Tuesday, October 25, 2011


Few things say Halloween fun more than zombies, and with the night of mischief only days away, here is a new offering by designer Max Holliday.
Eaten By Zombies! is a brand new (2011) offering into what is admittedly a rather crowded field of zombie-themed boardgames. There are literally dozens that fall into the basic premise of players trying to avoid the rotting hordes of undead, and Eaten By Zombies! doesn't stray from the idea either.
Then again Hollywood, and 'B' filmmakers have churned out dozens of zombie films and we still go to enjoy the carnage of Resident Evil or the dark humor of Shaun of the Dead.
But back to Eaten By Zombies! which has some nice elements which make it one of the newer zombie offerings worth a look.
To start with it's a card game, and that generally means a bit lower cost that a full boardgame.
Eaten By Zombies! also accommodates two-to-four players, and that allows some nice versatility, allowing a couple to play it, or to have the neighbours for a game.
The game is also stated to play in about 20-minutes. The company estimates, in this case Mayday Games, usually anticipate players knowing the game fairly well, so in most cases games are likely to last longer, but will still be nice, quick plays.
Players start off with an identical 12 cards, from which they draw six as a hand. The basic hand includes cards which add to attacks on a zombie, help flee if that is your choice, and a couple of sandwich cards as a resource.
With six cards in hand you draw a zombie card, from a deck of 25. You then decide if you want to fight or run, and use cards in your hand to enhance your chance of doing whichever action you choose.
If you are successful you get to collect useful items, guns, crowbar, ammo etc., which go to your hand and then you draw back to six cards.
If you flee then the zombie card goes to the zombie discard pile, so when you need to reshuffle your draw pile, you will get zombie cards which can only be gotten rid of if you play them into the zombie horde attacking another player, making it tougher on them. This aspect makes three and four player games a bit less of a head-to-head, get the other guy contest.
Death is all but inevitable, but if you are the last player standing you win. If at any time the entire zombie deck is depleted, because the players have killed all of them rather than using flee, all remaining players alive win together. That creates a unique cooperative/competitive aspect to Eaten By Zombies! You can better survive by cooperation, but the need to rid your hands of zombies forces you into competition with other players.
All told there is some definite ghoulish fun to be had with Eaten By Zombies!
Check this card game out at www.maydaygames.com

-- Review appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper October 26, 2011 - Yorkton, SK. Canada


Nothing conjures up thoughts of Halloween more than a horde of mindless zombies bent on having a snack on some poor guy's brains.
Now personally I'm not sure zombies exist, so the best option for exploring the craze around the mindless critters is to play one of the many board games created around them.
Which brings us to Endicott Epidemic: Infectious Contagion, a card game where survivors fight hordes of zombies, race the clock to find the cure before an atomic bomb wipes out the town, and generally scratch and claw to survive.
Created by Douglas Harvey in 2010, Endicott Epidemic packs a lot of positive aspects into a single deck of cards.
To start with the game can be played solitaire, although the chance of winning is a razor thin one, or by up to eight players. That really gives the game a broad range, and can hit the table in most any situation.
The next positive is that the game has three eventual outcomes, so games can take decidedly different paths.
As a group -- each player takes a character card with special attributes on the game -- you can find the 'cure' to the zombie plague and win, with ultimate bragging rights going to the player with the most zombie kills.
The countdown can get you, where the four cards are turned over which result in the nuclear bomb striking. Game over.
Or players can all be turned into zombies, again game over.
On our first play night we had all three outcomes. That seems pretty nicely balanced.
The game also has levels of difficulty. There are 10 extra tough zombies that are much harder to kill. The easiest game has two of these big baddies involved. Four is harder, seven harder still, and all 10, a suicide operation.
The game has already spawned a couple of expansions, a modest six-card one which comes with a deluxe edition, and Endicott Epidemic: Infectious Contagion Expansion #1: Black Ops, an 18-card expansion which adds the MBI Black Ops squad, a team of five deadly Soldiers under the command of the ruthless Chrissy. They know the bomb is coming and will wipe out all traces of their crimes, but on the small chance that a survivor escapes with the Hermit and his Intel, they are out to get the survivors (players) first.
In correspondence with the game designer, two other expansions are on the horizon; a scout pack allowing players tools to look through the play deck to see what is coming, and a 'Radioactive Rumble" which will give players another hazard to overcome, the possibility of radiation poisoning.
The game is evolving, and growing, another positive, since it keeps the game fresh.
A perfect game for the Halloween season, or any night as a fairly quick 45-minute, zombie-fest.
Check this great card game out at www.togentertainment.com

-- Review appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper October 19, 2011 - Yorkton, SK. Canada


So Halloween approaches.
Well Minion Games has an offering tailor-made for the upcoming spook night.
"In ages long past, the Master taught you the dark secrets of undeath. You could no longer perish, and as long as you had fresh body parts available, neither could your loyal servants - who were coincidentally made somewhat more loyal by the zombification process. But now the Master has fallen! ...Again. And this time those vile heathens have taken the inconvenient extra precautions of separating and inhuming some integral pieces of his unliving remains," relates the company website (www.miniongames.com )
"In these dire times, one has to look after his own, and you're a necromancer who is more dangerous than most; you're a necromancer with a business plan. Your zombies will dig up graves and loot valuables, and while they're at it, they'll grab fresh body parts so you can make more zombies to dig up more graves. Sounds good, right? Unfortunately, it's so good that other necromancers are after the same cemeteries you are!"
And therein lies the fun lure of the 2011 release Grave Business from designer Andy Van Zandt.
The premise of the game is such a fun one you can't help but be drawn into this one which accommodates two-to-four players.
So the first impression from the description was a good one.
The light-hearted cartoon-ish art makes this one softer for a family than the name might imply.
Then I opened the box and was greeted by a pile of card board sheets that I had to punch a bigger pile of cardboard pieces of out of. Now I recognize games need pieces, and cardboard 'chits' are a reasonably priced option, and when thick as these are, they will last.
But when there a dozens of chits, and I do mean dozens, I can't help but see lost pieces down the road. How many Scrabble sets are complete a year after purchase?
The concern becomes worse if you travel your games to local club events, or the neighbours for a night of fun.
Past that the components are solid.
The game mechanics are pretty straight forward, although you can imagine moving and piling and tracking chits is a rather large of things. For me that takes away from the game a bit, but most will accept it as the norm.
The game is essentially one of competing with other players to collect treasure and body parts, just some good ghoulish fun, especially for this time of year.

-- Review appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper October 12, 2011 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- PUMPKING

So we are into October and that means thoughts of Halloween, and that means it's time for a look at a few games which fit the season, starting with one which has not been published, so if you want to play you need to be a little crafty.
The game in question is Pumpking, a 2008 release by designer Bobby Doran.
The game is essentially an abstract strategy game for two players with a definite Halloween theme pasted on.
Generally abstract strategy games with pasted on themes, games such as Hey! That's My Fish are a total turn off, but with a soft spot for Halloween this one is all right.
Pumpking, in terms of mechanics was inspired by the ancient game Latrunculorum, which is considered about 2000 years old.
Latrunculorum was known to be played by the Romans, and versions of the same game may have been played before by the Ancient Greeks and Egyptians, and afterwards by the Persians. That said the exact rules of the game have been lost to time, leaving various experts arguing game board size, number of pieces etc.
What does seem agreed to in the case of Latrunculorum is that capture is made when a piece has opposing pieces on either side of it. The idea of sandwich, or custodial capture is the mechanic used in Pumpking.
Pumpking has each player with six pumpkin warriors which move as chess rooks, two bats moving as chess knights, and a prince which moves as chess queen.
The game is played on a 6X11 board, and uses the Latrunculorum method of capture.
The game plays quickly, but there is room to employ strategy, although the smallish board means an error can be deadly.
So as stated this is a game you must craft. The rules and a nice board to download can be found at http://www.boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/38426/pumpking
As for pieces, Halloween is the perfect time to find suitable things to use. Head to the Halloween shelves in a store. That's where I found cheap plastic pumpkin whistles that with a quick trim, I was able to weight with a marble and glue into a pop bottle cap.
The bats were from cheap give-away rings that glued to a thread spool as if they were clinging to a pillar.
I used a gaming miniature for the princes, but there would be lots of options for the key piece (capture the prince and win).
Whatever you do to craft Pumpking, the effort will be worth it for the fast-playing abstract strategy game with its roots in ancient boardgaming history.

