You know you’ve reached a new level of obsession in gaming when you start upgrading your games with custom components, dice, and meeples. Some of these upgrades can be necessary, while others can just add some extra fun to the table. Today I’ll share some of the game upgrades I’ve done and what I hope to do in the future.
Sleeving your cards in a game can actually be important, because I’ve had cards that have gotten marked from overuse or being bent by teenagers. While sleeving cards isn’t for everyone, it has kept a few of my games, like 7 Wonders, staying pristine after many, many games. My favorite game sleeves are the official Star Realms ones, because they kept the back Star Realms logo, and are thick but still easy to shuffle.
Deck Boxes can be a good way to store your card game collections especially when the original packaging isn’t up to snuff. It can also keep all of your card expansions together which is especially nice when traveling or going to a friend’s house to play. While I like to keep the original packaging of games when possible, I use deck boxes when I need to.
Using custom or colored dice can be a fun way to upgrade a game for cheap. I didn’t like some of the dice colors in Roll for It! so I decided to buy my own. It can add a personal touch to games! Also, metal dice are just straight up cool. Even if you don’t play RPGs (which has increased my love for dice even more), you can still display them or use them in board games that require normal dice.
Carcassonne has become a favorite in my household lately, so when Meeple Source was having a Character Meeple Kickstarter, I jumped for the chance to upgrade my Carcassonne game. I now have several of their custom meeples, including Totoro meeples and metal meeples! I’ve also used the meeples during D&D campaigns as NPCs!
Ever played a bidding game with flimsy cardboard coins? Not very satisfying. We’ve gotten several different sets of metal coins, and they make any game involving coin more fun. It feels more realistic with the clink of the coin especially when you must pay an opponent with the coin! While a more expensive way to upgrade your games, it can make a more immersive experience.
Bags and Travel Cases
If you are like me, you always like having games on hand for any occasion. I have a couple different bags I use for bringing games along with me, as well as some cases for my smaller games. I have a Dragonscale Bag of Holding and a Bag of Holding Con Edition from Thinkgeek. I use them both weekly, in order to have games with me at all times when going to family and friend’s houses. I also use small electronics cases to bring my Pack O Games and Mint Tin Games along with me places.
Upgrading your games can be a good way to preserve well used games, as well as bring new life to classics like Carcassonne. It can also make your gameplay more immersive and just more fun.
I’ve played games with loads of family in the past few months, and that usually means quick, easy to learn games that can play 5 or more players. With spring and summer break approaching, I know many people will have extra gaming time while on vacation! What are some of my favorite family games as of March 2016?
I played Qwixx back in Thanksgiving but didn’t buy myself a copy until after Christmas. I later learned that it’s also my in-laws current favorite game! I’ve taught this game to over 10 people, and all have loved it. It’s one of the best gateway games out there. Qwixx is a 2-5 player dice game by Gamewright and plays in about 10 minutes. Easy to learn, fun to play, even my strategy game group enjoyed it.
Codenames is my favorite party game for a variety of reasons. It uses logic and word association in a very fun way. I love that it’s a team game, so new players can jump in and not worry about doing everything right. I’ve introduced Codenames to about 20 people since Thanksgiving, and every single person has enjoyed it. Highly recommended! Codenames is a team word game for 2+ players, although I suggest playing it with 4 or more.
I found a love for Carcassonne about a year and a half ago. I had played the ipad version and my friend’s copy, but knew I needed to get my own. Now I have several expansions and standalone versions, and many custom meeples. I was so happy my parents enjoy Carcassonne, so we get to play it with them often. It’s 2-5 players and has easy gameplay. It’s a good gateway to heavier games, and tile laying has always been one of my favorite mechanics.
Now I may be biased about my own game, but it is one of my favorite family games. Duel List is a knowledge listing game for 2-8 players and is on sale on The Game Crafter. I’ve had so many laughs with this game and enjoy every play. I’m so proud that I’ve gotten to introduce this game to so many family members and even made a custom expansion for my nieces. My dad says it’s his favorite game other than Bridge and often wins at it.
