A Society of Scoundrels

Scoundrel Societypic2532368 is a 3-5 player card game that takes about 45 minutes to play. It’s published by the guys over at Action Phase Games and designed by Travis R. Chance and Nick Little.

When Travis contacted me to see if I’d play his little game, I agreed. I usually love me some simultaneous action selection, and the mix of outthinking your opponent made it sound like something I’d really enjoy.

Thematically, we’re all well-known con artists with nothing better to do with our time than steal from each other. I’m not an expert con artist by any means, but I’ve heard some sage advice about what to do if you’re gonna play the game:

  1. Know when to hold ’em.
  2. Know when to fold ’em.
  3. Know when to walk away.
  4. Know when to run.

That might be related to gambling and not conning, but I feel like the two are pretty similar. Anyway. Let’s talk about Scoundrel Society.

Objective

item - historical03Steal the most loot least suspiciously.

You see, loot has various amounts of suspicion attached to them. Some loot is worth zero suspicion because it’s not very sexy. For example, no one wants your childhood toy; however, lots of people would like to get their hands on the Hope Diamond.

In other words, you want to steal the most valuable loot with the least amount of total suspicion. What happens to the person who’s been stealing with reckless abandon? He’s eliminated from the game.

How to Play

Components

The base game comes with all this stuff:

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Setup

At the beginning of the game, the 60 Loot Cards are shuffled together. Constable Cramphorn is shuffled into the bottom 10 cards of the deck.

Create a center row of Loot Cards with a total of one more than the total number of players, i.e., if there are four players, place five Loot Cards in the center row.

A Mark Card, which provides a sort of end-game goal, is randomly chosen and placed in the middle of the table somewhere.

Everybody gets a Scoundrel card and a Copper Coin. The Scoundrel card gives each player unique abilities, and the the Copper Coin serves as starting loot.

Each player will receive the same five cards: Scheme, Store, Sneak, Snatch, and Switch.

Action Cards
Action Cards

The first player is randomly chosen. It seems to me that the person who can least suspiciously steal something from someone else in the room should go first, but this is why I don’t design games.

Gameplay

The game is played until Constable Cramphorn is drawn from the deck. Then, the game ends immediately. So, the game will go for as many rounds as it takes for that to happen and will follow this sequence:

  1. Refill the row. Refill the row to have the requisite one plus the number of players. If it’s full, don’t add to the row.
  2. Choose actions. Secretly choose the action you want to play that round. Note: Action cards have two actions: the gold (top) one and the silver (bottom) one. The gold action is typically more powerful than the silver action, so choose wisely! Oh, and this important as well: you play all actions once before you can replay any one action. You place the cards down in front of you, and played actions hang out in front of you until you’ve played all five actions.
  3. Reveal and resolve actions. If you are the only person to play a specific action that round, you get to do the gold (top) action. If more than one person plays the same action, all of them do the silver (bottom) action. You must do as much of the action as you can. Obviously, you start resolving actions with the first player.
  4. Pass the first player marker. Pass the first player marker to the left. If you played your fifth card this round, pick up all your cards. Pay attention to any actions that might trigger when you recollect your cards.

That’s it. You refill the loot. You choose your action. You hope no one else played the same card; if they did, you curse their name. You steal some loot, either from the middle or your opponents or both. You do it all again until the fuzz shows up and shuts down all the fun.

End Game

When Constable Cramphorn is added to the loot row, the game ends immediately. Players then add all their suspicion from their cards – in their stash and under their control – and any suspicion tokens they have.

If you happen to have the most suspicion, you’re eliminated and should spend some quality time reflecting on whether it was sloth or pride that got you pinched.

The remaining players politely snicker and point as the offending opponent is carted off to the clink and then add the value of the loot they have stashed and under their control. The player with the most valuable collection of treasures wins the game.

Some Important Rules

Doing Actions

When playing Action Cards, you might not be able to complete all the actions listed on the card. In this case, you must do as much of the actions listed on the card as you can. You don’t get to choose in which order you do them – if it says steal then stash, you have to steal then stash or just steal or just stash.

This is an important rule because, if misunderstood, it means you’re sitting there wasting turns because you either can’t steal or stash or whatever the action may be. Not that I missed approximately 12 turns because I let the Loot Limit rule trump the action rule, which brings me to that Loot Limit rule.

Loot Limit

You can only have three pieces of loot at a time in your player area. Some loot don’t count towards your loot limit, i.e., the Copper Coin, but most loot does. If you have met your loot limit, you have three pieces of loot in front of you, you are not allowed to steal anymore loot from anywhere if it would make you exceed your loot limit after you resolving the actions associated with the loot or your action.

Some Final Thoughts

I played with three players. I didn’t find there to be a lot of silver actions being done, that is to say that we were all usually able to choose unique actions. However, this does not mean that there wasn’t a lot of player interaction. In fact, there was quite a bit of interaction whether it be stealing or switching or giving suspicion tokens or force-stashing loot with a high suspicion value. All that happened, and I imagine it only happens more with more players.

I enjoyed playing the game despite my inability to read and understand rules. As I mentioned earlier, I read the Loot Limit rules to mean that you can’t take loot at all if you have three pieces of loot in front of you. Like I said earlier, this lead me to ignore the “do as much of an action as you can” rule and forced me to twiddle my thumbs as my opponents stole and stashed and stole some more. I guess I don’t know how to play the game. As I fade off into sleep, here’s an ace you can keep.


Scoundrel Society is currently on Kickstarter, and you can check it out here. You can back the base game for $19 and the deluxe version for $27. In case you’re wondering, the deluxe version comes with 10 Historic Loot Cards and upgraded wooden tokens.

 

 

Previewing Argonauts

Argonauts, designed by Lefteris Iroglidis (Persian Wars, Autokrator, Byzantio, & Gothic Invasion), Errikos Nikolaou, and Ioannis Stamatis, is a co-operative board game based on the Jason and the Argonauts mythos. Players control squads aboard the Argo and retrace Jason’s legendary quest for the Golden Fleece. Will your crew be able to navigate the seas, prosper in foreign ports, defeat monsters, and return with the Golden Fleece in hand and the Argo intact?

