From IDW games, in Machi Koro players are small village mayors trying to expand their community into a blossoming city. For 2-4 people, it plays in about 20-40 minutes. The goal of the game is to be the first to build all 4 key landmarks within their town, indicating they are the most prosperous community.
Turns of play are rather simple. Players roll a die (or 2 if they build a special location) and collect any income matching the die roll with any establishments they have. They then can build one location. This can be an establishment from a common supply of cards, or one of their 4 special landmarks.
As a twist, some locations will function during other player’s turns. Additionally, some locations force the player rolling the die to fork over cash, or potentially they’ll collect money from other players. Some establishments have a higher payout depending on other locations within your town. Lastly, bonuses and income for the cards are additive, so having multiple copies of the same location is beneficial.
There are a limited number of cards for each type of location. There are also some location types that can only have one copy per community. So when trying to work on income combinations, this can lead to a race to acquire desirable cards.
You end up with an interesting dynamic of trying to cover a decent spread of different die outcomes, all the while trying to minimize your opponent’s income. There are locations out there that can benefit everyone provided the right die roll is made. This adds a giddy gambling feel making it a pleasant, light engine building game with a bit of luck thrown in.
The Good – This is a filler type of game. Something light that doesn’t require a ton of explanation yet still has a smudge of strategy. You can opt for low cost cards that work on a single die, or spend more cash for establishments that give better payouts on two dice. Or you can try to dabble a bit in both and work the angle of getting income from just about any die roll. What works for the game is that players can collect income if anyone rolls a number that matches key establishments they own. It really keeps everyone engaged.
The design of the cards is well done, matching types of income conditions based on the card color, as well as through text. The icons are simple and the design of the cards has a cute cartoon feel which is colorful.
The Bad – There is a lot of luck here which might turn people off. Also, sadly the game can creep into having a repetitive nature. Setup and the available cards are always the same so you aren’t going to get the breadth of options in play. Players can easily find themselves slipping into set strategies.
The Verdict – I like Machi Koro. It’s a fun family game that’s light with enough choices to make it interesting. I think the major aspect of the game which makes it so much fun is how income can be earned. It’s not always based on what you roll during your turn. You can also get income on other player’s turns, and with the right combination of establishments you can get a huge payout. It allows you to grasp that gambling feel by the tail and revel in it, which does adds a sort of interaction at the table.
A big detraction however is the similar game setup and lack of card diversity. There are expansions floating around which would seem to alleviate this some. I’ve taken to using a modified setup, splitting the location cards into separate decks based on the die roll number needed to induce their effect. By limiting the pool of available cards to pick up and play to only 10 types of cards, you end up with just enough limits to make for hard choices, but not completely slow down the game.
However I guess I can forgive Machi Koro for being light. It doesn’t wallow in that pretentiousness of being anything more than a filler game. The mechanics are not groundbreaking but the idea of allowing resources to be gained on other player die rolls works wonders. It helps slip the game from a ho hum, engine building, resource acquisition game to something more exciting. The theme is light, matching the art on the cards and it works. Machi Koro isn’t a deep experience. It needs a little tweak to the game setup to add some variety after several plays. However it’s also something that provides great fun, especially if looking for a family game.
[EDIT: Figure I’d add my tweak to the base game from the Harbor expansion which introduces using a single deck for locations. Cards are drawn from the deck until there are 10 types available. Similar cards stack up in piles, and if a type is exhausted a new card is drawn and either added to existing piles or placed in the supply as a new location. So 10 different locations are always available and may be of varying numbers.
For my games, I split location cards into 3 decks. One deck is for locations of 1-5 , one deck for unique landmark locations (purple 6 cards that is made as per the rules. i.e. 1 card of each type for each player), and a third deck for the 7-12 locations. Four cards each are drawn from both the 1-5 and 7-12 location decks, while only 2 are drawn from the 6 location deck. As per the Harbor expansion, there must be 10 total different locations available and multiple copies are just added to existing draw piles.
You’ll end up with 10 different location cards that are always available (4-2-4). This adds just a little more challenge and using random (but limited) available locations allows for some different play strategies.]
Splendor is a card game for 2-4 players. You purchase development point cards with gained resources and the first player to 15 points wins. During a player’s turn they have the option of picking up a limited number of gem tokens and on future turns, spend those tokens in certain combinations to pick up development cards in the center. Players can only pick up 3 tokens of different types, or 2 of a similar gem type with some restrictions. Alternately, players can pick up a gold token which works as a wild card gem.
Development cards come from 3 separate decks, each with increasing costs of needed gems, but offering more and more points. As an option, a player can pick up a development card and keep it in their hand (maximum of 3) so that no one else can scoop it up.
