Basilica

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

Basilica

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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The Essen Experience: Week 2—Day of the Dice

Last Saturday, we once again got together to play some of the new Essen games my buddies Ben and KAS had just purchased.  Tom wasn’t able to join us, but three was still more than enough to get in some good playing.  As it turned out, the majority of the games were centered on dice.  Did our playing experience come up boxcars or snake-eyes?  Read on to find out!

Rolling Japan:  This is a dice filler by Hisashi Hayashi, designer of String Railway and Trains.  It’s a true multi-player solitaire game, in the style of Take It Easy or Finito.  The rules are dead simple—each player gets a sheet showing about 50 territories divided into six differently colored areas.  Each turn, dice of those colors are rolled and each player has to individually put the rolled number of each die into a territory of that color based on some simple rules.  If no such legal territory can be found, the player has to put an X into one of the territories.  After 8 rounds, whoever has the fewest X’s wins.

This sounds like complete fluff, but after a couple of turns, you realize that there are actually non-trivial choices to be made.  Clear thinking and advance planning are definitely helpful.  Plus, there were the usual good-natured curses when the dice refused to cooperate.  Overall, a good filler and one I think I prefer to something like Qwixx, which has a vaguely similar feel.  More than anything, it raises my admiration for Hayashi even more, at being able to create an engaging game with such simple rules. Continue reading

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Dale Yu: First Impression of two quick Japanese card games – Kobayakawa and Villannex

 

The writers here at the Opinionated Gamers are still in heavy-duty playing mode, trying to get in plays of all the new games so that we can write about them!  This is a process that will take weeks; probably until at least Thanksgiving.  One thing that happens every year is that the shorter games end up getting more plays early on because they fit in as fillers and closers.

Thus far, two short Japanese card games have hit the table already multiple times…

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iBoardgaming – Fall 2014

game_table_ipad_iboardgamingWelcome back to iBoardgaming, it’s been awhile. (Amazing what adding a third child into the family can do.) A good crop of games has arrived in the past few seasons and it’s more than time to give them a proper send-up. While I have had very little time to write, I have managed to get my fair share of iOS gaming in between parenting duties, and there are some good ones – if you haven’t already hopped over to the app store and picked them up.

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The Essen Experience: Week 1

They’re finally here:  the new Essen games! For the card-carrying Cult of the New gamer, it truly is the most wonderful time of the year!

Last Saturday, I got together with my good friends KAS (on the Geek) and fellow OGers Ben McJunkin and Tom Rosen for an orgy of new Essen gameplaying.  KAS had just returned from Germany with no fewer than 40 new games!  In addition, Ben has a bunch of new games on order.  Do I have great friends or what???  At any rate, we obviously have plenty to keep us busy for quite a while.  In fact, I hope to be able to fill my Saturdays until Thanksgiving with spanking new games from the Essen fair.  And I figured it would be a great opportunity to let you all know what we thought of them.  So this is the first of several weekly articles about my personal Essen experience.  Let’s get started!

La Granja:  We started out with this farming-themed game.  It’s definitely interesting and all four of us enjoyed it.  I have a few reservations, which might disappear as I gain more experience with the game.  First, there’s nothing really innovative about it.  That’s not a deal-breaker for me, as a game which combines existing mechanics in a skillful way can still be a winner.  But there’s no question something truly innovative adds to the appeal of a new game and makes it more exciting to play.  As it so happens, La Granja uses a mechanic that I’m growing a bit tired of:  dice drafting, which we’ve seen an awful lot of recently.  The theme is also less than original.  Of greater concern to me is that there’s a huge number of options available to each player, particularly when you consider all the ways in which you can play your cards.  It was almost overwhelming picking up the initial hand.  I didn’t see any way in which you could even come close to figuring out an optimal way of doing things, so I just went with a reasonable strategy and ran with it.  I guess there’s nothing wrong with that, but it did feel a little unsatisfying to me.  I have no desire to master a game (certainly not after one play!), but I do feel better if I can at least think I’ll be able to get my arms around the strategy.  Still, the game was fun, the scores were ridiculously close, and I am looking forward to playing it some more.  So game #1 was a success! Continue reading

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Dale Yu: First Impressions of Spike (R&R Games)

 

 

Spike

  • Designer: Stephen Glenn
  • Publisher: R&R Games
  • Players: 2-4
  • Ages: 14+
  • Time: 60 minutes
  • Times played: 2

spike

Essen is just about to start, and I arrived a bit early this year to take in some sights and try to avoid being jetlagged for the show. Last night, I ran into Frank DiLorenzo from R&R Games, and we talked a bit about one of his new games, Spike. I am already familiar with this title as I have played the final prototype at the Gathering of Friends earlier this year.

