Stonemaier Games’ Realistic Resources

In addition to an incredible library of games (Viticulture, Euphoria, Between Two Cities, and Scythe) with incredible production values, Stonemaier Games has produced a series of “realistic” resource tokens with the same high standards of quality applied.

 

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These can be used in place of standard pieces included in a variety of games to “upgrade” the gaming experience. These are high quality sculpted accessories, so while an extremely good value for what they are they are not inexpensive. They are also very well made and look and feel wonderful.

 

 

At this point there are a great number of tokens available of impressive variety. The original Treasure Chest contained realistic style pieces to represent common gaming resources in the form of gems ore, bricks, gold, stone, and wood.

 

 

Starting with the second wave of three sets the tokens got more diverse, and each had a general theme. Food Crate contained grain, meat, corn, bread, crates, and coffee beans. Resource Vault provided sacks, cloth bundles, barrels, yarn balls, steel, and water pails. Energy Box had oil drums, coal, trash, campfires, gas canisters, and uranium.

 

 

The next batch was available together in a slipcase and called the “Token Trilogy.” It was made up of the individual themed sets Adventure Atlas (treasure chests, potions, single and double edged axes, two types of scrolls, sleeping bags to represent fatigue, furs, and bucklers),  Gadget Guide (wrenches, ammo cases, energy crystals, med kits, tech tablets, and deflector shields), and Terror Tome (magnifying glasses, hearts, blood vials, cleavers, brains, skulls, and books). The details on these collections were particularly incredible, including traces of blood on only one side of the metallic bladed weapons, intricate seals on the scrolls, vein coloring on the brains, etc.

 

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The most recent “set” is a group of animal tokens (sheep, horse, dog, pig, cow, fish), offered for purchase separately rather than boxed together as with previous tokens.

There are also pumpkin resource tokens now available for Stonemaier’s upcoming game Charterstone.

 

 

So far I’ve used pieces from the Token Trilogy the most, in games like Tragedy Looper, Scythe, and T.I.M.E Stories. That’s really one of the most appealing aspects of these: Stonemaier Games has gone to great lengths to ensure most of these are useful for a variety of games, so whatever’s in your collection you can likely find some that will get a fair bit of use. Top Shelf Gamer also offers sets of tokens grouped for specific games, such as a bundle of 20 each of wood, food, metal, and oil tokens for use with Scythe.

 

Overall these tokens are great accessories for board game enthusiasts and another series of extremely high quality products from Stonemaier Games.

Journal 29 Interactive Book Game Review

I stumbled upon this as an Amazon recommendation and was extremely intrigued with the idea.

Here’s some of the self description:

“A top secret excavation did not bring any result for 28 weeks.
It was on the 29th week that something unexpected happened.
The team disappeared and the only thing that was left behind was their Journal.
You must solve the riddles in order to solve the mystery.

To solve the riddles you will need to think out of the box.
Write, draw, search, tear paper, fold pages, combine and more.
You don’t need any special app to play the game.
Just a browser will do
(preferably on your smartphone)”

 

 

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Journal 29 is one of the most interesting concepts I’ve seen in a while. Somewhere in between classic pen and paper puzzles and phenomenons like escape room games, the book does a great job of adding something new to the genre.  

It’s a book of 63 puzzles with a loose thematic theme tying them together. The puzzle themselves are generally great, but it’s the clever implementation that really sets this apart. First, each puzzle leads to an answer (usually a word or number) to be entered on a specific webpage to receive a “key” for the puzzle (again, usually a word or number). QR codes are provided so things are very smartphone friendly, but urls are also given and it was fine to play using a laptop. Keys are often used in future puzzles, so there’s a nice feeling of progress throughout the book.

Second, there are a lot of interesting puzzle variations, with some inventive uses of the internet involvement, connectivity between the puzzles, and the book format to stretch the genre a bit. There are also some similar looking puzzles here and there, but with different approaches and solutions that creates an additional level of intrigue. It’s really well put together, with solid levels of variety, originality, and challenge.

The story elements provide a nice theme and aesthetic, but are also minimal from a narrative point of view. This is a book of puzzles with a story framework, not any sort of complete tale. Which is perfectly fine, but should be kept in mind if you’re particularly intrigued by the story setup.

