Jul 232014
 

Revolver-Box-376x372[1]By Peter Ruth II

I know I’m late in reviewing this, but nobody has ever really talked much about this one, so here I am, a year after first playing it, talking about it. Let’s just get one thing straight: I really don’t like very many card games. I’m a board gamer, and these deck building games, trick taking games, and other card-based games just don’t do it for me, by and large. Some card games can transcend their disability (read: being a card game) with me because they’re not quite card games, really, such as Summoner Wars or Trick or Treat, and it’s that way because they’re not really card games as much as a poor man’s board game because the cards are really more like flat, rectangular units or locations.

Well, when “Dangerous” Dave Roswell, a dear friend I met at Fortress: Ameritrash, turned me onto it, my first thought was, “Crap. Another card game I won’t like.” It turns out that not only is the game very good, it’s so much different than many of the card games that I’ve played, both in style and play, that it might actually be one of the best card games I’ve ever played. It is so good, in fact, that I just bought a second copy to replace the one I got from Dave and subsequently loaned to my friend Chris, knowing I’d probably never ask for it back. Only a very solid game would cause me to own it not once, but twice, especially when it’s a card game in one of those abhorrent tins that doesn’t seem to fit well on a shelf full of games.

Revolver, from Stronghold Games, has an “American Wild West” theme which is both very different than the usual fare (read: not zombies or generic fantasy tropes) and truly exudes a Wild West feel. Being a two-player game, it pits the good guy”Colonel” player and his posse against the “Outlaw” player in a game that’s part battle and part racing against the clock. There’s several cards in the tin which represent locations and have a sort of timer mechanism printed on them. These represent the battlefields which the two players will battle over for around four turns, until the time runs out and you move to the next. You simply place cards with icons on them on your side of the battlefield, the other player does the same, and then you see who has more hits. If the good guys do, the bad guys lose one of their gang members, but if the bad guys do, they get one step closer to escaping across the Mexican Border. 

It’s a very simple game, mechanically, but there’s a lot of strategy that goes into it because many cards cause special effects to happen which bolster your side’s ability to make war upon the other. Some allow you to play extra cards, some block the opponent’s ability to place cards on a battlefield, some give you auto-kills of the bad guys, and a whole lot more. I was kind of surprised how much I liked the game, and it has a very different feel to it. It almost feels like a John Clowdus game in some ways (which is a good thing), but without the multiple-purpose cards. The best part is that it only takes maybe 30 minutes or so to play, and setup only takes about 3 minutes, if that. I’ve brought my wee tin all over the place, and I’ve played it with friends and the wife over dinner at restaurants, at the park while the kids attempted to shatter all the bones in their bodies on the jungle gym, and so on. 

From a value perspective, I think it’s a pretty slick deal because at around $20.00, it will provide you with a whole lot of fun. I’ve probably played it 10 times at this point, and I’m still all about playing it again. Carp, the kids are at their aunt’s house for the next couple of weeks, so me and the missus are going to be all over this at night when we’re about half in the bag thanks to Mr. Tanqueray and Stella Artois. It’s also worth mentioning thaRevolver Ned[1]t the art is actually pretty damned good, and the components are top quality, with well painted wooden blocks, thick cards, and great little punch-board tokens. There’s a handful of cheap expansions as well, two of which Fortress: Ameritrash’s Josh Look was kind enough to sell me on the cheap. I’ve not played them yet, but the first expansion changes the core rules a little, such as being able to set ambushes for the bad guys by placing cards underneath a battlefield, and the second expansion adds a new Prison location from which the bad guy player can free his defeated cronies.

As I said, it’s a good game that I, my wife, my 12 year old, and several of the Circus Freaks have enjoyed. Not a single person said anything untoward about it, although it was rated a little lower than I’d have expected when I polled them all. If I had to name just one flaw with the game, I don’t think I really could, to be honest, if we’re talking the game itself. Now, I hate those little tins that come with this, Panic Station, and the original edition of Quarriors. They never fit anywhere right, and the art isn’t nearly good enough to be a little display piece. Other than that, though, the game is solid, really fun, fast, and portable. I think, since I’ve been thinking about this game for an hour or so now, that I’m going to get the wife out of bed right now, set this up, and whip her ass at it. Or try, at least.

