Review: Imagine from Shingo Fujita and Gamewright

Review: Imagine from Shingo Fujita and Gamewright

Imagine is a worthy addition to your party game collection, giving quieter players a chance to get creative.

Some might say we’re getting too many party games into the market these days. I’d instead suggest that this is a Renaissance of party games. Thirty years after the craze of 80’s games that pushed Trivial Pursuit, Pictionary and Scattergories into the collections and get-togethers in US homes, we have an upswing in quality. It’s not like party games died. They may have taken a back seat to electronic entertainment. Maybe a lack of creative energy flowing in. No more – with the advent of Apples to Apples, its naughty cousin Cards Against Humanity, Cranium, and the titles from serious designers like Codenames, Concept, and One Night Ultimate Werewolf, there’s a surge of good games in the last 5 years that are rightfully being played more and more.

Add the clever Imagine to the list for sure. This winner has simple game play yet a unique feel to its play. Like so many other great games, Imagine is about trying to get someone else to understand your clue. The big twist here is that players make use of transparent cards that can be stacked and shifted as you clue to the other players what you are trying to get across (a word, the category of which is given to the other players).

The cards are a little like the see-through cards you see in games like Gloom or Mystic Vale, which can superimpose items over or next to each other, as appropriate. However, movement is one of the tools you can use to make the generic and semi-specific shapes offer insight into the word you selected.

As with the best party games, this is also where the hilarity kicks in. Players frantically pull up the cards (all are available, so there’s something to be said for using what you can find quickly) and shift them around to get the point across. Hilarity will ensue or you aren’t playing properly. Even your reserved friends can get in on the fun with Imagine.

Imagine’s Winning Attribute

The real charm of Imagine is how even your quieter friends can get the thrill of Charades going. It doesn’t take a lot of courage to use the shapes and symbols to clue as it does to use your body. We love how it is opening up that side of fun to introverts

Scoring, if you care, is well-implemented. The current player can get any other player on the board to guess what he or she is trying to convey so they can both score. I’m fond of this idea because, like Concept, this allows for more players to be involved for more turns. I also like the fact that Imagine is explained in seconds and people just naturally get the rules from there. As a result, this one works well for families. Yes, it’s also for your drunk friends at the end of the night.

The game plays in about 20 minutes with the standard rules giving players two go-rounds. We have always ended up with at least one more game. When I brought it to my work game-night, they refused all other games to play it all night for hours.

Imagine recently won the 2017 As d’Or – Jeu de l’Année, which isn’t a surprise. This game has excellent replay value, works for any crowd, and will be the source of many laughs that night. I believe it belongs in your party game collection.

Boardgame Babylon Rating for Imagine

BIN (Buy It Now) PIN (P)lay It Now TIF (Try It First) NMT (Not My Thing)

Disclosure: Publisher Gamewright provided a copy for independent review.

Session Review: Rise of Tribes by Brad Brooks and Breaking Games

Session Review: Rise of Tribes by Brad Brooks and Breaking Games

The things that make a good game is a subject I ponder a fair amount as both someone who talks a lot about games and a sometime-designer. Not a great game, mind you. I might advance the idea that what makes up a good game and what makes a great game or not just the same thing but more so. I know, it sounds odd but, dear reader, indulge me for a moment.

Rise of Tribes

To me, a great game is some kind of lightning in a bottle. Great games may contain something that just doesn’t exist in lesser quantities in good games. The mechanisms click, possibly with the theme or the components, the creativity it inspires in players, the collaboration, the mix of strategic options or maybe the various paths to victory. Some kind of magical silver string pulls it all together to make an experience you want to enjoy over and over. The ‘one and done’ good game may not really have that mix of elements sitting there, ready to be augmented.

But maybe I’m wrong. This came up as I was doing some recent playtesting, with the highlight being Rise of Tribes from Breaking Games, pretty much the only game I played that I can talk about today.

A new game from Brad Brooks, of Letter Tycoon fame, Rise of Tribes is a quick-playing early civilization game with exploring, conflict, tech, and growing your tribe. Despite the many options in the game, it plays in under an hour, has a unique decisioning system, and I found it satisfying. The game is currently going like gangbusters on Kickstarter (over 1000% funded) but what else can I tell you about it.

Rise of Tribes’ central mechanism is simple; roll two dice and add them to the two of four options you plan to use this turn. Those options include adding tribe members (3 of them), moving them (4 total spaces), gathering resources from hexes your tribe members occupy, or drawing two victory point/advantage cards you can buy with gathered resources.

The interesting part about this game is the dice element. The dice are six-siders with two each of blank sides, moons and suns. Cue the Credence when you see those moons because they mean bad things. At all times, three dice are at the top of each of the four options. When you add a dice to select the action, it changes the makeup. Now, the three dice only matter if there are pairs of suns or moons. If the former is true, you get a bonus to the action (usually just a higher number item). And, yes, two moons means you get less than the normal action. Kudos to Brad and Breaking Games for making this intuitive with their board design.

After your two actions, you can use resources to buy cards from your deck (all the same) that you previous drew. The cards are key because they not only give you points, they also mitigate some of the penalties in the game, give you raw victory points

The other thing you can build is a Village. These are exceptionally useful as they hand you a victory point for each turn you begin with them intact and each player has a different resource combo to build them. They also give you the power to effectively cycle your bonus cards. The only problem is – they kind of attract attention.

