Author’s Note: I’m breaking with our traditional review format today, so this will be a review that integrates the gameplay description with my thoughts on the expansion. Also, for the uninitiated, today is the second day of Everdell Week, a project I’m doing to commemorate the changing seasons. This review is based on a review copy from the publisher.
When Everdell’s first expansion, Pearlbook, went on Kickstarter in September 2018, it was an instant success, earning 8,012 backers and more than $609,000. Though today it is the lowest-rated of the expansions on BGG (with what is still a sky-high rating of 7.79 out of 10.00), I don’t understand why, because it is my favorite of the three Everdell expansions. To me, Pearlbrook best accentuates the gameplay I love in the base game, and it feels like a seamless addition to base Everdell.
Pearlbrook is about a “mysterious civilization of waterfolk,” and you send your amphibious ambassador — a frog meeple — to interact with them. This expansion may not change the base game much, but it does add a few different in-game mechanics and some cool new components.
Editor’s note – Normally we don’t write reviews here that include spoilers. This is going to be an exception.
THERE WILL BE SPOILERS HERE ABOUT SOME OF THE LEGACY PARTS OF MY CITY! PLEASE CONTINUE READING ONLY IF YOU ARE OK WITH SPOILERS!
But, the spoilers will be hidden (hopefully). If you’re planning to play this game on your own, I’d suggest either skipping the spoiler text or maybe skipping this whole review! A lot of the enjoyment of legacy games comes from the surprise of dealing with whatever comes in those sealed envelopes, and we’ll be discussing some of those things below.
Here is a test of the spoiler block that we will use. Click on the arrow here to un-hide the spoiler text. (If you can read this without clicking on anything, the spoiler text does not work on your browser, and you should only proceed further at your own risk).
This game seems like it is perfect for remote play, and part of the reason that I wanted to write this up was to help people realize that this is possible, and how it would be best to organize the game. If you want to skip all the possible spoilers and simply figure out how/when to send things, scroll all the way to the bottom of this post and I’ll have a summary at the end.
I will do my best to hide all the spoilers behind a spoiler tag, and if there are any incriminating photos, those will hopefully also be hidden behind them. In this new era, I think trying to figure out how to play games remotely is the next frontier, and while this game wasn’t specifically designed for it, it seems to be fairly suitable.
OK? Last chance for me to warn you that spoilers are found below the jump! Time to tell you about our game!
To call Everdell a success would be an understatement. It is currently the 38th highest ranked on BoardGameGeek, an impressive accomplishment for any game, but a remarkable feat for a game that was just released in late 2018. Everdell has won or been nominated for numerous gaming awards. More than 22,000 BGG users own Everdell, but given that many BGG users don’t log their collections, and given that many gamers don’t use BGG at all, the true total is far higher.
The franchise has earned millions of dollars. The original Kickstarter had 6,775 backers and earned more than $473,000. The first expansion, Pearlbrook, had 8,012 backers and earned more than $609,000. The second and third expansions, Spirecrest and Bellfaire, had 11,900 backers and earned more than $989,000.
But we here at The Opinionated Gamers had never covered Everdell. And, in fact, I had never played it until I traded for it earlier this year.
But this week, as summer officially turns to fall, I wanted to cover this game about changing seasons in detail. Welcome to Everdell week. Today I review the base game, and over the next three days, I’m reviewing the expansions. But the coolest day will be Friday, where I make the case that Everdell can tell us a considerable amount about gaming in 2020.
This is the story of a great game that I overlooked, even if the rest of the hobby didn’t.
Times Played: >20 combined between German version received as a gift as well as English version provided by Stronghold Games
Divvy Dice was one of the games that I learned about from some of my friends over in Germany – namely when they sent me a copy in the mail as a present. The original title “Man Muss Auch Gönnen Können” seems to have a bunch of varying translations when run through the different online translators, so I was hoping that the new US version would clarify the situation. The short answer – nope. But, the new title Divvy Dice does seem to be a nice riff on the alliterative German title.
So how do you play? From an earlier review by Brandon Kempf here…
To set up a game of Divvy Dice, you start by placing the board in the middle of the table. This board is where you will find the cards that players can buy. Shuffle up the 29 scoring cards and the 20 bonus action cards and place them next to the board. Then place out four of each in their respective rows.
Next deal each player two cards from each deck. From those four cards, they are going to keep three and discard the remaining card to the bottom of the appropriate deck. The three cards that players kept will be placed in front of them, adjacent to each other in some way to start the game.
