Monday, November 3, 2014

DragonFlame - review by Daryl Andrews

Any game where players are each DRAGONS has to be a fun game! Every dragon needs a cave full of treasure. Also, any fierce dragon needs to flame down some little cute cottages, avoid knights, and capture a princess. Winning DragonFlame takes exactly that - the best loot and destruction.

*Full disclosure, I received a free advance copy of the game from Minion Games.*
You can purchase your copy on Kickstarter at:

I have enjoyed about a dozen plays of the game so far, and I plan on playing DragonFlame many times more. Matt Loomis, a first time designer, has made a great game. The game is very compact in size, but lots of interesting decisions to be made.

Each round players are dealt a hand of cards. Players go in turn order, loading each of the castles with  interesting loot (some good, some bad). The twist, some cards are placed face-up, while others are placed facedown. Its the classic mechanic of cutting the cake, but each player has partial knowledge of which castle has good loot. Also, because of the unique and interesting set collection scoring, sometimes one man's junk is another man's treasure.

After each castle has been loaded with loot, each player steals the treasures from a castle. Most cards are straight forward, worth positive or negative points. Some of the set collection scoring is neat, with things like statues only scoring if they are unique, while treasure chests being most valuable if you collect like kinds. However, not all treasures are helpful. For example, players must deal with nasty knights and cursed treasure. In general, the set collection is clever, but the game does require some initial teaching time to get all players clear on scoring.

The real thematic heart of this game is found in the DragonFlame cards. Not only can players acquire loot, but also in the mix of cards, players can also acquire DragonFlame cards with strength value of "1", "2", & "3". These cards are used to burn down the village cards. Players use their DragonFlame cards to fly over the city cards (arranged in a 3x3 grid) and destroy the towns. I did mention each player is a dragon. It only seems appropriate that we get to fly over little villages and burn them down. Each village features some area control scoring and is awarded to the dragon(s) who contributed most to the destruction.

Overall, I find the game is like 3 mini games working together. The first is a fun twist of cut the cake, dividing treasures amongst the castles. The second game is area control, with flames on the villages. The third game is the treasure set collection. Each experience weaves together interesting decisions, creating a great 30 minute card game. DragonFlame might be small on price but packs a dragon size amount of fun.

By: Daryl Andrews (

Thursday, August 28, 2014

FanExpo 2014...

If you're in the Toronto area this weekend and find yourself attending the massive FanExpo convention downtown, make sure you stop in and say hello.  On Friday, my co-blogger Daryl and I will be volunteering at the Z-Man Games section in the board game room 718.  I'll be helping to teach Pandemic and the adorable and violent Krosmaster Arena.

And if you're around Friday night or Saturday afternoon, you should definitely sign up for the Pandemic: Survival competition.  Multiple players playing the exact same game - card order, etc.  Basically Pandemic played like Duplicate Bridge.  What an awesome idea.

The rest of the weekend I'll be manning the My Pet Skeleton booth in artist alley so come say hello and check out some of my hubby's amazing artwork.

Or even sign your butts up for the Great Canadian Board Game Blitz with my friend Ray on Sunday afternoon if you're looking for something to do.  It's running across the street from the convention centre at the Royal York Hotel.  So many options!!!!!

Friday, August 22, 2014

First Play: Caverna (or Agricola: The Dwarf Edition)....

Agricola is definitely an obsession forming game, deep, complex, but utterly thematic with tons of variety.  It was sort of the start of Uwe Rosenberg's nose dive into complexity.  I mean, to think this guy designed great the great card games Bohnanza and Bargain Hunter and now he churns out crazily involved titles like Le Havre and At The Gates of Loyang!  Caverna definitely feels most similar to Agricola and much of the game is nearly the same.  But after muddling through one game, this definitely feels like a tribute to the Uwe fans - tons of rules exceptions, a million things to have to read at all times, and way, way too many choices.  In fact, I think teaching this to someone who hasn't played Agricola probably isn't the best idea.