There is conflict among the Tribes, but it isn’t annoying like some games of this nature. It’s nothing personal – we’re just talking about space here. If you want to share the land with other tribes, you can. Both of you can gather there and no one gets hurt. But, if you get more than five people in one hex, you’ve got a conflict on your hands. This is resolve by removing a pair each until only one tribe color is left. This also happens if you are alone and just pile too many of your Tribeeples in one place. Space is space. If there’s a Village on the spot, you don’t get to take it over if you kill the Village owner, your tribe is just too excited and they burn it to the ground. Just like in real life.

Rise of Tribes

The game is played to 15 points and it ends immediately when someone hits that goal. While the Hut is a reliable source for VP, they can be destroyed by an incursion from others. Safer is to buy cards from your deck, which also often give you an advantage in the game.

So, is Rise of Tribes good or great? Well, I think it’s very good and the last stages of play testing may push it over the edge. I think that silver string is here in the unique dice mechanism and maybe the card mix in your private reserve. The fast-playing schedule also makes the game feel like “Race of the Tribes”, which is a compliment. I can see this playing in 30 minutes with the right crowd – and that’s a lot of game for 1/2 an hour.

Rise of Tribes is on Kickstarter right now, through July 6th. A nice upgraded version is also available. Breaking Games is making a name for itself with some new offerings that look interesting. Definitely keeping an eye on them.

Boardgame Babylon Rating for Rise of Tribes

BIN (Buy It Now) PIN (P)lay It Now TIF (Try It First) NMT (Not My Thing)

Disclosure: Played a play test copy of Rise of Tribes, provided by Breaking Games. I personally know Brad and Peter Vaughn from Breaking Games. But, you know, I know a lot of people.

GOF 2017 Report: Gloomhaven Is Mostly Gloomhype

GOF 2017 Report: Gloomhaven Is Mostly Gloomhype

Editor’s Note: Still getting around to my posts from Gathering of Friends 2017 last month. They’ll come out as soon as I can get a moment to write and edit them. Bless you for your patience with this busy blogger. Gloomhaven here also got a little long.

Editor’s Other Note: If you are a Gloomhaven Groupie and want your opinion validated, Ars Technica has a good article for you. Ye will find no validation here.

Having a limited time at the Gathering of Friends this year, I had not really made a proper list of must-play games. Yet, Gloomhaven was high on my mental list to try because of all the hype that has been spread online about this game for some time, culminating in their highly successful Kickstarter campaign, which just closed. People I respected had been pushing it hard, talking about how amazing the whole thing was and putting a whole lot of money into the admittedly giant box offered by the publisher. The hype, not shied away from by the publisher, was massive and growing. My expectations were high.

So, I was quite appreciative when my friend Jeff gave me his slot in a planned Gloomhaven session on Thursday morning. As it happens, a big fan of the game had been running daily games for novices, teaching them the game and then running them through his campaign with prescribed characters he had been developing. I turned up early to my designated time all ready to be dazzled. While my recent investment in Descent 2.0 to play with my son and friends is substantial, maybe Gloomhaven will give me the eurogame-powered alternative that will be worth the switch. I recall how in the late 80’s, I switched to GURPS from AD&D 1st edition for similar reasons. More control, less randomness, a more serious design. Deja vu, game edition.

Expectations are a tough thing. Having been raised in the business world by the Pixie Dusters at Disney, where one of the key concepts is to exceed expectations, I’m keenly in tune with how important it is to go into a situation with them set properly. For the most part, the Gloomhyping had worked on me. I was considering supporting the Kickstarter even as I had sworn to not buy unplayed games this year (probably not an unfamiliar refrain to you, dear reader). The one bright (dark?) spot here was that the night before, a highly-respected game designer had run through his list of games played and offered his quick opinions. When he got to Gloomhaven, his review was two words:

“Hated it.”

Still Gloomhotin

On Thursday morning, I sat down with his words in mind, hoping they would lower my expectations sufficiently that I would love Gloomhaven. As the box was opened, the components were an inauspicious start. There’s a lot of stuff inside that big chest but I was immediately underwhelmed by the boring game boards and cardboard standees for monsters. Hey, Descent 2.0 has made me love detailed boards and cool miniatures while this felt like a throwback to the sad days when Steve Jackson Games tried to get us excited about Cardboard Heroes! Didn’t work on me then, not impressed now (I had similar misgivings about Dead of Winter, which hasn’t been to the table in a long while). The mix of figures for the heroes and cardboard for the monsters just felt wrong.

When we got to the rules, things seemed better. Gloomhaven has some interesting mechanisms, at least starting with the personal deck play options that let you come up with interesting card combos unique to your character. Players have a custom deck that can be upgraded with stickers and they’re double-purposed like what you find in Card Driven Wargames, with two ways to use them. You play two per turn, using the top combat-oriented option on one card, and the bottom movement-focused option at the bottom. I liked the idea of how they worked and interacted with power-ups that you could inspire and then people could use. Kind of like magic that hasn’t faded in the air, these elemental and such type of conditions can give players extended powers, which seems cool. I was intrigued but also felt like the options often limited what you could do for the turn.

Gloomhaven

The game has also worked hard to make the characters and classes unique in a way that shows these folks have been playing RPGs in the last nearly thirty years when I wasn’t. They’re exploding stereotypes and limitations. Clerics can have knives, dwarf-types can cast spells. This ain’t your father’s RPG class system! Er, I guess I’m the dad. This ain’t my old RPG class system! I mock because I’m given to do it, but this is actually a good thing. The characters have no attributes either, so you’re really using the card decks to do most of the work in combat and hand management. Some cards go away after a single use, others can go away if used in a certain way. Managing how you use these options is interesting but, a few hours in, you might grow weary of the work going into it. I did.