Players will spend gem tokens to match what is displayed on the development card. Further, purchased development cards can act as a single gem type which can be used to buy other development cards. So players can try to purchase cheap development cards that offer no points, yet they allow you to amass more gem types which can be used to spend on more expensive cards later. Also, unlike the gem tokens which are discarded back into the supply, development cards you obtain always stay with you.
In addition to the development cards there is also a random number of noble cards. Each noble offers points if players get particular combinations of development cards. While they aren’t a lot of points, they can offer a means to score with the low cost development cards (provided the developments are of the needed sets).
The Good – It’s an immensely enjoyable, light strategy card game. It’s a snap to learn yet offers just enough challenge in play. The collection of gem tokens from a limited supply and holding of key development cards adds a small facet of player interaction. The components are nice with cards of nice stock and hearty gem tokens. The artwork is tasteful and offers a colorful, classical look of the 15-16th century.
The Bad – Once a player lags behind, it can be hard to catch up. Some might also argue that the card strategy isn’t too deep either with a few considering it too light for their tastes. The box is rather roomy for the actual amount of components inside.
The Verdict – Splendor is an immensely enjoyable game. The 15 point total is just long enough to allow a player to amass enough developments to get that feel of a decent game engine going, while not lingering too long to make the play tiresome. There really aren’t any glaring faults to this game. It’s fast, simple, and engaging. It’s not pretentious. It’s just simple fun. Splendor is a wonderful family game and well worth picking up.
I wanted to pick up a route economy game. Looking around, I saw one based on the expansion of airlines in Europe during the 30s and 40s and found the theme a bit different from your typical railroad expansion game. Airlines Europe is a 2-5 player game from Rio Grande Games. You are an investor seeking to help young airline companies blossom as they slowly expand their routes across Europe. Hopefully you’ll see your investment in certain companies come to fruition, picking up stocks and strengthening your portfolio in key airlines.
Players try to get as many points as possible. During the game, 3 scoring tiles are placed into a stock supply deck. When they will turn over is not known exactly. Instead players know about 1/3 and 2/3’s into the the stock deck a scoring opportunity will pop up, with the final scoring being randomly mixed in with the last 10 stock tiles of the deck.
As airlines are invested in, establishing new routes, they increase in value constantly moving up a victory point tracker. At set increments, they will be worth a certain amount of points. The player with the most stocks of a particular airline in their public portfolio earns the most points. If players have at least some stock in a company, they will earn some points, but it pays to own the majority of stock for a particular airline.
The game has a varying number of airlines which start in certain cities. Players have the option of taking one action during their turn. They can invest cash into expanding a route between cities for a certain airline. This in turn allows them to pick up a stock from a limited pile (or take one unseen draw from the deck). They can take accumulated stocks in their hand and place it into their portfolio as another action (which also allows you to get cash from the bank). In essence they publicly declare what airlines they are investing in. Instead, as an action they can get money from the bank (which they’ll turn around use for investing in airline routes). Or lastly, they can turn in stocks they possess to pick up stocks for a special airline that is rapidly expanding worldwide.
Picking routes becomes a tricky business. There is a limited number of routes between cities, planes of each airline, and their stocks too. Once you claim a route, you cannot get a similar airline on the same one. Additionally, you always buy the cheapest route. Once you establish a route, the value of that airline goes up in the point tracker. Picking up routes early allows you to expand an airline rather cheap. It also can force other airlines that want to expand, having to buy the same route at a more expensive price. So there is a chance you can cut off opponents (or limit their level of investment) by judicious establishment of routes.
Another key part of the games is setting up your portfolio. The stocks you have in hand are not used for scoring. You have to put those into play, showing all the other players what airlines are in your portfolio. This becomes a bit of a bluffing game. Building up an airline takes a lot of cash. Having other players help is ideal. However you want to be sure you have the majority of stock in a company. If players see they are a minority stockholder, they will get points for an airline, but not as much so they might decide to invest in other airlines. Or worse, they race for gaining more shares to snatch away the majority. This really becomes a large part of the game, deciding what airlines to invest in, what stocks to pick up, and when to publicly declare what airlines you are investing in.
This last bit is another huge part of the game. You only have 3 scoring opportunities. Further, only stocks that are in your public portfolio are used to determine scoring. Stocks hidden in your hand don’t count. As you have one one action for your turn, you have to decide when to ‘go public’ and when to keep that information hidden.
Maybe you want to string along an opponent and help them build an airline. Maybe you want to be sure no one else is getting stocks for an airline you are interested in. Once you add those stocks to your portfolio the word is out on your interests, but if you hold onto those stocks for too long, you might miss an opportunity to get victory points. It can be a challenging decision and is an immensely enjoyable part of the game.
