Enter the Arena

Design by Maxwell Mahaffa & Jonathan Oberto
Published by Promethean Games
2 – 4 Players, 15 – 30 minutes
Review by Greg J. Schloesser


Ahhh, Kickstarter.  While there have been a few pleasant surprises, experience has taught me that most games that are ultimately funded and published have not been fully developed and, as a result, feel unfinished.  It is easy to understand why established publishers may have passed on these games.  They may contain a nifty idea or two, but as a complete game, they simply don’t measure-up.

Such is the case with Enter the Arena from Promethean Games and designers Maxwell Mahaffa and Jonathan Oberto.  The game is set in ancient Rome, with players entering the arena for brutal and bloody gladiatorial combat.  The videos for game tout the unique “style” mechanism, wherein players attempt to predict the success of their card play by enhancing it with style.  This represents an unusual or exciting maneuver that thrills the crowd.  If successful, the players earn style points, which ultimately determine the victor.  Fail and those points could be stolen by one’s opponent.  While this may be original, it does not save what is otherwise a mediocre, lackluster affair.

Each player begins with an identical set of cards consisting of three attacks, three defense (both valued 1 – 3) and two style cards (valued 1 or 2).  Each turn, all players place one of their attack or defense cards face down, revealing them in turn order.  When revealing their card, a player must name the target of an attack (If an attack card was played) and decide if he wants to add one of his two style cards to his card.  This decision must be made immediately, often—due to turn order—without seeing the type and value of cards played by one’s opponents.  No method is provided to indicate the target on one’s attack, which can be problematic in a multi-player game.  A few tokens from other games can help rectify this, but a method should have been provided.

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The Essen Experience: Week 4

Once again, Ben, KAS, and Larry (Tom would join us in the evening) intrepidly plowed our way through more of our Essen haul last Saturday.  What with BGG.con coming the following week (sadly, I will not be attending, but the rest of them will be) and the non-gaming event known as Thanksgiving following the week after (bloody game-hating Pilgrims!), this may have been my last shot at new game playing for a while.  Did we make it count?  Read on, Macduff!

Clinic:  This game about building and running a medical clinic is from designer Alban Viard.  Viard is best known for his many Age of Steam expansions; lately, he has been producing abstract city-building games with a strong spatial element.  This is easily his most ambitious title.

I’m not sure I’ve seen a game with so many strong thematic elements where the gameplay routinely trashes that theme.  Because all the aspects of running a medical practice are here:  doctors, nurses, patients, operating rooms, etc.  And then you play the game and you find that it’s frequently advantageous for players to let their patients get sicker before treating them.  Or that nurses and staff members are sometimes more expensive to hire than doctors.  Or that players often care more about the length of hospital corridors and the availability of parking spaces than they do about healing the sick.  Or that highly trained doctors have much more difficulty treating less seriously sick patients than poorly trained ones do.  Or that those same highly trained doctors get stupider every turn.  And on and on.  Unless you have a particularly jaundiced view of the medical profession, that’s hardly realistic.  It’s a Euro, so you just have to accept things and enjoy the game, but those who were more attracted to the title’s theme than to its mechanics should probably stay far away from this one.
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Dale Yu: First Impressions of Jungle Rumble and Who is the Sunflower?


[Note: Normally, I prefer to play a game at least three times prior to writing it for the blog. However, given the time pressure coming up to SPIEL ’14, I have written up my thoughts on a number of games based on only one or two plays in order to cover as many new games as possible prior to the show.  I fully admit that it is often not possible to see the full breadth of a design in a single play, and thus I shall not give a rating to any game at this stage with such a few number of plays…]

Jungle Rumble

  • Designer: Nightsorrow Chou, Eros Lin, Zeldaaa Ling
  • Publisher: ErosGames
  • Players: 2-4
  • Ages: 12+
  • Time: ~30 min
  • Times played: 2, with preview copy provided by Taiwan Boardgame Design


Well, I’m not sure what the fascination is with Taiwanese board game design and cats is, but Jungle Rumble is one of a number of games that is feline in nature.  In this game, you employ your “Little Kitty Helpers” to help you become the next village chief in your modest jungle village. Continue reading

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Dale Yu: Essen 2014 – the 30,000 foot view at 30 days post show



Well, we’re just about ready to start writing about the games from this year’s show. As we traditionally do, we will probably start posting our reviews around Thanksgiving-time. Why the delay? A number of reasons really. First, and foremost, is that we want to give our writers enough time to play the games! Many of the bigger fall conventions (BGG.con, LobsterTrap, EuroQuest, etc) happen this weekend or next weekend – and until folks have had a chance to play the games, they can’t write about them! Second, I know that I personally like to play a game two to three times – at a minimum – before reviewing it. With all of the new games out there, I’m still in a “try every game I can” mode. There are a number of games that I’ve already played twice, but most of my game sessions are still filled with games that are new to me. (Most of the repeat plays come from sessions where I’ve already played a game but someone else in the group has not and requests it…) Third, with all the time spent playing games, there just hasn’t been as much time devoted to writing about them!