Like most dungeon crawlers, you have equipment to help you on your way and they add to what they should (armor helps with defense, weapons with killing stuff). Sounds good, so far – the description of those rules include lots of eurogame touches that look like they will make the game more balanced and interesting. As we get through an hour of rules, I’m excited but maybe a little concerned about how much there is to track and that I won’t be able to do what I want sometimes. Maybe kind of a lot of the time.

We hear a brief description of where we are in the world, being that this is eight scenarios in, and then we start. Much like Descent and other dungeon crawlers, we’re in conflict with some kind of monsters pretty quickly. Unfortunately, with the way the initiative mechanisms work, my rock-guy Tank runs up to the front but the dungeon jerks we are fighting sidestep me and go after our mage-thing run by our rules teacher. They promptly kill him.

I say ‘promptly’ but that’s just in Gloomhaven time, which moves like a snail crawling through barely-wet cement while covered in molasses and dragging an anvil. Did I mention the snail is really old?

More on that point later. We reboot.

We go in again and spread out a little differently. Now, the same rule plagues us and the creepy crawlies grab our rogue-thing. He’s killed and reboot two happens.

We’re over two hours in and we have yet to fight anyone but it’s noisy, we have three new players and while I’m getting it, there is a fair amount to think about on an individual turn so the other two guys are doing their best. Also, I have a work emergency going on and I’m Slacking between turns. This actually helps because the downtime in Gloomhangin is powerful.

As we play, some of the mechanisms that I found interesting start to feel unsatisfying. The ‘elemental effect’ or whatever mechanism only appears to have a single turn of impact, meaning it takes a lot of coordination to get an often minor impact on your turn. I hope the rules master had this one wrong because it turns something really cool into something lukewarm.

The standard equipment also appears to have a lot less utility than in any adventure game I’ve played. While my armor and shield help me every single turn in Descent or the D&D board games, Gloomhaltin limits equipment to seemingly minimal uses and then they need repair or untapping (sorry, ‘straightening’ or something – I don’t want to owe Hasbro a license fee). Man, why didn’t I buy armor that works every time? The rules master explains that this is for balance, which was the explanation for a fair number of my questions. Wow, I wish balance and fun could get equal time here. He did acknowledge that point sometime later.

I can do a lot of cool things with my cards…but they are fairly limited, hard to orchestrate, and often what I want to do is unavailable when I really need it. In fact, timing your actions to work well with the tactical situation on the board is hard enough to lack of a spark of pleasure that we get from easily getting into conflicts on the board in Descent, figuring out how our powers can help us beat the baddies. I keep making that comparison because it feels like Fantasy Flight are making a conscious effort to loosen things up with their combat games. Imperial Assault (essentially, Star Wars Descent) even has skirmish mode, acknowledging that sometimes you just want to throw down for 30-45 minutes and not plan a long day of dungeon delving. Gloomhaven seems to only allow the latter.

Four hours in, we have barely survived battle number 1 (on the third try) and just edged into a second room. There are three reasons I haven’t left the table yet, making some kind of excuse about a gaming emergency.

  1. The work emergency is still in the process of getting resolved and the otherwise-painful downtime is helping a lot. I’m making good progress and when it becomes my turn, I quickly move and then I’m off Slacking with my team back in L.A. and S.F.
  2. I appreciate the time the rules guy has put into it and don’t want to screw up his campaign by walking away. The other two players are also having some amount of fun, although it’s often hard to ascertain how much. They do eventually seem to get the game more. They’re all swell folks and I don’t want to ruin the game.
  3. I want to see this through so I can write this rather gonzo session review of Gloomhaven because, of course, I love you all.

Return on Attention

In the end, we spend six hours, finish room two and rush to get to room three. Mind you, these rooms are bare-bones chambers that lack of the character, obstacles, and theming of Descent boards. By this time, I could have played nearly three scenarios of Descent and been in dozens of rooms that would give us a sense of accomplishment. The app helps this immensely, as it helps you feel the experience and travel and exploration. Gloomholdin just feels like we’re running in place, and a nondescript one at that.

In the end, I could see how that designer could have ‘hated’ Gloomhazin. While the eurogame stylings have sawed off the Ameritrash edges in many ways, they make the game feel stilted and labored to me. You have to do so much to get so little, which violates a big rule for me. When I design software, one of my focuses is on “Return on Attention”. We are far too busy to do anything these days. We have only so many mental cycles in the day. I believe games need to deliver on fun and positive experiences for the time put in. If the game starts to feel like a lot of work or if it doesn’t deliver enough regularly to keep you engaged, it isn’t worth my time.

That’s just me, of course. I know many people love to play games that give them the feeling of running a big business, country, or other operation, and that experience and putting a lot of time into it to optimize or otherwise deliver better stuff is exciting. More power to them. If they are loving that experience, I’m glad they are getting what they want out of games. Gloomhaven feels like that to me. If you want to micromanage a dungeon crawl and feel the euro mechanisms slip together like artisanal puzzle pieces, this is your game. You will drown in joy at the 100 hours of play you will get out of the giant box, which will be an excellent deal and money well-spent. I still think replacing all those standees with miniatures and such would be more fun but that would make the box Ogre Designer’s Edition sized. Eeek.

If you want things a little looser, more consistently thrilling, and perhaps a little more in line with the old-school feel of RPGs dungeon-delving, I think you’ll be happier with Descent 2.0 (particularly with the excellent app) or maybe the D&D board games.

I’ll end with my caveats that longtime BGB readers and listeners know well enough: I’m a eurogamer by nature, but I played RPGs back in the 80’s. Ameritrash isn’t normally my thing but we have gotten deeply into Mice & Mystics and also Descent 2.0 primarily because my son wanted to play RPGs and I figured this was a good compromise. We also acquired and played the D&D board games but I think they aren’t as good as the other two RPG-in-a-box titles we have enjoyed regularly for the last couple of years. We’re playing fairly regularly now and, while I would love more variation in games, I’m thrilled that this oldschool play is delighting my son and the close friends with whom I spent a lot of time adventuring back in high school.