The book can be “played” solo or with a group (each person having their own copy is recommended). For people (like me) who opt for the solo play and have no other minds to bounce ideas off of, there are online message boards one the same site answers are entered that have hint threads by page. It’s a pretty good resource and reasonably useful help is provided without full spoilers. I referenced it several times for a little help to get started or when stuck (some of the puzzles are a bit obtuse and a push in the right direction greatly appreciated), and its availability generally prevents anything from getting too frustrating.

There was one puzzle I was unable to solve even with the hints (I know exactly what I need to do, but am not capable of it and got tired of trying different combinations of educated guesses). The hints were good, so short of someone handing me the answer there’s no further help to be gained. I was however able to reverse engineer that particular key from a later puzzle (which certainly won’t be possible in the vast majority of cases) so I wasn’t kept for completing anything else nor from finishing the book. The idea of that puzzle was quite good too, just the implementation was off for me. A little disappointing, but only one out of sixty three missing the mark is pretty good odds and it didn’t significantly detract from my enjoyment.

I managed to complete the book without writing in it, damaging pages, etc (by using scratch paper and occasionally photocopying pages), but if I had it to do over I probably would have just used the book straight up as intended. It’s well worth the price ($18 retail) and I likely spent too much effort and made some things harder on myself trying to keep it pristine to potentially be lent out / used again.

Overall Journal 29 is a unique puzzle experience that comes together really well. Recommended to anyone who enjoys stretching their brain a bit.

 

 

 

Castles of Mad King Ludwig Board Game Review (First Impressions)

With all the comparisons made to Suburbia (which was great) and pieces somewhat reminiscent of Princes of Florence (which is my favorite game of all time) Castles of Mad King Ludwig certainly piqued my interest, and I had been looking forward to trying it out.

 

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Castles of Mad King Ludwig takes various mechanics I’ve seen in other games (the tile selection method, bonuses for taking pieces that have been available longer, etc) and combines them all with a nice layer of spacial gameplay by utilizing different shapes and sizes of tiles/rooms that players need to fit together. Add in different types of rooms with specific rewards and various scoring options and bonuses and there’s a great deal of depth apparent right from the outset.

It all comes together well and my general impression of the game is quite good. I like the idea and implementation, and it’s extremely well designed in the way rooms of different size and shape can interact.

 

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But I have to admit as good as it is I’m not sure it’s as good as I expected. Given the extra layers the different shaped buildings add and a couple of other mechanical differences I feel like I should prefer it to Suburbia, but I don’t think I do. In Suburbia what opponents build can have a scoring effect on your area, and even that small amount of additional interaction has a large effect on the dynamics of the game.

Beyond comparisons to other games though the biggest drawback of this one was the feeling that my castle was just really getting interesting as game ended. I’m sure it’s specifically balanced but the amount of rooms I could build feels low and my initial impression was I wanted the opportunity to do more. Since the number of rooms available is determined by the player count I don’t see this changing in future plays, it’s just something that I’d have to get used to.

 

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Overall Castles of Mad King Ludwig is solid though. It’s unique in presentation and the spacial elements associated with the different room sizes and types add a nice dimension to the gameplay.  My initial impression is there’s perhaps a little too much variety in the rooms for the set collection / chaining powers aspects, but obviously one play’s not enough to determine that definitively.

So I enjoyed Castles of Mad King Ludwig but I’m not sure I’m completely sold on it. I’d like to try again to see if it feels as abrupt the second time, and/or see how it scales with more players.

Top Five “New to Me” Games Mid-2017

As in the past, I’d like to look at some of the best games that I’ve tried for the first time (relatively) recently. Things were even tighter than usual among the new gems I’ve discovered in the past six months, and while I did order this based on my feelings at this exact moment it can really be labeled “too close to call” for me among several of these great games.

Ground rules:

  • The only qualification for this list is that I personally played the game for the first time since my late-2016 list.
  • I’ve tried 10+ new games since then, so as usual it was difficult to narrow this down. Honorable Mentions include, but aren’t limited to Deception: Murder in Hong Kong, Mottanai, and The Daedalus Sentence.

 

5. Kabuki

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For a game that’s essentially “memory,” Kabuki is incredibly well designed and addictive. The art design is key, as the mask cards are just different enough to be recognizable and distinct side by side while making it difficult to remember exactly which cards of each color are in each stack. Incredibly easy to learn, and a lot of fun.

