Yura Yura Penguin

Yura Yura Penguin

Official Site |  BGG  | Buy

Designer: Ryoko Yabuchi
Artist: Ryoko Yabuchi

Publisher: Ryoko Yabuchi
2-6 players 10-15 minutes ages 7+ MSRP $28
Time to teach & learn: 2-3 minutes

text-the concept

An iceberg has melted and a whole village of penguins needs a new home! Can you stack together enough ice to build them a place to stay? The wind (or other players…) might make it wobble, so it will take a steady hand to find the right balance to place each level and find a perfect spot for each bird.

Yura Yura Penguin is a charming and clever card-based dexterity game where players build an uneven tower higher and higher, placing blocks of ice and penguins on different levels. Be the first to play all your ice cards and avoid making the tower topple to win the game.

text-the components

Every part of Yura Yura Penguin greets you with a sense of artistic and whimsical beauty. The box sparkles, the rulebook has cartoon penguins to guide you through the instructions. And the pieces you play with… they practically beg you to set the game up. 

There are 48 round ice cards, each one flecked with sparkly reflective bits.  The cards come in three colors: white, light blue and dark blue. Each card has an icon in the center, describing it’s action. There are a few tri-colored Aurora cards which serve as wild cards and contain special icons. The back of each card has a lovely stylized illustration of ocean waves. 

There are 14 cardstock icebergs. The icebergs are scored so they can be folded to form a u-shape. They are flat along their base and jagged along the top.

There are 18 jewel-like ice crystals, large translucent and faceted. They come in three colors that match the colors of the ice cards.

Last but not least are the adorable wooden penguins. The base game comes with four lovely basic birds.

I would highly encourage you to seek out the deluxe version which features 13 additional different painted penguins! These birdies are beyond cute. Each one depicts a different shape, size, or species of penguin.

You’ll find tiny white flippered penguins, banded and crested ones, ones with brush tails or yellow eyes, emperors and babies, and one giant (now extinct)!

In addition to the rulebook, there’s a wonderfully detailed booklet allowing you to get to know each species as well as general information about penguins.

To set up, spread out the ice cards face down in a rough circle to form “the sea.” Each player draws a hand of cards from the sea based on the number of people playing.  A thick coaster-like start card is placed in the middle of the sea to form the foundation of the iceberg tower you’re going to build. Keep the penguins and ice crystals handy, because now you’re ready to play!

text-the mechanics

Yura Yura Penguin is a card stacking dexterity game with a dash of strategy and an emphasis on balance.

Players take turns in clockwise order, taking an action and then playing a card, creating a gloriously teetering tower of ice. 

On your turn you will look at the icon on the card played prior to you. The icon shown gives you a set of instructions to follow. This is your action for the turn. Some icons make you build the tower higher. Others make you place items in the tower (an ice crystal or two,  maybe even a penguin). Special icons on the tri-colored Aurora cards add an Uno element to the game, forcing you to draw cards, reverse the order of play or skip a turn.

When building higher, you stack a u-shaped iceberg card to form a new level.

Ice crystals placed in the tower are placed on the 2nd highest tier with the least number of crystals. This can be a tricky little puzzle to tease out.

Penguins placed in the tower are always placed on the 2nd highest platform. 

Note you’re never adding pieces on the topmost level of the tower, always the 2nd highest level or lower.

If all the pieces have already been placed in the tower, then your job gets even more challenging. You will have to take an existing piece from the tower and move it to a higher position!

Once you have followed the instructions on the prior card, it’s time to place a card from your hand onto the tower. The new card you play must match either the color or the icon on the prior card.

So if the prior card played was dark blue with an iceberg icon, I would first place a new iceberg card on the tower and then have my choice to play a dark blue card or a card with an iceberg icon on top of the iceberg to form a new level to the tower.

The card you select is always played to the top level of the tower. 

It could happen that you do not have a card that matches the color or icon of the previous card. In this case, you’ll draw a card from the sea. If that card plays, great. If not, add that card to your hand and your turn is over.

The goal in Yura Yura Penguin is to play all the cards in your hand. The first player to accomplish this wins OR… if one player causes the iceberg to break or fall the game ends immediately.

Now, let’s be serious. The joy and the fun at the heart of the game comes from building the ice tower higher and higher, only to see it come crashing down. 

Each card you add to the tower can and often will make it more wobbly. And each card you play will dictate a set of instructions for the next player. As the tower starts to sway a little more, maybe you decide to play a card with a penguin icon, forcing the next player to place a wooden bird on a higher level, tipping the balance even more. 

If you manage to rid yourself of all your cards to claim victory, you will probably get a polite round of applause.

BUT you’re even more likely to receive cheers and high fives from bringing the tower down. It’s a special kind of game that finds a way to celebrate defeat as much or more than victory.

What the game really builds toward is an explosion of laughter and delight as one too many cards or birds or ice crystals causes the tower to collapse in a heap.

If only a few small pieces take a tumble, or even a single card falls from the tower on your turn, you are allowed to try and recover and rebuild. But if even two cards fall free, the iceberg is considered broken, and the game ends.

text-apart

The basic game offers a wonderful experience to players who are young and young at heart. The deluxe edition of Yura Yura Penguin, however, makes the game remarkable in ways that are not only about adding fancier components.

