Dale Yu: First Impression of Kings’ Struggle

Kings’ Struggle

  • Designer: Robert Burke
  • Publisher: WizKids
  • Players: 3-6
  • Ages: 14+
  • Time: 30-40 mins
  • Times played: 2, with review copy provided by WizKids

Kings’ Struggle has an interesting premise – a card game which combines the mechanisms of negotiation, trick taking and set collection together in one small package.  The description of the game itself puts negotiation first: “a unique negotiation game with elements of trick-taking and set collection”. As I have just finished out first trick taking con here locally, this one got to the table a few times.

Continue reading
Posted in First Impressions | 1 Comment


Designer: Adam Porter
Publisher: WizKids
Players: 3-5
Ages: 14+
Time: 45 minutes
Times Played: 2 times with review copy

Whether it’s Age of Steam maps or the variety of trick-taking games, I love exploring one system of games and the different places designers can poke at it to make something special happen. It’s something I’ve talked about before, but it’s like the Oulipo group or how many recordings there are of Philip Glass’ piano etudes.

What are the buttons you can push on a trick-taking game? The ranks, the suits. Following suit and what happens if you can’t. Points based on number of tricks vs points for what is in the trick. Bidding. Partners.

But what if the value of the cards was variable?  曖昧フェイバリットシングス (Eye My Favorite Things) explores this a little, though there, you know each suit is ranked 0-6, but you don’t know the rank when you play it. I also have rules for a Japanese prototype “24” where you use dry-erase cards which do not have values printed on them, but each player is given a certain amount of points (guess how many) to distribute among the ranks and writes the value on the cards. Mischievous Yokai does this in a manner through the use of dominos as cards you can play in either orientation.  Bottle Imp does this in a skewed sense as well. But each of these examples only provides variability between games or between hands or adds some ambiguities to what you’re playing. None of them produce a situation where the value is undetermined at the time you play it.

Here, that’s what Adam does.

Your “hand”, and the, uh, things you’ll play to the trick are dice.  As with a growing number of trick-takers, you will be able to see the suits the other player’s have left, as it is the dice on the table in front of them. (There are cards in the game, but they’re going to do something else.)

Continue reading
Posted in Reviews | 1 Comment


Designer: Adam Porter
Publisher: Brain Games
Players: 3-5
Ages: 10+
Time: 30 minutes
Times Played: 4 times with purchased copy; 1 time with demo copy at a convention

We used to have this movie theater that never played first run movies. It also wasn’t one of those discount theaters that plays things a few months after they come out. Rather, it seemed to only play things that were several years past their theater age. It would also play them with some frequency when they did. Not unlike going to see something that was just released where you can choose which day and time you’d like to sit in the dark for a few hours.

They had a sign up sheet.  It was a yellow legal pad that hung on a pillar in the middle of the lobby.  You could write down what you wanted them to show. I was fairly young when it was open and can’t report much on how successful these requests could be. What I remember going to see there was Gone with the Wind, The Princess Bride, and a Rocky and Bullwinkle marathon. My father probably took me to see more, but those are the ones I recall. It was a magical place.

They used to send this calendar in the mail. A black and white grid of what they were showing this month. Wait. I found something.

Horse Feathers. I would’ve gone to see that.

I also think they did shorts. Probably not during any of those that I recall above. My memory is more of learning what a short was. It’s like surprise course. Blood Orange Sorbet.

This review is going to have a surprise review.

I first learned of Pikoko from a link someone forwarded of the designer’s video on “Top 10 Trick Taking Types”. I watched delighted as Adam demonstrated a nuanced knowledge of the genre.

Pikoko starts with a conceit that comes with some baggage: what if you can’t see your own cards? Depending on your Hanabi feelings, this may be something that excites you or bores you, but I’d suggest it should do neither. You are playing from the hand of the player on your left: you never play from the hand you can’t see, so the feeling and the effect are much different.

