Jan 062014

om_nom_nomBy Michael Chamberlain

Om Nom Nom is a light family simultaneous selections game designed by Meelis Looveer and published by Brain Games this year (2013). This game, sporting its amazingly catchy name, sold out at Essen, but we are lucky enough to have a copy.

Om Nom Nom plays two to six players and is themed on three separate food chains. Players each choose a creature each turn to play in the hope of surviving long enough to eat others for points. Play time for this games is 20 minutes and is recommended for players eight years old and up. While I would agree with the play length, I found this game can be played by younger gamers who will still have a good time.

The game comes in a nice family friendly box showing some of the animals in the game around a pond scene. The art style is light, clear and inviting. Once inside the box there are the 36 animal cards (six sets of the six different animals for each of the potential players), the animal dice of which there are 15, three game boards, score pad, pencil and a clear multi lingual rule book. The size of the box has been dictated by the three game boards. These and the cards have the same clear art style as the box and there is one for each of the three food chains. The fifteen dice that, while nice and clear, are printed and not engraved so they will start to wear in time.

Set up for the game is nice and simple with each player taking a set of animal cards in their colour. The three game boards are placed in the centre of the table and the fifteen dice are rolled and then placed on their corresponding spaces. Each die has three red sides (carrot, cheese and fly) and three black sides (rabbit, mouse and frog) the red sides are the bottom of the food chains and the black ones are in the middle of the food chains.

The game itself is played over three rounds; within each there will be six shared turns. At the end of the three rounds the player with the most points will be declared the winner. One point is awarded for each card and each black icon that is captured/eaten and two points for each red icon.

Each round, players will select one card and place it face down in front of them. Then, simultaneously, all of the cards are revealed and placed on the appropriate spaces on the boards. From the top of each of the boards they eat whatever is beneath them sharing the spoils equally. If there is not enough to share between player’s then the extra prey is just removed. So first of all hedgehogs will eat frogs, cats will eat mice and wolves will eat rabbits. Then if there are any remaining frogs, mice or rabbits they will eat the flies, cheese and carrots respectively. If the animal you played is not eaten by its predator you get to claim your card for your score pile. So while the safe bet is to play animals higher on the food chain, those won’t grab you as many points and there is no way to avoid playing those more vulnerable creatures as every card will have to be played before the round is over.

This game has very light and simple rules, which make for fun and quick learning as well as play. As a game for players who don’t take themselves too seriously and enjoy a little chaos in a slightly “take that!” environment, it’s awesome. The fifteen random dice/creature start up keeps each game slightly different and fresher for it. All of the components are nicely produced and the lack of any written portion of the game means that there is no language gap at all.

Really anyone can be taught to play this game provided, one person know the rules. Experience tells me that you can play this anywhere from a hotel room (Saturday night after a long day at Spiel) or at an airport on the back of a sofa (with friends you’ve only just met, also on their way home from Spiel) and have a great time. As a two player game there is a lot more trying to read your opponent and it makes for a far more strategic feeling game. With four players there is a lot more luck in it and with six player it becomes very much a party game, that is very luck dependent but still screamingly good fun. I’m really happy to have had the chance to play this one and I am sure it will see lots of play with friends, family and most of all my kids.


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Dec 042013

pic1720401_t[1]By Michael Chamberlain

Ortus, released this year (2013) by FableSmith and designed by Joost Das, is an abstract strategy game for two players with an Asian combat theme, played on a hex board. The game is said to last between 30 and 45 minutes and this is about right, though you can expect your initial games to be shorter while you get used to the subtleties of the game and the ways you can win or lose. Players will take turns making moves until one of them either eliminates enough enemy warriors or controls five of the energy wells on the board.

In the box you will find a nice double sided board (two different arenas to play in), two teams of eight warrior meeples (2 each of four colours), some counters (four glass and two wood) and a well written and colourful rule book in four languages. All of the components in this game are a really nice quality, granted the glass beads are nothing special but they don’t need to be. The real stand out pieces are the warrior meeples. The Warriors come in four colours and their team is distinguished by the colouring of their hats (Either pale or dark). They come in four colours representing the different types of warriors: Wind, Earth, Water and Fire (yellow, green, blue and red respectively).

