The real playbird! A CuBirds Review

CuBirds, as strange as it sounds, is a card game about (cube shaped) birds for 2 to 5 players from game designer Stefan Alexander. It was published by Catch Up Games in 2018. The fact that it was around since 2018 and I kinda knew the game just from a year ago shows that I need to go out more. When I just found out about the game there was no such interest for the game. As I am a gamer that finds simple light games to be unrewarding and unsatisfactory, though I know it isn’t always the case (guilty on all accounts for Parade there). So CuBirds with just cards for components, lacking more comprehensive visualization, went around unnoticed in my radar. I knew it was there, but it’s just there and I don’t give a damn about it. Until…

Promotional image

So due to the pandemic, I didn’t have many opportunities to play board games with friends. Not to mention that I also have a 2 year old boy that often demands full time attention. I even started to play solitaire games which I rarely do because I believe board gaming is more fun with friends in real time. And then my interest was shifted to digital platforms for board games, such as, and 

The game in progress on Board Game Arena

It was on that I first encountered CuBirds and then because it’s a small and simple game, I decided to give it a shot. So I read the short rules and then tried the game with random people there. And after my first play, I was surprised. The game is so brilliant and addictive. I was excited, the kind of excitement you get when you realize that you want to immediately play it again. I asked my local game store for a copy and a chance for them to carry the game and they said it’s possible. So for a while I played it digitally and recently the game is available to purchase. Of course I immediately bought it despite having instant doubt that the version of the game has a Chinese title on the box. Not that I doubt the originality as the store absolutely never sells counterfeits. It’s just having the English version is much more preferable than other versions, despite me not a native English speaker. So let’s dig into the game and find out what kind of game it is.

Chinese version of the game

As I mentioned earlier the game comes with cards that have illustrations of birds in some kind of isometric style, which some people might think of as cute or adorable. I wouldn’t say they are not cute or attractive, they just work nicely, the illustrations are clear and easy on the eyes. There are 8 types of birds, from Toucan, Flamingo, Parrot, Robin, Duck, etc. Aside from the colorful illustration of the birds, you can also find the value for small and large flock on the top right of each card and also the amount of cards of a given type available on the deck located on the bottom left of the card. 

The goal of the game is simple, players have to complete one of the two goals. Either collect 7 different types of birds or 2 types of birds with 3 cards each to win the game. To add these cards into your tableau (on the table in front of you) you need to complete a flock beforehand. This happens as you collect birds on your turn. At the start of the game, you need to perform a simple setup that forms 4 rows of cards with 3 cards in each row.  And then each player is dealt 8 cards from the deck, these cards are their starting hand. Choose a player to start the game and play continues in a clockwise direction from the starting player. 

Different types of birds

On your turn, you must play cards from your hand to one of the four rows. Choose a type of bird and place all the cards of that type from your hand to one of the rows. You can place the cards on any side (left or right) but you cannot split the cards, they have to be on the same side. Right after placing the card(s) check if there is another card of the same type with the one you’ve just placed in that row. If there is at least one card of the same type, you must collect all the cards in between cards with that type and place them in your hand. If there is no card in between OR there is no matching card on the row, you may draw up to 2 cards from the draw pile. 

Before your turn ends, you have the option to complete a flock from cards in your hand. To complete a flock you need to play cards from your hand with one type of bird and the amount of the cards must be at least equal to the small flock value. If the cards are equal to the small flock value and less than the large flock value, you add one of those cards to your tableau and discard the rest. But if you play the cards equal to the large flock value or more, you add 2 of those cards into your tableau and then discard the rest. You may only complete one type of flock, even if you can complete more than one from your hand. To complete the other you need to wait for the next turn. If by this you complete one of the goals, you win the game.

Well honestly there is no round in this game. Players just keep taking their turns alternatively. But there it is, a round. Actually it’s not a round in a common way. The rounds only help players to pause the game briefly, which is triggered when a player has no cards in their hand. When this happens, the game flow is temporarily interrupted as other players have to discard all the cards from their hands and each player is dealt 8 new cards. The player who triggered the end of round will start the new round, this makes that player taking 2 turns in a row, which is a big deal in this game. 

Gotta say that the rules are super simple, on your turn you place cards, collect and then complete. As simple as that. But there are so many decisions to consider, hence my kind of games. There are two ways you can go, either pursue 2 types of birds or 7 cards of different birds. Of course you don’t have to decide from the beginning as this flows as you decide which cards to play and which ones to collect. In addition, you also need to carefully observe your opponents tableau (and hand). Their tableau would give you useful information on what type of birds they’re looking to complete and what types are no longer their concerns, knowing the amount of cards that your opponents have really determines the pace of your actions. If a player has a few cards in their hands, it’s your cue that a round might come to an end soon. Better prepare your hand as well as they will get discarded when the round ends. This kind of dynamic really gives players rich interactions in between turns. 

If you notice, the amount of cards for some large flocks might be too many, but despite the card distribution of one bird, most of the cards are ended up in the discard pile after someone completed their flock, and thus players looking for a specific type of birds might find it hard to come by from the draw pile before the discard pile is shuffled back to the draw pile. Luckily the draw and discard piles have a nice pace thanks to players discarding cards in every end of round. 

I’ve played the game with 2 up to multiplayer (5 players) and I gotta say that each play is so enjoyable. Of course a 2-players game is definitely different from multiplayer (with more than 2 players) because of the tactical aspect created by the one on one direct opponent whereas multiplayer games provide multiple opponents, which means another layer of turns to consider and less tactical (more luck and random elements). 

My verdict

Well it’s obvious that I found this game to my liking. I still remember my first encounter with Parade, as I wasn’t convinced by Parade’s simple package and components. Without knowing about and playing the game, it wouldn’t be in my collection, I tend to have this tendency to get attracted more into heavier games. This game is similar, but thanks to Board Game Arena I was able to try the game. It has that Parade feels, a small game with big plays. It’s certainly going to be in my collection and definitely a good game to choose from when selecting games to play with new players, casual or just a filler. If you like a short game with a handful of decisions, this one could hit your sweet spot. 

Game feel

  • When you have a clear target in front of you and it’s not your turn, your hands are itchy but your opponent before you is taking their time with ease. The tension and adrenaline rush are killing you inside. 
  • The time when you have multiple options and cannot decide what to play, and it’s frustrating.
  • The time when you have a very good hand that you’ve been building in the past several turns but your opponent before you plays a turn and empty their hands. You just want to scream out loud.
  • The time when the combination of your hand and rows do not do any good but your opponents play cards that give you sunshine and rainbows.

(Sh)It Happens..

pic750637It Happens.. Review

Not many people know this game, despite it’s coming from the brilliant and notable game designer such as Stefan Feld. Yes, you heard me right. Maybe because it was one of his earlier designs back in 2010, along with his other obscure games such as Roma, Arena Roma II, Pillars of The Earth Builder’s Duel, Rum & Pirates and etc. If I am not mistaken, he started to gain popularity after The Castles of Burgundy was released and have been on super speed ever since with games like Trajan, Bora-Bora, Bruges, Amerigo, Carpe Diem and his latest game Bonfire.

Okay lets get back to It Happens. Based on the art on the box we can see that it has quirky cartoon style illustration depicts an ant eater looking for ants. So it’s about ants, or ant eater. Well to be honest, the theme is barely there, pasted on hard. But its fun to look at, its sense of humor is hilarious and we had a chuckle seeing lots of funny references in the oversize cards. The art style is definitely one of its major appeals. The box size is quite weird, could be smaller but I guess back then store presence won over pocket-sized. It has a nice card board insert with the game’s illustration, nice to look at. 

What’s Inside

The components are in good quality, small colorful dice (a bit smaller for my taste, but again children is a more appropriate target audience, so small size dice might be a good idea), some tokens and big oversize cards. Gotta say that the cards are necessarily big to hold all the dice on top of it. As I have mentioned earlier about illustrations, are mostly on the cards. Each card depicts a scene of Anton, the ant-eater (lol, it made me smile) trying to get himself some ants for his snack and the ants are sometime ignorant to the fact that they’re hunted by Anton, just casually doing things that seemed to be an ant daily life. Just simply hilarious.

Game components

Game Play

Okay, so what the game is all about? The game can be played from 2 to 5 players and players will help Anton to get what he wants, ant snacks! Let’s not go into that part and move on. In short, players need to collect the most points to win the game. Each player will have 5 dice in their colors that they can use each round (the game is played over 12 rounds). Player’s action is downright simple, too simple if you ask me, on their turn, just roll one of their dice (given they still has any). After rolling the die, they have the option to assign it to one of the ant mounds (the cards) following the requirements. Each player may only assign dice to single column of one mound and may only assign dice to the leftmost empty column or to a column where they already have dice (as long as there are still available slots).

