Tagged: board game review

Paperback Adventures: The Best Word Game You’ve Never Played

Wordsmiths and wordnerds alike are sure to enjoy Paperback Adventures from game designer Tim Fowers and his own Fowers Games. While the recent smashing success of the 10th anniversary and updated version of this game’s predecessor, Paperback, shows that when plenty of people love this game engine, they may not all have found out that Paperback Adventures (available as a board game or on Steam) is a magnificent evolution of what the designer did so well with the original.

In this review, I’m going to review both versions of the game since I’ve spent a lot of time playing it in both formats recently. Perhaps that’s a spoiler alert moment: I really love this game. Playing it first on Steam was enjoyable and I thought it would be my go-to version of the game. Yet, when I got my hands on the physical version, I switched allegiances – or at least I have done so lately. I’ll come back to that subject a bit further on but let’s talk about the actual game first, shall we?

Solo Word Nerd Heaven

Right off the bat, this is a solo game using the mechanisms of Paperback with a lot of new ideas and a campaign element. Sure, you can play it with two people with a variant included with the game, but I’m reviewing it as a solo game, which is probably where it sings best. I have not tried it for two yet and if I do, I’ll update the review.

I played the game as a Steam download for my Mac first. I’m not a huge fan of playing games on my computer for the simple reason that I’m sitting and typing on my computer most of the day….and just about every day. When I want to play a board game, I want to look away from the screen and talk to people. Since this is a solo game, I gave it a try. I do sometimes play board games on my iPad, but it’s rare. Only a desire to explore what Tim Fowers and his co-designer Skye Larsen had cooked up with the Paperback engine got me to reinstall Steam. I’m glad I did.

What’s It All About?

If Paperback is a gamer’s version of Scrabble, then Paperback Adventures is a solo gamer’s dream evolution of Paperback. The game has you taking on the role of one of three pun-ified heroic folks (Ex Machina, the Damsel, or Captain PlotHook) all created by our fake writer “Paige Turner” whom we all know from Paperback and its sequel, Hardback (so this is the third evolution of the game?). Regardless of which character you choose, you are trying to defeat three pairs of underlings and big bosses (well, variants in some cases) while collecting treasures and power-ups, all while building a deck of letter cards to create words and get to the end of the game by vanquishing your foes.

Mechanism-wise, it’s like Paperback in that you are building words with a deck of letter cards of various values, with special powers on the cards. The original Paperback was a combination of Scrabble and Dominion (the category-defining deckbuilder), Paperback Adventures also tosses in a Rogue-like adventure experience that many have likened to Slay the Spire, a popular deckbuilder adventuring game for one that you can find in various electronic forms.

If you’re like me, you may be saying “Slay the What?” So, I acquired and played that game specifically to compare it with Paperback Adventures. They are different games, but I see crossover in the best possible way. While both games have some elements that offer you insight into the other one, they both have unique elements that offer distinct game experiences. Spire is a solid game, but Paperback Adventures is more my style.

Paperback Adventures in Roguery and Diction

If you’re a fan of Slay the Spire, the “Rogue-like” format and combat system in Paperback Adventures will be familiar but also new. Sure, you take turns drawing cards from your deck and use them to fight the minions and bosses, defend against enemy attacks, and use special abilities to gain advantages in battle. Of course, instead of low-res beasties like in Spire, Paperback Adventures gives players a host of literary enemies with jokes and word nerdery all over the place, like the Chekov’s Gun, Plot Armor, and the Spinning Wheel.

Your character and the bad guys all have a health number to track how much damage each of you can take before defeat. Energy and health are precious so be careful to maintain your strength enough to go the distance. Thankfully, you do get rewards like new letter cards, items to use with your energy and supercool “McGuffins” that give you boosts to help you along the way. The combat is the bulk of the game and you win by getting through the gauntlet of six battles, although you can easily house-rule to finish earlier if you like.

Splay the Spire?

Playing Paperback Adventures feels like most deckbuilders on a basic level. You have a starting deck of letters with various values in the currencies of the game. You will acquire more to optimize and build out your deck purchases and bonuses. On your turn, you draw four letters and have access to a perpetual wild card to make words that would be usable in, well, a Scrabble game.