The 13 new penguin tokens change the game in dramatic and devilishly fun ways. Instead of the generic penguins, players can agree on a specific set to use for the game OR each player can select a penguin of their own to try and move up through the tower.

My personal favorite, though, adds a delicious element of brinksmanship to each penguin card played. When you are forced to place a penguin in the tower, the player prior to you gets to select any penguin from the supply for you to place! 

Now you might take it easy on someone, giving them a reasonable sized penguin to add to the tower, hoping they will do the same for you later. BUT as the cards stack higher and higher, the GIANT wooden penguin always looms as a threat. And in most games it will be a matter of when and not if this chunky fellow finds a spot to roost adding even more tension and fun to see if the tower will hold.

If this was not enough, the deluxe edition includes a wooden polar bear token that adds yet another way to play. When one of two polar bear cards is added to the tower, the rules of the game change completely.

The polar bear will be placed on the top level of the ice tower and from this point forward all cards and tokens in the game are played on the top level of the tower for the rest of the game. Suddenly the tower builds out instead of up and gets very crowded! You will have to learn an entirely new set of skills to do well and keep the tower from falling.

The flexible and expandable rules provided by the deluxe edition nudge us to see the true fun of the Yura Yura Penguin comes from the many different ways we can enjoy and create a more thrilling wobbly tower.

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From engaging gameplay to the look and feel of the cards and tokens, there is a quiet and remarkable artful attention to every aspect of the Yura Yura Penguin. Each of these many small decisions has an important impact on the game. Even the title helps set the scene. Yura Yura is a word in Japanese that describes the sound of something swaying in the wind and waves.

Collectively the result of these small but artful decisions is an invitation to play that is nearly impossible to refuse. There’s a fun world waiting for you inside this small box – a simple promise to make but never an easy one to fulfill. 

Simple joys like this are often the best and most lasting, i think, because we can lose ourselves in them over and over, regardless of age. 

That is what Yura Yura Penguin provides – an open door to Major Fun.

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Written by: Stephen Conway

Cupcake Academy

Cupcake Academy

Blue Orange Games |  BGG 

Designer: Erwan Morin
Artist: Stephane Escapa

Publisher: Blue Orange Games 
2-4 players 10 minutes ages 8+ MSRP $22
Time to teach & learn: 3 minutes

text-the concept

Seven minutes separate you and your team of pastry chefs from enrolling at the world famous Cupcake Academy. How many assignments can you complete, exchanging and stacking colored cups on plates, readying them for the kitchen?  Be quick, but be careful. The judges are very picky, so each order has to be just right for everyone to move on. Complete all the assignments before time is up and you’ll enjoy the sweet taste of victory!

text-the components

The components in Cupcake Academy are colorful and charming and help set the mood. 

There are 20 hard plastic cupcake cups in five different sizes and bright colors. The cups nest nicely into each other whether right side up or upside down.

Each player has a set of three personal plate tiles. This is where you’ll stack your cups. The team also shares one large plate tile. This is where you’ll swap cups.

A deck of 60 assignment cards will define your challenges each game. The assignment cards are color coded for two, three, or four players.

A seven minute sand timer drives Cupcake Academy and keeps players on their toes.

To play, shuffle and create a stack of assignment cards based on the number of players. Each player arranges their cups in a single stack on their center personal plate. Place the shared plate within each reach of everyone. When the team is ready, flip the timer, the first assignment card, and the game begins!

text-the mechanics

Cupcake Academy is a cooperative stacking and pattern matching game driven by logic. The goal is to complete all the assignment cards within the allotted time.

An assignment card shows a specific arrangement of cups for each player. The color and size of the cups shown is important. 

The position of the cups on the plates, though, doesn’t matter. So, if I need to have my big green cup on a plate, it doesn’t matter which one of my plates it is on.

In order to complete an assignment, every player must create a layout with the right number and color of cups to match the goal. The shared plate must also be empty.

When complete, flip the next assignment and continue until you complete the stack of assignment cards or run out of time. If you finish all the cards, huzzah! Your group becomes the next class of students at the Cupcake Academy. If you run out of time, not to worry, there’s always next semester (or the next game).

text-apart

A collective logic puzzle is the sweet gooey center of Cupcake Academy.

On the surface, the goal to be accomplished seems so simple. What could be hard about placing the right color and size cup on a plate?

First, remember each player has five cups to begin the round, nested like Russian dolls, with the large pink cup covering the rest. Using only one hand for the whole game, you’ll be unstacking and restacking your cups to try and match the pattern.

If the assignment shown asks for you to have a blue cup and an orange cup showing on your plates, the remainder of your cups are going to have to go somewhere else. This means you are going to have to hide the others by nesting them OR send your cups along to another player. But here’s the thing…

The chefs running the Academy are a tricksy bunch. You cannot simply give or take cups from another player’s plate. You must use the shared plate to transfer cups AND, to make matters worse, there can only be one cup on the shared plate at a time.

