Dale Yu: First Impressions of Shikoku

Shikoku

  • Designer: Eloi Pujadas
  • Publisher: Grand Gamers Guild
  • Players: 3-8
  • Age: 8+
  • Time: 30 minutes
  • Times played: 3, with review copy provided by Grand Gamers Guild

There is a tradition in Japan where pilgrims trek on Shikoku to see the 88 Buddhist temples on the island. This game represents the trek up the 33 steps at the Yakushi Nyorai temple which ends at the temple pagoda.  The Buddhist principles embrace a path of moderation – and as a result, it is less desirable to be either first or last in this journey.

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Letter Jam (Game Review by Brandon Kempf)

  • Designers: Ondra Skoupý
  • Artist: N/A
  • Publisher: Czech Games Edition
  • Players: 2-6 players
  • Time: 30-60 Minutes
  • Times Played: 5

“Be careful with your clues, we might just end up with a Better Ham”

Word games hit a really odd spot in my gaming habits. I absolutely love playing them, but as anyone who has ever played them with me will tell you, I am absolute rubbish at them. I really enjoy them though. Now mind you, I don’t really enjoy straight word games, I don’t particularly enjoy Scrabble and other interesting twists like Paperback have left me feeling a bit cold. I love the team, almost party style word games like Codenames quite a lot though. I enjoy working through puzzles while not feeling like I am on my own to do things. Letter Jam, from the same publisher — Czech Games Edition — that brought us Codenames, walks that fine line between individual puzzle, and a cooperative team effort. 

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Curios

Designer Uncredited
Published by AEG
2 – 5 Players, 30 minutes
Review by Greg J. Schloesser

 Curios is part of AEG’s line of games that are aimed squarely at the family and casual gamers market.  These are games that are designed to be fairly simple, easy to understand, and playable quickly. The idea is to tap into the vast market of folks who aren’t nearly as into games as hobbyists, but do enjoy playing an occasional game around the dining room table.  Who knows which game will be the next UNO? 

Curios casts players in the role of rogue archaeologists, attempting to find hidden treasures and artifacts at various locations across the globe.  Players vie with their opponents to uncover and collect rare artifacts, hoping that they will prove the most valuable. Fame and wealth awaits the cleverest…and perhaps the most unscrupulous…archaeologist! 

There are four sites where these potential treasures can be uncovered:  The Great Pyramid, The Forbidden Temple, The Lost Shipwreck and The Ancient Colosseum.  Each of these locations is represented by a small board, each of which has five columns of spaces where players may place their archaeologists.  The columns range in capacity from one to four archaeologists. 

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くだものがたり (Fruitale)

Designer: Iori Tsukinami (月並いおり)
Artist: Nariko (ナリコ), Suzuko (鈴子) 
Publisher: 吉々庵 (Kichikichian) 
Players: 4-10
Ages: 8+
Playing Time: 20-40 minutes
Times Played: 3 with a purchased copy

Fruitale is one of the roll-and-write titles released at the 2019 Spring Tokyo Game Market, or, to be more precise, flip-and-write. A pomological flip-and-write.

At times, you’ll be making jam.  Later, shipping your produce to market.  In the meantime, a modern bee hustler, renting out your hives to distant farmers.

Your score will be the sum (total sales) of your three efforts.

In the first six thirteenths of the game, you have your choice of planting fruit trees or joining the bee service.  Two fruit cards are flipped face up from a deck of cards that consists of values 1 to 6 of several fruits, such as pineapples or cherries.  Once the players have seen the cards, they simultaneously decide (1, 2, 3, shoot!) to plant or bee business. Those who decide to plant fill in their choice of boxes in their orchard: 1 card per box; they can fill in one of the dots which connect orchard plot for each characteristic that the plantees share: number and fruit. 

Those who decided to offer up their bees will earn 1 point per player that chose to plant, and write it in one of their bee jars.

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Dan Blum: Review of Die Tavernen im Tiefen Thal

(aka The Taverns of Tiefenthal)

Designer: Wolfgang Warsch

Publisher: Schmidt Spiele (English version coming from North Star later this year)

Players: 2-4

Age: 12+

Time: 60-90 minutes

Times played: 8

Although Wolfgang Warsch had a few earlier publications he really arrived on most gamers’ radar last year with games such as The Mind, That’s Pretty Clever, and The Quacks of Quedlinburg. Die Tavernen im Tiefen Thal is his second big-box game since becoming the German gaming golden boy.

