New game roundup 2: Gods, tombs and chocolate

Board Game Arena continues releasing great new games so I wanted to touch on a few that I have been playing recently. First, a note. The site seems to filling out their 31 days with trick taking games. While I respect these and am usually curious to try a new one, they don’t exactly set the world on fire. So while I played one of the two trick taking games this week, I did not spend the 30 minutes to learn the second that I would surely never play again. Additionally, playing any trick taking game with players who are not familiar with them is kind of like a form of torture. This is even worse if it’s a partnership game and your partner doesn’t know the first thing about strategy for the game. So we can already put an asterisk next to my goal to play every game this month, but I have my limits, even when I am craving board game more than ever. And with that out of the way let’s get to the games.


An interesting trick taking game

The first game was the trick taking game that I did try this week, called Solo Whist. This is another game with bidding those types of games more advanced on the trick taking spectrum. Essentially you have to be able to look at your hand and the trump suit and be able to roughly predict how many hands known as tricks you will win, either by playing the high card or a trump card. Here there are several different kinds of bids called contracts, each more difficult than the last. You can only outbid another player with a more risky contract.  You can bid prop, which means you thin you and one other player will be able to take 8 tricks combined. Any other player can follow this with a cop bid, meaning they will join you to try to take 8 tricks. You can bid solo which means you will take at least 5 tricks by yourself. You can bid Misery, which means you will lost every trick. You can bid abundance which means you will take 9 tricks alone and choose which suit is trump. And then there are three more contracts which are even more risky. The gist is, this is a game of chicken in trick taking form. It is quite fun as the other players at the table do everything in their power to make sure the successful bid of the other player fails. Definitely one I would play again, although it made me realize I am not that great at trick taking games that require bidding.


Kami has beautiful art and deceptively simple gameplay

The second game is a simple card game called Kami. This is apparently a game derived from Shogi, or Japanese chess. The art is beautiful and the game itself is deceptively straightforward. On a turn players play a defense card and an attack card. Other players the the table can only follow if they can play a defense card that matches the attack card just played. If no one can, the last player to successfully defend leads a new round. The goal is to play all the cards in your hand, so players want to play whenever they can to continue to shed their hand. However, it is sometimes wise to pass even if you can match another player in order to take control of the flow of the game. Players who lead a hand play their defense cards face down which makes it difficult to count cards and know exactly what cards have not been played yet. The final wrinkle here is a unique scoring system where you only get points for the last card played from your hand. While different from a trick taking game, Kami definitely requires some of the same skills, and so can be frustrating to play with players who do not understand the strategy. But there’s plenty to explore here for players who do enjoy that sort of game.


Luxor is a great family game with some interesting push and pull decisions and puzzle-like hand management

The third game is a Spiel Des Jahres nominee from a couple of years back called Luxor. In Luxor players are trying to get to the center of an ancient tomb while picking up as many treasure tiles as they can along the way. Each turn players play a card to move one of their adventurers a certain number of spaces into the tomb. The unique part here is that you can only play the left most or right most card in your hand, and you are not allowed to re-arrange the cards in your hand. Each round you draw back up to five cards but the new card goes in the center of your hand. In this way there is a sort of puzzle of what order to play your cards. Each treasure tile requires a certain number of your adventurers to land on it in order to pick it up. so you are often trying to sequence their movement so they end up on the right tile before other player claim them first. This goal is counter balanced by the fact that you unlock more adventurers the further you make it into the tomb, and get points for how far each adventurer makes it into the tomb at the end of the game. So slow and steady allows you to pick up a lot of tiles, but may leave you behind other players who have made it further into the tomb. In addition to treasure tiles there are spaces that allow you to draw more powerful cards into your hand, and additional tiles that come out after a treasure token has been claimed. I really enjoyed the puzzle of this game and I can see why it was a nominee for the German game of the year award. I would definitely recommend checking it out.


Cacao is a breezy tile laying game with a unique checkerboard structure that drives interesting decisions.

The final game that I played this week is another tile laying game called Cacao. In Cacao players are harvesting cacao beans in the jungles of Central America. Each turn players place a worker tile that has one to three works on each of its four sides. They then place a jungle tile to fill in any spaces left in a sort of checkerboard pattern. The workers on each tile interact with the jungle tiles to do various things to score the player points. They can harvest cacao beans, sell them for coins which are the points in the game, mine a tile for coins, move the players piece down a river which scores the players more points the further they travel along it, or fight for an area majority sort of mini game over temples. I have never seen a game that uses this sort of checkerboard worker placement game before. There is some good strategy here because you are trying to place your own worker tiles in a way that most benefits you, but does not give points to your opponents. The game is quick and breezy but has plenty of interesting decisions. This one was a winner that I would definitely play again.


Board Game Arena keeps releasing great games on the service and creating a great covid-safe way to play games with your friends. If you haven’t check it out yet I highly recommend giving the service a try.

New game round up: Flaming pyramids, island adventure and gerrymandering

Board Game Arena continues to put a wide variety of games up on it’s, one for every day and I have been trying to keep up with learning a new game every day. I have played the most recent releases and wanted to recap the latest editions.