Continue reading
Posted in Reviews | 8 Comments

Patrick Brennan: Game Snapshots – 2019 (Part 3)

Later today, the Super Bowl will have its first male cheerleader. Australia has been more progressive with male NRL cheerleaders for awhile now – when Patrick isn’t playing games, he’s probably not rooting for the Parramatta Eels, but it’s the best picture that I could find.

We’re coming to the end of the reviews generated by our Essen Review weekend now. A bit more winnowing, a bit more culling, but some keypers (ahem) as well. There are more coming still, being in the hands of friends, but they just haven’t got to the table yet. And there are so many more out there we’ll never get to. We don’t want really want or need to get to all of them mind you, but it’s fun trying.

For the record, of the fifty-one 2018 titles I got to, I gave seven of them an 8:

  • Brass: Birmingham
  • Coimbra
  • Crown Of Emara
  • Decrypto
  • Key Flow
  • Root
  • Underwater Cities

And I gave three of them a 4 or lower:

  • The Estates
  • Fast Forward: Fortune
  • Illusion
Continue reading
Posted in Reviews | 2 Comments

Dale Yu: Review of Globe Twister

Globe Twister

  • Designer: Richard Champion
  • Publisher: Act In Games / Blackrock Distribution
  • Players: 1-5
  • Ages: 8+
  • Time: 15 minutes
  • Times played: 7, with review copy provided by Act In Games

Globe Twister was a game that I knew little about until two weeks prior to SPIEL 2018.  I was sent a press release (which I think went to everyone on the SPIEL press list) about the game, and I was intrigued by the idea of a puzzle/programming game which could be played both solitaire as well as competitively.

Continue reading
Posted in Essen 2018, Reviews | Leave a comment

The Estates (Neue Heimat)

Designer: Klaus Zoch
Publisher: Capstone Games/Simply Complex (Chili Spiele)
Players: 2-5
Ages: 10+
Time: 40-60 minutes
Times Played: 3 times with purchased Capstone Games edition, 2 times with a friend’s Chili Spiele edition

I carry dental floss in my front left pocket. It’s a good one. Short of giving a full review of the floss, I “Love” Oral-B’s Glide Pro-Health Comfort Plus floss. I carry it around for two reasons.  Firstly, my teeth genes aren’t the strongest, and I try to floss an above-average number of times. Secondly, there are some spots here and there between teeth near the back that some bok choy from breakfast or some baby kale from lunch or some broccoli from dinner likes to curl up to hide in. And my tongue finds it and jabs at it. Pokes at it. Tries to pry it loose.  You already know that’s in vain.

View this post on Instagram

JN's floss shopping guide

A post shared by James Nathan (@xitoliv) on

But when I find it’s there, I can’t focus on anything else. I try to focus at work. I try to concentrate at the gym. I try to pay attention to the road. But I have to floss.

Which is all to say I first played Neue Heimat in September 2011 and it was stuck in a crack in my sulci ever since.

Klaus Zoch’s bygone Chili Spiele was a publisher that for a few Icarusian years had my attention for what they would release next. I looked through various archived posts from boardgamenews.com and couldn’t find any mention of Neue Heimat in the convention reports for Spiel 2007. In a complete table of the FAIRPLAY votes, it received, well, 4 votes – compared 51 for Tribun, that year’s top of the list, and 103 for Cuba, which had the most votes. (Aufsteiger, which Capstone/Simply Complex has also reprinted, also received 4 votes.  If you really want to follow me down this trail, a Chili Spiele game “Aufwärts” also received a vote. I asked Klaus and he isn’t sure what this refers to. My theory is that it’s a vote for Aufsteiger where the name was recorded incorrectly.)

Clay and Capstone Games have now published a second of those Chili Spiele games, “The Estates”, a reprint of 2007’s Neue Heimat, allowing me to finally reach where those Neue Heimat reminisces resided and exorcise them.

Your goal in The Estates is to earn the most points, but we’ll need to cover a few things before we get to how those points are earned.