-- Review appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper October 5, 2011 - Yorkton, SK. Canada


When it comes to board games there are those you buy in the store. Lots of those have been reviewed here through the months.
Then there are the kind where you need to be a bit crafty. The game rules exist, but no publisher has picked up the game, so if you want to play, you have to fashion the board and pieces. It's not that such games are poor. In fact many are better than some you pay good money for. Understanding the vagaries of why some get published and others do not is fodder for a treatise best left to other outlets than this.
And, then there is a third option for finding a great board game to play, and that is the realm of games where rulesets are created for games utilizing existing game boards and pieces.
Most gamers will own a checker/chess board and a set of checkers. It is about as fundamental element of a board game collection as you can get.
With those simple items there are a wide range of games which can be played simply by accessing online rules and digging out the board and checkers.
Murus Gallicus is one such game.
The game is played on a rectangular board consisting of 56 cells (8x7). A standard checkerboard is 8x8, so you simply ignore one row and away you go.
Each player starts with a set of 16 tokens referred to as stones (the checkers).
At the start of the game, each player takes a set of stones and stacks two stones on each of their eight squares nearest them.
The game is supposed to reflect Romans versus Gauls, so the Roman player uses the light pieces, and the Gaul player uses the dark ones.
The basic units of the game are towers and walls. A tower consists of two like-coloured stones in a cell (the starting formation is all towers), and are the only pieces which can move in the game.
A wall is a single stone in a cell. Walls block movement and can also act as stepping stones which can be used later in the creation of new towers.
A tower moves by a sowing method. Pick up the two pieces and seed forward, one each in consecutive spaces, which can include on top of single wall pieces of the same colour.
Tower stones can be used to remove adjacent opponent walls, through a sacrifice, so both players lose a piece sacrifice.
A player is stalemated if unable to move/sow or sacrifice at the start of his or her turn.
The game sounds simple, and it is in terms of rules, but elements such as set formations, learned as you gain experience, make strategy important.
As examples there is the Gallic Wall consisting of orthogonally connected walls (and sometimes towers) requiring the opponent to go around the wall or blast his or her way thorough using a sacrificed stone; The Chariot consists of a tower, wall and empty space aligned, and he battering ram consists of two towers and an opponent wall aligned whereby sacrificing a tower stone, the opponent's wall can be removed.
Overall Murus Gallicus plays like a much older game. You actually get the feeling Romans might have played this in the shadow of the Hadrian's Wall. That is praise, at least in my books, for game developer Phil Leduc who captured such a classic feel when designing Murus Gallicus in 2009.
So if the checker board has been gathering dust search Murus Gallicus online for the full rules, pull out the board and pieces and explore a new game with simplicity and depth. (There is a commercial set available through a European company, although why one would invest in one given the easy use of a checker set escapes me).

-- Review appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper September 21, 2011 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- SPLUT !

It's getting to that time of year when the sun goes down earlier and that means longer evenings to fill. Of course boardgames are a good option.
So too is crafting the board game before playing it.
Which brings us back to the realm of print 'n play, and web published games. There aren't commercial versions of the games available, so the only way to play them is with a bit of work ahead of time.
In many cases the extra work is well worth it, and actually adds a lot to the gaming experience because you have had to create the board and pieces.
One game well worth the effort, and relatively simple to create is Splut!
To start with how cool is the name? It conjures a certain image, and in this case it fits as the premise of the game is to have one of your pieces toss a 'rock' game piece onto your opponent’s primary piece.
But before we get to the cool piece array of Splut!, I should mention this is an abstract strategy game which can be played by two, three, or four players. In the case of abstracts the best, chess, Go and others are two-player only, and frankly in terms of strategic play Splut! is best as a two-player game.
That said, an abstract that even allows a three, or four-player option is rare, so that is a huge bonus with Splut!.
Splut! grows more chaotic, and near impossible to plan strategy with four players in action.
Chaos is not a bad thing in this case, since Splut! is a fantasy-themed game with its roots in chess.
Players compete in an arena (the board) with each participant controlling a team consisting of one stonetroll, one dwarf, and a sorcerer.
Designer Tommy De Coninck has done a nice job with the mechanics. During a turn players have three moves to make, as they attempt to get your stonetroll to a rock (four Rocks are provided in the arena) and let him throw it onto an opposing Sorcerer. This will eliminate that team.
The stonetroll, dwarf and sorcerer each have unique movements.
So back to fashioning a set. The board, in fact several interpretations of the board, can be found online and printed for personal use. Start by checking out www.toco.be/splut
The pieces are a matter of personal taste. Some opt for using gaming miniatures, and there are a huge variety of trolls, dwarves and wizards available from a range of fantasy wargame lines.
Another option is to go for the representational look, which can be easier to achieve. In my case a variety of wooden thread spools painted up nicely with different sizes representing the troll, dwarf and sorcerer.
Whichever approach you take to crafting Splut! it is worth the effort since the game is simple to learn (full rules are online), and a riot to play.

-- Review appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper September 14, 2011 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- ZOXSO

When a boardgame has the tag line 'The New Ancient Game' on the box it accomplishes two things, at least in my case; it draws my attention, and sets a very high bar for itself.
When it comes to abstract strategy games many of the best have been around for decades, if not centuries; games such as Go, chess, Camelot and Shogi.
The tag line on ZoxSo suggests it wants to be thought of in terms similar to the aforementioned classics.
That is a pretty 'heady' expectation. Those games have stood the test of time, and in all likelihood will be played a 100-years in the future.
Will anyone but maybe my descendents know about ZoxSo, if this game warrants being placed in my legacy trunk, a collection of games I am hoping will stay in the family long after I am gone?
Well that is a tough question to answer for a game released only in 2009, and from a smaller publisher at that.
Indie released games take some time to grow an audience. Arimaa is managing to attract growing interest, and yet as fantastic as that game is, it is far from being chess yet in terms of players and interest.
ZoxSo has a long way to go indeed to be a true hit.
That all said, there are many elements designer David Weinstock has put into ZoxSo which remind of older games.
There are bits of checkers and yes chess here. You hear that statement often about new abstract strategy games, but in this case they are warranted. For example the Ma piece actually moves as a knight, so the comparison is obvious.
So let's start with the components. The board is heavy, folding cardboard. In time I'd expect the folds may crack, but still solid enough. A rollable board would be a step up.
The pieces remind of poker chips. They are plastic with stickers on each side. Again quite functional, although if the game catches on a metal engraved set would be amazing.
Each player has 10-disks, four Ma, five Dao and one Xing. Each piece has a silver (Zox) side, and a colour (So) one.
The board too is divided into points called Pearls and then Stones. There is a further division with an inner and outer area.
Only Zox pieces are allowed on Pearls, and move one Pearl to the next, a single space at a time. A Zox piece cannot move, or capture across the 'wall' dividing the inner and outer areas.
The game starts with players taking turns placing the Zox pieces anywhere on pearls outside the 'wall'.
Then the real game begins, with capture by replacement.
When flipping a piece up to the Stone, the So side becomes active. As stated the Ma moves as a chess knight on the Stones, the Dao as rook, and the Xing as a one-space rook. So pieces can move across the entire board ignoring the 'wall'.
The goal of the game is to get your Xing to the centre stone, or to capture the opponent's Xing to win.
There are a couple of other rules, including a rather devious chain movement and capture mechanism. From the ruleset, "On the Pearls, a group of at least two adjacent pieces of the same colour (dark or light) form a “Zox-chain”. On any given turn, one piece in a Zox-chain may make a legal move or capture for another piece in that chain, in its stead. Such ‘chain movement” is legal only for pieces that occupy Pearls."
There is a lot going on here in terms of movement options, although the number of options make defence a challenge. As a result the game plays fast, under half an hour. That is good that multiple games can be achieved at a sitting, but may limit exploration of the diverse game play offered by ZoxSo. Some of the creative play options mean quick ends to game, which can be a bit under-satisfying as a slower game would create more time to truly develop the rich options the ruleset offers.
Still this is a game worth delving into and one which with repeated game play may grow to be a definite keeper among modern abstracts at least.
Check it out at www.mindspanlabs.com

-- Review appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper September 7, 2011 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- JUMP GATE

It's never a bad idea to undertake a bit of space exploration at the gaming table and Jump Gate is a pretty good choice as the way to do it.
Created in 2010 by games designer Matt Worden, who is also responsible for Castle Danger reviewed here earlier, Jump Gate was the 2011 Games Magazine Game of the Year, which in itself is pretty high praise for the game.
Accommodating two-to-six players, Jump Gate is one where players explore over the gaming area, visiting one of eight-planets to discover what resources they hold.
As spaceship captains you compete to be the first to a planet to claim it, but of course there are pitfalls out there which can toss a cosmic wrench into the works.
By claiming planets players gain resources, which mean fattening the coffers and gaining face across the breadth of space.
Controlling plants and gaining resources, accomplished through card play, ultimately combine to determine who wins.
The card components of what is essentially a resource claiming game are quite good, which is refreshing given that it is from a small indie producer. Kudos to Worden for his effort in that regard.
The multiple planets and resource options give the game replay value, and the fairly simple ruleset, for a game of this ilk, make it easily taught to new players wanting to challenge the black voids of space.
All told, Jump Gate is a pretty good way to kill an hour at the gaming table, actually better than many of the options out there.
Check it out at www.mwgames.com

