Wok Star: A Tasty Game with a Nice Crunch to It

My first impression of Wok Star was seeing if on the shelf at my local game store. As an active BoardGameGeek user, I was surprised that I hadn’t at least heard of it. I figured it must have just flown under my radar. I was amused by the titular play on words, so I took it off the shelf and looked at it. After rolling my eyes at the totally-not-stereotypical box art, I asked the store manager what he knew about it. He said it was a real-time, cooperative game, sort of a mix between Wasabi and Escape: The Curse of the Temple. I decided to pass, but a few months later, I saw a copy for $10 in an auction, and I pulled the trigger.

Wok Star is a game for 1-4 players, and it plays in 30-45 minutes. The premise is that the players have just opened a Chinese restaurant, and in order to stay open, they have to complete a barrage of orders and manage ingredients, all under the ever-present stress of a ticking timer.
The components are (mostly) high quality. The cards are easily readable with stylized artwork. The ingredient tokens are nice and chunky, with nice graphics on them. The board is simple, but functional (basically all its used for is keeping track of how much of each ingredient you have).

The biggest qualm with the components is the electronic ticking timer. This was almost a great component. Almost. The timer can be set to count down 15, 20, or 30 seconds, depending upon how hard you want the game to be. It looks great, but its fatal flaw is that it is not nearly loud enough. You have to understand that this game gets very chaotic, with lots of yelling and activity. This means that a quiet, ticking timer simply doesn’t work. Moreover, the tempo of its ticks doesn’t increase as it gets closer to the end, so it’s hard to keep track of relatively how much time you have left. And no, you can’t simply count the ticks; there is waaay too much else going on. It’s awesome that Game Salute decided to put this component in the game, and it probably wasn’t cheap to produce. But if they were already going invest in making this timer, they should have put forth a little extra effort to make it really work. However, the saving grace here is that there is a great iOS Wok Star Timer app. Yes, it’s obnoxious that the physical timer doesn’t work well, and you shouldn’t have to download an app just to play the game, but this is a satisfactory solution to a silly problem. (As a side note, there should have been a 25-second option. Just saying.)

Anyway, on to the gameplay. The game is pretty simple. Your restaurant start with 3 basic recipes. Each recipe card shows the ingredient requirements to make it. For example, Fried Rice uses 1 Egg ingredient and 1 Onion ingredient. To make a recipe, you just move the necessary ingredient tokens down one space on the board. You can replenish the supply of ingredients using your dice, which are rolled at the beginning of the round. Basically, each player oversees a few ingredients. For example, I might be in charge of Pork and Bok Choy/Bamboo. Thus, if we run out of Pork, any player can place dice on my card to replenish the supply.

The way this works is neat. Each ingredient card will list 3 dice results that can replenish it. The first one is always wild, meaning any die result gets you the lowest number of that ingredient (initially 1). The second requires a specific die value, but yields more of that ingredient (initially 2). The third result varies, but is usually something like “2 dice that add up to 7” or “2 evens.” These yield the most of that ingredient (initially 3).

You are incentivized to place your own dice on your own ingredient cards, because it will make you extra money at the end of the round, but often, you will need to place them on other players’ cards, to generate enough ingredients to make a tricky recipe.

At the end of each round, you can upgrade existing ingredient cards to make them yield more, and/or buy new recipes. These are both very necessary to victory, but sometimes you have to make interesting decisions about which ingredient to upgrade, or which recipe to buy.

(There are several aspects of the game I’m glossing over, such as the event cards, individual player powers, penalties for failing to complete an order etc., but this review is just to give you a feel for the game.)

Wok Star is a grossly underrated game. The fact that it’s not even in the top 1,000 games on BGG boggles my mind. I guess I understand a little bit; the first print run was small, and the second was from a company that many gamers don’t like, one with a reputation for poor customer service. On top of that, the questionable artwork, the real-time nature of the game, the problems with the timer, and the failed Kickstarter for the 3rd edition probably turned a lot of people off to it.

I have to say, though, despite all of that (and yes, I realize that I’m “despite-ing” a lot here), Wok Star is just a damn fun time. In my experience, real-time games are very hit or miss, but the mechanic really works here. In fact, it’s utterly central to the enjoyment of the game. Much like Space Alert or Escape, the fun lies in the sheer chaos of the game. Wok Star is very easy to teach. New players should understand it in a matter of minutes. When I’m teaching the game, I do a practice round without the timer, just to introduce the mechanics and get the players accustomed to the flow of play. But after that round, it’s go time.

Understanding that Wok Star is not perfect, it deserves a second look. It is a great family game, honestly one of the best in recent memory. The game scales very well. I find it is fun with any number of players. As much as I like Escape, I believe I like Wok Star even more.

Get some friends together, order Chinese takeout, and give it a try!