The challenge and fun of Cupcake Academy comes from learning when and how to unstack and restack your cups so that you can keep the ones you need, hide others underneath, and send the rest on to your teammates.

You need to understand your own needs, but the game forces you to look at the whole assignment, to factor in the needs of your teammates, too. Together, you have to puzzle out how to pass cups in the right order via the shared plate so that everyone can create the right combination.

Communication is key to success and will almost certainly create hilarious moments of failure, too. It’s almost inevitable that at some point your team will have to scramble to undo an entire chain of swapped cups in order to fix a problem in the pattern.

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Cupcake Academy is a series of interconnected puzzles that blossom into a  fun and challenging game. Time pressure and teamwork create a sometimes thoughtful and sometimes frantic experience that requires focus and contributions from everyone. The better you communicate, the more you’ll accomplish. 

Cupcake Academy is a surprising and wonderful blend. It manages to evoke the old world charm of a slide puzzle (shift pieces, make a pattern) while drawing inspiration from video game culture.  What was once a solitaire experience is now gamified – a layered puzzle with multi-player co-op mode unlocked. It even comes with a checklist of achievements you can unlock as you ramp up the difficulty of the game.

Cupcake Academy can speak to a lot of people, spanning generations. It’s a mash-up of thinky and dexterity elements that feels fresh and different. It is clever enough to engage the brain but hectic enough to unlock the simple magic of Major Fun.

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Written by: Stephen Conway

Calico

Calico

Flatout Games | AEG |  BGG | 

Designer: Kevin Russ
Publisher: Flatout Games, AEG 
1-4 players 30-45 minutes ages 13+
MSRP $40
Time to teach & learn: 5-8 minutes

text-the concept

Your calico quilt starts as a pile of simple fabric in colorful floral patterns. Patiently you cut, fold, and sew each piece into precise shapes and designs. Your goal? Create a cozy refuge, an irresistible napping platform for every cat in the house.

Calico is a charming tile laying game filled with beautiful strategy and art. 

Players compete to create the best quilt. Will you focus on an overall design? Embellish different areas with buttons? Or attract a variety of fuzzy feline friends to help you score?

text-the components

Calico is a beautiful game. Beth Sobel’s illustrations do a masterful job of drawing in even the most casual player for a closer look. The adorable orange tabby cat curled up on the cover of the box sets the tone for the game. The world of Calico is a peaceful warm place on a cold night. 

From the 108 colorful hexagonal patch tiles you’ll use to create your quilt, to the whimsical button tokens, and the five double sided cat scoring tiles (with matching cat tokens), Calico employs cuteness to a degree that should almost be illegal.

Each player has a thick-ridged quilt board on which you will place your patch tiles. There are three spaces marked on the quilt board for your design goals. Each player has six design tiles, so three will be chosen and “sewn” onto your board before the game begins.

Likewise, three cat scoring tiles will be selected at random for all players.

Mix up the patch tiles and place three face up on the table. Then allow each player to draw a hand of two patch tiles and we’re ready to play!

text-the mechanics

The goal in Calico is to place patch tiles in your quilt to score the highest number of points. Designs, buttons, and cats each grant points in a variety of ways.

A turn in Calico is deceptively simple. There are two parts. 

Part 1: Place one patch tile into your quilt. This tile can go into any open space on the board.

Part 2: Draw a tile from the three face up patch tiles available to refill your hand.

Once your turn is complete, a new patch tile is drawn from the bag to replace the face up one you removed.

The game ends when every open space on each player’s quilt board is filled with a tile. Each scoring category will be judged and the player with the highest point total will be awarded the title Master Quilter and win the game.

text-apart

Calico is a game of layered strategy – of color and pattern. There are six colors of patch tile and six different patterns

The challenge and delight in Calico comes from trying to weave different scoring combinations together with the placement of each colored and patterned tile.

In order to appreciate this aspect of the game, let’s look at the three ways to score: buttons, cats, and designs.

Buttons score by color. For each grouping of at least three like colored patch tiles, you place a button on your quilt. If you manage to place six different colored buttons on your quilt, you get a bonus rainbow button.

Cats score by pattern. Two pattern tiles are drawn to indicate each cat’s favorite type of pattern at the beginning of the game. Each cat tile also shows a specific configuration of tiles or a specific number of tiles. If you can create that configuration or the right size group of tiles in one of the cat’s favorite patterns, you get to place a cat token on your quilt. And every time you fulfill a cat’s pattern preference, you get to place a new cat on your quilt. Some cats preferences are easy to meet; others are considerably more difficult. Easy cats score less; picky cats score more.

Design tiles can score by color AND pattern. Each design tile maps out a recipe describing a specific combination of tiles needed to surround it. 

For example, a design tile might want to be surrounded by three pairs of like tiles. You could fulfill this recipe by placing a pair of green tiles, a pair of blue tiles, and a pair of yellow tiles around it. You could also fulfill the recipe by placing two striped tiles and two polka dot tiles, and two floral pattern tiles around it. With some careful consideration and tile placement, you could score this design tile both ways!

Buttons, cats, and designs are independent ways for you to score but their needs will overlap and conflict from the moment you place your very first patch tile on the board. 

