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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Back This! Mint Works, Justin Blaske

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Meet Justin Blaske, a designer from Nebraska, USA. I originally spied Justin’s latest game Mint Works on Instagram and I was really drawn to its quaint low key design and quirky name. I thought it looked super cool and wanted to find out more. Mr Blaske kindly allowed me the PnP, which I did indeed print and play. I’m happy to say that I thoroughly enjoyed it, as did the other players. For me this is an absolutely lovely and beautifully designed little gem. A cute filler and perfect travel game, easy to teach for new gamers but enough strategic decision making and minty rewards for more experienced players to get their teeth into. Yes I loved Mint Works, and hope very much to get a finished copy arriving on my door step in the near future. It went live on Kickstarter today, it’s a great campaign (I love the promo video, it’s perfect) and you can find the link at the bottom of the page. 

I’ll leave it to Justin to tell you more…

What was the inspiration for Mint Works and can you tell us what it’s all about?

Well, this game came about very differently than my typical game ideas. Mint works ended up being created in response to a design contest on BGG. The contest, run by R4D6, was to create a game that, with all of it’s components, would fit within a mint tin. When I saw the competition, I thought it was really neat, but had no ideas what I could do for that. So I subscribed to the thread to see what came of it, and moved on. A few days later while I was relaxing around the house the idea came to me. Why not make game that used the mints themselves as components! From there, worker placement seemed like a good direction to go. That’s when I locked the name “Mint Works” down, since your mints were doing your work for you, ha! From that point, I started throwing together ideas, realized I could make it simple enough that it could be a gateway style game, and being pocket sized in a little metal tin made it even better for that idea. People could carry this around in their pocket and the game wouldn’t get damaged!

Is this the first game you’ve designed and what lead you up to this point as a games designer? 

Nope, My first game was Area 1851, and I was lucky enough to get that published! It’s had pretty mixed reviews so far. Some people love it, some people think it’s ok, and some people hate that it exists.  If I look at my projects listing Mint Works is my 7th design. Which now that I look at this list, kind of blows my mind how many different projects I have going.

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How did you find creating the campaign? 

Well I had created one campaign before this, for Area 1851, and that was a bit of a mess. I had no idea what I was doing, both in term of Kickstarer design, or the game design industry as a whole. So it’s a good thing that it failed initially, I think – it gave me time to get a better context for Kickstarter and game design as a whole. The Mint Works campaign I think will be much better, and I dare say successfully fund. My abilities as a graphic designer have improved over the years and I’ve done a lot more research into creating a campaign. Not to mention actually being a part of the gaming ecosystem now for several years. When all is said and done, When you buy a copy of Mint Works from your FLGS store you’ll find a ton of fun, in a tiny little tin. The final graphics haven’t been submitted to the manufacturer yet, so it’s possible for things to change a slight amount, but what you see in the campaign page, and in review videos will be pretty close to what you get at the end.

Have you got anything else in the pipeline for Mint Works such as expansions or any future games you’re working on?

Mint Works is so small and compact, I’m not sure what would be a good expansion or addition to it. I struggled to come up with meaningful stretch goals for the campaign, that would still fit in the tin!

I’m not opposed to expanding on it, introducing more advanced concepts and leading new player deeper into this wonderful hobby we all enjoy. However, I don’t think it would work well in the mint tin form factor, an expansion for Mint Works would likely be a little bigger box, that accepts all of the original mint works components. As for other games, yes there are lots in the pipeline, and having my buddy Mel join up with me has brought even more creative engergy to the mix. We are pitching a game we initially called “Dungeon Town” during the publisher speed dating event at GenCon this year. I’m also working on a few other projects to potentially release from Five24 Labs, as well as projects directly with other publishers.

 

I love the simple but attractive illustration and design, was this all created by you?

I wish it was! The game’s initial layout was my idea, and a friendly BGG user by the name of Felix (BGG user ID skoll) offered to do some layout/design for a small project for a geek gold donation. I messaged him and he came up with what became the final design/layout. After that, I’ve made a few tweaks here and there. All of the central images on the cards are from the amazing artists over at Game-Icons.netI’ve attached an image to show you the evolution of the cards from initial PnP to near final design.

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Lastly I’d love some advice as an aspiring designer myself, any hints, tips, and ways not to go mad in the process? 

I guess, my best advice is, make things you love playing, or wish you could play. If you aren’t enjoying the game, it becomes much more difficult to finish the project. Also, don’t be afraid to collaborate and worth with other people. Participate on design forums, both on BGG and Facebook – there’s a lot of people out there doing a lot of neat things. Do a competition or two as well, the constraints can really bring out neat ideas.