Continue reading
Posted in Reviews | 4 Comments

Peak Position, Part 3: Ranking the Designers

The past couple of days, I’ve been talking about the Peak Position of a game, which is the highest rank it has reached at any point in time on the Geek 100.  I contend this is a better measure of the “quality” of the game than its current ranking on the Geek (particularly for older designs).  The Peak Positions I’m using are based on research carried out by JonMichael Rasmus, who summarized his results in the following Geeklist:  https://boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/224892/every-top-100-game-close-complete-i-get.  I’ve been personally maintaining these results to ensure that they stay current.

Yesterday, I introduced a way of assigning points to different Peak Positions (they range from 50 points for a Peak of 100 to 500 points for a game that reached #1).  I then modified this point value by a multiplier that reduces the value of older designs, since they are competing with considerably fewer games than recent titles, making it easier (in theory) for them to attain a high rank.  The end result is a point value for each of the 338 games that have been listed in the Geek 100 since August of 2001.

So what better way to use this data than to rank the hobby’s game designers?  There have been many rating systems proposed in the past, but I feel that Peak Position gives us a fresh perspective on this, neatly eliminating the considerable bias against older designs found in Geek ratings.  I’ll use the rest of this article to show which designers fare the best when the Peak Positions of their games are considered. Continue reading

Posted in Reviews | Leave a comment

Peak Position, Part 2: Summaries, Lists, and Refinements

So in yesterday’s article, I introduced the concept of using a game’s Peak Position (the highest rank it has attained at any point in time in the Geek’s list of its top 100 games) as a better measure of its “quality” than its current ranking (particularly for older designs).  The Peak Positions I’m using are Sbased on research carried out by JonMichael Rasmus, who summarized his results in the following Geeklist:  https://boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/224892/every-top-100-game-close-complete-i-get.  I’ve been updating these results for the last 20 months to keep them current.

Hopefully, I’ve made a good enough case for Peak Position that you feel it has some value in evaluating games over time.  So let’s start delving into this data.  As I mentioned yesterday, there are 338 games which have been ranked in the Geek’s top 100 since August of 2001.  We’ll start by breaking down those games by the year of their publication and which quartile (ranks 1-25, 26-50, 51-75, and 76-100) their Peak Position falls into.  I’ve decided to use the following publication time periods for the purposes of analysis:  pre-1990, 1990-1999, 2000-2004, 2005-2009, 2010-2014, and 2015-1019.  So five year slices for the 21st century games, and longer periods for the older ones.  First, as a means of comparison, let’s look at the games in the current top 100.  Next to each time slice, I’ve listed the total number of games from that time period which are in the top 100, followed (in parentheses) by the breakdown of games appearing in first, second, third, and fourth quartile:

Pre-90:  2  (0, 0, 1, 1)
’90-’99:  2  (0, 0, 2, 0)
’00-’04:  3  (1, 1, 0, 1)
’05-’09:  15  (3, 4, 5, 3)
’10-’14:  37  (6, 9, 11, 11)
’15-’19:  41  (15, 11, 6, 9)

You can see how much more recent games are favored, particularly for the highest ranked designs.  Almost 80% of the games come from the past decade and titles released prior to 2005 are practically invisible.

Now, here is the same breakdown for games ranked by Peak Position:

Pre-90:  19  (9, 6, 4, 0)
’90-’99:  47  (29, 8, 7, 3)
’00-’04:  75  (36, 21, 12, 6)
’05-’09:  80  (25, 20, 19, 16)
’10-’14:  72  (25, 20, 12, 15)
’15-’19:  45  (20, 8, 5, 12)

Pretty different, huh?  The five-year periods from 2000 to 2014 are almost equally represented.  The most recent games seem to be getting short shrift, which looks problematic, but keep in mind that there’s only a little bit more than three years reflected in these numbers (since there’s only been time for a few 2018 titles to get enough rankings to make the top 100 list and since 2019 has just begun).  If the same proportions hold a few years from now, the odds are pretty strong that there will be at least 70 games from the ’15-’19 time period with Peak Positions of 100 or less, which will put that time slice right in line with the three previous ones. Continue reading