The big new concept for Paperback Adventures over previous games in the series is how you splay out your cards determines the rewards you get. So, if you splay the cards from your hand going left to right, you will see the icons for what you get from your cards on the left – and vice versa. See the picture below for reference. This interesting mechanism adds a little more strategy to your word choice because you may want to change it based on how well your letters will pay off.

What will those icons do? Mostly, they are Attack or Defense icons that will help you in battle, but some just give you extra energy. Depending on the number of those icons on the card side splayed, you will collect that number of hits, blocks, and energy bolts to apply to your enemy, protect yourself when they strike back, and add to your energy level. The cards kind of lean right for attacking, and left for defending so you can react to the anticipated response of your enemy (something you generally know).

Each card also has actions and your choice also designates either your first or last card as being in full view, which means you can also use the special power of that card immediately. This also exhausts the card, meaning it will be put into an exhausted stack until the end of the current battle. It’s a clever wrinkle for deckbuilders, and one I admire since it gives you more than just raw points or power to consider. Lastly, you can also upgrade cards, which means flipping them over and using the backside, which increases some number of values on the card. This also helps improve your deck as you proceed, giving you more power to your punch as you face more daunting versions of your foes.

Word Monsters

Each adversary has its own unique abilities and strengths, so it’s essential to strategize carefully how you’ll handle them. While the core component of the game is still coming up with words from your letters, use of special abilities with your Energy allotment and which way you splay will vary depending on the foe you are trying to defeat with your wordsmithing.

Paperback Adventures retains this essential element that made word game fans love the original game so much. Like Scrabble, each letter has its own set of icons and power, with more challenging letters like Q, J, and Z holding more power. But it’s not just about those icons – Paperback brought in special powers on the letters that would allow you to get more cards, add points to other cards, and even change adjacent letter. Paperback Adventures builds on that concept hugely, giving you a varied and fun experience exploring the possible items, power-ups, and letters to acquire and upgrade.

A Spellbinding but Challenging Experience

The game is not easy! Players must carefully balance their deck, choosing which cards to keep and which to discard in order to create the most effective word combinations and maximize their attacks and defenses. Plus, the individual characters you play have their own cards, strengths, and styles of play. While I’m still exploring them, they offer enough variety into the game that it’s adding a lot of gameplay value into the mix; that is, you get a lot of hours of fun and exploration with each character, so adding another one to your collection once you’ve fully explored the first one will still reward you with a new kind of play.

I’m a big fan of that experience, where I can get more gameplay out of a game with the introduction of new characters, as in Marvel Champions. That speaks to the strength of the design that changes in cards can give you such a fresh experience, and I think Paperback Adventures is right up there in design sophistication without adding endless exception rules like some collectible card games do.

Moreover, you get to battle characters twice in the game (as in Marvel Champions, too), which means you learn more about how to handle them and can apply those skills this time, rather than hoping you remember what you’ve learned for the next time the game makes it to the table.

There’s so much more, too, but not in complexity. There are just a lot of options, additional items and power-ups to acquire – all with that trademark Fowers Games wit that gamers (myself included) have found so appealing. Grab the Cooking Herbs, acquire the Magic Beans, or add the Eye Patch to your inventory. Readers will certainly enjoy these little asides to those who love words on a page.

Paperback Adventures IRL

Post-pandemic, there’s a real battle between online play and getting back to the table with friends. If you are anything like me, you supplemented what in-person play you could during the lockdown with online play on platforms like Yucata.de and Boardgame Arena. My frequency of play skyrocketed during this time, as did my play in apps on my phone and iPad because I could only bribe my wife and kids to come to the game table so often. Now that the pandemic has been declared ‘over’ by the WHO and the US government, I’ve been slow to return to much organized play and still game online a lot. Thus, playing PA in digital form first just made sense.

Yet, I’m glad that I stopped and shifted to the physical game. Not only because of the gorgeous job that Fowers Games did on the physical components of the game, but also because I find it much healthier to get away from the screen to enjoy board games. For me, board games are my self-care and an ideal way to unwind.

There’s something to be said about the peaceful experience of simply opening up a game, setting it up, and working through the puzzle of play. I take pleasure in the setup, the placement of the cards, the market, and each component. Even sorting the cards to get the right mix of cards for the game is enjoyable because I’m touching physical components and not just reacting to pixels on a screen.

I believe one of the best things modern board games can do for us is to provide an indoor outlet for getting away from screens. This can be much more satisfying than another night staring at Netflix or, heaven help you, TikTok.