Set up is nice and simple. Each player places their warriors on the grey haven spaces on their side of the board, these are spaces where pieces are immune to attack; the pieces can be placed in any order or configuration. Players then take a glass bead and their guide marker and place them beside the game board. This game can be played in either an apprentice or a master game, I will be focussing on the master game. However, I will make reference to my thoughts on the apprentice after describing game play.

At the start of a player’s turn, the player will count how many energy wells they control (at the start of the game this will be zero) and from this they will mark their energy for the turn. Depending on the number of wells controlled this will range from 14 to 28 (though the start player only gets 7 for their first turn) and this is the resource you will use to move, defend and attack with. If at the start of their turn a player controls five energy wells they have won the game. The player can then move their warriors at the cost of one energy per space moved. The only warrior that doesn’t obey this rule is the Air warrior, these move in a straight line until something blocks their path (either another piece, the core at the centre or the board, a haven space or the edge of the board). A player may move as many pieces as they wish on their turn but each piece may only move and attack once in each turn (the only exception to this is that the starting player may only move one Air warrior).

Energy is also used to make attacks so let’s look at those next. Each of the four warriors have a different attack. In the master version these attacks have different strengths and costs. These vary from the Air ranged attack at strength 4 and costing one point of energy for each hex to the target (this is by far the easiest ranged attack), to the supper aggressive Raging Bear charge attack from the Earth warrior, that counts as the pieces move and attack for the turn, costing two energy per point of movement but with an attack strength of six. When a piece of yours is attacked, you have a choice: you can either remove the piece from the board (though it will return again to play at the end of your next turn) or you can pay an amount of energy equal to the attack’s power to protect that piece and keep it in play. A player can stop moving pieces and making attacks at any time they wish and any remaining energy is then available to the player during his opponent’s turn to defend against attacks. Also the Fire and Earth warriors have strong defensive abilities. Earth is cloaked from attack unless it is on a hex line with an opposing Earth warrior and Fire warriors can team up to offer protection to each other and other pieces.

When you first remove an enemy piece from the board you will get to place your guide marker on the board and then move it one place closer to the centre core space each time you kill a subsequent enemy piece. The guide marker serves two purposes in the game. Firstly, if your guide marker is ever on the core space at the centre of the board you win the game. Secondly at the end of your turn you get to return any of your defeated warriors to the board and these can be placed anywhere in your haven, but you also have the option to place one of these pieces onto your guide marker.

Ortus is a game of dynamic balance in your resources and ambitions. How much will you push forward to control that energy well? How many pieces can you afford to defend and lose? Its blending of resource management with abstract strategy I found to be very well achieved and a delight to play. There is no doubt that this is still very much an abstract game, yet the theme, beautifully depicted by the board, descriptions and the meeples does not diminish this but enriches this beyond that of abstract games which we are used to seeing. We did find playing it that we were laying pieces down to keep track of which pieces had used their actions and although this is not a solution that is advised in the manual is a simple enough one to deduce that I have no doubt many gamers will come to this solution anyway. This game will of course suffer from the problem that many abstracts do in that is one player is significantly better than the other that and it is likely to be a runaway victory for that player. However, there is a variant allowing for one player to have a reserve of bonus energy to use for defence, which allows players to still achieve an enjoyable and balanced play experience. Despite not having tried this yet, it is impressive to see that this has been considered and implemented allowing for I believe more scope for players to enjoy. I could scrape the barrel here and try to find some little thing to criticise in this game but it would be dishonest to do so. I am very much enamoured of this game and its complexities right from the balance of energy from attack and defence, to the ways in which the different pieces work (Water for instance has some devastating attacks that are a joy to set up) I am really glad to have the chance to play this and will continue to enjoy it. Rumour of an expansion with more pieces in time is news that would be very much welcomed if and when it comes to fruition.


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Oct 182013

tal1[1]By Strange Prawn

I can’t control my brain

Things are definitely taking a turn for the autumnal up here in the far North. The leaves and the air both turn crisp, and the nights are fair drawing in. How delightful then, to be mentally transported to an island paradise in the warm Southern seas? Aah, when I close my eyes I can almost  smell the salt on the air, feel the tropical sun dappling on my skin as I lay beneath this coconut-laden palm. Somewhere I can here the trilling of birds of paradise, mingling with the screams of the villagers as they flee yet another volcanic catastrophe…

Honestly, they never mention this stuff in the mental guidebooks.

