iSlaytheDragon Board game reviews, previews, guides, and interviews Tue, 03 Jan 2023 14:33:17 +0000 en-US hourly 1 A bi-weekly podcast featuring writers from in which we discuss various topical issues related to the board game hobby. Visit our website for more reviews, news, and other content, or just sit back and enjoy the heat from our fire-breathing dragon, Kennith. iSlaytheDragon clean episodic iSlaytheDragon podcast A Board Game Podcast by iSlaytheDragon c9c7bad3-4712-514e-9ebd-d1e208fa1b76 85747497 Review: Unmatched: Cobble & Fog Wed, 07 Apr 2021 10:00:00 +0000

I had my eye on the Unmatched series for a long while before getting to play Cobble & Fog. The colorful board, the themed mashups, and the revamping of the highly lauded Star Wars: Epic Duels system pulled me right in. Tack on top of that asymmetric fighters – some of whom come with their own sidekicks – in some hilariously juxtaposed matches and a quick playing time, I was ready to be hooked.

How To Play

Unmatched is exceedingly easy to jump into. You get two actions on your turn. You can maneuver, drawing a card and then moving your fighter(s). You can scheme, which is playing the aptly named scheme card from your hand. And you can attack by picking a target and comparing your attack card value to your defender’s defense card value.

That’s it. No, really. The rest of the game is simply reading your cards and choosing the best way to close in on your opponent. The first person to defeat their opponent’s fighter(s) win.

Elementary, my dear Watson…

As is obvious from the short rules overview above, there isn’t much to Unmatched mechanically. Anyone who has played any kind of skirmish game before will not find anything new or surprising here. Each player will select their fighter and over the course of about 20-30 minutes, you’ll each dance around the board, weaving your way in and out of melee and ranged attacks.

A not-so-pleasant rendezvous.

The colored areas on the board denote zones that matter for attacks and card effects. While these boundaries certainly do have an impact on gameplay, they did not engender themselves to as clever of positioning as I had hoped. It’s fairly easy to get from one side of the board to the other, something that often feels like a slog in other games. There are even secret passages on the Baskerville Manor side of the map that let you directly jump from one area to another, kind of like the board in Clue. This makes it even easier to get around, making it almost pointless as to where you specifically end up so long as you are able to swoop in for a quick attack. While it may sound like I am a fan of big complicated terrain and distance rules, that’s far from the truth. Rather, the maneuver action on your turn felt like it was more about drawing cards than, well, maneuvering.

The fighters themselves are charming. The theme and essence of these classic literary characters is well embedded into their cards and gameplay style.

Tricky, tricky.

Holmes is more of the pugilist Robert Downy Jr. Sherlock than a sleuthy Benedict Cumberbatch one. Paired with Holmes, there are some tricky card plays you can do with the two of them as well as some opportunities for deducing what cards are your opponent’s hand. Guessing correctly and getting a wallop in is incredibly satisfying.

The Invisible Man, as you’d expect, disappears and reappears all over the board, providing you sneaky opportunities to slap and dash. With such a small board, you can’t help but feel that you are the one driving where and when the fights happen, using your mobility to your advantage.

Dracula has three sidekicks from whom he can use as decoys, blood banks, or buffs for being in the same zone. Playing as him, you can really feel his power that is laced with specific weakness. Managing the sidekicks can be equally finicky and fun.

And, of course, as Jekyll & Hyde you must time your transformations right, balancing a potential tick of damage with raw strength. Timing is everything, which means having the right cards in your hand to manage going back and forth between personalities is key.


The asymmetry of the characters is done very well. Any game that makes you feel like the character you picked is overpowered and easily going to win is asymmetry done well. Then, you switch to a different character and think, “No, this one is the one that’s overpowered!”. There is a lot to explore in playing the different characters and learning how to match them up against one another.

However, despite the strong design of the characters, Cobble & Fog ultimately left me feeling a bit flat. Several turns feel lackluster, or even pointless, as you are just drawing cards waiting for one that will let you get an attack in or position yourself better. As I alluded to with the game board, I don’t feel like I’m doing anything particularly smart or tactically interesting. Sure, maybe sometimes I saved a card for just the right moment. Or, I worked myself into a position with my sidekicks that I was able to pull off a one-two punch. But those big moments are rare and fleeting. The game doesn’t ebb and flow so much as just meanders downstream.

To be clear, there is nothing wrong with the game. The nuts and bolts all screwed on tightly, making everything work just as it should, without anything unnecessary clogging up the gears. I’d be happy to play any of the other characters/sets, exploring the different themes and abilities. But what this really comes down to is me enjoying the system more than the game itself. As I said above: there isn’t anything new or surprising here. And that makes it really hard to pass the test of time in the way that the Cobble & Fog characters do.

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Review: The Road to Canterbury (2021 Edition) Wed, 27 Jan 2021 11:00:00 +0000
RTC - Box

When I reviewed Illumination a couple of weeks ago, I lamented that I’d never been able to play its “spiritual predecessor,” The Road to Canterbury (RTC). Unbeknownst to me at the time, RTC is getting a reprint (officially titled, “The Road to Canterbury: Impoverished Pilgrim’s Edition”) and it is part of the Illumination Kickstarter. So you can imagine how excited I was when Eagle-Gryphon Games unexpectedly sent me a copy of RTC! I finally got the chance to try one of my gaming white elephants. So the question is, was it worth the hope and the wait? Let’s find out.

How It Plays

Ordinarily, this would be the place where I would detail the rules of the Road to Canterbury in order to give you a sense of how it plays. But… This is basically a straight reprint of an older game that has been reviewed often, so the rules are widely available and there are plenty of tutorials out there.

So in the interest of saving some time I’ll simply tell you that, according to the designer, there are four main differences between this edition and the original. (No, I’m not being lazy here. Well, maybe a little, but in my defense, the review copy arrived late and I had to choose between playing it a couple of more times or rewriting the rules here. I figured that rewriting the rules was less important than being able to offer a more informed opinion based on multiple plays. Hopefully you agree.)

First, the components in this version are “slimmed down” and, as a result, the price is lower. (The original MSRP was $60 and this version is $29 during the Kickstarter.) Nothing impacts gameplay. What was “slimmed” seems to be mostly artwork (there are not as many flourishes in this version), and I believe the player mats and cards might be a bit thinner. Also, some text from The Canterbury Tales has been added to the player screens and pilgrim cards, giving the game a bit more flavor. That’s all cosmetic stuff.

RTC - Feature
The circle of sin and parson pawn.

The other three changes fix some overpowered rules and add a tiebreaker.

  1. If you don’t play a card on your turn, after paying 3 coins as a penalty you may discard up to 3 cards and then redraw. (The original rule didn’t limit the number of cards discarded and redrawn. That was judged to be too powerful.)
  2. You may not play two Last Rites tokens in a row. (The original rule imposed no limit; this, too, was deemed overpowered.)
  3. If you complete the Circle of Sin, after receiving your reward, move one cube to the center and reclaim the others. The cube in the center counts as seven points for the purposes of tie-breaking at the end of the game.

If you want to see the draft rulebook of this newer version, you can view it here.

Take this road trip, or take a detour?

So, The Road to Canterbury is based on Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. You are acting as a pardoner, traveling down the road and selling pardons to pilgrims. The certificates you sell (fake, of course, because no mere human can really absolve sins) will absolve these sinners and deliver them from eternal damnation.

To make money, though, you must deal in volume, which means it’s really helpful to your business if you can get these pilgrims to commit even more sins! But not too many… The Seven Deadly Sins don’t mess around and if your poor pilgrims commit all seven, they die. Dead pilgrims are a problem because the dead can’t pay you. You and your fellow players are in a race to pardon the most pilgrims before they either keel over or finish their pilgrimage.

I’ll admit that the theme of RTC has always been the attractant for me. I’ve read The Canterbury Tales, but even aside from that, the idea of tempting people to sin so I can profit makes me smile in an absurd, Monty Python-esque way. If that’s the kind of humor you enjoy, then RTC might appeal to you. However, I will admit that it might not appeal to everyone. There are those who might find offense in the religious undertones, and who find the morals here a bit questionable. Also, those who don’t appreciate dry, sly humor will probably struggle to find the fun.

