Kyle’s Thoughts

Can a group of friends determine who the spy within their midst is before time runs out? Spyfall fires up players’ deductive and bluffing skills in one of the most popular social deduction games to come out in recent years.

We’ve got plenty of stealthy shenanigans to go over but first, let’s cover some technical information.

The Fiddly Bits

Players: 3-8 (Best with 5 or 6)
Play time: 10 minutes
Intended audience: 12+ (better at 16+)

Publisher: Crypotzoic Entertainment
Designer: Alexandr Ushan
Year Published: 2014

Real Time
Role Playing

Quick rundown of gameplay

Each player is given a card. Most players are dealt identical location cards. The one player who isn’t dealt a location card is given the spy card.


The players who were dealt the location card (let’s call them hunters) know their location and are trying to find the spy. The spy doesn’t know where they are and they’re trying to hide or glean their location. Both sides are given an eight-minute time limit. If the hunters discover who the spy is, they win. If time runs out, the hunters pick the wrong player as the spy, or the spy guesses correctly where they are, the spy wins.

Players take turns asking each other questions to determine the spy’s identity. These questions are supposed to be specific enough, so other hunters will know another player isn’t the spy but not so specific that the spy can easily figure out where their location.


At any time, a player can accuse another player of being the spy. The timer is stopped, the players discuss their suspicions, and the group must vote unanimously that the accused is the spy (the accused doesn’t get a vote). If the vote is unanimous, the accused flips over their card. If the accused is the spy, the hunters win. If the accused isn’t the spy, the spy wins. If the vote isn’t unanimous, the player doesn’t flip over their card and play continues until the next accusation or time runs out.

Also at any time, the spy can flip over their card and guess the location. If they’re right, the spy wins. If they’re wrong, the hunters win.


The tabletop market is oversaturated with social deduction games, but Spyfall is one of the best. Because of their ubiquity and certain issues (I’ll discuss them later), I’m not a huge fan of social deduction games but I like Spyfall. I’d even say it’s one of my favorite spy games, let alone social deduction. It’s a simple concept executed well. It also doesn’t hurt that the artwork is fun and engaging.

Spyfall with the right number of players (five or six) can be a blast but it doesn’t scale the best for a social deduction/party game. The one thing social deduction games do is find ways to make the game work at multiple player counts. Spyfall is not such a game.


Too few players and the spy doesn’t have enough places to hide. More questions get flung at them and there isn’t enough suspicion to go around, so the spy typically loses. Too many players and the spy has too many places to hide. I played in a full player-count, eight-person game and the spy was asked one question the entire eight minutes. The question came late in the round so they had a good idea of the location. The spy almost always wins with higher player counts. Spyfall works best with five or six. So much so that I’m reluctant to play with 3, 4, 7, and 8 players. The game is too skewed one direction or the other.

All social deduction games have some level of metagame but Spyfall may have the most metagame of any social deduction game. Metagames are what happen from one game session to the next. So-and-so was the spy last week and said something goofy. They said the same goofy thing, so they’re the spy this time. The metagame leads to in-joke questions/answers. In-jokes aren’t a bad thing if you’re playing with the same group. They’re terrible if you’re playing with a mixed bag of players. People in the loop can clear each other as spies, while the rest of the table is scratching their heads. It leads to an us versus them mentality but it still isn’t that bad. Clicks happen with a lot of social deduction games, but it can backfire. Most in-joke questions have only one answer. What happens if a hunter asks the spy an in-joke? The spy gets erroneously cleared.

Social deduction games also require players to bluff and Spyfall adds to bluffing with its locations. Younger players won’t fare well, even if they’re over the age of 12. A 12-year-old may be able to grasp the rules but not the underlining strategy.

That’s a lot of negative. I like Spyfall so let’s get back to some positives. I love the timer. So many social deduction games drag on for hours because there isn’t a time-limit. Without a timer, social deduction games innately ramp up the tension closer to the game’s conclusion. With a timer, Spyfall turns frenetic.


It’s also easier to play multiple games of Spyfall and if you’re stuck with a less-than-desirable group of players, you’re only beholden to them for eight minutes. But if you have a lot of strangers at the table playing Spyfall, it’s a great way to break the ice. Other social deduction games can get mean. Spyfall can too at times, but it’s less likely.

I also like the theme. Spy games are plentiful just like social deduction, but Spyfall’s a silly game. The spy is at the same location as the other players. The only way they don’t know the location is if they don’t have use of their senses. The game is nonsensical on multiple levels. With the right group, Spyfall is a lot of fun.


Spyfall 2

Spyfall has warranted a sequel. Nothing much changed so I’m not giving Spyfall 2 its own review. Both games can be combined for more zaniness and the only change Spyfall 2 made was have decks where there’s nothing but location cards and a deck with nothing but spy cards. If the players can figure out what’s going on, everyone wins. If they can’t, everyone loses.

The changes in Spyfall 2 are in keeping with the original’s wackiness. Both games provide plenty of belly laughs.

Well, times up for this review. I’ll be hitting the gaming table, so until we meet again, thanks for reading.

For Sale


Kyle’s Thoughts

Auctions in games have faded in recent years but there are some neo-classics that used the mechanism. For Sale is such a game. Players take on the role of real estate moguls, trying to buy properties and sell them for profit. For Sale hit the market before the “Flip this house/business” craze and might be the kind of game “flipping” property fans could enjoy.

We’ve got two unique game phases to cover but before we do, let’s go over some technical jargon.

The Fiddly Bits

Players: 3-6 (Best with 5)
Play time: 10-20 minutes
Intended audience: 8+

Publisher: Uberplay and Eagle-Gryphon Games
Designer: Stefan Dorra
Year Published: 1997

Hand Management

Quick rundown of gameplay

For Sale has three types of resources: coins, properties, and checks. In the first game phase, players use coins to obtain properties. When play transitions to the second phase, players sell their properties for checks. The player with the most money (combination of coins and checks) at the end of the second-round wins.

First Phase

Each player is given a certain number of coins (it’s the same value for each player but the quantity varies based on number of players). The properties are shuffled and properties equal to the number of players are dealt face up. It should look something like this.