One more point: If you coughed up more than $100 for this game because you were Gloomhopin it was going to be a Descent-killer, the Second Coming, or just a really good game that you and your friends love, I hope it gets you to Gloomheaven. The play time situation for my experience wasn’t ideal and while I’d probably give it a second try with a friend who knew the rules really well and pimped it out with real miniatures, I won’t be seeking that situation out. Not all games work for all people so if the hype got you on the bandwagon, I do hope you enjoy the ride…and remember there’s always the secondary market if you also think Gloomhaven is indeed a haven for gaming misery.

Boardgame Babylon Rating for Gloomhaven

BIN (Buy It Now)

PIN (P)lay It Now

TIF (Try It First)

NMT (Not My Thing)

Preview: Wizards of the Tabletop – A Game Designer Portrait Book – On Kickstarter

Preview: Wizards of the Tabletop – A Game Designer Portrait Book – On Kickstarter

Wizards of the Tabletop is a worthwhile addition to the non-game shelves of any passionate tabletop gamer.

Do people still read paper books much? I like to call them “dead-tree books” as sort of a poke at people who collect books like they are secret talismans that somehow makes them more powerful or more prestigious since they keep all that knowledge in their home. Don’t we all have that knowledge on our phones all the time, every day now?

While my attitude about this subject is somewhat informed by the fact that I was an early e-reader who pulled PDFs off the bibliophile’s version of the Dark Web, it also comes from being raised by a voracious reader who never kept books. As soon as my father read something, and he was an Evelyn Wood-trained speed reader who polished off a book and a half a day, he would get them into a bag to be sent off to his friends or the library for donation.

Amusingly enough, the reason my snarky comments stopped is because I started buying dead-tree books on Amazon at ridiculously cheap prices. I think the turning point was when I purchased a copy of Morrissey’s autobiography for eight cents plus shipping; that’s quite a bit less than the cost of the Kindle edition. Suddenly, these dead-tree bits were showing up on my doorstep and I ended up rediscovering the beautiful, tactile experience of reading a physical book rather than simply paging through it on an iPhone. It’s not the first time I found something that seems like going backwards is actually just a new path to happiness. I doubt it’s the last.

Wizards of the Tabletop: This is a review, right?

Yes, I was getting to that. So, when I saw that Douglas Morse, who has already made one of the best board game movies that we have yet to see (The Next Great American Board Game), has a new coffee table book on Kickstarter that included photos of game industry folks, I was intrigued. Certainly, I thought Wizards of the Tabletop: A Game Designer Portrait Book sounded like something that was worth a little space on my largely uncluttered shelves. I’m glad to say that I was able to obtain a preview copy of the book’s photos and accompanying text. In the book, Mr. Morse has captured some terrific photos of various game designers and industry luminaries at conventions or, in some cases, in an environment suited to the kind of games that they produce.

Wizards of the Tabletop
The great Matt Leacock in a preview photo from Wizards of the Tabletop.

In his travels to put together his original documentary, Mr. Morse had an opportunity to visit many of the conventions that are the gathering places for our hobby, including both public and private conventions. He captured signature shots of great designers like Reiner Knizia, Friedemann Friese, Alan Moon, Steve Jackson, Matt Leacock and so many more. Frankly speaking, it’s just a lot of fun to see these creative, intelligent, and witty folks hamming it up for the camera. But Morse also captured the more reserved among them (that’s the minority, in my experience) in a manner that suits their personality. There’s just so much joy in this shots. And why not – game designers and people in this hobby are incredibly friendly. When you go to tabletop conventions, it is so easy to meet game designers, so simple to try out their new game, and even contribute to its development. Few other hobbies have such a close relationship between creators and enthusiasts.

I should note that Wizards of the Tabletop isn’t all pictures. Morse has interspersed text with the photos that lightly touches on the modern history of gaming, tying it to some key points in the last fifty-ish years that led to the current sustained renaissance in the hobby. To that end, he’s also included photos of a cross section of games that highlight key moments or movements within modern board game design. These complement the designer photos to tell a compelling story about how the hobby has crawled out of the college campuses, geek basements and back rooms of game stores into the charming board game cafes, libraries, and homes of regular folks everywhere.

It’s a wonderful tale that is well-told and one that is dear to my own heart; indeed, it should be for anyone who has a deep love for “These Games of Ours,” as they were often called in the past. I’m glad they aren’t just ours anymore. I love that I can’t contain the size of the board game night I started at work. I’m thrilled that board games are having their day and saving us from endlessly looking at screens. I still delight in seeing a big shelf of quality games at Target or Barnes and Noble. To commemorate how far the hobby has come, I think having this particular talisman in my home makes good sense.

Wizards of the Tabletop is live on Kickstarter and will close in just a few days. You can pony up $20 for the PDF but I can’t imagine not wanting to get the physical copy for another ten bucks. It’s worth a few more trees. Any gamer who enjoys this hobby should delight in the images and story contained in this fine book. While it won’t ship until next June but, in the spirit of the season, it would make a lovely gift to be enjoyed for years to come. After all, a printed out Kickstarter order confirmation email fits nicely into a stocking.


You might also want to read this other Boardgame Babylon article: Movie Review: The Next Great American Board Game


Disclosure: The publisher sent me an early-preview PDF copy of the book for independent review.