3 Seeds: Reap Where You Sow

I had the pleasure of playing 3 Seeds with designer Anthony Buhr at Protospiel Milwaukee 2015. 3 Seeds is a very enjoyable card game for 2-4 players. It takes 5 minutes or less to teach, and plays in 30-45 minutes.

THE COMPONENTS:

3 Seeds comes in a small box, about the size of Coup. The cards are good quality, with simple, functional design. Also included is a score track, along with a number of scoring markers, and a turn marker.

The rules in the game are very well-written. Everything is explained succinctly, and new players should understand the game after one read-through.

Overall, the components are good. The graphic design in 3 Seeds is very minimalistic, but it works well.

THE GAMEPLAY:

At the start of the game, players each receive a deck of 6 Seed cards, consisting of 2 Labor, 2 Money, and 2 Time cards. You can think of these as your resources. They also receive 1 Crop card, which lists a number of Seed cards required for completion (i.e. 2 Labor, 1 Time, and 1 Money). Attached to this Crop card is a face-down Harvest card, which determines the amount of points the Crop card is worth. These range from 1-7.

The general flow of play goes like this:

1) On a player’s turn, they draw 3 Seed cards from their deck

2) They may look at OR swap the positions of any 2 Seed cards

3) They may resolve an Event card and play up to 2 Seed cards on anyone’s Crop cards, assuming there is room (more on this below)

4) Completed Crop cards are scored

5) They return any unused Seed cards to the top of their deck

To illustrate:

Player A’s Crop card requires 2 Labor, 2 Time, and 0 Money

If I draw two Labor and one Money cards on my turn, I could play both Labor cards on Player A’s Crop. However, if someone had previously played a Labor card on Player A’s Crop, I could only play one Labor card on this Crop, since it already had one on it. In this case, I could play my other Labor card or my Money card on another player’s Crop.

When a Crop card has all the appropriate Seed cards on it, it is harvested. The Harvest card is revealed, and each Seed card a player contributed scores them that many points. For instance, if I had contributed two Seed cards to a Crop card with a Harvest value of 6, I would get 12 points (6×2). 

This is where peeking and switching cards comes in. 

Suppose that I had previously peeked at an opponent’s Harvest card, and seen that it was a 6. Knowing that this is among the highest-value Harvest cards, I decided to put both of my Seed cards on this Crop. On a future turn, before the Crop is harvested, someone else might come along and swap the Harvest card for a lower-value card. Thus, I may wind up getting 2 points instead of 12. This provides a nice dose of “screw-you” interactivity in the game.

There is also something of a memory element, because you have to keep track of which Harvest cards you have seen and where they are. Crop cards also have keywords on them (to represent the specific “type” of crop), and the owner of the card can get additional points for collecting sets of like types.

I should also mention that the game includes an Event deck. The Event cards allow players do things like switch two incomplete Crops, play additional Seed cards, increase Harvest values, etc. They are all pretty straightforward, and, while they don’t radically alter the game, they are a nice touch and they help keep the game fresh.

MY THOUGHTS:

I enjoy 3 Seeds. It is a very nice, accessible game. The length feels just right for a game of its weight. There is enough strategy to make players feel like their decisions matter, but not enough that it becomes brain-burning. Players who suffer from analysis paralysis shouldn’t have too much trouble with this game. Though 3 Seeds can be played with 2-4 players, it definitely plays best with the full 4 players.

I could see someone feeling like the game is too swingy, with Harvest cards ranging from 1 all the way to 7 points. It could be frustrating to a new player if they played a bunch of Seed cards on a single, high-value Crop card, only to have the Harvest card switched and the point value significantly decreased. Of course, the best way to avoid this (and, I believe, just a good strategy in general) is to diversify where you put your Seed cards. Unless I am able to complete a Crop on my turn, I usually try to put Seed cards on multiple Crops.

The game feels very balanced to me. There doesn’t seem to be a turn bias, and there is enough card-switching and event-playing that a newbie should be able to keep up with an experienced player.

WHO WOULD LIKE THIS GAME:

I believe this game will appeal to the casual gamer more so than the hard-core gamer. The strategy is simple, but there is enough of it that it can be enjoyed by players of varying skill levels. Because of its simplicity, 3 Seeds would work well with families. Kids shouldn’t have a problem grasping it.

I could see 3 Seeds being a good introduction to the Euro-game genre. It doesn’t fit into the strictest definition of a Euro, but the elements of resource management, set collection, and the lack player elimination could be good stepping stones into heavier, more strategic Euros.

All in all, I enjoy 3 Seeds. If you are looking for a heavy, grand strategy game, this will not scratch that itch. But if you’re looking for a quick, light card game, give this one a shot.

3 Seeds is available for purchase through The Game Crafter.

Thanks to Anthony Buhr for the review copy!