RTC - Money
Coins and last rites tokens.

As to the “slimmed down” components… Having never played the original, I am unable to tell you whether or not these are “too skinny” by comparison. Everything in my box is fully functional and, although the mats, cards, and boards are thin, they aren’t too thin. I don’t feel like they’ll bend at the slightest touch. The coins are your standard cardboard.

The only major lament I have is that, while the box is thick and sturdy, the artwork on it is dark and dull when compared to the original. There is also a bit less artwork and “pizzaz” on the components when compared to the original, but nothing that affects gameplay. However, the additional text on the cards and screens does give the theme a little more oomph, and helps to orient those who aren’t familiar with The Canterbury Tales. I’m just happy to have a copy of the game, so I can deal with the compromises that were made here. YMMV.

So that’s the easy, cosmetic stuff. But how about the gameplay?

As with most of Alf Seegert’s designs, the main thing that impressed me about RTC is that it offers many things to manage without feeling overwhelming. There are many ways to score points, so turns rarely feel wasted. While scoring points is pretty easy, it takes multiple plays before you uncover the best ways to score points, how all of the mechanisms interact, and how to react to what other players are doing. To me, these are the best kinds of games. They offer depth without crushing brain burn, and present a puzzle that needs to be solved just a bit differently in each game.

RTC - Cards 3

In RTC, you’re playing one of three types of cards on your turn. That’s it, one card. Sin cards tempt pilgrims to sin. When you do this, you place one of your cubes on the circle of sin space matching the sin card played. If you end up being the first player with one cube on each of the seven sins, you earn a twenty point bonus. The second player earns a ten point bonus, and the third gets five points. So tempting pilgrims to sin can be hugely profitable.

But you can also pardon those same sins because you are, after all, a shyster selling fake pardons. Pardon cards allow you to pardon a matching sin. When you pardon, play a pardon card onto a pilgrim who has committed the same sin, and then place a cooruption cube of your color on the pilgrim card. Pardons have cash value, depending on how many you pardon and whether or not the parson is currently denouncing that particular sin. Since cash is the currency of victory in this game, you’re going to want lots of it!

Sins and pardons work in tandem and you can’t ignore either. Too many sins and a pilgrim dies, meaning no more pardons can be given. (And there goes one of your potential cash cows.) More significantly, a pilgrim’s death means that the player with the most corruption cubes on that pilgrim moves a step further on the Road to Canterbury and collects the bonus indicated for that achievement. Also, moving down the Road moves the game one step closer to the end.

So while it can be tempting to just keep dumping sins on pilgrims, you also have to do some pardoning and keep an eye on how many pardons your opponents are amassing. You want to control that pilgrim when he keels over! Pardons also make you money, which is the currency of victory. But if you go around doing nothing but pardoning, you’ll miss out on the big sin bonuses. You have to strike a balance, and one that takes into account what your opponent is doing.

RTC - Cards 1
Sin and relic cards.

The other kind of card you can play is a relic card. These give you special actions and can let you move the parson token to a different sin in the circle of sin. This can set you up for a future turn that may net you more money when you pardon that sin on a pilgrim. Knowing when/how to best to deploy your relics is key to winning the game.

This is what makes most of Alf’s games so fun for me. There’s plenty going on, but none of it is difficult to understand. Difficult to perfect, yes, but not difficult to understand. You can be up and playing after a short tutorial, but it will take you many plays to fully realize all of the interactions going on and how to work them to your advantage.

Games like this are also very replayable for me, not because they change drastically every time or because they have huge card decks or scenarios, but because they are puzzles that need to be solved anew each game. All of the mechanisms intertwine and how you’ll maximize each one changes a bit each game. The cards will come out slightly differently and your opponents will try different strategies. You always have to adapt to the current elements to find your best path forward.

It’s not a matter of seeing different things every game that keeps it interesting, it’s that you usually leave the game thinking, “Okay, next time I’m going to do things differently and see how a little tweak affects the larger whole.” I liken games like this to cooking: The path to a perfect recipe requires you to experiment, to add this or that ingredient, or to fiddle with the cooking time. It’s usually not a major adjustment, but you just want to tweak this one thing to see what happens. That’s what keeps me coming back to RTC, and to most of Alf Seegert’s games in general.

RTC - Cards 2
Pardon cards.

The game also sets a brisk pace. At the beginning, all of your pilgrims require seven newly played sin (or death approaches) cards underneath them in order to die. But as the game goes on, dead pilgrims stack up underneath the new pilgrims, meaning they die a bit quicker. (The idea here is that the bodies of dead pilgrims are carried along for burial at Canterbury, so there’s less room in the caravan for more sinning pilgrims. This kind of thing can’t go on indefinitely, after all.) Also, each dead pilgrim moves you closer to Canterbury, so you’ve got to keep an eye on the Road so you don’t get caught with some big plan halfway complete when the last pilgrim kicks over.

The major negative to the game is that it looks more complex than it really is. This is partly why I never picked up the original version. It was going out of print just as I was really getting into gaming, and although the theme intrigued me, I looked at it and thought, “I’m not ready for that.” Of course, years (and hundreds of games) later I realize that it’s actually a simple game to understand (it’s really nothing more than a card game with lots of other bits), but at the time all I could see was lots of cubes, boards, cards, and tokens. It freaked me out and I passed on it and it sadly passed out of print.

Actually, I guess this is both a positive and a negative. Positive because it’s not a complex as it looks, but negative because it can freak out someone new to games. It’s also positive because the playtime isn’t as long as you think it will be. Once you’re experienced, you can knock out a two player game in half an hour.

RTC - Mats
Player screens and misc. mats.

All in all, RTC lived up to my hopes. It’s a lot of fun and scratches most of my gaming sweet spots: Puzzly, not soul crushing or brain frying, funny, and slightly addictive. It’s something I can play on a weeknight and know my brain won’t explode, but I also know that it will leave me feeling like I’ve played a “real” game. Bonus: It plays quickly enough that we can usually get in two games, which is nice because we keep wanting to try it again. The subtle humor just bakes in another layer of fun for us.

Since I never owned the original, I don’t feel any loss in the “slimmed down” components and I’m simply happy to have it. From what I understand, if you already own RTC, there’s no need to buy this version because the gameplay differences are not profound and you could simply add the new rules into your old version. If you can’t appreciate the humor, I’d recommend skipping it and looking at some of Alf’s other designs, instead. Otherwise, I highly recommend taking advantage of a “second chance” to grab this wonderful game.

The Road to Canterbury: Impoverished Pilgrim’s Edition is currently on Kickstarter.

( thanks Eagle Gryphon Games for giving us a copy of The Road to Canterbury for review.)

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Review: Illumination Wed, 06 Jan 2021 11:00:00 +0000
Illumination - Box

It’s no secret around these parts that I’m a big fan of Alf Seegert’s games. Very few have failed to thoroughly entertain and surprise me. One of my biggest gaming regrets is that I missed one of his early games, The Road to Canterbury (RTC). It was going out of production just as I got heavily into gaming and I’ve never tracked down a copy. The idea of selling counterfeit pardons to pilgrims after you’ve deliberately led them into temptation always tickled me.

So when Alf contacted me and said, “Hey, I’ve got a new game coming out from Eagle-Gryphon Games that’s the ‘spiritual successor’ to RTC, would you like to review it?” I nearly fell off my chair. Yes, please! Illumination is a battle between the Reverent and the Irreverent for control of illuminated manuscripts. Bonus that it is a two-player only game (with a solo option), since that’s the only gaming going on around here (no)thanks to Covid.

How It Plays

Illumination is a game of set collection and area influence in which you are trying to control the three illuminated “books” on the table. Placement of your tiles can earn you coins or tokens, which in turn can be spent for points or special actions. Your tile placement can also involve you in battles of good vs. evil in which the winner earns even more points.

