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During the summertime in Portugal, communities host arraial, fantastic celebrations held in streets and neighbourhoods for dancing, eating and more. Portuguese designers Nuno Bizarro Sentieiro and Paulo Soledade took the flair and colour of these joyful parties and translated it into Arraial, a light polyomino game where players are gathering revellers onto their party boards. It’s a delightful representation of these summer parties (image searches return great bursts of colour and movement!) – and it’s even thematic enough that the President of the Portuguese Republic was toting it around at a recent arraial! Get your party gear on and get ready to dance – or at least grab a Caipirinha and put your polyomino-arranging brain into gear. 

When I first tried this game, I really wasn’t sure what it was all about. I’d seen it out on tables at BGGcon last year (after its European release) and the colour and illustrations gave it real life. Sitting down to play, I felt it interesting to think you’re essentially trying to lure the better “people” (that is, certain pieces) to your party, and end up with the most visitors to your street. So, Arraial might look like a party, but how does it play?  

Over three rounds, players take and place coloured polyominos on their street board. The most interesting angle of this for me, one that makes this stand out among all sorts of polyomino-based games, is the rigidity of each shape’s orientation when you take it. That is, when you select one of the three cards from the central board you must place the shape it indicates in that exact orientation onto your board. No, you can’t rotate it or anything that’ll make things nice and easy! Where’s the fun in that? Partygoers come as they are, after all.  

With three action points every turn, you can use them variously for rotating the wheel of pieces and for taking/placing the polyominos of visitors. In the first two rounds, you have to place at least one piece; the kicker is in the last round you must place two, which can get tricky with limited space on your street. So, rotating the central board to make your options/orientations of tiles more desirable is key. Although, sometimes, you’re stuck with who you get. As the game progresses you’re looking to create groups of tiles of one colour that attract visitor meeples (points at the end of the game) and to finish horizontal lines on your street board – bumping up your party banner. Not only does this allow you to have new visitors come to the party at the end of the round (white meeples, not specific to any colour tile group) but more importantly – more space for tiles! Every turn I worry that I’ll end up having to take a piece that just won’t fit usefully anywhere and end up crossing the party banner. This isn’t great, as you’ll end up without the ability to have those new visitors join your party as the banner is removed from your board. It hasn’t happened yet, but I can imagine it’d be a setback. 

Outside of the white visitor meeples, every section of one colour that’s 2+ tiles will invite a visitor of that colour – that is, a meeple – to be placed there. If you currently have the largest grouping of one colour, the “couple” meeple of matching colour will come to visit you. If you’re on top of things and keep that majority for the rest of the game, they’re worth some extra points! But it can be beaten and the couple will move onto someone else’s party. This part of the player interaction is fairly benign. It’s really the manipulation of that centre player board that can ruin someone’s turn. While you don’t have 100% control over what shape players will take on their turn, you can make things difficult for them. Being able to see what colour pieces are coming up thanks to the face-up draw cards allows players to plan somewhat before refilling the board once their turn is over. I might take a card and then rotate that central board twice, then refill that empty spot so that all of the orientations of the pieces aren’t ideal for other players and where their street boards are situated. The basics of Arraial are just that – and who doesn’t love a good puzzly polyomino game? But it’s nice to have a little challenge involved when it comes to it. A little spatial dance, if you will. 

Of course, as I mentioned above, the art really stands out for ArraialBright colours and fanciful illustrations of the various people partying make this a little more fun than if it were simply a block-colour abstract game. Singers, folks making food, couples dancing all fill up your street board – which itself is lined with colourful houses – and don’t forget the level bar festooned with flags and lanterns and the like. It wasn’t until I needed a rule refresh that I knew the start player marker has a little story behind it, which I think is delightful! The Manjerico is seen at feasts and festivals during the summertime in Portugal, where “it is customary for young men to offer their girlfriends a potted basil plant, along with a small flag carrying a romantic message.” Potential suitors: I’ll always choose a pot of herbs over a bunch of flowers! 

Over a number of plays, I have felt I’ve enjoyed Arraial at 3 and 4 players best – thinking of the slightly mean ways you can mess with the central board in a 2p game without a buffer of other turns between you and opponents makes me a little wary! There is a solo version of the game offered (easily done by removing the colour majority aspect of the game and randomly drawing colour piece tiles), which could offer a decent puzzle if folks were interested. As a lot of solo versions tend to do, you’ll be comparing your score at game-end to a table of results of varying levels – the lowest of which is less than 10 points, accompanied by the comment “Was there even a party?” Ouch. 

If you’re a little burnt out on polyomino games, I understand. From Uwe Rosenberg alone there’s been a glut of titles in the past few years. At its heart, Arraial is still is that Tetris-feeling vibe of geometric goodness – but it’s got a little something more to it with the colour area control and the strict orientation of tiles. Games like Bärenpark (driven by the placement of tiles over icons allowing you to select other specific tiles) and Feast For Odin and Princes of Florence (with particular placement rules for tiles) offer up these flourishes on top of the basic puzzle that keep me going back to them. Compared to games similar to its weight – titles such as Scarabya, and even some of the Rosenberg series – it has the same edge with the flavour of theme adding to the attraction and gameplay of the abstract undergrowth. I feel like it’s accessible enough for more casual gamers to enjoy too, which is something I tend to look at more and more these days. It doesn’t matter if someone’s familiar with any polyomino game, they can be drawn in by Arraial’s theme and enjoy the quick play and puzzle of the game. And if you are familiar – well, it might provide a delightful surprise! 

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Arraial is a tile placement game for 1 – 4 players, and plays in approximately 30 minutes. Designed by Nuno Bizarro Sentieiro and Paulo Soledade, with art by Nuno Saraiva, it’s published by MEBO Games and Pandasaurus Games. I’d like to thank the Pandasaurus folks for getting us a review copy! 

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Growing up I was a huge fan of the TV show The X-Files even having a “Trust No One” poster on my wall, so perhaps it was inevitable I would be attracted to social-deduction games where deception is paramount.
Conspirator from designer Alejandro Díaz adds some new twists to the standard bearer Werewolf/Mafia. Similar to those games there are two sides pitted against each other, one side is trying to hide their nefarious plans, while the other is trying to figure out who is killing off their friends.

In Conspirator you are in a Renaissance-era monarchy where the Conspirators are trying to kill off the Citizens of the Kingdom and only the Monarch can stop them. The big change in Conspirator versus standard Werewolf is the Monarch role.

Similar to Werewolf the game is played in Night and Day phases. During the Night the Conspirators target one Citizen to die. During the Day the Monarch may condemn one player, eliminating them from the game. The Conspirators win if all the Citizens are gone, the Kingdom (Monarch, Citizens, other good characters) win if all the Conspirators are condemned.