In Memoriam: My Friendly Local Game Store

For as long as I can remember, I have loved Game Daze, my friendly local game store. I have spent many hours and many dollars there in my time. For years and years, I would look forward to going in and browsing all the fun merchandise they had in stock. I have many memories of being in that environment, and it holds a special place in my heart.

And now, they are going out of business.

I feel much more personally affected by this than I should. It is, after all, just a store. I have seen stores go out of business before (RIP, Atomic Comics), so this is nothing new. But somehow, deep down, it’s like I’m losing an old friend.

Seeing Game Daze close has made me notice an interesting Catch-22 currently happening in the industry. Over the last five to ten years, we have seen a major boom in the hobby game market. Thanks to a widespread desire for the simple enjoyment of good company, a search for mental stimulation and (usually) healthy competition, and a sense of nostalgia for a more unplugged time, board games are becoming big business. With the advent of Kickstarter, BoardGameGeek, and other special-interest communities, gamers now have means to network, share knowledge, learn about upcoming releases, buy/sell/trade, and spread the love of the hobby.

However, amidst this industry boom, when it seems like retailers should be doing better than ever, they are closing their doors. Amazon and other e-commerce outlets have made it extremely difficult for small-time stores to compete. Game Daze is selling a game at MSRP? You can bet that the big-wigs like Cool Stuff Inc, Troll and Toad, and Funagain Games all have that same item for half that price. Especially as companies like Amazon are providing faster and faster shipping, why would anyone NOT buy from them? Because you want to support a local business? Okay, fair enough. But would you honestly pay sometimes double the Amazon price to support that local business? If so, you’re a better person than I.

In retrospect, there were signs that Game Daze was hurting long before they officially announced their closure. Signs with statements like, “If you buy it on Amazon, it may be cheaper, but if you buy it here, you can play it tonight.” Or all those big sales they had. Or all the game nights and events they hosted to try to get people through their doors. If I look back, these seems to have been a long time coming.

It is with a melancholy heart that I bid farewell to Game Daze. Thank you, Game Daze, for all the memories. Thank you for being integral in getting me into the hobby all those years ago. You will be missed.

As the face of the industry changes, let us not forget our friendly local game stores.

Musings on the Kickstarter Trend in Board Gaming

Over the last few years, the board game industry has seen a complete shift in the way it operates thanks to Kickstarter. Today, unknown designers of no-budget projects can make widely successful products. While this is an exciting trend for aspiring indie designers and publishers, it has its fair share of limitations and problems. I have been developing these thoughts for many months now, and it is time to put them in writing. I have identified two reasons that Kickstarter campaigns may struggle or not reach their full potential. Firstly…

1) Prohibitive prices. I cannot even count the number of times that the following has happened: I see a new game appear on BoardGameGeek’s “Hotness” list. I think it looks awesome. I view the game’s Kickstarter profile. I close the page when I see that it is $80 or more for a single, basic copy of the game. And I don’t think I’m the only one here who has had that experience. KS projects have gotten increasingly more expensive over the last few years.

I would argue that Tasty Minstrel Games (right here in Tucson, AZ) has been at the forefront of the Kickstarter trend since the beginning. Eminent Domain was the first big KS of which I was aware, back in November 2010. It more than doubled its funding goal, weighing in at $48,378 from a goal of $20K. The pledge necessary for a basic copy of Eminent Domain was a measly $35. Admittedly, as a card game, it’s production cost was probably on the lower end, but TMG still managed to make waves in the gaming community from it.

Since then, we as a community have seen huge price inflation, and it’s really the fault of the industry itself. In a market so thoroughly saturated with indie projects, companies running KS campaigns need to strategize means of differentiating their campaigns from the rest. Assuming that gamers are working off of a limited budget (and/or trying not to get in trouble with their spouse), they must be choosy regarding which games will garner their support. Companies know this and work to incentivize you to choose their game. How do they do this? By adding chrome.

Now, I will be the first to admit that I love the so-called “toy factor” in a board game. Games that include top-notch components are more eye-catching, and thus draw more attention from potential buyers. However, better components equals higher production cost equals higher price, especially for games with small print runs. As more and more indie designers join the fray, there is a greater need for individual companies to make their games stand out. What’s more, this trend of high-priced games shows little sign of stopping. Yes, TMG has recently been successful with its “Pay-What-You-Want” model, and the current micro-game trend provides an affordable alternative to three-digit games, but gamers who seek products with custom dice, painted miniatures, Kickstarter goodies, and big linen-finish boxes are going to have to continue paying through the nose.

