One Year Later: Three Mini-Reviews

Last spring, I had the privilege of attending Alan Moon’s Gathering of Friends for the first time in 10 years. (Yes, that’s a long interval – the first Gathering I got to attend was in 2002 and the newfangled Puerto Rico was just off the boat & all the rage.) I got to play a lot of games (71 different games, some multiple times) and had a wonderful week.

Well, I’m getting ready to head out for the Gathering again this year – a thankfully much shorter interval – and that got me thinking about some games that I’d played for the first time a year ago… and wondering how much my opinion on them had changed. So, what follows are three mini-reviews of games that I left the Gathering feeling quite positive about…


review copy provided by the publisher

Extremely Short Summary:

What we have here is your standard “giant robot armies skirmishing on the surface of a valuable but forbidding planet” scenario – filtered through a fog-of-war command system designed by Richard Borg that is a cousin to the Command & Colors system.

Thumbs Up:

  • very nice minis
  • options for play with 2, 3 or 4 players – all of which work well

  • variety of scenarios (with different objectives)

Thumbs Down:

  • the rules could use a polish (though I appreciate the willingness of Toy Vault to include an errata page when the game was published)

  • as in almost all multi-scenario battle games, the introductory/teaching scenarios do a lousy job of showing off how the good the system can be when it’s firing on all cylinders

The Verdict (2012):

When I played Abaddon on a pre-production copy last year (4 times in a week!), I was delighted by the awesome miniatures and the fast & furious game play. I understood why some gamers didn’t like it – it is more chaotic due to the use of both dice & cards for command than any of Richard Borg’s C&C games. At the same time, I could see it really appealing to my elementary age boys.

Two other observations from a year ago:

  • Mike Gray (from Hasbro) passed by the table while we were playing & remarked that Richard had shown him this game as a prototype a number of years ago.

  • I was given the opportunity to play one of the first “web” scenarios – and both the reorientation of the board & the interesting choices that both players are forced to make from the beginning gave me great hope for Abaddon.

The Verdict (2013):

With 15 plays under my belt now, I continue to enjoy Abaddon. My gut feeling that it would be enjoyed by my 11 year old & 7 year old was spot on.

We’ve reached a point in playing where we feel (particularly with two players) that the game tends to run a bit short… and we’re toying with adding 5-10 points to the victory point total required to win those scenarios. (There are two extra official scenarios, btw – available at

I’ve come to believe that some of the lackluster reviews of the game were due to gamers wanting Richard Borg to create “C&C: Robots” rather than enjoying the game that was in the box. In fact, combined with Mike Gray’s comment, I see some commonalities with another classic “old school” Borg game – the excellent (if dated) Mutant Chronicles: Siege of the Citadel.

EscapeEscape: The Curse of the Temple

Extremely Short Summary:

A cooperative real-time dice-rolling expedition into a cursed temple… with a soundtrack!

Thumbs Up:

  • extremely involving game (it’s the real-time adrenaline rush)

  • seems to scale well with varying numbers of players

  • the first expansion (Curses) is already in the box

  • beautiful components

Thumbs Down:

  • the game must be played somewhere with a decent sound system (due to the cues you need to hear from the CD)

  • as with all real-time dice rolling games, there is great potential for inadvertent cheating

The Verdict (2012):

My two plays of Escape at the Gathering (also on a pre-production copy) were a lot of fun… and I watched a couple of other games. I spent half of one of my games with my hand glued to my head and my mouth shut (due to a pair of curses) – which actually made the game all the more exciting!

Interestingly, though, I walked away from the experience with some really big question marks about replay value. It was a frenetic & fun 10 minute experience – but how many times would I find myself willing to play?

The Verdict (2013):

Well, the answer is pretty straightforward – I’ve only played Escape one more time in the year since.

That doesn’t make it a bad game – everything certainly “works” in game terms & it gives a consistent adrenaline-fueled & noisy experience. The components are quite nice and the iconography is clear & useful.

But I do think that Escape will quickly become a “once a year” staple… or a game that’s simply brought out with a new group of friends. (Though there may be some limits on that – the speed dice rolling/recognition thing is not for everyone.) That makes it a game I’m perfectly willing to play but not willing to plop down my limited game-buying cash to own


Extremely Short Summary:

Michael Schacht re-purposes the “book” mechanic from his game Valdora for use in a clever pick-up-and-deliver game about exploring Africa.