Interested in bringing the myth to life? Join the expedition now sailing on Kickstarter!

Components

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Game Setup

Game Setup
Four-Player Setup

How to Play

At the beginning of each turn, rations are reduced by one.

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The movement of the Argo is compulsory; it will always move forward one space. There are three types of spaces on which players can land: sea, ports, and encounters.

Movement and Movement Spaces
Movement and Movement Spaces

Movement Spaces

Sea Space: When the Argo lands on a sea space, players draw an Argo Event Card and resolve it.

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For example: If the Thunderstorm was drawn, players would roll the d12 and compare the results to chart at the bottom of the card. If the result is 1-4, the Argo takes two hull damage. If it’s 5-8, the Argo loses two crew. If it’s 9-12, the Argo loses two rations.

Port City: When the Argo lands on a port city, players refer to its corresponding card and may perform two of the actions detailed.

Port City Cards
Port City Cards
Merchant Card
Merchant Card

Several different events can happen in each city.

  • Trader: Allows players to draw a Merchant Card, which offers various goods in exchange for gold. Merchant Cards also offer equipment to put into the Argo’s cargo hold.
  • Shipyard: Repair the Argo by exhausting a Sailor and spending one material per needed repair.
  • Temple: Visiting a Temple allows players to spend money to earn Favor of the Gods tokens.
  • Healer: Heal one Argonaut for the cost of 1 gold.
  • Hearing: Players have the option to listen to the lord of a port to gain equipment. If they choose to do this action, they exhaust a Diplomat, roll a d12, and take their reward if earned.
  • Exploration: Players can explore a port by exhausting a Scout and drawing an Exploration Card. The player then resolves the card according to the challenge presented.

Legendary Encounters: When the Argo lands on a legendary encounter, players find the related card and resolve it.

Legendary Encounter Cards

Legendary Encounters can be beat in one of two ways: Might Path (fist) or the Cunning Path (foot). Players would each choose one hero to enter into the combat, either of strength or of wits. The Encounter may also have an immediate effect, a victory condition, or a defeat condition.

Hero Card Breakdown
Hero Card Breakdown

In order to meet or beat the conditions presented on the cards, players may each use one Hero for their skill, class, or special ability.

When using a Hero for his or her skills, the collective sum of their abilities will be compared to the conditions presented on the card.

When using a Hero for his class, the player may gain additional actions in ports.

When using a Hero for his special ability, do whatever the card indicates. The special abilities can be very useful, so while it might be “expensive” to exhaust them only for their ability, it is often worth it. For example, gold might be hard to come by in the game, but Echion’s ability allows him to acquire gScreen Shot 2015-06-08 at 9.17.21 AMoods for practically nothing. Nafplios’
ability reduces damage to the Argo, which could be the difference between a floating Argo and a sinking Argo.

After using a Hero in any capacity, the card is placed under the player’s Exhausted token, locking the Hero until a future turn. If there is already a Hero under the Exhausted token, that Hero is moved to Resting, and the just played Hero replaces it. Likewise, if there is a Hero in Resting, that card goes back to the player’s hand and the Exhausted Hero becomes Resting.

Hero Cards
Hero Cards

Example Legendary Encounter

Let’s say the Argonauts are fighting Talos.

The crew has the option of beating the Encounter via Might, which would require 8 Battle and 4 Stealth, or via Cunning, which would require 6 Mysticism and 4 Stealth. Given the cards in their hands, they decide to attack using their Might abilities. Hercules, Atalanta, Kastor, and Jason are all played. Their combined Battle skill totals 11 (Hercules 4, Atalanta 2, Kastor 3, and Jason 2), and their combined Stealth skill totals 6 (Hercules 1, Atlanta 3, Kastor 1, and Jason 1). As it stands, the crew easily wins the battle.

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However, they don’t have any Favor of the Gods tokens, so they have to roll 1d12 and consult the gods chart on the board.

Someone rolls a d12 and consults the chart on the game board. A 2 was rolled, and Hera watches over their battle. Unfortunately, Hero does not like Hercules, so -1 is lost from each of the skills he used during the battle, bringing his totals down to 3 Battle and 0 Stealth. Hera is a fan of Jason’s, so he gains +1 to his Battle and Stealth, giving him 3 Battle and 2 Stealth. The crew’s totals to 11 Battle and 6 Stealth, which is easily greater than the needed 8 Battle and 4 Stealth needed to beat Talos. There is no Victory condition, so the crew simply rejoices in the fact the Argo didn’t need to lose 3 Argonauts.

End Game

The game ends in one of three ways:

  1. The crew of the Argo returns to Iolkos.
  2. The hull of the Argo receives four damage.
  3. The crew of the Argo reaches zero.

A Note on Difficulty

The draft rules that will appear on the Kickstarter page are set to “difficult”. The designers plan on including two more difficult levels: easy and normal.

  • Easy: Players will begin the game with ample materials and extra Favor of the Gods tokens. Some of the more brutal events, i.e. Thunderstorm, will be removed from the game.
  • Normal: Players will begin their quest with some starting materials and a few Favor of the Gods tokens. All cards will remain in the deck.

A Note on the Art

While the art in this game is incredibly pretty, much of it is not final. So far, the final art for the following Heroes have been completed: Jason, Medea, Atalanta, Castor, Orpheas and Hercules. Likewise, the final art for Scylla and Chrybdis, the Harpies, the Dragon, Symplegades and Talos is all done.

A fun note on the draft art: The prototype files I received had stills from the Jason and the Argonauts film, which I found to be incredibly amusing. While I’d be happy to see the cheesy visuals from the movie, I am more than pleased with the artistic direction the game has taken.

A Note on Stretch Goals

Stretch goals for the campaign will include 14 new cards: 8 Heroes and 6 Events. As stretch goals, they will be included in the pledge. After the Kickstarter ends, they will be available for purchase as a mini-expansion to the base game.