Still, apart from the constant volcanism, the island of Taluva has a lot going for it.

Taluva is a game that sees you and one-to-three of your chums take charge of one of this island’s tribes and guide them in their efforts to out-develop their rivals. To this end you’ll be deploying your huts, temples and towers across the lushly forested island. Firstly though you’ll need to create said island, and like all the best geological processes that’ll involve a stack of cardboard tiles. Not your squares or hexes here though, oh no sir. These are a Y-shaped  conglomerations of hexagons, with each of the three component spaces depicting one of several different terrains, one of which is always a volcano. The first thing to do on a turn is always to take one of these tiles and place it so that at least one edge connects to those already in play. Once that’s taken care of, you can get on with one of the building options and get on with trying to win this thing.

tal2[1]Most straightforward is starting a new settlement, which just involves plopping down one of your lovely, pointy wooden huts on any unoccupied first level (first level you say? Hmmm…) space, and that really is any space, you’re not limited to the tile you just played. Which for an old Carc-head like me took a little getting used to. Secondly you may expand an existing settlement of huts/hut by nominating a terrain and scattering an appropriate number of your huts across any spaces of that terrain touching them/it. This is nice, you’ll want to do this, because if you have a settlement of at least three spaces in size you can use your building to throw up one of your temples next to it. Lastly, if you’ve occupied a space next to an empty third level space (levels again, what could it mea- och, I’m sure you’ve figured it out by now) you can pierce the heavens themselves with one of your majestic towers.

Which is all excellent and tribal and so on, but what’s it actually for? Well, to win at Taluva you need to build more temples than your opponents by the time the last tile is placed. Thing is, everyone’s only got three, so you’ll probably tie. Not a problem though, as the tiebreaker goes to whoever built the most towers. Oh, except you’ve only two of those, so same issue… Ah! but then that tie is goes to whoever has the most huts built, and you’ve twenty of them. So that’s fine. Mind you, you, it’s also possible to bring proceedings to an early conclusion by using up all of your supply of two of your categories of building, garnering a tasty insta-win. Caution, however, should be advised since if at any point you are unable to build legally… well,  you are out of the game aren’t you, you careless little tribesperson.

tal3[1]Now, about these levels… So, when you’re plopping down those tiles to build the island there is another option open to you. Providing you cover a volcano with a volcano, and that doing so changes the direction of the volcano’s lava flow (which is just an in-game way of saying you can’t place a tile directly on top of only one other – there must be overlap with at least two beneath) and as long as there are no gaps beneath your intended location, by all means feel free to build high for happiness and place on top of the existing island. This is where those levels come in you see first is touching the table, second on top, third and then… dare we dream, fourth…? As an added bonus you can also destroy your opponents’ structures  (well, only their huts, but it still feels good) with such a manoeuvre, providing you don’t send an entire settlement to a pumicey grave.

Taluva plays very cerebrally. It won’t be many games before you and your friends are sitting round in silence, all calculating whether it would be more advantageous to your position to destroy some huts before someone can build a temple, or try and reach level three so you can finally get a tower down, or go for a massive expansion so you can create a settlement so large you can afford to destroy some of your own huts, thus creating two settlements large enough that you can play a temple into each a couple of turns later (a most cunning stratagem), only to blink and realise you’re only going to get two more turns out of that somehow-so-diminished stack of tiles. It may just be my experience, and/or the people I play with, but it does always seem like just as I’m beginning to pull my strategic threads together the game is ending, and oh, it doesn’t matter anyway since somehow someone else has managed to forge an unbeatable position out of nowhere and now this is my last go.

The sheer speed of the thing is only one way Taluva works to keep you on your toes. Like Chess or Go it’ll also tickle you with the chance of high risk move, leaving yourself open to crushing blows if the others at the table see what you’re up to, but if they don’t…? Well, then you’re only a hop, skip and a temple away from certain victory. I can’t tell you how often you’ll be sitting there, watching the action move round the table crossing everything you’ve got that no-one covers up that one space… of course they will. And what on Earth were you doing planning around something you couldn’t control? Huh?