I really enjoy Rolling America, and it was more strategic than I originally thought upon purchasing the game. Rolling America is a dice puzzle game where you try and get the least amount of X’s on your map. It’s all about mitigating the bad rolls. I like that Rolling America can be played with any amount of players since the play is simultaneous. It’s also great to play solo as well!
Luna is a worker movement strategy board game for 1-4 players set in a moon religion theme. Published by Tasty Minstrel Games and designed by Stefan Feld, Luna is a strong euro game where there are many paths to victory. Players take turns activating their novices on the isle tiles and doing various actions based on the isle that the novices start their turn on. Players will also receive favor tiles in which they can do extra actions. Play continues for 6 rounds, then the game is over and points are tallied. Whoever has the most points wins.
While Luna was originally published in 2010, the Tasty Minstrel Games version was published this year for US distribution. Luna is very enjoyable strategy game in typical Feld style, many paths to victory and many ways to earn victory points. Luna uses a worker movement mechanic instead of a worker placement. Each players’ novices (workers) start on an isle tile which surround the temple island. Each isle tile has different actions in which the player can perform if their novice is on that tile at the start of the round (or if it is moved there using the sailboat favor tile). Because of this, players will often be doing actions in order to prepare for future turns. Also, there are figures which move around the isle tiles, which can give negative points, positive points or ability to build a shrine. Noting where these figures will be in future turns is key to planning ahead. For example, you don’t want to leave several of your novices in a tile in which the Apostate will be on, or you will lose many points.
There is also two different area control parts of Luna. The first area control is in the temple island. Eventually, players will get their novices into the temple, and be able to knock other players out of their tiles if their tile is a lower number. Because you get points from novices being in the temples, you must be aware of placement and what other players’ are doing. Also, the other part of area control is with the isle tiles. If the moon priestess figure is on a tile at the end of the round, players will receive points if they have the most novices on the tile (but only if there is competition on that tile). This will also change how you may do your turns in order to prevent a player from getting those moon priestess points.
There are many different strategies in Luna and not just one will ensure victory. You must be able to adjust throughout the game based on opponents in order to maximize points. If your group is prone to AP with planning games, you may want to carve out extra time for Luna to account for the strategizing. Also, every game will vary because isle and temple tiles will get placed in different order at the beginning of the game. Also, if not playing with the introductory rules, you will get a choice at which holy isles that your novice starts on. This can greatly effect the rest of the game, so plan carefully!
I enjoyed Luna far greater than I thought I would. I wasn’t stressed about the planning (even though some members of my group were), and I felt like the game had a good pace. While the area control aspects may turn off some players, I wasn’t as concerned about it. I just tried to focus on what was best for me, and planned my strategy accordingly. Although I didn’t win, I definitely look forward to many more games of Luna. I definitely recommend it to any Feld fan and any player that enjoys euros with heavy planning.
Pack O Games Set 2 is a set of four microgames with all different themes and mechanics on Kickstarter now all designed by Chris Handy. Each game is on the intermediate or challenging scale of Pack O Games. These games: GYM, SOW, ORC, and RUM all come in a gum sized game box. Perfect for gaming on the go or if you have a small table space.
Let’s start off looking at my personal favorite of the set: SOW
SOW is a set collecting card game for 2-4 players in which players try to make a bouquet of flowers in their favorite color to maximize points. SOW uses the Mancala mechanic of picking up a row of flowers and dropping them one by one around the garden. When you land a seed card as your last card, all seeds of that color in the row flip to the flower side. When you land a flower card as your last card, then you pick one of the two colors shown on the flower and all flowers with that color get added to your bouquet (if it was placed in your wheelbarrow). Players continue placing cards on their turn until each row has only 0 or 1 cards in it. Then players add up their points. If the center color has their favorite color, they get 3 points, if it’s on the outer, 2 points, and 1 point for every flower that does not have their favorite color. Whoever has the most points, wins the game.