 

Spike is a railroad game – or at least a game that uses railroads as its theme. Players try to both build a network of rail connections as well as deliver goods to fulfill contracts in order to win the game. The board shows the Eastern United States, with many of the larger cities scattered on the board. The country is overlaid with a triangular array of possible rail builds. Each of the cities has a pictured icon of one of the goods in the game – this represents the type of cargo that can be loaded on a train which is stopped there.

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Essen 2014 First Impressions

Home again and recovering. Had a great time as usual but I didn’t buy as many big games as usual, mostly because some of them offered shipping post Essen and I hope they start arriving soon.

I purchased a number of expansions this year including Hansa Teutonica: Britannia, Concordia: Britannia & Germania,Keyflower: The Merchants, Russian Railroads: Mini-Expansion, Bruges: The City on the Zwin, Brügge: Die Haustiere and of course Terra Mystica: Fire & Ice/Feu & Glace.

2 reprints, more or less, Fresh Fish and Uruk II: Die Entwicklung Geht Weiter.

Several Japanese games, Taiwanese games and a few abstracts.

So on to the important part, games played and  my first impressions with comments from other OGers.

Deus this is a nice lite civ game. It’s card driven. You start with 5 cards. There is a card drawing mechanism that’s core to decreasing luck of the draw and allows you to turn over your hand.

There are 5 primary types of buildings (cards) you build for resources. Maritime, Production, Science, Military, Trade. You can also build temples for end game points. When you build a new building it activates previously build buildings of the same type. You place tokens matching the buildings onto the modular board. You can gain points by “attacking” barbarian villages. This means the barbarians must be surrounded and the person with most military tokens adjacents wins. There is no direct player conflict.

Game is over when all temples are built or all barbarians are conquered.

I liked this game a lot. Really looking forward to trying it again. It’s a challenge to use the cards you have most efficiently. Have already played a second time.

La Isla I had mistakenly thought this was going to be an Alea big box game so was disappointed to see it was not and that it was a lighter family game. It’s a decent set collecting game with a kind of stock market type track, but nothing really grabbed me. You randomly pick 3 cards and the have 3 different abilities on each card. You then choose and program the the cards which allow you to gain a special ability, resources or score an animal set. There is also an action which allows you to place an adventurer on the board at the cost of resources. When you surround an animal you collect it.

Colt Express Played this, light and silly fun. Lot’s of “take that” play like there should be in a western. As some of the players commented, we juste needed a good soundtrack to complete it. The 3D train is an integral part of the game and doesn’t feel like a gimmick.

Doodle City Cute little dice game. Played on the iPad several times on the airplane home, so plays quite nicely solo. It will be interesting to play against other people to see the differences in patterns I think. UPDATE: We played with more players, I still like it, the trick is, that for a light and fun game the scoring is relatively complicated. I think once everyone knows the game better it will make a nice filler. It’s basically a solitaire puzzle I like the challenge.

Flip 9 Speaking of puzzles, I tried this with the easy mode. Definitely do-able. Too jet lagged to go for the advanced mode which looks to be quite challenging. Beautiful graphics. Since it’s only 9 cards super easy to bring along to fill some time. Winner for me.

Haru Ichiban Hands down one of the nice looking productions this year. Laser cut pressboard with great graphics. This is a 2 player pattern building game. Not a true abstract as there is a bit of bluffing involved and the presentation of the game oozes with theme.

Each player takes 9 blossoms numbered 1-8 and 1 frog of their color. The waterlily pads are laid out on the board a 5×5 grid. One lily pad is dark side up. Each player places a frog on one of the pads. The players draw 3 blossoms and simultaneously choose one. The values are compared and the player with the lowest value is the “little” gardener and the other player is the “grand” gardener. The little gardener places the blossom on the dark pad and the grand gardener places on any other pad. The little gardener may then have the wind “blow” a group of lily pads or single if no adjacency in the direction chosen orthogonally one space. The grand gardener then chooses a new pad to flip to the dark side for the next turn.

If the players choose the same number they ribbet. They place the blossoms on the pads where the frogs are and the player that made a frog noise first places their frog on a new pad.

If one of the specific patterns is formed by a players blossoms, the round ends immediately and the players scores points for the pattern. The first player to 5 points wins.