Where are as in many social-deduction games voting is a large component, in Conspirator the Monarch controls everything. The Monarch has final say on who dies during the Day. They can be a benevolent Monarch that listens to their people for input, they could even call for a vote, but they never have to abide by the results. The Monarch is publicly known to everyone, similar to the Sheriff in Bang the Dice Game, but unlike the Sheriff they cannot die. They therefore become the focus of all discussion as the
rest of the players must convince the Monarch who to condemn and who to spare.

One of the more frustrating aspects of playing Werewolf is that in large groups there can be a lack of focus, as people talk over each other and you end up only being able to talk to the two or three people beside you. Having the Monarch role helps eliminate that issue to some extent. The Monarch can, if they choose, control the conversation rather than making it a free-for-all that many Werewolf games can turn into. The Monarch is an interesting role in a few other regards. It forces dominant players to step back, rather than earn the wrath of the Monarch and allows a chance for quieter players to have their voice heard. It can also speed up games considerably. Werewolf games can drag into hours upon hours if villagers are unable to come to a consensus on who to lynch. Also, each game will play very differently based on the personality of the Monarch.

Yeah, I realize this review is edging a bit too closely to saying democracy sucks and we just need a strong leader to take control, I do acknowledge there are some issues with dictatorships.

If your group ends up with a Monarch that is plainly not good at deduction and won’t listen to the reasonable citizens, the game can quickly end up with a dominating victory by the Conspirators. You could also end up in a situation with a Monarch who struggles or is uncomfortable with the pressure. Of course you don’t have to randomly choose the Monarch, so as not to force someone into a role they do not want to be.

As with Mafia/Werewolf there are some other roles that can be introduced into the game depending on the player count. During the night phase The Sentinel can check for Conspirators (similar to a Seer in Werewolf). The Guardian can protect a Citizen who is being targeted during the Night phase, sacrificing themselves (A variation on the Bodyguard). The Judge can absolve a condemned player and condemn someone else (A variation on the Witch). The Conjuror can prevent another player from speaking. The Lunatic must speak incoherently. The Apprentice.. The Traitor is a Conspirator who will appear to be a Citizen if checked by a Sentinel (similar to a Wolfman). Diaz also added Joker card that can be used for other powered cards you might see in a Werewolf game (such as the Hunter).

The look of the cards themselves is very appealing. The face of the cards has a stark white background upon which are line-drawn characters, along with their role and a short sentence about the role. The back of the cards are black with a line-drawn cross/dagger shape. The art by Minerva Valerio works well, in that it is very pretty to look at but does not overwhelm the eye. It will also be appealing to gamers that might not appreciate dark imagery that many Mafia/Werewolf reskins have. The minimal text is also a plus, so as not to confuse gamers and force them to read long sentences that could give away their role.

The problem Conspirator runs into is that there are many similar games out there and gamers that have a great deal of experience with Mafia/Werewolf might not find enough differentiation between those
games and Conspirator to give it a chance. Also there are so many expansions to Ultimate Werewolf with so many more advanced characters that this slimmed-down version might not have much staying power with experienced groups.

Where I believe Conspirator works best is with newer gamers. The easy-to-learn rules, more streamlined gameplay via the Monarch, understandable theme and stark, yet very pretty art, makes Conspirator a good entry option to social deduction games for people that don’t even know what those are.


Conspirator is a bluffing, deduction card game for 8 to 31 players (up to 12 with extra board) that plays in approximately 60 minutes. Designed by Alejandro Díaz with art by Minerva Valerio it is self-published through The Game Crafter, LLC. Thank you to Alejandro for providing a review copy of the game.

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I have been to my fair share of conventions over the years. Although there is something very similar about each show, they each have their own unique feels and personalities. The first con I ever went to was Gen Con in 2011. It was an eye-opening experience to see just how big the hobby which I had enjoyed in my own small way, had blossomed to a major event that attracted people from all over the world.

I’ve grown a little jaded at some of the bigger shows over the years. They’re great in their own rights and I love that they give an opportunity for so many people to get together and share the hobby, but for me they always represent work. I see far too little of the people and games that make going to a show fun in the first place. Lately, I find myself looking forward to the smaller events, like Breakout in Toronto, BGG in Dallas, Basecamp at a secret undisclosed location, or the Gathering of Friends. This year, I get to add one more to the list of shows to which I hope to make an annual pilgrimage. I have heard nothing but good things about GrandCon and I was lucky enough to sit down and chat with the founder and owner of the show, Brian Lenz.

Lenz had been a hobby gamer for most of his life, starting with Dungeons & Dragons, 3M bookshelf games, and old Avalon Hill titles. Just like me, it was a trip to Gen Con that really opened up the world of tabletop gaming for him.

“I was getting into my 40s and I had never been to Gen Con, and I had wanted to go my whole life.”

The opportunity presented itself and he was quick to grab the chance.

“Outside of D&D, I had zero hobby games,” remembers Lenz. “Since that trip, I have amassed a collection of over 2500 games.”

Inspired by his experiences at that first Gen Con, Lenz decided to create a meetup group in his hometown Grand Rapids, Michigan. 

“At first I was really looking for anyone who was interested in learning more about games.” The group very quickly grew and now the West Michigan Tabletop Gamers boasts over 1400 members. It was through that group that Lenz made another connection that would make GrandCon possible.

Marc Specter, owner of Grand Gamers Guild had been interested in starting a show for years. A partnership with Lenz made that a reality. Originally conceived as a hybrid show between games, RPGs, and comic books, GrandCon has evolved to centre more around just games. This year, will be the seventh annual show.

Lenz has learned a lot from running GrandCon over the years. What started as a local show with an attendance of around 1500, has almost tripled in size.

“I don’t know anyone in their right mind that says their show runs as smooth as silk,” confesses Lenz. “There’s always hiccups, there’s always hurdles to get over.”

One of the big challenges for GrandCon, is that although they have built up a strong following and name recognition, they are most often compared to shows like BGG and Dice Tower Con, and it’s tough to compete with the cachet of those two names. Convincing publishers of the value that his show offers was an uphill battle at first, but one that he’s starting to see turn in his favour. More and more publishers are looking at GrandCon as a destination.

As the owner of a small show. Lenz knows the importance of thinking outside the box when it comes to luring big name guests. He recalled in his first year, finding the number of Tracy Hickman, a New York Times best-selling author of Dragonlance novels, writing RPGs for TSR, and a personal hero of Lenz’s. He called Hickman up and they ended up chatting for three hours. By the end of the call he was signed on as a featured guest at the show. When people asked Lenz, how the heck did you get Tracy Hickman to come to this show, he simply replied: “I called him.”

Now, before you start thinking that running a gaming convention is all fun and games, Lenz is quick to mention that it is work for him. He spends the event making sure everything is running smoothly, putting out fires, and taking care of a million little things that you never think of when you attend one of these cons. That’s not mentioning the months of preparation that go into it. He is quick to point out how important having a strong support team is to running this sort of show. 

“The volunteers I’ve had over the years have been wonderful and critical to its success,” he said. “The show wouldn’t happen without volunteers. No show would.” Despite all the help he gets, the responsibility of the show ultimately is on his shoulders. “I run it like a business. I have to.”

