), and put it face down on the table. Each other player will then select a card from their hand they think could carry that title, and put it with the first card. The selected cards are then shuffled, and put face up on the table. All players except for the first player will then look at the card, and try to guess which card was the first player’s. The first player will get points if at least one, but not all, of the other players guessed his card, while the other players will get points for guessing the first player’s card, and for each player who guessed their card.

This means that the first player wants to give a hint that is vague enough that not everyone will be able to guess it, but not so vague that nobody can guess it. The other players want to put out a card that everybody will think is the first card, and they want to find out which card the first player put out.

How many people should you play this with?

The box for Dixit Oddysey (which has better components and more rules variants than the original) says 3-12, though 8-12 is mostly for a team game (which I haven’t tried). Three is ok, but far from optimal. I think it shines at 5-6 players – you have a good amount of cards you have to decide between, but it will be your turn relatively often. 4, 7, and 8 are all fine as well – 4 means not so many options, 7-8 means almost too many options, and you won’t be giving a title very often (which is just fine by some; I kinda like doing it).

What do I think of this game?

This game is great. It is one of not very many games my mother will enjoy. It’s a lot of fun to try to guess which picture would inspire someone to a certain title, and trying to come up with a title really tickles your brain. Not to mention that the artwork is beautiful! It’s very evocative, and most of it is chock full of little details and ambiguous meanings.

It’s also not a very competitive game. I usually don’t care too much where I end up on the score track. The interesting thing is trying to pair titles and images, and hearing the other players explain why they picked each card. This also makes it a very good game to play with writing groups or improv theatre groups – or as warm up for a roleplaying game – as it really gets the creative juices flowing. And the cards can be used as writing prompts.

This is a game I’ve played with children of eight and people over sixty. Both have enjoyed it. Frame of reference is important, because that will help you understand the hints better, so being an outsider in a crowd of friends can make it more difficult to get a lot of points, but it is still an enjoyable game.

In other words, a good game for when you don’t want heavy strategy or fierce rivalry. Also a game that can work well with gamers and non-gamers alike, and one which I wouldn’t hesitate recommending as a game for non-gamers and families.

A few interesting things to note

  • Many games use the logic, maths and spatial skills of the brain. This uses another function of the brain: the so-called “theory of mind”. Theory of mind is the mind’s ability to deduce what other people are thinking. This is one of the things that autistic people usually lack.
  • If I recall, the rule-book gives the scores as 3 points for the first player if he gets it right, and 3 points for everyone who guessed his card. I usually change it, so that the people who guess his card gets two points. Otherwise, it’s actually a mechanical disadvantage to be the first player, as he can never get more than the initial three points, while another player can guess the right card AND have loads of people guess the card he put down. It’s no big deal, just something to consider.