When they place their dice, they can collect items or worms if the slot has the symbols. Once all players assigned their dice, the round is over and each ant mound is resolved. Player with the highest total value of dice gets the highest points where the second highest gets… well you know the drill. But what if there’s a tie? Well players who assigned dice earlier in a mound breaks tie (left-most column). If only players total amount of dice equal to the number listed for the worm, they get one worm. Then they take back their dice and the cards get discarded. New round begins.

Now let met talk about worms. “Worms can be useful”, said Anton. Yes, players can spend worms on their turns. A single worm allows them to re-roll a single die, or they can pass their turn, giving them a more tactical option. So once the game is over, the final scoring takes place. Basically players earn a point for each worm they have at the end of the game, also every item with at least a pair gives them 5 points and players with the most different items gains 10 points. Player with the most points is declared as the winner, that simple really. Now they can all eat bowls of ants cereal (please don’t this!).

Mounds on Anthill cards

My Thoughts on The Game

Gotta say I was surprised with this game back in the day. Although I found this game years before, it was after I have known Feld from his intricate and brilliant designs in the level of Castles of Burgundy and Trajan. Discovering this game was like opening my mind to something else entirely. Its definitely a work of his early years, simple mechanic, definitely targeted for children and comical. I wouldn’t mind this kind of game really, its too simple for my taste but given the fact that it’s meant for children or younger audience, I would say it’s justified. The decisions are simple, players are not allowed to stray from the path they’re given. Roll a die and see where it may lead is truly something I despise for, in most games. Definitely a roll and move game I would say, roll and see where can you move. But I think this mechanic is well designed, a bit high on the luck, but necessary to keep it simple. For us adults, it’s an escape game from the more tedious brain exercise games that brings lots of laughter and funny moments. The moment when you spend a worm to roll a 2, hoping to get 5 or 6 but got 1 instead is so out of this world. Laughable moment indeed, lets keep it that way even for the player who rolled it.

Hilarious illustrations

Apart from that, do not expect much out of it. I even thought about a variant where players roll all their dice once and assigned them one by one. It would provide them interesting consideration to weigh their actions, to be able to analyze players’ dice and what certain consequences and opportunities it may reward them. Maybe I would try this variant one day and see how it goes.

Tiles that give you points

2020 in Review

Oh yeah it’s that time of the year already. Well this year is special, regardless bad or good. With the pandemic going on causing everyone’s life miserable (deep condolences for those who lost their friends and families because of this).

I started this year not in the best condition as well, ran to personal problem and have to stop (or at least keep it minimum) my board game purchases habit. Also turned out there were not many occasions require more new games as pandemic put us in lock down. Sadly though despite me and my spouse are board gamers, we did not play enough due to the presence of our little baby boy, Soren. He’s almost three and this age is his most active period. He couldn’t stop, no rest other than sleeping and apparently he had more energy than the two of us. So with the lock down in effect, we did play and play with our baby boy. So no time for board games. The only time we had was during the night when he was sleeping. But the thing was my spouse had already too exhausted and decided to do something else she preferred (her other hobby is reading and watching K-Drama, damn you K-Drama!!!).

Soren with his Playmobil Helicopter

Thus the reason I started to play solo (which I almost never ever done before). Solo seemed a pretty good deal for most people throughout the year and the thing is modern board games have solo modes (talk about coincidence). Since I played solo at night, I prefer games that are easy to setup and less complex or medium weight rather than what I usually do. When I looked at my shelf (some of my games or should I say, most of my collection is not in our apartment, they’re in my parent’s house) some options came to mind. There were Underwater Cities (but this one is too long and complicated to set up, just me whining), Roll Player (yes this is good, but also long setup) and some smaller games such as Metro-X, Spell Smashers, Word Domination, Toraja and then there was Hand of Fate: Ordeals (it’s not an easy to setup but it was worth it).

Flying Solo

I did played some of them several times, including Black Angel, The 7th Continent, Abomination and Founders of Gloomhaven in midterm of the year. But I did recently get my hands to Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion and Troyes Dice (thanks to a very generous friend) which I played quite often, Gloomhaven is obvious given the nature of the game (campaign based). But Troyes Dice, okay it’s fast and so easy but the addiction just made me on a binge, Troyes Dice binge! It’s super fun, you are faced by hard decisions each turn without knowing the situation next turns is going along with your original plan. Some said bad things about this, not sure why. I find it very enjoyable, my kind of zen game, which not really zen (calm/peace) to my brain but this is so damn satisfying. The moment you get the final result, the more curious you get to play again to get better results. I am not really familiar with Roll and Write games, though I find the genre to be fresh and innovative. Always love to try more of them. I did play Welcome to, which I found also good, but somehow the replayability fell flat for me. After several plays, it feels samey, unlike Troyes Dice, which also has official challenges from the publisher (already has 8 challenges so far and they did mention plan to release it next year, *cough; I mean starting tomorrow, monthly). I think this is a good way to keep the game afloat in the community. The game brilliantly designed so that it can be set differently to gain different feel, which also requires different approach in playing the game. I really really really really recommend this to anyone who loves: Troyes, Dice game, innovative/unusual roll and write games. Aside from that, I also had been selecting games that solo compatible in my collection (even checking if there is a unofficial variant for solo), putting them into a list to play. Finally decided to get Scorpius Freighter (2 years in the wait since it’s release in 2018) which also has a solo variant though kinda hard to process based on my first encounter with the rules.

So next are Kickstarters, well as I noted above, purchases were off and so did backing KS games. Turned out the situation forced me to cancel my planned to pledge some KS such as Perseverance, Dice Throne S01 Rerolled and DTA, Roll Player Adventure, Frosthaven and Vindication: Chronicles as being the most recent. Last couple of years back I have developing higher consciousness in backing less KS games and more selective. The funny thing about my 10 year-ish journey in this hobby is how it changes your perception and how your react from it. Back in the early years, the urges to play new games were high, each time I wanted to try games that I haven’t try before. But once I already logged plays and own of 300++ different games you just want to take it easy and look back at your collection. Some games are in despair to be played (more), with this in mind my perception was kinda shifted, every time I have the time to play (which already too few) I wanted to play games in my collection instead of others or new games. Of course there is always a time when I wanted to play new games, but it’s just in a smaller rate than before. Now, there’s something built up inside me that I reminiscing memories of older games, games that I’ve played before and wanting to play it again. It might not be the same as it was back then (like Rattus Cartus or Belfort) because the progress of board game designs is really fast.

Dungeon Crawling variant for The Fallen City of Karez

Now about game designs. Well lately it’s been a challenge for me to keep up, the time is a never enough resources and you just ended up time short. Of course ideas never stop popping in my mind, some of them were successfully written in my diary / doodle sketch book. Not sure I can understand my own gibberish one day but for now I have to compromise. I feel that there are so many things I can do, to open a path so many with those ideas. Several projects were already clinging in my mind, maybe I can follow up one or two of them. Of course I cannot disclose any of them here and all of them are just still embryos of my brain. But what I can tell you is that recently I watched a documentary video on the tele and it sparked something in my mind, a wild idea that I really really like so far and been wanting to work on that since then. The magical place set the theme that I think could work really well for a board game, we shall see. Also I return to write again, several reviews were posted and looking at several more soon, talked with a friend about contributing to his blog of reviewers, which is a nice thing to be able to contribute more for the community. I like videos more but couldn’t stand the editing and painful uploads.

Clean Family, a print and play flip and write game that I designed with my friend.

At last, a new year in front of me, 2021. What it shall bring? Well at first it’s gonna be my Anachrony Infinity Box and Kanban EV. I also awaiting the new game from Michael Menzel, the one with Robin Hood theme (not a fan of the theme though) which definitely going to offer us with fascinating game play. Let see how that goes. Meantime I think I am gonna be well occupied with Jaws of the Lion campaign and Troyes Dice (at the moment) though I really want to try solo version of Vindication and finishing at least one curse of the 7th Continent (very mountainous task for me).

I also hope to introduce my little boy to board gaming as early as I can, so this year might be a good start. Already have some titles in mind (mostly Haba and Blue Orange), in fact he already his own board games. I did get him a children’s game about colors and turns during my transit in Istanbul from last Essen trip. He played it around for a bit, not with the actual rules but I think giving him the components would be good for him, to let him be more familiar with board game pieces. And also recently a friend of mine gave his copy of Lumina (Haba) which I think work nicely as a starter. He could easily recognize which illustration goes where, of course still without the actual rules. What would be best for his next game, Pengoloo or Spaghetti?

Some of my collection, rarely hit the table.

Finally, I hope the sour 2020 due to COVID-19 is no letting you down, if you are down, get up and embrace 2021. Hope things get better for all of you guys, not just in board gaming but also in general life. Being happy is important, thus I decided to be happy in the future and renounce anything that don’t allow me to or make me not to. That’s my resolution for 2021, such an abstract (I don’t even like abstract!).