To gain points in one area, you most often have to be willing to forgo points in others. The delicious fun and agony of Calico comes from these decisions. Want a quilt covered in cats? You’ll most likely give up making elaborate designs. Decide to focus on buttons? Cats may look elsewhere to nap.

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Calico is not a game about perfection. Your final quilt won’t be perfect. It’s a game about creating something of beauty with what you have on hand. Your decisions create the beauty in the game. And this makes it truly satisfying when you are able to mesh several scoring opportunities together by placing a single tile. 

Calico will entice you to grab your thimble, put on some music, and pour yourself a nice cuppa tea. This peaceful game harbors simple beauty and hidden depth. That makes Calico a wellspring of Major Fun and a worthy recipient of our Spiel of Approval.

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Written by: Stephen Conway

Beasty Bar

Release: 10/12/2020    Download:  Enhanced  | MP3
Run Time: 28 min    Subscribe:  Enhanced  | MP3 | RSS

There’s a party at the club and all the animals from the neighborhood are clamoring to get in! Each turn, a new animal arrives in the line, jostling to get past the bouncer.

The tall Giraffe can step past shorter animals one at a time. The sneaky Weasel scootches past bigger animals. The speedy Cheetah replaces the slowest animal. The hungry Crocodile eats all animals lower on the food chain.

When the line is filled with five beasts, the club doors open and the first two animals in line are let into the bar. How many of your party animals can you get into the Beasty Bar before the night is over?

Beasty Bar is a family of whimsical card games with elements of trick-taking and hand management. Each game features the same core set of rules but adds a new set of animals and abilities to explore. You can play each game separately or combine cards across editions to create your own deck of twelve party animals.

Listen in to discover why we we aren’t lion when we say Beasty Bar is a whale of a good time (and also Major Fun).

The Beasty Bar Family of Games       

Beasty Bar  Zoch Verlag  |  BGG  |  Buy 

Beasty Bar : New Beasts in Town  Zoch Verlag  |  BGG  |  Buy 

Beasty Bar : Born to Be Wild  Zoch Verlag  |  BGG  |  Buy

Designer: Stefan Kloss & Anna Appolzer

Publisher: Zoch Verlag

Artist: Alexander Jung

2-4 players  20 min.  ages 8+   MSRP $20

Time to teach/learn: 8-10 minutes

 

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At the Zoo  by Living Brass  |  the song

At the Zoo  by The Metronome Quintet  |  the song

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Artbox

Release: 09/14/2020    Download:  Enhanced  | MP3
Run Time: 28 min    Subscribe:  Enhanced  | MP3 | RSS

Here are three circles and a square… Can you make a toaster? Or a banana? 

Working from a common set of shape dice, can you create a simple drawing, hoping others can select your magic word from a grid of cards?

Artbox is a game about perception. How to say a lot with a little. And much like negative space in a painting, what you leave out helps define what everyone gets to see.

Listen in to explore this wonderful game of drawing and deduction!

Artbox           Lavka Games  |  BGG  |  Buy

Designer: Artem Lis

Publisher: Lavka GamesJet Games Studio

3-8 players  30 min.  ages 8+   MSRP $35

Time to teach/learn: 5 minutes

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Little Boxes  by  Pete Seeger  |  the song

Litlir kassar með texta  by Þokkabót  |  the song

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Similo

Similo Title Graphic - Major Fun Award

Release: 08/24/2020    Download:  Enhanced  | MP3
Run Time: 109 min    Subscribe:  Enhanced  | MP3 | RSS

Similo is a cooperative game of characters, communication, and deduction. Can you guide your team to the secret character in a grid of cards using only other character cards as clues? A vertical clue means the card is similar to the secret character. A horizontal clue means the card is different. Each round the pressure mounts, because the team has to remove more cards from the grid!

Similo comes in three flavors. You can play with people from history, myth, and storybook legend. If you’re up for a real challenge, you can even combine decks!

Similo is a springboard into the minds of everyone at the table. It provides a puzzle and laughs in equal measure. That’s a sure sign of Major Fun.

Listen in for our in-depth review!

Similo

Horrible Games  |  BGG

Designer: Hjalmar Hach, Pierluca Zizzi, Martino Chiacchiera

Publisher: Horrible Guild

Artist: Xavier (“Naiade”) Durin

2-8 players  10-15 min.  ages 8+   MSRP $10

Time to teach/learn: 3-4 minutes

For info on the other segments featured on the show, check out the show notes at The Spiel!

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Music credits include:

History Repeating  by Kai Hoffman  |  the song

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Gridopolis

Gridopolis

 Gridopolis |  BGG |  Buy

Designer: Dave Schultze
Publisher: Gridopolis Games 
2-4 players 20-60 minutes ages 8+
MSRP $50
Time to teach & learn: 5-6 minutes

text-the concept

Gridopolis is a game of construction and capture. Players build a multi-level modular board and then use pawns and kings to jump and capture their opponent’s pieces. Teleporters and blockers present challenges and opportunities in equal measure. And the game board itself will shape every decision you make, because each player has a chance to add new elements to it as the game unfolds! 

text-the components

Gridopolis has a wonderful set of basic building components that snap together to create multiple game boards. There are pads that make up the spaces the pawns and kings will move on. There are links that join pads together. The links have little nubbins that connect to posts, so game boards can be stacked together to form a three dimensional play space.

gridopolis components

Gridopolis is aptly named, because you’ll feel like you’ve created a small cityscape each time you play. 

