Getting Started with Pick-Up and Delivery Games

Howdy, folks, Uncle Geekly’s back with another group of starter board games. For those of you who are new to the site, our starter game series takes a common or popular game mechanism and picks some good games that feature that mechanism but are easy to learn. Many of these games on these lists will start easy and work their way to greater complexity.

In today’s list we’ll cover pick-up and delivery games, and this mechanism works like its name suggests: players will pick up items from one place and deliver them to another. It’s a simple mechanism that finds its way to several great games, but there are two issues that came up when compiling this list of starter games.

First, many designers don’t believe in having a straight pick-up and delivery game (it’s too boring), so you won’t find too many games with pick-up and delivery as the only mechanism and only a handful more that will include pick-up and delivery in a group of two or three mechanisms.

The second is that by adding extra game mechanisms, designers make many pick-up and delivery games more complicated, so there will be games like Firefly and Freedom: The Underground Railroad that are excellent pick-up and delivery games (a couple of my favorites) but slightly more complex than a starter game should be for newcomers.

Enough about the games that won’t be on this list. Let’s talk about the ones that made the cut.


Deep Sea Adventure

We start with the simplest game of the lot, Deep Sea Adventure. Sure, this game has a push your luck element and uses roll/spin and move, but it’s the closest game to pure pick-up and delivery. Players assume the roles of deep-sea divers. There are four levels of treasure (tokens) with a number (points one can score) printed on the front and the level denoted in dots on the back. The tokens get shuffled and placed in a wavy line protruding from the submarine (where the players pawns start), going from level 1 to level 4.

Players take turns diving into the sea (by rolling two specialty dice numbered from 1-3) and try to go as far as they can, but beware. All players share the same oxygen tank and when the oxygen level reaches zero, the round is over and only those who returned to the submarine with treasure in hand score points that round.

Deep Sea Adventure is charming. It doesn’t look like it would have much strategy, but it’s a lot deeper (pun intended) than first glance. Do you push your luck and go deeper, or do you turn back around with the treasure or two you picked up early on, so you know you’re scoring that round? There’s even a built-in catch-up mechanism where the higher scoring tiles are easier to get to in future rounds, so players who are behind early in the game can score a heap of points in round two or three. I’ve even considered picking up as many level one and two treasures as I can in the first round and since those lost treasure tokens get added to the end of the treasure path in stacks of three, I can claim them later in the game for big points.

Like I said, there are plenty of play styles and stratagems for this easy-to-learn game. Deep Sea Adventure may be marketed toward kids (if you don’t believe me, check out this adorable how to play video by Oink Games) but there’s enough going on to interest adults. You can find Deep Sea Adventure at most Barnes and Nobles but be on the look out for a small package. Oink Games come in small boxes and while I haven’t played all the Oink Game titles, most of the ones I’ve played are at least baseline good.


My Little Scythe

I know that I said this before, but pick-up and delivery games have a knack of being very complicated. Case in point, My Little Scythe is a simplified, or child-friendly, version of Scythe, which happens to be on a lot of people’s best games of all time, but the original Scythe is far too complex for a starter pick-up and delivery game list. Heck. My Little Scythe makes the list by a skosh.

My Little Scythe was designed by a father and daughter, so that the father could play his favorite game with his young daughter, and it follows various animals of the animal kingdom as they prepare for the harvest festival. Players take turns earning trophies by earning specific accomplishments. There’s a lot going on in this game, but no single game mechanism is that complex. That said, I won’t spend too much time with how to play My Little Scythe because this isn’t a “how to play” write-up, it’s a starter game write-up. If you’d like detailed rules explanations, check out Rodney Smith’s video at Watch It Played; Rodney does excellent work. For now, let’s focus on what makes My Little Scythe a good pick-up and delivery starter game.

My Little Scythe takes an interesting look at pick-up and delivery. There’s a strong worker placement element to it—so it would make a nice addition to starter worker placement games—but two of the four trophies needed to trigger the end game (the harvest festival) requires players to pick up four of one kind of resource and drop them off at the castle (centrally located on the board). At least four of the remaining possible six trophies players can earn can be achieved by picking up resources and controlling them. In My Little Scythe, players are considered to have control of resources if their pawns occupy the same space as a resource. If the player controls the resource, they may spend it for other items. That’s a clever distinction that doesn’t show up in any of the other games on this list. So, I guess one could consider My Little Scythe a pick-up and control game.

There are so many other elements going on with My Little Scythe that I won’t mention the rest of them here, but each element works well and the whole is an easy game to learn and teach others. I wanted to include it here because of the interesting twist My Little Scythe makes with the pick-up and delivery mechanism. I know that it’s following Scythe’s lead, but we need more games that add wrinkles to well-established game mechanisms.