You’ll also have your own crusade, secretly assigned at the beginning of the game. You’ll earn points for defeating tiles that match your assigned crusade (more on battles below). The more matching tiles you defeat, the larger your bonus. The player who manages all of these challenges successfully becomes the new master of the scriptorium.

The game is played over a series of turns, until either both players pass or all three books are completed and closed. You can choose to pass before beginning your turn but if you do so, you can no longer play in the game. The other player may continue taking turns as long as they are able. Passing is a strategic choice and should only be invoked if you think you’ll end up losing more points via penalties than you’ll gain.

As long as you continue playing, here’s what a turn looks like: First, you will choose which tiles to place into an open book. There are three books on the table and you can place tiles into any book that is “open.” (An open book still has open quill spaces for tiles. “Closed” books have no more open spaces for tiles. Once a book is closed, it cannot be reopened.)

Illumination - Tiles
Some of the tiles and coins.

To place tiles, you must choose an entire row or column of tiles from your player mat and then move those three tiles to the margin of the matching book. (Your mat is filled at the beginning of the game from a randomly shuffled set of nine, three-tile stacks that you place in your player area.) The columns/rows on your mat are labeled I, II, and III and the books match that scheme from your left to right. The book on your left is I, the middle is II, and the book to your right is III. If, for example, you select tiles from Row I on your mat, they must go into Book I. Note you cannot select just one or two tiles from the row/column. It’s all or nothing.

Next, you move your tiles from the margin into the book in any order you choose. Coin tiles are not placed into the book. These tiles simply grant you two coins and are then returned to the box. Remaining tiles must be placed on the quill spaces in the book; they cannot be placed on text spaces. If you cannot place a tile on a quill space, place that tile facedown on the sheep pen on your player board. This tile will deduct one point from your score at the end of the game.

So what’s the point of placing these tiles onto quill spaces in the books? Tiles give you coins and tokens that you can spend for additional benefits. This is the crux of a turn.

  • If you place a tile on a quill of the same color, collect one coin.
  • If you place a tile orthogonally adjacent to a tile of the same color, collect one ritual token in that color.
  • If you connect to multiple adjacent tiles of matching color, collect one ritual token for each connection.
  • Purple drollery tiles are wild and if you place a tile next to one, collect one ritual token of the same color as the tile played.

The coins and tokens you collect via tile placement give you additional benefits and scoring opportunities. Coins can be spent to move a tile from a book’s margin to another open book, draw a scriptorium card (cards allow you to break the tile placement rules in various ways), or to move the abbot one space on the monastery mat.

Moving the abbot is important because his placement controls whether or not you can score your ritual tokens. Ritual tokens are spent in sets of 3, 5, or 7 of a kind. When you have a set of ritual tokens, you can claim bonus points for them (the more you have, the more you gain), but only if the abbot is on the matching space on the monastery mat. If he is there, you can cash out your tokens and place a marker on the appropriate scoring space. If the abbot isn’t on the matching space, you can’t cash in your tokens. Anytime you cash in tokens, the other player gets a consolation bonus of one scriptorium card.

Illumination - Books
The book mats are double sided and can be arranged in any order at the beginning of the game.

Note that you can spend as many coins and tokens as you like on your turn, and you can spend them whenever you wish during your turn. You can only carry over seven total coins/tokens to your next turn, so make sure to spend down any excess or else you’ll have to discard them. You can also play as many scriptorium cards as you want, including cards you’ve just purchased.

The final part of a turn is to reserve any bounded battles. A bounded battle occurs when two factions that oppose each other end up “fenced in” by other tiles, the border of the book, and/or text spaces. (Conflicts are: angels v. demons, knights v. dragons, monks v. rabbits, and dogs v. squirrels.) If a battle happens, it is resolved by simply counting the number of each faction’s tiles within the battle. The player with the most tiles wins and flips all the losing tiles facedown. Those tiles will not score at the end of the game. The winner also places one of their markers on the appropriate side of the matching battle card. The loser gets a consolation bonus of coins equal to the number of tiles they lost.

Your turn ends once all battles are resolved. Discard any excess tokens/coins over seven that you could not spend. As long as the game has not ended, choose another stack of three tiles from your supply and refill your mat from I – III, starting with the top token of the stack. (No picking and choosing what goes where!) If the game has not ended, the next player takes their turn.

The game ends when either both players have passed their turns, or all three books have been completed. Books are complete when when there are no more open quill spaces on which to place tiles. The person who completes a book claims one ritual token of their choice, and the other player draws a scriptorium card as a consolation bonus.

Each player then tallies their score. You earn points as indicated by your marker(s) on the monastery mat for accumulated ritual sets. The player with the most markers on each battle card earns five points for that card. (Tied cards award no points to either player.) One point is awarded for each face up tile that belongs to you in each book. You also earn points for your secret crusade. Tally up how many defeated tiles in the books match your crusade card and score according to the value shown on the card. Finally, subtract one point for each tile in your sheep pen. The player with the most points wins.

(Note that there is also a solo mode, but for the sake of brevity, I won’t go into the rules details here.)

A Game to Illuminate Dark Times, or a Dim Bulb?

Upon reading the rules, I was fairly certain I would like this game based on the main tile selection mechanism. You have a grid of nine tiles and you must take and use all three tiles from a row or column on your turn. There’s no cherry-picking. If you can’t use a tile that you take, it’s going to count against you at the end of the game. I enjoyed this mechanism in Cat Lady and, later, The Trapper Keeper Game (although those use cards, not tiles), so I was excited to see it here.

I was correct in my assessment. This mechanism works well in Illumination and I still enjoy it! It presents a puzzle that my brain finds enjoyable. What do you take? What row/column has the most you can use and the least that will harm you? What do you try to keep back in the hopes that the next tile draw will give you a complete row of “goodness?” There are times it all comes together and you can use every tile, and times where you have nothing but awful and worse and you have to make the best of it. For me, those sorts of decisions are fun.

And you also have to take into account any scriptorium cards or coins you have that might let you mitigate possible damage. Can you swap some tiles around? Move tiles from one book to another to score more points or free up some space for new tiles? Since you can take actions and spend coins at any time during your turn, you can work things in your favor so that your actions chain to your benefit. This can lead to a little AP in those prone to it, but it’s usually not too bad.

Illumination is also a highly re-playable game. Despite not being truly asymmetrical (more on that below), the puzzle it offers changes each game. No, you’re never going to need to deploy completely different strategies, but you will have to think and adapt to the changes each game. The biggest factor is the random tile draw. Your tiles will come out differently and end up in different places on your mat each game. Plus, the book mats are double-sided and you can arrange them however you want. This gives you multiple board setups to play with. You’ll also have to deal with different scriptorium cards at different times. What you have available (and when) to bend the rules will vary from game to game.

Illumination - Cards
Scriptorium and crusade cards; drollery tiles.

There are also the drollery tiles to consider. They are wild from the perspective of scoring, but at the beginning of the game, one tile is placed on an open text space in each book. The position is determined by agreement of the players. When you place a tile adjacent to one of these wild tiles, you gain a ritual token that matches the color of the tile played. They don’t change the game that much, but their random placements do prevent you from forming a single strategy for each book. You’ll always have to adapt to their presence.

All of these little changes from game to game mean that you’ll likely never play the exact same game twice. And this is the kind of randomness I like. It keeps the game interesting, but the randomness doesn’t affect the endgame or ruin a players chances “just because.”

The last thing I want to mention in terms of enjoyment is the level of interactivity. Illumination is not a solitary experience. You can’t keep your head down and just manage your own thing without caring about your opponent. Almost everything in the game is designed to make you look around.

When placing your tiles, you have to keep an eye on any blooming battles and make sure you keep an advantage, or at least bow out before your opponent can crush you. At the end of the game, you earn points for every face up tile in the book, so you need to win those battles, or make sure you have a lot of tiles in the book outside of the battles. Winning battles also determines whether or not you will gain points from the battle cards at the end of the game, and your secret crusade. Ritual bonuses can only be claimed by one player, so if your opponent gets the big number for a given ritual, you’ll have to settle for the smaller numbers. (Or none at all, if you’re not careful.)