I would like to pause here and clarify something. I don’t mean to imply that high-dollar KS games are bad or that companies should not sponsor them. Lord knows plenty have succeeded with flying colors (Steve Jackson Games brought in just shy of a MILLION DOLLARS on the Ogre KS. That is certainly nothing to sneeze at.). All I mean to say, and maybe this is just my graduate student budget talking, is that 200-some dollars for Cthulhu Wars is a LOT of money, especially considering…

2) The risk factor. Kickstarter has produced some excellent games, but it has definitely had its share of problems as well. As KS becomes increasingly prevalent, I have sensed many gamers getting tired of it. KS is plagued by fraudulent campaigns, uncommunicative publishers, production issues, cancelled projects, lateness on delivery, and hyped-up games that just turn out to be bad. Certainly, some of this is to be expected, but even high-profile KS campaigns like Odin’s Ravens, Up Front, The Doom That Came to Atlantic City, Dark Darker Darkest, and HeroQuest have had major issues, rustling jimmies in the BoardGameGeek community, and serving as a reminder of the risks of pledging support to an often-unknown entity.

Back in the early days of Kickstarter board game projects, there was a sort of novelty to supporting a campaign. It felt good to say that you were partially responsible for the creation of the project, and it was cool to have your name in the rules. The sense of urgency caused by a limited window of time in which people could pledge created an exciting need for teamwork among backers. It was fun to anticipate the game’s arrival, to have the finished product before anyone else did, and, more than anything, to participate in the next big thing in board gaming.

Fast forward to 2014, and this “next big thing” is rapidly becoming a source of widespread frustration for gamers. Do I think Kickstarter should stop being used? Certainly not. I myself have supported multiple campaigns, and I’m glad I did. Do I think game companies should stop making high-quality games with high-quality components? Certainly not. As gamers, we love awesome figures and cool, custom dice. Do I think high price-points are bad? Certainly not. Just because I cannot personally afford them doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be high-dollar games on the market. Your money is your money to spend as you please.

Kickstarter is a great resource, most of the time. I just want to encourage the gaming community, both producers and consumers, to be aware of these factors as new projects continue to develop.

Thank you for taking the time to read this! I would love to hear any comments you have!

Garden Dice

Garden Dice is a 2012 release from Meridae Games, for 2-4 players. The game takes about 60-75 minutes to play, and it is a fun little family game. The primary mechanic is dice rolling, but in a non-traditional sense. It is not a roll-and-move game, but instead, the dice are used as part of players’ actions, not unlike Alien Frontiers or Kingsburg.

garden_dice__82928.1352502623.1280.1280The basic premise of Garden Dice is that players are planting seeds in a garden in hopes of harvesting the best crops. On a players turn, they begin by rolling 4 standard, 6-sided dice. From there, players can use the results to do a variety of actions. These include buying seeds, planting seeds, watering seeds, harvesting crops, or moving cute critters throughout the garden to attack other players vegetables. The board is set up in a 6×6 grid, and players can place seeds by using two dice results as coordinates. Seed tiles have certain values from 1-5, and players can spend dice to buy seeds of equal or lesser value than the result. Once the seed is planted, players can spend dice to water a seed, and later, to harvest it, scoring points.

One very interesting aspect of the game is “chaining.” When a player waters or harvests a tile, any adjacent tiles of the same kind (seed or plant) of lesser value are also watered or harvested, respectively, possibly creating a chain reaction (5-4-3, etc.). This leads to some cool player interaction, in that players need to strategize their moves based on who is around them. It is often a good idea to try to make other players do your watering and harvesting for you through chaining on their own turns. In other words, players should try to place their own lower-numbered crops next to the higher-numbered crops of their opponents.

garden_dice_tilesDuring the game, players can place a double-sided bird/rabbit tile that allows them to attack the seeds/crops of other players. This player interaction, if done correctly, can be devastating to other players’ progress. While there is a way to remove another players critter tile, it is very costly (three dice, at least one of which must be a 6!). Another option players have is the sundial/scarecrow tile. This allows players to modify a dice roll, or prevent other players’ critters from entering the surrounding area, depending on which side is active.

The game ends when no more seed tiles are available for purchase. At the end of the game, the winner is the player who accumulated the most points through planting and harvesting crops. Bonus points are awarded for several things, including getting sets of all the vegetables or three or more of a kind of a single vegetable.

The components in Garden Dice are high-quality. The box is smallish, comparable to Elder Sign. The game has nice artwork, and it includes a colorful board, tokens, and discs, and nice, wooden dice. While the game is certainly intended for a younger audience, there is enough strategy that older gamers can still enjoy it. The theme may not appeal to everyone, but the mechanics work quite well. If all 50 seed tiles are used in the game, it can take a bit more than an hour to play. However, it’s very easy to get around this. Simply remove two or three seed tiles from each stack to make the game go a little quicker.

Garden Dice is an enjoyable filler game. If you are a fan of lighter dice games, you should check it out. Meridae Games did a good job with the production, and I look forward to seeing more of their products in the future.

