Category Archives: Board Game Reviews

If you came here looking for board game reviews, then this page is for you. I usually review games after 1 or two plays. Why? Because if it takes more than that to determine if it’s any good, most people will have given up and won’t try it again. Designer’s gotta design games that work well the first time someone play’s it. Otherwise it won’t be a game with a big audience.

Oxides and Acids: A Review of Compounded

A game that I received via Kickstarter that has brought enjoyment to my gaming group recently is Compounded. This game was designed by Darrell Louder and published by the excellent Dice Hate Me Games.

In Compounded you are essentially a lab manager taking care of different experiments. Your objective in the game is to earn the most Atomic Points (AP… Note: this is the type of AP that you want!). Atomic points are earned by completing compounds. Each round consists of the following four phases:

  1. Discovery Phase: Players obtain new elements from the draw bag based on their Discovery research level.
  2. Study Phase: Players place or move their claim tokens, which indicate the compounds that they are claiming.
  3. Research Phase: Players take elements from their workbench and place them on compounds.
  4. Lab Phase: Players score any completed compounds and deal with any lab fires.

The game lasts until someone reaches 50 atomic points or when someone has 3 of their 4 research levels topped out or when the research field can no longer be filled.

Throughout the game players are trying to complete compounds that will be beneficial for them. Beneficial refers to the type of research that they will gain when completing a compound. Let’s take a look at the examples in this image:

The compound in the middle, Hydroxylamine, will award 6 atomic points (upper right corner). The player completing the compound will also be able to increase their “Discovery” experiment level (Blue indicator next to the score). Also, the player completing the compound would receive a Lab Key token, which they could use later in the game to obtain the first player marker. The compound on the left awards 5 points, a bump in the “Research” experiment level, and causes volatility in the lab (red flame icon in the lower right corner), which is like a lab fire. The compound on the right awards 6 atomic points, a bump in the “Study” experiment level, and safety goggles, which can be really useful!

As players complete compounds their abilities will increase. That nature of the game allows things to ramp up really well throughout the game. Here are my thoughts:

Here’s What I Like:

Science and Theme: You’ve gotta give it to the designer and publisher. This is not a typical theme and I imagine some people would find it dry because there is no boring looking renaissance man on the cover. However, the theme is so perfectly integrated into the game that you almost forget that don’t realize Hydrogen Oxide is, in fact, water! Everything thematically works really really well in this game.

Graphic Design: Normally I list that I enjoy the artwork in a game. This game is a little different. There is actually very little artwork. Rather, the game is nearly all graphic design. Even the box cover isn’t your typical fully painted work of art. So why is this in the section of things I like? Because they pulled it off beautifully. In a game like this there’s just no need for gaudy, over the top artwork. This is a streamlined product that looks really nice.

Gameplay: I really enjoy how this game works. It is similar, in some respects, to Scoville in that each round of the game is made of different phases. I enjoy that each round is discrete and you have to work to maximize what you can do during your turn while hoping you’re doing a better job than your opponents.

Here’s What I Dislike:

Luck: Since drawing elements during the discovery phase is a luck mechanic, it can make things a little frustrating if you are unable to draw what you need. This issue is minimized, however, by your abilities as they increase throughout the game. While luck is present, it becomes less and less as the game goes on, which is good.

Flame Token and Draw Bag Components: This is more of a gripe than something I dislike. I wish the flame tokens were slightly larger so they would be easier to grab. I understand that their size makes them fit really well onto the compound cards, so I can forgive that. The draw bag is also slightly too small. We swapped it for a draw bag from VivaJava and the VivaJava draw bag worked much better.

Designer Perspective: What Would I Change?

First, you should be aware that I have not yet played the game with the Chemical Chaos or Journal expansion cards. As a designer I would like to drop some of the symmetry from the game. I’m not sure how it would work, but I like the idea of having different starting conditions or abilities for each player. Perhaps Player 1 could start with a bumped Discovery level and fewer elements. Perhaps Player 2 could start with a bumped Research level. Those options for asymmetry wouldn’t work very well. A better option would be hidden objectives. Like someone could be an Oxide collector where they try to get a set of three different oxides for bonus points. I think that could be fun as it helps to steer your long term strategy in the game.

Beer Pairing:

While I have not had this particular brand of beer, I cannot think of a better partner for Compounded than Element Brewing Company. And the beer I’ve chosen for this pairing is the Dark Element.

According to the website, Dark Element is strikingly viscous and creamy on the palate with citrus fruit and chocolate cream. It sounds like a delicious beer that would pair well with Compounded!