For all that you must keep watch on your opponent, the interactivity is largely based on being the first to achieve certain goals, not cruelty. I’m not a fan of games where you can really mess up another player’s stuff, and there’s only one way in Illumination to deliberately “attack” an opponent. There’s one scriptorium card that lets you move one of their tiles out of a book and into a book of your choosing (they choose where to place it within the book, however). The game even awards consolation bonuses, in the form of cards or coins, if you lose a battle or miss out on a space on the monastery mat. Success is based on being efficient and thoughtful rather than mean or aggressive. (And there’s a bit of luck involved in the tile draw/replenishment on each turn.)

Illumination - Tokens
Ritual tokens and battle cards.

Basically, Illumination hits most of my sweet spots. It’s puzzly, interactive without being cruel, and offers some randomness in setup that keeps things interesting game to game. It offers several different ways to score points, but they all work together in such a way that you can’t really ignore any of them if you hope to succeed. For example, you can put all the tiles you want in a book and hope to score points at the end of the game, but if you don’t watch out for the battles, you can lose a fair number of those tiles. Plus, if any battles occur and you don’t win at least some of them, you’re probably going to lose out on the battle card points. And you can’t ignore the ritual bonuses because you don’t want your opponent to take all of the high value spots. So you’ve got all these balls in the air and you have to juggle them all if you want to win. That’s exactly the kind of game I enjoy. Especially when it’s just two players and the overall chaos is low from turn to turn.

As for the things I didn’t enjoy, the list is small. My biggest con for this game comes not from the gameplay, but from the tiles. Although the “critters” are different for each faction, the primary thing that’s designed to catch your eye and differentiate the factions is the white or black border around each tile. Maybe it’s just me, but there’s something about the design that, once you have several tiles in a book, makes it difficult to tell what is what.

The problem for me is that the borders don’t go all the way to the edges of the tiles. Instead, they act more like picture frames around the image, leaving the color of the tile bleeding out to the edge (which is, admittedly, useful because you do need to see like colors in order to collect ritual tokens). This makes for a very busy board where you can see, for example, two white tiles next to each other, but then you have to look twice to see that the “frame” for each is actually a different color when you’re ready to determine battles.

Illumination - Player boards
Player mats and aids.

While you’ll eventually learn to check for “your” critters and cue off of the artwork instead of the frame (and it does help somewhat if each player turns their tiles so that their critters face them, rather than orienting them all in the same direction as the instructions suggest), the busy presentation can be challenging for the first few games. Then again, it might just be me.

(Note that the components I played with are from a not-final production copy. I’m told by the designer that there is still room for some component changes based on feedback from these early reviews, so do note that this gripe may be meaningless by the time the final version is released.)

Another gripe I have is that I never really felt the theme. I was super excited to battle for control of a book, playing as either a Reverent or Irreverent faction, and to feel as though I was somehow illuminating a manuscript or engaging in some sort of humorous holy war.

But… The parts of the game feel a bit mechanical and never quite come together into a cohesive story. Even the battles in the book don’t feel much like fights because you simply count tiles. It’s all very abstract and I never felt like I was creating a manuscript, running a scriptorium, or fighting good vs. evil. That’s okay because game plays very well and the puzzle it presents is fun, but just don’t go into it expecting immersion.

Finally I just want to mention one more thing. You might think, at first glance, that Illumination is an asymmetrical game. It sort of looks like it should be, with the two different factions, but it’s not. The factions are identical in terms of gameplay. Choosing one over the other won’t change your experience, or require different strategies. The only differences are that the Reverent player always goes first, and the Irreverent player begins the game with more coins to sort of balance out that slight advantage. This is neither good nor bad, but I wanted to point it out in case you are really seeking an asymmetrical game.

Those minor gripes aside (one of which might not be a thing in the final version), Illumination is a good game if you want a puzzly battle of wits and you don’t expect an immersive storyline. It’s a game that challenges the mind, but never overwhelms it with too many options. (And given the state of the world today, the fact that it’s two- player and solo can only be considered strengths.)

Illumination will be on Kickstarter in January 2021.

( thanks Eagle-Gryphon Games for giving us a production copy of Illumination for review.)

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2020 Holiday Gift Guide Tue, 24 Nov 2020 11:00:00 +0000 What a year it has been, my friends. Rampant diseases, stay-at-home orders, and all manner of other shenanigans.

Perhaps because of COVID you haven’t gotten as much game time in with your regular gaming group; or maybe, being trapped at home with family, you’ve discovered a new love of cardboard.

In either case, the holiday season is up-and-coming, and it looks as though we still have months ahead of us to keep avoiding going out and socializing. So this year’s gift guide is not necessarily about the latest hotness, but about games you can appreciate while stuck at home with family.

We are Amazon Associates so if you click any of the Amazon links and buy something, you’ll be helping to support our site. Or, even better, you could find a local gaming store near you and look for the same products. They can often order games they don’t have in stock, and you’ll be supporting local businesses!

Here’s a few links to previous gift guides, but there may be some more overlap than usual this year.

2019 | 2018 | 2017 | 2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013 | 2012 | 2011

Marvel: Champions | Amazon | Review

Superheroes are a hot topic these days, and Marvel Champions is fairly accessible for being a Living Card Game. Okay, you might not want to throw this one at Grandma and Grandpa who just want another round of Rummy-Kub.

The advantages of this game are many; it scales well from 1 to 4 players (although playing with the full 4 can make for a longer game, be advised), the core box comes with enough heroes and adversaries to make for plenty of replay value before you even get into the expansions, and the artwork is bright and colorful.

It’s a fantastic game to kill lots of time whether you’re alone or stuck with a group at home, and a large supply of expansion decks make for good stocking stuffers.

The Crew | Amazon

The Crew is a game that I never thought I would like, because it is a trick-taking game. You know the sort – everyone plays a card, highest card wins in the leading suit. I generally dislike them, I’m no good at them, and The Crew is 100% a pure trick-taking game so there’s no reason for me to like it.

Except… I do like it. It’s brilliant twist is that you are cooperating with everyone, and the goal is not to win the most tricks but to help specific players win specific cards.

I’m still terrible at trick-taking games, including the Crew. But while competitive trick-takers leave me feeling out of my depth, in this game I feel out of my depth with everyone else at the table. We’re all struggling to accomplish these simple but challenging goals. We fail together, and we fail a lot. But we get back up and try again. Each time we learn a little bit more on how to play better.

This game keeps from getting stale by containing a logbook of 50 “Missions” each with varying goals. That’s what makes it perfect for lockdown – you can play again and again without feeling like your doing the exact same thing over and over. Each mission is a new challenge that feels very rewarding when you finally accomplish it.

Worth noting it is a 3-5 player game, with a 2-player variant. The more players you have, the more challenging the game is.

My City | Amazon

So you’re stuck in social isolation with the same group of people for months anyway; why not try a Legacy game?

If you aren’t already aware, Legacy games are a relatively new type of board game in which players will add stickers, draw on the components, and even rip up cards with each game they play. The end result is a game unique to the players who create it step by step.

Many Legacy games have pushed toward the more complex side of the scale, but My City aims (and succeeds) to be a family friendly legacy game with easy-to-learn rules and simple gameplay. I’d put it on the level of Ticket to Ride.

In My City, players compete to place building tiles the most efficiently in the space available, while trying to leave trees visible and cover up rocks and empty spaces. However, over the course of 8 chapters each containing 3 episodes, new rules are added, new buildings join the mix, stickers add new things or cover up old ones, and more opportunities for scoring points arise. It happens gradually, but by the 12th episode you’re playing something completely different than when you started.

It’s a bit more “on the rails” than other legacy games, but it’s a great introduction to Legacy games and it is very accessible to most kinds of players. Also, players are given boons when they lose and disadvantages when they win, a self-balancing mechanism which helps to ensure that all the participants have a chance of winning regardless of skill level.