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The Lost Dutchman

It was a Friday morning in early February. Like any responsible college student, I was sleeping in later than I should have. At the disgustingly early hour of 8:00 AM, I was awakened to a phone call from Patrick Nickell, a local gamer friend and the creator of “The Lost Dutchman” and founder of Crash Games.

In a groggy, half awake state I answered. Pat informed me how the shipment of “The Lost Dutchman” copies was arriving about a week earlier than anticipated, and he needed an extra set of arms to help unload 8 pallets of games into his garage. Initially, I was unsure whether I would be able to help him, because I had to work that day, but when he mentioned he would pay me in lunch and free board games (my one weakness), I suddenly developed a severe flu that would prevent me from doing any work. And I totally wasn’t faking it. I mean, of course not.

Promo image of TLD

Promo image of TLD

Anyway, long story short, I helped Pat move the games into his garage, and he kindly gave me a copy of the game, and even signed it for me. So what is the game like?

For starters, the theme, for those of you who don’t know, revolves around an Arizona legend of a lost mine filled with treasure. Thousands have tried to find it, but no one has succeeded. Now it’s your turn to take a crack at it.

The components are top notch. Normally, game boxes are not a source of commentary for me, but the box for TLD is the best quality I have ever seen. It is thick, sturdy, and very durable. Inside the game, you get over 100 hex tiles that have a nice indent in them to make them easy to pick up. There are 6 dice: 5 standard d6s, and a slightly larger d6 with the numbers 1-3 and the Action Icon. Each player also receives two well-crafted meeples and a player board with four numeric character traits. The rulebook is nicely detailed to look western, and its contents are pretty comprehensive.
The setup takes about 10 minutes, but it can be pic1585004_mddone while explaining the game to newbies. It is fairly straightforward; a hex grid is set up with each “space” being a stack of 5 hexes. Thus, the board has a three-dimensional feel, and, I must say, I love the thematic element of “digging” for treasure. In addition to the hex grid, a large map tile is placed in the center of the table, as something of a secondary board, with which players interact as they progress on their treasure hunt.

The flow of play is quite simple. Roll the action die, move one meeple along the hex grid accordingly, resolve the tile on which you stop, and move the other meeple along the map board toward the Dutchman’s Mine. If a player rolls the Action Icon, he may attempt to “bury a treasure” he has already acquired, meaning it is guaranteed to be his for the remainder of the game, or he can move the Dutchman Ghost (another nice meeple) to another player’s treasure as an offensive move. The tiles players stop on can have any number of effects, good and bad. Since Pat made a video about these, I won’t go into extensive detail here, but be sure to check it out if you’re interested!

Map board

Map board

Usually, players will find Treasure tiles or be faced with Creatures or Challenges. When confronting the latter, players will need to make skill tests based on their current strength in one or more traits (Vigor, Ingenuity, or Foresight), plus 1d6 versus the Challenge’s target number. Depending upon the outcome, players normally gain rewards or sustain injury.

The game plays very quickly, and can end in one of two ways:

1) A player reaches the Dutchman’s Mine and defeats the Dutchman Creature, if he is there, or
2) Players uncover 6 “Water Level Drops” tiles, which act as a game timer.

At the end of the game, the player who has collected the most gold wins.

There is little downtime in between turns, and players are actively engaged in the game, even during other’s turns. Finding the Dutchman’s Mine gives a player a bonus 15 treasure at game end (that’s a lot), but it does not necessarily mean that they will win. It is very possible that someone else could pull a surprise victory by having collected enough smaller treasures or completed enough challenges. (Just because you catch the Snitch doesn’t mean you automatically win.) In the most recent game I played, my opponent found 27 treasure before I found any, and I still ended up winning. There is also a nice scoring mechanic where, if you overcome multiple challenges of the same type, they will each have a greater reward at game end. For example, if I defeat a single Rattlesnake, it will be worth 4 treasure at game end, but if I beat 2, I would get 10 treasure at game end, because now they’re each worth 5 instead of 4.

All in all, the game is very enjoyable. The strategy is there, but TLD is by no means a brain-burner. While there certainly is player interaction, it is not the primary aspect of the game. The challenges are difficult enough that you often think, “If only my Vigor trait was 2 higher!” To me, this is a good thing, because it presents the plays with some tough decisions. Do you bank on rolling a 6 this turn, or do you take your time, perhaps losing some ground to your opponents, to build up your character’s stats a bit? TLD has lots of replay value. It is a lightweight game, to be sure, but it’s theme is original, it’s gameplay is smooth, it’s components are excellent, and, most of all, it’s fun.

Glad you woke me up, Pat.

Afterword:

I can’t do a review of TLD without mentioning the pack-in bonus game, “Goldfield Gully.” While I will not go into detail on it in this review, do know that TLD gives you more for you money with an extra game included.