Each property is valued 1-29. 1 is a cardboard box, while 29 is a penthouse suite.


Players choose who goes first. The rules say whoever lives in the biggest house goes first, but you can determine player order some other way.

Then, players take turns bidding on the properties. New bids must be higher than the previous highest bid. Any coins used in the auction process are lost for the game, and players can choose to pass at any time. Once every player but one has passed, whoever had the highest bid wins the right to choose which property they want first with the rest of the players choosing their properties in order, based on the size of their bids.


Once all the properties in the deck are depleted, play transitions to the second phase.

Second Phase

The second phase is like the first. Players set their leftover coins aside, they won’t be needed. Each player should have a hand of property cards.


These property cards will be used to obtain check cards. Check cards are valued from $0-$15,000.


After the deck of checks is shuffled, checks equal to the number of players are dealt face up. Players now take turns blind bidding on the checks. Each player chooses the property they want to use for the bidding round and places it face down on the table. Once every player has chosen a property, the cards are revealed. The player with the highest value chooses which check they want first with the rest of the players choosing the remaining check in descending order of property value.


Once all the checks in the deck are depleted, players add up the value of their checks and coins and whoever has the most money wins.


I’ve heard great things about For Sale for years. Several critics have heralded it as the greatest filler game (short game to fill time in between longer games). Other critics have said it’s the best auction/bidding game of all time. It sounded like hyperbole. But darn if For Sale isn’t one of the best, if not the best, filler or auction game. It’s earned most of its hype.

It’s certainly the best buy low/sell high game I’ve ever played. It also does a great job of teaching relative value.

Relative value is an important, overlooked skill. Many newbies to For Sale will get in a bidding war win they see the big “29” card hit the table, even when the lowest property value is “23.” You could spend no coins and pick up the “23,” so you players don’t earn that much by spending half their coins for a card that’s 6 points higher than the lowest card available. Likewise, the cardboard box “1” isn’t always a bad play. I’ve picked up the cardboard box for zero coins, when the best card available was an 8 or 9. Each card has value.

You also must know when to use each property. The checks can be dealt in a cluster, too. When the checks vary from $0-$10,000, you may want to use a high-valued property. But when the checks range from $9,000-$11,000, that’s when you play the cardboard box.

For Sale has been out since 1997 (20 years since this review) but its contribution to tabletop games can’t be overlooked. Most auction games force new bids to beat old bids, but when For Sale was released, that wasn’t the case. Games prior to For Sale would allow for bidding ties and that slowed down gameplay. For Sale bids last less than a minute. Games with bidding ties had some bids last 5-10 minutes. That doesn’t sound like a lot but with multiple bids, those other games added at least an hour.

I like the artwork. I love how For Sale is one of the easiest games to teach. It’s one of my go-to games when I want to teach someone the mechanisms of auctioning, bidding, and buy low/sell high games. It doesn’t get the same buzz it once got, but For Sale is one of the best filler games available.

Time for me to hit the gaming table, so until we meet again, thanks for reading.

Behind the Game: Luck, Strategy, and Tactics—Oh, My

Kyle’s Thoughts

I’m trying to make “Behind the Game” a more frequent series. I went after adult-themed tabletop games last week so I’ll dial it back with the genital jokes this time and cover luck, strategy, and tactics, and how they interact. Let’s start with an overview of these three things and how they work together.


Luck and Strategy are not Opposites

There’s more than one type of luck (more on that in a bit) and depending on which type of luck a tabletop game employs, it can enhance the strategy of a game. Just because a game has strategy, doesn’t mean it doesn’t have luck. And just because a game uses luck, even large amounts of it, doesn’t mean it’s devoid of strategy. Luck can also be manipulated. The various ways luck can be altered could add to a game’s strategic and tactical value.

The tabletop game genre with the reputation as being the most strategic is war games. You calculate moves and execute planned attacks. But these games still use dice or cards to determine whether an attack, and sometimes a maneuver, works. Any game with a deck of cards or die rolls includes some degree of chance.

Strategy and Tactics are not Synonyms

Strategies are long-term goals, plans, or objectives. Tactics involve assessing a situation and planning on the fly; they’re the building blocks to achieve larger objectives. Some games are strategy-heavy, others are tactic-heavy, and still more use both. War games are usually a good blend. For example, your strategy might be to take control of a bridge but events could happen, and you may have to change the tactics you use to accomplish your goal.

So, games that are considered strategic typically have many paths to victory: numerous, potential objectives. You choose the one that works best for you. Games that are considered tactical usually have different means to achieve the same victory condition. These games don’t always have multiple objectives.


Input and Output Luck

Let’s talk about luck, baby.

Input luck is when the luck element occurs early in a turn, usually at the beginning, and players make decisions after the fact. Output luck is when players make a decision first and then the luck element takes effect. I’m going to stick with dice.

Most folks associate dice with luck, even though I’d argue the more dice you roll, the less random they become (dice results normalize when you’re rolling a bucket of dice), but that’s a different discussion. For this argument, Dice = Luck.


Let’s take the classic game Yahtzee. You roll five dice, keep the results you want, and re-roll the rest a grand total of twice. Players roll (the luck element) and then they determine what they’ll do with that roll: input luck.

Usually, players want to roll high, but lower numbers can be used in different ways (straights, full houses, three or four of a kind). No result is completely useless or unwanted.


Now let’s look at Dungeons & Dragons. Players declare what they’re going to do, for instance, sneaking passed a guard. The Dungeon Master determines what target number they need to achieve their task, and the player rolls a twenty-sided die (the luck element) to see whether their sneak was successful: output luck.

Input luck innately allows players to manipulate luck, while output luck gives more power to the die or other luck element. But that doesn’t mean a game using output luck doesn’t allow players to manipulate their fortunes. We’re not done with D&D.


Manipulating Luck

There are several ways to manipulate luck in a game, but let’s start with D&D. Role playing games have their players design characters with unique strengths and weaknesses. Some may be smart but feeble. Others may be strong but clumsy. And still more may be agile but dumb. We’re going back to that same example of sneaking passed a guard.