A Note on Mechanics

The point-to-point movement of the game shouldn’t deter gamers. The game is more than just moving one space at a time. The movement of the ship is akin to flipping an event card at the start of a new round; it simply indicates when actions take place. Could this element just as easily been an event deck? Possibly, but it wouldn’t really feel like an expedition now would it?

The real meat of the game is in managing the Argo’s resources whether it be the Heroes or the goods. Knowing when to play a Hero for his ability v. his skill, paying attention to upcoming encounters so that valuable Heroes aren’t exhausted at a pivotal moment, and making sure to take advantage of port visits to ensure the Argo is as fully stocked as possible are all key elements to a successful voyage.

While the game doesn’t officially have a storytelling mechanic, the purposeful integration of Jason and his legendary Argonauts encourages a rich storyline and experience. While I’m not suggesting you have to immerse yourself entirely in the game, I’m suggesting the game might make it hard for you not to pretend you’re aboard the Argo, setting off for fame and glory.

Social Media

Follow the Argonauts campaign on twitter: @alcyoncreative.

Follow Argonauts on Facebook.

Join the conversation on BGG.

Space games for your pocket: Comparing Pocket Imperium and Tiny Epic Galaxies.

I love me some space games. One of my favorites is Battle Beyond Space. Players have three fleets of ships and nine cards. If they’re playing with the special action stuff, they might have an extra card or two. The point of the game: to blow up ships – hopefully your opponents’ but possibly yours too; space is only so big after all. And, all of this happens in nine, short rounds. But, yeah, I like space games. Probably because I get to make things blow up. In space.

Very recently I’ve become a fan of games that I can throw in my bag but still offer depth and choice. It would seem that micro games, which are all the rage (possibly falling out of it though now that I think about it) would be a good fit. So, a micro space game would be perfect for me right now. I can make stuff explode all from the convenience of my purse. What lady doesn’t want need that in their life?

That brings me to two space games that reportedly fit in your pocket: Pocket Imperium by David J. Mortimer and Tiny Epic Galaxies by Scott Almes. I can’t imagine they actually fit in my pocket but perhaps cargo pants or a coat or something similar, but I digress.

Pocket Imperium was recently picked up by LudiCreations and was successfully Kickstarted. Tiny Epic Galaxies was also Kickstarted this year by Gamelyn Games. The Pocket Imperium: Prosperity expansion is currently on Kickstarter, and I was talking about it with some folks I know, and the first question out of their mouth wasn’t “What does Prosperity add to it?”. Nope. It was, “How does it compare to Tiny Epic Galaxies?”

Because I have heretofore been happy in my space gaming adventures, I didn’t really think about it all. However, this question got me to thinking about how they actually compare beyond being games about space that fit in your pocket. I went back and checked out the Pocket Imperium Kickstarter page to see if this was addressed, and low and behold, people were asking about just this thing there as well. Rahdo runs through both of these games, and if you’re a fan of his as I am, you can go check out what he has to say about them. Otherwise, you can suffer through my ramblings below.

Basic Game Information

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A quick look at the basics, and the games don’t appear to be all that different. A note about player counts: When Pocket Imperium was a PnP, it was meant for 2-3 players; Tiny Epic Galaxies was originally 2-4, but during the running of the Kickstarter, it became 1-5. I don’t know what this means for the games, but according to the Geek, Pocket Imperium plays best with 3, and Tiny Epic Galaxies plays best with 4. Take that for what you will.

The next main difference is the mechanics. Pocket Imperium has double-sided modular boards and simultaneous action selection whereas Tiny Epic Galaxies has dice and planet cards. Why is this important? In Tiny Epic Galaxies, players rely on the rolling of dice to program movements. In Pocket Imperium, players simultaneously choose from one of three actions. Obviously the difference in driving mechanics will present very different experiences for people. If you prefer being able to plan on the front end, Pocket Imperium may be more your speed. If you prefer dealing with whatever comes up, Tiny Epic Galaxies might be the right choice.

Components

OK. Here is a big difference in the two games: the amount of stuff that comes with them. Oh, and in case you were wondering, the boxes are roughly the same size.

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If you need a visual, here are the component photos from the two Kickstarter campaigns.

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As you can see, there is quite a bit of difference in what’s included. Not pictured in the Pocket Imperium: Prosperity components are the 12 Prosperity cards. Otherwise, a quick glance at what’s offered should give you an idea of the experience you will have. I’m not sure at what point a game stops being a microgame and starts being a normal game that happens to be small in size. Regardless, I’m going to do a quick overview of the two games. I’ll do my best to keep it linear.

Objective & Endgame Condition

Pocket Imperium

From the rulebook: Score the most points by the end of the game!

From the rulebook: A game with 2 or 3 players ends after 6 rounds, and a game with 4 players ends after 8 rounds. After the game end (that is, after the scoring of the final round), a final scoring takes place – all 7 sectors are scored, with all systems generating points as usual, and Tri-Prime awarding 3 points to the player controlling it.

Tiny Epic Galaxies

From the rulebook: Galactic empires are competing to colonize newly discovered planets. Earn victory points by colonizing planets and increasing your galaxies’ level. Whoever has the most victory points at the end of the game wins!

From the rulebook: Once a player reaches 21 points, the end of the game is triggered. After that occurs, continue play until it gets back to the starting player (who does not take another turn). The player with the most points wins! Ties are broken first by number of planets colonized, then by level of galaxy, if still tied, total number of combined resources is the final tie breaker.

How Your Table Looks

Pocket Imperium

In Pocket Imperium, there is a central galaxy. Players each have 12 ships to place in the galaxy according to their three Command Cards. There’s likely a pile a of VP tokens around somewhere. If you’re playing with the Prosperity expansion, there will also be a Prosperity Chain of 5-7 cards depending on how many players there are. That’s it.

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Central Board and Command Cards.

Tiny Epic Galaxies

In Tiny Epic Galaxies, each player has their player board and all the bits that go on it. There is a row of Planet cards in the middle. There’s a Control Card (not pictured) that goes in the middle of the table; the seven dice are placed near this card.

View of Player Board.
View from a Player Board.