Wife, baby boy and don’t forget me.

Stats (taken from Board Game Stats App)
Number of plays: 103 plays
Number of games: 50 games
Players involved: 28 players (recorded)
Number of personal copies played : 36 copies
New games: 21 games
Time spent: 128 hours
H-Index: 5
Most played game: Troyes Dice (go figure!)

Draw Between the Lines

pic4046473Metro X Review
Have you ever played a game that is so simple yet elegant and brilliant, that leaves you scratching your head and scream inside your heart? Well I found this game that fits the bill. It is so simple, yet frustrating to get the best outcome from some flips of cards. Metro X is a recreation of metro lines from Japanese cities that brilliantly designed with flip and write mechanic to give you remarkable decision making experience in such a small game. Hisashi Hayashi (the designer) always known to me as one of the designers that go beyond the norm to provide us such ingenious games. Lets take a look at what he has to offer in this game.

People really spend money for this?
When you check on the components of the game, your eyes might squint a little. With only several cards, a pad of sheet and pencils, this game can be one of the overly priced game of the century. I purchased this from Japan considerably expensive (okay, I am still sane and also have that consideration) but think of it this way, you buy the game (not only the components) which includes the effort of the designer and publisher to make the game reality. Of course the first thing I would do is to laminate all the sheets and change pencils into dry-erasable markers (which I have not yet done due to reasons). I must say though, I am kind of a fan boy of the designer, Hisashi Hayashi (Yokohama, Trains, Samurai Gardener, Word Porters, Okey Dokey and many more) which also the man behind Okazu Brand (its publisher) with his beloved wife Ryoko Hayashi as the uniquely talented illustrator.

What’s inside the box of Metro X

Playing Metro X
In Metro X, players are trying to complete different Metro lines in Japan, from Marunouchi, Ginza, Yurakucho to Hanzomon line. The game is simple, each player takes a player sheet and a pencil / pen (they included some nice pencils inside). One player then shuffle the cards and draw a card face up in the center of the table. All players then write a number / star icon from the card on one of the lines of their choosing on their sheet. Each line consists of some terminals and station spaces. Terminal space determines how many times players can put a number in that line where the stations are the spaces where players need to circle in order to complete the line. The most important components in the game are the Indicator cards. These cards have either a number or an icon. The number on the cards determine how many circles / dots that players can draw on a line. First they have to write the indicated number on one of the available terminal spaces of a line. Then they draw a number of circles / dots equal to the value of that number on that line starting from the left-most empty space on that line. They must follow the line, if the line is branching out, they have to choose which branch they want to continue to draw the circles. If the next space to draw is already been drawn previously, then they have to stop (despite they still have circles left to draw).

Player Sheet of Tokyo Metro lines

When a player manages to fill all the spaces on a line, that line is complete and they score that line. If that player is the first one to complete that line, they circle the bigger points (with a crown icon) and other players strike that point. From later on, players who finish that line will only circle the diamond points (smaller).  The numbers on the cards start from 2 to 6 with other cards with a circle and a star icon. The circle card means you can draw exactly a circle to any available space without the need to write in the terminal space. Star icon means that you can write twice the number of routes passing through that Station space and write a star on the terminal space, so you generally want to conserve the space for this to score the maximum points (intersections that has many lines), I notice that there are few intersections with 4 lines or maybe more, so try to score them (psst… it’s not easy). There is also a card with a number within a circle. This card allows players to draw circles not subsequently / continuously (players can skip already filled spaces). There is also a card with a refresh icon, when this card is drawn, the discarded cards will be shuffled back into the deck for the next turn (so it’s possible cards that had already been played get drawn again for the second time). If players ran out of terminal space but they still haven’t complete the line, that line cannot be complete (unless they use free circles to complete it).

The cards

The game comes with 2 different maps (Tokyo and Osaka). Both maps offer different lines and station spaces, which means different plays. If it’s not enough for you, you can also get the expansion which offers 3 new maps (Sendai, Hakata and Nagoya) which definitely adds more variation to the game and two maps have minor rule additions that will definitely change the game.

Base and Expansion

My Thoughts
I found the game to be brilliantly designed, it’s so amazing to see such simple design could provide players with very difficult decisions. By nature, roll and write / flip and write mechanics really leans towards high luck factor of the roll / draw, which forced players to adapt with the situation and take the best option that is available and this is what makes this genre interesting.  I naturally looking for ways to prepare spaces for star icons before it’s drawn to get big score from them, though it’s so hard to nail this down. Getting 6-8 pts or more from a single star would definitely a nice result, though the real question is “at what cost?”. Abandoning the line completions would also mean losing, so you need to set the balance here. At some point when the ones that you are expecting do not arrive, you just need to improvise. This is a very good choice for go to game when you have a spare time to fill of maybe an ice breaker for a longer game and between sessions. Just open the box, give each player a sheet and a pencil, shuffle the deck and you are ready to go. I would say 5-10 minutes with returning plays (not consider AP players). Note that currently the game is not widely available in the local game stores, so better to ask stores for order.

Sample of Filled Player Sheet (Hakata Map expansion)

Rescuing Our Furry Friends

pic3382176Dogs (3rd Edition) Review
This game was released for international distribution through Kickstarter, which originally had several previous editions and self-published limited in Brazil. The game is designed by Marcos Macri and the third edition was released in Kickstarter by Gray Mass Games. I’ve waited its wider distribution for quite a while and finally they had it Kickstarted. Instantly backed it because of the theme (I like dogs) and nice looking illustrations on the dogs (plus its not that expensive). I have played several times with 3 and 4 players. I must say that the game is simple but challenging because the money in this game super tight. Okay let’s jump into it!

If you like dogs (or animals in general), this one is a very good addition to your collection. In the game, you will manage your very own dog kennel, rescuing stray dogs on the city and country streets. There are different breeds of dogs, separated in two major categories, country and city dogs. I found the dog breeds are not complete but having 10 different breeds within the game is better than less. What I found interesting is that this kind of business is way far from profit and more of a charity work, and it’s well presented in this game. You are running an animal rescue center and profit is not it’s strong focus, but the animal’s welfare instead. The main purpose is to keep them (dogs) out of the street. So this game has a very high appeal to animal lovers (especially dog lovers) which in this case, I am.

Playing a 3-players game

The artworks are good, providing decent (if not good) imagery of the dogs and the surrounding cities and locations. You can check some improvement to the game from the earlier versions and it was in the right direction. The dogs are well drawn along with the city board and location board. There are some iconography issues on the graphic design but overall it’s not affecting the game play.

The game’s box front from first to third edition

The box has a very unusual size, similar like Brass box from EGG but slightly higher. The board is in good quality. The dog tiles are nice and thick, the back side there are dog names from backers (which is a nice touch to give additional collection value). The dog bags are good, though satin-like fabrics not really appropriate, a cotton or felt bag should be enough, but it’s a very minor complaint. The resource tokens are thick, though wooden shaped tokens would improved the game a lot, but I also believe it would increase the price. Players’ wooden trucks are okay but it could be bigger, comparing with the assistant meeples. The cards have nice thickness and linen finish, pretty much well done.

Player’s Kennel, Truck tile and resources (including a pup on the back of the truck)

The Game Play
There are two main parts in the game, the first is picking up stray dogs and the second is managing your kennel. The game is played in rounds until one of the two conditions are met (one of the bag runs out of dog or when all players do not move out their truck in a single round). There are three phases in each round, in the first phase players will move their truck around the neighborhood to find stray dogs. Players’ trucks need gas to move, for each space the truck move into, it consumes a gas token. Only when the truck returns back home, it only cost 1 gas token no matter how far the truck is. If the truck ran out of gas, it will get towed and the dogs on it are fleeing. Starting from the first player clockwise, each player takes turn to collect dog tile. They move their trucks to the location they want by spending gas tokens. If players collecting prized dogs, they get money based on the location of the dog instead of the dog (it’s placed directly to the fair board). When all players return their truck home, they place their newly collected dogs from their trucks to the stalls on their kennels. Each stalls (a 2×2 grid spaces) can contains 4 dogs with each line (1×2 grid) can only contain 2 dogs of the same breed, this is the only time where players can rearrange their dogs. If the dog is ill (has a ‘+’ symbol on the tile) then players place it on infirmary (it allows to store up to 6 ill dogs). If somehow players take more than what they can allocate on their kennel, they have to donate the dogs to the next player. If all players do not want, the dogs are placed on the fair slots.

After that the game continues to the next phase, where players will assign assistants to different places on the board. Each player has 2 assistants that they can assign, starting from the first player, a player will assign them one by one to a location available on the board. There are 5 different locations, and there can only be 2 assistants at most in each one of the locations and there are 2 bonus cards available on each location. When a player place one of the assistants, they take a bonus card available on that location and then may use the location effect. The locations are Townhall (where players can build 1 additional stall for 2 coins), Store (where players can buy dog food and medicines), Market (where players can trade resources), Vets (where players can treat sick dogs in their infirmary by spending medicines) and The Dog Fair (where players can sell, trade and swap dogs).

