Kanagawa, Bruno Cathala & Charles Chevallier

Published: Iello 

Illustration: Jade Mosch

Plays: 2-4

Duration: 30-45 mins

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Let me start by saying that Kanagawa is now firmly placed in my ‘chill AF’ game category, which previously didn’t have enough games to be construed as a category, but at this point I think there are just enough, and Kanagawa fits into it quite nicely. If there were ever a game to give you enough to concentrate on but also the headspace to sit back and just enjoy playing then this is it.

Having read a few glowing reviews and watched the promo video I pretty much knew I was going to like it from the get-go and thankfully it didn’t disappoint. I unboxed it to find a traditional Japanese style play mat, chunky ‘diploma tiles’, little paint pots and square ‘lesson’ cards depicting various pretty images that really set my heart a-fluttering. And amongst all this cute stuff is a very good little game, and attractive components aside, that’s what it’s really all about isn’t it?

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Kanagawa is a worker placement & set collection combination with a bit of card drafting and press your luck thrown in, that works beautifully and plays super smoothly. The rules are fairly simple, but the choices are tough without making your head come off and therein lay the chill factor. You find yourself enrolled in painting school on a mission to prove your art-worthiness to old Master Hokusai. You achieve this by making prints and claiming diploma tiles. You begin with a starting tile; on the top side is your canvas, on the bottom your skill board. The start player (or Grand Master) draws cards from the deck and lays them in a face up/face down arrangement as shown on the mat (your art school). You draw two at a time and the start player decides if they want to stay in school i.e. wait to see what cards are drawn next or to take what’s already there (say you desperately want a lesson card with the landscape painting skill) and the next player will take what’s left. Which isn’t always a bad thing.

You choose to place your cards in two ways: 1/ With your skills; this will acquire you more painting abilities, points, further paint pots, ability to move your pots a number of times or to gain the start playing marker. 2/ With your canvas; prints mean points just by being placed, but you cannot paint them without having the skills and the paint pots to do so.  (The bottom of the lesson card symbolises the skill you need, e.g. two blue ocean painting skills). You increase your Harmony Points by collecting sets and pinching your desired diploma tile before your opponent. Valid sets include people and buildings of different types, combinations of animals and identical landscapes. It’s very much a game of deciding what to do for the best in the moment. Are you aiming to collect tree or people prints? Maybe you want to try your hand at all of them. Should you go for a diploma tile now or wait until next turn to get the better one? What if your opponent nabs it before you? Maybe you want the lesson card with multiple painting abilities, but it will lose you two Harmony Points. Perhaps you can gain them elsewhere…but how? Have you paid attention to what seasons (top right of the lesson card) you are painting? An identical sequence of seasons will score you bonus Harmony Points (although if you gain a skill awarding you a storm token you can use it to substitute any season for a greater sequence.) For a seemingly simple game the options to explore are so varied that you want to play again immediately after you’ve finished to see what else you can do. And that is the mark of a really great game.

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In a two-player game the end is triggered when the lesson deck is empty or a player reaches eleven cards on their canvas. Scoring is based on number of prints, Harmony Points on skills and prints, diplomas, longest sequential run of seasons and a bonus two points for the last player with the Grand Master pawn.

In case you hadn’t already guessed I highly recommend Kanagawa. I love having lots of options, I adore satisfying end scoring and I enjoy games that play like fillers that are a bit fuller…and when it’s over you’re like ‘well that was lovely wasn’t it?’ which is exactly what I’ve said after every game of Kanagawa so far.

Thanks for reading!

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Terraforming Mars, Jacob Fryxelius

Finally, I have a chance to review Terraforming Mars. Well I say review; I am a reviewer in a very casual sense. I play games that I mainly buy myself and I know I’ll like, so it’s rare that I’m ever going to pan anything. This year I think there have been two games that I’ve had to hold my hands up and say ‘look, I made a mistake’ and I think I’ve made that pretty clear in my past posts (namely A Study In Emerald and Tiffin). I’ve never been mean or negative, but I have to say when I’m genuinely baffled, frustrated or disappointed. My reviewing ‘style’ is usually to chat about the game, basic game play and what I thought. So that clears up my ‘reviewing’ style.