Forbidden Desert

Forbidden Desert seems to make it on a lot of these lists, but it does fit the pick-up and delivery mechanism requirement and it’s a darn good game, perhaps the best of the Forbidden series, but that’s because I haven’t had the chance of playing Forbidden Sky as of this write-up. In Forbidden Desert players are stranded in an inhospitable desert. They must find and collect (or pick-up) the parts to a flying contraption and deliver the completed machine to the launch pad, so they can escape.

It’s been six years since Forbidden Desert’s initial release, and I still marvel at the way shifting sand is represented by drawing desert cards, shifting land tiles in the direction the cards command, and placing sand tokens atop the land tiles that moved that turn. It feels right. It plays like an unpredictable desert storm.

The way players must uncover both a vertical and horizontal tile for each object to reveal which tile one of the parts resides is brilliant; no game plays the same way twice. This also adds to the storm’s unpredictable nature and the fact that players can get buried in sand adds to the atmosphere of being lost. If the tile your pawn stands on moves, your pawn moves too, and board’s state may be far different from the end of one of your turns to the beginning of your next. Again, this adds to the players’ feeling of hopelessness—at times—or they may find the board moves in their favor and that’s wonderful.

I’ve said it before, but it remains true, Forbidden Desert is an excellent game. It also happens to be an excellent pick-up and delivery starter game. Pick-up and delivery may not play as big of a role in the turn to turn aspects of Forbidden Desert, but the only way players can win this game is by picking up and delivering the flying contraption to the launch pad.

Final Thoughts

Hopefully, we’ve covered some games you either haven’t played or haven’t considered pick-up and delivery games. Uncle Geekly tried to go with a mix of games that use predominantly pick-up and delivery (Deep Sea Adventure), implement pick-up and delivery as the only way to win but doesn’t include it with the turn to turn action (Forbidden Desert), and found one that provides a twist to a popular mechanism (My Little Scythe).

Know of any other great beginner pick-up and delivery games? You can deliver your questions, complaints, and suggestions in the comments.

My Favorite Game Mechanisms: Dinosaur Island

Yes. Uncle Geekly picked up Dinosaur Island this past Christmas, and I’ve had some time to get in several plays. For the uninitiated or the ones who don’t remember what I said about Dinosaur Island in the past, it’s a tabletop game where players compete for visitors by building their own Jurassic Park. The premise is solid gold.

Each individual game mechanism has been seen in other games, but Dinosaur Island does a fantastic job of combining mechanisms that mimic what they’re supposed to mimic. The research and development section functions like the players exploring which dinosaurs they can recreate. Players can take a risk—increasing the dinosaur threat level—by taking a die that yields larger research results or they could take a safer route and set a foundation for gaining research points over time. It’s slower, but more reliable. The building of dinosaur pins and dinosaur husbandry—is that a thing?—functions the way one would think they would. Does one build the pins and reproduce dinos to get more visitors in one’s park before building adequate security? Players can, but is it wise?


The dinosaur figures don’t hurt the fun factor, but the resource management of where to place workers to get the best effect and where to place visitors so they yield the highest reward are other moments where Dinosaur Island shines. There’s just enough luck introduced so there’s a chance for players to catch a runaway winner, but Dinosaur Island is first and foremost a strategy game. A player who deploys a better strategy tends to win more often than those who don’t.

Each game mechanism—worker placement, tile placement, set collection, and an action point allowance system—behaves like its own mini game. Dinosaur Island could even be viewed as a series of mini games. But Dinosaur Island’s whole is far greater than any single part. That makes describing the game difficult or zeroing in on any specific part as a favorite tough. I like how Jonathan Gilmour and Brian Lewis combine these elements, so they make a tasty blend.


There are plenty of other games that throw in a lot of mechanisms (First Martians comes to mind), but the individual pieces feel like a board game version of doing your taxes. Dinosaur Island doesn’t feel that way. The elements make sense for what the players are doing and the strategy, while difficult to master, is easy to see. Players will know why they won or lost and how they may be able to improve. Plenty of games offer hodgepodges of gaming mechanisms, but few of those games deliver a great experience like Dinosaur Island.

What are your favorite elements of Dinosaur Island? Have you ever played a game without humming the Jurassic Park theme? Uncle Geekly hasn’t, even when I play a solo game. Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

Underused Intellectual Properties in Tabletop Gaming

Not every intellectual property gets the tabletop game treatment. They can’t all be Star Wars that has hundreds of games on boardgamegeek (BGG), granted a lot of those are Star Wars skinned versions of other games, but still, there are a lot of Star Wars games to choose from. That made your uncle Geekly wonder which intellectual properties could use a tabletop game or two. Here we go.


Star Trek

You know how I said that there are a lot Star Wars games out there. The same can’t be said of Star Trek. What’s worse is that most Star Trek games that are on the market are little more than rethemed Star Wars games. Now, I’m a little fuzzy, so perhaps someone can help me, but are Star Wars and Star Trek so similar that they’re interchangeable?