Overall Rating:

I really think this is a fantastic game. The game flows nicely, minimizes downtime, maximizes strategic decisions, and, most importantly, is a lot of fun. But then as a bonus you can learn stuff while you’re playing! I can’t wait to play Compounded again. I’ll rate this game a 9 out of 10 on the BoardGameGeek scale:

Excellent game.  Always want to play it.

Excellent game. Always want to play it.

I Rolled Three 1s: A Review of Kingsburg

In Kingsburg you take on the role of a lord sent from the king to administer frontier territories. That role involves building different structures in your territory to earn points. The game takes place over 5 years for a total of 20 turns. At the end of each year you must battle enemies that include goblins, orcs, and zombies. Building structures requires resources.  Those resources are gained by influencing appropriate council members. Will you influence the right council members? Will you defeat the enemies? Will your territory be the best? Try it out by playing Kingsburg.

The board looks beautiful!

The game comes with a spectacular board, numerous dice in 6 different colors, several sets of colored cubes to represent different resources, player tokens to mark structures that have been built, cards to represent the enemies that will be faced at the end of each year, and player mats that list the structures that each player can build.

This game has a very interesting mechanic of dice placement. All the players role their colored dice. Then one at a time those dice are placed on an advisor location on the board. For example, the advisor in the #1 spot would require someone to have rolled a 1 with one of their dice. Also, the advisor in the #10 spot would require any combination of dice that total to 10. No two players can take the same advisor on any one turn.  Once all the dice have been placed, then each player gains the
appropriate resources, points, or tokens.  I think it is a very fun mechanic that requires you to adjust your strategy from
turn to turn based on your dice rolls.

Here’s What I Like:

Dice Mechanic: As I just mentioned, the unique dice mechanic is very strategically interesting. I really enjoy how you have to try and make the most of your dice each turn. Do you try to block other people? Do you try to maximize your resources? Do you go for victory points? There are many options which make this mechanic a fun one!

Paths to Victory: I should state a disclaimer here and say that the only way to win is by having the most victory points.  However, I say there are different paths to victory because of the options of structures that you can build. You could play the game many different ways and still be able to be the winner.  Each structure gives the player a different benefit so it is up to the player which series of benefits they would like in the game.

Here’s What I Dislike:

Replayability: Unfortunately I feel that after 10 plays or so this game begins to feel monotonous. While the game itself is very fun, I feel that it would become the same thing over and over.  On the plus side, the game designers also have an expansion called “Kingsburg: To Forge a Realm,” which includes components that increase replayability drastically.

Dice Mechanic: I know that I mentioned it as something I like, so why is it here as well? I’m not a huge fan of games that can be won or lost based on luck. And this game is one of those. Sure, you can build the right structures to allow for re-rolls or other benefits, but I’ve played games where I constantly rolled low numbers and couldn’t make any progress. That’s frustrating.

Designer Perspective: What I would change:

The biggest problem for me is that the dice can go very strongly for or against you. Yes, you can use structures like the Market to adjust a die roll, but it can be better than that. One simple change could be very beneficial: If you roll less than10 you can flip one die over to the bottom side. So a 1 would become a 6, a 2 would become a 5 and so on. I think this rule would allow for more flexibility. The downside is that it could add to the AP in the game.

Beer Pairing:

Everyone loves building a kingdom. And everyone loves castles. So I’m recommending a beer brand that I learned about from the esteemed designer of Jump Gate, Matt Worden.

Matt, who lives in Minnesota, has mentioned Castle Danger brewery in the past. And since Kingsburg is based on the idea of building a territory around a castle I feel it is appropriate enough for this beer pairing. While I have not had any Castle Danger beer I know that I enjoy a cream ale. And a cream ale would go well with this lightish game. So today’s preferred beer pairing is Castle Danger Castle Cream Ale.

Overall Rating:

While I enjoy the game I’ve gotten to the point that it is very samey over and over. It’s relatively simple to learn and play. The artwork is outstanding. The dice mechanic is great. And it’s a lot of fun. But I would recommend also buying the To Forge A Realm expansion. At this point I’ll rate Kingsburg a 7 out of 10 on the BGG scale:

Good game, usually willing to play.

Good game, usually willing to play.

Yarr! Merchants & Marauders be Awesome!