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I didn’t think I’d be disappointed with Terraforming Mars. When you’re on a tight budget you kind of have to vet the games out fully to make sure it’s not going to be a colossal waste of money and time. Made that mistake and never again as far as I’m concerned. Of course it’s bound to happen again at some point because sometimes you just don’t know if you’ll be into the vibe until you play. Anyway, there is so much out there on Terraforming Mars that I think it would be very tedious to give you a full break down of the game play as I’ve done in the past. I kind of reserve that now for games I don’t see getting a lot of attention, like maybe a game that’s not had a lot of coverage or I think deserves like a full work up, rules and all. But Terraforming Mars is not one of those games. It seems that it’s a very enthusiastic thumbs up from everyone and a lot of videos and blog coverage. So I just want to focus on two things; is it worth the hype and what do I like about it?

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Yes. Yes it is. It’s a very clever game with what seems like infinite ability to replay at this point. In a two player game it seems that there are cards constantly coming up that you didn’t see the first two times you played, so I can imagine that with two player plus this would happen all the more. The cards represent so many things you can do to steam ahead, and I love the way they work together. Admittedly in my first game I was just buying what I thought looked good, but by the second I was more switched on as to what I was doing and employed a good amount of strategy into what I bought and why. The cards thematically link in different ways so for example you may want to go down the plant life route or the city building route to head up the score track and generate lots of ‘credits’ (the game currency). The cards synchronise by the ‘tags’, and you can use these cards to generate credits and build up a storage of titanium, steel heat etc and use these as payment for other cards. You can build on plant life and animal cards which will score you tons of points.You can be an amazing scientist. You can be a top biologist. It’s a good idea to get cards with end of game bonuses, and please, whatever you do, try to remember everything. I really thought I had the last game in the bag, I was ahead on the terraforming track, I was set to win some ‘awards’ but I forgot that land tiles on the board will score you end of game points, and I made a bad bet on an award at the last minute, not foreseeing that actually my opponent was going to end the game before I could fully achieve it. So I lost, and not by too much which was really frustrating. That’s the thing with this game, you have lots to think about and work at, but you need to remember that it’s all going to come together at the end.

I like the way you have to work with your opponents somewhat to bring the game to a close, and you have to do this by meeting the three end trigger conditions; all sea tiles placed and oxygen/heat leveled up. It takes a surprisingly long time in a two-player game, around 2/2.5 hours. But you know it’s a good game when the time has flown by and you feel like you’ve only been playing ten minutes.

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Overall, it’s fun, it’s challenging, it’s a bit of a brain burner, but not hard to pick up and learn. It’s having the full mental capacity to see it through that’s the tricky part.

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As an aside, it is a gorgeous game; beautiful big board, clear and concise cards, some with realistic photographic print, some illustrated. Shiny and transparent cubes which I love to look at (however I think my criticism would be that they are slippery little devils and a bit fiddly to handle) I would also say that I was mildly disappointed that with all the other very obvious effort put into the game I wish the player mats had been solid cardboard and not thick card, which is prone to warping. But you know when that’s your only real complaint, and it’s nothing to do with the game play, it has to be overlooked to an extent. So yes, if you have to pre-order and wait a while, or pay a little over the odds for it, I say do it. It’s worth it.

My last comment, a genuine thought and something that has been really bothering me….did the designer start this design before The Martian or was it inspired by the film? I would ask him, but I’m too embarrassed.

To find out more about the game play, rules and full details, go to the BGG page and follow all the links.

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Sandcastles, Andrew Harman

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I spotted Sandcastles  by YAY Games on Twitter and really fancied it, and for a mere £13, I thought why the hell not?  It’s amazing how much fun can be packed into a small box with cards.
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If you saw my unboxing video then you may have seen that these cards are more like square tiles and have various graphics depicting buckets, crabs and seagulls. They have different patterns around the outside that are the ‘walls’ and you use these to build and connect your sandcastles. In a two player game you randomly choose ‘objective’ cards that will score you points e.g-  ‘largest’ sandcastle, the ‘tallest’ sandcastle, a sandcastle featuring 4 bucket cards etc. You play by selecting a card each turn, either by drafting from three central cards, or from the draw deck in order to build your castle. Some of these cards are attack cards and these can be used to mess with your opponent, steal their cards and ruin their glorious sandcastle. When an opponent attacks you can play a card back on them to deflect their attempt, e.g – they play a crab to poke your castle, but you reveal a seagull to eat their crab, but they happen to have a bucket to throw at your seagull, so it’s like rock/paper/scissors and really fun!
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 You can build several sandcastles at once, but you can only set aside your sandcastle for scoring when it’s been completed and all of your sandcastle walls are joined up and closed off. A two player game finishes when the wave card appears. It took about half an hour to play and I never got bored or found it repetitive. It was really genuinely good fun!
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There’s a variant for 3-7 players and for solo play. I’m really looking forward to playing solo, in fact it was the main reason I bought this game as it has a solo option.  Unfortunately spare moments are few and far between, because my current life situation just doesn’t include alone/down time really. I remind myself that it’s not going to last forever and it’s nice to have games with solo play for when the time is right.
Sandcastles is a very good and worthwhile purchase in my opinion, and you can buy directly from the YAY website or from Square Orange. More info on the game here.