Round Overview

Pocket Imperium

Each round consists of 3 phases, with each phase being completed by all players before proceeding to the next one. The phases are:

1. Plan: Players choose the card they’re going to play.

2. Expand, Explore, Exterminate: Players reveal and execute their command cards.

3a065d7328218c4ef03457aab91ea897_original3. Exploit: Players sustain their ships (or not) and score sectors.

The Prosperity cards give players additional actions and the opportunity to claim Prosperity cards given they meet the conditions listed on the card.

A copy of the full rules is here.

A copy of the Prosperity rules is here.

Tiny Epic Galaxies

Each turn starts by activating dice. Each side of the dice represents a different action players can take:

  1. Move: Move one ship from its current planet to a different planet where it can do one of two things: land on the planet’s surface or orbit the planet and prepare to colonize.
  2. Energy: Gain energy for each ship on an energy planet.
  3. Culture: Gain culture for each ship you have on a culture planet.
  4. Diplomacy: Move one of your ships on a colonization track ending with an ! to the next space.
  5. Economy: Move one of your ships on a colonization track ending with a $ to the next space.
  6. Colony: Activating a colony dice lets players perform any one action from one of their colonized planets.

Play then passes to the next player. On another player’s turn, players may choose to “follow” an action by spending a culture, which then allows them to copy the action of a newly locked dice.

A link to the full rules for the prototype is here.

Really Just Games in Space

As you can see the games share little more than a theme and setting. The obvious difference is in the type and amount of components. The less obvious difference is the gameplay. In Pocket Imperium, players are selecting one of the three command cards each turn and competing in the same galaxy for the entire game. There’s a significant amount of player interaction that happens at both the reveal of the command cards – players may perform less of their chosen action if their neighbors played the same commands – and with the actual execution of the commands – losing control of an area and being shot out of the sky. With the added Prosperity cards, players can increase how much they are able to dominate space assuming they play their cards right. In contrast, players roll dice and decide their movements in Tiny Epic Galaxies. Also, depending on the Planet cards they control, players can mess with their opponents in various ways – moving them back on a track, stealing a ship, etc. Following a player’s locked dice action is sort of like interaction; it makes you pay attention to what the other person is doing at the very least.

To me, Pocket Imperium feels more like I’m actually engaged in the fighting and Tiny Epic Galaxies feels more like I’m controlling things from mission control somewhere. And, because I never pass up a chance to make fun of my brother who is in the Chair Force, I imagine it’s like the difference between being in the Marines and the Air Force. In one, you are directly involved in the mayhem, and in the other, you control it from afar. Talk about a digression. I did warn you.

The good news is you get to choose what you play. If you like both, play both. If not, choose the one that best suits your needs and play that one. I offer only one piece of advice when traveling through space: don’t forget your towel.

Musings on Playing Games with Aby

You may or may not be aware that, professionally, I have a background in special education. I taught English and reading to students with varying exceptionalities in a large, urban high school. From serious cognitive delays to extreme emotional disturbances, my students had a multitude of learning disabilities. Given my love for board games and the love of my students, it only made sense that I’d want to merge the two. I have periodically been aligning specific games to the Common Core to make them more “sexy” for classroom use. By sexy, I of course mean being able to link them to standards and data and all that fun stuff “the man” says demonstrates learning. I agree to an extent. It is my firm belief that board games can have an infinitely positive impact on learning. But this post isn’t about how board games can enhance the academic environment of students with disabilities. This post is about how board games can enrich the lives of people with disabilities. Let me tell you about Aby.

IMG_7274Long before I ever thought of becoming a teacher, I knew a girl named Aby. Aby was adopted by an incredibly loving woman named Flo. From the onset Aby had a multitude of problems. I can’t remember exactly what her numerous surgeries were for as a baby, but I know she had several. The doctors said she would probably never be able to talk and her cognitive delays would be significant. You see, Aby has Down syndrome, and many of her difficulties are common for people with that extra chromosome. Aby, of course, didn’t know she had Down syndrome, so she went through life being happy and feeling loved. With great care and determination, Aby learned sign language and ultimately to talk. She attended public schools and was in inclusive classes up until middle school when she transitioned into resource classes where the focus was on life skills rather than academics. She continued on through high school, graduating and going onto a program for people with disabilities. It hasn’t always been easy for her, but she has persevered and blossomed into the beautiful, gosh, 22 year old she is today.

I recently went home to Florida to visit family and friends. Much to my delight, I hosted three game nights at my parents’ house. Flo and Aby were all set to attend the first game night, but there was a school function that took precedence. Needless to say, I was bummed, but I still had a fun night with my stepmom and aunt. The next game night was with my stepmom and dad. Finally, on that third night, Flo and Aby came over for games. I was pretty stoked.

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The tentative plan for the night was fairly simple:

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We didn’t get to play all of these games, but we had a fantastic time nonetheless. There is nothing more infectious than the sound of true joy, and I got to hear it a lot that night.

First, we played Tier auf Tier, which is dexterity game by Klaus Miltenberger where players are trying to stack animals upon each other to complete secret goal cards. I have the balancing bridge version of the game, which means that players are trying to stack the animals on each other on a narrow bridge.

My stepmom initially questioned my choice because she wanted to play “real” games. Perhaps I should’ve shared that I was planning this night entirely around Aby before that point, but she quickly approved of my decision.

IMG_7278Aby was immediately drawn to the animal pieces. I explained the rules once, and she was ready to jump in. I honestly couldn’t tell you what her favorite part of the game was whether it was rolling the dice or picking the animal from a given area or stacking them on the bridge. She had a bit of difficulty understanding how the animals on the goal cards needed to touch; she kept thinking they simply needed to be on the bridge when, in fact, they needed to be continuously touching one another. Regardless, she paid attention to her goal cards before picking an animal from the box. She looked at her card, in the box, at her card again, and at the animals. She then looked at the animal in hand, her card, the animal in hand, and placed it on the bridge. Throughout the entire placement of an animal, she made a silly little nervous squealing noise. Once it was down, a “yes!” of relief. Sometimes a hand clap.  In any event, it was fairly obvious she understood the point of the game and wanted to win it.