Components and Artwork

While I’m mostly focused on gameplay when I think about a game, I’m not some philistine who doesn’t care about the materials and look of a board game. Fowers Games always has truly wonderful artwork that is ideal for my taste. Ryan Goldsberry taps into a mod-60’s look that always reminds me of one of my favorite artists, the California-based Shag. There’s even a touch of monster-loving Tim Biskup, another SoCal artist whose work I love. Fowers Games’ commitment to the exceptional artwork would keep me interested in their titles even if they didn’t make great games. Thank goodness that’s not a concern.

The components in Paperback Adventures are similarly stellar. The box includes cards, premium sleeves themed to the game so you can upgrade your cards with a simple flip, and plastic player and minion/boss holders that you use to track the health, energy, and other elements of a character. Players even get nice metallic score-tracker pieces. Notably, when some of the original players expressed concern that the metal tracker pieces didn’t fit perfectly into the plastic character holders, Fowers Game came to the rescue with a free upgrade. If you order the game from them now, you’ll get a pack of the updated metal pieces that fit perfectly at no additional cost. Indie game companies know how to take care of their customers!

The Final Word: Play Paperback Adventures Digitally or IRL

Paperback Adventures is a must-have for any solo board game enthusiast seeking a wonderful blend of theme and mechanisms that makes for a great gaming experience. Adding this Rogue-like game experience to the word deckbuilder might not have been the Reese’s experience I would have expected, but the result is a small wonder that I know I’ll be playing for a long while. With its high replayability and structured challenges, I expect to go through the whole of the characters on my own. My wife is currently playing the Damsel on her own campaign, which is delightful to see and shows me that even more casual players can get into Paperback Adventures and discover the rewarding experience it has to offer.

If you buy the physical board game online, be sure to buy the Core Game and at least one of the characters. This page helps you buy a copy of the core game as well as one of the characters. While I am glad to have all three characters, Ex Machina is the easiest starter character from my experience, but you’ll probably enjoy having them all. If you prefer your Rogue-word experience in a digital format, here’s a link to the excellent Steam version, which is compatible with Macs and Windows machines.

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Disclosure: As with many companies and designers featured on Boardgame Babylon, Tim Fowers is a personal friend and my creative game agency 3SidedCard has helped with promotion and playtesting of Fowers Games for years. A physical copy of the game was provided for independent review.

Review: This Game Goes to Eleven by Gamewright

With a name like This Game Goes to Eleven, this title from Gamewright is trading on the association with the classic cult film This Is Spinal Tap. For the uninitiated, the reference is to an immortal scene in the film where fictional metalhead rocker Nigel Tufnel explains how his amps are just better because of their dials tracking to 11 instead of just 10. Trust me, it hilarious and this game’s title will inspire a smile for anyone who has seen the film.

Haven’t seen it? Go directly to your TV. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200.

This casual-weight game comes with 72 amp-backed cards and a guitar pick (or “plectrum,” as the delightfully erudite Mr. Mike Siggins noted on my Instagram recently) does evokes this wacky scene with some artwork as well. Playing with 2-6 players of ages 8 and up, it’s quick one, running just about 15-20 minutes. As a filler to begin or end a game night, Eleven, can succeed in filling in the game between longer games, or to appeal the very casual player.

This is a straightforward game of playing cards to get to a certain point in value in the discard pile. Players are dealt three cards of varying values from zero to 11 (no 10 because how sad would that be?). The zero and 11 cards are something special, but most of the cards simply have a number and a hue that corresponds across the same rank. On your turn, you play one from your hard to the discard pile and draw back up three afterward.

The Power of Eleven

When the values of the cards in the discard pile hit 11 or more, the entire stack is given to a player to add to their points pile in front of them. In this way, the game plays like a variety of other cards card games including Reiner Knizia’s Escalation and Poison (now ‘Friday the 13th‘ from iELLO).

Rocker and librarians and amps, oh my…

Who takes the cards? That’s determined by whether the active player hit the number 11 exactly or if they exceeded it. Hitting 11 exactly is the goal; if so, the active player gets to choose who takes the stack of cards that added up to the total.

If the active player exceeds 11 in the discard stack by their play, they are forced to take those cards. That’s the basic game. Once the cards have been passed to the appropriate player, play continues with the next player. However, there are a few additional rules that had some interest to the game.