There are suggested layouts for your first few games, but once you understand the basic concept, the sky’s the limit – each game board in Gridopolis can rise from the imagination of the players.

Gridopolis board set up and ready for play

Each player has six large colorful pawns to begin the game. The pawns can be flipped over to become Kings during the game. There are Kingerizer pieces in each player color; they nest into the pad spaces along the edge of the board to indicate a player’s home row.

There are also Hyper-pads and blocker tokens that will create different patterns of movement on the board when they are in play.

Once the Gridopolis board is built (including Hyper-pads), pawns are placed on opposite sides, separated by a neutral unoccupied area. Now you’re ready to play!

text-the mechanics

You’ll find many echoes of classic, almost universally known, games like Checkers and Chess in Gridopolis.

Your turn consists of selecting a pawn to move one pad (one space) in any direction, including diagonal movement AND including moves up or down! Every pawn has a home row marked by the Kingerizer pieces. A pawn’s move can never be backwards toward its home row.

people playing gridopolis - young and old

Jumping is not only allowed in Gridopolis, it’s the essence of the game. You can jump over your own pieces to extend a pawn’s movement. If you jump over an opponent’s piece, you capture it and remove it from the board. And just like it’s classic cousin, you can chain together multiple jumps to capture multiple pieces in a single move. You can even sacrifice your own piece by jumping off the board in order to make a capture! Your opponent gets the Kamikaze piece, so this move is one of desperation, usually.

If you can maneuver a pawn to the home row of an opponent, it flips over and becomes a King. Kings move just like pawns EXCEPT they get an optional bonus move after the first. This extra move gives you a ton of flexibility and adds new decisions and strategies to every turn.

If you land on a Hyper-pad, your piece beams immediately to another space with an empty hyper-pad on the board. The Gridopolis board may look big, but with even just a few hyper-pads, no space is safe… or very far away!

Envisioning and anticipating possible jumps across multiple levels makes Gridopolis a lovely dance between aggression and safety. Can you extend your pawn’s reach without risking a capture or exposing your home row, allowing other players to create kings?

excited kids playing the game

For a longer game, you can play until only one person has a piece remaining on the board. For a shorter game, you play a set number of turns and score based on how many pieces you collect and how many you have remaining on the board. High score wins. 

text-apart

Planning for the unknown sets Gridopolis apart. 

Instead of moving a pawn or king on your turn, each player has two additional options: 

you may place a blocker token on the board 

OR 

you may add a new space to the board. 

A blocker token is played to an unoccupied pad. That space is eliminated from play for the rest of the game. 

To add a new space to the board, you select pieces from a mini-construction kit each player starts with at the beginning of the game. You have three pads (with connector links) and two posts. You can add a space to any level. You can even add a level to the board with a post! 

gridopolis board built up

These options blow the game wide open.

The board is not a static thing in Gridopolis. You have to account for and anticipate not only where your opponent might move but what your opponent might do to change the very landscape of the game!

If the board was too sprawling, this could lead to brain-lock. By keeping the spaces of the game board limited, Gridoplolis encourages players to consider their options from different angles and perspectives in a very literal and fun way!

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It’s a tricky thing to build a game on the back of such well known classics. There are so many poor examples floating through the world of games. They invite comparison with the greats and almost always are found wanting. 

What Gridopolis accomplishes is special and noteworthy. It strikes a lovely balance between familiar and new elements. It offers players a fun remix of the original. The classic is still recognizable in some form, but Gridopolis sings to new generations of players with a voice that is distinctive enough to rise up from the chorus of wannabes. 

Gridopolis combines the Lego-like joy of building with a meditative fun akin to a game of 3-D chess versus Mr Spock on the Enterprise. And, as Gridopolis is the first in a series of games using these same components, it’s encouraging to imagine many new paths to Major Fun building from this common ground.

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Written by: Stephen Conway

Dragonrealm

Dragonrealm

  Gamewright  |  Game Factory | BGG  |  Buy

Designer: Darren Kisgen Art: Chris Beatrice
Publisher: Gamewright, Game Factory 
2-4 players 20-30 minutes ages 10+
MSRP $25

Time to teach & learn: 5-10 minutes

text-the concept

Pack your lucky socks and get ready for an adventure exploring Dragonrealm! Sneak into the witch’s cabin, search the ogre’s treehouse, or storm the dragon’s lair. Explore the wilds and add adventurers to different locations in the hope of getting the most treasure. But watch out for goblins who might get there first and grab the treasure before you!

text-the components

Dragonrealm comes with lushly illustrated cards, plus custom wooden pawns and dice.

There are 68 adventurer cards, most of which you’ll use to assail the locations in the game. Adventurer cards come in 5 different colors, and are numbered from 1-12.   In addition, a few adventure cards will trigger the arrival of goblins or an untimely rockslide.