If you’re considering starting a new show from scratch, Lenz suggests knowing whether you want to run it as a non or for-profit event. You should also know how you want your event to be organized. You can’t go into your first year with high ambitions and no plan. You should have a detailed flow chart to deal with any occurrence you can think of and then some for ones you can’t. Things will go wrong at a show, they always do. It’s up to you how you deal with those situations.

Lenz remembered one moment from last year, when a potentially bad situation occurred, but turned out really positively. Jon Gilmour was supposed to be running a session of Kids on Bikes for some of the guests, but the scheduled rooms had been taken over and they were forced to find other accommodations. Lenz knew of another room that they could use, but it was in a maintenance hall area, normally restricted for show staff. Well, the hallways was dark and strewn with old mechanical parts, and some people were starting to wonder where Jon Gilmour was taking them. They even affectionately referred to it as the murder hall. However, the end result set the scene perfectly for the session they were about to run. It’s moments like this that you have to be ready for and to turn a potentially bad situation into one that people remember fondly.

One thing is for sure, events like GrandCon wouldn’t happen without the tireless efforts of people like Lenz.

“I don’t do this for the money,” Lenz stressed. “But it does give me a lot of joy to bring a community of people together in the hobby. I love seeing those emotional ties people feel when they’re playing a game. That’s what makes our industry so special.”

If you’re interested in attending GrandCon this year, the event runs from August 30-September 1 in Grand Rapids at Devos Place. Tickets are on sale now. 

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Is it because summer is cottage season, and publishers anticipate a huge pent-up demand for cozy little games for couples to play on the weekend? Or is it just statistical noise, coincidence? The fact remains, there have been so many good two-player games released recently that I started to worry about how I would write about them all. Then my good friend Listicle came to the rescue. So here in alphabetical order are five short profiles of new(-ish) games for you and a friend to enjoy. Some of them are dated earlier on BGG, probably because that is when they were announced or originally scheduled to be released, but I swear, they all hit the ground in the last few months. 

Claim is by Scott Almes, designer of the excellent Tiny Epic series for Gamelyn Games, so I’ll always give his games a look-see. Besides, good/interesting trick-taking games for two are rare. Last year’s Fox in the Forest didn’t really do it for me; the last one that I liked was Travis Worthington’s Triumverate and that was ten years ago. Claim is even better because it’s easier to understand and the way it’s split into two separate phases of 13 tricks each is really interesting. The object of the game is to dominate three of the deck’s five suits by having the most cards in that suit by game’s end. Each suit has a special ability: döpplegangers count as any suit, for instance, while any knight will beat a goblin. In Phase One the top of the draw deck is turned over and players compete to win it–which means they get to use it in Phase Two. (They also get to add any Undead card played to their Score pile immediately.) The loser gets a rando facedown card–could be good, could be bad. In Phase Two the winner of each trick gets to keep both cards played–except that any and all Dwarves played go to the loser. After the last trick players compare their faction strengths and determine the winner. There are all sorts of neat tactical and strategic decisions to make, and the need to dominate a majority of factions means you can only afford to ignore two suits (at most). Lots of replayability in this little sucker. 

Harry Potter Hogwarts Battle: Defence Against the Dark Arts uses the same system as its co-operative predecessor but this time players are competing to see who can be the first to score three stuns by causing enough damage. Once a player is stunned, everything is reset for the next round. For you Muggles out there, it’s a head-to-head Deckbuilder not unlike, say, Star Realms, complete with House (faction) abilities. But if you’re familiar with Hogwarts Battle (and you should be) there will be little to learn and you can practically dive right in. The only new wrinkle is you get to choose a pet to add to your starting deck–in theory you could both choose the same one. There is some discussion online about how balanced the Houses and pets are. In my first game my Toad’s ability to heal every turn really frustrated my opponent, who had chosen the Owl. Certainly much turns on the luck of the draw (as it does in the co-op version) and it is hard to catch up if you fall behind unless you are very disciplined with your deck-building. Despite its potential faults, if you are a Potterite this is a no-brainer purchase. 

Iron Curtain is by the same duo who designed the excellent 13 Days and the…interesting 13 Minutes. These Danes certainly like their Cold War because they’ve returned with yet another game with the same theme and some similar mechanics, yet it really does a surprisingly good job of distilling the Twilight Struggle era down to 18 cards and a handful of cubes. While obviously it can’t go as deep into the lore or paranoia-driven strategy of the period, Iron Curtain manages to evoke much of the same tense decision-making moments through a very elegant mix of area control with the genre’s traditional multi-use card play with a layer of positional strategy. Like Claim, the game is split into two phases (here called “rounds”) consisting of four turns each. In the first round players get five cards and have to decide which one to lay aside for endgame scoring. Each card represents a country and has an Event which is favorable to either the US or USSR. If you play one of your own cards, you must choose whether to play it for the Event or use its cube value to drop Operations cubes; if it’s your opponent’s Event she gets to trigger it after you use it for Operations. The object is to Dominate by having a majority of cubes on a majority of the cards in each continent. Once your opponent has control of a country it’s more expensive to put influence there unless you Infiltrate, but you can’t afford to spread yourself thin, as you have a limited supply of cubes. I must say I am very impressed with how well Iron Curtain abstracts the complex calculations of Twilight Struggle down to a 45-minute game.  

Microbrew turned up in my FLGS after a successful Kickstarter and packs a whole lotta spiked punch into a mint-sized tin. Players compete to secure the most loyal customers by brewing different ales. The game is worker-placement with an original brewing mechanic which is like a sliding-block-type puzzle. The rules, components, and art are exceptionally well-executed, and there is a challenging solo mode as well. And everything does, in theory at least, fit into that tiny tin! I look forward to more exceptional games from publishers One Free Elephant

Revolution of 1828 is by auteur Stefan Feld which in itself makes the game interesting; he hasn’t released a two-player game since 2009’s Pillars of the Earth: Builders’ Duel. Plus the game’s theme is at once timely and arcane: the American presidential election of 1828, which was hotly-contested, highly partisan, and featured much mudslinging. John Quincy Adams, the incumbent, a distinguished diplomat and son of Founding Father John Adams, had to defend himself against hot-headed, uncouth, and “man of the people” Andrew Jackson, hero of the War of 1812, who claimed the election of 1824 had been stolen from him by an unholy backroom bargain. As juicy as the theme is, the game itself is pretty abstract, being a sort of multi-pronged four-round version mixture of tug of war and the classic Nim. Every round random tokens are placed in the middle of five electoral “battlegrounds” as well as a sixth representing the Media. Players take turns drafting these tokens to give them support in each region, aiming if possible to be the last player to remove a token from a region because of the elector bonus it gives. On the other hand, you don’t want to “win” the Media because it will cost you points. I’m not sure 1828 has the same “legs” as, say, Lost Cities, to which it bears a slight similarity, but Feld Fans (of which there are many) will want to take a look. 