-- Review appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper August 24, 2011 - Yorkton, SK. Canada


It was immediately intriguing when I came across a game which offered both skill, and strategy.
The Knights of Crylail offers players both.
On the skill side, it is a finger-flicking game. That means it requires the same skill set as the classic Crokinole. If you don't have a steady hand and a deadly aim as you settle in to flick your wooden disks you best practice because that is at the heart of Knights of Crylail.
The story lore is fun to start with.
"The warring kingdoms of Crylail are forced to put their differences aside for a time as they turn to fight a common foe. A dark wizard has summoned three mighty Drak-Borgs, equipped them with stones of power and sent them to their death in the Void. When each Drak-Borg meets this fiery doom, the wizard and his legions increase in power. The hope of the Free Lands of Crylail depends on the brave knights and their fellow fighters sent to slay the Drak-Borgs in the Lanten fields at the edge of the world," details the single rules sheet for the game.
The rules are very simple, but also allow for some strategic decisions.
The Void is represented by the edge of any convenient table. Players will send their disks (the knights) down the table, attempting to place them in scoring positions near the three target disks (the Drak-Borgs).
The components are great. There are three Drak-Borg disks, and then each player gets a set of six knights. Triangles are included to mark the launch and battle lines. All are made of wood, always a bonus in terms of components. It also all fits in a small cloth bag, so taking it with you is easy.
The playing field is a smooth table.
Place the Drak-Borg at one end, behind the battle line.
Set the launch line at the opposite end of the table. Players take turns flicking their knights from behind the launch line toward the Drak-Borg to score points.
If the knight goes off the table or stays on the table but does not cross the battle line, it is removed from play for that round. Knights removed from play are placed face-down to indicate they have been used that round.
Where the strategy comes into play is that each of the six knights, marked by a brand, has unique attributes, which impact scoring. It is a player's choice when to use each knight, adding a layer of decision-making to each game round.
As examples; Spearmen – represented by the Spear, if this knight is closest to the Void (edge of the table behind the battle line), it is worth six points.
The Slayer – represented by the Axe, this knight scores double points if it scores in the round. It cannot be the last knight a player sends into battle.
It is the added layer of strategic play option in terms of piece selection which gives this finger-flicking game an added boost in terms of enjoyment.
If you like games that require skill, and like a bit of strategy mixed in, then Knights of Crylail is a must.
Check it out at www.bluepantherllc.com

-- Review appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper August 17, 2011 - Yorkton, SK. Canada


Regular readers will no doubt recognize that dice rolls and I do not actually get along all that well.
Games requiring dice rolls often leave me frustrated with Lady Luck. She seems to take special pleasure in turning near victory into laughable defeat based on a dice roll.
As a result of bad luck with dice, I have become a huge fan of abstract strategy games, those which rely on out-thinking an opponent. At least then the loss is mine, and I can work on improving how I play strategically, rather than lamenting how the dice roll. (A deck of cards is only slightly less frustrating than dice).
While abstract strategy games are favoured by myself, I do have a growing interest in a category of games known broadly as dexterity games, and within that category, finger-flicking games specifically.
People are probably most familiar with crokinole as a finger-flicking game.
The Canadian-designed classic might be the best board game ever created, but that is for a future review.
This week the game is Flicochet, a wonderfully simple finger-flicking game which comes in a small package making it ideal to take anywhere you go that you might want a little gaming fun.
The game is reminiscent of bocce/lawn bowling, miniaturized to the tabletop. If not familiar with bocce, it's a lawn game which works on the premise you toss a smaller ball onto a spot on the lawn, then take turns with an opponent rolling larger balls to get closest to the 'jack'. Scoring is like curling, in that you score points for each ball closer to the 'jack' than your opponent.
Flicochet has the same basic rule set using small wooden disks and played on a tabletop.
Played on a smooth-topped table, generally the bigger the better, players place one, or two slightly larger black wooden disks.
Then one player, or team, takes six white wooden disks, the other red disks. You take turns flicking the disks toward the black ones to score points. Along the way you can knock your opponent's piece away, much like a take-out in curling, or you can hit and move the black disks, hopefully to your advantage.
There are some variant rules, but they are equally simple.
Overall this little game is great. Wooden pieces are always a bonus, and the small package (about the size of a deck of cards), makes it easy to take with you. You can teach the rules in a minute and be set for lots of fun, and with practice you can even get better at Flicochet as you hone an actual skill.
A definite winner of a game.
Check it out at www.adventurelandgames.com

-- Review appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper August 10, 2011 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- THE WAR OF 1812

The War of 1812 was another moment in this country's past which most of us are likely to recall from history class.
The war was one fought between the United States and the British Empire. With what was to become Canada still under British rule in 1812, and the United States directly south battles were inevitable, and both land and naval battles were fought on the frontier, which ran along the Great Lakes and Saint Lawrence River.
It is those battles which brings us to this week's game, The War of 1812, from Columbia Games, an effort I see as a sister game to Quebec 1759 reviewed here last week, since the two games come from the same company, utilize the same mechanics, and focus on battles with a Canadian connection.
There is a lot to like with The War of 1812 including a fine period-feel map.
Troop movement is conducted via a simple to understand point-to-point system.
The game comes with handfuls of blocks to represent units on both sides of the conflict.
As in Quebec 1759, it is the block system, familiar to many Columbia Games, which make this relatively simple approach to a wargame both interesting and re-playable. Rather than using traditional counters to represent units on the map the game uses wooden blocks that stand upright with unit details only shown on one side.
The result is basically secret troop deployment which is reflective of the reality on a battlefield. Not knowing what the opponent is doing strategically gives this game a feel of realism using a rather simple mechanic.
The fact the blocks are wood is aesthetically pleasing, and the stickers apply easily, adds to the component value.
The blocks can also be rotated so the current strength is the top number. Most war games have some type of mechanism which tracks troop unit strength, but blocks with four sides do allow some added detail potential.
Simply put Columbia's block system adds depth to a game without a lot of bookkeeping keeping game time manageable.
The ruleset is well laid out, and you can be re-enacting the War of 1812 in very little time once you crack the cellophane on this game.
The game may lack the detail craved by some wargamers, but casual fans of the genre will love it.
The fact few Canadian battles are chronicled in games at all make The War of 1812 a near must have.
Check it out at www.columbiagames.com

-- Review appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper July 27, 2011 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- QUEBEC 1759

War games have long been a popular genre in terms of boardgames.
The genre ranges from the simplest representation of two sides at war, to a game so thick in atmosphere and real-life-reflecting detail that they are only for the most dedicated wargamer.
Quebec 1759 falls somewhere in between, probably leaning toward the simpler of wargames to play, although in this case it makes the game no less fun to play.
For Canadians this game holds special interest since it is based on one of the most significant events in the early creation of this country,
Quebec 1759 covers the conflict between the British and the French in Canada during the Seven Years War.
Most of us will recall the conflict from history class in school.
The Battle of the Plains of Abraham, also known as the Battle of Quebec, was a pivotal battle in the Seven Years' War. The battle began on Sept. 13, 1759, and was fought between the British Army and Navy, and the French Army, on a plateau just outside the walls of Quebec City, on land that was originally owned by a farmer named Abraham Martin, from which the name is derived.
The culmination of a three-month siege by the British, the battle lasted about 15 minutes. British troops commanded by General James Wolfe successfully resisted the column advance of French troops and Canadian military under Louis-Joseph, Marquis de Montcalm, solidifying the names of Wolfe and Montcalm in Canada's history.
This board game focuses on the historic conflict.
The game comes with a beautiful map reflective of the period.
Troop movement is conducted via a point-to-point system following the roads and towns in the area around Quebec.
The game comes with handfuls of blocks to represent the British and French units.
It is the block system, familiar to many Columbia Games, which make this relatively simple approach to a wargame both interesting and re-playable. Rather than using traditional counters to represent units on the map the game uses wooden blocks that stand upright with unit details only shown on one side.
The result is basically secret troop deployment which is reflective of the reality on a battlefield. Not knowing what the opponent is doing strategically gives this game a feel of realism using a rather simple mechanic.
The blocks can also be rotated a block so the current strength is the top number. Most war games have some type of mechanism which tracks troop unit strength, but blocks with four sides do allow some added detail potential.
Simply put Columbia's block system adds depth to a game such as Quebec 1759 without a lot of bookkeeping keeping game time manageable.
The fact the blocks are wood is aesthetically pleasing, and the stickers apply easily.
The rule set is well laid out, and you can be re-enacting the famed battle quickly.
When you add factors such as component quality, the excellent block mechanic, and relatively short game time (about an hour), and then add in its Canadian connection and the 1972 released Quebec 1759 is a great addition to a gaming shelf.
The ability to try and change the outcome of the famous battle is just too much fun to pass up.
Check it out at www.columbiagames.com