Like Quacks (Warsch’s first big-box game) Die Tavernen im Tiefen Thal (TTT henceforth) is a pool-building game. Quacks was a bag-builder but TTT is a deck-builder. It has some interesting twists on the genre. One is that there are no hands; instead each round players draw cards from their decks and place them in their tableau until they are forced to stop. The other mitigates some of the randomness of this procedure: cards that players acquire go on top of their decks where they will be immediately drawn next round, rather than into their discard piles as is more typical.

Since the players are operating competing taverns the cards all represent either beer-drinking tavern guests or tavern improvements of various kinds: staff, suppliers, and one fixture in the form of an extra table. (How and why extra tables appear and disappear from round to round is unclear.) Any number of improvements can be drawn and used in a round, but guests sit at tables and as soon as all of your tables are occupied you must stop drawing, which is why the extra tables are good.

After players have all drawn their cards dice are rolled; each player rolls four public dice and may have extra private dice from improvements. The public dice are drafted one at a time – really one at a time since unlike in most such games players don’t draft simultaneously.

The dice are used to activate action spaces; some are printed on player’s tableaus and each guest has one as well. Guests all want a specific die face and provide money; other spaces may want specific faces or not and provide money, beer, and favor with the local monastery. Fortunately dice are not allocated until after you’re done drafting so you know what you have to work with. Improvements may let you manipulate the dice a bit.

Beer is used to acquire more guests, which you will urgently want to do since your starting guests pay very little and can only use two die faces. There is a stack of identical weak guests and a random set of stronger guests available (most with one-time bonuses); each player can only get one per round. However, you can also use beer to acquire nobles, who are also guests but are special: they don’t pay very much but they are worth a lot of points and also all sit together at the same table, which in general allows you to draw more cards.

Money has two uses. You can buy more tavern improvement cards – as many kinds as you want but no more than one of a kind. You can also upgrade sections of your tavern permanently with money; your player tableau is a main board with pieces attached and each piece can be flipped over for a fee. Doing so gives you an ongoing benefit which in some cases can be used immediately, e.g. upgrading beer production if you haven’t already used your beer this round. Upgrading a tavern section also adds a noble to your deck.

Favor with the monastery will get you various bonuses if you get enough – there is a monastery track in the center of the table and when your marker gets to certain spaces you get the printed bonuses.

That’s pretty much all the basic game. Players get fixed bonuses at the start of each round but the only ones of major interest are “counter guests” which unlike other guests are cardboard pieces. They can be used to mulligan your card draw and start over.

This may all sound fairly elaborate and interesting, but in fact it’s not worth more than one play, if that. There is less going on than meets the eye for several reasons. One big one is that there are no money or beer pieces in the game; there are markers which allow you to store up to two units of each for later but the rest is all virtual and must be used immediately or lost. This makes it hard to get big guests or improvements given that non-noble guests can cost up to 8 beers and tavern improvements up to 18 money. You can get discounts on the more expensive improvements by removing matching cards from your deck, but you still often have very few choices in the early rounds.

The other big problem is that there’s no real variance from game to game – there’s the randomness of the guest deck and of course the randomness of the players’ decks and dice rolls, but that’s it. The combination of the two problems means that there are few chances to make interesting decisions.

Fortunately the publisher includes four more “modules” in the box and it is suggested that you incorporate some as soon as everyone is comfortable with the game. I say “modules” because they are not really modular given that according to the rules each one requires the previous one to be used. (But see below.)

Module 2 adds schnapps and entertainers to drink it. Schnapps is represented by tiny tokens and entertainers by larger ones. You get an entertainer at the start of each of three rounds and have to decide which side to use; each side allows you to trade schnapps for some benefit. You can get schnapps as a start-of-round bonus or as a one-time bonus from some guests.

Module 3 adds reputation: you flip over an as yet unused section of your tableau to find a circular reputation track. Now after allocating dice to actions you see which you get less of – money or beer – and get that much reputation. Going around the track gets you bonuses including schnapps and nobles, plus points at the end of the game for your location.

