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Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Family Games - A Gamer's Guide to Giving Gifts

And so we return once more to the most popular genre of games at this time of year, Family Games. Nothing gets families together better than a good board game and we've got six great titles for you here. See something you like? Just click on the title and you'll be whisked away to somewhere you can buy it. Right, on with the show, it's time for a Gamer's Guide to Giving Gifts - Family Edition.

Chris’ Picks

When making my picks I looked for games that I've played with my family this year that offer a different and interesting experience than the usual fair. Hopefully the uniqueness of these titles will pique your interest and entertain your families this holiday season.

Karuba - Haba

Karuba is an interesting racing game where players compete to reach four temples and claim the four treasures within. To do so the players are laying path tiles to connect their four meeples to the four corresponding temples, or discarding tiles to move their adventurers along the paths. The trick here is that all the players play the same tile at the same time. The player with the most points in treasures and gems at the end of the game wins. This is a fun little racing game that is easy to play and easy to teach with just a sprinkling of an Indiana Jones theme.

Mike Says - I’m thoroughly annoyed at Chris that he thought of this and not me. Really quick to play has some top drawer components and its a really cool game with a great theme. A hundred times better than anything your find on the shelves of your local Toys R Us.

Editorial Note: Karuba is currently out of stock with Gameslore so I'm dropping in an alternate suggestion here: Terra/America both of these games use the same mechanism. They are trivia games where you have to guess various statistics. In Terra the trivia is more general, the Journey of Marco Polo or the Easter Island Heads. In America the questions are tailored to american culture, such as pop songs and corn dogs. You don't have to know the exact answers, you just have to be close. Lots of fun and easy to learn and teach. 

Flash Point Fire Rescue - Indie Boards & Cards

Christmas is a time for families and nothing brings people together better than a good cooperative game. In Flash Point the players take on the roles of Fire Fighters attempting to rescue helpless victims from a blazing inferno. The game may be no looker with its simplistic art style, but it has a lot of heart. The base game comes with a large variety of roles to keep things interesting, two different maps for a different challenge, plus a set of family rules and optional expert rules to really shake up the difficulty. However where Flash Point really shines is in the plethora of expansions available for the game. The inexpensive Map Pack expansions add two new boards and a whole host of new challenges. Dangerous Waters places you on a submarine limiting your access to the fire engine and ambulance, while Honor and Duty has an exploding plane or a cramped subway station. Whichever map you choose the game is full of tense moments but simple moves and easy choices.

Mike Says - I’ll come clean and say I’ve never played this. Its essentially Pandemic but with Fireman Sam or probably to make it cooler if Pandemic is Outbreak than this is Backdraught now everyone wants to be Kurt Russell well now you can be. And obviously you can rescue a puppy in this from a burning building and who doesn't want to do that while being Kurt Russell. Thought not.

Paperback - Tim Fowers

Scrabble may be sat at the back of the shelf gathering dust as the Ticket to Rides and the Pandemics of the world take over the gaming spotlight, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any good word games out there in the modern gaming world. My final pick then is Paperback, a deckbuilding word game. Simply spell a word using the letters in your hand and a common shared letter on the table. Add up your points for the word and use them to buy new letters that go into your deck. Rinse and Repeat building bigger and better words and using your points to acquire new letters or victory point cards. Once two stacks of Victory Point cards are gone the game ends and the player with the most points wins. Paperback doesn’t require you to be a great wordsmith, most of the time you will only be able to play a six letter word, so it’s accessible for all players. The deckbuilding aspect adds a layer of strategy. The game plays fast and is fun with all player counts from two to five.

Mike Says - This is such a cool mix of game mechanics and ideas and the mash up of deck building and word game is very cool. It's a little bit more on the edge of hobby game for me as it does include quite a lot of gamerly bits and will require the full attention of all participants when you teach it. Definitely one for the fartys to enjoy whilst the younglings are busily building Lego sets.

Mike's Picks

OK anything but bloody sodding Monopoly or any of the other mass market drivel that's had the latest hot new cartoon/movie slapped on it was basically my mantra on this. These should be games that get the clan around the table not only enjoying each other's company but also discovering just how gosh darn cool our hobby actually is when the word Hasbro isn't on the box.