The Good – This is a fun route building game. Although the routes and number of airlines are static, the initial stocks you hold and what are available in the stock market are random and limited. You really don’t know what airline to invest in until you see your hand. Additionally, there is a special airline where players gain their stock by exchanging ones they hold. This airline can be worth a lot of points at the end of the game. Making it a valid goal trying to gain a majority with this special airline. All of this makes for a variety of strategies, making each game a little different.
The components are very nice, with a colorful board, plenty of plastic airline markers, and thick tokens for the stocks and victory points. The rule book is well written with plenty of examples.
The Bad – The random stock assignment and market might put off some people. You are trying to make the best of what’s available and wanted key stocks might simply not come up when needed. So some players might be put off by the random distribution of the market. This is especially true for the scoring. You will not exactly know exactly when scoring will take place. Some might find this frustrating if they managed to miss out on a scoring opportunity, and it can be very difficult to make up for a missed scoring turn.
While the components are pretty nice, the game does have paper money. That isn’t a huge ding, but having tokens or other markers might have been better. Paper money always seems to get a lot more wear and tear through multiple plays.
The Verdict – Airlines Europe is an enjoyable game. It plays just the right amount of time (clocking in just a bit over an hour) and keeps everyone engaged throughout the game. The random stock assignment means you have to be flexible with your initial strategies. The hidden accumulation of stocks, along with the public declaration of your stock portfolio (and what companies you have a majority in), makes for a great bluffing game. Shrewd planning and investment of routes, coupled with grabbing up cheap routes and stocks to curtail an opponent’s expansion evokes that feeling you are an investor slowly helping expand airline service across Europe.
This really is a fun route economy game which veers away from your typical railroad theme. It also works very well as a family game too. There is a small twist to a 2 player game where discarded stocks are thrown into a dummy hand. This can shake up the shareholder leaders for certain airlines that adds some unknown factors to victory conditions for 2 players. All in all, it scales well with many players. I highly recommend Airlines Europe.
Castle Panic is a semi-cooperative game from Fireside Games for 1 to 6 players (yup, it can be played solo). You each play stalwart defenders of a castle trying to organize your defenses as goblins, trolls, and rampaging orcs lay siege to it.
Play revolves around a person drawing and trading cards, attacking monsters on the board, and then randomly adding additional monsters. The game ends in a victory with the players killing all the monsters, while a group loss results if all the inner tower sections are destroyed.
The game board has a series of concentric rings representing different range bands for specific cards (archers attack in the furthest, knights in the middle, and swordsmen in the innermost circle). Additionally the board is split into three different color sections. So a red archer can only attack the outer ring in the red section. Got a pesky goblin in the green section? Tough luck.
After drawing and trading a player attempts to destroy as many monsters as possible. Each card played will do one damage to a creature. While goblins are easily dispatched with one hit, orcs and trolls take a few more attacks to drop. If a monster is destroyed, it’s taken by the player that killed it.
After a player makes all their attacks, monsters on the board move closer by one space. Hitting an outer wall of the castle inflicts damage to the monster, but also removes that wall. If monsters are inside the castle courtyard, they destroy a tower section instead. If monsters remain alive inside the courtyard and are required to move, they move clockwise one section, destroying another tower section.
Players have very few options to destroy monsters once they reach the courtyard, relying solely on rare heroic cards that can dispatch these beasts. This makes for a frantic time as all the players are trying to wipe out as many as creatures as can and try to predict where monsters will be on future turns. Every player turn, monsters move closer in and more are added to the board. Throw in special monsters that heal creatures, ones that allow current baddies on the board a free move, to tokens that rotate each monster one section over, you end up with a frantic race against an ever encroaching horde of creatures.
As I mentioned the game is semi-cooperative. Players keep the monsters they killed. If they survive the onslaught, the player with the most monsters slain wins the game. This is a nifty aspect of the game as you are trying to ensure the survival of the tower so everyone doesn’t lose, all the while judiciously handing out cards to make sure you are slay the biggest creatures awarding the most points. It’s a very optional part of the game, but one I found enjoyable allowing for a little competition in what could also be a very cooperative game.
The Good –This is a fun and engaging game. There is plenty of player interaction as you are constantly bartering for cards. The mechanics are simple and easy to grasp, but still has an interesting puzzle aspect as you are continually seeing the optimal cards to play and trade as you tackle certain monsters and try to predict where others will be on later turns. The added individual victory condition of killing the most monsters is also a nice touch (which can be easily dropped if looking for a true cooperative game).
The components are colorful and the castle being represented by actual standing cardboard sections is a nice touch. The monster tokens are thick cardstock and the entire means of recording damage by simply rotating the triangular token is a great idea. All of this adds to a tactile experience playing the game, and allows for easy bookkeeping.