-- Review appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper July 20, 2011 - Yorkton, SK. Canada


Regular readers will know by now I have a particular interest in chess variants.
While I recognize the familiar western chess is a classic, which I have not come close to mastering, I will admit to liking variety. That is why I love Omega Chess with its larger board and additional jumping pieces, the wizard and champion. I find the changes as an enhancement to the chess experience.
Then there is Spartan Chess, reviewed here some weeks ago, which offers two distinct piece arrays, the familiar chess side opposed by a Spartan layout with pieces moving differently. This was a great find, although with no commercial set I had to become something of a craftsman to fashion a set. It was a worthwhile effort.
Which brings us to this week's review game, Odin's Rune Chess created in 2005 by Gary Gifford. I do appreciate Gifford had his reason for incorporating runic design elements into the online game pieces, but it would be smoother to drop rune from the name and go with the simpler Odin's Chess, which of course leads one back to the idea of Norse mythology which again is part of the games theme.
Now when one looks at chess variants there are two rather broad areas, one expanding on regular chess, usually is alternate board size and new pieces, such as Omega Chess, and those which really change everything up but hold to be chess based on 'the feel' of the game.
Odin's Chess falls somewhere in between.
The rook and bishop remain from regular chess, although here I might have changed the piece name of the bishop which I associate more with Christianity than Norse mythology.
From there the game diverges significantly.
The forest ox moves and captures as a knight, plus can optionally remove any one piece one space away orthogonally or diagonally, while staying on the square it just moved to. So the forest ox can capture two pieces in one turn. It automatically becomes the power piece of the game.
The pawns do not promote, but have an enhanced forward move, and can also retreat, so they too are powerful game tools.
The Valkyrie is essentially an enhanced queen. A Valkyrie can capture enemy kings, pawns, and pieces, that are then removed from the board, moving in all eight directions as a queen. But Valkyries also have a powerful additional move. It can also capture a friendly King, piece or pawn by moving to that pieces location, then immediately placing that friendly King, piece, or pawn on any one square that the Valkyrie just traveled through. It can dramatically change a board layout, and with two Valkyries per side they have a lot of influence.
Each side also has two kings, you must capture both to win.
The King in Odin's Chess is either very powerful, or a lame duck, depending on the situation. A King can only move when it has at least one friendly non-King piece adjacent to it; or if a Valkyrie can move it as explained previously. If a Pawn, Valkyrie, and Forest Ox were next to a King, the King could move and capture as would any one of those pieces. The King could even perform the Valkyrie piece movement move or the Forest Ox double kill; providing that it had those pieces adjacent to it.
Isolated from friendly pieces the king is stationary.
The game is chess, but is dynamically different, and a total blast to play.
Now the bad news, there is no commercial set, so you have to make your own.
The runes Gifford uses in his graphics are simple enough to draw, albeit crudely in my case. Given the Norse theme painting on small flat rocks would be great, but finding 40 small flat rocks is a challenge. I used the back of Scrabble pieces, then painted over the letters in black. They work quite well.
The larger 10X10 board is not too hard to find, although drawing one on a piece of leather like I did adds to the old Norse feel, and it is easy to roll the pieces inside the leather board to storage, so Odin's Chess transports well.
This is a great game that plays very differently from regular chess, but the differences are easily understood as well.
Take some time, create a set, and enjoy.

-- Review appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper July 13, 2011 - Yorkton, SK. Canada


Uncle Chestnut's Table Gype (UCTG) is one of those games which has a lot of interesting aspects which draw one's interest to the game.
To start with this 2010 release from Eternal Revolution has a tie to literature.
In his Autobiography, G.K. Chesterton, a British author who died in 1936, mentions “the well-known and widespread national game of Gype” which he and H.G. Wells invented. It's the first game with a book tie in -- Jetan by Edgar Rice Burroughs an example previously reviewed here -- but such history always adds to the game mythos.
The details of the game were never actually defined in print, so may not truly have been invented, but it did prove to be the seed for this game some 75-years later.
The game UCTG was designed by Paul and Christopher Nowak, and draws heavily on Chinese checkers and chess. It allows for 2-4 players.
Now Chinese checkers is a fun multi-player game which is a bit overly chaotic with multiple players, but the jump mechanism is interesting, and rather simple to grasp. In UCTG players try to move their pieces from their home row to the row directly opposite, and are allowed to jump their own pieces or those of their opponents.
The difference here is that pieces are six-sided cubes, each face having a different symbol, flame, book, swords, tree, hat and ear. Each of the six symbols gives the piece a different movement, the flame as a chess king, the book as a rook, but limited to one space, swords as a one space bishop, hat as a knight, the ear not able to move etc. A piece can of course move vying jumps within the restriction of their movement pattern.
So players start out placing a standard array in any fashion they desire on their home row with the goal of moving across the board.
It starts out as a straight forward perfect information abstract strategy game, but once you start moving pieces a big element of random chance is mixed into the game. When any piece is jumped, the jumped cube is randomly rolled and replaced on the board with the new face on top.
It adds chance, but still plays nicely, more so with two, than four which simply gets overly crowded and chance heavy.
The game uses wooden cubes in four colours, with the symbols burned into the wood. It gives the game an old, sort of homemade feel. The board is cloth, and it comes with a cloth carrying bag. It all becomes a small, easily transportable package.
The game is garnering some definite acclaim being honoured both by Mensa Select 2011, Mensa Mind Games, and an Honorable Mention, GAMES Magazine's Top 100 Games of 2011, Abstract Strategy.
Check this one out at www.eternalrevolution.com, it's a fine time killer.

-- Review appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper June 29, 2011 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- KHET 2.0.

Were you ever a student who sat in geometry class in school and wondered if what the instructor was talking about was something you would ever have the need of in the real world?
Well of course figuring out angles has lots of real life applications including playing board games and no game demonstrates that more than Khet 2.0.
As you might surmise from the trendy 2.0 aspect of the name, this is a relaunch of a game.
Khet: The Laser Game arrived on the scene in 2005, and was while a game is a two-player abstract strategy game, it actually still managed two expansions, Eye of Horus Beam Splitter and Tower of Kadesh in 2006 and 2008 respectively.
Now I suspect Khet isn't a household name in terms of games, partly because abstract strategy games have a smaller audience to begin with, but the fact the original version did warrant expansions speaks to at least some interest.
So now Innovation Toys has released an updated version of the game.
Having never seen the original, I can't comment, but I will say re-launches can ultimately go one of two ways, improving the status of a game because of improvements, or split the game community because people have two different versions.
If I had the original Khet, and its expansion I would not like rush out to buy the new version. However, if a bud was to get interested in the game they'd almost assuredly buy 2.0 and then you are playing two slightly different versions.
In checking out the game's website at www.khet.com the big difference between the original version of Khet and Khet 2.0 is that the lasers which were built into the board are now in a new Sphinx piece for each colour. Players place their Sphinx in their lower right corner, initially with the laser pointed down their right column. Instead of moving a piece, a player can rotate their Sphinx.
Now lasers have been mentioned a couple of times. They are what make the game intriguing, and why you need to recall geometry class.
The game's website explains the game concept well. "It's the game that combines lasers with classic strategy. Players alternate turns moving Egyptian-themed pieces having two, one or no mirrored surfaces. All four types of pieces (pharaoh, anubis, pyramid and scarab) can either move one square forward, back, left, right, or diagonal, or stay in the same square and rotate by a quarter twist. Each turn ends by firing the real laser diode built into each player's Sphinx piece. The laser beam bounces from mirror to mirror; if the beam strikes a non-mirrored surface on any piece, it is immediately removed from play. The ultimate goal is to illuminate your opponent's pharaoh, while shielding yours from harm!"
You need to understand angles and see the potential of pending the laser in multiple ways to be effective at Khet.
The pieces are translucent plastic, nicely done, although the Sphinx doesn't quite match the look.
As long as the lasers last this game could be a favourite for some for years to come.
In general it is a niche game, although abstract strategy fans have to check it out.