The game is best played with the same group of 4 through the whole campaign.

Pandemic Legacy | Amazon | Review

Once you’ve finished with My City, Pandemic Legacy is the next step up. There are now 3 seasons of Pandemic Legacy available, with the brand new Season 0 having just come out. Starting with Season 1 you can play regular games of Pandemic if you’re not used to the game yet; whenever you’re ready, you can jump into the campaign with introduces layers of new challenges, long-term goals, stickers to place on the board and on your character sheets, and more. It’s an exciting and thrilling way to play through Pandemic like it’s a season of a TV show, which lets you make your own decisions and craft your own world as you go. Again, best with the same group of 2 to 4 people every time.

EXIT: The Game | Amazon | Review

Each EXIT game is one-time-use, but there are a huge variety of adventures to choose from. Essentially an escape room in a box, EXIT gives you 90 minutes to puzzle together clues, rip up cards and rules booklets, and make your way through the given scenario to achieve victory. Not every puzzle is at the same level, but with few exceptions the challenges are fair but tough to solve. You can play with as many people as you like, just be aware that it can be hard to share the cards and papers with everyone so if you have more than 4 some players may be temporarily left out.

Junk Art | Amazon | Review

Sometimes you just need something that’s more like a toy than a game, but that still has rules and structure. Junk Art provides a goofy, entertaining, tactile experience. For the most part the game involves stacking different oddly-shaped pieces on top of each other to build the highest tower; however, different challenges for players to approach how they actually build. Sometimes you’ll draft cards to choose which object to add; sometimes you’ll choose for another player. Sometimes you’ll build a few pieces, then rotate to another tower and build from there.

It’s lighthearted, it encourages creativity and laughter, it’s colorful, and it’s a good way to spend an hour or two with family or friends.

Star Wars: Rebellion | Amazon

If you’re looking for something with more complexity, if you’re into Star Wars, and if you only have 2 players, you’ve come to the right place. While there are plenty of hours-long games out there to kill some quarantine time, I personally have been enjoying time spent with Star Wars Rebellion and a friend lately.

Each player is essentially playing a different game on the board, using similar mechanics. The Empire builds a massive fleet to seek out and destroy the Rebel base, engaging in conflict as often as possible to wipe out rebel ships and quell any thought of resistance. Meanwhile, the Rebellion focuses heavily on missions; sabotaging enemy strongholds, inspiring populations to rise up, and seeking out small victories wherever possible in order to gain enough support to overthrow the evil grip of the Emperor. It’s a tense game of cat-and-mouse, leaving both players sweating to achieve their goals before the other.

Pictures | Amazon | Review

For a chance to scratch your artistic itch, try Pictures. This is a casual game, almost a party game, for up to 5 players. Photos are dealt to the center of the table and players are tasked with representing one of those photos using a specific medium: sticks and stones, blocks, string, colorful cubes, or icons. Earn points both by guessing what other players were trying to represent and when others guess which photo was yours.

It’s a clever game that allows anyone to participate by giving no one enough material to work with. Think abstractly, think outside the box, think simply; anyone can be an artist with Pictures.

Any other recommendations for games that make good gifts during a Pandemic? Sound off in the comments below!

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Ruel’s Rundown, September 23, 2020: Three Games I’ve Enjoyed Wed, 23 Sep 2020 10:00:11 +0000 Welcome to Ruel’s Rundown, a bi-weekly series where I share my initial impressions and thoughts on three board games I’ve enjoyed recently. While many of us are getting our gaming via Tabletop Simulator, Tabletopia, Board Game Arena, and other sites these days, I’m focusing on gaming of the cardboard-only variety.

And since in-person game nights are on pause these days, I’ll recommend at least one game that offers solo play and another that’s playable via Zoom or Skype such as the ones mentioned on sites like Here are my three latest recommendations.


This is one of my all-time favorites of the roll-and-write (or, more specifically, flip-and-fill) genre. Cartographers is set in the same fantasy universe of Roll Player, but here you’re mapping out the queen’s territory. Four random scoring objectives are chosen at the start of the game and two are scored during each of the four rounds. During a round, explore cards are revealed one at a time, each with a Tetris shape and a terrain (and sometimes a choice for either or both). You’ll fill these into your map scoresheet, hoping to complete the public objectives before the round is over. If an ambush card shows up, however, you’ll pass your sheet to an opponent, who then draws in one or more monsters. These are worth negative points at the end of the round, unless you can surround the monsters with terrain. 

I love Cartographers’ player interaction, which isn’t what you normally expect in a flip-and-fill game. I was surprised by the amount of brain burn that this puzzle offers as you try to score the different objectives; since you know which objectives will score each round you’re constantly trying to fill in your map to score points now and setting yourself for the later objectives. Not only is the solo variant easy to implement, it’s also a solid challenge; the rules have a simple method of determining any monsters you may get written on your score sheet. Like other flip-and-fills, you can easily play Cartographers on Zoom or Skype, as long as one player has a copy of the game and everyone else has graph paper or a downloadable score sheet

Thanks to Thunderworks Games for the copy of Cartographers. Order here:

Tricky Tides

My friend Jeff taught me Tricky Tides last year at Strategicon and I was immediately impressed by its mash-up of trick-taking and pick-up-and-deliver mechanisms. You and your opponents are sailing merchant ships, collecting goods, delivering them to fulfill point-scoring contracts. After being dealt a hand of movement cards, you’ll play one and your opponents must follow its suit. Whoever’s played the highest of the led suit gets to move first. The higher the card, the more directions you can move to an adjacent island; the lower the card, the fewer directions you can move.

I like adding in the monsters variant, which allows the player who played the lowest of the led suit to move one of four monsters (shark, octopus, sea dragon, and whale). These can help you or hurt your opponent, and it’s an easy addition to the game that adds a bit more strategy by giving you another decision to make when you lose a trick. This is terrific game, especially for gamers who don’t like trick-taking games. The mechanism here works as a small yet integral part of Tricky Tides, making it a familiar yet fresh seafaring game. 

Thanks to Gold Seal Games for the copy of Tricky Tides. Order here:

Unmatched: Cobble & Fog

With the introduction of the Unmatched: Battle of Legends last year, the former Star Wars: Epic Duels system was revived and rethemed into this ongoing series of one-on-one battle game. It’s an absolute blast to play and before the world stopped back in March due to COVID-19, this hit the table frequently on game night, usually as a filler for the earliest arrivals. The base game featured characters Sinbad, Medusa, King Arthur, and Alice of Wonderland fame duking it out. While I’ve never wondered who would win in a fight between Sinbad and Alice, after playing Unmatched the first time, I wanted all of the expansions to see who I could pit against one another. The characters each play differently and thematically, and set up is minimal: choose a character, grab their deck, mini, and additional tokens for their sidekick, if any, and you’re good to go. 

On your turn, perform two of three actions: maneuver on the game board (and draw a card), scheme (resolving its immediate effect), or attack. Combat is extremely simple, but due to the hand management aspect of the game, features some interesting decisions. Since you don’t automatically draw cards after each turn, you’ll have to decide when to leave yourself vulnerable to an attack by emptying out your hand of cards. Some of your cards may boost your other abilities, depending on character, For combat, you and your opponent play a card (your opponent may opt not to play a card; ah, hand management decision time!) and the attacker causes damage equal to their card minus the defender’s. The last player standing wins. 

The Cobble & Fog standalone expansion features Dracula, Jekyll & Hyde, Sherlock Holmes and the Invisible Man; once again the characters surprised me by how fun they are to put into combat. Sherlock Holmes, of course, is joined by Watson, while Dr. Jekyll can switch to his other persona. The game board also features secret passages so you bring other expansion characters into this unique arena. If you’re primarily playing with one other person these days, any of the Unmatched games is an outstanding choice for a tactical combat game that only takes 20-40 minutes to play. 