Lots to dig into for you gaming couples out there. Let us know what you think! 

A review copy of 1828 was provided for this article.

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As a parent, we all have days where we just need a quiet moment to poop. And while screens can be a useful tool, variety is the key to engaging little hands and brains while seeking out a blissful bowel movement. For us, one of the best non-digital parental poop peripheries comes in the wonderful world of … STICKERS! My Little Pony and Peppa Pig are the ones my beans are currently fond of using, but they come in practically every variety a little human could possibly desire. Of course, there’s always that moment of dread, emerging from the bathroom to find Rainbow Dash and Daddy Pig stickered onto the floor rather than the assigned sheets of paper, but let’s face it, it’s worth the risk.

Recently, Big Bean and I were given the opportunity to try out Zombie Kidz Evolution, a new game from Le Scorpion Masque, designed by Annick Lobet (best known to me for designing Little Red Riding Hood from the Tales & Games series) with artwork by Nikao (who previously worked on IELLO games such as Monster Chase and The Legend of Wendigo).

The big hook here is that this is a child-friendly, co-operative, legacy style game. Allow me to repeat those three descriptors … child-friendly … co-operative … legacy game! Not only that, but this title also has a theme that tickles my Halloween fandom, which is also currently an obsession of my girls. Seems like a recipe for a home run of a game! 

Let’s dig in…

Located at an elementary school, Zombie Kidz Evolution is all about four brave students trying to fend off a hoard of goofy-looking undead ghouls, by locking the gates outside of the school before the stinky monsters all make it into the building. The box contains four cardboard player pawns, eight cardboard zombie tokens, four lock tokens, a single six-sided die, a double sided board, a rule/guide book (some pages of which are filled with … STICKERS!), and a pile of numbered mystery envelopes. 

To set up the game, one zombie is placed by each of the four gates outside of the school, with the remaining ones being randomly placed in a row near the board. All characters pawns being used in the game are placed in the red room at the centre of the board, and … that’s all you need to do before starting to play! 

Each turn of Zombie Kidz is comprised of two steps – roll the die to place a new zombie on the board, and then choose whether or not to move your character to an adjacent room. If any baddies are in the space your character moved to, they get a big ol’ boot, where they join their zom-buddies at the back of the line waiting to re-enter the school. However, if there are three or more zombies in a room, no character can enter that space, potentially causing real trouble for our heroes. If two players can move their characters to the same gate location outside of the school, they can place a lock token, bringing themselves one step closer to winning the game. On the other side of that coin, the game is lost if a player rolls the zombie die and no tokenz are available to place on the board.

Each game lasts about 15 to 20 minutes, and regardless of whether the players win or lose, they get to place one brain sticker on the progress chart. The sticker pages also include mission trophies, which serve as unlockable achievements defined in the guide book, and can also be placed on the progress chart. 

If a sticker is placed on a progress chart space with an envelope icon above it, the appropriately numbered envelope may be opened. Each envelope contains new game elements, and sometimes even more … STICKERS!

The components of the game are excellent – Big Bean’s little hands have yet to damage anything in the box, which is always a good sign. Bursting with colour and delightful characters, the artwork is pretty much perfect, and doesn’t dip into anything dark, which is impressive given the number of gruesome zombie games on the market. The rulebook does a great job of letting players jump in quickly, and the stickers within are easy enough for Big Bean to peel off and place on the progress chart. All in all, an excellent production!

Now, the box recommends Zombie Kidz Evolution for ages 7+, and Big Bean just turned 4 a few weeks prior to this article being written. I was expecting to modify the game in some way to include her in the journey, but the core game (before envelopes start getting opened) was fully in her grasp after just a few minutes. She connected with her character immediately, naming it after herself, and was always excited to roll the die and place a zombie. 

I’m proud to say that my Big Bean has a very kind heart, and rather than wanting to remove zombies from the board, she would move into the same room as them for a bit of zombie play time. We would then weave a story about “saving” the zombies, which is why they left the school, rather than resorting to violence. In many instances, she had very strong opinions on where her character should move, even if it wasn’t the optimal choice for our odds of victory. We lost many games because purple wasn’t her favourite colour in that moment, and while the gamer in me wanted to win every time, letting her make independent choices seemed to be far more beneficial to our experience.

As for the legacy aspect of the game, we had a few experiences where she lost focus of the game, but the lure of being able to place a sticker at the end was enough to keep her engaged. Due to the well-designed shapes of the stickers, she knew where each sticker needed to be placed, almost always without fail. And the excitement of getting to place the sticker that unlocks an elusive envelope kept us coming back. One morning, I was woken up before 6am by Big Bean hovering over my face with a big smile … “Can we play our zombie game, Daddy?”

We wound up not using the mission trophies, as the basics of the game seemed to be just the right amount of complexity for Big Bean. After three envelopes, the added game elements were a bit too much to keep her properly engaged, and she began losing interest. However, we played a whopping 15 games of Zombie Kidz Evolution before her excitement began to fall off. Since this game is designed for a slightly older demographic, I’m certain that the added elements would have the opposite effect, keeping children glued to the game right to the opening of the final envelope.

Once Big Bean had lost interest in the game, I began introducing it to friends as an adult co-operative experience, and have also played a number of times with my wife. Zombie Kidz includes many mission goals which serve as recommendations for making the game a bit more difficult, which allows for more critical decision making, and an overall enjoyable gaming experience. Although I did not experience this title with older children, I suspect an adult may need to be present to help guide the game for players 8 and under, but could be enjoyed with a full complement of younger players above that age. 

As a parent trying to foster an interest in board games with my older daughter, Zombie Kidz Evolution is, hands down, the most fun I’ve had playing a game with Big Bean. After playing dozens of games that teach turns, fine motor skills, and many other educational elements, those moments of learning have lead us to a game that was just plain fun for both of us. In a few years, I’ll likely be hunting down a fresh copy of this game to play with both of my beans, and I couldn’t be more excited for that time to come!

Verdict: Two Little Thumbs Up, Two Big Thumbs Up!

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A copy of Zombie Kidz Evolution was provided by Scorpion Masque for this review.

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There was a time when walking the halls of a museum was a gateway to another world, or several. It was like entering different time periods with each hall you turned down. Relics from an ancient time spoke to the cultures and civilizations that had long ago faded from the Earth. However, the practise of filling a museum with artifacts found in foreign lands was fraught with moral peril. Western archeologists were accused of plundering the historical pieces from other nations and putting them on display. There was (and still is) an ethical dilemma with how we approach museums. Museum, the new game from Éric Dubus and Olivier Melison takes place in the golden age of archeology and repatriation of relics from distant lands. You’ll be tasked with building an enticing collection in your museum, but you’ll also face the backlash of public opinion throughout the game.