Module 4 adds variable setup. In the base game everyone adds the same three cards to their starting guests but now three setup cards are drawn and everyone chooses one to use; these may provide cards, permanent upgrades, or the right to remove some starting guests from your deck. (Some in-game bonuses can also let you remove guests from your deck – this sounds good but general consensus has been that it’s fairly weak.)

Finally, module 5 adds the guest book. Whenever you acquire a commoner guest you place a signature token in the appropriate column of your guest book. Some spaces have bonuses and filling a column (requiring guests of the same or similar values) always gives you a noble, as does filling a row (requiring guests of different values). You can get a few extra signatures from the reputation track.

This may all sound like a lot! The good news is that it isn’t actually that much in practice. Each module really adds just one or two new rules, except module 4 which only affects setup. Also good is that the additional module do add some interest and variety to the game.

However, I don’t think they add enough; the game with modules added was interesting for a few plays, but after each module was tried it began seeming repetitious very quickly. There is still not a lot of variance from game to game, as other than module 4’s setup cards all the variance other than your own decisions comes from pure randomness and from other players’ actions. In many games the latter are very important, but here they are not; other players mostly affect you in the dice-drafting phase and it is generally not that hard to predict which dice players will draft. Aside from that the only possible effects are when another player takes a guest you wanted or takes the last improvement card of a type.

Of course, I sort of dismissed your own decisions, which certainly alter your circumstances. Two of the modules help with this: module 4 gives you a choice of setups and module 2 gives you three additional major decision points (which side of each entertainer to use) plus minor points whenever you have enough schnapps. However, there still aren’t a lot of interesting decisions for a game of this length; it’s not very long in absolute terms but each round has a lot of steps which in aggregate seem to drag on for a while. It doesn’t help that in a typical game you will have several rounds in which you have very few options; even ignoring the first round or two (where you have few resources) it can happen any time if you have a bad draw or the dice don’t cooperate.

Furthermore, I think the other two modules actually hurt. Module 5 I think is the worst offender since it strongly prioritizes getting a regular guest every round. Without it we saw at least one effective strategy which doesn’t do this, and which isn’t nearly as effective with module 5 added. Module 3 is not as bad but does encourage balanced money and beer production, which tends to channel both overall strategies and the dice selection and placement each round.

In the end, despite how different this game is from The Quacks of Quedlinburg, at a high level it feels the same to me – there are too few interesting decisions and too much randomness packed into too long a game. I don’t feel the need to play either game more. If you want to play TTT I would advise trying all the different modules starting with Module 2 rather than jumping to Module 5, and I would also advise not sticking with Module 5 once you’ve played it; varying what you play will keep the game more interesting longer. (I would also suggest trying Module 4 without 3, even though you are not officially supposed to do so.)

THOUGHTS OF OTHER OPINIONATED GAMERS

Joe Huber (4 plays): This is a fine game, and one I’ve enjoyed playing, but at the same time, there’s something missing.  Well, not so much missing, as buried. There’s a large number of rules, for what is at heart a fairly simple game, and I’m not convinced that everything included is well balanced.  Rather than all of the variations, I wish a simpler, well optimized game had been focused upon; that might have given the game the extra oomph it needed with me. Instead, I only played a third time because the table wanted to, and a fourth because teaching was requested.  To the game’s credit, others I’ve played with have enjoyed it more than I have.

Lorna: I enjoy the game. I wish they had made the modules individual rather than dependent on each other. Some of the modules are more interesting than others.

Tery (2 plays): I knew nothing about this game the first time I sat down to play it, but I immediately wanted to play it again when I was done. I do enjoy a good deck builder, and this one had some interesting twists. I played both the base game and a game with all of the modules in it; I did prefer the modules as there were more ways to manipulate the cards, but some of the elements of the modules were better than others, as already mentioned. The base game is probably best if all players are new, since there were a fair number of rules; they made sense once we were playing, but learning from the rules was a bit of a slog. You do have to ramp up to get better guests and better beer, but it’s relatively easy to do, especially by upgrading your beer and money storage, which also gives you victory points. 

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers:

I love it!  

I like it. John P, Doug G., Lorna, James Nathan, Tery

Neutral. Dan Blum, Joe H.