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Seven Sisters

“Seven Sisters” is the debut release from Wishing Tree Games. It is a game for 3 to 6 players, and it plays in about 60-75 minutes. The game’s theme involves the Seven Deadly Sins, a fresh theme that I have not seen before. (I don’t know if I could handle another zombie/pirate/space/deckbuilding game…)

Box art

Box art

The primary mechanics of “Seven Sisters” are area control/influence, action selection, and resource management. The game is played over four rounds, each lasting 10-15 minutes. The “board” is made up of seven oversized Sister tiles (The TILES are oversized, not the Sisters. 😛 ), each representing one Deadly Sin. On a player’s turn, he or she can choose from several actions, the most common being playing and resolving a card. Most cards show two Sisters, one in the foreground (Primary) and one in the background (Secondary). If I play a card with Envy and Wrath as the Primary and Secondary, I can do the following:

Play two Influence cubes onto the Primary Sister (Envy).
Play one Influence cube onto the Secondary Sister (Wrath).
Play one Influence cube onto either Sister.

The latter two steps are optional and require spending resources, and they a contingent upon the previous step being completed. In other words, before I can add a cube to the Sister of my choice, I must have played two on the Primary and one on the Secondary. So why do you want to play these cubes? At the end of each round, players look at the number of cubes on each Sister, and the player with the most cubes of their color wins that Sister’s favor and a victory point token with her picture on it. That player’s cubes are then removed and returned to them.

Victory point chips

Victory point chips

As players earn victory points from Sisters, they will receive special bonuses. For example, the player who has the most cubes on Greed gets 5 Gold, the player with the most cubes on Gluttony gets 5 Food, etc. These bonuses are not only thematic, but pretty well balanced, with none being exponentially better than another. Sloth’s bonus is my personal favorite: in the case of ties, both during and at the end of the game, the player with the most Sloth tokens wins.

As Influence cubes come and go from the board, players will need to spend resources to keep cubes available. Plays begin with only some of their Influence available, and may spend turns to purchase more. Here is an example of how resources are used:

At the end of a round, I have the most Influence on Gluttony. I take the rewards, and my cubes are then removed, to be placed back behind my player screen in my unavailable pool. If I have Gold handy, though, I can buy cubes immediately back to my available pool, perhaps saving me from needing to spend a future turn to do so.

The components are top notch, and the art is nicely stylized. Thanks to Kickstarter stretch rewards, Seven Sisters has very nice wood resourceeples (see pictures). This is a huge step up from the original cardboard tokens (which are also included). With a nice box, nice cardboard tiles, nice player screens, nice cards, and 180 nicely painted cubes, this game is, well, very nice!

Indeed, this is not an extensive review of the game. There are rules and Sister abilities I didn’t even touch on, but I cannot recommend this game highly enough. I’m honestly amazed its not ranked substantially higher than it is. It definitely has a Euro feel, but there is certainly a “screw you” element to the game. Seven Sisters is, all around, very fun and engaging. With high production quality, a manageable play time, and room for different strategies, Seven Sisters is definitely worth a try.

Art for "Wrath"

Art for “Wrath”

Afterword:

I cannot write a review of Seven Sisters without mentioning the excellent customer service and communication provided by Wishing Tree Games. About a year ago, I had done some prototype testing for WTG, and, when I was done, Brent Cunningham of WTG asked me to send the prototype back to its designer. He had said he would send me a check to cover the shipping. I did so, and never thought anything else of it.

Fast forward a year, to right now. I got an email from Brent, saying that, as WTG was balancing their budget for the previous year, they realized they hadn’t sent the check. I hadn’t even realized that I never got it, because I just kind of forgot. I emailed Brent back and said it was fine and that I was happy to have covered the shipping. He insisted on sending me not only a full reimbursement, but also a copy of Seven Sisters. Now THAT is good customer service.

PS: The prototype I was testing last year has since been picked up by WTG. Look out for it in the future. It’s called “Island Trader,” and it’s really fun!

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7 Wonders

Asmodee Games’ “7 Wonders” has won more awards in two years than most games will win in their lifetime. It is a deeply strategic, yet elegantly simple card game for 3-7 players that plays in about 30 minutes. It has many characteristics of a Euro-style game, including resource management, limited player interaction, and no player elimination. “7 Wonders” is considered by many to be an excellent gateway game, useful for getting non-gamers interested in hobby games. I think it depends on who is playing.

Here’s a brief overview. “7 Wonders” is played over three ages, each lasting 6 turns. Players take their turns simultaneously, playing one card from their hand and resolving it. Cards do a variety of different things, such as providing resources, constructing buildings, strengthening military power, and developing scientific prowess, just to name a few. Additionally, every player has one of the titular 7 Wonders, which they are attempting to build throughout the game. Sounds pretty standard, right?