So.  Many.  Action spaces!
Having said that, I enjoyed my first play but did terribly in the final scoring, despite thinking I was handling my own.  Turns out the "fingers in every pie" strategy that Agricola is known for doesn't actually work that well in Caverna.  This game actually favours some specialization.  And there are some interesting new elements - dwarf characters who go on expeditions and return with tons of loot.  But even there, near the end of the game with a high valued dwarf it's possible to have to pick 4 different rewards (resources, land, animals, etc.) from a possible 16.  And then if you pick a room for your home, you are looking at 40+ choices depending on what you have.

So.  Many.  Rewards and ruby uses!
 Honestly, I found myself just building things I could afford because the choices were too numerous.  Instead of planning ahead, I'd instead take actions and build rooms with the mindset that things fit with the direction I was going.  I find the same issue arises in Glass Road, another recent and very enjoyable Uwe game.  There are just too many options in one turn that you just end up doing what's easiest.  It seems to foster less strategy.  At least with Agricola you have one hand of cards.  That's it.  Deal with those.  Imagine having the whole deck face up and at your disposal every turn....

So.  Many.  ROOMS!!!!!
Despite the criticisms, I'd like to play it again.  The game feels more like a sandbox than any of his other games, building and playing in any direction your heart desires.  Choices piled upon choices.

But after a 2-hour game with 3 people, I will never, ever play with the maximum of 7.  Ridiculous.

Home Sweet Home.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Seen at Canada's Wonderland this past weekend......

Okay, Daryl may have spent this past weekend at GenCon playing brand new swanky titles.  But at least I saw a gigantic arcade Operation.....

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Before Gen Con - Top10's

This will be my first year attending Gen Con, "the best 4 days in gaming." The convention takes place this week, from August 14-17, in Indianapolis. Gen Con is the original, longest-running, best-attended, gaming convention in the world. Last year, the 46th event, the attendance record was set at 49,000. However, all indications point to this year breaking the attendance record again. 

I will be arriving in Indianapolis on Tuesday evening. I will do my best to take lots of pictures and share some tweets. You can follow me on twitter at: @darylmandrews
Meanwhile, I can't help but think ahead to all the amazing games I will get to see, demo, and maybe even purchase. Really I have been thinking about this for weeks. Reading reviews, watching videos, and chatting online with friends. After doing so much research, it just makes sense to share my TOP 10 list. I have decided to include two lists. The first list is my Top 10 games I am considering to purchase. The other Top 10 list will be games that are not for sale, but I want to see/demo.

TOP 10 Games (for sale) at GEN CON:

10) Diamonds (Love trick taking games - anything designed by Mike Fitgerald has my attention)

9)  Consequential (Sounds really innovative. I love the app integration and legacy mechanic)

8) Abyss (Love any game designed by Bruno. Plus the box cover is awesome!)

7) Lords of Xidit (Loved Himalaya. I enjoyed the play test when I saw it in April)

6) Imperial Settlers (Ignacy Trzewiczek is a brillant designer. Rules look solid)

5) Hyperborea (I wish I could afford this game. From the designer of Kingsburg. Looks great)

4) Five Tribes (Again, anything designed by Bruno I usually enjoy. Played in April and I loved it)

3) Sheriff of Nottingham (Been on the search for original Brazilian game, Robin Hood. Must have)

2) King of New York (I love the idea of smashing around a map of NYC. Cant miss with this)

1) Panamax (Not many great med-heavy euro games coming out. This looks like my kind of game)

Next10 Honorable mention:
City Hall (on the bubble)
Subdivision (on the bubble)
The Battle of Kemble's cascade (on the bubble)
Argent: The Consortium (on the bubble)
Chimera (came down to this or Diamonds)
Fief: France 1429 (Im not a war game guy)
Battle of the Five Armies (Im not a war guy)
Epic Resort (Love the art but need to try the game first)
Tortuga (already out)
Dead of Winter (already out. Kickstarters delivered)

TOP 10 Games (for demo only) at GEN CON:
10) Bomb Squad (Im interested in trying this game due to the timer aspect of the game)

9) Scoville (Im a sucker for all games featuring Josh Cappel's art)

8) Gold West (I don't know much about this game - but I am interested. 

7) Steam Works (Wow - I guess I love TMG. I will be in room #137 a lot at Gen Con)

6) Aqua Sphere (Im a sucker for Feld games. And yes the first 5 games on this list are TMG.)