In Museum, you’ll take turns being the active player, collecting items from around the world. The main board displays artifact cards from Europe, China, South America, and Africa and the Middle East. The cards each have nation of origin (denoted by its colour) and a domain which it belongs to, such as Architecture, Warfare, Agriculture, or Theology. The cards also have a point value, which you’ll earn for placing it in your museum, and it also represents the cost of playing that card out. 

You’ll start off with a card from each of the different world regions in your hand, a Favour card which can be used to give you a special ability during the game and three Patron cards of which you’ll choose one. The Patron cards give you secret end game goals, like having a lot of cards from a certain civilization or specific combinations of artifacts. 

Each turn when you’re the active player, you’ll get to select one of the cards on offer. Usually there are two from each region for eight total cards to choose from. After you’ve made your selection. Every other player can decide to take one from the remaining lot as well. If they do, you earn a point for each one. This is known as the Exploration phase.

Next, you can either Furbish your museum or perform an inventory. Most of the time, you’re going to furbish. First of all, it’s just a fun word to say, but on top of that it’s the main action of the game. When you furbish you can start to fill up your museum with different exhibits. From your hand, you can exhibit a card by paying its cost in other cards. For example, if you want to add the Dunhaung Map, a value three card, you must spend other cards from your hand totalling three. So, three value ones, or a one and a two. You get the idea. The used cards go to  your common pool (think of this as your warehouse). You can add cards to your museum from your common pool, or even someone else’s pool, but you have to pay them a point if you do so. You get points equal to the value of the cards you place in your museum immediately. 

The last thing you can do when you furbish is hire an expert. They have a value to them and you hire them by spending cards equal to their value. These experts help with completing patron goals, or give an in-game bonus like reducing the cost of exhibiting in your museum. Suffice to say, they’re all helpful in their own way.

The much less exciting action you can take is performing an inventory, If you can’t furbish, you can take cards from your common pool back into your hand. 

There are times throughout the game when the opinions of the public turn against museums, and that can have long-lasting consequences. When refilling the different regions between turns, you may reveal a Public Opinion card. This means people are upset with the amount of artifacts being taken from a region and not being put on display. A public opinion token is placed in that region. Short term, it means you have one less card to choose from that round. Long term, having that region’s cards in your common pool at the end of the game will cost you points.

At the start of each round, a headline card is revealed. This will have some effect on the game for the rest of the round. They’re all tied to to actual historic events, like a mystery death or Africa at war, so they work well thematically. 

When one player reaches 50 points, game end is triggered. All other players get one more turn and then points are tallied. At the end of the game, you can organize your museum exhibits in any way you want, so there’s no pressure in making a mistake early in the game. You’ll get points for the different civilization and domain collections you’re able to make, fulfilling some layout requirements in your museum, and completing your patron cards. You lose points for having cards in your common pool from regions with public opinion tokens against them.

There are a lot of things I like about Museum. First, it’s freakin beautiful. The always amazing Vincent Dutrait has done a great job with the art. The main board and the museum boards are fairly plain, allowing the artifacts to shine. Speaking of the artifact cards, they all have some informative flavour text that makes the game a little bit more interesting. While there is a lot going on, Museum really is a simple game: collect sets of artifacts, arrange them in your museum, react to events and the swaying of public opinion. To me, it feels a little like 7 Wonders in the way you’re drafting cards and putting together sets. They have a similar weight, and as far as I can tell so far, a similar replayability factor. I think there is a lot of combinations and strategies to explore in this one and I’m eager to get it to the table as often as I can.

That being said, don’t take my word for it. We have our very own resident museum expert at the DWP and Nicole is ready to give her input on the game:

Some of you might not know, but I’m a bit of a nerd for museums. Having studied them, visited many and worked in them I was quite excited to hear about Museum when it first hit Kickstarter. I’ve been thinking for many years about what a museum game could be, and jotting down notes here and there from the perspective of student, visitor and staff to see if I could one day replicate what I know of modern museums. Museum doesn’t fit entirely in what I’d been thinking about, as it’s set in that early era of museums where the focus was certainly on massing collections and displaying exotic pieces.

I do, of course, think the art of this game is incredible – Dutrait does it again. While it’s disappointing there’s only cultural pieces included in the base game and nothing to do with Natural History, I enjoy the pieces selected. While some of them are strange choices – the Great Wall of China, for instance – I do enjoy the variety and the snippets of information at the bottom of each card. They are, after all, just like some museum’s labels! So playing every time gives you some new and interesting facts about things you may not have known before.

Thematically, the scoring of cards at game-end is pretty great. Whether on display or in collections storage, it’s pretty important to group objects by their culture or type. Perhaps I could head into our Anthropology collections where I work to see Plains Indians artefacts – but at the same time, wouldn’t it be cool to have a gallery consisting of examples of pottery from varying cultures? The methods and approaches of this in museums the world over varies wildly of course, depending on the size and focus of the institutions, but it generally hits the mark well in the game to have your displays organized in these ways. One thing I did think was interesting was the cycling of cards between your personal reserve (hand), common pool (discard) and taking from both to place into galleries. It doesn’t quite translate to the ideas of how collections are held exactly – but it was a neat mechanic.

While there are no representatives of the cultures from which the game’s artefact decks are comprised, there are some folks in the game in the form of experts (and hey, there’s a woman on the cover!). I love the range of these cards, because it reflects the variety of folks that you’ll find in a museum (or at least, a Victorian or Edwardian Era one). Experts in certain types of objects or civilizations will boost your displays – but then you might have someone who can talk up your museum to provide more prestige or even help along with the acquisition of items for galleries at a cheaper price. Fantastic flavour piece! 

Somewhat unfortunately accurate for the time period is the wholesale pillagings of cultural objects from the world-round. During the era of the wunderkammer and the popularisation of anthropological studies, the demands for museums to show these foreign cultural pieces were high. Perhaps where my interests lie is somewhere along the road from this, as most reputable institutions nowadays are collecting artefacts through far more reasonable means. I did like the instances of headline cards including embargos and customs barriers, as the exploration of Europeans around the world could at least sometimes go awry.

I have yet to crack the stack of expansions that I received with my Kickstarter pledge. I have to admit, one or two of them aren’t super appealing to me as I’m very much into reality in my museum stuff – Cthuhlu doesn’t feel super great to me in there, and although there were certainly black markets for artefacts when the game is set, I don’t like the idea of including that in gameplay. Much more up my alley are the ideas of the Archaeologists and World Fair, providing some more interesting cards for me to “visit” and read the labels of!

————-

A copy of Museum was provided by Holy Grail Games and Luma Imports for this review.

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The trilogy is complete: we have reached A New World. Back last September when I wrote about the second game of Emerson Matsuuchi’s ambitious Century triptych, I speculated that the last game would involve bidding or stock-holding. Welp, I was wrong, but I’m not sorry I was wrong. Century: A New World (C:ANW) is a worker-placement game, and in retrospect it was probably the obvious choice–not to mention easier, from a design perspective. 