-- Review appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper June 22, 2011 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- 10 DAYS

Some games spawn sequels in droves and the '10 Days In …' franchise is one of those.
The latest offering is 10 Days in the Americas, a 2010 release from Out of the Box Publishing, which follows earlier incarnations such as 10 Days in Africa, Asia and Europe.
"Players use country and transportation tiles to chart a course across the America. The first player to complete a 10-day journey, where each day connects to the next day, is the winner," explained the rule sheet.
Now if the starter objectives of the game don't excite you, it's with good cause. The game is a tad hoohum folks, which is a bit surprising given how they have re-created the theme repeatedly. You would expect you'd retread a winner, not a sort of middle-of-the-road, play only on occasion type of game.
Components wise 10 Days … is solid. The wooden tile holders are actually more than you would expect of the game, and are the sort of game accessory you will find useful in other games which don't prove a convenient way to hold tiles and/or cards.
Of course if tile holders are a highlight it does say something about the game too.
The rest of the bits, board, tiles are well-made too, so this game should last.
Designed by Alan R. Moon and Aaron Weissblum 10 Days accommodates two-to-four players, and at least plays rather quickly, about half-an-hour.
The game is unusual in that what appears the game board is actually only a geographic guide.
The game actually plays by simply drawing tiles and hoping to make connections for a 10-day trip. It's pretty much the luck of the draw and grows sort of tedious rather quickly if you like to think during a game.
Now if you want to talk the weather, or fate of your favourite sports team as you game then 10 Days … has greater merit.

-- Review appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper June 15, 2011 - Yorkton, SK. Canada


Not many things speak to the commercialism in North America, at least in Canada and the United States more than the automobile.
The impact Henry Ford has had on the way we get around, the importance we put in our automobiles, and the impact the sector has on our economy are enough to write books on.
So it's no surprise boardgames have been designed around the idea of cars.
One such game is The Last of the Independents from Numbskull Games.
The game is immediately interesting because it centres around the battle, and it was a cutthroat business battle, which occurred in the United States after World War II among a number of car companies to woe the public and to survive.
We all know Ford did quite well, and Chrysler and Dodge too for that matter.
But what of the once storied Hudson? The now forgotten Studebaker and Packard?
Those behind the now long dead car lines once dreamed of becoming what Ford managed to do.
In Last of the Independents players attempt to carve out better fates for the extinct car brands on the board than they managed in real life.
Created in 2010 by designer Patrick Stevens, the game is one of resource management, where two-to-six players simulate the building, engineering, and promotion of cars by the smaller independent American automobile companies after the Great War.
Players face challenges executives would have faced as they competed against other small indie companies and of course the emerging giants such as Ford.
Players must work to design their cars, get them into production, and ultimately attract buyers in order establish a successful company and win the game.
The game has mechanics which allow some different approaches to being successful, and a player will face some crucial decisions through the course of the game.
Given the genre it is a bonus Last of the Independents is a dice-less affair.
The components are solid, although the board is a bit distracting with cars oriented so that some upside down, or sideways to every player.
Overall, a solid offering made more interesting by its theme.
You can check it out in more detail at www.numbskullgames.com

-- Review appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper June 1, 2011 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- VIKINGS

Find a game with a Viking theme and you generally have my interest.
Find one with some historic validity, and you pique that interest even more.
So the 2009-release Vikings from the duo of Svavar Björgvinsson and Sölvi Sturluson Snæfeld certainly caught my attention.
Co-creator Svavar Björgvinsson was good enough to explain a bit about the games development in an email.
"The idea came first when Sölvi Sturluson came to me and told me that he had an idea that he wanted to tell me about," he said. "We have been friends for some time and during that time we have been brainstorming some ideas that we might make some projects from. This idea was that he was wondering about if we could make a game about the struggles between the main Viking families during a critical era in our history; Sturlungaöld – the Age of Sturlungar. During that time you can say that a civil war was in Iceland and the main families where battling over regions.
"I have been playing board games for 30-years and own about 50-70 games myself I began to think how we could do this. The use of historical accuracy would be very difficult because the strategic area was shifting and mainly took place on the western part of Iceland. So we soon decided to make this a more simple game so we combined known tactics from a few battle games and the outcome was Vikings. We wanted to make the game a little bit retro so we bought a user license for an old Icelandic map, dated since 1590 as the main game board."
Using the old map as a major game element is an excellent decision. The map gives the board a feel of 'realism' which enhances the game mechanics.
It was interesting too to have Björgvinsson explain a bit about how a game such as Vikings is produced.
"This was much work and took many hours to do but nevertheless all this process from Sölvi telling me about the idea to the game coming from the printers toke less than three-months," he said. "We did all of the work ourselves; creating the game, drawing it and putting together the artworks, hand packing all the plastic pieces into bags, assembling the box and deliver them to the shops. The game was distributed to about 50 stores around the country and was nominated as game of the year from some newspapers and magazines. This was really fun and you can say that we put our love and soul into this game, but I don´t think that we will ever do this again the same way. Way too much work, with no profits. Now, when I look back, we made many mistakes and we could have done things much better and differently. But we had fun doing this and that is the main part."
Vikings is a strategy game for two to four players, meaning while luck is required, players also need to plan a strategy and successfully implement it to win.
At the start of the game players draw objective cards and you must be the first player to reach your objective to win the game.
The overall goal is to become the Chieftain of Iceland, something you achieve by occupy counties, harbours or fighting for the opponents' manors with your forces.
Players receive taxes from the counties to buy new Viking units, so money resource management is a factor too.
While battling with your neighbours to achieve your predetermined goals are the basis for the game, the game offers some interesting randomness too, from finding magical runes, to meeting roving monsters, which can impact the best laid plans.
The game is a solid play and available through www.vikings.is

-- Review appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper May 25, 2011 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- ARIMAA II

This is a first for me, a re-visit to a game previously reviewed.
In this case it's because there has been some interesting developments in Arimaa since I first reviewed the game in 2008.
Arimaa is a simply amazing abstract strategy game designed by Aamir Syed and Omar Syed, who brought the game to the public in 2002.
Initially the game was published, the rules at least, with players needing to fashion their own sets. Mine was made using backgammon stones with paper cut-outs attached, although the game can be play substituting standard chess pieces too.
However, in 2009 Z-Man games came out with a commercial Arimaa set. A local game bud purchased the set recently, and it's a sharp looking set with 3-D pieces representing the animals such as elephant, camel, horse, dog and rabbit. The pieces have a nice weight too.
A fancier, tournament set, larger both in size and cost, and a very detailed wood set have also hit the market.
Having commercial sets will draw more players and that's good since this game deserves attention, and lots of it.
Arimaa was designed to be difficult for computers to play. Something that is not the case with chess where computers are now at least equal to all but the very best players. With that goal in mind the number of possible moves at each turn in Arimaa is about 500 times that of chess.
To show that Arimaa is beyond a computer there is a reward of $10,000 for the first person or company who can build a computer program (with off-the-shelf programming tools) that can defeat a selected human Arimaa player prior to 2020.
The top computer program for 2011 was recently pitted against a trio of top world level players, and once again the computer went down to defeat.
While that doesn't mean a lot in terms of a game to play on a board for most of us, it does lend itself as an indication of the depth or Arimaa.
The depth comes from the vast array of moves afforded a player each turn.
It is great Arimaa has a world championship for players, in addition to the computer challenge.
The event is held on line and the most recent final was held in March with Greg Magne (a Canadian) and Jean Daligault facing off.
Daligault won the game to clinch the title becoming the first player to win the championship four consecutive times.
Now I hate mornings, but I was up at 8 a.m. the Saturday of the final to watch the final. It was a great experience since live commentary during the game was provided by Fritz Juhnke and Joel Thomas, so there was a better understanding of what the world-class players were trying to accomplish.
Games are archived at www.arimaa.com
As for the game, each piece in Arimaa has the same basic move ability. A turn consists of making one to four steps. A step has a piece move into an unoccupied square one space left, right, forward, or backward, except that rabbits may not step backward. The steps of a turn may be made by a single piece or distributed between several pieces in any order.
Stronger pieces may also move weaker pieces around the board, allowing them to push, or pull opponent pieces.
There is complexity within the game, and that brings me to another reason for the re-visit, Juhnke, who was one of the commentators for online world final, has released a book; 'Beginning Arimaa'.
A two-time world champion himself Juhnke takes readers inside Arimaa with 185 pages of background basics and strategy. The writing is enhanced by a number of diagrams which add to the ability to absorb what he is writing about.
The book has a sticker price of only $16.95 and is available through www.arimaa.com, and Amazon, so is both easily available and reasonably priced companion to the game that anyone serious about the game should look at investing in.
Juhnke has managed to create just what a game like Arimaa, one that should rival chess in interest, needed, a tool to get better through study when an opponent is not handy.
Well done Sir. Kudos on helping Arimaa take another step in its much-deserved growth.