Librarian Versus Rocker

First off, there are those zero and 11 cards. The 11 card, which features artwork of what looks like a Motley Crue reject, directly sets the current stack at 11, giving the active player the opportunity to be able to handover the cards to whomever it is they want. Rock on, indeed.

The zero card has a picture of a Librarian and she will shush the value of the current stack down to a zero. She also has the power of being able to be played out of turn to cancel an 11 rocker card. What the designers were thinking when they figured that a librarian can shush a loud hair metal rocker, I don’t know. But that doesn’t give the Librarian a great deal of power in the game. The Librarian can also make for prodigiously large stacks of cards which ended up getting handed over to a player in a single go.

Split Stacks

One more interesting rule is that players may not play a card of the same rank directly on top of a card of the same rank. If you do opt to play a card of the same rank on top of one that matches it, you will split the stacks. For example if the stack currently has a five on top of it and you opt to play five card, rather than adding the five to the total that is currently in the discredit pile you will make a new discard pile.

This option is probably the most interesting part of the game since you can use it to avoid exceeding 11 on your turn. Instead, you start a new second discard pile that is also being played to 11 or more. I am fond of this rule since it reminds me of the under-appreciated Adlungspiele game Lowendynastie, which allows you to create a secondary trick with a split matched ‘marriage’ card. Eleven isn’t as intriguing as that game, but this little flash of an intriguing rule is welcome.

Winning

As you may have surmised at this point the game is going to end when you get through the stack of cards and the player with the fewest cards is going to win. Thus, it helps to simply avoid cards there’s no real difference there and it makes for a simple goal that all players can understand. The value of the cards themselves or any of the special cards like a librarian and the guitarist don’t have any special significance, at the end again it’s just about how many cards you have. While it lacks the ladder-climbing feel of Escalation, the intrigue of the three stacks and shoot-the-moon scoring options of Poison, This Game Games to Eleven fits the bill nicely of a six player game you can play with just about anyone.

Plectrum Variant: A must for us

Pick this variant…

One more note: the plectrum included with the game isn’t just for amusement, it provides a variant that I like. The plectrum is giving to the starting player and, when someone hits exactly eleven on the discard stack, the one with the plectrum gets the pile of cards. Some will say this make for less strategic options, it does dial down (pun intended) the ‘take-that’ feel of the game. This variant doesn’t change anything about the active player getting the cards if they exceed that number and I think it makes for some interesting choices when you need to minimize card intake while possessing the plectrum. For our group, this option is a lot more appealing as we are not terribly aggressive players and liked the idea that the game was instead more evenly distributing the cards and allowing us to make the difference in the skill of play.

If you are a local, this copy of the game will be showing up in the Strategicon Game Library in time for the Gamex 2019 convention in May. Play it there to get your rock and roll on.

This Game Goes to Eleven
The whole shebang.

Final Word

This Game Goes to Eleven was liked by our casual gamers and if that’s your audience, this is a winner. Serious games can enjoy it as a lighter version of fare they normally play and it’s a charming filler that can round out theme nights, too.

Review: Kokoro by Eilif Svensson and Kristian Amundsen Østby via Indie Board and Card Games

Take It Easy is the game I always associate with the ‘draw and everyone place’ game mechanism. What each player can make of the options as they come out is an interesting way to resolve things. Whether it is done for pattern-matching like Take It Easy, Mosaix and Wurfel Bingo or path-building like in SDJ nominee Karuba and Kokoro designers’ own Doodle City, there is a lot of mileage in it. The new Kokoro from IBG takes on the path-making concept in Karuba, turning that concept into a different and possibly more satisfying game.

Kokoro plays 1-8 players, with each one claiming a dry-erase grid map with gardens and sanctuaries on it. Five of the six sanctuaries on the board will score based on the number of objects (caterpillars and flowers, for reasons unknown to this writer) the paths connects to them. Each turn, a tile is drawn by the Caller (ahem, the oldest player) and all players draw the path on it right on their board. These paths are simple lines or pairs making various curves that connect two sides of a tile. Once a tile is covered, you cannot overwrite it so players need to be cautious about building their connections effectively for this scoring round and future ones. This is key and a good warning to everyone early on; while it is easy to just write in any old shape on a tile, it’s important to take a longer view about how it might isolate caterpillars and flowers you want to score later.