There are 16 enhancement cards to aid you in your journey.

There are 21 large format location cards. Locations come in four colors, representing the different obstacles and trials you will face on your quest. There are spaces for adventurers and goblins, plus icons detailing the type and difficulty of challenges at that location.  Each adventure will culminate at a dragon location card, where great challenge and great treasure awaits!

The game is packed with chunky wooden pawns. Each player gets 8 adventurers to represent your team . There are also 6 custom wooden goblins that are sure to be annoying and get in your way as you play.

The 6 custom dice will see constant action as you play. Each die is numbered from 1-4, with two 2s and 3s, and a single 1 and 4.

Last but not least, the one thing both you and the goblins want most, a pile of 50 treasure coins!

To begin, deal 5 Adventurer cards to each player. Each player also gets to choose some enhancements to take along. A Fireball Spell could get you out of a jam.  A Potion of Invisibility might get us past some guards. Or perhaps your Pet Chipmunk could overwhelm a monster with its cuteness! Then, create a deck of 7 location cards, including 2 cards from each color, ending with a dragon location. The road to adventure begins here. You’re ready to explore Dragonrealm!

text-the mechanics

In Dragonrealm, players will collect sets of cards. Playing different sets of cards allows your adventurers to roll dice to explore and take over locations.

The goal of the game is to accumulate more treasure than your fellow adventurers.

On your turn you have two choices: Explore or Rest.

When you Explore, you play from 1-6 cards from your hand to deal with a location in one of three ways: Sneak, Search, or Storm. The method you select will depend on the strength and weakness of your party of adventurers, that is, the cards in your hand.

Sneak lets you play cards in a row, regardless of color ( a 4-5-6, for example).

A thorough Search requires cards all of the same number (three 8s, for example).

Feeling bold? Storm a location with a hand of cards of the same color.

Once you select a method, call out the action and the location.

“I am going to Sneak into the Cave of Bats,” for example.

For each card you play that fits the action you declared, you’ll roll one of the custom dice. Add all the dice together to see how you did.

Each location shows different target numbers required to successfully place an adventurer.

If you Sneak into the Cave of Bats, the action here will require a total of 8 from the dice to reach the target number, a Search needs a total of 6, and a Storm action needs a whopping total of 13. But notice the yellow ring around the 13. That indicates you’ll place two of your adventurers, should you succeed. Risky, but taking a chance may pay off in big ways!

If your Explore works out, you’ll place an adventurer (or two!) and discard the cards you used. Now draw one card, and your turn is over.

Of course, not every die roll will go your way, so failure is an option. Should you fail, you’ll place one of your adventurers on the Adventurers Academy for further training. From there, they may assist your team in future Explore actions. During future Explore turns, each member of your team on the Academy card can add +1 to your die total.

The bulk of your game will be spent exploring, hoping to place adventurers on location cards in order to score points when the card fills. But to do this well, you must have cards to power your team.

Rest allows you to add 2 cards to your hand, either from those face up, or face down from the deck. You’ll be building up your hand to power future exploits. Which cards will propel your team towards victory? If you’re looking to Search, you’ll want to gather cards of the same number. If you want to Sneak, pick up numbered cards that are in sequence. If you’re planning on Storming, look for cards of the same color.

Of course, drawing cards may also allow goblins to seize a spot in a location, or trigger a rockslide.

If a goblin card is revealed, you’ll place a goblin on the indicated location. They will compete with the players to claim their share of treasure. Any gold goblins win is hauled away, never to be seen again.

If you trigger a rockslide you’ll be forced to pass a number of cards from your hand to an opponent. Rest assured, your opponents won’t be passing you anything they think you can use.

As your adventure advances, locations will begin to fill up with player’s pawns and pesky goblins. As soon as a card is filled, its treasures have been completely explored. Now some players will be rewarded with treasure.

If you have the most adventurers on the card, you get the first place award shown on the card. Players with the second most markers on a location collect the lower amount of coins. The top player  also collects the card for its value in dragonstones. At the end of the game, the player with the most dragonstones gets a five coin bonus.

A new card from the location deck is revealed to replace the explored one.. The quest continues, culminating in a final conflict with a dragon, the last card in the location deck. Once the dragon is defeated, the game ends and  any remaining locations are scored as if they were complete. Now everyone adds up the treasure they have collected and includes the value of any enhancements worth coins. The player with the most dragonstones collects five extra coins. The player with the most treasure wins!

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Dragonrealm drills down to extract the essence of any role playing game—the brave party, tackling dangers together, but each with an eye for individual glory and gain. Sure, we are all working together to defeat the dragon–but still, I’m Looking Out for Number One! I don’t mind if you get some, as long as I get more.

Every turn feels important in Dragonrealm. The clock is ticking as other players send their pieces to a location. Should you dive in too or wait for the right combination of cards? Even watching a player Rest is important. Did they just pull the cards they need to Explore next turn? Should I strike now?

Not that Resting is without its share of perils. Goblins might pop up, spoiling the odds of capturing a location. And an ill-timed rockslide tests your desire to build the perfect hand.

