The Opinionated Gamers Preview Essen SPIEL 2016

As we do every year, the writers of the Opinionated Gamers will preview some of the new games to be presented at the SPIEL fair in Essen, Germany.  Sadly, as the number of games at the show rises every year, that generally means that the percentage of games that we can cover in advance of the show shrinks ever smaller…


However, as I have mentioned in a few different blog posts, the nature of beast seems to be changing a bit.  In the ancient days (say 2007 or so) – the bulk of the new games in the hobby came out at Essen.  Even for many American companies, new games showed up in October in Essen, and then the race was on to try to get them back into the retail channel for Christmas.  That timing has always worked in Germany, because the games are already ready to go in Germany, and they will definitely be ready for gift giving! Continue reading

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The Last Friday (Game Review by Chris Wray)

  • Designer:  Antonio Ferrara, Sebastiano Fiorillo
  • Publisher:  Ares Games
  • Players:  2 – 6 (Best with 6)
  • Ages:  14 and Up
  • Time:  30-120 Minutes
  • Times Played:   > 5

Last Friday Cover

The Last Friday (which I’m going to call “Last Friday”) is a hidden movement, hunting, and deduction board game similar to Letters from Whitechapel or Scotland Yard, albeit with a clever twist.  Depending on which of four “chapters” you play, the game’s goals change, creating highly engaging gameplay: in some chapters the maniac is trying to find the campers, but in others, they’re trying to find him.  

Last Friday was one of my favorite games of Gen Con 2016, although I only got in a partial play at the convention.  Now that I’ve played it a few times, here’s a full review, which is coincidentally being published on the Last Friday of this month.   Continue reading

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Bear Valley (Game Review)


  • A9_MS-1 [Converted]
    Designer: Carl Chudyk
  • Publisher: Stronghold Games
  • Players: 2-6
  • Time: 15-30 minutes
  • Ages: 8+
  • Times Played: 9 (with review copy of provided by Stronghold Games)

Bears, bears, they got no cares

Bears don’t drink from a cup

Sharp teeth and claws and furry paws

To catch you and eat you up


No, grizzly bears don’t wear underwear

Socks, or jammies, or gloves

No baby bears, don’t wear diapers

No Pampers, no Huggies, no Luvs

Bears” (from the album SLUGS, BUGS & LULLABIES by Andrew Peterson & Randall Goodgame)


Actually, you are not a bear without cares in Carl Chudyk’s newest game, Bear Valley – you are a human who cares very much about surviving the wilderness and not being eating by the titular ursoids that inhabit the forest primeval. (Yes, I had to look up “ursoid” to make sure I was using it correctly – such is the price I pay for giving you scientific knowledge along with your game review.)

Starting from an initial layout of the valley floor (marked by a salmon-filled river that evidently attracts bears in a similar fashion to the way I am attracted to Cadbury Eggs), the players explore and traverse the wilderness using a push-your-luck card-laying game system… encountering equipment, terrain, enchanted glades, and, yes, those darn bears. The first player to navigate from the starting camp (we’ve named it Camp Doom) to the safety of the ranger station wins. Alternately, a player can win by being the last surviving camper. (Yes, it’s kind of like the Friday the 13th film series, if the guy wearing the hockey mask was a grizzly bear with a bad attitude.) If the exploration deck runs out, all of the players lose… and the bears (the game system) wins.

IMG_6272So, here’s where I’d normally put an extremely detailed, appropriately lucid & well-thought-out explanation of the central game mechanism: how to move. The only problem is that, in classic Carl Chudyk fashion, it’s substantially easier to explain the game in person with the components on the table than it is to write up in any kind of coherent fashion. (Seriously – try explaining the Splay or Dogma actions from Innovation or the process of how cards move from “pool” to workshop to merchant in Glory of Rome. I love both of those games… but until I played them, those concepts were clear as mud to me.)

Instead, what you’re about to get is my rambling attempt at outlining the basics of the game

  • The player creates a pathway for their move by following the trail from card to card
    • Traversing adjacent cards that are already part of the tableau
    • Exploring by drawing and placing cards adjacent to their present point in the trail
  • The player piece is not moved until the player decides to stop traversing and/or exploring
  • There is no limit on the number of cards a player can traverse and explore, however…
    • The farther a player moves in a single turn, the more likely they will “get lost” or meet a bear
  • Only one player can move across/onto a trail on a card
    • When a card has two separate trails, two player pieces may be on the card
  • Terrain affects movement
    • You must stop traversing or exploring when you end up on a card with water… bears like water!
    • You must stop traversing or exploring when you move off of a mountain card… you are worn out & tired!
    • You can end up forced to explore in a different direction when you are in the woods… it’s dark & the trail isn’t always clear!
    • Bears aren’t terrain, per se, but your turn ends without moving when you find a bear… and you can’t traverse through a bear card.
  • There are tools scattered throughout the wilderness (evidently the bears have been eating tourists for a long time out here)
    • A canoe can help you cross water
    • A flashlight lets you move through a cave
    • A rope allows you to drop down from a bridge to the trail below
    • A machete lets you make a path through the underbrush
  • There are enchanted spaces that can affect you if you being your turn with them
    • Start in a mushroom field and you can reject one card you explore and draw a replacement
    • Start with a fox and other players don’t block your movement
    • Start with butterflies and you can’t get lost this turn

I could go on – but there is a much better rules summary posted on BoardGameGeek that manages to condense all of this down into a very helpful format.