Further thoughts here.

 

4. Santorini

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One of the best possible ways to make an excellent abstract is to have simple rules that combine to form deep and compelling gameplay. It is of course easier said than done, and Santorini deserves ample credit for the success it achieves. Add in great theming and production value and special power cards that completely transform the game into something distinctly different but just as compelling and this is definitely a keeper.

Full review.

 

3. Yokohama

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At first glance Yokohama could be a bit overwhelming in terms of the sheer number of components and disparate elements, but it all comes together really well. The basic actions taken each turn are straightforward, but the implications of executing those actions become complex and far reaching. It’s the type of game that could take a few plays to really wrap your head around, but is immediately engaging regardless. This is a game of meaningful choices and immense replayability.

(First impressions review forthcoming.)

 

2. Ars Alchimia

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Ars Alchimia is the crafting side system of rpg video games turned into a board game in a gloriously fun way. If that sentence alone adequately explains why it’s my #2 on this list definitely check it out immediately.  😉

Of course if more info’s needed, there’s my full review.

 

1. Hanamikoji

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The gorgeous little card game called Hanamikoji takes a simple majority collection core concept and builds it into a deceptively deep game through the use of innovative playing actions. The give and take way in which opponents get to play a few select cards from each others hands is wonderfully done and provides and incredible hook for a fantastic game

Full review.

 

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That’s it for now. Continues to be a great time for gaming, and everything here is well worth at least giving a try.

What are everyone else’s new favorites?

Quick Thoughts: Mottainai, Clank, and Dark Tales: Snow White

Some quick impressions on my first experiences with a trio of card based games.

 

Mottainai

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Carl Chudyk has a propensity for creating card games that pack an insane amount of information and functionality onto each card, and after having played Innovation (and Impulse) I would have easily known Mottainai was from the same designer even if not previously informed.

The cards in Mottainai have different functions based on placement around all four sides of each player’s playmat. This leads to a bit of rule overload during initial explanation, but it all fits well once the game gets going and the multiple ways to use each card leads to interesting choices. It felt SLIGHTLY less chaotic than Innovation (during which chains can develop out of the player’s control towards the end), but there is that same feeling of escalation as different types of card abilities become available later in the game. It’s another extremely well designed (and reasonably fun) card game from Chudyk and while I won’t necessarily rush it back to the table I’m interested in playing again at some point.

 

Clank

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Clank is a Dominion style deck builder tied to board actions. Moving, buying items from shop spaces, and fighting monsters all require symbols from your player deck that’s built up Dominion style via buying new cards from a general supply.  The currencies and board elements are well implemented, and the concept of getting into a subterranean cave and back out with treasure is a fun one.

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However in end it’s still a VP game (right down to having a “Province” analogue) and feels a little too much like Dominion for me (which I’ve gotten beyond tired of and don’t really play anymore), even given the unique twists it adds. Something that had a different goal, or at least was farther from Dominion in terms of the deck mechanics, would have been appreciated. The additional elements do elevate it beyond its inspiration though and the plethora of gamers who love Dominion should jump all over this immediately.

 

Dark Tales: Snow White

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I found the Dark Tales base game reasonably enjoyable, but to be honest was rather disappointed with my first experience with the Snow White expansion. The new cards didn’t add much variety of mechanics (some were actually copies of base game cards with different names) and the distribution and way cards interacted seemed really screwed up by the added cards. There is a recommended variant where some of the base cards are removed, but it was presented as something that affected game length and was totally optional (and removing single copies of certain cards shouldn’t help distribution issues anyway).

The other expansions look more interesting and varied, so hopefully this was just a single misstep, but Snow White was a big miss for me and I’m more likely to go back to the base game alone than trying this again.

 

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So two solid games (though one’s not to my personal tastes) and a lackluster expansion this time around. As always your milage may vary.

Daedalus Sentence Board Game Review (First Impressions)

 

Recently had a chance to try a fun co-op with an intricate setup and thematic elements of the minotaur’s labyrinth adapted into a sci-fi setting (a treat for a mythology buff like me).