An interview with Robert Coelho

I was lucky enough to speak to Robert Coelho, a theatre director and board game designer from Brazil. Robert’s game Shakespeare: Sonhos de um Bardo (A Bard’s Dream) is on it’s way to being released by Fun Box Jogos. It is a set collection, card drafting game featuring gorgeous artwork by Luis Fransisco and Jacqui Davis and you can read more details below. I loved reading Robert’s answers, fascinating stuff and plenty of names and games to investigate further. I hope that you enjoy reading as much as I did.

Robert Coelho

Robert Coelho

All images taken with permission from Board Game Geek.

Tell me about your most recent game Shakespeare: A Bard’s Dream when is it to be released?

Shakespeare: A Bard´s Dream is a card game inspired by all those amazing plays and iconic characters. The game is a play staged by the players and their characters. Each round takes place in a different scenario and players use characters to perform actions or collect coins. Characters have class icons and each character you put on stage later becomes part of your cast. At the end of the game you’ll get points according to class icons in your cast. It would be a simple and placid set-collection game, if not for all that treason, murders, vengeance, romance and many other shakespearian actions characters can perform during the play. The game will be released here in Brazil this year during the second semester on a date to be announced.

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How did you go about publishing your game? Did you approach Fun Box initially?

It all started around the beginning of 2014. I am a theatre director and my playtest group was my game group, basically formed by my actors. After a few weeks where we played Citadels almost every day during rehearsal snack breaks, I began to think about a game that would a play where we could put characters on stage. Took a look at BGG when I started sketching this idea and noticed that there were not many games with this theme. There were some games that had Shakespeare as a theme, but none of them were relevant or similar to what I was thinking. Spent a few months working on the mechanics of the game and in the characters actions, what took me to re-read and study all of Shakespeare’s plays to get the game where I wanted. In October I thought that the game was well balanced and I began thinking about crowdfunding to publish it. At that time I already knew Vanessa, one of the owners of Funbox Jogos, because I was a loyal customer of Funbox Ludolocadora, a board game cafe where you can rent games too.  Funbox Jogos had recently published through crowdfunding the Brazilian version of Coup, which was beautiful, by the way. So I thought it would be a good idea to show them the game and find out  if it was really worth it and maybe get some tips that could help me on the way to a successful crowdfunding campaign. On the day that I scheduled with Vanessa to show her the game, all Funbox Jogos big guys were there and they ended up playing too. Many tips, analysis, suggestions and compliments and a week later they contacted me saying they wanted to publish the game.

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Will it have an English translation or European distribution? 

Well I have a prototype of the game in English and Funbox Jogos will be at Essen. So, let´s cross fingers.

How long have you been designing and have you had any other games released? 

I always loved games, whether electronic, cards or tabletop. But I really started thinking about creating one just after a new world of possibilities was uncovered when I discover the modern board games in 2011. Shakespeare was the first game I considered good enough to show other people than my game group and it´s going to be the first one to be published. Hope many others will come.

Is there anything you’re currently working on?

Last year I spent some time developing more card games ideas, like Urbes (A city building draft game), Anime Studio (An anime production with multi-use cards) and Mermaids (A bluffing and deduction game under the sea). Unfortunately I can´t work full time on my game projects, so I dedicated my free time to them. Since I think I get better results when I focus on just one game for a while, I’ll have to choose which board game prototype I’ll return to, since some got frozen during last year, or which new idea I’ll start developing. I have a little notebook where I write down all my games ideas so I can work on them later, and right now I have more than 20 there. I think I need more free time!

What’s the table top game scene like in Brazil? Has it always been quite strong of has it grown in popularity?

Catan was just published here in 2011, and before that the vast majority of the market was dominated by Risk and Monopoly look alikes. Just a very small number of people would import because taxes are very high here. From what I have read on BGG and heard on YouTube, there was a worldwide increase of tabletop games enthusiasts in recent years. Fortunately we seem to follow this trend, as the number of stores, publishers and games has grown exponentially every year since 2011. We don´t have a big convention bringing together players nationally, but several cities already have local events. I organize one in my city called Joga Cuesta. Hope to have a BGBR CON soon, with many foreign companies, designers and reviewers visiting us.