The game also comes with 6 character cards – each character has a weakness. For example, Fozzie is scared of bears. (Though I’m not sure if he’d be scared of them in their natural habitat: a Studebaker. And, yes, I’ve seen The Muppet Movie way too many times.) If you’re playing with enchanted cards active (which I highly recommend), each character also has a special power which assists them in their journey.

Once you’ve learned how the game works, gameplay flows quickly. In fact, that’s one of the things I enjoy about the design of Bear Valley – it’s a fast-moving game. It also has the “Carcassonne Effect” for new players – since there is no hidden information, experienced players can help get newbies up to speed.


I have two small complaints about the game – or, maybe better said, the production of the game. While the card & component quality is good, the rulebook could have been better organized. As it stands, you need information from 3 different places in the rulebook as you are learning the game. Since the rulebook is broken up by a prodigious amount of examples (not a bad thing, by the way), this requires a good bit of leafing back and forth.

Which brings me to my second complaint – I wish there was a player aid card that incorporated:

  • Movement effects
    • Getting lost
    • Meeting bears
  • Terrain effects
  • Enchanted glade effects

There’s the aforementioned nice multi-page rules summary up on BGG… but I’m always a fan of player aid cards included in the original publication of the game.

Please note: neither of these complaints are deal-breakers. I still really like the game.

The Best Way To Play

The rulebook has a plethora of game formats & variants:

  • Basic rules
  • Basic rules with
  • Advanced rules
  • Advanced rules w/Enchanted variant

Each of those variations can be played with a suggested “long” or “short” course based on the number of players in the game.

We’ve found that we like the game best using a long course with the “advanced” rules and the enchanted variant. The addition of the enchanted spaces can make it more difficult to block trails and enables end-game lunges. The same is true of the tool spaces – their special powers keep the game from devolving into “plug the chicane” mode. (“Plug the chicane” is a tactic familiar to anyone who has played Detroit/Cleveland Grand Prix and/or Ausgebremst.) As well, the consolation move rule from the advanced game can occasionally offer a helpful alternative to a busted turn.

I also think the game works better with 2-4 players… though it’s perfectly playable and fun with 5-6 players. Both of our games at the higher numbers ended with the player who lagged behind and collected gold getting the win.

Note: in 9 plays, we’ve never had the deck run out for a bear all-you-can eat buffet. I’ve wondered if discarding X number of cards (dependent on the number of players) might add some tension to that element of the game – but I haven’t experimented with it – yet!

Final Thoughts

I don’t think that Bear Valley is the best design from Carl Chudyk – I’m happy to give that honor to Innovation. At the same time, I think this is a great filler game that is both highly portable (it’s in a pretty small box and could easily be slipped into a baggie to be transported easily on trips) and lots of fun to play.

It has what I’m going to call the Chudyk Factor – it’s a feature (or a bug, depending on your tastes) of pretty much every game design from Carl C. His games manage to include a great deal of randomness from the card draw and card effects – and yet experience with the games slowly reveal more ways to control and channel the randomness. Bear Valley is not an exception to this – each game we play seems less “throw yourself onto the mercy of the fates” and more “how do I make this odd turn of events work for me?”

It’s quirky – and the various card effects take a bit to gel in your head – but once they did, we’ve had a great time with this filler card game – both with my boys and with gamers.

And here’s the most important thing… I keep putting in my bag to take to game nights long past the requisite “4 plays before I’ll write a review” threshold. For all its eccentricities, Bear Valley keeps me wanting more.

Thoughts From Other Opinionated Gamers

Doug G. – Shelley and I enjoyed this one a lot with more than 2 gamers.  It’s a fun press your luck game that doesn’t overstay its welcome.

Dan Blum: Maybe one of the other versions of the game is better, but we played the basic game as suggested by the rulebook, and I couldn’t see any interest in it. We constantly got lost either because of inability to place drawn cards so that they matched up or due to the “o’clock” rules. It was the opposite of fun.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers:

I love it!…

I like it… Mark Jackson, Doug G.