In a more serious game these chaotic elements would feel tiresome. Here, they actually add to the storytelling. “I was this close to having it all my way. And then you triggered a rockslide, spoiling everything! Clumsy oaf.”

Additionally, the game includes an alternate to Adventurer’s Academy: Adventurer’s Alley. Your pawns sent here can’t help directly with your die rolls. Instead, they can be used to purchase more Enhancement cards. Need to power through a difficult Storm? Take the Dwarf Hammer with you. Tied for control of a location? The Wizard’s Hat can put you in charge!

Another bit of brilliance comes out in the way failure is handled. Not only is an adventurer sent to where he can help you later, but unlike in a successful attempt, you keep the cards you used. This little detail serves to encourage players to plunge ahead and take a risk, moving the game along nicely.

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The allure of any quest is in the stories that emerge after: the twists of Fate, the what-might-have-beens, and the triumphs. Dragonrealm presents an easily approachable, compact game which encourages the players to craft their own story with each decision they make.

Dragonrealm creates a space in which older players can plan a strategy while younger players might crash ahead in pursuit of treasure. There’s room for both approaches. In fact, you might find everyone watching and learning from each other.

Hybrid games which combine board and role playing elements have become wildly popular in the past several years. Mostly, these are longer affairs, which delve into great detail over multiple sessions and clearly speak to an older, more experienced group of players. Dragonrealm makes room for all ages, inviting everyone to play together. 

Dragonrealm is a wonderful introduction to hybrid adventure games and we’re glad to see it earn both our awards. In less than an hour, you can walk away with a fun story based on strategic decisions and challenges for players young and old to enjoy.

Just don’t get in my way, because that treasure is mine!

***

Written by: Doug Richardson

Pictures

Pictures

  PD Verlag  |  BGG  |  Buy

Designer: Daniela and Christian Stöhr
Publisher: PD Verlag, Rio Grande Games  
3-5 players 20-30 minutes ages 8+
MSRP $
45
Time to teach & learn: 5 minutes

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A game of Pictures starts with a simple premise: you don’t have to be the next Van Gogh or Kahlo to discover there’s a little artistry in each of us.

There’s no drawing or painting involved. Instead, you’ll use blocks and rocks and sticks and symbols and shoelaces and tiny colored cubes to create your version of a picture. Will others be able to find your picture when it’s hanging in a gallery with others?

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At first glance, Pictures might look like someone has emptied the random contents of a desk drawer into the box. There are five sets of art objects:

       6 chunky wooden blocks in different shapes

       24 colored wooden cubes with a frame card

       19 icon cards

       a long shoelace and a short shoelace

       and a set of 4 sticks and 4 rocks (yes, actual rocks)

Along with this odd assortment, you’ll find a deck of 91 picture cards and a set of coordinate tokens with a drawstring bag. The picture cards run the gamut – animals, landscapes, objects, vehicles, wide vistas and close-ups.

To play, deal out 16 picture cards in a four by four grid. Place coordinate tokens along the rows and columns. Each player selects one of the sets of art materials and we’re ready to begin!

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Each turn has two phases in Pictures – a creating phase and a guessing phase.

The creation phase begins with each player selecting a coordinate token from the bag. This token identifies which picture in the grid is yours. Keep this secret from everyone else.

Now, you’re set. Try your best to make a representation of your picture using the art materials at your disposal. There are no restrictions on how you may use the materials with two exceptions:

  •  With the colored cubes, all the cubes must fit within the frame,   meaning you may only use 9 of the 24 cubes in your picture.
  •  With the icon cards, you may only use 2-5 cards to represent your picture.

There’s no formal time limit to the creation phase. And don’t stress out if you need a moment to come up with a plan. This is not a game about making masterpieces. It’s a game about doing the best you can with what you’re given.

When all the creations are ready, the guessing phase begins. Look at all the other creations and note down on your scoresheet the picture coordinates that you think match each one. One by one, the artist will reveal the correct match. If you guessed correctly, you score a point and the artist scores one point for each correct guess.

Next round, shift each set of art materials to the another player. Play until each person has had a chance to use each set of materials. High score wins the game.

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Freedom and variety set Pictures apart.

You have the freedom to envision and use the materials in a variety of ways. With the blocks, you could stack them or arrange them in a diorama. With the shoelaces, you can create squiggly line drawings. The rocks and sticks could be a combination of any of these methods or something else entirely.

Your freedom extends to another important decision each round. You must decide what parts of the picture are the most important to depict. Given the crazy materials and their limited quantity, there’s no possible way for you to include every detail in any picture you see. Therefore, you have to make important decisions about what to include and what to leave out.

Each picture may have a focal piece but when put in context with the other pictures in the grid, that one item alone may not set it apart. So, the trick in Pictures is often deciding what smaller details to include.

Some rounds the picture and the materials may come together and an idea just leaps out at you. Others, you may be left laughing and scratching your head on what to do. You may develop favorites or grudges against certain sets of materials. But don’t worry. Any sets you struggle with initially, you can learn new methods by seeing how others use them.

This convergence of freedom and variety insures that every round of the game will be new and different. And because every round is so quick, each combination of picture and materials seems like an opportunity for fun, not an obstacle to it.