IMG_7289No sooner had I finished packing up Tier auf Tier did Aby ask me if we could play Ka-Boom. She was so excited, I assumed she had played it before. I asked if she had, and she said, “No, it just looks like a lot of fun!” How am I supposed to turn that down? Schedule be damned!

Ka-Boom, designed by Roberto and Florence Fraga, is another dexterity game where one player is the master builder and has one minute (it might be 30 seconds) to build towers on the tiles on the table. Meanwhile, all the other players are shooting dice at the tower(s) hoping to knock them over preventing the master builder from scoring.

I explained the rules, and Aby understood them no problem. The one rule we did change for her was the building with one hand thing. Fine motor skills have always been difficult for her, and it’s not like it drastically changed the game. This might not even be a real rule, but it’s how we play it. Anyway. We also let her shoot more than three dice at a time because the fun she had while doing it was worth letting her shoot an infinite amount of dice. Spatial reasoning was her biggest issue with this game. She had difficulty placing some of the pieces. For example, she might place it on its side instead of straight up and down. A simple cue, and she fixed it. It wasn’t a huge barrier. I was delightfully surprised at how well she handled not being able to finish a tower or when one of hers got knocked over. She shrugged it off if she didn’t finish and laughed when it fell. It was great to see.

I could tell my stepmom was getting antsy at this point, so I decided to switch over to Tajemnicze Domostwo better known as us non-Polish speakers as Mysterium. Aby had played Dixit before, and IMG_7292she commented on how the art was similar to Dixit, which is how I found out she had played it before. Color me ecstatic.

Mysterium is a deduction game designed by Oleksandr Nevskiy and Oleg Sidorenko. It’s basically a cross between Dixit and Clue in that players are trying to solve the how, where, and who aspects of a  murder. One player is the ghost and gives clues to each player using illustrated cards.

Aby picked up the rules easily. My stepmom volunteered to be the ghost and we began trying to solve the mystery. Aby never ceases to amaze me, and this game was no different. She was very active and vocal in the discussion of the clue cards. She explained her logic in a constructive and mature way. She wanted to solve the puzzle and worked hard to do so. There were even a few times when Flo and I didn’t think she was right, but it turns out she was. If only we had listened! We ended up solving the murder, and Aby wanted to play again immediately as the ghost. My stepmom convinced her to try another game since Mysterium was their game (like a good daughter, I bought it for them for Christmas – they’re welcome).

That brought us to 6 nimmt! I had originally planned on having her be on my team while we IMG_7298played, but we had her play with her hand face up, so everyone could help her understand how to play.

6 nimmt! is a card game by Wolfgang Kramer. Players try to play their cards down to the center tableau without having to take cards with bullheads. Bullheads are points, and once someone has a given amount, they lose, and the game ends (by the real rules). We played the two-round variant where the player with the lowest score at the end wins.

This game was probably the hardest for Aby to understand. Choosing from 10 cards might have been a bit overwhelming. As I mentioned previously, we had her play with all her cards up, so we could help her choose which card to play. We always started with her choosing the card she thought would be best. We then talked her through why it was a good decision or not. Again, she openly participated in these discussions without incident. She really wanted to understand the game. She really wanted to win but wasn’t a poor sport unless of course one of the rest of us had to take a row with a lot of bullheads. Then, she laughed and laughed. It was the best losing at 6 nimmt! I’ve ever done.

As the night wound down, Flo and my stepmom went to got talk in the kitchen. With little IMG_7315effort, I convinced Aby to play Rhino Hero with me.

Rhino Hero was the third dexterity game of the night for us and is designed by Scott Frisco and Steven Strumpf. Players are trying to build a tower with cards. Cards have variable powers one of which is moving the superhero rhino up the tower.

The only power cards I played with was the rhino card because it was easiest. I wanted her to be able to fully enjoy her last game of the night and worry about anything other than being silly and having fun. We easily built six towers, and boy, did she love it. It was the most she had giggled all night. When she finished building a floor, she laughed and cheered for herself. She held her breath when placing cards, so she wouldn’t knock the tower over. She laughed the hardest when the tower fell. It was the perfect game to end the night.

Aby has always been a happy person, but there was something extremely fulfilling in watching her play and enjoy the games. It was beyond tolerance for she truly wanted to play them. It was beyond complacency because she was fully engaging in all aspects of the game – strategy, conversation, you name it, she was participating. She was thriving.

Contrary to popular belief, people with disabilities are not all that different than people without disabilities. Their basic needs are similar: food, water, lead a life full of happiness. Sure, their specific needs might be different. Maybe they have Down syndrome or are in a wheelchair or have dyslexia. Obviously those come with varying levels of acceptance and accommodation, but here’s the thing: it’s not all that hard to accept and accommodate. Even crazier, they might not even need accommodations, just your acceptance. While Aby has gone further than doctors originally projected, she still has a lot special needs. Despite her perceived setbacks, she did a remarkable job. She has memory and comprehension problems, yet she understood five new sets of rules in one night. She has never been good at losing, yet she laughed and even sassed some (love!) when bad things happened in a game.

What did it take on my part? What did I need to do to provide a few hours of laughter and happy memories for Aby, a woman with Down syndrome? I needed to make the time and show her the patience. That’s all it took: a little time and patience on my part. In return? Well, I can’t say for certain, but the hug she gave me while saying “Thanks Rannin for being so fun and playing games with me” leads me to believe that what she got from that night goes far beyond anything I could write about here.

Musings on Planning a Day of Solo Gaming

Valentine’s Day is normally one of my favoritest days of the whole year. I’m not big on emotion as a general rule, but there’s something about Valentine’s Day that has always spoken to me. I make goody bags for people. These bags have changed as I’ve gotten older – personalized cards to sex toys to recipe journals. Hey! Don’t judge me! My interests are as varied as the friends I share them with. Anyway.

This Valentine’s Day I’m going to mix it up a bit. I’m going to play board games solo-ly? Is that a word? What I’m trying to say is that I’m going to play solo variants of some of the board games I own. Assuming the advanced search thing on BGG works, I’m sitting at about 50 games that offer solo play. Now, I won’t be playing all of these Saturday as I don’t know the rules to them all nor do I feel like learning them before then. I am, however, going to pick out several of them to play.