After all players finished placing their assistants, the game continues to the next phase where they manage their kennels by giving food to the stalls, get 1 coin income, paying assistant salaries, and buy gas tokens. Players only need one food token to feed one stall with at least one dog in it. If they cannot feed them, for each stall they cannot feed, one dog will get sick and placed into the infirmary (even there are 4 dogs in it). Also if a player cannot pay their assistants, the unpaid assistant is removed from the kennel and can be re-hire again during the same phase next round. The players do clean up with dog tiles on the board, refill bonus cards and fair dog card.

When the game ends, players tally up their scores and player with the most points wins the game. Players get points mostly from collecting sets of dogs, but they can also get more points based on number of paid assistants, extra stalls, number of different breeds, number of leftover resources (excluding coins) and penalties for each sick dogs on the infirmary. There are 10 different kind of breeds, separated into two categories, City and Country dogs. The difference lies only at where they can be found on the neighborhood map, country dogs can be found in suburbs while city dogs are on the central of they city.

Action boards and some pups in the dog fair

My Thought About The Game
I like the idea of the game, it is a simple worker placement game with a small set collection element. While I like the game mainly because of its theme, I found the game has a very challenging but overly too simple worker placement game. Getting the dogs might fall into who’s first and want to spend gas tokens the most to get the most wanted dog. From the worker placement aspect, the game has a very competitive feel into it. Aside claiming the location effect, players also fight over bonuses cards (which I must admit that those cards often more important than the location itself). In most times, players will assign workers to a location mostly because the bonus card. This really shows how huge the impact or important of cards. Money is really important because it was really tight. Each round players only have a steady income of 1 coin only, where on the other hand they need to pay 2 coins each round for the assistants, no matter they used it or not. If they couldn’t pay them, they will lose access to it for a round (of course they can rehire back but event that would mean lose a round to get the benefit of an assistant which is really important. Assistant are used mainly for one thing but have 2 effects. When placing an assistant, player not only get the benefit of that location but also choose which bonus cards available on top of the location. The first one to visit a location may choose which card they want to take (there are only 2 cards in each location for every round). The bonuses cards are very important cause it can give players additional resources and abilities outside the normal worker placements (and I feel this is very powerful). For example a bonus card that gives 3 coins are very powerful which players would choose it almost without thinking. Players might sacrifice the location effect just only to get that bonus card because getting 3 coins is like finding hidden treasures. Also 2 workers feels so few that you need more to get something done this round. And losing one or all workers are totally bad and most likely get your lose the game.

I found that the bonus cards have very high impact on the game, it’s not really common or normal practice that the approach of getting bonus cards are more important than using that location. Money is the most important thing, food is the second thing. I found that though you can get 2 food for a coin, but getting it you need to spend a worker (half your effort is used up) which you rather use for another thing. Getting the dog you want might be hard if someone else also looking the same thing, and maybe in later turns, the dog fair spaces might be more lucrative than getting dogs from the neighborhood in later turns once more spaces are occupied and decrease the price of the dogs. Getting four one-of-a-kind dogs in a stall gives you very high points, so better find a set or two or better, more than that for end game scoring. Look around what dogs are other players collecting. Getting what others do not want is a good choice and keep one or two dogs that players need are also good to deny them points.

Replay Value
I must say that it lacks of replay value. There’s no variation in the game because every elements are already used in the game right from the start. It would be more interesting if each kennel has its own abilities / specializations, or maybe objective cards with more contents that would offers different players’ interests in the game. And most importantly the amount of options in the game (there are only 5 locations to choose to) are very limited, most of the times you will find every game is very linear (samey) by getting what you really need and the same time getting the bonus cards that also helps you or give you something. Having a specific needs to cover will definitely limit your options (down to a single option). All the bonuses cards are usually used up in a single game. If you do not like the theme or not animal lovers, this might not be your game. You can find better games out there with similar mechanics or better.

Players’ wooden trucks to pick up pups around the city

Captain oh My Captain!

pic2577990Celestia Review
A friend of mine recommended this game to me while back ago. Seems it’s a bull’s eye game for him. Celestia is a light party game for all ages which re-implements Cloud 9 (its older sister). Both games are designed by the same designer, Aaron Weissblum. Both games are practically the same (I might be wrong since I never play Cloud 9), aside from Celestia having better theme implementation. Oh boy when I played it for the first time, it was fun to the max. I found this to be a perfect ice breaker for strangers without having the need to embarrass themselves in front of others such as public speaking / speak in front of others, presenting ideas and imaginations, or doing silly stuff that you mostly doing only in front of your trusted / close friends. In this game, you only need to make a decision. Yes, pretty simple and it’s simply one of the lighter games that I keep on my collection.

About Celestia
Celestia comes with a small box (not too small since there are loads of components inside) which you can easily bring anywhere without the need of a big bag, it can fit to you back pack (not your pocket though). The game comes with some cards (a deck of action cards) and smaller cards for location rewards, airship made from card board (a nice touch but not too fancy), a couple of dice and tiles, oh and lastly wooden tokens for player markers. I would recommend you to sleeve the action cards since they get shuffled often pretty much. The game can be played from 2 up to 6 players within 30 minutes and starting from 8 years and up, so I guess it’s for all ages and simple enough for children within that minimum age.

The game and all of its components

So in Celestia, you are on a journey through the cities of Celestia collecting treasures. And did I mention a journey? Yes well the further your journey is, the more precious the treasures are. So the further your journey is the better. But be careful it’s not without perils, your airship might crash dues to many factors such as bad weather, foggy skies, rocky cliffs (okay I made that up) and maybe sky pirates? You get the gist. Crashing wouldn’t kill you but you get nothing and have to start again from the start. But if you get down in the right time before it crash, you might end up smiling.

How to Play
Before the game start you need to perform simple setup for the boards. Laid out the cities in order (from the easiest to the most difficult city tiles) to form a single line. Place each deck of treasure cards beside of each city. If this is your first game, assemble the air ship first (don’t ask me how, they include an instruction inside the box). All players choose their players’ colors and take corresponding player marker and some tokens. I don’t quite remember what the tokens are for, maybe to check which color you are playing. Place your player markers on the air ship, shuffle the action cards and deal some to each player (check the rules for exactly how many cards per player) and decide who will be the first to be the captain.

Setting up the game (and type of cards)

Players will take turns to be the captain, who will take command of the air ship on its next journey from one city to the next. The captain will roll the required dice shown on the next city tile. The dice results are the obstacles that they need to overcome to avoid the air ship from crashing. You hear me right, this is a “cooperative game” in a way. Sometimes other players than the captain might help, or not. After the dice result are shown, players (still onboard the air ship) starting from the left of the captain need to decide whether they still want onboard (given the predicament) OR they want to go down. If they decide to go down, they remove their marker from the air ship and place it on top of the city tile where the ship is located, then they draw one treasure card beside the city (they keep it hidden from anyone else). Once they’re out, they are out for the entire journey and have to content with what they have. After all players decide they can still play cards, to help the captain overcomes the obstacles, or the opposite. Yes you can still sabotage them even if you are not on the ship. Once everyone have played cards, the captain needs to play cards from their hand to match the dice. If they have the corresponding cards, they have to play them (cannot deliberately crash the ship). If the captain succeed, the ship advances to the next city, if not the ship crashed and all players on board get nothing. The ship is returned to the starting position and all players place their markers back onboard, then they draw a card from the deck. Now new journey begins with the next captain.

The game repeats until one player declares that they have accumulate more than 60 points at the start of a journey and then the game ends. Player with the most points, wins the game. Very simple.

Six are too crowd for that tiny air ship

The Hook
Okay, let me explain the hook(s) of the game. First, its fun to roll the dice and see the result, secondly it’s always fun to do well and see others fail. Those are just our nature. I find this game to be straight forward push your luck (well it’s the captain’s) with a pinch of bluffing or deceits. Other players have to ‘guess’ the captain’s hand, which is impossible without x-ray vision. But they can determine this from the captain’s face or gestures whether he/she has the necessary cards or not. Of course the number of action cards also an important consideration. If the captain has many cards, higher probability he/she has the necessary cards than with only fewer cards. In addition you might also want to keep tab on what other players don’t have, when the ship crash because of certain cards that the captain do not have, better memorize it for future turns that that captain was low on those cards (of course this might not always be the case if the ships subsequently crashes over and over again which significantly give more cards to players.