The first game in the series, Spice Road, was perfectly…adequate. Basically a take on Splendor: build a card engine to generate the cubes necessary to claim VP cards as quickly as possible. Eastern Wonders introduced a spatial element: now it was island tiles instead of cards which supplied the generative actions. Plus, there was an outpost mechanic whereby building huts on all four types of islands unlocked powerful upgrades. Much more interesting on its own, and the combination of the two worked well. 

In C:ANW players are once again in an efficiency race to deliver packets of goods, but this time instead of cardplay or movement around a modular ocean, players must plop some teeny-tiny meeples down onto a spot to take the cube-generating, upgrading, trading, or cashing-in action. Every space has a minimum requirement of dude/ttes, and if you run low you can instead take a turn to bring them all back home. 

There are several neat twists. The first is that you can kick someone else (not yourself though) out of a space if you want that spot, but you must ante up an extra “colonist” to do so. So if there are two there, you must displace with three. The second is that at game’s start the more powerful action spaces are unavailable, and are only freed up when someone claims a reward card with an icon that enables them to do so (and get a tiny extra bonus as well). Since it’s the claiming player who decides which space to free up, every game will progress differently. 

Finally, although the reward cards in C:ANW have substantially fewer straight-up victory points than the previous games in the series, there are major possibilities for set-collection VP via icons on the cards. This is made more challenging in three ways: (1) players can only get these VP if they have the matching scoring tiles; (2) these scoring tiles can only be picked up when you deliver goods to market; and (3) you can only ever own three scoring tiles max. Since the order of appearance of both reward cards and scoring tiles is random, timing is even more of the essence. 

I must say that each game in the Century trilogy impresses me more than the one before, and each would make a perfectly good game in its own right. Ah, but the combos…that’s what I wanted to check out. 

* * * 

A New World comes with separate (but overlapping) rulesets for combining it with Spice Road and Eastern Wonders, both individually and together. Naturally, I was most interested to see how all three games worked together. Worker placement still drives gameplay–it’s just that there are extra spaces which allow players to either draw Spice Road market cards as one-time actions (plus, for every four cards you take, you get to draw a New World bonus tile) or move their ship around a reduced Eastern Wonders archipelago (with the possibility of unlocking other New World bonuses when you build enough outposts). 

The result is not unlike a Feld game, but more integrated. It’s a point-salad, with several possible routes to victory, but ultimately it’s still all about building the most efficient engine for generating and delivering cubes. It’s hard for me to guess whether the combo game would have sustained interest on its own merits had it been released as a single game rather than a trilogy. I think it would have…but in game design terms it’s much more interesting the way it is, sort of a deconstructed Euro. Whether it will stand the test of time as a good game or be relegated to the back of the shelf as a curiosity like 504 we’ll have to see. 

Meanwhile in related news, publishers Plan B Games have just announced they are going to release the Golem version of Eastern Wonders, called Eastern Mountains. One can only hope the whole trilogy will be Golemized soon! 

A review copy of this game was provided for this article by Plan B Games.

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Earlier this year, the internet was abuzz with a retrospective meme: Where were you ten years ago? Naturally, my social media bubble took this deep, personal question and answered it purely in terms of board gaming. But what a time it was for board games! More than simple nostalgia, 2009 has the true feel of an inflection point in modern board gaming’s ongoing rise.  

Unfortunately, social media offers more than just whimsical memes. Online culture is also home to rather unpleasant behaviours such as gatekeeping and brigading, to name a few. The worst side of communities are exposed when coupled with fear, manifested as a desire to defend the status quo. Will shifting tends rend a fan’s tastes passé. Will they no longer be catered to in a market more eager to court newcomers and new trends? Regardless of your fandom or hobby, you’ve surely seen several examples of this since 2009. 

However, many such fears reveal themselves to be strawmen once asked “has this ever actually happened?” As times change, it is only natural for people and their tastes to also change. Let this serve as a cautionary tale for those ready to take up pitchforks. Your niche hobby will always be there for you, but if defined too tightly, it may grow stale in your future eyes. 

My ten year journey has certainly been one of shifting tastes and motivations, but I’ve also invited the DWP staff to share their stories of gamers over the prior decade. How are our interests and desires being served today, in comparison to those which drove us into the hobby in the first place? Many aspects of the board game hobby have changed, but one remains the same: the wide range of experiences available have kept us all engaged. 

Matt Morgan

While I’d always had some mild involvement in tabletop gaming, 2009 was the year I began viewing board gaming as an active hobby. Recently graduated from university, I developed a need for the in-person social interaction that the gaming table is apt to facilitate. During the boom times for services such as XBox Live, and with my gaming friends had become scattered across the region, it was easier to take to a headset than take to the road. Board games presented an opportunity to get together again. 

This newfound curiosity with modern board games was also fuelled by a looming suspicion that video games quality would enter a downward spiral. The dawn of downloadable content had arrived, creating more work on consumers to separate designer’s intent from corporate cash grab (this would only become more difficult as microtransactions became prevalent). Board games, on the other hand, came with the allure of an evergreen experience. Forty years on, a box of cardboard should retain its same play value, with strategies requiring countless plays to master. 

There was even the question of whether video games in their current form would still exist. Only a year into a world of smartphone apps, it was not unthinkable that developers would ditch the AAA productions for the riches of casual phone games, leaving my friends and I to feed on the scraps. This prediction fared rather poorly, as AAA video games still very much exist. What’s changed is that I almost never play them. 

I stocked my shelves with modern classics over ten years, but the quest for a fixed set of evergreen titles proves elusive. Shiny new cardboard presents frequent temptation. While gameplay is often timeless, it turns out even board game graphics improve with each new generation. More recently, the increasing prevalence of expansions and promos has brought analog “DLC” to the fore, while classic games are left to fall out of print, only to return with revised editions. .  

Times change, and people are capable of changing with them. This should be celebrated and embraced, not resisted and decried. Those old friends I was bringing to the table for face-to-face gaming? We enjoyed the experience, but have now shifted back to video games in the form of digital board game port, while game nights have instead become a wonderful opportunity to meet new local friends. And yeah, I’ve bought a few expansions and promos. 

But now, on to a wider look at where the rest of our Daily Worker Placement writers were, and a great collective example that while we all have very different origin stories, we’re all happy to share a table. 

Sean Jacquemain

I was really excited when Matt introduced the idea of looking back on our own personal 10 years of gaming. Ten years ago, I was about to start a job at Snakes & Lattes board game cafe. I knew games sure, but my world was about to explode. I had been playing a lot of Catan, Carcassonne, Dominion, and St. Petersburg. Working at Snakes was like taking a Masters course in gaming. I learned so much, so fast. I added games like Puerto Rico, Power Grid, and King of Tokyo to my repertoire, as well as some lesser known classics like Attika, El Grande, Evo, and so many more. Really, working at Snakes made me the person I am today, at least as far as the gaming hobby is concerned. 