I was just going to talk about the ones I was going to play, but I think I’ll list them and whether or not I’ll be playing them. If I exclude something you think is worth a go, let me know. If your argument is compelling, I’ll do my best to learn the game and get it played. No guarantees. Oh yeah, they’re listed in order of rank on BGG in case you were wondering.

  1. Eldritch Horror: I have yet to play this, but I’ve played enough Arkham that maybe they’re similar?
  2. Suburbia: Yes.
  3. Lewis & Clark: Maybe.
  4. Space Alert: On loan at the moment.
  5. Mice and Mystics: Don’t know the rules.
  6. Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective: I am not smart enough to play this with two players; I’m not sure one player would prove any better.
  7. Imperial Settlers: Yes.
  8. Arkham Horror: Nope.
  9. Thunderstone Advance: Towers of Ruin: Fuzzy on the rules.
  10. Friday: Yes.
  11. Escape: The Curse of the Tempe: Maybe.
  12. Luna: Fuzzy on the rules but feel compelled to revisit them.
  13. Merchant of Venus: Don’t know the rules.
  14. Elder Sign: Maybe.
  15. CO2: Don’t know the rules.
  16. Roll Through the Ages: The Bronze Age:  Maybe.
  17. Dungeons & Dragons: Castle Ravenloft Board Game: Maybe.
  18. Peloponnes: Would need a rules refresh.
  19. D-Day Dice: Possibly.
  20. La Granja: Sure.
  21. Conquest of Planet Earth: Ehhh.
  22. Gravwell: Okay.
  23. Thunderstone Adavance: Worlds Collide: Fuzzy on the rules.
  24. Duel in the Dark: I don’t even see how this can be played solo, but I do like this game.
  25. Mousquetaires du Roy: Possibly.
  26. The aMAZing Labyrinth: Nope.
  27. SOS Titanic: Yes.
  28. Uluru: Yes because I like feeling like an idiot.
  29. The Battle of Kemble’s Cascade: Would need a rules refresh.
  30. Castle Dice: Nope.
  31. Lagoon: Sadly, it sits unlearned.
  32. Romolo o Remo: Don’t know it.
  33. Subdivision: Possibly.
  34. Harbour: Don’t know it.
  35. Blackbeard: Don’t know it.
  36. Skyline: Uhh..if I need something.
  37. Dungeon!: Nah.
  38. Dungeon Heroes: Don’t know it.
  39. Doodle Quest: Nope.
  40. Shadows Over Camelot: The Card Game: Nah.
  41. Schinderhannes: Don’t know it.
  42. Clocks: Nope.
  43. Castle Keep: Nope.
  44. Sumoku: I do like numbers…
  45. Richard Ritterschlag: Don’t know it.
  46. Snap: Nope.
  47. Fallen City of Karez: Don’t know it.
  48. Roll for It Express: Why not?
  49. Town Center: Obligated to pass.

There you have it. Nine games to play solo on Saturday. Should I add some? Learn some? Remove some?

This Sunday (possibly Saturday night) I plan on writing about my experience with them all, and, of course, I’ll tweet about them while I play.

Musings on Getting Your Other Half into Gaming

I’m not sure why this is such a hot topic these days, but coaxing your significant other into gaming is always on people’s mind. How do they do it? What should they play? Why won’t their girlfriend/boyfriend/loverbuddy just play games with them already? Well, I don’t know. Why do you want them to? More importantly, why do you think they would enjoy it?

Last week the fine folks over at Happy Mitten Games asked me to be part of a blog post about just this topic. I happily agreed and meant to do it from the perspective of being a stay-at-home mom. That’s how it started. I promise. What I wrote is below. If you’d like to read what other ladies have to say about the subject, head on over to the Happy Mitten post.


Alright, so you want your wife/girlfriend/significant other to game with you. That’s weird. But, before I begin to psuedo-psychoanalyze your borderline masochistic reasonings for wanting to do such a thing, let me tell you a little about myself.

I’m Rhiannon. I’m a stay-at-home wife and mother. I’d like to tell you that being those things don’t define me, but I’ve been doing it for the last three years and having a three-year-old son and a two-year-old daughter; I really am a stay-at-home mom first. I also have an eleven-year-old son, but that kid practically raises himself. As for my husband, well, that’s why you’re here isn’t it? To find out what magical things he does to make me want to game with him. Spoiler alert: I kind of totally hate gaming with my husband these days. Here’s why.

Gaming is the only hobby he cares to share with me. I realize I come across as an overly-opinionated wench of a woman on the twitter, but I do enjoy things other than ranting about gaming-related issues on social media. I like hiking and kayaking and creating things out of Fimo and scrapbooking and, God help me, cleaning and baking and cooking. How many of these things does my husband take interest in? ZERO. Sure, we’ll take the occasional hike together. Of course this isn’t what it used to be because now we’re also dragg…erm…carrying toddlers through the woods. So, how about something we can do at home together? Cook? Corned beef hash from a can? On Easy Mac? Oh dear. How about scrapbooking? Documenting our family’s memories is my responsibility? Oh. Um. Okay.

Being at home all day with two toddlers is exhausting. My husband is a hard worker, and I realize I am fortunate in that I get to stay home with my kids. For the record though, I love working and miss being in the classroom every.single.day. Moving on. Here’s what my day looks like: Up at 6. Breakfast. Clothing. Park for an hour or two. A quick errand if I’m lucky. Lunch. Cleaning the kitchen. Naps for the kids, laundry or something for me. (OK. I’ll nap sometimes too. Don’t judge me.) Snacks. Playing. A movie in the background. Dinner. Cleaning the kitchen. Cleaning the kids. Putting my daughter to bed. Running (thank Sweet Baby Jesus!). Shower. Now you want to play games? Because you’re feeling relaxed after you’ve eaten and had an hour or two to watch tv or fart around on the internet? Um. Sure. Okay. Let’s play a game. Now you want to play another game? Really? It’s 11.