Session Review: Guild Masters by Matthew Austin and Mirror Box Games

Session Review: Guild Masters by Matthew Austin and Mirror Box Games

Guild Masters came along at a less than ideal time for me, yet I quite liked it and backed it on Kickstarter. I’ve been struggling with euro games still a bit when they lack an interesting theme or unique elements. While we often marvel at the way a designer melds good ideas from other games into something new, even that has gotten old in my view.

So, it was a bit of a surprise to find out that I enjoyed Guild Masters so much. It’s a euro game with a variation on a theme we’ve seen a bit. Yet, it’s so tightly designed and expertly implemented that I found myself really enjoying it only a few minutes in.

Guild Masters

I like fantasy themes and I’m drawn to games that try to have some fun with it, particularly when a business is involved. I was drawn to Battle Masters, Fantasy Business and other similar games for that reason. Guild Masters has quests like Lord of Waterdeep but the players are investors trying to supply heroes with the tools they need to complete these tasks. As such, players upgrade their guild in various ways, hire workers and invest in the best quests – sometimes alongside other guild masters for shared booty.

The game has a variety of mechanisms and sub-systems while still feeling like a light-medium euro. Players have a limited number of choices each turn, and then an option to upgrade or hire with the money you have. You can 1) Gather resources, some of which are restricted unless you buy a certain upgrade. You can also 2) Craft resources into something to help a hero conduct a quest by delivering them the item they need. Some quests simply require that one resource and you get paid for it, adding the card to your collection of completed quests that will score at the end of the game. In this case, you want to be the first one in for an advantage (you get the card, instead of just the payout). Lastly, players can also hire a variety of unique workers that help you produce, pay or do something more efficiently. On the same turn, you can also buy extensions to your guild that will help you do more, including getting access to more resource options, getting end-game or in-game bonuses or advantages.

Simple enough but the ease of learning Guild Masters should not make you think the game isn’t really intriguing. There is just the right amount of detail in the varied quests, workers and guild upgrades to provide interesting combos for scoring more points based on the quests you complete.

Guild Masters plays quickly and yet it has enough variation to invite repeat play to explore the various elements and how you can find efficient ways to gain more points than your rivals. I recommend it and look forward to my next play of Guild Masters.

Guild Masters is for 2-5 players and is said to take 60-90 minutes. We were under an hour with three and the game isn’t really prone to AP players (yay!). It’s live on Kickstarter and almost at its end. Support now for a fine new euro you will surely enjoy.

Boardgame Babylon Rating for Guild Masters

BIN (Buy It Now) PIN (P)lay It Now TIF (Try It First) NMT (Not My Thing)

Disclosure: The publisher provided a preview copy to play once.

Photo Credit: Ta-Te Wu

SESSION REVIEW: Paperback App from Tim Fowers

SESSION REVIEW: Paperback App from Tim Fowers

Paperback, the smash-hit game from designer Tim Fowers (of Burgle Brothers and Wok Star fame), has come to mobile devices and I couldn’t be more delighted. Thematically, Paperback has players trying to finish a pulpy paperback novel by constructing words throughout the game, which is pleasantly brought to life with the amusing artwork and quick game play.

Paperback the original board game is typically described as the baby of Scrabble and Dominion, which is apt. Players get to make words from a hand of letter cards drawn each turn in deck-builder style. Each letter has a value and whatever you construct for the turn gives you money to buy new (often better, higher value) letters, some of which have special powers. You can also buy victory point cards if you have enough money. Despite being the key to winning, they clog up your deck with wild cards that have no buying power. There are also special powers on certain letter cards that do cool things like double word scores, draw extra cards and other nice things. There’s a way to get points for longer words, too. It’s a load of fun for wordsmiths and casual players alike.

You want a detailed description of play? This guy wrote it out (although he added an ‘l’ to Tim’s surname, which I expect isn’t uncommon). You can also watch this video. You didn’t think I was going to explain it rule-by-rule did you? Come on. Where are you?

What I Love About The Paperback App

I need to disclose something. I’m a recovering iOS deckbuilding addict. I’ve played SO many games of Ascension and Dominion on my iPhone that even my careful documentation of plays ceased to have Paperbackmeaning. The quick play of these games against a single AI player is almost too compelling. Playing them swallowed all my little bits of time on my device and I finally had to stop so I could read books and get back to completing mini-workflows in those odd moments. But Paperback has me back off the wagon and loving it.

Normal Paperback as a board game has the same challenge that word nerds face when trying to find opponents for Scrabble. Simply put, if you have an excellent vocabulary, you just have a natural advantage. Like being tall in basketball, it isn’t everything but it sure helps.

While modern players have Qwirkle as a good alternative that levels the playing field with color/shape combos instead, those of us who just love words still yearn for the opportunity to build them from a jumble of letters. With the Paperback app, I can indulge this passion with the AI player when no one else is available. Furthermore, the game has helpful setting options to allow players to adjust the length of their games. I’ve often opined that some mobile app games are simply too long because I have other things to do (the opposite of how I feel when I’m at a table with excellent people). I welcome Paperback giving the player control over the length of their experience.

Furthermore, Paperback rides on the Loom Game Engine and it works really well. Animation and game speed are all excellent. Fowers isn’t just a brilliant board game designer – he has a background in technology so I’d expect nothing different from his apps.

What I Didn’t Like

A prompt update eliminated one of my pet peeves – confirmation windows – ugh! Just because that was considered good coding in CS classes, it’s a nightmare by modern UX standards…okay, rant over. However, Paperback still makes me listen to its theme music instead of letting me bring in my own playlist. As a passionate music-lover who carefully curates what goes into my ears, this is a problem. The theme music is pleasant and appropriate but it isn’t going to make me not want Hope Sandoval of Mazzy Star to serenade me while I play my word nerd games. That sultry voice just gets the little gray cells going. Full rules are now available, too – not just a video link. Some of us still read, including those who want a Paperback app! I feel sure Tim is addressing those issues in future releases.