Screwing other players also hilarious, for example using a jet pack when the ship crash to still draw a treasure or re-rolling all the blank dice as an attempt to make the obstacle more difficult. Or the fact that other players have jumped down and the air ships just move on better than anticipated leaving them far back. The leftover will moan and whine with their decisions. Basically players will try to read the captain’s hand and gestures throughout the game as well as try to memorize players’ hands. Again it’s just a simple game but plays rather long for what it is, thankfully the air ship adds some appeal to center of the table.

Dice presented as obstacles that the captain must overcome

The Unhook
Well I would say the game is kinda repetitive, playing it back to back several times might not be ideal despite it’s short duration. For me, I would play this once, twice I’d be doing my group a favor. It has high factor of luck and if you don’t like that sort of games, this might not be your game to go for. Often times you also draw cards that you don’t need, for example you keep drawing a specific card but not another which you are low for (that’s luck playing the greater part).

The game also has some small expansions which might add more variations to the game, though I haven’t try any of them yet. They’re definitely add some spice to an already fun game although the base is good enough for a family and close friends game night.

Two small expansions that surely add more flavors

Fate Lies on Your Deck

pic3542028Hand of Fate: Ordeals Review
First of all, some of you might recognize this from the title and noticed that it’s in fact an old PC game. Well you are right, it’s a deck building game based on that PC game. Hand of Fate: Ordeals is a table top version that was published through Kickstarter by Rule & Make team. They tried to keep the game true with the PC game (which I couldn’t elaborate more since I have not play the PC game before). People say that it’s a rogue-like game, which involving dungeon crawling, character progression and stuff. Honestly I just only know the term from this game. Okay, so let’s jump into the game and see what it offers. What is “Rogue-like”?

Rogue-like is a sub-genre of role-playing video games characterized by a dungeon crawl through procedurally generated levels, turn-based game play, tile-based graphics, and permanent death of the player character.

What is it about?
It’s published as a Kickstarter project from different companies, Defiant and Rule & Make. Defiant comes from the video game side, whereas Rule & Make is the one which implemented it from video game to the board game. The board game used the same artist as in the video game, Jesse Gillespie to capture the same style as in the video game.


In the board game adaptation, it utilizes deck building and push your luck as its main mechanics. Player takes the role of a character and explore locations and encounter them. As the game progresses they build their deck by acquire new cards from the display. In time, they will encounter royalties that break the game into three sub chapters: the Jack, the Queen and lastly the King in which eventually the game ends when it’s defeated and player with the most  Fame points wins the game. Well this is the competitive mode but there are other modes as well which I will explain later below. 

Players start with a handful of starting cards on their deck. These cards will provide them basic resources such as Efforts (main resources in the game), Food (to move around, explore the locations) and then Power (used in combat). As they acquire new cards, there will be various and better effects than their starting cards. They can also gear up their weapons and armors to help them in their turns. A player’s turn is broken down into steps using its FEAR system (Fatigue, Explore, Acquire and Rest) which I will briefly explain to you. Outside this turn system, players are allowed to play cards to their Played Area anytime during their turn except in combat. 

Fatigue – There is not much in this step, a crucial one by itself but its kinda hard to explain without knowing the combat system first. Generally players play attack cards to the table beside their weapon (this is known as binding). Each weapon has different binding limit which determines how many attack cards can be bound to it. So players will bind attack cards to accumulate power before they go to combat. This process usually takes over multiple turns before they feel they are ready to go in a combat. Having attack cards bound to a weapon definitely positive for the players, they wouldn’t know what might unexplored encounter has in store for them (I am talking about Ambush; which forced players to enter combat once it’s revealed) but it’s not without a cost. So in this step, players have to spend Efforts if they want to keep their attack cards in their weapon. If they choose to or cannot spend the exact amount of Efforts, they have to discard the cards and lose the accumulated Power. So it’s an all or nothing where they have to decide to spend the Efforts that they have on their hands or spend it for something else.


Explore – in this step, players may move and activate encounter. They have to spend a food token in order to move to another location within one space, orthogonally adjacent from their current location. Of course movement is optional and there is no limit how many food they can spend to move. In addition, they can also reduce 1 point of their health to move instead spending a food token. If by moving they move to an unexplored location, they flip the card and if it’s an Ambush, they are ambushed and immediately resolve Ambush encounter (combat). Some encounters need to be activated in order to use it and usually they are activated by removing an available usage cube in that location (at the first time it’s explored, players place a number of cubes instructed by the card). If there’s no cube left, its no longer can be activated by normal way. Encounter will forgo players movement for this turn.

Acquire – Players can spend their Efforts to buy cards from the display. These acquired cards are placed on the discard and can be shuffled back to the draw pile just like ordinary deck building concept (if you are familiar with it). Cards are divided into different archetypes. These archetypes are useful / affect the game by keywords from other card effects. Also in addition, players may only buy cards of certain archetypes depending on the location where they are in. Equipment cards are not placed on the discard but on the player board instead. Players may only have at most 1 weapon, each of body armor, head, offhand and a trinket. If they already own one of them and get a new one, the current one is replaced. This called stashing and when they do this, cards that stashed will be removed from the game and players get the Fame points indicated on the cards. 


Rest – Player discards cards on their Playing Area and then draw new 5 new cards from the pile. Same as other deck building game, if they ran out of cards, they shuffle their discards to form a new draw pile. 

About Combat
Combat happens mostly in two ways, when players activate an Encounter that instructs them to do so or when they’re Ambushed. There are several steps in Combat that players need to follow in order. First, they draw Minion cards (in addition of Royalty if any) from the Minion deck and then resolve the effects. Then there’s A Strike Bonus. Each character starts with a basic weapon, and all weapons have a Strike Bonus (minimum of 1). In this step, players draw a number of cards equal to its Strike Bonus value listed on the weapon (only 1 if they’re Ambushed) and place the cards beside their bound Attack cards if it generates Efforts and Power even if this breaks the weapon Binding limit (Efforts are counted as Powers for this purpose). Other cards are placed on Played Area. All effects are resolved. Then a combat round is happened when players assign Attack cards to enemies. Defeated minions give players rewards and points. If there’s still enemy left, players have to choose either to Push or Flee. Push means you go for another round of combat. This is done by spending one Food token and then resolve Pain cards from leftover enemies. If they still survive they draw one card that they bind to their weapon and then a new combat round begins. If they choose to Flee, they still have to resolve Pain cards. If they survive, they managed to flee. 

So as you can see here Combat uses push your luck system that aside from what cards you bind to your weapons, you also rely on the Strike bonus draws to give you increase in power. So piling cards with better amount of Power and Effort is always good, the question is “Whether they’re drawn in the perfect moment OR not?” I found this to be a fun element in the game. Though it boils down to luck of the draw, you can accumulate enough power by pushing rounds in combats. Costly but it’s a way. 


If a Royalty is defeated (by any player) then players have access to Relics. What is a Relic? Relics come in the form of equipment, just like standard ones but better (so we assumed). There are other ways to get Relics but the main way is to defeat a Royalty. So following my first sentence, players have access to get a Relic by spending certain amount of Shards. The player who defeats the Royalty draw a number of relics based on the number of agreeing players plus one and has the first pick (but most expensive with 5 Shards). Other players may acquire the leftover relics by spending 1 shard less than the previous players. They may decided not to gain relic and take a Flourish card instead (Flourish a slightly better than standard card). After this, the game comes to a temporary stop and the game needs to be reset for the next Royalty (new location cards) but players keep their acquired cards and equipment. 

About Death
So what happened when you lose all your health? Well, the easy answer is you die! But there’s the not so easy answer. There is no perma death in this game (sort of) or player elimination. Instead, players will re-spawn again in the starting location with certain arrangements (including minus Fame points). But players deaths may trigger the game end as if any player have died a number amount of time equal as the number of players, the game ends (and though it’s not finished with all the Royalties, player with the most Fame wins the game).

As I mentioned above, there are three different Royalties (Jack, Queen and King) for every suit. I am not sure what version comes with which suits as I own the KS version which includes Skull, Plague, Dust and Scales which also translated into the type of Minions (each has different behavior and status from another). Each type of Royalties also has different behaviors. Jack Royalties have effect that immediately resolved when it’s revealed. Queen royalties have passive / ongoing effect as long as it still alive while King Royalties have the Pursuit ability that move closer to characters every turn. 


Different Modes
Aside from playing the competitive modes as I explained above, there are other modes as well that you can play to give different gaming experience. First one is cooperative mode, where players decide a suite to fight against. In this mode, there is a new element, Quest cards that aid players with rewards (cards that unique for each character) and also character unique abilities that they can choose to use to aid their fellow characters.  Players can also play cooperative in campaign mode, in which the KS version has in total 4 campaigns (one for each suit) and each campaign has 3 scenarios. As in cooperative mode, you can also play solo (though I feel it kinda makes the Quest cards and abilities useless). 