Yeah, that pissed off some fans. I don’t believe they are, but the real issue is that board game companies don’t seem to see a difference between Wars and Trek.

doctor who

Doctor Who

This is another overlooked intellectual geek culture property, and I’m not sure why. Sure, there’s an RPG and a handful of licensed games like Yahtzee with a TARDIS and a Dalek as the dice cup out there, but the time travel of Doctor Who is prime for some interesting game mechanisms that could bring certain game types into the 21st century.


Literary Board Games

Board games have been turning to books lately for inspiration. The Cthulhu mythos has dominated the board game landscape for years, due its status in the public domain, but other classic works like 1984, Animal Farm, Moby Dick, and Beowulf as well as newer works like Cronin’s The Passage trilogy and Pratchett’s Discworld novels have received the board game treatment. There’s a wealth of classic works out there. Why not turn one into a game?

Why not a class/status struggle game based on Jane Austen? Or cast a gamer as Gatsby trying to impress Daisy? Or base a game on Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s Frankenstein? There are shockingly few games based on Frankenstein.

Horror novels have generated a lot of buzz. There’s even a game adaptation of Stephen King’s The Shining, where one player assumes the role of the Torrance family and the other plays as the Overlook Hotel. You can’t tell me there isn’t at least one or two more King novels that wouldn’t make a good board game.



Yes. Some anime and manga titles have received board or card games in the past, and some of those have been pretty good, but most of the time anime fans are left with cheap knock off games. Like some other properties on this list, anime games tend to be skinned versions of other games. It says something when there are more animes about board games than there are board games about anime.

To add insult to injury, countless games use anime style art, but have nothing to do with the source material. It’s about time there was at least one or two decent anime/manga games out there.

Note: I haven’t yet played Bauza’s Attack on Titan board game. I hold out hope that it’s good. I like Attack on Titan and Bauza as a designer.



With so many horror board games doing well, why not make a game featuring Scooby Doo? Exploration and puzzle solving are huge in board gaming right now. Fred, Velma, Daphne, Shaggy, and Scoob would make for some accessible characters for younger gamers, and older gamers would mind the link to Saturday morning cartoons.

I could’ve added more than these five, but your uncle Geekly wants to hear your thoughts. Are there any intellectual properties you’d like to see made into board games? Let us know in comments.

Getting Started with Dice Placement Games

Your uncle Geekly covered worker placement in a previous starter game segment—those are games where players place pawns on the board to gain certain abilities—and this week we’ll discuss dice placement games which are like worker placement games except that players place dice instead of pawns, or one could say that one’s dice are their pawns.

As usual, good old Geekly has some starter games for someone interested in the gaming genre. Let’s get to some of the better and simpler games of this type and work our way up in complexity.



I usually try to go with more recent games in a genre, but Kingsburg is a ten-year-old game or so that deserves a mention. Players chuck dice to determine what they can do each turn. The shared board hold a king space and spaces for advisors to the king. Each one grants a different ability based on the numbers one rolls. If some rolled three 6s, they can choose the king space at 18 or a 6 and a 12. The person with the lowest roll each round picks first, and that may be the most clever way to negate a bad roll. Dice hate me. If it was possible to roll negative 18, I’d do it.

There are three phases—oh, yeah three, it’s the magic number—and each player must face an invading army on the fourth turn. The fourth phase just happens to be winter. Winter is coming.

Even though players must face something at the end of each group of four phases, it’s nice to see that a worker placement game designer isn’t obsessed with food. And Kingsburg does a good job of bad die roll mitigation. You’ll see plenty of other designs use other methods to compensate for a bad roll. Apparently, I’m not the only one dice hate.


Dice City

While Kingsburg has a shared board, Dice City gives each player their own board. On each turn, players roll five six-sided dice of different colors and place those dice on their board according to a chart. The columns show numbers and players must roll that number to place their dice in that row, but the rows are one of their die’s colors. So, if one rolls a three on their yellow die, they must place their yellow die on the second row (the yellow row) and the third space from the left (the column for 3s).

On each of these spaces, which are shaped like the game’s deck of cards, is an action. Players may choose to take the action they rolled (usually to get resources) or they may choose to discard one or more of their die or dice (for that round) to move another die left or right for each die discarded. You know how I said that Kingsburg does a good job with bad die roll mitigation, Dice City’s use of discarding dice allows for even more of that. Yay!

Players can upgrade their boards by purchasing cards with the resources they use and that accomplishes two great things: each player’s board is different and further strategy over luck. Dice City may look like a game that uses a ton of luck, but it’s sneakily deep. That said, it’s a step up, or at least sideways, in complexity to Kingsburg.