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The Essen Experience: Week 3

Yet another week in which Ben, Tom (who decided to join us again), KAS, and Larry work their way through the pile of shiny new Essen games we’ve acquired.  While there have been some fun titles, I’ve yet to find one I would call “great”.  Will this be the week in which one new design breaks through?  Only way to find out is to keep on reading!

Villannex:  This is another Japanese minimalistic game, but minimalistic doesn’t necessarily mean simple.  Each player is dealt 6 cards and puts 2 out of play.  The remaining cards are all exposed for the players to study.  Each card has a scoring rule modifying the value of one or more of the goods the players can acquire.  Some are simple (such as “Add 2 to the value of Wood”) and some are complex (such as “If 5 Grain are produced by the table, add 7 to the value of Pigs”).  In addition, each card also has two possible groups of goods that the player can choose to produce.  After everyone has checked out the cards, each player secretly chooses 2 of his 4 cards and selects one of the two production possibilities for each card.  The cards are then revealed, the value for each good is calculated, and the player with the highest VPs from their goods wins. Continue reading

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Design by Leo Colovini
Published by Ravensburger
2 – 5 Players, 30 minutes
Review by Greg J. Schloesser


Back in 2000 (which seems like a lifetime ago in the gaming hobby) Winning Moves released Leo Colovini’s Cartagena, a race / card / board game involving the famous 1672 jail break from the supposedly impregnable fortress of Cartagena.  Players attempt to race their pirates through  the caves to reach the boat and sail away to freedom.  The first player to get all four (six in the original game) of his pirates into the boat was victorious.

After the passing of 14 years, the game has been republished–this time by Ravensburger–in an upgraded, more attractive edition.  The pirates are no longer basic wooden pawns; now they are detailed plastic miniatures.  The artwork on the cards is more detailed with the background being a faded pirate’s map.  It is also a “big box” game, which is certain to grab the attention of those browsing game shops, but it certainly takes up more room on one’s game shelf.  Game play has also undergone some changes, which I will note where appropriate below.

The board is comprised of six double-sided pieces, which can be assembled in a variety of fashions. Thus, the layout of each game will likely be different with each play. Only five are used for each game, which is one less than the original edition.  Thus, the path and the game are shorter.  Each section depicts six symbols along the jungle path (the original was a cave path), including a pistol, keys, jug, grappling hook, lantern and telescope. A deck of cards has matching symbols, 17 of each image.

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Design by Dominic Crapuchetttes
Published by Northstar Games
2 – 6 Players, 30 minutes
Review by Greg J. Schloesser


My tastes in gaming run from silly, light party games to deep strategy games that can take hours and hours to play.  Generally, the environment and nature of the gathering will largely determine what type of game will be brought to the table.  If I am getting together with my family or friends from church or our neighborhood, I will usually bring out  lighter fare.  When meeting with our East Tennessee Gamers group, however, more often than not the games brought to the table will be deeper strategy games.

With social (rather than gaming) gatherings, I have had great success with lighter card games such as The Great Dalmuti and Who’s the Ass?  Most folks grew-up playing traditional card games such as Rummy, Clubs, Hearts and Spades, so it isn’t much of a leap to comprehend and play games such as these.  As such, I am always on the lookout for other games that will fit nicely into that niche.  Clubs from Northstar Games is one of those games.

Clubs consists of a deck of 60 cards, numbered 1-15 in the four traditional suits of clubs, spades, hearts and diamonds.  Suits, however, mean nothing here; rather, it is only the values that matter.  Players are each dealt a hand of ten cards, and as with The Great Dalmuti and Who’s the Ass?, the object is to play all of your cards before your opponents deplete their hands.

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Dale Yu: First Impressions of Spexxx (Waterfall Games)



  • Designers: Ruben Dijkstra and Ruurd Lammers
  • Publisher:  Waterfall Games
  • Playesr: 2-4
  • Ages: 8+
  • Time: 30 min
  • Times played: 2, with review copy provided by Waterfall Games


Spexxx was a game that barely hit my radar prior to leaving for SPIEL 2014.  It just popped up on the BGG preview in the final week, and I really didn’t have much time to do any research on it.  However, it was one of the first games that I saw at the press conference on Wednesday, and I’m glad for this chance encounter.  The company’s booth was in the hinterlands (otherwise known as Hall 4), and I’m not sure that I would have run across it otherwise. Continue reading

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Design by Lukasz M. Pogoda
Published by Rebel
2 Players, 45 minutes
Review by Greg J. Schloesser


Games utilizing a castle-building theme are, as the saying goes, a “dime-a-dozen.”  For those not familiar with this American idiom, that means there is an abundance.  Castle building is such an intriguing concept with apparent mass appeal, so designers and publishers seem to have little hesitation revisiting that theme.