Aside from coop mode, there is also the Dealer mode, which pits players against one player who takes the role as the Dealer. The Dealer plays the ‘bad’ guy where they will control minions and Royalties. Other modes are hard core (which introduce new and badder enemies and other rules) and endless (which gives players experience of endless dungeon just like arcade game that aim for high score instead of certain objective until they are eliminated from the game).

If you like deck building with an addition of push your luck in combat, this might be a good fit for you. Providing you like the theme. I personally fond of its illustration style from Jesse Gillespie, totally amazing stenciled art style. First of all, I was drawn by the game cover art (as I knew nothing about the video game). The dark, gritty and jagged lines from the illustrations captures the uniqueness of the illustration style which for me personally it sucked me right into it. The miniatures are plastic, not essential to the game play but its nice to have on the board where they can be easily recognize one from another. I feel a distinct rubbery texture on the plastic which is quite flexible (not hard plastic, durable and its possible to bend them to some extent), something that I rarely found in other plastic miniatures which I am not sure whether that is a good thing or bad.

Player boards and where players play their cards

The different modes also a good value since you can always play differently (coop, competitive, 1 vs many and campaign). I haven’t try all of them (aside from normal competitive and solo campaign modes), so I cannot say for the rest. The binding mechanism is unique, I couldn’t find any game like it. I found this game to be relaxing, come to think of it this might be my Zen game. You move around from location to another location to activate encounters and acquire more cards that improve your deck that eventually you will stand a chance to fight the Royalties. The competitive mode is the standard mode in the game but I kinda feel it’s not the best mode the game has to offer. I am more lean to competitive but this game doesn’t really provide a good competitive. Everything feels solitaire, of course you can do (bad) things to your opponents through encounters but its just a take-that out of their turn, no big deal. On the other hand, the cooperative mode seems interesting enough with Quest cards (though it’s still bland for me) which allows more interaction between players (this is why the solo mode isn’t shine well). Each character has three specific Quest cards with a reward card that related to each of them. Quest cards work in two ways, as a self-progression and put meaning into “cooperative”. By completing Quests, players will get some perks for their characters, but using the cubes on the Quest cards allow them to give support to their fellow players in unique ways. I find this to be interesting but it’s just a small add-on that feels insignificant to the whole experience.

I also feel that the deck is no longer interesting once you have played several times. It would be better if the deck has some kind of progression, maybe different decks, each for every Royalty or maybe put Event cards into the deck that may trigger something in the game. And having the ability to refresh the display would be nice, sometimes you are in a position that your Efforts are not enough or the cards are just not interesting for you. Some card effects and Encounters have the ability to remove cards on the display, but don’t count on it, most of the time you have no idea what to remove and the new cards wouldn’t make a difference.

Another thing that I want to point out is some card effects need further clarifications when they are used in specific situation and in conjunction with others. I found this to be the most tedious process throughout the game, not knowing the answer or what to do with it might ruin the mood of players. So there you go, we desperately need more comprehensive glossary for these. In addition to this affecting the smoothness of play, nothing to keep track pool resources might be hard to handle for some if something more complex and many card plays are involved. You may easily forget the ongoing (save it for later) effects that affecting your pool in different phase of the game.

Moderate in-game texts that ornate the cards, some are fiddly enough to halt your game.

Based on my take of the pros and cons, I found this game to be one of a kind that stole my heart away. Its not great but there is a feeling inside me, some kind of emotional attachment to it. Whether its the breathtaking visual, enjoyable play experience or a longing desire for a game of the genre, its always a fun game when I am looking for a not so competitive game to play with friends. And overall the components are good if not great and that is a plus. If you are looking for a copy, keep in mind that the base game only has a single (Skull) campaign included, you have to get the expansion for the rest of three campaigns which hardly can be found anywhere.

Prepare your O2 tanks, we’re going underwater!

pic4259360Underwater Cities Review
I’ve been following the works of Vladimir Suchy in recent years, with most of his latest designs are on my collection such as Shipyard, Last Will (previously owned), Pulsar 2849 and recently he released a game called Underwater Cities with his own newly-found publishing company, Delicious Games rather than with CGE (like he usually did). His designs are timeless classics, using well-known mechanics such as rondel, worker placement and dice drafting, he constructed them with modifications and twist that make the games felt fresh and played smoothly. I was not really into Last Will, so I decided to release it a while back. But I am in love with Shipyard and Pulsar 2849. Both games are classics. Love the classic Euro feel on them but also unique on their own. So when they announced Underwater Cities, it’s instantly on my must have list hoping it would not share the same fate as Last Will.

What is it about?
Well, it’s pretty simple, just like other most classic Euro games, the game is about building a city underwater. The background story is that human had earth corrupted so it’s impossible to live among the surface of the land and must go submerge under the water / ocean and build colonies there. So players will compete with each other to build the best city under the water. The game lasts for 10 rounds, divided between 3 production cycles. Player with the most points at the end of the game, wins the game. The theme is pretty much pasted on, where you can expect some extent of abstract elements applied to the game.


What can you find inside the box?
This might be a discussion that also quite notorious aside from how great the game is. The components that come with the game might be disappointing to some people. I must admit that I was one of them. But I got it for free and considering how good the game is (also it being a Euro game), I am totally fine with it. It could be better, but it’s okay and definitely doesn’t change the game experience much. The game comes with thin player boards that you can claim them as not really boards, more suitable as mats than boards. The resource tokens are so lazy made, they use bigger denomination with weird (actually it’s a realistic shape of some tokens put together into one) shape that 3 tokens are grouped together to make a single one. This provide some problems for players, since it’s quite hard to visually differentiate these bigger denomination tokens in a pile of tokens and they’re also pain in the ass to pick up if you have all-thumb fingers like myself. In my opinion having different size with values on top of it would be enough, better if you use color / border / graphic element that makes them easier to recognize. Not to mention the building discs, they are too small for what they are, more problematic when the game instructed you to stack them. A small bump and there you just screwed your cities! I could understand where the complication lies, with bigger discs, the player boards would significantly enlarged. I think if they made the discs double sided, with two different sides, this would solve the problem (of course you need another process to finish the job, a sticker or laser printing or something).


The Juices
Okay let me throw myself at you with this big pile of information, so get ready! Underwater Cities is a medium-weight (if not heavy) strategy game (you might call it a Euro game), where you among other players will build cities underwater for 10 rounds long. In this 10 rounds, there are 3 production phase where you will generate something out of your tableau (engine). In each round you will try to improve the engine so it gives you more and more.

How? Glad you asked, because this is crucial. Each round, players will take turns (based on a turn order) to place one of their action tiles (its okay, you can call them workers) into one of the available slots on the game board. There are three colors that divide the slots (red, yellow and green) by playing/discarding a card from your hand. So the general rule of the game is simple, pick a slot, place your tile and play/discard a card. But there are so much happening that leads to more complex decisions and multi-layered thinking (a typical trait of Euro games).  So in addition to playing/discarding a card when selecting an action slot, players also check whether the color of the card has the same color as the action slot or not. If both colors are the same, then they play the cards (activate the card effect by either get the reward instantly and discard the card OR adding it to their tableau). If the colors do not match, just discard it instead. So players will be forced to manage their hand of cards and pair it to such fashion with the actions they want to take.

There are various type of actions that players can take, but basically they expand their cities (with buildings and tunnels) which connected to a single network. Cities (Symbiotic ones) and buildings generate resources during production phase where tunnels connect the whole network. Players also place cards into their tableau, mostly those which have ongoing effect, activation, production and end game scoring effects. In addition, they can upgrade their buildings which give them more powerful effect during production phase. Each city has 3 building sites (can potentially be four with a special site) in where having every building type on a city would give more points at the end but having more concentrate building site (double upgraded type of buildings) in city gives more powerful benefit during production phase. On the other hand, having a diverse building type on each city would grant them bigger points on the end (which means each city has one building per type). This definitely gives players something to think about, like a hard decision on which they should go with.


The game also comes with 3 different decks, that each one comes into the game one after another. This gives more controlled random card draw while also gives more progression to the card effects. The game also has action cards, which players placed on their tableau. This action cards need to be activated by specific action (normally available in some action slots located on the game board). Action cards can only be activated once per era and only get refreshed in the production phase and players may only have maximum amount of 4 action cards on their tableau. The game also has objective goals in the forms of (aside from the final scoring) Metropolis, Achievement cards and End Game cards. Brown/Red Metropolis is the one that potentially give points when players managed to clear its requirements and not only that, they also have to connect them to their network (which usually need extra efforts to lay down tunnels). End game cards have points by completing something or exchange resources at the end game.

In addition you might think that this kind of game that has many different cards, language independent and various icons and types, it would be hard to process them in a jiffy. So let me break this down to you that the game has superb iconography. It’s understandable that wide array of cards effects might be difficult to process and some cards require clarifications. But I would say they did a good job in that department (also adding a text description on the card effect is also a good job). In addition, they also thought about colorblind players. I for one is not colorblind and know nothing about it. But they thought this through with different shape of icons to help players identify card colors without knowing the colors.