Pandemic Legacy - Z-Man Games

There was no way I couldn't stick this on the list, I’ve recently picked up a second copy to play through with the family. Pandemic is a great introduction to our hobby and was a big hit with my clan, but with the added legacy, oh my! The legacy element turns this into the equivalent of a Netflix thriller with its breathtaking twists and turns of the plot and with the slowly uncovering mysteries in each of the legacy boxes it's like a little christmas morning every time you play. Love this, roll on season 2 next year.

Chris Says - “Vanilla” Pandemic is a great game and I hear the Legacy element is just the icing on the cake. *Adds to cart*

Survive Escape from Atlantis - Stronghold Games

This evergreen classic is just distilled tabletop fun, race to see who can get they’re meeples off the sinking island to safety first all the while setting sharks, sea monsters and mischief on your opponents. Its fast, its great with any age group and never disappoints.

Chris Says - Clearly Mike doesn't want to speak to any of his relatives come Boxing Day because Survive is one of the most cutthroat games I've ever played! Don't get me wrong, it's great but underneath that cutesy exterior lies a game that will unleash your inner monster!

Waggle Dance - Grublin Games

This is a cheery bit of fun that involves dice chucking and worker placement. Play as a colony of busy little bee’s as you build your hive and race to harvest pollen from the flowers. Its got a unique and cutesy theme wonderfully colourful components and should sit proudly on any gaming family's shelf this season.

Chris Says - Not played this one but beautiful graphics, worker placement and great British design… I'm in!

Gamers Games

About the Authors

Chris Bowler is the lead author at Unboxed The Board Game Blog and The Duke of the Blood Keep. He also runs the UK Gaming Media Network and in his spare time he likes to… yeah… like he gets spare time!

Gaming since birth Chris enjoys a vast collection of Board, Card, Miniature and Role-Playing games, with eclectic taste in both Style and Theme.

Mike B is the founder of Who Dares Rolls, Host of the sporadic Who Dares Rolls Podcast that nobody listens too and occasionally produces videos on the WDR You Tube channel that nobody watches.

Mike displays almost no taste or appreciation of the finer points of game design despite this potentially debilitating personality defect he continues to critique board games.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Party Games - A Gamer's Guide to Giving Gifts

And so Mike B and I continue our Christmassy Themed jaunt through a list of our favourite games as we plunge into A Gamer's Guide to Giving Gifts - Party Games. See something you like? Then click on the title to visit a page where you can buy it.

Chris’ Picks

As I'm now in my thirties my parties are no longer the fifty-person-frat-house-kegers they once were so my choices here are games I've found work with six to ten good friends and a nice glass of wine.

Jumping on the rather overloaded band wagon here but I’ve had a great deal of success with Codenames. It’s a simple premise, there are two teams, each composed of a Spymaster and a group of spies. The Spymaster knows the location of his own agents and the enemy agents as well as the dangerous assassin. By giving single word clues to his spies the Spymaster must get his spies to reveal all the agents of their colour before the opposing team without uncovering the assassin.

The game can be a little bit thinky but it’s a good laugh, offers a nice mix of strategy and fun and a, sometimes disturbing, insight into the way your friends brains make word associations. Codenames was named Game of the Year for very good reasons so make sure to check it out.

Mike Says - Codenames or Vlaada Chvatils pension fund, whatever your thoughts it can’t be denied this thing is a juggernaught. Aside from this being on every list I held off on this one purely as it can sometimes be a bit of a quiet thinky affair. There’s also the fact that I want to appear hip and trendy so I’m going to diss it because that obviously makes me sooo cool. It also now comes with pictures or if you can find it rude words.

Absolute Balderdash - Drumond Park

If there is one party game I can’t stand it’s Cards Against Humanity! Now, if you have a friend who cannot resist subjecting you to this “activity” (It’s not a game, it’s like a colouring sheet for a racist toddler) then perhaps you might want to suggest a fun alternative. Balderdash has been around for decades, starting out as a Call My Bluff style game where the players wrote false definitions for obscure words hoping the other players would guess their definition not the real one.

Now Balderdash features a variety of categories including acronyms, dates and movie titles. Each round is full of laughter and creativity and sometimes the unbelievable answer is just so bizarre that it could actually be true. The best part of Balderdash though is that you can pick it up in almost any charity shop for next to nothing. Go buy it now, you won’t regret it!

Mike Says - This game should really be called Bullshit! Or maybe Bullshit champion. Gather your friends around and find out who's the most competent purveyor of bovine excrement, lots of fun although it can go on a bit it does have plenty of options for belly laughs and gasp out loud moments. I once convinced my sister in law that a word was used to measure the distance travelled by mice in laboratory mazes. Never play this with Politicians or Tabloid Journalists obviously.