Thanks to Restoration Games for the copy of Unmatched: Cobble & Fog. Order here: 

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Review: The Liberation of Rietburg Thu, 17 Sep 2020 10:00:00 +0000 Set in the world of Andor (as first introduced in the game Legends of Andor), the Liberation of Rietburg hones in on a specific event from the story of the original game. Rietburg Castle is being overrun with enemies, and our heroes (the four from Legends of Andor plus two new ones) must fight off these monsters while completing four tasks. Completing these tasks fulfills and ancient prophecy, but it must be completed before the dragon Tarok reaches Rietburg in order to exact his revenge and destroy the castle.

How It Plays

In Liberation of Rietberg, players must complete 4 tasks to fulfill prophecy and eventually defeat the dragon Tarok (but not in this game). However, the exact tasks required are not known at the start of the game. Instead, players will have to reveal tasks by clearing each of the 6 locations on the board of monsters.

Players take their turns by playing a card from their hand. To start, players have unique hands corresponding to their chosen hero, and each card offers a choice of 3 ways to play; essentially, you resolve the effect of the chosen icons. Eventually you can gain items (one time use cards) or ally cards which have more specific abilities.

Icons allow you to attack face-up monsters in your location, or move, or flip over face-down cards, or gain willpower tokens (which let you boost your combat). Each hero has some actions unique to them, including destroying face down cards, summoning a water-spirit to aide in combat, or attacking monsters at a different location.

Moving and flipping cards are nice, but combat is where Things Happen. When you play a card to attack, you generally have a simple combat value; if it exceeds the targeted monster’s attack value, you kill the monster and collect its card as a reward. Sometimes you gain other rewards, such as destroying face-down cards, earning money, or gaining ally cards.

You can boost your value by spending Willpower tokens, by using certain item or ally cards, or most commonly by teaming up with other heroes in the same location. Any other heroes who want to join in have to play a card from their hand with a combat icon on it.

Instead of playing a card on their turn, a player can instead take all of their played hero and ally cards back into their hand. When they do so, however, they must also resolve a Narrator card, which adds new enemies onto the board.

Again, players must clear a location of monsters in order to reveal the task at the location. These require players to meet certain conditions (such as clearing multiple locations, or trading in certain defeated monster cards) or defeating a powerful enemy in order to claim them. There are 6 locations and thus 6 possible tasks, but players need only accomplish 4 of the tasks to claim victory.

As the Prophecy Foretold…

If you’ve played the original Legends of Andor, you may expect (correctly) that the combat in this spinoff isn’t particularly flashy or exciting. Andor was never about bombastic heroes roaming around slaying monsters with aplomb. While each hero did (and does) have unique abilities and dice were involved, Legends of Andor rewarded calm, deliberate planning, thinking ahead, building up resources, and tackling enemies in a calculated, almost puzzle-like way.

And my axe!

As in Legends, Liberation gameplay is less about fighting big scary monsters with a big shiny sword, and more about solving the puzzle of how to complete four tasks in limited time.

There’s nothing particularly wrong with that. The game itself has no broken mechanisms, nothing that brings the game to a grinding halt. It plays in a reasonable duration of time, matching the advertised 40 minutes – possibly even less. You have short term responsibilities – fighting off an endless stream of monsters – balanced against the long term goal of completing 4 dangerous tasks.

Yet as I was playing, there was nothing that really sucked me into the game. Nothing really engaged me, either with the story or the mechanisms. When it was over, it wasn’t that I hated the journey… I just fell no call to return to it.

She got spells and she knows how to use them

The advantage that Legends of Andor has over this game is an actual story. Events lead one to another in that game, resulting in narrative that makes sense while allowing players to play through the game without feeling railroaded. That made it easier to get into the story, and more exciting to find out what happened next.

Here there’s a “story” with an attempt at being loose and open-ended so you can play the game repeatedly without experiencing the exact narrative again and again. This falls flat, however, since the flavor text jars with what’s actually on the board.

“You hear a noise in the dungeon,” a card reads. “What could it be?” (I paraphrase but…)

Things are Happening

An intriguing sentiment… except that you look at the board and see the dungeon already has a stack of cards on it including a face-up monster. So much for intrigue. It would have been more immersive to just leave off flavor text entirely.

It also does not help the game that all six locations are identical. There are no special attributes or functions, and you can move directly from any given location to any other given location.

Even the whole “prophesy” setup feels weak, given that you can freely choose which of the tasks you’re going to complete, and there’s no deduction involved in sorting out which tasks will help fulfill the prophecy.

The point I’m trying to make is that the theme just has too many holes to serve as an engaging part of the game.

Water spirits!

That leaves the mechanics, and like I said there’s nothing particularly wrong here. It just doesn’t quite hit. There’s always something to do, and players have choices as far as what thing to tackle next, but none of it feels particularly interesting to me.

I think what it is, is that the short term problems are not really a threat. In that sense, there aren’t really any short term problems. You can leave a given stack to pile up with monsters and never have to worry about consequences. Thus, the game lacks tension. It fails to make decisions feel meaningful. Sure, you can choose to tackle stack 2 or stack 5 of monsters, but the differences are slight, and you never have to choose between dealing with short term problems that could end the game and long-term goals you need to win.

I can remember only one time when a newly dealt monster card forced us to re-think our strategy for the next turn, when that should be happening almost every time.

I’d say this is a game for Andor fans, but honestly it doesn’t seem to add much to the Andor experience, or deepen the lore in any way.

Why is the ballista in the gatehouse?

And again… it’s not a bad game. I don’t hate it. But with thousands of games releasing each year, a game has to do more than “not bad” to keep my attention or earn a recommendation.

There are better puzzle-y games out there. Better castle defense games. It doesn’t deepen the lore of the Andor universe. I suppose if you absolutely love Andor but want a quicker, more portable game featuring your favorite heroes from that game, this might be worth adding to your shelf. Other than that? I don’t see the point.

iSlaytheDragon would like to thank Thames&Kosmos for providing a review copy of The Liberation of Rietburg.

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Ruel’s Rundown, September 9, 2020: Three Games I’ve Enjoyed Wed, 09 Sep 2020 10:00:56 +0000 Welcome to Ruel’s Rundown, a bi-weekly series where I share my initial impressions and thoughts on three board games I’ve enjoyed recently. While many of us are getting our gaming via Tabletop Simulator, Tabletopia, Board Game Arena, and other sites these days, I’m focusing on gaming of the cardboard-only variety. And since game nights are much different now, I’m including at least one game with solo rules and one game that can be played over Zoom or Skype. 


This re-themed and re-worked version of SPQF took the clever yet clunky original and transformed it into a streamlined and sublime deck-building experience. The theme is adorable: you and your opponents are kids building the best forts possible while collecting pizza and toys. All of the cards are friends who you’re trying to get to hang out with you. Fort flips the script on most deck builders: you draw five cards, but only get to play one of them and there’s no currency or combat values to calculate. If you have matching suits on your other cards, you may play those to boost your action, but your opponents may follow the suit, too. Any cards left unused in your hand don’t go into your discard pile, though; these go to your yard, where they can be taken by your opponents. It’s always an interesting choice you make each turn and as you improve your fort you’ll earn victory points. Making friends with the kids in the neighborhood was never this much fun.

Full disclosure: Leder Games sponsored my Twitch channel during the launch of Fort and provided me a copy of the game. Order here: 

Fantastic Factories

There are plenty of fun gateway engine builder games, from Splendor to Gizmos, but my favorite is Fantastic Factories. You’re in a race to construct 10 buildings or produce 12 goods. Each turn is divided into two phases: market and work. During the market phase you’ll choose a blueprint or a contractor. Contractors can give you additional resources or dice during the work phase, which is when you’ll roll dice in an attempt to turn your blueprints into buildings. These buildings give you victory points and additional ongoing abilities. It’s a neatly designed engine builder with dice placement that never outstays its welcome and there are plenty of ways to synergize your buildings. In the included solo game you go up against an AI called The Machine. You’ll play normally while using dice to determine The Machine’s actions during both phases. It’ll collect cards and produce a good any time a die is equal to or lower than the corresponding cards in its compound, which means its engine will become more efficient as the game progresses for more fun games to try, bankin bacon jackpot king is a must on my list. It’s a solid solo experience that can be scaled up or down in difficulty, which means I have a decent shot at a win any time it hits the table (hello, easy mode). 