I spent three formative years there, and from that position I received an invite to the Gathering of Friends, Alan R. Moon’s annual event. Over the next ten years, I worked pretty consistently in the industry, for Asmodee, CMON, Asmodee again, as well as Synapses Games, KTBG, and Burnt Island Games.

I’ve gone to a bunch of shows over the years (lost track at this point). Mostly Gen Cons and Origins, but also some BGGs, Basecamps, Breakouts, TABS, SDCC, and more. This year, I’m going to my first Grandcon and I’m pretty excited about that.

I’ve changed of course in the last decade. I’ve gone from an eager student wanting to learn everything I could about games, to moving behind the curtain and seeing how the sausage gets made. I’ve definitely had moments of board game burnout. Times when playing a game was the last thing I wanted to do, but I always come back to my favourite pastime.

It’s been an incredible ride to be a part of the hobby at this time. I remember thinking back to those early days at Snakes, when we had lineups around the block and a packed, crazy house every night. People were coming to play board games. They were paying to play board games. I knew at that time that we were on the crest of a wave. I haven’t seen it crash yet, and maybe it never will. 

So what have I observed over this time? I think the traditional lines between Ameritrash and Euro games have been blurred over time. New concepts in gaming have emerged, like Legacy and consumable games, narrative games, and communication games. Co-ops, which were a relatively new concept 10 years ago are now quite prevelant. In short, the hobby has grown and expanded to include more people, more tastes, and more originality in the design. 

It will be exciting to see what the next 10 years hold in store.

Nicole Hoye

Ten years ago, I moved to Canada. I had no games with me, just what I could fit in my suitcase. I’d gamed a little in the year and a bit before while living in London, but it wasn’t as widespread as RPGs were at that point. I was more thoroughly involved in my comic reading hobby at that point, with a sprinkling of gaming here and there.

After hitting the ground here, I would occasionally have the opportunity to join a game of Catan, perhaps some Munchkin or Fluxx. The world of Toronto gaming had yet to open to me – it was there, thriving with Meetup groups! It wasn’t until the first board game café opened in 2010 that things would really kick off. I’d go weekly, getting to know staff who had been in the tabletop community here for ages and relished the opportunity to work in a space like that.

It was then that I really scratched the surface and began to use Board Game Geek, wander around friendly local game stores and start to realize there were conventions and all sorts of folks excited about the “hotness”. My first ever brush with excitement about a new release was coming home from a vacation and rushing to try the recently-released Castles of Burgundy. It’s wild to think back on that time, when I’m now seeing slews of new games every year and attending conventions to check them out. Safe to say, I’m in this now!

David Weiss

David wrote about his experiences at the Origins Game Fair in 2009. You can read about them here.

Tim Fowler

2009 was a year of change for me: I had just moved to Ottawa to start working on my PhD.  This meant I was gaming considerably less. I recall playing a lot of Dominion, Carcassonne, and Tigris & Euphrates with a very small gaming group up in Ottawa.  I trust, though, that the rest of this piece is going to cover board gaming in depth, so I think I’ll talk about the state of CCGs in 2009 (with, of course, the caveat for all my CCG coverage: I’m not here to talk about Magic).

When I first got the invite to scrawl something about gaming in 2009, I started thinking about what was actively in production in 2009, and it turns out that the mid-to-late 2000s was a real low point for (non-Magic) CCGs.  This year marked the end of Shadowfist’s tenure with Z-Man games. While Shadowfist would go on, it quickly became an independent CCG, slipping even further off of the radar of the mainstream. Vampire: The Eternal Struggle would see it’s last physical expansion in 2010, and while there were periodic print-and-play expansions, the game wouldn’t see new physical cards again until 2018.  Babylon Five, Doomtown, Star Wars, and Star Trek had all been long out of production in 2009. In fact, Legend of the Five Rings was probably the only big non-Magic CCG to have a presence in 2009. If you were tossing around cardboard in 2009, it was probably from a game that hadn’t seen new cards in years.

So, besides L5R, what was happening in 2009?  Fantasy Flight Games, in 2008, launched Call of Cthulhu: The Card Game and A Game of Thrones: The Card Game.  Why highlight these two? These games marked a new distribution model by FFG: The Living Card Game (LCG).  

For the uninitiated, the distribution model for collectable card games (like Magic) is blind-buying packs of randomly distributed cards: a booster pack contains a number of randomly selected common, uncommon, and rare cards.  This differs from a living card game, where the contents of each pack is fixed: you know exactly what you are buying. In most cases you get enough copies of each card in a pack to include the maximum number of copies of that card in your deck.  Call of Cthulhu has a three copies of an individual card limit, so each pack contains three copies of each card included. No more ripping through packs of cards to find the one rare card you need. No more staying up late to snipe eBay auctions to get a single card to round out your collection.

While neither Call of Cthulhu or the first edition of A Game of Thrones were wild successes, they were important as the trail-blazers of this new release model.  Since 2008, FFG has released ten different LCGs. Most card games out there now, especially the independent ones, are released in the model of a Living Card Game.  “Living Card Game” is trademarked by FFG, so different games signify that they are non-random using different names, but the principle is the same. We now have Shadowfist, Doomtown: Reloaded, Vampire: The Eternal Struggle, and a myriad of other card games released in this non-random format.

2009 was not a great game for new or active CCGs.  Not one bit. If Magic launched the first wave of CCGs in the mid-1990s, then 2009 was the very beginning of a second wave of card games: games based on a non-random distribution of cards.

Jon-Paul Décosse

Ten years ago, my personal life was in upheaval – between divorce, mounting career insecurities, and faith in flux, the ground beneath my feet felt uneven and unsafe. As corny as it may sound, board gaming was a reliable constant at that time, and is an activity that I’ve prioritized in the decade since. 

My most played games from 2009 include Dominion, Say Anything, Agricola, Stone Age, and surprisingly (as it’s never been a favourite), Race for the Galaxy. Of the 140+ games played that year, only six are in my collection today – Ticket to Ride, Pandemic, Shadows Over Camelot, Nexus Ops, Manhattan, and Star Wars: The Queen’s Gambit. 

Now with two young daughters, gaming is at the precipice of another upheaval, as they begin to form their own opinions on which games get to the table, and how we invest our time in the hobby as a whole!

Billy Chandler

As a younger board game hobbyist, I often interact with those who have been in the hobby for much longer than me. Those with knowledge that far surpasses mine. Those who remember when classic games were released, and those who remember trends in gaming that I’m not even aware existed. My knowledge is much more immediate, much more ephemeral. 

Ten years ago, I was searching for this community, for the late night game nights and for the diverse collective that is created through a shared interest. In 2009, my first exposure to real board games was beginning through some of the older, wiser, board game fans around me. High school lunch hours were filled with games of Bang! and Cyclades, despite not really knowing anything about the hobby. I played Ca$h ‘n Guns at breaks for rehearsal while working on Shakespeare shows. I had exposure to some lovely games.