The Final Word on Paperback for iOS

Paperback is a well-implemented version of a game that is ideally suited for the mobile device play. I love it and certainly recommend you give is a download. I’m sure it is available for Android somewhere, wherever those things happen.

GET PAPERBACK ON IOS NOW

Boardgame Babylon Rating for Paperback for iOS

BIN (Buy It Now) PIN (P)lay It Now TIF (Try It First) NMT (Not My Thing)

Disclosure: An app code was provided for review by the publisher.

Session Review: Imhotep from Phil Walker-Harding & KOSMOS

Session Review: Imhotep from Phil Walker-Harding & KOSMOS

Imhotep is a welcome addition to our gateway games collection, but I almost missed out on it. My first play was fine, but I was underwhelmed. This SDJ nominee was my final game of the day at an event last month. I had wanted to try out this title that was going to challenge Codenames for the Spiel Des Jahres and only spotted it late in the day. I had faith in the possibility that it could take on Vlaada Chvatil’s effortlessly wonderful party game because I’m a fan of Phil Walker-Harding‘s other games like Sushi Go!, Archaeology, Pack of Heroes, and Cacao. The game was loaned to me from another party who waited until I played before mentioning that he felt similarly (good, not great), suggesting that maybe the nomination was an Academy Award-style ‘make up for a previous snub’ to console the open wound of the excellent Cacao missing the cut. I nodded in agreement before taking off that night.

I was wrong. Imhotep deserved the nomination and the adoration of the SDJ jury. This is a very good game that I’ve now played nine times. Despite my first impression, I bought the game to play during our summertime game-cation (where we always sample the SDJ and KDJ nominees ahead of the announcements). I was impressed with the delight the newcomers experienced playing it and I how much enjoyed exploring the nuances of the game.

Imhotep Basics

Gameplay is straightforward and seems familiar, as with many great games. Players are trying to score points and win by placing stones on boats and delivering them to ports that let them score in various ways. This is done six times, with some scoring happening immediately, some happening at the end of the round, and the bulk of points coming at the end. The game has an old-school euro feel and I sense the strong influence of Michael Schacht, the master of minimalist designs that have incredible depth.

To play, you give your two to four players a pile of colored blocks and a sled tile that holds up to five stones at a time, select round cards based on the number of players you have, and then set up the modular port boards you opt to use. The port boards have two sides, with side A featuring ‘beginner’ options with simpler rules. There are also boats with one to four slots, four of which (in some combination of slots) you’ll bring up based on the round card. Each turn, players decide between three options: add up to three blocks from the player’s general supply to their sled, add a block to a boat from the sled, or sail a boat with enough blocks to a port for activation.

Imhotep

Four boats are available each round and they only can be sailed when one fewer than the number they will handle have been placed on them (pointless clarification: yes, the one-block boat needs a block). At that point, any player (whether or not they have a block on the boat) can sail it into a port. This is important because players can send a boat into a port that doesn’t help the players with blocks on it very much. Managing this narrow range of choices still makes for interesting decisions, even if it doesn’t sound that intriguing just reading the gameplay mechanisms.

There are five ports and only four boats, so one is skipped each round of play. Furthermore, fewer blocks can reach those ports if players send them early so there’s definitely some dynamics around whether players opt to play offensively or defensively. The ports resolve as the boats were loaded, with blocks at the front resolving first. In some cases, this gives that player first choice; on other ports, it just means their block goes into place first – sometimes to their frustration.

The ports are the way players score, but they work differently.

  • The Market lets players choose from a set of mostly face-up cards (the B side has facedown cards), which gives them various immediate or future chances to act or score. The blue cards are an effective way to do double actions, the red ones let you place a block into one of the other ports immediately, the purple are award set collecting points, and the green ones are end of game bonuses for the performance of other ports.
  • The Temple scores at the end of each round, with spaces for five blocks. The interesting bit here is that this option delivers points for the blocks viewable from above. Thus, blocks placed early can score over and over – and new blocks ruin this plan.
  • The Pyramid scores points immediately, but the loading order is a factor because different spaces provide different point rewards.
  • The Burial Chamber and the Obelisk ports both score competitively at the end. The former is pattern-based and loading order is a big deal, while the latter is a raw comparison on side A and a timing/commitment game on side B.

While the side A cards are ‘for beginners’, there is no reason for gamers to not begin with the side B variants. They are a trifle more complicated, but they also make the game better. Players sail the four boats six times before a winner is declared. With experienced players, it’s a satisfying thirty minutes.

Imhotep’s Modular Rules

Much has been made of Friedemann Friese’s 504, a game that takes rules variations to the extreme. Imhotep has some possibilities here but it’s done in a simpler way. Dominion popularized the inspiration from older games like Cosmic Encounter for modern euro games. Indeed, you can see a Dominion inspiration in the way Imhotep’s designer expanded his hit game Sushi Go! for Sushi Go Party (see my adoring review of that game here).

Imhotep

With Imhotep, the game’s central mechanism allows for new ports to be plugged in that score block placement in different ways. The flipside variants on the backside reminded me of Antoine Bauza, who famously mentioned on my podcast that one of his publishers, Repos Productions, encourages this strongly – suggesting it’s otherwise a waste of the back of cardboard. I happen to agree; this feature allows for varied play via selection or random options. I can only assume Walker-Harding is cooking up additional ports for expected expansions of the game. Heck, we designed a couple on the spot last time we played.