Well, what makes the game interesting is that each turn, after played cards are resolved, players pass the remaining cards in their hand to a player next to them, thus giving each player a new selection of cards every round. Obviously, this can make the game somewhat chaotic. However, it adds an interesting level of strategy, forcing players to make difficult decisions about which cards to play. Do you play Card A, which would be awesome for you, and then give the player to your left Card B, which would be awesome for them? Or do you play Card B, even if it may not be the best choice for you, so as to deny your opponent the card they want?

“7 Wonders” really shines in its replayability. Depending upon the number of players, the optimal strategies can change drastically. For example, at the end of each of the three ages, military points (red cards) are scored. This scoring is determined by the numbers of military symbols players have on played cards. If, at the end of the first age, I have 3 military symbols on cards I played, the person on my left has 2, and the person on my right has 4, I will receive a 1 point token for having more than the left player, who will in turn get a -1 point token for having less than me. I will then receive a -1 for having less than the right player, who receives a +1. In later ages, the military rewards are +3 / -1 and +5 / -1. Thus, in a 3 player game, military cards seem to be an excellent strategy. Get points for yourself, while hurting all opponents. In a 7-player game, though, this strategy may or may not be effective, because you are only interacting with the players to your left and right, thus leaving 4 players whose military strength does not directly affect you.

The game is very well balanced in this regard. There aren’t really any overpowered cards, but certain cards can be better than others depending on the actions you have taken previously. In my experience, the only “best” strategy is to focus primarily on one or two types of cards to build up, rather than trying to get a little of everything. Science cards (green), for example, get scored partially based on the number of like symbols squared. As such, if I only have one science card, I will score substantially less than if I had been collecting science symbols all game.

While “7 Wonders” is very easy to play, it can be very difficult to teach. As I have expressed earlier, I feel that I am very good at teaching games. Still, I have found this game to be tricky to teach, even to somewhat experienced gamers. It’s hard to explain why this is, there is just a lot of information for players to keep in mind, enough that it can be overwhelming.

I think this difficulty is due to its attempt to be language independent, relying on pictures and symbols over words and text. As I have suggested, this game is very symbol-heavy. For a first time player, it can be overwhelming. While the rules do include a key to what the symbols mean, it can delay the game to have 6 people trying to determine what all the symbols in their hands mean. Furthermore, this game gets big, and can look intimidating. When I play, I usually just set up the game on the floor, because it takes up a lot of space.

That being said, the pieces are very nice. Oversized cards and thick, sturdy cardboard components showcase the solid production value of the game, but the best part is the game art. It is STUNNING. The individual Wonders are beautifully illustrated, providing appealing visuals and aesthetic themes.

“7 Wonders” is one of those games that’s learned easiest by playing. I think this is a good thing and a bad thing, depending on who is learning. Some people like to know every single solitary word of the rule book before they start playing, others like to have the overall concept explained and learn the details as they go. If the people you game with seem more the latter than the former, this game might be a great addition to your collection. “7 Wonders” is a pretty good, light game, the kind that can be enjoyed by large or small groups. It’s definitely not my favorite game ever, but I enjoy playing periodically. Give it a try, if you get the chance.

Does it deserve 30+ big time awards? I don’t know. It’s a good game, and I’ll leave it at that.

Overall Rating: B

Ten Tested Teaching Tips to Try

I have been told by many people that I am very good at teaching games, so I thought I would share some of the strategies I use in doing so. Here are some pointers for you, to help improve your teaching of games!

1) Be sure you have a good understanding of the game. It seems that this should go without saying, but I have been taught games by people who clearly didn’t know it well themselves. When I get a new game, I usually read the rules at least two full times before trying to explain it. Check out instructional videos and rules clarifications, if necessary.

2) Don’t assume that anything is a given. While you shouldn’t patronize people (it means treating them like they’re stupid), you should thoroughly explain everything, even the stuff that seems like it should be common knowledge.

3) Try to draw examples from other games they may be familiar with. If I’m teaching Flash Point: Fire Rescue, I’ll often use the phrase, “It’s like in Pandemic…” This helps provide relatable examples, and perhaps strike up interest in other games. “If you like this game, you should check out (insert game here.”

4) Don’t just use one style of teaching. People learn in different ways. I myself am a very visual learner. Someone else at the table may learn better by hearing. Try to incorporate examples in your explanation to appeal to all types of learning.

5) Provide plenty of examples. It’s one thing to tell someone a rule, it’s another thing to SHOW them a rule. Demonstration is of utmost importance. If you’re teaching 7 Wonders, show them each of the different types of cards, and explain how they work. Maybe even play a practice round with open-faced hands. That way, any questions can be tackled before they become problematic during the game.

