Dale Yu: First Impressions of Sonora  



  • Designer: Rob Newton
  • Publisher: Pandasaurus
  • Players: 1-4
  • Age: 10+
  • Time: 30-45 minutes
  • Times played: 3, with review copy provided by Pandasaurus

The Sonoran desert spans areas of Arizona, California and Mexico.  It is known for beautiful vista and iconic fauna such as the saguaro cactus and the organ pipe cactus.  While I’ve never been there myself, it has long been on my list of places that I would like to visit someday.   Sadly, right now, there’s not much travel going on in my life, so those plans are on the backburner.  And while there also isn’t a lot of boardgaming going on right now, Sonora has provided me with solo and two-players games to allow myself a chance to imagine a trip there.


I have long been a fan of roll-and-write games (and flip-and-write, and tick-and-write) with many different entries in that genre being reviewed on these electronic pages.  Sonora is an interesting subspecies of the genre, being the first Flick and Write game that I can remember. From the back of the box: “players flick wooden discs onto a game board representative of different vibrant landscapes across the Sonoran sands. Each area encompasses a different unique game, so skillful aim is required to play in the region of a player’s choosing and score points on your dry-erase sheet! But watch out for other players eager to bump discs to score points for themselves.”

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Publisher Perspectives on 2020: An Interview with Friedemann Friese of 2F Spiele

A Note from The Opinionated Gamers: In lieu of our normal convention coverage, we’re doing publisher interviews about upcoming releases, asking their thoughts on the events of 2020 and other topics. Today’s interviewee is Friedemann Friese of 2F Spiele. Friedemann has been designing games for nearly three decades, and since 1992, he has also been publishing games. Often featuring green boxes and game names starting with “F,” 2F’s games are highly innovative and highly engaging. Friedemann is certainly one of my favorite designers — printing many of my favorite games, including Fabled Fruit, Fauna, and Power Grid — so it is always a joy to get to talk to him and hear his insights.

First, I have to ask about Power Grid. I just noticed at my FLGS that the expansion maps have been released in Recharged Versions! What are the big differences from the old versions? And what’s next for the Power Grid line (if you can say)?

The recharged version is like an update for Power Grid to the changes we made for Power Grid deluxe. I took deluxe as a chance to change Power Grid and put in everything I learned about Power Grid over the years. Now we do have a real challenging 2-player version for Power Grid. The main complaint about Power Grid was always the 2 player game.

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Dale Yu: First Impressions of Project L



Project L

  • Designers: Michal Mikeš, Jan Soukal, Adam Spanel
  • Publisher: Boardcubator
  • Players: 1-4
  • Age: 13+
  • Time: 20-30 minutes
  • Times played: 5, at SPIEL 2019 and some with with review copy provided by the publisher

Project L was very high on my list of games to check out from SPIEL 2019.  The elevator pitch from the publisher: “Project L is a fast-paced, tile-matching brain burner with triple-layer 3D puzzles and lovely acrylic pieces. The core of the game lies in using your pieces to complete puzzles. Starting with just a single basic piece, you use three actions every turn to develop a powerful engine. With more pieces of various types, you can efficiently complete even the most difficult puzzles. The puzzles you complete award you points or new pieces to further fuel your engine. Can you outsmart your opponents?”

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Chai (Game Review by Brandon Kempf)

  • Designer: Dan Kazmaier & Connie Kazmaier
  • Artists: Mary Haasdyk & Sahana VJ
  • Publisher: Steeped Games
  • Players: 1-5 
  • Time: 20-60 Minutes
  • Times Played: 3

“Everything goes better with a bit of tea, or does it?” 

About a year and a half ago, a small game popped on the radar of folks in the board gaming scene when it hit Kickstarter. Chai, a game about making tea and selling it to the right customers in order to be the best tea house. Good leveraging of the board game media, simple game mechanisms and a charming table presence propelled it to $135k in backing. So what is Chai

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Publisher Perspectives on 2020: An Interview with Mike Young of Plan B Games

A Note from The Opinionated Gamers: In lieu of our normal convention coverage, we’re doing publisher interviews about upcoming releases, asking their thoughts on the events of 2020 and other topics. Today’s interviewee is Mike Young of the Plan B / Next Move / eggertspiele family of game companies. Mike is an extraordinarily kind person — one of the greats in the hobby — who has done fantastic work on social media and BGG for Plan B. You can read more about him at his BGG profile.

It is sad that we won’t get to meet at Gen Con or Essen this year, which is normally how I notice upcoming product lines.  What games does the Plan B / Next Move / eggertspiele family have coming out this year?  What are the release timelines?

Alma Mater debuts in August on the Eggertspiele imprint – A spiritual successor to Coimbra, Alma Mater has players serving as the heads of a university competing to be the most prestigious university in the land.  To do that, players will need to recruit the best professors, chancellors, and students while also publishing books to share your school’s research.  It’s a clever engine building game that harkens back to the designers previous titles – Coimbra, Lorenzo il Magnifico, and others. 