However, the role that board gaming filled was that of killing time during breaks. It was less about community and less about the games. During this time, the community role was being filled by competitive Super Smash Bros Melee. In time, competitive X-Wing Miniatures would take over that mantle, and then even that would eventually give way to board gaming in general. Now board games operate as my main focal point when it comes to building relationships, getting to know people, and looking for an enjoyable evening. 

I don’t think I would have gotten here without those board game role models introducing me to new titles when I was younger. I also feel that exploring competitive gaming culture and delving into the lifestyle side of gaming helped push me to the point where I am now. I’m thankful every day that I got here.

Steve Tassie

2009 was the first year I was employed as a teacher, and while there were parts of the work I enjoyed, it was one of the most miserable years of my life. Fall of 2009 marked my first full time teaching position. In Lindsay, Ontario. There was no way I could drive the Toronto-Lindsay commute every day and make it to school for 8am every morning, so I moved to Lindsay for the school year. Away from my wife, and my friends. Most importantly (for this piece), away from my games.

I was home every weekend, and tried to do as much gaming as possible, but I also needed to make time for my wife with those precious few hours of freedom, so gaming suffered. I tried to get the students in Lindsay interested in a board game club, but unlike the schools I had attended in Toronto in my youth, my school in rural Lindsay had virtually no afterschool activities that weren’t sports. Everyone who didn’t own their own car was bussed to school, and 15 minutes after the sounding of the afternoon bell, the school was a ghost town.

That left lunch time. Many school clubs had lunch meetings, because none of them could do afterschool ones. I had a few quite eager students, but, unsurprisingly, they were in a number of lunchtime clubs, and had to split their time their different extracurriculars. Combined with lunches being less than an hour long, we were unable to get into much in the way of interesting games, as by the time a game of, say, Pandemic, would be set up and explained, there wasn’t enough time left to play. And next week would have a different batch of kids show up, so we couldn’t save time by skipping the teach.Come spring of 2010, I was glad to be home, away from Lindsay, and back with my loved ones: my board games.

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As you strangers on the internet reading this with no context likely suspect, I have a lifelong love affair with Halloween. When the leaves start to change I come into bloom, my spooky starts to gestate, I grow an ovipositor and deposit my eggs inside of pumpkins. It is, of course the best of the seasons.  One thing I always seek to do is have friends over for a night of silly horror themed boardgames.  As is tradition, many offerings depart from the normal fair and are cheesy, classic or just straight up nostalgic.  Be it Atmosfear  (the DVD reiteration of Nightmare), Fury of Dracula, one of many of the zombie games in existence, or if I have to after a few bad choices, Halloween twister.  After my experience at Origins however I think I’ve found my new favorite game for this festive occasion. 

When I had seen the Monster Slaughter Kickstarter my interest was piqued.  The theme, the artwork, the table presence, I watched the campaign roll out like Michael Myers standing outside a window.  But I did not commit, it was expensive with shipping, I had other things on at the time, it meant my one in one out rule would be applied.  The game looked dicey, was it a risk worth taking, I wasn’t sure it was mechanically going to be my jam. However having played Monster Slaughter at Origins, I immediately realized I’d made a mistake.  The frenzy took hold like a werewolf bathed in a silvery moon.  I have to say, this is perhaps the perfect game for that annual eve of Samhain revelry.  Clearly, this is best played in a cabin in the woods like a group of oversexed teens under a canopy of dying leaves, but you gotta make due.   

Monster Slaughter is essentially a board game rendition of the movie Cabin in The Wood which in itself is a spoof of Evil Dead tropes.  It plays fast, is oozing with theme, has great bits, incredible table presence and is easy to teach.  Each player begins with picking which family of monsters they desire to be.  Players plot out at the start the order they intend to carry out the murder of a group of human meat bags in a 3D cabin. 

Games that have this sort of board often have issues with the wall height I’ve found, but not here, everything functions perfectly and the circular board is laid out in a way to actually help with general table size to my surprise.  Turns and choices are more engaging than I anticipated given what I’d seen early on during the Kickstarter campaign.  Sure things can go by in a thoughtless massacre, but the real strategy comes from trying to manipulate the board state to have the victim die in the order you chose at the start of the game. Players do so by attacking victims, scaring victims away from other opponents into the claws of traps they have set up, using events to their advantage or with discussing with the other players which cards to play to have the victims defend themselves.  

Earlier I mentioned the luck based nature of the game being a turn off to some.  You’d be mistaken the game itself has a surprisingly depth of strategy for what appears to be a playful dice fest damage dealing romp.  The dice themselves are a simple success and failure mechanism, each die is identical with 4 successes and 2 failures.  This means that the odds are simple to understand and the luck element easily mitigated or manipulated by the players.  Players vie to collect victory points through a few means, guessing the order mentioned earlier, dealing damage to the victims, killing the victim, killing their chosen “Favorite Meal” or through tearing down doors.  In order to achieve this, you must rely on forethought and interacting with the other players at the table, this aspect came out of the blue given my expectations.  Be it through bluffing, alliances, discussion and betrayal, the core of the game comes from being clever.  In the last game two players repeatedly barricaded my teen wolf in an empty bathroom to consider his life choices… it was, in a way, beautiful.  The much overlooked scare mechanic is also important as the game plays out like a blood thirsty cavort of hide and seek.  Players can chase the victims they suspect the others are targeting back into hiding to be killed later or setting themselves up to kill that person in a subsequent round.  

Not to mention the numerous monster families and victims present add some replayabliliy that is only shadowed by the included variants through the scenario book or the included toolshed.  As we have must passed the summer solstice and the sun now sets, I’m delighted to give so many of these a crack with friends and family.  I’m ever eager to get this to the table, so much so I retroactively shelled out the nose to get the Kickstarter goodies I’d missed. 

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Immediately after we announced the winners of our Totally Awesome Non-Denominational Winter Holiday Contest, I started thinking about what I would do for the next one. Once again I got inspired by an old chestnut from GAMES Magazine, and after conferring amongst ourselves we decided to go ahead and run it now. We’ve made it through half the year and can’t wait. Sure we could call it our Canada Day contest, but then there’s the whole piece to unpack around celebrating the “birthday” of “a” nation which was built on top of hundreds of other nations which had been around for centuries…why invite distraction from the contest when we can just call it Halfway Day? 

Anyway, the contest is called “Pic-Tac-Toe” and, like our first one, is in two parts. Below you will see a 3 x 3 grid of closeups of games. The top row are images 1-3, the second are images 4-6, and the bottom are images 7-9. The first part is to identify the games from their pictures: 

The next (and more difficult step) is to figure out what links the games in each row, column, and long diagonal. Each set of three games has something in common. That thing has nothing to do with the letters or words in their name this time, nor does it have to do with specific colours or objects in the pictures.  

Enter the contest here by filling out the form. We will draw one winner from all the correct entries and that person will receive an amazing bundle of five games and other bonuses. Unfortunately, for cost reasons we can only send the prize to an address North America–but you are welcome to enter just for the bragging rights! 

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