Black Sonata

Black Sonata

  • Designer: John Kean
  • Web Published (Side Room Games has announced a future publication)
  • Number of players 1
  • Time 30 min

I haven’t done a print and play game in quite some time. It usually requires a fair amount of time and if you want to do a good job it’s not necessarily inexpensive so it usually requires a great deal of interest on my part to get me going on a project. I was randomly perusing BGG and came across Black Sonata. The theme focuses on the search for Shakespeare’s “Dark Lady” the mysterious muse for some of his sonnets. Shakespeare theme? Check! Deduction? Check! It’s a solo game but it sounded interesting enough to hook me.

I was off and printing up a low ink version which designer John Kean thoughtfully posted. Dusted off the cutting mat, metal straight edge and rotary cutter. The designer also include a nice booklet on the history of the various ladies in the game. The game  consists of a map of London, marked with locations and symbols, clue cards to represent the possible dark ladies, stealth cards, location key cards and “fog” cards. There are also deduction tokens and a pawn to represent player location.

The game’s mechanism works well. One of the dark ladies is chosen at random face down and placed under the board. The remaining dark lady cards become a deck of clue cards. The player chooses a starting location. The stealth cards have various symbols on the back which correspond with locations on the board. The front of the cards have letters which help prepare the deck and determine the lady’s path amongst the locations. Some cards have the lady’s silhouette which will be show when the lady’s location is found. The stealth deck is played face down and at the beginning of the turn the top card is placed on the bottom and the lady’s new location is shown. So this part of the game requires finding the lady’s location.

If the player’s pawn is in the suspected location of the lady they may search for her. If not, the player may move their pawn to a different location. Searching is rather clever, the location key cards have a keyhole (literally a punched card) that the player overlays on the face of the stealth card without looking at it. The stealth card will be replaced by a fog card that have random events which might or might not be helpful to the player when it comes up in the deck later.  If the lady’s silhouette is visible the player earns a clue card. Also the stealth deck is then advanced. Stealth cards that were checked for location are removed from the deck.

The top clue card is revealed showing on one side 3 of the possible tokens the dark lady may have on her card. The other side has symbols match to the symbol on the back of the card and tell how many of the symbols are correct. This is the second part of deduction in the game.

To win, the player must deduce and be in the lady’s location as well as knowing which 3 tokens are represented on the dark lady’s card. The game is lost if incorrect  or if the stealth deck is gone through three times. There is a scoring system to challenge oneself based on the number of cards left.

I love true deduction games. This game ticks all the right boxes for me, interesting theme and mechanisms. I’m impressed by the clever bits like the locations key cards. The game works very well and it’s challenging enough without feeling like it’s impossible. It’s about the right time length for me. Score is based on number of card left in the stealth deck and fog deck. If you feel it’s too easy or too hard there are some variants. There is good variety and the designer provided some additional pathways if you need. I enjoyed it enough to go for a color version and had fun coming up with a faux book box. If you are not into print and play but would like this game you are in luck because the designer and publisher announced on BGG that the game will be produced and run as a kickstarter later this year.

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Matt Carlson – Kung-Fu Zoo

Kung-Fu Zoo has players flicking animal-themed dice into an arena to score points and/or eliminate other players by knocking them into a corner pocket. A fast moving game of skill, with a healthy dose of luck, makes for a great game for younger kids even if it won’t have much staying power for older gamers.



Kung-Fu Zoo
Designer: Charlie Price
Publisher: WizKids
Players: 2+
Ages: 10+
Time: 5-10 minutes
(review copy provided by publisher)

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Patrick Brennan: Game Snapshots – Apr 2018

By: our resident Aussie


Legacy games have been running triumphant this month.