Discoveries is most likely a step up in complexity to the others on this list, but a lot is added with that smidgeon of complexity. In this game, players take on the roles of explorers tasked by Thomas Jefferson to explore the western United States.

Unlike the other games on this list, Discoveries uses unique and thematic dice to represent the players journey. Horseshoes, feet, writing, and Native American die faces replace pips of 1-6. Each player receives five of these dice in their player color. They roll their dice and may take one of two actions each turn: play dice of the same type to any space on the board or get dice back from the game board.

It’s this push-pull of gaining dice from the game board—and how one does it—versus using dice that give Discoveries its depth. I’ll discuss how to get points later, but one doesn’t necessarily grab all their used dice when they take the “rest” action or the one that allows a player to retrieve dice from the board. Many of the dice used to explore go to a communal discard area. A player has the option of taking all the dice from one of the communal discard areas or taking all their personal dice (no matter who has them or where they are). It’s a wrinkle not seen in too many other dice placement games. Players must do a good job timing when they retrieve dice. You can snake someone’s die and use it before they decide to take it back. It takes a game or two to get the timing, but it’s not that difficult to learn and that’s why Discoveries is the last game on this list.

Players earn points by exploring more areas, but to explore an area one must generate enough resources (in rivers or mountains to cross) in a single turn because players cannot bank rivers and mountains from one turn to the next.

The game ends when the deck runs out of cards, and there is a scoring method that’s simple enough to understand but would make this write-up swell even more with words, so I won’t include it here, but another one of my favorite mechanisms is Discoveries use of dual-sided cards. Players may befriend Native American tribes and if a card from that offering is used, a new card is dealt Tribe side up. Players also use cards if they explore and if a card from that offering is used, a new card is dealt Exploration side up. It’s an elegant system that forces each game to play differently than the last.

Discoveries, like the other games on this list, also has bad die roll mitigation, but it may be the cheapest of all of them: trade in one die to turn another die to the face you want. Love it. This is easily the least random result dice game on this list.

Final Thoughts

Like worker placement games, it’s difficult to come up with easy to learn dice placement games with depth. Again, I had to go with slightly more complicated games than usual, but they still have some wide appeal. There’s a little more variety in terms of subject matter too. And no food. Yay!

How many times have dice hated you? You can roll shame one of your dice or let us know your favorite dice placement games in the comments.

Tabletop Games That Would Make a Good Movie

Your uncle Geekly made a list like of tabletop games that would make a good movie three or four years ago, but a lot can happen over the course of years, Uncle Geekly’s a fickle bastard, so the list would’ve changed two weeks after the first one. Hungry, Hungry Hippos? Nah, too scary. Ouija? Ach! Hollywood already made a movie about that since the last list. Maybe the following five games would make a good movie.

And yes, there have been good board game movies. Clue was one, I think. Unfortunately, they’re rebooting it. Ugh!



At first glance, someone may think of Scythe as a war game, but it’s more of a cold war game. It’s set in an alternate sci-fi fantasy version of post-World War I Europe. The technology used to fight The Great War far exceeds our current tech. One look at a gargantuan Mech is a great cue, but despite its vast technology, this world is more of an agrarian continent destabilized by conflict.

Scythe’s story changes depending on how gamers play, but the overall concept has the makings of a political thriller with plenty of espionage. This is a cold war game after all. It’s just a cold war game with Mechs, and that’s awesome.


Pandemic: Legacy

The original Pandemic made the first list of this type, and one could argue that there’s already a Pandemic movie out there (Contagion), but Pandemic: Legacy adds what at first can be viewed as a subtle layer of storytelling that becomes so pronounced toward the middle of the game (gamers play a finite number of games, usually 24, because there is a story that unfolds like a movie or TV show) that you realize you aren’t playing base game Pandemic anymore. I won’t spoil anything here.

But the fact that I could spoil a tabletop game for someone suggests that it could make a great movie or TV show. I’m not that picky.



People have seen high fantasy movies where the heroes join forces to conquer a common evil or foe. Gloomhaven shakes things up by having these “heroes” motivated by selfish endeavors and that needs to happen more in high fantasy stories. The city of Gloomhaven is down on its luck. You can kind of guess that by its name. Its “heroes” or anti-heroes don’t mirror the world in which they live.

This has the potential to be a dark movie, but in the hands of the right people, Gloomhaven could have some of the deepest fantasy characters.


Dead of Winter

Dead of Winter may come off as a Walking Dead clone, but like Walking Dead, the zombies aren’t the most engaging thing about the story. The survivors take center stage. In Dead of Winter, players don’t know who the traitor is in their midst, they don’t even know if there is a traitor. This set up has the trappings of a good psychological thriller.

The setting of a zombie-apocalypse in the bitter cold adds another layer of tension. Finding out that food rations go missing or there aren’t enough being produced as before or that items like coats and firewood go missing would call into question everyone’s loyalty.