Why My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys:

  • Nice art and good components make this look nice on the table
  • Tons of replay value allow this to not end up a shelf toad
  • Just the right amount of randomness due to card draws make each session different
  • The price point is perfect

Why This Bronco Needs To Be Put Down:

  • Cremated bodies are the only thing that should come in embossed tins
  • I think it’s slightly easier to play the good guy side, but not by much

Overall:
Revolver, with its unique Western theme, fast play, portability, and price make this a game that is very good, although probably not great, and that is simple to learn, teach, and play. While it is the epitome of a filler game, I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing because it’s not expensive and is so accessible that you can literally teach it in just a few minutes at best. We highly recommend it if you like quick-playing card games that don’t involve set collection or trick taking.

Rating:
4/5 Stars
Learn more about Revolver at Stronghold Games’ Revolver page:
http://strongholdgames.com/store/revolver-line/

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Jul 182014
 

LOTR_card_game_boxBy Evaldas Bladukas

Today my friends we venture into lands wrought with peril and danger, where many board game fans fear to tread. Where wallets collapse and melt like clocks in a Dali painting. Where addictions develop faster than the spreading of narcolepsy when the in-flight movie comes on. We are talking, of course, about collectible card games. Specifically, Fantasy Flight’s own special brew labelled “living card games”. No, the pictures don’t come alive to devour you. You see, it’s the collectible model that is somehow alive but in reality the cards mostly just sit in a box, meticulously organized with dividers, just like any other CCG. What differs is sales, and this is what brings all the cardboard boys to the yard because their booster packs are better than yours. In fact, there are no ‘booster packs’ per se, as the card packs you get in LCGs are non-randomized.

Fantasy Flight did a very clever thing here. They recognized what upsets entry level gamers most and removed it with a fine scalpel. Instead they release monthly packs with 3 copies of each card – the maximum you can have in most LCGs (there’s some variation and it’s always accommodated). You never have to worry about not having a particular card. You never have to shell out fifty bucks for the tournament staple when the electricity is about to be turned off and all the cat’s had to eat for two days was stale bread straight out of the bag.

lotr-lcg-layout-finalSo what’s the catch? Well, there are three problems. First of all randomization creates a secondary economy for those rare and precious cards. Think of that what you will, but often an investment in a valuable card retains its value. With LCGs, individual cards have no value and the only way you’re getting some of your money back is if you decide to sell your collection. Second, shops aren’t too big on organizing LCG tournaments. The reason they like randomized models so much is because the hobby retailers get their money from on the day sales. With FFG card games, when players come to a tournament, they already have everything they need and there’s no incentive to buy anything else. And last, but definitely not least, getting into an established LCG competitively is incredibly expensive. The Game of Thrones card game has been going since 2008 and has produced 11 cycles of packs, 6 packs each retailing at 15 bucks. Plus an additional six expansions! To catch up with all of that seems as likely as stealing dinner from your dog. You might pull it off but it sure is going to hurt.

tokensEnter Lord of the Rings which is so unique that it completely ignores all of the problems I just mentioned. First of all, it’s a co-operative game. So you build your decks and look for synergy and crazy combinations just like in your bog-standard house trained CCG but then, on your own, or with up to three other friends, you take on an adventure, which is a randomized system of challenges you need to overcome. Think about it. It makes so much sense thematically. Why would you compete in a Lord of the Rings game? The story was always about friends and heroes banding together and overcoming adversity by being true to each other. The Fellowship of the Ring? That book is all about the importance of loyalty and putting the good of the common goal before the individual. That is why Boromir’s betrayal not only hurts so much but also feels so… human.

Because there’s no competition, you never feel like you need to buy all the adventure packs to stay competitive. It’s an expandable game that lets you choose your own pace. Have you beaten all the adventures in your possession? Well then it’s time to get a new pack and not only do you have a new challenge, but you also have some new cards which often inspire you to completely rebuild your decks. It doesn’t really create a reason for shops to organize tournaments – but you see, that’s OK. There really is no reason for a Lord of the Rings tournament – this is a true kitchen table card game, one that never forces you to optimize or build decks based on what the champions are playing. Do what you like and no one will ever judge you.