Let’s say 20 is the target number the Dungeon Master picked. To perform the action the player adds what they roll on a twenty-sided die to the value they have in an appropriate skill: Sneak. A halfling rogue character may only need to roll a 4 or higher because sneaking is the function they perform on their team. A half-orc barbarian most likely won’t have any skill in sneaking, so they’d need to a roll a perfect 20.

D&D players manipulate luck by forming well-rounded teams of adventurers, much like comic book writers construct teams of superheroes. Strong guy or gal? Check. Smarty pants? Check. Sneaky bastard? Check.

There are countless ways to manipulate luck in board games. I’ll list a few of them.

Building improvements/upgrades: Stack the deck in your favor.

A hand of cards or tiles: Keep and use what you want, discard what you don’t and draw something new.

Variable player abilities: You could dictate a die’s outcome or have more opportunities to accomplish certain tasks. The sky’s the limit with this one.

Re-rolling dice: Don’t like what you rolled, try again.


Roll, Spin, and Move

Some of you cringed when you read the most dubious game mechanism: roll, spin, and move. Most—if not all—of the games that use this mechanism employ output luck and many of them don’t allow their players to manipulate chance. The game plays you instead of you playing the game.

Monopoly is the most well-known of the roll, spin, and move games. You roll the die, you do what the die tells you to do, unless you draw a card and then you do what the card says. Tabletop games have come a long way since then. Heck, even roll, spin, and move games have incorporated ways to change a player’s fate.

Careers had cards you could play to move a specific number of spaces instead of rolling the die. Colosseum, which will be reprinted later this year by Tasty Minstrel Games, allows plenty of manipulation to the classic roll, spin, and move. Any game type can add an extra layer of tactics and strategy, and any game, no matter how strategic it appears, can include luck.

I play the Tigris & Euphrates app. Most folks would classify Tigris & Euphrates as a sophisticated, heavy strategy game, and they’d be right. Players build up their civilizations. If a conflict erupts, the player with the stronger civ, built over time, usually wins. But anyone can discard the tiles from their hands to improve their strength if they happen to have the right tiles.

Quit discarding the right tiles, you damn, dirty app.

I’m heading back to the table to chuck more dice, until next we meet, thanks for reading.

Codenames: Pictures


Kyle’s Thoughts

The juggernaut that is 2016’s Spiel des Jahres winner Codenames (here’s my review on Codenames) was bound to spawn more than one spin-off. Codenames: Pictures takes the concept and adds plenty of trippy visuals. Before we get to the game, let’s look at some particulars.

The Fiddly Bits

Players: 2-8 (many more can play with two teams)
Play time: 15 minutes
Intended audience: 10+

Publisher: Czech Games Edition
Designer: Vlaada Chvatil
Year Published: 2016

Pattern Recognition
Press Your Luck

Quick rundown of gameplay

Players form teams—there is a single team variant, but usually, players split into teams—and teams are further split into one person as its clue giver and everyone else as clue decipherers. Clue givers are trying to give clues that will have their team (of clue decipherers) guess which pictures are assigned to their team, while avoiding clues that will lead to the assassin card (instant loss) or the other team’s cards. The first team to discover all its cards wins.

Clue givers and clue decipherers sit on either side of a table, and a 4×6 grid of cards with pictures on them rests between the givers and decipherers. It should look like this.


The clue givers also have a key that tells them which cards are their team’s pictures.

Each clue giver takes alternating turns, giving one word clues that tie multiple pictures of theirs together and provide a number of the cards (pictures) that fit that clue. For example, “Food 3” could be a valid clue if a clue giver is trying to get their team to guess pictures depicting “a gorilla eating grapes,” “a bagel with a space shuttle flying through it,” or “wine spilling out of a bottle and forming a topographical map of Michigan.”

Clue decipherers touch the cards they think match their clue. They keep guessing if they guess correctly or they can pass their turn to the other team if they don’t want to risk choosing an incorrect card. A team’s turn ends immediately if they pick a picture that isn’t one of theirs and play passes to the other team.

The first team to guess all their cards wins.

There are a few more twists and turns to the rules, but that’s the gist.


Again, most gamers have a preference of Codenames or Codenames: Pictures. If you’re more of a word game pro or you like word play, you may like Codenames (here’s a link to its review). If you’re more of a visual person, Pictures may be for you. I didn’t like Pictures at first. It took some plays for me to grasp what was on the cards. I missed a space shuttle flying through a bagel the first time I saw the picture and I gave a clue of space or Milky Way. One of my teammates picked the bagel and I thought they were mad. No. They’re not made, the pictures can make little sense.

After I grew accustomed to the odd pictures Codenames: Pictures grew on me. The gameplay’s the same as the original Codenames. Some folks don’t like the grayscale images, but the designer couldn’t add color to them. Every game would have someone saying a color and the number of pictures their team has with that color. And even though I still don’t get some of the pictures on the cards, a few are beyond bizarre, they have an endearing quirkiness.

Codenames: Pictures is a worthy sequel to 2016’s game of the year—I’m sorry Spiel des Jahres. I just hope Czech Games Edition doesn’t crank out too many sequels.

Which version of Codenames is your favorite? Let me know in the comments. I’ll be playing some more games but until then, thanks for reading.



Kyle’s Thoughts

I haven’t written a straight up tabletop game review in quite some time so I’m going to do one for last year’s (2016) Spiel des Jahres winner Codenames and one of its spinoffs Codenames: Pictures. (Here’s the link for Codenames: Pictures.) But before we get to the game, let’s cover some pesky technical stuff.

The Fiddly Bits

Players: 2-8 (many more can play with two teams)
Play time: 15 minutes
Intended audience: 14+ (but you could teach someone as young as ten)

Publisher: Czech Games Edition
Designer: Vlaada Chvatil
Year Published: 2015

Pattern Recognition
Press Your Luck

Quick rundown of gameplay

Players form teams—there is a single team variant, but usually, players split into teams—and teams are further split into one person as its clue giver and everyone else as clue decipherers. Clue givers are trying to give clues that will have their team (of clue decipherers) guess which words are assigned to their team, while avoiding clues that will lead to the assassin card (instant loss) or the other team’s cards. The first team to discover all its cards (code words) wins.