I’m not fond of everyone he invites over. They’re nice enough, sure, but I have a very particular table-side manner that isn’t for everyone. Because I’m not a complete monster, I won’t unleash the sass and snark on unsuspecting or unfit guests. That being said, constantly being in check of myself for the continued enjoyment of others gets old. It’s not fun for me if I can’t cuss at you when you do something moronic. It’s not fun for me if we have to go over that rule for the 100th time; I want to cuss at you for being a moron, but I can’t because I’m being nice. I don’t like having to be nice. Obv.

I can’t host the way I want to. Let’s pretend for a moment people who can handle my lack of filter are invited over. Heck, let’s not even go that far and pretend it’s the just usual lineup. Being bored to tears and on my best behavior would be considerably more tolerable if I didn’t also have to spend the entire evening feeling like an inadequate host. Second to cussing at ridiculous moves, I like to feed people. I need to feed people. If you come over, friend or foe, I want to make sure you’re not wont for food or drink. I’m kind of like a Jewish grandmother in a way, and everyone needs a Bubbe. Except the people at my husband’s game nights. They’re not eating anything they didn’t bring, and they’re certainly not drinking anything other than water. No wonder everyone is so blah at the table; they’re suffering from malnutrition.

Being able to share something with someone you care about is a noble endeavor. However, now listen because this is important: it’s not all about you. Gasp. I know. It’s true though. Relationships are about balance, giving and taking, etc. You need to figure out why you want her at the table. If it’s noble and you’re willing to put in the legwork, you need to figure out what will make her comfortable at the table and then, and this is super important, provide it. Because you’re probably a man if you’re reading this (or identify as the male in the relationship), I’m going to spell it out for you: if you take no interest in your wife/girlfriend/significant other/partner/cat, she/he/it will not want to play with you. I’m not just talking about in the bedroom either. No. I’m talking about gaming. My advice: Make the effort. Play the games.


Musings on Panamax

For you to fully understand my love for my Panamax, I’m going to take you back to pre-Essen 2013 when my husband I did an MST3K inspired Essen Spiel excitement list. In the second edition of the list, a little game called Panamax appeared. If you really feel compelled to listen to us make up how the game is played, you can watch that here. It shows the old box art and board; from what I can gather, it was long before Stronghold Games got involved with the game. In any event, that’s when my desire for this game came into existence: October 2013. 

Some time goes by and March 2014 hits. MESAboardgames & Stronghold were planning to release Panamax to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the Panama canal (spoiler alert: it coincided with Gen Con). This was my reaction to that news.

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Needless to say I was pretty excited. Once I knew I was going to Gen Con, I had one goal: buy Panamax. Sure I wanted to do all the other Gen Con stuff, but my main goal was to buy this game. I even made a list.

Screen Shot 2014-09-10 at 7.56.41 PM

I’m a girl with simple tastes what can I say? Games and food make me happy. Not surprisingly, I, in fact, bought Panamax at Gen Con. In case you haven’t heard, I bought more than one copy.

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Cool your jets. I’m not a complete hoarder. I bought one for a local convention-type thing. Didn’t mean I wasn’t going to be obnoxious about owning more than one when so many people were complaining about not having one. I realize you’re not here to recount my love affair with this game, but I thought it was important to establish that I’m not some silly skirt talking about the hottest new game just because.

Aerial View of Panamax

Panamax is a 2-4 player game about shipping cargo through the Panama Canal designed by Gil d’Orey, Nuno Bizarro Sentieiro, and Paulo Soledade. Each player assumes the role of a manager of a shipping company. Players need to balance the acquisition of contracts and loading and shipping of cargo all while making sound financial decisions and investments for their company and themselves. The player with the most personal money at the end of the game wins. 

How It Works

Punching Panamax.
Punching Panamax.

Generally, the game isn’t that difficult. The games lasts for three rounds with four turns per player and there are three main things players can do on a turn: get contracts/load cargo (Grey Zone stuff), move ships (Blue Zone stuff), and invest in companies. In addition, players have to manage two unique sources of income: Company assets and personal fortunes. 

Dice are rolled at the beginning of each round to determine the available actions and arranged in the Action Table.

The Action Table is divided into two halves: the Movement Actions (Blue Zone) and the Contract/Load Cargo Actions (Grey Zone). Each zone has three columns for the placement of dice; at the top of each of these columns are Executive Actions, one per column. Executive Actions let you either do the action associated with column from which the die was taken or invest in a company or raise the value of a company’s stock.

Players must choose the lowest die in a given column and perform the associated actions (or they can relocate a die following a set of conditions).

Action Table
Action Table

Blue Zone

Water Movement: When choosing a die from the Blue Zone, you will move ships through locks and waterways for the full amount of movement granted by the action, which means you will likely be moving ships that aren’t yours.

When you remove a die, there will be a specific number of Waterway Movement icons revealed. You have to move ships exactly that number of waterway movements. Depending on which column you pick from – first, second, or third – you have to move ships that many Lock Movements – 1, 2, or 3 respectively. 

Ships can be grouped in any combination up to 4 slots. Groups can be formed by ships in the same and adjacent Loading Zones or in the same half of a lake. 

There is a super awesome pushing mechanic that allows the “back” ship in the canal to push all the ships in front of it through locks. The pushing stops once the ships hit open water (lakes and oceans), but can be very powerful because movement is only counted for the ship doing the pushing no matter how many ships it pushes. 

Grey Zone

Choosing Contracts: Taking contracts is an optional part of the Grey Zone and allows you to get more cargo to load onto ships.

If you choose to take a Contract, you load dice onto the card with dice from the Warehouse then the Dice Pool (this order is important because of fees paid at the end of the round). Each Contract displays a flag symbol, which tells you in which Loading Zone the cargo from the contract must go. On the back of each Contract card is a generic cargo option that always has a value of three and can be loaded on a ship in any Loading Zone or the Rail Table if applicable. Once a Contract is complete (all dice have been loaded), receive the Flag from the country on the card and place it on your Company Clipboard. If it covers a Free Action, immediately play that action.