Instead of using movie stills, Fantasy Flight chose to do their own Lord of the Rings inspired art which works incredibly well. We don’t feel like we need to say much about how the game looks except that it’s utterly gorgeous. The encounter deck cards do a remarkable job of looking like they are the bringers of all things vile and dark. Even the locations, which thematically are not necessarily evil places, feel barren and desolate or mysterious and treacherous. If I had to pick a fault, I’d say that sometimes the Hero cards don’t stand out from other more impressive looking ally cards. Honestly though, I’m just being picky because I feel I should be objective somehow.

Hero cards! Ally cards! Encounter decks! If you haven’t played the game you probably have no idea what we’re talking about so let us explain some rule things. Your deck starts with your heroes and you can have up to three, although realistically you’re always going to have three because having less seems incredibly punishing and the trade-off for going the other way is just not worth it. There are four influence spheres and each hero belongs to one of them and dictates which cards you can include in your deck. The other cards that you play with are allies, equipment and ecardsvents which, if you think in Magic the Gathering terms, are creatures, artifacts and instants. There’s also the very uninspiringly named Encounter deck, which I suppose is less cheesy than something like “Sauron’s plots”. It’s composed of enemies, locations and treacheries and governed by a very small quest deck. This little quest deck drives the entire adventure. It tells you what sets of cards you need to compose the encounter deck from and what your goals are. There’s also a little thematic summary of what’s going on in the adventure. It’s great because it’s so clear, precise and direct – the set up for each game will take no more than five minutes. Before you know it, you’re thrust into the wilds of Rhovanion or exploring the deep caverns of Moria.

The game itself is driven by a card tapping economy. Anything you want to do with your cards requires you to tap them, which you can only do once a turn, unless of course a card lets you untap something. Like any good co-operative game, it forces you to make decisions. Decisions that are not pleasant. Do I send my heroes questing? That’s the thing that actually progresses me through the adventure. If I don’t send enough I might get threat and if I reach 50 threat – I am out of the game. But if I send all my guys adventuring I won’t have anyone to defend when the enemies eventually pop out of the encounter deck.

But that’s not it. Even if I do have some guys to defend, that doesn’t necessarily mean I’m safe. So say I draw an enemy card from the encounter deck. If its engagement value is lower than our threat, it will engage one of the players (the one with most threat). It will then attack said player. They can choose not to defend, but then it will just deal its damage to one of their heroes’ hitpoints directly – they don’t even get to apply their defence bonus. If they do decide to defend, they have to declare an ally or hero that defends. In this instance the defence value does get used and is subtracted from the total damage dealt. Only after all the enemies have attacked can you strike back, and only with an ally or hero that is still untapped.

So with all the fluffy talk we might have made it sound like this lovely dovely game is a wonderful thematic romp through the Shire, visiting farmer Maggot’s crop in Buckland and maybe having a nice feast. Well, I have a secret to tell you. Let me whisper in your ear.

At this point in the game we stabilized. We thought it was going to be OK. We thought we would make it. And then we flipped the top card of the encounter deck…

THIS GAME IS SO BRUTAL AND HARD IT MIGHT HAVE BEEN DEVELOPED BY THE DARK LORD MELKOR HIMSELF!!!

more_cardsWait? Isn’t Sauron the Dark Lord? Well, yes, but before him there was Melkor and, basically, Sauron is a wooly sheep in comparison. That’s how devastatingly hopeless this game is. Yes, you can win but usually not on your first playthrough of an adventure. Admittedly, every adventure has a difficulty rating but even the average ones (difficulty 5) really punish you. From turn one you are bombarded with enemies and other cards that cripple your ability to progress through quests until you deal with the present threats. All the time you’re thinking, OK, if we execute this plan to its perfection and if we get a little lucky, maybe, MAYBE, we can survive another turn. What you’re forgetting is that even though you can deal with everything on the board, new threats develop continuously and have a tendency to wreck the best laid plans of hobbits and men. As you play more and more and your card collection increases, you will find it easier to beat the early scenarios. But fear not, because print on demand saves the day with nightmare mode variants. This game. Am I right?

With all this constant shifting and pushing LOTR LCG makes a good stab at dealing with one of the biggest problems plaguing co-operative games – the alpha gamer syndrome. How many times have you played a co-op and were really getting into it and then some guy gets up and says, “this is what we should do”, detailing an exact plan of action. And the painful thing is that he’s right. His plan is a good plan. It works. It’ll let you win. But it’s not your plan and you stop playing the game and just go through the motions. The difficulty in Lord of the Rings doesn’t let people plan out the game, at least not on your first playthrough of an adventure if you don’t spoil it for yourself by reading through all the cards before you begin play. But most importantly, players are not allowed to discuss what cards they have in their hands. So you can plan just as far as what your hand tells you and can never dominate the game.