The Bad
Subjectively I would say there is nothing bad about this game, but let me tell you there is always something. Well, for starter I did mention that the game has less favored components (but the illustrations are nice). The player boards are the horrors, many people complaints about the flimsy and how things shifted or bumped around, cannot stay still on top of the designated space. This of course is something that easily solved by double layered player board (of course they cost extra money) which they fixed it on the expansion (included double-layered player boards for both base and expansion). I did make small adjustment for the building discs, since they still pose a problem even with double-layered player boards. So I do not stack the buildings when upgrade them but I place a sticker on one side and flip them over when I upgrade them. It works nicely in my opinion.

In terms of game play, I would say that the game has some degree of Analysis Paralysis as players expand their tableau as the game progresses (this might be a problem for some people but not me; I still found I am more AP in Five Tribes or Luna than this). Of course with more players downtime could be higher. Some even said it’s too long for a 4-players game. I can see why and understandable. If you cannot stand to play a three hours game or more, maybe just stick with 3 players count.


And as this is a worker placement game in essence (aside from its unique card pairing system) I often compare this with Agricola, which is one of the greatest in worker placement. Agricola still winning in terms of tension and blocking, while being blocked in Underwater Cities could ruin your plan especially in the last round, I just feel that it doesn’t have the same impact as in Agricola (perhaps given that it has lesser consequences than Agricola). The main portion of the game that you will dabble in (tangibly) is card pairing. The game rules indirectly dictate players to pair their cards with the matching action (aside from the fact that there is more important action or pressing action that they need to take) just for the sake of getting the benefit from the cards. But I can assure you that it’s satisfying.

People often compare this with Terraforming Mars, which I found to be inappropriate. Both are different in many aspects though there are of course similarities. One that most outstanding is the use of cards. Both games use cards in the form of tableau building, draw from the same communal deck and build their engines through it. Apparently that’s the only thing that similar in my opinion, if you exclude both shares the same building game genre. In fact the treatment of cards in both games are different. Terraforming Mars lies their engine foundation based on connection or interaction of certain cards which provide variations to the game. But in other hand this poses inflexibility where players cling to certain cards in order to get their engines going. Other cards then seemed less important than the ones they’re looking for. On the other hand Underwater Cities has cards that are freely to use and can work out alone just fine, but when integrated with other cards they form a good running engine. And lastly there’s no worker placement in Terraforming Mars, which I must admit, is one of my favorite mechanisms in board games.


New Discoveries Expansion
Expansion you say? I also have the New Discoveries expansion which the designer kindly gave me along with his new ‘lighter’ game Monster Baby Rescue. To be honest this was my most anticipated ‘purchase’ when I visited Essen 2019 last year. Turned out to be not disappointing. If people asked what it brings, I would say more contents. Of course not in the way just simply adding more contents, but more variations as well with several modules. It gives you Museum expansion where adds a bit of race feeling to the ‘peaceful and relaxing’ game. Another one is Quick Start variant where players start the game with different starting resources and buildings. Also there are new assistants that give players passive abilities in addition to the normal activation. These definitely gives more replay value to the game that already offers so much.

But the most prominent thing that the expansion brings are the double sided and layered player boards (in case you notice that the base game, at least my copy, only has player mats which most people see as a big let down). So there will be 8 double sided and layered boards in this expansion (a reason why it’s so heavy), 4 from the base and 4 comes from the expansion. The double layers hold the pieces in their place (not that matters with the upgraded buildings) which is nice, and the triple layers (double layers and 1 thick paper in the middle) for double sided works nicely (a bit wavy on the paper but the boards hold it well).


Final WordsUnderwater Cities is a great game no doubt, perhaps its among my top 10 of all time. The rules are simple, you assign your workers and play cards to build cities that generate maximum points for you. At first, new players might found this to be overwhelming but after they run their first production phase, things will be clear in no time. Of course it’s not a short game, you should play other games if you are targeting a shorter game. You can clock 45 minutes in 2-player game if both are returning players. If you like ‘building’ genre games, this might be a fit for you. The game also comes with basic and advance boards to give different feel. And the expansion also gives new contents and modes.

When Tetris and Patchwork Team Up

pic3328269NMBR 9 Review
I know most of you have played Tetris back in the day and for those of you who familiar with Board Games, Patchwork won’t be a stranger. Okay first of all, Tetris is a old time classic arcade video game with 2D platform polyominoes puzzle. In Tetris, players must arrange the polyomino shapes that marching down from the top of the screen into the surface. Each time a line is completed / filled, it will be cleared so players can still add the never ending lines of shapes. Meanwhile in Patchwork, 2 players will take turn to buy polyomino tiles to be added to their player board that consists of 9×9 square grid. They buy the tiles with button and time. Some of the tiles provide buttons as income, which will generate buttons for players when they activate the income. At the end of the game, each empty square that players have will generate -2 points against their total points.


What Is NMBR9
In NMBR 9, players are also required to arrange the tiles in specific order and with special rules. Unlike Patchwork with its complicated turns and income, and the time based challenge of Tetris, NMBR provides the same puzzle challenge that players need to complete in order to gain the most points out of it. In this game, players will have two sets of number-shaped tiles (from 0-9) with the total of 18 tiles. The game starts with one player will reveal a card from the draw pile (18 cards with numbers 0-9, already shuffled before). These cards show a number that players need to place in front of them. The placement restrictions are simple, they can freely place the first tile, but the sides of subsequent tiles must touch with 2 sides of the previous tile(s). They can place the new tile on top of the previous tiles, thus adding new layer on top of the existing one, as long as the new tile must not be placed to cover a hole from the previous tile, in addition the must expand the layer from that tile, must not expand from new tile aside from existing one. They can always expand the lowest layer. They do these 18 times (reveal all the cards) and then proceed to score their tiles. The scoring is unique, since the shape of each tile refers a specific number, that tile will be scored based on that number multiplied by the story level that the tile is placed. All the tiles placed on the first level (Story level 0 / ground floor) do not generate points because the tile is multiplied by 0. The first story tiles are multiplied by 1, the second story tiles are multiplied by 2 and so on (there’s no limit of stories you can make). Players tally up their points and the player with most points, wins the game.


My Thoughts
The game is very simple, easy to play and last around 10-15 minutes. The game can be played up to 4 players, but since the game is basically a multiplayer solitaire game, any number of players can play at the same time, providing they have the copies to support that many players. Hey, you can even play with 100 players altogether if you can provide 25 copies of the game, just saying. I like how it presents us with tiny bit of puzzles each time you must place a tile. It seems easy and simple at first but when you already place several tiles, you will start to rethinking your previous decisions and what you should do instead. You cannot score all the tiles, so you need to figure out which tiles give you the best points. In a way, you need to set priorities on which tiles come first and which tiles give big points. Placing low number tiles as foundation never hurts, because you are prepping for the high number tiles so they can fit on the higher levels. I found the game to be mildly addictive and I could play this game over and over again, which after quite a while it definitely going to feel repetitive, but the good thing it plays really fast (30 minutes or less). The components are nice, love the plastic insert to store the different shape tiles in a very organized way. The tiles are thick, number-shaped so it’s easy to recognize though some will be difficult to see the orientation (worry not, number 6 and 9 have a dot in the bottom part to differentiate them). Aside from the number-shaped they also made each number unique in color (though it doesn’t do much to color blind players).

So if you like puzzle (more importantly polyominoes) then this is a great fit. Simple and quick, and there’s arithmetic involved with how the tiles are score which would do good for children to learn basic math and of course spatial thinking (trying to fit shapes in existing layout).


Note: Images are taken from BoardGameGeek and full credit to its owners.

Move (me) Over Please!

Dawn of MankindDawn of Mankind Review
Dawn of Mankind is one of the latest new released games from Tasty Minstrel Games from last Essen 2019. It’s a light worker placement game with a twist from the designer Marco Pranzo and artist Kwanchai Moriya. It has awesome visual presence, looks meaty and above all, comes from a (rather) small box for what it is. Let’s check out what is Dawn of Mankind.

What is it about?
In Dawn of Mankind, each player (2-5 Players) will lead their prehistoric tribes into greatness. Player who managed to gain the most points by the end of the game, is the best tribe leader and may brag to fellow leaders. The first thing that comes to my mind when I learned it’s theme is a game from Friedemann Friese, Power Grid: First Park which I previously owned and it’s quite memorable. Not really a fan of the card bidding process but overall it’s a fun game. But Dawn of Mankind is pretty much different in terms of mechanic and game flow. In this game, you will assign (or direct) your tribesman (worker) to specific path of their life’s journey (so cool right?) until they come to the end of it. The progressing part is quite thematic (in a way) where you (can) personified their life into short stories.