SOW is definitely my favorite of the new Pack O Games set. I love how much planning and thinking goes into each turn, and trying to maximize future turns by using the Mancala style card placing. I also like the pace of the game, it never feels slow as the game space changes every turn. I enjoy the whimsical art of SOW. Our only issue is the red color is basically impossible to see for some colorblind players since brown and red look the same to those who have red-green colorblindness. Other than that, the game is very fun, and the most thinky of all the Pack O Games of Set 2.
Next up in the list is GYM:
GYM is a drafting and area control card game for 2, 4 or 6 players where gamers try to pick the best students for the sporting events chosen. There are two phases to GYM: pick phase and play phase. The pick phase is drafting one student at a time into your hand for the play phase. If you choose a bully, you can influence which sporting events will get chosen for the play phase. Use the bullies to your advantage to pick which sporting events that you have the most skills in. Each student has two skills which varying levels. These levels will give points towards the area control (play phase) part the game. The play phase is where players choose one student to play at an event, then do an event action. These actions can cause two students to swap places or even to steal a kid from your opponent. Play continues until a player has played their last card, then add up points. If you win an event, you gain points by the difference of your opponent at that event. Whoever has the most points wins the game.
GYM reminds me very much of a faster, simpler Smash Up, which for me is a positive thing. Where Smash Up drags on, GYM’s pace keeps the randomness of the game fun and light. There is also strategy in the drafting of your students and using the bullies to your advantage. The art of GYM is very fun, and shows a great diversity of kids. My only complaint is that soccer was not one of the possible sporting events! But that’s just personal opinion. Overall, GYM is an enjoyable area control game that can be a good intro to games like Smash Up or drafting games.
Third in the set is ORC:
ORC is a 2 player only area control card game in which players use clans of orcs to take over territories and earn points. Players use careful planning and hand management in order to gain dominance in territories. ORC is a quick game involving 6 rounds of battles. A battle happens when a stockpile next to the territory is emptied. Players then tally up their orcs at the battle, whoever has the most wins that battle. After 6 battles, the game is over, and players count up their conquered territories. Players earn extra points in the orcs kept in their hand match the color of your conquered territories. Whoever has the most points wins.
When I played ORC, I immediately thought of Battleline or other such head to head area control games. You want to win territories but with using less cards than your opponent for maximum efficiently. You also want to keep note of the cards left in your hand at the end of the game, since you’ll get extra points if the colors of the territories you conquered are in your hand. The gameplay is very quick and players can get a couple of games in before dinner or waiting for the train. The art of ORC isn’t quite as bright as I would like, but that’s personal preference. The cards are a little busy looking. I think if the cards had orc clan symbols instead of the orcs themselves it would be easier to see across the table. Other than that, ORC is quick and fun card game.
Lastly, we have RUM:
RUM is a rummy style card game with a hilarious pirate theme for 2-4 players. Players collect rum they find from a shipwreck and play them as sets in order to gain a majority in a color. The parrot can show up at any time and ruin your plans. You will be cursing at the end of the game. Play continues until a specific number of points is reached (dependent on number of players), or the castaway clock is at 7 when the parrot is revealed. Players add up their points and whoever has the most wins.
In RUM you take turns collecting different colored rum bottles in order to make sets and gain majority of a color. You can steal majority of a color by playing higher sets. However, the parrot prevents players from hoarding cards like in many other rummy games. While I highly enjoy the art and theme of RUM, I didn’t enjoy the randomness of the parrot. While it should only come up every so turns, it can come up more often and prevent you from fully enjoying the game. I suggest playing a couple of games of RUM to account for the randomness of the parrot. RUM would be a good game to introduce players who like rummy style games.
The Reuse expansion of Flip City adds four different abilities to the game. The Plumber Shop forces every opponent to discard their top card or the bottom card of their deck. On the flip side of Plumber Shop is the Renewal Agency. Renewal Agency gives 3 cash to the player can be used to spend only on Flip/Develop costs. The Flea Market can be optionally kept in the discard pile when reshuffling. It also has the recycle symbol on the beginning side, so that it can be recycled right away. On the flip side of the Flea Market is the Recycling Bin. The Recycling Bin has zero effect when played, but when it is flipped (at a cost of 1), you can flip an additional card.