Lots of ships in the EU and US East Zones.
Lots of ships in the EU and US East Zones.

Loading Cargo: Loading Cargo lets you put cargo onto ships in Ocean Zones.

When you remove a die from a Grey Zone column, you will expose a certain number of loading icons. The number of exposed icons dictates how many pieces of cargo you can load on to ships. The cargo can come from any Contract card that contains cargo, not just the one taken that turn. If you didn’t take a contract card this turn, you will still be able to load cargo based on the number of revealed icons. 

Ships range in size from one slot to four slots. Each ship also has a range of numbers printed on them illustrating the value the sum of the dice must fall between. A ship can take a single die less than the minimum value but needs to at least meet the minimum to be able to journey through the canal. If the placement of a die exceeds the range of the ship, the die cannot be placed on it.

There are several other rules about loading cargo, but these are the main ones:

  • You can only take a contract if you have enough dice available between the Warehouse and Dice Pool to fill the contract.
  • You can only place one die on the same ship per turn without a special action from Clipboard Free Action or a Stevedore card. 
  • If there is a Rail symbol next to a piece of cargo, that piece must be placed in the Rail area. If the Rail is full, the die sits on the Contract card (and costs you money) until the Rail becomes available in the next round.

There are special ships that have special loading rules. Cruise ships can only hold 1 or 2 dies and give you Passenger tokens instead of money. Military ships don’t hold any passengers and earn your personal income based on movement rules. The San Juan Prospector is bad ass and doubles the value of one of your dies once it exits the canal. 

Speaking of exiting the canal, ships earn money or rewards when they exit a canal. Each Company receives $1 per pip on their own dice on the exiting ship. The owner of the ship receives a bonus card (extra movement, extra loading, or end-game bonuses) or additional money into his personal assets based on the size of the ship(s) that exited. Dice go into the Dice Pool, and the ships are placed in the Waiting Zone of the Ocean Zone they just entered.

Not the way to win a game.
Not the way to win a game.

Market Actions

The Market Table tracks the value of each player’s company. It shows the current market price on the left and the dividend payout on the right.

Buying Shares: Players can buy shares in one of two ways: a Free action from the Clipboard or from an Executive Action. As long as shares are available, a player can buy shares from any company at its current market price.

Raising Company Stock: When using an Executive Action die, a player has the option of increasing their company stock by $2. If they choose to do this instead of purchase stocks, they simply move their marker up two spaces in the table. 

End of a Round

A Round ends when the last die is taken from the Action Table. At the end of a Round, several things happen. Dice in the Rail table shift, determining player turn order for the next round, and players pick a Flag. Cargo fees are paid per die in a given zone, ranging from $1-$4. Dice left in the Warehouse cost $5 per die. Dice left on an incomplete Contract card cost $4 per die. A Company pays dividends. Managing Directors are awarded. If a Company cannot pay its fees, there’s bailout money they take and will owe back to the Bank.

A better way to end the game.
A better way to end the game.

End of a Game

At the end of the third Round, each player will add up all the following:

  • Money from their personal assets
  • Their best two Financial Advisor Cards
  • Managing Director Awards (if any)
  • Selling their shares to the Bank at the current market price of the corresponding companies
  • Pay off Bailout tokens

The player with the most personal assets at the end of the game wins. Turn order breaks ties.

Thoughts on the Game

Panamax is an incredible example of mechanic-theme integration in a heavy-ish euro. It’s not a hard game, but it’s a complex one. Paying attention to where cargo can and can’t be loaded and when ships can and can’t be moved can take some getting used to. There is a lot to have to pay attention, not unlike, I imagine, what running a shipping company in Panama might be like. 

What I Don’t Love About It

The money. Martin Wallace money? Seriously? 

The amount of whining about the game. I read the other reviews on the geek, and I get it. The game has tough choices. Sure, the contract cards can screw you because there aren’t any ships in the proper Ocean Zone, but here’s a thought: use the generic cargo side, or, I dunno, pay attention to the cargo on the contract you are taking to make sure it is actually useful not just full of high-numbered dice. Or don’t take a contract. Don’t like your turn order? Take advantage of the actions that send you to the Rail first and highest. Don’t like the available actions? Move the dice. Yeah, sure, it’s expensive at first, but there are things you can do to alleviate that; move some tourists, complete one contract from each country.

None of this means the game isn’t balanced. It doesn’t mean it sucks. In fact, it could be the perfect game (which I’d say it falls closer to than not), and you could still not like it because it’s just not your type of game. I love this game, but I wouldn’t recommend it to most people I know. It’s not for everyone; very few games are. Anyway, that’s enough venting.

Two player play. Two players isn’t a bad experience, but having played it with three and four, it’s not the best way to experience it. The rules themselves cite it as a variant (same with three player). There is significantly less of the “you scratch my back I’ll scratch yours” thing going on. In my experience, it was me putting my stuff on my ships and my husband putting his on his. You have the same amount of actions, but the game feels more like multi-player solitaire in this setup. So, while the game still offers something good for the two-player experience, there are better games for two players. Yeah, I said it.

The best way to enjoy Panamax.
The best way to enjoy Panamax.

What I Love About It

The theme. I love it. It’s so boring yet it fascinates me. It’s something concrete that I can relate to (although I do like me some abstract games). I completely immerse myself in its theme, and it’s a place I’m happy to be.

The cooperative competitiveness. I heard this in a couple videos, and it’s a perfect way to describe this game with four players (and to a slightly lesser extent with three). You’re not just figuring out your moves, you’re figuring out how to force others to make those moves for you. It creates a very interesting dynamic that I enjoy immensely. 

Max players. Honestly, this is a four-player game. That’s where it shines. The beneficial screwage element is great. I’m going to get you to do what I need done, and oh my goodness, did pushing those ships just move you into a higher price bracket? Oopsie daisies. I obviously played this game with like-minded people, which means they “got” it. I don’t exactly remember the scores, but I feel like they were reasonably spread amongst the four of us. The person who won had an awesome last turn with free actions and stock manipulation whereas the person who lost (I think) took a bailout token early on. Anyway. Four players. Do it!