5) Colt Express (You had me at 3D train)

4) X-Com (Designed by friend Eric Lang. Hopeful App integration game will be awesome!)

3) Pay Dirt (Designer of Alien Frontiers. Great designer + Great Art = I want)

2) Castles of Mad King Ludwig (Really fun game. I love the spatial building of the castles)

1) Kanban: Automotive Revolution (Next to Panamax, this is my most wanted game

Honorable mention:

The Walled City (Im bias. I like it. Im really excited for people to experience the game)

Friday, August 8, 2014

Pack O Games

Daryl (me) just recently was hired as a game experts at Games On Tap board game cafe in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. So it only seemed appropriate to bring the Pack O Games to work with me.

"Little Game. Lotta Fun!" These Juicy Fruit stick-gum sized games, pack a great punch. From Perplext Games, we find some wonderful micro packaged games designed by Chris Handy. That name might sound familiar because Chris is responsible for designing Cinque Terre and Long Shot.

Currently, Pack O Games is on Kickstarter. Please be sure to check out the Kickstarter campaign, and consider supporting this great game. Games like this are only possible when people support them. But if you are unsure if you want to purchase the games, maybe read on to see why we think they are worth your support!

Game Overview:
The Pack O Games are actually a variety of different games. The Kickstarter pledge comes with4 base games included (HUE, TKO, GEM, & FLY). However, Im hopeful the game can reach many of their stretch goals so we can discover more games in the line like: TAJ, LIE, SHH, BUS, and maybe even more! Its actually pretty amazing how different each game is, while constraint to a tiny package. And not only does each game feature a very different theme, and very different game mechanic, but each game also feature 1 of 3 levels of play, so you can pick the best game for the type of player(s).

It might be hard to believe, but these are not all casual light games. Do not be deceived by the small package. Some games offer very rewarding strategy and challenge. For the purposes of this blog, I will review each of the base games: HUE, TKO, GEM, FLY.

All the staff I showed the Pack O Game to at Games On Tap were excited to see these mini sized games. Hopefully in the near future, Ray, another game expert at Games On Tap, will post her review of each of the games. So stayed tuned to this blog to read that.

I will start off by confessing some bias. I have had the privilege of hanging out with Chris Handy, the designer of the games, and I would consider Chris a friend. He is really a great guy, and if you have the chance to hang out with him and play a game, I highly recommend you do.

However, anyone who knows me, would also let you know, I don't beat around the bush. I say what I think. Initially when I saw these cute little packaged games, I was sceptical. Sure they look good. And I get the new wave of micro games. However, I was worried they wouldn't feature much game play. I was scared they would all be casual light games I would play once or twice and move on.

I was wrong! These games might be small in size but massive on fun. Each game is unique and full of flavour.

I am a big fan of this game. I was really shocked how a game with only 5 turns per player (or 4 turns with 5 players), can feel so satisfying. It just works. Each turn feels interesting and meaningful. It really has a tile laying/tactical feel to the game. Its really fun seeing this game all splayed out on the table, and then looking back at the little card box. How did all this game fit in that tiny box?!

"Its the eye of the tiger, the thrill of the fight." This game is a knockout! Each play features great head games. Will my opponent go for the massive uppercut, or block my punch?! I really appreciate that TKO is an easy to learn 2 player free swinging boxing game. I plan on carrying TKO around in my pocket anytime I plan on watching a sporting event at the bar, and pulling this out during the intermission. "Rising up the the challenge of my rival!"

This game caught me by surprise. There is a deep auction game going on here. The game seems challenging to master, but was simple to learn. Treasure this tiny game, because GEM alone is worth the purchase of Pack O Games. The card quality is top notch, and because of the unique size of the cards, its handy and doesn't take up too much table space. But I found this game took a solid 20-30 minutes to play.

Personally, my favourite game was FLY. Such good laughter around the table. We started bragging and trying to drop the fly swatter higher and higher with each attempt. FLY, which only takes a minute to explain, and less than 10 minutes to play. But the theme is hilarious.

Following in the tradition of 3 letter names, I most confess I LUV these games. They are portable, affordable, & jam packed with FUN!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

New board game cafes opening in the Waterloo region...