-- Review appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper May 18, 2011 - Yorkton, SK. Canada


If one name gets over-used in the world of boardgames, it is chess.
Game designers often compare their creations to chess, and some even tag the name to the new product, such as is the case with Dinosaur Chess.
In this case the term chess fits in the general 'feel' of the game, but frankly the game might just as well have been called 'Jurassica' or something.
Dinosaur Chess, created in 1993 by Richard Oldman is one of those games with a lot of good things going for it, but one which also makes a few mistakes along the way.
The good news is that the bad is predominantly associated with the aesthetics of the game.
That starts with the box, which has a couple of sort cartoony dinosaurs playing the game. It comes across as a game for younger players, in particular one for boys.
Once you get into the game though there is more depth of play that makes it challenging for all.
The box is also large, especially for its content. Large boxes are not easily stored, especially if you have lots of games, so it is a factor.
The size is in part because of the nice vinyl board rolled up inside. It is the highlight of the game, although there are paper stickers applied to the board which do tend to curl apart. I appreciate the game was self-produced, so custom printing a vinyl board was not likely feasible, but a stamp might have endured better.
The game pieces are not surprisingly dinosaurs. They are pictured on small stickers which have to be applied to the provided small wooden disks. They work fine, although a bit larger would have been a bonus.
Then there are the continent pieces. Cardboard cut-outs which start on the gaming mat, and over the course of the game shift, much as continents are said to have done over the centuries. The shifting continents in combination with the different movements of the various dinosaurs are the strong point of the game. There is intricacy to the game added by the dual movements which are excellent.
The piece selection is neat too, with the Pteranodons able to fly, and the Sarcosuchus able to go into the water.
In addition to the dinosaurs, each player has a time-traveller human piece, which is the key to winning and losing. You win by either capturing the opponent's time traveller, or alternately you can win by moving your traveller across the board to the opposition hemisphere.
The twin win conditions are also a bonus in my mind.
Overall a game with good depth and mechanics, although aesthetically there could have been more to attract a gamer's first look.
Check out www.dinochess.com

-- Review appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper May 4, 2011 - Yorkton, SK. Canada


Last week I reviewed a Print and Play game as a great option for boardgame lovers with a crafty side to get into some fine games, such as Ragnarok: Aesir and Jotunn.
As reasonably priced as PnP games can be, there is an even cheaper avenue into some new games.
There are designers out there creating very interesting games which can be played with the generic gaming equipment you are likely to have at home.
Mark Steere is one such designer, with several games under his belt which can be played with items as simple as a checker board and accompanying checkers.
Steere's most recent creation is Monkey Queen. In this case you might have to draw out a gridded board, since it plays on a 12X12-square board. A sheet of bristol or core board works slick for drawing out a board.
It can be easy to see angles on a checkered board, but there is nothing specific about the rules to Monkey Queen which require alternating coloured squares.
After you have the board you require 20-stackable checkers in two colours. Existing checker sets, or a popular game such as Connect Four (it comes with 42 checkers) are sources many gamers will already have.
Once you have the items, your set to explore a really simply, yet deceptively deep abstract strategy game.
A two-player game the objective is simple, capture the enemy queen, or deprive your opponent of a move.
The queens are the initial stack of 20-checkers under the control of each player.
A monkey queens moves and captures like a chess queen, by sliding the entire stack along any of the eight possible directions for as far as desired provided it is unobstructed. It captures by replacement.
When moving the Monkey Queen, but not capturing, it still moves as a chess queen. But on a non-capturing move it leaves a single checker (monkey baby) behind in the square it started its move from.
A monkey baby, like the monkey queen, moves as a chess queen, and captures by replacement. When not capturing, a baby must move toward the enemy queen whereby the straight line distance between your baby and the enemy queen must be shortened by the move.
That's it. Simple rules, but on the big board there is room to develop strategic attacks and defences. A game worth some repeated play to explore the possibilities.
A definite winner made better by the free access rules at www.marksteeregames.com
If anyone is interested in this game, or other boardgames feel free to contact calmardan@sasktel.net
Past reviews are collected online at calsboardgamemusings.blogspot.com

-- Review appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper April 27, 2011 - Yorkton, SK. Canada


In discussing games here on a weekly basis there have been many genres of games but one that has not been reviewed is the world of print 'n play (PnP) games.
Well that changes now as we take a look at Ragnarok: Aesir and Jotunn.
It would be remiss not to provide a brief description of what a PnP game is. The explanation is rather simple. They are games which designers have created, and for a variety of reasons have never formally published. So rather than never having their games played, they provide the necessary files online to allow people to print the material which in turn allows them to play the game.
The realm of PnP is as diverse as the varied world of boardgames, from chess variants, through to games with elaborate boards and a variety of bits and pieces to print.
The more pieces, the more cutting, and gluing there is to a PnP game makes them ideal projects for crafters.
In some respects one of the simplest games for PnP is a card game, which is exactly what Ragnarok: Aesir and Jotunn is.
Ragnarok: Aesir and Jotunn is designed by Todd Sanders who has a growing reputation in terms of PnP games, both for their aesthetic qualities and their playability.
Ragnarok of course is part of the myth and lore of the Vikings, and Sanders borrows heavily from those myths for the game which simulates the great battle at the end of time between the Aesir (Norse Gods) and the Jötunn (evil giants).
The game uses a deck of 54 Ragnarök cards, which are free to print. You also need nine six-sided dice and a few markers for each player.
One player has the Aesir Norse Gods and battles, in a series of realms (rounds), against the Jötunn Frost Giants played by the other player. To win the game a player must win five battles in the nine realms.
In a battle players use the attributes of strength, wisdom, and cunning, which are influenced by different aspects of the cards played.
Strength cards are played first, followed by two cards from your hand representing wisdom, which allow you to roll a number of dice to add to your strength. The final card of each battle is for cunning, allowing modifications to the dice rolls.
There is a level of strategy regarding when to play certain cards which will give you bonuses depending on the realm they are played in.
As a PnP game, something like Ragnarok: Aesir and Jotunn is pretty straight forward, and easily made to look good, and to last.
In most cases PnP files for card games will have the cards printing at the size of a regular deck of cards. Once printed, cut them out. Scissors work, although a utility knife, and straight edge cutting over a piece of glass can be smoother.
Some print on sticker paper then attach to a regular card. A quicker way, which also assures the cards last is to slip the PnP card, and a real card into a gaming card sleeve. The regular card provides strength and the sleeve protection.
The cards here are sharply done with excellent art. The game plays smoothly, with just enough depth and simplicity mixed together for a good gaming experience. A game certainly worth the effort to print and play.
Check it out at www.boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/92777/ragnarok-aesir-and-jotunn

-- Review appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper April 20, 2011 - Yorkton, SK. Canada


Sometimes there is nothing like an old idea revisited.
That is generally what you get with Bx Rock, Paper, Scissors, Fire and Water (BxRPSFW).
Yes the name is a tad cumbersome and inelegant although it does explain exactly what the abstract strategy game is about.
In creating what appears to be designer Robert Carden's first game, he took the long familiar game of Rock, Paper, Scissors, modified it, and put it on a game board.
Each player starts out with 18 pieces on a board of hexagonal spaces. The pieces include three each of rock, paper and scissors, as well as two fire, and six water. There is also a flag piece which does not move.
As you have probably guessed the goal of the game is to capture the opponent's flag.
All pieces move the same, one space in any direction, which means six with the hex' board.
Capture is by straight replacement. You move to the spot of an opponent's piece, and it is removed from the board.
Where the strategy comes in with BxRPSFW is that only certain pieces can capture others.
Most are familiar with rock taking scissors, scissors taking paper and paper taking rock.
In this game fire captures rock, paper or scissors, and rock, paper and scissors all capture water.
And yes, fire which is quite powerful gets taken by water.
The game edition comes with simple wood pieces stamped with letters to differentiate the types. The board is laminated plastic. So the word here is 'functional' although the game lacks aesthetics.
However as a rather straight forward, easily understood abstract with no imposed luck BxRPSFW plays well.
It doesn't have much 'wow' factor, either in looks, or play, but it's a fun option for a game every once in a while.
Check it out at www.cardengames.com

-- Review appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper April 6 , 2011 - Yorkton, SK. Canada