Fireball Island

Sometimes you just want a dumb action movie about grabbing treasure and getting the heck off an island. Hire a resident actor of weird roles like Tim Curry, Johnny Depp, Neil Patrick Harris, or Jim Carrey and add them to the formula of a huge volcano god puking fireballs, and you’ll have yourself a hit. You just need a volcano god puking fireballs.

These five games can’t be the only ones good for a movie adaptation. Slap me upside the head with a VHS tape—those are ancient movie viewing devices for younger readers—or let me know about it in comments. If you like what we do, subscribe to our page to get updates and then you can let me know how wrong I am as soon as possible.

3 Lists of 3 Tabletop Game Themes

Your uncle Geekly has talked about board game mechanisms in the past, so I figured it may be a good time to cover some tabletop games that tackle some great themes and intellectual properties. Let’s start with some board games that do a great job of putting their players in the middle of some other world.

Games that perfectly captured the intellectual property it used


Firefly: The Game

I resisted playing this game for several years because I heard it used the pickup and delivery mechanism, and it sounded boring flying around the ‘Verse picking up things and dropping them off at other planets. But that’s what Serenity’s crew does. Firefly: The Game excels at capturing the feel of the original TV show. Players fly around various ports, picking up passengers and crew and cargo and performing jobs, while avoiding Reavers and the Alliance.

Easter Eggs flood this game. Character abilities and motivations—yes, there’s enough character development and story for the characters to have motivations—make sense. I’ve played and replayed the scenarios more than I can remember. This is a must play for any Firefly fan.

star wars rebellion01

Star Wars: Rebellion

I liked this game a ton when it first came out and stand by what I’ve said in the past that Star Wars: Rebellion is the original trilogy in a tabletop game. The only issue I had with it was its runtime. Firefly isn’t a short game either, but it’s quick compared to Star Wars: Rebellion. But like Firefly: The Game, Rebellion feels like the original trilogy.

The Empire tries to find the hidden Rebel base and crush it. The Rebels perform various tactics to undermine the Empire, so the planets overthrow their oppression. Rebellion is a great example of how to design an asymmetric game, but it also happens to cast the two gamers playing it in two very different positions that mirror—but doesn’t duplicate—the roles in the original movies.


Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shadows of the Past

This is another one I’ve talked about in the past, but Shadows of Time deserves another mention. It’s another game that features asymmetric sides that play like gamers would expect them to. One player takes on the role of Shedder and the rest of the Foot Clan, while the rest of the players join forces as the Turtles.

Each turtle’s power set matches their strength as ninjas and their personality. This is by far the quickest of the three games mentioned so far and that’s a huge plus for my family. I also like how adaptable Shadows of Time can be. Gamers may play a campaign (an extended story) or play individual scenarios. The dice sharing mechanism is great; it brings the combat to life.

Can you feel that? I think it’s called Turtle Power.

Games that don’t use an intellectual property, but they are heavily based on one


Dead of Winter

There are plenty of Walking Dead board games out there; most of them stink, so don’t waste your time with them. Dead of Winter doesn’t use the IP, but it does a great job of capturing what makes the series great: internal struggle.

Are there zombies present? Yes, but like the TV show, player alliances and motives factor as much as the walkers. Traitors and the threat of traitors will have gamers doubting if the others seated at the table are friend or foe.

Dead of Winter also has plenty of survival elements, where players must determine which needs are most pressing. It’s a tense game that captures what the essence of The Walking Dead.


Wasteland Express Delivery Service

As the name implies, this is another pickup and delivery game, but this time players traverse a dystopia like the one found in the Mad Max franchise.

I’m not going to lie, I like the idea of delivering packages while avoiding berserk motorbike gang members—from the safety of my gaming table of course. The game shows the underrepresented people of this world who just want to live a normal life apart from the freaks patrolling the roads. How does the other half live?

Wasteland Express Delivery Service does a great job of combining a dissimilar mechanic (pickup and delivery) and theme (Mad Max), but it’s using the Mad Max theme and designer Jon Gilmour doesn’t try to hide it. Wait. Gilmour’s a co-designer of Dead of Winter and Wasteland Express Delivery Service. I’m sensing a trend.


Dinosaur Island

Yep. There is a trend. Gilmour co-designed the hodgepodge of game mechanisms that is Dinosaur Island, and Dinosaur Island is Jurassic Park the board game. Like The Walking Dead, there are a lot of bad Jurassic Park board games out there and Dinosaur Island is a great one that doesn’t have the license.

Players build their own Jurassic Park and how awesome is that? Dinosaur Island also happens to be a great study in how to combine seemingly unlikely game mechanisms to form a cohesive whole. I’m a Gilmour fan if you can’t tell.