Thanks to Deep Water Games for the copy of Fantastic Factories. Order here: 


Medium was an insta-hit with my family, thanks to its simple rules and engaging play. You’re all psychic mediums trying to read each others’ minds based on cards with a single word on them. Players have a set of cards and on their turn they’ll match up with one other player. First player plays a card, then their partner plays a card. They count to three and then simultaneously say the word that they believe ties the cards together. So, if I played “refrigerator,” then perhaps you would play “Antartica.” What is the connection between these words? We count to three and if we both say “ice” then we’re each awarded points. If we say two different words, then we’ll attempt again for fewer points, but this time using our guesses instead of the original words on the cards. Draw cards to refill your hand and play until three crystal ball cards are revealed. Reveal the point tokens you’ve accumulated and the most points wins. Medium is an outstanding party game that has plenty of magical mind-meld moments. Best of all, it’s easily adaptable to Zoom or Skype, with one player handling the cards and setting up each partnership with words. 

Thanks to Greater Than Games for the copy of Medium. Order here: 

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Ruel’s Rundown, August 27, 2020: Three Games I’ve Enjoyed Thu, 27 Aug 2020 10:00:00 +0000 In this bi-weekly series I’m offering initial impressions and thoughts on three board games I’ve enjoyed recently. While many of us are getting our gaming via Tabletop Simulator, Tabletopia, Board Game Arena, and other sites during the Quarantimes, I’m focusing on gaming of the cardboard-only variety. And since game nights are much different now, I’m including at least one game with solo rules and one game that can be played over Zoom or Skype. 

5er Finden

HABA consistently produces family and kid-friendly games that gamers enjoy. I love both Rhino Heroes and Animal Upon Animal, and I was pleasantly surprised by Honga, a family-weight worker placement game. Now comes 5er Finden, the first HABA roll-and-write game I’ve played (although I did play HABA’s wonderful roll-and-color game, Color It! recently; it’s for younger gamers, but a relaxing way to spend 15 minutes for all kinds of gamers). 

In 5er Finden you roll dice featuring different symbols. You’re trying to find these five symbols on your player board in various tetrominos (Tetris shapes). You may find up to five of these shapes during a round and when you do, you turn over a 30-second timer, which is the remaining time left for your opponents (you are allowed to turn over the timer before finding five shapes). Whoever turns over this timer cannot use the time to find anymore shapes, but they do get one bonus point. Depending on the shapes you find, you’ll get various points. Erase your board and do it again for a total of five rounds and the most points wins. There’s also a puzzle mode where you don’t erase your board and find shapes one at a time until you cannot place anymore. I haven’t played this mode yet, but since it can be played solo I’ll be adding this to my solitaire repertoire when my family isn’t available to game. 

After my family and I livestreamed 5er Finden on Twitch, we played it a few more times the next night. Lately that’s been my barometer for family game night: if we livestream something and we play it again off air, that’s a sign of a keeper. 5er Finden is one of our keepers. 

Thanks to HABA for the copy of 5er Finden. Order here:


Earlier this year, thanks to my friends Edward and Sasha of GameSchoolCon, I learned all about the awesomeness of Crokinole. I’d heard nothing but good things about this 150-year-old game, but never understood its appeal. It’s a fairly plain-looking circular board, with two inner circles marked off, and a hole in the middle. There are also pegs on the inner circle. 

Game play is simple, as you and your opponent take turns flicking checker-like discs on the board. If your opponent has no discs on board, you shoot for the middle; you must land in the inner circle or else your disc is removed. If your disc goes into the center hole, then you remove it and will score 20 points at the end of the round. Otherwise, if your opponent has at least one of their discs on board, you must strike that disc on your shot. Do so and you’re good. Fail to hit the opponent and you must remove your disc. After a dozen shots each the round ends and you’ll get points depending on where your discs are: 15 points each in the inner circle, 10 points each for the middle circle, and 5 points each for the outer circle, along with any 20-pointers you knocked in. You and your opponent compare scores and the higher score gets the difference. So, if Michelle’s discs totalled 40 points and Lauren’s discs totalled 25 points in the round, then Michelle will score 15 points for the round. Clear the board and play more rounds until one player scores 100 points. 

Easy, right? Oh, but it is SO much more. Simply put, it’s the best dexterity game I’ve ever played. It reminds me of a desktop version of shuffleboard, but infinitely better. Rounds and games go by quickly and it’s instantly addicting; once you’ve shot your first Crokinole disc, you’ll want to keep coming back for more. There’s plenty of strategy, too. At first you’ll want to just flick discs as hard as you can, hoping to take out your opponents. You’ll soon learn how to use a bit more touch and subtlety. Sure, you want to knock your opponent’s pieces off the board, but you can also use their pieces as bumpers as you hit them and ricochet toward the 20-point hole. And speaking of bumpers, the pegs surrounding the inner circle act give it a pinball-like feel as discs fly off of them and into each other or off the board. 

The only caveat to playing Crokinole? The actual game board is not cheap and a quick Google search will reveal prices that start at $150 before shipping and taxes. Thankfully, an affordable option exists: Mayday Games runs an annual Crokinole board Kickstarter and their board is only $99. I backed it at the start of summer and have already played a dozen games on it. It’s an excellent board at this price point and if you’ve ever been curious about Crokinole, this is the best way to get into it. And just in case you missed my earlier declaration: Crokinole is the greatest dexterity game I’ve ever played. Don’t believe me? Maybe this guy can convince you. 

On September 1, 2020, you can pre-order Mayday Games’ Crokinole board in time for Christmas. More info here:

Herd Mentality

Herd Mentality seems like a game that was made for the COVID-19 Era: it’s a party game for 4-20 players that’s easy to learn, doesn’t out-stay its welcome, and can be played over Zoom or Skype with no extra copies of the game are needed. This is a race to eight cow tokens (points) and you’re trying to think like the herd. One player will draw a card and read it out loud, then everybody will write down their answers. Here’s an example that I’m making up and have no idea if it’s actually in the game: What is the best Star Wars movie? The answer doesn’t matter, but let’s say six players of a nine-player game write down “The Empire Strikes Back.” Not only have they written the best answer ever, but they are in the majority and each player scores one cow token. Let’s say two players wrote down “The Force Awakens.” They would score nothing. And finally one lone player wrote down the incredibly wrong answer, “The Phantom Menace.” Since they’re the odd one out, they score nothing and they receive the dreaded Pink Cow. The Pink Cow means you cannot win the game. Thankfully, it’s not permanent; once another player finds themselves as the odd one out, they’ll take the Pink Cow. The first to eight cow tokens wins the game. 

This game is all kinds of silly fun, which is what we can all use more of during 2020. What I love is how this game will play with different groups; if I’m playing with friends of my generation, I’m definitely writing down “The Empire Strikes Back” for the Star Wars question. But if I’m playing with my nephew and nieces, I may write down “The Force Awakens” or even a Star Wars LEGO movie. Thankfully, with video conferencing software I can enjoy it virtually with them as we continue to practice physical distancing.  

Thanks to Big Potato Games for the copy of Herd Mentality. Order here:

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Review: Pictures Wed, 19 Aug 2020 10:00:00 +0000

“Everyone has an artist in them; they just need to find the right tools” – some famous artist, probably.

It’s time to unleash your inner artist. Think you don’t have one? Maybe it’s time to give Pictures a try.

How it Plays

Pictures is a game about recreating photos with creativity and limited resources. The goal is to win points by using the odds and ends included in the box to clue in other players to a specific photo on the table. You also earn points by guessing correctly what other players are trying to represent.

Included in the box are five unique mediums with which to create art; pixels, strings, blocks, icons, and literal sticks and stones. Each round you are tasked with using one of these mediums to represent one of the 16 photos on the table, assigned to you by a random draw.