The Final Word on Imhotep

Imhotep is a well-designed, interesting game that I’m glad is on our shelves. I do think gamers will enjoy it more if they play the B variants or some combination of A and B. Some longtime players may feel like they have enough gateway games but, like Hanging Gardens, Carcassonne, Kingdom Builder and even Schacht’s own Zooloretto, it fills a useful spot in a collection. Imhotep is also good enough to delight experienced gamers who enjoy a super-filler with a 90’s euro feel.

Boardgame Babylon Rating for Imhotep

BIN (Buy It Now) PIN (P)lay It Now TIF (Try It First) NMT (Not My Thing)

Session Review: Bring Your Own Book from Matthew Moore and Luke Nalker and Gamewright Games

Session Review: Bring Your Own Book from Matthew Moore and Luke Nalker and Gamewright Games

Bring Your Own Book (subtitled “The Game of Borrowed Phrases”) had me at the title. As a voracious reader, I knew it was going to be a game that I’d enjoy. I wasn’t preparedBring Your Own Book for the game to play so well with our entire group, including some I’d describe as ‘non-readers’. It’s 2016 – what can you do? Although bibliophiles will embrace the game quicker, you need not be obsessed with books to enjoy it. Originally released as a self-published game, Gamewright has snapped it up. Thank goodness they did because it’s fun and we laughed a lot while playing.

Bring Your Own Book is amusing for the reason most party games are: you get to inject the personality of the people playing into the experience. On the surface, it’s a pretty straightforward. Like Apples to Apples, Dixit, and Cards Against Humanity, players submit an answer based on criteria set by a game card. That player selects their favorite option and awards the card to the player who selected it. The subjective selection of ‘good’ answers based on whose turn it is drives the mirth in these games. Bring Your Own Book is no exception here.

Yes, You Literally Bring Your Own Book

The innovation here: Instead of a hand of cards with possible answers, players arm themselves with a book. The book’s text is the source for their answers. Once the game card is read, players scour their books to find a phrase or line to match the card. Categories are all over the place, which is amusing. Some examples of the witty card selections: “A line from an unpublished Dr. Seuss book” “A pickup line” or “The title of a romance novel.”

One might read that description and think the game is more interesting for readers who pick their favorite book to use. Not so. The real fun comes out of the truly bizarre answers people try to pass off as a reasonable answer. I did well in our first game with a book on Irish history (I’m a mutt but more Irish/English than anything else). One of our players had a picture book about gnomes, which was a great source for ridiculous responses. Considering the card picker can select the winner based on their own criteria (funniest or the most appropriate for the category), going the funny route can often work and it almost did for the gnome book-wielder.

Bring Your Own Book

If you’re one of those folks who have moved on from deadtree books to the ebook world, you can still enjoy the game. While we had people raiding a few of our bookshelves, there’s no reason why players can’t just bring up a book on their Kindle or iPhone to use. Furthermore, you can get many free books online from your local library or online resources to use in a snap.

(Yes, BGB listeners who know me to be a total tech-head might ask about these bookshelves in my home. I do mostly read e-books but the deadtree variety are so cheap these days that sometimes, I just buy them instead…hey, I got this Morrissey biography for $.08 plus shipping!)

Oh, yeah – the winner is the first one to four or five cards. I think that’s it. Seriously, if you care about who wins, you’re missing the point of party games.

The Final Word on Bring Your Own Book

If you like this style of party game, you’re bound to enjoy Bring Your Own Book. While I love and admire clever party games like Codenames, games where you submit answers that rely on player relationships are the biggest source of laughs. The delightful bonus for Bring Your Own Book is how it allows players to get even more creative in their selections. Yes, it’s lower-effort creativity than the likes of Balderdash (another of my favorites), but it works. The game is now on our Top 10 Party Games list.

Bring Your Own Book plays in 20-30 minutes and with 3-8 players. Of course, you can control these factors by simply handing out more cards or increasing the threshold for winning. The packaging is also delightfully bookish, another fine detail for us book-lovers. I’m jazzed by the packaging Gamewright has been using, although my favorite has been the dice games boxes with the magnets you’ll find housing Qwixx, Dodge Dice and Rolling America. Not anymore – look at the cool addition to Bring Your Own Book just below. You track the books used to play the game as you go. What a terrific idea and one that is unique to Bring Your Own Book.

Bring Your Own Book

Bring Your Own Book is available now from Gamewright and you can follow the author here.

Boardgame Babylon Rating for Bring Your Own Book

BIN (Buy It Now) PIN (Play It Now) TIF (Try It First) NMT (Not My Thing)

Disclosure: Copy provided by the publisher for independent review.

Session Review: Sushi Go Party! by Phil Walker-Harding and Gamewright Games

Session Review: Sushi Go Party! by Phil Walker-Harding and Gamewright Games

Don’t you hate it when a new edition of your favorite game comes out and the old one might as well go in the trash bin? Sushi Go Party will not do that to you. Fans will love the expanded version and they can easily recycle their previous copy by handing it to a friend as a great introduction to modern board games. That is, until the friend loves it so much that they upgrade to Sushi Go Party and pass the basic game on, too. The new version is that welcome and good.

Sushi Go For Beginners (skip this section, experts)

If you don’t know the original Sushi Go, where have you been? This inexpensive crowd-pleaser has enjoyably light Sushi Go Partygame play (plays in 20-30 minutes) and charming artwork sure to dazzle young and new-to-modern-game players. The game works incredibly well for that set, while serious gamers often like it as a filler.