Games with interesting themes



Sagrada’s been a critical darling and that stems from the marriage of its theme and gameplay. Players compete to construct the stained-glass window masterpieces in the Sagrada Familia. The game uses dice drafting, and the dice it uses are color-coded to match the windows. It’s a simple, beautiful game that I highly recommend.


Great Western Trail

Have you ever wanted to relive City Slickers? Well, you can with Great Western Trail. Players move cattle from Texas to Kansas city, taking turns to add to your herd, construct buildings, and contracting cowboys, engineers, and craftsman.

I’m not a huge fan of point salad games (point salad games are those games where players cobble together enough points from various means to achieve victory), but Great Wester Trail is a great strategy game and the theme of cattle wrestling isn’t used enough in tabletop games. My only complaint is that they don’t go through Omaha.


New York Slice

Pizza. There aren’t enough games that use pizza as their theme. “I cut, you choose” game mechanism. There aren’t enough games that use the “I cut, you choose” game mechanism, and New York Slice’s gameplay is mostly that. The first player in the round splits up a pizza composed of 11 random slices (meat lovers, pepperoni, cheese, veggie, and more). The player to the first player’s left picks which slices they want and play continues in a clockwise fashion until the player who split the pizza gets the slices remaining.

New York Slice is lightning fast, and I can’t think of a better way of teasing dinner for your guests. Mwah-ha-ha!

Do you agree with my picks? Cool. If you don’t, you can take to the message boards and let me know about it comments.

Things Kyle Does When He First Opens a Tabletop Game

This little list may give you too much insight into what happens at the Geekly household when a board game is first opened. We’re talking about a rabbit hole that you may not want to go down. Consider yourself warned.


Smell the box…mmm New Game Smell

I like the smell of a new board game. Nothing beats tearing off the shrink wrap, hearing the box fart for the first time as you open it, and having the smell of fresh tabletop game goodness waft over your face.

To be fair, I do this with a lot of things: books, cars, video games, the occasional magic marker. Mmm, magic markers.

I may have brain damage.


Punch out all the bits, put them in piles, and make towers and other things out of them

I love it when I find a lot of punch boards with a heap of little bits I have to poke out. Gloomhaven had somewhere around 30 of these boards, and I was as happy as a kitten playing in gift paper.

I don’t care about the game at this point. I just want to make a fort out of cardboard discs, dice, and wooden pieces shaped like Whistler’s Mother.

Wait. Whistler’s Mother? What game did I just unbox? I don’t care. If you need me, I’ll be in space.


Organize things despite not knowing where they should go

Who needs to read the rules to figure out which things go together in a little baggy or small tackle box? I follow my gut, and it’s almost always wrong. Never trust a gut that suffers from GERD.

At least an hour will be wasted figuring whether the color or shape of an object should dictate where it should go. Eventually, I’ll say, screw it and check YouTube.

RodneySmithWatchItPlayed  GamingRulesPaulGrogan.jpg

See if Rodney Smith (Watch it Played) or Paul Grogan (Gaming Rules!) posted a video on how to play

Who needs to read the rules to figure out how to play a board game when Rodney and Paul will tell me in a short video with time stamps directing me to specific rules? Sure, I’ll follow along in my rule book if I can, but rule books aren’t the best reading material. So many of them have too many Appendices and use terminology I can’t understand. With few exceptions most of these designers expect you to already know how to play.

Help me, Rodney. Help, help me, Rodney.


Reorganize things after watching the video

I’ll remind myself that I should never trust a gut that suffers from GERD. If Rodney or Paul were in my house, they’d shake their heads and say, again, Kyle. What are we going to do with you?

I’ll spend another half-hour putting things where they should go and take another hour calming down before asking my friends and family if they want to play. You’d think I’d learn, but most game unboxings end the same way.

You probably know too much about your uncle Geekly’s unboxing habits at this point. What are the things you do when you first open a tabletop game for the first time? Let us know in comments.

Getting Started with Area Control or Influence Games

Uncle Geekly ran a search on a popular game type, area control, and found more results than he thought. These games range from simple who controls the most regions to more complex games where area control is an aspect of the game. We’re talking starting area control or the similar mechanism area influence games, so we’ll keep it simple and easy to learn, but most of all, an area control game at its core.

Most area control or influence games employ a great build to the game, where players begin with small gains that they hope to build upon through game play. These games, more than many others, have a natural progression to them, and gamers can see why someone won. Usually, this is a game type for players who like to see the wheels turn or have a little more agency in a game’s outcome.

As usual, good old Geekly has some starter games for someone interested in this gaming genre. Let’s get to some of these smaller games and work our way up to one’s that are more complex.