Yesterday was National Talk Like A Pirate Day. So I bet a bunch of you played Pirate themed games last night. I didn’t play any pirate games last night, but I did watch a show about the industrial age and now I have an amazing game design concept which I’ll be keeping quiet about for now. Never-the-less, due to all the Pirate-y goodness I am reviewing a fantastic game called Merchants & Marauders. Let’s get to it!

For those of you who enjoy Pirates and everything involved with that genre and history, then this is the pirate game for you!  In the game you take on the role of a captain who is exploring the open seas of the Caribbean.  During the game you have the option to be a merchant and pick up goods and deliver them to other ports, or you can be a pirate (marauder) and raid other ships and plunder gold.  But the game goes so far beyond just that.  There are rumor cards to fulfill (for example: you could get a rumor card that says there is hidden treasure off of Cartagena… if you prove the rumor to be true, then you are rewarded with gold!).  There are mission cards to complete for bonuses.  There are different types of ships you can own.  There is so much to this awesome game!  If you feel the desire to plunder some booty, then hop aboard and sail the open seas with me!

Here’s what the game looks like on the table:

Yarr Matey! It be a thing o’ beauty!

So each player is a different captain in control of a ship. On your turn you can choose from several different actions depending on whether you’re in open water or at a port. If you choose to be a merchant then you’ll want to go from port to port picking up and delivering goods for a boatload of booty! If you attack someone, then you are automatically considered a Pirate. This is a more high-risk venture but it can also bring big rewards. But, as they say, “Once a Pirate, Always a Pirate!”

During the game other ships also begin sailing the seas. You have to watch out for these ships. If you are a merchant you’ll have to stay away from Pirate ships, and vice versa. The whole time you are trying to obtain money. The game ends when someone gets to 50 doubloons.

Here’s What I Be Liking:

Artwork: This artwork is absolutely sensational.  It is a pleasure for my eyes to look up the game board and player mats.  The colors are vibrant.  The art style is impressive.  And there is nothing to dislike when viewing this game! I am typically influenced by the art on games and this is no different. It’s amazing!

Sailing the Open Seas: This game let’s you sail around as you wish. You are a captain and you have full control of the helm.  Nothing guides your strategy in this game and you are free to do as you please.  I love having that openness, knowing that I am fully responsible for the actions I take in the game. There are not many games that really immerse you the way this game does!

Many Options: In this game you constantly have many options available to you.  You can do numerous things when you are in a port.  You can choose to become a pirate by raiding a ship.  You can attack your enemy.  You can try to complete missions or determine if rumors are true. Overall there are a lot of things you can do!  It really feels like you are guiding a vessel around the Caribbean!

Here’s What I Be Disliking:

Downtime: The only complaint I have is that when the other players visit a port it can lead to a lot of downtime where you just don’t do anything.  With four players all taking port actions on their turn it can lead to a long time to wait between turns.

Length of the Game: I love Merchants & Marauders. But it takes a long time to play. I group it into the same game length category as Eclipse. It the game didn’t take so long to play it would make the table a lot more often.

Designer Perspective – What I’d Be Changin’:

One thing that seems a little off is that being a Pirate is really hard. I’d like piracy to be a more viable option for players. While the game makes being a pirate have about the right feel, I would rather have the game be a little off theme to make piracy more fun. So I would either make the pirate ships more evasive so that they can plunder and run or present more options for pirates to obtain booty. This isn’t that big of a change and could make it more fun to be a pirate.

The other thing I would change is to add scenarios to the game. I know that the rumor cards give players to work toward, but I would prefer some cooperative scenarios for the game. Imagine all players playing as Pirates and trying to plunder a fleet of merchant ships that are controlled by the game. That would be a lot of fun!

Beer Pairing:

I wish I were out on the open seas soaking up the sun and sucking down a Red Stripe!

While a big jug of rum would be the ideal beverage pairing for this game, I will pick a beer anyway. And I can’t think of a more fitting beer for sailing around the Caribbean than Jamaica’s finest, Red Stripe.

I have to wonder if they didn’t choose the bottle shape so that it felt more like a jug of rum. It’s not a typical shape for beer bottles. But I suppose that’s fitting since Merchants & Marauders isn’t a typical pirate game. It’s better! I haven’t played it in a while, but now after posting this I really want to get it to the table again!

Overall Rating:

I love this game. I love imagining myself sailing the Caribbean with a crew on board who are ready to deliver goods or plunder another ship or suck down some rum. The theme and artwork are so capturing that they really bring me in. Plus, there’s the really cool cardboard treasure chest where you can stash your doubloons. I want to play again and I am rating this game a 9 out of 10 on the Board Game Geek scale:

Excellent game.  Always want to play it.