Clue givers and clue decipherers sit on either side of a table, and a 5×5 grid of cards with words printed on them rests between the givers and decipherers. It should look like this.


The clue givers also have a map card that tells them which word cards are their team’s words.


Each clue giver takes alternating turns, giving one word clues that tie multiple words of theirs together and provide a number of the cards (words) that fit that clue. For example, “Food 4” could be a valid clue if a clue giver is trying to get their team to guess the words “ham,” “orange,” “bread,” and “pie.”

Clue decipherers touch the cards they think match their clue. They keep guessing if they guess correctly or they can pass their turn to the other team if they don’t want to risk choosing an incorrect card. A team’s turn ends immediately if they pick a picture that isn’t one of theirs and play passes to the other team

The first team to guess all their cards wins.

There are a few more twists and turns to the rules, but that’s the gist.

Game Review

Most gamers have a preference of Codenames or Codenames: Pictures. If you’re more of a visual person, you may like Codenames: Pictures (here’s a link to its review). There’s even a backlash of players who don’t like all the hype Codenames has gotten over the past couple years.  As of this writeup it’s the highest rated party game on Board Game Geek. It’s one of the only party games to ever win the Spiel des Jahres. It’s the game that keeps the lights on at Czech Games Edition. And it’s a simple concept.

I like it. Codenames is a versatile party game. I’ve seen clue givers in small groups scratch their hands and contemplate each clue. I’ve seen larger groups bust out laughing at conventions. In fact, Codenames usually draws huge crowds at cons and generates clouds of noise.


Analysis paralysis (taking a long time to think about one’s turn) can be a deterrent. I’ve waited at the table for someone to come up with the perfect clue. Other folks can’t handle the pressure of being a clue giver; there’s a lot more stress on the giver than there is on the decipherers. But it’s a solid party game. It’s one of the best on the market, but if you don’t care for party or word games, you most likely won’t like Codenames.

I prefer the original Codenames to Codenames: Pictures because Pictures has some odd images and it’s difficult to make clues that differentiate one grayscale image from another. I also like play on words and the original Codenames allows for that.

I’m not sure if Codenames deserves all the praise it gets, popular opinion tends to sway people, but I can see the game selling copies decades in the future.

Do you think Codenames deserves the praise it gets? Which version of Codenames is your favorite? Let me know in the comments. I’ll be playing some more games but until then, thanks for reading.

Gaming After Dark

Kyle’s Thoughts

Hello, all. It’s been some time since I’ve posted something on tabletop games, so I’m taking a page from Jim and his “state of comics” to cover a current trend in tabletop games: adult themes for popular board games.


I’m not against adult-themed games. They’re not my thing, I most likely won’t purchase one, but I have nothing against them. Tabletop companies make mountains of cash from games that add “after dark,” “adults only,” and add an explicit content label to the box. It’s good business. It’s also a polarizing subject in the tabletop community. Let’s explore both sides of the argument of whether adult games are good for the hobby, and why they flourish. We’ll stop before we have to take a shower.

A Positive Influence

First, there’s the mountain of cash I mentioned earlier. Adult-themed games are big business. The money they earn sustains some companies. Sure, Czech Games Edition (CGE) didn’t need a Codenames: Deep Undercover for their 2016 Spiel des Jahres winner—the original Codenames is printed money—but the company has made a killing on the adult-themed version too. Tabletop gaming is a growing but still small niche. An adult game might be worth it if it means a tabletop company, maybe not CGE in particular, can stay afloat. But there are other ways adult games are beneficial.


The game that popularized “adult themes” Cards Against Humanity has done a lot of good in the tabletop community; most notably it’s Tabletop Deathmatch contest, where unpublished game designers have a chance of getting their game on the market. Outside their contest, they’ve reached out to budding game designers and put them on the map. We wouldn’t have Penny Press, Discount Salmon, or the companies they spawned without the adult-themed giant.

I’m not sure if there’d be much overlap on a vin diagram between life-long tabletop gamer and introduced to the hobby through an adult-themed board game, but there must be some overlap. Who cares how someone gets into the hobby? It only matters that the person in question got into the hobby. And who cares if party games (adult-themed games are usually of the party game variety) are all that person is interested in? Most tabletop companies offer a party game in their catalogue. The party game enthusiast can enjoy their games and that can help that same tabletop company make strategy, war, deck building, or worker placement games.

It must sound like I’m an adult game apologist but it’s not all farts and sunshine.

A Negative Influence

Okay, I could go the easy route here. They’re filth. They’re cheap knockoffs of other games. They cater to the lowest, common denominator. They’re not kid friendly. That’s too easy, and those reasons aren’t why I avoid adult-themed tabletop games. The biggest reason I avoid them is that they don’t accomplish what I think they set out to accomplish: shock value.

The one time I laughed out loud from a Cards Against Humanity turn was when someone played the fill-in-the-blank card “The thing I’m most ashamed of is…” and someone else answered with “I’m Batman.” Someone being ashamed of being Batman, to me, is objectively funny. When everyone else plays some variant of penis, vagina, butt, testicle, or breast joke, “I’m Batman” becomes shocking. Vulgar jokes are the funniest when they’re unexpected. Adult games are so over-the-top they make penis jokes impotent.

That last one was a penis joke. I’m sorry. That was too easy; I took the opening.

I’m also miffed as to why some stores carry the adult version of a game and not the base game. I suggested Codenames to a friend. They went to Target, but all Target had was their exclusive Codenames: Deep Undercover. My friend picked up Codenames: Deep Undercover, played it, and got angry at me for suggesting such a lude game. If a store wants to carry an adult-version of a game, carry the original.