We’re starting with an odd choice: Hanamikoji. It’s classified as more area influence as players compete for the attention of geishas. Hanamikoji also happens to be a two-player game, which is a little unusual as well. A group of seven geishas is placed between both players and they range in point value from 2 to 5. The first player to gain the favor of 4 or more geishas or has 11 points or more of geishas wins. This is what makes Hanamikoji area influence instead of area control. One must gain the attention of the most geishas. The game play is fast—a typical game lasts ten to fifteen minutes which is lightning quick for an area control or influence game—and it’s intriguing.

Each player is dealt cards that correspond with each geisha (for example, green twos are used to gain the attention of the green two geisha). They’ll use these cards to gain favor. The players also have four action tokens, and this is where things get interesting. Both players alternate turns using all their actions tokens. One action locks down one card from a player’s hand. A second action removes three cards from play that turn from a player’s hand. The third and fourth actions have some combination of handing your opponent some of your cards and they choose one or two of the cards handed them, and the player using these actions keep the rest. This is an excellent way of mitigating a bad draw. It also makes for a surprising amount of choices for a short and simple game.



Sometimes the oldies are the goodies. 2000’s Carcassonne—along with El Grande—all but popularized area control games. The two wrinkles Carcassonne adds are tile placement and worker placement. Bear with me as a quickly discuss tile placement; it does factor into area control. Each turn a player draws a land tile and places it adjacent to a tile already in the play area. These tiles will have roads, farms, cities, and/or cloisters depicted on them. When placing a tile, it must match the pre-existing tiles in the play area. Sides of tiles that show a farm can only be placed next to another tile side with a farm. So, random tiles dictate what constitutes an area. This was revolutionary at the time.

Once a tile is placed, the player may place a follower—or worker. Players gain control of areas by placing their workers on these spaces, and these workers can perform several jobs, depending on where they’re placed. Farmers work farms, monks live in cloisters, and so forth. The player with the most followers in an area when it scores gains the most points for that area. The game ends when the last land tile is played, and the player with the most points wins.

This combination of game mechanisms works well. So many other designers have used some combination of worker placement, tile placement, and area control because of how accessible Carcassonne is and these mechanisms’ inherent strategic flexibility. Carcassonne works as a great introductory game for all three game types. I’ll try not to add it to another list. No promises.


Small World

Sometimes gamers just want to conquer things. Small World takes place in a small world, where zany fantasy characters vie for control. There a lot of bells and whistles added to Small World. Each fantasy race like elves, trolls, and skeletons have their own race power, but each of these fantasy races are given one of 20 unique special powers like flying or ghostly that will make each playthrough different.

The concept is simple enough. When placing creature tokens, players start on the edge of the map. To conquer a land, they must use as many tokens as tokens in an area. If a player has enough tokens, they may conquer an adjacent land using the same method, so it’s likely that players will gain more than one area in a turn. In future turns, a player may choose to put their active race in decline (flipping their tokens upside down) and choose a new race. Players score points each turn for every area their races occupy; that’s for their active race and the race they have in decline.

At the end of the game, the player with the most points wins. That’s a common thread these games and a lot of other area control games share.

Small World does a great job of simulating combat without getting too in the weeds with it. It’s an area control game at its core with some nice window dressing, especially the use of variable player powers. Those race and special powers can be fun. Small World can also be the meanest game on this list. Players must know when to bail on a race and when to keep one. There will be a lot of hostile takeovers. It’s a small world after all.

Final Thoughts

So many of the best games on the market today use area control or area influence: Twilight Struggle, Star Wars: Rebellion, Scythe, Terra Mystica, Blood Rage, Twilight Imperium, and countless others. The games I just mentioned didn’t make this list because they get a little too complicated or they add more elements to the game than just area control.


The games I did include in this list will get new board game hobbyists the background they need to take on more complex games. Which games do you like to use as beginner area control games? You could place a worker to claim influence or it might make more sense to leave a comment.

My Favorite Game Mechanic: Castles of Mad King Ludwig

Your uncle Geekly has talked about Castles of Mad King Ludwig before, so if you want to see our review of it and Suburbia, check it out here, but this week we’ll talk about the one game mechanism I like the most from Castles of Mad King Ludwig: I cut, you choose.

I’ll try not to repeat my review of Castles, but I can’t promise to cover some familiar ground. Most games that use an I cut, you choose mechanism play out like the pizza game New York Slice. The starting player groups things together (depending on the game type) and then the player to the starting player’s left picks which group they want first and play continues to their left, meaning that the player who decided which stack of things went together gets whatever’s left over. It’s a nice little game of cat and mouse. Do I want to group things I know another player would want together, giving them points, or risk something I’m playing for? Most often, players will split the difference and hope for the best. This system gives players more agency in games. To be honest, not enough games use I cut, you choose.


But Castles of Mad King Ludwig takes a different approach to this mechanism. Each turn there’s a different master builder and the master builder determines how expensive tiles (with which to construct player castles) cost each turn. When a player selects a tile from the supply, they pay the cost to acquire a tile to the turn’s master builder. That’s coconuts.