The Game Components
I would say that this game has a lot of components for a small box game (what I like from these small boxes is that they are packed with lots of good stuff not just air inside box). The game comes with small tribesman meeples (okay it could be bigger guys, make a nice one and you are good to go). The meeple shape is really funny, people might have difficulty to recognize what shape it is at first, I tell you that it’s a prehistoric man holding a stone / wooden club. It’s also quite small that it makes it hard to make them stand on their feet. Regardless, it’s a funny and unusual shape that I can guarantee someone in your group would make a comment about it. Other tokens are resource meeples that also too small. Players place these meeples on their boards (uhm… player sheet) to keep track of their resources (Fruit, Fish, Hide and Spear). I could understand that they made them small to keep the cost and size so all could fit into the small box (it still has enough space though), but they’re just too small for my big fingers (I am sure other people have bigger fingers than me). The game also comes with a small quad-fold board, some action tiles and several cards and cubes. The board looks very nice, love the color contrast and color changes from one side to another.

Game setup for 2-players

The Theme
Although I already mentioned what the theme is on the top of this post, I feel I need to elaborate more on it. The theme, despite having worker placement of a tribe using tribesmen as workers, it also want to capture the life of each tribesman in their journey from children to old (represented by their journey to after life) and a hint of reincarnation to another new tribesman. In this cycle, players will utilize their paths to use the actions that are available on the game board, which I found to be remarkable for such a simple yet unusual mechanic. The game board is divided into 4 different eras (left to right) which define the progress of life from childhood, teen, adult and elder.

The Looks of Dawn of Mankind
If you are familiar with the style of Kwanchai Moriya, you would definitely able to recognize his work just from the front cover of the box. Simply stunning and I was kinda WOW when I saw it for the first time. The colorful 2D vector with 3D-ish style really pop up. It’s just too bad that his illustrations only covers half of the game components (the board and box). The cards also have illustrations but mostly just symbolic and not full art, but honestly just look at the box cover, and then go through the game board, it’s beautiful without having to realize what the illustration is (you just not there yet). At last I also have to mention Katie Welch who did the Graphic Design on this game. I like the simplicity of it’s iconography and clean design.

The board depicts amazing illustration from Kwanchai Moriya

Playing The Game
Dawn of Mankind is played over several rounds until the game end trigger has been met (which is at least one player has 60 victory points or more at the end of their turn, they must reveal it and the game is immediately over). The game has quite complicated setup where players take 4 turns to determine starting positions of their tribesmen and starting resources. Before the game starts, players have to set the action tiles onto the board. Each era has specific action tiles (you can find this from the background color of the tiles) and each spot has specific shape to determine what action tile goes to which space. Despite specific tiles, some of them are double sided, which could provide more variability in several plays. Players also need to randomly determine 5 progress cards to be used in the game. Each progress has a number of cards depends on number of players (only use a number of cards from each progress based on number of players minus 1) and stacked them in ascending order (starting with the 0 cost to higher cost card. Return the rest to the box. Also shuffle the art cards face down and reveal 4 cards face up in the corresponding spaces, place a cube in the top most slot of each card, place the art deck face down beside it. Shuffle starting cards equal to the number of players, return any leftover cards to the box.


Now players taking turns to determine starting positions of  their tribesmen and getting a setup card which grants them starting resources with several rules to consider. This process is quite complicated at first with many restrictions and parameters (it’s for me, by far one of the most complex starting position setups in a game considering the game weight). Once this is done, the game can start. Players will take turns to take an action. They can perform an action or rest. Perform an action requires them to have at least one tribesman on the ready area (the space on the left of each action tile).  To do it, they have to move it into one of the action tiles connected with that ready area , they cannot perform this if they have one or more of tribesmen on that action tile. But if there’s another player’s tribesman (tribesmen), they’re all got pushed to the next ready area beside the tile. This is the only reason to get tribesmen pushed from action tile to the next ready area. Then they may perform the action listed on that tile. If by moving their tribesman they passed over a newborn icon or art icon, they may get the effect of those icons. Newborn icon lets players to add a new tribesman from their personal supply into the first ready area (located on the leftmost side of the game board) if they have less than 3 tribesmen on it. Art icon lets players to perform an art by fulfilling the current task on one of the art cards below the board (these art ‘activities’ give players points). Once a tribesman move past the last action tile (Elder terrace), located on the rightmost side of the board, this tribesman will move to the next great adventure (returned to the supply at the end of the player’s turn).


If a player does not an available tribesman or they choose not to perform an action, they can rest. To rest they move all of their tribesman on the action tiles to the next ready area. Remember the tribesman on the Elder terrace, they’re all move to the next great adventure. Then they choose either to cook food or expand their tribes. Cook food generally converts their food (fish or berries) into points based on the conversion rates that they have (there’s a progress card that gives better conversion rates). Expand their tribes on the other hand allows them to add a new tribesman to the first ready area following the same process as a newborn icon with a cost of 3 points and emptying all of their food resources (you throw a feast for the newborn and the food are used to entertain the guests).

I did mention about progress cards. The game comes with several different progress cards and in each game you randomize which ones to use (5 different progress cards in each game). These cards give players in-game abilities and/or end game scoring bonuses. There are a number of cards equal to number of players minus one for each type, each with different cost (ascending). Each player may only have 6 progress cards at most (all must be unique from each another) including Religion, Storytelling and Cooking which these base abilities are printed on each player board and may not be replaced with different progress card. There are action tiles that let players to gain progress card (a fire icon).


What I think about the game?
Okay this is one meaty small game (not that small but this is small based on my preferences of euro games). The box is pretty small, easy to travel with but it packs a punch. The game is pretty simple and definitely easy to pick up for new or casual players. Now the game uses an overly used mechanic, worker placement, but it has a twist that warrant it as a fresh take for people to find the game interesting. That twist lies on the push over worker that force players to put another layer of consideration on their planning. It seemed that the game penalized players in a way that they have to think about other players’ planning since their ‘inactive’ workers (the ones on the action tiles) really depend on others to push them out to the next ready area since they cannot push them by their other workers. It gives really interesting perspective in the game where players cannot think solitary and must look for windows of opportunity that might came along. My first play felt clumsy, made crucial mistakes about the aforementioned pushed over mechanic. And after one play I managed to realize that players’ actions are determined and constricted by the path they choose for their workers. This formed such a hardly visible yet unique engine building approach that appears to be more linear than conservative worker placement. Once you set up a path for a worker, his actions are predetermined since the beginning and those will be more tightly guided as it is moved from an action to another.

The game has a racing feel since whoever has 60 points at the end of their turn, they have to reveal it and the game ends immediately. So it boils down to who is fast enough to collect points. I also feel that the sudden end turn is not really rewarding and encourage people to play full turn to the last player once the game end is triggered. This will give players some kind of fair assessment to their turns. Of course there are scorings in the end of the game, so not literally a racing game.

I like how the game shapes some sorts of stories for each worker as they move through action tiles doing things that abstractly written to the story of their life. I found this as a nice touch that give me a satisfaction (though I am a very tolerant player when it comes to a lack implementation of the theme). The components are okay but bigger tokens surely do a justice to the game (especially the resource markers), also having tribesmen that stand solidly would be awesome. The game comes with different shape of action tiles, which I assumed that the design decision was to make it easier for players to assign these actions into each slot, but the different shapes are difficult to keep up with different number of action tiles. So in the end all the shapes are different but slightly. This turned out might pose more difficult setup for players to recognize what shape goes to which space than just using colors, numbers or icons.


The game plays quite fast once players have grasped the game flow, you can play this game around 60 minutes with 3-4 players. Of course 5-players game would lead to a longer play time. Once players get the hang of the game flow, turns are quicker because seemingly the actions of tribesmen are limited (or dictated by their paths). One thing to note that I did try the game with 2 players and I feel that the interactions are lacking. The board looks very empty and we had a hard time to get our tribesmen pushed over. Not sure if we played it incorrectly but as far as I know there is no special 2-player rules. With full player count (5 players) the game definitely has tons of pushes and players will cheers (more).

Overall this game is definitely a great choice for light worker placement game and also worth to be in my collection. It deserves more spotlight and love. I really like the light aspect of strategy, a short thinker game that definitely made its way into the likes of Potion Explosion, Dice Forge, Sentient, Thief’s Market, CV and many more.

Replay Value
The game comes with double sided action tiles (not all of them) and this means different set of action tiles on the game that leads to more variations to the game. But sadly each action tile is assigned to a specific location on the board which narrowed down the variations (I suspect that this is necessary for game’s balance). Also additional variations from different combination of progress cards could lead to different decisions in each game since each progress card would likely define players’ strategy over the course of the game since the beginning. Among all that, I definitely expecting an expansion or promo contents that offer new action tiles to be used and perhaps asymmetric tribe powers.