The Bad – The game can be very unforgiving if you get a bad turn and poor luck can be an issue. While there is strategy and a need to plan for future turns, there are enough wildcards in the game to throw everything into a chaotic mess. You can lose this game through bad luck which can rub some people the wrong way.
Also while the tokens and board were very sturdy, I found the card stock of the cards lacking. An accidental spill on the table for me resulted in some cards almost disintegrating. So the component quality is a bit of a mixed bag.
The Verdict – Castle Panic is great and doubles as a wonderful family game. It provides a frantic play experience as you continually go through a roller coaster where you think everyone has a handle on the incoming monsters, only to experience sheer panic as things suddenly spiral out of control. The rules provide some different variations to make the game easier or harder, including an option of pitting one player as an evil overlord fighting against everyone else.
It can accommodate quite a few players, and also be run as a light solo game. The turns move rather quickly and trading also helps in reducing downtime between turns, keeping everyone engaged in the game. It’s a light, family friendly game which can be challenging for adults. Definitely one to add to your collection and a keeper if you have kids (or plenty of pals in the mood for a beer and pretzel game).
Currently on Kickstarter Stack and Attack is a small deck-building game from Egra Games. For 2-4 players, this game has the players as cavemen from the past trying to appease their primal gods by stacking the highest pile of rocks possible. Each tribe is trying to gain the favor over other tribes. So rather than just focusing on building the largest shrine, why not hurl a few rocks and knock theirs down instead? What results is an all out war of hurling rocks while trying to frantically build up your own tribe’s shrine.
Players each start out with a similar deck of cards representing rocks of different sizes and shapes. During their turn they have up to 4 action ‘points’ to spend on either stacking cards from their hand onto their pile, adding cards from a common pool into their deck, or attacking another opponent’s pile of rocks. Each task requires a number of actions with larger rock cards requiring more points. Each rock type has different defense and attack values. Further, rocks of a certain size can only be placed so high in the stack. The further you get your pile up, the less chance you can put the larger, more sturdy, rocks into your pile.
When attacking, a player picks a rock out from their hand and targets a specific rock in their opponent’s pile. The players then have the option to draw additional cards from their decks to add to attack or defense values. The player with the highest total (attack vs defense) wins the round. The defender not only counts the defense value of their targeted rock, but also all the rocks stacked on top of it. So as a player gets their rock pile stacked up, the base of their rock tower is much sturdier.
If the attack is successful, the thrown card and the targeted card are discarded from the game. That precarious pile of rocks above the targeted rock? Well they go tumbling down back into the defender’s deck. However, if the attack is not successful the attacker passes their thrown rock over and the defender gets to add it to their deck.
Aside from throwing rocks, about a quarter of the deck are various effect cards. They do relatively simple bonuses like add to attack/defense values, or allow more actions to be taken during a round, to even boomerang rocks that return to the player’s discard pile (regardless of the outcome of the attack). It’s a nice addition to give some variation to the basic rock types. At the end of the player’s turn, they shuffle their hand into their deck and draw a new hand of 3 cards, allowing them to pick up any rock cards they bought from the common pool for use on their future turn.
At the heart of the game is a choice of either attacking your opponent, or trying to build up your pile. As you pile up rocks, not only are you increasing your victory point score, but you also get bonuses action points and can have a larger hand. Heavier, more potent throwing rocks, can’t reach higher stacked rocks in a pile. Also as a player not only takes into account the defense of their targeted rock, but all the rocks stacked on top of it, you might very well get a foundation of immovable rocks. So each player is in a race to get their stack as high as possible and as quickly as possible.
Due to the stacked defense bonus, it can be exceedingly difficult to knock over a key rock in an opponent’s pile. To prevent that you might have to attack a certain rock in your opponent’s stack before it gets too big. All the while, you might end up with cards you can’t use (some big rocks cannot be thrown or stacked within a pile at a certain point). So you might have to try and either attack while you can, or even pick up needed rocks from the common pool. In the end, it’s pretty interesting management of actions during your turn.
When cards are purchased from a common pool, they are immediately replenished from the game supply. As rocks are being thrown about, they are discarded from the game. So eventually you will be running out of cards due to crushed rocks lost in attacks. When that happens the game ends. The player with the highest stack of rocks on their scoring track wins the game.
It seems a fun, light strategy game with a cute theme. There is a decent variety of cards, where not only are they small, medium, and big rocks, but also being either flat or round offering different attack and defensive values. It’s made their target funding for the game with a few weeks more until the campaign is over. You might want to check it out if looking for an enjoyable card game.
Stone Age is a worker placement game for 2-4 players from Rio Grande Games. It has an interesting theme as you are a chief during prehistoric times, trying to ensure your tribe’s survival and success over other neighboring groups within an expansive valley.