tal5[1]I don’t mind any of that though. I actually rather like it, because despite everything I know why I’m being beaten. Once you’ve climbed into the game’s headspace it becomes fairly straightforward to pick apart what went wrong. I concentrated on gaining height too soon, or I was locked in a race for the quick win, but the back and forth stymieing between me and my opponent allowed another player to hang on for the regular win once the tiles ran out. I spent too long trying to get all my temples down without realising someone was one good expansion away from using up all their huts, and they’ve already got both towers out… Whatever, I can endeavour to ensure it never happens again. I mean, it will, but I like to try. All of this gives it the feel of a beautifully wrought abstract game, the rules are simple (only four pages, and that includes pictures!), the thematic flourishes of island life are superfluous (and that’s being kind) and there is no luck outwith the tile draws (and you won’t be building an entire strategy around trying to get one particular tile anyway. At least, I don’t think you should be.), all of which is a bit odd.

It’s a bit odd because Taluva, despite it’s perfectly-machined clockwork abstract heart, is, and I can’t stress this enough, gorgeous.

tal6[1]“Hang on” you yell, “Chess is possessed of a martial beauty and Go’s pixellated Rorschach of an endgame generates a wondrous aesthetic!” Yes, yes… I quite agree, but Taluva is legitimately, hang-it-on-a-wall, ask-nervously-if-you-can-buy-it-a-drink, gets-out-of-speeding-ticketsbeautiful. From the lushness of the tile art to the unusual forms and pleasing shapes of the buildings right on down to the just plain lovely chunky tactile thickness of the tiles you’ll just want to eat its face off. Which is all a bit of a shame. It’s a shame because Taluva is a brilliant design. It really is. It’s one of my favourite ways to pass half an hour to forty minutes, and if only it was a bit more portable it would be shooting up my recorded play charts like Hive or Hanabi. It’s a shame because for all its brilliance, and as much as it feels as though it’s exactly what its trying to achieve in all its aesthetic glory, It never transports you to those distant white beaches and palm-fringed lagoons.. You won’t be lost imagining mango juice and goldfish-nibbled toes. This is a game too precise for that, a game that generates a mental race as furious and cutthroat as it is silent and internal, a game that now it’s finally back in print I have no hesitation in suggesting you get off your damn hammock and pick up as soon as you can.

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Oct 162013

pic1229364_t[1]By Michael Chamberlain

Word on the Street Junior, by Jack Degnan and published by Out of the Box Publishing in 2010, is a family word game played in teams. Using a tug of war style mechanic, the teams will take turns to try to choose the best word to maximise their pull on the letters. Designed for 2-8 players, though realistically, there is no reason other than manageability that more couldn’t play. It takes between 20-30 minutes to play.

Word on the street Junior comes in a nice, bright sturdy box with an insert to hold everything snugly. Inside is a three-fold board depicting a road with a central area for the letters of the alphabet and two lanes on each side of it, 26 letter tiles, a short but clear rule book, a thirty second sand timer and a deck of category cards in a sturdy plastic stand.

Set up for the game is really simple. Just take the cards in their stand out of the box and place in reach of everyone, with the timer above the game board. Now place the letter tiles on their appropriate space on the central column on the board. It’s that quick and simple.

Teams will take turns in which a card will be revealed giving them a topic. This can be anything from “Something Orange” to “An Animal that is kept as a Pet”. The team then has thirty seconds (timed) to brainstorm and decide on a word. It can only be one word and has to be in the present tense but compound and hyphenated words are allowed. The team then spells out the word moving each letter tile as called one space to their side of the board. If a tile is pulled off the board the team gets to keep it as a point (so using a letter three times will pull the letter off your side of the board, assuming the opposing team doesn’t pull it back toward them first), first team to eight points wins. If the team has not won, play passes to the opposing team. Like set up, play is just that simple.

Word on the Street Junior is not a complex game, which given it says it’s for ages eight and up is far from surprising. I would question this age bracket, given that my six year old loves it and even my three year old was able to play along offering some words. This is a great family game and a fun way to help children develop a diverse vocabulary. When looking for “A word that describes an Elephant”, the game actively encourages the use of more complex words because Big is just three letters (which is not very much pull and is unlikely to score you many letter), whereas Massive, with its double ‘S’, is much stronger and, if you’re feeling really adventurous, there is no reason not to encourage them to use words of Brobdingnagian proportions (it’s in the Oxford dictionary). The tactical play in this is nice and simple even for younger players to grasp. If the other team is about to score a letter, it is really easy to be able to explain that you want to find words with that letter in to try to stop them. Word on the Street Junior is the family friendly version of Word on the Street, a game that can actually be played with the components in the junior version. If you wish to make it harder by removing the letters that are easier to score thereby making it hard to achieve the requisite eight points.