Most of all though, just stick with it – and if you find yourself in a rut, shelf it for a bit, maybe it isn’t as amazing as you thought it was, maybe it is. Coming back a few weeks/months later will really shed fresh light on on it. Also, if you plan on going to Kickstarter, read Jamey Stegmaier’s book and blogs, and James Mathe’s blogs as well. Really crucial stuff in there to at least see, even if you don’t want to follow it to the letter.

Thanks to Justin for talking to me, and take a look at the finished product here!

Neanderthal, Phil Eklund

I’m taking you way way back, to 43,000 BC Ice Age Europe in fact, to talk about…Neanderthal!

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I acquired Neanderthal well over a month ago and have played it several times since. I didn’t want to post about it until I formed a solid opinion. We had a game this afternoon and I’m afraid to say I’m still struggling. So at this point I thought I’d write about it anyway, because it’s such an interesting game.

It’s a 2015 small box game, which I love. A box hardly bigger than a coaster is crammed full of discs and cubes, an intense little rule book (with a huge amount of notes in the back on the subject matter) and a ton of cards chock full of text, images and symbols. It took a while to get to grips with the rules, it’s not badly written there’s just a hell of a lot to take on board. As with most games, when you start playing it through your objectives become clear, but it’s one of those games that leaves me, much like Cro-Magnon (wo)man, scratching my head at points saying ‘whaaaaaaat?’ or ‘whyyyyy?!’

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You start off with your chosen cave man, hunters and ‘vocabulary’ discs. You have a north row and south row of ‘biomes’, cards depicting various prehistoric creatures and tools, to be hunted, invented or taken as trophies. You spend turns revealing event cards that are also female (or daughter) cards. First they tell you if there’s a blizzard, a catastrophe, if there’s global warming or cooling (which rearranges the biomes) and you roll for your tribes elders to see if any er…die. You then bid to claim the daughter card which will allow you to achieve certain goals. The winner of that card must remove the vocabulary discs bid so that she matures and only then can she use her ability.  You do this by hunting on the biome cards, to give you more family members and free up vocab discs in different areas (on your daughter card or your main character card for example) . This phase is achieved by dice rolling (the required numbers are outlined on the biome cards) so it all gets a bit luck based at this point. Depending on what you roll and which creature you’re hunting, you can end up losing half your hunters to a tusky predator. The last phase is using vocab discs (if you are able, this is where the daughter cards come into play) to place knowledge into your character’s brain. This can unlock various abilities. If and only if you get all 6 discs into the brain then you can flip the card and ‘go tribal’ allowing for even more interesting actions, like the inventing tools and gaining animal trophies. Wow. There’s a lot going on here. I could continue or go into greater detail but I’ve pretty much told you the basics of what to expect.

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I think the problem I have with Neanderthal (which may not be a problem for someone else) is that it’s so damn hard to get to the tribal stage, I’ve only got that far twice, both times we were only one card away from the end of the game. It’s hard. I think if you played Neanderthal many times, probably over a course of days then you could crack it. As yet I haven’t found a good strategy. It’s not the kind of game you can pick up and play after a few weeks and it all falls into place again. You have to relearn it rather than build on your existing knowledge. Or maybe that’s just us!

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The reason it’s hard to form a good strategy is because so much of it is luck based, due to dice rolling and the random events. Which very much tallies up with the theme itself. It just becomes increasingly frustrating when I’m not getting anywhere fast. But I like it. I look forward to playing it and I want to crack it. It just feels too much like hard work. Hats off to Phil Eklund, it’s a hell of a smart game. It’s the frustration of not achieving the necessary because you made a lousy roll, when you want to do all the cool things that the game has to offer, but rarely get the opportunity to do so. This game can also be integrated with it’s predecessor Greenland (Neanderthal is a prequel) but for now….I think i’ll skip it. More Info

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The Gallerist, Vital Lacerda

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I heard many great things about The Gallerist and after watching a review I agreed that it looked like a lot of fun. I was a little worried that it wouldn’t live up to the hype or to the slightly hefty price tag. I am pleased to confirm that on both accounts it certainly did. It is a great game, and once you see the and feel the quality of the box and components it is definitely worth the money. The box is huge, the board is big, the pawns with their nice little hats are made of vibrantly coloured wood. The tiles and money tokens are thick cardboard and the art work displayed on the tiles is actual art that was submitted for the game. The graphic design is neat and functional. So aesthetically The Gallerist gets a big thumbs up from me!