Not for me…Dan Blum

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Dale Yu: Review of Tiffin



  • Designers: Jonathan Hager and Rael Dornfest
  • Publisher: Rio Grande Games
  • Players: 2-4
  • Ages: 14+
  • Time: ~40 minutes
  • Times played: 4, with preview copy provided by Rio Grande Games


I have personally been fascinated by the dabbawalla system in Mumbai ever since I saw a PBS documentary on it many many years ago.  While I cannot find the link to the actual full documentary, here are a few links on YouTube that might shed some light on it…  (in case you speak Spanish)

This system essentially is a lunch delivery service where an entire army of people manage to collect tiffins, or little metal lunch boxes, from people’s homes and then get them delivered into the city to the right person for a nice homecooked lunch.  The scale and scope of this system is mind-boggling, and the error rate is so low that it should put USPS, FedEx and UPS to shame – as well as the baggage systems of the airline industry! (Of course, I never quite figured out why the working folks can’t just carry their lunchbox with them as they head to work – but if they did, then this entire industry of lunch delivery wouldn’t exist!)  In Tiffin (the game), players act as the delivery personnel, and they will earn money by their participation in the tiffin deliveries. Continue reading

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Fatal Rendez Vous (Game Review by Chris Wray)

  • Designer:  Oliver Finet
  • Publisher:  Gigamic
  • Players:  5-20 (Best with >10)
  • Ages:  8 and Up
  • Time:  30 Minutes
  • Times Played:   > 5 (On Review Copy)


Fatal Rendez Vous is a social deduction game from Gigamic.  Each player arrives at a Parisian mansion for a relaxing weekend, but soon tragedy strikes: one of the guests is murdered.  It turns out that among the guests are two assassins determined to carry out their evil plans.  The guests must try to identify these evildoers and lock them in prison.

Fatal Rendez Vous plays a bit like Werewolf or Mafia, but with a clever twist: the players need to identify the two bad guys and put them in prison at the same time.  As an added bonus, this game comes with some cool props to enhance the thematic atmosphere.  If you or your group like social deduction games, this is worth checking out.  

Continue reading

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The International Gamers Awards committee is extremely proud to announce the finalists for the 2016 IGA in the General Strategy category.  Games released from July 1, 2015 – June 30, 2016 are eligible for consideration.

This complete list of this year’s nominees includes: Continue reading

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Dale Yu: First Impressions of Grimslingers



  • Designer: Stephen Gibson
  • Publisher: Greenbrier Games
  • Players: 2-4
  • Ages: 12+
  • Time: 20-40 minutes
  • Times played: 2 (free for all duel) + 1 co-op, with review copy provided by Greenbrier Games


Normally, games that arise on Kickstarter fly under my radar – mostly because I’m so busy with already published games that I simply don’t have time to really look at games that might possibly be…  However, Grimslingers is one that was brought to my attention by a number of friends, and I have been following its KS page occasionally to watch its development.  The game had a modest goal – likely enough to simply allow for the production costs of the game – and the successful campaign ended up raising almost seven times the goal amount.  When I was contacted by Greenbrier Games to take a look at one of the production copies, I was more than interested in trying it out.

At its core, Grimslingers is a dueling card game set in an alternate Wild West, one with magical undertones.  What interested me most about the game was the flexibility of the system.  The game can be a 2p PvP battle, it can be played in teams, and it can even be played cooperatively. As there are essentially two different games in the box – the versus duel and then the cooperative campaign game – I will talk about them in separate sections.   Continue reading

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Dale Yu: Review of 3 Wishes


3 Wishes

  • Designer: Chris Castagnetto
  • Publisher: Passport Games / NSKN
  • Players: 3-5
  • Ages: 8+
  • Time: 3-5 minutes
  • Times played: 7, with preview copy provided by Passport Games


3 wishes3 Wishes is a micro game – given to me as I visited at the Passport Games booth at Origins 2016. The entire game comes in a small ziplock bag, made up of 18 playing cards and 3 extra cards which have all the rules on them.  The game is a quick playing game that involves memory, intuition, bluffing and a lot of memory… Continue reading

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Beyond Baker Street (Game Review by Chris Wray)

  • Designer:  Robin Lees, Steve Mackenzie
  • Publisher:  Z-Man Games
  • Players:  2 – 4
  • Ages:  13 and Up
  • Time:  20 Minutes
  • Times Played:   > 5


I was drawn to Beyond Baker Street when I heard it compared favorably to Hanabi —  which is one of my all-time favorite games — and I ended up playing this new Z-Man title a few times during Gen Con.  The rumors were true: the game is quite similar to Hanabi.  But in the end, Beyond Baker Street is a different game, one that is more forgiving and more variable.  If you like cooperative deduction games, this is worth checking out. Continue reading

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Area 51 – A First Look

Area 51 – A First Look
By Stefan Alexander
Art by Christian Opperer
Publisher – Mücke Spiele
Ages: 12+
Length: ~15 minutes per player
Players: 2 – 6 players (probably best with 3-4)

First Look by Jonathan Franklin


Have you ever wanted to gain alien technologies for fun and profit?

Of course you have. There are six places I want to teleport to right now.

Have you ever thought about where you would put all that stuff? I hadn’t until I started playing Area 51. It takes security, the right conditions, and space (ha!) to store these goodies.

Area 51 is a clever game about building bunkers and transporting alien technologies around Area 51. Alas, the other players are trying to store those same items are in their bunkers.

Continue reading

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