So that’s the good stuff but what about the bad? There are some minor issues with Lord of the Rings but nothing that’s going to burst my infatuation with the game. I’m not a big fan of the timing of actions and when you can take them. Certain cards will let you do something as an action and there’s a very specific table that tells you when it can be done. What it does is it stops you from doing things like healing your characters in response to them taking damage. And that complicated timing structure is fine in a competitive card game but I want Lord of the Rings to be more relaxed because I want to enjoy it with my friends without worrying all the time whether I can do an action or not.

But that’s something I can live with because Lord of the Rings is one heck of a game.  It even got Elaine into deckbuilding, which she normally abhors so if that’s not a recommendation to buy, I don’t know what is. There’s a steady supply of excitement and adrenaline because you just never know what card you’re going to flip off the top of that encounter deck. And there’s hope. No matter how bad things are there’s always hope.

And today I’d like to leave you with a question. When I play Lord of the Rings I like to go into each adventure blind. I deliberately avoid looking at the cards in the encounter and quest decks to avoid spoilers. I love to learn the game by myself and if my deck isn’t good enough, I want to rebuild it so I can beat it. Are you the same with games? Or do you like to go in armed with as much information as possible? Not to throw a personal slant, but that always feels like cheating to me. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I’m right. Tell me why.

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Jun 092014
 

hubbly_bubbly_brewBy Michael Chamberlain

Hubbly Bubbly Brew, printed in 2013 by Quantuum Games and designed by Patrick Ruedisueli is a game for two to four witches and wizards (its own words) in which players are collecting ingredients
to brew their own potions. This game has a play time of up to thirty minutes and is designed for players aged six and up.

Hubbly Bubbly Brew is a game that is very light on components, it being a card game, however the cards are of above average quality with bright, colourful and often amusing art work. The cards are
the ingredient type cards (which occur across the four set colours) and the spell cards.

The ingredient cards have very clear icons at the bottom to tell you which type it is; plant, component, material or liquid, and aside from their name and points value at the top of the card the rest of the card is just beautiful art work. The spell cards do have more text on them which describes their effects but these are not long or wordy so are a minimal barrier to play. The text is printed in a way to minimise the amount it intrudes on the art work which means they are just as attractive as the ingredient cards. The rules for the game are a folded A4 sheet, this would normally make me want to scream but it is so well laid out and the flavour for the game is so well attended to in it that I can’t fault it, it’s just right for this game.

Set up for Hubbly Bubbly Brew is very simple with the main deck of cards (88 cards in total) being shuffled and each player being dealt a hand of five cards, with the remaining cards placed in reach of all players as a draw deck with space for a discard pile next to it.

On a player’s turn they are aiming to create potions, a completed potion consists of one card of each of the four ingredient types (plant, component, material and liquid). Each turn a player may play up to two ingredient cards from their hands to the potions in front of them, a player may never have more than two uncompleted potions in front of them at a time, as soon as a potion has all four component types it is considered complete. Also on a players turn they may play one spell. These do a variety of things from taking an ingredient card from play (yours or other players) into your hand, to taking an extra turn. In each turn a player also get to draw two cards, discarding cards if they are ever holding more than seven cards. Playing ingredients, casting a spell and drawing cards can be done in any order. When a set number of potions, between three and five, have been completed the game is over and potions are scored and this is where the ingredient colours matter. Any completed potion is worth a bonus two points in addition to the total value of its ingredients, each one being worth between one and four points, if a potion has only ingredients of one colour it is a Power Potion and is an additional four points. Also players score all of their incomplete potions and between these two they get their final score, highest score wins.

Hubbly Bubbly Brew is a very light family card game which, but for a few really nice twists I would say is too light for gaming families. However the fact that you can resolve your card draws, ingredient play and your spells in any order adds some nice tactical depth to this game. The card art is really good fun and my daughter loves this one and with ingredient names like Elven Pigtail and Goblin Pimple that was never really in doubt. It has also been played by her friends and their families and they have had fun with it to. So if card games are something you enjoy as a family and you’re up for whimsical potion making this is a really nice light fit for that. Glad to have had the chance to play this one and my daughter loves it.