If you want a little more game to your party games then the Resistance is a great choice. The players form two teams, the Resistance or the Corporation. The Corporate Spies have infiltrated the Resistance and they know each other, but the Resistance players aren’t sure who to trust.

Each round a player becomes the team leader and must pick a certain number of players to send on a mission. If the mission succeeds, then YAY, however if it fails then someone on the team must be a Corporate Spy. Routing out the spies is the meat of this game, it’s tense social deduction with a healthy dose of deception and backstabbing. Each play takes less than half an hour and the rules are incredibly simple. It plays up to ten and really is a lot of tense and exciting fun.   

Mike Says - If you have enough people and in this case the more the merrier then the resistance is a hoot, although it's not so much fun as it is screaming match of finger pointing inevitable betrayals and loathing. So this year skip the Eastenders Christmas special and just live it around your dining table. I’d also add Secret Hitler to the mix if you fancy a bit more Nazi after the Christmas showing of Raiders of the Lost Ark.     

Mike’s Picks

Party games this is such a tricky prospect, for me they should be light on rules and do the job of getting everyone laughing and mucking about. If you can throw in a cool wow factor of a shiny toy or some other knick nack all the better and I’d be lying if Cash and Guns wasn't on this list for a long time. I went for some stuff that's probably not on most Party lists this year just to spread the love around abit. Obviously Chris couldn't control himself and went with bloody codenames.



Just the absolute perfect party game. Its chinese whispers with wipe clean books, everyone starts with a word does a drawing of it and passes the book to the player to your right. They look at your picture write what they think it is and passes the book on and so it goes. Having no artistic ability actually improves this game it's a guaranteed hilarious hit in whatever group you play. Bloody love this one.

Chris Says - Drawing games can be a mixed bag at a party but as Telestrations practically encourages you to draw badly I can see this one doing well.


This one nearly hit my stocking fillers list but as that’s stuffed full it’s going here. Part dexterity and push your luck players build a card tower that has to support the little wooden Rhino Hero Meeple. It's a Haba game so has great components any age can enjoy and it does what I want my party games to do have everyone cracking up and jeering at each other.

Chris Says - There are many dexterity games that can take pride of place at your parties this Christmas but there's only one that features a brightly coloured Rhino dressed as a superhero and as this game comes in under £10 it's really a steal.


Nothing really to do with Poker at all, it's all about bluffing everyone else and making them collect Stink Bugs, Toads and other assorted critters. It's stupid, fast and again just silly silly fun. We have found the game is massively enhanced by the use of terrible Mexican accents (no I don't remember where this originated but just the joy of declaring cockaroach in a bad accent doubles the fun).

Chris Says - erm… Okay Mike. Sounds like Mr Barnes enjoys a drink or two at his parties. Can't say that this is one that I've crossed paths with so you'll just have to trust to Mike's… erm… good judgement!

Family Games

About the Authors

Chris Bowler is the lead author at Unboxed The Board Game Blog and The Duke of the Blood Keep. He also runs the UK Gaming Media Network and in his spare time he likes to… yeah… like he gets spare time!

Gaming since birth Chris enjoys a vast collection of Board, Card, Miniature and Role-Playing games, with eclectic taste in both Style and Theme.

Mike B is the founder of Who Dares Rolls, Host of the sporadic Who Dares Rolls Podcast that nobody listens too and occasionally produces videos on the WDR You Tube channel that nobody watches.

Mike displays almost no taste or appreciation of the finer points of game design despite this potentially debilitating personality defect he continues to critique board games.

Monday, 28 November 2016

Stocking Fillers - A Gamer's Guide to Giving Gifts

So this year Mike Barnes of Who Dares Rolls fame and I have decided to have a Christmas Crossover episode and put together our Gamer's Guide to Giving Gifts. These are short lists of great games across five interesting categories. So whether you're a gamer looking for a good suggestion to fit your collection or you're buying Christmas presents for your gamer partner, there should be plenty of choice in here. Just click on the title of the game to visit somewhere you can buy it!

Keep checking back for new lists over the next two weeks. Here we go, today's list, Stocking Fillers.

Chris’ Picks 

Stocking fillers is a tricky category, the options are so vast that narrowing it down to three was a herculean task. In the end I decided to go for simple games that really anyone can learn and play but that offer a good amount of replayability. These really are a lot of game in a small space. 