Board games have definitely hit the mainstream and our little corner of Ontario is seeing it as well (must be since I moved here....)  Two board game spots are opening and my co-blogger Daryl and good friend Ray are both going to be serving at one of them:  Games on Tap in Waterloo.  Family and friend previews start this weekend and I may try to sneak in and take some pictures.  Best part?  The place is licensed.  AWE-SOME!

Check out their Facebook page here and the local news story here with info about both locations, the other being The Adventurers' Guild down in Kitchener. 

(As an aside, sorry for the lack of posts - studying for actuarial exam numba 2 so drowning in Financial Mathematics till mid-August.  Ugh.)

Friday, May 30, 2014

On the development of Acquire....

Here's a lovely and very well-researched article by Joe Huber of The Opinionated Gamers on Sid Sackson's Acquire, one of the greatest and most influential board games ever made (IMHO).  A quote:
Having now detailed the path to the production of the test marketing edition of Acquire, the next step – and the most interesting part of the story, for me – is going through the game’s journey to the Acquire we know and love still today.  This is where Sackson’s habit of drafting his letters – and saving the drafts – makes all the difference; as a result it’s possible to follow nearly the whole path.
More than 50 years later and the game is still a monumental achievement that I beg people to play every other week.  Definitely worth the read.

Monday, May 12, 2014

On The Horizon: Evolution...

North Star Games has released some of the most enjoyable party games that have come out in years.  To be honest, Wits and Wagers is about the only trivia game that I think is worth playing.  So when they start posting on BGG to let everyone know that they are going to start publishing strategy games, I think this should be a cause for excitement.  Their first choice:  an update and reprint of a Russian game from 2010 called Evolution: Origin of Species.  Lucky for us, they've taken some time to develop the game further to iron out some of the balance issues with the original version.  They've also been kind enough to provide DoM with a prototype copy so we could get some plays in before the release.

Evolution is a game about creating species and evolving them to survive and thrive.  In fact, it's really a game about eating as much food as possible, whether it be the grass you innocently consume or the other players that you happily devour.  The play is relatively simple and card-driven with the cards serving multiple purposes.  The first thing that happens at the beginning of every round is the players must each select a single card to throw face down in the centre for plant food (each card has a little number in the corner stating how much plant food its worth).  After that, players one at time play all the cards they want to either:

  1. add a useful trait to a species, up to a maximum of 3 traits,
  2. discard to increase a species population size or body size by 1, or
  3. discard to create a whole new species in front of them.

Extra cards can be held for later turns which can be quite useful.  Once all the cards are chosen, the plant food is revealed.  This is often to the sound of groans of the players as there will usually not be enough plant food for all species, especially in the later rounds.  Then, going around the circle one at a time, players take plant food till it runs out.  Once the feeding is done, species' populations drops to the amount of food recovered and the food taken is set aside to be scored at the end of the game.  Often species will not capture any food in the round and will go extinct much to the dismay of the owning player.  

Prototype pieces...  not the real thing
What makes the game interesting are the traits players add to their species to try and increase their chances for survival.  Traits like 'foraging' (species takes 2 food each time), 'unstable dna' (player gets another species when plant food is revealed), and 'cooperation' (neighbouring species gets a food when the species gets a food) all make things a little less predictable.  But the most important trait, by far, is the 'carnivore' trait which allows a species to attack and consume other species, including possibly another of the same player's.  Carnivores can't eat plant food so they must attack another species of a smaller body size.  Each attack drops the victim's population by 1 (zero population and you go extinct!) and the predator gains a number of meat food equal to the victim's body size. 

Now this particular aspect of the game will probably be what people like and dislike the most about the game.  Once players go carnivore - and they will need to at some point as plant food is so sparse as populations increase - the direct attacks will be swift and vicious.  But since so much food is generated each time from 1 population they don't usually eliminate a species.  And if they do, the victim gains extra cards to compensate - a nice balancing rule for this new edition of the game. Since players can replace traits with new ones, one can also swiftly respond to carnivores in future rounds by evolving differently with traits like 'climbing' and 'hard shell'.

Some more traits
So the "take that" aspect of the game is definitely there but not overwhelming.  One can easily defend by evolving differently or just fattening up their species.  Once the cards run out, the final round is played and then the players score up their points for all the food they took throughout the game and the number and population of their surviving species.  Simple.  There were a few rules issues we had to iron out in our plays but this makes sense for a game that is still officially "under development".