So a simple game with a fantastic presentation. The game is short and there is interesting play. It makes a good filler. The theme fits beautifully. I think there was a limited print run but it deserves more.

 

King’s Pouch So this is a new twist on deck building, using a drawbag instead of a deck. In this game some of the resources have different shapes so you can tell what kind of resource (1 of 2 types) but not the color before you pull it out of the bag. You can then use resources to claim territories on the board, buy buildings which give more abilities or claim a character card for end game points.

My game was missing some wooden pieces and 1 card. Hopefully I’ll be able to get replacements as I’d like to try the game again with a full 4 players. I think the game has a nice balance between the bag building and integrating the other parts of the game..

Update: the company was quite nice and has responded to my email for the missing pieces, hopefully the arrive soon!

Jonathan F.: We liked this, but first player had a big jump on the center province and due to turn order, also got to go first again.  Rich got richer on this first go because the turn order is from first in scoring position to last.  Consider flipping the turn order if this is a persistent issue.

Patchwork A 2 player game with a quilting theme. This game is squarely in the tetris/puzzle-like game family so nothing new there but it has a nice mechanism for turn order and income.

Players can purchase patches using buttons as currency to add to their quilt. Some pieces can give button income. Each piece als has a time cost. Players move along the track the number of time units need to place the patch. THe player behind gets to take a turn and it is possible to have multiple turns. When you pass a button on the time track you collect income.

I liked it but again you can see my preference for puzzles.

The Ravens of Thri Sahashri Speaking of puzzles this little gem from Japon Brand is fascinating after the first play. It is a 2 player cooperative deduction game. The game play does take a bit to figure out. We mulliganed our first batch, realized some things we didn’t do correctly and then played a full game. We lost in the third batch. I can’t wait to give it another try now that we know how the game flows.

Takamatsu Despite it’s name this a German designed game.

Interesting game with 5 players. Uses a movement mechanism like Heimlich & Co..

You start with 2 groups of samurai one on an outer track and one on an inner (there are crossover rooms where you can change tracks).

When you move, you move the number of spaces equal to the number of samurai you take. You may empty a room if if only has 1 or 2 tokens. If the room has 3 or more you must leave at least one samurai behind. If there is another color(s) of samurai in the room you must take at least 1 with you.

When the samurai get to a room of matching color the whole moving group stops there and the samurai matching the room color takes movement cards for the point track. Most are positive movement 1-5 and a few are negative. A few are kept face down to be scored at the end. First person to 20 wins. I liked the mechanism and the tactical aspect. Fun to try and advance yourself and strand opponents. I think maybe next time I might try it without any hidden points and have them all face up instead.

Terra Mystica: Fire & Ice/Feu & Glace We tried this. I didn’t get to play one of the new races but they looked like a lot of fun. It was a bit tricky to do the new turn order. I like the alternate game endpoint tiles.

 

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Dale Yu: Essen 2014 – Final Thoughts from the Fair

 

 

Well, I think it’s time to wrap up the coverage from the fair itself… almost 20 posts from me and 5 or 6 from Liga… Now it’s time to play the games! Essen can be both exhilarating and exhausting at the same time. It’ll probably take most of the rest of the week to feel back to normal. It’s always a rough transition this first week back – I usualy fly out Sunday morning, and I return home later that night – but work starts again early Monday morning, and it’s back to the full schedule of activities for myself and the family.

 

This year was a very good year for me. I still think that there a lot of games that have potential to be long term keepers, though there is still nothing that seems to be gaining traction as a stand-out release. I have two or three games that I think may be elevated to that status, but I still need to play them more than once to see. I’ll also be interested to see what the other bloggers and BGG users have to say about the games as they make their way to the table.

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Dale Yu – Essen 2014 – News from my meetings

As the weekend progresses, I try to set up a number of meetings to sit down with some old friends – both to get a chance to look at the new games in quieter setting as well as to try to get some news about the current games and what is to come.

 

Zoch – as usual, Wednesday afternoon means yummy pretzels at the Zoch stand with a presentation of the new games. I do not have much information to relay about what is to come in 2015, but I did get a chance to look at the new games for this year. Mangrovia is a clever game which I very much like. The action selection mechanic is clever, and I look forward to my next chance to play the game as I think it has a lot of potential. Beasty Bar was an interesting card game, and it certainly seemed to by liked by many as it was consistently on the Playfair list during the weekend. The throwing socks into the laundry machine game

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