Trick taking card game Ninety-Nine

The first is a very simple trick taking game called 99. This is a game similar to Hearts or Spades where players attempt to take sets of card by playing the highest card of whatever suit was lead. This game can be played with a traditional deck of cards so once you learn the rules its easy to teach other players in person. The unique part of this game is that players can bid for how many hands or tricks they think they are going to win and get more points by accomplishing this goal. They can double down on this further by showing their bid to other players, which gives them the opportunity to mess with their success. They can double down further by revealing both their bid and their hand of cards. It’s kind of like a game of chicken. The more players reveal, the more points they can win, but the more information they share with their opponents, the more difficult it is to accomplish their stated bid. This is a more advanced game than hearts, and it really encourages two key trick-taking skills, card counting and knowing how many tricks your can take given your starting hand. I must admit that after two major published games for the first two days, 99 felt like a step down. But all in all this is a nice trick taking game and I wouldn’t turn it down if someone asked.


Flaming Pyramids. Uno with math and physics!

The Second release is a game called Flaming Pyramids. This game places a bit like a spatial version of Uno… with fire. The goal is to get rid of all of your tiles. Players are working on a shared pyramid that they build up with tiles each turn. To place a tile it must match the color or the number of at least one of the tiles below it. There’s also the matter of weight. The two tiles below must have numbers that add up to more than the tile being placed on top, or else there is a collapse. Collapses can trigger more collapses as a sort of chain reaction occurs when tiles that previously supported others are removed. All collapsed tiles go into the active players stack, so this kind of chaos can mean you have a lot more tiles than opponents to get rid of. And then there’s fire. There are three type of building materials: straw, wood, and stone. Coal tiles only burn straw materials and blowtorches(!!) burn both wood or straw. The secret is to nest these in among some rocks and then watch chaos ensure in a later round when the collapse of other tiles cause them to hit paydirt. This seems like a fun family game and I would play it over Uno any day!

Small Islands

The Third game is  a tile laying game called Small Islands.  The tiles depict part of an island landscape with The only rule for tile placement is that each side must match the landscape in all four directions around it. Water must match water and land match land. Each round players draft a goal card which explains what is required in order to place a house on an island, and also how you will score for each house. In this way the actual game of the tile laying has different goals for the different players, unlike say a game like Carcassonne where all players are trying to score in the same ways. The players are still working on the game board however, so it is possible for other players to mess with your plans, perhaps unintentionally. There is also a timing element for when to end a round, which is triggered by a player placing out their ship tile. This is definitely a tactical name but was pleasant enough and I wouldn’t mind playing it again. The tropical nature of the art is certainly a nice diversion from the current winter weather.

Mapmaking: The Gerrymandering Game

The final game added in recent days is called Mapmaking: The Gerrymandering GameThis is a simple abstract game with a light political theme. At the start of the game each players tokens numbered 1 through 10 are spread throughout of a hexagon alongside other players. This is the political landscape  that players that carve up into districts throughout the game. Each turn players place 4 borders trying to group together lower numbered opponent tokens with higher tokens of their own. However all the other players are trying to do the same thing, so the key is to place borders in such a way that the other players can’t undo your plans before your next turn. You can learn the game in five minutes so it is a great introductory game for folks who haven’t played many board games. However, fair warning it is a rather mean game as every good move for you is inherently bad for another player. As long as you are ok with this confrontation I recommend checking it out.

That’s it for today. I will be checking in with more impressions later this week as new games are added to the service. If any of the above sparked your interest head on over to Board Game Arena and check them out!

Welcome To and its sequel Welcome To New Las Vegas are available online

Happy Friday! We’re on day 4 of one new game a day on the online board gaming site Board Game Arena. I have been learning and playing a new game each day and wanted to share my thoughts on some of the recent additions. I will provide a recap of many of the new games next week, but first I want to write about two specific additions from this Tuesday.

The great news is that Board Game Arena added Welcome To which I wrote about in my Roll and Write post earlier this year, and it’s sequel Welcome to New Las Vegas to the service. Having Welcome To in a clean user friendly online format is great news. I recommended this game as one that folks could play remotely with friends using the physical game and printing additional player sheets online, but this online implementation just makes it that much easier to play the game with friends and family.

Since I had already learned this game, I dove into it’s sequel to see what new bells and whistles they had added to one of my favorite games. And the initial experience was… frustrating, to say the least. You know how some movies are perfect, and yet Hollywood chooses to make a sequel and completely misunderstands what made the original great? This was the feeling I got with Welcome to New Last Vegas. My general impression was that they had added too many rules and systems making what was a simple game with the original into a convoluted mess with the sequel.