The current sanctuary is your focus, but the other option for players is to not draw from that tile and take a peek at the next sanctuary. This way, if a particular tile is no help at all, players can use this option to plan ahead. Ideally, when drawing, players try to not just plan for the current sanctuary but look ahead to connect to others. This is a good idea for general efficiency but also because the game requires increasing success. Each sanctuary score must be higher than the last one or the player suffers a -5 point penalty. Tiles are drawn until four gold tiles come out, which represent about 1/3 of the tiles in the stack. As a result, some sanctuaries will get outsized opportunities to score versus others. This element makes the planning a little more serious than this cute game would imply. I find it to be a great feature and it’s a lot of the appeal of the game, in my view.

kokoro

The basic game is that, but the box comes with two more expansions and I recommend playing with those unless you have extremely casual players. They aren’t too difficult to incorporate, really just adding some basic variations to how to score the game. These options open up the game even more, giving players more choices when a tile comes up than just isn’t right for the current sanctuary. Kokoro is a bit unforgiving, however. If you screw up early, it can be difficult to recover from initial bad choices. I do think the game should have some kind of mulligan option to let you remove a single tile that could help you get back on track. We had one cranky player during one of our sessions who played improperly early and fussed through the whole game. It’s only a quarter of an hour, of course, so a fouled-up play isn’t a real tragedy. On to the next game, I say.

That said, Kokoro wins big points for scaling wonderfully from 1 to 8 players and offering an enjoyable time in 15 minutes of play. The components are nice, the artwork is utterly charming, and the box is compact enough to pop into the bag whenever you go gaming. Kokoro is a winner in my view and I think it belongs in the collection of gamers who want a filler for the big crowd to play at the beginning before breaking into other games.

Boardgame Babylon Rating for Kokoro

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

Azul, I will admit, is a game that I judged by its cover. Good thing it’s a wonderful game. The design drew me in immediately. I’ll admit to being a sucker for gorgeous package design and when the components are also premium wonders, you’re already halfway to my approval, folks. Now, I don’t mean Boris Vallejo-esque sword-wielding ladies. I mean design like what you see in Oink Games, all of which have conscious elements that add directly to the mood of the game experience. Quality work isn’t the only way this is achieved; way back in the pre-euro days, we had Cheapass Games here in the US and their powerfully simple black and white envelopes appealed to me for both keeping costs lower and letting head Cheapsser James Ernest save time in coming up with overly expensive colored boxes, he put it into the game design and those hilarious rules.

So, with that longer-than-planned caveat, let’s talk about the game. Azul is a game at once familiar and exciting in its unique feel. The game is a design by Michael Kiesling, a two-time SDJ winner and frequent collaborator with the mighty Wolfgang Kramer, but this one is all his own. Based on Azul, I definitely look forward to his next solo game design.

In Azul, players get a board on which they will place the gorgeous, chunky tiles that are a hallmark of the game’s production. They will place them according to a set of clean, elegant rules that are straight out of 90’s Schacht and Knizia. When you select tiles from the one of the selection discs, you take all of one color, pushing the remaining tiles on that disc to the center market. Once this has happened during a round, another option becomes available; now, players can also take all of one color from the center of the table. While the discs are dealt only four pieces from the (lovely) bag, once the excess tiles start piling up in the middle, players are likely to get more of them.

When you claim tiles, you need to place them on your board. This is done by selecting a row for completion, with the first row scoring with just a single tile and each row below it taking one more until you reach five at the bottom of the board. Thus, each turn, players will want a different number of tiles for each row. While the prep area of a row has a certain color tile in it, no other colors can go into that row.

This means players sometimes obtain excess tiles that need to be stored at the bottom of the board. These each inflict a penalty that rises with each additional tile. Also, the first player to fish tiles out of the center of instead of just off one of the distribution discs gets to select first in the next round, with the unhappy addition of a -1 tile that gets to drop into the first slot in the little holding pen for overflow tiles (which some gamers are apparently throwing away? It should have been a proper tile anyway). I find this mechanism quite appealing – that tradeoff of the loss of a point for the first shot and the first pick next turn. That says this game has been tuned.