Players try to complete buildings and accumulate civilization cards, scoring points as they do so. When the supply of building or civilization cards is exhausted, the game ends with the player having the highest point total being the winner.
Play rotates with each player assigning various members of their tribe to different areas within the valley. It’s a worker placement game with limited open spots for each area and is competitive. Once all the spots are claimed, no one else can put workers in that area.
Some areas produce resources, some gain civilization or building cards (for victory points), and others allow you to gain extra workers. Some are open to having a few different tribes working an area, however most are painfully restricted to just a few workers from a single tribe. While each area can hold a finite number, the only exception is the hunting grounds where all excess tribe members can go hunt (at least allowing some potential food resources to be earned).
Resources are primarily gained by dice rolls, with the total divided by a specific number that varies depending on the goods being produced (the lower the number, the easier it is to produce). Players roll dice equivalent to the number of assigned workers, so the more people in an area, the more likely goods will be produced. The dice total is rounded down with excess numbers being ‘lost’.
The workaround for this is having a supply of tools. Tools can be used to add to the dice total, allowing for an extra good to be produced. Tools themselves need to be produced by assigning workers (which in turn take them away from producing goods, erecting buildings, or gathering food).
At the end of each turn, players must feed their tribe. Hopefully, between gaining civilization/building tiles, actively hunting, or by some farming there is enough food on hand to feed everyone. If not, resources are given up in place of food, and if that is not enough players are docked victory points. You must feed your people every turn and increases in population mean more food is required.
Farming is a slow process, and you are not guaranteed a spot to assign workers each turn to increase your food production. Hunting can earn food fairly easily, but that means you are diverting workers from other resource gathering tasks. Players soon find themselves in a balancing act trying to gain resources and points, all the while ensuring they have enough food from turn to turn.
The Good – It’s an entertaining worker placement game with a different theme. There are some hard choices to be made and players will always find themselves with not enough people to do what they want. The added wrinkle is that other players can easily lock out other players from prime tasks for a turn. All the while, food stocks are slowly being used up, creating another pressure of having enough food for everyone each turn.
The components are very nice, with thick card stock tiles and nice resource components. The artwork is colorful and captures the theme quite well. The overall design of many of the civilization and building cards are well done, with the use of symbols being a prominent feature over text.
The Bad – At the heart of Stone Ages is it can be worker placement game at it’s worst. Players can lock down locations or building/civilization cards without the resources needed to claim them (and no penalty if doing so), effectively cutting off other players just because they can.
My biggest complaint are the civilization cards. These are used for massive point scoring at the end of the game and need to be collected in sets. While I don’t mind the huge bonus victory points that can be earned during the endgame, the scoring conditions can be cryptic at times. Each civilization card has a lot of symbols and it can be difficult to easily decipher them. As they are so critical to scoring points, it can be frustrating for new players to figure them out.
The Verdict – A few years ago I would highly recommend this game. It’s challenging, requires a fair amount of planning, and has a different theme from most of the other worker placement games out there. However there have been quite a few releases over the years that are a bit more streamlined in play.
The ding in rating this game for me are the civilization cards. I don’t play this game frequently enough, and it is always a slight learning curve to work out the sets and determine how many victory points are awarded. As this can make or break your game, you really need to plan out what civilization card sets to work on early in the game. Since it is so important, it seems that it’s glossed over a bit in the rules. I really wish that Rio Grande bit the bullet and printed out a single color page, detailing how to score these cards more.
Despite this, Stone Age is a fun and challenging game. If you haven’t delved too deeply into worker placement games, it’s a nice buy and a great family game. However, if you have a few worker placement games in your collection, I would be hard pressed to suggest picking this up. It doesn’t have much that stands out from other games as most of it is about locking out other players and working on sets of cards for scoring. I think there are some other similar-mechanic games that do it a bit better and are more entertaining (Kingsburg as an example). Stone Age is a fun game, but think twice if you’ve got a few worker placement games on your shelf.
Who doesn’t want to play a giant monster rampaging through a city, duking it out to be the King of Tokyo, and Iello games allows you to do just that.
A competitive game for 2-6 players, each person plays a giant monster laying waste to either the city before them or each other to claim victory. Play centers around a Yahtzee mechanic, where players spend their turn rolling a pool of dice, selecting those to keep and which to reroll. After three rolls players either score points, inflict damage to other monsters, heal themselves, or gain energy which they can spend on special abilities. The first to 20 victory points (or the last monster standing) wins the game.
Smashing other monsters requires a player to step up and become King of Tokyo. The lone monster inside Tokyo gains victory points for each turn they remain there. They cannot heal themselves, and all attacks from other players are directed towards them. On the flip side, all damage caused by the King of Tokyo monster is inflicted on all the other players.