Excellent game. Always want to play it.

There’s Fungus Among Us! My Review of Morels.

“Amateur Mycologists have questionable Morels” ~ from Brent’s shirt at GenCon

During my trip to Gen Con 2012 I was able to meet a nice guy named Brent Povis with Two Lanterns Games.  Brent was a really nice guy and so was his wife, who taught my friend Jeremy and me the game.

Morels is a two player game that has you going on a hike in the woods foraging for mushrooms.  Should you pick the mushrooms at your feet?  Or do you want to hike a little further for that other mushroom that looks a little tastier?  Players are on a foraging hike that will allow them to gather mushrooms of different kinds. Once you’ve got three or more of the same kind, go ahead and fry them up!  You’ll get bonus points if you can use butter with 4 of a kind (+3 points) or cider with five of a kind (+5 points).  Some mushrooms are worth more points, but there are fewer of them.  So you have to plan accordingly on your hike.  On any given turn you can grab one of the first two cards available, or you can pay any number of walking sticks to walk further down the path and grab a card that you would rather have.  There is definitely a lot of strategy with your choices in the game.  When you’re hungry for mushrooms, or ready for a great two-player game, then pick up a copy of Morels!

Here’s a look at the setup to start the game:

This is the special version with hand whittled sticks and plastic frying pans. I’m jealous.

Each player starts with three cards. Eight cards are placed along the foraging trail. And each player starts the game with one frying pan. On your turn you can take one of the first two cards. Or you can pay sticks to forage further along the trail. You pay one stick for each card you walk beyond the first two cards. So if you take the fourth card from the end you would be paying two sticks. When you’ve got a set of three or more like mushrooms you can fry them up by laying your set down by the frying pan, or by laying it down with a frying pan card. That’s the basics of how you play.

The Upside:

Length of the game: As I have gotten more and more into awesome games my wife has kind of been left behind.  So I am always on the lookout for a new, lighter game that she’ll enjoy. That’s one reason I picked up The Little Prince at GenCon this year. She also doesn’t care for games that are over an hour.  So to have a game like this that takes a half hour at most with people who know how to play, it’s perfect for us.

Theme: I don’t like mushrooms.  It’s mostly because of their texture (I have a weird texture-sensitive palate).  However, I love looking at mushrooms and other fungi in nature.  So the theme of walking through the woods on a foraging hike actually sounds pretty cool to me.  Plus, you’re not trying to build a castle or earn victory points.  This is just a mushroom game where you get points for cooking mushrooms.

The Downside:

Endgame: While I could almost equally put this in the Upside category I’m putting it in the downside because there are often situations at the end where you don’t really have any decisions to make. I enjoy games where decisions get more important right to the end. You can have a play of Morels where, based on the last cards to come up, you just don’t have any fun decisions to make. I can forgive that because it’s not always the case and because the game plays quickly. But it needed to be mentioned.

Designer Perspective: What would I change?

This game works pretty well overall so it was a little tough to think of something to change. Basically this is a set collection game where the ability to procure sets is very structured. There is strategy in what mushrooms you take as you are collecting the sets, but there isn’t a huge “Take That” capability in the game. It never feels like I can really strongly affect my opponent. My change to the game would be to add a few cards to the game that each player starts with. These cards would be one-time use abilities. One specific ability I would like would be to take a card without having a card decay. Another ability would be to take a card and replace it with a blank spot along the foraging trail. Both of these abilities could add interesting twists to the strategy while providing a little of the “take that” concept.

Beer Pairing:

“Ommegang! This is so good!”

For a mushroom foraging hunt one might suspect bringing along a light beer that goes down easy. They’d be wrong. For most meals with mushrooms you’ll find the Belgian or French beer styles quite accommodating. So my preferred beer pairing while playing Morels would be the Ommegang Abbey Ale, which is a Belgian Dubbel style ale.

Ommegang sounds foreign, but they are a New York based brewery. So don’t let the name fool you when you go into the beer store looking for a nice foreign beer. For those looking specifically for Trappist beer, which comes from Trappist monasteries, there are only 8 recognized Trappist sources: Achel, Chimay, Gregorious, La Trappe, Orval, Rochefort, Westmalle, and Westvleteren. Of those I have had all except Gregorius and Westvleteren, which I am hoping to remedy in the near future.