Celestia is a push your luck game with absolutely stunning components, just take a look at the picture below… go on, take a look, I’ll wait… Did you look? Boom! Stunning right? The premise is simple, you and your fellow gamers are passengers on a bizarre airship where everyone on board gets a chance at being captain as you float between strange teacup islands. Each turn the captain rolls the dice and must play cards that match his roll. All the passengers then choose whether to stay on the airship and trust the captain or to jump ship and claim a treasure from their current location. If the captain has the cards the airship moves on and the next player becomes captain, if he doesn’t the airship and all of its passengers plummet to a fiery end. The game ends when one player scores fifty or more points. 


Not only is Celestia beautiful to look at, but it’s also fun at a tiny price point. It’s easy to teach and play. The only caveat here is the rulebook, which is a fairly terrible translation (Google Translate maybe) but there are plenty of videos online to show you how to play if you get stuck. 

Mike Says - This is one of those games that I’ve constantly heard great things about and never played, I love the look of it, it's got a great toy factor with the airship and the wonderful art and whimsical silliness of the whole enterprise is hugely enticing. So I put it on my Christmas list so hopefully I’ve not been too naughty this year. 


Timeline comes in around £10 and plays in about 5 minutes. It comes in many flavours with the most recent being British History. I recommend getting a bunch of them and mashing them together for maximum fun. 

In Timeline the players each have a selection of historical events, inventions, films, books or songs in front of them and they must decide where they come on the Timeline. As players add cards to the line it becomes harder to slot your cards in. On your turn you play one of your cards, declaring where you think it fits in the current timeline, flip the card over, if you’re right it gets added to the line, if you’re wrong you get a new card. The first player to get rid of all their cards is the winner. 

Timeline is a great game for anyone to play with plenty of thematic options to suit each gamer, however, once you pop you just can’t stop and you’ll want to own all the sets! 

Mike Says - This is a great pick as indeed there's a Timeline for literally any interest though obviously Star Wars is the only way to go. I think we’re well overdue for the Game Of Thrones edition although perhaps it should be called deathline as you try and order the corpse strewn timeline into order of messy end. 


The ultimate stocking filler coming in at around £9. On your first play Stak Bots may seem like a simple chaotic card game but don’t dismiss it just yet… hang on… did you just look at the art and assume a small child had been let loose with clipart? Don’t look at the art either… 

Okay, I can sense I’m losing you. It’s a game of FIGHTING ROBOTS! Ah ha, I knew that would get your attention. Each player begins the game with a stak of robots in front of them, this is their health, when the stak runs out they are dead and eliminated from the game, but it is also their fighting force. On your turn you’ll draw a card, then you can play a card, attack with the card on top of your stak or scrap cards from your stak to reveal new bots, in any order as often as you like until you chose to stop. Defeat all your opponents to reign supreme. 

Once you’ve mastered the basics Stak Bots has dozens of different play modes known as Toggles which change how the game plays, allowing for vastly more strategic play. At last count Tom Norfolk had designed some 60 modes each changing the game in small or big ways, so 60 games for £9 sounds like a bargain to me! My personal favourite mode? Two Stak, what will yours be? 

Mike Says - I completely dismissed this game when I first encountered it at a small local convention in the depths of a particularly chilly December. Fortunately Son No.1 who was in tow at the time had the good sense to drag me kicking over to the stall enticed as he was by the thought of battling robots, and I’m so glad he did. As Chris has said for such a small stack of cards there is a massive amount of game in this box, I love it, it's great and I always look forward to when Tom unleashes a new army of these vicious little tin bastards upon me. 

Mike’s Picks 

Gah! How bigs a stocking! All of my picks should squeeze into a standard lapland supplied furry receptacle without too much effort and also serve the purpose of being those things that get found later on after everything else has been poked prodded and mucked around with. So yes these picks should do the job very well of the ooh I had this in my stocking I wonder what it is. 


This is the perfect little box of fun to find slipped into your stocking. Its quick, fun and guaranteed to be a hit with whoever is gathered at your post Turkey dinner table. It's a pack of cards and you simply pull one off the top and have to obey its instructions "one finger touching nose", "left elbow above shoulder", "two hands touching" or "this card on top of head" and so it goes around the table. The moment you can’t comply with a card's instructions it's game over. Infectious, stupid and bloody brilliant. 

Chris Says - Having watched Mr Barnes attempt to play this game while conducting an interview with Bez I can attest that it's almost as much fun to watch as it is to play! 