The game plays out like a variant of king of the hill. It’s very tough to remain the King of Tokyo for long. However the constant earning of victory points and ability to do tons of damage to other players encourages people to push their luck, and try to stick it out for just one more turn. On the flipside, you become everyone’s beating post and can only heal up if you step down from Tokyo, lick your wounds, and try to take the spotlight again on a later turn.
Players can (and will) be eliminated. It’s a classic beatdown on the leader until a new monster steps up to take over. And each turn a player will typically juggle with either trying to eek out a few victory points, or smash the King of Tokyo (or other players if you are the current King). What works for this game is the extra twist of special abilities and the small economy mechanic of spending energy.
Players can also focus on gaining energy when they roll their dice. This allows them to buy special powers from a pool of face up cards which are either one shot powers, or permanent bonuses. They do a variety of abilities, from being able to heal while in Tokyo, to inflicting more damage, to even earning additional victory points. It’s this small addition of the power cards that gives the game an additional push from being a simplistic elimination game to allowing for room of some strategic choices.
The Good – It’s a fun, light-hearted, competitive game with simple rules. Surprisingly players have a lot of choices during their turn, with a lot of direct interaction and the ability to snag up particular power cards before their opponent. There are a variety of paths to victory. Allowing a player to focus on victory points, smashing other players to bits, or a little of each. The components are nice and bulky, and the artwork is colorful and whimsical.
The Bad – This is not a heavy strategy game. It’s a push your luck game that can be heavily influenced by good (or bad) dice rolls. While it has an interesting theme, it’s not too heavily draped in it with the mechanics. You aren’t really smashing through a section of the city and everything is represented as very abstract points earned through dice rolling. So it may not quite have that ‘Rampage’ feel that some might expect. While you can play with 2 players, the game can be lackluster with so few people.
The Verdict – King of Tokyo is a light, monster smash game that is short enough with just the right amount of complexity. You aren’t going to have a complete game night revolving around this game. You will however easily have 2-3 quick bouts to see who is the toughest monster on the block as you gleefully tear into each other, picking up special powers, and laying waste to the city of Tokyo.
It’s a great, light, filler game, that is quick and enjoyable. While some might be put off by the elimination aspect of the game, it’s has just the right game length to not make it an issue. The simplistic rules are also a plus. Highlighting the fun, quirky theme of the game, with surprisingly enough choices and interaction to make the game worthwhile playing. A great game to add to anyone’s collection and a decent family game to boot.
For the game night blog carnival this month I’ll be reviewing Kingsburg from Fantasy Flight games. It’s a 2-5 player worker placement game, with enough twists to set it apart from other games with a similar themed mechanic. It’s been seeing quite a bit on my table recently, mostly due to the engaging play and how it handles worker placement.
Players are governors for various towns under the command of a king. Their goal is to be the most prosperous governor, outshining the others after 5 years. This is typically done by completing the construction of different buildings within their respective towns.
Each turn players roll 3 dice and place them on various sections of the board, representing the king’s court. Once a section is claimed, that player has the ear of a specific advisor, and no one else that round can ask for favors from that member of the king’s court. Each member of the king’s court offers resources (or other bonuses like troops and victory points) that can be used to construct buildings.
Players take turns assigning their dice until either all available spots are claimed, or they have no dice left. This can make for some very cut throat play where you choose to shut out one player, and use your last die for a lower member of the king’s court. The conundrum is the higher die totals will yield more aid from the royal court. But this can mean you are allowing other players to get resources from lower ranking court members. So the player is constantly thinking whether to use all their influence for a single advisor, or try to block out other players. It’s a fun way to handle worker placement.
Resources gained (wood, stone, and gold) can be spent to build one construction for the town. Each type of building is on a progressive track, where previous buildings must be made first. All the town buildings have some special function and earn victory points. There are definitely some interesting combinations between them, and as players progress up the building tracks, more and more powerful abilities become available.
One particular element I like about Kingsburg is there are plenty of opportunities to catch up if you lag behind during a certain year. Small consolidations are given to the player with the least amount of resources and buildings. The player with the lowest number of buildings always gets to influence the court first. During the middle of the year, they can also get an opportunity to construct 2 buildings, or gain favor from a court advisor that has already been influenced from another player. Not to mention every member of the royal court can offer something useful to the player, even the lower ranking ones (just that higher numbered court advisors are more powerful). It’s a nice way to keep everyone in the game.
Now, what I’ve described is a pretty standard worker placement/building type game. It’s pretty fun, but ho hum as you’d expect this from just about a dozen other games. Fortunately Kingsburg has a twist to the game play. Monsters.