But the biggest reason I don’t prefer adult-themed versions of games is that they’re unnecessary. I seldom play with the cards that come with Telestrations. My game group picks a topic or theme and we draw pictures based on that topic. If we wanted to have a raunchy turn of Telestrations, we’d have one with the base game. Why would I play Telestrations: After Dark that has a larger print run than the base game? Why play Cards Against Humanity when you can play (the game it mimics) Apples to Apples? Someone can play the adjective “moist” and someone else can answer with “women.” I’ve even used the clue “bondage 5” in a base game of Codenames to get folks to answer with the code words “rope,” “bed,” “handcuffs,” “apple,” and “carrot.” That one round was shocking. And shock value is the element adult-themed games lose.

So why are they popular?

I’m clearly not a part of an adult-themed games’ target audience. I hear they’re great when you’re drunk. I wouldn’t know because I don’t go out and party, so the college crowd must be the target audience. But there could be a larger, psychological element at play. Let’s compare the cover of Codenames to that of Codenames: Deep Undercover.



You can see the added explicit content warning on Codenames: Deep Undercover, and that has its own baggage, but let’s take a closer look at the word balloons on each box. The base game reads “Top Secret” and “Word Game.” The adult version reads “Adults Only” and “Word Game.” Adults don’t need to be told they’re adults.

Teenagers (and some young twenty-somethings) need to be told they’re adults. I ran a “Man’s Club” when I was a preteen and everyone in the neighborhood wanted to be part of the “Man’s Club” because the word “man” was in it. None of us were men, but we liked to be told we were men for being a part of the club. The same could be said of teens playing “adult-themed” games. These games may be marketed primarily toward teens. Even if they aren’t, I’m sure companies don’t mind if a teen purchased their game or got their parents to do so. So, that may be my biggest issue with adult-themed games.

Regardless of their marketer’s intent, adult-themed games comprise a healthy portion of tabletop game sales. They keep some companies afloat, bring new people to the hobby (perhaps), and it’s the parents’ responsibility to know which games their kids are playing.

What are your views on adult-themed, tabletop games? Let me know in the comments. I’ll be playing some more games and hopefully gain more topics to talk about. Until then, thanks for reading.

Geekly Games: July 25, 2016

The holiday earlier this month threw me off schedule, and I’m not sure which day of the week I should post Geekly Games. We could be looking at a semi-weekly post until we balance video games, tabletop games, and comics posts. Don’t worry. I didn’t forget about you guys. So, here we go with another Geekly Games.


Memoir ‘44

I finally played one of the games on my bucket list: Memoir ’44. I stopped by Omaha’s Game Shoppe and played the introductory scenario, Pegasus Bridge, with my brother-in-law Tim. It wasn’t an auspicious start. My biggest problem was reading the rules aloud verbatim—something I hate doing—and the more I read the rules, the more I wondered what I had gotten myself into. The rules aren’t that involved, nor were they long. It’s been some time since I’ve had to read rules on the fly and relay them to others. I was out of practice. Don’t ever read rules aloud verbatim; you can see the life drain from the eyes of those who are listening. If you must, read the rules to yourself and paraphrase them. As soon as I switched to paraphrasing, the rules reading went smoothly.

Memoir ’44 was everything I wanted it to be. It’s earned its place as an accessible war simulation game. Memoir ’44 was released on the 60th anniversary of the Allies’ invasion of Normandy during World War II. Players command Allied or Axis forces and take turns reenacting key skirmishes of famous battles.

I could talk at length about how Memoir ’44 differs from the war games my father and cousin Wally coaxed me into playing when I was young—okay, I didn’t have to be coaxed. I won’t get into too many details on how Memoir differs from these war games. Let’s just say that Memoir ’44 has lightning fast turns.

For the most part, each scenario remains faithful to the moments they recreate. German forces may have advantageous positioning but the Allies are the historical winners, have numbers, and initiative (usually), since they’re the aggressors. As a result, most of the scenarios are slanted toward the Allies, but the inclusion of cards and dice in combat and maneuvering gives both players a chance.


During a turn players choose a card to play from their hand, and the card they choose dictates which units they can activate. This mimics what happens on the battlefield. You plan as best you can but elements outside your control can prevent you from doing something. For instance, you mobilize your troops on your right flank, getting them in position for an attack, but you don’t draw into any more right flank cards to execute the attack. This can be frustrating. Thankfully, you don’t have to wait long for the right cards, secondary options allow for creativity and they aren’t that bad of an option, and games are quick. We’re talking 30-45 minutes.

After your card resolves (you complete the action printed on the card), you draw a new card and pass the turn to your opponent. Play continues like this until someone accrues enough victory points for the scenario. You gain victory points for collecting a victory token (not every scenario has these tokens but when tokens are used, they represent strategic locations on the battlefield) or when you kill an enemy unit. And that leads us to Memoir ‘44’s combat.

Memoir uses specialty six-sided dice. I won’t get into “line of sight” and the variable number of dice you roll when attacking. These two concepts are the most dense, confusing, and easy to misinterpret. That said, they still aren’t that complicated. I’d just rather not discuss them here. Let’s get back to the dice.


Yeah. Those are the ones. I love Memoir ‘44’s dice. You want to roll the unit you’re targeting. If you’re attacking infantry, you want to roll infantry. Are you targeting a tank unit? You’ll want tanks. Grenades hit everything. Stars miss everything. Flags miss and you’re forced to retreat. Each unit has a number of plastic figurines to represent the unit’s health (4 for infantry, 3 for tanks, and 2 for artillery). Once all the figurines are gone, the unit’s removed from play and one of its pieces is placed on the victory point track. Someone wins when they have enough victory points for the scenario. It’s a simple concept but Memoir ‘44’s surprising deep.


Those older war games could be fun but they took forever to play (turns could last thirty minutes—the entire time it takes to play a full game of Memoir) and you had rules the size of a phone book (reference page 539, paragraph 21, sentence 5 for the effects wind has on mortar shots on the bottom right 1/3 quadrant of the Normandy map). I know I’ll get flak from “real war gamers”—there is a sizeable group of them who don’t consider Memoir ’44 a war game because it isn’t complicated enough—but Memoir boils down everything that makes those war games fun and presents it in a manner that’s digestible for a larger audience. There are other war games out there and many of them are great, but Memoir’s an excellent place to start.