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Who are your favourite designers, and do you have any recommendations for us?

I´m a big fan of Bruno Cathala, Bruno Faidutti, Vlaada Chvátil and Uwe Rosenberg. Have not played so many Feld games, but I really liked those I played. I´m a big fan of Marcos Macri´s games, a Brazilian designer who was not yet published out of here. But if you want to know him better, Rahdo did a run through Dogs, one of my favourites. I playtested his next one, Chaparral, and it´ll probably be the best of all. The dynamic duo Sérgio Halaban and André Zatz, responsible for the big hit Sheriff of Nothingham, are also Brazilian and from them I would recommend Quartz, a very funny press your luck game which will be released at GEN CON this year. If you are more of a euro gamer, besides Macri´s games I´d recommend Blacksmith Brothers from Nicholas Paschalis, just released here by Ludofy Creative, and Space Cantina from Fel Barros and Warny Marçano, which crowfunding campaign is ending this week. Shakespeare artwork is amazing, thanks to Luis Francisco graphic design and Jacqui Davis illustrations. So I´d like to recommend Fidelitas and Euphoria, two great games where you can find Jacqui´s art. If you have Instagram I would recommend following me, @robertcoel, so you can find more about Brazilian tabletop games and talk about what we´re playing.

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A sneak peek at a previously unseen card, one of my favourite characters!

You can follow Robert on Instagram on the link above and follow the game on BGG

 

Archaeology: The New Expedition, Phil Walker-Harding

I acquired this lovely little game as a Mother’s Day present after spying it on Games Lore a couple of months ago. It was also reviewed by Shut Up And Sit Down, and then I had my ‘yes, I need this in my life’ moment. I’ve always been really into history, artefacts, Indiana Jones, and to be honest if I could go back in time and have a word with myself, I would definitely tell younger me to get a job as an historian, museum curator or archaeologist.
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So, onto the game. Put simply, it’s small box card game, beautifully themtaic and you set collect. As a filler game it’s short and sweet (especially as a two player) so perfect to get out and have a few rounds if you fancy a quick game. It’s a draw back and forth card grabbing game, building a set of artefacts and selling them to ‘the museum’ as your actions. The more of one item you sell in one hit the more points you score, so it’s really about managing your deck and getting the cards you need. Play your tent card carefully, you’ll need that to hide from the sandstorm! When they come along at random you have to discard half your hand, and you can only play your tent once. So you can’t get too greedy or you might lose your valuable Pharaoh’s Masks…but if you’re too quick to sell, the 5th card you so desperately needed will be hidden in the chamber next turn! You also have to beware the thief card, which allows you to steal from your opponent. These random elements make the game fun (and annoying as hell) but you can strategise somewhat using the ‘monument tiles’ and their special abilities.
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I love the small box and dinky rule book. The artwork on the cards is pretty simple but affective, and the design on the back of the cards has a gorgeous vintage feel. I don’t feel like Archeology offers anything particularly new or exciting, but sometimes your not looking for anything groundbreaking. However, if you are looking for a new filler game with a fun theme, then you need to put Archeology in your collection and an Indiana Jones movie on! More Info

A Study In Emerald, Martin Wallace

*Bear in mind that these thoughts are based on a two player game. And that it was mainly composed at 2am when my daughter wouldn’t sleep. 