The Reuse expansion adds some more interaction between players as well as giving more opportunities to flip and recycle cards. Each player starts with one Plumber shop and one Flea market in their deck. The rest of those cards can then be purchased from the general supply later. I like that the Reuse expansion makes flipping cheaper and easier to do because of the Flea Market and Recycling Bin. Since Flip City is all about maximizing your deck, it is very cool that there are more ways to do so.
Karma is a classic style card game for 2-6 players designed by Martha Falco and published by Set Enterprises. Karma is a hand shedding game similar to games like Skip Bo. The goal of the game is to get rid of the cards in your hand and the cards in front of you. Whoever is left with cards at the end of the game loses. Therefore, you have multiple winners if playing with more than 2.
Karma reminds me of Skip Bo but with a twist. In the deck, there are karma cards in which change up the game. Karma cards allow players to make an opponent pick up the discard pile, or play extra cards. If you don’t have any karma cards to play, instead you play a card or cards that match or exceed the number that is in the discard pile. Otherwise, you must pick up the discard stack. Once your hand of cards is empty, then you may start playing cards from the 3 piles in front you. There will be 3 cards face down, and 3 face up cards on top of the facedown cards.
Karma is a very light game that is easy to explain and play. For those that grew up with hand shedding games, it will remind them of their childhood. The karma cards keep things interesting, but they also can slow down the game. Karma does have a tendency to drag on at times, but thankfully once the pick up discard pile karma card is played, it gets removed from the game. So it’s only a matter of time before players are able to get rid of all their cards and go out.
I would recommend Karma to players who like card games that are similar to Skip Bo. I wouldn’t necessarily play this with my gaming group, but it’s a great game to play with my family. I do like the font used for the numbers, other than that, the art is nothing special. The card quality wasn’t as good as I would have liked, but for the price, it works. While Karma doesn’t bring too many new ideas to the table, it can get classic card gamers interested in modern games.
Bomb Squad is a 2-6 player cooperative real time board game where players are a team of operatives controlling a robot that diffuses bombs and saves hostages. Bomb Squad is designed by Dan Keltner and David Short, published by Tasty Minstrel Games. Players take turns doing various actions, whether it is giving a teammate a clue about their hand or programming the robot. Play continues until time runs out, the robot’s reserve battery goes to zero, or players fulfill the mission conditions. In the last case, players win the game!
Bomb Squad uses an action and movement programing mechanic to control the robot as well as hand management with a twist: players must face their hands out toward their other teammates. In other words, each player does not know their individual hands, only the hands of their teammates.
One of the actions that players can do is give clues to a teammate’s hand; for example, show their teammate which cards in their hand are red or which ones are move cards. Another action a player can do is play a card into the programming queue for the robot. In regular missions, players have to do this face down, so only their teammates know if it was the right card. Thirdly, a player can discard a card and name an attribute of the card to recharge the robot battery. Lastly, a player can program the robot by turning over the cards in the robot program queue and arranging them as needed in order to move the robot, open doors, disarm bombs, or save hostages.
What makes Bomb Squad stand out from other cooperative games is that it is real time. You have to make fast and frantic decisions, as the time ticks down. Players who have analysis paralysis beware, you cannot take time thinking about the optimal move, you must go on instinct. While there are other real time cooperative games out there, what I love about Bomb Squad is the replay value of the game. There are 11 missions and 2 tutorial missions, and they are hard. It took my group 3 tries to finish the 2nd tutorial mission. You will likely have to play each mission at least twice, depending on how fast your team thinks.
There is also a modular board, so later missions will have a larger board and thus a harder set. No mission is longer than 30 minutes, so even if you lose one of the harder missions, you can reset easily and try again. The modular board is a very tight fit though, we had to force the pieces to close. Otherwise, the component quality is very good. The various tokens are thick and the cards shuffle well. There are no colorblind issues because the cards are primary colors and they have levels that correspond with the color.