It’s a lot fun. If you have any interest in a World War II game, I highly recommend it. I’ve already bought a couple of expansions—don’t tell Jen.


Behind the Game

Tabletop games—and American made tabletop games in particular—have received a bad reputation for taking hours to play, but that isn’t the case for most modern tabletop games. True. You can still find modern board games that take hours to complete—Twilight Imperium, and Descent come to mind—but most games speed up gameplay so you can play multiple, unique games or several rounds of a game you like in a single night. Many gamers who enjoy some of these longer games, like the old school war gamers who would claim that Memoir ’44 isn’t a real war game, might claim that the game’s length adds to the game’s depth. While no one would question the depth or immersion of longer games like Twilight Imperium and Descent, a shorter game like Memoir can provide an immersive experience.

Historical reference helps Memoir, but games like Arcadia Quest—I still need to write a review on Arcadia Quest—do a great job of building a background story and dividing missions into easily digestible, hour-long or less sessions. Story helps…a lot. Having a character or two who you can root for helps too, but tabletop games are a balancing act between story or theme and game mechanisms. Game mechanisms that fit with what you’re doing in the game not only help to make learning the rules easier, they make for better player engagement.

The right combination of story/theme and game mechanisms can also lead to greater depth of play. Even simple concept party games like Codenames (2016’s winner of the Spiel des Jahres and first party game to ever win the coveted German game of the year) provide wrinkles to their game play that players can exploit—or fail to do exploit in epic fashion.

So do you lose game immersion or play depth with a shorter tabletop game? As with most things, the answer’s complicated. Some games demand to be long. I couldn’t see Twilight Imperium taking 45 minutes to play, the game would lose a lot of what makes it work, but board games are getting shorter play times in order to compete with other mediums. That presents a challenge to designers to keep game play to a speedy 30-45 minutes, while maintaining the game’s depth and player’s investment. We’re in the middle of a board game renaissance of sorts and these shorter play times could be part of the reason why.

Well, I’m off to the game table. I’ll fit as many games as I can in a couple of hours each night, so until we meet again, thanks for reading.

Geekly Games: June 26, 2016


I wanted to do something a little different with this week’s Geekly Games. There are two games, by the same designer, that I’ve played in the past year that play similarly. In fact, they’re sibling games where the second of the two games took the measured play of the first game and made it more unsystematic. I’m taking a look at Suburbia and The Castles of Mad King Ludwig with this week’s side by side tabletop games.



Let’s start with the elder sibling game Suburbia. As the name suggests players compete with each other to build the most prosperous suburb of the same larger city. You earn victory points for tile placement (this game uses hexagonal tiles of the same size, and it’ll make more sense why I mentioned the same shape and size tile when I talk about Mad King Ludwig), and you can earn bonuses for putting similar city blocks close to each other, score negative points for placing factories next to residential areas or similar unharmonious pairings, and some tiles even give you a multiplier for the total number of a certain city block type you have in your suburb. Whoever has the most point at the end of the game wins.

Scoring is further complicated in Suburbia with the addition of end-game bonuses that are selected at the beginning of the game—so each player can work toward trying to get these bonuses throughout the game—and individual, hidden player bonuses, like you get a ten point bonus for having the most commercial blocks. Each player keeps tabs of their suburb’s progress on a point track, and the way the point track is designed makes it close to impossible for a run-away winner.

I really like the point track in Suburbia. There are thresholds (depicted by lines) on the point track where if you pass them, you have to pay a fine from your income that turn and if you can’t pay the fine, you travel backward on the point track. Throw in some money bonuses for people in last and you get a system that makes it difficult for someone to win the game wire-to-wire, though I have seen a game of Suburbia go that route. I enjoy playing Suburbia and will gladly play it if it hits the table, but I’ve been on the wrong end of a run-away loser game on more than one occasion, and most of that comes from a different game mechanism: turning any city block tile into water.


Each tile is double sided with the common side being a block of water (like a lake, pond, or river). There’s a cost track for the tiles you can purchase. Newer tiles get placed at the end of the track and that’s where tiles cost more, and players can purchase one tile a turn. I like this system. You could wait and see if a tile you want gets cheaper in a future turn or pay the large price tag for a tile you really want. What I don’t care for is that a player can purchase any tile on the track as water by grabbing it for free. I don’t know how many times I’ve had the funds to purchase an awesome tile, only to have the player in front of my scrap it for water. This plays too much like a “screw you” move.

There are bonuses that reward you for the most water tiles, and other tiles that feed off of water, and I don’t like playing with either of these tiles, especially if we have new players. I see how converting a tile to water could be tactically sound—it’s an easy way to separate industrial and residential blocks—but there has to be a way to limit which tiles you can turn into water. I’ve seen one player corner the market in a particular tile type, and the player with the water bonus took a tile he needed on the first turn the tile was on the board by scrapping it for free. That’s shameful.

Still, with some rule modifications, Suburbia is a great game, and one of the best city-building games on the market.


The Castles of Mad King Ludwig

The younger sibling game, The Castles of Mad King Ludwig, tasks players with building the best castle instead of suburb. The Castles of Mad King Ludwig works similarly to Suburbia, except that it changes a few things that make it a wildly different gaming experience.

The scoring track is still there, but gone are the thresholds—you won’t need them. The player with the most points at the end of the game wins, so that hasn’t change, and you gain bonuses or penalties for tile placement—another similarity—but these tiles come in different shapes and sizes. Instead of putting a hex next to another hex, The Castles of Mad King Ludwig has you connecting one room with another with doorways. It doesn’t matter how you connect the rooms, so long as you have space for a new room and it connects with another one of your rooms with a doorway—which can be tougher than it sounds. You end up with some very interesting castles.