Sound intriguing? Maybe not. The theme of Azul isn’t really there; it’s just a game of placing tiles into the right sequences to score points and marveling at how pretty they are. But that’s not it – this is a wonderfully elegant design that we so rarely see today. Azul goes down like Azulfreshly-made lemonade – it feels like it’s made of the real thing and not just rehashed mechanisms from other designers’ work. Kiesling has taken a solid selection mechanism and added interesting scoring. It’s such a clean, empirical design and Plan B’s excellent production complements it beautifully.

With the advent of Kickstarter and the crazy influx of underdeveloped and messy games into the marketplace, it is kind of glorious to see a lovely design like Azul come out, especially since we see fewer titles from the twin masters of this feel: Reiner Knizia and Michael Schacht. Kiesling is no slouch here, although most of his ludography was constructed with Kramer, a bigger name. But let’s not Garfunkel him entirely – Vikings was also a winner. With Azul, Kiesling could be on track for a solo SDJ. I’d call it a contender for one of the coveted slots later this year.

Even so, with the fast-food nature of game designs these days, I think players should give it a go first. While serious eurogamers will appreciate Azul’s charms, those who are seeking a thematic experience may balk at the simple beauty and sparse rules. That’s my only caution in reducing the rating to a Play It Now. I love it, but modern gamers may need to develop a palette for it.

Oh, heck – never mind. Azul is awesome! Buy it Now!

Boardgame Babylon Rating for Azul

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

The point at which the micro game meets the party game is a wonder. While both types of game package a lot of fun in often simple ideas, they do so in somewhat different ways. This makes it delightful to see them fuse into a compelling filler. Ta-Te Wu’s new Kung Pao Chicken inhabits that rare space where these two game types build on each other’s strengths, taking the clever elegance of the microgame’s card locationing with funny party elements like Werewolf and Bunny Bunny Moose Moose.

Kung Pao Chicken is an ideal opener to get people laughing before the longer, heavier games begin. Players are chickens or foxes based on an initial deal, but that information is only visible to the other players (kind of like Powwow). Players then spend the game playing cards to maximize the number of chickens saved or eaten, based on which team they believe they are on. The cards are chickens, foxes and dogs – which form a kind of chain. Chickens get eaten by foxes, foxes are chased away by dogs, and dogs are awfully handy to protect chickens. However, each dog only chases away one fox – whereas foxes can each as many chickens as they find in the barn where they find themselves. So, some dog vs. fox management is needed.

How do you determine which team you are on so you play well? With a combination of viewing the other player’s roles and how they play cards, players need to discern which team they are on. On a player’s turn, they play one of their cards onto a player’s barn or in the one in the middle of the the table that starts with a certain number of foxes based the player count.

When the round ends from card play, player roles are revealed and each barn is resolved. Before the reveal, however, players close heir eyes and pantomime wings if they think they are a chicken and claws for a guess that they are a fox. A point is awarded to each player that correctly surmised their role.

If any foxes are there, they eat any present chickens…but they are chased away by dog cards. Fox players score a point for each chicken eaten and the chicken players get one for each chicken saved. Simple scoring and resolution is part of the appeal of the game. Players tabulate points and the winner is the one with the most points after three rounds. So, cooperative play, but competitive outcome. Yes – this is the sweet spot for a long of gamers and my love of ‘coopetition’ is definitely satisfied by KPC.

Yes, I really like Kung Pao Chicken. Let’s be clear though: Designer Ta-Te Wu is my co-designer sometimes, frequent developer, playtester, and one of my good friends. However, I do not like all of his games. The ones I like, I get involved with. I liked Red Cliffs (obviously), as I did Tien Zi Che before it. Di Renjie – yes. And I quite enjoy Kung Pao Chicken. I liked it enough to give him some ideas for it that became a stretch goal expansion. So, is this review legitimate? That’s for you to decide but all I can offer in reassurance is that I’m making this a formal statement, not just a boilerplate disclosure, and that Kung Pao Chicken is in our game bag for all days out to play. So, Super-Disclosure: I played this with a playtest copy, after playtesting it and even offering suggestions, some of which MAY have gotten in. That said, I really love this game and think it’s among the strongest Ta-Te has done.

Kung Pao Chicken is now LIVE on Kickstarter at a great price and I encourage you to get a copy and cluck up the opener for your game nights!

Boardgame Babylon Rating for Kung Pao Chicken

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

Disclosure: Read above for Disclosure City.

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: 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)