All players work on their art at the same time; when complete, they attempt to guess which photos the other players are recreating. You get a point for each guess you get correct, and additional points for each person who gets yours correct.

The game lasts 5 rounds, at which point each player will have utilized each of the five mediums once; tally up the points, and the player who has the most is the winner.

Every artist was first an amateur

Restrictions are the birthplace of creativity, and Pictures seems out to prove that claim with its simple and delightful gameplay. As this game shows, anyone can make art.

Is it a train or a skyline with a bridge in the distance?

I wasn’t so sure, when I first put the game on the table for my family. I wondered if there would be frustration, or if some players would turn away or feel discouraged at their own limitations. What I found instead was a fairly brilliant pile of doodads with just enough freedom to keep things interesting and just enough structure to keep the game moving along.

The tools available strike a near-perfect balance between too much and too little. There’s just enough to work with, no matter which medium you’re on for this round, to be able to come up with something. But there isn’t so much to work with that someone would get overwhelmed with the options available, or to allow a skilled artist to exceed everyone dramatically.

It’s an X-wing! or a street intersection!

What you are given forces you to look at your photo and break it down mentally into its basic elements, and your medium gives you a solid clue for where to start. Sticks and stones? Look for lines, circles, and spheres to highlight. Cubes? Look at the picture in terms of a 3×3 grid and figure out which color fills each spot. Boom! You’ve created pixel art.

The sticks and stones, string, and blocks have no restrictions whatsoever on how you use them; arrange them any way, any how. Use all of them or don’t. Each one includes a token to place to ensure the viewer orients themselves correctly.

It’s a frog on a bump on a log in a hole at the bottom of the sea!

The cubes have one limitation beyond the number of physical components; a frame is included that allows space for a 3×3 grid of cubes, and you have to fill the grid, no more, no less. Fortunately, as I mentioned above, this works really well and makes it easier for anyone to break down their photo and choose cubes.

The most challenging of the mediums is the icon cards. You’re required to use 2-5 cards, but the icons are the least abstract of all your tools. The other mediums are purely abstract, but each icon conveys a more specific meaning. In a way it feels like some basic concepts are missing; you get a bird, a shark, and a snail, which may make it extra difficult to represent a land animal like a dog or horse. You get fire, but not water. No indicators of size or direction. Yet, for some reason they included a poop icon.

Time heals all wounds? Early bird gets.. uh… struck by lightning and set on fire?

Maybe others won’t have the same complaints, but I have noticed that players typically struggle more with the icon cards, and it is the most common medium that players guess wrongly about.

Other than that, this game has a lot of clever elements that keep it running smoothly. The same 16 cards are kept out the whole game, allowing players to get used to their options rather than getting hit with a brand new set of photos each round.

It’s a meteorite crashing to earth! Or possibly a monkey hanging from a tree!

I like that everyone gets points for doing their best. Games like Dixit, where you’re trying to give clues that only work for some players but not all, lend themselves to inside jokes. Pictures wants you to make your best art that everyone can guess; it’s a more positive experience, encourages players to cheer each other on, and remains challenging thanks to the limitations of each medium. It’s also great that you have to use each medium during the game, so you can’t just lean on a favorite. And you can’t just steal an idea from a player who previously represented the same photo with the same medium; you have to come up with something new.

Can ya guess?

Over all, Pictures is a lighthearted game for some casual family fun. It sparks creativity in just about anyone, and simultaneous play keeps everyone engaged. While a competitive game, it fosters a spirit of camaraderie and positivity, and I think will generally leave all players involved feeling like they had a good time by the end.

Now, see if you can figure out which photos in the picture above go with each of my clues!

iSlaytheDragon would like to thank Rio Grande Games for providing a review copy of Pictures.

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Ruel’s Rundown: Three Games I’ve Enjoyed Recently Wed, 12 Aug 2020 10:00:00 +0000 Hi friends! I hope you’re staying safe and getting the chance to play board games these days or maybe other games such as totogacor. While our new reality has rendered public gaming meetups obsolete, I’ve been fortunate to continue gaming with my family and friends, thanks to the wonders of technology. 

I recently wrote about my experiences becoming a regular board game livestreamer with my family.  We’ve livestreamed over 100 different board games this year and in this new column I’ll be sharing a few of the games I’ve enjoyed recently. These may be old or new games, but I’ll include at least one game that has solo rules and one game that can be played over Zoom or Skype. 

Of course, many of us have turned to Board Game Arena, Tabletopia, and Tabletop Simulator for our gaming needs during the Quarantimes. For this column, though, I’m focusing on gaming of the cardboard-only variety. So, without further ado, here are three games I’ve enjoyed recently.

The Search for Planet X

If I had to pick a board game genre as my least favorite, it would be deduction, which is where The Search for Planet X falls. For whatever reason, my brain doesn’t work this way. Give me dice and I can give you a rough estimate of how likely I’ll roll a certain result. Or let me shuffle a deck of cards and I’ll give you the odds of a certain suit being drawn. But put me in the middle of a deduction game and I instantly morph into Inspector Clouseau, stumbling and bumbling around, trying to figure out what the heck is going on. 

And yet The Search for Planet X has been one of my favorite gaming experiences of this year, with one caveat: I much prefer it as a solo game, where I can take my time and hone my sleuthing skills without the pressure of other players. I know my limitations as a gamer, but that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy something I’m so bad at.

In The Search for Planet X up to four players attempt to find the hidden planet. Each turn you’ll survey sections of the sky, using an app that will reveal information to you or the rest of the players. You can target certain sectors and even submit point-scoring theories about what’s in a sector. It’s a race to deduce the location of Planet X, but even if you don’t find it first, you can still win the game with correct theories. Sound like your type of space jam? Check out my article in Game Trade Magazine for a more detailed overview or watch how terrible I am playing it with the Renegade crew here

Thanks to Renegade Game Studios for a copy of the game. Order here: 


I love how Shobu feels like a game that’s been around for a long time, thanks to its bare-bones production (four wooden boards, 20 stone pieces per player, and a piece of rope), simple ruleset, and deceptively strategic play.

The object of the game is to push all of your opponent’s stones off any one board. There are four 5×5 game boards, each with five stones for each player, and a rope divides the boards so each player has two “home” boards. Each turn consists of two moves: first, perform your passive move, in which you move one of your stones on either of your home boards up to two spaces in any direction. You cannot push or jump over any other stone. Second, perform your aggressive move, in which you perform the exact same move on a different colored board AND you may push your opponent’s stone.

A game lasts about 20 minutes and, best of all, Shobu is open information so you can easily play this online via Zoom or Skype.

Thanks to Smirk & Laughter for the copy of the game. Order here:


This is the second drawing game from Eric Slauson that I’ve enjoyed and like his previous game, Tattoo Stories, the rules are simple and it’s an absolute blast to play.

In MonsDRAWsity, one active player is the Witness while the remaining players (the game is for 3-8 players) are the artists. The Witness draws an anomaly (aka monster) card and studies it for 20 seconds, then they have two minutes to describe what they saw from memory to the artists. During the two-minute drawing period, the Witness may answer questions, but can’t look at what the artists are drawing.

Artists then reveal their drawings simultaneously and the Witness secretly chooses the drawing they believe is the closest to what they remember seeing. Next, the Witness reveals the anomaly. All artists then vote on which drawing they believe is the closest (and they can’t vote for themselves). Whoever gets the most votes gets a point (friendly ties). Play moves on to the next player.

On a recent episode of The Five By podcast I talked about playing the party game Telestrations: Upside Drawn via the Internet. MonsDRAWsity falls into this new game genre I just made up: Party Games That Can Be Played Over The Internet During A Pandemic. You can easily play MonsDRAWsity via Zoom or Skype, as long as one player has a copy of the game. My family and I played the game on Twitch with our audience giving us the clues. You can check out the hilarious results over here

Thanks to Deep Water Games for the prototype of MonsDRAWsity. Tentative release date is late October 2020. Pre-order MonsDRAWsity + Cute Expansion here:

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