I wonder why cathedral construction is not widely utilized as a theme?  Europe and many cities throughout the world have fabulous and massive cathedrals and basilicas.  Many are incredibly ornate, attracting tourists from around the globe.  The history behind many of these religious buildings is rich and fascinating.  It truly is a wonder why cathedral building has not been adopted as a theme by more game designers and publishers.  Indeed, only two notable efforts come to mind:  Keythedral by Richard Breese and the somewhat flawed Krieg und Frieden (Charlemagne) by Gerard Mulder.

Polish designer Lukasz Pogoda has not overlooked this theme, offering us Basilica, a 2-player game that casts players as rival architects working on one cathedral, but trying to be the one to most impress the king.  Clever placement of vaults, shrewd use of worker talents and the occasional dastardly maneuver are all required if one wants to be richly rewarded for his efforts.

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Review of The Ravens of Thri Shashri, First Impression

Ravens is one of my hits from Essen 2014. I was intrigued by the thought of 2 player deduction game but was sure I’d be disappointed. I am happy to report that I was not disappointed at all and pleasantly surprised by how well Ravens works.

For those that live for games with theme, Ravens might be the most unusually and well themed game in my collection. The back story is the sad tale of Ren, who has lived through some traumatic events that have threatened her heart and memory, and Feth, who loves Ren, and tries to save her by unraveling the memories of her heart.

The game consists of 2 character cards, 35 memory cards in 5 colors numbered 1-5, and 5 ravens one of each color memory card. A rough idea on basic play follows:

The memory cards are shuffled and Ren randomly is dealt 4 heart cards placed face down in a column, she is allowed to view these cards but Feth is not. Feth starts with one face up card which is the start of the “atman” which I think is taken from Buddhism’s term for “inner self.” The ravens are then added to the deck and shuffled. The game consists of 3 batches in which Feth, by using the atman, and Ren, by providing clues, try to solve the mysteries of Ren’s heart. This means that Ren must complete her heart’s poem and Feth must match the colors of the cards in Rens heart with the color of the cards in the atman.

A basic turn is played like this: Feth may turn over any number of cards from the deck, placing them in a line. If he draws a raven it is set aside initially in a separate Raven row. From this point on, all cards of the color of the raven that are discarded will be “devoured” by the raven and removed from the game. Then Feth may place any number of cards he chooses in the atman. Unused cards are discarded or devoured if appropriate. There are a few little tricks to the atman. Cards are divided into quadrants by the illustration and must be placed legally so that cards match while overlapping.

In addition if Feth can manage to group a connected block of 3 cards of the same color so the sum equals 7 Ren can immediately show one her cards of the matching color and a Raven of matching color is chased away for the batch. Feth must build the atman in a way to give Ren plenty of choices for her turn and allow Ren to be able to discard unwanted colors from the atman.
An example of an atman with a connected block

Ren then takes her turn. She is trying to make a poem with her heart to help Feth solve the puzzle. In making a poem, the four cards of heart stand for a line in her poem. She must make the lines match the meter of 7/7/7/5 which in the game means making the sum of the cards in the first line equal 7 before moving to the next line. To do this, she takes one card from the atman and places it next to the first heart card, it is now a poem card. If the sum of the card taken and the heart card is 7 she announces it, it is Feth’s turn again and at the start of her next turn she will move to the next line.

If the card she took makes the line greater than 7 it is discarded. If the card taken matches the heart card it is revealed but will not be added to the score pile and turned sideways to help remember this. Ren is try to help Feth figure out which colors should be in the atman and which should be discarded with her move. In addition poem card have special abilities that Feth can use on his turn. When the abilities are played the cards are turned sideways to show they have been used.

The batch is over when Ren completes her poem and if the all cards in the atman match the color of the cards in her heart. If the batch is not over they continue play but the game is lost if there are no cards to be drawn in the deck at the start of a turn. Heart cards (not poem cards) which are not turned sideways are added to the score pile.

The third batch contains special conditions, Ren must complete each line in one turn. This may be done by adding cards from the score pile to the poem line (they will not be scored then). Also the atman must match Ren’s heart at the time the fourth line of her poem is completed.

The players win if this completed and none of the loss conditions have occurred. Players lose if the deck is depleted, if all 5 ravens are in play in the raven row, if Feth cannot place at least one card in the atman on his turn, if Ren cannot complete her poem or the atman does not match her heart.

This is a really fascinating game. It took us a practice play to get the flow of the game. Both players really have to be very attentive to their play. No table talk is allowed. I think it has just the right level of difficulty. There are a few situations where it can become impossible to win without some lucky guess work.

This is truly a cooperative game, both players are actively involved in their part on their turn. One player cannot run the whole game. It is also a very good deduction game. Most of the time logic will solve the puzzle but you may find that occasionally you have to use some intuition but it’s not enough to ruin the deduction aspect of the game. We lost our first game, but our last one we scored 7 which was enough for a good ending . Depending on scores you score a normal, good or happy ending.

If you have the chance to try this game I would give it the highest recommendations. I have heard the English edition is sold out but hopefully they will reprint next year or perhaps it will be picked up by a larger publisher. The Japanese version could be playable with a crib sheet.

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