Real artwork for the game
All in all, it's a pretty straightforward game which is keeping with the simplicity of the current canon of North Star titles. However, with Evolution North Star has moved directly into the strategy game market.  Evolution is a good choice: an easy-to-learn, strategic but not heavy game of hand-management which has enough chaos and nastiness to appeal to Ameritrash lovers but not enough to alienate a Eurogamer like myself.  It's smart strategy by a company that clearly knows exactly where they're heading.

If you're interested, you should check out their Kickstarter campaign for Evolution which launched last Monday.  They've already reached 480% of their goal.  Their strategy seems to be working....

Friday, May 9, 2014

Winter is coming.....

For the last month, I have been missing my usual Sunday evening board game group as HBO is once again playing Game of Thrones, a fantastic show my friends and I are obsessed with.  Now I've played the big Diplomacy-like board game for GoT but I really didn't enjoy it as it seemed to stall to a point of utter boredom about halfway through (not enough incentive to attack, total flaw!)  I'm thinking the Guess Who version which is described in this article on Nerdist would probably be WAY more fun.

"Hmmmmm......  did they die in the Red Wedding?"
You can print off real images to paste on to your own version of Guess Who at the above link.  Fun!

(Thanks for the tip, Sibs!)

Monday, April 21, 2014

A short review of Splendor....

I'm always looking for simplicity in games, especially the lighter ones.  Much like the mathematical proofs I studied in the yesteryears of my graduate work, the simplest were always the most elegant and the best.  This to me is what makes quickie games like For Sale and Coloretto so wonderful - rules in under a minute but some definite thought involvement.  Splendor is like that - easy to explain and short enough (with the right players) and it seems like it's got some depth.  And it does if you look for it.  But I would argue one can just as easily play this fun game with nary a plan and still walk away handily with the victory.  And therein lies my disappointment although I do think its enjoyable enough filler if its played very quickly.

If a gamer was asked what an engine-building game is, they might say something like, "it's a game where you get resources to buy things which generate more resources and maybe points."  Using this description, Splendor really is an engine-building game boiled down to its purest, purest essence.  There are gems of 5 types which let you buy cards which then give you permanent gems and eventually, on the more expensive cards, points.  And that's about the gist of the game.  First player to 15 points shouts hurrah and shuffles up for another round.  It's almost that simple.  Okay, there's some bonus tiles which you can claim if you get enough cards of certain colours but there isn't much else to it.  On a player's turn, you can take 1 of the following 4 options: take 3 distinct gems or 2 gems of the same colour (if there's still at least 4 of that colour left) or hold a card for later and take a wild chip or buy a card from the table or their hand.

So you can pick up and hold up to 3 cards for later purchase?  This is key because I think this is where the major problem with the game exists.  In my experience with Splendor (including a 5-game bender a couple Saturday nights ago), the 4th choice of action - to hold a card for later and take a wild chip - is completely sub-optimal and one can win easily without ever doing it.  I honestly wonder why the option is even there if it so useless until perhaps the final turn to clinch the victory.  I've now played a few more games since then, refusing to ever pick up a card and only gathering gems when a table purchase is not possible.  And I've won them, in one case quite handily.  Part of the issue is the cards revealed are always so random that if you keep a spread of colours you're almost always able to buy something.  If not, just wait till the next turn and something will probably come up.  The luck factor is unfortunately quite large in this one.

It's too bad because this really is an enjoyable and speedy (if somewhat generic) little game which seems at first glance to offer lots of decisions.  I will say that I have only played my 10+ games with 4 players so we cycle through the decks very quickly.  This probably allows for many cards to be purchased quite easily.  I imagine in a 2-player game one would have to plan a little further ahead as the cards wouldn't get cycled half as much.

Clearly if I've played more than 10 games of this, it's a nice enough diversion (especially for lunch hours at work).  And I'll probably play it a few more times.  But the "holding" option and gold gems are entirely superfluous and one can very easily win this one by just waiting, hoarding chips, and buying the first cards that come up.

Maybe I just like that clicking those coloured chips together makes such a satisfying sound.....