Not for me… 

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Photome’s (フォトムズ)

Designer: Iori Tsukinami (月並いおり)
Artist: Tansan & Co., 赤瀬よぐ (Akase Yogu)
Publisher: DEAR SPIELE
Players: 2-6
Ages: 6+
Playing Time: 20 minutes
Times Played: 3 with a purchased copy 

Photome’s follows in the fresh footsteps of Savannah Smile. The distant tracks of Auf Fotosafari in Ombagassa. Games about taking photos of animals.  There are other “Fotosafari” games which have players thematically photographing chunky wooden animals in the veldt, but Photome’s has the players cooperatively taking photos with their smartphone of animals in an urban setting.

An owl sitting in a street lamp.  The rabbit on the tricycle. A squirrel sitting on the bench. Chewing on his star. As one does.

Together, we place the town center and then form a line with the remaining buildings.  A conga line of sorts of buildings and urban critters. You’ll draft a building from the first 3, and add one to your growing town center.

You have animals you love to take photos of. For me it’s turtles and goats.  There’s also some animals you just don’t want to ever see photos of. Cats. Photome’s also assumes that nobody wants to see any moles, and that’s troublesome: the city seems to have an infestation. 

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Patrick Brennan: Game Snapshots –2019 (Part 18)

Angus Sampson. Perhaps he is a secret investor in Plaid Hat games?

As at the end of July, I’ve rated (and commented on) 389 of the top 500 BGG games and 700 of the top 1000. 

If we ignore all the puzzle games and the multiple editions that clog up the rankings (did I mention I reckon they don’t belong there?!), and ignore most of the wargames (which I enjoy for the intellectual challenge, but they’re not something I seek out as a preference), there’s only a few games in each bracket of 100 that I’m still yearning to get my hands on.  

Then, whenever I think I have a handle on all the good stuff, new games come inbound. And then someone reels off a session report full of quality stuff that hasn’t risen in the rankings because not enough people have ranked it yet. It’s the nature of the times – there’s always more good stuff out there. Some of that may lie below for you …

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Patrick Brennan: Game Snapshots –2019 (Part 17)

(Gamer Madlibs) I’d rather eat Vegemite than play another game of…

I started keeping game stats back way back in 1999 and part of that stat-keeping is allocating an average time for each play of a game. When multiplied by the number of times played, it provides the total time I’ve spent playing a game, which eventually provides a sense of value on the original purchase. 

By looking at the number of plays within any one year for each game, I can also see which game I spent the most time playing in that year. In turns out that all the following have provided pretty good value for money over the years:

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Across the United States

Designer: Hisahi Hayashi
Artist: Ryo Nyamo
Publisher: OKAZU Brand
Players: 2-5
Ages: 8+
Playing Time: 60 minutes
Times Played: 7 with a purchased copy

There’s nothing new going on in Across the United States.

It’s not a game that you can point at and say it does this new thing. It has this twist.
Have you heard about that new train game, but where the other thing happens?
It’s like X, but with Y.

And I love it. 
It’s like infrastructure maintenance for board games, and I’m here for it.

Across the United States is a train game.
A classic category.  And it has stock holding.

It uses a favorite mechanism of mine: limited shared-use components.
That dates back to Civilization.
But is also a train game trope.

The actions in the game center around a deck of cards for 6 train companies.
You’ll have 4 in your hand.
Pick one, play it.

Extend that company’s route.
Branch it.
Start a new line from HQ.

You’ve earned the actions at both ends of the link:
Take some gold. A ticket.
Add a cube. Build a depot for cows, apples, sacks, rocks, or gold.
Buy a share.

But also free shares.  
You played one card, now your hand is three.
Place one of those as a share in front of you.
(‘Place’, not buy.)  

(That’s one component. Extend the route or expand your portfolio.)

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Dale Yu: First Impressions of Bosk

Bosk

  • Designers: Daryl Andrews and Erica Bouyouris
  • Publisher: Floodgate Games
  • Players: 2-4
  • Ages: 13+
  • Time: 20-30 minutes
  • Times Played:  3, with review copy provided by Floodgate Games

In Bosk, each player is a species of tree in a national park trying to be the dominant species in the park. The board is set up on the table, and each player takes all the trees, leaf tokens and leaf tiles in their color. A score track and a wind direction track are set off to the side.   The game is played over the four seasons of the year with play happening in summer and fall and scoring happening in summer and winter.  As each season is different, I’ll go over each one separately.

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