After a rough start with some tough smack-downs, our Pandemic Legacy Season 2 has come good. We’ve been careful and thoughtful with our spend, concentrating on long term advantage, and our burgeoning infrastructure has stood us in good stead with successive wins in Mar, Apr, and May. We’ve also been super-careful with our deck management, and that care is being rewarded … so far. It probably took us a little while to get to grips with the fact that this season plays “short”. Anytime we’ve seen a 4th epidemic, we’ve lost, unable to keep up with the pace of resource loss. So we’re structured ourselves to win in the 4th round as much as we can, all things going okay. It’s still providing us HEAPS to discuss and talk through on strategy (what are our infrastructure goals for this game) and intra-game tactics, and we’ve been enjoying it much more. I’m probably upping it to a 9. Continue reading

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Dale Yu: Review of Conex




  • Designer: Prospero Hall
  • Publisher: HABA –
  • Ages: 8+
  • Players: 2-4
  • Time: 20-30 minutes
  • Times played: 4, with review copy provided by HABA USA

Conex is one of three small box games that just arrived from HABA USA.  It has the “Game Night Approved” logo on it, so this is meant to be part of the new family line of games.  I love the fact that HABA continues to try to make games for the family market – with the constant stream of acquisitions and mergers in our hobby, it’s nice to see another company working to bring this level of game to the table.   Conex also brings another delightful game from Prospero Hall – which is not a person, but rather a design collective.  In the past year or two, I have enjoyed other designs from them such as Bob Ross: Art of Chill game and The Wizard Always Wins.

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Dale Yu: Review of Harvest Island


Harvest Island

  • Designer: Chih-Fan Chen
  • Publisher: Big Fun
  • Players: 2-4
  • Ages: 8+
  • Time: 30 minutes
  • Times played: 4, with review copy provided by BigFun/TaiwanBoardgamesDesign

In Harvest Island, players vie to be the most successful crop cultivator on the island of Formosa – as you know, a peculiar island that exists under a subtropical environment especially optimal for growing fruits.  The climate is so good that you can grow and harvest fruits in all four seasons. Continue reading

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Simon Neale: White Rock Boardgaming Weekend Report

Simon Neale: White Rock Boardgaming Weekend Report

 Twice a year, in March and November, a small gaming convention takes place on the English south coast. It is called the White Rock Boardgaming Weekend, primarily because it is held in the White Rock Hotel and runs from sometime on a Wednesday through to the following Sunday which makes it slightly longer than a “weekend”. I usually attend the March get togethers and 2018 was no exception, arriving early Thursday morning to join the already busy gaming room. Attendees bring along games with them that they are happy for others to play and there are usually some prototypes from game designers eager for playtesting and feedback.

After a hearty breakfast, I thought it was the perfect time to tackle a game that I had been wanting to try out for sometime: Kingdom Death Monster. A group of 4 of us, led by fellow Opinionated Gamer Alan How, took over characters from a previous session so started at level 2. This game drips theme with a high quality illustrated story book providing the background to the characters and their adventures. The card  based combat is clever and when damage occurs during combat then the hit location is taken into account. This makes the dungeon crawl fairly slow paced and we spent the whole morning with a single encounter. However, there was plenty of action taking place at character level but eventually the dice rolling failed us and the entire party was wiped out.

My overall impression is that the game has great depth to the story arc and if you have a lot of time to play through the adventures then you will get a lot of satisfaction from the game. Personally, I am glad that I had the opportunity to see how the game played, but I think I would choose Descent for its speed and a Dungeons & Dragons session for story depth.

Next up was The Mind, the latest game from Wolfgang Warsch to arrive from Germany. With a deck of 100 cards, numbered 1 to 100, upto four players try to get rid of their hands of cards by playing the cards in sequence between all the players. Without talking each player has to decide when to play a card from their hand just by looking at the last card played and trying to determine if another player has a card left in their hand of less value than the lowest in their own hand. There are limited ways to stop play and reset the card flow but mostly you stare the other players in the eyes to decide when to play your next card. The game is great fun for a short filler and the right group of players.