I like to say that Bomb Squad is like Hanabi meets Robo Rally in cooperative real time. The outward hands plus having a time limit makes for a very different strategy than Hanabi, and discarding cards does not yield bad penalties. It also varies than Robo Rally in that you don’t have to worry about turning the robot, which definitely helps for those that have a harder time with spatial reasoning.
Bomb Squad is a very solid cooperative game that will leave you sweating at the end. Having to make frantic decisions has the time ticks down holds to the theme very well. Gamers that want a challenging cooperative game will certainly enjoy Bomb Squad.
Eminent Domain: Battlecruisers is a standalone card game for 3-5 players designed by Philip duBarry, published by Tasty Minstrel Games in the Eminent Domain Universe. Players take on the role of a captain of a mighty battlecruiser in the middle of a skirmish and trying to collect precious 15 ore or destroy their opponents. Each player gets cards in their color based on the one of the recommended sets in the rules (dependent on player count). Every player has the same cards as the other players. Upon setup, one of those cards gets randomly discarded, and another face-up in the Recovery Zone. This makes it so not every player has the exact same cards in hand at the beginning of the game.
Each player gets a player card which shows where the discarded cards go, the recovery zone, in play cards, and a reference to how each round occurs. Play goes as follows: Choose a card from your hand and place it facedown in play. Once every player has chosen a card, they are revealed. Starting from the smallest card to the largest, resolve card effects. If no other person played that card, resolve the main card effect. If opponents played the same card, then you resolve the clash effects. Then, cards get picked up from recovery zone to hand, and cards in play into the recovery zone. Check for win conditions, then play another round if no one has won. Play continues until one or more players have 15 points or more at the end of a round or all players but one have been knocked out. A player gets eliminated if they are out of cards in their hand, in play, and recovery zones at the end of a round.
Eminent Domain: Battlecruisers is very akin to games like Libertalia or Eggs and Empires. Battlecruisers is my favorite of the three, for several reasons. Battlecruisers is short with each game being about 15-20 minutes, which is perfect for a game with elimination. There are also many different recommended card sets, as players only use 6-8 cards in a game out of the 33 cards that are included in the base game. Once a group gets tired of one card set, they can try a different card set which will require various strategies. This greatly helps the replay value the game.
I also liked the art of Battlecruisers, loving the space theme that Eminent Domain has. The only issue we have with the graphic design is the card text is much too small. Playing with several different people, they all commented on the text size. In one group, we had to find a table with brighter light as they could not read the text. Also, the clash effect has red text, which was difficult for my colorblind husband to see unless under very bright light. I’m hoping in later editions they increase the text size, especially for people who have bad vision or colorblindness.
Battlecruisers is easy to learn, short, and has good strategic decisions. Do you focus on making your opponents discard their cards or earn victory points? Do you knowingly play a card that will clash to make your opponent get less victory points? While Battlecruisers can be a little cutthroat, it’s short enough that if you get eliminated quickly, you can start a new game soon enough.
Overall, we liked Battlecruisers and it played very well in our groups. Players who prefer short, strategic simultaneous play with a cool sci-fi theme will enjoy Battlecruisers. We recommend it!
We were given a review copy but also did back the Kickstarter.
Orleans is a bag builder worker placement board game set in medieval France, designed by Reiner Stockhausen and published by Tasty Minstrel Games. In Orleans, players place their followers on action spaces, which allow them to perform different abilities and actions during a game round. These followers may be traders, builders, scholars, each having their own track. Every time you gain a follower, you advance that track, which give players various bonuses.
Orleans is a very interesting euro game that uses the bag building concept. Instead of a deck of cards or dice, players have a bag in which their followers go upon gaining and use in a round. This does cause the game to have some randomness, but there are many ways to mitigate the randomness. One such way is to build places, which can allow the players to have special powers or action spaces. Each player has a bag in which these followers go, and players have to only take a certain amount of followers out of the bag per turn (based on their knight follower track). Because of this, Orleans requires careful planning, flexibility, and strategizing in order to have the most efficient rounds.