All of the cards have spaces on them with numbers or colors, sometimes both. Those spaces all have to be filled in order for that card to be completed, and completing cards is what you want to do as cards have to be completed for their benefits to be used. The benefits are on the lower half of the cards. The B cards, or bonus action cards, will allow the players to manipulate the rules of the game. The B cards can give a player the ability to use an extra die as the off player, or allow a player to adjust the value or color of the die they are using, among other things. Each of these B cards can be used three times before they are exhausted and cannot be used again. This is tracked by marking the three circles on the lower half of the card. The scoring cards are how points are scored at the end of the game. Scoring cards are marked with a laurel, and they will give you points at the end of the game if you have successfully completed them. Some Scoring cards will want certain color cards adjacent, or rows or columns of completed cards, or maybe cards of the same color, just as an example.
How are the players going to accomplish scoring points and acquiring new cards? On a player’s turn they are going to roll all five dice, which are in five different colors. One thing to know before the player starts keeping dice. As the active player — the one rolling the dice — you have to be able to finish a card with the dice you roll in order to use them, no partials. After rolling one time, the active player may choose to keep any dice that they have rolled, and re-roll as many as they want. The catch is, any dice that they re-roll can be used by the other players. They may choose one die to use on their own cards. The active player may roll the dice up to three times. So in theory the inactive players can use up to two dice.
After the allocated rolls, or when the active player chooses to stop rolling, the active player may use their dice. If, through their rolls, they have dice in a combination that allows them to finish a card, they may use them to do so. Or if they have a three of a kind they may buy any of the four cards that costs three dice according to the board. Four of a kind lets the player buy any one of the eight cards on display. When you acquire a new card, you have to place it in your tableau. Your tableau of cards can never be any larger than three cards wide and three cards three cards tall. If the active player can do neither of those things, and they rolled the dice three times, they may take a chance and use two of their rolled dice on any cards they have in their tableau in front of them or they can draw a card from the top of one of the stacks.
Play continues like this, with the active player being moved clockwise around the table. The game will end at the end of the round when someone buys their ninth card for their tableau. Whomever has the most points from those Scoring Cards in their tableau is the winner.
Solo play wise, it’s pretty simple and I think that it captures the feeling of the multiplayer version pretty well, but it’s definitely not my preferred way to play. Most of the game remains the same, but without other players, you have to have “Bot” player of sorts. The player will roll all the dice like normal, but the number of re-rolls determines how many dice they can use on the passive “bot” roll. So if the player used no re-rolls, they could then use three of the dice from the “bot” roll. One re-roll equals two dice and so on. After an active phase and a passive phase, the player must remove one of the cards from the far right of the display. Use these cards as a round counter. A solo game ends based on a number of rounds noted on the solo play card in the box. There are varying levels of difficulty, so the number of rounds varies. The player will add up points just as in the multiplayer game and compare their score with the goal. It’s an interesting way to play and an interesting way to give you a bit of the somewhat cooperative feel of the multiplayer game.
My thoughts on the game
So, I think this is a genius twist on the R+W genre – in that the copy-protection is that the entire game is written upon. Sure, you could still make your own copy, but it’s a lot harder to copy 50+ cards than it is to copy a single sheet. That being said, the game itself is really good. There is an interesting balance between racing to acquire cards – it helps to have cards just to be able to fill in spaces; as well as trying to get the right cards that you need for scoring.
For me, this game gives a nice way of keeping everyone busy. The way that the inactive players use the re-rolled dice values is a great way to keep everyone watching the dice rolls, and it also adds some interesting strategic plays. A few of my opponents (Karen and Ryan) went out of their way to take suboptimal first rolls in order to not give any numbers to their opponents.
Since then, I have had the luxury of playing this a bunch more. It has been one of the games that I’ve pulled out in the lonely Coronavirus nights as it had a decent solo game. I will admit that the bot rules really do make the game feel like it involves more than just yourself, and it has been a pleasant way to spend an evening when I couldn’t get any of my kids to play games with me.
After dozens of games, the cards have held up better than I thought. The pens/coatings on the cards have not becomed smudged with marker residue, and there is not any noticable wear on the cards.