Not only does a master builder set the market price each turn, there’s an added level to I cut, you choose in that the master builder places an item for sale at the highest price they think another player would be willing to pay for the tile to get the most money they can get during their turn as the master builder. Flushed with master builder cash allows for more purchases and builds at the end of a turn (master builders still take their build turns at the end of the round like most other I cut, you choose games), and to date, I haven’t seen a tabletop game empower players at this level. This adds so many new strategies and questions.


Do I price the tile I want that turn as the most expensive? If I do, will other players buy enough of the cheaper tiles for me to buy the one I really want? Would another player pay top dollar for the tile I want most? Are other players even interested in the tile I want most? Can I price it lower or will someone buy it just to spite me? Even though the titular Mad King Ludwig wasn’t mad, this game can drive players mad with its number of choices.

Each game changes how players score, so a tile that mattered in a previous game might not matter as much in a future one. That gives Castles of Mad King Ludwig a lot of replay value.

I like Suburbia a lot too. It’s a similar game about building suburbs of a city by the same design team and publisher, but Castles of Mad King Ludwig’s take on the I cut, you choose mechanism makes it a much better game.

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Getting Started with Deck Building Games

I enjoy deck building games a lot. Deck builders are games with simple, identical, starter decks for each player, and players must build and customize their decks over the course of the game.

Deck builders can get convoluted fast and many of them are text heavy—we’re talking levels of text just below War and Peace. There are so many types of deck building games, so many that there are games that fall under pool building (not included here) that use dice and cubes instead of cards, that it can be overwhelming in terms of where to start.

Fortunately, your good old uncle Geekly is here to point you in the direction of less complicated deck builders to get going.


Star Realms

I’ve talked about Star Realms in the past—for a full review check it out here—but it’s still one of the better, beginner games for a traditional deck builder. I could’ve gone with the base Dominion game, but I like the theme better with Star Realms, even though the space theme is barely there, and Dominion fans tend to want to add as many expansions as possible. Trust me. There are more expansions for Dominion than leaves on the ground.

Star Realms is balanced. If I’d have one major gripe, it may be that Star Realms is too balanced (the cost of cards are spot on, just buy the most expensive one you can afford each turn), but key elements like buying cards from the supply by paying specific costs for each card, culling (removing weak cards from your deck), forcing another player to discard a card from a future hand, and the concept of building a full deck and drawing a new hand from said deck instead of building a hand are all present in Star Realms.

It also doesn’t hurt that Star Realms has a free to download app.




All someone would have to do to learn the basics for a deck building game is to download and play the tutorial. It doesn’t get much easier to learn than that.


Century Spice Road

The hottest, newest game on this list may just be one of the least complicated deck building games and has the least text. Century Spice Road also has a couple of stand-alone expansions—games that can be played on their own as full games or that can be added to the original to make different combinations—so look out for Golem Edition and Eastern Wonders. Golems don’t get enough play in games. I may have to drive to the nearest adventurer’s pub and pick up a golem or two.

The base game’s theme isn’t that interesting—tabletop gamers have seen hundreds of spice trading games—but Century Spice Road not only boils down the deck builder to the point where it’s a bit of a hand builder, it adds elements like resource and space management to the genre. It also includes an interesting approach to one of my other favorite mechanisms: card drafting.

Cards in the supply are laid out from left to right, and players add action cards to their hand, starting with the card on the far left. If a player wants to skip a card in the supply, they must place a spice (or cube) on the card(s) skipped. Any player who picks up a card with a spice on it adds that spice to their supply. This simple addition adds so much strategy. Do I want to give my opponent a free spice by skipping a card? An action card I might not otherwise want may have spices I do want. Do those free spices make it worth adding the card to my hand?

All of these elements come together in a satisfying way. No wonder Century Spice Road earned the 2017 Golden Geek for best card game. Note: don’t play with real spices. That gets messy.



I had to include Paperback because it has a great combination: deck building and word game. It’s a game combination that people wouldn’t think would work, but it does. A player can be adept at one of the two game types, and not the other, and still excel.

The same concepts one can find in Star Realms can be found in Paperback. There are more variants to Paperback so replay value is increased, but it’s the combination of deck builder and word game that makes this game sing.

The theme of struggling writers getting their paperback books published—to be fair, this theme may hit closer to home than I’d like to admit—also comes through. Paperback is easily the most thematic game on this list, but it’s not for everyone. If someone is dead set against word games, this game might rub them the wrong way. If someone likes word games or is willing to give a word game a shot, Paperback is excellent.

Final Thoughts

The above games are all great if you’re just getting into tabletop games and wondering how to play deck building games. Star Realms, Century Spice Road, and Paperback have a lot of replay value too.

Know of any other great starter deck builders? Let us know in the comments.