The tile cost track is still used in The Castles of Mad King Ludwig, but instead of each new tile heading to the end of the track, there’s a player each turn (the master builder, which changes after each turn) who determines how expensive each tile should be, and this is an elegant addition to the game play. Half of The Castles of Mad King Ludwig’s strategy rests with where the master builder places each tile on the cost track. Players’ main source of income is getting paid as the master builder—players who aren’t the master builder have to pay the master builder for their tiles—and if a tile doesn’t get sold, a coin gets added on top of it, so it’s offered at a discount the next turn. There’s an art to placing a room tile with coins on it at the right spot to maximize the money you’ll earn, and getting a mountain of coins in one turn is satisfying.

As you can probably tell I like The Castles of Mad King Ludwig more than Suburbia—although I still like Suburbia a lot, despite losing most of the time. Being able to affect the tile cost track gives players a sense of control. Anyone can scrap a tile for water for free in Suburbia at any time, but if someone purchases a room you wanted as the master builder in The Castles of Mad King Ludwig, you’re the one who placed the room on the tile cost track. I like that addition to The Castle of Mad King Ludwig’s rules, and the game’s theme. But you can’t go wrong with either game.

I’m off to the game table, so until next we meet, thanks for reading.

Geekly Games: June 18, 2016

I didn’t play too many new tabletop games this past week because my daughter Season left for Mexico to assist with sea turtle conservation. She’s settled and made new friends. Here’s a picture of one of her new friends.


Okay, that’s a gecko that sneaked into her room. Anyway, we broke out a lot of older, classic games before we said farewell. We played more than one session of Liverpool Rummy and Wa-Hoo. Season likes Boss Monster and we played that a few times too. I’ve reviewed a lot of these games already so I won’t do that here, but I’ll dig deeper into why I don’t mind playing Wa-Hoo, while I can’t stand Sorry! in the “Behind the Game” segment; the two games are almost the same, except for one important game mechanism.

Instead, let’s tackle a large game I’ve been meaning to discuss for a while. The game has so much going on that I was too intimidated to cover it in a full review.


Mage Knight

I’m not going to go into too much detail with specific gameplay with Mage Knight—there’s too much to cover—but I’ll list the various game mechanisms with hyperlinks to definitions of those mechanisms.

Card Drafting
Cooperative Play
Deck/Pool Building
Dice Rolling
Grid Movement
Hand Management
Modular Board
Role Playing
Tile Placement
Variable Player Powers

Yep. That’s a lot going on for one game, and the above list only scratches the surface. If you’re new to tabletop gaming, don’t start with Mage Knight. Begin with other games that use the various game mechanisms listed above as sort of a scaffold learning approach before tackling this beast.


Mage Knight, the board game, delves deeper into the world Mage Knight, the collectible miniatures game, created. Players can team up together to bring peace to the land or they can battle each other for dominance. I prefer competitive play, but the cooperative modes are great and that’s how my gaming group likes to play—that is if I can get Mage Knight to the table. Most of the time, I play Mage Knight by myself, and fortunately, solo play is solid.

The game’s complexity and length keep Mage Knight from hitting the table as much as I would like. It takes two to four hours to play a game. Now I know I may receive some backlash from saying this, but the game isn’t as much complex (the individual parts merging to form something new, intricate, and exciting) as there are a lot of things going on and rules to keep straight. The reason why I played Mage Knight a couple of weeks ago was that I found my memory of the game’s rules had turned fuzzy.


I still like Mage Knight a lot. It deserves the praise and high marks it gets on sites like boardgamegeek (8.1 and rated in the top ten games overall as of this write-up), but I don’t see people playing this game. I’m sure folks will correct me and say that they play Mage Knight all the time, but I’ve been to numerous local gaming conventions—Omaha and its greater surrounding area has a wealth of game cons—and I never see this game on a table. There are other games of similar length and complexity at these events, but I’ve never seen Mage Knight on a schedule or playing surface. Does everyone who likes this game play the solo version like me? I’m not sure. If you’re ever in the Omaha area, I’d be happy to bring my copy of Mage Knight to one of the many game shops in the area and play a game.

I will add that I’m a Vlaada Chvatil fanboy, so I may be biased, but Mage Knight has enough going on that you’ll find some aspect or aspects that you’ll love. My favorites are choosing which cards you’ll discard to gain movement or combat bonuses and which ones you’ll use for their effect, and how you share the dice pool with the other players. But you’re also likely to find an aspect or two that you aren’t too crazy about. My main sticky point is the game’s combat system: too clunky and mathematical at times. There’s a reason Mage Knight gets a lot of praise, it’s earned it. If you’re interested in an epic fantasy board game, you should check it out.


Behind the Game

The tabletop game for this week uses a mountain of mechanisms. A gaming experience can be affected if even one mechanism is out of whack and that may be what happened when Sorry! traded dice rolling for a deck of cards.

I’m not alone in the tabletop gaming community for my disdain of Sorry!. I’ve already went on a tirade about Sorry! in the past and cited that it lost the tactile goodness of dice rolling, but it goes deeper than that. By trading dice for a deck of cards, Sorry! shifted game play from deploying the competence of dice rolling to the deterministic approach of cards. Most people prefer competence.

Let’s play a game. Well, let’s play two games. In both games, you pick even or odd numbers and win $5 if a traditional die shows the number type you chose and win nothing if the die doesn’t show the number type you picked. The difference between these two games comes with who gets to roll the die.

In the first game you get to roll the die. In the second game I rolled a die in a cup before you showed up and reveal the die’s result after you make your choice. Now, there’s no way for me to cheat you in the second game, even if I doctored the roll, because I don’t know if you’ll pick even or odd, but most people would prefer the first game. In fact, during a questionnaire given out by University of Alabama sociologist students, folks were given this choice and two thirds of them picked the first game. Mathematically there’s no difference between the two games because players named their number type. Your expectation of winning is the same, but this comes back to the concept of competence.

In 1991, Tversky and Heath proposed the framework of competence. The short of it, as it pertains to gaming, is that people prefer games where they have a higher level of competence. Now, this type of competence doesn’t use the standard definition. Competence in this sense means what you can know about a situation versus what can ever be known about a situation. And this is where we get back to Sorry! versus Parcheesi, Ludo, and Wa-Hoo.