Another compact little box featuring a design by two the industry's best. Players are wreckers dishing up loot on a soggy beach somewhere utilising the classic ‘Prisoner's Dilemma’ each round you and a fellow player pull two bits of random loot and have to make a choice:

Peace (I want the 2 in front of me)
War (I want them all)
First pick (I want just one, pick first) 

If you both split then you split, War and everybody loses, both first pick and all the goodies are gone. Its fast, it's silly and can be brutally cut throat and features the majestic art of Vincent Dutrait. 

Chris Says - Small box, wonderful artwork, simple premise and two titans of game design, this has to be a winner. 


Perfect for your stocking a tiny tin that contains 15 dice and the rules to play 6 wildly different and fun little games, featuring everything from dexterity, racing to push your luck. I still carry this round with me it's the perfect portable multi-game playing system and it gives a satisfying rattle when you shake it. 

Chris Says - 6 was the first game Mike and I ever played together so it will always hold a special place in my heart. The true genius of 6 is that it opens up your mind, it's a game designer's kit almost as much as it is a game. You can play the six games in the box or use the components inside to design your own. Best of all this game comes from the minds of three of the nicest guys in gaming… they're nuts but they are super nice!

About the Authors

Chris Bowler is the lead author at Unboxed The Board Game Blog and The Duke of the Blood Keep. He also runs the UK Gaming Media Network and in his spare time he likes to… yeah… like he gets spare time!

Gaming since birth Chris enjoys a vast collection of Board, Card, Miniature and Role-Playing games, with eclectic taste in both Style and Theme.

Mike B is the founder of Who Dares Rolls, Host of the sporadic Who Dares Rolls Podcast that nobody listens too and occasionally produces videos on the WDR You Tube channel that nobody watches.

Mike displays almost no taste or appreciation of the finer points of game design despite this potentially debilitating personality defect he continues to critique board games.

Monday, 7 November 2016

Guest Post - Hybrid Gaming

I am a great believer in the world of hybrid board gaming. As technology advances it allows us to implement it into our games and enhance our experiences effortless and seamlessly… Well mostly. The keyword here is “enhance”, I don’t want to use tech in a board game if it replaces the human elements that I find so endearing. I want to use to tech to bring atmosphere to my games, or to streamline my games, removing the tiresome book keeping. I want the tech to make the games easier to teach, more reactive to my style of play or to help bring the game to new depths of strategy and storytelling.

I admit we are not there yet but every attempt brings us closer to the utopian future I dream of. Here to present his idea of the next evolutionary step is Kevin Sturdivant with the Game Slate. Is it a good next step? It’s certainly a bold idea, let me know what you guys think in the comments.

GameSlate origins

The GameSlate was born of inspiration from other board game fans, who wish to be more immersed in their craft. At the beginning of 2016, I had the notion to design a gaming table for all my favorite games. I had previously designed several enlarged maps for wargames to allow the miniatures to easily fit on the spaces provided, but this time I wanted something a bit more flexible.

I started with the internet, of course, and was amazed by all the many different table designs and creations by talented fans. One was dedicated to Twilight Imperium. Another was dedicated to X-Wing. Still another to Pathfinder. However, the one thing that all these designs lacked was flexibility in the form of switching from game to game. And the table took up too much room in the house. Thus, the idea for the GameSlate was born.

Instead of an entire table, The GameSlate is a tabletop device that lies flat where the player’s miniatures or tokens are placed upon the surface. Each press or release of a figure triggers a gameplay function; such as attacks, movement, or skill use. Player cards are digitally mastered and manipulated through swipe gestures; the cards turn, shuffle and flip.

Digital cards

The multi-touch grid allows multiple, simultaneous touch points which is a new innovation that makes the GameSlate possible. Multiple touch points translates to multiple figures on the gameboard at once. After a month of work, I was able to make the multi-touch device work with the software, which was a happy occasion indeed. Not just for me, but for every one who benefits from this innovation.

The Benefits for the Player

Include the Casual Gamers: The GameSlate encourages casual and new gamers through a lowered learning curve and novice play settings. We all want more players in our gaming sessions, but if the new player is confused, they will never play again. Our software is designed to help the new player and challenge the expert all in the same setting.

Remove the Boring: As the game proceeds, lost counters, lost dice, rule clarifications, other bookkeeping tasks, such a moving the turn marker become unnecessary. Thus, the overall gameplay time decreases and allows a speedy resolution.