Since last year, the whole genre of “*** and write” was starting to feel a bit stale, but Divvy Dice was one of the games which helped me see that there is still a fair amount of exploration to be had in the genre. I’m extremely happy to see that there is a version now in English as the German-only rules was a big barrier from me being able to openly recommend this to casual gamers. Now, I’m pointing people to Amazon to order it! https://amzn.to/3bLWfJd
Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers
Brandon Kempf: My favorite thing about the game has to be that decision of whether or not to reroll those dice. You just know that you are going to be giving your opponents dice most of the time and that is going to help them, and knowing my dice rolling abilities, it’s going to help them more than it’s going to help me. The ability to take a chance though after three rolls is certainly a reason to push your luck from time to time. You need to be able to fill in one or two spots now and then so that you can finish those cards on your turns in the future. No matter how many times I tried, I couldn’t take eight dice on my turn when I only got to roll five of them. So in the game there are a lot of times where you have to help others work towards their goals, in order to help yourself. The tough part comes when you decide to start cutting them off.
Ultimately, Divvy Dice, manages to take some very familiar roll and write things — rolling dice, marking off boxes — and turns it into a new style of roll and write. One that requires planning and more than a bit of luck and even a bit of teamwork, at least while it is helping yourself, more than others.
Deck-building games have come a long way since the days where the only choice was Dominion. Most of the time though, even today among those myriad of choices, I’ll still take Dominion over any other deck-building game. Nowadays it seems that you need to integrate your deck-building into games with other mechanisms. I honestly don’t think that a pure deck-building game will ever come along again like Dominion and even if it did, it wouldn’t be nearly as successful. So many challengers try to step up and knock the king from its throne, and one by one, they all fail to get that top spot. Enter a new challenger, Fort, from Leder Games, who are better known for their asymmetric lineup of games with cute and cuddly art from Kyle Ferrin, and designer Grant Rodiek, better known for his corgi, Peaches and his ability to just keep talking, along with game designs like Cry Havoc and Hocus.
As the summer comes to a close, along with the board game industry award season, and as we ramp up for a new year in gaming that begins with the slew of new releases timed to the Essen game fair in October, I thought it would a good time to take a moment and look back at games played, games loved, and games loathed. Rather than a crown a single champion though, I’d like to acknowledge a variety of games in different categories. Of the 249 different games played over the past year, these are the handful of games that I’ve played that merit special recognition.
Most Played Game: Railroad Ink | Runner Up: First Monday in October
My most played game is Railroad Ink, but a close second is the prototype for the game that I’ve been designing called First Monday in October. These games could not be more different, but I’ve been enjoying both immensely in different ways. While I was initially skeptical of the roll-and-write and flip-and-write genre, I think what I actually disliked was the numeric focus of many early games in the genre, epitomized by Ganz Schon Clever and later compatriots like Dizzle and Metro X. In practice, I’ve turned out to be a huge fan of certain games in the genre, such as Railroad Ink and Cartographers, which allow players to relax, draw, and plot out their area — trying to simultaneously plan ahead and adapt to unpredictable circumstances. The combination of variability and predictability in Railroad Ink, along with the ratio of its duration to its luck, make this a perfect package for me. I love that the game works so well in its base version, but that it comes with additional dice and rules to mix things up and keep it fresh. Railroad Ink feels like a game that really rewards playing it dozens of times, but at the same time manages to be accessible and rather non-intimidating to teach or learn. With several hundred possible games on my shelf, Railroad Ink has proven to be such an easy one to pull out over and over again when feeling undecided or tired at the end of a weekday.
First Monday in October is a close second (although beloved Root is second if you don’t count my own prototype). I’ve already spilled plenty of metaphorical ink about First Monday, but for anyone that missed it, I’d encourage you to check out my initial designer diary about the gradual years long development process and many different gaming influences, along with my subsequent detailed write-up on one of my favorite aspects of the game, or there’s the GeekList format about the game’s inspirations if that’s more your speed (which includes some recent late-breaking additions). Given how much the game has evolved over the past year, it’s hard to say if all of the plays could reasonably be counted as the same game. But as daunting as it is to say, the game is now done, and in the hands of the wonderful publisher and artist to eventually reach anyone that happens to be interested in checking it out.
Best New Game: Q.E. | Runners Up: Mandala, Silver & Gold, Fox in the Forest Duet
I think the best new game from the past year is an easy call for Q.E. I know it had a 2017 version and all, but I was not introduced to the new version until December 2019. Having played it five more times in 2020, I’m confident in saying this game is a masterpiece. Having even played it with a researcher at the World Bank, and hearing that the game is scarily realistic, just makes the game all the more compelling! I’ve long adored auction games like Ra, Princes of Florence, and Keyflower, and now Q.E. joins that pantheon as a remarkably fresh take on the concept. The idea behind Q.E. is so radical that you think it’s a joke when the game is being taught to you. An auction game where you have infinite money and can bid any integer that you can think of? Yeah, okay, sure. But it doesn’t just work, it truly sings. It is a psychological thriller in a box, and a game where you are really playing the other players in one of the most tense board games out there. I would never want to confine this game to a cloistered game group (although that might be fascinating in its own right to see the group think that could develop over time) because I think it shines brightest when you bring it to a meetup and see its utterly topsy-turvy nature at its finest. Back-to-back plays are even better if you have time because of the added layer of psychological uncertainty that becomes more poignant in that second play.