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It starts with a great concept: players are captives of an alien race trying to perform a jail break and escape. All players must reach the exit (escape pod) at the same time to escape/win. The hook with Daedalus Sentence is the board comprised of concentric circles that rotate in between player turns. The mechanic is well implemented and nicely compliments independently moving guard patrols (including amusingly named/themed shock troops called Minotaurs) to really give the feeling of navigating a maze as players try to adapt. There’s an exploration aspect too, as the rooms start face down and have different powers available (and possibly extra guards to avoid) as the players reveal them.

The pace of the game really ramps up as players progress to each new ring and raise the game’s “alert level.” The higher the alert the more times the rings rotate and the guards move per turn. So at the beginning the players have some breathing room to plan a bit, but then things get extremely hectic. I liked the progression and the way the increasing pressure keeps the game engaging.

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It did seem like the game could bog down at the end as players have incentives to play things slow and safe though. The capture mechanic is also a mixed bag, as it makes a lot of sense thematically but having a player literally have nothing to do until someone comes all the way back to the beginning of the “maze” to get them can hurt the pacing.

I tried this with 2 players, and liked the game balance. I’m not sure about the scalability with more players, as it felt like I had the perfect number of actions to make my turns meaningful. I understand to keep the difficulty intact the players as a group need to be limited to a certain number of actions, but there’s a lot of upkeep between turns and with fewer actions per player I could see upkeep vs actual playing time (for each person) to skew in the wrong direction. Curious to find out.

There is a small amount of randomness in what rooms are used on the outer rings, but for the most part after a couple games you’ll know what you’re going to find on each level. Some extra exploration incentives (items to find, etc) would help replayability. It would also be nice to have ways to help people get back to cells, or something for captured players to do while they wait.

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Overall though while there’s room for improvement in Daedalus Sentence what is here is fairly innovative and a lot of fun. I can see myself playing several times before it felt “solved,” and having varying player powers to try also helps shake things up a bit from game to game.  While longevity could be an issue, the atmosphere is incredible and the game will be a blast for at the very least a few games.

 

Takenoko: Chibis Review (First Impressions)

Takenoko has become one of my go-to games for when I want to play something a little lighter while still enjoying a bit of strategy and depth. It’s easy to teach and fairly straightforward to play, but still has a good number of strategic choices and room for competitive play.

So I was quite excited about trying the expansion, hoping it would supplement and enhance the game without diluting it or making things too complicated. It did.

 

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This is a direct expansion, and as such requires the base game to play. It introduces a “Miss Panda” figure, new land types, additional goals for each of the three kinds, and baby panda tokens (3 for each bamboo color).

The new land types have a Miss Panda icon, which determines when she comes into play, additional movement, and is relevant for some goals. They also have various powers that activate when the gardener is moved to them such as growing bamboo on all irrigated plots of the same color anywhere on the board, one plot where players can chose to grow an color of bamboo, and a “gardener’s hut” tile that allows the player to look at the top card of each goal deck and choose one. All the tile abilities make sense and work well within the established gameplay framework.

 

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The baby panda tokens can be claimed for one piece of bamboo of the same color whenever a player moves Miss Panda to the location of the (original) Panda, and provide small immediate bonuses (including the new ability to exchange a goal card from your hand for a new one) as well as 2 points per token at the end of the game. They are well balanced and seem reasonable in terms of powers and point value.

 

 

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The new goal types are great natural extensions of the ones in the base game. New land goals include having a set number of a land type on the board and formations involving the Miss Panda symbol. The new panda goals are worth more points than the base game goals for the same color/number of bamboo, but can only be redeemed if the Panda is on a lake tile. The new gardener goals are perhaps the most interesting, involving having bamboo stalks of minimum height(instead of exact heights) as well as goals needing varying heights of the same type of bamboo. The point values seemed reasonable and the variety was nice.

 

 

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Overall the new rules expand the depth of Takenoko nicely without being overwhelming. However I would still introduce new players to base game first, if only because of the numerous new tiles with “powers” and the intricacies of having two pandas to move with different effects. The theme of the expansion is quite cute (although the thematic ties of mechanics had my group chuckling often) and it all fits well in the established framework.

Best of all there are small nuances added that increased depth without making things too complicate. Everything in here is integrated well and nothing felt extraneous or unneeded. Excellent expansion, and an easy recommendation if you like the base game.