We certainly love the game as presented but we have added an extra layer of variety and freedom to our house rules that you might want to try as well. Instead of leaving the same cards in the grid each round, any card that was used is replaced. This means the grid of pictures changes each turn and prevents copycat artists from re-using the same depiction on a later round.

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Pictures encourages creativity in unexpected ways. There’s no expectation of mastery and therefore no pressure to perform on a sophisticated level. Pictures may not include any paint brushes but it is a game about broad strokes. Can you, with the most basic of materials, somehow, some way, get people to see a more complex picture? The tools are simple. The gameplay is constantly challenging. And the fun and laughs that Pictures creates is pure Major Fun.

Written by: Stephen Conway

Wordsmith

Wordsmith

HeidelBÄR Games |  BGG  |  Buy

Designer: Bill Eberle, Peter Olotka, Greg Olotka
Publisher: HeidelBÄR Games  
1-4 players 20-30 minutes ages 10+
MSRP $30

Time to teach & learn: 5 minutes

text-the concept

Writers have talent – stringing words together, making them sing. But Wordsmiths? Their skills are more rare and special. They build each letter in every word from the ground up, one piece at a time.

From an assortment of basic shapes, can you assemble letters from a template and then use those letters to build words? Be quick and dig deep into your vocabulary to score big. Wordsmith gives new meaning to word play!

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Wordsmith comes with 120 colorful plastic letter pieces. These are the literal building blocks you will use to create your words. They are divided into four types: long sticks are red, short sticks are yellow, half circles are blue and mini-Us are green.

There are four dice with sides matching the colors of the pieces and a scorepad.

Wordsmith uses the game box in fun and interesting ways. Instead of a game board, there is a plastic insert with sections for each letter piece and a resting area for each die. Even the sides of the game box are crucial to the game as each side contains an A-Z construction blueprint, so every player has a reference to consult.

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The goal in Wordsmith is to assemble the pieces you have available into letters and then use those letters to form words. Each round, you will be asked to build six words, then score. After three rounds, the player with the highest score wins.

When building, everyone works from a common set of blueprints. Want to build an E? You’ll need one red long stick and three yellow short sticks. Need an R? Put together one green mini-U, a red long stick and a yellow short stick. Every letter you make must conform to these construction guidelines.

Dice are used to determine the starting set of pieces held in common by all players. Roll each die twice to generate a pool of 8 letter pieces.

Once everyone has their initial pieces, play is freeform. Ready, set, go!

Once the game begins, however, you can add pieces to your supply by rolling your die. At any point, you may roll it and add a piece to your supply that matches the face you rolled. Note: the star face is wild and any piece may be taken.

When you have assembled a word, call it out and show it to all. Others will quickly check your work. If it is spelled correctly and is a valid word, wahoo! Write it on your scorepad. Unlike many word games, limited punctuation is allowed. The yellow short sticks can serve as apostrophes or hyphens.

Any leftover pieces you didn’t use are discarded back to the box and you must fill in a space on your scorepad for every piece discarded. This makes Wordsmith a puzzle game, a word game, AND an efficiency game!

Sure, you can roll the die to amass a huge stockpile of pieces, BUT there could be dangerous consequences to that decision. The first six pieces you discard won’t hurt you. But after that, every piece discarded will cost you one point when scoring.

Continue building words from your supply of pieces until one player reaches six words. Score one point per letter in each word you build. You also score one point for each unmarked discard space.

Begin the next round with a new set of common pieces and build away!

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Flexibility sets Wordsmith apart. The base game described above is wonderful, challenging, quick, and fun. Included with the rules are several variants that are every bit as good and allow the game to adapt to the experience level or play style of many different groups.

You can play silently, where no one calls out their words. At the end of the round, scoresheets are checked and illegal words won’t count. This makes the game less raucous and more thoughtful.

You can play without time pressure, allowing players to claim and complete all six words each round. This encourages longer words and higher scores.

You can play with a variable set of letter pieces for each player.

You can add a special 6-letter word for each round and spell this word out vertically along your scorepad so one letter lines up with each row. The word you build for that row must contain that specific letter in order to score.

And the list goes on!

Wordsmith practically begs for your own variations. Here are some we’ve had fun with:

     each word built must fit a certain theme

     each player gets a limited number of dice rolls

     your next word must begin with the last letter of the prior word

Wordsmith wants you to play with it. It entices you to explore the basic system of rules and see them as building blocks, just like the letter pieces!

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Wordsmith is an extremely clever mash up of spatial puzzle, time pressure, and classic word game. It comes to us from the team who also designed Cosmic Encounter, Dune, and Hoax in the 1980s. These games were groundbreaking then and have influenced several generations of designers since. It’s no exaggeration to say their imagination and innovation laid the groundwork for the board game renaissance we all enjoy today. It’s wonderful and encouraging to see this team is at it again, breathing life and energy into the word game genre.

You don’t have to be an English major to love Wordsmith. It’s as much a game to challenge your quick handed assembly skills as your vocabulary. And if you hit a roadblock with one version of the game, there are many paths to Major Fun to find instead.

Written by: Stephen Conway

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