Each year, you have a random monster threatening to rampage through the realm. And every year the threats become more powerful. As governors for various towns, not only are you scrambling to construct more efficient buildings, you also have to worry about the town defense. While fortifications might help with defending the town, they don’t offer the larger game bonuses of other non-military buildings.
Players that soundly defeat the monsters, and have large standing militias at the end of the year do get victory points. But that is fleeting as those militia forces disperse at the year’s end and have to be recruited again. Doing nothing likely means the loss of resources, or the destruction of buildings. So that monster threat can’t be ignored completely.
Another tweak is you have a rough idea of the monster strength coming at the end of the year, but won’t know the exact amount or the type of threat until they attack. Some fortifications are ideal against certain monsters (like a palisade against goblins, or a chapel against zombies), while not offering much protection against others. There is a way to gain some divination and see the approaching threat, but that usually means diverting needed influence for resources towards a court member that offers less rewards/resources. Without that knowledge you’ll likely over defend yourself, further diverting needed resources from construction (or worse, not be able to muster enough defense against the rampaging creatures).
The Good – It’s a light, approachable worker placement game that has enough strategy to making it engaging. You have to balance a lot of things during the game year. You have to try and develop your town, at the same time making sure you have enough forces to defend it at the end of the year. And all of this makes for interesting choices on which royal court members you will influence. At the same time, other players are doing the same thing and may prevent you from gaining that ear of a particular court member. The components are nice with beefy counters and nice wooden blocks. The artwork is whimsical and captures the fun medieval theme well.
The Bad – With repeated play, I can see some set strategies creep in. This is especially prevalent with 2 players. It becomes a bit easier to work towards a winning town building combination. The random monster threat helps counter this a bit. However I think the game really shines with at least 3 players, as you really feel the bite of not being able to court the royal advisor you want. As the 2 player game does this by randomly removing particular advisors each season, it still doesn’t beat having a 3rd or 4th player actively selecting advisors.
While there are stopgaps in the game to prevent a player from falling too far behind, this can happen (especially with the victory points). It’s more of a problem mid-game. If a player gets hit by a monster, they can lose a lot. Combined with poor dice rolls for a few seasons, they can really fall behind and not be able to climb back up. It can be a bit of a downer of having the game effectively end for them in the middle of play.
I’ll also add that while I enjoy all the choices and strategic possibilities, this can lead to some serious analysis paralysis. Be prepared to offer lots of advice to players to keep the game moving.
The Verdict – Kingsburg is great and one of my favorite worker placement games. It avoids a lot of the fiddly, worker drone shuffling of other games, replacing it with a simple dice roll. You have that feeling of progression as you slowly build up your town. The interaction with other players is there, as your choices (and theirs) have a direct impact on the play from turn to turn. All of this construction is under the shadow of a looming threat that will come at the end of every year, with each creature being randomly chosen from a small set of cards (adding some game-to-game variation).
I highly recommend this game. It’s approachable for relatively new gamers and has enough meat in the rules and play to keep a more seasoned board gamer interested. It handles a broad number of players well, with the 2 player game being as much fun as a 5 player one. This is a great game to have in your collection.
Normally I would pass on something like Forbidden Island if I saw it in a store. This is from Gamewright, a publisher of kid friendly games, and I think the packaging definitely echoes that feel. I’m glad that I went ahead with my purchase though as I would have missed out on a very fun cooperative game.
The game is for 2-4 players, each playing a specific team member on an expedition to a mysterious island. The island is sinking, and the players have a limited amount of time to explore the island, retrieve treasures, and get back to the awaiting helicopter to escape before the island is submerged for good.
This is all represented by tiles that are randomly placed at the beginning of the game. On a player’s turn they can take a number of actions. They then draw from an action card deck which could be treasure cards, special bonus actions, or a limited number of water rising cards. A player completes their turn playing flood cards. There is a tracker that represents the amount of flood cards that are drawn each turn. As each tile card is drawn, they flip that tile over to represent it flooding. If a flooded location is drawn again, that tile section of the island sinks and is removed from the game along with any players that happen to be stuck on it (and if this happens everybody loses).
The objective is to obtain sets of cards for specific treasures and turn in those sets on the appropriate tile. After all 4 treasures are collected, the players have to return to the helicopter landing pad to escape safely. Each turn a player will find themselves trying to manage being on the right tile to trade away cards with other players, or shoring up key tile locations to keep them from sinking, all the while making sure they don’t end up on a location that will sink completely.
As the game plays players will draw water rising cards, increasing the number of cards drawn each turn as the tracker is moved up a notch. In addition the flood cards all ready drawn are shuffled back into the deck, increasing the likelihood that section of land will be subject to future flooding. This can make for some tense decisions as players balance making a run to get a treasure (or pass off cards to allow another to get it), while still keeping certain tiles from sinking.