Play is simple but interesting: players get a hand of cards, selecting and revealing one at a time, and then passing the hand to the left (a ‘pick and pass’ mechanism, as it is sometimes called). This is done until all cards are gone, which triggers scoring for the round. Points are awarded for sets that are collected and scored in unique ways for different cards (e.g., majority, multipliers, pairs, etc.) The game plays over three rounds, with building scores and a final bonus for dessert cards collected over the course of the game. The original game is enormous fun and so worth the cost of this small tin chock full of fun. But the new edition is even better.

Sushi Go Party Expands The Menu

Yes, it’s still Sushi Go but bringing the party means two key changes: more players and more variety. The new expanded version offers both in spades. Sushi Go Party plays up to eight – a very welcome feature – and combines the original game with the Dominion concept. Designer Phil Walker-Harding (whose SDJ-nominated Imhotep is all the rage right now) gives buyers of the big new tin a host of new cards in sets that you can mix and match for varied play.

In an inspired thematic choice, Walker-Harding has added ‘menus’ of card sets to play. Card types are now categorized as Rolls, Appetizers, Specials, and Desserts. Your custom bento box of card selection options (you can use a pre-made ones or build your own) are clearly shown with cardboard markers that sit in the center of the new score track. Hurray to that addition as well. No more score-keeping elsewhere on paper or scoring apps round to round.

Card and menu selections from each type can adjust the feel of the game for more interaction or to appeal to larger player counts. For example, there’s now a Spoon card that allows players to request a card from other player hands. There are also risky propositions with Eel and Tofu cards, which require players to have specific numbers of cards or earn a penalty. Additional desserts have been added and a distribution tweak that has more of these end-of-the-game cards rolling in each round makes these post-meal bonuses work better.

Sushi Go Party

The Final Word on Sushi Go Party

Like Sushi Go, Sushi Go Party plays quickly and it doesn’t take any longer to play with eight than it does with the original five player limit. In fact, the new edition even has improved rules to play the game well with only two players. My wife and I tried the new two-player version and it worked quite well. While it isn’t a game that I’d expect to transition so well (even the wondrous 7 Wonders is MUCH better as 7 Wonders: Duel than in in the two-player variant of the original), Walker-Harding has come up with a good way to handle things when you want Sushi For Two.

Sushi Go Party is an ideal upgrade to the original and an instant buy for fans of the game. Everyone who plays it with us says they want to buy it. The game is now on our must-include board game list for travel and big game parties. The US edition is out from Gamewright and you can see previews of many of the new cards on the designer’s Twitter feed.

Boardgame Babylon Rating for Sushi Go Party

BIN (Buy It Now) PIN (Play It Now) TIF (Try It First) NMT (Not My Thing)

Disclosure: Copy provided by the publisher for independent review.

Session Review: Team Play from Johannes Schmidauer-König and Schmidt Spiele

Session Review: Team Play from Johannes Schmidauer-König and Schmidt Spiele

Team Play had significant buzz coming out of The Gathering of Friends 2016, seeming like it was this year’s Strike. Like Strike, which had been overlooked for a few years, GOF attendees seemed to have racked up multiple plays over the course of the event. While that’s not hard to do with shorter games, players obviously kept playing because they were having fun and I ordered a copy immediately. I was not disappointed.

While this quick-play Schmidt Spiele game from Johannes Schmidauer-König has a rummy feel with the draft-and-collect mechanism at its center, the game that came to mind on our first play it Take It or Leave It.  In both games, players draw variable goal cards and compile the means of fulfill them. While the latter does the job with dice, Team Play has players collect sets of cards and adds partnership to the mix.

Team Play Board Games

How Does Team Play…play?

Setup provides players with a single goal card and a variable number of hand cards, with the start player receiving one and the number increasing around the table. Then, players draw two cards each turn (draft-style from a three face-up cards and the deck) to collect cards that meet the requirements of private or one public goal card. Goal cards range in value from 1 to 6 points with more points awarded for harder sets of the same rank, runs, flushes – sometimes a combo of those elements. I admire the iconography on the cards, which I find easy to explain. Completing goals gives your team points, which is how you win.

The regular hand cards come in two colors (red and blue) and range in rank from 1 to 8, with three of each variation appearing in the deck. Each turn, you draw two, complete any goals you can from the cards in-hand (which are discarded). Then, you can pass one or two cards to your partner. While you are not allowed to discuss card passes, card-playing partners know how to do that with cards – both in actual passes and observation of your partner’s actions.  This is one of the elements that makes Team Play work so well. I’m pretty aggressive in my passing. If I don’t need it for the goal I’m working right now, off it goes to my partner. Who knows when it will be helpful?

The game ends when one team collects eight completed goal cards. While players only keep one goal card at a time, they have the option to discard the first one drawn. This is a key point since it helps players optimize their plans. I also like that you can rush the game by completing easier goals to put pressure on the other team. While this isn’t always possible, I like the strategy because it throws the over-thinkers off their guard. Those people need to move along so I always like when a game includes that option (particularly for fillers that are SUPPOSED TO BE fast).

Final Analysis of Team Play

We’re big fans of Team Play around here and it’s already hit the nickel list. While it has appealed to my family with the quick play time, partnership opportunity, and the simple but planning-friendly rules, we’ve also had enormous success showing it to other people. I see this becoming one of our opening fillers for a day of games or a lovely twenty-minute closer. While the game kind of made me yearn to get my own copy of Take It or Leave It (I played the Strategicon library copy), Team Play‘s compact box means it will probably remain the choice of these two when packing up for game day.

Boardgame Babylon Rating

BIN (Buy It Now) PIN (Play It Now) TIF (Try It First) NMT (Not My Thing)