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Dale Yu: First Impressions of Zen Garden

Zen Garden

  • Designer: Mike Georgiou
  • Publisher: Queen Games
  • Players: 2-4
  • Age: 8+
  • Time: 30-45 minutes
  • Times played: 3, with review copy provided by Queen Games

Zen Garden is a new 2020 release from Queen Games – and I was reading the rules, I realized that the intro paragraph in the rules pretty much is a succinct 136 word review of the game. So I’ll copy it here first.  This might be enough for you to stop reading and decide if you want to play it!


“In Zen Garden, the players assume the role of architects working to build the most beautiful garden for the Emperor. To do this they will not only need to pay careful attention to the Emperor’s preferences, but also stay one step ahead of the competition. A turn in Zen Garden is quite simple. The first player will select one tile from the selection board, pay its cost, then add it to their garden adjacent to a previously placed tile. Each player will do this, then the board is refilled. This will continue until all gardens are completed. Then, the Emperor evaluates each garden and awards points to the players, depending on how well his preferences have been met. The player with the most points is declared the new court architect and the winner of the game.”

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Publisher Views of 2020: An Interview with Stephen Buonocore of Stronghold Games

A Note from The Opinionated Gamers: In lieu of our normal convention coverage, we’re doing publisher interviews about upcoming releases, asking their thoughts on the events of 2020 and other topics. Our first interviewee is Stephen Buonocore of Stronghold Games. Stephen is an absolute legend in the hobby: not only is he the founder and president of Stronghold, but he has been an influential voice for some time now, regularly appearing in a variety of gaming media. He is a host of Board Game Insider, a popular podcast. He announced last week that he is retiring from gaming. That’s a big loss to our hobby and industry, but we know we’ll still hear from him, and we wish him the absolutely best!

First, I have to ask about Terraforming Mars! The Big Box recently funded with more than $2.7 million raised. With more than 27,000 backers, it has to be one of the most talked-about products of the summer  What’s next for the Terraforming Mars line?

I could tell you, but then I would have to kill you… :)

I really cannot comment on any unannounced products.  What I can say is what I have been public about already for Terraforming Mars:

– there will be no more expansions that add new mechanics

– there could be smaller expansions that add more cards and such.  None are in the works right now (and we do plan out 1+ year in advance).

– there will be more products in the Terraforming Mars line.  

That last statement is the most significant.  Feel free to read between the lines, but I won’t comment more on exactly what it means.  :)

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Dale Yu: First Impressions of Jewel Heist

Jewel Heist

  • Designer: uncredited
  • Publisher: Mattel
  • Players: 5-8
  • Ages: 13+
  • Time: 15 minutes
  • Times played – Once – with basic rules only (hard to get 5+ people together due to coronavirus!)
  • Affiliate link to the Amazon Deluxe version – https://amzn.to/3e5tAOH

(originally written early June 2020)

Well, 2 days before Ohio told everyone to stay at home, I got a review copy of Jewel Heist in the mail.  I was planning on trying to get both of my local game groups to come together to have one last big game night; but as it turns out, we ran out of time and it never happened.  Now, the thought of being able to have enough people in one place to play a 5-8 player game kinda makes my skin itch.  But, at some point, we’re gonna get back to normal, and I’m sure that many people will be looking for big party games, and this one could fit the bill.  Continue reading

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Scooby-Doo! Escape from the Haunted Mansion (Game Review by Brandon Kempf)

  • Designer: Jay Cormier, Sen-Foong Lim & Kami Mandell
  • Artists: Rob Lundy & Rick Hutchinson
  • Publisher: The OP
  • Players: 1 or More
  • Time: 60-120 Minutes
  • Times Played: 2

DISCLAIMER: This review will be as spoiler free as it possibly can be. Some of the photos may contain information that is unknown at the start, but I will tell you nothing about how any of it turns out, or what to interact with, or how. Pictures will be there to just show mechanisms involved in the game, plus the look and feel. 

If ever there was a list of themes that were just absolutely made for an escape room in a box style of game, Scooby-Doo and the gang would be at the forefront of that list. I mean that’s what they do, they drive around places, get trapped in creepy mansions, and solve mysteries. It was right there the entire time. Thankfully the folks at The OP managed to get the rights and put together a quality design team in Jay, Sen and Kami, and decided to give us what we needed, nay, what we deserved —  Scooby-Doo!: Escape from the Haunted Mansion.

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Chris Wray: What I Enjoyed Playing in June 2020

This is the June entry for my series where I post five games I enjoyed playing in the past month for which I didn’t have time to do full reviews.  As always, I limit it to five titles, of which there’s a combination of old and new games.

My most played game of the month was Alhambra, which played quite a bit after picking up the Alhambra Designers’ Expansions. I also played Terraforming Mars quite a bit — primarily on the excellent iOS app — and rediscovered some other old favorites!

But overall, it was a down month for me. Not many games got played! I logged 50 plays (which, as always, is an undercount, given that I’m terrible about logging them). But that’s about half of recent months.

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