The action spaces of Orleans corresponds to which actions a player can take on their turn, as long as the action space is completely filled (usually using two or three followers). What’s interesting is that players don’t have to activate their action space even if it’s filled, because of timing reasons with other players. Also, players can start filling up their action spaces and those followers stay on the action spaces until it’s activated. This can make less followers in your bag that you pull in the round, guaranteeing certain pulls if you need certain types of followers for the next round.
Orleans has many viable paths to victory which you must adapt to since there is a limited number of followers and buildings. This means that players cannot use the same exact strategy every time and have to be flexible because they may not be able to activate an action space if it is out of followers on that track. Also, when using experienced rules, players take out places they think may be overpowered. This means that a player may not be able to do the same strategy every game, if another player removed a place they used for victory in a previous game. It can create more balance in the game and closer victory point totals at the end.
Orleans has very high quality components and art. The cardboard is quite thick and good to handle. The board looks fantastic, and the player boards also are well thought out. The iconography of Orleans is easy to understand, especially after the first game.
Orleans is a refreshing euro in the midst of many on the market. There is high replay value, due to many different ways to win and gain points. Players will enjoy the constant planning and strategy that occurs during the game, as well as the high quality of the bits and art.
2 Player Experience
Highly recommend the experienced rules, even in the first game. Suggestions for places to remove: Bath House, School, Hospital, and Tailor Shop.
We don’t like that followers are removed, it seems to punish the person that was already behind in that category
Runaway leader is a possibility, especially if you do not play the experienced rules.
2 player wasn’t as fun in our experience, but still worth trying.
4 Player Experience
Solid and mostly balanced play, especially if you do the experienced rules
Not too much downtime since most phases can be done simultaneously
Overall, very good with 4 players, recommend it as the best player count
I think as especially as board game media, it’s important to define some terms of types of gamers. I think certain terms (like non-gamers) are used way too broadly, and don’t get the point across. I’ve tried to create a spectrum of gamers, that better describe each phase of gaming. And it’s not a scale of one is more epic than another, but just where people are at, gaming wise.
Note that this is a spectrum, you may be in between Regular Gamer and Experienced Gamer for example. Not every person may find themselves completely described in these gamer definitions.
Non-Gamer: Someone who is wary of gaming, dislikes gaming, or has never played a game in their adult life. I’m using the mathematical definition of non, which means not. Basically a non-gamer is someone who doesn’t play games and isn’t interested in games.
Non-Modern Gamer: Someone who has played card games or monopoly in the past, but hasn’t played any modern games yet. They are content playing Hearts with family, and don’t have much interest in these new fangled games.
Novice Gamer: Someone who is new to modern games, and wants to try out new mechanics such as tile laying or card drafting. They normally don’t want to try anything complex, but interested in games other than Monopoly or classic card games.
Casual Gamer: Someone who enjoys gaming if someone else initiates, but won’t buy games for themselves, or host game nights. They may not feel confident about learning a game themselves, unless it’s a very easy to learn game.
Family Gamer: Someone who mostly plays games at family events, or who plays games as the request of their children. They see the importance of playing with family, but don’t have much interest in playing games otherwise.
Regular Gamer: Someone who buys games, enjoys playing games, and initiates gaming if hanging out with friends and family. They may go to an organized game night at a game store, but mostly sticks to gaming with people they know.
Experienced Gamer: Someone who is very involved in gaming, whether it be with their family, friends, or gaming community. They regularly play games with family or friends and host game nights when time allows. They are well versed in many types of mechanics and themes of gaming.
Also note that someone may change from a non-gamer to a family gamer, or a regular gamer to an experienced gamer in their life. These aren’t set in stone. Alternatively, you may change from an experienced gamer to a regular gamer if you have a newborn or move to an area without a good gaming community.
I could’ve added even more but felt confident about these. What type of gamer are you?