Overall Rating:

I’ll rate this with two players in mind and thus it’s rating is compared to only two player games. The fact that I can get my wife to play this game means a lot, and that helps it’s rating. Overall I enjoy this little gem. We specifically love playing this game when we are camping since it feels like we are actually out foraging for mushrooms. I’m giving this game 8 out of 10 on the BGG scale:

Very good game. I like to play it. Probably I'll suggest it and will never turn down a game.

Very good game. I like to play it. Probably I’ll suggest it and will never turn down a game.

The Little Prince: 16 Tiles of Awesomeness

Don’t be fooled. There’s awesomeness inside!

In case you missed it, last week was GenCon. That meant thousands of people (49,000+) visited Indianapolis for the convention and nearly all of them bought board games. One of the games I picked up, despite my lack of interest in the artwork, was The Little Prince, co-designed by famed designers Bruno Cathala and Antoine Bauza.

I love tile laying games. So when I watched W. Eric Martin’s video preview of the game I thought it could be really interesting. And since Bruges was sold out before I even got to GenCon I had a little extra money to spend on other thingsFor $28 this seemed worth it.

In The Little Prince you will play 16 rounds of the game. On any given round, whomever went last during the previous round gets to choose a type of tile. There are four types of tiles: Characters, Left Curve Edges, Right Curve Edges, and Centers. So the player will choose one type and draw as many tiles as there are players. They are placed face-up. They will then choose a tile, and then they get to choose who gets the next tile. Once all players had chosen then the next round begins.

Here’s a look at the setup (note that you do not actually need the scoring track on the box, but it’s kind of nice to look at):

Here’s the setup. Could it be simpler? (Yes, but not by much)

With fewer players you’ll use fewer tiles, but the gameplay is the same (except for with 2 players). There are also a few things to watch out for in the game. Baobab trees are awesome! Unless you have too many. If you ever get to the point where you have three baobabs on your planet then those three tiles will get flipped over. That’s bad because then you cannot use them for your scoring condition.

Also, volcanoes are no good. Whoever has the most volcanoes on their planet at the end loses a number of points equal to the number of volcanoes.

At the end you will have four scoring conditions that give you points for the things you have on your planet (roses, sheep, lamp posts, etc.). Your goal is to have the most points.

The Upside:

Simplicity: 16 tiles doth a planet make! That’s such an easy thing. It is very simple to play. Just choose a tile and place it down. The location doesn’t even matter so long as you are forming the shape of a planet.

Complexity: 16 sounds like a light game, but there is a lot of strategy in this game. The more players, the better off you’ll be. There are interesting choices of taking a tile that may not score you as much, but could cause another player to lose even more points. There are interesting choices about trying to get in the right spot in turn order. And then near the end of the game there are interesting choices. This game is filled with interesting choices.

The Downside:

Artwork: Originally I was not a fan of the artwork. I’m not familiar with the French story so there is no nostalgic connection for me to the artwork. While I can understand that others may enjoy it, I would definitely be on board to re-theme this one. I could consider myself a fan of the artwork on the basis of others enjoying that nostalgic feeling.

Designer Perspective: What would I change?

Other than re-theming there’s only one change I would make. I would add more scoring characters so that there are no duplicates. In my first game I had both lamp post scoring characters, and I had 13 lamp posts on my planet. With duplicate scoring characters there is a potential for making a huge killing. While I understand that there is also strategy inherent due to the duplicate scoring cards, I’d prefer there be no duplicate scoring cards.

Beer Pairing:

Parfait! (That’s French for “Perfect”)

What we have here is an interesting conundrum. First, the game is based on a French book, so I’m inclined to choose a wine pairing instead of beer. (No worries, that sort of blasphemy won’t happen here!). Second, the game itself is so simple and light, yet so deep with strategy. I have to choose a beer that fits that characteristic. I’d like to choose a French beer, but unfortunately France just isn’t known for it’s beer. So my preferred beer pairing for this light yet deep game is Stella Artois. (It’s close enough to France!) This beer meets the characteristics of the story and the game. It is a lighter beer but has a beautiful depth to it. I think with it’s hoity toity glass with the gold rim (not pictured), it would be a very nice fit with The Little Prince.

Overall Rating:

Disclaimer: I’ve only played the game twice, but I think it was a lot of fun. My wife played it with me and immediately afterward wanted to play again. That makes me bump the rating up a little bit. This game is very accessible. It has some awesome depth to the strategy. And it plays quickly. This will hopefully become our group’s go-to filler for a while. I know that I won’t turn down a game of it! For now I’ll rate this a 9 on the BoardGameGeek rating scale.

Excellent game.  Always want to play it.

Excellent game. Always want to play it.

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