Alban Viard’s Tramways was also new to me and provided a different twist on the route building pick up and deliver games. The unique part of this game is the very brutal auction mechanic where you pay for your bid at the time you make it and if you get overbid and have to make a second (or third) bid then that costs you again! With some negative cards which you need to avoid in the auction you start to see just how nasty the game can become. It is interesting to play and has enough differences to warrant table time provided you have the crowd that can accept what may appear unfair choices.

After teaching one of my favourite games from last year’s Essen: Heaven & Ale, and relaxing through a old favourite of Notre Dame, I played Tournament at Camelot from Wizkids and a whole host of designers. This is a trick taking card game where you are trying to avoid taking negative points in order to survive longer than the other players. Thrown into the mix are twist cards: sorcery, deception, alchemy etc. which are sometimes played to help your own score but mostly to make things really bad for your opponents. This is a real “take that” game where you need to be able to take it as well as dish out the damage and in that vein it is a fun filler which runs in about 35 minutes.

Friday started with designer Nick Case leading us through an advanced prototype of his latest game: The Sagas of Noggin the Nog. The stunning artwork from Peter Firmin coupled with the beautifully produced pieces brought the children’s books and TV series to life. But don’t be fooled because this is not a children’s game, instead it is a reasonably heavy worker placement style game.

A rondel style player order track gives the progression of actions a unique feel and allows you to carry out more “expensive” actions at the cost of waiting longer for your next turn. The is a timer track which will mean that the players will collectively lose the game if they do not complete a series of “sagas” before it expires. As it is unlikely that these “sagas” can be completed by a single player, there is a semi-cooperative element to the game where players vie for getting the best benefit from saga completion. Overall I was really impressed with this game and it is one that I will be backing when it hits Kickstarter later this year.

For various reasons and fear of a steep learning curve within my gaming group meant that I had never played Madeira from Nuno Sentiero and Paulo Soledade. So when friend offered to teach me the game I was excited to find out what I had been missing. Madeira offers a whole host of ways of getting victory points from simple resource collection through to area placement all set in a nautical island theme. Once you understand what each of the various routes to victory enable, then the game is straightforward and progresses swiftly. I am hoping that Madeira gets to my gaming group’s table in the near future.

The day ended with a run of games that I already knew: First Train to Nuremberg (where I achieved the lowest score of my life and finished the game with a single victory point!), Heckmeck, Can’t Stop (which proved you can win if you don’t stop rolling until you get to the top) and Abluxxen.

Saturday started with some more new to me games, the first of which was Nusfjord taught to me by another Opinionated Gamer Joe Huber, who had flown in from the USA just for the “weekend”. Nusfjord is Uwe Rosenberg’s release from last year’s Essen. It feels similar to his previous releases in that you have a player board which you need to cover with forests or buildings and you can buy cards that provide personal action spaces. This game is more streamlined with only three types of resources: money, fish and wood and only three actions per player per round.

The game moves along quickly and a four player game can complete in around 75 minutes. There are a few production issues with the game namely the size of the single gold coins is tiny and fiddly, and the player resource boards are too small and prone to overflowing in the later stages of the game. That said, I enjoyed the game so much that I have already bought my own copy since returning home and I can see it replacing Caverna in my collection.

Joe Huber then went on to teach Little Town Builders from Studio GG. This is filler style game where you place workers to collect resources from adjoining spaces on the game board. You then use those resources to build structures in order to generate victory points and other resource benefits. The game plays in a short time of around 30 minutes but I didn’t find anything that sets it apart from other similar games.

During my stay at the convention, I got in two plays of one of the prettiest games from last year: Hjalmar Hach’s Photosynthesis. The theme of growing trees from seed is well embedded and the actions you can take make thematic sense which appeals to me. In this game you are planting seeds and then growing them into ever taller trees before cutting them down for victory points. The number of actions you get per turn depends upon which of your trees are not overshadowed by other trees on the game board as the sun moves round.