Mav.

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Jun 022014
 

pic1988268_t[1]By Paco Garcia Jaen

Although children can get jolly scared when they have a nightmare, more often than not they fight their monsters in their dreams with the help of their favourite toys. Or that is what Bedtime Heroes would want us to do.

In this light and simple game, the players are put in the place of children who fall asleep and are given a choice of monsters to fight and defeat in their dreams to stay asleep.

Before I go any further I will issue a disclaimer here. The version of the game I got to play was a prototype that was sent to me before the Kickstarter campaign started and it wasn’t the final version of the game. The rules were still being tweaked and the artwork, although define it its style, wasn’t complete either. Therefore my impressions might end up being very different once the game is finalised.

At the time of writing this review, the game components are three decks of cards, a set of dice with coloured dots and some chocolate gold coins. Yeah… for real. :)

The smaller deck contains the player cards, the next contains a number of toys illustrations and the last deck contains the monsters the children will have to fight and hopefully defeat to get a good night’s sleep.

Each player has a card with the illustration of a child. On the one side the cards show the child asleep and on the other side they’re awake. While the children are asleep they can fight the monsters. If they can’t defeat the monsters, then they wake up and the turn ends until they fall asleep again.

One of the actions the players can perform during every round is fighting the monsters which is done by rolling a number of dice. If the right combination of colours come out as result of the roll, then the monster is defeated. If the monster is not defeated the child wakes up.

Every time a monster is defeated, gold coins are awarded, which, as another action can be used to buy items that will help with dice rerolls and other aids.

And lastly another action is to go back to sleep.

The game ends when the deck of monsters has been depleted.

Although I can’t comment on the quality of the components, I can comment on the quality of the artwork I have seen and I have to say it looks lovely, although at the moment of writing this piece the game lacks a bit of variety in the artwork. The naive looks with child-like illustrations fit perfectly with the theme and are a joy to behold.

Play wise the game is super light. Although the presence of toys adds a bit of variety and strategy to the game, there’s no doubt the ones to enjoy it the most will be children of 7 to 10 years of age and adults will probably get bored with the “rinse/repeat” nature of the mechanics.

Overall the game has a massive potential for development that could (and probably will) be met by the time is published, so I look forward to seeing the evolution of a game that could keep children entertained for hours on end.

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May 142014
 

pic1727393_t[1]By Paco Garcia Jaen

Light games with just a few components are all the rage at the moment. In the last few years there have been a number of games that require very few cards and feature quick gameplay with simple and fun rules anyone can pick up in a matter of minutes. It’s not that they didn’t exist before, but certainly now they are seeing quite a lot of exposure.

Council of Verona is a light card game from Crash Games that puts the players into the Shakespearian setting of Romeo and Juliet and will require the players pick characters and place them either in Exile or in the Council.

As you can imagine, the characters can be either Montagues, Capulets or Neutral. Some of them have agendas – conditions that, if met, score points – and others have abilities that will allow the players to perform certain actions, like looking at someone’s card, swap characters from the Council to Exile and vice versa, etc.

To score points, you can add a token to whatever character you think will meet its agenda. Those characters have three spaces and the player, as one of her turns actions, simply places the token on one of the available spaces in the character cards, but the token will be upside down. The rest of the players don’t know how many points the betting player would get if the agenda was met. This is important for two reasons, firstly because you don’t want to attract the other player’s wrath by showing them you think Romeo and Juliet will end up together at the end of the game and placing the four points on the card, but also because one of the tokens is worthless. Zero. Nada.

Yes, there’s a bit of bluffing in this game and it is rather lovely.

Production is pretty impressive. A small box so sturdy you can use it to nail nails to the wall (this is a bit of an exaggeration… don’t do it!) and small enough to fit in your pocket. The cards are of the right thickness and lamination and the illustrations are really nice, very congruent with the setting. The rules are easy to follow too, so overall this is one to come with you everywhere.

Conclusion

With a game time that’s under 20 minutes and a deceptively deep gameplay, Council of Verona is quite a lovely little gem.

Very fun to play, with a bit more complexity than Love Letter and a bit less than Citadels, it’s an absolute joy to get this to the table. Although it’s not the sort of game you can keep playing for hours on end, it is the sort of game you can bring to the pub and play while you’re having a beer or waiting for one of your friends to show up.

Very highly recommended!

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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.

Mav

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