Someone could know which order Sorry’s cards are in. I’m not saying someone’s cheating and they know the order, but the potential is there for someone to know the order of the cards. No one can ever know which number will be rolled on a die until after the die rests, which yields a higher level of competence.

The deck of cards in the game of Sorry! functions like a die that has already been rolled and the result is hidden from the player, while Parcheesi, Ludo, and Wa-Hoo empower players with rolling their own dice. If you aren’t getting the roll you want, give the die some backspin or different English. Will it work? Probably not, but gamers like to have their fate in their own hands—or they like to think that their fate is in their own hands.

I’ll have to get to the game table more often this next week, but until next we meet, thanks for reading.

Geekly Games: June 11, 2016

Three weeks of Geekly Games. Count ‘em, three consecutive weeks and climbing. This week’s game is another one that I’ve been meaning to cover for a while and haven’t gotten around to doing so. I’m not sure if this game is great or if it’s very good but it offers one of the most unique tabletop gaming experiences. Either way, there’s no other game like it on the market (as of this write-up, of course). This week’s tabletop game is another game that focuses on narrative: TIME Stories.


TIME Stories

This game has you traveling through time and space, occupying someone’s consciousness—kind of like Assassin’s Creed or Quantum Leap. You’re tasked with correcting an issue within the world and your actions and interactions with other characters in the game can rewrite history. You’re trying to accomplish your goal with as few attempts as possible, but it’s okay if you fail. You’ll just pull a Bill Murray in Groundhog Day and relive the events. Just make sure you make better decisions the next time.

To say TIME Stories is a beautiful game is a huge understatement. I love the graphic design and artwork. The focus on narrative is another strong point—you feel like you’re in the world—and the gameplay is simple and straightforward. Even though there’s a lot going on in a given turn, TIME Stories presents the options afforded the player in an easily digestible manner.

The players work together to correct the timeline—it will most likely take more than one sitting to do that—and they travel together as a group to do so. While this can be constricting, TIME Stories avoids the sloppiness and unruliness of each player wandering into various rooms each turn. There’s also plenty to do when you’re in an area, room, or region. Players divide and conquer. In the kitchen one player may talk to the cook, while another attempts to steal a key from a dishwasher, and a third spies on two lovebirds necking in the corner. After everyone has a chance of doing something, you may share what you learned or encountered and once you believe you’ve done all you can do in an area, you can move onto the next one. Everything you do costs time and when you run out of time, you get sucked back into the here and now, and the gaming session ends.


I can’t get into too much detail—and I may have already given away too much—or else we’ll get into spoiler territory. But the fact that you can have “spoilers” for a tabletop game is unique. I’ll cover that, along with Narratilogy versus Ludology in “Behind the Game” later on, but I like how a tabletop game can be consumable. Games that you play once are trending.

TIME Stories’ sticky points reside in the interaction between players (that’s living players, not the in-game characters). You can share what you learned with other players but you can’t show them the card you picked up to complete the action. You even have to paraphrase or put what’s on the card in your own words; you can’t read verbatim from the card. All of this is an effort to keep gamers in the world, and I dig that, even if members of my gaming group think it’s dumb.

I’m not sure if you are allowed to take notes or not either. TIME Stories doesn’t explicitly say one way or the other (this game needs a better rule book), so we took notes, despite the game’s vibe telling us not to do so. Taking notes helps. You’ll learn which paths are dead ends and avoid them, and the gaming experience improves. I’d like a more definitive answer because I played a different scenario (or mission) of TIME Stories with a different gaming group, and the lack of notes hurt.

The Asylum, the mission that comes in the base game, is okay. It’s more of a puzzle, while other mission expansions have different moods and ways the game plays out. I enjoyed playing TIME Stories. Even the members of my group who didn’t like a particular puzzle near the end still had fun before and after that moment. Who cares if you can only play TIME Stories once, when the gaming experience is top notch?


Behind the Game

Let’s start with Narritology versus Ludology. These are two different camps of game designers. Narritologists believe that the story, characters, or theme of a game trumps stellar or unique gameplay, while Ludologists argue that gameplay is most important. Video games have fought between these two camps for years, so it makes sense that tabletop games have had their struggles with defining which camp is more correct.

In video games’ early stages Ludology reigned supreme, and it had to. Designers had to push the boundaries of what made up a game and challenge preconceived notions. As the industry grew and matured as a medium, designers turned their attention to Narritology. Game mechanisms are still crucial, but the story and its characters became more important. Tabletop games have gone through similar growing pains.

I don’t subscribe to either camp. You need both sides working together to form a great product, but as more games like TIME Stories and Pandemic Legacy continue to give tabletop gamers characters they can root for or relate to, the industry—like video games—will start being seen as an art form.

Consumable Tabletop Games

You may not think that a consumable tabletop game is worth it. You play each scenario once until you beat it and never play it again, but since most tabletop games are ones you can play repeatedly, how can you gauge the quality of TIME Stories or Pandemic Legacy?

Compare them to other forms of consumable media.

Many people only watch a movie once and they’re done with it. The same could be true of certain books or video games. So how does TIME Stories stack up against those forms of consumable media? Well, books are solo endeavors—unless you’re in a book club—so let’s stick with video games and movies.

TIME Stories is cheaper than a new video game, and it runs about five or six hours, which is about the length of most video games. TIME Stories is also less expensive than a night at the movies and you get more interaction.

So TIME Stories stacks up pretty well when put up against other consumable media in terms of value, but there are tabletop gamers who still like a game they can replay, and that’s fair. You don’t have to play TIME Stories or Pandemic Legacy. On a different note, most people who complain about TIME Stories and Pandemic Legacy only do so because they have limited replay value. They’re stellar games and they offer a unique gaming experience. You shouldn’t gripe about a tabletop game that makes you question how a game should function—that lead us back to our aforementioned Ludologists. I want some insanity from my game designers. They shouldn’t be afraid to try something radical. Give us something we haven’t seen. So is a tabletop game that has limited replay value worth it? To that, I say, yes. Maybe even a heck yeah.

Thanks for reading.