Every time you think the world of games influenced by chess has been exhausted, something new comes along to intrigue.
While Castle Danger is not specifically a chess variant, the influence of the popular and ancient game is rather obvious with the Matt Worden created game.
Released in 2002, Castle Danger has the same basic premise as chess, eliminate the opponent's king.
It also borrows from XiangQi (China's chess), with the incorporation of a river which runs down the middle of the board, splitting the two sides.
Unlike XiangQi, where only some pieces are unable to cross the river, Castle Danger keeps each player isolated to their own side of the board, a 4X7 area.
To eliminate the opposition king, and other pieces, you fire your cannons.
In addition to the key king, and the important offensive cannons, pieces include wizards, which give players additional moves per turn, builders which add and remove protective walls, and of course the walls.
For the most part pieces start off the board, and are added on a player's turn.
Once on the board pieces are moved based on action points.
The overall combination leaves players needing to balance, creating defensive positions by building walls, adding wizards to increase movement, and dealing with the resulting constriction of an ever smaller board area in which to maneuver.
There is likely a first player advantage, which is general to many games, but the new elements of the game at least initially limit the advantage.
The game plays very nicely, and for a small, self-published effort, the components work. The board is colourful, and the pieces functional, although the small missile minis used for cannons are a bit 'modern' for a game which generally has a medieval feel, but that's a small beef for a self-published effort.
Hats off to to Worden for a fine game that is well worth a long look.

-- Review appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper March 30, 2011 - Yorkton, SK. Canada


Regular readers will no doubt appreciate this gamer is a major fan of games which emulate chess.
The western version of chess, at least the most widely known version has its flaws, a slight first player advantage, strategies over studied to the point there is little of anything fresh to discover on the board that is not already in a book, and the problem of players of even modestly different skill levels finding enjoyment in a game.
The idea of skill discrepancies is of course an issue with an abstract strategy game. When a game relies strictly on skill that happens, whether we're talking golf, tennis, darts or chess. It just gets worse in chess because a dedicated player can study a library full of books to learn ways to dominate.
Still the idea of two armies on the battle field, each player as a commander seeking victory based on their decisions is the great appeal of chess.
Through the centuries there have been literally hundreds of chess variants created, some like Omega Chess expanding the game in positive ways, some overly complex concoctions best forgotten quickly. It is to the point one wonders if there is anything new to explore in terms of a chess variant?
Well, Steven Streetman proved there are still some truly great variant ideas coming down the pipe with his innovative Spartan Chess, a variant which has quickly moved up the list to rival Omega Chess in my own list of chess preferences.
What makes Spartan Chess so intriguing from the start is that it pits two distinctly different army (piece) arrays, against one another.
The white side represents the Persian side. It utilizes the familiar western chess set.
The black side are the Spartans, and here Streetman has changed things up. Every piece moves differently from regular chess, from the diagonal moving hoplites (pawns) to having two kings, both of which must be captured for the Persians to win.
The idea of two distinct armies makes sense considering that is the way of war. Rarely, if ever, are opposing forces on the battlefield mirror images of each other.
The two sides also tend to level the playing field. Tried-and-true chess openings don't work, and since no one knows the abilities of the Spartans well, it equalizes things quickly.
The down side to Spartan Chess is the lack of a commercial set, which will turn some away.
In my case I had fun with the lack of a set. In corresponding with the game designer we came to a joint vision of the Persians as square pieces and the Spartans round. He made up some graphics, I got some wood cut, got out the paint and glue and soon had a really unique looking set (likely the first Spartan Chess set in the world). Since then a couple more sets were fashioned and shipped to Streetman himself, which is just very cool when you think about it.
The set is one I am proud of in terms of a crafting project, but also that it allowed me to dive into a simply great chess variant. It was a blast to play a friend at a local coffee shop a few weeks back using the set, and realizing it was probably the first face-to-face game of Spartan Chess played in Canada (certainly with a dedicated Spartan Chess set).
It is to be hoped far more chess players try this variant, it is certainly among the best-of-the-best.
Check it out at www.spartanchessonline.com

-- Review appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper March 16, 2011 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- ODIN'S TABLE

All right I'll admit I have a bit of a soft spot for Norse mythology, so when I first learned there was a new game called Odin's Table on the market, I was immediately interested.
Of course it takes more than theme to make a game worth playing.
In the case of Odin's Table released just last year from Mindwarrior Games in Finland, the mechanics were also of interest, with some reservations set too.
The game has strong abstract strategy roots, with game play not unlike checkers. The six pieces aside move only one space, but do so in any of the eight possible directions on the six-by-five-square board. Pieces are captured by simple move and replacement.
The game would be overly simplistic if that was it.
Designer Esa Wilk takes the game in a different direction by adding a deck of specialty cards for each player.
The art on the cards is various Norse Gods, Freya, Odin, Thor and Loki among them. The art is rendered in dark inks and comes across as old and stunning.
A card is placed behind each rank, and it is the cards which determine captures. Each player flips a card and the high one generally wins, there are two exceptions, Loki the trickster being one of them.
So you know your cards, where you are strong, but are guessing at what the opponent has.
It adds some definite luck to the contest, although you 'feel' you still have some control of outcomes.
Once a piece is captured it can return in lieu of another move.
The goal is to get three pieces to the opponent's back row.
The components are good, although the cardboard game pieces would have had a better 'feel' if they were stones marked with runes. The board has a wood-like look, but would have fit the theme better with a board marked out of a piece of leather, which would then tie up to carry the cards and stones.
While the components could match the theme better, the game as presented is certainly serviceable.
The game plays quickly, and is surprisingly enjoyable, with a rather gratifying mix of brain-driven strategy and card-driven look.
Check it out at www.mindwarriorgames.com

-- Review appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper March 9, 2011 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- ROWBOAT

In the world of card games the mechanic of trick-taking in one of the most popular.
The idea of taking a 'trick' usually by having the highest played card among players in a given round is about as old an idea as there is in terms of card games, and there are reasons such games are popular. To begin with, trick-taking keeps every player involved in every hand, and the rules are generally pretty easy to teach and to understand.
So, it's no surprise there are new games coming down the pike which rely on trick-taking as the primary focus.
Rowboat is one such game.
Rowboat was designed by the trio of John Montague, Cristina Ramos and David Schiller and released in 2009 by Moosetache Games (yes, the company logo is a moose with a mustache).
The game uses a 61-card deck, so the designers have ventured beyond the standard 52-card deck we are all familiar with.
The first cards of a round are dealt face up until an oar, a wave, a shell, and a map are showing (the four suits in Rowboat). The initial face-up cards are known as the Tide.
There are also three special cards which can be used only once during a game. The rowboat card is the ultimate trump, and tops whichever card it is played on, the lighthouse card allows a player to peek at an opponent's hand, while the moon card allows the dealer to decide how many cards will be dealt onto the table to start a game, regardless of the general tide rule.
From there each player is dealt a hand with the same number of cards that are in the Tide.
It is then up to players to predict how many rounds they will win, another tried and true trick-taking game mechanic. If you fall short of your predicted success you lose points.
With the difference hand-to-hand of the tide, and the access to the special cards adds a level of strategy to Rowboat that gives this game a little extra to explore.
In terms of production values, Rowboat scores high. I like that designers have re-created the 'suits' and have produced high quality cards. It is neat that there is a 'dolphin of maps', 'whale of shells' etc as face cards.
The art work by Sophie Kittredge is quite stunning, even the 'rowboat' on the back of each card.
The box is small, sturdy, and colourful, so it attracts attention, and will store well.