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I wanted to love A Study In Emerald. So that was possibly my first mistake. I’m rather into the Lovecraftian genre. Not on a massive scale but I’ve read quite a bit of Lovecraft over the years and enjoyed films and games based on the Cthulhu Mythos. So I thought this game is perfect for me; deck building, secret plotting, Sherlock and Cthulhu, I’m there!  There are some parts to this game I really like, for a start the art work is gorgeous. It looks like something out of an Oz book, and I love the board and cards, it’s just so darn attractive with some hideous Elder God cards to boot, perfect! But I found it hard to shake the initial disappointment after being so excited for it.
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I thought it was going to be one of those games I’d instantly click with, so I was a bit perplexed that I was struggling to grasp the concept during the first couple of plays. I really enjoy deck building and the mechanics seemed like familiar territory. I’m pleased to say that after a short while it all became clear. Well clear-ish. The rule book was slightly problematic, at first it seemed to be well written and but there are a few ambiguous parts that left us (and Jon being a big rules man) like ‘whaaaa?’ and having to look up online for rules explanations etc. I’m aware that the second edition is more streamlined, and a lot of er loyalists to the original think this version is a travesty. Having had no experience of the first edition and being that it’s no longer in print, that doesn’t really matter to people who have only just discovered the game. Anyway my point is that if this was an opportunity to improve on the original then why not make the rule book a bit better?
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Onto the game itself. I’m not going to talk in depth about the rules because you can find that information anywhere. But to give you a the general idea I’ll outline the basics. You spend most of ASIE as you would any other deck builder, by collecting cards that work for you and enhance your turns with weird and wonderful things. You have a secret ID, you’re either with the elders (Royalists) or you’re fighting against them as a Restorationist. You move your agents around the city spaces and grapple for influence to get the card you want (you need more pieces on the city to get first dibs). The symbols on the cards let you do certain things like move, pick up etc. You need influence cubes to pick up the cards and the cubes go into ‘limbo’ when spent, so ideally you want to claim a card that lets you retrieve all of them so you don’t spend all your turns just picking up cubes. You can also spend turns performing assassinations on your opponent or killing the creatures. If you’re a Loyalist you can get a card that means you ‘claim’ the creatures for final points.
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So this brings me to the pointy issue of points. Because the main aim of any game is to get points and win. So it’s a pretty big deal when it doesn’t quite work. The end triggers when you reach 28 on the score track, 10 on the influence track, if all your agents die or you lose sanity. You score by getting neutral points on city cards, performing assassinations, claiming certain character and creature cards. So there’s a lot to think about there. In a two player it’s quite difficult to keep your ID secret, but if you want to bluff you have to be careful not to get too many cards that will lose you points at the end. Because when the end triggers you deduct any points that were not helpful to your faction. E.g- you’re a Restorationist who wants to appear as a Loyalist so you’ve assassinated another agent but this will lose you points at the end for this. Likewise for the Loyalist, when you get Loyalist characters you have to roll the sanity dice. Lose three sanity and you go mad! So my issue is that in an already complex game with narrow time constraints, what is with the influence track? This was a real problem for us and my main bug bear. You can move the marker on this track up and down depending on whether your the Royalist or Restorationist faction and this affects how your points on the scoring track move. You can use it to speed up or delay the game pretty much using the number of difference on the track. Since reading a few posts on BGG I’m relieved it’s not just us that struggled with it! We ended one game on what I thought was a close call and then I lost all my points to the dreaded track and was a bit like ‘well why’s that happened?’ So I lost all the difference because I was one point behind on the Loyalist track?  I went down to zero? Still so confused! Is it meant to be evocative of the theme? Because it drove me mad! I felt a bit deflated and Jon felt a bit shitty and we were left thinking it would be far better without this odd mechanic. I personally think it doesn’t really achieve what it intended and should of been scrapped. Because it’s not that fun to use. But the rest of the game is good so it’s an irritant. I suggested that maybe we should house rule this in some way or leave it out entirely for future plays. But as Jon said, quite rightly, that with so many other games out there that are all round solid winners why would we play a game where we’ve had to change or leave out a main part of it because it sucks? Whilst this is true, I think as I enjoyed the rest of the game I want to make it work for us. But still  don’t really like the idea of changing the mechanics in place. I think we’d definitely have to give it a couple more turns using the influence track and perhaps finally figure out how this works to advantage without destroying yourself at the end. But if not I’d be happy to play without it. Kind of. In a nutshell;
The negative;
– Influence Track
– A WTF rule book
–  With two players it’s over very quickly and you’ve barely made a dent in the game. We house ruled to put the city cards at the bottom of the draw deck spaces because if you score the city points in the initial few rounds it’s all over in ten minutes.
– Generally with a lot to play around with it’s a shame that the end of game can trigger so quickly.
– Hard to keep your secret identity secret for long with a two player.
The positive;
– A gorgeous game.
– Secret Plotting is great fun.
– The deck building element.
– The theme.
– I like the fast pace, with sudden death imminent there’s lots to get done and turns are lightening fast.
– Much to think about and opportunity to secretly strategise (just not enough time to employ it all!).
– The character cards with some nice surprises (Freud! William Morris!).
– Some gruesome new elders like Gloriana.
If you’ve had a completely different experience in a 2 plus game please do share!

Concordia, Mac Gerdts

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I love the fast pace of Concordia! I must say that this is the first game for a while that has made me genuinely excited to be playing, and really engaged. Concordia actually works great with only two players, and i’m so anxious to beat my highest score each time it’s ludicrous. I definitely find the challenge of playing games, and bettering myself each time the best part of playing. I like winning when i’ve continuously lost a certain game, but in general the ‘winning’ aspect i’m not too fussed with. So I really love Concordia and I look forward to buying the expansion Salsa, hopefully very soon! More Info

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