Enhance the Awesome: Lastly, there is the enhanced game experience with lights, sounds, and gratuitous explosions and special effects. When playing licensed games, my gaming group would often put on the theme music from the show, but now the GameSlate performs lights, power effects and musical scores just like any AAA video game production.

A Bridge between Worlds

We feel that the GameSlate will help revolutionize the board game industry, which has been attempting to jump to the video game format for several years. When porting a board game to the video game format, the video game port changes the board game dramatically or forces the players into a “hot seat” turn order. Neither of these instances is great for the immersion that we, as board gamers, crave.

Within the last few years, there has been a massive wave of board games and board game designers emerging through Kickstarter, which is awesome. What this means is that the barrier to entry to the board game market has been lowered significantly and competition is increasing. The GameSlate is a new way to differentiate a board game brand through enhanced features, painted miniatures, and even special effects.

We have confidence that this project will fund because of the usefulness of the GameSlate. It was designed to be versatile. For instance, current mobile game apps can be ported to the GameSlate easily. So, in addition to the software offering that Sturx will make, I will be encouraging current mobile software developers to port their application to the GameSlate market to round out the game selection and thereby have a large selection of game apps available to our customers. Thank you for your support in making the GameSlate a reality. Trash the board; Amp your game!

Thanks Kevin. If you found this article interesting you can check out GameSlate on kickstarter and don’t forget to leave your opinions down in the comments.

Until next time…

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Game Night Review: Codenames

With our first successful meetup done and dusted I expected a full twelve months to pass by before I would have another opportunity to introduce my friends to the fun of board gaming. You could have knocked me down with a feather when less than a month later they suggested we meet up again!

The evening was proposed as a social gathering, a post Christmas drink and catch up, so I seeded my bag with a couple of light party games (which I do for every party) fully expecting that I wouldn’t actually need them. I was wrong! And so Codenames saw its first outing on a crisp December night with a group of good friends gathered around a coffee table by a roaring fire, glasses of wine and mince pies in hand.

A Brief Overview

So what is Codenames? It is a team game where the players are competing to uncover all of their spies before the other team. One player on each team takes on the role of the Spymaster, only they know the locations of each of the spies, innocent bystanders and the sinister assassin.

The game is played on a 5x5 grid of cards, each card has a word on it. The Spymasters must give a single word clue followed by the number of cards the clue relates to. Then the players on his team can discuss and guess which cards the spymaster was trying to indicate. If they guess correctly they can continue to guess upto the number of times given in the clue plus 1 or they can stop. If they guess wrong and uncover an innocent bystander their turn ends, if they uncover an enemy agent their turn ends and they give a point to the opposing team and if they uncover the assassin the game ends and they automatically lose.

Why Choose it?

I chose Codenames for a couple of reasons, firstly, selfishly, I had been given it as a Christmas present and I really wanted to play it. Secondly the buzz the game was generating at the time was tremendous and Paul Grogan, CGE’s UK representative and my close friend, highly recommended the game. As with all my Game Night choices the reasons for choosing Codenames comes down to “Can it handle 6?” and “Is it simple to teach?” and Codenames ticks both of these boxes.

The AP Problem

Codenames rewards players for their ability to analyze a lot of information and provide a single linking word to allow their team to score the maximum points. For some players this is straightforward and for me it was it was more fun to be the Spymaster, but for players who suffer from Analysis Paralysis* this task could take a long time, causing players to disengage with the game while Alan mulls over his choices.

The Exceptions & Clarifications

While Codenames is a great game and it has a simple premise the rulebook does manage to be rather long as it presents a series of rules about what is and what is not an acceptable clue. The list of exceptions can be a little overwhelming to take in and takes the game away from it’s party-game roots towards strategy gamer territory.

There were two particular rules I opted to omit during the first few rounds. The Zero rule, where you can use your codeword to imply that none of your remaining words relate to a specific word and the Unlimited rule where you give a clue but instead of a number you can say unlimited, with this method your teammates don’t know how many words relate to your given clue, but they can guess as many times as they like, unlocking their ability to guess previously unsolved clues.

Did They Like It?

Yes, a resounding yes. Many games of Codenames were played as everyone wanted a turn at being the Spymaster. I feel our literary inclined friends enjoyed the game more as they found clever ways to give clues but everyone seemed to have a good time.

Final Thoughts

Should you buy Codenames? The answer is probably yes. The game is small and cheap so it’s a great standby for parties and social gatherings. For me Codenames beats the spots off other popular party games, like Dixit or Cards Against Humanity, offering instead an actual game with strategy and mostly uncomplicated rules.