6) Be thorough, but concise. There’s nothing worse than a player getting bored before the game begins. (Okay, well, perhaps being branded in the eye with a cattle prod would be worse, but you get my drift.) You want to be sure to cover the basics of the game thoroughly, but, if at all possible, try to keep the rules explanation under 15 minutes, especially when playing with casual gamers.

7) Teach the basics before you teach the specifics. Before you go into minor things, be sure the newbies have an overall sense of the game. When I teach Puerto Rico, I don’t even mention specialized buildings until everyone has an understanding of the resource production, roles, and other fundamentals. Similarly, if I’m teaching Cosmic Encounter, I don’t assign alien races until everyone understands the turn structure, encounters, the Warp/Void, etc. Only then will I get into the nitty gritty.

8) Inevitably, somewhere down the line, there will arise a situation where “you didn’t explain that rule,” and somebody starts whining about an unfair game. When this happens, try your best to solve the problem without jeopardizing the integrity of the game. Usually, my house rule is, if the mistake is due to me not explaining something, the errant play will be allowed once.

9) Be excited and enthusiastic. If you want your game to be fun, be sure you yourself are having fun. As the teacher of the game, you serve as the first point of contact for the new player with said game. Thus, it is your responsibility to establish a fun environment from the start.

10) The fact is, not everyone likes every game. Thus, sometimes, people will leave a new game dissatisfied. That’s okay. Try again later with a different game. Maybe it will be more successful.

Intergalactic, Planetary

What can I say about Cosmic Encounter? This is THE GAME. This game is as close to perfection as I have ever experienced. Why else would it still, 35 years after its original production, be so highly regarded all over the world?

If you’ve never played Cosmic Encounter, stop reading this, go on Amazon.com, and order it right now. Now that you’ve done that, allow me to give you some background on the game. Cosmic Encounter was designed by a bunch of white people in 1977, the same white people who make the classic game Dune. Taglined as “the science fiction game for everyone,” it has been reprinted many times by many companies, and still remains one of the most well-loved games in history. I’m not here to give you a compare / contrast between editions; there are plenty of those reviews already out there. What I want to do instead is talk about the forgotten Cosmic Encounter, my personal favorite, the Avalon Hill version from 2000.

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The overall concept of the game is this: each player represents an alien faction struggling for dominance within the galaxy. Through clever alliances, bluffing and deception, and trying to get into your opponents’ heads, you vie for stakes in foreign planets. Each turn, one of four colors is selected, corresponding with the four colors of planetary systems controlled by the players. The active player must then launch an attack with a number of spaceships against the defending forces already on that planet. A simple, card-driven combat is resolved between players, and the winner of the encounter gets some bonus.

Players begin the game with 20 spaceships, divided evenly among their 5 starting planets. A player wins if they have presences in 5 other planets, outside of their own system. Simple enough. However, the game shines bright through its player interaction. Cosmic Encounter utilizes my personal favorite game mechanic: variable players powers. In this game, each player’s alien faction has one or two special abilities, unique to only that player. Perhaps it is a rule they are allowed to break or the ability to keep ships out of the Warp (a sort of limbo zone where ships go after they lose in battle). Thus, the real beauty of the game is that every player is better than every other player in one respect or another. I may have an advantage in combat, but your ships may be tougher than mine. I may be able to pick up cards you discarded (potentially a huge advantage), but you may be able to see what cards I have in hand.

The other side of the player interaction, the engine that really makes this game run, is the alliances. When one player is encountering another player in combat over a planet, both sides have the ability to invite allies to join them in the fight. If I’m one planet away from winning the game, and I’m launching an attack on the last planet I need to seal the victory, you’d better believe my opponents will put aside their differences to make sure I don’t succeed. Likewise, alliances can be used as a sort of diplomatic bargaining chip; “Remember last encounter, how I allied with you? You owe me one, now.” Let me tell you firsthand, this is fantastic. The whole element of psychology makes the game a rich, memorable experience. How can you make it so that other people work for you without realizing it? Get those fools to do your intergalactic bidding!

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The Avalon Hill version of Cosmic Encounter looks amazing, as you can see. This is a large part of why it’s my favorite. Even though there are only a handful of alien factions and no expansions, the visual component of this edition is head and shoulders, knees and toes above the others, even the Fantasy Flight edition. Gorgeous, hard plastic sculpts of abstracted colony ships, the mothership that holds up to 12 colony ships, 4 defense ships that each hold 4 colony ships, a board that looks like a spiral galaxy, made out of nice, thick cardboard, awesome CG artwork… This is it.

Take my word for it, Cosmic Encounter is the kind of game you will play 100 times and still enjoy. It is extremely friendly to learn, easy to pick up, and it is an absolute must play.

Overall Rating: A+

Aforementioned “white people,” 3 of the game’s designers.