Posted in Reviews | 15 Comments

Peak Position, Part 1: A (Somewhat) New Way of Rating Games

bias, n.  [bahy-uhs]
1. a personal and sometimes unreasoned judgment
2. Statistics – a systemic, as opposed to a random, distortion of a statistic as a result of sampling procedure

There is a natural human tendency for individuals in a hobby to rate the objects of their affection, whether it be movies, comics, or whatever.  Gamers are by no means immune to this practice.  There just seems to be some primal need to establish what your favorites are and to notify the rest of the world.  And once that information is out there for a group of people, clearly someone is going to consolidate it and come up with a list of the best whatevers of all time.  In the gaming world, the most recognized of these lists is probably the one compiled by BGG, in which games are ranked by their Geek Rating.  Being one of the top 100 games on the Geek is a feather in any game’s cap.

But the thing with lists like these is that there’s always some bias present.  I’m not talking about deliberate bias, as is cited in the first definition of the word I displayed at the beginning of this article.  And I’m certainly not referring to tires!  No, I’m talking about statistical bias, where, due to the makeup of the voting group, the voting procedures, or any of a host of other factors, there is a tendency toward unbalanced results in the lists.

For example, about a dozen years ago, the Geek ratings were biased in favor of what would eventually become known as Eurogames.  Thematic titles tended to get lower ratings then they probably deserved, which led to flame wars, a mass exodus of gamers from the Geek, the launching of the Fortress: Ameritrash website, and all sorts of exciting stuff.  Still, the bias was unfortunate and led to many gamers feeling underrepresented.

Ironically, thematic games are very highly rated these days, so this bias is probably no longer present.  But there remain quirks in the ratings.  The most prevalent, in my humble opinion, is the bias in favor of newer games and against older designs. Continue reading

Posted in Reviews | 21 Comments

Northern Pacific

Designer: Tom Russell
Publisher: Winsome Games / Rio Grande Games
Players: 3-5
Ages: 7+
Time: 20 minutes
Times Played: 5 times with review copy of the RGG edition, 1 time with someone else’s RGG edition

In retrospect, one of the worst Codenames clues I’ve ever given was “dazzle”. I was using several meanings of the word, but the one that had less traction than I had anticipated was a type of camouflage.

Dazzle camouflage bears a visual resemblance to Op Art more than traditional woodland camouflage.  The goal is less hiding in plain sight and more ‘course deception’. The idea was that British military ships in WWI were being targeted by German U-Boats via prediction of where the ship would be when the torpedo got there, so: could you alter der seaman’s mental calculations through optical illusion?

This image, and others I’ll sprinkle throughout, are from Blodgett’s 1919 MIT thesis looking at the use of dazzle in WWI and theoretical modelling of results.

While the Bureau of War Risk Insurance and other American parties were researching the best ways to lower visibility at sea in 1917 and 1918, a British Lieutenant, Norman Wilkinson, created what came to be known as British Dazzle.   Around this time, Germany had begun ‘unrestricted submarine warfare’ – which is to say survivors were not necessary – and Wilkinson’s camouflage strategy was the distortion of a ship’s size, shape, heading, speed, range, and so forth.  The goal was simply to cause the U-Boat commander to mis-estimate the true course of the ship, resulting in errant torpedos – which were of limited supply and would give away the submarine’s position.

Wilkinson’s designs would be unique for each boat; tailored to the specific ship; and he would find his wife among the team that helped with the final designs. Wilkinson had a model ship and a seascape backdrop prepared and during a demonstration, King George V, who had previously served in the Royal Navy, misjudged the direction of the ship, much to his astonishment, due to the dazzle pattern.

The Armory Show was 1913. Here’s a photo of the HMS Kilbride from sometime between 1914 and 1918.

Continue reading
Posted in Reviews | 5 Comments