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The game itself is smooth and fast moving, with plenty of tough decisions to be made. As always I won’t go into the rules, but a quick overview; You move your pawn around the board to the action spaces. Your aim is to discover artists, buy art, sell art and set collect for bonus VP’s. It sounds fairly simple but the reality is bloody tricky. You also have to decide what you want to achieve most; a great selection in your gallery, money for the art you sell, to have  certain sets (as outlined by your objective cards) to discover as many artists as possible to buy at a commissioners rate….there’s a lot of thinking to do here.

So what makes it tough? Without people in your gallery or plaza there is a limited amount to what you can do, you need tickets to get those cute little art lovin’ meeples in the door, you need meeples in your plaza to take actions to generate money, gain influence (which will gain you money at the end of the game) bring out new meeples, take tickets etc. You need money to buy more art, contracts to sell it, assistants to help you achieve this and don’t forget about the international market. This is where you go gain the piece of art on display that will gain you some lovely bonus cash in the end scoring. You need to spend some time getting your assistants in the high value market spaces in order to win the piece. I could continue but I think that you get the idea. So we’ve gone from this sounds simple to ludicrously complicated but fear not! It works. It’s fast paced and enjoyable, it can be head-in-hands frustrating, but it’s such fun! Making these tough choices around what your opponents are doing is one of the hardest parts. The ‘kicked out’ actions allow you take the same action as another player but it means they’ll get a free turn. I didn’t think this seemed that bad but actually you really notice the difference when your opponent starts steaming ahead of you!

All in all The Gallerist is very fun and well worth the money. Jump on the bandwagon and play it! More info here. I was really hoping to make a video this week but i’m still waiting to get a tripod. Hopefully next week!

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Bretagne, Marco Pozzi 

  
I really fancied trying Bretagne because for some reason the idea of building 19th century lighthouses appealed to me. It looked quaint, and didn’t disappoint on that front. It’s an attractive, fairly peaceful game with a slower place. It is classed as an economic/area control game but it has worker placement elements. You can use workers (cubes), engineers and resources (coloured wooden pieces) to complete lighthouses and when you complete all lighthouses in each area then the improved abilities on the nearby harbours are activated.
  
It’s best to work together to get lighthouses completed, but you need more workers on your section of it, so you can use the cards you’ve collected to their best ability. The lovely weather gage cards tell you how the elements will affect your building and how many engineers you’ll need each round. You use your components to trade for others and to get workers on the harbours to gain cards or workers each turn.
  
It’s definitely got some strategy involved but not overly heavy, but it is quite ‘thinky’ which is good! As with a lot of area control/WP games there doesn’t seem to be enough time to achieve everything you want to but with repeated plays it should fall in to place a bit more.
  
The board, though very nice looking is kind of badly laid out in some respects and the lamented pieces are slippery AF and the awkward placing causes bits to fall all over the place which can get really annoying! The only other complaint would be that the cards and symbols are a little counter intuitive and the rule book translation isn’t fantastic, so it’s a bit difficult to get your head around. But all in all Bretagne is a fun game. It isn’t mind blowing but I’d recommend it if you like moderate strategy, a slower pace and lighthouses! I’m glad I bought it and look forward to future plays. More Info
 