This isn’t a deep strategy game. However it is fairly challenging and I like how it is an ‘everyone wins, or we all lose’ type of scenario. Everyone has to work together and most will find their turns being a bit of discussion with other players about the best plan of action. I like that each player gets a random team role that gives them a unique ability (effectively breaking some of the rules). As each player can do a special action, this adds a little difference to each game and gives players more options on their turn.
I also like that you can begin the game with a higher flood level. This in turn, ramps up the difficulty as you have less time and really have to plan out your turns efficiently. Combined with a fairly random island layout, and playing 1 of 5 different team roles, you can get a lot of replay out of the game.
The Good – Random layout, and different random player roles adds some variety to the game. Additionally, you can tailor the game to make it a bit easier or more difficult, allowing different groups to play and have fun. This is something refreshing when trying to play the same game with children or just adults. The components are very nice, with thick stock tiles, and solid-backed cards. The plastic treasure and player tokens are also beefy and can be handled easily (no little token bits here). The colored artwork is nice and plays to the theme well. The rules are well written and easy to follow.
The Bad – It is a random game. You won’t be able to plan out a grand strategy here. Basically your turn is a puzzle as you try to be the most efficient with your limited actions. Some of the player roles are situational and not all may be as useful as others (I’m looking at you Mr. Diver). While you can ramp up the difficulty, I’m sure with the right cards and groups that can quickly analyze and predict future sinking tiles, the game can be pretty easy to play. Additionally, it is a cooperative game. Some players might have more fun with griefing other players than with trying to contribute and win the game.
The Verdict – Forbidden Island is a fun, light strategy game. It captures the right amount of tension and player interaction. I think it would work with young children and still be a challenge to adults. It is packaged well with handsome components. Not to mention the price is just right for a game like this, being about $10-$15 USD. It is a fun cooperative game. Something I think would resonate very well with folks wanting to play games with their kids.
A very family friendly game, priced very reasonable. I’d say pick it up and look forward to exploring this mysterious island. Just don’t forget to ‘Get To Da Choppa!’
I remember playing board games as a kid. I had a slew of Parker Brothers games (Monopoly, Clue, Sorry, etc.) that I played regularly. Looking back at those classic family games, I realize now how horrible some of them were playing together as a family. Something I will not be repeating with my kids.
One thing that stands out in Monopoly and Risk (two old past favorites of mine) is that each game revolves around the elimination of other players to win. Now I am simply boggled by the game concept where the losers are dropped sequentially and forced to wait around until the winner is decided. As a family game, I just don’t see this as fun. Winning and losing is part of playing a game. I’m all for teaching that idea to kids, but dragging out the process forcing them to become spectators while the winner is slowly decided is not fun. Now that I’m older and thinking of playing games with my kids, I’ll be making sure these four games are regulars in my lineup:
Carcassonne – You place tiles to slowly expand cities and roads, filling up the country side. All the while you place followers (or meeples) to score points on completed features. It’s fun, has simple rules, and is surprisingly strategic. My niece loves this game, and the adults I’ve played with have really enjoyed it too. Play is fast and definitely has that draw to play ‘just one more game’ to it.
Apples to Apples Kids – The adult version is a hoot and an excellent party game, but I got tired of trying to describe who Maryln Monroe or Dr. Jack Kevorkian was. The Kid edition is a great fit. Players try to secretly match adjective cards in their hand with a specific noun. Rotating as a judge, a player will pick which one seems to be the best fit. If your card is picked you score a point. Another simple game that is fast moving. The only downside is you need at least 3 players, with more definitely making a better game.
Settlers of Catan – This will be my replacement for monopoly. Plenty of info can be found on this game. As a quick description, you play a settler on a new island and must engage in barter and trade to further build settlements. The first player that builds the most wins. It is a resource management game that requires interaction with other players. And more importantly as a family game, everybody is in until the end. The hexagonal board pieces also make for a different game each time.
Risk 2210 – What better game to seed my children with thoughts of world domination. A fun light war game. The combat mechanics are very similar to that of risk. There is a small economy portion. Plenty of luck with the addition of power cards. Lots of different territories to control, defend, and attack (water, land, and the moon). Three territories are randomly removed from the start for each game, effectively becoming natural barriers, thwarting a wrench in specific map strategies (like turtling up in Australia).
Two important points I love about this as a family game. There is a 5 turn limit. You have to get moving quickly as there is limited time to set plans in motion. Say goodbye to the all-nighter risk game. Also, there is no bonus for eliminating a player. Yes, you can wipe out a fellow player from the game but there is no incentive for doing so. In the original game of risk, it is a main strategy to eliminate players in order to get their territory cards. Fortunately this rule is removed from 2210.
This is a short list of games I think are a bit more family oriented and will be playing with my kids. What are your favorites?