I can’t recommend this game enough to those gamers with young kids who are looking for an educational game that is a huge amount of fun to play. Simple rules and big fun, I’m really glad to have this one in my collection.


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Oct 162013

pic1757300_t[1]By Michael Chamberlain

Glastonbury by Gunter Burkhardt and published by Franjos Spieleverlag this year (2013) is a reimplementation of Kupferkessel Co. (2001) that expands on the original game and allows for four players adding some new elements. The theme for the game is making potions and the player to create the most potent is the winner at the end of the game. The play time for this game is around thirty minutes and, based on my experience, this seems accurate.

The box art to this is certainly a move toward a new target audience. Kupferkessel Co. featured a shop front full of containers of potion ingredients and, although ingredients are still there, they are now arrayed before a wizard. The lighter, more fun art is certain to appeal more to the families market which (for the weight of this game) is just right. The box contains a set of multilingual rules, 4 large wooden player pawns and a stack of large square cards. The pawns are very large, taking up nearly a third of the total space in the box and are beautifully crafted. The cards are of fairly usual stock and the art is very clear, which appeals to the imagination. There are new spell cards for this version too.

The set up for this game is simple enough to be trusted to even younger gamers. The shuffled ingredient cards are laid out to form a 6×6 grid with specially provided corner cards (these are simply curved corners with arrows to show the direction of play). Each player gets a caldron card, a score card and a player pawn in their colour and places their pawn beside a corner. The remaining cards are placed within reach to replenish the board as play continues.

When a player takes their turn they look at the top card of their caldron stack and move a number of places around the outside of the card grid equal to the number on that card (to begin with everyone has a number two printed on their caldron). After you have moved, you take a card from the row or column you are standing at the end of (unless you are standing by a corner) and if it is an ingredient, you place that card on top of your caldron pile. Each ingredient has a 1, 2, 3 and 4 version of it so when making your moves it is possible to set yourself up for the next move/card you want to take. The numbers on the ingredients also count for scoring, but not simply in the usual (total) sense. At the end of the game every player will group their ingredients by type, any ingredient you have all four of you will get the total and a five point bonus (fifteen in total). For three of a kind you get the total, for two of a kind there is no score and if you only have one of an ingredient type you lose points total to its value. It is important to know that you cannot just pick up your caldron pile and look through it anytime you want, there is a memory element to this game that can cost you dearly if you lose track of what you have taken, even more so as if it’s in your colour any score you get from the cards (not the four of a kind bonus) is doubled. There are however, four types of spell cards you can collect in this game aside from the ingredients, for those with poor memories the fact that one of them allows you then and there to pick up your pile and have a look through it (but not reorder it) can be a saviour. The other spells feature one that lets you move again if you land on a corner three times, meaning you couldn’t normally take a card. Another that lets you take any card rather than a card in your row twice and finally a spell that allows you to destroy any card on the grid denying valuable points to other players. The final cards in the deck are two wild ingredients worth zero points but count towards the totals for each type. After a player has taken a card from the grid it is replaced with one from the deck, if there are no cards left in the deck it cannot be replaced but play continues until one row or column has no cards in it. Then players total their scores and whoever has the most points is the winner.

Glastonbury is a really nice family game with good production values. Yes, the cards being a little thicker would have been nice, but provided you have careful children or are there to watch or play, they are more than up to the job. This game is at its core not so very far from a roll and move game combined with memory elements. Once little gamers get to understand the consequences of their choices on their next turn’s movement, it elevates further allowing for some deeper strategic choices. I played this with my six year old daughter who really enjoyed this game and really got into the idea of potion making, being equally amused and delightedly disgusted at the ingredients. Equally, the spells were a real delight to her and she took great pleasure in destroying cards I needed. I’m really glad to have had the chance to review this as it has been great fun for me and my daughter and I can see us playing this regularly together, as well as with other members of the family. An excellent light family game which I can heartily recommend.