This abstract game works really well and is a bit of a brain burner. The downside is that if you don’t manage to get your trees positioned well to obtain sunlight then you will not get many action points and the opponents trees will grow faster and worsen their overshadowing effect. So once you are behind it is an unforgiving game and it is this that may reduce its appeal.

In amongst games that I had played before: Foppen, Welcome to the Dungeon, Ra, The Castles of Burgundy, 7 Wonders Duel and Roll though the Ages, I got to play Quartermaster General from designer Ian Brody. Having not played any of the Quartermaster series of games, I was keen to give this a try. This game as the title suggests is based in the World War I conflict in Europe with five players taking on leading the various nations involved. The simple card play mechanic works well and the various actions mesh seamlessly making this game an exciting, if at times intense, experience. I led Russia and at the end of the game which the allies won, I had 1 card left in my hand. I thoroughly enjoyed the game and I’ll be on the lookout to play there games in this series.

Sunday was a shorter day with games that I had played before: The Builders – Middle Ages (card game with action points to build victory point generating cards), Inhabit the Earth, Las Vegas and a second play of Photosynthesis.

When I returned home in the afternoon I felt that my need for gaming had been met with a nice split between games new to me and old favourites. The White Rock Hotel had been a pleasant venue overlooking the sea with friendly staff, a good restaurant and most importantly a supply of cask ale. I can recommend a brisk walk along the promenade before breakfast each day if only to prove just how cold England can be in March!

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Book Review – Fascination: The Lifetime Boardwalk Adventure

Fascination: The Lifetime Boardwalk Adventure

Written by Randy Senna and self-published


Fascination was once a staple of American amusement parks, as ubiquitous as Skee-Ball.  Often referred to as “Bingo with balls”, a Fascination table is a long, inclined table, with a speed-bump followed by a 5 by 5 grid of holes, with the center plugged, and a 5 by 5 array of lights on the backplane, with the center light always lit.  When the ball goes through a hole, the corresponding light is lit. The first player (a Fascination parlor typically has 48 or more tables) to light five in a row wins; typically, the prize is one or more tickets, which have significantly more value than a typical Skee-Ball ticket. Continue reading

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April Fool’s Day Gaming News (Chris Wray)


In honor of April Fool’s Day, here are a few highlights of gaming news.  All of this is meant in jest and good fun!

Chris Wray

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Dale Yu: Review of Upstream


  • Designer: Victor Samitier
  • Publisher: 2 Tomatoes
  • Players: 2-5
  • Ages: 8+
  • Time: 20-30 minutes
  • Times played: 4, with review copy provided by 2 Tomatoes

Upstream was high on my list of games to look at while in Essen 2017. However, the game never made it to the show, and I went home without a copy… Like many other titles, Upstream got caught up in the great ’17 German Customs debacle, and plenty of people went home without the games they were looking for…. So, I was thrilled to see the box arrive with the 2 Tomatoes games in them.

In Upstream, players control a set of salmon – initially having 8 fish (1 pair on each of 4 markers). The back side of the markers has a single fish on them – in case something horrible befalls your fish. There are four blank start tiles (with calm water), and they are set up in a diamond to start the river. Each player places one of their salmon pair tokens on each start space. There are four spawning tiles which mark the end of the salmon run – these are set aside for now, and will be used near the end of the game. The rest of the 35 river tiles are mixed up facedown and placed in a stack.

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Dale Yu: Review of Time Arena

Time Arena

  • Designer: Fabrice Lamouille
  • Publisher: Blam! (distributed by BlackRock)
  • Players: 2-4
  • Ages: 10+
  • Time: 10 minutes
  • Times played: 5, with review copy provided by Blam!

Time Arena was one of the games that really caught my eye at the Press Show at Essen SPIEL 2017. Though I normally don’t look for 2-player only games, the brightly colored hourglasses and the visual similarities to Clash Royale (a game my boys play constantly on their phones) drew me in. In this game, two Lords of Time (who do NOT come from Gallifrey) battle in the Time Arena, which is a 8×10 board.

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