Designers: Molly Johnson, Shawn Stankewich, Robert Melvin
Times played: 3, with review copy provided by AEG (and played while eating chocolate truffles also provided by AEG)
In Truffle Shuffle, players compete with each other to make the most valuable collections of chocolates to sell. The players will draft cards from a smooshed pyramid of cards. The top of the pyramid is 4 cards (all faceup) covered by the row below having one more card but face down, and continuing onward until there are 9 face down cards at the bottom. Some bonus coins are put at the bottom, the number of which is based on player count.Continue reading →
Trick taking is a favorite mechanic of ours here at The Opinionated Gamers. Though we never finished our Tricks and Trumps series, we do cover a lot of the games on this site.
And over on BGG, I run the Trick Taking Guild, which recently inducted its inaugural “Hall of Fame” for trick taking games released before 2010.
Today’s article is part of our “10 Great” series that features 10 great games in a given subcategory. I pick a mechanic, theme, publisher, etc. In this case, I picked a mechanic. We here at the Opinionated Gamers then all vote behind the scenes to create a list of 10 great games that meet the criteria.
Summoner Wars has been going strong for over ten years, and the Alliances Master Set is the pinnacle of the series. For those of you that haven’t been paying much attention to this incredible game, I’m going to start with a brief overview and extol its virtues. Then I’ll dive into ranking and discussing many of the 40 unique faction decks that have been released, which make for over 1,000 different thrilling match-ups to try (and that’s without any deck construction).
The journey started in 2009 with the release of two simple, unassuming base sets. Each came with 2 faction decks, a plain paper mat, dice, and wound markers — everything you need to play. The game is a two-player card-based combat game where your goal is to eliminate your opponent’s leader using your faction deck’s unique unit and event cards. The original base sets featured Prince Elien of the Phoenix Elves squaring off against Grognack of the Tundra Orcs, and Oldin of the Guild Dwarves lined up against Sneeks of the Cave Goblins. Many of you probably played the game back then and never gave it a second thought. The game has come a long way since then, in both intricate mechanisms and quality components, so it very much deserves a second look.
The game was first expanded through a series of faction decks in 2010 and 2011. These decks required a base set to play the game, but could be matched up against each other or any of the earlier factions in any combination. This is when we were introduced to Ret-Talus of the Fallen Kingdom, Sera Eldwyn of the Vanguards, Vlox of the Cloaks, and Abua Shi of the Jungle Elves. These were not my favorite decks as I’ll discuss later, but they do contribute nicely to the incredible variety of the possible match-ups.
Summoner Wars really hit its stride in 2011 when the Master Set was released. The game finally got the beautiful (and still very functional) mounted board that it always deserved, but more importantly, the designer Colby Dauch worked up six great new factions and put them all in this set. It’s a fantastic entry point for the series despite its somewhat misleading name. The Master Set included Selundar of the Shadow Elves, Tacullu of the Benders, Sunderved of the Mountain Vargath, Krusk of the Sand Goblins, Tundle of the Deep Dwarves, and Mugglug of the Swamp Orcs. I love how the descriptor in the faction name is not just window dressing. There are three distinct kinds of elves (Phoenix, Jungle, and Shadow) each with their own feel and style, and the same goes for orcs (Tundra and Swamp), dwarves (Guild and Deep), and goblins (Cave and Sand).
At its essence, Summoner Wars is essentially what would happen if the classic 1940s board game Stratego grew up in a post-D&D, post-Magic world. I loved Stratego as a kid, and I enjoy games with a lot of setup variability, so it’s no surprise that I see Summoner Wars as a huge achievement in game design. The precision of the wording on the cards, the functional nature of the thematic ability descriptions, and the even-handedness of the diverse matchups make for a game that showcases the designer’s incredible attention to detail in a way that makes playing the game even easier and more enjoyable than almost anything comparable out there.
Times played: 3, with review copy provided by HABA USA
5er Finden is HABA’s most recent foray into the roll and write genre. In this game, each player gets a board with a 10×10 grid of 6 different colored squares. There are 12 polyominoes that are placed in the center of the table; these represent the 12 different possible shapes that can be made with 5 squares. They are valued from 1 to 4 points – this is printed on the polyomino itself.