Thumbs Up:

  • the “book” mechanic both looks cool and adds a slight but important memory element to the game

  • like many Michael Schacht designs, there are opportunities to cascade actions into each other that give you a feeling of accomplishment – even if you don’t win the game

  • the production & components are lovely

Thumbs Down:

  • there’s a sameness that develops from game to game – similar tactical & strategic choices

The Verdict (2012):

I played Africana (with a freshly released copy) three times at the Gathering. My first play was your classic “enjoying the discovery of the first time” experience – which led to the equally enjoyable “now that I know what I am doing” second play.

But the third play began to feel an awfully lot like the first two plays… and I walked away questioning if it would hold my interest.

The Verdict (2013):

Subsequently, Michael Schacht put a PBEM version of it online – and I played exactly one more time. Sadly, my Gathering impression was correct – while I like the game and enjoy the chances to make crafty moves & combinations of actions, it doesn’t feel like there is a great variety of storylines from play to play.

Like Escape, this doesn’t make Africana a bad game. It just makes it one that I enjoy but don’t have to own.

A Final Comment

Review formats like this reveal one of the (small) flaws in the Opinionated Gamers rating system – I’ve given all three of these game identical marks (“I like it”), though my enjoyment of the games varies widely. If I was using the BGG system (and decimals), Abaddon would be a 7.5 and Escape and Africana would be a 6.

Other Opinionated Gamers’ Opinions:

Escape: The Curse of the Temple

Dale Yu – I played this for the first time at the Gathering of Friends 2012 – it was a bunch of fun, but really hard to hear the game in the crowded ballroom.  It was a fun 10 minute game, but not really something I would play with my regular group… though I could see that I would get some play out of it with the kids.  Fast forward to 2013, I have since acquired a copy – from Essen – and it has gotten some play with the boys.  They like it, but surprisingly, they do not love it.  A big problem for us is that there is some inadvertent cheating, and I suspect some advertent cheating (from over-excited kids trying to make sure we clear the board).  Because everyone is busy looking at their own dice and situations, it’s hard to keep track of what everyone else is doing — in the end, that doesn’t bother me, the more important thing is that we’re all having fun playing the game.

It fits a small niche in the collection, and it remains in the collection currently – though there is a bit of a contrast in that the target audience for the game here (teenagers) sometimes have an issue remembering/grokking the dice, and this is a hard game to stop in the middle to explain a rule.  Actually, it’s pretty much impossible to do that.

Greg Schloesser – I tend not to enjoy real-time games, and this is “real-time” to the max.  Plus, the huge potential — and, indeed, likelihood — of inadvertent cheating is just too great.  While I admire the concept, the game is not for me.


Dale Yu – I like this one. A lot more than Valdora for some reason – though I can’t put my finger on why.  It ended up getting 3 or 4 more plays than Valdora (which was played twice. Once to learn the rules, and once to confirm that it didn’t really scratch an itch).  However, after 6-ish plays, there’s not a lot of exploring left in the game.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing – I feel the same way about Ticket To Ride – which is one of my all time top 10 games.  But, if I’m looking for a collect-the-card game to move on a route, I’m just more likely to play Ticket to Ride than this.

Opinionated Gamers’ Ratings:


I love it –

I like it –  Mark Jackson

Neutral –

Not for me –

Escape: The Curse of the Temple

I love it –

I like it –  Mark Jackson, Tom Rosen

Neutral –  Dale Yu

Not for me – Greg Schloesser


I love it –

I like it –  Mark Jackson, Jonathan Degann, Dale Yu

Neutral –  Nathan Beeler, Greg Schloesser

Not for me – Tom Rosen

About Mark "Fluff Daddy" Jackson

follower of Jesus, husband, father, pastor, boardgamer, writer, Legomaniac, Disneyphile, voted most likely to have the same Christmas wish list at age 57 as he did at age 7
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1 Response to One Year Later: Three Mini-Reviews

  1. The chorus of “inadvertent cheating” in Escape piques my curiosity. My understanding is that it’s a somewhat of an “experience game”. (That is, the process of playing is more important than the outcome.) If this is so, isn’t the problem of inadvertent cheating minimal?

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