To explain, it might make sense to briefly recap the original. In May I wrote:

In Welcome To players are building neighborhoods by filling in house numbers on one of three streets. Each turn there are three numbers to choose from three different stacks of cards and each stack also has a corresponding power, cleverly printed on the back of each card. In this way the face up card is the number you can play and the remaining deck’s top card indicates the power. The goal of the game is to build neighborhoods, groups of houses that all have a house number filled in and a fence on the left and right side of the group. This is easier said than done however, as numbers have to be sequential like a real street however the distribution of the numbers 1-15 are not even in the deck. You can’t always rely on getting the next number you need on a street so there is a push and pull on when to skip a number.. The various powers let you spruce up the neighborhoods by adding parks and pools for extra points, increase the real estate value for neighborhoods of a certain size, or bend the rules to repeat house numbers or manipulate a house number up or down. 


The core of Welcome to New Las Vegas is the same. Players have three choices each turn and are now filling in casinos with numbers instead of houses. Gone are the neighborhoods and instead there are various ways to score points. So much so that what was once a single sheet game now has a separate score sheet and player sheet to keep track. Which is certainly an ominous indication of the increased complexity. Players are now trying to build sequences of odd or even sequential numbers in 4 streets instead of the original 3. In addition players can build Hotels by completing avenues, e.g. the vertical column of casinos on multiple streets. So here players are thinking in multiple dimensions. This is confused further by having several unbuilt casinos that need to be constructed in one turn in order to be able to write a number in them in a future turn.

From here things get even more complicated. There is now a spatial puzzle to play by driving a limousine around these various streets and avenues picking up bonuses in front of certain hotels, with a risk/reward mechanic whereby if you don’t make it back to the airport spot where the limousine starts you lose points. There is a golf course you can expand on the top street of the board that rewards you for building casinos next to each other without skipping any spaces. There is a mayor inauguration track that you can contribute to with players getting points for having contributed more than any other player. This track can also have spaces cashed in to bend the rules. There are shows, similar to pools from the previous game where you can circle a show if you use that effect and number on a casino that has a a star on it and receive increasing points depending on how many shows you put on.

A completed game.

All of this is topped of with the cherry on a sundae that is the money system in the game. Several of those activities mentioned above require you to circle a money icon to use. Constructing casinos, putting on shows, extending casinos to duplicate a number you’ve already written. At the end of the game if you have not accrued enough money to pay for these actions you can get dinged for 20 points, which is usually enough to knock someone out of first place. 

So at first… I absolutely hated this. Who had thought all this systems overhead was a good idea? I walked away from my first place of the game ready to write it off and just return to the original. And to be fair, I will always start with the original with new players. It would be cruel to throw anyone into the deep end of Welcome to New Las Vegas without the basics of its predecessor. But then I played another round, and I read the rules again. And I lost… by less. And then I played a third round and focused a few strategies based on the goal cards from that game. Somewhere along the line everything clicked into place. What they have created is a very complex system of risk and reward. When you play Welcome to New Las Vegas you are actually playing several tiny games at once, pulling the different levers that the game offers you to give you more flexibility, but at a cost. This can result in the game feeling very scattered and fragmented in the first few plays. But once you get used to the systems, it does exactly what it set out to do. It does not create a better game necessarily, but there is more to explore if you can make it past the rough learning curve.

Regardless of what flavor of Welcome To you prefer, these are two great games and its great to be able to easily play them online


Board Game Arena Saves the Holidays

I wrote back in the Spring about Board Game Arena being one of the best places to play games online during the pandemic. As the year has gone on the website has added some tremendous games to their library, and for less than the cost of a single board game you can sign up for a premium membership to play them all. Given the coming winter and the fact that more people will be stuck inside as case counts go up, BGA has seen fit to send us all a care package of fun by releasing a new game on the service every day of December.

As one of those people are stcuk at home, I plan to learn and play each new game and report back here. While the blog posts may not be daily, I will cover all 31 games on this site. If one peaks your interest feel free to jump in and even challenge me to a round!

The first game of this board game bonanza is Thurn and Taxis. A game about… the founding of the German postal service. Sometimes, you don’t play a game for it’s theme, but simply because it’s fun, and that’s certainly the case here. The gameplay here sings, so much so that the game won the Spiel des Jahres or German Game of the Year award back in 2006. Each turn you must draw a city card, and play a city card to your postal route. You may then optionally finish a route and place houses. Three core rules, seems pretty simple, right? That’s where it gets devious. Each card you play in your route must be adjacent to a previous city you have played. And there’s a spatial element here as well as route cards can be played to the left or the right of the current route you are working on. Think of it like building a sequential set of cards in a game like solitaire. You are often looking for very specific cards to continue your route, and there’s often only one or two cards that would work. AS a result there is a push your luck aspect because if you can’t continue your existing route, you have to start a new one and lose all your current progress. So you may want to complete a route if you are not sure you can continue it in the next round. However, the longer the route, the more points, so maybe you take a chance and just hope the right card comes up in the next draw…

Board Game Arena has a fantastic tutorial that will teach you all of the basics, and the interface makes it very clear what your options are on your turn. Better yet since it is a digital version of the game playtimes are way down and there’s no set up or clean-up. Check back in later this week for more micro-reviews and if you’re bored at home give BGA a try.