-- Review appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper January 12, 2011 - Yorkton, SK. Canada


There are lots of games which shine for two-player, head-to-head action, Ninja Versus Ninja being a fun example (more on that in a moment).
The same can be said of games which accommodate four players.
There is however, something of a hole in between, games which are good as three-player options.
Enter Pirate Versus Pirate, a game designed by Max Winter Osterhaus, and released in 2010 by Out of the Box.
The game holds much in common with the aforementioned Ninja Versus Ninja game, although that fun little offering was designed by Tushar Gheewala.
With Pirates you have a game which plays with two, or with three players, although its something of a rare situation in board games, seems best suited to three-player action.
That in itself is a reason to check this one out. There are times two buds show up, and the options past the old standby cribbage, and a few others, mean board game action may not be on the agenda. PVP fills that niche quite nicely.
Now this is not a game where skill wins out. Dice controls a players fate as they attempt to get to the gold coins and get them back safely. So if the dice are kind to you, your odds of success are better.
In this case the 'luck' of the dice really seems to fit. This is a quick little game designed to be fun.
That may mean you won't want to play a half dozen games at a sitting, but it will be a game you'll likely be willing to pull out every few weeks for some quick fun.
The rules are pretty simple, and can be played by children probably in the seven/eight-age range. That can make it a nice family game, and is likely to attract boys with its theme.
Like its Ninja predecessor PVP has amazing miniatures as game pieces. The production standard is really more than you might expect in a quickly game like this.
The dice have a unique shape too which is rather interesting too.
When you consider the production quality of the game, its simplicity, and the three-player capability, PVP has a lot to offer, as long as you recognize luck will rule the high seas more often than not.
That factor might leave you yelling Argghhhh in your best pirate interpretation, or crying into a flagon of grog, but it will all be in fun.
Check it out at www.otb-games.com

-- Review appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper February 16, 2011 - Yorkton, SK. Canada


There is something about card games which make them popular among those of us who like board games.
It's likely a combination of things which attract people, the small size which makes taking them to the neighbour's for an evening, or storing them away at home both with ease.
Most card games are pretty flexible allowing varying numbers of players, and in most cases the rule sets are understandable without a degree in engineering.
So there are always new card games arriving on the gaming scene and The Crow and the Pitcher is among those.
The game was designed by Sean D. MacDonald and released in 2009 by Nomads Games.
The Crow and the Pitcher is a newcomer to the large family of card games where taking tricks is the goal.
The game is based around Aesop's fable 'The Crow and The Pitcher' which is a neat idea, although the art on the cards, while very nice almost as a Navajo Indian 'feel'. I will add here that the art is aesthetically pleasing, and that is always a plus in a card game.
The game is a bit narrower in number of players it can accommodate than many games, working only with three, or four. Those players must play off one another in order to gain points.
Unlike many trick-taking game where high card wins, unless trumped, with The Crow and the Pitcher, the highest suited card is not always the trick taking card.
The game sort forces a different thought process to most of its trick-taking brethren because the best card may not win if the 'pitcher' gets broken.
Another aspect is that lower power cards are worth more points in a game which is a race to collecting 50-points.
MacDonald adds one other twist. Since not every card is dealt players are not sure what value pitchers are left to play. That keeps the card counters at bay.
The overall idea is that players need to be as clever as the Crow in Aesop’s fable to score points and not perish from thirst.
The game does a nice job of integrating the theme into the game play, which is bonus. Often games seem to have a theme simply pasted on as a sort of afterthought.
In terms of a new card game option The Crow and the Pitcher is a good one, with solid art, theme and mechanics.
You can check the game out at www.thecrowandthepitcher.com

-- Review appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper February 9, 2011 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- PUNCT

Over the course of writing these board game reviews I have mentioned the Gipf series of games on more than one occasion.
The series of six abstract strategy games by masterful game designer Kris Burm are among the best of the genre of games in the last half century, and probably among board games generally, although many shy from strategy games.
Of the six, five have been reviewed previously, leaving Punct as the odd game out.
Well this week we rectify the situation by looking at Punct, which was initially released in 2005.
Now you might expect this is where a reviewer might suggest something cliched like leaving the best for last.
Well in this case the opposite is actually the case.
Among the six games in the series, Punct would rate last behind Tazaar, Yinsh, Zertz, Gipf and Dvonn.
Rating last generally isn't a good thing, but considering the overall excellence of the Gipf series, it still leaves Punct as a rather solid offering, albeit the weak sister to five heavyweight offerings.
Punct was the fifth release in the series, offering a connection mechanic with its roots in games such as Hex.
The goal is straight forward, connect two opposite sides of the board, and win.
In this two-player game, which all games in the series are, a player may either enter a new piece into play or move one already on the board.
The pieces are well-made plastic, which are the norm for Gipf games. Each piece has three points and are either straight, v-shaped or triangular. One of the points is marked and called a Punct - or the piece's the centre-point.
Once on the board pieces can move or be rotated, moving around the Punct and moved in straight lines. Piece can land anywhere, where its Punct is on free space or on top of one's own piece. Pieces can be piled.
While not a big fan of connection games in general, Punct at least adds some interesting elements to the game play.
The board is a hexagon; the goal to connect two opposing sides with a chain of pieces, which with a hex board means more options in play.
With more options than most connection games, Punct has appeal, and piece resource management is definitely an aspect to remember, or a player can by hamstrung with limited options on ensuing moves.
The last game of Gipf series you should buy, but it still should be a must-own abstract strategy game.

-- Review appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper February 3, 2011 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

Review -- FLASH DUEL

It's always interesting how games evolve over time, and how subtle difference can become whole new games. We see that a lot in the world of chess where a new piece, or two, or a change in the board creates a whole new variant on the game. In the case of chess there are hundreds, a couple to be reviewed here soon.
But today I am looking at the card-based dueling game Flash Duel from Sirlin Games.
Game creator David Sirlin has developed Flash Duel with an eye to recreating the 'feel' of old video franchises such as Street Fighter.
There are actually 10 fighters, on playing cards, to choose from. The art has a Japanese 'anime/manga' feel, and is very nicely rendered. One. 'Lum Bam-foo' seems plucked direct from the moved Kung Fu Panda, I suspect for obvious reasons of cashing in on that movie's popularity.
In this two-player contest each player selects a combatant. The other character cards get set aside.
There are also 25 community cards, which are a shared resource. Players each get five cards to start.
There is a play board, and nice wooden markers which represent your fighter on the board.
The community cards help determine movement back and forth on the play area, and of course determine attacks and strikes.
Score one hit on your opponent and you win the round. It is suggested you play a best-of-five match.
The game, in terms of card mechanics, has a bit of a War feel, although board positioning is important in card play decisions.
Each of the 10 characters also has 'special abilities' which can be used once per game, sort of the 'ace up the sleeve' which really helps gives Flash Duel its video game aspect.
Now I prefaced this column by mentioning game evolutions. Well Flash Duel certainly has to look back to En Garde as a root game. En Garde is a fine little game which mimics a fencing duel rather well. It is created by Reiner Knizia, one of the great board game creators of the current era, so the lineage is rather stellar.
En Garde is a great and quick game.
Flash Duel updates the 'feel' of the game, and holds the nice aspect of being very quick to play.
Flash Duel also comes in a nice little wooden box, although the lid doesn't have a way of being fastened, so the functionality fails, while the aesthetics get a big thumb's up.
Overall, a great little one-on-one combat game, that has to be recommended.

-- Review appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper January 19, 2011 - Yorkton, SK. Canada


So to start I would like to welcome readers back to the world of board game reviews. A summer of flood basically had games in storage, and then it was the holiday season, but now with a new year, it's time to get back to the gaming table.
This week we look at a really enticing recent offering, at least if you like abstract strategy games.
Tacticum is a game which is supposed to mimic what may have been a board game tool to teach Roman Centurions tactics and strategy. Sounds pretty cool, and it really is.
While only a 2009 release from the Gamealogical Institute, Tacticum has a much 'older' feel to it. You really get the feeling it could have been a game played by Centurions.
The game usies blank black and white dice as pieces. They work amazingly efficiently, and look great as pieces. It's really surprising more games haven't used the same idea for pieces actually.
In this case the pieces even come with nice velveteen bags for storing, a nice touch.
The play mat is a simple cloth-like paper, nicely marked around the edge with Roman soldier artwork at each corner surrounding the 8X11 grid area. The board rolls nicely to slip into the storage tube.
So the components, aesthetics and storage of the game are excellent.
And that brings us to game play.
Designer Tony Ripley impresses here too.
Ripley uses the dice pieces in a rather unique way. A lone dice is a 'squad' with its own movement pattern. When four squads come together in a block, they former a 'square' and the four pieces can then be moved at the same time, albeit with a more limited movement pattern.
Three squads in a row create a 'column' and it too can be moved as a group, with yet another pattern.
At anytime a column or square can be broken up by choosing to move a single squad.
Capture of a squad is by 'flanking', basically sandwich a single squad, or line of squads between two of your pieces.
However squads in a square can't be flanked.
A squad must be attacked with a column, which captures one squad of the square.
The tactics can be rather involved, as you must change formations based on what is happening on the board.
Each player also has a 'Legion Standard' a unique which is essentially the leader piece of a force.
Now the formation tactics make the game creative, but where the game really takes off is that there are different 'war' scenarios which can be played. The base set comes with two scenarios, and additional ones are available at www.gamealogical-institute.com
Think about how chess might be made better with scenarios. Bored with the same game over, and over, play a different scenario to switch things up.
It is likely the Institute, and others will add new scenarios over time, and that bodes well to keep the game fresh too.
All together Tacticum is a definite winner and highly recommended for its interesting piece movement and game play options.

-- -- Review appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper January 12, 2011 - Yorkton, SK. Canada