Review on Glastonbury by Erica Chamberlain aged 6

I liked the ingredients because they are things like eyeballs and frog slime. I think the spells could have been a little better; maybe you could have a spell to destroy the other person’s deck. I would love to play it again and I would also love to keep it. It was quite easy to play, except for scoring (Daddy did that).


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Oct 012013

pic1724684_t[1]By Michael Chamberlain

Designed by Kristian Amundsen Østby and published by Queen Games in 2012, Escape: The Curse of the Temple is a cooperative game of collecting gems to weaken the curse until you are able to escape. It sounds too simple and because it a cooperative game, it is. In this occasion the catch is time in a very literal sense. This game is played to a sound track that lasts only ten minutes and that is all the time you and your friends have.

The bits you get in the box are: 25 nicely produced custom dice (these are really well made to live up to the sheer quantity of handling they will get). 5 wooden Indy-meeples, 25 plastic gems, some cardboard chits, a timer, a stack of thick board room tiles, a sound track CD and three sets of rules. There is quite a lot in this box and the quality of all of it is good and will survive the frantic play that follows opening the box. The meeples are a good chunky size for grabbing across a table and all the chits and room tiles are of a good thickness for endurance. The three sets of rules are because of the different ways to play the game and all are well laid out and easy to understand.

Set up for this game is nice and simple. The start tile is placed in the centre of the table and the exit tile is shuffled in to the last five in the deck, including any module expansion tiles you’re playing with. Every player takes a meeple and places it on the start room, and five dice. A room is placed on either side of the start room, gems for the number of players are placed in the gem store and the disc is set ready to play.

Start of play is simple too. Start the CD and wait for the voice to shout ESCAPE! Then everyone starts rolling their dice, any die that shows a black mask is locked and cannot be rerolled until it’s unlocked. Whenever a player rolls a golden mask they, or a player in the same room, may unlock up to two dice with the black mask on them. The other sides of the dice are two adventurer symbols (green runners), a torch (red) and a key (blue). What use do we have for those other faces? Well, the two rooms we placed to the side of the start room each have a pair of symbols to the right of the stairs on them; these are usually a pair of adventurers or an adventurer with either a torch or a key. If you can match the symbols after rolling your dice, you can set those dice aside(for rerolling as soon as you next feel you need them) and move your meeple to that room. Once you’re in the next room you’ll need to explore more of the temple to dig for the exit tile which is sitting right near the bottom of the deck of rooms. To discover more rooms you need to set aside a pair of adventurer (green runner) dice, once again only until you want to reroll them; in fact the only thing that stops you rerolling dice is black masks. If you do you roll matching adventurers, you can draw the top room from the rooms deck and place it with its grey stair, connecting to an available door on the room you’re in.

So now we can search for our way out of the temple. All we need to do is escape and that means we need to roll a number of Keys equal to one plus the number of Gems left in the gem bank. To remove them from the Gem bank you need to activate special rooms with gem icons. Next to them are a number of torches or keys you need to have rolled in order to remove those gems from the bank and add to those rooms. Some of these numbers are seven and ten pictures though (well, it is a cooperative game) if you want any hope of achieving these, you will have to work together to complete them, but everyone completing the task must be in that room. This is enough of a task in itself but there is one more challenge the game is going to throw in. Three times during the game you will hear a gong. The first twice this begins a countdown until you hear a door slam, to run your meeple back to the start room, if you don’t you’ve lost one of your dice forever. The third time, you have to run for the exit and escape. If anyone is left in the temple at the end of the ten minutes, you all lose.

The crowd I played this with had a mixed response to it, for my part I enjoyed it. This game makes no pretence to be more than it is, it’s light, fun and frantic. If as a group you can’t communicate under pressure this game is going to be a strain as getting those bigger gem challenges seems to be key to winning. However all it takes is a badly timed gong to send the plan scrambling. Granted, the soundtrack isn’t great and the tutorial tracks on it are far from a complete run through, although I will admit if you haven’t played for a while it may well serve as a good reminder. The rules are great, the components are great and the game play is fun, frantic, chaos. If it has a down side it is that, if the game is this light how is it so hard to win? Granted, we were getting better at it but we had still got nowhere near winning after several plays. Is it too hard for a light game? I don’t know. I do know I had fun and that I would gladly play it again. I don’t own it but at the right price I’d happily add this to the collection for when my kids get older.


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