As I mentioned the game bogs down with AP prone players and really it requires a minimum of 4 players but ideally 6+ for it to really shine.

However, with only those two caveats I highly recommend jumping onboard the bandwagon and playing this year's Game of the Year (Spiel Des Jahres 2016)

*Analysis paralysis [uh-nal-uh-seez puh-ral-uh-seez] or paralysis by analysis is the state of over-analyzing (or over-thinking) a situation so that a decision or action is never taken, in effect paralyzing the outcome. - Source Wikipedia

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Game Night Review: King of Tokyo

A while back I reviewed King of Tokyo and I sang it praises, declaring it to be a firm favourite, “a great filler and a perfect family game.” However as the years have gone on we’ve played less and less. This is not because I don’t enjoy the game, I really do and I picked up King of New York hoping to reinvigorate the franchise but my little brother (with whom we play most games now) doesn’t enjoy the PVP aspects of games and much prefers co-ops or multiplayer solitaire.

The other thing I said in my review from way back when was “This game’s major strength is in it’s simplicity and it’s weight. The simplistic, yahtzee style nature of the game makes it easy to play with any group, even non-gamers and families.” Was I right? To the Review…

A Brief Overview

In King of Tokyo each player takes on the role of a monster attacking the Japanese capital. You play as King Kong, Godzilla or a bunny rabbit controlling a heavily armed mech, you know, the usual stuff.

On your turn you roll 6 dice, keep some, reroll others. You can reroll twice and then you must keep all results. The dice feature custom faces, some deliver victory points, others heal, attack or give you energy, the currency of the game, which allows you to buy cards and develop special powers.

If you are in Tokyo, all other players can attack you but when you attack you hit all players simultaneously. The longer you stay in Tokyo the more victory points you’ll score. The winner is the first to 20 victory points or the last player standing.

King of Tokyo 1st Edition Components

Why Choose It?

In my opinion King of Tokyo is simple; smash the other monsters and race to victory. Roll dice, analyse the results, buy fun upgrades and cause devastation. In PVP style games it is the King. Games that feature player elimination often cause contention, it isn’t fun to be knocked out of the game, but KOT manages to walk the line and stay on the right side of fun even after you’ve been eliminated. It’s fast, it’s furious and because your opponent is determined by their position on the board, it’s not personal when you're attacked.

All of this for me adds up to make a fun game that is easy to teach and learn… However, I found something rather different when I tried to actually teach it to real-life non-gamers rather than hypothetical ones.

New Player Complications

Firstly, we were playing five player King of Tokyo, so off the bat you’re teaching an alternate ruleset where there are two spaces in Tokyo until there are only four monsters remaining. Having the rules change mid-game makes the rules explanation more difficult and adds an complication that messes with the structure of the explanation. What I should have done was drop out and taken on the role of referee, which would have streamlined things for us.

The second problem was what is arguably the best part of King of Tokyo, the Upgrades. While for me these cards make King of Tokyo the game that it is, they allow you to customise your monster and give you a different experience each time you play. However, for new players (playing for the first time at something approaching midnight) they added an extra level of detail that really slowed the game down.

The problem with the upgrade cards is that you can’t really afford to ignore them and there isn’t really a way you can play without them for your first game either. This means that if you have a mix of gamers and non-gamers the non-gamers are going to feel pressured to buy upgrade cards in order to compete.


With many games of King of Tokyo under my belt, I finally feel qualified to address my biggest problem with the game. King of Tokyo is the title fight of the century, Mecha Dragon vs The Kraken, The King vs Gigazaur. However, most games of King of Tokyo I’ve played end in a victory point win, which is somewhat less exciting than the Kraken emerging from the decimated ruins of Tokyo to slide back into the ocean until the time comes once again when it must defend its crown.

Did They Like It?

Before I answer that, I will just say one thing... Pandakai! Any game that lets you play as a giant kungfu panda with a bo staff gets a big thumbs up from some players in the group! (Yes I know he’s from the expansion, but I think you should get that too!)

As I said, we started this one quite late on which was probably a mistake and afterwards two of the company pointed out the late hour and retired to bed. This could have been genuine fatigue or it could have been a reaction to KOT. However, two others stayed on and we played again, this time just three player, adding in the Evolution Cards from the Power Up expansion which in my opinion really adds to the tactics in the game.