The Producer (1940-1944), Manlio Zaninotti

I’m crediting Jon with this one as well, because these thoughts were borne out of our many animated conversations after playing The Producer….
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I spotted this game whilst online browsing and thought ‘wow, could this be any more up my street?’ I love movies, I love that golden era and Hollywood glamour and I couldn’t of been more excited to play it last week. So, in hindsight maybe perhaps should of researched a bit further before making my mind up. Because most people who have played this have pretty much said the same thing. It’s not bloody finished. I don’t know what happened here, if it was rushed out or just not tested enough or whether they just thought fuck it lets not bother. And it’s such a shame. Because here we have a gorgeous looking game with lovely shiny components and thick luxe cardboard and the skeleton of a really great idea. It looked super heavy with loads going on. And as you will see from the pictures it’s a sprawling game that you need crazy table top space for. It’s a game you don’t have to be a ‘gamer’ to play, and if, like me, you love the theme then it’s perfect to have in your collection.
But I can’t ignore the fact that many of the rules are unexplained or non existent, the event cards (which could make the game more difficult and exciting) don’t actually make a blind bit of difference for the most part and some of the effects they have just don’t do anything period. For example, ‘if your actor is married but having an affair they lose a star’. But how do we know if they were married, like Jon said are you meant to Google for further information? Because this is not stated anywhere on the cards. Just weird stuff like that is a big no no. Per turn you can do a number of things, but at the core of it there’s not much going on. Joining the mafia seems pretty pointless, ruining your opponents reputation makes little difference, and getting themed sets doesn’t really add anything of value to the end game. Argh, it just doesn’t add up and it’s so frustrating because there are lots of things this game could of done differently.
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Much of the game centres around making money from your movies, and you do this by getting scripts and actors. You use certain cards to increase your audience values and then take your movies to the Oscars. And that is the fun part in my opinion but is actually pretty simplistic. I think that the audience values could be a bit more varied because no matter what you always seem to make around the same revenue per movie. And you make all this money but no receive no bonus points for having it. You have a better chance of winning against your opponent at the Oscars if your movie scripts match up with the correct actor and director cards, which is tricky because there are so many of them. But to spend every turn just getting cards out to try match up them doesn’t seem worth it. There’s a chance that it could be better with more players, but I can’t imagine how long your game play would be, we played the ‘short’ three round version with two players and it took 2.5 hours. I think i’ll have to play again, just to see if there’s anything else that can be done to add something more, or maybe there’s something glaringly obvious we missed. I have a bad feeling it will just present more unnecessary flaws. So in a word, i’m gutted, because as I said there are some enjoyable parts but the all over game is just a bit of a mess. I think they’ve had trouble with copywriting in the US because of the use of the images and people, but if by some chance this gets a re-release or second edition in the future, and the issues are ironed out, well it could be a fantastic game. But until then, as much as it pains me, it’s a really crushing disappointment. More Info
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Myrmes, Yoann Levat


We played Myrmes about 18 months ago and I had very little recollection of playing it except I was exhausted and felt brain dead at the time as it turned out I was pregnant! So this stayed on the shelf until last weekend and I suggested playing it. So there’s a bit of back story and here are my thoughts.

First off I thought why the hell did I suggest even buying this? I’m pretty much an insect phobic and despite the cute little ants on the box artwork there’s fairly uncute insects inside. Plastic ants that look more like spiders (though the board is really lovely and colourful) and words like larvae, nest, and birthing your ants, bleurgh. I actually made a throw up face at a couple of points. BUT being the responsible adult gamer know that I can be I set aside those feelings, and ended up really enjoying playing the mechanics rather than the theme which to be honest has grown on me, so I’m not a complete twat!


  
I found it hard to get my head round this one at first. However after a few 40 min games over a couple of days it became a lot clearer and I got on with the basic premise no problem. You can use your turns to make workers, soldiers, eggs and nurses, then go out and lay your pheromone trails or fight other insects. You use your workers as soldiers and you need more soldiers to kill wasps and fight for your opponents space. You need to ‘up’ the quality of your nest to gain further improvements which will help you do bigger and better things and you need to make more nurses to get more done in each round. Lastly you need to get enough food to feed your ant family every year. So this brings me on to the issue of time. It could be the result of a two player game or maybe just not being that good at it at this point, but there just doesn’t seem to be enough time to do anything really worthwhile. I spent a lot of time forsaking the interesting stuff to feed the little bastards! So basically if you balls up in the first couple of ‘seasons’ like I did in my last game and lose initial points, you have to work really hard to claw the game back. Or if you don’t make at least a few nurses in the first rounds then you’ll really struggle to get anything done. It’s hard graft being an ant! I strongly feel that Myrmes could use at least an extra round per year, because you have three years and a spring, summer and autumn in each one, then on winter you don’t get a turn as such because you just feed your colony. There should be at least a round before the final food I think. Also there’s a dice rolling element which tells you what special ability you can use each turn and you can you use your eggs to jiggle this about a bit….but you need your eggs for other things! So there’s not too much control over that part. Last gripe; it’s a bit disappointing that there are no end of turn bonuses because it just kinda ends and you’re like ‘oh is that it?’. But I feel that it’s a good enough game to persist with as every round in this game is challenging and strategic. It’s difficult in a two player game as you’re struggling to fight for space and you’re only allocated a portion of the board in a two player. Which is fine if want to spend your turns using earth cubes to redistribute your ‘pheromone’ trails, as that is where most of your precious points are. But then there’s that time issue again. I’m definitely determined to crack this one, and maybe on another day when my mind feels a bit sharper and my concentration levels are better then I’ll have a eureka moment. So final thought is; I’d recommend Myrmes if you like a challenge! More Info