So in conclusion, I think people did like the game, but perhaps the timing of it could have been improved and maybe four players would have been better than five.

Final Thoughts  

I like to think of King of Tokyo as a gateway game but this experience made me rethink that perspective somewhat. I still think it’s a great game, with a ton of replayability but perhaps it’s not a first night game.

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Game Night Review: Saboteur

In all my years gaming, there is one experience that stands out above all others as my favourite and that was a my first and only game of Battlestar Galactica. The game amazed me with the level of social interaction that it created, the betrayal, the backstabbing and the fact that nobody believed me when I said I was innocent!

Ever since then I’ve enjoyed hidden role games, Citadels, Resistance, Dead of Winter and of course Saboteur. It may seem like an odd choice to play a game of backstabbing and betrayal with a fledgling group that has yet to bond but in my experience there is nothing that brings people together faster than knowing one of their number is a traitorous git!

A Brief Overview

Saboteur is a fast playing card game in which most players play happy go lucky mining dwarves looking for gold. However one or more treacherous players are Saboteurs seeking to lead the dwarves in circles until they die of exhaustion and dehydration. (No dwarves were harmed in the making of this review).

Each turn players play a card and draw a card. Players can play path cards as long as they connect to the entrance card, they are seeking to create an uninterrupted path to one of the three goal cards, one of which will be the gold. Players can also play action cards, these cards allow them to mess with the other players, breaking or fixing their equipment. A player with broken equipment in front of them cannot play path cards until their equipment is fixed. If they can’t fix it themselves they will have to beg for help from the other players or hope they draw a fix-it card on their turn.

Play continues until the cards run out or the gold is found, whichever comes first. If the gold is found the dwarves split the loot between them, if the deck runs out then the saboteurs win and take the gold for themselves.

The player with the most gold after 3 rounds is the winner.

Why Choose It?

Because I like it. My main reason for wanting to play Saboteur is that it requires a larger player count than my regular group provides. Sure, it can be played with a small number but it works better with more so I seized the opportunity to play it. Of course, if that were my only reason then why not play BSG or Dead of Winter? The answer there is simplicity. Saboteur’s play sequence is Play a Card, Draw a Card. It takes approximately two minutes to explain and a round plays out in under ten. Sure, that first round will be a bit slow and the Saboteurs will have a hard time trying to work out what to do but by round two all the teething problems will resolve themselves.

Teething Problems

The first round for us proved a little underwhelming for two reasons. Firstly, one of the players, let's call him Bob, didn’t realise he was a Saboteur. To be honest this is really on Bob, after all the card spells it out pretty clearly in my opinion!

Secondly, because Bob was an idiot, Mrs Bob was left on her own to try and sabotage the group. At a five player count, there is a possibility that there will only be one Saboteur, which can be very difficult. If you make an obvious move to hinder the group you’ll be the target of every possible negative card in the deck. However if you play too subtly the group will take advantage and steam home for the win.

The answer to both these problems can be found in round two. Round one sets up an atmosphere of distrust and each subsequent round builds on that. Equipment Break cards fly thick and fast with players drawing on past rounds as the “reason” why they are attacking each other. In this environment a Saboteur can play much more openly with fewer repercussions.

Greedy Dwarves

One last way to help the Saboteurs is to play the Greedy Dwarves variant. In this version of the game, only players without broken equipment share in the treasure, this allows the Saboteur to attack under the guise of simply wanting a bigger share of the treasure and I always play with this rule once players have gathered the basics.

Did They Like It?

Yes, absolutely. As I had hoped the game went down a storm with lots of laughter and backstabbing. The simple mechanisms of the game quickly get out of the way so that the players can concentrate on the social aspect of lying and deduction. The minute the game was over the players demanded a second game and Saboteur has hit the table a few times since then too.

Final Thoughts

Saboteur is a perfect weight game for new players. It’s simple, play a card, draw a card, but each game plays out very differently as much of the game is about the interaction between players, rather than the cards being played. Because games are short, it doesn’t matter if Bob gets the rules wrong and messed up that round, it’s over in five minutes and we can play again, after an appropriate amount of ridicule. Longer games like Battlestar Galactica can be completely ruined if players don’t “get it”. Also, because of the playing time, the game fosters no ill will, sure the other players are stabbing you in the back, but in five minutes their allegiances will shift and you’ll have to work together, and if you’re a greedy dwarf you can alway break their pickaxe just before you unveil the treasure as payback!

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